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Harris County

Harris County is not growing the way it used to

And the reason for that is that people aren’t moving here the way they used to. Quite the opposite, in fact.

There’s been a lot of publicity lately about the fact that in the last couple of years, Harris County has not been the population growth machine it’s been in the past – while nationwide the suburbs are now growing faster than core urban areas.

As we reported not long ago, the most recent Census estimates show that metro Houston fell far behind metro Dallas in population growth last year, after several years in the No. 1 spot. Meanwhile, the Census found that last year Harris County fell far behind Maricopa County, Arizona, which is now the No. 1 county in the nation for population growth. And recently the respected demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution found that population growth in core urban areas like Harris County has now fallen behind growth rates in the suburbs, the exurbs, and rural areas.

Further analysis by the Kinder Institute finds that underlying all three of these trends are two striking facts: First, the decline in population growth in metropolitan Houston is all occurring in Harris County. And second, that decline in population growth is due entirely to a striking reversal in domestic in-migration in Harris County. Natural increase (births over deaths) and international migration are holding steady, but in 2017 far more people moved out of Harris County to go to other places in the United States than moved into Harris County from other places in the United States, according to the recently released Census data.

Clearly, many of these out-migrants may simply be going to the Houston suburbs. But the population dynamics in the suburbs have not changed much in the last couple of years. And the idea that Harris County is losing domestic migrants flies in the face of Houston’s own self-image. After all, the idea that you live off of natural increase and international migration – while losing your own residents to other places – is often viewed in Houston as a California kind of thing, not a Texas kind of thing.

Click over and read on for the charts and the details. For Harris County, both natural population growth – i.e., births minus deaths – and international migration have held steady, and those numbers are enough so that even with more people moving out rather than moving in, Harris County is still growing, just more slowly than it was as recently as 2014. But natural growth is contingent on having a young population, which we have in part because of migration, and with the lunatic xenophobe in the White House right now I wouldn’t bank on these things continuing as they have, at least in the near-to-medium term. Population is power in our world, so if these trends continue then we may see Harris County lose influence relative to the big suburban counties as the city of Houston has lost influence relative to the county in the past couple of decades. If this is a trend, it’s the beginning of one, so it may still be a blip and there may be things we can do to affect it. I’d say it’s worth our time to try and figure this out.

Head of “voter fraud” troll group that sued Harris County gets sued himself

Delightful.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A conservative activist and voter fraud alarmist is facing a federal lawsuit Thursday over dubious allegations of massive voter fraud in Virginia. A civil rights group and four Virginia voters filed a suit against J. Christian Adams and the legal outfit he runs, alleging that Adams and the group violated state and federal law when it accused thousands of Virginians, many of them eligible citizens, of voting illegally.

Adams, a former member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, is the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which in 2016 and 2017 published two reports alleging that thousands of “aliens” had committed felony voter fraud in Virginia and, in indexes to the reports, published personally identifiable information about those people. But many of Adams’ would-be criminals are in fact eligible voters, including all of the plaintiffs.

In the lawsuit, a local Virginia chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and four individuals allege that Adams and his legal firm violated state defamation laws, as well as federal civil rights laws that protect against voter intimidation. The lawsuit alleges that the reports Adams published are a form of voter intimidation against the people named in the report, and put them at risk by publishing their personal information alongside the allegation that they are felons.

See here for the background and here for more on the Virginia case. This guy is a professional liar whose mission is to keep people from voting by any means necessary. He needs to be beaten back at every opportunity. I wish the plaintiffs in this suit all the best.

On Latino primary participation

Time for some numbers.

The predictions about Harris County Latinos becoming more engaged in the recent mid-term primary were right: The number of Latino voters who cast their ballot more than doubled compared to the previous primary of the same kind, in 2014, with an overwhelming majority voting in the Democratic election. Experts attribute the increase to factors such as the national political climate polarized by the immigration discussion and a high number of Latino candidates, among others.

According to the office of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, 36,184 Spanish-surnamed voters voted in the 2018 primary election compared to 13,721 in 2014.

The increase in turnout –which is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in a particular election– also doubled: 491,912 Spanish-surnamed voters were registered in the county as of February, which means the turnout was close to 7.4 percent, compared to the 370,293 Spanish-surnamed voters who were registered in the county in 2014, which means the turnout that year was 3.7 percent.

The break down by party was also significant.

In 2014, 53 percent of Latino voters participated in the Republican primary and 47 percent voted in the Democratic election, while this year 70 percent of that segment of the electorate took part in the Democratic primary and 30 percent voted in the GOP election.

Let’s break this down a little more, since this jumble of totals and percentages and whatnot muddles what it is we’re actually comparing.


Year  LatinoR  LatinoD    All R    All D  LatinoR%  LatinoD%
============================================================
2014    7,272    6,449  139,703   53,788     5.21%    11.90%
2018   10,855   25,329  156,387  167,982     6.94%    15.08%

“LatinoR” and “LatinoD” represents the number of voters with Latino surnames who voted in the respective primaries for the given year, with those numbers derived from the percentages given. The percentages are the share of Latino voters in that primary.


         Growth
===============
LatinoR   49.3%
NonLatR    9.9%
All R     11.9%

LatinoD  292.8%
NonLatD  200.7%
All D    211.2%

“Growth” is the percentage increase of the group in question for the R or D primary from 2014 to 2018. The number of Latino Republicans increased by 49.3% from 2014 to 2018, the number of all other Republicans increased by 9.9%, and so on.

I’m presenting this all just for the sake of clarity. I don’t care to draw any conclusions because I don’t think we have enough data. Especially on the Democratic side, there was so much growth from 2014 to 2018 that it’s basically a waste of time to look at subgroups, because there’s growth everywhere. (OK, “waste of time” is an overstatement. If Latino participation had grown at a smaller rate than non-Latino participation, that would have been genuinely interesting.) A big part of the reason for this is that the turnout in the 2014 primary was so low. We won’t know for years if this is a new baseline or just a blip. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t make any guesses about November based on what happened in March. There’s value in knowing the numbers. Beyond that, be very careful about making broad statements.

Orlando Sanchez is not happy with the dominatrix investigation

This case is going to challenge headline and blog post title writers for the foreseeable future.

Orlando Sanchez

Two elected Harris County officials squared off Tuesday over a bizarre case in which a top treasury official was charged in a $35,000 check kiting fraud to meet the financial demands of a dominatrix.

Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez was critical of how District Attorney Kim Ogg handled the criminal case against a top administrator in the county’s treasurer’s office, after he was arrested last week for an alleged check fraud scheme and claimed he was being blackmailed by a financial dominatrix.

“What’s disturbing to me is that the district attorney knew about the investigation six months ago,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “Neither the sheriff or the district attorney gave me a phone call—as a heads up without going into the specifics of the investigation—that there was somebody in my office being looked at.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Ogg defended the way her office handled the six-month investigation and when they alerted Sanchez.

“Because it was an ongoing investigation, we did a lot of work before any witnesses were talked to,” said said. “And that kind of investigation is never made public otherwise it is impossible to know who might be involved.”

The county’s top prosecutor said she phoned Sanchez minutes after confirming that her office was filing charges against Lueb.

See here for the background. I just want to say that “Financial Dominatrix” is going to be the name of my Liz Phair tribute band. Also, remember how I said that the last thing Sanchez would want would be for this to be a multi-day story? You’re doing it wrong, dude. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind you.

On the matter of Sanchez’s complaint, the first thing I’d say is what if any policies are there regarding how criminal investigations into county employees like Gregory Lueb are handled? In other words, did Ogg’s office do more or less what previous DAs have done in this sort of circumstance, or was there a substantial difference?

Putting that aside for a moment, I can think of at least three reasons why Ogg might have kept this under her hat until her team was ready to file a case:

1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they needed to be sure that Sanchez himself was not in any way involved.

2. Once they have cleared Sanchez, if he knows that one of his employees is being investigated, that may cause him to act differently around them and thus possibly tip off the target of the investigation. There’s a reason this sort of information is generally kept quiet.

3. Even if you can completely trust Sanchez’s poker face, knowing that one or more of his employees is being investigated may change his perception of them, and this may persist even if the investigation winds up being dropped. He – and this is true of anyone, not just Orlando Sanchez – may have a lingering suspicion or sense of doubt, regardless of whether there was a reason for it.

So, unless Ogg violated previously accepted protocols, I see no cause for Sanchez to be upset. He was told when he needed to know, and that seems like the way to go. KUHF has more.

ACLU sues Galveston County over bail practices

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas, the ACLU and Arnold & Porter filed a federal class-action lawsuit today against Galveston County, Texas, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors and felonies.

The lawsuit was brought against the County itself, as well as each of the County’s judges who hear felonies and misdemeanors, the County magistrates, and the District Attorney. This is the first filing by the ACLU to include the District Attorney as a defendant in bail reform litigation. It seeks an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.

Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained for a week or longer, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. Galveston County’s district attorneys are involved in setting bail amounts for felony charges, often recommending bail amounts even higher than what the bail schedule suggests.

“A system that requires people to buy their freedom is not a system interested in dispensing justice,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Our client is seeking one thing: a fair hearing. Rich or poor, everyone should have a meaningful chance for a judge to hear them out before they are locked in a jail cell – but that’s not what’s happening in Galveston County.”

The lawsuit argues that Galveston County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail, while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many who are innocent nonetheless plead guilty simply to end the ordeal.

“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Texas and across the country,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Galveston’s bail system disregards the presumption of innocence, destroys families, and negatively affects jobs, and homes.”

The suit, filed on behalf of one plaintiff representing a class in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, accuses county officials of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the right to counsel, the right to due process, and equal protection under the law.

“Studies consistently show that individuals who are held in jail until trial are more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to prison, than those who are released pending trial,” said Christopher Odell, an attorney with Arnold & Porter. “Our goal is to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair to everyone in Galveston County, whether they’re rich or poor or somewhere in between.”

The plaintiff Aaron Booth, age 36, was arrested on April 8 for drug possession. He cannot afford the $20,000 money bail required by the court’s bail schedule. Mr. Booth fears losing his job because he is in jail; a job he needs to help his mother afford her monthly expenses.

Galveston’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary, the lawsuit argues. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically.

Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail indefinitely.

The lawsuit against Galveston County is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Texas and across the nation. This January, a related lawsuit aimed at ending Dallas County’s disciriminatory, wealth based bail practices was filed by the ACLU of Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — is focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. Thirty-seven ACLU state affiliates are spearheading efforts to end this unjust system.

The complaint can be found here. The Chron adds a few details.

The Galveston County Commissioner’s Court issued a resolution in September supporting an immediate end to pretrial detention for misdemeanor and state jail cell arrests and committing a minimum of $2 million to those efforts.

