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Matt Stillwell

Endorsement watch: The Statesman gets in the game

In addition to their Sunday endorsement of Paul Sadler, the Statesman made up for lost time last week by finally getting around to making endorsements in various races. Among their first was a nice recommendation of John Courage.

John Courage

Texas Senate, District 25

District 25, which stretches from South Austin to northern San Antonio and Bexar County, is a Republican district, and Donna Campbell, a tea party favorite who crushed incumbent state Sen. Jeff Wentworth in the runoff, is heavily favored to win Nov. 6. Nonetheless, voters in District 25 should put aside their partisan inclinations and consider the alternative: Democrat John Courage.

Courage, an Air Force veteran and San Antonio schoolteacher, might be a longshot, but he knows the district better than Campbell, a recent transplant. His experience in education would make him a strong advocate for public schools, but education is not the only issue where he has the advantage over Campbell. From reforming the margins tax to transportation, from water to the electrical grid, Courage is the more informed, better-qualified candidate.

The Senate really will be a less functional place next year if Campbell wins as she is heavily favored to do. In the same editorial as this endorsement of Courage is one for the new HD136 as well:

Matt Stillwell

Texas House, District 136

District 136 is a new state House district that includes Cedar Park, Leander, Brushy Creek and a substantial part of Northwest Austin. Anchored in Williamson County, District 136 appears to be safe for the Republican in this race, Tony Dale, an Army veteran and member of the Cedar Park City Council. He’s a strong candidate who has a deep affection for his community and no doubt would serve his district’s residents well. But in a close call, we’re supporting Democrat Matt Stillwell.

An insurance agent who lives in Northwest Austin, Stillwell’s deep concern about the future of public education motivated his run for the Legislature. He says he’ll fight for public schools if elected and will do what he can to roll back punitive, high-stakes testing. He also understands how seriously underfunded the state’s roads are and how cuts to roads and highways, along with cuts in other areas, have not reduced spending or tax burdens but merely shifted costs and debt to towns and cities. He focuses on fiscally sound, gimmick-free remedies that would benefit District 136 in the long term.

As I said before, I think this race has the potential to be closer than people think. The shift in voter behavior from 2004 to 2008 was huge, and the district is likely to have evolved further since then. How much I don’t know, and of course it could have changed back. Stillwell is low on cash, but he’s been competitive in fundraising and hasn’t been greatly outspent, at least so far. I just think there may be more to this one than what the numbers might suggest.

After that, the Statesman opined on the statewide judicial races.

You may recall that Sharon Keller, chief justice of the Court of Criminal Appeals – the state’s highest criminal appellate court – was reprimanded after 300 lawyers filed complaints alleging dereliction of duty. The complaints stem from an incident involving attempts by lawyers representing a death row inmate to file motions after business hours. Keller told the lawyers that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. and the inmate was executed later that night.

The incident garnered national attention and ended with Keller being reprimanded by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. She appealed the reprimand and it was ultimately lifted. It was a victory but not a vindication because the specially selected court of review said a reprimand was not included in the options available to the Commission on Judicial Conduct in disciplining a judge.

Some might call that a technicality, but that’s ultimately what the law is — a collection of technicalities.

Then there was the case of Nathan Hecht, who is considered the intellectual leader of the Texas Supreme Court’s most conservative wing. Hecht was reprimanded for lobbying to confirm the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. That reprimand was also lifted, but the drama didn’t end there. Hecht raised eyebrows when he not only solicited contributions to pay the legal fees incurred in battling the complaint but asked a couple of friendly legislators to file bills that would have allowed him to use state funds to pay those bills. When state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, and former state Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, learned that Hecht was soliciting contributions, they pulled their bills down

That was not the end of it. Hecht was fined $29,000 by the Texas Ethics Commission in 2008, declaring the discount extended to him on those legal fees was an improper campaign contribution. The matter has yet to be resolved.

Keller also tried unsuccessfully to have the state pick up the tab for legal fees and said she paid them out of savings and took out a loan.

[…]

Michele Petty

Democrat Keith Hampton opposes Keller in the general election. Michele Petty, a San Antonio lawyer, challenges Hecht. As Democrats, both face an uphill battle.

Hampton brings an impressive legal resume to the race as well as experience as a statewide candidate. He is known and respected for his criminal defense work and has notched a long bibliography of scholarly legal works.

Hampton is amply qualified both academically and ethically to serve on the court, but more importantly to carry a message that Texans demand a judiciary free of taint or bias.

The same standards should apply in the Supreme Court as well. There is no denying Hecht’s ability, talent and background.

Petty, on the other hand, is an unknown but is eager and is motivated. Her demeanor and approach is a marked and clear contrast to the more polished, patrician Hecht.

But Petty’s academic training is impressive. She was Baylor Law’s top graduate in 1984 and a member of the San Antonio Women’s Hall of Fame.

She understands well that she is running uphill. Win or lose, the state owes Petty its thanks for the effort. An airing of unpleasant history may save us a repetition of it.

