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Sweet Sixteen

The political air is different in sixteen legislative districts: Republicans win statewide races, but Democrats dominate in legislative contests.

The political air is different in sixteen legislative districts: Republicans win statewide races, but Democrats dominate in legislative contests.

A reader with a talent for numbers noticed something in an election chart that ran here last week, showing how statewide elections came out in each of the legislative districts in 2004 and 2006, and how that compared with the legislative results.

Democrats and Republicans in the middle of the ballot don't get the same results they get at the top of the ballot. Republican statewides win in districts where their legislators can't hold on; Democrats win in legislative districts where their statewide candidates can't sell ice cream on hot days.

We were trying to get a bead on what voters did the last couple of times they went to the polls, comparing the results from average statewide races to outcomes in the House, the Senate, and the state's congressional delegation.

The idea was to find districts that might be targets for parties in next year's elections.

We created what we called the Texas Weekly Index, averaging the percentage results for statewide Republicans and Democrats in the last two election cycles and subtracting the Republican average from the Democratic average. We only included races that had a candidate from each of those parties to avoid skewing the results with uncontested and mildly contested races. That gives you an average margin of victory, and we hoped, a snapshot of the partisan environment during those elections in each of those districts.

We stumbled into something. Democrats running for statehouse seats usually win in districts where statewide Republicans win, if the Texas Weekly Index is under 16. The whole chart is in our Files section, but if you look at the middle of the Texas House list, at the point where results go from Republican Red to Democratic Blue, you'll see what that reader saw: Democrats won in a bunch of districts that you'd suppose — based on what happened at the top of the ballot — would have gone to the GOP.



What's up with that?

We found three theories, all half-baked, but all worth noting.

First, Texas ballots have for years been redder at the top and bluer at the bottom. Even as Republicans started winning statewide races, the local county races in many parts of Texas remained Democratic turf. It's got some historical basis, but note the two Houstonians in the middle of the list: Democrats Ellen Cohen and Hubert Vo won in Harris County, where all the local county officials are Republicans.

Theory two is that the Republican statewides outperformed the local Republicans. Or that Democrats, with their relatively weak statewide ballots in '04 and '06, underperformed.

Behind Door Number Three is the theory that legislative races are just different, and that the indexes need calibrating if you're trying to translate statewide results into a measure of partisan terrain in legislative contests.

Sixteen House districts have Republican TWIs under 16 points. Three of those are held by Republicans, two of whom knocked off Republican incumbents in 2006. The third, Rep. Pat Haggerty of El Paso, has been targeted in the past by his own party as a renegade (there are indications they're after him again).

Meanwhile, eight of the 13 Democrats in those seats beat incumbent Republicans to get to the statehouse.

Democrats looking for targets are pushing their way up. Some of the Republicans near the red-blue line had close races last year — people like Mike Krusee of Round Rock, Bill Zedler of Arlington, and Tony Goolsby of Dallas — and are probably on the Democrats' shopping list for next year.

The GOP's strategists, meanwhile, aren't buying the theories. They'll target the blue reps in the districts where statewide Republicans have done well, although that strategy hasn't produced results since their party won its House majority after redistricting.

Take our latest crackpot theory to the Senate and Congressional results from the last elections. Senators line up with the statewides on the TWI. No Republicans are in districts with Democratic TWI results. No Democrats won in districts with Republican TWIs. Two Republican incumbents — Kim Brimer of Fort Worth and Kyle Janek of Houston — are below the 16 percent mark. Brimer already has a Democratic opponent (though nothing's official until the end-of-year filing deadline).

In the congressional delegation, no Republican names appear below the 16 percent line. Two Democrats are above it, though. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, is a biennial target of the GOP. The standard line — in case you need it at a party or lunch — is that he's the congressional Democrat with the most Republican district in the U.S. The district also includes the president's Texas residence in Crawford, a particularly irksome detail for Republicans.

The other is Nick Lampson of Stafford, a former congressman who won the election to replace former U.S. Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Republicans are lining up for that race, and he'll have a serious challenge. The TWI there is 22.7 — that's the number of percentage points separating the average Republican and Democratic statewides in the last two election cycles.

The Hair on Their Chinny-Chin Chins

Just another thing to fear if you're an officeholder: Small margins. Legislative candidates who barely got in last time often get challenged next time.

And you can ignore a lot of the results from other races. Close contests have their own microclimates.

Texas Democrats, in particular, suffer from small margins — they're more likely to represent areas where people don't vote. A challenger who locates new voters can turn a race around. That's part of what happened to then-Appropriations Chairman Talmadge Heflin in 2004, when Democrat Hubert Vo upset him. The final margin was teensy, but turnout nearly doubled. Heflin, running unopposed in 2000, got 22,707 votes. Four years later, in another election with a presidential race at the top, he and Vo together attracted 41,357 votes (we skipped 2002, a non-presidential election, because presidential races affect turnout).

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, has the district with the lowest number of voters in 2006: 50,550. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, represents a district where 215,510 people voted in November — more than four times the turnout in Green's district.

That's even more pronounced in the state Senate, where Houston Democrat Mario Gallegos' district had 51,780 voters show up last November (he wasn't on the ballot). The central Texas district represented by Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, saw 227,825 voters show up in November.

Those same areas produced the highs and lows in the Texas House. Only 6,168 voters pulled the lever last November in Democratic Rep. Kevin Bailey's Houston race. Seven times that many — 56,601 voters — turned out to reelect Frank Corte, R-San Antonio.

A candidate with 25,276 votes could have beat Green. It would have taken 107,756 to beat Smith. Bailey — who's already got a Democratic opponent — could have lost in 2006 to someone with 3,085 votes. It would take 28,301 to beat Corte.

Candidates who survive close calls in districts with a lot of votes have a different problem. A small percentage change can turn an incumbent into a retiree. In a low turnout district, finding 500 new votes can be difficult but fruitful. In a high turnout district, changing the minds of a small percentage of voters can produce an upset.

All that's a way of saying margins are another way to target potential weaknesses among incumbents. Sixteen House races were won with less than 55 percent of the general election vote last year — 12 of them by Democrats (Republicans Mike Krusee, Bill Zedler, Tony Goolsby, Kirk England; Democrats Chuck Hopson, Robby Cook, Juan Garcia, Solomon Ortiz Jr., Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, Valinda Bolton, Joe Heflin, Paula Hightower Pierson, Allen Vaught, Joe Farias, Ellen Cohen, and Hubert Vo).

Six members of the Texas House got less than 50 percent of the general election vote and, because third parties were in the mix, still won (Cook, Garcia, Heflin, Pierson, England, and Farias). And six in the group — not the same six — got in with 900 or fewer votes to spare (Hopson, Cook, Garcia, Heflin, Pierson, England, and Farias).

Two Democratic state reps won primaries by less than four percentage points (Eddie Lucio III and Barbara Mallory Caraway). And eight Republicans who made it to the House got less than 55 percent of their primary vote (Betty Brown, Leo Berman, Larry Phillips, Nathan Macias, Pat Haggerty, Kelly Hancock, Charlie Geren, Thomas Latham, and Patricia Harless).

Candidates in Waiting

Anna Mowery quit the Legislature early. Gov. Rick Perry called a November 6 special election. Now the filing deadline has passed, and here are the names Fort Worth voters will see on the HD-97 ballot:

Dan Barrett, an attorney and the only Democrat in the race; insurance salesman Craig Goldman; Chris Hatch, a CPA; Jeff Humber, who works for a health insurer; attorney Bob Leonard, who held the House seat before Mowery did; James Dean Schull, an attorney; and Dr. Mark Shelton, a pediatrician. The winner of that election will serve until the first days of 2009; the winner of next year's elections gets it then.

• Appellate Judge Linda Yañez of McAllen will run for the Texas Supreme Court seat held now by Republican Phil Johnson of Amarillo. She's the Senior Justice on the state's 13th Court of Appeals and said in her announcement that "could no longer turn a blind eye to the extreme right wing judicial activism of our state's highest court." Another judge — Susan Criss of Galveston — is running for that same seat. Both women are Democrats.

Greg Myers, a Houston ISD trustee, will run against Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, trying to put HD-149 back in the Republican column. Myers' HISD district overlaps about a fourth of the House district, so he's already talked to at least some of the voters. He's hired the Austin-based Patriot Group to consult on that campaign.

Wade Gent apparently wants a rematch with Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, in HD-4. Gent, whose dad is Kaufman County Judge Wayne Gent, lost to Brown by 578 votes — of 11,534 cast — in last year's Republican primary. He's a lawyer and lives in Forney.

• Rumor has Dee Margo — the Republican who lost a state Senate race last year to Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso — considering a challenge to state Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso. Haggerty generally votes with the folks who don't want House Speaker Tom Craddick to get another two years in the corner office. But Craddick's strength in El Paso is tenuous; some Republicans there who might otherwise support him — and oppose Haggerty — felt mistreated when Craddick slowed funding for a local expansion of Texas Tech University's medical school.

• Add a Pearland City Council member — Felicia Kyle — to the list of tire-kickers looking at Rep. Mike O'Day's seat. O'Day came to office after a special election in January but says he won't seek a full term in the Texas House. Randy Weber lost that special election and was the first candidate to jump into the replacement race. Kyle is a lawyer, and will have to give up her council seat if and when she becomes a candidate for the House.

• Congressional candidate Quico Canseco, who's challenging U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, picked up an endorsement from Roy Barrera Jr., the former judge and county GOP chairman... State Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, put a large-scale fundraiser together, trying to pack a crowd into the Salt Lick, a popular barbecue spot outside of Austin. The headliner is Lance Armstrong... and U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega got an endorsement from the Texas State Association of Fire Fighters.

