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Interview with Kim Olson

Kim Olson

I think we can all agree that the competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but any list of contenders would include Ag Commissioner Sid Miller. Miller’s list of idiocy, incompetence, and intolerance is too much to even sum up, and he’s only held the office since 2015. Fortunately, the cure is as clear and compelling as a cool breeze on a summer day. Kim Olson retired as a Colonel from the US Air Force after 25 years. Since then, she’s been a Weatherford ISD trustee, the Director of HR for Dallas ISD, and the CEO of Grace After Fire. She’s also a working farmer, a passionate advocate for improving childhood nutrition, and just the kind of person we could all be proud of as Ag Commissioner. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

World’s worst pastors file suit against Austin’s equal rights ordinance

Exactly what you’d expect from these jerks.

A Houston-based religious nonprofit behind the so-called bathroom bill is suing the City of Austin over its anti-discrimination hiring ordinance. The U.S. Pastor Council filed suit in a federal district court late last week, alleging the city rule’s lack of exemptions for churches or other religiously affiliated groups violates state and federal law.

The suit asks the court to block the enforcement of the ordinance on behalf of its 25 member churches in the Austin area “because these member churches rely on the Bible rather than modern-day cultural fads for religious and moral guidance, they will not hire practicing homosexuals or transgendered people as clergy.”

In a June letter to the Austin City Council, Executive Director David Welch reasoned that the ordinance didn’t provide wide enough berth for religious exemption – and that Catholic churches refusing to hire women as priests or “homosexuals as clergy” would be violating the city law.

“These are the stingiest religious exemptions we have ever seen in an anti-discrimination law,” Welch wrote. “It is inexcusable that you would purport to subject a church’s hiring decisions to your city’s antidiscrimination ordinance.”

In a written statement today, the city defended its anti-discrimination ordinance.

“The ordinance reflects our values and culture respecting the dignity and rights of every individual,” said city spokesperson David Green. “We are prepared to vigorously defend the City against this challenge to the City’s civil rights protections.”

There’s a copy of the lawsuit embedded in the story. This is all transparent bullshit, but that’s par for the course with these clowns. The good news is that the good guys aren’t worried about this, or the accompanying state lawsuit that was also filed.

Texas Values, another conservative Christian organization, filed a separate, broader lawsuit in state district court, also on Saturday, seeking to invalidate the ordinance as it applies to both employment and housing decisions.

[…]

Texas Values’ lawsuit also invokes the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that, in general, governments cannot “substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion.”

“The city of Austin’s so-called anti-discrimination laws violate the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act by punishing individuals, private businesses and religious nonprofits, including churches, for their religious beliefs on sexuality and marriage,” Jonathan Saenz, the president of Texas Values, said in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

[…]

“These lawsuits certainly highlight a coordinated effort among people who want to target LGBTQ people in court,” said Paul Castillo, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal, an advocacy firm for LGBTQ rights.

Castillo said he has not examined Texas Values’ suit but that the city of Austin “is on solid legal ground” in the U.S. Pastor Council lawsuit.

“In order to walk into court, you have to demonstrate some sort of injury,” Castillo said. “It doesn’t appear that the city of Austin is enforcing or has enforced its anti-discrimination laws in a way that would infringe upon these religions.”

He added that the timing of the lawsuits is “certainly suspect” as groups attempt to politicize LGBTQ issues ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

Jason Smith, a Fort Worth employment lawyer, said he expects both lawsuits to “go nowhere.” He points to former Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which Smith said made it clear that religious beliefs do not justify discrimination.

Still, he said people should be “worried by the repeated attempts to limit the Supreme Court’s announcement that the Constitution protects gays and lesbians.”

There is currently no statewide law that protects LGBTQ employees from discrimination, but San Antonio, Dallas and Fort Worth have nondiscrimination ordinances similar to Austin’s. Smith said the other cities will be watching how the lawsuits in Austin unfold and that some cities may even file briefs to make the court aware of their positions.

Good to know, but as always it all comes down to what the judges make of it. I guess I have more faith in the federal courts at this point than our state courts, at least at the higher levels, but we’ll see. ThinkProgress has more.

Prairie View voting dispute resolved

Good news.

Mike Siegel

Prairie View A&M University students will not have to fill out additional registration paperwork before casting their ballots, a move that allays the concerns of Democrats who worried long lines would dissuade students from voting.

The news, announced in a joint statement Friday by Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos, Waller County, the local parties and Democratic congressional candidate Mike Siegel, comes after confusion on Prairie View A&M’s campus over student residents who registered under addresses that placed them in a different precinct.

Officials said they would allow those students to vote at the on-campus precinct, but would require them to fill out a statement of residence form — referred to by county officials as a “change in address” form — before casting a ballot. Siegel and other local Democrats worried the requirement would depress turnout.

The statement reads: “It has been communicated and confirmed that the Waller County plan ensures, as it was always intended to do, that all students residing on campus who are registered to vote in the county will be able to cast their ballots at the Precinct 309 polling location on campus, and that no students will be impeded, hampered, or otherwise delayed in exercising their constitutional right to cast a ballot in the upcoming General Election.”

Remember that story I posted on Friday, about how the field director for CD10 Democratic candidate Mike Siegel was arrested and briefly detained after delivering a letter demanding that the county rectify this problem? This is the apparently happy ending to that. Siegel got some national attention for the story, but more importantly the students at Prairie View can vote without going through needless bureaucratic hassles. Good on everyone for getting this worked out.

Saavedra out

Whiplash.

Trustees are expected to announce Monday that interim superintendent Grenita Lathan will remain at the helm of the Houston Independent School District, an attempt to diffuse fallout from a contentious 5-4 vote last Thursday that was preceded by shouting matches and accusations of racism from board members.

After a six-hour discussion during a weekend retreat Sunday, trustees and Abelardo Saavedra – who led HISD from 2004 to 2009 and was to return Monday as the district’s new interim leader – mutually agreed that he would withdraw, Saavedra said.

“It became apparent to me that the dysfunction is not at the superintendent or leadership level, it’s at the board level,” Saavedra said, adding that he was unaware the move to hire him was going to catch some board members by surprise.

Lathan is expected to return as the interim leader of the nation’s seventh-largest school district while a search continues for a permanent superintendent. District officials said late Sunday that trustees would “discuss the recent vote to make changes to the interim superintendent’s position” at a 5 p.m. Monday press conference, but offered no further details.

[…]

Bob Sanborn, CEO of the nonprofit Children at Risk, said he believes Lathan remaining in her role is good for students, but he said the damage that has been done cannot be reversed by the trustees simply standing together at a press conference.

“Nothing has really been diffused. You still have this divide on the board – racial, political or otherwise, it’s a clear divide – and they’re going to have to work through it if they want a good superintendent, whether it’s an African-American or Latino or any other turnaround leader,” Sanborn said. “They’re going to have to put aside some of these differences and make it work or our school children will be the ones to bear the brunt of their dysfunction.”

See here for the background. If you’re feeling dizzy, you’re not alone. I have no idea what is going on with the Board, but good Lord they need to get it together and work as a unit rather than as factions. None of this should have happened.

Weekend link dump for October 14

Yeah, maybe Kobe Bryant is not someone we should want to associate with.

Carbon Dioxide Is Shriveling Men’s Balls“. Just FYI.

Welcome to the table, Taylor. Better late than never.

Oh God, now we have to worry about our damn Google+ profiles.

I’m going to continue my policy of not knowing or caring who Banksy is, however.

“Mobs are usually violent. They break things, and they break people. The protests we’ve seen in recent weeks and months and years have certainly been emotional and angry, but they’ve been mostly peaceful. Many Democrats and liberals consider Trumpism to be a national emergency, but they haven’t gotten out of control — they’ve gotten louder. Sometimes they even nod vigorously.”

RIP, John Gagliardi, the winningest coach in college football history.

Yea verily, this is why the Internet was invented. Henceforth, this will be known as a reverse milkshake duck.

“What do we do with a company that regularly pumps metric tons of virtual toxic sludge onto the Internet and yet refuses to clean up their act? If ever there were a technology giant that deserved to be named and shamed for polluting the Web, it is Xiongmai — a Chinese maker of electronic parts that power a huge percentage of cheap digital video recorders (DVRs) and Internet-connected security cameras.”

Everything you ever wanted to know about pitchers hitting triples.

Some narwhal news, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate.

Dear Democrats: Mitch McConnell does not have your best interests at heart. Just FYI.

“Harriet Miers deserved the same opportunity to be a ruinously bad Supreme Court Justice as was given to Sam Alito. She deserved to be the same kind of illegitimate crony of the executive branch as we now are about to give to Brett Kavanaugh.”

