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Post-Election Cache Clearance

I've been away too long. Fortunately, others have taken up the usual election mapping and district analysis. That leaves a bit of neighborhood analysis that I like to do. And I'll get to that before I have the pleasure of speaking to the Meyerland Dems on Monday evening. For now, I'm slightly more interested in deleting some tabs on my tablet in order to keep it from being bogged down with the smattering of news items I want to preserve in blog form. With that, here's most of the news I wish I had more time to comment on over the past two weeks:

» The Upshot: Obamacare Not as Egalitarian as It Appears (Tyler Cowen)
The NBER Working Paper referenced in the article isn't likely to make it onto an already lengthy list of weekend reads for whenever I reach that mythical weekend where I catch up on my reading list. Until then, this is Cowen's setup conclusion that builds up to his more cynical conclusion which you can agree or disagree based on your own preference. This setup, however, captures most of what I was skeptical about in the Affordable Care Act:

... while numerous government programs redistributed income toward the poor successfully in the past, successive improvements, as exemplified by the Affordable Care Act, have become harder to accomplish, as many of the easiest and most efficient opportunities have already been exploited. We have ended up at margins where political divisions and interest group capture make further progress harder to carry out, no matter how good the proposed policies may seem on the drawing board. While politicians wrangle over the health care law, many of the monetary gains from the changes in the system are benefiting the health care establishment rather than the patients.

» NY Times: Red Tape Slows U.S. Help for Children Fleeing Central America (Michael Shear)
It's not just grand ambitions that suffer these days. It's also somewhat minor ones that have an unfortunately massive impact on people's lives:

President Obama vowed a year ago to give Central American children fleeing violence a new, legal way into the United States by allowing them to apply for refugee status while in their own countries instead of accepting help from smugglers or resorting to a dangerous trek across Mexico.

But not a single child has entered the United States through the Central American Minors program since its establishment in December, in large part because of a slow-­moving American bureaucracy that has infuriated advocates for the young children and their families.

More than 5,400 children, most of them trying to escape street gangs, extortion and sexual assault in El Salvador, have applied to join their parents, who are already in the United States legally. So far the Department of Homeland Security has interviewed only 90 of them, and lengthy procedures for getting airplane tickets and processing paperwork have delayed those whose applications were approved.

» The Guardian: I've seen America’s future – and it’s not Republican (Stan Greenberg)
This is basically a refresh on the Emerging Democratic Majority thesis. But that original argument has plenty of room for some updates like this:

The political landscape is also being reshaped by a reversal of the historic pattern of mobility and home ownership. The middle class ladder used to take every generation and new wave of immigrants from city centres to suburbs to the exurbs. But in the past decade cities, with their falling crime rates, have attracted more people – particularly retiring baby boomers – than suburbs, and real estate values in metropolitan areas have risen faster than elsewhere and created more jobs. At the same time, only half of millennials have a driver’s licence, the right of passage for prior generations.

The political tides are still more incremental than the folks who get in print would have you believe. That's probably a contributing factor to EDM co-author John Judis changing his mind earlier in the year. What I find increasingly lacking in these arguments is the point of "which electorate are you talking about?"

» NY Times: School vs. Society in America’s Failing Students (Eduardo Porter)
Defining educational reality of our time:

In a report released last week, Martin Carnoy from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Emma García from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and Tatiana Khavenson from the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, suggest that socioeconomic deficits impose a particularly heavy burden on American schools.

“Once we adjust for social status, we are doing much better than we think,” Professor Carnoy told me. “We underrate our progress.”

Also outlined on a state-level scale by former State Rep. Mark Strama at the end of the 2013 legislative session:

» Washington Monthly: Confessions of a Paywall Journalist (John Heltman)
This is easily the most entertaining and insightful read on the topic of DC-area trade publications vs general interest media you'll find today. And as exciting as that sounds, I find the economics of each industry group mind-boggling to consider:

More recently, McGraw Hill Financial—which owns Platts, an energy trade outlet that has been active in Washington for decades—announced its bid to buy SNL Financial, a financial and business intelligence trade outlet that has in recent years expanded its footprint in energy and climate reporting. McGraw Hill agreed to buy SNL for $2.23 billion in cash.

