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Wayne Christian

Precinct analysis: Dallas County statewides

Last time we looked at the Presidential numbers in Dallas County legislative districts (plus CD32). Today we follow up with a look at the statewide races. I’m going to throw a lot of numbers at you, so please bear with me. First up is the Railroad Commissioner race.


Dist  Christian     Yarb  Miller  Salinas
=========================================
CD32    127,172  101,375  18,842    7,581
                        
HD100     8,888   29,754   2,224    1,870
HD102    26,577   24,667   4,356    1,754
HD103     9,440   24,092   2,323    2,243
HD104     6,795   21,811   1,415    2,490
HD105    21,041   21,678   2,461    2,002
HD107    24,459   24,691   3,268    2,185
HD108    40,389   28,190   7,223    2,151
HD109    10,701   50,748   1,679    1,563
HD110     3,889   28,975     880    1,441
HD111    11,869   42,162   1,717    1,816
HD112    26,793   22,698   3,217    1,838
HD113    26,209   24,396   2,578    1,841
HD114    32,625   27,279   5,409    1,757
HD115    27,967   25,420   3,680    2,024
                        
HD100    20.80%   69.62%   5.20%    4.38%
HD102    46.34%   43.01%   7.59%    3.06%
HD103    24.78%   63.24%   6.10%    5.89%
HD104    20.90%   67.09%   4.35%    7.66%
HD105    44.60%   45.95%   5.22%    4.24%
HD107    44.79%   45.22%   5.99%    4.00%
HD108    51.81%   36.16%   9.27%    2.76%
HD109    16.54%   78.45%   2.60%    2.42%
HD110    11.05%   82.35%   2.50%    4.10%
HD111    20.62%   73.24%   2.98%    3.15%
HD112    49.12%   41.61%   5.90%    3.37%
HD113    47.63%   44.34%   4.69%    3.35%
HD114    48.64%   40.67%   8.06%    2.62%
HD115    47.33%   43.02%   6.23%    3.43%

Three things to note here, all of which we’ll talk about some more as we go on. First, while Hillary Clinton carried all of the State Rep districts, Grady Yarbrough only led in eight of the fourteen. Yarbrough is a perennial candidate who doesn’t campaign and his numbers reflect that, but as you will see even many strong candidates didn’t carry any more districts than he did. Note also that while Wayne Christian led in the other six districts, he only achieved a majority in HD108. Other Republicans did do better than that, but this is another illustration of the dilemma I mentioned before for Republicans in Dallas County, which is that they have no votes to spare.

Second, note that while Democrat Victoria Neave knocked off Republican incumbent Kenneth Sheets in HD107 while Republican Rodney Anderson held on in HD105, Grady Yarbrough did slightly better in HD105 than he did in HD107. This too will generally be the case with other candidates, yet it was the (mildly) redder district that flipped. My conclusion is that Rodney Anderson was a better candidate than Kenneth Sheets, Victoria Neave was a better candidate than Terry Meza, or some combination of the two. It would be nice to have a fuller understanding of this going into 2018.

Finally, note the relatively large share of the third party vote in this race. As much as 12% of the total went to the Libertarian or Green candidate in some districts. Part of this is the extreme disaffection for the two major party candidates – Yarbrough is this generation’s Gene Kelly, while Wayne Christian is Sid Miller with better Facebook etiquette. Libertarian candidate Mark Miller received numerous newspaper endorsements, which no doubt helped boost him. The level of third party votes varies quite a bit from race to race, and we’ll talk a bit more about that as we go.

Here are the Supreme Court races:


Dist   Lehrmann  Westgrn   Glass    Munoz
=========================================
CD32    136,227  102,030  11,608    5,515
                        
HD100     9,622   29,867   1,738    1,555
HD102    28,692   24,769   2,722    1,256
HD103    10,115   24,388   1,739    1,933
HD104     7,139   21,763   1,137    2,476
HD105    21,837   21,577   2,057    1,736
HD107    25,827   24,628   2,362    1,830
HD108    43,691   29,108   3,997    1,455
HD109    11,323   50,358   1,645    1,335
HD110     4,116   28,791     839    1,435
HD111    12,539   41,839   1,530    1,622
HD112    28,047   22,614   2,491    1,392
HD113    27,111   24,122   2,219    1,596
HD114    35,843   27,324   2,817    1,196
HD115    29,448   25,472   2,719    1,503
                        
HD100    22.49%   69.81%   4.06%    3.63%
HD102    49.95%   43.12%   4.74%    2.19%
HD103    26.50%   63.88%   4.56%    5.06%
HD104    21.96%   66.93%   3.50%    7.61%
HD105    46.26%   45.71%   4.36%    3.68%
HD107    47.26%   45.07%   4.32%    3.35%
HD108    55.83%   37.20%   5.11%    1.86%
HD109    17.51%   77.88%   2.54%    2.06%
HD110    11.70%   81.84%   2.38%    4.08%
HD111    21.80%   72.73%   2.66%    2.82%
HD112    51.42%   41.46%   4.57%    2.55%
HD113    49.25%   43.82%   4.03%    2.90%
HD114    53.35%   40.67%   4.19%    1.78%
HD115    49.79%   43.07%   4.60%    2.54%

Dist      Green    Garza  Oxford   Watbry
=========================================
CD32    130,386  111,872   9,681    3,195
                        
HD100     9,098   31,667   1,346      603
HD102    27,292   26,989   2,276      779
HD103     9,617   26,609   1,344      562
HD104     6,939   24,174     910      475
HD105    21,416   23,553   1,617      578
HD107    25,163   26,846   1,875      719
HD108    41,235   32,649   3,355      917
HD109    10,993   51,813   1,206      602
HD110     3,976   30,197     622      377
HD111    12,188   43,599   1,118      562
HD112    27,383   24,343   2,060      735
HD113    26,743   25,820   1,772      658
HD114    33,687   30,279   2,377      773
HD115    28,258   27,857   2,217      709
                        
HD100    21.30%   74.14%   3.15%    1.41%
HD102    47.60%   47.07%   3.97%    1.36%
HD103    25.22%   69.78%   3.52%    1.47%
HD104    21.35%   74.39%   2.80%    1.46%
HD105    45.41%   49.94%   3.43%    1.23%
HD107    46.08%   49.17%   3.43%    1.32%
HD108    52.76%   41.77%   4.29%    1.17%
HD109    17.01%   80.19%   1.87%    0.93%
HD110    11.30%   85.86%   1.77%    1.07%
HD111    21.21%   75.87%   1.95%    0.98%
HD112    50.22%   44.65%   3.78%    1.35%
HD113    48.63%   46.95%   3.22%    1.20%
HD114    50.19%   45.11%   3.54%    1.15%
HD115    47.86%   47.18%   3.76%    1.20%

Dist     Guzman  Johnson  Fulton Chisholm
=========================================
CD32    137,660  104,318   9,866    3,111
                        
HD100    10,332   30,480   1,356      537
HD102    28,955   25,318   2,291      737
HD103    11,311   24,926   1,386      503
HD104     8,833   22,313     870      478
HD105    22,576   22,271   1,666      635
HD107    26,507   25,365   1,953      753
HD108    44,174   29,648   3,422      839
HD109    11,758   51,244   1,120      513
HD110     4,882   29,384     607      302
HD111    13,190   42,695   1,082      533
HD112    28,371   23,238   2,118      765
HD113    27,635   24,827   1,837      685
HD114    36,095   27,820   2,399      716
HD115    29,790   26,192   2,302      731
                        
HD100    24.19%   71.37%   3.18%    1.26%
HD102    50.53%   44.18%   4.00%    1.29%
HD103    29.67%   65.38%   3.64%    1.32%
HD104    27.18%   68.67%   2.68%    1.47%
HD105    47.88%   47.24%   3.53%    1.35%
HD107    48.57%   46.47%   3.58%    1.38%
HD108    56.57%   37.97%   4.38%    1.07%
HD109    18.19%   79.28%   1.73%    0.79%
HD110    13.88%   83.54%   1.73%    0.86%
HD111    22.94%   74.25%   1.88%    0.93%
HD112    52.06%   42.64%   3.89%    1.40%
HD113    50.26%   45.15%   3.34%    1.25%
HD114    53.85%   41.50%   3.58%    1.07%
HD115    50.48%   44.38%   3.90%    1.24%

Lehrmann and Guzman were the two top performers for the GOP, while Garza was the high scorer for the Dems. All three Republicans far outperformed Wayne Christian, with the difference being especially visible in the lower totals for the Libertarian candidates. Lehrmann and Guzman carried eight of the 14 State Rep districts, while Green managed to take only six against Garza, with HDs 102 and 115 coming within a point of being blue. In all three cases, HD105 was more Democratic than HD107.

What really stands out for me is the disparity in Green candidate totals. Add in the RRC race, and it it is quite apparent that the two best performing Green candidates were Latino/a. Each of the other races featured a major party Latina candidate, which likely exaggerated the effect further. I discussed this at a macro level before, so none of this should be too surprising. It’s just really fascinating to see it at a more granular level. The lesson I would draw from this for Democrats is that Latino voter engagement is more complex and multifaceted than we might think.

Last but not least, the CCA races:


Dist       Keel   Meyers      Ash  Reposa
=========================================
CD32    135,994  104,110   10,500   3,510
                        
HD100     9,656   30,633    1,571     733
HD102    28,668   25,212    2,434     839
HD103    10,290   25,247    1,644     808
HD104     7,418   22,993    1,149     844
HD105    21,920   22,480    1,841     787
HD107    25,897   25,482    2,241     831
HD108    43,510   29,495    3,644   1,039
HD109    11,235   51,414    1,297     624
HD110     4,138   29,786      757     465
HD111    12,539   42,891    1,279     711
HD112    28,187   23,120    2,240     844
HD113    27,147   24,944    1,994     806
HD114    35,595   27,826    2,537     771
HD115    29,577   26,015    2,399     875
                        
HD100    22.67%   71.92%    3.69%   1.72%
HD102    50.16%   44.11%    4.26%   1.47%
HD103    27.09%   66.46%    4.33%   2.13%
HD104    22.89%   70.96%    3.55%   2.60%
HD105    46.61%   47.80%    3.91%   1.67%
HD107    47.56%   46.80%    4.12%   1.53%
HD108    56.01%   37.97%    4.69%   1.34%
HD109    17.40%   79.63%    2.01%   0.97%
HD110    11.77%   84.75%    2.15%   1.32%
HD111    21.84%   74.70%    2.23%   1.24%
HD112    51.82%   42.51%    4.12%   1.55%
HD113    49.46%   45.44%    3.63%   1.47%
HD114    53.34%   41.70%    3.80%   1.16%
HD115    50.24%   44.19%    4.08%   1.49%

Dist     Walker  Johnson Strange S-Castro
=========================================
CD32    133,937  106,627   8,271    5,357
                        
