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2018 primary early voting Day Three: A look around the state

Let’s just jump right into the numbers:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 3 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    3,851     6,132    9,983
2010    Rep    7,929     8,803   16,732

2014    Dem    3,048     4,228    7,276
2014    Rep   11,464     9,678   21,142

2018    Dem    7,641    10,896   18,537
2018    Rep   11,558    10,781   22,339

I had the mail and in person totals for 2018 backwards in yesterday’s post, so sorry about that. Republicans had the better day yesterday, both in person and absentee – at this point, they have returned more than a third of their mail ballots, while Democrats have not yet returned one fourth of theirs. They’re only slightly ahead of their pace for 2014, however, while Dems are way ahead of theirs – their three-day total is about 60% of their entire early vote tally from 2014, and more than a third of their overall final turnout. And as we’ve been observing, this has been the pattern in the big counties around the state. Here are the two-day totals for the big counties:


Party     County      2010    2014    2018
==========================================
Rep        Harris   13,044  16,633  14,493
Dem        Harris    7,676   5,316  12,627

Rep        Dallas    4,617  10,251   6,226
Dem        Dallas    3,491   5,533   9,768

Rep       Tarrant    5,720  11,096   8,293
Dem       Tarrant    1,676   4,739   8,087

Rep         Bexar    5,107   8,484   6,329
Dem         Bexar    4,835   5,741   7,100

Rep        Travis    3,177   2,149   3,021
Dem        Travis    2,394   4,244   8,382

Rep        Collin    3,797   4,654   5,098
Dem        Collin      359     728   2,529

Rep        Denton    2,414   4,588   3,773
Dem        Denton      244     615   1,826

Rep       El Paso    1,531   1,214   1,334
Dem       El Paso    3,935   3,971   6,885

Rep     Fort Bend    2,779   2,945   3,342
Dem     Fort Bend      607     649   2,391

Rep       Hidalgo      614     879     891
Dem       Hidalgo    6,964   7,676   8,782

Rep    Montgomery    2,685   5,282   5,824
Dem    Montgomery      271     283   1,061

Rep    Williamson    2,397   2,573   3,799
Dem    Williamson      532     840   2,456

Rep     Galveston    1,004   3,040   3,385
Dem     Galveston    1,041     636   1,285

Rep       Cameron      410     528     468
Dem       Cameron    2,022   2,479   2,513

Some of these numbers are just insane. Democrats basically even with Republicans in Tarrant County? I didn’t see that coming. Even in the big red places, Dems have taken big steps forward, while Republicans have either had smaller increases or even fallen back. It’s just two days and anything can happen, but so far so good.

DCCC versus Laura Moser

I don’t care for this.

Laura Moser

The campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives set its sights on a surprising target Thursday: Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Moser.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted negative research on Moser, a Houston journalist vying among six other Democrats in the March 6 primary to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson. Democrats locally and nationally have worried that Moser is too liberal to carry a race that has emerged in recent months as one of the most competitive races in the country.

The DCCC posting, which features the kind of research that is often reserved for Republicans, notes that Moser only recently moved back to her hometown of Houston and that much of her campaign fundraising money has gone to her husband’s political consulting firm. It also calls her a “Washington insider.”

But DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly went even further in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

“Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold Rep. Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district,” Kelly said.

Then, referring to a 2014 Washingtonian Magazine piece in which Moser wrote that she would rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than move to Paris, Texas, Kelly added:”Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”

The DCCC’s post, with links to their claims, is here. I’m just going to say this, as someone who does not live in CD07 and is neutral about that primary on the grounds that all of the candidates are acceptable to me: The DCCC should have kept its mouth shut. I understand that, as Nancy Pelosi put it, they’re going to have to make some “cold-blooded decisions” about where to concentrate their resources this fall. If it’s their judgment that Moser is a weaker candidate in a winnable district, that’s their call and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. But the irony of a DC organization criticizing a candidate for not being authentically local enough is not lost on me. Let the voters make their decision, then the DCCC can make theirs. At a time when we’re celebrating enthusiasm-driven high levels of primary turnout, we didn’t need this.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 4

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, and the full endorsements page is here. I had thought this would finish up all the races of interest for us, but then I decided the Republican races were sufficiently interesting as well, so I’ll do those tomorrow.

CD18: Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee is so deeply entrenched in her congressional seat, knocking her off her throne is pretty close to mission impossible.

She won her post 24 years ago after downtown power brokers — notably Enron CEO Ken Lay — abandoned then-congressman Craig Washington over his opposition to NAFTA and the space station. Since then Jackson Lee has become legendary for her aggressive self-promotion, whether it’s speaking at Michael Jackson’s funeral or planting herself on the aisle before State of the Union speeches to get her picture on television shaking the president’s hand.

But even Democratic politicos who joke about her insatiable appetite for camera time have come to respect Jackson Lee as a hardworking voice for progressive causes. With almost a quarter-century of seniority, she now serves on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Budget committees. She likes to brag about her role in securing federal funds for a wide range of needs — from education to veteran services — for constituents in her district.

As you know, I agree. Nothing to see here, let’s move on.

SBOE4: Lawrence Allen

Lawrence Allen, Jr. who was first elected to the board in 2004, has been a principal, assistant principal and teacher across town and is now community liaison at Houston Independent School District. He holds a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Prairie View A&M University. As the senior Democrat on the board, Allen, 56, says that he sets the tone for his fellow Democrats about how to approach an issue in a professional way that’s not cantankerous. His collaborative style has been useful in steering this board away from the shores of political controversy and toward fact-based governance.

Since Allen has been on the Board for more than a decade, some could argue that it’s time for a change. However, Allen’s opponent, Steven A. Chambers, is not the person that voters should turn to as his replacement. Chambers, a pastor and educator, told the editorial board that he believes creationism should be taught as an option alongside evolution in Texas schools. After years of struggles with religious fundamentalists, the board has finally started embracing science standards and rejecting dogma. Electing Chambers to the board would risk reigniting this debate and undo the progress made by the board.

This isn’t my district, but I’ll sign on to that. Say No to creationism, always and in every form.

SD15: John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

Long-time State Senator John Whitmire, 68, is facing two talented challengers in the March 6 Democratic primary, but we endorse him for re-election because his experience and political skills will be needed as recovery from Hurricane Harvey continues.

State storm aid has been hard enough to come by even with him in Austin. We can only imagine how it would be without him and his 44 years in the state legislature, the last 35 in the Senate.

He is the dean of that body, has a deep knowledge of how it works and a rare ability in these polarized times to bridge political differences to get things done.

[…]

Of his two opponents, we were particularly impressed by Damian Lacroix, 43, a lawyer who offers a vision of a Texas Democratic Party that fights for its ideals and tries to heighten the contrast with Republicans rather than working behind the scenes for smaller and smaller gains.

“Being a state senator is more than just passing legislation and regulation,” Lacroix told the editorial board. “It is also being able to galvanize people and getting a message out to people, bringing them into the fold.”

There’s something to what LaCroix says, but especially when you’re in the minority you need some of each type. Whitmire’s the best we’ve got at the first type. There are more appealing options elsewhere in the Senate to add to the LaCroix type.

HD147: Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman

After 27 years on the job, state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman, 56, knows his way around the Texas Legislature about as well as anybody there and better than most. He’s a liberal Democrat in a sea of conservative Republicans who manages to get a surprising number of things done.

“Some people know how to kill bills, some people know how to pass bills. I know how to do both,” he told the editorial board.

[…]

Coleman has a long history of working on issues of mental and physical health and of seeking funds for the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, both in his district, which extends from downtown southeast past Hobby Airport.

He also says the state needs a revolving fund like the water development fund that local governments can tap into for flood control projects.

It was an oversight on my part to not include Rep. Coleman on the list of people I endorse. He’s one of the best and he deserves our support.

HD146: Shawn Thierry

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Freshman state Rep. Shawn Nicole Thierry, a 47-year-old attorney, showed a lot of promise in her first session of the Texas Legislature last year as she learned the ropes of being a Democratic legislator in a heavily Republican body.

She was successful enough to get six bills through the House of Representatives — not bad for a rookie legislator — and worked with Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst to pass a bill in the special session that extended the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity.

The task force, which is studying our state’s Third Worldish maternal mortality rate and what to do about it, was scheduled to end next September, but now will continue until 2023.

Thierry has learned the importance of the personal touch in legislating – it was her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott that convinced him to include the task force issue in the special session.

As noted, Rep. Thierry was selected by precinct chairs as the substitute nominee for HD146 in 2016 after Borris Miles moved up to the Senate to succeed Rodney Ellis. She wasn’t my first choice for the seat – I’d have voted for Erica Lee Carter if I’d been one of the chairs who got to vote – but I agree that she’s done a good job and deserves another term. And with all due respect to her two male opponents, the Lege needs more women, not fewer.

HD142: Harold Dutton

Rep. Harold Dutton

State Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. has served as representative for District 142 since 1985 and we see no compelling reason to lose his seniority and its advantages at a time when Democrats need all the help they can get.

The 73-year-old attorney has been a loyal fighter for his heavily black and Hispanic district that starts in the Fifth Ward and goes east then north to 1960. In last year’s legislative session he authored 106 bills, a big part of them having to do with criminal justice.

He cites improvements to the Fifth Ward’s Hester House community center as his proudest achievement, but he also passed laws that restored the right to vote to ex-felons, effectively stopped red-lining by insurance companies and protected home-buyers from fraud in the use of contracts for deeds. He is involved in efforts to improve struggling district high schools Kashmere, Worthing and Wheatley.

He is also responsible for the state bill under which the Texas Education Agency is threatening to shutter those schools. That might make him vulnerable to a strong challenger.

Rep. Dutton is definitely getting dragged on social media over his authorship of that bill, and also over some nasty remarks he’s directed at Durrel Douglas, who’s been among those fighting to save the mostly black schools that are at risk. His opponent isn’t particularly compelling, but he could be vulnerable going forward. I don’t have a dog in this fight – like most veteran legislators, Dutton has some good and some not-so-good in his record, but his seniority gives him a fair amount of clout. I expect him to win, but this is a race worth watching.

HD139: Jarvis Johnson

Rep. Jarvis Johnson

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson is being challenged by former Lone Star College board chairman Randy Bates in the largely black and Hispanic District 139 on the city’s near northwest side.

He served three terms on the Houston City Council before winning his first term in the Texas House in 2016, succeeding Sylvester Turner who left to run for mayor.

Johnson, 46, is a strong supporter of vocational education, proposes that police officers be required to get psychological exams every two years, holds job fairs in the district and wants to prevent gentrification of historic neighborhoods such as Acres Homes.

Bates, 68, was on the Lone Star board for 21 years, seven of those as chairman, and the main building on its Victory Center campus is named for him. He’s an attorney who heads Bates and Coleman law firm.

He ran for the state seat in 2016 and is running again because he said people in the community complained that Johnson “is not doing enough for our district.”

We have a lot of respect for the work Bates did on the Lone Star board, but he didn’t give us a compelling reason to support him over Johnson.

This is almost certainly the best chance to defeat Rep. Johnson, who doesn’t get the seniority argument that most of the other incumbents listed above have. He didn’t do much as a freshman, but that’s hardly unusual for a member of the minority caucus. I don’t have a strong opinion about this one.

HD27: Wilvin Carter

Four-term incumbent state Rep. Ron Reynolds is running for re-election despite the fact that he may be facing a year in jail for his conviction in 2016 for five cases of misdemeanor barratry, also known as ambulance chasing for his law practice.

He’s being challenged in his Fort Bend district by another lawyer, Wilvin Carter, a former assistant attorney general and Fort Bend County assistant district attorney. The district includes Sienna Plantation, Stafford and most of Missouri City. No Republicans are running for this seat so this Democratic primary essentially serves as the general election for District 27.

[…]

The unfortunate thing about Reynolds is that he is has a strong record for supporting environmental protection and gay rights, but with the possible jail sentence hanging over his head it’s hard to support him. He is a lawmaker who has been convicted of breaking the law, which is a breech of trust. Also, practically speaking, how much can he do for his constituents if he’s behind bars?

Voters should support Carter instead.

Reynolds is good on reproductive choice and a whole host of other issues as well. The Chron has endorsed Reynolds’ opponents in recent years due to his legal troubles and they have been pretty harsh about it, but here they recognize the dilemma. Reynolds’ voting record and personal charm have helped him maintain support, and I would bet on him being re-elected. I continue to hope he will step down and get his life straightened out, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Sen. Uresti convicted on fraud charges

Time to resign.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

The courtroom was silent and thick with anxiety Thursday morning as the judge’s deputy read the verdicts: “Guilty,” “guilty,” “guilty” — 11 times over, and on all felony counts.

State Sen. Carlos Uresti sat stone-faced, his gaze directed at the deputy, as he heard the ruling that throws into question his two-decade career in the Texas Legislature and opens up the possibility more than a century in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines.

If upheld on appeal, the 11 felony charges — including multiple counts of fraud and money laundering — would render the San Antonio Democrat ineligible to continue serving as a state legislator. Uresti, an attorney by trade, would also be disbarred.

Uresti has no immediate plans to step down from his seat in the state Senate, he said minutes after the verdict. And he will “absolutely” appeal the jury’s decision.

