Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

George Bush

RIP, George H.W. Bush

The 41st President passed away on Friday evening.

George Bush

George Herbert Walker Bush, whose lone term as the 41st president of the United States ushered in the final days of the Cold War and perpetuated a family political dynasty that influenced American politics at both the national and state levels for decades, died Friday evening in Houston. He was 94.

Bush was the last president to have served in the military during World War II. His experience in international diplomacy served him well as he dealt with the unraveling of the Soviet Union as an oppressive superpower, and later the rise of China as a commercial behemoth and potential partner.

His wife of 73 years, Barbara Pierce Bush, died April 17, 2018, at the age of 92.

Steeped in the importance of public service, Bush always felt the lure of political life. It snared him in 1962 when he was chosen to head Houston’s fledgling Republican Party. He spent the next three decades in the political limelight, a career largely free of scandal or great controversy, with one exception — his role as vice president in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The second of five children, Bush was born on June 12, 1924 in Milton, Massachusetts, to Prescott and Dorothy Bush.

There’s a ton more out there on former President Bush, you could spend all weekend reading about him and his distinguished life. There is much one can say about George H.W. Bush. I will say that he was a war hero, a family man, and someone who always heard and answered the call to service. I don’t know when we may see another Republican President like him. My sincere condolences to the Bush family and the many friends of George H.W. Bush. Rest in peace, sir.

RIP, Barbara Bush

Former First Lady and mother of President George W. Bush has passed away.

Barbara Bush

Barbara Pierce Bush, matriarch of an American political dynasty that has produced presidents, governors and other high officials, has died in Houston. She was 92.

Bush was an outspoken public figure, often putting into words the thoughts that the elected men in her family were too cautious to utter. She did practically everything in politics short of running for office herself, organizing campaigns and “women’s groups” in the parlance of the day, riding herd on political friendships and organizations critical to electing her husband, George H.W. Bush, to the U.S. House, the vice presidency and ultimately, to the presidency itself. Her oldest son, George W. Bush, was the 43rd president after twice winning election as governor of Texas. His younger brother, Jeb Bush, was governor of Florida and, later, an unsuccessful candidate for president. And one of her grandsons, George. P. Bush, is currently the land commissioner of Texas.

Barbara Bush was the second American who was both the wife and mother of presidents; the other was Abigail Adams. She and George Bush, married 73 years ago in January 1945, had the longest-lasting marriage of any first couple. Both were from political families. Her grandfather, James Robinson, was on Ohio’s first Supreme Court, according to Richard Ben Cramer’s “What It Takes.” Her father, Marvin Pierce, was a distant descendant of President Franklin Pierce. George H.W. Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was a U.S. senator from Connecticut.

The family had put out a statement earlier this week saying that Mrs. Bush had stopped taking treatment and was going to go into palliative care. She was loved and respected by many – see the bottom of the story for some of the statements that came out following the announcement of her passing – and she will be missed. My condolences to her family and friends. RG Ratcliffe and the Chron have more.

Charity Navigator on your best bets for Harvey relief

In case you’re still making up your mind about how to donate to Harvey relief.

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on Friday evening, August 25th, as the first Category 4 hurricane to hit the United States since Hurricane Charley in 2004. Ahead of its landfall, many communities were ordered to evacuate, as fears arose that the hurricane could leave some coastal areas uninhabitable. The storm, which intensified over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Texas and its surrounding states, brought with it heavy rainfall, damaging winds, and a powerful storm surge. It has significantly impacted communities along the Texas coastline, including Houston, as well as other areas along the Gulf with wind and flood damage. Charity Navigator has compiled a list of highly-rated organizations responding in the aftermath of this storm and providing assistance to the people and communities affected by it. Donors can designate their donations to the cause on the organization’s website. However, at this point in time it is not certain that all these organizations will spend 100% of donations received on Hurricane Harvey relief.

If you’re looking for a local charity to support in the wake of Hurricane Harvey please consider Houston SPCAHouston Humane SocietyHouston Food BankFood Bank of Corpus Christi, or San Antonio Humane Society. These highly-rated organizations are located in the most-affected areas and are providing support to individuals and animals.

If you represent a charity interested in being considered for inclusion, please email hottopics@charitynavigator.org to request a disaster response survey.

Designated donations made from this page will be applied to charity programs per each charity’s designation policies.

This Chron story pointed to the Charity Navigator resource. There are a number of good options on that page, so go check it out. While you’re there, you might as well go ahead and check out the similar page for Hurricane Irma relief, because we’re unfortunately going to need it. For more local charity choices, this story has a photo essay of possibilities. And finally, there’s this:

All the living former U.S. presidents are joining together in an online campaign to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey and the floods it caused along the Texas coast.

Called the OneAmericaAppeal, the campaign follows in the footsteps of a series of successful disaster relief efforts undertaken on behalf of the victims of the tsunami in southeast Asia, the earthquake in Haiti, and hurricanes Katrina and Ike.

Those efforts involved Bill Clinton and both George W. and George H.W. Bush. The new campaign, which is solely an online appeal, also includes Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

[…]

The idea for the joint appeal arose from discussions between George H.W. Bush and his son, both of whom live in Texas, but was immediately embraced by Clinton, Carter and Obama, said Jim McGrath, spokesman for the elder Bush.

“All five living presidents have come together, and they have done so because of what was taking place during and after Harvey,” McGrath said. “With the unprecedented intensity of the storm, the heroic response of the first responders and volunteers, and all the people from all over rallying to help them, it was not a hard sell.”

Go to www.oneamericaappeal.org to donate. All funds are earmarked for Texas, so you can reach beyond Houston if you wish. They will also consider expanding to Florida if needed, as we likely will.

Texas will turn over some voter info to Trump vote “fraud” commission

I have three things to say about this:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas will hand over personal information of the state’s more than 15 million voters to President Donald Trump’s commission that is looking into voter fraud.

Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said his office will share any publicly available information with Trump’s commission as requested, including the names, addresses, dates of birth and political party affiliations. But the state will not be sharing partial social security numbers as Trump’s commission asked for because that information is not part of Texas’ voter rolls.

“The Secretary of State’s office will provide the Election Integrity Commission with public information and will protect the private information of Texas citizens while working to maintain the security and integrity of our state’s elections system,” Pablos said. “As always, my office will continue to exercise the utmost care whenever sensitive voter information is required to be released by state or federal law.”

Pablos’ comments come as governors in some states have flat out refused a request by the commission this week to hand over data.

[…]

The White House on Friday responded by questioning why states would refuse to hand over the information to the commission.

“I think that’s mostly a political stunt,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in Washington.

Using an executive order, Trump on May 11 created his commission to go after what he has told Republicans was 3 million to 5 million illegal votes cast in the 2016 election — a claim that has not been verifiable.

1. Let’s be very clear that Kris Kobach is an extreme partisan hack whose primary interest is in making it harder/impossible for as many people to vote as he can. He has a long track record of doing this, along with a long track record of being extremely anti-immigrant. Other members of this travesty have similar track records. This is a star chamber whose existence is owed to a giant lie about “illegal” votes. The whole point of this exercise is to purge people off of state voter rolls, just as the Dubya Bush-era Justice Department tried to do, featuring some of the same cast of deplorables as today. There is zero legitimacy to any of this. It is all malevolent.

2. As the Texas Election Law Blog notes, the state of Texas is legally prohibited from supplying confidential information (which includes Social Security numbers and Texas drivers license numbers) to the commission. Which is nice, but it’s hardly a guarantee. For example, as Sondra Haltom reminds us:

You should know that a bill was proposed this past session (HB 3422 by Laubenberg and Fallon) that would have allowed the TX SOS to provide voters’ Social Security numbers to Kobach as part of his Kansas Interstate Voter Crosscheck (read: flawed, illegal voter purge) program. Luckily it died, but not before it got out of the House Elections Committee. Just FYI. Sleep well.

And as Glen Maxey reminds us, it could be even worse:

Two sessions ago, the Republicans passed “Crosscheck” through the Texas legislature. This was a program to send all our voter data to the state of Kansas who ran a program to cross check it to other participating states to find “duplicates”. I fought it vigorously, but it passed. That program is run by Mr. Kobach, Kansas Sec. of State.

Our SOS didn’t implement the program because there was another statute in the Government code that prohibited sending dates of birth and social security and driver’s license numbers to others.

Maxey appears to be referring to SB 795 from 2015. I’m not enough of an expert to tell you the difference between these bills. What I can tell you is that there’s nothing stopping Greg Abbott from adding an item to require compliance to this sham commission to the special session agenda.

3. Remember when Texas leaders would file a lawsuit rather than comply with anything the federal government wanted them to do? Boy, those were the days. Can you even imagine the reaction from Abbott and Patrick and Paxton if the Obama administration or (sigh) a Clinton administration had tried this? Daily Kos, the WaPo, the Trib, the NYT, NPR, and Rick Hasen have more.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

Muslim voting

So it turns out that prolonged demonization of a population is a good way to get said population to turn out and vote against the party that is demonizing them.

MJ Khan

MJ Khan

A record 86 percent of registered Muslim voters are expected to cast ballots nationally this year, and the overwhelming majority — more than 70 percent — are expected to vote for the Democratic nominee, according to surveys. Muslims represent only about 1 percent of the population, but high turnouts in states where the election is close could push the electoral votes to Clinton, analysts said.

Texas could be one of those states as recent polls show Clinton within striking distance of Trump. While most analysts expect the state to stay in the GOP column, a high turnout of Muslims voting for Clinton could help upset those predictions.

Among those who say they will vote for Clinton is M.J. Khan, a Republican who served three terms on the Houston city council from 2004 to 2009. Khan, who immigrated from Pakistan in 1976 and owns businesses in oil, gas and real estate, said Muslims historically were attracted to Republicans because of their opposition to abortion, support for limited government and emphasis on values that frown upon divorce and pre-marital sex. But Trump’s derogatory comments and attacks against Muslims, Mexicans, and other minorities will lead him to vote against his party’s presidential nominee.

“We expect leaders to have strong character and inclusivity in their discourse,” Khan said. “After what Mr. Trump has said about many groups, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims and women, I cannot support a leader with such insulting views.”

Texas has one of the largest Muslim populations in the country, and Houston the largest in the state. More than 60,000 Muslims live here; the city is home to more than 20 mosques.

Houston’s Muslim population is nearly as diverse as the city itself, community leaders say. About 75 percent have Indian or Pakistani backgrounds and 15 percent are Arab. The remaining 10 percent were born in places like China, Myanmar, South Africa — and the United States.

[…]

Nabila Mansoor, director of the Houston chapter of Emerge USA, an Islamic civic organization, has gone to mosques across Houston to register voters and hand out fliers with information about early voting. In past elections, she said, she had to recruit people to help. Not this year: volunteers are flooding her organization, most driven by fears of a Trump presidency and determination to try to prevent it.

With early voting underway in Texas and other states, Mansoor said, anxieties are growing among Muslims. But she hopes tensions will ease if Clinton, as recent polls suggest, wins.

“People just want this election to be over,” Mansoor said.

Well, I think we can all agree with that. Some of this is overlap with the Democratic trend of Asian Americans, though not all of it is. Along those same lines, both of these groups were considerably more amenable to Republicans as recently as the George W. Bush presidency. It’s really kind of amazing how much things have shifted, but they have, and it didn’t come from nowhere. The real question is whether Republicans can make a credible pitch to these voters again after Trump, perhaps following the recommendations of that post-2012 autopsy report, or if they’ve lost them for a generation or more. If it’s the latter, it will have been richly deserved.

We still have those outsourcing blues

We never learn from history. That’s just how we roll in this state.

In 1991, the Texas attorney general’s office signed an $11 million contract to computerize its child-support payments system. By 1997, the deal with Andersen Consulting had ballooned to more than $68 million and was three years behind schedule. A state audit found the company deserved its fair share of the blame for overpromising and underperforming.

A decade later, Andersen Consulting had renamed itself Accenture and was in the crosshairs of Texas lawmakers again after an $899 million contract to manage the Children’s Health Insurance Program and run call centers enrolling Texans in food stamps and Medicaid went awry. Poorly trained staff and technical problems led to a series of well-publicized snafus, including applicant backlogs growing by thousands and misinformed workers denying benefits to eligible families. Texas ultimately paid Accenture $244 million and canceled the contract.

Despite the two high-profile flubs, Accenture’s relationship with Texas appears stronger than ever. The company is in charge of most of the state’s Medicaid claims processing, as well as a $99 million upgrade of the AG’s child support payments system, two areas synonymous with its past missteps.

That a company with a 20-year history of troubled state contracts would continue drawing state business does not surprise capital veterans who have tried to reform the state’s contracting system.

“My observation over the years is we have often entered into contracts that may not have been in the best interest of the state, and we try to overcome it by managing them poorly,” said Carl Isett, a Republican state representative from Lubbock from 1997 to 2010 who worked on contracting issues and is now a lobbyist. “It’s just the recurring theme.”

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat first elected in 1991, said he would support temporary “freeze-outs” from future bidding by companies that have been shown to handle past contracts poorly. Yet more important than holding vendors accountable, he said, is boosting the state’s resources so that agencies aren’t outgunned when dealing with the private sector.

“The only way to do outsourcing properly is to have enough people working on the agency side to do appropriate oversight of the company that has the contract,” Coleman said. “What we don’t want is the tail wagging the dog, which is what usually happens.”

Coleman recalled being in the Legislature in the 1990s, when “outsourcing” emerged as a buzzword, coming up constantly in hearings and in policy proposals. Texas was drawing national attention for its efforts to transfer responsibilities onto the private sector, which Republican lawmakers predicted would lower costs while producing a reliable, efficient and technologically sophisticated delivery of services.

In 1997, under Gov. George W. Bush, the state began taking bids to outsource the state’s welfare, Medicaid and food stamp programs, predicting the move would save the state at least $10 million a month. The concept, viewed at the time as the most ambitious privatization effort by any state, fell apart after President Bill Clinton denied Bush’s request for a waiver from federal rules requiring that government employees handle much of that work. Bush accused Clinton of siding with politically powerful labor unions over good policy solutions.

The setback slowed, but didn’t stop, Texas’ march toward privatization. In 2003, Gov. Perry signed House Bill 2292, which consolidated 12 health and human services agencies into five and ultimately replaced thousands of state workers with private contractors handling duties like screening welfare recipients.

More than a decade later, the bill’s author and lead proponent, former state Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, described the bill as a success in its goal of shrinking state government and outsourcing services better handled by the private sector. Yet contracting oversight needs to be reformed, she said.

“In my opinion it is one of the greatest weaknesses of state government,” said Wohlgemuth, executive director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank. “We need to do a better job of enforcing the contract once we have agreed upon it and auditing those contracts.”

Of course, firing all of the HHSC employees and simply discontinuing all of its programs – an outcome that would have delighted Arlene Wohlgemuth – would have succeeded in “shrinking state government”, too. The fact that HB 2292 was a massive boondoggle that cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars while providing worse service and disrupting the lives of hundreds of experienced state employees isn’t worth comment on her part. You can see why we continue falling into this particular rabbit hole. No business would undertake this kind of project without a phalanx of project delivery managers and a contract that provided for rebates and penalties in the event of failing to meet benchmarks. All the outsourcing zealots want is to save a few bucks by any means necessary, even if it winds up costing more in the long run. Go read the whole thing and remind yourself why oversight matters. EoW has more.

Of course some people will split their votes

It’s just a matter of how many of them do so, and if the races in question are close enough for it to matter.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democrats are hoping the Republicans will eventually make some of the mistakes Democrats themselves made back when they were on top and the GOP was trying to break down the doors of power. They ran candidates — particularly at the national level — who were too liberal for conservative Texas Democrats to stomach. They developed a split between conservatives and liberals that made it possible for Republicans to peel away the conservatives and form the beginnings of what is now a solid Republican majority.

The notion behind the current Van de Putte proposition is that — to Democrats — Patrick is so extreme that even some Republicans will rebel and vote for the Democrat. In a debate with Patrick this year, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said the Houston Republican would be the Democrats’ “meal ticket” in November.

The differences between the two top candidates (there are also a Libertarian, a Green and an independent in the race) are stark: gender, ethnicity, party, ideology, roots. She is likely to attack his positions on immigration, health care, abortion, equal pay and education. He is likely to attack her positions on some of those same things, characterizing her as a liberal who wants to expand government and poisoning his darts with the unpopularity of the Democratic president.

To be the only Democratic statewide winner in November, Van de Putte would need to make sure Patrick doesn’t perform as well as Greg Abbott. And that requires one to imagine the voter who will vote for Abbott and then turn and vote for Van de Putte — who will vote against Wendy Davis for governor and against Patrick for lieutenant governor. Republicans are betting there won’t be many of those. Democrats are hoping that women and minorities will have an allergic reaction to his rhetoric and positions, creating an opportunity for their candidate.

It happened before, but this was a different state when voters elected George W. Bush, a Republican, and Bob Bullock, a Democrat, to the top two positions on the ballot. It nearly happened again four years later, when Bush won re-election against Garry Mauro by 37 percentage points and Republican Rick Perry beat Democrat John Sharp by less than 2 points in the race for lieutenant governor.

It’s true you have to go back to 1994 to find an example of a party split at the top of state government, but you don’t have to go back nearly that far to find a significant split in how people voted for those two offices. Just in 2010, more than 300,000 people voted for Bill White and David Dewhurst. That always gets overlooked because the races were not close in 2010, making White’s effort little more than a footnote, but the point is simply that people – many people – can and will split their vote in the right set of circumstances.

We also saw plenty of examples of this in 2012, though not at the statewide level. Congressman Pete Gallego, State Rep. Craig Eiland, and *ahem* State Sen. Wendy Davis all won races in districts that voted majority Republican otherwise. In Harris County, some 40,000 people voted for Mitt Romney and Adrian Garcia, while in the other direction another fifteen or twenty thousand voted for Barack Obama and Mike Anderson. In all of these cases, those ticket splitters very much did matter – the first three could not have won without them, while the latter two could have gone either way, as Harris County was basically 50-50 that year. This is why the efforts of Battleground Texas mean so much. Democrats have to get their base vote up, or else it won’t matter how much crossover appeal Leticia Van de Putte – or Wendy Davis, or Sam Houston, or Mike Collier – may have. It’s not either-or, it’s both or nothing.

Perry says Texas will not comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act

Amazing the number of laws Rick Perry refuses to obey, isn’t it?

More than a decade after the Prison Rape Elimination Act unanimously passed Congress, federal standards for implementation of the law have been finalized. Now, Gov. Rick Perry and some prison reform advocates are at odds over what those standards mean for Texas lockups and the taxpayers who pay for them.

In a March 28 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Perry wrote that while he believed the law was well-intended, he would not certify that the 297 state prisons and local jails that are subject to PREA comply with its regulations come May 15, the certification deadline set by Department of Justice.

The new standards, he wrote, are “impossible,” out of touch with the daily realities of state prisons and would require heavy financial burdens.

“Absent standards that acknowledge the operational realities in our prisons and jails, I will not sign your form and I will encourage my fellow governors to follow suit,” Perry wrote.

But a spokesman for the correctional officers union said that not complying with the federal rules puts Texas at risk financially and legally.

Jason Clark, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the prison system has already made significant progress in meeting PREA standards.

“We are compliant with most of PREA’s standards, except for the cross-gender supervision standard,” Clark said.

[…]

“The Texas prison system already realized some time ago that they need to work to create safer environments for inmates,” said Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Still, noncompliance with PREA could have financial consequences. It would not only result in a 5 percent reduction of federal funding, but it could make the state vulnerable to lawsuits, said Lance Lowry, president of the Texas correctional employees union.

“The governor’s office has a gross misunderstanding of what the PREA act is all about,” Lowry said. “And the state’s failure to comply with regulation will open up a tremendous amount of liability.”

In recent years, Texas has revamped parole, reduced recidivism, added specialized drug courts and reduced overall prison costs. Still, Deitch said, challenges remain — most importantly, sufficient staffing.

“I think the governor makes a lot of very good points in his letter. He highlights some of the issues that will be hardest for correctional agencies in the state,” Deitch said. “But I think it’s also really important for us to realize that [the state agencies] are already very close to being in compliance now.”

There’s also the fact that just because something isn’t easy to do, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have to do it. We don’t take that attitude with schoolchildren, and we shouldn’t take it with Governors, either. If the Harris County jail can meet this standard – ahead of schedule, by the way – then so can TDCJ.

Grits had this story before the Trib and the Chron did, with followups here and here. Go read what Grits has to say and see what you think. It would also be nice to know what the two leading candidates for Governor think about this as well. Lone Star Q has more.

Perry keeps asking for the same Medicaid waiver he hasn’t gotten in the past

Same as it ever was.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Free corndogs with every approved treatment!

Gov. Rick Perry is preparing for yet another battle in his war against Obamacare.

In a letter to the state’s health agency on Monday, the governor laid out his plan to request a federal waiver to reform Medicaid as Texas sees fit — without expanding eligibility.

“Seemingly, the president and his administration are content to simply throw money at a problem and hope that any problems will resolve themselves,” Perry wrote in a Monday letter to Kyle Janek, the executive commissioner of Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission. “My response, and the response of the Texas Legislature, has been crystal clear: Texas will not expand Medicaid under Obamacare.”

Instead, Perry has asked that the agency request flexibility in the form of a block grant — a fixed amount of money, rather than matching dollars for Medicaid services — from the federal government to fundamentally reform Medicaid. Specifically, Perry requested that the agency seek a waiver that allows the state to make changes to the program without receiving federal approval, continue asset and resource testing to determine eligibility, and initiate cost-sharing initiatives, such as co-payments, premiums and deductibles, among other reforms.

The waiver “should give Texas the flexibility to transform our program into one that encourages personal responsibility, reduces dependence on the government, reins in program cost growth and efficiently improves coordination of care,” Perry wrote.

[…]

In a second letter sent to HHSC on Monday, Perry requested that the agency develop a mechanism to continue collecting and analyzing income, asset and resource information on Texans who apply for Medicaid benefits. That’s despite a provision in the Affordable Care Act — one that takes effect on Jan. 1 — that requires the state to stop asset testing to determine Medicaid eligibility.

A copy of the letter requesting the block grant is here, and a copy of the letter on asset testing is here. Texas has been asking for a Medicaid block grant since at least 2008, when the Bush administration rejected the request. Perry knows full well what the answer will be, he’s just going through the motions out of spite and the continued delusion that he’ll be appealing to Iowa voters in 2016. If the CMS assigned me the task of writing the response, I’d start out by noting that in any negotiation, there must be good faith and a willingness to give something to get something. As the primary purpose of block granting Medicaid is the limit services, and the primary purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to enroll more people in health insurance plans, Perry’s proposal demonstrates neither of those things. Just this week, we’ve seen two examples of other Republican governors agreeing to expand Medicaid. They both wrung some concessions out of the feds in doing so, but the end result will be more people getting access to health care. And Lord knows, we need a commitment to providing access to health care in Texas.

Texas continued to have the highest rate of people without health insurance in 2012 at 24.6 percent, according to the Current Population Survey estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday.

“Texas has often had the highest uninsured rate throughout the country,” said David Johnson, chief of the Census Bureau’s Social, Economic and Housing Statistics Division. He added that additional data from the American Community Survey that the Census Bureau plans to release later this week would provide more specific information on health insurance rates in states and metropolitan areas.

The Current Population Survey estimates revealed that the national uninsured rate declined in 2012, to 15.4 percent from 15.7 percent in 2011. The national real median income and official poverty rate were not statistically different in 2011 and 2012, according to the estimates.

Thanks to the insurance exchanges and the ACA subsidies, Texas’ unacceptably high level of uninsured people will decline, though as always Perry is doing everything he can to keep as many Texans as possible sick and unable to do anything about it. Perry and his fellow Republicans just don’t give a damn about the problem. Until they do, I see no reason for the feds to waste any time on these pointless requests.

