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Railroad Commission

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 3

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, the full endorsements page is here, and today we have the rest of the statewides, which I appreciate since these are the races I wanted more input on.

US Senate: Beto O’Rourke

Although there are three candidates on the ballot in this primary, the obvious choice for Texas Democrats is O’Rourke.

Unlike Cruz, who’s widely disliked even by many of his Republican colleagues, O’Rourke has a reputation for reaching across the aisle to get what he wants. As the congressman for the city that’s home to Fort Bliss, O’Rourke has used his post on the House Committee for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs to secure bipartisan support for legislation to expand mental health care.
O’Rourke is refusing to accept PAC money, a principled decision that’s forcing him to run a vigorous grassroots campaign. He’s vowed to visit all 254 counties, including Republican strongholds where he hopes to win over not only swing voters but also Trump supporters disillusioned with Cruz. O’Rourke will need all the ground game he can get; Cruz rose to power by running a startlingly effective grassroots campaign against former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Yeah, completely obvious. Let’s not belabor this, there are more endorsements to get through.

Comptroller: Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier’s background as a project leader and strategist in the tech sector gives her the managerial experience to serve as the state’s chief financial officer and oversee the office’s key responsibility of crafting budget projections for the Legislature.

Chevalier, 49, currently works in Austin as the owner of Cook’s Nook, a culinary incubator that offers space and resources to aspiring restaurateurs. Like so many Democratic candidates this election cycle, she told the editorial board that she was inspired to run by the current status of state and national politics, specifically pointing to the fact that Texas policymakers had no plan or response in place if the federal government failed to adequately fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. She thinks that the comptroller’s office should use its available data to proactively publish reports that will make clear the consequences of losing CHIP, or not expanding Medicaid, or the litany of other decisions faced by Texas policymakers.

“Those numbers, while they are budgetary numbers, represent real lives and real people,” she told the editorial board.

Overall, she hopes to treat the office not just as a place for accurate accounting, but as a platform to set a vision of how the state should be governed.

Both Comptroller candidates got in late. Chavalier looked like the more interesting candidate at first glance. I’m glad to see my impression had merit to it.

Land Commissioner: Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, 37, is a Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney who also has offices in Colorado and New Mexico. Tex Morgan, 38, is a software engineer who served on the board of VIA Metropolitan Transit – San Antonio’s Metro system.

Based on his experience in the energy industry issues that comprise so much of the General Land Office responsibilities, and his more robust campaign, we endorse Suazo in the Democratic primary.

During his meeting with the editorial board, Suazo explained how the land commissioner should be working to help Houston recover after Hurricane Harvey and also prepare for the next storm. That includes better management of federal community development block grants and relatively inexpensive ideas for protecting the coast, such as restoring oyster reefs and erosion control.

“That’s just where I see lackadaisical leadership coming from the general land office,” he said.

This is the toughest race for me, with two candidates who appear to be pretty well matched. I don’t think you can go too far wrong in this one.

Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen

Roman McAllen

Even though the odds are heavily against them, two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face the winner (probably Craddick) in November. Roman McAllen, 52, is a bow-tie-wearing intellectual with a background in historic preservation and urban planning. Chris Spellmon, 60, is an easygoing veteran of local Democratic politics with a background in banking and business who’s now working in real estate.

Neither of them have a professional history in the energy industry. Maybe some people will find that refreshing, because railroad commissioners often have incestuous ties to the business they’re supposed to regulate. But neither of these Democrats seems deeply involved in the issues facing the railroad commission.

Both of them rightly complain RRC commissioners take too much campaign money from the energy industry. Both of them recognize the importance of fracking, but believe local communities should have the power to regulate it. And both of them firmly believe the RRC needs a new name reflecting its 21st century mission, because calling this important state agency a railroad commission helps it hide beneath the radar of too many voters.

Between these two candidates, McAllen seems to have a deeper awareness of the issues facing the RRC. He gets visibly riled up when he talks about drillers polluting water, injection wells causing earthquakes and the state government outlawing local fracking ordinances. If for no other reason, McAllen’s passion makes him a stronger candidate for Democrats to put on the ballot in November.

Well, it’s not like the RRC is currently overflowing with industry experience. Having a voice on there to balance the crazy and the corrupt would be useful.

Overall I’d say I approve of the Chron’s choices. We’ll finish this series off tomorrow with the races that feature Democratic incumbents.

The statewide lineups

Here’s the statewide lineup for Democrats. I’ll add in some notes afterwards.

U. S. Senator Beto O’Rourke
U. S. Senator Edward Kimbrough
U. S. Senator Sema Hernandez
Governor Adrian Ocegueda
Governor Andrew White
Governor Cedric Davis, Sr.
Governor Demetria Smith
Governor Grady Yarbrough
Governor James Jolly Clark
Governor Jeffrey Payne
Governor Joe Mumbach
Governor Lupe Valdez
Governor Tom Wakely
Lieutenant Governor Michael Cooper
Lieutenant Governor Mike Collier
Attorney General Justin Nelson
Comptroller of Public Accounts Joi Chevalier
Comptroller of Public Accounts Tim Mahoney
Commissioner of the General Land Office Miguel Suazo
Commissioner of the General Land Office Tex Morgan
Commissioner of Agriculture Kim Olson
Railroad Commissioner Chris Spellmon
Railroad Commissioner Roman McAllen
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Steven Kirkland
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 4 R.K. Sandill
Justice, Supreme Court, Place 6 Kathy Cheng
Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Maria T. (Terri) Jackson
Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 7 Ramona Franklin

Just a few tidbits about some of the later entrants into the races:

Sema Hernandez was on the SOS filing page for a day or two, then disappeared from it until deadline day. I have no idea what was up with that.

Edward Kimbrough is apparently from Houston. I can’t find anything online about him.

There were two late filers in the Governor’s race, because apparently eight was not enough. James Jolly Clark is from Austin and appears to have been involved in some interesting lawsuits. Demetria Smith is a perennial candidate from Houston.

Joi Chevalier is a culinary entrepreneur. At first glance at least, she appears to have an interesting profile. It would have been nice to have heard of her before now.

Tex Morgan is a programmer in San Antonio who serves as a VIA Metropolitan Transit trustee, and has an even more interesting profile.

Chris Spellmon was a candidate for HCDP Chair who ultimately endorsed Eartha Jean Johnson in that race.

Some of these races are perhaps a bit more interesting than I expected them to be. I’ll do a separate post looking at Congressional and legislative candidates later.

There weren’t any late entrants of interest for statewide races on the Republican side. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing is that Baby Bush got multiple challengers but no one opposed Ken Paxton. Given that there is a nonzero chance he could get convicted of a felony next year, that seems like a curious outcome. Hey, their problem, not mine.

The TDP touted its ginormous candidate tally late Monday. I’ll summarize as follows:

All 36 Congressional seats are contested, with 110 total candidates.
14 of 15 State Senate seats are contested, with 24 total candidates.
133 of 150 State House seats are contested, with 189 total candidates.

Someone with a much more in depth knowledge of Texas’ political history will have to say when the last time was that we had a similar set of Democratic primary races. I’ll try to do a similar let-me-Google-that-for-you overview of these folks in the coming days, as time allows.

Finally, one more news item of interest:

Former U.S. Congressman Nick Lampson just filed to run as a Democrat for Jefferson County judge, KFDM/Fox 4 has learned.

The deadline to file was 6 p.m. Lampson will not face an opponent in the primary, but is challenging Republican incumbent Jeff Branick in next November’s general election.

I’m a longtime fan of Nick Lampson’s, so I’m happy to see him stay involved. The incumbent switched from D to R this year, so it would be nice to send him packing. Stace and RG Ratcliffe have more.

Filing season has begun

Candidate filing season is now open, and it will run for a month, concluding at 6 PM on Monday, December 11. There will be a lot of activity this year – we are already aware of so many candidates – and I’m sure there will be a few surprises. You can find candidate filings on the Secretary of State webpage, though I expect that will lag a day or so behind what county parties have. Here are a few things I can say so far:

– The first candidates to file for Governor are Tom Wakely and sign Grady Yarbrough. Is it written somewhere that in every generation there must be an annoying perennial candidate? Jeffrey Payne and Garry Brown are still to file, and then we have the being wooed/thinking about it trio of Andrew White, Michael Sorrell, and Lupe Valdez. I figure when/if one of them files, the other two will step aside. I will be surprised if more than one of them jumps in.

– Michael Cooper, who has been doing some tandem campaigning with Wakely, has filed for Lt. Governor. Mike Collier has been running for months and should be filing soon.

Justin Nelson was late in announcing but prompt in filing for Attorney General.

– We have a candidate for Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen, who has a preference for bow ties and wordy biographies. He’s on the board of Preservation Texas, which would make him a welcome alternate perspective to the shills and know-nothings that currently serve on the RRC.

– I don’t have a link to point you to for activity in Harris County at this time. I do know from talking to people that Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Diane Trautman (County Clerk), and Dylan Osborne (County Treasurer) have filed. I also know that we may get a contested primary for County Judge as Mike Nichols is taking the filing period to explore a candidacy. Nichols has worked with the Houston Food Bank, the Houston Long Range Financial Management Task Force, Planned Parenthood, and the Houston Parks Board. We’ll see what he decides.

– At the state level, we still need someone to run for Comptroller and Land Commissioner; Kim Olson is running for Ag Commissioner. We know of two Supreme Court candidates, but we still need one more of those plus three for the Court of Criminal Appeals. We could use someone for CD22. In Harris County, we’re still looking for a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, a candidate for HCDE Position 4, Precinct 3, and State Rep in HDs 126, 132, and 135.

– Again, I think there will be some surprises. People get in and drop out at the last minute. I think we’re going to have a lot more contested primaries than we’re used to seeing. And of course I have no idea what may happen on the Republican side. It’s going to be an exciting four weeks. What are you looking for?

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.

First shenanigan spotted

There will be more to come, I’m sure, but this will be happening today.

A Tuesday debate over the future of the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry could instead become a showdown over immigration and where transgender Texans use the bathroom.

House Republicans will look to force a vote on the regulations proposed in the Senate’s controversial “bathroom bill,” which House Speaker Joe Straus has decried as “manufactured and unnecessary.” Tyler Republican Matt Schaefer has filed two amendments that would essentially require the Railroad Commission to enact some of the bathroom-related regulations proposed in Senate Bill 6 — a measure that would require people to use the bathrooms in public schools and government buildings that align with their “biological sex.”

A separate amendment by state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, appears to target transgender people by requiring the commission to define women business owners — who can qualify for certain benefits in contracting — on the basis of the “physical condition of being female, as stated on a person’s birth certificate.”

Schaefer and Tinderholt are members of the socially conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, which is expected to repeatedly offer up portions of the “bathroom bill” as amendments to other measures. On just the second day of the legislative session, Schaefer, who leads the caucus, unsuccessfully attempted to amend a routine resolution with language requiring people in the Capitol to use bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

See here for the background. According to the Chron, the bill in question in HB1818. As RG Ratcliffe notes, the amendment will likely be killed by a point of order, but that won’t put an end to the effort. The rest of the session may well turn into an exercise in swatting flies, as I doubt these guys will be deterred by reason, threats, or humiliating defeat. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

There’s also this:

On the immigration front, an amendment by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, would require that a company regulated by or contracting with the Texas Railroad Commission certify that it doesn’t hire undocumented workers and charged with perjury if found to have lied. The amendment would also require the commission to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the local district attorney if a company CEO or supervisor is in violation of the provision.

Anchia, the chairman of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, said he has no desire to expand state-based immigration enforcement, and doesn’t expect his fellow Democrats to vote for the amendment. It’s symbolic: He wants businesses to be more vocal against what he called extreme immigration proposals the Legislature is considering this session, specifically Senate Bill 4. That measure, passed by the Senate last month and now pending in a House committee, would ban “sanctuary” jurisdictions in Texas and vastly expand the immigration enforcement powers of local police.

“For Republicans to only demonize immigrants but not talk about the insatiable appetite on the part of businesses for immigrant workers is hypocrisy at its best,” he said.

I respect Rep. Anchia and I get what he’s trying to accomplish here. I don’t know if it will work – if nothing else, I’m sure there’s a point of order with this amendment’s name on it as well – but it’s about making a point. We’ll see how it goes.

UPDATE: Schaefer’s shenanigan gets averted, while Anchia’s amendment gets adopted.

Precinct analysis: Dallas County statewides

Last time we looked at the Presidential numbers in Dallas County legislative districts (plus CD32). Today we follow up with a look at the statewide races. I’m going to throw a lot of numbers at you, so please bear with me. First up is the Railroad Commissioner race.


