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Still Alive

June 1, 2014 Etc ... No Comments

As you might have noticed, blogging has been uber-sparse in the past few months. Typically, when I’ve explained why this is to people in the real world, I some variation of “You must be busy.” the answer to that would be a resounding yes … and no. I’m not really all that more busy than I’ve every been with anything else going on professionally. But a lot of what I am doing these days serves as a substitute for the outlet of blogging.

The biggest part of that has had me watching the fascinating world of interim hearings going on in Austin – over 60 of them since late February. So instead of flipping through my online reading list and riffing on matters of outrage and attaboys, much of that time has gone toward watching the fascinating world of interim charges being discussed at a leisurely pace by House and Senate committees, taking copious notes, and saving said notes. And with that, the outlet of finding something interesting in the world and writing up something slightly less interesting to say about it is fulfilled.

Of course, all of that comes at a point when there are some genuinely interesting things going on in the world that I’ve just had to sit back and wave at as they pass by: the fact that we’ve settled upon every statewide officeholder above the pay-grade of Railroad Commission being occupied by a new person for the first time since I-forget-when; the fact that a certain segment of the Houston-base part of the world went nuts over the idea that there is a religious right to discriminate; and the fact that I finally got around to adding a new Basset Hound to my world – Elsie B. Wythe.

The name derives from the fact that I didn’t have a perfect girl’s name set aside for a Basset and the idea that I could make a name something of an homage to my mom and two grandmothers, whose names began with two Ls and one E (Ls … E. Elsie. Get it?). I won’t even get into the time suck that comes from picking up dog poop and walking a puppy every two hours to minimize the possibility of pee flowing through the living room. We’ve already been through two dog beds, one throw blanket, and miles of patience for house training. So with that, who has time for blogging?

Of course, the reality is that I will eventually get back on the blogging horse. But I think it’s as good a time as any for rethinking the routine. I may bring a little of the Interim Hearing info onto the blog, I might rediscover the joys of aggreblogging to keep up with the information flow. I might just pick one or two issue areas that I’d like to focus on in more detail. I might pick up where TBogg has left off and provide the world a weekly dose of Basset Hound photos. And, if the stars align, I might even get back in the poorly-developed habit of updating the Almanac.

For now, though: Peace, Love, and Basset Hounds.

Only the Hardest of Hard News Would Bring Me Out of Hiatus

Long time, no blog. My apologies for that. Normally, I would at least make some feeble excuse for neglecting my constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Rest assured that I bring momentous news to blog about upon my return …

» Rolling Stone: The Long Kiss Goodbye: The Search for Vinnie Vincent

The story is of some interest to the relatively high-brow Rolling Stone due to KISS’ induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the induction did not go along with the massive concert jam that we’re accustomed to by the newly enshrined. Turns out there was just enough bad blood between all parties to nix that. The original four did manage to save some nice words for their induction speeches, at least.

And in a perfect world, there would be a stage full of Vinnie Vincents, Bob & Bruce Kulickses … perhaps even an Anton Fig sighting or an homage to the late Mark St. John. But to mention KISS to a child of the 70s or 80s is akin to mentioning the Beatles to a child of the 60s (or anyone else for that matter). There are only four names anyone cares about. In this case: Gene, Paul, Ace, and Peter. And that’s all that the HOF officials wanted to show off.

Yet, within the KISS Army exists a strain of thought that holds the belief that it was Vinnie Vincent alone who kept the band on track through the 80s, writing era-appropriate material that kept them in arenas and out of the downward spiral through the club circuit. I tend to share that belief. But, then again, I also picked up a copy of Vinnie’s solo CD, Boys are Gonna Rock, eagerly and unapologetically.

The Rolling Stone does a decent job of updating the status (if not the whereabouts) of one Vincent Cusano. Most of the twists and turns, I’ve kept tabs of over time. The latest being some odd discoveries of dead dogs in his back yard after some accusations of spousal abuse. But since then – not much to report.

There exist a handful of musicians from the 80s who somehow boggle the mind over their lack of output since their glory days. There are some sporadic recordings of Vincents’ since his second and final Vinnie Vincent Invasion album in 1988. All horrible dreck. Plenty of guitarists from the era went on to reinvent themselves after the years they’re most known for. For some reason, Vinnie never proved capable of that. A darn shame, I think. Even if his material from the 80s was decidedly over-the-top, it at least provided some fun for those of us who struggle to play well short of that.

Anyways, I promise not take time off from blogging until the next obscure artist from the 80s gets a write-up. But just to make sure, there is some new material out by Jake E. Lee and the singer from Stryper has a new solo release and biography coming out in early May. So there’s that to look forward to.

2014 GOP Primary Results: RR Commissioner

March 10, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

Falling a little behind, here’s one more add-on from Friday’s map-making. Below is Wayne Christian’s map for the GOP RR Commissioner’s race. Christian led the pack 43-31 over Ryan Sitton. You can download the Google Earth file to get the expandable folder for all contestants. Rest assured, the bulk of the action was between Christian and Sitton, though.

I like that Christian’s results show some importance to what I like to call “owning real estate” in politics. He has a backyard – his former House district. He killed there. And adding onto a decent showing in the rest of the state, that little extra exclamation mark tends to help. The newspapers seemed to like Sitton and he did well in the big urbans and got a fairly even smattering of votes elsewhere. It could be an interesting race to see after the runoff decides things. But I tend to believe that, all things considered, a candidate with a strong regional base has a little less work to do.

I’ve got a tweak to make in code for five-person candidate fields and then I’ve got to color code things for the Democratic side. Here’s hoping that goes live tomorrow.

The color coding is as follows:
- Dark Red – 50% or more for Christian
- Red – 35-50% for Christian
- Orange – 20-35% for Christian
- Yellow – Under 20% for Christian

» full pageGoogle Earth

2014 GOP Primary Results: Lt. Gov, Attorney General, Comptroller

March 7, 2014 Politics-2014 3 Comments

After an evening of spinning some new code, the mapping results are in. I’ve started with three of the most interesting results – all GOP primaries: Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and Comptroller. I’ll get to the less interesting primaries over the weekend.

Since these were multi-candidate fields that are a challenge to show meaningfully on one map, I basically had the maps done to show the strength of support for individual candidates. Dan Patrick’s showing for Lt. Governor is below. If you download any of the Google Earth files, you’ll get an expandable folder for each of the candidates, so you can alternate a view from Dewhurst-to-Patrick or Branch-to-Paxton. Trust me, it’s more fun than that sounds like.

The color coding is as follows:
- Dark Red – 50% or more for Patrick
- Red – 35-50% for Patrick
- Orange – 20-35% for Patrick
- Yellow – Under 20% for Patrick

It’s worth pointing out that the background colors on Google Maps makes Montgomery and Harris county stand out a little darker than they should. After all the tweaking I did on code and color-coding, I’m willing to hurl my shoulders up in a big fit of “Meh!” over it. Apologies if it confuses anyone.

» full page

Google Earth Files:
» Lt. Governor’s Race
» Attorney General’s Race
» Comptroller’s Race

A few things that jump out from looking at the cartography:

- Dan Patrick will be the GOP nominee – and presumptive Lt. Governor in 2015. That’s fairly evident from the simple math of Election Night. The cartography doesn’t make it as obvious, however. But when you factor in the big counties, the big media markets, and Patrick’s strength in the biggest among them … it sure looks like a dead cinch lock. In the Top 10 counties by Total Vote in the primary, Dan Patrick got a pure majority: 50.3% to Dewhurst’s 23.9%. Working the math a bit more, Patrick’s showing in Counties #11-254 were much closer: 34.5% to Dewhurst’s 31.8%. The Top 10 counties accounted for 44% of the vote in the primary, while the other 244 accounted for 56%. If the results were a bit more binary – that is to say, if Dewhurst was just killing it and led Patrick in the non-Top 10, then this might be a more interesting runoff. Instead, it’s Dewhurst’s funeral procession.

