I’m still recuperating from a final week of more manual labor than I should be doing at my age. But I’ve also got the unofficial canvass of Harris County returns on my hand. Of immediate interest, I’m proud to see the efforts of Team Wu pay off to the tune of 57.9%. That’s on par with the results Scott Hochberg got in the old HD137 (and the current one is drawn to perform very similarly to that one). Even better, we outperformed all other Dems on the ballot in our district – in terms of total votes and percentage. Last time around, I believe Garcia and Ryan did better in each of those columns than we did.

District 137       D     D%        R     R%       TV
------------------------------------------------------
Gov              6,899 (55.3%)   5,306 (42.5%)  12,472 
Lt. Gov          6,815 (54.9%)   5,161 (41.6%)  12,410 
Comptroller      6,626 (53.8%)   5,203 (42.3%)  12,311 
Attorney General 6,683 (54.0%)   5,251 (42.4%)  12,386
Land Commish     6,243 (50.6%)   5,565 (45.1%)  12,342 
Ag Commish       6,300 (51.4%)   5,362 (43.8%)  12,250 
RR Commish       6,340 (51.6%)   5,343 (43.5%)  12,278 
SCOTX-CJ         6,451 (52.5%)   5,466 (44.5%)  12,278 
14th COA - CJ    6,593 (54.5%)   5,505 (45.5%)  12,098 
1st COA - CJ     6,622 (54.7%)   5,480 (45.3%)  12,102 
State Rep        7,147 (57.9%)   5,203 (42.1%)  12,350 
------------------------------------------------------
Dist. Attorney   6,779 (55.6%)   5,420 (44.4%)  12,199 
Dist. Clerk      6,449 (53.5%)   5,597 (46.5%)  12,046 
County Clerk     6,576 (54.4%)   5,503 (45.6%)  12,079 
County Treasurer 6,502 (53.6%)   5,628 (46.4%)  12,130 
BOE - Kerner     6,707 (55.7%)   5,325 (44.3%)  12,032 
BOE - Noriega    6,721 (55.7%)   5,343 (44.3%)  12,064 

Eventually, I’ll check a few other curiosities in other districts. And the neighborhood analysis and maps will follow at some point.

Once again, the workday is a bit too much fun-filled with research projects to dive too deeply into subjects that I wish I had the time to blog about. One point to interrupt that for, however, is to extend an open invite to any/all folks who might wish to partake of some political activity tonight. And on that note, my State Rep is kicking off his 2014 campaign season at our favorite Italian Restaurant: Barry’s Pizza. So consider this an invite to join us between 5 and 7pm for free food and drinks.

Aside from that, there’s a little serendipity in reading Steven Teles’ “Kludgeocracy in America” thesis while also reviewing the House Appropriations hearing on the state CPRIT agency’s botched grant process. Specifically, the agency’s expressed desire during the committee to go ahead and award grants approved during the moratorium period that they were under at the time:

Should outgoing Governor Perry opt for a more four-eyed Presidential run in 2016, I look forward to hearing how this is totally different from any failings of Obamacare.

» NY Times: I Want to Be a Mayor (Thomas Friedman)

I don’t read Friedman regularly, so hat tip to may Austin landlady for the tip on this. Basically, Friedman is just noting how a lot of the grunt work for law and other activity aimed at making the world a better place is happening at the local level. Houston gets a mention …

Look around and you see cities “doing the hard work of growing our new economy,” they said to me in an interview. With federal funding for scientific research uncertain, Michael Bloomberg “has created Applied Sciences campuses in New York City to spur innovation. Voters are putting up tax dollars for large-scale transit investments in Denver and Los Angeles and local leaders are leading the modernization of ports, airports and freight rail in Miami, Chicago, Jacksonville and Dallas.” A network of economic development organizations in northeast Ohio is “helping manufacturing firms retool their factories for new demand, using some federal dollars but also sizable investments from philanthropies.” And, in Houston, a network of neighborhood centers is connecting new immigrants with low-cost banking, education, child care and health care — while the immigration bill is stalled in Congress.

And as luck would have it, Team Wu has been busy breaking in a new district office. And we’re happy to be located within the Baker-Ripley Center (a Neighborhood Centers, Inc. facility). Beyond simply having office space there, there exists a rationale for why we chose that location. Namely, we didn’t want to go with a more reclusive office space that would require people make an effort and have a need to come by for whatever reason.

