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Jason Isaac

Opinions differ about Congressional prospects

I’m gonna boil this one down a bit.

Todd Litton

Moments before the polls closed in Virginia’s Democratic sweep, Houston-area Republican Ted Poe, across the Potomac River on Capitol Hill, announced his retirement in 2018 after 14 years in Congress.

Poe cast his move Tuesday night as a personal decision: “You know when it’s time to go,” he told the Chronicle. “And it’s time to go, and go back to Texas on a full-time basis.”

But a wave of retirement announcements from Texas Republicans in both Congress and the Legislature already had sparked a lot of speculation that the pendulum of power might swing against the GOP, even possibly to some degree in a deep red state like Texas.

Poe and other Republicans dismissed that notion, arguing that their prospects in 2018 are strong, particularly in the Senate, where 10 Democratic incumbents face the voters in states won by President Donald Trump.

Democrats, however, celebrated Ralph Northam’s victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s hard-fought governor’s race as the start of an anti-Trump wave that could only grow as the president’s approval ratings continue to sink.

However coincidental, Poe’s announcement – following those of Texas U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson – seemed to add to the buzz.

[…]

Democratic hopeful Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive in Poe’s district, has raised more than $256,000 for the race, outpacing Poe’s fundraising in the three-month period between April and June.

Poe, however, called the suggestion that he is running away from a tough reelection “nonsense.” He noted that he won reelection last year with 61 percent of the vote, a substantially better showing than Trump, who won 52 percent of the district’s vote for president.

“I don’t appeal to people on the party label,” said Poe, a former teacher, prosecutor and judge. “I appeal based on who I am.”

[…]

David Crockett, a political scientist at San Antonio’s Trinity University, said the question lingering after Virginia’s election results: Is this the beginning of something different?

“Texas is still pretty red, but the result of all these retirements could be opportunity for a Democrat in the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s always easier for an opposition party to pick off an open seat … but I still think we’re a decade away from any significant change.”

Texas Democrats, for the most part, have their sights set on Hurd, Sessions and Culberson, whose districts went to Clinton in 2016. Recent internal polling also has bolstered their hopes of flipping the suburban San Antonio district where Smith is retiring.

Around Houston, it would take a pretty big wave for Poe’s 2nd Congressional District to fall into the Democratic column, but in the current political climate, some analysts say, who knows?

“I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas and bet on it,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria. “But every election cycle, there’s always one or two districts where you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ Maybe the 2nd would be that district.”

CDs 02 and 21 were more Democratic in 2016 than they were in 2012, and the retirements of Ted Poe and Lamar Smith will make them at least a little harder to defend in 2018 than they would have been. They’re not in the same class as CDs 07, 23, and 32, but a sufficient wave could make them competitive. Another factor to keep in mind is who wins the Republican primaries to try to hold them? Some candidates will be tougher than others, and in this day and age it’s hardly out of the question that the winner in one of these primaries could be some frothing Trump-or-die type that no one has heard of who might have trouble raising money and turn voters off.

There’s another point to consider, which is that some of the candidates who run for these now-open Congressional seats may themselves be holding seats that would be more vulnerable without an incumbent to defend them. For instance, State Rep. Jason Issac has announced his candidacy in CD21. Isaac’s HD45 went for Trump by less than five points and with under 50% of the vote; it was typically more Republican at the downballot level, but still shifted a bit towards the Dems from 2012 to 2016. Erin Zwiener is the Democratic challenger in HD45. As for CD02, it is my understanding that State Rep. Kevin Roberts, the incumbent in HD126, is looking at CD02. HD126 was about as Republican in 2016 as CD02 was, so if Roberts changes races that will open up another Republican-favored-but-not-solid seat. We’ll know more when the filings come in, but that’s what I’d keep my eye on. Candidates matter, and the Dems have been rounding them up for months now. Republicans are just getting started in these districts. They have less margin for error.

Lamar Smith to retire

Good riddance.

Rep. Lamar Smith

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio said Tuesday he is retiring from Congress.

“For several reasons, this seems like a good time to pass on the privilege of representing the 21st District to someone else,” he wrote in an email obtained by the Tribune. “… With over a year remaining in my term, there is still much to do. There is legislation to enact, dozens of hearings to hold and hundreds of votes to cast.”