- Looking at the rest of the Lt. Gov maps, Todd Staples’ strength in East Texas is as impressive as Jerry Patterson’s vanishing act in Brazoria and Galveston counties. Both were areas represented in previous State Senate seats. Obviously, Patterson is further removed from his time in the State Senate. But still.

- The Attorney General map is a bit difficult to read, but all you need to know is Dallas County, where Paxton beat Branch among the two local candidates: 44.3% to 43.6%. Paxton will possibly try to get the most traction out of the Dan Patrick vote in the runoff. Branch may end up with more money to do his best impersonation of a crazy rightwinger, though. Consider it the more interesting runoff to watch.

- As for the Comptroller’s map, I’ll simply note that Glenn Hegar’s map is pretty much what Dan Patrick probably hopes to see for his runoff. For Hilderbran’s part, he had a good showing in his State Rep district, but it’s pretty clear why it’s better to be 1 of 31 rather than 1 of 150 in this case. Medina’s limited showing should probably be a go-to resource for the next reporter who considers her a queen of anything. And Torres’ map is sure to become the next MSM narrative on why the Texas GOP will have problems in the valley. Right?

Passing of the Torch

March 7, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» Wash. Monthly: America’s “First Blogger” Charlie Peters Hands Over the Reins of his Tilting at Windmills Column (Paul Glastris)

Our esteemed founding editor Charlie Peters has handed in the keys to his signature Tilting at Windmills column. Charlie, who is 87, will still contribute occasionally to the magazine—and when he calls the office we will, as always, snap to attention and dutifully and gratefully take his dictation—but Tilting will now be written by a rotating cast of Washington Monthly contributing editors, beginning, in this issue, with New Yorker staff writer and dean emeritus at Columbia Journalism School Nicholas Lemann.

Sad to see. I’m pretty sure that my own “political coming of age” can be pegged pretty closely to reading Peters’ column during the mid-80s. For what precious little it’s worth, here’s hoping that Ed Kilgore ends up with the gig if it ever stops rotating. Not many writers out there come close to Peters’ understanding of government and bureaucracy.

Yes, There Will Be Maps

March 6, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

Interesting election returns from Tuesday’s primary. And also a bit depressing when you consider that unless there’s a major tidal change in Texas that seems beyond improbable, Dan Patrick will be our next Lt. Governor. It’ll be interesting to see if the money folks choose to cozy up to him or if they at least hedge their bets a little. Locally, it’s at least interesting to see that we’ll have a capable candidate for District Attorney. That’ll be even better if Harris County is made competitive in November.

I’m currently tweaking some code to display 4- and 5-person primary fields adequately and time is a fairly precious commodity. I’m aiming for getting that batch of work off my to-do list tonight, which should mean maps in the morning and maybe a few quick thoughts from each contest.

Voter ID: The Substantial “Shouldas”

In the previous looks at how the new Voter ID law was administered, we saw that 8.3% of Harris County voters ended up initialing the affidavit acknowledging that the names on their ID were not a 100% match to their name on the voter file. There remains, however, an open question of what the ratio should have been. According to media reports, County Clerk Stan Stanart noted that “[a]bout 40 percent of registered Harris County voters have mismatched addresses that could require additional verification.” Emphasis mine.

The law states that the purpose of the ID is to compare the name on it to that on the voter roll, not the address. So while it’s quite believable that Stanart’s 40% number could be believable, it’s not quite the same as saying that 40% of the names on the voter roll fail to match the names on DPS records. So what might that number look like?

Included in the information request I got from the County Clerk was the match file for the voter roll to that of the DPS records. Each record has four name fields for the voter roll (first, middle, last, suffix) and four from DPS. In comparing the file, I ended up with 20.9% of records not matching. My own mismatch name is there, as is Kuff’s, and a few others who mentioned that their names didn’t match. I’m under the impression that this was the very file that the County Clerk’s office used to prepare for the 2013 election (I have a request for verification in with the office, but no response yet). One bit of information I’m hoping to clear up is why the file I have contains 1,871,369 records while the total Registered Voter count on the canvass lists 1,967,881. There could be a number of perfectly logical explanations, but I’m assuming for the moment that the file I have goes a long way toward helping identify what the rate of Substantially Similar affidavits should have looked like.

Countywide, the roster of voters from In-Person Early Voting contained 18,276 voters who should have initialed an affidavit – 20.7% of those who cast their vote early in this manner. That matches surprisingly close to the overall comparison to the DPS records – a finding I hadn’t expected. And it’s worth contrasting that to the 8.3% who actually did initial an affidavit. On the whole, that would suggest a 40% efficiency rate of capturing the initials of those voters who should have initialed.

But the overall result obfuscates a great deal of detail that includes locations that simply did not administer the Voter ID law as they should have … as well as several who over-administered the law to capture names that should not have been required to initial an affidavit. In the previous posts, I identified 40% of Early Voting locations that captured less than 5% of their voters on Substantially Similar Affidavits. In looking at “what should have happened”, I’m finding that out of the 480 location/day combinations (40 locations x 12 days), 20% of these location-days ended up with over-administered affidavit signatures.

In Tuesday’s preview, I noted the location of Pasadena’s Harris County Court Annex. That location “shoulda” seen 174 voters needing to initial an affidavit (10.7% of their Early Voters). In reality, the location got 398 (24.5% of their Early Voters). This gives the location an “Efficiency Rate” of 229%. That qualifies – easily – as the most out-of-whack finding for an “over-administered” location. Obviously, those locations that seemingly failed to get the memo on what the Substantially Similar Name process was ended up with Efficiency Rates at or near zero. In all, seven location ended up as “over-administered” for the entire run of 2013 Early Voting:

126C – 112% (Champion Forest Baptist Church)
128P – 229% (Pasadena – Harris County Court Annex)
130T – 188% (Tomball Public Works Bldg)
135M – 107% (Metropolitan Mult-Service Center)
138B – 186% (Bear Creek Park Community Center)
141H – 102% (Octavia Fields Branch Library)
149G – 131% (Glen Cheek Education Bldg)

Even among locations that did not clock in at over 100% efficiency, there are sporadic daily patterns. For instance, my location – Bayland Park (137B):

10/21 – 24%
10/22 – 94%
10/23 – 109%
10/24 – 164%
10/25 – 105%
10/26 – 88%
10/27 – 100%
10/28 – 94%
10/29 – 122%
10/30 – 85%
10/31 – 70%
11/1 – 50%

Some possible reasons for why we might see efficiency rates over 100% are:

- Not everyone showed a driver’s license or state ID. The DPS matches wouldn’t reflect the fact that a passport or military ID might or might not match. I don’t necessarily buy the idea that this explains a large portion of the differences, though, since the overwhelming majority of voters presented a DPS-issued ID.

- The timing of the voter file comparison remains unconfirmed. Having heard the 40% number repeated and occasionally mis-characterized, my first instinct was to check for a few records that might have been fixed in the Early Voting process under the assumption that I might be looking at a post-election comparison file – perhaps one used for the current primaries. The request for the file specified that I wanted the one used for the 2013 elections, so I’m operating under the assumption that the Clerk’s office got that right. I don’t have reason to believe otherwise after some spot-checking of folks I know who did make a correction to their voter registration.

