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February, 2018:

Early voting, Day 8: So how worried should Republicans be?

Worried enough to fundraise off of the Dems’ EV numbers, for what that’s worth.

Through Sunday in the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters, 135,070 people had voted in the Republican primary and 151,236 in the Democratic. Compared to the first six days of early voting in 2014, Democratic turnout increased 69 percent, while Republicans saw a 20 percent increase.

The Democrats even surpassed their early voting totals from the 2016 primary — a presidential election year.

Sen. Ted Cruz told a group of Republican voters this month that the left would “crawl over broken glass in November to vote … We could get obliterated at the polls,” and other Republicans appear to be taking the Democratic surge seriously. Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign sent supporters an email Monday asking for donations to help him get out the vote, warning that the early voting numbers “should shock every conservative to their core.”

“I’ll be blunt: Democrat voter turnout is surging statewide during Early Voting,” reads the email, using bold and italicized red print. The email states that the last time Democratic primary voters came out so strongly was in the 1990s, during a gubernatorial election cycle, and that Democrats are flipping seats in special elections across the country in Republican strongholds.

“We’ve seen a surge of liberal enthusiasm in deep red states like Georgia, Alabama, and Oklahoma,” the email says. “We had always hoped the liberal wave would never hit Texas, but these Early Voting returns aren’t encouraging so far.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said it’s interesting that Democrats are turning out at a rate more frequently seen in presidential election years. After looking at the relationship between primary and general election voters, he concluded that more votes in Democratic primaries correlate with more Democratic votes in general elections. But he said Republicans usually turn out in higher numbers to vote in the general election no matter how they voted in the primary.

“Usually Republicans tend to run up the numbers in the general and are beating their opponents by big margins, so the relationship is not positive, but it is for Democrats,” Rottinghaus said. “Because the [Democrats’] enthusiasm is so high, you’re likely to see more support for Democrats in November and that’s likely to cut into the margins that they’ll lose to Republicans.

Fearmongering isn’t the same as being fearful, and it’s not like we haven’t seen this kind of language before. Republicans used Battleground Texas to scare the yokels in 2014, after all. It’s just that this year the voting numbers back up their apocalyptic pronouncements. It doesn’t mean anything yet, but it should at least quiet the narrative that Dems don’t turn out for primaries.

And here are those Monday numbers that didn’t come in till late Tuesday morning:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 7 EV 2018 totals

Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem    4,571    14,018   18,589
2010    Rep    9,376    21,421   30,797

2014    Dem    4,471    10,210   14,681
2014    Rep   13,573    23,930   37,503

2018    Dem   11,207    30,664   41,871
2018    Rep   13,812    27,497   41,309

Dems outvoted Republicans in person and by returned mail ballot on Monday, and thus took the lead in overall turnout. They have already exceeded their early vote total from 2014, and ought to surpass the overall 2014 turnout on Wednesday. I feel like Dems will easily top the 101,263 ballots cast in 2010, thus making this the biggest primary outside of the insane 2008 experience. Whatever it means, the excitement is real.

UPDATE: Here are Tuesday’s numbers, which did come in on Tuesday evening. Let’s just assume I’m going to be a day behind on these, OK? Dems outperformed Republicans by another 500 votes, and are just shy of 50K votes overall.

HISD’s budget deficit is a little smaller

A bit of good news.

Houston ISD administrators do not expect to cut magnet programs or re-open the magnet application process ahead of the 2018-19 school year, an announcement likely to ease fears among parents who send their children to choice schools.

Houston ISD leaders said Monday they are lowering the district’s projected budget deficit from about $209 million to $115 million, which would dramatically reduce the level of potential staff and program cuts.

The two announcements reflect the shifting nature of Houston ISD’s plans for major changes throughout the district, which have provoked anxiety among many parents and staff members. District leaders are proposing changes to the district’s magnet and funding systems — with the goal of providing more resources and programs to students in lower-income neighborhoods while facing a significant budget deficit largely brought on by the state’s school finance law.

Administrators are considering whether to phase out some magnet programs that have relatively little student interest or no consistent programming throughout a feeder pattern. District leaders want to better align magnets so students follow the same program from elementary through high school.

Administrators do not expect to cut many magnet programs, but any changes would not be made until 2019-20. Chief School Support Officer Mark Smith said the district did not want to rush any reductions that would force parents to immediately seek new options for their children.

See here for the background. What drove the sunnier budget estimate? Here’s the explanation.

When HISD first began budgeting for the 2018-2019 school year, it was in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Using a worst-case scenario, the district’s financial team projected a $208 million deficit based on four dynamic factors: the Local Optional Homestead Exemption (LOHE) lawsuit, a recapture payment to the state, a potential property tax value decreaseand an anticipated student enrollment decline. Taking direction from HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, district administrators crafted a revised budget outlook for the 2018-19 school year.

The district’s legal team feels strongly that the state will prevail in the LOHE lawsuit. For HISD, this means a reduction in its recapture payment because the TEA will recognize half of the 20 percent local homestead exemption given to homeowners. A decision in the lawsuit could come after a hearing this spring. A win would reduce HISD’s recapture payment by $51 million.

Under the Texas Education Code, TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has the authority to adjust property values. Based on the damage sustained from Hurricane Harvey and the lasting impact of the storm on our students and staff, we anticipate the commissioner will adjust property values, which in turn, would reduce our recapture payment. Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and other state leaders have publicly stated their support for this action. Click here to review a September 2017 press release from Lt. Governor Dan Patrick that confirms his support for schools districts in Region IV impacted by Hurricane Harvey, which includes HISD. In addition, Commissioner Morath surveyed school districts after the hurricane to gather projections on their property tax collections post-Harvey. HISD estimates a $42 million adjustment for property value loss associated with Hurricane Harvey.

It was prudent to budget under the worst-case assumption, and it makes sense to adjust on the reasonable expectation that he reality is better. HISD still has a big hole to fill, and changes to the magnet programs will be difficult and disruptive, though long overdue. I confess that I haven’t been following all this very closely – sorry, all the election stuff has taken over my brain – but I will get back into it as the process begins.

White and Valdez call for sensible gun control measures


Andrew White

The recent Florida school shooting is spurring the Democratic gubernatorial field to press for new firearms restrictions, looking to draw a contrast with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s response to the massacre — and touching on a sensitive subject in gun-loving Texas.

Democratic hopeful Andrew White was the most outspoken Monday, traveling to Austin to meet with local members of Moms Demand Action, a national group pushing for laws to prevent gun violence. Speaking with reporters while being flanked by the moms afterward, White invoked recent remarks from Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the shooting earlier this month at the Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 people dead.

Lupe VAldez

“Today I call BS on Gov. Abbott,” White said. “I call BS because you can support the Second Amendment and also support common-sense gun safety legislation. I call BS because the governor is in charge of the safety of 5 million school kids in Texas, and yet he’s too afraid to do anything about it because he’s protecting his A-plus NRA rating.”

White went on to call on Abbott to convene an “emergency special session to pass common-sense gun safety legislation.” He specifically proposed instituting universal background checks and banning large-capacity magazines. In response to reporters’ questions, he also voiced support for raising the age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 and banning bump stocks, devices that make it easier to fire rounds more rapidly.

In a statement following White’s appearance in Austin, primary rival Lupe Valdez called for a “comprehensive approach to gun violence, instead of a reactive approach.” Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, echoed the need for universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines, calling them “common-sense efforts we must take now.”

I approve of this, of course – I’d go further if it were up to me, but I don’t claim to be representative. It’s hard to say how well proposals like these would go over – polling can be tricky, though universal background checks are usually popular. As an election issue, especially in a year like this, the better question to ask is whether espousing these positions will drive more supporters to the polls or more opponents. This sure seems like a good year to be optimistic about the former, but who knows? The Chron has more.

Hey, let’s file another lawsuit to kill Obamacare!

Sure, why not?

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Texas is suing the federal government over President Barack Obama’s landmark health law — again.

In a 20-state lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that after the passage of the GOP’s tax plan last year — which also repealed a provision of the sweeping legislation known as “Obamacare” that required people to have health insurance — the health law is no longer constitutional.

“Texans have known all along that Obamacare is unlawful, and a divided Supreme Court’s approval rested solely on the flimsy support of Congress’ authority to tax. Congress has now kicked that flimsy support from beneath the law,” Paxton said in a statement Monday. “With no remaining legitimate basis for the law, it is time that Americans are finally free from the stranglehold of Obamacare, once and for all.”

Texas has sued the government more than 60 times since 2008, and those efforts haven’t ceased since the Obama administration gave way to that of President Donald Trump last year.

I couldn’t find any other stories about this, so I can’t tell you if any actual legal experts think there’s merit to this. But you know, if Super Legal Genius Ken Paxton thinks it’s a winner, then who am I to argue?

UPDATE: Ian Millhiser calls it “risible” and “‘Gotcha’ litigation”, but notes it was filed in the court of that judge who has issued national injunctions based on Ken Paxton’s flights of fancy before, so who knows.

2018 primary early voting, Day 7: Projecting final turnout

KUHF starts with the speculation.

Harris County Democrats are voting in record numbers ahead of next week’s primary. Total returns for the first six days of early voting put Democrats nearly even with Republicans.

As of Sunday night, Democrats’ combined in-person votes and mail ballots received totaled 34,555, an increase of nearly 200 percent over the 2014 congressional midterm election.

“They have an unprecedented number, the biggest they’ve ever had,” Jay Aiyer of Texas Southern University said on Houston Public Media’s Party Politics Podcast, “and it’s still counting. It’s important because about 60 to 65 percent of the total vote will come from these early votes.”

By comparison, Republican votes over the first six days totaled 35,036, up just 11 percent from the last midterm.

With all due respect, I think Jay is overestimating the share of the vote that will be cast early, and thus underestimating the amount that will be cast on Election Day. Here’s a look at past performance in Democratic primaries:

Year    Early    E-Day   Early%
2006   11,500   23,947    32.4%
2008  179,348  231,560    43.6%
2010   40,963   60,300    40.5%
2012   38,911   37,575    50.9%
2014   31,688   22,100    58.9%
2016   87,605  139,675    38.5%

There’s not much of a pattern here, but in no year has as much as 60% of the Democratic primary vote been cast early. My guess, when I put these numbers together, was that we’d be around fifty percent early (this includes mail ballots in all cases). I won’t be surprised if that’s an underestimate, but I don’t think it will be by that much. One reason for this is that it hasn’t been just the old reliables voting so far.

An analysis of the first four days of early voting in the March 6 primaries indicates that the fabled rebellion against the Republican social conservative leadership may not be materializing. On the Democratic side, it shows a surge of new voters—a fifth of the primary turnout is from people with little to no history of voting in a Democratic primary.

The new analysis of the early voting turnout comes from Derek Ryan, a Republican consultant. Ryan builds off of a Texas Secretary of State database of who voted in which elections. The database does not tell anyone how you voted, but it does reveal the names of who votes in party primaries and general elections. He then receives a daily report from the election administrators in eighteen of the top Texas counties to compare current voters to past voters with an eye toward spotting trends.

What Ryan found on the Republican side is a usual primary for a non-presidential election year. So far, more than 86 percent of the Republican primary votes have been cast by people who voted in past Republican primaries. Only about seven percent of the vote has come from people who do not vote in party primaries. Crossover voting from Democrats is almost nonexistent, with only a single percent of the GOP vote coming from 2016 Democratic primary voters.

Business and education groups have been urging members to vote in the Republican primary because of opposition to issues like bathroom bills or private school vouchers. These initial numbers indicate a weak rebellion. At the same time, social conservatives regularly make up less than 42 percent of the Republican primary vote. If enough of the Republican regulars combine with the new voters, some upsets are possible, although right now they look unlikely.

Over on the Democratic side, almost eighteen percent of the voters are people with no history of voting in a primary of either party; another three percent are people with no history of voting at all in primary or general elections; and 1.5 percent were Republican primary voters in 2016. Without polling the individual voters, Ryan told me there is no way to tell whether the surge is from motivated general election Democrats or from “purple” voters prompted to vote Democrat because of anger over the national Republican party politics.

I agree we can’t tell yet if the level of primary voting means anything for November. At this time, pending a change in the makeup of the Democratic primary electorate, I think we can say there’s still a decent reserve of regular voters who haven’t shown up yet but who almost certainly will. That to me suggests that the turnout on March 6 will be higher than one might think. I reserve the right to change my mind about this later in the week.

So what happened yesterday? Well, as of 11 PM, the daily vote report had not arrived in my mailbox. That happens when the hours change to 7 AM to 7 PM, so I’m afraid we’ll just have to wait. I may post an update later, but most likely I’ll just save this for tomorrow. Sorry.

UPDATE: Here at last are Monday’s numbers – apparently there were some technical difficulties. I’ll have full details tomorrow, but Dems outvoted Republicans in person and in returned mail ballots, and have overtaken the Rs for the lead in total votes. Boo yah!

Beware billboard blight

Does anyone actually want this?

Some 25,000 billboards along certain stretches of Texas highways could soar in size under a regulatory change approved by state transportation officials.

