It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like 2018: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics

The national media storm over sexual harassment hit Texas this week, which the legislative leadership attempted to act on even as in other corners, some of the same old internecine fights in the GOP played out in the House and on the terrain of the upcoming 2018 primary elections. Congressman Gene Green’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek reelection added another wrinkle in Houston politics, this one among Democrats who are either jumping in to fight for his seat or waiting to see which #txlege competitors create new openings as a result of others' efforts to move up. Meanwhile, events in Congress provided lots of reasons why so many people don’t want to work there anymore, and some are even policy related, like the effort to combine repealing the ACA insurance mandate with the Tax Reform bill. We’ve rounded up public opinion data on these subjects with some added tidbits below.

1. The national discussion about sexual harassment (inevitably) hit Texas politics this week. Presaging a wave of reporting on widespread allegations of sexual misconduct in the nation’s capitol by a week, Olivia Messer’s Daily Beast story last week brought to light a whisper network among female staff in the Texas Capitol which sought to protect them from sexual harassment (if not predation) by lawmakers and staff members alike. Soon thereafter, a four reporter team (Alexa Ura, Morgan Smith, Jolie McCullough, and Edgar Walters) at the Texas Tribune reported more harassment stories from legislative staffers and capitol reporters (including former Senator and gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis), and highlighted the limited avenues for recourse for victims within established channels in both chambers. R.G. Ratcliffe reminded us with some historical perspective in Texas Monthly that this isn’t a new problem at the Capitol. It didn’t take long (at least relative to the stories) for Texas leaders in the House and Senate to call for a revamping of the Legislature’s sexual harassment policies, with Ross Ramsey succinctly suggesting why the current system for reporting sexual harassment  is so lacking. “Each of the 183 representatives and senators, their staffers and the lobbyists who haunt the halls is tied together in a system of trades, favors, debates and relationships that conflict with their ability to settle disputes over sexual harassment,” Ramsey wrote. Which seems like a decent explanation, at least in general terms, for why neither the House Administration Committee nor the person in charge of HR in the Senate (Secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw) tell the Tribune they haven’t received any formal complaints despite now-widespread reporting of problems. Some public opinion context: In the June 2016 UT/TT poll, 3 percent of Texans said that women as a whole were the most discriminated against group in society, third to last behind men and Asians. When asked in October 2016 specifically how much discrimination women face, 35 percent of Texans said “a great deal” or “some”, but with sharp partisan differences: 62 percent of Democrats said a “a great deal” or “some” compared to only 12 percent of Republicans. Not surprisingly, among women, 44 percent said this compared to only 26 percent of men. If we poll this item again soon (and we imagine we might), expect those numbers to shift.

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African Americans14%
Transgender people12%
Gays and lesbians11%

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A great deal16%
A lot19%
A moderate amount24%
A little28%
None at all12%

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A great deal31%14%3%
A lot31%20%9%
A moderate amount28%20%21%
A little7%28%49%
None at all3%19%18%

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A great deal12%20%
A lot14%24%
A moderate amount22%26%
A little35%21%
None at all17%8%


2. "I could care less where you pee." On Wednesday at an interim hearing of the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, this is how Mark Cuban made clear how he felt about bathroom legislation. While Cuban’s broader point was that politics shouldn’t be put in front of the state’s economic competitiveness (and he did have more to say on economic development), others saw the committee hearing in more apocalyptic terms. Chuck Lindell's coverage in the Austin American Statesman quotes a critic of the committee as posing the fight "between good and evil," with "decent Americans, decent Texans" faced with a group "Joseph Stalin called useful idiots." We guess he doesn't have Amazon Prime. Among the many sharp differences in priorities and perceptions at play here, we return to the data featured in point (1) above: 70 percent of Texans in the June 2016 UT/TT poll said that transgender people face “A lot” or “Some” discrimination, second only to Muslims. At the same time, regulating bathroom access has become (or, more accurately, been made) a political issue that is unlikely to go away without a disciplined effort to move it off of the political agenda. While a majority of Texas voters in the October 2017 UT/TT poll said that regulating bathroom access for transgender people was either “not very important” or “not at all important," a majority of those who say that religion is extremely important in their life  (54 percent) and of those who say that the bible is the literal word of god (62 percent) said that regulating bathroom access was either “very” or “somewhat important.” So much for the committee on economic competitiveness being an exercise in shifting the agenda away from talking about bathrooms and toward economic development, at least so far. The committee is scheduled to meet again next month.