- The voter file used for comparison is nearly 100,000 voters short of an exact match reported on the canvass. While I’m still waiting for an official response from the County Clerk, it could be that much of that difference could be due to the fact that there was no DPS match -and hence, those 100,000 voters would have a mismatch. This would raise the overall “shoulda” comparison to 25% of voters required to initial an affidavit. Since the calculated rates of what “shoulda” happened and what actually happened were surprisingly close, it isn’t inconceivable that a “revised-shoulda” of 25% mismatches would bring the efficiency rate calculations more inline with expectations. For instance, the 112% efficiency rate for Champions Forest would end up under 100% and more reflective of what we’d expect to see. It still wouldn’t explain Pasadena (or Tomball, or Bear Creek, or Glen Cheek), but it would go a long way towards making everything else make sense.

If you’re inclined to look at any of the detail, here are two reports to go nuts with:

1. This shows the calculated “shoulda” rate for Substantially Similar names based on a calculation of DPS matches from the voter file.

2. This report shows the daily comparison of the “shoulda” vs actual affidavit collection for each location by day.

I may do some more work to look at the name matches by precinct with the data in hand. I definitely hope to break down some results by Male/Female to show the different impact this has on those categories of voters. And I may do a limited request to look at what happened on Election Day 2013 with regard to the affidavits. But I think the next, most interesting view of this implementation is going to be from the primaries now underway.

Most locations, in 2013, got better as the Early Vote calendar went forward. I suspect that there remains an issue about how well the law can be administered under the busiest days, but that remains a hypothesis and may not have anything more conclusive until November of this year. I would hope to see some improvement in the process for the 2014 primaries. But there’s sure to be some fuel available for any fires once we see whether Dem or GOP voters tend to fall into the Substantially Similar umbrella.

Early Voting – 2014 Primary Edition

It begins again. Now is the time for Early Voting for the March primaries. I got my ritual out of the way first thing this morning. Locations are below. Hours are below that.

February 18 – February 21: 8:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
February 22: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
February 23: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
February 24 – February 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m

As a followup of sorts to the Substantially Similar name affidavit posts, I recently got my hands on the last portion of my request from the County Clerk’s office: the match file to show how the voter file compared to the DPS database. Media reports prior to the 2013 election had Stan Stanart saying that 40% of the names on the voter file did not match. I databased the file I received and did some crunching to see what turned up and I got 20.9% of the records that were not a perfect match. Of course, I also had a voter file of 1,871,369 voters compared to the reported 1,967,881 reported on the county’s canvass of the election. I’ve put in my questions to the folks at the Clerk’s office to see what might explain the differences and haven’t heard back yet. It may very well be that I have a file that was run after the election, or there could be other things to account for the 100,000 or so names that didn’t match. If I were to assume that the 100k missing records would ultimately be mismatches, then the countywide share of mismatches would be about 25%. For all I know, I may be comparing apples-to-oranges. But since it’s the only information I’ve got from the County Clerk, I’m going with it for now.

Now, following my earlier logic, I would assume that an odd-year election with high-propensity voter turnout would lead to less than whatever the DPS match is. As a hypothesis, I might expect the share of voters who should have been required to initial a similar name affidavit to be somewhere in the 10-15% range for 2013. I’m still in mid-crunch for the overall numbers. But early indications are that the actual share who should have initialed an affidavit are right around 20% – essentially the same as my database comparison.

A few things are turning up interesting from this work: for starters, I can gauge which locations did a reasonably decent job of efficiently capturing initialed affidavits. If the “should have” calculation is, say, 100 voters for a given day … and the “actual” count of affidavits is 90, it’s reasonable to assume a 90% efficiency for that location.

Complicating things are locations like 128P – Pasadena’s Harris County Court Annex. This location should have had 10.7% of their voters initial affidavits. In actuality, they led the entire county with a league-leading 24.5%. In other words, they were asking voters to initial affidavits for no justifiable reason. It may be completely understandable that each location would have a few voters be asked to initial an affidavit mistakenly. But I would also expect those to be more than offset by voters who should have initialed, but did not do so. Under no circumstances that I can comprehend, would you have a situation where almost three times the number of voters who needed to sign, did so. As a matter of full disclosure, the location I worked at had 4 days where our “actual” exceeded the “shoulda” count and we had one day that tied perfectly. On the whole, Bayland Park clocked in at 81% efficiency for all of Early Voting while Pasadena clocked in at 229%.

I will note that my earlier posts were passed around by the Clerk’s office to Election Judges. And when I voted today, my “substantially similar” name comparison was properly identified and I initialed the affidavit. When we’re done with the primaries, we’ll have a few new things to look for: was there progress in the administration of the law … and what do the name matches look like when broken down by party.

In the meantime, I should have all of my number-crunching done for the “shoulda” vs “actual” affidavits completed this week. Fun stuff.

Is It 2015 Already?

February 11, 2014 Politics-2015 No Comments

Close enough …

I’ll likely think of more to comment on in the week ahead. But my first thought is that after watching Sylvester in action at the Lege, I’m inclined to be supportive of him.

Whither Wiki

February 11, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» NY Times: Wikipedia vs. the Small Screen

Great timing on my part …

The Internet behemoths Google and Facebook have proved they can still attract users and advertisers as their traffic shifts from desktops to mobile devices.

But at Wikipedia, the giant online encyclopedia, the transition to a mobile world raises a different existential question: Will people continue to create articles and edit its nine million existing ones on the small screen of a smartphone or tablet?

“This is definitely something we were pretty worried about in 2013,” said Erik Möller, deputy director of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia with donations rather than ads. To address this concern, the foundation has formed a team of 10 software developers focused on mobile. In July, for the first time, mobile users could edit and create articles.

It’s been years since I’ve done any Wikipedia editing on my part – mobile or otherwise. I’ve been gradually tweaking txpoliticalalmanac.com ever so slowly, but that’s been exclusively a laptop endeavor. I haven’t even played with a mobile template for it and frankly, don’t care much for revisiting the slew of tables full of election data or other information to see if it all plays well on a phone.

Basically, I’m banking on micro-/niche wikis still being worth a full computer or tablet destination. That comes at a time when I’m getting more-than-accustomed to the 5″ screen on my phone. It’s enough to use as a backup Kindle when the mood strikes. Longform reading certainly isn’t a problem on it. The bigger question is whether it works as a research tool. To date, there’s a big difference between answering a question of what other movies an actor/actress is in versus organizing slightly more complicated information from recent events.

2008-12 CVAP Majority Map of DFW Metroplex

February 5, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

As below, so above. This time, I’ve mapped out the Citizen Voting Age Population majorities in the Metroplex area. For the sake of Google’s API restrictions, the embedded map only shows Dallas and Tarrant counties. But the Google Earth file will have Collin and Denton thrown in.

As always, the color coding is as follows:
- Red – Anglo majority
- Black – African-American majority
- Brown – Hispanic majority
- Green – Asian majority
- Yellow – Multicultural (no majority)

full pageGoogle Earth file

And below are the individual county counts from the American Community Survey. Of primary interest to me in this is the change from the 2005-09 ACS to the more recent 2008-12 ACS. I’m guessing I might have missed the tipping point by not looking at Dallas County’s 2006-10 or 2007-11 counts. But for what it’s worth, Dallas County is currently a majority-minority CVAP county. Shifts like that are generally more telling in terms of the political impact than the more publicly notable instances of Total Population shifting to majority-minority. And it’s worth noting that Dallas County’s functional shift to a fully Democratic county predates the CVAP shift by a few years.