[…]

There were no calls for resignation among state lawmakers immediately after the verdict, but Texas Democrats issued an immediate rebuke of the senator Thursday morning, saying “no one is ever above the law.”

“After being found guilty of such serious crimes, Senator Uresti must seriously consider whether he can serve his constituents,” Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Tariq Thowfeek said.

And state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, another San Antonio Democrat, said that elected officials are “held to a higher standard.”

“Over the next few weeks we need to have a serious discussion as constituents and taxpayers about how we move forward and turn the page,” he said. Gutierrez, whose district overlaps with Uresti’s, could be eyeing the senator’s seat.

See here and here for some background. You can have that “serious discussion” about moving forward and turning the page if you want, but it should happen in conjunction with Sen. Uresti resigning, which frankly he should have done months ago, for other reasons. As such, I’m glad to see this.

“In light of today’s jury conviction of Sen. Carlos Uresti, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is calling upon Sen. Uresti to resign his position,” caucus chair Sen. José Rodriguez said in a statement.

[…]

“Voters in this time and age want people who have at least so far [demonstrated] good judgements,” said Leticia Van De Putte, former Democratic senator for Texas’ District 26. “All I know is that if the defense is ‘Well I didn’t know this was wrong,’ it’s very difficult to go back and ask people to vote for you.”

[SMU political science professor Cal] Jillson agreed: “He might find that his political career is ended because of this, and it will provide political opportunities for others.”

Van de Putte served in the Texas Senate from 1999 to 2015, overlapping nine years with Uresti, who won his senate seat in 2006.

“I’m heartbroken at the situation,” said Van de Putte, who later co-founded a consulting firm. “I know Sen. Uresti … has been an amazing champion for abused children. I worked with him on a number of efforts, he’s done great work in the Legislature.

“No one will remember all the great work he did. They’ll remember this case.”

[…]

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) released a statement Thursday, saying elected officials are “held to a higher trust” and that constituents and taxpayers would have to “move forward and turn the page.”

Political analyst Harold Cook, who has worked in the Texas House of Representatives and as an advisor to Democrats in the Texas Senate, said Gutierrez’s tone implies he’s vying for Uresti’s seat.

“This is what I would have written for somebody [who is] already going to be a candidate,” Cook told the Rivard Report. “Senate districts don’t come up often and they’re not open often.”

District 19 is one of the biggest senate districts in the country, Cook said. “There are a lot of Democrats holding office in those counties [who] would love to be state senator.”

There are others mentioned the story, and I’m sure the list will be long when and if it comes to it. But first, we need Uresti to resign. Step down now, so we can get someone else in place as soon as possible and so we don’t face the prospect of not just one but TWO incumbent legislators going to jail, perhaps during the next session. Among the many things that I hope we’ve learned from the #MeToo movement is the concept that no one is so important or accomplished that they must be shielded from being held accountable from their actions. Please do the right thing here, Senator. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

2018 primary early voting Day Two: When is it a trend?

I think we can say that people noticed the Day One early voting numbers.

Democrats have more than doubled their early voting in the state’s biggest counties compared to four years ago, leading some party leaders to point again to a growing wave election they think will send a dramatic message to Republicans.

But while Democrats are voting better than they did four years ago, Republicans still are near where they were four years ago, even though the lack the same star power in the primary that they had four years ago at the top of the ballot.

In the state’s largest 15 counties, nearly 50,000 people voted in the Democratic primary elections on the first day of early voting.

In 2014 — the last mid-term election cycle — only about 25,000 Democrats voted in the primary. Never have the Democrats had so many early voters in a primary in a gubernatorial election cycle going back to the mid-1990s when early voting started.

[…]

Meanwhile, Republican numbers in Texas early voting are essentially flat, with 47,000 Republicans voting on the first day of early voting — slightly lower than the 49,000 that voted four years ago.

But Republicans say those numbers don’t mean Democrats are suddenly about to overtake Republicans in both energy and at the ballot box.

We’ll talk about the rest of the state in a minute. For now, let’s update the Harris County numbers.

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 2 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    3,466     4,210    7,676
2010    Rep    7,264     5,780   13,044

2014    Dem    2,484     2,832    5,316
2014    Rep   10,514     6,119   16,633

2018    Dem    6,976     5,651   12,627
2018    Rep    6,676     7,817   14,493

Republicans had slightly more Day 2 in person voters, and more mail ballots returned, but Dems still lead in the in-person total. Of interest also is that another 2,239 mail ballots were sent to Dem voters, for 32,311 total mail ballots, while Republicans received only another 349, for 29,935 total.

Now, as Campos says, it’s one thing to request a mail ballot and another thing to return it. So let’s look at some past history of mail ballots in primaries:


Year  Party   Request  Return  Return%
======================================
2008    Dem    11,989   7,056    58.9%
2008    Rep    18,415  13,432    72.9%

2010    Dem    11,847   6,250    52.8%
2010    Rep    17,629  12,399    70.3%

2012    Dem    13,087   7,735    59.1%
2012    Rep    23,584  17,734    75.2%

2014    Dem    12,722   7,359    57.8%
2014    Rep    24,548  17,628    71.8%

2016    Dem    19,026  13,034    68.5%
2016    Rep    29,769  20,780    69.8%

One of these years is not like the others. Dems have emphasized mail ballots in the past couple of cycles, and you can see the difference in 2016. If that behavior repeats this year, Dems will reap the benefit of their larger pool of voters with mail ballots. We’ll keep an eye on that.

Finally, the DMN has a good look at voting around the state on Day One.

Of the 51,249 Texans who cast ballots Tuesday on the first day of early voting, more than half voted in the Democratic primary.

The total number of voters from 15 of the state’s largest counties is high for a midterm year. In 2016, a presidential election year, 55,931 Texans voted on the first day of early voting for the primary. But in the last midterm election in 2014, only 38,441 Texans voted on the first day.

Even more surprising is the turnout among Democrats. Since the last midterm election, the party saw a 51 percent increase in first-day early voting turnout, while Republicans saw a 16 percent increase.

You can find daily EV totals for the 15 biggest counties here, and for past elections including primaries here. I’ll return to these numbers later on, as they lag a day behind.

Sri Kulkarni’s youthful indiscretion

We’ll see how big a deal this turns out to be.

Sri Kulkarni

A candidate’s drug arrest at the age of 18 has riled up a Democratic primary contest for the right to challenge five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson in a potentially competitive congressional district in Houston’s southern suburbs.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, a leading labor-backed candidate in the five-way March 6 primary, acknowledged Tuesday that he was arrested for possessing less than a gram of cocaine when he was a teenager in 1997.

The felony charge later was dismissed by a Harris County judge after a two-year probationary sentence, a disposition known as “deferred adjudication” that is frequently meted out for first-time drug offenses.

Kulkarni, now a 39-year-old ex-foreign service officer and onetime Senate aide, described the incident as a youthful indiscretion at a stressful time in his life when his father was terminally ill with cancer.

“We should not be stigmatizing our youth for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Nevertheless, the issue, raised at the start of early voting in Texas, has shaken up a U.S. House race where Democrats hope to make inroads in their quest to loosen the Republican Party’s long grip on the state.

Kulkarni disclosed the arrest to the Chronicle on Tuesday after the case was raised by the Fort Bend County chapter leader of Our Revolution, a group representing a progressive coalition of activists who supported the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

[…]

Kulkarni said his drug arrest 21 years ago should be seen through the prism of criminal justice reform, a top Democratic priority, and not as an election season attack.

“This is a very important issue,” he said. “I’m happy to talk about it in that context.”

Kulkarni is hardly the first candidate to have a youthful indiscretion in his past, and his response is a good one both in general and for a Democratic audience that is indeed interested in criminal justice reform. You can read the story for the rest of the details, but whatever one thinks of his brush with the law, it didn’t prevent him from having a successful career that included getting a top secret security clearance. As a general rule it’s better for stuff like this to come out early than late, and it’s best to own it and answer questions about it in a straightforward manner. Basically, as long as there’s nothing more to it than this, it probably won’t be that big a deal.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 3

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, the full endorsements page is here, and today we have the rest of the statewides, which I appreciate since these are the races I wanted more input on.

US Senate: Beto O’Rourke

Although there are three candidates on the ballot in this primary, the obvious choice for Texas Democrats is O’Rourke.

Unlike Cruz, who’s widely disliked even by many of his Republican colleagues, O’Rourke has a reputation for reaching across the aisle to get what he wants. As the congressman for the city that’s home to Fort Bliss, O’Rourke has used his post on the House Committee for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs to secure bipartisan support for legislation to expand mental health care.
O’Rourke is refusing to accept PAC money, a principled decision that’s forcing him to run a vigorous grassroots campaign. He’s vowed to visit all 254 counties, including Republican strongholds where he hopes to win over not only swing voters but also Trump supporters disillusioned with Cruz. O’Rourke will need all the ground game he can get; Cruz rose to power by running a startlingly effective grassroots campaign against former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Yeah, completely obvious. Let’s not belabor this, there are more endorsements to get through.

Comptroller: Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier’s background as a project leader and strategist in the tech sector gives her the managerial experience to serve as the state’s chief financial officer and oversee the office’s key responsibility of crafting budget projections for the Legislature.

Chevalier, 49, currently works in Austin as the owner of Cook’s Nook, a culinary incubator that offers space and resources to aspiring restaurateurs. Like so many Democratic candidates this election cycle, she told the editorial board that she was inspired to run by the current status of state and national politics, specifically pointing to the fact that Texas policymakers had no plan or response in place if the federal government failed to adequately fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. She thinks that the comptroller’s office should use its available data to proactively publish reports that will make clear the consequences of losing CHIP, or not expanding Medicaid, or the litany of other decisions faced by Texas policymakers.

“Those numbers, while they are budgetary numbers, represent real lives and real people,” she told the editorial board.

Overall, she hopes to treat the office not just as a place for accurate accounting, but as a platform to set a vision of how the state should be governed.

Both Comptroller candidates got in late. Chavalier looked like the more interesting candidate at first glance. I’m glad to see my impression had merit to it.

Land Commissioner: Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, 37, is a Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney who also has offices in Colorado and New Mexico. Tex Morgan, 38, is a software engineer who served on the board of VIA Metropolitan Transit – San Antonio’s Metro system.

Based on his experience in the energy industry issues that comprise so much of the General Land Office responsibilities, and his more robust campaign, we endorse Suazo in the Democratic primary.

During his meeting with the editorial board, Suazo explained how the land commissioner should be working to help Houston recover after Hurricane Harvey and also prepare for the next storm. That includes better management of federal community development block grants and relatively inexpensive ideas for protecting the coast, such as restoring oyster reefs and erosion control.

“That’s just where I see lackadaisical leadership coming from the general land office,” he said.

This is the toughest race for me, with two candidates who appear to be pretty well matched. I don’t think you can go too far wrong in this one.

Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen

Roman McAllen

Even though the odds are heavily against them, two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face the winner (probably Craddick) in November. Roman McAllen, 52, is a bow-tie-wearing intellectual with a background in historic preservation and urban planning. Chris Spellmon, 60, is an easygoing veteran of local Democratic politics with a background in banking and business who’s now working in real estate.

Neither of them have a professional history in the energy industry. Maybe some people will find that refreshing, because railroad commissioners often have incestuous ties to the business they’re supposed to regulate. But neither of these Democrats seems deeply involved in the issues facing the railroad commission.

Both of them rightly complain RRC commissioners take too much campaign money from the energy industry. Both of them recognize the importance of fracking, but believe local communities should have the power to regulate it. And both of them firmly believe the RRC needs a new name reflecting its 21st century mission, because calling this important state agency a railroad commission helps it hide beneath the radar of too many voters.

Between these two candidates, McAllen seems to have a deeper awareness of the issues facing the RRC. He gets visibly riled up when he talks about drillers polluting water, injection wells causing earthquakes and the state government outlawing local fracking ordinances. If for no other reason, McAllen’s passion makes him a stronger candidate for Democrats to put on the ballot in November.

Well, it’s not like the RRC is currently overflowing with industry experience. Having a voice on there to balance the crazy and the corrupt would be useful.

Overall I’d say I approve of the Chron’s choices. We’ll finish this series off tomorrow with the races that feature Democratic incumbents.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance is thankful Adam Rippon is here to distract us from everything else as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

2018 primary early voting Day One: Let’s get this started

And we’re off, with a few concerns about aftereffects of Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey may loom large in many Houston-area residents’ minds, but the storm is expected to have a limited impact on participation in the Texas primary, which kicks off Tuesday with the start of early voting.

Nearly two weeks of early balloting precedes the Lone Star State’s March 6 primary, the first in the nation.

“On one hand, we’re going to see a decline in turnout among some individuals who are displaced. On the other hand, I think there are some people who will counterbalance that decline because they’ve become more politically active and aware as a result of Harvey,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “The net effect is likely to be pretty neutral.”

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, whose office administers local elections, agreed.

“If it does, it’s going to be so small you won’t be able to measure it,” Stanart said. “Your primary voters are your core voters, your most loyal of voters, so those people tend to vote no matter what’s happening. So, I don’t anticipate much disruption in their voting patterns.”