Dist  Christian     Yarb  Miller  Salinas
=========================================
CD32    127,172  101,375  18,842    7,581
                        
HD100     8,888   29,754   2,224    1,870
HD102    26,577   24,667   4,356    1,754
HD103     9,440   24,092   2,323    2,243
HD104     6,795   21,811   1,415    2,490
HD105    21,041   21,678   2,461    2,002
HD107    24,459   24,691   3,268    2,185
HD108    40,389   28,190   7,223    2,151
HD109    10,701   50,748   1,679    1,563
HD110     3,889   28,975     880    1,441
HD111    11,869   42,162   1,717    1,816
HD112    26,793   22,698   3,217    1,838
HD113    26,209   24,396   2,578    1,841
HD114    32,625   27,279   5,409    1,757
HD115    27,967   25,420   3,680    2,024
                        
HD100    20.80%   69.62%   5.20%    4.38%
HD102    46.34%   43.01%   7.59%    3.06%
HD103    24.78%   63.24%   6.10%    5.89%
HD104    20.90%   67.09%   4.35%    7.66%
HD105    44.60%   45.95%   5.22%    4.24%
HD107    44.79%   45.22%   5.99%    4.00%
HD108    51.81%   36.16%   9.27%    2.76%
HD109    16.54%   78.45%   2.60%    2.42%
HD110    11.05%   82.35%   2.50%    4.10%
HD111    20.62%   73.24%   2.98%    3.15%
HD112    49.12%   41.61%   5.90%    3.37%
HD113    47.63%   44.34%   4.69%    3.35%
HD114    48.64%   40.67%   8.06%    2.62%
HD115    47.33%   43.02%   6.23%    3.43%

Three things to note here, all of which we’ll talk about some more as we go on. First, while Hillary Clinton carried all of the State Rep districts, Grady Yarbrough only led in eight of the fourteen. Yarbrough is a perennial candidate who doesn’t campaign and his numbers reflect that, but as you will see even many strong candidates didn’t carry any more districts than he did. Note also that while Wayne Christian led in the other six districts, he only achieved a majority in HD108. Other Republicans did do better than that, but this is another illustration of the dilemma I mentioned before for Republicans in Dallas County, which is that they have no votes to spare.

Second, note that while Democrat Victoria Neave knocked off Republican incumbent Kenneth Sheets in HD107 while Republican Rodney Anderson held on in HD105, Grady Yarbrough did slightly better in HD105 than he did in HD107. This too will generally be the case with other candidates, yet it was the (mildly) redder district that flipped. My conclusion is that Rodney Anderson was a better candidate than Kenneth Sheets, Victoria Neave was a better candidate than Terry Meza, or some combination of the two. It would be nice to have a fuller understanding of this going into 2018.

Finally, note the relatively large share of the third party vote in this race. As much as 12% of the total went to the Libertarian or Green candidate in some districts. Part of this is the extreme disaffection for the two major party candidates – Yarbrough is this generation’s Gene Kelly, while Wayne Christian is Sid Miller with better Facebook etiquette. Libertarian candidate Mark Miller received numerous newspaper endorsements, which no doubt helped boost him. The level of third party votes varies quite a bit from race to race, and we’ll talk a bit more about that as we go.

Here are the Supreme Court races:


Dist   Lehrmann  Westgrn   Glass    Munoz
=========================================
CD32    136,227  102,030  11,608    5,515
                        
HD100     9,622   29,867   1,738    1,555
HD102    28,692   24,769   2,722    1,256
HD103    10,115   24,388   1,739    1,933
HD104     7,139   21,763   1,137    2,476
HD105    21,837   21,577   2,057    1,736
HD107    25,827   24,628   2,362    1,830
HD108    43,691   29,108   3,997    1,455
HD109    11,323   50,358   1,645    1,335
HD110     4,116   28,791     839    1,435
HD111    12,539   41,839   1,530    1,622
HD112    28,047   22,614   2,491    1,392
HD113    27,111   24,122   2,219    1,596
HD114    35,843   27,324   2,817    1,196
HD115    29,448   25,472   2,719    1,503
                        
HD100    22.49%   69.81%   4.06%    3.63%
HD102    49.95%   43.12%   4.74%    2.19%
HD103    26.50%   63.88%   4.56%    5.06%
HD104    21.96%   66.93%   3.50%    7.61%
HD105    46.26%   45.71%   4.36%    3.68%
HD107    47.26%   45.07%   4.32%    3.35%
HD108    55.83%   37.20%   5.11%    1.86%
HD109    17.51%   77.88%   2.54%    2.06%
HD110    11.70%   81.84%   2.38%    4.08%
HD111    21.80%   72.73%   2.66%    2.82%
HD112    51.42%   41.46%   4.57%    2.55%
HD113    49.25%   43.82%   4.03%    2.90%
HD114    53.35%   40.67%   4.19%    1.78%
HD115    49.79%   43.07%   4.60%    2.54%

Dist      Green    Garza  Oxford   Watbry
=========================================
CD32    130,386  111,872   9,681    3,195
                        
HD100     9,098   31,667   1,346      603
HD102    27,292   26,989   2,276      779
HD103     9,617   26,609   1,344      562
HD104     6,939   24,174     910      475
HD105    21,416   23,553   1,617      578
HD107    25,163   26,846   1,875      719
HD108    41,235   32,649   3,355      917
HD109    10,993   51,813   1,206      602
HD110     3,976   30,197     622      377
HD111    12,188   43,599   1,118      562
HD112    27,383   24,343   2,060      735
HD113    26,743   25,820   1,772      658
HD114    33,687   30,279   2,377      773
HD115    28,258   27,857   2,217      709
                        
HD100    21.30%   74.14%   3.15%    1.41%
HD102    47.60%   47.07%   3.97%    1.36%
HD103    25.22%   69.78%   3.52%    1.47%
HD104    21.35%   74.39%   2.80%    1.46%
HD105    45.41%   49.94%   3.43%    1.23%
HD107    46.08%   49.17%   3.43%    1.32%
HD108    52.76%   41.77%   4.29%    1.17%
HD109    17.01%   80.19%   1.87%    0.93%
HD110    11.30%   85.86%   1.77%    1.07%
HD111    21.21%   75.87%   1.95%    0.98%
HD112    50.22%   44.65%   3.78%    1.35%
HD113    48.63%   46.95%   3.22%    1.20%
HD114    50.19%   45.11%   3.54%    1.15%
HD115    47.86%   47.18%   3.76%    1.20%

Dist     Guzman  Johnson  Fulton Chisholm
=========================================
CD32    137,660  104,318   9,866    3,111
                        
HD100    10,332   30,480   1,356      537
HD102    28,955   25,318   2,291      737
HD103    11,311   24,926   1,386      503
HD104     8,833   22,313     870      478
HD105    22,576   22,271   1,666      635
HD107    26,507   25,365   1,953      753
HD108    44,174   29,648   3,422      839
HD109    11,758   51,244   1,120      513
HD110     4,882   29,384     607      302
HD111    13,190   42,695   1,082      533
HD112    28,371   23,238   2,118      765
HD113    27,635   24,827   1,837      685
HD114    36,095   27,820   2,399      716
HD115    29,790   26,192   2,302      731
                        
HD100    24.19%   71.37%   3.18%    1.26%
HD102    50.53%   44.18%   4.00%    1.29%
HD103    29.67%   65.38%   3.64%    1.32%
HD104    27.18%   68.67%   2.68%    1.47%
HD105    47.88%   47.24%   3.53%    1.35%
HD107    48.57%   46.47%   3.58%    1.38%
HD108    56.57%   37.97%   4.38%    1.07%
HD109    18.19%   79.28%   1.73%    0.79%
HD110    13.88%   83.54%   1.73%    0.86%
HD111    22.94%   74.25%   1.88%    0.93%
HD112    52.06%   42.64%   3.89%    1.40%
HD113    50.26%   45.15%   3.34%    1.25%
HD114    53.85%   41.50%   3.58%    1.07%
HD115    50.48%   44.38%   3.90%    1.24%

Lehrmann and Guzman were the two top performers for the GOP, while Garza was the high scorer for the Dems. All three Republicans far outperformed Wayne Christian, with the difference being especially visible in the lower totals for the Libertarian candidates. Lehrmann and Guzman carried eight of the 14 State Rep districts, while Green managed to take only six against Garza, with HDs 102 and 115 coming within a point of being blue. In all three cases, HD105 was more Democratic than HD107.

What really stands out for me is the disparity in Green candidate totals. Add in the RRC race, and it it is quite apparent that the two best performing Green candidates were Latino/a. Each of the other races featured a major party Latina candidate, which likely exaggerated the effect further. I discussed this at a macro level before, so none of this should be too surprising. It’s just really fascinating to see it at a more granular level. The lesson I would draw from this for Democrats is that Latino voter engagement is more complex and multifaceted than we might think.

Last but not least, the CCA races:


Dist       Keel   Meyers      Ash  Reposa
=========================================
CD32    135,994  104,110   10,500   3,510
                        
HD100     9,656   30,633    1,571     733
HD102    28,668   25,212    2,434     839
HD103    10,290   25,247    1,644     808
HD104     7,418   22,993    1,149     844
HD105    21,920   22,480    1,841     787
HD107    25,897   25,482    2,241     831
HD108    43,510   29,495    3,644   1,039
HD109    11,235   51,414    1,297     624
HD110     4,138   29,786      757     465
HD111    12,539   42,891    1,279     711
HD112    28,187   23,120    2,240     844
HD113    27,147   24,944    1,994     806
HD114    35,595   27,826    2,537     771
HD115    29,577   26,015    2,399     875
                        
HD100    22.67%   71.92%    3.69%   1.72%
HD102    50.16%   44.11%    4.26%   1.47%
HD103    27.09%   66.46%    4.33%   2.13%
HD104    22.89%   70.96%    3.55%   2.60%
HD105    46.61%   47.80%    3.91%   1.67%
HD107    47.56%   46.80%    4.12%   1.53%
HD108    56.01%   37.97%    4.69%   1.34%
HD109    17.40%   79.63%    2.01%   0.97%
HD110    11.77%   84.75%    2.15%   1.32%
HD111    21.84%   74.70%    2.23%   1.24%
HD112    51.82%   42.51%    4.12%   1.55%
HD113    49.46%   45.44%    3.63%   1.47%
HD114    53.34%   41.70%    3.80%   1.16%
HD115    50.24%   44.19%    4.08%   1.49%

Dist     Walker  Johnson Strange S-Castro
=========================================
CD32    133,937  106,627   8,271    5,357
                        
HD100     9,277   30,966   1,183    1,214
HD102    28,067   25,890   1,955    1,223
HD103     9,909   25,425   1,171    1,486
HD104     7,067   22,888     805    1,708
HD105    21,553   22,789   1,379    1,348
HD107    25,519   25,883   1,615    1,470
HD108    42,970   30,333   2,947    1,471
HD109    10,910   51,776     931    1,013
HD110     3,931   29,745     558      939
HD111    12,141   43,230     907    1,224
HD112    27,643   23,689   1,744    1,320
HD113    26,878   25,260   1,469    1,343
HD114    35,066   28,487   1,968    1,199
HD115    28,851   26,763   1,847    1,373
                        
HD100    21.76%   72.62%   2.77%    2.85%
HD102    49.12%   45.31%   3.42%    2.14%
HD103    26.08%   66.92%   3.08%    3.91%
HD104    21.77%   70.49%   2.48%    5.26%
HD105    45.79%   48.42%   2.93%    2.86%
HD107    46.84%   47.50%   2.96%    2.70%
HD108    55.29%   39.03%   3.79%    1.89%
HD109    16.88%   80.11%   1.44%    1.57%
HD110    11.18%   84.57%   1.59%    2.67%
HD111    21.11%   75.18%   1.58%    2.13%
HD112    50.82%   43.55%   3.21%    2.43%
HD113    48.91%   45.97%   2.67%    2.44%
HD114    52.56%   42.70%   2.95%    1.80%
HD115    49.04%   45.49%   3.14%    2.33%

Dist    Keasler    Burns Bennett
================================
CD32    134,429  107,470  11,490
                  
HD100     9,518   31,274   1,710
HD102    28,210   26,096   2,677
HD103    10,127   26,011   1,752
HD104     7,392   23,511   1,392
HD105    21,842   23,012   2,081
HD107    25,630   26,129   2,509
HD108    42,923   30,705   3,834
HD109    11,114   51,813   1,564
HD110     4,079   30,030     975
HD111    12,540   43,238   1,523
HD112    27,901   23,798   2,531
HD113    26,940   25,409   2,401
HD114    35,129   28,774   2,620
HD115    28,999   26,874   2,791
                  
HD100    22.39%   73.58%   4.02%
HD102    49.51%   45.80%   4.70%
HD103    26.73%   68.65%   4.62%
HD104    22.89%   72.80%   4.31%
HD105    46.54%   49.03%   4.43%
HD107    47.23%   48.15%   4.62%
HD108    55.41%   39.64%   4.95%
HD109    17.23%   80.34%   2.43%
HD110    11.63%   85.59%   2.78%
HD111    21.88%   75.46%   2.66%
HD112    51.45%   43.88%   4.67%
HD113    49.21%   46.41%   4.39%
HD114    52.81%   43.25%   3.94%
HD115    49.43%   45.81%   4.76%

The main point of interest here is the third race, which featured a Libertarian but not a Green. Mark Bennett did better than one of the other Libs and about the same as the other, while Robert Burns did a little better than his fellow Ds; he probably absorbed a few of the votes than might have gone Green otherwise, but not too many. I don’t think there are any firm conclusions to be drawn here. And note again, HD105 was more Democratic than HD107.

