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Texas State University

How Dems took Hays County

Three cheers for Texas State University.

As the dust settles after last week’s election, the political identity of Hays County hangs in the balance: Is it red or blue?

The rapidly growing Central Texas suburban county — Texas’ 22nd-largest by registered voters – hadn’t voted for a Democrat at the top of the ticket since 1992. In this year’s general election, however, it gave U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, a 15-point edge over Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. It was the first time in 13 general elections that the county flipped, even though it has become increasingly blue in recent elections.

What exactly fueled the flip is still unknown – and it’s most likely due to a slate of factors – but University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the “off-the-charts-big” student turnout at Texas State University played a big role.

Turnout was so large during early voting that students reported waiting in lines for more than an hour. After the Texas Civil Rights Project threatened to sue the county amid allegations that it was suppressing the college student vote, Hays County commissioners extended early voting on the Texas State campus and created an additional Election Day voting site.

Hays County election data indicates that Texas State students took advantage of the extended voting opportunities. The 334th precinct, which includes the on-campus LBJ Student Center voting location, saw the largest increase in voters from 2014 to 2018 of any precinct in Hays County. A total of 1,942 voters cast their ballots this election. That’s more than five times the 373 voters who cast their ballots in the 334th precinct in 2014, and significantly higher than the 1,406 voters who cast their ballots in that precinct in 2016, a presidential election year.

[…]

But in a county where more than 80,000 voters cast ballots this past election, experts say there are factors other than a robust young voter turnout that contributed to the flip.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said that Hays County was not as red as other parts of the state heading into the election, but he said it turned blue “much more abruptly than other counties.”

He chalks up the the switch, in part, to poor performances by statewide Republican candidates.

“Statewide Republicans were down across the board due to the unpopularity of Donald Trump and the popularity of Beto O’Rourke,” Jones said.

Republican incumbents like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller faced strong challenges from their Democratic opponents as votes from across the state poured in on election night, even as Hays County handed double-digit advantages to their Democratic challengers.

Jones also said that Hays County may have flipped this election because of the “Austin creep.”

“Metro Austin” — known for its liberal politics — “is increasingly moving north into Williamson County and south into Hays County because home prices in Austin are rising,” Jones said. “You’re getting more people who look, act, think and feel like Austin residents who move across the Hays County line.”

See here for some background. While it’s clear that Texas State students turned out in force, the magnitude of the Dems’ win in Hays County leads me more towards the “Austin creep” theory. It’s basically the same thing as what we’ve seen in Fort Bend and Collin/Denton, as voters from the nearby large urban county have been part of the population growth there. What I’d really like to see is a comparison of Hays County, which borders Travis to the southwest on I-35, and Bastrop County, which borders Travis to the southeast where US290 and SH71 go and where Ted Cruz increased his margin from 2012 to 2018 by a bit. Bastrop is clearly more rural than Hays and I’m sure that has a lot to do with it, but there’s also a lot of new development near the border with Travis, and it seems to me there’s a fair amount of “spillover” population as well. Does that part of Bastrop vote more like Travis, or is there a clear demarcation? The geography may also make a difference – the southwest part of Harris County that abuts Fort Bend is Democratic, but the south/southeast part of Harris that borders Galveston County is not, and I believe that has contributed to Galveston County getting redder. Maybe there’s a similar effect for Hays and Bastrop? I’m just speculating. Anyway, that’s another question I’d like to see explored. In the meantime, kudos to everyone who worked to make Hays County blue this year.

More campus voting issues

Hello, Texas State.

The long early voting line that wrapped around the LBJ Student Center earlier this week was a welcome sign to those at Texas State University who were hoping for strong enthusiasm among young voters on campus.

But with early voting on campus restricted to three days, civil rights attorneys, voting rights advocates and local Democrats are now raising the specter that the hour-and-a-half waits that students faced at the polling location could not only dim student turnout but also violate state and federal law.

In a letter sent to the county Thursday evening, lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project — on behalf of two Texas State students, MOVE Texas Action Fund and the League of Women Voters of Hays County — demanded that the county reopen the early voting location on campus and add an Election Day voting site to avoid a lawsuit.

Requesting a response by 12 p.m. Friday, the Texas Civil Rights Project alleged that the county’s decision to limit early voting at the on-campus location was a violation of the U.S. Constitution because it specifically targets a class of voters.

“The burdens imposed by closing the on-campus early voting location fall particularly and disproportionately on the county’s young voters, who are significantly more likely to live on or near campus and are less likely to have easy, immediate access to reliable transportation to vote off-campus,” Beth Stevens, the Texas Civil Right’s Project’s voting rights legal director, wrote.

