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Solomon Ortiz

Very early speculation about Congressional campaigns

The Trib rounded up all the scuttlebutt about who may be running for various Congressional districts next year. I’ve picked out a few to comment on.

CD07:

National Democrats are interested in Houston attorney Collin Cox and Alex Triantaphyllis, the director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers Inc., a Houston nonprofit, as possible recruits.

Conservative groups have also hinted at a possible primary challenge to Culberson. The Club for Growth just announced it was launching a TV ad in his district urging him to oppose a border adjustment tax.

There are four other candidates orbiting around CD07 that I know of; this is the first I’ve heard these two names. I’ve met Cox, who I know has been a contributor in numerous city races. I’ve not met Alex Triantaphyllis, but I assume he is related to Tasso Triantaphyllis, who was a Democratic candidate for district court judge in 2002. I don’t think there’s enough room in a Democratic primary for a traditionally Republican Congressional seat for six candidates, but who knows? And while Cox and Triantaphyllis may have caught the eye of the DCCC, this is one of those times where that probably doesn’t matter much, at least not for March. People are paying attention to this race now – there’s already a candidate forum for May 9 – and I daresay anyone who wants to make it to a runoff next year needs to be out there attending meetings and rallies and talking to people. Don’t sleep on this.

CD16:

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, is at the center of local and Washington speculation but is taking her time deciding on making a run official.

Other contenders are watching her movements, and they may soon get impatient. Other frequently mentioned names include state Rep. Cesar Blanco, who is well-regarded in Washington from his days as a staffer in the U.S. House to Democrat Pete Gallego. He is also mentioned as a potential Democratic recruit for the 23rd District.

This is the seat that Beto O’Rourke will be vacating. It makes sense for this Democratic seat to have a crowded primary, so assume there are plenty of other hopefuls looking at it. I’ve been impressed by Rep. Blanco, but it’s way early to speculate.

CD23:

The key here, in the Democratic worldview, is whether the 23rd District’s lines are redrawn amid ongoing redistricting litigation. Should new lines make this district easier for Democrats, look for a competitive primary.

Hurd’s rival from the past two cycles, Democratic former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, told the Tribune he would consider running for the seat again under new lines.

“If there’s a new map, then there’s a new race,” Gallego said. Other Democrats are likely to give the seat a serious look, including Blanco, the El Paso-based state representative.

But national Democrats are also looking into an up-and-comer in San Antonio: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hulings. A former Capitol Hill staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Hulings is a member of the Castro twins’ Harvard Law School class.

Whether there are changes to this district or not, Rep. Hurd will be a tough opponent. He may get swamped by national conditions, but it will take some work to tie him to Trump. I’ve always liked Pete Gallego but after two straight losses it might be time for a different candidate.

CD27:

This is the general election race most reliant on external factors.

Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. told the Tribune he is considering a Democratic run for this Corpus Christi-based seat — but on the condition that the district’s lines change amid ongoing redistricting litigation.

This one is only interesting if the state’s attempts to delay or deny a new map are successful. I wish it were different, but CD27 was slightly redder in 2016 than it was in 2012, so new lines are the only real hope.

CD32:

There is no shortage of Democrats considering a challenge to Sessions. Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, Children’s Medical Center senior vice president Regina Montoya, former NFL player Colin Allred and former Hillary Clinton staffer Ed Meier are frequently named as possible recruits.

Allred is officially in.

Civil rights attorney Colin Allred has launched a campaign to unseat Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas.

But first the former NFL player will have to run in a potentially crowded Democratic primary for the 32nd Congressional District. A former Hillcrest High School standout, he hopes his connection to the North Dallas district attracts him to voters.

“I was born and raised in this district by a single mother who taught in Dallas public schools for 27 years,” Allred said. “This community — my mom, my teachers, and my coaches — gave me the opportunity to succeed, play in the NFL, become a civil rights attorney and work for President Obama. I want to make sure future generations have the same opportunities and to make sure those values are being represented in D.C.”

Allred, 34, told The Dallas Morning News that he was inspired to challenge Sessions by the “grassroots energy” displayed after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Sounds pretty good to me, but as noted he will not have a clear field. One primary opponent he won’t have is Miguel Solis, who says in the story that he will not be a candidate. We’ll see who else gets in, but I am looking forward to hearing more from Colin Allred.

