"Retirement" as a Term of Art: Texas Data Points for the Week in Politics, December 15, 2017

Texas politics continued to be roiled by the ongoing national reckoning with sexual misconduct and gender attitudes in the culture this week, from a hearing in the Texas Senate on harassment policy to a couple of men calling it quits, including yet another Congressman, Blake Farenthold. In the policy realm, good stories on the history of the border wall produced by a team of Texas Tribune and ProPublica, and on climate change and Harvey in the Houston Chronicle, remind us all that we can continue to talk about enduring policy issues, though they also point to polarized public attitudes that make any moves on those issues difficult. All this, and, of course, Alabama – read on for data points to annotate the week’s big stories and some interesting work by the political press this week.

1. It’s been another good week for the congressional section of the AARP. After a string of stories portraying a hostile environment in the Farenthold congressional office, the congressman from Texas’ 27th Congressional District announced that he would not be seeking re-election – though his name will remain on the ballot. This raises the minimum number of seats in the Texas Congressional delegation that will have new occupants after the 2018 election to 8, more than at anytime in the last 20 years, and with nary a vote yet cast. 

Congressional Turnover in the Texas Delegation

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CongressVoluntary RetirementInvoluntary RetirementPrimary Election LossGeneral Election Loss

2. Of course we've been planning to meet. Under pressure from the news media as well as the Lt. Governor, the Senate Administration Committee held a hearing on sexual harassment policy at the Capitol on Thursday. The national reckoning on sexual misconduct (and worse) continued at the Texas Capitol last Friday with another widely-read piece on the subject in the Daily Beast by Olivia Messer. In what felt like the resonant echoes of events in Washington, the prominent organization that supports Texas female political candidates, Annie’s List, called for State Senators Miles and Uresti to resign; Greg Groogan of Houston’s Fox affiliate reported that Houston Representative and legislative legend Senfronia Thompson told him “I think the allegations (against Miles) are true. I believe the women”; per follow-on coverage by Jolie McCulloch and Morgan Smith in the Texas Tribune, Senator Sylvia Garcia (also of Houston and also a Democrat) and Jose Rodriguez “both called for independent investigations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol.” By the end of the day, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick was sending VERY strong signals to Senate Administration Committee Chair Lois Kohlkorst that it was time for some visible action in the upper chamber.

While some people feel like the subject may be cresting in terms of public attention, its durability on the public agenda is at least in part a result of differences in the underlying attitudes toward how people experience gender prior to the mass, public disclosure of abhorrent behavior by men from all walks of life. These attitudes have particularly gendered AND partisan bents. In the October 2016 UT/TT poll, we asked Texans how much discrimination women face in society today, 44 percent of women said a “great deal” or “a lot” compared to only 26 percent of men, but among Republican women, only 18 percent said the same, and only 4 percent of Republican men agreed. Not surprisingly, 53 percent of Democratic men said that women face “a great deal” or “a lot” of discrimination, as did 70 percent of Democratic women. 

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

These dispositions toward gender discrimination are being buttressed by very prominent cues from elites. The president offered a big example this week, when he attacked New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand after she called for him to resign as a result of the sexual allegations against him – which, of course, did not prevent him from being elected.

But not everyone else who chooses this tact can get away with it. Texas Associate Attorney General Andrew D. Leonie abruptly retired Thursday after The Dallas Morning News' Lauren McGaughey published a story on a Facebook posting in which Leonie reportedly complained, "Aren't you also tired of all the pathetic 'me too' victim claims?"  The Facebook post no longer exists, but McGaughey found that Leonie's account does register his new status as retired.

Like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's ill-advised statement about Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”), though far more crass than the gentleman from Kentucky, the only impact of Trump’s tweet beyond (perhaps) exciting a fraction of his base was to elevate the national profile (and fundraising) of the New York Senator and a likely 2020 challenger.  As we've said before, it will be interesting to see how much Texas women's perceptions of discrimination against women increase from the baseline we saw in our 2016 polling.

