A Quick Romp Through the Latest UT/TT Poll

The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll is out, along with a full summary and crosstabs, if you’re interested in the guts of the things. A quick executive summary of the toplines:

• Attorney General Greg Abbott dominates an otherwise anemic Republican field for governor, but is unknown to more people than his Democratic opponent Wendy Davis — a tidbit that might explain why he is leading her in the polls by just 5 points a year before the election.

• The Republican race for lieutenant governor is tangled up with incumbent David Dewhurst in front with 26 percent and his three challengers pulling a combined 28-percent “Not Dewhurst” vote. A huge number of Republicans, 46 percent, haven’t made up their minds.

• U.S. Sen. John Cornyn leads his primary race with 39 percent.

• Undecided voters account for 74 percent in the Republican attorney general’s race where nobody breaks 12 percent, including Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, who was on the statewide ballot just a year ago.

• Former gubernatorial candidate Debra Medina leads a similarly unknown field of candidates in the race for comptroller, getting 15 points in a race where 75 percent of voters haven’t make a decision.

• U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is better known than he was just a few months ago, and the numbers tell you as much about his politics as his label might. He leads the (suspected) field of Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, with 32 percent; second place goes to Gov. Rick Perry, at 10 percent. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton got 67 percent in the Democratic heat, with Vice President Joe Biden second at 7 percent.

• Texans aren’t crazy about the Affordable Care Act, but they like some of the components quite a bit, including Medicaid expansion, tax credits for small businesses that provide health insurance to employees, fines for big businesses that don’t, insurance subsidies for the poor, letting kids stay on their parents’ plans until they’re 26, a ban on insurance cancellations for preexisting conditions, and higher payroll taxes on high-income Americans.

• The most important problems facing the state, according to the respondents, are immigration, border security and political corruption/leadership. The country’s most important problems, they said, are federal spending, the economy and political corruption/leadership.

• Voters are split when it comes to a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S., but they would allow it under certain circumstances. That said, the partisan and ethnic splits are deep, illustrating the problem for politicians trying to find consensus on immigration reform without alarming the partisans on either side.

• Texans don’t trust big institutions with their privacy, notably intelligence, law enforcement and tax agencies on the public sector side, and cell phone and internet providers on the private sector side.

• And while only 2 percent of Texans believe nobody is ever wrongly convicted on death penalty offences in Texas, 74 percent support the death penalty. On that first question, 27 percent said people are “almost never” wrongly convicted; 49 percent said those mistakes are only “occasionally” made.

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted Oct. 18-27 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. Results among self-identified Republican primary voters carry a margin of error of +/- 5.02 percentage points; among Democratic primary voters, +/- 6.03 percentage points. Numbers in the charts might not add up to 100 percent, because of rounding.

With Water Fund Approved, a Flood of Ideas to Consider

Now that Proposition 6 has passed with close to 75 percent of the vote, the real work of water planning — and jockeying to get to the top of the projects list — begins.

“It will be a busy year,” said Carlos Rubinstein, the newly appointed chairman of the Texas Water Development Board. “There’s a lot of pieces that have to fall into place very, very quickly.” 

Setting some priorities in the State Water Plan is one of the first steps the board must take to reorder what has thus far been referred to as a “laundry list” or “wish list” of some 3,100 ideas. Legislators insisted that if $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund is used to help pay for such projects, they should be ranked.

But there’s a reason that the TWDB, which was created in 1957 on the heels of the state’s worst drought in history, hasn’t ranked projects in the past. 

“It’s no accident that projects have never been prioritized before, because when you prioritize projects, you’re making winners and losers,” said Bill Mullican, who was the agency's deputy administrator from 1997 to 2009. “And it will get political very quickly.”

Until now, the agency has served largely as a water infrastructure bank by doling out loans to public entities that ask for them. Now that $2 billion is available to make those loans cheaper, Mullican said, demand for assistance is likely to rise. 

And at the same time, “the people that are at the bottom of the list are going to care,” Mullican said. “They’re not going to like that.”

In addition, the actual ranking process is complicated. First, regional planning groups must come up with standard criteria for ranking projects in their individual plans — which are due in just a few weeks.

According to House Bill 4, they must consider when a particular project will be needed, its “feasibility,” “sustainability,” “viability” and “cost-effectiveness.”

Nothing in the legislation gives a particular weight to any of those factors, however, or explains how to define terms like “sustainability.” And feasibility is clearly not a part of many projects in regional plans today, given that many giant water projects are listed for which the water rights have not yet been secured.

Once the regional planning groups decide on their standards, the ranking begins. Eventually, those rankings go to TWDB, which must come up with its own set of standards for ranking and receive input from the public.

