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Hubert Vo

Recount in HD105

Still not decided yet.

Terry Meza

Terry Meza

The tight Texas House District 105 race between Republican state Rep. Rodney Anderson and Democratic challenger Terry Meza is headed for a recount. Meza trails Anderson by 69 votes, according to the latest Dallas County elections office tally.

The Secretary of State’s office today approved Meza’s request for the recount, which is scheduled for Nov. 28.

“I’m cautiously optimistic and just feel like we owe it to the voters when we say, ‘Every vote counts,'” Meza said Monday.

[…]

The current vote difference is less than one-fifth of a percent of the 47,369 ballots cast. But this eastern Dallas County district that covers parts of Irving and Grand Prairie is no stranger to close contests.

Former State Rep. Linda Harper-Brown famously held on to the seat in 2008, when she beat a Democrat by a mere 19 votes. That race also went to a recount and prompted a series of lawsuits that stretched the contest into December. But the race had higher stakes eight years ago: Harper-Brown’s eventual victory gave Republicans a narrow 76-74 majority in the lower chamber. Now, Republicans hold a comfortable majority in the 150-seat chamber regardless of who wins this seat.

See here for the background. Meza actually made up about half of her initial deficit with the overseas and provisional ballots, which is impressive in and of itself. I seriously doubt the recount will change the current margin, however. Since I started blogging, there have been three legislative races closer than this one that went to a recount (and in two cases to an election contest heard in the House) without the result changing: Hubert Vo in 2004, Donna Howard in 2010, and the aforementioned Linda Harper-Brown in 2008. I strongly suspect that Rodney Anderson will prevail, and will face an even stronger challenge in 2018.

Three State Rep race overviews

In the order of their publication, beginning with HD149:

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

For more than a decade in Texas House District 149 – where Harris and Fort Bend counties meet – a growing, ethnically diverse voting population has done something rare for the Houston suburbs: Elect a Democrat.

State Rep. Hubert Vo, whose district includes Alief and Katy, hopes the trend will carry him to a seventh term in Austin.

In 2004, his path to the Texas Capitol proved an ordeal, as he sought to unseat longtime Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, who was chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. Vo won the race by 33 votes and, after a short-lived challenge by Heflin, Vo became the first Vietnamese-American elected to the state Legislature.

Vo has fended off Republican attempts to take back the seat, including in 2014, when he defeated Al Hoang, a former Houston City Council member, thanks to a majority coalition of Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters.

Come November, the Democratic legislator will face his latest GOP challenger: Bryan Chu, a Houston dentist who moved to Texas from California about a decade ago.

Born in Vietnam, Chu and his family fled the Southeast Asian country by boat in 1980, when he was 13, “in order to escape the harassment from the government.”

Chu said the district’s voters have kept Vo, a 60-year-old businessman and real estate developer, as their state representative largely because of ethnic-based loyalty.

[…]

Vietnamese-American voting preferences since 2000 have shown a sharp swing toward Democratic candidates, locally and nationally, for a group that once strongly supported Republicans, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California-Riverside.

“Over time, we’re seeing that issues like the social safety net, health care are the kinds of things that are becoming more important in Vietnamese communities,” said Ramakrishnan, who directs the annual National Asian American Survey. “But there’s also a generational shift, much like the Cuban story, where (younger Asian-American voters) tend to be more Democratic.”

To Prof. Ramakrishnan’s point, I would note that HD149 voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney 58.8% to 40.1% in 2012, with every downballot Democrat carrying the district by at least 15 points. I’d call that a bit more than “ethnic-based loyalty”, which last I checked didn’t help Al Hoang very much. I suppose anything is possible, but you’d get long odds on Rep. Vo losing this race.

HD144:

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

One challenger has an unusual pitch in one of the state’s few competitive House races.

“I am former state Representative Mary Ann Perez and I’m coming by to ask your support to get my seat back,” the Democrat tells residents on a residential Pasadena street.

She is block-walking almost daily in her campaign to once again represent District 144, which includes Pasadena, Baytown and parts of east Houston. Her 2012 victory was the first time the district had sent a Democrat to Austin since Ann Richards won the governor’s mansion in 1990.

Perez, a 54-year-old insurance agent, ticks off her experience: She already served one term in the Legislature, losing to Gilbert Peña’s shoestring Republican campaign in 2014. She chaired the Houston Community College board and shepherded the system’s largest-ever bond package to passage. She led her homeowners association, volunteered with the Little League where her boys played and led a youth group at a nearby Catholic church.

Perez portrays herself as an experienced public servant and a pro-business Democrat with local roots who lost her seat practically by accident. Peña’s 152-vote victory surprised even Republicans, who had given him little support. “He got lucky,” Perez said.

Now, observers say, the socially conservative GOP incumbent is fighting for his political life in a presidential election year when Democratic turnout is expected to be strong. Donald Trump’s polarizing candidacy also may hurt down-ballot Republicans, especially in a district that is 70 percent Hispanic.

Here’s the interview I did with Perez in the primary; she won a three-way race without a runoff. This is a genuine swing district, but every Democrat carried it in 2012, with Perez outperforming the other Dems, winding up with a five point win against a stronger candidate than Gilbert Pena. The Republican establishment seems to consider this a lost cause based on fundraising totals in the July and 30 day reports. Again, anything can happen, and a stronger incumbent would make this a much more interesting race, but it would be a pretty big upset if Perez lost.

And finally, HD137:

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

Kendall Baker proudly admits that before deciding to try to replace his state representative, he had no idea who his state representative was.

“Nobody knows who he is,” Baker said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to run. Because he is not visible to the community, and he’s not known to the community.”

The representative, Gene Wu, has a different take.

“We’re not a flashy office, but we are a responsive office. And I’ve been in this area for 30 years, and I’ve been always been a volunteer and community busybody,” Wu said. “And this is the first time I’ve ever seen his face pop up at any community event.”

The disagreement highlights the dynamics of the District 137 race, where the two candidates appear to be operating in different worlds.

Wu, a Democrat who is running for his third term representing the west and southwest Houston district, said he has built a reputation as a hardworking policy wonk who has helped the area by reaching across the aisle to achieve commonsense accomplishments in energy policy and criminal justice reform.

Baker, a Republican and high-profile opponent of Houston’s equal rights ordinance who ran unsuccessfully for city council last year, said that years of poor representation has left the district dilapidated and in need of a “good ol’ fashioned politician” to cut taxes and create jobs.

Here’s my primary interview with Rep Wu. Let’s just draw a curtain over this one, because Kendall Baker is an idiot who was a complete non-factor in the District F Council race last year and who was “indefinitely suspended” from his job at the city for being a sexual harasser. HD137 is strongly Democratic – 63.9% to 34.5% for Obama over Romney in 2012 – and Rep. Wu is a damn fine legislator who campaigns tirelessly. Donald Trump will shave his head and join the board of directors at Our Bodies Ourselves before Kendall Baker wins this race.

Endorsement watch: More State Reps

Part 2:

State Representative, District 135: Jesse A. Ybanez

Consider this an endorsement against Gary Elkins. The Republican incumbent has been in office for 22 years, and his greatest claim to fame is a consistent self-serving advocacy for payday lenders and other shady financial businesses. As the Texas Observer reported in 2014, Elkins owns a chain of payday lending stores and helped create their current model in which they operate as “credit service organizations,” allowing them to evade our state’s anti-usury laws. He made headlines two years ago for working to block statewide regulations that would protect hard-working Texans from being scammed by these sorts of businesses. This defense of exploitive business practices has been the single note that unites his entire political history – the Wall Street Journal documented Elkins’ raison d’etre back in 1999 with an article titled, “Legislator’s Slim Agenda Mirrors His Private Interests.”

What other accomplishments can Elkins tout to round out his two decades in the Legislature? When he met with the editorial board during his last election, Elkins pointed to eliminating lower speed limits at night. Elkins did not meet with the editorial board this year.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

State Representative, District 137: Gene Wu

“People are tired of dead kids.”

That’s the reason that two-term state Rep. Gene Wu gave the editorial board to explain the political momentum in the state House to fix Texas Child Protective Services. Democrats, like Wu, and Republicans are working together to file bills for the upcoming session that will provide better pay for CPS workers, more money for foster families, and better therapy for kids and drug treatment for parents who need it.

“The vast majority of cases that come to CPS are because of drugs,” Wu said. “Yet we don’t provide drug treatment.”

As a lawyer who takes CPS and juvenile law cases, Wu is an invaluable resource on this issue, and voters should give him a third term in Austin.

I don’t have anything to add to the HD137 race beyond what I’ve already said except to reiterate that Kendall Baker is a fool. As for HD135, Gary Elkins is objectively terrible and should have been turfed a long time ago, but he’s in a Republican district, so that’s easier said than done. HD135 is an interesting case in that it’s one of two districts that were won by the GOP in 2012 that were slightly less Republican than they were in 2008; HD132 is the other, but there’s no Democrat running there this year. I’ll be rooting for Jesse Ybanez, but first let’s see if he can continue that trend.

Here’s Part 3, which I believe brings this to an end.

State Representative, District 147: Garnet F. Coleman

After 25 years in office, Democratic state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman seems to know every inch of his central Houston district, which stretches from Montrose, through downtown, Midtown and the Third Ward before following Interstate 45 south to Beltway 8. He has a particular fondness for the area around Emancipation Park, where he’s worked to protect the historic Dowling Street corridor from being consumed by generic townhouses.

Up in Austin, Coleman has been a key leader on mental health and criminal justice issues, promoting personal recognizance bonds and the diversion courts that help keep people out of jail and connect them with the help they need.

State Representative, District 149: Hubert Vo

State Rep. Hubert Vo can be a soft-spoken advocate for his diverse southwest Houston district that ends at the border between Harris and Fort Bend counties. Sometimes he’s too soft – Vo was deemed “furniture” by Texas Monthly last session for his lackluster participation in the legislative process. But throughout his five terms in office, Vo, 60, has enough important accomplishments on his record – such as creating the International Management District – to justify a return to Austin. He’s been an advocate for economic development and education opportunities, especially vocational training in Alief ISD.

We were also impressed by his political courage during an editorial board meeting in which he pushed back against his opponent’s advocacy of raising the sales tax to lower the property tax burden.

“I believe that if we increase the sales tax it is going to be affecting the low-income families, especially families with kids going to school,” Vo said. “It is not going to be fair.”

State Representative, District 150: Michael Shawn Kelly

Scholars of history know that revolutions have a way of eating their young – even the Republican revolution. First elected in 2002, outgoing state Rep. Debbie Riddle was once both praised and maligned for being the personal embodiment of a hard-right Texas Christian conservative. But somewhere along the way, Riddle’s belief that “free education” and “free health care” came from “the pit of hell” just wasn’t conservative enough for her northwest district, which stretches from the Houston city limits up to The Woodlands and Tomball.

She was defeated in this year’s Republican primary by political activist Valoree Swanson. So how did Swanson boot a longtime incumbent? Political insiders know it’s because Riddle got along with the center-right House Speaker Joe Straus, much to the chagrin of powerbroker and lobbyist Michael Q. Sullivan. During the primary, Swanson was able to paint Riddle as someone who wasn’t sufficiently opposed to Islamic religious law, or Sharia law.

So what does Michael Shawn Kelly, the 60-year-old Democratic candidate for this now-open seat, think of all this?

“I can’t answer without laughing to be quite honest,” Kelly told the editorial board when asked whether Texans should be concerned about Sharia law. “I think it is really something you say to people when you’re trying to get them whipped into a frenzy over a non-issue and not talk about the issues we should be talking about.”

See that same article for my thoughts on HD149 as well. I’ll just add that Rep. Vo is 100% correct to say that a property tax/sales tax swap would be a big win for wealthier folks and an even bigger loser for everyone else. I’m a big fan of Rep. Garnet Coleman, who hits the trifecta of being smart, effective, and very good on the issues. As for HD150, it’s a little hard to believe we won’t have Debbie Riddle to kick around any more, and even harder to believe she could get tossed by primary voters for not being sufficiently unhinged. I’ve heard some rumblings that Swanson hasn’t endeared herself to the non-primary-voting electorate, but this is a very red district, so she has quite a bit of slack to give before she has anything to worry about. In the meantime, I’d say Kelly’s response to that drama is spot on.

July finance reports for State Rep candidates

Hey, it’s July, and you know what that means: Campaign finance reports! There aren’t many State Rep races of interest this November, but there are four that I wanted to look at.

HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis
Ben Rose


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Davis       92,972  252,457         0     53,839
Rose        83,047   31,278         0     54,691

I don’t really expect HD134 to be particularly tight – it will never be “safe” in the sense that most districts are, but it also won’t be any closer than 55-45 barring anything odd. Which, to be fair, could happen this year. Ben Rose has been pretty active so far, and he raised a decent amount of money; his campaign sent out an email on Tuesday bragging that they are “currently in 1st place with more cash on hand than our incumbent opponent”, which is true enough but not perhaps the most accurate way of viewing things, given that Davis spent a bunch of money in a contested primary. If he gets to make the same boast after the 30 Day reports come out, I will be genuinely impressed. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see if Rep. Davis retains the endorsement she received in 2014 from Equality Texas. She hasn’t done anything to forfeit it as far as I know, but unlike 2014 she has a viable opponent. We’ll see what happens.