UPDATE: I am informed that Regina Montoya is not at Children’s Medical Center any more. That bit of information came from the Texas Tribune story that I was quoting from, so I am noting it here as well.

Neugebauer to step down in CD19

At least one Congressional seat will have a new person sitting in it next year.

Rep. Randy Neugebauer

U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock, announced Thursday that he would not seek re-election in 2016.

Neugebauer, who has represented his West Texas district in Congress since 2003, plans to finish his current term.

“To say that this has been an honor would be an understatement,” Neugebauer said in a statement. “Representing the citizens of the Big Country and West Texas has been one of the most rewarding times in my life.”

[…]

Buzz had been mounting in recent months that Neugebauer was planning to retire. Texas’ Congressional District 19 is expected to stay in Republican hands, and the primary will all but determine who will follow Neugebauer in Congress.

Immediate speculation for possible successors centered on state Sen. Charles Perry and state Rep. Dustin Burrows — both Lubbock Republicans — as well as Lubbock attorney Allen Adkins. Other names include Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson; Tom Sell, the managing partner of Combest, Sell and Associates; and former Texas Tech Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington.

Perry does not plan to run for the seat, according to Jordan Berry, his political consultant.

Asked about his interest in the seat, Burrows issued a statement that did not rule out a run.

“Today is Congressman Neugebauer’s day to enjoy the knowledge that he’ll no longer need to commute to Washington, D.C., and to revel in a career protecting West Texas from an overreaching federal government,” Burrows said. “On behalf of West Texans and the Burrows family, we thank him for his service to our nation.”

[…]

Tea Party groups have struggled to oust federal incumbents in Texas, and organizations like the Madison Project say they see an opportunity in open-seat races like this one now is, setting up a potential clash between the Tea Party and an establishment candidate.

“I think the Washington establishment is always going to get want who they think they can get, and the local establishment is going to want who they want, and it will not always gel with the Washington establishment,” Berry said.

“The conservative base may want something completely different,” he added. “This could go several different ways.”

This primary will also take place on March 1, when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a conservative favorite, is poised to be on the ballot in the presidential race. Neugebauer’s son Toby has emerged as one of the top donors to Cruz’s presidential effort, giving $10 million to a super PAC supporting the senator. Toby Neugebauer, co-founder of the Houston private-equity firm Quantum Energy Partners, was recently replaced by evangelical leader David Barton as the head of a cluster of pro-Cruz groups.

Yeah, I think we see how this is likely to go. Neugebauer wasn’t exactly the brightest light out there, but it seems fair to say that our Congressional delegation is about to get dimmer. And louder.

This may have the effect of creating another vacancy in the House – it would appear unlikely to create on in the Senate as well, as Sen. Perry would have to give up his seat to try for CD19, and it looks like he’s not interested in that – but the vacancy it’s creating in Congress is a relative rarity in Texas. Here’s a list of the members of Congress as of January, 2005, and the same list as of January, 2015:

Dist 2005 2015 ============================ 01 Gohmert Gohmert 02 Poe Poe 03 Johnson Johnson 04 Hall Ratcliffe 05 Hensarling Hensarling 06 Barton Barton 07 Culberson Culberson 08 Brady Brady 09 Green Green 10 McCall McCall 11 Conaway Conaway 12 Granger Granger 13 Thornberry Thornberry 14 Paul Weber 15 Hinojosa Hinojosa 16 Reyes O'Rourke 17 Edwards Flores 18 Jackson Lee Jackson Lee 19 Neugebauer Neugebauer 20 Gonzalez Castro 21 Smith Smith 22 DeLay Olson 23 Bonilla Hurd 24 Marchant Marchant 25 Doggett Williams 26 Burgess Burgess 27 Ortiz Farenthold 28 Cuellar Cuellar 29 Green Green 30 Johnson Johnson 31 Carter Carter 32 Sessions Sessions

Of the 32 seats that existed in 2005, 23 have the same incumbent now, with one of those incumbents from 2005 (Rep. Lloyd Doggett) moving to a different district thanks to redistricting. Of the eight who are no longer in Congress, only Ron Paul, who stepped down in 2012 to run for President, and Charlie Gonzalez, who retired in 2012, left on their own terms. Tom DeLay resigned in 2006 under the cloud of indictment. Ralph Hall (2014) and Silvestre Reyes (2012) lost in primaries, while Henry Bonilla (2006), Chet Edwards (2010), and Solomon Ortiz (2010) lost in general elections. We’ve seen a lot of turnover in recent years in the State House, but the US House in Texas is a different story. Trail Blazers and Juanita have more.

