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Interview with John Luman

John Luman

John Luman

My final interview for the special election in HISD District VII to fill the remainder of outgoing Trustee Harvin Moore’s term is with John Luman. Luman is an intellectual property attorney with engineering degrees from George Washington University and the University of Texas. He’s an active member on the Briargrove Elementary School’s PTO and PTO Executive Committee and helped lead the grassroots movement to stop the Houston Housing Authority’s proposed location of an apartment building that they say would have further burdened the already-overpopulated Briargrove school. Before I get to this interview, I’ll remind you one last time to also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum from last Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Luman, Anne Sung, and Victoria Bryant. Here’s my interview with John Luman:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Larry Weiman

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge Larry Weiman

Judge Larry Weiman

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Judge Larry Weiman and I am the Judge of the 80th District Court (Civil) of Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

General civil litigation cases. This includes: Personal Injury cases such as auto and truck accidents, slip and falls, dangerous products, work-related accidents, as well as consumer cases, Medical/Professional Malpractice, Business/contract disputes, Insurance Law, Employment Law, Toxic Torts, Property tax cases, Construction, Real Estate Litigation and more.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

Since I was elected in 2008 and re-elected in 2012, I lead ALL district courts with 406+ Trials including a leading 241 Jury Trials and 165 Bench Trials and have resolved over 12,000 cases! This has allowed for prompt resolution of cases and reduced the cost and stress of litigation for individuals, businesses, governmental agencies and the taxpayers of Harris County and the State of Texas.

I kept my campaign promises from 2008 to improve the efficiency and productivity of the 80th District Court, having QUADRUPLED the number of jury trials. I remain committed to following the law and to being patient, impartial and fair, giving everyone an equal opportunity to be heard and to ensure that everyone is treated with courtesy, respect, dignity, compassion and equality.

I also kept my promise to assist the overloaded Family Law Courts. In addition to volunteering to serve on the uncontested divorce Night Court program (which the county has unfortunately discontinued), I have tried contested divorce/child support cases. I regularly offer to try cases for the Family Law Courts when I have openings in my civil trial docket, as periodically occurs since I call so many cases to trial, which encourages many of them to settle.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

To continue to serve the Cause of Justice by getting cases resolved as promptly and efficiently as possible and to continue to assist other Civil Courts by helping to try cases they can’t reach when they are already in trial, including the Family Law Courts.

Establish new programs to increase voluntary Jury Service participation including all segments of the Harris County Community.

5. Why is this race important?

There is no substitute for experience, especially in a judge! This is a very important position to all those who seek justice in this court and are entitled to have an experienced judge who is fair, patient, courteous, hard working and who follows the law and moves the docket to allow for prompt resolution of legal disputes.

I am the only candidate in this race with extensive trial experience including complex litigation, plus my 25 years of litigation experience. With over 406 Trials, including 241 Jury Trials and over 12,000 cases resolved as the incumbent Judge of the 80th District Court, and over 25 years the people of Harris County and the State of Texas have a lot invested in my vast experience as judge for the past 8 years.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

So that I may have the opportunity to continue to serve the Cause of Justice as the best qualified candidate in this race with a proven record of following the law fairly and impartially and a record of the highest productivity. Since elected, I lead all district courts in total trials and jury trials, and have resolved over 12,000 cases. I make sure that all who appear in the 80 th are treated with courtesy, respect, dignity and equality. I also won both Houston Bar Association on Judicial Qualifications and Voter Preference, respectively, by wide margins.

I have taken the lead in judicial campaign finance reform since my first race, by not soliciting or accepting contributions from attorneys/litigants with active cases pending in my court. The current campaign finance laws in Texas actually allow judges to accept donations from those who have cases currently pending in their courts! Judges should avoid even the appearance of impropriety, partiality or even the possible perception that "Justice is for Sale.”

I have been endorsed in this race by the Houston Chronicle, Association of Women Attorneys, The Mexican American Bar Association and many others.

Posted in: Election 2016.

SEC to try again with Paxton

If at first you don’t succeed

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is not giving up on its case against Attorney General Ken Paxton.

The commission filed amended civil charges against Paxton on Friday, two weeks after a federal judge dismissed the case. Paxton, who is also fighting similar criminal charges at the state level, is accused of misleading investors in a company years ago.

“We are disappointed by the SEC’s decision to continue this case, given the court’s opinion and the clear infirmities the court found with the commission’s original complaint,” Paxton lawyer Matthew Martens said in a statement. “We will evaluate the revised complaint and respond accordingly.”

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant III threw out the SEC case against Paxton but gave the commission 14 days — until Friday — to file amended allegations.

The updated charges contend that the group of investors Paxton allegedly duped when he persuaded them to invest in a tech start-up called Servergy “reasonably expected” him to disclose he was receiving a commission. According to the SEC, the members of the group had a standing policy that “no one member makes money or otherwise benefits off of the investment of another member.”

The amended allegations also amplify the SEC’s argument that Paxton did not simply fail to disclose but “actively concealed” his commission agreement from the investor group. He did so, the SEC says, by not mentioning it in filings with the Texas Ethics Commission and the IRS, ignoring efforts by the group to learn about his relationship with Servergy and mischaracterizing the compensation as a kind of gift when asked about it by the SEC.

See here for the background. I have no idea if this is a necessary technical correction to allow otherwise-viable charges to go forward, or if it’s a “what the heck, we may as well give it one last try” situation. Paxton still has the criminal charges to deal with, so if nothing else this is a distraction from that. Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Early voting starts today

From the inbox:


Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that 46 locations will be open Monday, October 24 to Friday, November 4 where voters in the third largest County in the nation may cast ballots during the early voting period for the November 8, 2016 Election.  The total is approximately 25 percent more than the number of early voting locations available in the County during the previous presidential election.

“Since the 2012 Election, nine additional early voting locations have been added. Additionally, the time to vote during the first week of early voting has been extended to 6:00 pm,” said Stanart, the chief election official of the County.

“I expect approximately 800,000 voters will choose to vote during the early voting period for this election.  Preparedness on the part of the County Clerk’s Election Division, as well as voters,  is key to a successful election,” added Stanart.

To ensure the voting process is a pleasant experience, the chief election officer of the County  has a few suggestions for voters heading to the polls:

1.   Voters should confirm voter registration status. A voter registration search can be performed at;

2.   Voters should study a sample ballot, mark it, and take it to the poll. Voters can download a voter-specific ballot at;

3.   Voters should identify the nearest or most convenient early voting location. Voters can vote at any one of the 46 early voting locations;

4.   Voters should find out what photo identification is acceptable to vote at the poll, what other identification options are now available to vote a regular ballot, and what identification expedites the qualification process. The voter identification guidelines are available at;

5.   Voters should NOT wear clothing or paraphernalia that promotes a party, a candidate or a proposition to the poll;

6.   Voters should be aware that the use of electronic devices is prohibited inside the poll. The right to cast a secret ballot must be respected;

7.   Voters should not wait until the last minute to vote early. During peak voting hours, the wait time could be  longer than we wish.

“Don’t procrastinate. Do your homework.  Then, go vote early,” summed up Stanart. “For voters in Harris County, voting early is the simplest and easiest method of voting. ”

To obtain the early voting schedule, a list of acceptable credentials to vote at the polling location and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s website at or call 713.755.6965.

Early Voting Days and Hours

October 24 – October 28: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 29: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

October 30: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 31 – November 4: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

November 8, 2016 Early Voting Locations, Harris County, Texas
Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library 22248 Aldine Westfield Road Humble 77338
Kingwood Branch Library 4400 Bens View Lane Kingwood 77345
Lone Star College Atascocita Center 15903 West Lake Houston Parkway Houston 77044
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
Kyle Chapman Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex* 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library* 5414 Franz Rd Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Freeway Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Bear Creek Park Community Center 3055 Bear Creek Drive Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Branch Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center 1302 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 North Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi-Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77033
Palm Center 5300 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Champion Life Centre 3031 FM 2920 Road Spring 77388
Lone Star College – Creekside Center 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
* Indicates New Location

That of course is for Harris County. Early voting information for some other counties of interest:

Fort Bend

Check your local county clerk or election administrator if you are elsewhere.

Battleground Texas reminds you what form of ID is acceptable:

The state of Texas has made it easier for more Texans to vote in this election by expanding the types of identification that a voter can present at the polls!

If you don’t have a photo ID (reminder of the accepted forms of photo ID here), you’ll just need to fill out a short form stating the reason why you haven’t been able to get one and swearing that you are who you say you are.

Then you can present any government document that lists your name and address. A copy of the document will do, unless it has a photo, in which case be sure to bring the original. Poll workers cannot question or challenge you regarding your lack of a photo ID.

If you don’t have a photo ID, bring one of these documents to the polls:

  • Voter registration certificate (the card mailed to you shortly after you register to vote)
  • Certified birth certificate (original)
  • Current utility bill (copy or original)
  • Bank statement (copy or original)
  • Government check (copy or original)
  • Paycheck (copy or original)

Election poll workers are prohibited by law from challenging your reason for being unable to obtain a photo ID. If you experience any issues at the polls, call our Voter Protection Hotline at 1-844-TXVOTES, and we can help.

Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to showing ID at the polls.

And here’s a guide as to what poll watchers may and may not do.

Poll watchers may look on as voters cast ballots or as officials count them. They can also observe inspection of voting machines. But they can’t talk to voters or election officials unless they are reporting an irregularity to an election officer. They also can’t make audio or video recordings or take photos inside a polling place.

The Texas Election Code includes several other rules governing poll watchers:

  • They must be eligible to vote in the county where they they are serving (or in elections limited to a smaller jurisdictions, they must be eligible to vote in those communities).
  • They must present a “certificate of appointment” to the election judge at a polling station and the certificate must come from the political party, candidate or ballot measure group that appointed them (Groups of registered voters may also appoint poll watchers on behalf of certain write-in candidates.).
  • They may not access a voting station while someone is casting a ballot.
  • State law also prohibits poll watchers — or any voter, for that matter— from wearing a badge, insignia or emblem related to a candidate, measure or party on the ballot within 100 feet of a polling place’s door.

Here are two other relevant rules:

  • Parties, candidates and campaigns may not appoint more than two watchers at each precinct polling spot, early voting ballot board meeting or central counting station. They may appoint as many as seven watchers to each early voting polling location, but no more than two may serve at the same time.
  • Candidates on the ballot may not serve as poll watchers during their own elections. State law also bars from the following from serving: current public office holders, close relatives of election judges at the polling place and people convicted of election-related offenses.

