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Election 2018

Judicial Q&A: Chuck Silverman

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

Chuck Silverman

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

I am Chuck Silverman and I am the Democratic Party candidate for the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas.

I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and attended Tulane University where I received my undergraduate, master's and law degrees. I have lived in Houston since 1986. I am married and have three children. In my spare time I enjoy cycling and shooting skeet and sporting clays.

For more information please visit www.Chuck4Judge.com.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd District Court handles felony cases. Felonies are the most serious criminal cases and include murder, aggravated robbery, and sexual assault. The sentences in these cases can range from a period of probation to life imprisonment or in some instances, death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am passionate about the law and how it should be applied equally and fairly to all, regardless of race, religion or financial situation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a broad range of legal experience that will serve me well as a district court judge. I have practiced law for over three decades and have represented hundreds of clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts. In addition to my litigation experience, I have represented clients in administrative hearings and alternative dispute resolution forums throughout Texas. For the last 11 years I have been the General Counsel of a multinational corporation. I believe that a judge must be an effective administrator and a fair-minded decision maker. I am confident that I can be both.

5. Why is this race important?

One of the major issues facing the criminal justice system in Harris County is the fact that for too long Harris County has had two systems of justice. One for those who have money and the other for those who don’t. A significant percentage of those incarcerated in the Harris County Jail are awaiting trial. Consequently, I think there is a need to reform the systemic denial of personal recognizance bonds to nonviolent defendants in felony cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

My hard work ethic, calm demeanor, impartiality, courtroom experience and knowledge of the law make me a superior candidate. I have more than 32 years of legal experience and have many published appellate court decisions. Additionally, I have a good judicial temperament, would be fair to lawyers and litigants and have the extensive depth of legal knowledge required of a district court judge.

Chron profiles both County Judge candidates

Good story on Lina Hidalgo.

Lina Hidalgo

First-time candidate Lina Hidalgo hopes Harris County voters frustrated with what she says is poor leadership on flood control and criminal justice reform will help her defeat longtime County Judge Ed Emmett.

Hidalgo, 27, is the Democratic nominee for the county’s top executive position. She is one of a record number of Hispanic candidates in Harris County this year, and would be the first woman and Latina county judge. Democrats are betting high turnout among their voters, which helped defeat a Republican sheriff and district attorney in 2016, will overcome Emmett’s broad popularity with residents.

“What I have is the moral compass to ensure we are putting the community’s interests ahead of the next election,” Hidalgo said in an interview at her Galleria campaign headquarters.

Even in a year where Democrats are motivated by a viable Senate candidate and united in anger against an unpopular president, Hidalgo faces a tough task. She is running against possibly the most popular local figure who did not win the World Series last year. Though Emmett has more experience, is far more well known and has raised more money than Hidalgo, election researchers say she has a path to victory if too many Democrats forget to vote for him.

Hidalgo’s background is similar to those of the one-quarter of Harris County residents who are immigrants. She was born in Colombia in 1991, during that country’s war with drug cartels, and moved with her parents and younger brother first to Mexico, and then to Houston in 2005. She graduated from Seven Lakes High School in Katy ISD in 2009, and earned a political science degree from Stanford University four years later.

She enrolled in 2015 in a joint master’s program at Harvard University and law program at New York University. As part of her studies she has interned with the public defender’s office in New Orleans and an inmate mental health project in New York City. Back in Houston, she spent two summers at Ben Taub Hospital translating for Spanish-speaking patients.

Putsata Reang, her supervisor during a research project in Thailand studying free speech rights in Southeast Asian countries, described her as a hard worker eager to take initiative.

“She’s like this incredible force where we were getting 10 employees out of one because of the sheer workload she could handle,” Reang said.

Go read the rest, then take a look at the companion piece on Judge Emmett.

Judge Ed Emmett

If there is a nightmare keeping Harris County Judge Ed Emmett awake at night, it may go like this: It starts months before November, when Democrats tell pollsters they, of course, will vote for Emmett, even though he’s a Republican. They like how he led the county during Hurricane Harvey, and the storms before that, stretching back to Ike a decade ago.

Election Day arrives. A surge of Democrats turn out, motivated by anger with Republicans at the top of the ticket and President Donald Trump, who is absent from the ballot. They have no quarrel with Emmett. But the lines are long, the ballot is long, and the county judge’s race is below dozens of state and federal contests.

At the top of the ballot, however, voters can select the straight ticket of their party with one button. Democrats pick theirs, and leave. And Emmett loses to a 27-year-old who never has held political office.

That is the scenario, in the last Texas election with straight-ticket voting, election researchers say could sweep Emmett out of office. Though Emmett is likely to win a third full term, they said in an election in which Republican voters likely will be a minority, the judge should be reminding Democrats to buck their party and stick with him.

“It’s all about Democrats voting for Ed,” said Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility, however remote or odd it sounds, that Democrats never remember to.”

[…]

Stein said his research shows Emmett winning re-election, but with only around 55 percent of the vote — despite being viewed positively by 70 to 80 percent of the electorate. University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said Emmett, though popular, could become collateral damage in a backlash against the Republican Party.

“The wave may very well drown a moderate Republican,” he said. “That’s true for Emmett and, potentially, for State Rep. Sarah Davis.”

You should read the rest of this one as well, but let me push back a little on the math here. In 2014, the undervote rate in the dozens of contested judicial elections was consistently right around four percent. That amounted to roughly 30,000 votes in each of those races, and in every case that total number of non-votes was smaller than the margin of victory, in race where the victorious Republican candidate mostly drew between 53 and 55 percent. Going farther down the ballot, in the non-judicial countywide contests that appeared after Emmett, the undervote in the races for District Clerk was 4.09%, for County Clerk was 3.90%, and for County Treasurer was 3.46%. I feel like if people remembered to vote for Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, they’d probably not forget to vote for Ed Emmett.

As for the estimated share of the vote Emmett might get, we can’t really look at 2014 because he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. In 2010, when most Republican judicial candidates were getting between 55 and 57 percent of the vote, Emmett received 60.6%, so he ran between four and six points better than his partymates. I think 55 is on the high end of the spectrum for Emmett this year, but it’s plausible. The real question I have is, what do you think the baseline percentage for Republicans elsewhere will be? I fully expect Emmett to exceed the baseline, as he has done in the past, but he can’t completely defy gravity. He’s going to need the Republican base vote to be there as well, and if it isn’t then he’ll be in trouble.

My interview with Lina Hidalgo is here if you haven’t already listened to it. I think we can all acknowledge that Ed Emmett has been a good County Judge while at the same time recognizing that there are things we could be doing differently, priorities we could choose to elevate or diminish, and causes we could support or oppose with more vigor. Campos has more.

Interview with Kim Olson

Kim Olson

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

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

Prairie View voting dispute resolved

Good news.

Mike Siegel

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

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

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

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

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

CD31 “live poll” Carter 53, Hegar 38

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

Final voter registration numbers

Busy last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Olson, Kulkarni, Schexnayder

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

Kim Olson

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

This one is refreshing.

Sri Kulkarni

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

This has a bit of a surprise.

Marty Schexnayder

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

O’Rourke raises $38 million in Q3

That’s a lot.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the inbox:

Miguel Suazo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Three for four

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

HD132: Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

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

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

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

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

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

HD135: Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

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

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

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

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

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

HD138: Adam Milasincic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

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

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

Quinnipiac (LV): Cruz 54, O’Rourke 45

Everyone take a deep breath about the latest Quinnipiac result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: One out of three will have to do

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane Trautman

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the hell is going on in Waller County?

From Josh Marshall at TPM:

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

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

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

Mike Siegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Sandra Peake

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

Sandra Peake

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

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

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

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

Thank you for your consideration.

College students and evangelical women

Will they really vote for Beto?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will they actually turn out for Beto?

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

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

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

It’s never quite transpired.

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Criminal court judges

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

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

Interview with Lina Hidalgo

Lina Hidalgo

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

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

CBS-YouGov: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 44 (LV)

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

[…]

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

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

Judicial Q&A: Beau Miller

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

Beau Miller

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

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

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

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

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

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

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

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

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

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

5. Why is this race important?

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

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

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

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

Today is the last day to register to vote

Take action as needed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Interview with Justin Nelson

Justin Nelson

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

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

The updated scenarios for a SD06 special election

It’s complicated.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Apparently, that pay parity debate did happen

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

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Lizzie

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

Lizzie Fletcher

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday video break: Vote ‘Em Out

Listen to Willie Nelson, y’all.