RIP, Tex Winter, Hall of Fame basketball coach and architect of the Bulls’ triangle offense.

RIP, Dr. William Shearer, renowned immunologist who gained worldwide attention for his care of Houston’s famed Bubble Boy and also conducted important research to prevent and treat pediatric HIV/AIDS.

There is not the slightest pretense to impartial justice here, nor any concern for the fact that their perpetuating a nasty history of mistreating our Native American population.”

RIP, Jim Taylor, Hall of Fame fullback for Vince Lombardi’s Packers.

CD31 “live poll” Carter 53, Hegar 38

Not a great result in CD31, where Democratic challenger MJ Hegar and her fundraising and amazing vidoes have moved this race against Rep. John Carter into lean-Republican territory on multiple forecasters’ lists, with two minor caveats and one addendum. Nate Cohn of The Upshot notes that “Hegar, despite being a national phenom, still has extremely low name-ID (but highly positive among those who know her) so some upside for her”. I would suspect that more of the “unknown/no decision” respondents may go her way. Carter won in 2014 by a 64-32 margin, and in 2016 by a 58.4-36.5 margin, so even this meh result is a step in the right direction. The same poll also has Ted Cruz leading Beto O’Rourke 52-43, which as Cohn notes is “consistent with about Cruz +4 or 5 statewide”, as Trump carried CD31 by 13 points while winning statewide by 9 in 2016. The Upshot is going to revisit a few Congressional districts next, so we’ll see what else they’ve got for us.

Harris County to follow suit on robot brothels

If it’s good for Houston, or not good for Houston, I suppose…

Harris County commissioners are prepared to ban so-called robot brothels, just as Houston did last week.

Harris County already bans live sex acts at any place of business. Robert Soard, First Assistant County Attorney, said that, in his reading, that includes sex with “anthropomorphic devices.”

“Now, that being said, because of changing technology, it might be a good idea to amend the current sexually oriented business regulations,” Soard said.

[…]

Assistant Chief Tim Navarre said they’ll be ready to present it to Commissioners Court within two weeks. “The dialogue is…almost identical to the city’s, so, we’re way ahead of the curve,” Navarre said.

See here and here for the background. Harris County’s sexually-oriented business ordinance has generally been a mirror of Houston’s, so this is not surprising and mostly a formality. Nonetheless, if you ever had an inclination to attend a Commissioner’s Court meeting, here’s a bit of incentive for you to finally do so. Swamplot has more.

Final voter registration numbers

Busy last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County added more than 11,000 voters to its rolls in the final week before the registration deadline, the last wave in a surge of half a million new Texas voters since the March primaries.

Democrats are most likely to benefit from the increase because new voters, many of whom are young and/or nonwhite, are more likely to support their party, University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinhaus said.

“There is a long legacy of Democrats seeking to get more people registered, and the investment is likely to pay off,” Rottinghaus said. “This is a moment where there’s going to be a lot of nail biting from Republicans on election night.”

More than 66,000 residents registered to vote in Harris County since the spring, more than any other Texas county, according to the Texas Secretary of State. Since the 2014 midterms, Harris County has added 280,000 voters.

[…]

Rottinhaus cautioned that there is a poor correlation between voter registration and turnout. Even as more eligible Harris County voters have registered since the 1990s, turnout has declined. Republicans, he said, are hampered by their past success since they already have registered most of their potential voters. Democrats have more room to grow, he said, especially with Latinos, African Americans, new citizens and young people.

See here and here for some background. I’m sure what was intended in that last paragraph was that while overall turnout has gone up, at least in all of the Presidential year elections in the county, the percentage of turnout of registered voters has declined. Far more people voted in Harris County in 2016 than in 2008, for example, but the rate of turnout was slightly lower, precisely because there were so many more registrations.

Anyway. Putting the numbers together, we’re at 15.8 million statewide, and around 2,316,000 in Harris County. Keep that latter number in mind when you read this.

County Clerk Stan Stanart predicts up to a million Harris County residents could be casting ballots in a string of hotly-contested races.

One million voters in the county would be a lot for an off year – a record amount, in fact – but it would still only represent about 43% turnout. The high water mark so far is 2010, with just under 800K voters, and 41.7% turnout. Can we beat that? It feels a little crazy to say so, but I think we can. I also think we’d have a very different electorate with that one million this year than we did with that 800K eight years ago. I think we’re headed for new heights statewide, too. It’s on us to make sure the mix of voters is what we want it to be.

Endorsement watch: Olson, Kulkarni, Schexnayder

This has got to be the easiest call the Chron will make.

Kim Olson

The race for commissioner of the Texas Department of Agriculture seems straightforward enough.

The incumbent, Sid Miller, is a career politician who used his first term as commissioner to unnecessarily hike fees on farmers and travel on the taxpayer dime to buy a painkiller shot from an Oklahoma doctor who had lost his license in other states. He hired friends and campaign aides to high-paying jobs without giving the public a chance to apply as the law requires. He also declared a personal vendetta on barbecue shops because he was convinced their scales were inaccurate.

Overall Miller has proven himself reckless with political power and irresponsible with public funds.

The challenger, Kim Olson, is a 25-year Air Force veteran — one of their first woman pilots — fourth generation farmer, former school board trustee for Weatherford ISD in North Texas and an inductee at the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame.

[…]

Here’s our pitch for hesitant Republicans: Voting for Olson won’t turn Texas blue. The office doesn’t have any legislative ability. Neither Miller nor Olson can use the seat to affect abortion laws, firearms regulations or the litany of partisan wedge issues that drive people to the polls.

What voting for Olson will do is return a sense of dignity to the chief office for Texas farmers and ranchers. She will run the office much like Republican former agriculture commissioner Susan Combs, with a focus on the issues. She plans to work with the Legislature in preparation for the department’s upcoming sunset review in 2020, address rural needs like broadband access and also grow the languishing Go Texan buy-local program.

Look for an interview I did with Olson on Monday. She’s as good and charismatic as you may have heard. As for ol’ Sid, I could make a case for Ted Cruz – hell, I could make a case for Dan Patrick – before I could make a case for him. It’s not just the clownishness, the corruption, and the racism. It’s that he’s objectively bad at his job. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. He was viewed as an ineffective clown as a State Rep, and in case you forgot he was booted out in the 2012 Republican primary by the much more mainstream JD Sheffield. He’s a classic case of failing upward. If we’re smart, this time we’ll fail him out.

This one is refreshing.

Sri Kulkarni

In 2016 incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger. That’s not the case in 2018.

First-time candidate Sri Preston Kulkarni, 40, wowed the editorial board with his knowledge, eloquence and robust resume that included time working in the U.S. Senate and 14 years as a State Department foreign service officer that took him all over the globe. That experience only emphasized to Kulkarni the value of American ideals, he told the editorial board, which sit at the core of his campaign. He’s running an optimistic, forward-looking effort that aims to combat the tribalism ripping apart our nation with a renewed sense of decency. That’s also why he’s not accepting corporate donations.

[…]

We’ve liked Olson in the past because of his support for NASA and the Port of Houston, but any promise Olson displayed when first elected to Congress in 2008 has been washed away over the years. Instead of representing the best interests of his district, he has become just another D.C. hypocrite who’s politically afraid to choose a more independent path.

Olson must think no one is connecting the dots between calling himself a fiscal conservative and his support for Trump’s tax cuts and profligate spending, which have raised the national debt to more than $21 trillion.

They have a lot of complimentary things to say about Kulkarni, and I encourage you to go read it. I interviewed him for the primary runoff, and I concur with their evaluation. As for this Olson, I’d argue he’s the same Congressman he’s always been. Maybe his act finally wore thin for the Chron, or maybe they finally found an opponent to him they liked. Either way, fine by me.

This has a bit of a surprise.

Marty Schexnayder

We usually like state Rep. Jim Murphy — a lot.

Over his five non-consecutive terms in office — won in 2006, lost in 2008, back in 2010 — this moderate Republican could be counted upon to bring local issues up to Austin. He pushed pension reform before it was popular and cleared the legal path for hike-and-bike trails along utility easements. However, it turns out that definition of “local issues” might not be exactly ethical. At his full-time job, Murphy was paid a yearly salary for more than $312,000 as the general manager of the Westchase District, which sits outside his district boundaries of by Interstate 10, Westheimer Road, Loop 610 West and State Highway 6. In Austin, he served as chair of the Houston Committee on Special Purpose Districts. In other words, his elected position put him in charge of providing oversight to his professional position. This questionable arrangement has been public since Murphy was first elected. This year, however, investigative reporters revealed the specifics of Murphy’s contracts, which showed he received incentive payments for delivering state funds from the Legislature. For example, Murphy had a $6,000 bonus if he secured “$1 million or more in new TxDOT funding for highway projects” for Westchase.

