Before I start offering up the promised solutions to the 2016 Harris County Republican Party election disaster, I want to throw in a few more data points from the election. Many of the people I have talked to shrug their shoulders and ask me why I’m bothering to do this, telling me that it is time to admit that the county has changed from red to purple and now blue. Accept it and move on.
Not a chance!
First off, you don’t give up after losing. You figure out why you lost and work to overcome the obstacles. Second, the idea that Harris County is now a “blue” county is simply not true if you look at the data. Which is why I’ve given you a ton of data and will give you more today. Losing the straight ticket vote does not mean that Harris County as a whole is “blue”. Let’s take a look at straight ticket voting from 2006 – 2016.
In general, more Democrats vote straight ticket in Presidential years, more Republicans vote straight ticket in gubernatorial years. Nothing new there except perhaps the sheer number of Democratic votes this year. Concerning? Sure. Game changer? Highly doubtful when you dig a little deeper into the numbers. Here are a few of the factors that contributed to that increase (and an actual decrease in Straight R votes), in order of impact on the election.
- Donald Trump
- Devon Anderson
- The lack of unity by Harris County Republicans
We’ll talk more about each of those factors in the near future, especially the last one, which is really the only one we can actually do something about. Suffice to say for now that if we had been able to address #3 in August or September, I think that we could have had results similar to 2012 and a whole bunch of Republican judges would still be on the bench.
To get a better feel for what is happening in Harris County politics, we need to look at the local county wide judicial races. Very few people go to the polls to vote for specific judicial candidates, so we can use that to see if the county is truly turning blue. We can also look deeper into specific areas, such as County Commissioner Precincts.
First off, let’s take a look at the median % of votes that Republican judicial candidates received between 2006 and 2016:
As you can see, 2016 had the lowest median % for Republican judicial candidates for the past six elections. Notice also that it was a full 2% drop from the 2012 presidential election. That is concerning, no question. But not as concerning as some people are making it out to be because if we remove the straight ticket votes from both parties, we get a very different picture.
In terms of contested Harris County only judicial races, this is what the totals look like over the past 6 elections:
As we all know by now, a wipeout this year. On the other hand, how would you like to be a Democrat in a gubernatorial year? Let’s remove the straight ticket voting from both parties for 2016 and see what we have:
Now let’s compare the median and average non-straight ticket voting ballots for 2012 and 2016:
While the overall results show a 2% decrease in median votes for R judicial candidates, the non-straight ticket numbers show a gain of 2%. Obviously a lot of Republican judges would be thrilled if straight ticket voting went away. Fortunately for Republicans, all of the county benches are up in gubernatorial elections. As well as all but one Family District court and about half of the rest of the district courts. So Republicans still dominate the county judiciary and there is no reason to think that is going to change anytime soon. Maybe someone can explain to me why the Civil District Court benches would have been 50/50.
We could drop down into each Congressional or State District but what we will see is predictable based upon the gerrymandering that the legislature put into place. You get yours, we get ours, everyone is happy. But since it appears that the Democrats are going to make a major push for County Commissioner Precinct 2 Jack Morman’s seat, let’s take a look at that.
As I said earlier, if that is the best that the Democrats can do in a presidential year in Precinct 2, their prospects for beating Morman in a gubernatorial year are dim, barring major changes in the picture.
Okay, that’s probably enough on the data side. It is time to start talking about what went wrong and what went right with the Harris County Republican Party’s performance. The data clearly show that the combination of Trump and Anderson did bring the ticket down but what did the party do, if anything, to try and negate that? As you can see, it wouldn’t have taken much to get a good number of our judges reelected.
Although many of us wanted a change in the DA’s office for a host of reasons, why did Devon Anderson run such a poor campaign? It certainly wasn’t for a lack of money. Regardless of what I think about her, she should have done better, which would have helped the party as a whole.
There are a lot of Republicans in Harris County demanding a change in leadership of the party. They are, predictably, angry at the results. And those on the ballot in 2018 are letting their emotions affect their judgment. But before casting aside the leadership, we need to think long and hard about what we want the future to look like.
- What will the party do to increase straight ticket R voting?
- Do we want short term gains at the expense of long term losses?
- Is there a path that will allow us to win in the short term without hurting the long term prospects?
- What can be done to build the party on the East side without losing our NW/West side base?
- Does the sheer size and diversity of Harris County lend itself to a grassroots approach or a top down approach?
- What can we do to get our State Reps to become more involved with the party?
- Should we run candidates in all races or pick only those races that are ‘ours’?
- Do we stay with an ‘engagement’ model or do we move to a principles model?
If the current leadership cannot answer these questions, then we do need to make a change. And we need to do it in the 2018 primary so that we can reclaim the county in 2020. But before we go down that path, we should give the current leadership room to make the changes necessary.