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What Happens to City Elections in Even-Numbered Years?

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.


The Six-Year Itch for Term Limit Reform

» 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?


CoH 2013: Mayoral Mapping and Neighborhood Analysis

For the post-Greanias Line outcomes for Anglo Dems, this is pretty much the template. I had suggested earlier that the inexplicably long run of anti-Ben Hall ads on television might have been aimed at keeping Afr-Am votes from Hall. Based on Parker's 30ish showing in Afr-Am neighborhoods, there might be something to that. But the really impressive showing here is that Parker won Hispanic neighborhoods strongly (she barely lost them to Locke in 2009) and the only non-majority showing among Anglo GOP 'hoods is in Kingwood.

I was guessing that Parker would end the night with an outright win south of 60% and that's exactly where she ended up. 2015 will once more redefine "the new normal" for city election coalitions. And there's a long way to go before seeing if there is potential for another Bill White-style consensus showing, or if the Parker templates have some staying power to elect candidates from an Anglo Dem + Anglo GOP base. There's also no telling what's in store for a potentially stronger Afr-Am candidate to perhaps join Anglo Dems and Afr-Am neighborhoods.

Regardless, this is a fairly solid showing by Team Parker for her final election as a candidate. In the end, the only surprise was that there was nothing to be surprised about. For comparison's sake, here is the 2011 neighborhood analysis and here's the one from 2009, and the 2009 runoff.

full page - Google Earth

Dark Blue - Parker: 65% or higher
Med. Blue - Parker: 50% - 65%
Light Red - Parker: 35% - 50%
Dark Red - Parker: 0% - 35%

Neighborhood Analysis

Anglo Dem Neighborhoods
              Parker    Hall    Dick    Others   Undervotes
Heights        75.3%    15.1%    6.5%     3.1%      2.0%
Meyerland      75.1%    12.9%    9.5%     2.5%      2.3%
Montrose       86.2%     7.1%    4.7%     2.0%      1.6%
Rice U         81.8%    10.4%    6.2%     1.6%      1.9%

African-American Neighborhoods
              Parker    Hall    Dick    Others   Undervotes
Acres Homes    30.7%    63.6%    0.9%     4.8%      2.2%
UH/TSU         39.4%    55.5%    0.9%     4.3%      2.7%
Fifth Ward     30.0%    65.6%    0.7%     3.7%      3.0%
Sunnyside      28.8%    65.6%    0.5%     5.2%      2.9%
Hiram Clarke   38.9%    53.6%    1.9%     5.6%      2.5%

Anglo GOP Neighborhoods
              Parker    Hall    Dick    Others   Undervotes
Clear Lake     59.5%    20.3%   16.5%     3.7%      2.6%
Galleria       64.2%    18.1%   15.3%     2.5%      3.1%
Kingwood       44.1%    19.7%   32.5%     3.7%      2.7%
Garden Oaks    64.9%    15.6%   15.6%     3.9%      2.6%
River Oaks     75.3%    14.4%    8.6%     1.7%      2.8%
Spring Branch  54.8%    19.0%   21.4%     4.8%      3.0%
Memorial       59.7%    17.3%   19.7%     3.2%      3.0%
Sharpstown     63.1%    17.8%   14.1%     5.0%      2.8%

Hispanic Neighborhoods
              Parker    Hall    Dick    Others   Undervotes
East End       68.3%    18.5%    6.2%     7.0%      4.7%
Near Northside 63.4%    19.3%    8.1%     9.3%      2.6%
Hobby          53.9%    28.4%   10.0%     7.6%      2.6%

Multicultural Neighborhoods
              Parker    Hall    Dick    Others   Undervotes
Alief          56.8%    25.0%    9.8%     8.5%      4.3%

Not Exactly Jury Duty

Since I'm gradually catching up on all things blog, I'll take this opportunity to combine two events I had the good fortune to take part in recently. Both involved a lunch meeting with elected officials, so there's a bit of similarity there. Both were also the product of Justin Concepcion organizing the idea for Mayor Parker, only to begin a new job with Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan before the event with the Mayor took place. Kudos to both electeds for their time and willingness to meet and kudos to Justin for making it all happen.

