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October, 2017:

October campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 fundraising reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates. I’ll sum up the data below, but here’s the Trib with some highlights.

After Democratic challengers outraised four Texas Republicans in Congress earlier this year, some Republicans recaptured fundraising momentum in the third quarter – but not all of them.

Campaign finance reports for federal candidates covering July through September were due on Saturday. The reports show signs of of Democratic enthusiasm continuing, though U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and Will Hurd of Helotes, both Republicans, posted strong third quarters.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, barely outpaced his challenger, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and two GOP congressmen saw Democratic challengers raise more money.

Hurricane Harvey may have depressed fundraising overall, with many incumbents and challengers posting lukewarm quarterly hauls.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate and certainly not tasteful to raise money from people who’ve been devastated and lost everything,” said U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Houston Republican who was outraised by two of his Democratic challengers.

Democratic numbers were also smaller, suggesting candidates who announced earlier this year picked off the low-hanging donors in their previous campaign reports. And candidates who entered races only recently had less time to raise money.

But also, there was a larger dynamic at work. Ali Lapp is the operative who oversees the super PAC that supports Democratic House candidates, said donors are holding back from challengers because of the crowded nature of the Democratic primaries.

“With so many good Democratic candidates running in primaries, it’s no surprise that many Democratic donors are waiting to give direct candidate donations until after the field shakes out a bit, or even until after the primary is concluded,” she said.

The Chron focuses in on CD07, which has the largest field and the most money raised so far. We’ve seen the aforementioned dynamic in other races, where some people and groups want to wait and see who the frontrunners or runoff participants are before jumping in. The danger is that the candidate or candidates you like may not then make it into the runoff, but that’s a bit esoteric right now. The fact remains that we haven’t had this level of activity in Democratic Congressional primaries since Dems were the dominant party in the state. That’s pretty cool.

So without further ado, here are links to forms of interest and a summary of who did what:

Todd Litton – CD02
Ali Khorasani – CD02

Jana Sanchez – CD06

Alex Triantaphyllis – CD07
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07
Jason Westin – CD07
James Cargas – CD07
Joshua Butler – CD07

Dori Fenenbock – CD16
Veronica Escobar – CD16

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Derrick Crowe – CD21
Elliott McFadden – CD21

Jay Hulings – CD23
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23

Christopher Perri – CD25
Chetan Panda – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Richard Lester – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          256,222   26,250        0   229,872
02    Khorasani         8,904    8,555        0       348

06    Sanchez          75,113   56,169        0    16,439

07    Triantaphyllis  668,300  132,792        0   535,507
07    Fletcher        550,833  147,634        0   403,198
07    Moser           401,675  129,689        0   271,986
07    Westin          252,085   95,046   10,365   167,393
07    Cargas           46,752   43,091        0    10,078
07    Butler           28,685   25,352        0     3,332

16    Fenenbock       499,262  193,800  100,000   405,462
16    Escobar         332,836   35,780        0   297,056

21    Kopser          417,669  198,249        0   219,419
21    Crowe            69,443   45,068        0    24,375
21    McFadden         49,614   29,923        0    19,690

23    Hulings         200,207   10,752        0   189,455
23    Ortiz Jones     103,920   30,238        0    73,681

25    Perri            61,868   42,603    7,140    26,405
25    Panda            59,853   42,200        0    17,652

31    Hegar            93,459   39,789        0    53,670
31    Lester           52,569   33,061        0    19,507
31    Mann             21,052    8,764        0         0

32    Meier           585,951  147,537        0   438,414
32    Allred          242,444  180,791   25,000    86,653
32    Salerno         150,608   30,870        0   119,737

36    Steele          105,023   62,699    1,231    43,555
36    Powell           50,653   20,817   10,000    39,789

Notes:

– Unlike other campaign finance reports, the FEC reports are cumulative, which is to say that the numbers you see for Raised and Spent are the totals for the entire cycle. For all the other races we look at, these numbers represent what was raised and spent in the specific period. It’s useful to have these totals, but you have to compare to the previous quarter if you want to know how much a given candidate raised or spent in that quarter.

– There are eight candidates in this summary who were not in the Q2 roundup – Khorasani, Escobar, Hulings, Ortiz Jones, Panda, Hegar, Lester, and Salerno. Christopher Perri filed for CD21 last quarter but is shown in CD25 this quarter. Not sure if one or the other is an error – he wasn’t listed as a candidate in a recent story about CD25 – but do note that Congressional candidates are only required to live in the state, not in a particular district. Debra Kerner had been listed in CD07 before but she has since ended her candidacy.

– Not all candidates in all races are listed. I pick ’em as I see fit.

– It’s really hard to say how much of an effect Harvey may have had on fundraising. As the Trib story notes, it may be that many candidates have largely tapped their easiest sources, and it may be that some donors are keeping their powder dry. We may get some idea when we see the Q4 numbers in January. In the meantime, remember that there’s a long way to go.

– One candidate who does appear to have had a change of fortune, and not for the best, is Colin Allred in CD32. No idea why, again we’ll want to see what the next report looks like.

– Still no candidates of interest in CDs 10, 22, or 24. Sure would be nice to either have someone with juice file, or for someone who is already running to step it up.

In support of the Paxton prosecutors

Good to see.

Best mugshot ever

In an unusual step, six prosecutors and Texas’ criminal defense attorneys association have joined a continuing legal storm over how much the special prosecutors overseeing the criminal case against Attorney General Ken Paxton should get paid.

Preventing the three special prosecutors in Paxton’s case from getting paid would thwart justice, according to Bexar County District Attorney Nicholas “Nico” LaHood, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore, Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey Jr., Travis County Attorney David Escamilla, former State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn and Enrico Valdez, a Bexar County assistant district attorney. The group intervened late Friday with the state Court of Criminal Appeals.

[…]

In a separate filing with the appeals court, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association argues much the same thing, saying that courts have previously ruled that proper compensation for appointed prosecutors is necessary and that the Collin County Commissioner’s Court should honor the payments to the three special prosecutors in the Paxton case.

“We’re gratified that prosecutors and defense attorneys with almost 200 years of collective experience agree how very important this case is, and that we’re entitled to the relief we seek in the Court of Criminal Appeals,” Houston attorney Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors in the case, said in a statement Sunday.

See here and here for the background. A copy of the prosecutors’ brief is here, and the TCDLA brief is here. Friday was the deadline for all to submit documents in support of or opposition to the Fifth Court’s ruling. The Statesman adds details.

The Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, in a brief filed recently with the Court of Criminal Appeals, argued that unless the ruling is reversed, it will place strict limits on legal fees, “effectively preventing the judiciary from being able to appoint qualified lawyers in difficult cases.”

“All of the gains made and all of the advances and improvements accomplished in indigent defense in Texas over the last 20 years will fall to the wayside,” the association argued. “Texas will return to the days of sleeping lawyers and otherwise unemployed insurance lawyers taking court appointments in criminal cases.”

A second brief by six current or former prosecutors — including Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and County Attorney David Escamilla — also urged the appeals court ruling to be overturned, arguing that it undermines the pursuit of justice in cases, like Paxton’s, where outside prosecutors are appointed after a local district attorney steps aside for a conflict of interest or similar reason.

Judges must have the discretion to set higher fees for unusual or difficult cases, they told the court.

“After all, it is often the unusual cases that require the most skilled and qualified attorneys, and these are the very attorneys who are most likely to decline the representation without adequate compensation,” said the prosecutors, who included former State Prosecuting Attorney Lisa McMinn and Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey Jr., a Republican.

[…]

“Without the ability to pay a reasonable market rate in these rare circumstances, courts are effectively without power to fulfill their constitutional obligation,” the defense lawyers group told the Court of Criminal Appeals.

According to the brief from the Travis County prosecutors and others, the lower-court ruling also undermines the ability of court-appointed prosecutors to do a complicated and taxing job that often includes seeking warrants, handling grand juries, responding to defense motions, interviewing witnesses, reviewing evidence and preparing for trial.

In addition to discouraging qualified lawyers from serving as prosecutors, the prosecutors’ brief complained that the ruling allows politics to invade criminal justice decisions — such as in Collin County, where commissioners have voiced support for Paxton while seeking to limit payments to those prosecuting him.

“It creates a situation where the local county commissioners can effectively stop a criminal prosecution,” the brief said.

I’ve been saying a lot of these things myself, so I’m glad someone with actual legal credentials is making those arguments formally. Galveston Count and the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas filed briefs in support of Collin County, since all they really care about is the financial impact. I’ll say again, the state could solve this very easily by picking up the tab in these cases. It’s a small amount of money in that context, and it would avoid all these problems. Someone needs to file a bill to this effect in 2019.

Paxton officially appeals redistricting ruling to SCOTUS, part 2

The state House version.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court ruling that ordered nine of Texas’ statehouse districts redrawn after being found discriminatory.

In August, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in San Antonio ruled that parts of Texas’ statehouse maps were discriminatory and ordered nine districts in four counties, including Dallas and Tarrant, redrawn. Paxton appealed that decision to the Supreme Court and had the lower court’s ruling blocked in September.

Now, Paxton is asking the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s ruling and settle the six-year legal battle.

[…]

Paxton’s move follows a similar request on Texas’ congressional maps earlier this month. In August, the three-judge panel in San Antonio invalidated two congressional districts, Lloyd Doggett’s in Central Texas and Blake Farenthold’s in Corpus Christi, and ordered them redrawn. But after an appeal from Paxton, the Supreme Court blocked the lower court’s ruling. Paxton has also requested that order be reversed.

See here for the background. Not much more to this – we knew it was coming, and here it is. Some day we’ll get a resolution.

School districts don’t need gift registries

They need to have their needs met by the state.

Texas school districts ravaged by Hurricane Harvey still need thousands of textbooks, dictionaries and other instructional resources, so the state’s education agency is borrowing a page from the wedding industry to help cover the costs.