HD137 is a bit unique in that it contains a large share of new immigrants. Just like it was in the previous decade. Just like it was in the decade before that. In other words, it’s not like new arrivals are settling and becoming citizens while they’re here. Gulfton regenerates new population with amazing regularity … and then people move on. Many move into neighboring Sharpstown, which has led to significant changes in that area over the past decade.

While it may be a point of ideological contention, those folks are still represented by elected officials even though they can’t vote or even if they have become eligible to vote and just choose not to. Among our missions is to have a district office that intersects with communities like this in addition to the more traditional types of voters and other assorted characters that ever have a need to visit their State Representative. Needless to say, Baker-Ripley is the perfect place to try this experiment.

We’ll be holding an Open House/Grand Opening on Friday, August 9th. Feel free to stop by after work and give us a visit if you’re free.

From Thursday in a lesser Texas-based locality …

You can watch the full interview here. It was mostly tame and civil until Ross Ramsay sought out a friendly GOP questioner who inquired about the voucer legislation carried by the two Republicans on the panel.

Notice the reaction when Gene asks Scott Turner whether he’d accept an amendment that stipulated that a private school accept any student with a “scholarship” and that they not charge tuition above and beyond the value of same? Yeah. So how many poor parents do you know of who can make up the difference between a $5k “scholarship” and a $12k tuition bill each year? Maybe things are different in Frisco and New Braunfels. But it doesn’t mesh with anything in Houston.

Furthermore, I had no idea the schools in Frisco, Texas were so bad that Scott Turner had to put his nephew in a private, Christian school. Actually, the very law that Scott Turner is carrying would not apply to his nephew, since it turns out that Frisco High is doing better than his bill would allow before a “scholarship” is awarded. Of course, this bill isn’t really about kinds in Frisco … it’s about the imagined scenarios in other locations.

Of course, reality is much harder to deal with. The choice that has been made by an overwhelming number of parents is that they want a quality school for their kid in their neighborhood. It’s more than a little baffling why that choice isn’t respected by the likes of Turner and Campbell. Houston ISD attempts to close schools with some regularity (see here for a recent example). What they find out is that, for whatever problems the school may have, parents seem to prefer that the problem be fixed, not given up on. That choice, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to register with a certain wing of today’s GOP.

At the end of the day, we’re tasked with educating everyone. If some want to focus on how the cream of the crop are educated, that’s their prerogative. But it doesn’t do enough to address what’s in the state constitution, what’s just good public policy, and what makes common sense. There are plenty of third world countries that only concern themselves with the education of the wealthiest. I’d just as soon not see Texas fall to that level.

» TX Tribune: At Capitol Education Rally, Tough Words for Legislature

Some interesting participants for this year’s rally …

Many speakers — including Diane Ravitch, a Houston native and former assistant secretary of education to President George H.W. Bush who is now an outspoken opponent of vouchers and high-stakes testing — called out Senate Education Committee chairman Dan Patrick by name.

Among Ravitch’s concerns was the senator’s attempt to pass a “parent trigger” law in which local school boards could vote to convert to a charter school. It would more aptly be called a “parent tricker” law, she said.

She urged members of the crowd to support efforts to roll back student testing in the state. “The testing vampire started here,” she said, referring to the Texas origins of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. “Kill it.”

Former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott also spoke at the rally. Scott, who stepped down from the agency in July, made national headlines last year when he told an annual gathering of 3,000 public school administrators that the state’s testing and accountability system had gone too far.

On Saturday, he said the state’s $90-million-a-year test-development contract was influencing the “totatilty” of public schools.

“Now, some of you may look at that and see that as the tail wagging the dog a little bit, wouldn’t you? I don’t,” he said. “I look at it as the flea at the end of the tail of the dog trying to wag the dog.”

He said that realization was part of his decision last year to speak out against the direction of state education policy.

Some background on former Commissioner Scott’s point of departure can be read here. And, of course, there was this guy …


Up till now, I’ve generally subscribed to Jim Carville’s maxim that “I wouldn’t want to work for any government that would be willing to hire me.” But this is Texas … we seem to need a bit of help.

