Rick Perry Redux: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, August 19, 2016

State politics continued to stir this week as the Texas Senate took a look at pre-k even as schools and advocates grumbled about inadequate funding - something that came up during legislative debate, one might recall. National politics continued to knock on the door of state politics, as Rick Perry tried to help Donald Trump and a national polling firm stirred the pot in Texas in what was probably the best marketing move of the week. A vivid piece in the New Yorker illustrated what Texas' rock-bottom Medicaid spending actually looks like to a real person, while some Republican legislators tied to prevent an execution by the state of Texas.

1. Buyer's remorse on pre-k?  Pre-kindergarten funding made headlines as a Greg Abbott campaign promise in 2014, then as one of his marquee legislative priorities in 2015.  The program has returned to the headlines in the summer of 2016 in coverage noting that funding wasn’t sufficient to cover program requirements while skeptical legislators question pre-k’s efficacy and, consequently, whether it’s a good investment.  This week, the Senate Education Committee convened to discuss such matters, with Senate Republicans divided over the matter. Kiah Collier’s coverage in The Texas Tribune finds Senators Paul Bettencourt and Van Taylor expressing their skepticism, while Donna Campbell, who Collier writes “sponsored Abbott’s pre-K grant program in the Senate last session,” argued that “it was too soon to tell” (Collier’s paraphrase), with “apparent” support from Senators Taylor and Kolkhorst. Of particular interest to skeptics was a study from Vanderbilt U that found cast doubt on the effectiveness of pre-k in Tennessee.  The study was at odds with other research, and Pre-k proponents have argued that the main takeaway should be that the quality of the programs matters.  The Dallas Morning News’ Eva-Marie Ayala pays a little more attention to the broader context of the research from the Volunteer State, including looks at pre-k in some Texas cases.  Quality likely means more money for public education, and you know how that goes over in the Texas legislature, especially the Upper Chamber. Public attitudes in Texas toward pre-k have generally been favorable, though more favorable among Democrats than Republicans, and more favorable among non-Tea Party identifying Republicans than among Tea Party identifiers.

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Strongly support34%
Somewhat support28%
Somewhat oppose16%
Strongly oppose14%
Don't know8%

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Strongly support55%32%19%
Somewhat support26%29%30%
Somewhat oppose7%16%23%
Strongly oppose6%7%21%
Don't know6%15%8%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Strongly support59%26%17%
Somewhat support26%31%25%
Somewhat oppose8%19%24%
Strongly oppose5%17%29%
Don't know3%7%5%


2.  Yet another Rick Perry media boomlet.   After a very Tilovesque experiment in current-historical-fiction-as-lede, Jonathan Tilove described Rick Perry as “back in the mix, even if his passions sometimes seems sort of mixed up” in the Austin American Statesman's First Reading. Tilove's observation came after a pretty poorly reviewed surrogate performance on CNN in which he resurrected the clash between Donald Trump and Gold Star parents  Khizr and Ghazala Khan -- a clash one presumes Donald Trump (or at least those doing their best to manage his campaign) would just as soon not come up again. Perry also got media exposure largely engineered by the entrepreneurs at Public Policy Polling, who polled on a trial ballot for election to the U.S. Senate that tested 2016 preferences in a hypothetical GOP primary match-up with Ted Cruz.  Perry beat Cruz 46/37 in that match-up.  Perry had expressed no interest in said seat publicly prior to the poll.  More on this below.  Most recent polling on Perry found him in good if not adoring stead with Texans; he trailed Cruz by a substantial amount in pre-2016 primary polling.  By February 2015, when Perry had been out of office for about a month, more than a third of Texans didn't express an opinion about him in a favorability rating item in the UT/Texas Tribune Poll.  Tough business, politics.

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Very favorable10%
Somewhat favorable21%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable20%
Somewhat unfavorable14%
Very unfavorable16%
Don't know/no opinion18%

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Very favorable2%3%18%
Somewhat favorable8%10%36%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable20%32%18%
Somewhat unfavorable18%14%12%
Very unfavorable31%12%5%
Don't know/no opinion21%29%11%

3. This week in the Cruz in Crisis meme.  Those trial ballots for the 2018 Senate race fed news media mulling of a potential primary challenge to Cruz in 2018, especially following Cruz haters’ trial balloons urging Michael McCaul to challenge him in the 2018 GOP primary.  This all seems a bit premature, and certainly at least somewhat baked into Team Cruz’s handicapping of his rejection of Trump’s candidacy: he and his team had to know he would pay a price in the short run as Republicans rallied around the party flag no matter who was waving it (even if it took both hands to do so). Ross Ramsey jumped in with a story with a headline that telegraph's Ramsey's read:  "Analysis: That Silly Perry Vs. Cruz Idea? Don’t Be So Quick to Dismiss It.” His strongest point, echoed by others around town, is (paraphrasing) that Cruz does face some challenges in a Senate reelection campaign that will be universally seen as simply the precursor to another presidential run.  While this is hardly unprecedented -- see Bush, George W., (1998) -- the dissonance of asking voters to elect him to an office as a stepping stone while Cruz continues to castigate the corrupt system of career cronyism in Washington could come off as counterfeit. As widely and previously noted, Cruz’s numbers among the Republicans that carried him across the line over David Dewhurst in 2012 have suffered from the slings and arrows of an outrageous presidential primary fight.  This is evident in the decline in Cruz’s favorability ratings among Republicans from 71% in the November 2015 UT/Texas Tribune Poll to 55% in the June 2016  UT/Texas Politics Project Poll.  Best bet here: Cruz spends the rest of 2016 in the 50’s, maybe even lower on the eve of the presidential election, then starts heading back into the 60’s among Republicans in 2017.  If this is the case, when Cruz’s detractors go shopping for someone to primary him, neither McCaul nor Perry will be up for it.