A regional group’s ranking will only be one component. The rest vary from the size of the population that a water project would serve to the project’s ability to “provide regionalization” (not defined) to “whether there is an emergency need for the project.” Environmental and economic impacts aren’t explicitly mentioned as required criteria.

“Any number of interest groups could find fault with these factors,” the University of Texas at Austin School of Law wrote in an analysis of the legislation. 

One entity poised to jockey for a high ranking is the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, which manages water resources for a 10-county area that includes Comal, Hays, Gonzalez and Victoria counties. The authority has worked for years on a project meant to serve the population clusters growing along the Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio by diverting more water from the Guadalupe River into an off-channel reservoir, and tapping into new groundwater resources. 

Population projections show a huge demand for water in the corridor in 10 years, but the customer base isn't quite there yet, said the authority's general manager, Bill West. That's why the authority needs the state to back half the project's $400 million cost for the first decade. Proposition 6 would allow the Water Development Board to give the authority a deferred loan of $200 million, which it could start paying back within 10 to 12 years. 

“Without the state participation, the early years of the project would be so expensive that you couldn’t get city manager XYZ to sign up," he said. "But with the state helping carrying that cost the first 10 to 12 years of the project, then it becomes more affordable for the end customer.”

West said he is pleased with the criteria that legislators have said must be used to rank state projects, and he's confident that the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority's project, known as the Mid-Basin Project, will be one of the first to get funded. He also hopes to push a $1.3 billion seawater desalination project high on the list, and he believes that's possible because a feasability study of the concept will be completed next spring. 

The final proposal for standards on the State Water Plan isn't due until March 2015, though Rubinstein said his personal goal is to finish it by next winter —  before the Legislature convenes for its 2015 session. A few months later, the money will begin to flow to whoever is deemed eligible. 

And as soon as that happens, West said, he'll be ready. "I will assure you that come January 2015, we will be standing in line with everybody else, saying, we’ve got a shovel-ready project.”

Where the Prop. 6 Votes Came From

Newsreel: Voting, Polling and Fracking

This week in the Newsreel: The voting is over for now, the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll is out, and a statewide candidate questions the loyalty of anyone who loves Texas but hates fracking. 

Inside Intelligence: About That New Abortion Law...

The state’s new laws regulating abortion and women’s health facilities will remain an issue throughout the 2014 elections, according to nearly unanimous insiders in politics and government who answered this week’s Inside Intelligence survey.

And generally, 48 percent think the issue works to the political benefit of Texas Democrats, while only 19 percent said Republican candidates will get the biggest boost.

Should women’s health clinics close under more stringent requirements for facilities that provide abortions, voters are more likely to move toward the Democrats than the Republicans, according to the insiders; 50 percent chose Democrats on that question, while 9 percent said Republican candidates would benefit.

How about fundraising? Insiders had the same answer, with 75 percent saying Democrats will get the bigger fundraising boost from discussion of the issue as the election cycle progresses.

We collected comments along the way and a full set of those is attached. Here is a sampling:


Will the state’s new laws regulating abortion and women’s health centers be an issue in the 2014 elections?

• "Regardless of whether SCOTUS takes up the case, both sides will use it to their advantage (to raise money and GOTV)."

• "Wendy Davis got the exposure she wanted and clearly hopes to move beyond this issue. However, the R's will make every effort to saddle her with it."

• "But not in the way conventional wisdom expects. Democrats will talk about women's health and GOP candidates about late term abortion bans. Both positions represent majority opinion in Texas."

• "Yes, to Wendy Davis' misfortune. Democrats need to 'turn-on' people to restore their political fortunes, but they will be turning-off voters with a pro-abortion message."

• "It should be. When you hear a report that a woman was 'disappointed' that the clinic she wanted to go to for an abortion is closed and she says in a negative tone, 'oh no I guess I have to have the baby' really? These types of stories need to be highlighted by pro-life groups to show that the law is actually working."


As a matter of politics, do the new laws help Democratic candidates or Republican candidates?

• "Democrats and swing-voting women now know definitively that elections have consequences. They'll show up."

• "It's helps both. Repubs: see, we're trying to protect the sanctity of life. Dems: see, they hate women!"

• "It helps both. It will drive the base of both parties out. Which helps Republicans since their base is bigger."

• "In theory, there are many suburban women who usually vote Republican but who might be tempted to cross over. I'll believe it when I see it."

• "The Republican anti-abortion base voter has been given new, more restrictive laws just about every session to keep them motivated. They'll still show up on Election Day, but this time they'll be outnumbered. ."

• "Hell hath no fury like a few million women scorned. The selective hypocrisy of R extremists has literally handed Ds the moment they need to rebuild and maybe (just maybe) win."

