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What if he does it anyway?

That’s my question.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two Republican U.S. senators and a bipartisan group of 20 U.S. House members released a letter stating their staunch opposition to raiding Texas’ hard-fought Harvey money.

“Recent reports have indicated that your administration is considering the use of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds, appropriated by Congress and intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery and mitigation efforts, in an effort to secure our southern border,” they wrote. “We strongly support securing the border with additional federal resources including tactical infrastructure, technology, ports of entry improvements and personnel. However, we are strongly opposed to using funds appropriated by Congress for disaster relief and mitigation for Texas for any unintended purpose.”

Congressional signatories included nine lawmakers from the Houston metropolitan region: Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson and Randy Weber; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Sheila Jackson Lee.

Texans from other regions also signed on: Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Mike Conaway of Midland, Bill Flores of Bryan, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Roger Williams of Austin; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of Brownsville

See here for the background. That certainly is a letter. Nicely typed, good sentence structure, no spelling errors as far as I could tell. Now what happens if and when Donald Trump goes ahead and declares an emergency and tries to tap into these funds anyway, because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh called him mean names again? What are you, Greg Abbott, and you, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and you, Republican members of Congress, going to do then? We wouldn’t be here in the first place if Donald Trump were a rational actor. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. What are those of you who enable him at every step going to do when that happens?

State House mulls big increase in school funding

That’s a good start.

As Texas’ Republican leadership calls for property tax cuts and a school finance overhaul, the Texas House on Monday pitched a bold proposal: Pump roughly $7 billion more state funds into public schools — but only if lawmakers can satisfactorily overhaul the school finance system to slow the growth of property taxes.

Budget documents published Monday evening show the House has offered up a whopping 17 percent increase in K-12 public education funding so long as lawmakers achieve a few lofty goals in reforming how the state pays for public schools: Reduce the state’s reliance on property taxes, decrease the need for the unpopular Robin Hood system that requires property-wealthy school districts to subsidize poorer ones, and maintain an equitable system of school finance, as required by the state Constitution.

Counting all sources of funding — including local property taxes, state revenue and federal dollars — the state’s public education budget would grow to about $70.6 billion in the two-year cycle from 2020 to 2021, according to a Legislative Budget Board summary of the proposed House budget. That’s an increase of 16.7 percent from the previous two-year budget cycle, when the state spent about $60.5 billion on public schools.

[…]

The state is forecasted to have about 8.1 percent more funding available to spend over the next, two-year budget cycle. The House’s proposed budget would also withdraw $633 million out of the state savings account, called the Economic Stabilization Fund, to pay for retired teachers’ pensions, school safety improvements and disaster-relief programs.

That account, also known as the rainy day fund, has grown to a record level thanks to booming oil and gas production. Even after the House’s proposed $633 million withdrawal, the fund’s balance is projected to reach $14.7 billion in 2021.

The budget recommends spending $109 million on school safety, which lawmakers have discussed as a priority item since the 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting near Houston left 10 dead. Included in school safety funding would be about $12 million for children’s mental health programs.

Notably, the House budget decreases state funding for health care and human services by about 3.2 percent. Education and health care make up the vast majority of state spending.

Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor and disabled, would see a decrease of $1.4 billion in state funds, for example.

There are a lot of details to be filled in here. Making this contingent on property tax reform can be dicey, as the last time the Lege “fixed” school finance by way of tax reform they screwed over the revenue stream for years to come. Cutting Medicaid payments is a serious no-go. All of this has to actually be written into the budget and then approved by both chambers and not line-item-vetoed by Abbott. Lots of things can go wrong or turn out bad. But all that said, this is a great starting point, and hugely refreshing after too many sessions of cuts.

Meanwhile, in the Senate:

Leaders of the Texas Senate are proposing giving schools $3.7 billion to provide $5,000 pay raises to all full-time classroom teachers — on the heels of a House budget proposal that includes $7 billion more for public education.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, filed Senate Bill 3 Tuesday morning, which would mandate that schools use the billions in additional funding specifically for teacher pay raises. Speaking at his inauguration Tuesday morning, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, lauded the proposal as one of his main priorities this legislative session and said the funding would be permanent.

[…]

Nelson’s proposal appears to build a new formula into the school finance system that would distribute state funding to schools based on the number of full-time classroom teachers they employ, and require they use that money for raises over the previous year.

Here’s SB3. We now know that while the Senate is also proposing more money overall for school finance, it’s not as much as what the House is proposing. This is what I mean when I say there’s a long way to go to get to a finished product. Be that as it may, this too is a good start.

Speaker Bonnen

It’s official.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

Talking about dreams, honesty and courage, the members of the Texas House unanimously elected Rep. Dennis Bonnen House speaker, making him one of the most powerful Republicans in the state.

Members of the House voted 147-0 in favor of Bonnen.

His election was expected after announcing he had secured the nomination less than a week after the November election. Bonnen, who has been a member of the House for more than 20 years, drew no opponents for the position. More than a half-dozen other candidates vying for the position dropped out in early November.

Basically, once Bonnen was in for Speaker, he went from zero to 60 in a heartbeat. The only question was whether someone would make an out-of-the-blue protest vote, or vote “Present”, for whatever the reason. Given the three current vacancies, the answer to that is a clear No. So congratulations, Speaker Bonnen. This is a good way to start.

In 2017, one of the most talked about bills in Texas would have required transgender people to use bathrooms matching the sex on their birth certificates, spurring a flood of protests at the capitol as civil rights groups and business leaders rallied against it. Though the bill did not pass, this year hardly anyone is talking about another push for it.

New Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen wants it to stay that way.

“I would be very discouraged if a distraction of that type derailed the opportunity of significant school finance reform or property tax reform,” the newly elected speaker told Hearst Newspapers.

[…]

Since [last session], [Lt. Gov. Dan] Patrick has said the battle over bathroom legislation is “settled.” The lawmaker who carried the bill in 2017, Republican Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, lost his re-election. And [Gov. Greg] Abbott said while running for re-election that a bathroom bill is “not on my agenda” but declined to say whether he’d sign such a bill if it reached his desk.

I mean, we should all cast a wary eye at the reform proposals, but the sentiment is appreciated nonetheless. Dan Patrick wasn’t even in Austin for Opening Day, and boy howdy is the quiet nice. The bathroom bill may be on the back burner, but it will never truly go away as long as the horrible lying liars who have been pushing it continue to do so. The Trib has more.

Schwertner gives up committee chair

Another unusual development in a continuing odd story.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

After facing an allegation of sexual harassment, state Sen. Charles Schwertner has told the Senate’s leader he no longer wants his post as chair of the powerful health and human services committee.

In a letter sent to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Friday and obtained by The Texas Tribune, the Georgetown Republican indicated he planned to remain in the Senate but no longer wished to serve as a chairman during the upcoming legislative session.

“Per our discussions, I have asked not to serve in that capacity this session so that I can work and lead on other policy issues for my district as well as spend more time with my family,” Schwertner said in the letter.

Schwertner, a physician, won re-election to the Senate in November after the University of Texas at Austin opened an investigation into allegations that the senator sent lewd messages and a sexually explicit photo to a graduate student. UT-Austin ended its investigation in December, concluding that the “available evidence does not support a finding” against Schwertner but did not clear him of any wrongdoing.

[…]

The Senate’s anti-sexual harassment policy doesn’t appear to explicitly cover this situation. Though the policy indicates that the Senate’s sexual harassment prohibition may apply outside the workplace, it is largely focused on interactions between senators, staffers and individuals, such as lobbyists and reporters, whose work requires them to regularly visit the Capitol.

See here for the previous update. I can only speculate as to why Sen. Schwertner would choose to give up his chair; the story notes that Dan Patrick did not comment when asked if he had asked Schwertner to relinquish it. I feel like even though the UT investigation has concluded there are still shoes to be dropped, but again I’m just speculating. The one thing we know for sure is that there are a lot of unanswered questions remaining. Whether we’ll ever get answers to them is another question I can’t answer.

The losers of 2018

Allow me to point you to the Observer’s list of six Texas political players who lost power in 2018. I’d call it five-sixths of a good list, plus one entry I don’t quite understand.

3) Bexar County Democrats

Want to understand the dysfunction and ineptitude of Texas Democrats? Look no further than Bexar County, where the local party is dead broke and mired with infighting. It’s a small miracle that Democrats were able to flip 24 county seats in November. But they still managed to bungle several other potential pickups.

After felon Carlos Uresti resigned from his San Antonio state Senate seat this year, Pete Gallego and the local party apparatus managed to lose the special election runoff, handing over a predominately Hispanic district that Democrats have held for 139 years to Republican Pete Flores. Ultimately, losing that seat allowed Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to keep his GOP supermajority in the upper chamber, as Democrats picked up two Dallas senate districts in November.

On top of that, San Antonio native Gina Ortiz Jones narrowly lost her bid to oust “moderate maverick” Will Hurd in the 23rd Congressional District. In a blue wave year, the perennial swing district that stretches from San Antonio to the western border should have been a gimme. But Ortiz Jones ultimately lost by about 1,250 votes — a margin that a functioning local party in the most important part of the district easily could have made up.

Then there’s Julián Castro, the Alamo City’s hometown hero. Along with his twin brother, the supposed face of the Democratic Party’s future decided to sit out the most important election cycle of his career because he didn’t want to risk sullying his profile with a statewide loss in Texas. Then he watched from the sidelines as some nobody from El Paso became a political phenom and now sits atop the 2020 presidential wishlists.

Castro also wants to run for president and is scrambling to lay down his marker in a crowded Democratic primary field, as if nothing has changed since he became a party darling in the late 2000s. The thing is, political power doesn’t last if you try to bottle it up to use at the most opportune time.

My first thought is, do you mean the Bexar County Democratic Party? The Democratic voters of Bexar County? Some number of elected officials and other insider types who hail from Bexar County? Every other item on the list is either an individual or a concise and easily-defined group. I don’t know who exactly author Justin Miller is throwing rocks at, so I’m not sure how to react to it.

Then there’s also the matter of the examples cited for why this nebulous group deserves to be scorned. Miller starts out strong with the Pete Flores-Pete Gallego special election fiasco. Let us as always look at some numbers:

SD19 runoff, Bexar County – Flores 12,027, Gallego 10,259
SD19 election, Bexar County – Flores 3,301, Gallego 3,016, Gutierrez 4,272
SD19 2016 election, Bexar County – Uresti 89,034, Flores 54,989

Clearly, in two out of three elections the Bexar County part of SD19 was key to the Democrats. Carlos Uresti’s margin of victory in 2016 was about 37K votes, which as you can see came almost entirely from Bexar. The first round of the special election had the two top Dems getting nearly 70% of the vote in Bexar. It all fell apart in the runoff. You can blame Pete Gallego and his campaign for this, you can blame Roland Gutierrez for not endorsing and stumping for Gallego, you can blame the voters themselves. A little clarity, that’s all I ask.

As for the Hurd-Ortiz Jones matchup, the numbers do not bear out the accusation.

CD23 2018 election, Bexar County – Hurd 55,191, Ortiz Jones 50,517, Corvalan 2,260
CD23 2016 election, Bexar County – Hurd 59,406, Gallego 45,396, Corvalan 6,291

Gallego trailed Hurd by 14K votes in Bexar, while Ortiz Jones trailed him by less than 5K. She got five thousand more votes in Bexar than Gallego did. Hurd had a bigger margin in Medina County and did better in the multiple small counties, while Ortiz Jones didn’t do as well in El Paso and Maverick counties. They’re much more to blame, if one must find blame, for her loss than Bexar is.

As for the Castros, I don’t think there was room for both of them to join the 2018 ticket. Joaquin Castro, as I have noted before, is right now in a pretty good position as a four-term Congressperson in a Dem-majority House. I hardly see how one could say he was wrong for holding onto that, with the bet that the House would flip. Julian could have run for Governor, but doing so would have meant not running for President in 2020, and might have ended his career if he’d lost to the surprisingly popular and extremely well-funded Greg Abbott. Would Beto plus Julian have led to better results for Texas Dems than just Beto did? It’s certainly possible, though as always it’s easy to write your own adventure when playing the counterfactual game. I agree with the basic premise that political power is more ephemeral than anyone wants to admit. I think they both made reasonable and defensible decisions for themselves, and it’s not at all clear they’d be better off today if they’d chosen to jump into a 2018 race. Life is uncertain, you know?

