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August 13th, 2013:

Interview with Roland Chavez

Roland Chavez

Roland Chavez

Next up among At Large #3 candidates is Roland Chavez. Chavez was a Houston firefighter for 34 years before retiring in June. He was active for many years in the firefighters’ union, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local 341, including a stint as its President. He was President of Local 341 in 2004 when they signed their first ever Collective Bargaining Contract with the city. He also served as chair of the North Side Metro Rail Expansion Committee on the recommendation of then-CM Adrian Garcia. Here’s the interview:

Roland Chavez interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Davis reportedly running for Governor

At least according to Robert Miller.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Credible sources tell me that Sen. Wendy Davis will run for Governor in 2014 and not seek reelection to Texas Senate District 10. It will set up a high stakes match-up with Attorney General Greg Abbott in the November 4, 2014, general election.

Sen. Davis believes that she faces a tough race regardless of whether she seeks reelection to the Senate or runs for Governor. In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry received 52.7% of the vote in SD 10 compared to 44.6% for Mayor Bill White. In 2012, Gov. Romney defeated President Obama in SD 10 53.3% to 45.4%.

Sen. Davis has been elected twice in SD 10, so it clearly is a winnable race — but tough. Sen. Davis is now a national figure for Texas Democrats, and a senate reelection run would draw in national money both for and against her. If she is going to have a tough nationalized race, she would prefer it be for Governor.

The last Democrat to be elected Texas Governor was Ann Richards in 1990. Since then, the Democratic nominee has received the following percentage of the vote: 1994 – Richards 45.7%; 1998 – Mauro 31.2%; 2002 – Sanchez 40%; 2006 – Bell 29.8%; 2010 – White 42.3%. Public Policy Polling released a poll July 2, 2013, showing General Abbott leading Sen. Davis 48% to 40%, and the same poll had Gov. Perry leading Sen. Davis 53% to 39%. Texas is still a deeply red state, and running for Governor as a Democrat in Texas is a steep uphill climb.

Nevertheless, there are upsides for Sen. Davis. The stars could align, however improbably, and she could conceivably win. Alternatively, assuming she runs a credible race, a cabinet or subcabinet position would probably be available to her under President Obama or in a future Clinton administration. Lastly, a strong showing in 2014 would position her as the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for Governor or U.S. Senator in 2018, assuming the Democrats have a better shot with each passing election cycle.

However, the real winner of Sen. Davis’ decision to run for Governor are Texas Democrats. Without her, they have no credible statewide candidate in 2014. With her, they will likely find other credible Democrats willing to step out and run statewide. She will also provide a race that Battleground Texas, the Obama campaign’s effort to turn Texas blue, can organize around. Finally, she will likely boost Democratic turnout in urban counties such as Dallas and Harris helping down ballot Democrats running for county and judicial offices.

If true, you can save yourself a stamp. I don’t know who Robert has been talking to and obviously I don’t know if he’s heard correct information or not, but I basically agree with his reasoning here. I’ve said before that Sen. Davis’ higher profile is an asset for a statewide run, but not necessarily one for a re-election effort. The possibility of a position within the Obama and/or Clinton administrations in the event she falls short addresses one of the concerns I’d had about her running now, which is that there isn’t a statewide office (save for Railroad Commissioner) on the ballot in 2016, so Davis would need something to keep her politically engaged and visible at least to Democratic activists until 2018. It’s one thing to run and lose, and another thing entirely for her to take a gig after running and losing that makes her less likely to run again and/or less viable as a candidate for the next opportunity.

Everyone has their own take on what Sen. Davis will need to win this race. I’ll just reiterate my position that the first step is dealing with the fact that Democratic turnout in off-year elections has been basically flat since 2002. That’s good news in the sense that there’s tons of potential for growth, but obviously that represents a lot of work to be done, and not much time in which to do it. Barring a 2006 level of Republican turnout or an unprecedented Democratic wave, Davis is going to have to draw some votes away from Greg Abbott in order to win. The good news there, as Michael Li has pointed out, is that early poll results show Davis doing better among Anglo voters than Bill White did in 2010, which suggests that the race may be closer than it first looks. I’m not going to put too much stock in that right now – there will be plenty more polls if indeed Davis runs – but it is something to keep in mind. When more polls do come out, remember that Republican turnout has been a moving target over the past three elections, and Democratic turnout is likely to be higher than in years past. That’s going to make pollsters’ assumptions about the composite of the electorate a big factor in reading poll results. Nobody knows right now what the makeup of 2014 voters will be – we’ll all be guessing.

Miller mentions that with Davis’ entry, other credible Dems will likely take a shot at the other offices as well; TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa has alluded to such in the past as well. I’m hopeful that may include folks like Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Sen. Rodney Ellis, neither of whom would have to give up their seats in 2014, for Lt. Gov. and Attorney General, respectively. I don’t know who else may be out there, but as with John Cook popping up to run for Land Commissioner, I’m sure there are folks many of us hadn’t been thinking about out there.