HD100     9,277   30,966   1,183    1,214
HD102    28,067   25,890   1,955    1,223
HD103     9,909   25,425   1,171    1,486
HD104     7,067   22,888     805    1,708
HD105    21,553   22,789   1,379    1,348
HD107    25,519   25,883   1,615    1,470
HD108    42,970   30,333   2,947    1,471
HD109    10,910   51,776     931    1,013
HD110     3,931   29,745     558      939
HD111    12,141   43,230     907    1,224
HD112    27,643   23,689   1,744    1,320
HD113    26,878   25,260   1,469    1,343
HD114    35,066   28,487   1,968    1,199
HD115    28,851   26,763   1,847    1,373
                        
HD100    21.76%   72.62%   2.77%    2.85%
HD102    49.12%   45.31%   3.42%    2.14%
HD103    26.08%   66.92%   3.08%    3.91%
HD104    21.77%   70.49%   2.48%    5.26%
HD105    45.79%   48.42%   2.93%    2.86%
HD107    46.84%   47.50%   2.96%    2.70%
HD108    55.29%   39.03%   3.79%    1.89%
HD109    16.88%   80.11%   1.44%    1.57%
HD110    11.18%   84.57%   1.59%    2.67%
HD111    21.11%   75.18%   1.58%    2.13%
HD112    50.82%   43.55%   3.21%    2.43%
HD113    48.91%   45.97%   2.67%    2.44%
HD114    52.56%   42.70%   2.95%    1.80%
HD115    49.04%   45.49%   3.14%    2.33%

Dist    Keasler    Burns Bennett
================================
CD32    134,429  107,470  11,490
                  
HD100     9,518   31,274   1,710
HD102    28,210   26,096   2,677
HD103    10,127   26,011   1,752
HD104     7,392   23,511   1,392
HD105    21,842   23,012   2,081
HD107    25,630   26,129   2,509
HD108    42,923   30,705   3,834
HD109    11,114   51,813   1,564
HD110     4,079   30,030     975
HD111    12,540   43,238   1,523
HD112    27,901   23,798   2,531
HD113    26,940   25,409   2,401
HD114    35,129   28,774   2,620
HD115    28,999   26,874   2,791
                  
HD100    22.39%   73.58%   4.02%
HD102    49.51%   45.80%   4.70%
HD103    26.73%   68.65%   4.62%
HD104    22.89%   72.80%   4.31%
HD105    46.54%   49.03%   4.43%
HD107    47.23%   48.15%   4.62%
HD108    55.41%   39.64%   4.95%
HD109    17.23%   80.34%   2.43%
HD110    11.63%   85.59%   2.78%
HD111    21.88%   75.46%   2.66%
HD112    51.45%   43.88%   4.67%
HD113    49.21%   46.41%   4.39%
HD114    52.81%   43.25%   3.94%
HD115    49.43%   45.81%   4.76%

The main point of interest here is the third race, which featured a Libertarian but not a Green. Mark Bennett did better than one of the other Libs and about the same as the other, while Robert Burns did a little better than his fellow Ds; he probably absorbed a few of the votes than might have gone Green otherwise, but not too many. I don’t think there are any firm conclusions to be drawn here. And note again, HD105 was more Democratic than HD107.

So that’s what we have so far. I’ll have one more post, with county races, next. Let me know what you think.

Precinct analysis: The RRC and the Libertarian moment

Back to precinct analysis, and the race that I featured in my post from yesterday, the Railroad Commissioner race. Here are the numbers:


Dist  Christian  Yarbrough  Miller  Salinas
===========================================
CD02    152,751     97,235  18,346    6,835
CD07    130,384     96,652  20,510    6,537
CD09     24,638     99,920   4,712    4,090
CD10     77,311     32,577   5,878    2,337
CD18     43,820    142,609   9,862    6,382
CD29     33,443     85,330   4,257    7,592
				
SBOE6   319,691    228,147  44,294   15,691
				
HD126    33,674     22,848   3,185    1,459
HD127    46,101     22,131   3,739    1,499
HD128    39,827     15,472   2,187    1,374
HD129    39,382     22,904   4,625    1,965
HD130    56,188     18,871   4,140    1,483
HD131     6,367     36,890   1,305    1,461
HD132    35,680     27,715   3,292    1,823
HD133    45,030     22,170   6,822    1,533
HD134    42,007     33,962  10,841    2,219
HD135    30,447     24,537   3,064    1,606
HD137     8,239     16,035   1,500    1,012
HD138    25,823     20,468   3,066    1,530
HD139    11,398     37,155   1,986    1,531
HD140     5,966     19,100     723    1,554
HD141     4,720     31,697     739      938
HD142     9,770     32,566   1,201    1,244
HD143     8,346     21,557     872    1,895
HD144    10,257     14,596     872    1,313
HD145    10,263     19,993   1,814    2,227
HD146     9,111     35,284   2,502    1,397
HD147    11,201     40,452   3,795    2,287
HD148    16,582     24,304   4,471    2,249
HD149    14,760     25,088   1,879    1,236
HD150    46,285     24,053   3,891    1,615
				
CC1      67,803    220,765  16,172    9,891
CC2     119,023    110,723  11,292   10,243
CC3     181,634    138,514  23,279    8,882
CC4     198,962    139,834  21,768    9,432


Dist Christian%      Yarb% Miller% Salinas%
===========================================
CD02     55.51%     35.34%   6.67%    2.48%
CD07     51.32%     38.04%   8.07%    2.57%
CD09     18.47%     74.93%   3.53%    3.07%
CD10     65.46%     27.58%   4.98%    1.98%
CD18     21.62%     70.36%   4.87%    3.15%
CD29     25.60%     65.33%   3.26%    5.81%
				
SBOE6    52.60%     37.54%   7.29%    2.58%
				
HD126    55.05%     37.35%   5.21%    2.39%
HD127    62.75%     30.12%   5.09%    2.04%
HD128    67.66%     26.29%   3.72%    2.33%
HD129    57.18%     33.25%   6.71%    2.85%
HD130    69.64%     23.39%   5.13%    1.84%
HD131    13.83%     80.16%   2.84%    3.17%
HD132    52.08%     40.45%   4.81%    2.66%
HD133    59.60%     29.34%   9.03%    2.03%
HD134    47.18%     38.15%  12.18%    2.49%
HD135    51.04%     41.13%   5.14%    2.69%
HD137    30.76%     59.86%   5.60%    3.78%
HD138    50.75%     40.22%   6.03%    3.01%
HD139    21.89%     71.36%   3.81%    2.94%
HD140    21.82%     69.85%   2.64%    5.68%
HD141    12.39%     83.21%   1.94%    2.46%
HD142    21.82%     72.72%   2.68%    2.78%
HD143    25.55%     65.98%   2.67%    5.80%
HD144    37.94%     53.98%   3.23%    4.86%
HD145    29.92%     58.29%   5.29%    6.49%
HD146    18.87%     73.06%   5.18%    2.89%
HD147    19.40%     70.06%   6.57%    3.96%
HD148    34.83%     51.05%   9.39%    4.72%
HD149    34.36%     58.39%   4.37%    2.88%
HD150    61.03%     31.71%   5.13%    2.13%
				
CC1      21.55%     70.17%   5.14%    3.14%
CC2      47.37%     44.06%   4.49%    4.08%
CC3      51.56%     39.32%   6.61%    2.52%
CC4      53.77%     37.79%   5.88%    2.55%

One thing I didn’t discuss in my previous post was whether Libertarian votes tend to come from people who otherwise vote Republican and Green votes tend to come from people who otherwise vote Democratic. There’s some support for that in the numbers above, as Libertarian candidate Mark Miller did better than Green candidate Martina Salinas in all of the Republican districts, but that wasn’t true in reverse, as he also beat her total in several Democratic districts. The clearest correlation appears to be that Salinas did best in the heavily Latino districts, which is a bit of corroborating evidence for my overall theory. Beyond that, I don’t see anything to contradict that hypothesis, but I don’t see anything to settle the matter.

What can one say about Miller’s top performances, in HDs 134, 133, and 148? Well, HD148 is where the Heights dry area is, and Gary Johnson ran well in that neighborhood, so it’s not too surprising that Mark Miller might have also. It may well be that these are the parts of town that have a higher concentration of people who read the Chronicle and takes its endorsements seriously. “Why” is a hard question to answer with just numbers, but if I had to guess those would be my top two reasons.

Coming up will be a look at judicial races, and after that the county races. As always, let me know what you think of these.

A theory about third parties

Before I get to that theory, have you ever wondered about the people who vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green in Harris County? I got to wondering about them, because that’s the sort of thing that I think about at times like this. Here are the total numbers of such people, grouped by Presidential and non-Presidential years, going back to 2000:


Year  Total votes  SP Lib  SP Green   Lib%  Green%
==================================================
2000      995,631   1,935     4,503  0.19%   0.45%
2004    1,088,793   3,343            0.31%
2008    1,188,731   4,017            0.34%
2012    1,204,167   4,777     1,759  0.40%   0.15%
2016    1,336,985   8,781     4,577  0.66%   0.34%

2002      656,682   1,159     1,399  0.18%   0.21%
2006      601,186   3,052            0.51%
2010      798,995   2,506     1,110  0.31%   0.14%
2014      688,018   2,922     1,180  0.42%   0.17%

“SP Lib” is the total number of straight party Libertarian votes, and “SP Green” is the same for the Greens. “Lib%” and “Green%” are the share of these straight party votes to all votes cast in the county. If you look at the election result pages on the HarrisVotes.com website, you will see that my percentages are lower than the ones shown there. That’s because they calculate the percentage of these votes as a share of all straight-party votes cast, not a share of all votes. I did it this way to see what if any trend there was for Libertarian and Green voting overall. For comparison purposes, 30.01% of all votes in Harris county this year were straight ticket Republican, with 35.35% of all votes being straight-ticket Democratic.

As you can see, in the Presidential years the Libertarians had been slowly ticking upwards, with a bit of a jump this year, though the trend is more erratic in the off years. The spike in 2006 is odd, because the Libertarian candidate for Governor received only 0.61% of the vote that year. If you wanted to vote outside the two-party box for Governor in 2006, you had plenty of choices. The Greens weren’t officially on the ballot in 2004, 2006, or 2008, so there’s less of a trend to spot. I’d say they do better in or right after a year where they have a Presidential candidate who gets some attention. Whether any of this will hold next year is not something I’m going to speculate about at this time. My mantra for the next twelve to eighteen months is “conditions in 2018 will be different than they were in 2014 and 2010”, and leave it at that.

That brings me to my theory, which applies to low profile races – not President, not Senate, not Governor, sometimes not other races. I’m limiting myself to statewide contests here, since that’s where you get most of the third party candidates that an individual voter sees. In my case, there was a Green candidate for CD18, a Libertarian for SBOE, and nothing else below the state level. I believe that in these races, which this year would be the Railroad Commission and the two state courts, voters for third party candidates can be broadly sorted into one of three groups. The first group is the party faithful, which as we have just seen is a relatively small cohort. There are probably a few more people who vote L or G as a first choice but don’t vote straight ticket, but that’s still a small group even in the context of just third party voters. Most of the people voting third party in these races aren’t voting third party as a matter of course.