Recruiting more women for 2020

We made a lot of progress towards better gender balance in our various legislative bodies this year. If we want to make more progress in 2020, it starts with finding and recruiting more female candidates.

Kim Olson

Even on a rainy Thursday night in the busy weeks before Christmas, nearly two dozen women crowded into a country club meeting room here, fired up about the possibility of running for office.

Democratic recruiters report that about 100 women attended similar “Candidate 101” classes across Texas last week. The party is searching far and wide for potential candidates as Democratic leaders look to capitalize on momentum from the November midterm election, when women claimed a greater share of political power in Congress than ever before.

The 102 women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November represent 23 percent of House members. Women will hold 38 of the 181 available seats when the Texas Legislature convenes in January — about 20 percent.

“I think there’s more work to be done for increasing diversity so everybody has a seat at the table,” said Pooja Sethi, who is Indian and who worked as a fundraiser for several Austin-area Democratic candidates. She wants to see more South Asians in the Texas Legislature. “The future is bright.”

Hmm. I count 41 women currently in the Lege, with Reps. Carol Alvarado and Joe Pickett needing to be succeeded. I also counted 37 from the previous session. I may have miscounted – feel free to double check me – but I’m not sure where that 38 comes from. Be that as it may, eight of the 12 Democratic challengers in the House that won were women.

Kim Olson, a Democrat and retired Air Force Colonel, said she awoke after Trump’s election “mad as hell” and determined to run for office — she just didn’t know which one.

After learning Democrats were having a tough time finding candidates to run for Texas agriculture commissioner, the beekeeper and farmer decided that was the office she wanted, she told the women gathered at the “Candidate 101” course in Cedar Park.

With no name recognition but a strong personality, she earned 3.8 million votes — more than any other woman who has run statewide in Texas, including former Gov. Ann Richards and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and failed gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. Olson, who raised close to $450,000 — largely in donations of less than $200 — fell 5 percentage points short of defeating Republican Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Olson said she wants to use the political capital she has built to find a female candidate to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, whose seat is up for re-election 2020.

Noting that 2020 will mark the 100-year anniversary of women’s winning the right to vote, she said, “Some woman is going to run. If Beto (O’Rourke) doesn’t do it, let’s find the right woman.”

Olson hinted she would be willing to run herself if no suitable candidate emerges, but stressed she wants to help “take these kids from JV to varsity.”

“I’m going to be unapologetic — it’s got to be all about women,” she said. “This what the long game looks like.”

I’m down with Kim Olson running for Senate if Beto opts out. We’re only about halfway to where we should be, so this very much is about the long game.

HD145 and HD79 special elections set

Another sprint.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday set a Jan. 29 special election to fill state Sen. Carol Alvarado’s seat in the Texas House, hours after she was sworn in to the upper chamber.

Alvarado, D-Houston, won a special election Dec. 11 to fill the Texas Senate seat vacated by U.S. Rep.-elect Sylvia Garcia, who was elected in November to replace U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston. Green, who first was elected to the House from the newly-created District 29 in 1992, announced he would not run for reelection last November.

Candidates have until 5 p.m. Jan. 3 to file for the election, while early voting starts Jan. 14.

[…]

Christina Morales, the president and CEO of Morales Funeral Home in Houston’s East End, announced on Facebook earlier this month that she would seek the seat. Martha Fierro, a Republican who finished third in the race for Garcia’s Senate seat, announced on Twitter the next day that she intended to run for the seat.

Alvarado had held the seat since 2009, winning an open race after incumbent state Rep. Rick Noriega ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate.

The district voted 67 percent to 29 percent in favor of Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.

Melissa Noriega, Rick Noriega’s wife, has said she is considering a run for the seat. She previously served on Houston City Council and held the District 145 seat in 2005 while her husband served in Afghanistan.

See here for the background. Alvarado was sworn in yesterday, making her resignation official. I’m glad to see this get on the calendar. If there is a runoff, HD145 (which is my district) should have representation again by mid-to-late March or so.

As I expected, the special election for HD79 to succeed Rep. Joe Pickett was set for the same day. There are candidates lining up for that seat as well.

Two candidates have emerged in the race to replace state Rep. Joe Pickett, who will step down from his post on Jan. 4: Art Fierro, chairman of the El Paso Community College board, and Dr. Michiel Noe, who is finishing his last term as a city representative.

Pickett, who is the longest serving El Paso lawmaker at the statehouse, surprised many of his colleagues over the weekend when he announced that he will step down from his position on Jan. 4 to deal with health issues stemming from a 2016 cancer diagnosis.

Gov. Greg Abbott has 20 days from Pickett’s announcement to call for a special election.

“I am going to throw my hat in the ring,” Fierro said in an interview Tuesday morning. “I will be a great representative and a partner to our delegation in their efforts to continue to improve our community and let the rest of Texas see how wonderful El Paso is.”

Noe, who works as an OB-GYN, announced his intentions to run for the seat on Tuesday night.

“Joe Pickett is a friend of mine and I’ve always been an admirer of his,” he said in an interview. “When he broke the news that he would have to resign, it was kind of heartbreaking, but it left a spot open that would be empty. and with the background that I have, I will hopefully just transition into representing the district.”

Noe has served as a city representative for eight years, with his final term set to end in January, when incoming representative Isabel Salcido is sworn-in.

I figure it’s more likely than not that both races will wind up with more candidates than the ones named in these stories. They’re not wasting any time in HD79. I expect things to move quickly as well here in Houston. Ready or not, it’s soon going to be time for some of us to vote again.

Asking the unanswered questions

Ross Ramsey goes there on Sen. Charles Schwertner.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The problem is that the investigation at UT didn’t reach any final conclusions. The investigator couldn’t prove Schwertner was at fault, but also couldn’t prove he was not. There is no evidence here to clear his name. In that way, it’s as though no investigation had taken place; Schwertner is in the same fix he was in after the allegations were known and before Johnny Sutton, a former U.S. attorney who is now in private practice, started digging around. The only publicly available part of his inquiry is a two-page executive summary. His conclusions might be worse than what he was sent to find out in the first place[.]

[…]

Schwertner’s continued presence in the Legislature will be a measure of the other senators’ confidence that this is, as Schwertner asserted in a news release, all behind them — that this is an isolated case that doesn’t reflect on the Senate in particular or the Legislature in general. They’re also betting that his standing as a public official had nothing to do with any of this — that it was a purely personal matter that didn’t depend on his official standing or power. And that the remaining questions about his behavior don’t reflect on the rest of them.

It comes at a particularly inopportune time, with a 140-day legislative session starting less than three weeks from now. All legislators are more closely watched when they’re actually in Austin doing work. The best situation for an alleged miscreant is to be out of sight and out of mind. That’s the opposite of what happens to lawmakers during a session.

If this was a closed file, the investigators might’ve been able to answer more of those lingering questions that would have allowed the Legislature to begin a new session without this latest distraction. Some examples:

  • Who sent the messages in Schwertner’s name? Did Schwertner send it or did someone else?
  • What device were the messages sent from? Who does it belong to?
  • Where’s the full report?
  • Why wasn’t this done in a way that could clear his name? And if that’s on him, as the investigator implies, why didn’t he cooperate and provide information to make his innocence apparent?
  • The investigation said Schwertner gave the complainant his card with a cell phone number purchased from Hushed, an application that allows users to communicate via cell phones without revealing their actual cell phone numbers. Why?
  • Why would someone going to that extent to disguise themselves give away their password for Hushed to a third party?
  • Who is this third party (if there is one at all)? Why won’t Schwertner identify the person? Why did he or she have access to his Hushed account? Was that person’s phone used to send the messages?

“This unfortunate matter is now closed,” Schwertner said in a written statement sent to news media after the executive summary of Sutton’s report was made public. He got one letter wrong in that sentence, using a “W” where a “T” would be more apt.

This unfortunate matter is not closed.

See here for the background. As I suggested, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Schwertner is covering up for somebody, which raises even more questions. Ramsey is right that this matter is not closed, and that these and other questions will linger, not just over Schwertner but the whole Senate, throughout the session. It’s just that Schwertner has already faced the voters – who clearly did not have all of the information they could have had – and with the decline of the Capitol press corps, there’s not much of a mechanism for keeping a spotlight on these questions. There’s still a story out there, and I’m sure someone will continue to pursue it. But unless and until someone finds and publishes answers to these questions, this unfortunate matter will remain dormant. For Sen. Schwertner’s purposes, that’s good enough.

Precinct analysis: Collier versus Beto

The Trib looks at some numbers.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Mike Collier, the Democrat who ran for and lost the race for lieutenant governor last month, wasn’t the star of his party’s ticket. But by some measures, Collier did better in this year’s general election than Beto O’Rourke.

In 171 of the state’s 254 counties — counties O’Rourke famously visited during the campaign — Collier got more votes than the Democrat at the top of the ticket.

In terms of wins and losses, it wasn’t enough of a difference to make a difference: Texas Republicans won all of the statewide races. With this year’s victories, they’ve now done that a dozen times in a row, starting in 1996.

But the Democrats lost by smaller margins than usual. The state didn’t turn blue, as some of their most exuberant partisans had hoped, but it edged toward the purple territory that marks a swing state. Texas hasn’t had margins like this at the top of the ballot since 1998 — 20 years ago.

Overall, O’Rourke got more votes than Collier (or any other statewide Democrat) — more than 4 million of them in the general election. Justin Nelson, the party’s candidate for attorney general, got 3.9 million — coming in with 147,534 fewer votes than O’Rourke. Collier and Kim Olson, who ran for agriculture commissioner, weren’t far behind him.

O’Rourke beat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, his Republican opponent, in 32 counties; by that measure, he outdid his Democratic ticket-mates. Nelson won in 31 counties, Olson in 30, Collier in 29 and so on. Lupe Valdez, the party’s candidate for governor, won in just 20 counties, the least of any of the statewide non-judicial candidates.

I remain fascinated by the fascination with the smaller counties, where a tiny fraction of the vote comes from in Texas. I mean, every vote counts, but you don’t get bonus points for winning a particular county. (Anyone remember the old Continental Basketball Association, where teams could win a point in the standings for outscoring their opponent in a single quarter? Politics isn’t like that.) Because the story doesn’t provide any more context about this Collier-versus-Beto comparison, I put together a spreadsheet that did the dirty work for me. Here are the top 21 counties in which Mike Collier got more votes than Beto O’Rourke:


County    C - B   P - C  Tot Vot
================================
BOWIE       584    -975   59,618
ANGELINA    567  -1,041   51,751
UPSHUR      526    -749   27,708
PANOLA      445    -575   16,392
GREGG       438    -944   69,893
TOM GREEN   437  -1,305   66,826
CASS        416    -450   20,119
LAMAR       403    -612   31,591
VAN ZANDT   396    -633   36,982
RUSK        334    -647   31,242
HARRISON    327    -636   44,462
HOCKLEY     281    -428   13,582
CARSON      264    -364    4,263
HUTCHINSON  247    -398   13,547
CHEROKEE    243    -327   27,949
FREESTONE   236    -351   11,978
HOPKINS     235    -392   22,706
LIMESTONE   235    -365   13,621
WOOD        234    -262   30,065
GRAY        231    -304   12,493
RANDALL     221  -1,304   87,827

The column “C – B” represents the difference between Mike Collier’s vote total and Beto O’Rourke’s vote total in the given county. The “P – C” column is the same thing for Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz. In every single one of these 171 counties, the Patrick-Cruz difference was bigger than the Collier-Beto difference. In other words, everywhere that Mike Collier picked up more votes than Beto, Dan Patrick had even fewer votes than Ted Cruz.

Before we talk about what that might mean, let me mention the last column in the table above. It represents the total number of registered voters in that county. I went to 21 on this list so I could include Randall County, which is easily the largest of the counties among the 171. Not surprisingly in the least, all of this occurred in the smaller counties. To put it in a bit of perspective, Collier garnered an extra 19,837 votes over Beto in these 171 counties combined. In Travis (21,534), Bexar (22,260), Harris (24,487), and Dallas (26,822), Beto’s vote total exceeded Collier’s by more than that. Like I said, there’s no bonus for winning a county.