The trend matters as much as the average

I would characterize this Politifact analysis as basically accurate but not particularly meaningful.

Republican consultant Karl Rove thinks Georgia Republicans need to be more like their Texas counterparts.

In a May 18 speech at Georgia’s GOP state convention, Rove said Republicans have “got to get outside of our comfort zone and go places Republicans are not comfortable going,” according to a transcript provided to us by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “And we’ve got to get candidates who represent the diversity of our country,” Rove said.

“Look, in Texas we get 40 percent of the Latino vote on average,” Rove said. “And that’s because every Republican is comfortable campaigning everywhere in Texas and because we go out of our way to recruit qualified Latino candidates and run them for office.”

Nationally in 2012, Barack Obama defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney while enjoying substantial Latino support. Some 71 percent of Hispanic voters favored Obama, compared with 27 percent for Romney, according to voter exit polls undertaken for a consortium of news organizations.

We wondered about Rove’s 40-percent-in-Texas claim.

[…]

Mike Baselice, an Austin pollster who has counseled Rove, Perry and numerous Republican candidates, said in an October 2012 memo based on his firm’s Oct. 10-14 survey of 851 likely Texas voters that at that time, Obama had the support of 49 percent of the state’s Hispanic voters, with Romney at 40 percent. According to Baselice’s memo, Republican U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz was supported by 36 percent of Hispanic voters, while Democrat Paul Sadler had 40 percent.

The Politico story also mentioned a Texas poll taken on the eve of the November 2012 elections indicating Cruz had 35 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote, outpacing Romney, shown at 29 percent. The poll by Latino Decisions, a Seattle-based firm that specializes in Latino political opinion research, was based on 400 telephone interviews with Texas Latinos who had voted or were certain to vote. Its margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points suggests that Cruz, but not Romney, was on the verge of drawing 40 percent of the Texas Latino vote.

James Henson, director of the Politics Project in the Department of Government at the University of Texas, struck a cautionary note as we explored Rove’s claim. Any look at how Latino voters divide relies on extrapolation, Henson said, “since there is no direct measure for Latino voting.”

[…]

Upshot: The best a Republican fared with Texas Hispanics in the elections was Kay Bailey Hutchison when she drew half the Hispanic vote in 2000, by one analysis. The same year, Bush got 49 percent in his first run for president, according to that year’s exit polls taken for news organizations, or 33 percent, according to a poll by the William C. Velásquez Institute. Bush also drew 49 percent in 2004, according to the national exit poll.

The worst any Republican fared among Texas Hispanics was Romney’s election eve 29 percent, according to the Latino Decisions poll.

Considering every result except the one for Perry in 2006 (when he faced multiple challengers) delivers an average of 39 percent of the Hispanic vote for Republicans at or near the top of the tickets. We also averaged the poll showings for each election year, reaching an across-the-years average of 40 percent. Trying another tack, we counted only the polled results for nonpresidential candidates, also landing at 40 percent.

There are two basic issues here. One is that whatever polling can tell us, it’s not the only data we have available to us. We also have election returns, and while that doesn’t tell us how many Latinos there were voting and how specifically they did, we can get a pretty decent estimate. As it happens, I did look at Presidential voting in the heavily Latino State Rep districts recently, and the totals for Mitt Romney ranged from 21.8% to 34.1% – actually, Romney went all the way up to 37.3%, as I just realized I missed HD31 when I compiled that list – which needless to say suggests he fell well short of 40%, as we’ve basically known all along. In fact, it’s likely the case that he did even worse in these districts than the numbers given suggest, since some of the voters there were Anglo, and I think it’s safe to say he got more support those voters. As for Baselice, as far as I know he never released the data of his poll, which claimed that “Romney did 12 to 15 points better among Latinos in Texas than in California”, not specifically that Latinos voted 40% for Romney. I’m always extra skeptical of polls whose data I can’t see, especially when they come from the same guy who claimed just before the GOP Senate primary runoff last year that David Dewhurst was going to beat Ted Cruz.

I should note that there were other polls in Texas besides the two mentioned by PolitiFact. The Wilson Perkins poll had Romney at 32% among Latinos; the Lyceum poll had him at 32.5% among Latinos; and the last YouGov poll had Romney at 40% among Latinos. So that’s three out of four polls that publicly released their data showing Romney no higher than 33%, while one poll that did release its data and one poll that didn’t had him at 40.

Getting back to my point about actual election returns, sure there are plenty of Latino voters in places other than those specific districts, but these are the districts where SSVR is over 70%, which gives some assurance that the actual vote totals and the Latino vote totals will be similar. It’s an estimate, like polls are estimates, and in this case it gives some idea of what the upper bound of Romney support from Latinos in Texas likely was. Again, that would put it significantly below 40%.

OK, but Rove was talking about Latino support on the average. That’s all well and good, and for all I know his statement may be perfectly accurate, but how much does the data from the 2000 election really tell you? Texas is a very different place now than it was back then. It would be equally accurate to say that over the 2000-2012 time frame, Texas Democrats averaged two members of Congress from predominantly Republican rural districts. Of course, nearly all of those members of Congress were elected in 2000 and 2002, and the last one was elected in 2008, but the math still works. The point here is that while averages are useful, so are trend lines. Latino support for Republicans is lower now than it was in 2000, or 2004, and it’s likely to stay at those lower levels, at least for the time being. Surely, the high profile opposition to immigration reform among the entire Texas Republican Congressional caucus isn’t going to help their cause here. If the next couple of elections go like the last few have been, it will be about as accurate to talk about Republicans winning 40% of the Latino vote as it is now to talk about Democrats winning 40% of the East Texas vote.

George P Bush is ready for his closeup

You may now give him his due.

Ending months of speculation, Fort Worth attorney George P. Bush announced he would run for the office of Texas Land Commissioner with a Twitter message, after confirming that current Commissioner Jerry Patterson would not seek re-election:

“Great visit with @Patterson4TX. Updated filing. Running for #TXLand Commissioner. Join me at http://GeorgePforTexas.org#TX 2014.”

Bush, the grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, nephew of former President of George W. Bush and son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush, also launched a two-minute campaign video on Youtube. In it, he credits former First Lady Barbara Bush with his decision to seek public office. “The important lesson Ganny taught me was the importance of public service,” he said.

In January, the 36-year-old Bush filed a campaign finance report with the Texas Ethics Commission reporting he had gathered $1.3 million in campaign contributions, including $50,000 from a George Bush, whose hometown is listed as Midland, and another $50,000 from his father.

I’ll say this much – I don’t have any particular problem with legacies going into the family business, as it were. It’s a common enough occurrence in other professions, and no one finds it objectionable when a lawyer’s kid goes to law school or a chef’s kid opens a restaurant. I know, this isn’t quite the same, but it’s still basically a kid following in a parent’s footprints. Sure, he’s got a much easier path to walk than a George P. Smith would have had, but again that’s true in any profession. There are plenty of reasons to be unimpressed by George P. Bush, and I’m certainly not going to refrain from mocking him for his silver spoon life, but there’s nothing remarkable about his decision.

One more thing:

Bush’s website featured a story about his potential to lure Hispanic voters to the Republican Party. His mother, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Mexico.

If George P advocates policies that Latino voters like and agree with, he’ll do well with them, for some value of “well”. If not, simply being George P. Bush will probably have little effect. This isn’t a complicated thing. BOR, Texpatriate, and Dos Centavos have more.

Baby Bush ready to claim his birthright

Perhaps we should just skip straight to the coronation once George P. Bush figures out what office he wants.

George Prescott Bush is gearing up to run for a little-known but powerful office in a state where his family already is a political dynasty and where his Hispanic roots could help extend a stranglehold on power Republicans have enjoyed for two decades.

The 36-year-old Fort Worth attorney says he is close to settling on campaigning for Texas land commissioner next year. He doesn’t expect to make up his mind until he knows what Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, decides to do.

“We for sure are running, the question is the office,” Bush told The Associated Press during the first interview about his political future since filing paperwork in November to seek elected office in Texas.

Bush’s father is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, his grandfather is former President George H.W. Bush and his uncle is former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush. Perry has been governor since George W. left for the White House.

Land commissioner traditionally has been a steppingstone to higher office, but Bush said little about any plans to eventually become a national political force.

His grandfather Prescott Bush was a US Senator, too. The past four years have been a rare period in American history where a member of the Bush family has not held some office. It will be interesting to see how he handles the inevitable tea party opponent he gets for Land Commissioner or whatever else he runs for. Will he adopt their positions, or will he remain blandly Bushy and presume that his name, money, and connections will suffice to handle it? The Trib has an interview with our future overlord if you want to better prepare yourself for the inevitable.

Early voting, one week in

We have completed one full week of early voting, and through Sunday a total of 362,827 people had voted in person, with an additional 53,131 ballot being cast by mail, for a grand total of 415,958. The updated spreadsheet is here for your perusal. For comparison, there were 314,252 in person ballots cast through Sunday, 2008, so this year represents a 15.5% increase in non-absentee early votes. Another way to look at it is that there were 1,892,65registered voters in 2008, and this year there are 2,003,436 registered voters, which is 5.8% more. If the increase in early voting turnout were driven entirely by the increase in voter registration, we would have had 332,479 early votes by now. The actual total of 362,827 is therefore an increase of 9.1% over what might have been expected.

Again, all this suggest what we are seeing is the new normal. The totals are high-water marks, but they’re not a quantum leap like what we saw in 2008. It’s not out of the question to me that we could see the pace of early voting slack off a bit next week, with 2012 numbers losing some of their lead over 2008 numbers. I’m confident that 2012 will have more early voting, even accounting for registration growth, but the percentage margin may be less at the end of this week than it is right now. Just a feeling, I have no objective evidence for this. We’ll see.

One more thing to talk about is not just how many people are voting early, but which people are voting early. In 2004, 45.5% of all straight-ticket Republican votes and 43.8% of George W. Bush’s votes were cast early, while 40.7% of both straight-ticket Democratic votes and John Kerry’s votes were cast early. In 2008, those numbers were 61.6% of straight-ticket Republican votes and 59.4% of John McCain’s votes, and 66.6% of straight-ticket Democratic votes and 66.4% of Barack Obama’s votes were early. I suspect in the end that the share of each party’s early votes will be about the same, and at least as high as the Democratic share was in 2008. And, as foolish as it is to make predictions this far out, I suspect we’ll see the same sort of behavior in 2016.

Mail ballots

Campos has been tracking mail ballot requests to the Harris County Clerk.

Here is what the County put out yesterday evening:

As of this evening we have approved 71,101 applications and sent out 67,376 ballots. We have received 19,468 voted ballots returned.

25,848 have been generated by the GOP and 20,866 by Dems.

In an earlier entry, Campos noted that “In 2008 in Harris County, 76,187 requested mail ballots and 67,612 (88.7%) were returned and counted. In 2010 in Harris County, 69,991 requested mail ballots and 55,560 (79.4%) were returned and counted.”

So 55.3% of the ballots that have been requested by people with an identifiable primary voting history are going to Republicans. Out of curiosity, I looked at the two most recent Presidential-year elections in Harris County for a point of comparison. In 2004, 29,926 absentee ballot voters went for George W. Bush, and 17,010 went for John Kerry. That’s 63.8% for Bush. In 2008, the numbers were 41,986 absentee voters for John McCain, and 24,503 for Barack Obama; that’s 63.1% of absentee votes for McCain. Already we have more absentee ballots requested with more than a week to go before early voting starts than were cast in 2008, and about as many that can be identified by party primary voting as were cast in 2004. We don’t know how many of those requesters from each group will actually return their ballots, and we don’t know how many of those 19,000 or so non-primary voters really belong to each party, but early on at least it looks like Democrats may have closed the absentee gap a bit. Whether that means anything for the final totals I couldn’t say – it’s entirely possible that most if not all of the new absentee ballot requesters are folks who would have voted in person anyway, in which case this is just shifting things around a bit. I make note of this because I’m a numbers guy and these are some interesting numbers. Are you voting by mail this year, and if so have you done it before? Leave a comment and let us know.

