Texas will never turn blue

At least not in this political reality. I know, it’s a rather evocative headline, but the charts and stats I show below will hopefully convince you that the only thing that would guide Texas toward the left is huge national trends. As I have said before, I strongly believe that the Republican Party will go the way of the dodo in about 20 years or so, leaving behind a Democratic Party that gets so all-encompassing that it splits in two. Short of that, the GOP could realign in just as much of a substantial way. The great step to the right of the 1980s would be superseded by a step to the left in the 2030s, like the previous leftward step a century previous. The horrendous midterm results for Democrats have not shaken my belief that the Republicans are on a destruction course; in fact, it has only strengthened my resolve. However, the results specifically in Texas have lead me to believe that all the work of groups such as Battleground Texas has been in vain. There is little left to do now, for progressives, than to work together with moderate Republicans to elect pragmatic conservative candidates and to wait for the rising tides to guide Texas away from the rocks. I only wish it will not be too late by then.

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, lost her race by twenty points, 39-59. Governor-elect Greg Abbott performed better than Governor Rick Perry in all three of his elections. For the downballot elections, all the other Republicans won by comparably margins. The Lieutenant Governor’s race was the closest, with the Democrat losing by just more than 19 points, and the US Senate race being the biggest blowout, with Senator John Cornyn being re-elected by more than 27 points. The Republicans re-took the US Senate, meaning that — all other things being equal — Cornyn will now be the Majority Whip of the Senate.

Locally, Harris County went straight Republican, whereas Bexar County was a reddish shade of purple. Neither showed any improvement from 2010 (I didn’t realize how many judgeships the Democrats won in Bexar in 2010), though, with the big exception being that Nico LaHood (D) defeated Susan Reed (R) and was elected District Attorney in Bexar County. In Harris County, the GOP slate generally beat the Democratic one by about 10 points, though certain races were closer. DA Devon Anderson defeated her Democratic challenger, Kim Ogg, by only about six points. Though it is important to note this was just a special election for the post, and it will be right back on the ballot in just two years.

Davis’ State Senate also fell to the Republicans, specifically a woman named Konni Burton. This puts the party in control of 20/31 seats, just shy of the coveted 2/3rds needed to ramrod legislation through. However, Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick will likely disassemble that rule anyways. In the State House, the Republicans picked up three seats. State Representative-elect Wayne Faircloth (R-Galveston County) prevailed in the district currently held by retiring Democrat Craig Eiland. Meanwhile, State Representative Philip Cortez (D-Bexar County) was defeated by Rick Galinda and State Representative Mary Ann Perez (D-Harris County) was defeated by Gilbert Pena.

Also around the state, voters in Denton approved a measure to ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking) within the city limits. This has prompted the Oil & Gas Associated, as well as the General Land Office, to file suit against the city. Watch out for the Legislature passing a law disallowing these types of referendums next session.

Now, I’ve put together a few charts. First up, I compared the counties won by the gubernatorial candidates in 2010 (top) to those won in 2014 (bottom). Obviously, blue for the Democrat and red for the Republican.

Governor10

Governor14

Obviously, Davis won fewer counties than Bill White, the 2010 Democratic candidate. Most notably, she didn’t win Harris County, although it is important to note that White was a former Mayor of Houston and that Abbott is also a Houstonian. But Abbott also won three southern counties that White triumphed in. I don’t know if you could call locales like Kleberg County (fourth from the bottom on the coast) part of the Valley, but it is more than 70% Hispanic.

Davis did worse than White, worse than Chris Bell (2006 Dem nominee) and worse than Tony Sanchez (2002 Dem nominee). In fact, if you look at the margins of victory in recent gubernatorial elections, it appears as though the trend is for Democrats to do worse as time goes on –quite different than what common knowledge would have you believe.

Next, the same comparison for Lieutenant Governor:

Lt Gov10

Lt Gov14

Now, in 2010, the Democrats had a rather unremarkable candidate for Lieutenant Governor: Linda Chavez-Thompson. With only slightly more resources than Jim Hogan, she ran a truly awful campaign. And when she went up against Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, she did even worse than the Democratic nominee this year. State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic candidate, did win a net 2 more counties in the south, including Kleberg.

