Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Clinton campaign to run ads in Texas

It’s come to this.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton’ campaign is going on the air in solid-red Texas, a remarkable move by a Democratic presidential nominee as her Republican rival, Donald Trump, struggles across the country.

Clinton is launching a one-week ad buy in the Lone Star State that highlights the Dallas Morning News’ recent endorsement of the former secretary of state, according to a campaign aide. The 30-second commercial will air on TV in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, as well as online. Clinton’s campaign did not detail the size of the buy.

When the Dallas Morning News editorial board endorsed Clinton earlier this year, it was the board’s first endorsement of a Democratic presidential hopeful since before World War II. The Clinton spot notes the historical significance of the endorsement, going on to quote its criticism of Trump’s judgment and praise of Clinton’s bipartisan credentials.

“At this moment in time, for Texas and for America, Hillary for president,” a narrator concludes.

The ad buy comes as polls continue to show the presidential race in Texas closer than usual. A WFAA/SurveyUSA poll released Thursday found Trump leading by only 4 points, much less than Mitt Romney’s 16-point margin in 2012 and John McCain’s 12-point margin in 2008.

“The Dallas Morning News points out Trump’s values are out of step with Texas,” Garry Mauro, who chairs Clinton’s efforts in Texas, said in a statement on the ad buy. “As more and more Texans realize this — and turn to Hillary — the polls will get better and better.”

Here’s the ad:

Nice. Is it likely to have any effect on persuasion or turnout? Maybe a little bit at the margins, but who cares? The Chron goes into some detail.

Though Clinton still is a long shot in Texas, political analysts see it as a sign of her recent strength nationally and in the critical battleground states of Pennsylvania and Florida.

“I don’t think it’s knowable at this point what a Texas ad buy would accomplish,” veteran Texas Democratic operative Harold Cook said. “But I will say this: If the Democrat is buying ad time in Texas in a presidential election, it ain’t a good year for the Republican.”


“I think they’re playing with house money right now,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria, citing reports that the Clinton campaign is flush with cash compared to Trump, who has taken in less than half of the $373 million reported so far by the Democrat. “They’ve got excess resources.”

I’m just glad I lived long enough to see a Democratic Presidential candidate decide it was worthwhile to run some general election ads in Texas for Texas voters. Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: The making of the President.

Chron overview of HD134

The Chron looks at that perpetual swing district, HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Sarah Davis

Artful redistricting has squeezed the general election suspense from nearly all of Harris County’s legislative races, rendering most districts solidly red or blue.

Democrat Ben Rose is hoping to prove his west Houston district can be the exception.

The 31-year-old political newcomer is seeking to leverage traditionally high Democratic turnout in presidential election years to oust three-term Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis. Doing so would return District 134 to Democratic hands for the first time in six years.

“To effectuate change, you’d have to want that change. And based on her record, I don’t think that she really is distinguishable,” Rose said during an interview in his Meyerland campaign office. “On cutting $5 billion from education, where was she? On accepting federal (Medicaid) dollars, where was she?”

Davis, known as a moderate, is campaigning on her fiscal conservatism and clout in the state Legislature as a member of the majority party.

“From just a general standpoint of who can get something done, your choice is someone who’s on the most powerful committees and has some experience and is in the majority party, versus a freshman with no seniority and in the minority party,” said Davis, 40, whose committee posts include appropriations and calendars.

District 134, which runs from Meyerland north to Timbergrove, has traded parties twice in the last decade, from Republican Martha Wong to Democrat Ellen Cohen in 2007, and Cohen to Davis in 2011.

Ben Rose

Ben Rose

Since then, it has become more Republican.

District 134 lost five precincts in 2011’s redistricting, all of them left-leaning. And the district gained 25 others, most of them right-leaning, according to a Chronicle analysis of straight-ticket voting.


Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy is expected to handicap many local Republican candidates, whose fate typically is tied to the performance of their party’s presidential pick and the turnout he draws.

However, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said he expects Davis to be more insulated than many of her GOP peers, who could be hurt by higher Democratic turnout or a lower percentage of Republican straight-ticket voting.

“The core of it is: Are there more Democrats in 134?” Rottinghaus said. “It seems to me they’ve already maxed out the number that are there, so i don’t think you’re going to find a lot more turnout … and some of those Democrats are supporters of Sarah Davis.”

Here’s my interview with Ben Rose. I basically agree with Prof. Rottinghaus that a boost in Democratic turnout is unlikely to have much effect on this race. For one, turnout in this district is always pretty high; it was 72% in 2012. For another, the district is indeed redder than it was in 2008 – President Obama got 42% of the vote in 2012 after topping 46% in 2008. I think the more likely path to victory for Rose is not higher turnout but lower turnout, with that being the result of more Republicans staying home. That could happen, but it’s not sustainable if it does.

What I think may happen is that Hillary Clinton carries the district due to a larger than usual number of crossovers and other Republicans who refuse to vote for Trump, though she may not have a majority in doing this. Beyond that, Republican candidates in other races, with the possible exception of the DA race, win the district, probably with a lower than expected margin. I don’t claim to be a fan of Sarah Davis, but she’s a good fit for the district and hasn’t done anything obvious to turn off her supporters. Barring a surprise, I expect her to win by an amount that keeps this district firmly in the “swing” category going forward.

Posted in: Election 2016.

MUDs and debt

Another story about the least-understood form of debt and taxation in Texas.


In Houston’s conservative suburbs, where local governments are loath to raise taxes, the thankless task of hiking revenues has fallen to hundreds of so-called municipal utility districts created for developers to finance water and sewage systems, roads and other amenities.

These MUDs, as they’re called, have virtually unlimited power in bright red, anti-tax Texas to sell bonds and levy property taxes.

The state’s leading tea party conservatives, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have championed their creation in what ethics reformers say is a clear example of special interest influence in Austin.

All told, lawmakers who carry bills creating MUDs and other water districts have collected $3.5 million in campaign contributions since 2001 from law firms that specialize in creating those districts on behalf of developers or do bond work on their multimillion-dollar deals, a Houston Chronicle investigation has found. The Chronicle used a state database to pinpoint which law firms work for water districts. The data doesn’t include developers, who also contribute large sums to legislators.

Both Hegar and Patrick say MUDs and other water districts have played a critical role in developing infrastructure and creating jobs. They deny campaign contributions have anything to do with the bills they’ve carried. But both also say they are concerned about surging property tax burdens levied by school districts, towns, cities, counties – and MUDs, their less accountable, largely anonymous first cousins.

MUDs and other water districts have to date issued more than $60  billion in outstanding debt and face almost no government oversight of their spending. While most voters know the names of their mayors and city council members, many have no idea who runs their local MUD – or even what a MUD is.

James Quintero, director of the Center for Local Governance for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Austin, wants the legislature to protect taxpayers by preventing local officeholders from “off-loading” the delivery of public services to MUDs and other “special purpose districts” that contribute to the property tax burden and often lack transparency.

See here for past blogging on this topic, and be sure to read the whole story. Anyone who is surprised by the connection between MUD law firms and the politicians who push MUDs should probably go lie down in a quiet room for awhile. I know one should never read the comments, but I was struck by the number of commenters on that story who basically accused the Chronicle of being “anti-development” for having written this. I don’t doubt that MUDs are an effective mechanism for spurring development in currently undeveloped placed. The question I have is whether this is the best way to spur development in currently undeveloped places (*) or if perhaps a better mechanism may exist. To put it another way, if we could emulate Metro’s bus system redesign and start with a blank map of Harris County and its governmental entities and undertake the task of reimagining them all from the ground up, would we want to design something that looks like what we have now, or would we go a different direction? Call me crazy, but I think we’d gravitate towards the latter. That doesn’t mean that we can easily or pragmatically move in a different direction from where we are now, but it is worth reminding ourselves that what we have now, with its heavy reliance on this unhealthily symbiotic relationship of officeholders and niche law firms, not to mention millions of dollars in debt being ratified by elections in which literally two people vote, is not the only possible option. The Chron’s Chris Tomlinson has more.

(*) There is of course the completely separate question about whether it is a good idea to spur development in undeveloped places at all, or whether it would be better to spur it in already-developed places, with more investment in transit and other non-car modes of travel. That is a conversation that is very much worth having, but it would make Dan Patrick’s head explode, and so it is unfortunately beyond the scope of this blog post.

Posted in: The great state of Texas.

Interview with Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Two-term Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is currently the only countywide Democrat, though we hope he’ll have some company after November. An Army veteran and former City Council member, Ryan served under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll and maintains an unmistakable passion for the office. He has actively pursued industrial polluters and other environmental malfeasants – see this Chron story about the San Jacinto tar pits for an example – and he was first out of the box to sue VW over their emissions flim-flammery. Ryan has many more accomplishments than that – he provided me this fact sheet, which he refers to in the interview, for more on what he’s been doing – and if he gets a third term, you can expect more of the same. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Republicans remain concerned about their turnout in Texas

Exhibit A:

Can you feel the excitement?

Can you feel the excitement?

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is stepping up his travel for state Republicans amid concerns about GOP turnout in November.

Cruz is set to attend a trio of events next week in North Texas aimed at getting out the vote, particularly among conservatives who have long made up his base. Cruz will appear with U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin on Wednesday night in Burleson, followed by an event Thursday afternoon for the Dallas County GOP and another in the evening for the Denton County GOP with U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess of Lewisville.

The string of appearances comes as Cruz increases his focus on one of his main political goals of late: ensuring that conservative turnout does not slip after a presidential race that left many such voters disillusioned. Cruz himself has grappled with the choice in November, declining to endorse his party’s nominee, Donald Trump, until last month.

Cruz’s get-out-the-vote efforts began in earnest earlier this month, when he visited a phone bank for the Tarrant County Republican Party. Speaking with reporters at the party’s headquarters in Fort Worth, he reiterated a worry about depressed turnout among “strong conservatives,” particularly in large urban counties like Tarrant, Dallas and Harris.

“That could wreak real damage, particularly in down-ticket races — in state legislative races, in judicial races, in county races,” Cruz said. “I don’t want to see that happen, so I’m doing everything I can to encourage conservatives” to vote.

