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All Quiet on the Television Front

Since I've got a spanking-new Comcast DVR to break in, I thought I'd set up a schedule for the local news. So I've got one schedule for a 6am broadcast on KPRC, a 6pm on KTRK, and a 10pm on KHOU. Mind you, I don't intend to watch this much local news. The purpose of this is to see what local candidates are advertising there. Since setting this up about a month ago, I've not seen a single ad. Obviously, we've not yet reached Labor Day. So there's still time. I'm told that Stephen Costello had advertisements purchased on the locals - I presume it was at the launch of his "Hello Costello" ad. But there's been no sustained advertising that I've witnessed.

The campaign finance reports released back in July indicated that King and Costello were buying cable advertising. I owe it to myself to investigate those purchases. It's always interesting to see if there's some wildly inefficient spending going on with cable ad purchases.


The 2015 Money Primary: City of Houston [UPDATED]

UPDATE (Thursday afternoon) - Updates made after the first large batch are italicized below. Carroll Robinson leads the way for updates.


UPDATE (midnight) - Kudos to the city staff who got the page updated in good time. Updates below are from the reports listed around midnight on the 15th. Obviously, some are still missing.

A note on methodology: I broke out the amounts "raised" into three distinct categories: the relatively true "raised" total from page three of the reports, the in-kind total from page three, and the loans reported on page three. Totals for expenditures and cash on hand are taken from page two of the reports. Most campaigns are likely to publicize their grand total of funds raised. My intent is to highlight the amounts raised in new, hard cash as well as the cash on hand. For now, just the totals - I'll update the missing as I get to them. Commentary and a little bit of research to follow in the days ahead.


Here's the running total as they come in. As Kuff notes, the city's system isn't prepared for the new format of the report. So if I'm lagging, here's the page where the reports are supposed to be loaded.

The new system is designed to clarify what expenses are really in-kind contributions. For the uninitiated, these kind of items have typically been things like a poll or opposition research package provided by an organization or major donor (which has some value and has varying degrees of actual value). They've also been abused by candidates listing yard signs as a set dollar value in-kind contribution (which is generally bull-honkus). For better or worse, the distinction looks like it is designed to provide some honest-er accounting.

Given the time of year, Cash on Hand is the amount to pay the most attention to. You may or may not be able to puff up numbers elsewhere in the report, but the amount of money you have in the bank to drop on an opponent's head going into the Labor Day campaign launchpad is harder to massage. Although, there's not much accountability for just making up a number there.

Anyway, numbers to come as they're posted or if candidates post some Page 2s online. In that case (like that of Chris Brown's below), the in-kind column is noted with a placeholder (#).

Mayor                     Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Chris Bell               366,770     14,897          0    204,868     190,034
Stephen Costello       1,476,757     15,475     90,000    496,668   1,314,202
Adrian Garcia          1,441,792     64,982          0    122,699   1,321,625
Ben Hall                 948,630*         #    850,000    136,454     812,175
Bill King                721,250     34,042    500,000    680,685     544,498
Marty McVey               43,927     16,270  1,075,000    129,185   1,071,585
Demetria Smith                NA
Sylvester Turner         747,793     15,298          0    601,853   1,160,813

* - Ben Hall's campaign didn't break out their in-kind expnses on their report.

Controller                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Jew Don Boney                 NA
Chris Brown              267,750      3,547          0     22,032     222,858
Bill Frazer              128,097      1,009     32,500    120,956      53,973 
Dwight Jefferson           8,653      2,943      1,860      9,255           *
Carroll Robinson          46,170      3,908          0     33,973       5,033     

* - Jefferson's campaign didn't have Page Two details

At Large #1               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Trebor Gordon                 NA
Griff Griffin                 NA
Lane Lewis               102,473      2,296        100     19,082      62,839
Tom McCasland            128,241     13,742          0     30,199      98,041
Chris Oliver              27,585     10,000          0      3,913      23,671
Jenifer Pool                  NA

At Large #2               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Andrew Burks                  NA
Moe Rivera                   992        130          0        303           ?
David Robinson (i)            NA

At Large #3               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Brad Batteau                  NA
Atlas Kerr                    NA
Michael Kubosh (i)        63,205          0          0     23,322      44,745
John C.B. LaRue              650      1,525          0        537         218    
Joseph McElligott             NA
Doug Peterson              4,250        505          0        104       4,120 

At Large #4               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Larry Blackmon               NA
Amanda Edwards          157,084       8,874        500     29,300     118,185    
Jonathan Hansen             950         300      6,663      1,613           0
Roy Morales              16,300         500          0        451      16,348
Matt Murphy               3,990           0     10,332     14,195         330
Laurie Robinson          28,623      14,420     12,000     16,736      26,719

