Everywhere you look, Democracy! Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics

The week was barely underway when the new Public Education Chair in the Texas House illustrated just how much style and personality can make the same position feel really different when it comes from a Huberty rather than an Aycock. The House managed to make a fight out of the one issue where there seemed to be universal agreement in the Legislature, while the Texas Supreme Court decided that they wanted to hear arguments about gay marriage after all. Meanwhile, in the commanding heights, Governor Abbott was invited by the other two-thirds of the big three to have a fight with one of them, but it was no cigar. Instead, the Governor was plenty happy to take the resolution passed by the Senate joining the call for a Convention of the States, though conservatives are not all of the same mind on whether that’s a good idea. If the governor has to change their mind, maybe he ought to ask the President, who seems to have done a good job of moving Republicans toward a more open-minded position on the President of Russia – though it turns out Attorney General Sessions may have jumped the gun on that front at least a little.  

All in all, it’s a been a big week for the democratic process in Texas, so find out below what pretty fresh Texas polling data tells us about the public opinion context for the week in politics.

1. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty antagonized a loud Republican constituency this week by pronouncing vouchers DOA in the Texas house – but just how big is that constituency? We’d wager big enough to cause individual members non-fatal headaches during primary season, but clearly not big enough (or more likely, invested enough) to pass the bill out of the house. Voucher proponents will claim that the deck is stacked on the House Education committee, and they’re probably right. But the ability to pack a committee with anti-voucher Republican’s is made easier by the fact that despite the issue’s prominence among some activists, there isn’t a clear consensus on the issue among Texas GOP voters. Some of these dynamics were discussed in last week’s post, but to recap: “vouchers” generate partisan recognition and attitudes when you use the word in a question, but Republican support drops significantly when the question turns to the underlying policy of using public money for private education, as in: “Do you support or oppose proposals that would redirect state tax revenue to help parents pay for some of the cost of sending their children to private or parochial schools?”

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Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas27%19%11%
Establishing a school voucher program in Texas1%2%8%
Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes6%15%22%
Lowering property tax bills for homeowners19%19%21%
Lowering business taxes4%3%4%
Increasing state funding for border security operations4%9%19%
Increasing funding for Child Protective Services30%12%5%
Don't know/no opinion9%22%11%

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Don't know21%18%21%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Don't know16%19%15%

2. The House and Senate both passed out legislation to address problems in the Child Protective Services agency and the foster care system writ large. The House legislation proposes making CPS a standalone agency that reports directly to the Governor while also making it possible to pay relatives to care for abused children. The Senate legislation would increase contracts with local non-profit organizations, along with other, mostly bureaucratic, changes. Notably, the House got sidetracked on an amendment that would have barred non-citizen relatives from receiving payments for care of abused children. The Capitol press and #txlege Twitter got breathless, and it did get a little personal. However much the Senate and House seem to have switched personalities in some respects, the House remains the House, and it’s going to get a little unruly when you get down to business, so it seems all the agitation in the digital gallery was a little overwrought. Given what we should all know by now about GOP primary voters and their attitudes towards immigrants / immigration, we were personally shocked, SHOCKED, that there was grandstanding on immigration during floor debate over an unrelated issue. Otherwise, fixing CPS has been one of the few areas of consensus heading into the legislative session, though in the last UT/TT poll, it was more highly prioritized by Democrats than Republicans.  

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Redesigning the system of K-12 public school funding in Texas23%12%13%
Establishing a school voucher program in Texas3%4%5%
Continuing to limit government by approving no new spending and no new taxes9%19%21%
Lowering property tax bills for homeowners15%29%23%
Lowering business taxes4%2%3%
Increasing state funding for border security operations4%8%19%
Increasing funding for Child Protective Services22%6%6%
Don't know/no opinion19%20%9%

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Border security3%9%27%
Political corruption/leadership21%10%1%
Health care8%2%4%

3. Gay marriage is back in the Texas Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments this week over whether the Obergefell decision applies to benefits that the City of Houston (and other government entities) might give to the spouses of state employees. This case is notable because the State Supreme Court originally declined to hear the case before reversing itself amidst a chorus of calls from some of Texas’ statewide officials – reminding us that an elected court is filled with officials who themselves will have to run in primary elections. While it seems highly unlikely that this court – and certainly not a federal court – will rule that the government can pick and choose which married couples are entitled to benefits and which aren’t (you know, that whole equal protection under the law thing), this might be better understood, as the University of Houston’s Brandon Rottinghaus put it earlier this week, as a litmus test in a near-term effort to shift the ideological center of the state Supreme Court to the right.

