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Judicial Q&A: Judge RK Sandill

(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 RK Sandill

Judge RK Sandill

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

Judge R.K. Sandill. I preside over the 127th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The civil courts preside over matters that include commercial, personal injury, consumer and tax litigation. The matters range in value from $500 and above. The civil courts also deal with issue related to health warrants, medical emergencies, and matters as odd as allowing for the reinternment of human remains.

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

Since taking office in January 2009, I have tried over 200 cases and disposed of more than 12,000 matters. I have worked hard to improve docket management, jury relations and to facilitate the litigation needs of counsel and their matters. As one of the first judges in Harris County to adopt e-filing, I have also worked to utilize technology as a tool to improve the litigation process. I believe strongly in respecting all who appear in my court, as well as their time and resources. As such, I was pleased to be rated “well qualified” or “qualified” by over 77% of respondents in the 2016 HBA Judicial Qualifications poll.

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

I strive continually to improve my courtroom work and make the 127 th work as efficiently and effectively as possible for those who appear there. By allowing FaceTime and Skype to be used to call witnesses, I will continue to leverage technology to alleviate costs and time constraints for litigants. I am also exploring the possibility of having hearings and status conferences in this same manner.

5. Why is this race important?

Our civil courts are a critically important aspect of our judicial system. They offer citizens the chance to have their day in court, with a trial before a jury of their peers. The public forum offered by the courts allows for transparency. In the last ten years, we have seen a shift away from transparency when it comes to resolving disputes. Because of this, we need to elect and re-elect high quality judges to these benches so that the public trust remains in our constitutionally protected judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I believe my experience and record of success as Judge of the 127 th District Court merit my re-election. I have consistently received high ratings from the attorneys who practice in Harris County courts. As the first and only judge of South Asian descent in Harris County, I bring valuable diversity of background and experience to our local judiciary. Further, because of my varied experience (grew up in a military family and a cancer survivor), I bring different perspective to the Harris County judiciary.

Further, because I work hard, understand the issues before me and attempt to make all those that appear in my courtroom feel welcomed and respected, I have the respect of the lawyers that appear before me. This election cycle I have been endorsed by the Houston Lawyers’ Association, the Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, and the Association of Women Attorneys, which comprise all the non-partisan legal organizations that endorse in Harris County. For all these reasons, plus because I love what I do, I ask the people of Harris County to vote for me in this election.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Pension deal approved by firefighters

It’s a big deal, though it’s hardly a done deal yet.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

For the first time ever, the Houston firefighters’ pension board agreed Monday to accept benefit cuts for current workers and retirees, potentially paving the way for a solution to a 15-year-old crisis that has threatened to bust budgets and weaken the city’s financial stability.

By a 7-2 vote, the firefighters panel joined the police and municipal pension boards in agreeing to give up some benefits in exchange for certainty in a complex deal that would eliminate underfunding of Houston’s three retirement systems in 30 years.

The reform package, which Mayor Sylvester Turner heralded as a “historic turning point,” heads to City Council for approval on Wednesday, then to the Legislature, which controls city workers’ retirement benefits.

Although passage of the reform in Austin is far from a foregone conclusion, Turner was optimistic the deal would survive any legislative turbulence.

“For the first time ever, all three pension systems have been willing to work with the city in a very productive manner. We’re all on the same page and moving forward as a united front,” Turner said at a press conference. “We are closer than ever to solving what no one else has been able to solve over the last 15-plus years. The finish line is certainly within reach.”

The mayor’s declarations were firmer than those of fire pension chairman David Keller.

“I think it substantially moves it forward, but there’s still a lot of road to go,” Keller said. “It’s certainly no end. It’s kind of a beginning.”

A statement released by the fire fund after the vote called the agreement a “non-binding framework,” and no trustees elected by active or retired firefighters appeared at Turner’s press conference.

See here for the background. There’s a lot of talk later in the story about maybe filing a lawsuit over this – by Andy Taylor, of course, who has never turned down a possible payday – but the more immediate concern is about ensuring a bill passes through the Lege to ratify this. I have been of the opinion that if the city made a deal with the pension funds, the Lege will be willing to ratify it. That was under the assumption that none of the stakeholders would lobby against it, which may not be the case here. For now, though, I’ll stick with what I said up front – this is a big deal. Now it’s on Mayor Turner and the city’s lobbyists to finish it. The Mayor’s press release is here, and an easy-to-read executive summary of the changes to all three plans is here. The Urban Edge has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Still talking about recapture

This Chron story from Monday adds a bit more to the recapture discussion.