So why did Collier do better in these places than Beto, despite Beto’s omnipresent campaign? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Ted Cruz also campaigned, and I’m betting he ran more ads and had more of a (borrowed from Greg Abbott) field game out in the rural areas than Dan Patrick did. While many Republicans in urban and suburban counties abandoned Cruz with vigor, their country cousins may have been less willing to put the Senate in play for the Democrats. Maybe in these parts of the state, it was Dan Patrick who was the least-liked Republican on the ballot. Justin Nelson also outperformed Beto in a bunch of counties, but he did so in 149 of them, and the difference was as much as 100 votes in only two of them, Van Zandt and Hopkins. It’s worth thinking about these things, but it’s the sort of task you should give to a summer intern, not a senior analyst. It’s interesting, but in the end it’s not that big a deal.

UT issues report on Schwertner

It raises more questions than it answers, honestly.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas at Austin has ended its investigation of state Sen. Charles Schwertner, concluding that the “available evidence does not support” a finding that the Georgetown Republican, accused of sending sexually-explicit text messages to a graduate student, had violated university policy and the federal gender equity law Title IX.

An executive summary of the report, released Tuesday, said Schwertner had not fully cooperated with investigators, but that it was “plausible” a third party had sent the lewd messages from an application that both that party and the senator had access to.

[…]

The two-page executive summary says that Schwertner “refused to meet with” Johnny Sutton, an outside lawyer retained to help with the inquiry, or to “answer five questions that were designed to bring clarity to the investigation.” The summary says the senator did convey information through his attorneys, who told investigators that a third person sent the messages through an application called Hushed that “allows a user to purchase one or more private phone numbers to communicate via cell phone without revealing the user’s actual cell phone number or revealing that a text or call was sent through the Hushed app.”

Schwertner’s lawyers told investigators that the senator had shared the username and password for his LinkedIn and Hushed accounts with the third party, whom Schwertner knows but would not identify. An attorney for that party “did not disclose the third person’s relationship” with Schwertner, and did not reveal why the messages were sent, the summary says. That attorney also would not disclose the identity of the third party, but claimed the individual sent the messages without Schwertner’s prior knowledge and “signed an affidavit attesting to the truth of his or her statements.”

The summary concludes that it’s clear the student “received the uninvited and offensive text messages and photograph, and that she reasonably believed those came from” Schwertner.

“It is also clear that the text messages and photograph were not sent from” the senator’s cell phone and that “though an unidentified third person, through an attorney, claims responsibility for sending the text messages and photograph, we cannot test the truthfulness of that claim,” it says. The third party’s cell phone was not made available for investigators to review.

Schwertner’s “refusal to fully cooperate prevented the investigators from determining whether” he had multiple devices from which the messages could have been sent, the summary says, and the university lacks the authority to compel Schwertner to provide more information, the summary says.

See here for the last update. I’m hesitant to speculate, but it’s hard to escape the thought that Sen. Schwertner is protecting someone. I have no information beyond this story, and people often have complex motives for their actions, but one would think that he would want to cooperate with an investigation that he knew would declare him to not be the source of the texts. I’m going to leave that there, because from here it’s all the land of What If. We know that the student did receive offensive text messages that she legitimately believed came from Sen. Schwertner. We know that his phone was not the source of these texts. We know that someone known to Sen. Schwertner has admitted to being the sender, using an app that allowed them to impersonate Sen. Schwertner. Beyond that, we don’t know. Unless some further information leaks out, that’s all we’ll ever know. I’ve been writing this blog since 2002, and I’m damned if I can remember a weirder story than this one.

Beto v Julian?

It could happen.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The presidential race could force Texas Democrats to choose between two of their brightest rising stars, in El Paso’s O’Rourke, 46, and San Antonio’s Julián Castro, 44.

Castro, like O’Rourke, has never won a statewide race in Texas.

He’s never lost one, either.

Unlike O’Rourke, Castro has executive experience. He was San Antonio’s mayor for five years, after serving for four years as a member of its city council. President Obama then selected him as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a post he held until January 2017. He was touted as a vice presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton before she chose U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia for that role.

Julian Castro

Castro and his twin brother, Joaquin, a congressman from San Antonio, have been the subject of sometimes overheated election speculation in Texas for years. Both have turned back numerous entreaties to run for state office; their names were in the mix as recently as last year, when Democrats were shopping for candidates to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

But Julián’s presidential studies were already underway. He had a book in the works; that totem of nearly every presidential campaign is now in print, under the title “An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream.”

And this week, he took another step in the presidential dance, saying — on letterhead that included the words “Julián Castro for President Exploratory Committee” — that he will be announcing his plans next month.

As for Beto, he’s keeping his options open.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Friday that fellow Texas Democrat Julián Castro’s decision to seriously consider a run for the White House isn’t going to affect O’Rourke’s own decision about his political future.

“I think it’s something positive for the United States that he can offer and share ideas,” O’Rourke said of Castro, the former San Antonio mayor who also served as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama.

Castro has said he is likely to run for president, and announced Wednesday that he formed an exploratory committee to consider a bid. He will make an announcement about his decision Jan. 12.

O’Rourke lauded Castro’s service to Texas and the country and said he was proud of the former mayor.

Discussing his own plans, O’Rourke said he hasn’t ruled anything out, including a possible challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is up for re-election in 2020.

“Though it’s now five plus weeks since the [2018] election … I am no closer to deciding,” he said. “I thought I’d have a level of clarity or an epiphany at this point.”

You know what my preference is. If Beto really does want to run for President, we’ll see the signs of it early on. Beyond that, I remain of the opinion that the man deserves a little family time before he needs to make any decisions about his future.

Precinct analysis: Beto in the city

Last week I got an email from Christopher Busby, who is a regular commenter here. He had previously asked about doing an analysis of Beto O’Rourke’s performance in Houston by City Council district. I told him that the canvass data I had did not include City Council district information, but that one could ask the County Clerk for it. He went and did exactly that, and sent me the result of his work. Here’s what he said:

The numbers as represented are ESTIMATES of the performance of the US Senate races in the City of Houston Council Districts. Many precincts are split among city and non-city portions of Harris County and though I made effort to recheck my work I still do allow that their might be some human error. Without better information as to which voters in represented precincts were city of Houston voters I am unable to give the most precise possible estimates. Regardless I feel comfortable that the below figures are within a decent ballpark of representing the districts.


Dist    Cruz    Beto  Dike  Cruz %  Beto %
==========================================
A     21,716  30,773   447   41.0%   58.1%
B      5,707  42,951   245   11.7%   87.8%
C     35,622  68,794   988   33.7%   65.3%
D     10,370  55,702   352   15.6%   83.9%
E     37,769  30,564   584   54.8%   44.3%
F     12,501  27,958   284   30.7%   68.6%
G     42,720  42,137   698   49.9%   49.2%
H      7,618  29,290   286   20.5%   78.7%
I      7,373  27,002   202   21.3%   78.1%
J      5,711  15,298   159   27.0%   72.3%
K      9,082  35,144   283   20.4%   79.0%

Tot  196,189 378,611 4,528   33.9%   65.4%

I have a couple of things to add here. First, again, the work above was done by Christopher Busby, and I am using it with his permission. Second, do take heed of what he says about these numbers being estimates. I know from experience that it’s not easy to tease out city numbers from county canvasses, precisely for the reason given. There are just a lot of split precincts, for reasons that are not totally clear to me. You can’t do the usual method of identifying all the precincts in a given district and then adding up the votes in them for whatever other race you want to compare, because there are precincts in city districts that have far fewer votes than the precinct as a whole.

I did basically what Christopher did for the 2008 election. I had citywide data as part of the 2012 election thanks to the bond referenda, but didn’t have Council data so I did an aggregate summary. Note that 2008 was with the old Council map, so the districts there are not directly comparable. By my earlier calculations, Adrian Garcia in 2008 is still the reigning champion of Houston, just edging out Beto with 65.6% of the vote. Truthfully, the two are basically tied, since we’re doing our best guesses of fuzzy data. But that’s the ballpark Beto is in.

As for the results in 2018, don’t be too mesmerized by any individual district for the simple reason that turnout in 2018 is likely to be between double and triple what we should expect for 2019, and this is one of those times where the missing voters will be heavily Democratic. District A is open and I’m sure we’ll have a good Dem or two running in it, and I’d love to see a more moderate person take on Greg Travis in District G, while District C may now be legitimately a Dem district – remember, though, Bill King carried it in November and December of 2015 – and District F has a lot of potential if someone can put together a decent ground game. Point being, and this is something Greg Wythe says at every opportunity, the partisan lean of City Council districts depends very much on the turnout context. In the context we usually get, they’re a lot less Democratic than they could be. (Even in this election, note the extreme disparity in turnout between C and J.) This is very much an opportunity, but one of the lessons we should take from 2018 is that this is hard work, and can take a set of circumstances we’re not used to seeing. If you’re looking to make a difference in 2019, look at data from past city elections before you draw any conclusions about what it possible and what is probable in 2019.

Rep. Joe Pickett to resign

We will now need two special House elections to get to full membership.

Rep. Joe Pickett

State Rep. Joe Pickett of El Paso will leave his post effective Jan. 4.

Pickett, a Democrat, made the announcement Saturday morning that he will step down after having served in the Texas House since 1995. He said in a statement that he learned he had cancer just before the start of the 2017 legislative session and has since sought treatment for it.

“In the last few weeks, I have learned of additional issues I must address,” Pickett said in a statement. “I could probably continue at a reduced work level while undergoing treatment, but I have been there and done that. I need to completely heal this time. I am told I am physically strong enough to hopefully make my recovery quicker than most. My body and mind need a break.”

Pickett didn’t face any general election opponents this year, winning re-election in November with 100 percent of the vote. He noted in his statement that he would return recent campaign contributions in light of his upcoming departure from the Legislature.

During the 2017 legislative session, Pickett held the 11th highest seniority in the Texas House and served as chair of the Environmental Regulation Committee. He previously chaired other House committees during his tenure including the Transportation, Defense and Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security and Public Safety Committees.

Rep. Pickett was definitely one of the more powerful members of the House thanks to his seniority. He will be missed as Democrats try to exert more influence with their largest caucus since 2009. I wish him all the best with his treatment and recovery.

We should expect Sen.-elect Carol Alvarado to submit her resignation this week, once the election results in SD06 are certified. My guess is that Greg Abbott will schedule both elections for the same day, probably in mid to late January. Assuming the need for runoffs, the new members in HDs 79 and 145 will be seated by early March or so. For the record, since I know you’re wondering, Hillary Clinton won HD79 68.0% to 26.5%, and won by 66.8% to 28.7% in HD145. Wendy Davis carried HD79 by 58.5% to 39.3%, and HD145 by 57.2% to 40.8%. I can imagine a Republican making it to a runoff in those districts, but winning would be very unlikely. And before anyone mentions SD19, Hillary Clinton carried it 53.4% to 41.9%, while Wendy Davis actually lost it, 49.1% to 49.0%. These districts are much bluer than SD19. (Beto won HD145 by a 70.9% to 28.3% clip; I don’t have the data for El Paso.)

No cannabis for you

Good luck getting your hands on medical marijuana in Texas.

It’s been about a year since the first legally grown marijuana plants were harvested in Texas for their medicinal oils. But since then, fewer than 600 patients have seen any benefit out of the estimated 150,000 who suffer uncontrollable epileptic seizures that the medicine is meant to help.

Roughly 45 doctors, mostly concentrated in urban areas, have signed up to prescribe the cannabidiol. Just three companies in Central Texas have been licensed to distribute the drug. One doesn’t seem to have opened its doors, and another reports losing money with such a small client base.

“The way to assure the Compassionate Use Program has a future is by expanding access to more patients,” said Morris Denton, CEO of Compassionate Cultivation in the Austin area. “The worst thing that can happen is nothing gets done, because then we set the program back.”

Texas’ therapeutic marijuana program is among the strictest in the nation, giving only patients with intractable epilepsy access to cannabidiol that’s low in THC, the element that gives pot users a high.

[…]

The Texas Compassionate Use Act became law in 2015, but the rollout has been slow and rocky.

Despite getting more than 40 applications, the Texas Department of Public Safety licensed just three companies last year to distribute cannabidiol, the minimum number allowed by the law.

Patients need sign-off from two doctors to use the marijuana-derived oil. But so far, fewer than 50 certified epileptologists and neurologists have registered to participate. None is in the Rio Grande Valley or West Texas, records show, meaning patients there must travel far to see a qualified physician.