So who are they? Group Two I believe is people who normally vote for Rs or Ds but who refuse to vote for their candidate in this particular instance. That may be because the candidate of their party is too/not sufficiently liberal/conservative for them, because that candidate supports or opposes a specific thing that is of great importance to them, because the candidate has ethical baggage, or because they just don’t like that candidate for some reason. In these cases, they don’t want to vote for the candidate of the other party, so a third party it is. Gary Johnson obviously got a lot of these votes in the Presidential race, but the downballot exemplar for this one was the Railroad Commissioner race, where Libertarian Mark Miller got a bunch of newspaper endorsements for being the most qualified candidate running.

The thing is, I don’t think there are that many races like that. I think in a lot of these races, people just don’t know anything about any of the candidates. So if you’re someone who (say) generally votes Democratic but aren’t that committed to it and you’re looking at a race for the Court of Criminal Appeals, you may say to yourself “well, I know I don’t want to vote for the Republican, but I don’t know who any of these other people are, so I’ll just pick one and move on”. These people are my Group Three.

What that says to me first of all is that both Republicans and Democrats are leaving some votes on the table in these downballot races by not doing a better job of getting their candidates’ names out there. That’s not much of a concern for the Republicans, who continue to win by double-digit margins, but it could eventually matter. I see this as an extension of a problem that Democrats are increasingly having in their primaries, where candidates like RRC nominee Grady Yarbrough have won races by a combination of pseudo-name recognition and random chance because no one knows who the hell these people are. I have many wishes for Texas Democrats going forward, and high on my list is for the party and the donor class to take these downballot primaries seriously.

One possible exception to this may be for Latino candidates. Look at the top votegetters for each party: Supreme Court candidates Eva Guzman and Dori Contreras Garza. My hypothesis is that Latino voters in a Group Three situation will choose a Latino candidate, even possibly one from their non-preferred party, instead of just randomly picking someone. Again, this is in races where none of the candidates are known to the voters, and thus there could be a different outcome if people had more knowledge. If we ever get to that point, maybe we’ll see that difference.

Finally, I believe my theory is consistent with the Libertarian candidate almost always doing better than the Green candidate does in these situations, for the simple reason that the Libertarian candidate appears on the ballot above the Green candidate. If it’s true that some people just pick a name after having moved past the first two candidates, then it makes sense that the first candidate listed after those two would get a larger share.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, and I doubt anyone other than me had given this much thought. I’ll get back to the precinct analyses tomorrow. Let me know what you think about this.

Endorsement watch: A Libertarian moment

The Chron thinks outside the box in endorsing for the Railroad Commission.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Our editorial board interviews scores of candidates for political office every election year, but seldom do we find ourselves wholeheartedly endorsing a nominee from the Libertarian Party. Then again, seldom have we met a Libertarian candidate like Mark Miller.

Ask this man anything at all about the Railroad Commission of Texas and he’ll give you a straight, smart answer informed not only by decades of working in the industry and teaching petrochemical engineering at the University of Texas, but also by a mastery of the issues facing the energy business and the state body that regulates it. He’s an affable retired oil and gas man with a doctorate from Stanford University who’s so interested in this agency he literally wrote a book on the railroad commission.

With impressive clarity and authority, Miller offers well-informed opinions on a litany of arcane issues involving the energy industry: why the Texas Legislature needs to resolve the conflict between the owners of surface rights and mineral rights, why the state should dramatically reduce the number of permits for flaring natural gas, why Texas needs to figure out how to plug oil wells left unplugged by companies that go bankrupt. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

By comparison, none of the other candidates for this office have actually worked in the industry they propose to help oversee. Wayne Christian, the Republican nominee, earned a troublesome reputation as a combative bomb-thrower in the state Legislature; he helped craft a shamefully self-serving amendment exempting his own Bolivar Peninsula home from the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Texas Monthly twice rated him one of the state’s worst lawmakers. Grady Yarbrough, the Democratic nominee, is a retired school teacher whose background seems better suited to an education post. Martina Salinas, the Green Party nominee, is an earnest construction inspector from the Fort Worth area who, again, never worked in the energy business.

I don’t have any particular quarrel with the recommendation. Experience is a somewhat overrated qualification for the RRC, given that its Commissioners (those with industry experience and those without it) tend to be rubber stamps for the industry they purportedly regulate anyway. Certainly, Wayne Christian will do whatever his overlords tell him to do, so in that sense it doesn’t matter whether or not he understands anything about what he’s doing. Maybe Grady Yarbrough will take advice from other sources, who knows. At least he’ll have to be more visible if he somehow gets elected.

Endorsement aside – it would not shock me if Miller collects more than one such recommendation, given the other choices – the more interesting question is whether Miller can break the five percent barrier in this race. Libertarians and Greens have relied in recent years on statewide races in which there was no Democrat running to place a candidate who can top that mark and thus guarantee ballot access for all statewide races for their team. This year, those tricky Democrats actually ran candidates for all statewide offices, meaning the Ls and the Gs are going to have to do this the hard way if they want to be on the statewide ballot in 2020. (The hard way involves collecting a sufficient number of petition signatures, possibly with a little help from friends of convenience.) The question I want to answer is: Have any Libertarian or Green Party statewide candidates cracked the five percent mark in a statewide race that featured both an R and a D in recent years?

We go to the Secretary of State election returns for that. Here are the high statewide scorers for the Ls and the Gs in such races in Presidential years:


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2012      L Stott       Lib        CCA  3.26%
2012    C Kennedy       Grn        RRC  1.99%

2008      D Floyd       Lib        RRC  3.52%

2004     A Garcia       Lib        RRC  3.60%

2000     M Ruwart       Lib     Senate  1.16%
2000      R Nader       Grn  President  2.15%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2004 or 2008.) Doesn’t look too promising. How about in the non-Presidential years?


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2014    M Bennett       Lib        CCA  3.61%
2014    M Salinas       Grn        RRC  2.03%

2010  J Armstrong       Lib     Sup Ct  4.04%
2010   A Browning       Grn        RRC  1.49%

2006      J Baker       Lib     Lt Gov  4.36%

2002  B Hernandez       Lib  Land Comm  4.12%
2002  O Jefferson       Grn        CCA  1.74%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2006.) Not much better. Note that total turnout is a factor – Jack Armstrong (195K) received more votes than Judy Baker (188K) or Barbara Hernandez (180K), but he was running in a much higher turnout environment, so his percentage was lower. By the way, Mark Miller and Martina Salinas were both candidates for the RRC in 2014 as well; Miller received 3.15% of the vote, against R and D candidates who were much better qualified than the ones running this year. Make of that what you will. To get back to my original question, I’d say both Ls and Gs will be relying on their Presidential candidate for their best chance to crack the five percent mark. I’d give Gary Johnson a decent shot at it, but Jill Stein? I figure if Ralph Nader couldn’t get halfway there in 2000, Stein is unlikely to be the one. There’s always the petitions.

Republican primary runoff results

vote-button

Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.

Runoff watch: Railroad Commissioner

So yeah, the Railroad Commissioner runoff is a bit of a mess, on both sides. I’m going to let the Trib summarize the problem.

In his campaign for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, former state Rep. Wayne Christian says his 14-year legislative career made him an expert on energy issues. And the Republican laments that many people misunderstand the curiously named agency he wants to lead, which hasn’t dealt with locomotives for more than a decade.

“A lot of people don’t know what the Railroad Commission does – even folks in the Legislature,” he said in a recent interview.

But even Christian, who formerly served on the House energy committee and previously ran for the Railroad Commission in 2014, didn’t know one of the agency’s key duties — regulating natural gas utilities — until a reporter told him.

[…]

On the campaign trail, Christian has knocked his rival in a May 24 Republican primary runoff, real estate magnate Gary Gates, for his lack of policy experience. Gates has never held public office and failed in four earlier bids for the Texas Legislature.

“My current intention is just run on the fact that he has absolutely zero experience in the legislature. Zero experience in any type of legislative process, or government,” Christian said.

But when the Tribune asked about his philosophy on setting gas rates — a question it posed to all four remaining Republicans and Democrats — Christian initially suggested that those duties fell to the Public Utility Commission, which regulates electric, telecommunication, water and sewer utilities.

“I didn’t realize that they were actually doing the rates inside the utility,” he said after the Tribune told him it was the Railroad Commission’s job. “But I’ve been there, done that.”

Gates, asked the same question in a separate interview, appeared aware of the commission’s duties to regulate natural gas utilities.

“I think I am very well equipped to understand the reasons — if a utility wants a fee increase” to build new pipes or fix aging ones, he said. “Through all of that, there has to be a rate of return” for the company.

[…]

Democrats also have a runoff between the top two vote-getters from the March 1 primary: Grady Yarbrough, a retired school teacher who has lived in San Antonio and East Texas, and Cody Garrett, a former journalist and campaign director from the Austin area. Neither has held public office or has experience in the energy sector. A Democrat hasn’t sat on the commission in more than two decades.

Yarbrough did not appear to understand the commission’s ratemaking duties.

“I’m in tune with market forces, whatever the market prices are. I’m not for the idea of putting a floor in there,” he said, apparently talking about gas production rather than utilities. He then began to discuss controversial legislation from 2015 that curbed local control over oil and gas extraction.

When asked again about utility ratemaking with more detail, he said: “If there needs to be some revision, I would be for it.”

Garrett was aware that the commission set natural gas rates. “I am on the record in calling for a moratorium on raising natural gas rates,” he said, arguing that the current commissioners were too quick to approve hikes. But asked if he would allow utilities to raise rates in some circumstances — to fix equipment, for instance — he said yes, if the project was worthy.

Garrett is the obvious choice on the Democratic side. I really have no idea what motivates people like Gene Kelly and Grady Yarbrough and Jim Hogan to run for offices for which they are manifestly unqualified and for which they have no interest in actually campaigning. Surely there’s some better use of the filing fee for them. It is my fond hope that some day, an enterprising graduate student in political science will try to answer this question. And if I were for some reason voting in the Republican runoff, I’d likely go for Gary Gates, who despite being a lousy candidate for the Legislature on multiple occasions still appears to be the superior choice. And not for nothing, but Wayne Christian was a lousy legislator.

David Porter not running for re-election to RRC

Another open seat.

David Porter

Texas Railroad Commission Chairman David Porter will not be running for re-election after all.

Thursday’s surprise announcement from Porter, who was first elected in 2010, unleashed a flood of interest from Republicans pondering bids for his seat.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, and former state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, all confirmed they are weighing their options. And rumors were swirling around Austin that others might jump in.

[…]

Porter, who formerly ran a Midland accounting firm that catered to oil and gas companies, was elected to the three-member commission in 2010. And he took over as chairman in June.

At the agency (which also regulates mining, pipeline safety and natural gas utilities, but not railroads), Porter launched the Eagle Ford Shale Task Force, a collection of public officials, industry leaders, landowners and environmentalists who discussed issues surrounding oil and gas development in Texas’ drilling country. He also pushed Texas to find new uses for natural gas — particularly as a fuel for automobiles.