The county also voted in December to approve a contract with the Council of State Governments to help implement reforms to the county’s jail system.

But Trigilio said that the county has not committed to large-scale changes to its bail system in an appropriate timeframe. The ACLU drafted a standing order proposal outlining steps that needed to be taken to create a model pretrial system and requesting that the county come up with its own detailed plan. Their requests were ignored, with only one judge, Lonnie Cox of the 56th District Court, reviewing the standing order in November.

“We’re very open to collaborative solutions with policymakers, in fact, that’s what we prefer,” Trigilio said. “But it’s important to act with the urgency that the situation merits, and when they’re locking hundreds of people away every day just because they’re poor, that’s not something we can tolerate while we work out the nuances of a system that might be in place any year from now.”

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said on Monday that he had not had a chance to look at the lawsuit yet but that the county has been working with the ACLU “for nine months or so” to implement their suggested reforms to the bail system.

“We are certainly trying, yes,” he said, adding that he had not yet seen the suit but that the county was “absolutely committed” to making the changes already discussed.

“It’s not necessarily in our control,” he said. “There are about 15 other elected officials that have to agree and implement their part of it.”

Those of us in Harris County can relate to that complaint. You know where I stand on this, so let me just say that I hope other counties are looking at their own practices and taking proactive steps to get in line so they don’t have to be sued as well. But if suing them is what it takes, then so be it. Think Progress and KUHF have more.

Misdemeanor diversion

Sounds good to me.

Kim Ogg

Houston’s non-violent misdemeanor offenders will soon be cleaning up trash and invasive plant species plants along Buffalo Bayou in an initiative to help offenders clear up their criminal record, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Wednesday.

The program, dubbed “Clean and Green,” has existed in several incarnations since the 1970’s and was one of Ogg’s campaign promises when she ran for DA in 2014, and again when she won in 2016.

“It’s a big reason why I ran,” the top prosecutor said Wednesday as she announced the program at the historic Allen’s Landing, a downtown recreational area on the bayou. “I wanted to ‘green’ criminal justice. I felt like our system could give back in a measurable, meaningful way. Counting the cubic tons of garbage or how many tons of plastic we pull out, it all has a public safety value.”

Misdemeanor offenders, 17 and older, will be allowed to clean up litter and invasive plants, skim waterways and perform other conservation services in public spaces across the county, especially along bayous and tributaries, according to Ogg.

Eligibility for the program, which starts this month, will be determined by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis and excludes defendants facing domestic violence, assault or weapons charges.

[…]

The initiative is expected to offer 160 offenders a month the opportunity to avoid a criminal record while reducing tax dollars currently spent on traditional prosecution and punishment of those offenders.

If selected, participants will be required to work one or two six-hours shifts. They will have to pay $240 to participate, unless they are indigent. Completion of the program fulfills the community-service requirement of pre-trial diversion contracts.

If they successfully complete the program, their criminal case will be dismissed and the arrest can be expunged, Ogg said.

I approve of all of this. This is what we should want to do with non-violent misdemeanor offenders. And yes, it’s what we voted for. Keep up the good work.

The most interesting story related to the County Treasurer’s office you may ever read

Oh, yeah.

A top administrator at the Harris County Treasurer’s Office charged with stealing money from a county credit union told investigators he was using the funds to pay off a dominatrix he met online who was trying to blackmail him, county officials said Friday.

Gregory Wayne Lueb, the second in command at the Harris County Treasurer’s Office, is accused of stealing $35,000 in a check-kiting scheme that left the Harris County Credit Union holding the bag for the cash.

Lueb told investigators he met a dominatrix —a woman who punishes men in sexual situations — named “Mistress Cindy” on a sadomasochism website in 2016.

He said the woman blackmailed him into sending her money from his personal account at the credit union by telling him he’d tell his wife of his indiscretions if he didn’t.

In announcing the felony theft charges Friday, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said “Cindy” may or may not be real, but that Lueb had been arrested for a check fraud scheme that ran between August and December 2016.

“We don’t know if the dominatrix exists or not,” Ogg said. “The more salacious points are obvious in Mr. Lueb’s admissions, but whether they are true or not is really beside the point. We know that he was stealing from Harris County employees because it’s our money in the credit union.”

[…]

Ogg said Lueb was the target of two investigations: one initiated by the DA’s office and one begun by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The two probes were combined when investigators realized both agencies were looking into allegations of fraud that linked back to Lueb.

Ogg called for an audit of the treasurer’s office, headed by County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez.

Sanchez said Lueb did not have sole access to county funds. He said well-established safeguards and forms require multiple signatures from different department heads, so he is not worried that Lueb could have embezzled from the treasurer’s office.

“No one person in this county has the ability to move a dime,” he said. “No one person in Harris County has the authority to move money … The important thing is there’s no public funds (involved, no county money.”

Lueb has since been fired. I’ll be interested to see if there are further calls for an audit of the Treasurer’s office. I doubt there would be anything terrible to find, but having to deal with that in an election year probably does not make Orlando Sanchez happy. The last thing he wants is for this to be anything more than a one-day story.

Council approves new floodplain regulations

We’ve been waiting for this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Starting this fall, all new homes built in Houston’s floodplains must be elevated higher off the ground after a contentious debate and narrow vote by City Council on Wednesday to adopt the Bayou City’s first major regulatory response to the widespread flooding Hurricane Harvey unleashed last August.

The vote marks a shift away from Houston’s longtime aversion to constraining development, and means all new construction in the city’s floodplains will have to be built two feet above the projected water level in a 500-year storm.

The unusually tight 9-7 vote, which fell largely along party lines, came at the end of more than three hours of sometimes combative debate.

“This is a defining moment,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in his final pitch to the council. “Can we undo what was done with Harvey? No. But can we build looking forward? Yes. Does it mean it may cost more financially? Yes. But if it has the probability of saving lives, and if it has the probability of letting people know in our city and those who are looking to come to our city that we are taking measures to be stronger, to be more resilient, then that’s positive for the city of Houston.”

Democratic council members Karla Cisneros, David Robinson, Dwight Boykins, Ellen Cohen, Jerry Davis, Robert Gallegos and Amanda Edwards — along with Republican Dave Martin — joined Turner in backing the changes. Republicans Mike Knox, Jack Christie, Brenda Stardig, Michael Kubosh, Steve Le and Greg Travis, and Democrat Mike Laster opposed the regulations.

The new rules take effect Sept. 1 and apply to all new buildings within the 500-year floodplain, which is deemed to have a 0.2 percent chance of being inundated in any given year. Additions larger than a third of the home’s original footprint also will need to be elevated.

Current regulations mandate that buildings be constructed one foot above the flood level in a less severe 100-year storm and apply only within the 100-year floodplain, where properties are considered to have a 1 percent chance of being inundated in a given year. Wednesday’s vote marks the first time Houston is imposing minimum elevation requirements within the 500-year floodplain.

The new rules are similar to, but more stringent than those Harris County put into effect Jan. 1. There, new homes built in neighborhoods developed before 2009 must be built one foot above either the ground or the crown of the adjacent street, whichever is higher. The county’s regulations change little for homes to be built in subdivisions developed more recently.

See here and here for more on the county’s new floodplain regulations, here for a bit of background on the proposal that was passed, and here for an earlier Chron story that gets into some of the No-voting members’ resistance. No regulation is ever perfect, and I’m sure there’s debate to be had about what approach would have been best, but it sure seems a bit odd to me that at this point in Houston’s history that this kind of regulation wouldn’t be more broadly supported by Council. For those members who will be on the ballot next year – Knox, Kubosh, Le, and Travis – I’ll be very interested to see how this vote is received on the campaign trail.

Harris County sued by “voter fraud” trolls

Let’s get this kicked to the curb ASAP.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A conservative non-profit group sued Harris County in federal court Thursday to force the county to make available records on how it stops non-U.S. citizens from voting.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation said in its lawsuit that it had requested in December to inspect records from the county including “documents regarding all registrants who were identified as potentially not satisfying the citizenship requirements for registration” and communication received “requesting a removal or cancellation from the voter roll for any reason related to non-U.S. citizenship/ineligibility.”

[…]

The foundation has filed similar lawsuits in other places like Pennsylvania and has targeted other areas like New Jersey and Bexar County.

The group has faced criticism over the numbers it uses in claims of corrupted voter rolls. Some opponents have said they are targeting Democratic-leaning, low-income areas with the lawsuits.

See here for more about these clowns. See also this story about a failed attempt by a similar group with the same guy in charge, which may have implications for efforts like this. All I can say is that Harris County had better put as much time and effort into beating back this lawsuit as it has done with the bail practices lawsuit.

JP Hilary Green resigns

Wise decision.

The Harris County justice of the peace accused of paying prostitutes for sex, abusing drugs while on the bench and sexting a bailiff officially resigned this week – although her attorney says it has nothing to do with the claims against her.

Hilary Green had already been temporarily suspended by the Texas Supreme Court and was headed for trial next month to determine her judicial future. But on Tuesday – even as lawyers worked to prepare for the upcoming Austin court date – the long-time Precinct 7 jurist sent a letter to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, announcing her decision to leave the bench.

“Effective immediately, please allow this letter to serve as my formal resignation from my position as Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1,” Green wrote. “Due to the unexpected death of my father and my mother’s newly diagnosed illness, it is important for me to focus all my attention on my family.”

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, emphasized that his client’s departure was motivated solely by personal considerations.

“It is totally unrelated to the charges which she continues to deny and contest,” he told the Chronicle Thursday. The pending proceedings to unseat her – and lack of income, given her suspension without pay – took a toll on her, according to Babcock.

[…]

In light of Green’s resignation, county commissioners are expected to appoint a replacement who will serve until November 2018. Voters in the November election will then decide on her successor. Her term would have expired in 2020.

The political parties will in the coming months determine which candidates will be on the ballot.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis will likely select the interim appointment.

“Commissioner Rodney Ellis will consult with community leaders and legal experts to select a qualified candidate,” an Ellis spokesman said. “He plans to have a candidate to submit to Commissioners Court for approval on April 10.”

See here and here for the background. I’m mostly interested in what happens next, as I don’t think we’ve seen a situation exactly like this recently. Robert Eckels, Paul Bettencourt, Charles Bacarisse, Jerry Eversole, and most recently Adrian Garcia all resigned from county offices, but they did so in odd-numbered years, meaning there was plenty of time for people to file and run in the primaries for those offices. Jack Abercia already had a slate of primary opponents when he announced his intent to not run for re-election, prior to his tour of the criminal justice system. El Franco Lee died in January of 2016, a year in which he was on the ballot and was the only person who had filed for his position. Due to the timing of that, he remained on the primary ballot, then we went through that process to replace him as the nominee via the precinct chair process.

Hilary Green was not scheduled to be on the ballot this year; she was elected to a four-year term in 2016. The primaries are over, so that’s not an option. I suppose we could have a special election as we would for a legislator who left office mid-term, but the phrasing of that “political parties will…determine which candidates will be on the ballot” sentence suggests we’re in for another precinct chair selection process. I wanted to be sure about that, so off to the Texas Statutes website I go. First, in the case of the interim appointment, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution says:

Sec. 28. VACANCY IN JUDICIAL OFFICE. (a) A vacancy in the office of Chief Justice, Justice, or Judge of the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals, or the District Courts shall be filled by the Governor until the next succeeding General Election for state officers, and at that election the voters shall fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.

(b) A vacancy in the office of County Judge or Justice of the Peace shall be filled by the Commissioners Court until the next succeeding General Election.

Clear enough. But how is that next succeeding General Election to be conducted? I turn to Election Code, Title 12 “Elections to fill vacancy in office”, Chapter 202 “Vacancy in office of state or county government”:

Sec. 202.001. APPLICABILITY OF CHAPTER. This chapter applies to elective offices of the state and county governments except the offices of state senator and state representative.

Sec. 202.002. VACANCY FILLED AT GENERAL ELECTION. (a) If a vacancy occurs on or before the 74th day before the general election for state and county officers held in the next-to-last even-numbered year of a term of office, the remainder of the unexpired term shall be filled at the next general election for state and county officers, as provided by this chapter.

(b) If a vacancy occurs after the 74th day before a general election day, an election for the unexpired term may not be held at that general election. The appointment to fill the vacancy continues until the next succeeding general election and until a successor has been elected and has qualified for the office.

[…]

Sec. 202.004. NOMINATION BY PRIMARY ELECTION. (a) A political party’s nominee for an unexpired term must be nominated by primary election if:

(1) the political party is making nominations by primary election for the general election in which the vacancy is to be filled; and

(2) the vacancy occurs on or before the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the general primary ballot.

[…]

Sec. 202.006. NOMINATION BY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. (a) A political party’s state, district, county, or precinct executive committee, as appropriate for the particular office, may nominate a candidate for the unexpired term if:

(1) in the case of a party holding a primary election, the vacancy occurs after the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the ballot for the general primary election; or

(2) in the case of a party nominating by convention, the vacancy occurs after the fourth day before the date the convention having the power to make a nomination for the office convenes.

(b) The nominating procedure for an unexpired term under this section is the same as that provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 145, for filling a vacancy in a party’s nomination, to the extent that it can be made applicable.

Chapter 145 was the governing law for the process used to fill El Franco Lee’s spot on the ballot, and then subsequently those of Rodney Ellis and Borris Miles. Here, Section 202.004 cannot apply, as the primary has already taken place, so Section 202.006 is the relevant code. And so we get to experience another precinct chair convention to pick a nominee – unlike 2016, when no Republican had filed for Commissioners Court Precinct 1, the GOP will get to name a candidate as well. Well, someone will get to experience that. I am thankfully in JP Precinct 1, not JP Precinct 7, so I’m spared it this time. I’ll follow it, and time permitting I’ll be there when it happens to observe, but I get to be a bystander this time, and that’s fine by me. Godspeed to those of you who get to make the call.

Still discussing flood bonds

It’s complicated.

Harris County officials Tuesday said the “clock is ticking” on its call for a bond referendum for $1 billion or more in flood control projects, as requirements to provide matching funds for federal grants being disbursed in Hurricane Harvey’s wake threaten to deplete local coffers.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday stopped short of setting a date for the possible election amid questions about what projects could be included in such a bond issue and how much it would cost per year to complete them. The court directed staffers to hammer out specific proposals that would help determine how much debt the county should ask voters to approve.

Calling Harvey a game-changer, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and other members of Commissioners Court pledged last September to call for a bond election for upward of $1 billion to pay for wide-ranging flood control projects. The bonds likely would come with an increase in property taxes.

At the heart of Tuesday’s discussion was concern over the increasingly high stakes surrounding the fate and necessity of the bond, as well as the county’s ability to take on a host of large-scale projects aimed at preventing a repeat of the flooding and devastation wrought by Harvey.

See here and here for the background. Federal grants, some of which have already been approved, require local matching funds, which constrains what the county can do right now. The county will need to figure out how to balance what it’s doing now with what it wants to do with the bonds.

Officials also wrangled over several other logistical and political issues surrounding the proposed bond referendum, which would be one of the largest ever put before county voters.

“There are a lot of dilemmas facing us here,” Emmett said. “When do you have the election? How much is it? Do you get specific? Do you leave it general?”

The level of a property tax increase accompanying the bond likely will impact the referendum’s fate.

Harris County Budget Officer Bill Jackson said that if, for example, the bond election was for $1 billion and the debt was issued over 10 years, that would result in a $5 increase in property tax bills for the average $200,000 home in the first year. That number likely would rise to about $20 in the 10th year.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said that if voters reject a bond referendum, the county cannot put the same issue on the ballot again for two years.

Commissioners Court at its next meeting in April could vote to call an election for June 16, but Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis expressed concern over turnout during the summer months.

An election during the summer would require a plan to locate and staff polling places around the county. The governor also would have to sign off on a summer date.

“To my knowledge, no governor has ever denied a local bond election,” Emmett said. “But there haven’t been that many that have been called for a special date.”

Pushing the election to November would mean more turnout but also would raise the possibility that voters cast straight-ticket ballots for political parties and ignore the bond, Emmett said.

Ellis said he also worried about limiting the scope of the bond issue to focus on matches for federal grants, stating that he would like to see more investment in lower-income areas, and a bigger bond package to pay for it.

“After the most horrific and historic storm event we’ve had, I’ve heard members of this body say it’s our opportunity to do something big, and we may not get another bite at that apple,” he said.

I don’t think we’ve had a June election (not counting runoffs from May special elections) anytime recently. As far as the voters ignoring the bond question, Harris County hasn’t had a bond election in an even-numbered year recently. The city of Houston bonds in 2012 had undervote rates in the 20-30% range, but that still meant over 400K people voting on them. Metro’s referendum that year had a 21% dropoff but nearly 800K votes cast, while bonds for HISD (19% undervote, 315K ballots cast) and HCC (23% undervote, 352K ballots) were similar. If all those entities could have bonds in a Presidential year, I think Harris County could make do with a referendum in a non-Presidential year. (Metro is planning on one this year, remember.) Plenty of people will still weigh in on it, and if the county can’t successfully sell flood control projects post-Harvey then something is really wrong. I say put it up in November and start working on the campaign pitch now.

Flood tunnels

It’s so crazy, it just might work.

Japanese flood tunnel

The Harris County Flood Control District is exploring the possibility of building several massive, deep tunnels aimed at keeping storm water out of flood-prone neighborhoods and carry it underground for miles to the Houston Ship Channel during major storms.

Never before tried around Houston, the project likely would cost several billion dollars and it is not clear where the money would come from, officials said. Specialized machines methodically digging 100 to 200 feet underground would take several years to complete the tunnels, which would seek to drain floodwaters from bayous across the county.

Officials with the flood control district said the idea could be a bold answer to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, and dramatically improve Houston’s defenses against deadly floods where other strategies have fallen short.

“What the flood control district has been doing for decades doesn’t occur fast enough or it doesn’t have the benefits that the public really wants,” said Matthew Zeve, director of operations at the flood control district. “We’ve been challenged to try to think of new ideas and new strategies and this is an answer to that challenge.”

[…]

A feasibility study is expected to cost around $400,000 and be completed by October.

News of the proposal fueled optimism and skepticism Friday — optimism that Harvey finally could force radical changes to Houston’s flood control strategy, and skepticism that such a monumental project could be accomplished when much less ambitious ideas have languished for decades.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, said in a statement he is “encouraged” the flood control district “is thinking outside the box and plans to conduct a feasibility study on this proposal. It certainly seems like this type of project could be partially funded by FEMA hazard mitigation grants and, perhaps, through other federal sources, as well.”

Houston’s flood czar, drainage engineer and former city councilman Steve Costello, said the project could be a potential paradigm shift for the region’s flood risk.

“We’re trying to lower the risk; we’re never going to be able to totally eliminate the risk,” Costello said, referencing efforts to improve drainage through local projects. “Well, a tunnel system, quite possibly, could eliminate the risk.”

As expensive and complex as it would be – Costello said he was told it could cost perhaps $100 million per mile, in Houston’s soils – he said tunnels may be the most cost-effective way to achieve the gold standard of 100-year storm protection in every major channel.

Jim Thompson, regional CEO for engineering Giant AECOM, said the tunnels are “worthy projects” that warrant further study, but said officials ought to prioritize long-identified projects along bayous and city streets first.

“Would it provide the cure-all relief that everybody is seeking? No,” Thompson said. “Would it provide a noticeable decrease in flood levels and risk of flooding? The answer is possibly yes.”

There’s a connection to Elon Musk in all this, because of course there is. Other cities, like Tokyo, have similar tunnels, so the idea is neither crazy nor unprecedented. But like all things, until and unless there’s a budget and an appropriation, it’s just an idea. Commissioners Court has approved the feasibility study, so we’ll see what they come up with.

Precinct analysis: One of these things is not like the others

Let’s finish up our look at the primary precinct data with a peek at the Republican side of things. As a reminder, my analysis of the Democratic Senate primary is here, my analysis of the Governor and Lt. Governor races is here, and my analysis of the countywide races is here. We start here with the Senate race, where Ted Cruz had four opponents:


Dist    Sam    Cruz  Stef  Miller Jacobson   Cruz %
===================================================
HD126   217   9,385   222     429      295   88.97%
HD127   263  12,657   301     598      354   89.30%
HD128   151   8,585   106     313      207   91.70%
HD129   242   9,345   217     535      280   88.00%
HD130   236  12,193   233     511      321   90.36%
HD131    50   1,280    44      83       41   85.45%
HD132   161   7,077   164     316      221   89.14%
HD133   300  12,431   390     823      503   86.05%
HD134   492  10,749   824   1,283      720   76.41%
HD135   159   6,226   146     321      194   88.36%
HD137    56   1,903    59     134       70   85.64%
HD138   151   6,716   216     337      185   88.31%
HD139    66   2,534    89     159       77   86.63%
HD140    23   1,054    16      27       26   91.97%
HD141    13     882    15      32       18   91.88%
HD142    41   1,656    51      84       49   88.04%
HD143    30   1,580    25      61       41   90.96%
HD144    43   2,102    30      79       69   90.49%
HD145    52   2,082    78     126       75   86.28%
HD146    79   2,174   125     189       82   82.07%
HD147    99   1,684   151     201       96   75.48%
HD148   118   3,164   237     275      154   80.14%
HD149   101   3,046    75     194      117   86.22%
HD150   206  11,161   227     430      284   90.68%

Cruz got just over 87% in Harris County. If he did any campaigning here, I didn’t see it – the one sign I did see of any activity was one sign for Stefano de Stefano a few blocks from my house. In most districts, Cruz is right around his countywide total, but there are two that really stand out. I doubt anyone is surprised to see that HD134 was a low-performing district for Cruz, but I didn’t see HD147 coming. It’s an inner-Loop district, and I’d bet the Republican voters there skew a little younger than average, so it’s not like it’s a shock, just unexpected. Now let’s move to the Governor’s race:


Dist  Kilgore Krueger  Abbott  Abbott%
======================================
HD126     115     759   9,623   91.67%
HD127     192     970  12,921   91.75%
HD128      97     497   8,720   93.62%
HD129     130     839   9,644   90.87%
HD130     131     793  12,535   93.13%
HD131      27     133   1,329   89.25%
HD132      86     515   7,289   92.38%
HD133     153   1,335  13,024   89.75%
HD134     278   2,701  11,042   78.75%
HD135     103     489   6,422   91.56%
HD137      38     187   1,999   89.88%
HD138     112     545   6,936   91.35%
HD139      41     259   2,618   89.72%
HD140      28      57   1,056   92.55%
HD141       4      59     897   93.44%
HD142      24     128   1,706   91.82%
HD143      33      76   1,621   93.70%
HD144      29     126   2,153   93.28%
HD145      47     208   2,147   89.38%
HD146      54     311   2,277   86.18%
HD147      78     339   1,780   81.02%
HD148      84     481   3,370   85.64%
HD149      58     287   3,187   90.23%
HD150     151     745  11,385   92.70%

If you look the term “token opposition” up in the dictionary, you’ll see the two non-Greg Abbott candidates in the definition. Abbott got 90.09% in Harris County against a fringe candidate’s fringe candidate and a first-time no-name. Like Ted Cruz, Abbott performed mostly to spec around the county, once again with the notable exception of HD134. Nearly three thousand Republican primary voters, more than 20% of the total in HD134, basically said “anyone bu Greg Abbott”. There were a few people during the primary who thought Sarah Davis was being a bit nonchalant about the campaign against her, being spearheaded as forcefully as it was by Abbott. Maybe she knew something, you know?

Last but not least, Lite Guv:


Dest   Milder Patrick Patrick%
==============================
HD126   1,826   8,802   82.82%
HD127   2,289  11,890   83.86%
HD128   1,540   7,904   83.69%
HD129   1,768   8,878   83.39%
HD130   2,203  11,406   83.81%
HD131     257   1,242   82.86%
HD132   1,268   6,696   84.08%
HD133   3,144  11,470   78.49%
HD134   4,748   9,589   66.88%
HD135   1,174   5,906   83.42%
HD137     399   1,831   82.11%
HD138   1,208   6,428   84.18%
HD139     524   2,441   82.33%
HD140     107   1,032   90.61%
HD141      92     863   90.37%
HD142     275   1,605   85.37%
HD143     173   1,555   89.99%
HD144     274   2,025   88.08%
HD145     406   2,007   83.17%
HD146     576   2,084   78.35%
HD147     614   1,622   72.54%
HD148     892   3,072   77.50%
HD149     618   2,915   82.51%
HD150   1,839  10,583   85.20%

On the one hand, the protest candidacy by Scott Milder didn’t amount to that much, as Dan Patrick got 81.45% of the vote in Harris County and over 76% statewide. On the other hand, there were still a lot of people who did vote for Milder, including one out of three participants in HD134. To the extent that there’s hope for some anti-Trump crossover backlash this November, the Republicans who refused to vote for their top three name brands would be the starting point.

One other point to address with the Lite Guv race is the question of turnout in that race compared to other Republican primaries. We know there was an effort by education and business groups to encourage people to vote in the Republican primary to support more moderate candidates, with Scott Milder being the poster boy for that. If people who were not normally Republican primary voters were coming to vote against Dan Patrick, it stands to reason that they may not have bothered voting in the other races, since they presumably held less interest for them. The evidence for that is mixed. In Harris, Travis, and Tarrant counties, it was indeed the case that more people voted in the Lt. Governor race than in the Senate and Governor races; the other statewide races had far lower totals than those three. Indeed, the undervote in Harris County in the Lite Guv race (2.38%) was lower than it was in the hotly contested open-seat CD02 race (2.48%). However, in Bexar and Dallas counties, the Lite Guv vote total was third, behind Senate and Governor, which is what you’d normally expect given ballot order and profile of the offices in question. I wouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion about any of this – some of those drawn-in voters may well cast ballots in other races, especially visible ones like Senate and Governor, and in all of these cases the differences are small. I just like looking for this sort of thing and felt it was worth pointing out even if it’s ambiguous.

So that’s what I have for the precinct data. As always, I hope this was useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions.

Precinct analysis: Countywide candidates

We have four – count ’em, four – runoffs for Harris County office nominations for May. Every contested countywide non-judicial primary – that is, everything other than County Judge – is going to overtime. I’m going to look at the data from these four races with an eye towards the runoffs. As a reminder, my analysis of the Senate primary is here, and my analysis of the Governor and Lt. Governor races is here. Let’s start with the District Clerk race.


Dist   Howard  Burgess Jordan Shorter
=====================================
CD02    3,161   15,405  2,276   4,938
CD07    3,254   16,917  2,307   5,271
CD08      234      819    160     435
CD09    3,918    7,493  3,185   5,959
CD10    1,000    3,442    769   1,578
CD18    5,631   13,574  4,807   8,922
CD22      438    1,458    355     708
CD29    2,850    6,260  2,562   3,739
CD36      993    4,150    726   1,508
				
HD126     712    2,089    577   1,010
HD127     772    2,505    635   1,220
HD128     486    1,559    344     659
HD129     712    3,509    534   1,207
HD130     610    2,156    421     904
HD131   1,669    2,943  1,389   2,477
HD132     758    2,529    689   1,393
HD133     741    4,486    490   1,213
HD134   1,262   10,294    681   1,813
HD135     713    2,586    700   1,376
HD137     443    1,442    350     677
HD138     623    2,580    433   1,016
HD139   1,535    3,372  1,373   2,232
HD140     479      890    424     602
HD141   1,047    1,714  1,048   1,531
HD142   1,299    2,090  1,216   2,091
HD143     803    1,508    810   1,020
HD144     373      943    340     445
HD145     655    2,149    525     929
HD146   1,735    3,857  1,242   2,687
HD147   1,817    5,482  1,241   3,154
HD148     885    4,795    611   1,249
HD149     622    1,625    532     910
HD150     728    2,415    542   1,243

Marilyn Burgess was above the magic 50% line for most of the evening as Primary Day returns came in, but fell just short in the end, leading the pack with 49.22%. She was strong everywhere, getting at least a plurality in every district except HD142, which she missed by one vote. Stranger things have happened, but it’s hard to imagine her losing in the runoff given the data.

Next up is County Clerk:


Dist    West  Mitchell Trautman
===============================
CD02   3,368     8,412   13,817
CD07   3,824     8,739   15,009
CD08     255       729      651
CD09   3,418    10,215    6,620
CD10   1,222     2,798    2,708
CD18   5,071    15,336   12,068
CD22    418      1,283    1,222
CD29   2,777     6,286    6,160
CD36   1,051     2,687    3,599
			
HD126    783     1,881    1,683
HD12     784     2,152    2,205
HD128    488     1,296    1,257
HD129    756     2,110    3,047
HD130    674     1,713    1,678
HD131  1,340     4,511    2,506
HD132  1,037     2,304    1,972
HD133    878     1,939    4,080
HD134  1,336     2,830    9,754
HD135    956     2,342    2,028
HD137    490     1,105    1,285
HD138    720     1,693    2,214
HD139  1,405     4,216    2,756
HD140    476     1,003      884
HD141    847     3,141    1,312
HD142    954     3,951    1,741
HD143    737     1,953    1,438
HD144    406       716      934
HD145    677     1,247    2,253
HD146  1,513     4,351    3,507
HD147  1,785     4,299    5,328
HD148    922     1,935    4,655
HD149    647     1,613    1,410
HD150    793     2,184    1,927

I’ll be honest, I thought Diane Trautman would do better than she did. She’s been around for awhile, she’s run and won countywide before, and she was a very active campaigner. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see this race be as close as it was, with Trautman at 44.27% and Gayle Mitchell, who lost a primary for County Clerk to Ann Harris Bennett in 2014, at 40.42%. When I say that Trautman was an active campaigner, I don’t just mean on Facebook and via email. I mean I saw her at multiple events, including all of the CEC meetings from 2017. Nat West was present at CEC meetings, as he is the SDEC Chair for SD13, but as far as I know Gayle Mitchell never attended and of those or any other event that I did. Be that as it may, she finished just 5,500 votes behind Trautman, and she won or ran strongly in numerous districts. She also did better on Primary Day than she did in early voting; the same was true for Rozzy Shorter and the other non-Burgess District Clerk candidates, which probably just suggests when different types of voters were voting.

Trautman has the advantage of the runoff in CD07 going into May, as that was a big driver of overall turnout and it was her strongest turf, though she wasn’t as strong there as Burgess was. Mitchell will likely benefit from the runoffs in JP7 and HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 – there is significant overlap between the two – though neither of those will draw people out the way CD07 will. I guess that makes Trautman a slight favorite going into May, but we all thought she was a strong favorite going into March, so who knows. If I had one piece of advice for Trautman, it would be to see if she can get some elected officials to do some outreach on her behalf. Those of us who think she’s the strongest candidate to face Stan Stanart, especially if we’re not in CD07, need to make sure we bring some friends to the polls for her.

I’m going to present the last two races together. They are Treasurer and HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large.