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

Endorsement watch: Star system

The Chron has made a change in how it presents its endorsements.

The quality of candidates on the ballot varies widely from race to race. At times, both candidates are good choices. At times, there are no good choices to be had. Still, the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements. Why? Because in the end voters have to vote. They have to make the hard decision. So should we.

As such, we may end up endorsing a mediocre candidate. We may end up not endorsing an excellent candidate. Not all endorsements are equal. That’s one reason why we’re adding an extra dimension to our endorsements this year by ranking candidates on a five-star system. Star rankings can help voters easily compare candidates across different races.

These ratings are specific to each individual race — a five-star judge might make for a two-star representative. A candidate who impresses one year might fumble in the next election.

They then go on to illustrate what each of the ratings – one star through five stars – means. I always appreciate transparency in process, but I’ll be honest, I never had a hard time telling in the past how the Chron felt about a candidate or a choice in a race. To their credit, they did a good job of making it clear when they really liked a candidate or were just settling on the lesser of two evils. You knew when it was a tough choice or an obvious call. I didn’t always understand why they liked or didn’t like someone, but that’s a much more subjective question. The star system puts a quantitative value on this, but I at least don’t feel like it shone much more light on the system. Your mileage may vary, and again I do applaud the effort even if it feels marginal to me.

One other point – In the endorsements they have done so far, all in judicial races, they have a couple of races where both candidates get the same star rating. They broke the ties in favor of the (Republican) incumbents in these cases, but it’s not totally clear why the scales tipped in that direction. Given that the stated intent was to help make the tough choices, why not make the measurement system more precise? Give everyone a numeric value, say on a one to five scale (Candidate A gets a 4.6, Candidate B a 4.5) or even 1 to 100. Go nuts with it. If the idea is that there are no ties, then calibrate the metric to reflect that.

Anyway. Of the races so far, Jason Cox is the only endorsed Democrat. The races are in the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals plus the County Probate Court races. I strongly suspect we’ll see more Dems getting the nod when we get to the County Criminal Court races.

In other endorsement news, the Texas ParentPAC gets involved in some, but not all, statewide races.

A group of pro-public school parents is doling out political endorsements to dozens of candidates this year but is refusing to back Democrat Lupe Valdez because her campaign for governor is lacking, the group’s co-founder said Thursday.

“She doesn’t meet our criteria for endorsement,” said Dinah Miller, a Texas mom who helped form Texas Parent PAC. “You’ve got to have a really good campaign put together and she just doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure.”

The group won’t endorse Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, either.

[…]

Texas Parent PAC endorsed Democrats Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Justin Nelson for attorney general, saying those candidates are the most critical to improving public education. The group wants to defeat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, two conservative Republicans who support school vouchers, which allow parents to send their students to private school with public education funds. Abbott also supports school vouchers.

Here’s their press release. I wish they had made a call in the Governor’s race, but I understand where they’re coming from. It is what it is.

Last but not least, from the inbox and the campaign of Nathan Johnson for SD16:

Fellow Texans,

With the critical issues of education, health, transportation and other infrastructure so important to the state of Texas, it is important that all thirty-one Texas state senators be focused on solutions and not lobbyists and special interest large donors. It is important that a state senator be focused on the senate district and Texas and not a rating on fabricated conservative scorecards produced to promote a selfish agenda and not the overall well-being of the people of Texas. Don Huffines does not meet any of these criteria.

Huffines is one of the most ineffective members of the Texas Senate. He has passed virtually no bills and nothing of consequence. His demagoguery has prevented him from effectively representing his constituents and the people of Texas. On his first day as a state senator, Huffines was on the front steps of the Capitol supporting a challenger to the speaker of the House of Representatives who already had more than the required number of votes for reelection.

Apparently, Mr. Huffines did not know senate bills have to go through the house. He compromised his office and district by getting involved in something a senator had no business in.

Fortunately, the voters of Senate District 16 have a viable choice in Nathan Johnson. While as a conservative Republican I would rather be supporting a Republican for this election,Mr. Huffines’ lack of leadership and accomplishment leave little choice. Senate District 16 deserves better. Mr. Johnson and I do disagree on ProLife issues as well as some second amendment issues, but he is clearly the better candidate.

