99 Trial Balloons: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, June 3, 2016

​The state’s political leadership moved this week to publicly acknowledge what reporters at some of the major dailies have been saying for weeks now: the use of emergency leave as severance pay by another name (mostly) is a thing, and not a good one. Depending on your perspective, Speaker Straus either sent up a trial balloon or invested a little political capital in an agenda setting move as the 85th Legislature looms a little closer on the horizon. Speaking of trial balloons, Hillary Clinton launched a big blue one in a reference to competing in Texas in a very good long read profile in New York Magazine, triggering a renewed discussion of her prospects in the land of Hill & Bill’s McGovernite youth as well renewed attention the headaches and heartburn Donald Trump’s approach to Hispanic outreach is causing in the GOP. Conservative opinion leader Bill Kristol’s search for a conservative alternative to Trump in the presidential has apparently led him to one David French. Sadly, there was another shooting on a college campus, which resonated, if probably only briefly, with the ongoing movement in Texas toward the August 1 implementation of campus carry policies on Texas campuses.

1. Well, it was an emergency for me. Governor Greg Abbott and Comptroller Glenn Hegar ordered executive branch employees to stop using “emergency leave” as a vehicle to pay severance to former state employees. Speaker Joe Straus jumped in soon after with his own announcement on the subject. Lt. Governor Patrick signalled he was on board, too, albeit with a lower profile; as Brian Rosenthal put it in his piece on the Abbott/Hegar announcement, “Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the Senate, said he agrees with Abbott's directive and looks forward to addressing the issue.” Bottom line: expect the 85th Legislature to act on this in 2017. H/t to the Dallas Morning News and the Houston Chronicle (scroll down in the Rosenthal story above)  for getting up a number of state agencies’ you know what on this. However, despite all of the recent attention being paid to this issue, don’t expect it to register much with the public. In the February 2015, University of Texas / Texas Tribune Poll, we asked Texas voters about a range of stories and scandals, notable for their importance to insiders, and found little attention being paid to most of them (and that attention was almost surely overstated). We’ll see if the GOP leadership moving en masse to treat this as a Troubling Policy Issue Requiring Serious Attention serves to maintain this pattern of public attention. If there’s a political hazard, it’s that rivalry between the legislature and the executive branch trumps political party interests if the lege makes a serious attempt to drag the swamp. 

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A lot8%
Not very much32%
Nothing at all42%

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A lot7%
Not very much29%
Nothing at all46%

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A lot8%
Not very much29%
Nothing at all43%

2.   Yes, kids, you have to go to summer school.  Speaker Straus is steering the House toward school finance, despite not being forced to by the courts. After the Texas Supreme Court’s far from ringing endorsement of the state’s school finance system, the conventional wisdom in downtown Austin was that the decision finding the school finance system, to paraphrase loosely, really crappy but not unconstitutional, would empower the legislature to avoid tackling the problem in what is shaping up to be a fiscally difficult session. This might be the case, but Speaker Straus’ decision to direct interim charges to the House Appropriations and Public Education Committees to examine funding (see the orders below) would seem to be at least an attempt to follow-up on not-returning public education chair Jimmy Don Aycock’s mostly symbolic attempt to get the House to look seriously into real changes to the state’s education system in the final weeks of the 84th Session. (That is, Aycock’s proposal was serious, but as he pulled it from consideration, it was clear that his intent was more on sending a message to his colleagues than in actually passing the bill.) Forcing more work at grinding away on the most intractable of major issues in the history of the state seems out of sync with a political mood focused more bathrooms and constitutional conventions, and Straus’ plentiful and relentless critics are no doubt whispering about posturing here. The conventional wisdom here is right enough: that real progress without the judicial Sword of Damocles hanging over the legislature is very unlikely, and that interim charges do not a public education overhaul make. But there’s little doubt that absent external legal pressure, effecting major changes is going to take both more consensus among the schools themselves (as Aycock advised last May) and sustained work by the legislature, as the Speaker is saying.  Not surprisingly, on the other side of the Capitol, the Lt. Governor’s response to the Supreme Court decision spoke of a different emphasis, per the second sentence of his two sentence response: “I will continue to look for ways to improve our state’s school system performance and quality, while developing options to expand school choice for students across the state.” Friday, though, the Lt. Governor let it be known that he "look[s] forward to working with him [Straus] on this issue."  Awww, who says the House and Senate can't get along?  UPDATE: Here's a link to a Tweet from Aman Batheja with a screenshot of the entire statement from the Lt. Governor. If it comes from Aman, we'll vouch for it's authenticity.  (And congratulations to Aman & Amy on their new baby.)