How about those judicial races?

The Chron takes a look downballot.

Democratic judges who surprised Harris County in a 2008 rout because of strong turnout for Barack Obama are bracing for a tough fight in November after seeing the GOP, which had a clean sweep in 2010, continue to bolster its position statewide.

In the county’s 23 contested state district court races, 18 Democrats will have to overcome strong Republican momentum to keep their benches.

“It doesn’t look great,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The state is trending conservative, so it will be difficult for Democrats to retain a lot of those seats.”

Although the judges are countywide races, they are too far down the ballot for most voters to study and make choices outside of party affiliation.

“A lot of these races are consumed and swept up in the general partisan trends,” said Rottinghaus. “Harris County certainly has flecks of blue, but there are elements that will drive the state to be more red this year.”

He said anger with Obama, as evidenced by the tea party, and the popularity of critics of the president, like Senate candidate Ted Cruz, will influence the election.

“The people at the top of the ticket are driving not only the turnout, but also much of the debate we’re having nationally, statewide and locally.”

Other experts said they do not expect a sweep, while well-known candidates on both sides will rise above the fray.

“I do not see a partisan sweep either way,” said political analyst Robert Miller. “Strong Democrats such as (Sheriff) Adrian Garcia will win, as will strong Republicans such as (district attorney candidate) Mike Anderson.”

It’s hard to argue with Miller’s prediction, but that doesn’t answer the question about the judicial races, which are primarily a function of base turnout. I’m not sure what Prof. Rottinghaus is basing his opinion on. Here’s a look at Presidential turnout levels in Harris County since 1992:

Year Republican Democrat =========================== 1992 406,778 360,771 1996 421,462 386,726 2000 528,965 418,143 2004 584,723 475,865 2008 571,883 590,982

I know from past study of 2004 races that George W. Bush received a number of Democratic crossover votes, so his total is a bit inflated. Still, the average Republican judicial candidate in a contested race received about 536,000 votes in 2004, and about 540,000 votes in 2008, while Democratic judicial candidates got 470,000 and 562,000, respectively. Was overall Republican turnout depressed in 2008? Maybe. Is it likely to be better this time around? Again, maybe. The Tea Party was clearly a factor for them in 2010, but that was largely due to bringing out Presidential year voters in a non-Presidential election. Those people are already factored into the equation for this year. How many Republicans who didn’t vote in 2008 are likely to come out this year, that’s the question. I suppose, as Prof. Rottinghaus suggests, that Ted Cruz could be amping up their excitement levels – Lord knows, Mitt Romney ain’t doing it – but if so he’s doing it while executing a Dewhurst-style avoidance campaign. (And I don’t know about you, but the only campaign ads I’ve seen lately are Obama ads, which run in fairly high frequency on cable. I swear, I never saw an Obama ad at this time in 2008, nor a Kerry ad ever.) The bigger question is where are new Republican voters coming from? Turnout levels in the Republican parts of Harris County were already very high in 2008, while turnout levels in the Democratic strongholds didn’t change much from 2004. As we know from the polls, the GOP’s base of support comes from Anglo voters, yet Harris County’s Anglo population is on the decline, at least relative to other populations. So again, where are new Republicans coming from?

On the flip side, it is certainly plausible that Democrats hit a peak in 2008 and that a fair number of new and irregular voters who showed up that year won’t bother this time around. Democratic enthusiasm and engagement seems pretty good from where I sit, certainly better than it was earlier this year, but 2008 was a historic year, and 2012 is a defensive one. This I think is the biggest factor, and it’s one I have a hard time quantifying. Demography and the current national atmosphere favor the Dems, but the Democratic base is more prone to enthusiasm deficits, and the effects of voter registration restrictions and voter intimidation efforts are unknown. Overall, I think the Democrats are in the better position, but I really don’t know how to feel about this election locally.

A look at HD136

The Statesman takes a look at the new State Rep. district in Williamson County.

Matt Stillwell

All county and state elected officeholders from Williamson County are Republicans. The party has long dominated the area. But Democrats are eyeing the new district as a potential weak spot in the Republican stronghold, counting it among a handful of districts they hope to take in November.

The race is a high priority, said Bill Brannon, executive director of the state Democratic Party.

“I would say it’s either top tier or very, very close to top tier — it’s a high target,” Brannon said. “It’s a race that presents a lot of opportunities.”

The Democrats hope that [Matt] Stillwell, a father of three who owns an insurance agency and has never held elected office, can beat out Republican candidate Tony Dale and Libertarian Matthew Whittington for control of House District 136. The new district covers portions of Northwest Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock and the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District.

[…]

Democrats say demographics in the newly drawn district provide an opportunity for the party.

According to data from the Williamson County Elections Department, more than a third of registered voters in the district live in Austin and nearly 20 percent of them are 30 or younger — a group that generally leans left.

The party sees the district as a possible repeat of Democratic state Rep. Mark Strama’s 2004 grab of a northern Travis County seat.

Strama, who still holds the seat immediately south of House District 136, said that like the new district, his was drawn for an easy Republican win.

“Frankly it was hard to convince anybody it was a winnable race — which I think is the challenge Matt has now,” Strama said.

Growth in the area — especially in Pflugerville — from Central Austin, as well as California and other states, made his district more Democratic than anyone realized at the time, Strama said.

HD136 is a race that isn’t quite on the radar. It’s a second tier Back To Blue race, outside observers like Robert Miller have not taken it into account. The numbers are daunting but not overwhelming, and there is certainly some hope that the landscape has changed. A comparison of the 2004 and 2008 numbers is instructive:

2004 Bush Kerry Keasler Molina ================================== 63.8% 36.2% 63.2% 36.8% 2008 McCain Obama Wainwright Houston ================================== 51.8% 45.9% 51.2% 42.9%

Data can be found here and here; both links are XLS files. The dropoff from Obama to Sam Houston is mostly accounted by the 5.9% received by the Libertarian candidate in that race. The difference between the two years is striking, and it’s magnified by the raw vote totals. John McCain barely beat George Bush’s number – McCain received 32,977 votes, Bush got 32,413 – but Obama’s total was more than fifty percent greater than John Kerry’s – Obama got 29,227, Kerry just 18,403. I’m sure some of that was “surge”, and maybe that will be hard to repeat, but still. That’s a huge difference. Part of Stillwell’s challenge is identifying and reaching out to the new voters in the district, and part is making sure that those who vote for Obama stick around for him as well – Sam Houston’s vote total, by contrast, was only 25,734, a much bigger decrease from Obama than Dale Wainwright’s 30,696 was from McCain. The comparison to Rep. Mark Strama, who won a rapidly-changing district in 2004 that had been thought to be solidly red in 2002, is instructive, but there is one key difference here: Stillwell has a lot less money than Strama did at the time. Maybe that’s why this race isn’t as high profile. Keep an eye on this one, though, it could easily be a surprise on November 6.

Sadler’s challenge

Democratic Senate hopeful Paul Sadler is a strong candidate with limited resources. Where have I heard that before?

Paul Sadler

In Victoria on a recent Saturday afternoon, the candidate for the U.S. Senate had the crowd on its feet, the shouts and applause washing over the meeting room like waves on the nearby Gulf. As he wrapped up his 15-minute jeremiad warning of the havoc his opponent would wreak on the Lone Star State and, as he began making his way to the back of the room, shaking hands and posing for photos along the way, an older woman in a red pantsuit sought to recapture the crowd’s attention.

“This campaign costs money,” she shouted into the microphone several times, but only those within a few feet of her were listening. One of them eventually doffed his straw hat, which became a makeshift collection basket for a statewide campaign tossing nickels and dimes at an opponent awash in money and nationwide ardor.

The Victoria experience represents the Paul Sadler campaign in miniature. Little-known statewide and underfunded, the lawyer and former state representative from Henderson is a capable campaigner, an experienced lawmaker and a credible candidate for a party desperately in need of new faces and arresting ideas.

Sadler’s problem, of course, is that his GOP opponent, tea party darling Ted Cruz, has been all but anointed the successor to retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Cruz has money, star power and the overwhelming advantage of being a Republican in the most fervid of red states. In last month’s Senate runoffs, 1.1 million Texas Republicans cast a ballot, compared to 235,000 Democrats.

I’m going to begin by going off on a tangent here. I don’t know exactly how one defines fervidness in this context, but at least by 2008 results, Texas isn’t the reddest of red states. It’s not even in the top half, if one uses margin of victory as the metric. Here are the 2008 results by state. I’ve helpfully plucked out the states carried by John McCain and sorted them by margin of victory below:

State Obama McCain Margin ================================= Wyoming 32.54 64.78 32.24 Oklahoma 34.35 65.65 31.29 Utah 34.22 62.24 28.02 Idaho 35.91 61.21 25.30 Alabama 38.74 60.32 21.58 Alaska 37.89 59.42 21.54 Arkansas 38.86 58.72 19.85 Louisiana 39.93 58.86 18.63 Kentuky 41.15 57.37 16.22 Tennessee 41.79 56.85 15.06 Nebraska 41.60 56.53 14.93 Kansas 41.55 57.37 14.92 Mississippi 43.00 56.17 13.17 W Virginia 42.51 55.60 13.09 Texas 43.63 55.39 11.76 S Carolina 44.90 53.87 8.98 N Dakota 44.50 53.15 8.65 Arizona 44.91 53.39 8.48 S Dakota 44.75 53.16 8.41 Georgia 46.90 52.10 5.20 Montana 47.11 49.49 2.38 Missouri 49.23 49.36 0.13

Fourteen states were redder than Texas in 2008. Even in 2004, when George W. Bush was running for re-election and beat John Kerry by 22 points here, Texas was only the tenth-reddest state. Now I admit that even an 11.76 point margin is still daunting, and if you go by vote margin instead of percentage margin Texas was indeed the reddest state in 2008 – McCain got 950,000 more votes than Obama; only Oklahoma and Alabama had margins greater than 450,000 – but that’s a function of population, not popularity. I mean, Alabama and Oklahoma had barely more total votes for both candidates combined than Texas had for just Obama. If fervidness is a synonym for intensity, then Texas was at best #15 for the GOP in the last Presidential election.

But numbers are one thing, perception is another, and the perception that Texas is as red as it gets is a big factor working against candidates like Sadler and other Democratic statewides. Fundraising is obviously affected by this – it’s one thing to give to an underdog, another to a hopeless cause. I believe Sadler is the former, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is by cohosting a fundraiser for him on Monday, September 24 at the Continental Club. There obviously isn’t much time for fundraising at this point, and I don’t even know what a realistic target that can make a meaningful difference might be, but I do believe a difference can be made. If you think so as well, come out and help the cause and meet the candidate on the 24th at the Continental Club. Thanks very much.

From the “Things I will not be spending my money on” department

This arrived in the mail last week:

My letter from George and Laura

I have no idea from which mailing list they bought my name. Suffice it to say it was not money well spent on their part. I got a good laugh out of it, which is more than they’ll get.

Our expensive Governor

Another story about our Governor and his expensive travel habits.

The cost is mounting for Texas taxpayers as Gov. Rick Perry pursues the presidency, with new figures showing the tab for the governor’s security detail has topped $364,000 for out-of-state trips since his re-election.

Figures released by the Texas Department of Public Safety in response to a public information request by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News show the security costs for eight recent out-of-state destinations – most in August, the month that Perry announced his bid – totaled $70,869.54.

They included trips to three key early voting states: South Carolina, where he announced he was seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Iowa and New Hampshire. South Carolina was listed twice as a destination, and Iowa three times. The bill included travels to Colorado in July and to Alabama, where Perry spoke on the eve of his Aug. 13 announcement.

That’s on top of $294,096.34 in security detail costs for 30 out-of-state trips by Perry or his wife, Anita, between his November re-election and July 21, as reported earlier.

Those earlier destinations included the Bahamas for a family vacation; economic development trips by Anita Perry; and trips by Perry to promote his book, meet with business leaders or supporters and perform duties related to his then-chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association.

The tally so far extends only through early September. It doesn’t include travels by Perry or his wife for his three debates or for later campaign events.

