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Hays County

Early voting in the “next” 15 counties

As you know, there’s been a lot written about primary turnout in the top 15 counties by voter registration in Texas. Much has been said about the large increase in Democratic turnout, accompanied by the much milder increase – and in some counties, decrease – in Republican turnout when compared to 2014 and 2010. This is great, but Texas has 254 counties, and there are a lot of decent-sized metro areas that are not represented in the coverage we’ve seen, Moreover, while the top 15 counties include many blue and purplish counties, the next 15 are much more tilted to the red side. Here, by my reckoning, are those counties:

Bell (Killeen/Temple/Belton)
Lubbock
Jefferson (Beaumont)
McLennan (Waco)
Smith (Tyler)
Webb (Laredo)
Hays (San Marcos)
Brazos (Bryan/College Station)
Ellis (Waxahachie)
Guadalupe (Seguin)
Comal (New Braunfels)
Johnson (Cleburne)
Parker (Weatherford)
Randall (Amarillo)
Midland

Webb is strong Democratic; Hays and Jefferson are quasi-Democratic; the rest are varying shades of red. I wanted to know how voting was going in these counties, so off to Google I went. The best story I found in my searches came from Smith County:

Early voting ticked up among Smith County voters for the March primary, and about half of the increase came from people casting ballots for Democrats.

A total of 12,926 early ballots were cast in Smith County, according to the county’s elections division. By party, there were 10,994 ballots cast for Republicans and 1,932 cast for Democrats.

Overall, the numbers represent a 9.5 percent increase in early voting overall as compared with 2014, the last time there was a primary election for local and statewide offices but no candidate for president.

By party, the 2018 early voting numbers represent a 5.6 percent increase for Republicans, who cast 10,409 early ballots in 2014, and a 38.5 percent increase for Democrats, who cast 1,395 early ballots in 2014.

Early voting lasted approximately two weeks, from Feb. 20 through Friday. Polling places were open in five locations in Tyler, Lindale, Whitehouse and Noonday. The primary election is Tuesday.

Mark Owens, a political science professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, said much of the increase in early voters in 2018 could be attributed to an increasing population in Smith County.

The number of registered voters in Smith County is 131,007 in the 2018 primary, a 5.8 percent increase over the 123,867 registered voters at the time of the 2014 primary, according to Owens.

Owens called the early voting turnout “just on par for a growing area.” However, he credited Democrats for having an impact on the increase in early voters in conservative Smith County.

In raw numbers, 1,122 more Smith County residents voted in 2018 over 2014. Republicans accounted for 585 of those ballots, and Democrats accounted for 537 of them.

“To the Democrats’ credit, the voter mobilization efforts are stronger in the fact that this isn’t a primary with as many leading elections at the top of the ticket, so they would see it, from their perspective, of people wanting to vote for (their candidates),” Owens said.

“A really big part of it is candidates coming out to East Texas to listen and encouraging people to go vote,” Owens said. “I think if you look at the numbers, that means something to people.”

I’d call that encouraging. Dems are still vastly outnumbered, but they showed up and increased their totals over 2014. Indeed, the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primary in 2014 was 2,328, so early voting turnout there came close to matching that by itself.

That’s about as good as it gets in terms of being specific. This Lubbock story is pretty representative:

Heading into the last day of early voting for the 2018 primaries, the Associated Press reported that Texas had already set a non-presidential cycle record for the number of people turning out. Before Friday, more than 583,000 Texans in the 15 largest counties had cast early ballots in person, which was already more than the then-record of nearly 510,000 who did so during early voting for 2014′s midterm election.

In Lubbock County there were 15,430 total ballots cast during the 11 days of early voting. That means about 9 percent of registered voters took advantage of the early voting period.

About 400 more votes in Lubbock county were actually cast this year than during early voting in 2014, the last midterm election. This year’s total is about 8,700 votes less than in 2010. During the last primary in 2016, more than 25,000 votes were cast in early voting.

[…]

The Lubbock County Elections Office hasn’t yet released the separate vote totals for the Republican and Democratic primaries.

Some of these places make you downright wistful for Stan Stanart. Here’s Hays County:

As of Feb. 26, 4,658 early votes have been accounted for at seven different locations spread across the county. This does not account for the nearly 2,000 votes submitted to the county by mail.

In total, around 6,600 have been counted for, shattering the numbers from previous election cycles in 2014 and 2016.

