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Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Weekend link dump for January 14

What “Meltdown” and “Spectre” mean to you.

“Few surprises are more compelling than the recent discovery that falcons are more closely related to parrots than they are to hawks and eagles.”

“We Have A New Prime Number, And It’s 23 Million Digits Long”.

The Asian fetish of far-right white nationalists.

“Trump’s complete lack of fitness as president has nothing to do with whether he has any diagnosable conditions. Suggesting otherwise, in fact, gives him and his enablers medical cover, right when the focus should be on their corruption, bigotry, and incompetence.”

“The truth that Wolff arrives at in Fire and Fury is pretty much the same one that a regular reader of political reporting for the past year would have gleaned from the work of journalists at mainstream papers.”

“All the Mentions of Sexual Harassment During the Golden Globes”.

Hooray! More Fargo next year!

Screw Wikileaks, now and forever.

“That’s why, though the cost of chicken has risen over the years, it’s advantageous for stores to keep the price of rotisserie chickens down. In fact, rotisserie chicken has long been priced lower than fresh whole chicken, a detail consumers perennially find confusing, and publications take turns investigating every few years.”

RIP, Derby, beloved bat dog of the minor league Trenton Thunder.

RIP, Meriem Lucille Roby Anderson, member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, an elite group of more than 1,000 women who flew aircraft during World War II.

RIP, Diego Esparza-Arcienega, beloved figure in Houston’s indie rock scene.

“Every time we get a little bit closer to holding powerful men accountable for their actions, bad historical metaphors tumble forth from people who are eager to appear to be concerned about overreach and due process. Overreach is always possible. Due process is important. But comparisons that equate holding the powerful accountable with the systematic persecution of marginalized people are both offensive and intended to obfuscate the truth.”

“Conservatives have recently been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition research document compiled at the behest of Clinton’s campaign. Simpson’s testimony seems to confirm the Times account and thereby debunk a conservative counternarrative that places the dossier itself at the center of the story.”

Hey, it’s New Diet Coke. Just please don’t call it “Diet New Coke”.

“Leading up the 2016 election, it was possible to imagine a broad anti-Trump coalition that included conservative Republicans like Brooks. But after the chaos wrought by Trump’s candidacy and victory, American politics is again sorting itself along usual partisan lines. If Trump’s personality cult has merged with the Republican Party, then the only effective anti-Trump movement will be among partisan Democrats, who vote not just to stop the president but also the party that enable him.”

RIP, Doreen Tracy, original Mouseketeer.

Donald Trump has a long history of being a racist jackass.

And it turns out that in many languages, there’s no direct translation of “shithole”. As someone who studied French in school – and who admires the fact that in French there are different words for “shit” depending on whether it’s being used as a noun or a verb – I was most interested in their rendition. “Pays de merde” is literally “shit countries” or “shit lands”, which is a pretty accurate rendering of the true intent. #themoreyouknow

It’s a problem for US news organizations, too. You know, when I started this blog a million years ago I decided that I’d keep the language clean on it (something I definitely do not do in real life), and yet here we are.

RIP, Keith Jackson, legendary broadcaster known as the voice of college football.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Lizzie Pannill Fletcher

Lizzie Fletcher

And so we come to the end of our week-long odyssey through the Democratic field in CD07. Next week, we shift focus to CD02, which will not require publishing interviews on weekend days. Lucky number seven in the Democratic lineup for CD07 is Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, another challenger who helped push the national narrative in this district by out-fundraising the incumbent. Fletcher is a Houston native who worked for the Alley Theater for four years before heading off to law school. A co-founder of Planned Parenthood Young Leaders, Fletcher has done volunteer legal work for Texas Appleseed and been a board member of Writers in the Schools. Here’s the interview:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

The price of disrespect

Greg Abbott makes another endorsement.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday endorsed the Republican challenger to Galveston state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a move that is expected to deepen simmering divisions within the state Republican party.

In a new video, Abbott called Mayes Middleton a “principled conservative — a conservative who will be a tireless advocate for his constituents.”

“In the next legislative session, we have an opportunity to continue to pass reforms that make Texas even better,” Abbott said. “To do this, we need leaders who will work with me to advance a conservative agenda that will benefit every Texans our great state. That is why I am endorsing Mayes Middleton for state representative.”

Middleton is an oil and gas businessman and rancher from Chambers County and is a board member of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Abbott’s endorsement of Middleton is his second of a GOP primary challenger to a Republican incumbent running for reelection to the Texas House. In November, he endorsed Houston businesswoman Susanna Dokupil, who is challenging state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.

Like Campos, you may be wondering what’s up with that. Faircloth has no reputation as a Joe Straus/Sarah Davis “moderate”, and he hasn’t gone all maverick-y on bathroom bills or toll roads or whatever else. He’s basically a standard-issue Republican, more “conservative” than average by the Mark Jones method, at least in the last session. What does Greg Abbott have against him?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not cynical enough.

Abbott started the week by endorsing Mayes Middleton, a conservative who until last year served on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, over state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, who irked the governor’s circle by supporting a ban on “pay for play” gubernatorial appointments of big political donors.

So there you have it. Don’t get between Greg Abbott and his sugar daddies. Greg Abbott will cut you.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The Alley Theater debacle

What a mess.

More than a dozen current and former Alley Theatre employees say the outgoing artistic director, Gregory Boyd, created a toxic work environment at the city’s most renowned theater, describing him as a tyrant who frequently singled out young female actresses for verbal abuse.

The allegations against Boyd, who abruptly retired this week after a 28-year Tony-winning run at the Alley, focus primarily on bullying and abusive behavior directed at young women under his direction on the stage.

Emily Trask, a member of the company for nearly two years, said she quit the Alley in April after reporting to three members of management that Boyd had bullied her, screaming “What the f— is wrong with you?” at a rehearsal, called her a “stupid c—” while giving another actor stage direction and twice touched her buttocks inappropriately.

“I felt I had no choice but to leave what was my dream job,” she said, citing “harassment and what I felt to be an unsafe environment.”

Boyd did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

A second actress, who asked not be identified for fear of retaliation, shared a similar story.

The actress said Boyd pinched her buttocks once on stage and once while she was making coffee in a break room. He made sexual comments about her to other actors, she said, and talked about the way she dressed and screamed at her on stage for the smallest of missteps.

“It was a very scary place to work for me,” she said, “a very hostile place.”

Like Trask, she said she complained to management, but nothing happened. “It was like it just got swept under the rug.”

The theater’s administrators and board president declined to answer questions about the allegations against Boyd, 66, who was widely considered the most influential figure in Houston’s theater scene. Boyd was just one year into a five-year contract and was paid at least $420,000 in the fiscal year that ended in June 2016, according to the company’s tax records.

[…]

The Houston Chronicle started interviewing Alley employees in November as the “Me Too” movement spread nationally and current and former employees complained about Boyd . On Dec. 20, the Chronicle asked to review the Alley’s financial records under a state law that requires certain disclosures by nonprofits. The theater declined to produce the records electronically; a date stamp indicated it printed them out on Dec. 29, but the theater told the Chronicle they were ready on Jan. 4.

The Alley’s press release, issued Tuesday, said Boyd had planned to retire last fall but delayed the announcement because of Hurricane Harvey.

“Leading this extraordinary theatre company in this wonderful city for over a quarter century has been an artistic dream fulfilled,” Boyd was quoted as saying in the press release. “With the marvelous efforts of the artists, staff, and Board, we created a state of the art theatre-making complex with performance, production, and administration all in a brilliant, expansive space that welcomes theatre-goers in a unique and exciting way. The Alley’s achievements have been a great source of satisfaction for me and I look forward to new achievements to come in the next era.”

ABC-13’s Miya Shay has been reporting on this as well. The sudden retirement of a 28-year artistic director of the city’s best-known theater, without any fanfare of advance notice or plans for a sendoff by itself raises suspicions, and I suspect there’s still more to the story to come. First and foremost are the questions about how this went on for so long without anyone at the Alley taking action.