Friday afternoon with County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan
The most recent meeting with Sullivan was held at his office, which afforded me the opportunity to pick up some info at the County Clerk's office on the same trip. There's something to be said for efficiency there. I've bumped into Mike a few times - all at or outside of church. In every instance, he's been beyond cordial. Downright friendly, I'd go so far as to say. I've always had a fair amount of respect for Sullivan dating back to his time on City Council. While I may or may not have always agreed with those points where he spoke in opposition to something the Mayor wanted passed, I felt he was always thoughtful and explained his position very fairly. And since it's my view that City Council works fairly well when there is one critical voice on the left and right, I think Mike's time on council was a pretty good model for how to serve in that capacity from the right. It was an easy assumption in 2012 that if (and ultimately - when) Mike won the General Election, he'd be an easy upgrade over the previous two holders of his office.

The biggest point of emphasis that I think indicates Mike's early success is that all of the voter registration-related lawsuits that were aimed at the office in prior years have since been dropped. That would appear to be a good sign of trust that the parties involved in those suits have in Sullivan to be fair with his treatment of the Voter Registrar section of his office.

I'm not sure how to compare Sullivan's early years to that of Paul Bettencourt's, though. While Bettencourt came up through the ranks of party bureaucracy and campaigns, I don't know that I can point to his early years as being any kind of activist with regard to voter registration. But that's certainly how it ended up for Bettencourt. For now, though, Sullivan benefits most in comparison to Don Summers and Leo Vasquez. That's a low bar and one that Sullivan glows in comparison to. I'd obviously like to see the Sullivan we recognize today continue for as long as he's destined to hold this particular office. There's still a few areas of the office to keep an eye on if you're the skeptical type.

My only minor gripe to impart was that the upgrade of the website has apparently led to a change in the data provided for registered voters by precinct. Apparently, I can no longer download data to show whether a voter is "Active" or "Suspense." My complaint has been politely heard and is being looked into. I'm confident that less than five other people in the world share in my grief over this.

We spent a bit of time discussing Voter ID, although much of the implementation of the law will fall on the County Clerk. I'm a little hopeful that Voter ID implementation will be looked at by the Lege once the Interim Charges are released. Part of that is a desire to see how agencies like the County Clerks, Tax Assessors, and Election Admins are dealing with the need to do outreach, training, advertising, and other activities at a point after much of their budget decisions have already been decided. I asked Mike what he could share about that and it seems the biggest uptick in dollars has come from new mailing requirements that added something north of $250,000 to the agency's costs.

Kuff has some other notes from the meeting toward the end of this post. The gathering for this event was a Dem-friendly affair, with Justin noting that there were plans to arrange a GOP-friendly gathering afterward.

Last month with Mayor Parker
I arrived at this one a tad late. Two fairly interesting topics of conversations that came up were food trucks and pensions. The first of those mean something vastly different in my neighborhood than they do in trendier parts (or downtown, even). The latter of the two is a point where I'm not quite on the same page with the Mayor. Most of the attendees were among us Dem-types, but Tory from Houston Strategies was included for adding a bit of advocacy for libertarian policies for the city.

I don't know that there was much new ground covered in the meeting with the Mayor since most of the issues the city deals with are covered by professional media on a daily basis and few of us bloggers are moonlighting as actuaries to dive into the weeds of pension policy. But points for the outreach effort, nonetheless. It might be a bit more noteworthy to try this again with the city at a time when some new initiative is being rolled out and split the meeting into one-half "Here's what the Mayor wants to talk about" and another half of "here's what bloggers want to ask about." The recent Chapter 42 policy changes might have been a good tie-in, for example. I've been in front of all of one presentation on the subject and it's both interesting and very complicated. Those sort of issues don't always come along on a routine basis, but that strikes me as a good point to impart some useful info while giving others a chance to ask about anything else that pops to mind.