Anyways, numbers and whatnot …

Dallas County:
» 0.8% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 1.8% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total    2,379,215          1,723,795         | 1,360,390          1,336,305
Anglo      792,215 (33.3%)    663,395 (38.5%) |   649,060 (47.7%)    686,654 (51.4%)
Hispanic   908,200 (38.2%)    572,035 (33.2%) |   277,395 (20.4%)    256,185 (19.2%)
Afr-Am     516,670 (21.7%)    369,820 (21.5%) |   356,115 (26.2%)    327,939 (24.5%)
Asian      122,965  (5.2%)     93,980  (5.5%) |    54,010  (4.0%)     44,992  (3.4%)

Tarrant County:
» 0.3% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 2.5% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total    1,814,665          1,308,680         | 1,141,750          1,063,145
Anglo      942,305 (51.9%)    741,275 (56.6%) |   730,125 (63.9%)    712,000 (67.0%)
Hispanic   484,240 (26.7%)    300,040 (22.9%) |   176,280 (15.4%)    148,758 (14.0%)
Afr-Am     266,170 (14.7%)    183,160 (14.0%) |   173,510 (15.2%)    151,795 (14.3%)
Asian       84,485  (4.7%)     63,000  (4.8%) |    42,105  (3.7%)     33,474  (3.2%)

Collin County:
» 0.8% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 3.3% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total      788,580            564,330         |   496,230            459,505
Anglo      498,480 (63.2%)    372,840 (66.1%) |   363,715 (73.3%)    352,265 (76.7%)
Hispanic   116,000 (14.7%)     73,215 (13.0%) |    43,580  (8.8%)     36,880  (8.0%)
Afr-Am      65,390  (8.3%)     45,500  (8.1%) |    41,225  (8.3%)     33,595  (7.3%)
Asian       90,110 (11.4%)     63,425 (11.2%) |    39,225  (7.9%)     29,675  (6.5%)

Denton County:
» 0.8% Growth in Total Pop (2010 Census vs 2008-12 ACS)
» 4.0% Growth in CVAP (2005-09 ACS vs 2008-12 ACS)

             TOTAL                VAP         |   CVAP-12            CVAP-09
Total      667,935            485,050         |   433,850            397,320
Anglo      431,120 (64.5%)    327,450 (67.5%) |   321,885 (74.2%)    309,500 (77.9%)
Hispanic   121,560 (18.2%)     76,700 (15.8%) |    46,205 (10.6%)     36,715  (9.2%)
Afr-Am      53,410  (8.0%)     38,765  (8.0%) |    36,925  (8.5%)     30,280  (7.6%)
Asian       44,050  (6.6%)     32,195  (6.6%) |    19,180  (4.4%)     13,325  (3.4%)

I also added a calculation to track the percentage change in Total Population and CVAP. It’s worth noting that these numbers aren’t expected to be comparable to the CVAP change mentioned above. In the case of the Total Pop change, it’s comparing the full 2010 Census to the current 2008-12 ACS.

One important factor to consider for the Total Pop change is that this year’s ACS has 2010 as it’s midpoint. So, if you assume (as I do not) that the ACS were to have a straightline average over 5 years and you also assume (as I again, do not) that the ACS is a near-perfect estimation process, then the ACS Total Pop counts would be frighteningly similar to the actual Census number. The numbers are close, as expected. But they seem to be within a range of what I’d expect to see with some of the imperfect estimation process built into the ACS data.

The ACS CVAP comparison number is a bit more interesting to me since it reflects a purer four years worth of change and might even begin to color some expectation of what the next decade population growth counts might look like. There’s obviously a long way to go, but I think the 20% growth we saw over the last decade’s Census counts is going to be out of reach given the current pace of CVAP growth. Of course, I’m also factoring in the idea that non-citizen immigration isn’t hollowing out the Total Population counts as much as it did last decade. But who among us isn’t doing the same!

2008-12 CVAP Majority Map of Harris/Ft. Bend Counties

February 3, 2014 Politics-2014 1 Comment

A cartographic update here in light of the Census bureau’s release of block group-level CVAP data. The change from previous years is obviously incremental. I’ve added Fort Bend, Brazoria, and Galveston to the mix for this map in order to see how demographic change looks across county borders.

For the uninitiated or those in need of a reminder, here’s the story this tells:

- The color-coding in this map notes which demographic group has a majority within a Census block group among Citizen Voting Age Population (CVAP). Red is for Anglos, Black is for African-American, Orange is for Hispanic, Green is for Asian, and Yellow is for no majority (in my terminology, “Multicultural”).

- At a precise level, it’s worth remembering that CVAP is an estimate and a few grains of salt should be taken for an individual block group’s change or specific counts. I didn’t include a boundary outline for blog groups for that reason. Perhaps more useful is seeing how the clusters of red, black, orange, green, and yellow move over time. And there’s a handy side-by-side comparison map for just that purpose. Professor Klineberg does a nifty job of demonstrating this over the last several decades.

With that, here’s what the map looks like this year:

full pageGoogle Earth file

And just to keep score on population counts within the specific clusters, here’s that information with a comparison to the 2007-11 counts. Also included is what the composition of the “Multicultural” cluster looks like.

Harris County

Share within:
            2007-11             2008-12
Anglo:    1,099,585 (48.3%)   1,094,795 (47.0%)   
Hispanic:   280,445 (12.3%)     305,100 (13.1%)   
Afram:      355,725 (15.6%)     368,940 (15.8%)   
Asian:        4,715  (0.2%)       4,620  (0.2%)   
Multi:      536,480 (23.6%)     554,510 (23.8%)   

Within Multicultural:
Anglo:      171,718 (32.0%)    175,193 (31.6%)
Hispanic:   161,174 (30.0%)    164,895 (29.7%)
Afram:      146,177 (27.2%)    150,568 (27.2%)
Asian:       50,373 (9.4%)      55,483 (10.0%)

Fort Bend County

Share within:
            2007-11             2008-12
Anglo:      155,760 (46.1%)     157,495 (44.6%)
Hispanic:    19,115  (5.7%)      19,265  (5.5%)
Afram:       43,005 (12.7%)      44,400 (12.6%)
Asian:        5,520  (1.6%)       8,230  (2.3%)
Multi:      114,440 (33.9%)     123,665 (35.0%)

Within Multicultural:
Anglo:       36,765 (32.1%)      39,960 (32.3%)
Hispanic:    21,625 (18.9%)      22,965 (18.6%)
Afram:       29,210 (25.5%)      31,055 (25.1%)
Asian:       25,430 (22.2%)      27,995 (22.6%)

I actually got the statewide counts uploaded into a database over the weekend (#partylikearockstar), so I’ll be revisiting all of the major population centers in Texas soon enough. Hopefully, I’ll invent some time to look at a few more major population areas around the nation that I haven’t done before. I haven’t done New York City yet, so there’s obviously some biggies on my to-do list. If there’s anything of interest outside of Texas, feel free to let me know.

Voter ID: Harris County Affidavits

January 30, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

In the process of conducting outreach for Early Voting, County Clerk Stan Stanart informed the media that 40% of Harris County voters had a mismatch between the name used for voter registration and the name on file with the Department of Public Safety. By the time Early Voting had concluded, however, only 8.3% of voters had initialed an affidavit.

While it’s to be expected that a low-turnout election rich in high-propensity voters might lead to fewer problems with the new Voter ID law in general and a 40% showing in any real-world scenario is unrealistic, it remains a stretch to assume that 8.3% of voters is a natural datapoint reflective of the law being administered as best as possible.