Smith, a San Antonio native, received his undergraduate degree from Yale and attended law school at Southern Methodist University. He was elected to Congress in 1987 and represents a district that spans Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country. He is the current chairman of the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Like U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the House Financial Services chairman who announced his retirement on Tuesday, Smith faced a term-limit in that role.

[…]

Speculation immediately began among Texas GOP insiders about who could succeed Smith in his seat. Names included state Reps. Jason Isaac and Lyle Larson, and Austin City Councilwoman Ellen Troxclair.

State Sen. Donna Campbell’s name was also put in play. A spokesman for Campbell said she “will carefully and prayerfully consider what is best for her and the district.”

Austin-based communications consultant Jenifer Sarver, a Republican, confirmed that she’s “taking a serious look” at running for the seat.

The question on many insider’s minds is whether retiring state House Speaker Joe Straus would consider a run, but sources close to him said Thursday he is not interested.

Smith’s 21st Congressional District runs from South Austin along the west side of I-35 into San Antonio and extends westward into the Hill Country. The district was drawn to be a safe Republican seat, but there is a competitive Democratic primary this year with viable fundraising candidates. One of the Democratic challengers, veteran Joe Kopser, raised more funds than Smith in the last quarter.

Democrats have argued for weeks that if more Republicans retire, they have a better shot at those open-seat races.

Is this one of those races? It’s too soon to tell, Democratic sources around the Capitol told the Tribune.

This district would be incredibly difficult to dislodge, but perhaps not as hard as a lift as a conservative East Texas bastion such as Hensarling’s seat. Democrats will prioritize dozens of other seat before they spend on this one, situated in the expensive Austin and San Antonio markets.

The early read from Democrats in Washington: It would have to be an absolutely toxic environment for the GOP next year for this seat to flip.

Let’s be clear: Lamar Smith is terrible. Not just for his longstanding enmity towards the environment, which the story covered, but also for his equally longstanding hostility towards immigration. Of the names mentioned as potential Republican candidates to replace him, only Donna Campbell is clearly worse. That said, it is hard to beat an incumbent, and his departure ought to make the path a tad bit easier for someone like Joseph Kopser. CD21 was red in 2016, but not as red as it has been. Trump carried it 51.9 to 42.1, while Mike Keasler on the CCA won it 56.7 to 38.1. In 2012, it was 59.8 to 37.9 for Mitt Romney and 58.6 to 36.6 for Sharon Keller. Whether that’s enough to draw national attention is another question, but adding Smith’s name to the pile of leavers does help further the “abandon ship” narrative. I only wish he had done so sooner. ThinkProgress, which goes deeper on Smith’s extreme pro-pollution record, has more.

Third time for Tesla

If at first (and second) you don’t succeed

Tesla is not giving up at the Texas Capitol. In fact, it’s getting more ambitious.

Instead of looking to create any kind of carve-out that favors the high-end electric car maker, legislation filed Friday would simply allow any vehicle manufacturer to sell directly to Texans — bypassing the middleman dealers — in Tesla’s biggest challenge yet to a longstanding state ban on the practice.

The proposal “will allow manufacturers of vehicles any weight, class, size or shape to sell direct to consumers,” said state Rep. Jason Isaac, the Dripping Springs Republican who filed the legislation in the House. “It’s a simple, free-market bill to allow that to happen.”

State Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, is carrying the legislation in the upper chamber. He and Isaac filed their bills, Senate Bill 2093 and House Bill 4236, on Friday with hours to go until the deadline to submit legislation for the biennial session.

[…]

Dealerships have long argued the Texas direct-sales ban protects customers by ensuring that they have locations where they can buy cars across the state, not just in highly populated cities where manufacturers, if given the chance to sell directly, might otherwise set up shop. The opposition to such legislation also has an ally in Gov. Greg Abbott, who said after the 2015 session that Texas’ automobile sector seems to be “working quite well the way that it is.”

“Tesla’s legislation seeks to unravel the entire franchised dealer system in Texas, in favor of direct sales of motor vehicles by a manufacturer,” Texas Automobile Dealers Association president Bill Wolters said in a statement Friday. “SB 2093 and the reduced competition it will bring about in the new vehicle sales and service market will come at the expense of Texans and Texas.”

“No other vehicle manufacturer is seeking to change the law, and Tesla doesn’t need to either,” Wolters added.

For Isaac, the issue goes beyond Tesla. He recalled having something of an epiphany after recently touring an Amazon facility in Texas and seeing robots zip around with pallets: What if similar technology could one day be used to haul containers up and down the state’s highways?