So, starting in January, I’ll be working in the legislature for Gene Wu. He won the job title of State Representative fair and square, so I’ll be settle for the role of “bill monkey”, I guess. This’ll be my first time to work the Lege and I’m looking forward to building on what Gene started the day he started campaigning. HD137 is my home and there’s no other spec of dust on the globe that I care about more. Our hope is to have a blog for either Gene or the entire office staff once the session is in gear. As soon as there’s anything to report on that, I’ll pass it on.

What that means for this little blog is currently under review. To be honest, I’m more committed to find more time to build TXPoliticalAlmanac.com. That project has been a stop-and-start effort for a number of years now yet I think it holds the most potential. Since building that site helps build the knowledgebase I’ll need working with Gene, I’m eager to spend more time with that project on a day-to-day basis. Whether the 10+ year blogging project goes on hiatus, a change in focus, or gets put on ice permanently … those are among the options under consideration.

One of the tangents on my mind is that I’m not sure that TXPA is the greatest repository for map-based information. Certainly, I can add a map to a page without any problem. But the type of map that goes on those pages tends to be of the more self-explanatory variety. A number of maps that I like to blog about, however, require a bit more explanation and tend to get more into weeds which I’ve not yet organized into TXPA.

A higher-order issue for the upcoming session is that the pace of work builds to a sprint toward the end of the session. So there’s a challenge of starting off with the hope that I can maintain any kind of productive pace for writing, explaining, opinionating, pontificating and whatnot … only to see the time for such endeavors dry up in the spring. We’ll see what the future holds.

A few nuggets from the Almanac updates I’m still slowly getting around to …

Since I’m crunching the data from the big counties and their official or unofficial canvasses, I’m trying to keep a few of the countywide contests in the overview. This gives a little bit of insight into two GOP-held Dallas County districts: HD105 and HD107, which were contested by Dem candidates Rosemary Robbins and Robert Miklos respectively. Both ended up losing fairly close contests. But both were also won by Dallas County Tax Assessor, John Ames. Obviously, everything comes down to whether re-redistricting happens by the 2014 elections, but those should be ground zero for Dem pickup opportunities if the maps hold.

In HD112, Angie Chen Button didn’t have any competition for re-election. But her district didn’t lose much ground from the 2008-level competitiveness it saw.

HD114 had a great Dem candidate trying to pick up a seat. But it was about as out-of-reach as anticipated, with even a status quo district likely to be even harder in a non-Presidential year next time.

The newly-configured HD115 ended up being a bit closer than I’d have expected. Again, assuming the status quo holds for 2014 maps, it could be interesting to see whether this one gets a more aggressive challenge since incoming Rep.-elect Bennett Ratliff comes from the “good GOP” Ratliffs and is likely to pick up some pro-education support.

I’ve also added the Fort Bend districts, where we can see the relative performances in HD26 and the impact of Dora Olivo’s campaign experience in HD85 (which has the non-Ft. Bend Counties included in the totals).

Not included anywhere in the Almanac yet, but worth mentioning here is County Commissioner Richard Morrison’s performance in winning re-election. All that’s needed to be remembered about this district is that it was marginally Republican when Morrison first won it in 2008 and that redistricting didn’t change the boundaries in this election. Oh, and Morrison’s opponent this time was a Pennsylvanian outted for vote fraud. Good news for Morrison, but good luck getting swing votes in a Presidential year … right?

Here’s how the contests played out in the first precinct …

President
-------------------------
Romney   - 26,750 (56.1%)
Obama    - 20,500 (43.0%)

US Senate
-------------------------
Cruz     - 26,476 (55.8%)
Sadler   - 20,072 (42.3%)

County Commissioner
-------------------------
Fleming  - 22,955 (49.3%)
Morrison - 23,640 (50.7%)

No other Dem on the ballot broke 45% in Precinct 1. Congrats again to Morrison on this win. For the record, the next-most Dem-friendly County Commissioner seat in Fort Bend is the Sugar Land-centric Precinct 4 held by James Patterson. Obama won 40.5% there while downballot Dems fell just shy of 41%. Given Sugar Land’s Asian vote, I’ll simply point out that one of those downballot candidates to perform well there was 1st Court of Appeals nominee Kathy Cheng, with 40.8%. Might be something to suggest for a local Chinese-American Dem willing to run there if you ask me.