Treasurer

Dist  Garcia Copeland  Osborne
==============================
CD02    8,841   4,988   11,335
CD07    9,412   5,635   11,931
CD08      685     408      533
CD09    6,404   6,742    6,729
CD10    2,826   1,763    2,060
CD18    9,634   9,856   12,141
CD22    1,226     702      989
CD29    8,533   3,170    3,816
CD36    2,835   1,493    2,910
			
HD126   1,762   1,154    1,391
HD127   2,001   1,280    1,752
HD128   1,268     733    1,005
HD129   2,185   1,166    2,512
HD130   1,679   1,024    1,324
HD131   2,478   2,999    2,711
HD132   2,289   1,508    1,472
HD133   2,209   1,222    3,260
HD134   3,581   1,897    8,060
HD135   2,251   1,485    1,537
HD137   1,193     691      996
HD138   1,849   1,047    1,689
HD139   2,390   2,746    3,051
HD140   1,333     521      573
HD141   1,569   1,964    1,589
HD142   2,038   2,353    2,061
HD143   2,146     978    1,039
HD144   1,301     332      479
HD145   2,399     576    1,295
HD146   2,645   2,898    3,568
HD147   3,264   2,888    4,983
HD148   3,066   1,034    3,373
HD149   1,469   1,029    1,150
HD150   2,031   1,232    1,574

HCDE

Dist Wallenstein   Cantu  Patton
================================
CD02       8,942   8,497   7,619
CD07      11,269   8,813   6,864
CD08         511     610     497
CD09       5,001   7,639   7,290
CD10       2,086   2,570   1,985
CD18       8,126  12,111  11,627
CD22         909   1,258     755
CD29       2,894   9,410   3,240
CD36       2,667   2,856   1,725
			
HD126      1,291   1,760   1,245
HD127      1,487   1,958   1,572
HD128        909   1,370     747
HD129      2,336   2,101   1,408
HD130      1,340   1,515   1,159
HD131      1,956   3,182   3,094
HD132      1,457   2,166   1,629
HD133      3,179   2,017   1,499
HD134      6,878   3,163   3,495
HD135      1,424   2,240   1,593
HD137        872   1,164     834
HD138      1,617   1,752   1,175
HD139      1,961   3,391   2,853
HD140        442   1,530     458
HD141      1,160   2,042   1,971
HD142      1,225   2,811   2,447
HD143        779   2,422     979
HD144        473   1,350     278
HD145        943   2,465     841
HD146      2,590   3,244   3,333
HD147      3,178   3,583   4,486
HD148      2,388   3,150   1,952
HD149      1,018   1,477   1,120
HD150      1,502   1,911   1,434

Treasurer is just a tossup. Dylan Osborne led Cosme Garcia by two thousand votes, and for the most part they were pretty close to even across the districts, with Garcia having a clear advantage in CD29. I don’t see enough of an advantage for either candidate to take a guess at who might have the edge in May. Neither outcome would surprise me.

Richard Cantu has a much more distinct advantage in HCDE, leading Josh Wallenstein by over 11,000 votes. Wallenstein came close to not making it to the runoff – he actually ran third in both phases of in-person voting, but had a big enough lead over Elvonte Patton in mail ballots to hang onto second place. Runoffs can be weird, but Cantu seems like the clear favorite for May.

That wraps it up for the Democratic primary precinct analyses. I have one more of these to present, from the other side. Hope you’ve found these to be useful.

How about we excavate those reservoirs?

Okay by me.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is quietly exploring the possibility of excavating dirt from Addicks and Barker reservoirs, reviving an oft-discussed proposal that would allow the reservoirs to hold more storm water and keep it out of nearby Houston neighborhoods.

Depending on the scope of the project, removing silt and dirt could increase the reservoirs’ capacity significantly, perhaps even doubling it, by one Corps official’s rough estimate. Whether the agency moves forward could depend in part on whether it can find someone to take all the dirt.

[…]

The idea of excavating the reservoirs has been a fixture of official reports and politicians’ to-do lists for more than 20 years. Thanks to Harvey, its time may finally have arrived.

In a notice posted on the Internet, the Army Corps said it “is evaluating the level of interest from government, industry, and others parties for the excavation and removal of alluvial soils deposited within” the reservoirs.

“The concept of the potential project is to allow for the beneficial use of material by interested parties while increasing capacity” at Addicks and Barker, the notice said.

It appeared Jan. 24, with no public announcement, on a website that advertises business opportunities with the federal government.

Corps officials won’t say anything further about their plans, including how much soil would be excavated, how much it would cost or who would pay.

Read on to learn more about the dirt, which is actually kind of interesting. The question of how much this would cost and who would pay for it seems to me to be the more fundamental issue. A third reservoir is still a good idea, but increasing the capacity of the existing reservoirs would be wise as well. Probably cheaper, and faster to accomplish, too. I doubt anyone is opposed to this, so what do we need to do to get this started?

Precinct analysis: Guv and Lite Guv

We move now to the Democratic primaries for Governor and Lt. Governor. I did not analyze any of the other Democratic statewide contested primaries, mostly because they were sufficiently low-profile that I didn’t think there was anything of interest to be learned. My view of the Senate primary is here if you missed it. First up, the Governor’s race:


Dist   Valdez    White  Davis  Others
=====================================
CD02    6,779   16,271  2,163   3,738
CD07    6,626   19,479  2,150   4,217
CD08      463      808    224     336
CD09    3,326   10,582  4,018   4,106
CD10    1,837    3,420    883   1,248
CD18    5,780   17,951  5,844   6,518
CD22      762    1,587    343     563
CD29    5,620    6,785  1,569   3,485
CD36    1,880    4,397    513   1,378
				
HD126   1,026    2,293    610     820
HD127   1,240    2,638    752     939
HD128     780    1,747    239     593
HD129   1,511    3,635    475   1,021
HD130   1,044    2,244    468     739
HD131   1,161    4,365  1,775   1,709
HD132   1,475    2,399    812   1,077
HD133   1,597    5,369    358     945
HD134   3,251   12,319    384   1,283
HD135   1,360    2,646    810   1,051
HD137     804    1,526    366     561
HD138   1,276    2,677    396     824
HD139   1,285    4,526  1,664   1,754
HD140     839      944    273     610
HD141     699    2,406  1,358   1,282
HD142   1,019    3,059  1,568   1,582
HD143   1,385    1,780    482   1,004
HD144     860      930     74     499
HD145   1,760    2,174    224     766
HD146   1,547    5,337  1,685   1,871
HD147   2,380    6,969  1,515   1,939
HD148   2,591    4,913    265   1,027
HD149     890    1,885    489     728
HD150   1,293    2,499    665     965

Andrew White

I don’t have the room to display nine candidates’ worth of results, so I’m just showing the top three, with the other six aggregated into the last column. Harris County was by far Andrew White’s best county – he won over 51% of the vote here, and nearly thirty percent of his statewide total came from Harris. Most of the other counties he won were our neighbors – Fort Bend, Brazoria, Montgomery, and Galveston were all in his column. As such, I don’t want to draw too broad a conclusion from the numbers you see above. This is White’s home turf, and it’s probably where he did the most campaigning, and it worked for him. If he wants to have any hope for winning the runoff, he’s going to have to do well here in May. The fact that there are also runoffs in CDs 07 and 22, plus in countywide races, helps him, but then there are also runoffs in places like CD32, so it’s not like he has all the advantage. My advice to him would simply be to do more of what he did here elsewhere in the state.

Lupe Valdez

As for Lupe Valdez, again I don’t want to generalize from atypical data. She won in all of the other big urban counties, she won in the big suburbs of Collin, Denton, and Williamson, she won in South Texas, and she won in places like Lubbock and Ector and Midland. There’s a good case to be made that she doesn’t need to do anything special to win in May, and should concentrate on fundraising and sharpening her message against Greg Abbott instead. But as I said before, there were still a lot of people who chose someone other than her or White, and many of them will be in the Congressional districts that have runoffs. This is the only statewide runoff, and that means it’s the main attraction for the next eight weeks. She shouldn’t view invitations to debate Andrew White as opportunities for him to gain ground on her, but as opportunities for attention to be focused on Democratic candidates, Democratic priorities, and Democratic messages. When was the last time we had that?

Lastly, Cedric Davis was the one other candidate in this race that had won an election before, and he did have some traction with African-American voters. If he cares to make an endorsement for the runoff, it could carry some weight. If Valdez and White have not been reaching out to him, that’s a bad decision on their part.

Now for the Lite Guv race, for which there were two candidates and thus no runoff concerns:


Dist    Cooper  Collier
=======================
CD02    11,197   16,416
CD07    12,166   18,092
CD08       929      833
CD09    12,682    8,621
CD10     3,676    3,495
CD18    18,698   15,785
CD22     1,693    1,449
CD29     9,333    7,082
CD36     3,545    4,333
		
HD126    2,541    2,071
HD127    2,836    2,575
HD128    1,633    1,585
HD129    2,853    3,574
HD130    2,118    2,220
HD131    5,308    3,448
HD132    3,150    2,488
HD133    2,704    4,953
HD134    4,203   11,439
HD135    3,163    2,512
HD137    1,541    1,567
HD138    2,310    2,653
HD139    5,006    3,863
HD140    1,566      966
HD141    3,623    1,901
HD142    4,401    2,548
HD143    2,661    1,748
HD144    1,192    1,010
HD145    2,131    2,441
HD146    5,401    4,557
HD147    5,667    6,506
HD148    2,871    5,381
HD149    2,222    1,671
HD150    2,818    2,429

Collier won Harris County with 50.70% of the vote; he did better statewide, getting 52.37% of the total. Neither he nor Michael Cooper had any money, but Collier’s campaign was visible to me while Cooper’s was not. I got Collier’s emails, I saw his posts on Facebook, and I saw posts from friends about him on Facebook. Looking at where Collier did well in Harris County, I’d say he did well with other voters like me who probably saw evidence of his campaign as well. Collier did very well in some counties, like Travis and Bexar and Williamson, as well as the Dallas suburbs, but trailed by a little in Dallas and Tarrant, and by more in El Paso and the South Texas region. The not Dan Patrick crowd seems to be on board with him. I suspect that’s mostly a matter of making sure his campaign is visible to them as well.

Precinct analysis: Beto in Harris County

I now have a canvass of the primaries in Harris County, so you know what that means – time for some precinct analyses. I’ve got a few of these to do, so let’s dive right in. First up, a look at the Democratic Senate race.


Dist      Beto   Sema    Kimb
=============================
CD02    20,865  5,038   3,388
CD07    24,094  5,473   3,202
CD08     1,122    429     303
CD09     9,188  5,123   7,181
CD10     4,528  1,787   1,153
CD18    17,597  7,087  10,491
CD22     1,901    811     569
CD29     7,915  5,920   3,094
CD36     5,289  1,807   1,157
			
HD126    2,639  1,186     932
HD127    3,082  1,354   1,158
HD128    1,895    837     612
HD129    4,647  1,319     811
HD130    2,863  1,006     656
HD131    3,358  2,103   3,343
HD132    3,170  1,661     970
HD133    6,644  1,103     621
HD134   15,443  1,401     742
HD135    3,187  1,612   1,052
HD137    2,016    793     460
HD138    3,341  1,176     673
HD139    3,971  1,953   3,039
HD140    1,032    921     595
HD141    1,582  1,400   2,441
HD142    2,497  1,830   2,577
HD143    1,756  1,734     991
HD144    1,101    892     281
HD145    3,120  1,385     406
HD146    5,086  1,986   3,071
HD147    7,747  2,113   2,787
HD148    7,075  1,363     515
HD149    2,031  1,088     860
HD150    3,216  1,259     945

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke did slightly worse in Harris County (59.08%) than he did statewide (61.79%). The Narrative – I feel like it needs to be considered a proper noun at this point – has focused on his weakness in several heavily Latino counties, where Sema Hernandez drew more votes than he did. That’s not the story here, however, as O’Rourke had at least a plurality in all of the Latino-majority districts. He could have done better, sure, but he did have majorities in HDs 145 and 148, and came close in HD144. Stace talked about why Beto didn’t do so well in South Texas, but those issues were not as prevalent for him here.

