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March, 2018:

JP Hilary Green resigns

Wise decision.

The Harris County justice of the peace accused of paying prostitutes for sex, abusing drugs while on the bench and sexting a bailiff officially resigned this week – although her attorney says it has nothing to do with the claims against her.

Hilary Green had already been temporarily suspended by the Texas Supreme Court and was headed for trial next month to determine her judicial future. But on Tuesday – even as lawyers worked to prepare for the upcoming Austin court date – the long-time Precinct 7 jurist sent a letter to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, announcing her decision to leave the bench.

“Effective immediately, please allow this letter to serve as my formal resignation from my position as Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 1,” Green wrote. “Due to the unexpected death of my father and my mother’s newly diagnosed illness, it is important for me to focus all my attention on my family.”

Green’s attorney, Chip Babcock, emphasized that his client’s departure was motivated solely by personal considerations.

“It is totally unrelated to the charges which she continues to deny and contest,” he told the Chronicle Thursday. The pending proceedings to unseat her – and lack of income, given her suspension without pay – took a toll on her, according to Babcock.

[…]

In light of Green’s resignation, county commissioners are expected to appoint a replacement who will serve until November 2018. Voters in the November election will then decide on her successor. Her term would have expired in 2020.

The political parties will in the coming months determine which candidates will be on the ballot.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis will likely select the interim appointment.

“Commissioner Rodney Ellis will consult with community leaders and legal experts to select a qualified candidate,” an Ellis spokesman said. “He plans to have a candidate to submit to Commissioners Court for approval on April 10.”

See here and here for the background. I’m mostly interested in what happens next, as I don’t think we’ve seen a situation exactly like this recently. Robert Eckels, Paul Bettencourt, Charles Bacarisse, Jerry Eversole, and most recently Adrian Garcia all resigned from county offices, but they did so in odd-numbered years, meaning there was plenty of time for people to file and run in the primaries for those offices. Jack Abercia already had a slate of primary opponents when he announced his intent to not run for re-election, prior to his tour of the criminal justice system. El Franco Lee died in January of 2016, a year in which he was on the ballot and was the only person who had filed for his position. Due to the timing of that, he remained on the primary ballot, then we went through that process to replace him as the nominee via the precinct chair process.

Hilary Green was not scheduled to be on the ballot this year; she was elected to a four-year term in 2016. The primaries are over, so that’s not an option. I suppose we could have a special election as we would for a legislator who left office mid-term, but the phrasing of that “political parties will…determine which candidates will be on the ballot” sentence suggests we’re in for another precinct chair selection process. I wanted to be sure about that, so off to the Texas Statutes website I go. First, in the case of the interim appointment, Section 28 of the Texas Constitution says:

Sec. 28. VACANCY IN JUDICIAL OFFICE. (a) A vacancy in the office of Chief Justice, Justice, or Judge of the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court of Appeals, or the District Courts shall be filled by the Governor until the next succeeding General Election for state officers, and at that election the voters shall fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.

(b) A vacancy in the office of County Judge or Justice of the Peace shall be filled by the Commissioners Court until the next succeeding General Election.

Clear enough. But how is that next succeeding General Election to be conducted? I turn to Election Code, Title 12 “Elections to fill vacancy in office”, Chapter 202 “Vacancy in office of state or county government”:

Sec. 202.001. APPLICABILITY OF CHAPTER. This chapter applies to elective offices of the state and county governments except the offices of state senator and state representative.

Sec. 202.002. VACANCY FILLED AT GENERAL ELECTION. (a) If a vacancy occurs on or before the 74th day before the general election for state and county officers held in the next-to-last even-numbered year of a term of office, the remainder of the unexpired term shall be filled at the next general election for state and county officers, as provided by this chapter.

(b) If a vacancy occurs after the 74th day before a general election day, an election for the unexpired term may not be held at that general election. The appointment to fill the vacancy continues until the next succeeding general election and until a successor has been elected and has qualified for the office.

[…]

Sec. 202.004. NOMINATION BY PRIMARY ELECTION. (a) A political party’s nominee for an unexpired term must be nominated by primary election if:

(1) the political party is making nominations by primary election for the general election in which the vacancy is to be filled; and

(2) the vacancy occurs on or before the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the general primary ballot.

[…]

Sec. 202.006. NOMINATION BY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE. (a) A political party’s state, district, county, or precinct executive committee, as appropriate for the particular office, may nominate a candidate for the unexpired term if:

(1) in the case of a party holding a primary election, the vacancy occurs after the fifth day before the date of the regular deadline for candidates to file applications for a place on the ballot for the general primary election; or

(2) in the case of a party nominating by convention, the vacancy occurs after the fourth day before the date the convention having the power to make a nomination for the office convenes.

(b) The nominating procedure for an unexpired term under this section is the same as that provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 145, for filling a vacancy in a party’s nomination, to the extent that it can be made applicable.

Chapter 145 was the governing law for the process used to fill El Franco Lee’s spot on the ballot, and then subsequently those of Rodney Ellis and Borris Miles. Here, Section 202.004 cannot apply, as the primary has already taken place, so Section 202.006 is the relevant code. And so we get to experience another precinct chair convention to pick a nominee – unlike 2016, when no Republican had filed for Commissioners Court Precinct 1, the GOP will get to name a candidate as well. Well, someone will get to experience that. I am thankfully in JP Precinct 1, not JP Precinct 7, so I’m spared it this time. I’ll follow it, and time permitting I’ll be there when it happens to observe, but I get to be a bystander this time, and that’s fine by me. Godspeed to those of you who get to make the call.

Suing Facebook

Good luck with that.

A Houston businessman launched a wide-ranging class action lawsuit [last] Friday against Facebook for violating the trust of millions of users by sharing personal data with a company that used the information to post targeted political ads for President Donald Trump.

The security breach has made headlines across the world, prompted a variety of lawsuits, and caused European regulators to investigate the British firm involved in the breach. In the U.S., the apparent misuse of private information has engendered deep resentment and mistrust from social media users who are now contemplating whether to cut ties with Facebook, or wait out privacy improvements.

The lawsuit filed by businessman Matthew Lodowski targets Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, a British firm exposed in news reports for mining the private profiles of nearly 50 million Facebook users. Also named as defendants are Robert Leroy Mercer of New York, a wealthy conservative investor in Cambridge Analytica, and Aleksandr Kogan, a professor at Cambridge University accused of extracting personal information from Facebook for the data company.

Lodowski is accusing the social media giant of acting negligently by failing to protect user data, failing to take reasonable measures to avert problems when it learned the company had obtained users’ personal information without permission and failing to let users know their data had been taken until journalists broke the story.

According to the attorney who filed it, the suit is unique among legal actions sprouting up around the country related to the data breach in that it claims a violation of the Stored Communications Act, a law that allows online users to sue over “intentional access without authorization to a facility through which an electronic communication service is provided.” The suit also charges the defendants with conspiracy and negligence.

The suit, filed in Houston federal court, seeks to include in the class action anyone in the United States with a Facebook account whose data was impacted by Cambridge Analytica’s data breach. Lodowski is seeking compensatory damages, restitution and fees as well as an injunction against Cambridge Analytica and Kogan, the professor tied to the breach.

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. I did a little googling to see if I could find a story that included an assessment of the legal merits of the case, but no dice. According to Engadget, there are five other lawsuits against Facebook and Cambridge so far, and it won’t be surprising if there are more. I figure they’re all longshots, but sometimes longshots come in. We’ll see what happens.

Pete Gallego is in for SD19

We now have two intended candidates for what we hope will be a special election.

Pete Gallego

Another candidate signaled plans to enter the race for Senate District 19 on Wednesday, about a month after the San Antonio Democrat who currently holds the seat was convicted of 11 felonies.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat, has filed paperwork to declare a treasurer in a campaign for the position. He’ll make a formal announcement to run in the coming weeks, he confirmed Wednesday morning.

“After receiving numerous calls to action, and talking with my family, I have taken the necessary steps with the Texas Ethics Commission to form my campaign to represent the people of the Senate District 19,” he said. “I’ve been overwhelmed with the support pouring out from this entire community.”

Gallego had been rumored to be a likely candidate for the race, which so far includes state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio.

Like Rep. Gutierrez, Gallego is “in” in the sense that he intends to run when the disgraced Sen. Carlos Uresti finally resigns. Which, again and to be clear, should have already happened by now and cannot happen soon enough. If Uresti has any decency at all, he will recognize the need to have someone serving the people of SD19 when the gavel bangs in January. That means a special election no later than this November. I don’t know what we can do to make him realize that, but I sure hope we figure it out.

What role might the city have in HISD?

The possibility that the city could have any role at all with HISD is itself interesting.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said he has been asked to get “very, very, very involved” in Houston ISD as it faces potentially severe state sanctions, but he stopped short Wednesday of suggesting the city could take control of the district’s chronically under-performing campuses.

Asked whether the city could become a “partner” with the district, giving the city significant authority over operations at campuses, Turner said Wednesday: “Let’s just say I’ve been asked to be very, very involved by multiple individuals, and then I am deciding to what degree and to how far I am going to get involved in the day-to-day operation of any of the schools.”

In recent weeks, HISD administrators have proposed surrendering significant control over 10 underachieving campuses to “partners” as part of the district’s plan for avoiding state sanctions.

Under a law known as HB 1842, which was passed in 2015, the Texas Education Agency must replace HISD’s locally elected school board or close campuses if any one of the district’s 10 longest-failing schools fails to meet state academic standards this year.

Under a separate law known as SB 1882, which was passed in 2017, the district can stave off those potential sanctions for two years if it partners with a nonprofit, higher education institution, charter school network or government entity.

When HISD administrators initially recommended partnerships in early February, the district did not include governmental entities as a potential partner. However, in recent days, HISD leaders have added that option in public presentations about SB 1882, leading to speculation that the city of Houston could take control of HISD campuses.

There’s some precedent for this. Peter Brown advocated for an “urban school district” as part of his 2009 Mayoral campaign. Mayor Turner hired former HISD Trustee Juliet Stipeche as his Director of Education, a role he created. It’s not clear what role the city might play in HISD, if it even comes to that. Given the choices from SB1882, I’d go with a college or nonprofit first as a partner, and would prefer the city only if the other choices are a charter school or the state. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about what comes next, but I do appreciate the city being willing to step in, even if I’d rather it not be needed.