The Texas Civil Rights Project also claimed the closure of the on-campus polling site violates two portions of the Texas election code — one that limits the number of temporary polling places in a county commissioner’s precinct and another that regulates the number of polling locations that must be set up for each voting precinct.

[…]

Access to early voting on college campuses varies across the state. Students at the University of Texas at Austin have access to two on-campus polling locations throughout the early voting period and on Election Day. Tarrant County is splitting up its early voting between several universities and colleges, offering three days of early voting at both the University of Texas at Arlington and Texas Christian University.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Houston and Rice University — both in Harris County — and University of North Texas in Denton will only have access to on-campus voting on Election Day.

See here for more on the Prairie View situation. In the end, Hays County Commissioners Court took corrective action.

After being threatened with a lawsuit over early voting access at Texas State University, Hays County commissioners voted Friday to expand voting hours on campus.

In an emergency meeting, the Republican-dominated court voted to re-open the early voting site that operated on campus during the first three days of early. The polling location at the LBJ Student Center will reopen on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The commissioners also agreed to add an Election Day voting site at the university.

“I want everyone to know and understand that we are doing our best. We are trying to follow the laws and allow the opportunity for all to be able to vote in the most efficient manner possible,” Commissioner Lon Shell, a Republican, said before the court went into executive session to discuss the issue.

Good. I mean, we are experiencing record turnout for early voting, which is one part a much higher level of engagement this year versus 2014, and one part more people shifting their behavior to vote early instead of on Election Day. Counties are going to need to respond to that, and they need to do so before voting begins. Not every college campus needs to have an early voting location, but at places like PVAMU and TSU it makes sense. Beyond that, let’s please not treat early voting locations differently. If a site is good for early voting, let it be as good as every other site in the county.

Hate groups are getting busy on college campuses

From the Anti-Defamation League, another reason to be worried, if you needed one.

White supremacists, emboldened by the 2016 elections and the current political climate, are currently engaged in an unprecedented outreach effort to attract and recruit students on American college campuses. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has cataloged 104 incidents of white supremacist fliering on college campuses since the school year began in September 2016, with surge of activity since January 2017, when 63 of the total incidents (61 percent) occurred.

Until recently, on-the-ground white supremacist actions have been relatively infrequent on college campuses. But this year has been different, according to ADL’s Center on Extremism. White supremacists are using a variety of tactics including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist fliers, as well as on-campus appearances and speeches by racist activists.

“White supremacists have consciously made the decision to focus their recruitment efforts on students and have in some cases openly boasted of efforts to establish a physical presence on campus,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO. “While there have been recruitment efforts in the past, never have we seen anti-Semites and white supremacists so focused on outreach to students on campus.”

White supremacist engagement tactics on campus range from the virtual, such as sending racist fliers to thousands of campus fax machines, to on the ground rallies and speaking engagements. More extremists are also making a point of visiting campuses to speak with students individually. This is part of a push to move their activism from online chatter to “real world” action.

See here for a fuller report. As noted by the Current, seventeen of these documented incidents have taken place on campuses of Texas universities, with Texas State being especially popular. I don’t have a prescription for this, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to be part of the resistance to it. Among other things, it would be very nice if our state leaders addressed the problem, spoke out against it, and maybe had just the tiniest glimmer of self-awareness for the role their support of Donald Trump has had in exacerbating this problem.

Environmental drones

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! A plane! A drone!

One year into a $260,000 two-year grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, [civil engineer Thom] Hardy and his crew of biologists, geographers and spatial analysts have used the drone to track bird habitat in Galveston Bay and the growth of invasive tamarisk on Texas rivers.

It has identified pockets of water in the drought-ravaged Blanco River for removing nonnative fish and conducted surveys of fly-fisherman on a portion of the Guadalupe River. The drone can track ecosystems along a proposed pipeline or power line route, Hardy said, and map canal vegetation to help weed control.

“If you need an image and take the pilot out of it, this is cheaper and quieter” and safer, he said.

Once launched, via a kind of bungee cord, the battery-powered plane can reach 60 miles per hour, though it typically flies at half that speed.

The drone generally flies at an altitude of 400 to 600 meters and has a range of roughly 10 miles. In each trip, the cameras can take up to 700 overlapping images, which the researchers upload to computers and inspect using spatial analysis software. After a whoosh on launch, the plane has a soft whinny, and silhouetted against the sky, it looks like a miniature version of a stealth fighter plane.

[…]

The Texas State drone program is one of several state or local agencies authorized to fly unmanned craft in Texas, according to a list the Federal Aviation Authority released in April in response to a suit from the Washington-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, the A&M Texas Engineering Experiment Station headquartered in College Station, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Houston Police Department also have had authorization to operate drones, according to the list.

