Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

February 5th, 2018:

Interview with Josh Wallenstein

Josh Wallenstein

This week’s interviews are all about the Harris County Department of Education, a body that serves as a co-operative and clearinghouse for the thirty-plus school districts in Harris County, providing programs and purchasing power to make their budgets go farther. Among the services the HCDE provides is adult education, including workforce training, GED classes, and English as a second language. The HCDE Board of Trustees consists of seven members, three At Large and one each for the four Commissioners’ precincts. There are two open seats this year, in At Large #3 and Position 6, Precinct 1, as trustees Diane Trautman and Erica Lee Carter are stepping down. There are three Democratic candidates seeking to succeed each of them. Josh Wallenstein was the first candidate to emerge as a contender for the Trautman seat. An attorney who recently opened his own firm, he has also served as a Chief Compliance Officer at a major corporation. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Paul Simon

(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.

Paul Simon

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

I’m Paul Simon, your returning Democratic candidate, and I am asking for your vote to be the next Judge of the 55th Civil District Court in Harris County. I grew up in Northwest Houston, worked my through college at the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law, and have been a practicing attorney for 18 years. I am a member of several merit-based legal organizations, like the Texas Bar Foundation, which only admits the Top 1/3% of the Top 1% of Texas Lawyers, as well as scholarly organization like Phi Delta Phi (legal honor society) and the Order of the Lytae (academic achievement). I currently live in the Heights, where I have lived for many years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Like all civil district courts, the 55th Civil District Court hears virtually every kind of lawsuit you can think of, from personal injury cases, contract and business disputes, consumer cases/DTPA, land disputes, property tax cases and virtually every kind of civil case you can think of. It’s almost easier to say what kinds of cases a civil district court does not hear than to list every kind of case they do. They do not hear family cases, criminal cases, juvenile cases or probate cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I have an unparalleled dedication and passion for the law. Folks who know me know that dedication and passion is deeply-held. They know that I will listen to both sides, and I won’t play favorites. I am hard working and think it’s time for a change.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Over my 18-year career, I have successfully represented plaintiffs and defendants in virtually every kind of case that this court will hear, including one case which was originally filed when I was a Junior at Cypress Creek High School. Some of my clients are “household names,” or multinational companies, and some of their cases had multiple millions of dollars at stake (one even had one billion at stake), but most of my clients were folks just like you. I have helped many people fight injustice.

5. Why is this race important?

Have you ever been sued or thought you might be? Have you ever been forced to file a lawsuit or thought about filing one? Have you ever been called to jury duty or served as a juror? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should care about the people who want to serve as your judges. I cannot promise that I will rule in your favor, but if I am elected, here’s what I do promise:

  • I will give the parties a fair shake at justice.
  • I will work hard and be prepared every day I’m serving you and the people of Harris County.
  • I won’t waste the time of the jurors, the parties, or the attorneys.

In short, I promise to work hard every day so that cases are resolved quickly, and more importantly, fairly, and I promise not to be beholden to special interest lobbying groups.

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

People should vote for me because I have the relevant trial experience, commonsense life experiences, and judgment. That is why I am endorsed by the Honorable Dion Ramos, the last Democrat to serve as Judge of the 55th District Court, and the former Chief of the Houston Police Department, C.O. Bradford.

I would be honored to have your vote, and I promise that you won’t regret that vote.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

You can still vote if you have been displaced by Harvey

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ann Harris Bennett

Nikki Thomason, one of hundreds of people displaced when her Thornwood neighborhood filled with water, never thought her right to vote could be swept away too.

“Angry, angry, you know it’s kind of funny the people who are angriest with the government right now, are the people whose votes have been suspended,” she said.

Thomason and other displaced flood victims checking their voter registration online were shocked to see messages their registrations were in suspense. Many were not sure if they would be able to vote in the highly anticipated March primaries.

“What went through my mind is, why am I am suspended and why has nobody told me, surely thousands of people are in the same position,” said Kimberly Truitt-Turner, another flood victim from the west side.

Turns out, state law requires each county’s tax assessor-collector to send a voter registration cards to each voter every two years. If the post office can’t deliver the card for whatever reason and they are returned, the registration is automatically suspended.

[…]

The Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office says suspended voters can still vote, they just have to fill out a form at their polling location.

“You are still eligible to vote in the March primary, you just have to fill out the statement of residency form when you go and vote,” said Mike Lykes with the Assessor-Collector’s office.

Per state law, suspended voters can not update their addresses online. They either have to mail in a change of address or fill out a form when they go vote. Therefore, elections experts are urging worried flood victims to vote early so any confusion can be sorted out. But for those struggling to recover, this is one more hurdle they didn’t expect.

It’s not really a hurdle, in the sense that if you show up to vote you will be able to vote. You will just need to fill out the change of address form. It would be advisable to vote early, because you can vote anywhere and because having a few days before the election to ensure any problems are smoothed out is a good idea, but you could go to your original precinct location on March 6 if you want to. Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but all you really need to know is that you can still vote. Just show up as usual and the rest will be taken care of.

Now if you’re thinking “But why can’t I just update my voter information online?”, well, by all means you should be able to do that. The Lege needs to pass a law to make that happen first, and you know who’s been against such a law in the past? The Republicans, of course. Previous Tax Assessors have testified against online registration bills at the Lege. That obstacle has been cleared, but there’s still the whole Republican-majority-in-the-Legislature thing to deal with. You know what might help? A few thousand displaced-by-Harvey voters making a lot of noise about this, both in the 2018 election and the 2019 session. Channel that anger into something productive, and see what happens.