At Large #5               Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Jack Christie (i)       124,350           0          0     28,148      100,281
Durrel Douglas               NA
Philippe Nassif              NA
Charles Tahir                 0

District A                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Brenda Stardig (i)        85,075          0          0     31,833      113,897

District B                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Jerry Davis (i)           96,430          0          0     28,687      161,587

District C                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Ellen Cohen (i)          131,450          0          0     24,479     167,474
Jason Hochman                  0          0          0          0           0

District D                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Dwight Boykins (i)        86,050          0          0     34,760      59,481

District E                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Dave Martin (i)           72,900          0          0     14,045      94,758

District F                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Steve Le                      NA
Richard Nguyen (i)        77,095      1,352          0    16,457       73,347

District G                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Sandie Mullins Moger      15,920      1,550          0      8,035       8,617
Greg Travis               16,635          0     41,000    29,773       34,395

District H                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Roland Chavez             48,669      5,235      5,100     5,573       48,415
Karla Cisneros            30,095      5,272          0    13,956       24,647
Jason Cisneroz            33,000      2,174          0    14,611       18,738
Abel Davila                6,500          0          0     9,046       17,453

District I                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Robert Gallegos (i)       62,655      3,000          0     21,475      91,014

District J                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Jim Bigham                    45          0          0         51          45
Mike Laster (i)           85,550      1,711          0     14,081     157,061

District K                Raised     In-Kind      Loan      Spent     On Hand
Larry Green (i)          110,270          0          0     29,135     137,117


One Foot Still in Houston: City Fundraising Announcements

I haven't left Houston just yet, so it's worth taking note of the markers that the city candidates are putting down for their fundraising results.

Garcia was first out of the gate with his figures, announcing a $1.5 million haul Tuesday afternoon. According to his campaign, Garcia neither contributed his own money nor transferred funds from his sheriff's account.

King followed with a statement Wednesday morning saying he raised $1.25 million, $750,000 of which came from donors, meaning King likely supplied $500,000 for his own bid.

Costello also financed his own campaign to the tune of $250,000 and transferred $262,000 from his city council account, according to his release.

That's just the Mayoral numbers. The Controller's race is obviously well below the radar, but there are more than two viable candidates in that race, also. If the results are anywhere near what they are in the Mayoral race, it's quite obvious that someone is going to raise a whole heckuvalotta money, run a better race than Peter Brown ever ran, and still miss out on a spot in the runoff.

And just as obviously, there's going to be some nit-picking over how the reports are filed: how much is in-kind contributions, how much is transferred from other campaign funds, self-funded, or family-funded. And things like burn rate, donor names, and other piddly details are enough to eat up my free time when I get back from the Twin Cities. But fear not - eventually the voters get a say in whether any of that matters.


CoH 2015: Southwest Houston Council Challenges

I'm long overdue for catching up on the City of Houston campaign season. My plan was to take a deeper dive into the subject after my vacation in a few weeks. But it's worth pointing out that both city council members representing SW Houston will have primary challenges this election. Today's entry happened with District J, with Sharpstown Civic Association President Jim Bigham jumping into the race against incumbent, Mike Laster. Prior to that, District F incumbent Richard Nguyen drew an opponent in physician Steve Le.

Together with an open (and crowded) Mayor's race, it should be interesting to watch. For whatever it matters or proves to be worth, here's my post showing the partisan inclination of City Council voting districts.


About That San Antonio Election

I'm obviously still running days and weeks behind on a lot of election/campaign news going on. In the case of the San Antonio mayoral race, I'm only a few days behind. With that, here are the three traditional views of the results (map courtesy of the Express-News):

» San Antonio Express-News: Taylor dominated key voting precincts
» Texas Tribune: Taylor's San Antonio Win a Wake-Up Call for Democrats

Ivy R. Taylor  .......... 50,659 (51.7%) 
Leticia Van De Putte .... 47,328 (48.3%) 

There's obviously a great deal of angst expressed by folks who (like me) supported Leticia Van de Putte. In particular, a lot of that is directed at "those lazy people who don't vote." I'll offer one contrarian take to this and be done with it. I've worked on campaigns that have won and lost. I've worked on campaigns where I had a negligible impact on that outcome and those where I've had a bit more. But I know enough to say that when you've lost, the first questions shouldn't be aimed at voters who didn't support you. I guarantee you that there had to be something the LVP campaign wishes they had done differently that had an impact on the election. I doubt that lack of money was a significant issue for the campaign. So, as much as it pains me, there should have been a better campaign run. Period. That doesn't seem to reflect what's getting written about, but I hope the folks who go from LVP's campaign to work on other campaigns operates on that basis in their next campaign.