Seems like a pretty reasonable use of the technology, and as the story notes it’s a lot cheaper for researchers like these than hiring a Cessna to do the same work. But if you think this is a conspiracy theory waiting to happen, you’re not wrong.

In April, U.S. Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Ennis, co-chairmen of the congressional bipartisan privacy caucus, told the FAA acting administrator that they were concerned about “potential privacy implications” involving drones.

Austin-based conservative talk show host Alex Jones has taken those anxieties and amplified them. In a YouTube video taken at the Steiner Ranch and posted in late May, Jones and members of the Steiner family take turns firing weapons at remote-controlled helicopters meant to stand in for the drones. The video has been viewed nearly 500,000 times.

See the recent kerfuffle about non-existent “EPA drones” in Nebraska for the way this will eventually play out. I’d post a link to the Jones video but I fear for my sanity even looking for it.

Texas State to the Sun Belt

The conference carousel is still spinning.

The Sun Belt said Wednesday that Texas State will join the league in July 2013 and begin conference play for the 2013-14 academic year.

Texas State is going into its first season at the Football Bowl Subdivision level in 2012, when coach Dennis Franchione will lead the Bobcats into what will be their only WAC season. The school has 16 varsity programs.

“There was energy and excitement,” said Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson, who attended a press conference announcing the move. “Truly a very, very successful launch.”

Texas State joins current Sun Belt Conference members Arkansas State, Arkansas-Little Rock, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, South Alabama, Troy and Western Kentucky.

Benson, who used to be the WAC commissioner, says there may be more changes coming for the Sun Belt. With New Mexico State set to join as well, and other WAC members headed to the Mountain West and Conference USA, the WAC may cease to exist after this season. Quite a fall from the brief glory of the WAC-16, which I still think could have been a great conference if it had been given a chance. Ah well, the road not taken and all that. As with UTSA, I wish Texas State well. I think they have a bright future.

UTSA and TSU officially join the WAC

Welcome to the FBS, y’all.

Separated by roughly 35 miles of I-35, UTSA and Texas State have long been adversaries — for victories, for attention, for prestige.
Heated enough as it is, their rivalry became even more contentious on Thursday, with both schools accepting invitations to join the Western Athletic Conference.

“This is a great first step for us,” UTSA athletic director Lynn Hickey said. “We know there are going to be challenges for all our sports, building our program, but this is the right thing to do.”

“It’s surreal,” Texas State athletic director Dr. Larry Teis said. “Everybody wanted this, and the fact that it’s happened, and happened this fast, is great. You just feel an air of confidence.”

The University of Denver will also be added, in all sports but football, forming a motley cavalry to relieve the impending departures of Boise State (after this school year), Fresno State and Nevada (after 2011-12).

[…]

The three schools’ memberships will be effective on July 1, 2012, with one significant issue to be resolved — the date of inclusion for UTSA’s football program.

Hickey and head coach Larry Coker said their preference is to delay joining until at least 2013.

But Benson has said his league must add two football programs by 2012, just one year after the Roadrunners are scheduled to begin play in 2011.

Yes, UTSA hasn’t actually played a down of football yet. They’re not wasting any time in the shallower end of the pool, that’s for sure. Given that San Antonio is currently the largest city in America without an FBS program, and that the Roadrunners will play their home games at the Alamodome, UTSA is arguably already the biggest fish in the WAC. No pressure, none at all.

More from the Statesman:

For Texas State and UT-San Antonio, the jump to the WAC should mean more national exposure, along with more travel, more expenses and some competitive challenges.

“The campus is very excited ,” said UT-San Antonio’s president, Ricardo Romo. Romo said San Antonio is the largest city in America without a Football Bowl Subdivision football program, “so the city is excited.”

[…]

Texas State has never quite been able to recapture its football magic of the early 1980s, when Wacker’s teams won back-to-back NCAA Division II championships. But the school’s teams have been improving recently as Texas State also expands Bobcat Stadium, which could soon seat 30,000.

Instead of traveling in state and to Louisiana and Arkansas for conference games, UT-San Antonio and Texas State, once they join the WAC, will fly to far-flung locations . The WAC will stretch from Moscow, Idaho, to San Antonio and from Ruston, La., to Honolulu.

“Flying to Hawaii is a little different than busing to Huntsville,” [Texas State athletic director Larry] Teis said. “I’ve already told our coaches that for our nonconference games, we need to stay grounded. There’s enough competition around here.”

Teis mentioned UT as a possible opponent — even in football. “I’d love to (play Texas), down the road,” he said .