The Texas Education Agency has modified its textbook ordering system to create a “wedding registry” of sorts where districts can list the textbooks they need to replace those damaged in the storm.

Textbook publishers, individuals or organizations can then donate the books, as can school districts that have excess inventory.

“It was very clear that a lot of people lost a great amount of instructional materials, including textbooks,” Commissioner of Education Mike Morath said. “If you consider the scale of Harvey, (the registry) is not solving everyone’s problems, but it is helping in places.”

The registry is meant to match districts in need with those willing to donate, and officials say those donations will free up money to cover other costs, such as rebuilding schools.

But some question the approach, expressing concerns over delays in instruction as schools wait for the textbooks to arrive, and the impact that will have on student learning.

“If we had books that have been destroyed, then the state needs to step up and take care of that problem,” said Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

So far, 14 districts have created needs-lists in the state’s registry, including Humble, Sheldon and Pasadena school districts.

You can see the registry page here. I mean, I have no problem with providing a way for districts that have surplus supplies to give them to those that need them, but that should not be the first avenue of recourse. Students need textbooks and other such materials today – remember, their standardized test scores are still going to count. As Rep. Huberty says, the districts should just buy what they need and send the bill to the state. Admittedly, I can understand why they might be skittish about that, but if there’s one time where public opinion should be overwhelmingly on their side, this would be it. Let’s not waste any time here.

Framing the 2018 question

This Chron story asks the question “what might it take for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas in 2018, then never actually engages it.

At the five-top table in the corner at Russell’s Bakery, a northwest Austin restaurant and coffee bar, the conversation among the five women, all self-described as “recovering Republicans,” veered from the signature cinnamon rolls and traffic to President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I have two questions I’d like to know the answer to: Is there any way for a Democrat to win a state office next year, and what would it take for some Republicans to lose in this state?” Chrys Langer, a 47-year-old tech consultant and mother of three, asked a reporter sitting at a nearby table. “Politics has taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion, in Austin with the bathroom bill and all kinds of other conservative-male nonsense and in the White House with – well, with Trump being Trump.”

[…]

In interviews with voters of both parties, from Houston to suburban San Antonio to Dallas to Austin, the question comes up time and time again, as does an underlying frustration with governments in both Washington and Austin.

Despite that, more than a dozen political scientists and consultants interviewed by the Chronicle said they see almost no chance that Republicans will lose hold of their 23-year grip on statewide elective offices during next year’s elections, despite the fact that Democrats made notable inroads in Dallas and Houston a year ago when Trump won Texas by just nine percentage points – down from previous double-digit support of Republican presidential candidates.

“There isn’t any way Democrats can win statewide office in Texas, short of some astounding collapse of the Republicans in Washington or Austin,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Winning is a habit, and so is losing. The Democrats right now have no well-known candidate, no bench, their funding has evaporated, and they have no experience in their volunteer base. The Republicans have all of that.

“And at the end of the day, the Republicans who say they’re not satisfied with things will vote for a Republican because, with the polarization of the political process in recent years, Democrats are now seen as enemies of the state, and they won’t jump across and vote for them.”

Jillson’s sentiments echoed those of all the others, even with the so-called “Trump Factor” that Democrats are touting as a key to some unexpected victories in the November 2018 elections.

“Trump’s approval rating would have to drop into the teens where it might hurt Abbott and Patrick and the other Republicans on the ballot in Texas, and even then I doubt the effect would be significant,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Even though the Democrats will try to tie Abbott and Patrick as close to Trump as they can, every time they get a chance, they can distance themselves from Trump because Texas voters in a midterm election pay more attention to state issues than Washington.”

Let me begin by saying that Rottinghaus’ statement about midterm elections is not at all in line with the results of at least the last four midterms, at least as far as Republican turnout goes. If you don’t think Texas is reflective of the national climate, I’m not sure what to tell you.

That’s the first thing to think about when considering possibilities for 2018: What will Republican turnout look like? On the one end, we have 2006, where statewide Republican vote totals ranged from 2,135,612 to 2,661,789. On the other end, there’s 2010 where the low was 2,737,481 and the high was 3,151,064 (I’m skipping races where there was no Democratic challenger, such as Comptroller in 2010). In between is 2014, with a range from 2,691,417 to 2,827,584. Which of those years will 2018 most closely resemble? Obviously, a 2006-style year makes for a more competitive environment for Democrats, but it’s not something Dems have control over. What are the factors that might lead one to expect a 2006 versus a 2014 or a 2010? Polls, fundraising, tone of rhetoric and advertising, Presidential popularity, some combination, something else? Put those PhDs to use and give me your thoughts on that.

Then there’s Democratic turnout, which as I’ve noted ad nauseum has remained stubbornly flat since 2002. The high end, with a few exceptions, has been around 1.8 million. If Dems could boost their base turnout by about 600K votes – that is, roughly the boost Republicans got from 2006 to 2010 – they’d be at 2.4 million, which would have been enough to capture the three Commissioner races and two contested judicial seats in 2006. Two point four million represents about two-thirds of the 2016 overall turnout for Dems, which again is about what Republicans achieved in 2010 over 2008. What factors might make a political science professor think such an achievement was possible? We know that the key in Harris County in 2016 was a big increase in voter registration, which in turn led to a much larger pool of Democratic-aligned voters. Dems may not have the infrastructure Republicans have enjoyed, but there are now multiple grassroots organizations – Pantsuit Nation, Indivisible, Our Revolution, the scaled-down version of Battleground Texas – that are out there engaging and registering and doing the things Dems should have been doing all along. Multiple Democratic Congressional candidates continue to excel at fundraising. Again, what do the people that the newsies reach out to for comment think of all that? What if anything might make them think there’s something happening here?

Picking the Republicans to hold serve again is very likely to be accurate, but it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t address the obvious fact that the climate is very different now, so it doesn’t give us any way to think about how that might change what could happen in 13 months – or five months, if you want to ask the same question about the primaries. It will be much harder to answer these questions than it was for me to ask them, and those answers may well change over the next year and a month, but surely we should be asking them anyway. I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

Texans take a knee

Good for them.

On Sunday afternoon, before the Houston Texans faced off against the Seattle Seahawks in Washington, all but approximately 10 Texans took a knee during the national anthem.

This was a direct response to Texans owner Bob McNair after an ESPN report on Friday revealed that, during a meeting with other NFL owners, McNair said the league needed to put a stop to protests during the national anthem because, “We can’t have inmates running the prison.”

McNair’s comments were particularly jarring considering that the protests — which began at the start of the 2016 season when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem — are a way to draw attention to police brutality and systemic racism, which the criminal justice system only exemplifies.

[…]

McNair issued two apologies, one on Friday and one on Saturday. He also reportedly spoke with the players directly on Saturday.

“As I said yesterday, I was not referring to our players when I made a very regretful comment during the owners meetings last week,” McNair said on Saturday in his second official apology regarding his comments. “I was referring to the relationship between the league office and team owners and how they have been making significant strategic decisions affecting our league without adequate input from ownership over the past few years.”

But an unnamed player on the Texans told Josina Anderson of ESPN that he did not accept McNair’s apology.

“I think as an owner and as a business man that is something you can’t really say,” the defensive player said. “My reaction is: that’s unacceptable and I don’t want to even hear an apology, or anything like that, because I feel like you knew what you said because you were in a room where you didn’t think it was going to leak out; so you said how you feel. So, that’s how I feel about it.”

You’ve probably seen coverage of this over the weekend, but you can refer to this ThinkProgress story, Deadspin, and the Chron for a refresher. If there’s one reason why I’ve never embraced the Texans, it’s Bob McNair. All I can say is I look forward to the day when he finally sells the team.

2017 EV daily report: Day 6

Here are the numbers through Saturday. Sunday’s numbers didn’t come in last night, but it’s the shortest EV day so its numbers are always the smallest. Here are the daily totals from previous years:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

And here’s a select comparison:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2017   19,425   8,201   27,626   19,873
2015   57,657  21,141   78,798   42,938
2011   18,205   4,340   22,545   14,105
2007   14,235   3,555   17,790   13,097

No insights today, just a reminder that the next five days are always the busiest period for early voting, though sometimes that’s just the last day or two. It will be interesting to see how this plays out this year.

Weekend linkdump for October 29

And the gold medal in pole dancing goes to…

Frank Oz talks Muppets and Little Shop of Horrors.

“Over the past 30 years, food companies like Nestlé, Mars, Barry Callebaut, and Hershey’s — among the world’s biggest producers of chocolate — have poured millions of dollars into scientific studies and research grants that support cocoa science.”

When people said “I read it for the articles”, this is what they were talking about.

“All of our observations find a complete symmetry between matter and antimatter, which is why the universe should not actually exist“.

“Over the last century or so, the precise reasoning behind why America fed its students had a strong influence on how we did it. And the rationale has changed more times than you’d think.”

“We do not currently have a clear public vocabulary of civic freedom in the US or a cultural penumbra that surrounds support for the same. We didn’t need them before. Now we do.”

“A ThinkProgress investigation found that fake Twitter accounts run out of Russia had wormed their way into dozens of [media] outlets from across the American political spectrum over the past two years.”

RIP, Paul Weitz, retired NASA astronaut who commanded the first flight of the space shuttle Challenger and also piloted the Skylab in the early 1970s.

RIP, Robert Guillaume, two-time Emmy-winning actor, best known for Benson and Soap.

RIP, Fats Domino, rock and roll pioneer and legend.

An oral history of “The Contest”, the famous “master of my domain” episode of Seinfeld.

This year’s Doctor Who Christmas special will premier in the theaters, and will include the first look at Jodie Whitaker in the title role.

Weird Al Yankovic on the craft of making his polka-fied cover song medleys.