The board of the Alley Theatre announced plans Friday to create a special committee to evaluate “the workplace environment” after the Houston Chronicle reported that more than a dozen current and former employees said former artistic director Gregory Boyd had fostered a toxic, abusive culture for decades.

In a 79-word statement, the board did not mention Boyd by name and did not directly address the Chronicle’s report, published Friday, which included interviews with actors and actresses who said Boyd had screamed obscenities at them during rehearsals. Two actresses alleged that Boyd also touched them inappropriately on their buttocks.

“During this transition to new artistic leadership, the Board of Directors has renewed its commitment to providing a dignified and respectful workplace,” the statement said. “The Board has also appointed a special committee to assess the workplace environment and deliver recommendations to ensure the Alley Theatre continues to be a destination for world-class talent.”

[…]

“I think the Alley owes Houston a tremendous apology for misusing the community’s trust and for covering up reprehensible behavior,” said Michael Dragoni, who was Boyd’s assistant from 1996 to 1998 and described the job as “an almost non-stop abusive situation.”

He said he saw Boyd berate actresses and touch a former staff member on her thigh inappropriately until she stood up and left a rehearsal.

“They have known about the toxicity from the beginning, and multiple leaders over the years have turned a blind eye and allowed things to get completely out of control,” Dragoni said.

Greg Lasley, who worked at the Alley from 2006 to 2011 as a bartender, described a “conspiracy of silence there.”

“People would complain, the board would show up and squash the complaint,” Lasley said.

Tony Bradfield, co-owner of Tenenbaum Jewelers, a longtime supporter of the Alley, expressed dismay at the accounts of an oppressive environment.

“I don’t think anyone of either gender, women mostly, should have to go through any of that,” Bradfield said. “I feel strongly about that.”

The Alley’s administration has not offered any response to the allegations against Boyd beyond Friday’s statement.

Here’s the Alley’s board of directors. I agree with Michael Dragoni, but an apology isn’t enough. The Board was clearly part of the problem. If they really want to make amends and move forward, those who were part of the problem should not be part of the solution. Most if not all of them should make plans to step down and let someone else clean up this mess. I hate to see a cultural jewel like the Alley go through such turbulence, but they brought this on themselves by failing to take action on this long-standing and well-known-to-them problem. They need to take the resolution to this seriously. I hope they do.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston, Society and cultcha.

Interview with Ivan Sanchez

Ivan Sanchez

The field in CD07 was stable for quite some time, with six of the seven filers posting finance reports from both Q2 and Q3 last year. Then in the waning days of the filing period, a new challenger emerged. That was Ivan Sanchez, who left his position as Senior Congressional Liaison and Field Representative for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to join the fray. A childhood arrival from Colombia with his mother, Sanchez has a degree in Political Science from UH-Downtown. He has served on the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board and was the founder of the Houston Millennials nonprofit. Here’s what we talked about:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

SCOTUS will take up Texas redistricting appeal

As the man once said, hold onto your butts.

Further extending a drawn-out legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a case over whether Texas’ congressional and House district boundaries discriminate against voters of color.

The high court’s decision to take the case is a short-term win for Texas’ Republican leaders who, in an effort to preserve the maps in question, had appealed two lower court rulings that invalidated parts of the state’s maps and would have required the district lines to be redrawn to address several voting rights violations.

The Supreme Court’s decision to weigh that appeal will further delay any redrawing efforts even after almost seven years of litigation between state attorneys and minority rights groups that challenged the maps.

[…]

The state’s currents maps, which have been in place for the past three election cycles, were adopted by the Legislature after the three-judge panel in San Antonio in 2012 tweaked boundaries drawn following the 2010 census.

It’s unclear when the court will schedule oral arguments.

See here for the background. We expected this, and Rick Hasen called it the day before it happened. One way or another, we’ll finally get to a resolution, in time for one last election before we start the cycle anew. When the first lawsuits were filed, I figured we’d have new maps in place for 2016, based on how things went after the 2001/2003 redraw. Shows how much I know, or maybe things really are that much different. Strap in and hold on, it’s going to be a consequential term at SCOTUS. Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, the Chron, Hasen again, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

HISD to standardize start times

This had been talked about for some time.

HISD will implement standardized school start times for the 2018-19 school year to better deliver efficient, reliable, and affordable transportation to our students.

Currently, HISD manages 67 different school start times – the highest in the state – as it transports nearly 36,000 students on almost 1,200 different routes each day. Beginning next fall, the district will operate with two standardized start/dismissal times:

  • 7:30 a.m.-2:50 p.m. for elementary schools and K-8 campuses
  • 8:30 a.m.-3:50 p.m. for all secondary campuses (middle school, high school, and grade 6-12 campuses)

[…]

Standardizing school start times will bring efficiencies to the district’s bus routes and ensure that students arrive to campus and depart on time, resulting in fewer interruptions to teaching, learning, and family schedules. The new start times will also extend the life of the district’s bus fleet and reduce maintenance and fuel costs.

As it happens, my daughters will be entering middle and high school next fall, and I can tell you they approve of this change. There was a proposal like this a few years ago that ultimately went nowhere. This time around, HISD did a survey of parents, and they went with the option that was favored by both parents and principals. If you have kids in HISD, what do you think about this? The Chron and the Press have more.

Posted in: School days.

Friday random ten – Come, come now, part 1

Another multi-part list! And we’re still in January! Woo hoo!

1. Come & Get It – Selena Gomez
2. Come A Day – Nils Lofgren
3. Come A Little Bit Closer – Jay & The Americans
4. Come And I Will Sing You (The Twelve Apostles) – Great Big Sea
5. Come As You Are – Midnight Juggernauts
6. Come Back And Stay – Paul Young
7. Come Back Home – Matthew Mayfield
8. Come Back To Me – Cherry Poppin’ Daddies
9. Come Down In Time – Sting
10. Come Down Slowly – James William Hindle

Nils Lofgren is probably better known for his time in the E Street Band. “Come As You Are” is from a tribute to Nirvana on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind. “Come Down In Time” is probably the best Elton John song you’ve never heard; Sting’s cover is from the excellent Two Rooms tribute album. “Come And I Will Sing You” is one of those songs that builds on itself, like “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, but much better and less annoying. I’ll have two more of these lists in the next weeks.

Posted in: Music.

Interview with Joshua Butler

Joshua Butler

We’re more than halfway through the Democratic field in CD07, and we’ll be keeping it going through the weekend. I’m not sure what I’d have done if there were more than the seven candidates there are. Good thing I don’t need to think about it. One of the first candidates in this race to reach out to me for a conversation last year was Joshua Butler, a first-time candidate like so many others this year. Butler is a native of Birmingham, Alabama and received a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Alabama. He worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield and the American Heart Association before moving to Houston to work at UH as Director of Advancement and then at a medical research firm as a Development Officer. Here’s what we talked about:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Charles Collins

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

Charles Collins

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

My Name is Charles Collins. I am a 39 year-old attorney and native Texan. I am a lifelong Democrat, father, family man, public servant and long-time resident of Houston’s Historic Third Ward. I am a 2001 graduate of Prairie View A&M University and a 2004 graduate of The Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University. I am running for Judge of the 246th Judicial District Court in the March 6, 2018, Harris County Democratic Primary. I hope to secure the party nomination and advance to the November 6, 2018, general election against the incumbent.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