We all know how well that went. Try smiling more, Ted, that comes through in your tone of voice. Meanwhile, here’s Exhibit B:

In the final weeks before the November election, Houston-area supporters of Donald Trump say they feel let down and abandoned by both the Republican Party and the nominee’s campaign.

Still, they persevere to get out the vote for their candidate, standing on street corners, knocking on doors without the traditional list of homes to target and handing out home-printed fliers.

“We have gotten no guidance,” said Jeana Blackford, a local leader of pro-Trump activists. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and we’ve never seen this. It’s absurd.”

The Republican parties of Texas and Harris County said they were running get-out-the-vote efforts and that they support all candidates on the ballot equally, but frustrated local Trump supporters allege the party is turning its back on its presidential nominee and his millions of followers.

The sentiment mirrors events unfolding nationally, in which a schism between the Trump campaign and the GOP is widening as the nominee berates top party members and Republican officials rescind their support of his candidacy.

“We get calls all the time from people saying, ‘the party does not support him (Trump),’ ” said Ben McPhaul, executive director of the Harris County Republican Party. “Maybe they get that perception from the national party, though I’m not sure that’s true. But we’re always quick to say we support every candidate on the ticket and we support them all equally.”


In a typical election, state and local parties generally focus on state and local candidates and do not carry a lot of weight supporting the presidential nominee, said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

Promotion of the presidential candidate isusually is left largely to the national party and the candidate’s campaign.

The Trump campaign, however, has been mostly absent in Texas. Its Houston office opened for a few months in the run-up to the March primary, then closed in the summer, Blackford said. She said local Trump supporters did not trust the Trump campaign staff, but she stressed that Trump himself had not known about the “chaos and disorganization” in his staff until it was too late.

Blackford, a 43-year-old stay-at-home mom and veteran campaign worker who traveled to other states for Trump in the primaries, said she has about 350 people in the Houston area eager to get to work, but they have been given no direction.

By comparison, the Hillary Clinton campaign has six Texas offices. Stephen Abrams Harrison, a volunteer in the Houston headquarters, said the campaign supplies the office with computers, as well as buttons and yard signs. Volunteers sit in on weekly conference calls with the board of state directors.

Fed up Trump supporters in September formed a political action committee based in Waxahachie, called Make America Safe Again, a merger of existing grass-roots organizations. Board member Stephani Scruggs said the PAC was formed to make up for what they perceived as the Republican National Committee’s abandonment of Trump’s candidacy.

The group posted a news release Thursday titled, “Pro-Trump super PAC implements own ground game amid rumors of RNC betrayal.”

See here and here for previous examples. It’s hard to know how much to make of this, but I keep coming back to the premise that Republicans really haven’t had to do much if any campaigning in this state in Presidential years in a long time. There are downballot races, like the perpetual struggle in CD23, that they work on, and it’s very different in the off years when control of state government is at stake, but this just feels different, and it makes me wonder if the data they’re seeing confirms or even amplifies the bits of evidence we have that this will not be a typical year for them. I hesitate to put any quantifiers on this, but with the polls being what they are and the campaign activity being what it is, it’s hard not to feel like we’re in some very unfamiliar territory, and that we may wake up on November 9 with a very different set of expectations going forward. At the very least, you have to wonder if this feeling by the Trump partisans that they’re being ignored will put a damper on things for the GOP in 2018. If their enthusiasm in 2018 is down to the point where we’d be looking at 2006 levels of turnout, that opens up a whole lot of possibilities for the Democrats. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves here, but stick that thought in your back pocket and we’ll look at it again in the aftermath.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Paxton sues Brownsville over bag fee

Of course he does.


Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is wading into another fight over local control; this one about plastic bags at grocery stores.

The Republican on Wednesday sued the city of Brownsville over its $1 per-bag fee, started in 2011 to cut down on waste, calling it an “illegal sales tax.”

“Clearly, Brownsville is raising taxes on its citizens through this unlawful bag fee,” Paxton said in a statement. “The rule of law must be upheld, and state law is clear – bags may not be taxed.”


The lawsuit, filed in Cameron County, is Paxton’s first attempt to thwart city efforts to curb waste by charging for bags or banning them. He joins the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the powerful conservative group, in that broad effort.

The Brownsville bag fee was passed in 2011, but Paxton is only getting involved now that an appeals court has overturned Laredo’s bag law. You would think that since cities are responsible for garbage collection that cities ought to have a fair amount of leeway to take measures to minimize and optimize that task, but then you would not be Ken Paxton or his meddling enablers at the TPPF. Why is a fee for plastic bags different than a fee for (say) heavy trash pickup or disposal of toxic chemicals? I’m pretty sure the answer to that question will be “it just is” and “because we said so”. If we want different outcomes, we need different leaders.

Posted in: Legal matters.

The Reliant Stadium area is ready for its closeup

For the Super Bowl, of course. Gotta look pretty, you know.

Currently, the area surrounding NRG Park, which includes NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, is “functional” but hardly an impression-maker for a throng of out-of-town guests, said Ed Wulfe, chairman of the Stadium Park Redevelopment Authority.

“The Super Bowl was the motivating factor the area needs,” he said. “The land around the stadium will be a focal point for the world.”


The work will focus on McNee Road, between Main and Kirby Drive; along Main, between McNee and Murworth Drive; and near the yellow parking lot on Main.

NRG will provide new branding and way-finding signs at each of the Main Street entrances. Harris County will build a new sidewalk along the south side of McNee with trees, landscaping and fencing. LED lights will be added along McNee and Murworth. TxDOT will add new sidewalks, landscaping and trees to the esplanades.


TxDOT also has plans to update the South Main corridor with more landscaping using a $310,000 grant from Keep Houston Beautiful. The agency plans to save 31 oak trees from work underway along Post Oak Boulevard and replant them in the area near the stadium.

Construction has begun and the work will continue into January.

Harris County has also been working on street repairs and striping of several streets in the NRG Park area in preparation for the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 5.

(Yes, I know, it’s NRG Park now. Just assume I’m one of those annoying people who still talks about “the Summit” and “Transco Tower”, and move on.)

As the story notes, some of this work was initiated by Commissioner Gene Locke, who took the radical step of spending county money on infrastructure that was also in the city of Houston. I don’t work out that way anymore, so I can’t say what the transformation will look like, but at least as of when I last worked in that area in 2013, there were definitely some streets and sidewalks that needed work. I’m glad to see it happening.

Posted in: Elsewhere in Houston.

Weekend link dump for October 16

“Walk-to-School Day also is also a reminder of the many ways we’ve engineered walking out of the lives of children, and how forbidding our culture and environment can be toward walking.”

What James Madison said, or at least what he would have said if he were alive today and had a potty mouth.

Is the future success of driverless cars dependent to some extent on how good human drivers are?

The decline and fall of Johnny Football.

“Republicans, and Democrats can’t compromise on health care for the same reason they can’t compromise on taxes: They have diametric goals. On taxes, Republicans want to shift the burden from the rich to the poor, while Democrats want the opposite. A similar dynamic exists in health care. Republicans want to restore the ability of healthy and wealthy people to buy cheap plans that don’t cross-subsidize the sick and the poor — the very features of the insurance system that Obamacare was designed to stop. Since Republican ideas for improving the health-care system all involve shifting costs from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick, there’s just no way to blend them together with the goals Democrats have in mind.”

Sixty years have passed since Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series.

Here’s what Arianne Zucker and Nancy O’Dell have to say about being insultwleered by Donald Trump in that 2005 video.

If Donald Trump leads to the end of the Religious Right as a political force, it will be a good thing.

“We’re from America, she told my daughter. But sometimes people don’t understand that. I hope you do now.”

Tom Tomorrow’s This Modern World is coming to TV. Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock is coming back to TV. Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush will not be on TV for at least a few days. You’re welcome.

Can we get Kenneth Bone to moderate the next debate?

“This is not funny. It is terrifying. The Russians engage in a sloppy disinformation effort and, before the day is out, the Republican nominee for president is standing on a stage reciting the manufactured story as truth. How did this happen? Who in the Trump campaign was feeding him falsehoods straight from the Kremlin?”

“By whichever path, Russian propaganda is ubiquitous on the alt-right/racist web – particularly on Twitter, Reddit, 4chan and similar sites.” Never has the term “useful idiot” been more comprehensible.

“All six of the 2016 American Nobel laureates announced to date are immigrants.”

Ten years ago, MLB pitcher Cory Lidle was killed in a plane crash, along with his flight instructor. This story is about his widow and son and how they are doing ten years after. Well worth your time.

It’s people like Eleanor Tinsley that make local politics worthwhile.

Mars, y’all. Also, I love the editor’s note at the beginning of this. As if we needed that.

“The way we approach transportation in American cities is at a turning point.”

“But it seems fair to say that, if Trump loses the election, it will be because women voted against him.”

I’m a supporter of instant replay in baseball (and other sports), but I agree that the rule about sliding into bases should be changed to keep replay for enforcing something that never could or should have been enforced before.

What James Fallows says. Also, too, maybe at some point we can arrive at the opinion that emails being hacked by a foreign government and disclosed by a foreign actor with a stated interest in affecting the US political process is not such a good thing for us.

The inside story of Donald Trump’s Comedy Central Roast.

“But staying silent about harassment and abuse is the most common response among victims of these crimes. It’s not hard to see why.”

Damn right, Hillary Clinton is inspiring.

RIP, King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, the world’s longest-serving monarch.

“In other words, the manner of Trump’s political demise may extend the life of Trumpism.”

Ema Matthews is the Internet hero we needed in the post-Kenneth Bone era.

“Trump never seemed to have thought through the implications of sitting through discovery in a hotly contested lawsuit — which is why my lawyers had the opportunity to depose him for a two-day stretch during which he lied 30 times about his career and finances.”

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Flipping Fort Bend

FiveThirtyEight projects a national insight down to the local level.