As one Houston school board member sees it, the district’s November ballot measure regarding the state-mandated forfeiture of local tax dollars offers no good choice for voters.

“Do you want to be shot in the head or stabbed in the back? Both are not pleasant,” trustee Mike Lunceford said of the options.

The Houston Independent School District has been deemed so property wealthy that for the first time it must forfeit local property tax revenue – an estimated $162 million next year – to the state to help fund poorer districts. By Texas law, however, the district first needs voter approval to send away the money. The Houston district’s estimated recapture payment is expected to increase to $257 million in 2018 and to top $1 billion over four years.

The idea of willingly giving local property tax dollars to the state, especially when three-quarters of HISD students come from low-income families, is unacceptable to Mayor Sylvester Turner and other leaders who are urging voters to oppose the Nov. 8 ballot measure. The opposition strategy is an admitted gamble that lawmakers will be persuaded to revamp the state’s school-funding system in the 2017 legislative session.

“The Legislature moves when its back is up against the wall, especially on big issues,” Turner, a former legislator, said this week.

The bet, of course, may not pay off. For one, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican from Houston, does not support the opposition’s approach.

“If the HISD board doesn’t like the current school-finance system, they should come to Austin to work constructively to change it,” Allen Blakemore, a spokesman for Patrick, said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle. “Instead they lead their voters to make a political statement at a significant cost to the taxpayer.”


Turner has criticized the ballot language as misleading and suggested it could be challenged in court, just as the city was sued in 2015 over its measure concerning term limits. He added that “any half-way decent attorney” could sue on behalf of commercial property owners if their property was sent to another school district. Campaign advertising urging opposition to the ballot measure states that the proposition “is about shutting down neighborhood schools.”

The Houston district has not released how much money it would have to cut from the budget in future years because of recapture.

“We have to make the natural assumption that some of the schools are going to close, some of the programs are going to go away,” said Jeri Brooks, spokeswoman for the vote “against” campaign.

The state never has had to resort to property detachment for taxing purposes. Galveston voters rejected that district’s recapture proposition several years ago, then approved it in a future election.

The Houston school district could hold another election in May – five months into the legislative session – if necessary.

First, let’s be very clear that the suggestion from Dan Patrick’s office that the HISD board “should come to Austin to work constructively to change” the school finance system is risible. Putting aside the fact that Patrick is obsessed with vouchers and bathrooms, it will be a cold day in August before he lifts a finger to help HISD in any way. To the extent that the “no on recapture” crowd has any hope, it’s that they will inspire people around the state to put pressure on their Reps and Senators to Do Something, to which obstructers like Dan Patrick will have to accede. It’s a triple bank shot with a combo to sink the eight ball, but at least it’s a plan, and it recognizes that nothing will happen without external pressure.

The bit about Galveston and possibly having an electoral do-over is very interesting and something that I had not seen or heard before. I’d like to see some confirmation of that, because if HISD could re-vote once it becomes clear that the Lege isn’t going to do squat, then that changes the calculus.

As for Mayor Turner’s claim about the ballot language, all irony aside the language is mandated by the same law that mandates recapture. That was one of the things I discussed with David Thompson in my interview with him, because the language seemed so weird to me. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be struck down – it is very clear by now that the Supreme Court respects the local electoral process only when it feels like it – but it should be noted that this language didn’t come from nowhere.

It’s important to remember that where all of this comes from is the Legislature.

The state of Texas might well spend less on public education in the next budget than in the current one thanks to increasing local school property taxes.

School financing works like a waterbed: Push down on one side and the other side rises. Raise the local share of spending and the state doesn’t have to spend as much.

In Texas, property values are up. With them, revenue from property taxes is rising. For a given level of state spending, that means the locals are paying more and the state doesn’t have to spend as much.