Davis has said she’ll make her official announcement in the next two weeks, so we’ll know soon enough if he’s got the scoop or not. In the meantime, I’ll repeat my suggestion that we recruit Fort Worth City Council member Joel Burns, who succeeded Davis on that body, to run to succeed her here as well. Texas Politics and Texpatriate have more.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Early To Rise

Technically, this isn’t an endorsement, since there isn’t anything to endorse just yet. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Chron supports the Early To Rise campaign.

It looks like Harris County will vote on the future of the Astrodome this November. If we can get $200 million on the ballot for a convention center, we should be able to get a vote on $25 million for children’s education.

[…]

This petition mechanism is admittedly obscure. It relies on sections of the Texas Education Code that were removed in a 1995 overhaul but still govern how the Harris County Department of Education operates. It may not be the best way to expand early childhood education, but it is likely the only way.

We hope County Judge Ed Emmett will work to get this on the ballot. The debate over Early To Rise should be about policy, not procedure.

Strictly speaking, this isn’t the only way to expand early childhood education. There’s nothing stopping the Legislature from funding an expansion of pre-K everywhere in the state. No question that would be an excellent investment in the state and would do more to increase test scores and boost graduation rates in the short term while reducing crime and improving the economy in the longer term. Of course, this is the Legislature we’re talking about – you may recall that they slashed the state’s already meager spending on pre-K in 2011 – so yeah, this is the only likely way to make this happen. If you don’t like the mechanism being used here, go yell at a legislator that doesn’t support increased spending on pre-K statewide.

In the meantime, the Early To Rise campaign sent out a press release announcing that they are turning in 150,000 signatures to County Judge Ed Emmett. Seventy-nine thousand are needed to get the item on the ballot. As we have been made to understand this process, Commissioners Court doesn’t get to vote whether or not to put the item on the ballot, though the exact process and timing remain unclear. I’m not quite sure how this will play out, but we’ll find out soon enough. One thing that the Court will be dealing with is the Astrodome referendum, which they are expected to approve. I’ll have more on both stories tomorrow.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story about the petition signatures.

Last week, the county attorney asked the state attorney general on behalf of Emmett to clarify whether the initiative process used by the campaign still is on the books and whether having those signatures verified means anything at all.

“My job is to make sure that I do what is legal and right,” Emmett said, calling the process, never before used in Harris County, “truly bizarre.”

“Somebody’s got to tell me if I’ve got to put it on the ballot and then what it has to say,” he said.

[…]

Despite his legal questions and concerns about the governance structure that would funnel tax dollars to the nonprofit without government oversight, Emmett said his office will forward the signatures to Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan for verification.

Early to Rise and Emmett disagree about the timeline Sullivan must follow.

[James Calaway, chair of the Harris County School Readiness Corp.’s Early to Rise Campaign] said the county has five business days to meet a critical ballot deadline. Emmett said his advice from the county attorney differs.

Sullivan said Monday he had not yet received direction from the county attorney, nor talked to Emmett, about whether he has a deadline or when that may be. He said his staff is, nonetheless, ready to begin verification while it is sorted out.

The stage is set. We’ll see how it goes from here.

Travis County to fund Public Integrity Unit

Not optimal, but better than the alternative of shutting it down till 2015.

Rosemary Lehmberg

The Travis County Commissioners Court agreed [last] Tuesday to restore some money to the Travis County district attorney’s Public Integrity Unit after Gov. Rick Perry in June eliminated state funding for the office. The five-member commissioners court voted 4-1 on the proposal, which will cost Travis County taxpayers about $1.8 million next year.

[…]

Lehmberg told the commissioners on Tuesday that continuing the unit’s work was vital and that it affects both Travis County and all of Texas.

She said the staff had already “scrubbed down our budget” to eliminate unnecessary costs.

The new budget will be substantially less than the unit’s previous annual operating budget of $3.7 million, which had been funded by the state. Its annual budget will now total $2.5 million, including $1.8 million from county tax funds and up to $734,422 from forfeited property controlled by the county.

The smaller budget will require the unit to reduce some of its responsibilities. At least 52 of its current 425 cases — primarily in insurance and tax fraud — will be returned to the referring state agencies, and the unit will no longer take statewide cases, Lehmberg said.

The plan will also reduce the number of employees from 34 to 24.

The proposed budget for the unit will take effect in October, when its new fiscal year begins.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, who was the only vote against the proposal, argued forcefully against using taxpayer money to fund the unit.

“Is it fair to the taxpayers of Travis County to take [the unit’s budget] on?” he asked.

Though the other four commissioners acknowledged the difficulty of asking taxpayers to shoulder the burden, “we have to make some of the tough decisions here,” said Commissioner Margaret Gomez.

“We have a moral responsibility as well as the district attorney to prosecute crime,” said Commissioner Bruce Todd. “My fear is that some of that would be lost by simply saying, ‘no.’”

See here for the last update. I think this was the right thing for them to do, but Commissioner Daugherty’s question is valid. Really, the thing I’d be worried about is that the Lege will take this as a precedent and try to foist responsibility for funding the PIU on Travis County going forward. If they did it once, they can do it again, right? I hope Travis County has a good lobbyist on retainer, for its own sake. Perhaps the eventual adjudication of that complaint about Perry’s veto threat will help clarify things. BOR has more.