This smacks of an unethical conflict of interest, and raises questions about whether he was illegally lobbying without properly registering. Voters, too, should question how Murphy can adequately represent their interests during the legislative session when he’s getting paid thousands to deliver for someone outside the district.

[…]

Luckily, voters have an excellent alternative in Marty Schexnayder, who will be 52 on Election Day. He’s a first-time candidate with a well-rounded resume that includes 25 years in legal practice and volunteer work for charities like Interfaith Ministries. He also serves on the board of directors of Faith in Practice, a nonprofit dedicated to providing medical services in Guatemala. His campaign focuses almost exclusively on core issues, like fixing school funding, addressing property taxes and tackling flood concerns.

Here’s my interview with Schexnayder. I’d heard about the ethical concerns regarding Murphy, but with the likes of Trump and Paxton and Miller lumbering around, who can even keep up with that sort of thing? At least now you know.

O’Rourke raises $38 million in Q3

That’s a lot.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised $38.1 million for his U.S. Senate campaign in the third quarter, a new record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race, according to his campaign.

The haul more than tripled Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s fundraising for the past three months, which Cruz has said was over $12 million. O’Rourke has consistently raised more than Cruz in the race, but this is the widest gap yet. The $38.1 million is by far the largest amount raised in a quarter by a Senate candidate, surpassing Republican Rick Lazio’s record of $22 million in 2000 for his bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton in New York.

O’Rourke’s campaign said the $38.1 million came from 802,836 individual contributions, and a majority of it came from Texas.

“The people of Texas in all 254 counties are proving that when we reject PACs and come together not as Republicans or Democrats but as Texans and Americans, there’s no stopping us,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “This is a historic campaign of people: all people, all the time, everywhere, every single day — that’s how we’re going to win this election and do something incredible for Texas and our country at this critical moment.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if O’Rourke had raised $38 million over the entire two-year cycle, it would have been impressive, and at least on par with, if not more than what the incumbent Cruz raised over that time. (Cruz’s $12 million for this quarter is not too shabby in its own right, but my guess is that without the pressure from the Beto machine, he’d have eased up a bit on the accelerator.) The real question is, what do you do with all that money?

In a press release announcing the haul, O’Rourke’s campaign said that they’re launching a “weekend of action” in which they intend to knock on 102,733 doors and make 102,733 phone calls. (That number is the exact capacity of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, the largest stadium in Texas—perhaps a response to Trump’s vow in August to hold a rally for Ted Cruz in “the biggest stadium we can find.”) Those doors can be knocked on and those calls can be made by volunteers, but also by paid staff hired out of those record fundraising dollars. The campaign can use the money to stake into the ground more of the “Beto for Senate” signs that have become ubiquitous in certain parts of the state. It’ll pay for gas for the well-publicized pickup truck O’Rourke has driven from campaign rally to campaign rally. It can buy stamps for direct mail, or pay for radio, print, and TV advertising in Texas’s nearly twenty distinct (and often expensive) media markets.

It can also buy him more digital advertising, a form of spending that his campaign has invested more money in than any Senate candidate by a wide margin. On Facebook, O’Rourke’s campaign alone has outspent the entire 2018 Senate field—Democrats and Republicans combined—by nearly 30%. Digital ads were considered instrumental to Trump’s 2016 victory.

Much of the efficacy of O’Rourke’s fundraising haul will be determined by the infrastructure his campaign already has. The press release says that he’s built “the largest field operation in Texas history,” and his campaign currently employs about 300 staffers, a huge number. That could give him a place to put the additional short-term workers these numbers would allow him to bring in for a final push. Three and a half weeks is an eternity in politics, but a short time in the world of recruiting, hiring, training, and deploying workers—a challenge of the O’Rourke campaign will probably be to split the difference.

Well, first of all I hope he’s already been spending it, because there’s only so much you can do in four weeks. I hope some of this is earmarked for more traditional TV and radio advertising, with an emphasis on Spanish language ads in the appropriate places. To the extent that it’s legal, I hope some of it is spent boosting other Democrats in key races. People who are turning out for the Congressional candidates (*) and legislative candidates in various races will be voting for Beto, too. I hope some of it is intended to help with the GOTV efforts going on in the key counties. You could pay for an awful lot of rides to the polls, and stamps for vote-by-mail ballots, with that kind of scratch.

I’m just a voice in the peanut gallery, but you get the idea. Spend it on things that make sense, that’s all I ask. Just remember, Beto may have a crap-ton of small-dollar donors, but Ted Cruz has a gang of billionaires backing him, so whatever the disparity in their FEC reports, Cruz will have what he needs to fight, too. Martin Longman has more.

(*) Our Congressional candidates are doing pretty well for themselves, too, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some more help. The legislative candidates would surely not mind a boost, either.

Change Research (Land Commissioner): Bush 41, Suazo 36

From the inbox:

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, the Democratic nominee for Texas Land Commissioner, is within 5 points of incumbent George P. Bush. The poll was conducted shortly after Suazo was endorsed by former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a Republican.

The poll shows the two major party candidates within 5 points, with the Libertarian taking an unusually high percentage:

Suazo (D): 36%
Bush (R): 41%
Pina (L): 13%

Bush is clearly being hurt by his handling of the Alamo, a landmark that is overseen by the General Land Office. Managed by a handful of non-profits, it’s left many people wondering: who’s in charge over there?

“The Alamo has experienced nothing short of a failure of leadership under George P. Bush,” said Miguel Suazo. “While true Texans want to remember the Alamo, George P. Bush wants to reimagine it. This is unacceptable and it’s just one of the many areas that the General Land Office is demonstrating a lack of competency.”

The poll was conducted by Change Research from September 19-21 among more than 1,700 registered voters in Texas.

This is literally all I know about this poll, which came out before the recent Senate polls, so I’m not going to get very deep. As you might imagine, we don’t have much history of Land Commissioner polling, mostly because most people know nothing about the General Land Office or the candidates for it. We do have this result from June 2014, in which then-candidate George P. Bush led former El Paso Mayor John Cook by a 36-25 margin, in a poll where Greg Abbott led Wendy Davis 44-32. (Here’s where I say that I sure wish this poll also included a Beto/Cruz number, for comparison purposes.) In some sense, this is probably akin to a generic R/D poll result, and I will note that the UT/Trib poll from this June had a “generic Congress” and “generic Lege” question, in which Dems were even closer than this. Does any of this mean anything? I don’t know. But now you know what I do know.

Saavedra 2.0

This was unexpected.

In a raucous school board meeting filled with shouting and accusations lobbed by trustees against each other, the Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees late Thursday replaced interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan with former HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra.

The vote, which followed a motion that several board members said came as a surprise to them, returns Lathan to her previous role as chief academic officer.

The vote marks the third leader this calendar year for the 214,000-student school district.

The unexpected discussion came as trustees were about to decide whether to extend Lathan’s contract through Sept. 30, 2019.

[…]

Before trustees voted on Lathan’s contract, trustee Diana Davila proposed a motion to dismiss Lathan as the district’s temporary leader and insert Saavedra.

That motion drew passionate criticism from trustee Wanda Adams, who said there was a racial divide on the board between African-American and Latino trustees. She said the proposal should have been discussed in closed session rather than sprung on the dais.

“This is disrespectful,” Adams said. “I did not know about this at all. Some of my other colleagues did not know about it. Some knew about it — (Sergio) Lira knew about it, Holly (Flynn Vilaseca) knew about it and (Elizabeth) Santos knew about it. It goes back to my original statement about racism on this board.”

In a discussion about this on Monica Flores Richart’s Facebook page, it was suggested that having an interim Superintendent who does not want the job on a permanent basis is better for conducting a national service than having an interim Super who is a candidate for that job. Saavedra (apparently) does not want the job long term, while Lathan does, and has the backing for that of at least the three African-American members of the Board. I think this is a plausible argument, but I agree with Trustee Adams that it’s the sort of discussion that should have been had with the whole Board before making any decisions (much less a motion). For sure, having this kind of public fight won’t do anything to attract decent candidates, and that’s before we take into account the continuing specter of a state takeover. I understand Saavedra has a good record dealing with a district that faced similar problems in recent years, but one wonders how much clout a known short-time boss will have, especially given the recent exodus of senior leaders within HISD. I wish Saavedra all the success in the world in his temporary gig, because we’re sure gonna need it. The Press has more.

Endorsement watch: Three for four

Four endorsements for the State House, and this time the Dems collect three recommendations from the Chron. All are challengers to incumbents, and all are in districts that have been trending blue.