Perry’s direct travel costs generally are paid by his campaign, but the cost of his security detail is picked up by the state. The security cost – which also went up when then-Gov. George W. Bush ran for president in 2000 – has drawn particular scrutiny because the state’s in a budget crunch.

There are two things I’d like to see. One is a point of comparison. How much did it cost the state when Bush started campaigning to be President? For that matter, how big a state-paid travel bill was Laura Bush ringing up in those days? How much does it cost other Presidential candidates – Ron Paul, for example – to travel? I’d like to be able to calibrate my outrage here, and that’s harder to do without some idea of the scale.

And two, I’d like to see somebody who is either in the Lege or who hopes to be make a big deal out of this. If everybody was supposed to have been made to sacrifice in this last budget, that ought to include Rick Perry as well. Granting that there are legitimate costs being incurred here, what is he doing to ensure he’s minimizing those costs and doing more with less, like the rest of us all are? Is he leading by example, or is he standing out as an exception? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, and I’m also pretty sure there’s an issue there for someone to make a big deal out of.

PPP: Perry takes lead on Obama in Texas

Not by that much, however.

Rick Perry has an under water approval rating in Texas and he’s leading Barack Obama by a smaller margin than John McCain won the state by in 2008…but at least he is leading Obama, which is more than he could say the last time we polled the state.

45% of Texas voters approve of the job Perry is doing to 48% who disapprove. Those aren’t good numbers but they do represent improvement from a June PPP poll of the state when Perry was at 43/52. The better numbers are attributable to Republicans really rallying around him. He was at 73/21 with them before but now it’s 78/14. He continues to be very unpopular with independents though (32/61) and even in a state that still has a lot of conservative Democrats his crossover support is virtually nonexistent with just 13% of voters approving of him across party lines. The numbers with independents are particularly troublesome for Perry- if that’s where he is with swing voters where they know him best, can he expect to do well with those folks in key swing states like Ohio, Colorado, and Virginia?

Perry leads Obama in a head to head 51-44. Those aren’t terribly impressive numbers given that John McCain defeated Obama by 12 points in the state, but they do at least represent an improvement for Perry since June when he actually trailed the President 47-45. Perry polls the best of any of the Republicans in Texas- Mitt Romney leads Obama by 6 points at 47-41, Ron Paul’s up by a single point at 43-42, and Obama actually leads Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann by 46-45 and 45-43 margins respectively.

See here for the earlier poll details. As I’ve been saying, there’s no evidence so far in Texas that the electorate looks all that different than it did in 2008. Standard disclaimers apply, but so far there have been no poll results that make you sit up and say “Whoa!”

Couple things to ponder here. One is that in recent Presidential elections, the Republican Presidential nominee has done better than Republican downballot candidates. The reason for this has been a greater dropoff in Republican voting downballot than there has been for Democrats – basically, Democratic downballot candidates get almost as many votes as John Kerry and Barack Obama – in some cases, more votes than them – while Republican candidates lose between five and ten percent of the vote total that George Bush and John McCain received. If that pattern continues, it’s not hard to imagine downballot races being quite close, possibly being won with less than 50% of the vote given the three or four percent that Libertarians generally take. On the other hand, as we saw in 2010, there’s a not-insignificant number of Republicans who dislike Perry enough to cross over against him. That’s not quite the case in this poll, as the crosstabs make clear – Perry does best among Republicans by far, but Obama gets a clear majority of independents. I suspect, however, that a significant number of those “independents” are otherwise fairly reliable Republican voters, so it’s hard to say exactly how different this is from 2010. Point being, I don’t have a good feel yet for whether Obama would generally lead or trail other Dems in a matchup with Perry.

Also, as noted by Stace, Obama does well with Hispanics in Texas, but could do even better:

There are a couple things keeping him from getting completely crused in the state though. One is the Hispanic vote- he’s up 28 points on Perry, 35 on Romney and Paul, 43 on Bachmann, and 45 on Gingrich with those voters. In the case of Perry that margin is equal to what Obama won Hispanics by in Texas in 2008 and with the others it’s a wider spread. This is one state anyway where he is not slipping with Latino voters.

NewsTaco has previously noted that Obama polls quite well among Latinos against all of the GOP hopefuls, Perry included. Perry for his part is hoping to do better among Latinos, assuming he doesn’t get teabagged on “sanctuary cities” and his prior support of the DREAM Act. I’ve looked through the 2010 results to see how Perry did in Latino districts compared to other Republicans, and it’s kind of a mixed bag; the numbers get skewed by the races that feature Latinos, and by differing dropoff rates. Having said that, he did better in South Texas than I would have predicted, less well in the urban areas. Put Marco Rubio on the ticket with him and I’d certainly be concerned.

Anyway. Just another data point, which comes just as the real campaign is getting under way. I’ll keep track of these things to see if any trends develop. Greg has more.

Maybe Perry for President would be good for us

When George W. Bush began being talked about as a Presidential candidate, the story line on him was that he was a well-liked, popular Governor who had bipartisan appeal and support in the state. Outgoing Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock supported him. Democratic House Speaker Pete Laney supported him. Numerous Democratic officeholders in Texas supported him. On the strength of all that, he went on to win Texas by 20 or more points in 2000 and 2004.

Now consider Rick Perry. “Well-liked” and “bipartisan appeal” are not words you would ever associate with him. As for “popular”, it’s true that he has strong support within the Republican Party, which would certainly be an asset in another primary, and it’s true that he won big against a strong, well-funded Democratic opponent this past year. But consider how he did compared to other Republicans on the ballot:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Perry 2,737,481 54.97% Porter 2,880,765 59.40% Green 2,903,359 60.02% Keasler 2,906,012 60.48% Lehrmann 2,907,796 59.87% Guzman 2,919,054 60.34% Staples 2,953,775 60.82% Patterson 3,001,736 61.66% Dewhurst 3,049,109 61.78% Abbott 3,151,064 64.05%

Perry received 200,000 to 400,000 fewer votes than other Republicans at the top of the ticket. Those votes went to Democrat Bill White, who got more than 300,000 more votes than the next best Dem on the ticket. He ran six to nine points behind his ballot mates. Compare this to Bush’s gubernatorial re-election in 1998:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Bush 2,550,821 68.23% Perry 1,858,837 50.04% Cornyn 2,002,794 54.25% Rylander 1,821,231 49.54% Dewhurst 2,072,604 57.42% Combs 2,021,385 56.29% Garza 2,051,253 56.92% Enoch 2,049,640 58.18% O'Neill 1,891,339 53.52% Abbott 2,104,828 60.10% Hankinson 1,995,811 56.90% Keasler 1,889,069 53.96% Johnson 2,013,959 57.78%

The contrast couldn’t be clearer. A significant number of Democrats voted for Bush in 1998. A significant number of Republicans did not vote for Perry in 2010. And before you ask, no these wayward Republicans did not choose Libertarian Kathie Glass instead. In fact, Glass did worse than every other Lib in a three-way or more race, both in terms of vote total and percentage:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================ Glass 109,211 2.19% Jameson 122,142 2.47% Roland 112,118 2.27% Holdar 148,271 3.04% Donaldson 164,035 3.37% Gary 138,978 2.86% Strange 138,857 2.85% Oxford 144,306 2.98% Armstrong 195,234 4.03% Virasin 139,299 2.89%

So what does this have to do with a Presidential campaign? Well, Perry has no crossover appeal – he has anti-appeal, as a non-trivial number of Republicans won’t vote for him. A six point swing in 2008, about the difference between Perry and Todd Staples from last year, would have been enough to put Barack Obama ahead of John McCain in 2008. To put it another way, having Rick Perry at the top of the ticket next year could do more to make Texas a swing state than anything anyone else has ever done.

Now obviously not all of those Republicans who voted for Bill White instead of Rick Perry last year would vote for Barack Obama. Some would, but many – likely most – would not. But even a three point swing would make things a lot closer; it would have been enough to elect Sam Houston, and would have brought Susan Strawn within a tenth of a percent. Obama still has room to grow among Democrats in Texas, both in terms of better turnout among registered voters, and as we’ll see later holding onto Democratic voters in some parts of the state. How much room do you think Rick Perry has to grow?

Of course there are plenty of other factors to consider here, the economy being first and foremost. If we learned one thing from the 2010 experience, it’s that where you start out and where you end up can be very different, and no one can say what will happen till the campaigning actually begins. As we’ve discussed, Obama consistently polled between eight and 12 points behind McCain in 2008. Wouldn’t you love to see a poll of Texas that matches up Perry and Obama? (Rasmussen has a national poll that shows Obama leading Perry 45-28, but that’s a function of name recognition.) I don’t think Perry does any better in Texas than McCain did against Obama. Maybe I’m wrong and Perry would have a comfortable double-digit lead in a poll that has a reasonable model for a Presidential year. And maybe I’m right and Perry is unable to top 50% and up by only a few. How do you suppose that might change the narrative of this little buzzlet?

Like I said, just a thought. I could very easily be wrong. But either way, I hope that a PPP or someone like them puts a poll in the field, just for grins. Who knows, maybe the result might surprise us.

Three things about Sanchez

If you judge the announcement of a possible candidacy by the amount of attention it receives, then the story of the recruitment of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has been a smash success. Here are a few things being written that I thought were worth taking note of.

First Reading: GOP starts trying to build case against Sanchez

The ink is still drying on the first reports that Democrats are trying to recruit Ricardo Sanchez, a retired Army lieutenant general and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Republicans aren’t wasting any time preparing their opposition files.

Numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill were critical of Sanchez’s role in Iraq, particularly over the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to the Los Angeles Times, he wrote in his 2008 book that one reason he did not get a fourth star was that “Senate Democrats were intentionally putting pressure” on the Bush administration “not to send my nomination forward.”

So if Sanchez runs, it seems Republicans will use Democrats’ past criticisms against him. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (headed by our own John Cornyn) sent a six-page Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon asking for “any and all correspondence” between Democratic senators and the Pentagon that referenced Sanchez between May 2003 and the end of November 2006.

The first senator from that time period on their list? Yep, that would be Barack Obama.

If that’s the worst they’ve got, I’m not particularly worried. Politically, this is equivalent to a party-switching situation. What was said before by each side is taken in partisan context when everybody changes rhetoric. I’m not saying it can never be effective – ask Arlen Specter about that – but it’s generally discounted. It also goes both ways – I’m sure if anyone bothers to look, one can find Sen. Cornyn saying something nice about Gen. Sanchez. What will be interesting will be to see how they attack him for Abu Ghraib, since that isn’t exactly something Republicans have a track record of being upset about. If they can try to kill Medicare six months after cleaning up in an election where they killed the Democrats over cuts to Medicare, I’m sure they can pull it off.

The Fix: Can Democrats win in Texas in 2012?

The last time Democrats in Texas won a major statewide race — president, Senate or governor — was back in 1990 when Ann Richards was elected governor.

Since that time, the party has struggled mightily to even be competitive. The best showing for a Democratic presidential candidate in Texas since 1990 was 43.8 percent for Bill Clinton in 1996.

Obama won 43. 7 percent in 2008, coming up 11 points short of Sen. John McCain.

[…]

Given all of that history, what makes Democrats think that 2012 will be any different?

The answer is the continued — and massive — growth of the state’s Hispanic community coupled with Republicans’ inability nationwide to win over that critical voting bloc.

Two thirds of all the population growth in Texas over the past decade came among Latinos and nearly four in every ten residents of the Lonestar State are now Hispanic.

That’s good news for Democrats as Hispanics — even in Texas where they were far more of a swing group than in other states thanks to Bush’s outreach to them — are moving more and more to the Democratic side in recent elections.

In 2010, Bill White carried Hispanics 61 percent to 38 percent over Perry. And in 2008, President Obama won the group by an even wider 63 percent to 35 percent margin.

Those numbers make clear why Democrats are so keen on the idea of Ricardo Sanchez as their nominee. (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray included Texas as one of the six targeted races for the committee in 2012.)

[…]

Sanchez is the latest in a series of impressive candidates on paper that Democrats have fielded in hopes of taking advantage of the shifting political dynamic in Texas.

But recent history suggests he will need to overperform most statewide Democrats by seven points in order to win — a tough task for anyone particularly a first time candidate.

Actually, Democrats won seven of fifteen statewide races in 1994, including a couple of judicial races in which they were unopposed. Not that it really affects Cilizza’s point, I just get peeved when supposed experts flub easily checked facts like that.

The question about whether Sanchez, or any Democratic statewide nominee, can win in 2012 largely boils down to the question of what you think the base level of Democratic support will be. As I’ve shown before, Republican statewide vote totals in 2008 were at best equivalent to those from 2004 even though statewide turnout improved by 650,000 votes. If 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas will be close to tossup status before anyone runs an ad. Republican turnout in 2004 was juiced a bit by the presence of George Bush, and Democratic turnout was juiced a bit in 2008 by Barack Obama, though he didn’t spend any money here after the primary. It’s more likely the case that 2012 will not be to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, but if the Obama campaign and the DSCC actually do put some resources into Texas, who knows? I would expect the baseline to be two or three points better for the Dems, all things being equal. From there, it’s up to the candidates and their campaigns. Speaking to Cilizza’s point about demography, there’s not much driving an increase in the Republican voting pool for 2012. The type of person who votes Republican is already highly likely to vote, and was highly likely to have voted in 2008. There are a lot more potential Democratic voters out there, and their likelihood of voting is more volatile and sensitive to specific conditions. That can be a very bad thing in off years, but it means the ceiling is higher, too. Democratic turnout was the key in 2008, and it will be the key in 2012.

BOR: The Texas Democratic Strategy: Winnability vs. Values

Lots of good stuff here from KT. Go read it, but let me highlight this bit first:

Maybe it’s time to for Texas Democrats to stop searching for nominees based upon this model of “winnability” and instead, search for a nominee based upon our Party’s “values”.

How many more times are we going to ask the Democratic base of this state to trudge out to the polls and “get excited” by our winnable candidates? Seeing as our “winnable” strategy never wins, is there any harm in nominating someone with a strong Democratic identity who runs a campaign centered on our Democratic values? What if we sought out someone who’s more interested in running a multi-million dollar campaign focused on calling out Republicans for their failure of leadership and bankrupting of this state’s treasury and future rather than calling up Republicans to plead for their checks and votes?

Rather then get bogged down in a debate about the merits or demerits of a particular candidate, we should be putting some energy into finding and supporting candidates who seek to energize the Democratic base as a starting point. It’s true that our base isn’t quite as big as theirs, but it’s also true that the strategy of studied distance from the Democratic base as a way of appealing to crossovers hasn’t exactly been a success. Sooner or later there’s going to be a change election in Texas, and it would help to have our high-profile candidates be more forceful advocates of that change. Now, talking about such things is the easy part. Figuring out how to do it, including a way to provide for it financially, then actually doing it, that’s where it gets hard. But first things first.

The balanced budget fantasy

There’s really only one thing to say about this.

One of Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign staples last year was that America would be a far better place if it were more like the Lone Star State — limited government, fewer taxes, sensible regulation and, of course, a balanced budget.

Now, Perry and his cohorts in the Texas Legislature are making that critique more explicit by pushing for a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment that would force Congress to do what those in Texas are required to do: balance the budget annually.

Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called for a federal balanced budget amendment in their inaugural addresses, and Perry declared support for a balanced federal budget an emergency issue, which means that lawmakers can begin to consider it right away.

“It fits into his overall philosophy about government and fiscal responsibility,” Perry spokesman Mark Miner said. “In Texas, at the end of the day, the budget will be balanced. It’s the Texas way versus the federal way, which is to continue spending without being accountable.”

Dewhurst, in an Austin American-Statesman article co-written with state Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, contended that Congress “lacks fiscal responsibility and is spending all of us into serious debt. … It is time for Texas to lead the way and seek a convention so that the states may propose a national balanced budget amendment.”

In Washington, another Texan is making a similar push. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, along with U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and 21 other senators introduced a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution last week.

Let’s put aside the economic illiteracy of this proposal – Lord only knows how much higher the unemployment rate would be right now if the federal government had been forced to cut a bunch of spending in 2009. And let’s put aside the irony of Perry, Dewhurst, et al lecturing others on fiscal responsibility given that they’ve presided over budget deficits in three of the last five Legislative sessions – they were bailed out of having to face up to it last time thanks to the federal stimulus that they all profess to hate – and given that they’ve built a structural deficit into Texas’ budget thanks to the irresponsible 2006 property tax cuts. Let’s just focus on one simple question: Why, after ten years of governoring, is this such a high priority for Rick Perry right now? I mean, it’s not like the federal government wasn’t running deficits during his first eight years in office. In fact, when Rick Perry took office, the federal government was in surplus, thanks to the economic policies of President Bill Clinton, but it didn’t take long for President Bush to fix that. But only now that Bush is safely out of office is Rick Perry concerned about this. Whyever do you suppose that may be?

Yeah, it is too early to be polling for 2012

But that won’t stop anyone from doing them.

2012 could be the year Democrats are finally competitive for President in Texas…but only if the Republicans nominate Sarah Palin.

There are vast differences in how the various different potential GOP contenders fare against Barack Obama in Texas. Mike Huckabee is very popular in the state and would defeat Obama by 16 points, a more lopsided victory than John McCain had there in 2008. Mitt Romney is also pretty well liked and has a 7 point advantage over the President in an early hypothetical contest, a closer margin than the state had last time around but still a pretty healthy lead. A plurality of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Newt Gingrich but he would lead Obama by a 5 point margin nonetheless. It’s a whole different story with Palin though. A majority of Texas voters have an unfavorable opinion of her and she leads the President by just a single point in a hypothetical contest.

Part of the reason Obama looks like he could be competitive against the right Republican opponent is that his position in the state has improved. 42% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 55% who disapprove. His average approval rating in 4 surveys conducted in PPP over the course of 2010 was 38% so he’s seeing the same sort of uptick in his numbers there that he’s seeing nationally right now.

The other reason for Obama’s closeness is the weakness of the Republican candidate field. He’d have no shot against a GOP nominee that voters in the state like. Huckabee’s favorability rating is a 51/30 spread and he blows Obama out of the water. But none of the other GOP hopefuls come close to matching that appeal. Romney’s favorability is narrowly in positive territory at 40/37, but Gingrich’s is negative at 38/44, and Palin’s is even worse at 42/53. Texas voters certainly don’t like Obama but for the most part they don’t see the current Republican front runners as particularly great alternatives.

What’s maybe most striking about Obama’s competitiveness in these numbers is that they’re from the same sample that showed Democrats had virtually no chance of picking up Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat earlier this week, trailing all 12 match ups we tested by double digit margins.

The previous poll results are here. I’m going to disagree with the analysis in that I think it really is all about name recognition. In the end, Obama may or may not perform better than whoever the Democratic candidate for Senate is – I’ll take the over if it’s Gene Kelly, the under if it’s John Sharp, and would consider it a tossup otherwise – but he isn’t about to perform 10 to 15 points better than any of them. The level of support Obama gets is roughly going to be the base Democratic performance level.

Yeah, sure, candidates and campaigns and fundraising matter, but only so much in a Presidential year. John Cornyn had Senate incumbency, several terms as a statewide officeholder, and something like a 3-1 financial advantage over Rick Noriega, yet he finished behind John McCain in both total votes and vote percentage, and did only one to three points better than downballot Republicans. Barring a Gene Kelly situation, I expect all the Democratic statewide candidates in 2012 to be within a few points of each other.

The question is what is the ceiling for Democrats in 2012. About a million more people voted in Texas in 2004 than in 2000, and at both the Presidential level and downballot, the Republicans got about 70% of those votes. About 900,000 more people voted in 2008 than in 2004, and again at all levels the Democrats got about 90% of those votes. There are a number of reasons for this, but one factor I’d point to is Latino support. Obama did more than ten points better among Latino voters than John Kerry did, and that was a big part of it. Call me crazy, but I don’t think any Republican Presidential candidate is going to appeal to Latinos like George W. Bush did in 2004. Given that our state, and our electorate, isn’t getting any whiter, I like those odds.

I’ll say this much, if Team Obama actually spends some money in Texas, it would make a difference. If they consider the 2010 results in a vacuum, they’ll run screaming in the other direction, but this was a tough year all over, and one presumes they’re smart enough to realize that the 2012 electorate will be very different, here and elsewhere. Even if they (quite reasonably) think our electoral votes are out of reach, there’s still an excellent reason to play here, and that’s for the Congressional races. Two Republicans won in 2010 with less than 50% – Blake Farenthold and Quico Canseco – and of course there will be four new seats to fight over. Winning back CDs 23 and 27, and taking two of the four new seats, would mean a net +2 for Dems in Texas. If Obama hopes to start his second term with a Democratic (or at least a more Democratic) Congress, that sure would help.

All right, I don’t really plan to talk about this much between now and the end of the year, so file this away for later. We’ve seen how quickly and significantly the winds can change over a few months, so we’ll see where things stand once the Republicans begin to coalesce around a single contender.

Bye-bye, border fence

Long overdue.

The Obama administration on Friday canceled the long-troubled, high-tech invisible fence project along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending a five-year, $1 billion pilot program that President George W. Bush envisioned as stretching along most of the 1,969-mile border.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano briefed key members of Congress on the decision, which she telegraphed months ago by ordering a yearlong review of the project.

She said technology gleaned from the 53-mile project in Arizona will be used to continue developing a high-tech border security network that relies on agents from the U.S. Border Patrol, some 700 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing and aerial surveillance by unmanned drones.

“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to meet our border technology needs, and this new strategy is tailored to the unique needs of each border region, providing faster deployment of technology, better coverage, and a more effective balance between cost and capability,” Napolitano said.

What is also long overdue is a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of current immigration policies, including enforcement efforts, to be followed by an actual bill to do the reform that everyone says they want. Everyone knows that the current system is broken. It’s way past time to fix it. And when that effort is inevitably met by fierce resistance from the xenophobic wing of the Republican Party, at least we’ll all know for sure who stands for what.

An answer in the Claude Jones case

Back in June, I noted the case of Claude Jones, who had been executed in 2000 for a murder committed in 1990. The main piece of evidence used to convict him was a single strand of hair that a forensic expert who examined it under a microscope testified belonged to Jones. It was not subjected to DNA testing. In June, after a three-year court battle, the Innocence Project and the Texas Observer won the right to have DNA testing performed on that hair. The results are in, and they show that it did not belong to Claude Jones.

The tests do not offer conclusive proof of Jones’ innocence, but raise questions about his conviction, which was largely based on the hair fragment, the only physical evidence against him.

Thursday’s announcement came as vindication to Jones’ son, Houston associate engineer Duane Jones, 50, who was reunited with his father only after the elder man found himself on death row.

“I was 98 percent sure of what he was telling me,” Duane Jones said of the convicted killer’s claim of innocence, “but now I believe him 100 percent. He was railroaded. He did not shoot that man. I think not only am I owed an apology, but so is everybody in the whole state of Texas.”

[Then-Gov. George W.] Bush’s decision to reject Jones’ plea for a 30-day reprieve the day before he was executed followed the recommendation of his staff counsel Claudia Nadig, whose confidential report to the governor made no mention of the condemned man’s request for DNA testing, despite that being the reason a stay was sought by Jones’ lawyers.

“I have no doubt that if President Bush had known about the request to do a DNA test of the hair he would have issued a 30-day stay in this case and Jones would not have been executed,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, which joined the Texas Observer, an Austin-based political journal, in calling for the new tests.

Just prior to the Jones’ appeal, Scheck noted, Bush had endorsed the post-conviction use of DNA testing to establish guilt or innocence in questionable cases.

Had DNA testing been performed in 2000, Scheck said, Jones’ conviction likely would have been reversed. “It’s a pretty significant event to know someone was executed wrongly,” Scheck said.