HD144

Rep. Gilbert Pena
Mary Ann Perez


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Pena        14,920   15,932         0     13,643
Perez       38,304   37,814         0     48,362

Bear in mind here that Gilbert Pena is the incumbent, not the challenger. How an incumbent, even an accidental one like Pena, could have that little to show for two years in office is a good question, but perhaps the answer is that he’s a clear underdog, based on 2012 results. Mary Ann Perez, who lost to Pena in 2014 by a close margin, had to win a three-way primary and will likely have an incumbent-sized bank account by the time the next report is filed.

HD149

Rep. Hubert Vo
Bryan Chu


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Vo          34,763   44,541    45,119     56,071
Chu         27,668   42,732    46,475     17,593

As with Hd134, I don’t expect anything exciting here, but Republicans sometimes throw a bunch of money at Rep. Vo, and sometimes they find a self-funder to spare them the effort. Chu actually had a decent number of small-dollar donations, but in the end I doubt it will amount to much.

HD137

Rep. Gene Wu
Kendall Baker


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Wu          42,851   35,928    45,000    124,611
Baker           20   23,424         0         20

This district is closer to safe than swing, but Rep. Wu’s opponent was one of the anti-HERO leaders, who ran for District F last year and finished third in a field of three. I was curious to see if any of Kendall Baker’s fellow HERO-haters would show him some love in this race, for old time’s sake if nothing else. I think you can guess what the answer to that is. Baker’s expenditures all came from personal funds, including $20K to Aubrey Taylor Communications for “Election related banners on blog posts thru 11/8/2016”. I’d always heard there was money to be made in blogging, I guess I was just too dumb to figure out how to do it. Maybe next election.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

Alma Allen for HISD Superintendent?

It could happen.

Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

State Rep. Alma Allen, a former school principal, has emerged as a high-profile contender for the HISD superintendent’s job during the early stages of the search.

The Houston Democrat, who retired from the Houston Independent School District in 2000 and served on the State Board of Education for much of the 1990s, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle on Friday that she was seeking the post to lead the nation’s seventh-largest school system.

“I want people to know,” said Allen, 76. “I want them to know they have someone in the city who is a native Houstonian who is qualified for this position. …This is something I would love to do. I would love for my career to end on this note.”

[…]

The school board has indicated it plans to look across the country for a superintendent to replace Terry Grier, who retired Feb. 29. However, the trustees have not yet crafted a profile of the ideal candidate. The search firm they hired first plans to provide them with feedback from community meetings held over the last two months.

Allen, who worked four decades in HISD as a teacher, principal and central-office administrator, said she has the support of several elected officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former colleague in the state House. Turner’s spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Allen said one of Turner’s staff members gave the school board’s search firm a letter of support for her at a meeting Wednesday night. State Rep. Gene Wu, who was at the meeting, said he did not read the letter but recalled the mayor’s staffer saying the mayor was sending a letter of support. Wu said he and state Rep. Hubert Vo, another Houston Democrat, both support Allen.

“We at least want her to be considered – someone who has had a lifelong tenure in education, someone who is intimately knowledgeable about our education system, someone who sits on the education committee in the Legislature,” Wu said. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone who is able to navigate the Legislature.”

There’s some other general praise for Rep. Allen, whose only known competitor for the job (if indeed she wants it) is interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt. Neither Allen nor Huewitt has ever been a Superintendent before – they would have to pass a certification exam or get a waiver from the Texas Education Agency in order to take the HISD job – and Huewitt doesn’t have a background in education but rather in finance, which has caused some people to express concern about him.

Joe Greenberg, spokesman for a local group of business leaders, parents and community leaders called the Coalition for Great Houston Schools, urged the board to pursue a national search.

“The board’s highest priority should be to search for a candidate with a track record of tangible academic achievement in a large, diverse urban district,” he said.

I like Rep. Allen and admire the work she’s done in the Lege. She would surely know how to work with them to ensure that the needs of a large urban school district such as HISD were being met. That said, the Board hired a search firm for a reason, and I think we need to let them do their thing before we begin to zero in on anyone for the job. I’d also like to know what the various parent and activist groups think. By all means, put Rep. Allen in the running. Just don’t make it a two-person race from the get go.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Endorsement watch: State reps

The Chron makes endorsements in some State Rep races. Here are the ones I’m interested in.

District 126: Cris Hernandez

Two strong candidates who grew up in district are running in the primary and hope to replace Republican Patricia Harless, who is not running for re-election. Cris Hernandez, a projects coordinator for a fiber optics company, is making his second bid for the northwest Harris County district that’s surrounded by Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball and Spring. In 2014, Hernandez, who described himself as a “policy wonk,” ran as a Libertarian and received 13.7 percent of the vote. Our choice is Hernandez because of his firm grasp of the issues – holding the line on property taxes, equitable funding for Texas public schools and expansion of Medicaid – that will likely come up in the 2017 legislative session. His opponent, Houston attorney Joy Dawson-Thomas has the credentials and the potential to be an influential voice in the district in years to come. The winner of this race will face Republican Kevin Roberts, who is running unopposed.

District 131: Alma A. Allen

Incumbent Alma A. Allen is seeking her seventh term representing this southwest Houston District that includes part of Missouri City, and we believe she well deserves to be returned to Austin. A retired career public school educator who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, Allen has been a strong, powerful advocate for children and public education. Her expertise will be especially needed given the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the way Texas funds its public schools and the possibility of a 2016 special legislative session. Her seniority, wisdom and voice in the education debate will be a plus for residents of House District 131 and greater Houston. Allen’s opponent is businessman John Shike.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

District 137: Gene Wu

When the federal government announced that it would start resettling Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott looked at the fleeing families and saw a dangerous threat. State Rep. Gene Wu saw his next constituents. His southwest Houston district of Gulfton and Sharpstown might as well be the Ellis Island of Houston, serving as home to the waves of immigrants that come to our nation in search of freedom and safety. Burmese, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Libyans – Wu can tick off the timeline of new arrivals over the past several years. He knows who they are and knows he’ll be there to help. In the Legislature, he worked to pass an important bill that protected children who were victims of human trafficking, directing them to Child Protective Services instead of jail. And as a former Harris County prosecutor, he’s an important figure in the criminal justice debates in Austin. In this race he’s being challenged by attorney Edward Pollard, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat” who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

District 148: Jessica Cristina Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

With 22 years in office, Jessica Farrar has become the 10th most senior state representative in Austin. And now that Sylvester Turner has left Austin for City Hall, Democrats are going to need all the seniority and institutional knowledge they can muster if they want to wage an effective defense against the Republican majority.

Over her 11 terms, Farrar has used her political power to become one of the foremost advocates for women’s issues in the state Legislature. While Farrar has been consistent in her advocacy, her changing north Houston district, which covers Spring Branch East, the Greater Heights, Near Northside and Northline, has brought new challenges to the office. Higher incomes and engaged citizens demand more from her office, and we hope she’s up to the task.

Farrar is being challenged by Dave Wilson, Houston Community College trustee for District II. Wilson told the editorial board that he is running to advocate for the middle class, but voters probably best know him for his anti-gay, anti-abortion stances, and all-around social conservatism.

District 149: Hubert Vo

First elected in 2004, Vo has grown comfortable as an advocate for economic development. He takes pride in supporting the Tier 1 bill that helped push the University of Houston into top ranks – and is still paying dividends as schools like Texas Tech climb the stats. Working to attract new tech companies to Texas, like SpaceX, also sits on his list of accomplishments. If reelected, he said he wants to focus on bolstering the infrastructure around the Port of Houston to accommodate increased trade after the expansion of the Panama Canal.

They call this “Part 1”, but the only Democratic race left to evaluate is in HD144. As such, I suspect Part 2 will be the Republican side, minus the three races they commented on here. In HD126, Joy Dawson-Thomas has so far won all the endorsements from the various clubs that have offered an opinion in this race, which makes me wonder what the Chron saw that they didn’t. Perhaps it was Hernandez’s previous Libertarian candidacy, or perhaps he just didn’t screen with them. As for the incumbents, the case for them all is clear. I’ve begun to hear some chatter that some of their opponents, in particular Dave Wilson and Demetria Smith, are being pushed by Republicans as an exercise in what Karl Rove once called ratf**king. I don’t know how seriously to take that, since Republicans will be plenty busy with their own long slate of contested races (not to mention, you know, the Presidential primary), while Democratic turnout is likely to be high enough to make any such attempt an exercise in futility, but the reward from a GOP perspective of getting one of those clowns nominated is pretty damn big, so a little paranoia is warranted. If only there were a deep-pocketed Democratic donor or two in this town who could write a check for some mailers in support of these candidates. Anyway, pay attention and for goodness’ sake don’t skip out after voting for Hillary or Bernie. The rest of these races matter.

And the recriminations begin

I’m going to do my best to stay out of this. Everyone quoted is someone I know and like, and if there’s one part of the political process I truly don’t care for, it’s the family fight. So I’m just going to offer a few observations and move on.

– The absentee ballot program was a success, and it definitely was an improvement over previous elections, but let’s keep some perspective. The difference in the total number of Democratic absentee votes between 2014 and 2010 is about 11,000 straight ticket votes, and about 17,000 total votes. That’s without taking into account whether these were new voters or the same old reliables that would have voted in person had they not received a mail ballot. I mentioned several times during early voting that some number of new mail voters were surely people changing behavior. It would be nice to know how many of these votes were by the usual crowd and how many represented a genuine new vote in this election. That data exists, and it’s what we should be talking about. There’s value to expanding the mail program even if it’s little more than a convenience for regular voters, but if that is the case then let’s treat it as such and not as a strategic advantage.

– It was great to see so many new voters registered, in Texas and especially in Harris County, but those elevated registration numbers did not lead to an accompanying boost in turnout, especially in Harris County. How many of those new registrants actually voted? Again, that data exists, and we need to know it. If they turned out at about the same rate as other voters, or if they didn’t, should inform how we approach this going forward.

– I have a draft canvass now, and I am working my way through it. One thing to note is that no Democrat carried HD144. Rep. Mary Ann Perez came closest, and ran two or more points ahead of the rest of the ticket. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that overall HD144 was slightly less Republican this year than it was in 2010. Dems can and should reclaim this seat in 2016. They need to start engaging voters now to do so, and they should plan to continue engaging voters after that to try to hold this seat in 2018. Maybe the redistricting litigation will change the calculus here going forward, but that shouldn’t change the basic lesson that we need to learn here.

– By the same token, Democrats carried HD149 up and down the ballot. Rep. Hubert Vo was the pace-setter, but even in a year like this it was a blue district. In HD134, Dan Patrick was apparently a little too scary for the voters there, as Leticia Van de Putte was the only Democrat to win it. Make of that what you will.

I’ll have more going forward, but this will do for now.

Endorsement watch: State Reps and Sam Houston

The Chron made its State House endorsements in two parts. The highlight from Part One was a couple of key races.

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

District 23: Susan Criss

In one of the few competitive contests, Democrat Susan Criss and Republican Wayne Faircloth are battling to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Craig Eiland in a district that includes all of Galveston County and part of Chambers County. Criss, a former judge and prosecutor, is supported by trial lawyers, while Faircloth, an insurance agent, is backed by insurance companies, who are not much loved in a region that had problems with them following Hurricane Ike in 2008. Faircloth’s campaign comes right out of the Republican textbook – less regulation and secure the border. Criss, 53, wants to restore all education funding cut in 2011’s budget crunch so that public school students are not short-changed. She says big corporations must pay their fair share of taxes so average people don’t have to pay more. She wants the proposed “Ike Dike” to protect against future storms so people won’t lose their homes again. And she wants insurance companies to treat people fairly. We agree, so we endorse Susan Criss for District 23.

District 149: Hubert Vo

Another of the rare competitive races pits longtime state Rep. Hubert Vo against Republican Al Hoang, 38, in a battle between two Vietnamese immigrants who share a culture but not political philosophies. Vo, 58, is a moderate Democrat who concentrates on bread-and-butter issues while Hoang, a former Houston city councilman, tends to echo conservative bromides. Hoang says he reflects the true values of the Vietnamese community, which makes up about 20 percent of the district that stretches from Alief to the Energy Corridor on Interstate 10. The low-key Vo has a list of modest accomplishments, including creation of the International Management District and sponsoring legislation that helped bring private space company SpaceX to Texas. He is a strong supporter of public education and wants the state to accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Buried in Hoang’s rhetoric about abortion, the death penalty and other red meat issues are a few good ideas. But the Legislature has enough members who think pushing hot political buttons is good policy, so we endorse Hubert Vo for a sixth term.

Wise choices if you ask me, obviously. Susan Criss also picked up an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, which ought to help. The main thing that will help here is elevated turnout, to overcome the red lean of the district. My interview with Susan Criss is here in case you missed it. By the way, it was interesting to see the Chron venture outside Harris County, making recommendations in Galveston, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. I couldn’t swear to this, but my recollection is that this has not been their usual habit. Am I wrong about that?

Round Two was mostly about races featuring incumbents, all here in Harris and all but two getting the Chron’s nod. Those two races, plus one of the open seat races of interest:

District 132: Mike Schofield

Republican lawyer Mike Schofield, 50, handled legislative matters for Rick Perry for six sessions, which gives him an understanding of the lawmaking process that Democrat Luis Lopez does not have. Lopez, 25, has a compelling story: He came from Mexico as a child and has gone on to become a citizen, accountant and business owner. But Schofield can more immediately help the far west Houston district that includes Katy and the Cy-Fair area deal with the explosive growth expected there, so we endorse him.