Bottom Line: Poll watching is a common practice in Texas elections, but those who do it must follow plenty of rules.

Here’s a Chron story about poll watchers and the Trump-inspired hysteria that has boosted their numbers. Make no mistake, some number of them will be up to no good and should be closely watched themselves. On the plus side, there will be no Russian poll watchers, which is a sentence I never thought I’d type. If you see poll watchers engaging in activities they shouldn’t be, I strongly urge you to call your elections administrator and county party. I haven’t seen an announcement that the HCDP has set up a hotline for such complaints, but their main number is 713-802-0085 if you need it. Now go forth and vote. I expect it will be a busy early voting period.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Hochberg speaks on recapture

We should listen and at least consider what he’s saying.

Scott Hochberg

Scott Hochberg

HISD loses the recapture money, one way or another, even if it doesn’t actually write a check.

And the state gets its money one way or another, because the taxes from the removed properties will go to a poorer district in Harris County, letting the state reduce its funding to that district.

But here’s the thing: If HISD writes a check to the state, it loses only the amount of the check. But, if the district gives up taxable property, it loses the recapture amount, plus all the bond taxes the district would have collected off that property.

That means the tax rate we all pay for bond payments, now and in the future, has to go up to make up for the taxes lost from the lost property.

And, once the property is gone, it’s gone forever. No take backs or fingers crossed.

State law actually favors districts that send cash. There’s an “early decision” discount available for those districts. A no vote means we pay the full price.

Voting no is like giving away your garage to avoid paying property taxes on your house. That’s why no district in the state has ever chosen the option of having property removed instead of sending a check. It’s a bad deal.

The argument for voting no is that it will “send a message” to the legislature that it needs to fix the school funding system, and the legislature will obey. Maybe, but I served 20 years in the Texas Legislature working on these issues, and I don’t buy it. It’s not a bet I would make, much less risk HISD taxpayers’ money on.

Hochberg isn’t saying anything we haven’t heard before, but because he’s Scott Hochberg, who knows more about school finance than anyone else in the state, we have to take it seriously. To a large degree, this comes down to how much of a chance you think there is that the Lege will take positive action after a No vote. (On that note, a small bit of dissent to what Hochberg says: If you do believe that the Lege could take positive action, you can also believe they’ll do something about how detachment works as well. It may well be crazy to believe this, but if you’re going to believe it you may as well be all in.) I maintain there is no “good” answer on this, and Hochberg is clear about the many shortcomings of the school finance system, which he worked hard and long to improve. It’s a question of what is less bad. Hochbeg’s case for a Yes vote on the recapture referendum is a strong one. Other people whom I respect make a strong case for No. Do what you think is least bad.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Weekend link dump for October 23

It’s hard out here on a clown.

Your Internet-connected devices have lousy default security. You might want to do something about that.

President Obama’s list of essential sci-fi movies and TV shows.

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown turns fifty years old this Halloween. It’s still as sincere as ever.

Robbing banks ain’t what it used to be.

The most important gay rights case since marriage equality was won is set for an appellate hearing.

Our elections are not rigged, no matter what a certain short-fingered vulgarian may claim.

“To the anonymous caller who invoked the name of Don Bolles — he’s the Republic reporter who was assassinated by a car bomb 40 years ago — and threatened that more of our reporters would be blown up because of the endorsement, I give you Kimberly. She is the young woman who answered the phone when you called. She sat in my office and calmly told three Phoenix police detectives what you had said. She told them that later, she walked to church and prayed for you. Prayed for patience, for forgiveness. Kimberly knows free speech requires compassion.”

“But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.”

This Is Spinal Tap star Harry Shearer is suing Universal parent Vivendi for what he alleges is dramatic and deliberate under-payment of music royalties from the classic spoof rockumentary.”

The oral history of baseball on Seinfeld. A great read even if you’re not a big Seinfeld fan.

“Where is the white evangelical support for Evan McMullin? The answer to that question will tell us a great deal about white evangelicalism.”

“Confidence that votes nationwide will be counted accurately has, if anything, increased since 2012. Trump’s rhetoric appears not to have reduced Republican confidence in the accuracy of the vote count over the past four years. Rather, it has increased the confidence of Democrats. The degree of party polarization over the quality of the vote count has increased since 2012, but it is Democratic shifts in opinion, not Republican, that are leading to this greater polarization.”

“But Lessig’s reaction is plainly correct. People have a right to say mean things about other people in private. Let he who has not sent a needlessly catty email about a friend, ex-lover, co-worker, or long-shot presidential candidate start the Twitter shaming.”

The case for official neutrality as an effective weapon in political entertainment.

Don’t mess with nerdcore, Alex Trebek.

If you’re citing the Dred Scott decision in your legal argument, you’ve already lost.

The new silent majority is minorities and educated women.

“In 2015, there were 58 shootings committed by toddlers, or more than one every week. The drumbeat of tragic shootings involving children barely able to walk has continued unabated this year.”

Emmy voting isn’t rigged, either.

How Hackers Broke Into John Podesta and Colin Powell’s Gmail Accounts.

“I know Al Gore, I’ve studied Al Gore, and you, sir, are no Al Gore. You are a sniffing idiot who isn’t fit to shine Al Gore’s lockbox.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Judicial Q&A: Jim Peacock

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Jim Peacock

Jim Peacock

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Jim Peacock running for Chief Justice, First Court of Appeals.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil and non-capital criminal cases appealed from lower Courts.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

We need greater diversity of opinion on the courts of appeals in Texas. The courts have been dominated for several years by people of a particular mindset that I believe is not completely unbiased. Diversity of opinion can be derived from having different backgrounds and life experiences. The extent of my exposure to more diverse legal experience has enabled me to have a more open and objective approach to matters that will come before the court.

As the titular head of the court it is vital to have someone that is not beholden to any one group or limited by a closed political philosophy. I can offer that capability. Although most of the duties of the Chief Justice are the same as any other justice on the court, there are some differences. As the Chief of the court you can set an example for the entire court of openness and objectivity. I believe in leading by example.

Also the Chief Justice has some duties that bring him in contact with other political entities and subdivisions of government wherein the Chief Justice must represent the interests of the court and of the people that come before the court. I believe that my professional and life’s experience makes me well suited to that purpose. I offer an opportunity to bring change to the court without sacrificing ability or integrity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have tried nearly 200 jury trials to verdict covering extremely diverse areas of law. Some of the issues tried include: civil rights violations, disability discrimination, racial discrimination, slander, libel, invasion of privacy, fraud, usury, breach of contract, car wrecks, medical malpractice, sexual harassment, guarantor breach, premises liability, capital murder, murder, sexual assault, DWI, etc. The diversity of my experience and the variety of judges I have appeared before has given me a clear understanding of what it takes to be a good judge. I have represented thousands of individuals in my practice and have become adept at understanding the unique nature of each person and each case. I have experienced injustice and unfairness from courts that were indifferent to the rights of individuals. I have also experienced the pleasure of appearing before well qualified and compassionate jurists, one of which I aspire to be. My practice has placed me before dozens of trial courts in Texas, the Court of Appeals, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Texas Supreme Court, Federal District Courts, Federal Bankruptcy Court, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court.

In addition to my trial experience I have taught numerous areas of law, to other attorneys, on many occasions. I have taught voir dire, opening and closing statements, direct and cross examination of witnesses, trial as theater, and the nexus between criminal and civil law.

5. Why is this race important?

The First Court of Appeals has nine justices. Presently they are all elected or appointed Republicans. The justices have generally come from large civil defense firms or from experience as criminal prosecutors. Virtually none of the members of the court have experience on the plaintiff’s side of civil ligation or the defense side of criminal litigation. The current Chief Justice has held the position for many years after working for a large civil defense firm and serving initially as an appointed then elected judge and later an appointed and then elected justice. Over the years the court’s rulings have consistently favored the defense side of civil cases and the state’s side in criminal matters. The frequency and consistency of the rulings favoring those sides is, in my opinion, not indicative of unbiased review of the cases.

When the rulings of the court overwhelmingly favor one side of litigation it can reduce the public’s belief in the objectivity and fairness of the court. It is crucial that the integrity of the courts be preserved and beyond reproach. We need balance to be returned to the courts in Texas and the Courts of Appeals are essential to that goal. The vast majority of opinions that establish the precedents to be followed by the courts of Texas are from the intermediate courts of appeals. Therefore, the jurisprudence of this state is disproportionately affected by those courts. Few cases are actually ruled on by the Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals. Thus, the intermediate appellate courts can have a pronounced effect by the sheer volume of their opinions. Ensuring an efficiently run court and pressing for timely rulings is important to obtaining justice.

The Chief Justice is also involved in lobbying various issues relevant to the conduct of the court and has additional administrative duties that pertain to the operation of the court. This race is to determine who will be the Chief Justice of this extremely important appellate court.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have more practical litigation experience than anyone presently on the court. My trial practice has been diverse and has included extensive experience in both criminal and civil matters. I have served as a criminal prosecutor and defense attorney in hundreds of cases and truly understand both sides. I have also handled hundreds of civil cases and have experienced both sides of that docket as well. No one on the court has the multifarious background that I do. This court has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal matters and society would benefit from a justice that truly understands what it means to try cases in all areas of law that come before the court.

I also bring the ability to return balance to the court. I am not beholden to any one side or group. I can make rulings that are legitimately unbiased and based only on the evidence and the law. Since I have handled so many different sides of litigation, and represented such diverse groups and people, I can be truly fair and open to all. Because I have over 35 years of trial and appellate experience, I can be productive on the bench immediately and bring a pragmatic perspective that lawyers from a more limited background could not. I represent a change from the status quo by bringing a new and different set of opinions to a court that has been dominated by only one philosophy for far too long.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Pension deal takes a step forward

Not quite there yet, but getting close.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s police and municipal pension boards have agreed to a landmark reform package produced over months of intensive negotiations at City Hall, and Mayor Sylvester Turner hopes the firefighters fund will follow suit with a vote Monday.

The pending proposal, which puts Houston the closest it has come to solving a 15-year crisis that has contributed to recent credit downgrades and threatens to bust the city budget, would eliminate Houston’s pension underfunding in 30 years and avoid more than $2.5 billion in future costs by reducing benefits.

It would also limit the city’s exposure to future market downturns by assuming more realistic investment returns, and calls for issuing $1 billion in bonds to help close the funding gap.

The deal also includes a hotly debated provision that would require future benefit reductions or higher worker contributions if a market downturn or other factors drive the city’s contributions above a specified cap.

