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Todd Hunter

Precinct analysis: 2018 State House

Beto O’Rourke won 76 State House districts. Out of 150. Which is a majority.

Let me say that again so it can fully sink in.

BETO O’ROURKE WON 76 STATE HOUSE DISTRICTS.

Remember that after the 2016 election, Democrats held 55 State House Districts. They picked up 12 seats last year, thanks in large part to the surge that Beto brought out. But there were nine other districts that Beto carried where the Dem candidate fell short. Let’s start our review of the State Rep districts by looking at those nine.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD26   47.6%   50.5%   43.4%   47.8%   48.9%   48.5%   44.9%
HD64   44.5%   49.8%   43.9%   46.8%   47.4%   46.5%   44.0%
HD66   49.7%   52.5%   44.1%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD67   48.8%   52.3%   44.5%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD108  49.9%   57.2%   46.0%   52.7%   54.2%   51.9%   46.5%
HD112  49.0%   54.4%   47.5%   51.4%   52.5%   51.7%   48.7%
HD121  44.7%   49.7%   42.0%   46.9%   48.4%   47.7%   42.4%
HD134  46.8%   60.3%   50.4%   57.9%   59.1%   57.5%   48.6%
HD138  49.9%   52.7%   46.6%   50.6%   51.5%   51.1%   47.5%

Some heartbreakingly close losses, some races where the Republican winner probably never felt imperiled, and some in between. I don’t expect HD121 (Joe Straus’ former district) to be in play next year, but the shift in HD134 is so dramatic it’s hard to see it as anything but a Democratic district that just needs a good Dem to show up and take it. 2012 candidate Ann Johnson has declared her entry into the race (I am aware of one other person who was looking at it, though I do not know what the status of that person’s intent is now), so we have that taken care of. I won’t be surprised to see other candidates start to pop up for the other districts.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD45   51.6%   55.1%   47.9%   51.8%   52.6%   52.2%   49.3%
HD47   52.4%   54.9%   46.7%   51.7%   52.9%   51.6%   48.4%
HD52   51.7%   55.7%   48.0%   52.0%   53.3%   52.2%   49.3%
HD65   51.2%   54.1%   46.6%   50.8%   51.8%   50.6%   47.6%
HD102  52.9%   58.5%   50.1%   55.5%   56.7%   55.1%   51.3%
HD105  54.7%   58.7%   52.5%   55.5%   56.8%   56.1%   53.7%
HD113  53.5%   55.5%   49.4%   53.1%   53.9%   53.4%   51.4%
HD114  55.6%   57.1%   47.2%   54.1%   55.5%   53.4%   48.4%
HD115  56.8%   58.2%   49.9%   54.8%   56.1%   55.5%   51.2%
HD132  49.3%   51.4%   46.3%   49.5%   50.2%   50.0%   47.6%
HD135  50.8%   52.9%   47.3%   50.8%   51.6%   51.5%   48.8%
HD136  53.4%   58.1%   49.9%   54.2%   55.5%   54.2%   51.3%

These are the 12 seats that Dems flipped. I’m sure Republicans will focus on taking them back, but some will be easier than others. Honestly, barring anything unexpected, I’d make these all lean Dem at worst in 2020. Demography and the Trump factor were big factors in putting these seats in play, and that will be the case next year as well.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD14   43.6%   48.4%   40.9%   45.3%   45.0%   44.5%   41.1%
HD23   41.4%   44.0%   39.6%   42.7%   43.5%   43.3%   41.1%
HD28   45.8%   48.1%   41.8%   45.7%   46.5%   46.4%   43.2%
HD29      NA   47.0%   41.2%   44.9%   45.7%   45.9%   42.9%
HD32      NA   47.0%   38.9%   44.9%   45.2%   45.9%   42.2%
HD43   38.9%   44.1%   37.4%   43.4%   43.3%   43.9%   42.3%
HD54   46.2%   49.0%   43.8%   46.5%   47.0%   46.8%   45.0%
HD84   39.8%   43.1%   37.4%   41.5%   41.2%   39.8%   37.7%
HD85   43.5%   44.7%   39.8%   43.2%   44.1%   44.1%   41.6%
HD89   40.5%   43.5%   37.1%   41.1%   41.7%   40.5%   38.0%
HD92   47.4%   48.3%   41.9%   45.6%   46.5%   45.8%   43.1%
HD93   46.1%   48.2%   42.1%   45.6%   46.3%   45.5%   42.9%
HD94   43.9%   47.9%   41.1%   44.9%   46.0%   45.1%   42.2%
HD96   47.2%   49.5%   43.9%   47.6%   48.1%   47.6%   45.3%
HD97   44.9%   48.6%   41.3%   45.7%   46.5%   45.4%   42.4%
HD106  41.7%   44.2%   37.1%   41.3%   42.0%   41.0%   38.1%
HD122  38.1%   43.4%   36.1%   40.5%   41.9%   41.2%   36.7%
HD126  45.2%   47.8%   42.5%   46.1%   46.7%   46.3%   43.5%
HD129  41.8%   45.2%   39.1%   43.4%   44.3%   44.2%   40.0%
HD133  41.9%   45.0%   36.6%   43.4%   44.2%   42.8%   36.3%