HD132: Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni has written several novels, is a single mother with three boys and is making her first political run to represent this westside district. She has the backing of some major women’s organizations – Emily’s List, for example – and a number of local political groups. Add us to the list.

Calanni, 41, supports plenty of a reasonable plans we’ve heard from Democrats and Republicans alike running for House seats: She wants to bring soaring property taxes back to Earth by restoring the state’s full share of funding to public schools – it’s paying 37 percent of the school tab versus the usual 50 percent —and making corporations pay taxes on the full value of their properties. She has a dedicated focus on passing laws to help fight sex trafficking.

Calanni also told us that she wants the state to expand Medicaid, and is desperate for construction of the much-discussed third flood-control reservoir for Houston. It could be somewhere in or near her district, which runs north-south from Katy to Cypress, is bisected by the Grand Parkway, and was hit hard by Harvey.

“We don’t need any more studies; we need to build it right now,” Calanni said during her candidate interview.

They dinged Rep. Mike Schofield, whom they had previously endorsed, for meddling with the pension reform bill and redirecting clean air funds to “crisis pregnancy centers”.

HD135: Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

Rosenthal is a 55-year-old mechanical engineer who has worked mostly in the oil industry and is making his first run at political office. Like just about everybody, Rosenthal complains about rising property taxes, which he blames in part on state leaders giving big corporations tax breaks by allowing them to greatly undervalue their properties, while at the same time directing money that should be going to public schools to charter schools.

Charter schools were supposed to be centers of innovation that would boost educational achievement, Rosenthal said, but their students are not doing any better on standardized tests than those in public schools. Rosenthal also said he wants to look at other ways of raising money to help fund schools, including the legalization of marijuana.

“I’m down with making it legal and regulating and taxing it just like we do with tobacco,” he said. “I’m an ex-hippie.”

He does not agree with plans to raise sales taxes because he thinks it will hurt the poor and the elderly. We found Rosenthal to be congenial, bright, well informed and very committed to the idea of making Texas a better place.

They really went to town on Rep. Gary Elkins, giving him one star and ending with an all-caps plea to all to not vote for him. As you know, I couldn’t agree more.

HD138: Adam Milasincic

First-time candidate Adam Milasincic has the potential to become a top-notch member of the Texas House of Representatives and voters in this district shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to see what he can do in Austin. Milasincic, 34, is a super smart, well-spoken lawyer with lots of good ideas and probably the savvy to get some of them through a Republican-dominated Legislature.

Milasincic has already stepped up to help his fellow Houstonians by volunteering to represent hurricane victims cheated by landlords.

Like most Democratic candidates — and plenty of moderate Republicans in the Texas House — Milasincic wants to restore the state’s share of school funding and reduce thetax burden on homeowners. He opposes school vouchers and what he calls “other schemes to privatize or def-und our public schools.”

On flooding, Milasincic also told us that he wants a regional flood control district, stricter rules on development in flood prone areas and a third flood control dam northwest of the city.

Incumbent Rep. Dwayne Bohac is another one the Chron has endorsed before, and as with Schofield they knocked him for meddling with the pension bill. You had one job, guys!

The one Republican incumbent they went for (in this round; there are four more Democratic challengers, plus a few Republican contestants) was Rep. Dennis Paul in HD129, though they gave an equal star rating to Democrat Alex Karjeker and had good things to say about him. I don’t know if the Chron plans to go outside Harris County in these races – Lord knows, they have plenty right here to keep them busy – but they’re making progress. You can find my interview with Calanni here, my interview with Rosenthal here, my interview with Milasincic here, and my interview with Karjeker here.

Interview with Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

We finish our tour of Harris County candidates with one of the most successful Democrats in county politics, Adrian Garcia. You know his story, from HPD to Houston City Council to being the top votegetter in the county in the 2008 breakthrough year as Sheriff, replacing a corrupt longtime incumbent. Garcia is taking aim at another incumbent this year, as he seeks to oust two-time County Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2. Morman snuck into office in a Republican wave year, so it would be only fitting if he were to be ushered out in a Democratic wave year. Precinct 2 leans ever so slightly Republican, at least as of 2016, but like the rest of the county as a whole it’s moving in a blue direction. Adrian Garcia was my first choice for a challenger to Morman and his bottomless campaign treasury, and I was delighted when he declared his candidacy. He easily outpaced a multi-candidate field in the primary, and now we’re here for the main event, with the balance of power at Commissioners Court at stake. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Quinnipiac (LV): Cruz 54, O’Rourke 45

Everyone take a deep breath about the latest Quinnipiac result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Fifty-four percent of Texans backed Cruz, while 45 percent backed O’Rourke in the latest Quinnipiac University poll.

As for each candidate’s images, 52 percent of Texans surveyed had a favorable view of Cruz, with 44 percent viewing him unfavorably. O’Rourke, however, was slightly under water in how Texans viewed him: 45 percent of respondents had a favorable view of O’Rourke, compared to 47 percent who view him unfavorably.

[…]

The poll also took a snapshot of Texas’ gubernatorial race, showing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott with a prohibitive lead over his Democratic rival, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, 58 percent to 38 percent.

Strikingly, while Valdez and O’Rourke have consolidated support among African Americans, Abbott and Cruz garnered sizable Hispanic support. Cruz had the backing of 37 percent of Hispanic respondents while nearly half of Hispanics surveyed — 46 percent — supported Abbott.

Sixty-two percent of Texans viewed Abbott favorably while 32 percent of Texans had an unfavorable view of the governor. In contrast, Valdez — an underfunded candidate — is still largely unknown for this point in the cycle. Thirty-one percent of Texans had a positive view of Valdez and 29 percent had an unfavorable view of her.

See here for the previous Q-poll of likely voters. They seem to have a more Republican sample than what we’ve been seeing with registered voter polls, which is both what you’d expect, and the same-old same-old that Beto is trying to upend. One way of looking at this is to look at the similar result from the NYT/Upshot live poll, which has gotten less mainstream coverage than the Q-poll has. They consider various turnout scenarios:

WHO WILL VOTE? EST. TURNOUT OUR POLL RESULT
The types of people who voted in 2014 4.4m Cruz +16
People whose voting history suggests they will vote, regardless of what they say 6.3m Cruz +9
Our estimate 6.3m Cruz +8
People who say they will vote, adjusted for past levels of truthfulness 7m Cruz +8
People who say they are almost certain to vote, and no one else 7.2m O’Rourke +3
The types of people who voted in 2016 7.9m Cruz +5
Every active registered voter 13.2m Cruz +4

That’s it in a nutshell. Beto’s mission is to turn out less likely voters. A somewhat unspoken corollary to that is that Republican enthusiasm needs to be a little lower than usual as well. I think Beto is in a good position to outperform a poll like this, but that’s always a tough thing to do, and the kind of thing that many people will not believe is possible until they see it happen. Keep working at it. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Endorsement watch: One out of three will have to do

They endorsed Ed Emmett, which comes as a surprise to no one.

It is with a twinge of regret that we endorse Ed Emmett for re-election as county judge. We’d rather be endorsing the pragmatic Republican for governor.

A man who began his tenure with the admonishment to “hunker down” during Hurricane Ike has become a steadfast pillar in our state’s ongoing political gale. As county judge he serves as chief executive for the four million people in Harris County and oversees road construction, flood control, hospital services and a litany of other county responsibilities. At a time when Republican leaders in Austin seem to thrive on the chaos of partisan pandering at the expense of their basic duties, and Texas Democrats remain unable to mount a viable opposition, Emmett offers an alternative vision of government — one focused on fulfilling the essential responsibilities of his office and meeting the needs of his constituents.

[…]

We don’t agree with Emmett on everything — he and other GOP members of Commissioners Court are wrong to continue funding expensive outside lawyers to defend the county’s unconstitutional bail system. But there’s no one we’d rather have guiding our regional government.

As for his Democratic challenger, we were thoroughly impressed that Lina Hidalgo was able to hold her own when the two met side-by-side for their endorsement meeting. Hildalgo, 27, was born in Colombia, came to the United States as a teenager and has an impressive resume that includes elite institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and New York University. She has an academic background in criminal justice reform and has worked in Southeast Asia promoting government transparency. Closer to home, she spent time at the Texas Civil Rights Project and served as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center.

Hidalgo offers a vision of a county government more actively involved in public policy debates, such as working to help migrant families at the border. She also resurrected the idea of a county-sponsored pre-K program. Overall, she is committed to caring about the most vulnerable among us.