• Start with a big idea: A Republican presidential straw poll for Texas. Schedule it on the front end of the last-blast holiday weekend of the summer, Labor Day. Watch the Legislature pull the rug on early primaries. Watch the candidates, mostly, pull out. And here's the result: Duncan Hunter (534 votes); Fred Thompson (266 votes); Ron Paul (217 votes); Mike Huckabee (83 votes); Rudy Giuliani (78 votes); Mitt Romney (61 votes); Ray McKinney (28 votes); John Cox (10 votes); John McCain (8 votes); Sam Brownback (6 votes); Tom Tancredo (6 votes); and Hugh Cort (3 votes).

Texas Democrats responded with an online poll that, when last we looked, had about 6,500 votes. There's nothing to restrict repeat voting or that short of shenanigans, but John Edwards was ahead with about 37 percent. That voting will close at the end of the week.

The Dallas Morning News has a new politics and government blog they say will cover presidential stuff on down to the Lege. It's at http://dallasnews.com/trailblazers.

College Daze

California Republicans have proposed a change in the way their state counts presidential electors. They'd dump the winner-takes-all system now in place and award electoral votes according to the outcomes of presidential votes in each congressional district.

Instead of taking all of that state's 55 electoral votes, the winning candidate would get a split. In the most recent elections, that would have put 22 additional electoral votes into George W. Bush's column; in future elections, it could swing the outcomes of presidential races that might now be in question for the GOP. The debate has been vigorous out there, as you might expect, but it prompted us to look at the Texas results to see what might happen if the law here changed.

The California proposal, applied to the 2004 results in Texas, would have given John Kerry, the most recent Democratic candidate for president, another seven electoral votes. That's the equivalent of a Connecticut, an Iowa, an Oklahoma, or an Oregon.

Texas has 32 congressional districts, and Democrats were elected to Congress in 12 of those. But only seven members of the Texas delegation represent districts where Bush lost the popular vote: Al Green, Gene Green, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston; Silvestre Reyes of El Paso; Charlie Gonzalez of San Antonio; Lloyd Doggett of Austin; and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas.

The two remaining electoral votes — one representing each U.S. senator — would have gone to Bush under either system, since he won the statewide popular vote.

A Colorado proposal in 2004 would have allocated electoral votes according to statewide percentages. Applied to the last Texas result, that would have swung a dozen votes to Kerry from Bush (Bush got 61.5 percent of the vote, enough to get 20 electoral votes). That'd be the mathematical equivalent of giving the Democrats another Massachusetts.

Only two states — Maine and Nebraska — don't have winner-takes-all systems in place. Here and in 47 other states, the presidential candidate with the most votes — either a plurality or a majority — gets all of the electoral votes. Here's a curiosity: Texas is one of 24 states that doesn't have a law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote.

Shark Bait

House Speaker Tom Craddick is giving his committee chairfolk a month to recommend subjects for interim charges — the off-season reports that often translate into legislation. For lobbyists looking for an early start, this is the next best thing to Sunset Commission reports.

Craddick's letter says: "To prepare for the 81st Legislature, I invite you to submit a list of issues pertinent to your House standing committee's jurisdiction that may require research and review during this interim.

"Please send your interim study suggestions to my chief of staff, Nancy Fisher, by Friday, September 28, so that I may consider your recommendations as I prepare the interim charges to House committees."

Political People and Their Moves

Officially, now: Former House Parliamentarian Denise Davis is joining the Baker Botts law firm's Austin office. She'll be special counsel in their government relations section.

Eileen Smith is joining the mainstream media. Smith, the creator of InThePinkTexas.com, will become the fulltime editor of TexasMonthly.com, the magazine's increasingly active website.

Two more press corps moves: Austin American-Statesman capitol reporter JasonEmbry is joining the Cox chain's Washington Bureau. He'll still write for the Statesman. And Liz Austin Petersen is leaving the Associated Press Austin Bureau. She's Houston-bound.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed John Hubert of Kingsville to be district attorney for Kleberg and Kenedy counties. He's a former prosecutor now in private practice. That's a new office; the two counties were part of the Nueces County's district attorney's territory.

Stacy Holley, the general counsel to Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and director of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, is leaving government to be a full-time mom. Teddy Carter, that committee's clerk, adds the director title.

The House Committee on Public Health has a new clerk: Phil Fountain had been legislative director for Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, who chairs that panel.

Deaths: Gertrude LaNelle Hays, who went on the state payroll in January, 1939, and became the longest-serving state employee. She was 90.

Quotes of the Week

President George W. Bush, asked by Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile about the situation in Iraq, quoted in the Sydney [Australia] Morning Herald: "We're kicking ass."

Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum, telling the Dallas Morning News why many delegates to the GOP's straw poll weren't supporting front-runners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney: "It's not because they're not here. It's because they're not conservative."

Mark Corallo, chief spokesman for former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in the National Journal: "Every attorney general has to have a bit of Thomas Becket in him. Your duty is not to the king. It is to the rule of law."

Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, telling The Dallas Morning News that — unlike some other state officials — he'll accept a pay raise approved by lawmakers: "I certainly didn't go over to the Capitol and advocate for a higher salary. But neither did I promise or intimate that I would never accept a pay increase."


Texas Weekly: Volume 24, Issue 12, 10 September 2007. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2007 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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