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Tarrant County

The rural/suburban tradeoff

Martin Longman returns to a point he has been making about the way the vote shifted in the 2016 election.

Let’s try to be clear about what we mean. Hillary Clinton won a lot of votes in the suburbs from people who had voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney. She lost even more votes from folks in small towns and rural areas who had voted for Barack Obama.

So, if I understand what Jeet Heer and David Atkins are saying, it’s basically that the Democrats can’t make much more progress in the suburbs than they’ve already made and that the easier task is to win back Democrats that they’ve recently lost. Either that, or they’re just wrong about how likely Romney Republicans are/were to defect.

I don’t have a strong opinion on which would be the easier task. But I do know that so far this trade has not favored the Democrats. The left’s votes are already too concentrated and I can make this point clear fairly easily.

When suburban Chester County was voting 50-50 in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, it was possible for the Democrats to also win down ballot seats. And the Democrats have succeeded in electing representatives from Chester County to the state legislature. Gaining 25,000 votes at the top of the ticket helps, but the area is still competitive. But in many other counties in Pennsylvania, the Democrats went from winning 50 percent or 40 percent to winning only 30 percent or 20 percent. The result is that many more legislative seats became so lopsidedly red that downticket Democrats no longer have a fighting chance.

In this sense, not all votes are equal. It’s more valuable for the Democrats to add a voter in a rural area than one in a competitive suburb, and rural votes are definitely of more use than added votes in seats where Democrats are already winning by comfortable margins.

Longman confines his analysis to Pennsylvania, which is obviously a critical state in Presidential elections as well as one that has been greatly affected by strongly partisan gerrymanders. Be that as it may, I wanted to look at how this perspective applies to Texas. It’s been my perception that Texas’ rural legislative districts, which had already been strongly Republican at the federal level but which still elected Democrats to the State House, had become more and more hostile to Democrats since the 2010 election, when nearly all of those Democratic legislators from rural districts were wiped out. If that’s the case, then the increased redness of these districts, while problematic as a whole for statewide purposes, doesn’t change anything in terms of legislative opportunities. On the other hand, if the suburbs are becoming less red, that would open up new possibilities, both now and in the future as this is where much of the population growth is.

That’s my hypothesis, anyway. To check it, I took the electoral breakdown of the State House districts for the 2012 and 2016 elections from the Legislative Council, and put the results from the Presidential election into a new sheet. I also added the results from the Keasler/Burns (2016) and Keller/Hampton (2012) Court of Criminal Appeals races in there, to act as a more neutral comparison. I then sorted the spreadsheet by the Romney percentage for each district, in descending order, and grouped them by ranges. I calculated the change in R and D vote from 2012 to 2016 for each district in both the Presidential and CCA races, then summed them up for each of the ranges I defined. That’s a lot of words, so let’s see what this looks like, and I’ll explain it again from there:


Romney 70%+ (42 districts)

Trump     + 143,209    CCA R   + 267,069
Clinton   +  36,695    CCA D   -   8,330


Romney 60-70% (31 districts)

Trump     +  15,054    CCA R   + 135,280
Clinton   + 164,820    CCA D   + 116,534


Romney 50-60% (23 districts)

Trump     -  32,999    CCA R   +  69,230
Clinton   + 148,633    CCA D   + 101,215


Romney 40-50% (9 districts)

Trump     +   3,081    CCA R   +  16,418
Clinton   +  45,233    CCA D   +  39,721


Romney 30-40% (20 districts)

Trump     -   9,360    CCA R   +  17,429
Clinton   +  84,385    CCA D   +  69,785


Romney < 30% (25 districts)

Trump     -   3,485    CCA R   +  23,031
Clinton   +  90,251    CCA D   +  76,447

Let’s start at the top. There were 42 district in which Mitt Romney collected at least 70% of the vote in 2012. In those 42 districts, Donald Trump got 143,209 more votes than Romney did, while Hillary Clinton gained 36,695 more votes than Barack Obama. In the CCA races, Republicans gained 267,069 votes while Democrats lost 8,330 votes. Which tells us two things: The pro-Republican shift in these already very strong R districts was pronounced, but even here there were some people that refused to vote for Trump.

Now that doesn’t address the urban/suburban/rural divide. You get into some rhetorical issues here, because West Texas includes some decent-sized metro areas (Lubbock, Midland, Abilene, etc), but is still more rural in character than anything else, and some primarily suburban counties like Montgomery and Williamson include sizable tracts of farmland. Keeping that in mind, of the 42 counties in this group, I’d classify nine as urban/suburban, and the other 33 as rural. To be specific:


Dist  County      Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton     Diff
==========================================================
015   Montgomery  57,601  56,038  16,348   24,253 D +9,468
016   Montgomery  45,347  52,784  10,229   12,666 R +5,000
020   Williamson  49,271  56,644  17,913   20,808 R +4,478
024   Galveston   49,564  51,967  16,936   20,895 D +1,556
033   Collin      51,437  56,093  18,860   27,128 D +3,612
063   Denton      50,485  53,127  18,471   24,600 D +3,487
098   Tarrant     58,406  57,917  18,355   25,246 D +7,390
128   Harris      40,567  40,656  14,907   17,165 D +2,347
130   Harris      53,020  55,187  15,928   22,668 D +4,583

These are urban/suburban districts among those were 70% or more for Mitt Romney. Hillary Clinton gained votes everywhere except in the two, with the two exceptions being the most rural among them; HD16 is the northernmost part of Montgomery County, including Conroe, while HD20 has most of its population in Georgetown and includes Burnet and Milam Counties as well. In the other 33 districts, all of which I’d classify as rural, Clinton did worse than Obama in all but three of them, CDs 82 (Midland County, Tom Craddick’s district, where she had a net gain of 16 – yes, 16 – votes), 81 (Ector County, which is Odessa and Brooks Landgraf’s district, net gain of 590 votes), and 06 (Smith County, home of Tyler and Matt Schaefer, net gain of 871).

I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you here, so let me sum up: Hillary Clinton absolutely got blitzed in rural Texas, with the gap between her and Donald Trump increasing by well over 100,000 votes compared to the Obama/Romney difference. However, all of this was concentrated in legislative districts that were far and away he least competitive for Democrats to begin with. The net loss of potentially competitive legislative races in these parts of the state is exactly zero.

Everywhere else, Clinton gained on Obama. More to the point, everywhere else except the 60-70% Romney districts, downballot Democrats gained. Even in that group, there were big steps forward, with HDs 66 and 67 (both in Collin County, both held by Freedom Caucus types) going from over 60% for Romney to under 50% for Trump, while HD26 in Fort Bend went from nearly 63% for Romney to barely 50% for Trump. They’re still a challenge at lower levels, but they’re under 60% red and they’re the swing districts of the immediate future.

Now I want to be clear that losing the rural areas like this does have a cost for Democrats. The reason Dems came as close as they did to a majority in 2008 is because they held about a dozen seats in rural areas, all holdovers from the old days when nearly everyone was a Democrat. Those seats went away in 2010, and with the exception of the one that was centered on Waco, none of them are remotely competitive going forward. The end result of this is that the most optimistic scenario I can paint barely puts the Dems above 70 members, not enough for a majority. To have a real shot at getting a majority sometime in the next decade or two, Dems are going to have to figure out how to compete in smaller metro areas – Lubbock, Abilene, Tyler, Odessa, Midland, San Angelo, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, etc etc etc – all of which are a little bit urban and a little bit more rural. Some of these places have growing Latino populations, some of them are experiencing the same kinds of problems that the larger urban areas are facing. Becoming competitive in the suburbs is great, but there’s still a lot more to this very large state of ours.

Anyway. I can’t speak for places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, but in Texas I’d call the rural/suburban tradeoff we saw in 2016 to be a positive step. There are plenty more steps to take, but this was a good one to begin with.

Someone really doesn’t like the Paxton case judge

It’s dirty tricks time.

Best mugshot ever

An anonymous campaign-like piece of mail has begun appearing in Texas attacking the judge overseeing Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal securities fraud trial, discrediting the Tarrant County jurist who has said he plans to stay with the case as it moves to Houston this fall.

The sepia tone flier that alleges state District Judge George Gallagher’s court is “rigged against Texas” comes as Paxton fights to remove the judge from the bench overseeing his case.

“It’s definitely done with the goal of affecting the Paxton case,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, citing Gallagher’s next election is three years away. “It’s probably an attempt to either get Gallagher to resign from the case or to begin to affect the jury pool.”

[…]

First reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the mailer has been sighted in Tarrant County and elsewhere in the state.

Absent from the flier is a reference to who sent it, which is information required on political mailers that advocate people “vote for,” “elect,” “support,” “defeat” or “reject” a candidate or proposition. The flier uses none of those words, nor does it encourage people take a specific action.

“The general guideline is that political advertising that includes an express advocacy has to include a disclosure statement,” said Ian Steusloff, general counsel for the Texas Ethics Commission, which examines complaints about political mailers. He declined to comment on whether the anonymous mailer is legal and said he cannot comment on whether the agency has received a complaint on the flier.

The mailer alleges Gallagher is “trying to Fix” the attorney general’s trial and cites a series of rulings by the 2nd and 7th Courts of Appeals dating to 2003 saying he “abused” his discretion.

Empower Texans, a conservative Republican group, embraced the message of the flier, but denied it had any involvement with it.

“The Paxton prosecution is a travesty and an embarrassment to the Texas criminal justice system. Whatever the source, Gallagher deserves the criticism he is receiving for his role in it,” read an essay from Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of the conservative group and defender of Paxton.

Yes, I’m sure those upstanding citizens at Empower Texans have nothing at all to do with this, and you can’t prove that they did. There’s a reason why they fight like crazed wolverines against any attempt to increase disclosure requirements. Bud Kennedy has a partial image of one of the flyers, which is right out of the ominous-voiceover-TV-attack-ad school. I doubt even these jokers would try to blanket the county with their lame hit pieces, but keep an eye on your mailboxes anyway. Why they think the judge is the root of Ken Paxton’s problems is beyond me, but they do have an investment to protect so here we are. The Press, which has further images of the mailer and some context to the BS charges it raises, has more.

Our first look at Senate district data

The Trib looks at the data we now have.

Sen. Don Huffines

In the state Senate, one Republican — Don Huffines of Dallas — is now representing a district that Clinton easily won, while two more — Konni Burton of Colleyville and Joan Huffman of Houston — are now sitting in areas that Clinton almost carried. In the House, 10 Republicans are now representing districts that Clinton won, while several more are now sitting in areas she came close to winning.

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

[…]

In addition to [Rep. Pete] Sessions’ [Congressional] district, [Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol] Donovan said the party is already zeroing in on Huffines’ district, which Clinton won by 5 points after Romney carried it by 15 points four years prior. Aware of the swing, Huffines’ team does not blame Democrats for prioritizing the district — but also is not sweating 2018 quite yet.

“We take it seriously, but it’s not a hair-on-fire moment,” said Matt Langston, a Republican consultant who works for Huffines.

While Huffines’ district was the only GOP-held state Senate district that Clinton won, she almost carried two others. She came within a point of winning Burton’s and Huffman’s districts, which in 2012 went for Romney by 8 points and 20 points, respectively.

I should note that the comprehensive data for the 2016 elections are not yet available at the Texas Legislative Council’s FTP site, but as of two weeks ago the data for each individual district can be found via the following formulation:

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/senate/dist16/r8.pdf
http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/house/dist66/r8.pdf

Just substitute the appropriate district number as needed and you’re good. Eventually, that data will be linked on each Member’s bio page on the official House and Senate sites, but for now this will do.

I’ve been talking about Huffines and the need to make him a top electoral target next year, and so I am delighted to see these numbers. As always, though, some context and perspective is needed, so with that in mind, here’s a larger view of the field of play.


Dist     Incumbent  Clinton%  Trump%    Obama%   Romney%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     42.6%   51.2%     36.6%     61.7%
SD09       Hancock     41.8%   53.1%     39.2%     59.3%
SD10        Burton     47.3%   47.9%     45.4%     53.3%
SD16      Huffines     49.9%   45.3%     41.6%     57.0%
SD17       Huffman     47.2%   48.1%     39.2%     59.4%

Dist     Incumbent   CCA16D% CCA16R%   CCA12D%   CCA12R%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     37.8%   57.9%     35.3%     61.1%
SD09       Hancock     39.2%   56.3%     37.9%     58.4%
SD10        Burton     44.5%   51.6%     44.4%     52.7%
SD16      Huffines     42.7%   52.9%     40.6%     56.0%
SD17       Huffman     42.2%   54.3%     39.1%     58.2%

All five of these Senators are on the ballot next year. “CCA16” refers to the Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6, while “CCA12” is the Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race. The latter was the only R-versus-D race for the CCA in 2012, and like the Keasler/Burns race this year it featured a Libertarian but not a Green candidate, so the comparison is as apt as I can make it. For these purposes, the CCA races will suffice as a proxy for the “true” partisan split in these districts.

And not too surprisingly, things look distinctly less rosy when you pull back to that level. While Huffines’ district is a couple points bluer than it was in 2012 by the CCA metric, it’s still a ten-point district in the GOP’s favor. A big part of that is due to the fact that SD16 encompasses nearly all of HDs 108, 112, and 114, which as we’ve discussed before are the three most Republican State House districts in Dallas County. The good news is that there are clearly a sizable number of people in SD16 who are willing to vote Democratic against a sufficiently bad Republican. The bad news is that so far the only example of a race where that has happened is Clinton versus Trump. The challenge for Dallas Democrats will be threefold: Find a strong candidate to challenge Huffines, work to ensure the Dem base turns out in the off year (a task for which the track record is not great), and try to tie Huffines to Trump as closely as possible in order to entice the Hillary-voting Republicans in SD16 to cross over again.

As for the others, Konni Burton’s SD10 remains the closest thing to a swing district the Senate has, though it didn’t change much since 2012. It does have the distinction of electing a Democrat in part on the strength of Republican crossover votes as recently as 2012, though, and it probably wouldn’t take much of an erosion in Republican turnout to put her in peril, if 2018 is a year where Republicans don’t get fired up to vote. SD17 covers parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria in addition to Harris County. It will take coordination across the three counties as well as a commitment to turn out Dems in Fort Bend and Brazoria to be on the radar in 2018. SD08, which includes most of Collin County plus a small piece of Dallas, and SD09, which includes Dallas and Tarrant, aren’t really competitive in any sense, but they did move a bit in a Dem direction and included a fair number of crossovers as well. If we ever want to get closer to parity in the Senate, Dems are going to have to make serious gains in these suburban counties.

On those “improper” votes

Let’s be clear about this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas election officials have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state’s toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID.

The chief election officers in two of the state’s largest counties are now considering whether to refer cases to local prosecutors for potential perjury charges or violations of election law. Officials in many other areas say they will simply let the mistakes go, citing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters.

[…]

An Associated Press analysis of roughly 13,500 affidavits submitted in Texas’ largest counties found at least 500 instances in which voters were allowed to get around the law by signing an affidavit and never showing a photo ID, despite indicating that they possessed one.

Others used the sworn declarations to lodge protest statements against the law.

One affidavit from Hidalgo County, along the Texas-Mexico border, read: “Did not want to ‘pander’ to government requirement.” In Tarrant County, an election judge noted on an affidavit: “Had photo ID but refused to show it.”