Just as well, I do think that one area where Mayor Parker has been a welcome change has been the degree to which she's made the rounds at a variety of public events throughout her term as Mayor. Heck, I even bumped into her at my church where she was making a presentation as part of a conference several days after this meeting. All in all, still a good meeting and hopefully an idea that continues over time. I can't say that I'd mind seeing County Judge Ed Emmett latch onto the idea, as well.


Ben Hall in a Dark Room

Caught this on TV yesterday morning ...

I'm not sure how effective this is going to be toward Hall's "Pincer Strategy" goal. On the one hand, it undoubtedly helps Hall identify with African-American voters. I'm sure there are some folks who will find Hall's darkroom mannerisms folksy and good-natured. But the critiques of Annise Parker seem very insider-ish and he doesn't really seem to have any details to offer ehre. Maybe that's what we're supposed to talk about next time. For now, I'm supposed to believe that Mayor Parker is hiding something. I think there are going to be a number of bold-type political consultant names, if not the candidate himself, who realize how invisible their argument is about debates. So far, I haven't heard a natural clamor among normal people for six debates versus one ... or two candidates versus twenty. And if it were my reputation, I wouldn't bank on this ad changing that.

In short, the ad looks like it was devised in an echo chamber, with a faulty idea being what gets echoed in said chamber. Whoever decided to include "grew up poor" with mention of Duke, Harvard, multiple degrees, and a gig at Vinson & Elkins probably shouldn't be allowed to write ad copy in the future. But at least they left out any mention of Hall's longtime residency in Piney Point. Smart on their part.

Via media questioning, Team Hall attempts to spell out some of the detail by offering four areas where they believe Mayor Parker is "hiding" from Houstonians. One of those items is: "Our looming pension liabilities are real. What is Parker doing to address them before it is too late?" A fair enough point, in and of itself. What's odd, though, is that Ben Hall doesn't have a thing to say about the issue on his campaign website.

And since Hall is endorsed by the Firefighters, maybe it would be of interest for him to spell out some facts on how he would deal with this "looming" liability. Would he seek to get a bill carried in the Legislature that would force the Firefighters to negotiate directly with the City? Would he seek to restructure the city's pension obligations (thereby funding them less) or does he see a need to put more funds into local pensions (thereby funding them more)? I think those would make some worthwhile questions if only Hall wouldn't hide from them on his own campaign website. I don't necessarily agree with Parker's position on Firefighter's pensions ... but I at least know where she stands.


January 2013: Fundraising Notes – City Folk

If you've had a sec to scope out some of the numbers that people have put up, maybe there was something or another worth raising an eyebrow over. Here's what got my attention:

» Mayor ... It's officially down to "Few For Hall" and I'm guessing the current press secretary won't be among that bunch before long. Hall is still going to drop his own money around town and there's ample amounts of that to get some votes. But there is nothing about the visible portion of Hall's campaign to warrant deep concern over the incumbent Mayor's prospects. As for Annise, she did her fundraising the old fashioned way (other people's wallets) and hauled in $2.2M and retains a lead in cash on hand. The Chron quotes my old boss thusly:

Democratic consultant Mustafa Tameez said Hall, as with many challengers to fairly popular incumbents, is spending a lot of money to make comparatively less progress.

" 'All for Hall' is primarily funded by Ben Hall. There's not a lot of people in the 'all,' " Tameez said, referring to the political committee Hall has formed for the race. "The other thing notable was, in practical terms, he's raised $300,000, but he's spent $800,000. If $800,000 is spent and we haven't seen anything on television and we haven't seen a whole lot of mail, we've seen a lot of outreach and we've seen a lot of consulting fees."

... and I couldn't agree more.