Contrast that with the recent sales and acquisitions of more household names in journalism. The Washington Post was sold to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in 2013 for $250 million. The Boston Globe sold in 2013 for $70 million. The international education firm Pearson sold its 50 percent stake in the Economist for $731 million, valuing the 172-year-old institution at around $1.4 billion. Even the New York Times’s market capitalization is about $2 billion. This demonstrates that the market is convinced of the business case for trade journalism and its potential for growth, and that it is not similarly assured of the future of newspapers.

Currently wondering how hard it is to launch a new trade publication.

» NY Times Mag: The Cult of the ‘Amateur’ (Amanda Hess)
Noted here in the not-entirely-miniscule chance that we find ourselves with an amateur President.

» Politico Magazine: Winning Isn't Everything – John Weaver and the business of political seduction. (Jason Zengerle)
I like John Weaver about as much as it's possible to like any Presidential-tier lead consultant. There's a lot to read here to give anyone a reason to agree or disagree with that conclusion. That said, I've largely tuned out the GOP side of the campaign season. It's just too hard to take stupid seriously.

» Deal Book: The Risks and Rewards of Short­Termism (Eilene Zimmerman)

I do not own a controlling interest in any company as of this writing. So this probably impacts me at something close to zilch. But I vividly recall most of the points of this debate from my days at UH's business college (at the time, named for the founder of U-Tot-Em convenience stores). Maybe we'll see if any of the grand ambition expressed these days comes to fruition.

... and with that, my tablet seems to have some resources freed up. This is going to totally come in handy for spending Veterans Day binge-watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

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2015 Early Voting by Neighborhoods and Council Districts – Final Edition

Complete City of Houston Early Voting results by neighborhoods and council districts:

Turnout by Neighborhood

Neighborhood   15EVTO%   13EVTO%  13TO%  (Precincts)

African-American Neighborhoods
Southside AfrAm  13.0%     9.3%   18.9%  (31,140,180,219,863)
Northwest AfrAm  17.1%     9.6%   18.1%  (109,157,365,576)
Fifth Ward       12.8%     7.4%   16.2%  (138,144,186,406)
Hiram Clarke     14.4%     9.0%   17.8%  (216,286,292,318,542)

Hispanic/Latino Neighborhoods
Lindale          12.7%     7.2%   16.4%  (46,78,196,207,637,846)
East End          8.7%     6.3%   15.2%  (11,64,69,72,218,530)

Anglo GOP Neighborhoods
Kingwood         24.6%    11.8%   22.5%  (469,563,590,612,760)
Clear Lake       17.6%    11.6%   24.3%  (473,728,732,744,745)
West             19.3%    11.8%   27.1%  (130,356,437,438,492,499)

Anglo Dem/Swing Neighborhoods
Sharpstown       13.2%     9.3%   19.9%  (256,296,297,311,426)
Meyerland        15.1%    12.5%   34.6%  (14,146,176,281,293,403)
Heights - C      13.3%     8.8%   25.3%  (53,57,58,501)
Montrose         17.0%    11.5%   27.6%  (34,37,39,60)

Indexed Early Voting Results

African-American Neighborhoods
Southside AfrAm  1.405
Northwest AfrAm  1.786
Fifth Ward       1.726
Hiram Clarke     1.601

Hispanic/Latino Neighborhoods
Lindale          1.766
East End         1.387

Anglo GOP Neighborhoods
Kingwood         2.081
Clear Lake       1.518
West             1.638

Anglo Dem/Swing Neighborhoods
Sharpstown       1.419
Meyerland        1.205
Heights - C      1.504
Montrose         1.478