Endorsement watch: Ana’s army

Re. Ana Hernandez

Two weeks ago, I noted an email sent out by Rep. Carol Alvarado containing a long list of current and former elected officials as well as other prominent folks who had endorsed her candidacy for SD06, for when Sen. Sylvia Garcia steps down after being elected in CD29. I assumed at the time that Rep. Alvarado’s main announced rival, Rep. Ana Hernandez, would follow suit with her own list, and so she has. Rep. Hernandez’s list contains more members of the State House, and at least two people that I spotted – HCC Trustees Eva Loredo and Adriana Tamez – who also appear on Alvarado’s list. I’m not sure if that’s an “oops!” or a change of heart, but I’ll leave it to the people involved to sort it out.

As I said with Rep. Alvarado’s list, this is a show of strength. I suspect lists like these tend to have a marginal effect on voters – as much as anything, it’s about fundraising ability – but it’s a bad look for you if your opponent, who is also your colleague, has such a list if you don’t have one, so here we are. The combined force of the two lists will act as a barrier to other candidates – not for nothing, but all of the other State Reps whose districts are in SD06 are on one of these lists or the other – though as noted before that’s not an absolute barrier. I’ll say again, this is a tough choice between to very excellent candidates.

Meanwhile, in other endorsement news:

Twenty-two of the 55 Democratic state representatives on Wednesday endorsed former Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez for governor, as Valdez faces Houston entrepreneur Andrew White in a May 22 runoff.

The winner of the runoff will be the Democratic nominee who will face Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in the November general election.

The endorsements highlighted how both candidates are pushing to raise campaign funds and for endorsements with just less than two months to go before the runoff, in a race that has so far been mostly low-key.

The new endorsements include Reps. Roberto Alonzo, Rafael Anchía,Victoria Neave and Toni Rose of Dallas; Diana Arévalo, Diego Bernal, Ina Minarez and Justin Rodriguez of San Antonio; César Blanco, Mary Gonzales and Evelina Ortega of El Paso; Terry Canales of Edinburg; Nicole Collier of Fort Worth; Jessica Farrar and Ron Reynolds of Houston; Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City; Gina Hinojosa, Celia Israel and Eddie Rodriguez of Austin; Mando Martinez of Weslaco; Sergio Muñoz of Palmview, and Poncho Nevárez of Eagle Pass.

[…]

Valdez has won the endorsements of the Texas AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Texas Tejano Democrats, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, and Stonewall Democrat chapters in Houston, Dallas, Denton, San Antonio, and Austin.

White has been endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, former rival Cedric Davis Sr., former lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Michael Cooper as well as the Harris County Young Democrats, the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats and the state’s three largest newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle.

I said my piece in the precinct analysis of the Governor’s race. Given what we saw, the runoff is Valdez’s race to lose. Give me some runoff debates, that’s all I ask.

Everybody should be counted

The 2020 Census has big challenges, especially in Texas.

But even two years out from the 2020 count, local officials, demographers, community organizers and advocates say they are worried the census could be particularly tough to carry out in Texas this go-around.

They are bracing for challenges both practical — Hurricane Harvey displacement, internet accessibility and fewer funds with which to knock on doors — and political, namely anti-immigrant rhetoric and fears that a citizenship question will be included in the census questionnaire. Those issues aren’t insurmountable, officials say, but they will probably make Texas, which is already hard to count, even tougher to enumerate.

An accurate census is critical to the state. It is used to determine how many representatives Texas is entitled to elect to Congress. And the Texas Legislature and local governments rely on the data to redraw corresponding political boundaries.

The census also serves as a roadmap for the distribution of billions of federal dollars to the state and local communities, including funding for low-income housing, medical assistance and transportation projects.

But those working toward an accurate count in Texas are, in many ways, starting from behind. Massive in both size and population, Texas is home to millions of residents who fall into the categories of people who pose the biggest challenges for the headcount — immigrants, college students, children younger than 5 years old, to name a few.

After the 2010 census count, the U.S. Census Bureau found that most Texas residents live in areas that may be harder to count. Using a “low response score,” which is based on the likelihood that residents will not self-respond to a questionnaire, the bureau found that most Texas residents live in census tracts — geographic areas that include 1,200 to 8,000 residents — that exceed the national average for low response scores.

That’s particularly evident in areas with large shares of Hispanics and residents living in poverty, which are prevalent across the state.

“Certainly, we have populations that are hard to count — people whose first language isn’t English, people who have lower levels of educational attainment, people who move frequently,” state demographer Lloyd Potter said. “You have both recent immigrants and then, certainly, people who are unauthorized who are going to be wary of anyone who is knocking on their door and asking questions.”

That’s the chief concern among those working toward an accurate count in Texas.

Almost 5 million immigrants live in the state, and it’s estimated that about two-thirds are noncitizens — legal permanent residents, immigrants with another form of legal status or undocumented immigrants. Additionally, more than 1 million Texans who are U.S. citizens live with at least one family member who is undocumented.

Local officials, advocates and demographers for months have expressed grave concerns about the reception the 2020 census will receive among Texas immigrants who have likely followed years-long heated national and local debates over undocumented immigrants, immigration-enforcement laws like the one passed by the Texas Legislature last year and immigration crackdowns.

“Anyone close to this issue is really concerned. It’s an anti-immigrant environment,” said Ryan Robinson, demographer for Austin, which is home to 167,000 immigrants. “It’s always hard to count immigrants, but this is really going to be a tough issue.”

The fact that preparations for the Census are being done now by the understaffed and under-competent Trump administration isn’t making this any easier. Remember that the reason Texas got those four extra Congressional seats in the 2010 Census was our rapid growth due in large part to immigration. It would be quite ironic if we missed out on getting a seat or two because of a Census undercount that was the result of Republican legislative priorities. The Trib, Mother Jones, Texas Monthly, and Erica Greider have more.

Going back to the Fifth Circuit on SB4

Gotta hope for the best.

Opponents of the state’s immigration enforcement legislation have asked a federal appeals court to reconsider a decision that allowed most of the controversial measure to go into effect.

Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, Travis County and the city of Austin on Tuesday asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case en banc, which means the entire court would consider the lawsuit. The move comes two weeks after a three-judge panel of the same court allowed most of the law, Senate Bill 4, to go into effect after major portions were initially blocked by a federal district judge in August. The ACLU represents the small border city of El Cenizo, which was the first to file suit last year to stop SB 4’s implementation days after Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law.

[…]

The list of local entities that have previously filed suit against SB 4 also includes El Paso, Maverick and Bexar counties, the cities of El Paso, San Antonio and Houston, among others. Nina Perales, the vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, said if the 5th Circuit agrees to hear the case, all parties to the suit will become involved. MALDEF represents the cities of San Antonio and El Paso, as well as Bexar County, in the litigation.

“We are all supporting each other’s efforts and working together in close collaboration and putting our resources in a two-pronged strategy,” she said.

The other angle is preparing for the trial at the district level, where Garcia will hear arguments over the bill’s constitutionality. Perales said it’s unclear when — or if — the 5th Circuit will come down with a decision on Tuesday’s petition. Another option is to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the injunction, but Perales said plaintiffs have to wait on the appellate court to act before considering that move.

“It’s like a decision tree, and we won’t know what options are available to us until the 5th Circuit responds,” she said.

See here and here for the background. On the one hand, the Fifth Circuit is where dreams go to die, but on the other hand that three-judge panel was about as right-wing as it gets. It’s at least possible they don’t represent the majority opinion on the full court. May as well take a shot at a better result.

Still discussing flood bonds

It’s complicated.

Harris County officials Tuesday said the “clock is ticking” on its call for a bond referendum for $1 billion or more in flood control projects, as requirements to provide matching funds for federal grants being disbursed in Hurricane Harvey’s wake threaten to deplete local coffers.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday stopped short of setting a date for the possible election amid questions about what projects could be included in such a bond issue and how much it would cost per year to complete them. The court directed staffers to hammer out specific proposals that would help determine how much debt the county should ask voters to approve.

Calling Harvey a game-changer, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and other members of Commissioners Court pledged last September to call for a bond election for upward of $1 billion to pay for wide-ranging flood control projects. The bonds likely would come with an increase in property taxes.

At the heart of Tuesday’s discussion was concern over the increasingly high stakes surrounding the fate and necessity of the bond, as well as the county’s ability to take on a host of large-scale projects aimed at preventing a repeat of the flooding and devastation wrought by Harvey.

See here and here for the background. Federal grants, some of which have already been approved, require local matching funds, which constrains what the county can do right now. The county will need to figure out how to balance what it’s doing now with what it wants to do with the bonds.

Officials also wrangled over several other logistical and political issues surrounding the proposed bond referendum, which would be one of the largest ever put before county voters.

“There are a lot of dilemmas facing us here,” Emmett said. “When do you have the election? How much is it? Do you get specific? Do you leave it general?”

The level of a property tax increase accompanying the bond likely will impact the referendum’s fate.

Harris County Budget Officer Bill Jackson said that if, for example, the bond election was for $1 billion and the debt was issued over 10 years, that would result in a $5 increase in property tax bills for the average $200,000 home in the first year. That number likely would rise to about $20 in the 10th year.

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said that if voters reject a bond referendum, the county cannot put the same issue on the ballot again for two years.

Commissioners Court at its next meeting in April could vote to call an election for June 16, but Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis expressed concern over turnout during the summer months.

An election during the summer would require a plan to locate and staff polling places around the county. The governor also would have to sign off on a summer date.

“To my knowledge, no governor has ever denied a local bond election,” Emmett said. “But there haven’t been that many that have been called for a special date.”

Pushing the election to November would mean more turnout but also would raise the possibility that voters cast straight-ticket ballots for political parties and ignore the bond, Emmett said.

Ellis said he also worried about limiting the scope of the bond issue to focus on matches for federal grants, stating that he would like to see more investment in lower-income areas, and a bigger bond package to pay for it.

“After the most horrific and historic storm event we’ve had, I’ve heard members of this body say it’s our opportunity to do something big, and we may not get another bite at that apple,” he said.

I don’t think we’ve had a June election (not counting runoffs from May special elections) anytime recently. As far as the voters ignoring the bond question, Harris County hasn’t had a bond election in an even-numbered year recently. The city of Houston bonds in 2012 had undervote rates in the 20-30% range, but that still meant over 400K people voting on them. Metro’s referendum that year had a 21% dropoff but nearly 800K votes cast, while bonds for HISD (19% undervote, 315K ballots cast) and HCC (23% undervote, 352K ballots) were similar. If all those entities could have bonds in a Presidential year, I think Harris County could make do with a referendum in a non-Presidential year. (Metro is planning on one this year, remember.) Plenty of people will still weigh in on it, and if the county can’t successfully sell flood control projects post-Harvey then something is really wrong. I say put it up in November and start working on the campaign pitch now.

The prosecution keeps piling on Steve Stockman

From Monday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

A fundraising director who quit and returned most of his salary after four days as an employee of ex-U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman characterized the work environment as “horrific” for Washington, D.C., interns, according to his testimony in the second week of the former Republican lawmaker’s fraud trial in a Houston federal court.