Instead, reviewing the Early Voting results indicates that 38% of Harris County Early Voters voted at a location where the Similar Name Affidavit process was rarely used. By comparison, 30.4% of Harris County Early Voters voted at a location where the law was administered more thoroughly. You can review a spreadsheet of the findings here, and if you wish to see the results sorted by overall percentage of affidavits, here’s that version.

For definitional purposes, the Low-End Locations are those where fewer than 5% of voters initialed an affidavit. High-End Locations are those where 15% or more initialed affidavits. And Mid-Range Locations are everything else inbetween. Comparing each cluster gives us the following results:

Early Vote Locations by Grouping

EARLY VOTE LOCATION  Affidavits  Voters     %       Share of Voters
High-End Locations     4,466     26,775  (16.7%) - 30.4% of voters
Mid-Range Locations    2,440     27,770  ( 8.8%) - 31.5% of voters
Low-End Locations        446     33,630  ( 1.3%) - 38.1% of voters

Which locations go in which cluster are broken out below the fold.

I don’t offer a particularly partisan take on how something like this happens. There are findings in the data that I think that both advocates and opponents of the Voter ID law could latch onto. Frankly, I was surprised that the data wasn’t alredy tabulated by the Harris County Clerk’s Office. But despite that, I think the opportunity is now before all involved that more work is needed for training if there’s any desire to see the law administered in a more equitable manner.

Ideally, I’d like to see data like this made more transparent for more counties. Dallas County’s Clerk offered up an incomple example stating that 1 in 7 voters had initialled affidavits (approximately 14%). But there’s nothing stopping counties from posting this data or (after an upcoming legislative session) reporting it to the Secretary of State. If we’re to place fealty to the sanctity of clean elections, wouldn’t we want to know that each county was administering the law in a similar fashion?

There remains a hurdle or two for the Harris County Clerk’s office to clear, however. Going through the data, the one location that should stand out the most is the Main Location. It’s not the worst in terms of adminstration of the law. The location, however, is all of three floors below the Harris County Clerk. It would have taken a mere elevator ride down to the first floor to spot-check how the election workers were conducting the election. And any review of the process should have turned up the fact that there was room for improvement.

I don’t offer that as an attack on the County Clerk’s office, however. This is a team fumble, I think. At my own location (Bayland Park), I ended the day with more questions than answers after a full day of qualifying voters. I went back through the Administrative Code that defines the “Substantially Similar” process. What I discovered was that our first day of work was not done to spec. We were collectively letting voters go through, un-initialed, if the difference was a middle initial versus a middle name when comparing their ID to the voter roll. In several cases, we were also letting through voters who had a “Maiden vs Middle Name” discrepancy.

I know that, in the case of Bayland Park, we were using secondary information on the ID like address or date of birth to confirm that the information did match. So while there was no risk of voter fraud that resulted, we still didn’t follow the letter of the law for one day. We still ended up with 6% of voters initialling. That alone was light years more than several other locations. A quick viewing of results from the High-End Locations turns up a number of other locations that suddenly woke up to what the law spelled out – Baytown Community Center spent the first three days without having a single voter initialling and Hiram Clarke MSC had all of two voters initial for the first three days. Several locations in the Mid-Range Locations woke up much later and ended up administering the law at a more adequate level in the second week of Early Voting.

Locations in each Cluster:

High-End Locations
126C – Champion Forest Baptist Church
126P – Prairie View A&M University-Northwest
128P – Harris County Courthouse Annex #25
130T – Tomball Public Works Building
131 – Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center
134M – Metropolitan Multi-Service Center
137B – Bayland Park Community Center
138B – Bear Creek Park Community Center
141H – Octavia Fields Branch Library
144 – Baytown Community Center
149G – Glen Cheek Education Building

Mid-Range Locations
127K – Kingwood Branch Library
128C – Crosby ISD Administration Building
129 – Freeman Branch Library
130C – Cypress Top Park
137T – Tracy Gee Community Center
140 – Hardy Senior Center
141C – Northeast Multi-Service Center
142W – North Channel Branch Library
147 – Palm Center
148 – Holy Name Church
149A – Henington-Alief Regional Library
150 – Champion Life Centre

Low-End Locations
Main – Harris County Administration Building
127A – Northeast Houston Baptist Church
127B – Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library
132 – Franz Road Storefront
133 – Nottingham Park
134H – Harris County Public Health Environmental Services
135 – Jersey Village City Hall
138S – Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center
139A – Acres Home Multi-Service Center
139V – Lone Star College Victory Center
142K – Kashmere Multi-Service Center
143G – Galena Park Library
143R – Ripley House
145C – HCC Southeast College
145P – IBEW Hall #66
146F – Fiesta Mart
146S – Sunnyside Multi-Service Center

Voter ID: A 2013 Postmortem

January 29, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

The most common refrain from defenders of Texas’ Voter ID law after the first test of an election has been that there were few, if any problems. The proof? Only a minor number of voters turned away due to not having an ID and a manageable number of provisional ballots cast because of same. As far as the argument goes: there was no problem, so the law works and it poses no impediment to voters. To wit:

» Chron: Early vote sets record in county: Clerk says voter ID law is not causing problems

“We don’t have a hint of that,” Stanart said of difficulties reported elsewhere in the state.

When problems arise, he said poll workers are trained to do on-site verification and direct voters to check the box that functions as an affidavit. About 40 percent of registered Harris County voters have mismatched addresses that could require additional verification, Stanart said.

“It only takes a few seconds extra,” he said.

Case closed, right? Unfortunately for the law’s defenders, it takes even fewer seconds when there’s no affidavit to sign. And that’s what happened at a significant number of Early Voting locations in Harris County.

The fundamental flaw in the “no big deal” argument is the logic that only the most dire outcome (a voter being turned away) or the most stringent cure (a provisional ballot) represents the entirety of the law’s negative impact. It’s somewhat similar to evaluating the crime rate based on the number of state executions carried out in Huntsville. Among the secondary problems are things like lengthening lines at polling places or dissuading voters from registering to vote if they feel a photo ID is all that is needed. There are other concerns, as well. But we likely won’t get a full taste of that until November 2016.

An early indicator of the impact of the law seems to have gotten little coverage during the last election. The Dallas Morning News stumbled upon it during the Early Voting period – a quote from Dallas County Clerk Toni Pippins-Poole that 1 in 7 voters reviewed had signed a similar name affidavit under the new law. 14% of voters. Remember that number. I’ll revisit it later in the week.

What makes the affidavit process important to note is that voter registrars and county clerks around the state were given lists and counts of the percentage of their voter roll that had name mismatches. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart has been quoted saying that Harris County’s number was roughly 40%. Given that the first election under the new law would be conducted under a low-turnout, high-propensity-voter universe in an odd-numbered-year election, it would stand to reason that a realistic expectation for what share of voters would need to sign an affidavit would be something less than that 40%.

Likewise, there were issues of training to consider. The 2013 elections were conducted after counties had already established their budgets for voting personnel training, outreach and communications. Anecdotally, I can offer a few datapoints from my own experience working as an Election Clerk during Early Voting in Harris County. For one, I did not initial an affidavit for either the November election or the December runoff despite my first name being different on my ID and the voter roll. Secondly, I know firsthand that there were voters we missed getting a signature from despite the fact that they fell into a “substantially similar” situation. In short, even if you did all the training and the workers knew the law, there’s no guarantee that you fire on 100% efficiency. And just as well since there is neither a penalty for election workers who fail to get an initialed affidavit, nor a prohibition from voting for a voter who neglects, forgets, refuses, or isn’t told to initial.

So what percentage of voters ended up signing an affidavit? … and what does it suggest about how the law was administered?