Here are the generally competitive districts, where Dems can look to make further inroads into the Republican majority. Well, mostly – HD23 in Galveston, formerly held by Craig Eiland, and HD43 in South Texas, held by Rep. JM Lozano, are going in the wrong direction. I wouldn’t say that Dems should give up on them, but they should not be a top priority. There are much better opportunities available.

To say the least, HD14 in Brazos County is a big surprise. Hillary Clinton got 38.1% of the vote there in 2016, but Beto came within 1100 votes of carrying it. It needs to be on the board. Rep. Todd Hunter in HD32 hasn’t had an opponent since he flipped the seat in 2010. That needs to change. HD54 is Jimmy Don Aycock’s former district, won by Rep. Brad Buckley last year. It’s been at least a light shade of purple all decade, but it’s non-traditional turf for Dems, who never felt much need to go after Aycock anyway. It’s split between Bell and Lampasas counties, and will need a big win in Bell to overcome the strong R lean of Lampasas. HD84 in Lubbock isn’t really a swing district, but Beto improved enough on Hillary’s performance there (34.8% in 2016) to put it on the horizon. The Dem who won the primary in HD29 wound up dropping out; we obviously can’t have that happen again. All of the HDs in the 90s are in Tarrant County, and they include some of the biggest anti-vaxxers in the House – Stickland (HD92), Krause (HD93), and Zedler (HD96). You want to strike a blow against measles in Texas, work for a strong Democratic performance in Tarrant County next year.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD31  100.0%   54.5%   47.3%   53.6%   54.5%   54.3%   53.7%
HD34   61.1%   54.6%   46.5%   53.5%   53.6%   54.8%   52.2%
HD74  100.0%   55.9%   50.4%   53.9%   54.1%   55.0%   53.3%
HD117  57.4%   58.3%   50.7%   54.3%   56.3%   55.9%   53.4%

These are Dem-held districts, and they represent the best opportunities Republicans have outside of the districts they lost last year to win seats back. HD117 went red in 2014 before being won back in 2016, so at least in low-turnout situations these districts could be in danger. Maybe the 2018 numbers just mean that Greg Abbott with a kazillion dollars can do decently well in traditionally Democratic areas against a weak opponent, but this was the best Dem year in a long time, and if this is how they look in a year like that, you can imagine the possibilities. If nothing else, look for the Republicans to use the 2021 redistricting to try to squeeze Dem incumbents like these four.

Court throws out State House map

Once more, with feeling.

Parts of the Texas House map must be redrawn ahead of the 2018 elections because lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting several legislative districts, federal judges ruled on Thursday.

A three-judge panel in San Antonio unanimously ruled that Texas must address violations that could affect the configuration of House districts in four counties, where lawmakers diluted the strength of voters of color. In some cases, the court found mapdrawers intentionally undercut minority voting power “to ensure Anglo control” of legislative districts.

These are the nine districts the court flagged:

  • Dallas County’s HD 103, represented by Democrat Rafael Anchia, HD 104, represented by Democrat Roberto Alonzo and HD 105, represented by Republican Rodney Anderson
  • Nueces County’s HD 32, represented by Republican Todd Hunter, and HD 34, represented by Democrat Abel Herrero
  • Bell County’s HD 54, represented by Republican Scott Cosper, and HD 55, represented by Republican Hugh Shine
  • Tarrant County’s HD 90, represented by Democrat Ramon Romero, and HD 93 represented by Matt Krause.

Adjusting those boundaries could have a ripple effect on other races.

[…]

In both the congressional and state House rulings, the court ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton to signal whether the Legislature would take up redistricting to fix violations in the maps.

But so far, state leaders have signaled they have no appetite to call lawmakers back to Austin over mapmaking. Instead, Texas is looking to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep its political boundaries intact.