I served Dallas and Dallas County for twelve years in the Texas Senate. By listening to my constituents, including their other elected officials, and with their help we accomplished much. Mr. Huffines seems to be tone deaf to all as he pursues an agenda for himself and supporters from Austin, west Texas and Houston. What kind of elected official yells at visiting children when they ask him questions about an issue? The answer is: Don Huffines.

It is sad that low voter turnout in Republican primaries has allowed a small number of voters to give us the likes of Bob Hall, Don Huffines, and Koni Burton to represent the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and surrounding rural areas. This is a viable and growing area. We need more.

I moved to Dallas as a child in 1960. I love this area. Dallas and Senate District 16 need strong and effective leadership in the state senate and not rote scorecard voting. We need an informed and independent senator that will put the district and Texas first. We have that in Nathan Johnson.

Regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, if you care about the important issues facing our community and state you will vote for Nathan Johnson.

Bob Deuell, M.D.
Former Member, Texas Senate
Greenville, Texas

Dang. Deuell was definitely a conservative, at least in the sense of that word ten years or so ago, but he was about as collegial as they came in the Senate. I happened to be in Austin in 2013 for a tenth anniversary celebration of the Aardmore Exodus, which was a very partisan event. The celebration attendees were overwhelmingly Democratic, as one might imagine, with one prominent exception: Bob Deuell, then still in the Senate, sitting in at the drums (he’s quite talented) with the Bad Precedents. You can view this however you like, but based on what I know of Bob Deuell, I take him at his word in this letter.

Interview with Andrea Duhon

Andrea Duhon

We had a couple of contested primaries for HCDE Trustee, which gave me the chance to talk about what HCDE does as I published interviews with those candidates. I figure lots of us don’t know all that much about this entity, which does a lot of work with the ISDs in Harris County to improve and deliver more services. That’s how Andrea Duhon came to be a candidate for Trustee in Precinct 3, which is the precinct of County Commissioner Steve Radack. Seeking answers from her school district about a particular program, she was pointed to HCDE for the answer, and after that encounter she decided she could do a better job. A financial services representative and active duty military spouse, Duhon also serves as a leader for the Lone Star Veterans Association. Here’s what we talked about:

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

The pay parity proposal debate that wasn’t

Let’s not get ready to rumble!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s firefighters union has withdrawn from a Saturday debate with Mayor Sylvester Turner on their proposal to seek pay “parity” with police officers, saying the event’s host, the Harris County Democratic Party, had given the mayor too much control over the event.

The hour-long event would have marked the first time the mayor and the union addressed the contentious issue on the same stage.

“We looked forward to the debate,” Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a Wednesday morning statement, “but we recognize that party insiders failed to stop the manipulation of the ground rules to advantage the mayor. We are disappointed in the HCDP’s acquiescence to the mayor, but are grateful for the support of HCDP precinct chairs and the many Houstonians they represent.”

Among the union’s complaints were that Houston Chronicle opinion editor Lisa Falkenberg was to serve as moderator (the editorial board expressed opposition to the parity proposal in July 2017), and that Democratic Party officials did not agree to let Lancton address precinct chairs or let them vote on whether to endorse the proposition.

Alas. Here’s the earlier story announcing the event that was the original basis of this post. I am not able to be there for this not-a-forum, but perhaps you can be.

County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter said the party engaged in “extensive conversations” with both camps on the format of the discussion but respects the union’s decision to withdraw.

“The event details appeared in a Facebook announcement seen and approved by all parties last week. It is unfortunate the firefighter’s union has determined these details do not meet their needs,” she said. “We regret voters will not hear from the firefighter’s union at this time. Mayor Turner and Lisa are welcome to use the full hour we have allotted for this event.”

The party’s leadership committee, after hearing from the fire union at a recent meeting, Schechter said, voted to schedule the debate to hear from both sides. She said the gathering was never envisioned as ending in a vote, saying such votes only occur at quarterly gatherings of all precinct chairs, the last of which was held Sept. 13.