That means, in turn, that state lawmakers don’t have to sweat rising costs like the locals do. And it frees some of those state lawmakers to holler at the locals for rising taxes even as those higher local revenues help the state skate through a tough budget.


According to the Legislative Budget Board, state aid for education rose to $19.59 billion for this fiscal year from $18.24 billion in 2008. That’s an increase of 7.4 percent. But local revenue — generated by property taxes — rose to $26.25 billion this fiscal year from $18.2 billion in 2008, an increase of 44.2 percent.

Ten years ago, the state and local share of the cost of public education in Texas was virtually even — around 44.8 percent each. Federal money accounted for 10.3 percent. Now the locals pay 51.5 percent of the total, the state pays 43.6 percent and the federal government covers the remaining 13.8 percent, according to the LBB’s 2016-17 Fiscal Size-Up.

Rising costs have fallen disproportionately on local districts over the past 10 years. Local property tax bills have risen accordingly, and now state lawmakers are stirred up, promising to somehow get a leash on behalf of those taxpayers.

Here’s another funny statistic from that same LBB report. The number of students attending Texas public schools on the average day has risen 16.8 percent over the past decade, to over 5 million. In 2008, each kid cost the locals $4,219 per year. The state’s cost was $4,226. The feds paid $970, for a grand total of $9,415.

The grand total is now $10,111 — up $696 from 2008. The feds pay $1,015. The locals pay $5,209 — almost $1,000 more per student than they were paying a year ago. And the state? It pays $3,887 per student, or $339 less than it was paying 10 years ago.

Fixing this problem really does start with the Legislature, plus the recognition that if we want something done right, it will not be cheap. However you vote on the recapture referendum, keep that in mind and be sure to only support candidates in 2018 and beyond who understand and are willing to address that reality.

Posted in: Election 2016, School days.

Help a crony out?

Collin County, y’all.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Collin County lawmakers debated intervening in Ken Paxton’s legal woes by pressuring county leaders to cut funding for the case, according to a series of private text messages exchanged last week.

Taxpayers in Paxton’s home county are on the hook to pay for his prosecution, which has dragged on for months as he’s appealed three felony indictments for violating state securities laws. Local Republican leaders have expressed concern about the case’s six-figure cost but have said the law leaves them no choice but to pay up.

But five Collin County lawmakers thought otherwise.

In a series of texts sent last week, which The Dallas Morning News obtained through open records laws, they discuss how to persuade County Judge Keith Self to violate a court order requiring him to pay three special prosecutors.

Should they send a signed letter to the Commissioners Court? Should they get lawyers involved? Or should they simply pressure Self to refuse to pay the prosecutors, a decision for which he could be found in contempt of court?

“All of us agree (hopefully) on the end goal. Question is what can we do to move the ball toward that goal line,” Plano Republican Rep. Jeff Leach sent in a text on Monday, to which Rep. Matt Shaheen responded, “I’ll ask Keith [Self] if they lowered the fees and discuss options to stop payment.”

“Perfect,” Leach texted back. “Let him know we are here to help — not hurt. If Keith got sent to jail for this — I’d be the first to bail him out.”

This is Exhibit A for why having a central Public Integrity Unit is a good idea. Now, in this case, the PIU in the Travis County DA’s office did investigate, and declined to pursue charges because they determined that the alleged crime did not occur in Travis County and thus was not in their jurisdiction. I don’t know if this situation was affected by the recent legislation that took a lot of these investigations away from the PIU in Travis County, but I do know that if the Travis County DA were doing this prosecution, we wouldn’t have Ken Paxton’s buddies trying to short-circuit it. If we’re going to have these prosecutions handled by home counties, we need better laws to prevent this kind of meddling. If a special prosecutor is needed, that special prosecutor should have fairly wide latitude to request funding to complete its job.

Posted in: Scandalized!.

Early voting, Day Two: How long can we keep this up?

Texas Monthly crunches some numbers from Day One:


Digging further into the numbers, it seems as though the long-whispered awakening of Texas Democrats happened, at the very least, on day one. GOP consultant Derek Ryan, who published a detailed report on the affiliations of Texas’s early voters, examined the voting history of Monday’s voters, and what he found was notable. Of the votes cast, 36.8 percent of them were from people who had previously voted in the Republican primary, while 32.8 percent of them had voted in the Democratic primary. The rest were split between people who had previously voted in general presidential elections but not party primaries (22.3 percent) and those with no election history whatsoever (8.1 percent).