The most interesting thing in the editorial was the revelation that Emmett plans to vote for Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. That in itself isn’t too surprising – Patrick loathes Republicans like Emmett, and he sure hasn’t done anything good for Harris County – but saying it for the record is something new. One hopes he feels the same way about Justin Nelson over Ken Paxton, and Kim Olson over Sid Miller as well. As for Lina Hidalgo, if you haven’t listened to my interview with her, I encourage you to do so. I like what Lina has been saying and doing, and I’m glad she jumped into this race.

They endorsed Chris Daniel for re-election as District Clerk.

[Daniel’s] office has responsibility for overseeing the behind-the-scenes work in our district courts, including the ongoing project of implementing e-filing in the criminal courthouse. Both the civil and family courts have already transitioned to this new system. Daniel, 36, is also one of the rare Republicans to earn an endorsement from the AFL-CIO, which he told the editorial board he attributes to his support for a $15 minimum wage for his employees.

In his meeting with the editorial board, Daniel made a convincing case that his office needs additional funds to help support the specialty diversion courts that have become an important part of our criminal justice system. He also proposed that the legislature provide a tax incentive to compensate businesses that provide paid leave for employees on jury duty — an idea we fully support.

His Democratic challenger, Marilyn Burgess, has managerial experience in the public and private sector, including service as executive director of Texas PTA and president of North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce. While lawyers may be concerned that she doesn’t have a law degree, Burgess pointed out the situation is similar to hospital managers who aren’t doctors. Burgess, however, would bring the credentials of a certified public accountant.

The Chron was complimentary to Burgess, saying she would undoubtedly be excellent if she were elected. I did not do any interviews for District Clerk. I interviewed Loren Jackson twice, in 2008 and 2010, and I interviewed Judith Snively in 2014, and honestly there isn’t much to ask about, as District Clerk is a pretty straightforward job. I endorsed Burgess early on, as she was easily the best candidate in the primary and was one of the first candidates at any level out there campaigning.

Of greater interest, they endorsed Diane Trautman for County Clerk.

Diane Trautman

While we endorsed Stanart in 2014, we do not believe he is fit for a third term.

Instead, we encourage voters to support his challenger, Diane Trautman. A current at-large board member at the Harris County Department of Education, Trautman has managerial experience in the public and private sector and a doctorate from Sam Houston State University with a dissertation on women’s leadership styles. Meeting with the editorial board, she offered a litany of ideas for improving those frustratingly slow election night returns, including better training and a more transparent process. She also has a passion for creating countywide voting centers so that people don’t have to cast their ballots at specific — and often inconvenient — precincts on Election Day.

“Currently 52 counties [in Texas] are already using this method of voting successfully and increasing their voter turnout,” she said. “The question is: Why aren’t we?”

Overall, Trautman offers a more managerial sense of the role than Stanart’s current method of operating in the weeds. For example, the incumbent personally spearheaded a plan to create plastic stands to hold iPads to help run elections. The project made headlines for its $2.75 million price-tag, including $1 million worth of iPads that sat unused in a warehouse. It was one of many bizarre scandal to occur on his watch. The 2012 primary runoff results were delayed due to technical errors, and the original numbers had to be corrected. In the 2011 general election his office published an inaccurate manual for election judges.

Stanart’s use of George Soros-related fear-mongering on his campaign website also brings an unnecessary tinge of partisanship to his office and panders to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. His site says that the Jewish Hungarian billionaire “wants to control Harris County Elections” — a bizarre and inaccurate claim. Stanart told us it was based on a rumor that later turned out to be untrue but he never changed the website. Voters should want the person in charge of our elections to be above the usual political squabbles and avoid spreading unsubstantiated gossip.

There’s more Stanart-bashing in the piece, so go read and enjoy. My interview with Trautman is here, and you know I think she’s aces. You want to #FireStanStanart, this is your chance.

What the hell is going on in Waller County?

From Josh Marshall at TPM:

Here’s a troubling story out of Texas. Democrat Mike Siegel is running against Rep. Michael T. McCaul (R) in Texas’s 10th district. This evening I saw a tweet from Siegel which said: “Just learned that my field director was arrested while delivering our letter. He told police he was working for me and the officer asked, “what party is he?” Now Jacob is under 48 hour investigatory detention in Waller County.”

That didn’t seem right, especially the part about getting arrested after being asked what party he’s affiliated with. So I managed to get Siegel on the phone to get some more details.

Here’s the tweet in question, along with the letter the Siegel campaign was presenting. You should read the TPM story, which was the first to pick up on this, to be followed by the Chron:

Mike Siegel

A field director for Democratic congressional candidate Mike Siegel was arrested at the Waller County Courthouse Wednesday after he delivered a letter demanding the county update the status of students at a nearby college whose registrations were thrown into question the day before.

Jacob Aronowitz, Siegel’s field director, was released after about two hours, according to Lisa Seger, the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 3, who arrived at the courthouse after the arrest.

The letter, addressed to County Judge Trey Duhon and Elections Administrator Christy Eason, took issue with Eason’s decision to require the students fill out a “change in address” form to correct the registration issue.

The arrest stemmed from Aronowitz’s decision to take a photo of a clerk receiving the letter, apparently to confirm it had been received, Siegel said in a phone interview. The clerk objected to having her picture taken and complained to a nearby bailiff, Siegel said.

“The bailiff then stopped Jacob as he was trying to exit the building in the stairway and apparently called the police,” he said.

Aronowitz then called Siegel, who is an attorney. Siegel said he heard Aronowitz repeatedly ask why he was being held and whether he was free to go. At one point, Aronowitz told a detaining officer that his lawyer, Siegel, was running for Congress.

“They say, what party is he from?’” Siegel said. “I don’t know why that was relevant.”

Though Aronowitz was released, county officials kept his phone, according to Seger, the state House candidate.

This subsequent tweet announced Aronowitz’s release. This is some backwater Boss Hogg crap right here, and you can only imagine what Aronowitz’s plight might have been if he wasn’t in a position of privilege to begin with. Not to be crass, but Waller County still has Sandra Bland’s blood on its hands. We need to hear a lot more from county officials about why this happened and what they’re going to do about it. We also need to have more reporters asking these questions. The DMN and a subsequent post from TPM have more.

(FYI, I interviewed Mike Siegel back in May, prior to the primary runoff. Go listen to that if you haven’t already.)

Judicial Q&A: Sandra Peake

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Sandra Peake

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

My name is Sandra Peake, and I am the Democratic nominee for the 257th Family District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears cases affecting the family relationship divorce, parent-child relationship, enforcement of and modification of existing orders, division of marital estates, adoptions and name changes.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

It is an open seat as Judge Judy Warne is retiring and not seeking re-election.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a licensed attorney with 30-plus years experience practicing before this kind of court, handling over 1,493 cases in Harris County Family Court, 193 cases in Fort Bend County Court, along with additional cases in Brazoria, Montgomery, and Chambers counties. I believe that for this reason I am experienced, knowledgeable and know how the court dockets are handled and where there is room for improvement. More importantly, I have represented in my practice the average citizen of Harris County, across racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I have a demeanor that will allow me to make decisions so that litigants and their attorneys believe that the playing field is level and without bias.

5. Why is this race important?

This race and all but one of the other family and juvenile courts in Harris County are on the ballot this year. We have not elected a Democrat to the Harris County Family and Juvenile Courts since the “sweep” of 1994. Family practitioners and litigants are tired of the stranglehold the local Republican Party has over the family courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have diverse community support. I am the candidate who sought and obtained endorsements from groups that are representative of the rich diversity of our county. I have obtained the endorsements of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, AFL-CIO, NE Baptist Ministers Association, Run Sister Run PAC, and have attended a political forum at one of the largest mosques in the city. Just as importantly, I have represented in my practice the average citizen of Harris County, across racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I believe that I have a demeanor that will allow me to make decisions so that litigants and their attorneys will have renewed faith that the playing field is level and without bias.

I will be responsive. Many litigants are self-represented, facing additional challenges navigating the Court system, from filing to relief/conclusion. I have given consideration to starting docket at 8:30 AM. Most dockets are called at 9:00, 9:30, and 10:00. This will provide an additional staggered start time. I have also given some consideration to having a telephone conference option for attorneys if both sides agree, which would provide meaningful resolution during times (in afternoon in particular) where some matters have settled and no hearings are scheduled.

I will call docket on time and will restrict docket time to docket matters. I am cognizant of how much time is spent during docket time in some courts on non-docket matters, which needlessly wastes everyone’s time.

Thank you for your consideration.

College students and evangelical women

Will they really vote for Beto?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

After church on a recent Sunday, Emily Mooney smiled as she told her girlfriends about her public act of rebellion. She had slapped a “Beto for Senate’’ sticker on her S.U.V. and driven it to her family’s evangelical church.