Turnout by Council District

                      2015                    |                    2013         
Dist      RV      TO   TO%   Share  13-compare|         RV        TO      TO%   Share
A     75,080   9,897  13.2%   7.7%    0.0%    |     70,734    13,560    19.2%    7.8%
B     96,557  12,661  13.1%  10.2%    2.1%    |     95,663    13,780    14.4%    7.9%
C    133,318  18,547  13.9%  14.3%   -4.0%    |    128,427    32,489    25.3%   18.6%
D    113,446  14,385  12.7%  11.4%    0.0%    |    110,678    19,681    17.8%   11.3%
E    110,475  17,696  16.0%  14.1%    3.2%    |    105,417    18,712    17.8%   10.7%
F     70,047   6,367   9.1%   5.0%    0.5%    |     67,105     7,794    11.6%    4.5%
G    117,415  19,438  16.6%  15.4%   -0.4%    |    115,926    27,348    23.6%   15.7%
H     73,921   7,107   9.6%   5.5%   -0.3%    |     71,973    10,271    14.3%    5.9%
I     65,335   6,030   9.2%   4.6%   -0.7%    |     62,833     9,553    15.2%    5.5%
J     47,124   4,186   8.9%   3.4%   -0.1%    |     45,697     5,947    13.0%    3.4%
K     80,621  10,849  13.5%   8.4%   -0.3%    |     78,927    15,485    19.6%    8.9%
COH  983,339 127,163  12.9%                   |    953,380   174,620    18.3%   

Obviously, the main eye-catcher is that Kingwood has already surpassed in Early Voting this year what it turned out for the entire 2013 cycle. There's only one datapoint to compare against here and 2013's 22.5% turnout doesn't seem like a terribly high bar to clear in a more hotly contested race such as this year's. While much of the neighborhood comparisons have an unknown variable of how many voters come out on Election Day, there's still something to be said for batting more than double the early vote of the last comparable election. And mathematically, there's nothing to suggest that all of the city vote in Kingwood is maxed out.

The flip side of this is what would seem like a decline of turnout in Meyerland. To be more accurate, Meyerland has turned out in greater numbers than their 2013 Early Vote turnout. And their 2013 EVTO was the highest you see on this list. So I believe that a better interpretation is that they are still just as likely to match their insanely high 2013 turnout of 34.6%. I think it's easier to see Meyerland just doing a great job of matching previously great turnout and possibly not being as capable of flushing out new voters in a city year. There's no inverse of the Tea Party activity that Kingwood benefits from.

Sometimes the motivation to drive out one segment of voters to the polls has a disparate impact in an electorate. And sometimes the motivation in one constituency has an echo effect that motivates competing constituencies. A classic example of the latter was seen in the North Carolina Senate campaigns involving Jesse Helms (in 1984 and moreso in 1990). In both cases, there was a belief that African-American voters could be motivated to vote in numbers greater than usual. In other words - their share of vote could be increased. Unfortunately, the efforts to increase interest among African-American voters also drove up turnout by North Carolina white conservatives. That Sen. Helms relied on television advertisements that were accused of being racist isn't without some parallel to the anti-HERO ads we see and here today in Houston.

Local elections, however, are a different story. About the best example I can think of locally was the 2007 HISD bond election, with many leading African-American elected officials opposed to the bond issue due to the plans it contained for closing a number of community schools in African-American neighborhoods. The bond passed, but with African-American voters rejecting it in their polling places. This election definitely feels reminiscent of that. So it's not that "such-and-such neighborhood/constituency/whatrever didn't turn out" for this election. It's more the case that another such-and-such whatever DID get an additional motivation to turn out.

We'll see some of the usual postmortems about who didn't vote, how baffling it is that so few people end up voting, and other horror stories that accompany elections every year. I still don't buy such stories, though. We'll end up seeing a healthy increase in turnout by the time Election Day is done with. In and of itself, that's better than the alternative. Whether a particular outcome meets my preference or not is a different story. But I doubt we'll see any postmortems that accept blame for not talking to enough friends and neighbors.

Until then, read into the above numbers what you will. For all of the increases in turnout among GOP-friendly areas, the voting behavior is still Dem-leaning throughout the city. Nothing terribly bad can happen as long as that's the case.


2015 Early Voting Turnout by Council District (through Wednesday)

An update from the first week totals, broken out by Council District. And again, it's worth noting that this looks at EV turnout through Wednesday, versus total turnout for all of 2013. If I were really on the ball, I'd break out 2013 by EV and Total turnout and use that nifty index to see how this year's EV looks against 2013's EV. No dice, though. You get what you pay for here. 😉

It's worth emphasizing that District C's lag may have something to do with the fact that Meyerland overperformed to a sickening degree back in 2013. I think some lag is inevitable from a 34.6% turnout level in a city election. I'll make some attempt to find time to look at prior election returns to get another view on all of this.

