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HISD 2014 Redistricting: Austin HS Hearing

July 16, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

I spent last night embedded at the fourth and final HISD Redistricting field hearing at Austin High School, located near the University of Houston campus. As dumb luck would have it, I had to tend to dad’s passing away last week, which contained two redistricting hearings. Among the things you find out when you get back in the saddle of redistricting chatter is that it doesn’t take long for these things to get repetitive.

Gene Locke does the standard opening info to a crowd of something less than 10 or so (including myself, excluding legal/translation/cartographic staff). There will be a private session of HISD’s board to discuss legal matters involved in redistricting. And the next time we have this conversation in public will be at the Aug 14th public session. Since there was no overly-heated discussion at the North Forest hearing, I’d have to think that the proposed map is looking fairly solid for approval. Again, if you want to rifle through the numbers, the info packet is here.

As better luck would have it, I do have shapefiles for both the “interim” map that incorporated North Forest ISD into HISD trustee districts, as well as the proposed plan being presented at these hearings. If you want to check the 2011-era plan, here’s a link to that for your enjoyment. The “interim” plan, for all intents and purposes, is irrelevant for the sake of comparison. The proposed plan is embedded here for your clicking and zooming fun.

» full page
» Google Earth file

I’ve got a request in for calculating those lovely CVAP numbers as well. I’ll update whenever I get those results back.

For the light turnout at last night’s affair, the questions were pretty good: one asked about the use of 2010 Census data; another about the fairness of representation for Latinos given the relatively low citizenship rates, and Why there were so few public hearings? All things considered, it didn’t sound as if there were significant major questions about the drawing of the districts. So there’s a chance that the plan could be approved as-is at the August meeting. Wait and see.


NFISD Total Population Overlay

Gerald T. Wythe, Sr. (1943-2014)

July 16, 2014 Etc ... 1 Comment

A little belated obit this time around. It seems I missed a call on July 3rd from an 817 number. Since I didn’t recognize the number, google informed me that it was for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s office, which pretty much filled in a few blanks for me. It turns out that dad had passed in his sleep a little less than 11 months after mom’s passing.

wpid-20140708_222519-1.jpgMost of these moments are just dealt with by some run-of-the-mill grieving, replaying of memories, funerals, and exchanges of some kind words with long-lost friends. This being the last of my parents, there was some added work of dealing with attorneys, banks, and insurance companies. There’s also a house and truck to sell whenever the probate process allows for. In short – there’s more work to do this time around.

On the plus side, I got to hang out with my sister for the first time since I don’t know when. I spoke with my brother for the first time since I don’t know when. And I got to show Elsie the wonders of a big back yard to play in. And little 5-month-old Elsie got to terrorize an old hunting dog for a couple of days. I’d much rather have had the opportunity to show Elsie off to dad in December, but the timing is what it is.

So that makes eleven months of losing a mom, grandmother, and dad. Hardly the most fun thing in the world. But since I’m writing a bit past due on all of this, most of the grieving has already been processed.

At some point between the time I moved out in the mid-90s and now, I’ve realized a lot of attributes that I’ve picked up from dad in particular. I remember a handful of years when dad worked as a grocery warehouse manager, the family would celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas early in the day – and then see dad off to work later in the day. It turns out that delivering groceries didn’t take much of a holiday. I suppose some families would see this as tragic and wish they could celebrate a full holiday. We chose to see it as something more heroic as dad would go off to save the day for a world in need of food. I’m sure that there’s a small part of that experience that sticks with me as I see any and all major holidays as an excuse to do more work. I’m equally sure that whatever part of my brain is in charge of understanding logistics has been aided by either genetics or osmosis. Just as well that one of the items I took with me was a model of an old Fleming 18-wheeler that dad had in his study. So those aspects live on.

It was also dad who started the Cougar tradition in our household. He was a student and mom worked on campus when they met. When I was a kid, I somehow gravitated to dad’s old yearbooks and textbooks. Dad was a running back at Galveston Ball High School. He was a backup to the great Oscar Cripps, who would go on to coach Craig James and the Klingler brothers at Stratford High School. After Cripps graduated, dad spent the next year as a starting running back for the Toros. That always made him a bit of a badass in my book.