“So now, after a year of revelations on this scandal, it’s worth taking a step back to consider why and how political journalism failed so badly prior to the election.”

RIP, Catherine Nance, a Houston Moms Demand Action activist that I’m sorry I never knew.

Why was Team Trump such easy pickings for Putin?

“Astronomers may have discovered the first interstellar object, a comet or asteroid that’s broken free of another star to pay a visit to our sun.”

Michael Sorrell

Gromer Jeffers of the DMN floats a name for Governor.

Michael Sorrell

On the rugged campus of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, the school’s president, could be the last hope for Democrats to field a credible candidate to face incumbent Greg Abbott in next year’s governor’s race.

Operatives in the Texas Democratic Party have been trying to persuade Sorrell to be the party’s standard-bearer against Abbott. The talks intensified Oct. 13, the Friday before the Texas-Oklahoma football showdown, when Democrats had another meeting with Sorrell in Dallas. They are hoping that he will agree to submit his paperwork for a campaign when the filing period for the 2018 election opens next month.

“I’m not going to comment on that,” Sorrell said recently, realizing that I knew about his talks with Democrats.

Sorrell, 50, is largely unknown throughout Texas and has never run for statewide office. At times, he’s been considered a potential candidate for Dallas mayor and Dallas County judge. He’s managed political campaigns and been a part of various bond efforts in the city of Dallas.

[…]

Many big-name Democrats have said “no” or given the party the “I’ll get back to you” brushoff. They include former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio (Julian’s twin), former state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio , Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas and Hill+Knowlton Strategies CEO Jack Martin.

The would-be contenders don’t believe Democrats can beat Abbott next year, and the pessimism could hurt the rest of the ticket. Democrats did get some positive news on Tuesday. Andrew White, the son of the late Gov. Mark White, is exploring a run for governor. The Houston investor told Texas Monthly that he would campaign as a Democrat, but try to appeal to moderate Republican voters.

With White on a listening tour, the only Democrats who have announced bids to challenge Abbott are Dallas businessman Jeffrey Payne, former congressional candidate Tom Wakely of San Antonio and former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis. They are all candidates not recruited by party leaders and have little chance of beating Abbott.

Enter Sorrell, a native Chicagoan who has been a part of several successful underdog campaigns, including the 2008 election of former President Barack Obama.

Sorrell is not afraid of Abbott, and because he doesn’t have a political office to forfeit, he has nothing to lose but valuable time away from Paul Quinn College and his family. Education would surely be part of his platform, as Democrats want to pound Abbott and Republicans for not putting enough resources into improving public schools. Known as an innovative leader, Sorrell has improved the facilities, fundraising and curriculum at the historically black private college. Paul Quinn is accredited, and he famously turned the football field into an urban farm. Sorrell would be acceptable to the base of the Democratic Party, though it remains to be seen how much he’ll be able to fire up the electorate.

My reaction right now is that I feel the same way about Sorrell as I do about Andrew White, and for that matter Jeffrey Payne and anyone else: I’d like to hear more about who they are, what they stand for, and what they would like to do as Governor. And, you know, that they actually want to run and are committed to winning, however unlikely that is. Payne has crossed that bridge; we’ll see about Sorrell and White and the others. At first glance Sorrell looks mighty impressive, so I hope he is giving this serious consideration. HBCU Digest has more.

JJ Watt announces his plan for Harvey relief funds

This had been much anticipated.

Hurricane Harvey victims, nonprofits and Texans fans alike have been on the edge of their seats to hear what J.J. Watt planned to do with the $37 million he raised for storm relief. As of Thursday, he has a plan.

In a Twitter video posted Thursday afternoon, Watt explained that he will direct the money to focus on four areas: rebuilding homes, restoring child-care centers, distributing food and providing medical and mental health services.

He said he will partner with four charities: SBP: Disaster Resilience & Recovery, which will help with rebuilding homes; Save The Children, which  will help to reestablish child care centers; Feeding America, which will handle food distribution; and Americares, which will help provide medical services.

“While I understand the total recovery from Hurricane Harvey could require upwards of $200 billion, and this $37 million will not be able to help every single person as I so badly wish it could, I have made it my mission to ensure this money makes as large of an impact as possible,” Watt said in a press release that was sent out at the same time as the Twitter video.

[…]

Watt’s foundation has been tight-lipped about the plan for the funds until today, releasing few details and declining media requests until preparations were finalized. More information about the timeline of distributing the funds or opportunities for individuals to apply to receive help were not provided by Watt or his foundation.

According to the press release, the four charities will receive $30.15 million, and the last $7 million will be set aside and be distributed in 2018 for longer-term efforts yet to be announced.

Watt’s fundraising efforts ended in mid-September and in the press release he encouraged people to “continue to find organizations to donate to.”

Local news reports emerged earlier this month of storm victims being able to apply to receive cash from JJ Watt’s foundation. But Amy Palcic, a spokesperson for the Texans who said she’s worked closely with Watt on this effort, said via email that these were incorrect: “there isn’t a mechanism for people to apply for funds and no money has been distributed to date.”

Now that the recipient charities have been announced, it is up to those charities to determine if there will be a way for people to apply for the money being distributed, she added.

The Twitter video is here. Watt had had a much more modest goal for his fundraising, but his star power helped bring a whole lot more to the effort than he had envisioned. That has put a lot of responsibility on him, and he is taking it seriously. I wish him continued success in his efforts.

Should we remove the concrete from White Oak Bayou?

That’s an interesting question, one worth considering, if there’s a way to pay for it.

A feasibility study conducted for the Harris County Flood Control District and released Friday offers three options to do just that.

What it does not offer is a way to pay for the three alternatives, which range from $30 million to simply remove the concrete to $60 million to re-contouring the channel to connect the bayou with publicly owned parks and open land above and below the waterway.

The question is particularly significant after Hurricane Harvey laid bare weaknesses in the local flood control system: nearly 180,000 buildings exist in floodplains, a handful of channel widening projects are halted with lack of federal funding and the flood control district struggles to stretch $60 million every year to service a county of more than 4 million people.

[…]

If the concrete removal is pursued, it would be the first such attempt to revert dozens of miles of concrete-lined channels that crisscross Houston to their natural aesthetic, building on recent widespread momentum to undo the utilitarian past. The concrete was laid as part of a massive flood control effort in the middle of the last century to straighten and channelize the bayous with an eye toward speeding stormwaters’ rush downstream, eventually to the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay.

The idea of removing the concrete and restoring the bayou to a more natural state comes two years after a $58 million project created 160-acres of green space near downtown in Buffalo Bayou Park. That project was paid for largely through private donations, including a $30 million catalyst gift from Kinder Foundation in 2010. The flood control district contributed $5 million.

For White Oak, however, it’s unclear who would pay for a bayou project that would take several years to complete and cost at least $30 million without significantly reducing flood risks.

The feasibility study presents three alternatives for a portion of White Oak Bayou between Taylor Street and Hogan Street: simply removing the concrete and excavating the channel; removing the concrete and connecting the bayou with city park space north of the bayou; removing the concrete and connecting the bayou to both the city park land and land owned by the Texas Department of Transportation to the south.

The first and cheapest option would cost roughly $30 million, the middle about $42 million and the most expensive option around $60 million.

Sherry Weesner, administrator and president of the Memorial-Heights Redevelopment Authority, which paid for the feasibility study said the group wanted to make sure, if and when the flood control district considered replacing the concrete, that it examine the idea of removing the concrete, as well.

Weesner said the authority currently does not have funding to pay for even the cheapest of the three proposals.

“By funding this study, we were able to say ‘Look at the possible options,'” Weesner said. “That way, everyone can make the best decision as to what’s best for the region in the long term to decide what to do when you need to do it.”

You can read the full report here. I think there’s value in doing this, but it’s hard to argue that it should have priority over any flood mitigation work. Maybe if the MHRA can raise private funds to cover a portion of the cost, as was the case with the Bayou Greenway Initiative, or if it can be tied to a flood mitigation project, then this would make sense now. Otherwise, it’s probably something to file away for another time.

Poker clubs

I wish them luck.

Michael Eakman, a poker aficionado from a very young age, has hosted poker tournaments from around the country, but Texas gambling laws have long shut him out of his own state and his hometown of Houston.

This year, however, he opened the city’s first restricted membership-based poker club, joining several Texas entrepreneurs who believe they have found a way to circumvent those regulations and host everything from friendly poker games to competitive tournaments.

Unlike traditional gambling houses, Mint Poker in southeast Houston does not take a share of any gambled money, referred to as raking the pot. Instead, the club and similar ones across the state charge membership fees for players wanting to play in the club, a business approach that pushes the boundaries of legal gambling.

But so far, Eakman and other entrepreneurs in Austin and north Dallas haven’t drawn any unwanted attention from the Legislature or state regulatory agencies. Their efforts are gaining enough traction that they’re looking to expand. They have formed an association to represent their interest and are hoping to establish more clubs across Texas.

“In our conversations with the city attorney here in our jurisdiction, we made everyone aware of what we were doing before we even signed the lease,” Eakman said. “I certainly don’t want to challenge anyone to bring a court case, but I think at the end of the day we’re handling this by being proactive instead of reactive is the way to do this. … There are no regulations and guidelines other than the narrow scope of a very vague law.” Bingo, horse and dog racetracks, Native American casinos and even the state-run Texas Lottery all provide outlets for Texans trying to test their luck.

[…]

At least three other membership-based poker clubs have opened in addition to the Houston business: Texas Card House with two locations in Austin, and Poker Rooms of Texas in north Dallas. They recently joined forces as the Texas Association of Social Card Clubs, and have begun working with longtime utilities lobbyist Tim VonKennel to represent them within the Texas Legislature, Eakman said.

VonKennel is the father of Texas Card House owner Sam VonKennel, and said he helped organize the Texas Association of Social Card Clubs to increase legislators’ awareness of membership-based poker clubs in Texas.