Where he was weak was in the African-American areas. Beto had pluralities at the Congressional level, but came in second to the even-less-heralded Edward Kimbrough in HDs 141 and 142, and won HD131 by a whisker. I honestly don’t know if Kimbrough did any outreach on his own, but I do have a theory as to what may have been an obstacle for Beto. My guess – and Greg Wythe can correct me if I’m wrong – is that the voters in these districts are on the whole older than voters in other parts of the county, and therefore less reachable by the social-media-driven campaigning that Beto leaned on. I’m open to other suggestions, but if I’m right then I hope this gives his campaign some useful information about where and how to improve going forward, which I hope they use.

Beto was solid everywhere else, and downright dominant in your inner-Loop and higher-income places – 87.8% in HD134 is certainly nothing to sneeze at – so I think we can say that where his campaign penetrated, it resonated. I don’t know if anyone in the pundit class noticed, but there were 18,268 Democratic primary votes cast in HD134 versus only 15,068 on the Republican side, and that was with the Greg Abbott-driven conflagration over Sarah Davis. I have to think Beto helped drive the turnout there on the Dem side, with the Governor’s race also pushing things. If he can refine his approach in the places where he needs improvement, only good things can result. I’ll look at the Governor and Lt. Governor races next. Let me know what you think.

Another designation for the Astrodome

It’s quite the historic place.

All this and history too

The famed Astrodome will be designated as a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark — the highest honor the state can bestow on a historic structure.

The marker will finally and officially tell the story of the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and, hopefully, create a snapshot destination.

“The dome has never had an actual historical marker,” said Mike Vance, a member of the Harris County Historical Commission which is the local arm of the Texas Historical Commission.

The Texas commission approved the stadium in January among 172 new historical markers statewide for 2018.

[…]

The Astrodome received its strongest protection in a 2017 state antiquities landmark designation, which requires clearance from the Texas Historical Commission for any alterations. Becoming a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark adds another measure of protection.

“It’s a higher standard you have to reach to qualify for that kind of marker,” said Vance. “That means that it’s a building and it has to be intact in the judgment of the Texas Historical Commission — and the dome, thankfully, is.”

In addition, the sign’s unveiling will be “something tangible and visible,” unlike the antiquities designation, Vance said.

So let’s get a couple of things straight at this point.

1. There’s no way the Astrodome gets demolished. You can argue that it was wrong to pursue these historic designations, and you can argue (incorrectly) that the Dome should have been demolished after the 2012 bond referendum was voted down, but those ships have sailed. The Astrodome is basically in the same class as the Alamo now. It’s not getting demolished.

2. Given #1, that means the choices before us are Do Something, and Keep Doing Nothing. It should be clear to all that nobody wants to Keep Doing Nothing. Ed Emmett certainly doesn’t want to do nothing, and the people who are most vocally opposed to the plan that Emmett has put forward are the ones who are most vocally upset about the state of the Dome now after years of nothing being done. Nobody wants to do nothing.

3. So, one way or another, we are going to do something about the Dome, and that means that one way or another we are going to spend some money on doing something about the Dome. The something that is on the table and currently in progress is the Emmett plan. One argument being made by those who don’t like the Emmett plan is that we should have a public vote to approve spending money on the Dome before we do so. I oppose this for two reasons. One is that we don’t as a matter of course have public votes to approve the spending of money by government entities. We vote to approve the borrowing of money, but not the spending of money. I have zero interest in setting that precedent, and I can’t think of a single reason why anyone of a progressive bent would want to set that precedent, either. And two, public votes like this have become little more than preludes to litigation over the result of those votes, often on ridiculous pretexts and often taking years to resolve. You want to ensure that nothing continues to get done on the Dome for another five or ten years, maybe more? Insist on a vote before authorizing any money to be spent on it. It’s more effective than any filibuster.

The history of CD07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is the last day to cure a provisional ballot

If you voted provisionally during the primary because you did not have an accepted form of ID in your possession when you voted, you need to “cure” your provisional ballot in order for it to be counted. From the inbox:

If a voter possesses an acceptable form of photo ID but does not have it at the polling place, the voter will still be permitted to vote provisionally. The voter will have six (6) days to present an acceptable form of photo identification to the county voter registrar, or fill out the natural disaster affidavit referenced in the Exemption/Exceptions section below, or the voter’s ballot will be rejected.

Alternatively, a voter who possesses an acceptable form of photo ID but does not have it at the polling place may choose to leave the polling place and return before the close of the polls on election day with said acceptable form of photo ID to, if the voter would otherwise qualify, vote a regular ballot at that time.

If you need more information on the cure process

CLICK HERE

or contact the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registrar Division at 713-274-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

Simply put, if you cast a provisional ballot, you need to get yourself to one of the Harris County Tax Assessor offices and show an accepted form of ID there for your ballot to count. Today is the deadline for that. To find a location, go to the Tax Assessor webpage and scroll down to the map of branch office locations. If you’re in a county other than Harris, do the same thing at your county’s elections office –
find your county’s elections page for that information. Today is the deadline for this, so act now if you voted provisionally. This only applies if you did not have an accepted form of ID when you voted. If you have any questions, call the Harris County Tax Office Voter Registrar Division at 713-274-VOTE (8683) for assistance.

Please come back again

The Chron asks a few of the candidates who didn’t make it out of the primaries to give it another try some day.

Let us now offer an encouraging observation to good candidates who fell short in this month’s primary elections: Even Rocky Balboa lost his first fight.

Remember that George W. Bush lost his first election and ended up living in the White House. Sylvester Turner lost his first two races for mayor, but he’s now sitting in the big office at Houston City Hall.

The lesson for aspiring elected officials is simple. Even successful politicians sometimes lose elections.

The editorial board has spent the past few months interviewing scores of candidates who took the initiative to run for public office. Even if they had no hope of winning, even if their qualifications have been questionable, their commitment has been inspiring.

A cancer researcher decided to run this year because he thinks America needs more scientists in public office. An ethics expert put his name on the ballot because he’s bothered by cronyism in our state capital. A retired rock-n-roll disc jockey went to a women’s march and came to the conclusion she needed to campaign for Congress. A woman who lived in an RV in Austin so she could lobby state lawmakers decided to run for the Texas Legislature.

We met some mighty impressive citizens who put their reputations on the line and their names on the ballot but ended up losing their primaries. Indeed, many of them faced such stiff competition they didn’t even win our endorsement. But some of them have been so compelling we want to encourage them to stay in politics. They deserve a second mention, because we hope we see their names on the ballot again in the future.

I made the same observation at the start of primary season, along with the hope that some of those folks would take another shot. City Councils and school boards always need good people, and those opportunities will be there next year. Among those the Chron singled out for praise were Jason Westin, Silky Malik, and Armen Merjanian. I hope they take the Chron’s words to heart.

Post-Primary Day thoughts

Various thoughts and observations that are better aggregated into one post…

– I believe this is the first time that all of the statewide candidates I voted for either won or advanced to the runoff in the primary. Statewide primaries are tricky, and one should never overestimate one’s name ID. Thankfully, there were no zeroes in the downballot races, and the ones that were in the top level races lost.

– As primary season began, I had expressed hope for a high level of primary turnout, to provide further evidence of our level of engagement in this election. We topped one million votes cast, and the total number of votes in the Governor’s primary (1,017,150) bested the total number from 2002 (1,003,388). There are more voters now, of course, and Republicans topped 1.5 million total, but still. It’s nearly double what we had in 2014 and it’s the second best total basically ever, after 2008. I’m happy with that.

– Of course, the fact that Republicans did cast more primary votes than Democrats is being cited as evidence that there’s no “blue wave” coming. I thought the fact that Democrats vastly outvoted Republicans in the 2008 primary was supposed to be evidence that primary turnout doesn’t really tell you anything? I’m confused. Be that as it may, Democrats had a bit less than double the turnout from 2014, while Republicans were up about fifteen percent. You can feel however you want to about that, I feel good about it.

– Looking at election night returns, a bit more than half of the Democratic primary vote was cast early, and the same was true for the Republican primary vote. It was basically the same in Harris County, where about 55% of the vote in each party was cast early. Final Harris County turnout for Dems was 167,396, and for Republicans it was 155,798.

– Which means, if primary turnout is indeed destiny, that Republicans are doomed in Harris County, right? You tell me when this matters and when it doesn’t.

– Democratic runoffs include Governor, eleven Congressional races, SBOE12, SD17, seven State Rep races, and all of the countywides plus one more HCDE and one JP races in Harris County. There are surely other county race runoffs elsewhere, but I’m not going to go looking for them at this time. Republicans have six Congressional runoffs, seven State Rep runoffs, two district Courts of Appeals, and in Harris County one District Court race and one JP race. That suggests to me there will be more media attention being paid to the Democratic runoffs, especially given the lack of a Republican statewide race for May. Of course, that may not all be good attention, but it’s another difference from 2014, and 2012 for that matter.

– I’m still digesting all the numbers, and will have more thoughts and tidbits as we go. I expect to get a canvass report from the County Clerk in the next couple of days and will of course play with that. For the most part, I’m happy with how the primaries went. People were engaged, turnout was good, no obvious clunkers got elected or into runoffs. You always want more, but overall I have no complaints. May I say the same about the runoffs in May. How do you feel about how the primaries went?

2018 primary results: Harris County

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

Short and sweet, because it’s late and I’m tired:

– Marilyn Burgess fell just short of 50% for District Clerk. She will face Rozzy Shorter in May.

– Diane Trautman and Gayle Mitchell will run off for County Clerk.

– Dylan Osborne and Cosme Garcia were the top two finishers for County Treasurer.

– Richard Cantu led for HCDE Position 3 At Large, with Josh Wallenstein just ahead of Elvonte Patton. In a very tight race, Danny Norris was ahead of Prince Bryant by a nose for HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, with John Miller farther back. There were only a few precincts out as I wrote this, but things were close enough that the standings could change.

– Adrian Garcia and Penny Shaw will be the nominees for County Commissioner in Precincts 2 and 4, respectively.

– Lucia Bates toppled Don Coffey for JP in Precinct 3. Sharon Burney and Cheryl Elliott Thornton will compete for JP in Precinct 7.

– There were only a couple of races of interest on the R side. Josh Flynn won the nomination for HCDE Trustee in Place 4, Precinct 3. Current HCDE Trustee and total chucklehead Michael Wolfe will face Jeff Williams for JP in Precinct 5. Paul Simpson held on as party chair.

