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January 19th, 2019:

Slow going so far in HD145 special election

Still a week of early voting to go, but so far just a handful of ballots have been cast.

Voters in Texas’ 145th House District are trickling to the polls for the first week of early voting in a sluggish special election to replace state Sen. Carol Alvarado in the lower chamber.

Four days in, a mere 359 voters have cast ballots in person or by mail, amounting to less than one percent of the district’s registered voters. Polls will remain open each day through Sunday, close Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and reopen Tuesday through Jan. 25.

[…]

The low turnout is typical for special elections, such as last month’s Senate District 6 special election won by Alvarado, D-Houston. Less than 5 percent of registered voters turned out, some of whom are being asked to return to the polls once again.

In that race, Fierro received 23 percent of the vote, bringing her close to a second-place finish but far behind Alvarado’s 50 percent showing.

Even on uniform election dates, turnout tends to run low in District 145, which runs from the Heights through downtown to parts of Pasadena and South Houston. During the 2016 midterms, about 33,500 of the district’s 71,000 registered voters cast ballots, the sixth-lowest vote total of Harris County’s 24 state House districts.

Only Morales and Noriega appear to be raising and spending significant funds on the race, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.

Through Dec. 31, Morales had raised about $20,000, lent herself $5,000 and spent $4,000. She headed into the final month of the race with about $23,000 cash on hand, her finance report showed.

Noriega maintained a similar campaign balance — $22,600 — on Dec. 31, much of which came from $21,750 in personal loans. She reported raising about $5,200 and spent $2,100.

The recent special election in SD06 had 4.69% turnout. If you project that for HD145, you would end up with 3,341 voters in HD145. We’re not exactly on track for that now, but there’s still time.

And time is the single biggest factor in play here. We knew for months there was going to be a special election in SD06 – we knew it since March, when now-Rep. Sylvia Garcia won the Democratic primary for CD29. Now-Sen. Carol Alvarado and Rep. Ana Hernandez announced their candidacies shortly after, and were campaigning all along. We only knew for sure there would be an election in HD145 after Alvarado won that race in December, and only Christina Morales announced her interest in the race in advance of the filing period. Filing ended just eleven days before early voting started. People just haven’t had much time to realize that there’s another election happening, and the candidates have had even less time to tell them.

Another factor is the lack of mail ballots. Of those 359 total votes through Thursday, only two – yes, two – were mail ballots. Only 169 ballots had been mailed out to voters as of Thursday. There were 6,706 votes cast by mail in the SD06 election, nearly 44% of the total turnout. There were 2,405 mail ballots cast in HD145 in the November election, which is only seven percent of the total votes from that election. That’s actually almost the same percentage of mail ballots as there were in SD06 in 2016, so the difference is not how many mail voters there are, it’s how many of them requested and returned ballots for the special election. I have to assume that’s a function of campaigns, and that’s a tall order when your campaigns have so little time. It’s also a factor of money, which most of these campaigns don’t have, but Alvarado and Hernandez did going into their race.

So yes, the turnout is going to be tiny, and that makes the outcome more random than it would be in a different context. The runoff will involve more time – they’re about five weeks after the first round special election – and more money as the donor class has a clearer idea of who they might want to support. That leads to higher turnout in those races. For now, we’re up to 492 total votes cast as of Friday, five of which came via mail. We’ll see where we are in a week.

Bail lawsuit continues in Galveston County

Good.

A lawsuit alleging that Galveston County’s cash bail system favors wealthier defendants will continue after a recent ruling by a U.S. district court judge.

On Jan. 10, Judge George Hanks Jr. upheld Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison’s denial of the county’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

The ACLU of Texas and the Arnold & Porter law firm filed the suit in April 2018 on behalf of Aaron Booth, 37, of Galveston, who was arrested on felony drug possession charges but couldn’t afford to post his $20,000 bail — the minimum permitted under the county’s bail schedule for that charge.

The suit accuses county officials, including local judges and magistrates as well as District Attorney Jack Roady, of operating an arbitrary, two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the constitutional right to counsel, the right to due process and equal protection under the law.