The oddity of it all, for me, is that San Antonio seems to be the most fought-over mayor's seat that involves a City Manager form of government. There have certainly been mayors in San Antonio's recent history that have exceeded what most weakish-mayor systems tend to produce. But still. San Antonio will be fine.


The Exit Door

The Almanac is still a thing, but I figured the current round of legislative retirements deserves a dedicated working space. With that, here's who's moving on to better and brighter things:

Rep. Allen Fletcher (R - NW Harris County) - was hoping to get the appointed gig for Harris County Sheriff, but has made it known that he'd be running for it in 2016 regardless. He also gave his going-away speech toward the end of the legislative session. District is about as safe as it gets for GOP - no known names for the seat come to mind.

Rep. Sylvester Turner (D - NW Harris County) - running for Houston mayor for the third time. Also preached his going-away speech during the final days of the lege. Safe Dem seat and there will be a long line of potential replacements. Biggest name to date is HISD trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R - Bell County) - gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. No known names for the seat early on, but the district has potential for a Democratic pickup in 2016 (followed by an almost certain return to GOP control in a non-Presidential year).

Rep. Joe Farias (D - Bexar County) - gave his going-away speech in the closing days of the Lege. Like Aycock's seat, the district has some potential for swinging to the other party.

Sen. Troy Fraser (R - Central Texas) - announced via letter to Senators after the legislative session. Rep. Aycock was asked to consider running for the seat by Fraser's campaign manager, but declined. There shouldn't be a shortage of candidates for this seat, but the field could be thinned out by fundraising ability. Of some interest is that former Representative (and failed Comptroller nominee) Harvey Hilderbran represented the southern portion of the Senate District.

Rep. Patricia Harless (R - NW Harris County) - announced on June 8 that she would not run again. District is safe GOP. Two names to watch for may be Harless' husband (who toyed with a run for SD7 after Dan Patrick announced for Lt. Gov). Former HD126 candidate John Devine has since successfully run for state Supreme Court. The only semi-announced candidate thus far is attorney, Kevin Roberts.

And in other activity:

Thomas Ratliff (R - East Texas) - announced he would not run for re-election to the State Board of Education.

Sen. Kevin Eltife (R - East Texas) - hasn't announced whether or not he'll run for re-election. But State Rep. David Simpson is rumored to be running for the GOP nomination regardless. Outgoing State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff has said he would consider running if Eltife opted to retire.

Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R - North Central Texas) - Rep. Sheffield has a very visible voting record that allows him to be identified as a moderate in a GOP primary. But his speech against the Schaefer amendment that would ban abortions of fetuses with genetic abnormalities after 20 weeks gave even more ammunition to opponents. Rep. Jonathan Stickland announced via twitter that "[t]his could be Rep. Sheffields last speech on the #txlege floor." Stephenville realtor Brent Graves announced his intention to challenge Sheffield prior to the end of the legislative session.

Rep. Jim Keffer (R - North Texas) - Hasn't made an announcement. Michael Quinn Sullivan seems to believe he will retire rather than face another tough primary challenge (allegedly from RR Commish David Porter). That may be wishful thinking on Sullivan's part, however.

Rep. Charlie Geren (R - Tarrant County) - Hasn't made an announcement. Presumed to be running again. But already has a primary challenge. Given the growing strength of the Tea Party in Tarrant County and more relaxed campaign finance laws (not to mention Geren's pointed opposition to same), it could potentially be more entertaining than prior primary challenges against Geren.

Updates are a given ...


The Joys of Bracketing

A minor tidbit of legislative work to share from the past five months:

Legislative Director typically entails reading a fair amount of legislation. That's about as exciting as it sounds. And even more mundane is that a good deal of legislation is "bracketed" so that it only applies to certain counties, cities, school districts, etc.... After a while, you pick up a lot of the easy-to-guess brackets, like Harris County being "a county of over 4 million." But some locations require more creativity. And when you factor in a fight over a pet project, the added spite makes that creativity a bit more comical.