According to Hays County numbers, roughly 4,500 people voted early in the November Presidential 2016 election, while only 1,768 early votes were counted in November 2014 race.

“We’ve had a very high turnout considering the political season we are in,” said Jennifer Anderson, elections administrator for Hays County. “Democratic turnout has been good and that is to be expected considering the national swing we had with the Presidential election.”

[…]

So far, roughly 53 percent of the early voting population voted in the Republican Primary, while 46 percent of the early votes took part in the Democratic Primary.

At least that’s something to go on. In 2014, 8,521 votes were cast in the Republican primary for Governor (this isn’t the same as turnout, since people do undervote in individual races, but I can’t get to the Hays County elections page as I write this, so it will have to do), compared to 3,131 votes in the Dem primary for Governor. If the split this year is something like 53-46, then the Dem share is up by a lot. That’s very good to see.

From Comal County:

Registered voters in Comal and Guadalupe counties have their last chance to cast early ballots today for candidates competing in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic primary elections.

Voters in both counties flocked to the polls during the 12-day early voting period, which began Feb. 20. Through last Tuesday, 5,654 Comal County residents — about 6 percent of the county’s 95,353 registered voters — had cast early ballots, running ahead of the number and percentage of registered voters who turned out in the 2014 midterm elections.

The rest is behind a paywall. Comal is deep red – think Montgomery County-deep red – so this will be worth watching. In 2014, there were 14,458 Republican primary gubernatorial votes, and 1,647 Democratic votes, so you can see what I mean. Neighboring Guadalupe County has a bit more detail:

Guadalupe County Elections Administrator Lisa Adam said area residents have slowly begun increasing their presence at the polls.

“Our numbers this week have already been higher than in the 2014 gubernatorial primary,” she said. “The first week’s numbers for this year were a little lower than they were in 2014. This week we are actually ahead than the second week of early voting in 2014; not by leaps and bounds, but we are ahead.”

[…]

“In the 2014 primary, we had 81,217 registered voters,” she said. “Right now, as of Feb. 1 we have 95,717. We’ve come a long way. We’re adding 300 to 400 registered voters a month. The growth our county is experiencing is incredible.”

In that election cycle, the county saw 14.2 percent of the voting population turn out for the Republican Primary and 2.1 percent for the Democratic Primary, Adam said.

1,688 Dem gubernatorial primary votes, 11,196 Republican. Again, there’s lots of room to grow here.

Brazos County:

Early voting before the March 6 primaries wrapped up Friday with 5,933 Brazos County voters casting ballots.

Most of those, 4,144, came from Republicans, and 1,789 Democrats voted early. The total for the two-week early voting period was helped by a push of 1,467 voters Friday. There are about 105,000 registered voters in the county.

That’s burying the lede here. In the 2014 gubernatorial primary there were 1,927 total Dem votes, and 10,665 total Rep votes. In other words, Dems are way up. Republicans, not so much.

For McLennan County, I turn to my friend Carmen Saenz:

Final numbers for 2018 early voting in McLennan County primary:
Dems: 3054 – 28% of total
GOP: 7778 – 72% of total

Relative to 2014 early voting in the McLennan County primary:
Dems 1085 – 18% of total
GOP 4940 – 82% of total

Although there is a 181.5% increase in the number of Dems voting and only a 57.5% increase in GOP, with an overall increase of 80% these numbers say a lot about the McLennan County Democratic Party.

In a lot of the counties, we’ve seen Dem numbers up a lot with Republican numbers not up much if at all. Both are up here, which makes McLennan a bit of an outlier.

The city of Amarillo is in both Randall and Potter counties. I didn’t find a good story for Randall County, but I did find this for Potter:

In Potter County, there have been 4,940 votes in-person and mail-in since Feb 27. That number is expected to increase by seven tonight, at the end of early voting.

In the 2016 Presidential Primaries, there were 5,284 early votes cast in Potter County.
Breaking down the numbers even further, 4,128 Republicans cast their vote in Potter County, during early voting.

That has surpassed the numbers from the 2016 election, which topped out at 4,031 votes. The Democrats have cast 821 votes, slightly less than 2016 early voting at 988.

That’s 2016. If you look at 2014, there were 810 total votes cast in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. So yeah, it’s up.

Last but not least, Midland County:

The elections offices in Midland and Ector County has seen a dip in voter turnout this early voting season.

As of Friday afternoon in Ector County, election officials counted 5,300 voters.

There are over 74,000 registered voters in Ector County.

[…]

As of Friday morning in Midland County, the total number ballots counted was a little over 6,200.

There are over 81,000 registered voters in Midland County.

2014 gubernatorial primaries:

Ector County – 1,320 Dems, 7,778 Republicans
Midland County – 960 Dems, 12,640 Republicans

If there’s a downward trend in these places, it’s probably not because of the Dems.

I’ll return to this later in the week. For now, this is where we stand.

San Marcos files amicus brief against SB4

Good for them.

The city of San Marcos filed a legal brief Thursday supporting Austin, San Antonio and other cities that have filed suit against the state for its new law on immigration enforcement.

In the 16-page brief, city attorney Michael Cosentino argued that under Senate Bill 4, fear of immigration enforcement will lead people to avoid calling police, reporting crimes or coming forward as witnesses — in turn, making the city less safe.

[…]

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to file the brief during a special meeting called a week after the council decided against joining the lawsuit as a party. Community groups and other residents had for months put pressure on the council to take a public stand.

“Hundreds of local residents have attended public meetings of the City Council and expressed their fears and concerns about the potential impact of SB 4,” Cosentino wrote in the amicus brief. “Despite the San Marcos Police Department’s ongoing efforts to calm the fears of the community, there are many who still believe that they, their family members, or friends will be stopped, questioned, detailed, or deported if SB 4 becomes law.”

The San Marcos Police Department’s current policy — to ask about immigration status only when someone has been arrested for involvement in a violent crime — will not be enforceable under SB 4, Cosentino wrote. The law will prevent departments from setting a policy limiting when immigration questions may be asked.

Cosentino suggested that the issue is especially of concern to residents of San Marcos, almost 40 percent of whom are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data, as well as students of its school district and San Marcos-based Texas State University, both of which are majority Hispanic.

See here for the background. Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan also filed an amicus brief after Commissioners Court declined to get involved. San Marcos is the first city in a county that went for both Greg Abbott in 2014 and Donald Trump (barely) in 2016 to get involved. We’re less than a week out from the implementation date for SB4, and with the redistricting lawsuit off the docket for now for Judge Garcia, hopefully we can get a ruling soon.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Hog killin’ update

Because I know you like to know about this sort of thing.

After a competition to kill feral hogs left more than 1,000 of the destructive animals dead in Hays and Caldwell counties, plans are emerging to further control the population.

Both counties participated in the state’s Hog Out County Grants Program, a competition among counties to kill the most feral hogs and to educate people about the hogs from October through December.

The 28 counties that participated last year, including Hays, Caldwell and Williamson, earned points for the number of hogs killed and the number of participants at educational workshops.

According to the state’s Department of Agriculture, Texas is home to nearly 2.6 million feral hogs, the largest population nationwide, and one that’s growing. The Hog Out County Grants Program is one of two the department funds that is aimed at eliminating feral hogs, which damage property, crops and pastures.

The Texas AgriLife Extension Service estimates that the economic damage cause by hogs statewide is $500 million annually. The funds the department will award as a result of the Hog Out program are to be used by counties to implement a plan to reduce their feral hog populations.

The county with the most points wins $20,000. The second- and third-place counties earn $15,000 and $10,000, respectively.

It’s all just a drop in the bucket, really. As we heard before, killing 750,000 of these beasts a year would not be enough to cause a drop in their population. But what are you gonna do? And in case you were wondering, yes, they’re going to try to do something useful with all that meat. Good luck with that.

Which way for Hays?

I have two things to say about this.

Two years after Republicans trounced Democrats in Hays County, the GOP again is aiming to win.

Ten incumbents are running for re-election in Hays County races, but the six Republican candidates are all unopposed.

All four Democratic incumbents, however, have drawn Republican challengers, including Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, the longest-serving member of the current Commissioners Court. Democrats are also being challenged in a justice of the peace race and two constable races.

The county went red in the 2010 elections as Republicans swung the Commissioners Court from four Democrats and one Republican to four Republicans and one Democrat. Republicans also replaced the Democratic sheriff and district clerk.

Hays County had long been known as a purple county — in which both Democrats and Republicans were elected — but even Democrats at the bottom of the ballot were swept out of office during the midterm elections as Republicans expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama’s policies.

Do I really have to explain the difference between Presidential election years and non-Presidential election years? Basing expectations for 2012 on what happened in 2010 is foolish. I’m no expert on Hays County, and I have no idea what the past history of the County Commissioner/Constable/JP precincts looks like – the Hays County Election Results page is completely useless. For all I know, the Republicans will win all of these races. But if they do, it’s not because the 2010 election results said they would.

The proper comparison is to another Presidential year. Here are the last two Presidential results for Hays County:

2004 Votes Pct ===================== Bush 27,021 56.50 Kerry 20,110 42.05 2008 Votes Pct ===================== McCain 29,638 50.18 Obama 28,431 48.14

Now this doesn’t tell us what’s going to happen, either. None of the races cited in the story are countywide, and again I’ve no idea what the electoral data looks like in the political subdivisions. Hays County has experienced a lot of growth in recent years, and who can say how these new residents will vote. As I’ve said before, I just don’t have a good feel for where things are in the state, and the recent polls we’ve seen lately have raised more questions than they’ve answered. The one thing I do know is that I’ll be taking a long look at county data after the election is over.

Our gay state

Is getting gayer, according to the Census.

It’s no secret that Austin and Central Texas have much appeal for same-sex couples, but new census data from 2010 underscore the depth and breadth of the attraction. Among the highlights from an American-Statesman analysis of the data:

• Travis County has the state’s highest rate — 1.25 percent, more than twice the statewide average — of households describing themselves as led by same-sex couples. There were about 5,000 same-sex households in Travis County in 2010, a 69 percent increase since 2000.

Travis County’s percentage of same-sex couple households ranks 13th among U.S. counties with at least 200,000 households, according to City of Austin demographer Ryan Robinson. Travis ranked 10th nationally in percentage of lesbian couple households.

• The percentage of same-sex couple households in Austin also grew since 2000 and was even higher than the county’s — 1.28 percent of the city’s 324,892 households were led by same-sex couples in 2010. Those 4,182 same-sex couples were split almost evenly between male couples and female couples.

• Growth among same-sex couple households extended to the four other counties which make up the Austin metropolitan area — Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays and Williamson — expanding on a trend noted across the country after the 2000 census, which found more same-sex couples living in suburban communities outside traditional urban enclaves.

Like Travis, other metro area counties exceeded the statewide average for same-sex couple households and had gains from 2000 ranging from 52 percent in Caldwell to 146 percent in Hays and 170 percent in Williamson, where the overall population increased 69 percent since 2000. Hays’ total population grew 61 percent since 2000.

Bastrop County ranked third, and Hays County fourth, among Texas counties with at least 4,300 households.

You should see the accompanying graphic of growth by county for more information. The greater Houston area saw considerable growth as well, with Montgomery and Fort Bend Counties registering in the 101-300% range, while Galveston, Brazoria, Liberty, and Waller Counties were in the 51-100% group. Harris and Chambers grew at “only” 1 to 50%, which is obviously too big a range to judge whether those scare quotes are needed. Please note that a high growth rate may be simply a function of a very low starting point. Going from one to three represents 200% growth, after all. Also, as the story notes, the growth may really be a reflection of how many such households are willing to identify themselves as such. Anyway, just another dimension to the diversity of Texas to think about.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

Messing with Doggett

I’m sure the Republicans would love to draw Lloyd Doggett out of existence if they can. The question is whether they can do it without causing other problems elsewhere.

Republicans have tried to oust Doggett before by drawing a district with a large Hispanic constituency hundreds of miles from Doggett’s hometown. They failed, and key Republicans in the Legislature might not want to spend much of their time trying to beat him again.

Also complicating matters is the fact that any effort to defeat Doggett by putting more Republicans in his district could weaken the GOP vote in Travis County’s other congressional districts, which are represented by Republican Reps. Lamar Smith and Michael McCaul, whose seats are relatively safe.

“The ultimate decider is the numbers themselves,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a redistricting expert at the University of Texas School of Law who wrote a book about Texas’ last redistricting. “There’s only so much you can do.”

State Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo , said he has seen a congressional map that targets Doggett for defeat.

“I have heard from some people that that’s a goal,” Seliger said. “I have not personally drawn a map that does that.”

Asked whether the congressional map that the Senate will eventually work on will make it difficult for Doggett to win re-election, Seliger said, “That’s not clear yet.”

