The Week’s Argy-Bargy: Texas Data Points from the Week in Politics, February 19, 2016
by Jim Henson and Joshua Blank
With Donald Trump seemingly headed toward big wins in both South Carolina and Nevada , and Texas’ proportional-ish representation primary less than two weeks away, the magnitude of Ted Cruz’s strength in Texas, and its geographic distribution, loom as major factors on Super Tuesday. Technically, Super Tuesday actually got underway in Texas on Monday, when early voting for the primary election started. Guns were back in the news this week as another private university took advantage of the campus-carry opt-out privilege accorded private institutions even as the University of Texas at Austin begrudgingly announced its policy, which reflected the legislature’s concerted effort to force public universities to allow guns in classrooms. The legislature continued its vision of protecting Constitutional guarantees Wednesday when the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on their interim charge to protect sincerely held religious beliefs from the depredations of government. At several points in that hearing, the testimony flared into the kind of vituperative opposition to gay and lesbian rights that would have pleased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died over the weekend near Marfa. The stakes of choosing Scalia’s successor on the high court couldn’t be higher, including among Republicans whose faith in the court was shaken by the court’s decisions affirming gay marriage and the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act — decisions from which Justice Scalia dissented with characteristic color.
1. As Donald Trump maintains his lead in polls going into the Nevada and South Carolina primaries, Ted Cruz’s position in Texas looms ever more important to his campaign. Cruz is, of course, popular in Texas, and we’ve posted extensively on his approval and favorability numbers in his adopted home state. Below are three maps that look at his endorsements in the Texas Legislature and the Texas Congressional delegation. Given that GOP primary delegates will be allocated based on both their statewide results, but also based on their results within Congressional Districts (as new advisor to the Lt. Governor Ross Ramsey helpfully explained in his more traditional role this week), the geography of these endorsements could carry additional weight, as Mark P. Jones helpfully explained this week in a creative use of UT/Texas Tribune polling data.
2. Amidst speculation about the shape of both the GOP and Democratic presidential nomination contests in Texas, early voting started this week. The general consensus seems to be that turnout will be high compared to 2012 if not quite as high as 2008, with insiders and campaigns watching the early voting figures closely. We compiled some data on early voting in recent, relevant cycles for use as benchmarks. We’ll also keep updating a running tally of in person early voting in the top 15 counties, per the Texas Secretary of State’s site.
3. Campus carry was back in the news all week, as Baylor jumped aboard the no-campus-carry wagon with most every other private university in the state, and UT-Austin, trapped in their status as a public university, forwarded a policy to the UT regents that flagged their inability to ban guns in classrooms under the existing statute. President Gregory Fenves of UT-Austin was clear about wishing it were otherwise, but had little choice but to bow to the law. (Out of state Tweeters (and some in state) ought to look at the statute before determining that campus leadership had much choice here, by the way.) We haven’t heard the last of this issue by a long shot, but it’s unlikely there will be much will on the part of the GOP’s legislative leadership to revisit the fundamentals given the currents in GOP public opinion, even should something horrible happen on a public university campus, given what we’ve seen nationally on the issue.
4. The Senate state affairs committee met Wednesday in service to Lt. Governor Patrick’s interim charge to “make recommendations to ensure that the government does not force individuals, organizations or businesses to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.” The idea that efforts to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination might compell some Christians to compromise their religious beliefs set the frame for the committee, though given the parade of witnesses with well-established records of antipathy toward gay and lesbian rights, discussion of seemingly non-religious bathroom practices inevitably entered the discussion. Whether in or out of a bathroom, though, the sense that Christians are besieged by demands that they not discriminate against their gay and lesbian brethren was palpable in both the testimony and many of the responses from the Republicans on the committee, particularly Senators Estes and Birdwell. While there were certainly Republicans trying to manage the issue with less alarm, especially Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond, the overall tenor of the hearing certainly reflects the views of the voting constituency of the majority party.
5. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia this week, a new political front in the 2016 campaign was created over the selection of his successor, a battle royale immediately energized by conservative disappointment with the Supreme Court in the wake of recent high profile decisions on Obamacare and gay marriage. During the GOP debate on the evening that Scalia’s death was announced, the candidates wasted no time in racing to the right on both their perception of the Roberts court and the need for President Obama not to pick a replacement. Notably, Jeb Bush stuck up for the executive branch — showing once again how he can effortlessly divorce himself from the views of the Republican primary electorate. He probably shouldn’t (and won’t) be highlighting that position when he campaigns in Texas, which, based on his ad buys, he apparently plans on doing.
Shameless plug coda. If you’ve gotten this far, you should definitely plan on attending the Texas Politics Project post-election review on Friday, March 4, at 2 pm in the Capitol Room of the Blanton Museum on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin. It’s a very nice room made even nicer by the fact that it’s right across the street from the Capitol complex, on Martin Luther King, Jr., Boulevard. Our guests will be Lauren McGaughy, recently recruited from the Houston Chronicle to the Dallas Morning News; David Saleh Rauf of the San Antonio Express-News, who’s been more persistent than anyone else in the major press outlets in reporting on campaign finance issues in Texas; Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune who, well, is Ross Ramsey while you’re not; and Jonathan Tilove of the Austin American Statesman, who has been on the road in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina reporting on Ted Cruz and the GOP race and has turned the AAS’s First Reading into psychedelic #longread on Texas politics unlike anything else being written. It’s going to fun, and it’s free, open to the public, and will give you a legit reason to get out of the office on the Friday afternoon after the primary.
Originally published at texaspolitics.utexas.edu on February 19, 2016.