A crew of volunteer interns worked in a cramped office making as many as 2,000 fundraising calls all day — at a lobbying firm rather than the congressman’s office — and had to hustle to find their own summer lodging, according to Sean McMahon, the short-lived fundraising director.

“The situation with interns is horrific,” McMahon wrote — before the interns began at the lobbying firm office — in an email entered as evidence in the case. “Every single one of them believes they are having a normal ‘Hill internship.’ This is not the case.”

[…]

Among more than a dozen witnesses Monday was Stockman’s former secretary on Capitol Hill, Kristine Nichols. She said before she started at his office the congressman said she had to take a mandatory ethics course. Everyone did.

Nichols testified she asked Stockman, who had been a friend before she was hired, whether he took the course, too.

“He said he wasn’t planning to go because then they might hold him to the rules,” she said.

Ouch. See here and here for earlier updates. I’m not sure what this was intended to establish other than the fact that nobody seems to like Steve Stockman, but I’m here for it anyway. There was some more testimony about his attempt to “sting” State Rep. James White as well.

And from Tuesday.

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman recruited top officials from the Egyptian defense ministry to help solicit a $30 million donation from an international cement company facing legal trouble, according to testimony in the second week of the GOP lawmaker’s federal corruption trial.

Stockman claimed the funds would go toward educating Americans about the historic importance of Egypt and the Middle East, or perhaps toward shipping medical supplies to Egypt and Africa, a witness testified Tuesday.

The hefty donation from CEMEX, an international cement company founded in Mexico, apparently never materialized. But prosecutors say the aide who helped arrange Stockman’s trip to Egypt to meet with officials was paid with money from another donation Stockman solicited for another of his pet causes. He had told an investor he wanted to establish Freedom House, a facility for conservative Capitol Hill interns in Washington, D.C.

The government lawyers say these trips and expenditures demonstrate how Stockman took hundreds of thousands of dollars in charitable donations, and rather than spending it as promised, he used it to enrich himself. The former GOP lawmaker from Clear Lake is on trial for 28 criminal counts related to syphoning off major donation funds to cover his own personal and political debts in what the government lawyers called a “white collar crime spree.”

But Stockman’s defense team contends that testimony about the Egypt trip and about donation money Stockman funneled into a surveillance project tracking a presumed political opponent at the state capitol amount to meritless theatrics aimed at swaying the jury.

“It’s a time-consuming effort to make Mr. Stockman look like he’s involved in a bunch of shady stuff, none of which is charged in the indictment,” said attorney Sean Buckley.

If your defense is that the prosecution is spending too much time on shady stuff your client did that he wasn’t charged with, I’m thinking you have a tough road ahead. All this and the two Stockman aides who took pleas still haven’t testified.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 26

The Texas Progressive Alliance stands with the marchers as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

The field is set in District K

Here’s the District K special election webpage, and now that the filing deadline has passed and the list of candidates has been updated, here are your contenders for this seat:

CM Larry Green

Candidate Contact Information
in alphabetical order

Here’s what I know about the candidates:

Larry Blackmon was a candidate for At Large #4 in 2015. This Chron story from that race lists him as a retired educator and community activist.

Martha Castex Tatum has been the Director of Constituent Services under the late CM Larry Green since 2015. She lived in San Marcos early in her career and wound up being elected to serve on their City Council, the first African-American woman to do so.

Carl David Evans is a CPA and has served twice as President of the Fort Bend Houston Super Neighborhood Council 41.

Pat Frazier is an educator and community activist who ran for District K in 2011. She also served on Mayor Turner’s transition team.

Anthony Freddie doesn’t appear to have a campaign Facebook page yet, and there’s no biographical information on his personal page that I can see. There is a post on his Facebook page that shows him attending the SD13 meeting from this past weekend.

Elisabeth E. Johnson – announcement here – owns an event planning business and was a field organizer for the Bill White gubernatorial campaign in 2010.

Lawrence McGaffie, Aisha Savoy, and Gerry Vander-Lyn have limited information that I can find. However, this Chron story tells us a few things.

Aisha Savoy, meanwhile, is a first-time candidate who works in the city’s flood plain management office. She touted her disaster recovery work and said she would focus on economic development, environmental protection and public safety.

“Everybody has a right to feel safe,” said Savoy, 40.

[…]

Former city employee Anthony Freddie, 55, spoke to youth empowerment, public safety and road upgrades.

“What I’d like to do is definitely focus on the infrastructure,” Freddie said.

[…]

Lawrence McGaffie, a 30-year-old disabled veteran, said he is running in part to encourage young people to take on leadership roles.

“My whole goal is to get the young people involved, to inspire them to make a change where they are, in their classrooms, in their homes, in their communities, wherever they are, to be that leader,” McGaffie said.

There’s more on the other contenders as well. I’m going to try to interview everyone, but this is going to be another insane rush towards election day. Early voting will begin on April 23, so it will be a challenge for all to get themselves out there in front of the voters. For sure there will be a runoff. If you know anything about one or more of these folks, please leave a comment. Thanks.

Judge in Dallas County ballot lawsuit need not recuse himself

Round One goes to the Dems.

The Dallas County Republican Party on Monday failed in an attempt to have a judge removed from a case that could disqualify 82 Democratic Party candidates from the general election ballot.

Kerrville’s Stephen Ables, the administrative judge for the Sixth Judicial Region, said the GOP did not present evidence that state District Judge Eric Moyé was biased and could not properly preside over the controversial lawsuit. He made his ruling after hearing oral arguments from lawyers representing both parties.

Several Democratic judicial candidates who are targeted in the case hugged after the ruling. And state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said quietly that round one was over.

The suit, brought by the Dallas County Republican Party, contends that the candidates are ineligible to be on the ballot because Carol Donovan, the chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party, didn’t physically “sign” or certify the petitions that were ultimately accepted by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

At one point it sought to disqualify 127 Democratic Party candidates, but the March 6 primaries whittled the number down to 82.

See here, here, and here for the background. This has nothing to do with the merits of the case itself, it just means we don’t need a new judge before getting to the main question. I presume the next step would be a hearing on Rep. Eric Johnson’s motion to dismiss, and once that is resolved if the suit is still active then a hearing on the Dallas County GOP’s arguments. The story says that Judge Moyé “could hear the case in the coming weeks”, which doesn’t tell us much. At some point, you begin to run up against statutory deadlines for the election calendar, so one way or another this will be concluded in a reasonably timely fashion. I’ll keep my eyes open for further updates.

Flood tunnels

It’s so crazy, it just might work.

Japanese flood tunnel

The Harris County Flood Control District is exploring the possibility of building several massive, deep tunnels aimed at keeping storm water out of flood-prone neighborhoods and carry it underground for miles to the Houston Ship Channel during major storms.

Never before tried around Houston, the project likely would cost several billion dollars and it is not clear where the money would come from, officials said. Specialized machines methodically digging 100 to 200 feet underground would take several years to complete the tunnels, which would seek to drain floodwaters from bayous across the county.

Officials with the flood control district said the idea could be a bold answer to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey, and dramatically improve Houston’s defenses against deadly floods where other strategies have fallen short.

“What the flood control district has been doing for decades doesn’t occur fast enough or it doesn’t have the benefits that the public really wants,” said Matthew Zeve, director of operations at the flood control district. “We’ve been challenged to try to think of new ideas and new strategies and this is an answer to that challenge.”

[…]

A feasibility study is expected to cost around $400,000 and be completed by October.

News of the proposal fueled optimism and skepticism Friday — optimism that Harvey finally could force radical changes to Houston’s flood control strategy, and skepticism that such a monumental project could be accomplished when much less ambitious ideas have languished for decades.

Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, said in a statement he is “encouraged” the flood control district “is thinking outside the box and plans to conduct a feasibility study on this proposal. It certainly seems like this type of project could be partially funded by FEMA hazard mitigation grants and, perhaps, through other federal sources, as well.”

Houston’s flood czar, drainage engineer and former city councilman Steve Costello, said the project could be a potential paradigm shift for the region’s flood risk.

“We’re trying to lower the risk; we’re never going to be able to totally eliminate the risk,” Costello said, referencing efforts to improve drainage through local projects. “Well, a tunnel system, quite possibly, could eliminate the risk.”

As expensive and complex as it would be – Costello said he was told it could cost perhaps $100 million per mile, in Houston’s soils – he said tunnels may be the most cost-effective way to achieve the gold standard of 100-year storm protection in every major channel.

Jim Thompson, regional CEO for engineering Giant AECOM, said the tunnels are “worthy projects” that warrant further study, but said officials ought to prioritize long-identified projects along bayous and city streets first.

“Would it provide the cure-all relief that everybody is seeking? No,” Thompson said. “Would it provide a noticeable decrease in flood levels and risk of flooding? The answer is possibly yes.”

There’s a connection to Elon Musk in all this, because of course there is. Other cities, like Tokyo, have similar tunnels, so the idea is neither crazy nor unprecedented. But like all things, until and unless there’s a budget and an appropriation, it’s just an idea. Commissioners Court has approved the feasibility study, so we’ll see what they come up with.