So that’s what we have so far. I’ll have one more post, with county races, next. Let me know what you think.

Precinct analysis: The RRC and the Libertarian moment

Back to precinct analysis, and the race that I featured in my post from yesterday, the Railroad Commissioner race. Here are the numbers:


Dist  Christian  Yarbrough  Miller  Salinas
===========================================
CD02    152,751     97,235  18,346    6,835
CD07    130,384     96,652  20,510    6,537
CD09     24,638     99,920   4,712    4,090
CD10     77,311     32,577   5,878    2,337
CD18     43,820    142,609   9,862    6,382
CD29     33,443     85,330   4,257    7,592
				
SBOE6   319,691    228,147  44,294   15,691
				
HD126    33,674     22,848   3,185    1,459
HD127    46,101     22,131   3,739    1,499
HD128    39,827     15,472   2,187    1,374
HD129    39,382     22,904   4,625    1,965
HD130    56,188     18,871   4,140    1,483
HD131     6,367     36,890   1,305    1,461
HD132    35,680     27,715   3,292    1,823
HD133    45,030     22,170   6,822    1,533
HD134    42,007     33,962  10,841    2,219
HD135    30,447     24,537   3,064    1,606
HD137     8,239     16,035   1,500    1,012
HD138    25,823     20,468   3,066    1,530
HD139    11,398     37,155   1,986    1,531
HD140     5,966     19,100     723    1,554
HD141     4,720     31,697     739      938
HD142     9,770     32,566   1,201    1,244
HD143     8,346     21,557     872    1,895
HD144    10,257     14,596     872    1,313
HD145    10,263     19,993   1,814    2,227
HD146     9,111     35,284   2,502    1,397
HD147    11,201     40,452   3,795    2,287
HD148    16,582     24,304   4,471    2,249
HD149    14,760     25,088   1,879    1,236
HD150    46,285     24,053   3,891    1,615
				
CC1      67,803    220,765  16,172    9,891
CC2     119,023    110,723  11,292   10,243
CC3     181,634    138,514  23,279    8,882
CC4     198,962    139,834  21,768    9,432


Dist Christian%      Yarb% Miller% Salinas%
===========================================
CD02     55.51%     35.34%   6.67%    2.48%
CD07     51.32%     38.04%   8.07%    2.57%
CD09     18.47%     74.93%   3.53%    3.07%
CD10     65.46%     27.58%   4.98%    1.98%
CD18     21.62%     70.36%   4.87%    3.15%
CD29     25.60%     65.33%   3.26%    5.81%
				
SBOE6    52.60%     37.54%   7.29%    2.58%
				
HD126    55.05%     37.35%   5.21%    2.39%
HD127    62.75%     30.12%   5.09%    2.04%
HD128    67.66%     26.29%   3.72%    2.33%
HD129    57.18%     33.25%   6.71%    2.85%
HD130    69.64%     23.39%   5.13%    1.84%
HD131    13.83%     80.16%   2.84%    3.17%
HD132    52.08%     40.45%   4.81%    2.66%
HD133    59.60%     29.34%   9.03%    2.03%
HD134    47.18%     38.15%  12.18%    2.49%
HD135    51.04%     41.13%   5.14%    2.69%
HD137    30.76%     59.86%   5.60%    3.78%
HD138    50.75%     40.22%   6.03%    3.01%
HD139    21.89%     71.36%   3.81%    2.94%
HD140    21.82%     69.85%   2.64%    5.68%
HD141    12.39%     83.21%   1.94%    2.46%
HD142    21.82%     72.72%   2.68%    2.78%
HD143    25.55%     65.98%   2.67%    5.80%
HD144    37.94%     53.98%   3.23%    4.86%
HD145    29.92%     58.29%   5.29%    6.49%
HD146    18.87%     73.06%   5.18%    2.89%
HD147    19.40%     70.06%   6.57%    3.96%
HD148    34.83%     51.05%   9.39%    4.72%
HD149    34.36%     58.39%   4.37%    2.88%
HD150    61.03%     31.71%   5.13%    2.13%
				
CC1      21.55%     70.17%   5.14%    3.14%
CC2      47.37%     44.06%   4.49%    4.08%
CC3      51.56%     39.32%   6.61%    2.52%
CC4      53.77%     37.79%   5.88%    2.55%

One thing I didn’t discuss in my previous post was whether Libertarian votes tend to come from people who otherwise vote Republican and Green votes tend to come from people who otherwise vote Democratic. There’s some support for that in the numbers above, as Libertarian candidate Mark Miller did better than Green candidate Martina Salinas in all of the Republican districts, but that wasn’t true in reverse, as he also beat her total in several Democratic districts. The clearest correlation appears to be that Salinas did best in the heavily Latino districts, which is a bit of corroborating evidence for my overall theory. Beyond that, I don’t see anything to contradict that hypothesis, but I don’t see anything to settle the matter.

What can one say about Miller’s top performances, in HDs 134, 133, and 148? Well, HD148 is where the Heights dry area is, and Gary Johnson ran well in that neighborhood, so it’s not too surprising that Mark Miller might have also. It may well be that these are the parts of town that have a higher concentration of people who read the Chronicle and takes its endorsements seriously. “Why” is a hard question to answer with just numbers, but if I had to guess those would be my top two reasons.

Coming up will be a look at judicial races, and after that the county races. As always, let me know what you think of these.

A theory about third parties

Before I get to that theory, have you ever wondered about the people who vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green in Harris County? I got to wondering about them, because that’s the sort of thing that I think about at times like this. Here are the total numbers of such people, grouped by Presidential and non-Presidential years, going back to 2000:


Year  Total votes  SP Lib  SP Green   Lib%  Green%
==================================================
2000      995,631   1,935     4,503  0.19%   0.45%
2004    1,088,793   3,343            0.31%
2008    1,188,731   4,017            0.34%
2012    1,204,167   4,777     1,759  0.40%   0.15%
2016    1,336,985   8,781     4,577  0.66%   0.34%

2002      656,682   1,159     1,399  0.18%   0.21%
2006      601,186   3,052            0.51%
2010      798,995   2,506     1,110  0.31%   0.14%
2014      688,018   2,922     1,180  0.42%   0.17%

“SP Lib” is the total number of straight party Libertarian votes, and “SP Green” is the same for the Greens. “Lib%” and “Green%” are the share of these straight party votes to all votes cast in the county. If you look at the election result pages on the HarrisVotes.com website, you will see that my percentages are lower than the ones shown there. That’s because they calculate the percentage of these votes as a share of all straight-party votes cast, not a share of all votes. I did it this way to see what if any trend there was for Libertarian and Green voting overall. For comparison purposes, 30.01% of all votes in Harris county this year were straight ticket Republican, with 35.35% of all votes being straight-ticket Democratic.

As you can see, in the Presidential years the Libertarians had been slowly ticking upwards, with a bit of a jump this year, though the trend is more erratic in the off years. The spike in 2006 is odd, because the Libertarian candidate for Governor received only 0.61% of the vote that year. If you wanted to vote outside the two-party box for Governor in 2006, you had plenty of choices. The Greens weren’t officially on the ballot in 2004, 2006, or 2008, so there’s less of a trend to spot. I’d say they do better in or right after a year where they have a Presidential candidate who gets some attention. Whether any of this will hold next year is not something I’m going to speculate about at this time. My mantra for the next twelve to eighteen months is “conditions in 2018 will be different than they were in 2014 and 2010”, and leave it at that.

That brings me to my theory, which applies to low profile races – not President, not Senate, not Governor, sometimes not other races. I’m limiting myself to statewide contests here, since that’s where you get most of the third party candidates that an individual voter sees. In my case, there was a Green candidate for CD18, a Libertarian for SBOE, and nothing else below the state level. I believe that in these races, which this year would be the Railroad Commission and the two state courts, voters for third party candidates can be broadly sorted into one of three groups. The first group is the party faithful, which as we have just seen is a relatively small cohort. There are probably a few more people who vote L or G as a first choice but don’t vote straight ticket, but that’s still a small group even in the context of just third party voters. Most of the people voting third party in these races aren’t voting third party as a matter of course.

So who are they? Group Two I believe is people who normally vote for Rs or Ds but who refuse to vote for their candidate in this particular instance. That may be because the candidate of their party is too/not sufficiently liberal/conservative for them, because that candidate supports or opposes a specific thing that is of great importance to them, because the candidate has ethical baggage, or because they just don’t like that candidate for some reason. In these cases, they don’t want to vote for the candidate of the other party, so a third party it is. Gary Johnson obviously got a lot of these votes in the Presidential race, but the downballot exemplar for this one was the Railroad Commissioner race, where Libertarian Mark Miller got a bunch of newspaper endorsements for being the most qualified candidate running.

The thing is, I don’t think there are that many races like that. I think in a lot of these races, people just don’t know anything about any of the candidates. So if you’re someone who (say) generally votes Democratic but aren’t that committed to it and you’re looking at a race for the Court of Criminal Appeals, you may say to yourself “well, I know I don’t want to vote for the Republican, but I don’t know who any of these other people are, so I’ll just pick one and move on”. These people are my Group Three.

What that says to me first of all is that both Republicans and Democrats are leaving some votes on the table in these downballot races by not doing a better job of getting their candidates’ names out there. That’s not much of a concern for the Republicans, who continue to win by double-digit margins, but it could eventually matter. I see this as an extension of a problem that Democrats are increasingly having in their primaries, where candidates like RRC nominee Grady Yarbrough have won races by a combination of pseudo-name recognition and random chance because no one knows who the hell these people are. I have many wishes for Texas Democrats going forward, and high on my list is for the party and the donor class to take these downballot primaries seriously.

One possible exception to this may be for Latino candidates. Look at the top votegetters for each party: Supreme Court candidates Eva Guzman and Dori Contreras Garza. My hypothesis is that Latino voters in a Group Three situation will choose a Latino candidate, even possibly one from their non-preferred party, instead of just randomly picking someone. Again, this is in races where none of the candidates are known to the voters, and thus there could be a different outcome if people had more knowledge. If we ever get to that point, maybe we’ll see that difference.

Finally, I believe my theory is consistent with the Libertarian candidate almost always doing better than the Green candidate does in these situations, for the simple reason that the Libertarian candidate appears on the ballot above the Green candidate. If it’s true that some people just pick a name after having moved past the first two candidates, then it makes sense that the first candidate listed after those two would get a larger share.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, and I doubt anyone other than me had given this much thought. I’ll get back to the precinct analyses tomorrow. Let me know what you think about this.

Endorsement watch: A Libertarian moment

The Chron thinks outside the box in endorsing for the Railroad Commission.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Our editorial board interviews scores of candidates for political office every election year, but seldom do we find ourselves wholeheartedly endorsing a nominee from the Libertarian Party. Then again, seldom have we met a Libertarian candidate like Mark Miller.

Ask this man anything at all about the Railroad Commission of Texas and he’ll give you a straight, smart answer informed not only by decades of working in the industry and teaching petrochemical engineering at the University of Texas, but also by a mastery of the issues facing the energy business and the state body that regulates it. He’s an affable retired oil and gas man with a doctorate from Stanford University who’s so interested in this agency he literally wrote a book on the railroad commission.

With impressive clarity and authority, Miller offers well-informed opinions on a litany of arcane issues involving the energy industry: why the Texas Legislature needs to resolve the conflict between the owners of surface rights and mineral rights, why the state should dramatically reduce the number of permits for flaring natural gas, why Texas needs to figure out how to plug oil wells left unplugged by companies that go bankrupt. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

By comparison, none of the other candidates for this office have actually worked in the industry they propose to help oversee. Wayne Christian, the Republican nominee, earned a troublesome reputation as a combative bomb-thrower in the state Legislature; he helped craft a shamefully self-serving amendment exempting his own Bolivar Peninsula home from the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Texas Monthly twice rated him one of the state’s worst lawmakers. Grady Yarbrough, the Democratic nominee, is a retired school teacher whose background seems better suited to an education post. Martina Salinas, the Green Party nominee, is an earnest construction inspector from the Fort Worth area who, again, never worked in the energy business.

I don’t have any particular quarrel with the recommendation. Experience is a somewhat overrated qualification for the RRC, given that its Commissioners (those with industry experience and those without it) tend to be rubber stamps for the industry they purportedly regulate anyway. Certainly, Wayne Christian will do whatever his overlords tell him to do, so in that sense it doesn’t matter whether or not he understands anything about what he’s doing. Maybe Grady Yarbrough will take advice from other sources, who knows. At least he’ll have to be more visible if he somehow gets elected.