When the family moved out to Mississippi (and continued when we moved to the DFW mid cities), we would pack up for a handful of weekend roadtrips back to Texas so that mom & dad could go to UH football games and us kids would stay with Grandma Wythe in Galveston. Along the way, we usually stopped in Center for some of Grandma Elliot’s barbeque. If there’s a better family tradition then that, I’d like to hear your case.

My parents did this during the 1975 season that had the Cougars go 2-8. The next season, UH entered the Southwest Conference and earned co-champion status. That sent us to our first Cotton Bowl (back when it meant something) and ended the season ranked 4th in the nation. Cubs fans have it easy compared to Coog fans. And getting that story told to you as a kid teaches you a great deal about loyalty.

Eventually, me and sis got to go to some games on a regular basis. Dad got field passes once so that me and my brother could watch Arkansas blow out the Coogs at the Dome. We visited games at College Station (where we witnessed our first win in that stadium), Arkansas (where I’m pretty sure I spent more time observing cheerleaders), Waco (same), and Austin (mom and dad got to see the 30-0 win; us kids got to observe a 55-to-something blowout loss). We learned heartbreak as a family when John Jenkins took a poorly-prepared team to face the Miami Hurricanes in 1991. I’ve never forgiven Gino Torretta for it, either.

I went through a lot of the leaner Run & Shoot years, attending games with my parents. We spent a Christmas Eve watching the Briles/Kolb-era Coogs get in fights with the University of Hawaii mascot. And it was never terribly unexpected to get a call from dad immediately after a UH win – or even when Trinity High School won a big game. I never suited up to play the game like dad did. But those moments help explain some of the fascination for it. I’m pretty sure that’ll live on, too.

Why Voting Precinct Detail and Geography Matter

July 8, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

» NY Times: Mistrust in North Carolina Over Plan to Reduce Precincts

My kind of detail …

When Alan Langley, a Republican member of the local elections board here, explains a new proposal to consolidate five voting precincts into two, it sounds procedural and well-meaning: He speaks of convenient parking and wheelchair access at the proposed polling places, and of saving more than $10,000 per election.

Those precincts, however, are rich with black voters who generally vote Democratic. And when the Rev. Dante Murphy, the president of the Cleveland County N.A.A.C.P. chapter, discusses the plan, he talks of “disenfranchisement” and “conspiracy.”

“We know,” Mr. Murphy said, “that this is part of a bigger trend — a movement to suppress people’s right to vote.”

The bitter disagreement in this city of 20,000 is part of a broader voting rights battle charged by race and partisan politics that is happening in a number of communities, many of them Southern, where changes to election laws no longer require advance approval from the federal government after a year-old Supreme Court ruling voided a key section of the Voting Rights Act.

The Lege here in Texas passed HB1164 to allow for something along these lines in Texas. The stated goal was to reduce some of the “Precinct Inflation” that comes from redistricting. I’m not well enough versed in how it is that the recent round of redistricting bloated the number of precincts from 885 to over 1069, as opposed to the old days when we had over 1200 precincts that wound down to 885 in years past.

The layout of the original bill is below. The author was a freshman and fell for some of the confusion I had in reading the bill: it references “wards”. As Ed Johnson (at about 10:55) clears up later in testimony, “ward” just means city council district in statute. Some of the other issues of ADA-compliant polling locations are also mentioned as reasons that the change is needed. And as Johnson goes on to mention, there was an additional bill by Johnson’s former boss that would have limited the number of precincts even further.

I haven’t seen anything on either the Tax Assessor or County Attorney sites to indicate that there are proposed changes, but I would think that December 2014 would around the time we might hear about it. So we’ll go through at least one more election in my own HD137 with a single voting precinct that contains one registered voter.

What Happens to City Elections in Even-Numbered Years?

July 6, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

In light of the recent petition-eering to overturn City Council’s recently passed Equal Right Ordinance, I want to double back on a point I’ve been meaning to explore. Namely, that of how Houston council districts behave electorally in different years. This may prove to be a little relevant in light of what defenders of the ordinance believe will be a “cranking out of the base” – at least within the city.