The next step is to take the agreement to Austin in the form of legislation, as city workers’ pension benefits are enshrined in state statute.

“We all recognize that the course we were on was going to be destructive for everyone,” Turner said, making a rare appearance at a City Council committee discussing the reforms Thursday morning. “We all had to recognize there were going to be some changes. We tried to strike a balance. Under this plan there is certainty for all employees that there’s a retirement system they can count on that is reliable and sustainable, and we do not have to have this system be a political football year after year. I wish at the end of the day we didn’t have to make any changes at all, but that would be naive and unrealistic.”

Police and municipal pension officials declined comment.

Fire pension chairman David Keller said he can see his board’s vote Monday being decided by one member, or by a wide margin.

“I wish I had a crystal ball on this, but I really don’t know. It’s just hard to gauge what the outcome would be,” he said. “We’re proceeding with a great deal of caution.”

If Keller’s board rejects the deal, city officials say it’s not clear precisely what would happen, but sources close to the talks said the mayor has made clear to the firefighters fund that intransigence on a mutually agreed deal could result in the city writing less generous terms into the legislation on the fire trustees’ behalf.


Houston Retired Firefighters Association president Nick Salem said his group accepts changes must occur, but is troubled by one of the several dozen benefit tweaks: A change that would reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments for firefighters who retired before 1997, prior to the generous benefit increases that first caused pension costs to skyrocket after 2001.

About 600 of Salem’s 3,100 members fall into that category, and he said many are near the poverty line. Retired Houston firefighters do not received Social Security benefits.

“We don’t want to get in a big fight and kill this whole deal with the city because we want a deal with the city, but we’re having severe issues with this,” Salem said. “Some retirees are living on $1,000 a month. We’re not against the deal, but we’re against this one particular part. We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do about it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The firefighters have always been the main challenge here, as they have the most to give up and the strongest starting position. Let’s just say there will be a lot less turbulence, here and in Austin, over the next six to eight months if they ratify the deal on Monday.

Posted in: Local politics.

Chron overview of HD27

Like it or not, Rep. Ron Reynolds will be back for another term.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

When State Rep. Ron Reynolds learned he would face Democratic primary opposition this year for the first time since he won his seat, he called it “the biggest challenge of my political career.”

Reynolds went on to battle three candidates from the party who sought to serve House District 27, an area Reynolds has represented since 2010. Victory did not come in a landslide: a close finish forced him into a run-off, which he won by a slim but safe margin.

Reynolds, after all, was not entering the primary untarnished. Late last year, a Montgomery County jury convicted him on five counts of misdemeanor barratry, the illegal solicitation of legal clients known as “ambulance chasing.” He represented himself in the trial, fighting allegations that he unlawfully paid someone to solicit clients involved in accidents. He lost and subsequently received a year-long jail sentence, a conclusion he deemed racially-motivated and “a modern-day lynching.” He has appealed the conviction.

The 43-year-old incumbent now faces one last barrier to victory in November: a Republican and fellow lawyer named Ken Bryant.

Reynolds, the House Democratic whip, said he expects to be re-elected. Bryant, who has served as a Fort Bend ISD trustee, declined to comment for this story without knowing who the Houston Chronicle was going to endorse. The Chronicle news division and editorial page are separate divisions and the editorial board ultimately made no endorsement in the November race because Bryant did not meet with them.

A Reynolds loss in November would represent a “huge upset,” said Jay Aiyer, assistant professor of political science at Texas Southern University.


Aiyer attributed this success so far to what he called a “disconnect” in voters’ minds between the criminal allegations Reynolds faces and his ability as a legislator. Reynolds has been well liked and respected by leadership and peers in the House, Aiyer said, opinions that seem to have been strong enough to overcome personal allegations some may find troubling, and on which his Democratic primary contenders had sought to capitalize. “I think voters, by and large, stood by me because of my strong record and my advocacy for them in my three terms in office,” Reynolds said. “I believe that we’ve weathered the storm and we haven’t missed a beat.”

No doubt Reynolds survived his primary and runoff due to his constituents generally liking him, based on his record and personal affability. He’ll survive in November because HD27 is a heavily Democratic district – President Obama received 68.8% of the vote there in 2012. Beyond that, we’ll see. Good will with voters and other elected officials got Reynolds through this cycle, but good will is a finite resource. Reynolds still has a jail sentence and the suspension of his law license hanging over him, and I’ll bet someone challenges his leadership position in the Democratic House caucus. Maybe conditions will be better for him in 2018, and maybe they will be worse. He himself took two tries to win his seat; perhaps it will take two tries for someone else to win it. He’s in a stable position now, but his saga is far from over.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Endorsement watch: HCDE

I believe this wraps up endorsement season.

Sherry Matula

Sherry Matula

County School Trustee, Position 1, Precinct 2: Sherrie L. Matula

We emphatically endorse Sherrie L. Matula in this race to replace Marvin Morris, a respected trustee who lost in the Republican primary. Matula, 65, has the resume of an education expert, working for decades as a school teacher in Clear Creek Independent School District and Pasadena Independent School District. She also served two terms on the CCISD Board of Trustees, on the board of the Texas State Teachers Association and as president of the Galveston County Education District.

County School Trustee, Position 2, Precinct 4: Marilyn Burgess

In this race to replace Board President Angie Chesnut, our strong choice is Marilyn Burgess, a certified public accountant. As the former director of the Texas Parent Teacher Association, Burgess, 62, would bring a valuable educational perspective to this board as well as financial expertise. If elected, Burgess, a Democrat, promises to make sure the county gets the most out of every dollar spent and to increase the classes available for high school dropouts to complete their diplomas, as she says these classes fill up the day that they open.

Matula, who made a couple of very respectable runs for State Rep in HD129 back in 2008 and 2010, has a shot at this, as Precinct 2 leans Republican but could easily go blue in a year like this where Democrats are polling so well countywide. Burgess is running in the most Republican Commissioners Precinct in the county – forget a landslide, it would likely require a tsunami to make that race competitive. Which is unfortunate, because the candidate who will get elected is Eric Dick, who will then join forces with Michael Wolfe to make a mockery of things. Getting Matula elected would help balance that out a bit, though there’s only so much one person can do. If you live in Precinct 2, which is Commissioner Jack Morman’s precinct, be sure to vote for Matula in this race.

This endorsement was published in Friday’s Chron, so they got them all in before early voting began. That has not always been the case, and I’ve criticized them in the past for being pokey about this, so kudos to the editorial board for their diligence. The full list of Chron endorsements for this cycle can be found here.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Saturday video break: Minnie The Moocher

From the movie The Cotton Club, it’s Cab Calloway’s greatest hit:

I saw that movie in the theater back in the day – it was kind of mediocre, but the soundtrack is killer. I’ve owned it on vinyl and on CD, and of course now it’s been ripped to MP3. I suppose I should watch the movie again some day – it has a great cast, including a very young Diane Lane. I see that Siskel and Ebert both loved the movie, so maybe I’m wrong about its merits. I just know I thought it was meh at the time.

Now here’s a live version from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy:

Man, I love the sound of a muted trumpet. I’m pretty sure the soloist in this video had a straight mute as well as the cup mute you see going. I also like that they have a different verse in this song. What’s your favorite version of this tune?

Posted in: Music.

Judicial Q&A: Steven Kirkland

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Steven Kirkland

Steven Kirkland

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Judge Steven Kirkland and I am the democratic candidate for Judge of the 334th Civil Judicial District Court in Harris County.

I grew up in West Texas. I moved to Houston to attend Rice University where I graduated in 1982. While at school, I got involved in Houston politics and have been involved ever since. I worked my way through law school as a paralegal at Texaco and attended school at night. In 1990, I earned a position litigating environmental cases for the company. In 1998, I left Texaco and represented residents of East Houston and Harris County in their lawsuit against the ship channel industries to clean up our air. I have also worked with Avenue Community Development Corporation to develop affordable housing. In 2001, Mayor Brown appointed me to serve as Municipal Court Judge where I served until elected to the 215th Civil District Court in 2008. I am currently in the City of Houston’s legal department representing Houston taxpayers.

You can learn more at

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 334th District court is a civil court hearing cases involving personal injury, property damages, contract disputes and other civil complaints.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The incumbent is a Republican appointed by Rick Perry in 2013. While I don’t have a particular beef with him, I know folks who do. I do have a problem with a Courthouse dominated by one party. Without competition for the Courts, the people get lost in the shuffle and justice falls short. Judges forget that they serve the people and rather than use their powers to make sure cases are heard, they use their powers to shut down the process.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 12 years of judicial experience, 26 years of legal experience and over thirty years of community service to the people of Houston and Harris County. I have represented individual homeowners, international oil companies and Houston taxpayers. I have been on all sides of the Courtroom and have the legal and life experiences to serve you fairly, efficiently and with compassion.

In my twelve years as a Judge I have presided over more than 750 jury trials of cases ranging from traffic tickets and car crashes to complex construction and financial disputes. I have adjudicated the rights of neighbors over a fence and cases of citizens exercising their rights to free speech. In every Court that I have served in, I have adopted procedures and programs to improve the process. In Municipal Courts, I created the Homeless Recovery Court that allows folks working their way out of homelessness to clear up old warrants by performing community service at their shelter or program instead of going to jail. In the District Court, I mandated e-filing in all cases filed in my Court. I withdrew reference of tax foreclosure cases to the tax master and instead handled those matters directly. All of these are cost saving measures that increase accessibility to the courts and transparency in the decisions.

In addition to my professional experience, there are many tools from my life experience I have used to be a good judge. I am a recovering alcoholic. Twenty nine years ago I faced addiction, turned my life around, and have not had any alcohol since. While this is a strength, it also means there is a past. Prior to recovery, I was arrested several times for drinking inappropriately. I was fortunate to have survived my drinking years without harming myself or anyone else physically, and have managed to make amends to all who I have harmed emotionally. I speak from experience when I say I believe in the power of people to learn from their mistakes and improve their lives. This experience is a source of humility and compassion that I have used every time I took the bench.

5. Why is this race important?

Our Democratic Campaign for the Courthouse is critical to Justice in Texas. The newspapers are full of stories of Republican judges doing things that just aren’t right. The Court of Criminal Appeals was closed at 5 PM preventing an appeal of the death penalty, a family Court judge signed orders presented by the Chair of the Republican Party that stripped health benefits from families of City employees behind closed doors after hours, a Criminal Court Judge holds a mother in contempt and sends her to jail for shouting “thank you Jesus” when ruling favored her son, or Juvenile Judge takes a child away from a young mother for no reason other than making the child available for adoption. All of these are Republican judges and it shows they just don’t get it.