The Texas Transportation Commission voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate the existing 42½-foot height restriction beginning September 2019, allowing the size limit to double. The ruling followed months of deliberation and discussion, including a write-in campaign that generated thousands of letters both against and in favor of taller billboards.

The action allows the 2019 Texas Legislature to revisit the matter and issue clearer rules, commission chairman J. Bruce Bugg said.

“We are trying to bring what I would call a fair balance to the deliberation,” he said.

The commission was immediately criticized for giving lobbyists for outdoor advertising companies a stronger hand in dealing with legislators when they meet next year. Many sign companies are aggressively seeking to roll back limits on height and the brightness of electronic billboards.

“The industry has no incentive to participate in that, help in that, or do anything other than kill it,” said Margaret Lloyd, president of Scenic Texas, which advocates for sign limits.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and chairman of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee, said lawmakers in 2017 made clear they intended to keep the 42½-foot ceiling in place, although the authority rested with the transportation commission.

“Billboards will go to 85 feet,” Nichols said, warning of the consequences if lawmakers do not act.


The latest revisions to the billboard regulations were prompted by a court challenge to Texas’ sign rules in 2016, and a need to address hundreds of billboards that do not satisfy state rules because they pre-date laws, road conditions changed or were simply installed out of compliance.

“Some of them were over 100 feet,” Scenic Texas’ Lloyd told transportation officials. “(Outdoor advertising companies) basically turned their backs to the agency that was regulating them.”

Vela, the industry representative, said Texas has sufficient oversight of the outdoor advertising industry.

“We support robust enforcement of all regulations and believe that the department does a very good job of enforcement,” he said.

Comments pro and con poured in when TxDOT first proposed some of the rule changes in October, with more than 4,700 comments on the height restriction dominating the mix.

Of the 2,010 in favor of increasing the limit to 85 feet or eliminating height rules altogether, many came from outdoor advertising companies, property owners with billboards on their land and companies that use the signs to advertise.

Another 2,694 commenters opposed raising the height limits. Most of those were from Scenic Texas and its supporters and concerned residents.

Emphasis mine. This is not the first time that a proposal to raise the maximum height of highway billboards has come up – in that case, the new max height would have been a relatively petite 65 feet – and not surprisingly, the general public was against it. You know what to do in 2019, Sen. Nichols.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee in Texas

Let’s say I’m hope but verify on this one.

Former President Barack Obama and members of his administration are ready to take another shot at chipping away at Republican domination in Texas.

A new group headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder and with the public backing of Obama is targeting Texas among 11 states in which they are determined to change the redistricting process to assure more competitive state House and Senate races in the future.

“In 2011, Republicans created gerrymandered districts that locked themselves into power and shut out voters from the electoral process,” Holder said in announcing the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s electoral targets earlier this week.

“By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021,” he added.

And Harris County will be a big part of the plan. State Democrats have already highlighted more than 20 seats in the Texas House that Hillary Clinton either won over Donald Trump in 2016 or lost narrowly — a list the new NDRC group is well versed in, said Kelly Ward, executive director of the group.

Ward said her group hasn’t made specific targets yet, but said after the primaries in March they will begin to hone in on more specific targets.


[Manny Garcia, the Texas Democratic Party’s Deputy Executive Director] said state Democrats welcome the attention from national groups. He said the recognition from group’s like Holder’s only offers further vindication of the progress Texas Democrats are making.

In 2011, the Texas House had 101 Republicans and 49 Democrats. Since then, Democrats have gained 6 seats and have hopes for more in 2018. In the Senate, though Republicans have a 9 seat edge, Garcia said picking up just two seats would have a big impact on how the Senate operates.

Currently Democrats have few procedural tools to slow down the Republican agenda in Austin. But with two additional seats, Democrats would have enough votes to force Republicans to have to listen to them.

It all sounds good, but this isn’t the first time we’ve heard from a big-name group of former Obama staffers with big ideas and the promise of major resources, so I trust you’ll forgive me if I refrain from swooning just yet. They’re saying the right things, and the fact that Senate races are in the discussion is a positive, but we’ll know it when we see it if this is a real and serious thing.

On a broader note, I think a promise of a better and less-partisan redistricting process would have some appeal to less-partisan voters. Since the ouster of Sen. Jeff Wentworth, it’s Democrats who have taken up the thankless task of filing a bill for a non-partisan redistricting committee. Such a bill is highly unlikely to go anywhere without a Democratic majority, and of course once there is a Democratic majority the urge to use the process for our own benefit will be strong. Maybe things would be different this time, and who knows, if you get enough people to campaign and win on a fair-and-less-partisan redistricting process they may actually act on it once elected. It’s worth a shot.

The Socialists are coming

To a primary ballot near you.

The revolution will be down-ballot. Or such is the implicit promise of Franklin Bynum’s campaign for Harris County misdemeanor court judge. A 35-year-old former public defender, Bynum said he’s seen Houston’s criminal courts routinely railroad the poor into convictions that drive them further into poverty. Now, after nearly 10 years subject to the whims of conservative judges, he’s aiming to take the gavel for himself.

“Who are these courts being operated for? Right now, it’s the police, the bondsmen and the prosecutors, and people are just the raw material to be chewed up,” said Bynum, who’s running as a Democrat for Harris County Criminal Court at Law 8. Bynum’s platform includes expanding the use of personal recognizance bonds, waiving certain fees for the poor and reducing mandatory appearances, which he said are used only to “coerce” guilty pleas from defendants out on bail. “A democratic socialist judge would make the courts work for the people,” he said.

Bynum is one of at least 17 members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) running for office in Texas in 2018, including candidates for the U.S. House and offices ranging from governor to county treasurer. The DSA, which now counts more than 30,000 members nationwide, has grown explosively since Trump’s election and boasts at least 10 chapters in Texas. The group tends to prioritize issues on the left edge of the Democratic Party, like single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage. There’s no official candidate list, but the Observer reached out to DSA groups around the state to compile this running tally. (Not all the candidates have been endorsed by DSA.)

Some of the candidates, like gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wakely — who styles himself the “Berniecrat with a Panama hat” and lost a 2014 congressional bid by 20 points — face the sort of uphill climb usually found in the Himalayas. But others stand a fighting chance, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones pointed to congressional hopefuls Derrick Crowe, in District 21, and Rick Treviño, in the always-competitive District 23, as viable primary challengers.

“With Treviño and Crowe, it’s sort of the mirror image of what we saw with the tea party,” Jones said. “The advantage the establishment candidates have is money, but the tea party’s shown us that sometimes money can lose to these grassroots activist campaigns.”

In District 23, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and is currently represented by moderate Republican Will Hurd, Jones said a left wing platform that plays well with primary voters might fall flat in the general election. Hillary Clinton carried the swingy district by 3.5 percent in 2016, and Hurd’s margin of victory was just over 1 percent. But Treviño, a San Antonio high school teacher, is bullish: “[District] 23 is always described as a conservative district where ideas like Medicare for All or a living wage will turn off voters; that is absolutely false,” he wrote in a Facebook message to the Observer. “Across the district, these ideas are resonating, especially Medicare for All.”

There’s a list of DSA candidates at the bottom of the story and on this Google doc, which includes statements from some of them. As the story notes, some of these folks have a clearer path than others. Bynum has no primary opponent, so he’ll rise or fall with the rest of the countywide slate here in November. Danny Norris in HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, Chito Vela in HD46, the two Travis County judicial candidates – if they win their primaries, they’re in. Derrick Crowe has raised a decent amount of money but lags Joseph Kopser by a wide margin in that primary. A win in March by Crowe would be a big feather for the DSA’s cap. I’m much more skeptical about Rick Trevino, who has two well-funded and establishment-backed primary opponents, and is in a district that isn’t exactly conducive to blockwalking. It’s not just about fundraising, either – if you look at their campaign Facebook pages, Gina Ortiz Jones has more than three times as many followers as Trevino, while Jay Hulings has more than double his total. I don’t know what the best way is to measure “grassroots” support, but the measures I can find don’t corroborate the notion that Trevino has an underestimated level of backing. We’ll know for sure in a week.

On a side note, I’d observe that there’s less difference between the DSA position and the “establishment” position than you might think, at least on some issues. Look at what Bynum says about his priorities for the misdemeanor court he’s running for, then compare the judicial Q&As I ran for Harold Landreneau and Armen Merjanian. Bail reform – which is supported by the likes of DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – and finding alternatives to incarceration are pretty mainstream these days. Sure, there are some differences, and there are different priorities, but to a sizable degree a lot of it is about strategy and rhetoric, much as it is the case with the Tea Party and the “establishment” Republicans.

2018 primary early voting, Day 6: The fifteenth county

Sunday is the shortest and least busy day of early voting, and it is the transition to Week 2, when all the days are 12 hours long and numbers start to go way up. Here’s what this Sunday looked like.

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 6 EV 2018 totals

Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem    4,129    11,533   15,662
2010    Rep    8,498    17,900   26,398

2014    Dem    3,592     8,399   11,991
2014    Rep   12,288    19,649   31,937

2018    Dem    9,620    24,935   34,555
2018    Rep   12,642    22,394   35,036

Another day where more Democrats voted; Dems have almost caught up to Republicans in overall turnout. Dems have already exceeded their early vote total from 2014 (which was 31,688) and should pass 2012 (38,911) and 2010 (40,963) no later than Tuesday morning. Tomorrow I’ll look at the historical pattern in early voting turnout in Democratic primaries so we can begin to get a feel for what final turnout might be.

I’ve looked at the daily early vote returns from the Secretary of State, which tracks the numbers from the 15 biggest counties – the totals through Saturday are here. The thing about this is that the composition of the top 15 changes over time – for 2010 and 2014, Nueces County was on the list, but this year Brazoria County made the cut. As such, we can’t do the same-day comparisons for Brazoria, but we can get a bit of context by looking at the final EV totals, which you can see here: 2010 Dem, 2010 Rep, 2014 Dem, and 2014 Rep. In short:

2010 Dem = 5,828 total votes, 3.15% turnout – 2,189 votes were cast early
2010 Rep = 23,514 total votes, 14.01% turnout – 12,019 votes were cast early

2014 Dem = 2,933 total votes, 1.64% turnout – 1,542 votes were cast early
2014 Rep = 18,842 total votes, 10.56% turnout – 11,275 votes were cast early

2018 Dem = 2,133 votes so far, 1.06% turnout
2018 Rep = 7,123 votes so far, 3.54% turnout

Remember that the 2018 numbers are through Saturday, which is to say Day 5 of 11. This is more than the entire early turnout from 2014 and almost as much as 2010. I’d expect the early vote in Brazoria County to surpass final turnout from the 2014 primary on Tuesday, and will probably bypass final turnout from 2010 on Friday. So there you have it.

Possibly the last thing I’ll have to say about Laura Moser and the DCCC, at least for now

Nothing like having a seemingly bloodless bit of tactics turned in to a multi-day story.

Laura Moser

Democratic congressional candidate Laura Moser packed her Saturday with campaign events: spinning in the morning, drinking mimosas shortly after, block walking in the afternoon and hosting a “Vote Your Values” rally to finish things off. And at each stop, she did not shy away from the elephant in the room.

Raising her voice to be heard above cheers and applause from her supporters, Moser announced that since national Democrats came out against her on Thursday, she raised more than $60,000 — as well as received flowers and eight free meals.

“I would rather not have been attacked by my own party and have not had the money, any day,” she said. “But I’m glad to see that people are tired of politics as usual. People are tired of bringing down a candidate who has run a totally positive campaign. And there are more of us than there are of them.”


On Thursday, Moser’s campaign announced it had raised nearly $150,000 in the first 45 days of the year, a number that has been growing after the DCCC’s posting. The candidate said on Saturday that she has received more than 15,000 unique contributions and more than 1,000 volunteers have signed on to her campaign. Moser has also amassed a massive online following for a first-time congressional candidate. Many of her supporters are also fans of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully sought the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

I feel pretty confident saying that had the DCCC sat on its research for now pending the outcome of the primary, neither the Texas Tribune nor Chron columnist Erica Greider would have devoted a weekend-of-early-voting story to this race, or to this candidate in particular. Maybe next time y’all come up with a brilliant piece of strategy regarding a contested primary, you run it by a few locals first, to gauge their reaction? Just a suggestion. Again, whatever you think of Laura Moser and her merits as a candidate, it’s impossible to imagine that staying mum and seeing if she made it to the runoff and then deciding how to proceed would have produced a worse outcome for the DCCC.

As far as the fundraising goes, consider this:

Name             Thru 12/31  Thru 2/14  In 2018
Triantaphyllis      927,023  1,050,395  123,372
Fletcher            751,352    860,147  108,795
Moser               616,643    765,646  149,003
Westin              389,941    500,389  110,448
Cargas               63,123     85,904   22,781
Butler               41,474     55,762   14,288
Sanchez                   ?     18,025        ?