Last year, as Denton was preparing to vote on a hydraulic fracturing ban that the Legislature has since outlawed, Porter drew mocking from activists after he and another commissioner claimed — without evidence — that Russians were trying to shape the anti-fracking message in the North Texas town.

In recent weeks, Porter appeared to be gearing up for a major primary battle, sending out press releases blasting “radical environmentalist ideology” related to climate change and speaking of terror threats to power plants and pipelines posed by The Islamic State, or ISIS.

Porter is kind of an accidental Commissioner – he came out of nowhere to knock off then-Commissioner Victor Carrillo in the 2010 GOP primary, which no one saw coming. No great loss when he leaves, though as always the next person in line could be worse. Patterson or Keffer would be okay, the rest probably not. I figure this nomination will be decided in the runoff. It would of course be much better to have a good Democrat in the race, and as of Sunday, we have one:

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat, said Sunday that he has filed to run for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas development.

“I think it’s really important that we have a progressive voice in this Railroad Commission race, and I think it’s very important we end one party rule in this state,” Burnam said.

Burnam represented House District 90 beginning in 1997; he ran for reelection in 2014 but was defeated in the Democratic primary by the current occupant of the seat, state Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth.

Burnam would certainly be a fresh voice on the RRC, which isn’t used to having non-industry shills. He’s clearly a longshot to win, but given how crazy things are in the GOP Presidential primary, who knows what could happen. This is the only non-judicial statewide office on the ballot, and according to the Star-Telegram, Burnam will face 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. We know what kind of random results we can get in these low-profile races, so I hope Burnam can raise a few bucks and get his name out. FuelFix has more.

Who’s afraid of the Republican slate?

I was reading this story about a kerfuffle in the Republican runoff for Railroad Commissioner when a thought struck me.

A Republican candidate seeking a post that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry said he won’t cut ties to his energy business if elected to the Texas Railroad Commission – a state board that historically has had a poor track record disentangling itself from industry interests.

Ryan Sitton is co-founder and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS, which advises companies about maintenance of equipment used in oil and gas operations.

Sitton said he will maintain an ownership stake in Pinnacle­AIS if he becomes a commission board member – a declaration that raised questions by his GOP and Democratic opponent, ethics experts and tea party Republicans.

“That is a conflict of interest and it is very frightful,” said Wayne Christian, a former state representative also seeking the post.

I’m not terribly interested in the particulars of this fight because the overly cozy relationship between the energy industry and the elected officials that regulate them is a very old story, and typically neither candidate has clean hands. What occurred to me in reading this story is how undistinguished the two candidates are, and how that seems to be the case up and down the statewide ballot for the GOP this year. Consider this: Among the leading candidates in the primaries, including the two that won outright, Wayne Christian and Sid Miller are clowns, George P. Bush is a legacy whose advisers prefer to keep under wraps, Glenn Hegar and Ken Paxton are a couple of basically undistinguished legislators, and Dan Patrick is Dan Patrick. Murderer’s Row these guys ain’t. The fact that they’ve all spent the bulk of their campaigns talking about nothing – they all hate abortion, the Obama administration, illegal immigrants, and Sharia law, and they all love guns – adds to the overall picture of ridiculousness.

The Republicans did have some substantial candidates on their ballot. Malachi Boylus and J. Allen Carnes never had a chance to get out of their primaries. Jerry Patterson and Dan Branch, who is still alive but a big underdog, had to degrade themselves in their races in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to separate themselves from their mostly solid records of public service. Those past accomplishments, and their at least occasional willingness to talk about issues and – heaven forfend – what the office they’re running for actually does were anchors for them, not assets. I get that they’re running in a primary, and they have to address what the voters in that primary want to hear. Democratic primaries are often contests of personality as well, and the winner is often who loves what the base voters love the hardest, but the spectacle of these campaigns has been on another level.

And then there’s the top of the ticket. For all his status as the heir apparent to Rick Perry, Greg Abbott hasn’t exactly been setting the terms of the debate in the Governor’s race. I would argue that Wendy Davis has driven the story of this election from the beginning. That’s not always been good for her – indeed, for about two months running it was mostly bad news about her and her campaign – but good or bad, it’s been about her. Say what you want about Rick Perry, but all of his gubernatorial campaigns have been on his terms. Since February, Abbott’s tone-deafness and Davis’ attacks have been the main event. Oh, he tried to knock her back with his ethics proposal about bond lawyering that maybe ten people in the state understood, but it’s been a steady drumbeat Ted Nugent, Lilly Ledbetter, Charles Murray, and school finance. Neither Abbott’s own words nor those of his surrogates have done anything to help him or change the narrative, and there’s still more out there. At some point you have to wonder what else there is to him beyond a ginormous campaign warchest and a long history of being a Republican on statewide ballots.

Now in the end, of course, none of this may matter. We all know what Texas’ proclivities are, we know how historically weak the state Democratic Party has been and how far behind they are in building infrastructure and a GOTV machine. However you feel about the polls we’ve seen so far, none of them have shown a shift in the fundamentals. The next poll to give Wendy Davis 44% or more of the vote will be the first such poll since John Sharp roamed the earth. These guys may be clowns and empty suits, but they’re also the favorites to win. What I know is that I don’t fear them, at least not as opponents. If they beat us, it’s not because they can run faster or jump higher or lift heavier things. It’s because they have a head start. We may not be able to overcome that this time, but if this is what we’re up against, it’s all that we have to overcome. We will get there.

Primary results: Statewide

So Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott won easily.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

They never had to sweat their primaries, so on Tuesday night Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis turned their attention to a fall election that is shaping up to be one of the most hotly contested and closely watched Texas governor’s races in decades.

Davis, who was winning almost 80 percent of the vote in early returns, and Abbott, who was pulling in more than 90 percent at last count, both gave early victory speeches on a night when uncertainty and surprise shook up candidates in several other key state races.

Davis went first, focusing her remarks on job creation and education, saying Texas badly needed new leadership after years of uninterrupted Republican rule.

“I want you to know this: I am ready to fight for you and to fight for every hardworking Texan across this state,” Davis said at her campaign headquarters in Fort Worth. “Now is the time to fight for our future. This is not a time to stand still.”

But Davis’ remarks quickly turned into an attack on Abbott. She criticized him for defending in court steep cuts made by the Legislature to public education in 2011 in response to a lawsuit filed by a coalition of school districts that say the state’s education system is flawed and doesn’t appropriately fund schools.

“He’s defending those cuts,” Davis said. “Cuts that laid off teachers and forced our kids into overcrowded classrooms.”

She also mentioned the ongoing abortion debate in Texas — the issue that helped turn her into an overnight sensation last summer when she filibustered a restrictive abortion bill. Davis bashed Abbott for his stance on abortion, saying that he wants to “dictate for all women, including victims of rape and incest.” Abbott has said he believes abortion should be legal only when the mother’s life is in danger.

“I will be the governor who fights for the future of Texas,” Davis said, adding that “Greg Abbott is a defender of the status quo.”

There were a lot of uncounted ballots at the time I called it a night last night, but turnout on the Dem side will probably be around 600,000, or about what we had in 2012. A bit more than half the votes were cast early, which strongly suggests yesterday’s rotten weather had some effect. Republicans also had more than half their turnout come in early, so it affected both sides. This is why I always vote early, y’all.

John Cornyn easily won his primary, but with a not-terribly-impressive 58% or so of the vote. Barring any late surge, David Alameel will finish with about 47% and will face (sigh) Kesha Rogers in the runoff, as she finished second with about 22%. I expect he’ll win easily in a low turnout race, and I have to wonder if this is the reason he got those early endorsements from Wendy Davis, Leticia Van de Putte, and a whole passel of Dem officeholders. Maybe someone in the hive mind had the foresight to think that he had the best shot at solving the Kesha problem, hopefully in March but surely in May if it comes to it. Be that as it may, let me take this opportunity once again to spit on that crappy Trib primary poll. Use a dartboard next time, fellas.

Anyway. Alameel will be joined in the runoff by Kinky Friedman and Jim Hogan, who led the field for Ag Commissioner for no apparent reason. At least Steve Brown won the Railroad Commissioner nomination, so there was just one random result.

On the Republican side, Baby Bush collected 73% in the Land Commissioner race, so he joins Abbott in getting to start running for November. Glenn Hegar was within an eyelash of 50% at the time I closed up shop; if he falls back, Harvey Hilderbran will get another shot at him. All Supreme Court incumbents won, and all Court of Criminal Appeals races had clear winners. Otherwise, here are your runoff lineups:

Lite Guv – Dan Patrick versus David Dewhurst. Sure looks like The Dew is going down.

Attorney General – Ken Paxton versus Dan Branch. Back to the Railroad Commission for you, Barry Smitherman.

Ag Commissioner – Sid Miller versus Tommy Merritt. If things hold to form, Ted Nugent will have had quite the successful primary himself.

Railroad Commissioner – Wayne Christian versus Ryan Sitton. Yeah, I know, who?

That’s all I got. What are your thoughts about the primaries?

What radicals?

I was reading this Patricia Kilday Hart column about how nobody outside Texas paid attention to the sonogram bill until the Virginia brouhaha and the Doonesbury series, which is a good albeit frustrating read, when I came across this bit that was frustrating for an entirely different reason:

In the Texas Legislature, votes like Davis’ – outside party lines – are increasingly rare, according to research conducted by Dr. Mark Jones of Rice University’s Baker Institute.

Jones has data to prove what most of us know by gut instinct: The Texas Legislature has become a more polarized institution in recent decades.

In the past, lawmakers of both parties would overlap on the conservative-liberal spectrum. Now, both parties are dominated by their extremist wings. Moderate Republicans oppose ideologically charged issues like the sonogram bill “at their peril,” Jones says.

Oh, for Pete’s sake. Please, Professor Jones, tell me who these people are that have radicalized the Democratic Party. I mean, I don’t know who you talk to, but I know an awful lot of folks who will laugh in your face if you suggest the Democratic Party has moved appreciably to the left in recent years. Tell me also what positions the Democratic Party has taken that are noticeably more extreme than they used to be, and what legislation they have been pushing to further those radical ends.

These questions are easy to answer for the Republican Party. For who the radicals are, start with Dan Patrick, Debbie Riddle, Wayne Christian, and most of the people that got elected in the 2010 wave. Oh, and Rick Perry, David Dewhurst, Greg Abbott, and now Susan Combs, too. Just compare the David Dewhurst who is running for US Senate to the one who presided over the Texas Senate in 2003, as a for-instance. The GOP as a whole has gone from a position of generally opposing abortion to a full-fledged attack on birth control and family planning, and from a position of generally supporting lower taxes and fewer regulations to opposing any tax increase on anything for any purpose, pushing huge tax cuts for the wealthy, cutting public education, and seeking to end Medicare. There’s quite a bit of polling data to suggest that they are sprinting towards a cliff by embracing these more radicalized stances, but even Republicans with a mostly moderate history are doing so because it’s what their base is demanding and they fear their primaries more than they fear their Novembers.

My point is there’s just no comparison. The Democratic Party has moved left on some things, most notably marriage equality, but it’s been a gradual shift that’s in line with previously held views on civil rights, and more to the point it’s consistent with national polling. The Republicans have moved way, way more to the right, and it’s happened almost entirely in the last two years, despite a plethora of polling evidence that should warn them against it. The “both sides do it” trope is ludicrous on its face. Why is this so hard to recognize?

House passes budget

The main objective of the special session has now been accomplished. But not before one of the House’s biggest homophobes nearly derailed it on Thursday.

Lengthy debate on a key budget bill featured many retreads of contentious topics from the regular session — but it was Rep. Wayne Christian’s revival of his famous “pansexual” amendment around midnight that almost killed the whole thing.

Christian, R-Center, proposed banning state funding of college gender and sexuality centers through an amendment to the Senate Bill 1 fiscal matters bill that contained the school finance plan of $4 billion in cuts to districts statewide and several payment deferrals and tax accelerations adding up to about $3.5 billion in revenue, all essential to balancing the 2012-13 budget.

Democrats tried to persuade him to pull down the amendment in what was one of the most emotional debates of the regular or special sessions.

“You are violating the first amendment rights of these people,” Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said, adding, “If you pass this amendment tonight, you will be buying Texas a lawsuit.”

Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, reminded members that James Byrd, the man dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Jasper, Texas, died in Christian’s district. His amendment, she said, was “all about creating hate.”

As Christian described the “naked rear end” he said was shown during a university seminar on anal sex, Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, walked up, grabbed his microphone and said, “this is sickening.”

When their efforts proved unsuccessful, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, called a point of order, one he apparently had been holding in reserve throughout the day and night, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

After several minutes, during which rumors flew that the Democrats would torpedo the entire bill if the amendment wasn’t withdrawn, an apparently chastened Christian returned to the microphone. He said that he didn’t want to destroy a day’s work and would back down — and that he never intended to sound prejudiced or discriminatory.

“I pray for the day when we actually can discuss things and bring those walls of prejudice down,” he said. He complained that a defense of traditional values was labeled as bigotry by some.

Yes, poor Wayne is the one that’s being discriminated against here. How can anyone be free if he’s not free to hate gay people? We all should be more understanding of Rep. Christian’s alternate lifestyle choice. Postcards, Abby Rapoport, and Juanita have more on that.

All that happened on second reading. SB1 has now passed on third reading as well. Along the way, an attempt to remove the Howard-Farrar amendment, which would direct any surplus revenue from the Rainy Day fund to public education, was rebuffed. It’s not clear what happened with the Amazon sales tax amendment. From here, it’s back to conference committee to work out the remaining differences, but most of the hard work is now done.

House approves Medicaid changes

Hard to know what the effect of this will be.

Texas lawmakers passed major changes to Medicaid on Wednesday that would privatize the health program in South Texas and allow the formation of health care cooperatives.

The 142-page measure is part of a special legislative session. The Legislative Budget Board says it could save the state $467 million, almost two-thirds of that from Medic­aid savings. Medic­aid is a joint state and federal health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

“It’s a big bill and it tries to do a lot of things, it really is transformative,” said Rep. John Zerwas, R-Simonton, who authored the bill.

The bill passed 91-47, largely along party lines with Democrats opposing it. After a final procedural vote, the measure goes back to the Senate today for consideration of the small changes made by amendments.

There’s more in the Statesman, and the Trib notes what is likely to get the most attention.

Among the amendments that passed:

— Republican Rep. Lois Kolkhorst’s bills seeking a health care compact (a partnership with other states to take control of Medicaid and Medicare) and asking the Obama administration for a waiver to operate Medicaid as Texas sees fit (which the federal government is highly unlikely to ever grant). Both bills are also stand-alones that are being considered in the House and Senate.

— Republican Rep. Wayne Christian’s bill that would ban hospital districts from using local tax revenue to fund abortions, except in emergency situations — or else risk losing state funding.

— Republican Rep. Bryan Hughes’ proposal to limit the state family planning funds received by Planned Parenthood, and Rep. Bill Zedler’s measure to force physicians who provide abortions to collect more data on their patients.

It’s always a good time to give the women of the state another kick in the gut. As for the Medicaid waivers, recall that the Bush administration had previously said no to them. Good luck with that.

If all of the projections for savings pan out, that’ll be $467 million the state won’t need to spend. That’s not nothing, but it’s less than ten percent of the amount the Lege shortchanged Medicaid, and given that the budget assumes that impossible request for a waiver will be granted (at a savings of $700 million), I wouldn’t be surprised if this is already built in, too. They can dance as fast as they want to, it’ll only get them so far.

Time for the biennial attack on the Travis County DA

Every two years, some Republican legislators try to kill the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office.

An amendment tacked on to the House budget bill approved last week would shift roughly $3.4 million a year from the district attorney’s office to the Texas attorney general’s office. The funding shift would happen only if the Legislature approves a separate bill granting the attorney general broad powers to prosecute offenses against public administration.

The proposals by Republican lawmakers are being watched closely by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. None has had a committee hearing.

The Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes state officials and politicians, has received state money since 1982 on the premise that many ethics violations occur around the Capitol or at Austin-based state agencies. In 1999, the unit’s duties expanded to include statewide prosecution of insurance fraud and violations of the motor fuels tax laws.

[…]

The proposals to give the attorney general the authority to prosecute state ethics laws in criminal courts were filed by Reps. Wayne Christian, R-Center, and Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. The bills say that prosecutions by the attorney general’s Public Integrity Unit would occur where the defendant resides. Under current law, most crimes are prosecuted where they occur.

Zedler, who expects his bill will get a committee hearing soon, said, “Basically, I believe that if you are going to have statewide authority, you ought to be accountable to the statewide voters.”

Lehmberg noted that her office does not have jurisdiction to prosecute public corruption cases with no link to Travis County. She said she prosecutes crimes that occur in Travis County and noted that the Public Integrity Unit has prosecuted both Democrats and Republicans.

I’m not unsympathetic to Zedler’s argument. If you were designing Texas’ government from scratch, having that jurisdiction with the Attorney General would be sensible. But let’s be honest: This is all about taking the authority away from a Democrat and giving it to a Republican. You can’t separate the motive from the legislation. I know I have no reason to believe that Greg Abbott would be any more impartial or less political than Ronnie Earle and Rosemary Lehmberg have been. The current system works as well as can be expected, so I see no good reason to change it.

A little budgeters remorse?

Just a little. Not much.

As a vote looms on a bare-bones budget that would slash education and threaten nursing homes with closure, House GOP leaders softened their rhetoric on Tuesday to emphasize that it is a starting point and that cuts could be eased later without raising taxes.

“I think there’s people out there that want to keep it right the way it is right now. But I think we’re going to be able to do things that are better,” said Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Pitts – who last week said the budget proposal approved by his committee might be as far as many House Republicans were willing to go – said after a closed-door House Republican Caucus meeting that GOP members raised many of the same concerns that have been aired by Democrats.

“There’s a huge concern about what’s going to happen in nursing homes,” said Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “And what’s close to all of us – we all have a public school in our district – is what’s going to happen to our schools?”

I guess I’m glad to hear someone on the Republican side of the House express those concerns, though Pitts has been pretty realistic about this from the beginning. There’s not much in the story beyond hope for good news from Comptroller Susan Combs and a few accounting tricks to make you think there’s any action to back it up, however. Maybe they’re waiting to see what the Senate finds in the couch cushions.

“It is the beginning of the process,” Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, said Tuesday. “I would say judge us by the budget we pass as a Legislature, not as a first, early-in-the-process budget proposal.”

Where you end up is certainly what ultimately matters, but where you start out says something about you, too. I think we’ve learned a lot already.

Whatever the case, the budget debate begins today. There are a lot of voices urging a No vote on HB1.

School districts across the state are urging their House members to vote no on the proposed budget that will be taken up on the House floor Friday. A letter sent to House members by the Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of School Boards and Texas School Alliance said the bill “proposes unsustainable cuts to your public schools” and should be rejected. “The significant reduction in state funding for school districts proposed in House Bill 1 inevitably will force districts to lay off employees, reduce salaries, or both,” the groups said.

[…]

“Before you vote on House Bill 1, we encourage you to consult with the superintendents and school board members of your school districts to understand the impact the proposed state funding cuts will have on your schools and students,” the letter concluded. “On behalf of the students of Texas, we urge you to vote against House Bill 1 until all budget balancing options are utilized to mitigate the proposed funding cuts for public education.”

You can view a copy of the letter here (PDF). I doubt it will have much effect, but I sure hope it serves to remind everyone associated with those organizations who to vote for and vote against next year. Remember that while the Senate version of the budget so far would cut funding less than what HISD is currently planning for, the House version cuts funding quite a bit more than that.

Also worth watching will be the hundreds of budget amendments, many of which would be as damaging as the budget itself.

At least three proposed amendments would prohibit funding of any organization that provides abortion services or refers pregnant women to facilities that provide abortion services. This is clearly aimed at Planned Parenthood.

Texas Conservative Coalition Chairman Wayne Christian has one to require universities to provide traditional family values centers if they support “a gender and sexuality center” for gay and lesbian students. Another of his would require universities to dedicate at least 10 percent of their courses for undergraduates to the study of Western Civilization.

Because there’s never a bad time to stick it to the gays, as it were. The only thing that could be better is denying health care to women who need it. Do yourself a favor and find a nice, solid wall on which to bang your head now. You’ll need it for later. The Trib has a list of all the budget amendments that will be debated, plus information about who proposed them.

From the “Things that are not considered legislative emergencies” department

That list would include removing Texas’ unconstitutional anti-sodomy law from the books.

Although Texas’ so-called sodomy law cannot be enforced legally, civil rights advocates say it should be removed from the books because it creates a climate favorable to bullying, gay-bashing and hate crimes.

“By leaving it on the books, you create the potential for abuse,” said Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project , which is representing two gay men who were kicked out of an El Paso restaurant in 2009 for kissing in public.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas could not stop people of the same sex from engaging in sexual activity. Today, the Texas Penal Code still states that it is a Class C misdemeanor to engage in “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” — just after a line explaining that the law is unconstitutional.

El Paso police cited the “homosexual conduct” wording when the two men were kicked out of a Chico’s Tacos restaurant. The men refused to leave and called the police, assuming the restaurant staff was out of line with a city ordinance banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Instead, an officer told the men it was illegal for two men to kiss in public and said they could be cited for “homosexual conduct.”

At the time, El Paso Police Department spokesman Javier Sambrano described the officers involved as “relatively inexperienced.”

Harrington said even though the men were not cited, the Chico’s Tacos incident is about harassment.

That’s why Texas needs to strip the language from the books, said State Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who has sponsored legislation to do so.

“There is archaic language in our code that is used against our citizens today,” said Farrar, whose colleague, Rep. Garnet Coleman, also a Houston Democrat, has filed an identical bill.

Farrar’s bill is HB604; Coleman’s is HB2156. Neither is likely to get a hearing in committee, much less voted out of committee; if by some miracle that were to happen, it would never be approved by the full House or signed by Governor Perry. The attitude of Rep. Wayne Christian, president of the Texas Conservative Coalition, tells you all you need to know:

Christian said he had not looked at the bills in detail, but that the time it would take them to go through committee probably would not be worth the outcome — especially in a session where lawmakers are wrestling with major issues like redistricting and filling a multi-billion-dollar budget hole.

“In this particular session, I’d be hesitant to do any changing,” Christian said, adding that the law probably “better reflects the views of a lot of citizens” as it is.

Priorities, you know? The Dallas Voice has more.

Dunnam wants Lege to study gambling now

State Rep. Jim Dunnam, the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, noting that Speaker Joe Straus has maintained his pledge to stay out of processes that involve gambling-related legislation because of possible conflicts on interest, sent a letter to three of his counterparts suggesting that they take action and form a working committee now to do some study on the issue, as it will surely arise again in the next session.

In the 81st session, an overwhelming and bipartisan majority of the House voted to give this issue the serious consideration it deserves. HCR 220, by Kuempel, among other things called on “the lieutenant governor and speaker of the house of representatives to create a joint interim committee to study the gaming industry in Texas and its potential direct and indirect economic impact on specific markets and on the state as a whole…” This measure passed the House on a 98-36 vote, then died in the Senate for lack of time. The will of the House is clearly for this issue to be studied, and our constituents are owed more than us just waiting for the inevitable issue to arise in January 2011 with no prior comprehensive study of the issue.

Therefore, I am asking that you join with me in establishing a bi-partisan ad hoc committee to fully explore all aspects of any and all gaming proposals that might be before the Texas House during the upcoming 82nd Legislative Session.

You can read the letter, which he sent to House of Representatives Republican Caucus Chair Larry Taylor, Legislative Study Group Chair Garnet Coleman, and Texas Conservative Coalition President Wayne Christian and cc’ed to the rest of the House here. You know how conflicted I am about expanded gambling in Texas, but I certainly agree that it will be a big issue next spring, and as such it is the right idea to start the official discussion of it now. The fact that it won’t have any impact on the budget for this biennium doesn’t matter. I strongly suspect legislation allowing for expanded gambling will be broadly popular, and since such things tend to come from crisis times, I’ll be shocked if there isn’t something to vote on next November. So let the conversation begin and we’ll see what happens. Stace and the Trib have more.

New beach boundaries

We have a new vegetation line, which determines where the public beach ends and private property begins, courtesy of Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson.

The line will determine whether beachfront property owners whose buildings were destroyed by Ike on Sept. 13 will be able to rebuild or possibly lose their houses to the public beach.

Patterson published new maps at TexasBeachAccess.org showing the new vegetation line.

[…]

Ike chewed away the shoreline, reducing his 198-foot lot to 8 feet. But beaches tend to rebuild themselves and, after checking the Texas General Land Office Web site, McConnell found that he now has 195 feet of property.

“As promised, I gave the natural line of vegetation a year to recover,” Patterson said. “In those areas where it has recovered it will be the boundary of the public beach.

“In areas where it hasn’t, I’ve drawn the line at mean low tide plus 200 feet,” he said.

The mean low tide line is the average of all daily low tide lines over 19 years.

Patterson said beachfront property owners who find that their buildings are on the public beach as a result of the new vegetation line will be left alone unless they block beach access or pose a health or safety risk.

He said it is too early to know how many structures that are now on the beach would have to be removed or how many properties would be barred from rebuilding. Patterson said it was likely that some houses on Galveston Island would have to be removed. It is less likely that houses on the Bolivar Peninsula will have to be moved because so few structures near the beach remain standing, he said.

In case you were wondering, State Rep. Wayne Christian and his beach house wound up on the right side of the line, meaning that he could have saved himself some trouble. Some guys have all the luck. A press release from Commissioner Patterson about this is beneath the fold.

(more…)

The Chamber of Commerce tax cut

I mentioned before that a secondary reason for Governor Perry to veto HB770 and its Wayne Christian Beach House provision was an amendment slipped in by State Sen. Mike Jackson to give a property tax exemption to local chambers of commerce. Ed Sills of the Texas AFL-CIO went off on a righteous rant about this in his email newsletter the other day, and I wanted to reproduce it here. With his permission, it’s beneath the fold, so click on to read it.

(more…)

More on Perry’s vetoes

Governor Perry’s veto of SB2468, the “revolving door” restrictions bill for Harris County, has puzzled its sponsor.

In his veto message, Perry said he rejected the ethics bill, authored by Sen. Mario Gallegos, because it addressed lobbying matters and related criminal penalties only in Harris County, not statewide, and thus characterized it unconstitutional.

Gallegos, a Houston Democrat, said he was surprised at the veto because the bill’s language had been revised to address constitutional issues and further because the governor’s office called him around noon Friday saying Perry was going to bless it.

But around 7:15 p.m., Gallegos said, the governor’s office called again and said the attorney general’s office had declared it unconstitutional.

“I was told several people from Harris County called him (the governor) and told him to the veto the bill. It was a good ethics bill,” Gallegos said.

The so-called “revolving door” restriction required former county employees to wait two years before lobbying.

You would think that a basic concept as a constitutional prohibition on criminal penalties that apply in one part of the state but not in other parts would have come up earlier in the process than this. Sen. Gallegos is suggesting that the people who would be affected by the bill’s restrictions managed to convince Perry to maintain the status quo. I have to say, that strikes me as a much more likely explanation than a sudden discovery that the bill was unconstitutional.

Speaking of bills tailored to specific counties, here’s the story on HB770, which became law by default.

Even though a provision allowing a lawmaker’s beach house — and those nearby — to be rebuilt in an exemption from the Texas Open Beaches Act was not vetoed by the governor, the measure is too flawed to be enforceable, the state land commissioner said Friday.

Commissioner Jerry Patterson said the provision won’t pave the way for the rebuilding of Rep. Wayne Christian’s home or any other one on public beaches.

“It will be the policy of the Texas General Land Office that notwithstanding the Christian amendment, no structure will be rebuilt if it will interfere with the public right to access Texas beaches,” said Patterson, who has railed against the provision but said he agreed with Gov. Rick Perry’s decision.

[…]

In a statement Friday, [Rep. Wayne] Christian said, “I am pleased Governor Perry has agreed with those of us in the Texas Legislature to expedite the post-Ike recovery of Texas families and respect their private property rights.

Patterson, who had urged a veto of the bill, said he had changed his thinking and supports Perry’s decision.

“Two weeks ago, that would have disappointed me. Today, I think the governor did the right thing,” Patterson said, adding that the Christian amendment will change nothing.

“Texas beaches will remain as they have always been, open to all Texans, not just a few,” Patterson said.

Too bad, I was kind of hoping Patterson would go rogue. So what happens if Christian starts rebuilding his house? Who’s going to stop him, and how?

One veto I hadn’t noted yesterday was of HB130, which was a pre-kindergarten bill. As with pretty much all of the vetoes here, this one caught supporters by surprise.

“It’s a bad day for public education and for Texas’ youngest and neediest children,” [bill author Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington] said.

House Bill 130 would have put in place new quality standards for pre-kindergarten classes, including teacher training and class size limits. The classes serve children who are homeless or in foster care, have a parent in the military, have limited English-speaking skills or whose families are low-income.

The original bill would have expanded pre-kindergarten classes from half-day to full-day for the children who now qualify for the program. But the initial $623 million price tag proved too much for the Legislature to swallow in a tight budget.

The final bill that cleared the Legislature, while keeping the quality standards, provided $25 million in grant money for districts that already have full-day pre-kindergarten but were slated to lose state funding.

UPDATE: Perry wrote in his veto statement that the money would be better used to expand the number of children served in the existing program.

“Under the funding formula for the existing grant program, $25 million would serve more than 27,000 students over the next biennium, which is 21,000 students more than the estimated 6,800 students that would have been served under the bill’s proposed program – or a 305 percent increase,” Perry wrote.

But Patrick noted that the $25 million does not provide the districts the full amount needed to offer full-day classes, so the districts will still bear significant costs.

Even with the veto, those districts will get the money but the quality standards will not take effect.

One-hundred House members had signed on to the bill, which had the strong backing of House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts.

“More Republicans supported the bill than not,” Patrick said. “Clearly, many Republicans as well as Democrats understand that pre-k education is an investment for which there is a great return.”

Penny-wise and pound-foolish, which is about what you’d expect from our Governor. Other views on the vetoes: from Grits, who agreed with some but as I expected disliked the rejection of HB3148; and from Eye on Williamson.

Planting vegetation against the tide

I suppose there’s more than one way to try to save your beachfront property.

In Texas, a thin green line in the sand separates private property from public beach. And that line of vegetation is drawn by Mother Nature.

Some property owners, however, are taking a more proactive approach by planting grass and shrubs along the edge of a dune on Bolivar Peninsula to keep their homes off the public beach.

These owners are trying to create an artificial vegetation line, marking where their property ends and the public beach begins.

Under the Texas Open Beaches Act, as administered by the General Land Office, houses cannot be built seaward of the vegetation line, which was scoured away by Hurricane Ike.

Between 20 and 30 property owners on the peninsula, however, have planted their own vegetation line, said Angela Sunley, leader for the General Land Office’s beach and dune team. Land office officials can easily spot man-made vegetation versus the real thing.

Silly homeowners. They should have just called Wayne Christian.

And here are the vetoes

Here’s the full list, with links to statements about individual bills, here’s his press release, and here’s his budget statement. A few points of interest:

– Perry wimped out and allowed HB770, the Wayne Christian Homestead Bill, to become law without his signature. Way to lead, big guy. I can’t wait to get Jerry Patterson’s press release about this.

– As already noted, he axed SB488, the Safe Passing Bill. Bicyclists are pissed off.

“We are stunned because he’s our guy, and we feel disappointed, even betrayed by our guy,” said Robin Stallings, executive director of BikeTexas, the educational arm of the Texas Bicycle Coalition. “The bicycling community will never forgive Governor Perry.”

Perry had signed previous bills important for the cycling community, Stallings said.

Stallings said surveys show that 55 percent of the 30,000 active Texas cyclists who belong to a cyclist organization participate in GOP primaries. He said surveys also indicate an estimated 4 million Texans are, at least, casual bike riders.

[…]

The governor’s office never expressed any concern, much less opposition, Stallings said.

“The bill was well vetted and had support across the political spectrum. That he would do this and not talk to us (during the session), frankly, we are shocked.”

I’m not. Par for the course, if you ask me. I hope the bicyclists take out their frustrations about this in a big way.

– He vetoed HB3148, which would have allowed some minors who engaged in consensual sex to not have to register as sex offenders, which strikes me as petty and short-sighted. I’ll bet that will annoy Grits.

– Rep. Jerry Madden gets his wish, and SB1440 gets zapped.

– Two bills supported by environmentalists, HB821, which related to recycling TV sets; and SB2169, which would have established a smart growth policy work group and the development of a smart growth policy for Texas, got nixed.