“The judges held that maps they themselves adopted violate the law,” Paxton said in a Thursday statement. “Needless to say, we will appeal.”

Meanwhile, the state and the parties that sued over the congressional districts are scheduled to return to court on Sept. 5 to begin redrawing the congressional map. In its Thursday ruling, the court indicated they should be prepared to also meet on Sept. 6 to consider changes to the state House map.

“Today’s ruling once again found that Texas racially gerrymandered its voting districts and used Latino voters as pawns in doing so,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, who is representing plaintiffs in the case. “With the 2018 election cycle fast approaching, it’s time for Texas to stop discriminating against Latino voters and agree to a remedy that will provide equal opportunity to all.”

It was just over a week ago that the same court invalidated the Congressional map, also calling it intentionally discriminatory. Add in the voter ID ruling and you’ve got three such judgments in a span of eight days; you can also toss in the ruling on interpreters for a four-game losing streak for the state. Don’t forget the Pasadena case, too – it’s not the state, but it is another intentional-discrimination opinion. Maybe this will all add up to enough to convince Chief Justice Roberts to change his mind about the state of voting rights and the need to protect communities of color.

Or not. I wouldn’t hold my breath. Be that as it may, this ruling could have an effect on the effort by wingnuts to oust House Speaker Joe Straus. RG Ratcliffe explains.

The court found that in Nueces County, the district maps discriminated in the placement of minority voters in a way that favored the re-election of Representative Todd Hunter, a key Straus Republican ally and chairman of the House committee that sets bills for debate on the daily calendar. To make his district safe, the court said Hispanic voters were packed into the district of Representative Abel Herrero, a Democrat. Redrawing the districts won’t automatically guarantee Hunter’s defeat, but it will make it more difficult for him to win re-election.

The court also ruled that the Legislature intentionally split a minority community in Killeen to guarantee the election of two white Republicans in Districts 54 and 55, Scott Cosper of Killeen and Hugh Shine of Temple. Both have backed Straus in the past. Putting the minority community in Killeen back together probably endangers Cosper’s re-election, and may put a Democrat in that rural district. Either way, this likely is a wash in the politics of electing the next speaker.

In Dallas and Tarrant counties, the court ruling likely would help Straus win re-election. In declaring that five districts in those two counties discriminated against minorities, the most likely losers in any redrawing of the district maps will be Republican Representatives Rodney Anderson of Irving and Matt Krause of Fort Worth. Anderson was among nineteen House members who voted against Straus in one election for speaker, and Krause is a member of the Freedom Caucus, which has been trying to force a speaker vote in the caucus instead of on the House floor, where Democrats also have a say.

Anderson barely squeaked by in 2016, in a district that was ever so slightly bluer than HD107, which flipped to the Dems. He was going to be a target no matter what. The ripple effect in Dallas could be very interesting. And of course, anything that puts jerks like Krause in jeopardy is a good thing. We’ll know if and when SCOTUS intervenes if a second special session will be forthcoming. A statement from MALC is here, and Michael Li, the Chron, the DMN, Rick Hasen, the HuffPost, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Marijuana decriminalization bill passes House committee

Progress.

Rep. Joe Moody

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee advanced a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday with the help of two Republicans.

With a 4–2 vote, the committee approved House Bill 81, authored by Chair Joe Moody, D-El Paso, at Monday’s hearing. Under HB 81, police would ticket someone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana rather than charging them with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a punishment of up to six months in jail.

The measure passed with bipartisan support, but both no votes came from Republican freshmen — Cole Hefner, of Mt. Pleasant, and Mike Lang, of Granbury. Republicans Todd Hunter, of Corpus Christi, and Terry Wilson, of Marble Falls, joined the committee’s Democrats in advancing the bill beyond its first legislative hurdle.

“It is a fairly new concept in Texas not to criminalize conduct,” Moody told the Observer. “Part of the problem has been just getting people comfortable with the idea of treating this differently than we have in the past.”

[…]

Last session, Moody carried a nearly identical measure. Several Republicans, including David Simpson and Bryan Hughes — both of whom are no longer in the House — signed on to Moody’s bill as co-authors in 2013, but no GOP member supported the measure as a joint author, which is a greater show of support.

Moody will need all the help he can get from Republicans, including House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Vice Chair Hunter, who voted in support of the bill on Monday. The proposal now advances to the Calendars Committee, which determines the flow of legislation into the full House. Hunter chairs the powerful committee, which comprises 10 Republicans and five Democrats.