Endorsement aside – it would not shock me if Miller collects more than one such recommendation, given the other choices – the more interesting question is whether Miller can break the five percent barrier in this race. Libertarians and Greens have relied in recent years on statewide races in which there was no Democrat running to place a candidate who can top that mark and thus guarantee ballot access for all statewide races for their team. This year, those tricky Democrats actually ran candidates for all statewide offices, meaning the Ls and the Gs are going to have to do this the hard way if they want to be on the statewide ballot in 2020. (The hard way involves collecting a sufficient number of petition signatures, possibly with a little help from friends of convenience.) The question I want to answer is: Have any Libertarian or Green Party statewide candidates cracked the five percent mark in a statewide race that featured both an R and a D in recent years?

We go to the Secretary of State election returns for that. Here are the high statewide scorers for the Ls and the Gs in such races in Presidential years:


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2012      L Stott       Lib        CCA  3.26%
2012    C Kennedy       Grn        RRC  1.99%

2008      D Floyd       Lib        RRC  3.52%

2004     A Garcia       Lib        RRC  3.60%

2000     M Ruwart       Lib     Senate  1.16%
2000      R Nader       Grn  President  2.15%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2004 or 2008.) Doesn’t look too promising. How about in the non-Presidential years?


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2014    M Bennett       Lib        CCA  3.61%
2014    M Salinas       Grn        RRC  2.03%

2010  J Armstrong       Lib     Sup Ct  4.04%
2010   A Browning       Grn        RRC  1.49%

2006      J Baker       Lib     Lt Gov  4.36%

2002  B Hernandez       Lib  Land Comm  4.12%
2002  O Jefferson       Grn        CCA  1.74%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2006.) Not much better. Note that total turnout is a factor – Jack Armstrong (195K) received more votes than Judy Baker (188K) or Barbara Hernandez (180K), but he was running in a much higher turnout environment, so his percentage was lower. By the way, Mark Miller and Martina Salinas were both candidates for the RRC in 2014 as well; Miller received 3.15% of the vote, against R and D candidates who were much better qualified than the ones running this year. Make of that what you will. To get back to my original question, I’d say both Ls and Gs will be relying on their Presidential candidate for their best chance to crack the five percent mark. I’d give Gary Johnson a decent shot at it, but Jill Stein? I figure if Ralph Nader couldn’t get halfway there in 2000, Stein is unlikely to be the one. There’s always the petitions.

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

Want to know how close you live to a polluter?

There’s an app for that.

More than two million Texans live within a half-mile of an oil and gas facility, putting them at risk of exposure to toxic fumes, according to a new app released Wednesday by national environmental groups. The online tool — which includes a searchable map — places about a fifth of the state’s area, and more than 900 Texas schools and 75 medical facilities, in the half-mile range.

The app, created by Earthworks, Clean Air Task Force and FracTracker Alliance, is searchable by address and overlays the locations of oil and gas facilities and vulnerable populations with cancer and respiratory health risk information. An analysis published with the map also estimates that by 2017, 82 counties in Texas with a population of 4.1 million or more will face an elevated cancer risk.

“This [app] is so important in Texas is because of the political situation,” said Earthworks’ communications director, Alan Septoff. “The state has vowed never to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and there’s no chance the state of Texas is going to act.”

[…]

In June, about a month after the Obama administration announced plans to regulate methane leaks from new oil and gas facilities, the Texas Railroad Commission urged the state’s attorney general to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over the rules. Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter has previously said the methane regulations “kill the jobs Texans rely on to support their families” and are “unnecessary” and “over-burdensome.”

Septoff said his group hopes both that the tool will be a resource to help folks living close to oil and gas activity understand the health risks they may be facing, as well as a push for the Obama administration to adopt methane regulations for facilities already in operation.

Here’s what the map for Texas looks like. There’s a ton of information on the webpage, with videos to help you use and understand the data. However you feel about regulations, you’re better off having full information available to you. Check it out.

Democratic primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Fort Bend County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Just for the record, we didn’t get any precinct results until 8:34, at which time only 8% of precincts had reported. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of overwhelming turnout this time. We did get a big batch just after 9, but thanks to some close races, Harris County results will be the last ones I write about in this post.

Grady Yarbrough cements his position as this generation’s Gene Kelly by winning the Railroad Commissioner runoff. I’ll say again, you want a decent candidate to win these downballot primaries, especially against a perennial candidate, you’re going to need some investment in those races.

On a more interesting note, first-time candidate Vicente Gonzalez won the runoff in CD15 to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez drew support from a bunch of Congressional incumbents, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Someone at least thinks he has a bright future, so keep an eye on him.

In Bexar County, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins will succeed retiring Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in HD120.

In fairness to Stan Stanart, the Fort Bend County result reporting was even worse. They posted some precinct results a few minutes before Harris did, then bizarrely went back to showing early votes with zero precincts in. That was still the case as of 9:45 PM, then finally at 10 PM all the results came in at once. The deservedly maligned Rep. Ron Reynolds led 59-41 after early voting, then held on for a 53-47 margin. I wonder if voters were changing their minds, or if it was just the nature of Reynolds supporters to vote early. Whatever the case, he won.

And from Harris County:

– Dakota Carter wins in SBOE6.
– Ed Gonzalez will be the nominee for Sheriff.
– Judge Elaine Palmer easily held off JoAnn Storey for the 215th Civil District Court. Kristin Hawkins had an easy win for the 11th. The closest race of the evening was in the 61st, where Fredericka Phillips nosed out Julie Countiss by 210 votes after overcoming a small early lead by Countiss.
– Eric William Carter won in JP Precinct 1, while Hilary Green held on in JP Precinct 7.
– Chris Diaz romped in Constable Precinct 2, while Sherman Eagleton cruised in Constable Precinct 3.

And finally, Jarvis Johnson won in HD139, entirely on the strength of absentee ballots. Kimberly Willis won the early in-person vote as well as the Runoff Day vote, but not by a large enough margin given the modest number of people who turned out. Johnson will have the seniority advantage over his fellow freshmen thanks to his win in the special election, but this is not the kind of result that will scare anyone off for the next cycle.

Republican primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.

Endorsement watch: Remember the runoffs

The Chron makes their endorsements for the primary runoffs, which will happen on May 24, with early voting from the 16th to the 20th. Let me sum up:

vote-button

Republican

Member, Railroad Commissioner: Gary Gates

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 2: Mary Lou Keel

Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 5: Scott Walker

Democrats

Member, Railroad Commission: Cody Garrett

Member, State Board of Education, District 6: R. Dakota Carter

State Representative, District 139: Kimberly Willis

Judge, 11th Civil District Court: Kristen Hawkins

Judge, 61st Civil District Court: Fredericka Phillips

Judge, 215th Civil District Court: JoAnn Storey

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez

Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1: Eric William Carter

Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Place 1: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Constable, Precinct 2: Christopher (Chris) Diaz

Constable, Precinct 3: Sherman Eagleton

Some of these are reiterations of primary endorsements, but quite a few are new, with the original endorsed candidate not making it to the finals. I’ll post a roundup of interview and Q&A links for the races where I’ve done them tomorrow.

Earthquake!

It’s a real risk in Dallas now.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area has a 1 to 5 percent chance of experiencing an earthquake strong enough to damage buildings in the next year, the U.S. Geological Survey said Monday.

That risk has grown tenfold since 2008, when the area began experiencing a surge of mild to moderate-sized quakes, said Mark Petersen, chief of the National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project at the USGS in an exclusive interview with The Dallas Morning News. North Texas’ earthquake hazard is now on par with parts of Oklahoma and California.

“One of the big concerns for me is that there is a very high population density in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and this activity is taking place within that area,” he said.

Last week, The News obtained a report, produced by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, detailing the potential damage from earthquakes of magnitude 4.8 and 5.6, which fall within the hazard map predictions.

The vast majority of damage to buildings would be minor, such as cracks in walls and ceilings. “I don’t want people to feel like their houses are all going to come down,” Petersen said.

But he said he couldn’t rule out a larger earthquake because the Dallas-Fort Worth area has long faults running through it that may have the potential to rupture.

Earthquakes and their risks are in the news this week because of a new report from the US Geological Survey that mapped out the risks of both natural and human-induced earthquakes. Here’s NPR.

A decade ago, an Oklahoman could count the number of noticeable quakes on her fingers. “In this past year, we had over 900,” says USGS seismic hazard expert Mark Petersen. “So the rates have surged.”

Petersen says induced quakes have become more frequent because there’s more wastewater from oil and gas operations around the country that has to be disposed of. Companies pump it down into underground wells, and sometimes that water raises pressure on underground faults that then slip and cause small quakes.

Industry officials say the percentage of waste wells that pose quake risks is very low. But with the rise in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which produces a lot of polluted water that needs to be disposed of, the overall number of waste wells around the country has skyrocketed.

The new maps also include the risks of natural quakes around the country, as they have in the past. Those risks haven’t changed much. But the number of induced quakes has increased tenfold since 2014, according to the USGS.

Petersen notes that most of these induced quakes are not likely to bring down buildings. Most are in the range of magnitude 3 or 4, which are minor. But some are above magnitude 5, which can do serious damage — cause cracks in your house, for example, or in bridges and roads.

[…]

“I think that we need help people understand that they do face a risk in these areas of induced earthquake activity,” Petersen says, “and they need to take precautions just like people in California do.”

Taking precautions against induced earthquakes — such as strengthening buildings or changing insurance rates — might be tricky, though.

Mark Zoback, a geophysicist at Stanford University who studies induced quakes, says: “It’s important to recognize the risk that these maps point out, but that risk is going to change depending on what’s happening on the ground.” Wastewater wells may not be active for more than a few months or a year; after that, they may no longer pose a risk. Meanwhile, it can take years for a state or community to change building codes to make structures more quake-sturdy.

Moreover, some states have started to ban or limit waste wells in these quake zones. “And in the few places where the injection has stopped,” Zoback says, “the earthquakes have stopped.”

Zoback adds that the boom in oil and gas exploration in some places is dwindling, which would likely mean fewer waste wells and lower risk. On the other hand, wherever the industry drills new waste wells could become the next quake hot spot.

Can’t wait to see what the discussion of this looks like in next year’s Legislature. Assuming they’re allowed to talk about it at all, of course. Vox and the Chron have more.

Runoff watch: Railroad Commissioner

So yeah, the Railroad Commissioner runoff is a bit of a mess, on both sides. I’m going to let the Trib summarize the problem.

In his campaign for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, former state Rep. Wayne Christian says his 14-year legislative career made him an expert on energy issues. And the Republican laments that many people misunderstand the curiously named agency he wants to lead, which hasn’t dealt with locomotives for more than a decade.

“A lot of people don’t know what the Railroad Commission does – even folks in the Legislature,” he said in a recent interview.

But even Christian, who formerly served on the House energy committee and previously ran for the Railroad Commission in 2014, didn’t know one of the agency’s key duties — regulating natural gas utilities — until a reporter told him.

[…]

On the campaign trail, Christian has knocked his rival in a May 24 Republican primary runoff, real estate magnate Gary Gates, for his lack of policy experience. Gates has never held public office and failed in four earlier bids for the Texas Legislature.

“My current intention is just run on the fact that he has absolutely zero experience in the legislature. Zero experience in any type of legislative process, or government,” Christian said.

But when the Tribune asked about his philosophy on setting gas rates — a question it posed to all four remaining Republicans and Democrats — Christian initially suggested that those duties fell to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities.

“I didn’t realize that they were actually doing the rates inside the utility,” he said after the Tribune told him it was the Railroad Commission’s job. “But I’ve been there, done that.”

Gates, asked the same question in a separate interview, appeared aware of the commission’s duties to regulate natural gas utilities.

“I think I am very well equipped to understand the reasons — if a utility wants a fee increase” to build new pipes or fix aging ones, he said. “Through all of that, there has to be a rate of return” for the company.

[…]

Democrats also have a runoff between the top two vote-getters from the March 1 primary: Grady Yarbrough, a retired school teacher who has lived in San Antonio and East Texas, and Cody Garrett, a former journalist and campaign director from the Austin area. Neither has held public office or has experience in the energy sector. A Democrat hasn’t sat on the commission in more than two decades.

Yarbrough did not appear to understand the commission’s ratemaking duties.

“I’m in tune with market forces, whatever the market prices are. I’m not for the idea of putting a floor in there,” he said, apparently talking about gas production rather than utilities. He then began to discuss controversial legislation from 2015 that curbed local control over oil and gas extraction.

When asked again about utility ratemaking with more detail, he said: “If there needs to be some revision, I would be for it.”