District 135: No endorsement

As Republican incumbent Gary Elkins tells it, his biggest accomplishment during 20 years in the Legislature was the elimination of slower speed limits at night. His other unfortunate claim to fame was in 2011 when he disgraced the House by defending the payday lending business against state regulation in a massive conflict of interest – he himself owns payday lender businesses.

Elkins, 59, told us he will fight against overregulation, but couldn’t give any specifics. He couldn’t remember how many bills he filed last session or the details of a key constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. Yet, this hapless spouter of Republican clichés keeps getting re-elected in the northwest suburban district that includes Jersey Village and the Cy-Fair area. His opponent, Democrat Moiz Abbas, 60, is a good guy and smart, but we haven’t seen much of a campaign, so we’ll make no endorsement.

District 150: Amy Perez

Incumbent Debbie Riddle, 65, is seeking a seventh term in the House where she is a dependable conservative vote with a bad habit of sticking her foot in her mouth. She is best known for her absurd – and telling – rant that free education “comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.” She also flamed out on CNN claiming “terror babies” were being born in the U.S. In contrast, Democrat Amy Perez is a history teacher in a local district and dedicated to public education and fully knows its problems. Once, she won teacher of the year in a local district, then got laid off because funds for social studies ran out. Perez, 29, has no political experience, but is super smart and might teach the Legislature something about education. In the district that goes from the Woodlands south to FM 1960 and includes Spring, it’s time for a change. We endorse Amy Perez.

Endorsing opponents to The Riddler is old hat for the Chron by now. She is the worst, after all. Here’s a brief Q&A from a neighborhood paper with Perez and Riddle if you want to know more. Elkins is right up there – or down there, I suppose – with Riddle, and he’s in a district that has a chance of being competitive before the next round of redistricting. Not really sure what their hangup was with Moiz Abbas, but whatever. As for HD132, another district that is trending the right way, I’d say that assuming Mike Scofield will use that experience he has to actually help his district may be assuming facts not in evidence.

Moving elsewhere, Sam Houston gets two more endorsements. Here’s the DMN:

Serious legal issues dogging Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton should rule him out for consideration to be the next attorney general of Texas. It’s fortunate for voters that there’s a solid alternative in a Houston attorney whose name isn’t easy to forget.

Career litigator Sam Houston, a Democrat, is making his second run for office, having been on the ballot in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for the Supreme Court of Texas.

This newspaper recommended Houston for office then and recommends him now, on the strength of his legal experience and ideas for the office.

Paxton’s impaired candidacy stems from his written admission that he broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board even though he solicited paying clients for a financial services firm that paid him a 30 percent cut. It wasn’t a one-time slipup on Paxton’s part. The Securities Board’s civil complaint against him cites solicitations from 2004, 2005 and 2012.

As if to make the situation vanish, Paxton, 51, a veteran lawmaker from McKinney, declined to contest the disciplinary order and paid a $1,000 fine in May. But the matter lives on. A complaint has been filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has postponed any decision on taking the matter to a grand jury until after the election. That raises the possibility of felony charges against a sitting attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Voters should not invite that kind of embarrassment for Texas.

And here’s the Express News:

We strongly urge Texans to elect Democrat Sam Houston, a native of Colorado City who has practiced law in Houston for 26 years.

Houston faces Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton, a McKinney lawyer. The Express-News reported that Paxton “admitted in May to referring clients to a North Texas investment firm without registering with state authorities as required by law. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded Paxton and fined him $1,000, concluding that he violated state securities law in 2004, 2005 and 2012.”

The episode was a dominant theme for Paxton’s GOP primary runoff opponent and is being emphasized by Democrats this fall. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s office. Travis County prosecutors wisely will not consider the complaint prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Whether the issue results in a criminal investigation or not, the case raises disturbing ethical questions about Paxton. We believe voters should take this blemish on Paxton’s record seriously as they consider who should be the state’s top lawyer.

At this point we’re just waiting for the Chron to make it a clean sweep. They should have a pretty good idea of what the arguments are by now.

The Sriracha delegation arrives in California

Can you feel the excitement?

The self-styled “sriracha delegation” of Texas lawmakers heads to Irwindale, Calif., on Monday to woo the maker of a popular hot sauce to the Lone Star State. And the makeup of the delegation makes clear that bringing sriracha back to Texas is a spicy topic for both parties.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas — who has led the charge to bring the Huy Fong Foods sriracha factory to Texas since residents in its current host city in California complained of itchy eyes and unbearably spicy smells — will be joined by state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who represents the district where most of the chili peppers needed for the sauce are grown. San Antonio or a nearby city could be a good fit for the factory’s location, Villalba and Uresti have said.

State Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, will also be in the delegation. Vo speaks Vietnamese, the native language of Huy Fong Foods founder and chief executive David Tran. Representatives from the offices of Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples will also be attending.

Tran has said he is not ready to make a final decision about moving his business. Huy Fong Foods has been in California since it was founded in 1980, and the Irwindale facility relies on a single pepper grower for the chilis used in its famous sauce. California congressmen and other politicians have risen to Huy Fong’s defense. And the Irwindale City Council has backed off of its plan to deem the factory a public nuisance.

See here for all my previous Sriracha-blogging. David Tran may say he’s not made a final decision about moving his business, but he sort of has.

Since the rumble with Irwindale, almost two dozen cities have urged Tran to relocate to their part of the country. For a while, he actually considered it.

City attorney Fred Galante says the problem can be fixed and he hopes it doesn’t come to a move.

“We continue to try to work this out informally,” he says.

And after thinking it over, Tran has decided to stay in his Irwindale factory. He’s lived in California for more than 30 years, and he says he’s not planning to move.

But he might open another site, outside Southern California. An additional location would allow him to keep up with the ever-growing demand for Sriracha, and develop an added source for peppers, in case climate change threatens his current supply.

The Trib confirms this, and point out some obstacles to Texas as a viable Sriracha location:

Tran said Monday the odor controversy hasn’t convinced him to leave California. He told reporters forcefully that he has no intention to move his business, which has been in Irwindale since 2010 and made $80 million in gross revenue last year.

[…]

Actually moving or expanding into Texas wouldn’t be easy, though, for the company. Tran works with a single pepper grower, Underwood Farms, and expects to get 58,000 tons of fresh chile peppers this season. In 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Texas produced only 8,000 tons of chile peppers.

Crop yields in California and New Mexico are also much higher than they are in Texas — Underwood Farms can grow more than 10 times as many chiles on the same amount of land as Texas growers did in 2011. And most of the chile peppers grown in Texas are green; Huy Fong exclusively uses red chile peppers.

Craig Underwood, of Underwood Farms, said his business has produced all of Huy Fong’s chile peppers for 25 years. The company accounts for 75 percent of his revenue. A move to Texas would also be difficult because the weather patterns are very different, he said, and could make growing the chile peppers challenging.

Still, Tran said, Texas is a more viable state than most others because it’s possible to grow chiles there. While other states have expressed interest in his business, Tran said he has only had in-depth negotations with Texas officials, and he likes what he knows of the state so far.

“First-come, first-serve,” he told reporters, grinning.

So expansion is a possible option, and Texas – specifically, San Antonio – is in play for that. It’s too early to say how realistic that is. What is clear is that Tran and Huy Fong Foods have a very close relationship with their existing suppliers.

The jalapeño peppers that will be ground later this year at an embattled Irwindale factory and pureed into the red-hot chili sauce known as Sriracha are now being planted.

Wednesday morning in a Ventura County field off Highway 126, workers unloaded cartons of pepper plants from a Santa Maria nursery and then loaded up a tranplantation machine, which drops the plants into the soil.

Craig Underwood, 72, whose family has been farming in Ventura County for four generations, has been growing the jalapeño peppers that fill the bottles with the iconic rooster on the front and topped with bright-green lids for 25 years. That first year, he called Huy Fong Foods CEO David Tran and asked him if he could grow 50 acres of peppers for him. This year, Underwood will plant 2,000 acres, with plans to harvest 2,200 acres next year.

The international demand for Sriracha sauce has caused Underwood to double the acreage of his crops and expand his operation into Kern County.

“It’s amazing that the sauce has gotten such attention and it has such a cult following. Who would have guessed?” Underwood said.

[…]

Underwood said he and Tran have a special relationship. While most processors are trying to get the grower that will sell them the product for the cheapest amount of money, Tran cares about quality.

Tran insists on peppers that are bright red and have good flavor. He has even brought a taste-tester to Underwood’s fields.

“I don’t know how she did it,” Underwood said, eyes widening at the thought of the heat.

Peppers are always on Tran’s mind.

Underwood said at Tran’s daughter’s wedding, Tran pulled him outside on the balcony to talk about the crop.

“He’s very focused,” Underwood said of Tran.

Underwood will be present at the meetings Rep. Villalba and his posse will have with Tran, and he says in the story that he doesn’t think Tran will move. Who are we to argue with that?

The small number of competitive legislative races in November

The Trib discusses the lack of legislative action in November.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

In the House, nine Republican and two Democratic races are still undecided. An early list of competitive November races — this is in a House with 150 seats — comes in under a dozen. Put another way, there are about as many competitive races in the party runoffs as in the November general election.

In the Senate, there are only two runoffs — both in the Republican primaries. And in November, only the SD-10 seat — now held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — looks from this distance like a genuinely competitive two-party contest.

The 36-member congressional ballot is just as imbalanced, with three runoffs (all Republican) next month and only one obviously competitive November race, in the 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine is the incumbent. Democrats are starting to talk hopefully about the chances for Wesley Craig Reed, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. That district, CD-27, was drawn to favor Republicans, however, and part of Reed’s challenge will be to overcome that advantage in a midterm election year with an unpopular Democratic president in office.

That’s the problem for challengers with these maps: Barring the unexpected — scandal, death, resignations that come too late for candidates to be replaced — most races will be over by the end of next month, if they aren’t over already.

Those are most of the caveats, along with the usual one: It’s early, and things will change. All that said, here is an early list of House races to watch in November, mostly because they are in the handful of swing districts that remain on the map.

  • HD-105: Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving lost her primary to former Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie in March. He’ll face Libertarian W. Carl Spiller and the winner of a Democratic runoff in a district where both major parties think a win is possible.
  • HD-107: Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, is being challenged by Democrat Carol Donovan.
  • HD-113: Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, is being challenged by Democrat Milton Whitley.
  • HD-43: Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democrat Kim Gonzalez.
  • HD-23: Democratic Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston isn’t seeking another term, leaving this open seat to either Republican Wayne Faircloth or Democrat Susan Criss.
  • HD-117: Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio will face Republican Rick Galindo.
  • HD-144: Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Gilbert Peña.
  • HD-41: Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, will face Elijah Israel Casas in this marginally Democratic district.
  • HD-149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Al Hoang in a district that Vo has managed to defend — narrowly — several times.

Keeping score? That list includes four seats currently held by Republicans that the Democrats would like to take away, and five Democratic seats that the Republicans hope to grab. At the extremes, that would mean the Texas House would convene with 91 to 100 Republicans and 50 to 59 Democrats in January 2015 — about where it is today.

I’ll stipulate that once the runoffs are settled, so too are the vast majority of legislative races. There’s always the possibility of a surprise, as the story notes, but barring anything unforeseen, all the action this year will be statewide and in the counties. That’s just not what the pattern has been over the past decade, but it’s a testament to the power of the 2011 redistricting. I suspect it’s one part access to more accurate data and more powerful computers, and one part more rapid demographic change in various districts last decade, but right now these maps have the feel of permanence, barring court-mandated changes, until 2021.

I’ve got another post in the works to illustrate that in greater detail, but for now let’s look a little closer at the list Ross Ramsey compiled. I agree with the four competitive Republican seats, and while I agree that these are the five most competitive Democratic seats that are being contested – for some reason, the GOP did not field a candidate in HD78 – I don’t think they’re all in the same class. HD23, which along with SD10 and CD23 are the only seats won by one party while being carried by the other party’s Presidential candidate, is clearly a possible R pickup. I’d rate it as Tossup, possibly Tossup/Lean R. It’s tough for the Dems that Rep. Craig Eiland chose to retire, but District Court Judge Susan Criss is as strong a candidate to succeed him as one could want. As for the others, I’d rate HD41 as the least likely of all nine to flip. Rep. Guerra won with over 61% of the vote in 2012. While some statewide Republicans won a majority in 2010 in HD41, one doesn’t usually identify an incumbent that collected over 61% of the vote in his last election as potentially vulnerable. I’d rate this seat as Likely D. Rep. Cortez in HD117 might be the most endangered Dem incumbent – he won with a bit more than 52% in 2012 – but his opponent had almost no cash on hand going into the primary, not that he was a moneybags himself. Let’s call this one Lean D – for comparison, I’d rate all four Republican seats as Lean R. Rep. Perez won with over 54% in 2012 – her district performed better for Ds in 2012 than the 2008 numbers would have suggested – and her opponent this year was the lesser-regarded loser of the 2012 R primary. I’ve not heard a peep about that race. I guess a bad enough year for Dems overall could imperil her, but I’m calling this one Likely D.