Moving onto Attorney General:

Attorney General10

Attorney General14

Sam Houston, the Democratic candidate for Attorney Genera, won a few more southern counties. He carried Jefferson County, the home of Beaumont (that blue speck in the right corner), the only Democrat by my calculations to do so.

Last, and probably least, the US Senate election:

Senate12

Senate14

Granted, this map compares David Alameel’s, the Democratic Senate candidate, performance to the 2012 election, but it is still striking. Alameel was the worst contender of all the Democratic ticket, and for good reason.

All in all, the Democrats did worse than four years ago. Downballot, they didn’t necessarily do as bad as some are claiming, mainly because Bill White outperformed the Democratic ticket in 2010 by A LOT. Davis outperformed them by a statistically insignificant amount, in comparison. Below, I have attached a line graph demonstrating the margins with which Republicans have won the non-Judicial statewide offices since 1998. I have omitted the 2000 Railroad Commission race and the 2010 Comptroller race because they lacked Democratic candidates and the 60 or 70-something margins would have skewered the graph:

Ranges

The other major point is that ticket-splitting has decreased rapidly. The range of the losses was about 37 points in 1998, decreased to about 25 points in 2002, 16 points in 2006, 17 points in 2010 and only 8 points last Tuesday. Like I have opined in the past, this is likely because of the growing stupidity of the average Texan, and the rise of “FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD” style straight-ticket voting.

Finally, I wanted to look into how much Democrats have improved in Bexar and Harris counties. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet for finding just how Republican an election is in these counties before 2010, back when ticket-splitting was still commonplace. Ultimately, I settled on straight party voting, which is a rather bad barometer, but it beats nothing.

Bexar County

Harris County

These are bad measurements for a couple of reasons, namely that they overstate Democratic support. While Democrats received more straight ticket votes than Republicans in 2006 in Harris County, they still loss the whole county and all the positions. And 2000 wasn’t a close election either. But these graphs should just illustrate, rather unscientifically, that there is no meaningful improvement for Democrats in either county in midterm elections. If I have an abundance of time, I will average the margins of victory for all the countywide elections in a given election year to find a more accurate number.

As I have opined before, since Davis and the pack did not crack the 40% mark and did convincingly worse than 2010, Battleground Texas will be no more. Snuffed in its infancy. Either it will just fold in the next few weeks or its budget will be slashed so significantly that it will become a non-entity in practice. Most of the people running that rolling calamity will likely be out of a job. I’m going to leave my rationale for why the Democrats got whupped so monstrously to a latter post, but let’s just say there are quite a few reasons.

The most important reason, however, is that the average Texan is evidently both too stupid and too lazy to be bothered to participate in the political process. A pitiful 1/3 registered voters participated. Campaigns can do what they want to drive turnout, but until young people put down the blunt and the funyuns long enough to “occupy” a voting booth, nothing will get any better for the Democrats. Until other non-voters get up off their butts and stop being worthless, ‘poor and puny anonymities,’ politics will continue being dominated by the far-right. At the end of the day, however, in a democracy, people get the government they deserve. Lazy Texans will get that government many times over in the succeeding years.

Big Jolly Politics, Brains & Eggs (Parts I, II, III, IV), Eye on Williamson, Off the Kuff and Texas Leftist all have more.

Abbott’s strange doublespeak

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released a new 30-second commercial on border security. Ordinarily, this would not be much for news, but a tidbit within the ad caught my attention. Overall, the ad is a garden variety conservative attack on President Barack Obama for apparently not doing enough to manage immigration into this country, while bemoaning the supposed influx of Mexican cartels into this country. I don’t want to really get into the weeds of all that, because it is a very different issues that drew ire from me.

Around the 12-second mark, the ad claims that Abbott would double the budget of the Department of Public Safety. This doesn’t sound that unreasonable, especially considering most of the DPS’ functions involve things like highway patrol and motor vehicle bureaus. The only problem is that the DPS is largely funded out of the State Highway Fund. Since the DPS obviously is different from a highway, the moneys it receives from the fund are considered diversions. And Abbott, in a commercial last month, pledged the end diversions from the fund.

All this begs the question of how Abbott would pay for his projects. Obviously, he — like everyone else in the Republican Party — is pathologically opposed to raising taxes. And yet, drastically expanding money for transportation, public safety and the border, he is proposing a fairly significantly upping of the state’s expenditures. And yet, with no plan to pay for it. I suppose that Abbott could just slash a little more from schools, but at this point he’s writing cheques the State just cannot cash.