Hunter will play a major role in determining whether HB 81 makes it to the House floor — further than any bill lessening penalties for marijuana offenses has made it in the legislative process.

I feel like this bill will have a decent chance to pass the House – it should at least get a vote, unless it becomes clear the numbers aren’t there for it. The prospects seem longer in the Senate, but at least now-Senator Bryan Hughes ought to support it. Even if it doesn’t go the distance, each step farther improves the odds that something like it can get passed in a future session. Public support is ahead of the Lege on this issue, and it will likely take a few more cycles to catch up.

DC preclearance trial, Day One

E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, DC

While we wait for the Supreme Court to give us some indication of what happens next with our elections – they did not issue an opinion this week – the preclearance trial at the DC federal court got underway.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, testified that hearings were held statewide to allow input from all groups and citizens to form a bipartisan basis to redraw political lines.

Under cross-examination, though, Hunter said he was unaware that new political lines in Corpus Christi that eliminated a Latino state House seat also lumped all of his possible competitors into a neighboring district.

His claim that no one had complained about the minority makeup of the new state House districts was refuted with a videotape of Luis Figueroa of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund telling a legislative hearing that eliminating the Corpus Christi seat would be tantamount to a Voting Rights Act violation.

Jose Garza, a lawyer with the Mexican American Legislative Caucus who was questioning Hunter, also told the court that he testified to the same problem before a state House committee.

There were hearings around the state, but it was also the case that there were almost no public hearings in the Legislature. The Congressional map passed through in record time, once the Republicans bothered to produce it. Seemed like the plaintiffs scored some points in the opening round, but it’s early days and there’s a lot of testimony to come, along with some pre-filed written testimony. The state’s case was simply summarized during pre-trial hearings.

In a hearing before the D.C. court, David Schenk, the Texas deputy attorney general, said the state did not intend to discriminate when it drew new political lines.

Without the intent of discrimination, the maps, which do protect Republican minority officeholders, should be approved.

“Texas did the best that it could,” Schenk argued.

I didn’t mean to smash into your car. I totally did the best I could driving, even if I was going 90 on a wet road at night. Without the intent to have an accident, I should be let go without a citation. Yeah, that sounds about right to me. We’ll see what the plaintiffs make of that. As always, Texas Redistricting has more.

First thoughts on the new Congressional map

OK, down to business. Here’s a map of the new plan, which was unanimously approved by the three judges, the 2008 election data, and here’s 2010 election data. Going by the 2012 data, I break it down as follows:

Strong R


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
01         30.5         36.4
02         34.4         35.6
03         37.4         36.8
04         29.4         37.6
05         36.5         41.2
08         25.6         29.3
11         23.0         28.4
12         34.1         35.5
13         22.2         27.4
17         33.2         38.2
19         28.0         32.4
21         33.0         31.5
24         38.0         37.5
26         35.4         35.5
31         39.8         41.3
34         32.9         37.1
36         31.1         39.8

Likely R


Dist    Obama Pct    Houston Pct
============================
07         42.5         40.8
14         41.9         47.3
22         40.6         41.2
32         43.0         43.1

Lean R


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
06         44.8         47.5
10         46.5         45.5

Strong D


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
09         77.3         77.6
15         61.9         65.8
16         66.6         68.8
18         77.4         77.5
25         68.4         65.2
27         58.3         62.1
28         58.6         63.0
29         62.0         67.6
30         81.5         81.3
33         62.5         63.1

Likely D


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
20         58.5         58.8

Lean D


Dist  Obama Pct  Houston Pct
============================
23         51.4         53.1
35         54.4         55.9
 

Barring any surprises, that’s a 23-13 split, which means (contra the Chron and its funny math once again) a four-seat gain from the current 23-9 split. The Dems have more upside than downside, and it’s not crazy to think that over the course of the decade some districts could move into a different classification, such as currently solid R seats 05, 24, and 31. I was just on a conference call with Matt Angle and Gerry Hebert about the new map, and Angle suggested CDs 06 and 14 as ones that will trend Democratic. I asked him about CD10, which has a similar electoral profile right now to those two, and while he agreed it can be competitive, he didn’t think the demographics will change as much as in the others.

Note that CD33 is now a majority-minority seat in Tarrant County – BOR notes that State Rep. Marc Veasey, one of the plaintiffs and strong fighters in these suits, has already indicated his interest in running for it. He’s already got an opponent if so – a press release from Fort Worth City Council member Kathleen Hicks that announced her entry into the CD33 sweepstakes, hit my inbox about ten minutes after the publication of the new map. PoliTex confirms both of these. One way or another, though, it sounds like sayonara to Roger Williams.

