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October 25th, 2017:

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.