My candidacy itself is important to folks who value diversity. Currently there are no open LGBT judges in the District Courthouse and only one in the State of Texas.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have a passion for justice. This passion directs my politics, career and community choices and activities. All my life I have stood up for what is right and spoke out against and tried to change what is wrong. From my record, you know where my heart lies. My thirty years experience of activism and accomplishments in the community and the Democratic Party shows its not just talk with me, I walk the walk.

Posted in: Election 2016.

UH Hobby School (Harris County only): Clinton 43, Trump 36

More polling locally.

Hillary Clinton

A new survey released Thursday by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs shows Democratic challengers for county wide office rising sharply against Republican incumbents.

It also showed Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with a seven-point lead over Republican Donald Trump, which Hobby research associate and poll author Bob Stein called “the biggest lead I’ve ever seen a Democratic presidential candidate have in the 37 years I’ve been polling in Houston.”

Barack Obama beat Republicans John McCain by 1.6 percent in 2008, and Mitt Romney by less than 1 percent in 2012.

“The big takeaway here is the Democratic surge,” Stein said.

The poll, a telephone survey of 400 registered Harris County voters, showed Democratic challenger Kim Ogg ahead of incumbent Republican Devon Anderson by seven points, 40 percent to 33 percent. A similar survey released by UH in September showed Ogg and Anderson in a virtual tie, 29 to 30 percent.

The new poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus 4.5 percent.

The poll also showed Ed Gonzalez, the Democratic candidate for Harris County sheriff, in a virtual tie with Republican incumbent Ron Hickman. The UH poll last month showed Hickman six points ahead.

Stein, who also teaches political science at Rice University, cautioned that the wording on the two polls was not identical, making direct comparisons difficult.

Here is the new poll data. Another reason why it’s a bit dicey to compare this poll to the one from September is that they classified the voters differently. In September, we had Registered Voters, Likely Voters, and Extremely Likely Voters. Clinton led Trump 43-34 among Likely Voters, but only 43-39 among Extremely Likely Voters. In this month’s poll, we have Very Likely To Vote and Certain To Vote, with Clinton leading 46-34 (!) among the Certain To Vote cohort, but trailing (!!) 43-33 among the Likely To Vote crowd. Prof. Stein suggests in the article that there’s an enthusiasm gap that favors the Democrats and accounts for this difference. Putting that aside and just focusing on the topline result, if Hillary Clinton is really leading in Harris County by seven points, not only will this almost certainly portend a complete Democratic sweep, it also adds credence to the ever-closer statewide margins, and to my mind also very likely presages a blue Fort Bend.

As for the Sheriff and DA races, I’ll say what I said in September, which is that they will almost certainly be determined by the Presidential race. Both Devon Anderson and Kim Ogg have money to spend on TV advertising, which may move the needle a bit one way or the other, but I for one haven’t seen much on the air so far, just a couple of Ogg spots from a week or so ago. I’d love to see at least one more poll from a different source, just as a check in case this is an outlier, but for now this is what we have. Early in-person voting begins Monday, and I know that a bunch of mail ballots have already been returned. This is going to be a busy couple of weeks. PDiddie and the Press have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Feds to appeal transgender bathroom directive



The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to appeal a Texas judge’s injunctionbarring the Obama administration from implementing guidelines aimed at protecting transgender students against discrimination.

DOJ attorneys announced in court documents Friday that they’ll file formal notice that they’re appealing the injunction to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on or before October 20.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor issued the nationwide preliminary injunction in August, in response to a request from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which is challenging the guidelines on behalf of more than a dozen states.

“DOJ has a number of strong procedural arguments,” said Ken Upton, senior counsel at the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal. “It will be interesting to see what the 5th Circuit does.”


Upton said it could be March or April before the 5th Circuit rules on whether to overturn the injunction. But as soon as the notice of appeal has been filed, the DOJ can request that the injunction be placed on hold while the 5th Circuit considers the case — a request that could be granted within weeks. If the DOJ obtains a stay of the injunction, the Obama administration could resume implementing the guidance.

A request for a stay of the injunction would first have to go to O’Connor, who would be likely to deny it, Upton said. But the DOJ could then request a stay from the 5th Circuit and, if necessary, the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Given the way the injunction binds the government agencies and DOJ, I think there is a good chance they might get a stay,” Upton said.

After O’Connor issued the injunction, DOJ attorneys filed a motion requesting that he clarify its scope. O’Connor heard arguments on the motion September 30 but has not yet ruled. The DOJ had requested that O’Connor do so by October 3.

Upton said he believes Friday’s filing — in which the DOJ announced it plans to file a notice of appeal this week — was intended “to nudge the judge to rule on the clarification motion before their appeal time runs out on October 20.”

“I think you could call it a friendly reminder that if he doesn’t rule by Thursday he’s going to lose jurisdiction of the case and it’s going to the 5th Circuit as is,” Upton said.

See here for the background. On Thursday, they followed through.

Federal officials say they will ask the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn an injunction issued by Fort Worth-based U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor. On Tuesday, O’Connor reaffirmed that his ruling blocking the guidelines applied nationwide, not just in the 13 states that filed suit against the federal government.

O’Connor issued the original ruling in August on the same day millions of Texas children headed back to school, preventing the federal government from enforcing the guidelines as the case went through the courts.

In a 38-page order, O’Connor sided with Texas and 12 other states challenging the federal directive, saying the “status quo” should remain in place nationwide until the court rules on the case, or a federal appeals court provides further guidance, because the administration had not followed proper rule-making procedure in crafting the guidelines.

O’Connor did not, however, rule on the merits of the case, noting “the resolution of this difficult policy decision is not … the subject of this order.”

See here for more on the affirmation that the ruling was intended to be nationwide. It’s always dicey having to put one’s faith in the Fifth Circuit doing the right thing, but this is where we are, and the stakes are high. I suppose even if the Fifth Circuit fails to stop the madness, another lawsuit in a different circuit might generate a conflicting opinion, which would force SCOTUS to get involved sooner than I’m sure it wants to. Trail Blazers and Daily Kos have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Endorsement watch: The Congress you expect

The Chron makes the most predictable endorsements of the season, for Congress. Here’s Part 1:

United States Representative, District 2: Ted Poe

Consider this not just an endorsement for Ted Poe, but also heartfelt support as the six-term congressman recovers from treatment for leukemia. A former criminal district judge known for his creative sentences and shaming tactics, Poe has cut a niche for himself as a dedicated public servant who is leading the fight against sex trafficking and who listens to the constituents of his sprawling district, which spirals around from Atascocita through west Harris County, northwest Houston, Montrose and Southampton.

United States Representative, District 7: James Cargas

John Culberson didn’t receive our endorsement in the contested Republican primary, and we don’t plan on changing our minds for the general election. But this showdown will be Democrat James Cargas’ third attempt to replace the eight-term Republican congressman, and, frankly, it is starting to get a bit repetitive.

United States Representative, District 9: Al Green

If you’re worried about flooding in Houston, then Al Green is your man in Washington. Over the past year, he’s been working with his fellow Democrats, and across the aisle with Republicans, to push a bill that would prioritize federal spending on Houston’s bayous. Now in his six-term, Green has inserted similar language into the must-pass Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Don’t expect any of this to make major headlines, but if it ends up in the final bill, it will save homes and lives in our swampy city. Green’s goal-oriented, dedicated attitude deserves praise – and re-election – from voters.

United States Representative,District 10: Michael T. McCaul

Over his six terms in Congress, Michael T. McCaul has distinguished himself as a steely and smart leader on foreign policy. As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, the former federal prosecutor is on path to become the Republican face of international relations and national security. His sprawling district, which extends between Houston and Austin suburbs, grants him a certain luxury of being able to focus on these national and international issues.

And here’s Part 2:

United States Representative, District 14: Randy Weber

We agree with Randy Weber on one thing: There may be no congressman in the Texas delegation who has a more important district. His territory, which stretches from the Louisiana border to an area just west of Freeport, covers a mix of precious but vulnerable wetlands in addition to five key ports.

United States Representative, District 29: Gene Green

Gene Green is frustrated with the Affordable Care Act. More specifically, the 12-term Democratic congressman is frustrated that Congress won’t try to improve it.

“Any law that you ever pass, you typically go back to it and fix it,” Green told the editorial board. “We haven’t had that opportunity. In the last six years, they’ve tried to repeal it 60-plus times.”

Representing a largely Hispanic and blue-collar district that circles from north Houston around through Pasadena and east Houston, Green puts his focus on those meat-and-potato issues that help keep his constituents healthy and the Port of Houston humming.

United States Representative, District 18: Sheila Jackson Lee

“Sheila Jackson Lee is stalking me.”

Those are the words of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, courtesy of Wikileaks. He was complaining that Houston’s own Jackson Lee wanted to be “involved in everything” and wouldn’t stop hounding him about Clinton accepting the Barbara Jordan Medallion for Service at Texas Southern University.

Whether you call it tenacity or stalking, it worked: Clinton showed up in person at TSU to receive the award.

United States Representative, District 22: Pete Olson

Incumbent Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger, Mark Gibson.

I was going to say something about this, but it’s too boring. Move along, nothing to see here.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 18

I too am working on my masterpiece. I don’t think it will be a random ten list, but you never know.

1. Here With Me – Jennifer O’Connor
2. Keeping Time – Jenny Dee and The Deelinquents
3. Masterpiece – Jessie J
4. I Have Come To Take My Boy Home – Jiggernaut (Deanna Smith Scotland)
5. Find The Way – Jill Phillips
6. So In Love – Jill Scott
7. Star Of Wonder – JJ Heller
8. Bad Reputation – Joan Jett and The Blackhearts
9. Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
10. I’m Still Looking For A Home – Joy Askew

“Jenny Dee and The Deelinquents” is my new favorite band name. If your own name is an amenable base for the label of your backup band, why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

Posted in: Music.

Interview with Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

As noted, one of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and today I have an interview with Victoria Bryant. Bryant is a graduate of HISD schools and the recipient of a Doctor of Pharmacy from UH. She is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly, and currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the University of Houston Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Education and College of Business. Here’s the interview:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Republicans join Woodfill’s ridiculous anti-spousal benefits crusade

Shoveling sand against the tide.


Fifty Republican members of the Texas Legislature have signed a court brief arguing that the same-sex spouses of government employees shouldn’t be entitled to health insurance and other benefits.