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African Americans14%14%
Transgender people12%12%
Gays and lesbians10%11%

3. Coming soon to the middle of your property - a border wall! Beat the rush and hire a lawyer now. Julian Aguilar and Kiah Collier of the Texas Tribune along with T. Christian Miller of Propublica produced the #longread piece of the week (if you’re a Texas political junkie, anyway) on the Federal Government’s seizure of private lands to create the border fence that currently stretches across large portions of the U.S.-Mexico border. In reality, it’s usually about a couple hundred yards inland from the Rio Grande, cutting through private property – and there’s the rub. The details of how these seizures were executed, the laws that protect the Federal Government, and the generally arbitrary and unfair way in which land is valued for the purposes of these forced transactions is worth the read, especially if you're attuned to the way this issue may develop politically in Texas – which you probably should be. Anyone up for a property rights vs. border wall cage match?

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Strongly support34%
Somewhat support18%
Somewhat oppose8%
Strongly oppose32%
Don't know/No opinion8%

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Strongly support10%41%54%
Somewhat support11%18%22%
Somewhat oppose9%3%9%
Strongly oppose64%27%8%
Don't know/No opinion7%11%7%

4. Evidence Shmevidence. Scientists agree, climate change made those record breaking rainfalls during Harvey far more likely – but a large share of the Texas public is apparently short on scientists. In short, The Houston Chronicle’s Alex Stuckey highlighted scientific research finding that climate change had made Harvey’s 51 inches of rainfall 3 times more likely. In the October 2017 UT/TT poll, when asked whether they thought “that climate change contributed to the severity of recent hurricanes that impacted Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico," Texas voters were split, with 45 percent saying yes and 42 percent saying no. Unsurprisingly, 80 percent of Democrats thought that climate change had increased Harvey’s severity, while 72 percent of Republicans said that it had not. With the skeptics in charge, don’t expect much public discussion of acknowledging this as a rationale for drastic shifts in public policy anytime soon. And while there’s not much evidence of this because of the very nature of the phenomena, one could argue that climate change could be added to the growing list of policy areas where many GOP policy makers disagree with their base but are – let’s say, “hesitant” – to discuss it with them, especially around election time. 

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Don't know/no opinion13%

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Don't know/no opinion13%17%12%

5. The devil fools with the best laid plans* – and now everyone wants to compare Alabama to Texas. Democrat Doug Jones’ defeat of accused pedophile and demonstrated religious and racial bigot Roy Moore was the political story of the week. It has fueled increasing plausible if not entirely precise or convincing discussions of a “wave election” for Democrats in 2018. Closer to home, it has occasioned MUCH discussion of whether and/or how much the Alabama results portend a Democratic surge in Texas, particularly in the expected Senate contest between incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic ray of hope Beto O’Rourke. We’ll devote more space to this asap, but in short: despite surface similarities (Republican hegemony, feeble Democratic parties, former confederate states), there are some very big differences in Texas (e.g. strong and well-positioned incumbents and recent gifts to conservative voters that will help insulate Texas Republicans from national pressures). Obviously, Roy Moore was a fairly distinctively bad candidate, too. In the meantime, many have of course weighed in already (hey, we have other work duties). Among them: R.G Ratcliffe telegraphed his position the day before the election, then echoed a modified version of his somewhat tortured argument that the bathroom bill is Texas’ Roy Moore on The Texas Standard. Erica Grieder drolly (we think) observed that Roy Moore’s “public record is notable, primarily, for being overtly contentious,” then drew a line between Moore, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the current President of the United States as evidence of the GOP’s tendency to choose “agenda over character.” Over at GQ, Jay Willis smartly takes on the question of whether Senator Cruz has anything to worry about, and soberly says very likely not, even if things do look brighter for the Democrats than they have for some time in Texas.  

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly4%42%60%
Approve somewhat10%34%27%
Neither approve nor disapprove15%16%1%
Disapprove somewhat17%4%5%
Disapprove strongly51%1%4%
Don't know3%3%3%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly3%24%54%
Approve somewhat7%36%25%
Neither approve nor disapprove10%17%6%
Disapprove somewhat11%12%9%
Disapprove strongly65%7%4%
Don't know4%4%1%

* Fn for the young'ns: