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February 1st, 2017:

HCDP Chair Q&A: Eartha Jean Johnson

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Eartha Jean Johnson

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

My name is Eartha Jean Johnson and I am an attorney and President and CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide (formerly, LegalWATCH), an award-winning risk mitigation company that helps executives reduce and prevent compliance sanctions, lawsuits and negative press associated with company policies, processes and employee actions and communications. We also have a family business, LJ5 Real Estate Development Company LLP. I am married to Lonnie Johnson, a former lobbyist and attorney. We have 3 children who are also attorneys, practicing here in Houston.

I have worked in politics in some form or fashion for more than three decades. I have served as a Telephone and Block Walking Canvasser, Election Protection volunteer, Poll Watcher, Deputy Voter Registrar and have traveled out of state to campaign. In addition, I have donated to candidates and worked on numerous Presidential and Judicial campaigns. Most recently, I organized Houston’s Women of Color for Hillary Clinton, which resulted in one of the largest reception turnouts of Women of Color for Hillary across the country. I also started the Turn Texas Blue Movement; an idea that turned into a movement, where we utilized innovative ideas and approaches that significantly increased the number of registered voters, mail in ballots, and voter turnout for the November 2016 election.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

Harris County needs a leader who: 1) is selfless and has strong leadership skills, 2) is inclusive and can work across the aisles and with all personalities; 3) is an independent thinker and fighter; 4) can raise money; and 6) most importantly, has the passion and enthusiasm to motivate people to action and get results.

I am that person and have demonstrated performance to show it. As Chair, I pledge to bring innovative approaches, experience, fundraising skills and most importantly a detailed plan to move the party forward. Not only will we have a well-funded Harris County Democratic Party, we will be a more inclusive and collaborative Party, with an infrastructure that will position us to play more offense than defense. Like Martin had a dream for the world, I have a dream for the Democratic Party.

I offer my hands to work every day to unify our party, raise money and get Democrats elected; I offer my voice to make sure our concerns are heard; and I offer my heart to be a passionate, dedicated and relentless advocate as our Party Chair. Together we will make Harris County Democratic Party a model for our country.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Harris County has a strong Democratic base and awesome community and association leaders dedicated to doing everything in their power to keep Harris County blue. What HCDP needs to move forward is to capitalize on the strengths we have and unite and collaborate with Democratic Clubs, and with Community and Trade Associations across the county to devise a well thought out blueprint to build an inclusive, efficient, self-sustaining infrastructure that produces by far more successful than unsuccessful candidates. The days of uncontested Republican races are over. We will not only have individuals competing for every race on the ballot; we will have individuals who are competitive and understand what it takes to run a campaign and to win the race. We will put our money and support behind each candidate, from School Board to Congress.

In addition, it is essential we get our youth and young adults engaged and actively participating. We must begin by providing them with seats at the table and make every effort to fill vacant Precinct Chair positions with young adults; this way we will begin to build a pipeline of our Democratic leaders of tomorrow. We also need to form a Harris County Democratic Party Young Democrats Division, and allow our youth to set the young adult agenda, and develop programs and events to motivate and excite other youth to get involved and engaged.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media more as an informational tool to keep up with friends and on community issues and use social media as a conduit to voice my opinions on controversial issues in the press.

The use of social media and technology should be one of our organizations’ primary outreach platforms.

We must use social media and other technology to keep our constituents informed and engaged, i.e., solicit thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We should also use it as a vehicle to recruit and train candidates and as a conduit to notify our base of open position on the ballot. We can also use social media to poll our constituents on controversial issues and provide a chat room for open discussions on political issues, as well as to solicit thoughts and opinion on the future direction of our party. Additionally, we can use social media to provide monthly webinars to keep everyone informed and engaged. Finally, if elected, I plan to use social media to implement my 20.18 Plan fundraising initiative (see response to question 6).

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc.)?

We should support candidates who are independent thinkers and best align with our Party’s democratic ideas and values.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

If elected, we will continue the programs we initiated with the Turn Texas Blue Movement and implement the 20.18 Plan.

Turn Texas Blue Movement Internalized Voter Registration Initiative – Our goal was to get barber and beauty shop owners, church members, trade association employees, individuals living in senior living and assisted living facilities deputized so they could register voters on a continuous and ongoing basis. Our vision was get so many people deputized within businesses and organizations that a person couldn’t go within 5 miles of their homes without seeing a sign saying, “You can Register to Vote Here.”