Precinct analysis: One of these things is not like the others

Let’s finish up our look at the primary precinct data with a peek at the Republican side of things. As a reminder, my analysis of the Democratic Senate primary is here, my analysis of the Governor and Lt. Governor races is here, and my analysis of the countywide races is here. We start here with the Senate race, where Ted Cruz had four opponents:


Dist    Sam    Cruz  Stef  Miller Jacobson   Cruz %
===================================================
HD126   217   9,385   222     429      295   88.97%
HD127   263  12,657   301     598      354   89.30%
HD128   151   8,585   106     313      207   91.70%
HD129   242   9,345   217     535      280   88.00%
HD130   236  12,193   233     511      321   90.36%
HD131    50   1,280    44      83       41   85.45%
HD132   161   7,077   164     316      221   89.14%
HD133   300  12,431   390     823      503   86.05%
HD134   492  10,749   824   1,283      720   76.41%
HD135   159   6,226   146     321      194   88.36%
HD137    56   1,903    59     134       70   85.64%
HD138   151   6,716   216     337      185   88.31%
HD139    66   2,534    89     159       77   86.63%
HD140    23   1,054    16      27       26   91.97%
HD141    13     882    15      32       18   91.88%
HD142    41   1,656    51      84       49   88.04%
HD143    30   1,580    25      61       41   90.96%
HD144    43   2,102    30      79       69   90.49%
HD145    52   2,082    78     126       75   86.28%
HD146    79   2,174   125     189       82   82.07%
HD147    99   1,684   151     201       96   75.48%
HD148   118   3,164   237     275      154   80.14%
HD149   101   3,046    75     194      117   86.22%
HD150   206  11,161   227     430      284   90.68%

Cruz got just over 87% in Harris County. If he did any campaigning here, I didn’t see it – the one sign I did see of any activity was one sign for Stefano de Stefano a few blocks from my house. In most districts, Cruz is right around his countywide total, but there are two that really stand out. I doubt anyone is surprised to see that HD134 was a low-performing district for Cruz, but I didn’t see HD147 coming. It’s an inner-Loop district, and I’d bet the Republican voters there skew a little younger than average, so it’s not like it’s a shock, just unexpected. Now let’s move to the Governor’s race:


Dist  Kilgore Krueger  Abbott  Abbott%
======================================
HD126     115     759   9,623   91.67%
HD127     192     970  12,921   91.75%
HD128      97     497   8,720   93.62%
HD129     130     839   9,644   90.87%
HD130     131     793  12,535   93.13%
HD131      27     133   1,329   89.25%
HD132      86     515   7,289   92.38%
HD133     153   1,335  13,024   89.75%
HD134     278   2,701  11,042   78.75%
HD135     103     489   6,422   91.56%
HD137      38     187   1,999   89.88%
HD138     112     545   6,936   91.35%
HD139      41     259   2,618   89.72%
HD140      28      57   1,056   92.55%
HD141       4      59     897   93.44%
HD142      24     128   1,706   91.82%
HD143      33      76   1,621   93.70%
HD144      29     126   2,153   93.28%
HD145      47     208   2,147   89.38%
HD146      54     311   2,277   86.18%
HD147      78     339   1,780   81.02%
HD148      84     481   3,370   85.64%
HD149      58     287   3,187   90.23%
HD150     151     745  11,385   92.70%

If you look the term “token opposition” up in the dictionary, you’ll see the two non-Greg Abbott candidates in the definition. Abbott got 90.09% in Harris County against a fringe candidate’s fringe candidate and a first-time no-name. Like Ted Cruz, Abbott performed mostly to spec around the county, once again with the notable exception of HD134. Nearly three thousand Republican primary voters, more than 20% of the total in HD134, basically said “anyone bu Greg Abbott”. There were a few people during the primary who thought Sarah Davis was being a bit nonchalant about the campaign against her, being spearheaded as forcefully as it was by Abbott. Maybe she knew something, you know?

Last but not least, Lite Guv:


Dest   Milder Patrick Patrick%
==============================
HD126   1,826   8,802   82.82%
HD127   2,289  11,890   83.86%
HD128   1,540   7,904   83.69%
HD129   1,768   8,878   83.39%
HD130   2,203  11,406   83.81%
HD131     257   1,242   82.86%
HD132   1,268   6,696   84.08%
HD133   3,144  11,470   78.49%
HD134   4,748   9,589   66.88%
HD135   1,174   5,906   83.42%
HD137     399   1,831   82.11%
HD138   1,208   6,428   84.18%
HD139     524   2,441   82.33%
HD140     107   1,032   90.61%
HD141      92     863   90.37%
HD142     275   1,605   85.37%
HD143     173   1,555   89.99%
HD144     274   2,025   88.08%
HD145     406   2,007   83.17%
HD146     576   2,084   78.35%
HD147     614   1,622   72.54%
HD148     892   3,072   77.50%
HD149     618   2,915   82.51%
HD150   1,839  10,583   85.20%

On the one hand, the protest candidacy by Scott Milder didn’t amount to that much, as Dan Patrick got 81.45% of the vote in Harris County and over 76% statewide. On the other hand, there were still a lot of people who did vote for Milder, including one out of three participants in HD134. To the extent that there’s hope for some anti-Trump crossover backlash this November, the Republicans who refused to vote for their top three name brands would be the starting point.

One other point to address with the Lite Guv race is the question of turnout in that race compared to other Republican primaries. We know there was an effort by education and business groups to encourage people to vote in the Republican primary to support more moderate candidates, with Scott Milder being the poster boy for that. If people who were not normally Republican primary voters were coming to vote against Dan Patrick, it stands to reason that they may not have bothered voting in the other races, since they presumably held less interest for them. The evidence for that is mixed. In Harris, Travis, and Tarrant counties, it was indeed the case that more people voted in the Lt. Governor race than in the Senate and Governor races; the other statewide races had far lower totals than those three. Indeed, the undervote in Harris County in the Lite Guv race (2.38%) was lower than it was in the hotly contested open-seat CD02 race (2.48%). However, in Bexar and Dallas counties, the Lite Guv vote total was third, behind Senate and Governor, which is what you’d normally expect given ballot order and profile of the offices in question. I wouldn’t draw too broad a conclusion about any of this – some of those drawn-in voters may well cast ballots in other races, especially visible ones like Senate and Governor, and in all of these cases the differences are small. I just like looking for this sort of thing and felt it was worth pointing out even if it’s ambiguous.

So that’s what I have for the precinct data. As always, I hope this was useful to you. Let me know if you have any questions.

City reaches settlement in pension projection lawsuit

Old story, new development.

Houston has agreed to settle a lawsuit it filed four years ago against an actuarial firm whose predictions it blamed for contributing to the city’s multi-billion-dollar pension crisis for $40 million.

The city’s outside counsel, Susman Godfrey, would collect $11 million, and $29 million would be deposited into the city’s general fund. City Council must approve the settlement.

City Council approved the filing of the lawsuit in July 2014, saying Houston officials’ reliance on the advice of Towers Perrin, now known as Willis Towers Watson, led them to boost workers’ retirement benefits in 2001 and saddle taxpayers with unaffordable pensions costs as a result.

The city alleged negligence and malpractice and sought damages of $832 million — a figure later revised to $432 million.

See here, here, and here for the background. That first link is from 2004; it and the second link have most of the relevant information. Getting $29 million in cash doesn’t suck, but boy it would have been nice to have gotten better information in the first place. Nothing more to be done about it now.

It’s about more than the statewide races

Two articles coming to basically the same conclusion. First, from the Observer:

People watching Texas from afar are naturally not very interested in the balance of power in the Legislature, or county government. They’re interested first in whether Texas could flip in a presidential race and, secondly, whether they can be rid of Ted Cruz. So when more Democratic ballots were cast than Republican ones in the largest counties, many read that as evidence that a Democrat could win a statewide race in November, even though the link between the two is pretty specious and at any rate Texas has open primaries. (I mostly vote in the Republican primary, and a lot of people switch at will between the two depending on what’s going on in their district.)

But on election night, the statewide results, from across all 254 counties, were quite different — because of course they were. In the end, there were still more Republican ballots, 1.54 million, than Democratic ballots, 1.04 million. Some observers, hyped on the foggy narrative that lauded the early voting turnout, decided that the results were a dud and lost interest, because the numbers no longer indicated that a statewide election could be won. One national forecaster, Harry Enten, wrote that the primary results were a disappointment because they were comparable to 2006, when the party didn’t win any statewide elections. But Texas Democrats don’t remember that year as a disappointment — they made extraordinary headway in the state House, part of an effort that almost won a majority in 2008.

The Blue Wave was real, and then it wasn’t, in the course of about a week. Stranger still, the made-up national story arc seemed to influence in-state coverage as well. Even though Democratic turnout was better than in any midterm primary since 2002, and more than than double 2014, commentators have consistently described the night as at least a mild disappointment, where the Democrats “fell short” of a goal that had been imagined for them.

The thing is, the way the state goes on the electoral college map doesn’t mean very much at all for the way Texas is governed. And while it’s possible that the party jumps back to life with the shock of winning one or two statewide elections — that there will be a proof of concept, and then everyone suddenly gets serious — it’s more likely that things change slowly, over an extended period of time, and that small gains and positive signs feed bigger gambits. What’s most important in the long run is the overall composition and strength of the Texas Democratic Party at the local and state level.

In that light, the fact that Democratic turnout doubled in urban counties while Republican turnout stayed essentially flat is significant. There are quite a few winnable legislative districts around those cities. The whole ballgame for the party is getting people to vote and to make a habit of voting. Trump is helping them do that — the trick now is to get it to stick, which it most certainly did not after the elections of 2006 and 2008.

And from the Trib:

Texas didn’t see a blue wave in its March primaries. Measured by the number of voters they attracted to their primaries earlier this month, Republicans outnumber Democrats in Texas by a 3-to-2 margin.

Dallas County did see a wave, though, and that could be important in November. The same is true, to some extent, in Harris and Bexar counties. Democrats, judged by turnout in the major party primaries, have a numerical advantage in three of the state’s biggest counties.

Another way to put this: In the three biggest counties in Texas, Democratic primary voters outnumbered Republicans in 2018 — after trailing them in 2014.

[…]

It’s not the blue wave Texas Democrats were hoping for. Texas Republican primary turnout was 1.54 million, while the Democrats attracted 1.02 million voters. But you’ll have to forgive Republicans in Dallas, Bexar and Harris counties if they start hollering for life preservers. Democrats improved their turnout numbers, in comparison with Republicans, in 18 of the state’s top 25 counties (measured by the number of registered voters) — an urban trend that’s been previously noted here and elsewhere.

What’s notable now is the electoral danger posed to incumbent Republicans. They are numerous in the three big counties, providing the Democrats with ample opportunities. They’re nervous because their party’s president is facing his first mid-term election, often a perilous time for that party’s candidates. Meanwhile, the Democrats have candidates in place to pounce as opportunities arise.

That article goes on to list the targets from Dallas County, a list with which we are familiar. The full list goes well beyond these three counties – again, we know what that’s about – but the point is simply that Democrats have a lot of ways to win this year. Obviously, becoming credibly competitive at a statewide level is the overarching goal, but as we get there a lot can happen to make the government we have better. Winning even two Senate seats would be a big step forward, not to mention a key point of leverage, thanks to the “three-fifths rule” (formerly the two-thirds rule) in the Senate, which would allow Dems to block bills they can’t abide.

There are many more lower-level targets to aim for – breaking through in Harris County, including Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, lots of State House seats, and so on – and who knows, Ken Paxton may get convicted, or Sid Miller may finally say something that alienates people who aren’t dead-enders. We’ve been over this before, you know the drill. Winning a statewide race would be huge, but it’s not the sole criteria for success in 2018. Let’s not lose sight of that.

Precinct analysis: Countywide candidates

We have four – count ’em, four – runoffs for Harris County office nominations for May. Every contested countywide non-judicial primary – that is, everything other than County Judge – is going to overtime. I’m going to look at the data from these four races with an eye towards the runoffs. As a reminder, my analysis of the Senate primary is here, and my analysis of the Governor and Lt. Governor races is here. Let’s start with the District Clerk race.


