Tuesday, January 21, 2014


I am taking a sabbatical of indeterminate length from blogging.  It has been fun, but it is time for a break.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 18, 2013

First Look at March 4, 2014, Statewide Primaries

Blogging political predictions corresponds to performing the flying trapeze without a safety net.  Getting it right is exciting and satisfying.  Nevertheless, many in the audience attend and remain in rapt attention waiting for you to lose your grasp and fall, which you inevitably will at some point.

I got it right in the City of Houston mayor’s race from start to finish, correctly predicting that Mayor Parker would win without a runoff.  I was correct when I stated that Sen. Davis would run for Governor.  I fist pump these successes, because it is time to screw up my courage and climb back out on the trapeze.  

A week is a lifetime in politics, and we have thirteen weeks before early voting begins.  Much will change.  However, the following analysis is where I see the races today based on taking a snapshot of each race and projecting forward the trend lines.  The field will be set when filing for statewide offices closes at 6 p.m. on December 9.

Attorney General Greg Abbott will be the Republican nominee and Sen. Wendy Davis will be the Democratic nominee.  Abbott starts out as an 8 to 10 point favorite for the general election.

Lieutenant Governor
The Republican field appears headed to a May 27 runoff with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the lead.  The race for second place currently has Sen. Dan Patrick in front, with Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples following.  Patrick will take fire from multiple directions as Dewhurst pushes to avoid a runoff, and Staples and Patterson seek to slip past Patrick into the runoff.  At this point, I see a runoff between Dewhurst and Patrick.

Sen. Leticia Van de Puttee will be the Democratic nominee.

Attorney General
The Republican field consists of Rep. Dan Branch, Sen. Ken Paxton and Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman.  There will be a runoff, and any two of the three can make it.  Smitherman currently has a lead in the polls, with Paxton in second.  Branch will have the most money, and the question is whether it will enable him to make the runoff.  At this point I see a runoff between Smitherman and Paxton, but Branch is very much in the game.  (Disclosure:  I serve as Smitherman’s campaign treasurer).

Sam Houston appears be the Democratic nominee, although Sen. Carlos Uresti is still considering the race.  However, at the end of the day, I don’t believe Sen. Uresti will run.

I foresee a Republican primary runoff between Sen. Glenn Hegar and Debra Medina.  Medina has good residual name identification from her run for Governor in 2010, and Hegar continues to assemble a strong coalition of establishment conservatives and tea party conservatives.  Rep. Harvey Hilderbran will need to put up strong fundraising numbers on his January 15 report to remain competitive in this race.  (Disclosure:  I am assisting Hegar with his fundraising.)

Mike Collier will be the Democratic nominee.  He is a strong, qualified candidate, but appears to be running at least one cycle too early.

Land Commissioner
George P. Bush will be the Republican nominee and John Cook, former Mayor of El Paso, will be the Democratic nominee.

Agriculture Commissioner
The major Republican candidates are Uvalde Mayor J. Allen Carnes, former Rep. Tommy Merritt, former Rep. Sid Miller and SREC member Eric Opiela.  Nolan Ryan has ruled out a run.  The big question will be how much of his considerable fortune will Merritt spend on the race?  If he spends a couple of million dollars he could be a factor.  Otherwise, I anticipate a runoff between Miller and Opiela.

Kinky Friedman is the likely Democratic nominee, although efforts are underway to find a Democrat who can beat him in the primary.

Railroad Commissioner
Former Rep. Wayne Christian will probably lead a crowded Republican field into a runoff, with his likely opponent being either Malachi Boyles or Ryan Sitton.

Steve Brown, former Fort Bend County Democratic Chairman, will be the Democratic nominee.

Updated 11/18 to disclose that I am assisting Hegar with his fundraising.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Nolan Ryan Considering Run for Texas Agriculture Commissioner

Baseball legend Nolan Ryan is considering seeking the Republican nomination for Texas Agriculture Commissioner.  Ryan retires effective today as CEO of the Texas Rangers and has sold his ownership interest in the club.

He currently serves as Statewide Chairman of current Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples’ campaign for Lieutenant Governor.