There are basically two hypotheses to consider here. One being that a more energized electorate will see an unequal proportion of extra turnout for one side or the other; the other being that a more energized electorate will merely transform an electorate from a relatively low-turnout affair to a high-turnout affair.

The difference being that an unbalanced result (from the perspective of HERO supporters) would lead to greater turnout among liberal Dems, with no corresponding increase from conservative Republicans. The inverse of this scenario was seen in the 2010 elections, where the then-recent Tea Party movement turned out a higher share of Republican voters in a non-Presidential year, while Democratic voters held to a more common non-Presidential turnout level.

The alternate scenario, and one that I focus more on, is that any natural uptick in turnout that is more balanced would naturally favor Democrats and, plausibly, Democratic-favored issues on the ballot. This is what we see in a number of legislative districts, including my own HD137. Depending on your vocabulary, you might suggest that some areas just have more “low propensity voters” who only seem to turnout for Presidential years. In the case of Harris County, and its relatively high share of renters (and largely apartment-dwelling), I’m not convinced that vocabulary fits since it doesn’t make as much sense to target a voter in cases where they’re likely to move every couple of years. For whatever reasons one wishes to attribute to it, however, folks like me who live in an apartment just don’t vote on an annual basis compared to, say, a homeowner in Kingwood.

So, since we may be headed to a point where we are holding a city election in a Governor-year election cycle, what does the electorate look like? And while we’re at it, why not see how they behave in Presidential years, as well?

The way I measure this is to look at the individualized score that the Voter Activation Network has on voters. I’ve used that data in 2010 and 2012 to see what Early Voting voters look like and the results have been incredibly useful. The folks at ProPublica give an overview of the algorithm fun. My nickel version is that it’s a 100-point scale of how likely you are to vote Democratic (whatever you take that to mean). For the record, my score is a 93 (up from an 85 in 2012!).

There are several grains of salt to take with the level of precision this gets you. When I crunched numbers in 2012, I operated on an assumption that the results were about 1.5-2.0 points skewed in favor of Dems and factored that accordingly. I can’t say that I’ve spent enough time with the recent data to see if it’s gotten better or worse. For the time being, I’ll just say that I do like using these results as a “darn good approximation.”

That said, here’s how each district stacks up in terms of “Pro-Democratic” levels of support:

Democratic support by Voters in Houston City Council District

2013 Voters       2012 Voters    2010 Voters
-----------       -----------    -----------
a - 42.28            51.49          46.17
b - 91.20            
c - 51.63            49.04          47.99
d - 85.85            
e - 29.16            
f - 55.81            65.78          61.86
g - 27.70            
h - 77.37            
i - 78.06            
j - 56.29            67.61          62.63
k - 71.01*           

    56.43            59.99          56.13

One obvious caveat here is that I only look at the City of Houston results within Harris County. That makes quite a different in District K, which has about a third of it’s population/voters in Fort Bend County. Likewise, District F has a negligible impact from a small number of Fort Bend voters.

I then opted to look at the closest things to “swing districts” and decided to crunch the results for 2012 voters within the district and 2010 voters within the district. This introduces another cavaet: the further back you go with VAN data, the cloudier the picture gets. Voters move, voters drop out of the database, there are imperfections in the data. Still, the results are informative, even if they’re not 100% scientifically precise.

One final, bigger caveat is that not everyone that turns out votes in every contest. We see this a lot in non-Mayoral contests, with anywhere from 10-25% of the turnout not casting a ballot in some races. And there’s no way to capture who does and doesn’t cast a vote in an individual contest. So we fly blind on that count. In the case of what might be a hotly-contested HERO referendum, I somehow suspect that we’ll see single-digit dropoff if and when it’s all said and done.

The results confirm my belief that if you want to see a very different City Council, try holding it in a Presidential year. District A would be a ripe candidate for a more progressive candidate. And while District F is already Democratic-leaning, it would be a significantly less questionable proposition for a Dem-leaning candidate. District J overlaps quite a bit with my more familiar HD137 and the amount of swing from city-cycle to any other cycle gives some evidence to what happens when more voters vote.