“The Legislature hasn’t really seen it yet because it hasn’t really existed,” VonKennel said. “As they pop up, I want to make sure the Lege is aware of them. What I would really like to do is get these guys to become licensed with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, and that way they’re absolutely certain they’re on the right side of the law.”

Sen. Jose Menendez, a Democrat from San Antonio, said he was involved with the creation of membership-based poker in Texas, encouraging Eakman to devise a business model that could clear the hurdles of Texas gambling laws when they met at a poker tournament.

“I think it’s a little hypocritical that we can have a state lottery or horse racing in texas but we can’t let people play poker,” Menendez said.

Basically, as far as I can tell, these things are legal until proven otherwise, which is to say until some law enforcement agency makes an arrest, or until Ken Paxton issues an opinion. The story above appeared a few weeks ago and fell into my drafted-but-never-got-around-to-publishing pile, then I saw this AP story and dug it back up. As noted, while the state has not given an opinion on this sort of thing, local law enforcement has, at least in some places.

On Sept. 7, Dallas police executed a search warrant at CJ’s Card Club on Walnut Hill Lane. Police filed a report alleging the keeping of a gambling place. The case remains under investigation. A department spokeswoman declined to release any further information.

The club has since closed, its website and Facebook page have been shut down, and its operators could not be reached.

Around that same time, Poker Rooms of Texas closed after Plano police questioned the legality of that operation. The club opened late last year in a strip center storefront on Parker Road off Independence Parkway. It reportedly attracted scores of players each night.

Its website states that it “is working with local authorities to resolve operational issues.” Its owners did not return messages.

The website for Lucky’s Card Room in Fort Worth says the club is temporarily closed while it works on a new location. And the site for TopSet Poker Club in Plano stated that its grand opening, formerly set for September, has been delayed while it considers options in light of problems identified at similar businesses.

Big Texas Poker Club opened in late August in a commercial building off Jupiter Road in Plano. Owners Fred and Heather Zimmerman said they did their homework to ensure that they would be legal. Three weeks later, they shut down to avoid arrest.

“This is a legitimate business, and it’s better than illegal poker rooms,” Fred Zimmerman said.

The couple said they were transparent about their club as they sought a city permit to open. Only after they started gaining members did they receive “threatening letters” from police stating that their business model violated the state’s gambling law.

Plano City Attorney Paige Mims said certificates of occupancy are about the fitness of a building and have nothing to do with the activity inside. As for whether a private card room can operate, she said the city does not give legal advice.

Police spokesman David Tilley declined to go into details about his department’s conversations with the poker rooms. “Gambling is illegal in the state of Texas,” he said.

In other words, if you have a favorite spot to play Texas Hold’Em, don’t get too attached to it. I should note that there was an effort in the 2009 legislative session to carve out a legal exception for poker, but it didn’t make it. If there’s been a similar effort since then, I’m not aware of it; that one had a social media/PR push behind it and there’s been no such thing in subsequent sessions. The legislator who filed the pro-poker bill back then was then-Rep., now-Sen. Jose Menendez, who as you can see still supports the idea. Like I said, I wish these guys luck. I’m not a poker player myself, but I see no reason not to let ’em play.

Saturday video break: The Altuve Polka

We interrupt the procession of cover/same name songs to bring you this, the most important video of 2017:

If the Astros don’t adopt that as their official team song, they are badly mistaken. This is easily the best Houston-centric sports song since It’s a Ming Thing.

No bribery charges against Paxton

I didn’t expect this to amount to anything, and indeed it hasn’t.

Best mugshot ever

A $100,000 donation to Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal fund did not constitute bribery, Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Wiley said Friday in announcing her office had closed its investigation into the gift, which came from a CEO whose company was under investigation for fraud.

Wiley’s office originally opened its probe on Oct. 5 after Paxton accepted donations from James Webb, whose diagnostics company was investigated after it allegedly billed the government for Medicaid and Medicare services conducted without proper medical supervision. Webb’s company ultimately paid $3.5 million in a settlement.

[…]

Wiley said in a news release Friday that as Webb and Paxton had previously had a “personal relationship” and “attorney/client relationship,” the donation did not constitute bribery.

See here and here for the background. Like I said, my expectations here were low. Jesus loves me, but he doesn’t love me that much, you know? We’re gonna have to get rid of this guy ourselves.

City buys out some flooded homes

Expect to see more of this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council on Wednesday approved funding nearly 60 home buyouts across three flood-prone neighborhoods, the first such step from City Hall in recent memory.

The city typically leaves buyouts to the Harris County Flood Control District and, in fact, the measure approved by the council would send $10.7 million to the district to pay for the purchases, estimated at about $175,000 per property.

Houston has not had any in-house staff devoted to the issue in recent memory, but Hurricane Harvey has spurred city officials to acknowledge the need to remove more flood-prone residences from harm’s way, leading to Wednesday’s vote to fund voluntary buyouts in three working-class neighborhoods. Harris County Commissioners Court approved the deal earlier this month.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he “absolutely” expects the city to fund additional buyouts in the months to come but that the strategy must be paired with channel improvements, new reservoirs or detention basins and other flood mitigation efforts.

“There are thousands more homes that are subject to buyouts,” he said. “We need to handle it in a very strategic fashion. We need to factor in all of the strategies that will be required to make the city more resilient.”

In fact, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Wednesday unveiled 15 recommendations to combat flooding on a regional basis, calling for, among other things, more buyouts, cooperation across city and county lines, an expansion of county floodplains, and the immediate funding needed to complete several flood control projects along area waterways.

The dollars approved by the council Wednesday are federal funds the city received after two floods in 2015, and are earmarked for areas that suffered in those storms, Turner said. City data show each area also suffered significant damage during Harvey.

As Mayor Turner says, this is one piece of a very large puzzle. Among other things, you want to avoid creating a smattering of abandoned properties in the middle of neighborhoods. Locations for buyouts are going to have to be chosen very carefully.

As for those recommendations from Judge Emmett, here’s a summary:

  • Creating a regional flood control organization that can coordinate water management across county lines. Releases from Lake Conroe in Montgomery County have been fiercely criticized by Harris County residents.
  • Increasing regulations on development in flood prone areas, including rethinking floodplains. The county is currently conducting a reevaluation.
  • Developing an improved flood control system and localized evacuation plan that could utilize volunteer organizations to help first responders, as well as how to coordinate high-water vehicles and private boats. Residents in the areas around Addicks and Barker dams have called for a better warning system, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams, considered such a system before dropping the idea two decades ago.
  • Installing automatic barriers at flood-prone underpasses and developing a plan for closing such underpasses. After the Tax Day floods, Emmett said he would lead such an effort.
  • Buying out all homes located in the 100-year floodplain or that have flooded repeatedly. The County has several disparate buyout efforts ongoing, but a larger scale program will probably cost billions of dollars.

The Press has the full list. I basically agree with most of it, but there are a couple of items I want to comment on:

9. Expanding the role of municipal utility districts. If your local MUD isn’t doing much about preventing flooding, Emmett thinks that needs to change, that their responsibilities should include both storm water management and flood control in cooperation with the flood control district.

15. Giving Harris County ordinance-making power. Even though if unincorporated Harris County were a city it would be the fifth-largest in the country, Harris County doesn’t have ordinance-making power. Also, Emmett said county government should receive some of the collected sales tax rather than just relying on property tax. “To continue to exclusively rely on the property tax is fundamentally unfair and unsustainable,” he said. This is much more of a long-term shift, however, Emmett said.

The governance of MUDs is definitely an issue, but I think this is the wrong approach. Especially since we need to get a handle on the kind of build-everywhere growth that MUDs promote, I say we should at the least encourage, if not outright coerce, existing and proposed MUDs to incorporate or be annexed. MUDs may have served a purpose in the past, but it’s a model we should not seek to perpetuate. It’s time for a different approach. Space City Weather has more.

By the way, CHIP is still running out

Just in case you were wondering.

Advocates say Texas will run out of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program sooner than they thought. The program, which Congress failed to reauthorize last month, covers nearly 400,000 children from working-class families in the state.

“It’s expected that Texas will run out of CHIP funding in January,” said Adriana Koehler, a policy associate with the advocacy group Texans Care for Children. “With the holidays coming up in the next few months, we really need Congress to get the job done now.”

Just a few months ago, advocates said it was unclear when the state would run out of CHIP funds. Some advocates expected the state had until next September; others said funds would run out in February.

Carrie Williams, a spokesperson with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said the funding could run out as early as January.

Williams said the agency pushed up the timeline because of reduced income from co-pays. After Hurricane Harvey hit, the federal government waived co-pays and enrollment fees for CHIP recipients. That meant less money was coming into the program than expected.

“So funds may be exhausted a bit sooner than February,” she said.

See here for the background. One might think that such a fanatically and performatively “pro-life” state like Texas would be full of leaders who would care deeply about 400,000 children losing access to health care, but one would have to be deeply naive to believe it. At this time, it looks like the best bet for action will be CHIP reauthorization as a part of a successful government shutdown hostage negotiation. There’s a sentence I hope I never have to type again. Remember when we had a government that was interested in actually, you know, governing? Those were the days, I tell you.

Friday random ten: Black and blue, part 2

My odds are stacked/I’ll go back to black

1. Black Horse And The Cherry Tree – KT Tunstall
2. Black Is The Color – SixMileBridge
3. Black Lipstick – Chicano Batman
4. Black Magic – Little Mix
5. Black Night – Deep Purple
6. Black Rain – Fastball
7. Black Water – The Doobie Brothers
8. Black Widow – Michelle Shocked
9. Black Widow – Iggy Azalea
10. Black Woman – Fred Anderson Quartet

Has anyone done a good cover version of “Black Water”? I feel like someone should have, but if they have I don’t know about it. Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” is not a cover of Michelle Shocked’s, though I bet that would have been interesting. We need more good cover songs, that’s what I’m saying.