                      2015                    |                    2013         
Dist      RV      TO   TO%   Share  13-compare|         RV        TO      TO%   Share
A     75,080   6,959   9.3%   7.7%   -0.1%    |     70,734    13,560    19.2%    7.8%
B     96,557   9,168   9.5%  10.2%    2.3%    |     95,663    13,780    14.4%    7.9%
C    133,318  12,938   9.7%  14.3%   -4.3%    |    128,427    32,489    25.3%   18.6%
D    113,446  10,257   9.0%  11.4%    0.1%    |    110,678    19,681    17.8%   11.3%
E    110,475  12,746  11.5%  14.1%    3.4%    |    105,417    18,712    17.8%   10.7%
F     70,047   4,495   6.4%   5.0%    0.5%    |     67,105     7,794    11.6%    4.5%
G    117,415  13,930  11.9%  15.4%   -0.2%    |    115,926    27,348    23.6%   15.7%
H     73,921   4,985   6.7%   5.5%   -0.4%    |     71,973    10,271    14.3%    5.9%
I     65,335   4,138   6.3%   4.6%   -0.9%    |     62,833     9,553    15.2%    5.5%
J     47,124   3,057   6.5%   3.4%    0.0%    |     45,697     5,947    13.0%    3.4%
K     80,621   7,552   9.4%   8.4%   -0.5%    |     78,927    15,485    19.6%    8.9%
COH  983,339  90,225   9.2%                   |    953,380   174,620    18.3%   

2015 Early Voting Turnout by Neighborhood (through Wednesday)

Truth be told, I hate being called "a numbers guy." Stuff like this probably won't help that. What you have below are some selected neighborhoods, with precincts indicated in case anyone wants to proof my work. The column headers are as follows:

15EVTO% - turnout for Early Voting through Wednesday
13EVTO% - turnout for Early Vote for the entire 2013 election
13TO% - total turnout - including Election Day - for the 2013 election

This gives you a bit of context for how much growth (or not) there is in particular neighborhoods. Below that listing is an effort to normalize these numbers and show an index comparing 2013 Early Vote totals to the 2015 Early Vote total to date. Any number over 1 means they've surpassed their 2013 Early Votes, for instance. Obviously, you see a pretty good showing in Anglo GOP areas. It may remain to be seen whether one area is shifting their vote more toward Early Voting, but I'm a skeptic of that. We'll see soon enough what it all means, but enjoy the fancy numbers so far. I'll update once all Early Voters are reported.

Correction: Thought I was looking at through-Wednesday totals earlier. I wasn't. Numbers below are updated to reflect actual through-Wed totals.

Neighborhood   15EVTO%   13EVTO%  13TO%  (Precincts)

African-American Neighborhoods
Southside AfrAm   9.7%     9.3%   18.9%  (31,140,180,219,863)
Northwest AfrAm  12.4%     9.6%   18.1%  (109,157,365,576)
Fifth Ward        8.9%     7.4%   16.2%  (138,144,186,406)
Hiram Clarke     10.2%     9.0%   17.8%  (216,286,292,318,542)

Hispanic/Latino Neighborhoods
Lindale           8.7%     7.2%   16.4%  (46,78,196,207,637,846)
East End          6.2%     6.3%   15.2%  (11,64,69,72,218,530)

Anglo GOP Neighborhoods
Kingwood         18.7%    11.8%   22.5%  (469,563,590,612,760)
Clear Lake       12.3%    11.6%   24.3%  (473,728,732,744,745)
West             14.3%    11.8%   27.1%  (130,356,437,438,492,499)

Anglo Dem/Swing Neighborhoods
Sharpstown        9.9%     9.3%   19.9%  (256,296,297,311,426)
Meyerland        10.6%    12.5%   34.6%  (14,146,176,281,293,403)
Heights - C       9.0%     8.8%   25.3%  (53,57,58,501)
Montrose         12.3%    11.5%   27.6%  (34,37,39,60)

Indexed Early Voting Results

African-American Neighborhoods
Southside AfrAm  1.042
Northwest AfrAm  1.294
Fifth Ward       1.193
Hiram Clarke     1.139

Hispanic/Latino Neighborhoods
Lindale          1.214
East End         0.991

Anglo GOP Neighborhoods
Kingwood         1.582
Clear Lake       1.060
West             1.217

Anglo Dem/Swing Neighborhoods
Sharpstown       1.067
Meyerland        0.851
Heights - C      1.023
Montrose         1.070

First Week Turnout for COH Elections

With a little review from some fellow election counting friends, here is a look at turnout through the first week of Early Voting (in-person and mail ballots). Worth noting that this is just for Harris County precincts. So there's ample votes uncounted in District K as a result.