Ryan first looked at running for Agriculture Commissioner in 1989 against Jim Hightower in the 1990 election.  Ultimately, then Rep. Rick Perry switched from Democrat to Republican and filed against Hightower, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ryan would be joining a crowded Republican field currently consisting of former Rep. Sid Miller; SREC Member Eric Opiela; Uvalde Mayor J. Allen Carnes; and former Rep. Tommy Merritt.  Rep. Cecil Bell is also considering the race.  Author and musician Kinky Friedman has announced for the Democratic nomination.

10/31 - Updated to reflect that Tommy Merritt is also running for Ag Commissioner.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Election Potpourri

Early voting is heavy in Harris County, more than doubling what it was through the first seven days in 2011.  With 52,170 votes already cast, you can see that, as expected, Harris County will disproportionately affect the outcome of the statewide constitutional amendment propositions.  In 2011, 695,052 Texans voted in the constitutional amendment election, with 152,597 votes being cast in Harris County or 22%.  In 2013, it appears the Harris County may approach 30% of the statewide total.

An analysis of the City of Houston vote by Kyle Johnston of Johnston Campaign estimates that through the first five days, the ethnic breakdown of those casting Houston ballots is African American 32%, Hispanic 12%, Asian 1%, and Other (Anglo) 55%.  Mr. Johnston also finds that of the City of Houston voters, 61% have a Democratic primary history, 34% have a Republican primary history, and 5% have no primary history.  This partisan breakdown provides further evidence that the time has passed when a candidate running as a Republican can be elected Mayor of Houston.

In the current mayoral election, Mayor Parker’s polling is showing her pulling away from Dr. Hall.  According to her internal polls, the undecideds are breaking her way and Dr. Hall’s pro forma television buy is not sufficient to keep him in the game.  Either the Mayor’s polls are wrong or she is going to win without a runoff.

I also recently reviewed a couple of Republican primary polls for Texas races.  The polls continue to show that the number one issue for Texas Republican primary voters is illegal immigration.  That is why you are seeing Republican candidates strenuously oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, because the Republican primary base demands that they crack down on illegal immigration.  However, the hard facts of demography tell us that Hispanic voters will ultimately become the majority in Texas.  The Republicans truly are between a primary rock and a demographic hard place.

Lastly, it has been a good couple of weeks for Sen. Glenn Hegar in his race for State Comptroller.  He has recently been endorsed by both Comptroller Susan Combs (an establishment conservative) and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility (a movement conservative).  With Debra Medina’s renewed focus on the race, Rep. Harvey Hilderbran appears to be in a difficult position.  On the positive side, Rep. Hilderbran was recently endorsed by Brint Ryan, the Founder of Ryan LLC, which has a huge tax practice before the Comptroller’s office.  Mr. Ryan apparently has a different analysis of the likely outcome of the race than current conventional wisdom.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Two Minute Warning

Early voting starts Monday in the Houston mayor’s race.  When I last updated the race, it was halftime and Mayor Annise Parker was leading Dr. Ben Hall 20 - 3.  We have now reached the two minute warning.

Mayor Parker has the lead, the ball and the wind at her back.  The outcome of the contest is clear and Parker will win.  The only question is whether she will cover the point spread and win without a runoff.

The point spread to win without a runoff is a large one (19 points in my opinion) because there are nine candidates in the race.  I have the Mayor ahead 27 to 10 and needing one more score.  Dr. Hall appears to have thrown in the towel and has pulled his starters (and his television ads).  Mayor Parker, on the other hand, has left her starters in and continues to throw downfield with hard hitting television ads.  Parker is clearly going to leave it all on the field in the final two minutes and is trying end the contest November 5 without a runoff.

At this point, I believe the Mayor has a better than 50% chance of winning without a runoff.  Polling I have seen shows Parker projected to win between 50% and 52% of the vote; Hall at 30% to 35%; and the other 7 candidates at 10% to 15%.  Of course, the only poll that counts are the results on election day and a lot can happen in 20 days.