In August, Nate Cohn of The New York Times put it well when he wrote: “The simple way to think about Mr. Trump’s strength is in terms of education among white voters. He hopes to do much better than Mitt Romney did in 2012 among white voters without a degree so that he can make up the margin of Mr. Romney’s four-point defeat and overcome the additional losses he’s likely to absorb among well-educated voters and Hispanic voters.”

There’s evidence that Trump is underperforming Romney among Asiansand African-Americans, not just Latinos and college-educated whites. Clinton, on the other hand, has been underperforming President Obama among non-college-educated whites.

To get a handle on how these shifts could affect the electoral landscape, we modeled how many of Romney’s votes came from college-educated whites and minorities and how many of Obama’s votes came from non-college-educated whites in each state, county and congressional district. The difference between these two vote totals, shown in the map above, can tell us where Clinton and Trump have the most potential to build on 2012.

Then we went a step further: How would the 2016 map look if one out of every five whites without a college degree who voted for Obama in 2012 defected to Trump and if one out of every five non-whites and college-educated whites who voted for Romney in 2012 switched to Clinton? (Why one out of five? It’s a somewhat arbitrary number but represents a realistic shift of these groups, according to polls released over the past few months.)

Let’s call this scenario the “2016 Vote Swap.” In it, Clinton would win the election, and her share of the two-party vote would be 52.7 percent — 0.7 percentage points higher than Obama’s 2012 showing. However, we also estimate she would win 10 fewer electoral votes than Obama did in the Electoral College.


The model suggests that several traditionally Republican suburban locales with diversifying and highly educated electorates could be poised to flip and support the Democratic presidential candidate: Orange County, California; Gwinnett County, Georgia; Chester County, Pennsylvania; Fort Bend County, Texas; and Virginia Beach. The model also suggests that Clinton could make major gains — while still falling short — in Douglas County outside of Denver; Hamilton County outside of Indianapolis; and Delaware County outside Columbus, Ohio.

Here’s what the map of all this looks like for every county:

There are a total of six counties in Texas that would flip from red in 2012 to blue in 2016 under the assumption that college-educated Anglo voters will shift from Trump to Clinton. Here they are, along with their 2012 results:

County       Romney    Obama   Romney%  Obama%
Fort Bend   116,126  101,144    52.91%  46.08%
Nueces       48,966   45,772    50.95%  47.63%
Uvalde        4,529    3,825    53.69%  45.35%
Brewster      1,976    1,765    51.10%  45.64%
Hudspeth        471      379    54.58%  43.92%
Kenedy           84       82    50.30%  49.10%

Needless to say, some of these counties are more consequential than others. Having Fort Bend go blue, which nearly happened in 2008, would if nothing else be a big psychological lift for Democrats, as it would represent the first beachhead outside the traditional big urban/border county box that the party has been in. If Fort Bend, then why not Williamson, or Collin, or whichever other suburban county?

The other county worth keeping an eye on is Nueces, which is the population center for CD27, home of Rep. Blake “I was thrown off by the anchor’s use of a hypothetical question” Farenthold. That district could conceivably come into play if things get really bad for Trump; Lord knows Farenthold is incapable of being an asset to himself, so if there’s trouble he’ll be right there in it. We don’t have the the fuller Census data that the 538 crew uses to make these projections, so it’s impossible to say how much of a shift there might be if their hypothesis holds. There would be plenty of other factors affecting things as well, so don’t get too wrapped up in this. But if you’re in one of those counties, especially Fort Bend or Nueces, take this as motivation to do some GOTV work. The promise of a good result is there waiting to be taken. Juanita has more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Chron overview of Commissioners Court Precinct 3 race

Lower profile, and less competitive, but still worth paying attention to.

Commissioner Steve Radack

Commissioner Steve Radack

Steve Radack has built close to five dozen parks and spent millions of dollars expanding road and trail networks in 28 years as Harris County commissioner for Precinct 3.

It is a prolific body of work for the longest-serving, and most outspoken, member of commissioners court, who is asking voters this fall to vote him into his eighth term.

That longevity also is what his November challenger, Democrat Jenifer Rene Pool, is keying on in her bid to unseat the veteran Republican.

“If we want a different outcome, we have to do things differently,” Pool said.

Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

Precinct 3 encompasses more than 450 miles of the county’s west side, stretching from just outside Prairie View and Waller County in the north, through parts of the Katy area, to near Alief in the south. Almost 1.2 million people live in the precinct.

That is up from roughly 850,000 when Radack first took office, and the number is expected to grow, especially in the unincorporated areas of the county.

“We’ve been able to adjust,” Radack said, adding “We’ve got plenty of challenges ahead.”


Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said Radack is regarded as an “effective commissioner” whose political persona plays to his constituency. Radack has handily won re-election to each of his terms.

“This is an easy win for Radack, in large part because the district is heavily partisan and in favor of the GOP,” Adams said. “It would be a massive upset for Radack to lose.”

I agree with Prof. Adams that Commissioner Radack is a heavy favorite to win, though I’d attribute that first and foremost to the precinct’s Republican lean. Radack won 60-40 in 2008 and 62-38 in 2012, running a few points ahead of the rest of the ticket in each case. I think he’ll be hard pressed to get to 60 this year, but if he falls below 55 I’d say it’s a very good day for Dems not just in Harris County but probably statewide as well. I’m a fan of Jenifer Pool’s and I think she’d do a fine job as Commissioner, but this is a tough nut to crack.

Posted in: Election 2016.

HISD Trustee Mike Lunceford to resign

This came as a surprise.

Mike Lunceford

Mike Lunceford

Mike Lunceford — who has represented Bellaire on the Houston ISD Board of Education for seven years — made a surprise announcement at Thursday night’s board meeting that he is resigning, effective immediately.

He had just assumed blame for some trustees’ concerns over communication about a proposed $7.5 million gift to the district’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts from the Kinder Foundation, in exchange for naming rights.

The donation was approved by a vote of 7-2, with Trustees Jolanda Jones and Diana Davila voting nay.

Lunceford wasn’t immediately available for comment about his resignation. Although he lives in the trustee district, he has commuted to West Texas for his job as vice president of Pedernales Energy in recent months. He was also frequently in the minority in board votes with the seating of new members in January, and the confrontational, name-calling personalities that have emerged in board debates are antithetical to Lunceford’s quiet but firm, reasoned style.

The Chron story about the HSPVA grant/renaming mentioned Lunceford’s announcement in passing. Lunceford is a well-regarded member of the Board and I’m sorry to see him go, but I can certainly understand it given his travel schedule. According to fellow Trustee Anna Eastman on Facebook, the resignation would be effective on December 31. Assuming nothing changes, the Board would then appoint a replacement, and there would be an election for a full term next November, which is when Lunceford’s current term is up anyway. I wish Trustee Lunceford all the best, and I thank him for his service.

Posted in: School days.

Endorsement watch: More courts

The Chron has a bunch of judicial race endorsements to make, beginning with the First and 14th Courts of Appeals.

1st Court of Appeals, Chief Justice: Sherry Radack

Both Republican incumbent Sherry Radack and challenger Jim Peacock strongly agree that service on this bench constitutes a great honor. That honor should go to Radack, 65, for another term, although Peacock came as close any challenger has to convincing us that the breadth of his experience as a litigator and the need for more philosophical diversity on the court would justify a switch. But ultimately, it’s hard for us to vote to unseat a sitting justice who is doing a good job, which Radack is.

Justice, 1st Court of Appeals,Place 4: Barbara Gardner

Plato imaged a world run by philosopher-kings, but Republican judge Evelyn Keyes is the closest that Houston gets. Our resident philosopher-judge, Keyes is a member of the prestigious American Law Institute, which helps write the influential model penal code. A graduate of University of Houston Law Center, Keyes also has a doctorate in philosophy from Rice University and a doctorate in English from the University of Texas. She’s penned numerous papers on legal philosophy, exploring the foundational underpinnings of our entire judicial system and arguing about the concept of justice itself.

Now Keyes is running for her third term – a “last hurrah,” she told the editorial board, before she is aged out under state law. If elected, Keyes will be forced to retire after four years of her six-year term and will be replaced by a gubernatorial appointment.

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2: Kevin Jewell

This race for an open seat offers voters two very different candidates who would each bring great strengths in their own ways.

Republican Kevin Jewell, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center, is board certified in civil appellate law and heads up the appellate practice at the Chamberlain Hrdlicka law firm. Jewell, 48, has spent his career practicing in appellate courts and his resume is practically tailor-made for this position.

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals,Place 9: Tracy Elizabeth Christopher

Justice Tracy Christopher is one of the “smartest, most reasonable judges” on this court. That’s not us talking – that’s her Democratic opponent, Peter M. Kelly, during a meeting with the editorial board. It is the kind of praise that should encourage voters to keep Christopher, a Republican, on the bench. A graduate of the University of Texas School of Law, Christopher, 60, is board certified in civil trial law and personal injury trial law, and served for 15 years on the 295th Civil District Court before her appointment to this bench in 2009. She’s received stellar bar poll ratings, and we were particularly impressed by her insight as to how the state Legislature has overridden common law in Texas, especially in medical malpractice and other torts.

And for the State Supreme Court.

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 3: Debra Lehrmann

Justice Debra Lehrmann, 59, has spent six years serving on the Texas Supreme Court and before that she was a Tarrant County family court judge for 22 years. In that time she has acquired a reputation as a hardworking and respected jurist with a record of success dating back to her days at University of Texas School of Law.

Her Democratic opponent and former judge of the 214th District Court in Nueces County, Mike Westergren, says that there needs to be more balance on the all-Republican court. Lehrmann agrees but they differ as to the nature of the deficit. Westergren argues for more ideological balance, while Lehrmann maintains the justices need to continue to challenge each other.

Justice Dori Garza

Justice Dori Garza

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 5: Dori Contreras Garza

What is Republican incumbent, Justice Paul Green, doing wrong on the Texas Supreme Court? According to his Democratic challenger, Justice Dori Garza, not much.

She told the editorial board that she’s not running against Green personally, but instead to provide greater diversity on the court.