To get that answer, I obtained records from the Harris County Clerk and commenced tabulating the data. I’ll be spelling out some of these results in the days ahead. For now, here’s the big-ticket takeaway: voters in Harris County were qualified to vote by election workers in extremely different ways depending on the location that the voter voted at. In several locations, the law was followed in a manner as close to thorough as might be humanly possible. In others, it didn’t appear that election workers had gotten the figurative memo about the new law. In a plurality of Early Vote locations, the results were mixed.

For introductory purposes, a small sketch of the data: Trini Mendenhall Sosa Community Center in Spring Branch had signed affidavits from 0.43% (as in less than 1%) of its voters. Meanwhile, neighboring West Gray Multi-Service Center saw 15.1% of its voters sign affidavits. In other words: if you wanted to experience “no problem” with the law, then Sosa was the place for you to go vote. If you wish to subject yourself to more scrutiny by election workers, then head to West Gray. Discrepancies like this were rampant in Harris County. And I’m willing to guess that it’s not the way that architects of the law intended it to be administered.

What I find interesting about these results is that, for all intents and purposes, nobody can say for certain that the new law was followed in any kind of meaningful way. It’s that conclusion that makes it impossible to say “there was no problem” with the law since the law effectively wasn’t administered. I have little doubt that election workers knew to ask for a photo ID and that there may, indeed, be only the most minor of problems exhibited with this task during a low-turnout election. But if election workers weren’t checking the names on the ID against the names on the voting rolls, then there should be no assurance that they were doing anything meaningful with those IDs.

Through the remainder of this week, I’ll be rolling out some of the findings, and raw data to demonstrate how this played out in Harris County. Ultimately, I think there are findings that are likely to concern both advocates of the law as well as opponents. And while I’m not a believer in the necessity of the law, I think there are several things to review before the law goes full scale in a Presidential year.

Below the fold, I’ve posted the administrative rule by which the similar name affidavit process kicks in. Feel free to read it in all the legalese glory it contains (or skim through to subsection (d) for the guts of the rule). The nickel version is that if there is any single thing different in comparing names, then a voter is to initial the affidavit. Having spoken to several election workers who worked both Early Voting and Election Day, I assure you that even that brief understanding hasn’t taken hold. The data definitely seems to back that conclusion up.

Texas Administrative Code
Title 1, Part 4, Chapter 81, Subchapter E: Election Day Procedures

(a) When a voter offers to vote at a polling place using a form of identification described by §63.0101 of the Texas Election Code (“presented ID document”) and the voter’s name on the presented ID document does not match exactly the voter’s name as it appears on the official list of registered voters, the voter’s name on the presented ID document must be “substantially similar” to the voter’s name as it appears on the official list of registered voters.

(b) In determining whether a voter’s name on the presented ID document is substantially similar to the voter’s name as it appears on the official list of registered voters, the reviewing early voting clerk, deputy early voting clerk, election judge or election clerk (collectively included in the term “election worker”) shall refer to the standards in subsection (c) of this section.

(c) A voter’s name on the presented ID document is considered substantially similar to the name on the official list of registered voters and a voter’s name on the official list of registered voters is considered substantially similar to the name on the presented ID document if one or more of the circumstances in paragraphs (1) – (4) of this subsection are present. In determining whether one or more of those circumstances are present, election workers should consider whether information on the presented ID document matches elements of the voter’s information on the official list of registered voters such as the voter’s residence address or date of birth, which may be strong indicators that the name on the presented ID document is substantially similar to the name on the official list of registered voters and vice versa if:

     (1) The name on the presented ID document is slightly different from one or more of the name fields on the official list of registered voters or one or more of the name fields on the official list of registered voters is slightly different from the name on the presented ID document;

     (2) The name on the presented ID document or on the official list of registered voters is a customary variation of the formal name such as, for illustrative purposes only, Bill for William, or Beto for Alberto, that is on the document or list that must match, as the case may be;

     (3) The voter’s name on the presented ID document contains an initial, a middle name, or a former name that is not on the official list of registered voters or the official list of registered voters contains an initial, a middle name, or a former name that is not on the presented ID document; or

     (4) A first name, middle name, former name, or initial of the voter’s name that occupies a different field on the presented ID document than a first name, middle name, former name, or initial of the voter’s name on the official list of registered voters.

(d) If the reviewing election worker makes a determination that the voter’s name on the presented ID document and the official list of registered voters are substantially similar, the voter shall be accepted for voting if the voter submits the “Similar Name Affidavit” prescribed by the Secretary of State stating that the voter offering the presented ID document is the same person on the official list of registered voters.

(e) After the determination is complete, the presented ID document must be returned to the voter immediately.

(f) The completed Similar Name Affidavit shall be placed in Envelope No. 4 (or other designated container) to be delivered to the county voter registrar to address any necessary changes to the official list of registered voters in accordance with the correction process prescribed in §15.021 of the Texas Election Code.

(g) If the reviewing election worker makes a determination that the voter’s names on the presented ID document and the official list of registered voters are not substantially similar, the voter shall be offered a provisional ballot. The voter shall be processed as a provisional voter in accordance with the provisional voter process established under Texas law, at the time of voting.

(h) If the voter casts a provisional ballot due to a determination by the election worker that the name on the presented ID document was not substantially similar to the name on the official list of registered voters, the voter is eligible to submit a form of identification described by §63.0101 of the Texas Election Code, including the presented ID document that the voter presented at the polling place, in person to the voter registrar’s office within six days of election day pursuant to Texas law. The voter shall be informed of this procedure at the time the voter casts his or her provisional ballot.

(i) In determining whether an ID document presented to the voter registrar under subsection (h) of this section is substantially similar to the voter’s name on the official list of registered voters, the voter registrar shall utilize the processes outlined in subsections (c) and (d) of this section.

The Replacements

January 7, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» Texas Tribune: Push Back Against “Do-Nothing” Crowd (State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock)

Crackups are always fun to watch when they’re in the other party …

It appears that Texas Right to Life’s agenda is clearly about more than “life” issues. It is about making a lot of noise to solicit membership and funds. It is about a handful of people controlling votes in the Texas Legislature by seeing who can shout “conservative” the loudest. The easiest way to do that is to form alliances with the self-appointed “conservatives” to share contact bases and propaganda machinery.

It’s an interesting read by an incumbent Republican State Rep. And the issue has more to do with Michael Quinn Sullivan than it does any substantive beliefs on abortion policy.

For now, there’s room to speculate on how different Texas government can still be from a center-left vantage point. As bad as the 2002 elections proved to be and as bad as Tom Craddick was as speaker, there were still some moderating elements at work. David Dewhurst was known as the one Republican that Dem-leaning lobbyists could talk to. Several Republican State Senators were just as protective of some major constituencies as Democrats are. And for all of Rick Perry’s numerous failings as a governor, his politics were still somewhat reminiscent of the good-ol-boy Democrats that he was in the 1980s.

Many of the ABC Republicans that lined up behind Joe Straus beginning in 2009 have been retiring or losing primaries ever so gradually each election cycle. While Straus has been effective at cultivating relationships with his GOP caucus, I don’t think that he has to lose his speakership for a tide to turn for the worse in the House.

Case in point – Fort Worth State Rep. Charlie Geren has signaled that 2014 will be his last election. Just as there used to be a number of GOP-leaning seats held by long-time Dem incumbents, I think it’s safe to say that there are a number of current GOP seats held by “pre-Tea” GOP members that are likely to be replaced by more strident conservatives. They won’t have to elect a new speaker to be effective – they’ll just have to have the votes. So I think it’s safe to say that it can, indeed, get worse.