That’s about it for progress, so far. I’ll try and work in some Bexar County research since there seems to be some publicity about the GOTV work funded by Mikal Watts and executed by local consultants. My .02 regarding publicity like this stands firm. And a cursory glance at the EV vs E-Day numbers in San Antonio seem to suggest nothing more than a shift of E-Day voters to Early Voters. Maybe there’s something there that isn’t visible in the totals. But I’m skeptical.

One local sidenote that drives me somewhat mad, while I’m at it. Apparently, the total number of registered voters counted on the canvass here in Harris County is taken from the voter roll counts at a much earlier point in time than those available to vote on Election Day. I know this because of some time lost on my part counting cattle in HD137. If you go through the Registered Vote counts by election cycle, as reported to the state, it would seem that my fair district lost votes every cycle. A rather shocking 20% drop since 2002, in fact.

Well, I happened to get a handful of counts the old-fashioned way: downloading the precinct data and getting the totals from each. Here’s my math …

08/06/2012 ... 47,665
09/24/2012 ... 48,174
10/14/2012 ... 49,061
10/21/2012 ... 49,407
10/25/2012 ... 49,729
-----------------------
2012 Harris County Final ...
               48,003

Granted, the reason this is important to me is because the Gene Wu campaign invested quite a bit in voter registration this past election. We saw some impressive results in areas where we concentrated our efforts and that’s work that I look forward to doing again. I know we ended up with the first net-positive gain in registered voters in this configuration of HD137. It would have been nice to see that reflected in the official numbers.

But the reality is that Registered Vote counts (and by extension, turnout levels) are among the biggest crapshoots for interpretation. Counties vary in how they’ve maintained the voter rolls and yet turnout levels tend to get quoted as if they were sacred mantras. They aren’t.

Just as well. Next time, I’m looking to break the 50k barrier.

Unofficial canvass out for the county. Here’s HD137 in cartographic form …


View HD137 – 2012 General Election in a larger map

The info boxes show the Obama-12 and Obama-08 results, as well as relevant performance for Scott Hochberg in 2010. I’m pretty sure Scott had some 2006 showings that were as good or better, for what it’s worth.

I don’t see any surprises in this map in terms of red vs blue. There were certainly some great showings in the red precincts, where Gene Wu definitely had some evidence of about 5-6 points worth of crossover support. Also worth pointing out some of the crossover support that MJ Khan got in Pct. 430 – home to two mosques and a few apartment complexes relatively well populated by Pakistanis and Muslims who prefer the walking distance to them. I’ll take a 43% showing in Briarmeadow to that any day considering that that was better than Adrian Garcia’s showing. Bigger news is that Pct. 256 seems to be pulling away from “swing” status.

Here’s all the glowing coverage a freshman State Rep gets upon winning his first November election:

» Chron: Republican Davis appears to win hard-fought state House race

Likewise, Democrat Gene Wu was well ahead in the race to succeed the retiring Scott Hochberg in District 137. Wu, a former Harris County assistant district attorney, was comfortably ahead of M.J. Khan, a former Houston city council member.

The early draft had Gene covered with one solitary sentence.

» TX Tribune: Get to Know the Newest Texas Lawmakers

Amid a clip of Gene’s bio page online, there’s this peculiarity …

He was endorsed by various Democratic legislators involved in criminal justice policy, including Sens. Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire.

Also, he was endorsed by various Democratic legislators involved in … Harris County.

Ah well. They’ve got two years to get to know him better.