The “friend-of-the-court” brief was submitted Friday in a lawsuit brought by anti-LGBT activists against the city of Houston in response to then-Mayor Annise Parker’s decision to extend benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees in 2013.

Last month, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case, Pidgeon v. Parker, with only Justice John Devine dissenting. But Jonathan Saenz, president of the anti-LGBT group Texas Values, and former Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill have petitioned the nine-member court for a rehearing.


The brief argues that while the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex couples have a right to marry, “nothing in that ruling compelled the taxpayers of Texas to pay for a vast array of benefits for same-sex spouses.”

“This Court has the opportunity to diminish federal tyranny and re-establish Texas Sovereignty,” the brief states. “The people have already spoken on the issue through the Texas Legislature. It would be a detriment to their constituents if this elected Court were to remain silent.”

LGBT advocates have said that under Obergefell, if a government employer offers any spousal benefits, it must offer them equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. They’ve also said they believe it is unlikely the state’s highest court will reconsider its decision.

See here for the background. The list of Republicans who signed on mostly includes the usual suspects, but there were a few names that disappointed me. Putting that aside, I have to ask, how does this even make sense? Does anyone really think that Obergefell will be interpreted as “OK, fine, you can get married, but you can’t get health insurance or be named the primary beneficiary of a retirement fund unless you get hetero married”? Forget about any cockamamie legal theory for this, what kind of person thinks this makes sense? (By the way, that cockamamie legal theory, as espoused by the one Supreme Court Justice out of nine that originally voted to rehear the appeal, is that hetero marriage counts for more and can be privileged by the state because of procreation; this argument was explicitly rejected by the federal courts and SCOTUS in the Obergefell case. So you can see what kind of a future this would have if it somehow got accepted here.) The Statesman has more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Another look at the case for HISD recapture

Dale Craymer taps the brakes on the vote-NO-on-recapture train.


Houston Independent School District voters face an unhappy choice this November – vote “YES” or “FOR” on Proposition 1 to authorize the state to recapture roughly $160 million of the school district’s property taxes or just vote “NO” or “AGAINST.”

It seems like a no-brainer. School board members, several other local officials and the Houston Chronicle editorial board are urging a “NO” vote, as a way to protest a state school finance system commonly referred to as “Robin Hood.”

What folks aren’t being told, though, is that a “NO” vote is a “YES” vote for higher taxes.


Folks advocating for a “NO” vote contend taxpayers have nothing to fear. The vote will “blow up” the school finance system and force the Legislature to “fix” it.

That may be a bad bet.

The Legislature has no good options. They could raise spending so that all districts get as much money as Houston. But lawmakers have no money and would have to raise $8 billion in new taxes – clearly a fantasy given a fiscally conservative Legislature, and an option most Houston and other voters statewide wouldn’t like.

Lawmakers could make a special provision and allow Houston to keep the money while all other districts go wanting. That would be a bad vote for those five out of every six lawmakers who don’t represent Houston, and could threaten the constitutionality of the current system.

Craymer calculates the tax increase, due to having a smaller base on which to repay bond debt, as $50 annually for a house with a $300K appraisal. Gotta say, that doesn’t sound too terrifying to me, though that value will increase over time and could impinge on future bond issues. Mostly, I agree with his assessment that it’s an extreme longshot to believe that the Lege will take meaningful action.

Even with all that, Craymer does not really endorse a Yes vote on recapture, he just wants to make sure everyone is informed about what it means before they vote. Daniel Williams pushes back on some of Craymer’s assertions, and goes deeper into the weeds.

If the proposition passes the money paid to the state goes to the general fund. In theory the lege is supposed to then move those funds over to finance under-financed schools – but there’s no guarantee that will happen and the lege has a long history of playing shell games with money in the general fund. If the prop does not match the reassigned property taxes go directly to other school districts, not through the general fund. The reassigned properties would be subject to the tax rates of the reassigned districts so those properties would likely wind up paying higher property taxes.

This, to my mind, is the very best argument for “no.” Even under the worst case scenario a “no” vote means more money for schools – maybe not Houston schools – but schools all the same.

Also, while it very likely that the lege is going to rework the system HISD may have a different course of action under the new process. If they are locked into buying attendance credits by a ballot initiative it may be difficult for them to legally get out of it.

Some have argued that a “no” vote is a dangerous game of chicken. That the legislature just doesn’t have any options to increase funding. Let’s dispose of this fiction: they could close the excise tax loophole, they could index the gas tax, they could stop letting WalMart keep a portion of the sales tax, they could tap the rainy day fund (that’s why it’s there), they could repeal the tax break for yachts they recently created, the list goes on.

Now, you might say that these options are not politically viable – and you’d be right. The current mess is what we keep voting for. The three biggest expenses in the state budget are education, public health and transportation. This is what we vote for when we elect people who say they’re going to “cut taxes” – cuts to education, public health and transportation. If we’re going to change that it has to start at the ballot box. So, vote “no” on the HISD question, but only if you’ll also stop voting for Austin-bound candidates who say they’ll cut taxes.

Daniel agrees there’s no good answer, but a No vote keeps some options open. I agree with that, and I strongly agree that if you’re going to vote No, you also need to vote No to politicians who refuse to address the underlying problems with the system. If you want a fix, do what is needed to get one.

UPDATE: Leah Binkovitz of the Kinder Institute weighs in, including some words of wisdom from former Rep. Scott Hochberg, one of the very few people in the state who actually understands the school finance system. Hochberg does not agree with a No vote on the recapture issue, which should give anyone pause.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Chron overview of HD150

This could be interesting.

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly

The business card for Michael Shawn Kelly, a landscape architect who wants to represent the deep-red suburbs of far north Harris County in the Texas House, touts his conservative values and quotes the late Republican politician Jack Kemp.

The card, however, makes no mention of party affiliation. That is because Kelly is the Democratic nominee for the District 150 seat, one the GOP has held for decades.

With that scarlet D next to his name on the ballot, Kelly faces long odds in trying to defeat Valoree Swanson, who toppled state Rep. Debbie Riddle in the Republican primary by attacking the conservative lawmaker as insufficiently principled.

For Kelly to score the upset Nov. 8, the first-time candidate must find a way to cultivate voters that moves beyond party labels.

“It’s tough for people to jump the fence,” he said. “A lot of our advertising is about giving Republicans permission to vote for a Democrat.”

The district, which sprawls over Tomball, Spring and the Harris County portion of The Woodlands, is politically predictable. In winning seven general elections, Riddle dispatched every Democratic challenger by at least 30 percentage points.

Yet, Kelly, 60, believes he can defeat Swanson, 59, a conservative activist, by persuading a primarily Republican electorate that he can represent it with an independent voice. His strategy is to avoid hot-button social issues while hammering on education spending. He criticizes Republican lawmakers for not giving public schools the tools they need.

“The goal shouldn’t be how to spend less money,” Kelly said. “We should be asking, ‘How educated do we want these kids to be?’ Let’s put a price tag on it and then ask people if it’s worth it.”

One convert is Diane Schumacher, a retired manufacturing executive and lawyer who said she votes “99.9 percent of the time” for Republicans.

“It was an easy decision because he is focused on the right things,” she said. In the district, “people are really looking at him as an individual because his opponent is so far to the right.”


The race “highlights the importance of the party label in Texas,” Jones said. “It may be that Kelly is closer than Swanson to the median voter in District 150. But it’s likely to hurt him to have ‘Democrat’ next to his name because of the association with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Wendy Davis.”

Donald Trump’s inability to unify the GOP means “this might be the year” that voters spurn straight-ticket ballots, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “But this might not be the district.”

On the surface, there’s nothing to see here. HD150 voted 68-30 for Romney over Obama in 2012. A swing district this ain’t. Kelly’s strategy is finding enough Republicans who don’t care for the Republican candidate, Valoree Swanson, to win. That’s a steep hill to climb, but he has had some success – besides the person you see quoted in the story, he has the endorsements of former State Sen. Jon Lindsay and – this still blows my mind – outgoing Rep. Debbie Riddle herself. He also made a pretty good impression, especially compared to Swanson, at a recent Spring Klein Chamber of Commerce event; see here and here for a report.

Will it work? Well, Romney beat Obama by 25,000 votes in HD15 in 2012, the same margin by which Riddle defeated challenger Brad Neal that year. That’s a lot of people one has to convince to cross over. Still, Democratic State Reps were getting elected in heavily Republican districts as recently as 2008, and the northern parts of Harris County that contains HD150 have undergone a lot of demographic change that favors Democrats. So maybe it’s not quite as lopsided as it was four years ago, maybe the Trump effect will boost Dems and depress Rs, and maybe Kelly’s Republican endorsements will help him. I don’t know that you can get there from here, but maybe it can be a start. Kelly is more conservative than my preference, and he’d likely have a hard time getting party support in a different district or in a countywide race. But he’s a pretty good fit for the district he is in, and Lord knows we’re not going to be competitive in places like HD150 until we have people like Michael Kelly running as and voting for Democratic candidates. So we’ll see how it goes.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Candance White

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Candance White

Candance White

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Candance White. I am a judicial candidate for the 14th Court of Appeals Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 14th Court of Appeals hears all civil and criminal appeals cases with the exception of death penalty cases and post habeas corpus.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe a diverse perspective is need on this court to ensure the community at large is represented. I want to ensure that the law is interpreted fairly and objectively without bias or prejudice. I also believe that real experience in the area of child welfare and adult welfare is needed on this court as this court hears these types of cases.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have my undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University, my JD from University of Texas School of Law, and my Masters in Law (LLM) from the University of Houston Law Center. I have served as a Municipal Court Judge for the City of Houston. I handled a very large docket and am able to manage a court room. I have very strong analytical and written skills. I have helped to prepare over 75 appellate briefs and worked on appellate oral arguments. I have handled civil litigation, criminal defense, family law matters, elder law, and practiced before regulatory boards and commissions.

5. Why is this race important?

The Appellate court provides opinions on what constitutes error in cases. These opinions guide and define the legal parameters for cases involving both civil and criminal issues. The cases heard by this court will impact every area of every citizen as it guides both civil and criminal matters.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am a sound decision maker. I will work to ensure the law is applied fairly without bias. I will ensure that a large portion of the community is represented on the bench if elected where currently there is no representation. I am a hard worker who is dedicated to ensuring fairness and access to justice for all.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The state of the polls

Hillary Clinton

I’m just trying to get a handle on the numbers, with the idea of establishing some kind of guide for what to expect in the Presidential race in Texas. Bear with me.