The "13-compare" column is the difference in share of the vote from 2015 compared to 2013. The purpose is to show where 2015 turnout is doing better or worse than it was two years ago.

                      2015                    |                    2013         
Dist      RV      TO   TO%   Share  13-compare|       RV       TO    TO%   Share
A     75,080   4,586  6.1%    7.9%     0.2%   |   70,734   13,560  19.2%    7.8%
B     96,557   5,876  6.1%   10.2%     2.3%   |   95,663   13,780  14.4%    7.9%
C    133,318   8,226  6.2%   14.2%    -4.4%   |  128,427   32,489  25.3%   18.6%
D    113,446   6,492  5.7%   11.2%     0.0%   |  110,678   19,681  17.8%   11.3%
E    110,475   8,243  7.5%   14.3%     3.6%   |  105,417   18,712  17.8%   10.7%
F     70,047   2,830  4.0%    4.9%     0.4%   |   67,105    7,794  11.6%    4.5%
G    117,415   8,877  7.6%   15.4%    -0.3%   |  115,926   27,348  23.6%   15.7%
H     73,921   3,298  4.5%    5.7%    -0.2%   |   71,973   10,271  14.3%    5.9%
I     65,335   2,688  4.1%    4.7%    -0.8%   |   62,833    9,553  15.2%    5.5%
J     47,124   1,942  4.1%    3.4%     0.0%   |   45,697    5,947  13.0%    3.4%
K     80,621   4,704  5.8%    8.1%    -0.7%   |   78,927   15,485  19.6%    8.9%
COH  983,339  57,762  5.9%                    |  953,380  174,620  18.3%   

I'm still dabbling with defining neighborhoods for this election. But a quick comparison of turnout can bee seen here:

Kingwood: 11.8% turnout
Westside: 9.0%
Clear Lake: 8.0%
Montrose: 7.7%
Meyerland: 6.5%
Sharpstown: 6.5%
East End: 4.2%
Lindale: 5.9%
Southside AfrAm: 5.9%

Northside AfrAm precincts are tricky since a lot of them are outside of the city. So I'll spend some time refining the neighborhood definitions tonight and come back with turnout comparisons later. For context, it's also worth looking at previous year elections. Kingwood will probably always outperform Montrose, for instance. But how the disparity of this election looks against, say, 2013 is more important.


30-Day Money Reports for City Council

Here's the PDF of everything listed here as of this morning. I've included a total for the past two fundraising cycles to get a sense of the overall level of spending. To wit, here's the Mayoral totals:

                       Raised   In-Kind      Loan        Spent     On Hand
Sylvester Turner    1,253,359    33,927         -    1,867,093     507,100 
Stephen Costello    1,737,825    17,072    90,000    1,367,778     696,540 
Bill King             999,696    39,617   650,000    1,307,307     322,475 
Adrian Garcia       2,005,833    85,857         -    1,183,157     831,285 
Chris Bell            491,746    17,484         -      444,903      91,902 
Ben Hall            1,006,490         -    850,000     247,871     758,618 
Marty McVey            43,972    16,270  1,075,000     133,285   1,075,000 

Taken together with the one and only poll that is being publicized so far, my thoughts as to what we know by now:

- It doesn't matter so much if Adrian and Sylvester are really #1 and #2. It's that people writing campaign contributions believe it.

- Unless you're writing checks to Bill King or Stephen Costello, that is. The polling is malleable in terms of what you want to believe from it. There's nothing in it that would lead me to be shocked if either King or Costello made a runoff.