We don’t know how those voters with history in party primaries are inclined to vote in the general election, but the mere fact that the numbers for Republicans and Democrats are only four points away from one another is significant in and of itself. As our own Erica Greider pointed out on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, Republican primary voters outnumbered Democratic primary voters by a whopping 2:1 margin. So on day one of early voting, a whole lot more of the Democrats who voted in the primaries felt the need to rush to the polls than the Republicans did.

There are other things we can glean from the early voting totals. The gender split here is vast: At least 54 percent of voters on Monday were women, while men made up 42.2 percent of the day’s electorate (the other 3.8 percent are unknown). That could be tricky for Trump, as Nate Silver’s imagined women-only electoral map analysis pointed out—Trump’s biggest base of support comes from men, and if men aren’t casting ballots at the same rate as women, he may have a lot of ground to make up.

And ultimately, all of this analysis is moot if the turnout numbers level off by the end of the week. It’s possible that we’re mostly going to see the same people vote in 2016 as we did in 2012. If that’s the case, the 8.1 percent of voters who haven’t previously cast general election ballots will be notable, but probably not significant enough to tilt the election.

Couple things here. First, the thing to keep in mind about the voters with no primary history is basically what Greider says. There have been a lot more Republican primary voters in recent elections than Democratic primary voters, so the pool of non-primary voters is proportionally more Democratic than the voting population overall since you’ve subtracted so many more Republicans from it. One of the harbingers of doom for Democrats in 2010 during early voting was exactly this – a large portion of these voters had not voted in the 2008 primary, which in Harris County at least meant they almost had to be non-Democrats, since the Dem primary turnout had been so large that year. These non-primary voters aren’t certain the be Dems, but they are more likely to be Dems than a random sample of all voters would be.

Having said that, many of those 2008 Dem primary voters still exist in the population, so this inference only goes so far. That analysis by Derek Ryan only specifies “previous R/D primary voters”; it does not specify “in one or more of the past 3 elections”, which would limit the scope to post-2008 primaries. It’s common to limit this sort of thing to the last three elections, but it’s not universal – the data exists in any database a guy like this would be using. I just don’t know for sure what Ryan has in mind.

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen an analysis of the in-person Harris County Day One vote that said 31% of voters had voted in at least one of the last three Republican primaries (that is, 2012, 2014, and 2015), with 32% having done the same in at least one Dem primary. That was in person only, so about half the total vote so far. Further analysis of the whole data set using other metrics suggests the Dems have a pretty decent lead at this time, which is unusual in that it’s usually the Rs who get out more on Day One and via mail. But this is only one day, and things do change over time. There’s a lot of early voting to go, and a lot of votes to be cast. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this.

Here are a couple of maps of where early voters came from for Day One and mail ballots. Here’s the Day Two EV report, which as you can see shows an increase in turnout from Monday: 73,542 people showed up Tuesday, an increase of a bit more than 6,000 from Monday. Add in another 2,834 mail ballots, and a grand total of 205,390 people have already voted in Harris County. (Including me – I voted at the SPJST Lodge for the first time. I’ve now voted in six different EV locations. Maybe I should try to collect them all.) I don’t know what the partisan mix looks like yet, but you can see the updated spreadsheet and make your own guesses. Have you voted yet?

Posted in: Election 2016.

Interview with Bill Baldwin of Keep Heights Dry


As you know, there will be a referendum on the ballot for a very limited electorate this year, to alter the existing ordinance that enforces a dry zone in the historic Houston Heights to allow the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption – for retailers, not for restaurants and bars, in other words. This referendum, formally known as City of Houston Proposition 1, was placed on the ballot by a petition drive led by the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition, which in turn was backed by HEB, which has announced its intention to open a store in the old Fiesta location on North Shepherd at 24th if this referendum passes. I did an interview with Steve Reilley of the HHBC back in June when petitions were still being circulated to clarify some questions about this. At the time, I noted that I was unaware of any organized opposition to this effort.