• "Keeps Wendy Davis identified solely with abortion, rather than broadening her image."


If some clinics close, how will that move Texas voters?

• "There are successful women on the very edge of income-earning levels that rely on these services daily because they are limited in choices or they are contract employees with no coverage."

• "Abortions are sought by young women - a demographic with low registration and even lower turnout rates. Their impact in elections is negligible."

• "I think this depends on how the media portrays the closing of the clinics. Are we closing bad actors to protect women's health or are we closing clinics to limit women's choice? My gut feeling is that the closing of clinics will be centered around the latter."

• "Depends on how many. My bet is few will close. The providers make a lot of money, and they'll find ways to get sympathetic docs to serve. Their profits will go down a bit, but most centers will be open for business."

• "This topic has been around so long everyone that cares about this issue has picked a team."

• "Pro-choice voters will move Democrat, pro-life will move Republican, and the rest of us, who aren't single issue voters, will not be affected. By the way, those voters it 'moves' are already in their respective columns."


Who gets a bigger fundraising boost from the debate over abortion and women’s health?

• "Republicans get something better than money; committed primary voters!"

• "The issue of abortion restrictions has long been a pet issue for the Hollywood liberals. It will undoubtedly encourage them to write a check to help mask their degenerate lifestyle."

• "Democrats get the benefit of cash from outside the state in hopes of turning the state blue. Not enough green to turn Texas blue."

• "Passion often translates into increased fund-raising and pro-choice Democrats are nothing if not passionate about the issue. (See the Wendy Davis phenomenon already well documented). But the money will ultimately not matter if they can't use it to broaden their ideological appeal. Abortion is not a particularly attractive issue on which to build a campaign for office."

• "It's a small dollar donor thing, and the Democrats are just better at getting the small dollar donors."

• "Wendy and the Ds will bring in more out-of-state money ... which will promptly be wasted on a loss."

• "For the first election in a generation Texas will IMPORT campaign money. Thank you, HB2! Thank you, Ted Cruz!"

Our thanks to this week’s participants: Gene Acuna, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Jenny Aghamalian, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, Jay Arnold, Tom Banning, Dave Beckwith, Andrew Biar, Allen Blakemore, Tom Blanton, Hugh Brady, Chris Britton, David Cabrales, Raif Calvert, Lydia Camarillo, Kerry Cammack, Thure Cannon, Snapper Carr, Janis Carter, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, Elna Christopher, Harold Cook, Kevin Cooper, Chad Crow, Beth Cubriel, Randy Cubriel, Denise Davis, Hector De Leon, June Deadrick, Nora Del Bosque, Holly DeShields, Tom Duffy, Richard Dyer, Jeff Eller, Jack Erskine, John Esparza, Jon Fisher, Dominic Giarratani, Stephanie Gibson, Eric Glenn, Kinnan Golemon, Daniel Gonzalez, John Greytok, Jack Gullahorn, Clint Hackney, Anthony Haley, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Richard Hardy, Ken Hodges, Steve Holzheauser, Kathy Hutto, Deborah Ingersoll, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Mark Jones, Robert Jones, Lisa Kaufman, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Bill Lauderback, Dick Lavine, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Luke Marchant, Dan McClung, Mike McKinney, Robert Miller, Bee Moorhead, Mike Moses, Keir Murray, Pat Nugent, Todd Olsen, Nef Partida, Gardner Pate, Robert Peeler, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Wayne Pierce, Richard Pineda, Allen Place, Gary Polland, Jay Propes, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Patrick Reinhart, David Reynolds, Grant Ruckel, Jason Sabo, Andy Sansom, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Bruce Scott, Robert Scott, Christopher Shields, Jason Skaggs, Ed Small, Todd Smith, Larry Soward, Leonard Spearman, Dennis Speight, Jason Stanford, Bill Stevens, Colin Strother, Charles Stuart, Michael Quinn Sullivan, Sherry Sylvester, Gerard Torres, Trey Trainor, Vicki Truitt, David White, Darren Whitehurst, Woody Widrow, Seth Winick, Alex Winslow, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.

The Calendar

Saturday, Nov. 9

  • Texas Civil Rights Project Bill of Rights Dinner; University of Texas Alumni Center, Austin (7:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, Nov. 11

  • Texas Legislative Black Caucus 2013 Golf Classic; Grey Rock Golf Club, Austin (10 a.m.)

Thursday, Nov. 14

  • NARAL Pro-Choice Celebration of Choice; North Door, Austin (6-9 p.m.)
  • Center for Public Policy Priorities 2013 Legacy Luncheon; Four Seasons Austin (11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.)
  • Fundraiser for state Rep. Garnet Coleman; Austin Club (5-7 p.m.)

The Week in the Rearview Mirror

Voters approved eight constitutional amendments in addition to creating the $2 billion water fund, and passed them easily. It was a rough election for football in the Houston area, where voters said no to one bond package that would have converted the abandoned Astrodome into a convention facility and another that would have built a new $69.5 million stadium for Katy ISD.

The election was the first test of the state’s new voter ID law, which requires voters to show a photo ID to cast their ballots, and though elections officials say the process went smoothly, some worry that could change in future elections with increased voter turnout.

President Barack Obama visited Dallas this week, calling on Gov. Rick Perry to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act. He emphasized that other states that chose to expand Medicaid have seen their rates of the uninsured decrease, such as Arkansas, where it dropped by 14 percent. Texas would have had to spend $15 billion to expand Medicaid over the next 10 years — spending that would've assured up to $100 billion in federal funds. Instead, the state Legislature approved a measure prohibiting the Health and Human Services Commission from even considering Medicaid expansion without its approval. The governor called the president's visit "a desperate attempt to salvage his ill-conceived and unpopular program from a Titanic fate."

State Sen. Wendy Davis now has a book deal. The New York Times reported that the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor will pen a memoir due to hit bookstores in the fall of 2014, just in time for the hottest part of the general election season.

As congestion worsens on Interstate 35 through Austin, state leaders are seriously discussing a drastic response: tolling the highway's lanes in the city and making part of the nearby State Highway 130 toll road free. A segment of Interstate 35 that runs through central Austin is the most congested stretch of road in the state, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

An email released this week revealed that in early 2013, University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, on a call with the agent for University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, said UT-Austin President Bill Powers would be gone by year's endHall has been accused by lawmakers of being on a "witch hunt" to oust Powers, and the regent is currently being investigated by a legislative committee with the power to recommend articles of impeachment against him.

Political People and their Moves

Gov. Rick Perry set May 10 for the special election to fill the vacancy in SD-4, the seat Tommy Williams resigned to take a job with Texas A&M University.

Missouri City Democrat Steve Brown says he will run for the open spot on the Texas Railroad Commission next year. He’s the first Democrat in that race to replace Barry Smitherman, who won the seat last year but is giving it up to run for attorney general.

Lubbock ISD board president Steve Massengale is considering a primary challenge to HD 83 incumbent Charles Perry. Massengale told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that he is spurred by a strong interest in public education and that he would make a decision in the next couple of weeks.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price endorsed former state Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, in the SD-10 race. Shelton lost the 2012 general election contest to Wendy Davis, who is moving on. He's one of several Republicans in the race this year.

HEB ISD trustee Andy Cargile, a former high school principal, will challenge State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, in the HD-92 GOP primary.

Democrat Mark Greene will challenge U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, in CD-12 next year.

Danny Pelton, a Republican challenging State Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, picked up another endorsement from one of Sheffield’s colleagues: State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands.

The Kinkster is not alone in supporting looser laws for marijuana; Republican gubernatorial candidate Miriam Martinez says she supports legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less. 

Grover Campbell will head government relations for the Texas Association of School Boards. He spent years as legislative liaison for the University of Houston System and most recently was working as a contract lobbyist in Austin.

Lori Cobos is leaving the state’s Public Utility Commission to join former Commissioner Becky Klein’s consulting firm.

Quotes of the Week

Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID.

Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Fort Worth, telling the Fort Worth Star-Telegram about his first experience with voter ID at the Texas Department of Public Safety

It's kind of a daunting task to face. It's kind of like looking at a $100 million meat grinder, face first.

Florida's Charlie Crist, on deciding whether to run for governor again, in the New York Times

Our clients enjoy coming to these fundraising events. They get personal face time, it’s relaxed, it’s easy. The candidates enjoy it. It’s a happy place to be.

Lobbyist Bill Miller, on political fundraisers for officeholders, in The Dallas Morning News

Tell me that you give a flip about women’s interests. If all you want to talk about is my biology, ‘Gee what happened to my brain?’ That is my point. It is not all south of the waistline.

Comptroller Susan Combs, telling the Washington Times that the Republican Party needs to rethink how it courts female voters

That was very disappointing. I think that John Cornyn has decided to go along to get along. And I’m very sad about that.

Texas Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams, in Newsweek, on Cornyn's decision to take his name off government shutdown letter over the summer

The heck it doesn’t! What do you have to do to get fired by this administration? What does it take? What degree of incompetence must you exhibit in order to be fired by Barack Obama?

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, taking exception to an MSNBC host suggesting that his tying the problems of healthcare.gov to the overall failure of the health care law did not make sense