In addition to keeping the suit alive, Hanks agreed that the ACLU sufficiently argued that under the Constitution’s 6th Amendment, Booth and all defendants are guaranteed a right to counsel at any bail hearing.

Hanks also agreed that Roady, who controls the county’s bail schedule, was liable for his role in perpetuating a wealth-based detention system. Magistrate Edison had ruled that magistrate judges “always strictly adhere” to the bail amounts recommended by Roady.

[…]

A preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for Tuesday will give the ACLU the opportunity to present evidence that Galveston County has not done enough to reform its bail system.

“It’s still our burden to show that the facts are what we’ve alleged,” [Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas] said. “So we are presenting evidence that actually shows that an injunction is necessary.”

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said he hoped Tuesday’s hearing would be the “end or beginning of the end” to the lawsuit. Henry said the litigation has hindered the county’s bail reform efforts, and said he was pleased to see individual magistrate judges and district judges dismissed as defendants.

“We’ve been trying to get these things done for years,” Henry said. “Government moves notoriously slow, I think we’ve been about as fast as we can be.”

See here for the background. It should be clear to everyone where this is going, given the rulings in the Harris County case. One presumes it’s just a matter of how long it takes to get there.

MLS comes to Austin

Welcome to the big leagues.

After a long and often rocky courtship, Austin and Major League Soccer became a match.

The league formally welcomed Austin as its 27th franchise with a raucous downtown party Tuesday full of chanting and flag-waving, and Commissioner Don Garber calling the Texas capital a “perfect fit.” MLS said Austin will begin play in the 2021 season.

“We think of us being a league for a new America,” Garber said. “Austin is diverse. It has enormous energy. It has people who really believe in the city. … We need to be here.”

The move has been long expected as Austin became the target destination for efforts last year to move the Columbus Crew. The Crew instead will stay in Ohio under a new ownership group.

Austin recently signed a lease with Austin majority owner Anthony Precourt, a California-based investor, to provide land for a privately-funded $225 million stadium. The Austin venue will be an open-air facility with a grass playing field on land that has been vacant for 25 years.

“We’re going to unite this city. We’re going to fight for this city. We’re going to make you proud,” Precourt said.

Precourt’s attempts to move the Crew, a bedrock MLS franchise, drew fierce resistance in Columbus as fans rallied to save their team and state and local officials filed lawsuits attempting to block the move.

In Austin, a divided city council argued for months over the stadium deal before it was approved on a narrow vote. Instead of moving the Crew, MLS and Precourt agreed that team would be placed under a new ownership group that includes Cleveland Browns Dee and Jimmy Haslem.

MLS has long eyed Austin — although quietly until 2018 — as an expansion opportunity. Precourt’s initial purchase deal for the Crew included a promise to keep the team in Columbus for at least 10 years, but it also had a clause that would let him move to Austin. And before Precourt announced his desire to move, MLS had trademarked Austin FC and Austin Athletic as possible names for a franchise even though the city had not applied for expansion.

Here’s the official MLS story. I’m happy for Austin, but it turns out that not everyone else is.

Austin FC won’t join MLS until 2021, but it is already the league’s most-hated team.

[…]

So, why does everyone hate Austin FC? The answer is simple: Anthony Precourt.

Precourt owned the Columbus Crew, and announced in 2017 that he planned to relocate the club to Austin because Columbus would not provide a publicly funded stadium. By threatening the move to Austin, Precourt essentially held the club hostage until Jimmy and Dee Haslam partnered with Pete Edwards to save the Crew.

MLS saw the massive public outcry against Precourt’s ownership tactics and still rewarded him with a shiny, new franchise in the city of his choice — all while deserving cities like Sacramento, St. Louis and Phoenix are still vying for the last remaining spot.

Austin has a $225 million, 20,000-seat stadium slated for completion by 2021. Precourt Sports Ventures is funding that project after an agreement with the city.

We already know that Columbus will root viciously against Austin FC. It’s personal for Crew fans. But if MLS decides to stay firm on that 28-team figure, soccer fans from the left-out cities will be rooting against Austin as well.

Click over to see a sample of Twitter reactions. You can add soccer fans in San Antonio to that list, too. Well, it never hurts to have a rivalry in sports. I can’t wait to see how that plays out.