“I really believe in the next 10 to 20 years we are going to see a complete change in our transportation system,” Isaac said, “and the last thing I want is any barrier to that technology being available.”

See here for previous Tesla blogging. I side with them on this, though as before I don’t expect them to overcome the resistance to their business model. (Neither does bill author Rep. Isaac, but I agree with his assertion that it’s worth having the conversation.) I love how Greg Abbott has sided with the legacy system here. It’s an apt summation of his vision and purpose. Anyway, as with driverless cars, this has been going on since 2013. It’s beginning to feel like a tradition making note of these bills each session. I just hope it’s a tradition that eventually has an end.

What makes a Texas wine?

Texas grapes, obviously. Or maybe not so obviously.

Rep. Jason Isaac

Chris Brundrett sat in a barn surrounded by barrels of wine he helped curate and swirled a glass of water in his hand, perhaps imagining it was something else.

Brundrett, accompanied by others from the state’s wine industry, drove home his pitch: “If we can just pump out wine from California and slap a picture of the Alamo or a longhorn on it and sell it,” he said, should wineries be able to put a “made in Texas” label on it?

A co-owner and winemaker at William Chris Vineyards between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, Brundrett was explaining why he backed House Bill 1514 by state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, which would require that wines with a Texas label be made only with Texas-grown grapes.

Under federal law, wine can have an appellation of origin from a state if a minimum 75 percent of its grapes are grown in that state. The other 25 percent can come from anywhere.

“I believe having something labeled as Texas should be from Texas,” Isaac told the Tribune, adding that his bill would encourage more Texas grape production.

Last year Texas produced about 3.8 million gallons of wine, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the state had more than 400 active permits to bottle, produce and sell wine. A separate study in 2015 found the wine industry contributed more than $2 billion to the state’s economy.

Grape growers and vineyard owners are scattered on the labeling issue. Paul Bonarrigo, co-owner of Messina Hof Winery, the state’s third-largest wine producer in 2016, said he was opposed to the measure, and the Texas Wine and Grape Growers Association said they don’t back Isaac’s bill, either.

[…]

Back at the Capitol, Isaac said that while 100 percent Texas wine was the goal, some in the industry contend that it might be too challenging to use only Texas grapes by September when the bill would go into effect if passed.

Isaac said he would look into offering an amended version of HB 1514 that would phase in the change, with benchmarks at 80 or 90 percent before requiring 100 percent Texas grapes. Isaac also said his bill would allow the Texas Department of Agriculture to allow exceptions to the threshold if severe weather or drought damaged state grape crops.

I don’t have any particular objection to this bill, though I think the federal 75/25 standard is perfectly adequate. Surely there’s some value in giving the wineries a bit of slack in a bad year. As long as there is a standard that everyone can accept and it is fairly enforced, I’m okay with whatever.

Pot bills get their own post

They got their own story in the Trib, so why not their own post.

Zonker

Texas lawmakers across the state say they want leniency in how the state prosecutes marijuana crimes. In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith Monday, State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said he thinks the Legislature could decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana next year, especially after several states did so on Election Day.

“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” said Isaac, whose district encompasses Texas State University. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”

Isaac added that last session he was approached by state Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, who asked Isaac to sign on to a decriminalization bill but didn’t because he “didn’t feel like it was the time.” During the interview Monday, however, Isaac said “it is the time now” and publicly pledged to sign on and work to get a bill passed that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.

Among the Texas proposals that have been filed thus far:

  • House Bill 58 by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders based on the principle that first-time defendants are often self-correcting. The measure is intended to conserve law enforcement and corrections resources, White said in a news release.
  • State Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 81, which aims to replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $250. The bill also allows Texans to avoid arrest and possible jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Moody authored a similar bill during the previous legislative session; it did not pass.
  • State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, filed House Bill 82, which aims to classify a conviction for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor instead of Class B. However, if a person is convicted three times, it would revert back to a Class B misdemeanor. Dutton co-authored a similar bill last session with Moody.
  • State Sen. José Rodríguez filed Senate Joint Resolution 17, which would allow voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized in Texas, following the pattern of a number of states.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 18, also authored by Rodríguez, would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use if recommended by a health care provider. “It is long past time we allow the people to decide,” Rodríguez said in a statement.
  • Rodríguez also filed Senate Bill 170, which would change possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.