It is one of 10 Family District Courts in Harris County. These courts hear a variety of family law matters including divorces, child support and child custody disputes, paternity establishment suits, adoptions, termination of parental rights suits, child protection matters, and name change petitions. These Courts may even perform marriage ceremonies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 246th Judicial District Court is rated among the lowest performing family courts in Harris County based on the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluation. Since the time I began practicing in Harris County Courts in 2005, it has traditionally received lower scores in areas such as impartiality, efficiency, and overall performance. I am running because I want to improve the quality of service this court provides to the citizens of Harris County. It is the court where my experience and qualifications will have the most meaningful impact.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 12 years of full-time, exclusive, family law practice experience. I am a member of the Texas and District of Columbia Bars. I am also a member of the Bar of The United States District Court for The Southern District of Texas. I have served as Assistant State’s Attorney General for the Title IV-D Agency since 2005. I am a former Assistant Attorney General of the Year for Region 6 (2007). My employer is the state’s largest law firm and I have served as a Managing Attorney for it since 2010. In this capacity I supervise over 50 agency employees and its busy day-to-day operations to secure financial stability for children and assist absent parents who wish to establish their parental rights. I have handled thousands of family law cases. I have extensive trial experience representing the state’s interest in virtually all subject matter within the court’s jurisdiction. I remain current in my understanding of the law and have presented continuing legal education (CLE) courses within the agency I work for and to the Houston Bar Association.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is monumentally significant because it represents the very foundation of our society: The family. The decisions made in family court have a lasting impact on our lives. They can mean the difference between a family that thrives and one that is fragmented. A family court’s impact can bring new, brighter, beginnings for some; however, if the court fails to act responsibly it can charter a future that is uncertain. The decisions made in our family courts could mean the difference between a troubled life for a child and a future of stability and promise. Harris County deserves the most qualified, and experienced, family court judges to help build strong families and communities. There is a lot at stake here.

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

I am the only candidate in this race whose exclusive area of legal practice is, and has always been, family law. It has been my passion, and my focus, since day one. This experience has made me a very knowledgeable candidate in my area of practice. I am the only candidate for this bench who is a career public servant. I am also the only candidate with proven management and leadership experience in a high-volume legal practice environment. As such, I value the importance of exceptional customer-service and implementing new ideas to improve efficiency. The citizens of Harris County can trust that I will hold this office with integrity, as I have in my current position. I believe in a family-first approach and will treat all people fairly. I am committed to assigning the utmost importance to each matter that it deserves, as I would want for my own family. I will implement a solutions-based approach to each case. I am energetic, dedicated, respectful, humble, kind, and look forward to bringing a fresh new perspective to this court. I am ready to serve the citizens of Harris County in this very meaningful and important role.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Still grappling with how to handle sexual harassment claims

I like the idea of putting the authority to investigate harassment claims in the Legislature into an independent body.

Calls for independence between sexual misconduct investigations and those in power have grown in recent months, and experts and several lawmakers agree that impartiality is crucial for building trust in a reporting system at the Capitol, where repercussions for elected officials are virtually nonexistent. But efforts to establish that independence — which could require officeholders to give up their current oversight over investigations — will likely face political challenges in persuading lawmakers to hand over power to a third party.

Any independent entity investigating sexual misconduct at the Capitol would need the power to truly hold elected officials accountable, several lawmakers and legal experts said. That could mean sanctions against officeholders that their colleagues may be unlikely to pursue.

“It cannot be officeholders policing officeholders,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who is among those calling for an independent investigative agency.

[…]

But to alleviate concerns with existing reporting procedures that leave investigations in the hands of elected officials, lawmakers have proposed several ways to establish what they say is needed independence in investigations. Those proposals range from a review panel that doesn’t include lawmakers to a new state entity comparable to the Texas Ethics Commission, which regulates political activities and spending.

The creation of an independent investigative body “is a necessary immediate step” for the Legislature to address skepticism in the current reporting system set up for sexual harassment victims, said Chris Kaiser, director of public policy and general counsel for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault.

“I don’t think that you have to impugn the work that any investigators are doing currently to accept the fact that that skepticism itself is preventing people from coming forward,” Kaiser said. “It’s really clear the Legislature has a lot of work to do to build trust.”

See here and here for some background. I will just say, if there is an independent body to handle these complaints, it has to be truly independent, by which I mean free from any legislative authority or meddling. I mean, the Texas Ethics Commission is an independent body, but it’s hardly a good role model for this sort of thing. I have a hard time imagining that happening, but if there’s enough of a shakeup in the composition of the Lege, there might be a chance. First and foremost, it needs to be an issue in the campaigns. I’m asking every candidate I interview about harassment and the institutional policies that deal with it. The more we talk about it, the better.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Council approves new recycling deal

Huzzah!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston residents are set to have their used glass and plastic bags picked up for recycling at curbside, but not until next year.

The 20-year, $37 million agreement City Council approved Wednesday is the product of two years of wrangling over recycling and positions Houston to pay less per ton to recycle.

Houstonians still have to wait another 14 months before putting bottles or bags in their green curbside bins, however, while the city’s chosen contractor builds a new processing facility.

To bridge the gap, the city plans to renegotiate its existing, costlier recycling agreement, which expires in April.

“From a financial point of view, it is a much better deal for the city of Houston,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, praising the deal with the Spanish firm FCC. “In terms of technology, it meets what our needs are and what we have asked for.”

[…]

Rosanne Barone, Houston program director for the advocacy group Texas Campaign for the Environment, lauded the city for “heading in the right direction” on recycling.

“This shows the mayor is committed to continuing moving forward to make the city of Houston more sustainable. We’re so happy glass is going to be back, and so happy and surprised and excited that plastic bags are now going to be included,” Barone said. “The next step is just to keep moving forward: To keep including more materials, to expand curbside pickup to apartments and businesses.”

See here and here for the background. CMs Knox, Stardig, and Kubosh were No votes, but CM Dave Martin, who had previously been a critic of the deal, voted Yes. I know a lot of people will be happy to have curbside pickup of glass back, though that will likely mean the end of one new business that emerged to fill that gap. Getting curbside pickup for plastic bags, which San Antonio has been doing since 2014, is a nice bonus. As Rosanne Barone says, let this be another step in the journey forward. Houstonia has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Interview with James Cargas

James Cargas

One of the themes of this year’s election is the large number of people who are new to electoral politics getting involved. That has led to a huge number of first-time candidates throwing their hats into every ring imaginable. That’s not true for everyone you’ll see on your ballot – some have done this before, often more than once, in cycles where they had far less company. James Cargas falls into the latter group, having been the Democratic candidate in CD07 in each of the last three elections. An attorney with a background in energy law and policy, Cargas has worked on Capitol Hill and on various committees with the last three Mayors. Here’s our conversation:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

How many more women are we likely to have in Congress next year?

Probably at least two, and more are possible.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

No freshman woman has come to Congress from Texas since Granger’s election 1996, with the exception of former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who served as a placeholder for less than two months in late 2006. (Hutchison, who left the Senate in 2013, is now U.S. ambassador to NATO.)

The problem in Texas was not so much that women weren’t winning – it was that they weren’t running.

In interviews with candidates, officeholders and campaign consultants, the most-cited reasons for the lack of female candidates were concerns that gerrymandered districts would protect incumbents, an aversion to commuting to Washington while raising children and general apathy, a problem Jackson Lee cited back in 2016.

That all changed this year, in part due to a national backlash against Trump on the Democratic side and, in Texas, a wave of retirements on both sides.

Approximately 50 women have lined up this year to run for Congress in Texas, among hundreds running around the country. Of that sum, a handful are running well-funded, professional campaigns and have viable paths to serving in Washington.

[…]

Former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and former El Paso School Board President Dori Fenenbock are the best-funded candidates aiming to succeed O’Rourke, and former state Rep. Norma Chavez threw her hat into the ring just before the December filing deadline. Escobar and Fenenbock both cited the same reason as contributing to their decisions to run: Their children are old enough that they felt comfortable making the Washington commute without creating disruptions in their families.

Three men are also running in the Democratic primary, but the betting money among political observers is on El Paso sending a woman to Washington.

Another potential future congresswoman is state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who is seeking retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s 29th District seat and has drawn Green’s endorsement. She faces a crowded field in a Democratic primary that will likely determine the outcome of the election. Houston political insiders say that, while there are no assurances, Garcia is in the driver’s seat for the nomination.

She ran for Congress previously in 1992 against Green and lost. Back then, she was part of another crush of women entering politics, at that time in response to the controversial Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings.