Abbott wants to have his cake and eat it too. Sadly, I have not found anyone else around the state that has honed in an this strange doublespeak. The state media has completely abdicated its responsibility to call out bad candidate plans. State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, rightly received immense derision for her outlandish education plan, which likewise lacked a sensible pricetag. It’s only fair that Abbott should be subjected the same.

On another note, I find it strange that Abbott would be wading into this divisive of an issue, especially without attacking Davis by name. The jab at Obama appeared a little misplaced, especially considering his last Obama-centric ad went well out of its way to connect Davis to him.

Don’t vote straight ticket, don’t be stupid

Even though more than half of early voting has already gone by, newspapers are still fielding endorsements for statewide elections. Most of the big newspapers supported State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the El Paso Times. The major exceptions, those who supported Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, were the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Dallas Morning News, as well as a plethora of small-town papers.

For some of the downballot contests, no such diversity existed. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal was the only paper, of any size, I could find that supported State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor. And I found not a single paper that supported either State Senators Ken Paxton (R-Collin County) or Glenn Hegar (R-Harris County), the Republican nominees for Attorney General and Comptroller, respectively. Not one.

Needless to say, there aren’t any good reasons to vote for these men. I suppose, if you truly believe in conservative principles, there is a legitimate point to be made in not wanting to support the Democrats, but it is just inexcusable to support these stains upon the GOP ticket. Patrick is a demagogue in the style of Huey Long, though he is considerably less intelligent and less opaque in his nefarious intentions. Paxton is a lousy attorney and likely could be convicted of a felony in the coming months. Hegar openly admits he has no idea what he would do in office as the State’s top financial watchdog.

Not to appear too eager in criticizing the Republicans, Democrats have an exceedingly terrible candidate on their statewide slate too. Actually, many of my compatriots tend to think that David Alameel, the nominee for the Senate, fits that description, but I’m talking about Jim Hogan, the Democratic candidate for Agriculture Commissioner.

I’ve opined previously on my myriad objections with Hogan — he’s a no-name, no-campaigning political novice who is smug in his complacency and total ignorance of state issues. He has some experience as a farmer, which is great, but he knows nothing of school lunch programs, regulating gas pumps or the multitude of other issues that the commissioner must oversee. Here’s the entire article back from July about why I would never vote for Hogan.

Not a single organization I am aware of has endorsed Hogan. All the newspapers or other non-partisan organizations have supported former State Representative Sid Miller (R-Erath County), the Republican, while even the big Democrat groups have suggested undervoting. A few other blogs, namely Brains & Eggs, Jobsanger and Socratic Gadfly, have supported Kenneth Kendrick, the Green nominee, as did this publication.

If you are an otherwise reliable Democratic voter, I have previously made the argument in the past that Kendrick is the only reasonable choice. Unlike many within the Green Party, his political views aren’t to the left of Marx; rather, they are somewhere around the median of what I figure a Texas Democrat would be. But still, some Democrats loathe supporting the Green Party out of principle. For those of you who fit that description, just undervote, but please do not vote for the Democrat.

Unfortunately, my words will fall on deaf ears for most. Admittedly, the absurdly long ballot makes intelligent voting rather difficult. But at least for the statewide races, don’t be afraid to split your ticket. Texas elected some mix of statewide Democrats and Republicans for about 30 years between the 1960s and 1990s. The 1998 and 2002 elections, even though they were GOP sweeps, featured a serious range in how close the challengers got.

In 1998, for example, some Republicans won by 31 points while others won by only 2. In 2002, the range was anywhere from 32 point victory margins to 5 point ones. Fastforwarding to 2010, the range shrunk to only a few points between the high water mark and the low one. The direct cause is straight ticket voting, but the indirect cause is that Texans have gotten less politically astute in the preceding two decades.

At the beginning of this century, people all over the state could subscribe to any number of newspapers. Those in the rural areas had the ability to do so, and those in the suburbs had the will-power to do so. But then the newspapers cut back causing talk radio and Fox News to fill the void. More importantly, Barack Obama, the most divisive President in recent history, came to power and caused a fierce nativist backlash, fueled by racial animosity, known as the Tea Party. Democrats fired back in kind, and solidified themselves into their own camp as well.