The first in her family to receive a college degree, Garza, 58, attended night school at the University of Houston Law Center and in 2002 was elected to the 13th Court of Appeals, which stretches from Matagorda County south to the U.S.-Mexico border. She’s been re-elected twice and in 2010 was one of three candidates recommended by the Texas congressional delegation to serve as a federal judge in Corpus Christi.

If elected, she’ll bring different personal and ideological perspectives to a court that’s been critiqued as leaning in favor of corporations and state authority at the expense of everyday Texans.

Justice, Supreme Court, Place 9: Eva Guzman

It took 100 pages for the Texas Supreme Court to explain that our state’s school funding system was constitutional, if imperfect. But Justice Eva Guzman’s passionate concurrence should light a fire under Texas politicians who may think that winning at the Texas Supreme Court absolves them of any duty to improve our public schools.

They endorsed challenger Barbara Gardner over incumbent Evelyn Keyes because Judge Keyes will have to resign after four years due to the mandatory retirement age of 75. The main thing about both of these endorsement posts is that they basically like all of the candidates. They have a couple of clear preferences, but no races in which they consider only one candidate qualified. Consider that another piece of evidence to suggest that our oft-maligned system of partisan elections for judges maybe isn’t as bad as its frequently made out to be. My Q&A for Dori Garza is here, and I’ve got Q&As lined up for Jim Peacock and Candance White, so look for them soon.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Saturday video break: Mine

How about a little old school Taylor Swift?

We were so young and innocent then, weren’t we? I confess, I like Taylor Swift (*), and I doubt I’d have ever listened to any of her music if it weren’t for my kids.

For music that I have introduced to my kids, there’s Trout Fishing In America:

That one has an exclamation point on it, befitting the kid-song nature of it. TFIA was a regular folk-rock duo that released a children’s album in the early 90s, That’s been the main milieu since, though they still do non-kids shows. Our girls have mostly outgrown kids’ music now, but we took them to see a couple of TFIA shows at the Mucky Duck when they were younger, and they loved them. If you have young ‘uns and they’re touring in your vicinity, you should definitely check them out.

(*) – Olivia has expressly forbidden me from referring to her as “T-Swift”. I haven’t asked, but I’m pretty sure that “Tay Tay” would be right out as well.

Posted in: Music.

WFAA/SurveyUSA: Trump 47, Clinton 43

The margin keeps narrowing.

Hillary Clinton

After perhaps the most damaging week of his campaign, Donald Trump’s lead in Texas has slipped to four percentage points – within the margin of error – according to a new poll released Thursday night.

The survey, commissioned by WFAA-TV and Texas TEGNA television stations, shows Trump leading Hillary Clinton by 47 percent to 43 percent. The margin of error is four percent.

“I think to put these numbers in context – it shows that Trump’s position has eroded a little bit. His lead is down to four percentage points according to this poll, but even in the wake of some really terrible news for him, he still leads in Texas, which shows what a tough nut Texas is to crack for Democratic candidates right now,” said Matthew Wilson, Associate Professor of Political Science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

SurveyUSA conducted the poll between Monday and Wednesday of this week – after both the 2005 video in which Trump used lewd comments describing women and the second presidential debate in St. Louis on Sunday night.

In recent weeks, two other statewide polls showed Trump up by six and seven points, respectively.

“It pretty consistently shows that Trump is struggling in Texas more than a Republican typically would,” Wilson added. “He’s still highly likely to win the state in the end but we typically see double digit margins for Republican candidates and Trump seems unlikely to produce that.

For perspective, Mitt Romney won Texas by 16 points in 2012, John McCain won this state by 13 points in 2008, George W. Bush carried his home state by 23 points in 2004, and 22 points in 2000 when he was elected to his first term.

The eroding support in the largest Republican state in the country could suggest deeper problems for Trump nationwide, Wilson explained.

Survey data can be found here. It’s fairly consistent with other polls we have seen – voters under 50 go for Clinton, Trump has less support among Anglos than Republicans usually get but has weirdly high levels of black and Latino support, which may be a function of small samples and over-weighting (see the story of the most influential 19-year-old black voter in Illinois ever for an example of that). The main thing I want to highlight is that this is not only Hillary Clinton’s highest poll total (not counting that one weird SurveyMonkey result), it’s the best Democratic result in any poll since President Obama recorded 43% in a PPP survey in April of 2012. All other close poll results had one or both candidates in the 30s, with upwards of 20% undecided, while this poll has only five percent undecided.

What that means is this: Given the high levels of voter registration, if we have as Texas Monthly posits the same level of turnout as we had in 2012, we’re looking at nearly 3.8 million Democratic Presidential votes, given 43% support for Clinton. That’s an increase of over 400,000 from 2012 and over 200,000 from 2008, and that’s before we take into account any other possible factors. (Trump, in this calculation, would be a bit above 4.1 million voters.) It’s still just one result, and it counts a a bit of an outlier (though not by much), but if you’re a Democrat you have to like the direction this appears to be going. The Trib, the Current, and the Star-Telegram have more.

Posted in: The making of the President.


That will be the new acronym for the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

After impassioned debate, the Houston school board voted 7-2 Thursday to accept a $7.5 million gift for the district’s renowned arts high school and to rename the campus after the donors in an unprecedented move.

The Kinder Foundation, run by billionaire couple Richard and Nancy Kinder, offered the donation in exchange for calling the campus the Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The money is supposed to help with rebuilding the school downtown, funding theater lighting and seats, a sound system, a specialized dance floor and more.

“We hope these joint and cooperative efforts preserve the long-term future of one of Houston’s most acclaimed and diverse schools and forges a new path through public/private partnership to support future HISD schools,” Rich Kinder said in a statement after the vote.

Board approval of the deal was in doubt just hours before the board meeting. Several trustees expressed frustration over the private negotiations that took place concerning the deal and questioned the fairness to other campuses in the Houston Independent School District. Board member Mike Lunceford, whose trustee district includes the arts school in its current Montrose-area location, had brought forward the proposal.


Houston school board member Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who said Monday that she was conflicted about the proposal, said Thursday that, although she thought the renaming policy needed to be strengthened, she believed the students at the arts school deserved the funding.

“I do not believe you deprive our high-performing schools of what they need to get to equity,” Skillern-Jones, who has a son attending the arts high school, said before voting with the majority to support the proposal.

Houston board member Jolanda Jones, who opposed the deal along with trustee Diana Davila, described the gift negotiations as “sneaky.”

“I find it offensive that people say if you don’t vote for this, that you don’t care about the kids. Actually I care about all the kids in HISD,” Jones said.

“It seems like HISD is like a pimp, and the schools are what they sell,” Jones added. “That was the nicest way I could think to say it.

Here’s an earlier story, from when the grant was announced, and a Chron editorial in favor of taking the cash. I’ve advocated selling ad space on school buses and school rooftops, as well as naming rights to stadiums, so I’m hardly in a position to turn my nose up at this. I’m fine with reviewing the board policy to ensure we get what we want and not what we don’t, and I absolutely want to see grants like this going to poorer and less prestigious schools, which need the money more, but neither of those concerns should have an effect on this, so I’m glad the Board voted to accept. Maybe someday when we finally fund our schools at an appropriate level this sort of thing won’t be needed, but until then, I say bring it on. The Press has more.

Posted in: School days.

Three State Rep race overviews

In the order of their publication, beginning with HD149:

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

For more than a decade in Texas House District 149 – where Harris and Fort Bend counties meet – a growing, ethnically diverse voting population has done something rare for the Houston suburbs: Elect a Democrat.

State Rep. Hubert Vo, whose district includes Alief and Katy, hopes the trend will carry him to a seventh term in Austin.

In 2004, his path to the Texas Capitol proved an ordeal, as he sought to unseat longtime Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, who was chairman of the powerful House Committee on Appropriations. Vo won the race by 33 votes and, after a short-lived challenge by Heflin, Vo became the first Vietnamese-American elected to the state Legislature.

Vo has fended off Republican attempts to take back the seat, including in 2014, when he defeated Al Hoang, a former Houston City Council member, thanks to a majority coalition of Latino, African-American and Asian-American voters.

Come November, the Democratic legislator will face his latest GOP challenger: Bryan Chu, a Houston dentist who moved to Texas from California about a decade ago.

Born in Vietnam, Chu and his family fled the Southeast Asian country by boat in 1980, when he was 13, “in order to escape the harassment from the government.”

Chu said the district’s voters have kept Vo, a 60-year-old businessman and real estate developer, as their state representative largely because of ethnic-based loyalty.


Vietnamese-American voting preferences since 2000 have shown a sharp swing toward Democratic candidates, locally and nationally, for a group that once strongly supported Republicans, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California-Riverside.

“Over time, we’re seeing that issues like the social safety net, health care are the kinds of things that are becoming more important in Vietnamese communities,” said Ramakrishnan, who directs the annual National Asian American Survey. “But there’s also a generational shift, much like the Cuban story, where (younger Asian-American voters) tend to be more Democratic.”

To Prof. Ramakrishnan’s point, I would note that HD149 voted for President Obama over Mitt Romney 58.8% to 40.1% in 2012, with every downballot Democrat carrying the district by at least 15 points. I’d call that a bit more than “ethnic-based loyalty”, which last I checked didn’t help Al Hoang very much. I suppose anything is possible, but you’d get long odds on Rep. Vo losing this race.


Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

One challenger has an unusual pitch in one of the state’s few competitive House races.

“I am former state Representative Mary Ann Perez and I’m coming by to ask your support to get my seat back,” the Democrat tells residents on a residential Pasadena street.

She is block-walking almost daily in her campaign to once again represent District 144, which includes Pasadena, Baytown and parts of east Houston. Her 2012 victory was the first time the district had sent a Democrat to Austin since Ann Richards won the governor’s mansion in 1990.

Perez, a 54-year-old insurance agent, ticks off her experience: She already served one term in the Legislature, losing to Gilbert Peña’s shoestring Republican campaign in 2014. She chaired the Houston Community College board and shepherded the system’s largest-ever bond package to passage. She led her homeowners association, volunteered with the Little League where her boys played and led a youth group at a nearby Catholic church.