More on the potential Hillary effect in Texas

From the Trib, from shortly before Hillary Clinton made her official announcement.

2. She could resuscitate Texas’ Democratic farm teams.

Beyond the presidency, Democrats are betting on gains in the U.S. House in 2016. They’ve got nowhere to go, they say, but up.

And the notion of a Clinton atop the ticket is a recruitment pitch Democrats are making to would-be congressional challengers across the country.

Democrats hope that in the long term, having Clintons back in the White House could nurse the party infrastructure in red states like Texas. The Clintons are known for their willingness to help loyalists, even at the lowest levels of public office. The hope? Their engagement will build Democratic state parties in hostile territory in order to better position the party for future rounds of redistricting.

“The possibility that we won’t regress is certainly attractive,” said Democratic consultant Jason Stanford.

3. Clinton’s a safe bet to boost Hispanic turnout.

Much of Clinton’s Texas appeal is among a particular demographic: Hispanics. In her 2008 Texas presidential primary against Obama, she outpaced him by a 2-to-1 margin among Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. Her narrow primary victory here was a highlight of a mostly disappointing presidential bid.

The Texan who might benefit most from a Clinton run is former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat who was ousted last November by Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd and recently announced a rematch.

That seat, Texas’s 23rd District, is 61 percent Hispanic – and is considered a swing district. Beyond pure demographics, a Clinton win alone could benefit Gallego. In presidential election years, the winner of the 23rd District was a candidate from the same party as the presidential victor.

Another race with a small semblance of promise for Democrats is in the 27th Congressional District. Former Democratic state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. is mulling a campaign against Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who’s facing legal troubles. That district is 44 percent Hispanic, but is a far more difficult climb for Democrats.

Clinton definitely performed strongly in Latino districts in the 2008 primary. Some of that effect carried over into November, though by 2012 President Obama was doing as well in Latino areas compared to other Democrats as he was overall. Obviously, any boost to Latino turnout in Texas would be beneficial and appreciated, but let’s see how she runs her campaign first. There’s also the possibility, not mentioned in this story, that she will do better among white voters than Obama has done. Hard to see how she can do any worse, but even shaving a few points off could make a big difference. I’d like to think there’s room for improvement there, but I plan to keep my expectations low until there’s polling data to suggest it might be happening.

National Dems say they’re looking at Farenthold’s seat

I’ll believe it when I see it.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

The hunt is on in Southeast Texas for a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

At first glance, it might seem like an absurd notion; Farenthold won re-election by a 2-to-1 margin in 2014. But some Democrats say they have designs on the seat because of the seediness of accusations against the third-term congressman in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him in 2014.

For now, the Democrats’ political point man for House races only speaks about Texas in broad tones.

“We’re looking for opportunities all over the country, wherever they may be,” U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico told The Texas Tribune last week.

“Texas is an important state to us,” he added. “There’s important opportunities all over the country. I would say we’re keeping an eye on all districts all over the states.”

Privately, at least four Washington Democratic insiders who are knowledgeable about party recruitment efforts say there is a serious effort to unseat Farenthold.

Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. I’d love to see this happen, though even if it does this would be at best the second-tier target in Texas, with CD23’s freshman Rep. Will Hurd being #1 on the list whether or not Pete Gallego runs again as the DCCC wants him to. Farenthold’s ethical and behavioral issues are certainly a good club that can be used to attack him with, and as noted later in the story he’s neither a big fundraiser nor an accomplished campaigner. His large margin of victory in 2012 is somewhat misleading as he underperformed relative to his ballotmates. I should note that was not the case last year – I don’t feel like copying and pasting in the data, but Farenthold received 83,342 votes for 63.60% in 2014, and only Greg Abbott and Baby Bush did better than that.

But 2014 was a bad year, and 2016 is a Presidential year, with hope to do better. Finding a good candidate and investing the resources to boost turnout are good and worthwhile things. And in what is either an odd coincidence or an example of carefully planned timing, this story appeared later in the same day.

Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. — the son of former U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz Sr., whom Farenthold defeated in 2010 — said he’s weighing a 2016 challenge against the Republican incumbent.

“I think a race for office is something that takes a lot of prayer and meditation and thought,” Ortiz Jr. said in a phone interview with The Texas Tribune. “And yes, obviously, I’m considering it.”

[…]

Besides Luján, Ortiz has discussed a possible run with his father.

“He was the guy here in South Texas who broke down barriers,” the younger Ortiz said of his father. “He knows what it takes to be an effective member of Congress,”

And the topic has come up in conversations with some Texas House colleagues: U.S. Reps. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Joaquin Castro of San Antonio.

The elder Ortiz’s loss to Farenthold in the 2010 Republican wave election was particularly bitter for Democrats. National Democratic operatives assumed Ortiz was in a safe Democratic seat, but Farenthold defeated him by 775 votes.

Ortiz Jr. lost his Texas House re-election bid that same year.

Should he run, Ortiz would benefit from his father’s name recognition. But this will not be the same district his father represented for nearly 30 years. State mapmakers made the district more strongly Republican during the 2011 redistricting.

As this story notes, Ortiz, Jr flirted with running in 2014, but (wisely, as it turned out) stayed on the sidelines. He says he’s more serious this time, but we’ll see. Going back to the first story, we have to be prepared for the possibility that this may be little more than a feint.

And winning the 27th District may not even be the objective for Democrats. It’s to cause trouble for Republicans.

One Democratic operative pointed out that the party lost so many seats in 2014 that Democrats are widely expected to be on offense in the fall of 2016. The theoretical aim would be to force Republicans to “squander resources” that would otherwise be used against Democratic challengers and incumbents. For them, a competitive race materializing at all in the 27th District would be a moral victory.

And then there is the fact that the DCCC’s online fundraising operation is the envy of American politics, a dynamic Farenthold’s troubles could play into.

“They can make an example of Blake Farenthold that can raise the Democrats oodles of money,” the Democratic operative added.

Yeah, count me out for that. I totally understand this from a strategic perspective, but we’ve been used for such purposes enough. Play to win here or don’t play. If Ortiz, Jr is in, that’s great. I’ll be sure to direct any donations I may make to his campaign. At least that way I know it would stay in Texas.

Son Of Ortiz/Farenthold?

Maybe.

Solomon Ortiz, Jr

A grudge match could be brewing in South Texas.

On Tuesday, the Democrats’ top congressional strategist hinted that he’s been trying to recruit someone to challenge two-term Rep. Blake Farenthold, a tea party Republican from Corpus Christi.

Turns out, that person is Solomon Ortiz Jr., a former state representative and son of the longtime congressman, Solomon Ortiz Sr. — ousted by Farenthold in one of the closest and most surprising contests of 2010.

“I don’t know. I haven’t made a decision one way or another,” Ortiz Jr., said Wednesday evening, reached by cell phone.

Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, went out of his way Tuesday to fuel speculation that his party will make a run at Farenthold. But he was coy about who he’s been encouraging, and aides declined to name names.

Turns out, Ortiz Jr. put the secret in plain sight:

I’ve been clamoring for a challenger to Farenthold, so this is music to my ears. There’s certainly an argument to be made for a fresh face against Farenthold, but there’s a lot to be said for having a familiar name go against him, too. It is a tough challenge, tougher than what the DCCC normally takes on – there just ain’t that many swing seats these days – but the good news is that Farenthold was an underperformer in 2012. A sufficiently financed challenger, with some name ID and a boost from Battleground Texas, could make a race of it. First, we need someone to file. We’ll see if the DCCC was able to sway Ortiz, Jr into the race.

Congressional map gets final approval

On to the Governor.

The Republican-controlled Texas Senate approved a new congressional district map for the state Monday and sent it to Gov. Rick Perry for his approval.

[…]

The map was approved 19-12 along party lines and without debate. Democrats have complained the new map violates the federal Voting Rights Act by splitting Latino and black communities and diluting their voting power.

If Perry, a Republican, signs the map into law, it will go to the Department of Justice for review. The Voting Rights Act requires Texas to make sure the map does not diminish minority representation.