I think turnout is going to be up due to a higher level of engagement this year, but we’ll soon see. It will be interesting to track the vote by State Rep district, to see how things may have changed from previous years.

Speaking of which, of course I have those totals, from 2010 and 2014. Google Drive is an amazing thing. And now we can add the 2018 totals and have a look at them all.


Year  Party   Mail In Person    Total
=====================================
2010    Dem  2,886     2,190    5,076
2010    Rep  5,946     2,774    8,720

2014    Dem  2,080     1,276    3,356
2014    Rep  9,048     2,807   11,855

2018    Dem  4,174     3,833    8,007
2018    Rep  6,138     3,509    9,646

So more Dems voted in person, but more Republicans voted overall because of more mail ballots being returned. Note, however, that more mail ballots were sent to Democratic voters (30,072) than to Republican voters (29,566), which is a big change from 2014. It’s one day and there’s a long way to go, but this is a strong start. I’ll keep an eye on this as we go. When do you plan to vote?

Judicial Q&A: John Stephen Liles

(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.

John Stephen Liles

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

My name is John Stephen Liles and I am running to be the Democratic Candidate for Judge of the 313th District Court in Harris County (Juvenile), one of the only three District Courts that handles Juvenile Delinquencies and Child Protective Services (CPS) cases. I am a fifth generation Texan who was born and raised in Houston and educated in Houston’s public schools. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in history in 1977 and obtained my law degree from South Texas College of Law in 1981. Following law school, I started my own practice dealing with criminal law for the first 15 years of my legal career, later broadening my representation to juvenile delinquencies and Child Protective Services cases involving abused and neglected children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th handles Juvenile Delinquencies and Child Protective Services cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have worked hard as a defense attorney for 36 years protecting people’s rights and ensuring that juveniles receive proper substance abuse and mental health treatment, educational and vocational training, and have a chance to be rehabilitated. Mistakes made as a juvenile should not later preclude these youth from becoming contributing members of society. I strongly believe no effort is too great when it comes to the rehabilitation of a child. Our system and courts all too frequently label a child as a criminal, I look at the child and see only a child who has made a criminal mistake.

4. What are you qualifications for this job?

I have over 36 years of legal experience representing clients in criminal, juvenile and CPS matters. I have tried over 50 jury trials and hundreds of court trials. I have handled first degree felony cases in both adult and juvenile court and hundreds of CPS cases. The depth of my legal experience has prepared me well to be a judge.

5. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am not a politician or the perennial judicial candidate, I am running as a progressive new candidate who has never held public office, but who wants to make a positive difference in our society. I will be a judge who will continually endeavor to improve rehabilitative, vocational and mental health therapy programs available to juveniles in order to ensure that no effort in overlooked in striving for the goal of molding juveniles into becoming productive members of society. I am proud to have been endorsed by Our Revolution Harris County and the Clear Lake and Webster Bar Association (CLAW).

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 2

A quick look at the Chron’s endorsements page shows they basically did a massive update on Sunday night/Monday morning. Most of them are in legislative races, but there are a couple of others. I think I’m going to need two more of these multi-race endorsement posts to catch up with them, so today we will (mostly) focus on races in which there is not a Democratic incumbent. Today that means the Democrats challenging State House incumbents, plus two JP races. Let’s get going.

HD126: Natali Hurtado.

Natali Hurtado, 34, told us she is running “because I’m tired of just sitting back and watching our state go backwards” while Undrai F. Fizer, 50, said he wants “to inspire hope and passion” in the people of the 126th district.

[…]

Hurtado earned degrees from the University of Houston and University of St. Thomas, the latter a masters in public policy and administration, and got a taste of the political life working in City Hall and for politicians including longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat.

She wants to close property tax loopholes for big business to ease the tax burden on individuals, get rid of Texas Senate Bill 4 — the “sanctuary cities” law that abrogates the discretion of local law enforcement on immigration issues — and accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Fizer has a lot of charisma but needs to learn more about the issues. Hurtado has a better grasp of them and her time working with Green and others gives her an invaluable head start in the art of politics. We think both her head and heart are in the right place, and endorse her for this race.

My interview with Hurtado is published today, and my interview with Fizer went up yesterday. They’re both good people, and I think the Chron captured their essences pretty well.

HD132: Gina Calanni.

Candidate Gina Calanni told us [incumbent Rep. Mike] Schofield is “very beatable” because people, including her, are angry that he votes in ways that hurt public schools and favor the charter and private schools popular with Republicans.

Flooding is the other big issue, she said, not just because of the massive damage it caused, but also because many people are still suffering from the effects of it and not getting much help.

Calanni, 40 and a writer of novels, is a single mom without much money to spare, while her opponent former corporate lawyer Carlos Pena, 51, is neither seeking money nor spending much of his own.

“I don’t believe in taking campaign contributions because there are people who feel they are owed,” he said.

He’s out blockwalking, but Calanni is doing that and going to political events where she has gotten endorsements from, among others, the Harris County Tejano Democrats, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and the AFL-CIO.

Our view is that Calanni has a fire in the belly to win that Pena may lack and with some money she can make a race of it. For that, she gets our endorsement.

My interview with Calanni is here; Pena never replied to me, and only recently put up a website. I agree with the Chron here. HD132 is a much more competitive district than you might think. It moved in a Democratic direction from 2008 to 2012, and is basically 55-45 going by 2016 numbers. It won’t take much in terms of the overall political climate for this to be a very winnable race, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the Democratic candidate to make an effort to win it. From where I sit, Gina Calanni is the only candidate putting in that effort. She’d get my vote if I were in HD132.

HD133: Marty Schexnayder.

Sandra Moore, 69, and Marty Schexnayder, 51, are both making their first run at political office because of their frustration with [incumbent Rep. Jim] Murphy and state leadership in general.

“I think people in our district are disgusted by the Dan Patrick agenda,” Schexnayder, a lawyer, told us, referring to the state’s lieutenant governor.

[…]

Both candidates also spoke of the need for improved health care and education. Schexnayder said the state share of education costs must increase so property taxes will stop going through the roof.

We liked Moore, but overall we think Schexnayder is the stronger candidate and has a broader grasp of the issues. We endorse him for Democratic nominee in District 133.

My interview with Sandra Moore is here and with Marty Schexnayder is here. Moore received the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, which is the only club or group endorsements that I tracked that was given in this race. The main point here is that both of them are worthy of consideration, while the third candidate in the race is not. I will note again that while this district is pretty red, there was a significant crossover vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As such, it is not at all unreasonable to think that “the Dan Patrick agenda” is not terribly popular as well.

HD134: Alison Lami Sawyer.

Political parties always have their internal disagreements, but Harris County Democrats should nevertheless operate by a single, cardinal rule: Never, under any circumstances, vote for Lloyd Wayne Oliver.

A perennial candidate who runs for office to drum up his law practice — and undermine serious Democrats along the way — Oliver routinely makes a mockery of our electoral system.

Luckily, Democrats in this race have a qualified and impressive alternative in Allison Lami Sawyer.

Sawyer, 33, is a Rice University MBA alumnus who has her own company which uses special optics to detect gas leaks in oil installations in the United States and abroad.

[…]

Assuming Davis defeats Republican primary opponent Susanna Dokupil, who is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, well look forward to an interesting campaign between two compelling candidates.

And remember: Don’t vote for Oliver.

My interview with Sawyer is here. I endorsed her way back when. The Chron is right: Don’t vote for Lloyd Oliver. Friends don’t let friends vote for Lloyd Oliver, either.

HD138: Adam Milasincic.

Democratic voters in District 138 have the luxury of picking between two good candidates to face well-entrenched incumbent Dwayne Bohac in the March 6 primary.

They are attorney and first-time candidate Adam Milasincic, 33, and Jenifer Rene Pool, 69, owner of a construction consulting company who has run unsuccessfully for City Council and County Commissioner and now wants a shot at tea party stalwart Bohac.

[…]

We could see both candidates becoming effective legislators in different ways for the west side district and, frankly, a race between Pool and the socially conservative Bohac could be fun to watch.

But Milasincic is super smart, thoughtful and passionate, all of which is useful when you’re taking on an incumbent. He has also raised an impressive amount of money for a first-time candidate in unfriendly territory. He gets our endorsement in the Democratic primary.

My interview with Milasincic is here and with Pool is here. I cut out a lot of the good stuff in this piece because I’d have had to quote the whole thing otherwise. This is the most competitive of the Harris County legislative districts – it should be the first to flip, if any of them do. I like both of these candidates and am looking forward to supporting whoever wins the nomination.

Over to Fort Bend for HD28: Meghan Scoggins.

Two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face incumbent state Rep. John Zerwas, who has represented district in the Texas Legislature since 2007.

If either of the primary candidates is up to the task, it’s Meghan Scoggins.

Scoggins, 38, has a detailed command of the issues facing this district, an expertise she says she developed observing — and sometimes testifying in — four sessions of the Legislature. (She casually mentioned to the editorial board that she drove to Austin in an RV that became her home away from home.) Although she has a background in business management and she did support work for the International Space Station, Scoggins spent the past few years focused on non-profit and community work. She not only brags about knowing most of the fire chiefs and MUD directors in the district, she also has a grasp of the problems they face. When she talks about infrastructure issues, she cites specific voter concerns like noise abatement problems surrounding the expansion of State Highway 99. She also specifically called for a county-wide flood control district, which would be a smart policy for the next session no matter who wins in November.

I haven’t paid that much attention to the races outside of Harris County – an unfortunate side effect of the cornucopia of candidates is that time and my attention can only go so far. HD26 is the more competitive district, but by all accounts I’ve seen Scoggins is a quality, hard-working candidate. I wish her well.

Last but not least, two for Justice of the Peace.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Place 2: Don Coffey

Our endorsement goes to the only lawyer in this race, incumbent Justice Don Coffey.

Coffey, 65, who was first elected in 2010, has had a positive impact on this precinct which runs from Baytown through communities like Highlands, Channelview and Sheldon — by working to change our state’s onerous truancy laws.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Audrie Lawton

Four people are running for this seat. Out of the pool, three candidates are lawyers, all of whom graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. All of the candidates in this race possess experience dealing with individuals in crisis and would be compassionate jurists.

The non-lawyer in this race, Ray Shackelford, has considerable political charisma, and we would encourage him to consider a run for another position, such as city council. But for this bench we’re endorsing the candidate with the most relevant legal experience, Audrie Lawton. Lawton has handled thousands of cases in justice of the peace courts, and she also has quasi-judicial experience having served for seven years as an examiner for the Texas Education Agency, hearing cases where teachers faced non-renewal or termination. The 40-year-old, who is licensed in all the federal courts and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also articulated the clearest vision for updating this court through expanded use of technology.

Q&As for relevant candidates:

Audrie Lawton
Ray Shackelford
Cheryl Elliott Thornton
Lucia Bates

I don’t have anything to add here, but there are still more endorsements to get through. Kudos to the Chron to getting to them all, but man I would have appreciated it if they could have been spread out a bit more.

Action alert: Rally at Culberson’s office for a clean DREAM Act

From the inbox:

Mothers, children, and other allies will gather in front of John Culberson’s office to demand a Clean DREAM Act this Thursday at 4 PM. The gathering will feature remarks from children of mixed status parents and mothers who are enraged at government support for tearing apart families in our communities.

In spite of the fact that 76% of the American people support a clean DREAM Act- as does the majority of Congress- our Houston area congressional representatives such as John Culberson continue to cater to extremists and the White House instead of doing what is right.

We say ENOUGH.

Moms, children, and other community allies are ENRAGED.

Join us this Thursday, February 22 nd at 4 PM, at John Culberson’s office located at 10000 Memorial Dr. to DEMAND a Clean DREAM Act NOW. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and so many other challenges, when so many have lost their homes and their belongings, and some have lost loved ones, our reps MUST not only bring actual support for those who are hurting but also STOP the anti-family agenda that endangers our friends and neighbors.

#CleanDREAMActNow

Who: Indivisible Houston, Pantsuit Republic Houston
What: Solidarity Action
When: Thursday, February 22, 2018, 4 PM-5:30PM
Where: John Culberson’s Houston Office, 10000 Memorial Dr.

There’s a Facebook event for this here, and here’s a map for the location. Go vote and go rally, you’ll be glad you did.

Interview with Natali Hurtado

Natali Hurtado

And so we come to the end of another interview season. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in the saddle in a few weeks to cover some Congressional runoffs, and we’ll see from there. Like the rest of the county in 2016, HD126 took a big step in a blue direction. It’s not quite top tier in terms of competitiveness, but it is an open seat as incumbent Kevin Roberts seeks a promotion to Congress in CD02. Natali Hurtado closes us out. She has been involved in local politics for a number of years, which included a stint as District Director for then-State Rep. Kristi Thibaut. She currently serves as the Director of Services for the International Management District with the consulting firm Hawes Hill & Associates. Oh, and she’s also out there campaigning while nine months pregnant. Here’s what we talked about:

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

Judicial Q&A: Cory Sepolio

(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.