Perez portrays herself as an experienced public servant and a pro-business Democrat with local roots who lost her seat practically by accident. Peña’s 152-vote victory surprised even Republicans, who had given him little support. “He got lucky,” Perez said.

Now, observers say, the socially conservative GOP incumbent is fighting for his political life in a presidential election year when Democratic turnout is expected to be strong. Donald Trump’s polarizing candidacy also may hurt down-ballot Republicans, especially in a district that is 70 percent Hispanic.

Here’s the interview I did with Perez in the primary; she won a three-way race without a runoff. This is a genuine swing district, but every Democrat carried it in 2012, with Perez outperforming the other Dems, winding up with a five point win against a stronger candidate than Gilbert Pena. The Republican establishment seems to consider this a lost cause based on fundraising totals in the July and 30 day reports. Again, anything can happen, and a stronger incumbent would make this a much more interesting race, but it would be a pretty big upset if Perez lost.

And finally, HD137:

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

Kendall Baker proudly admits that before deciding to try to replace his state representative, he had no idea who his state representative was.

“Nobody knows who he is,” Baker said. “That’s part of the reason I wanted to run. Because he is not visible to the community, and he’s not known to the community.”

The representative, Gene Wu, has a different take.

“We’re not a flashy office, but we are a responsive office. And I’ve been in this area for 30 years, and I’ve been always been a volunteer and community busybody,” Wu said. “And this is the first time I’ve ever seen his face pop up at any community event.”

The disagreement highlights the dynamics of the District 137 race, where the two candidates appear to be operating in different worlds.

Wu, a Democrat who is running for his third term representing the west and southwest Houston district, said he has built a reputation as a hardworking policy wonk who has helped the area by reaching across the aisle to achieve commonsense accomplishments in energy policy and criminal justice reform.

Baker, a Republican and high-profile opponent of Houston’s equal rights ordinance who ran unsuccessfully for city council last year, said that years of poor representation has left the district dilapidated and in need of a “good ol’ fashioned politician” to cut taxes and create jobs.

Here’s my primary interview with Rep Wu. Let’s just draw a curtain over this one, because Kendall Baker is an idiot who was a complete non-factor in the District F Council race last year and who was “indefinitely suspended” from his job at the city for being a sexual harasser. HD137 is strongly Democratic – 63.9% to 34.5% for Obama over Romney in 2012 – and Rep. Wu is a damn fine legislator who campaigns tirelessly. Donald Trump will shave his head and join the board of directors at Our Bodies Ourselves before Kendall Baker wins this race.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Endorsement watch: More State Reps

Part 2:

State Representative, District 135: Jesse A. Ybanez

Consider this an endorsement against Gary Elkins. The Republican incumbent has been in office for 22 years, and his greatest claim to fame is a consistent self-serving advocacy for payday lenders and other shady financial businesses. As the Texas Observer reported in 2014, Elkins owns a chain of payday lending stores and helped create their current model in which they operate as “credit service organizations,” allowing them to evade our state’s anti-usury laws. He made headlines two years ago for working to block statewide regulations that would protect hard-working Texans from being scammed by these sorts of businesses. This defense of exploitive business practices has been the single note that unites his entire political history – the Wall Street Journal documented Elkins’ raison d’etre back in 1999 with an article titled, “Legislator’s Slim Agenda Mirrors His Private Interests.”

What other accomplishments can Elkins tout to round out his two decades in the Legislature? When he met with the editorial board during his last election, Elkins pointed to eliminating lower speed limits at night. Elkins did not meet with the editorial board this year.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

State Representative, District 137: Gene Wu

“People are tired of dead kids.”

That’s the reason that two-term state Rep. Gene Wu gave the editorial board to explain the political momentum in the state House to fix Texas Child Protective Services. Democrats, like Wu, and Republicans are working together to file bills for the upcoming session that will provide better pay for CPS workers, more money for foster families, and better therapy for kids and drug treatment for parents who need it.

“The vast majority of cases that come to CPS are because of drugs,” Wu said. “Yet we don’t provide drug treatment.”

As a lawyer who takes CPS and juvenile law cases, Wu is an invaluable resource on this issue, and voters should give him a third term in Austin.

I don’t have anything to add to the HD137 race beyond what I’ve already said except to reiterate that Kendall Baker is a fool. As for HD135, Gary Elkins is objectively terrible and should have been turfed a long time ago, but he’s in a Republican district, so that’s easier said than done. HD135 is an interesting case in that it’s one of two districts that were won by the GOP in 2012 that were slightly less Republican than they were in 2008; HD132 is the other, but there’s no Democrat running there this year. I’ll be rooting for Jesse Ybanez, but first let’s see if he can continue that trend.

Here’s Part 3, which I believe brings this to an end.

State Representative, District 147: Garnet F. Coleman

After 25 years in office, Democratic state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman seems to know every inch of his central Houston district, which stretches from Montrose, through downtown, Midtown and the Third Ward before following Interstate 45 south to Beltway 8. He has a particular fondness for the area around Emancipation Park, where he’s worked to protect the historic Dowling Street corridor from being consumed by generic townhouses.

Up in Austin, Coleman has been a key leader on mental health and criminal justice issues, promoting personal recognizance bonds and the diversion courts that help keep people out of jail and connect them with the help they need.

State Representative, District 149: Hubert Vo

State Rep. Hubert Vo can be a soft-spoken advocate for his diverse southwest Houston district that ends at the border between Harris and Fort Bend counties. Sometimes he’s too soft – Vo was deemed “furniture” by Texas Monthly last session for his lackluster participation in the legislative process. But throughout his five terms in office, Vo, 60, has enough important accomplishments on his record – such as creating the International Management District – to justify a return to Austin. He’s been an advocate for economic development and education opportunities, especially vocational training in Alief ISD.

We were also impressed by his political courage during an editorial board meeting in which he pushed back against his opponent’s advocacy of raising the sales tax to lower the property tax burden.

“I believe that if we increase the sales tax it is going to be affecting the low-income families, especially families with kids going to school,” Vo said. “It is not going to be fair.”

State Representative, District 150: Michael Shawn Kelly

Scholars of history know that revolutions have a way of eating their young – even the Republican revolution. First elected in 2002, outgoing state Rep. Debbie Riddle was once both praised and maligned for being the personal embodiment of a hard-right Texas Christian conservative. But somewhere along the way, Riddle’s belief that “free education” and “free health care” came from “the pit of hell” just wasn’t conservative enough for her northwest district, which stretches from the Houston city limits up to The Woodlands and Tomball.

She was defeated in this year’s Republican primary by political activist Valoree Swanson. So how did Swanson boot a longtime incumbent? Political insiders know it’s because Riddle got along with the center-right House Speaker Joe Straus, much to the chagrin of powerbroker and lobbyist Michael Q. Sullivan. During the primary, Swanson was able to paint Riddle as someone who wasn’t sufficiently opposed to Islamic religious law, or Sharia law.

So what does Michael Shawn Kelly, the 60-year-old Democratic candidate for this now-open seat, think of all this?

“I can’t answer without laughing to be quite honest,” Kelly told the editorial board when asked whether Texans should be concerned about Sharia law. “I think it is really something you say to people when you’re trying to get them whipped into a frenzy over a non-issue and not talk about the issues we should be talking about.”

See that same article for my thoughts on HD149 as well. I’ll just add that Rep. Vo is 100% correct to say that a property tax/sales tax swap would be a big win for wealthier folks and an even bigger loser for everyone else. I’m a big fan of Rep. Garnet Coleman, who hits the trifecta of being smart, effective, and very good on the issues. As for HD150, it’s a little hard to believe we won’t have Debbie Riddle to kick around any more, and even harder to believe she could get tossed by primary voters for not being sufficiently unhinged. I’ve heard some rumblings that Swanson hasn’t endeared herself to the non-primary-voting electorate, but this is a very red district, so she has quite a bit of slack to give before she has anything to worry about. In the meantime, I’d say Kelly’s response to that drama is spot on.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Friday random ten: Ladies’ night, part 17

I’m so fancy. You can see it on my list.

1. Diga Diga Do – Hot Club of Cowtown (Elana James)
2. (Keep Feeling) Fascination – The Human League (Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley)
3. The Body Electric – Hurray For The Riff Raff (Alynda Segarra)
4. Fancy – Iggy Azalea
5. Get Together – Indigo Girls
6. Warpath – Ingrid Michaelson
7. Time Is On My Side – Irma Thomas
8. When I Think Of You – Janet Jackson
9. Whistlin’ In The Dark – Janiva Magness
10. Mr. Big Stuff – Jean Knight

I love Irma Thomas’ version of “Time Is On My Side”. I’ve been listening to a new Slate+ podcast called “Rock, Race, and the 60’s”, which is by Jack Hamilton and is based in part on his new book, Just around Midnight: Rock and Roll and the Racial Imagination, which explores how rock became predominantly white music during that decade. One of the things that gets discussed is just how many rock songs were still being covered by black artists in the late sixties, as rock groups like the Rolling Stones co-opted blues and R&B for their sound. It’s a fascinating deep dive into some music I know well, or thought I did. Anyway, go listed to Irma Thomas’ version of this song, which the Stones later covered. A more recent live version is here. Happy Friday.

Posted in: Music.

Interview with David Cay Johnston


This interview is a little different than the ones I usually present. Barbara Radnofsky got in touch with me a couple of weeks ago to say that Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Cay Johnston was going to be in town to promote his new book, The Making of Donald Trump, and would I like to talk to him? I don’t get a whole lot of invitations like that, so of course I said Yes. I’d listened to Johnston’s earlier interview with Jacob Weisberg of Slate, and I’ve begun reading the book, and the main thing to take away from all this is this: Whatever you think you know about Donald Trump, the reality is so, so much worse. No, seriously, you may think you know all of the awful things about Donald Trump, but until you read the book (or listen to these interviews, if you want to take the modern day Cliff Notes route), there’s much you don’t know. Here’s my interview, so you can see what I mean:

(Also, too, for those of you who remember Spy Magazine from back in the day, here’s a little bit of good news for you, and a classic revisited for today’s audiences. You’re welcome. Now I’ll get out of the way so you can listen.)