I like Jimmie Don and he was definitely a reassuring name to hear as Public Education chair this past session. Assuming his purpl-ish district keeps sending Republicans to the Lege, there’s just nothing to suggest that the next one is going to be cut from the same cloth. And there are enough GOP members like Jimmie Don in the same situation. They won’t all lose a primary in 2014. But they’re also not going to be in office for decades at a time. It’s the replacements who should be of more concern.

The Six-Year Itch for Term Limit Reform

January 6, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» Chron: As council seats churn, calls for term-limit reform

I’m a bit behind Kuff on this, but I think there are at least a few points worth making about it that don’t seem to come up by the time this idea gets studied by “very serious people.”

The mayor’s tenure in local government – on city council, as city controller and as mayor – has been under the current term limits regime approved by a voter referendum in 1991, but Parker said she has come to fully appreciate its weaknesses as a chief executive.

“San Antonio and Houston are the two megacities in America that have two-year terms, and it puts us at a disadvantage vis-à-vis our fellow mayors and those cities in terms of competing for grants, in terms of working through the organizations that support cities,” Parker said. “It’s expensive for the city and for candidates, and it provides for distractions.”

In 2010, a commission appointed by former Mayor Bill White proposed asking voters for two four-year terms. It failed in a 7-7 full council vote. In 2012, a council committee voted 9-1 not to forward a proposal for three four-year terms to the full council amid concerns it would fail on a crowded ballot.

I tend to think that the “every two year complaint” is fairly weak. There might be some kind of argument on that for a Mayor and maybe even Controller. But I don’t see why a two-year term for city council member is any more debilitating than it is for a member of Congress, State Representatives, half of the State Senate (at least at the start of the decade), and any unexpired state administrative office.

A few ideas that I wish were on the table are the following:

» Fix the JoJo exclusion. The statute, as written, is amazingly short and simple:

Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

The statute is also amazingly unequal in how it applies a qualification for office. So much so, that I’m curious if this inequality provides an opening for a legal challenge. Basically, the law says that some folks get to serve three full terms and some only get to serve two full terms. If a candidate loses re-election to their second term (ala Brenda Stardig and Helena Brown), you have an entirely different qualification for office than someone who lost re-election to their third term (ala Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang).

There haven’t been many parties aggrieved by this statute, so it seems to me that there might be improved odds of that happening now that we have two such individuals. I would think that there might be ground to make this application more equal by substituting equally simple language that limits any officeholder to no more than three full terms … period.

That may not address any deeper concerns about the Clymer Wright-era limitations. But it does offer an incremental cleanup. And if it were to go through a charter amendment vote, it might be an easy enough one that it opens the door for public perception to see that elected officials aren’t trying to change the rules they have to abide by in the middle of the game. If you’re not sure about the public appetite for altering term limits, this modification would be a good test run.

» Why not three? – Many Texas towns have three year terms. Why is there such an immediate impetus for four-year terms when there is already a more common model already being utilized throughout Texas? You could leave the term-limit language as-is or make the tweak above. Doing so would create a nine-year window of service for people.

More importantly, it would also open Houston City Council to the whims of bigger electorates. If you really wanted to see a different City Council, the easiest place to start has always been to hold the election on even-numbered years. District A would be quite a bit more Dem-friendly, as would District F. My own District J, as it turns out, is as close to 50-50 in terms of partisanship among city year voters. That tilt would be eviscerated with an even-year electorate and the district would be reliably Dem-leaning. The rotating cycle of seats would lead to a seat being up for a vote in two odd-numbered election years for each six-year cycle. So there is some moderation to those swings that might be appealing.

It would seem practical, under this scenario, to stagger the elections so that each individual year would see one-third of city seats up for a votes. I’m not sure who that may appeal to or be unappealing to, frankly. One positive that I can see from this is that it might lead to an increase in competition for seats. If an elected thought to run for Mayor one year after being elected to a council seat, they could. In short, there would no longer be an incentive to sit out six years when terms are the same – as they currently are for the office of Mayor and Controller.

» Lacking that … of course, there’s always the “blow it all up” approach and do away with term limits. I would hope that the office of Mayor, and possibly Controller, could still be term-limited. I think there could even be an argument for limiting the terms of At Large seats while leaving district seats unlimited. That could theoretically provide a bit more power to district council members and your mileage may vary as to your preference for seeing that.

» Lastly … while we’re looking at term limits, why not look at the strong-mayor form of government?

Book Review: “The New Democrats and the Return to Power”

January 5, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

Leading up to the summer of 1989, I had a decision to make: I could stick with a major in Political Science and end up teaching future generations how to major in Political Science; I could stick with a major in Political Science and go into a profession destined to make nobody rich – running campaigns; or I could find another major. I forget if it was before during or after that summer that I decided to switch majors (ultimately, Marketing). But I knew there were a few things left to get out of my PoliSci experience before I totally – and ultimately, temporarily – cleansed it from my system. One of them involved writing a letter to the Democratic Leadership Council inquiring about summer internships. I never heard back from the DLC and that turned out to be a great thing.

My letter did make it into the hands of the folks who were starting up the DLC-affiliated think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute. And that was where I spent my final summer of the 80s – comparing notes with Charlie Moskos on the idea of a national volunteer service program; crunching election numbers for Elaine Kamarck and Bill Galston; tackling minor research items for Robert Shapiro; and trying to figure out if a meeting with PPI leadership and Democratic governors was worth interrupting when the wife of said PPI leadership called (it was and we all guessed wrong). There were a lot of other folks that I had the pleasure of working with. Among them – Joel Berg, who made the call to bring me to DC, is leading a great group in NYC fighting hunger. And Bert Brandenburg is leading another organization advocating electoral reform for state judiciaries. The woman technically in charge of us interns was a former Gillis Long staffer. That would be the same office from whence Al From started his path to the DLC. And that’s a key point of connection to where the DLC originated and the intellectual origins behind it.

The origins and beginnings of the DLC are told in a bit more detail in Kenneth Baer’s “Reinventing the Donkey,” which was published in 2000. What the former DLC CEO covers in his more recent telling of history is a first-hand account. In it, there are many tales of memos written and delivered – several involving Bill Clinton as the recipient. The broad-brush version of DLC origins that From covers is a reasonably well told history. But then Bill Clinton gets elected President and those moments get fairly short in the amount of detail this book covers.

While the elevator pitch narrative of Bill Clinton and the DLC is that they were connected in every way, shape, and form, the actual events are a bit more complex. It’s worth pointing out that neither Al From nor the PPI President Will Marshall would go on to work in the Clinton White House. From would serve as domestic policy advisor for the transition and many DLC/PPI staff would make the move to the White House. As From tells it, he made his intentions known that he preferred to serve as an advocate from the outside rather than go back to working in the White House (as he had during the Carter administration). Will Marshall’s name was occasionally floated for work within the CIA. Former Gore speechwriter and DLC magazine editor Bruce Reed was the most notable, high-ranking DLC type carrying the banner in the White House. Whether you choose to believe that a more DLC-centric White House would have brought either or both leaders is open to interpretation.

The most notable “complex moment” of the relationship to the White House comes when DLC funders Michael Steinhardt and Barry Diller declared a public interest in a third-party candidate who would espouse the ideas being advocated for by the DLC. That came after the frustration of losing Congressional majorities in 1994. From gives a decent insider account of Clinton’s reaction and the ephemeral nature of the third-party centrist boomlet.

It may not be From’s story to tell, but there were also momentary bouts of frustration with the DLC/PPI expressed from within the administration, also. There isn’t anything from From to suggest that it happened, so that remains for a more aggressive Lexis/Nexis searcher to unearth those similarly ephemeral moments.