Finally, there’s HD149. On paper, Rep. Vo versus former CM Hoang is an intriguing matchup. The history in HD149 is Rep. Vo outperforming the Democratic baseline – in both 2006 and 2010, he was the only Dem other than Bill White in 2010 to win the district, and 2006 was redder than 2010 – aided in part by a strong Vietnamese vote. Having Hoang on the ballot at least potentially complicates that, especially since his Council victory in 2009 was fueled in part by a strong performance in Asian boxes. However, as I’ve shown before, lots more people have had the opportunity to vote for Rep. Vo than for Hoang, the district is more Democratic now than before – Rep. Vo’s only close re-election was in 2010 with 52%; he had over 56% in 2012 – and I’d fear Hoang more if he hadn’t just lost a re-election bid to an out-of-nowhere Vietnamese candidate whose victory was abetted in large part by Hoang’s stormy relationship with the Vietnamese community. This is one to watch, but barring any future indicators of trouble for Rep. Vo, I’m calling this one Likely D. What are your thoughts?

Sriracha for San Antonio?

State Rep. Jason Villalba will finally make his pilgrimage to California to visit Huy Fong Foods and try to convince them to pick up stakes and move to Texas.

State and city officials are hoping to woo the CEO of Huy Fong Foods Inc. into moving or expanding production of Sriracha, the company’s increasingly popular spicy Asian sauce, to San Antonio.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, is leading a delegation of Texas officials May 12 to meet with CEO David Tran and tour the company’s embattled factory near Los Angeles.

A California judge forced the company to shut down some production after complaints that fumes emitted from the facility caused asthma, nosebleeds and sinus irritation.

“These talks are still very preliminary and we haven’t drilled down on site-selection yet, but with it’s proximity to the Rio Grande Valley and the economic infrastructure to support this type of factory, San Antonio is high on the list,” Villalba said.

Mario Hernandez, president of San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, said the organization reached out two months ago to Tran, who indicated an expansion is more likely than a full-fledged relocation to the Alamo City, which would cost millions.

“We would welcome the opportunity on a complete relocation, but a more likely scenario is future expansion,” Hernandez said.

San Antonio is an ideal location for production of the spicy condiment because it is close to the Rio Grande Valley, a region with a large agriculture industry that could easily grow chilies for the product, Villalba said.

Because the chilies must be transported to a factory for production soon after being harvested, San Antonio, the largest city in South Texas, logistically would be a prime location for a manufacturing plant.

[…]

The Dallas Republican received an invitation from Tran last week and will be joined by state Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, who speaks fluent Vietnamese; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples; and officials from Gov. Rick Perry’s and Attorney General Greg Abbott’s offices.

“In one of the fastest-growing areas of the country there is an insatiable need for jobs of all types,” said state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who was invited by Villalba but couldn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict.

See here for all my previous Sriracha blogging. You have to admire Rep. Villalba for being a team player – it was originally the city of Denton that made a move on Huy Fong, but despite being in Rep. Villalba’s back yard, he’s going with the more practical possibility. I still don’t think Huy Fong is going to move its operations to Texas – if it moves anywhere, it’ll be elsewhere in California – but expansion is an intriguing possibility, one I don’t recall seeing mentioned before. If that really is on the table, it’s an attainable goal and would be a very nice coup.

Here’s a bit more on the expansion possibility from Forbes:

The city of Irwindale voted unanimously [last] Wednesday to table a vote on a resolution until the next meeting, delaying a final decision for another two weeks. If the city council had cemented their vote, the factory would have had until July 22 to stop releasing the peppery fumes that residents were complaining of suffering from heartburn, asthma and nosebleeds.

But aside from the meeting, Tran has given little indication that he is seriously considering moving out of California, where his business has operated for the last 34 years.

“We have never had any issues, so moving was never discussed,” Tran told Forbes. “But why would we need to move if we do not have harmful odors?”

One deterrent for the company to move is that the chili peppers used for the company’s sauces are geographically closer to the factory and must be immediately processed after being picked. But Tran doesn’t see either the proximity to the pepper farms or the city council’s decision to be the end of Huy Fong Foods.

“We could grow in the state [of Texas] if need be,” Tran said. “But after seeing the supporters yesterday, I don’t feel alone, so I need to try to stay here instead of relocating. There is, however, the possibility of expansion to other locations due to growing sales.”

See here for more on Irwindale City Council’s actions. I find it hard to believe the two sides won’t get this worked out. Given that Villalba and crew will be in town two days before Council votes on that resolution, perhaps his visit will serve as incentive towards a resolution.

Filing deadline today

Before I get into the details of who has or hasn’t filed for what, I have a bone to pick with this AP story.

Perhaps what the candidate filings reveal most is the relative strength and depth of the political parties in Texas. Four top Republicans are in a fierce battle for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general and five for agriculture commissioner.

Three Republicans are in the race for the Railroad Commission, an entry-level statewide office that gives the winner routine access to the state’s biggest campaign donors as well as the governor and attorney general. The only competition in the judicial races is for open seats vacated by Republican incumbents.

If a party can be judged by the number of people who want to lead it, Republicans certainly remain popular and thriving. Most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections.

Democrats have yet to field a complete slate of statewide candidates and have just one candidate each for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner. The only potentially competitive race pits failed gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman against Jim Hogan for agriculture commissioner.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, was first elected to the Texas House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1999. She has the most campaign experience among Democratic candidates followed by Davis, who won her Senate seat in 2008. Freidman and attorney general candidate Sam Houston have run statewide offices before, but have never won.

That lack of experience and the shortage of candidates reveal the shallowness of the Democratic bench after 20 years out of power. There are young Democrats who have statewide potential, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, but they’ve decided like some others to sit out the 2014 race, likely to let others test the waters before they take the plunge themselves.

I’ll stipulate that the Republican side of the ballot has more overall experience. For obvious reasons, it’s the only primary that features statewide officeholders. But to say “most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections” overstates things considerably. Outside of the Lt Governor’s race, most of their candidates are current or former legislators, and I submit that decades of winning a gerrymandered legislative district is hardly indicative of statewide potential.

To break it down a bit more scientifically, the GOP field for the non-Governor and Lt. Governor races are made up of the following:

Railroad Commissioner: One former State Rep and three people you’ve never heard of.
Land Commissioner: One scion of a political dynasty making his first run for office, and some other dude.
Ag Commissioner: Two former State Reps, the Mayor of a small town, and a state party functionary who lost a State Rep race in 2004.
Attorney General: A State Senator, a State Rep, and an appointed Railroad Commissioner that defeated a Libertarian in 2012 in the only election he’s run to date.
Comptroller: A State Senator, a State Rep, and a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, is it? What they have first and foremost is the advantage of their party. That’s no small thing, of course, but it has nothing to do with anything any of them has done.

That said, most current statewide officeholders made the initial leap from legislative offices – Rick Perry and Susan Combs were State Reps before winning their first statewide elections, with Combs spending two years in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office in between; Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson were State Senators. Dems have plenty of legislators that would make fine candidates for state office – two of them are currently running – but it’s a lot harder to convince someone to give up a safe seat for what we would all acknowledge is an underdog bid for higher office. How much that changes in 2018, if at all, depends entirely on how well things go this year. If we have one or more breakthroughs, or even if we come reasonably close, you can bet there will be plenty of candidates with “decades of experience winning elections” next time.

Anyway. As we head into the last day of candidate filing, the local Democratic ballot is filling in nicely. Dems have at least one candidate for nineteen of the 24 State House seats in Harris County. Four are GOP-held seats – HDs 126, 127, 128, and 130 – and one is HD142, which is currently held by Rep. Harold Dutton. Either Rep. Dutton is just dithering until the last day, or he’s planning to retire and his preferred successor will file sometime late today. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. The two additions to the Democratic challenger ledger are Luis Lopez in HD132, who appears to be this person, and Fred Vernon in HD138, about whom I know nothing. Dems also now have two Congressional challengers, James Cargas in CD07 as expected, and Niko Letsos in CD02, about whom I know nothing.

By the way, for comparison purposes, the Harris County GOP is only contesting 14 of 24 State Rep seats. The three lucky Dems that have drawn challengers so far are Rep. Gene Wu in HD137, Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 – we already knew about that one – and Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148, who draws 2011 At Large #3 Council candidate Chris Carmona. I have to say, if they leave freshman Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 unopposed, I would consider that an abject failure of recruitment if I were a Republican. Beyond that, the thing that piqued my interest was seeing the two worst recent officeholders – Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners – back on the ballot, as each is running for the two At Large HCDE Trustee offices. Putting aside their myriad and deep incompetencies while in office, the only possible reason these two clowns would be running for the HCDE is that they want to screw it up for the purpose of killing it off. As we know, Dems have Traci Jensen and Lily Leal running for one of those seats. Debra Kerner is the incumbent for the other seat and I believe she has filed but with petitions, so her status hasn’t been finalized yet. All I know is that we have enough chuckleheads in office already. We don’t need to put these two retreads back into positions of power.

Statewide, Texpatriate noted on Saturday that Dale Henry has filed to run for Railroad Commissioner, which will pit him against Steve Brown. Henry ran for this office as a Dem in 2006, 2008 (he lost in the primary to Mark Thompson), and 2010. Henry is a qualified candidate, but he’s a dinosaur in terms of campaign techniques and technologies. That might have been charming in 2006 or 2008, but it’s way out of place in 2014. All due respect to Dale Henry, but I’ll be voting for Steve Brown. We are still waiting to see how many statewide judicial candidates we’ll get. Word is we’ll have them, but who and how many remain unknown. Finally, between the Harris County primary filings email and the TDP filings page, I see that Dems have at least two candidates for the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals – Gordon Goodman for Place 7, and Kyle Carter, who was re-elected to the 125th Civil District Court in 2012, for Chief Justice. There are still slots on that court and on the 1st Court of Appeals, so I hope there are more of these to come. As always, if you are aware of other filings or rumors of filings, leave a comment and let us know.

Hoang to challenge Vo

Soon-to-be-former CM Al Hoang is not sitting still in the wake of his unexpected electoral loss.

CM Al Hoang

CM Al Hoang

Houston City Councilman Al Hoang, who narrowly lost his reelection bid in a surprise upset last week, has filed paperwork to challenge state Rep. Hubert Vo for his District 149 seat next fall.

There is much overlap between Hoang’s City Council District F and Vo’s state District 149, both of which center on Alief. Vo, a Democrat, was re-elected to a fifth two-year term in 2012. Hoang, a Republican, will complete his second two-year term on council this year, yielding in January to Richard Nguyen, an employee in the city’s Solid Waste Management Department who beat him by about 200 votes in last week’s election.

Vo said he has heard talk for years that Hoang may challenge him, but said he does not consider the councilman a rival. He also denied whispers that he had propped up council candidates against Hoang.

“It’s not my type. Every single election, if I don’t have this opponent, I would have other opponents,” Vo said. “Ten years ago when I decided to run, I wanted to serve the community. I hope anybody else who’s running for that district will have the same goal that I have.”

Vo acknowledged speaking with Nguyen earlier this year, but he said he merely advised him to have a platform, not simply oppose Hoang. “I gave him some advice, but I never publicly endorsed him, I never helped his campaign,” he said.

Hoang said Vo voiced support for Nguyen on Vietnamese radio, but added, “That’s democracy.” Hoang stressed he is pursuing no personal vendetta against Vo

“I just want to continue the good work I believe I’ve done for that area: Job growth, I want to continue that. I want to get the dollars from the state back so that we can continue work on the infrastructure, and also education,” Hoang said. “I’m a pro-life person because I’m a Christian. Those issues also prompt me to run for District 149. That is the most important distinction, the pro-life and pro-choice.”

I have no idea whether there’s anything personal to this or if Hoang always had HD149 in his sights for his post-Council career. HD149 is a fairly purple district, though Rep. Vo has not had any close calls since his razor-thin initial victory in 2004. He’s also never faced an Asian opponent, which may add a different dimension to the race. Numbers-wise, the district leaned red in the Republican wave year of 2010, though Bill White defeated Rick Perry there by a 53.7 to 44.8 margin. Compare that to 2008, in which President Obama carried the district by a 57.1 to 41.8 margin, and you can see that turnout is definitely a factor. Interestingly, 2010 was a less red year in HD149 than 2006 was, which suggests that demographic change in the district is also a factor. Be all that as it may, this is now the most interesting State Rep race in Harris County.

One more thing: While it is true that there is overlap between Council District F and HD149, it’s not quite true that there’s a significant overlap in the voters between those two districts. What I mean by that can be illustrated by the number of votes in the respective elections. Rep. Vo has run in and won five elections in HD149. Here are the vote totals for each of those five years:

2012 – 42,568
2010 – 29,945
2008 – 45,371
2006 – 23,253
2004 – 41,356

CM Hoang has run for District F three times. Here are the vote totals for those three years:

2013 – 6,126
2011 – 2,641
2009 – 9,565

Both districts are comparable in size – actually, Council districts are a bit larger – but the universe of voters in each is different, because turnout in the odd years is so much lower. While CM Hoang has a leg up on some of the opponents Rep. Vo has faced – and bear in mind, Rep. Vo twice defeated former Rep. Talmadge Heflin, and also beat HISD Trustee Greg Meyers, so he has won against people who have been successful running for office before – it’s fair to say there are a lot of voters in HD149 who have never cast a ballot that included him on it. He will still need to introduce himself to much of the district.

Precinct analysis: The range of possibility

Here’s a look at selected districts in Harris County that shows the range of votes and vote percentages achieved by Democratic candidates. I’ve thrown in the Obama and Sam Houston results from 2008 for each to provide a comparison between how the district was predicted to perform and how it actually did perform. Without further ado:

HD132 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 22,336 43.52 Ryan 20,945 40.63 Bennett 20,454 40.35 Obama 21,116 40.29 Oliver 19,873 38.52 08Obama 18,886 39.60 08Houston 18,653 40.60

HD132, which runs out to the western edge of Harris County, incorporating parts of Katy, is a fascinating district. For one thing, as Greg showed, there are these fairly large blue patches out that way, surrounded otherwise by a sea of red. Much of that blue is in HD132, which is why this district wound up overperforming its 2008 numbers by about a point. As Greg said in reply to my comment on that post, you could build a pretty reasonable Democratic district out that way if you were in control of the mapmaking process. In fact, the non-MALDEF intervenors in the San Antonio lawsuit did propose a map that drew HD132 as a lean-Dem district. It wasn’t addressed by the DC court in its ruling denying preclearance on the maps, so we won’t see any such district this decade, but just as the old 132 came on the radar in 2008, the new HD132 should be viewed as an attainable goal, perhaps in 2016. Take the continued population dynamics of Harris County, add in a good candidate and a concerted voter registration/GOTV effort, and I think you could have something.

HD134 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 36,781 48.07 Ryan 35,431 45.96 Johnson 36,366 45.35 Obama 34,561 42.49 Bennett 29,843 39.47 Oliver 25,886 33.79 08Obama 39,153 46.50 08Houston 33,667 42.60

I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find a district with a wider vote spread than HD134. A couple things stand out to me. One is that four years ago in the old 134, President Obama ran five points ahead of Democratic judicial candidates. I haven’t done the math on the judicials this time around – even in Excel/Calc, it gets mighty tedious after awhile – but I’d bet money that’s not the case this year. I’d call this evidence of Obama losing ground with Anglo voters in Texas, as he did nationwide. Note also that Adrian Garcia did not carry HD134 this time around, unlike in 2008 when he was the only Democrat besides then-Rep. Ellen Cohen to win it. (Michael Skelly, running in CD07, carried the portion of HD134 that was in CD07, which was most but not quite all of it.) Garcia’s overall performance was a couple of points lower this year, but this shows how tough HD134 really was, something which I think wasn’t fully appreciated by most observers. Ann Johnson ran hard and did a good job, but the hill was too steep. I’m sure HD134 will remain a tempting target, but the name of the game here is persuasion, not turnout, and that’s a harder task.

HD135 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 23,507 44.91 Ryan 21,620 41.26 Obama 21,679 40.37 Bennett 20,786 40.26 Morgan 20,997 39.63 Oliver 20,119 38.42 08Obama 20,430 38.70 08Houston 19,912 39.50

Another not-on-the-radar district that wound up being better for Dems than you would have expected. As with HD132, this would be a good place to focus registration and turnout energies going forward.

HD137 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 15,682 67.58 Ryan 15,498 65.88 Wu 15,789 65.72 Obama 15,899 65.25 Bennett 14,875 64.63 Oliver 14,700 62.62 08Obama 16,755 62.30 08Houston 16,008 62.40

I haven’t looked this deeply at all of the Democratic districts, but the early indicators are that Democratic candidates generally outperformed the 2008 numbers in the districts that were considered to be competitive. Even by the 2008 numbers, HD137 wasn’t particularly competitive, but with a first-time candidate in an open seat against someone who’d won elections in the same general vicinity before and who could write his own check, who knew what could happen. Rep.-elect Gene Wu had a strong showing in a district where all Dems did well. I mean, if Lloyd Oliver outperformed Obama 08, you know Democrats kicked butt in this district.

HD144 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 13,555 57.96 Ryan 12,668 53.96 Bennett 12,382 53.63 Perez 12,425 53.35 Obama 12,281 51.47 Oliver 11,966 51.07 08Obama 11,983 48.00 08Houston 13,129 54.50

The disparity between Obama and Sam Houston in 08 makes it a little hard to pin this district down as overperforming or underperforming. It’s fair to say that Rep.-elect Mary Ann Perez won by a more comfortable margin than most people, myself included, might have expected, and it appears that Obama closed the gap a bit this year. This will surely be a race to watch in 2014, whether or not the district gets tweaked by the courts or the Lege. (The DC court rejected the intervenors’ claims about retrogression in HD144, in case you were curious.) Oh, and I hadn’t thought about this before now, but Perez’s win means that there will need to be a special election for her HCC Trustee position in 2013. I have no idea off the top of my head what the procedures are for that.

HD145 Votes Pct ======================== Alvarado 20,829 68.86 Garcia 19,180 67.67 Ryan 17,860 63.04 Obama 17,890 61.13 Bennett 17,252 61.90 Oliver 16,778 59.22 08Obama 16,749 57.10 08Houston 17,315 61.70

Rep. Alvarado was unopposed, so the percentage shown for her is her share of all ballots cast in HD145. I was a little concerned about the possibility of Republicans maybe stealing this seat in a special election if Rep. Alvarado wins in SD06 – one possible incentive for Rick Perry to shake a leg on calling that special election is that he could then call the special election for HD145 in May if that seat gets vacated, as surely that would guarantee the lowest turnout – but I’m less concerned about it looking at these numbers. Yes, I know, the electoral conditions would be totally different, but still. By my count there were 7,013 straight-ticket Republican votes in this district and 12,293 straight-ticket D votes. I think even in a low-turnout context, that would be a tall order for a Republican candidate.

HD148 Votes Pct ======================== Farrar 25,921 64.56 Garcia 23,776 63.87 Ryan 22,413 59.91 Obama 22,393 57.92 Bennett 21,061 57.80 Oliver 19,848 53.34 08Obama 22,338 57.50 08Houston 21,887 59.20

Rep. Farrar had a Green opponent but no R opponent, so as with Rep. Alvarado her percentage is that of the total number of ballots cast. Again, one’s perception of this district as slightly overperforming or slightly underperforming for Dems depends on whether one thinks the Obama or Houston number from 2008 is the more accurate measure of the district from that year. Given the re-honkification of the Heights, I feel like this district needs to be watched in the same way that HD132 needs to be watched, only in the other direction. I feel certain that if there is to be any change in the makeup of HD148, it will happen a lot more slowly than in HD132, but nonetheless it bears watching. I’ll reassess in 2016 as needed. Oh, and there were 9,672 straight-ticket Republican votes to 13,259 straight-ticket D votes here, in case you were wondering.

HD149 Votes Pct ======================== Vo 25,967 61.12 Garcia 25,056 60.64 Ryan 24,325 58.61 Obama 24,770 57.72 Bennett 23,659 57.64 Oliver 23,337 56.27 08Obama 24,426 55.50 08Houston 23,544 56.30

If you wanted to know why I tend to worry less about Rep. Hubert Vo than I do about some other Dems and districts, this would be why. Anyone who can outdo Adrian Garcia is someone with strong crossover appeal. Note again the general overperformance of Dems here compared to 2008. Consider this some evidence of Asian-American voters trending even more blue this cycle.

SBOE6 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 229,058 43.48 Ryan 216,249 40.88 Jensen 207,697 40.58 Obama 215,053 39.33 Bennett 199,169 38.27 Oliver 188,555 35.69 08Obama 224,088 40.80 08Houston 210,965 40.20

I was hopeful that Dems could build on 2008 in this district, but it wasn’t to be. I think the potential is there going forward, but it will take time and resources. Traci Jensen was a great candidate, who ran hard as the first Democrat in SBOE6 in over 20 years, but there’s only so much you can do in a district twice the size of a Congressional district without a Congressional-size campaign budget.

CD07 Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 99,355 43.93 Ryan 93,819 41.30 Obama 92,128 39.13 Bennett 84,451 37.73 Cargas 85,253 37.44 Oliver 79,037 34.83 08Obama 96,866 40.40 08Houston 88,957 39.10

As with SBOE6, a small step back in performance instead of the step forward I had hoped for. Not sure if it was something John Culberson did to enable him to run ahead of the pack instead of lagging behind it as he did in 2006 and 2008, or if James Cargas’ weak performance had something to do with the ridiculously bitter primary runoff he was in. Be that as it may, I don’t expect much if anything to be different in this district in the near future.

Endorsement watch: Wu and Vo

Clearly I was wrong about the Chron ignoring legislative endorsements, as they now have two more to follow Ann Johnson‘s. First up is an endorsement of Gene Wu to be Rep. Scott Hochberg’s successor in HD137.

Gene Wu

We believe that Democrat Gene Wu has the educational background and passion for policy that make him the best candidate to succeed Hochberg.

A former Harris County assistant district attorney, Wu’s experience isn’t limited to the legal arena. With a master’s in public policy from the University of Texas, Wu worked at the Texas Workforce Commission to improve standards for community colleges and technical schools and served as chief clerk for the House Higher Education Committee. These are particularly pertinent areas of experience, given the importance of building an educated workforce and the education budget battles in Austin.

Wu talks about education policy with the specificity of an experienced politician, arguing for proper student-to-teacher ratios, reforming high-stakes testing and improving vocational training. He also offers high praise for schools like KIPP and YES Prep that create a cultural respect for learning, which can often help students more than anything else.

Wu also has a deep connection to his district, regularly volunteering with the Skills for Living program and tutoring at-risk youth at Sharpstown High School. He exhibits an exhaustive understanding of his home turf and hopes to attract the businesses that will serve and support the middle-class families that are the growing base of the area. This is the sort of forward thinking that voters should want for a district that covers areas like Gulfton and Sharpstown.

The Chron has made three endorsements in HD137, having gone with Joe Madden in the primary and Jamaal Smith in the runoff. This was a testament to the depth and quality of the candidates running in the Democratic primary, as they said at the time. I’d encourage you to go back and listen to the interview I did with Wu for the primary, because the qualities the Chron talks about in this endorsement really came through in that conversation. I’ve no doubt at all that Wu will be an excellent representative.

The Chron also endorsed four-term Rep. Hubert Vo for re-election.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Texas House District 149 is one of the most diverse in the state, covering west Harris County from I-10 south to Alief, including Mission Bend. The Democratic incumbent Hubert Vo, a Vietnamese immigrant, reflects the diversity of his district and is the right choice in this election.

In his past races, Vo stood as an attractive alternative to candidates who embodied some of Texas’ worst policy instincts, such as underfunding government services and leaving available federal dollars on the table. Since his first election to the Texas House in 2004, Vo has fulfilled his promises of working to fully fund CHIP, support education and serve local needs at the Legislature. A reliable defender of these important issues, Vo rightfully points out that budget fights will happen every year due to a structural budget shortfall – the kind that we can’t cut our way out of. Voters should appreciate this sort of honest talk from a politician.

One of Vo’s greatest achievements for his district was the creation of the International Management District, located along Bellaire and Bissonnet between Beltway 8 and Highway 6. This district has allowed for reinvestment in local infrastructure and a dedicated focus on attracting businesses. And the district’s success in improving public safety by contracting with the constable’s office and private security has not only bolstered business but created safer neighborhoods.

I’ve been a fan of Rep. Vo’s since his first run for office in 2004. Good guy, good representative, good fit for his district.

First impressions of the new maps

Before I get too into this, the invaluable Texas Redistricting reminds us that the parties in the lawsuit will be able to make objections and comments to the proposed maps today at noon. Meaning, there may yet be some tweaks to come.

Until then, this is what we have. I have 2008 electoral data for the House here and for the Senate here. The Trib has some nice pictures of the maps here, Greg has a Harris County view here, Stace has a look at his neck of the woods here, and Texas Redistricting notes all of the pairings here. My opening thoughts:

– The Senate map is not very different from the one we had coming into 2011. Sen. Wendy Davis, whose statement about the proposed maps can be seen here, gets a district she can win but will have to work hard to do it. Note that SD09 is also somewhat purple in hue, though redder than SD10. It’s certainly worthy of a challenge. I don’t have much to add to this, just to note that Dems would have a puncher’s chance of maintaining 12 seats. No guarantees, but they’re in much better shape for it than they were when they started.