Ken Paxton is officially running for re-election

In case you missed it.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton will seek re-election as he fights three criminal indictments that are expected to go to trial next year.

Paxton, who was expected to run again despite his legal woes, made it official in an email to his supporters Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, it’s been my greatest honor to serve the people of Texas as your Attorney General,” wrote Paxton, a Republican. “Much has been accomplished since I took office three years ago, but there’s much more to be done.”

[…]

About six months into the job as the state’s top lawyer, Paxton was indicted on three counts of violating state securities laws. He’s accused of duping two men, including outgoing Corsicana Republican Rep. Byron Cook, into investing in a failing North Texas technology company and of failing to register with the state while acting as an investment adviser representative.

The more serious of the charges, the two first-degree felonies, carry a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison and tens of thousands in fines.

Paxton denies all the allegations, which he says are politically motivated, and has twice defeated similar charges lobbed against him by the federal governmentHe is scheduled to go on trial for the lesser of the three charges sometime next year.

The Republican primary election will take place in March. Paxton has not drawn a challenger.

Paxton is also being investigated for accepting a $100,000 gift from a man who settled a multi-million dollar Medicaid fraud case with the state. That bribery probe is expected to wrap up soon.

See here and here for more on the bribery investigation, which may turn out to be nothing, or may turn into a raging inferno that consumes him. No one has announced a candidacy on the Democratic side yet, though I know some people have been sniffing around this, and I fully expect someone will step forward. And who knows? Independent of any considerations about the prevailing political atmosphere in 2018, whoever that is may just get lucky.

Curbside recycling will resume November 13

Hooray!

Houstonians stockpiling cardboard and aluminum cans, rejoice: the city will resume curbside recycling service next month.

Recycling service has been suspended since Aug. 30, when city waste crews dropped all efforts other than weekly trash pickup to focus on removing the thousands of piles of debris resulting from Hurricane Harvey.

Residents wondering whether their service will start the week of Nov. 13 – the “B” schedule – or Nov. 20 – the “A” schedule – can visit the Solid Waste Management Department’s website and click the “City Services Info Viewer” link.

[…]

Homeowners are reminded not to place any of Harvey debris in their 96-gallon green recycling bins, and also to keep glass out of the containers.

Pending the selection of a new recycling processer – an effort that was scrapped earlier this summer after council members questioned the procurement process – residents are stuck taking glass to any of the city’s six neighborhood drop-off sites or the Westpark recycling center.

See here for the background. Everything you need to know is here, so click over and remind yourself of the dos and don’ts, as well as the schedule. I’m just delighted to have a little piece of normality restored. Click2Houston has more.

2017 EV daily report: Just remember, the reports we get are all of Harris County

Here are today’s numbers, and here are the daily totals from previous years:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

And here’s a select comparison:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2017   11,953   7,513   19,466   19,581
2015   36,322  19,789   56,111   42,520
2011   10,818   3,823   14,641   13,697
2007    8,080   3,126   11,206   12,775

So 2011 appears to be the closest comparison so far. That might imply a much higher level of turnout than what I’ve been suggesting, but I’m not prepared to believe that yet. The main reason for this is that less than 40% of the vote was cast early in 2011, and I seriously doubt that’s what we’re going to get this time. Odd year elections skew more towards Election Day and less towards early voting than even year elections – in 2015, just over half of the vote was cast early – but I think this year we will see a higher percentage of the vote cast early. The message from the County Clerk is to take advantage of the early voting period because a number of polling sites are unavailable thanks to Harvey, and I think people will heed that. We’ll take our guesses about that later in the EV period, but for now just keep that in mind. 2017 may be a bit ahead of 2011 in early voting, but I suspect that’s because more people will be voting early than usual.

It should also be noted that these reports encompass all of Harris County, so some of those numbers above are not for Houston or HISD. I’ve gone through this exercise before, but let’s review the percentage of county turnout that was in Houston in these elections:


Year   Harris  Houston   Share
==============================
2015  421,460  268,872   63.8%
2013  260,437  174,620   67.0%
2011  164,971  121,468   73.6%
2009  257,312  178,777   69.5%
2007  193,945  123,413   63.6%
2005  332,154  189,046   56.9%
2003  374,459  298,110   79.6%

“Share” is just simply the percentage of the county vote that came from Houston. There’s a big span here, but that comes with an asterisk, because the conditions were not the same each year. For example, in 2015 and 2007, Harris County had bond elections in addition to the state constitutional amendments. In 2005, the notorious state anti-gay marriage referendum was on the ballot, which coupled with a non-competitive Mayoral election meant a much larger county share. Finally, in 2003 there was the Metro referendum, which covered all of the county. There were also no state constitutional amendments on the ballot, as those had been voted on in September, to enhance the odds of the tort “reform” amendment passing.

Bottom line, with boring constitutional amendments on the ballot, I’d suggest that county/city ratio will be like the other years, which is to say between 67 and 73 percent. Let’s say 70%, just to split the difference. That’s another thing we’ll have to take into account when we do our projections later on.

Speaker Straus not running for re-election

A bombshell no one saw coming.

Rep. Joe Straus

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, announced Wednesday he will not run for re-election in 2018, a decision that has the potential to upend the political balance of power in the state.

Straus, who has lately been the most powerful moderate Republican in the Texas Capitol, said he will serve until the end of his term. That means there will be a new speaker when the Legislature next convenes in 2019.

His decision will immediately set in motion a scrum for control of the House, pitting arch-conservative members who have opposed Straus against more centrist Republicans. Within hours, one of Straus’ top lieutenants, Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, announced that he had filed to run for the speaker’s post. State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has already announced he is running. Other candidates are expected to jump in.

Straus has clashed with hardline conservatives in recent years, not least Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Tea Party leaders and their allies have blamed Straus for killing controversial measures backed by the far right, most notably a bill that would have regulated which bathrooms transgender Texans could use.

“I believe that in a representative democracy, those who serve in public office should do so for a time, not for a lifetime. And so I want you to know that my family and I have decided that I will not run for re-election next year,” Straus said in a campaign email. “My time as a State Representative and as Speaker will end at the conclusion of my current term.”

[…]

Asked if he planned to run for any other office in the future, Straus said he is “not one to close doors.” He acknowledged he has received encouragement to run for other offices and did not rule out the possibility of a gubernatorial bid. But he said he doubts he will be on the ballot in 2018.

As for the race to succeed him as speaker, Straus suggested he would not get involved.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for people who aren’t members in the Legislature in the next session to really register an opinion on that,” Straus said.

The announcement immediately set into motion speculation about the future of Straus’ top lieutenants. One of his closest allies, Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, who is chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said in a statement first reported by Quorum Report that he “will pursue other opportunities to serve our great state.”

Straus made his announcement on Facebook, which if you have a feed like mine immediately took over everything. This came as a big surprise, because just last month Straus was urging business leaders to keep up the fight against bathroom bills and other such harmful proposals, and two weeks ago he formed the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness to push pro-growth policies. I doubt it had occurred to anyone that he himself might walk away at this time, but if a young, scandal-free first-term US Senator can say “screw it, I’ve had enough”, then nothing like this should surprise us. Indeed, as Ross Ramsey notes, this will almost surely presage a lot more retirements. Get ready for it.

As to what happens next, I’m not going to panic or despair, at least not yet. For one thing, like Christopher Hooks, I’m a little wary of the hagiography coming from my fellow travelers over Straus’ legislative career.

Liberals have never quite figured out what to make of the man. On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true that Straus was a bulwark against the new populist tendencies of the Texas GOP. He and allies such as Byron Cook, who is also retiring, stopped a metric ton of junk legislation that would have passed with a different speaker. When considering the question of why Texas has fared generally better than similarly red states like Louisiana and Kansas, which are on fire, Straus and the conditions that created Straus are a significant part of the answer. He’s the last person in state government who seems to care about governing as a concept.

But out of that fact emerged too a picture of Straus as a sort of Aaron Sorkin character, a paternal figure with an unnaturally rosy image and a passing resemblance to Gregg Popovich, typified by the mythic representation of Straus’ bathroom bill showdown with Patrick in a recent New Yorker article. There is an element of Stockholm Syndrome in that, as if Straus was the jailer who always asks about your kids. Among other things, the House of Straus passed many of its own pieces of junk legislation — voter ID, loads of anti-abortion laws, etc. — and served at times as a trough for the lobby. Straus and his lieutenants often declined to water down bad legislation, including, spectacularly the state’s “show your papers” law. The Capitol debate over what Straus personally wants, and when his hand is being “forced,” is as long and storied as it is useless to ordinary Texans.

Straus isn’t Jeff Flake or Bob Corker — he’s been staying true to some version of his principles since he was elected speaker, not just recently. But it’s also worth wondering why a person who places so much emphasis on good government is willing to abandon his post, possibly to another Republican in the mold of Dan Patrick or Donald Trump. A tremendous amount now depends on whether a Straus-type successor can be elected speaker.

For sure, we could have done much worse than Straus – we had already done much worse, under Tom Craddick – and we could do much worse going forward. I’m just suggesting that we maintain a bit of perspective here. Going forward, a Speaker Zerwas would be more or less the same as Speaker Straus was, while a Speaker King would basically be Speaker Craddick minus the Craddick Dems. The way to enhance the odds of the former is for more Democrats to win legislative races next year, especially against wingnuts in swing districts like Matt Rinaldi. Perhaps the Texas Association of Business, who helped give us Speaker Craddick in 2002, might get involved in a few Republican primaries if they’d like to see Straus’ legacy live on. There are concrete things that can be done to ensure a better outcome, is what I’m saying. That’s where I’d put my energy if this news is distressing to me. The Chron, RG Ratcliffe, the Current, and the DMN have more.