Garrett was aware that the commission set natural gas rates. “I am on the record in calling for a moratorium on raising natural gas rates,” he said, arguing that the current commissioners were too quick to approve hikes. But asked if he would allow utilities to raise rates in some circumstances — to fix equipment, for instance — he said yes, if the project was worthy.

Garrett is the obvious choice on the Democratic side. I really have no idea what motivates people like Gene Kelly and Grady Yarbrough and Jim Hogan to run for offices for which they are manifestly unqualified and for which they have no interest in actually campaigning. Surely there’s some better use of the filing fee for them. It is my fond hope that some day, an enterprising graduate student in political science will try to answer this question. And if I were for some reason voting in the Republican runoff, I’d likely go for Gary Gates, who despite being a lousy candidate for the Legislature on multiple occasions still appears to be the superior choice. And not for nothing, but Wayne Christian was a lousy legislator.

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

The stars at night are slightly less bright

But we’re trying to fix that.

Texas regulators are asking West Texas oil and gas producers to help preserve the region’s famously starry skies.

In a notice issued Wednesday, the Texas Railroad Commission called on Permian Basin operators to curb light pollution at worksites, particularly around the University of Texas’ McDonald Observatory, a destination for world-renowned astronomers in the Davis Mountains near Fort Stockton.

Touting some of the darkest skies in North America and one of the world’s largest telescopes — the Hobby-Eberly — that secluded outpost draws about 75,000 amateur stargazers each year, along with professionals who have made major discoveries, including, in 2012, the most massive black hole ever detected. The Hobby-Eberly recently underwent a $30 million upgrade as part of a project focusing on dark energy, the mysterious force propelling the accelerated expansion of the universe.

But astronomers and other dark skies fanatics fret that scattered light from drilling rigs, light towers and other equipment in recent years has drowned out entire sections of sky, threatening the view and research.

Ordinances in the seven counties surrounding the observatory require home and business owners to cut their light use at certain times. Most residents follow the rules, but such rules don’t apply to the operators whose lights can be seen from hundreds of miles away.

The Railroad Commission notice discusses the “cutting edge” research at the observatory, and refers companies to studies on how to address the problem relatively cheaply.

“You are encouraged to consult these resources and consider ways to reduce stray light,” the notice states. “The solutions can be simple and cost effective and can actually improve nighttime visibility and increase worker safety.”

This is not the first time that the McDonald Observatory has faced this issue. Now that the oil boom is over, a big part of that problem may be solved organically. Be that as it may, it’s nice to see the Railroad Commission doing something useful. Hopefully the drillers that remain out in the Permian Basin will take heed of their advice.

Endorsement watch: RRC

The Chron endorses former State Rep. Lon Burnam in the Democratic primary for Railroad Commissioner.

Lon Burnam

Our recommendation for the Democratic primary is former state Rep. Lon Burnam.

Burnam, who served in the House for 18 years, including time spent on the Energy Resources Committee, is knowledgeable about the issues and well-qualified for his party’s nomination.

Burnam wants to rebrand the commission the Texas Energy Commission so that the public knows – its name notwithstanding – that the Railroad Commission is responsible for regulating the state’s oil and gas industry, as well as mining and pipelines.

Burnam says that if nominated and elected, he would push the commission to develop a comprehensive energy plan. Safety would be his top priority, and he would make sure that if tragedy strikes, the commission is out front, investigating what has occurred.

As a life-long environmentalist, Burnam would promote enhanced collaboration between state agencies and greater oversight of land restoration following drilling and of injection wells.

Burnam has racked up a few endorsements, including all the ones I’ve tracked here in Harris County, the editorial boards of the Morning News and Star-Telegram, and various environmental groups. This is the only statewide non-judicial office up for election, and the question as has been the case in recent years is whether a good background, a smattering of name recognition, and a bunch of establishment support can overcome a lack of money to get enough votes to win or at least make the runoff in a low-profile race., especially given the turnout that will be driven by a contested Presidential primary. The list of similar races that wound up generating random results is long enough to be a major concern. At least Cody Garrett offers an acceptable alternative, so in the event of a runoff there will be a candidate worth voting for no matter what. But this issue remains one that Democrats are going to have to figure out how to solve.

2016 Election page is up

vote-button

Here it is. A few notes:

– This is for races that will appear on the Harris County ballot only. Our ballot is big enough, with enough contested primary races, that I didn’t have the time or the energy to do anything more ambitious. It’s great that there is such interest in running for office as a Democrat in Harris County, but it does limit my capabilities a bit.

– Along those lines, I have not included Constable and JP races on this page. I mean, look at the HCDP primary candidates page. There are four contested JP races involving 19 candidates, and 5 contested Constable races with 23 more candidates. I’ve already got 75 candidates in 29 races on the page. I can’t keep up with more than that.

– As always, this is a work in progress. I linked to campaign or Facebook pages where I could – campaign Facebook pages, not personal ones – but only if I could find one. If you know of an error or omission, or if you know of a page that has come online since I first published, please drop me a note to kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com. Thanks.

– I will start running primary interviews and judicial Q&As on Monday. Again, I won’t be able to cover everything, but I’ll do what I can. Early voting starts in seven weeks (!) so to say the least this is a sprint.

– Note that some candidates have run for things before, and for some of them there may already be an interview or Q&A in my archives from a previous election. I’ve been doing interviews and Q&As for primaries since 2008, so go search the archives and see what you can find.

– For judges in Criminal District Court races, here’s a brief overview provided by Murray Newman, defense attorney and former Assistant DA. He tends to lean Republican, but he also knows a lot of these people, so go see what he has to say.

I think that about covers it. I’ll add finance report information as soon as I can, and will begin tracking endorsements when they come out. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks.

Filing deadline highlights

I’m taking a look at interesting bits from the state and Harris County Democratic Party filings. You can see the latter here; there isn’t a page dedicated to this on the TDP webpage (why?) but via this press release we find the SOS candidate filing report, which once filtered for Dem only gives us what we want, albeit in a not-so-pretty package. We soldier on nonetheless. Here are the things that caught my eye.

Federal

– In addition to the three candidates with whom you may be familiar, your choices for President in Texas include Calvis L. Hawes, Keith Judd, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Star Locke, and Willie L. Wilson. Hawes, Judd, and Locke are themselves from Texas.

– Democratic candidates filed for 30 of the 36 Congressional seats, the exceptions being 8, 11, 13, 19, 32, and 36. Of those, only 32 could be considered on the horizon of competitive, so no great loss. Incumbent Democrats facing primary challengers are Beto O’Rourke (CD16), Henry Cuellar (CD28), Eddie Berniece Johnson (CD30), and of course Gene Green (CD29), who like Johnson has two opponents, both named Garcia (Adrian and Dominique). There are seven candidates for the open CD15. Former Rep. Pete Gallego, trying to take back CD23, has a primary opponent to overcome first. Frequent candidate A.R. Hassan is one of two hopefuls for CD22. And hey, remember Ray Madrigal, the guy who ran against Wendy Davis in the gubernatorial primary in 2014? He’s a candidate for CD27, along with two other folks.

Statewide

– Your candidates for Railroad Commissioner are former State Rep. Lon Burnam, 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough, and Cody Garrett.

– All of the statewide judicial offices have candidates: Mike Westergren, Dori Contreras Garza, and Savannah Robinson, for places 3, 5, and 9 on the Supreme Court; incumbent Judge Larry Meyers (remember he switched parties last year), Betsy Johnson, and Robert Burns, for places 2, 5, and 6 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. I think you have to go back to 2002 to find the last time we had all such slots filled.

SBOE

– I guess first-term SBOE member Martha Dominguez decided not to run for re-election, because she didn’t file for it. Dominguez was more than a little flaky about running after her surprise win in the 2012 primary (why she was in the primary if she was reluctant to run for November remains a mystery), so no great loss here. Three candidates – Georgia Perez, Joe Fierro, Jr., and Lynn Oliver – are on the ballot to replace her.

– Two familiar names are back, Rebecca Bell-Metereau in SBOE5, and Judy Jennings in SBOE10. Both good candidates (you can search my archives for the interviews I did with them in 2010 if you are so inclined), with perhaps better chances of winning this time.

– There are three candidates for SBOE6 in Harris County – Jasmine Jenkins, Dakota Carter, and Michael Jordan. I know nothing about any of them at this time.

District appeals courts

– We seem to have these covered for Harris and the other counties in our two appellate districts:

Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals – Jim Peacock.
Justice, 1st Court of Appeals District, Place 4 – Barbara Gardner.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2 – Candance White and Jim Sharp. Yes, that Jim Sharp.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 9 – Peter M. Kelly.

That appears to be a full slate, unless there are any unexpired terms I’m not aware of. DA candidate Morris Overstreet ran for Chief Justice of the 1st Court in 2010. Peter Kelly is a neighbor of mine, so that’s cool.

– There’s a contested primary for Justice, 13th Court of Appeals District, Place 3, in South Texas, which had been held by 2008 Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez; she lost it in a heartbreaker in the 2010 debacle. One of the candidates is Leticia Hinojosa, whom those with long memories may remember as Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s primary opponent for the re-redistricted CD25 in 2004. Everything old is new again.

State Senate

– You know about the TMF-Menendez rematch in SD26. Another “rematch” is in SD19, where Sen. Carlos Uresti faces Helen Madla, widow of former Sen. Frank Madla, whom Uresti ousted in 2006. Let me just say that as much as I love the city of San Antonio, I’m glad I’m not living there this primary season.

– Sen. Eddie Lucio also has a primary opponent, O. Rodriguez Haro III.

– Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder is running for SD24, the seat vacated by Troy Fraser. She won’t win, but at least someone is running. No one filed for the other open Senate seat, Kevin Eltife’s SD01.

State House

– By my rough count, Dems fielded candidates in 90 of the 150 State House districts, which I believe means they are challenging 38 Republican incumbents. Offhand I don’t know how that compares to other years. Some districts where I would have liked to have seen a challenger include 17, 32, 45, 132, and 138. Easier said than done, I know. The Dallas County Democratic Party put out a release touting the fact that all of their districts have a Dem running in them. Good on them for that.

– Incumbents with primary challengers, according to the SOS: Toni Rose (HD110), Ina Minjarez (HD124; she won a special election late in the session, so no shock here), Alma Allen (HD131), Gene Wu (HD137), Ron Reynolds (HD27; he has three opponents), Sergio Munoz (HD36), and Mary Gonzalez (HD75; she is facing former Rep. Chente Quintanilla). According to the HCDP page, you can add Jessica Farrar (HD148) and Hubert Vo (HD149) to that list, with both of their opponents being hot messes. Farrar faces Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – while Vo draws minor Mayoral candidate Demetria Smith. Pass the Advil.

– Open seat report: Three candidates in HD116 (vacated by TMF in his Senate quest), two in HD118 (Joe Farias; son Gabe won the special election to fill out his term), six in HD120 (Ruth Jones McClendon), three in HD139 (Sylvester Turner), seven in HD49 (Elliott Naishtat), and two in HD77 (Marissa Marquez).

– Other contested races: HD117 (Philip Cortez tries to win back the seat he won in 2012 and lost in 2014; he faces San Carlos Antonio), and HD144 (Mary Ann Perez tries to do the same but first faces Cody Ray Wheeler and Bernie Aldape). Also of note, Lloyd Criss (father of former Judge and 2014 candidate Susan Criss) tries his luck in HD23, which he once represented some years back.

Harris County

– There are twelve contested judicial races. These are mostly for Republican-held benches, but incumbent Elaine Palmer drew two challengers. Guess I better start sending out those judicial Q&As.

– Those 12 judicial races are for district and county courts. There are also four contested JP races. Incumbent Richard Vara (Precinct 6, Place 1) has an opponent, and incumbent Hillary Green (Precinct 7, Place 1; she is the estranged wife of outgoing Controller Ronald Green) has seven (!) opponents, including 2012 HCDP Chair candidate and 2013 Mayoral candidate Keryl Douglas.

– There are 26 people running for 8 Constable positions. Incumbents Alan Rosen (Precinct 1) has two opponents; Chris Diaz (Precinct 2) has three; Henry Martinez (Precinct 6) has four; and May Walker (Precinct 7) has one.

– Sherrie Matula, who had a couple of good runs for State Rep in HD129 prior to the 2011 redistricting, is a candidate for HCDE in Precinct 2, while Marilyn Burgess is running in Precinct 4. There are no At Large HCDE spots on the ballot this year.

– Commissioner El Franco Lee is unopposed, while former Council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool and Eric Hassan square off for the right to challenge Steve Radack in Precinct 3.

…And I do believe that’s a wrap. There may be some late additions or corrections – the SOS page may not have full information from the county parties, for instance – but this is a decent overview. There are a few names on the ballot that I wouldn’t mind seeing disappear, and trying to make sense of all these races and candidates will be a monumental task with not a whole lot of time to accomplish it, but overall this is a good thing. Much better to have a plethora of candidates than a dearth in a democracy.

David Porter not running for re-election to RRC

Another open seat.