The RCP average for the two-way Trump/Clinton race is 44.0 for Trump and 38.3 for Clinton. The FiveThirtyEight polling averages, which includes some other sources, come in at Trump 45.6, Clinton 37.6. However, once you apply the 538 secret sauce, you wind up with projected totals of 49.7% for Trump and 43.2% for Clinton.

RCP does not do this kind of modeling/forecasting – it’s a straight up polling average. As such, it can underestimate final totals, since it doesn’t try to guess what undecided voters may do. The 2012 RCP average for Texas had President Obama at 39.0 and Mitt Romney at 55.7; they finished at 41.4 and 57.2, respectively. Similarly, in 2008, Obama was averaging 40.5 and John McCain was at 53.5; the final numbers were 43.7 and 55.5. In other words, RCP underestimated Obama by three points in 2008 and by 2.5 points in 2012.

(I couldn’t find 538’s data for Texas in past years, so we’ll just skip that part of the analysis.)

There are so many variables in play here that I’ve been very reluctant to even begin to guess at what the final numbers might look like. Here are some of the things that factor in:

1. Overall turnout – Voter registration is at an all-time high, but that correlates weakly at best to turnout. However, the overall voting age population is way up, and even in a modest turnout-to-VAP scenario like we had in 2012, we’re easily looking at a half million or more extra voters than we’ve ever had, and that number could be quite a bit higher without setting a record for turnout as a share of the adult population. Nine million votes is not out of the question. I have to believe that beyond a certain point, extra voters will break Democratic. Where that point is, how blue they are, and how likely that is to happen, I have no idea.

2. Undecided voters – In 2008, the Obama/McCain share of the vote in the averages was 94.0%; in 2012, the Obama/Romney share was 94.7%. This year, it’s 82.3% for Trump and Clinton. Even adding in Johnson and Stein only gets you to 91.6%. That’s a lot more undecided voters. Do they show up? Which way do they lean? There’s a lot of room for candidates to gain ground here.

3. The third-party candidates – Just as a reminder, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined for 1.42% of the vote in Texas in 2012. Their RCP combined average is 9.3% right now. Poll numbers for third-party candidates are almost always overstated, often by quite a bit, but we don’t have any useful data for comparison from 2012. I’m sure there are some Republicans who will vote for Johnson over Trump, but nearly the entire state GOP establishment is in Trump’s corner, so it’s not like there’s an organized #NeverTrump movement. As with the undecided voters, there’s a lot of room for the Trump and Clinton numbers to change here if as has been the norm historically the L and G numbers are exaggerated. But if there was ever a year where maybe they’re not, you’d think this would be it.

4. The other polls – There are national polls showing Hillary Clinton with a double-digit lead. That’s a landslide by any measure, and if it’s what we get, it’s entirely possible that the polls we have for Texas are underestimating her by a considerable amount, as state polling tends to lag the national trends. The fact that the one most recent poll we have is also the closest one we’ve seen since that weird Washington Post poll suggests that possibility as well. We also know that there’s a lot of polling data that is not made public but from which we can make inferences based on the actions taken by the campaigns and other actors who have that data. Here, we have multiple suggestions of Republicans being worried about their turnout in Texas, plus Hillary Clinton actually running a week’s worth of ads in Texas, online and on TV. Draw your own conclusions about that.

5. Latino voters – This is baked into some of the other factors, but I keep being struck by the differences between what national polls say about Latino support for Donald Trump – in short, he may be lucky to get 20% of the Latino vote nationally, well below what Mitt Romney got – and what the state polls have said. The latter have generally had his support in the 30s, with Clinton in the 50s or low 60s. This may be a function of small sample sizes combined with excessive weighting to compensate, or it may simply indicate that Texas Latinos are different than Latinos elsewhere. Bear in mind that we have some data to indicate that lower-propensity Latino voters tend to be more Democratic than high-propensity Latino voters, which is a fancy way of saying that higher Latino turnout correlates with better Democratic performance among Latinos.

6. Crossover voters – Mark Bluenthal wrote yesterday that the key to Hillary Clinton’s increased national lead is that she has consolidated the Democratic vote better than Donald Trump has done with the Republican vote. Another way to put that is there are more Republicans who are voting for other candidates, including Clinton, than there are Democrats who are voting for other candidates. We see that in Texas as well, specifically in that UH poll, which showed ten percent of Rs voting for Clinton or Johnson, but only five percent of Ds voting for other candidates. Hillary Clinton’s better performance in Texas is two parts turnout – there are more Democrats and fewer Republicans voting than usual – and one part crossover voting. If that latter group is bigger than we think, that will affect the outcome.

In the end, I’m less interested in the margin between Trump and Clinton – given what we do know so far, barring anything unexpected that margin is going to be smaller than the McCain-Obama margin – as I am in the absolute totals. How many people actually vote for Hillary Clinton? The high-water mark is 3,528,633, set by Obama in 2008. Just on the increase in population alone, she could top that while receiving a lower percentage of the vote (for example, 3.6 million votes for Clinton out of 8.4 million total = 42.9%; Obama got 43.7%), but I would consider that a huge disappointment. Can she get to 3.8 million, or (be still my heart) 4 million? Can she reach 44 or even 45 percent, a level not reached since Jimmy Carter in 1976? I hope to have some small amount of clarity on this before voting concludes, but I doubt I’ll get much.

I think that about covers it. What it all means, I still don’t know. But when it’s all over and we’re doing the autopsy, these are the things I’ll want to look back on.

Posted in: The making of the President.

RIP, Constable Ruben Davis

Sad news from Fort Bend.

Constable Ruben Davis

Constable Ruben Davis

At a time when the public and law enforcement officials contemplate how to best blend policing and community, Fort Bend County has lost a man many describe as a role model for the perfect mix of serving and protecting.

Longtime Fort Bend County Precinct 2 Constable Ruben Davis died on Tuesday morning. He was 61.

“He loved his community and, more importantly, he loved his family,” Precinct 2 Chief Deputy Rodney Pentecost said. “We are grieving right now. It’s obvious that he’ll be missed.”

Davis served as a Fort Bend constable since May 1996 and led a precinct that covers the county’s east side including Missouri City. His name, as an unopposed candidate, will remain on the November ballot.

He was known for his big personality, huge heart and love for the residents of Fort Bend County.

Sharon Davis said her husband was a provider and protector for their Missouri City household and beyond.

“I think the people will probably miss his generosity. Anything that he could do for you, he was going to do it,” she said. “He’s always been a sweet and caring person.”


The constable’s current term expires on Dec. 31. According to the Texas Elections Code, a vacancy occurs on the date of an official’s death. Davis appears unopposed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If he is re-elected as a deceased candidate to a four-year term, another vacancy will occur on Nov. 22 – the date that Fort Bend County election results will be canvassed by commissioners.

It is unclear whether Fort Bend commissioners will make an appointment for the last six weeks of the year.

According to Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert’s office and county elections administrator John Oldham, commissioners have the responsibility to appoint someone to serve until the next election in November 2018. The winning candidate in that race will have an abbreviated two-year term. The seat then returns to the usual four-year rotation for the 2020 election.

Sharon Davis said she would be willing to accept an appointment to her husband’s post.

As the story notes, Sharon Davis met Ruben Davis at HPD academy, so she has a law enforcement background. I did not know Constable Davis myself, but all of my Fort Bend friends on Facebook have been posting about him. He clearly left a big impression. My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

Posted in: Local politics.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 17

The Texas Progressive Alliance doesn’t even know where to begin with the latest allegations in the Presidential race as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

One of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and I will have interviews with three of them. First up is Anne Sung, who had run for this position before in 2013 (you can listen to my interview with her from that election here). Sung is a graduate of HISD schools and a former science teacher and department chair at Lee High School. She served on Mayor Turner’s Education Transition Team and is now the chief strategy officer and Vice President at the non-profit Project GRAD Houston. Here’s what we talked about:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman. I’ll have interviews with the latter two in the coming days.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

UH Hobby School: Trump 41, Clinton 38


Hillary Clinton

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has one of his slimmest leads yet over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in Texas, 41 percent to 38 percent, according to a new poll among registered voters. Trump’s support falls within the survey’s margin of error, which is plus- or minus 3 percent, meaning the race is a statistical dead heat.

Released Tuesday by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, the poll also found that 16 percent of respondents were undecided or refused to answer. Four percent chose Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and 1 percent selected Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

“The national gains Hillary Clinton has made in the last two weeks are evident in Texas, where she has closed within three points of Donald Trump,” said Richard Murray, political science professor and director of the Hobby School’s Survey Research Institute. “With such a close margin, the key question will be which candidate can actually get their supporters to the polls over the next three weeks.”

Trump’s lead jumps one point – to 4 percent – when the poll considered voters who said they were certain to vote on or before Election Day. Among independent voters in Texas, Clinton dominates Trump, 30 percent to 14 percent. The GOP candidate, however, won the support of a plurality of male respondents, 44 percent to Clinton’s 35 percent, while women support Clinton by a four-point margin, 42 percent to 38 percent.

There’s also another WaPo/Survey Monkey poll that shows Trump up 2, 48-46. That same poll had Clinton up 46-45 in early September. I’m not putting too much weight into this because its methodology is weird, but for those of you that saw news of this poll, I’m letting you know that I saw it as well. Here’s the info for the UH poll. I’ll quote from their intro:

The Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston completed live telephone interviews with 1,000 registered voters in Texas who reported they were certain (77 percent) or very likely to vote (23 percent) on or before election day on November 8, 2016.
Interviews were conducted by Consumer Research International between October 7 and October 15, 2016. Interviews were conducted on landline (54 percent) and cell phones (46percent).

The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3 percent (at the 95 percent confidence level). The survey was conducted under the supervision of co-directors Richard Murray, director of the Hobby School’s Survey Research Institute, and Robert Stein, research associate at the Hobby School.

The sample was weighted to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the electorate based on the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

This is consistent with their earlier poll of Harris County that showed Clinton with a lead. As I said then, you can’t have Trump leading the state by less than half of Mitt Romney’s margin – hell, less than half of John McCain’s margin – and not see that reflected at the local level as well. One could argue that the composition of the Texas electorate this year will be more favorable to Democrats this year than 2012 and possibly 2008 were, but we’ll leave that discussion for after the election. In any event, a few quick points to make here:

– I can’t overstate how shocking it is to see a Republican candidate in Texas in a top-of-the-ticket race score only 41% in a poll in October. Forget the three-point margin for a minute, how is it that Trump so consistently can’t even come close to fifty percent?