“If we see that somebody blatantly says ‘I have ID’ and refused to show it, we’re going to turn that over to the D.A.,” said Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator for Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth. “If they tried to use the affidavit to get around the system, yeah, I see that as a violation.”

[…]

In Fort Bend County, a suburb of Houston, more than 15 percent of voters who submitted 313 affidavits said they possessed a photo ID, but they were not required to show it.

Under a court order issued last year, election officials were not allowed to question a voter’s reason for signing an affidavit.

The cases do not amount to voter fraud because people still had to be registered to vote to qualify for an affidavit, said John Oldham, Fort Bend County’s elections chief.

Poll workers were trained to “err on the side of letting people use the affidavit instead of denying them the chance to vote,” Oldham said.

“We don’t consider it something that we want to go out and prosecute people over,” Oldham said. “But I wish we didn’t have this affidavit process. It makes the whole photo ID law entirely meaningless.”

First of all, these were all votes cast by registered voters. The only impropriety, if there is one, lies in how the court order that “softened” Texas’ voter ID law is interpreted. The affidavit process was to allow registered voters who didn’t have one of the accepted forms of ID to cast their ballot if they produced another form of ID and signed a statement swearing 1) that they were who they said they were, and 2) that they didn’t have an accepted form of ID. Some election officials, like Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart took that to mean that the affiant did not own one of those forms of ID, like a drivers license. Others, including attorneys representing plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation, thought that was too strict. What if someone’s license had been lost or stolen, and they didn’t have the opportunity to get a replacement? What if someone arrived at the polling location only to realize they had left their license at home? Maybe the voters in those situations would be permitted to vote – I certainly think the first group ought to be – but until the question comes before a judge, we’re all just guessing. And remember, we’re talking about a few hundred voters who may not have followed a set of rules that were interpreted in a variety of ways versus sixteen thousand people who got to vote in the first place. Perspective, y’all.

As goes Tarrant

The Trib ponders the one big urban county that is not like the others.

Among the state’s five biggest counties, Tarrant is the only one that hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate in the past decade. The 2016 presidential election heightened Tarrant’s status as an outlier. Even as the rest of the state’s big-city territories moved deeper into the Democratic column, Tarrant steadfastly emerged as America’s most conservative large urban county.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office this week, won the county by an 8.6-point margin. It was the narrowest win for a GOP presidential nominee in decades in Tarrant. But among the country’s 20 largest counties, Tarrant was only one of two that swung Trump’s way in November — and it had the wider margin.

Across Tarrant County, Democratic pockets are fewer and less powerful than their Republican counterparts. All four of the state senate districts that fall in Tarrant County are represented by Republicans. The GOP also holds eight of the county’s 11 state House seats. Four of the five county commissioner court seats are held by Republicans.

Residents, elected officials and experts here point to a nuanced union of demographic, cultural and political forces to explain why.

“There’s just all kinds of interesting numbers out there that make Tarrant County a lot different,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, the only Democrat holding one of the county’s five congressional seats.

Tarrant’s minority population, which tends to lean Democratic, hasn’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties. At the same time, many Tarrant voters have a storied history of preferring practical governance to partisanship, according to officials and political observers. They say that helps support the moderate faction of the GOP, especially in Fort Worth, the nation’s 16th-largest city.

Then there’s the county’s development pattern. A lot of Tarrant remains rural. And, unlike Harris, Dallas and Travis counties, many of Tarrant’s affluent suburbs and conservative bedroom communities lie within its borders, not outside them. That’s helped give rise to the NE Tarrant Tea Party, a passionate and organized group that simultaneously supports far-right local candidates and serves as a powerful base for statewide Republicans.

[…]

Part of what has helped Tarrant become the state’s lone Republican urban county is that its minority populations, which largely and traditionally tend to lean Democratic, haven’t caught up to the state’s other big urban counties.

White residents’ share of the Tarrant population is falling, but it hasn’t declined as quickly as it has in Harris, Dallas, Travis and Bexar, said state demographer Lloyd Potter. The county’s Hispanic population is growing quickly, but it still lags behind the other big counties in terms of raw numbers, Potter added.

But that’s likely to change.

While Tarrant remains more white than Texas as a whole, it’s experienced a more significant drop in its share of white residents in the past 10 years compared to the state. In 2015, the county’s white population dropped to 48.5 percent — down from 56.4 percent in 2005.

Whites’ falling numbers in the county aren’t limited to its urban core in Fort Worth. In fact, the white population experienced a bigger drop in its share of the population in the suburbs from 2005 to 2015.

Here’s a fun fact, which I believe I have mentioned before: Tarrant County is a really good predictor of the overall Presidential race result in Texas. Witness the past four elections:

2004

Statewide – Bush 61.09%, Kerry 38.22%
Tarrant – Bush 62.39%, Kerry 37.01%

2008

Statewide – McCain 55.45%, Obama 43.68%
Tarrant – McCain 55.43%, Obama 43.43%

2012

Statewide – Romney 57.17%, Obama 41.38%
Tarrant – Romney 57.12%, Obama 41.43%

2016

Statewide – Trump 52.23%, Clinton 43.24%
Tarrant – Trump 51.74%, Clinton 43.14%

Almost spooky, isn’t it? One perfectly rational answer to the question “when will Texas turn blue?” is “when Tarrant County also turns blue”.

Anyway. The article is correct that Tarrant differs from the other big urban counties in that it’s actually a lot less urban than they are. Much of Tarrant is suburban, even rural, and that’s just not the case in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, and Travis. Tarrant’s demographics are changing, as the story notes, but I have no idea if there’s anything to suggest its demographics are changing any faster than the state’s are. The statewide judicial races and the one contested district court race were all in the 13-16 point range, which is consistent with the statewide results. I wish I could say I saw something to suggest change was coming faster, but at least in the numbers, I can’t. Maybe someone who is more familiar with the county can chime in.

Having said all this, one big opportunity in 2018 is in Tarrant, and that’s SD10, the Senate seat formerly held by Wendy Davis. Even in the dumpster fire of 2014, freshman Sen. Konni Burton only won by nine points, with 52.83% of the vote. If 2018 is a less hostile year, this is a winnable race, and as I’ve said before, any competitive Senate race is a big deal. Whatever we can do to hasten change in Tarrant County, 2018 would be a good time to do it.

The people who would have been denied the opportunity to vote in 2016

There were a lot of them.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

At least 16,400 Texans who voted in the November election wouldn’t have been able to cast ballots if the state’s voter identification law had been in full effect, state voting records show.

[…]

Through a public records request to the Texas secretary of state’s office, the American-Statesman obtained copies of the more than 16,400 Reasonable Impediment Declarations signed by Texans in the November election. More than 2,300 of the forms, legal affidavits punishable with a perjury charge if found to be false, were signed by Travis County voters.

The voters who signed the affidavits were concentrated in urban areas, with six counties alone — Harris, Travis, Dallas, Collin, Tarrant and Hidalgo — accounting for more than half of them.

Those voters arrived to the polls without one of the seven forms of ID, but were able to vote after signing the form and providing a voter registration certificate, birth certificate, utility bill, bank statement, government check or any other government document that included the registered voter’s name and address.

To sign the forms, all of those voters would’ve had to have been registered to vote and to produce documentation proving who they were.

[…]

Former Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, an appointee of Gov. Greg Abbott who stepped down after overseeing the November election, said the potential of 16,400 voters being turned away was less worrisome in light of the fact that about 9 million Texans voted.

“When you put it in perspective, to me it’s not a large number,” said Cascos, a Republican.

Asked if that meant those voters would have been disenfranchised, Cascos said, “I would agree. That is a way to look at it.”

And, he observed, the number of potentially disenfranchised voters “might not be important for a presidential race or a statewide race, but it very well might matter for local votes, where there can be really small margins.”

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure every qualified Texan who can vote should be allowed to vote,” he said, “(16,000) people wanted to vote and got to vote, so that’s great.”

Cascos is right – sixteen thousand out of nine million isn’t that much. He’s also right that every single one of them would have been disenfranchised had they been turned away, and for no valid purpose. That sixteen thousand just represents the people who tried to vote. We don’t know how many others didn’t bother to show up because they didn’t know that they could have voted – it’s not like the state’s “outreach” was terribly effective. And those sixteen thousand voters who would have been disenfranchised, plus those however many who actually were in this one election, are way way way more than the total number who have ever been credibly accused of any form of vote fraud. As long as we’re putting things in perspective, let’s keep that in mind as well.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

vote-button

There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Reducing pot prosecutions one county at a time

Some Texas cities are taking direct action to dial back the drug wars and reduce their jail population.

Zonker

As lawmakers have wrestled in recent years with easing restrictions on marijuana use – an issue they likely will confront again when they convene in January – prosecutors in the state’s most populated areas are relaxing their pursuit of cases that involve recreational amounts of the drug.

An American-Statesman analysis shows those practices are resulting in a spike of marijuana dismissals in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Tarrant counties. In each of the five counties, the rate of dismissal has risen since 2011, dramatically in some places. The trend also appears to be playing out statewide, where 23 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana cases were dismissed in 2011. In 2015, nearly a third were.

Yet that doesn’t mean Texas is witnessing de facto legalization: the number of new misdemeanor pot cases filed by police has stayed relatively constant.

The rate of dismissals is increasing fastest in North Texas. According to data kept by the Texas Office of Court Administration, Tarrant County prosecutors went from dismissing just 9 percent of cases five years ago to 24.3 percent last year. In Dallas County, the dismissal rate more than doubled, from 18 percent in 2011 to 41 percent last year.

Someone nabbed with a small amount of weed in Harris County in 2011 had about a 1 in 5 chance of getting the case dismissed; now it’s about 2 in 5 after officials developed a deferral program in which defendants have their cases thrown out if they meet certain qualifications.

In Travis County, prosecutors in recent years also have dismissed a greater percentage of marijuana cases. But much like in Bexar County, the frequency of dismissals was already significantly higher than in other counties.

For instance, Travis County in 2011 dismissed 42.6 percent of all resolved cases, compared to a statewide average of 22.9 percent.

Most of this is just due to prosecutors not wanting to pursue such minor offenses, and who can blame them? It’s not a substitute for policy, or a change in state law that would institutionalize this behavior. That’s still needed, even if the Legislature isn’t ready for it.

Voter registration numbers keep increasing

Always good news, though it’s hard to say anything definitive.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

County elections officials across Texas are reporting a spike in registered voters this election cycle, with one county now exceeding one million registered voters for the first time ever. Earlier this week, Bexar County Elections said they surpassed 1 million registered voters, according to News 4 Television in San Antonio.

That makes Bexar the fourth county in the state with one million or more registered voters. Harris County tops the list at 2 million followed by Dallas and Tarrant.

“Normally we anticipate spikes closer to the elections. We really exceed in September and the first week of October,” said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. “But we’re seeing a spike because of different organizations registering voters.”

According to data provided by Pippins-Poole’s office, nearly 113,000 new voters registered in Dallas by the end of July. She noted an uptick in registrations during historically slower times. In February alone her office received 29,922 voter applications, an increase of 186 percent compared to 2012.

Of the county’s eight Republican state representatives, four are vulnerable in a presidential election.

[…]

Heather Evans, an associate professor of political science at Sam Houston State University, suggested Democrats tend to focus on voter registration more than Republicans, which might help explain the uptick in Bexar and Dallas Counties.

“My research over the past four years shows that Democrats are the ones who always talk about/focus on increasing voter registration,” Evans said in an email to Quorum Report.

But two of the fastest growing counties in the country, Tarrant and Fort Bend, have also seen a spike in registration.

I believe that all adult citizens who are not currently under a felony conviction should be allowed to vote, so I’m always glad to see voter registration numbers go up. We would need a lot more information to draw any conclusions about what if anything the numbers might mean. Texas is a growing state, so voter reg numbers should generally increase, though they have often not kept up with the increase in the adult citizen population. Where people live is a huge factor, and for counties of any size that means going down to the precinct level, to see what the ambient proclivities are. It would be nice to know how many of these people are brand new to voting, and how many are new arrivals to the state who have an established history of voting somewhere else. And to the extent that people are being registered as part of an organized effort, it would be nice to know after the fact how many of these people eventually turned out to vote. In general, newly registered voters participate at roughly the same levels as other voters, but that’s in the aggregate. I’m sure some groups are better at this than others; I’d like to know which ones fall into which category. For now, file this away till early voting begins.

Still debating the Trump effect in Texas

This time with input from trained professionals.

Republicans say it’s just wishful thinking, but Democrats are hoping that Trump’s controversial comments will make some GOP voters stay home in protest and boost the number of Democrats going to the polls to vote against him if he becomes one of the presidential nominees. If that happens, it could help Democrats down the ballot.

“Democrats know they have no choice but to turn out and vote,” said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “The more caustic and divisive that Trump’s message becomes — and he has insulted every group in America — the more it energizes people to turn out and do something.

“And if Republicans decide to stay home and Democrats decide not to stay home, it could be a good thing for us in Tarrant County.”

Either of those options could affect candidates farther down the ballot, from state representatives to constables, who already see fewer votes than candidates at the top of the ballot.

Local Republicans say they hope Democrats don’t get their hopes too high over the possibilities if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee.

“I think there will definitely be a Trump effect,” said Jennifer Hall, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. “Trump affected almost every vote in the primary — people either came out to vote for him or against him.

“But we are hearing from a number of Democrats who say if Trump is our nominee, they will vote for him,” she said. “They say they like him better than Hillary [Clinton] or Bernie [Sanders].”

[…]

“County and city races may be hardest hit, along with judicial races,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. “Without a steady Republican turnout, the usual higher turnout in a presidential election will bring more Democrats and may cost the party some local seats.

“When given a reason, Democrats do turn out in big numbers, especially in presidential elections,” he said. “Trump’s bombastic political swagger may encourage less frequent Democrats to get to the polls and spike Democratic numbers around the area.”

Not only that, but GOP candidates in general might be tainted for some voters.

“The image of Republican candidates in down-ballot races would be tarnished in the eyes of some regular Republican voters due to their indirect association with Trump as their party’s presidential standard bearer,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“Trump’s anti-Latino rhetoric would be utilized by Democrats to ramp up Latino turnout and to drive a wedge between Latinos and the Republican Party,” he said. “Since Latinos in Texas tend to lean Democratic, higher Latino turnout alone will benefit Democrats, let alone if formerly Republican leaning Latinos switch their support to Democratic candidates as a result of Trump’s candidacy.”

We’ve discussed this before, and I’ll say once again that the way to move away from pure speculation and into slightly better-informed speculation is to get some polling data. Downballot races are where any effects will be felt, but a macro view of the statewide mood will help us gauge what those effects might be. Harris County, with its knife-edge balance these last two Presidential years, could definitely look a lot different after November. As for Tarrant County, it’s been an amazingly accurate mirror of statewide Presidential results over the past few cycles:


Year  Tarrant R  Texas R  Tarrant D  Texas D
============================================
2012     57.12%   57.17%     41.43%   41.38%
2008     55.43%   55.45%     43.73%   43.68%
2004     62.39%   61.09%     37.01%   38.22%

It will be interesting to see if that holds again this year. Maybe someone can just do a poll of Tarrant Count as a proxy for the state as a whole. We don’t have statewide poll numbers yet, but as do know that Latinos are extra engaged this year, that they really hate Donald Trump, and thanks to shift in Latino preferences, Harris County is more Democratic than ever. I’ll have more on that latter link tomorrow, but in the meantime what we do know points in one direction. The question is how far in that direction it points.