Dist   Howard  Burgess Jordan Shorter
=====================================
CD02    3,161   15,405  2,276   4,938
CD07    3,254   16,917  2,307   5,271
CD08      234      819    160     435
CD09    3,918    7,493  3,185   5,959
CD10    1,000    3,442    769   1,578
CD18    5,631   13,574  4,807   8,922
CD22      438    1,458    355     708
CD29    2,850    6,260  2,562   3,739
CD36      993    4,150    726   1,508
				
HD126     712    2,089    577   1,010
HD127     772    2,505    635   1,220
HD128     486    1,559    344     659
HD129     712    3,509    534   1,207
HD130     610    2,156    421     904
HD131   1,669    2,943  1,389   2,477
HD132     758    2,529    689   1,393
HD133     741    4,486    490   1,213
HD134   1,262   10,294    681   1,813
HD135     713    2,586    700   1,376
HD137     443    1,442    350     677
HD138     623    2,580    433   1,016
HD139   1,535    3,372  1,373   2,232
HD140     479      890    424     602
HD141   1,047    1,714  1,048   1,531
HD142   1,299    2,090  1,216   2,091
HD143     803    1,508    810   1,020
HD144     373      943    340     445
HD145     655    2,149    525     929
HD146   1,735    3,857  1,242   2,687
HD147   1,817    5,482  1,241   3,154
HD148     885    4,795    611   1,249
HD149     622    1,625    532     910
HD150     728    2,415    542   1,243

Marilyn Burgess was above the magic 50% line for most of the evening as Primary Day returns came in, but fell just short in the end, leading the pack with 49.22%. She was strong everywhere, getting at least a plurality in every district except HD142, which she missed by one vote. Stranger things have happened, but it’s hard to imagine her losing in the runoff given the data.

Next up is County Clerk:


Dist    West  Mitchell Trautman
===============================
CD02   3,368     8,412   13,817
CD07   3,824     8,739   15,009
CD08     255       729      651
CD09   3,418    10,215    6,620
CD10   1,222     2,798    2,708
CD18   5,071    15,336   12,068
CD22    418      1,283    1,222
CD29   2,777     6,286    6,160
CD36   1,051     2,687    3,599
			
HD126    783     1,881    1,683
HD12     784     2,152    2,205
HD128    488     1,296    1,257
HD129    756     2,110    3,047
HD130    674     1,713    1,678
HD131  1,340     4,511    2,506
HD132  1,037     2,304    1,972
HD133    878     1,939    4,080
HD134  1,336     2,830    9,754
HD135    956     2,342    2,028
HD137    490     1,105    1,285
HD138    720     1,693    2,214
HD139  1,405     4,216    2,756
HD140    476     1,003      884
HD141    847     3,141    1,312
HD142    954     3,951    1,741
HD143    737     1,953    1,438
HD144    406       716      934
HD145    677     1,247    2,253
HD146  1,513     4,351    3,507
HD147  1,785     4,299    5,328
HD148    922     1,935    4,655
HD149    647     1,613    1,410
HD150    793     2,184    1,927

I’ll be honest, I thought Diane Trautman would do better than she did. She’s been around for awhile, she’s run and won countywide before, and she was a very active campaigner. I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see this race be as close as it was, with Trautman at 44.27% and Gayle Mitchell, who lost a primary for County Clerk to Ann Harris Bennett in 2014, at 40.42%. When I say that Trautman was an active campaigner, I don’t just mean on Facebook and via email. I mean I saw her at multiple events, including all of the CEC meetings from 2017. Nat West was present at CEC meetings, as he is the SDEC Chair for SD13, but as far as I know Gayle Mitchell never attended and of those or any other event that I did. Be that as it may, she finished just 5,500 votes behind Trautman, and she won or ran strongly in numerous districts. She also did better on Primary Day than she did in early voting; the same was true for Rozzy Shorter and the other non-Burgess District Clerk candidates, which probably just suggests when different types of voters were voting.

Trautman has the advantage of the runoff in CD07 going into May, as that was a big driver of overall turnout and it was her strongest turf, though she wasn’t as strong there as Burgess was. Mitchell will likely benefit from the runoffs in JP7 and HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 – there is significant overlap between the two – though neither of those will draw people out the way CD07 will. I guess that makes Trautman a slight favorite going into May, but we all thought she was a strong favorite going into March, so who knows. If I had one piece of advice for Trautman, it would be to see if she can get some elected officials to do some outreach on her behalf. Those of us who think she’s the strongest candidate to face Stan Stanart, especially if we’re not in CD07, need to make sure we bring some friends to the polls for her.

I’m going to present the last two races together. They are Treasurer and HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large.


Treasurer

Dist  Garcia Copeland  Osborne
==============================
CD02    8,841   4,988   11,335
CD07    9,412   5,635   11,931
CD08      685     408      533
CD09    6,404   6,742    6,729
CD10    2,826   1,763    2,060
CD18    9,634   9,856   12,141
CD22    1,226     702      989
CD29    8,533   3,170    3,816
CD36    2,835   1,493    2,910
			
HD126   1,762   1,154    1,391
HD127   2,001   1,280    1,752
HD128   1,268     733    1,005
HD129   2,185   1,166    2,512
HD130   1,679   1,024    1,324
HD131   2,478   2,999    2,711
HD132   2,289   1,508    1,472
HD133   2,209   1,222    3,260
HD134   3,581   1,897    8,060
HD135   2,251   1,485    1,537
HD137   1,193     691      996
HD138   1,849   1,047    1,689
HD139   2,390   2,746    3,051
HD140   1,333     521      573
HD141   1,569   1,964    1,589
HD142   2,038   2,353    2,061
HD143   2,146     978    1,039
HD144   1,301     332      479
HD145   2,399     576    1,295
HD146   2,645   2,898    3,568
HD147   3,264   2,888    4,983
HD148   3,066   1,034    3,373
HD149   1,469   1,029    1,150
HD150   2,031   1,232    1,574

HCDE

Dist Wallenstein   Cantu  Patton
================================
CD02       8,942   8,497   7,619
CD07      11,269   8,813   6,864
CD08         511     610     497
CD09       5,001   7,639   7,290
CD10       2,086   2,570   1,985
CD18       8,126  12,111  11,627
CD22         909   1,258     755
CD29       2,894   9,410   3,240
CD36       2,667   2,856   1,725
			
HD126      1,291   1,760   1,245
HD127      1,487   1,958   1,572
HD128        909   1,370     747
HD129      2,336   2,101   1,408
HD130      1,340   1,515   1,159
HD131      1,956   3,182   3,094
HD132      1,457   2,166   1,629
HD133      3,179   2,017   1,499
HD134      6,878   3,163   3,495
HD135      1,424   2,240   1,593
HD137        872   1,164     834
HD138      1,617   1,752   1,175
HD139      1,961   3,391   2,853
HD140        442   1,530     458
HD141      1,160   2,042   1,971
HD142      1,225   2,811   2,447
HD143        779   2,422     979
HD144        473   1,350     278
HD145        943   2,465     841
HD146      2,590   3,244   3,333
HD147      3,178   3,583   4,486
HD148      2,388   3,150   1,952
HD149      1,018   1,477   1,120
HD150      1,502   1,911   1,434

Treasurer is just a tossup. Dylan Osborne led Cosme Garcia by two thousand votes, and for the most part they were pretty close to even across the districts, with Garcia having a clear advantage in CD29. I don’t see enough of an advantage for either candidate to take a guess at who might have the edge in May. Neither outcome would surprise me.

Richard Cantu has a much more distinct advantage in HCDE, leading Josh Wallenstein by over 11,000 votes. Wallenstein came close to not making it to the runoff – he actually ran third in both phases of in-person voting, but had a big enough lead over Elvonte Patton in mail ballots to hang onto second place. Runoffs can be weird, but Cantu seems like the clear favorite for May.

That wraps it up for the Democratic primary precinct analyses. I have one more of these to present, from the other side. Hope you’ve found these to be useful.

The DCCC elsewhere in Texas

I’m OK with this.

Colin Allred

The U.S. House Democratic campaign arm may well be at war with another Texas Democrat.

Lillian Salerno, a Democratic House candidate in the Dallas-based 32nd Congressional District, pushed out a fiery news release on Thursday afternoon when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee telegraphed its preference for her primary rival, former NFL football player Colin Allred.

“Folks here are sick and tired of a bunch of Washington insiders trying to make their decisions for them,” she said. “But I’m not scared — I’ve stood up to power and fought for what’s right my entire life.”

“Texas hasn’t elected a new woman to Congress in twenty-two years, and we’re not taking it anymore,” she added. “The DCCC would do well to remember: Don’t mess with Texas women.”

[…]

At issue was a new list the committee released called “Red to Blue” candidates. The designation serves to signal to donors and DCCC allies which candidates the committee believes should be top recipients for contributions.

Red to Blue is not technically an endorsement from the DCCC. But DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján heaped praise on Allred in a committee news release on Thursday.

“Raised by a single mom who taught for 30 years in Dallas’s public schools, Colin Allred has never lost touch with the community that shaped him,” said Luján.

“Now, after representing his community on the football field and standing up for working people’s dignity in the Obama administration, Colin is running to put everyday Texans before special interests. Colin’s experience and new ideas will give North Texas a fresh start as they look to replace a politician who’s spent 20-years too many in Washington.”

In past cycles, the DCCC has named districts to its Red to Blue program, rather than specific candidates, to avoid these kinds of flare-ups.

The committee also named retired Air Force Intelligence Officer Gina Ortiz Jones to the program, who is running to take on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Like Allred, she is in a runoff for her party’s nomination. Both Allred and Jones significantly outpaced their closest rivals in the first round of the primary contest.

She carried 41 percent of the vote in her district, compared to rival Rick Treviño’s 17 percent. Allred won 39 percent of the vote to Salerno’s 18 percent.

Here’s the full list of supported candidates so far. CD07 is not there yet, which seems like a bit of delayed discretion. What makes this different than the DCCC’s previous incursion is pretty simple: They have taken a position for a candidate, instead of against one. Both Allred and Ortiz Jones can reasonably be called the frontrunners, too, though anything can happen in a runoff. One can certainly argue that the DCCC should have waited these races out before getting involved, but if these are the candidates they want to support, then the case for working with them to ensure they get nominated is pretty clear. I sympathize with Trevino and Salerno, who has the support of Emily’s List, but that’s politics. I say don’t get mad, prove ’em wrong and make ’em support you in November instead.

