Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Interview with Ali Khorasani

Ali Khorasani

It’s day two of CD02, the soon-to-be-former district of Rep. Ted Poe. Today’s candidate, Ali Khorasani represents a couple of themes we have seen in this year’s crop of contenders: He’s under 40, and he’s a scientist. A graduate of St. Edwards University, he has a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and a Master’s degree in Chemistry, and currently works as a Field Service Engineer for chemical analysis instruments. He’s also an Eagle Scout and was a part of President Obama’s Interfaith Challenge while in college. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Finance reports start coming in

And once again, CD07 is the big story.

The winner in the money chase so far is nonprofit executive Alex Triantaphyllis, who raised over $255,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing his total raised for the election to over $925,000. After expenses, that leaves him over $630,000 cash on hand heading into the final stretch of the March 6 primary.

Culberson, 17-year incumbent who trailed Triantaphyllis in fundraising at the end of September, responded in the last three months by raising more than $345,000, bringing his year-end total to over $949,000.

But Culberson’s campaign also has been burning through money more quickly than Triantaphyllis, leaving him with about $595,000 in the bank — a slightly smaller war chest than the Democrat’s.

Culberson ended the third quarter of 2017 – the end of September – with more than $645,000 in receipts, trailing Triantaphyllis’ $668,000. Culberson’s war chest of nearly $390,000 at the time also was dwarfed by the $535,000 Triantaphyllis had at his disposal, raising alarms in GOP circles.

While Culberson, a top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, had narrowed the gap, he has not shown the usual outsized incumbent advantage in campaign fundraising. However unlike all the Democrats in the race, he does not face a well-funded primary opponent.

Three other Democrats have shown their fundraising chops ahead of the January 31 Federal Election Commission deadline.

Laura Moser, a writer and national anti-Trump activist, said she raised about $215,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing her total to about $616,340.

Another top fundraiser in the Democratic primary is Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who had raised more than $550,000 by the end of September, trailing only Triantaphyllis and Culberson. She has since raised some $200,000 more, bringing her total to more than $750,000, leaving about $400,000 in cash on hand.

Houston physician Jason Westin, a researcher MD Anderson Cancer Center, reported $123,369 in fourth-quarter fundraising, bringing him up to a total of $421,303 for the election so far. He goes into the final primary stretch with $218,773.

Here’s where things stood in October. I recall reading somewhere that the totals so far were nice and all, but surely by now the candidates had tapped out their inner circles, and that from here on it was going to get tougher. Looks like the challenge was met. Links to various Congressional finance reports will be on my 2018 Congressional page; the pro tip is that the URL for each candidate stays the same.

Elsewhere, part 1:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White raised over $200,000 during the first three weeks of his campaign, while one of his better-known primary opponents, Lupe Valdez, took in a quarter of that over roughly the same period.

White’s campaign told The Texas Tribune on Monday that he raised $219,277 from 200-plus donors through the end of the fundraising period on Dec. 31. The total haul includes $40,000 from White, a Houston businessman and the son of late Gov. Mark White. Andrew White announced his bid on Dec. 7.

[…]

Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff who announced for governor the day before White did in early December, took in $46,498 through the end of that month, according to a filing Sunday with the Texas Ethics Commission. She has $40,346.62 cash on hand.

Nobody got started till December so the lower totals are understandable. But we’re in the big leagues now, so it’s time to step it up.

Elsewhere, part 2:

Mike Collier, a retired Kingwood accounttant running as a Democrat for lieutenant governor, on Friday said he will report raising about $500,000 in his bid to unsert Repubnlican incumbent Dan Patrick.

Collier said his campaign-finance report due Monday will show he has about $143,000 in cash on hand.

Patrick, who had about $17 million in his campaign war chest last July, has not yet reported his fundraising totals for the last six months of 2017. He raised about $4 million during the first part of 2017.

Not too bad. At this point in 2014, Collier had raised about $213K, and had loaned himself $400K. For comparison purposes, then-Sen. Leticia Van de Putte raised about $430K total between her account and her PAC.

Elsewhere, part 3:

Justin Nelson, a lawyer from Houston, raised $911,000 through the end of 2017, his campaign said Thursday. More than half of that amount — $500,000 — came out of the candidate’s own pocket.

[…]

Paxton has not yet released his most current fundraising numbers, but he reported more than $5 million in the bank in June.

As the story notes, neither Nelson nor Paxton have primary opponents. They will also be in the news a lot, mostly due to Paxton’s eventual trial. One suspects that could go a long way towards boosting Nelson’s name ID, depending on how it goes. I’ll have more on the reports from all the races later.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Supreme Court hears bag ban arguments

Hoping for the best, but not really expecting it.

In the case Laredo Merchants Association v. The City of Laredo, lawyers spent almost an hour arguing whether Laredo’s 2015 ban was illegal under state law. If the Republican-led court rules against the city, bag bans across the state could be deemed illegal.

The city of Laredo’s lawyer, former Supreme Court justice Dale Wainwright, argued single-use bags are not garbage, so they are not covered by the several lines of state law that the case hinges on. The code says local governments may not “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.”

The arguments made Thursday mirrored those in lower courts, where the case was originally decided in favor of Laredo before an appeals court overturned the verdict by a 2-1 margin. The city then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

[…]

The oral arguments represent the last public action taken on the case, but a decision by the Supreme Court could still be a long way away. The court has discretion over the timeframe for a verdict, and previous cases have taken anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of years to resolve.

See here for some background. An earlier Trib story that previewed the case had some further details.

The case hinges on only a few lines of the Texas Health and Safety Code, specifically section 361.0961, which states local governments may not “prohibit or restrict, for solid waste management purposes, the sale or use of a container or package in a manner not authorized by state law.” In the lower courts, arguments focused on the specifics of the law, including the definitions of “container or package” and “solid waste management.”

Attorney Christy Drake-Adams filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Texas Municipal League and the Texas City Attorneys Association supporting the city of Laredo and arguing that siding with the merchants would represent a swift departure from Texas’ history of supporting local governments.

“There just seems to be a trend that the state wants to consolidate power in the state’s hands,” Drake-Adams said. “They don’t want the federal government telling them what to do, and yet they want to tell local governments what to do.”

Drake-Adams also said this case could create a dangerous precedent of strict, uniform regulations on cities.

“Extreme uniformity and regulation fails to address diverse local concerns,” Drake-Adams said. “Texas is a great example of why that can’t work. A state as large and diverse geographically as Texas, that simply can’t work.”

Supporters of the merchants’ case are arguing that statewide enforcement of the law should overrule any local ordinances, and the inconsistent local laws like the plastic bag bans seen in cities across Texas cause unnecessary strain on small businesses.

“Inconsistent local ordinances harm the sales of affected retailers, force the layoff of employees, deprive retailers of their existing inventory of bags, and impose an expensive and complex requirement on multisite retailers to comply with varying ordinances across the state,” wrote Edward Burbach in a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Texas Retailers Association in support of the merchants.

Remember, the goal here as expressed by Ken Paxton and abetted by Greg Abbott is to kill off all local bag laws, on the way to generally bringing cities to heel under the state. And yeah, we’re hoping the Supreme Court will stop them. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the law in question can – someday – be easily modified to fix the flaw that the pro-bag-litter faction is exploiting. That would require winning some elections first, of course. But at least it gives us something to aim for.

Posted in: Legal matters.

County will try to repair criminal court building

Good luck with that.

After twice closing the 20-story downtown criminal courthouse due to flood damage since it was completed in 2000, Harris County leaders are planning to repair the shuttered building so the next time it floods it can be reopened within days – not months – of the water receding.

The retrofitting is a bitter disappointment to some of the building’s most frequent users, mostly defense lawyers and prosecutors, who hoped the year-long closing – the second in the building’s 17 years of operation – would convince county leaders to build a new courthouse on higher ground nearby.

The towering building, a block from Buffalo Bayou and home to county offices and more than 40 courtrooms, is completely unusable after Hurricane Harvey. It will remain closed for at least the next six to seven months, with some courts and offices not being able to return to operation until as late as July 2019, officials confirmed.

The delay means criminal court judges will likely spend a year presiding over dockets in the concrete basement of the county jail and almost all Harris County judges, civil and criminal, will stay doubled up in packed courtrooms in three other courthouses. Grand jurors meet in the historic 1910 courthouse, a blocks away.

Four months after the Hurricane Harvey flooded the lower floors, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he does not know yet what is in store for the iconic downtown criminal courts facility. Emmett said he waiting for a recommendation from the county engineer, and the county engineer noted that a squad consultants hired by the county are just beginning their analysis.

The decision to spend what could be another $20 million to fix a $100 million building has critics asking whether the county is throwing good money after bad at the long-troubled skyscraper at 1201 Franklin.

“It’s time to scrap it and start over,” attorney Chris Tritico said in a widely circulated proposal in October. “There were errors in planning, design and execution. Our Commissioners Court should stop spending money on a building that will never work for the purpose it was intended and spend our money on a permanent fix.”

[…]

County officials say they want to fix up the courthouse then dive deep into what criminal justice, and county population, might look like in 20 to 50 years.

“With the population growing so fast, if we build a building today, are they going to see the same inefficiencies in 20 years,” asked County Budget Officer Bill Jackson. “When you build these buildings, you don’t build for what you need today, you build for what you’re going to need in 20 years.”

He noted that the internet has fundamentally changed the way we do business in the past 20 years, and the internet will undoubtedly change criminal justice in ways that should be studied before proposing any major construction. He cited Amazon.com as an example of an innovation that fundamentally changed the way Americans shop.

Jackson estimated that a new courthouse would cost at least $140 to $210 million. In 2016, Los Angeles built a 25 courtroom facility for $340 million. A 22-story courthouse in San Diego opened earlier this year with 70 courts and a jury assembly room at a cost of $555 million.

“Half a billion dollar courthouse and I bet they look at in 20 years and say, ‘What were we thinking?’ simply because of all the electronics and the way the younger people will do business,” he said.

See here, here, and here for some background. Seems to me that we’re still going to have arraignments and jury trials twenty years from now, so I’m not sure what lessons from Amazon Bill Jackson thinks we can learn. We’re probably going to have a Harris County bond issue on the ballot this year. Why not at least consider the possibility of starting over with the courthouse? It’s a big commitment and would mean a longer time frame for getting things back to normal, but the track record of the current building is not encouraging. How many times will it have to flood out before we think about other options?

Posted in: Hurricane Katrina.

Interview with J. Darnell Jones

Darnell Jones

Today we move into CD02, which has been since 2004 the home of Rep. Ted Poe. Like Harris County overall it moved in a Democratic direction in 2016, though it was still Republican overall. It’s on the radar this year as Rep. Poe has announced his retirement, with five Democrats and a gaggle of Republicans seeking to take Poe’s place. I’ve got interviews with four of those Democrats to bring you this week (one candidate did not reply to my email inquiry; if he gets to me later, I’ll interview him then). First up is J. Darnell Jones, a native of Memphis who served for 25 years in the Army and Navy, retiring in 2016 as a Lieutenant Commander. Jones also hold a law degree, and was a candidate for Pearland City Council in May of 2017. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Brennen Dunn

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. 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.

Brennen Dunn

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

My name is Brennen Dunn and I am running for judge of the 185th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears ciminal felony cases from state jail felonies to 1st degree felonies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This particular bench has seen some biased practices towards defendants. I believe in changing the culture that defendants in this court have been accustomed to for years. Many of the cases in this court have been presided over with a heavily pro-prosection slant.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have worked in private practice since 2010 with a primary focus in criminal law. I have been dedicated to ensuring the equal protections of defendants and ensuring the justice system acts with impartiality. I have served as appointed counsel for the economically disadvantaged for several years.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we have a chance, after the 2016 showing to continue to turn the tide of overly conservative judges that have shown a favoritism to prosecutors instead of impartiality. I want to be representative to a style of justice where victims feel vindicated and defendants feel like they have been given fair proceedings. In today’s racially, religiously, and ethnically divided country, our judiciary needs to be seen as the utmost purveyor of equality.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I believe that I will have fairness, above all else as the mantra of my court. I believe in expediting case loads to ensure efficiency in the courtroom and relieving pressure on overly taxed resources. From a fiscal view, my plans will ease the financial burden on county resources. My goals are bipartisan in nature and will create a progressive environment for my court, and the county.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Dan Patrick wants SAPD Chief arrested

Bring it on.

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday asked the state’s attorney general to determine if the chief of the San Antonio Police Department violated the state’s immigration-enforcement law during a human smuggling incident.

Late last month, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said officers arrested the driver of a tractor-trailer after a passerby saw people being unloaded from the vehicle and flagged down a police unit, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Officers charged Herbert Nichols, 58, under a state statute that makes knowingly transporting persons in the country illegally a crime, instead of turning the case over to federal agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The immigrants were interviewed and released to a Catholic charity.

During a subsequent news conference, McManus said it could have been a state or federal charge but that he chose to go with the state charge because officers were waiting to see how to move forward.

In a letter, Patrick asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate whether the department violated any portion of the state’s Senate Bill 4, a controversial and sweeping immigration enforcement bill passed by the Texas Legislature last year.

“I am very troubled by the recent news reports of the San Antonio police chief releasing suspected illegal immigrants in a case of human trafficking or human smuggling without proper investigation, identification of witnesses, or cooperation with federal authorities,” Patrick wrote. “Such action could be in direct violation of the recently passed Senate Bill 4 and threatens the safety of citizens and law enforcement.”

It’s unclear exactly which provision of the SB 4 Patrick alleges McManus violated. As passed, SB 4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they detain or arrest and punishes local government department heads and elected officials who don’t cooperate with federal immigration “detainers” — requests by agents to turn over immigrants subject to possible deportation — in the form of jail time and fines.

Chief McManus, backed by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, strongly disputes Patrick’s allegation. I kind of doubt Danno cares about the details. He’s looking to send a message. Keep an eye on this. The Current has more.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Weekend link dump for January 14

What “Meltdown” and “Spectre” mean to you.