On the GOP side, Texas women running for open seats in Congress include political fundraiser Bunni Pounds and communications consultant Jenifer Sarver. Both women are in ferociously competitive primaries.

Pounds is running in CD05, the only woman among nine candidates. Sarver is in the 18-candidate pileup in CD21; there are two other women alongside her. I suppose you could add Kathaleen Wall in CD02 to this list as well. She’s the sole woman in that eight-contestant field, and she’s already advertising on TV, with a spot during the college football playoffs last week. Here’s my subjective ranking of the odds for each of these hopefuls.

1. Sylvia Garcia – She doesn’t appear to have any notable opposition, though one of her opponents has raised some money. If she wins the primary she’s a shoe-in for November. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if she’s not the winner in CD29.

2. Escobar/Fenenbock/Chavez – Like CD29, the primary winner has a cakewalk in November. There’s a non-zero chance that any or all of these women could fail to make the primary runoff, so I put their collective odds below Garcia’s.

3. Bunni Pounds – As with the others, she’s a lock if she wins the primary, but she has a tougher road to get there.

4. Gina Ortiz Jones – I originally had her lower than Wall and Sarver, but Dems are currently more favored to win here than the GOP is in CDs 02 or 21, and I figure she’ll be in a runoff with Jay Hulings, while neither Wall nor Sarver has as seemingly clear a path to May. Ask me again after I see the Q4 finance reports; Hulings outraised Jones in Q3 but he was officially in the race before her. We’ll see how she does with an equal time period.

5. Jennifer Sarver – The Republican candidate will be favored in CD21, but it’s not a lock. Sarver has to get through the primary first, and with that many candidates it’s like ping pong balls in a lottery machine.

6. Kathaleen Wall – You could swap Wall and Sarver without much argument from me. I think Dems have slightly better odds to win CD02, but Wall has fewer opponents in the primary, so it kind of balances out.

7. Lizzie Fletcher/Laura Moser – It’s a tough primary in CD07 and a coin flip in November, but if either of these women can make it to the November ballot she’ll have a decent shot at it.

8. The rest of the field – Lillian Salerno in CD32, Jana Sanchez and Ruby Woolridge in CD06, Letitia Plummer in CD22, Lorie Burch in CD03, Jan McDowell in CD24, Silky Malik in CD02, MJ Hegar in CD31, etc etc etc. The over/under is set at two for now, but there is a scenario in which the number of female members of Congress from Texas increases by a lot.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Yet another ruling against North Carolina’s Congressional map

Because redistricting litigation is always of interest.

A panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s congressional map on Tuesday, condemning it as unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage.

The ruling was the first time that a federal court had blocked a congressional map because of a partisan gerrymander, and it instantly endangered Republican seats in the coming elections.

Judge James A. Wynn Jr., in a biting 191-page opinion, said that Republicans in North Carolina’s Legislature had been “motivated by invidious partisan intent” as they carried out their obligation in 2016 to divide the state into 13 congressional districts, 10 of which are held by Republicans. The result, Judge Wynn wrote, violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

The ruling and its chief demand — that the Republican-dominated Legislature create a new landscape of congressional districts by Jan. 24 — infused new turmoil into the political chaos that has in recent years enveloped North Carolina. President Trump carried North Carolina in 2016, but the state elected a Democrat as its governor on the same day and in 2008 supported President Barack Obama.

[…]

The ruling left little doubt about how the judges assessed the Legislature’s most recent map. Judge Wynn, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and was a member of a special panel considering the congressional map, said that “a wealth of evidence proves the General Assembly’s intent to ‘subordinate’ the interests of non-Republican voters and ‘entrench’ Republican domination of the state’s congressional delegation.”

Most federal lawsuits are first heard by a district court, and later — if needed — by an appeals court and the Supreme Court. But under federal law, constitutional challenges to the apportionment of House districts or statewide legislative bodies are automatically heard by three-judge panels, and appeals are taken directly to the Supreme Court.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of the opinion. As noted, SCOTUS is likely to weigh in on this, and as with Texas that could mean the current map will be left in place until further litigation has concluded. The key takeaway, as Nicholas Stephanopolous notes, is that the judges used a recently-developed system for determining what makes a “partisan” gerrymander too extreme, and it did so without any difficulty. That’s a question that’s already on SCOTUS’ docket. The potential is there for a lot of good to be done, but we’re still a ways away from that happening. ThinkProgress, Mother Jones, the Associated Press, the WaPo, Daily Kos, and Rick Hasen have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Texas blog roundup for the week of January 8

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows where the really big buttons are as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Alex Triantaphyllis

Alex Triantaphyllis

There are a lot of reasons why CD07 has drawn so much national attention. It’s a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016 despite being held by Republicans forever – this was Poppy Bush’s seat back in the day, for goodness’ sake. It’s the home of the kind of well-educated non-Trump Republicans that are, or could be, swinging Democratic. And it features two Democratic challengers who have been outraising the incumbent. Atop that list is Alex Triantaphyllis, who is the Director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers). Triantaphyllis is a Rice graduate who has also worked in finance and consulting, and you can hear me pronounce his name correctly (the accent is on the second syllable; there was a pronunciation guide on a whiteboard at his campaign office where we spoke) in the interview:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Michele Chimene

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

Michele Chimene

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

My name is Michele Chimene. I’m a long-time resident of Houston, Katy, and Sugar Land. I am running for Place 8 on the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. The Fourteenth Court is the intermediate court, hearing civil, criminal, and family appeals in 10 counties centering around Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears criminal, civil, and family law appeals from the trial court. It also hears special cases called “original proceedings.”

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because, as a 25-yr appeals lawyer, I read the opinions that are issued by the incumbent, and I believe that he sometimes deletes parts of the law, substituting in his own words instead of the law, to make the results of the case different than they would be if the actual law was applied. I believe that the law should be predicable and fair, with a “level playing field” for everyone.

4. What are your qualifications for the job?

I have been an appellate attorney for twenty-five years. While I also have trial experience, I believe that experience as an appellate attorney, researching the law and writing common sense arguments clearly and understandably is the best experience for becoming an appellate justice. I also believe that I am a good listener, and that everyone who comes into my court will get listened to politely and courteously.

5. Why is this race important?

Because the Texas Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals do not hear every case that petitions them. For many cases in this large chunk of Texas, the Fourteenth Court will be the highest court that hears them, and their final chance to receive unbiased justice. Voters should not skip voting in this race, because it is a chance to elect someone who is not a professional politician but who has the legal skills to give the thousands, (yes, thousands), of parties who come before her during her term the predictable, law-based justice they seek.

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

Experience and character matter. My twenty-five years of appellate experience are more relevant experience than the incumbent had before he was elected to the bench. Most candidates for the Court of Appeals come to the Court with only civil case experience. My broad experience includes all the types of law the court handles. Additionally, my prior career as a geologist gives me the technical background that will be helpful to the Court as it takes on technically-challenging cases. My character matters. I will follow the law as long as the Constitution allows, and if Texas law differs from the Constitution, I will follow the Constitution. Our country was founded as a nation of laws. We need to get back to that. I will be predictable.

Posted in: Election 2018.

And then there were nine

One Democratic gubernatorial hopeful is now off the ballot.

Demetria Smith, a Democrat who had hoped to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has been determined ineligible to run.

Smith, who attended a San Angelo forum for candidates in the Democratic primary Monday evening, was listed ineligible on the Texas Secretary of State’s website. The Texas Democratic Party said Tuesday that Smith’s check for a $3,750 candidate filing fee had bounced, said Glen Maxey, primary director of the party.

To run for governor in Texas, candidates must pay the filing fee or file a petition with 5,000 signatures.

Maxey said Smith filed Dec. 11, the last filing day, with a personal check that was deposited the following day, on Dec. 12; however, the party was not notified of the insufficient funds until Monday.

Because the deadline to pay the fee has passed, Smith cannot correct the error.

[…]

Smith, who called herself as the “constitutional candidate” at the forum, said in a phone interview after hearing the news: “I will be challenging the constitutionality of their decision,” referring to the Texas Democratic Party.

“If you accept the check on the last day, you should be able to clear it,” she said.

Smith is a perennial candidate who has run for Council (2.71% in District D, 2013) and Mayor (0.47% in 2015) and other things here in Houston. She was likely headed towards a 2-3% showing in the primary. As I’ve said before, the terms and conditions for getting on the ballot are pretty well known, and anyone who files on deadline day takes the risk that something will go wrong for which there is no time to make a correction. Smith could file a lawsuit to get back on the ballot, though it’s not clear to me what the basis of such a suit would be. My guess is that this is the end of the road for her, but I suppose anything can happen. The DMN and the Chron have more on this story and on that candidate forum.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Interview with Laura Moser

Laura Moser

Today is Day Two of my weeklong tour of CD07, which is not only one of the better pickup opportunities in Texas but also a regular feature in national stories about the 2018 environment and the map that Democrats are aiming for to win back control of Congress. And in those stories that feature CD07, Laura Moser has been a staple as a highlighted candidate. An author and journalist whose husband was a videographer for President Obama, Moser was part of the tidal wave of mostly female new activists after the 2016 election, founding the Daily Action text messaging service that enabled thousands of people to engage with their representatives in Washington. Oh, and whether or not you’d heard of Laura Moser before now, you’ve probably seen a picture of her daughter. Here’s what we talked about:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

Lupe Valdez kicks off her campaign

Let’s get moving.

Lupe Valdez

Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County Sheriff, formally launched her Democratic bid for governor on Sunday, touting a campaign aimed at representing all Texans and listing a broad range of topics she plans to address as election season gets underway.

“Together, we need to build something new — a new Texas,” Valdez told a crowd of supporters here. “Opportunity should be as big as the Texas sky.”

[…]

In her speech, Valdez knocked state lawmakers over their 2017 legislative session — referring to them as “people who were supposed to be serving us doing more harm than good” — and mentioned the state’s overcrowded classrooms and raising the minimum wage as issues she hopes to address as governor.

“The special interests in Austin continue to cook up fake ideas behind the curtain,” she said, referring to failed legislation that would’ve regulated which public restrooms transgender Texans could use and the anti-“sanctuary cities” bill that Abbott signed into law in 2017 as measures that are “certainly destroying the Texas brand.”

She also brought up Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children by their parents and who were granted relief from deportation under an Obama-era program — who she said are facing an uncertain future in Texas as Congress works to hash out a solution.

“Dreamers and their parents must be able to achieve their goals in the land that they’ve always considered their country,” she said. “We must educate to elevate.”

Valdez is my preferred candidate for Governor, for a variety of reasons. What I want from her out of the primary can be summed up as “please pass the Media Narrative Test”. These things are always arbitrary and unknowable until someone declares a particular thing to be part of that test (though not in those words), but I’d guess that the list includes having a good grasp on issues, not making any obviously dumb statements or campaign moves, and finishing as the clear frontrunner in a race with higher-than-the-media-expected turnout. If these sound subjective and hard to quantify, you are correct. Like it or not, the Democratic track record is such that the onus is on candidates like Lupe Valdez to make the media take them seriously. Beto O’Rourke has done a capable job of that so far – robust fundraising numbers have helped with that – but that mantle can be taken away at a moment’s notice. Basically, don’t screw up, be visible, and make your numbers. Easy-peasy, right? The Chron, the DMN, and the Dallas Observer have more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Chris Oliver gets sentenced

Goodbye.

Chris Oliver

A former Houston Community College trustee was sentenced to nearly six years in prison on Monday after a judge said he accepted more than a quarter million dollars in bribes in exchange for his influence over contract work with the college.

In the sentencing, U.S. District Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore asked Chris Oliver if his conduct was “standard procedure” for HCC trustees and asked if the college was a “cesspool.”

“The line is definitely blurred,” he said. “You don’t come from wealth. You’re in an elected position. Things are thrown at you.”

[…]

Gilmore said he served in his position for “too long” as his integrity eroded.

Oliver agreed and said he should not have sought re-election in 2011. “I probably should have called it a career.”

See here for the background. I’ll note that Oliver ran for City Council in 2015, so at least we dodged that bullet. Things may indeed be thrown at elected officials, but most of them manage to not get convicted of bribery charges. I’m just saying. HCC says it has implemented procedures and checks to prevent actions like Oliver’s in the future. I think it’s safe to say that remains to be seen.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Interview with Jason Westin

Jason Westin

Today we kick off interview season for the 2018 Democratic primaries. There are a lot of races and a lot of candidates, and I will bring you as many as I can. This week is all about CD07, with seven candidates in seven days, beginning with Jason Westin. Westin is an oncologist and cancer researcher, and has received a fair amount of national press in the year of trying-to-repeal-Obamacare as one of a group of Democratic doctors trying to take back Congress. Westin, whose wife is also an oncologist, interned in the Senate in 1998 and worked on health care policy while there. Here’s the interview:

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

Posted in: Election 2018.

Judicial Q&A: Stanley Santire

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

Stanley Santire

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

I am Stanley Santire, former line officer in the U.S Navy, former chief legal counsel for Lockheed Aircraft International, a trial lawyer of three decades, a mediator for two decades, and currently a declared Democratic candidate running for Harris County Civil Court at Law No 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a statutory county court at law court.

The jurisdiction of this court in Harris County is the same type of cases heard by District Courts in Harris County except that the controversy cannot exceed $200,000 excluding interest, statutory or punitive damages and attorney fees. This is not as severe a limit as might appear. For example, in workplace discrimination cases under Texas Chapter 21 which covers situations of harassment and discrimination in race, color, sex, national origin, religion, and age, the economic damages are almost always under $200,000 yet the substantive amounts in such cases are primarily punitive, exemplary, and attorney fees, none of which are excluded from County Courts at Law by the cap.

The statutory County Courts at Law also takes appeals from Justice of the Peace Courts as well as workers’ compensation claims regardless of amounts involved.

These Courts in Harris County also have exclusive jurisdiction in certain eminent domain proceedings.

These courts also have jurisdiction to:

    1. i. Decide issues of title to real or personal property,
    1. ii. Hear suits for enforcement of liens on real property,
    1. iii. Hear suits for forfeiture of a corporate charter,
    1. iv. Hear suits on right to property valued at $200 or more that has been levied on under a writ of execution, sequestration, or attachment,
    1. v. Hear a suit for recovery of real property.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Commitment to justice for each and every individual that appears in the court without regard to race, color, gender, orientation, financial status, or any other characteristic other than a sincere striving for fair and equitable treatment under the law.

As an experienced trial lawyer and mediator, I have the qualifications and devotion to justice that will enhance the reputation of this court for having the highest standards of a jurist.

The Civil County Courts at Law need a higher caliber of jurist than have sometimes been the case. Someone of my experience will address that.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have:

    1. i. Over three decades of trial experience in State and Federal District Courts, the vast majority of my cases being tried to a jury. My cases have primarily dealt with civil rights, employment law, construction, trade secrets, non-compete covenants, and business transactions.
    1. ii. I have been lead counsel in appeals in both State and Federal Appellate courts. I have also handled cases in arbitration, including international arbitration
    1. iii. I have two decades of experience as a mediator and recently recognized as a Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association. As a consequence I have a proven record for dealing with lawyers and their clients in an even-handed, respectful manner. This is vital in maintaining a proper environment for justice in a court.
    1. iv. My dedication to the legal profession has gone beyond trying and mediating cases. I have had numerous professional published articles and frequently been honored by the State Bar of Texas and the Houston Bar Association as well as other professional organizations to be a presenter at continuing legal education programs.
    1. v. I was been honored by a request from the University of Houston to appear in a University produced video dealing with sexual harassment and affirmative action. That video is in the public domain and can be seen on YouTube under the title “Stanley Santire Public Service Talk on Employment Law.”
    1. vi. I have been, and continue to be, active in various professional organizations such as the Texas Bar College for whom I have been a presenter at Statewide programs, member of the Board of Directors of the Harris County Democratic Lawyers Association, Board of Directors and former President of the Houston Chapter of the National Employment Lawyers Association, and member of the Trade Secrets Committee of the Intellectual Property Section of the State Bar of Texas.
    1. vii. In addition I have long served the County as a volunteer mediator for the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center and served the State such as when I was Chairman of the State appointed Economic Development Committee that drafted the legislation for the Texas Coastal Zone Management Program which continues to play a vital role in protecting the Texas coastline.