What about those constitutional amendments?

Would you like someone to explain to you what those seven Constitutional amendments are about, in painstaking detail, with a recommendation for how to vote on each? Daniel Williams is here for you.

It’s that time of the biennium again! Time for voters to consider constitutional amendments on small minutia of public policy. Texas has the longest state constitution in the nation. It’s so detailed and specific that many ordinary and noncontroversial provisions of the law must be submitted to the voters for approval. That means that we the voters have a responsibility to educate ourselves on all that ordinary and noncontroversial minutia and do our best to vote in an informed and thoughtful way.

I’ve included the text of each proposed constitutional amendment, along with an attempt to briefly explain what the amendment is trying to do and how I’ll be voting when early voting starts tomorrow. I’ve also included information on how various advocacy groups and media outlets on all sides of the political spectrum have endorsed. If I’ve left off a group you think should be included let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.

Click over to read said painstakingly detailed explanations, the TL;dr version of which is “vote FOR props 1, 3, 5, and 7, and AGAINST props 2, 4, and 6”.

If you want further reading on the amendments, the League of Women Voters 2017 guide has you covered, though they don’t make recommendations. They do have information about the city of Houston bond referenda, and a brief Q&A with the HISD and HCC candidates; all but two of them provided answers. Finally, the Texas AFL-CIO has a guide to the amendments as well, along with their recommendations. You may find this exercise exasperating, but you can’t say you don’t have sufficient information to make good decisions.

On the matter of other elections, Instant News Bellaire has coverage on the elections for Bellaire’s Mayor and City Council. And if you live in Alief ISD, Stace has a slate for you. Now get out there and vote!

More on the Paxton bribery investigation

It’s good to have rich friends.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton says the man who shelled out the most money to help him combat securities fraud charges is a “family friend,” but a review of campaign finance records show his main financier is also a major Republican donor for candidates up and down the ticket.

In a little more than a decade, Preferred Imaging CEO James Webb has given nearly $1 million to Republican candidates, including a $100,000 gift to Paxton to help fund his legal defense fund. The year after he gave his gift, the attorney general’s office agreed to a $3.5 million settlement after investigating his company for Medicare fraud.

Now Webb and his gift are at the center of the latest investigation into Paxton’s personal dealings, sparking a probe by the Kaufman County district attorney, confirmed an investigator at the agency.

Mike Holley, who is handling the case, said the DA will announce in the coming weeks whether the office will bring charges that Paxton violated the state’s bribery and corrupt influence laws by taking money from someone whose company was under investigation.

[…]

Webb, of Frisco, is a former law client of Paxton’s, according to Welch. Paxton participated at Webb’s wedding, he added, but declined to provide further details or pictures.

Webb has been a regular campaign contributor of Paxton’s for years. He gave him his first political donation in 2013 when the Republican from McKinney was running for attorney general, according to campaign finance records. He has contributed heavily to other Republican candidates’ political campaigns since then.

In total, he has given $896,800 to Republican candidates’ political coffers since 2006, according to a review of campaign finance records. Webb ponied up the most – $496,000 – for the 2014 election when voters swept Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Paxton into office.

The wealthy CEO has helped fuel all their campaigns, but gave the most to Paxton. Webb contributed $300,000 when Paxton was running for attorney general although he also give tens of thousands of dollars to Dallas area state representatives and hopefuls that election cycle.

[…]

The investigation is focused on whether Paxton violated the state’s bribery and corrupt influence penal code, said Holley, an investigator in the Kaufman County district attorney’s office handling the case. However, the investigation could turn up wrongdoing by other actors, he said.

Kaufman County District Attorney Erleigh Norville Wiley is expected to announce this fall whether the investigation has warranted new charges, she said.

See here for the background. Again, I don’t really expect anything to come out of the Kaufman County investigation, but if something does, that would be amazing. For one thing, it might be difficult to fit this story into the “Paxton haters are out to get me!” narrative he’s been spinning, but I’m sure his attorneys are up to the task. Of course, those attorneys will still have to be paid, and he’ll have one fewer sugar daddies to tap for that. Life is hard, you know? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Keep some popcorn handy as we wait to see how this plays out.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 23

The Texas Progressive Alliance congratulates the Houston Astros on winning the AL pennant as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Chron overview of the HISD races

It’s not much, but it is what it is.

As Houston ISD faces a possible state takeover, a $106 million budget shortfall and millions of dollars in needed repairs from Hurricane Harvey, six of its board’s nine seats are up for election on Nov. 7.

Fifteen candidates are vying for school board seats in regular elections, and four are competing in a special election for the District III seat held for 14 years by Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, who died in July.

The election comes at a turbulent time for Texas’ largest school district, which educates about 212,000 students.

If 10 of the district’s longest-struggling schools don’t show academic improvement through student test scores this spring, the Texas Education Agency could either take over the district or close those campuses. The district wrote a $77.5 million check to the state earlier this year to pay its recapture fee, which the TEA uses to buoy school districts with lower property values. Those recapture payments are forecast to increase to about $200 million by next year, even as the district struggles to provide extra services, such as counseling to students in high-poverty schools.

It’s also Superintendent Richard Carranza’s second year at the helm, and although he has not yet made any seismic changes, he has signaled his administration will look into altering magnet programs and funding, overhauling the budget, centralizing some school operations and providing more equitable resources to historically underserved schools and communities.

There’s a brief bit on each candidate, with something from their webpage and a short quote from those who responded to the reporters’ requests. If this is all you know about the contestants in your race, it’s precious little to go on. At least there are my interviews, the various endorsements, and things like the LWV guide to help you. If you’re already familiar with the candidates this won’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but if not at least it’s something.

Now to be fair, while the Chron didn’t give us much on the races as a whole, they did provide this big story about the peccadilloes of one HISD candidate.

Daniel Albert

Daniel Albert’s unorthodox approach to his job as City Council’s highest-paid staffer has assumed added importance this fall with his pursuit of the District VI seat on the Houston ISD board of trustees.

Albert asks voters to weigh his qualifications and let him help lead the nation’s eighth-largest public school system: His bachelor’s in biomedical engineering from Tulane University, his law degree from North Carolina Central School of Law, his three master’s degrees.

He highlights his public service as chief of stafff for freshman City Councilman Steve Le, citing his work with city departments to clean up illegal dump sites, install speed bumps and replace street lights in District F.

Many civic leaders in southwest Houston view Albert’s work differently, however, saying they rarely see him in the district and struggle to get answers when they contact Le’s office.

This may be due partly to Albert’s infrequent presence at City Hall. City records show Albert uses his employee badge to swipe into city buildings less than three days a week, on average – a clear outlier among the 16 chiefs of staff for Houston’s council members.

Read the whole thing. Albert’s obviously a busy guy – in addition to his job and his candidacy, he’s got a wife and two little kids – and his boss says he’s doing a fine job, even if his boss’ constituents think they’re being shortchanged. I would just note that as busy as Albert is, it’s a little hard to say how much time he’s spending on his HISD race. He hasn’t raised any money, preferring to self-fund instead. He didn’t respond to the Chron for their race overview story, he didn’t respond to the League of Women Voters for their candidate survey, and he never replied to my inquiry about doing an interview. No one says he has to do any of these things, but if we’re wondering how a guy who is at the office a lot less than other people in the same job spends his time, there are clearly a few pieces of the puzzle missing.

Andrew White

We’ll see about this.

Andrew White

Houston investor Andrew White—the son of the late Texas governor Mark White and one of the small boat heroes of Hurricane Harvey—plans to launch an exploratory bid for governor in the 2018 elections this week. Although White wants to run as a Democrat, he aims to appeal to moderate Republicans who are frustrated with the state’s leadership on issues like the bathroom bill.

“What we’re trying to do is look beyond the issues and try to figure out who are the people leading us,” White says. “What kind of people are leading us? Are they people who are politically expedient, making short-sighted decisions? Are they people who are appealing to fringe elements of their party, the 200,000 to 300,000 fringe voters in their primary who represent less than 1 percent of the population of Texas, or are they willing to stand up and do what’s right?”

White says his favorite phrase is, “Do right and risk consequences,” the motto of Sam Houston. White’s father used that as part of a speech urging the Legislature to raise taxes during a 1986 financial crisis. Lawmakers raised taxes to prevent making drastic cuts to public schools, higher education, and social services, but it cost then-governor White his re-election bid.

“It worked out for the people of Texas. It didn’t work out for his career,” White says of his dad. “That’s the problem here. We have to have politicians who are willing to lose their job to do what’s right.”

The best example of that dearth, White says, is the so-called bathroom bill. When Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick forced a special session, Governor Greg Abbott put it on the agenda. Supporters of the bill, which ultimately died in the special session, said it would keep predatory men out of women’s restrooms, but it was largely seen as an attempt to discriminate against transgender individuals and as a political swipe at the LGBTQ community. Abbott and Patrick have not ruled out resurfacing the issue in any future special session or when the Legislature reconvenes in its 2019 regular session.

“The moderate Republicans are looking at their leaders and finding out they don’t represent their beliefs,” White says. “The old Republican party was pro-business and pro-jobs and ‘keep the government off my back.’ So what’s the bathroom bill? It’s an over-reaching government program to tell you that you need to bring your birth certificate into the bathroom. It might cause us to lose every Super Bowl, every national championship game—not to mention, how could Amazon consider a second headquarters in Texas if we’re having this argument right now? How many jobs do you lose? The sacrifice we would have to make over something that has zero data to support it is bizarre.”

Like I said, we’ll see. I’m glad to see someone with a brand name express an interest in the race, and he’s already got the right message on the bathroom bill. Beyond that, I’m going to need to hear a lot more, and I’m going to need to hear some good answers. It’s not just that “conservative Democrat” doesn’t excite me, it’s that we’ve tried this strategy of wooing “moderate” Republicans before, in the last two elections, and we don’t have a whole lot to show for it. In a world where base Democratic turnout is at parity with base Republican turnout, that kind of plan makes sense. In a world where their base is a million voters bigger than ours, it’s a proven loser.