What From does suggest in the aggregate is the ongoing need to nudge, tug, and sometimes scold the Clinton administration back toward New Democrat principles. At the risk of getting one post-Clinton parable wrong, I’ll rely on faded memory for a Joe Lieberman anecdote. I want to say it was during his 2004 campaign for President given how I remember it (but I could be wrong). But his comment was along the lines of how difficult it would be to build (and more importantly, staff) a government around a set of shared uber-moderate principles by virtue of there just being “a lot of them” … with “them” being more liberal factions under the big tent.

That definitely tracks with the Clinton experience. From notes several of the challenges created by Attorney General nominees intended to complete diversity goals to controversial civil rights nominees … and yet, no mention of Jocelyn Elders. All of this seems to beg for a more exhaustive introspection on From’s part about why he didn’t see the need to serve more of a mechanical functionality of building a government that reflected the DLC mission rather than get the one person at the top elected to office.

To be fair, I think there’s something to be said for keeping the figurative “church of centrism” pure and using that position to influence the administration. But it seems apparent that the more challenging task was staffing an administration and maintaining the proverbial rudder from within. But there isn’t a great deal of examination on “lessons learned” in From’s book. Instead, we get a somewhat straight telling of events that happened. More play-by-play than color commentary.

And memos.

What struck me most from the read was that Clinton’s was definitely the last Presidency before the internet. Pundit prognostications mattered. Newspaper columnists were important. Memos needed to be drafted … and mailed! There is no instant communication outside of verbal communication. There are vagaries and pronouncements accepted as gospel because the age of the internet had not fully been realized yet. There are no blogs, no fisking, no calling of bull$#!%. If you wanted to do anything like that, you’d have to pitch a story to a competing newspaper columnist or McLaughlin Group carnival barker. Instead, if Al From fires off a memo to the President saying what normal, average, ordinary people believed … you either believed it or you didn’t.

That underscores at least some of the final years in the DLC history. There is no mention of the IRS challenges to the DLC’s tax-exempt status. There is no mention of how the anti-war and/or anti-Bush Democrats led to a coalescing of more liberal factions. A search for John Kerry comes up blank despite Bruce Reed ghost-writing a 2004 campaign book selling Kerry as a hero of moderation – complete with an ode to NASCAR dads. Those moments definitely get more into the grittier reality of working within the big tent.

A personal highlight, though, comes from Al From’s earlier years. Working in Sargent Shriver’s Office of Economic Opportunity, From notes Shriver’s distrust of bureaucracy, with Shriver telling From to go out in the field to report success or failure on the front lines of the War on Poverty. With that, From gets sent from county to county to assess the work being done.

At OEO, I learned an important lesson: Everyone, no matter how poor of disenfranchised, wanted a piece of the American dream. Everyone wanted his or her children to have a better life than he or she did. And I learned that if you wanted to help the poor, the most effective strategy with the broadest reach was to empower them, to give them a chance to get ahead by helping themselves.

I also learned that government must plat an important role. Government can be an agent of powerful and positive change when it offers citizens opportunity, but citizens need to do their part and take full advantage of that opportunity. Simply put, if people can help themselves, government should empower them to do so, not keep them on the dole forever.

Among the experiences from his time at OEO, it turns out that Al traveled through an area where I spent a few childhood years: Sunflower County, Mississippi.

The DLC and PPI – so far as I’ve been aware of – were always a hallway apart from each other. During my time at PPI, we interns would sometimes be the beneficiaries of Al From’s collection of Cubs stories. All of these were interrupted with a DLC staffer running over to tell Al that “Governor Babbitt”, “Senator Nunn”, “Senator Robb”, or some other person far more important than us was on the phone. We knew the drill – end of story time and back to work we all went. Again – pre-internet days. Had email existed, we might know the other half of what the Cubs accomplished during From’s Chicago days. But what I never knew was that there was a bit of shared geography that I know I would have nagged Al to finish before I wrapped up my summer in DC.

Typically, when I pick up a book that I’m overly familiar with before reading, I have a tendency to read it in one sitting. I expected that to happen with this one. Instead, I found the less-familiar parts of this book more interesting and made a stopping point with that. From’s White House years, the Gillis Long years, and definitely the OEO years were a good insight into the person usually being quoted as critical of more liberal Democrats. They show a picture that’s richer than internet-age liberals would like to make him out to be. That might not be a picture that post-Obama Democrats care much about. The DLC is essentially a folded shop these days (PPI lives on, but in a less active role). The national Democratic Party currently finds itself at an odd point where acceptance of many Clinton principles rest comfortably beside further-left principles and even Clinton himself finds time to evolve while Obama triangulates.

There isn’t really a clean answer to whether DLC/Clinton principles “won” in a grander, more historical sense or that they are now completely out of favor – “defeated”, if you will. But From’s book offers a simple reminder that they did, at least, chalk up some wins that matter to this day.

Houston City Council: 1/2/14

January 2, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

I don’t know how much monitoring I’ll have time for on a lot of local governments that I’d like to see in action this year. But in the spirit of beginning new year resolutions regardless of whether I can finish out the year with it, today is an easy day to cover City Hall.

Everyone was sworn in earlier at a big inauguration celebration where many ties and tuxes were worn. I’m a little more interested in what happens once they get to the shoehorn. So here’s the live-blogging:

While we wait for the obligatory late start, here’s the whopping agenda for the day …

11:00 A. M. – ROLL CALL

1. CONFIRM appointment of Council Member Edward Gonzalez as Mayor Pro Tem
2. RECEIVE nominations for appointment of Vice Mayor Pro Tem
    a. CONFIRM appointment of Vice Mayor Pro Tem
3. RECOMMENDATION from the Director Administration & Regulatory Affairs for purchase and approval of Individual Fidelity Bond Form for ANNISE D. PARKER, MAYOR in the sum of $50,000.00 and RONALD C. GREEN, CITY CONTROLLER in the sum of $50,000.00 as required by the City Charter and the Code of Ordinances – $648.00 Total Premium – Property and Casualty Fund

I’m not privy to any rumors, but I’d expect a no-surprise move of C.O. Bradford to be re-named VMPT.

11:15am … all systems go.

Ed Gonzalez gets a unanimous approval as MPT.

Jerry Davis gets nominated as VMPT by now-former VPMT C.O. Bradford (and ultimately approved unanimously).

The council members now get their moment to speechify …

Ronald Green … “This is my last term as Controller, but I look forward to serving with you for many years to come.” Make of that what you will.

Dwight Boykins … first of the newbies on the docket. For a guy who starts off saying he was going to thank just one person, there sure were a lot of followups.

Richard Nguyen … nice shout-out to Karen Loper among his thank-yous. Interestingly, he names Alvin Byrd as his Chief of Staff (assuming I heard that correctly).

Robert Gallegos … introduces his staff. Notably, his CoS is Leah Olive-Nishioka (formerly with Laster’s office) and Daniel Santamaria moves over after being on Al Hoang’s staff previously.

Mike Laster … another shout-out for Karen Loper on the campaign side.

David Robinson … two notable shout-outs: one to the recently departed Jack Blanton. Another to the mayor and her partner, Kathy Hubbard. The mayor follows with a very coy “Stay tuned.”

The One True Felix … Kudos to Mayor Parker for leading off the Santa comparisons.

And after a zillion thanks, council adjourns at 12:27pm. Next week, we get an ordinance that relaxes alcohol sales near schools for big grocery stores, which is part of the “food desert” repairs that CM Costello and others have been working on. I suspect the conversation might be more substantive then.

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