But then, across the parking lot, deep in conservative, Bible-belt Texas, she spotted a sign of support: the same exact sticker endorsing Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Ted Cruz.

“I was like, who is it?” she exclaimed. “Who in this church is doing this?”

Listening to Ms. Mooney’s story, the four other evangelical moms standing around a kitchen island began to buzz with excitement. All of them go to similarly conservative churches in Dallas. All are longtime Republican voters, solely because they oppose abortion rights. Only one broke ranks to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But this November, they have all decided to vote for Mr. O’Rourke, the Democratic upstart who is on the front line of trying to upend politics in deep-red Texas.

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

To Democrats nationwide, who have largely written off white evangelical voters, it also sends a signal — not just for the midterms but also for the 2020 presidential campaign — that there are female, religious voters who are open to some of their party’s candidates.

The women, who are all in their 30s, described Mr. O’Rourke as providing a stark moral contrast to Mr. Trump, whose policies and behavior they see as fundamentally anti-Christian, especially separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, banning many Muslim refugees and disrespecting women.

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke, one of Ms. Mooney’s friends, confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

Will they actually turn out for Beto?

In Texas, young people are one of the key blocs of the electorate that the Democratic Party, and O’Rourke, need to turn out to be competitive — they’re far more diverse and far more liberal than the electorate at large.

There’s just one problem: They don’t show up to vote.

That young people don’t vote has long been a political truism in Texas and nationwide, requiring the attachment of an asterisk to every energetic candidate who garners enthusiasm with The Youth. From Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in the 1960s to Howard Dean, Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, Democratic politicians are perennially predicted to be the conjurers of a youth-led revolution — one that will wrest control of the country’s destiny from the stubbornly change-averse hands of the older generation.

It’s never quite transpired.

In 2016, just 27 percent of Texans age 18-24 turned out to vote, compared with 65 percent of those over age 65. A recent national poll found that only 28 percent of young adults say they’re “absolutely certain” to vote in the upcoming midterms; for senior citizens, the corresponding figure is 74 percent.

With an expansive weeklong tour through campuses around the state — from the flagship universities in Austin and College Station to community colleges in Dallas and Houston — O’Rourke is making a concerted effort to drive youth turnout. “There’s really there’s nowhere to go but up,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

As O’Rourke tells it, his college tour is consistent with a campaign strategy that has flouted conventional wisdom at every turn: Consultants and pollsters generally advise candidates not to waste time on college campuses in the home stretch of a campaign. “‘Time, money and resources are too precious. Do not spend them on people who are unlikely to vote,’” O’Rourke told the UTSA crowd, summing up the typical consultant advice. “Our contention is that if no one ever showed up for me … then I wouldn’t vote either.”

He talked about the burden of student debt that has gone unaddressed by politicians in Washington, asking “Why do we make it so hard for people to better themselves for themselves and for everyone else?” O’Rourke also called for investing in universal pre-K, boosting vocational programs and raising teacher salaries.

Read ’em both. My answer to the first question is “some of them will”, and my answer to the second is “probably more than in 2014”. How much of each is the real question, and the key to whether the polls are underestimating Beto’s support or pegging it correctly. There are straws in the wind, and to whatever extent you can affect those numbers you should, but we just won’t know till we start to vote.

Endorsement watch: Criminal court judges

There’s a new slate of endorsements from the Chron up, all for Criminal District Court races. More Republicans, mostly incumbents, were endorsed than Dems, but in many cases it was close. Of interest to me was the first appearance of one-star candidates, reflecting the Chron’s new star rating system. One of the one star candidates is a Republican, and one is a Democratic, who was also the focus of a sidebar editorial about the perils of voting a straight ticket.

There are two ways to look at this. One is as that editorial says, that as long as we elect judges via a partisan political process, we ought to take the time to at least know who the standout candidates are and do our best to elect and retain the best of them, regardless of the party label. The other is that the only way to change the Republican Party as it now stands is to give it an epic, all-encompassing beatdown at the polls, and if a cost of that is the loss of a couple of good judges, well, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I’m not going to suggest a path for you – you’re all a bunch of intelligent and discerning individuals – but this is the real choice as I see it.

Interview with Lina Hidalgo

Lina Hidalgo

The office of Harris County Judge has always been held by a Republican, for all intents and purposes. Before Ed Emmett was Robert Eckels, before Robert Eckels was Jon Lindsay, and before Jon Lindsay I was in second grade, as Lindsay was first elected County Judge in 1974. Emmett withstood the Democratic tide of 2008, and has had two easy re-elections since then. Challenging Judge Emmett this year, and forty-plus years of history, is Democrat Lina Hidalgo. A native of Colombia, Hidalgo grew up in Texas and got her undergraduate degree at Stanford; she is currently pursuing a joint degree in law and public policy at NYU and Harvard. Hidalgo has worked for the Texas Civil Rights Project and in Southeast Asia as an advocate for government transparency and accountability. I spoke to her a few weeks ago about the flood bond referendum, and I spoke to her again about the rest of the job of Harris County Judge. Here’s that conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

CBS-YouGov: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 44 (LV)

I expect we’ll see a bunch more polls in the next few days.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The battle for Senate control finds Democrats trying to mount upset challenges in a string of typically Republican states, and this round of Battleground Tracker polls shows them having at best mixed results so far. In the closely watched race in Texas, incumbent Republican Ted Cruz has a lead over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, at six points among likely voters, 50-44.

[…]

In Texas, Beto O’Rourke supporters are about as inclined to say they’re backing him because of his personal qualities as they are because of his stance on issues, more so than Cruz’s voters, who are more drawn to Cruz’s issue stances than his personal qualities. Cruz has double-digit leads over O’Rourke on handling issues of immigration and gun policy, but these views break largely along partisan lines. However, O’Rourke is about twenty points more likely than Cruz to be seen by voters as representing change.

That was one of four polls done by CBS and YouGov. You can see the toplines here, or just scroll down in the link above. Ultimately, any likely voter model is going to depend on what the pollsters think turnout will be. As noted before, the Upshot is assuming 6.3 million voters, or about 40% turnout. Of course, who those voters are matters a lot, but given that about 4.7 million people voted in 2014, that’s a pretty strong statement that 2018 will be different. How different, well, that’s what we’re all trying to determine. The Upshot is live-polling Texas, and as noted I expect there to be others out there. And, you know, early voting starts in less than two weeks. So don’t just sit there, do something about it.

Another Schwertner update

The investigation is happening.

Sen. Charles Schwertner

The University of Texas on Monday acknowledged it has received a complaint about state Sen. Charles Schwertner from a student, and that it has collected evidence as part of an investigation into him, marking the first official acknowledgement of the school’s inquiry into whether Schwertner sent a sexually explicit photo and message to a graduate student he met this summer.

The American-Statesman reported two weeks ago that the school was investigating the allegation against the Georgetown Republican, and that it was considering banning him from campus if the allegation was proven true. The newspaper cited three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to discuss the situation.

A university spokesman at the time declined to answer questions about the investigation, saying UT does not confirm or comment on ongoing investigations. Monday’s confirmation came in a letter from the university to the Texas attorney general’s office that seeks permission to withhold records that the Statesman requested two weeks ago.

[…]

Schwertner, who could not immediately be reached for comment Monday afternoon, has maintained that he did not send the message and image, though he hasn’t provided an explanation for what happened. He has not denied that the image and the message were sent to the student, nor has he explained how they could have been sent if not by him.

His lawyers’ statement last week included results from a polygraph test that appeared to show Schwertner was not lying when he said he did not send the message and image. However, the test left several significant questions unasked, including whether the image sent to the student was of Schwertner, and whether Schwertner knew who sent the image and message.

See here for the previous update. Schwertner’s attorneys had said there was an investigation, now we know that UT has confirmed that, and we know some more of the background. AG Ken Paxton will issue an opinion about what information UT is required to turn over to the Statesman about it all – my guess is he’ll say that most of what UT has is protected – and at some point we’ll know the results of this investigation. I would guess that everyone involved would rather have this wrapped up sooner and not later.

As for what Schwertner has and has not denied: Like I said before, it’s a pretty straightforward matter to determine whether or not a message was sent from a given phone. Even if stuff had been deleted, service provider records and basic forensic tools would provide the answer. The bigger question is, if Schwertner himself did not send the messages, who did? One presumes only so many people have access to his phone. Yes, his phone could have been hacked, but that’s harder to do than you might think, and anyone who wanted to break into his phone would probably want to steal information from it, not use it as a front for forwarding sexy pictures. Be that as it may, as before a competent IT security professional would be able to suss that out. I don’t want to speculate ahead of the evidence so I’ll leave it here. Let’s just say I’m eagerly awaiting the outcome of this investigation. Also, too, Meg Walsh.