Some of this is a continuation of efforts from 2015, some of it is in recognition of the multiple pro-decriminalization referenda that passed in other states, and some of it is from the desire to save a few pennies on law enforcement and criminal justice. I don’t care about the motive, I applaud the direction. As was the case in 2015, the main (though not only) obstacle is likely to be Greg Abbott, who was not interested in anything more than the meager cannobinoid oil bill that passed during that session. Typically, Abbott has had nothing to say about whether he remains firmly anti-pot or not. We’ll have to see what the lobbyists can do with him. For those of you who want to see changes, these are the bills to follow for now.

Rep. Isaac asks FTC to step in on Austin rideshare regulations

Seriously?

Rep. Jason Isaac

State Rep. Jason Isaac has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Austin’s rules for ride-hailing companies, raising concerns that the city’s “burdensome regulations” are anti-competitive.

In the letter dated June 7, Isaac said he thought the city “erected a pernicious barrier to competition” through its rules, which have become a point of contention in the statewide discussion about which layer of government should ultimately regulate the industry.

“I think this turned into an immature battle that left some people really scared and things were done out of a vindictive nature,” Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said in an interview Thursday. “I personally believe that this is anti-competitive in nature, but I want to ask the FTC if they think it’s anti-competitive.”

[…]

In his letter, Isaac suggested the Austin City Council knew adopting the fingerprinting ordinance would spur Uber and Lyft to leave the city and, in turn, would “return the marketplace” to taxi companies.

“Despite knowing the ramifications of their vote, the Council added burdensome regulations and put the city at risk,” Isaac wrote.

Jason Stanford, a spokesman for Adler, said the city wants to have ride-hailing services.

“Nothing we’ve done would prevent Uber and Lyft from operating now in Austin just as before, and they are welcome to come back at any time,” he said in a statement. “All such companies operating here would be entitled to receive the same kinds of support and encouragement.”

You can read Rep. Isaac’s letter to the FTC here. Putting aside the absurdity of a Tea Party legislator calling in the Federal Government to intervene in a local matter – does Rep. Isaac want someone to pin a “Primary me!” sign on his back? – there’s the small matter of ridesharing startups sprouting in Austin like bluebonnets in March since the Prop 1 vote and subsequent Uber/Lyft pullout. How terrible can these regulations be if new options keep appearing in Austin (here’s another one!) seemingly every week? I pity the poor FTC official who will have to reply to this silliness with a straight face.

Why only Wal-Mart?

Wal-Mart stands to benefit from legislation that would change how retail liquor licenses are granted, but some potential competitors would not.

While two state lawmakers recently filed legislation that would allow retail giant Wal-Mart and other public corporations to sell hard liquor in Texas, the proposed bills maintain provisions that would prevent grocery chains H-E-B and Whole Foods from joining the competition.

The state’s alcoholic beverage code currently prohibits publicly traded companies, such as Wal-Mart, Costco and Target, from selling spirits here. But House Bill 1225 and Senate Bill 609 would eliminate that prohibition and remove a cap on the number of liquor stores one company can operate.

However, those bills would continue to ban operators with mixed-beverage permits or permits for on-site wine and beer consumption from enjoying the same access to the state’s lucrative liquor market.

H-E-B and Whole Foods, both based in Texas, currently hold both those permits and so would remain in the excluded category.

As of Tuesday, it was unclear whether the bills could be amended to include H-E-B and Whole Foods without opening the door to bottled liquor sales at other establishments – for example bars and restaurants – that operate with similar permits.

State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, introduced HB 1225 last month, but said he was unaware the bill’s language wouldn’t benefit H-E-B or Whole Foods. And Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, who filed companion legislation in the Senate, confirmed his office has started researching the issue.

“This concern has been brought to our attention by several retailers, and we are looking into ways to address this issue,” Hancock wrote in an email.

See here and here for the background. I’m okay with changing the law as it now stands, but not like this. Either open it up to all, or don’t bother. A supermarket shouldn’t have to choose between having an in-store cafe and being able to sell booze. This should not be that hard.

Wal-Mart booze update

The Lege gets involved.

One week after Wal-Mart sued the state for the right to sell hard liquor, two Texas lawmakers and a new coalition of businesses are taking the same fight to the Capitol.

Wal-Mart, Kroger and the Texas Association of Business on Wednesday helped birth a new nonprofit group calling itself Texans for Consumer Freedom to push for laws allowing publicly traded corporations like Wal-Mart and Kroger to own and operate liquor stores. Public companies are barred from the Texas booze market by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission — an arbitrary exclusion from the free market, group members say.