Doggett’s district is not VRA protected, so the Republicans have a fair amount of latitude, but not necessarily a lot of good options. Doggett has a ton of money and easily won a primary in 2004 against a South Texas Latina, so drawing him into a heavily Hispanic district is no guarantee of success. Making his district red enough to knock him off in November means shifting a lot of Republicans in and Democrats out, which may well have an effect on Lamar Smith or Mike McCaul, both of whom got less than 60% in 2008. Carving Travis County into smaller pieces, all of which are distributed to Republican districts (possibly including the new Central Texas one) could work, but that’s an awful lot of Democrats to spread around, and Travis’ neighbors Hays and Williamson have also been trending blue. With redistricting most things are possible, but some may not be worth the effort. According to Texas on the Potomac, the GOP Congressional delegation submitted its preferred map to the House on Thursday. We’ll know soon enough what they try to do. The Trib has more.

The Census and Central Texas

While much of the focus post-Census will be on redistricting, the data it contains is fascinating and illuminating in its own right, absent any political context. This story about explosive growth in former small towns around Austin that now serve as its suburbs is a good read. A couple of points:

The total population in Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell counties grew to 1,716,289, an increase of 37 percent since 2000. But it was the suburbs that provided some of the more eye-popping gains.

While Austin grew by 20.4 percent during the past decade to 790,390, remaining the state’s fourth-largest city , the suburbs grew at even faster rates:

• Hutto grew by 1,076 percent. Only the city of Fate, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, grew faster in the past decade .

• South of Austin, Kyle added 22,702 residents, a 427 percent increase, as it became the retail hub of northern Hays County, and nearby Buda grew by more than 200 percent.

• Pflugerville shed its pastoral history to add 30,000 residents, a 187 percent increase, and Manor exploded by 318 percent.

• Even Uhland, a gem east of Kyle on the Hays-Caldwell county line, nearly tripled its 2000 population – from 386 to 1,014 – and was the state’s 36th fastest-growing city.

The population booms offer some measures of prosperity but present challenges as well. Cities like Buda, once known as much for its antique shops as the cafes on Main Street, already are dealing with the impact of both. During the past decade, Buda incorporated 1,790 acres and added nearly 5,000 residents. New subdivisions and retail developments abound.

I’ve made this point before, but the smaller your starting population, the easier it is to have a huge growth rate. Houston grew by only 7.5 percent since 2000, but that represents nearly 150,000 people, which is more than twice as much as the total increase for Hutto, Kyle, Pflugerville, Uhland, and Buda combined. Rate isn’t everything.

Metro area residents have long offered a wide range of theories for the growth of the suburbs, from the availability and attractiveness of bigger homes for the buck in cities like Pflugerville and Kyle to the forces of gentrification that are pricing some longtime Central Austin residents out of their homes.

Lloyd Potter, the state’s official demographer and the director of the Texas State Data Center, said dramatic growth in the Austin metro area was consistent with statewide patterns .

“If you look at the urban areas from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston and Harris County and all the way from Williamson to Bexar County, you see this little cluster of counties that are growing quite rapidly,” Potter said.

The state demographer attributed slightly more than half the growth to net births and the rest to newcomers.

“Certainly, it implies there’s growing economic opportunity, and with that you see this dispersion of the populace outward from these urban centers,” he said.

But the dramatic rise in suburban counties can also be traced to something more pragmatic – the availability of those wide open spaces on which to build, Potter said.

So while Travis County had healthy growth, “most of Travis is built out,” he said. “With Hays and Williamson, there’s land that is developable.”

That’s true, but here’s the thing: It’s also true about a number of Texas’ big cities, especially Houston. I spend 90% or more of my life inside the Loop, but I still see plenty of open spaces, and spaces with vacant buildings. There’s less than there used to be – twenty years ago, Midtown was a big nothing – but there’s still a lot, especially east of 288/59. And in the coming months, we’ll see the political consequences of seeing all this population shift to the suburbs. Without going off on a long rant about urbanism, it’s vital for cities like Houston to think long and hard about investing in their infrastructure to ensure that they can keep up with population growth and shifts. This also means ensuring that our development regulations make sense, including parking requirements, and that they allow and encourage dense development where they should. It’s not just about growing the tax base, it’s about maintaining our voice in the Legislature and in Congress. If we’re not keeping up, we’re falling behind. For more on this and other Census-related stories, go see Greg.

Where the votes are going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

Democratic vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

GOP vote share - click to enlarge

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

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