Now, most Texans just get their news from the monitors at gas stations and Instagram. We think of ourselves as belonging to a political party in the same respect as rooting for a football team, and that is the extent of the rational discussion of the issues, if one is even among the 29% of Texans who aren’t too lazy to vote.

Newspapers, blogs, NPR and a couple of other serious sources promote serious debates on the policies, but this is drowned out in the cacophony of partisan chest-bumping. Think of the scenes from Animal Farm when Snowball and the other well-intentioned pigs attempt to make serious policy decisions, but are drowned out by the sheep bleating “FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD.” That is basically what straight ticket voting does. Don’t be a sheep, don’t be dumb. Actually scrutinize your ballot.

Reality Check, Part V

First and foremost, a poll was released by The Texas Tribune today that appears to place the final nail in the Democrats’ coffin. Now, as I have opined time and time again in the past, I’m not really a fan of the Tribune’s polling, so take this with a grain of salt. But with Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, leading State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, by a whopping 16 points, the margin of error is taken care of more than five times over. I’ve attached the polls for all of the statewide non-judicial contests.

TGov

TLtGov

TSenate

TAG

TCompt

TLandCom

LAgCom

LAgCom

Of note, because of rounding errors, the Land Commissioner poll should not equal 100. Excel insisted upon putting Bush’s total at 51% anyways, but the Tribune poll only put 50%.

These polls put the Democratic deficit anywhere from 15 points (Agriculture Commissioner) to 26 points (US Senate). The poll basically insinuates that there are people who are voting for Wendy Davis, yet are splitting their ballots for Dan Patrick. Or thinking that Jim Hogan is a sensible, qualified and tempered candidate for Agriculture Commissioner (he’s none of those things), and yet Ken Paxton is the superior choice for Attorney General. Do these people truly exist? Are Texans truly that inept? I say no, and think those absurdities prove that the poll is just a bunch of stuff, as the Vice President would put it.

The polls also show third parties getting huge percentages of the vote, sometimes nearly 20%. That’s a little bit silly, considering that they rarely surpass 5%. I tend to think the reason for their gross overperformance is that the poll is largely conducted via eager participants on the internet. You know, the people who have the extra zeal to come up with their own outlying political views.

Let’s get something clear, no statewide Democrat is going to win this year. That much I am certain of. But the Democrats don’t have to literally win in order to win, as counter-intuitive as that might sound. The slate needs to outdo Bill White’s performance in 2010, which was roughly 42%. Ideally, they should do well enough to lift the ticket in Bexar County (San Antonio), Harris County and Nueces County (Corpus Christi) enough to elect some local Democrats. But showing progress from the last election is the most important thing. Battleground Texas will keep registering voters, demographics will keep moving in a good direction and Texas will transition inch-by-inch into a purple state. Vox made a similar point today.

Bud Kennedy at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram noted today, though, that the Texas Democrats have a considerable chance on not outdoing their 2010 performance. If the slate is less than 42%, alarm bells will ring. If it ranges from the high to low 30s, as this poll might suggest, it will be Armageddon for Texas politics. Battleground Texas will likely disband. National Democrats will think of the short-lived project to turn Texas blue and shake their heads. In the bars of Manhattan and Capitol Hill, it will be thought of with the same naivete as the New Coke debacle. I really don’t want that to happen.

Through the first four days of early voting, the numbers are negligibly different from four years ago, with some minor differences I’ll note in tomorrow morning’s issue of The Daily Texan. That will be what determines how well Davis does. So please, please, vote.

Parker subpoenas pastors

On Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle noted that Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman have subpoenaed the sermons of prominent pastors who have been a part of ongoing petition efforts against the local non-discrimination ordinance. The NDO, passed last May, prevents discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and other distinguishing features, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity. Those last two qualities garnered a great deal of controversy both before and after the Houston City Council passed the measure, even prompting a petition drive to force a referendum.

In a still controversial decision, city leaders disqualified most of the signatures provided, saying not enough valid voices signed against the ordinance to compel a referendum. Since then, litigation has been pending and a referendum is still quite possible in the future. I suppose that the city is now trying to cover its behind by proving many of the tactics exhibited by these pastors, who are legally required to remain apolitical, have been unlawful.

On Wednesday, however, Parker distanced herself from the subpoenas, calling them “overly broad” and regretting the incident was handled the way it was. As they likely realized right away, this little bout of theatrics did the Mayor and all supporters of the NDO no favors. In fact, it merely stirred the pot even more, riling up the same group that so vociferously opposed the ordinance and fought it throughout the summer.

National news and opinion sites have been quick to castigate Parker, and she has received 20 bits of negative press for every item of support thus far. Fox News didn’t look too kindly, nor did The Washington Times. Forbes Magazine wrote that the city has “a first amendment problem.” Meanwhile, a columnist for The Washington Post even opined that the whole exercise is a trampling of the first amendment. The whole story is so outrageous at first glance that Snopes.com even ran a feature on it.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, both made big stinks today as well against this decision.

As a matter of law, I don’t know that Parker did anything too egregious. But beyond the shadow of a doubt, as a matter of policy, it was a foolish move on her office’s part. Fire and brimstone clergy, particularly those who all too often bully others, are remarkably talented at feigning victimization. In a place as religious and conservative as Houston, picking a fight with them will always be a losing proposition.

Parker even noted in a press conference today that these are fairly well-famed pastors, with expansive followings both on television and online. The sermons are easily accessible through less intrusive means than a court order. The whole point of this exercise was for show, and in that department, Parker undoubtedly lost. I’m glad she has backed off from this, hopefully it can cause the press to move past it and focus on some real issues. Typically, on Wednesday nights, I recap the events of the Houston City Council from the preceding morning. But the council did nothing of real note today. Everything revolved around press conferences involving this puny anonymity and the Ebola hysteria, respectively.

Rhymes with Right has more, from the other side of the aisle.

The wheelchair ad

State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, has released the television ad we have all been waiting for: dinging her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, on perceived hypocrisy related to the settlement he received as a result of his disability.

In 1984, when Abbott was 26 and studying for the bar exam, a tree fell on him in a freak accident. He was running around his neighborhood following a storm. The accident left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down; it also prompted him to sue both the homeowner and the landscaping company responsible for maintaining the structural integrity of the tree in question. He won about $10 Million off of that lawsuit. Later, Abbott heralded tort reform that capped punitive damages in lawsuits and brought about big changes that made suits harder for victims. Longtime readers of my opinions will be familiar with my skepticism of so-called tort reform, but that’s not really at issue here.

Accordingly, this narrative, that Abbott rightly received justice after he was wronged but then pulled up the ladder behind him to prevent others from doing the same, is somewhat compelling. It is edgy but it makes a valid point. Considering how Abbott has used his wheelchair to benefit himself in his ads, it appears it is fair game to bring it up in a respectful manner on a relevant point.

All that being said, the ad does not talk about tort reform. Instead, the 30-second spot — filled with ominous narration and music — broadly connects the accident/lawsuit with some of Abbott’s actions in the past, none of which related to tort reform.

The first reference, reported on by The Dallas Morning News this past February, involved Abbott arguing that the State of Texas has sovereign immunity against disabled people who file suit over perceived violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act. The News literally summarized the article by stating that Abbott “tenaciously battled to block the courthouse door to disabled Texans who sue the state.” This is a fair point to bring up, but it is important to note that Abbott did not try to sue the government. There is far more direct hypocrisy with the tort reform point.

The second and third references, respectively, involved the Kirby vacuum case and the case of Dr Christopher Dunstch, both of which have been subjects of other Davis ads. These are more of stretches, as it is difficult to so plainly connect them with any hypocrisy on Abbott’s part.

Abbott, for his part, responded to the ad with shock and indignation. In an exclusive with the San Antonio Express-News, he offered to paint a parallel between himself and Davis (one, for what it’s worth, that is not completely accurate), characterizing Davis as a dirty politician and himself as a far more honest alternative.

It’s her choice if she wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair. I don’t think it’s going to sell too well,” Abbott told the Express-News. “[The ad] is offensive. It shows the tenor of the campaign. If you look at my ads, I focused on what I’m going to be doing as governor, and my opponent spends all her time in ads attacking me, as I’m attacking the challenges that fellow Texans deal with.”