Far as I know, the map is the same as the one the House approved last week. Here’s a final look at the numbers, with districts sorted into those drawn to be Republican seats and those drawn to be Democratic. First, numbers we’re familiar with, from the 2008 elections:

Dist Obama Houston =================== 01 30.4 36.4 02 35.9 36.7 03 37.4 36.8 04 29.3 37.6 05 37.3 42.0 06 42.5 45.4 07 39.1 37.8 08 26.1 29.4 10 42.6 43.2 11 23.1 27.5 12 44.2 44.8 13 22.2 27.5 14 42.0 47.3 17 40.9 44.1 19 27.9 32.3 21 42.2 40.2 22 37.6 38.3 23 47.5 49.6 24 40.5 39.9 25 42.7 43.5 26 38.7 38.9 27 40.1 45.8 31 42.5 42.4 32 43.8 43.7 33 41.7 43.0 36 29.6 39.3 09 76.5 76.8 15 57.3 60.0 16 64.4 66.5 18 79.6 78.7 20 59.1 59.5 28 60.0 62.7 29 64.6 69.7 30 81.8 82.0 34 60.0 63.6 35 63.2 63.1

As observed before, all downballot Dems but one carried CD23 in 2008, with two of them getting a clear majority. This district is definitely winnable and should be a top target in 2012. Other districts bear watching and deserve willing challengers, but may not be ready to turn. Joe Barton’s millions will make CD06 a tough nut to crack even as it keeps getting bluer.

I’ve done most of my analysis on the 2008 elections, since the first election after redistricting will be a Presidential year election, and I wanted to compare apples to apples. But let’s take a look at some non-Presidential year numbers to see what they tell us as well:

2010 2010 2010 2006 Dist White LCT BAR Moody ============================= 01 31.5 23.8 23.2 37.1 02 36.3 27.5 26.4 35.5 03 33.6 26.6 27.5 34.2 04 32.9 24.1 23.3 43.2 05 38.3 28.9 28.8 43.5 06 41.9 35.2 34.4 45.4 07 40.5 28.9 28.3 37.4 08 27.1 19.0 18.0 32.7 10 41.2 31.8 30.7 46.3 11 23.9 16.8 15.7 33.1 12 41.7 35.6 34.6 46.7 13 24.7 16.5 15.6 34.0 14 41.8 34.7 33.6 50.6 17 41.2 31.6 30.3 47.3 19 28.1 19.5 18.2 36.5 21 38.8 30.7 29.3 43.7 22 37.3 29.1 27.6 38.3 23 43.8 37.8 34.8 51.1 24 36.2 29.0 29.5 38.4 25 41.4 32.4 31.3 47.9 26 34.6 27.8 27.6 39.3 27 40.0 32.2 29.4 49.9 31 36.6 29.5 27.8 41.9 32 42.1 33.0 35.3 43.3 33 39.5 33.1 31.9 43.0 36 32.8 24.8 23.4 44.4 09 76.6 72.8 71.2 73.9 15 53.7 49.4 45.7 55.5 16 60.0 54.8 53.1 69.8 18 79.6 73.8 72.8 78.6 20 57.1 51.4 46.8 62.1 28 59.0 53.5 50.3 61.5 29 69.1 63.9 61.3 69.0 30 81.1 78.4 77.1 79.2 34 55.7 52.2 46.8 62.2 35 59.9 53.6 50.1 65.5

White is Bill White, LCT is Linda Chavez-Thompson, the 2010 Democratic nominee for Lt. Gov., BAR is Barbara Radnofsky, the 2010 nominee for Attorney General, and Moody is Bill Moody, who ran for State Supreme Court in 2006 (and in 2002 and 2010, but never mind that for now). White was by far the top Democratic votegetter in 2010, earning about 400,000 more votes than most of the rest of the Dems, all of which came out of Rick Perry’s totals. Radnofsky was the Democratic low scorer, as Greg Abbott topped the GOP field – he had about 115,000 more votes than Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst – and won a few crossover votes of his own in doing so. Moody was the top Dem in 2006.