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Gays and lesbians should have the right to marry84%49%20%
Gays and lesbians should not have the right to marry10%35%63%
Don't know6%16%17%

4. Lt. Gov. Patrick announced on WFAA that he’ll let the Governor make up his own mind on SB6, the Lt. Governor’s favored bill for regulating access to public bathrooms and other facilities by transgender people, after previously suggesting the Governor supported it. (Would have liked to have listened in on some follow-up staff calls on that.) The Speaker has also invited the governor to express his position, as Ross Ramsey wrote in a widely read and commented upon piece in the Texas Tribune this week. We wrote about polling and the public opinion context of this in a much less widely read piece a couple of weeks ago. There’s definitely more to say about the dynamics of this, but for now, take a look at our pretty comprehensive (read: #longread) piece on polling on this issue. Below, find results from the February UT/Texas Tribune Poll, conducted and released after the Tribtalk piece. 

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Their birth gender54%
Their gender identity31%
Don't know/No opinion15%

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Very important24%
Somewhat important15%
Not very important13%
Not at all important38%
Don't know/No opinion11%

5. The Texas Senate passed out the constitutional convention bill on a party line vote, but conservative activists and some opinion leaders remain suspicious. We wrote about this dynamic recently should you want to take a deeper look.

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Held up well58%71%71%
Hold a new constitutional convention19%22%16%
Don't know/No opinion23%8%14%

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Held up well39%57%65%
Hold a convention of the states31%22%24%
Don't know/No opinion30%21%11%

6. President Trump made his first address to Congress this week, which quickly got subsumed in Russian plot lines. But before that, and after predictable responses from both sides over the quality of Trump's speech, interest was brewing over the one policy area in which the president laid out some detail: ACA repeal (and replace). Trump's decision to lay out some priorities for replacement reflects the emerging fact that replacing the Affordable Care Act might be as difficult for the current Republican Congress to accomplish as passing it was for the Democratic Congress in 2009. This, by now is unsurprising, given public preferences, even among Republicans (and even among Texas Republicans) for the GOP Congress to have a replacement ready upon repeal. In the February UT/TT Poll, 52 percent of Texans wanted to see the law repealed compared to 34 percent who wanted it left in place. Among Texas Republicans, 83 percent wanted the law repealed (okay, so far so good). But among those Republicans, 65 percent said that the law should also be replaced (with a little math, that's 54 percent of Texas Republicans), only 30 percent said that it should just be repealed without a replacement. And on a later question, assuming that the law would be repealed, 57 percent of Republicans said that this shouldn't happen without a replacement, 35 percent were willing to repeal waiting to figure out the details. This is all to say, the rush to repeal Obamacare among Congressional Republicans in their campaigns only reflects part of the equation: a majority of their constituents expect something else in its place.

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Repeal it52%
Don't Repeal it34%
Don't know14%

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Repeal it18%53%83%
Don't Repeal it67%25%7%
Don't know15%22%10%

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Repeal the law and replace it with an alternative63%77%65%
Repeal the law and don't replace it35%20%30%
Don't know1%2%5%

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Wait until they have the details of a replacement plan figured out before they repeal the health care law82%69%57%
Repeal the health care law immediately and figure out the details of a replacement plan later9%22%35%
Don't know9%9%8%

7. And because no one can help themselves, those Russian plot lines. The mainstream enemy of the people press and Twitter exploded with a host of stories on the Trump administration and Russia, the biggest news being that Attorney General Jeff Sessions omitted at least two contacts with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. when testifying before Congress. Words like “perjury” and “lie” abounded in this coverage, with the Trump administration saying this was no big deal:

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz joined in by defending one of his few friends in the Senate by deliciously describing the news as a “nothingburger”. In our last poll and in a Gallup poll that followed, there were odd indications that public attitudes toward Russia among Republicans seemed to be following the Trump administration’s signaling and becoming less negative (though not positive.) We’ll just leave this here.

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Very favorable2%4%2%
Somewhat favorable5%5%12%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable7%23%28%
Somewhat unfavorable8%19%23%
Very unfavorable70%39%28%
Don't know/no opinion7%11%8%


Huberty throws cold, icy water on those hot for vouchers.

Kevin Russell from Shinyribs was on the floor of the Senate this week with a host of other great Texas musicians.  Shinyribs had a new record out.  Yes, we know we called it a record.