Day Two EV totals for 2016 primaries

Here you go:


Year       Dem      GOP
=======================
2008    19,578    8,654
2012     8,135   17,846
2016    14,001   19,376

EarlyVoting

For your reference, the 2016 totals are here, and the 2012 totals are here. I don’t have daily EVPA totals from the Harris County Clerk for 2008, so my reference for those numbers is the SOS archive for 2008, with the Day One Dem totals here and the Day One GOP totals here. Day One EV totals for the 15 biggest counties statewide are here.

I haven’t broken this down by mail versus in person voting in the table, but for the record the Democrats have returned 7,191 mail ballots out of 18,251 that have been sent out, while the Republicans have sent back 9,755 of 28,814. Friday is the last day to request a mail ballot. They’re not going to be a huge part of the final early total, so I’m not too focused on them. For what it’s worth, Republicans have requested 61.2% of the mail ballots, while their share of the mail ballots returned is 57.6%. Not sure how we get to that three to one turnout ratio that Stan Stanart predicted, but it is still early days.

A couple of Day One early voting stories so far. First, from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Tarrant County Republicans shattered their turnout records Tuesday as early voting kicked off for the March 1 presidential primaries in Texas.

By mid-afternoon, more local Republican ballots had been cast than through the end of the first day of early voting in the past four presidential primaries.

“It’s exciting,” said Frank Phillips, Tarrant County elections administrator. “Look at the primaries that have proceeded us — Iowa and New Hampshire. Turnout was large there too.

“I don’t know why we would be any different,” he said. “And this is Day One. It usually climbs all week.”

By the end of the day in Tarrant County, Republicans cast 4,617 ballots in person and Democrats cast 2,922 ballots in person, local election records show.

[…]

In the 2004 primary in Tarrant County, 332 Republicans and 472 Democrats turned out on the first day of early voting, state records show.

Then Texas, a large state that generally has a small voice in the battle for the White House, drew nationwide attention for Democratic turnout in 2008.

That year, local Democrats weighing in on the primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton broke turnout records.

On the first day of voting that year, 5,732 local Democrats voted, compared with 2,606 local Republicans.

In the next presidential election, numbers went down on the first day of voting: 2,147 Republicans and 798 Democrats in Tarrant County cast ballots that day, records show.

Not much to see here. Dems are above 2012 but below 2008, which is what you’d expect. Republicans, who have a couple of hot legislative primaries to go with the top of the ticket, have the lion’s share of the vote total.

And over in Dallas:

In total, 5,588 people have voted in Dallas County, 2,828 Democrats and 2,760 Republicans.

“That’s really good,” said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. “Most of the activity is being driven by the presidential election.”

Dallas Dems cast 9,834 first day early votes in 2008, while Republicans contributed 2,912. In 2012, those numbers were 2,555 D and 3,411 R. Interesting that 2012 was hotter on the R side than 2016, at least right off.

The Chron takes a broader view:

Republican primary turnout on day one of early voting nearly doubled from 2008 in Texas’ 10 largest counties, likely reflecting elevated interest in the heated contest for the Republican presidential nomination.

Data compiled by the Texas Secretary of State shows that 41,508 Republican voters cast an early or absentee ballot in the state’s 10 largest counties as of Tuesday, up from 21,130 on the first day of early voting in 2008.

Participation increased just 13 percent from Texas’ Mary 2012 Republican primary, however, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was leading the Republican field by a wide margin.

[…]

Democratic turnout in the state’s 10 largest counties, meanwhile, dropped 30 percent from 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s hotly-contested primary drove turnout in Texas to record highs.

If you look at the included chart, it appears that Day One Dem turnout is roughly double what it was in 2012. Not sure why that wasn’t noted in the story, but whatever. I’ll keep an eye on the other counties as we go forward as well. Have you voted yet?

Counting the number of same sex marriages in Texas

Fewer than I’d have guessed, but still a decent amount percentage-wise.

Statewide, an estimated 2,500 same-sex couples have received marriage licenses in Texas since the [Obergfell] ruling.

There is no exact accounting of how many same-sex marriage licenses have been issued in Texas or Tarrant County because gender is no longer listed on licenses.

But the Star-Telegram’s review of marriage licenses issued in Tarrant County the past two months shows that almost 9 percent of the licenses appear to have been issued to same-sex couples. Statewide, 5.7 percent of marriage licenses appear to have been given to same-sex couples.

“There are many same-sex couples who simply waited until it was legal to seek licenses,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “As a result, there have been a number of folks who might have gotten married years ago had it been possible to do so who are taking advantage of their opportunity to gain legal recognition for their committed relationship.

“My guess is that the overall percentage will shrink over time from this initial data once the ‘pent-up demand’ has been satisfied.”

[…]

Officials stress that state estimates of same-sex marriage licenses are just that: estimates.

“Since the application no longer has gender identifiers, this ballpark number is based on what we can assume from the applicants’ names,” said Carrie Williams, director of media relations for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which maintains vital records for the state, including marriage applications.

Overall, the state has received 43,522 marriage license applications since June 26, including the estimated 2,500 for same-sex couples, she said.

To get an idea of how many marriage licenses Tarrant County has granted to same-sex couples, the Star-Telegram reviewed a list of 3,427 applications from June 26 to Sept. 8.

The county does not keep a “breakdown of same-sex marriage license applications versus non-same-sex applications,” said Jeff Nicholson, chief deputy for Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia. “Since June 26, the forms and our software have been modified so there is no way to discern this. It simply refers to applicants.”

The review shows that at least 296 licenses — or 8.6 percent — appear to have been issued to same-sex couples.

On the one hand, I thought the “pent-up demand” might have been higher. On the other hand, a lot of couples in Texas that really wanted to be married went and got married in other states rather than wait. Either way, I do think the number will decline some as a share of all marriages, then level off. We’ll get a much better handle on the real numbers when the 2020 Census is done. One hopes that by then the whole subject will be considered little more than a statistical curiosity. The Current has more.

Divorce granted to same sex couple in Tarrant County

At some point, stories like this will cease to be news.

Divorce

It took two Tarrant County women nearly two years to legally end their failed marriage because of the tangle of state and federal law.

But on Thursday, Brooke Powell and Cori Jo Long were finally divorced after a five-minute hearing before state District Judge William Harris.

Court officials said they believe it is the first same-sex divorce in Tarrant County and one of the few in Texas.

“It’s been a roller coaster,” Long said after her courtroom appearance. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling June 26 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage is what prodded Tarrant County judges to grant the divorce.

But don’t expect the first divorce to open the floodgates, legal experts say. Although the Supreme Court’s decision led to a rush of same-sex weddings, that won’t happen with divorces. They are not as simple as reprinting the marriage license form.

Powell and Long married in New Hampshire in 2010. Four years later, one woman filed for divorce while the other asked Texas to act as though the marriage never took place.

But Harris closed off both options, and the women appealed their case to the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth.

“It was a feeling, initially, of being invisible,” Powell said. “There was no resolution. But I always had faith in the legal system that this day would come.”

Citing the Supreme Court ruling, the appeals court sent the case back to Harris. This time, he granted a divorce.

There was also a Texas Supreme Court ruling, which preceded the SCOTUS ruling, in a case about a same-sex couple in Travis County. As such, this case was pretty clear cut. However, as the story notes, there was no property to divide, and there were no children in the marriage so no custody issues to settle. Will the courts be able to apply existing law in an equitable manner for future same-sex divorce cases, or will it become clear that the Legislature will need to address this? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a whole lot of faith in the latter, so we’ll have to see how it goes when such a case does appear. The simple dissolution of a marriage, at least, is something that can be done.

More counties issuing same sex marriage licenses

Montgomery County:

RedEquality

Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull said he turned one same-sex couple away on Friday who requested a marriage license, but wound up issuing the license after regular hours on Saturday.

He initially refused because he was waiting for clarification from the state on what form to use, but after the courthouse closed Friday evening, Texas Department of Health Services sent a revised form that removed all gender references and referred to those applying for the license only as “applicant one” and “applicant two,” Turnbull said.

With a new form in hand, he telephoned Pam Kunkle, 55, an insurance manager in Houston and her partner, Connie Moberley, 67, and asked them to return to the Montgomery County courthouse so he could issue the license Saturday.

“We needed some time to make adjustments with the language and make sure it worked on our computer program. We were glad they volunteered to come back and be our first guinea pig to make sure the system worked,” he said, adding none of the clerks in his office had raised any religious objections to issuing licenses to same-sex couples. “We are officers with ministerial duties. We have no discretion. We follow rules listed in our handbook.”

However, he recalled a former employee who objected to issuing liquor licenses on moral grounds and said she later switched to another county job where that did not pose a problem.

That’s Montgomery County, one of the reddest in Texas. The theme of “we do what the law says we are to do” is one you will see again.

Tarrant County:

Tracey Knight didn’t know if the day would ever come when she would be legally married in the state of Texas.

At long last it did come Friday, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling swept away the state’s longtime ban against same-sex marriage.

“We dreamed of this day,” said Knight, a corporal with the Fort Worth Police Department who serves as the LGBT community liaison. “We weren’t sure if it would ever happen. Now we have started planning our wedding.”

Knight and her wife, Shannon, who wed two years ago in California but wanted to exchange vows again in Texas, shared smiles and tears Friday as they were the first same-sex couple in Tarrant County to receive a marriage license.

Several other counties in North Texas were awaiting “guidance” from AG Ken Paxton. Denton County, which had originally refused to issue same sex marriage licenses, has now become compliant with the law of the land.

The Denton County clerk’s office is now issuing same-sex marriage licenses, following Friday operations that turned at least three couples away.

Whitney Hennen and Sara Bollinger was the first same-sex couple in the county this morning to be given a marriage license.

On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared religious objections a legitimate excuse for county clerks and their staffs as a means of denying licenses to same-sex couples.

Denton County Clerk Juli Luke said she is opposed to gay and lesbian couples getting married for religious reasons, but maintained her personal beliefs cannot prevent her from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

“Moreover, my faith in Christ ensures I have compassion and respect for those who feel differently,” she wrote in a statement.

See, Ken Paxton? It’s not hard to do at all. Collin County has joined in as well, though several other counties in the area are not there yet.

Williamson County has fallen in line, too.

Williamson County is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as of 8 a.m. Monday. That comes after getting advice from County Attorney Dee Hobbs.

“I would like to acknowledge the gravity of the Supreme Court decision and the passion citizens have on both sides of this issue,” reads a statement by Hobbs, posted outside the Williamson County Clerk’s Office. “I would like to thank those that contacted this office for being respectful int heir questions and also understanding regarding time to review.”

That’s two outlaw counties that have come back to their senses. Smith County makes three, with Gregg thrown in as a bonus.

An East Texas same-sex couple became the first in Smith County to be issued a marriage license on Monday morning.

About 8:30 a.m., a couple showed up seeking a marriage license at the Smith County courthouse. Karen Wilkerson and her fiance Jolie Smith began the process to obtain their marriage license shortly after 8:30 a.m. and were issued the document about 9:20 a.m. The couple was the first to show up at the courthouse office.

The license was issued following a Friday Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Earlier in the day, the Smith County Vital Statistics Department was temporarily closed for a staff meeting. A sign posted in the courthouse said the department was also testing the system to accommodate new forms.

Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips said the state changed the vital statistic form needed to issue the licenses.

Midland County was a Friday adherent, but neighboring Ector was a holdout. Not any more.

Ector County Clerk Linda Haney will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, opting not to take an out offered by Attorney General Ken Paxton for clerks who wish to deny such licenses due to religious beliefs.

“I took an oath to uphold the law and I intend to follow the law,” Haney said, although the marriage licenses could not be issued early Monday morning because the new application was not yet available on the computer system.

Her decision comes after the Friday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that marriage is a Constitutional right for same-sex couples.
Sunday, Paxton issued an opinion that clerks could deny licenses based on religious beliefs, just as justices of the peace could decline to perform the weddings based on religious beliefs.

Haney, however, said she will follow the Supreme Court’s ruling and what she believes is the correct thing according to the law.

“An act of civil disobedience on my part would not honor my God and I don’t want to put my county at liability either,” Haney said. “I do have strong religious convictions and anybody that knows me knows what those convictions are. But I did take an oath and I will follow the law.”

Amazing how clear and simple that is, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see all these counties, from different parts of the state, ignore Ken Paxton’s advice and do the job they’re supposed to do. And congratulations to Karen Wilkerson and Jolie Smith!

Not all counties needed prodding. Fort Bend County had it right from the beginning.

While the topic has produced a variety of opinions among the American public, the Fort Bend County Clerk’s office has issued a direct statement – current marriage forms won’t be modified, but when new forms arrive for same-sex marriage, they will be honored in accordance with the new law.

Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, using the current forms, until the updated ones arrive.

Again – easy peasy. So simple even Ken Paxton should be able to understand it. Let’s let Brazoria County explain it to him anyway, just in case.

After an opinion from the District Attorney’s office this afternoon, County Clerk Joyce Hudman said Brazoria County is officially issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

Hudman said her offices have been issuing licenses since 1:30 p.m. and will throughout the day.

District Attorney Jeri Yenne gave the county clerk’s office a one-sentence opinion that issuing same-sex marriage licenses is mandatory based on the Supreme Court’s decision today.

“As a follow-up to your inquiry regarding marriage licenses, please be advised that on today’s date, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion indicating the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex,” Yenne’s memo reads.

After getting that memo, Hudman said her offices were instructed to grant the licenses.

One couple already has obtained a marriage license from the Pearland clerk’s office, she said.

A “one-sentence opinion” that explained the facts. Are we going to fast for you, Kenny?

Unfortunately, every state has its slow learners.

“I’m standing up for my religious liberty,” said Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, who said her office would not give out same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds. “I do believe that marriage is for one man and one woman because it did derive from the Bible.”

After the decision Friday, some county officials said they would wait to hear from state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued a written opinion Sunday saying clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages can refuse to issue those licenses. But if they do so, he wrote, they might face fine or lawsuits.

Paxton said pro bono lawyers would be ready to defend those who refuse, noting “the reach of the Court’s opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty.” Lang said after reading Paxton’s opinion, she chose to face possible legal action.

“I could get fined and I could get sued,” she said, “but you could get sued for anything.”

You can also be held in contempt of court if it comes down to it. And remember, for this you could be sued personally, not just named as a defendant in an action against the county or your office. But hey, every cause needs a martyr, and I’m sure that future Fox News gig will be sweet.

That’s about all the counties I have the energy to look up today. Other resources: The DMN has an interactive map that’s at least somewhat inaccurate since they have no report on Fort Bend’s status. The Current has contacted a bunch of Hill Country counties and reports that all except possibly Kerr are now in compliance. Glen Maxey has been keeping tabs on Facebook – see here for his running count, and be sure to see the comments for updates. If you don’t see your favorite county listed somewhere, you may just have to call the Clerk’s office there yourself. Overall, though, the picture is pretty good and it appears to be improving. All the national headlines have been about Paxton and his get-out-of-following-the-law opinion for County Clerks, but at this point very few clerks, almost none in larger counties, have heeded him. Unlike Greg Abbott, they understand how the law works and they respect it. Paxton’s words – and Dan Patrick’s, and Greg Abbott’s, and Ted Cruz’s – will make Texas look bad to the rest of the country, but at least we still have enough sensible local officials to maybe mitigate that a bit.

In closing, here’s a non-legal opinion regarding a better way for county clerks with religious objections to handle this:

Religious freedom is so central to our nation that no public official should be required to do anything that violates the religious principles that direct his or her life.

And there is clear and proper recourse here for any public official who, as a result of this landmark change in the law, finds himself or herself uncomfortable with or unable to perform the revised duties of office.

They should quit.

Amen. Thankfully, very few of them have decided that they cannot do their jobs. Let’s hope the remainders follow their lead and not Paxton’s. Trail Blazers and BOR have more.

On BGTX, Wendy Davis, and the future

This has been a pretty busy Christmas break, as far as blog-worthy news has gone, so in order to preserve the small illusion that I’m taking a breather and recharging my batteries, I’m just going to give three quick thoughts on this Observer postmortem of the 2014 election and Battleground Texas, which you really should read.

1. I can’t tell you how stunned and disillusioned I am to read that their strategy for 2014 was a swing voter/crossover strategy, and not the base-building one that it sure sounded like they were going to do, and which was screamingly obvious we needed. I mean, even the most cursory review of election data for the past few cycles should have made this clear. The only semi-optimistic thing I can say about this is that I hope it proves, once and for all and beyond any semblance of a doubt, that nothing else matters in Democratic campaigning until we get our base turnout up. We had a huge leap forward from 2004 to 2008, then regressed a bit in 2012, but at least we made progress in Presidential years. Non-Presidential years have been a flat-lined albatross since 2002. I thought BGTX had figured this ridiculously easy insight out and was working on a plan to combat it. I can only hope they’ve figured it out now.

2. Much of the story is about friction between BGTX and the local and state Democratic parties and other organizations. I can’t speak to any of that – I get why the folks that were here first felt steamrolled, and I get why BGTX thought they could do things better – but I will say this: The story notes that in Travis County, there was a formal agreement between BGTX and the locals to work together. Well, if there was one honest success story in terms of performance in Texas in 2014, it was in Travis County. Here’s some data I’d collected for a post that I may or may not ever get around to finishing, about off-year turnout patterns in the five biggest urban counties:

County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 330,801 272,032 423,275 334,098 358,425 299,255 Dallas 218,496 198,499 196,103 209,001 179,014 206,546 Bexar 133,733 124,129 161,443 131,397 156,144 134,876 Tarrant 195,384 125,416 208,976 123,200 213,812 138,944 Travis 93,524 110,026 95,431 127,803 91,372 155,335 County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 17.64% 14.50% 22.05% 17.42% 17.53% 14.64% Dallas 18.08% 16.43% 17.13% 18.25% 14.83% 17.11% Bexar 15.14% 14.05% 17.88% 14.55% 16.27% 14.06% Tarrant 22.42% 14.39% 22.30% 13.15% 21.37% 13.89% Travis 17.18% 20.22% 15.80% 21.16% 14.00% 23.81%

The numbers in question are (for the top chart) the average vote totals for judicial candidates (*) in each year and for each party (I skipped 2006 because it was such an atypical down year for Republicans), and (for the bottom chart) the percentage of registered voters that each of those totals represents. As you can see, the only county with consistent growth, in terms of total numbers and share of registered voters, is Travis County. The Dallas County miracle is largely the result of the bottoming out of the Republican vote there; the Dem vote has grown somewhat, but not that much, and it backslid from 2010. Harris and Bexar are stuck in the mud, while Tarrant is still catching up to 2002. Whatever happened elsewhere in the state and with the Wendy Davis campaign, what happened in Travis County worked. We should learn from that.

(*) – These totals are from contested races only, for which there are a limited supply in Travis and Tarrant. I used statewide and circuit appeals court races in those counties in addition to the rare contested local judicial election; in Harris and Dallas I used district court races, and in Bexar I used district and county court races.

3. If I see any indication that BGTX plans to direct Texas volunteer effort and/or contributions to other states in 2016, I’m going to be very seriously pissed off. That’s not what we were promised, it’s not what anyone signed up for, and it’s not what we deserve. I don’t want to ever have to discuss this again.

As far as the story about Wendy Davis contemplating her political future, which I have not gotten around to reading yet but which Campos has, I see no reason why she can’t run again, whether it’s for SD10 in 2018 (she’d have as good a shot at it as anyone) or statewide again. Remember when we were all calling Rick Perry “Governor 39%”? Everyone had forgotten about that by the time 2010 rolled around. The public has a very short memory. As for Davis, if she has learned the lessons that should have been learned before this year, she might be a much stronger candidate next time out. Bottom line, she was a really good State Senator who won two tough races and served her district very well, and she’s only 51. I see no reason why she can’t have a second act.

What will the clerks do?

Some of Texas’ county clerks are making plans to accommodate same-sex marriage license applicants in the event that federal judge Orlando Garcia lifts the stay on his ruling that tossed out the state’s ban on same-sex nuptials. Some other clerks are planning to be jerks about it.

RedEquality

Jeff Nicholson, chief deputy for Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia, a Republican, said Tuesday he consulted with the DA’s office about the issue after receiving an inquiry from a citizen.

“They advised us very explicitly that the lifting of the stay by Garcia in San Antonio, which is a different district than the one we’re in, doesn’t have any effect on us,” Nicholson told the Observer. “I think the DA’s position is here, until this is very clearly decided, that Texas law is Texas law, and we’re going to sit tight.”

Ken Upton, Dallas-based senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said clerks in other states, including Kansas and Missouri, have taken similar positions.

“I don’t think there is anything keeping them from issuing the licenses once the stay is lifted, but an argument could be made that they aren’t required to do so until it [the outcome of the case] becomes final,” Upton said.

Ken Upton is nicer about this than I would be. I think that’s a chickenshit move, and I’d be happy to see any clerk that refused to follow the law get slapped with a contempt of court charge. Judge Garcia’s ruling invalidated a provision of the state constitution, which last I checked applied to all of the state. And why are they consulting with the DA’s office? Are there no qualified civil attorneys available to advise the Tarrant County Clerk? Sheesh.

Fortunately, same-sex couples from Fort Worth will be able to obtain licenses in Dallas, where Democratic clerk John Warren said he’s prepared to issue them.

“You take an oath to uphold the law, and if the law changes, you’ve got to do it,” Warren said. “If the law says I can’t, then I won’t. If the law says I can, then I will.”

Republican Bexar County Clerk Gerhard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff said in addition to keeping his office open ’round-the-clock, he’s considering setting up tables in Main Plaza to accommodate same-sex couples. Rickhoff said he’s also lined up district judges to waive a 72-hour waiting period before ceremonies can occur, as well as officiants to conduct them.

“There’s a pent-up demand to stop these civil rights violations that are pretty evident,” Rickhoff said. “I would imagine they’ll be driving into San Antonio in droves, and that’s what we’re prepared for. Nobody will be turned away. We’ll work until there’s nobody left.”

Democratic Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said her office will also be ready to extend its hours if Garcia lifts the stay.

DeBeauvoir said she’s also prepared to “flip the switch” on changes to a database that would replace “bride” and “groom” with “Person 1” and “Person 2.”

Now that’s the way you do it. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart says he’ll ask the AG’s office for advice and will do what they tell him, which is slightly less weaselly than Tarrant County Clerk Garcia. I don’t know what Judge Garcia will say or when he might say it, but this is coming whether some squeamish bureaucrats are ready for it or not. Those that aren’t need to grow up and get with the program or get out of office.

A look at how Democratic legislative challengers did against the spread

It’s been long enough since the election that I feel like I can go back and look at some numbers. Not a whole lot of good out there, but we’ll try to learn what we can. To start off, here are all of the Democratic non-incumbent candidates for the State House and a comparison of their vote total and percentage to those of Bill White and Linda Chavez-Thompson from 2010:

Dist Candidate Votes White LCT Cand% White% LCT% ============================================================ 014 Metscher 6,353 9,980 7,540 28.5 36.3 27.8 016 Hayles 4,744 8,490 5,995 13.6 22.5 15.9 017 Banks 12,437 17,249 12,852 35.4 43.3 32.8 020 Wyman 10,871 15,512 11,232 22.7 31.4 22.9 021 Bruney 9,736 13,174 10,499 25.6 31.3 25.3 023 Criss 14,716 19,224 15,866 45.4 50.1 41.8 026 Paaso 11,074 16,104 12,290 30.3 37.0 28.4 043 Gonzalez 10,847 14,049 12,635 38.6 45.8 41.7 044 Bohmfalk 9,796 13,369 9,847 24.3 32.1 23.7 052 Osborn 12,433 12,896 10,539 38.5 39.4 32.4 058 Kauffman 6,530 10,672 6,913 19.5 29.0 18.9 061 Britt 7,451 10,103 6,725 17.0 23.4 15.6 063 Moran 9,016 10,797 8,107 22.7 27.4 20.6 064 Lyons 12,578 12,238 9,722 33.8 38.0 30.3 065 Mendoza 10,419 10,926 8,921 35.7 37.3 30.5 083 Tarbox 6,218 9,664 6,250 18.7 25.9 16.8 084 Tishler 6,336 9,444 6,969 27.3 33.7 24.9 085 Drabek 9,628 14,460 10,758 33.4 44.8 33.6 087 Bosquez 3,656 6,945 4,736 15.6 25.4 17.4 089 Karmally 11,105 11,192 8,925 28.4 31.7 25.4 091 Ragan 9,346 10,214 8,039 28.2 32.2 25.4 092 Penney 12,553 12,374 10,020 36.4 35.7 29.0 094 Ballweg 16,461 14,852 12,247 40.5 37.1 30.7 102 Clayton 12,234 15,709 12,110 37.5 44.1 34.3 105 Motley 10,469 11,766 9,793 42.7 43.8 36.7 106 Osterholt 9,586 9,112 7,212 27.5 30.1 23.8 107 Donovan 13,803 14,878 11,936 45.0 46.3 37.5 108 Bailey 16,170 17,401 12,859 39.3 42.0 31.3 113 Whitley 12,044 13,483 11,575 40.6 44.8 38.7 115 Stafford 11,761 12,428 9,955 39.5 39.8 32.0 129 Gay 12,519 17,441 12,896 32.2 37.5 28.0 132 Lopez 10,504 12,016 9,677 33.8 37.9 30.8 133 Nicol 11,728 19,800 12,595 25.4 35.7 22.9 134 Ruff 20,312 31,553 21,380 38.8 51.0 35.1 135 Abbas 10,162 13,971 11,005 34.1 39.6 31.4 136 Bucy 15,800 14,742 12,031 41.1 39.7 32.6 138 Vernon 8,747 12,918 9,878 33.2 40.5 31.2 150 Perez 10,317 13,086 9,829 26.8 31.0 23.4

The most encouraging numbers come from Williamson and Tarrant Counties. I discussed the race in HD94 before the election, where the combination of Wendy Davis’ presence on the ballot plus the outsized wingnuttery of Republican candidate Tony Tinderholt helped boost the performance of Democratic challenger Cole Ballweg. Tina Penney, running in HD92 against freshman Jonathan Stickland, also benefited. We’ll want to see what the full comparisons for this year look like, but Tarrant Dems ought to look to those two districts for a place to try to make further gains in 2016.

Nearby in Denton County, Emy Lyons in HD64 and Lisa Osterholt in HD106 both exceeded Bill White’s vote total, though not his percentage. I don’t know offhand where those districts are relative to the city of Denton, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the fracking ban referendum helped them a bit. These results are a reminder of two things – the importance of local issues in engaging voters in off years, and that it’s not enough in places like Denton County to increase vote totals. You have to keep up with the overall population increase as well. Otherwise, you’re falling farther behind even as you move forward. I’ll give Sameena Karmally in Collin County’s HD89 a nod for a decent showing in that tough district as well, with the same caveat about keeping up with the overall growth.

In Williamson, John Bucy’s strong showing in HD136 against freshman Tony Dale should make it a top target for 2016. Bucy nearly equaled President Obama’s 41.2% in HD136 from 2012, so there’s plenty to build on there. Chris Osborn didn’t do too badly in HD52, either. Note that in each district, the Libertarian candidate scored around five points – 5.03% in HD52, and 4.70% in HD136 – so the win number in each of those districts could wind up being less than 48%.

Finally, in Dallas County, the Battleground-backed candidates all fell short, but generally didn’t do too badly, and they continue to offer the best pickup opportunities for continuously Republican-held seats in HDs 105, 107, and 113. An ambitious goal for the Presidential election year would be to win back HDs 117 and 144, and take over 105, 107, 113, and 136. With no statewide race above the level of Railroad Commissioner but Presidential year turnout – if we work at it – to make things more competitive, I see no reason not to view that as a starting point.

That’s not all we should focus on, of course – I agree with Campos that we should put a lot of effort into local race around the state, which in Harris County means finding and funding a challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Frankly, we should be doing that in 2015 as well, in municipal and school board races. Maybe that will help some people understand that we hold elections in the other three years, too, and their participation in those elections is needed and would be appreciated. This is something we all can and should work on.

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

Two in Tarrant to watch

Tarrant County isn’t often an electoral battleground, but this time it is, at least in two legislative races.

Libby Willis

[HD94 Republican nominee Tony] Tinderholt’s race is one of two legislative contests in Tarrant County where Democrats are pinning their hopes on Republican voters soured by the most conservative elements of their party.

The second is a race to fill the Senate seat left open by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. There, in a district dominated by Republicans until Davis’ election, Democrat Libby Willis faces Konni Burton, a grassroots activist from Colleyville who touts the rare endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Like Tinderholt, who ousted Diane Patrick, an eight-year incumbent, in a primary upset, Burton sailed to GOP victory by questioning the conservative credentials of other Republicans. Now, in the general election, both candidates are under fire from their opponents for positions on abortion, gun rights and illegal immigration that Democrats say are out of sync with mainstream voters.

“I’m looking for those people who just don’t care about the partisan nonsense,” said Cole Ballweg, the Arlington businessman running against Tinderholt. “I’m looking for those people who’re more like me, who say, ‘What is really going to move the needle for my community, for my schools, for my kids?’ And there’s actually a lot of them out there.”

[…]

Ballweg acknowledged that it would take a “miracle” for a Democrat to carry Arlington’s staunchly Republican House District 94.

“I understand that so many of these people are still going to vote against me,” Ballweg said. “But you know what, they’re a lot more reasonable than a lot of people give them credit. They don’t want rifles in their streets; they don’t want angry, off-the-rails rhetoric about the border or anything else.”

The contest for the state Senate seat is closer. With advertising buys still rolling in, Willis and Burton have each spent over $1 million getting their message to Tarrant County voters since May, according to Texas Ethics Commission data.

Burton has raked in high-dollar donations from prominent conservative backers, including $100,000 from Midland oil and gas developer Tim Dunn and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which has spent more than $300,000 on last-minute direct mail and television ads on her behalf.

Willis has received substantial sums from Democratic donors, including Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who has contributed a combined $850,000 to her campaign through his law firm and Back to Basics, the political action committee he funds. She has also received support from Planned Parenthood, the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas and Annie’s List, which helps Democratic female candidates run for office.

But in her run for the high-profile swing district, Willis has also made inroads with groups otherwise supporting a slate of primarily Republican candidates, like the Texas Medical Association and the statewide law enforcement association known as CLEAT.

The former teacher and past president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations has attempted to draw a sharp contrast with her opponent, billing herself as a coalition builder and Burton as a partisan.

“I have so many Republicans saying, ‘I am not a Tea Party person, I am not extreme, I am just not that far out there.’ And they are voting for me,” Willis said. “A lot of them are voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives, and they are voting for me.”

I’ve written about the SD10 race before, both as a benchmark of success and an example of what else Battleground Texas is doing. I continue to believe that Libby Willis has at least as good a chance to hold this seat with Wendy Davis running for Governor as Davis would have with a mystery candidate for Governor. Early voting was up in Tarrant County, and one presumes these races as well as the Governor’s race were the driving forces behind that. As for the HD94 race, it would be nice to think that Republicans would be “soured by the most conservative elements of their party”, but one expects that if they were then Tinderholt would have lost in the primary to Rep. Diane Patrick, who had a solid reputation and was on Tom Craddick’s leadership team. I’ll hope for the best here, and I won’t be surprised if Cole Ballweg exceeds the partisan norm, but I’m not expecting more than that.

2014 Day 11 Early Vote totals

But first, a little Republican angst.

EarlyVoting

The Republican Party of Bexar County has issued a series of desperate pleas to conservative voters, saying “the Democrats are beating us on base turnout,” but two of the Texas party’s biggest names converged on San Antonio to get any complacent GOP voters off their couches.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott rallied supporters on Wednesday at Alamo Café, echoing concerns of local GOP leaders that loyalists who usually vote early aren’t all doing so.

“It’s a risk when people feel you’re going to win. They feel ‘why bother?’ That’s why events like this are so important, to encourage people to vote,” Cornyn said.

“We noticed that our base is sagging a bit,” said Bexar County GOP Chairman Robert Stovall.

“For the first time, I hope Republicans are right,” quipped his Democratic counterpart, Manuel Medina.

Both parties are armed with overnight data from early voting that ends Friday. While Republicans are anxious about their turnout numbers, Democrats are buoyed by theirs.

I have no insight into Bexar County, and it’s often difficult to distinguish between truth and bluff in this kind of story, but I like the sound of this anyway. It is credible to me that Bexar could be overperforming thanks to the presence of Leticia Van de Putte, as Tarrant appears to be doing for Wendy Davis and Harris did in 2010 for Bill White. Be that as it may, I think we can take this at face value.

And then there’s this from the Quorum Report, via email from the Davis campaign:

As we’ve said from time to time at Buzz Central, if Texas is a battleground, Harris County is ground zero. Perhaps never before has that seemed so true. Conservative activists, including the local GOP’s new and old leadership, are said to be waging all-out war to try to keep Sen. Wendy Davis’ performance in Harris County from affecting their down ballot candidates. There has been much grumbling in recent weeks from local Republican judicial candidates who feel that not enough has been done to turn out the GOP vote.

Longtime conservative activist and donor Dr. Steve Hotze – a major financial contributor to Sen.Dan Patrick – recently sent out mailers and emails pleading for Christian conservatives to get out the vote.

In offering what he called a “Contract with Texas,” Hotze said “Republicans are in trouble in Harris County. For the first time in over two decades the Democrats have matched the Republicans in Early Ballots by Mail which Republicans historically have led by a 2 to 1 margin.”

Hotze went on to explain that he’s seen polling that shows Attorney General Greg Abbott running behind Sen. Davis by just 1 percent in Harris County. Some reliable sources tell QR they have seen similar polling.

“This adversely affects the down ballot races,” Hotze wrote. “Republican District Attorney Devon Anderson is in a dead heat with Democrat challenger Kim Ogg,” he said.

“The Republican judges are running neck in neck with the liberal Democrat judicial candidates. Obama’s Battleground Texashas registered over 1,000,000 new voters in Texas.”

And with that, here are your Day 11 EV totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In this case, skepticism is warranted. The evidence we have is that Republicans have an eight or nine point lead, which is smaller than what they’re used to for off year elections, but still nothing to sneeze at. Whatever the polls say – the KHOU poll is the only Harris County-specific public data of which I am aware – the actual vote rosters tell us more. The good news, from the Dem perspective, is that we have more base voters left to motivate. The bad news is that there ain’t much time left to do that, and I’m not sure anyone knows why the numbers haven’t been higher. But hey, at least you know that we’re not the only ones that have been sweating.

2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

I feel a bit uncomfortable after Day Two of Early Voting in Person. Here are a couple of concerning tweets from yesterday:

Scott Braddock ‏@scottbraddock 2h2 hours ago
Those Harris County early vote totals are not good for Democrats. *If* Texas is a battleground, #Houston is ground zero #TxLege

And:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • 5h 5 hours ago
Dems excited by big vote-by-mail numbers here in Harris County, but in-person down 25%. Not good for them. #HOUNews | http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2014/10/in-person-early-vote-turnout-still-down-in-harris-county/ …

Here is from Chron.com:

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

A Commentary review of Early Voting locations likely frequented by African American and Latino voters shows a slight decrease in voter turnout as compared to the 2010 numbers after Day Two. Sure Dems are doing better with the mail ballots but we have to increase the Early Voting in Person numbers – or else. What is happening out there?

Here are your Day Three totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. As was the case with Day Two, in person totals are below what they were in 2010, though there were more absentee ballots received. The grand total so far for 2014 is 107,433, while the comparable total for 2010 was 107,782, so we are now officially a smidgen behind 2010. Does that mean we’re doomed?

Well, that depends on who is turning out. We’ve been through this before, but let’s remember, “turnout” doesn’t just mean Democrats. Republican voters count towards “turnout” too, and as you may recall they turned out like gangbusters in 2010. One of the prerequisites for Democrats doing well, or at least doing better, this year was for Republican turnout to come back down to earth. If what we’re got here is a Democratic increase combined with a Republican decrease, that would be pretty good, no?

Now bear in mind, the early vote gap – both in person and mail ballot – from 2010 in Harris County was pretty massive. A review of the 2010 numbers suggests it was about 59-39 in favor of the GOP, with mail ballots going 68-31 and in person early votes being 58-40. There’s a lot of room for Ds to go up and Rs to go down without the leader changing.

There are two indicators to suggest that the gap has narrowed considerably, though not all the way. One is that while Campos’ observation about Latino EV locations is accurate, it’s not the whole story. Here are the three day totals for the heaviest EV locations in GOP districts, then and now:

Location name SRD 2010 2014 ===================================================== Champion Forest Baptist Church 126 4,110 3,206 Kingwood Branch Library 127 4,075 2,823 Freeman Branch Library 129 4,190 3,044 Cypress Top Park, Cypress 130 3,548 3,052 Trini Mendenhall Community Center 138 3,839 3,048

Those are some pretty steep declines. Some of this I would attribute to the large increase in absentee votes, as I believe some of that represents people changing their behavior from voting early in person to voting by mail. Some of it I would (hopefully) attribute to the surge of 2010 Republican voters abating. Greg’s Day Two analysis, which suggests mail ballots are running about 50-50 and overall turnout being about 46% Dem, supports that. No question, we’d like to see Dem in person performance improve, but those mail ballots count, too, and they’re clearly making a difference. The usual pattern is that Dems turn out big on Saturday and generally participate more in Week 2, so we’ll see if that holds. Right now, all signs clearly point to Dems doing considerably better than they did in 2010. Doing better than 2010 is not that high a bar to clear, of course, so there’s still room to go up. Just don’t fixate on the “total turnout” number without at least considering where that turnout is coming from.

At the state level, the picture is interesting. The two day EV results for 2014 on the SOS webpage show an overall increase over 2010, fueled entirely by the massive uptick in mail ballots. Democratic counties like Dallas, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron are up a bit. So are Republican counties like Montgomery, Collin, Williamson, and Denton, but Galveston is down and Fort Bend is flat. Tarrant is way up, but that’s Wendy Davis’ home turf. Again, it’s a function of who is showing up. I don’t have enough information to make any guesses.

Bottom line, keep calm and keep working to turn out our voters. There’s a Walk2Vote event at UH-Downtown tomorrow, to turn students out there. If you really want to make a difference, consider helping out with Drive for Democracy, which aims to help people who need a ride to the polls get them. I’m told they have identified around 1000 voters who need a ride to the polls and are recruiting volunteers to help with those rides. I can’t think of a better way to get involved. Check ’em out, and sign up to help if you can.

2014 Day Two EV totals

Here’s Houston Politics with the nickel summary.

EarlyVoting

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

For the second straight day, the poll location at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center served the highest number of voters: 1,401.

I would expect that last bit to be true most if not all days of EV. Your Day Two EV totals are here, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In person totals are down for each of the first two days, but thanks to the massive absentee ballot haul on Day One, overall turnout remains up in Harris County, going from 79,221 after two days in 2010 to 83,347 in 2014. This year may not keep up with 2010 if Wednesday is like Monday and Tuesday, however. In addition, the single biggest day for mail ballots to be returned in 2010 was Thursday of the first week, when 5,825 of them arrived. We’ll keep an eye on those developments.

A couple of reports from Day One around the state. Here’s Zachary Roth:

In Tarrant County, which contains Davis’s home base of Fort Worth, 29,391 people voted Monday, nearly three times the comparable number for 2010. Heavily Hispanic El Paso County also saw a nearly threefold increase.

Harris County, which contains Houston, saw 61,735 voters Monday — an increase of more than 11,000 compared to the number who voted on the first day in 2010. Bexar County, containing San Antonio, saw an increase of nearly 7,000 voters. In Dallas and Travis (Austin) counties, the increases were respectively nearly 3,000 and nearly 1,000.

More than one-third of Texans live in those six counties.

And here’s Ed Sills, from his daily email report:

In 2010, the first-day total was 178,802 voters. In 2014, it was 240,634 voters. The entirety of that improvement is in mail voting, which has more than doubled to date. By most accounts, both Democrats and Republicans have strong mail-in Get Out the Vote programs, so the electoral meaning of the improvement is not clear. But it is clear mail-in voters do not have to flash a “voter ID” for their ballots to count.

As a percentage of registered voters, the first-day turnout this year was 2.68 percent, a 25 percent improvement over the 2.14 percent turnout of 2010. This year, the Secretary of State counts an increase of more than 600,000 registered voters, to 8,978,313, in the large urban counties, so that 2.68 percent comes out of a higher voting universe.

The ultimate 2010 turnout for all of Texas was 38 percent of registered voters. While it is too early to suggest that the first-day turnout is indicative of what the change will be for the entire election, a 25 percent improvement in that percentage would bring turnout to 47 percent this year. The biggest wins for Democrats since 1970 – the sweep of 1982 and Gov. Ann Richards’s victory in 1990 – have involved turnouts of just over 50 percent. The last time a gubernatorial race drew 50 percent of the voters was 1994, when George W. Bush defeated Richards.

No governor’s race since then has even hit the 40 percent turnout mark.

So a potential for change this year is reflected in the first-day numbers, but again, is it enough?

One interesting sign: The largest first-day large-population turnout in terms of percentage was in Hidalgo County, at 3.11 percent, compared to 2.32 percent in 2010. Second largest: Nueces County, at 3.09 percent, compared to 2.01 percent last time.

“Most Astonishing” award goes to Tarrant County, which nearly tripled its first-day total. With hometown Sen. Wendy Davis’s run for Governor and a hot Texas Senate contest, Fort Worth and environs saw a 10,263 first-day vote total in 2010 rise to 29,217 in 2014.

Even traditionally low-turnout early voting counties that tend to go Democratic, like Cameron and El Paso, are up significantly over 2010, though their first-day turnouts remain lower than the other large counties.

Harris County experienced an 11,000-vote Day One increase and cast 61,735 votes, or about a quarter of the big-county total.

The Republican strongholds of Montgomery, Williamson and Collin counties also saw healthy increases in first-day voting, so once again, the big-county totals can’t be used to predict much. But I’m confident another 38 percent turnout would signal inertia and tilt toward the status quo. The prospect of more voters in 2014, in my view, is a necessary ingredient of change.

Still a long way to go, and a lot of possibilities. Have you voted yet? Audrey wants to come with me when I vote, so I’m targeting Saturday for my turn.

Voter registration numbers are up

Some good news here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The number of Texans registered to vote in the state’s five largest counties increased by 2 percent since 2012, a reversal of the decline in total voter registrations that was seen before the last midterm election.

Nearly 150,000 more Texans in these counties are eligible to vote in November’s election between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis than could vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to tallies released by Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis counties midday Monday, the last day to register.

The new registrations, however, did not outpace population growth in these counties, which are expected to have grown by 2.6 percent since 2012. But population growth has not always meant growth in voter registration totals: Following the registration push that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008, voter registration in these counties declined by 140,000, a 2.5 percent drop ahead of the 2010 midterm election.

Ahead of this midterm cycle, where Republicans are again favored up-and-down the ticket, that trend seems to have been flipped as 2.2 percent more Texans are registered to vote following Obama’s second campaign in these counties. Roughly 5.9 million Texans can vote in November’s races in these counties, where more than a third of Texans live.

Voter registration groups hailed the uptick in registration before a midterm election, which traditionally sees much lower turnout than during presidential years, as evidence that their efforts to register low-propensity voters had paid off. Five percent of those voting in Harris County are new registrants.

“The community has grown tired of promises and now we’re willing to rely on our own efforts,” said Carlos Duerte, state director of Mi Familia Vota, which said it registered more than 15,000, mostly Hispanic voters in Texas. “This is a huge jump even though it’s only 2 percent.”

[…]

Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, cautioned against reading too much into voter registration numbers, especially as they relate to the success of Battleground Texas. The group has made clear it views its work as long term.

“Registration was certainly one of the benchmarks Battleground Texas set for themselves as part of their contact and mobilization strategy,” Henson said. “It’s going to be something that people are going to be tempted to look at as the leading indicator, but until we see what actual turnout looks like, any predictions based on that are going to have to be taken with a grain of salt.”

I’ll stipulate that we should wait till voting actually starts before we begin to draw inferences, let alone conclusions, but come on. Battleground Texas made increased voter registration a key part of their strategy, and the numbers bear them out. Lord knows, if the totals had shown the typical dropoff from a Presidential year everyone would be lining up to throw rocks at them, with the likes of Jim Henson being right at the front of the line. They did what they said they were going to do, so credit where credit is due.

In fact, if you compare voter registration totals from this year to 2010, which as a non-Presidential year is the true benchmark, the totals are even more impressive. I did my own research, and this is what I found:

County 2008 voters 2010 voters 2012 voters 2014 voters 10-14 Diff ====================================================================== Bexar 931,028 903,068 920,277 953,000 50,000 Dallas 1,206,797 1,145,107 1,182,432 1,201,478 55,000 El Paso 387,146 378,899 376,267 403,716 25,000 Harris 1,892,656 1,917,534 1,942,566 2,052,550 135,000 Tarrant 966,474 936,966 975,385 998,091 62,000 Travis 609,230 603,964 635,300 649,984 46,000

All past year figures are taken from the respective county elections websites. Kudos to the Dallas and El Paso elections admins for having up-to-date registration totals right there on their homepages. The Harris numbers for 2014 are taken from last week’s press release, so they may be a tad low. The 2014 Bexar number came from this KSAT story. As for Travis and Tarrant, I called and asked. Any or all of the 2014 numbers may change between now and Election Day for a variety of reasons, but ballpark figures are more than adequate for my purposes, which is why I rounded off the “difference” numbers in the last column.