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Very favorable15%8%5%
Somewhat favorable32%30%27%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable20%24%19%
Somewhat unfavorable23%14%29%
Very unfavorable9%22%19%
Don't know/no opinion2%2%1%

3. Counter-measures launched, M'am. Texas saw another boomlet in the “Hillary Clinton can win” meme after Secretary Clinton told an interviewer “If black and Latino voters come out and vote, we could win Texas."  Erica Grieder considers it a possibility at Texas Monthly (and, of course, on Twitter) even if the evidence strongly suggests otherwise (” the empirical evidence obviously has to include an asterisk this time around, because if past elections were perfectly predictive of voter behavior in 2016, Trump wouldn’t be the Republican nominee.”  – an invocation of the reasonable if not entirely persuasive “Post-Trump, everything is different” argument.  On the other side, Ross Ramsey asked “how?” after going through a century of election results. Hats off to Grieder for her open mind and to Ramsey for his due diligence. We’ve been like broken records on how unlikely a Clinton victory seems, even though professional Democrats with court vision are right to think that a cycle of Trump-fueled nativism guiding the GOP ticket could aid the beleaguered Democratic Party in the long-term

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Very favorable32%7%1%
Somewhat favorable35%11%3%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable15%18%4%
Somewhat unfavorable9%11%4%
Very unfavorable7%49%87%
Don't know/no opinion2%4%1%

4. Maybe Clinton can’t win...but could Trump lose? Ruth Guerra, the head of Hispanic Media Relations for the Republican National Committee – and also a Texas native and 2010 graduate of TCU – resigned this week after reportedly telling colleagues that she was uncomfortable working on Trump’s behalf. Guerra’s departure is another in a series of incidents that have led Republican elites to worry out loud about what impact a Trump candidacy will have on their party’s future. In the last UT/TT Poll, 69 percent of Hispanics held an unfavorable view of Trump, while 72 percent said that he would make a “poor” or “terrible” president. Again, however giddy this may make Texas Democrats, the roughly one million vote-plus gap that Clinton would need to overcome just to be competitive with any Republican in Texas is likely too high a hill to climb, even with the potential assistance of the Republican nominee in driving Hispanics to the polls.

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Very favorable16%6%9%
Somewhat favorable19%11%10%
Neither favorable nor unfavorable10%9%9%
Somewhat unfavorable18%8%12%
Very unfavorable35%62%57%
Don't know/no opinion2%5%3%

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Great president14%3%9%
Good president17%7%9%
Average president15%12%8%
Poor president12%10%10%
Terrible president35%65%62%
Don't know6%3%2%

5. Jeez, Bill, couldn't you have least found a guy named David Freedom? Bill Kristol floated David French as an independent, conservative alternative to Donald Trump (and, of course, Hillary Clinton) – to which most of the political class and 99 percent of voters responded: who? (Before proceeding to mixtures of scorn and skepticism.)  Regardless of whether or not you’ve heard of French, an independent run, as many others have rightly noted, would be an extreme long shot: 

“David French has, charitably, 0.1% name ID. He will have to raise at least $250 million, dedicating almost all of that to ballot access fights and potential legal challenges to extend deadlines under the John Anderson precedent from 1980, which is unlikely. Then he’d have to raise a billion dollars more.”

Here in Texas, if French were able to get on the ballot, which would require extensive legal maneuvering, he could look forward to a plausible upper boundary of the 115,884 votes received by the 9 candidates not named Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in the 2012 Election (about 1.45 percent of the total votes cast).  Normally, speculation about vice-presidential picks aren't that interesting to us, but we have to admit a morbid interest in who Kristol think should be a heartbeat away from stepping in for President French.

6. A professor was shot to death in his office by a student in a murder-suicide at UCLA this week.  Meanwhile in Texas, the University of Texas Board of Regents are still considering campus-level implementations of the campus carry law passed by the Texas Legislature last year and set to go into effect on campuses across the state on August 1st.  This nicely done data presentation from the Dallas Morning News shows how each Texas university is planning to implement the policy on their own turf. Campus carry attitudes among Texas voters were defined by ambivalence going into the last legislative session, with the usual pattern of partisan differences one would expect on gun attitudes. Most of the support for campus carry came from Tea Party Republicans, something that we wrote about at the time.  Classrooms and faculty offices are the only places where all of the universities on the DMN list universally want to ban permit holders from carrying their weapons.

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Strongly support22%
Somewhat support25%
Somewhat oppose13%
Strongly oppose32%
Don't know8%

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Strongly support8%13%35%
Somewhat support15%20%34%
Somewhat oppose13%22%12%
Strongly oppose57%29%13%
Don't know7%16%7%

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categoryDemocratRepublicanTea Party
Strongly support8%22%55%
Somewhat support14%35%31%
Somewhat oppose13%14%8%
Strongly oppose58%19%5%
Don't know7%9%2%