When you’re ready to reduce that travel schedule a bit, just remember that Conference USA actually has Texas-based universities in it. Assuming that the Big East hasn’t caused it to break apart by that time, of course. Be that as it may, best of luck to both schools.

Conference realignment isn’t just for the big boys

Expect to see a lot of smaller fish moving around now that the dust in the big conferences has mostly settled.

[Southland Conference] commissioner Tom Burnett told the San Antonio Express News last week that he expected Texas State and UTSA to eventually leave the Football Championship Subdivision and bolt for the WAC, which is scrambling for survival in the aftermath of losing Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada to the Mountain West Conference.

His position remains unchanged.

“When you look at what the WAC is faced with and what they need to do to essentially ensure their existence in the future, they need football programs, and they need them right now,” Burnett said. “Texas State and UTSA have made it very clear that this is something that they want in their future, and they have not only said that but have acted on it.

“They have put money or soon will into tremendous growth in their athletic departments, facilities, scholarships, staffing, all of that which will lead them to have the ability to play in the Football Bowl Subdivision.”

Here’s that Express-News story, which has a lot more detail. The SLC is an FCS conference, so this will be a step up in more ways than one for UTSA and Texas State. UTSA hasn’t even played a game yet, which in addition to the bump in conference level means the timeline is uncertain. As I’ve said before, as things stand now I think C-USA is the best geographic fit for these schools, but who knows what C-USA may look like in a few years’ time.

UH-Downtown renaming update

As we know, UH-Downtown has been looking to change its name since 2008. After an unsuccessful first attempt to get consensus, it’s trying again and seems to have settled on City University or Houston City University as its preferred replacement moniker. The consensus part, they’re still working on that.

[N]ot everyone is convinced the 36-year-old school needs a new name.

“I think it’s detrimental,” said Victoria Chadwick, who is completing her first semester at UH-Downtown. “It’s an absolute waste of money.”

Other students worry future employers won’t recognize the new name, and that their achievements as students under the current name will be forgotten once a new name is adopted.

[…]

Student concerns ranged from the specific — what name will be on my diploma? — to more general issues about the word “city,” which some students felt suggested a community college. UH-Downtown offers bachelors and master’s degrees.

Students enrolled before the name is changed could choose the name printed on their diplomas, said Sue Davis, executive director for public affairs at the school. Diplomas for those enrolling after change, tentatively planned for fall 2011, would bear the new name.

Alumni could request a duplicate diploma with the new name.

Maybe someone should ask alumni of the university formerly known as Southwest Texas State what their experience was when it changed its name in 2003. My suspicion is that the confusion effect is short-lived, but there’s no reason to guess when you can ask about it. The question of whether or not the proposed alternatives are worth changing the current name to, that’s another matter.

UTSA football update

The Trib has a nice story about the state of UTSA’s fledgling football program.

Next fall, UTSA will spend millions to field a football team it hopes will someday compete with cross-state rivals like the University of Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. But the plan goes far beyond athletics. As the college makes a push to become one of the next Tier One research universities in Texas, campus leaders say the school’s academic and athletic goals are closely linked.

Students and administrators, led by UTSA President Ricardo Romo, hope the team will foster school pride and capture the attention of alumni, who they believe will be more likely to support university financially. They also hope a team will transform the university from a commuter school to one where students live and play. “The whole campus is kind of buzzing about it,” says Travis Goodrich, a UTSA sophomore. “We need school spirit. We don’t really have that right now.”

But there are skeptics. While many faculty have enthusiastically supported the creation of the football program, others have wondered whether the university has its priorities straight. Mansour El-Kikhia, president of UTSA’s faculty senate, says faculty support is mixed for the project. The major fear, he says, is that the team will distract from the university’s academic mission or divert dollars from the institutional budget. The university has pledged “that no funds will be taken away from the institution to finance this football team,” El-Kikhia says. “Of course, there’s always the fear that UTSA will become a diploma mill for athletes and so forth.”

UTSA had dreams for a football team long before Romo’s tenure as president began. But when he took the job, he was skeptical himself. “When I got here I didn’t think we had the resources to pull it off,” he says. “I needed to see some things happen.”

I’ve blogged about this before here and here; the Trib also has a sidebar story. As I’ve said, I think they’re in a strong position to be successful, in that they essentially have no local competition for fans’ attention and dollars. Having a team, especially one that does well on the field, can only enhance their visibility, which will be a benefit. Given the nature of college sports, the administration is more than a little too optimistic about what the costs will be, and those on the faculty who worry about it are right to do so. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pursue their plan, just that they ought to be a bit more realistic about it. As long as everyone’s expectations are properly set, I think they’ll look back on this and be glad they did it.