Some doctors are reluctant to enroll because Texas law requires they prescribe the drug instead of recommending it, a phrase other states use to sidestep federal marijuana prohibitions, advocates said. So far, 574 patients have been issued prescriptions, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the program.

See here for some background, and here for a map of where the registered doctors are. If you live west of San Antonio, it’s Amarillo or nothing. There will be bills introduced to expand medical marijuana in Texas – Sen. Jose Menendez has already filed one such bill – and they may have a chance to get through. Greg Abbott has softened his stance, both party platforms are calling for marijuana reform, there’s popular support, and so forth. It’s just that it’s not easy to get any bill passed, and if a given bill isn’t a priority then it will be in line behind those that are. I don’t think there’s much in the way of opposition to expanding medical marijuana, and maybe to some other reforms, but I don’t think it’s a priority, either.

An early look at bills about voting

From the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Below are some bills to keep an eye on going forward.

SB74: Slashing early voting by seven days

In 2018, early voting in Texas surged, with over 4,514,000 Texans casting in-person ballots. To paraphrase more festive words, the folks down in Texas like early voting a lot. But Senator Bob Hall, who filed SB74 last Monday, apparently does not.

Current Texas law gives us 12 days of early voting in November elections. If early voting were a classic holiday song, it would describe the many types of people who vote early through lyrics such as: five souls to polls!four frequent fliersthree student voterstwo busy moms, and a guy who can’t get weekdays off. SB74 seeks to cut early voting from 12 days to only five for all November elections, getting rid of the only early voting weekend in the process.

Which makes complete sense. If you don’t want Texans to vote.

HB378: Proof of citizenship to register

It’s already hard to register to vote in Texas. Why not make it harder, and also add more racism? That seems to be the idea behind HB378, filed by Representative Mike Lang, which requires proof of citizenship to register to vote. As we know from recent history, the only people who will be asked to show proof of citizenship are people who get profiled as non-citizens. (Okay, we mean Latinx people. And black people. And basically everybody except white people.) Never mind that the Supreme Court declared the Arizona version of this law unconstitutional in 2013 and a district court did the same for the Kansas version just last summer.

HB154: Allows election officials to photograph voters and record voter documentation

The voter ID laws in Texas are already draconian, only allowing you to use a photo-less ID if you absolutely cannot get a photo ID and you swear that you are who you say you are. Representative Valoree Swanson’s HB 154 requires a voter using a non-photo ID—which, again, is 100% legal—to submit to being photographed by election officials. Under this bill, election officials can also act as democracy bouncers, forcing you to stop and pose if they suspect that you’re trying to vote using a fake ID. Nothing screams “Texas loves democracy” like a poll worker with a camera barking, “Turn to the right!”

There was a similar “proof of citizenship” bill last session. It died in committee like most bills do. I’m a little worried about it this session, and a little worried about the cut-early-voting bill, but only a little because both of those things would also inconvenience Republican voters. Nobody likes more bureaucracy, and nobody likes waiting on line. Always be vigilant, of course, but my gut says there will be other bills to worry about more. As the story notes there is also another attempt at doing an online voter registration bill. The good news here is that neither the Harris County Tax Assessor nor the Harris County Clerk will oppose such a bill any more. It’s still an underdog, but the odds are marginally better now. I’ll be keeping an eye on this sort of thing as usual.

Alvarado wins SD06 special election

No runoff! Hurray!

Rep. Carol Alvarado

State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, won the Senate District 6 special election Tuesday, finishing far ahead of a four-candidate field and grabbing a narrow majority of the votes needed to avoid a runoff.

She received 50.4 percent of the vote in unofficial returns.

It was unclear until the final precincts reported whether Alvarado, who hovered around 50 percent the entire night, would reach enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Trailing far behind was state Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, and Republican Martha Fierro, a precinct chair for the Harris County GOP. They each received less than half Alvarado’s share of the vote in the low-turnout election.

Alvarado will face re-election in November 2020 and hold the seat through January 2021, finishing out the term of U.S. Rep.-elect Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston. She resigned Nov. 9, three days after winning the race for Texas’ 29th Congressional District. U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, did not seek re-election.

The tally is here. Alvarado had a majority of the mail ballots, and it was enough to keep her over fifty percent even as the in person votes were slightly under. Had she dipped below 50%, she would have been in a runoff with Rep. Ana Hernandez, but she avoided it. Now we just need to have the special election to fill her to-be-vacated seat in HD145. Congratulations and best of luck to Sen.-elect Carol Alvarado.

Early voting concludes in SD06

Tomorrow is Election Day.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Early voting concluded Friday in the special election to replace Sylvia Garcia in Senate District 6, and the low turnout is about what the Harris County clerk expected.

More than 1,097 voters cast ballots Friday either in person or by mail, bringing the early voting tally to 10,011.

Turnout typically spikes on the last day of early voting, but heavy rains that began Friday afternoon may have encouraged residents to wait until regular balloting on Tuesday. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart expects just shy of 20,000 of registered voters the district to participate, for a turnout of about 6 percent.

The race features four candidates: Democratic state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, Democratic consultant Mia Mundy and Harris County Republican Party precinct chairwoman Martha Fierro.

[…]

If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held. If Alvarado or Hernandez ultimately prevails, Harris County must hold a special election, likely in January, to fill her House seat in the Legislature. That election would be overseen by incoming county clerk Diane Trautman, who defeated Stanart in November.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Residents can find their voting location at HarrisVotes.com.

Here’s the final daily Early Voting report. For comparison purposes, there were 8,690 total early votes in the January 2013 special election, and 9,586 total early votes in the March 2013 runoff. So, while it’s fair to say that early voting was light, it is also the case that more people turned out than in either of the 2013 SD06 specials. That doesn’t mean final turnout will be higher, given the trends in early voting, but early voting was cut short on Friday at the Moody Park location because of the weather, so we may get some votes shifted to Tuesday because of that. For what it’s worth, here are the recent numbers for similar elections in the county:

District K, May 2017 – 3,604 early, 5,135 total = 70.19% early
HISD VII runoff, December 2016 – 3,926 early, 6,585 total = 59.62% early
HD139, May 2016 – 1,433 early, 1,855 total = 77.25% early
SD04 runoff, August 2014 – 2,362 early, 3,388 total = 69.72% early
SD04, May 2014 – 2,689 early, 4,080 total = 65.91% early
SD06 runoff, March 2013 – 9,586 early, 18,252 total = 52.52% early
SD06, January 2013 – 8,690 early, 16,511 total = 52.63% early

The county is planning for about 20K total votes (remember that some absentee ballots are still coming in), so we’ll see. You can find your Election Day polling location here. Get out there and vote.

The potential for more

Beto O’Rourke came very close to beating Ted Cruz. How much closer can Dems get in 2020?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

As newly updated election results showed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s victory was even tighter than first realized, Democratic-led voter registration groups are saying they’ve never felt closer to turning Texas into a true battleground.

Cruz’s margin of victory fell to just 214,901 votes, according to official results certified by Gov. Greg Abbott this week. That is about 5,000 votes closer than unofficial results showed last month.

Cruz won the race 50.9 to 48.3 percent — the closet U.S. Senate race in Texas since 1978.

While O’Rourke lost, groups like Battleground Texas say that margin of defeat is nearly four times closer than they thought was even possible and it has them itching to get to work on 2020.

“We can register that gap,” said Oscar Silva, executive director of Battleground Texas, a group that runs an aggressive registration program targeting potential Democratic voters.

The state saw twice that number of voters just registered between March and October, and Silva noted that every year 300,000 more Texas high school students come of age to register.

He said while many people suggest that 2018 was a one-year blip because of O’Rourke’s campaign, groups like Battleground Texas have been on the ground building an infrastructure that has lasting implications.

“That is sustainable,” he told the American Association of Political Consultants at a conference in Austin on Wednesday.

Battleground Texas said its data shows that, during early voting, nearly one out of every 25 voters under age 35 was registered by the group. Silva added that 69 percent of the people the group registered this year were voters of color, helping the electorate to begin to look more like the state’s overall minority-majority population.

Just a reminder, when BGTX showed up on the scene in 2013, their initial goal was to make Texas a competitive state for the 2020 Presidential election. Whatever amount of credit you give them at this point, we seem to be on track for that. I do believe that a big key to that is voter registration, which has been way up statewide and in Harris County. Look at it this way: If we get registration in Harris County into the 2.4 million to 2.5 million range for 2020, we could very reasonably aim for total turnout in the 1.5 million zone. Set a goal of 900K Democratic votes for a Presidential candidate in Harris County, and you’re talking a margin of victory in the 300K range. (I am, let’s just say skeptical, that Republicans will be able to push their turnout number much past the 600 to 620K they reached in 2016.) Beto won Harris County by 200K, and he lost the state by 215K. By this math, which I admit is ambitious, you’ve just that deficit almost in half. Obviously, I’m making a lot of other assumptions in here, but you get my point. More voters registered means more voters to turn out, and that’s a winning formula, one we have finally demonstrated we can achieve. Keep on keeping on.

SD06 finance reports

As expected, there are two candidates who are running a real campaign, and two other candidates.

Rep. Carol Alvarado

State Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez have raised and spent far more money than the two other candidates seeking to replace Rep.-elect Sylvia Garcia in the Texas Senate, according to filings posted Tuesday by the Texas Ethics Commission.

Between the two Houston Democrats, Alvarado has proven the more prolific fundraiser, taking in about $115,000 and spending about $391,000 from Oct. 28 through Dec. 1, the period covered by her latest campaign finance report. During the same period, Hernandez raised about $66,000 and spent about $162,000.

The totals place Alvarado and Hernandez well ahead of Republican Martha Fierro, who has raised about $4,000 since Nov. 15, and Mia Mundy, a Democrat who did not report raising or spending any money.

[…]

Alvarado, who entered the race with a sizable war chest, has been running an ad on cable television, and she says the spot will begin running on network stations in the lead-up to Election Day on Dec. 11. Alvarado’s spending on those ads does not appear to be included in her campaign finance report.

Here are the 8 day reports for Alvarado and Hernandez. Note that the latter covers a longer period of time, from July 1 through December 1, while Alvarado had filed more recent reports. The reason for this is that Hernandez was unopposed for re-election, and thus not required to file 30-day or 8-day reports for the November election, while Alvarado had a Libertarian opponent and thus did file those reports. I don’t care for that quirk of Texas finance law, but it is what it is. (Note that in a year without this special election, Hernandez would still be filing a January report, as will all November candidates, so it’s not like her latter half of 2018 would have been a mystery to us for much longer.)

For those who missed it, there was a candidate forum for SD06 on Tuesday. As Alvarado and Hernandez have very similar voting records and public positions, the debate included the topic of Alvarado serving in a leadership position under Speaker Joe Straus while Hernandez did not; this was a point of distinction in the Chron’s endorsement of Alvarado.

Rep. Ana Hernandez

The back-and-forth dialogue kicked off about 40 minutes into the event, when Hernandez was asked about the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board’s statement that she “hasn’t gained the sort of leadership positions that Alvarado boasts.”

Hernandez, first elected to the House in 2005, noted that she has served in the lower chamber under Republican leadership. With the GOP in control, she said she has not received chairmanships like Alvarado has because doing so “compromises the values that you’ve been elected to represent.”

“To have to compromise and negotiate to be in a leadership position, I will not do that,” she said. “I will represent the best interests of my constituents.”

Alvarado, given time to respond, said she and Hernandez have “pretty much the same” voting records, but indicated she believes it’s possible to be progressive while working with Republicans.

“When you have to get 76 votes to pass something, you have to work across the aisle,” said Alvarado, who chairs the Urban Affairs Committee and was first elected to the House in 2008. “And I’m proud of the trust and the confidence that a moderate Republican like (Speaker) Joe Straus placed in me not to chair one committee, but two committees.”

She went on to invoke the chairmanships of Democratic state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Garnet Coleman.

“So I would say by mentioning the words ‘compromise your values,’ I’ve never done that,” she said. “I don’t forget where I come from. I live in my community, I actually live in this district.”

Hernandez, who said after the debate that she does in fact live in Senate District 6, shot back, saying, “This moderate Republican speaker that has appointed her (as) chair, it’s the same one that pushed SB 4” — a reference to the law that requires local law enforcement to abide by federal officials’ requests to detain people believed to have entered the country illegally.

“You tell me if that’s moderate,” Hernandez said, adding, “and I’m glad that you mentioned Senfronia Thompson and Garnet Coleman, because I am proud to have their endorsement for my candidacy for Senate District 6.”