Ellen Cohen’s District C is the one district hanging in the balance, going from one side of the razor’s edge to another. But even here, there’s more to consider: namely, are the Republicans here as angry about gay folk as Jared Woodfill is hoping the rest of the city is? I’m not inclined to believe they are. But it’s definitely worth watching to see the results within that district.

The citywide total is also calculated (again, not including Fort Bend, but also not including the negligible amount of voters in Montgomery County). I’m not sure how instructive that will be since the bigger battleground for Team Woodfill is going to be to see how many African-American votes they think they can peel off.

Among the datapoints we have for what that will get for the repeal effort are the recent efforts to either institute gay marriage bans or repeal gay marriage laws:

When California voted for a gay marriage ban in 2008, 70 percent of African Americans voted for it, and when North Carolina overwhelmingly passed a similar measure earlier this year, many cited the black vote as a big reason. (Shortly after the ban passed in North Carolina, President Obama came out in favor of gay marriage.)

On Tuesday in Maryland, though, 46 percent of African Americans supported gay marriage. And according to national exit polls, 52 percent of both black and Latino voters who turned out Tuesday said they support gay marriage in their states.

(The largest shift came from black women, of which 59 percent now support gay marriage, compared to 42 percent of black men — a huge gender gap.)

That’s a big turnaround from recent years. In 2008 and 2009, a Pew Research Center survey showed just 28 percent of African Americans and 39 percent of Latinos backed gay marriage. And by 2010, support in those communities was rising slower than it was among whites.

The exit polls suggest both groups have now moved in large numbers toward supporting gay marriage. Their shifts may not be bigger than other demographics, but the fact that they are shifting at all (after sticking to their opposition) is what’s really significant here.

The make-believe scare tactics over bathrooms aren’t exactly the same thing. If we end up with a vote in November, I suspect we’ll have an idea of just how different an animal we have in this case. Just as well, if the goal is to actually repeal the ordinance, aiming for a vote in an odd-numbered year might have been more beneficial to opponents of the ordinance.

Shrinking the Poll Book for Elections

July 3, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

What signing in on Election Day might look like in the days ahead:

Last session, the Lege passed a bill to allow for electronic signature capture – essentially clearing the way for vendors like this one. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart’s office was an advocate for it and Stanart himself gave a presentation at last year’s Election Law conference in Austin, in part discussing this option.

The biggest plus for this would seem to be the reduction in time needed to “create” a poll book for Election Day that factors in Early Voters. Relatively recently, that’s been an excuse for cutting off the second weekend of Early Voting. I don’t see the usual suspects suddenly offering to bring those extra days back to the Early Voting schedule. But if the uniforms ever change colors for the folks who decide such things, the availability is in place.

I’m a little curious what happens to the signature comparison challenges when we end up with a lot of misfit doodles that now serve as our signatures. Whenever I sign my name electronically at retail outlets, I’m not capable of recognizing anything about that signature. But I hope that’s a negligible concern.

On the plus side, maybe making the process more digital would smooth out the process for following other aspects of Election Law that seem problematic.

HISD 2014 Redistricting: The ‘North Forest’ Public Hearing

July 2, 2014 Politics-2014 No Comments

Reporting from Shadydale Elementary in the what used to be the heart of what used to be North Forest ISD. I can’t claim to have had a perfect count of officials and former officials in the building last night, but State Rep. Senfronia Thompson and HISD Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones were definitely present. Attendance for the night, according to my so-so crowd-counting abilities was maybe just north of 40 people. There was a slightly bulkier handout at the meeting (scanned here). My scan doesn’t pick up the maps terribly well, but those can be found in the original doc presented to the board here.

As stated yesterday, I believe this should, in theory, be an easy round of redistricting. North Forest only adds 52,368 people into Houston ISD. The average district size – post-annexation – will be 151,726. So, on the surface, there’s no easy way to have a district that retains much of North Forest’s region. Even if you found a way to leave NFISD whole, it would comprise just more than a third of the hypothetical district. Of course, it was also pointed out that you could triple the number of trustees on the school board. But apparently that number is set in state law, so the school board has no control over it.

