Voters pass all constitutional amendments
AUSTIN (AP) - Texans approved dedicating $2 billion to the state water plan Tuesday, while Houston residents re-elected their mayor and rejected a plan to renovate the Astrodome in the first statewide election where officials checked voters' photo IDs.
Early voting was nearly double what it was two years ago, prompting Republican officials to declare that concerns about the voter ID requirement were overblown. Despite those figures, only about 1 million out of 13.4 million Texas voters were expected to cast their ballot.
Voters overwhelmingly approved nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, including the water measure, an expansion of reverse mortgages and tax credits for disabled veterans and the surviving spouses of veterans killed in the line of duty.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker easily won re-election against eight challengers for a third and final two-year term. Houston weathered the recent recession better than most major cities and, with 2.1 million residents, continues to be the largest city in the United States led by an openly gay person.
Houston voters also rejected a plan to turn the shuttered Astrodome into a convention center. The failure of the $217 million bond measure likely dooms the stadium to demolition. Residents of the Houston suburb of Katy also rejected a $69 million plan to build what would have been the state's most extravagant high school football complex.
In the race for an empty Texas House seat in north Austin, Republican Mike VanDeWalle and Democrat Celia Israel advanced to a January runoff.
The water measure attracted the most visibility and campaign funds, drawing support from business and environmental groups alike. The measure moves $2 billion from Texas' rainy day fund to its water infrastructure fund to help defray the borrowing costs on large-scale water infrastructure projects, including creating reservoirs, laying new pipelines and replacing older ones.
Some conservatives oppose using the state's savings account to finance large-scale construction projects while others were concerned the money could be misused.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called the results "a resounding and overwhelming victory" for the bipartisan campaign that he championed. In early results, more than 75 percent approved the measure.
"I think you saw stakeholders who don't always agree with one another come together in a very collaborative way," Straus said at a campaign party in a downtown Austin bar. He called for the state comptroller to transfer the funds as soon as possible.
Environmentalists also praised the result.
"We're thrilled that Texas voters have chosen to invest in Texas' water future," said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, a statewide advocacy group. "Texas is in a water crisis, caused by drought and made worse by wasteful water use."
Earlier Tuesday, Connie Dean was part of a slow trickle of West Texans voting at a Lubbock elementary school. The 74-year-old retiree didn't have any issue with the new voter ID requirements, but she wasn't so sure she liked tapping the state rainy day fund.
"I was a little iffy, but I went for it" despite the price tag, she said.
All voters were asked to present one of seven forms of photo identification - such as a driver's license, a passport or a military ID - to cast ballots.
Democrats and civil rights groups have sued to block the law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011, but the case is still pending. Cases of in-person voter fraud are rare, and critics of voter ID legislation say the laws aim to disenfranchise voters who tend to back Democrats.
Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running to replace Gov. Rick Perry in 2014, said critics had "run out of claims" about alleged hardships the mandate would create.
"I haven't ever seen anything that was overhyped as much as some partisan efforts to overhype concerns about this when, in reality, there has been no problems whatsoever," said Abbott, who defended the voter ID law in court.
Juan Quiroz, 66, said a poll worker in the Rio Grande Valley city of San Juan caught a discrepancy between the name on his driver's license and the one on the voter rolls. He said resolving the ID issue wasn't much of a hassle.
"I've always voted and never had any problem, but they're really looking at the ID name," Quiroz said.