– Even worse from Trump’s perspective is there’s not that much room for him to grow. He and Clinton have about the same share of their own voters – 80% of Dems say they support Clinton, 78% of GOPers are with Trump. More to the point, here aren’t a lot of undecided Republicans out there – twelve percent fall under None, Don’t Know, or Refused, while 14% of Dems are in one of those buckets. Trump does lose more of his own voters than Clinton does – ten percent of Republicans are voting for someone else (5% Johnson, 5% Clinton) while only five percent of Democrats are defecting (2% Trump, 2% Johnson, 1% Stein). Maybe some of them will come home for him.

– There’s a large share of undecided independents (29%), but 1) Clinton leads 30-14 among indies who do have a preference, 2) we don’t know how big a slice of the sample indies are, and 3) these are probably your least likely voters in the sample.

– Unfortunately, the provided poll data does not include breakdowns by age or by race. I’d bet that Clinton leads among voters under 50, as has been the case in other polls, but I can’t confirm that based on what we have.

FiveThirtyEight has this poll incorporated into their data set for Texas, but as of this writing Real Clear Politics had not noticed it. You should also read this 538 post about the poll and why Clinton is doing as well as she is in red states overall and Texas in particular.

I’ll have some more thoughts on the state of the polls tomorrow.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Big XII declines to expand

Sorry, UH.

The University of Houston’s campaign to join the Big 12 Conference was crushed Monday by the league’s presidents, who ruled out expansion without discussing the merits of any individual applicants, including the confident, fast-rising Cougars.

Bob Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, and University of Oklahoma President David Boren, president of the league’s board of directors, said league CEOs decided unanimously against expansion and agreed to remove the topic as an active agenda item.

They said individual candidates, including UH and Rice University among 11 finalists, were never discussed during meetings Sunday night and a six-hour session Monday.

“We all came to a unanimous decision that this was not the right time (for expansion),” Boren said. “All the information generated was not wasted effort. They (candidate schools) presented themselves in a very fine light, and we appreciate them.”

Those compliments, however, came as cold comfort to schools such as UH that have invested tens of millions of dollars in facility upgrades and coaching salaries in the hopes of joining one of the “Power Five” conferences that hold the financial upper hand in the billion-dollar college sports industry.

So while UH stands among the nation’s elite on the field, ranked No. 11 in the most recent Associated Press football poll and the defending football champion in the American Athletic Conference, it remains on the outside looking in when it comes to the millions in financial spoils that fall to established leagues like the Big 12.

Here’s the official press release about the non-announcement. The Big XII last invited new members in 2011 when TCU and West Virginia joined. UH had been angling for an invitation back then – they’ve been at this for longer than that – but wound up going to the conference formerly known as the Big East instead. I’m not a UH partisan so I don’t have an emotional investment in this; I find the whole neverending game of musical conferences to be amusing and enervating at the same time. It may be that this is a wise decision for the Big XII and it may be that they’re putting short-term and self-interested considerations ahead of their long-term viability. Who knows? The one thing I’m sure of is that this settles nothing. We’ll be back on this rollercoaster before you know it. SB Nation, the Press, and the DMN’s SportsDay have more.

Posted in: Other sports.

Chron overview of HD23

We go to Galveston for one of the few interesting Legislative races in the area.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

A former Democratic state legislator is trying to recapture the Texas House District 23 seat from the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction.

In one of the few competitive legislative contests, Democrat Lloyd Criss, who represented Galveston County in the Texas House from 1979 to 1991, is challenging first-term Republican Rep. Wayne Faircloth.

Faircloth, 63, won the seat in 2014 by defeating Criss’ daughter, former Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss.

Although the district was redrawn to favor the GOP by combining the predominantly Democratic areas of Galveston County with overwhelmingly Republican Chambers County, Republicans have struggled in the district. Faircloth fell short in his first attempt to win the district in 2012, losing to then-Rep. Craig Eiland, a Democrat.

Lloyd Criss

Lloyd Criss

The seat came open in 2014 after Eiland decided to retire from a post he had held for two decades.

The district includes Democratic-leaning Galveston, the Bolivar Peninsula, Texas City, La Marque and the unincorporated community of San Leon before stretching across Galveston Bay to take in more conservative Chambers County.


[Sean Skipworth, who teaches government at the College of the Mainland,] said that Faircloth won during a mid-term election with low turnout, which usually favors Republicans. Incumbents are most vulnerable during their first reelection campaign, he said, and having presidential candidate Donald Trump at the top of the ticket could hurt Republicans farther down the ballot like Faircloth. The 75-year-old Criss also has high name recognition in Galveston County, which has 80 percent of the district’s population.

“If I was Faircloth, I would be a little nervous,” Skipworth said.

True, but Eiland was the only Democrat to receive a majority of the vote in HD23 in 2012. The district, like Galveston County itself, had been trending the wrong way for some time, and I suspect Eiland’s decision to retire rather than run in 2014 was predicated as much by an inking about which way the wind was blowing as anything else. That said, Susan Criss did about as well as one could expect in that environment, and it’s hardly outrageous to think that a guy like Faircloth, who represents a relatively balanced district, could get swept out in the Year of the Trump. It’s just that if that does happen, he’d immediately be the favorite to win it back in 2018, at least until we get a feel for where there will be a more permanent effect from this election. Bottom line, if the statewide polls are accurate, this seat could well be in play. Holding it after this year, that’s the challenge.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Robert Schaffer

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge Robert Schaffer

Judge Robert Schaffer

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

Robert Schaffer, Judge of the 152nd District Court, Harris County, Texas

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

There are 60 district courts in Harris County. They are divided into 4 divisions:

(1) Civil Trial Division with 24 courts
(2) Criminal Trial Division with 23 courts
(3) Family Trial Division with 10 courts
(4) Juvenile Trial Division with 3 courts.

The 152nd District Court is a court of general jurisdiction that is in the Civil Trial Division.

If a lawsuit can be filed for damages or a judicial declaration of your rights, the case would be filed in the civil district courts. This would include cases involving contracts, leases, product liability, medical or other professional negligence, motor vehicle collisions, slip and falls or other injuries that occur on someone’s property, job terminations because of some form of illegal discrimination, foreclosures on homes or other property or violating some statute that causes damages or other economic loss.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

During my time on the bench, I have served the citizens of Harris County in many capacities. In October of 2013, I was elected by the Harris County District Court judges to complete my predecessor’s term as Local Administrative Judge for all of the Harris County District Courts. I was subsequently elected to a full two year term (2014-2015) and re-elected to a second two year term (2016-2017). Prior to my election as Local Administrative Judge, I served as the Administrative Judge for the Civil Trial division from 2012 to 2013. In 2010 I served as a Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals by special assignment. The State Multidistrict Litigation Panel selected me to serve as the pretrial judge for the Toyota Unintended Acceleration Multidistrict Litigation in 2010 and for the GM Ignition Switch Multidistrict Litigation for the state of Texas in 2015. I also serve as a member of the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee. In 2014 I was selected as the Trial Judge of the Year by the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists and Distinguished Alum for the South Texas College of Law Alumni Association.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

Continue overseeing the cases that are filed in the 152nd District Court to see that they are moved through the system efficiently so that the litigants are assured of having reasonable access to the courts.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important that the person elected to preside over this court is qualified based on background, experience and temperament.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

People should vote for me because I am the most qualified person to serve on this bench. I have been a lawyer for 32 years and during that time I have tried cases as a lawyer and presided over cases as a judge. The lawyers who practice in this court have overwhelming stated in bar polls that I do an excellent job and am the most qualified to serve.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Clinton campaign to run ads in Texas

It’s come to this.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’ campaign is going on the air in solid-red Texas, a remarkable move by a Democratic presidential nominee as her Republican rival, Donald Trump, struggles across the country.

Clinton is launching a one-week ad buy in the Lone Star State that highlights the Dallas Morning News’ recent endorsement of the former secretary of state, according to a campaign aide. The 30-second commercial will air on TV in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, as well as online. Clinton’s campaign did not detail the size of the buy.

When the Dallas Morning News editorial board endorsed Clinton earlier this year, it was the board’s first endorsement of a Democratic presidential hopeful since before World War II. The Clinton spot notes the historical significance of the endorsement, going on to quote its criticism of Trump’s judgment and praise of Clinton’s bipartisan credentials.

“At this moment in time, for Texas and for America, Hillary for president,” a narrator concludes.

The ad buy comes as polls continue to show the presidential race in Texas closer than usual. A WFAA/SurveyUSA poll released Thursday found Trump leading by only 4 points, much less than Mitt Romney’s 16-point margin in 2012 and John McCain’s 12-point margin in 2008.

“The Dallas Morning News points out Trump’s values are out of step with Texas,” Garry Mauro, who chairs Clinton’s efforts in Texas, said in a statement on the ad buy. “As more and more Texans realize this — and turn to Hillary — the polls will get better and better.”

Here’s the ad:

Nice. Is it likely to have any effect on persuasion or turnout? Maybe a little bit at the margins, but who cares? The Chron goes into some detail.

Though Clinton still is a long shot in Texas, political analysts see it as a sign of her recent strength nationally and in the critical battleground states of Pennsylvania and Florida.

“I don’t think it’s knowable at this point what a Texas ad buy would accomplish,” veteran Texas Democratic operative Harold Cook said. “But I will say this: If the Democrat is buying ad time in Texas in a presidential election, it ain’t a good year for the Republican.”


“I think they’re playing with house money right now,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria, citing reports that the Clinton campaign is flush with cash compared to Trump, who has taken in less than half of the $373 million reported so far by the Democrat. “They’ve got excess resources.”

I’m just glad I lived long enough to see a Democratic Presidential candidate decide it was worthwhile to run some general election ads in Texas for Texas voters. Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Chron overview of HD134

The Chron looks at that perpetual swing district, HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Sarah Davis

Artful redistricting has squeezed the general election suspense from nearly all of Harris County’s legislative races, rendering most districts solidly red or blue.

Democrat Ben Rose is hoping to prove his west Houston district can be the exception.

The 31-year-old political newcomer is seeking to leverage traditionally high Democratic turnout in presidential election years to oust three-term Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis. Doing so would return District 134 to Democratic hands for the first time in six years.

“To effectuate change, you’d have to want that change. And based on her record, I don’t think that she really is distinguishable,” Rose said during an interview in his Meyerland campaign office. “On cutting $5 billion from education, where was she? On accepting federal (Medicaid) dollars, where was she?”