– By my count in the House there are 60 seats that Democrats should have some reasonable expectation of winning:

Dist County Incumbent Obama Houston ========================================= 22 Jefferson Deshotel 68.8 72.6 23 Galveston Eiland 47.8 54.3 27 Fort Bend Reynolds 68.8 68.6 31 Webb Guillen 77.1 80.7 33 Nueces Torres(R) 49.8 55.4 34 Nueces Scott(R) 49.8 55.3 35 Hidalgo Aliseda(R) 63.3 65.0 36 Hidalgo Munoz 72.8 75.1 37 Cameron Oliveira 67.5 69.7 38 Cameron Lucio 64.7 67.0 39 Hidalgo Martinez 72.3 74.6 40 Hidalgo Pena(R) 74.8 77.4 41 Hidalgo Gonzales 57.0 59.7 42 Webb Raymond 70.8 76.5 43 S Texas Lozano 51.6 57.9 46 Travis Dukes 76.6 74.6 48 Travis Howard 60.7 56.7 49 Travis Naishtat 73.9 69.5 50 Travis Strama 59.6 56.6 51 Travis Rodriguez 80.6 77.9 54 Bell Aycock(R) 60.6 60.4 74 Maverick Gallego 57.9 61.3 75 El Paso Quintanilla 74.1 75.4 76 El Paso Gonzalez 74.7 77.5 77 El Paso Marquez 60.8 62.6 78 El Paso Margo(R) 58.3 60.0 79 El Paso Pickett 64.8 67.4 80 Uvalde T. King 51.9 56.8 90 Tarrant Burnam 66.8 68.7 93 Tarrant Nash(R) 62.1 62.4 95 Tarrant Veasey 79.2 79.3 100 Dallas E. Johnson 87.6 87.7 103 Dallas Anchia 60.5 61.9 104 Dallas Alonzo 68.2 70.8 105 Dallas H-Brown(R) 49.7 51.6 107 Dallas Sheets(R) 65.6 66.9 109 Dallas Giddings 74.2 74.7 110 Dallas Caraway 80.8 81.7 111 Dallas Y.Davis 73.8 74.3 116 Bexar M-Fischer 59.6 59.4 117 Bexar Garza(R) 53.7 54.2 118 Bexar Farias 53.7 56.3 119 Bexar Gutierrez 58.2 59.7 120 Bexar McClendon 64.9 64.5 123 Bexar Villarreal 59.2 58.9 124 Bexar Menendez 59.4 59.6 125 Bexar Castro 57.7 58.5 131 Harris Allen 80.7 81.1 137 Harris Hochberg 60.3 60.7 139 Harris Turner 75.9 76.1 140 Harris Walle 70.0 73.8 141 Harris Thompson 72.7 73.4 142 Harris Dutton 77.3 78.9 143 Harris Luna 60.2 66.9 144 Harris Legler(R) 53.2 59.0 145 Harris Alvarado 61.6 65.7 146 Harris Miles 81.2 80.8 147 Harris Coleman 81.0 79.2 148 Harris Farrar 59.0 62.4 149 Harris Vo 55.2 55.5

Note the post above about pairings, and note also that Reps. Gallego and Castro are planning to run for Congress as things stand right now. Harris County remains with 24 seats, but instead of Reps. Hochberg and Vo being paired, Rep. Beverley Woolley was “paired” with Rep. Jim Murphy. I put “paired” in quotes because of course Woolley is retiring, and what they really did was eliminate HD136 – it’s now in Waller and Montgomery Counties – and give Murphy a stronger red district. The Harris split as I see it is now 13D – the twelve existing incumbents plus the redrawn HD144 – to 11R, with Woolley and Rep. Ken Legler going away. Quite remarkable.

In addition to these, the following seats could be competitive for Dems and certainly should be contested:

Dist County Incumbent Obama Houston ========================================== 17 Bastrop K'schmidt 40.9 46.2 26 Fort Bend Open 48.4 48.3 45 Hays Isaac 46.7 45.8 47 Travis Workman 44.6 41.2 64 Denton Crownover 42.0 41.8 65 Denton Solomons 43.0 42.4 94 Tarrant Patrick 41.5 42.0 97 Tarrant Shelton 43.0 43.0 102 Dallas Carter 43.4 43.8 106 Williamson Open 46.0 43.1 108 Dallas Branch 48.7 46.0 112 Dallas Chen Button 42.1 44.0 113 Dallas Driver 46.0 48.2 114 Dallas Hartnett 42.4 41.3 115 Dallas Jackson 44.0 42.9 134 Harris S. Davis 50.1 46.2 135 Harris Elkins 42.8 43.8 138 Harris Bohac 42.2 42.9

Obviously, some of these are more potentially competitive than others, but there are a couple that could reasonably go the Dems’ way. Note that Reps. Driver, Hartnett, and Jackson are all stepping down, and that Rep. Burkett was paired with Driver and Rep. Sheets was paired with Hartnett. HD26 was Rep. Charlie Howard’s (HD30 is the new Fort Bend-centered district), and HD106 had been called HD149 before.

Bottom line: Assuming this map with no unfavorable changes made to Dems, I’d consider a 10-seat pickup to be acceptable, and a 15-seat pickup to be a hell of a day. I have no idea why the Chron says that Dems “could gain a half-dozen seats” when a cursory glance shows eight Republicans now in districts that were majority Dem all the way in 2008. If six was all we got under this map, I’d call for beheadings. Note that Robert Miller predicts a more or less 90R 60D House, which is right in line with my view, so it’s not just my optimism talking here.

– Bear in mind that if the Dems pick up 13 seats, which I would consider a very good result, that leaves the partisan balance at 88-62 in favor of the Republicans, or exactly where we were after the 2002 elections. The loss of all those rural Democrats really hurts. The path forward from here is urban and suburban, and it won’t be easy.

But at least there is a path forward now. We’ll see if the court makes any further adjustments to the maps after today’s hearing. BOR, Juanita, EoW, and PDidde have more.

New map, new opportunities: Harris County

For our last stop on this tour we look at Harris County, which provided several pickup opportunities for Democrats last decade. How will they fare this time around?

Harris County's new districts

Republicans started the last decade with a 14-11 advantage – they intended it to be 15-10 after drawing Scott Hochberg out of his seat, but he moved into HD137, drawn at the time to be a 50-50 district, won it, and watched it grow more Democratic with each election. Democrats picked up seats in 2004, 2006, and 2008, then lost two of them in 2010, ending the decade at a 13-12 disadvantage. This map shrinks the Harris delegation to 24 seats and in doing so forces the only Dem-on-Dem pairing, as Hochberg and Hubert Vo were thrown together. At this point I don’t know who is going to do what. I’ve heard rumors about Hochberg moving to 134, which includes a fair amount of turf from his pre-2001 district, but that’s all they are. We won’t know till much later, and I doubt anyone will commit to a course of action until the Justice Department has weighed in.

Assuming there are no changes, the Republicans had some work to do to shore up their members. With the current map, Jim Murphy in 133 and Sarah Davis in 134 would be heavily targeted, with Dwayne Bohac in 138 and Ken Legler in 144 also likely to face stiff competition. By virtue of shifting districts west, where the population has grown and where the Republicans have more strength, they bought themselves some time. Here’s a look at the 2004 Molina numbers for the old districts versus the 2008 Sam Houston numbers in both the old and the new ones.

Dist 04 Molina Old Houston New Houston ======================================== 126 32.9 42.0 37.9 127 28.3 33.3 32.4 128 35.5 38.9 38.0 129 33.4 36.8 38.6 130 23.6 29.5 26.4 132 30.3 41.4 40.6 133 44.0 51.2 41.6 134 43.3 44.7 42.6 135 35.5 42.1 39.5 136 28.1 31.7 40.0 138 41.1 44.8 40.3 144 39.9 45.1 42.1 150 28.4 36.4 33.0

A couple of massive shifts, in 133 to protect Murphy, and in 136 where Beverly Woolley gave up some turf to help out Bohac and Davis. Some Democratic districts got even bluer, though not all of them; losing a district allowed voters of all stripes to be spread around more. Woolley and Davis’ districts cover neighborhoods that are unlikely to change much, so what you see there is likely to be what you’ll get. Everywhere else, especially in the western territories – 132, 133, 135, and 138 – are likely to see change similar to what we saw last decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if their partisan numbers are already different. The question is how much time have the Republicans bought themselves, and how much effort and resources the Democrats will put into reaching the new residents out there; not much had been done in the past. Other than perhaps Davis, who will surely be attacked for voting mostly in lockstep with the rest of the Republicans, it’s not clear that any of these seats are winnable next year, but the results we get at that time may tell us when they’ll be ripe for the picking. I expect we’ll see some turnover over time, but I don’t know how much.

Redistricting committee votes out State House map

Texas Politics:

By a vote of 11 to 5, the House Redistricting Committee approved a plan redrawing the Texas House map that, according to its sponsor, committee chairman Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, creates a total of 30 minority opportunity districts.

The committee rejected several amendments offered by the four Democrats on the committee, who contended that the Solomons plan, House Bill 150, does not properly reflect the growth in the state’s Latino population during the past decade. Latino growth made up 65 percent of the 4.3 million overall population increase in Texas since 2000.

“The plan passed out of committee today splits communities of interest and denies proper representation to people of color – but particularly Hispanics – who drove the population growth in Texas for the past decade,” said state Rep. Robert Alonzo, a Democratic member of the committee from Dallas.

In addition to the four Democrats on the committee, state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, voted against the bill.

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, one of the four, objected to the speed with which the Solomons plan was adopted. She said the fast track didn’t allow the committee time to consider the changes made to the bill during today’s committee meeting.

She also opposed reducing Harris County districts from 25 to 24, ostensibly because the county’s population growth was not enough to warrant a 25th seat. Alvarado argued that the county grew by 20.3 percent from 2000 to 2010, a rate that’s close to the 20.7 percent growth from 1990 to 2000 that justified a map with 25 districts.

The adopted plan is Plan H153. Here again is the Harris County view:

Harris County State Rep districts as currently proposed

As before, Harris County gets 24 districts, with Reps. Scott Hochberg and Hubert Vo being paired. I had to zoom way in to realize it, but this map puts me in HD147, Rep. Garnet Coleman’s district. As before, I have the same mixed feelings of delight and heartbreak. I’m also more than a bit peeved to see just how much my neck of the woods gets sliced and diced:

So much for keeping communities of interest together

For comparison, here’s what it looks like today:

This is more like it

The difference between the two is pretty jarring. The fact that the only opportunity to give feedback to the committee was last weekend makes it all the worse. Say what you want about the Houston City Council map, at least you had a chance to be heard.

You can see a PDF of the map here. On the plus side, the weirdly uterus-shaped district in and around Williamson County has been replaced by something that doesn’t appear to have been drawn by a prankster. Beyond that, I don’t have much good to say.

UPDATE: Just got this statement from Rep. Carol Alvarado:

State Representative Carol Alvarado’s Statement on the committee vote and passage on the committee substitute of HB 150 as amended, the redistricting map for the Texas House of Representatives.

“The map that was voted out of the Redistricting Committee is bad for Harris County. I stand by my “no” vote on this proposed plan as it would cause Harris County to lose representation by merging two predominately minority districts.

As a county boasting more than 4.1 million residents and a consistently strong growth rate, Harris County deserves to maintain their twenty-five House districts. Unlike other areas in Texas, the populations of our urban areas did not abandon our county, they simply shifted across our county while staying within our borders. Harris County did not lose population and there is no justification for the loss of a House district.”

Solomons State House map 2.0

Go to http://gis1.tlc.state.tx.us/ and check out Plan H134 for a revised State House map from House Redistricting Chair Burt Solomons. Here’s the Harris County view:

Harris County, take two

Still 24 districts, with either Rep. Scott Hochberg or Rep. Hubert Vo on the outside looking in. In this variation, HD143 goes back to being an East End seat, and HD148 regains some of its old territory in the Heights, but my part of the Heights gets moved into HD145, which would make me a constituent of Rep. Carol Alvarado. As with Rep. Ana Hernandez Luna, I would be delighted to be her constituent, but heartbroken not to be Rep. Jessica Farrar’s constituent. HD134 gains a little more outside the Loop territory, but most of the districts on the west side look not too different than they were before. Beyond Harris County, the only thing I looked for was the weird uterus-shaped HD149 that surrounds and passed through Williamson County. It’s still there. You’ve got to be a little desperate to maintain Republican hegemony if you’re drawing districts like that.

Also, State Rep. Garnet Coleman has submitted a plan, Plan H130. The Harris view:

Rep. Coleman's map for Harris County

That one has 25 seats in Harris County, so Reps. Hochberg and Vo can remain. It also puts me back into HD148, which just feels right. And as we turn our eyes to Williamson County, we see no uterine districts. All of which means that this map won’t be given a moment’s thought.

With regards to Rep. Hochberg, I note that someone has been whispering into Burka‘s ear.

I haven’t discussed Hochberg’s plans with him, but I did hear from sources close to Sarah Davis that she expects Hochberg to move into her district and run against her.

I don’t know who his sources are and I don’t know who his sources’ sources are, but I do know that I have not heard anything like this from Democrats as yet. In fact, the reaction many of us had was that it was Rep. Vo who’d gotten the short end of the stick, since the HD137 drawn (in the original map, anyway; I can’t vouch for the revised map just yet) has more of Hochberg’s precincts in it than Vo’s. I personally thought Vo might be better off running against Rep. Jim Murphy in HD133, since as noted before it might be viable for him. Burka’s sources may be right and they may be wrong, I’m just saying that I’m not hearing the same buzz that he is.

Finally, a couple of stories from the Monitor and the Guardian about redistricting in South Texas and the disposition of Hidalgo County. I figure they wind up getting shafted again, which is to say business as usual.

UPDATE: The following was sent out by email from Karen Loper, Rep. Vo’s campaign manager, last night:

Message from Hubert Vo for help with redistricting

The Texas House Committee on Redistricting  has re-drawn the district lines of the State Representatives and  filed the plan as HB150.   District 149 which is Hubert Vo’s district has been eliminated.  Many of the  precincts in his district have been moved to other districts which breaks up the voting strength of all  ethnicities including the Vietnamese.  The only 3 current Vo precincts left after they move the others are combined with District 137.

Letters should be sent as soon as possible to the redistricting committee.  We have attached two sample letters to email or fax – one is for you to use if you live in District 149 and the other should be sent if you live somewhere else.  These letters will be used  for  the committee and also will be sent to the Department of Justice (DOJ) where the redistricting map must be approved .

All you have to do is date the letter and type in your name and address at the bottom.   You can make additions to the letter if you wish to do so. The letters should not argue the Democratic and Republican point because that is not part of the DOJ’s concerns.  You can email or fax the letter. The e-mail address and fax number are listed below.  PLEASE SEND A COPY TO HUBERT VO ALSO

SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

marc.veasey@house.state.tx.us or Fax (512) 463-1516

AND SEND A COPY TO:

hubert.vo@house.state.tx.us or Fax (512) 463-0548

Sample letters were included. You can see them here and here.