Well, formal opposition to this effort does exist, and it’s called Keep The Heights Dry. I’ve seen a few of their yard signs around the neighborhood in recent weeks. Their argument as you can see on that Facebook page is one part preservationist and one part neighborhood protection, and last week they reached out to me to see about doing an interview. Bill Baldwin, who has a real estate office on Heights Blvd at 16th Street, is one of the leaders of this opposition effort and the person I spoke to about it. Here’s the conversation:

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: Barbara Gardner

(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.)

Barbara Gardner

Barbara Gardner

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

I am Barbara Gardner, and I am running for the 1st Court of Appeals, Place 4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Courts of Appeals, made up of 14 districts across the State, hear and write opinions on every type of law: car wrecks, real estate, commercial disputes, probate, employment, divorce, criminal misdemeanors – everything except felonies, which go straight to the Court of Criminal Appeals.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Courts of Appeals have become biased in their opinions, mostly looking for ways to rule for large corporations, to the disadvantage of individuals and small business. These courts generally decide the result they want, and then “shoe-horn” the law to fit that result. Also, they take away too many juries’ verdicts. I am running because I can bring balance and a better, fairer perspective to the 1st Court of Appeals.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I graduated #1 in my law school class; I have been a trial lawyer for over 30 years and have handled cases all the way up to the US Supreme Court. I was a law clerk for a federal judge when I finished law school. Also, I am board certified in Labor and Employment Law by the Texas Board of Specialization. I believe that Courts should follow the law, and they are not doing that very well. Some of my other accomplishments include:

• “Best Lawyers in America” (Employment Law), 2007–2016

• “Highest Possible Rating” in Legal Ability & Ethical Standards by Judiciary & Bar members, Martindale Hubbell 2015-2016

• “Texas Super Lawyers,” 2007–2016

• “Texas Top Lawyers,” 2012-2016

• “Women Leaders in the Law,” Fortune Magazine 2015

• “Top-Rated Lawyers in Labor & Employment,” Fortune Magazine 2013

• “The Best Women Lawyers in Texas,” 2013

• “Texas’ Best Lawyers,” 2009–2013

• “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Texas” 2012

• “Top Lawyers,” Corporate Counsel, 2008-2011

• “Houston’s Top Lawyers,” 2006, 2007, 2011

• “Top Lawyers for the People,” 2007

• AV-Preeminent rating by peers in Martindale Hubbell

• Interviewed as expert several occasions on Houston’s Fox 26 News TV

• Former Partner & Head of Employment Law Section of Lam, Lyn & Philip

• One of founding principals and partner of Tucker, Vaughan, Gardner & Barnes

5. Why is this race important?

This race is extremely important because the Courts of Appeals’ written opinions constitute the law that controls every Texas citizen’s rights and conduct. There is a very limited right to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Even though the State Legislature writes statutes, the statutes may be a few sentences or a page or two in length. Then the Court of Appeals writes a long opinion about what the statute “really” means. Also, there are many laws that are not based on any statute, such as negligence, car wrecks, bad injuries and death. Those are based on the “common law” which the Courts of Appeals write.

Currently, more than half of the justices on the 1st Court of Appeals initially were appointed by the governor to get on the court, including my opponent. Most people know very little about Courts of Appeals, and so those appointed stay there for many years.

It is the job of the Court of Appeals only to determine whether the judge in the lower court made a legal error. The Courts of Appeals go far beyond that and take the case into their own hands, deciding many times a completely different outcome than the jury’s verdict.

Even if one tried to appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, more than half of those judges also were hand-picked and appointed by the governor. As I mentioned above, the governor chooses those who will carry out his pro-big business philosophy.

We need a change.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am well qualified as described in #4 above. I know the courtroom like the back of my hand. And I am not beholden to the governor or big business. I will apply the law correctly and fairly, not because of any political persuasion.

Posted in: Election 2016.

CBS/YouGov: Trump 46, Clinton 43

Texas is being tracked as a battleground state. I can’t even believe I just typed that.

Hillary Clinton holds a three-point lead over Donald Trump in Florida, while in Texas – a state that has voted Republican by wide margins in recent years – Trump leads by a mere three points.