So that’s what I mean when I say I need to hear more. What message does Andrew White have for Democratic voters? “Sanctuary cities”, access to health care, voting rights, criminal justice reform, public education – I’m just getting started. White now has a Facebook page and AndrewWhite.com up, though they are both bare bones at this time. The bathroom bill stuff is a good start. I hope he builds on that. The Trib has more.

What Houston is showing to Amazon

Meet the Innovation Corridor.

Houston leaders hope to entice Amazon with a spot somewhere within the four-mile stretch of the Metro rail line that runs from downtown to the Texas Medical Center, an area they’re calling the Innovation Corridor – and the city’s best shot at winning the Seattle tech giant’s $5 billion second headquarters.

The rail line cuts through a part of Houston that includes some of the city’s largest companies and most prominent health care institutions, as well as Rice University, Hermann Park, the Museum District, Houston Community College, NRG Park and the collection of bars, restaurants and apartment complexes in trendy Midtown, according to a document outlining Houston’s confidential proposal.

City officials won’t say exactly where they want Amazon to plant a campus that could grow to more than 8 million square feet and house 50,000 high-paying jobs. But they have proposed multiple sites within the corridor, a slice of Houston that connects the city’s intellectual and cultural assets in the heart of its ethnically diverse population and bustling business hub.

“What’s remarkable is how concentrated all of this is in a four-mile-long area,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, the group behind Houston’s bid for Amazon. “Innovation Corridor seems to fit. It’s just like, wow, this is what Amazon is looking for.”

[…]

Local leaders have given Amazon its choice of undisclosed sites within the so-called Innovation Corridor, which, according to the document drafted by the Greater Houston Partnership, offers close access to two international airports, three interstates, 3 million workers, plus key game changers in business and an unparalleled array of amenities.

The document’s 32 bullet points highlighted the nearly 100,000 people who work in technology-related fields as well as the region’s low taxes, low cost of living, reasonable housing prices and eclectic neighborhoods and restaurants.

In particular, the document highlighted the city’s racial and ethnic diversity, which, Harvey argued, should appeal to a company that wants to attract millennial workers to a tech industry that has come under fire for its ethnic uniformity, particularly in Silicon Valley.

“As Amazon seeks to diversify its ranks at the executive, manager and professional levels, there is no better place to locate than in Houston,” city leaders said.

I still don’t think Houston’s efforts are going to amount to anything, but hey, it’s worth a shot. Given what Amazon has talked about for their new location, this is probably the best part of town to meet the requirements. Maybe we’ll learn something from the experience for the future.

Charges against Dukes dropped

She beat the rap.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors have dropped their criminal charges against state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, saying Monday that a felony case against the state lawmaker should never have been brought.

The announcement ends a months-long legal saga in which Dukes was accused of abusing public office after a grand jury indicted her on 13 felony charges and two misdemeanor charges earlier this year. But prosecutors have, over recent weeks, been forced to admit that their case against the Austin Democrat was based on flawed evidence.

“Representative Dukes was innocent from day one,” said Dane Ball, an attorney for Dukes, in a statement. “We’re glad Representative Dukes can get back to serving her constituents without the distraction of these baseless charges.”

The felony case against Dukes claimed she had unlawfully tampered with a government record by falsifying entries on travel vouchers to obtain money for expenses she was not entitled to. But Travis County prosecutors were forced to put their felony case on hold last month after claiming a key witness in the case — who managed the official paperwork for the Texas House of Representatives — had changed his story.

Then, earlier this month, prosecutors were forced to drop one of the felony charges after acknowledging they had misread a date on Dukes’ cellphone, which formed a key piece of evidence they had gathered against her.

See here for more on that previous update. To say the least, the Travis County DA’s office did not cover itself in glory in this case. Margaret Moore needs to take a hard look at how this happened, and hold some people accountable for it. I’m not a fan of Dawnna Dukes, but she did not deserve to go through this.

Which is not to say that Dukes has been exemplary throughout. She’s a mediocre legislator who misses a lot of votes and as the story notes settled some misdemeanor issues related to misuse of funds by agreeing to pay everything back. She will have a full slate of opponents next year, most of whom once intended to run in a special election after she was supposed to resign her seat in January. I won’t be sorry to see her lose, if she does. Still, I have to figure that the ending of this saga will help in her re-election bid. She was wronged and she prevailed, and that’s an appealing story to tell the voters. RG Ratcliffe has more.

UT/TT poll: We need more context

Time for another UT/Texas Trib poll, in which the pollsters do a mighty fine job of failing to find anything interesting about their data.

Donald Trump remains highly popular with Texas Republicans nearly a year after his election as the 45th president, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

“Trump’s overall job approval numbers continue to look good with Republicans,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “His base is still very secure.”

His popularity with Texas Democrats, on the other hand, is remarkably low. While 79 percent of Republicans said they approve of the job the president is doing, 92 percent of Democrats disapprove. Among independent voters, 55 percent handed Trump good marks, while 35 gave him bad ones.

The president got better marks from men (52 percent favorable) than from women (39 percent); and from white voters (55 percent) than from black (14 percent) or Hispanic voters (34 percent).

Overall, Trump remains popular with Republicans in a state that hasn’t shown a preference for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades. “There’s no slippage here in intensity,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling research at the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “There is some in the national numbers, but it’s not happening in Texas.”

The first thought I have when presented with data is “Compared to what?” In this case, how do these Trump approval numbers compare to other Trump approval numbers? And guess what? We have such numbers, from the previous UT/Trib poll. To summarize:


Approval                       Disapproval

Month  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem  Overall  GOP  Ind  Dem
=====================================================
Feb         46   81   39    8       44   10   36   83
Oct         45   79   55    4       49   15   35   92

So Trump’s numbers are a teeny bit softer now than they were in February. Approval is down a point, disapproval is up five. More interesting is that while Dems are now nearly unanimous in their disapproval, Republicans are a bit less favorable to him as well. I’m curious at what level Henson and Blank will describe Trump’s Republican support as something other than “very secure”. The big shift here is with independents, whom I suspect are mostly conservatives who are disgruntled for one reason or another with the Republican Party. They stand out here are being much more amenable to Trump. Seems to me that would be something to explore in more depth, if anyone over there ever gets a bit curious.

The other way to approach this is to compare Trump’s numbers to Obama’s. It took me longer to find what I was looking for, partly because the stories about these numbers don’t always break them down in the same way, but the crosstabs to the October 2013 poll gave me what I was looking for:

Obama, October 2013:

Dems – 77 approve, 11 disapprove
Reps – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Inds – 19 approve, 66 disapprove

Trump, October 2017

Dems – 4 approve, 92 disapprove
Reps – 79 approve, 15 disapprove
Inds – 55 approve, 35 disapprove

Again, the big difference is in independents. Trump has slightly higher approval but also higher disapproval from his own party, while both are equally reviled by the other party. I look at this, and I wonder about that assertion about intensity. From a strict R/D perspective, Trump is an almost exact mirror image of fifth-year Obama, at the same point in the election cycle. Do we think this means anything going into the ensuing midterm election? I think one can make a decent argument that Dems have the intensity advantage right now. I don’t think anyone knows whether than may have an effect on the turnout patterns we have seen in recent years. But the conditions look quite different, and if one is going to claim that the outcome will be the same as before, I’d like to understand the reason why. If one is going to ignore the question, or fail to notice that there is a question in the first place, I’d like to understand that reason, too.

By the way, on a side note, how can Trump have four percent approval among Democrats, but 14% approval among blacks and 34% approval among Hispanics? Are there that many black and Hispanic Republicans and/or Independents in this sample? There are no crosstabs, so I can’t answer that question on my own.

The big race so far on the 2018 ballot is the Senate race, and we have some polling data for that as well.

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is much better known among Texas voters than his best-known political rival, Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

The incumbent faces some headwinds: 38 percent of voters said they have favorable opinions of Cruz, while 45 percent have unfavorable opinions of him. In O’Rourke’s case, 16 percent have favorable views and 13 percent have unfavorable views.

“Ted Cruz’s greatest asset — his strong support among the Republican base — remains pretty intact,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.

But it’s in the no-views-at-all numbers that Cruz has an advantage: only 17 percent said they have either neutral or no opinion of the incumbent, while 69 percent registered neither positive nor negative opinions of the challenger. More than half had no opinion of O’Rourke at all — an opportunity and a danger for a new statewide candidate who is racing to describe himself to voters before Cruz does it for him.

“Beto O’Rourke does not appear to have done much to improve his standing or, perhaps more importantly, to soften up Ted Cruz,” said Daron Shaw, a professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “This is the problem Democrats face in Texas — you have to grab the attention of voters and drive the issue agenda, but doing so requires a demonstration of strength that is almost impossible. Absent some substantial change in the issue environment, O’Rourke is on the same path as Paul Sadler and Rick Noriega,” two Democrats and former legislators who fell well short of defeating Republicans in statewide races.

Here’s a fun fact for you: In the entire 2007-08 election cycle, Rick Noriega raised about $4.1 million for his bid for Senate. Paul Sadler raised less than $700K in 2012. With a full year to go, Beto O’Rourke has already raised over $3.8 million, with $2.1 million in Q2 and $1.7 million in Q3. One of these things is not like the others. Maybe that will matter and maybe it won’t, I don’t know. O’Rourke does clearly have a ways to go to raise his profile, despite all the national press he’s received. It sure would be nice for the fancy professionals to acknowledge this sort of thing when throwing out analogies, that’s all I’m saying.

