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Mark Thompson

Ballot order

Kevin Drum finds this paper, entitled “The Ballot Order Effect is Huge: Evidence from Texas”, by a professor at Sam Houston State, and notes that it confirms what we have all long believed, that being first on the ballot in a non-partisan race like a primary or a municipal election is an advantage. From the paper:

Across all twenty-four contests, the effect is invariably positive and, with two exceptions in runoff elections, statistically significant. The smallest effects are found in high-profile, high information races: the Republican primary for U.S. Senator, which featured the incumbent, John Cornyn; the governor’s race, which featured long-time Attorney General Greg Abbott; and Land Commissioner, which featured well-known political newcomer George P. Bush. In these races the ballot order effect is only one or two percentage points.

Larger estimates obtain for most “medium-profile, medium-information” races such as Comptroller, Railroad Commissioner, or the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. Most of these fall in a fairly tight band that ranges from three to five percentage points. Estimates are even larger in the low-profile, low-information judicial elections, generally ranging from seven to ten percentage points. Overall, the ballot order effect tends to be larger in contests that receive less attention and in which voters are likely to know less about the candidates on the ballot.


In an ironic twist of fate, we were recently able to [test our hypothesis] with the March, 2016 Texas Republican primary, held just after the first draft of this paper was completed. Featuring a highly visible Presidential race, it drew twice as many voters as in 2014—and had contests for three Supreme Court positions, one of which was between Paul Green and Rick Green, two men with common first names and identical last names. It was The Perfect Storm, and our logic implies that this should lead to large ballot order effects. This is immediately evident in the histogram of county vote shares presented in Figure 2(a), without even looking at ballot order: in a race won with 52.1% of the statewide vote, virtually no county’s vote was nearly evenly split. Instead Paul Green’s vote shares are bifurcated into two clusters, one around 40%, and another around 60%, suggesting a ballot order effect approaching twenty percentage points. The regression results in Figure 2(c) confirm this: the coefficient estimate is 19.4 percentage points. We have never seen a ballot order effect this large, and may never again.

Drum concludes that randomizing ballot order for each voter, which is something that is certainly feasible with electronic voting machines, is the best answer to this. I’ve been on that hobby horse for a long time, so it’s nice to have some empirical evidence in my corner, but in the absence of a new law from the Lege, nothing will change. But we persist in highlighting the problem, in the hope that some day our cries will be heard.

I should note that while the first-on-the-ballot effect is largest in low-information races like judicial primaries and executive offices like Railroad Commissioner, some races defy that effect. I will always cite the three-way Democratic primary for RRC in 2008, between gentlemen with basic, simple names, as Exhibit A for counterexamples. Mark Thompson, who nearly won the race on the first go, basically carried every county regardless of where he was on the ballot. Here’s Harris County:

Dale Henry       85,153  32.00%
Art Hall         69,377  26.07%
Mark Thompson   111,598  41.93%

Travis County:

Art Hall         37,444  30.87%
Mark Thompson    57,909  47.74%
Dale Henry       25,959  21.40%

Dallas County:

Art Hall         45,670  24.84%
Dale Henry       57,234  31.13%
Mark Thompson    80,980  44.04%

Three different orders, Mark Thompson was second or third on all three, and yet he easily led in all three counties, despite being a first time candidate with no money. Henry had been the Democratic nominee for Railroad Commissioner in 2006, and Hall had been a City Council member in San Antonio (Hall did carry Bexar County, though Thompson came in second), yet Thompson overcame it all and ran away with the nomination. Till the day I die, I will never understand that result.

Thompson says he’s out, Shami says he’s in

Mark Thompson has ended his candidacy for Governor.

“There’s just too many people running,” Thompson said. “Any time someone jumps in, they cut your percentages down.”

Thompson said last week he was considering ending his bid. He had said he had launched his campaign earlier in the year assuming he would be in a three-way race with former ambassador Tom Schieffer and humorist Kinky Friedman.


Thompson said he is endorsing [Hank] Gilbert, who most closely matches him on several key issues including an opposition to toll roads.

I confess, I had forgotten that Mark Thompson had been running. In any event, his absence will hardly be noted as another contender gets set to jump in.

Houston hair care executive Farouk Shami said Tuesday that he’s definitely running for governor and that he’ll put in $10 million for the Democratic primary alone.

“I am in,” said Shami, 66, a political novice whose company sells CHI hair-straightening irons and BioSilk hair products. “I am 100 percent sure I will be the next governor of Texas.”

I look forward to hearing what he has to say, but I hope he remembers that writing your own check can’t substitute for raising money from actual donors. By all means, write the check if you can and you feel you must, but don’t forget to work the phones, either. Thanks to BOR for the Thompson link.

The state of the Governor’s race

So we know that Tom Schieffer is in. So are Mark Thompson and Felix Alvarado. Ronnie Earle may or may not be in. Hank Gilbert now says that he’s in. Kinky (sigh) is fixing to be in. Some people think that one or the other of Bill White and John Sharp ought to be in. Here’s what I think.