Posted in: Books, The making of the President.

Statewide registrations top 15 million

Not too shabby.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas has a record-breaking 15 million people registered to vote ahead of the November election, the Secretary of State’s office announced Thursday.

Texas has 15,015,700 voters registered according to a preliminary estimate — over 777,000 more than were registered in time for the March primaries. The deadline to register to vote was Tuesday.

“If you want to vote you must be registered, so it’s good to see that so many Texans are preparing for this November’s election,” Secretary of State Carlos Cascos said in a statement. “Registration is just the first step. I encourage Texans to prepare now for this fall’s election.”

In 2012, Texas registered 13,646,226 voters or 75 percent of the voting-age population. In 2008 the number was 13,575,062 or 77 percent of the voting age population, according to the news release. This year’s figure amounts to 78 percent of the voting age population and more than 1.3 million additional registered voters from four years ago, according to the news release.

See here for some background. As we know, there has been a surge in registrations in the big counties as well, as one would expect. Voter registration totals don’t necessarily correlate with turnout, but we are almost certainly headed for a record-breaking year pretty much no matter what. Which, as the Texas Election Law Blog points out, is a very scary proposition to some people, regardless of what the actual outcome of any race may be. Add “Ways to push back against the voter ID court ruling” to the list of things to watch out for in the next legislative session, if you didn’t already have it there. Trail Blazers has more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Dan Patrick doesn’t care about sexual assault

Such a moral exemplar you are, Danno.

Amid a wave of reports of women alleging Donald Trump kissed or groped them without their consent, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrickmaintained Thursday that the Republican presidential nominee has effectively pushed the issue behind him.

Patrick, who is Texas Chairman for Trump’s presidential campaign, initially addressed the scandal currently dominating the presidential campaign Wednesday to Time Warner Cable News’ Capital Tonight.

“This story is kind of in the rear-view mirror now,” Patrick said, referring to an 11-year-old tape published by the Washington Post that showed Trump bragging about kissing and groping women without their consent.

As Capital Tonight aired the segment Wednesday evening, several news outlets published reports featuring women accusing Trump of activities similar to what he talked about doing in the 2005 video. First, The New York Times published a story in which two women accused Trump of touching them inappropriately.

“He was like an octopus,”  Jessica Leeds, one of the women, told the Times. “His hands were everywhere.”

The Palm Beach Post also published a story about a local woman who said she was groped by Trump 13 years ago. People Magazine published a story in which a reporter accused Trump of “forcing his tongue” down her throat.

Trump denied the allegations and is reportedly considering filing a lawsuit. On Twitter, he said: “The phony story in the failing @nytimes is a TOTAL FABRICATION. Written by same people as last discredited story on women. WATCH!”

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, spokesman Allen Blakemore said Patrick continues to believe voters see the Trump tape story “through the rear view mirror.”

“As far as new allegations published in the New York Times, the Lieutenant Governor thinks the voters will decide that they are far more concerned about the direction of the Supreme Court, the economy and national security than a decades old tawdry tabloid story published in a newspaper that has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton,” Blakemore said.

Patrick is such a coward, he can’t even bring himself to address the assault allegations. We have moved on from the “grab her by the pussy” tape, Dan. There’s much worse out there now, and I’ll bet there’s still more to come. Try to keep up. Of course, none of Trump’s racism or anti-Semitism or palling around with Vladimir Putin have bothered Dan Patrick so far, so I suppose this should be no mystery. In the meantime, Nick Anderson’s cartoon says it all. This needs to be pointed out repeatedly when Patrick’s potty bill is being debated in the Senate.

Posted in: That's our Lege.

Endorsement watch: Back to the State House, part 1

The Chron ventures outside Houston to make some Legislative endorsements.

Cecil Webster

Cecil Webster

State Representative, District 13: Cecil R. Webster

As an engineer who worked in weapons testing and procurement, retired Col. Cecil R. Webster knows his way around a firearm. But decades of experience couldn’t prepare him for the challenge of open-carry in Texas – specifically, procuring the exact state-mandated signs necessary to keep his church gun-free.

“I spent the last days of 2015 going around trying to find some cheap signs to put on my church that met the specifications so that we could tell folks: ‘Guns are not welcome inside my Rose Missionary Baptist Church,'” Webster said in his meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. “I find it ludicrous that we have to do that.”

State Representative, District 26: D.F. “Rick” Miller

After two terms in Austin, retired military veteran D.F. “Rick” Miller has tried to strike a balance between his Republican conservatism and the limited time available in session to address our state’s immediate needs. During the last session, Miller, 71, promoted bills to expand higher education in Fort Bend County and to empower county officials in going after game rooms. He said he relies on local committees to keep him informed about local issues, and plans to push during the next session on improving public education funding, mental health services for veterans, health care and transportation – a key challenge in this growing Fort Bend County district, which covers most of Sugar Land and part of Richmond.

But Miller’s record isn’t sterling. He made news for pushing a bill that would rescind local anti-discrimination ordinances, earning condemnations from his own son, an HIV-positive gay activist.

State Representative, District 27: No endorsement

Ron Reynolds certainly has found a way to turn lemons into lemonade. After being found guilty of barratry – a charge that he is currently appealing – this Democratic three-term state representative had to declare bankruptcy and is now prohibited from working as a lawyer. So how has this affected Reynolds’ ability to represent his Fort Bend County district, which covers most of Missouri City and Stafford? If anything, he told the editorial board, he now has an excess of free time to focus on his constituents.

“Honestly, I’ve been a full-time legislator,” he said.

State Representative, District 85: Phil Stephenson

Beyond the bathroom debates and firearm fiascos, the next legislative session in Austin will have to tackle dry, numbers-heavy topics like fixing education funding and Houston’s public pensions. State Rep. Phil Stephenson is well-equipped to tackle these important issues, and voters should send him back to Austin for his third term representing District 85, which stretches from Rosenberg and parts of Missouri City in Fort Bend County south through Wharton and Jackson counties.

Stephenson, 71, is a longtime certified public accountant and member of the Wharton County Junior College Board of Trustees. He told the editorial board that he wants to address unfunded liabilities – specifically pensions ­- and the property tax burden on homeowners.

However, he did seem a bit out of touch on other issues, such as when he referred to the “Spanish community” in his district – we presume he meant Hispanic. Stephenson also said that he supported the campus carry bill last session because it maintained prohibitions on guns in classrooms – it doesn’t.

State Representative, District 126: Kevin Roberts

In this race for a Spring-area seat being vacated by five-term state Rep. Patricia Harless, we endorse Kevin Roberts. A Chamber of Commerce Republican, Roberts, 50, is charismatic and loquacious – perhaps to a fault. He’s already well-practiced at a politician’s ability to speak at length without saying much, but he demonstrated a passionate knowledge about the issues facing his largely unincorporated district, which is centered around the intersection of FM 1960 and the Tomball Parkway. Throughout his meeting with the editorial board, Roberts dropped a few key shibboleths that revealed a deep understanding of the challenges facing our state, such as confronting “intergenerational poverty” and extending the expiring 1115 waiver that allows Texas to access Medicaid funds. He also recognized that state recapture of Houston Independent School District tax revenue is, in his words, “crazy.”

An experienced businessman and deacon at Champion Forest Baptist Church, Roberts told the editorial board that he wanted to focus on the state budget, economic development in his district, the systemic problems in Child Protective Services and public education funding.

Neither incumbent Rep. Leighton Schubert in HD13 nor Rep. Reynolds’ Republican opponent visited with the Chron editorial board, which eliminated them from consideration. I don’t recall the Chron endorsing in some of these races before, perhaps because there hadn’t been a contested campaign in them, but it’s a trend I support. They had some nice things to say about challengers Sarah DeMerchant in HD26 and John Davis in HD85 – the latter has an outside shot at winning if the Trump effect in Texas is sufficiently devastating to Republicans – but deferred to the incumbents. Cecil Webster ran in the special election for HD13 that was necessitated by Lois Kolkhorst getting a promotion to the Senate; he finished third in a district that’s probably never going to elect a Democrat. He’s doing something right, however, and I’ll be interested to see if he can move the needle a bit, no doubt with help from The Donald.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Judicial Q&A: Herb Ritchie

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Herb Ritchie

Herb Ritchie

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

My name is Herb Ritchie, and I am running for Judge of the 337th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears all nature of alleged felony offenses arising anywhere in Harris county. These cases range from theft to capital murder.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I previously served for 4 years as the judge of the 337th Criminal District Court. I will require no “on the job training”, and I can continue to work to insure that all persons regardless of status, receive fair and equal treatment under the law.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

U.T. honor graduate (B.A. 1967, with honors; M.A. 1969; J.D. 1974, with honors); Phi Beta Kappa (Honorary Academics Achievement); Phi Delta Phi (Honorary Legal Achievement); Eta Sigma Phi (Honorary Classics Achievement); past teacher/instructor of Classics at U.T.-Austin and Baylor University; Teacher’s Award-Mortgages; third highest grade-Texas Bar Examination; past counsel Texas Real Estate Commission and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., past managing partner, Ritchie & Glass, Law Firm; experienced in both civil and criminal cases and appellate procedure; Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1987 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; member: Houston Bar Association, College of the State Bar of Texas. Licensed to practice in all Texas Courts, Southern, Western and Eastern District of Texas, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court. Elected Judge 337th Criminal District Court, 2009-2012.

5. Why is this race important?

It is fundamentally important that the people have experienced, fair and unbiased judges. I have been, and will continue to be, if elected that type of judge. This race is also important because presently there are only three (3) Democratic criminal district judges, out of twenty-two (22), in Harris County. There needs to be more balance in our judiciary.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the better qualified candidate. Because of this, I have been endorsed the by the following organizations:

Communication Workers of America 6222
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Bay Area New Democrats
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Harris County Labor Assembly AFL-CIO
Area 5 Democrats
Tejano Democrats
Latino Labor Leadership Council

Posted in: Election 2016.