» Comptroller ... A surprisingly strong showing by the challenger, Bill Frazer. I'll have to review his actual report for details to see if there's more reason for concern. Ronald Green has had a fairly charmed political life, as far as his re-election campaigns have gone. That this one might require more work is a pretty low standard to clear. There's still not a lot of money circulating in this contest. Maybe you'll hear about the folks that Ronald has vouched for in court if you're one of the same 30 people that show up for civic clubs and whatnot. And maybe you'll hear about it if you're on a GOP-heavy mailing list that might not otherwise have been planning on voting for Green. But I think it'll take more than that to make this contest as hot as it has potential to be.

» At Large 3 ... I'm not entirely sure that the herd in AL-3 is significantly sorted out from the January reports. Kudos to my friend, Rogene Calvert, for clocking in at an impressive ~$84k raised/$75k on hand. That comes in as the highest legally-filed totals due to Michael Kubosh reporting a $72,000 contribution from a relative. I'm assuming that that amount gets cleaned up and considered a loan (there was a situation like that a cycle or two back, as I recall). That's money that will still drop somewhere for Kubosh and I'd still expect him to end up as the lead dog on money. But a quick scan of his spending demonstrates that a lot of it is going to go toward funding an imperfect understanding of where votes come from. Any campaign that plays smarter is likely to do well. I got bogged down with other work before noticing any updates on Pool and Al Edwards. The report I spotted by Pool just didn't have totals on page 2. There seemed to be a healthy number of individual donors, but I wasn't about to spend my time adding it all up. It will be interesting to see whether Al Edwards blunts a lot of the Afr-Am support that Michael Kubosh was hoping he could buy up. There's still GOP support available for Kubosh, but I'd expect Morales to chip away at some of that. On the whole, this is shaping up to be the worst possible field for Michael Kubosh to be in. Or, at least, I'm not as convinced that he's the expected first-place finisher in November. Also of interest is how the three Hispanic candidates sort out among voters. When talk of this race first started, Roland Chavez was the first name people mentioned and other than having some good manpower available via the firefighters, his first report doesn't exactly shake anyone up. I'd feel fairly comfortable about the state of city affairs if I saw Calvert and Chavez go to a runoff. But, as we've seen ... big fields have a way of generating some crazy results. It's anyone's game until I start seeing some honest field metrics during Early Vote.

» District A ... I was really hoping that this race might turn into a healthy battle between Brown, Stardig, and Peck. As it stands, replace Peck with Knox. Either way, you'd have a really hard time defining "dog" before I got around to identifying a dog in this race. All things considered, I think council is capable of functioning at its best when there is one smart critic from the right and another from the left. Which is to say ... I really miss Mike Sullivan.

» District D ... As expected, its Dwight Boykins' race to lose. But I'd still expect his money to be spent at an efficiency rate approaching North Korean farming standards. It wouldn't take a Billy Bean to make up for a 3-to-1 difference in a race like this.

» District I ... Ben Mendez leads the Benjamins Primary, but silly spending abounds. Hard to buy into conventional wisdom about "name ID" of any candidate in this pack. This might just be one of those contests where it's amazing that anyone manages to win it.

» Elsewhere ... Not a total surprise, but still nice to see an incumbent-friendly showing by my CM, Mike Laster. In the one AL race where an incumbent should have a healthy challenge, David Robinson seems to have some good totals posted to unseat Andrew Burks. I'm guessing that the Andrew Burks caucus of the local GOP is still considering Burks to be bought and paid for, so maybe they can repeat their mail ballot surprise that helped Burks into office. But I wouldn't mind seeing Robinson run a smart enough campaign to negate that. There's an easy path for Robinson to win. But someone else is driving that train, so I'll see what the rest of you see in November.


Pincer Strategy Redux

» Chron: Hall launches bid to challenge Parker for mayor

In case anyone wasn't aware ... Ben Hall really, really wants to be mayor. We've now gradually gone through the various iterations of "I'm thinking about it" here, here, and here. If you were wondering if this fourth entry in the slow-motion marathon of Hall's announcement tour through Houston was now complete, the story tucks away the best part toward the end of the article:

No candidate has formally filed for mayor; filing begins July 29 and ends Aug. 26.