Here’s the EV daily report through Wednesday. There have been 8,350 total ballots cast so far. You still have two days to vote early if you live in the district, so get out there and make your voice heard.

The changing tides in Central Texas

From the Statesman:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Six Democrats came within 5 points or fewer in six Texas races, including three districts in Central Texas where Republicans traditionally win easily.

Democrats now hold 13 of 36 Texas congressional seats.

“This is about persistence. This is about a long-term strategy. We did not make it in those races now, but we are further along than ever before,” Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chairman, told reporters after the election.

Perez, political experts and several Texas Democratic congressional candidates credited Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke for energizing the electorate and driving up turnout. Whether O’Rourke will be on the ballot again in 2020 could affect outcomes down the ballot.

O’Rourke “inspired so many young people and new voters and established a baseline that is far higher,” Perez said.

O’Rourke, who lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, by 2.6 percentage points, is said to be pondering a run for president (along with as many as three dozen other Democrats), but has told his inner circle he is not tempted to run again for the Senate in 2020, when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election.

“Is Beto on the ballot for Senate or president?” Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said of 2020. “That’s a major question. That improves prospects for Democrats.”

But Kopser and other Democrats said there was more going on than an appealing candidate at the top of the ticket boosting down-ballot candidates with him.

“The Beto bump was very real, but I believe out of all the districts of the 36 congressional districts in Texas, we not only benefited from the Beto bump, but we added to it,” said Kopser, who ran in the 21st Congressional District, represented for three decades by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. The district includes liberal enclaves of Central and South Austin, as well as parts of San Antonio and a swath of the deeply conservative Hill Country.

Kopser, an Army veteran who appealed to some GOP voters as a centrist who voted for Ronald Reagan, garnered 37,000 more votes than the district’s Democratic candidate in 2016, narrowing a 73,000-vote gap to less than 10,000. He lost by 2.8 points.

[…]

“What made the race so close was the fact that for too long people here in this district have only been presented with one real option. I grew up here, so I understand the values of this district and ran my campaign with an intentional effort to connect with voters in a transparent way,” Hegar said in emailed answers to questions from the American-Statesman. “We closed the gap by talking to people and being available to them for honest, transparent conversations, which is not something we’re accustomed to here.”

She said O’Rourke helped her campaign and she helped his: “We turned out voters who cast their ballots for him, and vice versa.”

“I am not ruling out running in 2020, and I do have several options that I’m weighing at the moment. I’m actively considering the ways in which I can best continue serving my country,” Hegar said.

[…]

Perhaps the biggest Election Day surprise was U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul’s close call in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from Lake Travis to the Houston suburbs.

McCaul, R-Austin, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, had skated to re-election by 18.9 points two years ago but this time won by just 4 points over Mike Siegel, a first-time candidate who was on leave from his job as an attorney for the city of Austin. McCaul won just 26.9 percent of the vote in Travis County.

“I think it was multilayered,” Siegel said of the reasons for his strong performance. “I raised more than $500,000. There were changing demographics with 25 percent of the district in Austin and Travis County.”

And he suggested that McCaul wasn’t used to competition: “There hadn’t been a substantial challenge since 2008.”

“The Beto effect,” he said, “was that excitement level he brought to the campaign. He definitely was a significant factor.”

“I’m very open to running again,” Siegel said. “I’m back at City Hall, and a lot of people are reaching out to me, encouraging me to run again.”

Even though she lost by nine, I’d include Julie Oliver and CD25 as a district to watch in 2020. Dems are going to have to make some progress in rural and exurban areas to really compete there, but after what we’ve seen this year you can’t dismiss the possibility. I’m sure someone will be up for the challenge.

Also on the “central Texas was a big key to Dem success in 2018” beat is the Chron.

“This is a major structural problem for the GOP going forward,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor from Texas Southern University.

Texas’s population growth has been dramatic in the urban and suburban communities along I-35, while areas that the GOP has long relied on in West Texas and East Texas are losing both population and voters. In other words, the base for the Democrats is only growing, while the GOP base is growing a lot less or even shrinking in some cases, Aiyer said.

[…]

Four years ago, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won the I-35 corridor by nearly 350,000 votes over his Democratic opponent David Alameel. But O’Rourke carried those same counties by more than 440,000 votes. That is a nearly an 800,000-vote swing in just four years.

And the impact of the blue spine went well beyond O’Rourke’s race.

– Five Republican candidates for Congress in Texas, almost all of them big favorites, survived their races with less than 51 percent of the vote. All five of their districts are along the I-35 corridor, making them instant Democratic targets for 2020.

– In the Texas House, Democrats flipped 12 seats previously held by Republicans. Ten of those are along I-35.

-In the Texas Senate, Democrats flipped two seats, both along I-35. And they nearly took a third seat north of Dallas, where Republican Angela Paxton won just 51 percent of the vote.

Those results were no one-year fluke, says Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. He said even in 2016, Democrats could see how suburban and urban cores along I-35 were changing, which made the party get more aggressive in recruiting candidates there, even in districts that were thought of as solid Republican areas.

“The fundamentals of Texas are shifting,” Garcia said.

What’s changing I-35 is what’s changing the state, said Aiyer. The state is growing more diverse and more urban as people move to the major cities. As those cities become more expensive, people are moving to surrounding counties for cheaper housing and taking their political views with them, he said.

There is a clear trend line since 2014. That year, Cornyn won the I-35 corridor by almost 350,000 votes. Two years later, Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket won it by just over 115,000 votes. This year, O’Rourke won by an even bigger margin: 440,000.

In 2014, 11 of the 16 congressional districts that touch I-35 were held by Republicans, including 10 in which the Republican won 60 percent of the vote or more. This year, only two of those 11 Republicans topped 60 percent.

The main point here is that this corridor is a huge part of Texas’ population growth, and if that growth correlates with Democratic voting strength, then we really are in a competitive state. You can talk all you want about how Ted Cruz won big in the small counties. By its very nature, that comes with a limited ceiling. I’d rather be making hay where there people are.

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.

SD06 early voting update

Slow so far, which is what you’d expect.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

More than 5,000 voters had cast ballots as of Friday in the special election to replace Sylvia Garcia in Senate District 6.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office reported 1,580 in-person votes and 3,788 returned mail ballots, bringing the total through the first five days of early voting to 5,368 ballots cast.

Four candidates — Democratic state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, Democratic consultant Mia Mundy and Harris County Republican Party precinct chairwoman Martha Fierro — are seeking the seat.

[…]

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said Alvarado is most likely to win, since she has out-raised her opponents and secured key endorsements.

“She has more geographic overlap with her district, and she was on TV with ads,” he said. “In a race like this it’s going to be a sprint to the finish line, and that’s going to go to the best-prepared candidate.”

Hernandez and Alvarado’s House districts occupy portions of Senate District 6. If either wins, Harris County must hold another special election to fill the House seat she will vacate.

Here’s the daily EV report through Friday. Early voting continues through this Friday, with Election Day on Tuesday the 11th. Turnout for the January 2013 special election, which took place following the death of Mario Gallegos, was 16,511 voters, with about 8,600 of those votes being cast early. For the March runoff between outgoing Sen. Garcia and Rep. Alvarado, turnout was 18,252, with about 9,500 votes being cast early. I suspect that if this one goes to a runoff, we’ll see something similar. Anyway, get out and vote while you can.

Why not both?

RG Ratcliffe argues that Beto doesn’t need to choose between running for President and running for Senate.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Why doesn’t Beto run for both the presidency AND the U.S. Senate?

Beto could do it under a provision known as the LBJ Law. (Sec. 141.033 of the Texas Election Code for the Legal Eagles amongst you.) The law was passed to give then-U.S. Senator Lyndon Johnson the opportunity to run for re-election at the same time he ran for the presidency in 1960. Had the Texas Legislature not enacted the law, LBJ would have had to choose to run for one office or the other since in Texas a person is only allowed to run for one office at a time. But the LBJ Law makes an exception if the second office being sought is president or vice president. LBJ lost the top race to John F. Kennedy, but won re-election to the Senate, a job he gave up for the vice presidency. Democratic U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen used the provision to seek re-election while running as Michael Dukakis’s running mate in 1988. The fact Dukakis only received 43 percent of the Texas vote in his unsuccessful presidential run did not stop Bentsen from raking in 59 percent of the state vote for his Senate re-election. Republican U.S. Senator Phil Gramm used the provision in 1996, and it allowed him to win re-election even though his presidential ambitions flamed out in Iowa in February.

A dual run like the one Gramm made would give Beto the chance to seek the top prize as he remains viable as a candidate for Senate from Texas. If Beto won the Democratic presidential nomination, he’d become a two-pronged threat to President Trump or whomever the Republicans nominate. If he lost in Iowa or New Hampshire to any of the array of Democrats running for president, Beto could come home to concentrate on challenging Cornyn.

See here for the background. Honestly, just asking the question is enough to answer it, and the answer is “because that doesn’t make any sense”. I think we can all agree that the Texas of 1988, which allowed Lloyd Bentsen to coast to re-election while co-starring for Mike Dukakis, doesn’t exist any more, and Phil Gramm was barely a memory as a (truly lousy) Presidential candidate by the time November of 1996 rolled around. (I’d completely forgotten that he’d been in that race.) There’s no way Beto could spend enough time in Texas as a Presidential candidate to satisfy the voters here, and anything remotely like his 2018 campaign would mean he’s neglecting pick-you-favorite-swing-state. If he could mail in a Senate campaign and still win that would be one thing, but that ain’t happening. Nice idea, but this is very much an either-or situation.

The case against Beto (and Julian) for President

From Chris Hooks:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats, taking advantage of the president’s unpopularity, stand a chance of winning control of more state legislatures in 2020 and building the foundations of their party, just as Republicans did in 2010. It’s a great opportunity, and yet Democrats seem singularly focused on the upcoming presidential primary. Democrats, God bless them, are slow learners.

The prospective field includes at least two Texans: one who drafted himself, and one who is being drafted by his followers. The first is Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He’s written a book, which seems to be a necessary precursor these days, and he’s building a PAC. Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, whom the media has been urging to run for president since at least this summer. (He said at a town hall on Monday that he and his wife “made a decision not to rule anything out.”)

Castro was, and in some quarters still is, seen as one of Texas’ great Democratic up-and-comers. O’Rourke started his campaign with little chance of success, but fought like hell. Castro, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines, which makes his ambitions for the presidency all the more odd. For years, Castro told allies he thought he could win a close statewide race, perhaps for governor or lieutenant governor or attorney general. But he didn’t like his chances if he started with a 10- to 20-point deficit. Given Democratic performance in Texas, it didn’t seem like his time had come yet. Beto, by contrast, jumped into what looked from the start like a 20-point race. Through Herculean effort, he closed it to less than a three-point gap. When it became clear that Beto was doing something real, many Democrats privately grumbled that Castro hadn’t run for governor or another statewide office.

Texas Democrats should fervently hope that neither Castro nor O’Rourke runs for president, for the simple reason that Texas needs them a lot more than the nation does. It’s important that a Democrat beat Trump in 2020, but only one person can win the nomination. Most failed presidential campaigns are high-risk bids for personal glory and a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, state government and Congress bend and shapes people’s lives in unseen ways. Texas is in dire need of strong Democratic candidates who can run good campaigns and reverse the damage that decades of Republican control has done to the state. In 2020, Senator John Cornyn will be up for re-election, and the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other statewide offices will be chosen by voters in 2022.

Before I go on, let the record show that Nonsequiteuse was singing from this hymnal two weeks before Hooks:

Beto, we need you in Texas.

Your work here is not done. Our work here is not done. We knocked it out of the park in the state’s largest county. And we came painfully close in many other races. But we didn’t get the prize of putting Democrats in statewide offices. We’re still a state shamefully represented by a Lt. Gov. obsessed to a troubling degree with how and where people urinate, and a thrice-indicted Attorney General.

Please don’t abandon Texas. Don’t leave us to try to recreate what you’ve built. We know all too well what years of chronic under-investment and infighting does to Democrats’ chances on the ballot. It’s time to find out what happens when we do the opposite and keep doing it, over and over again.

You’ve shown you are willing to do the painstaking work that kind of movement requires.

Analyzing the numbers shows where the Democrats need to focus going forward, and your campaign shows what sort of outreach and activism turns citizens into voters. And you’ve got some great newly-elected Democrats from Congress on down who will be there to keep the work going, too.

So Iowa may be calling, and New Hampshire is going to love you, trust me. Speaking engagements on college campuses and with Democratic organizations around the county will be yours for the taking, and undoubtedly, podcasts and political talk shows are already clamoring to book you.

But, as one of my heroes would say, I sure hope you’ll dance with them what brung you. Keep talking with us, listening to us, and working alongside us in this Lone Star State.

As you know, I want Beto to run for Senate in 2020. There are other good options for this, including Julian Castro – I’d only considered Joaquin Castro, as he had expressed some interest in running for Senate in 2018 – but suffice it to say Beto is my first round draft choice. I agree that Texas needs him more than the cattle call of Democratic Presidential wannabes need him, and just because he’d have to survive a bruising primary against some really talented politicians, his odds of being elected to the Senate seem higher to me. Any way I look at it, this is the path I would point him towards.

As for Julian, he’s been talking about the Presidency for a couple of years, he has been a Cabinet secretary, he was on the short list for VP in 2016, etc. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in 2020 the choice for a statewide person who is not a judge is the Senate and the Railroad Commission. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julian Castro is going to run for Railroad Commissioner, so as far as 2020 goes, it’s US Senate or bust, at least in Texas.

So yeah, if we had to do it all over again, Julian should have run for Governor this year. He’d have surely done better than Lupe Valdez, though it’s hard to believe that the Dems left many votes on the table, given that Beto exceeded Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. If we want to look all the way to 2022, there are two issues to consider. One is that Julian Castro will have been out of government for six years by then – everyone has a shelf life, like it or not – and if God willing 2022 is the first midterm of a Democratic administration, the climate could be a lot less hospitable than it was this year.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The key for 2020 is to build on what was done in 2018. I believe Beto is best positioned to do that, but Julian could also do it if Beto declines. (As could several other folks.) Julian is probably better placed to run for President if he wants to, and who knows, if he’s on the ticket that in and of itself could be a big boost for Texas Dems. But yeah, bottom line is I hope Beto resists the siren call to run for President. The most good he can do is here.

Endorsement watch: For Alvarado in the special

The Chron does its thing one more time.

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Of the four names on the ballot [in the SD06 special election], two stand out as qualified and impressive candidates: state Rep. Carol Alvarado and state Rep. Ana Hernandez.

We endorse Alvarado.

It isn’t a question of policy — the two Democrats seem to agree on practically everything. Both are pro-choice. Both oppose school vouchers. Neither wants to expand the sales tax or implement an income tax to help pay for public schools. The difference is one of strategy.

Alvarado, 51, is a former member of Houston City Council and was first elected to District 145 in 2008. Since then she has briskly climbed the leadership ranks and last session was appointed chair of the Urban Affairs Committee. Consider it a sign of the trust that Speaker Joe Straus put in her ability to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to pass important bills. Notably, in 2015 she authored the grand jury reform bill that was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Those talents will be key to a successful tenure in the Texas Senate, which is dominated by Republicans.

Hernandez, 40, was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 but hasn’t gained the sort of leadership positions that Alvarado boasts. In meeting with the editorial board, she explained it’s because she refuses to compromise her ideals in pursuit of political ambition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Garcia embodied that model when she was the only senator to oppose the most recent budget. The vote undermined her ability to work with Republicans, but granted her the authority to point out the budget’s various flaws — cuts to education, reliance on higher property taxes — come election season. If Democrats want to grow their political footprint, they’ll need to start heightening the contrast with Republicans and give voters a real choice.

But for the sake of constituents’ immediate needs, we believe that Alvarado can do a better job of shaping and passing legislation.

Alvarado sent out email over the weekend touting endorsements from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and the Planned Parenthood Texas Votes as well. She of course has run for this seat before, in the 2012 special election following the death of Mario Gallegos, finishing second behind Sylvia Garcia. You don’t want to put too much weight on these things, as it’s easy to over-interpret them in low-turnout special elections like this, but it’s a decent start for Alvarado. We have a full 12-day early voting period for this election, so if you are in SD06 you have from today through next Friday, December 7, to cast your ballot.

So you want to run for something in 2020

You’re an ambitious Democrat in Harris County. You saw what happened these last two elections, and you think it’s your time to step up and run for office. What are your options that don’t involved primarying a Democratic incumbent?

1. US SenateWe’ve talked about this one. For the record, I would prefer for Beto to try it again. He could win, and would likely be our best bet to win if he does. But if he doesn’t, and if other top recruits choose other options, this is here.

2. CD02 – Todd Litton ran a strong race in 2018 against Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, who was almost certainly the strongest nominee the GOP could have put forward for this spot. Crenshaw has star potential, and a much higher profile than your average incoming GOP freshman thanks to that Saturday Night Live contretemps, but he’s also a freshman member in a district that has move dramatically leftward in the past two cycles. In a Presidential year, with another cycle of demographic change and new voter registrations, this seat should be on the national radar from the beginning.

2a. CDs 10 and 22 – See above, with less star power for the incumbent and equal reasons for the districts to be visible to national pundits from the get go. The main disadvantage, for all three districts, is that this time the incumbent will know from the beginning that he’d better fundraise his butt off. On the other hand, with a Democratic majority, they may find themselves having to take a lot of tough votes on bills involving health care, climate change, voting rights, immigration, and more.

3. Railroad Commissioner – There are three RRC seats, with six year terms, so there’s one on the ballot each cycle. Ryan Sitton will be up for re-election if nothing else happens. Kim Olson may be making noises about this race, but so far that’s all we know.

4. Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals – Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice), Jeff Boyd, and whoever gets named to replace the retiring Phil Johnson will be up for the former, and Bert Richardson, Kevin Yeary, and David Newell will be up for the latter. We really should have a full slate for these in 2020. Current judges who are not otherwise on the ballot should give it strong consideration.

5. SBOE, District 6As we have seen, the shift in 2018 makes this look competitive. Dan Patrick acolyte Donna Bahorich is the incumbent.

6. SD11 – As I said before, it’s not competitive the way the Senate seats of interest were competitive in 2018, but it’ll do. It may be closer than I think it is, at least as far as 2018 was concerned. I’ll check when the full data is available. Larry Taylor is your opponent.

7. HDs 138, 126, 133, 129, and 150 – More or less in that order. Adam Milasincic might take another crack at HD138, but it’s up for grabs after that.

8. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – There are two available benches on each, including the Chief Justice for the 14th. Justices do step down regularly, and someone will have to be elevated to fill Phil Johnson’s seat, so the possibility exists that another spot will open up.

9. HCDE Trustee, At Large, Positions 5 and 7 – Unless a district court judge steps down and gets replaced by Greg Abbott in the next year and a half or so, the only countywide positions held by Republicans on the 2020 ballot are these two, which were won by Jim Henley and Debra Kerner in 2008, then lost in 2014. Winning them both would restore the 4-3 Democratic majority that we had for two years following Diane Trautman’s election in 2012. It would also rid the HCDE Board of two of its least useful and most loathsome members, Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners. (Ridding the board of Eric Dick will require waiting till 2022, and a substantive shift in the partisan makeup of Precinct 4.) Get your engines ready for these two spots, folks.

10. JP Position 1 and Constable, Precincts 4, 5, and 8 – Dems came close to winning Constable in Precinct 5 in 2016, losing by about one percentage point, but didn’t field challengers in any of the other races. All three precincts were carried by Beto O’Rourke this year, so especially given the limited opportunities elsewhere, one would think these would be enticing options in 2020. And hey, we didn’t field any challengers for JP Position 2 in any of these precincts this year, so there will be another shot in 2022, too.

11. Harris County Attorney – Yeah, I know, I said options that don’t involve primarying an incumbent. Vince Ryan has done an able job as County Attorney, and is now in his third term after being elected in 2008. He has also caught some heat for the role his office played in defending the county’s bail practices. We can certainly argue about whether it would be proper for the person whose job it is to defend the county in legal matters to publicly opine about the wisdom or morality of the county’s position, but it is a fact that some people did not care for any of this. I can imagine him deciding to retire after three terms of honorable service as County Attorney, thus making this an open seat. I can also imagine him drawing one or more primary opponents, and there being a contentious election in March of 2020. Given that, I didn’t think I could avoid mentioning this race.

That’s how I see it from this ridiculously early vantage point. Feel free to speculate wildly about who might run for what in the comments.

Early voting begins today for the SD06 special election

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the Texas State Senate District 6 Special Election to Fill a Vacancy begins Monday, November 26 and ends Friday, December 7.  During the twelve day Early Voting period, nine locations will be available to the 330,000 registered voters within the Senate District who want to cast a ballot before Election Day, Tuesday, December 11.

The Early Voting locations and schedule are as follows:

Early Voting Locations for

December 11, 2018 State Senate District 6 Special Election

Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Galena Park Library 1500 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
Hours of Operation
Day(s) Date Time
Monday to Friday Nov. 26 – 30 8 am – 4:30 pm
Saturday Dec-1 7 am – 7 pm
Sunday Dec-2 1 pm – 6 pm
Monday to Friday Dec. 3 – 7 7 am – 7 pm

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Senate District 6,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the Chief Election Officer of the county.

For more information about the December 11 State Senate District 6 Special Election to Fill a Vacancy, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if they are eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

There are four candidates in this race, though really only two that have a chance of winning. Assuming one of those two wins, we’ll then have a special election in her State Rep district. If you’re wondering why this message came from Stan Stanart, remember that his term of office runs through December 31. Any runoff in this race, and any subsequent special election, will be conducted by incoming County Clerk Diane Trautman. Now get out there and vote if you live in SD06.

Yes, we’re already looking ahead to 2020

Close races one year fuel speculation about the next.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Much of the immediate speculation about 2020 in Texas has centered on O’Rourke, who was being discussed as a potential presidential candidate even before he reached the finish line in the Senate race. While running against Cruz, he denied interest in a White House bid. Since then, he has not said what he plans to do next beyond spending more time with his family and then starting to think about what he learned from his Senate campaign. But that has not stopped the 2020 drumbeat surrounding him. A poll released last week pegged him as Democratic voters’ No. 3 pick among possible contenders, and a cryptic blog post Thursday about running — a morning jog, that is — stirred speculation anew.

If O’Rourke runs for president, he would have to contend with another Texan who has been preparing for a likely White House bid for nearly two years: Julían Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor. People close to Castro have been saying a O’Rourke run would not change his plans, a point Castro himself made Friday to the Associated Press. Castro, who said last month he is “likely” to make a White House bid, intends to make an announcement about his plans in early 2019.

Instead of running for president in 2020, some Texas Democrats would like O’Rourke to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be at the top of the ballot in two years. But privately, O’Rourke has not expressed interest in challenging Cornyn, according to his inner circle.

[…]

O’Rourke is not the only statewide candidate from Nov. 6 who is already coming up in 2020 conversations. Kim Olson, the fiery Democrat who finished five points behind Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, has been punctuating her post-election social media posts with the hashtag “#kim2020,” and a spokeswoman for Olson said she is “currently exploring all opportunities to determine the best way to continue serving Texas and Texans.”

At the congressional level, the next cycle is also already looming large.

Democrats picked up two seats on Nov. 6, dislodging Republican U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas. But they also came surprisingly close in several districts that were once considered far out of reach, and the Democratic nominees in those races emerged as local rock stars who are already being encouraged to try again in 2020. That is even before any retirement announcements from GOP incumbents who may not be game for another competitive race in 2020.

Among the rising stars are Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former diplomat who came within five points of taking out U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. In a message to supporters the weekend after the election, Kulkarni acknowledged that the 2020 discussion was already taking shape, saying that many people have asked him to run again for the seat but he is “not ready to commit to that yet.”

Then there is MJ Hegar, the former military pilot who gained a national fanbase taking on U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and finished just 3 points behind him. In a post-election interview, she noted that even her most loyal supporters told her from the start that it would be a “two-cycle race” to win the seat.

“I’ve been approached by a lot of different people to run for a variety of different offices… and I’m still considering the best way to serve my community,” Hegar said. Running for the congressional seat again, she added, is “one of the options I’m considering.”

Farther down the ballot, Democrats are already setting their sights on capturing the state House majority in 2020 — a huge prize ahead of the next redistricting round. They made significant progress on Nov. 6, flipping a dozen seats and growing their ranks from 55 members to 67. That means Democrats are entering the 2020 cycle nine seats removed from the majority — well within reach, according to Democrats inside and outside Texas.