CCA declines to take Paxton off the hook

Sorry, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

The highest criminal court in Texas said Wednesday it will not hear Ken Paxton’s appeal of securities fraud charges, putting the attorney general on a path to facing a trial in the coming months.

“Today’s ruling marks an end to Mr. Paxton’s almost year-long attempt to avoid being judged by a jury of his peers,” Brian Wice, one of the special prosecutors handling Paxton’s case, said in a statement. “We look forward to going to trial and seeking justice on behalf of the people of Texas.”

The decision Wednesday was made by the Court of Criminal Appeals, which Paxton’s lawyers had asked to review the case as a last resort before trial. Without comment, the court announced it would not consider the appeal.

The decision makes the prospect of the state’s top lawyer sitting through a trial more likely than ever. The proceedings could start as early as next spring.

With the good news comes the bad news, I guess. This doesn’t mean that the CCA couldn’t step in to save Paxton later, after a conviction on one or more charges, it just means that they don’t see any reason for them to stop a trial from happening in the first place. So a trial we will have, barring the exceedingly unlikely event of a plea bargain. Stock up on the popcorn, y’all. Trail Blazers, the Current, and the Lone Star Project have more.

Posted in: Crime and Punishment, Scandalized!.

Record registration numbers for Harris County


Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As registration closed, Harris County’s voter roster had grown by more than 6 percent since 2014, the steepest increase in 16 years. More than 323,890 new names have been added, bringing the county voter roll to more than 2.2 million.

Harris County is not alone. The Texas Secretary of State’s office two weeks ago reported the addition of more than 1 million registered voters across the state.

“The growth is out of proportion of what we have traditionally encountered,” said Doug Ray, the assistant county attorney overseeing voter registration.


Mi Familia Vota organizers say this election cycle, which has seen Hispanic people put at the center of some vicious debate, has inspired a boom in participation.

“I have seen something I have never seen,” said Carlos Duarte, Texas director for Mi Familia Vota. “Which is, people approaching us with the clear intention to register. In the past, we would have to approach them and explain to them why this is important.”

In recent months in the Houston area, the group has set up voter registration booths at high schools, community colleges, festivals, fairs and church services. It even partnered with several taco trucks to distribute registration forms. The group’s local volunteers turned in 2,700 voter registration forms this year and handed out about 1,000 more.

It stands to reason that if voter registration is way up statewide, then it will necessarily be up in the most populous counties as well. It may be a few days before we have final full numbers, but I’m guessing 15 million is well within reach. Of interest is that in Harris County, registrations among people with Spanish surnames were up 22 percent, while registrations among everyone else were up 10 percent. Make of that what you will.

A few stories from elsewhere in the state. Bexar County:

A record number of Bexar County residents could head to the polls this election, according to early totals from county officials.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the last day to register to vote in Texas, 1,036,610 people had signed up to vote in Bexar County, about 118,000 more registered voters than in 2012, the last presidential election.

With a few hours left to turn in voter forms, Jacquelyn Callanen, Bexar County elections administrator, expected that number could go up by at least 5,000 more.

“We’ve been busy,” Callanen said over the phone from the election office on Frio Street. In addition to a steady stream of walk-ins, the office had as many as 50 phone calls at any given time.

“I didn’t expect to see this huge swell at the end of the last two days of registration,” Callanen said. “That’s been a pleasant surprise.”

Callanen said the elections office had 500 walk-ins Monday and 1,000 walk-ins Tuesday alone. She credits the almost 13 percent increase in registered voters from 2012 to both a booming county population and the fact that this year is a non-incumbent presidential election, “which also has an awful lot of interest.”

Travis County:

Travis County reached a voter registration milestone ahead of this year’s presidential election. Local election officials set a goal after the 2012 election to have 90 percent of the county registered. As of [Monday], officials met that goal.

“Ninety percent of Travis County eligible citizens are registered to vote for the first time in recent history – maybe ever,” said Bruce Elfant, Travis County’s voter registrar.

He says his office has stacks and stacks of voter registration cards.

“You should see the pictures of the piles of cards over here,” he said.

The Statesman puts that at 725,000 registered voters, possibly more, which is an increase of some 90,000+ over 2012. Harris County’s percentage of adults registered is just under 80%, according to the Chron story. It sounds like Travis County is measuring against the Citizen Voting Age Population, which if so is not truly comparable to Harris. Be that as it may, Travis County has always been an overachiever on this measure.

Pre-deadline stories from Dallas County peg the increase at over 100,000 there, while El Paso County was at 420K total voters, or 35K more than 2012, as of Friday. Again, total registrations do not necessarily correlate to turnout, but no matter how you slice it, there’s going to be a lot of people voting this year. I can’t wait to see what the early voting numbers look like.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance has never said anything like what Donald Trump said to Billy Bush when they thought no one was listening, not in a locker room and not anywhere else. No decent person says things like that because no decent person thinks like that or acts like that. What the TPA does say is in this week’s roundup.

Continue reading →

Posted in: Blog stuff.

Interview with Jay Aiyer

On Monday, I published an interview with David Thompson, the general counsel for the HISD Board of Trustees, about the forthcoming recapture referendum. Thompson, who said in the interview that he would vote against the referendum, joins a long list of people who hope that by opposing it they can spur the Legislature to take action and fix the underlying system. Jay Aiyer, an assistant professor of political science and public administration in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University and a former HCC Trustee, is the most prominent voice I know who believes a Yes vote is the prudent choice. This is an issue that is both vitally important and devilishly complicated, and I want to do what I can to help everyone – myself included – make an informed choice on it. Some of the items we reference in our discussion are in this op-ed by Ben Becker of HISD Parent Advocates. After talking with both Thompson and Aiyer, I’m still not sure how I’m going to vote, but at least I’m less ignorant about it. Here’s my conversation with Aiyer:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Posted in: Election 2016.

The Trump dilemma

I’d almost feel pity for them, if they hadn’t brought this on themselves.

Leading GOP elected officials — including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn — condemned the words but continued to back their candidate, and pro-Trump grassroots forces appeared set in their support for the party nominee. But mostly younger GOP operatives are growing increasingly furious with party leaders who stay loyal.

“The Republican Party in Texas has jumped the shark,” said Jenifer Sarver, a former George W. Bush administration official. “Strong condemnations of Donald Trump, while still supporting his candidacy, ring hollow, cynical and hypocritical.”

In dozens of interviews with Texas Republican operatives over the weekend and into Monday, many who work in Texas politics said the state’s elected GOP officials are so scared of alienating Trump’s base that nothing he could say or do would dislodge their political support.

They calculate that any Trump heterodoxy now could translate into electoral suicide in the 2018 GOP primary, where Cruz, Abbott and Patrick will all be up for re-election, along with the entire U.S. House delegation.

But the long-term consequences of enabling Trump, some younger Republicans fear, could prove dangerous to the health of the party.


Otherwise, 22 statewide and congressional officeholders were radio silent through Monday, and not one Texas federal or state officeholder who previously endorsed Trump changed that stance.

“There’s no good answer — I’d stay quiet,” said Vinny Minchillo, a Texas Republican ad maker. “There’s no upside to making any kind of comment or quote. I’d just keep my powder dry.”

Trump’s Sunday night debate performance only hardened support for him. In a catharsis for the base, he confronted Clinton with accusations that have floated for decades in conservative media.

At the same time, he brought to the debate three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct and another woman, the victim of a child rapist whom Hillary Clinton represented as a public defender in the 1970s.

That decision only further rattled many Republicans nationwide.

Democrats are openly promising to use support for Trump against Republicans for years to come — when congressional lines shift amid redistricting next decade, and demographics could make conservative states more competitive.

“These Republicans are cut from the same cloth as Trump and you can bet they’ll be held answerable to it in future elections,” said former state Sen. Wendy Davis. “This will haunt Republicans in this election and the elections to come.”

A number of consultants interviewed worry that those sticking with Trump are not factoring in how the changing demographic winds are blowing.

“Some Republicans would rather let the party lose and expire in 30 years rather than let the next generation of Republicans start to build the party of the future,” said GOP consultant Brendan Steinhauser.

It should be noted that the infighting here isn’t just about politicians but also about communities that make up a big part of the GOP base. Evangelicals as a whole support Trump, but evangelical women and younger evangelicals, not so much. Other Republican women are not very happy about the refusal of male Republicans to cut ties with Trump. These are wounds that are not going to just heal overnight.

The real question in Texas is whether any of this represents a real threat going forward or just an unusually rocky election season. For it to be a real threat, there have to be three ingredients. First, Democratic turnout has to improve to the point where Republicans no longer feel that they have an impervious advantage. If Trump carries Texas by a smallish amount, like the six or seven points that the polls say he leads by, but the reason for that is primarily lower than usual R turnout plus a significant share of the vote going to Gary Johnson, and not because Hillary Clinton broke the four million vote barrier, then it can all be easily rationalized away as a black swan event and nothing to worry about. Democrats need to vote at a level that makes the Republican establishment think “oh, crap, there’s more of them than we thought”, or else they will feel no menace. Assuming that happens, Democrats need to find a decent slate of candidates to run in 2018, and last but not least there needs to be an ongoing well-financed and organized campaign to remind all those voters that their Republican leaders clung to Donald Trump to the bitter end. For now, I’ll just settle for the decent vote total.

More on this from the Chron, which focuses more on this year:

Echoing sentiments of Republican party insiders, Cal Jillson, a Southern Methodist University political scientist, said if Trump boosts Democratic votes in some down-ballot races, as he expects, Hurd and several Texas House Republican incumbents who are also in competitive races could be in trouble. Many wealthy Republican donors in Texas who were convinced by party leaders to back Trump have also become increasingly uneasy with his rhetoric and have slowed the cash flow, officials said.