So, this happened …

Candidate      |   Absentee   |      Early    |   Election   |    Total
---------------|--------------|---------------|--------------|--------------
Gene Wu (D)    |   508 41.78% |  8,771 65.54% | 6,510 69.06% | 15,789 65.72%
M. J. Khan (R) |   708 58.22% |  4,611 34.46% | 2,916 30.94% |  8,235 34.28%
---------------|--------------|---------------|--------------|--------------
Cast Votes:    | 1,216 95.75% | 13,382 96.16% | 9,426 94.56% | 24,024 95.51%
---------------|--------------|---------------|--------------|--------------

Registered Voters: 48,003
Ballots Cast:      25,154
Turnout:           52.40%

I’ll now be on an apology tour of my own since I’ve been far more pessimistic of how HD137 would perform. Check the 2008 math yourself, but the best showing from that year was Linda Yanez’s 62.8%. My notes suggested that precincts that turned out abnormally for Obama in 2008 would not repeat at those levels and that the 2004 results were somewhat instructive as a bit of a floor-level performance. To me, that translated to a floor of 55%, with about eight years of demographic change tacked on for good measure. So for the last three weeks of the campaign, I basically told everyone that we could expect to finish somewhere between 57-59% and if we did 60-62, it would be due to Obama more than anything we did. I have no idea where the heck 65% comes from.

Obviously, getting a draft of the county’s canvassed results will help. But I’m really curious how Gene did compared to the President in our district. Next door to us, Hubert Vo similarly beat expectations that I had, but I can chalk up some of that to a track record of swing voters – both from the Vietnamese community and the Alief business community that Hubert has cultivated. So maybe the results in these two Southwest Houston districts are coincidental of a “new normal” for the Obama years. Or maybe there’s more to the story. The numbers will tell more of this story.

I’ll save the remainder of my frenzied number-crunch festival for other posts. For this, I think there’s one point to put on the story of Gene Wu’s first run for political office. When I first met Gene, I was a bit player at a table full of more important people who talked to Gene about possibly running for office some day. I can’t claim instant inspiration as I was busy making my points that there were a few skills needed for successful campaigning that I felt I hadn’t seen in this brief encounter. I’d seen a number of candidates with great resumes hitting the right point in their life for a political run, who had flamed out in single digits because they lacked several of the basics for being a candidate.

The last time I saw Gene before he was a candidate for State Representative was a different story. A few days after Scott Hochberg announced his retirement, I was told that he’d be stopping by the office pretty late in the day. It turns out that our shop was the second stop on Gene’s post-work schedule. The first involved a meeting where he was asked not to run. Ours involved a much more focused and driven Gene Wu than the first meeting we had with him. Whatever concerns I had then were out the window. This was something he wanted and he was committed to doing well.

With the decision set, all I knew was that there was just no way I could be involved in a State Rep race that included my neck of Southwest Houston without winning. Hard to sound like you know something if you can’t even win your own back yard. Our competition included a candidate backed by a State Rep respected for his campaign savvy. Another candidate was backed by one of the two biggest fundraisers in the county and had a ton of connections due to being the former Executive Director of the Harris County Democratic Party. The last candidate was a woman from the Alief ISD Board of Trustees.

At first glance, one woman in a field of four seemed like a legitimate threat. I figured she was capable of getting 20% with little-to-no effort due to any combination of gender and/or her background on the school board. She finished with 11%. The guy backed by the State Rep won the Chronicle endorsement and had some killer fundraising at the end of the primary to spend on anything he wanted. I figured he’d be a given for the runoff. He finished third with 21.8%. The candidate backed by the big fundraiser, I believe, did an effective job of campaigning in the apartments in the district. He may have benefited some from being the only African-American in the district, but he exceeded the numbers that would have fallen his way due to that in both the Primary and the Runoff.

All we had was an unproven Asian kid in a district that’s less than 12% Asian with a primary electorate that very well could have clocked in at under 6% Asian. As simple as it sounds, Gene was committed to blockwalking. I was happy to cut turf for him to talk to voters directly. I was happy to have a budget to send some mail to voters. I was happy that I got my choice of campaign managers for Gene in Beth Martin. But for all that happiness, there were still no guarantees that I wouldn’t be doing non-political work after the May primary.

Since Gene did manage to earn the nomination, the next step was to go up against a former City Council Member who could write whatever check he wanted to fund his campaign after passing the hat to his just-as-wealthy friends. We knew we’d be out-raised and out-mailed. We were. We knew that MJ Khan was familiar with parts of the district that he represented on City Council. That turned out to be a questionable thesis. We knew we’d be attacked. We were. And we knew that we also had to struggle to get money in the bank just to do some fundamental level of campaigning. All while Gene went off and got married. No problem.