Enhanced Voter Registration – By capturing email addresses, we notified voters when early voting began, provided a link to early voting locations and sent daily countdown reminders to increase the likelihood they would vote.

Mail in Ballot Initiatives

We will continue the Turn Texas Blue Movement, “Out of County College and University Initiative.” As part of this initiative, we reached out to colleges and universities, both in and out of state, with large populations of Texas residents and implemented a coordinated mail in ballot campaign, which resulted in over a 1000 mail in ballots.

We will also continue our Courthouse and Jail Voter Registration Campaigns – We registered voters as they entered and exited courthouses and notified past felons of their right to vote if they were off papers. We also had an initiative to register eligible individuals who were confined in jail.

Our Funding Source – The 2018 Plan

In 2016, Bernie Sanders raised a record $234,000,000 dollars, with an average contribution of $27.00. Bernie could raise the money because he was passionate about the things he fought for and got his base excited. Not only did Bernie’s constituents give, they became active and engaged. For the Harris County Democratic Party to improve our voter turnout, we need a Chair who can motivate our base AND get our young adults excited and involved, while holding onto those who have carried this party for decades. If we do this, we will have no problem raising money. Like Bernie, I have that fire and passion and a proven record of accomplishment starting a movement and getting people excited.

If elected, we will implement the 20.18 Plan to fund the total upgrade of the Harris County Democratic Party. The 20.18 Plan calls for getting 20% of Democrats who voted in the 2016 election to contribute a mere $20.18 per year, which will result in us raising over $5 million dollars by 2018. This will help us fund our mission to take back Democratic control of all local and state races in 2018. We will no longer just survive, but will thrive.

We will not only use the money to recruit and prepare candidates, we will use it to support Democratic candidates in every race, from school board to congress. No longer will we make it cost prohibited for judges to run for office. We will help them shoulder the financial burden and assist with their campaigns. Our goal is to make it easier for great candidates to run.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I have gotten to know most of my opponents and have come to respect and admire them. I believe, if successful, they will do a good job. What sets me apart from my opponents, however, are my innovative ideas and passion, which people tell me is infectious. It is my passion and God given ability to motivate people to act that will make all the difference. Like Bernie taught us, when you excite and motivate your constituents, not only will they get engaged, they will contribute. There is no other candidate in this race with my level of experience, fundraising abilities, leadership skills, and most importantly, passion to motivate others to act. It is the passion that makes the difference between good and great.

Lawsuit threatened over special education limits

The clock is ticking.

Disability advocates on Monday threatened to sue the Texas Education Agency unless the state permanently ends its special education enrollment benchmark within the next month.

The advocates said immediate action is necessary because of the “devastating harm” caused by the benchmark.

The state already has suspended and pledged to eventually eliminate the decade-old cap, which punished school districts for giving special education services to more than 8.5 percent of students. But the state has angered advocates by not saying when it will permanently end the policy.

“The time for action to protect and support Texas’s children with disabilities is now,” the advocates from the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and Disability Rights Texas wrote in a letter to the Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Mike Morath.

Asked to comment on the letter, agency spokesman Gene Acuña said that officials already are working to eliminate the 8.5 percent metric. Changes to the policy should be proposed in the spring, he said.

“As always, we continue to seek input from stakeholders during this process,” Acuña said.

[…]

The letter also outlined the group’s legal theory.

First, the advocates said, the benchmark was inappropriate because states are allowed to monitor school districts “only as necessary to ensure compliance with federal law.” Moreover, they argued, the benchmark actively violated the law “because it directs, incentivizes, and has caused school districts to deny enrollment in special education programs to eligible students.”

The advocates said they would not file the lawsuit if Morath and the agency counter-sign their letter and initiate the process of permanently ending the benchmark within 30 days.

See here for the background; a copy of the letter is in the story. The TEA officially backed off enforcing its policy of capping special ed funding in November, but the policy still remains on the books. From the TEA quote above, it sounds like the deadline given will be too short, so it’s a matter of how much progress they make and whether the plaintiffs-to-be will be satisfied with that. Check back in a month and we’ll see.

More about the hack of the Astros

Fascinating stuff.

A federal judge has unsealed details about former St. Louis Cardinals executive Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros’ email and player evaluation databases, clearing the way for Major League Baseball to impose sanctions against the Cardinals as soon as this week.

Three documents entered into court records but made public by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes on Thursday reveal new information regarding Correa’s intrusions, for which the former Cardinals scouting director is serving a 46-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty in January 2016 to five counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer.