CD34 stretches from the Gulf Coast into the Hill Country, taking a chunk out of the southern edge of the old CD10. CD36 is more or less as it was before, in the eastern/southeastern part of Harris County and points east from there. CD35 is no longer in Travis County, so the Doggett/Castro death match is no more – Rep. Lloyd Doggett gets his Travis-anchored CD25 back, and Rep. Joaquin Castro gets a new Bexar-anchored district to run in. I don’t know if freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold can run in CD34 – I suspect he’d face a challenge from some Republican State Reps if he tried. Perhaps State Rep. Geanie Morrison, based in Victoria and now paired with State Rep. Todd Hunter, might take a crack at it, or maybe Hunter will. I presume State Sen. Mike Jackson will continue to pursue CD36. All of the Republican contenders for the Lege-drawn CD25 are also now out of luck, so bye-bye to former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams as well. Not a good day for Williamses who wanted to run for Congress.

Comments and objections are due on Friday, and one presumes it, along with the other two, will be finalized by Monday the 28th, which is the opening of filing season, though I hear that could possibly get pushed back a day. Greg, Stace, the Lone Star Project, Postcards, the Trib, and Trail Blazers have more.

Nothing is dead, and nothing is certain

The deadline for passing House bills on second reading was midnight Friday last week, which means that tons of bills are technically dead, as they can no longer be brought to the House floor for a vote. However, bills can still be attached to other bills that are eligible for consideration as amendments, so nothing can be ruled out at this stage.

“As long as the budget is alive, any fiscal measure is still alive,” said Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, chairman of the influential House Calendars Committee, which determines which bills go to the House floor for debate.

“I think gambling is still alive because it’s a revenue measure and, as the budget process is alive, so is any revenue measure.”

A watered-down gambling bill to allow slot machines at racetracks and Native American reservations moved out of the House Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee last week

“There’s not enough interest on the House floor — at the moment,” said Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville, the committee chairman who moved the gambling bill.

Support for the gambling bill could build later — perhaps in a summer special session, he said, as members look for more non-tax revenue. The limited gambling bill could raise about $3 billion, he said.

You knew gambling would come up in this conversation, right? There are still big disagreements about how much money the Lege will actually spend this session, and how cuts to public education will be distributed, and these issues are not close to being resolved.

The House and Senate each has passed its own budget plan, with the Senate spending $4 billion more state dollars than the House in order to mitigate proposed spending cuts to education, nursing homes and other priorities.

The two sides now have little time to hammer out a compromise , and they’re struggling to reach common ground. The Senate thinks the House cuts are too deep, and the House thinks the Senate is unrealistic about how much money is available.

“It’s going to be real tough to get to a compromise,” one high-level legislative staffer said Friday, speaking on the condition of anonymity as to not further disrupt the negotiations.

Senate finance chief Steve Ogden said on Friday that a special legislative session on the budget is “pretty likely.”

Anything can happen, but I’d put my money on a special session. The question is whether another thirty days would be enough to resolve the disagreement, since what that really means is who capitulates. There, I’d be putting my money on the Senate finally giving in to the fanatics in the House. At which point we’ll have the budget the Republicans have been dreaming about for years. What happens after that is up to us.

School finance issues holding up budget deal

News flash: School finance reform is hard. Especially when all it’s doing is taking money away from everyone.

The clock is a-tickin’ for Texas lawmakers to cobble together a budget compromise that enacts deep cuts to public education.

But with less than three weeks left in the legislative session, neither chamber has debated, much less passed, a school finance bill that would reduce the state aid owed to school districts by as much as $6.5 billion.

Both the House and Senate budgets are precariously balanced on the assumption that such legislation would be approved. Failure to do so would probably force lawmakers into a special session this summer.

“It’s essential that we pass some type of school finance reform in order to successfully end the session. So it’s the No. 1 priority right now,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan.

On the House side, Calendars Committee Chairman Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said the school finance legislation would not be among the bills to make it to the floor before a key deadline at the end of the week.

“There are a lot of interconnected parts that aren’t fitting together yet,” said Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

The House plan could still hitch a ride on another piece of legislation, but at least one local lawmaker, Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, said he wouldn’t be able to support it.

Although Workman backed the House budget bill that reduced the school funding, he said Tuesday that the House school finance bill hurts his school districts too much to get his vote.

