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Tomball

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

The battle over booze sales comes to Tomball

I always enjoy a good story about when a county or town votes on whether or not to repeal Prohibition-era restrictions on local alcohol sales.

Eight decades ago, the oil started flowing in Tomball and the whiskey soon followed. The boomtown began attracting a rough and rowdy crowd, prompting the town’s leaders a few years later to pass a law prohibiting the sale of hard liquor.

Two world wars, several social revolutions and a digital age later, the statute remains on the books. Only now, residents call this part of town historic “Old Town Tomball” and count the trendy shops and restaurants where one might imagine enjoying a Margarita or a Bloody Mary, in addition to the beer and wine sales that are now permitted.

That’s why many around town are looking with anticipation to Nov. 4, when voters will have a chance to repeal the Depression-era restriction.

“We would really be only going from moist to wet. We were never completely dry,” explains Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Chamber of Commerce.

[…]

Tomball garnered the nickname “Oiltown USA” as the oil started gushing in 1933, the same year that Prohibition was repealed. Saloons and brothels soon sprouted up along the railroad tracks near the train depot, residents said.

“Boys were being bad. The area was getting too wild. So the town leaders decided to take control and ban the sale of all distilled spirits except beer or wine,” Wilson said.

Both the oil boom and brothels have long since gone bust.

“I don’t think the statute ever really toned things down back then,” she said. “They probably just drank more beer.”

The town’s mayor and chamber of commerce fully support this change as another step to draw people to Old Town Tomball, which is being revitalized by the opening of quaint shops and restaurants and the restoration of historic buildings.

As it happens, Tomball is named after a prohibitionist and fervent opponent of the demon rum, Thomas Ball. That’s because Ball – a lawyer and congressman credited with being the “father” of the Port of Houston – was responsible for routing the railroad tracks through this tiny community 32 miles northwest of Houston. The citizens of the town, which was then called Peck, were so grateful for their own train depot in 1907 that they changed the town’s name to honor him.

His connection to Tomball would later thwart an attempt to be elected governor, though. His opponent, James Ferguson, obtained photos of the town that bore his name. The images showed four saloons boasting nickel beer and 10-cent shots as well as houses of ill repute doing a brisk business.

Awesome. If there’s any organized opposition to this proposal, it went unreported in the story. Some of these referenda have been pretty hotly contested, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. As I’ve said before, I don’t really understand the point of these laws and I support the efforts to repeal them. Good luck, Tomball.

Tomball toll road

They want a toll road in Tomball, and they’re probably going to get it.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority is asking that it be allowed to look at State Highway 249, also known as Tomball Parkway, to see whether it would be make sense to build a toll road from Spring-Cypress Road about 10 miles north, to near Farm-to-Market 1774. Toll roads officials stress that the study is preliminary and no end point has been determined.

“You’ve got a populated area that’s growing that needs more mobility,” said Peter Key, executive director of the toll road authority. “We’re taking those first steps to try to find something that’s feasible.”

[…]

“The people out in Tomball really want that to occur,” said County Judge Ed Emmett, a former transportation consultant. “Everybody I talk to says it’s almost a no-brainer that it’s a financially good thing to do.”

John Fishero, a vice president at Lone Star College-Tomball and chairman of the 249 Coalition, a nascent group advocating for growth along the road from Beltway 8 to Navasota, agreed.

Morning radio traffic reports, Fishero said, often cite 45-minute drive times on 20-mile stretches of the North and Eastex freeways. The commute on 249, he said, often is pegged at 30 minutes for a stretch of road one fourth as long.

“They’re talking about Spring Cypress to Beltway 8, and that’s only about 6 miles,” Fishero said. “People are sitting there going nowhere. Getting the flow of traffic away from the stop lights and stop signs between Spring-Cypress and Magnolia will definitely help.”

I’m sure it will be better than it is now, but I wouldn’t bet on it being a long term solution. In fact, I’d bet it’s congested from the day it opens, whenever that is. Not really my concern, at least as long as it’s financed with revenues from the tolls on that road, but reading this story made me wonder about other options. There has been talk about commuter rail along the 249 corridor – see, for example this post by Tory Gattis from 2008 – but I haven’t heard much about it lately. Here’s a Chron story from 2009 in which the idea is floated to the local poobahs in Tomball.

John Fishero, the Greater Tomball Area Chamber’s mobility and transportation committee chairman, said the committee was formed to investigate the results of the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s “Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study,” which was released in summer 2008.

The study pinpointed five existing railroad corridors that could form the “baseline system” for a commuter rail network in the Houston-Galveston region: U.S. 290 (UPRR’s Eureka line), Texas 249 to Tomball (Burlington Northern Santa Fe’s Houston line), Texas 3 (UPRR’s Galveston line), South Fort Bend/FM 521 (BNSF’s Galveston/Popp corridor line), and the Texas 35 Tollway corridor to Pearland (near UPRR’s Mykawa line).

Fishero said several groups on the U.S. 290 corridor formed a coalition several years ago to lobby for commuter rail service from downtown to College Station. That group has the attention of Harris County and several other agencies that could help fund, implement and manage commuter rail projects, Fishero said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he would like to see commuter rail projects on the U.S. 290 and Texas 3 rail corridors in the next three years.

“Our concern is that we need to get our hat in the ring one way or another,” Fishero said. “If we want to get something done, we need to start working on funding for our own projects.”

Like I said, I haven’t heard much since. We’re still kicking around commuter rail on the corridors Judge Emmett mentioned, so like the toll road I presume this is still something for the future. My understanding from inquiring with Judge Emmett’s office about this is that it is still being actively considered, but there needs to be a way to tie it in with a transit center of some type on the northwest side so you are not just dumping off commuters with no way to get to wherever they’re going. This is the same basic concern that a commuter or passenger rail line along 290 would have, so when that issue gets resolved then there can be further progress made on a 249/Tomball line. And if we ever do get to that point, we could take it to the next step and extend the line out to College Station as a high speed rail link, as neoHouston documented. Just something else to think about as we go along. Houston Tomorrow has more.

Tomball declines to be like Farmers Branch

I’m stunned. Pleased, but stunned.

The Tomball City Council late Tuesday defeated a proposal to make English the city’s official language and voted down another measure seeking to prohibit illegal immigrants from renting or owning property or owning or operating a business there.

The council also voted to keep the city’s day laborer site open and operating, despite vociferous protests from some in the audience.

And officials delayed taking action on a proposal to award city contracts strictly to companies and subcontractors that hire and use only legal U.S. citizens as employees.

Most council members agreed that making English the city’s official language was an unnecessary move that would not enhance Tomball’s image or interests. And most of the city’s elected officials appeared leery of the idea seeking to limit undocumented immigrants’ property rights, noting it could bring an avalanche of lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, which could cost the city millions.

“I’d sure hate to take our people down that route,” said City Councilman Rick Brown. “It’s lawsuit after lawsuit.”

Councilman Preston Dodson agreed, saying such a move could have “huge constitutionality issues.”

Yes, it’s lawsuit after lawsuit, which you will lose, all the while spending millions of dollars that could have been spent on more productive pursuits. That’s been a badge of honor in Farmers Branch, or at least it will be until they have to declare bankruptcy. I’m glad to see that Tomball has more sense than that. Jake Silverstein and Marc Campos have more.