– Perry signed HB4294, the electronic textbooks bill, over the objections of some social conservatives. Credit where it’s due – I thought this was a decent bill.

– He signed SB1410, thus negating West University Place’s ordinance requiring fire sprinklers in some new construction. Local control, schmocal control.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I’m sure there are other gems in there that are not immediately obvious to me, so leave a comment and let me know about them.

UPDATE: Naturally, after I hit publish, I get a couple of releases from Rep. Garnet Coleman about two of his bills that Perry rejected. Here they are, first about SB2468.

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of SB 2468, by Sen. Gallegos | Rep. Coleman

It shouldn’t be a surprise that Governor Perry would veto a bill that closed the revolving door of employees on the local level where individuals have rotated in and out of county government and the private sector. These actions send a bad message to Texans when it appears that their government works for the highest bidder instead of its own constituents.

It could be possible that Governor Perry does not want to draw attention to his own office’s revolving door. He calls the legislation a piecemeal approach to the issue of county lobbbying and claims he wants to avoid creating differing and confusing standards of ethical conduct. This leaves only the standard that his own office has set, which is that of a revolving door. Ethical behavior in one area of government shouldn’t have to wait for the rest of the state to catch up.

I think the Governor is well aware of these circumstances given the number of employees he has had that have rotated from the public sector, to the private sector and back again. He vetoed this bill on the same day he named a former lobbyist that was a former employee of his to his chief of staff position(1, 2).

At least 17 former Perry aides are now registered lobbyists according to a Dallas Morning News report (3). This includes a former state representative that formed a lobby firm, left to be Governor Perry’s chief of staff from 2002 – 2004, and then returned to his lobby practice (4). He was followed by another former state representative that had become a lobbyist and returned to serve as legislative director until returning to the private sector.(5)

Sources:
1. Press Release: Gov. Perry Names Sullivan Chief of Staff, http://governor.state.tx.us/news/press-release/12606/
2. Texas Ethics Commission Registration, Ray Sullivan, http://www.ethics.state.tx.us/tedd/lobcon2009d.htm
3. Dallas Morning News, Jan 6, 2009
4. http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/img/01-09/0104PRO_toomey.pdf
5. http://governor.state.tx.us/news/appointment/5098/

Here’s Perry’s statement about the veto. This was the “revolving door” bill aimed at restricting Harris County employees from doing county business after leaving government employ. So much for Ed Emmett’s ethics reform plan. Got anything to say about that, Judge?

Next, Coleman’s statement about HB3485:

Statement by Rep. Garnet Coleman on Governor’s Veto of HB 3485

“It is disappointing that Governor Perry vetoed this important piece of legislation. With the addition of the amendment allowing certain rural public hospitals to employ physicians, this bill would have ensured access to physician coverage across rural Texas. Rural public hospitals in Texas find it more and more difficult to attract physicians to their communities and retain them. Many physicians entering practice today prefer an employee relationship, rather than having the responsibility and burden of setting up and managing a small business. H.B. 3485 gave rural public hospitals and physicians who want to practice in rural Texas flexibility. Having the option to employ physicians would have helped rural hospitals improve and preserve access to physicians. Without physicians, these hospitals will not continue to exist.

The Governor alleges that an amendment was added in the final days of session that was neither debated nor discussed. However, prior to concurring with all of the Senate amendments I had multiple conversations with the Governor’s office, one of them with Sen. Ken Armbrister, the Governor’s Legislative Director, as well as another member of the Governor’s staff.

To be clear – I told the Governor’s staff that the amendment in question could be removed if it created any sort of problem or if it jeopardized the passage of this important legislation. Sen. Armbrister assured me that the Governor was fine with the amendment and therefore fine with the overall bill. Tort reform groups were also contacted to assuage any concerns, with their assurances that the groups were neutral on the bill. To Sen. Armbrister’s credit, he did call today to inform me of the governor reversing his position.

The worst part is, the only losers with this veto are the people of the state of Texas and the various counties, with no gain or loss to the tort reform movement.”

Here’s a letter from Rep. Coleman to Governor Perry thanking him for his assistance with the language of the bill; here’s a letter to Governor Perry from the Texas Conference of Urban Counties urging him to sign HB3485; and here’s Perry’s veto statement. How weaselly can you get?

Falkenberg on HB770

Lisa Falkenberg hops on the HB770 train, both in her column and her blog, with video of Rep. Wayne Christian at work. I don’t really have anything to add to that, but I will note that there’s another reason to dislike this bill, beyond Christian’s self-dealing. An amendment by Sen. Mike Jackson, added before the conference committee, basically grants an exemption to paying property taxes for chambers of commerce. What that has to do with the original intent of the bill, never mind why that would be considered good public policy, is a question I can’t answer. But if I didn’t already think this bill should be vetoed, this would give me a considerable shove in that direction. And hey, if we must have a special session, Governor Perry can add “granting homestead exemptions to Hurricane Ike victims” to the call so a non-polluted version of HB770 can be passed. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Editorialists urge veto of HB770

HB770, the originally obscure bill to grant homestead exemptions to folks who lost their house in Hurricane Ike that has generated a big stink thanks to the self-serving provision inserted on behalf of State Rep. Wayne Christian, is getting panned by editorialists around the state. Here’s a sampling.

From the Chron:

Rep. Christian should be ashamed of pushing stealth legislation that benefits himself. As Tom Brown, president of Texas Open Beach Advocates, told the Chronicle, “it’s a very special bill to benefit a state legislator and that is flat-out wrong.”

For a half century, Texas has had one of the strongest coastal access laws in the nation. Residents who buy beach-front property are well aware that storms and rising sea levels may someday reshape the landscape, putting their investment in peril.

A law allowing homeowners to rebuild at the water’s edge, even if it is restricted to Bolivar, is laying the groundwork for future destruction of property while undermining the principle of open beaches. Texans should join [Land Commissioner Jerry] Patterson in calling on the governor to veto the bill.

From the Statesman:

he amendment makes a significant statement about public beaches and private property. Significant enough to warrant full legislative review, complete with public hearing.

Patterson, never a mincer of words, told the Houston Chronicle: “My opinion is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this.”

In his e-mail [to us], Christian railed about Patterson’s “cursive language.”

We’re really not sure what “cursive language” is, but perhaps this falls under that header: Perry should veto the damn bill.

From the Galveston Daily News:

The other reason this legislation deserves a quick veto is that it is bad public policy. The Open Beaches Act says that beaches belong to the public. If your land becomes a beach in Texas, you lose it, just as you would lose part of your cow pasture if a river changed course and ran through it. If a river runs through your pasture, you would not get to set up a tollbooth in the river and you would not get to charge bass boats and kayakers to pass.

The river would not be your private property in Texas — and neither would the beach.

Waterways and beaches are public property in Texas. And people who buy beach-front property are warned repeatedly, loudly and often about that provision in the law.

The Open Beaches Act is a good law. The alternative is to live in a state where most of the beaches are owned by the wealthy.

Remember that the initial purpose of this bill was to help folks in Galveston; it’s the reason given by State Rep. Craig Eiland why he voted for it. For the Galveston Daily News to argue for its veto strikes me as pretty powerful.

From Bud Kennedy:

Retired state Rep. A.R. “Babe” Schwartz, a Galveston Democrat, led the 1959 effort to defend public beaches.

After Ike, he talked about beachfront homeowners.

“We’re talking about damn fools that have built houses on the edge of the sea for as long as man could remember and against every advice anyone has given,” Schwartz said.

And who have power in Austin.

From the Star-Telegram:

Does the Open Beaches Act encroach on property rights in cases like this? Every beachfront-property owner knows the risk. If not for the act, eventually much of the Texas coast would be lined with private beaches.

Perry should veto HB 770. While that would hurt property owners in Galveston and elsewhere who want to retain their homestead tax exemptions while they rebuild, the greater good would come from upholding the integrity of the Open Beaches Act.

From the Beaumont Enterprise:

The sanctity of public beaches cannot be compromised in Texas. Homes or businesses cannot intrude onto beaches that belong to all Texans. For those reasons, Gov. Rick Perry has little choice but to veto a bill that contains a provision that would exempt property owners on the Bolivar Peninsula from a state law that bans construction on public beaches.

The Enterprise also had one of the better stories I’ve seen on the issue. Elise Hu has a statement from Rep. Christian that tells his side of it as well.

As of Friday, Governor Perry said he was still studying the bill. I have no idea what he’s going to do, and I daresay we won’t know until the June 21 deadline for him to take action. If you have an opinion, the Governor’s fax number is 512-463-1849; those who are rallying for a veto have been urging their supporters to send faxes asking for the bill to be rejected.

Still bitching about the beach

Who would have thought that an otherwise-obscure bill about granting homestead exemptions to people who lost houses in Galveston to Hurricane Ike would become the most controversial bill of the first week post-sine die?

Open beaches advocacy groups sent out e-mails and posted Web messages Thursday asking voters to call Gov. Rick Perry’s office and urge him to veto a bill containing a provision exempting a legislator’s beach house from the Texas Open Beaches Act.

Phone calls poured into the governor’s office urging Perry to veto a bill with a provision that Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, helped write allowing him and others on the Bolivar Peninsula to rebuild on the public beach.

As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the tally was five for a signature and 249 for a veto, including phone calls and e-mails.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson scheduled a news conference for today to urge more phone calls to the governor asking for a veto of HB 770. General Land Office spokesman Jim Suydam said Patterson would wade into the Gulf waters off Galveston Island to show where houses could be built under the provision that protects Christian’s right to rebuild his beach house.

Christian denies that he did anything improper, saying the bill will allow other property owners to rebuild who otherwise would not be able to under Open Beach Act regulations administered by the General Land Office. He said the provision would keep property on the tax rolls that otherwise would be removed.

Christian, by the way, made it to the Texas Monthly Ten Worst list this session, and that was without any mention of this little debacle, presumably because the word of it came too late in the writing process. It was gilding the lily anyway, I suppose. Still no word from Governor Perry about this bill’s future, which as I said before is standard practice. We’ll know soon enough.

Open beaches

Got the following email from a colleague and thought it was worth mentioning:

Very late Sunday night a “deal” was made in the Texas legislature to make an exemption in the Texas Open Beaches Act – the law that guarantees public access to our beaches.

Rep. Wayne Christian of Center, Texas use to have a beach house on Bolivar. Hurricane Ike destroyed it. I feel badly for him and the thousands of others who lost property. But state law prohibits construction of houses on the public beach. Why? Because its the PUBLIC BEACH, not private beach.

Anyway Rep. Christian wants to build a new house on what is now PUBLIC BEACH, and he snuck a law through that exempts front-row owners in Bolivar to build new houses on our beach. That is bad public policy. Beaches are like public parks, you can live near them but not in them.

Right now, please phone Gov. Perry and respectfully ask him to “veto HB770, building houses directly on the public beach will cost us billions of dollars in the next storm”.