- Think about how little campaign presence you've seen - at your doorstep, on your TV, in your mailbox - for the $6.5M already spent by all candidates in the Mayoral race. I realize that's split a lot of ways. And with 4 top-tier campaigns spending less than $2M, that still doesn't go a long way in a city as big as Houston.

- Chris Bell's totals are going to lead many of those donor-class folks to write him off (the ones who haven't already, that is). But for a guy who knew that money was going to be hard to come by, I like the approach they've taken - spend it early and see if a miracle can happen rather than sit on it, spend it late and watch your one shot at winning compete for oxygen while everyone else is campaigning full steam ahead.

- Everyone except Marty McVey, that is. Seriously. I wish the guy no ill will whatsoever. I probably have more friends that I respect helping Marty than any other campaign. But if he hoped to use this run to prep himself for another run down the road, this particular "campaign" doesn't seem to be something that will help him. I'd expect him to recoup his loand, live another day, and sleep happily on a big pile of money for as long as he wants. But it sure would make things interesting if he wrote a meaningful amount of that bank balance to help out HERO ... or Chris Bell.

- Eric Dick's finance report is one of the more interesting reads. Allegedly, he raised no money, loaned himself no money, yet spent $100k on advertising (mostly signs). I haven't seen enough of his signs in my neck of the woods to warrant the expense. Either he's saving a lot of them for Early Voting - or he's printing material for other campaigns. At least I haven't seen them posted on utility posts yet.

- Not every report is created equal in terms of accuracy. I have no idea what's up with Richard Nguyen's, for instance. There's no reason he should have only $8.7k on hand after raising $77k the previous cycle and showing no indication of spending much of that.

- Likewise, some absences are notable: Dung Le may have gotten off to a late start in filing for District J, but there are way too many vinyl signs draped on public property to warrant not filing a finance report.

Kuff has the HERO-related overview.


Back to the Airwaves

» Chron: Mayor race only now heading to TV

Rebecca Elliott from the Chron does the reporter-ey thing and captures some details of the ad "war."

To date, five candidates have paid a combined $1.6 million to advertise on network television, half of what was spent on TV in the last open-seat race in 2009.


Thus far, Costello has spent more on broadcast than any candidate in the race – about $625,000 across KTRK (Channel 13), KHOU (Channel 11), KPRC (Channel 2,) KRIV (Channel 26) and KIAH (Channel 39), according to his campaign - with ads scheduled in two waves through Nov. 2. He also has been advertising on cable since July.


Meanwhile, presumptive frontrunners Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia, who closed out the first half of the year with more than $1 million in the bank apiece, have invested about $450,000 each in broadcast TV.

At the time of posting on the 22nd, I had the press release in hand about Turner's buy and I'd seen an ad for Chris Bell that morning. As the story (and press release in my inbox) indicates, the pro-HERO folks will go up on the air on Thursday with a fairly significant-sized buy. With that, here's a minor update on the cross-section that I've been tracking for ads placed on local newscasts:


Four details from the Chron story seem worth pointing out:

- Bill King's cable buy of $300k qualifies as a different means of trying to do the same thing. Simply stated, $300k on cable is a very different animal than what most other candidates will do. I'll be shocked if King doesn't go on broadcast at some point. But the level of his cable purchase is a worthwhile strategy.

- Adrian Garcia's plan to go up on TV as late as possible despite sufficient resources is a gamble. Obviously, they're banking on Garcia having good name ID and probably some ability to coalesce some of the Latino vote from Univision ad placements. There's a fair amount of risk in this approach.

- Chris Bell's lack of money in the bank is a definite strike against him. But I think the quality of his ad and the low-cost placements he's going for give him a decent bang-for-the-buck. Early AM and afternoon newscasts aren't super expensive and the audience from them is pretty rich. There are a couple of placement patterns available on cable that are also inexpensive and reach a good audience for voters. It remains to be seen if any of this will have an impact on actual votes cast, but there's nothing wrong with doing the best you can when only limited resources are available.

- Marty McVey's strategy is highly suggestive that some of the rumors I've heard will come true. Namely, that he isn't going to spend most of the money he's loaned himself for the campaign. Heck, at this point, I'm not sure why he's spending any of it. The quote in the article is essentially a concession speech.