“Few surprises are more compelling than the recent discovery that falcons are more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks and eagles.”

“We Have A New Prime Number, And It’s 23 Million Digits Long”.

The Asian fetish of far-right white nationalists.

“Trump’s complete lack of fitness as president has nothing to do with whether he has any diagnosable conditions. Suggesting otherwise, in fact, gives him and his enablers medical cover, right when the focus should be on their corruption, bigotry, and incompetence.”

“The truth that Wolff arrives at in Fire and Fury is pretty much the same one that a regular reader of political reporting for the past year would have gleaned from the work of journalists at mainstream papers.”

“All the Mentions of Sexual Harassment During the Golden Globes”.

Hooray! More Fargo next year!

Screw Wikileaks, now and forever.

“That’s why, though the cost of chicken has risen over the years, it’s advantageous for stores to keep the price of rotisserie chickens down. In fact, rotisserie chicken has long been priced lower than fresh whole chicken, a detail consumers perennially find confusing, and publications take turns investigating every few years.”

RIP, Derby, beloved bat dog of the minor league Trenton Thunder.

RIP, Meriem Lucille Roby Anderson, member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, an elite group of more than 1,000 women who flew aircraft during World War II.

RIP, Diego Esparza-Arcienega, beloved figure in Houston’s indie rock scene.

“Every time we get a little bit closer to holding powerful men accountable for their actions, bad historical metaphors tumble forth from people who are eager to appear to be concerned about overreach and due process. Overreach is always possible. Due process is important. But comparisons that equate holding the powerful accountable with the systematic persecution of marginalized people are both offensive and intended to obfuscate the truth.”

“Conservatives have recently been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition research document compiled at the behest of Clinton’s campaign. Simpson’s testimony seems to confirm the Times account and thereby debunk a conservative counternarrative that places the dossier itself at the center of the story.”

Hey, it’s New Diet Coke. Just please don’t call it “Diet New Coke”.

“Leading up the 2016 election, it was possible to imagine a broad anti-Trump coalition that included conservative Republicans like Brooks. But after the chaos wrought by Trump’s candidacy and victory, American politics is again sorting itself along usual partisan lines. If Trump’s personality cult has merged with the Republican Party, then the only effective anti-Trump movement will be among partisan Democrats, who vote not just to stop the president but also the party that enable him.”

RIP, Doreen Tracy, original Mouseketeer.

Donald Trump has a long history of being a racist jackass.

And it turns out that in many languages, there’s no direct translation of “shithole”. As someone who studied French in school – and who admires the fact that in French there are different words for “shit” depending on whether it’s being used as a noun or a verb – I was most interested in their rendition. “Pays de merde” is literally “shit countries” or “shit lands”, which is a pretty accurate rendering of the true intent. #themoreyouknow

It’s a problem for US news organizations, too. You know, when I started this blog a million years ago I decided that I’d keep the language clean on it (something I definitely do not do in real life), and yet here we are.

RIP, Keith Jackson, legendary broadcaster known as the voice of college football.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Lizzie Pannill Fletcher

Lizzie Fletcher

And so we come to the end of our week-long odyssey through the Democratic field in CD07. Next week, we shift focus to CD02, which will not require publishing interviews on weekend days. Lucky number seven in the Democratic lineup for CD07 is Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, another challenger who helped push the national narrative in this district by out-fundraising the incumbent. Fletcher is a Houston native who worked for the Alley Theater for four years before heading off to law school. A co-founder of Planned Parenthood Young Leaders, Fletcher has done volunteer legal work for Texas Appleseed and been a board member of Writers in the Schools. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The price of disrespect

Greg Abbott makes another endorsement.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday endorsed the Republican challenger to Galveston state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a move that is expected to deepen simmering divisions within the state Republican party.

In a new video, Abbott called Mayes Middleton a “principled conservative — a conservative who will be a tireless advocate for his constituents.”

“In the next legislative session, we have an opportunity to continue to pass reforms that make Texas even better,” Abbott said. “To do this, we need leaders who will work with me to advance a conservative agenda that will benefit every Texans our great state. That is why I am endorsing Mayes Middleton for state representative.”

Middleton is an oil and gas businessman and rancher from Chambers County and is a board member of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Abbott’s endorsement of Middleton is his second of a GOP primary challenger to a Republican incumbent running for reelection to the Texas House. In November, he endorsed Houston businesswoman Susanna Dokupil, who is challenging state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.

Like Campos, you may be wondering what’s up with that. Faircloth has no reputation as a Joe Straus/Sarah Davis “moderate”, and he hasn’t gone all maverick-y on bathroom bills or toll roads or whatever else. He’s basically a standard-issue Republican, more “conservative” than average by the Mark Jones method, at least in the last session. What does Greg Abbott have against him?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not cynical enough.

Abbott started the week by endorsing Mayes Middleton, a conservative who until last year served on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, over state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, who irked the governor’s circle by supporting a ban on “pay for play” gubernatorial appointments of big political donors.

So there you have it. Don’t get between Greg Abbott and his sugar daddies. Greg Abbott will cut you.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The Alley Theater debacle

What a mess.

More than a dozen current and former Alley Theatre employees say the outgoing artistic director, Gregory Boyd, created a toxic work environment at the city’s most renowned theater, describing him as a tyrant who frequently singled out young female actresses for verbal abuse.

The allegations against Boyd, who abruptly retired this week after a 28-year Tony-winning run at the Alley, focus primarily on bullying and abusive behavior directed at young women under his direction on the stage.

Emily Trask, a member of the company for nearly two years, said she quit the Alley in April after reporting to three members of management that Boyd had bullied her, screaming “What the f— is wrong with you?” at a rehearsal, called her a “stupid c—” while giving another actor stage direction and twice touched her buttocks inappropriately.

“I felt I had no choice but to leave what was my dream job,” she said, citing “harassment and what I felt to be an unsafe environment.”

Boyd did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

A second actress, who asked not be identified for fear of retaliation, shared a similar story.

The actress said Boyd pinched her buttocks once on stage and once while she was making coffee in a break room. He made sexual comments about her to other actors, she said, and talked about the way she dressed and screamed at her on stage for the smallest of missteps.

“It was a very scary place to work for me,” she said, “a very hostile place.”

Like Trask, she said she complained to management, but nothing happened. “It was like it just got swept under the rug.”

The theater’s administrators and board president declined to answer questions about the allegations against Boyd, 66, who was widely considered the most influential figure in Houston’s theater scene. Boyd was just one year into a five-year contract and was paid at least $420,000 in the fiscal year that ended in June 2016, according to the company’s tax records.

[…]

The Houston Chronicle started interviewing Alley employees in November as the “Me Too” movement spread nationally and current and former employees complained about Boyd . On Dec. 20, the Chronicle asked to review the Alley’s financial records under a state law that requires certain disclosures by nonprofits. The theater declined to produce the records electronically; a date stamp indicated it printed them out on Dec. 29, but the theater told the Chronicle they were ready on Jan. 4.