“Free markets transcend any individual retailers whether they’re publicly or privately held,” said Travis Thomas, a spokesman who helped form Texans for Consumer Freedom. “It should be open to everybody to compete.”

Bills filed this week by state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and state Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would repeal parts of the alcohol code that exclude publicly traded corporations and limit the number of liquor stores a company can own.

If the bills pass, grocery stores that want to sell hard alcohol would still be required to do so in a separate building with its own entrance.

“This does not mean that publicly traded companies are going to be selling spirits next to bread and candy,” said Scott Dunaway, another spokesman with Texans for Consumer Freedom.

See here for the background. The bills in question are HB1225 and SB609. Texas law also limits a single owner to five liquor stores, though immediate family members can consolidate permits under a single company. Normally, I’d make fun of a big business-fronted group name like “Texans for Consumer Freedom”, but I don’t have any particular objection to the goal of updating this part of the alcohol code. It’s not a remnant of Prohibition, as Ross’ comment on my previous post notes, but it doesn’t make any sense as it stands now. We’ll see if they get any traction or if this will be a multi-session affair. In the meantime, RG Ratcliffe asks a darned good question.

Cut education now, pay later?

That’s the question for Republican legislators, isn’t it?

GOP legislators didn’t budge this session from their commitment to reduce Texas’ education spending even in the face of protests, negative ad campaigns and reams of criticism.

The outcry didn’t faze them because it wasn’t coming from within their party.

That might change, some Republicans say, once parents see the aftermath in their child’s school of the state’s $4 billion — or 5.6 percent — reduction in what is owed to local school districts. The fallout could include teacher layoffs, school closures and elimination of extra programs or higher property taxes.

Republican incumbents “are going to be sent home by Republican primary voters because what they’re doing in public education is not in any way conservative,” said State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant. “Our version of conservative is mainstream conservative, not extreme conservative.”

Of course, there’s more to it than just the Republican primary, which is what this story focuses on. Republicans voted as a unified bloc all session, so legislators in swing districts will be running on the same record as legislators in safe R seats. There will be a lot more voters who don’t vote in Republican primaries to persuade that this was the wrong thing to do. If it really is the case that education is seen as the most important issue, then that will help. Right now it’s anybody’s guess, and there are too many factors that can influence things to have any clear idea about what will happen. It’s just too early to say.

I will say this much: The Tea Party influence on Republican legislative primaries may be a tad bit overstated. A grand total of three Republican incumbents fell to primary challenges. Two of them – Tommy Merritt and Delwyn Jones – were longtime targets of the more radical elements. The third – well, let me ask: Can you name the third Republican incumbent to lose in a 2010 primary? Off the top of your head, without using the Internet? I’ll tell you that I had either never realized this particular legislator had lost, or I’d forgotten it because the winner of that race has been completely invisible (to me, anyway). I’ll put the answer beneath the fold. Other targeted legislators like Charlie Geren and Todd Smith survived. Some of the noisier teabaggers, like James White, Jason Isaac, and Jose Aliseda, were unopposed in their primaries. The teabaggers did do well in primaries for open seats, and Bill Birdwell’s victory in the SD22 special election against the establishment candidate David Sibley was a big deal, but the overall record isn’t deep. While it’s clear that the threat of getting teabagged worked wonders for party unity this year, what will happen in 2012 if the interests of the Republicans’ monied interests diverge from the teabaggers is unknown. EoW has more.

(more…)

What do yachts and smokeless tobacco have in common?

They’re both getting tax cuts from the Republican legislature.

Members of the Texas House on Wednesday approved a bill to lower a tax on Red Man and other brands of loose-leaf chewing tobacco.

When Rep. Allan Ritter, R-Nederland , laid out House Bill 2599, one freshman House member from Central Texas couldn’t believe his ears.

“I just had to clarify. It’s cutting taxes to chewing tobacco?” a shocked Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, asked from the floor.

Isaac was the only member to question the measure, which passed 83-53.

“We just created an incentive for people to use cancer-causing products,” Isaac said after the bill was approved. “When we have the fiscal problems that we have, it’s wrong to be cutting taxes on products like chewing tobacco.”

Here’s HB2599. For reasons unclear to me, it drew support and opposition from both parties. It does have a fiscal note that claims it will have no significant fiscal impact on the state, because as the story notes there will likely be more people chawing. As if that were something to celebrate. There are days when I really don’t understand the Legislature.