Those points aside, there are mixed results for what early ad exposure gets you. The belief is that Costello was simply trying to game exposure prior to polling in order to show something better than single digits. I haven't seen any campaign's polling to know if that worked, but I would have been more impressed with Costello's early strategy if it was more evenly purchased and aimed at creating something for Election Day rather than a poll.

The go-by example for early advertising is obviously Bill White in 2003. But the dollar amounts for what White spent aren't seen in candidates this time around. As for the "not" example, there's Peter Brown. Brown was airing his second ad and had at least one mailer delivered by this time. For what little it matters to the outcomes, I thought Brown's ads were good and Bill White's early ads weren't. Suffice it to say, quality of the candidate matters. And usually, a little luck and whole lot of other things have an impact, too.

So I don't claim early advertising to be the end-all of candidate success. I'm just amazed that any individual campaign would leave the playing field to someone else when they have the means to compete. And at the end of it all, I think there is something to be said for communicating what you plan to do as mayor to voters outside of the limited network of civic organizations, political clubs, makeshift candidate forums, and the lucky few who get to meet a candidate on their doorstop.


District J Candidate Conversation (and upcoming events)

The Access Channel debate for District J:

The week ahead has three more opportunities to see and hear from District J candidates:

- Tonight 6:30pm: Sharpstown Civic Association Candidate Forum (Bayland Park Community Center)
- Saturday 10am: Sharpstown Democrats (Bayland Park Community Center)
- Tuesday 7pm: Moving Forward Candidate Forum - (Riceville Mt. Olive Baptist Church - 11539 S. Gessner Rd.)


The Non-Campaign for Houston Mayor

Keeping up with the DVR project mentioned earlier, I recently made it a point last week to clear out some space on the DVR by catching up on logging some TV newscast ad placements by political folks.

You'll recall that as campaign finance reports came due back in July, we had a sense of which candidates would have enough money to do any kind of significant voter communication. With four candidates closing the period with over $1M in the bank (and Ben Hall writing a big enough check to himself to have $800k), some folks were excused for their over-exuberance in expecting a flood of campaign advertising. And you would have thought that more than one candidate would make news by going up on television sooner rather than later.

No dice.

There's an operating truism in most campaigns that you won't meet enough people in-person to win an election. There's just no way. If you knock on doors, you're lucky to get a 40% rate of people opening their doors. If you make phone calls, you may get somewhere between 5-25% rate of people answering and/or listening to what you hope is a meaningful pitch for your candidate. If you make the rounds at all the events, forums, other people's fundraisers that you can crash, or National Night Out events, you run into the same 500 people (or however many people you want to attribute) throughout the city that attend such events. All in all, these points of contact aren't nothing. And every campaign should do these activities. But that sets the floor for how many people you actually see one-on-one. There just isn't a path available that ends up with these methods of outreach touching enough people to meaningful swing an election.

That reality seems to go out the window in City of Houston elections, though. Without a doubt, every candidate goes home late at night, worn out from the schedule they've put themselves through. Campaign staff - also presumably - works as late as possible either running a phone bank; scrounging up volunteers; writing copy for screening committees that will scan them and news departments that will largely ignore them; and staffing a candidate for the sheer joy of peddling push cards to event attendees who have already made up their minds for whom they'll vote. From a campaign's perspective, it's very easy to convince yourself that there is a very real campaign going on.

Except that, in Houston there isn't much of a campaign going on. For anything. With four Mayoral candidates showing seven-figure bank accounts and the promise that multiple candidates in an open seat election would lead to a hefty increase in voter turnout, I'm not convinced.

There are really two methods of communicating with voters that, to me, demonstrates a visible campaign: mail and television. I haven't seen a single piece of mail in my own mailbox. By all means feel free to drop a comment if you're seeing anything in yours. I'm informed that mail is dropping in my own Council District, but for whatever reason, I'm not getting any.

Granted, my residence is an apartment. Those doors don't exactly get knocked on a lot. And I have no idea which databases have my current cell number, but I'm not terribly eager for a phone pitch for any candidate anyway. The long and short of this is that it's not like I live in an area where you can tell it's election season simply by walking the dog and counting yard signs, volunteers knocking on doors, or sending annoying phone calls to voice mail every weekend.