David Porter

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter will not be running for re-election after all.

Thursday’s surprise announcement from Porter, who was first elected in 2010, unleashed a flood of interest from Republicans pondering bids for his seat.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, all confirmed they are weighing their options. And rumors were swirling around Austin that others might jump in.

[…]

Porter, who formerly ran a Midland accounting firm that catered to oil and gas companies, was elected to the three-member commission in 2010. And he took over as chairman in June.

At the agency (which also regulates mining, pipeline safety and natural gas utilities, but not railroads), Porter launched the Eagle Ford Shale Task Force, a collection of public officials, industry leaders, landowners and environmentalists who discussed issues surrounding oil and gas development in Texas’ drilling country. He also pushed Texas to find new uses for natural gas — particularly as a fuel for automobiles.

Last year, as Denton was preparing to vote on a hydraulic fracturing ban that the Legislature has since outlawed, Porter drew mocking from activists after he and another commissioner claimed — without evidence — that Russians were trying to shape the anti-fracking message in the North Texas town.

In recent weeks, Porter appeared to be gearing up for a major primary battle, sending out press releases blasting “radical environmentalist ideology” related to climate change and speaking of terror threats to power plants and pipelines posed by The Islamic State, or ISIS.

Porter is kind of an accidental Commissioner – he came out of nowhere to knock off then-Commissioner Victor Carrillo in the 2010 GOP primary, which no one saw coming. No great loss when he leaves, though as always the next person in line could be worse. Patterson or Keffer would be okay, the rest probably not. I figure this nomination will be decided in the runoff. It would of course be much better to have a good Democrat in the race, and as of Sunday, we have one:

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, said Sunday that he has filed to run for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas development.

“I think it’s really important that we have a progressive voice in this Railroad Commission race, and I think it’s very important we end one party rule in this state,” Burnam said.

Burnam represented House District 90 beginning in 1997; he ran for reelection in 2014 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by the current occupant of the seat, state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

Burnam would certainly be a fresh voice on the RRC, which isn’t used to having non-industry shills. He’s clearly a longshot to win, but given how crazy things are in the GOP Presidential primary, who knows what could happen. This is the only non-judicial statewide office on the ballot, and according to the Star-Telegram, Burnam will face 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. We know what kind of random results we can get in these low-profile races, so I hope Burnam can raise a few bucks and get his name out. FuelFix has more.

Steve Brown to run in HD27

This ought to shake things up a bit.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

The bad week for state Rep. Ron Reynolds is getting worse.

Steve Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend County Democrats, wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he will challenge Reynolds in the March primary. A formal announcement will be made after Thanksgiving, Brown wrote.

[…]

Despite his legal problems, Reynolds is seeking a fourth term representing House District 27, which covers parts of Houston, Missouri City, Sugar Land, Pearland, Stafford, Fresno and Arcola.

Brown has worked on campaigns and in legislative offices of several public officials, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston; state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston; and former U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. In 2014, he lost to Republican Ryan Sitton for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry.

Here’s the tweet in question:

See here and here for the background. Brown ran for HD27 back in 2006 against then-Rep. Dora Olivo, getting 39.6% of the vote; Reynolds also lost to Olivo in 2008, then defeated her in 2010. I don’t live in that district, but if I did Steve Brown would get my vote. I’ll have more when he makes his formal announcement.

Somewhat watered down fracking bill advances in House

By “fracking bill”, I mean a bill to limit how cities can regulate fracking, because that’s how things are these days.

In a 10-1 vote, the House Committee on Energy Resources approved an updated version of House Bill 40, among the most prominent of nearly a dozen bills filed in the aftermath of Denton’s vote in November to ban hydraulic fracturing within the North Texas city’s limits.

Intended to clarify where local control ends and Texas law begins, HB 40 would pre-empt local efforts to regulate a wide variety of oil and gas activities.

But the substitute legislation also includes language that specifies what cities could still regulate, including fire and emergency response, traffic, lights and noise, while also allowing them to enact “reasonable” setbacks between drilling sites and certain buildings.

State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, voted against the bill, while Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, voted “present,” meaning he did not pick a side.

The legislation – proposed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo – now heads to the full House.

The vote drew rebukes from environmentalists, who criticized any attempt to roll back local control. But some representatives for local governments said they were encouraged by changes to the proposal.

“It’s a lot better,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League. “There’s a couple of things we’re not 100 percent happy with, but it’s much better than the filed version.”

See here for the background. I’m glad this bill is more limited in scope now, though there are still plenty of other bills out there to stick it to cities, but the fundamental problem that there is no true statewide oversight of fracking remains. I’ll say it again, if the Railroad Commission were worth a damn, cities like Denton wouldn’t have taken things into their own hands. If the Lege really wants to address this, that’s the place to start. Trail Blazers has more.

On playing small ball

Campos reacts to Mayor Parker’s future statewide plans.

SmallBall

And here again is my small ball take from a few weeks ago:

It is time for small ball instead of the big inning.

In baseball, small ball is a strategy where you manufacture runs by utilizing the bunt, stealing bases, the hit and run, walks, hitting behind the runner, and contact hitting. You have to use this strategy if your offense is short of bashers. The big inning is a strategy where you rely heavily on the extra base hit, the walks, dingers, and have the capability of scoring a lot of runs in an inning. You need to have a lineup that includes a few power hitters and fence swingers.

Moving forward, Dems in the Lone Star State should consider utilizing the small ball strategy. We need to look at where we can pick up a run here and there. Let’s look at the map and see here we have a shot at a legislative seat, a county commissioner, county judgeship, district judgeship, county clerk, JP, constable – you get the picture. In a state with 254 counties, don’t tell me there are not any opportunities.

We are not ready for big inning play and I am not talking about a lack of quality statewide candidates. We had a good slate this past go-around. We just didn’t have the weapons to swing for the fences – a solid, organized, and energetic base. We build the base by playing small ball and picking up a run here and there. That’s how you manufacture some Ws.

Maybe the Mayor is thinking the statewide political environment will dramatically be altered in two or four years. Maybe she thinks the GOP in charge of our state government will run our state into the ground and the voters will be ready for the Mayor’s leadership. Of course, the GOP has been running the state for ten years now and they have only gotten more votes. Or maybe she has the confidence she can put together a big inning style campaign. I don’t know about that. Maybe she just wants to make sure that her name stays out there in the mix along with all the other politicos that have gotten previous statewide potential mention.

All I can say is get on out to places like Lufkin, Brownwood, Raymondville, Sherman, and Odessa and see if folks are interested.

Three thoughts:

1. I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on local elections, and have said so previously. I would simply note that there’s no need to wait until 2016 for this. There are plenty of elections this year that need attention, and anything we can do to get our people into a habit of voting outside of Presidential years will be a good thing. The May elections in Pasadena and Plano, where I’m sure some Council members will need defending, will require involvement. It would also be nice to see a worthy successor elected to fill Diego Bernal’s Council seat in San Antonio. Here in Houston, CM Richard Nguyen in District F made a courageous vote in favor of the HERO last year, and will be running for re-election having come out as a Democrat in a district that hasn’t elected anyone of the Democratic persuasion in my memory. He deserves our support, and if we’re not rallying to his side then there’s something wrong with us. The two open At Large seats – three if CM Christie decides to run for Mayor – are opportunities to elect strong progressive voices. If we want to act locally, there’s no time like the present.

2. As far as 2016 goes, if we are interested in trying to gain some ground at the county level, I would note that that is what the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) was created to do. I don’t know where things stand with that now – I suspect they got lost in the shuffle last year – but the point is that some work in identifying potential downballot targets has already been done. If there’s nothing left of the TCDCC to speak of, then frankly this is a place where Battleground Texas could step in and do some good. Crunch the numbers, identify some opportunities, share the information, and work with the locals to find and support good candidates. And if not the TCDCC or BGTX, then I don’t know who else. It’s easy to talk about this stuff. Actually doing it is a lot harder.

Here in Harris County, there are a few elections of interest for 2016. Winning back HD144, hopefully with a plan to not fumble it away again in 2018, is a priority. I still believe there is ground to be gained in HDs 132 and 135, perhaps more as a long-term investment. Countywide, we’ll have Ogg v. Anderson 2.0 for DA, someone to run for Tax Assessor, and depending on what Adrian Garcia decides to do, possibly a Sheriff’s office to win back or hold. If we want to think big – and I see no reason why playing small ball means thinking small – there’s Steve Radack’s seat on Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 was about 60-40 red in 2012, but if we’re serious about growing the vote here, that’s where a lot of untapped voters are going to be. We can wait around until he decides to retire, whenever that may be, or we can take a shot at it. You tell me what you would prefer.

3. As a reminder, there are no statewide elections in 2016 other than one Railroad Commissioner spot and the judicial races. As was the case last year, there won’t be much action in the legislative races, even with more attention on HD144. District Attorney, maybe Sheriff, and at a lower level Tax Assessor are the only countywide races that will draw interest, though perhaps if someone steps up to run against Steve Radack that will make a bit of noise. Obviously, there’s the Presidential race, and it is always the main driver of turnout, but what I’m saying is that as things stand right now, that will be even more the case in 2016. Barring anything unexpected, that means Team Hillary, which in turn means Battleground Texas, since the two are so closely intertwined. I don’t know what is going to happen to BGTX, and I don’t know how people are going to feel about them in another 18 or 20 months. What I do know is that we will have a better outcome, here and elsewhere in the state, if we – all of us, everyone – can find some way to work together rather than work at cross purposes. I personally don’t care who’s in charge, or who gets the credit when there is credit to be had. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we do not hang together we will surely hang separately. It’s up to us what path we take.

Mayor Parker keeps looking forward

Always in motion is the future, at least for Mayor Parker.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker left open the idea on Sunday that she would endorse one of the dozen candidates positioning to possibly succeed her, though she said she hoped to avoid doing that early in the race.

“I don’t know that I will endorse. I will stay out of it as long as I can possibly do that,” Parker said in an interview on KPRC’s “Newsmakers” on Sunday morning. “I cannot get involved in the campaigns.”

Parker, term-limited after winning election three times, has in the past expressed annoyance with the long-whispered highly-anticipated race. On Sunday, Parker said the campaign is already affecting interactions on City Council, where three councilmen — Oliver Pennington, Stephen Costello, and Jack Christie — could replace her.

Houston’s departing mayor also said she was likely to run for higher office, hinting at a potential statewide bid in 2016 or 2018. Parker said that while she would not miss campaigning after leaving City Hall next year, she would miss governing.

“I hope to be able to continue to serve the citizens of this city or this state, but a lot about politics is timing,” she said, noting that many statewide officials were just elected in 2014. “I’m going to need some work to do.”

Mayor Parker has discussed the possibility of running statewide before, so this is no surprise. The only office available in 2016 is David Porter’s seat on the Railroad Commission, so it’s been my expectation that she really just means 2018. I haven’t watched the video, so I don’t know if this was her saying something different, some lack of clarity in the question or answer, or a transcription problem. Be that as it may, the main point is she’s still potentially interested in a statewide run down the line.

As for endorsing a successor, I think if she had a preferred successor in mind, we’d know it by now. There are likely several people in this race that she would at least be OK with if they won, and there’s not much to be gained by needlessly alienating a friend. My guess is that she’ll be like many other office holders and endorsing organizations and keep her powder dry till a runoff, when the choice may be sufficiently stark. But who knows? Campos has more.

A Denton fracking overview

The Trib has a long piece on the Denton fracking fight, also published in Politico to help non-Texans understand what this was about. It’s a good read that goes over all the main points if you need a refresher on the details. There are two bits of interest I’d like to highlight:

Cathy McMullen taps the brakes of her Toyota Prius after driving through a neighborhood of mostly one-story homes in Denton, about an hour northwest of Dallas. “There,” she says, nodding toward a limestone wall shielding from view a pad of gas wells. McMullen, a 56-year-old ­­­­home health nurse, cruised past a stretch of yellowed grass and weeds. “They could have put that pad site on that far corner right there,” she says, pointing ahead. “The land’s all vacant.”

Instead, the wells sit on the corner of Bonnie Brae and Scripture Street. Across the way: Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. Across another street: the basketball court, picnic tables and purple playground of McKenna Park. That was where Range Resources, a company based in Fort Worth, wanted to start drilling and fracking in 2009.

McMullen, who at that time had just moved into a house about 1,500 feet away from the proposed site, joined others in raising concerns about bringing the gas industry and hydraulic fracturing — widely known as fracking — so close to where kids play. Fracking, which involves blasting apart underground rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water to free up oil and gas, “is a brutal, brutal process for people living around it,” McMullen says.

Their efforts in city hall failed.

If McMullen felt invisible five years ago, she doesn’t anymore. Today, state lawmakers, the oil and gas industry and national environmental groups have become acutely aware of Denton, home to two universities, 277 gas wells and now, thanks to a rag-tag group of local activists, Texas’ first ban on fracking.

Thrust into the saga is George P. Bush, who in January will take the helm of the Texas General Land Office, an otherwise obscure office that manages mineral rights on millions of acres of state-owned property. In his first political office, Jeb’s eldest son and George W.’s nephew will inherit one of two major lawsuits filed against Denton, home to a sliver of that mineral portfolio.

We don’t need a patchwork approach to drilling regulations across the state,” Bush, a former energy investment consultant, told The Texas Tribune in July as the anti-fracking campaign gained steam. It appears to be his only public statement on the issue.

Bush’s role in the dispute — however peripheral — only brightens the spotlight on Denton, and it forces him and others to choose between two interests Texans hold dear: petroleum and local control.

I’m sorry, but the idea that “local control” is a dearly-held ideal, especially by Republicans, is a complete myth. Just look at the myriad bills Republican legislators have introduced in recent sessions and/or will introduce this session to limit or eliminate the ability of cities to pass and enforce anti-discrimination ordinances and to regulate a wide variety of things, from fracking to single use plastic bags to payday lending. Throw in other top legislative priorities to require cities to enforce federal immigration laws and to limit their revenue growth via tighter appraisal caps on top of that. As I said before, Republicans are at least as interested nowadays in nullifying municipal laws as they are of nullifying federal laws. Whatever fealty there is to the idea of “local control” has long gone out the window any time some local entity has tried to do something state Republicans – or more specifically, their corporate masters – don’t like. It’s time we recognized that.

McMullen’s group — Frack Free Denton — persuaded nearly 59 percent of Denton voters to approve a fracking ban on Nov. 4, after knocking on doors, staging puppet shows and performing song-and-dance numbers. The movement had help from Earthworks, a national environmental group, but its opponents — backed by the oil and gas lobby — raised more than $700,000 to spend on mailers and television ads and a high-profile public relations and polling firm. That was more than 10 times what Frack Free Denton collected.

[…]

Trying to make sense of the Nov. 4 landslide vote, some industry officials suggest that the voting power of Denton’s roughly 51,000 university students effectively drowned out the town’s permanent residents. The gowns, the argument goes, drove the town. “If we’re looking at Denton and trying to glean some sort of national significance out of this,” says Steve Everley, the national spokesman for Energy In-Depth, which promotes the petroleum industry, “then the significance is that activists are having success in college towns and in populations with few if any wells.”

But Denton’s voting records cast doubt on that argument. It’s not clear that college students turned out in high enough numbers to single-handedly tilt the vote. Voters closer to campuses overwhelmingly supported the ban, as well as Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor. But plenty of conservatives also rejected fracking. Both Republican Greg Abbott, who ultimately defeated Davis, and the ban prevailed in 11 of Denton’s biggest 33 precincts. Roughly 25,000 votes were cast in the fracking question and those opposed to fracking outpaced supporters by some 4,400 votes. Denton would have still passed the measure by 412 votes even if voters younger than 30 were disregarded. Voting data also shows that the average age of a voter was 52.

I’ve mentioned before that Democratic turnout in Denton was helped by the referendum, and that’s good, but it could and should have been better. I wonder how many people in Denton voted for the fracking ban and also voted for Ryan Sitton for Railroad Commissioner and George P. Bush for Land Commissioner, perhaps without realizing that by doing so they were partially undermining their own vote. Some of that was probably force of habit – partisan affiliation is strong – some of it was probably just not making the connection. I’m sure there were missed opportunities for Dems to work with the anti-fracking folks to help make that connection. Of course, that can be a dicey proposition when you need Republican support to win and thus need for your effort to appear as non-partisan as possible so as not to turn any of those folks off, and besides I’m sure it would have been difficult to get that message through when the city is already drowning in pro- and anti-fracking ads. I don’t have a good answer here, I’m just saying this is the sort of thing we need to be thinking about.

Other towns consider fracking bans

If Denton can do it

A Texas hamlet shaken by its first recorded earthquake last year and hundreds since then is among communities now taking steps to challenge the oil and gas industry’s traditional supremacy over the right to frack.

Reno Mayor Lyndamyrth Stokes said spooked residents started calling last November: “I heard a boom, then crack! The whole house shook. What was that?” one caller asked. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that Reno, a community about 50 miles west of Dallas, had its first earthquake.

Seismologists have looked into whether the tremors are being caused by disposal wells on the outskirts of Reno, where millions of gallons of water produced by hydraulic fracturing are injected every day. Reno took the first step toward what Stokes believes will be an outright ban by passing a law in April limiting disposal well activity to operators who can prove the injections won’t cause earthquakes.

Reno and other cities are taking their lead from Denton, a university town north of Dallas where the state’s first ban on fracking within city limits takes effect Tuesday. The Denton ban has become a “proxy for this big war between people who want to stop fracking and people who want to see it happen,” said Michael Webber, deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

It also has become a referendum on Texas cities’ rights to halt drilling.

[…]

Denton’s city council has pledged to defend its ban, and other cities have taken note.

“Regulation doesn’t work very well in the state of Texas because the Railroad Commission doesn’t work on the public’s behalf,” said Dan Dowdey, an anti-fracking advocate in Alpine, a college town a few hours from two major shale formations, the Permian Basin and Eagle Ford. Dowdey and others are calling for Alpine’s city commission to ban fracking — even though the closest drilling is more than 100 miles away.

“We’re familiar with what the oil and gas industry can do to an area, and it’s not real pretty and it smells bad,” Dowdey added.

Residents of Presidio, a border town southwest of Alpine, want municipal leaders to protect their water source from being tainted by exploratory fracking wells in Mexico, said Pat Simms, who sits on a Presidio County water conservation board.

See here for some background. The Legislature will of course seek to pass a law that would forbid cities from adopting such bans, and the ongoing lawsuits might make that moot anyway. But maybe they won’t! Who knows? Point is, the desire to do this isn’t going to go away, and as long as that exists there will be a way. BOR and Texas Vox have more.

More on the initial bill filings

From the Trib, a sampling:

As of Monday afternoon, a bill repealing the Texas Dream Act, which allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition rates, had yet to emerge. Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick promised while campaigning that he would work to repeal the act. The bill could part of legislation that is reserved for priorities set by the lieutenant governor.

All bills can be seen on the Texas Legislature site. Here’s a list of other noteworthy legislation filed Monday: 

Guns

State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and James White, R-Woodville, filed legislation, House Bill 106 and House Bill 164, respectively, that would allow Texans to openly carry handheld guns. 

House Bill 176, filed by Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, would create the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which would say a federal law “that infringes on a law-abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution or Section 23, Article I, Texas Constitution, is invalid and not enforceable in this state.” 

Transportation

Senate Joint Resolution 12 and Senate Bill 139, filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, would eliminate diversions from the state highway fund to the Department of Public Safety to ensure those funds are only used on road construction. Currently, part of the state highway fund is paying for state highway police. 

Health

Senate Bill 66, filed by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, would require schools to stock EpiPens, and that employees are trained in how to use the medical devices that combat serious allergic reactions.

Senate Bill 96 and Senate Bill 97, also filed by Hinojosa, would introduce regulations of vapor products, or  e-cigarettes, in Texas. SB 96 prohibits the use of vapor products on school property, while SB 97 would apply many of the regulations on cigarettes to vapor products.

House Bill 113, filed by Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress, would make it illegal to perform an abortion based on the sex of the child.

House Bill 116, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. 

Education

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, filed several higher education related bills. Senate Bill 24 would increase the orientation training for university system regents, while Senate Bill 42 would prevent the governor from appointing a student regent if that person did not submit an application to the university or its student government. Senate Bill 23, also filed by Zaffirini, would make pre-kindergarten available to all 4-year-olds in Texas and make half-day pre-K available to 3-year olds who meet certain at-risk measures.

Senate Bill 150, filed by Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, would fund 64 construction and renovation projects at higher education institutions across the state. It would cost $2.86 billion.

House Bill 138, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would stop independent school districts from banning schools from posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. 

Voting

House Bill 76, filed by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, would allow citizens to register to vote online. 

Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, filed three bills in an attempt to increase civic engagement in Texas. Senate Bill 141 would create a voter education program in Texas high schools, Senate Bill 142 would allow deputy registrars to receive their training online, and Senate Bill 143 would notify voters who were rejected while registering of what mistakes they made on their registration forms. 

House Bill 111, filed by Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, would create same-day voter registration. 

Energy and Environment

Senate Bill 109, filed by Sen.-elect Van Taylor, R-Plano, establishes new deadlines for processing water rights permits in Texas. In a statement on Monday, Taylor said the bill was aimed at bureaucracy that is preventing parts of North Texas from accessing water.

House Bill 224, filed by Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the “Texas Energy Resources Commission.” Similar legislation has failed in the past.

Other

House Bill 55, filed by Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, would allow money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to go to veterans hospitals in the state. The Texas Enterprise Fund became embroiled in controversy this past election season, when it was revealed that several recipients of the fund never formally submitted applications.

House Bill 92, filed by Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would change the legal definition of an “illegal knife.” 

House Bill 150, filed by Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, would nix daylight savings time in Texas.

House Bill 161, filed by Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, would allow counties to house prisoners in tents.  

There’s plenty more, some good, some bad, some bat$#!+ crazy, some blatantly unconstitutional, many with no hope of ever getting a committee hearing. As always, I’ll do what I can to keep track of ’em as we go. The Chron, Stace, Grits, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Observer have more.

Interview index

For your convenience, here is a list of all my interviews and judicial Q&As for the November election. This includes ones I did for the primary and runoff.

Interviews

US SenateDavid Alameel

Attorney GeneralSam Houston
ComptrollerMike Collier
Land CommissionerJohn Cook
Railroad CommissionerSteve Brown

State Senate, SD15Sen. John Whitmire
State Senate, SD17Rita Lucido

State House, HD23Susan Criss
State House, HD75Rep. Mary Gonzalez
State House, HD131Rep. Alma Allen
State House, HD133Laura Nicol
State House, HD145Rep. Carol Alvarado

District AttorneyKim Ogg
County ClerkAnn Harris Bennett
District ClerkJudith Snively
TreasurerDavid Rosen
HCDE Trustee At LargeDebra Kerner
HCDE Trustee At LargeMelissa Noriega

Judicial Q&As

14th Court of AppealsKyle Carter

180th Criminal District CourtRandy Roll
185th Criminal District CourtMack McInnis
230th Criminal District CourtGreg Glass
248th Criminal District CourtShawna Reagin
263rd Criminal District CourtHerb Ritchie

55th Civil District CourtKay Morgan
113th Civil District CourtSteven Kirkland
190th Civil District CourtFarrah Martinez
234th Civil District CourtBarbara Gardner
281st Civil District CourtTanner Garth

246th Family District CourtSandra Peake
247th Family District CourtChip Wells
280th Family District CourtBarbara Stalder
308th Family District CourtJim Evans
309th Family District CourtKathy Vossler
311th Family District CourtSherri Cothrun

313th Juvenile District CourtTracy Good

Harris County Probate Court #1Kim Bohannon Hoesl
Harris County Probate Court #2Josefina Rendon
Harris County Probate Court #4James Horwitz

Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 2Harold Landreneau
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 10George Barnstone
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 13Jason Luong

Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2Scot Dollinger

Endorsement watch: Probate courts

The Chron makes its endorsements for Probate Courts, and as they have done recently stayed mostly with incumbents while having nice things to say about the challengers. The one Democrat they recommended out of the four races was as follows:

Jerry Simoneaux

Harris County Probate Court No. 3: Jerry Simoneaux

A former probate court staff attorney, Democratic challenger Jerry Simoneaux is the right choice for this bench. A certified mediator who has practiced probate law for 13 years, Simoneaux, 48, graduated from the South Texas College of Law.

Incumbent Republican Judge Rory Robert Olsen has presided over this court since 1999. With a law degree from Duke University, an LLM from Southern Methodist University and a Master of Judicial Studies from the University of Nevada, Olsen, 65, has become an expert on the bench when it comes to mental health issues in probate. A prolific writer on the topic, he has recently worked on an assisted-outpatient treatment program with the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County. However, Olsen’s energy has begun to fade, and he has developed a reputation as an inconsistent judge. Voters should thank him for his years of service and send him out on a high note.

As it happens, Simoneaux is the one candidate out of four for whom I have not yet received Q&A responses. I previously published Q&As with James Horwitz and Kim Bohannon Hoesl, and will have one with Josefina Rendon next week.

In other endorsement news, the Chron also endorsed Big John Cornyn for re-election, in decidedly non-ringing fashion. Some choice quotes:

But voters should know that Cornyn is a Republican first and a Texan second. For a man who has served in elected office since 1986, Cornyn remains unfocused on issues of importance to Houston and the Gulf Coast.

Meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, it seemed as if coastal storm surge protection was a new topic for Texas’ senior senator. When asked about his position on the Ike Dike, Cornyn responded, “I don’t even know what that is.”