On a side note, while Salerno is correct about the paucity of women elected to Congress from Texas, we’re going to get at least two more of them this year. In addition, if you look at that red-to-blue list, eighteen of the 33 candidates being supported by the DCCC at this time are women. And assuming the DCCC eventually supports the nominee in CD07 – yeah, that might mean making nice with Laura Moser; politics is full of such opportunities – then two of the three Texans they support will be women, too. I get why she’s unhappy and I don’t blame her, but I get what the DCCC is doing in these races, too.

Weekend link dump for March 25

In the end, Toys R Us will just have been the first of many businesses of all descriptions facing the same hard demographic truth: Economic growth is extremely difficult without population growth.” Which, by the way, is one of the best arguments for increased immigration.

A NASA astronaut brought her 4-year-old son to a spacesuit photo shoot“. Much cuteness ensues.

“In many states, regulations have created barriers to safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable abortion services.”

“So what motivates this swell of right-wing support for Trump? At this point, though many people on all sides still refuse to acknowledge it, the evidence is overwhelming: It was cultural backlash, against immigrants, minorities, uppity women, liberals, and all the other forces seen as dislodging traditional white men from their centrality in American culture.”

The tax loophole business is booming, thanks to the Trump/GOP tax cuts.

“This is a good place to start because the real experts in Stone Age nutrition think our ancestors — who, by the way, were foragers — consumed a wide variety of ever-changing plant foods that gave them up to 100 grams of fiber daily. We, on the other hand, eat an average of 15 grams of daily fiber. Our forebears are thought to have eaten lots of insects, too.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reviews that book about The Bachelor.

“How Trump’s Lawyer’s Silly Lawsuit Against BuzzFeed May Free Stormy Daniels From Her Nondisclosure Agreement”.

Gosh, why do you think Donald Trump is acting guilty?

An Abridged List Of Facebook’s Unforeseen Consequences.

“If you can’t quite bring yourself to close down your account—maybe there’s a support group or family connections you’d like to keep active—then here’s how to restrict the amount of data Facebook has got on you.”

“So, in my view, if Breitbart is losing traffic, it’s not for any extrinsic reason; it’s because as low as they brought things, their audience — its brains turned to harmless glue by long exposure to Breitbart’s crap– now wants to go lower still.”

Scenes from the March For Our Lives

From Houston:

Nearly 15,000 descended Saturday morning on downtown Houston for the city’s March For Our Lives, advocating for greater gun control in light of last month’s Florida school shooting.

A mix of children and adults gathered in Houston’s Tranquility Park for the student-led march, many carrying signs that illustrated their fear of violence and demand for legislative action.

“I didn’t know what to expect here today, but I just expect change in the government,” said Austin Luchak, a ninth-grader at The Woodlands College Park High School who attended the march with his father. “I hope they follow through.”

Hundreds of marches are taking place across the country, largely driven by students who are organizing the events. The rally in Washington included Texans like Kay Hopper, a retiree from Austin who showed up with her daughter, son-in-law and grandchild. “I’m hoping that what starts here will change the world in Texas,” Hopper said.

[…]

In Houston, organizers expected 10,000 to 20,000 attendees to gather in Tranquility Park and march toward U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s office.

“Today, I hope our voices are heard, because we are the ones that go to school,” said Azariah Haro, a junior from Langham Creek High School in Cy-Fair ISD, who traveled to Saturday’s event with three friends. “I really hope we’re able to make a change.”

As protesters milled about shortly before the 9 a.m. start, volunteers worked to register young voters inspired into political action. Many brought signs voicing opposition to the National Rifle Association, while others implored replacing legislators who have been more supportive of expanded gun rights.

Emphasis mine. I’ll get back to that in a minute. Mayor Turner spoke at the rally, and he announced the creation of the Mayor’s Commission to End Gun Violence. Details will be forthcoming. In the meantime, there were rallies around the state as well.

In more than 800 planned “March for Our Lives” events across the country – including in Austin, Houston and Dallas – students and families protested against gun violence and called on lawmakers to take decisive action.

Thousands clogged Austin’s Congress Ave and gathered outside the pink-domed Capitol building, chanting and applauding as speakers – including Mayor Steve Adler, actor Matthew McConaughey and the local high school students organizers of the event – took their turns rallying the crowd.

“We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make the choice to jump in front of an assault rifle,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. “Not one more.” The crowd broke into chants of “Not one more!” as he spoke.

Many of the speakers at the Austin event pointedly described state lawmakers’ dithering on gun-control laws, and called for reforms – like a ban on assault-style weapons and bolstering the background-check process.

“Now there is not one solution that will prevent mass shootings,” Adler, the mayor, said at one point, “but there are common sense solutions most people can agree upon.” He suggested people on airlines’ “no-fly” lists should be banned from purchasing guns, and said, “if you can’t buy a gun in a gun store, you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun at a gun show.”

Watson dismissed a push to arm school staff and educators with weapons by saying teachers in the state are already-overburdened. “Adding sharpshooter to their list of obligations is ridiculous,” he said.

There were many more marches around the country and around the world as well. These are great to see, but what comes next is of greater importance. There is – correctly – a lot of focus on Congress, as there is a lot that can and should be done at the federal level to reform gun laws. Part of the reason for that is because Democrats have a decent chance of retaking the House, and even if they can’t get the Senate this year, it along with the Presidency are very doable in 2020.

It’s a much bigger challenge at the state level – the Lege isn’t flipping, and statewide offices are very much longshots. But we can make gains, and we can state our goals for state government, which if nothing else can serve as both vision and rallying cry. Right now, though, I don’t know what those goals are – I’m not even sure I could say what they should be. We’re pretty clear on things like education, health care, equality, the environment, and criminal justice, but gun issues have not been in the foreground except for when we have had to play defense. Someone asked me recently if I could point them to a legislative scorecard for gun control, and the only one either of us could find was from the NRA. There are local chapters here of national groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, but again that focus has been on the national scene. We know that if we want to change things in Texas we need to win more elections, but we need the candidates we are electing to have gun safety as one of their mandates. What is it we hope to accomplish on this issue in the Legislature in 2019? That needs to be our starting point.

HISD chooses partnerships for low-performing schools

In the same story as the one with the news about interim HISD Superintendent Grenita Lathan, we get this news as well:

HISD administrators are recommending the district temporarily surrender significant control over 10 chronically underperforming schools as part of their plan for avoiding major state sanctions. Lathan has taken a large role in the process.

District leaders originally recommended forming partnerships for six of the 10 schools, while closing and reopening four other schools. But on Thursday, they announced plans for partnering all 10 schools.

Under a partnership, the district would surrender significant control over each campus to an outside organization, such as a nonprofit or higher education institution. District leaders are recommending the partnerships last for three years.

Under a closure-reopen plan, the district would maintain control over the school, but each campus would only serve limited grade levels in 2019-20 and the entire staff would be replaced.

“That was a major concern under a closure-restart” proposal, Lathan said.

Here’s an earlier version of the story, from just before Dr. Lathan’s appointment as interim Superintendent, and here’s a story about the previous proposal, which drew a lot of opposition from the community. I’m going to reserve judgment about this plan until I see how the people who will be most affected by it react.

HISD names an interim Superintendent

Congratulations!

Grenita Lathan

Houston ISD trustees unanimously appointed Grenita Lathan as interim superintendent late Thursday, elevating the district’s chief academic officer about two weeks after Richard Carranza announced he’s stepping down.

Lathan, 48, will serve as acting superintendent starting Friday, then become interim superintendent on April 1. Trustees accepted Carranza’s resignation, which takes effective immediately, on Thursday. Carranza is leaving to become chancellor of New York City public schools.

HISD board members chose Lathan after spending nine hours in closed session. Trustees referenced considering four internal candidates – Lathan, Deputy Superintendent Samuel Sarabia, Chief Student Support Officer Mark Smith and Chief of Staff Cynthia Wilson – before landing on Lathan. All nine trustees briefly spoke in favor of Lathan’s appointment, which occurred shortly before midnight.

“I think you exemplify the things we look for when we look at leadership,” HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones told Lathan.

Lathan joined Houston ISD in 2015 as chief officer overseeing elementary transformation schools, reuniting with her former boss and then-Superintendent, Terry Grier. Following Grier’s departure in 2016, Carranza elevated Lathan to chief academic officer.

“(It’s) excitement and, I’ll be very honest, validation for the work that’s been done not only by myself, but our entire team,” Lathan said.

Lathan served as superintendent of Peoria (Ill.) School District 150, home to about 14,000 students, from 2010 to 2015. She previously worked as interim deputy superintendent and chief elementary school improvement officer at San Diego Unified Public Schools, where Grier spent 18 months as superintendent. Prior to that, she held several positions, including teacher and principal, in North Carolina and Illinois.

The HISD press release is here. I presume Interim Superintendent Lathan will also be a candidate for the permanent job. Regardless, and for however long she has it, there’s a lot of work to be done. I wish Interim Superintendent Lathan all the best. The Press has more.

The Stockman trial gets weird

I mean, with Steve Stockman you have to expect some weird crap, but I didn’t see this coming.

Best newspaper graphic ever

The American Phoenix Foundation — a now-defunct conservative activist groupknown for attempting undercover stings of lawmakers and lobbyists — planted an intern in a Texas state lawmaker’s office during the 2013 legislative session in an effort to expose misdeeds, testimony in federal court revealed Thursday.

Shaughn Adeleye, testifying in Houston in the federal fraud case against former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, said in court Thursday that he was planted in the office of state Rep. James White to obtain footage of the Hillister Republican engaged in “fraud and abuse” and also in more mundane activities like cursing or failing to tidy his messy car, according to Quorum Report.

Stockman funded that effort in an attempt to uncover “salacious” gossip about a perceived political rival, according to testimony Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. The former congressman stands accused of illegally using charitable donations to cover political and personal expenses, among a total of 28 criminal charges.

Stockman was concerned that White would give up his state House seat to challenge him for Congress. “Republicans love black conservatives. I’m worried,” Stockman fretted in a text to a political ally, according to testimony Thursday.

Adeleye told prosecutors Thursday that he accepted the undercover job because he was told he’d be ferreting out corruption, but it ultimately became clear his supervisors were hoping for embarrassing material about White, who is the only black Republican in the Legislature. He was told “a good video of [White] saying anything crazy would be ideal,” according to an email shown in court.

“These were just such odd requests,” Adeleye said Thursday.

The American Phoenix Foundation filmed Texas lobbyists and lawmakers back in 2015, and the group’s membership has ties to James O’Keefe, a conservative political activist infamous for his shady tactics.

See here for yesterday’s update. I recall State Rep. White’s name being bounced around as a possible CD36 candidate for a hot second or two, but it never gained any traction, in part because he wasn’t interested and in part because Stockman went off on his quest to unseat Sen. John Cornyn in that primary. Given that Stockman basically cruised to a win in the crowded 2012 race for CD36 on the strength of his residual name ID and that James White was a two-term State Rep who I’d venture to guess was widely unknown, this hair-brained scheme to discredit him – which among other things would surely have done wonders for Rep. White’s name ID – shows an impressive level of paranoia, even for the likes of Stockman. The scheme itself makes Jerry Lundegaard and Carl Showalter look like super geniuses, and I am here for it. This trial has more than lived up to my expectations, and the defense hasn’t even begun to present its case. The Chron – check the URL for that story, it’s pure gold – has more.

You may finally be able to buy booze at Walmart and Costco now

I agree with this.

A protectionist Texas law that has kept Walmart, Costco and other giant retailers from selling hard liquor was found unconstitutional by a federal judge this week, prompting cheers from free-market advocates — and vows of a quick appeal from one of the parties on the losing side.

The Texas law that was struck down — unique in the United States — forbids publicly traded businesses from owning liquor stores while allowing family-owned companies to grow into giant chains without fear of competition from large national or international corporations.

If the late Tuesday ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman survives appeals, Texas consumers — like those in at least 31 other states and many foreign countries — will be able to buy vodka, tequila and bourbon from Walmart-owned stores and from other multinational retailer outlets.

“For decades, these laws have stood in stark contrast to Texas values,” said Travis Thomas, spokesman for Texans for Consumer Freedom, which advocates for free-market reforms in Texas. “The State of Texas should not pick winners and losers in private industry.”

[…]

Experts said an appeal could take more than a year to play out in the federal court system — longer if it were to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In the meantime, Texans can expect the status quo in liquor retailing. If publicly traded companies are allowed eventually to sell distilled spirits, existing law would still require the companies to build separate facilities, though they can be adjacent to existing stores.

See here and here for the background. The Texas Package Stores Association, which represents the state’s liquor store owners, has vowed to appeal, and I’d expect this to go the distance. As you know, I’m no fan of Walmart, but on this issue I think they’re in the right. Now if we could only bring a similar sense of sanity to the state’s ridiculous beer laws, we’d really have something.

Chron overview of CD07 runoff

I have three things to say about this.

Lizzie Fletcher

Democrats looking for a ray of hope in Houston’s Republican-leaning Seventh Congressional District have their sights locked on an apparent upset victory in a conservative Pennsylvania district that President Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016.

But the lessons learned from Conor Lamb’s surprise 600-vote win – barring legal challenges – could mean very different things to the two Houston Democrats squaring off in the May 22 primary runoff to face nine-term Republican incumbent John Culberson.

In a race that Democrats see as one of their best pick-up opportunities in the nation, the two rivals, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and writer-activist Laura Moser, both have started fundraising off Lamb’s victory.

[…]

Rice University political scientists Mark Jones notes that although Trump lost the district to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by nearly 1.5 percent, it still remains decidedly GOP ground that routinely favors Republican candidates by wide margins.

To Jones, who once worked for former Missouri U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, what that means is that Culberson will likely downplay Trump in the election – if that’s possible. And for Democrats, given their recent upsets in Alabama and western Pennsylvania, it suggests a tack to the middle.

“Actually, there does seem to be a formula,” Jones said. “The formula is, give Republicans somebody they don’t feel uncomfortable voting for.”

Laura Moser

Moser, in a Chronicle interview before the primary election, said she doesn’t see it that way. “We have tried something over and over in Texas politics, which is to run to the middle and to the right, and it’s not working,” she said. “So why not stand firm for the values that we share? I’m progressive, but I don’t think that the things I stand for are out of keeping with what the majority of this district believes.”

Other Texas Democrats see merit in trying to harness the party’s new-found energy since Trump’s election. Some argue that much of that energy comes from the left with groups such as Our Revolution, a spinoff from Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign that has endorsed Moser.

“Midterm elections are base elections,” said Ed Espinoza of Progress Texas, a group that represents the liberal wing of the state’s Democratic Party – but which remains neutral in the Moser-Fletcher runoff. “Your task is getting more of your people out than they can get of their people.”

The March 6 primary, however, offered up some sobering math for Houston Democrats. Some 38,032 voters cast ballots in the Seventh District’s GOP primary, a sleepy affair in which Culberson faced just one largely-unknown challenger. In contrast, only 33,176 people came out to vote in the Democratic primary, a seven-way contest with at least four well-financed contenders.

Though turnout on both sides can be expected to increase in the November general election, Jones argues that a base-election strategy for Democrats can only work in a truly swing district – which the Seventh is not. “Even if the base is super-enthused, you’re still going to lose by five or 10 points,” he said.

But to Espinoza, the likelihood of flipping anti-Trump Republican voters in the Seventh District seems remote. “Republican voters have either embraced the crazy, or they’ve jumped ship and they’re going to stay home,” he said. “Any voters who have left the Republican Party, they are not looking for Trump-lite. They’re looking for Trump-opposite.”

1. In the matter of the “turnout or persuasion” debate, the correct answer for this district, and likely some (though not all) others, is “both”. Mark Jones is correct that CD07 isn’t really a swing district, at least not based on 2016 results, in which the average Democratic judicial candidate received 43.5% of the vote. Trying to win here on increased turnout alone is a heavy lift, one that depends to some extent on a factor you can’t control, which is the other side’s turnout level. On the other hand, the fewer voters you need to persuade to cross over, the better. If you can boost turnout enough to make this, say, a six-point district instead of a 12-point district, you have a much better shot at getting a sufficient number of crossovers, if they are there to be had. What the proper mix is, and how to maximize them simultaneously, is the challenge.

2. I’ve already expressed my skepticism about the primary turnout/November turnout connection. For what it’s worth, of the roughly 39K total votes cast in the Republican primary in CD07, over 8,700 people voted for Scott Milder instead of Dan Patrick, and about 6,000 people voted for a Senate candidate other than Ted Cruz. Make of that what you will.

3. I hope all of the other Democratic runoffs that cover part or all of Harris County get as much press combined as CD07 is likely to get by itself.

Houston’s flood mitigation priorities

The sooner the better with this.

Stephen Costello

Converting a defunct golf course and dormant landfills into detention basins, digging new channels and buying out or elevating scores of homes are among Houston leaders’ key priorities as Hurricane Harvey recovery funds begin flowing to the Texas Gulf coast.

Houston flood czar Steve Costello on Wednesday presented to city council a list of 13 projects Houston plans to submit to state officials in competition for the first $500 million of an expected $1 billion in FEMA mitigation aid released after Harvey.

The projects would cover a handful of watersheds and would cost a combined $723 million, according to preliminary estimates.

“There’s a lot of variables here. We, first of all, need to see if the state is willing to support them,” Costello said. “These projects all collectively are about $700 million and there’s only $1 billion for the entire state, so some of these projects won’t make the list.”

Costello said he expects to submit initial paperwork to the state on the first group of projects within days. As state officials agree the submitted items are worthwhile, he said, the city will return to drafting the more detailed grant applications — including cost-benefit analyses required by FEMA — that are due in June.

[…]

Costello said he selected projects based on their potential impact, the opportunity for the city to partner with other governments to complete them, and the extent to which the projects were ready to be built quickly. Many of the ideas, he added, existed before Harvey but have gotten renewed focus since the storm.

Click over to see the list. The priorities make sense, as does the idea of partnering with other entities where possible. Not everything will get funded, but you have to assume we’ll get a lot of what we’re asking for. And what we don’t get, the state will need to step up and fill in. We can’t afford not to take this very seriously.

Stockman trial update

From Tuesday:

Best newspaper graphic ever

“This case is the story of how the defendant over the course of four years exploited the trust and charity of others to pull off a massive scam,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Heberle, of the Justice Department’s public integrity division, told jurors during opening statements in the federal corruption trial.

“It is the story of a man who thinks that the rules are for other people,” Heberle said. “And it is the story of how, dollar by dollar, investigators followed the money and unraveled the defendant’s fraud scheme.”

Heberle said Stockman pulled off the scheme by cheating federal election law, lying to donors and blaming mistakes on his staff.

Heberle outlined several major donations Stockman, a trained accountant, solicited on behalf of charitable groups he was involved in, and said the evidence would show that with the help of two aides, Stockman quickly moved that money from one account to another and spent it to cover personal and campaign expenses.

Defense attorney Sean Buckley, however, had a drastically different take on the same series of financial transactions.

“The core is question of whether Mr. Stockman lied with the intent to steal money” from two major donors, Buckley said.

Buckley described his client as a scrappy, naive and idealistic outsider who lost track of his finances.

See here for the previous update. Just as a reminder, that “scrappy, naive outsider” was first elected to Congress in 1994, and the crimes he is accused of stem from his 2012 House campaign and his unsuccessful 2014 primary bid against Sen. John Cornyn. That’s an awfully long time to remain naive.

From Wednesday:

Former U.S. Congressman Steve Stockman and two aides used a major charitable donation to a cover credit card debt, two spots at a Christian summer camp, a friend’s stint in rehab and a funeral for employee’s wife, according to testimony Wednesday from an FBI agent at Stockman’s federal fraud trial in Houston.

But they didn’t spend any of the $350,000 gift — as Stockman had promised he would at a pitch meeting with a conservative Midwestern mega-donor — on the renovation of a house near Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to be used as living quarters and a training facility for young conservatives.

A series of witnesses called by federal prosecutors in the second day of Stockman’s corruption trial traced the path of that $350,000 donation, testifying that Stockman and his associates spent it on an extensive array of expenses, which the donor said he never meant to cover.

[…]

[Conservative megadonor Richard] Uihlein said after spending less than an hour meeting with Stockman at his corporate offices in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. on Jan. 24, 2013, he wrote a check from the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation to the newly elected representative’s charitable foundation for $350,000.

One month prior, at the urging of Larry Pratt, CEO and founder of Gun Owners of America, Uihlein had donated $5,000 to help pay for a group of home-schooled children to be in Washington for Stockman’s swearing in ceremony.

And a year after he made the Freedom House donation, Uihlein would write a $450,000 check to cover a mailing in Stockman’s unsuccessful bid to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the Republican Primary, court records in the case show.

And now the GOP legislator and an aide, Thomas Dodd, had arrived with an impressive brochure about Freedom House and asked for money to create their training center for young congressional interns. Uihlein, the CEO of a moving supplies empire, said he liked the idea of helping cover the house’s renovation.

“I felt they were trustworthy,” Uihlein told the jury, under questioning from a federal prosecutor. “And I trusted that they would spend the money the way they said.”

He said he understood from the brochure that Stockman was soliciting the money for a charitable cause through a 501c3 organization, and stressed he would not have given it if he knew it would be spent on the former lawmaker’s personal and campaign costs.