[…]

According to the documents, portions of which remained redacted, Correa intruded into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database 48 times and accessed the accounts of five Astros employees. For 21/2 years, beginning in January 2012, Correa had unfettered access to the e-mail account of Sig Mejdal, the Astros’ director of decision sciences and a former Cardinals employee. Correa worked in St. Louis as an analyst under Mejdal, who came to Houston after the 2011 season with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, also a former Cardinals executive.

“(Correa) knew what projects the Astros’ analytics department was researching, what concepts were promising and what ideas to avoid,” said one of the documents, signed by Michael Chu, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case against Correa. “He had access to everything that Sig Mejdal … read and wrote.”

Correa also attempted to gain access to the accounts of Bo Porter, the Astros’ manager in 2013-14, and pitching coach Brent Strom, and he used passwords belonging to Luhnow, Astros analyst Colin Wyers, and three Astros minor league players to gain access to the Astros system, the documents show.

A third document includes a subpoena from Correa’s attorney to obtain documents from the Astros, based on Correa’s statement that he was combing the files looking for information taken from the Cardinals. Hughes denied the request, which sought access to emails from Mejdal, Luhnow and former Astros assistant GM David Stearns and analyst Mike Fast regarding a variety of topics, including Cardinals minor league pitching coach Tim Leveque, Cardinals assistant general manager Mike Girsch and the Cardinals’ player information database, known as RedBirdDog.

See here and here for some background. The sanctions have since been imposed – the Cardinals will give their top two draft choices and two million bucks to the Astros as redress – but it’s the details of what Correa did that are so riveting. Deadspin, which was a key player in this as well, elaborates:

The sentencing document also points to a motive beyond the obviously useful scouting data: Correa was furious and envious of Mejdal’s acclaim in a June 25, 2014 Sports Illustrated cover story about the Astros’ embrace of analytics, with the cover predicting them as the winners of the 2017 World Series.

The account the feds lay out reads like a downright sinister revenge plot by Correa: On June 27, two days after the SI cover story, Correa attempted, unsuccessfully, to log into Mejdal’s, Luhnow’s, and Wyers’s Ground Control accounts. He then tried to log in via the accounts of Astros pitching coach Brent Strom and Astros manager Bo Porter. Thwarted but not deterred, he tried another tactic.

[…]

The same day, June 28, Deadspin was emailed a tip from a burner email service that linked “to a document on AnonBin, a now-dead service for anonymously uploading and hosting text files.” On June 30, Deadspin published the contents of the document, which detailed the Astros’ trade discussions between June 2013 and March 2014.

A year later, Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky laid out the information we received, and why he believed we were the intended recipients. We had and have no additional information that indicates who the leaker was, and would not reveal the leaker’s identity if we knew it—as Petchesky later explained to an FBI investigator.

Regardless, the feds speculate that Correa himself emailed us the information.

Damn. I will watch the hell out of the eventual 30 for 30 documentary on this. The Press, Craig Calcaterra, and Jeff Sullivan, who thinks the Cardinals got off too lightly, have more.

Joaquin Castro still talking Senate

So he says to Buzzfeed.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro said Wednesday he’s considering challenging Republican Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas Senate race and that he will decide by this spring.

“I said that I’ll take a look at it and I will,” Castro said. “Obviously if you’re going to run in Texas, it’s a large state, you need a lot of money and a lot of time to mount a serious campaign.”

“But I do think that there’s going to be a real opportunity for Democrats in Texas and across the nation, really, because Donald Trump is leading the country in the wrong direction,” Castro said during a BuzzFeed Brews interview series event at the Newseum. “And unfortunately, senators like Ted Cruz are following right along with him.”

Castro also accused Cruz of not working for his constituents. “There’s no question it would be a tough race and he would have a lot of money and he is really beloved by his base — you’ve gotta give him credit for that,” Castro said, “but at the same time, he really has not done much for the people of Texas.”

Castro first floated the idea of running for Senate, though not necessarily in 2018, back in June. We haven’t heard much from him about it since then, and in the meantime Rep. Beto O’Rourke has emerged as another possible candidate, one who appears to be much more affirmative about 2018. I don’t pretend to know Rep. Castro’s future plans, but I feel very confident saying that we will not have a contested primary between him and Rep. O’Rourke for the right to challenge Ted Cruz next year. Only one of them will run if either of them does, and right now based on the available public statements I’d put my money on O’Rourke for next year. Given the fundraising needs for a Senate race, we should know for sure sooner rather than later.