Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics - January 15, 2016

The saga of sanctuary city politics continued in Texas this week, with the issue being used to attack candidates in at least three Republican primary races in the Texas House: the HD-8 contest between incumbent Byron Cook and challenger Thomas McNutt, and in the races in the districts of both Speaker Joe Straus and Rep. Charlie Geren. Friday afternoon, a story in the Texas Tribune suggested that Texas cities account for only a tiny share of undocumented arrestees not held in custody for deportation nationally. You’d never know it by these campaigns – or by looking at either the Texas Legislature or public attitudes on sanctuary cities, for that matter. Nationally, the president gave a State of the Union Address that was part victory lap and part attempt to shape the tone of the 2016 campaign season, with some taunting thrown in for sport (mainly his). And there was another GOP presidential debate, in which Ted Cruz and Donald Trump went at like they were scrapping for the One Ring. We’ll leave it to you to figure out who the other candidates were in that reference.

As always, the graphics below can be fiddled with by toggling the legends to hide and reveal bars in the graphs.

1. What sure looked like a large opposition research dump raised the issues of immigration and marijuana in one of the most closely watched primary contests in the Texas House.  The big punch came with the release of information claiming that Thomas McNutt, who is challenging six-term incumbent State Representative Byron Cook in House District 8, routinely employed undocumented workers at his business, the Collin Street Bakery, which is apparently well-known for its fruitcakes (full stop). The Dallas Morning News interviewed two former undocumented workers, and noted that the bakery did not participate in the E-Verify program. Representative Cook has been loudly criticized by dissident conservative interest groups backing McNutt for not moving sanctuary city legislation through the State Affairs committee, which he chairs. The notion of creating sanctuary cities has become one of the state policy vehicles for Republican candidates to demonstrate their anti-illegal immigration bona fides, and polls suggest that Republican voters might be open to such a litmus test. Another story on McNutt carried mainly in Quorum Report later in the week highlighted his holdings in an investment fund that included a five percent ownership stake in a self-described online head shop among other hi-tech investments. The pot connection seems pretty shaky, but the immigration attack certainly plugs directly into an issue that inflames Texas GOP primary voters.

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Border security5%10%30%
Political corruption/leadership15%11%1%
The economy7%4%4%
Health care6%4%4%

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Approve of sanctuary cities44%12%7%
Disapprove of sanctuary cities32%69%85%
Don't know / No opinion24%19%8%

2. Voters in House Districts represented by Speaker Joe Straus and “perhaps the speaker’s closest ally”, Charlie Geren, received a campaign mailer this week alleging their softness on immigration, and in particular, the failure of the Legislature to pass a “sanctuary cities” bill in the last session. On the one hand, this is hardly surprising. Dissident elites on the right have been targeting the two for a number of sessions, and GOP voters are very clear about the importance they attach to immigration as a state issue and their disdain for so-called “sanctuary cities.” What is at least somewhat surprising is that the same mailer praises the Lieutenant Governor for the major increase in border spending that came out of the last session – legislation that also, of course, passed in the House. It’s likely that those pushing these mailers in an attempt to unseat the current Speaker are knowledgeable that the Tea Party wing of the Texas GOP is highly favorable of Dan Patrick, almost 100 percent against sanctuary cities, but, much to the chagrin of those seeking to oust the Speaker, relatively positive in their assessments of him. We’ll see if there’s any more success this time around in tarnishing the Straus, who only needs to be elected in his own district, and then only amongst the House as a whole, two things that he has seemed to accomplish rather easily if past history is any guide. 

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Border security4%23%40%
Political corruption/leadership17%0%1%
The economy7%4%2%
Health care7%5%2%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve of sanctuary cities46%13%2%
Disapprove of sanctuary cities30%77%98%
Don't know / No opinion24%9%0%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Approve strongly2%8%6%
Approve Somewhat10%25%29%
Neither approve nor disapprove28%36%30%
Disapprove somewhat13%3%6%
Disapprove strongly24%4%12%
Don't know23%24%17%

3. Meanwhile, over in the policy realm on immigration, a Texas Tribune piece by Morgan Smith and Jay Root found that while jails across the country have declined to detain “deportable immigrants” held in custody in order to hand them over to federal authorities, of the 18,000 cases cited in the article, “only 146 were recorded in Texas, 12th among all states and representing less than 1 percent of the total, and several county jail officials maintain even that number may be too high.”  This does seem to suggest yet again that for all the concern over Texas cities providing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, the repeated cries for anti-sanctuary city legislation seems to be a solution in search of a problem. As the immediately preceding graphics and news illustrate, however, sanctuary is on the agenda for the Republican primary in Texas.

4. President Obama gave his final State of the Union Address on Tuesday Evening, outlining broad observations about the nature and future course of the United States in a time defined by the sense of ever-increasing uncertainty about the world and our place in it. Whether or not you agreed with the president’s prognosis, or prescription, is far more likely to be a function of your party and/or ideology than of the words actually spoken – if, that is, any Republicans were among the roughly 30 million viewers who tuned in. 

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Approve strongly41%18%5%
Approve somewhat44%25%5%
Neither approve nor disapprove6%18%4%
Disapprove somewhat6%11%7%
Disapprove strongly3%25%79%
Don't know0%2%0%

5. On Thursday evening, the candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination held their second to last debate before the Iowa Caucuses. Close observers, waiting for the end of the entente between front-runners Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, got what they were waiting for with much of the debate focused on each of these two hashing out their increasingly public points of contention with the other. It’s been noted that the cordial relationship between the two men was a result of Cruz not wanting to alienate Trump’s supporters based on the knowledge that Cruz himself would likely be the biggest beneficiary of a Trump exit – something that has come to look highly unlikely. Here in Texas, Trump and Cruz were tied atop the November 2015 UT/TT Poll, with 27 percent each. Cruz was the second choice of 38 percent of Trump voters and Trump the second choice of 34 percent of Cruz voters. The question now, with both candidates expressing open hostility to one another, is how permeable the lines remain between supporting one of these two candidates, and whether their now public feuding will hurt the prospects of one or the other with these voters asymmetrically. Further, will this feuding and potential alienation amongst supporters create the space for an alternative, like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, that the establishment is so desperately seeking out if it wants its chosen candidate to be competitive (in the graphic below, the “establishment” candidates’ total support amounts to 11 percent).

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Donald Trump27%
Ted Cruz27%
Ben Carson13%
Marco Rubio9%
Jeb Bush4%
Carly Fiorina4%
Rand Paul4%
Mike Huckabee2%
John Kasich1%
Chris Christie1%
Rick Santorum1%
Bobby Jindal0%
Lindsey Graham0%
George Pataki0%
Jim Gilmore0%
Don't know5%

6. In an outburst of grassroots local control, unknown parties in Austin replaced a downtown sign for Bowie Street with a sign re-christening the small downtown artery David Bowie Street. To date, no one has taken credit, but the very professional looking sign jacking took place on a stretch of street near both South by Southwest HQ & the GSDM idea factory. The sign was initially a hit on social media, but it’s hard to keep things weird these days without cultural politics kicking in. The sign quickly became Battle of the Alamo II (or III, if you count Ozzy Osbourne) as Texas patriots found replacing Colonel Bowie with Major Tom a slight to Texas history. The City of Austin announced they would leave the bootleg sign up until after the weekend in honor of Ziggy Stardust, but that the surname-only sign would thereafter be re-hung – so a little something for both heroes.


David Bowie Street