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October 17th, 2012:

Interview with Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

To wrap up my interviews for 2012, today we have Ann Harris Bennett, the Democratic candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor. Bennett is a former Court Coordinator and was the Democratic candidate for Harris County Clerk in 2010 – you can see what I wrote about her, and listen to that interview here. Suffice it to say that the Tax Assessor’s office could do with having someone more experienced in and competent with the kind of organizational and clerical tasks that the job entails. Here’s the interview:

Ann Harris Bennett MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

The opposition to the bonds

Noted for the record.

Longtime City Hall naysayer Dave Wilson and other anti-tax activists gathered on the grounds of an elementary school that was slated to get $3.7 million from the last Houston Independent School District bond measure but instead was closed for lack of enrollment. Their message was that politicians cannot be trusted to spend your money wisely.

“There hasn’t been transparency. There is no accountability so that with this present bond election there’s no way anybody can vote for it. What we’ve got to do is send them back to the drawing board, look at something a little more reasonable,” Wilson said, focusing largely on HISD.

HISD has pledged a bond oversight committee, quarterly reports on spending on a special website, independent construction audits and project bidding managed by school procurement officials as safeguards against waste.

“There is going to be accountability,” campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis said, which includes a Web page for every affected school “that says how much they’re going to spend, what the problems are, what problems they’re going to correct and what they’re going to do.” Each school also will have its own oversight committee with parents, teachers and community leaders to tell architects what they want done. “I don’t know how much more accountability you can add.”

Here’s the HISD bond overview page, and here’s my interview with Superintendent Terry Grier. Since Wilson also opposes the city bonds and the HCC bond, because of course he does, see the links I included with my interviews with Mayor Parker and Richard Schechter for more information on those issues.

When asked if she believed Wilson’s message would gain traction, Mayor Annise Parker answered simply, “No.”

Sounds about right to me. Campos has more.

Overview of the HCDE races

The Chron has an overview of the races for the Harris County Department of Education, and in describing the one At Large race between incumbent Michael Wolfe and Democratic challenger Diane Trautman they do the useful service of describing what the HCDE does.

Diane Trautman

The department supports the county’s 26 independent school districts. It operates a co-op that allows the districts to buy food and supplies at lower prices. The department also runs adult-education programs, administers federal Head Start grants and Early Childhood Intervention programs, and supports after-school initiatives.

Most of the department’s budget comes from state and federal grants and fees for service paid by the districts.

Trautman said her opponent wants to abolish the department and has been censured by the board for unethical behavior.

Wolfe acknowledged that he would support abolishing the department, saying that he believes taxpayers pay twice for education. The 2008 censure, he said, was in retaliation because he was pushing for lower taxes.

In 2009, the board tried to remove him from office because they said he had a disregard for the department and its procedures and disrespect for the board.

Here’s what was said about Wolfe at the time:

Fellow trustee Jim Henley said the movement to oust Wolfe is based on his numerous absences and Wolfe’s “lack of acting in the best interests of the department.”

The board considered removing Wolfe for incompetence last year, but Wolfe appealed for a second chance and pledged to adhere to a list of ethical practices.

Henley said Wolfe has violated that pledge and continues to miss meetings without informing the board ahead of time of his absences — or explaining them afterward.

Board members voted 6-0 Monday night to seek Wolfe’s ouster from the $72-a-year position.

See here, here, and here for more on this. Henley is one of only two Democrats on the board right now, so that means four fellow Republicans voted to pursue ousting Wolfe. If you think they did so because they didn’t like him pushing for lower taxes, I’d say that’s pretty naive. Plus, as you may recall, it wasn’t just Wolfe’s board colleagues who didn’t like him. Read this letter from County School Superintendent John Sawyer to Wolfe from December of 2007 for a reminder of that. Wolfe is a clown, and in a just world he’ll be sent back to the private sector in a couple of weeks.

The race for Position 4, Precinct 3, between Republican Kay Smith, who successfully primaried the more moderate Raymond Garcia, and Silvia Mintz, is frustrating to me.

Silvia Mintz

In the Position 4 race, Smith, 61, a Republican, said she wants to bring more department transparency. She said it often is difficult to get information about operations and how money is spent.

“I want to know what we are doing with those tax dollars to ensure better education,” Smith said.

Mintz, her Democratic opponent, did not return calls.

On her campaign website, Mintz, 38, said she entered the race because she believes it is important to “protect the American Dream through education.”

Mintz ran for HD132 in 2010. She has a compelling personal story, and I was impressed by her when I interviewed her for tat race. She’s the kind of person I’d like to see get elected to something. But I have no idea what she’s doing in this race. She reported nothing raised and nothing spent on her 30 day finance report, after minimal activity on her July report. I made numerous attempts to reach her for an interview, but like the Chron never heard from her. Her campaign website appears to have been last updated in December, when she announced her candidacy. Her Facebook page indicates some activity, but that’s about it. She would be a distinct underdog in this race, but then so are people like Paul Sadler and Traci Jensen and Cody Pogue, all of whom have run active, highly visible campaigns. All I can say is that I’m terribly disappointed. I wish I knew what was going on with her.

Which way for Hays?

I have two things to say about this.

Two years after Republicans trounced Democrats in Hays County, the GOP again is aiming to win.

Ten incumbents are running for re-election in Hays County races, but the six Republican candidates are all unopposed.

All four Democratic incumbents, however, have drawn Republican challengers, including Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, the longest-serving member of the current Commissioners Court. Democrats are also being challenged in a justice of the peace race and two constable races.

The county went red in the 2010 elections as Republicans swung the Commissioners Court from four Democrats and one Republican to four Republicans and one Democrat. Republicans also replaced the Democratic sheriff and district clerk.

Hays County had long been known as a purple county — in which both Democrats and Republicans were elected — but even Democrats at the bottom of the ballot were swept out of office during the midterm elections as Republicans expressed disappointment with President Barack Obama’s policies.

Do I really have to explain the difference between Presidential election years and non-Presidential election years? Basing expectations for 2012 on what happened in 2010 is foolish. I’m no expert on Hays County, and I have no idea what the past history of the County Commissioner/Constable/JP precincts looks like – the Hays County Election Results page is completely useless. For all I know, the Republicans will win all of these races. But if they do, it’s not because the 2010 election results said they would.

The proper comparison is to another Presidential year. Here are the last two Presidential results for Hays County:

2004 Votes Pct ===================== Bush 27,021 56.50 Kerry 20,110 42.05 2008 Votes Pct ===================== McCain 29,638 50.18 Obama 28,431 48.14

Now this doesn’t tell us what’s going to happen, either. None of the races cited in the story are countywide, and again I’ve no idea what the electoral data looks like in the political subdivisions. Hays County has experienced a lot of growth in recent years, and who can say how these new residents will vote. As I’ve said before, I just don’t have a good feel for where things are in the state, and the recent polls we’ve seen lately have raised more questions than they’ve answered. The one thing I do know is that I’ll be taking a long look at county data after the election is over.