Judicial Q&A: Beau Miller

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Beau Miller

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

I’m Beau Miller and I am running for Judge of the 190th (Civil) District Court in Harris County. I’m a trial lawyer in Houston with 17 years’ experience in the courtroom, representing plaintiffs and defendants, individuals and corporations.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 190th District Court is a Civil Court, and hears cases involving title to land, election contests, civil matters in which the amount of money damages involved is $500 or more, and other matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I strongly believe that everyone should have fair access to our courts and a fair shake when they get there. Too often judges’ political or personal beliefs interfere with the rights of individuals to have their day in court. I know that when judges don’t do their jobs effectively every day, the wheels of justice grind to a halt – and grind down hard-working people with limited resources who are just trying to have their case heard.

My experience in advocating for the rights of vulnerable individuals and in handling complex and challenging litigation, together with my track record of promoting diversity in the legal profession, make me a strong candidate for judicial office. If my campaign is successful, I will use my legal expertise, real world experience, and solid values to ensure that justice is done in every case that comes before me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an experienced trial lawyer and I hope to make a significant and positive contribution to access to justice for the residents of Harris County. In my 17 years in the courtroom, I have represented a broad range of clients. As a civil rights lawyer, I understand discrimination and the critical role our judicial system can play in creating a community in which everyone can seek justice. Finally, as a leader in several community organizations, I have learned the importance of ensuring that everyone who participates in the legal system – parties, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, and courtroom staff – is treated with the dignity and respect that should be accorded to all people.

Through my years of courtroom experience I have had the good fortune to observe and learn from many excellent judges. In my own practice I have made every effort to treat my clients, my opponents, and the court fairly and respectfully. As a result, I believe I have a solid reputation in the legal community as a lawyer who knows his way around the courtroom and will work hard to ensure that justice is done.

5. Why is this race important?

The residents of Harris County are entitled to be served by judicial officers who will follow the law, respect the facts as they are presented, and judge each case fairly. Unfortunately, some judges do not always approach their role in a similar fashion. As a result, some litigants find that extraneous factors, including political considerations, can tilt the scale. It is critically important that every judge be impartial and unencumbered by personal, political, or religious bias. I am committed to bringing that kind of judicial integrity to the bench.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Because I am committed to fairness. We operate in a world that sometimes falls short of our ideals of justice and equal treatment under the law. It is time to ensure that every member of the Harris County judiciary is impartial, and dedicated to the rule of law.

I intend to exercise exactly that kind of fairness in every case I hear. My experience, strong work ethic, common sense, and understanding of how the law actually affects real world situations will all help me to judge cases fairly. Finally – and importantly – I will bring the highest standards of personal and professional ethics to the role and won’t allow any form of bias to cloud my judgment.

Today is the last day to register to vote

Take action as needed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As Texas’ Tuesday voting registration deadline approaches, Nasser and a number of other deputy voter registrars, volunteers allowed to register voters on the spot, were out in force Saturday evening. While many states allow voters to register the day of an election, Texas voters must register one month before. The last day voters can register for the Nov. 6 election is Tuesday, since Monday is a federal holiday and the voter registrar office will be closed.

Voters who still need to register must visit their county voter registrar office to drop off a completed application or print and postmark an application to their county voter registrar by Tuesday. People can also register to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license.

As part of the Motor Voter Act, a federal judge has ordered Texas to allow voters to register online, but such a system will not be implemented in time for this midterm election because the order has been stayed while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appeals the decision. Nonetheless, the Texas voter rolls have grown to 15.6 million people, a new record that is 1.6 million higher than the last midterm election, according to Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.

The last way to register is through a deputy voter registrar, which is why Nasser and a number of volunteers were standing outside the Festival Chicano.

[…]

States occasionally remove voters from the rolls. Such removals are meant to target felons and the deceased. Texas, however, sometimes mistakenly purges voters by incorrectly presuming them dead, according to a report by New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Sometimes other mistakes are made, such as when 1,700 voter registrations were mistakenly suspended this year due to what Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett called a software glitch.

Voters can check whether they are registered on the Texas Secretary of State site, although the webpage is not the official register of a voter’s registration, which is instead kept by county voter registration offices.

Basically, if you were registered before and you haven’t moved, you should still be registered. You can certainly check if you want to – in Harris County, I’d go to the Tax Assessor website and search there; go to your county’s elections administration page if you’re in a different county – but if you’re a previously registered voter, you should have gotten your updated registration card this January. If you did, you should be fine.

We’ll see how high the final numbers get. The last update from Harris County was over a month ago, and I expect that to be up. I think we might approach 16 million, but that’s a bit optimistic. Nate Cohn, who is doing one of those “live polls” of the Senate race here, says their model is projecting 6.3 million voters for turnout, which is right at 40%. That’s what we had in 2010, by the way, but with far fewer voters. It starts with registration, that much is for sure. The DMN has more.

Let no horrific tragedy go unexploited

Barf.

Security companies spent years pushing schools to buy more products — from “ballistic attack-resistant” doors to smoke cannons that spew haze from ceilings to confuse a shooter. But sales were slow, and industry’s campaign to free up taxpayer money for upgrades had stalled.

That changed last February, when a former student shot and killed 17 people at a Florida high school. Publicly, the rampage reignited the U.S. gun-control debate. Privately, it propelled industry efforts to sell school fortification as the answer to the mass killing of American kids.

Since that attack, security firms and nonprofit groups linked to the industry have persuaded lawmakers to elevate the often-costly “hardening” of schools over other measures that researchers and educators say are proven to reduce violence, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The industry helped Congress draft a law that committed $350 million to equipment and other school security over the next decade. Nearly 20 states have come up with another $450 million.

Most everyone agrees that schools can be more secure with layers of protection, such as perimeter fencing, limited entrances and classroom hiding spaces.

But there’s no independent research supporting claims that much of the high-tech hardware and gadgets schools are buying will save lives, according to two 2016 reports prepared for the U.S. Justice Department.

There also are no widely accepted standards for school building security, as there are for plumbing and fire protection systems. That has not stopped industry representatives from rushing in, as they did in past high-profile shootings, some stoking fears that “soft target” schools could suffer terrorist attacks or negligence lawsuits.

[…]

Educators worry that hardening will siphon focus and money from programs that prevent bullying and counsel at-risk kids. Students have reported in government surveys that metal detectors, armed officers and similar measures make them feel less safe.

School psychologists like Tricia Daniel say campuses are more secure when students feel comfortable reporting suspicious behavior and trained staff can decipher whether that behavior is dangerous.

Yeah, but where’s the profit in that? Gosh, I just can’t understand why some people don’t see capitalism as such a good thing anymore. Wherever could they have gotten that idea?

Interview with Justin Nelson

Justin Nelson

So yeah, the Attorney General’s race. You know about Ken Paxton, I know about Ken Paxton, the real question is how many people who are going to vote know about Ken Paxton. Justin Nelson is doing what he can to make sure that the voters know about Ken Paxton, as well as the much better choice for Attorney General that he himself represents. Nelson is of course an attorney, who grew up in Houston and lives in Austin. He clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the United States Supreme Court in his earlier days, and is now a partner at Susman Godfrey. He is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and teaches Constitutional Law at UT. Do I also need to mention that he is not currently under felony indictment, and is not actively trying to deprive millions of people of health insurance while also putting every DREAMer in the country at risk of deportation? Well, he’s those things, too. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

The updated scenarios for a SD06 special election

It’s complicated.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The resolution to the special election stalemate between state Sen. Sylvia Garcia and Gov. Greg Abbott likely will come after the November general election and could yield a special election after the Legislature convenes in January.

The likely solution — an “expedited election,” triggered by a vacancy within 60 days of the legislative session — comes out of a combination of codes and statutes that leave open a relatively wide election date window.

If Abbott follows timing laid out in the Texas Constitution and Election Code, the special election is likely to fall between early December and mid January, depending on when Garcia resigns.

[…]

The Legislature convenes Jan. 8, 2019, meaning the expedited period begins Nov. 9.

Once Garcia resigns, her resignation could take up to eight days to become effective. From there, the Texas Constitution gives Abbott 20 days to call an election before the “returning officer” in the district with the vacancy gains that authority.

Abbott has not indicated he would hold off on calling the election once Garcia resigns, but if it comes to that, the Constitution does not define the term “returning officer.” However, it has been generally interpreted to be the county clerk.

[…]

Garcia has not said when she would resign within the expedited period, but in an emailed statement to the Chronicle, she said she will do “whatever I can to make sure the 850,000 Texans in SD 6 are represented by the beginning of the next legislative session.”