BAR’s numbers represent a worst case scenario. Three districts drawn for Democrats – Ruben Hinojosa’s CD15, Charlie Gonzalez’s CD20, and the “new” CD34 (which is really Solomon Ortiz’s old district with a different number) would fall under these conditions. The good news, if you want to look at it that way, is that BAR lost by over 30 points. LCT, who lost by “only” 27 points, won all 10 of these districts; she didn’t get a majority in CD15 but she did carry it by two points and about 2,000 votes. Barring a repeat of 2010 or unfavorable demographic changes, these districts should continue to lean Democratic even in bad years. That said, if I had absolute control over who ran for what, I’d give serious thought to finding a successor for the 71-year-old financially troubled Rep. Hinojosa, on the theory that it’s better to defend an open seat in a year where the wind will probably be at your back than in a year where maybe it won’t be.

I included Moody’s 2006 numbers because I wanted to show what things might look like in a year where Republican turnout isn’t crazy off-the-scale high. The comparison is a bit skewed because the 2008 and 2010 reports from the Texas Legislative Council include third-party candidate, but reports from before then do not. There was a Libertarian candidate in the Moody-Don Willett race in 2006, and that candidate got about 4%, so Moody’s numbers here are all a bit high. Still, you see that he won CD23, lost CD27 by a hair (less than 300 votes), and – surprise! – won CD14. I still believe that the underlying fundamentals of that district are going the wrong way, but who knows? The right candidate with the right message could make life interesting in 2014.

I will have one more thing to say about these numbers in a future post, but for now that about closes the books, at least until the Justice Department and eventually the courts have their say. Remember, if history is any guide, we’ll have some new districts to play with in 2016. You can see the 2010 report here, the 2008 report here, and the 2006 report here; my thanks to Greg for sharing them with me. The Lone Star Project has more.

Ortiz concedes

No surprise.

U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz on Monday conceded the loss of his 27th District seat that he held for nearly three decades.
A recount netted him more than 100 votes in Cameron County but left him still hundreds of votes behind Republican Blake Farenthold.

Ortiz called Farenthold at 8:04 p.m. to congratulate him and offer assistance on the transition.

“Although I gained votes during the manual recount, I did not surpass my opponent’s lead,” Ortiz said in a statement. “Therefore, with great respect and admiration in the democratic process, I congratulate my opponent, Mr. R. Blake Farenthold, in his election to the 27th Congressional District of Texas.”

The exact margin remained unclear. Ortiz spokesman Jose Borjon said Ortiz picked up about 200 votes overall, and Farenthold, about 50. He said the margin was “somewhere in the 600s.”

About what I expected. It was just too many votes to reasonably hope to overcome.

The interesting question is what comes after redistricting. As Greg notes, CD27 will be much more Democratic in a Presidential year like 2012, so it will require some surgery to protect its new Congressman from electoral peril, and even then that may not be possible. It may wind up that CD27, or whatever it is ultimately called, will be like Baron Hill‘s once and former district in Indiana, prone to flipping every cycle, with Dems having the advantage in Presidential years and Republicans coming back in the off years. Whatever the case, expect Rep-elect Farenthold to be a top target. Is there a Juan Garcia bandwagon for me to climb on board yet?

What about red light cameras elsewhere?

Before the election, I noted a DMN story about how the red light camera referendum in Houston might spur opponents in other cities to try their luck with a similar ban. This DMN story discusses that, but you have to get past a few glaring errors first.

More than 50 Texas communities have installed the cameras since 2003, when Garland became the state’s first city to do so. But growing opposition, buttressed by the same brand of anti-government ire that propelled the tea party this fall, has cast an uncertain future on the cameras.

That includes Dallas, which uses some 60 cameras citywide. Legislators in Austin, who almost passed a statewide camera ban in 2009, have pledged to take up the issue again next year.

First of all, Republican voters in Houston voted for the red light cameras. It was the heavily Democratic, African-American neighborhoods – the opposite of teabaggerdom – that opposed them the most strongly. Second, while it may well be the case that the Lege will take the matter up next year and may well pass a ban, it was two Republican legislators – State Sen. John Carona and State Rep. Jim Murphy – that sponsored the legislation in 2007 that gave cities the official authority to operate the cameras. Things aren’t always as they appear.

A similar petition has yet to surface in Dallas, Fort Worth or the 11 other North Texas cities that use red-light cameras. But one might not be far off.