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

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

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

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

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

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

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

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

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

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

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

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

Collin and Denton Counties

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

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

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

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

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

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

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

Gambling proponents still optimistic for some reason

The conventional wisdom, to which I subscribe, says that the results on this election are bad news for proponents of expanded gambling. One reason for this is that the Republican wave means more socially conservative members. Gambling proponents are doing their best to put a smiley face on their prospects in the new Lege in spite of this.

Jack Pratt, chairman of the Texas Gaming Association and a proponent of casinos, said he is not discouraged by the recent election results.

“I have witnessed the debate over expanded gaming firsthand in at least 16 states and followed it closely in several others. It’s just a fact that many Republican legislators around the country voted for these measures and were an essential part of the majority in those state legislatures that passed expanded gaming legislation,” Pratt said. “A proposal to allow a limited number of destination resort casinos in Texas makes sense on the merits and is very compelling at a time when Texas needs jobs and new sources of nontax revenue.”

Chris Shields, who also works with the Texas Gaming Association, said an overwhelming number of Texas voters support expanded gambling measures and even more support putting the issue to the voters, based on a poll commissioned by the association. And the newly elected candidates know that, he said.

“We think the new members have a very strong connection to the voters right now,” Shields said.

Mike Lavigne, spokesman for Win for Texas, which is supported by track owners and the horse industry, said his group believes an expanded gambling bill can pass in the upcoming session, which will begin in January.

Most of the Legislature’s new blood ran on platforms of no new taxes and less government, Lavigne said. They ran on fiscally conservative values, not on socially conservative ones. To prove his point, he produced a short stack of direct mail pieces from Republican challengers that include tea party-approved tax messages and not a word about abortion or other favorite topics of the socially conservative.

And because increased gambling raises money without raising taxes, these soon-to-be-sworn-in candidates could get behind a gambling measure, Lavigne said.

Sure, if you believe that any of them want to find new revenue sources, which is at best an open question. But there’s a fundamental issue here that the gambling proponents don’t address.

Jason Isaac, the Republican who defeated Rep. Patrick Rose, D-San Marcos, represents hope for gambling proponents.

Isaac said he hasn’t decided how he’d vote on a gambling bill. He’d have to see it first. But he said he is not necessarily opposed to the idea of expanded gambling.

“My concentration is going to be on fiscal matters,” Isaac said, adding that his initial reaction is to be more open to slots at racetracks where gambling already exists rather than casinos.

Isaac said one of his concerns is that gambling could lead to bigger government — something that he and many other newly elected people staunchly oppose.

The position of Paul Workman, another newly elected Central Texas Republican, proves that gambling proponents will have to work for every vote. He said he’ll oppose a gambling measure.

Workman, who defeated Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin , said he enjoys trips to Las Vegas and does not see gambling as evil. But he thinks expanded gambling of any kind in Texas would be a mistake. He might not be opposed to gambling on moral grounds, but he objects to the crime and other social costs associated with it.

“I think it brings more trouble than it solves,” he said. “I think it would add an undue burden to cities and counties.”

What goes unmentioned here is that Rose and Bolton were both gambling supporters. To be more precise, they were recipients of financial support from the gambling industry. In their place is one guy who might support a gambling resolution, and one guy who won’t. That means that they need at least one of the other new members to be a proponent and to have replaced someone who wasn’t just to break even from 2009, when they didn’t have enough votes to pass anything. What are the odds of that?

Further, I’m sure that if you looked at more of the individual cases, you’d see more of the same. Here in Harris County, for example, Rep. Ellen Cohen was a gambling supporter – in her interview with me, she stated unequivocally that she would vote for a resolution to allow expanded gambling. There’s nothing on Sarah Davis’ wafer-thin issues page that mentions gambling, but an anti-Cohen site attacked her for having “voted for legalizing gambling on Indian reservations”. In other words, at best the pro-gambling forces have broken even, and at worst they’re down another vote. I doubt it will be different in the other races the Democrats lost. And there’s still the passing of Rep. Ed Kuempel, too.

The bottom line, then, is that a number of legislators who were known to be supportive of a gambling resolution will not be there next year. In their place are a bunch of people who are almost certainly less supportive as a group than their predecessors. If there’s an example of an anti-gambling person being replaced by a gambling supporter, I’m not aware of it. The craps table offers much better odds than this.