As far as the timing of the map-making, the goal is to take something to the board for their August hearing. But that’s not a hard timeline if there’s any difficulties is an issue here. From the tone of the community feedback, it didn’t seem as if there would be much of an issue. Having drawn the lines as recently as 2011, district voters have cast votes and chosen their trustees.

For the sake of discussion, however, HISD’s “Priorities and Principles for Redistricting” have two criteria that add some inertia to the process:

(3) The new HISD Redistricting Plan will be based, to the extent possible, on the existing trustee district composition.

(9) Recognizing the value of incumbent-constituency relations, the new HISD Redistricting Plan will seek to keep existing trustees in their existing districts.

In short, advantage incumbents … which seems like a big deal since North Forest won’t have the possibility to contribute an incumbent to the board. I normally hate criteria like this in years that end in one. But lacking much of a dog in this fight, it would be interesting to see if ‘ll be interesting to see if this came into the conversation at any point. But last night? Nothing.

I was told that there might be a little rabble to be roused at this particular hearing. That explains why I just put up with rush hour traffic out of downtown to get here. I believe the anticipated feedback would along the lines of “why couldn’t you leave NFISD whole?” There was a little of that, but nothing that looked particularly incendiary.

On an additional note of redistricting criteria, I’ll point out another pet peeve of my own:

(6) The HISD Redistricting Plan will use whole county voting precincts, whenever possible, to draw trustee districts.

Emphasis on “whenever possible.” I don’t know if there is any legal basis for determining a meaningful cutoff point for that. In practice, however, it looks a little too convenient. Without a criteria for when “whenever possible” hits a brick wall, it serves to benefit the map-makers. In terms of how it played out in this process, page 27 of the new info packet highlights that fewer precincts are split in the proposed plan.

A couple of new wrinkles for this mid-decade process:

The map-makers created an “in between” map that adds NFISD to HISD and determines a new configuration. In part, this is necessary in order to assign the new turf to existing districts. Officially, those folks now have one of two new school board trustees. Also of importance is that the new map is what legally shows new population deviations between districts as well as a substantially high top-to-bottom deviation between the most-populated and least-populated district. You can’t redistrict without demonstrating that there is more than 10% difference there. And the new top-to-bottom deviation is 25.2%.

Now, I don’t think there is any way to add NFISD and keep those deviations within 10%. But the 25% result is, in one sense, and artificial result. There are a number of ways that NFISD could have been split up. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be any legal basis for not redrawing lines in existing districts if it fits within the criteria put forth by HISD. Of course, you get a much bigger can of worms with the trustees, not to mention possible public pushback if you stand accused of fitting in NFISD without the traditional redistricting process. In short, though, there was a map that didn’t need public input to approve and there is now a proposed map that does. For now, that just strikes me as interesting.

The numbers used for redistricting are still the 2010 Census data, but the Rice U. team working the GIS did look at ACS data to see where the districts might be headed in the future. I’ve got a request in for some shapefiles and I plan to do a couple of things with that. One is to overlay that with my favorite view: CVAP Majority, as well as ask the Lege Council in Austin to show the CVAP numbers for the proposed map.

At some point, I’ll also look at the NFISD boundaries on top of that CVAP Majority map and possibly do the same for Total Population and Voting Age Population. That may help demonstrate some of what was mentioned at the meeting about why NFISD is split the way it is between Districts 2 and 8. In short, one part is more predominantly African-American and another isn’t. Allegedly, adding all of NFISD into District 2, for instance, the AfrAm population share would drop and result in a red flag with the Justice Department. On the surface, there’s a bit of irony here: you can’t submit a map that retrogresses AfrAm population, especially when you’re annexing a district as heavily AfrAm as NFISD. But if you were to incorporate NFISD by keeping it whole, you would retrogress the plan. This is exactly the sort of thing that passes for humor at Redistricting Meetups … or so I hear. Part of the problem is that for all its reputation as being heavily African-American, the total population in NFISD is only 66% AfrAm and 30% Hispanic. You might be able to work it so that the AfrAm majority District 2 boosts its AfrAm numbers, but there is still a resulting impact on the Hispanic districts based on all of the other threads you end up pulling from the proverbial sweater to balance out population. Again, this is precisely the sort of thing that makes life interesting for people that play (and work) with maps.