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Group"A lot" or "Some""Not very much" or "None at all"Don't know
Transgender people70%24%7%
Gays and lesbians69%26%4%
African Americans67%30%4%

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Very important24%
Somewhat important19%
Not very important15%
Not at all important36%
Don't know/no opinion6%

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categoryExtremely importantSomewhat importantNot very importantNot at all important
Very important36%16%14%13%
Somewhat important18%23%21%11%
Not very important15%20%14%7%
Not at all important24%36%47%61%
Don't know/no opinion7%6%4%7%

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categoryThe Bible is the word of God, to be taken literallyThe Bible is the word of God, not to be taken literallyThe Bible is a book written by men
Very important41%18%13%
Somewhat important21%21%12%
Not very important14%18%12%
Not at all important17%36%60%
Don't know/no opinion8%7%3%

3. Speaking of politics and intraparty divisions... This week, Republican Governor Greg Abbott endorsed Republican Representative Sarah Davis’ primary opponent, Susanna Dokupil. There are many simple and some not so simple explanations for Abbott, usually pretty reserved, to wade into a GOP primary in a moderate Houston district, many of them touched upon by the Houston Chronicle’s Erica Grieder (who we're happy is back in the mix), so we’ll just look at some data. In 2016, according to returns compiled by the Texas Secretary of State, Davis pulled 12,209 more votes in her District than did Trump. And in 2014, with the lower turnout we would expect in an off-year election, she pulled 4,892 more votes than Abbott in the general election. In the primary, Abbott bested her by just over 3,000 votes in his non-competitive primary. This points to where Abbott’s leverage lies, but also to the problem with attempting to supplant a moderate Republican candidate who aligns with her district with a more conservative replacement: the replacement might face difficulties in the general election, especially given a political environment that looks increasingly fraught for the usual-model suburban Republicans. Looked at from a broader perspective, 49 percent of Republicans in the October 2017 UT/TT poll said that Republican elected officials in Texas are “conservative enough,” with 31 percent saying that they are not. Obviously, these numbers are likely to shift when considered just among the Republican primary electorate. While we don’t have those numbers, we do know that among self-identified Tea Party Republicans, 58 percent said that Republican elected officials are not conservative enough, only 36 percent said they were. While we can’t know exactly what motivated Abbott to take on an incumbent in his own party who, if well known in Capitol circles, isn't a statewide figure, we do have a pretty good idea about the audience for this move. Another interesting addition to these machinations came in Mike Ward's Houston Chronicle piece built upon an internal memo by Abbott's New Hampshire-based political consultant Dave Carney, who according to the story argued that in the Virginia suburbs, "Republican voters showed up but were overwhelmed by Democrat enthusiasm." Carney apparently also said, "We will have to deal with these very same problems (and they could be much worse in another year) during our reelection." The Texas Democrats' Manny Garcia vigorously agreed in the story, but Carney's memo sure seems less like a lament issued from the Granite State and more like a call for a counter-mobilization strategy – and more campaign spending. Continuing a good week for the canny veterans of the Texas press corps, Ross Ramsey flagged how Abbott's move against Sarah Davis "puts a sort of official stamp on a split in the GOP that so many Republicans won’t even acknowledge." We would add that there's some tension between taking on Sarah Davis in the primary in the kind of district (if not classically suburban) that Carney is warning about and the growing reminders that Republicans need to pull together in the face of the alleged Democratic surge.

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Conservative enough49%
Too conservative11%
Not conservative enough31%
Don't know/No opinion9%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Conservative enough66%57%36%
Too conservative34%13%4%
Not conservative enough0%20%58%
Don't know/No opinion0%10%3%

By the way, the representative doesn't seem too worried.