All numbers represent cash raised. The “through 12/31” totals can be found here, while the numbers for this year so far are in the current FEC reports. Moser remains in third place by this metric, though she has gained ground on Lizzie Fletcher and Alex Triantaphyllis. All of this took place before the DCCC hit job, and her campaign claims to have raised another $60K in the three or four days after. You can look at this as a justification for acting now – if you believe Moser is an inferior candidate, as the DCCC apparently does – or you can see it as stepping on a rake and then falling backwards into a mud puddle. I’ll leave it to you to decide.

Let’s be very clear about one thing: Nobody knows who is going to make it to the runoff in this race. The top four candidates all have a core group of supporters, but so too does James Cargas, who has a lot of residual good will – and name recognition – from having run against Culberson three times. I guarantee you, the candidates themselves have no idea who is winning, in part because a significant share of the people who have voted so far are people with limited to no recent history of voting in Democratic primaries. That’s awesome news from an enthusiasm point of view, but it means that a lot of voters are getting multiple mailers from the campaigns, while many others may have had no direct contact. I have no idea what the less-engaged voters who have yet to make it to the polls will think of this – I’m sure some will be mad at the DCCC, but some will also see what they had to say about Moser and may base their vote on that. I don’t have any more of a sense who may make it to overtime now than I did in December. I just suspect we’ll still be talking about it well past the point of where anything could be learned from it.

A look at CD16 and CD03

As one might expect, the primary race for Beto O’Rourke’s soon-to-be-former Congressional seat is compettiive and < and getting a little salty.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

[Now-former El Paso COunty Judge Veronica] Escobar is running, in part, on her experience as a former leader of a county government that fought corruption and is touting how her progressive ideals helped shape policy. Escobar voted to sue the state after the Legislature passed Senate Bill 4, the state’s anti-“sanctuary city” law, and she’s been an outspoken advocate for the LGBT community.

But the issue of her husband, Michael Pleters, and his job as a federal immigration judge, is one her opponents are latching onto tightly. [El Paso ISD TrusteeDori] Fenenbock, who describes herself as the moderate in the race and who’s been dinged on the campaign trail for garnering financial support from Republicans, is quick to highlight what she says is the hypocrisy of Escobar’s campaign.

“[Pleters] is currently employed by the Trump administration and he’s currently following orders by the Trump administration, which is to deport,” Fenenbock said during a recent interview at her office. “He could find another job; he can become an immigration attorney, [but] he has built a career around deporting immigrants.”

But Escobar said last week at her campaign office that her husband was first approached for the job by the Obama administration.

“My husband is not a political appointee … it is a merit-based position,” she said. “He got offered the position last year while Obama happened to be president. But because of the time that the background check took, and it overlapped with the election and everything kind of came to a halt … he didn’t take the bench until this past summer.”

She added that Pleters is a lifetime Democrat and an “impartial arbiter of the law.”

“I’ve never been in a campaign where my family has been attacked until now,” she said. “And I think that it says more about those doing the attacking than it does about me. But I also wonder, when did an honorable profession such as being a jurist become a bad thing?”

The pack of candidates hopes that Fenenbock’s embrace of the term “moderate” proves to be her Achilles’ heel. The Escobar campaign points to a July story in the El Paso Times that shows Fenenbock received almost half of her initial financial support from El Pasoans who voted in the 2016 GOP primary. She also voted in the GOP primary in 2008 and 2010.

Fenenbock said she is a proud Democrat but notes that both parties have become too extreme and that, as a moderate, she can get things accomplished.

“Progressives have moved further to left, and the alt-right has moved further to right,” she said. She notes that though El Paso is a Democratic stronghold, it’s also somewhat “socially conservative.”

There are other candidates in the race, including former State Rep. Norma Chavez, and they get some time in the story as well. After reading it, my impression is that I’d vote for Escobar if I were in CD16. After reading so many articles that declared one or the other of Escobar and Sylvia Garcia as having a chance to be “the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas”, I’m rooting for both of them to get there so we can debate over which one was technically “the first” or if we get to designate them as co-firsts. Leave your hot take on that in the comments.

Also interesting in its own way is the races in CD03.

All eyes are on the GOP primary race where Van Taylor, who decided against running a second time for his safe state senate seat, will face off against the lesser-known Alex Donkervoet and David Niederkorn.

Taylor, 45, is widely seen as Johnson’s successor and has racked up the endorsements and cash in the red district that stretches from Plano to Blue Ridge, encompassing much of Collin County.

Gov. Greg Abbott, former Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Ted Cruz are among Taylor’s big-name supporters. He’s also backed by conservative groups like the Plano-based First Liberty Institute, Texas Right to Life and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility. And Taylor has the most cash of any candidate in the race — $1.7 million.

But Donkervoet, an insurance company actuary from Dallas, said Taylor’s endorsements and money are exactly why he chose to run against him.

“That’s just wrong,” Donkervoet said of the amount of local and state endorsements that poured in for Taylor in the days after the legislator announced that he’d run for Congress. “The Republican Party is pretty much hand-selecting somebody to represent (the district).”

Donkervoet, 34, didn’t vote for Trump in the election, and he sets himself apart from conservatives on a number of issues. He’s a “big believer in net neutrality,” social issues like gay marriage and expanding background checks for semi-automatic rifles.

“I’m a very big underdog,” Donkervoet admits, but he wants to push the district away from the partisan divides that plague Congress. “Just because that’s the way it is doesn’t mean that’s right.”

Taylor, who ran for Congress against Chet Edwards in 2006, has been the heir apparent to Johnson for some time now. He does have a bipartisan credit or two to tout from the Lege – he and Rep. Senfronia Thompson sponsored the long-overdue bill to outlaw child marriages in Texas, and good on him for that – while Donkervoet is an obvious heretic and third candidate David Niederkorn is a full-on Trump chump who’s attacking Taylor for being the ambitious ladder-climber that he is. I’ll put my money on Taylor to win, but it’s possible he may have to go to overtime to get there.

One the Democratic side:

Adam Bell, Lorie Burch, Medrick Yhap and Sam Johnson — not to be confused with the retiring GOP congressman — are hopeful they can turn the district blue for the first time in decades.

Voters may be familiar with Bell, a title company owner who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2016. He received 34.6 percent of the vote against incumbent Rep. Sam Johnson, but Bell predicts this time will be different.

“When we got into the race, we knew that we didn’t have the bandwidth, didn’t have the power to pull something off in that cycle,” Bell, 40, said about his 2016 run. “The eye was always on the 2018 cycle because of the need to build.”

Burch, 41, is well-known lawyer, gay rights activist and Democrat from the area. She’s raised more than $60,000, and said she wants to make a difference for the “unseen and unheard.”

“What we need right now is a unifying voice,” she said.

The “divisiveness” of the last election cycle inspired Burch to run for the seat. She had made up her mind even before Rep. Sam Johnson announced he would not be running again.

I like Lorie Burch out of this group, but all four have their merits and would be fine if they win. CD03 is in a lower tier of takeover prospects, with odds of flipping in the 25-30% range by the Crosstab metric. It would take more than a regular-sized wave to go blue, but the fact that it’s in the conversation at all is encouraging. The longer-term prospects in Collin County for Dems are brightening, so if it doesn’t fall this year it ought to be on the list for 2020.

Electoral College lawsuit filed

I’m not sure about this.

Saying Texas’ current practice is discriminatory, a group of Hispanic activists and lawyers has sued the state in hopes of blocking it from awarding all of its Electoral College votes to one candidate during presidential elections.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday calls on Texas to treat voters “in an equal manner” by abolishing that “winner-take-all” approach, which all but two states use. The suit, filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and a coalition of Texas lawyers, says that approach violates the U.S. Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It’s just one of many pending voting rights lawsuits arguing that Texas, which regularly votes Republican, has illegally discriminated against voters of color.

Similar Electoral College lawsuits were also filed Wednesday in Republican-dominated South Carolina and Democratic-leaning Massachusetts and California. The South Carolina suit also alleges a Voting Rights Act violation.

At the suit’s core is the doctrine of “one person, one vote,” rooted in the 14th Amendment. The plaintiffs argue that the winner-take-all system is unconstitutional because Texans who favor losing candidates “effectively had their votes cancelled,” while voters who favor winning candidates see their influence “unconstitutionally [magnified].” The suit also alleges that winner-take-all violates the First Amendment.


Lawyers have asked the court to declare the winner-take-all approach unconstitutional and set “reasonable deadlines” for state authorities to propose an alternative system.

The winner-take-all method is nearly ubiquitous — only Maine and Nebraska use other systems. If the plaintiffs were to prevail in their cases, the potential impact on presidential elections would be huge. But it’s unclear how far the cases will go.

I mean, if the end goal here is to abolish the Electoral College and install a straight-up popular vote for President, I’m cool with that. There are political efforts underway to achieve this, such as National Popular Vote that I think are both more promising and more broad-based, but it’s been around for awhile and still has a long way to go. If however the goal is to replace the current system with some other kind of proportional Electoral College system, such as the EVs-by-Congressional-district or EVs-as-a-percentage-of-the-state-vote, then count me out. Both of those are too convoluted, and in the Congressional case subject to its own set of shenanigans, and neither to my mind addresses the “one person one vote” complaint in a satisfactory fashion. The problem isn’t that the Electoral College is broken and needs fixing, the problem is that it was a bad and undemocratic idea to begin with. That’s a worthy goal, and one I support.

Weekend link dump for February 25

Ancient bird poop is surprisingly good at giving answers to ecological questions.

How the Grammys stack up against other major awards in terms of female representation.

“All in all, the odds are disconcertingly high that Russia, or somebody, has blackmail leverage over the president of the United States.”

RIP, Ed Banks, known as the honorary Mayor of Houston’s historic Third Ward.

It appears that USA Swimming was just as bad as USA Gymnastics.

Tom Cotton is woefully misinformed” is a thing you could say in many different contexts.

I didn’t watch the NBA All Star Game, so I’m happy to accept Fergie’s apology for her rendition of the national anthem.

“At the heart of the Russian fraud is an essential, embarrassing insight into American life: large numbers of Americans are ill-equipped to assess the credibility of the things they read.”

“Miami-Dade County is suing former Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and the new ownership group led by Derek Jeter seeking money from the $1.2 billion sale of the team.”

“The Army has awarded Medals of Heroism, the service’s highest medal for Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets, to the three JROTC students killed defending their classmates from a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14.”

“Spies looking to infiltrate, compromise and direct a foreign organization look precisely for chaotic and disorganized contexts. They look for gullible people. They look for pleasers. They look for people who are desperate, broke, blackmail-able. These are all features, not bugs. This must have made the Trump campaign an irresistible target for Russia. Because it had all the key vulnerability points in spades. I think anyone who makes this argument really doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

RIP, Billy Graham. You know who Billy Graham is. The Slacktivist puts his obituary into context.

“A look at the Twitter feeds of students like David Hogg shows that they are a remarkable foil for the pro-Trump media’s trolling tactics. Like the pro-Trump media, they, too, are an insurgent political force that’s native to the internet. And while they use legacy platforms like cable news to build awareness of their names and of their causes, much of the real work happens online.”

“It’s time to reexamine the evidence that Clarence Thomas lied to get onto the Supreme Court — and to talk seriously about impeachment.”

“But I, for one, have found myself humbled to near-silence by these brave teenagers, and not just because they are media savvy and seemingly without fear. They are extraordinary. With each spin of the news cycle, these students are offering a lesson for all of us about what protests can look like, and how we can reimagine social justice, in the Trump era.”

Meet Sherri Nichols, one of the great early pioneers of the baseball statistics revolution.

2018 primary early voting, Day Five: A Democratic day

The early vote hours for Saturday are 7 to 7, so the report comes out later. So, I’m just going to cut to the chase:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 5 EV 2018 totals

Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem    4,129    10,516   14,645
2010    Rep    8,498    16,533   25,031

2014    Dem    3,592     7,765   11,357
2014    Rep   12,288    18,176   30,464

2018    Dem    9,620    22,252   31,872
2018    Rep   12,642    20,730   33,372

The Saturdays of early voting are always strong for Democrats, and this one was no exception. Between mail and in-person, Dems led on Saturday by over 2,100 votes, thus closing the overall turnout gap to within 1,500. Note that the five-day turnout of 31,872 is more than the final EV turnout in 2014, which was 30,108. I’d guess the Dems will exceed their entire primary turnout from 2014 by Thursday. Week 2 is always busier than Week 1, so we’ll see how high the ceiling is.