This post has more about the Stockman/Uihlein relationship. Uihlein may have been duped, but he’s far from innocent, or sympathetic. As for Stockman, his defense is to blame everything on the two former aides that have since taken plea deals for their actions in this saga. One of those aides, Jason Posey, has been an associate of Stockman’s since his first Congressional term in the 90’s. Like I said, that’s an awfully long time to remain naive. The prosecution still has more to present, and then we get to the defense, which ought to be amazing. Stay tuned.

District K special election update

From Durrel Douglas:

In a late night Facebook Live video, prominent Houston activist Ashton P. Woods bowed out of the race to replace former City Councilman Larry Green who passed unexpectedly in early March. Woods says he will back a Black woman for the post since he believes there should be another Black woman on City Council.

Woods, founder of Black Lives Matter-Houston, says he still plans for an at-large seat in 2019.

Rumblings of candidates aiming to fill the southwest-Houston district filled rumor mills with long-time Democratic operative Pat Frazier and Larry Blackmon announcing runs so far.

Frazier has a campaign Facebook page; I heard about her candidacy via Erik Manning on Facebook on Monday. She had been a candidate for K in 2011, finishing with 24.88% of the vote against Green and a third person. Blackmon was a candidate for At Large #4 in 2015 – he still has a Facebook page from that campaign, which maybe he’ll repurpose. He also threw his hat in for the precinct chair-selected nomination in HD146 in 2016. Council has now officially set the election for May 5, with a filing deadline of Monday the 26th. I have to assume we will hear from more candidates by then.

UPDATE: Here’s a press release for Martha Castex-Tatum, who is also in for K.

How about we excavate those reservoirs?

Okay by me.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is quietly exploring the possibility of excavating dirt from Addicks and Barker reservoirs, reviving an oft-discussed proposal that would allow the reservoirs to hold more storm water and keep it out of nearby Houston neighborhoods.

Depending on the scope of the project, removing silt and dirt could increase the reservoirs’ capacity significantly, perhaps even doubling it, by one Corps official’s rough estimate. Whether the agency moves forward could depend in part on whether it can find someone to take all the dirt.

[…]

The idea of excavating the reservoirs has been a fixture of official reports and politicians’ to-do lists for more than 20 years. Thanks to Harvey, its time may finally have arrived.

In a notice posted on the Internet, the Army Corps said it “is evaluating the level of interest from government, industry, and others parties for the excavation and removal of alluvial soils deposited within” the reservoirs.

“The concept of the potential project is to allow for the beneficial use of material by interested parties while increasing capacity” at Addicks and Barker, the notice said.

It appeared Jan. 24, with no public announcement, on a website that advertises business opportunities with the federal government.

Corps officials won’t say anything further about their plans, including how much soil would be excavated, how much it would cost or who would pay.

Read on to learn more about the dirt, which is actually kind of interesting. The question of how much this would cost and who would pay for it seems to me to be the more fundamental issue. A third reservoir is still a good idea, but increasing the capacity of the existing reservoirs would be wise as well. Probably cheaper, and faster to accomplish, too. I doubt anyone is opposed to this, so what do we need to do to get this started?

From the “Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash” files

Same song, second verse.

If budget writers don’t come up with money to address a state employee pension shortfall and mounting needs for public schools, health care and transportation, credit agencies are likely to downgrade Texas’ AAA rating in the near future.

That was the warning Comptroller Glenn Hegar gave lawmakers at a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Finance Committee in Austin. Though the Texas economy is growing at a healthy pace, Hegar said, the state’s budget is riddled with enough unfunded liabilities to worry credit rating agencies such as Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s.

“We’re not at a crisis,” Hegar said, but “we’re going in the wrong direction.”

A downgrading of Texas’ credit rating would make it more expensive for the state to borrow money — and perhaps damage state leaders’ credibility when advertising Texas as “open for business.”

“I want to avoid that, because I think that’s a black eye on the state of Texas,” Hegar said.

Rebounding oil prices, natural growth and migration to Texas have led to an increase in tax collections, according to the comptroller’s office. But much of that new revenue is already dedicated to historically underfunded programs such as the state highway fund, meaning that Texas lawmakers likely won’t have more money at their disposal in 2019 when crafting the next two-year budget.

At the same time, lawmakers will need to plug holes in the pension system for state employees, and they’ll face pressure to make solvent a health insurance program for retired teachers. On top of that, big bills coming due for Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the poor and disabled that is perennially underfunded by the Legislature, could put the state budget $2.5 billion in the red before lawmakers even convene in 2019. (The state’s current two-year budget is about $217 billion.)

In addition, state leaders will have to tackle the bills from Hurricane Harvey recovery.

I’ll just say again here what I said in January: The vast majority of these issues are the result of deliberate choices made by our Governor, our Lieutenant Governor, and our Republican-controlled Legislature. Instead of seriously addressing the needs of the state, current and future, our Republican leaders have been obsessed with trivia, from bathrooms to plastic bags to trees. We have gotten by and done all right because times have been good, but we are in a far more precarious position for when the economy goes south than we should be. In the meantime, we are squandering this opportunity to ensure a better future for all of us by making such cavalier and ill-advised fiscal choices. Every Democratic candidate running for state office needs to internalize and articulate that message going forward.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 19

The Texas Progressive Alliance has shifted into runoff mode as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Ted Cruz has your personal data

Hope that doesn’t creep you out.

Not Ted Cruz

Sen. Ted Cruz is under fire for his connections with a voter targeting firm that used data taken from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

The Cruz presidential campaign touted its collaboration with Cambridge Analytica as a sign of a cutting edge run for the White House, allowing the Texan to carefully identify likely supporters. The firm shifted allegiance to Donald Trump once the Texan dropped out of the GOP primaries.

Both campaigns pumped millions into the company, controlled by billionaire Robert Mercer — a key patron first of Cruz and then Trump in 2016.

Cruz continued work with Cambridge Analytica for six months after allegations surfaced in December 2015 that the firm was using Facebook data it had received illicitly. Recent revelations show the data harvesting was far more extensive than previously suspected, and possibly among the biggest privacy breaches in history.

“It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with the psychology of an entire country… in the context of the democratic process,” whistleblower Christopher Wylie, a data scientist who worked for Cambridge Analytica, told The Guardian. “It is a full service propaganda machine.”

Texas Democrats blasted Cruz on Monday for benefiting from a “massive invasion of privacy” and demanded that Cruz explain when he knew the company had engaged in “deceitful activity.”

“Ted Cruz will stop at nothing to weasel his way into power, even if it means weaponizing stolen information to manipulate people to like him,” Texas Democratic Party deputy executive director Manny Garcia said in a press release. “Cruz’s campaign exploited personal information to create psychological profiles on millions of Americans. All to keep lining the pockets of Cruz’s billionaire super PAC donors — like Robert Mercer, who funded this propaganda machine.”

Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier declined a request for comment on Monday.

Boy, when was the last time Ted Cruz didn’t have something to say? (He has since offered a statement that puts all the blame on Cambridge.) There’s plenty more out there about Cambridge Analytica if you want to keep reading. If you’d like to ask Ted Cruz to give you your data back, you can call his office at (202) 224-5922. I look forward to seeing this subject explored in more detail in campaign ads later this year. RG Ratcliffe and the Dallas Observer have more.

Judge orders firefighters’ petitions to be counted

Can’t say I’m surprised.

A state district judge on Tuesday ordered Houston’s city secretary to finish reviewing firefighters’ petition asking for pay parity with police, giving her until April 27 to validate the eight-month-old signatures.

Firefighters submitted a petition last July asking for a ballot referendum that would grant firefighters the same pay as police officers of equal rank, but City Secretary Anna Russell did not validate it in time for the November election.

Leaders of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association sued in December asking the court to give Russell 30 days to review the petition signatures, and last week appeared before state District Judge Dan Hinde.

Hinde did not immediately issue a ruling, but sided with firefighters on Tuesday.

“The city secretary’s continuing failure to count signatures and verify the sufficiency of the pay parity petition constitutes a continuing failure to fulfill her ministerial duty,” Hinde wrote. “The city secretary has been and remains in default of her ministerial duty.”

See here for the background. I mean, look, the petitions were delivered to City Hall last July, which is to say eight months ago. Given that there were other petitions ahead of it, I could believe that Secretary Russell might not have been able to get them checked out in time for last November, but this is ridiculous. It didn’t take nearly this long to verify the anti-HERO petitions, for example, and as I recall her staff worked overtime to do that. I think this is a lousy proposition and I plan to vote against it, but at some point the job just needs to get done.

Now if the deadline to count the valid signatures is April 27, that means this will be ticketed for November, assuming enough of the sigs do check out. (Boy, wouldn’t that be a farcical conclusion to this saga if the verdict is “sorry, you fell short”.) From a participatory democracy perspective, having this voted on in a large November turnout context is better than a single-digit May electorate. Of course, since we know someone is going to sue to have the election overturned no matter what the outcome is – there’s literally no chance that the referendum can be written in a way that is both fully explanatory and not confusing; the ballot language lawsuit can be drafted now and ready to go as soon as the vote totals are in and a suitable plaintiff can be located – I feel like we could save ourselves the trouble by just flipping a coin to determine who “wins” and then going straight to the litigation. Eventually, the Supreme Court will tell us what their preferred result is, and we can take it from there.

UPDATE: The KUHF story, which includes a copy of Judge Hinde’s ruling, confirms that the next opportunity for this to be on a ballot at this point is November.

“We (Heart) Houston” someplace else

Your favorite Instagram spot is moving to a new location.

The “We Love Houston” sign you’ve seen either near I-10 or in Instagram selfies is on the move.

Artist and die-hard Houstonian David Adickes told Chron.com in previous interviews that he planned to move the work, which features concrete letters ranging from 5 to 9 feet tall, separated by a 9-foot-tall heart, from a spot just south of I-10 East near Yale to more hospitable surroundings for the art and its fans.

Housing development behind the installation had cluttered the sentiment since it appeared back in the summer of 2013. It used to be at his former art studio SculpturWorx off Summer Street, near his Beatles statues and presidential heads.

[…]

According to KTRK-TV the signage is moving to a promenade near the 8th Wonder Brewery, which is the current home of the towering Fab Four statues. Chris Alan, who runs the Houston pop-culture site It’s A Houston Thing, told the outlet that this way Houstonians will be able to safely take pictures in front of it.

That’s something that Adickes had always wanted anyway. He is a fan of people of all walks of life enjoying his outsized art.

See here for some background. My fandom of all things Adickes is well known, and that includes this particular piece. Which was near where I live, but as of Sunday is not any more. I’ll miss it now that it’s fone. Here’s a map showing the new location. Having it at a brewery does have some advantages, and maybe now I’ll remember to get a picture in front of it.