Well that’s mighty thoughtful of him, and I’ll bet he has plenty of company in that regard, but just what exactly did Paul Workman expect when he voted to cut $7.8 billion from public education? The attitude he’s expressing here is basically “it’s all right to cut as much as needed from everyone else, just not from me”. Hey, you voted for those cuts, you live with the electoral consequences. If you don’t like what you see, you should have done something different. I have no sympathy at all, even if his dithering may work to put pressure on the Republicans to ease the pain. But let the lesson be learned: It’s easy to favor “living within our means” and “cutting spending”. It’s a lot harder to vote for cuts to your own school district.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Texting while lawmaking

This is a fascinating issue.

A bill by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi , would make an addition to the Texas Open Meetings Act. And it would apply to any public meeting, whether it’s a House committee or a small-town city council meeting.

The measure, House Bill 2977, says an official would be committing an offense if he or she transmits an electronic message — including an email, text message, instant message or Internet posting — during a public meeting.

No penalty has been included in the bill. But Hunter said he’s still considering how to deal with violators.

Hunter, who chairs the powerful House Calendars Committee, said he had a few reasons for filing the bill.

“For one, it’s discourteous if you’re conducting business on a cellular phone or BlackBerry when somebody’s coming in to testify. You need to be focused on those people,” Hunter said.

But perhaps more to the point, Hunter is seeking to take the state’s open records and open meetings laws into the digital age.

The state has to modernize the law, Hunter said.

“I also don’t think you should be communicating in a public setting with private interests, telling you how to vote, telling you how to think, telling you how to speak without that being open access to the public,” he said. He added that state legislators would still be allowed to text from the House and Senate chambers.

But rudeness and modernization are not the only reasons for filing the measure. There is a legal basis for his bill, too, Hunter said: If lawmakers don’t address the issue, it could end up the subject of a court challenge.

Here’s HB2977. The subject came up last year in a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing. I think Rep. Hunter is correct that if the Lege doesn’t take action to clarify existing laws relating to open meetings, the courts eventually will, and I think there’s a lot of merit to what he’s saying. I’m not sure about drawing a line between public meetings and just being in the House or Senate chambers, since surely those same private interests are there as well, but the subject is worth debating. I personally think that applying the same guidelines for email to other forms of messaging on mobile devices would go a long way towards addressing these issues, though that brings up the matter of retention intervals. Like I said, there’s a lot to discuss here, and whatever gets passed initially will surely need to be revisited in the future, probably multiple times. It’s going to take awhile to figure this all out and come up with something workable.

Howard wins again

It’s fourth and long for Dan Neil.

The House Election Contest Committee unanimously voted [Tuesday] to uphold Rep. Will Hartnett’s determination that Donna Howard won the long-disputed House District 48 seat. Committee members said Republican Dan Neil did not provide clear and convincing evidence to win. If Neil decides to challenge the committee’s vote, it will go to the House floor.

[…]

The committee, chaired by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, heard closing arguments from both sides today. Neil’s lawyer and former state Rep. Joe Nixon focused on five voters — two who lived outside the county and three who lived outside of the district during the election season. According to current statutes, residents are allowed to vote in their individual district if they reside in the same county and fill out a statement of residence. The three voters, Nixon said, did not fill out a statement of residence.

“It’s like having a suspended driver’s license,” he said. “You don’t really have one.”

Nixon said Neil was bearing the burden of human error, and that it was up to the committee to fix those mistakes if the true outcome could be ascertained — and, if not, to declare the election void.

Howard’s attorney, Randall “Buck” Wood, said Neil was asking for legislators to ignore existing law and make new law.

“They are simply asking you not to ask a judicial body, but to act as a legislative and political body,” Wood said. “But you’re sitting here as judge and jury.”

Hartnett said the only issue in question is where the individual actually lives.

“If we open the door to strict application to these requirements, we might as well allow re-dos for every time an election is this close,” he said.

After the committee vote, Neil said he was not surprised about the outcome, but about the unanimous vote. Going into today’s committee meeting, Neil said his team leaned toward taking the matter to the House floor, but he is likely to finalize that decision [Wednesday].

Seems to me that if we always adhered to the standard Nixon advocates, Sen. Bill Birdwell would have been knocked off the ballot last year. Be that as it may, I don’t know what Neil was expecting. I doubt he’ll get any more joy from the House, but hey, it’s Bob Perry’s his money. Rep. Howard released a statement that said:

I am obviously pleased with the committee’s decision regarding this extremely close election. Their unanimous vote reaffirms Master Hartnett’s thorough scrutiny of the details of this election contest. I look forward to continuing to serve the residents of House District 48.