Cory Sepolio

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

My name is Cory Sepolio. I was born and raised in Pasadena, Texas. I’m a lifelong Democrat, proud feminist, husband, and father to a wonderful daughter. I helped my father run as a Democrat in 1998 and 2000 when not many other Democrats wanted to run. I am now running for the 269th Civil District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil District Courts have jurisdiction over many matters. The cases include personal injury, breach of contract, property dispute, commercial dispute, election dispute, appeals from administrative decisions and many more. This court is the highest level of trial court in Texas.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I approached members of my Democratic Party over a year ago and asked to help screen candidates for judicial courts. As a party we continue to win countywide races and have a duty to present only the most qualified candidates to ensure we improve our local government. I was flattered when members of my Party asked me to run. Both plaintiff and defense attorneys agree the 269th Civil District Court is in need of improvement. As the only candidate with trial experience I know the best practical methods to ensure justice in the 269th .

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

A District Court Judge must have jury trial experience to effectively promote justice and equality. The backlash against the recent, inexperienced judicial appointees highlights this point. Judges with no prior experience can waste taxpayer money and hinder justice.

I have over 100 jury trials. I have tried everything from misdemeanors to capital murder, negligence cases, breach of contract and property cases. I have handled civil appeal and understand how to follow the rules as a trial judge. I tried cases in 14 Texas counties with exemplary results. No other candidate in this race has the experience in court that I have.

I served our community as an assistant District Attorney where I sought justice for victims and accused alike while fighting discrimination. My focus is on equality and justice. The judge must have a diverse background in their personal life and professional life. Since 2003 I represented over 1000 civil clients in court, including plaintiffs and defendants, where I fought for the rights of working-class people, small-business owners, and corporations. We need judges who have represented both plaintiffs and defendants to ensure impartiality and practical knowledge. I am the only candidate with this experience.

5. Why is this race important?

When I was born my father was a Teamster. When the economy in Houston changed in the late 1970s my family suffered through years of economic difficulties. My mother took a job as a night dispatcher at the Pasadena Police Department and later worked in the local refineries. My father put himself through school in the 1980s and earned his law degree. Coming from an economically disadvantaged background gives me a unique prospective on disputes. Those who live a life of privilege cannot relate to the plight of all litigants as I can. Harris County is over 42% Latino yet only one of the dozens of elected civil judges is Latino. As a Latino I am looking to increase my community’s representation on the bench.

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

The Texas Civil Justice system requires experience to function. Texas Civil District Courts hear cases with the largest amounts in controversy in the entire state. People’s rights, wealth, livelihood, election results, property rights, and even the future of entire industries are determined by these courts. Too much is on the line to allow inexperienced attorneys to make these decisions. As the most experienced candidate I am honored to receive the endorsements from every organization which took the time to evaluate each candidate. My merit-based endorsements include the following: The Houston Chronicle; Houston GLBT Political Caucus; Harris County Tejano Democrats; Houston Black American Democrats; Texas Coalition of Black Democrats; Our Revolution; AFL-CIO, COPE; Area 5 Democrats; Bay Area New Democrats; as well as several elected officials. I am the clear Democratic choice.

UT/TT poll: Trump approval more or less the same as before

A tad bit more positive than last time, but still nothing to write home about.

With the usual disclaimers about partisan imbalance, President Donald Trump’s job approval ratings are holding steady, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Overall, equal numbers of Texas voters approve and disapprove of the job Trump is doing. Beneath that, the poll found, Republicans are highly supportive, with 83 percent saying they approve, while 84 percent of Democrats say they disapprove. The president’s numbers are remarkably similar to those in last February’s UT/TT Poll — the first survey after Trump took office. Then, as now, Republicans were solidly behind him and Democrats were solidly against him, making the blended numbers appear balanced.

[…]

The contrasting voter impressions of the state’s two Republican U.S. senators continue. John Cornyn had approving marks from 29 percent of all voters, 47 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of Democrats. Overall, 38 percent of voters disapprove of the job Cornyn’s doing as the second-highest-ranking member of the Senate majority’s leadership. That’s driven by the disapproval of 59 percent of Texas Democrats.

Ted Cruz, who is up for re-election this year, gets about the same number of good grades — 40 percent — and bad ones — 41 percent. As with other officeholders, it’s about party, but only Trump’s numbers are as strongly divided on those lines. Cruz’s high grades from 72 percent of Republicans are offset by his bad grades from 73 percent of Democrats.

In another question, voters were asked their opinion of Cruz, which yielded similar results. Overall, 40 percent said they have a favorable impression of him and 42 percent have an unfavorable one. It’s a party thing, with 71 percent of Democrats holding negative opinions and 70 percent of Republicans holding positive ones. Fewer than one in five said they had no opinion at all.

Contrast that with his likely general election opponent, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The El Paso Democrat has never been on a statewide ballot, and it shows, with 58 percent of all voters saying they have neither a favorable nor an unfavorable opinion of him. Among Democrats, 52 percent have a favorable opinion of O’Rourke, 4 percent have an unfavorable opinion and 44 percent have no opinion at all. Among Republicans, 8 percent were favorable, 22 percent were unfavorable and 70 percent were neither positive nor negative.

Gov. Greg Abbott remains the most popular elected state official, if job assessments are the measure. Overall, 46 percent said he’s doing a good job and 31 percent said he’s not. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s numbers almost break into three equal parts: 36 percent approval, 33 percent disapproval and 31 percent neutral. And House Speaker Joe Straus, who is not seeking another term, remains the least well-known high official in Austin: 27 percent approve of the job he’s doing, 24 percent disapprove and 48 percent remain neutral.

For comparison purposes:

UT/Trib, February 2017, 46 approve/44 disapprove
UT/Trib, June 2017, 43 approve/51 disapprove
UT/Trib, October 2017, 45 approve/49 disapprove
UT/Trib, February 2018, 46 approve/46 disapprove

There are other pollsters that have shown poorer results for Trump in the past year. For apples to apples purposes, the numbers above all come from the UT/Trib poll. This was Trump’s best showing since last February, and it may represent the passage of the tax bill, the onset of primary season and the partisan stirrings that brings, random variations, some combination of the above, or something else entirely. I think his numbers are more likely to sag a big going forward than improve, and there’s always the chance that some factor like the Mueller investigation could cause him to crater. Overall, though, I think this is more or less what we should expect.

What does it mean? Well, overall probably not much. Not because of anything having to do with this poll or any other poll, but because for November purposes I don’t think the right questions are being asked, or more to the point I don’t think the right people are being asked. We all know this election is about who will turn out, so why not focus on the voters who are the biggest variables in that? What I’d love to see are surveys of 1) Democratic voters who turned out in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 but not 2010 or 2014; 2) people who voted for someone other than Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in 2016 and who have a history of voting in the off years; and 3) Republicans who voted for Clinton in 2016. Ask them what their plans are for this year, and maybe you’ll get a better idea of what to expect in 8.5 months.

And on a related note:

Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick are far ahead of their Republican primary opponents in the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, but the Democrats running for those two high offices face more difficult paths to their party’s nomination.

Two other statewide Republican incumbents — Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — have the support of a majority of likely primary voters, but with a caveat. When those voters had the option of saying they weren’t ready to make a choice, 44 percent listed no preference in the land race and 60 percent said the same in the agriculture race.

With high numbers of undecided voters, Bush led his primary with 36 percent of the vote, and Miller led his with 27 percent. Only when they were asked how they’d vote if they had to make a choice now did the majorities appear for the incumbents.

[…]

The Democratic primary for governor is a muddle, with two clear frontrunners and no candidate close to enough votes to win without a runoff. Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had the support of 43 percent of likely primary voters responding to the poll, while Andrew White of Houston had 24 percent. If no candidate gets a majority, the top two finishers will go to a May runoff. Grady Yarbrough and Tom Wakely each got 7 percent in that primary poll, Adrian Ocegueda and Jeffrey Payne got 5 percent, and Cedric Davis Sr., Joe Mumbach and James Jolly Clark each got 4 percent or less.

The Democratic race for lieutenant governor won’t end in a runoff — there are only two candidates. But their names are similar — Mike Collier and Michael Cooper — and their numbers are close. Collier, whose name was on the statewide ballot four years ago when he ran for comptroller, got 55 percent in the latest UT/TT Poll. Cooper got 45 percent.

“You have two lieutenant governor candidates whose names are very similar to one another, who have received very little public attention and who are not very well known,” Henson said.

The Trib’s primary polls from 2014 were, in a word, trash. They were worse than useless, and they didn’t have a strong track record in Democratic primary polls before that. Their November polling has been good, but I emphatically advise you to take any and all of their March numbers as being strictly for entertainment purposes only. You have been warned.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 1

Whoa, all of a sudden the Chron is chock full of endorsements. Let’s run through ’em. Actually, let’s start to run through them. So many appeared all at once that I’m going to need to break this into more than one post.

For Lite Guv: Anyone but Dan.

Lieutenant governor: Scott Milder

Scott Milder has become the tip of the spear in this statewide effort to fight back against Patrick, and we endorse his run to unseat the incumbent as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. A former City Council member in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, Milder, 50, is aligned with the schools, business interests and pastors who are hoping to restore the conservative values of local control and pro-growth that for decades sat at the core of Texas politics. It is a movement that wants to put an end to the potty-bill politics that have dominated our state Legislature under Patrick.

From El Paso to Texarkana, Brownsville to Canadian, local cities and counties are starting to stand together against a state government obsessed with the political minutiae that excites the partisan wings but does little to make our state a better place to live. A vote for Milder will be a vote to fix school funding and return Texas to normalcy.

Democratic Lieutenant governor: Mike Collier

In the Democratic primary for this important post, the Chronicle recommends Mike Collier, the more experienced, better qualified of the two candidates vying to face off against the Republican winner in the November general election.

A graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree and MBA, Collier wants to see more state money directed to public schools, arguing that overtaxed homeowners cannot afford to carry what ought to be the state’s share of education funding. An accountant by training, Collier held high-level positions in auditing and finance during his career at a global accounting firm, giving weight to his proposal to close a corporate tax loophole as a means of raising revenue for public education and property tax relief.

Collier, 56, is well-versed in this region’s need for storm surge protection and Harvey recovery, and he’s ready to tap the state’s substantial rainy day fund to pay for it. “Let’s crack it open and stimulate recovery as fast as we can,” he told the editorial board.

Collier supports expanding Medicaid to improve health for poor children, and he wants to improve care for rural Texans dealing with local hospital closures and few physicians wanting to practice outside large cities.

I count myself lucky that I have not yet been subjected to Dan Patrick’s TV ad barrage. I’m all in for Mike Collier, but for sure Scott Milder would be a step away from the dystopia that Patrick is determined to drag us all to.

Land Commissioner: Not Baby Bush.

Four years ago, this editorial page enthusiastically supported Bush in his first bid for elected office. We were mightily impressed with his command of the complex issues facing the General Land Office. Anybody who thought this guy was just coasting on his family name was wrong. “George P. Bush is the real deal,” we wrote.

Now the real deal has become a real disappointment.

Bush has repeatedly stumbled during his first term in his first elected office. He directed the General Land Office to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to keep at least 40 employees on the payroll for as long as five months after they’d actually quit their jobs, but only if they promised they wouldn’t sue Bush or the agency. Three days after a contractor scored a $13.5 million hurricane cleanup contract, Bush’s campaign accepted almost $30,000 in contributions from the company’s executives.

But his highest profile problem has been his plan to “reimagine” the Alamo. It’s an ongoing mess criticized not only by Texas history buffs but also by Republican lawmakers irate about the way it’s being managed. Among other problems, Bush played a cynical shell game with state employees, shifting about 60 people over to a taxpayer-funded nonprofit so he could brag that he cut his agency’s staff. As one incredulous GOP fundraiser put it, “How do you screw up the Alamo?”

To his credit, months before Hurricane Harvey, Bush wrote President Donald Trump a detailed letter requesting funding for a coastal storm surge barrier. Unfortunately, since then we haven’t seen him do much to advance the cause of this critical infrastructure project.

Losing faith in a man who once looked like a rising political star is disillusioning, but voters in the Republican primary for Texas land commissioner should bypass Bush and cast their ballots for Jerry Patterson.

I feel reasonably confident that Jerry Patterson will not buy any secret mansions with secret money. He was a perfectly decent Land Commissioner whose service I respect as you know, but just clearing that bar would have been enough to prefer him. I only wish the Chron had expressed an opinion on the Democratic side, as that’s a race where I don’t feel like I know much about the candidates. Maybe we’ll get that later.

For County Treasurer – Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

Three Democrats are running in this friendly race. All seem to be self-starters, and all recognize that taxpayers need to get more for their dollar than a mere office figure head who oversees routine financial operations conducted by professional staff. All want to increase efficiencies and cost savings, and improve service through better use of technology.

Our choice, Dylan Osborne, 36, is the candidate with the background in customer relations and experience in community service needed to elevate this job from one of sinecure to public service.

Osborne, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration, currently works in the city of Houston Planning and Development Department. The University of Houston graduate got his start as the manager of a restaurant and an auto parts store and has risen his way through city ranks. While employed by two city council members, the personable Osborne organized events with civic clubs and super neighborhoods to educate citizens about local issues.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with Nile Copeland is here; Cosme Garcia never replied to my email. The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez in the last couple of general elections. Maybe this year they’ll break that habit.

And for HCDE: Josh Wallenstein and Danny Norris.

