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October 17th, 2017:

Interview with Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

HCC Trustee races never get the attention they deserve. That’s on me too, as I could spend more time with them, but it’s a systemic problem as much as anything. What I can do about it right now is bring you this interview with Trustee Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, running for a full term in District 4 after being appointed to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Carroll Robinson. Evans-Shabazz has been a teacher and Lead Evaluation Specialist with HISD, an educational diagnostician with both Aldine and Fort Bend ISDs, and an adjunct professor at Texas Southern University. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the NAACP-Houston branch where she serves as Chair of the Education Committee. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Amazon and Houston

Does our city have a shot at landing Amazon’s HQ2? Eh, maybe.

Bringing Amazon to Houston almost certainly will be a heavy lift. The pursuit of the company that revolutionized the retail industry has highlighted both the potential and shortcomings of the local technology sector, made up of scattered groups of engineers in the energy, medical and space industries, which account for many of the city’s major innovations, but have yet to break out of their silos to create the kind of culture and buzz that animate tech centers such as Silicon Valley, Austin or Amazon’s hometown of Seattle.

But economic development officials say that regardless of outcome, the bid may well become the catalyst for the kind of innovation ecosystem that pushes the region and its economy into new directions to underpin its long-term prosperity.

“Amazon is a foil for thinking about where you’re trying to take a city,” said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, which is leading a team of developers, academics, Texas Medical Center executives and real estate brokers juggling a high-stakes bidding war and Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts.


Houston likely has a tough sell ahead of it. The local startup scene has grown in recent years, but has so far failed to attract the sort of venture capital activity concentrated in Austin and other tech-focused cities. Skeptics point to the city’s consistent failure to develop projects that would substantially expand its technological base and attract major firms such as Microsoft, Google or Dell, all of which have operations in Austin.

Most recently, the University of Texas system’s ambitious plan to transform roughly 300 acres of land near the Medical Center into a cutting-edge data science center failed in the face of intense opposition from University of Houston leaders and state lawmakers. Proponents of the deal blamed political sparring for scuttling a deal that could elevated the city’s chance of developing a more robust technology sector.

“That type of nonsense has to stop,” said Houston developer David Wolff, chairman and president of Wolff Companies. “You have to have the institutions working together.”

But local leaders argue that the city’s growing number of software engineers and computer programmers could complement Amazon’s ambitions as it expands its data science capabilities outside of retail and entertainment. In addition, city officials in recent years have made a push to elevate local startups and draw venture capital investors. Station Houston, a downtown startup incubator and co-working space, has attracted more than 260 member companies since it opened this spring.

The city’s most prominent universities have bolstered their technology programs in recent years to include data science and analytics. The University of Houston-Downtown offers a master’s degree in data analytics, and Rice University has partnered with IBM to develop robotics.

“We are still evolving, and we can grow and design a city with the help of an Amazon to help customize our city to their particular needs, which many other cities cannot do,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in an interview. “We are just now beginning to focus on startups, technology, innovation in a very integrated sense.”

Just between you and me, I don’t think Houston’s odds are very good here, and I won’t be terribly grieved if we are not the chosen city. I think we’d have to give them a pretty substantive bribe incentive package to come here, and I have a hard time with that. (Turns out I’m not the only one who isn’t bullish on our fair city’s chances.) If we’re going to have a broader discussion about making the city more amenable to startups, or to address the infrastructure and transit demands Amazon is making, I’m all in. But let’s leave it at that. Swamplot has more.

Congressional candidates everywhere

Texas Democrats are as optimistic as they’ve ever been about candidate recruitment.

Rep. Roger Williams

“I’ve been recruiting candidates in Texas for years, and I’ve never seen an environment quite like this,” said Cliff Walker, candidate recruitment director for the state Democratic Party.

Walker predicted that for the first time in his political career, every open congressional seat will be filled by a “strong Democratic nominee,” and many will have a Democratic primary.

One such race is the primary to challenge U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin. His 25th Congressional District includes much of East Austin and parts of Central Austin, including the University of Texas. It stretches from western Hays County to the suburbs south of Fort Worth.

So far three Democratic candidates have emerged for the March primary, though there’s still time for others to join the race before the Nov. 11. deadline. All three cited Trump as their main motivator in deciding to throw their hat in the ring.

Kathi Thomas, 64, a Dripping Springs small-business owner, also challenged Williams in 2016. Initially, it was hearing Williams speak at a town hall-type meeting in 2014 that motivated her to run. After she lost to him last year with about 38 percent of the vote, she said, she hadn’t planned to run again.


Julie Oliver, 45, a St. David’s HealthCare executive and Central Health board member, never planned to enter the world of politics until Trump’s election, when she said she felt a call of duty.

“We need voices in Congress who will stand up to (Trump) and say that’s not OK. The way you speak is not OK. Where you’re leading us is not OK,” Oliver said, before naming Republicans in Texas and across the country who “won’t stand up to the bully” as she says she will.


It was seeing Trump announce the immigration ban that stirred to action Chetan Panda, a first-generation American whose parents came to the U.S. from India. Panda grew up and lives in Austin.

“You could see on CNN, these people who are not being allowed to be again in this country,” Panda said. “Honestly, I saw myself and my family’s faces on those people’s faces. … It was really opportunity being denied.”

Panda, 26, was working as a retirement fund manager at a mutual fund, but after that moment and careful consideration, he decided to leave the job to turn his focus on the congressional race.

Thomas was the only candidate of the three in CD25 to have filed a finance report for Q2. I didn’t include her in my roundup because she’d only collected about $8K. The deadline for Q3 reports was Sunday the 15th, and reports are starting to come in, so I’ll be very interested in what we get in this district. In the meantime, you can see Kathi Thomas’ webpage here, Julie Oliver’s here, and Chetan Panda’s here. You’ve got a range of options available to you if you live in CD25.

How good a target is CD25? It’s not completely hopeless, but it’s not exactly top tier. Here are relevant Presidential and Gubernatorial results from recent years, with Court of Criminal Appeals races thrown in for extra effect:

2016 – Clinton 39.9%, Trump 54.7% — Burns 37.0%, Keasler 58.1%
2012 – Obama 37.8%, Romney 59.9% — Hampton 37.6%, Keller 57.6%

2014 – Davis 39.5%, Abbott 58.3% — Granberg 36.4%, Richardson 58.9%
2006 – Molina 44.4%, Keller 55.6%

I didn’t include results from the weird 2006 Governor’s race. The more-encouraging 2006 CCA numbers are due to reduced Republican turnout, which was exacerbated in the downballot contests. Hope in all of these Congressional races begins with a combination of lessened Republican turnout plus energized Democratic participation, with some districts needing a higher concentration of each than others. If CD25 winds up being in play, we are on the high end of that scale.