Now then, let’s look at Ted Cruz. Here were his numbers in March of 2013, shortly after he took office:

Cruz, in his first two months as a U.S. senator, is more familiar in his home state than Dewhurst, Abbott or John Cornyn, the senior senator from the state. He is viewed favorably by 39 percent and unfavorably by 28 percent, and only 17 percent have no opinion of him.

“Exactly what you would expect for someone who has been high profile and taken strong positions,” Shaw said. “Liberal Democrats have seen him and don’t like him. Conservative Republicans have seen him and like him. This is a decent indication of the spread of partisanship in Texas.

“He’s playing pretty well with the voters he cares about — the conservatives in Texas,” Shaw said.

And here we are in November of 2013:

Cruz’s unfavorable rankings increased by 6 percentage points since June, and his favorable rankings fell by 2; 38 percent of Texas registered voters had a favorable opinion of him, while 37 percent gave him unfavorable marks.

There may be more recent numbers, but that’s as far as I went looking. Short story, Cruz’s favorables are steady at 38 or 39%, while his unfavorables have gone from 28 to 37 to 45. I’ve no doubt this is due to the consolidation of Democratic disapproval, though I lack the crosstabs to confirm that. I’m sure he does have strong numbers among Republicans, but how strong are they compared to past results? I don’t expect more than a handful of Republicans to cross over to Beto next November, but staying home or skipping the race are also options, and if they’re less enthusiastic about their choice, that may be the choice for more of them. The one factor that can put the likes of Cruz in jeopardy is a depressed level of Republican turnout. Is there anything in the numbers to suggest that is a possibility? I think there is, though it’s early to say anything that isn’t pure speculation. If we want to say anything more substantive in later months, we need to know what the trends are. That’s what this data is good for now.

Is MLB expansion on the menu?

Before I answer the question in the headline, let me say Congratulations to the Astros, the first team ever to win the pennant in both leagues. (The Brewers, who won the AL flag in 1982, is the only other team to switch leagues, and thus the only other candidate to join that club.) And if the possible expansion plan goes forward, that may become moot as there would no longer be separate leagues.

Ever since the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005, there has been an ongoing movement in the Canadian city to regain a major league franchise. There has even been talk of support for building a ballpark downtown, which was one of the missing ingredients that led to the Expos’ departure.

In September, the folks in Portland, Ore., were given hope that they, too, could be home to an expansion team when commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking in Seattle, for the second year in a row mentioned Portland as a potential site for a franchise, and was quoted as saying “a team in the West” would be a part of any expansion.

And there is a legitimate ownership group in Portland that has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant. Approved by the state of Oregon to help finance a stadium when efforts were underway in 2003 to be the site for the relocation of the Expos (who instead moved to Washington, D.C.), the grant is still available.

There seems to be a building consensus that baseball will soon be headed to a 32-team configuration. It will lead to major realignment and adjustments in schedule, which will allow MLB to address the growing concerns of the union about travel demands and off days.

One proposal would be to geographically restructure into four divisions, which would create a major reduction in travel, particularly for teams on the East Coast and West Coast, and add to the natural rivalries by not just having them as interleague attractions, but rather a part of the regular divisional battles.

Click over to read the details, which include a slightly shorter (156-game) schedule, less travel, more days off, and eight wild card teams, who would have to win a play-in game to continue on. Kind of amazing to hear talk of expansion, let alone back to Montreal, a mere 15 years after “contraction” was the buzzword, but here we are, and I’m glad of it. There are many questions to be answered about this – for instance, would this finally mean universal adoption of the DH? – and no doubt a lot of opposition, as is always the case with sweeping change, but I look forward to the debate. SI, Travis Sawchik and Craig Calcaterra have more.

LWV to look at Harris County election security

I look forward to seeing their results.

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area plans to study the cybersecurity of Harris County’s election system, but the non-partisan group may not be able to gather all the information it wants.

The League, working with the non-profit civic-tech activist group Sketch City, hopes to finish the study and release recommendations by May 2018.

During an organizational meeting [last] Tuesday night at the Leonel Castillo Community Center, Sketch City founder Jeff Reichman said the group had received early cooperation from both the Harris County Clerk’s office, which administers elections, and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, which handles voter registration.

Reichman said the group wants to study all aspects of the election process, which uses Hart InterCivic eSlate voting machines that are about 15 years old. He said they want to look into the documented vulnerabilities of the machines; how easily computers involved in the election can be physically accessed both in storage and while in use in elections; and what the procurement process is for buying new machines.

“We want to look into the best practices that anyone with access to sensitive information should follow,” Reichman said during Tuesday’s meeting.

There’s been a lot of debate about the security of our election systems, locally and nationally. Less discussed is the fact that our voting system is just old, at least in technological terms. The eSlate made its debut in Texas in the 2000 election and has been in use in Harris County since 2002, which is five years before the debut of the iPhone. One would think there have been some advances in the engineering since then. As such, even without this particular elephant in the room, we have needed to be thinking about what comes next for some time. If this is even a small step in that direction, I’m glad to see it. I’m not sure what it would take otherwise.

2017 EV daily report: Day One

Happy first day of early voting! If you’re expecting me to have today’s EV totals from Harris County, as well as EV totals from past elections, you’re right. Here are today’s numbers, and here are the daily totals from previous years:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

And here’s a select comparison:


Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
=======================================
2017    2,718   5,355    8,073   18,665
2015    8,891  14,240   23,131   40,626
2011    2,557   2,079    4,633   12,041
2007    1,681     957    2,638   11,646

As you can see, 2017 is going to be a lot quieter than 2015, which is exactly what you’d expect given the lack of a contested Mayor’s race (or any city race) and a high-profile referendum. It was a little busier than 2011, at least in terms of in-person votes, and busier still than 2007, though the latter is almost surely due to a much greater prevalence for early voting nowadays. Note also the larger number of mail ballots sent and returned. As we have discussed before, I think a decent share of that is people shifting their behavior, and with the large number of displaced voters, it’s not hard to see why that would especially be the case this year.

Anyway. I will of course be tracking this data, and we’ll see how accurate my various flailing attempts at guessing turnout wind up. Maybe people will surprise us.

Early voting for November 2017 begins today

From the inbox:

“The best option to vote in the upcoming Nov. 7 election is during the early voting period,” advised Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. Early Voting for the November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections begins Monday, October 23 and will run through Friday, November 3. There will be 45 Early Voting locations across Harris County.

“Voters should be informed before heading to the polls as several of the usual Early Voting locations have changed”, said Stanart. “Locations hit hardest by flooding such as those running along Cypress Creek and those located near the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs have seen changes to several of their Early Voting locations”.

In addition to the 7 proposed State Constitutional Amendments, there are 5 cities, 14 ISD’s, and 10 utility districts with contests on the ballot. Voters can find their individual sample ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com.

“The impact of Hurricane Harvey to South Texas has been huge, and while we are recovering, please realize that government needs your participation in this election,” concluded Stanart. The pulling together of neighbors helping neighbors has been truly inspiring. Please join your neighbors as we meet at your neighborhood early voting location.”

To find polling locations for Early Voting and Election Day, view a personal sample ballot, or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the poll, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965. Stan Stanart is the Chief Elections Administrator and recorder for the third largest county in the United States.

Below is a list of early voting locations, some of which are new and one of which is a previously-used location that is not available due to Harvey. For a map and the EV schedule, see here. I’ll keep track of the daily totals as usual, and we’ll try to make our guesses as we go along about turnout. Feel free to place your guesses about how things go in the comments. When do you plan to vote?

Harris County, Texas – Early Voting Locations
November 7, 2017 General and Special Elections

Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street, 4th Floor Houston 77002
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
Harris County Public Health 2223 West Loop South Freeway, 1st floor Houston 77027
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center 1302 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
Sunnyside Multi Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kingwood Community Center 4102 Rustic Woods Drive Kingwood 77345
Rosewood Funeral Home 17404 W. Lake Houston Pkwy Atascocita 77346
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
Kyle Chapman Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Bear Creek Park Community Center UNAVAILABLE    
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Klein Multipurpose Center 7500 FM 2920 Klein 77379
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388
Lone Star College – North Harris 2700 W W Thorne Drive Houston 77073

 

People who oppose the Uptown Line continue to oppose the Uptown Line

Film at 11.

A plan for faster bus service along Post Oak, the centerpiece of a larger project to remake Uptown’s Main Street, continues to divide its supporters and transit skeptics, even as work accelerates and commuters brace for limited lanes through the holiday season.

The latest dust-up over the dedicated lanes is over a request to the Transportation Policy Council of the Houston-Galveston Area Council to commit an additional $15.9 million in federal funding to the project. The Uptown Management District and its associated tax increment reinvestment zone, the agency rebuilding Post Oak, also would commit to an additional $15.9 million.

The council is scheduled to meet and decide the issue on Oct. 27.

The request has drawn ire from skeptics, who contend the two bus-only lanes planned for the center of Post Oak will ruin traffic patterns and draw few riders. Many have called it the latest transit boondoggle for the Houston area, which they say will end up costing taxpayers more and provide limited benefit.

[…]

“This project is on budget and fully funded,” said John Breeding, the management district’s president.

Breeding cast the request as a way to shift more of the funding to federal sources, freeing up local money for additional work related to the project.

The dedicated bus lanes are part of a broader remake of Post Oak. The street will continue to have three lanes in each direction with turn lanes. Officials also are adding landscaping and large trees to provide shade, new pedestrian street lighting and wider sidewalks.

The project budget remains estimated at $192.5 million, though some costs have fluctuated.

I kind of can’t really tell what the fuss is about, since the project remains on budget, but then this is a rail-like project and not a road project, which means the rules are just different. As a reminder, the I-10 explansion cost a billion and a half more than we were originally told it would, and the I-45 project is going to cost billions, with overruns certain to happen as well. Somehow, that sort of thing never bothers the people who so vociferously oppose this kind of construction. Go figure.