January 2018 finance reports: Harris County candidates

You know the drill. Links to reports where I could find them, plus a summary table at the end. Let’s do this.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Lina Hidalgo

Commissioner, Precinct 2

Jack Morman

Adrian Garcia
Roger Garcia
Daniel Box

Commissioner, Precinct 4

Jack Cagle

Jeff Stauber
Penny Shaw

District Clerk

Chris Daniel – through December 14
Chris Daniel – Dec 15 through Dec 31

Marilyn Burgess
Rozzy Shorter
Kevin Howard
Michael Jordan

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Abel Chirino-Gomez

Diane Trautman
Gayle Mitchell
Nat West

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Dylan Osborne
Cosme Garcia
Nile Copeland

HCDE, Position 3 At Large

Marcus Cowart
Richard Cantu
Josh Wallenstein

HCDE, Position 4, Precinct 3

Josh Flynn
Andrea Duhon

HCDE, Position 6, Precinct 1

Danyahel Norris

Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
Emmett    County Judge    91,222    188,409        0    450,230
Hidalgo   County Judge    54,949     47,828    1,400      7,443

Morman      Comm Pct 2    11,000     31,941   39,382  2,247,067
A Garcia    Comm Pct 2       650          0        0          0
Box         Comm Pct 2         0      1,250    1,250          0
Melancon    Comm Pct 2
R Garcia    Comm Pct 2       352      4,509    5,250        998

Cagle       Comm Pct 4    81,350    238,199        0    896,279
Shaw        Comm Pct 4       500      1,215        0        800
Stauber     Comm Pct 4       600      1,250        0        600

Daniel  District Clerk    26,025     30,038   55,000     34,857
Burgess District Clerk    10,980      8,273        0      6,518
Shorter District Clerk    11,738      3,091        0      8,647
Howard  District Clerk       700      3,622        0        700
Jordan  District Clerk         0          0        0          0

Stanart   County Clerk    18,625     11,773   20,000     71,002
Gomez     County Clerk         0          0        0          0
Trautman  County Clerk     8,230      8,208        0     18,287
Mitchell  County Clerk     1,613      1,465        0        300
West      County Clerk         0          0        0          0

Sanchez      Treasurer         0      6,420  200,000    199,621
Osborne      Treasurer     4,305      1,855        0      2,449
Garcia       Treasurer         0      1,453        0          0
Copeland     Treasurer         0        270        0          0

Cowart          HCDE 3       750        750        0          0
Wallenstein     HCDE 3     5,422      1,751    5,416      9,086
Cantu           HCDE 3       200          0        0        200
Patton          HCDE 3

Tashenberg      HCDE 4
Flynn           HCDE 4         0        110        0          0
Duhon           HCDE 4     1,475        750        0        725

Miller          HCDE 6
Norris          HCDE 6     8,468      4,198        0      4,680
Bryant          HCDE 6

Not everyone has filed a report, but most people have. It’s possible that some people hadn’t yet designated a treasurer, which is required to raise money, before the deadline. This would be more likely for the later entrants in some races.

Ed Emmett has a decent amount of money, but not a crushing amount. He doesn’t really need much – he’s been in office over ten years, this is his fourth time on the ballot, people know who he is. If he’s raising money, it’s to support the ticket as a whole. Given the ideological purge going on at the state level and the fact that he had originally been planning to retire, it wouldn’t shock me if he lets that aspect of his job slide a bit.

No such slacking for Jack Morman, who is armed and ready for a tough election. I’m not sure it’s possible to spend two million bucks in a race like this in a way that couldn’t be described as “extravagant”, if not “excessive”, but we’ll see. I would have thought that between his Mayoral and Congressional campaigns Adrian Garcia would have had a few bucks left over, but apparently not. He’s always been a strong fundraiser, so I’m sure he’ll have a healthy sum to report in July.

There isn’t much of interest below the Judge/Commissioners level, as there usually isn’t that much money in these races. I don’t know why Chris Daniel filed two separate reports, but together they cover the full filing period, so whatever. Orlando Sanchez still has that $200K loan on his books. I don’t know what the source of it is, nor do I know its purpose – he clearly isn’t spending it down. Maybe he just knew that this day would finally come, I don’t know.

That’s about all there is to say here. I will look at city of Houston reports soon, and I may do the same with some state reports from other races of interest. As always, I hope you find this useful.

More judges caught up in the bail scandal

More judges to vote out.

For more than a decade, most of Harris County’s felony court judges directed magistrates to deny no-cash bail to all newly arrested defendants, in apparent violation of state judicial conduct rules, according to internal documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The documents include charts with explicit court-by-court instructions from 31 district judges to reject all requests for no-cash bonds when defendants made initial appearances in court.

Records and testimony show that misdemeanor judges also routinely told magistrates for years to decline personal bonds, which allow a person to gain pre-trial release from jail without posting cash bail.

The previously undisclosed bail and bond instructions, which surfaced during disciplinary hearings against three Harris County magistrates, appear to corroborate longstanding complaints from criminal justice activists that the county’s bail system deprived defendants of a fair chance at pre-trial liberty.


Among those listed in the documents with no-bond policies are former judges Ryan Patrick, now the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas; former Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, now deceased, and his wife, Devon, who succeeded him in office after his death; and state Sen. Joan Huffman.

State District Judge Michael McSpadden, a long-serving jurist in Harris County, said he also had a no-bond policy for magistrates for at least a dozen years because he didn’t trust the lower-level jurists not to make errors.

“Almost everybody we see here has been tainted in some way before we see them,” he said. “They’re not good risks.”

“The young black men – and it’s primarily young black men rather than young black women – charged with felony offenses, they’re not getting good advice from their parents,” he said. “Who do they get advice from? Rag-tag organizations like Black Lives Matter, which tell you, ‘Resist police,’ which is the worst thing in the world you could tell a young black man … They teach contempt for the police, for the whole justice system.”

Please, Judge McSpadden, tell us how you really feel. You all know how I feel, so I’m going to outsource this one to Scott Henson, whose continuation after the ellipses is addressed specifically to McSpadden:

The truth about Harris County judges misleading the courts and intentionally violating the constitutional rights of defendants before them is finally coming out.

When Texas state Sen. John Whitmire filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct against Harris County’s magistrate judges, they defended themselves by saying the elected judges directed them to deny personal bonds, which the judges themselves at first denied. The magistrates were sanctioned anyway, and sources in this must-read Houston Chronicle story by Gabrielle Banks suggested that the Commission is likely now investigating the judges who gave those orders, which is basically all of them.

During the case before Judge Rosenthal, the county claimed they could come up with no evidence that judges directed magistrates. But when the magistrates were accused of misconduct, they produced 600 pages of evidence in that regard that implicated many current and former judges.

Now we know for certain the policies were explicit, widespread, and top-down. This wasn’t a case of rogue magistrates denying bond without the knowledge of the judges. This is a case of magistrates serving as dependent vassals with no capacity for independent decision making whatsoever. And they obviously weren’t too keen on revealing that truth to the federal judge presiding over the case, who justifiably felt blind-sided when representations made in the magistrate’s disciplinary case flat-out contradicted those made in her court.


Let’s be clear: A) This was happening for DECADES before Black Lives Matter was on the scene, and B) the county NOT letting defendants be advised by lawyers at bail hearings was a big part of the suit! In fact, the county has now begun providing lawyers at bail hearings, so this is the first time they’re being advised by anybody.

It wasn’t Black Lives Matter or defendants’ families causing their dilemma, it was people like Judge McSpadden, who clearly has lost the ability to make individualized judgments in these cases, if he ever possessed it.

Vote ’em out. There’s never been a better time.

Local control and local races

From Texas Monthly:

Rep. Paul Workman

At the end of last week, the Austin City Council voted to pass a new ordinance requiring local businesses to give their employees paid sick leave. It was the end result of a long and intense fight, which pitted labor leaders and a diverse coalition from Austin’s liberal community against more than one hundred local business owners and a national group backed by the powerful Koch Brothers. Supporters packed the council chambers to speak before the vote, and many gave impassioned pleas to vote in favor of paid sick leave. According to the Texas Observer, some speakers “broke down in tearsas they recounted times when they or their loved ones had to choose between accessing health care and paying rent.” When the 9-2 vote came in, the crowd broke out in raucous cheers, applauding Austin for becoming the first municipality in Texas and in the Southern U.S. to enact such an ordinance.

But the cheers were a little premature. Austin’s City Council may not have the final say in the the battle. Within hours of the ordinance’s passage, state representative Paul Workman, a Republican whose district covers much of western Travis County, said he’d introduce legislation on the first day of next year’s session in an effort to have the ordinance repealed. “I support employers providing paid sick leave for their employees, but it is not the role of government to mandate that employers do this,” Workman said at a press conference later Friday morning. “The council made good on their promise to add yet more regulations on private business. They have clearly declared war on the private businesses which make our prosperity happen. I will file legislation on the first day possible to reverse this and the other liberal Austin policies that they’ve enacted.”

Workman said he felt it was an overreach for the council to enact such an ordinance (when reporters at the news conference questioned him about whether it was also an overreach for the state legislature to intervene in a decision made by elected local officials, Workman said no). Austin’s paid leave ordinance is just the latest local target of conservative state lawmakers, who have repeatedly tried to overturn municipal policies—ordinances that are usually liberal-leaning and typically implement regulations on businesses or industry. It’s a story that’s played out again and again, and not just in Austin.


For now, it seems Austin’s paid leave is safe. Workman can’t do much until the start of the legislative session in 2019. But he claims he already has enough support from members of the House and Senate to pass legislation that overrides the ordinance. “We will have no problem whatsoever getting this through,” Workman said at the press conference. At least one member of the senate, Donna Campbell, a Republican from New Braunfels, has publicly said that she’s committed to overturning the rule.

Less than half of Workman’s district is actually in Austin, not that it matters to Republicans like him. But hold that thought for a minute.

From the Texas Tribune:

In 2011 — after Republican Paul Workman unseated state Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin — lawmakers redrew House District 47 to include a larger swath of western Travis County.

The new district, which gained more rural areas and lost some of liberal South Austin, stretched from Onion Creek to Lago Vista to Leander. It became a conservative stronghold, and to this day, Workman is the county’s only Republican state representative.

Seven years later, it’s a potential swing district again. Texas political experts point to rising frustration with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that could rally the Democratic base and cause conservative voters to stay home on Election Day.

The effects of this trend would be more pronounced in districts Trump either lost or just barely won two years ago. And Trump carried HD-47 — where many residents are white and have a household income greater than $100,000 — with fewer than 200 votes.

Hoping to flip the seat for the first time since 2011, five Democrats are running in the March 6 primary: Elaina Fowler, the executive director of a union of retired government employees; Vikki Goodwin, a real estate broker; Sheri Soltes, the founder of a nonprofit that trains service dogs; Candace Aylor, a recovery room nurse; and Will Simpson, a technology field executive.

“We are seeing more money and more activity in this district than we have in a long, long time,” Austin political consultant Mark Littlefield said. “There is definitely greater energy from the Democrats than ever before.”


“The challenge here for Democrats is you can’t beat somebody with nobody,” said Harold Cook, an Austin Democratic political strategist. “At the end of the day, they will need to have nominated a candidate who is really articulate on messaging and has the funds with which to communicate with voters.”

None of the Democratic candidates have run for office before. But all of them said they’re fed up with the social ramifications of the state’s “bathroom bill” discussion and the 2016 election. They also hope to improve public school financing, transportation and the district’s environmental preservation.

The candidates’ policy stances are similar, but Fowler and Goodwin have emerged at the forefront of the race, Littlefield said. Fowler has the most legislative experience of the group, and Goodwin has raised the most money.

I don’t know anything about these candidates beyond what is in this story, but that’s not the point. The point is that the way to stop legislators like Paul Workman from passing bills expressly designed to strip cities of their power is to vote them out of office. Races like this are at least as important as the races for Congress that have dominated the coverage so far this cycle. Pay attention to your State Rep races – and your State Senate races, if you have one – especially if your current Rep or Senator is a Republican. This is our best chance since 2008 to make the Legislature a better, more inclusive, and more responsive institution. We can’t afford to blow it.

2018 primary early voting, Day Four: On to the suburbs

The Chron’s Mike Snyder ventures outside Harris County for early voting numbers.

As the Chronicle’s Jeremy Wallace reported, nearly 50,000 people voted in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, the first day of early voting, in the state’s 15 most populous counties. That’s more than twice the total from the first early voting day in 2014, the last midterm election.

 Despite the Democrats’ improved turnout, however, Republican numbers were greater. Through Wednesday, 14,493 people had voted in the Republican primaries compared to 12,627 in the Democratic primary in Harris County, Wallace reported.

The Republican primaries also drew more voters in the two other Houston-area counties that rank among the 15 most populous in the state.

In Montgomery County, 8,364 early votes had been cast through Thursday in the Republican primary, compared to 1,437 in the Democratic primary.

The numbers were closer in Fort Bend County: Republicans 4,878; Democrats 3,403. (Totals in both counties include in-person and mail-in ballots.)

This is true, but it’s also not the whole story. Let’s go back to the SOS early voting page for a little context.

Party     County      2010    2014    2018
Rep   Montgomery     3,851   6,944   8,364
Dem   Montgomery       383     393   1,437

Rep   Montgomery     1.58%   2.57%   2.61%
Dem   Montgomery     0.16%   0.15%   0.45%

Rep    Fort Bend     3,486   3,755   4,878
Dem    Fort Bend       871     921   3,403

Rep    Fort Bend     1.16%   1.07%   1.18%
Dem    Fort Bend     0.29%   0.26%   0.82%

Democratic turnout is up by a lot more in Fort Bend than Republican turnout is. Democratic turnout isn’t up as much in Montgomery County as Republican turnout is, but relatively speaking it’s up by a lot more. Another way of saying this is that as a share of registered voters, which is what those percentages represent, Republicans are up a pinch from 2014, while Dems are at triple their levels from 2014. I submit that’s a notable development.