5. Why is this race important?

All judicial positions are important as the bulwark of a democratic republic. At this time, due to the stresses impacting our society, we need a qualified, experienced judiciary at every level that stands for fairness and integrity.

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

I am the most qualified candidate for the position in regard to any other candidate as well as the incumbent in this court. I have tried a wider range of cases in both State and Federal Courts as well as been lead counsel in State and Federal appeals. I have also been lead counsel in arbitrations both in the United States and Geneva, Switzerland. I have also been an arbitrator. In other words I have vastly more experience than the incumbent judge even considering her time on the bench. If I ascend to the bench it will be because of my legal experience and not due to an initial political appointment. Incidentally, in addition to being an experienced trial and appellate lawyer, I was recently designated a Distinguished Mediator by the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Lots of female candidates running this year

It’s that kind of year.

Inside a classroom at a community college in downtown Dallas, a group of two dozen women took turns sharing their names, hometowns and what they hoped would be their future titles: Congresswoman. Dallas County judge. State representative.

It was part of a training held by EMILY’s List, an organization dedicated to electing women at all levels of government who support abortion rights. During the presentation, one of the PowerPoint slides flashed a mock advertisement on the projector screen: “Help Wanted: Progressive Women Candidates.”

A record number of women appear to be answering that call, fueled largely by frustration on the Democratic side over the election of President Donald Trump and energized by Democratic women winning races in Virginia in November. Experts say 2018 is on track to be a historic year, with more women saying they are running at this point than ever before.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List. “Every day, dozens more women come to our website, come to our Facebook page and say, ‘I am mad as hell. I want to do something about it. What should I do now?’”

[…]

One hundred women, Democrats and Republicans, have filed to run for Texas legislative seats this year, compared with 76 women in 2016, according to Patsy Woods Martin, executive director of Annie’s List, whose mission is to recruit, train, support and elect progressive, pro-choice female candidates in Texas.

Woods Martin said that in 2017, 800 women participated in the organization’s candidate training programs, up from 550 in 2013.

As of now, Annie’s List has endorsed two candidates — Beverly Powell and Julie Johnson. Powell is seeking to beat state Sen. Konni Burton, R-Colleyville, in Senate District 10, for the North Texas seat formerly held by Wendy Davis, who surrendered it in 2014 to run for governor. Johnson is looking to oust state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving, one of the most conservative members of the House, in House District 115.

While the statewide slates of both parties will be dominated by men, Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, with a ranch in Mineral Wells, is the lone Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner, and Republican Christi Craddick is seeking to keep her spot on the Railroad Commission.

There are also quite a few Texas women running for seats in Congress, including Mary Jennings Hegar and Christine Eady Mann, two of the four candidates seeking to win the Democratic nomination to take on Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in U.S. House District 31.

Because I’m a numbers kind of guy, I went back through the SOS candidate filings page and did a little count. Here’s what I came up with, including incumbents who are running for re-election:

For Democrats, there are 37 female candidates for Senate and Congress, in a total of 23 districts. There are 7 female candidates for State Senate, and 78 for State House. On the Republican side, there are 12 female candidates for Senate and Congress, with 7 for State Senate and 24 for State House. That adds up to 116 for state legislative office, with the proviso that I may have missed a name or two here and there.

For comparison purposes, there are currently three Texas women in Congress (Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, and Kay Granger), eight female State Senators (only half the Senate is up for election this cycle), and 29 female State Reps. Bearing in mind that some of these candidates are competing for the same office, and some of them are running against female incumbents, it seems likely that there will be more women in these offices overall next year. Gotta run to win, and this year that’s less of an issue than in other years.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Weekend link dump for January 7

Hope the new year doesn’t already suck for you.

The ten worst things Scott Pruitt’s EPA has already done.

“How disinformation will be deployed in 2018 and beyond is unclear. What is clear, however, is that the Kremlin believes its efforts to sow chaos in the American political process, which it has continued to hone in Europe, have worked and are poised for a return.”

“Kremlin trolls burned across the Internet as Washington debated options”.

“And where are the lavish profiles of people (broke, white, or otherwise) who have soured on Trump?”

This is not normal. Repeat one million times.

Why “biblical literalism” makes you susceptible to hustlers.

December 28, 2017, was the 100th anniversary of the H.L. Mencken hoax about Millard Fillmore’s bathtub.

Here are your 2017 Golden Dukes winners.

Four things that were supposed to have happened by now with Trump as Pr*sident.

“This is banana-republic-type stuff. One year into Trump’s term in office, his character has not changed.”

“Playboy Enterprises Inc. reportedly is considering killing the print magazine, which was started more than six decades ago”.

Did you read something by “Alice Donovan” last year? Then I hope you will recognize that “she” was the creation of Russian intelligence.

People fail to get the joke. Film at 11.

“I don’t know how well the president will do in deflecting these criticisms with this stupid press release, but if this is the kind of criminal defense on which he and his family are pinning their hopes, he’s really going to wish he never became president.”

If you’ve ever wanted to yell at Sean Hannity, here‘s your chance.

Basically, everyone knows Donald Trump is an idiot. It’s just that the people who can do something about it – i.e., the Republicans in Congress – refuse to do so.

We’re Animaniacs, we have pay or play contracts…

“Roy Moore accuser files defamation suit against him”.

RIP, Jerry Van Dyke, actor and brother of Dick Van Dyke.

RIP, John Young astronaut who flew in space six times.

RIP, Rita Clements, widow of former Texas Governor Bill Clements.

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview season begins tomorrow

We’re a month into primary season, and we’re also six weeks out from the start of early voting. You know what I did over Christmas vacation? I interviewed a bunch of candidates, that’s what. You will begin to see the results of that labor tomorrow, with more to come. Doing a bunch of interviews is always a challenge, but this year I had the additional task of trying to decide which interviews to do, as there just wasn’t the time to get to every race.

I have done interviews for a long time. I do them mostly to give candidates in races where there usually isn’t much media coverage the chance to be heard, and thus to give the voters who may not otherwise be able to know anything about them beyond what they can find on the Internet a chance to hear them speak for themselves. I usually stay neutral in the races where I do interviews (the 2009 Mayor’s race, where I was open about supporting Annise Parker, is an exception) because I want all the candidates to feel like I’m being fair to them, but also because I see my mission in doing these interviews as informative. I have always wanted to be broad and inclusive.

This year, the huge slate paired with the compressed primary timeline makes that goal unattainable. I thought about ways I might try to work around that, but in the end I decided that was neither practical nor desirable. And as I thought about that and considered my options, I realized I could approach things a little differently, and in doing so help me decide which races to prioritize.

What that means is this. For this year, I have decided there are some races where the better use of my platform is to make an endorsement rather than schedule and try to execute multiple interviews. If people come here to learn about candidates, then for this year I think it would be best for me to just say who I’m voting for in certain races. I’ve not done this before, and I may never do it again, but this year this is what feels right.

So with that long-winded preamble out of the way:

I endorse Beto O’Rourke for US Senate. Do I really need to say anything about this one?

I endorse Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. She works hard, she votes the way I want her to vote, I have supported her in previous elections, and I see no reason to do otherwise this year.

I endorse Sen. Sylvia Garcia in CD29. I was redistricted out of SD06 before she was elected there, but she has been an excellent successor to my former Senator, the late Mario Gallegos. She’s the clear choice in CD29.