After voters in Garfield Heights, Ohio, rejected cameras earlier this month, some in neighboring Cleveland began their own ballot drive.

Petition or not, it may be a matter of time before North Texas faces a camera reckoning like Houston. State Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr., D-Corpus Christi, co-sponsored a statewide camera ban in 2009 and says he plans to again.

I’m afraid that’s going to be difficult for Rep. Ortiz to do, since he was defeated in his re-election bid. In fact, both of the main camera opponents from the 2009 Lege, Ortiz and Rep. Carl Isett, who chose not to run for re-election, will be absent in this session. I’m certain there are others who will take up the mantle, but at the very least the face of camera opposition will be different this time around.

Anyway. I won’t be surprised if the Lege takes up a bill to ban the cameras, and I won’t be surprised if that bill passes. I just wish this article had been more useful.

UPDATE: Received the following via Facebook from Stephen Polunsky of Sen. John Carona’s staff:

Hi – this statement from your blog is incorrect, would you mind correcting it? “State Sen. John Carona and State Rep. Jim Murphy – that sponsored the legislation in 2007 that gave cities the official authority to operate the cameras.” It was a floor amendment by Rep. Linda Harper-Brown the previous session that authorized the cameras (see press coverage from the time). Carona/Murphy clarified the authority and placed limits on it. Let me know if I can help further. Steven Polunsky, on Senator Carona’s staff, 463-0365.

My apologies for the confusion. What I recall about the Carona/Murphy bill was that there had been a lawsuit filed by Michael Kubosh that claimed that cities could not issue civil citations for running red lights; state law at the time was not clear on the subject. It was the clarification of that authority in the Carona/Murphy bill that I was referring to. I should have been more specific about that. My larger point was that it was Republicans who passed legislation that gave cities this authority, and as Rep. Harper-Brown is also a Republican, that still stands. Anyway, my thanks to Stephen Polunsky for the feedback.

Ortiz asks for a recount

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, one of three Texas Congressional Democrats to be defeated on Tuesday, has asked for a recount.

U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, trailing Republican challenger Blake Farenthold by 792 votes in the race for Texas’ 27th District, officially announced in a written statement late Friday afternoon that he would seek a manual recount, citing what he called “numerous voting irregularities.”

The call for a recount came after provisional ballot totals and outstanding military-vote estimates showed that even if all of those votes went for Ortiz, the congressman was still unlikely to pull ahead.

“It is my utmost desire to ensure that the votes of the people of South Texas be cast and counted and that no vote be left out. Therefore, we’ve begun putting together the documents necessary to request a recount,” Ortiz wrote in a statement.

792 votes is a small margin – Ortiz lost by 0.75 percentage points – and as such it’s perfectly normal to ask for a recount. I just would not expect anything to come of it. I’ve seen a bunch of these requests over the past eight years, some for margins much smaller than this – see Holm/Daily in 2003, Vo/Heflin in 2004, and Harper-Brown/Romano in 2008 for three examples – and only one time has it made a difference for the person that was originally trailing. That was the Ciro Rodriguez/Henry Cueller primary race of 2004, and it came with a set of bizarre and unique circumstances. I wish Rep. Ortiz the best, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope.

Two side notes of interest: One, the Libertarian candidate in this race got over 5% of the vote. If you believe, as some do, that Libertarians take votes from Republicans, then Ortiz’s margin might have been larger had this been a two-person race. If you believe, as I do, that Libertarians take votes from incumbents as much as they do from Republicans, then one can make a case that Ortiz might have won a two-person race. Two, Ortiz’s son Solomon, Jr, a State Rep in Nueces County, also lost. Tough week for the Ortiz family, that’s for sure.

Let’s seat those judges

Traditionally, a President seeks input from a state’s Senators when filling federal court, US Attorney, and US Marshall openings. Also traditionally, when the President and both Senators from a given state are from opposite parties, the state’s Congressional delegation assumes that role. Here’s hoping that actually works here in Texas.

Democrats, with their party in control of the White House, want more input into selecting judges and U.S. attorneys in a system that has been dominated by Republicans for the past eight years.

“We have to be realistic,” said Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, the state’s senior congressional Democrat. “Democrats won the election.”

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, the Democratic congressional delegation chairman, said the Republican senators may offer input, but House lawmakers will recommend candidates for nomination.