512-463-2000

Rep. Christian was on the conference committee for HB770, which is (I presume) where this amendment was added. The Galveston News had a story about HB770 on Monday.

House Bill 770 started as a bill to allow homeowners whose houses were destroyed by a hurricane to maintain their homestead exemptions — even if a final decision on whether to rebuild hadn’t been made.

But the law also appears to have exempted houses along the Bolivar Peninsula from the requirements of the Texas Open Beaches Act for four years.

Under existing law, buildings must be behind the line of naturally occurring vegetation.

The bill would exempt from state open beaches laws a house “located on a peninsula in a county with a population of more than 250,000 and less than 251,000 that borders the Gulf of Mexico.” Only one area in the state meets that description — the Bolivar Peninsula.

The bill, which was co-authored by Galveston County’s state representatives, Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, and Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, won unanimous approval in the state House and easily earned passage in the Senate. One of Galveston County’s two state senators, Mike Jackson, R-La Porte, was the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, whose agency is responsible for managing the open beaches laws in Texas, blasted the law.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said. “This bill is so poorly drafted that will happen.”

Here’s the bill text. I agree with Commissioner Patterson on this, and think a veto is not a bad idea. And according to today’s Chron, he plans on sticking to his guns.

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has asked Gov. Rick Perry to veto the bill containing the amendment. The bill has not yet crossed the governor’s desk, and he will not make a decision until he sees it, said Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger.

“I don’t think building houses on the beach, with the waters of the Gulf beneath them, is a good idea or good public policy,” Patterson said.

If the governor signs the bill, Patterson vowed that he would not enforce the amendment. “My option is just to say, ‘Screw you, Wayne Christian,’ because the Legislature didn’t pass this, one guy passed this,” he said.

Patterson said the Legislature would have to impeach him if lawmakers wanted the provision enforced.

That would be going too far – filing a lawsuit strikes me as the better way to stop enforcement of that law – but at least we know where he stands. Christian, for his part, says this wasn’t about him:

Christian said his vote for the amendment benefited other peninsula property owners and therefore was not a breach of ethics. “If I were to pass a law that affected only Wayne Christian, that would be a conflict,” he said.

At least 12 of his neighbors want to rebuild but can’t without the amendment, Christian said.

The amendment will keep property on the tax rolls that otherwise would be taken off if left undeveloped, Christian said. He also insisted the amendment is “not mine,” because it was put forward by Rep. Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Mauriceville.

“I did sign with him because I approved the concept,” Christian said. The amendment targeted the Bolivar Peninsula because it bore the brunt of the storm, he said.

He denied that it was improper to add the amendment to a bill so close to the end of the session. “This is not an unethical, deceptive method of doing anything,” Christian said. “This is the way it’s been ever since government was invented.”

Well, that much is certainly true. As has also been the case since government was invented, sometimes these last-minute deals contain unpalatable provisions. And so here we are.

You’ll be hearing more about the Open Beaches Act this November, as the passage of HJR102 means there will be an amendment voted on to make the Open Beaches act part of the Constitution instead of an ordinary law that could be changed by a majority vote in the Lege. The above-linked story, and this Chron story from last week have more info about that.

The push to protect public access comes in the wake of lawsuits challenging what is public and what is private along the 367 miles of mostly wild Texas coastline.

The Open Beaches Act prohibits houses seaward of the vegetation line, which crawls steadily landward as the beaches erode.

While trophy houses, subdivisions and hotels have sprouted along the Gulf of Mexico, rising seas, sinking land and storms have led to the rapid erosion of Texas coastline. By some estimates, as much as 10 feet of beach front washes away each year.

As the sandy shore shifts over decades, a barrier island, such as Galveston, may look the same, but it will be farther landward. Houses that once stood hundreds of feet from the surf will be encroaching on the Gulf.

In some cases, the Texas General Land Office, which is responsible for the coastline, has sued to remove houses from the beach.
Jerry Patterson, the state’s land commissioner, suggested that the proposed amendment wouldn’t change anything along the coast.

“We work every day at the Texas General Land Office to ensure the public’s right to access the beach,” he said.

Property owners contend that the existing state law tramples on their rights and that a constitutional amendment would make matters worse, according to the House’s analysis of the pros and cons of the bill.

J. David Breemer, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who is challenging the land office’s enforcement of the Open Beaches Act, said he doesn’t believe a constitutional amendment would insulate the state from lawsuits.

“The issue is how the law is used, not the intent,” Breemer said. “The easement keeps rolling over land that the public hasn’t ever walked and development has already happened.”

Still, beachgoers and environmentalists expressed enthusiasm over the proposed amendment, which cleared the state House on a 140-1 vote and the Senate on a 29-2 vote.

Ken Kramer, director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star chapter, said the environmental group would campaign in favor of the ballot measure.

“It’s a great issue to elevate people’s awareness of coastal protection,” he said.

This KHOU story has more on that lawsuit. I’ll be voting for this proposition, and I look forward to seeing how the Supreme Court deals with it when that lawsuit, which has been sent its way by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, comes before it.

UPDATE: Land Commish Jerry Patterson keeps pushing this, with a press conference tomorrow in Galveston. From his release:

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Friday on the beach in Galveston to rally Texans to demand Governor Perry kill a proposed law that would exempt the Bolivar Peninsula from the Texas Open Beaches Act.

The press conference will be on the beach in the Pirates Beach subdivision in Galveston, just seaward of the 4200 block of Ghost Crab Lane.

“Call Governor Perry now and let him know you want to keep Texas beaches for the enjoyment of the public,” Patterson said. “An eleventh hour amendment to HB770 would allow an elite few to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf. That’s not just a bad idea, that’s bad public policy.”

Patterson urged Texans who love the beach to call Governor Perry’s office at (512) 463-2000 and ask him to veto HB770.

The amendment was covertly slipped into the bill without any public debate on the first day of the 2009 hurricane season, which was the last day of the 81st Legislature.

“As Gulf Coast residents were thinking about the next storm, a few lawmakers were actually sneaking an amendment on to a bill that would allow their neighbors to rebuild their houses on the public beach or even in the surf zone of the area hardest hit by Hurricane Ike,” Patterson said. “That’s just unthinkable.”

Far as I know, there’s been no public comment from Governor Perry yet. He probably won’t say anything until he takes action on the bill, but it’s possible he could telegraph his intent.

House committee passes SB1569

Good.

The House Business and Industry Committee wasted no time approving the Senate bill that would open the door for Texas to get $555 million in federal stimulus money to expand unemployment eligibility.

SB 1569 landed in the committee yesterday and the members passed it out Tuesday afternoon in a 6-2 vote. Republican Reps. Wayne Christian of Center and Rob Orr of Burleson were the nays.

Time is of the essence, of course, since there is a good chance Gov. Rick Perry will veto the measure and the chambers could try to override that veto. Perry has not said he will veto the legislation, which passed the Senate last week, but he has repeatedly objected to taking the money.

One significant change made to the bill in committee would undo an amendment proffered by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, that would make the eligibility changes contingent upon getting the federal money.

The U.S. Department of Labor, however, indicated that Texas would not get the money if that provision remained so the House committee stripped it.

Committee Chairman Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said the bill could come to the House floor next week.

If I’m reading the Constitution correctly, if the bill gets to Governor Perry more than ten days before sine die (Sundays excluded), then there would still be time to override a veto. Easier said than done, of course, but at least there’s a chance. Keep your fingers crossed.

Senate passes SB1569, but may not be able to override a veto

The Senate passed SB1569, the bill that accepts stimulus funding for unemployment insurance, by a 19-11 vote today. As Elise noted on Twitter, two Senators flipped to No for final passage; one other Senator was either absent or did not vote. We don’t know who exactly the changed and missing voters were yet. For the record, the second reading vote went as follows:

Yeas: Averitt, Carona, Davis, Deuell, Duncan, Ellis, Eltife, Estes, Gallegos, Harris, Hinojosa, Lucio, Ogden, Shapiro, Shapleigh, Uresti, Van de Putte, Watson, Wentworth, West, Whitmire, Zaffirini.

Nays: Fraser, Hegar, Huffman, Jackson, Nelson, Nichols, Patrick, Seliger, Williams.

The same group voted to suspend the rules so the bill could be brought to the floor. As predicted, the entire Harris GOP contingent voted against. The final margin of 19-11 means the Senate would not vote to override a Governor Perry veto if it comes to that and no one flips back; even if the absentee voted Yes it would be insufficient. So if there’s the be any stick to induce Perry to sign this thing, it’ll have to be the Yvonne Davis amendment.

Speaking of the House, HB2623 by Rep. Joe Deshotel, which is listed as “similar” to SB1569, had its committee report sent to Calendars on Friday. Given that the “identical” HB3153 by Rep. Tan Parker is still in committee, I’d say that’s the bill to watch in the lower chamber. There’s still time to allow for a veto override attempt, if they don’t get bogged down. Patricia Kilday Hart has more, and a statement by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Via Postcards, the answer is that Sens. Shapiro and Estes switched their votes between second and third readings, and Harris was absent.

UPDATE: The Statesman has more on the prospects in the House.

Although there are six weeks left in the session, lawmakers need to finish a bill within the next month to attempt a veto override. During that period, the governor must veto a bill within 10 days of its final passage or it becomes law.

Business and Industry Committee Chairman Joe Deshotel, D-Beaumont, said the House is “up against a wall” to get the bill to the governor.

“Every day now counts,” said Deshotel, who will sponsor Eltife’s bill in the House. “We can make it through if it doesn’t stall somewhere.”

It was unclear Monday which House committee will take up Eltife’s bill and how long it will take to clear that committee and get to the floor for a vote. Then, assuming the governor vetoes the legislation, the hard work would begin in getting the support in both houses necessary to override a veto.

Given Perry’s clear opposition and the jam-packed legislative schedule, Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, said it would be “irresponsible of us to waste the citizens’ valuable time (taking up the measure) if the governor already says it is vetoed.”

“Why should we kill other bills that might be able to help the citizens of Texas if we know that this is a nonproductive exercise of yelling at each other on the House floor?” said Christian, a leader of conservatives in the House.

Deshotel said the possibility of a veto should not deter the House because the policy issue is a critical one.

He also said the governor might not veto the bill if he sees that it has broad-based support from both Democrats and Republicans, including House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie.

“The governor can always change his mind. I want to get the bill to the governor,” Deshotel said.

Especially if the budget provision that moves money from the Texas Enterprise Fund to the unemployment insurance trust survives the budget conference committee. I’m sure the Governor has a fallback position prepared just in case. Speaking of that provision, a statement from Rep. Armando Walle, who was the initial author of that amendment, has been added beneath the fold.

(more…)

“Strengths and weaknesses” rears its head again

I know we thought that the current round of anti-evolutionism was in remission once the effort to change the science textbooks by the State Board of Education fell short. Sadly, these things never truly go away, and where the SBOE failed State Rep. Wayne Christian will try again with HB4224, which would put the bogus “strengths and weaknesses” language into state law. This probably won’t go anywhere, but it’s never a bad idea to be vigilant. Vince has more.