4. If you're going to buy air time in the Houston market in 2018, do it now. Veteran Democratic Congressman Gene Green (D-Houston) announced this week that he would not seek reelection, setting off a chain reaction of maneuvering among Houston Democrats. Green’s announcement marks the sixth Texas House member (4 Republicans and 2 Democrats) who have said that they will not seek reelection to their current seat in 2018. This got us thinking that we should look at the volume of these retirements as unusual, or the usual churn of a very large congressional delegation? Blank and Texas Politics Project researcher Lindsay Dun wrote a little about it. In the meantime, enjoy the electoral chess among Houston Democrats as State Senator Sylvia Garcia takes a free shot at the seat (she's not up for reelection in 2018), State Rep. Armando Walle gives up his house seat to take a stab at it, and veteran Houston/Harris county pol Adrian Garcia also runs. State Rep. Carol Alvarado is also continuing to "visit with key stakeholders in our community," per a campaign email sent out this week. 

Congressional Turnover in the Texas Delegation

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CongressTotal Turnover

5. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans, failing to kill a single bird so far, are now trying to kill two with one stone by ending the Affordable Care Act insurance mandate in their tax overhaul bill (in order to gain some more revenue, among other things). While the decision to include the ACA insurance mandate repeal might not make much sense practically – i.e. Congressional Republicans so desperately want to pass something, why add to an already heavy legislative lift in the tax overhaul something that they’ve failed to do so far? – it makes some kind of sense politically in addition to the needed revenue gain. It's still going to be a long road.  The House passed a bill Thursday that differs significantly from the bill with the ACA provision that moved out of the Senate Finance Committee late Thursday night, per the New York Times. It’s hard to overstate how important the ACA, and in particular, negative evaluations among Republicans, have been to Republican campaigning and electoral success over the last 7 years. So we won’t.

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Repeal it10%53%84%
Don't repeal it77%26%8%
Don't know13%21%8%

Quick hits

Vice President Mike Pence came to Austin to get a briefing on Harvey and speak at the Republican Governors’ Association confab in Austin. The hardest working man in Texas political journalism was there, too, and though he sort of hides it, Jonathan Tilove (see what we mean?) seems to have had a good time. 

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Very favorable30%
Somewhat favorable12%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable12%
Somewhat unfavorable12%
Very unfavorable28%
Don't know/no opinion6%

The New York Times Upshot had a solid piece on college-education and political attitudes by Kevin Quealy, with particularly interesting information on how higher education apparently is failing to brainwash Republicans with college degrees. Duh. You should really read this – all of it.

A week ago, Variety broke the story that Sandra Bullock is attached (as they say in Burbank) to a screenplay about Wendy Davis called "Let Her Speak", and people have gotten carried away ever since. Even though we guess technically it’s stolen property (?), Jonathan Tilove (see what we mean?) posted a screen cap, and the hagiographic screenplay is getting more circulation in Austin than a Steve Murdock slide deck – so much so that Davis herself had to come to the screenwriter's defense after he was thrashed on Twitter for just cutting to the chase by having Senator Davis utter words famously spoken by Senator Van de Putte. For those of you who weren’t around, a fav/unfav on Wendy Davis from 2014 is below. And by the way: the casting thing is fun-ish but too silly and obviously click-baity, and we’ve gone through it all before anyway (cf. Lawrence Wright’s HBO show, and what's going on with that, too). Just don’t.

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Very favorable49%7%1%
Somewhat favorable20%11%4%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%22%9%
Somewhat unfavorable2%8%11%
Very unfavorable2%30%63%
Don't know/No Opinion16%23%10%


In the Tank

We had a rush of internship postings in the world of Texas politics and government this week, so you should have a look at our internship bulletin board, which is open to the public. If you know someone looking, send them the link; if you’re a respectable operation looking for an intern (or two, or three, or more), post here.

Last week, the Holocaust museum of Houston awarded UT Austin President Greg Fenves with the Guardian of the Human Spirit Award. The speech has been in circulation for a couple of weeks, but the video was released this week. Though the guy is our boss and we’re as willing to project insubordination as the next know-it-all university employee, this is very moving, very smart, and a good reminder to remember what’s important.