One final not-unexpected item from the public input was a pointed question about what the Anglo share of HISD students was and what the Anglo share of HISD Trustees was. The answers are 8% and 45%. You can probably use your imagination to figure out what the intent of the question was. But it raises an interesting point in my mind about future legal challenges in redistricting. For instance, what if you compared the demographic difference between HISD-eligible parents or families and used that to challenge whether a redistricting plan was representative. I don’t know that the argument would be strong enough to win a judicial or DOJ challenge. But to the extent that any jurisdiction is going to go through the redistricting process during the coming years, it will be interesting to see how differences between electorates and affected individuals plays out. In theory, that would be a very similar argument made by those who wish to see legislative redistricting done based on CVAP. Never let it be said that politics can’t make for interesting bedfellows.

The next hearing is on July 8th at Pin Oak Middle School – just far enough inside the loop to not qualify as SW Houston, but this will be as close as it gets for us. Page 23 of the new packet shows the affected areas where the boundaries change. Our side of town doesn’t have much. I’m expecting a civil affair. In short, if there wasn’t a major hue and cry from North Forest about the draft plan, I’d be willing to bet a Coke that the proposed plan sails through in August.

HISD Redistricting – The 2014 Round

July 1, 2014 Politics-2015 No Comments

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

An Ounce of Wisdom from Rick Perry

June 30, 2014 Politics-2015 No Comments

From the current issue of Texas Monthly:

Brian Sweany
0714_Perry_470x608Governor Perry, I’d like to start at the beginning of your administration. Take me back to December 2000, when you became governor. It was an unbelievably momentous time in Texas politics: George W. Bush had become president as a result of a US Supreme Court decision, and as lieutenant governor, you ascended to the top job. What were your expectations of being governor then?

Rick Perry
Actually, you cannot start there, because the preparatory period is substantially prior to that, I came to Austin in January 1985 as a 34-year -old legislator, and that began the gradual education of Rick Perry. Sixty-six percent of my time in the House I spent on the Appropriations Committee, and I think there is not a better school to learn how government works. You can really find out about all these different agencies of government, how they function, and who the people are, and that was a priceless education for me. I not only made friends that would pay dividends in the future, I went on to head the Texas Department of Agriculture. So I sent from the oversight of agencies into the management of an agency. And then, as the lieutenant governor, albeit for only two years, I worked on consequential issues, and it was excellent schooling on how the Senate functioned.

All of that was part of my preparation for becoming the governor: to understand how this place works and to be curious about it. I think if there’s one thing that I am, I’m curious about how these things work. I was well schooled, well prepared, well experienced to serve as the governor of Texas.

A good chunk of the non-puppy-raising activity what’s keeping me away from the blog has been Lege Watching in the off-season. Part of that being the interim hearings currently going on, part being a rewind of committees I didn’t watch as much when they were going on in 2013. And on that note, I have to confess that watching Appropriations hearings have been a pretty good learning experience.

Now, make what you will of a southern Governor who refers to himself in the third person and also obfuscates the fact that he served all of two terms on Appropriations as a Representative. But in the 100% of the time I’ve been doing this, Greg Wythe grants him his point.

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.

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January 19, 2015

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 […]

2009-13 ACS Update

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The end of the year means new Census data being released. I’m saving most of my work until the Citizen Voting Age data is out, but here are the top lines for total population in Harris County, with previous ACS updates included to show the gradual change over time: Tot. Pop. ’10 (%) | Tot. […]

In Session

January 5, 2013

Today, I’m off to settle into a new workspace and a temporary residence in order to work with my new State Representative, Gene Wu, in Austin. Before anyone thinks to call, comment, or text about how exciting any of that is, you should be reminded that I was raised to loathe all things Austin. While […]


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