So what about Harris County? Well, here you go:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 4 EV 2018 totals

Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem    4,129     8,229   12,358
2010    Rep    8,498    12,571   21,069

2014    Dem    3,592     5,949    9,541
2014    Rep   12,288    13,901   26,189

2018    Dem    8,844    16,110   24,954
2018    Rep   12,530    16,053   28,583

Dems had 5,214 people show up yesterday, which as you can see is only a bit less than their entire four-day total from 2014. Republicans had a few more than that and have nearly closed the in-person gap, but it’s the increase from previous years that is the real story. And while Dems still haven’t done as good a job returning their mail ballots, the 8,844 they have returned is more than the entire number of returned mail ballots in every primary before 2016, and should be on track to beat that year’s total. The news continues to be good. Let’s keep it going.

More on the DCCC-CD07 mess

Laura Moser

Other folks have weighed in on the DCCC drive-by on Laura Moser from Thursday – Mother Jones, Stace, Campos, Indivisible Houston, the HCDP, and others. I’ve seen plenty of talk of this on Facebook, and I’ve yet to see a single person defend the DCCC’s actions, including plenty of self-identified supporters of other candidates. I honestly can’t think of a single thing the DCCC could have done to make people here feel more favorably towards Moser and more contemptuous of themselves. I truly have no idea what they were thinking.

TPM has a good story on this kerfuffle, including (anonymous) quotes from the DCCC and examples of similar activity from other recent elections. Again, I get the motivation – if you believe this is a genuinely winnable race but that one potential candidate is much less viable than some others, you want to do something about it. “Better to be a jerk than a loser” is the quote at the end, which is easy enough to say but a lot harder to do well. Part of the problem here was that the attack was as subtle as a cleaver to the head, and part of it was that the reasons given were so lightweight. As skeletons in the closet go, this wasn’t exactly an archaeological dig. It’s one thing to go after a truly toxic candidate. If, say, Lloyd Oliver or Kesha Rogers has filed in CD07, no one would complain about a campaign to keep them out of the runoff. But Moser, whether you prefer her as your choice in CD07 or not, is basically a standard-issue Democrat. I can’t imagine too many Dems in that district would have walked away from her if she’d won the nomination in a DCCC-free election.

The DCCC would argue that maybe Dems would stick with Moser, but Republicans – the ones who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in this district – would not, or at least would not in comparable numbers to Lizzie Fletcher or Alex Triantaphyllis or Jason Westin. That could be true – you’d have to show me some high-quality polling data to convince me of it, but it’s at least plausible. That assumes that any measurable number of Republicans would cross over for any of these candidates; remember, John Culberson won by 11 points in 2016. Those Hillary-voting Republicans still voted for him, and (with the exception of Kim Ogg) pretty much every other Republican on the ballot that year. An alternate hypothesis would be that Moser might do a better job driving Democrats to the polls in November, and that it will be a surge in Dem turnout that carries someone to victory. I’m not saying this is a more likely outcome than the one the DCCC is proffering, but it’s no less within the range of the possible. You want me to buy into your story line, you’re going to need to convince me the others aren’t going to happen. To say the least, the DCCC came up empty on that.

Which brings me to my main point. We’re all going to have to row in the same direction in this race, and in all the others we hope to win. Forget the national handicappers’ ratings, Dems remain the underdog in this race, for the simple reason that until proven otherwise there are a lot more Rs in CD07 than there are Ds. That 11-point win Culberson achieved in 2016 came in the best year Harris County Democrats have had in anyone’s memory. What we need is unity, which this salvo – and the AFL-CIO’s attack on Lizzie Fletcher, which also annoyed me – is the opposite of. The way to beat a bad guy who will support the Trump agenda is with a good guy who will oppose it. All seven of the CD07 contenders qualify. Let’s all please keep that in mind.

UPDATE: Here’s a Chron story on the saga.

The case for the Astrodome

Lisa Falkenberg lays it out.

We have a plan!

But here’s the thing: leaders have to balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s. The long view has its virtues. And frankly, it’s been all to absent in the decision-making of Houston and Harris County. Shortsightedness has gotten us into a lot of trouble – from poor investment in flooding infrastructure to irresponsible growth that increased the region’s vulnerability during storms and rain events.

It has led us to pave over prairies. To bulldoze historic architecture and old trees and character. And yes, to leave an expensive, beloved, world-famous landmark with a lot of tourism potential rotting away in full view of visitors and homefolk alike.

So, sure, it may seem tone deaf to pour money into the Astrodome right now, but the decision seems to be in tune with Houston’s future needs.

And critics of the decision either don’t understand the facts, or willfully ignore them.


So let’s address the naysayers, point by point, with a little help from Emmett, the county judge.

*CLAIM: Harris County voters already voted to demolish the dome.

No, they didn’t. They voted down a proposed bond for a much bigger $217 million renovation project. They said loud and clear that they didn’t want county commissioners borrowing money to fund a dome project, and Emmett says the county listened. He says the stripped-down plan to raise the dome for parking and open it for special events makes financial and logistical sense, as it will produce revenue, and also provide space for first responders during a storm, and potential storage for the medical supplies during those events. “Would you really want us spending $35 million to tear down a perfectly usable building?” Emmett says he asks people who bring up the vote. And he points out that demolition is no longer an option anyway, since the Texas Historical Commission has designated the Astrodome a state antiquities landmark, giving the stadium special protections against demolition.

See here for some background. As you know, I think this is a decent and workable plan. I expect people will disagree with that – Emmett’s Democratic opponent Lina Hidalgo has made the “voters rejected the bond proposal” and “we have other priorities” arguments on Facebook. I believe the case for it is sound, and I appreciate Falkenberg laying it out as she did. If you don’t see it that way, take what she wrote as your starting point and take your best shot from there.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 5

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, part 4 is here and the full endorsements page is here.

We finish with the Republican races with challenged incumbents. And the first thing to note is the races in which no endorsements are made: US Senate and Governor. Yes, Greg Abbott has ridiculous token opposition, and none of Ted Cruz’s challengers are likely to be recognized by anyone on the street, but still. Not even a cursory “none of the alternatives are worthwhile” piece? That’s gotta sting a little. Of course, it could be worse. The DMN went whole hog and endorsed Stefano de Stefano over Cruz:

Texas Republicans have an opportunity in the March 6 primary featuring incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and four Republican opponents to vote for the kind of public leadership that inspires America rather than divides it. A kind of leadership that gives America its best chance to address the very real challenges ahead.

To make the most of the moment, we urge voters to choose Houston energy lawyer Stefano de Stefano over Cruz. Stefano, 37, is an earnest if mostly untested conservative who offers Republicans a way past the bruising style that has characterized Cruz’s time in public life.

Hell hath no fury like a Republican-cheerleading editorial board scorned. Still, the fact that the Chron skipped the US Senate and Governor primaries is even more remarkable when you consider…

CD07: John Culberson

Rep. John Culberson

We don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Hurricane Harvey without U.S. Rep. John Culberson in Congress.

In Harvey’s wake, cities from Port Aransas to Houston waited for the Trump administration to release its proposed disaster recovery bill, which mayors, county judges and families of all stripes hoped would provide the robust federal support needed to rebuild destroyed towns and keep the coast safe from the next big storm.

We didn’t get it. Instead, the White House released a pathetic $44 billion proposal that attracted criticism even from fellow Republicans.

Luckily for Houston, Donald Trump doesn’t decide how federal dollars are spent. That duty falls on Congress and, specifically, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees – which includes Culberson.

The west Houston representative worked with his Republican and Democratic colleagues to double the size of the hurricane recovery proposal, turning a failure of a bill into a passable piece of legislation. Throughout the process, Culberson was a point-man for City Hall, ensuring that areas hit by flood after flood – such as Houston – would be first in line for federal dollars.

The bill wasn’t perfect, but it was better than the alternative.


If you ignore the most recent term, Culberson’s accomplishments for the 7th Congressional District, which covers west Houston neighborhoods from West University through the Energy Corridor, seem pretty thin. That historically weak record, combined with a district that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, has attracted a strong group of Democratic challengers for the general election.

It should be an exciting race, and there’s little reason for Republican primary voters to deny Democrats their shot at the incumbent.

I don’t think the Chron has ever endorsed Culberson in a November race, not even in 2010 when he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. I have no doubt this year will be the same. Seeing them say anything nice about him is kind of a weird experience, but here we are.

HD150 (Republican): James Michael Wilson

An interesting battle is taking place in the Republican primary in District 150 where first-term incumbent state Rep. Valoree Swanson is being challenged by James Richard Wilson for being a political extremist.

Swanson, 45, is a tea party member who became the first woman in the Freedom Caucus last year in the Texas Legislature. Her district covers a largely unincorporated area of north Harris County that includes parts of Spring, The Woodlands and Tomball.

She didn’t have much luck in Austin passing legislation, which she blamed on House Speaker Joe Straus and his supporters, who spent much of the session fending off what they considered bad bills.

But Wilson, 44, a long-time Republican who worked for Republican state representatives and then-U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, R-Texas, thinks the problem was more Swanson’s zealotry for causes only popular with the political fringe.

“I don’t feel and a large number of people in our community don’t feel that our state representative is representing the interests of our community,” Wilson told the Chronicle.

Swanson is the type of wingnut that can make one almost nostalgic for the likes of Debbie Riddle. If Wilson can make the Lege an inch or two less crazy, then I wish him well.

HD134: Sarah Davis

Last year Texas Monthly listed state Rep. Sarah Davis as one of the best legislators in the session and called her “one of the few true moderates left in an increasingly strident Legislature.”

Gov. Greg Abbott apparently doesn’t agree and has endorsed her opponent in this primary – Susanna Dokupil.

Before explaining our endorsement, we have to ask: Is moderate really the best way to describe Davis? Moderate implies compromise, a willingness to change one’s positions and seek out the path of least resistance.

If that were Davis, then she would have spent her time in Austin acting more, for lack of a better word, extreme. At at time when the Texas GOP welcomes conspiracy theories about Jade Helm 15 and the panic about transgender bathrooms, Davis could have spent her days prattling on about black helicopters and the threat of chupacabras in West University and probably avoided a primary challenger. She could have acquiesced to the governor’s bizarre personal goal of overriding local tree regulations and easily earned his support.

But Davis did not seek out the path of least resistance. Instead, she stood alongside House Speaker Joe Straus against the reckless political antics of Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and their acolytes. She held various leadership roles in the House, which she used to get money for foster care, mental health and women’s health programs and tried unsuccessfully to secure property tax relief for some Hurricane Harvey victims.

She fought Patrick’s attempt to include private school vouchers in the school funding bill and led an investigation into shenanigans at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission that resulted in the resignation of the commission’s seven top officials, two of them Abbott appointees.

This one appeared earlier, but I’m including it here. I don’t care about Sarah Davis, and I figure we Dems have a much better shot at that seat if she gets ousted in the primary. That said, I hate the idea of Greg Abbott and his goons, which in this race includes the anti-vaxxers, degrading our politics even more than they already have. All I’ll say at this point is that if I were Sarah Davis and I’m still standing on March 7, I’d tweet this picture at Greg Abbott every day for the rest of my life. Maybe someone can set up a fake Twitter profile to do that for her in the likely even she has too much class to do it herself. RG Ratcliffe has more.

HD127: Dan Huberty

State Representative Dan Huberty is effectively already the winner in the race for District 127 in northeast Houston because his only opponent in the Republican primary, Reginald C. Grant Jr., has been ruled ineligible for living outside the district and nobody is running for the Democratic nomination.

Even though Grant’s name will remain on the ballot, it would take a very strange occurrence for Huberty not to win a fifth consecutive term to the Texas House of Representatives, which is good news because he has emerged as a competent, well-intended legislator and the body’s leading expert on the very complicated topic of school finance.

Huberty has drawn his own share of ire from the Taliban wing of the local GOP, presumably because of his support for public education. If they succeed in taking out Sarah Davis, don’t be surprised if he’s on the hit list in 2020.

And that’s a wrap. I hope you feel like you have enough information to make educated decisions in the primary of your choice.