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FavorableUnfavorableNeither/Don't Know
May 201238%15%45%
October 201267%6%26%
February 201367%7%26%
June 201370%7%24%
October 201367%12%21%
February 201473%12%15%
June 201480%9%12%
October 201476%9%15%
February 201571%11%19%
June 201567%14%20%
November 201571%15%15%
February 201664%25%12%
June 201655%27%18%
October 201660%24%16%
June 201768%15%18%
October 201766%19%15%
February 201870%14%16%
June 201876%10%14%
October 201886%7%6%

4. August surprise. State Representative Jeff Leach (R-Plano) made headlines in The Texas Tribune with his efforts to prevent the execution of Jeff Wood, who is set to be executed by the state of Texas by lethal injection on August 24.  Wood was an accessory to a 1996 robbery-murder, for which his partner in crime, Daniel Reneau, was executed in 2002. The details of the case can be found in Jolie McCullogh’s Tribune piece as well as a TribTalk column by  State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview).  The essence of the argument seems to be, as Simpson writes, “There is no doubt that the acts carried out by the two men are deserving of harsh penalties. But does one who did not pull the trigger deserve the same penalty as the one who did?” Leach and Simpson are enlisting other legislators to sign on to letters to Governor Greg Abbott and to the parole board asking to “change Wood’s sentence from death to life in prison.” It’s an unexpected story in a state in which questioning the death penalty in Texas has mainly been the province of activists, journalism, and only selected Democrats.  Public opinion is consistently lopsided, made so by the addition of substantial support from Democrats to overwhelming Republican support. This case may be an outlier, but it also arises in the context of several years of reassessment of criminal justice issues across the political spectrum.


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Strongly support32%50%63%
Somewhat support29%21%25%
Somewhat oppose17%5%5%
Strongly oppose15%10%3%
Don't know7%14%3%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Strongly support26%58%73%
Somewhat support30%29%18%
Somewhat oppose17%5%5%
Strongly oppose19%3%3%
Don't know7%5%1%

5.  I guess we’re supposed to look at the big picture.  The chances of Texas expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act in the 85th Legislature are slightly lower than the probability of Donald Trump dropping out of the presidential race to become a hand model.  This week, The New Yorker published Houston doctor Ricardo Nuila’s first-person account of the fate of Geronimo Oregón, a patient whose death in Houston in May followed years of seeking treatment in the network of indigent health care “services” in Texas.  To call his story “Kafkaesque” would be to romanticize a piece that lays bare the experience of people caught up in the social health care apparatus of “the Texas model.” Here’s an illustrative excerpt for the story, at a point early in the account of Oregón’s sickness and his attempt to pay for care he needed to live:

"After he was discharged from the hospital, Oregón went to the disability office, filed the appropriate paperwork, and, in September of 2014, acquired his Medicaid card. Two months later, however, he received notice that his health-care benefits had been terminated. S.S.D.I. payments are calculated according to a person’s average lifetime earnings before he became disabled. When Oregón’s started coming in, they amounted to nine hundred and twelve dollars per month, which put him over the Texas income threshold. The fact that he had paid into Social Security, in other words, made him ineligible for social health care."

And basically, it gets worse after that.  Jay Root was right on Twitter:  heartbreaking, and a must read.

Here are some token data on attitudes toward Medicare expansion going into the 2015 legislative session, when Medicare expansion was the top priority among Democrats (followed by K-12 funding).  It was tied for second-to-lowest priority among Republicans.  But really, just read Nuila's piece.

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Increase K-12 funding15%
School voucher program5%
Limit government - no new spending/taxes18%
Lower property taxes13%
Lower business taxes3%
Funding for transportation5%
Continue border security funding18%
Expand state-funded, pre-k1%
Expand Medicaid funding under ACA15%

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Increase K-12 funding22%10%9%
School voucher program3%4%7%
Limit government - no new spending/taxes8%24%25%
Lower property taxes13%6%14%
Lower business taxes1%3%5%
Funding for transportation6%7%4%
Continue border security funding9%17%27%
Expand state-funded, pre-k2%2%1%
Expand Medicaid funding under ACA29%12%4%

Other notes.

New instructions from the Texas Secretary of State for the new voter id regime (pdf): (H/t Michael Li)

Bill Hammond is retiring from TAB and moving on to a New Thing.  Thanks, Bill, for appearing in the Texas Politics Speaker Series in 2012.  It was for the kids.

The Texas Tribune announced the line-up for next month's TribFest, if you’re into that kind of thing -- which if you’ve made it this far, you really must be. I hear there may be more adds, too.

And while we're on the subject of impresarios, Donald Trump is holding a rally in Austin next week -- and going to Mississippi the next day.