Discussing the nuances of exporting crude, Cornyn admitted, “I don’t pretend to understand these things.”

Way to make our alma mater proud, John. Elsewhere, the Star-Telegram joined the Sam Houston bandwagon, while the Dallas Morning News joined the chorus of Mike Collier fans. Let me quote a bit from the FWST piece, since it’s about as succinct a case against Ken Paxton as you’ll see:

The Republican nominee, lawyer and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, is undeserving of consideration.

Paxton was fined $1,000 and still may face a felony investigation.

In May, state securities regulators found Paxton sent clients to an investment firm without registering or disclosing his own paid role.

It happened three times. A 2012 violation is within the five-year statute of limitations.

Paxton should know better.

No candidate to lead “the people’s law firm” should ever have misled a client, a state board or the people of Texas.

Anyone want to argue with that? By the way, there apparently was a Ken Paxton sighting the other day, in which Paxton admitted in passive-voice fashion that he had indeed committed a crime but that he stands lawyered-up and ready to fight the charges against him when they are finally filed. If that’s not a compelling campaign story, I don’t know what is.

Finally, the DMN went red in the races for Land Commissioner, Ag Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner, in the latter case because they valued industry experience more than not being another industry insider, in the former case because they naively think Baby Bush might somehow turn out to be Not That Kind Of Republican, and in the middle case for reasons unclear. Maybe Sid Miller was the only one that showed up, I dunno.

Endorsement watch: One for Steve Brown

The Express News makes a nice call.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

In this year’s contest, Democrat Steve Brown is the best candidate.

A former party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown has not worked in the oil-and-gas industry and can bring a much-needed outsider’s viewpoint. He is clearly the best candidate to voice concerns raised by people in communities most affected by the oil-and-gas boom.

Brown takes concerns about water usage, disposal wells fueling tremors in West Texas and the effects of flaring on our air quality seriously.

He has endorsed recommendations from the Sunset Advisory Commission to change the Railroad Commission’s name, place limits on fundraising from the oil-and-gas industry, and expand its recusal policy so conflicts are placed in writing.

The powerful oil-and-gas industry has excessive influence on the commission. Industry interests and public interests are not always the same.

I’ve talked before about how I expect some of the newspaper endorsements to go – I expect Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston to sweep, Mike Collier and Wendy Davis to do well, and Baby Bush to be the Republican standard-bearer – but the Railroad Commissioner race is harder to read. The E-N pretty much lays out the choice: Ryan Sitton will get the nod from the papers that think experience matters for this office, and Brown will be endorsed by those that think an outsider is needed on this industry-dominated commission. The fact that Brown is smart and a good communicator, has worked hard to learn the details of the job and has put forward some good policy ideas has helped his cause. I hope the other papers see it as the Express News did.

In other endorsement news, the Corpus Christi Caller has been busy. They put out nice recommendations for Mike Collier and Sam Houston. From the latter:

Houston lawyer Sam Houston, the Democrat running for attorney general, would make a compelling case for our endorsement even if the Republican nominee could match his resume and unblemished reputation for ethics. Republican Ken Paxton should be disqualified from consideration because his compromised ethics are a matter of record. We’re disturbed that Republican voters didn’t do that in the primary or the runoff.

[…]

Houston would focus the office of attorney general more forcefully upon its core functions — enforcing consumer protection laws, collecting child support, issuing open-records opinions — and less on suing the federal government at Texas taxpayer expense. Attorney General Greg Abbott famously sued the government to obstruct environmental regulation and Obamacare implementation, and to stop a federal judge’s ruling that would have protected the endangered whooping crane. All of the Republican candidates for attorney general, especially Paxton, promised more of the same. So, we probably would have endorsed Houston anyway had Rep. Dan Branch or former Railroad and Public Utility commissions chairman Barry Smitherman been the GOP nominee — but not without acknowledging their undeniable fitness for the office.

Again, this one is such a no-brainer that I will be shocked if any paper comes up with a reason to tout Paxton. It’s just no contest. As for Collier:

If the state comptroller were a non-elected professional, sensible Texans would hire what they’ve never voted into that office — an accountant. Democrat Mike Collier — CPA and former oil company chief financial officer — would be a shoo-in. And the Republican nominee, state Sen. Glenn Hegar, a farmer — nothing wrong with farmers — would be irrelevant.

Hegar is an example of a recurring mistake voters make — a politician seeking a promotion to comptroller to then what?

Collier is believable when he says comptroller wouldn’t be a steppingstone for him. He’s easy to envision as a comptroller. Lieutenant governor? That would require some imagination. He has never run for office, says he wants to take the politics out of this one and — call us naive — we take him at his word.

[…]

Collier proposes quarterly revenue estimates, which would help lawmakers and the public know where Texas stands financially. He praises Combs for one thing — transparency — but says all she did was dish out mountains of unexplained data. He proposes explaining what it means — a task he’s uniquely qualified to do.

A very strong endorsement for a strong candidate. How much do these things matter? Not much. But it’s still nice to have.

And on a less serious note, there’s the Ag Commissioner race. Texpatriate surveyed the field, and after ruling out the useless Jim Hogan and the troglodyte Sid Miller, chose to endorse Green party candidate Kenneth Kendrick. Apparently, someone notified Hogan about this, and he paused “Storage Wars” and put down his bag of Funyons long enough to tweet his displeasure at this insult to the integrity of his campaign. Snarkery ensued, and so, I hope, will a drawn-out slapfight on social media. You take your diversions where you can, you know? To re-engage serious mode for a moment, it will be interesting to see how the papers handle this race. If there was ever a race in which a third-party candidate could rack up a few endorsements, this would be it. I don’t know that I’d bet on it, but I don’t know that I’d bet against it, either.

More on the Denton fracking referendum

I think everyone agrees the Denton anti-fracking referendum will wind up in court if it passes. It’s just a question of how wired the courts will be for the plaintiffs.

Voters will decide whether the city will become the state’s first to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the method of oil and gas extraction that has led to a domestic energy boom. But passage of a ban would probably trigger another fracking fight: a legal clash over a city’s power to regulate for health and safety and the rights of mineral owners to develop their resources. The outcome could reshape Texas law at a time when drilling is causing tension in some of its urban areas.

“It’s going to be one of those first-time tests, and I don’t think there’s a clear answer out there in Texas law,” said Jim Bradbury, a Fort Worth-based lawyer who focuses on environmental and energy issues.

The Denton measure would not prohibit drilling outright; it would apply only to fracking, which involves blasting apart rock with millions of gallons of chemical-laced water hauled in by trucks. After gathering nearly 2,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban on fracking, opponents forced the City Council to vote on it. Council members rejected the proposal last week, leaving the decision to voters.

Denton, a city of 121,000 with more than 270 gas wells scattered among its neighborhoods, is one of several cities that has tried to ban fracking. That includes towns in New York, whose highest court last month upheld local ordinances banning the practice. The state of Colorado has sued its cities that have banned fracking and is pushing back against ballot measures that would toughen regulations. The prospect of such a ban in Texas – a leading oil and natural gas producer — has put Denton in a bright spotlight, rankling industry leaders and the state”s Republican leadership.

“If one community after another continues to say ‘Not in my backyard,’ then before long, a tsunami of exclusion will jeopardize our freedom as a country profits as a corporate entity,” said Chris Faulkner, the chief executive of Breitling Energy in Dallas, one of many industry representatives who spoke at City Hall before the Council”s vote.

I fixed your quote for you, Chris. The debasement of the word “freedom” is one of the great travesties of the 21st century so far.

Though Texas courts have occasionally considered cities’ drilling regulations, they have yet to see a case of such size and scope, legal experts say.

Texas law says the state intends its mineral resources to be “fully and effectively exploited,” but courts have said the power is not absolute. The Railroad Commission has jurisdiction over all oil and gas wells in the state, with authority to adopt “all necessary rules for governing and regulating persons and their operations.” Local governments have the right to impose reasonable health and safety restrictions, and the Legislature has granted most Texas cities, including Denton, the power to “regulate exploration and development of mineral interests.”

The state has long regulated most aspects of drilling, including well integrity, pipeline safety, and air and water impact, while cities have typically controlled noise and authorized the location of wells or related facilities like compressor stations. Now, a key question is where fracking falls in that spectrum.

Tom Phillips, chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court from 1988 to 2004, said he would expect courts to side with the energy industry — by ruling that the ban unconstitutionally supersedes state law or that it makes gas beneath the city too difficult to tap and amounts to a taking.

Phillips, now a lawyer with the firm of Baker Botts, who was asked to review the proposal for the Texas Oil and Gas Association, said state law gave cities less stringent options for protecting health and safety at well sites, and that Denton “can’t just say no” to fracking.

Other legal experts acknowledge that state high courts tend to favor oil and gas interests, but say that Denton could make a compelling argument that a fracking ban would not wipe out all options to drill.

“To say that this is a slam dunk, it’s a taking, I think that’s painting with an overly broad brush,” said Terrence Welch, a lawyer who has helped write drilling ordinances in several Texas cities. “The property — the mineral estate isn’t left valueless. You can drill, but you just can’t frack.”

See here for the background. It’s hard to be optimistic about how the courts might rule if you’re a ban supporter, but I suppose anything is possible. And I’ll say again, if the Railroad Commission wasn’t such an utter lapdog for the industry and people in places like Denton had any reason to believe that true regulatory oversight with actual enforcement was in place, this referendum would not exist. There would be no need for it.

One more thing:

Jerry Patterson, Texas’ outgoing land commissioner, warned in a letter last week that the state would “pursue any available remedy to ensure the right to develop” those minerals.

George P. Bush, the Republican nominee in this year’s election to succeed Patterson, said he supported that stance. “We don’t need a patchwork approach to drilling regulations across the state,” he said. But John Cook, Bush’s Democratic opponent, disagreed, saying that “local communities need to have a say” in quality-of-life issues.

Know who you’re voting for this fall, people of Denton.

Who watches the fox while he guards the henhouse?

The Railroad Commission needs an ethics upgrade.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

The race for Texas railroad commissioner has revived — at least in the short term — debate around a series of thwarted legislative proposals to overhaul the state’s curiously named oil and gas agency.

Calling the Railroad Commission too heavily influenced by the industry it regulates, Steve Brown, a Democrat, last week unveiled a slate of proposals aimed at reworking its image — measures first proposed by a panel of state lawmakers in 2013. The proposals include changing the commission’s name, shortening the period in which commissioners can fundraise, barring commissioners from accepting contributions from parties with business before the commission, expanding its recusal policy and requiring commissioners to resign before running for another office.

“The agency is broken itself, and so, you know, because of that, there are so many people in the community — out in the state of Texas — who just don’t trust the process,” Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend Democrats, said in an interview.

The move revealed stark differences between the campaign priorities of Brown and Ryan Sitton, his Republican opponent and the clear front-runner in the race, as they vie for an office that toes a line between industry champion and watchdog.

Sitton’s campaign criticized Brown’s announcement but did not directly weigh in on the bulk of the proposals, saying Sitton’s attention is focused on other issues. “We’re focused on making sure that Ryan is communicating his message, not in responding to ideas from his opponent,” said Jared Craighead, a spokesman for Sitton. Sitton is an oil and gas engineer who touts his industry expertise in his campaign credentials.

Which is to say, the status quo suits him just fine.

Brown’s proposals are the word-for-word recommendations of the 2012-13 Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, the legislative body that periodically reviews how state agencies operate. Lawmakers last session debated but failed to pass several pieces of legislation incorporating the recommendations. The Railroad Commission opposed the overhaul, arguing that commissioners should not be subject to stricter fundraising standards than other statewide officials and that the agency’s current ethics policies were plenty robust.

Brown called it a “vast mistake that the Legislature has been unable to pass these reforms.”

But Craighead panned Brown’s proposal as unoriginal. “I think to cut and paste the Sunset review commission’s work shows a lack of thought, and certainly, those are not the types of things that Ryan is talking about,” he said. He added that Sitton considers ethics and transparency issues important.

Again, the status quo suits Ryan Sitton just fine. Look, there’s a reason why the RRC gets singled out for special ethics rules. For one thing, Commissioners serve six-year terms with no resign-to-run requirement, which means they all get one guaranteed shot at another office without having to step down first. More to the point, Commissioners and Commission candidates, much like judges and judicial candidates, tend to draw financial support exclusively from the parties that have business before them. For judges that means lawyers, and for Railroad Commissioners that means the energy industry. In both cases, it creates at least the appearance of impropriety. And in both cases, the answer is campaign finance reform. I’ve been arguing for public financing of judicial races, which is a long enough shot on its own and even less likely here. The Sunset recommendation of limiting the dates for contributions doesn’t really solve the impropriety issue but at least provides a bit of separation, and it has a chance of passing the Legislature. I’ll take what I can get. If you want more of the same old same old, Ryan Sitton’s your man. If you want a change, vote for Steve Brown.