I went back three election cycles so you could see more clearly the difference between this year and 2010. Note how in each county except Harris – where as we know there had been a concerted effort to register voters, until Greg Abbott crushed it – the numbers declined, in some cases precipitously, from 2008. In Bexar, Dallas, and El Paso the numbers were still down from 2008 for the 2012 election. In all cases except Dallas, registration totals have surpassed 2008, and the gains over 2010 are substantial. Sure, the overall population in these counties is up as well, but as you can see that has not correlated to voter registration totals. You can make of this what you want to, and I readily agree that it’s the turnout numbers that will really matter (*). But this is yet another piece of evidence to suggest that this year is different than 2010. We don’t know what the final effect will be, and if it falls short of expectations that will be more grist for the postmortem mill. However you want to slice it, these are the numbers we have.

(*) It’s an interesting question, what kind of turnout we should expect from newly-registered voters. I’ve heard it said that voters who register for a specific election turn out at rates that are at least commensurate with the voting population at large, but a cursory Google search hasn’t turned up any definitive info on that. Perhaps this would be a good topic for a professional political scientist like Jim Henson to research, with this election serving as a juicy case study. Who knows, maybe he’ll learn something that might lead him to refine his polling methodology.

Equality is about more than marriage

It’s about families, and lots of other things, too.

RedEquality

Joe Riggs and Jason Hanna never expected to make national news after a surrogate mom gave birth to their twins.

Riggs, 33, and Hanna, 37, have been together almost four years. They’re best known in the community for collecting teddy bears at Christmas for Children’s Hospital to donate to children going through chemotherapy or other serious procedure. They’ve donated about 1,000 bears so far. At their Christmas parties, they also collect money to divide between the Family Equality Council and Stand Up to Cancer.

“I always wanted a family,” Hanna said. “We both grew up in loving households.”

[…]

Last summer, the couple married in D.C. and in August had their religious ceremony at Cathedral of Hope. Riggs parents walked him down the aisle. His grandparents flew in for the ceremony as well.

But what would make the family complete for them was children. So last year, they enlisted the services of a surrogate to give birth to their biological children. Because Riggs had fertilized one of the eggs and Hanna the other egg that was implanted in the surrogate, they didn’t know which baby was biologically which dad’s when the boys were born. The eggs came from an anonymous out-of-state donor. So neither father’s name went on the birth certificate in the hospital.

So they went to court to end the surrogate’s parental rights and get their names on the birth certificates. The surrogate had signed the paperwork to relinquish her rights. (The woman who carried the babies had acted as surrogate before, but this was the first time she had done so for a gay couple.)

But the judge turned them down.

“The judge stated she couldn’t grant the adoptions with the petition in front of her,” Hanna said.

They had DNA tests and presented those tests as part of the petition. It didn’t matter. Not only did the judge turn down the surrogate’s request to end parental rights and have her name removed from the birth certificate, the judge refused to place the name of the biological dads on the birth certificates.

Finally, the judge turned down a request for each of the dads to adopt the other’s baby. So legally, the boys have one unrelated surrogate listed as their mother and no father.

“There are issues with these documents,” the judge said, without indicating what those issues were, according to Hanna.

I can’t begin to think of a valid reason for something like this. Surrogacy, demonstrating paternity, cross-adopting – these are all standard, not-the-least-bit-unusual things. What makes this even more exasperating is that as the story notes, filing this paperwork in a different county – Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Harris – would have led to it being routinely processed. Riggs and Hanna can refile in another county to get this mess straightened out, but they shouldn’t have to do that. This is just wrong, and it deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting – a Google News search on “Joe Riggs Jason Hanna” found no mainstream Texas news stories; the closest was this post in the Morning News LGBTQ Insider blog. The story has gone national, so maybe it will get some coverage here as well. It sure would be nice. Thanks to Texas Leftist for the heads up.

UPDATE: I got the impression from the Dallas Voice story above that Harris County would be a viable place to file for a second parent adoption, but the feedback I’ve received in the comments below and on the Facebook page say otherwise. As such, I’ve edited accordingly. Thanks for the correction!

Burnam challenge awaiting appeal

Another update on the ongoing legal challenge by State Rep. Lon Burnam, who wants his loss in the primary to Ramon Romero thrown out on the grounds that some applications for absentee ballots by Romero voters involved the use of iPads, which are not included as permissible devices in the relevant state law.

Rep. Lon Burnam

In a hearing earlier this month, attorneys representing Burnam asked that county election officials release all the applications turned in for mail-in ballots in this race to investigate potential illegalities such as an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation.”

State District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton, the visiting judge appointed to the case, turned down the request. Burnam’s attorney, former Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairman Art Brender, has filed an appeal, asking the Fort Worth Court of Appeals to overturn that ruling.

McFarling on Monday agreed to delay the trial until the Court of Appeals rules. The case was scheduled to go to trial Tuesday.

Brender said he was glad for the delay.

“We are continuing our investigation every day,” he said. “And we are investigating other aspects of the election — and have been the whole time.”

Romero’s staff said they believe the final ruling will go their way.

“We are confident in the legal system,” said Michael “Mikey” Valdez, Romero’s campaign manager. “We feel the right decision will be made and it will confirm our victory.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I presume that’s the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and not the “Fort Worth Court of Appeals” since as far as I know there is no such thing. I don’t have anything to add to this story, but on a related note both Campos and Michael Li complained about an email Burnam sent out, presumably as an update on his case and as a fundraising appeal. Burnam is litigating a technicality, and technicalities don’t have much fundraising appeal. Trying to make it more than that risks alienating supporters and handing Republicans political ammunition. Burnam may win his challenge, but I’ll say again that I see nothing wrong in what Romero’s campaign did, nor do I see any reason why the law shouldn’t be amended to specifically allow it. Don’t lose sight of who you are in your quest to stay in office, Lon.

What the Burnam case is about

I’m still not sure what to think about Rep. Lon Burnam’s electoral challenge against Ramon Romero in HD90.

Rep. Lon Burnam

In a case that election officials statewide are monitoring — because it involves the use of electronic devices such as iPads — attorneys say enough ballots are in question to make a difference in the race Burnam lost by 111 votes to local businessman Ramon Romero Jr.

“We feel like there’s basically voter fraud and illegality that went on out there,” said Art Brender, a local lawyer and former Tarrant County Democratic Party chairman who is on the legal team representing Burnam. “We’ll know pretty soon.”

Romero, a businessman who owns A-Fast Coping Tile and Stone, said he believes this case will be resolved soon — in his favor.

“We didn’t have tablets. What he’s alleging has nothing to do with our campaign,” he said. “I don’t believe there was anything illegal that happened. It is sad that this is where we are. We should be moving forward.”

[…]

Burnam’s lawsuit alleges that some voters in the district were approached by campaign workers who asked them to fill out applications to vote by mail on an electronic device such as an iPad.

Burnam wants to review these applications, saying he believes “that these documents and other testimony will establish beyond question that the computerized-signature operation was illegal and that I won the election.”

His legal challenge claims that of the nearly 5,100 votes cast in this race, 951 were mail-in ballots — more than enough to decide the election.

But his request for copies of all applications for mail-in ballots was rejected Friday during a hearing before state District Judge Robert McFarling of Denton, who recently was appointed to oversee the case.

Ann Diamond with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office argued against releasing all the applications, saying they are not publicly available and they include private information (telephone numbers, addresses and more). About 30 of the forms have been released.

Brender maintains that the records are public information and what he has reviewed already shows that at least three people may have voted twice — once in early voting and once on election day. A review of all the applications could show even more problems and potentially invalidate enough ballots to flip the election results.

McFarling chose to not order the release of that information, saying even if there was a problem with the way a ballot was requested, the vote should still be counted.

And he said there was no proof that data requested would lead to “admissible evidence” in the case.

“You have to have a factual basis … before we start messing with the rights of individuals to vote,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sufficient to say … we think there might be something wrong … and we want to check it out.”

See here and here for the background. I have no opinion on this particular ruling, I’m more interested in the big picture.

A key issue in this case is the use of electronic devices to request mail-in ballots — and whether that’s legal in Texas.

Political observers say the state’s Election Code only addresses electronic signatures at polling places, such as when voters cast their ballot during early voting or on Election Day.

“The use of an iPad to fill out forms to request an absentee ballot would not appear to comply with the letter of state election law, but would appear to be in line with the spirit of the law,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“The law simply has not been updated to take account of the rising use of iPads and other mobile devices, leaving a vacuum in the state’s election law.”

Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator in Tarrant County, said he couldn’t comment on the case because of the pending litigation.

The ultimate ruling in this case may well determine how election officials statewide process mail-in ballots for at least the rest of the year.

“This case also should hopefully spur the Texas Legislature to modify the state’s election law during the 2015 legislative session to allow for the use of electronic devices to complete mail-in ballot request forms,” Jones said. “Perhaps that reform will be the first bill that Rep. Romero files.”

[…]

Officials with both major political parties say they are watching this case.

“We trust the courts will take the issue seriously … [and] determine the best manner in which to proceed,” said Manny Garcia, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party.

Said Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri: “We are interested observers to see what the court rules to see if we are following the law correctly.”

There’s been some trolling about voter ID on this, but of course the voter ID law is only about in person ballots, and this challenge is all about absentee ballots. Technically, it’s not about the ballots themselves, but about the process to request an absentee ballot, and whether an iPad or similar device is allowable under the law as written. By the letter of the law I’d say not, but by the spirit – the law does allow for “telephone facsimile machines” – it’s clearly a Yes. I have no idea how the courts – or the Legislature, if this eventually winds up as an election contest to be adjudicated by the Lege – will rule, but I definitely agree (and have already said) that the law should be updated to allow this usage. There’s no good reason for it not to be allowed. There is good reason to be concerned about the peripheral effects of this case:

Romero said he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit. But he believes this isn’t something “as Democrats that we should be insinuating.”

“Lots of people came out and were excited about being part of the primary. Now they don’t understand what’s going on,” he said. “They hear words of illegality and that scares people and makes them stay away.

“He should be welcoming me in Austin, helping with the transition. Instead, he’s doing this,” Romero said. “But he has a right to do this and we’re not mad at him. We’ll be down in Austin come January.”

I agree with Romero on this, and if his magnanimity is any indication, he’ll make a fine State Rep if he prevails in this case. Whatever the outcome, let’s make sure we update that law.

Burnam election challenge update

Moving along, but no timeline as yet.

Rep. Lon Burnam

A state district judge from Denton County will oversee a case involving long-time state Rep. Lon Burnam‘s accusations that votes were cast illegally in the Democratic Party primary last month.

State District Judge Robert McFarling was appointed Friday by state District Judge David Evans, the administrative judge for the Eighth Judicial Region. McFarling will replace state District Judge R.H. Wallace.

The Texas Election Code dictates that a judge from outside the county hear a case involving an election challenge.

[…]

Burnam has also filed motions to subpoena former Elections Administrator Steve Raborn and interim Elections Administrator Stephen Vickers.

Raborn announced his resignation in December and will become president of Votec, a company based in San Diego, Calif., that focuses on voter registration and election management software.

Raborn’s motion stated that the elections administrator is neutral, but is required to protect records from unauthorized release and that the elections office is compiling records that can be released publicly.

“Because the documents sought involve the privacy rights of hundreds of people, they cannot be released to the litigants merely to satisfy their curiosity if there is no reason to believe votes were cast by persons who were not entitled to vote, or to believe that persons who were entitled to vote were denied the right to vote,” the motion stated.

His motion went on to say that no mail ballots from District 90 were denied, and that the question is whether there may be persons who voted who may not be entitled to vote.

See here for the background. As I said before, the question Burnam is raising is pretty straightforward – does the elections code as it exists allow for mobile computers to process vote by mail applications? – though obviously open to interpretation. I’ll be surprised if this one doesn’t wind up before the Supreme Court eventually, however it gets decided initially. Again, I think the law should allow what Ramon Romero’s campaign team did, and I think someone should write a bill to clarify the laws in question regardless of how this case is decided. It would be fitting if whoever wins this lawsuit is the one that files the bill.

Burnam files challenge in HD90

This ought to be interesting.

Rep. Lon Burnam

State Rep. Lon Burnam filed a lawsuit Monday challenging his 111-vote re-election loss earlier this month.

Burnam, D-Fort Worth, said the goal of the lawsuit is to review data from the Texas House District 90 election “to determine if there were hundreds of illegally cast ballots.”

“I believe I have no choice after receiving multiple reports of an illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation run to benefit my opponent,” Burnam said in a statement. “This operation appears to have clearly violated state law.”

Local businessman Ramon Romero Jr. won the race for this House seat, besting Burnam — dean of the Tarrant County delegation — earlier this month, local election records show.

[…]

In a lawsuit styled Lon Burnam v. Ramon Romero, Burnam noted that nearly 1,000 of the 5,078 votes cast in this race were absentee mail-in ballots — which could have been a deciding factor.

On Election Night, the race for this seat was close, sometimes only separated by a handful of votes. When the final count was released, Romero pulled ahead by 111 votes to claim victory.

“I have received reports from voters in the district who say they were approached at their door by campaign workers of unclear affiliation who asked them to fill out a vote-by-mail application on an electronic tablet device such as an iPad,” Burnam said in his statement.

“Texas law clearly does not allow the practice of filling out vote-by-mail ballot applications electronically, which the Texas Secretary of State’s has confirmed. Other questionable practices about this operation aside, this renders the entire operation illegal.”

Quorum Report was first with the story, and they have a copy of Burnam’s lawsuit, which was filed in district court in Tarrant County. Here’s the relevant bit from the lawsuit:

6. The Contestee (Romero) canvassed neighborhoods seeking persons to apply to vote by mail. His representatives used an iPad with an application on it that that was an application for a ballot by mail. The canvassers would simply ask the voter to sign the iPad. These signatures would be downloaded as a printed application and sent to the election officials so that a ballot could be mailed to the voter. Such assistance provided to a voter requires the signature of the assistant on the application for ballot by mail. Texas Election Code, S 84.003.

7. On information and belief there are in excess of 180 such applications obtained in this manner. This exceeds the margin of votes between Contestant and Contestee.

CAUSE OF ACTION

8. Obtaining ballots by using this device invalidates the votes. The only time that the code allows electronic signatures is at the polling place. See Section 63.002′ Electronic devices used in the voting process must be approved by the Secretary of State, which in this case, has not been done. The Secretary of State says that the only authority for using electronic signatures is code Section 63.002 which limits such signatures to use at the polling place. There is no other authority for using electronic signatures in an uncontrolled environment as was done here. See the attached communication from the Secretary of. State on this issue which is attached hereto as Exhibit ” A” and incorporated by reference herein in this petition.

The attached email correspondence is pretty clear. On the one hand, if Burnam is correct in his interpretation, which basically comes down to claiming that an iPad is not a “telephonic facsimile machine” and that an electronic signature is not acceptable in this scenario, then depending on how many votes really were affected it could swing the race. On the other hand, if this is the way Texas law currently is then it ought to be updated. There may be a good policy rationale for not allowing handheld devices to handle these applications, but I can’t see it off the top of my head. Barring the revelation of any such rationale, I’d support changing the law to allow what Romero’s team did – honestly, it strikes me as a good way to increase turnout. But if this is how the law is, then however sensible this use of technology may have been it would not be legal. Burnam is represented by Buck Wood and Art Brender, former Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party, so I presume they know what they’re doing. I’ll be very interested to see Romero’s response. No idea as yet what the timetable is for this. If any lawyers want to weigh in on this, as always please do. Thanks to Texas Redistricting for the heads up, and BOR has more.