What is more unavoidable, however, is mail and television advertising. In this regard, Stephen Costello is the only candidate who has run any semblance of a functional campaign so far. And that's all courtesy of television ads. And that's all reliant up an ad buy that has been fairly weak in the past two weeks.

So, I've been recording the following newscasts:
- Channel 2 - 6am news
- Channel 13 - 6pm news
- Channel 11 and 13 - 10pm news

Here's what the ad placement has looked like through Sunday:

2015 Houston Mayoral Ad Spending through 9/20/15

Three caveats:

- Sylvester Turner apparently went up on television as of yesterday.

- I'm conveniently ignoring cable advertising (news or otherwise). Apparently Bill King has bet his entire television advertising to date on cable. Costello's buy has been supplemented with cable, and Turner's purchase will also be supplemented with cable. Cable isn't nothing, but what is generally unknown is what cable outlets are purchased. It may very well be that either a campaign or ad buyer may see fit to buy just Comcast. But Comcast's share of market has been in decline since I bought it for candidates back in 2008. And the overall dollar amounts I'm seeing for candidates so far doesn't suggest their putting an enormous priority on it. Long story short, I view these buys as "something," but not a game-changer in terms of how much presence they have. And for the record, I've not seen a single ad placed on anything I've recorded from basic cable (which isn't much).

- My selection of newscasts is not designed to be exhaustive. It is simply a cross-section. The selection of any particular channel at any given time is debatable. I just wanted to cover those three parts of the day and ensure that I covered the big three channels. Sorry KRIV!

I'm certain that the remainder of the campaign will get more crowded on the airwaves and in the mailbox. But my point in declaring this year's campaign a bust is that we've now less than a month away from Early Voting. We know about what percentage of voters will cast their vote early. And the level of communication with voters has been about as minimal as can possibly exist.

The net result is that the large and diverse field running for Mayor will do next-to-nothing to drive up turnout - in and of itself. the real campaign will be the runoff and that's a much shorter campaign. And it will probably have a quiet period right after November 3rd as campaigns look to find a second round of funding to get back in gear.

It's also worth noting that there is nothing on television promoting the HERO proposition. That's even more concerning. I believe the anti-HERO narrative has enough strength through word-of-mouth networks and right-wing radio to boost turnout against the proposition. But there is simply nothing happening to counteract that. I hope I'm ultimately wrong, but I wouldn't want to bet big at this moment on Prop 1 passing in November. That one doesn't have a runoff to extend the conversation another 4-5 weeks. So November is a much harder deadline.

There are a lot of challenges that campaigns - even those with $1M on hand - have in running a visible and viable campaign. In short, $1M really doesn't go very far in a city like Houston. That has a lot to do with why we know precious little about city council candidates or candidates for Controller. But the side effect of that big field of candidates is that the money seems to be spread fairly thin among the top-tier candidates.

Maybe the 30-day finance reports will shed some new light on what campaigns are doing well, what they're doing right, or which candidates shouldn't be trusted with the city's budget based on how they're operating their campaign budget. In the meantime, most of the voters will just wait for a campaign to say something meaningful to them. A lot of time has ticked off the clock already, though.


A Most Unusual Water Bill Complaint

To set the scene, here are two names from the Houston City Council agenda for public speakers to address council on Tuesday afternoon:

  • Mr. Deepak Upreti – 8500 Nairn Street – 77074 – Water dispute discrepancy
  • Mr. Kamal Bhambhani - 8500 Nairn Street – 77074 – Water dispute discrepancy

What jumps out from this is the address. 8500 Nairn is the Rockport Apartments here in southwest Houston. It is also one that was particularly hard-hit by the tornadoes and flooding that happened over Labor Day weekend. Here's some background on why this particular apartment complex means anything:

» KTRK: Many Residents Displaced After Tornado Hits SW Houston Apartment Complex

The scene was pretty gruesome. Council Member Mike Laster and his crew worked overtime to help families in the days after 11 of the 22 buildings in this complex were damaged.

Anyhow, it turns out that the owners of the complex chose to address council about what they believe to be a $2,000 overcharge on the water bill for the complex - supposedly related to the impact the damage had on the occupancy rate for the complex. Things did not go well.

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