As do the rest of us. Most of us, anyway. Postcards has more.

Neil in it till the bitter end

I guess he doesn’t have anything else to do right now.

After some vacillation, the Republican who is contesting his loss to incumbent state Rep. Donna Howard said [Wednesday] that he is now inclined to take his fight the distance.

Last month, Republican Dan Neil said his decision to continue contesting the election might depend on the upcoming recommendation of a special House committee. But now, he said, he wants to push the matter all the way to the House floor.

“I’m back and forth on it,” Neil said.

Howard beat Neil on Election Day by 16 votes. Eventually, Neil contested the election, which led to a trial-like hearing led by Rep. Will Hartnett, a Dallas Republican. Hartnett ruled that Howard should keep her seat.

Hartnett presented his opinion to a special House committee. And next week, the committee will hear from both sides’ lawyers. Then, the committee chair, Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, will announce the committee’s thoughts on the matter.

And ultimately, the members of the House could figure it out. No date has been set for the members to consider the matter.

Whatever. It’s his right, and Bob Perry’s his money. If nothing else, this ensures he gets cited in future news stories about election contests, as in “The last time a contest went all the way to the House floor was in 2011 when Dan Neil contested his loss to Rep. Donna Howard”. Gotta grab that little bit of immortality whenever you can, I always say.

Senate stands down again

No vote on the rules till next week, so the 2/3 rule lives for a few more days.

In an hour-long caucus behind closed doors, Texas senators decided today to put off for a week a potentially acrimonious public debate over changing their rules. The discussion will occur next Wednesday, as Senate leaders had hinted yesterday.

In the meantime, the Senate will continue to operate under the rules it approved last session.

At issue: A proposal championed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, to change a rule that requires two-thirds of senators to agree before a bill can be brought up for debate. Most senators say they favor leaving the rule as it is. Patrick insists the two-thirds rule thwarts debate on important issues — read that as ones that Republicans want to pass, and Democrats don’t.

Under the current rule, because the 12 Democrats constitute a third of the Senate, they can block debate on some issues.

As Trailblazers notes, the rules the Senate operated under last session allowed for voter ID legislation to be exempted from the two thirds rule. If the default is to simply use the previous rules, which I believe is the norm, then that’s what we’ll get this session as well. This is what I expect to happen, but we’ll see. Burka has more.

There was a little bit of House action to note:

Rep. Todd Hunter will now chair the select committee in charge of determining the HD 48 vote. After a recount, incumbent Democrat Donna Howard won by just 12 votes—a result challenged by opponent Dan Neil.

The rest of the committee: Eiland, who will serve as vice-chair, Kolkhorst, Giddings, Guillen, Bonnen, W. Smith, Madden, and Lewis. State Rep. Will Hartnett remains the master of discovery.

After the committee was read, Hunter took the floor to tell members to “be very careful in discussing this matter.” Members could inadvertently cause problems by discussing the controversy in casual conversation. The committee will ultimately issue a report on the challenge.

Hartnett’s discovery report is still the main thing. In 2005, once his report made it clear that Talmadge Heflin had no case in his contest against Rep. Hubert Vo, Heflin withdrew his challenge before the House voted on it; it may have been before the committee vote as well, I honestly don’t remember. Point being, the hope is that this committee winds up having little to do.

Vetoing smart growth

Houston Tomorrow takes a look at one of the vetoed bills that I hadn’t examined before, SB2169, “relating to the establishment of a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for this state.”

The bill would have instructed the heads of many state agencies to appoint representatives to serve on a task force charged with bringing back suggestions for the Texas legislature for ways to prepare for the projected population growth in the state. As noted by the Legislative Budget Board, “no significant fiscal implication to the state [was] anticipated” because of the bill, and its primary outcome would be that “each odd-numbered year the group [would have been] required to submit a progress report to the legislature.“ The Legislative Budget Board report went on to state that were this bill to have passed “Local governments may benefit from policies developed by the smart growth policy work group, but any benefits will depend on what future policies recommend and the operating environment of each local government.” According to the bill analysis posted at Texas Legislature Online, the bill would not “expressly grant any additional rulemaking authority to a state officer, department, agency, or institution.”