Given that Bush is now out on a national tour promoting his new book, I’m sure this question will be asked of him again. I wonder what he’ll have to say about it. For that matter, someone should pester Ms. Nadig until she explains why she kept that information from the Governor. Seems to me there’s a pretty strong moral case to be made that she is directly responsible for Jones’ death. I wouldn’t want something like that on my conscience.

Anyway, you should read the Observer story, which goes into a lot more detail. Again, this doesn’t mean Jones was innocent, but it does mean that if this result had been known that he likely never would have been tried for the crime. Note also the use of the jailhouse snitch and his convenient testimony, which he has since recanted, that Jones confessed to him. The reason these cases keep cropping up is because the emphasis for prosecutors is on getting a conviction rather than getting it right. As long as that’s what we incentivize, that’s what we’re gonna get. Grits and Bob Moser have more, and a statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Population and voting trends: 2004 and 2008 Presidential election

Taking a look at the voting trends in the fastest growing counties made me want to know more about this, so I broke out the spreadsheets and took a look. I’ll present the results in a three-part series, starting today with a comparison of the 2004 and 2008 Presidential election. Basically, I took the county by county canvass report for the two elections from the Secretary of State webpage, loaded them into a spreadsheet, and went to town on it. Here’s what I learned:

– At a macro level, there were 7,359,621 votes cast in the 2004 Presidential election in Texas, and 8,007,961 votes cast in 2008, for an increase of 648,340. Note that in all cases all I’m considering is the sum of the Republican and Democratic votes – third parties and write-ins are not counted. Bush/Cheney got 4,526,917 votes, while McCain/Palin got 4,479,328, for a decline of 47,589. Kerry/Edwards received 2,832,704 votes and Obama/Biden received 3,528,633, for an increase of 695,929.

– For each county, I compared the total number of votes cast for each party, and the difference between the Democratic and Republican totals. The spreadsheet is sorted by the difference in the Democratic performance from 2004 to 2008, so a negative number means that the Republicans did better in terms of vote total than Democrats did, while a positive number means that Democrats gained ground.

There were a total of 107 counties in which Democrats did worse in 2008 than in 2004. A total of 1,394,368 votes were cast in those counties. They broke down as follows:

– 60 counties in which Republicans gained votes from 2004 to 2008 and Democrats lost them, for a net of 633,754 total 2008 votes.

– 24 counties in which both parties gained votes but the GOP gained more, for 583,941 votes total.

– 21 counties in which both parties lost votes but Dems lost more, for 174,956 votes total.

– Comanche County, which had the same GOP total but 97 fewer Democratic votes. It was 3813 to 1431 in 2004, and 3813 to 1334 in 2008.

– And finally, Loving County, which had the same Dem total, but 2 more GOP votes. It was 65 to 12 in 2004, and 67 to 12 in 2008.

Some highlights from each group, starting with the first. Here are the six counties in which the Republican gains plus the Democratic losses were the greatest:

County Bush McCain Gain Kerry Obama Loss Dem Net =============================================================== Orange 20,292 21,509 1,217 11,476 7,646 -3,830 -5,047 Bowie 21,791 24,162 2,371 11,880 10,815 -1,065 -3,436 Hardin 15,030 16,603 1,573 5,608 3,939 -1,669 -3,242 Galveston 61,290 62,258 968 43,919 41,805 -2,114 -3,082 Cass 7,383 8,279 896 4,630 3,490 -1,140 -2,036 Jasper 8,347 9,022 675 4,471 3,658 -813 -1,488

These are not fast-growing counties. In fact, three of them – Orange, Cass, and Jasper – lost population this decade, according to the Census population estimates. Galveston County has actually grown by more than ten percent for the decade, with no reported drop in population in 2008 or 2009. Much of that growth is at the north end, in Republican territory like Friendswood and League City. And of course, we know what was going on, especially in the more Democratic-friendly south end of the county, in late 2008.

Next, the counties in which everyone lost ground:

County Bush McCain Loss Kerry Obama Loss Dem Net =============================================================== Polk 13,778 13,771 -47 6,964 6,230 -734 -687 Jefferson 44,423 42,905 -1,518 47,066 44,888 -2,178 -660 Milam 5,291 5,217 -74 3,445 3,044 -401 -327 Eastland 5,249 5,165 -84 1,582 1,271 -311 -227

You get into some mighty small counties after that. Jefferson County’s population has declined by about three percent over the decade, though it’s ticked up a bit since a big drop from 2005 to 2006. Milam and Eastland have basically stayed the same, but Polk County actually grew by more than ten percent. I have no idea why its turnout dropped as much as it did given that.

Finally, some of the growers:

County Bush McCain Gain Kerry Obama Gain Dem Net ================================================================== Montgomery 104,654 119,884 15,230 28,628 36,703 8,075 -7,155 Parker 31,795 36,974 5,179 8,966 10,502 1,536 -3,643 Johnson 34,818 36,685 1,867 12,325 12,912 587 -1,280 Chambers 8,618 9,988 1,370 2,953 3,188 235 -1,135 Erath 9,506 10,768 1,262 2,710 3,128 418 -844 Hood 16,280 17,299 1,019 4,865 5,087 222 -797 Angelina 18,932 19,569 637 9,302 9,379 77 -560 Comal 31,574 35,233 3,659 9,153 12,384 3,231 -428 Kaufman 21,304 23,735 2,431 8,947 11,161 2,214 -217

Montgomery and Kaufman, you know about. Comal probably just missed being on that fastest-growing list, as its population grew by about 50% between 2000 and 2009. Angelina and Erath grew modestly, less than ten percent each; Chambers grew by a bit less than 20%, mostly in the last two or three years; the others all grew by 25% or more.

How about the flip side? There were 23 counties in which both parties lost ground, but the Republicans lost more, so the Democrats had a net gain. Most of these were tiny, with the five largest as follows:

County Bush McCain Loss Kerry Obama Loss Dem Net =============================================================== Gray 7,260 6,924 -336 1,289 1,153 -136 200 Hutchinson 7,480 7,029 -451 2,663 2,545 -118 333 Bee 5,428 4,471 -957 4,045 3,645 -400 557 Jim Wells 5,817 4,841 -976 6,824 6,706 -118 858 Atascosa 7,635 5,462 -2,173 4,421 4,415 -6 2,167

Other than Atascosa, which actually grew by about 15% during the decade but apparently replaced a bunch of Republicans with even more non-voters, there not really much to be said about this group. There were 34 counties in which both parties received more votes, but the Democrats increased by more than the GOP. Those 34 counties accounted for 1,615,855 votes, or more than all 107 in which the Dems lost ground. Some highlights:

County Bush McCain Gain Kerry Obama Gain Dem Net ================================================================== Collin 174,435 184,897 10,462 68,935 109,047 40,112 29,650 Denton 140,891 149,935 9,044 59,346 91,160 31,814 22,770 Fort Bend 93,625 103,206 9,581 68,722 98,368 29,646 20,065 Williamson 83,284 88,323 5,039 43,117 67,691 24,574 19,535 Hays 27,021 29,638 2,617 20,110 28,431 8,321 5,704 Brazoria 63,662 67,515 3,853 28,904 36,480 7,576 3,723 Guadalupe 28,208 30,869 2,661 10,290 16,156 5,866 3,205 Smith 53,392 55,187 1,795 19,970 23,726 3,756 1,961 Bastrop 13,290 13,817 527 9,794 11,687 1,893 1,366 Kerr 16,538 16,752 214 4,557 5,570 1,013 799

There’s the rest of the fastest growers, plus a few others that are no slouches – Guadalupe, which abuts Comal, grew by 30%; Brazoria and Bastrop by 25%, Smith by more than 15%, and Kerr by more than 10%. Together, these ten counties by themselves shaved 108,878 votes off the Democrats’ deficit.

You may have noticed that some of the big counties have been absent in this discussion. Well, here the are now:

County Bush McCain Loss Kerry Obama Gain Dem Net =================================================================== Harris 584,723 571,883 -12,840 475,865 590,982 115,117 127,957 Dallas 346,246 310,000 -36,246 336,641 422,989 86,348 122,594 Bexar 260,698 246,275 -14,423 210,976 275,527 64,551 78,974 Tarrant 349,462 348,420 -1,042 207,286 274,880 67,594 68,636 Travis 147,885 139,981 -10,904 197,235 254,017 56,782 67,686 Hidalgo 50,931 39,668 -11,263 62,369 90,261 27,892 39,155 El Paso 73,261 61,783 -11,478 95,142 122,021 26,879 38,357 Cameron 34,801 26,671 -8,130 33,998 48,480 14,482 22,612 Bell 52,135 49,242 -2,893 27,165 40,413 13,248 16,141 Webb 17,753 13,119 -4,634 23,654 33,452 9,798 14,432 Lubbock 70,135 66,304 -3,831 22,472 30,486 8,014 11,845 Nueces 59,359 52,391 -6,968 44,439 47,912 3,473 10,441

Sometimes I think people don’t fully appreciate what happened in Harris County in 2008. Because the Democrats didn’t quite win all of the countywide races, some people consider the effort that year to have failed. All I can say is that I look at the numbers, I see the magnitude of the swing in four years, and I’m just amazed. Dallas is technically more amazing, since their swing was nearly the same size but was done with far fewer voters, but since they had their blue breakthrough in 2006, it too gets a bit lost in the shuffle. Bexar and Cameron, along with Harris and Dallas, flipped from red to blue, while Tarrant, Bell, and Nueces became officially purple. The only deep red county up there is Lubbock, and even it moved in the right direction.

I bring all of this up for two reasons. One is because even though I’ve covered some of this ground before, I feel like it needs to be repeated every now and again, as a reminder. Texas is a very different place than it was as recently as six years ago. That hasn’t shown up in the statewide elections yet, but the shift from one cycle to the next is unmistakable. And two, as a delayed response to Paul Burka, who recently wrote that “National Democrats have done a good job of spinning the myth that Democrats are resurgent in Texas. In fact, the D’s success has been limited to one area, the Texas House of Representatives.” I pointed out in the comments that this completely overlooked the gains that Democrats had made in county elections in places like Dallas and Harris, but it’s more than that. Democrats were in a huge hole after 2004, and it’s hard to overstate how far they came in just four years. If 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas will be a tossup state. Obviously, a lot has to happen between now and then, but the point is that a lot has already happened. We shouldn’t lose sight of that.

Next up, a look at judicial races from 2004 to 2008, and a similar comparison for 2002 to 2006.

Where the votes are going

Matt Stiles looks at Census data and notes a political point.

Seven Texas counties — Rockwall, Williamson, Collin, Hays, Fort Bend, Montgomery and Denton — are listed among the nation’s 30 fastest-growing areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released [Tuesday].

They are also Republican-voting counties, according to results in the 2008 general election. Sen. John McCain won these counties by a 20-point margin, well over 240,000 votes.

It’s actually a hair shy of 260,000 votes – Stiles had missed Rockwall County in his initial post, and though he added it in for an update, he did not re-do the math. There’s a bit more to this than that, however. Let’s have a look at how these counties voted in 2004:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ==================================================== Collin Bush R 174,435 243,370 71.67 Collin Kerry D 68,935 243,370 28.33 Denton Bush R 140,891 200,237 70.36 Denton Kerry D 59,346 200,237 29.64 Fort Bend Bush R 93,625 162,347 57.67 Fort Bend Kerry D 68,722 162,347 42.33 Hays Bush R 27,021 47,131 57.33 Hays Kerry D 20,110 47,131 42.67 Montgomery Bush R 104,654 133,282 78.29 Montgomery Kerry D 28,628 133,282 21.71 Rockwall Bush R 20,120 25,440 79.09 Rockwall Kerry D 5,320 25,440 20.91 Williamson Bush R 83,284 126,401 65.89 Williamson Kerry D 43,117 126,401 34.11 Total Bush R 644,030 938,208 68.64 Total Kerry D 294,178 938,208 31.36 Total McCain R 699,183 1,139,175 61.38 Total Obama D 439,892 1,139,175 38.62

Putting it another way, those counties had about 200,000 more voters in 2008 than in 2004. 145,000 of those new voters – 72.5% – voted Democratic, 55,000 voted Republican. That’s change I can believe in, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Obama did do about five and a half points better overall in Texas than John Kerry did, going from 38.22% to 43.68% of the absolute vote (38.49% to 44.06% in the two-party matchup). It would be strange indeed if he didn’t markedly improve on 2004 in these counties. Notice, however, that he improved by a point and a half more than he did in the state as a whole. That’s a good trend, too.

To which you may say, “Oh sure, compare a historic election for which Democrats were super-excited to one where a highly popular Texas Republican President was on the ballot. That’s fair.” Well, how about we compare the election of 2002 to the election of 2006? Since there are no Presidential candidates, I’m going to look at a couple of Supreme Court races, because 1) they’re usually more about party identification than anything else, and 2) we have a couple of races with similar R/D performances: Margaret Mirabal versus Steven Smith in 2002, and Bill Moody versus Don Willett in 2006. Here are the numbers:

County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Smith R 88,762 122,655 72.37 Collin Mirabal D 33,893 122,655 27.63 Denton Smith R 69,899 100,260 69.72 Denton Mirabal D 30,361 100,260 30.28 Fort Bend Smith R 47,008 84,153 55.86 Fort Bend Mirabal D 37,145 84,153 44.14 Hays Smith R 14,238 26,129 54.49 Hays Mirabal D 11,891 26,129 45.51 Montgomery Smith R 53,977 71,428 75.57 Montgomery Mirabal D 17,451 71,428 24.43 Rockwall Smith R 10,148 13,304 76.28 Rockwall Mirabal D 3,156 13,304 23.72 Williamson Smith R 46,480 71,981 64.57 Williamson Mirabal D 25,501 71,981 35.43 County Name Party Votes Total Pct ===================================================== Collin Willet R 82,834 125,348 66.08 Collin Moody D 42,514 125,348 33.92 Denton Willet R 63,475 99,380 63.87 Denton Moody D 35,905 99,380 36.13 Fort Bend Willet R 49,953 92,843 53.80 Fort Bend Moody D 42,890 92,843 46.20 Hays Willet R 13,644 27,775 49.12 Hays Moody D 14,131 27,775 50.88 Montgomery Willet R 54,018 74,650 72.36 Montgomery Moody D 20,632 74,650 27.64 Rockwall Willet R 10,331 14,233 72.58 Rockwall Moody D 3,902 14,233 27.42 Williamson Willet R 43,193 75,659 57.09 Williamson Moody D 31,466 75,659 42.91 2002 Total R 330,512 489,910 67.46 2002 Total D 159,398 489,910 32.54 2006 Total R 317,448 508,888 62.38 2006 Total D 191,440 508,888 37.62

Once again, improvement by the Democrats across the board. Dems picked up 32,000 voters, while the Rs lost 13,000. It’s not an exact apples to apples comparison because there was a Libertarian candidate in 2006, but even if you assign all of his votes (23,730 in these seven counties) to Willett, the Dems still have a 32,000 to 10,000 advantage in voters gained. All without any of that hopey-changey stuff.

If you want to see the effect in pictures, I’ve got you covered there as well:

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

The GOP vote share ticked up a bit from 2006 to 2008 in Montgomery, and to a lesser extent in Hays, but overall the trends are pretty clear. It’s especially clear when you simply compare 2002 to 2006, and 2004 to 2008.

Does any of this mean anything for 2010? Well, elections are all about the candidates, and every election is different, and blah blah blah. What I’ll say is simply that these counties start out with a higher floor for Democrats than they had eight years ago – I’ll be surprised if Bill White doesn’t carry Fort Bend and Hays, and he has a decent shot at Williamson, too – and I expect that this year there will be a lot more organizing done in them as well; in some cases, that may be the first time there’s been a real, funded, organizing effort. All things being equal, that should certainly have a positive effect. The whole point of this exercise was to show that while these counties are still challenging territory for Democrats, they’re a lot friendlier overall than they once were, and the prospect of them being the fastest growing areas in the state is not a daunting one for the Ds.

Why the moon?

I understand the politics of the fight against NASA cutbacks. Jobs are at stake, even if they are being funded by those evil, dirty, not-job-creating federal dollars. But I’m still puzzled by the whole thing.

Texans have so little clout in Washington nowadays that when U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, now Sugar Land’s Republican Congressman, wanted to meet privately with NASA chief Charles Bolden, he had to buttonhole the former astronaut after a House panel hearing.

And although thousands of Houston-area jobs are at stake, Texans in 2008 did nothing to help usher Barack Obama into the White House. Furthermore, history shows previous lobbying efforts to salvage massive NASA projects have never succeeded.

“There’s not a single case where a major cancellation in the space program has been overturned by external lobbying,” says space historian John Logsdon, former director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. “Congress defers to presidents on space because you can’t run a space program from Capitol Hill.”

Still, Texans vow to press ahead to overcome the decision to end the Bush-era $108 billion project initially envisioned to return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

Let’s put the politics aside for a minute. Why exactly do we want to go back to the moon? What is it we hope to learn from going there that we didn’t learn from all of the Apollo missions? What larger goal are we moving towards that these missions would help us achieve? From the time the Constellation program was first announced, the reason for it has been unclear to me. When I read about the political fight going on now, I see lots of talk about jobs, but basically nothing about the scientific value of more manned flights to the moon. So I want to know, what is the Constellation program for?

The other thing that strikes me about this is that in typical fashion, President Bush’s announcement of Constellation brought with it a large financial commitment for his eventual successor for which he himself provided no means to pay. Given the concerns that some people, like Pete Olson and John Cornyn and Rick Perry, say they have about the deficit and how much money the federal government is spending, what’s the justification for the $100 billion this will cost? Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s different when it affects you. I get that, but I don’t get why anyone thinks this is something on which President Obama is likely to be flexible. It’s not like Olson has shown any willingness to support anything Obama does. I mean, if Obama called up Pete Olson today and said “I’ll give you everything you want on NASA if you vote for the health care bill”, would anyone expect Olson to take the deal? I think we know what the answer to that would be. So why does Olson expect to get something with nothing? More to the point, why does anyone who voted for Olson think he’d be able to?

What Ron Kirk says

Ron Kirk, the former Mayor of Dallas who is now the US Trade Representative, was asked a joking question about Rick Perry and his earlier statements about secession after Perry’s win on Tuesday. His response is well worth reading.

“I just wish those of you in the press would then ask, even if it’s tongue-in-cheek, so what does this (secession) mean then?

“For a state that unfortunately ranks in the bottom in investment in education and health care for our kids, leads the nation in the number of people that are unemployed, and you want to pull out of the country? And tell me, where you going to find the money to pay for Medicare with one of the highest growing senior populations in the country,” Kirk replied, growing more angry.

“In a state that’s probably $2 billion underfunded in maintaining its own highways, and now you want to pull out of the United States and take away the billions of dollars you get from the federal government? How are you going to fix your infrastructure?” Then, Kirk added, there’s the historical context of secession.

“But the thing that frustrates me most in this sense with you all is, you know, all of this “You want to go back.’ To what? I grew up in the Jim Crow South. All this states rights, secession stuff, I know what it means for people of my parents’ generation and me. And we fought too hard to get me to this point for me to be amused even a little bit by any of this states rights secession stuff,” said Kirk, who’s African-American.

“That’s not an America that I want to go back to. I think America is a vastly richer country because of our diversity, because of our inclusion, because of our commitment to educating every child and giving everyone the opportunity to advance based on their abilities than the world some of these people want to go back to.”

Remember what the general reaction was back in 2004 when some celebrities said they were going to move to Canada in the event George Bush was re-elected? Boy, those were the days. Kudos to Ron Kirk for saying what needed to be said. May more people follow his example.

You have a funny definition of “fiscal conservative”, Senator

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Our junior Senator calls himself something that doesn’t describe him accurately at all.

“I am a fiscal conservative, so I approach all of this from that perspective,” Cornyn told the Houston Chronicle in an interview. “Obviously at the same time where it’s appropriate to help entities like NASA in the state of Texas, I’m going to try to make sure that they are fairly and adequately funded.”

Cornyn, who has helped orchestrate Republicans’ anti-spending chorus as chairman of the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, says he’s merely echoing “the anger and aversion that most of my constituents have about out-of-control spending up here” in Washington.

This is the same John Cornyn who happily voted for the Iraq war, all of President Bush’s tax cuts, and Medicare Part D, which was called by the head of the GAO “probably the most fiscally irresponsible piece of legislation since the 1960s… because we promise way more than we can afford to keep”. This John Cornyn, who by his voting record bears responsibility for trillions of dollars of national debt, has the nerve to call himself a “fiscal conservative”. And thanks to newspaper headlines that talk about his “fight” to “cut debt”, something he never cared about while a Republican was in the White House, he gets away with it. Pretty nice racket he’s got going for himself, that’s all I can say.

Perry’s got a secret

Quite a few secrets, actually. He really, really doesn’t want you to know what he’s up to over there.

When a national news organization in 2003 asked the state archives for the execution memoranda written for former Gov. George W. Bush, there was no objection from Perry’s office to the public having the information. Because of Perry’s silence, Attorney General Greg Abbott ordered the documents’ release.

But when the Houston Chronicle and other news organizations sought similar memos written for Perry by his general counsel, the governor’s office has fought it repeatedly and obtained rulings from Abbott that the information does not have to be made public.

It is part of a pattern, a shroud of secrecy that has descended on the governor’s office since Perry took over as governor from Bush.

[…]

[T]here are a number of examples where Bush’s administration was more forthcoming than Perry’s.

Bush released lists of overnight guests at the Governor’s Mansion, often showing high-dollar donors staying at the official residence. Perry obtained a ruling from Abbott that it does not have to be public. Now, the list is not even maintained.

[…]

Bush put out his daily schedules in advance. The public only found out that Perry had gone scuba diving in the Bahamas with policy advocates and major donors because someone spotted them at a marina.

Castle said Perry’s schedules are available as historic documents and that the news media is notified of his public meetings in advance. She said the governor’s advance schedule is kept secret for security reasons.

You can still find President Obama’s schedule online even though the Secret Service is overwhelmed by the number of death threats against him. But letting people know where Rick Perry is going to be, that’s too big a risk to take. There are other examples in the story, including Perry’s well-known email purging policy, which establish the pattern even further. All I can say is that if you’re more secretive than George W. Bush, you must have something to hide.

Mercy is a rare quality

I’ve never doubted that Rick Perry isn’t particularly interested in looking for opportunities to grant clemency to death row inmates. But there’s a big question that needs to be answered by this story and isn’t.

Texas has executed 200 convicts under Perry’s watch, but he has spared just one condemned man’s life in a case in which he was not compelled to do so by the U.S. Supreme Court. In that case, the inmate Perry saved in 2007 was not a killer but the admitted driver of a getaway car, condemned alongside the triggerman in a joint trial under Texas’ tough “law of parties.”

Clemency — the use of executive power to reduce, forgive or delay a sentence — is considered the last fail-safe in the death penalty review process nationwide.

Yet in Texas, it is almost never granted. In fact, at least 50 of the past 200 executions were carried out without any clemency board review at all, a Chronicle analysis of state execution and parole board statistics shows. Other death row inmates’ final pleas for mercy were rejected for arriving after the board’s deadline.

That’s bad, very bad. It’s below the meager minimum standards I’d expect for this – what, is it too much trouble for the board to review a document before rubberstamping another lethal injection? It’s more evidence that our entire system is out of whack and needs a real top-to-bottom review if it wants to claim that it really is justice.

But what isn’t clear is how Perry compares to other Texas governors in this regard. We know by now that the clemency process was slipshod and careless under George Bush. That information might have been useful in this story. I seem to recall reading that Ann Richards never commuted a death sentence, though that doesn’t say anything about how she made her decisions. I know nothing about how things were under Bill Clements or Mark White. Maybe some of this information isn’t easily accessible now, but whatever we do know would have been nice to have had in the story, if only so we could tell how much of this problem is Rick Perry, and how much of it is the process itself. I suspect it’s more the former than the latter, but I’d prefer not to have to guess.