2018 primary early voting Day Three: A look around the state

Let’s just jump right into the numbers:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 3 EV 2018 totals

Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem    3,851     6,132    9,983
2010    Rep    7,929     8,803   16,732

2014    Dem    3,048     4,228    7,276
2014    Rep   11,464     9,678   21,142

2018    Dem    7,641    10,896   18,537
2018    Rep   11,558    10,781   22,339

I had the mail and in person totals for 2018 backwards in yesterday’s post, so sorry about that. Republicans had the better day yesterday, both in person and absentee – at this point, they have returned more than a third of their mail ballots, while Democrats have not yet returned one fourth of theirs. They’re only slightly ahead of their pace for 2014, however, while Dems are way ahead of theirs – their three-day total is about 60% of their entire early vote tally from 2014, and more than a third of their overall final turnout. And as we’ve been observing, this has been the pattern in the big counties around the state. Here are the two-day totals for the big counties:

Party     County      2010    2014    2018
Rep        Harris   13,044  16,633  14,493
Dem        Harris    7,676   5,316  12,627

Rep        Dallas    4,617  10,251   6,226
Dem        Dallas    3,491   5,533   9,768

Rep       Tarrant    5,720  11,096   8,293
Dem       Tarrant    1,676   4,739   8,087

Rep         Bexar    5,107   8,484   6,329
Dem         Bexar    4,835   5,741   7,100

Rep        Travis    3,177   2,149   3,021
Dem        Travis    2,394   4,244   8,382

Rep        Collin    3,797   4,654   5,098
Dem        Collin      359     728   2,529

Rep        Denton    2,414   4,588   3,773
Dem        Denton      244     615   1,826

Rep       El Paso    1,531   1,214   1,334
Dem       El Paso    3,935   3,971   6,885

Rep     Fort Bend    2,779   2,945   3,342
Dem     Fort Bend      607     649   2,391

Rep       Hidalgo      614     879     891
Dem       Hidalgo    6,964   7,676   8,782

Rep    Montgomery    2,685   5,282   5,824
Dem    Montgomery      271     283   1,061

Rep    Williamson    2,397   2,573   3,799
Dem    Williamson      532     840   2,456

Rep     Galveston    1,004   3,040   3,385
Dem     Galveston    1,041     636   1,285

Rep       Cameron      410     528     468
Dem       Cameron    2,022   2,479   2,513

Some of these numbers are just insane. Democrats basically even with Republicans in Tarrant County? I didn’t see that coming. Even in the big red places, Dems have taken big steps forward, while Republicans have either had smaller increases or even fallen back. It’s just two days and anything can happen, but so far so good.

DCCC versus Laura Moser

I don’t care for this.

Laura Moser

The campaign arm of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives set its sights on a surprising target Thursday: Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Moser.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee posted negative research on Moser, a Houston journalist vying among six other Democrats in the March 6 primary to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson. Democrats locally and nationally have worried that Moser is too liberal to carry a race that has emerged in recent months as one of the most competitive races in the country.

The DCCC posting, which features the kind of research that is often reserved for Republicans, notes that Moser only recently moved back to her hometown of Houston and that much of her campaign fundraising money has gone to her husband’s political consulting firm. It also calls her a “Washington insider.”

But DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly went even further in a statement to The Texas Tribune.

“Voters in Houston have organized for over a year to hold Rep. Culberson accountable and win this Clinton district,” Kelly said.

Then, referring to a 2014 Washingtonian Magazine piece in which Moser wrote that she would rather have a tooth pulled without anesthesia than move to Paris, Texas, Kelly added:”Unfortunately, Laura Moser’s outright disgust for life in Texas disqualifies her as a general election candidate, and would rob voters of their opportunity to flip Texas’ 7th in November.”

The DCCC’s post, with links to their claims, is here. I’m just going to say this, as someone who does not live in CD07 and is neutral about that primary on the grounds that all of the candidates are acceptable to me: The DCCC should have kept its mouth shut. I understand that, as Nancy Pelosi put it, they’re going to have to make some “cold-blooded decisions” about where to concentrate their resources this fall. If it’s their judgment that Moser is a weaker candidate in a winnable district, that’s their call and they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. But the irony of a DC organization criticizing a candidate for not being authentically local enough is not lost on me. Let the voters make their decision, then the DCCC can make theirs. At a time when we’re celebrating enthusiasm-driven high levels of primary turnout, we didn’t need this.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 4

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, and the full endorsements page is here. I had thought this would finish up all the races of interest for us, but then I decided the Republican races were sufficiently interesting as well, so I’ll do those tomorrow.

CD18: Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee is so deeply entrenched in her congressional seat, knocking her off her throne is pretty close to mission impossible.

She won her post 24 years ago after downtown power brokers — notably Enron CEO Ken Lay — abandoned then-congressman Craig Washington over his opposition to NAFTA and the space station. Since then Jackson Lee has become legendary for her aggressive self-promotion, whether it’s speaking at Michael Jackson’s funeral or planting herself on the aisle before State of the Union speeches to get her picture on television shaking the president’s hand.

But even Democratic politicos who joke about her insatiable appetite for camera time have come to respect Jackson Lee as a hardworking voice for progressive causes. With almost a quarter-century of seniority, she now serves on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Budget committees. She likes to brag about her role in securing federal funds for a wide range of needs — from education to veteran services — for constituents in her district.

As you know, I agree. Nothing to see here, let’s move on.

SBOE4: Lawrence Allen

Lawrence Allen, Jr. who was first elected to the board in 2004, has been a principal, assistant principal and teacher across town and is now community liaison at Houston Independent School District. He holds a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Prairie View A&M University. As the senior Democrat on the board, Allen, 56, says that he sets the tone for his fellow Democrats about how to approach an issue in a professional way that’s not cantankerous. His collaborative style has been useful in steering this board away from the shores of political controversy and toward fact-based governance.

Since Allen has been on the Board for more than a decade, some could argue that it’s time for a change. However, Allen’s opponent, Steven A. Chambers, is not the person that voters should turn to as his replacement. Chambers, a pastor and educator, told the editorial board that he believes creationism should be taught as an option alongside evolution in Texas schools. After years of struggles with religious fundamentalists, the board has finally started embracing science standards and rejecting dogma. Electing Chambers to the board would risk reigniting this debate and undo the progress made by the board.

This isn’t my district, but I’ll sign on to that. Say No to creationism, always and in every form.

SD15: John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

Long-time State Senator John Whitmire, 68, is facing two talented challengers in the March 6 Democratic primary, but we endorse him for re-election because his experience and political skills will be needed as recovery from Hurricane Harvey continues.

State storm aid has been hard enough to come by even with him in Austin. We can only imagine how it would be without him and his 44 years in the state legislature, the last 35 in the Senate.

He is the dean of that body, has a deep knowledge of how it works and a rare ability in these polarized times to bridge political differences to get things done.


Of his two opponents, we were particularly impressed by Damian Lacroix, 43, a lawyer who offers a vision of a Texas Democratic Party that fights for its ideals and tries to heighten the contrast with Republicans rather than working behind the scenes for smaller and smaller gains.

“Being a state senator is more than just passing legislation and regulation,” Lacroix told the editorial board. “It is also being able to galvanize people and getting a message out to people, bringing them into the fold.”

There’s something to what LaCroix says, but especially when you’re in the minority you need some of each type. Whitmire’s the best we’ve got at the first type. There are more appealing options elsewhere in the Senate to add to the LaCroix type.

HD147: Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman

After 27 years on the job, state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman, 56, knows his way around the Texas Legislature about as well as anybody there and better than most. He’s a liberal Democrat in a sea of conservative Republicans who manages to get a surprising number of things done.

“Some people know how to kill bills, some people know how to pass bills. I know how to do both,” he told the editorial board.


Coleman has a long history of working on issues of mental and physical health and of seeking funds for the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, both in his district, which extends from downtown southeast past Hobby Airport.

He also says the state needs a revolving fund like the water development fund that local governments can tap into for flood control projects.

It was an oversight on my part to not include Rep. Coleman on the list of people I endorse. He’s one of the best and he deserves our support.

HD146: Shawn Thierry

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Freshman state Rep. Shawn Nicole Thierry, a 47-year-old attorney, showed a lot of promise in her first session of the Texas Legislature last year as she learned the ropes of being a Democratic legislator in a heavily Republican body.

She was successful enough to get six bills through the House of Representatives — not bad for a rookie legislator — and worked with Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst to pass a bill in the special session that extended the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity.

The task force, which is studying our state’s Third Worldish maternal mortality rate and what to do about it, was scheduled to end next September, but now will continue until 2023.

Thierry has learned the importance of the personal touch in legislating – it was her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott that convinced him to include the task force issue in the special session.

As noted, Rep. Thierry was selected by precinct chairs as the substitute nominee for HD146 in 2016 after Borris Miles moved up to the Senate to succeed Rodney Ellis. She wasn’t my first choice for the seat – I’d have voted for Erica Lee Carter if I’d been one of the chairs who got to vote – but I agree that she’s done a good job and deserves another term. And with all due respect to her two male opponents, the Lege needs more women, not fewer.

HD142: Harold Dutton

Rep. Harold Dutton

State Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. has served as representative for District 142 since 1985 and we see no compelling reason to lose his seniority and its advantages at a time when Democrats need all the help they can get.

The 73-year-old attorney has been a loyal fighter for his heavily black and Hispanic district that starts in the Fifth Ward and goes east then north to 1960. In last year’s legislative session he authored 106 bills, a big part of them having to do with criminal justice.

He cites improvements to the Fifth Ward’s Hester House community center as his proudest achievement, but he also passed laws that restored the right to vote to ex-felons, effectively stopped red-lining by insurance companies and protected home-buyers from fraud in the use of contracts for deeds. He is involved in efforts to improve struggling district high schools Kashmere, Worthing and Wheatley.

He is also responsible for the state bill under which the Texas Education Agency is threatening to shutter those schools. That might make him vulnerable to a strong challenger.

Rep. Dutton is definitely getting dragged on social media over his authorship of that bill, and also over some nasty remarks he’s directed at Durrel Douglas, who’s been among those fighting to save the mostly black schools that are at risk. His opponent isn’t particularly compelling, but he could be vulnerable going forward. I don’t have a dog in this fight – like most veteran legislators, Dutton has some good and some not-so-good in his record, but his seniority gives him a fair amount of clout. I expect him to win, but this is a race worth watching.

HD139: Jarvis Johnson

Rep. Jarvis Johnson

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson is being challenged by former Lone Star College board chairman Randy Bates in the largely black and Hispanic District 139 on the city’s near northwest side.

He served three terms on the Houston City Council before winning his first term in the Texas House in 2016, succeeding Sylvester Turner who left to run for mayor.

Johnson, 46, is a strong supporter of vocational education, proposes that police officers be required to get psychological exams every two years, holds job fairs in the district and wants to prevent gentrification of historic neighborhoods such as Acres Homes.

Bates, 68, was on the Lone Star board for 21 years, seven of those as chairman, and the main building on its Victory Center campus is named for him. He’s an attorney who heads Bates and Coleman law firm.

He ran for the state seat in 2016 and is running again because he said people in the community complained that Johnson “is not doing enough for our district.”

We have a lot of respect for the work Bates did on the Lone Star board, but he didn’t give us a compelling reason to support him over Johnson.

This is almost certainly the best chance to defeat Rep. Johnson, who doesn’t get the seniority argument that most of the other incumbents listed above have. He didn’t do much as a freshman, but that’s hardly unusual for a member of the minority caucus. I don’t have a strong opinion about this one.

HD27: Wilvin Carter

Four-term incumbent state Rep. Ron Reynolds is running for re-election despite the fact that he may be facing a year in jail for his conviction in 2016 for five cases of misdemeanor barratry, also known as ambulance chasing for his law practice.

He’s being challenged in his Fort Bend district by another lawyer, Wilvin Carter, a former assistant attorney general and Fort Bend County assistant district attorney. The district includes Sienna Plantation, Stafford and most of Missouri City. No Republicans are running for this seat so this Democratic primary essentially serves as the general election for District 27.


The unfortunate thing about Reynolds is that he is has a strong record for supporting environmental protection and gay rights, but with the possible jail sentence hanging over his head it’s hard to support him. He is a lawmaker who has been convicted of breaking the law, which is a breech of trust. Also, practically speaking, how much can he do for his constituents if he’s behind bars?

Voters should support Carter instead.

Reynolds is good on reproductive choice and a whole host of other issues as well. The Chron has endorsed Reynolds’ opponents in recent years due to his legal troubles and they have been pretty harsh about it, but here they recognize the dilemma. Reynolds’ voting record and personal charm have helped him maintain support, and I would bet on him being re-elected. I continue to hope he will step down and get his life straightened out, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Sen. Uresti convicted on fraud charges

Time to resign.

Sen. Carlos Uresti

The courtroom was silent and thick with anxiety Thursday morning as the judge’s deputy read the verdicts: “Guilty,” “guilty,” “guilty” — 11 times over, and on all felony counts.

State Sen. Carlos Uresti sat stone-faced, his gaze directed at the deputy, as he heard the ruling that throws into question his two-decade career in the Texas Legislature and opens up the possibility more than a century in federal prison and millions of dollars in fines.

If upheld on appeal, the 11 felony charges — including multiple counts of fraud and money laundering — would render the San Antonio Democrat ineligible to continue serving as a state legislator. Uresti, an attorney by trade, would also be disbarred.

Uresti has no immediate plans to step down from his seat in the state Senate, he said minutes after the verdict. And he will “absolutely” appeal the jury’s decision.