Howard declared the winner in HD48

At long last.

Rep. Donna Howard won the House District 48 seat by four votes over Republican Dan Neil, according to state Rep. Will Hartnett, R-Dallas. Hartnett was appointed to investigate their election after Neil challenged the results.

[…]

Hartnett’s recommendation goes now to a select committee chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, which in turn will make a recommendation to the full House. The House’s decision is final. Neil can, if he chooses, withdraw his appeal at any time.

During the four-day hearing, Neil’s lawyer, Joe Nixon, argued the margin of votes was too close to definitively declare a winner. Howard’s lawyer, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil could not request a recount just because he did not like the results.

Seven voters moved out of Travis County but did not change their address before voting in the election, Hartnett wrote in his recommendation. Hartnett opened four ballots during the course of the trial and did not count one of those votes because of ineffective registration, which left Howard’s margin of victory at four votes, he said.

The full report will be out later; I’ll link to it when I find it. I expect Neil to withdraw his challenge before this ever get to the House, as Talmadge Heflin did in 2005 after contesting his close loss to Rep. Hubert Vo. But who knows, he may draw it out further still.

One important point to note, from Patricia Kilday Hart:

Representative Will Hartnett, Master of Discovery for the Election Contest for Texas House District 48 releases the following statement:

“After a thorough review of the numerous challenged ballots, I have concluded that Donna Howard won the House District 48 election by 4 votes.

Voters who had moved out of Travis County without changing their voter registration and returned to vote in their former precinct caused a net subtraction of 7 votes from Ms. Howard’s margin of victory. Counting 4 unopened ballots subtracted a net of 2 votes from Ms. Howard’s margin.

Striking 1 vote by a voter who was not effectively registered added 1 vote to her margin.

I have seen no evidence of any voter fraud or of any substantial errors by any Travis County election official. My report will be released later this evening.”

Emphasis mine. Fraud, rampant fraud, was also alleged by Heflin in 2005, and it too turned out to be nothing. Be sure to remind your local teabagger of this the next time they rant about illegal immigrants stealing elections or whatever else the voices in their heads are telling them. A statement from Rep. Howard is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Senate stands down again

No vote on the rules till next week, so the 2/3 rule lives for a few more days.

In an hour-long caucus behind closed doors, Texas senators decided today to put off for a week a potentially acrimonious public debate over changing their rules. The discussion will occur next Wednesday, as Senate leaders had hinted yesterday.

In the meantime, the Senate will continue to operate under the rules it approved last session.

At issue: A proposal championed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to change a rule that requires two-thirds of senators to agree before a bill can be brought up for debate. Most senators say they favor leaving the rule as it is. Patrick insists the two-thirds rule thwarts debate on important issues — read that as ones that Republicans want to pass, and Democrats don’t.

Under the current rule, because the 12 Democrats constitute a third of the Senate, they can block debate on some issues.

As Trailblazers notes, the rules the Senate operated under last session allowed for voter ID legislation to be exempted from the two thirds rule. If the default is to simply use the previous rules, which I believe is the norm, then that’s what we’ll get this session as well. This is what I expect to happen, but we’ll see. Burka has more.

There was a little bit of House action to note:

Rep. Todd Hunter will now chair the select committee in charge of determining the HD 48 vote. After a recount, incumbent Democrat Donna Howard won by just 12 votes—a result challenged by opponent Dan Neil.

The rest of the committee: Eiland, who will serve as vice-chair, Kolkhorst, Giddings, Guillen, Bonnen, W. Smith, Madden, and Lewis. State Rep. Will Hartnett remains the master of discovery.

After the committee was read, Hunter took the floor to tell members to “be very careful in discussing this matter.” Members could inadvertently cause problems by discussing the controversy in casual conversation. The committee will ultimately issue a report on the challenge.

Hartnett’s discovery report is still the main thing. In 2005, once his report made it clear that Talmadge Heflin had no case in his contest against Rep. Hubert Vo, Heflin withdrew his challenge before the House voted on it; it may have been before the committee vote as well, I honestly don’t remember. Point being, the hope is that this committee winds up having little to do.

Neil files for election contest in HD48

I suppose this was inevitable.

Republican Dan Neil is continuing his challenge of state Rep. Donna Howard’s razor-thin election night victory with an appeal to the Texas House of Representatives.

Neil, who trailed Howard by 12 votes after a recount earlier this month, filed a contest of those results with the secretary of state late Monday afternoon, the deadline for such a challenge.

The decision now falls to the House members, who must either determine the clear winner based on the evidence or send it back to the voters.

House Speaker Joe Straus will soon appoint a representative to lead the investigation as well as a committee to hear to the case and make a recommendation to the full chamber.

The vote of the House is the final word.

The House last heard such a case after Republican Talmadge Heflin, a former powerful committee chairman, contested his loss to Democrat Hubert Vo in 2004, said Jeff Archer with the Texas Legislative Council . Heflin’s appeal did not clear the committee.

Neil maintains that, of the 51,500 ballots cast in the western Travis County district, some were mishandled or lost, a handful of legal votes were discounted, and more than 1,900 ineligible voters participated.

There were a couple of other contests filed in legislative races in 2004, and one in 2008, but all were dropped before they were heard by the House. From what I can tell, the last time that an election contest was upheld was after the 1980 election. It should be noted that even if Neil wins his challenge, that doesn’t mean he gets to be seated. According to Section 241.220 of the Elections Code, “In an election contest in which the election is declared void, the house or committee, as appropriate, shall include in its judgment an order directing the governor to order a new election.” In that 1980 case, the winner of the contest, who was a sitting Representative, lost the rematch election by a wide margin. Just something to keep in mind as we watch this unfold. My guess is that it’s more likely Neil withdraws his contest than he wins it, but we’ll see.

In the meantime, Howard has filed her response (called “special exceptions”) to Neil’s petition, which you can read here. Of interest, from the email that accompanied this:

“The level of detail in Mr. Neil’s petition does not match the seriousness of his claims. To demand the time and attention of the Legislature, I would have expected him to do more than just throw out a bunch of ideas to see what sticks,” said Howard.

The most notable deficiency was a vague reference to 1,900 ineligible voters. No specifics were given on who these voters are, whether or not they are registered to vote in House District 48, or whether or not they even voted in this election.

“The contestant in an election contest is required to provide specific information regarding the voters and votes in question. After reviewing what Mr. Neil has submitted, it is clear that he failed to perform the due diligence necessary to file a complete petition,” said Buck Wood who Howard has retained as her legal counsel.

Another puzzling allegation concerns those voters who live overseas, are eligible to vote only in federal elections, and cast a straight party vote. The contestant states that all of these ballots should be counted even though the voter wasn’t eligible to vote in the District 48 race.

“A closer inspection of these ballots reveals that Rep. Howard would have gained at least eight votes if straight ticket ballots from indefinite voters were tallied,” Wood said.

I haven’t seen Neil’s petition yet, but it is worth pointing out that there were some very specific claims of fraud made in the Heflin-Vo race of 2004. Most of them turned out to be bogus or unhelpful to Heflin’s cause, but they did identify specific voters whose ballots they said were invalid. One presumes Neil will either do the same or will drop the matter.

UPDATE: The Trib has more.

Howard still wins after recount in HD48

Her margin is margin is a bit smaller, but still greater than zero, and that’s what counts.

With the votes counted again, the Austin Democrat beat Republican challenger Dan Neil by just 12 votes, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said Thursday night.

Neil had called for the recount after Howard had been declared the winner of the Nov. 2 election by just 16 votes of more than 51,000 cast in northwestern Travis County’s District 48.

In the end, only a few mistakes were found — all of which were on paper ballots — and there were not enough discrepancies to change the outcome of the election, officials said.

Howard said she wasn’t surprised by the outcome but nevertheless was happy to put the recount behind her.

“I’m glad to have a final outcome that is actually final,” she said. “The work of the district continues.”

Before the results were announced Thursday, Neil sent out a news release complaining that the clerk’s office didn’t properly count several overseas ballots.

But DeBeauvoir said Neil’s concerns were unfounded.

That’s likely to be the end of it, though Neil may file for an election contest. There’s been at least one of those filed for the past few elections, with only the Heflin-Vo contest actually making it to the point of being investigated. My guess is if one is filed it will go nowhere, too.

Thibaut versus Murphy, third time around

We know that the story of HD133, which has now been won twice by Jim Murphy and once by Kristi Thibaut, is one of turnout. With sufficient turnout in the Democratic part of the district – that is, the precincts in Rep. Al Green’s CD09 – it’s a Democratic district. With dominant turnout in the Republican part of the district – the precincts in Rep. John Culberson’s CD07 – it’s a Republican district. How did things look this year?


CD07 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1483    64.37    1145    285   19.93      -860
356     1456    51.02     978    425   30.29      -553
395     1064    59.64     782    240   23.48      -542
437     1195    60.38     892    270   23.24      -622
438     1132    63.52     879    213   19.51      -666
483     1856    43.85    1075    700   39.44      -375
492     1214    48.39     790    400   33.61      -390
493      962    53.47     696    235   25.24      -461
499     1498    65.56    1146    311   21.35      -835
504     1363    60.82     991    346   25.88      -645
625      990    53.40     646    314   32.71      -332
626     1231    43.22     731    455   38.36      -276
706      213    40.19     130     78   37.50       -52
727      764    31.48     265    466   63.75       201

Total 18,369    50.44  11,146  4,738   29.83    -6,408


CD09 - 2010

Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
96       323    26.22      38     274  87.82       236
338     1561    33.85     498    1001  66.78       503
429     1142    27.93     278     819  74.66       541
487      966    30.35     340     582  63.12       242
503      402    28.71     131     246  65.25       115
508     1179    36.71     397     728  64.71       431
559     1449    32.14     433     940  68.46       507
565      752    22.49     120     597  83.26       477
620     1948    39.05    1103     783  41.52      -320
765     1335    34.83     608     681  52.83        73

Total 11,057    32.14   3,946   6,651  62.76     2,705

The good news from Thibaut’s perspective is that turnout was up in her good precincts by quite a bit over 2006. The bad news is that it was also up in the bad precincts for her. Both did a little better percentage-wise in their strong areas, with Murphy doing a little better than Thibaut at improving the base rate. In the end, Murphy’s margin was larger in absolute terms than it was in 2006, but slightly smaller in relative terms. That’s not a whole lot of comfort, but given what a wave this was for Republicans, it makes Thibaut’s showing look more respectable.

I wondered what the result might have been in a somewhat more normal year. Out of curiosity, I applied the turnout and voter percentage rates from 2006 to all of the CD07 districts, and left the CD09 districts as they were for this year. This is how it looks in CD07 based on that:


Pcnct  Votes  Turnout  Murphy Thibaut  T Pct  T Margin
======================================================
130     1246    54.09     924     322  25.85      -602
356     1128    39.51     756     371  32.94      -385
395      880    49.32     626     253  28.81      -373
437      997    50.39     748     249  24.98      -499
438      975    54.71     731     244  25.03      -487
483     1464    34.58     873     591  40.35      -282
492      917    36.55     610     307  33.47      -303
493      818    45.46     577     240  29.40      -337
499     1237    54.15     911     326  26.38      -585
504     1153    51.47     797     357  30.93      -440
625      830    44.75     517     313  37.69      -404
626     1049    36.83     611     438  41.72      -173
706      175    33.09     108      68  38.69       -40
727      484    19.96     198     287  59.20        89

      13,354    42.49   8,987   4,366  32.70    -4,621
                       12,933  11,107  46.38           

That last row represents what the total numbers would have been. The overall turnout rate, and Thibaut’s percentage of the vote, are each a bit different than what I showed in the original post for 2006 because I apparently just averaged the percentages back then, instead of adding the actual vote and voter numbers and figuring it out from there. My bad. Anyway, what this shows is that this district was always going to be a tough hold, but was at least within hailing distance of a win under more normal circumstances. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens here in the 2011 redistricting. One obvious “fix” would be to shift some of those CD09 precincts to Hubert Vo’s HD149, while moving some CD07 precincts from there to here. That shores up Murphy while acknowledging that if the Republicans couldn’t take out Vo in 2008 with his apartment issues and a strong candidate opposing him, and they couldn’t take him out in this hundred-year-flood year, they’re not likely to ever take him out. We’ll see about that.

For those who might wonder about Bill White’s ability to attract crossover votes, I should note that he lost this district by all of 15 votes. Here’s how the other statewide candidates who had Democratic opponents did this year and in 2006:


Incumbent   2006%   2010%   06 margin  10 margin
================================================
Dewhurst    62.30   58.94       4,952      4,645
Abbott      63.43   60.33       5,456      5,436
Patterson   59.84   59.03       3,902      4,656
Staples     59.27   58.18       3,688      4,197

Dewhurst and Abbott saw their percentages drop as much as they did because their margins were smaller with more votes being cast. Patterson and to a lesser extent Staples were helped by the increase in straight ticket voting, as both of them had a higher undervote rate in 2006 than in 2010. If you’re curious, you can see how the first three candidates did in 2002 here, on page 131.

Here comes the late money

The 8 days out finance reports are in, and it’s about what you’d expect.

Millions of dollars poured into Texas legislative campaigns during the past month as interest groups tried to maximize their influence and partisans readied for the upcoming fight over the redrawing of House and Senate districts.