With that, I offer my favorite bracket of all time - offered as an amendment to an amendment by Rep. Jason Isaac (R - Hays County) after taking offense to Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R - NW Dallas County) arguing against an economic incentive fund. The solution: don't allow it to be used in the bulk of Rinaldi's legislative district:

Amend amendment by Rinaldi to CSHB 1 (page 43, prefiled amendments packet) by adding the following appropriately numbered item and renumbering subsequent items accordingly:

(_) None of the funds appropriated above to Strategies C.1.1, Economic Development; and C.1.2, Tourism can be used for projects located in a city with a population under 750,000 people according to the 2010 census and located within a 5 mile radius of an international airport with three active flight towers.

It was the first time I've seen a bracket definition incorporate either a radius or airport flight towers. And in fairness to Rep. Isaac, he did seem to leave a good portion of HD115 eligible for economic development funds (blue blob = HD115; yellow line = 5 mile radius from DFW Airport):




Belatedly, it's worth noting that I'm back in Austin for the legislative session. Theoretically, that would mean a slowdown in blogging. But given the pace over the past several months, who knows.

For the sake of making myself feel better, the work product over this span of time seems to be about 568 pages of notes from legislative and budget board hearings between the end of the last legislature and the beginning of this one. I'm sure it'll eventually be some fascinating reading for an archaeologist many years from now.

To make matters even more fascinating, the reading list has turned to matters more along the lines of a thrilling class on Public Administration. I've caved into the textbook pricing scheme and picked up some long-lost reading that includes some updates since my time in college. The Washington Monthly obliges with more recent spins on the subject. As fascinating as I find the subject matter, it's not exactly the most "blog-friendly" material.

With that, I expect a bit of a slowdown, but also some time to refocus on what it is that I'd like to spend more time blogging about (or updating the Almanac with). Until then, I'll be sure to update sparingly between now and the end of the legislative session.


4-wk sprint: Early Celebration for Mail Ballot Requests

Kuff and Campos (and Campos again) post some good news about mail ballot applications. Namely, the hubbub is on the fact that applications received so far this year outpace the Mail Ballot votes cast in 2012. Emphasis mine, of course.

The effort to catch up to the Hotze/GOP mail ballot program certain ain't nothing. But it's still a game of catchup and it's a game that won't necessarily show clear results once the Early Vote totals are in on Election Night. As I see it, the markers for this are as follows:

» Does the return rate change (presumably, drop) as a result of a bigger pool of voters sending in applications?

» Is the growth in Mail Ballot voters just cannibalizing from voters who would otherwise vote early or on Election Day?

» Is the dollar amount expended to play catchup among a small pool of voters really worth the effort given the opportunity cost of working the other 93% of the electorate?

While it would no doubt be more entertaining on Election Night to see results that didn't have Dems in a big hole at the county level, we obviously won't see the real impact of this program until much later. One of the first rules of campaigning is you do the work you have the money to do the work with. And in this case, raising money to run a Mail Ballot program is easier than some of the things I wish we were doing instead. And, as Kuff notes, there's no single silver bullet - there needs to be a mail ballot program of some type and there needs to be about a dozen other things done. Battleground Texas and Texas Organizing Project are complements to what the Harris County Democratic Party are doing and several campaigns around the county (including the one for my boss) add to the mix as well.

All that to say: congrats to all on some great work for this component. I'm glad that the work is being done ... but I'd just as soon not assume that the game has been forever changed in our favor because of this.

Campos dutifully points out that about 75% of 2012 Mail Ballot Applications were returned as a cast vote. So that's the marker for what we should see at the end of Early Voting. We'll know the number of applications sent in and the number of mail ballots returned as votes. Of all the markers, I would assume that this should be reasonably likely to clock in somewhere close to the same 75% based on the assumption that if someone goes through the trouble of sending in an application, there's a decent chance that they do so with the intention of voting. From my work as an Early Vote clerk in 2013, I saw the flip side of this: people who didn't want to vote by mail, but were pestered into sending in an application and complaining to high heaven about the "chaser" phone calls that they really wish would end. So that reaction is a reality, but it doesn't seem to be a majority reaction. Here's hoping that remains true.

The cannibalization factor is one that I know the Party has a ready answer for. And it involves some portion of those applications being among voters who vote in Presidential years, but not in Gov-year elections. It's not that I think the share of Pres-only voters that we're hitting is complete bunk, but I'm a little skeptical of the scale that we're talking about. One the countywide level, Dems need to make up between 30-50,000 votes to elect a straight slate of judges to the bench. I think the wildly optimistic high end for what a mail ballot program will generate at around 15,000. Which would be fine if that ended up being the case. But there is always a pool of Pres-only voters who end up showing up in Gov-years, just as there is always a pool of nontraditional city-year voters who show up for city elections. My experience is in an apartment-heavy, highly-mobile electorate, but I'm used to seeing 25% new voters in elections where we expect only "the usual voters" showing up. That may be on the high end, but I don't think it's beyond the pale to suggest that about 15% of the electorate is going to be new voters. Ultimately, though, we won't know this until the full voter roster comes back. So whatever celebratory numbers we see about Mail Ballot voters should be kept in check until we know all the facts.

The question of opportunity cost is a longer-term issue. Ideally, I would think that we would hope to see the share of the electorate from Mail Ballots remain roughly the same while improving our showing among those Mail Ballot votes. That would suggest minimal cannibalization and suggest that the "new voter" pool is legitimately separate from what normally drives new voters to the polls on any given election. Those are tough metrics to hit. And I would love to see them be hit. But if all you've done is move some Early, In-Person Voters over to the Mail Voter column, the issue of where those dollars could have been better spent ought to be a question seriously addressed.

It's not like we haven't been here before. Early Vote 2008 returns were celebrated on a daily basis until candidates and poll workers realized that Election Day was a barren wasteland of activity since so many votes had been banked. Efforts to bank votes earlier in the process aren't worth zero dollars. But if you're challenge is to make a non-Pres electorate look like a Pres-year electorate, I would argue that two of the worst places to start would be knocking on single-family home doors and focusing efforts on Over-65 voters. Targeting voters is all fine and well, but it still leaves significant swathes of geography untouched by so-called modern campaign techniques. Whatever the results ultimately show, here's the math for what we've seen before:

        STRAIGHT PARTY  |      GOV       |    US SEN     | Cast Votes  | of Electorate
2012    40.5% - 59.2%   |      ---       | 41.6% - 57.0% |   76,025    |     6.3%
2010    32.0% - 67.6%   | 41.9% - 56.9%  |      ---      |   55,510    |     6.9%
2008    33.8% - 65.8%   |      ---       | 35.6% - 62.8% |   67,556    |     5.7% 
2006    38.4% - 61.2%   | 29.7% - 47.7%  | 34.9% - 63.9% |   23,314    |     3.8%
2004    32.5% - 67.3%   |      ---       |      ---      |   47,163    |     4.3%
2002    36.1% - 63.6%   | 33.5% - 65.6%  | 36.3% - 63.1% |   34,993    |     5.3%

Democrats can win in Harris County by two methods: either what Battleground, HCDP, TOP and others are doing make the difference, or we were going to win anyway with a nice, helping hand from demographics. Ultimately, I'm fine with either. We can haggle the details after the election if we're successful.


HISD Redistricting – The 2014 Round

Who's ready for some more redistricting?

This caught me by surprise last night (H/T Stace). Apparently, it's due to the annexation of North Forest ISD. You can flip through the information handout here. The big picture of the changes is below. Gene Locke from Andrews & Kurth returns to be the lead legal eagle on this. But instead of working with UH and Dr. Richard Murray as the demographer, they're now using a team from Rice led by Dr. Bob Stein.

As is the norm, there will be public meetings. And the first one is up tonight:

  • Tuesday, July 1 - 6:30pm - Shadydale Elementary School - 5905 Tidwell
  • Tuesday, July 8 - 6:30pm - Pin Oak Middle School - 4601 Glenmont
  • Thursday, July 10 - 6:30pm - Hattie Mae White Educational service Center - 4400 West 18th Street
  • Tuesday, July 15 - 6:30pm - Austin High School - 1700 Dumble

I'm hoping to hit all four of these and I'll be sure to update on each. I don't see any boundary changes in my little sliver of the world, although I did get around to noticing that my recent move into the heart of Gulfton puts me in Harvin Moore's district, where I had been in Mike Lunceford's district previously. Page 18 of the info packet highlights where the geographic shifts are between districts.

At first glance, I don't notice any major demographic alterations. Two of the Hispanic-majority districts gain Hispanic population (Districts 1 and 8) while the third (District 3), drops from 77.5% VAP to 75.5% VAP. Among the African-American majority districts, there's minor wiggle room in two, while District 2 gains a VAP majority under the new map - up from 43.3% in the existing map.

All in all, fairly minor tweaks for a substantial addition in territory and population. We'll see if there's any opposition once we get into the public hearings. It might be a stretch, but typically the first target for opposition in Latino communities are districts that have high Hispanic percentages short of a majority. District 2 - an AfrAm-majority district - would start as the primary suspect, but the new map takes their VAP Hispanic numbers down from 40.3% to 36.9%. That looks like a decent move in the aggregate.

The current map:

The proposed map:

HISD Board of Trustees - June 12th presentation

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