It’s not quite an endorsement of Hampton and Petty, in the sense that the Statesman never actually uses words like “we endorse” or “we recommend a vote”, but they do say that “we all lose” if Hampton and Petty lose, so it’s pretty clear what they intend. Hampton, of course, has been sweeping up endorsements left and right, but as far as I an tell this is a first for Petty, about whom you can learn more here. Keller is a much easier target than Hecht, whose sins are more garden-variety, but some new blood would do both courts a lot of good.

New pollster says Romney leads 55-40 in Texas

It would figure that the day after I complain about a lack of polling data in Texas we get a fresh poll result for the state.

Thanks to a lopsided lead among white voters, Romney is leading President Barack Obama 55-40, according to a poll from Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research, which carries out surveys for GOP candidates. That’s even higher than John McCain scored against Obama in 2008.

Chris Perkins, who is a partner at the research firm and served as the pollster for U.S. Senate hopeful Ted Cruz in his Republican primary victory over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, said he expected a better showing for Obama after the Democratic National Convention.

The three-day telephone poll of likely Texas voters was conducted Sunday through Tuesday, plenty of time for any post-convention glow to reach the electorate.

“I thought the Obama number would be a little bit better,” Perkins said. “It wasn’t there. It’s kind of lining up to what 2008 did — if not better — for McCain.” McCain beat Obama 55-44 in Texas in 2008.

The survey showed Romney with 32 percent of the Hispanic vote, which mirrors national Latino numbers for the Republican candidate in the wake of his party’s convention in Tampa, according to a recent poll. Romney got only 6 percent of the African American vote in Texas, compared with 90 percent who favor Obama.

But Romney’s lead over Obama among white voters in Texas is nothing short of overwhelming — 77-17 percent in the survey — which helps to explain why Republican candidates are maintaining their electoral advantage here even as the minority population explodes.

The full poll data can be found here. This is the first general election poll result from this outfit that I’ve seen, so I don’t know what their overall track record looks like. I will say that I don’t have any particular criticisms of their methodology. Their partisan and racial splits look reasonable – if anything, they slightly oversampled Latinos, at 26% of the total – and their sample voted for McCain over Obama by 55-44, also perfectly reasonable. The difference maker isn’t so much the white vote as it is the change from the 2008 vote. Page 4 of that crosstabs file tells the story. Of 552 McCain voters, 511 were voting for Romney, 20 for Obama, and 21 were neither. Of 442 people who said they voted for Obama in 2008, 380 said they were voting for him again, but 40 were voting for Romney, and 22 were neither. It’s those 40 switchers that depress Obama’s numbers; if he had the same 20 lost voters as Romney had, the result would be 53-42 instead.

So the question is whether this is a fluke or a real thing. To take a genuine stab at answering that we’d need – you guessed it – more data. I can tell you that in that May UT/Texas Trib poll, Romney led Obama among white voters by a 65-24 margin, and in that April PPP poll, he led 61-33 among whites (scroll to page 19), which was the best showing among Republican candidates (Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul were also tested) and was in line with Obama’s 33-62 approval rating among whites. Is it possible that Obama’s support among Anglo voters could have collapsed that much since then? Sure. Is it likely? I’m always suspicious of results that stand out that much from others in the absence of an easily identifiable cause. I don’t reject this out of hand, but I am dubious.

Another way to look at this is to observe that if Romney were leading among white voters by a margin of 65-29, which is in between the UT/TT and PPP results, this race becomes a near dead heat: Romney drops to 48.4%, versus Obama’s 46.9%. Imagine the headline with that result. Even if he wins whites in this sample by 70-24, his lead is a mere 51.2-44.0, which is almost exactly the same margin that PPP found back in April. That would make the remarkably large Latino share of their sample all the more vital. If Republicans really do have to run up the score that much among white voters, you have to wonder how sustainable their edge will be.

What tf this result is indeed accurate? Does that portend doom for downballot Democrats? I’m sure it’s not good for Paul Sadler and the other statewides in that case – I checked, they either didn’t ask about the Senate race or they did not include those results if they did ask – but beyond that it’s not clear. It seems to me that the two most likely parts of the state where Obama might have lost white voters are the rural areas, and some of the suburbs. In the rural areas, Obama generally underperformed the rest of the Democratic ticket in 2008. The easiest way to see this is to scroll through the 2008 Senate results by district. If Obama has fallen further among these voters – there’s only so much more he can go down – then he probably is dragging other Democrats with him, but outside of the statewides and maybe Nick Lampson, there’s hardly anyone else for him to affect. In the suburbs – and here I mostly speak of Collin, Denton, and Williamson Counties – Obama ran ahead of the other Democrats. If he’s lost support here, he’s lost it among people who mostly voted Republican otherwise. One place where that could have an effect is in Wiliamson County’s HD136. In 2008, Diana Maldonado also ran ahead of other Dems as she scored a historic win in HD52 (see page 41 here). As we saw, Obama did better in the new HD136 than other Dems in 2008. It will undoubtedly be to Matt Stillwell’s advantage if Obama hasn’t lost his touch there.

Anyway, as noted it’s one result, and it would be nice for there to be something contemporary to which to compare it. A few other observations from the poll:

– The poll has a breakdown by voting history, and somewhat unexpectedly Obama does better among those who say they have voted in all of the last four elections than the other three subgroups, trailing by a 54-43 margin.

– Going by age groups, Obama does best among those aged 55-64, trailing 52-46. He wins among all women 55 and older, 51-46. He does worst among voters 18-34, losing them 58-35. Color me dubious of that one as well.

– Geographically, Obama wins “Austin” 58-40, loses “San Antonio” 60-38, loses “Houston” 51-42, and loses “Forth Worth” 52-44. I put them in quotes because these are clearly shorthand for the greater metro regions of each – “Houston” accounts for 23% of the sample, which would be a vast overstatement otherwise, as Harris County accounted for less than 15% of the total vote in 2008. “Fort Worth” was 30% of the sample, so this is clearly the entire Metroplex. “Austin” and “San Antonio” were an identical 80 voters each, or a smidge less than 8% of the sample each. Obama carried Bexar County in 2008, so I’ll chalk that up to small sample size weirdness.

Finally, on a tangential note, on the same day this came out I received a campaign email from Paul Sadler announcing that a “new poll” showed a “path to victory” against Ted Cruz. This was a campaign fundraising email, not a press release, so I have no useful numbers to share, but the clear message was that Sadler was competitive among voters who heard his message. Of course, the problem all along is how to get that message out to the voters. You can help by attending our fundraiser on Monday the 24th. It’s big hill to climb but there’s no reason not to try.

A look at HD136

The Statesman takes a look at the new State Rep. district in Williamson County.

Matt Stillwell

All county and state elected officeholders from Williamson County are Republicans. The party has long dominated the area. But Democrats are eyeing the new district as a potential weak spot in the Republican stronghold, counting it among a handful of districts they hope to take in November.

The race is a high priority, said Bill Brannon, executive director of the state Democratic Party.

“I would say it’s either top tier or very, very close to top tier — it’s a high target,” Brannon said. “It’s a race that presents a lot of opportunities.”

The Democrats hope that [Matt] Stillwell, a father of three who owns an insurance agency and has never held elected office, can beat out Republican candidate Tony Dale and Libertarian Matthew Whittington for control of House District 136. The new district covers portions of Northwest Austin, Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock and the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District.

[…]

Democrats say demographics in the newly drawn district provide an opportunity for the party.

According to data from the Williamson County Elections Department, more than a third of registered voters in the district live in Austin and nearly 20 percent of them are 30 or younger — a group that generally leans left.

The party sees the district as a possible repeat of Democratic state Rep. Mark Strama’s 2004 grab of a northern Travis County seat.

Strama, who still holds the seat immediately south of House District 136, said that like the new district, his was drawn for an easy Republican win.

“Frankly it was hard to convince anybody it was a winnable race — which I think is the challenge Matt has now,” Strama said.

Growth in the area — especially in Pflugerville — from Central Austin, as well as California and other states, made his district more Democratic than anyone realized at the time, Strama said.

HD136 is a race that isn’t quite on the radar. It’s a second tier Back To Blue race, outside observers like Robert Miller have not taken it into account. The numbers are daunting but not overwhelming, and there is certainly some hope that the landscape has changed. A comparison of the 2004 and 2008 numbers is instructive:

2004 Bush Kerry Keasler Molina ================================== 63.8% 36.2% 63.2% 36.8% 2008 McCain Obama Wainwright Houston ================================== 51.8% 45.9% 51.2% 42.9%

Data can be found here and here; both links are XLS files. The dropoff from Obama to Sam Houston is mostly accounted by the 5.9% received by the Libertarian candidate in that race. The difference between the two years is striking, and it’s magnified by the raw vote totals. John McCain barely beat George Bush’s number – McCain received 32,977 votes, Bush got 32,413 – but Obama’s total was more than fifty percent greater than John Kerry’s – Obama got 29,227, Kerry just 18,403. I’m sure some of that was “surge”, and maybe that will be hard to repeat, but still. That’s a huge difference. Part of Stillwell’s challenge is identifying and reaching out to the new voters in the district, and part is making sure that those who vote for Obama stick around for him as well – Sam Houston’s vote total, by contrast, was only 25,734, a much bigger decrease from Obama than Dale Wainwright’s 30,696 was from McCain. The comparison to Rep. Mark Strama, who won a rapidly-changing district in 2004 that had been thought to be solidly red in 2002, is instructive, but there is one key difference here: Stillwell has a lot less money than Strama did at the time. Maybe that’s why this race isn’t as high profile. Keep an eye on this one, though, it could easily be a surprise on November 6.