The Alley’s press release, issued Tuesday, said Boyd had planned to retire last fall but delayed the announcement because of Hurricane Harvey.

“Leading this extraordinary theatre company in this wonderful city for over a quarter century has been an artistic dream fulfilled,” Boyd was quoted as saying in the press release. “With the marvelous efforts of the artists, staff, and Board, we created a state of the art theatre-making complex with performance, production, and administration all in a brilliant, expansive space that welcomes theatre-goers in a unique and exciting way. The Alley’s achievements have been a great source of satisfaction for me and I look forward to new achievements to come in the next era.”

ABC-13’s Miya Shay has been reporting on this as well. The sudden retirement of a 28-year artistic director of the city’s best-known theater, without any fanfare of advance notice or plans for a sendoff by itself raises suspicions, and I suspect there’s still more to the story to come. First and foremost are the questions about how this went on for so long without anyone at the Alley taking action.

The board of the Alley Theatre announced plans Friday to create a special committee to evaluate “the workplace environment” after the Houston Chronicle reported that more than a dozen current and former employees said former artistic director Gregory Boyd had fostered a toxic, abusive culture for decades.

In a 79-word statement, the board did not mention Boyd by name and did not directly address the Chronicle’s report, published Friday, which included interviews with actors and actresses who said Boyd had screamed obscenities at them during rehearsals. Two actresses alleged that Boyd also touched them inappropriately on their buttocks.

“During this transition to new artistic leadership, the Board of Directors has renewed its commitment to providing a dignified and respectful workplace,” the statement said. “The Board has also appointed a special committee to assess the workplace environment and deliver recommendations to ensure the Alley Theatre continues to be a destination for world-class talent.”

[…]

“I think the Alley owes Houston a tremendous apology for misusing the community’s trust and for covering up reprehensible behavior,” said Michael Dragoni, who was Boyd’s assistant from 1996 to 1998 and described the job as “an almost non-stop abusive situation.”

He said he saw Boyd berate actresses and touch a former staff member on her thigh inappropriately until she stood up and left a rehearsal.

“They have known about the toxicity from the beginning, and multiple leaders over the years have turned a blind eye and allowed things to get completely out of control,” Dragoni said.

Greg Lasley, who worked at the Alley from 2006 to 2011 as a bartender, described a “conspiracy of silence there.”

“People would complain, the board would show up and squash the complaint,” Lasley said.

Tony Bradfield, co-owner of Tenenbaum Jewelers, a longtime supporter of the Alley, expressed dismay at the accounts of an oppressive environment.

“I don’t think anyone of either gender, women mostly, should have to go through any of that,” Bradfield said. “I feel strongly about that.”

The Alley’s administration has not offered any response to the allegations against Boyd beyond Friday’s statement.

Here’s the Alley’s board of directors. I agree with Michael Dragoni, but an apology isn’t enough. The Board was clearly part of the problem. If they really want to make amends and move forward, those who were part of the problem should not be part of the solution. Most if not all of them should make plans to step down and let someone else clean up this mess. I hate to see a cultural jewel like the Alley go through such turbulence, but they brought this on themselves by failing to take action on this long-standing and well-known-to-them problem. They need to take the resolution to this seriously. I hope they do.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston, Society and cultcha.

Interview with Ivan Sanchez

Ivan Sanchez

The field in CD07 was stable for quite some time, with six of the seven filers posting finance reports from both Q2 and Q3 last year. Then in the waning days of the filing period, a new challenger emerged. That was Ivan Sanchez, who left his position as Senior Congressional Liaison and Field Representative for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to join the fray. A childhood arrival from Colombia with his mother, Sanchez has a degree in Political Science from UH-Downtown. He has served on the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board and was the founder of the Houston Millennials nonprofit. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

SCOTUS will take up Texas redistricting appeal

As the man once said, hold onto your butts.

Further extending a drawn-out legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color.

The high court’s decision to take the case is a short-term win for Texas’ Republican leaders who, in an effort to preserve the maps in question, had appealed two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of the state’s maps and would have required the district lines to be redrawn to address several voting rights violations.

The Supreme Court’s decision to weigh that appeal will further delay any redrawing efforts even after almost seven years of litigation between state attorneys and minority rights groups that challenged the maps.

[…]

The state’s currents maps, which have been in place for the past three election cycles, were adopted by the Legislature after the three-judge panel in San Antonio in 2012 tweaked boundaries drawn following the 2010 census.

It’s unclear when the court will schedule oral arguments.

See here for the background. We expected this, and Rick Hasen called it the day before it happened. One way or another, we’ll finally get to a resolution, in time for one last election before we start the cycle anew. When the first lawsuits were filed, I figured we’d have new maps in place for 2016, based on how things went after the 2001/2003 redraw. Shows how much I know, or maybe things really are that much different. Strap in and hold on, it’s going to be a consequential term at SCOTUS. Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, the Chron, Hasen again, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

HISD to standardize start times

This had been talked about for some time.

HISD will implement standardized school start times for the 2018-19 school year to better deliver efficient, reliable, and affordable transportation to our students.

Currently, HISD manages 67 different school start times – the highest in the state – as it transports nearly 36,000 students on almost 1,200 different routes each day. Beginning next fall, the district will operate with two standardized start/dismissal times:

  • 7:30 a.m.-2:50 p.m. for elementary schools and K-8 campuses
  • 8:30 a.m.-3:50 p.m. for all secondary campuses (middle school, high school, and grade 6-12 campuses)

[…]

Standardizing school start times will bring efficiencies to the district’s bus routes and ensure that students arrive to campus and depart on time, resulting in fewer interruptions to teaching, learning, and family schedules. The new start times will also extend the life of the district’s bus fleet and reduce maintenance and fuel costs.

As it happens, my daughters will be entering middle and high school next fall, and I can tell you they approve of this change. There was a proposal like this a few years ago that ultimately went nowhere. This time around, HISD did a survey of parents, and they went with the option that was favored by both parents and principals. If you have kids in HISD, what do you think about this? The Chron and the Press have more.

Posted in: School days.

Friday random ten – Come, come now, part 1

Another multi-part list! And we’re still in January! Woo hoo!

1. Come & Get It – Selena Gomez
2. Come A Day – Nils Lofgren
3. Come A Little Bit Closer – Jay & The Americans
4. Come And I Will Sing You (The Twelve Apostles) – Great Big Sea
5. Come As You Are – Midnight Juggernauts
6. Come Back And Stay – Paul Young
7. Come Back Home – Matthew Mayfield
8. Come Back To Me – Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
9. Come Down In Time – Sting
10. Come Down Slowly – James William Hindle

Nils Lofgren is probably better known for his time in the E Street Band. “Come As You Are” is from a tribute to Nirvana on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind. “Come Down In Time” is probably the best Elton John song you’ve never heard; Sting’s cover is from the excellent Two Rooms tribute album. “Come And I Will Sing You” is one of those songs that builds on itself, like “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, but much better and less annoying. I’ll have two more of these lists in the next weeks.

Posted in: Music.

Interview with Joshua Butler

Joshua Butler

We’re more than halfway through the Democratic field in CD07, and we’ll be keeping it going through the weekend. I’m not sure what I’d have done if there were more than the seven candidates there are. Good thing I don’t need to think about it. One of the first candidates in this race to reach out to me for a conversation last year was Joshua Butler, a first-time candidate like so many others this year. Butler is a native of Birmingham, Alabama and received a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Alabama. He worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield and the American Heart Association before moving to Houston to work at UH as Director of Advancement and then at a medical research firm as a Development Officer. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Charles Collins

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. 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.

Charles Collins

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

My Name is Charles Collins. I am a 39 year-old attorney and native Texan. I am a lifelong Democrat, father, family man, public servant and long-time resident of Houston’s Historic Third Ward. I am a 2001 graduate of Prairie View A&M University and a 2004 graduate of The Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. I am running for Judge of the 246th Judicial District Court in the March 6, 2018, Harris County Democratic Primary. I hope to secure the party nomination and advance to the November 6, 2018, general election against the incumbent.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

It is one of 10 Family District Courts in Harris County. These courts hear a variety of family law matters including divorces, child support and child custody disputes, paternity establishment suits, adoptions, termination of parental rights suits, child protection matters, and name change petitions. These Courts may even perform marriage ceremonies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 246th Judicial District Court is rated among the lowest performing family courts in Harris County based on the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation. Since the time I began practicing in Harris County Courts in 2005, it has traditionally received lower scores in areas such as impartiality, efficiency, and overall performance. I am running because I want to improve the quality of service this court provides to the citizens of Harris County. It is the court where my experience and qualifications will have the most meaningful impact.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 12 years of full-time, exclusive, family law practice experience. I am a member of the Texas and District of Columbia Bars. I am also a member of the Bar of The United States District Court for The Southern District of Texas. I have served as Assistant State’s Attorney General for the Title IV-D Agency since 2005. I am a former Assistant Attorney General of the Year for Region 6 (2007). My employer is the state’s largest law firm and I have served as a Managing Attorney for it since 2010. In this capacity I supervise over 50 agency employees and its busy day-to-day operations to secure financial stability for children and assist absent parents who wish to establish their parental rights. I have handled thousands of family law cases. I have extensive trial experience representing the state’s interest in virtually all subject matter within the court’s jurisdiction. I remain current in my understanding of the law and have presented continuing legal education (CLE) courses within the agency I work for and to the Houston Bar Association.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is monumentally significant because it represents the very foundation of our society: The family. The decisions made in family court have a lasting impact on our lives. They can mean the difference between a family that thrives and one that is fragmented. A family court’s impact can bring new, brighter, beginnings for some; however, if the court fails to act responsibly it can charter a future that is uncertain. The decisions made in our family courts could mean the difference between a troubled life for a child and a future of stability and promise. Harris County deserves the most qualified, and experienced, family court judges to help build strong families and communities. There is a lot at stake here.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I am the only candidate in this race whose exclusive area of legal practice is, and has always been, family law. It has been my passion, and my focus, since day one. This experience has made me a very knowledgeable candidate in my area of practice. I am the only candidate for this bench who is a career public servant. I am also the only candidate with proven management and leadership experience in a high-volume legal practice environment. As such, I value the importance of exceptional customer-service and implementing new ideas to improve efficiency. The citizens of Harris County can trust that I will hold this office with integrity, as I have in my current position. I believe in a family-first approach and will treat all people fairly. I am committed to assigning the utmost importance to each matter that it deserves, as I would want for my own family. I will implement a solutions-based approach to each case. I am energetic, dedicated, respectful, humble, kind, and look forward to bringing a fresh new perspective to this court. I am ready to serve the citizens of Harris County in this very meaningful and important role.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.

[…]

But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Council approves new recycling deal

Huzzah!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston residents are set to have their used glass and plastic bags picked up for recycling at curbside, but not until next year.

The 20-year, $37 million agreement City Council approved Wednesday is the product of two years of wrangling over recycling and positions Houston to pay less per ton to recycle.

Houstonians still have to wait another 14 months before putting bottles or bags in their green curbside bins, however, while the city’s chosen contractor builds a new processing facility.

To bridge the gap, the city plans to renegotiate its existing, costlier recycling agreement, which expires in April.

“From a financial point of view, it is a much better deal for the city of Houston,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, praising the deal with the Spanish firm FCC. “In terms of technology, it meets what our needs are and what we have asked for.”

[…]

Rosanne Barone, Houston program director for the advocacy group Texas Campaign for the Environment, lauded the city for “heading in the right direction” on recycling.

“This shows the mayor is committed to continuing moving forward to make the city of Houston more sustainable. We’re so happy glass is going to be back, and so happy and surprised and excited that plastic bags are now going to be included,” Barone said. “The next step is just to keep moving forward: To keep including more materials, to expand curbside pickup to apartments and businesses.”

See here and here for the background. CMs Knox, Stardig, and Kubosh were No votes, but CM Dave Martin, who had previously been a critic of the deal, voted Yes. I know a lot of people will be happy to have curbside pickup of glass back, though that will likely mean the end of one new business that emerged to fill that gap. Getting curbside pickup for plastic bags, which San Antonio has been doing since 2014, is a nice bonus. As Rosanne Barone says, let this be another step in the journey forward. Houstonia has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Interview with James Cargas

James Cargas

One of the themes of this year’s election is the large number of people who are new to electoral politics getting involved. That has led to a huge number of first-time candidates throwing their hats into every ring imaginable. That’s not true for everyone you’ll see on your ballot – some have done this before, often more than once, in cycles where they had far less company. James Cargas falls into the latter group, having been the Democratic candidate in CD07 in each of the last three elections. An attorney with a background in energy law and policy, Cargas has worked on Capitol Hill and on various committees with the last three Mayors. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

How many more women are we likely to have in Congress next year?

Probably at least two, and more are possible.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

No freshman woman has come to Congress from Texas since Granger’s election 1996, with the exception of former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who served as a placeholder for less than two months in late 2006. (Hutchison, who left the Senate in 2013, is now U.S. ambassador to NATO.)

The problem in Texas was not so much that women weren’t winning – it was that they weren’t running.

In interviews with candidates, officeholders and campaign consultants, the most-cited reasons for the lack of female candidates were concerns that gerrymandered districts would protect incumbents, an aversion to commuting to Washington while raising children and general apathy, a problem Jackson Lee cited back in 2016.

That all changed this year, in part due to a national backlash against Trump on the Democratic side and, in Texas, a wave of retirements on both sides.

Approximately 50 women have lined up this year to run for Congress in Texas, among hundreds running around the country. Of that sum, a handful are running well-funded, professional campaigns and have viable paths to serving in Washington.

[…]

Former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and former El Paso School Board President Dori Fenenbock are the best-funded candidates aiming to succeed O’Rourke, and former state Rep. Norma Chavez threw her hat into the ring just before the December filing deadline. Escobar and Fenenbock both cited the same reason as contributing to their decisions to run: Their children are old enough that they felt comfortable making the Washington commute without creating disruptions in their families.

Three men are also running in the Democratic primary, but the betting money among political observers is on El Paso sending a woman to Washington.

Another potential future congresswoman is state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who is seeking retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s 29th District seat and has drawn Green’s endorsement. She faces a crowded field in a Democratic primary that will likely determine the outcome of the election. Houston political insiders say that, while there are no assurances, Garcia is in the driver’s seat for the nomination.

She ran for Congress previously in 1992 against Green and lost. Back then, she was part of another crush of women entering politics, at that time in response to the controversial Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings.

On the GOP side, Texas women running for open seats in Congress include political fundraiser Bunni Pounds and communications consultant Jenifer Sarver. Both women are in ferociously competitive primaries.

Pounds is running in CD05, the only woman among nine candidates. Sarver is in the 18-candidate pileup in CD21; there are two other women alongside her. I suppose you could add Kathaleen Wall in CD02 to this list as well. She’s the sole woman in that eight-contestant field, and she’s already advertising on TV, with a spot during the college football playoffs last week. Here’s my subjective ranking of the odds for each of these hopefuls.

1. Sylvia Garcia – She doesn’t appear to have any notable opposition, though one of her opponents has raised some money. If she wins the primary she’s a shoe-in for November. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if she’s not the winner in CD29.

2. Escobar/Fenenbock/Chavez – Like CD29, the primary winner has a cakewalk in November. There’s a non-zero chance that any or all of these women could fail to make the primary runoff, so I put their collective odds below Garcia’s.

3. Bunni Pounds – As with the others, she’s a lock if she wins the primary, but she has a tougher road to get there.

4. Gina Ortiz Jones – I originally had her lower than Wall and Sarver, but Dems are currently more favored to win here than the GOP is in CDs 02 or 21, and I figure she’ll be in a runoff with Jay Hulings, while neither Wall nor Sarver has as seemingly clear a path to May. Ask me again after I see the Q4 finance reports; Hulings outraised Jones in Q3 but he was officially in the race before her. We’ll see how she does with an equal time period.

5. Jennifer Sarver – The Republican candidate will be favored in CD21, but it’s not a lock. Sarver has to get through the primary first, and with that many candidates it’s like ping pong balls in a lottery machine.

6. Kathaleen Wall – You could swap Wall and Sarver without much argument from me. I think Dems have slightly better odds to win CD02, but Wall has fewer opponents in the primary, so it kind of balances out.

7. Lizzie Fletcher/Laura Moser – It’s a tough primary in CD07 and a coin flip in November, but if either of these women can make it to the November ballot she’ll have a decent shot at it.

8. The rest of the field – Lillian Salerno in CD32, Jana Sanchez and Ruby Woolridge in CD06, Letitia Plummer in CD22, Lorie Burch in CD03, Jan McDowell in CD24, Silky Malik in CD02, MJ Hegar in CD31, etc etc etc. The over/under is set at two for now, but there is a scenario in which the number of female members of Congress from Texas increases by a lot.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Yet another ruling against North Carolina’s Congressional map

Because redistricting litigation is always of interest.

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.

[…]

The ruling left little doubt about how the judges assessed the Legislature’s most recent map. Judge Wynn, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and was a member of a special panel considering the congressional map, said that “a wealth of evidence proves the General Assembly’s intent to ‘subordinate’ the interests of non-Republican voters and ‘entrench’ Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation.”

Most federal lawsuits are first heard by a district court, and later — if needed — by an appeals court and the Supreme Court. But under federal law, constitutional challenges to the apportionment of House districts or statewide legislative bodies are automatically heard by three-judge panels, and appeals are taken directly to the Supreme Court.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the opinion. As noted, SCOTUS is likely to weigh in on this, and as with Texas that could mean the current map will be left in place until further litigation has concluded. The key takeaway, as Nicholas Stephanopolous notes, is that the judges used a recently-developed system for determining what makes a “partisan” gerrymander too extreme, and it did so without any difficulty. That’s a question that’s already on SCOTUS’ docket. The potential is there for a lot of good to be done, but we’re still a ways away from that happening. ThinkProgress, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the WaPo, Daily Kos, and Rick Hasen have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows where the really big buttons are as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Alex Triantaphyllis

Alex Triantaphyllis

There are a lot of reasons why CD07 has drawn so much national attention. It’s a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016 despite being held by Republicans forever – this was Poppy Bush’s seat back in the day, for goodness’ sake. It’s the home of the kind of well-educated non-Trump Republicans that are, or could be, swinging Democratic. And it features two Democratic challengers who have been outraising the incumbent. Atop that list is Alex Triantaphyllis, who is the Director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers). Triantaphyllis is a Rice graduate who has also worked in finance and consulting, and you can hear me pronounce his name correctly (the accent is on the second syllable; there was a pronunciation guide on a whiteboard at his campaign office where we spoke) in the interview:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Michele Chimene

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. 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.

Michele Chimene

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

My name is Michele Chimene. I’m a long-time resident of Houston, Katy, and Sugar Land. I am running for Place 8 on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. The Fourteenth Court is the intermediate court, hearing civil, criminal, and family appeals in 10 counties centering around Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears criminal, civil, and family law appeals from the trial court. It also hears special cases called “original proceedings.”

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because, as a 25-yr appeals lawyer, I read the opinions that are issued by the incumbent, and I believe that he sometimes deletes parts of the law, substituting in his own words instead of the law, to make the results of the case different than they would be if the actual law was applied. I believe that the law should be predicable and fair, with a “level playing field” for everyone.

4. What are your qualifications for the job?

I have been an appellate attorney for twenty-five years. While I also have trial experience, I believe that experience as an appellate attorney, researching the law and writing common sense arguments clearly and understandably is the best experience for becoming an appellate justice. I also believe that I am a good listener, and that everyone who comes into my court will get listened to politely and courteously.

5. Why is this race important?

Because the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals do not hear every case that petitions them. For many cases in this large chunk of Texas, the Fourteenth Court will be the highest court that hears them, and their final chance to receive unbiased justice. Voters should not skip voting in this race, because it is a chance to elect someone who is not a professional politician but who has the legal skills to give the thousands, (yes, thousands), of parties who come before her during her term the predictable, law-based justice they seek.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

Experience and character matter. My twenty-five years of appellate experience are more relevant experience than the incumbent had before he was elected to the bench. Most candidates for the Court of Appeals come to the Court with only civil case experience. My broad experience includes all the types of law the court handles. Additionally, my prior career as a geologist gives me the technical background that will be helpful to the Court as it takes on technically-challenging cases. My character matters. I will follow the law as long as the Constitution allows, and if Texas law differs from the Constitution, I will follow the Constitution. Our country was founded as a nation of laws. We need to get back to that. I will be predictable.

Posted in: Election 2018.

And then there were nine

One Democratic gubernatorial hopeful is now off the ballot.

Demetria Smith, a Democrat who had hoped to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has been determined ineligible to run.

Smith, who attended a San Angelo forum for candidates in the Democratic primary Monday evening, was listed ineligible on the Texas Secretary of State’s website. The Texas Democratic Party said Tuesday that Smith’s check for a $3,750 candidate filing fee had bounced, said Glen Maxey, primary director of the party.

To run for governor in Texas, candidates must pay the filing fee or file a petition with 5,000 signatures.

Maxey said Smith filed Dec. 11, the last filing day, with a personal check that was deposited the following day, on Dec. 12; however, the party was not notified of the insufficient funds until Monday.

Because the deadline to pay the fee has passed, Smith cannot correct the error.

[…]

Smith, who called herself as the “constitutional candidate” at the forum, said in a phone interview after hearing the news: “I will be challenging the constitutionality of their decision,” referring to the Texas Democratic Party.

“If you accept the check on the last day, you should be able to clear it,” she said.

Smith is a perennial candidate who has run for Council (2.71% in District D, 2013) and Mayor (0.47% in 2015) and other things here in Houston. She was likely headed towards a 2-3% showing in the primary. As I’ve said before, the terms and conditions for getting on the ballot are pretty well known, and anyone who files on deadline day takes the risk that something will go wrong for which there is no time to make a correction. Smith could file a lawsuit to get back on the ballot, though it’s not clear to me what the basis of such a suit would be. My guess is that this is the end of the road for her, but I suppose anything can happen. The DMN and the Chron have more on this story and on that candidate forum.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Interview with Laura Moser

Laura Moser

Today is Day Two of my weeklong tour of CD07, which is not only one of the better pickup opportunities in Texas but also a regular feature in national stories about the 2018 environment and the map that Democrats are aiming for to win back control of Congress. And in those stories that feature CD07, Laura Moser has been a staple as a highlighted candidate. An author and journalist whose husband was a videographer for President Obama, Moser was part of the tidal wave of mostly female new activists after the 2016 election, founding the Daily Action text messaging service that enabled thousands of people to engage with their representatives in Washington. Oh, and whether or not you’d heard of Laura Moser before now, you’ve probably seen a picture of her daughter. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Lupe Valdez kicks off her campaign

Let’s get moving.

Lupe Valdez

Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County Sheriff, formally launched her Democratic bid for governor on Sunday, touting a campaign aimed at representing all Texans and listing a broad range of topics she plans to address as election season gets underway.

“Together, we need to build something new — a new Texas,” Valdez told a crowd of supporters here. “Opportunity should be as big as the Texas sky.”

[…]

In her speech, Valdez knocked state lawmakers over their 2017 legislative session — referring to them as “people who were supposed to be serving us doing more harm than good” — and mentioned the state’s overcrowded classrooms and raising the minimum wage as issues she hopes to address as governor.

“The special interests in Austin continue to cook up fake ideas behind the curtain,” she said, referring to failed legislation that would’ve regulated which public restrooms transgender Texans could use and the anti-“sanctuary cities” bill that Abbott signed into law in 2017 as measures that are “certainly destroying the Texas brand.”

She also brought up Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children by their parents and who were granted relief from deportation under an Obama-era program — who she said are facing an uncertain future in Texas as Congress works to hash out a solution.

“Dreamers and their parents must be able to achieve their goals in the land that they’ve always considered their country,” she said. “We must educate to elevate.”

Valdez is my preferred candidate for Governor, for a variety of reasons. What I want from her out of the primary can be summed up as “please pass the Media Narrative Test”. These things are always arbitrary and unknowable until someone declares a particular thing to be part of that test (though not in those words), but I’d guess that the list includes having a good grasp on issues, not making any obviously dumb statements or campaign moves, and finishing as the clear frontrunner in a race with higher-than-the-media-expected turnout. If these sound subjective and hard to quantify, you are correct. Like it or not, the Democratic track record is such that the onus is on candidates like Lupe Valdez to make the media take them seriously. Beto O’Rourke has done a capable job of that so far – robust fundraising numbers have helped with that – but that mantle can be taken away at a moment’s notice. Basically, don’t screw up, be visible, and make your numbers. Easy-peasy, right? The Chron, the DMN, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Chris Oliver gets sentenced

Goodbye.

Chris Oliver

A former Houston Community College trustee was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Monday after a judge said he accepted more than a quarter million dollars in bribes in exchange for his influence over contract work with the college.

In the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore asked Chris Oliver if his conduct was “standard procedure” for HCC trustees and asked if the college was a “cesspool.”

“The line is definitely blurred,” he said. “You don’t come from wealth. You’re in an elected position. Things are thrown at you.”

[…]

Gilmore said he served in his position for “too long” as his integrity eroded.

Oliver agreed and said he should not have sought re-election in 2011. “I probably should have called it a career.”

See here for the background. I’ll note that Oliver ran for City Council in 2015, so at least we dodged that bullet. Things may indeed be thrown at elected officials, but most of them manage to not get convicted of bribery charges. I’m just saying. HCC says it has implemented procedures and checks to prevent actions like Oliver’s in the future. I think it’s safe to say that remains to be seen.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Interview with Jason Westin

Jason Westin

Today we kick off interview season for the 2018 Democratic primaries. There are a lot of races and a lot of candidates, and I will bring you as many as I can. This week is all about CD07, with seven candidates in seven days, beginning with Jason Westin. Westin is an oncologist and cancer researcher, and has received a fair amount of national press in the year of trying-to-repeal-Obamacare as one of a group of Democratic doctors trying to take back Congress. Westin, whose wife is also an oncologist, interned in the Senate in 1998 and worked on health care policy while there. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Stanley Santire

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. 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.

Stanley Santire

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

I am Stanley Santire, former line officer in the U.S Navy, former chief legal counsel for Lockheed Aircraft International, a trial lawyer of three decades, a mediator for two decades, and currently a declared Democratic candidate running for Harris County Civil Court at Law No 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a statutory county court at law court.

The jurisdiction of this court in Harris County is the same type of cases heard by District Courts in Harris County except that the controversy cannot exceed $200,000 excluding interest, statutory or punitive damages and attorney fees. This is not as severe a limit as might appear. For example, in workplace discrimination cases under Texas Chapter 21 which covers situations of harassment and discrimination in race, color, sex, national origin, religion, and age, the economic damages are almost always under $200,000 yet the substantive amounts in such cases are primarily punitive, exemplary, and attorney fees, none of which are excluded from County Courts at Law by the cap.

The statutory County Courts at Law also takes appeals from Justice of the Peace Courts as well as workers’ compensation claims regardless of amounts involved.

These Courts in Harris County also have exclusive jurisdiction in certain eminent domain proceedings.

These courts also have jurisdiction to:

    1. i. Decide issues of title to real or personal property,
    1. ii. Hear suits for enforcement of liens on real property,
    1. iii. Hear suits for forfeiture of a corporate charter,
    1. iv. Hear suits on right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment,
    1. v. Hear a suit for recovery of real property.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Commitment to justice for each and every individual that appears in the court without regard to race, color, gender, orientation, financial status, or any other characteristic other than a sincere striving for fair and equitable treatment under the law.

As an experienced trial lawyer and mediator, I have the qualifications and devotion to justice that will enhance the reputation of this court for having the highest standards of a jurist.

The Civil County Courts at Law need a higher caliber of jurist than have sometimes been the case. Someone of my experience will address that.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have:

    1. i. Over three decades of trial experience in State and Federal District Courts, the vast majority of my cases being tried to a jury. My cases have primarily dealt with civil rights, employment law, construction, trade secrets, non-compete covenants, and business transactions.
    1. ii. I have been lead counsel in appeals in both State and Federal Appellate courts. I have also handled cases in arbitration, including international arbitration
    1. iii. I have two decades of experience as a mediator and recently recognized as a Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association. As a consequence I have a proven record for dealing with lawyers and their clients in an even-handed, respectful manner. This is vital in maintaining a proper environment for justice in a court.
    1. iv. My dedication to the legal profession has gone beyond trying and mediating cases. I have had numerous professional published articles and frequently been honored by the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association as well as other professional organizations to be a presenter at continuing legal education programs.
    1. v. I was been honored by a request from the University of Houston to appear in a University produced video dealing with sexual harassment and affirmative action. That video is in the public domain and can be seen on YouTube under the title “Stanley Santire Public Service Talk on Employment Law.”
    1. vi. I have been, and continue to be, active in various professional organizations such as the Texas Bar College for whom I have been a presenter at Statewide programs, member of the Board of Directors of the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association, Board of Directors and former President of the Houston Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association, and member of the Trade Secrets Committee of the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of Texas.
    1. vii. In addition I have long served the County as a volunteer mediator for the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center and served the State such as when I was Chairman of the State appointed Economic Development Committee that drafted the legislation for the Texas Coastal Zone Management Program which continues to play a vital role in protecting the Texas coastline.

5. Why is this race important?

All judicial positions are important as the bulwark of a democratic republic. At this time, due to the stresses impacting our society, we need a qualified, experienced judiciary at every level that stands for fairness and integrity.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I am the most qualified candidate for the position in regard to any other candidate as well as the incumbent in this court. I have tried a wider range of cases in both State and Federal Courts as well as been lead counsel in State and Federal appeals. I have also been lead counsel in arbitrations both in the United States and Geneva, Switzerland. I have also been an arbitrator. In other words I have vastly more experience than the incumbent judge even considering her time on the bench. If I ascend to the bench it will be because of my legal experience and not due to an initial political appointment. Incidentally, in addition to being an experienced trial and appellate lawyer, I was recently designated a Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Lots of female candidates running this year

It’s that kind of year.

Inside a classroom at a community college in downtown Dallas, a group of two dozen women took turns sharing their names, hometowns and what they hoped would be their future titles: Congresswoman. Dallas County judge. State representative.

It was part of a training held by EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing women at all levels of government who support abortion rights. During the presentation, one of the PowerPoint slides flashed a mock advertisement on the projector screen: “Help Wanted: Progressive Women Candidates.”

A record number of women appear to be answering that call, fueled largely by frustration on the Democratic side over the election of President Donald Trump and energized by Democratic women winning races in Virginia in November. Experts say 2018 is on track to be a historic year, with more women saying they are running at this point than ever before.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “Every day, dozens more women come to our website, come to our Facebook page and say, ‘I am mad as hell. I want to do something about it. What should I do now?’”

[…]

One hundred women, Democrats and Republicans, have filed to run for Texas legislative seats this year, compared with 76 women in 2016, according to Patsy Woods Martin, executive director of Annie’s List, whose mission is to recruit, train, support and elect progressive, pro-choice female candidates in Texas.

Woods Martin said that in 2017, 800 women participated in the organization’s candidate training programs, up from 550 in 2013.

As of now, Annie’s List has endorsed two candidates — Beverly Powell and Julie Johnson. Powell is seeking to beat state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, in Senate District 10, for the North Texas seat formerly held by Wendy Davis, who surrendered it in 2014 to run for governor. Johnson is looking to oust state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, one of the most conservative members of the House, in House District 115.

While the statewide slates of both parties will be dominated by men, Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, with a ranch in Mineral Wells, is the lone Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, and Republican Christi Craddick is seeking to keep her spot on the Railroad Commission.

There are also quite a few Texas women running for seats in Congress, including Mary Jennings Hegar and Christine Eady Mann, two of the four candidates seeking to win the Democratic nomination to take on Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in U.S. House District 31.

Because I’m a numbers kind of guy, I went back through the SOS candidate filings page and did a little count. Here’s what I came up with, including incumbents who are running for re-election:

For Democrats, there are 37 female candidates for Senate and Congress, in a total of 23 districts. There are 7 female candidates for State Senate, and 78 for State House. On the Republican side, there are 12 female candidates for Senate and Congress, with 7 for State Senate and 24 for State House. That adds up to 116 for state legislative office, with the proviso that I may have missed a name or two here and there.

For comparison purposes, there are currently three Texas women in Congress (Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Kay Granger), eight female State Senators (only half the Senate is up for election this cycle), and 29 female State Reps. Bearing in mind that some of these candidates are competing for the same office, and some of them are running against female incumbents, it seems likely that there will be more women in these offices overall next year. Gotta run to win, and this year that’s less of an issue than in other years.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Weekend link dump for January 7

Hope the new year doesn’t already suck for you.

The ten worst things Scott Pruitt’s EPA has already done.

“How disinformation will be deployed in 2018 and beyond is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Kremlin believes its efforts to sow chaos in the American political process, which it has continued to hone in Europe, have worked and are poised for a return.”

“Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options”.

“And where are the lavish profiles of people (broke, white, or otherwise) who have soured on Trump?”

This is not normal. Repeat one million times.

Why “biblical literalism” makes you susceptible to hustlers.

December 28, 2017, was the 100th anniversary of the H.L. Mencken hoax about Millard Fillmore’s bathtub.

Here are your 2017 Golden Dukes winners.

Four things that were supposed to have happened by now with Trump as Pr*sident.

“This is banana-republic-type stuff. One year into Trump’s term in office, his character has not changed.”

“Playboy Enterprises Inc. reportedly is considering killing the print magazine, which was started more than six decades ago”.

Did you read something by “Alice Donovan” last year? Then I hope you will recognize that “she” was the creation of Russian intelligence.

People fail to get the joke. Film at 11.

“I don’t know how well the president will do in deflecting these criticisms with this stupid press release, but if this is the kind of criminal defense on which he and his family are pinning their hopes, he’s really going to wish he never became president.”

If you’ve ever wanted to yell at Sean Hannity, here‘s your chance.

Basically, everyone knows Donald Trump is an idiot. It’s just that the people who can do something about it – i.e., the Republicans in Congress – refuse to do so.

We’re Animaniacs, we have pay or play contracts…

“Roy Moore accuser files defamation suit against him”.

RIP, Jerry Van Dyke, actor and brother of Dick Van Dyke.

RIP, John Young astronaut who flew in space six times.

RIP, Rita Clements, widow of former Texas Governor Bill Clements.

Posted in: Blog stuff.