Yes, speaking as a precinct chair, that’s how our rules work. Precinct chairs vote to endorse or not endorse ballot measures like this at our quarterly meetings. We endorsed the flood bond referendum at the June meeting, for instance. There were members from the firefighters’ union at the September meeting, talking up their proposal, but no motion for an endorsement vote. Which I have to say would have been contentious, and because of that I’m glad it didn’t come up. I don’t know what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but I do know they could have made a pretty big fuss about this at the meeting if they had wanted to.

Personally, I think an event like this, aimed at the general public, rather than an agenda item for a normally dry meeting of precinct chairs, would be a much better way to allow both sides to air their views (I’m assuming that if Lancton had been given time to address us, then Mayor Turner or a representative from his office would have been given time as well). But hey, whatever. Perhaps the Mayor and Lisa Falkenberg can discuss the cost of this referendum.

The cost of Houston firefighters’ push for pay parity with police of corresponding rank and seniority could be 14 percent cheaper than what Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration has estimated, city Controller Chris Brown said Tuesday.

Brown’s office estimates that the proposal, which will appear as Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot, will cost $85.2 million a year, lower than the $98.6 million figure Turner has used. Neither estimate includes the 7 percent raise police would receive over the next two years if the city council approves a new proposed contract this week. That would increase the cost if voters decide to link fire and police salaries.

Brown acknowledged his analysis required a series of assumptions related to how the parity proposal would be implemented, and said the estimate shows the cost of the proposal would be “unsustainable.”

“The controller’s office believes that a sustainable solution exists but can only be achieved through negotiation in the collective bargaining process,” Brown said while presenting his estimate to the city council’s budget committee. “It’s through that process that the men and women of HFD should be able to negotiate a well-deserved raise, but also a well-deserved raise the city can actually afford over the long term.”

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton viewed Brown’s analysis as vindication of his view that Turner’s estimate is inflated.

“As the city controller proved today, the mayor’s Proposition B claims cannot be trusted. His math, like his judgment, is driven by an obsession with punishing Houston firefighters,” Lancton said.

[…]

Brown and Turner’s estimates are nearly identical on the projected increase to firefighters’ base salaries and the associated increase in retirement benefits: that roughly 20 percent increase would cost about $65 million per year.

The two estimates differ mostly on various incentives and allowances known as “special pays,” some of which firefighters receive now but which parity would increase, and some of which firefighters would receive for the first time if voters approve the measure.

Not sure how a reduction in the cost estimate from $98 million to $85 million is a vindication of the firefighters’ case, especially when $85 million is still a pretty damn big number and Controller Brown calls it “unsustainable”, but maybe that’s just me. I continue to believe this thing is going to pass so I sure hope the cost estimates we are seeing are overblown, but all things being equal I’d rather not have to find out. Be that as it may, if you don’t know what to make of all this, go attend the not-a-forum and see what you think.

Why FiveThirtyEight really believes Beto has a chance

Nate Silver explains the reasoning behind the numbers.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

When building a statistical model, you ideally want to find yourself surprised by the data some of the time — just not too often. If you never come up with a result that surprises you, it generally means that you didn’t spend a lot of time actually looking at the data; instead, you just imparted your assumptions onto your analysis and engaged in a fancy form of confirmation bias. If you’re constantly surprised, on the other hand, more often than not that means your model is buggy or you don’t know the field well enough; a lot of the “surprises” are really just mistakes.

So when I build election forecasts for FiveThirtyEight, I’m usually not surprised by the outcomes they spit out — unless they’re so surprising (a Republican winning Washington, D.C.?) that they reflect a coding error I need to fix. But there are exceptions, and one of them came in the U.S. Senate race in Texas between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. I was pretty sure that once we introduced non-polling factors into the model — what we call the “fundamentals” — they’d shift our forecast toward Cruz, just as they did for Marsha Blackburn, the Republican candidate in Tennessee. That’s not what happened, however. Instead, although Cruz is narrowly ahead in the polls right now, the fundamentals slightly helped O’Rourke. Our model thinks that Texas “should” be a competitive race and believes the close polling there is no fluke.