There were no calls for resignation among state lawmakers immediately after the verdict, but Texas Democrats issued an immediate rebuke of the senator Thursday morning, saying “no one is ever above the law.”

“After being found guilty of such serious crimes, Senator Uresti must seriously consider whether he can serve his constituents,” Texas Democratic Party Communications Director Tariq Thowfeek said.

And state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, another San Antonio Democrat, said that elected officials are “held to a higher standard.”

“Over the next few weeks we need to have a serious discussion as constituents and taxpayers about how we move forward and turn the page,” he said. Gutierrez, whose district overlaps with Uresti’s, could be eyeing the senator’s seat.

See here and here for some background. You can have that “serious discussion” about moving forward and turning the page if you want, but it should happen in conjunction with Sen. Uresti resigning, which frankly he should have done months ago, for other reasons. As such, I’m glad to see this.

“In light of today’s jury conviction of Sen. Carlos Uresti, the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus is calling upon Sen. Uresti to resign his position,” caucus chair Sen. José Rodriguez said in a statement.


“Voters in this time and age want people who have at least so far [demonstrated] good judgements,” said Leticia Van De Putte, former Democratic senator for Texas’ District 26. “All I know is that if the defense is ‘Well I didn’t know this was wrong,’ it’s very difficult to go back and ask people to vote for you.”

[SMU political science professor Cal] Jillson agreed: “He might find that his political career is ended because of this, and it will provide political opportunities for others.”

Van de Putte served in the Texas Senate from 1999 to 2015, overlapping nine years with Uresti, who won his senate seat in 2006.

“I’m heartbroken at the situation,” said Van de Putte, who later co-founded a consulting firm. “I know Sen. Uresti … has been an amazing champion for abused children. I worked with him on a number of efforts, he’s done great work in the Legislature.

“No one will remember all the great work he did. They’ll remember this case.”


State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) released a statement Thursday, saying elected officials are “held to a higher trust” and that constituents and taxpayers would have to “move forward and turn the page.”

Political analyst Harold Cook, who has worked in the Texas House of Representatives and as an advisor to Democrats in the Texas Senate, said Gutierrez’s tone implies he’s vying for Uresti’s seat.

“This is what I would have written for somebody [who is] already going to be a candidate,” Cook told the Rivard Report. “Senate districts don’t come up often and they’re not open often.”

District 19 is one of the biggest senate districts in the country, Cook said. “There are a lot of Democrats holding office in those counties [who] would love to be state senator.”

There are others mentioned the story, and I’m sure the list will be long when and if it comes to it. But first, we need Uresti to resign. Step down now, so we can get someone else in place as soon as possible and so we don’t face the prospect of not just one but TWO incumbent legislators going to jail, perhaps during the next session. Among the many things that I hope we’ve learned from the #MeToo movement is the concept that no one is so important or accomplished that they must be shielded from being held accountable from their actions. Please do the right thing here, Senator. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.

2018 primary early voting Day Two: When is it a trend?

I think we can say that people noticed the Day One early voting numbers.

Democrats have more than doubled their early voting in the state’s biggest counties compared to four years ago, leading some party leaders to point again to a growing wave election they think will send a dramatic message to Republicans.

But while Democrats are voting better than they did four years ago, Republicans still are near where they were four years ago, even though the lack the same star power in the primary that they had four years ago at the top of the ballot.

In the state’s largest 15 counties, nearly 50,000 people voted in the Democratic primary elections on the first day of early voting.

In 2014 — the last mid-term election cycle — only about 25,000 Democrats voted in the primary. Never have the Democrats had so many early voters in a primary in a gubernatorial election cycle going back to the mid-1990s when early voting started.


Meanwhile, Republican numbers in Texas early voting are essentially flat, with 47,000 Republicans voting on the first day of early voting — slightly lower than the 49,000 that voted four years ago.

But Republicans say those numbers don’t mean Democrats are suddenly about to overtake Republicans in both energy and at the ballot box.

We’ll talk about the rest of the state in a minute. For now, let’s update the Harris County numbers.

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 2 EV 2018 totals

Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem    3,466     4,210    7,676
2010    Rep    7,264     5,780   13,044

2014    Dem    2,484     2,832    5,316
2014    Rep   10,514     6,119   16,633

2018    Dem    6,976     5,651   12,627
2018    Rep    6,676     7,817   14,493

Republicans had slightly more Day 2 in person voters, and more mail ballots returned, but Dems still lead in the in-person total. Of interest also is that another 2,239 mail ballots were sent to Dem voters, for 32,311 total mail ballots, while Republicans received only another 349, for 29,935 total.

Now, as Campos says, it’s one thing to request a mail ballot and another thing to return it. So let’s look at some past history of mail ballots in primaries:

Year  Party   Request  Return  Return%
2008    Dem    11,989   7,056    58.9%
2008    Rep    18,415  13,432    72.9%

2010    Dem    11,847   6,250    52.8%
2010    Rep    17,629  12,399    70.3%

2012    Dem    13,087   7,735    59.1%
2012    Rep    23,584  17,734    75.2%

2014    Dem    12,722   7,359    57.8%
2014    Rep    24,548  17,628    71.8%

2016    Dem    19,026  13,034    68.5%
2016    Rep    29,769  20,780    69.8%

One of these years is not like the others. Dems have emphasized mail ballots in the past couple of cycles, and you can see the difference in 2016. If that behavior repeats this year, Dems will reap the benefit of their larger pool of voters with mail ballots. We’ll keep an eye on that.

Finally, the DMN has a good look at voting around the state on Day One.

Of the 51,249 Texans who cast ballots Tuesday on the first day of early voting, more than half voted in the Democratic primary.

The total number of voters from 15 of the state’s largest counties is high for a midterm year. In 2016, a presidential election year, 55,931 Texans voted on the first day of early voting for the primary. But in the last midterm election in 2014, only 38,441 Texans voted on the first day.

Even more surprising is the turnout among Democrats. Since the last midterm election, the party saw a 51 percent increase in first-day early voting turnout, while Republicans saw a 16 percent increase.

You can find daily EV totals for the 15 biggest counties here, and for past elections including primaries here. I’ll return to these numbers later on, as they lag a day behind.

Sri Kulkarni’s youthful indiscretion

We’ll see how big a deal this turns out to be.

Sri Kulkarni

A candidate’s drug arrest at the age of 18 has riled up a Democratic primary contest for the right to challenge five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson in a potentially competitive congressional district in Houston’s southern suburbs.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, a leading labor-backed candidate in the five-way March 6 primary, acknowledged Tuesday that he was arrested for possessing less than a gram of cocaine when he was a teenager in 1997.

The felony charge later was dismissed by a Harris County judge after a two-year probationary sentence, a disposition known as “deferred adjudication” that is frequently meted out for first-time drug offenses.

Kulkarni, now a 39-year-old ex-foreign service officer and onetime Senate aide, described the incident as a youthful indiscretion at a stressful time in his life when his father was terminally ill with cancer.

“We should not be stigmatizing our youth for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Nevertheless, the issue, raised at the start of early voting in Texas, has shaken up a U.S. House race where Democrats hope to make inroads in their quest to loosen the Republican Party’s long grip on the state.

Kulkarni disclosed the arrest to the Chronicle on Tuesday after the case was raised by the Fort Bend County chapter leader of Our Revolution, a group representing a progressive coalition of activists who supported the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.


Kulkarni said his drug arrest 21 years ago should be seen through the prism of criminal justice reform, a top Democratic priority, and not as an election season attack.

“This is a very important issue,” he said. “I’m happy to talk about it in that context.”

Kulkarni is hardly the first candidate to have a youthful indiscretion in his past, and his response is a good one both in general and for a Democratic audience that is indeed interested in criminal justice reform. You can read the story for the rest of the details, but whatever one thinks of his brush with the law, it didn’t prevent him from having a successful career that included getting a top secret security clearance. As a general rule it’s better for stuff like this to come out early than late, and it’s best to own it and answer questions about it in a straightforward manner. Basically, as long as there’s nothing more to it than this, it probably won’t be that big a deal.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 3

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, the full endorsements page is here, and today we have the rest of the statewides, which I appreciate since these are the races I wanted more input on.

US Senate: Beto O’Rourke

Although there are three candidates on the ballot in this primary, the obvious choice for Texas Democrats is O’Rourke.

Unlike Cruz, who’s widely disliked even by many of his Republican colleagues, O’Rourke has a reputation for reaching across the aisle to get what he wants. As the congressman for the city that’s home to Fort Bliss, O’Rourke has used his post on the House Committee for Armed Services and Veterans Affairs to secure bipartisan support for legislation to expand mental health care.
O’Rourke is refusing to accept PAC money, a principled decision that’s forcing him to run a vigorous grassroots campaign. He’s vowed to visit all 254 counties, including Republican strongholds where he hopes to win over not only swing voters but also Trump supporters disillusioned with Cruz. O’Rourke will need all the ground game he can get; Cruz rose to power by running a startlingly effective grassroots campaign against former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

Yeah, completely obvious. Let’s not belabor this, there are more endorsements to get through.

Comptroller: Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier

Joi Chevalier’s background as a project leader and strategist in the tech sector gives her the managerial experience to serve as the state’s chief financial officer and oversee the office’s key responsibility of crafting budget projections for the Legislature.

Chevalier, 49, currently works in Austin as the owner of Cook’s Nook, a culinary incubator that offers space and resources to aspiring restaurateurs. Like so many Democratic candidates this election cycle, she told the editorial board that she was inspired to run by the current status of state and national politics, specifically pointing to the fact that Texas policymakers had no plan or response in place if the federal government failed to adequately fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program. She thinks that the comptroller’s office should use its available data to proactively publish reports that will make clear the consequences of losing CHIP, or not expanding Medicaid, or the litany of other decisions faced by Texas policymakers.

“Those numbers, while they are budgetary numbers, represent real lives and real people,” she told the editorial board.

Overall, she hopes to treat the office not just as a place for accurate accounting, but as a platform to set a vision of how the state should be governed.

Both Comptroller candidates got in late. Chavalier looked like the more interesting candidate at first glance. I’m glad to see my impression had merit to it.

Land Commissioner: Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo

Miguel Suazo, 37, is a Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney who also has offices in Colorado and New Mexico. Tex Morgan, 38, is a software engineer who served on the board of VIA Metropolitan Transit – San Antonio’s Metro system.

Based on his experience in the energy industry issues that comprise so much of the General Land Office responsibilities, and his more robust campaign, we endorse Suazo in the Democratic primary.

During his meeting with the editorial board, Suazo explained how the land commissioner should be working to help Houston recover after Hurricane Harvey and also prepare for the next storm. That includes better management of federal community development block grants and relatively inexpensive ideas for protecting the coast, such as restoring oyster reefs and erosion control.

“That’s just where I see lackadaisical leadership coming from the general land office,” he said.

This is the toughest race for me, with two candidates who appear to be pretty well matched. I don’t think you can go too far wrong in this one.

Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen

Roman McAllen

Even though the odds are heavily against them, two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face the winner (probably Craddick) in November. Roman McAllen, 52, is a bow-tie-wearing intellectual with a background in historic preservation and urban planning. Chris Spellmon, 60, is an easygoing veteran of local Democratic politics with a background in banking and business who’s now working in real estate.

Neither of them have a professional history in the energy industry. Maybe some people will find that refreshing, because railroad commissioners often have incestuous ties to the business they’re supposed to regulate. But neither of these Democrats seems deeply involved in the issues facing the railroad commission.

Both of them rightly complain RRC commissioners take too much campaign money from the energy industry. Both of them recognize the importance of fracking, but believe local communities should have the power to regulate it. And both of them firmly believe the RRC needs a new name reflecting its 21st century mission, because calling this important state agency a railroad commission helps it hide beneath the radar of too many voters.

Between these two candidates, McAllen seems to have a deeper awareness of the issues facing the RRC. He gets visibly riled up when he talks about drillers polluting water, injection wells causing earthquakes and the state government outlawing local fracking ordinances. If for no other reason, McAllen’s passion makes him a stronger candidate for Democrats to put on the ballot in November.

Well, it’s not like the RRC is currently overflowing with industry experience. Having a voice on there to balance the crazy and the corrupt would be useful.

Overall I’d say I approve of the Chron’s choices. We’ll finish this series off tomorrow with the races that feature Democratic incumbents.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance is thankful Adam Rippon is here to distract us from everything else as it brings you this week’s roundup.


2018 primary early voting Day One: Let’s get this started

And we’re off, with a few concerns about aftereffects of Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey may loom large in many Houston-area residents’ minds, but the storm is expected to have a limited impact on participation in the Texas primary, which kicks off Tuesday with the start of early voting.

Nearly two weeks of early balloting precedes the Lone Star State’s March 6 primary, the first in the nation.

“On one hand, we’re going to see a decline in turnout among some individuals who are displaced. On the other hand, I think there are some people who will counterbalance that decline because they’ve become more politically active and aware as a result of Harvey,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “The net effect is likely to be pretty neutral.”

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, whose office administers local elections, agreed.