I endorse Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15. In the hostile environment that is the State Senate under Dan Patrick, Whitmire’s experience and institutional knowledge are vital. Four years ago, I asked his primary opponent Damien LaCroix why we should forsake Whitmire’s seniority and clout for a freshman. He didn’t have a good answer then, and I doubt he has one now. We hope to get a lot of new Democratic blood in every branch of government this year, but we still very much need John Whitmire.

I endorse Allison Lami Sawyer in HD134. I do plan to interview Sawyer – I’m in discussion with her to set a time and place at the time of publication – but I can’t say enough that her primary opponent, Lloyd Oliver, is a clown and an idiot, and we would be doing ourselves a grave disservice if we let him slip through the primary. Not that there’s ever a good year to screw around and nominate a deeply problematic schmuck like Oliver, but this is an especially bad year for that. Vote for Allison Sawyer in HD134.

I dual-endorse Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in HD133. They both look like fine people (I haven’t reached out to them for interviews yet but probably will), but with all due respect to them this isn’t really about them. It’s about the third candidate in the race, who is even more of a problem than Lloyd Oliver. This other candidate, whom I will not name, has a long history of harassing me over a silly thing I said about him back in 2002. You can vote for Marty Schexnayder in HD133, or you can vote for Sandra Moore in HD133, but please do not even think about voting for the other candidate in HD133.

I endorse Diane Trautman for Harris County Clerk. I’ve known Diane for a long time. She’s a hard worker, a great Democrat, and she has served ably as HCDE Trustee. She was also the first Democrat to announce for anything for this cycle, and has been on the ground campaigning for months. Gayle Mitchell is a nice person who ran against Ann Harris Bennett for this nomination on 2014. You can listen to the interview I did with her then here. Ann Harris Bennett was the better candidate that year, and Diane Trautman is the better candidate this year. Nat West is the SDEC Chair for SD13, and is by all accounts I’ve heard a fine person. As far as I can tell, he has no web presence for his candidacy. With all due respect, Diane Trautman is the clear choice.

I endorse Marilyn Burgess for District Clerk. I only met her during this cycle, but like Diane Trautman she’s been out there campaigning for months, and she has great credentials for this office. All three of her opponents entered the race in the last days of the filing period. Two have no web presence – one was a candidate for SBOE in 2016, and had no web presence then, either – and one has a mostly unreadable website. District Clerk is – or at least should be – one of the least political elected offices out there. It’s about doing a straightforward information management job. I have faith Marilyn Burgess can do that job, and I’m voting for her.

I endorse Adrian Garcia for County Commissioner in Precinct 2. I’d been pining for him to run for this office for months, so I may as well be consistent.

So there you have it. Interviews begin tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Julian Castro’s new PAC

Good to see.

Julian Castro

Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro will launch a political action committee on Tuesday that aims to support Democratic Party efforts to take control of the U.S. House and groom younger candidates.

Castro’s PAC, Opportunity First, will have three aims: gaining Democratic control of the House, making headway in state legislatures ahead of the 2021 round of redistricting and electing younger leaders to local office.

To do this, the PAC will have an arm that is more traditional in focus, boosting the campaigns of candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. The other side will support local, non-federal candidates.

Castro told The Texas Tribune in a Monday interview that his focus will be on “young and progressive” talent, and his aim is to play in county commissioner, mayoral and other local races to cultivate the Democratic bench.

“We’re going to go out there and find great young talent,” he said.

Another goal is to put candidates in state legislative offices in states where Democrats could make gains in redistricting next decade.

Castro’s PAC is involved in one race in Texas so far, backing Colin Allred in CD32. I’m way more interested in the legislative races they choose to play in. As I’ve said before, I think PACs like this need to be aggressive, and expansive, in who they support. Don’t just aim for the top-line races, go for the ones that could be in play if the environment keeps getting better, too. Support the candidates in the tougher districts who embody our values and are challenging the most egregious offenders on their side. I for one will have a lot more respect for any group that does this. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Election 2018.

Darian Ward

I shake my head.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday staunchly defended his press secretary’s job performance following her recent two-week suspension for conducting personal business on city time and failing to turn over public records requested by a local journalist.

Turner also lectured reporters on the newsworthiness of the city’s disciplinary action against Darian Ward, saying other issues are more important than “whether or not somebody did something on an email.”

Ward, who was allowed to return to work Dec. 27, sent or received roughly 5,000 emails from her government account related to her company, Joy in Motion Enterprises, or other personal business matters over the last four years, according to a city memo. However, Ward, who at the time was among those responsible for fielding Texas Public Information Act requests for the mayor’s office, produced just 30 pages of emails in response to a journalist’s October records request.

“Ms. Ward, you misrepresented to the requestor the volume of documents regarding the TPIA request under state law, and you misinformed the chief of staff and me; you spent a significant amount of city time conducting your personal business rather than focusing on your work task,” mayoral Communications Director Alan Bernstein wrote Ward on Dec. 11, informing her that she had violated multiple city policies.

[…]

“It’s pretty flagrant,” said Daniel Bevarly, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, based in Missouri. “I’m surprised the mayor retained this individual.”

Turner said “no employee ought to be utilizing personal emails on city time,” but said he was not concerned about Ward’s performance.

“She’s done her job extremely well since I’ve been here, over and above,” he said. “I have no question with regard to her work performance.”

The mayor, who bristled at reporters’ questions about Ward, added that he imposed a stiffer punishment than the city’s legal and human resources departments had recommended.

Ted Oberg had the initial report about Ward’s suspension. For what it’s worth, I once had a coworker who was fired for doing something very similar to what Ward was suspended for. She was a lousy employee and was probably going to get herself fired for something eventually, but her email follies provided the fulcrum. If there are no further revelations to be made, and if Ward manages to adopt a more work-appropriate posture going forward, then we’ll all forget about this in a few weeks. If not, then I don’t think it’s possible for her to be a good enough employee in other respects to outweigh the negatives. Campos has more.

Posted in: Local politics.

Saturday video break: Soon

Remember the Squirrel Nut Zippers? Here they are with a song called “Soon”:

I really liked SNZ, as I have always been a fan of that style of music. I wish they’d stayed together longer and made more records, but that’s the way it goes. Now here’s Yes:

The video is from 2001. They may be older, but there’s no mistaking Jon Anderson’s voice. Playing in front of a full symphony orchestra is pretty much peak Yes, wouldn’t you say?

Posted in: Music.

Looking ahead to 2019

Yes, yes, I know. We’ve barely begun the 2018 cycle. Who in their right mind is thinking about 2019? I plead guilty to political insanity, but the beginning of the year is always the best time to look forward, and just as 2018 will be unlike any election year we’ve seen before, I think 2019 will be unusual, too. Let’s just take a moment to contemplate what lies ahead.

I’ve posted this list before, but just to review here are the Council members who are term-limited going into 2019:

Brenda Stardig – District A
Jerry Davis – District B
Ellen Cohen – District C
Mike Laster – District J
Larry Green – District K
Jack Christie – At Large #5

There is an opportunity for progressives to elect a candidate more favorable to them with CM Christie’s departure, and his At Large colleagues Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh will also draw attention. Against that, I would remind everyone that Bill King carried Districts C and J in 2015, so we’re going to have to play defense, too.

It is too early to start speculating about who might run where, but keep two things in mind. One is that there’s likely some pent-up demand for city offices, since there won’t have been an election since 2015, and two is that some number of people who are currently running for something in 2018 will find themselves on the sidelines by March or May, and some of them may decide to shift their focus to a more local race. The point I’m making here is expect there to be a lot of candidates, and not just for the term-limited offices. I don’t expect Mayor Turner to be seriously challenged, but I do expect the firefighters to find someone to support against him. Finally, I expect Pasadena to be a hotbed of action again for their May elections, as Democrats missed by seven votes in District B winning a majority on Pasadena City Council.

The following HISD Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District II
Sergio Lira – District III
Jolanda Jones – District IV
Diana Davila – District VIII

Skillern-Jones was forced into a runoff in 2015, but she then won that easily. Lira was elected this year to finish Manuel Rodriguez’s term. Jolanda is Jolanda, and no election that includes her will ever be boring. Davila sued to get on the Democratic primary ballot for Justice of the Peace, but was not successful. I have to assume whoever runs against her will make an issue of the fact that she was job-hopping in the interim.