I think we’ll have a pretty good idea soon if the fundraising will exists to make one of these people a serious challenger for the Governor’s mansion. I was on a conference call with Gilbert and a number of my blogging colleagues yesterday morning, and one of the things he said was that he’s set a goal of raising $100K online between now and his official launch on September 21. I don’t know if he can do this, but I do agree that if he does, he’ll establish himself as a viable contender, and that it will make it easier for him to attract support from the conventional donors. (Though it must be noted that this doesn’t necessarily follow. Just ask Rick Noriega about that.) Schieffer’s recent announcement about receiving endorsements from House Democratic leaders may be an indication that the establishment has decided to coalesce around him; if so, expect him to post better fundraising numbers for the third and fourth quarters. And despite adamant denials about changing races from White and Sharp, I believe that one of them, most likely the one who has had the least success in raising money for the Senate race, could be cajoled into switching if a promise of an open money spigot came with it.

Basically, my thesis is that the Democratic donor class has finally started to wake up to the realization that there’s an excellent chance Rick Perry will be on the ballot for another term in November, and that unless they get in the game, there’s an even better chance he’ll get it. Six months ago, they could have rationalized that Kay Bailey Hutchison was inevitable, but as she has morphed into Strayhorn 2.0, such thinking is increasingly wishful. Barring any Tuesday morning surprises, the options are to actually support the Democratic ticket (I know, what a radical concept) or brace yourself for four more years. And if you’re going to choose the former, you may as well get started now and have a say in who will be at the top of that ticket. Oh, and if you’re going to do that, you may as well go ahead and fill out the rest of the ticket as well, lest all the resources Democrats put in to retaking the State House get wiped out by an all-Republican (or four-fifths Republican if there’s a Democratic Speaker) Legislative Redisctricting Board. Why make 2012 a repeat of 2002 if you don’t have to?

So keep an eye on the fundraising, and see if any more Democratic elected officials start giving endorsements. If there’s a frontrunner for the nomination, we’ll know it soon enough. Hopefully, along with all that will come candidates for the remaining offices, with each of them having decent fundraising potential. Honestly, it’s not too much to ask, is it?

Earle is running for something

Well, he’s taken the first step towards running for something, anyway.

Democrat Ronnie Earle today filed paperwork with the Texas Ethics Commission to run for office in 2010 but did not specify which office he will seek.

The former Travis County district attorney has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor.

He filled out a one-page, hand-written form designating a campaign treasurer, which is required for candidates to start serious fundrasing. He listed himself as treasurer.

As Gardner Selby notes, there’s already some activity around Earle’s potential bid.

Earle’s action also comes after separate online efforts to draft State Sen. Kirk Watson and/or Earle to run for governor next year. Both Facebook pages surfaced recently; neither prospect spoke up for or against the pitches, though Watson has said he’s going to mull his political options probably until the end of the summer.

In some Democratic circles, there’s just that much unease at possibly ending up with former Fort Worth Rep. Tom Schieffer as the likely nominee; some are uncomfortable that his career has been entwined with the successes of George W. Bush. Another hopeful is Mark Thompson, the party’s nominee for the Texas Railroad Commission last year, while Kinky Friedman, who ran as an Independent in 2006, is considering a try as a Democrat.

Peek at the draft-Watson site here. See the draft-Earle site here.

The pro-Earle site, hatched this week by pro-Democratic blogger Vince Leibowitz of Tyler, lists 45 members including Democratic consultant Jason Stanford, who managed Democrat Chris Bell’s 2006 campaign.

The pro-Watson site, which surfaced about 10 days ago, was created by Katie Naranjo, an Austin Democratic activist. The site lists 448 members including Democratic super-bloggers Karl-Thomas Musselman and Matt Glazer, who also are site administrators, Philip Martin and Charles Kuffner.

I haven’t joined the Draft Ronnie Facebook group mostly out of laziness. I’d be perfectly happy to have Earle as the nominee, and I’ll certainly support him in the primary if Watson goes elsewhere. Who knows, maybe I’ll even change my mind if the two square off. A ticket with Earle for Gov and Watson for Lite Gov would be exciting, if it came to that. That’s rather Austin-centric, though, which is why I’m still kind of hoping Earle gives the Attorney General race a good long look. A Watson/Royce West/Earle teamup would be pretty cool.

In the end, as long as all the races get covered by respectable candidates, I’m perfectly happy for there to be some contested primaries. As I’ve said before, I think the fact that there’s this much interest among Democratic candidates for statewide runs next year suggests to me that there’s a real belief that we can win some of these things, a quality that was in distinctly short supply in 2006. Let there be multiple candidates up and down the ballot – maybe we can capture some of the leftover energy from last year, and put a few of those new-to-the-process folks to work. Every little bit is going to help, and if we show enough signs of life at the local and grassroots level, maybe that will convince the national folks that Texas needs to be part of the plan for 2012.

Anyway. Here’s Vince’s post that announced the Draft Ronnie website. It’s drawn support so far from Faith Chatham, McBlogger, and Eye on Williamson, which can credibly claim to have been on the bandwagon before it was cool.

UPDATE: Burka, who was generally favorable to the idea of a Watson candidacy, thinks Earle can’t win.

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.