– Dem turnout was 160,085 with about fifty precincts left to report. Republican turnout was 148,857 with 85 precincts still out.

Primary Day 2018

From the inbox:

The Harris County Clerk’s Office wants voters to know the top 5 items they need to know to ensure they are able to cast their ballot in the March 6, 2018 Democratic or Republican Primary Election.

According to Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County, voters need to know the following before heading to the polls on Tuesday:

Voters should know if they are registered to vote in Harris County.  In Texas, voters must be registered to vote 30 days before Election Day. To verify registration, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com.

Voters should know the Primary election in which they want to participate:  There are two elections taking place at the same time, the Democratic Primary Election and the Republican Primary Election. Voters may only vote in one of the elections.

Voters should know the designated Election Day polling location for their precinct:  On Election Day, all voters must vote at their designated Election Day poll for the precinct where they are registered.  Voters may find their designated polling location by visiting www.HarrisVotes.com and clicking on the “Find Your Poll and View Voter Specific Ballot” link on the front page. By entering their name or address, the search page will show them the polling locations for both the Democratic and Republican Parties.  Remember, voters may only vote in one of the elections.

Voter should know what is on their ballot:  Voters may view a sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com listing the contests and candidates that will appear on their actual ballot.  Voters may print their sample ballot, mark it and take it to the poll for reference, as long as the sample ballot is not visible to other voters.

Voters should know the forms of identification which is required to vote at the poll:  Voters possessing one of the acceptable forms of photo identification must present it when voting in person.  Voters who do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain an acceptable form of photo identification may complete a Reasonable Impediment Declaration at the poll describing a reasonable impediment to obtaining photo identification, and then show other acceptable form of identification.  A list of the acceptable forms of identification to vote can be found at www.HarrisVotes.com.

Primary elections are conducted by the major political parties to determine their nominees for Federal, State and County offices in advance of a general election.  Each party determines the number of polling locations available to voters on Election Day, where the polls are located and the staffing for those polls.  Election Day polling locations are open from 7 am to 7 pm.

To find more Election Day voting information, view a personal sample ballot, or review a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

You can find your polling place here. If you know you precinct, the list of Dem locations is here, and of Republican locations is here. For my Woodland Heights peeps, note that Rs are voting at Hogg and Ds are at the First Baptist Church Heights Fellowship Hall across from Harvard Elementary. Check your polling location before you head out. I’ll have results tomorrow and beyond. Happy voting!

No observers for ADA violations

This is interesting.

Only days before a crucial state primary, the Justice Department has halted its effort to send observers during the election to assess whether Harris County polling sites are accessible to disabled voters.

The observer request was made as part of an ongoing U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit spearheaded by the civil rights and disability rights division in Washington, D.C., alleging Harris County’s voting sites are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Among the concerns Justice department identified in its claim are the lack of appropriate parking, proper ramps, navigable sidewalks, passageways and voting space, and other mandatory accommodations.

U.S. District Judge Alfred Bennett in Houston told the county at a hearing in April that the scope of accessibility violations at polling places could be so vast that a special master might be needed to sort them out.

As the final days of the early voting were underway, the Justice Department withdrew its earlier request to inspect voting sites during the March primaries, and canceled two related court hearings scheduled for earlier this week.

Devin O’Malley, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, declined to comment about why the attorneys canceled two scheduled hearings this week in Houston.

But Douglas Ray, managing attorney for the public law practice group at the Harris County Attorney’s Office, which represents the county election office, said it’s possible that the lawyers in Washington determined they couldn’t prevail in their motion requesting to send observers to the polls.

See here, here, and here for the background. Another possible explanation is that the original lawsuit was filed by the Obama administration – there were observers in place for the 2016 general election – and the Trump Justice Department is not terribly interested in pursuing any of the actions they initiated. I’m not sure what to make of this, but I’ll say again, I do believe the county could fix an awful lot of these problems if it wanted to without to much fuss. Surely that would be less problematic than fighting the litigation.

2018 primary early voting, Day 11: That’s a wrap

Records have been set, and more are likely to be set before all is said and done.

Texans have already set a record for early voting in a non-presidential primary election year, and there’s still one more day to go on Friday.

More than 602,000 voters had cast ballots in the state’s largest counties in either the Democratic or Republican primaries through Wednesday. That does not count Thursday’s totals that were not available late Thursday, or Friday’s, when polls will again be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Four years ago, fewer than 600,000 people voted in the entire early voting season.

Harris County has also seen a new record. More than 116,000 people have voted early or by mail already with two days remaining to add to that total. Four years ago, just 105,508 people in Harris voted during the entire early voting period.

Democrats represent a major reason for the records and have been out-voting Republicans since the start of early voting on Feb. 20. There have been 25,000 more Democratic ballots than Republicans have cast. That is a big change from the last two gubernatorial election cycles when Republicans dramatically outvoted Democrats in the primaries by well over 100,000 in each year.

Those numbers are partly driven by people who are new to primaries, said Austin-based political analyst Derek Ryan. In looking at voter data from about 50 counties, Ryan said he’s seeing that almost 20 percent of the Democrats voting in that primary have never voted in a Democratic Primary in Texas before. For Republicans that has been closer to 8.5 percent.

More from the DMN.

According to the Texas secretary of state’s website — which tracks only the 15 counties with the most registered voters — 161,607 people voted in the Democratic primary in 2014 during the first 10 days of early voting. This year, 310,275 people voted in the Democratic primary in the same span — a 92 percent increase. Polls closed Friday at 7 p.m., with Election Day on Tuesday.

On the GOP side, 273,293 people had voted in the Republican primary as of Thursday. That’s still an 18 percent increase from 2014, when 231,530 voted in the Republican primary during the first 10 days of early voting.

Democrats may hold a 36,982 vote lead, but that doesn’t mean all of those voters are Democrats. Since Texas has semi-open primaries, voters can choose which party’s primary to vote in. (There is a caveat to choosing: In a runoff, voters must stick with the same party.)

Political experts attribute much of Texas’ increased voter turnout as a reaction to the election of President Donald Trump in 2016, as well as the state’s eight open congressional seats.

Harold Clarke, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, said one reason Democratic primary voting numbers are up is because people think Democrats have a reasonable chance of winning.

“One of the things we know is that competition stirs turnout, and it looks now that here in Texas, perhaps especially for the first time in a long time, winning the Democratic primary is really a prize worth having because you have a real shot at the general election,” Clarke said. “That perception is fairly widespread both among potential candidates as well as Democratic voters.”

I’m interested in seeing how Dems did in the fifteen or twenty counties after the top fifteen. These are much more heavily Republican, but as we’ve seen Dem turnout has still been up in places like that. I’ll check the news over the weekend to see if I can get any previews of that.

Anyway. Let’s wrap this up:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 11 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    6,250    33,771   40,021
2010    Rep   12,399    50,250   62,649

2014    Dem    7,359    22,749   30,108
2014    Rep   17,628    57,772   75,400

2018    Dem   17,744    70,172   87,916
2018    Rep   20,075    61,462   81,537

There were 17,728 in person Democratic votes cast on Friday, which as you can see is not much less than the entire early in person Democratic vote from 2014. That right there is this EV period in a nutshell. I’ll have more thoughts on the EV period either tomorrow or Monday. For now, know that this is going to be the best year for Democratic primary turnout outside of 2008, and any time you can make a legit comparison to 2008, it’s a good thing.

Early voting, Day 10: Same day service

Hey, guess what? The EV numbers for Thursday came in early enough for me to post a truly up-to-date update. So here we go:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 10 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    5,728    23,914   29,642
2010    Rep   11,478    36,321   47,799

2014    Dem    6,802    17,092   23,894
2014    Rep   16,696    42,975   59,671

2018    Dem   16,532    52,344   68,876
2018    Rep   18,848    47,298   66,146

Thursday was slightly bigger than Wednesday, which is actually a little lighter than I might have expected. It was still another Democratic-majority day. The gap in in-person voting is starting to become wide. Dems have not yet returned half of their mail ballots, but Republicans have only returned 61.6% of theirs, which as we know is a bit light for them. If normal patterns hold, today should have about double the in-person votes as Thursday, but who knows what might happen with this unusual election. If you haven’t voted yet, what are you waiting for?

Early voting, Day 9: Around the state again

Let’s just jump right in again…

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 8 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    5,035    16,107   21,142
2010    Rep   10,327    24,759   35,086

2014    Dem    5,456    12,405   17,861
2014    Rep   14,687    29,287   43,974

2018    Dem   12,914    36,785   49,699
2018    Rep   15,512    33,140   48,652

The second Wednesday is usually where the turnout curve starts to swing upward, with the last Friday always being the busiest day. We could see a lot more voters come out before the end of the week. And notice, for all the justifiable excitement about Democratic participation, Republican turnout so far is up, too. It’s just not up as much. There are many explanations for this, some of which have elements that ring true to me. I’m going to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Now let’s look statewide. Here’s how the top 14 counties by population have been voting on the Democratic side.


County      EV 2010  EV 2014  EV 2018     2010    2014
======================================================
Harris       21,142   17,861   49,699  101,263  53,788
Dallas       11,745   20,258   35,580   56,896  68,053
Tarrant       4,696   13,663   21,507   23,704  42,209
Bexar        13,741   17,431   28,630   43,338  44,835
Travis        7,904   13,597   32,139   38,915  48,495
Collin        1,475    3,102   10,986    6,229   9,584
Denton        1,006    2,311    8,644    4,678   7,212
El Paso      11,199   11,246   19,255   36,353  32,571
Fort Bend     2,472    2,559    8,935   14,890   8,549
Hidalgo      18,647   22,479   23,645           47,350
Montgomery      893      910    3,212    4,539   2,561
Williamson    1,688    2,397    8,846    7,148   7,243
Galveston     2,402    1,802    3,686            4,680
Cameron       5,395    6,777    6,019           18,472

Totals      104,405  136,393  260,783          395,602

All numbers are for the Dem primaries; some counties did not have 2010 data available. The first three columns are for the first eight days of early voting – i.e., through the second Tuesday – while the last two are the final totals for those years. With the three busiest days of early voting plus Primary Day to go, several counties have already exceeded their final tallies from 2014, with Harris County right behind. We’re already two thirds of the way to the final overall total for these counties. I’m not going to make a projection, I’m just pointing out where we are. I think cracking one million voters and having the strongest showing after 2008 is well within reach. Keep voting, y’all.

UPDATE: Here are your Day 9 totals. Dems are now almost at 60K.

ACLU goes after Judge McSpadden

As well they should.

The ACLU of Texas is asking Harris County’s longest serving felony court judge to resign after making a statement to the Houston Chronicle on his views about black men’s attitudes toward the criminal justice system.