If Garcia resigns Nov. 9 — the first day of the “expedited election” period — and her resignation quickly becomes effective, Abbott could schedule the special election in early December. If he wanted to delay the election until the session starts, he could order it in mid-January.

The governor has not stated that he would schedule the election in May or seek to delay it into session at all. But he has stopped short of promising a date before Garcia resigns. Abbott’s office sent the Chronicle the same statement it has stuck with for weeks, saying “the ball is in (Garcia’s) court.”

Basically, at this point’ we’re more or less back at the Letitia Van de Putte situation, in which I remind you that the special election to succeed her took place on January 6 and Sen. Jose Menendez was sworn in in early March. We could get the special election sooner than that, and maybe there won’t be a runoff, but that’s the best case. In the worst case, Abbott plays semantic games with what the various legal terms mean and we have to resolve this in court. All I can say I wish Sen. Garcia had resigned back in May, like I originally thought she might.

Apparently, that pay parity debate did happen

I missed the last twist in this saga, but in the end it did happen.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After months of trading barbs from a distance, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the head of Houston’s firefighters’ union met in a vigorous but civil debate Saturday, displaying their fundamental differences over just about everything related to the November ballot referendum that would grant firefighters pay “parity” with police officers of corresponding rank and seniority.

The dispute revolves around a divisive question: If the measure known as Proposition B passes, can the city afford it? If anything, the debate at St. John’s United Methodist Church between Turner and Houston Professional Fire Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton revealed how irreconcilable the opposing views on that question truly are.

From Turner’s perspective, Houston firefighters deserve to receive better pay, but not to the extent that their raises “bankrupt the city,” as he claimed Proposition B would do by mandating 29 percent raises for firefighters, at a cost of than $100 million a year.

What’s more, Turner said Saturday, the measure does not call for true “parity” because it mandates only equal pay, ignoring retirement benefits, training and education requirements — in practice granting firefighters better pay, Turner argued.

To Lancton, the city has balanced its budget on the backs of firefighters to the point that the department’s rank-and-file members are struggling to make ends meet, with salaries far lower than those of firefighters in other Texas cities.

“What Houston firefighters seek is fair, competitive pay. Because of low pay, many Houston-trained firefighters are leaving for other departments,” Lancton said. “Our pay is so low that starting firefighters, supporting families, can even qualify for government assistance. We’ve asked the city for competitive pay for nearly a decade. The city has repeatedly rejected our efforts to reach an acceptable contract agreement.”

It goes from there, and I don’t think there’s much that you haven’t seen if you’ve been following this. At last report, Lancton had pulled out of the debate because the firefighters didn’t want Lisa Falkenberg moderating (because they didn’t like the Chron’s editorial stance against Prop B) and had wanted to address the Democratic precinct chairs in an effort to get Prop B endorsed by the HCDP. Neither of these conditions changed – Falkenberg still moderated, and the HCDP precinct chairs are not getting together for an endorsement vote – so I don’t know what changed from the firefighters’ perspective. Be that as it may, I’m glad this happened – the voters deserved such an event. I wish I could have been there but I was out of town. If you attended or saw a stream of it, please leave a comment with your impressions.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Lizzie

The Chron endorses Lizzie Fletcher over Rep. John Culberson, which may be the biggest non-surprise so far of the election season.

Lizzie Fletcher

More than longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Culberson, or even her opponents from the heated Democratic primary, Fletcher understands this diverse, changing district and has demonstrated a passion for putting its residents ahead of rank partisanship.

No doubt, Culberson did his job after Hurricane Harvey. He used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to help transform an insultingly sparse White House recovery bill into an adequate funding package. As we said at the time, we don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Harvey without Culberson in Congress. But Culberson’s tenure in Washington didn’t begin when the rain started to fall, nor did his responsibilities end after the floodwaters receded.

Culberson was first elected to public office in 1986 and has rarely faced a serious challenger outside a Republican primary. It shows. His career has been spent promoting his own pet projects rather than serving the local needs of his home district. That’s why it took the greatest natural disaster in Houston history to compel him to act with necessary passion.

[…]

On firearms, Culberson is unwilling to consider reasonable regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. During their meeting with the editorial board, Fletcher said she believed that federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should share information with the gun background check list to ensure that people deemed mentally incapable cannot purchase deadly weapons.

“Two times in the past three years I have woken up to hear there’s a gunman in our congressional district who had mental illness issues randomly shooting people,” Fletcher said.

Culberson grew visibly agitated at the idea and argued that the only circumstance when someone should be prohibited from buying a gun is by a judicial order.

When it comes to health care, only Fletcher has an articulable vision for bringing costs under control. She wants a public option to create a baseline safety net for all Americans and to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Culberson, on the other hand, still doesn’t have much beyond repealing Obamacare.

You get the idea. It’s not just that Fletcher is clearly superior to Culberson (four stars to three in the Chron’s new rating system), it’s also that the Chron has literally never endorsed Culberson in a November election, at least not since 2006. I look forward to their biennial not-Culberson editorial like some people look forward to sweater weather.

Also not a surprise, the Chron endorsed Sarah Davis for re-election in HD134. Someone pursuing a master’s in political science needs to write a paper comparing Sarah Davis to Susan Collins, just to see where they land up on it. That’s all I have to say on the topic of Sarah Davis.

Weekend link dump for October 7

“The surest way to become a monster is to imagine you’re a hero”.

RIP, Elfquest, the long-running indie fantasy comic.

“Just as you would never give out personal information if asked to do so via email, never give out any information about yourself in response to an unsolicited phone call.”

“I do not believe that the heavy drinking or even loutish behavior of an 18 or even 21 year old should condemn a person for the rest of his life. However … if he lied about his past actions on national television, and more especially while speaking under oath in front of the United States Senate, I believe those lies should have consequences.”

“We have never had a Supreme Court nominee who ripped off the nonpartisan mask the way Kavanaugh did Thursday and identified himself as an enemy of a political party.”

What if I told you that “steroids” may not have been the primary cause of the home run surge of the so-called “steroid era” of baseball?

“So when Kennedy makes the case that we are living through a frightening period of democratic decline, he speaks with authority: at least in the United States, much of that decline is his fault.”

You would not have wanted to use Brett Kavanaugh’s bathroom at Yale.

Don’t click on that link about Ruby Rose. You’ll regret it.

Quelle Surprise.

Happy 60th birthday, Huckleberry Hound.

In these troubled times, I would hope that a story about an injured turtle being aided in its recovery by a wheelchair made out of LEGOs is something we can all rally around.

RIP, Peggy Sue Gerron, the inspiration for the Buddy Holly song.

The timeline for the Astrodome

Work will get started after the Rodeo.

Soon to be new and improved

According to Ryan Walsh, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation and NRG Park, the final phase of asbestos abatement is scheduled to get underway at the Dome next week and should continue until the end of the year. The work is being done by county engineers deep in the walls of the disused landmark.

“That work will take several months up until the rodeo moves in,” Walsh said Wednesday.

Construction on the project is expected to end in February 2020 and Walsh said this week that soon he will receive a more detailed construction schedule for the months and years ahead.

After the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concludes its 2019 season more intensive work is expected to begin on the Dome. The rodeo has “gate to gate” coverage of the NRG complex during rodeo season.

I for one am looking forward to seeing what this finished product looks like. I’m also looking forward to an end of the griping about what has and has not happened to and for the Dome, what should have happened instead of this plan, etc etc etc. Not that any of that is likely to happen, but I still look forward to the end of it.

Rural counties and AirBnB

It’s working well for them.

Texans running Airbnb rentals in rural counties earned $20.6 million in supplemental income in the last 12 months with 169,000 guests, according to a new report from the hospitality company.

These results represent a growth rate double that of urban counties, the report added, citing a trend of more guests wanting to visit more than just Texas’ big cities.

The company said that while the Texas hotel industry is booming, most of this growth is concentrated in the four major metro areas, making Airbnb sometimes the only lodging option outside of these cities and suburbs.

You can see a copy of that report here. As CultureMap Austin notes, some of the biggest beneficiaries are counties in the Hill Country, which makes sense. I’m happy for these rural counties, but none of this changes my mind about the need for cities to be able to regulate AirBnB locally. AirBnB my be having a significant and mostly positive effect in some parts of the state, but it will have an even bigger impact of a more-unknown effect on those cities. At the very least, let’s not pre-emptively foreclose on any tools that cities will need to manage their own interests.

Saturday video break: Vote ‘Em Out

Listen to Willie Nelson, y’all.

Link via the Current. The deadline to register to vote is this Tuesday, October 9. Early voting begins on Monday, October 22. You know what to do.