“Individuals seeking these positions must have the approval of the Texas Democratic delegation,” said Doggett.

A White House statement confirms the Texas Democratic delegation clout, but it also adds to the ambiguity of the process by saying the “Texas U.S. senators will be accorded a full opportunity to share their views about each candidate whom the president proposes to nominate.”

That led Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, to install their own Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to screen applicants for judicial districts in the state. It’s the same committee used over the past decade, only the formerly all-Republican panel now has added Democrat members.

Cornyn said the committee process exists to ensure judicial candidates are “the very best lawyers in the state.” A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducts confirmation hearings on judicial nominees, Cornyn said he did not want the process “viewed as a partisan exercise. We want it to be a quality control exercise.”

Cornyn also warned that senators have the power to block any home state nominee to judicial posts — a process known in Senate parlance as rendering a “blue slip.”

I assume they refer to this largely female-free list. I’m happy to let Cornyn and Hutchison have some input, but I hope they’re grownup enough to realize that this isn’t all about them. The President can and should give priority to Democrats for these positions, and as long as the nominees are well qualified, I think our Senators should go along instead of playing partisan games. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. We did finally manage to get Justice Sonia Sotomayor approved, after all. Of course, that happened over Cornyn and Hutchison’s objections. That’s not an option here thanks to the blue slips, so we’ll have to see if they can play nice with everyone else.

Skinning a cat: Alternate methods

As you know, the TxDOT sunset bill HB300 included among its many House amendments a couple that were aimed at killing off red light cameras in Texas’ cities, by putting them under the authority of DPS and by forbidding the renewal of existing contracts with camera vendors. While it is entirely possible that these amendments will be removed by the Senate, it’s safe to say that there exists legislative will to do away with the cameras. As such, the cities that operate them and which by and large have made money off of them are taking action now to protect their investments.

Officials in Arlington and Southlake are moving swiftly to sign 15- and 20-year deals with their respective vendors in hopes of getting around a plan by lawmakers to phase out the controversial devices.

“It’s not the state’s business. It’s our business in terms of how we regulate local traffic,” Arlington Councilman Mel LeBlanc said Wednesday. “We feel the original decision to institute red-light cameras has a lot of validity to it and is a public safety benefit to Arlington.”

[…]

Meanwhile, Southlake signed a 15-year deal with Redflex Traffic Systems on Wednesday, extending the city’s red-light camera program through 2024.

And Tuesday night, the Arlington City Council authorized staff to sign an extension with American Traffic Solutions through 2027. That hasn’t happened yet, but city officials say they’ll continue watching the activity in Austin and, if it looks like a ban is inevitable, sign the long-term deal before June 1.

Pretty clever, if you ask me. You have to figure that the reps who led the charge against the cameras – Gary Elkins, Carl Isett, and Solomon Ortiz, Jr are the big three – are kicking themselves for not covering that particular base. And because I know you’re curious:

Houston is “reviewing what our possible options are should the legislation pass,” spokesman Frank Michel said. Houston’s contract with ATS expires in June 2011.

I presume the cities with cameras would have 90 days after the bill is signed, which is how long it takes for a new law to take effect, to get their affairs in order. Look for this to turn into a stampede if the amendments remain in place.

Finally, on a tangential topic:

[Arlington] has cameras at 17 intersections and could place them at up to 40 under the contract. Wrecks at intersections with cameras have decreased 30 percent on average, said Steve Evans, management services director.

“We are seeing tangible benefits from the cameras,” said Councilman Robert Rivera, who represents southeast Arlington. “We’re seeing a reduction in fatalities, a reduction in accidents and an increased sense of awareness of safety in intersections.”

[…]

Southlake installed its first two cameras last year and recently installed four more. Accidents at the first two intersections decreased by an average of 17 percent, officials said.

In North Richland Hills, nine cameras are in operation, spokesman Frank Fiorello said.

Crashes decreased by 54 percent at those intersections between September 2007 and August 2008.

Sure does stand in contrast to Houston’s experience so far, doesn’t it? Which leads me to wonder again if that red light camera study was so screwed up as to be completely useless, if the study was fine but Houston’s implementation was fatally flawed, or if it was all just a statistical fluke that will vanish over time. I guess we’ll have to wait till the next study to get some idea of that.