Those millions, predominantly from business owners and trial lawyers, have allowed candidates in the Austin area and across the state to clog the television airwaves with their closing pitches before Tuesday’s election.

“Money flows late because late money follows the races that are being run effectively,” said Republican consultant Ted Delisi. “Because we have two weeks of early voting and we have a lot of polling, you can understand which campaigns are gaining traction and which ones aren’t, so you’re not betting blindly.”

Big-dollar donors and interest groups also give late so that the donors themselves don’t become lightning rods in the campaigns. Candidates did not have to publicly disclose contributions they received after Sept. 23 until Monday, when early voting was more than halfway over.

“The general consensus among operatives is, it’s too late to do anything with it,” Delisi said. “The election is 30 to 35 percent over right now.”

Yeah, this is the time to do the stuff you’re least proud of, because the potential for blowback decreases greatly with each passing day. There’s stuff about particular races in that story, and the DMN and EoW have more. As I didn’t see anything specific to Harris County, I figured I’d spot check a few races here to see who’s getting what. Here are the amounts raised since the 30 day reports:

Kristi Thibaut, $119,649
Jim Murphy, $172,222

Ellen Cohen, $100,279
Sarah Davis, $69,116

Dwayne Bohac, $113,955
Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, $36,815

Ken Legler, $178,299
Rick Molina, $85,969

Legler also collected $184,885 as of the 30 days out report after only taking in $82,135 for the first six months of the year. I’ve heard a rumble or two that he’s in a tighter race than originally thought. Make of this what you will.

Hubert Vo, $109,135
Jack O’Connor, $183,938

O’Connor is a great example of how the late money train works. Almost $170,000 of that total comes from five sources:

– Associated Republicans of Texas Campaign Fund, $40,000 cash
– Conservative Republicans of Texas, approximately $35,000 in kind
– Republican Party of Texas, $23,000 cash plus another $2,066 in kind
– Robert Rowling of Irving, TN (that’s Tennessee, not Texas), $25,000 cash
– Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, $40,000 cash plus $2,300 in kind

All for a guy who had raised about $65,000 on his own all year. He’s not the only one, of course – Legler got $125,000 from Speaker Straus. Murphy got a lot of assorted PAC money plus $25,000 from the Republican Party of Texas Texas Victory State Account plus a $9200 mailer from the RPT, $20,000 from Bob Perry, $10,500 from three members of the Trammel Crow family in Dallas, and $10,000 from TLR. Bohac also got help from the Speaker, $25,000 worth. I didn’t notice any other donations larger than $5K for him, nor did I see anything of the magnitude noted here for Davis. Again, draw your own conclusions about who sees what opportunities and threats.

Finally, on a tangential note, one unfamiliar name I saw in four of the five Republican reports (all but O’Connor) was a Curtis Mewbourne, of Mewbourne Oil, who handed out 16 donations of $5K each to various legislative candidates (plus a $75K gift to David Dewhurst) since September 24, all but two (incumbents Joe Heflin and Mark Homer) to Republicans. I note his name for future reference, since you know that sooner or later there’ll be some pro quo for all that quid.

Fundraising: Harris County State Reps

I’ve collected fundraising reports for Harris County State Rep races of interest; they’re all beneath the fold. Here are the highlights:

– In the rubber match between State Rep. Kristi Thibaut in HD133 and former State Rep. Jim Murphy, Thibaut has a slight lead in fundraising – she collected $116K to Murphy’s $112K – and cash on hand, $150K to $125K. I’m actually a little surprised there wasn’t more money raised in this race, but I figure by the time it’s all done at least double the amount raised so far will have been hauled in.

– Ellen Cohen has a commanding lead over Sarah Davis. Cohen took in $230K and has $265K on hand. Davis collected $54K, but thanks to a total of $114K in loans, all coming from Kent and Edie Adams beginning with the January 15 reporting period, she has $103K on hand.

– In HD138, Kendra Yarbrough Camarena did well, raising $106K, with $120K on hand. Dwayne Bohac clearly wasn’t taking any chances, as he raked in $201K, with $228K on hand.

– Possibly the biggest surprise was in HD144, where challenger Rick Molina out-raised first-term incumbent Ken Legler, $92K to $82K, and also held more cash, $23,597 to $11,545. It’s not clear to me why Molina’s COH figure isn’t higher, since he only spent $36K; Legler spent almost as much as he raised, $81K in all.

– As of last night, the reports for Hubert Vo and Jack O’Connor in HD149 were not available. According to the explanation, “the Ethics Commission may not make a report filed with the Commission available on the Internet unless all candidates and related specific-purpose political committees in a race have filed. To date, all reports in this race have not been filed. Therefore, this report is not currently viewable.” Note that there is a Libertarian candidate in this race as well. I’ll add these reports to the post when I find them.

As I said, other races of interest are posted below. Overall, I’d say the Democratic candidates have done a good job, with Republicans other than Legler and his puzzling cash shortage in decent shape, too. With no Congressional races of interest, and the County Judge race not evenly matched early on, these may be the highest profile contests in the county this year.

UPDATE: Vo and O’Connor’s totals are in. Vo raised $15K and has $37K on hand. He’s always done some self-funding, and has $95K in loans outstanding. O’Connor took in $12K and has $6500 on hand, but those numbers are a bit misleading. $10K of O’Connor’s contributions were two $5K in-kind donations, each for a month’s rent. He also reported $6K in a loan to himself on his detailed report, but for some odd reason that didn’t show up in the summary.

(more…)

High school registrars

We know that the Republicans like voter ID. We shouldn’t be too surprised that they don’t much like voter registration.

[The House] barely passed a bill Monday night that would allow high school principals to appoint four deputy registrars to help 18-year-old students sign up to vote.

The bill passed, 73-72, before a roll-call verification vote to make sure all members had properly voted. The verified vote was 72-70 for the bill. However, the outcome could change during a final vote on Tuesday.

All 70 opposition votes came from Republicans.

“You are taking a principal and directing them to register voters. We know in some school districts that will be done in a very partisan fashion,” Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, said.

Texas ranks behind 41 other states when it comes to registering 18-to-24-year-olds.

HB 1654 would require each high school principal to designate four people as deputy registrars. The four deputies could be either employees of the high school or employees of the school district in which the high school was located and who were serving at the high school. At least three of the four would have to be classroom teachers or certified full-time counselors.

All GOP members of the Elections Committee voted for the bill in committee. But only Elections Chairman Todd Smith, R-Bedford, and Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, voted for it on the floor.

One Democrat, Rep. Tracy King of Eagle Pass, voted against it; unclear to me what his deal was with it. The bill passed yesterday on final reading 75-71, with the difference being a function of fewer absent members.

Of course, given the narrow passage and partisanized nature of this bill, it seems unlikely to get through the Senate. Add that to the failure of Rep. Vo’s measures to allow those who turn 18 between March and November to vote in the primaries to make it out of committee, and Republicans can relax. It won’t be any easier for the kids to vote in 2010 than it is now.

Dems versus Vasquez

Looks like we’re not ready to make nice with the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office over their handling of voter registration last year.

Any honeymoon between Democrats and the new Harris County voter registrar ended suddenly today.

Democratic state Reps. Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez of Houston said Leo Vasquez, who is tax assessor-collector and voter registration chief, is responsible for staffers who allegedly misled state legislators considering whether to require voters to offer more proof of identification before casting ballots.

“It is up to (Vasquez) to clean up his office,” Coleman and Hernandez said in a news media handout. “Otherwise, Leo needs to go.”

[…]

Vasquez, saying he is running the registration agency without regard to politics and will not join the GOP frontlines, since has expanded voter registration efforts and hired a Democrat to help with community outreach.

He said today that testimony in Austin last week on the “voter ID” bill by voter registration staffers George Hammerlein and Ed Johnson was no partisan move. The pair, called to testify by Republican lawmakers, took no position on the bill and provided facts as requested, Vasquez said.

Coleman and Hernandez never have taken their concerns to him, Vasquez said, and they owe his staffers an apology for making baseless allegations.

The Democrats today zeroed in on Hammerlein’s legislative testimony, several hours into hearing that ran past midnight, that thousands of Harris County residents who registered to vote on time were not eligible to participate in early voting two weeks later because they applied relatively late.

Hammerlein acknowledged today that his statement was wrong and said it was due to the strange hour rather than any attempt to mislead the Legislature.

I’ve reprinted the press release beneath the fold, and a copy of the doc that spelled out the allegations against Hammerlein and Johnson is here. I’ve been hearing some grumbling about the way things have been run at the Tax Assessor’s office, in particular complaints about being told that deputy registrars could not deliver new registration forms to annex offices. That turned out to be a case of miscommunication between the head office and the annexes. Perhaps that’s to be expected with a change in command, but it wasn’t a good first impression and it didn’t help alleviate any of the lingering mistrust left over from the Bettencourt days. It’s not surprising, given the stakes in the voter ID fight, that Vasquez isn’t being cut any slack. Stace has more.

Meanwhile, immigration attorney and former Houston City Council member Gordon Quan has an op-ed about voter ID and the Betty Brown incident.

While some will argue that this increases the integrity of the ballot, in reality, voter ID requirements have been overwhelmingly shown to disproportionately disenfranchise older Americans, individuals with disabilities, low income and homeless people, students, married women, minorities and most poignantly, those who, for cultural reasons, may have differing names on differing identification documents. According to the nation’s largest exit poll of Asian Americans, nearly 70 percent of Asian voters were asked for ID at the polls — in states where no ID was required!

Voter ID requirements put an inordinate amount of discretion in the hands of already overworked poll workers. Our state and county election offices already find themselves constantly struggling to find the resources to adequately train poll workers and to recruit diverse poll workers who are versed in every possible cultural circumstance that they may encounter. This legislation would take precious funds away from those programs as well as from real priorities such as transportation and education. As evidenced by this episode with Brown and the Elections Committee, even individuals as well versed in the law as they are were unable to understand the complexities associated with Asian names as they relate to voting. Just imagine the difficulty a poll worker would have and how they could easily not allow an eligible voter even with a valid voter registration card to vote.

If you want to discuss this issue in more detail, there will be a conference call Thursday night with Ramey Ko, US Rep. Mike Honda, State Rep. Hubert Vo, Mini Timmaraju of the Asian American Democrats of Texas, and others. The AAA Fund blog has the details. You can submit a question for Ramey Ko ahead of time, but you must RSVP to join the call, so click over for the info if you’re interested.

UPDATE: Vince has more on Hammerlein’s testimony.

The primaries matter, too

A whole lot of people voted for the first time last November, and a whole lot of people voted in the March primaries, too. But some number of the former were ineligible for the latter because they turned 18 between March and November. State Rep. Hubert Vo thinks they should have been able to both, and he’s introduced a bill to that effect.

The Houston Democrat is the author of House Bill 513, which, if the Legislature approves and Gov. Rick Perry signs into law, would allow 17-year-old Texans to vote in the primaries, providing they would be 18 by no later than the day of the general election.

“A lot of young people are highly motivated to vote, and we should make it easier for them to get involved in the political process,” Vo said. “This would make our democracy stronger.”

Section 13.001 of the Texas Election Code makes it clear that besides basic requirements such as being a U.S. citizen and mentally competent, “to be eligible to apply for a registration, a person must, on the date the registration application is submitted to the registrar, be at least 17 years and 10 months of age.”

However, since the registration deadline is usually two months before the election, this means that by the time new voters cast their ballots they’ll be 18.

[…]

If Vo’s bill were to become law, Texas would become the 12th state to allow 17-year-olds to vote in the primaries, said Tom Intorcio, policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut was the last state to do in November when voters approved the proposal. Oregon allows 17-year-olds to register, but they can’t vote until they are 18.

“One can make the general observation that there has been an intent in a number of states to engage youth in political process and promote political participation,” Intorcio said. “And this is one method or approach.”

[…]

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, vice chairman of the [House Elections Committee]. “It encourages participation among young people.”

But Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton, said he is not sold on the idea.

“I need to take a good look at it,” Heflin said. “You need to draw the line somewhere, and right now the law is pretty clear that you have to be 18 before you can vote. I am not sure we should start making some exceptions.”

I guess I don’t see how this is an exception. Primaries are elections, too, they just happen to be held in March instead of November. In some counties, the primary for one party or the other is more important than the general, at least for local races, because of that county’s partisan makeup. Hell, that was the case in Harris County for over a decade. I don’t see any reason why someone who will be eligible to vote in the November general election should be barred from voting in the March primary. There’s no substantive difference between the two.

Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, said he’s not sure Vo’s bill is needed.

“Do you trust a 17-year-old to vote?” asked Isett, who has a son that age.

Why not? More to the point, what makes them suddenly trustworthy the day they turn 18? Some people remain knuckleheads well past that milestone, others are more mature than most adults well before it. We trust them to drive, and that requires a lot more responsibility than voting. I don’t quite get the heartburn over this. Eighteen is an arbitrary number, used as a cutoff for some things and not for others. Defining that cutoff in terms of March and not November isn’t going to cause a crack in the foundation of our democracy.

Having said that, I don’t see any chance of this happening. Maybe as a straight-up law it might have a prayer, but this actually requires a constitutional amendment; HB 513 is the enabling legislation for HJR 34. I can envision majority support for this, but not two-thirds. Still, I hope it at least gets a floor debate, if only to see if there are better arguments against it out there.