So, wild hunch here: July 30th will be another round of "Really, seriously, this time I mean it ... I'm running" stories.

In fairness to Hall, I do think he makes something of a valid critique of Parker on the "leadership vs manager" argument. But that's also a fairly easy argument for Parker to rebut. The bigger, tactical mistake is Hall attempting to recreate the "Pincer Strategy" that didn't work terribly well for it's original practitioner, Gene Locke. There's a big difference between winning broad Anglo GOP support and having a GOP consultant along with a fringe Republican Kubosh brother by your side at one of the way-too-many announcements of your candidacy.


Inaugural Aggreblogging

Another four years, another inauguration. Here's a random break from whatever it is that I do when I don't blog.

» Chron: Again, Hall says he will challenge Parker
In case anyone wasn't aware ... Ben Hall really, really wants to be mayor. This story follows a Chronicle blog posting, where Hall had previously announced his intentions. And that follows the KTRK story from a month ago, where Hall had also previously announced his intentions. And that followed the KHOU story from November, where Hall had ... well, you get the point by now. And it's worth pointing out that this is still far from official since Ben Hall has yet to publicly announce and to officially file as a candidate. I'm sure that'll be worth two new pitches to the local media that he really plans to run this time. Can't wait to hear if he has anything to say about his candidacy outside of "Hey, I'm running!" But based on his initial foray into civic thinking, I doubt he has anything to offer that moves me off of my default choice.

» SSRC: Evangelicals who have left the right (Marcia Pally)
This follows up somewhat from Pally's 2011 book, with a little added context from the 2012 election. Responses by Pastor Joel Hunter and Professor David Gushee are also worth a read.

» Nate Silver: What Is Driving Growth in Government Spending?
Good wonky reading from Nate Silver. Nice to see him turn his analytical skills toward public finances. Of some interest:

Another surprise is how little we are paying in interest on the federal debt, even though the debt is growing larger and larger. Right now, interest payments make up only about 6 percent of the federal budget. In addition, they have been decreasing as a share of the gross domestic product: the federal government spent about 1.5 percent of gross domestic product in paying interest on its debt on 2011, down from a peak of 3.3 percent in 1991.

I distinctly remember a few conversations - both online and in-person - where many of my Republican friends rationalized the renewal of deficit spending under Bush-43 by stating how low the GDP percentage was in historical terms. Now, considering the spikes in deficits that began in Bush's last years in office but are now associated with Obama ... the argument is nowhere to be found.

» AZ Republic: Bruce Arians wants QB with ‘grit,’ leadership
Kevin Kolb gets his third head coach as an NFL QB. And the early read is uncertain as to what it means for his future as a starter in Arizona. Of course, even if he does start next season, it's an open question as to whether he can endure it without the kind of injuries that have ended his previous three seasons.

» NY Times: Dartmouth Stops Credits for Excelling on A.P. Test
» NY Times: Next Made-in-China Boom: College Graduates

Among the issues I get to track in the Lege is education. Both of these are good backgrounders on some issues in secondary ed.

» Chron: Political novices look to gain stature working for legislator (Patricia Kilday Hart)
» Texas Tribune: For Dean of Senate, Public and Private Blur (Jay Root)
Two good reads on matters pertaining to state government. On a somewhat related note, I also attended my first Trib Talk event with Michael Williams being in the hot seat next to Evan Smith. First impression is that the event is a bit too clubby for my taste, but watching Evan interview someone in person is pretty fun to watch.


A Few Goings On …

23 days until the blogging calendar opens up some more. In the meantime ...

» Sen. Mario Gallegos still in grave condition today.

» Mayor Parker recommends Janiece Longoria for Port Commish, while Jack Morman seems to want Steve Stewart. Interesting since the Longoria-Corgey fight over a board spot was a notable loss for the Mayor in 2010. Also interesting since it may not be a given that she wins this fight.