The following HCC Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Zeph Capo – District 1
Dave Wilson – District 2
Neeta Sane – District 7

It is too early to think about who might be running for what in Houston and HISD. It is very much NOT too early to find and begin building support for a good candidate to run against Dave Wilson and kick his homophobic ass out of office. That is all.

Posted in: Election 2019.

So what’s up with the Farenthold ballot situation?

The Trib provides an update.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

So how did the Texas Republican Party manage to remove Farenthold from the primary ballot?

The short answer is that they violated the election code, according to state officials. But the Texas Secretary of State’s office has no authority to force someone to include a name on a primary ballot.

The day after Farenthold announced his intention to retire, the Texas GOP sued the secretary of state to keep him off the ballot, citing its constitutional right to freedom of association. Dickey said the party has contended it has a right to not be forced to associate with a candidate who no longer wants to run.

Days later, a lawyer for the state, Esteban Soto, emphasized that the secretary of state has no authority to force the party to turn over Farenthold’s name as part of its list of all primary candidates. That argument led Texas GOP attorney Chris Gober to move to drop the lawsuit which opened an avenue for the party — in Gober’s telling — “not to submit Blake Farenthold’s name and the secretary of state not to do anything about it.”

[…]

“At this point, [Farenthold’s] name is off the ballot, but after all the litigation went through, it’s important to understand there are situations in which another voter or a potential candidate could file suit to put his name back on the ballot, or force his name back on the ballot,” Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State’s office, said.

Taylor said the state GOP party’s decision doesn’t set a legal precedent, however, because a judge hasn’t ruled to change the state’s election law.

“They can choose to violate the election code, but that doesn’t mean they’re absolved of any type of potential legal challenges,” Taylor said.

Gober also acknowledged the party’s decision could draw additional legal scrutiny.

“It’s certainly a possibility, but those are legal proceedings that would play out in time with presumably a plaintiff, a defendant and people with the ability to enforce that, whereas the secretary of state’s office has made the assertion they do not,” Gober said.

Taylor said that if no one with legal standing challenges it before Jan. 19, then Farenthold’s name will remain off the ballot.

See here and here for the background. Someone with standing would be one of the other candidates or a voter in CD27. The strategic reason for a Democrat to force the issue is that if Farenthold winds up winning the primary, he either has to commit to running in November or withdraw from the ballot and cede the seat to the Democratic nominee (modulo a write-in campaign effort for a different Republican). The practical reason is simply that the Republican Party violated the law when it removed Farenthold from the primary ballot, and the only mechanism to enforce it is via lawsuit. That as I said should be something for the Lege to address in 2019, but it’s moot for these purposes. It sends a bad message to let the Republican Party get away with this – and let’s be clear, it could be the Democratic Party next time; if it’s this easy to deal with a problem candidate, why not make it standard practice? – so I hope someone with standing comes forward to be the plaintiff. There’s less than two weeks to get this resolved, so let’s get a move on.

Posted in: Election 2018.

The life and times of Kinky Friedman

I have feelings about this.

Kinky Friedman

With Friedman, it’s showtime most of the time. On this occasion, he’s in town with Mary Lou Sullivan, his biographer, who attempted to condense his strange life into 300 pages. Hers was an unenviable task.

“A lot of people try to be themselves,” Friedman says. “That’s the hardest thing to be.”

So he’s been many selves, which Sullivan documented in the book, such as the garrulous raconteur who asks outright, “What all do you want to know?” A pause. “Can I smoke this mother (expletive) in here? I guess I could just do it and plead ignorance.”

Sullivan’s book, which was released last month, is called “Everything’s Bigger in Texas: The Life and Times of Kinky Friedman.”

“I Guess I Could Just Do It and Plead Ignorance” also would have worked as a title.

A successful writer himself, Friedman acknowledges he needed a biographer. “The first half of my life I don’t remember.”

So he relied on Sullivan to do the homework. She researched his childhood in Houston as a Jewish outcast in West University Place. His Peace Corps run in Borneo. A wild run as a misunderstood songwriter in the ’70s. Getting lost in a snowstorm of cocaine in the ’80s. A reinvention as novelist and humorist in the ’90s and a gubernatorial candidate in the 2000s.

[…]

Sullivan found a few cracks that let a different side of Richard Samet Friedman show. Particularly with regard to his parents: Tom, an Air Force pilot who flew dozens of missions over Germany, who studied psychology upon his return from the war; and Minnie, who taught Shakespeare and loved the stage.

They’re almost like the Greek chorus of Sullivan’s book, appearing and reappearing with words of encouragement and advice. For all of Friedman’s bluster, when he talks about his parents – in the book or conversation – the quips cease.

“I guess if your father runs off when you’re 2 like Obama’s did, you build a myth about him,” he says. “But my parents were my two best friends. If you grow up like that, it really devastates you when you lose them. They were my heroes.”

Then, finally, an oft-repeated quip.

“I always say a happy childhood is the worst possible preparation for life.”

The implication of the last statement is that Friedman is a failure whose recognition will likely come after he’s gone, though he’s been successful enough to fund habits ranging from cocaine to cigars to gambling.

By some measures, the failure argument could be made: Friedman’s albums were misunderstood in their day and didn’t really sell, even though they impressed some formidable songwriters. The cover of Sullivan’s book bears a quote from Dylan: “I don’t understand music. I understand Lightnin’ Hopkins. I understand Leadbelly, John Lee Hooker, Woody Guthrie, Kinky Friedman.”

Despite the high praise, Friedman stepped away from writing songs and reinvented himself as an author in the ’90s. His mystery novels found an audience, but he never achieved the success of a Carl Hiassen; Friedman’s former editor attributes it to laziness in the book. And Friedman’s runs for public office never resulted in holding public office.

“My shrink told me if you fail at something long enough, you become a legend,” he says. “That’s one way of doing it. Politics, I think I can safely say I failed. That’s really how I see myself commercially, professionally. But I think I’m in good company. John Lennon, Winston Churchill: They didn’t feel like life’s winners. But it really is about the rainbow. That’s the key. There was a guy who was the Justin Bieber of the art world in Van Gogh’s day. We don’t know his name today, but he sold a lot of his (expletive) art, and Van Gogh didn’t. So I’ll take a little success late in life.”

I was once a fan of Kinky Friedman’s. Bought several CDs, read his mystery books, saw him at the Laff Stop in the early 90’s – it was a great show. His candidacy for Governor in 2006 ended all that. I’d forgotten till I read this story and started thinking about what I was going to write, but I’ve never ripped any of my Kinky Friedman CDs to iTunes. I was too mad at him to enjoy the music any more. I’ve mellowed a bit since then, but it’s safe to say I’ll never be that kind of fan again.

The thing that struck me in this story is the bit in that penultimate paragraph about Friedman’s books not being as successful as they perhaps could have been. I feel like the same could be said about Friedman’s political career. One thing I noticed early on in his 2006 campaign is that in each feature story written about his candidacy he was cracking the same jokes. Politicians repeat themselves all the time, of course, but someone whose claim to fame is being an entertainer ought to do better than that, especially if he never really bothers to become proficient in policy. Indeed, if humor is a substitute for policy, the last thing it can do is get stale. Later on, Friedman did make an effort to become better at policy; in his 2014 run for Ag Commissioner, he reasonably and somewhat presciently latched onto the issue of legalizing hemp in Texas, as a potential boon for farmers. Not a bad idea, but he never developed it beyond basic talking points, and there was nothing more to his platform than that. On his third attempt to win statewide office, surely he could have done better than that.

So anyway, I’m sure the forthcoming biography will be an engaging read. Whatever else you can say about Kinky Friedman, he’s never been boring, and I’ve no doubt he has some great stories to tell. But there could have been more. We’ll never know how much more.

Posted in: Show Business for Ugly People.