[…]

It’s the other factors that push the race toward toss-up status, however. When a challenger has previously held an elected office, they tend to perform better with each level higher that office is. To run for Senate, O’Rourke is giving up his seat in the U.S. House, which is a higher office than had been held by Cruz’s 2012 opponent, Paul Sadler, a former state representative. Strong incumbents tend to deter strong challengers from entering the race, but Cruz wasn’t able to do so this time. Cruz also has a very conservative voting record, one that is perhaps “too conservative” even for Texas. The model actually penalizes O’Rourke slightly for his DUI scandal, but because the scandal has been public knowledge for a long time, the model discounts its importance.

Fundraising is another influential factor hurting Cruz. Ordinarily, you’d expect an incumbent to have a pretty healthy fundraising advantage. Instead, O’Rourke had more than doubled Cruz in dollars raised from individual contributors as of the end of the last filing period on June 30 — an advantage that will probably only increase once the campaigns file their next fundraising reports, which will cover up through Sept. 30. (Our model considers money raised from individual contributors only — not PACs, parties or self-funding.) If fundraising were even, Cruz would still lead in our fundamentals calculation by 4 percentage points, but O’Rourke’s money advantage is enough to bring the overall fundamentals forecast to a dead heat.

All models contain assumptions, and models like the ones 538 create also contain error bars, which is a fancy way of saying that they predict a likely range of outcomes, not just a single outcome. These models are also dynamic, which means they respond in what one hopes is a timely fashion to new information, so what the model says today may not be the same as what it says next week, if it perceives that conditions have changed. You can see with your own eyes the energy and visibility of the Beto campaign, and you can see that it’s different in fundamental ways from campaigns of recent years. You can also see that in the last two non-Presidential years Texas Democrats have been a million votes or more behind Republicans at a statewide level, and that’s a hell of a lot of ground to make up. 538’s model is suggesting that Beto’s campaign has done a good job closing that gap. The rest remains to be seen.

Judicial Q&A: Kelley Andrews

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

Kelley Andrews

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

My name is Kelley Andrews and I am the Democratic Candidate for Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court 6 is a misdemeanor court. If elected, I will preside over cases in which a person is charged with a criminal offense that carries with it the possibility of being sentenced to up to one year in the Harris County Jail. The types of cases that a misdemeanor court hears include DWI, Possession of Marijuana, Thefts (up to $2500.00), assault, domestic violence, possession of certain controlled substances.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe in judicial equality and in treating people as individuals, not running them through the court system as though it were a manufacturing plant. The cookie cutter model isn’t working in the criminal justice system and we need change. I have long believed that there are two areas in the criminal courts where you have a real chance at helping someone to redirect their life and get out of the criminal justice system. Those two areas are juvenile court and misdemeanor court because most often, these are the places a person first makes contact with the criminal courts. Judges must take the time to look at the individual who has been charged with a crime and determine if there are underlying issues, such as mental health diagnoses or addiction that contributed in whole or in part to their arrest. Those underlying issues must be addressed if there is any chance of helping them to redirect their life.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a criminal defense attorney for the last 11 years. Since passing the bar, I have worked consistently and continuously in the Harris County Courts. I have handled all levels of cases from Class B misdemeanors up to first degree felonies and have worked closely with my clients and their families while doing so. I have learned so much about mental illness and addiction and have a strong understanding of what people with those issues need. Having spent so much time in our courts, I have had the opportunity to observe what is really going on, to see what we are lacking, where we can do better, and what needs to change.

5. Why is this race important?

The criminal justice system needs to change. It isn’t working. Court 6 is an open bench. When I heard that the Judge currently seated there was going to retired, I had high hopes that someone would come along that believes all of the things that I believe regarding the courts and quickly realized that they only way to ensure that would be to run myself. So, here I am.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am motivated to help change the problems that I see with our court system. As a criminal attorney who practices in Harris County, I am an insider. I believe that if a judge treats the people in her court as individuals, takes the time to understand they underlying issues that got them into court, and then takes an interested in helping them get a handle on those issues, she has not only helped that person long after they have left the court system, she has helped the community as a whole.