In 2012 Republicans won a double-digit victory in Texas, as they often do; it’s one of the most reliably Republican states in the nation. Today Texas is close, and is more a story of Trump underperforming rather than Clinton over-performing typical Democrats, and why despite the tightness it may still be difficult for the Democrats to actually get those last points and win the state outright. Clinton is doing about as well with key groups as President Obama did in 2008, but Trump is under-performing the Republican benchmarks by roughly ten points among white men, white women, and college whites in particular. Many of those not with Trump are unsure or voting third-party rather than Clinton.

In 2008 then-candidate Obama lost white men in Texas by more than fifty points and Clinton is down 35 points today. That’s still a big gap but the sheer number of voters that represents is part of the reason for the difference in the race. Meanwhile, Hispanics in Texas, who are supporting Clinton, say they feel very motivated to vote this year.

Scroll down for the polling data. Much of what is there is stuff we have talked about before. Clinton has consolidated Democratic voters better than Trump has done with Republicans. 93% of Dems are with Clinton, with four percent for Trump, one percent for Gary Johnson, and one percent for “someone else”, while only 84% of Rs are voting Trump, with 7% for Clinton, 5% for Johnson, and 2% for “someone else”. Clinton leads among all voters under 45, with a 21-point lead with the under-30 crowd. Trump as noted isn’t doing as well among white voters as Republicans have done in the past, but he is once again weirdly above 30% with Latino voters. I continue to believe those results are off, and that we’ll see numbers more in line with national Latino preferences once we have actual data. But look, the big deal here is that Texas is being tracked as a Florida-like battleground state. Who would have thunk it?

On a side note, Real Clear Politics has Trump leading Clinton 44.2 to 39.6 in the two-way race and 43.6 to 38.8 in the four-way race, while FiveThirtyEight has it at Trump 49.1, Clinton 43.9. That would be the highest total for a Democrat in a Presidential race in Texas since Jimmy Carter won the state in 1976.

Posted in: The making of the President.

The Trump effect and the State Supreme Court

The Trib touches on a subject I addressed awhile ago.

Three Republican members of the Texas Supreme Court running for re-election are facing Democratic challengers who say they may have a chance in the solid-red state with Donald Trump at the top of the ballot.

Democrats point to recent polls that show Trump beating Hillary Clinton by just four points in Texas to explain a possible shift in Lone Star State politics. The Democratic National Committee announced plans in September to open headquarters in Houston to capitalize on the presidential race as a way to help down-ballot candidates.

But only one of the Democratic candidates for Texas Supreme Court — Dori Contreras Garza — has raised even close to enough money to be competitive. And even her bid is a long shot in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the court since 1994. The court has nine justices who are elected statewide to staggered six-year terms.

The rest of the story is a profile of the three races and the candidates in them. The premise about fundraising is more than a little ridiculous because in all four of the cases cited, the amount raised by the candidate in question was less than $100K, which is basically a drop on a sidewalk in August. I mean, that’s modest money for a district City Council race in Houston. It literally would have zero effect on a statewide campaign, which for these races is all about getting one’s name out before the voters. I guarantee you, nobody who isn’t a political junkie or personally acquainted with a given candidate will have any idea who they are.

So, as is so often the case, these races will be determined by overall turnout. I’ve already shown how in a scenario where the margin between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is small, the chances that one or more downballot Democrats could be elected grow, as Democratic candidates have seen less of a dropoff in their vote total from the top of the ticket in recent years. I wrote that post after a poll came out showing Trump leading Clinton by six points. More recently, we have seen polls where Trump’s lead was two, three, and four points. That could be overstating how close the race really is, and it may well be that there are other factors such as a higher than usual share of Republicans who will support Clinton but not any other Democrat that will ensure the GOP statewide hegemony remains intact. But as I said in that earlier post, it is not crazy to think that a Dem could win statewide this year. And if one or more do, it won’t be because they raised $10K more than their opponents.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Early voting, Day One: Hope you didn’t mind waiting on line

Lots of people were out there with you.


After more than 18 months of intensive election coverage, early voting kicked off in Harris County on Monday with long lines at some polling locations.

As polls closed at 6 p.m., more than 63,000 people had turned out for the first day of early voting, shattering the previous record of 47,093 set on day one of early voting in 2012.