Comparing Davis and White

In 2010, Bill White received 517,487 votes in the Democratic primary, for 76.0% of the vote. Wendy Davis just received 432,065 votes, for 79.1% of the total but 85,422 fewer votes than White. As is always the case, the change was not distributed uniformly. Davis picked up more votes than White in some counties, and lost votes against his total in others. Here are the top 20 counties for net vote increase by Davis:

County Davis Davis% White White% D-W =================================================== TARRANT 38,560 94.02% 19,857 85.53% 18,703 DALLAS 59,649 92.43% 43,430 80.37% 16,219 TRAVIS 43,414 95.75% 34,426 90.17% 8,988 COLLIN 9,030 95.65% 5,023 82.75% 4,007 BEXAR 35,578 85.39% 32,126 76.25% 3,452 DENTON 6,757 95.45% 3,968 85.54% 2,789 VAL VERDE 2,899 51.87% 1,638 59.28% 1,261 LUBBOCK 3,191 81.30% 2,283 53.62% 908 ELLIS 1,897 91.55% 1,389 86.01% 508 WILLIAMSON 6,849 95.44% 6,383 89.98% 466 GREGG 1,744 89.30% 1,344 78.60% 400 ROBERTSON 1,195 74.73% 806 78.25% 389 MAVERICK 2,067 54.67% 1,714 31.33% 353 ROCKWALL 912 94.21% 590 82.06% 322 DIMMIT 1,060 48.47% 810 49.69% 250 COMAL 1,516 92.10% 1,369 87.98% 147 JEFF DAVIS 268 65.37% 137 74.86% 131 ECTOR 907 68.71% 780 59.05% 127 WILBARGER 351 69.09% 237 83.16% 114 PARKER 1,273 93.33% 1,163 88.85% 110

While Davis had a higher percentage of the vote than White in 15 of these 20 counties, the main driver of her gains was higher turnout in the given counties. In particular, there was higher turnout in her home county of Tarrant, which you’d hope would be the case, with contested primaries in SD10 and CD33 also helping. As discussed before, busy county elections in Bexar, Dallas, and Travis helped push those totals up. For those who have been freaking out about the South Texas results, I would like to point out the significant increases in Collin and Denton counties, neither of which had even a single contested local race on the Democratic Party ballot. Not only was Democratic turnout up in these counties from 2010 (6,770 to 9,441 votes in Collin, 4,639 to 7,079 in Denton), it was down in the Republican primary (56,934 to 44,621 in Collin, 42,261 to 37,657 in Denton). Of course there were still a lot more R votes in these counties than D votes, but the goal isn’t to win them in November it’s to cut into the margin. Maybe this is worthy of a fraction of the attention paid to Wendy Davis’ percentages in South Texas.

That’s as good a segue to the counties in which she lost votes compared to White as any. There were only a handful of gainers for her beyond those 20 above. Most of the ones in which she lost votes were small amounts, largely due to the overall turnout decline. Here are the bottom 20 for Davis, the counties in which she lost the most votes from White’s 2010 totals:

County Davis Davis% White White% W-D =================================================== LAMAR 522 87.44% 1,743 87.24% 1,221 MATAGORDA 975 74.37% 2,234 83.83% 1,259 ZAPATA 535 34.92% 1,803 56.40% 1,268 LIBERTY 501 88.99% 2,030 88.84% 1,529 HARDIN 423 87.58% 1,953 78.03% 1,530 NUECES 5,411 70.38% 6,954 65.66% 1,543 CASS 514 79.57% 2,170 82.32% 1,656 MONTGOMERY 2,345 93.80% 4,056 90.43% 1,711 HAYS 2,954 94.35% 4,733 85.03% 1,779 TRINITY 327 85.83% 2,176 83.31% 1,849 ANGELINA 789 86.99% 2,768 88.15% 1,979 BRAZORIA 2,601 91.62% 4,683 90.44% 2,082 ORANGE 1,141 85.40% 3,562 81.81% 2,421 BOWIE 260 86.67% 3,349 79.44% 3,089 JEFFERSON 9,322 87.75% 12,600 75.92% 3,278 GALVESTON 3,969 91.71% 7,398 89.55% 3,429 HIDALGO 16,994 47.34% 21,353 60.04% 4,359 WEBB 10,446 44.18% 15,732 56.82% 5,286 FORT BEND 7,745 92.97% 13,272 90.59% 5,527 HARRIS 47,372 92.17% 89,378 90.02% 42,006

Harris County accounts for almost one half of her decline all by itself, not surprising given that turnout overall in Harris was down by about half. Note that Davis did better in vote percentage in Harris, as was the case in the big counties where she gained. White had to campaign for his primary win, and he did what he needed to in terms of driving turnout in his own backyard. Fort Bend, Galveston, Montgomery, Liberty, Brazoria, even Angelina Counties would be part of that same effect. Jefferson and Orange are less Democratic and less populated than they were in 2010. Hays County had no contested local primaries; I can’t tell what else may have gone on in 2010 because their crappy county elections page has no past election results on it at this time, but according to the Secretary of State page, then-Rep. Patrick Rose had a primary challenger in 2010, so that probably helped drive some turnout. As for Webb and Hidlago, you already know the story there. Note as I said before that White didn’t exactly kill it in those counties, and overall turnout was the same in 2014 in Hidalgo as it was in 2010; it was down from 27K to 23K in Webb.

Anyway. You can make of these numbers what you will. I just like to have them all in front of me whenever possible.

Early voting, one (six day) week in

We have one week completed for early voting, though it was only a six day week thanks to the Presidents Day holiday. Here are the daily totals from the County Clerk. Republicans continue to be the majority of early voters in Harris County, by almost a 3-1 margin. I thought it might be interesting to compare early voting totals so far in the 15 biggest counties from 2010 and 2014. The Secretary of State tracks this information, though they generally don’t update on weekends. As such, the best I can do for now is a comparison of the first four days for each. Here’s 2010, here’s 2014, and here’s how it looks in a table:

County 2010 R 2014 R Diff 2010 D 2014 D Diff =========================================================== Harris 21,067 25,789 4,722 12,358 9,541 -2,817 Dallas 9,326 16,777 7,451 6,140 10,246 4,106 Tarrant 11,491 18,164 6,673 2,689 7,851 5,162 Bexar 10,353 14,575 4,222 8,370 10,476 2,106 Travis 6,140 5,083 -1,057 4,614 7,798 3,384 Collin 7,419 8,593 1,174 726 1,456 730 El Paso 2,938 2,023 - 715 6,844 7,102 258 Denton 4,635 7,768 3,133 508 1,227 719 Fort Bend 4,470 4,967 497 1,179 1,266 87 Hidalgo 984 1,520 536 11,232 13,619 2,387 Montgomery 5,235 9,022 4,787 523 532 9 Williamson 4,810 4,585 - 225 1,056 1,413 357 Nueces 2,344 2,414 70 1,948 1,826 - 118 Galveston 1,838 4,010 2,172 1,607 910 - 697 Cameron 747 839 92 3,300 4,426 1,126 Total 93,797 126,129 32,332 63,094 79,689 16,595

EarlyVoting

Both parties’ turnout are up from 2010, though unsurprisingly the R side is up more. All those contested statewide races, and all the money in them, do have an effect. While there is a contested race for Governor on the D side, it’s not nearly as high profile as it was in 2010. Dems are depending more on local races for their turnout. On that note, whoever had Tarrant as the county with the largest gain in Democratic primary voters so far, please come collect your winnings. Still, it’s good to see turnout up in the places that have hot primaries up and down the county ballot – Dallas, Travis, and Bexar, in particular. The dropoff in Harris County I would largely attribute to the turnout driven in 2010 by the Bill White campaign. We have several contested county races, but nothing of that stature, and only one legislative primary that’s likely to move a significant number of people, that being in SD15. The dropoff in Galveston is probably in part a spillover effect of the lac of Bill White’s campaign, and in part due to Galveston having Democratic countywide incumbents running for re-election in 2010 but not in 2014. The dip in Republican primary turnout so far in Williamson, and the modest growth in Collin, are interesting if the trends continue, but not necessarily suggestive of anything. Surely Dallas County has shown us that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between primary turnout and partisan performance in November. And of course this is only through Day Four. We’ll see how it looks after all the early votes are in.

One other thing that the SOS historic early voting pages can show you is the registered voter totals for each of the top 15 counties. Let me add in the 2006 Day 4 page to show you how these numbers have changed over time.

County 2006 2010 2014 06-14 Diff ======================================================= Dallas 1,168,476 1,129,814 1,170,598 2,122 Travis 544,483 586,882 627,040 82,557 El Paso 367,284 375,128 390,949 23,665 Hidalgo 271,132 290,097 307,426 36,294 Cameron 161,648 171,024 181,802 20,154 Tarrant 882,459 924,682 969,434 86,975 Collin 369,493 413,772 466,533 97,040 Denton 320,307 355,340 388,608 68,301 Montgomery 217,354 243,027 270,019 52,665 Williamson 200,285 230,122 259,878 59,593 Harris 1,880,042 1,889,378 2,006,270 126,228 Bexar 877,484 891,082 915,839 38,355 Fort Bend 257,140 300,777 349,550 92,410 Nueces 193,079 188,165 184,789 -8,290 Galveston 183,805 179,928 185,850 2,045

I separated the top 15 counties into three groups: Strong D, strong R, and in between. Quibble with my choices if you want, it works well enough for me. Note that these are all March numbers; we will see further changes in November. I’m delighted to see such a large jump in Harris County. That number was just barely over 2 million in November 2012, but it was back under 2 million in 2013. It’s also nice to see Dallas County regain all the voters they lost between 2006 and 2010. I don’t have anything to add beyond that. I just wanted to present this data to you as an FYI.

A closer look at the turnout issue in 2014

I wrote yesterday about turnout for this year’s election. The main problem that Democrats face this year is that turnout has basically been flat for them since 2002 in the off year elections. I began to write a post to illustrate this last year, back when Battleground Texas was being viewed as a long-term experiment in increasing Democratic turnout, before we had Wendy Davis and a race we want and hope to win this year, but between the endless legislative summer and the short turnaround into the 2013 elections, not to mention the change in story line for this year, I never finished it. Now that we’re focusing on 2014, this is the time to polish that off.

I had previously suggested that BGT set some benchmarks for the 2014 election, back when we didn’t have anyone running statewide. We have the candidates and an updated mission now, but we still need to be clear about where we start out. What I did was take a look at the county by county results in the contested Railroad Commissioner races of 2006 and 2010. I did this for two reasons: One, generally speaking a low-level race like that is almost entirely a recapitulation of party ID, and two, 2006 Democratic candidate Dale Henry and 2010 Democratic candidate Jeff Weems got nearly identical vote totals – 1,752,947 for Henry, and 1,757,183 for Weems. I’m not taking into account their percentages or the vote total of any other candidate, because we’re focusing exclusively on Democratic turnout. The first questions to consider, therefore, are where did Weems do better than Henry, and where did he do worse? Here are the counties in which Weems did the best relative to 2006:

County Henry Weems Diff ==================================== Harris 253,845 335,689 81,844 Dallas 192,780 210,021 17,241 Hidalgo 27,213 44,372 17,159 Fort Bend 41,013 55,472 14,459 Bexar 116,909 128,360 11,451 Webb 12,012 19,451 7,439 Travis 121,035 125,283 4,248 Maverick 2,427 4,719 2,292 Collin 40,184 41,712 1,528 Hays 13,146 14,497 1,351 Williamson 29,684 30,910 1,226

I’ve said before that Harris County Democrats did not have a turnout problem in 2010. This is the clearest example I can give of that. All of these are counties where you’d like to see the Democrats improve, and where there is room for such improvement. It’s especially heartening to see gains in counties like Hidalgo, Webb, and Fort Bend. Maverick County deserves special mention because it’s easily the smallest county on this list, but still produced a decent-sized gain for the Dems. That’s mostly because overall turnout in Maverick in 2006 was a pathetic 14.8%. Turnout in 2010 was still only 24.1%. That’s in a county that went 72% Democratic in 2010, meaning there’s plenty of room to add a couple thousand more votes to the D column. I’d consider an improvement in Maverick County to be a necessary yardstick for measuring BGT’s progress in 2014.

Given that Weems got about as many votes as Henry, the fact that there were counties in which he gained means there were counties in which he lost as well. In fact, there were far more counties in which Weems lost ground than ones in which he gained. Here were the biggest losers:

County Henry Weems Diff ==================================== Nueces 30,018 24,021 -5,997 Tarrant 127,293 121,721 -5,572 Johnson 10,140 6,123 -4,017 Wichita 9,577 5,803 -3,774 Grayson 9,935 6,190 -3,745 McLennan 20,680 17,211 -3,469 Galveston 28,718 25,279 -3,439 Angelina 8,611 5,367 -3,244 Orange 8,060 4,903 -3,157 Parker 7,838 4,988 -2,850 Lubbock 14,537 12,169 -2,368

The good news is that Tarrant excepted, these are not strategic counties for Democrats. Of course, a vote lost in Wichita or Angelina is still a vote that has to be made up somewhere if you don’t want to lose ground overall. BGT clearly understands this, and I have no doubt that they will put resources into places like these in order to maximize Democratic turnout, even if it means just moving the needle a few points in a dark red county. The challenge is to give a reason for Democrats in places where there are no local Democratic candidates running for anything a reason to show up. I don’t envy them the task.

It should be noted that some of the counties listed above lost voters during the period. By the same token, there were numerous counties that gained quite a few voters between 2006 and 2010. Here’s a look at the 20 counties that had the largest increase in registered voters and how the Dems did in them.

County Growth Grow % Diff 06 AV% 10 AV% Ratio ============================================================ Collin 42,851 11.22% 1,528 10.52% 9.82% 0.93 Fort Bend 41,272 15.41% 14,459 15.32% 17.95% 1.17 Travis 38,234 6.75% 4,248 21.38% 20.73% 0.97 Denton 31,242 9.37% 904 10.13% 9.51% 0.94 Williamson 29,242 14.02% 1,226 14.24% 13.00% 0.91 Montgomery 22,928 10.10% -915 8.49% 7.35% 0.87 Harris 19,198 1.00% 81,844 13.23% 17.32% 1.31 Hidalgo 16,531 5.90% 17,159 9.72% 14.96% 1.54 Hays 12,609 14.73% 1,351 15.36% 14.76% 0.96 Tarrant 12,414 1.34% -5,572 13.77% 12.99% 0.94 Brazoria 7,252 4.43% -351 12.57% 11.83% 0.94 Bexar 7,172 0.80% 11,451 13.01% 14.17% 1.09 Guadalupe 6,768 9.95% -191 10.90% 9.66% 0.89 Cameron 6,552 3.91% -323 12.47% 11.82% 0.95 Parker 6,189 9.13% -2,850 11.56% 6.74% 0.58 Webb 6,097 6.01% 7,439 11.84% 18.09% 1.53 Comal 5,879 8.66% -706 10.22% 8.45% 0.83 Rockwall 5,706 14.22% -262 9.32% 7.59% 0.81

“Growth” is the increase in voter registrations; “Grow %” is the percentage increase. “Diff” is the difference between Weems’ vote total and Henry’s, so a positive number means Weems had more votes and a negative number means Henry had more. “06 AV%” and “10 AV%” is the ratio of Democratic votes to all registered voters, which is basically a straight up measure of turnout. “Ratio” is the ratio of the 06 AV% to the 10 AV%, so numbers greater than one are good. It’s good that the Dems gained votes in places like Collin, Denton, Hays, and Williamson, but they didn’t keep up with the increase in registered voters. This is what I was trying to get at with my earlier post about BGT’s efforts in Collin County. There’s a voter registration component to that, but the much bigger piece of that puzzle is reaching out to the Democrats and would-be Democrats that are already there and convincing them that their vote this fall really matters even if they lack local candidates to back, or if the local candidates they have face much longer odds than the statewide slate. It matters for this election and it matters for the future elections. We can’t just turn out voters in the strongholds, we have to turn them out everywhere. Democrats can’t and won’t be competitive statewide until that happens.