Nevertheless, political fans are already looking ahead to the 2015 mayoral season.  The initial rankings show three tier one candidates projected to run for mayor in 2015:  Council Member Stephen Costello; Sheriff Adrian Garcia; and Representative Sylvester Turner.  Other possible candidates receiving consideration in the 2015 rankings are:  Chris Bell; Brad Bradford; Gilbert Garcia; Ed Gonzalez; Ronald Green; Ben Hall; Sue Lovell; Vidal Martinez; James Rodriguez; and Orlando Sanchez.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Preview of November 2014 Legislative Races

Optimal Republican Voting Strength (ORVS) is a method of comparing legislative districts on an apples-to-apples basis for purposes of assessing the generic Republican voting strength of the district.  Although there is a strong correlation between ORVS and actual results, it is less of a predictor and more of a metric for ranking the Republican strength of the districts.  Mike Baselice of Baselice & Associates has computed the 2014 ORVS using the following formula:  [(2010 Perry %) + (2 x 2010 Abbott %) + (2012 Hecht %) + (2012 Romney % + 2012 Cruz %)] / 6 = ORVS.  

Democrats use the Democratic Performance Index (DPI).  I have not seen the 2014 DPI numbers, although they have been described to me.

There appear to be 15 competitive House districts in Texas for the general election, and 1 competitive Senate district.  They are:

2014 ORVS
Aycock - R
Isaac - R
Button - R 
Davis - R
Villalba - R
Open (Carter - R)
Harper-Brown - R
Burkett - R
Lozano - R
Sheets - R
Open (Eiland - D)
Cortez - D
Perez - D
Moody - D
Herrero - D

2014 ORVS
Open (Davis - D)

The Republican targets of opportunity are the open seats HD 23 (Eiland) in Galveston and SD 10 (Davis) in Fort Worth.

The Democrats will be focusing their fire on the open seat in HD 102 (Carter), and Reps. Harper-Brown, Burkett, Lozano and Sheets.

Michael Quinn Sullivan (MQS) and Empower Texas are also ably aiding the Democrats in their pick up efforts by mailing “F” report cards into the districts of Aycock, Button, Davis, Villalba, Harper-Brown (received a D-), Burkett and Sheets, softening them up for the general election.

At this point, I would say the betting line for the 2015 House opens  at between +1 R per the Republicans, and +4 D per the Democrats.  In my opinion, the Republicans are favored to pick up the Davis senate seat.  This would result in 54 to 59 House Democrats next session, and 11 Democratic senators.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Thirty Pieces of Silver

UPDATED 10/7/13:  See response of Jeff Rotkoff at end.

An ancient Arabian proverb says the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  The concept is that two parties, opposed in most respects, unite against a common opponent.  In Texas, it has aligned Steve Mostyn, a passionate liberal and prolific contributor to Democrats, with Debra Medina, a libertarian Republican now contemplating a run for governor as an independent in 2014.

Mostyn began supporting Medina because she opposed Gov. Rick Perry in the 2010 Republican primary.  Mostyn also created the Back to Basics PAC and contributed almost $4 million in 2010 to attack Gov. Perry.

Medina’s political organization is We Texans, a 501(c)(4) corporation focusing on private property, state sovereignty, gun ownership and illegal immigration.  The identities of donors to 501(c)(4) organizations do not have to be disclosed. These organizations can engage in unlimited lobbying activities, and some campaign activity, so long as it is not their primary activity.

In 2010, Medina received 18.5% of the vote and finished last in the Republican primary for Governor to Gov. Perry’s 51% and Sen. Hutchison’s 30%.  Medina has a definite following, but she appears a long way from being able to win a statewide Republican primary.

Medina is currently seeking the Republican nomination for Comptroller.   Medina’s race is not going well, as Sen. Glenn Hegar appears to be uniting the movement conservative and establishment conservative wings of the Republican party behind his candidacy.  For example, he was recently endorsed by Tarrant County Reps. Capriglione, Goldman, Klick, Krause and Zedler; and Ned Holmes is hosting a major Houston fundraiser for Hegar this month.

However, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Medina “has received millions of dollars in pledges on the condition that she instead run for governor as an independent.”  It doesn’t take a Rice graduate to figure out the source of those pledges.  Steve Mostyn and his wife, Amber, are fervent backers of Sen. Wendy Davis and her gubernatorial campaign.  It is a time-honored political tactic to entice other candidates into a race to siphon votes from the frontrunner, in this case Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Ms. Medina would do well to remember the remorse of Judas after accepting the thirty pieces of silver.  Instead of betraying her political principles, she should wait and run for an office she can win:  The special election for SD 18 assuming that Hegar is elected Comptroller.

Response 10/7/13:

Mr. Miller - 

My name is Jeff Rotkoff and I am a political consultant who works full time with Steve and Amber Mostyn. 

I want to state unambiguously to you that your post claiming the Mostyns have committed financial or political support to Debra Medina -- should she choose to run for Governor in 2014 -- is incorrect. 
To be clear, the Mostyns have not spoken with Ms. Medina about any campaign for any office in 2014. Neither they, nor I on their behalf, have suggested that they would provide any kind of financial or political support to Ms. Medina in a 2014 gubernatorial run. Further, I do not believe Ms. Mostyn has ever spoken with Ms. Medina. The last time Mr. Mostyn spoke with her would have been in the form of a passing "hello" while walking through the halls of the Capitol sometime earlier this year. A 5 to 10 second exchange, at best. 
I hope you will correct your post. If you choose not to do so, I hope you will acknowledge that your claims are directly disputed by those with actual, direct knowledge as to the Mostyns political activity.
Jeff Rotkoff

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Clash of Cardinals

Writing a $95 billion two-year state budget takes more time than the 140 days available in the Texas legislature’s regular session.

Preparation of the next budget (FY 2016 - 2017) will actually begin early in 2014 when each state agency develops a strategic plan based on instructions issued by the Governor’s office and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB).  After developing its strategic plan, an agency will then submit a Legislative Appropriation Request (LAR) in the spring of 2014.  LBB will hold hearings with each agency next summer regarding its LAR, and in the fall LBB will prepare a general appropriations bill draft.

The LBB is jointly chaired by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker, and the Chair of  the House Committee on Appropriations, House Committee on Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committee are automatic members of the LBB.  Two other House members are appointed by the Speaker, and three other Senate members are appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.  The current legislative members of the LBB are Reps. Pitts, Hilderbran, Branch and Turner; and Sens. Williams, Duncan, Hinojosa and Zaffirini.

All four LBB Senators drew a four-year term and are eligible to continue to serve on the LBB through next session.  However, three of the four House members will not be returning for the 84th Legislature:  Appropriations Chair Jim Pitts is retiring; Ways and Means Chair Harvey Hilderbran is running for Comptroller; and Rep. Dan Branch is running for Attorney General.

Speaker Straus will appoint new committee chairs in January 2015 after the 84th Legislature convenes.  However, because of the seminal role of the House Appropriations Chair in drafting the state budget, the Speaker really needs to anoint someone by January 2014 as the next Appropriations Chair.  Otherwise, power will begin to shift to the Senate in the budget writing process because Chairman Pitts inevitably will be viewed as a lame duck by his senate colleagues and LBB staff.

There are three contenders for House Appropriations Chair:  Rep. Drew Darby (R - San Angelo); Rep. John Otto (R - Dayton); and Rep. John Zerwas (R - Fulshear).  Each is currently a powerful member of House Appropriations and chairs  a standing subcommittee.  In Washington, D.C. parlance, they would be known as “Cardinals” because of the power they possess over the budget.

Initially, it was thought that matters would fall neatly into place and that Rep. Darby would become Chair of Appropriations; Rep. Otto would become Chair of Ways and Means; and Rep. Zerwas would run for the State Senate in a special election to replace Sen. Glenn Hegar if he is elected Comptroller in November 2014.  Now, however, Rep. Otto has made it clear that he prefers to chair Appropriations, and Rep. Zerwas has expressed his desire to chair Appropriations and not run for the Senate.

An intense behind the scenes campaign is underway among the three Cardinals to receive the nod from the Speaker as the next Appropriations Chair.  The winner will likely not be announced by an official appointment, but rather will simply begin attending budget meetings with the Speaker’s imprimatur.  All appropriation eyes are now on the second floor of the west wing as we wait for the white smoke.