Abbott, of course, has published his own dirty attack ads, one of which takes some excessive liberties with the truth. Still, the whole “throwing rocks at a wheelchair” argument will indeed not do Davis any favors. Aaron Blake at The Washington Post called the ad “one of the nastiest campaign ads you will ever see.” A correspondent at New York Magazine called the ad “at best, in poor taste.” The Week called it “brutal.” Even Mother Jones, no one’s idea of an outlet sympathetic to Republicans, pulled no punches on the Davis campaign. Among the tidbits in their writeup on the ad (penned not by an intern, but by their de facto Online Editor) was assertions that the ad was “nasty,” “offensive” and “bull***t.”

I don’t necessarily agree with much of the sentiment espoused in those national publications, mostly written by snobby Yankees who have never visited our fine state, but — contrary to what some of my compatriots might think — their contributions are important nonetheless. The national media has decidedly figured out that the ad was offensive. My gut tells me that the general public will likely think the same.

I understand the point of the ad. I’ve been advocating for some (albeit, clearer) variation of the point for a while now. But the connection evidently was not clear enough, and the public is outraged at what appears, at cursory glance, to be a mean-spirited attack on a disabled man. For better or for worse, that’s what Davis is dealing with.

Impropriety in another Perry fund

Photo: Gage Skidmore

The Dallas Morning News reports that, following an independent audit of the Texas Enterprise Fund, it has been revealed that $222 Million was given from the Governor-managed fund to entities that had not even submitted an application. The State Auditor, John Keel, released a tough report to legislators today that alleges the TEF has an inconsistent criteria they use to dole out the coveted money.

Most of these handouts occurred in the inaugural years of the fund, which was created in 2003 (for those of y’all playing at home, Perry has been the Governor since 2000). Perry’s office has defended the apparently capricious picks as kinks in the system that were quickly worked out as the fund got its start. Other revelations, however, were also released. Many of the reports on how money was spent and used provided incomplete summaries and details.  Other money fell through the cracks when the State evidently did not recoup all the money owed to it when contracts were terminated. Some reports just outright lied. Within the News story is a bombshell that one such report alleged that 66,000 jobs had been created by one beneficiary rather than 48,000. That’s a fairly significant number to fudge.

The audit reveals a culture of impropriety. One in which the desired conclusions influence data, not the other way around. The whole smell of it all is probably the most damaging portion of this report, rather than any of the individual details.

Obviously, the total lies in some of the reports present a problem. But staff can always be blamed for that, in ways that can not necessarily be pinned back on the Governor. In my opinion, the greatest issues that occur deal with the entities that received the money without applying for it. Now, when one looks at the specific entities that got the murky money, they are reputable firms such as the University of Texas at Dallas and MD Anderson. None of them appear to have any financial link to Perry or any of his lemmings. That being said, things could change in an instant.

The most important thing here is the appearance of impropriety. I suppose this could be a campaign tool for State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor. She did, in fact, first author the bill in the State Legislature that led to this office. And while Abbott supports many changes from the system described here, it could be a valuable campaign tool to continue the talking point that Republicans are too interested in picking winners and losers. Especially in light of the ongoing controversy involving CPRIT, this could very well end up being another piece of the puzzle, that inextricably ties Perry and other Republicans to possible impropriety/corruption.

VDP hops on the Highway Fund bandwagon

Yesterday, Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, released an ad that touted his big plan for improving the state of transportation infrastructure in Texas. After crunching the numbers, I was simply not impressed. Now, the Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, has hopped on the bandwagon and is now touting that plan as a cornerstone for her transportation infrastructure (with a few notable difference) platform.

Last night, I noted that such a proposal could likely raise about $1 Billion per biennium, a statistic confirmed by The Dallas Morning News. Of that, the News notes that more than 80% go to law enforcement agencies such as the Department of Public Safety (DPS), while about a dozen million dollars even go to the Attorney General’s office. Accordingly, while transportation would surely be given a great deal of extra cash, it would be at the expense of other –very important– spheres of government expenditures. Thus, unless more money is withdrawn from the rainy day fund or taxes are raised, the hurt will merely be shifted elsewhere. Last night, I opined hiking the Gas Tax modestly, something that has not been done in nearly 25 years despite an exploding population, higher prices and more more fuel-efficiency.

Van de Putte, according to the Tribune article, was somewhat murky on how exactly she wold make up the lost money, not only for DPS, but also for programs such as Veterans. She did pledge, however, not to divert money earmarked for education.

