Friday, November 11, 2005

"Toll roads have become extremely unpopular in Central Texas."

Proposition 2 passes; two others are defeated


by William Lutz
Lone Star Report
Volume 10 Issue 14
Copyright 2005

This month’s constitutional amendment election may not have caused much money to go around, but it did have some interesting moments – including the first constitutional amendments rejected by voters since 1999.

Proposition 2
Of course, Proposition 2 – the constitutional ban on same sex marriages – attracted the most press attention.

Social conservatives became a little nervous when No Nonsense in November – the anti-Proposition 2 campaign – started running auto dial messages from a minister claiming the amendment, if passed, would abolish all marriages. (Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott issued a letter saying that it wouldn’t.). “The anti-Prop. 2 campaign was the most deceptive campaign I have ever seen,” said Austin political consultant Ray Sullivan. They knew where they stood and voted. More than 75 percent of Texans rejected gay marriage.

“In general, I was pleasantly surprised about the margin,” said the amendment’s author Rep. Warren Chisum (R-Pampa). “The turnout was even beyond even the estimations of the Secretary of State, who estimated 16 percent and had closer to 18 percent. I was pleasantly surprised that this issue really brought the voters out. It’s very hard to get people interested.” The only county where Proposition 2 failed was Travis. This is noteworthy, because in 1994 Austin voters passed a ballot item banning city-funded domestic partner benefits. So failure of Proposition 2 in Travis County is probably progress for gay rights activists.

The proposition polled extremely well in minority neighborhoods and along the Texas-Mexico border. Proposition 2 helped confirm a hypothesis Republicans had entertained for some time – black and Hispanic voters are socially conservative. But turning support for ballot propositions into support for candidates (or the party generally) is a much taller order. In any case, churchgoers of all stripes turned out to vote in this election. Perry has made no secret of his campaigning to conservative churchgoers, and if this can be replicated in March 2006, it could well for Perry’s re-election.

The passage of Proposition 2 also has triggered a discussion about the importance of marriage. Chisum told LSR he intends to ask the speaker for an interim study on marriage. In particular, Chisum would like to look at what other states are doing and see if there are ways Texas can lower its high divorce rate. The study may look at counseling and other issues relating to marriage. Chisum noted that many marriages break up over financial issues. “A lot of times we don’t teach finances in schools, kids get married and into trouble,” he said.

Another idea that Chisum said is likely to resurface is covenant marriage, which is currently the law in Louisiana. Covenant marriage is a voluntary option for couples, involving additional pre-marital counseling. Divorce, in covenant marriages, is much more difficult than in ordinary unions. Chisum said he filed a covenant marriage bill several sessions ago. Most recently, the issue has been associated with former Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth (R-Burleson) and the late Sen. Tom Haywood (R-Wichita Falls), who carried covenant marriage bills in 1997, 1999, and 2001. The 2001 incarnation almost passed, clearing the Senate and committee in the House. It reached the House Calendars Committee very late in the session, and the clock ran out.

Other propositions
Most of the ballot items, involving technical cleanups, passed easily. These included propositions allowing denial of bail to those who have jumped bail in the past, clearing up land titles in Upshur and Smith Counties, expanding the size of the Judicial Conduct, and allowing reverse mortagages to use line-of-credit financing, as under home equity lending. These amendments had no organized opposition and passed comfortably.

Proposition 1, which was supported by Gov. Rick Perry, passed but not as easily as some of the other ballot propositions. Proposition 1 creates a rail relocation fund to move rail lines away from urban areas. The financing for the fund has not yet been created. Some interesting trends developed on Proposition 1. First, it did not do well at all in Central Texas. It failed substantially in Travis and Williamson Counties. The anti-toll road groups opposed the measure, arguing it is part of Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor proposal. (The measure’s supporters deny it is related to the corridor.) Toll roads have become extremely unpopular in Central Texas.

Also, rural voters had little love for Proposition 1. What passed it was big margins in urban counties, notably Brazos, Tarrant, and Bexar. Proposition 1 did particularly well in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, where newspapers have profiled rail crossing accidents. Proposition 1 did much better on election day than in early voting. Radio advertising in Harris County by the Yes campaign may partially explain the measure’s substantially better performance there on election day, as compared with early voting. The two propositions that failed – Propositions 5 and 9 – encountered uniform opposition throughout the state. Proposition 9 would have extended the terms of appointed regional mobility authority members to six years. Anti-tolling groups were opposed.

Proposition 5 was the biggest surprise of the evening. There was no organized opposition, and CSG Investments, a Plano firm, spent more than $650,000 to try and pass the proposition. The ballot item would have repealed a constitutional interest rate limit for commercial loans. Lawmakers carefully worded the initiative to ensure that home mortgages, agricultural, and personal loans would not come under its scope.

In the end, the most important factor for ballot items is the ballot language. And many voters told LSR that Proposition 5’s ballot language confused them. It read, “The constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to define rates of interest for commercial loans.” The amendment actually gives more power to the market and private lenders, but the ballot title could be read to have the opposite effect. Also, the Legislature’s low popularity ratings, in the wake of school finance, may have made voters nervous about passing a ballot item that appears to give government more power.

HD 143
The special election in HD 143 will go to a runoff. The seat is vacant due to Rep. Joe Moreno’s (D-Houston) death. Ana Hernandez came in first with 42.5 percent of the vote. Laura Salinas placed second with 25.8 percent. The runoff occurs in approximately one month. Gov. Rick Perry has not yet set the date for a runoff. This race is being watched carefully in Austin. Several PACs have taken sides in this race. The Texas Trial Lawyers Association has contributed to Hernandez, while Texans for Lawsuit Reform donated to Salinas.

Municipal elections
Houston and Dallas also held municipal elections on Nov. 8. Houston Mayor Bill White was reelected over token oppositon, with more than 90 percent of the vote. Dallas voters once again rejected a “strong mayor” ballot proposition. Mayor Laura Miller supported the proposition but voters did not. Not all cities had elections this November. Many Texas cities elect their city officers and council members in May.

Other states
Several other states placed items on their ballot that reflect hot-button issues often considered before state legislatures. This year, the Maine Legislature, for the third time, passed a gay rights initiative. The voters defeated the bill in a referendum in the previous two attempts. This year, however, Maine voters allowed the measure to become law.

In California and Ohio, propositions appeared on the ballot to remove redistricting from the legislature and turn it over to a non-partisan commission. In California, this would likely have helped Republicans, since Democrats control the legislature. In Ohio, the opposite was true; Democrats would chiefly have benefited. In the end, the voters said no to both proposals. Washington voters considered a medical malpractice initiative that capped non-economic damages in lawsuits. Both sides actually spent more on the initiative (more than $14 million) than was spent on Texas’s Proposition 12.

© 2005 The Lone Star Report: