Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

March 10th, 2014:

A new day for the Harris County GOP?

Lisa Falkenberg postmortems the changing of the guard at the Harris County GOP.

Now that [Paul] Simpson defeated [Jared] Woodfill in the Republican primary election earlier this week, [Rep. Sarah] Davis is hoping her past experience with him is prologue. She and others are looking to Simpson to provide a new kind of leadership, one that is stridently conservative, yet tolerant of other people’s definition of that word.

“I’m very hopeful that Paul will be more open and respectful to Republicans who may have followed the 80-20 rule, as we call it,” she said, referring to President Ronald Reagan’s political philosophy that someone is an ally who agrees with you 80 percent of the time.

“The difference,” Davis said, between Simpson and Woodfill, “is that Paul, to me, cares about expanding the party and making our party grow and become more inclusive so we can become more effective, than just being a party about excluding people and taking out people we don’t like, or who we think don’t belong.”

Simpson says he thinks Davis’ vote was a mistake, as were her harsh words against Republicans in an op-ed published in the Chronicle after the vote. But he says Woodfill’s decision to go after Davis was bad leadership.

“To me, it’s a family squabbling,” he told me. “You don’t discipline your children out in public.”


Those who might think Simpson’s election was a referendum on the party’s incessant march to the right would be wrong. Plenty of social conservatives and tea-partiers joined moderates such as Harris County Judge Ed Emmett in supporting Simpson out of concern over the management of the party. They were concerned about lagging outreach, poor fund-raising, lax recruitment of party chairs, and a lack of transparency in financial operations.

“The big benefit isn’t going to be philosophical,” said Emmett, who generously dipped into his own war chest to support Simpson. “It’s going to be that the county party is able to go out and generate activity to benefit all the Republicans.”

A few thoughts, and remember that I Am Not A Republican, so take them for what they’re worth.

1. As with most intra-Republican squabbles, the primary fight between Simpson and Woodfill was about tactics and strategy, not philosophy. Paul Simpson won’t publicly back an opponent to Sarah Davis for voting against an anti-abortion bill, and he wouldn’t have recruited people to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Houston and its revised policy on spousal benefits, but that doesn’t make him or his party pro-choice or pro-equality, and it certainly isn’t a leading indicator for the rest of the state. It’s because Simpson believes that de-emphasizing social issues will help Republicans win races in Harris County. It’s a perfectly reasonable approach, but in the year of Dan Patrick it’s hard to say how much effect it will have.

2. I doubt there will be any lingering effects from the Simpson-Woodfill primary this year. Democrats had no trouble getting back on the same page after the Obama-Clinton primary of 2008, and I expect the same for the Harris County GOP. Nothing unifies like a common enemy, and the nice thing about having our primaries so early in the year is that we have plenty of time to remind ourselves who our real opponents are afterward.

3. That said, factions and rivalries will not just go away. Steven Hotze and Gary Polland aren’t going to stop doing their pay-to-play endorsements because there’s a new party Chair. They just won’t have the imprimatur of the party itself. I suspect that won’t bother them too much. Don’t be surprised if they continue pushing their own slate in 2016.

4. Along those lines, there’s some danger for Simpson if this winds up being a good year for Democrats in Harris County. His campaign was based on the idea that Woodfill’s tactics were holding Republicans back. If a bunch of Republican judges and incumbents like Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez wind up losing this fall, his opponents are sure to be quick with the see-I-told-you-so’s.

5. Finally, I confess I have a certain amount of sympathy for Woodfill in re Sarah Davis. It’s smart politics to be tolerant of some heresy from incumbents in tight districts or parts of the state that themselves are not in sync with prevailing opinion. But that doesn’t mean you have to like it, and that doesn’t mean you can’t chide them when they reinforce the other side’s talking points. A Democratic legislator that supported the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be roundly and rightfully criticized, and I’m sure folks will have long memories about the Democrats that voted for HB2, even if none of them suffered any consequences for it this time. Speaking as a parent, if your kid misbehaves badly enough in public you sometimes do have to discipline them, or at least admonish them, in public. It’s never a pleasant experience, and there are right ways and wrong ways to go about it, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Three of five schools escape closure

For now, at least. The other two are still on the block.

Juliet Stipeche

Juliet Stipeche

Three small schools will be spared from closure at the urging of Houston school board president Juliet Stipeche, but Jones High and Dodson Elementary remain on the potential chopping block.

Facing mounting community pressure against Superintendent Terry Grier’s closure proposal, Stipeche eliminated Fleming Middle School, Port Houston Elementary and N.Q. Henderson Elementary from the closure list.

The board is set to decide the fate of Jones and Dodson next Thursday. Grier has said the two buildings are needed to house students whose campuses are being rebuilt under the 2012 voter-approved bond program.

“I respect our board president’s request to remove these schools from consideration,” Grier said in a statement. “I also appreciate her input, the input of all trustees and the community-at-large in this process.”


Stipeche said she thought N.Q. Henderson Elementary and Fleming Middle School, both in northeast Houston, deserved more time to try to improve and recruit more students.

“They serve communities in transition,” she said. “They should have the opportunity to work on increasing their enrollment.”

“Port Houston is an interesting set of circumstances because it’s an exemplary school in a small building,” she added.

Board member Mike Lunceford said the trustees need to review their policy on closures to perhaps distinguish between schools like Port Houston that are small because the neighborhood has few students, and those like Jones High where students are choosing to enroll elsewhere.

“We need to sit down as a board and decide what to do,” he said. “Are we going to continue supporting small schools? If the board’s not going to vote, we need to not put the communities through all of this.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I think Stipeche and Lunceford’s logic here is sound. For some neighborhoods it may make more sense, and be more cost-effective, to maintain a smaller school than to have to provide transportation elsewhere for all the affected students. Reviewing the policy to draw distinctions between schools in less-populated areas and schools that aren’t drawing in as many students as they could is a good idea, too. Hair Balls and Stace have more.

The name game, primary style

As we know, Democrats have had some issues in recent primaries with random results based on low information and name variations. Turns out Republicans have those issues, too.


This year, names may have also factored in other races, including the Republican race for agriculture commissioner.

The two most recognizable names in the race, former state Reps. Sid Miller and Tommy Merritt, will head to a runoff. But, surprisingly, Joe Cotten, a Dallas financial adviser who raised no campaign funds aside from a $10,000 loan to himself, trailed Republican state party attorney Eric Opiela by only 3 percent of the vote. And Cotten easily beat Uvalde Mayor J Allen Carnes, who had the backing of the Texas Farm Bureau and the family of former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe.

The name “Cotten” was no doubt a blessing for an agriculture-focused candidate, but Opiela has another theory. “It’s deeper than that,” he said. “There is a fairly famous restaurant in South Texas by the name of Joe Cotten’s Barbecue.”


“It’s frustrating,” said Opiela, who put more than $1 million of his own money into the race and appeared in television ads in major media markets across the state. “We had a lot of contested races on the ballot, and it was very difficult for the voters to sort the wheat from the chaff, let’s just put it that way.”

In some instances, names might hurt a candidate’s chances. Consider the case of Malachi Boyuls and his occasionally mispronounced surname.

On Tuesday, the Republican candidate for the Railroad Commission received just 10 percent of the vote, the lowest total among four candidates — former state Rep. Wayne Christian, Ryan Sitton and Becky Berger. That’s despite the fact that Boyuls spent more than three times what Christian and Berger did combined.

Boyuls, an oil and gas investor, said he wasn’t sure whether his name doomed his campaign. He initially thought it might help.

“It is unique and it’s a book in the Bible, and with so many names on the ballot, I thought that it wouldn’t get lost on the ballot,” he said.

It’s hard to know how much effect a name by itself might have on a candidate’s success. There are a ton of possible factors, and separating out their influence is highly non-trivial. I’ll bet it’s a great opportunity for research, if some enterprising PoliSci prof wants to look into it. I think the key to this is that in a primary there are no partisan identifiers to help voters draw easy distinctions between candidates. If Malachi Boyuls were the Republican nominee for Railroad Commissioner, it’s probable he’d lose a few votes to Steve Brown, but not too much. People would still know he’s the Republican, and that would have a much stronger effect on their vote than the novelty of his name. But in a primary, or a non-partisan race, in the absence of campaign activity or sufficient interest in that particular office then all you’ve got is the name. It’s not always clear how that will play out – I still have no idea why Mark Thompson would have had an advantage in the 2008 Railroad Commissioner Democratic primary over Dale Henry and Art Hall – but there’s no doubt that in last year’s HCC Trustee race, Dave Wilson with an R next to his name would have lost to Bruce Austin with a D next to his. Not that I want races like those or City of Houston races to be partisan – I don’t – but it’s one of the reasons why I don’t support making judicial races non-partisan. It won’t drive out the big money that we all deplore, and it would take away the one objective piece of information people do have about most candidates.

Anyway, I’d say the bigger factor in these races was the obsessive focus on guns and abortion by the frontrunners. Qualifications didn’t mean much, if anything. Of course, the leading candidates here aren’t offensive to Republican voters the way Kesha Rogers is to Democrats, so it’s not that big a deal for them. But at least it’s nice to know we’re not alone.

Metro reports an increase in boardings with bikes

From the inbox:

The number of people using bikes to extend their bus trips (or vice versa) increased more than 47 percent jumping from 12,111 bike bus boardings in January 2013 to 17,859 in January this year, That’s according to METRO figures which do not account for bikes taken onto light-rail trains.

At the METRO Downtown Transit Center you’ll find a bustling bike-share station, and at bus stops and train stations bikes ready to be loaded onto bike racks.

“We are preparing for and trying to cultivate, these folks as repeat customers. We’re doing that with bike racks on buses and at bike stands at bus stops. We’ve installed racks on our new trains and are working with the city to provide better infrastructure with bike lid storage at Park&Ride lots and B-Cycle facilities at our Downtown Transit Center,” says METRO’s Interim President & CEO Tom Lambert.

“The upward trend is gratifying. It’s good exercise, gets cars off the road, relieves congestion and certainly cuts emissions that impact our air quality. We work with bus drivers to be more aware of cyclist needs and the rights of the road,” Lambert continued.

METRO has encouraged bike ridership through collaboration with area agencies – advancing what was a grant for a three-station bike share start-up program to the 29 stations and 227 bikes it has today. Houston B-Cycle has registered more than 55,650 checkouts since opening – which comes to about 1,200 per week since the program expanded in March 2013. One of the most popular bike rental stations is located at METRO headquarters at 1900 Main St.

METRO is also working on a Transit-Bike Connection study as well as partnering with Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) on a Bike and Ride Access Implementation plan. Meanwhile Rice University engineering students turned to METRO to work on their first project — the design of a rack to transport three bicycles at a time via bus. Their METRO-based project won this year’s Texas Department of Transportation’s College Challenge.

That team was one of three finalists asked to develop concepts to help Texas mobility, connectivity and transportation safety issues. Students were motivated by a recent H-GAC study anticipating growth. The three-rack solution is one of several by Houston Action Research Team (HART) undergrads.

Good to hear, and another bit of positive news from Metro at the start of the year. As you know, I’m a big fan of integrating bike and transit networks as a way to extend them. The release also noted that Metro topped 22,000 bike boardings in August, so while the overall trend may be positive – they didn’t give figures for other months – there’s still room for monthly growth. I hope it continues.