Interview with Diane Trautman

Diane Trautman

For all the well-deserved focus on Congress and state offices, there are some races of real consequence here in Harris County. Control of Commissioner’s Court, some balance on the HCDE Board of Trustees, and of course the County Clerk, where the rubber meets the road in the conduct and security of our elections. Running for Harris County Clerk is a familiar face, that of Diane Trautman. Trautman is finishing up a six-year term as an At Large HCDE Trustee, where she served in various capacities including as Chair of the Head Start policy council. She has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Sam Houston State University and has been a teacher and principal in the public schools as well as a professor of education at Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. She has also worked in the banking industry, and has a long record of involvement in Harris County politics. I’ve known Diane Trautman since she ran for State Rep in HD127 back in 2006, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to her. Here’s our conversation:

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

Musicians for Beto

Just another dimension to a really interesting picture.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke’s time as a musician is one of the more well-trodden parts of his bio. And it makes sense. As O’Rourke worked to introduce himself to 28 million Texans who had scarcely heard of the young congressman from a corner of the state that had never elected anyone to statewide office before, the punk rock was an easy shorthand for “not your daddy’s Senate hopeful.”

That could be why Texas musicians have lined up behind O’Rourke in a way that we’ve rarely seen with previous candidates. During her 2014 gubernatorial campaign, Wendy Davis was also a rising national star, but Willie Nelson never played a major public rally to drive support for her candidacy (but he did perform at a private fundraiser on her behalf). And it’s not just Willie—at events around the state, heavy hitters are performing at rallies in Austin, Houston, and Dallas for (and with!) the candidate.

Willie’s event in Austin this Saturday kicks off the lineup of performances. He’ll be joined by Bridges, his sons in Lukas and Micah, Carrie Rodriguez, Tameca Jones, and Joe Ely—as well as O’Rourke himself, who’ll be speaking in a pre-headliner slot at 10 p.m. From there, O’Rourke will be co-headlining a festival in Dallas on October 7, where he’ll be joined by indie rockers Spoon, the Polyphonic Spree, Sparta, and more. The following day, in Houston, Bun B and former Texans running back Arian Foster are hosting a voter registration drive and concert at which Bun, Shakey Graves, Willie D, the Ton Tons, and others will be performing. (There’s no word yet if O’Rourke will make an appearance at that event.)

The Willie Nelson event was this past Saturday, and as I understand it there were some 25K people in attendance. Here’s a report from Texas Monthly from a reporter who attended. Kinky Friedman had his share of support from the music scene, but this is another yet another example from this year for which the phrase “we’ve never seen anything quite like this” applies. My way of looking at it is this: Musicians have the capability to reach audiences that are harder for political campaigns to communicate with. There’s a lot of young people, and a lot of people who aren’t terribly engaged, at concerts. Maybe these particular events will mostly draw in a crowd that’s already all about Beto, but it seems to me if you wanted to get your less-engaged friend fired up, this would be a great opportunity for you to do that. I think we all learned a lesson a couple of years ago not to underestimate a politician who can draw crowds.

Endorsement watch: Nine from Obama

I don’t know what the practical effect of this is, but I’m happy for the attention.

Former President Barack Obama has backed nine more Democratic candidates in Texas as part of his second round of midterm endorsements.

The nine candidates include challengers in two of Texas’ most competitive congressional races: Lizzie Fletcher, who is running against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who is taking on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The Texans that Obama endorsed also include two who are likely to become the state’s first Latina congresswomen: Veronica Escobar, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Houston state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is vying for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston.

Rounding out the list of Obama’s latest endorsements in Texas are five state House candidates. One is Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson, who is running for re-election, and the four others are all in races that Democrats are targeting as pick-up opportunities.

These nine were part of a much bigger group nationwide. All four of those State House endorsed challengers are also from Dallas: Ana-Marie Ramos (HD102), Terry Meza (HD105), Rhetta Bowers (HD113), and Julie Johnson (HD115). As the story notes, Obama had previously endorsed two Congressional candidates, Colin Allred and Adrienne Bell. I’m sure this will help everyone’s fundraising, though by how much is a question I can’t answer, and it’s certainly a lovely feather in one’s cap – I’d be over the moon as a candidate to get this kind of recognition. But at the end of the day, it’s about where and by how much the needle gets moved. These are all top-tier races, and the candidates deserve the support. What I’d really like to see is more attention to and support of the candidates in the second- and third-tier races, both as a means of trying to maximize the effect of the beneficial environment, and to recognize the great work that so many people have been doing without that kind of support. We’re going to need more of these candidate in 2020 and beyond, so let’s make sure no one walks away from this year feeling like it wasn’t worth the effort.