“If it does, it’s going to be so small you won’t be able to measure it,” Stanart said. “Your primary voters are your core voters, your most loyal of voters, so those people tend to vote no matter what’s happening. So, I don’t anticipate much disruption in their voting patterns.”

I think turnout is going to be up due to a higher level of engagement this year, but we’ll soon see. It will be interesting to track the vote by State Rep district, to see how things may have changed from previous years.

Speaking of which, of course I have those totals, from 2010 and 2014. Google Drive is an amazing thing. And now we can add the 2018 totals and have a look at them all.

Year  Party   Mail In Person    Total
2010    Dem  2,886     2,190    5,076
2010    Rep  5,946     2,774    8,720

2014    Dem  2,080     1,276    3,356
2014    Rep  9,048     2,807   11,855

2018    Dem  4,174     3,833    8,007
2018    Rep  6,138     3,509    9,646

So more Dems voted in person, but more Republicans voted overall because of more mail ballots being returned. Note, however, that more mail ballots were sent to Democratic voters (30,072) than to Republican voters (29,566), which is a big change from 2014. It’s one day and there’s a long way to go, but this is a strong start. I’ll keep an eye on this as we go. When do you plan to vote?

Judicial Q&A: John Stephen Liles

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

John Stephen Liles

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is John Stephen Liles and I am running to be the Democratic Candidate for Judge of the 313th District Court in Harris County (Juvenile), one of the only three District Courts that handles Juvenile Delinquencies and Child Protective Services (CPS) cases. I am a fifth generation Texan who was born and raised in Houston and educated in Houston’s public schools. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a B.A. in history in 1977 and obtained my law degree from South Texas College of Law in 1981. Following law school, I started my own practice dealing with criminal law for the first 15 years of my legal career, later broadening my representation to juvenile delinquencies and Child Protective Services cases involving abused and neglected children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th handles Juvenile Delinquencies and Child Protective Services cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have worked hard as a defense attorney for 36 years protecting people’s rights and ensuring that juveniles receive proper substance abuse and mental health treatment, educational and vocational training, and have a chance to be rehabilitated. Mistakes made as a juvenile should not later preclude these youth from becoming contributing members of society. I strongly believe no effort is too great when it comes to the rehabilitation of a child. Our system and courts all too frequently label a child as a criminal, I look at the child and see only a child who has made a criminal mistake.

4. What are you qualifications for this job?

I have over 36 years of legal experience representing clients in criminal, juvenile and CPS matters. I have tried over 50 jury trials and hundreds of court trials. I have handled first degree felony cases in both adult and juvenile court and hundreds of CPS cases. The depth of my legal experience has prepared me well to be a judge.

5. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am not a politician or the perennial judicial candidate, I am running as a progressive new candidate who has never held public office, but who wants to make a positive difference in our society. I will be a judge who will continually endeavor to improve rehabilitative, vocational and mental health therapy programs available to juveniles in order to ensure that no effort in overlooked in striving for the goal of molding juveniles into becoming productive members of society. I am proud to have been endorsed by Our Revolution Harris County and the Clear Lake and Webster Bar Association (CLAW).

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 2

A quick look at the Chron’s endorsements page shows they basically did a massive update on Sunday night/Monday morning. Most of them are in legislative races, but there are a couple of others. I think I’m going to need two more of these multi-race endorsement posts to catch up with them, so today we will (mostly) focus on races in which there is not a Democratic incumbent. Today that means the Democrats challenging State House incumbents, plus two JP races. Let’s get going.

HD126: Natali Hurtado.

Natali Hurtado, 34, told us she is running “because I’m tired of just sitting back and watching our state go backwards” while Undrai F. Fizer, 50, said he wants “to inspire hope and passion” in the people of the 126th district.


Hurtado earned degrees from the University of Houston and University of St. Thomas, the latter a masters in public policy and administration, and got a taste of the political life working in City Hall and for politicians including longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat.

She wants to close property tax loopholes for big business to ease the tax burden on individuals, get rid of Texas Senate Bill 4 — the “sanctuary cities” law that abrogates the discretion of local law enforcement on immigration issues — and accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Fizer has a lot of charisma but needs to learn more about the issues. Hurtado has a better grasp of them and her time working with Green and others gives her an invaluable head start in the art of politics. We think both her head and heart are in the right place, and endorse her for this race.

My interview with Hurtado is published today, and my interview with Fizer went up yesterday. They’re both good people, and I think the Chron captured their essences pretty well.

HD132: Gina Calanni.

Candidate Gina Calanni told us [incumbent Rep. Mike] Schofield is “very beatable” because people, including her, are angry that he votes in ways that hurt public schools and favor the charter and private schools popular with Republicans.

Flooding is the other big issue, she said, not just because of the massive damage it caused, but also because many people are still suffering from the effects of it and not getting much help.

Calanni, 40 and a writer of novels, is a single mom without much money to spare, while her opponent former corporate lawyer Carlos Pena, 51, is neither seeking money nor spending much of his own.

“I don’t believe in taking campaign contributions because there are people who feel they are owed,” he said.

He’s out blockwalking, but Calanni is doing that and going to political events where she has gotten endorsements from, among others, the Harris County Tejano Democrats, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and the AFL-CIO.

Our view is that Calanni has a fire in the belly to win that Pena may lack and with some money she can make a race of it. For that, she gets our endorsement.

My interview with Calanni is here; Pena never replied to me, and only recently put up a website. I agree with the Chron here. HD132 is a much more competitive district than you might think. It moved in a Democratic direction from 2008 to 2012, and is basically 55-45 going by 2016 numbers. It won’t take much in terms of the overall political climate for this to be a very winnable race, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the Democratic candidate to make an effort to win it. From where I sit, Gina Calanni is the only candidate putting in that effort. She’d get my vote if I were in HD132.

HD133: Marty Schexnayder.

Sandra Moore, 69, and Marty Schexnayder, 51, are both making their first run at political office because of their frustration with [incumbent Rep. Jim] Murphy and state leadership in general.

“I think people in our district are disgusted by the Dan Patrick agenda,” Schexnayder, a lawyer, told us, referring to the state’s lieutenant governor.


Both candidates also spoke of the need for improved health care and education. Schexnayder said the state share of education costs must increase so property taxes will stop going through the roof.

We liked Moore, but overall we think Schexnayder is the stronger candidate and has a broader grasp of the issues. We endorse him for Democratic nominee in District 133.

My interview with Sandra Moore is here and with Marty Schexnayder is here. Moore received the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, which is the only club or group endorsements that I tracked that was given in this race. The main point here is that both of them are worthy of consideration, while the third candidate in the race is not. I will note again that while this district is pretty red, there was a significant crossover vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As such, it is not at all unreasonable to think that “the Dan Patrick agenda” is not terribly popular as well.

HD134: Alison Lami Sawyer.

Political parties always have their internal disagreements, but Harris County Democrats should nevertheless operate by a single, cardinal rule: Never, under any circumstances, vote for Lloyd Wayne Oliver.

A perennial candidate who runs for office to drum up his law practice — and undermine serious Democrats along the way — Oliver routinely makes a mockery of our electoral system.

Luckily, Democrats in this race have a qualified and impressive alternative in Allison Lami Sawyer.

Sawyer, 33, is a Rice University MBA alumnus who has her own company which uses special optics to detect gas leaks in oil installations in the United States and abroad.


Assuming Davis defeats Republican primary opponent Susanna Dokupil, who is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, well look forward to an interesting campaign between two compelling candidates.

And remember: Don’t vote for Oliver.

My interview with Sawyer is here. I endorsed her way back when. The Chron is right: Don’t vote for Lloyd Oliver. Friends don’t let friends vote for Lloyd Oliver, either.

HD138: Adam Milasincic.

Democratic voters in District 138 have the luxury of picking between two good candidates to face well-entrenched incumbent Dwayne Bohac in the March 6 primary.

They are attorney and first-time candidate Adam Milasincic, 33, and Jenifer Rene Pool, 69, owner of a construction consulting company who has run unsuccessfully for City Council and County Commissioner and now wants a shot at tea party stalwart Bohac.


We could see both candidates becoming effective legislators in different ways for the west side district and, frankly, a race between Pool and the socially conservative Bohac could be fun to watch.

But Milasincic is super smart, thoughtful and passionate, all of which is useful when you’re taking on an incumbent. He has also raised an impressive amount of money for a first-time candidate in unfriendly territory. He gets our endorsement in the Democratic primary.

My interview with Milasincic is here and with Pool is here. I cut out a lot of the good stuff in this piece because I’d have had to quote the whole thing otherwise. This is the most competitive of the Harris County legislative districts – it should be the first to flip, if any of them do. I like both of these candidates and am looking forward to supporting whoever wins the nomination.

Over to Fort Bend for HD28: Meghan Scoggins.

Two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face incumbent state Rep. John Zerwas, who has represented district in the Texas Legislature since 2007.

If either of the primary candidates is up to the task, it’s Meghan Scoggins.

Scoggins, 38, has a detailed command of the issues facing this district, an expertise she says she developed observing — and sometimes testifying in — four sessions of the Legislature. (She casually mentioned to the editorial board that she drove to Austin in an RV that became her home away from home.) Although she has a background in business management and she did support work for the International Space Station, Scoggins spent the past few years focused on non-profit and community work. She not only brags about knowing most of the fire chiefs and MUD directors in the district, she also has a grasp of the problems they face. When she talks about infrastructure issues, she cites specific voter concerns like noise abatement problems surrounding the expansion of State Highway 99. She also specifically called for a county-wide flood control district, which would be a smart policy for the next session no matter who wins in November.

I haven’t paid that much attention to the races outside of Harris County – an unfortunate side effect of the cornucopia of candidates is that time and my attention can only go so far. HD26 is the more competitive district, but by all accounts I’ve seen Scoggins is a quality, hard-working candidate. I wish her well.

Last but not least, two for Justice of the Peace.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Place 2: Don Coffey

Our endorsement goes to the only lawyer in this race, incumbent Justice Don Coffey.

Coffey, 65, who was first elected in 2010, has had a positive impact on this precinct which runs from Baytown through communities like Highlands, Channelview and Sheldon — by working to change our state’s onerous truancy laws.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Audrie Lawton

Four people are running for this seat. Out of the pool, three candidates are lawyers, all of whom graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. All of the candidates in this race possess experience dealing with individuals in crisis and would be compassionate jurists.

The non-lawyer in this race, Ray Shackelford, has considerable political charisma, and we would encourage him to consider a run for another position, such as city council. But for this bench we’re endorsing the candidate with the most relevant legal experience, Audrie Lawton. Lawton has handled thousands of cases in justice of the peace courts, and she also has quasi-judicial experience having served for seven years as an examiner for the Texas Education Agency, hearing cases where teachers faced non-renewal or termination. The 40-year-old, who is licensed in all the federal courts and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also articulated the clearest vision for updating this court through expanded use of technology.

Q&As for relevant candidates:

Audrie Lawton
Ray Shackelford
Cheryl Elliott Thornton
Lucia Bates

I don’t have anything to add here, but there are still more endorsements to get through. Kudos to the Chron to getting to them all, but man I would have appreciated it if they could have been spread out a bit more.

Action alert: Rally at Culberson’s office for a clean DREAM Act

From the inbox:

Mothers, children, and other allies will gather in front of John Culberson’s office to demand a Clean DREAM Act this Thursday at 4 PM. The gathering will feature remarks from children of mixed status parents and mothers who are enraged at government support for tearing apart families in our communities.

In spite of the fact that 76% of the American people support a clean DREAM Act- as does the majority of Congress- our Houston area congressional representatives such as John Culberson continue to cater to extremists and the White House instead of doing what is right.

We say ENOUGH.

Moms, children, and other community allies are ENRAGED.

Join us this Thursday, February 22 nd at 4 PM, at John Culberson’s office located at 10000 Memorial Dr. to DEMAND a Clean DREAM Act NOW. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and so many other challenges, when so many have lost their homes and their belongings, and some have lost loved ones, our reps MUST not only bring actual support for those who are hurting but also STOP the anti-family agenda that endangers our friends and neighbors.


Who: Indivisible Houston, Pantsuit Republic Houston
What: Solidarity Action
When: Thursday, February 22, 2018, 4 PM-5:30PM
Where: John Culberson’s Houston Office, 10000 Memorial Dr.

There’s a Facebook event for this here, and here’s a map for the location. Go vote and go rally, you’ll be glad you did.

Interview with Natali Hurtado

Natali Hurtado

And so we come to the end of another interview season. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in the saddle in a few weeks to cover some Congressional runoffs, and we’ll see from there. Like the rest of the county in 2016, HD126 took a big step in a blue direction. It’s not quite top tier in terms of competitiveness, but it is an open seat as incumbent Kevin Roberts seeks a promotion to Congress in CD02. Natali Hurtado closes us out. She has been involved in local politics for a number of years, which included a stint as District Director for then-State Rep. Kristi Thibaut. She currently serves as the Director of Services for the International Management District with the consulting firm Hawes Hill & Associates. Oh, and she’s also out there campaigning while nine months pregnant. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.