Dems will also have a chance to reclaim SD19, which now ranks as the one and only pickup the Republicans had this cycle. There really aren’t any other close Senate districts on the ballot in 2020 – the closest would be SDs 11 (Larry Taylor) and 12 (Jane Nelson), as they are the only ones where Trump got less than 60%. I’ll be interested to see what their numbers look like from this year, and I will be banging the drum for a good candidate to run in SD11, but it’s fair to say both of these would be a stretch.

The first order of business is figuring out who wants to run for US Senate – if Beto wants to try again, it’ll be his, and if not there ought to be some spirited jockeying for the “consensus” position. Texas Leftist suggested in my comments that Kim Olson might run for the Railroad Commission, which is the one other non-judicial statewide race on the ballot. (With the caveat that if Ken Paxton is forced to resign at some point, the replacement that Greg Abbott names might have to be there as well, depending on the timing. Imagine that for a minute.) I like that people are talking about the Congressional seats that are still available – the early start that a lot of our candidates had in this cycle gave them a leg up on fundraising.

And on it goes from there. The other thing that is encouraging about all this is that we’ve had cycles – even this one, for some races – where the question wasn’t who will run for thus-and-such seat, but will anyone run for it? I will say that we will need to make sure that if any quality candidates who sign up for a statewide race get gadfly/perennial candidate primary opponents, we will all need to step it up in the primaries to make sure they don’t get Grady Yarbroughed or Jim Hoganed. Democrats have finally gotten to the point of being taken seriously. Let’s not screw that up just yet.

The decline and fall of the Republican Party in Harris County

It can be summed up in this table:


Dist   Romney  Trump   Cruz
===========================
HD126   62.1%  53.0%  51.5%
HD127   69.2%  61.2%  59.5%
HD128   72.4%  68.2%  66.8%
HD129   64.5%  55.3%  54.0%
HD130   75.9%  68.1%  66.0%
HD132   58.9%  50.0%  47.9%
HD133   68.1%  54.5%  54.3%
HD135   58.8%  48.9%  46.4%
HD138   59.2%  47.8%  46.5%
HD144   47.9%  38.4%  37.9%
HD150   68.5%  59.2%  57.0%

These were the last three high-turnout elections. You can see what happens to the Republican share of the vote in State Rep districts that had been held by Republicans after the 2010 election. (I am as per my custom ignoring the unicorn that is HD134.) Besides putting more districts into play – the Democrats now hold 14 of the 24 State Rep districts, and came within an eyelash of winning a 15th – it means the Republicans aren’t running up the score in their best districts, which gives them fewer voters overall in the county, and in overlapping places like CD07 and Commissioners Court Precinct 2. For comparison, here are the Democratic districts over the same time period:


Dist   Romney  Trump   Cruz
===========================
HD131   15.7%  13.3%  14.1%
HD137   34.5%  28.9%  28.7%
HD139   23.6%  20.6%  21.7%
HD140   29.0%  21.9%  21.9%
HD141   12.1%  12.6%  12.7%
HD142   22.0%  21.0%  21.1%
HD143   31.9%  26.0%  26.0%
HD145   38.3%  28.7%  28.3%
HD146   20.1%  17.3%  17.9%
HD147   20.3%  16.8%  16.8%
HD148   41.1%  30.5%  30.0%
HD149   40.1%  32.5%  34.8%

There are a few notable drops in Republican support between 2012 and 2016, mostly in HDs 140, 145, and 148, but overall the decline was less severe. Of course, in some of these districts they basically had nowhere further to fall. The strong Democratic districts also tend to have fewer eligible and registered voters overall, and lower turnout besides. By my count, there were 605,214 votes total cast in the ten State Rep districts the Republicans won in 2018, and 612,257 in the 14 Democratic districts. If you put HDs 132 and 135 back in the Republican column, as they were before the election, then the split was 729,298 votes in the twelve districts that started out with Republican incumbents, and 488,119 votes in the twelve Dem-held districts. They needed bigger margins in those Republican districts, they got the exact opposite, and the rout was on.

Does this mean the Republicans are forever doomed in Harris County? No, of course not. As I said, I was feeling pretty good after the 2008 elections too, and we know what happened next. But the dynamic is clearly different now. Harris County isn’t purple. It’s blue, and it’s blue because there are more Democrats than Republicans. Right now at least, modulo any future changes to the nature of the parties and who belongs to them, the Democrats’ biggest threat in Harris County is lousy turnout. We did get swept in the no-turnout year of 2014, but the margins in the judicial races and at the top of the ticket were much closer than the ones we had this year. Until something changes at a macro level, in any normal-or-better turnout scenario, there are going to be more Democratic voters than Republican voters in Harris County. That’s the threat that the Republicans face, and the trends are not in their favor. On top of the demographic shift in Harris County, Donald Trump helped push away some of the more reliable members of the GOP base this year. Maybe that won’t stick, but even if it doesn’t that doesn’t help them that much. The Harris County GOP can whine all they want to about straight ticket voting. That wasn’t even close to their biggest problem.

Candidate Forum for Senate District 6

The special election is set for SD06, for December 11. Four candidates have filed for the seat, and early voting begins this Monday, November 26. That’s not a lot of time to hear from the hopefuls, so those of you in SD06 should take advantage of every opportunity to hear them out. One such opportunity is next Wednesday, November 28, one week from today, at non-profit MECA Houston, 1900 Kane Street just northwest of downtown. Here’s the Facebook event for the forum, which will be from 6:30 to 8 PM on the 28th, and here’s a Google map link to the location. Go hear what the candidates have to say, then make sure you go vote.

Precinct analysis: The two key CDs

I want to break out of my usual precinct analysis posts to focus on the two big Congressional districts that were held by Republicans going into this election and are entirely within Harris County, CD02 and CD07.


CD07

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Culberson  115,418  47.49%
Fletcher   127,568  52.50%

Cruz       112,078  45.99%
O'Rourke   129,781  53.25%

Abbott     127,414  52.45%
Valdez     111,248  45.79%

Patrick    113,520  46.77%
Collier    124,555  51.31%

Paxton     110,526  45.63%
Nelson     126,567  52.25%

Hegar      124,558  51.69%
Chevalier  109,747  45.54%

Bush       121,500  50.31%
Suazo      114,267  47.31%

Miller     112,853  46.93%
Olson      123,473  51.35%

Craddick   124,873  51.93%
McAllen    110,377  45.90%

Emmett     135,016  57.34%
Hidalgo    100,412  42.66%

Daniel     123,371  51.97%
Burgess    114,006  48.03%

Stanart    116,383  49.98%
Trautman   116,488  50.02%

Sanchez    125,682  53.01%
Osborne    112,399  46.99%

Cowart     116,611  49.29%
Cantu      119,973  50.71%

State R avg         50.38%
State D avg         49.62%

Appeal R avg        51.63%
Appeal D avg        48.37%

County R avg        51.54%
County D avg        48.46%

The three categories at the end are the respective percentages for the state judicial races, the 1st and 14th Court of Appeals races, and the district court race, averaged over all of the candidates in each. I took third party and independent candidate vote totals into account in calculating the percentages, so they may not sum to 100. So just as Harris County is not purple but blue, so CD07 is not red but purple. Given the variance in how candidates did in this district, I have to think that while Democratic turnout helped reduce the previously existing partisan gap, the rest of the change is the result of people with a past Republican history deciding they just didn’t support the Republican in question. To the extent that that’s true, and as I have said before, I believe this brightens Lizzie Fletcher’s re-election prospects in 2020. She’s already done the hard work of convincing people she’s worth voting for, and the Republicans have helped by convincing people that they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, lots of things can affect that, ranging from Fletcher’s performance over the next two years to the person the Rs nominate to oppose her to the Trump factor and more. Demography will still be working in the Dems’ favor, and Dems have built a pretty good turnout machine here. Expect this to be another top race in 2020, so be prepared to keep your DVR remote handy so you can zap the endless commercials that will be running.


CD02

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Crenshaw   139,012  52.87%
Litton     119,708  45.52%

Cruz       132,390  50.22%
O'Rourke   129,160  49.00%

Abbott     146,399  55.66%
Valdez     112,272  42.69%

Patrick    134,530  51.22%
Collier    123,364  46.97%

Paxton     131,374  50.11%
Nelson     125,193  47.76%

Hegar      141,744  54.34%
Chevalier  111,763  42.85%

Bush       139,352  53.33%
Suazo      114,931  43.99%

Miller     133,022  51.04%
Olson      122,897  47.15%

Craddick   142,254  54.61%
McAllen    112,407  43.15%

Emmett     150,630  59.24%
Hidalgo    103,625  40.76%

Daniel     141,260  54.80%
Burgess    116,519  45.20%

Stanart    135,427  53.70%
Trautman   116,744  46.30%

Sanchez    143,554  55.60%
Osborne    114,652  44.40%

Cowart     136,367  53.07%
Cantu      120,574  46.93%

State R avg         53.82%
State D avg         46.18%

Appeal R avg        54.30%
Appeal D avg        45.70%

County R avg        54.60%
County D avg        45.40%

CD02 was still just a little too Republican for Dems to overcome, though it’s closer to parity now than CD07 was in 2016. Dan Crenshaw proved to be a strong nominee for the Rs as well, running in the upper half of GOP candidates in the district. Given these numbers, Kathaleen Wall would probably have won as well, but it would have been closer, and I don’t know how confident anyone would feel about her re-election chances. As with CD07, there’s evidence that the Republican base may have eroded in addition to the Dem baseline rising. I feel pretty confident that as soon as someone puts together a list of Top Democratic Targets For 2020, this district will be on it (one of several from Texas, if they’re doing it right). I don’t expect Crenshaw to be outraised this time, however. Did I mention that you’re going to need to keep your remote handy in the fall of 2020? We wanted to be a swing state, we have to take the bad with the good.

For a bit of perspective on how these districts have changed:


CD07

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Culb 16    143,542  56.17%
Cargas 16  111,991  43.83%

Trump 16   121,204  46.80%
Clinton 16 124,722  48.20%

State R 16 avg      55.35%
State D 16 avg      43.05%

Culb 14     90,606  63.26%
Cargas 14   49,478  34.55%

Abbott 14   87,098  60.10%
Davis 14    61,387  38.30%

State R 14 avg      64.38%
State D 14 avg      33.58%

Culb 12    142,793  60.81%
Cargas 12   85,553  36.43%

Romney 12  143,631  59.90%
Obama 12    92,499  38.60%

State R 12 avg      59.78%
State D 12 avg      36.98%


CD02

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Poe 16     168,692  60.63%
Bryan 16   100,231  36.02%

Trump 16   145,530  52.00%
Clinton 16 119,659  42.80%

State R 16 avg      57.26%
State D 16 avg      37.59%

Poe 14     101,936  67.95%
Letsos 14   44,462  29.64%

Abbott 14   94,622  62.70% 
Davis  14   53,836  35.70%

State R 14 avg      65.57%
State D 14 avg      32.26%

Poe 12     159,664  64.82%
Doherty 12  80,512  32.68%

It really is staggering how much has changed since the beginning of the decade. There’s nothing in these numbers that would make you think either of these districts was particularly competitive, let alone winnable. The CD07 numbers from 2016 might make you put it on a second- or third-tier list of pickup opportunities, in range if everything goes well. Dems have registered a lot of new voters, and the turnout effort this year was great, but I have to assume that this is the Trump factor at work, degrading Republican performance. Of all the variables going into 2020, I start with the belief that this is the biggest one. I don’t think there’s any real room to win these voters back for the Republicans, though individual candidates may still have appeal. The question is whether there are more for them to lose or if they’ve basically hit bottom. Not a question I’d want to face if I were them.

Precinct analysis: Beto does Harris County

He won pretty much everywhere you looked. So let’s look at the numbers:


Dist     Cruz     Beto   Dike   Cruz%   Beto%  Trump%  Clint%
=============================================================
CD02  132,390  129,160  2,047  50.22%  49.00%  52.38%  43.05%
CD07  112,078  129,781  1,843  45.99%  53.25%  47.11%  48.47%
CD08   17,552   11,299    219  60.38%  38.87%  
CD09   22,625   96,747    705  18.84%  80.57%  17.56%  79.70%
CD10   70,435   43,559    849  61.33%  37.93%  63.61%  32.36%
CD18   37,567  145,752  1,314  20.35%  78.94%  19.95%  76.46%
CD22   15,099   16,379    255  47.58%  51.62%
CD29   29,988   86,918    673  25.50%  73.92%  25.46%  71.09%
CD36   60,441   38,985    734  60.34%  38.92%
					
SBOE6 278,443  299,800  4,608  47.77%  51.44%  48.92%  46.59%
					
HD126  28,683   26,642    385  51.49%  47.82%  52.96%  42.99%
HD127  40,910   27,332    491  59.52%  39.77%  61.23%  34.90%
HD128  34,892   17,040    330  66.76%  32.60%  68.17%  28.75%
HD129  35,233   29,467    547  54.00%  45.16%  55.33%  40.06%
HD130  50,631   25,486    581  66.01%  33.23%  68.08%  27.94%
HD131   5,921   35,793    214  14.12%  85.37%  13.33%  84.31%
HD132  32,045   34,388    467  47.90%  51.40%  50.04%  45.68%
HD133  39,175   32,412    578  54.29%  44.91%  54.54%  41.11%
HD134  35,387   54,687    686  38.99%  60.25%  39.58%  55.12%
HD135  26,108   29,740    438  46.38%  52.84%  48.91%  46.80%
HD137   6,996   17,188    184  28.71%  70.54%  28.95%  66.96%
HD138  22,682   25,748    404  46.45%  52.73%  47.80%  47.83%
HD139  10,245   36,770    283  21.66%  77.74%  20.60%  76.12%
HD140   5,181   18,305    123  21.95%  77.53%  21.89%  75.07%
HD141   3,976   27,231    170  12.67%  86.79%  12.58%  85.20%
HD142   8,410   31,178    225  21.12%  78.31%  20.97%  76.20%
HD143   7,482   21,146    164  25.99%  73.44%  26.02%  71.03%
HD144   8,895   14,406    162  37.91%  61.40%  38.41%  57.72%
HD145	9,376   23,500    255  28.30%  70.93%  28.73%  66.91%
HD146	7,817   35,558    301  17.90%  81.41%  17.31%  79.44%
HD147	9,359   45,894    355  16.83%  82.53%  16.76%  79.00%
HD148  14,536   33,378    531  30.01%  68.90%  30.49%  63.83%
HD149  13,603   25,179    252  34.85%  64.51%  32.51%  64.25%
HD150  40,632   30,112    513  57.02%  42.26%  59.18%  36.62%
					
CC1    59,092  230,334  1,851  20.29%  79.08%  19.74%  76.83%
CC2   105,548  122,309  1,617  46.00%  53.30%  46.79%  49.48%
CC3   159,957  173,028  2,501  47.68%  51.58%  48.22%  47.63%
CC4   173,578  172,909  2,670  49.71%  49.52%  51.22%  44.42%

I threw in the Trump/Clinton percentages from 2016 for extra context. Note that for the Congressional districts, the numbers in question are only for the Harris County portion of the district. I apparently didn’t bother with all of the CDs in 2016, so I’ve only got some of those numbers. Anyway, a few thoughts:

– It finally occurred to me in looking at these numbers why the Trump/Clinton percentages from 2016 might be a decent predictor of 2018 performance, at least in some races. Trump’s numbers were deflated relative to other Republicans in part because of the other available candidates, from Gary Johnson to Evan McMullin and even Jill Stein. In 2018, with a similarly objectionable Republican and a much-better-liked Democrat, the vast majority of those votes would stick with the Dem instead of reverting back to the R. That, plus a bit more, is what happened in this race. We won’t see that in every race, and where we do see it we won’t necessarily see as much of it, but it’s a pattern that exists in several contests.

– Okay, fine, Beto didn’t quite win everything. He did come close in CD02, and he came really close in Commissioners Court Precinct 4, the most Republican precinct in the county. Steve Radack may be hearing some footsteps behind him in Precinct 3 for 2020. I’ll talk more about CD02 in another post.

– How about SBOE district 6, the one political entity subject to redistricting that I inhabit where the incumbent is a Republican? Trump made it look swingy in 2016, but the other Republican statewides were carrying it by 13-15 points. Mitt Romney won it by 21 points in 2012, and Greg Abbott carried it by 23 points in 2014. There aren’t that many opportunities for Dems to play offense in Harris County in 2020, but this is one of them.

– Beto was the top performer in 2018, so his numbers are the best from a Democratic perspective. As with the Trump/Clinton numbers in 2016, that means that I will be a bit of a killjoy and warn about taking these numbers as the harbinger of things to come in two years. There’s a range of possibility, as you will see, and of course all of that is before we take into account the political environment and the quality of the candidates in whatever race you’re now greedily eyeing.

– But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate a little. Clearly, HD138 is the top target in 2020, with HD126 a bit behind. Farther out, but honestly not that far off of where HDs 132, 135, and 138 were in 2016, are HDs 129 and 133, with HD150 another step back from them. (I consider HD134 to be a unicorn, with Sarah Davis the favorite to win regardless of outside conditions.) The latter three are all unlikely, but after this year, would anyone say they’re impossible? Again, lots of things can and will happen between now and then, but there’s no harm in doing a little window shopping now.

More to come in the next couple of weeks.

And now for some statewide whining about straight ticket voting

I have four things to say about this.

Straight-ticket voting will end before the 2020 elections, bringing Texas into line with the vast majority of states. But the change didn’t come early enough to save Emmett — or a host of other down-ballot Republican candidates like judges, who are disproportionately affected by the practice by virtue of their low profiles and low ballot placement.

Republicans — who lost numerous down-ballot officials, a dozen state House members and scores of judges, particularly in big cities — in some ways brought those losses upon themselves: The law that ended straight-ticket voting was written and approved by GOP lawmakers. It was originally set to go into effect before this year’s elections, but was at the last minute delayed until 2020.

If the top culprit for down-ballot Republican losses last week is a certain El Paso Democrat credited with drawing flocks of new voters to the polls, the second spot might go to straight-ticket voting. Yes, the argument goes, a lot of new Democrats came to the polls to cast their ballots for U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in his campaign for U.S. Senate. In the process, many voted for other Democrats down the ballot who they knew little or nothing about. But without the one-punch option, GOP operatives argue, many of those voters would have walked out before dooming Republicans at the bottom of the ballot.

Straight-party voting “is the story” of this year’s election, said Dallas County GOP Chair Missy Shorey, whose county saw a rout of local Republicans.

Among the casualties: 12 members of the Texas House, many of them in the Dallas area; two state senators representing North Texas districts; down-ballot county officials in a host of purpling regions; and nearly two dozen Republican judges on state appeals courts.

After the 2020 elections, when straight-ticket voting ends, candidates will still appear beside their party affiliations, but most strategists expect fewer voters will make it all the way down to the local races. It’s hard to say what the statewide impact of that will be — many Republicans straight-ticket vote, too, and voters can still choose to select all the candidates in their chosen party manually — but in the wake of a tough election for down-ballot Republicans, especially on the fringes of the state’s biggest cities, some are wishing the option had ended in 2018.

At first, that was the plan. Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons’ House Bill 25, which ended straight-ticket voting, was originally set to go into effect before the 2018 midterms; it passed the House with that language, and made it all the way to the Senate floor. Just before the bill passed in the upper chamber, Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock, of North Richland Hills, tacked on an amendment delaying the effective date to 2020.

The delay, some local GOP officials said, particularly doomed down-ballot Republicans in or near urban areas like Houston, Dallas and Austin.

“I’ve been warning about it for years,” said Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson. “At the last minute, they put it back in for 2018, and I told some legislators then, ‘2018 will not be the same as 2014.’”

[…]

No one predicted the consequences better than the lieutenant governor, who warned of such an outcome during campaign season.

“Their plan was to give all the money, on the Democratic side, to Beto the Irishman O’Rourke,” Patrick warned at a New Braunfels campaign event in October. “Understand their strategy. If they can get to 4 or 5 [percent margin], if they can get a 75 or 80 percent straight-ticket vote on their side, guess what? Beto loses. But then they pick up judges down ballot. They pick up House members down ballot. They pick up state senators down ballot. They pick up local races down ballot.”

Emmett faulted the upper chamber, which Patrick leads, for failing to prevent that possibility.

“When the state Senate decided to keep straight-ticket voting for one more year, a lot of us thought that was a really dumb decision,” Emmett told a Houston TV station shortly after his loss last week. “It turned out to be even dumber than any of us could’ve predicted.”

1. Once again, I am old enough to remember the 2010 election, and how Republicans who voted straight ticket helped to sweep out a dozen or so Democratic State House members who had represented mostly rural areas, where the locals generally voted Republican but had continued to support Democrats in downballot races. I know that was, like, a hundred years ago, and I acknowledge that the Trib story acknowledged that Republicans have also been known to cast straight party votes, but seriously, enough with the whining.

2. To some extent, I feel like these stories are as much about Republicans trying, and failing, to come to grips with what happened. They’re not used to losing races like these, they’re certainly not used to losing races in counties like Denton and Williamson and Fort Bend, and they’re not used to sweating it out at the statewide level. It can’t be because of anything they did, and it can’t be because of Dear Leader Trump, so obviously it must be due to something they couldn’t control and wasn’t fair. Darn that Beto O’Rourke and his widespread appeal to voters across the spectrum! How dare he do this to us?

3. If you must take this complaint seriously, the logic behind it is that more Democrats would not have voted in these downballot races than Republicans if straight ticket voting were not an option. I have no idea where this notion comes from, other than an obvious disdain for people who vote Democratic from Republican officeholders, but I doubt there’s any actual political science behind it. (At least, I haven’t seen any actual political scientists claim that there is merit to the idea that Republicans will benefit from the elimination of straight ticket voting.) Well, there is the fact that a long ballot means that it will take longer for each person to vote if they can’t be one-and-done, and so maybe the lines at voting locations in Democratic (read: minority) neighborhoods will be even longer, thus discouraging more people from bothering. If we’re going to entertain this otherwise unsupported, and only implicitly stated, assumption, we should at least try to pin down what underpins it. Be that as it may, in the five statewide judicial races with both a D and an R, there were about 663K Democratic votes cast in Harris County and about 521K Republican votes. With there being 410K straight ticket Republican votes and 515K Democratic straight ticket votes, that means about 78% of each party’s voters picked the straight ticket option. Each party will have some work to do to get their people to understand the new world in 2020.

4. Going farther down the ballot, in the appeals court races the undervote rate ranged from about 31K to 33K, and in the district court races it ranged from 33K to 36K. About 292K voters overall in Harris County did not vote a straight ticket, so the actual undervote rate was in the 11-12% range. My guess is that in two years’ time, with education from the parties and with the recognition that some straight ticket voters all along would have clicked all the buttons if they needed to, the undervote rate will be less than ten percent, maybe more like eight percent. I’m just guessing, and I certainly could be wrong. We’ll know much more in another decade or so, after we’ve had a few of these under our belts. What I do know is that if Republicans think that the single greatest adversary they faced in 2018 was the straight ticket option, I believe they will be surprised and disappointed again in 2020.

Four file for SD06

Are you ready for the next election? Well, ready or not, here it comes.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Four candidates have filed for the Dec. 11 special election to replace outgoing state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston.

The deadline was 5 p.m. Friday.

The field includes two Democrats who announced their campaigns long ago — Houston state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez — as well as two lesser-known contenders: Republican Martha Fierro and Democrat Mia Mundy.

Garcia is giving up her seat in Senate District 6 after winning the Nov. 6 election to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston. Garcia resigned Friday from the Texas Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott called the special election hours later.

See here for the background. Mostly what this means is that there will probably be a runoff. I will note that in the last special election for SD06, held in January of 2013 following the death of Sen. Mario Gallegos, the two Republicans in the seven-candidate field combined for nine percent of the vote. Assuming the other Dem gets a point or two, a similar performance here would mean that one of Carol Alvarado or Ana Hernandez would have to beat the other by at least ten points to get to fifty percent, and I don’t expect that to happen. You never know, and this is a very short turnaround – early voting begins November 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving – so look for things to proceed at a breakneck pace. I don’t think I’ll have time for interviews, but if it does go to a runoff I’ll aim for that. And once we have a winner, we will almost certainly need to have a special election in either HD143 or HD145 to succeed her. It’s the circle of life. Good luck to the candidates. The Chron has more.