Davis, known as a moderate, is campaigning on her fiscal conservatism and clout in the state Legislature as a member of the majority party.

“From just a general standpoint of who can get something done, your choice is someone who’s on the most powerful committees and has some experience and is in the majority party, versus a freshman with no seniority and in the minority party,” said Davis, 40, whose committee posts include appropriations and calendars.

District 134, which runs from Meyerland north to Timbergrove, has traded parties twice in the last decade, from Republican Martha Wong to Democrat Ellen Cohen in 2007, and Cohen to Davis in 2011.

Ben Rose

Ben Rose

Since then, it has become more Republican.

District 134 lost five precincts in 2011’s redistricting, all of them left-leaning. And the district gained 25 others, most of them right-leaning, according to a Chronicle analysis of straight-ticket voting.


Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy is expected to handicap many local Republican candidates, whose fate typically is tied to the performance of their party’s presidential pick and the turnout he draws.

However, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said he expects Davis to be more insulated than many of her GOP peers, who could be hurt by higher Democratic turnout or a lower percentage of Republican straight-ticket voting.

“The core of it is: Are there more Democrats in 134?” Rottinghaus said. “It seems to me they’ve already maxed out the number that are there, so i don’t think you’re going to find a lot more turnout … and some of those Democrats are supporters of Sarah Davis.”

Here’s my interview with Ben Rose. I basically agree with Prof. Rottinghaus that a boost in Democratic turnout is unlikely to have much effect on this race. For one, turnout in this district is always pretty high; it was 72% in 2012. For another, the district is indeed redder than it was in 2008 – President Obama got 42% of the vote in 2012 after topping 46% in 2008. I think the more likely path to victory for Rose is not higher turnout but lower turnout, with that being the result of more Republicans staying home. That could happen, but it’s not sustainable if it does.

What I think may happen is that Hillary Clinton carries the district due to a larger than usual number of crossovers and other Republicans who refuse to vote for Trump, though she may not have a majority in doing this. Beyond that, Republican candidates in other races, with the possible exception of the DA race, win the district, probably with a lower than expected margin. I don’t claim to be a fan of Sarah Davis, but she’s a good fit for the district and hasn’t done anything obvious to turn off her supporters. Barring a surprise, I expect her to win by an amount that keeps this district firmly in the “swing” category going forward.

Posted in: Election 2016.

MUDs and debt

Another story about the least-understood form of debt and taxation in Texas.


In Houston’s conservative suburbs, where local governments are loath to raise taxes, the thankless task of hiking revenues has fallen to hundreds of so-called municipal utility districts created for developers to finance water and sewage systems, roads and other amenities.

These MUDs, as they’re called, have virtually unlimited power in bright red, anti-tax Texas to sell bonds and levy property taxes.

The state’s leading tea party conservatives, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have championed their creation in what ethics reformers say is a clear example of special interest influence in Austin.

All told, lawmakers who carry bills creating MUDs and other water districts have collected $3.5 million in campaign contributions since 2001 from law firms that specialize in creating those districts on behalf of developers or do bond work on their multimillion-dollar deals, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found. The Chronicle used a state database to pinpoint which law firms work for water districts. The data doesn’t include developers, who also contribute large sums to legislators.

Both Hegar and Patrick say MUDs and other water districts have played a critical role in developing infrastructure and creating jobs. They deny campaign contributions have anything to do with the bills they’ve carried. But both also say they are concerned about surging property tax burdens levied by school districts, towns, cities, counties – and MUDs, their less accountable, largely anonymous first cousins.

MUDs and other water districts have to date issued more than $60  billion in outstanding debt and face almost no government oversight of their spending. While most voters know the names of their mayors and city council members, many have no idea who runs their local MUD – or even what a MUD is.

James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin, wants the legislature to protect taxpayers by preventing local officeholders from “off-loading” the delivery of public services to MUDs and other “special purpose districts” that contribute to the property tax burden and often lack transparency.

See here for past blogging on this topic, and be sure to read the whole story. Anyone who is surprised by the connection between MUD law firms and the politicians who push MUDs should probably go lie down in a quiet room for awhile. I know one should never read the comments, but I was struck by the number of commenters on that story who basically accused the Chronicle of being “anti-development” for having written this. I don’t doubt that MUDs are an effective mechanism for spurring development in currently undeveloped placed. The question I have is whether this is the best way to spur development in currently undeveloped places (*) or if perhaps a better mechanism may exist. To put it another way, if we could emulate Metro’s bus system redesign and start with a blank map of Harris County and its governmental entities and undertake the task of reimagining them all from the ground up, would we want to design something that looks like what we have now, or would we go a different direction? Call me crazy, but I think we’d gravitate towards the latter. That doesn’t mean that we can easily or pragmatically move in a different direction from where we are now, but it is worth reminding ourselves that what we have now, with its heavy reliance on this unhealthily symbiotic relationship of officeholders and niche law firms, not to mention millions of dollars in debt being ratified by elections in which literally two people vote, is not the only possible option. The Chron’s Chris Tomlinson has more.

(*) There is of course the completely separate question about whether it is a good idea to spur development in undeveloped places at all, or whether it would be better to spur it in already-developed places, with more investment in transit and other non-car modes of travel. That is a conversation that is very much worth having, but it would make Dan Patrick’s head explode, and so it is unfortunately beyond the scope of this blog post.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Interview with Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Two-term Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is currently the only countywide Democrat, though we hope he’ll have some company after November. An Army veteran and former City Council member, Ryan served under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll and maintains an unmistakable passion for the office. He has actively pursued industrial polluters and other environmental malfeasants – see this Chron story about the San Jacinto tar pits for an example – and he was first out of the box to sue VW over their emissions flim-flammery. Ryan has many more accomplishments than that – he provided me this fact sheet, which he refers to in the interview, for more on what he’s been doing – and if he gets a third term, you can expect more of the same. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Republicans remain concerned about their turnout in Texas

Exhibit A:

Can you feel the excitement?

Can you feel the excitement?

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is stepping up his travel for state Republicans amid concerns about GOP turnout in November.

Cruz is set to attend a trio of events next week in North Texas aimed at getting out the vote, particularly among conservatives who have long made up his base. Cruz will appear with U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin on Wednesday night in Burleson, followed by an event Thursday afternoon for the Dallas County GOP and another in the evening for the Denton County GOP with U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

The string of appearances comes as Cruz increases his focus on one of his main political goals of late: ensuring that conservative turnout does not slip after a presidential race that left many such voters disillusioned. Cruz himself has grappled with the choice in November, declining to endorse his party’s nominee, Donald Trump, until last month.

Cruz’s get-out-the-vote efforts began in earnest earlier this month, when he visited a phone bank for the Tarrant County Republican Party. Speaking with reporters at the party’s headquarters in Fort Worth, he reiterated a worry about depressed turnout among “strong conservatives,” particularly in large urban counties like Tarrant, Dallas and Harris.

“That could wreak real damage, particularly in down-ticket races — in state legislative races, in judicial races, in county races,” Cruz said. “I don’t want to see that happen, so I’m doing everything I can to encourage conservatives” to vote.

We all know how well that went. Try smiling more, Ted, that comes through in your tone of voice. Meanwhile, here’s Exhibit B:

In the final weeks before the November election, Houston-area supporters of Donald Trump say they feel let down and abandoned by both the Republican Party and the nominee’s campaign.

Still, they persevere to get out the vote for their candidate, standing on street corners, knocking on doors without the traditional list of homes to target and handing out home-printed fliers.

“We have gotten no guidance,” said Jeana Blackford, a local leader of pro-Trump activists. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and we’ve never seen this. It’s absurd.”

The Republican parties of Texas and Harris County said they were running get-out-the-vote efforts and that they support all candidates on the ballot equally, but frustrated local Trump supporters allege the party is turning its back on its presidential nominee and his millions of followers.

The sentiment mirrors events unfolding nationally, in which a schism between the Trump campaign and the GOP is widening as the nominee berates top party members and Republican officials rescind their support of his candidacy.

“We get calls all the time from people saying, ‘the party does not support him (Trump),’ ” said Ben McPhaul, executive director of the Harris County Republican Party. “Maybe they get that perception from the national party, though I’m not sure that’s true. But we’re always quick to say we support every candidate on the ticket and we support them all equally.”


In a typical election, state and local parties generally focus on state and local candidates and do not carry a lot of weight supporting the presidential nominee, said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

Promotion of the presidential candidate isusually is left largely to the national party and the candidate’s campaign.

The Trump campaign, however, has been mostly absent in Texas. Its Houston office opened for a few months in the run-up to the March primary, then closed in the summer, Blackford said. She said local Trump supporters did not trust the Trump campaign staff, but she stressed that Trump himself had not known about the “chaos and disorganization” in his staff until it was too late.

Blackford, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom and veteran campaign worker who traveled to other states for Trump in the primaries, said she has about 350 people in the Houston area eager to get to work, but they have been given no direction.

By comparison, the Hillary Clinton campaign has six Texas offices. Stephen Abrams Harrison, a volunteer in the Houston headquarters, said the campaign supplies the office with computers, as well as buttons and yard signs. Volunteers sit in on weekly conference calls with the board of state directors.

Fed up Trump supporters in September formed a political action committee based in Waxahachie, called Make America Safe Again, a merger of existing grass-roots organizations. Board member Stephani Scruggs said the PAC was formed to make up for what they perceived as the Republican National Committee’s abandonment of Trump’s candidacy.

The group posted a news release Thursday titled, “Pro-Trump super PAC implements own ground game amid rumors of RNC betrayal.”

See here and here for previous examples. It’s hard to know how much to make of this, but I keep coming back to the premise that Republicans really haven’t had to do much if any campaigning in this state in Presidential years in a long time. There are downballot races, like the perpetual struggle in CD23, that they work on, and it’s very different in the off years when control of state government is at stake, but this just feels different, and it makes me wonder if the data they’re seeing confirms or even amplifies the bits of evidence we have that this will not be a typical year for them. I hesitate to put any quantifiers on this, but with the polls being what they are and the campaign activity being what it is, it’s hard not to feel like we’re in some very unfamiliar territory, and that we may wake up on November 9 with a very different set of expectations going forward. At the very least, you have to wonder if this feeling by the Trump partisans that they’re being ignored will put a damper on things for the GOP in 2018. If their enthusiasm in 2018 is down to the point where we’d be looking at 2006 levels of turnout, that opens up a whole lot of possibilities for the Democrats. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves here, but stick that thought in your back pocket and we’ll look at it again in the aftermath.

Posted in: Election 2016.