The civil rights group also is asking that the judge be automatically recused from cases involving African-American defendants until an investigation into potential racial bias occurs, according to a news release Tuesday.

[…]

“If there remained any doubt that the deck is stacked against people of color in our criminal justice system, Michael McSpadden just dispelled it,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “When a sitting judge feels comfortable enough to admit openly and on the record that he uses bail orders to jail black defendants on the assumption they can’t be trusted, it’s time to take action. This kind of flagrant racism has no place in our justice system.”

She said, “The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct needs to take the first step toward rooting it out, and Judge McSpadden should voluntarily step down.”

McSpadden could not be immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. His court staff said he was on the bench hearing cases.

The civil rights organization said McSpadden’s comments violate the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct and could merit removal from office.

“Judge McSpadden’s remarks are inexcusable, but not at all surprising for those of us who know the justice system well,” said former death row inmate Anthony Graves, who runs a criminal justice initiative for the ACLU of Texas.

See here for the background. Perhaps there’s some context Judge McSpadden can add to his comments, or perhaps he could just admit that was a dumb and offensive thing to say and offer an apology for it. People may or may not accept either action, but at least it would be something. In the absence of any such followup, one is left to conclude that he has nothing further to say on the matter. Whatever one may have thought of Judge McSpadden before now, that’s not a good look. And as a reminder, Judge McSpadden is up for election this fall. For all the griping some people do about partisan judicial elections, they do at least give the voters the chance to correct errors on the bench.

On a side note, two of Judge McSpadden’s colleagues on the misdemeanor courts are again urging the county to settle the bail lawsuit.

“The most conservative appellate court in this country, strict constitutional conservatives, have said that this practice that we are doing is unconstitutional,” said Judge Darrell Jordan, one of the defendants in the lawsuit.

Jordan told County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners that fighting the suit had already cost Harris County $6 million in legal fees. “I’m asking that you all cut this last check, fire these $6 million lawyers, let the County Attorney’s office come, and we all sit down and work out a settlement.”

Jordan’s co-defendant, Judge Mike Fields, urged Emmett and the commissioners to “use every tool in your arsenal to help us settle this lawsuit.” Fields added, “Our county needs to settle this for financial reasons, and our public needs it settled for reasons of good governance and confidence in the criminal justice system.”

Judge Emmett said he’s willing to settle on the basis of the 5th Circuit’s ruling, but said plaintiffs haven’t responded to offers to talk.

Judge Jordan, the lone Democrat on these benches, and Judge Fields have been the lone voices from those courts for sanity. Unfortunately, their colleagues remain uninterested in such matters as the cost of the litigation and the fact that they’ve lost at every step and looked bad in doing so. And they’re all up for election this November. See my comments above on that.

Early voting, Day 8: So how worried should Republicans be?

Worried enough to fundraise off of the Dems’ EV numbers, for what that’s worth.

Through Sunday in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters, 135,070 people had voted in the Republican primary and 151,236 in the Democratic. Compared to the first six days of early voting in 2014, Democratic turnout increased 69 percent, while Republicans saw a 20 percent increase.

The Democrats even surpassed their early voting totals from the 2016 primary — a presidential election year.

Sen. Ted Cruz told a group of Republican voters this month that the left would “crawl over broken glass in November to vote … We could get obliterated at the polls,” and other Republicans appear to be taking the Democratic surge seriously. Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign sent supporters an email Monday asking for donations to help him get out the vote, warning that the early voting numbers “should shock every conservative to their core.”

“I’ll be blunt: Democrat voter turnout is surging statewide during Early Voting,” reads the email, using bold and italicized red print. The email states that the last time Democratic primary voters came out so strongly was in the 1990s, during a gubernatorial election cycle, and that Democrats are flipping seats in special elections across the country in Republican strongholds.

“We’ve seen a surge of liberal enthusiasm in deep red states like Georgia, Alabama, and Oklahoma,” the email says. “We had always hoped the liberal wave would never hit Texas, but these Early Voting returns aren’t encouraging so far.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it’s interesting that Democrats are turning out at a rate more frequently seen in presidential election years. After looking at the relationship between primary and general election voters, he concluded that more votes in Democratic primaries correlate with more Democratic votes in general elections. But he said Republicans usually turn out in higher numbers to vote in the general election no matter how they voted in the primary.

“Usually Republicans tend to run up the numbers in the general and are beating their opponents by big margins, so the relationship is not positive, but it is for Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “Because the [Democrats’] enthusiasm is so high, you’re likely to see more support for Democrats in November and that’s likely to cut into the margins that they’ll lose to Republicans.

Fearmongering isn’t the same as being fearful, and it’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of language before. Republicans used Battleground Texas to scare the yokels in 2014, after all. It’s just that this year the voting numbers back up their apocalyptic pronouncements. It doesn’t mean anything yet, but it should at least quiet the narrative that Dems don’t turn out for primaries.

And here are those Monday numbers that didn’t come in till late Tuesday morning:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 7 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    4,571    14,018   18,589
2010    Rep    9,376    21,421   30,797

2014    Dem    4,471    10,210   14,681
2014    Rep   13,573    23,930   37,503

2018    Dem   11,207    30,664   41,871
2018    Rep   13,812    27,497   41,309

Dems outvoted Republicans in person and by returned mail ballot on Monday, and thus took the lead in overall turnout. They have already exceeded their early vote total from 2014, and ought to surpass the overall 2014 turnout on Wednesday. I feel like Dems will easily top the 101,263 ballots cast in 2010, thus making this the biggest primary outside of the insane 2008 experience. Whatever it means, the excitement is real.

UPDATE: Here are Tuesday’s numbers, which did come in on Tuesday evening. Let’s just assume I’m going to be a day behind on these, OK? Dems outperformed Republicans by another 500 votes, and are just shy of 50K votes overall.

2018 primary early voting, Day 7: Projecting final turnout

KUHF starts with the speculation.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Socialists are coming

To a primary ballot near you.

The revolution will be down-ballot. Or such is the implicit promise of Franklin Bynum’s campaign for Harris County misdemeanor court judge. A 35-year-old former public defender, Bynum said he’s seen Houston’s criminal courts routinely railroad the poor into convictions that drive them further into poverty. Now, after nearly 10 years subject to the whims of conservative judges, he’s aiming to take the gavel for himself.

“Who are these courts being operated for? Right now, it’s the police, the bondsmen and the prosecutors, and people are just the raw material to be chewed up,” said Bynum, who’s running as a Democrat for Harris County Criminal Court at Law 8. Bynum’s platform includes expanding the use of personal recognizance bonds, waiving certain fees for the poor and reducing mandatory appearances, which he said are used only to “coerce” guilty pleas from defendants out on bail. “A democratic socialist judge would make the courts work for the people,” he said.

Bynum is one of at least 17 members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) running for office in Texas in 2018, including candidates for the U.S. House and offices ranging from governor to county treasurer. The DSA, which now counts more than 30,000 members nationwide, has grown explosively since Trump’s election and boasts at least 10 chapters in Texas. The group tends to prioritize issues on the left edge of the Democratic Party, like single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage. There’s no official candidate list, but the Observer reached out to DSA groups around the state to compile this running tally. (Not all the candidates have been endorsed by DSA.)

Some of the candidates, like gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wakely — who styles himself the “Berniecrat with a Panama hat” and lost a 2014 congressional bid by 20 points — face the sort of uphill climb usually found in the Himalayas. But others stand a fighting chance, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones pointed to congressional hopefuls Derrick Crowe, in District 21, and Rick Treviño, in the always-competitive District 23, as viable primary challengers.

“With Treviño and Crowe, it’s sort of the mirror image of what we saw with the tea party,” Jones said. “The advantage the establishment candidates have is money, but the tea party’s shown us that sometimes money can lose to these grassroots activist campaigns.”

In District 23, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and is currently represented by moderate Republican Will Hurd, Jones said a left wing platform that plays well with primary voters might fall flat in the general election. Hillary Clinton carried the swingy district by 3.5 percent in 2016, and Hurd’s margin of victory was just over 1 percent. But Treviño, a San Antonio high school teacher, is bullish: “[District] 23 is always described as a conservative district where ideas like Medicare for All or a living wage will turn off voters; that is absolutely false,” he wrote in a Facebook message to the Observer. “Across the district, these ideas are resonating, especially Medicare for All.”

There’s a list of DSA candidates at the bottom of the story and on this Google doc, which includes statements from some of them. As the story notes, some of these folks have a clearer path than others. Bynum has no primary opponent, so he’ll rise or fall with the rest of the countywide slate here in November. Danny Norris in HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, Chito Vela in HD46, the two Travis County judicial candidates – if they win their primaries, they’re in. Derrick Crowe has raised a decent amount of money but lags Joseph Kopser by a wide margin in that primary. A win in March by Crowe would be a big feather for the DSA’s cap. I’m much more skeptical about Rick Trevino, who has two well-funded and establishment-backed primary opponents, and is in a district that isn’t exactly conducive to blockwalking. It’s not just about fundraising, either – if you look at their campaign Facebook pages, Gina Ortiz Jones has more than three times as many followers as Trevino, while Jay Hulings has more than double his total. I don’t know what the best way is to measure “grassroots” support, but the measures I can find don’t corroborate the notion that Trevino has an underestimated level of backing. We’ll know for sure in a week.

On a side note, I’d observe that there’s less difference between the DSA position and the “establishment” position than you might think, at least on some issues. Look at what Bynum says about his priorities for the misdemeanor court he’s running for, then compare the judicial Q&As I ran for Harold Landreneau and Armen Merjanian. Bail reform – which is supported by the likes of DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – and finding alternatives to incarceration are pretty mainstream these days. Sure, there are some differences, and there are different priorities, but to a sizable degree a lot of it is about strategy and rhetoric, much as it is the case with the Tea Party and the “establishment” Republicans.

2018 primary early voting, Day 6: The fifteenth county

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

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 6 EV 2018 totals


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 primary early voting, Day Five: A Democratic day

The early vote hours for Saturday are 7 to 7, so the report comes out later. So, I’m just going to cut to the chase:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 5 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    4,129    10,516   14,645
2010    Rep    8,498    16,533   25,031

2014    Dem    3,592     7,765   11,357
2014    Rep   12,288    18,176   30,464

2018    Dem    9,620    22,252   31,872
2018    Rep   12,642    20,730   33,372

The Saturdays of early voting are always strong for Democrats, and this one was no exception. Between mail and in-person, Dems led on Saturday by over 2,100 votes, thus closing the overall turnout gap to within 1,500. Note that the five-day turnout of 31,872 is more than the final EV turnout in 2014, which was 30,108. I’d guess the Dems will exceed their entire primary turnout from 2014 by Thursday. Week 2 is always busier than Week 1, so we’ll see how high the ceiling is.