» The Republican candidate for Ft. Bend County Commissioner is nailed for voting twice in two states for the same election back in 2008. As a fan of the incumbent County Commissioner Richard Morrison, I could not be more pleased by this. And it bears pointing out that the single biggest restriction that Republicans want to put on voters would have done absolutely nothing to prevent it.

» I'm woefully behind on catching up with Kuff's interviews on bonds and referendums on this year's ballot. Any supporters of them, feel free to start swaying me. My starting point for things like that is generally negative and the only solid "Yes" so far is Prop D, the Library bond, (nerd that I am) and the city's Prop 1 & 2 that clean up the charter.

» El Paso schools find innovative ways to game the test.

» Oh, and there was a debate of moderate importance the other night. Funny how Republicans suddenly insist upon a Vice President being polite. We've come a long way since 2004.


Runoff, Pre-Early-Vote Aggrepost

No rest for the weary. Rock & roll, yes. Rest, no ...

And for newsier-ish events and whatnot, here's a bit of a sampler so that I don't feel too far behind on all the goings-on around here:

» Wash. Post: In Virginia, frenzied weekend highlights fight ahead in state for Obama, Romney
» LA Times: Nevada isn't a sure bet for Obama
I'm told there's still a Presidential election going on. Too early to really take polls seriously. But that shouldn't stop anyone from gnawing away a few precious fingernails to deal with the anxiety.

» GC Daily News: Jason Murray to spend 7 months in jail
A good poster-child for voters paying more attention to who they vote for down-ballot.

» FW Star-Telegram: Keller City Council nixes proposed food truck park
Nice to see a conservative little corner of Tarrant County so concerned about too much competition in the food industry.

» Kevin Drum: Medicaid Expansion May Turn Out to Be an Offer States Can't Refuse
Kudos to KDrum for picking up on this. And also kudos to Arkansas for honestly reviewing the tradeoffs involved in expanding Medicaid.

They figure that in 2015 the new law would cost them $42 million and save them $131 million. So it's a clear winner. But that's because the federal government picks up 100% of the tab for expansion during the first three years. That declines to 90% by 2020, and Arkansas figures that by 2021 the expansion of Medicaid would cost them $3.4 million per year.

Now, that's $3.4 million out of a $4 billion Medicaid budget, of which Arkansas pays $750 million. So it's not a lot of money, especially considering the number of people it would help.

There are still critiques to be had with the expansion and Drum cautions that Arkansas' mileage may vary from others. But it sure would be nice to see Texas try a little honest accounting on this issue. It would certainly be a lot better than ...

» Chron: Passing on Medicaid expansion is the right call for Texas
Signed by State Sen. Bob Deuell (R); State Rep. Charles Schwertner (R); State Representative Mark Shelton (R); and State Rep. John Zerwas (R). Most interesting, because ...

» Kaiser Health News: Businesses Will Push Perry to Rethink Medicaid Expansion

"Fights seem to follow the money, and there is a lot of money at stake in Texas on this," said Phil King, a Republican state representative from outside Fort Worth who opposes the Medicaid expansion. "Maybe you need to rename this 'The Full-Employment Act for Lobbyists.'"

With world-renowned medical institutions such as the University of Texas and a large part of its Medicaid coverage handled by private insurers such as Amerigroup, the state's health industry is "just behind oil and gas" in size and influence, said Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University. "Given how much Amerigroup has to gain from a Medicaid expansion in Texas, they may be one of the most effective organizations to lobby Perry and the state legislature to fund the expansion."

Founded in the mid-1990s in Virginia Beach, Va., Amerigroup contracts with 13 states to manage Medicaid care, generally for a fixed fee per member. Now grown to Fortune 500 size, the company had twice as many Texas members last year -- 632,000 -- as in any other state.

Oughtta provide a good deal of entertainment in the lege come January.

Oh yeah, and this happened:

And just for a little bit of retro-linkage, here's an interesting local story from 1986 on how familiar names may or may not have wrecked havoc on political primary outcomes. Elsewhere, TBogg notes a hilarious example of Randian hypocrisy.

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