In the first 2.5 hours of early voting, the Harris County Clerk’s office said 15,205 ballots were cast–one third of the total cast all day on the first day of early voting in 2012, about 47,000.

By the afternoon, the county was averaging 6,000 voters per hour, and the clerk’s office projected a record-breaking 60,000 votes by the time polls close.

When the clock struck 8 a.m. Monday, opening time for early voting, a line stretched out the door and across the patio at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, typically among the county’s most popular polling spots.

Thanks no doubt to the later hours for early voting and the sheer volume, I don’t yet have the daily EV report for each location. I’ll post those as I get them, and I will add a new tab to this spreadsheet, which contains the daily EV totals for the 2004, 2008, and 2012 elections. The 2008 election has the reputation for being the blow-the-doors-off one for early voting, but 2012 did indeed have a higher volume, both on Day One and overall. It also had more EV locations, which no doubt helped ease things a bit.

Not mentioned in this story is that as of the weekend, over 52,000 mail ballots had been returned already, with another 60,000 or so still out and still a few days left to request them. I’ll have more on this as we go, and I don’t want to draw any broad conclusions from such limited data, but it sure seems like we are headed for a record total of ballots cast. Not just here, but around the state.

Avoiding long lines on Election Day is supposed to be one of the benefits of voting early, but on the first official day to cast ballots in Texas, some parts of the state reported long waits — sometimes hours — along with a few other snafus.

Particularly long waits were reported in parts of Bexar, Harris, Nueces and Denton counties, with one expert suggesting this year’s intense presidential campaign prompted an early rush to the polls.


Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, suggested the intensity of this year’s presidential race spurred some voters to rush to the polls.

“This has been such a drawn out, intense and polarizing election that there’s this reservoir of voters that couldn’t wait to cast their vote, so they all rushed out to vote early on the first of 12 days of early voting,” he said, likening the phenomenon to opening day at an amusement park.

Jones said he expected the interest to level out over most of the early voting period, with high turnout on its last day, Nov. 4.

He also noted that the high turnout was spread unevenly within counties and across the state.

Indeed, on social media, many voters reported short wait times to The Texas Tribune.

That’s a function of a lot of things – some locations are always more popular than others (see: the Metro Multi-Service Center on West Gray for Exhibit A), and some places have enough voting machines to better handle a sudden influx.

RG Ratcliffe has an idea about who may be voting.

Throughout this election, I’ve been skeptical that Hillary Clinton could carry Texas, even as polls suggested the gap in support between her and Donald Trump is closing. But there is a wild card that might make it possible: There are 532,000 more registered Hispanic surname voters this year than in 2012.

Over the past week or so, one news story after another has touted the close race between Clinton and Trump in Texas. The gap has closed, but Clinton seems to be stuck at the same level of support that President Obama received in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Obama received just under 44 percent of the vote in 2008 and 41 percent in 2012. Clinton received 43 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll; 41 percent in the UPI/CVOTER; 46 percent in Washington Post/Survey Monkey; and 38 percent in the University of Houston poll. All the while, Trump’s numbers have declined in Texas from a solid majority to levels in the mid 40s. Three out of the four recent surveys put the gap between Clinton and Trump within the margin of error. Trump’s gaffes and personal history have led to voters fleeing his campaign.

Still, the formula for a Clinton victory in Texas has always required that somewhere between 950,000 and 1.2 million people who voted for Obama’s Republican opponents either switching to the Democratic candidate or sitting out the race. It’s now looking like at least half those voters may do exactly that by either not voting in the presidential race or by casting a ballot for one of the third-party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein. The other half of the gap conceivably could be closed by newly registered Hispanic voters.

RG’s point about Clinton’s level of support in the polls is well-taken, though I would note that poll averages have underestimated candidates of both parties in the last two elections. As for the rest, well, that is certainly the hope.

I’ll have Day One data in tomorrow’s post. Have you voted yet? What was your experience? I expect to vote today and will let you know how it goes. If you haven’t voted yet, Andrea Greer explains why early voting is the way to go. The Current and the Press have more.

UPDATE: Here is the Day One EV report from the County Clerk. I’ll begin adding these numbers to the spreadsheet today.

Posted in: Election 2016.

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.