What worked for us despite this time crunch was that Gene got better as a candidate with each passing day. The Gene Wu I first met would be prepping for a new District Attorney as his boss if he hadn’t. By August, Gene had been in fifth gear for quite a while. Still, I figured there would be a few points worth of swing votes that might go MJ’s way. I still pegged the district fundamentals at about 57% Dem. True to form, the attack mail goes out on Gene and is followed by $25,000 worth of cable ads attacking him. We limited our contrast mailer strictly to issue-based items on education and public safety. Gene blockwalked some more. And it was through that that we found out that MJ wasn’t being entirely honest with voters at the door. Gene never shied away from telling anyone he was a Democrat. MJ and his staff were leaving voters with the impression that HE was the Democrat. The more Gene walked, the most MJ Khan signs came out of yards as voters got the facts.

For staffing our three Early Vote locations we needed to worry about, we sent only Gene to one of them. The campaign manager, Beth Martin, did yeoman’s work by begging and pleading for as many E-Day poll workers as possible, knowing there just weren’t enough unemployed friends of Gene to staff all of 22 locations. In short, the final days offered plenty to be paranoid and nervous about.

And in the end, it didn’t matter. We’ll see soon enough how the district performed in other contests. But what makes me happiest is that my little ‘hood is represented well for the next two years. Scott Hochberg is a tough act to follow and there’s no point filling his shoes. Gene’s shoes (and boots) are a little road-worn from the walk lists I handed him this year. But they’ll do just fine.

One coda on worth sharing from the little amount of work that I did on this project ….

A fair amount of the work I did during the Primary and Runoff was air-conditioned campaign work. That’s a luxurious life that I knew wouldn’t cut it in the General. Some of you may be happy to know that I wore out my left knee climbing apartment stairwells. If you see any knee tendons or ligaments somewhere in a Westchase apartment complex … they’re mine. Please return them. I was too busy failing miserably at trying to keep up with a campaign manager who was just a few years past being a college athlete. Physically, I’m sure that I’ll heal from that.

People still write letters to the Chronicle editors

Regarding “Time to cast a ballot” (Page B7, Monday), law enforcement should be competent, never partisan. To protect the safety of our community, please vote for Democrat Adrian Garcia for Harris County sheriff and Republican Mike Anderson for district attorney.

Both are respected professionals who can manage others to a high standard. I respect parties, but crime is a basic violation of civil rights and criminals do not discriminate based on party affiliation. When you call 911 you want a qualified responder; victims and jurors want an effective and fair prosecutor.

Democrats, join me in voting for Mike Anderson for DA. Republicans, keep our strong and honest sheriff, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, in office.

Bill White, former mayor of Houston

I can’t say that I disagree with him on this score. I held my nose and voted for Anderson. I left a handful of judicial ballots blank. Oh, and I voted for this guy earlier in the AM …

The line at Bayland Park was wrapped around the front of the building 10 minutes prior to opening and I was done with my random act of democracy by 8:15. Pick your own spot to vote early if you feel similarly inclined.

Among the tougher choices on the ballot for me was one that’s usually pretty easy: President. Yes, I voted for Obama again. But there was a temptation to leave the spot blank this time around. Obama wasn’t my choice and I can’t say I’m won over by his style of leadership. It’d be a cheap and easy free shot to make some minor form of a statement by doing such a thing. Texas, after all, is not in play. But one over-riding issue convinces me that it’s worth sticking with my own traditions and principles by voting for him regardless. And that’s the fact that I fully support Obama to be the one appointing judges for the next four years as opposed to just about any Republican.

As far as bonds and referendums go, I voted for the city charter fixes, the parks bond, and the library bond. For everything else, I’m willing to consider second offers.

Weekend happenings, courtesy of my next State Rep … and his boss.

» NY Times: Weddings – Miya Shay, Gene Wu

Miya Shay and Gene Wu were married Monday at the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse in Houston, where Judge David Hittner of Federal District Court for the Southern District of Texas officiated in his courtroom.

On Saturday, at Villa Verano, a vacation rental in Puerto Vallarta, Mex., they had a nondenominational ceremony at which Lyanna Johnson Smith, a United Methodist seminarian and friend of the groom, led the couple in vows they had written.

Makes my vacation look like crap, by comparison.