They note that the bill had bipartisan support – it passed 99-48 in the House (98-49 if you accept Rep. Todd Hunter’s “meant to vote no”), and unanimously in the Senate. More to the point, “Out of the 76 representatives from the 8 largest urban counties in Texas, only 18 (22%) voted against the bill.” All 18 came from Harris and the Metroplex, mostly from suburban areas. Alas, the words “smart growth” are considered dirty by the likes of Governor Perry, as you can see in his veto statement, where he pays homage to the idea of “local control” when it suits him to do so.

On a side note, the Statesman reports that the Governor killed numerous bills for which there was little to no opposition:

A dozen of the 37 pieces of legislation that Gov. Rick Perry vetoed late last week moved through the Legislature without a single opposing vote.

The various measures would have, among other things, changed the makeup of the Teacher Retirement System board, allowed authorities to more quickly erase criminal records when someone is arrested but not charged with a crime, and given college students more time to graduate before they faced tuition increases for staying in school too long.

Most of the other bills Perry vetoed drew just a handful of dissenting votes — fewer than five in the 31-member Senate or 10 in the 150-member House.

“There’s no check on the governor’s power to veto bills that have been through an entire process,” said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, a Republican from San Antonio who represents part of southern Travis County. Wentworth sponsored legislation that would have given lawmakers an opportunity to convene for three days after a regular session to override gubernatorial vetoes. It did not pass.

The Perry vetoes highlight the fact that most bills that pass the Legislature do so with overwhelming support, especially when they are locally focused bills such as several of those on Perry’s veto list. Lawmakers are particularly inclined to support legislation in the final days of the 140-day session, when they’re hit with a stampede of bills trying to make it to the governor’s desk before the clock runs out.

The scrutiny is more intense earlier in the session. Bills have to pass through numerous committees, often leading to hours of public testimony and several drafts before they even reach the floor of the House or Senate. Then the process begins again in the other chamber, and the two sides must ultimately reconcile the different versions of the legislation they approve.

It’s certainly true that some bad bills, as well as some bills that started out as good but then picked up some bad amendments (*cough* *cough* HB770 *cough* *cough*) can pass on near-unanimous lines. HB3588 from 2003, which authorized the Trans Texas Corridor, is a good example of that. Local and consent bills, which by definition aren’t controversial, also generally breeze through. Still, the Lege is designed to make it hard for bills to pass, and I haven’t heard anyone claim that the bills that got the axe this time around were ones that needed to be killed because of poor legislative oversight. These were Perry’s decisions for his own reasons, like them or not.

Windstorm insurance bill passes House committee

I’ve mentioned the prospect of a special session several times lately. One of the issues that could be the cause of a special session is windstorm insurance, as the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association took it on the chin last year thanks to Hurricane Ike. Governor Perry even came to the floor of the House yesterday to threaten that he’d call a special session for June 2, the day after sine die, if a bill didn’t get passed. Apparently, that was enough to make something happen.

Windstorm insurance reform legislation suddenly got voted out of a House committee Wednesday after Gov. Rick Perry threatened to call a special session on June 2 if the bill does not pass.

Both inland and coastal lawmakers expressed concerns about the bill they voted on, but said they needed to get something to a House/Senate conference committee if there is any hope of reaching a compromise to avoid a special session.

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, complained that he was being forced to vote on a 51-page bill that he had not read. He said the House has had the entire session to work on a compromise and now was being presented a “false choice” of voting on an unseen bill or having it die in the Legislature’s closing crunch.

“The House is on fire! Let’s vote it out,” Martinez Fischer said.

“I don’t care what you do. If you want to vote it down, vote it down,” replied House Insurance Committee Chairman John Smithee, R-Amarillo.

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, joined Martinez Fischer in voting against the bill, also complaining that she had not had a chance to read it.

“I’m not trying to slow the process down, but don’t I have a right to read this stuff?” Thompson asked.

Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, urged his fellow committee members to vote for the bill just to keep it moving and not let it die. He said there are many things in it that still bother him.

“We have been told we will be called into a special session on June 2 if we do not get this matter resolved,” Hunter said. “Get the process moving so we do not kill the issue.”

The bill in question is SB14, which was approved by the Senate on April 30, but which has been revised since then. One hopes everyone will have the time to read the bill before it gets voted on again, not that this has ever been a requirement for getting stuff passed; if it were, we might never have heard the words “Trans Texas Corridor”. One also hopes that this bill will be given priority over clearly less-important things like voter ID. Finally, one hopes that this is the only thing that’s on Governor Perry’s list of reasons for which to call a special session, and not just the cudgel of the day. I don’t want the Lege to come back this summer any more than they do.