County School Trustee Position 3, At large: Josh Wallenstein

This Democratic primary is a coin toss between Josh Wallenstein and Richard Cantu.

The HCDE has come under political fire in recent years, and it needs to achieve two goals to stay on course. The department needs to avoid conflicts of interest and maximize its use of the public dollar. Wallenstein was chief compliance officer of a major corporation before starting his own law firm and could bring to the board the skill of contract review and analysis including, minimizing waste, fraud and abuse, conflict of interest and self-dealing and maximizing efficiencies for schools. He graduated from Stanford Law School.

The department does a good job of offering school districts services at a much reduced rate, but it does a poor of job of communicating to voters how it saves taxpayer money. Cantu, who holds a masters in public administration from St. Thomas University, would be in the best position to develop partnerships and collaborations around the city and to help the department get the word out. He’s held management positions with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Baker Ripley, the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office and currently he’s deputy executive director of the East Aldine Management District.

It was a tough choice but choose we must, and we endorse Wallenstein.

County School Trustee, Position 6, Precinct 1: Danyahel (Danny) Norris

There is no Republican running for this seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Erica Lee Carter, which stretches from the portion of Friendswood in Harris County to near Galena Park in the south. The winner of this primary will become a trustee on the HCDE board. Two candidates — John F. Miller and Danyahel “Danny” Norris — stand out in this three person race. We tip our hat to the only candidate with experience in education policy: Norris.

Norris, 37, holds the distinction of being a chemical engineer, a former teacher and tutor for math students, a lawyer with a degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a law professor, and a librarian with a masters of library science from the University of North Texas.

Miller, who is also a chemical engineer, demonstrated an admirable commitment to the board position, having attended all of its meetings since September. However, he didn’t convince us that his budgeting or hiring skills would fill a gap in the board’s expertise.

Interviews:

Josh Wallenstein
Richard Cantu
Elvonte Patton
Danny Norris
John Miller

Prince Bryant did reply to my email request for an interview a week ago, but then never followed up when I suggested some possible times to talk. I agree with the Chron that the choices we have in these races are good ones.

Interview with Undrai Fizer

Undrai Fizer

Hard to believe, but the political version of spring training is almost over and the real season is about to begin, by which I mean early voting kicks off tomorrow. Barring any late additions, I have two more interviews to bring you, with the Democratic candidates in HD126. Dr. Undrai Fizer has one of the more diverse backgrounds of any candidate I’ve had the opportunity to speak with. He holds doctorates in Religious Education and Humanities, he is the founder of KAIROS Inter-Global, Inc. a personal vision and spiritual development organization, an author and founder of a publishing house, a jazz pianist, and a certified Goodwill Ambassador. Oh, and he’s running for the Lege now, too. Here’s what he had to say about that:

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

Judicial Q&A: Latosha Lewis Payne

(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.

Latosha Lewis Payne

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

My name is Latosha Lewis Payne and I am running for Judge of the 55th Civil District Court. I am a life-long Harris County resident raised in Acres Homes and Cypress as the oldest child of a single mom. I am married to my college sweetheart, Bronze star combat veteran, and I am mom to three amazing kids age 10, 7 and 5.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears all civil cases, including but not limited to personal injuries, wrongful death, product liability, breach of contract, insurance coverage, debt collection, and real estate cases. This court does not hear criminal, family, probate, juvenile, or bankruptcy cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 55th District Court because it is time for change. This Court needs a judge that will be fair to all—no matter their walk of life, individual or corporate status, representation by attorneys at big firms or small, or representing themselves. I am—and will be on the bench—respectful and will treat all people with dignity. I believe that "justice delayed is justice denied" and therefore will ensure that my court is organized, efficient, decisive, and moves cases along so that litigants can have their day in court or resolve their matters in a timely manner.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a University of Texas School of Law graduate and I have the integrity, temperament, knowledge, and ability to do this job, and do it well. I have had a diverse civil trial practice handling most of the types of cases that will appear in the court and. have tried cases as lead counsel/ first chair to jury verdict and final judgment.

I have excelled in law. I was promoted to partner at an International law firm in only seven and a half years. I am the only African – American to receive the Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award, named for Judge Woodrow B. Seals, by the Houston Young Lawyers Association in its over 30-year history, among other awards.

I have a heart dedicated to service and walk the walk in helping our community. In addition to mentoring various secondary students, law students, and young lawyers over the years, I have provided over 1700 hours of pro bono service to the Houston community. I have worked Election Protection efforts every year for the last 13 years. In the last year, my firm received the Houston Bar Foundation and the Harris County Bench Bar awards for outstanding pro bono service by a small law firm in 2017.

I seek justice for all. When I recognize injustice in the world, I mentor a child, I provide free legal services, I protect citizens’ right to vote, I speak up for citizens that may be disenfranchised by our jury selection process and I create a system of reviewing law firms and their effect on the progress of minorities.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the courts are often our society’s last opportunity for justice under the law. As a first-generation college graduate and only lawyer in my family, I understand what it means to be unfamiliar with a system and thus at a disadvantage. I will be fair but also will bring a unique and different perspective, as shaped by my experiences, my love of the law, and my passion for serving the community to the 55th District Court.

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

I am am a person of integrity, progressive values, and I fight for justice for all. I have been promoted and recognized for excellence as a lawyer and that will translate to excellence as a judge. I have a history of investing in making improvements in the civil justice system and community outside of my regular job since day one of my legal career– not just during election time.

I have had diverse legal and life experiences and I am the only candidate in the Democratic primary race that has tried both personal injury and breach of contract cases to final jury verdict in Harris County courts, which represents over 75% of the type of cases pending in this court. A broad range of non-partisan, Democratic, progressive, and lawyer-led organizations have endorsed me over my opponent, including the Houston Chronicle, Houston Black American Democrats, Harris County Tejano Democrats, Our Revolution (progressive), Harris County Chapter of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Texas Progressive Executive Council, Pleasantville Voters League, the Clear Lake and Webster Bar Association (CLAW), and the Houston Association of Women Attorneys (AWA). I have also been endorsed by Harris County Chapter of the Harris County Labor Assembly of the AFL CIO, Area 5 Democrats, and Bay Area New Democrats.

The time is now for a unique and different perspective on the bench than what is being offered. The year 2018 marks twenty years since a woman was judge of this court. No African-American has ever been judge of this court. It is time for a change.

I ask for your vote! If you want to learn more about me and my campaign, please go to www.LatoshaLewisPayne.com.

Early voting for 2018 primaries starts tomorrow

Are you ready to vote? Wait, let me say that again. ARE YOU READY TO VOTE?

When and where can you vote early?

Early voting runs Tuesday, Feb. 20 to Friday, March 2. You can vote at any of the designated early voting locations (see map below or click here for the full list).

When and where can you vote?

On Tuesday, March 6, you must vote at the polling location designated for your precinct of residence. Click here to find your polling location and voter-specific sample ballot.

DEMOCRATS:

Click here for a list of Democratic polling places. Find the sample ballot below (or click here).

REPUBLICANS:

Click here for a list of Republican polling places. Find the sample ballot below (or click here).

Here’s that map of early voting locations. There are some changes – if you vote downtown, note that due to Harvey damage you will vote at the Harris County Law Library at 1019 Congress instead of at the Tax Assessor’s office. I’m pleased to see there’s a location quite near where I now work, as that solves some logistical problems for me. I heartily recommend voting early, especially if you have been displaced by Harvey yourself. You can vote at any early location, and you can get your address updated as needed. If you must vote on Primary Day, check and double-check the voting locations, because many of them will be consolidated. Pay attention too to the fact that some locations may have one primary voting there, but not the other. My Heights neighbors should especially take note of this, as neither Travis nor Hogg will be available to you if you vote Democratic. Vote early, and if you don’t vote early be super sure you know where your location is.

I will of course be tracking the daily totals as I get them. Here are the final daily early voting totals from the 2014 primaries, which is our basis of comparison. I’m ready, I’m excited, and I think we’re gonna have some good turnout. Let’s vote!

Metro to buy buses for Uptown BRT

Another step forward.

Metro officials next week are set to spend at least $11.2 million on buses for bus rapid transit service along Post Oak, committing the agency to spending on the controversial project after years of discussion.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members discussed the purchase, and an agreement with the Uptown Management District which is rebuilding Post Oak, Wednesday. The full board meets on Feb. 20, and at that time could approve both the purchase of 14 buses and the agreement.

“This project does exactly what good transit is supposed to do,” Metro board member Christof Spieler said. “It goes to a crowded area and delivers service that connects conveniently to the rest of the service area.”

Many details of the bus purchase and agreement with Uptown will be worked out in the coming week, after a discussion among board members at the capital and strategic planning committee.

Despite the loose ends, Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said she expected the board to approve the requests, so the agency will be ready for the rapid transit service by May 2019. That is around when Uptown officials expect to be ready, but about a year before the Texas Department of Transportation is set to open a bus-only system along Loop 610 that will speed transit times to the Northwest Transit Center north of Interstate 10.

See here for the most recent update in this process. Not mentioned in the story, but definitely a consideration, is that the Uptown BRT line would almost certainly connect to the high speed rail station, if not immediately then at some point between the line’s debut in 2019 and the Texas Central opening in 2024. I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense for them to not be connected. I’m sure this will be a part of the Metro referendum later this year as well. We’ll keep an eye on this going forward.

Weekend link dump for February 18

A filter for assholes would really improve Twitter. It would really improve real life, too, though that may be a bit much to ask.

Three words: Mutant crayfish clones. You’re welcome.

Goddammit, Alamo Drafthouse. You needed to be better than that.

Sexual Harassment in the Children’s Book Industry. Sadly, a long read.

Fifty Shades markets itself as a swirling Cinderella romance with a dash of kink, with a mousy nobody who is swept off her feet by a charming billionaire with a penchant for handcuffs and rough play. But the union between Christian and Anastasia is so unbelievably toxic and awful that it becomes an endurance test to sit through.”

“You show me [a Harvard Law School] grad willing to work with Trump, and I’ll show you an active threat to democratic self-government.”

“We now have ample evidence of what should have been predictable from the start: Almost everyone who signed up to serve President Trump was in a critical way like him, either ideologically or in personal character. The notion that more than a handful were dedicated, non-extremist professionals serving in spite of Trump’s failings rather than because of them has simply failed the test of evidence.”

I think the lesson here is to avoid buying houses that were prominently featured in TV shows about gruesome murders.

Behold a robot dog that can open doors. Yeah, we’re pretty much screwed as a species.

Turns out it is possible to shame Sean Hannity. Difficult, but possible.

“But the best people want to work for the best bosses, in the best organizations, supported by the best cultures. Trump hasn’t created anything of the kind. The Trump administration is a leaky, chaotic, dangerous place, where staffers operate under constant threat from Trump and each other, and in which the president is so uncertain of his own opinions and agenda that more staff energy goes into persuading him of what he believes than carrying out what he wants.”

The tanking will be strong in the NBA this year.

Roy Edroso tells you what you need to know about Megan McArdle.

“Michael Cohen lies through his teeth like most people breathe. So it’s entirely possible that Trump or various other entities made Cohen whole. But as someone who’s done a lot of research into Cohen and his decade-plus relationship with Donald Trump, I will say again: picking up this charge himself is entirely plausible.”

Chrome’s new ad-blocking capabilities sound pretty good.

From the Donald Trump Ruins Everything: Bachelor Winter Games department.

There are things that can be done to reduce the frequency of gun massacres. We know that because in every other developed country on Earth they have been done, and have made a difference. Australia, Scotland, Norway, Canada, Germany, Finland—these and other countries have had occasional horrific mass shootings. These countries have just as high a proportion of mentally ill people as the United States does, just as many with pent-up grievances. But only America has an endless series of gun killings.”

“This shows Mueller has been doing consequential work, not just sniffing around the White House looking for an excuse to indict Trump.”

“Disclaimer: The following op-ed was penned by guest blogger B. Mercenarius III (well, by his ghost writer, and in accordance with the conclusions of several focus groups regarding the talking points likely to be most effective in eliciting the sympathy of his fellow Americans). Any resemblance to Rebekah Mercer’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal of February 14, 2018, entitled, “Forget the Media Caricature. Here’s What I Believe” is deliberate and intended as parody.”

Judicial Q&A: Beth Barron

(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.

Beth Barron

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

I am Beth Barron. I am running for Judge of the 280th Family District Court. I am 56 years old. As a single woman, I adopted my precious daughter from CPS when she was an infant. She is now 11 years old. Before law school, I was an “Interior Architect” and then a flight attendant for Continental Airlines for 8 years. The last three years of flying, I attended law school. I flew on the weekends and went to law school part-time at night during the week. I studied all 7 days. My last year of law school, I was a full-time paid intern at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and went to school at night. Today I have been an Assistant District Attorney for 21 years. My daughter and I like to travel, read, and cook. Two years ago we were lucky enough to travel to Africa. This past Christmas season, we traveled to Canada with her youth choir to sing.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Family District Court is often known as the “Family Violence Court”. This court has the ability to hear any family case. However, statutorily, it must give preference to those family cases that involve allegations of family violence. Historically it has only heard Protective Order cases which are lawsuits for a court order to prohibit family violence and provide other protections for victims of family violence.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because the people of Harris County deserve to have the very best judge to hear and pass judgement on these most serious cases with serious allegations. The judge of this court must possess extensive training and experience to be able to make a just ruling. No other candidate for this court can come close to my training and experience.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have had the honor of being an Assistant District Attorney for over 21 years. The first 4 ½ years I handled criminal cases. I was the attorney representing the State of Texas and the people of Harris County in various criminal cases of misdemeanor and felonies. These included misdemeanor thefts, drug possession, DWI, prostitution, assaults (including family violence assaults) etc. and felonies of felony theft, burglary, Forgery, Aggravated Assaults (including family violence assaults), Criminally Negligent Homicide and drug cases etc.

I have been the sole attorney on 35 Jury trials and 30 bench trials. In the year 2000, I took a special position at the District Attorney’s Office that I am still at today. It was originally slotted as a one year stint. I changed all that when I found I couldn’t leave it. For the last 17 years, I have had the honor of representing victims of family violence.  I have represented over 10,000 victims of family violence in the various family courts on a civil suit for a Protective order against their abusers. I have handled over 900 contested court trials. The victims in these cases represented over 30 different countries with many different races, religions languages, immigration status and cultures. I have been honored that they have trusted me to help them despite the fact that there were often prejudices against them.

I am partially paid by a federal VAWA grant (Violence Against Women Act). Under that grant, I am also charged with investigating complaints of Parental Kidnapping, Harboring a Runaway, Criminal Non-Support and Bigamy. I have taken complaints from hundreds of individuals in Harris County on these cases. Parental Kidnapping investigations involve intense research into the original family case documents. I have reviewed and assisted in the investigation of over 400 cases of Parental Kidnapping and directed law enforcement in their investigation of these cases. These cases necessarily involved all facets of family cases including divorce, custody, modifications, writs of attachment, writs of habeas corpus etc. I have assisted and advised 6 different states’ officials in their attempts to recover missing children who were located in Texas. I have worked with numerous out of state police agencies in their investigation of these cases including a case in Canada. 

I am published by the Texas District and County Attorney Association (at their request) to provide guidance to District and County Attorneys (and their assistants) all over the state of Texas on the issues of family violence and Protective orders. This booklet was distributed to every District and County Attorney’s Office in Texas. I regularly receive calls from those agencies for my advice and expertise in these cases.

I have trained judges, lawyers, over 30 different police agencies, social workers, court staff, clergy, and advocates on family violence and protective orders all over the state of Texas. I have trained at 12 family violence conferences in Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana and have presented and spoken at 2 international conferences on family violence. 

I have taught law school classes. I am an expert in Family Violence and Protective Orders and have testified in both misdemeanor and felony criminal cases.

5. Why is this race important?

All anyone has to do is read or watch the news to know that family violence is a serious social issue in our county. Not just for the victims but everyone. Family violence affects immediate family members, extended family members, friends, employers, clergy, health care and the criminal justice system. This court hears allegations of family violence and has the arduous task of making the right and just decision in these cases.

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

I am simply the best candidate for this court. I have the training and experience this court demands. I am pragmatic and fair and possess the judicial temperament required of a true judge. I am responsible, thoughtful, and never impulsive. I have had the unique freedom for over 21 years of being charged with only making the right decision in my cases. If I don’t believe in a case, I do not file it. If I file a case and then find out it was not the right thing to do, I dismiss is. Unlike a private/paid attorney, I do not feel pressured to go forward on a case simply because someone has paid me to. I represent the people of Harris County. I am well respected by my peers at the courthouse and elsewhere.

I am endorsed by the Tejano Democrats, the AFL-CIO, the Houston Chronicle and I am waiting on 4 others. I am also endorsed by Sherri Cothrun, and other well respected family lawyers, criminal defense attorneys, police officers and deputies.

The latest report on city finances

A little light reading for you.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Even after Mayor Sylvester Turner’s landmark pension reforms, the city of Houston is on pace to spend $1 billion more than it will take in over the coming decade, and must cut spending and raise revenue bring its annual budget into balance, according to an exhaustive new report.

Failing to do so, the authors state, risks letting the city inch toward insolvency with all the symptoms that accompany such a fiscal crisis: Worker layoffs, an erosion in police staffing, fewer library hours, decaying parks facilities, a hollowing out of the city as the suburbs boom.

The analysts from Philadelphia-based consulting firm PFM did not shy away from controversial recommendations, including some that would dramatically restructure city government.

Among dozens of other reforms, the authors suggest Houston should:

  • break up its mammoth Houston Public Works department and consolidate its finance, procurement, human resources, and information technology staff;
  • cut the $9.5 million annual subsidy to the Houston Zoo roughly in half;
  • shrink the Houston Fire Department by up to 845 positions through attrition and lengthen firefighters’ work weeks; reduce the number of fire stations; hire civilians to do fire inspections and take 911 calls; and raise ambulance fees;
  • hire civilians for the Houston Police Department to enable cops now doing administrative tasks to get back on patrol; free up officers’ time by arresting fewer low-level offenders and writing more tickets; use civilians to conduct crash investigations and issue non-moving traffic tickets; consolidate with Metro’s police staff, and, perhaps, local school districts’ too;
  • cut health benefits for active and retired city workers; and
  • submit trash pickup, building maintenance and street repairs to “managed competition,” giving all or part of each task to city departments or to private companies, whichever submits the most efficient proposal.
  • City Council hired PFM for $565,000 in 2016, Turner’s first year in office, to craft a 10-year financial plan. Turner made clear in comments last week, however, that he views some of the recommendations as impractical.

“When you talk about structural changes, just because it’s identified doesn’t mean it’s easily done. It’s not about taking a report and just implementing it,” he said. “There are some things that, from my vantage point, yes, we will accept. There are some things that are going to require additional study. There are some things that will be more long term. And then there are some things that we’ll never get there.”

The report is here; it’s quite long, but the executive summary is only 16 pages, so read that if you want a feel for it. At first glance, a lot of it sounds reasonable and even doable. I appreciate the fact that they recognize that revenue is part of the equation and that removing the stupid revenue cap would go a long way towards alleviating the problem. Some actions could be done by Mayoral fiat, some by Council action, and some will require negotiations with third parties and/or legislative approval. It’s always possible that a report like this becomes little more than a doorstop, but I think we’ll see at least some of it happen.

The Land Office in the news

Please enjoy this coverage of a downballot statewide race, which is not something we get all that much of.

Jerry Patterson

Incumbent George P. Bush, the 41-year-old grandson and nephew of U.S. presidents, is facing off against his outspoken predecessor Jerry Patterson, 71, who wants his old job back after leaving it to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor.

Despite its low profile, the land commissioner has one of the state’s most critical jobs, especially now as hundreds of communities, including Houston, continue to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“The (governor), the lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials, including the land commissioner, are important positions because they touch so many lives,” said David Dewhurst, who served as the land commissioner from 1999 to 2003.

The Texas land commissioner is responsible for cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, raising money for schools, preserving the state’s most iconic landmark, doling out benefits to veterans and helping communities recover from a natural disaster.

“Our land commissioner oversees extensive programs that benefit our veterans, and our oil and gas activities, which are important to provide more funding for public education, particularly when the Legislature has not been as aggressive as it has in the past to provide funding for public schools,” Dewhurst said.

[…]

Tex Morgan, who is running as a Democrat, said that if elected he’ll work to increase awareness about the land office’s duties.

“Too few Texans know the scope or depth of the GLO’s responsibilities, programs and opportunities,” Morgan, 31, said.

[…]

Miguel Suazo, a Democrat on the primary ballot, has repeatedly called out Bush for not demanding that the state tap its rainy day fund, which has about $10 billion available for budget emergencies.

In a January interview with the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Bush expressed support for calling a special session so that the state could provide more money for Harvey relief. A few days after the interview was published, Bush walked back the statement saying he “misspoke.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has said calling a special session is unnecessary.

“I agree that calling a special session is not necessary,” Bush said. “I will continue to work under Gov. Abbott’s leadership as we help Texans throughout the hurricane recovery process.”

Since recovery efforts began, Bush has said the land office is at the mercy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which determines eligibility for the recovery programs and distributes the funds.

Bush has three primary opponents, of whom his predecessor Jerry Patterson would appear to be his biggest threat. I feel like he’ll probably win, but let’s remember, Baby Bush was the top votegetter in the state among Republicans with Democratic opponents in 2014. He toyed with the idea of running for Governor before “settling” on the Land Office while he built his resume and bided his time till the old farts got out of his way and he could ascend to the throne vie for the top spot. He was a rising star, the half-Latino face of the Republican future, and now he could actually fail to win re-nomination. The fact that he has non-token opposition at all is remarkable.

(Oh, and also, too: Secret mansions financed by undisclosed loans. I mean, seriously?)

On the Democratic side, Suazo was the first candidate in, while Morgan filed at the last minute. They both look all right, though at this point I don’t know enough about them to make a choice yet. This is one of those races where I’ll probably let myself be guided by endorsements more than anything else. If you have a strong feeling about either Suazo or Morgan, leave a comment and let us know.

Endorsement watch: Close choices

The Chron endorses on both sides in SD17.

Republican State Senator, District 17: Joan Huffman

State Sen. Joan Huffman has been on board for some pretty bad bills, but it’s hard to overlook her herculean efforts to resolve the city of Houston’s formidable pension problems.

In last year’s legislative session, she carried the ball on a bill to reform the city’s public pensions and did a lot of heavy lifting in negotiations with the affected parties to come up with legislation that didn’t please everybody but, as she told us, likely “saved the city of Houston from bankruptcy.”

That and a sense that Huffman had been less intransigent than in the past earned her the selection by Texas Monthly as one of the best legislators in the 2017 session.

[…]

Huffman, 57, voted in favor of the silly “bathroom bill” that became a national laughing stock and for the macabre bill requiring burial or cremation of an aborted fetus, one of several she supported aimed at making it more difficult to get an abortion.

There were others, but we think Huffman plays below her weight when she panders to her party’s worst instincts.

I get the urge to reward Huffman for her work on the pension reform bill, I really do. But we need to be clear that this kind of productive output is the exception, not the norm. Bathroom bills, “fetal remains”, “sanctuary cities”, vouchers, the continued assault on home rule and local control – this is what Joan Huffman is about. She, like most of her Republican colleagues, will do Dan Patrick’s bidding whenever he tells them to. She was able to do the work she did on the pension bill because Patrick didn’t care to oppose her. As long as she’s there – and as long as he’s there – that’s what she’ll do. Thank her for the good work she was allowed to do if you want, but if you support her this is what you’re going to get. It’s not clear to me the Chron understands that.

On the other side:

Rita Lucido

State Senator, District 17: Rita Lucido

Democrats have two strong candidates running for the opportunity to challenge Republican incumbent Joan Huffman in November.

When Rita Lucido and Fran Watson, both attorneys, speak about the March 6 primary their words reflect their party’s rising anger at Republican extremism and a determination to put an end to it.

People want to “stop the nonsense” of bathroom bills and school vouchers and would “like to see their legislature get down to business and stop wasting time and money,” said Lucido, 61.

Watson, 40, has a youthful, enthusiastic organization seeking votes others have ignored by reaching deep into the neglected nooks and crannies of the district.

Her message is that everyone in Texas should have “equal access to the opportunity to succeed,” but the way is being blocked by state leaders, including Huffman.

Both candidates cited the need for state action on flooding in a post-Harvey world and for stopping the meteoric rise in property taxes.

This was a difficult call between two very talented women, but we endorse Lucido, 61, because, apart from being thoughtful and eloquent, she’s been on the frontlines for change for a long time and is tough as nails.

Much the same could be said of Watson so you can’t go wrong with a vote for either one.

Or you could break the tie in Watson’s favor by citing the need for more youthful enthusiasm in our legislature. I was excited for Watson’s entry in this race, and I remain excited by her candidacy. That’s in no way a knock on Lucido, who is all that the Chron says she is. It is a tough choice between good candidates.

On a side note, several people have reported to me that they don’t see full information on the various 2018 Election pages above. I get a complaint like this every cycle, and it’s very frustrating for me because there’s no pattern to it that I can see. I’m working on it, but I can’t make any promises about fixing a problem that I’m not yet able to diagnose. That said, I want people to be able to see this information, so I’ve come up with a workaround by grabbing the HTML code from my view of the pages and creating new ones based on that. So, if you are one of the people who have had trouble with these pages, try the following instead:

Backup 2018 Congressional
Backup 2018 Legislative
Backup 2018 Judicial
Backup 2018 Harris County

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.

[…]

Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election


   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

Will we ever get an Ike Dike?

We will when it gets funded. When might it get funded? Ummm…

If the Houston-Galveston region continues to boom for the next 60 years and sea level rises as scientists predict, a direct hit to Galveston from a massive hurricane could destroy an estimated $31.8 billion worth of homes, a new study says.

But Texas A&M researchers found that if the government builds a 17-foot barrier about 60 miles long from Galveston Island to Bolivar Peninsula, the potential residential destruction from a storm surge would drop to about $6 billion – a reduction of more than 80 percent.

The only problem: So far, Texas can’t get congressional funding to build the coastal barrier, a proposal that has been floated since Hurricane Ike threatened to make a run for Galveston in 2008.

“The numbers make sense,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, a Friendswood Republican who has tried for years to get federal funding for a coastal barrier, estimated to cost up to $12 billion. “This investment is going to pay for itself time and time again.”

The cost-benefit numbers could change with additional data: The A&M study only looked at damages to homes and apartments from a storm surge – not flooding caused by rainfall – and excludes the potential harm to the region’s commercial buildings and its bustling ports.

[…]

U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a Friendswood Republican, said some Republican lawmakers have pushed back against funding infrastructure as part of disaster relief, warning it sets a bad precedent.

Weber said he hopes to get the coastal barrier included in an infrastructure package if efforts to include it in disaster relief ultimately fail.

“This is foolish for us to just keep paying for these disasters over and over and over again,” Weber said. “How about something to prevent this from happening on the next go around?”

That story was from January, before the budget agreement that included disaster relief, but still no Ike Dike. I should note that the state has been officially asking for Ike Dike money since April, well before Harvey. But you know, there was Obamacare to repeal and tax cuts for millionaires to push and collusion investigations to obstruct. The Republicans have just had their hands full, you know? I’m sure they’ll get to it eventually. Hurricane season doesn’t begin for another four months, right? So there’s no rush.

Endorsement watch: Getting into the county

The Chron goes all in on county races, where they had not spent much time before. Two editorials, with two endorsements per, starting with Commissioners Court.

Adrian Garcia

County Commissioner, Precinct 2: Adrian Garcia

While we lament that he ever stepped down as Harris County sheriff, Adrian Garcia has our support in this run for Commissioners Court. Garcia, 51, is uniquely qualified in this race. He is the only candidate with experience overseeing a budget and staff on this scale. As former sheriff, he knows the problems of an overcrowded jail and would be a loud voice for bail reform. A child of northside neighborhoods, Garcia understands the challenges facing the people who live in Precinct 2, which covers east Harris County and a sliver of north Houston. That includes income inequality, environmental threats around refineries, chronic flooding and a general lack of leadership.

We were particularly swayed when Garcia concisely explained why he opposes County Judge Ed Emmett’s current proposal for a massive billion-dollar (or more) bond sale to fund flood prevention infrastructure. First, he said, the proposal is too vague and needs public hearings. Second, it should be overseen by an independent review board. Third, any bond vote should to be held on Election Day in November rather than hidden on some obscure date.

“Let’s not have Republicans be afraid of having a tax increase next to their names, on the same ballot that they’re on,” Garcia told the editorial board.

Penny Shaw

County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Penny Shaw

If Precinct 4 were its own city, the sprawling north Harris County metropolis would be the 10th largest in the United States, falling between Dallas and San Jose, Calif. Two Democratic candidates are hoping to replace Republican incumbent Jack Cagle as the politician in charge. Penny Shaw, 51, is an attorney specializing in business litigation making her first run for public office. Jeffrey Stauber, 55, is a 32-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office who previously ran an unsuccessful race for sheriff.

These candidates agree on more than they disagree. They both complain that commissioners do far too much of their work behind closed doors. They both think the county needs to spend more on flood control, but they’re reluctant to raise taxes to pay for it. And they both give low marks to County Judge Ed Emmett for failing to do more to protect the county against flooding before Hurricane Harvey.

“Where was he when the sun was out?” Stauber asks.

Stauber would bring to this job decades of experience with county government. But Shaw makes a convincing case that she’s the candidate more likely to “shake up the system” and that she would give Latinas and women in general a voice that’s been missing on the court since Garcia’s departure. She also had the keen insight that commissioners court is “vendor-driven, not community driven” – a problem she hopes to change.

My interview with Penny Shaw is here and with Jeff Stauber is here. Adrian Garcia was my choice for Precinct 2 all along; I didn’t interview in that race but you can easily find past conversations with Garcia in my archives. Shaw has basically swept the endorsements in Precinct 4, which is pretty impressive given that Stauber is a really good candidate. As the piece notes, Precinct 4 is tough territory for Dems, but a decent showing there would at least help with the countywide efforts.

And on that note, the Chron picks their Clerk candidates.

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess

The Harris County district clerk oversees the data infrastructure of the Harris County legal system, including jury summonses and the courts’ electronic filings. Democrat Marilyn Burgess earns our endorsement for this primary slot based on her focus on improving existing practices and her knowledge of office operations. Burgess, 63, calls for enhancing the hourly wage of clerks to reduce turnover, improving the website, adding diversity to the top level of leadership in the department and increasing outreach to improve minority participation in juries. As former executive director of Texas PTA and former president of North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce, Burgess, who is a certified public accountant, is the only candidate in this race who has managed a large organization.

County Clerk: Diane Trautman

Stanart has been a magnet for criticism over his two terms, and Democrats should put forward a strong candidate if they want to take a real shot at winning this seat in November. That means voting for Diane Trautman in the party primary.

Trautman, 67, is the only candidate with both the political experience and professional resume to win this election and serve as an effective county clerk. She was elected countywide to the Harris County Department of Education in 2012. Her background features a doctorate from Sam Houston State with a dissertation on women’s leadership styles and managerial positions in the public and private sector. That includes serving as a principal in Conroe and Tomball ISDs. Meeting with the editorial board, Trautman emphasized the need to improve election security, such as by bringing in outside auditors and creating a paper trail for electronic voting booths. She also proposed ways to improve Harris County’s low turnout rates, such as by opening “voting centers” across Harris County on Election Day instead of forcing people to specific locations.

“We must do better if we want to call ourselves a democracy,” she said.

They gave Stanart more of a spanking in the piece, so be sure to read and enjoy it. As you know, I agree with both these choices. I await their calls in HCDE and the Treasurer’s race.

Friday random ten – Dancing as fast as I can

We should be dancing. Just, you know, not where anyone can see us.

1. Dancin’ Shoes – Rachael Davis
2. Dancing Barefoot – U2
3. Dancing In Isolation – Terri Nunn
4. Dancing In The Dark – Bruce Springsteen/Big Daddy
5. Dancing In The Dark – Kim Wilde
6. Dancing In The Moonlight – King Harvest
7. Dancing Queen – ABBA
8. Dancing The Manta Ray – Pixies
9. Dancing With Mrs. White – Great Big Sea
10. Dancing With Myself – Billy Idol

The Kim Wilde “Dancing In The Dark” is not the same as the Bruce Springsteen “Dancing In The Dark”. Big Daddy’s “Dancing In The Dark” is both the same and not the same as the Springsteen classic, depending on how you look at it. “Dancing In The Moonlight” is from the genre that Dave Barry calls “weenie rock”, and is easy to confuse with “Dance With Me”, by Orleans. Whatever Billy Idol is saying with “Dancing With Myself”, we all danced to it back in the 80s.

Interview with Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

We wrap up the week in HD132, in the westernmost part of Harris County, including the Katy area. Democrats have not usually challenged in this district – going back to the 2001 redistricting, there has been a Democratic candidate in HD132 in only two elections, in 2010 and 2014. That’s as many candidates as we had file for this year, though only one of them appears to be actively campaigning. Carlos Pena did not reply to my email asking for an interview; he does now have a website, on which he says he “could have just as easily run as a Republican”, though he thinks they have gotten too extreme lately. Gina Calanni, on the other hand, has been out there campaigning and is clear about which party she represents. A published author and single mother of three, we had a good discussion about her candidacy, which you can listen to here. I’ll be back to round out the State House interviews next week.

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

Judicial Q&A: James Horwitz

(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.

James Horwitz

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

James S. Horwitz, and I am a Democratic candidate on the March 6, 2018 primary ballot for the Judge for Harris County Probate Court #4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Unfortunately as we all learn sometimes too soon, life is finite and will ultimately end in death. Additionally, age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient. Our society, as represented by our legislature, determined that for these reasons, all of us could use assistance in managing some or all of our daily affairs and ultimately our estate after our death. These activities are often managed by the intervention of Probate Courts. The Texas Constitution grants the Texas Legislature the authority to determine which court handles probate matters.

As a result of the efforts of our Texas Legislature, 10 of the 15 largest counties (specifically including Harris County) have Probate Courts. These Probate Courts handle matters of (i) the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), (ii) guardianship issues, (iii) issues regarding trusts; and (iv) in this Harris County Probate Court # 4, the determination of involuntary commitments of individuals to mental health institutions.

In regard to the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), the Court must:

(1) look to the laws of descent and distribution if one has died without a Will such as by granting an Order of Administration; and
(2) give judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate;and
(3) determine the validity of Wills; and
(4) make orders concerning the provisions of a valid Will (by issuing the Order Admitting a Will to Probate); and
(5) rule on issues of breach of fiduciary duties by executors and administrators of estates.

Because Texas utilizes independent administration of a decedent’s estate, once an applicant’s paperwork has been presented to the Court and approved, that person as a representative of the Decedent’s estate can operate free of any further involvement/supervision by the Probate Court. The vast majority of cases (90%) before the Probate Court are of this nature which allows the Court to operate in merely an administrative function.

In contested matters involving probate with a Will, a Probate Court (1) examines the genuineness of a Will; and/or (2) whether the Will was made under duress or that the Will is not the last Will written by the deceased person. It is the job of the Probate Court to decide which Will is authentic. Once that determination is made, the Probate Court appoints an Executor to fulfill the terms of the Will. In many cases, an Executor is named in the Will and the court appoints that person. The Executor then executes the Will according to the deceased person’s wishes as stated in his/her Will.

When age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient, the establishment of a guardianship can occur. A guardianship is a relationship established by a Probate Court between the person who needs help – called a ward – and the person or entity named by the court to help the ward. This person or entity is known as a guardian. In Texas, a person does not have a guardian until an application to appoint one is filed with the court, a hearing is held and a judge then appoints a guardian. When the court appointment is made, the person the guardian cares for becomes the ward. There are different types of guardianships available in Texas. They are:

• Guardian of the person, full or limited
• Guardian of the estate, full or limited.
• Guardian of the person and estate.
• Temporary guardianship.

In addition to individuals, entities and guardianship programs can be appointed guardians. Guardians have legal responsibilities and are required to perform certain tasks and make reports to the Court while providing assistance to their wards.

The Probate Court should look at the individuals and programs willing to be guardians and base the appointment of guardians on several factors including: a preference to appointing a qualifying family member or another loved one such as a partner as guardian rather than guardianship programs or court appointed attorneys. The Probate Court also should establish how much freedom a ward may have to make his/her own decisions. The Probate Court should decide limitations on a guardian’s authority.

Finally this particular probate court has a mental health docket that can determine when folks are incapaciated and need hospitalization to protect themselves from harming themselves or the public from possibly being harmed from such an individual.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Civic engagement and community involvement have been an integral part of my public life since college. I see my job as a judge to be the natural progression of my abilities to continue to help the community. I believe in ensuring the law is equitably and honestly applied. I also believe we should seek ways of reducing costs for parties needing to appear before the Probate Court, such as encouraging more mediation. However, a unique aspect of my platform is working to create more community outreach. A Probate Judge should be impartial but not isolated from the community that elects he or she. As a private attorney for more than 40 years I have assisted individuals develop their estate plans utilizing Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and other ancillary documents necessary for a comprehensive estate plan. My platform as a candidate for the probate bench is to expand that activity to include county wide activities. I believe the Probate Court should interact with the community far more than it currently does, with special emphasis on certain issues such as:

1. According to the legal database Lexis Nexis, nearly two thirds of adults in Texas do not have a will. In Texas, this is called dying intestate. Basically, if you do not have a will, then the State Legislature writes one for you. The “legislature-written will” tries its best to effectuate the person’s most-likely intent, but people are inherently different and unique. A common issue is that a person who has a spouse and two children (born to that spouse)would not, under the “legislature-written will,” give their entire estate to the widowed, even though many would-be testators would seek to do this if given a chance. There cannot be an executor if the person dies without a will. The court must appoint an administrator instead, which often requires approval from the court for a plethora of routine acts. This can spend valuable money and time better served going to the deceased’s loved ones.

I want to help the Harris County community write more wills. I think the county and the court system ought to be more active in the community, encouraging folks to write wills and be familiar with the law.

If I could change the law, I would prefer for folks who cannot afford an attorney to be provided one by the Probate Court in order to do things like write wills. But I am running for the Bench, and not the Legislature, so I want to best inform people, if hiring a lawyer is infeasible for any reason, how to take the most advantage of a law.

Texas embraces an old concept called the Holographic Will. This basically means a handwritten will. In Texas, a will written entirely in one’s own handwriting may be admitted to probate even without the byzantine formalities required of type-written wills. This provides a cheaper option for those who may be economically unable to retain an attorney.

I will help the Harris County community learn how to write holographic wills, or formal wills, whichever individuals may prefer, so that their final wishes may be respected easier and cheaper than intestacy.

2. An obstacle that often prevents folks, including those in our community, from seeking justice or remedies via the judiciary is the persistence of rumors, which are often incorrect. There is sometimes misconceptions about what the law says or what is excludes. In seeking out the community, I specifically want to help disprove persistent myths.

For example, Estates Code §201.060 prevents discrimination against heirs or devisees (basically, anyone who stands to receive something through the probate process) based upon their, to use the word in the statute, “alienage.” Since the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, this state has eschewed the old common law rule that allowed for inheritances only to citizens. So whether or not someone is a citizen is immaterial to whether or not they can inherit.

3. Additionally, there is no legal prohibition against writing a will in a foreign language. Wills need not be written in English in order to be admitted to probate.

4. Another issue in the community is that of Medical Powers of Attorney, Durable Powers of Attorney and Advanced Directives (Living Wills). I wish to better inform the community of what these documents mean, how to create them and why most folks should consider using them.

This is another example where I fear rumors can dissuade folks from executing what are otherwise imperative documents. For example, a Medical Power of Attorney or an Advanced Directive does not necessarily mean you are consenting to someone “pulling the plug,” so to speak.

These documents can be as detailed as the person creating them wants them to be. They can retain whatever powers the creator wishes to be retained.

I often say in my practice that there are few things one can really get their way. A significant activity that a person can have their way is in regard to their estate plan and probate matters. These forms do not box the creator into anything but what they choose, and are invaluable for making decisions after one is unable to do so.

5. Another aspect of the Probate Court system is the guardianship process. In Texas, if a person is deemed unable to care for him or herself, often an elderly or disabled person, then a guardian is appointed to care for that person. Most often it is a family member or other close friend, but sometimes, if none are available or the judge thinks such choices are too risky, a guardian ad litem is provided. Such a guardian ad litem is a professional paid for by the estate assets.

There are sometimes horror stories of abuses by such professionals. Fortunately, Harris County has a fairly robust system to clamp down on abuse, and entities such as the Senior Justice Assessment Center (SJAC) has arisen of late to protect such people from abuses, neglect and exploitation. Like other community projects, I believe that the best way to protect against inequities is to be prepared in planning one’s estate. Designating agents in powers of attorney (including a durable or medical one) is one such opportunity.

But the judge has discretion to determine when friends or family are insufficient guardians. I promise to make that determination holistically, looking at not just economic factors but social ones as well, in recognition of what is in the best interest of the family overall.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for more than forty years in Harris County, Texas. I have represented thousands of clients in regard to their estate planning and their needs in Probate Court as well as at all levels of civil, corporate, criminal, family, juvenile and appellate courts in Harris County, as well as a multitude of other counties in Texas. My extensive background in family law is a definite asset in probate work since the determining the proper characterization of community versus separate property is essential when dealing with intestate estates and the distribution of such assets to relatives of the deceased individual. The probate court also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Civil Courts involving issues such as wrongful death/personal injuries that can affect a person’s estate or well being. For more than four decades I have represented individuals and families of individuals that have been presented with such terrible circumstances. I have handled all types of probate matters repeatedly for more than 40 years. A successful judge should include the qualities of experience, wisdom, compassion and knowledge. I certainly have the experience and knowledge base from the decades of legal practice. The wide variety of my legal practice has provided me with the wisdom to understand all types of people, recently divorced, accused criminals, business owners, disabled children and elderly parents all among them. All of my experiences provide me with the wisdom, and I believe the compassion, to be a successful judge. As I mentioned above in this questionnaire, the vast majority of work handled by the Probate Court is administrative non-contested matters. It is when a matter is contested, needing a trial that my long experience and acquired knowledge as a trial lawyer become so necessary to be a successful judge.

Additionally, being involved in the community helping to service the needs of those individuals that can be impacted by the Probate Court is a unique qualification for a probate judge. Having and showing compassion is in my opinion is a necessary ingredient for this probate bench. I work with families of disabled children helping those families get legally mandated special needs services from the public school. I have continuously worked as a volunteer at the Harris Center for Disabled Individuals. Recently in 2017 because of my history of working with incapaciated individuals, District Attorney Kim Ogg appointed myself and former Sheriff Adrian Garcia as Co-Chairs of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s mental health issues in the criminal justice system transition committee. I authored the report on this subject which was presented to District Attorney Ogg.

5. Why is this race important?

The Judge must be very familiar with the law and able to rule on legal matters including the admissibility of evidence and the procedures required to conduct trials and hearings. Uncontested matters will be heard by a judge. Contested matters will be heard by a trier of fact, either the judge alone or by a jury.

If a matter is solely before a judge, the judge is the ultimate decision maker as to the credibility of the evidence presented. In that case no one else has more power than the judge as to the believability of the facts presented. In those instances, the judge is the Supreme Court of the facts and the law of the case since the judge must decide whether testimony is credible. As a judge, that person is an officer and representative of the government. He or she cannot allow personal or religious views to cloud one’s judgment. He or she must uphold the law and apply them to all citizens equally. Having qualified individuals be on the bench in Harris County, Texas is required in order to protect the rights of all individuals that come before the Court. Ideology has no place in our judicial system.

For far too long in Harris County, Texas , Republican judges have imposed their belief systems upon our community that can impact their decisions when on the bench. One need to look no further than the decision of the Republican judges not to marry anyone. That decision is based upon the fact that if a judge agrees to marry a couple, that couple might be a same sex couple and the republican orthodoxy in Harris County does not support same sex marriage. Imagine a same sex couple that have not been formally married and one of those individuals die without a Will. A probate judge without an ideological bent could weigh the evidence fairly in a determination of whether the couple were common law married.

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

Probate Court, as an administrative court, has an unusually high percentage of routine cases that are merely rubberstamped by the court. It is when there is a contest that trial experience becomes so necessary. When I began my legal practice, my primary opponent hadn’t even been born. Experience counts. For forty years, I have represented thousands of clients in estate planning and probate court as well as at all levels of the civil, criminal, family, and juvenile courts in Harris County, Texas, including also a multitude of other jurisdictions in Texas. According to the district and county clerk records of Harris County, my primary opponent has not appeared in any civil cases. Wisdom counts. My sound judgment has been gleaned from over four decades of work providing assistance to individuals and their families through my dedication to quality, my understanding of the foibles of people, and my understanding of the law. Compassion counts. I have the life experiences that have demonstrated my care for the unfortunate, the disabled, and the grieving.

Fifth Circuit largely upholds bail practices ruling

Good.

The 26-page opinion by Judge Edith Brown Clement affirms the majority of Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s landmark ruling, including her finding that the county’s bail policies violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

However, Clement and fellow judges Edward C. Prado and Catarina Haynes disagreed with Rosenthal’s analysis on three matters and sent the case back for her to reconsider those elements.

They concluded Rosenthal was overly broad in her analysis of the due process violation and in extending no-cash bail to all indigent defendants. They found her demand that qualified defendants be released within 24 hours was “too onerous,” opting instead for a 48-hour window.

They also ordered Rosenthal to fine tune how officials assess a defendant’s ability to pay bond.

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, a supporter of the lawsuit who traveled to New Orleans to hear the oral arguments in the case, called it “a significant victory for justice.”

“With this decision, the conservative 5th Circuit is telling Harris County that it’s unconstitutional to have two justice systems: one for the rich and one for the poor,” Ellis said. “Yet Harris County has already spent more than $5 million defending a morally and legally indefensible bail system that violates the Constitution and punishes people simply because they are poor.”

[…]

Attorney Neal Manne, whose firm, Susman Godfrey, joined in filing the lawsuit, praised the decision.

“I am absolutely thrilled by the ruling, which is a huge and historic victory for our clients,” he said.

The appeals judges found that the county had acted mechanically in reviewing bond decisions, failing to take the time to consider economic factors. The ruling summarized Rosenthal’s equal protection findings by imagining the outcomes for two hypothetical misdemeanor defendants, identical in every way — facing the same charge, from the same criminal backgrounds, living in the same circumstances — except that one was wealthy and the other indigent.

While the wealthy arrestee was less likely to plead guilty and get a shorter sentence or be acquitted, and less likely to pay the social costs of incarceration, it found, the poor arrestee, “must bear the brunt of all of these, simply because he has less money than his wealthy counterpart,” they wrote.

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. This was basically how I read it based on the coverage of the arguments. I agree with attorney Manne and Commissioner Ellis that this is a great ruling, and that it’s way past time to settle this effing thing.

The Trib adds on:

But the ruling wasn’t a total win for the plaintiffs. The appellate court still said Rosenthal’s ruling was “overbroad” and asked her to narrow some of the orders against the county.

Perhaps of most significance, the appellate court pushed back on Rosenthal’s order for the sheriff to release at no cost all misdemeanor defendants who claim they can’t afford their bond within 24 hours of arrest, regardless of whether they’ve had their bail reviewed or set at a higher cost. The appellate judges appeared suspicious about Rosenthal’s time limit in their hearing and said Wednesday that it was too strict.

In sending the case back to Rosenthal for a modified ruling, the higher court suggested an injunction that demands that poor defendants who claim they can’t afford their bail be entitled to a hearing within 48 hours of arrest where they can argue for a lower or no-cost bond.

If a judicial officer declines to lower the bond at this hearing, he or she would have to put the reason for their decision in writing, and the arrestee would then get a formal bail review hearing before a judge. If, after those 48 hours, there are no records showing an individualized bail review process took place, the sheriff could release the defendant at no cost.

‘The 48-hour requirement is intended to address the endemic problem of misdemeanor arrestees being detained until case disposition and pleading guilty to secure faster release from pretrial detention,” Clement wrote.

I’m fine with that, and I expect the plaintiffs will be as well. Mark Bennett sums it up.

It’s time for the fourteen criminal court at law judges to declare victory and go home. ((Just between you and me, this opinion is a rout for the judges. The changes are small, and the current injunction remains in place until Judge Rosenthal modifies it.))

Indeed. I really hope this time they listen.

Lawsuit over how judges are elected statewide goes to trial

Hey, remember that lawsuit that argued that statewide elections of judges was discriminatory against Latinos? The case is being heard in court this week.

El Paso lawyer Carmen Rodriguez and Juanita Valdez-Cox, a community organizer in the Rio Grande Valley, live hundreds of miles from each other, but they share an electoral grievance that could upend the way Texans fill seats on the state’s highest courts.

For years, Rodriguez and Valdez-Cox have noticed that campaigning for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals hardly reaches their corners of the state. And it’s left them feeling so neglected and undermined as voters that they decided to the sue Texas over the statewide election system it uses to fill seats on those courts.

“I think every vote should count and should have equal weight as much as possible,” Rodriguez testified in federal court on Monday on the first day of a week-long trial in a case challenging the state’s current election method for the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals. But those campaigning for those seats hardly make their case to El Paso voters, Rodriguez added, so “they don’t seem to need our vote.”

That sentiment is a key component to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Rodriguez, six other Hispanic voters and Valdez-Cox’s organization, La Union del Pueblo Entero, that alleges the statewide method of electing judges violates the federal Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the voting power of Texas Hispanics and keeps them from electing their preferred candidates.U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has set aside the rest of the week for the trial during which the plaintiffs’ lawyers will work to convince Ramos that Texas should adopt a single-member approach — similar to those employed by some city councils and school boards — that would carve up districts geographically in a way that could allow for Latino-majority voting districts.

“The courts cannot be the great equalizer of our social fabric when one group — Latinos — are disadvantaged in the election process,” Jose Garza, an attorney representing the voters, said in his opening statement Monday.

Throughout the day, Garza and other attorneys representing the voters suing the state called up individual plaintiffs and election law and history experts to help make their case that the state’s current system for electing Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals judges “submerges Latino voters” in a manner that violates Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits an electoral practice or procedure that discriminates against voters.

Lawyers for the Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the state in court, will offer up their own experts later in the week in hopes of dispelling those claims. The state’s lead attorney, Patrick Sweeten, on Monday provided a preview of their arguments when he described their defense and the plaintiffs’ arguments as “two ships passing in the night” because the state’s evidence will show that the plaintiffs cannot meet their legal burden of proving a Section 2 violation.

The state is also expected to call up an expert witness who will argue that single-member districts would “disempower more Hispanic voters than they could potentially empower” because they would only be able to vote for one seat on each high court instead of casting a ballot for all 18 seats.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers spent a large portion of the day arguing that that point would only hold up if you assumed Latinos had the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to begin with.

See here and here for some background. The plaintiffs survived a motion to dismiss a few months ago. This story was from Tuesday, but I haven’t seen anything more recent so I can’t say how the trial is going. Seems like a heavy lift to me, and there’s an argument to be made that districting the courts would put a ceiling on the number of Latinos that could be elected. You have to figure that sooner or later things will be different for statewide races. That said, I very much understand not wanting to wait, though of course taking a court case to completion will take some number of years. We’re at the start of that process, and we’ll see how it goes. Courthouse News and KUT have more.

Interview with Marty Schexnayder

Marty Schexnayder

We come for a return engagement in HD133. For all the legitimate issues in our state and around the country with gerrymandering, HD133 is fairly close to a plain old rectangle, bordered by I-10 to the north, Westheimer to the south, Beltway 8 Highway 6 to the west and Loop 610 to the east. It’s kind of like a more Republican version of HD134, including the large number of Trump refuseniks in 2016. Hoping to persuade those voters to keep standing firm is native Houstonian Marty Schexnayder. An attorney and UT graduate, Schexnayder volunteers at his church and serves on the board of directors for Faith in Practice, a non-profit agency dedicated to providing medical services to the citizens of Guatemala. Here’s our conversation:

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