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July 15th, 2019:

The field for Senate may keep growing

Another possible contender for the Democratic nomination for US Senate.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

A group of progressive Democratic operatives is looking to draft one of the state’s top organizers of the Latino vote into running for U.S. Senate, a move that could further shake up Texas’ still-unsettled primary to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

The group is focused on Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit she started three years ago to mobilize young Latinos in Texas politics. She also is a co-founder of the Workers Defense Project, an older Austin-based group that fights for labor rights.

Tzintzún Ramirez is not publicly commenting on the Senate race. But among those encouraging her to run are Ginny Goldman, founding executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, and Zack Malitz, field director for Beto O’Rourke’s blockbuster U.S. Senate campaign last year, according to Democratic sources.

Tzintzún Ramirez’s fans see her as the right person at the right time — not unlike O’Rourke, a congressman who went from statewide obscurity to coming within 3 percentage points of the state’s junior GOP senator, Ted Cruz.

“I think she would be a very strong candidate,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston-based Democratic strategist who is not involved in the draft effort. “There are people that have the kind of background, life history, that fits the time in which we are. Those people tend to take off, and we saw that in Beto O’Rourke. … It was just the right timing and the right place to be. When I heard her name, I thought the same thing.”

Tzintzún Ramirez declined to comment for this story. However, people who have been in touch with her believe she is thinking about the race and has not ruled out a run.

The effort to recruit Tzintzún Ramirez underscores how the primary is still taking shape, even after MJ Hegar, the former U.S. House candidate, entered the race in mid-April and raised over $1 million. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has since made clear he is running, and the field is likely to grow further in the coming weeks. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who is viewed as likely to run, has scheduled an announcement for July 22. And Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also moving closer to a campaign.

I don’t know any more about Tzintzún Ramirez than what is in this article, so I don’t have any particular reaction beyond “good luck” and “may the best candidate win”. As I’ve said before, I’m happy for there to be a competitive primary that will force the candidates to begin the process of engaging with the voters as early as possible. That’s going to require raising money, because there will be a lot of voters with which to engage.

It occurs to me that the serious candidates actually face two very different scenarios, because while the 2020 primary is likely to be a record-breaking affair, the inevitable runoff will be much, much smaller. How much? Well, the 2008 primary had 2,874,986 Presidential votes, and 1,951,295 votes cast in the three-way race for Railroad Commissioner. In the 2008 Democratic primary runoff, there were 187,708 votes cast for Railroad Commissioner. The 2020 Senate runoff will not drop off quite that much in turnout, as those candidates will have money, but still. Anyone in this contest needs to think about winning two races, with wildly varying conditions. Just a thought.

Anyway. Tzintzún Ramirez may well be an exciting candidate, but I’d like to hear the words that she’s considering the race come from her mouth before I get too invested in the possibility. I’m delighted people are seeing this as a good opportunity, now let’s see them turn that into action.

What can the county do about ethics?

Maybe something. Maybe not. Who can tell?

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has proposed two ethics reforms he says are needed to improve transparency in county government, though Texas counties’ limited rule-making power may scuttle his plan.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously backed Ellis’ request to study how the county can establish mandatory registration of lobbyists and a blackout period for campaign contributions to elected officials from firms who seek or receive county contracts.

“We’re living in a time when public trust in government is shaken and everyday people are concerned about the undue influence of special interests,” Ellis said in a statement afterward. “We have an opportunity and obligation to strengthen public trust by reducing any appearance of or actual preferential treatment when it comes to how public dollars are spent.”

[…]

Ellis said the county needs an ethics commission to enforce any new rules. His vision, however, may be hamstrung by the limited ability Texas counties have to enact such policies. Unlike municipalities, which can establish their own rules and ordinances, counties only can follow the lead of the Legislature, Harris County First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said.

That limitation tied the hands of County Judge Ed Emmett, who established a task force that recommended a series of ethics reforms in 2009. Among them: creating an ethics committee, posting officials’ personal and financial disclosure forms online and ethics training for county employees.

The county attorney at the time concluded Commissioners Court lacked the authority to act on many of the proposals. The ethics committee only met twice before the county attorney said state law prevented the body from meeting confidentially, granting protection to whistleblowers or having the authority to supervise elected officials or their departments.

Some county ethics rules remain in place. Elected officials still must complete the disclosure forms, and any county employee involved in negotiating contracts with vendors must declare conflicts of interest. Commissioners Court members often disclose during meetings why they are abstaining from a vote, though written conflict of interest forms are not filed with the district clerk until afterward.

Soard said the Legislature has not given counties any new powers to establish ethics rules in the decade since Emmett tried, though El Paso and Montgomery counties sought and received special permission from state lawmakers to set up their own ethics commissions. Harris County could try a similar approach, Soard suggested, though the Legislature will not return to Austin for a regular session until 2021.

“We’re certainly working with the commissioners to see what the county can do,” Soard said.

I’m sure I’ve been salty on this blog about past attempts to improve ethics in Harris County. In retrospect, the lack of authority as granted by the state seems obvious. Maybe we’ll have better luck this time, but I agree that getting a bill passed in the Lege would help. There’s always 2021.

Add HEB to the autonomous grocery delivery trend

In San Antonio, at least. Maybe in Houston later if it goes well for them.

Customers near an H-E-B in suburban San Antoni0 can soon get their eggs, fruit and tortillas dropped off by a vehicle with no one at the wheel.

The San Antonio-based company is working with Udelv, an autonomous delivery startup in California, to test self-driving vans on streets around the store starting this fall.

“The world is changing fast and our customers’ expectations are changing,” said Paul Tepfenhart, senior vice president of omnichannel and emerging technologies at Central Market and H-E-B. “We have a growing, thriving online business, and we’re trying to figure out how in the world we’re going to keep up with this emerging demand.”

During the first phase of the pilot, a Udelv employee will drive a van developed by the startup with a H-E-B employee along for the ride to help with deliveries.

As the technology collects and analyzes data and learns the optimal routes, it will eventually take over the maneuvering. However, H-E-B will still have the ability to control the van remotely, Tepfenhart said.

[…]

Kroger, Amazon and other retailers have experimented with autonomous vehicles, and Udelv is also working with Walmart to test its vans at Arizona stores and with XL Parts to try out the technology in Houston.

We know about Kroger. I see that bit at the end about Udelv and Walmart in Houston, but a little googling around did not find anything more on that. As for HEB, much like the Kroger pilot in Houston this is being limited to one store at first, in HEB’s case in Olmos Park, with the program set to begin later in the summer. This is clearly the next frontier for grocery stores, so get ready for a more widespread deployment soon. I still think there will be demand for some old fashioned non-autonomous grocery deliveries, for folks who can’t or don’t want to haul the groceries into their residences themselves. But if there’s enough demand to support this option, I’d guess it will be the bulk of the delivery market in short order. The Current and the Rivard Report have more.