Luckily, Van de Putte does admit that her meager proposal (which Abbott, House Speaker Joe Straus and even her Republican opponent, State Senator Dan Patrick (R-Harris County), have preceded her in backing) will not do enough. Incorporating the whole Highway Fund will likely only raise a fraction of the $5 Billion that state bureaucrats have suggested will be necessary to keep our roads in top shape.

For this, Van de Putte acknowledged the tough realities involving an unchanged gas tax, but stopped short of endorsing any action regarding it. Shortly thereafter, the Tribune noted that a spokesperson unequivocally ruled out raising taxes. Too bad.

Unlike some Democrats, I am not masochistic on the subject of taxation. I abhor the idea of creating a State Income Tax, and hope property taxes can one day be cut in a sizable manner. But roads cost money. As a frequent commuter between two major cities, and the venerable State Highway 71 that connects them, I rely particularly strongly on state-funded roads. They are built, maintained, repaired and expanded with tax money. And in the past 25 years, as gas mileage has shot up remarkably, the average individual has consumed far less gas. Meanwhile, as prices have risen from $1.10 in 1990 to about $3.00 today, the tax rate has stood steady at $0.20-a-galloon.

I get that being seen as pro-taxes is a poison pill in today’s political environment, so I do not fault Van de Putte’s campaign for the omission. But as the rhetoric approaches complacency regarding this issue, I hope Van de Putte and others know that, next session, they need to put every option on the table –including raising the gas tax– in order to not just repair our crumbling highways, but make them the envy of the world once more.

Crocodile tears

The Houston Chronicle reports that Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican candidate for Governor, has unveiled yet another television ad. Going back to the style of his first, very positive and self narrated, Abbott lamented the troubles facing Texas roads and outlined his proposal to help.

“A guy in a wheelchair can move faster than traffic on some roads in Texas,” Abbott says. He proposes prohibiting moneys in the State Highway Fund from going to non-highway sources. From what the ad says, Abbott appears to insinuate that these so-called diversions are pork barrel spending used by legislators as de facto earmarks. According to Abbott’s website, this could save $400,000,000.00 a year, or $800 Million a biennium!

This is all good and well, but the Houston Chronicle noted earlier this year that House Speaker Joe Straus will instruct members to compile a budget next session that does exactly this. Accordingly, if one were to agree with this proposal, Straus should get the accolades, not Abbott. However, this assumes that the proposal is a good idea. The Chronicle article suggests that the bulk of this non-transportation money spent out the highway fund goes to law enforcement agencies. Abbott’s website also admits that, “In the 2014-15 biennial budget , more than $800 million was appropriated to non-transportation related agencies, including the Office of Comptroller, the Veteran’s Commission, and the Department of Insurance.” Not pork-barrel spending, but veterans. Obviously, these important government expenditures will have to be made up for elsewhere in the budget, so the actual “savings” will be kept to a minimum.

As Dug Begley, the Chronicle’s awesome transportation columnist, has opined, roads are quite high priority but low on the totem pole for folks willing to spend money. People like Abbott, all too often, appear to think that they just magically appear one day. Those in the know in transportation land have said many billions of dollars are needed per annum just to maintain the quality of our roads with the exponentially increasing population. $4 Billion to $8 Billion, by some estimates. Abbott’s plan does not do this, and State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County) does not have a good plan for it either.

Both candidates are afraid of uttering the true solution to this problem: raising the gas tax. Unchanged for nearly 25 years, the gas tax is the main mechanism that the State of Texas uses to fund its expansive highway system. Republicans and Democrats alike, trembling in fear before vehemently anti-tax voters, dare not to speak of raising it. But, because of this reluctance, the Texas Department of Transportation has only dug itself deeper and deeper into debt. State Senator Kevin Eltife (R-Smith County) is one of the few politicians willing to frankly discuss this problem, and the need to do something drastic (like hike the gas tax). The New York Times reported on this development last year in some detail.

But Eltife is not running for Governor, Abbott is. And Abbott’s grand plans for roads are completely worthless. It does not even put a band-aid over the problem like the Legislature did last session. He may shed crocodile tears over our crumbling roads, but he and his Tea Party friends’ extreme ideology are partly why we are in this situation. Roads are expensive.