What’s at stake in the Democratic primaries

I’ve had my fun poking holes in Mark Jones’ ridiculous argument that we should all just vote in the Republican primary, but now it’s time to talk about the Democratic primary and why these races matter.

US Senate

David Alameel

David Alameel

On Monday and Tuesday I published interviews with Mike Fjetland and Maxey Scherr. I wish I could present an interview with David Alameel today, but as you can see I don’t have one. I made contact with his campaign manager, but after some initial back and forth I heard nothing for a couple of weeks, then got an email out of the blue late last week from another campaign staffer; after replying to him I heard nothing further. Team Alameel is welcome to contact me any time between now and Primary Day and I’ll do my best to accommodate his schedule, and run the interview the next weekday. Y’all have my email address and my cell number. I’m not going anywhere.

There are twenty-one candidates running for the Senate, including the incumbent, and five of them are Democrats. Two of them, Fjetland and Scherr, are clearly worthy of your consideration. I personally lean towards Scherr because I have a preference for younger candidates and I think there would be value in having three women at the top of the ticket, but both of them are honorable and will run respectable campaigns. One candidate, Harry Kim, is largely unknown to me and I daresay to most people reading this. He has a website now, though the content is generic to the point of being formless, his campaign Facebook page was last updated on January 7 when he uploaded a cover photo, and his campaign Twitter account has yet to tweet anything. I don’t think I’m asking too much of first time candidates operating on a shoestring to at least take advantage of the free tools that are available to them so those of us that will not otherwise get to interact with them can learn a little something about them.

One candidate should come with glaring spotlights and screaming klaxons, to warn everyone in her path to stay the hell away. I speak of course of the LaRouche nutball Kesha Rogers, who for the last two elections managed to get herself and her message of impeaching President Obama nominated in CD22. That’s mortifying to say the least, but in the end neither nomination had any effect on anything. Nominating her for the Senate – even allowing her to slip into the runoff – would make all of us a laughingstock on a national scale with the force to knock Chris Christie out of the news cycle and with the potential to administer real damage to Wendy Davis’ campaign. This is what we get with Kesha Rogers. She has thrived in the past on obscurity in low profile, low turnout elections. The only antidote to this is a sufficiently informed electorate. Make sure everyone you know knows about Kesha Rogers.

And then there’s Alameel, who despite plastering the entire Internet with his ads, remains an enigma. Forget my own inability to get an interview with him, I’ve yet to see a profile of him in some other news source. We all know that he made a lot of contributions to Republicans in years past but has been Democratic-only since 2008. We know there are questions about his commitment to reproductive rights, given past and possibly ongoing connections to a Catholic pro-life group. We know that despite these things, both Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte saw fit to endorse him. But we don’t know the answers to these questions, and until someone with a microphone or notebook gets to pose those questions to him, we won’t know any more than we do right now. The Davis and LVdP endorsements carry some weight, but without knowing more about him I can’t recommend even considering a vote for him at this time. If I get the opportunity to interview him, even if I just get the opportunity to read something written by someone who has had the opportunity to speak to him, I may change my mind about that. I’ll let you know if that happens.

Governor

We’re all voting for Wendy in the primary, right? I mean, whatever misgivings you may have about her campaign at this time aside, Ray Madrigal has done no campaigning that I can see, he has no online presence, and he offers zero odds of competing against Greg Abbott, let alone winning. The only real item of interest here is Davis’ vote share. If she fails to get above some arbitrary number – I don’t know what that arbitrary number is, but I do know that it will be decided after her vote total is in – there will be some number of stories written about Democratic “discontent” with her, or maybe just “trepidation” about her. The number of such stories is inversely proportional to her actual vote share, as it the number of “unnamed Democratic insiders/strategists” quoted in those stories. To paraphrase those DirecTV ads, don’t let there be lots of stories written about Democratic “discontent” – or “disenchantment”, there’s another good word – with Wendy Davis, with multiple quotes from “unnamed Democratic insiders/strategists”. Vote for her in the primary and do your part to head that off.

By the way, I do presume there is an arbitrary number for Greg Abbott as well. Partly because he has a gaggle of opponents, and partly because he’s not Wendy Davis, I presume his arbitrary number is lower than her arbitrary number. I also presume the tone of those stories, if they get to be written, will be more of surprise than an opportunity to pile on and air grievances. This is of course an untestable hypothesis – like I said, we don’t know what each candidate’s arbitrary numbers are – but however you want to slice it, I’d bet Abbott would get more slack for a lower-than-you-might-have-expected vote share than Davis would get. Assuming either of them gets less than one might expect, whatever that is.

Ag Commissioner

The stakes here are pretty basic: A well-known candidate that can generate his own press and who is running on a sexy issue but whom basically no one trusts to be a good Democrat, versus a highly qualified and much more acceptable to the base candidate who will be utterly ignored by the press. Dumb ideas aside, Mark Jones did at least characterize this race correctly. Kinky is clearly higher risk, but at least potentially higher upside. Hugh Fitzsimons is solid and trustworthy, but again will get absolutely no attention from the press save for a cursory campaign overview story some time in October. Which do you prefer? Again, I’m ignoring the third candidate, Jim Hogan, who does not appear to be doing much of anything. Maybe that’s foolish after Mark Thompson came out of nowhere to win the Railroad Commissioner nomination in 2008 over two more experienced candidates, but it’s what I’m doing.

Railroad Commissioner

No one is going to claim that this race will be on anyone’s radar, but there’s still a choice, and in my consideration it’s a clear choice. Dale Henry is by all accounts a well-qualified candidate, having been the Democratic nominee for RRC in 2006 and 2012. He’s also, to put it gently, old school in his campaign style and methods. Steve Brown is young, dynamic, an outsider for an agency that could use a fresh perspective, a modern campaigner who will work hard for himself and the top of the ticket, and has a future even if all he gets out of this election is the experience of running statewide. I think he’s the obvious call to make, but in a low profile campaign anything can happen. But if you’re paying attention and you want a better slate overall, you’ll be sure to vote for Steve Brown.

Local races

Here’s where Mark Jones’ idea really makes no sense. Pretty much every county where Democrats are strong features important primaries. We already know about Harris County, where the need to nominate Kim Ogg outweighs Jones’ suggestion all by itself. Travis County is electing a County Judge, as is El Paso County, which also features three hot legislative races. Bexar County has races for County Judge, County Clerk, District Attorney, District Clerk, and a slew of District Court judges. Dallas County has a power struggle between current DA Craig Watkins and Party Chair Darlene Ewing, with the former running his own slate of candidates, including one against Ewing. Tarrant County will be key to Rep. Mark Veasey’s re-election. And those are just the big counties.

Bottom line: We have some important, consequential decisions to make beginning on February 18. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Fort Worth and Tarrant County

Between Wendy Davis’ campaign for Governor, and the campaign to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10, there’s going to be a lot of attention focused on Forth Worth in the next twelve months.

The two scenes capture the split political personality that has emerged this year in Tarrant County — both the largest reliably Republican county in Texas and ground zero of Democrats’ efforts to turn the state blue. The county, home of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas’ fifth- and seventh-largest cities, Fort Worth and Arlington, has become a focal point in the state’s political future.

“Houston, Dallas, Austin, El Paso, San Antonio — all of these are blue; they’re all Democratic areas,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “Fort Worth is the last holdout Republicans have of the big cities.”

For most of the 20th century, Democrats dominated politics across Texas. Amid the Reagan revolution of the 1980s, Republicans made inroads in Tarrant County and elsewhere. By the mid-1990s, the Republican Party held a majority of the county’s political offices and was well on its way to overtaking the political landscape statewide.

“I lived in Tarrant County when just about every judge was a Democrat, so for us to not have even one Democratic judge does not speak well to our efforts,” Tarrant County Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples said.

[…]

In 2006, Democrats in neighboring Dallas County swept more than 40 local races, upending the county’s longstanding Republican leadership overnight. Tarrant County District Clerk Tom Wilder, a Republican who has been active in the local party for decades, said Dallas Republicans got complacent.

“They were just coasting off the top of the ticket, and they never built a base,” Wilder said. “We don’t have that problem in Tarrant County.”

Indeed, Tarrant County’s geography has played a role in the area’s Republican dominance. Whereas many conservatives in Dallas and Houston left the cities for suburbs in neighboring counties, Tarrant County has retained many of those voters in smaller suburban cities in its northeast quadrant, an area in which Tea Party groups have moved the Republican Party further to the right in recent years.

“It is an upper-middle-class, professional part of Tarrant County,” Riddlesperger said. “Demographically, they look like the Tea Party does nationally.”

Let’s be clear about why Tarrant County is more Republican than the other major urban counties in Texas. Look at how Tarrant County and Fort Worth stack up against their peers:

County Population City Population City % ===================================================== El Paso 827,398 El Paso 672,538 81.3% Bexar 1,785,704 San Antonio 1,382,951 77.4% Travis 1,095,584 Austin 842,592 76.9% Harris 4,253,700 Houston 2,160,821 50.8% Dallas 2,453,843 Dallas 1,241,162 50.6% Tarrant 1,880,153 Fort Worth 777,992 41.3%

If you assume that the cities are generally more Democratic than the surrounding suburbs, then it’s easy to see why Tarrant lags behind the other big urban counties. There’s a lot of suburb to move into that’s still in Tarrant County if you want to flee from Fort Worth. To say that Tarrant County is Texas politics writ small is to say that Democrats are going to need to do better in the suburbs to be in a position to win.

Another way of looking at it:

County Anglo % ================= El Paso 13.7% Bexar 29.8% Dallas 32.2% Harris 32.2% Travis 50.1% Tarrant 50.7%

All figures from the Census webpage. Other than Travis County, which has the largest collection of Anglo Democrats in the state, counties that are majority Anglo tend to be majority Republican. I don’t know what the trend lines look like for Tarrant, but this will be something to keep an eye on.

Political observers have cited Tarrant County as a bellwether, arguing that if Democrats were to ever win the county again, it would be a sign that the state is poised to flip politically as well. But Republicans see nothing that will change Tarrant from red to blue in 2014. And Davis has been careful to frame her run as aimed at increasing Democratic turnout statewide and not specifically in her home county.

Nonetheless, her decision to base her campaign for governor in Fort Worth has energized Tarrant County Democrats. Battleground Texas, a Democratic group trying to make the state politically competitive again, has recently relocated some staff members to Fort Worth to coordinate better with Davis’s campaign.

[…]

Democrats do not plan to concede northeast Tarrant County to the Tea Party, Peoples said, though she acknowledged that area is probably the toughest to gain ground.

“Things are changing in northeast Tarrant County,” Peoples said. “They are changing much faster in the rest of the county.”

Dems don’t need to specifically flip Tarrant County to win statewide, but it’s unlikely they can win statewide if they don’t at least make gains in Tarrant County. It would be nice if there were some Democratic countywide candidates in Tarrant to help advance the ball, but that’s not looking so good right now. Be that as it may, in Tarrant and elsewhere Dems need to boost the Latino vote for sure, but they also need to do better among Anglo suburban voters, like the kind you find in Tarrant County. If Tarrant is a microcosm of Texas, it’s because it’s full of the kind of voters Dems need to do a better job of persuading.

CSAPR stayed

This is what the Ship Channel looked like in 1973 (Source: National Archives and Records Administration)

There was some bad news at the end of the year.

A federal court ordered [last] Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial cross-state air pollution rule be stayed — to the delight of Texas officials and the chagrin of environmentalists.

The rule, which sought to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in Texas and 26 other states, had been scheduled to take effect in January. Now it will await a ruling by the court on its legal merits.

[…]

Luminant, a Texas power-generation giant, said that it would no longer shutter two units at its Monticello coal plant in Northeast Texas. Luminant “intends to continue closely evaluating business and operational decisions given that this stay does not invalidate the rule, but delays a decision on its implementation until a final court ruling is issued,” the company’s statement said.

Environmentalists, who have been trying to shutter Monticello for years, are disappointed with the decision.

In a blog post, the clean-air group Downwinders at Risk wrote:

“If the rules get pushed back past the beginning of ozone season, it means all those dirty Luminant plants upwind of [Dallas Fort-Worth] in East and Central Texas will still be contributing a significant amount of smog pollution to the Metromess a year after our worst ozone summer in five years spotlighted state ineptitude in getting cleaner air.”

Needless to say, Rick Perry and Greg Abbott cheered this on and vowed to continue the fight to let polluters do whatever they want. The point of this rule is the very simple recognition that air pollution created in one state can and does travel to other states. Having grown up across the river from New Jersey’s manufacturing plants – you know, all that stuff Tony Soprano drives past on the Turnpike – I can personally attest to this. For that matter, we’ve seen this movie before right here in Texas, with the Midlothian cement plants and their deleterious effect on the air quality in neighboring Dallas and Tarrant Counties. You’d think it would be self-evident that those who create the problems would be held accountable for the cost they impose on others – this is the sort of concept we generally teach our children, after all – but not to Rick Perry and Greg Abbott. Perhaps someone should remind them what America looked like before the EPA came into existence. That’s where they’d like to take us again, and that’s why this is a big deal.

I emailed Jennifer Powis, who is running the Beyond Coal campaign here in Houston, for a reaction to this story. This is her reply:

It was very unfortunate and puts at risk air that millions of people breath. Texas has some of the worst air in the nation (I’ve attached a fact sheet above for you), and most of that pollution is generated by the 2,000 industrial facilities in our state. But at the same time, air pollution doesn’t stop at a state line and much of Eastern Texas is impacted by industrial emissions from Louisiana. Without a cohesive plan that forces states to be a “good neighbor,” we’ll continue to have problems with cleaning up the air we all breath.

There’s no doubt Texas has major air pollution problems and much of the blame lies with Governor Perry’s appointees over at the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality. But at the same time, this rule would have helped our state tremendously because it would have leveled the playing field for most of the Eastern states.

But don’t worry, this rule will eventually prevail. States across the nation need it in order to comply with basic clean air act provisions. Folks do a lot locally, but you also have to help out your neighbor. We’re one nation, and the clean air act recognizes that important fact.

The aformentioned fact sheet can be seen here. When you take that next deep breath of sweet chemical emissions from Louisiana, you know who to thank for it.