“The (U.S.) Senate at this point is very likely to go Democratic, and it’s also true that state legislative districts will be in play – especially the Republican House seats that arc across the north side of Dallas,” Jillson said. “Instead of six or seven Democrats taking House seats from Republicans, I could see it in the low to mid-teens. And that will change the dynamic of the legislative session next year.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist, said the same dynamic could happen in the Houston area. “There are three things to watch: Democrats will turn out of respect for the Clintons’ legacy, or out of fear that Trump could get elected, and that Republicans may be so fed up with all this, then they just won’t vote,” he said.

“That’s where the down-ballot effect will come,” he said.


Texas Republicans who watched the Sunday debate said it will go both ways.

“The (Sunday) debate didn’t really address any issues. It was just fighting,” Brenda Soto, 43, a Houston sales manager, said Monday while visiting the Texas Capitol. “I’m a Republican. I’m going to hold my nose and vote for (Trump) because I’m more concerned about national security and border security and the economy than I am his potty mouth. Men say disgusting things like that sometimes.”

But Sheila LeMaster, 52, a Katy medical records consultant and Republican, said she intends to stay home.

“Neither one of them should be president. Period,” she said. “If that hurts the rest of the Republicans, so be it. The party has brought this on itself.”

I’ve fooled around with the numbers enough to know that it would take a significant shift to make more than a handful of Legislative seats competitive, but if the national polls keep going the way they have then that possibility can’t be ruled out. Really, it’s people like Sheila LeMaster that Texas Republicans should fear. If there are enough like her who really do stay home, then they could be in a world of hurt. Early voting is going to tell quite the story this year. TPM has more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

State moves to withdraw Syrian refugee lawsuit

Good, though at this point it probably doesn’t matter.

A week after the state officially withdrewfrom the nation’s refugee resettlement program, Texas has moved to end its legal battle over Syrian refugees.

In a short, three-page motion, Texas on Friday asked the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the state’s appeal of a federal judge’s June decision that threw out the state’s case after finding Texas did not have grounds to sue the federal government over the resettlement of refugees within its borders.

In August, Texas alerted the appellate court that it intended to appeal the decision. But since then, the state announced that it would no longer participate in the federal refugee resettlement program, which helps thousands of refugees from around the world resettle in the state. (Refugees will continue to be relocated here.)


Donna Duvin, executive director of the International Rescue Committee’s Dallas branch, said the AG’s decision “reinforces” that refugee resettlement in Texas “is perfectly lawful.”

“The move also aligns with what’s actually happening in Texas communities, where refugees typically are warmly welcomed and supported as they rebuild their lives here,” Duvin said in a statement.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, many private groups are taking on the work that our ever-so-Christian Governor and Attorney General refuse to have any part of. Since they made that decision, and since they had consistently gotten their butts kicked in court on this, they decided to cut their losses and move on to the next ridiculous ideological crusade. And so it goes.

Posted in: La Migra, Legal matters.

The cost of defending HB2

It was quite expensive.

Texas could be on the hook for more than $4.5 million as part of its failed legal battle to defend its 2013 abortion restrictions, which the U.S. Supreme struck down as unconstitutional in June.

The Center for Reproductive Rights late Friday filed its request for that amount in attorney’s fees and other expenses incurred in the lawsuit challenging House Bill 2, which required all Texas facilities performing abortions to meet hospital-like standards and forced doctors at those clinics to have admitting privileges at a hospital less than 30 miles away. In a lawsuit brought by the New York-based organization on behalf of Texas abortion providers, the Supreme Court overturned those provisions on a 5-3 vote.

Because the abortion providers were the prevailing party in the federal lawsuit, the court has allowed the Center for Reproductive Rights and other attorneys who worked on the case to ask to recover costs for the lawsuit. The state is expected to file its response by Nov. 4, and the judge who oversaw the case — U.S. district judge Lee Yeakel — will decide if the abortion providers’ lawyers will be awarded anything.

“Time and again, politicians in Texas have proven to be as reckless with taxpayer dollars as they are with the health and well-being of the people they serve,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

This does not include the cost in time and materials for AG staffers in this, but for the most part I don’t consider that an extra expense, since these are employees and would be getting paid anyway. Let’s be clear that there’s a zero percent chance that the state pays that amount. Judge Yeakel will pick some smaller amount, taking the state’s objections into consideration if they have merit, and then the state will appeal. That may yield a smaller amount if they’re lucky, and it may wind up backfiring on them since the cost of the appeal will be taken into account as well. One way or the other, the final figure will be different. Whatever it winds up being, it will still be money wasted. The process begins in earnest when the state files its response, which is due November 4. Newsdesk and Texas Monthly have more.

Posted in: Legal matters.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Maria T. Jackson

(Note: I ran a series of judicial Q&As for Democratic candidates in contested primaries earlier this year. I am now doing the same for the candidates who were unopposed in March, which includes most of the sitting incumbent judges. As always, this is to help you the voter know a little bit more about the candidates on your ballot. I will be publishing these in the order I receive them. You can see the Q&As and interviews I did for the primaries on my 2016 Election page.)

Judge Maria Jackson

Judge Maria Jackson

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Maria Terez Jackson and I preside over the 339th State District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

I preside over serious felony offenses. My cases run the gamut of less than a gram case all the way to Capital Murder cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

One of my most significant changes that I implemented was in 2009 when I changed the way Driving While Intoxicated probationers are monitored. I made them be more accountable by having them breathe in a breathalyzer with a camera daily to monitor if they are consuming alcohol, I also require them to attend inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation facilities to protect the public, including requiring them to report every month instead of the every 3 months.

These are just a few sweeping changes that have now been adopted by my colleagues as well as the Harris County Probation Department.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I would like to continue to serve as the presiding judge to continue making positive changes going forward. I serve on the MacArthur Technical Assistance Committee and we are working very hard to come up with creative ideas to reduce the jail overcrowdedness. I also serve on the Mental Health Task Force for Harris County. I have included my bio to help highlight a few other accomplishments I have achieved.

5. Why is this race important?

We are living in perilous times these days so it is very important that you have Judges serving on the bench that stand for what is right and administer fair justice no matter what the consequences are.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am the best choice because I have changed thousands of lives through rehabilitation by giving individuals chances when the state would have sent that person to prison. I have letters from probationers that have been successfully been reintegrated into society by becoming productive citizens in the community. I am also a judge who is not afraid to protect the community by sending the bad guys to prison. And lastly, I was voted Houston Press Best Criminal Court Judge and Top 30 Influential Women of Houston.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Overview of the Harris County Sheriff race

The Chron takes a good look at the race for Sheriff.

Sheriff Ron Hickman

Sheriff Ron Hickman

Policing Texas’ most populous county is just one item on a laundry list of challenges facing Harris County’s next sheriff.

Voters next month will choose between the appointed Republican sheriff, Ron Hickman, a career cop who formerly served as Precinct 4 Constable, and Democratic challenger Ed Gonzalez, a 47-year-old former homicide investigator-turned Houston city council member.

Whoever prevails will have to contend with the realities of fighting crime in Harris County’s rapidly developing unincorporated areas and running an expensive, overcrowded jail frequently referred to as the largest mental health facility in Texas.

All of that is set against a backdrop of heightened tension between civil rights activists and police over the use of fatal force against civilians and the murders of peace officers in high-profile incidents in Dallas, Baton Rouge and northwest Harris County.

After party affiliation, the race is expected to boil down to the differing philosophies of Hickman and Gonzalez.

Hickman, a traditional law-and-order Republican with a passion for fighting crime with technology, touts his executive experience and his efforts to modernize the sheriff’s office.

“I’ve dealt with hard choices and decisions, in law enforcement,” said the 65-year-old incumbent. “I never left law enforcement to be a politician.”

Since assuming the sheriff’s office in May 2015, Hickman has re-opened the county’s outlying jails, created a homeless outreach team, privatized the jail’s commissary and established a high-tech crime unit to investigate child exploitation, internet fraud and identity theft cases, and rolled out the department’s Real-Time Crime Center, which tracks information as officers respond to incidents. The department also has installed cameras throughout the jail and created a dedicated DWI task force, he said.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

A self-styled progressive, Gonzalez touts a reform-driven platform that he hopes voters will embrace. He has pledged to root out cronyism and corruption in the department, improve relationships between the sheriff’s office and Harris County residents, increase collaboration between local law enforcement agencies and push for systematic changes to Harris County’s criminal justice system.

“You have to lead comprehensively. And my No. 1 priority is to keep you safe, and that’s not happening,” said Gonzalez, who worked as a homicide investigator, hostage negotiator and chairman of Houston City Council’s Public Safety Committee. “(Hickman’s) experience has only brought us a lack of crime-fighting resources, budget deficit and a trail of scandal.”


A recent University of Houston poll found Hickman and Gonzalez tied, with 32 percent support each from registered voters with 36 percent of voters still undecided.

“The candidates are heavily tied to the performance of the national ticket,” said Richard Murray, professor of political science at UH. “If your guy is losing at the top, or lady, you’re sunk, in my view.”

When pollsters narrowed the field to “extremely likely voters,” Hickman pulled to a 36-30 advantage, but Gonzalez appears to be gaining momentum and likely would benefit from straight ticket voters, poll watchers said.

“My advice to these candidates – and I’ve talked to a few – is prayer,” [Rice poli sci professor Mark] Jones quipped. “It doesn’t cost anything and it might work. Because you can’t fundamentally change the dynamics of the presidential race.”

You know how I feel about that poll. Profs Murray and Jones have it right, in my opinion, though past races have shown that there is room for crossover voting in this race if one candidate or the other has enough baggage. This race hasn’t been quite as high profile as the DA race, and I don’t know how much the Constable Precinct 4 scandal has touched Hickman. In any event, this is a good overview, with some information I hadn’t known – I had no idea Sheriff Hickman’s wife worked as a JP in Navarro County, for example. So go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time.

Posted in: Election 2016.

HEB confirms interest in Heights location

As rumored.

Residents have seen and heard speculation and rumors for months, wondering what the fate would be regarding H-E-B’s potential Heights move. Well wait no more.

After the rumor mill ran wild following the No-Dry Vote petition spearheaded by H-E-B and the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition earlier this year, president of the company’s Houston region Scott McClelland confirmed to The Leader in an interview that the company plans to open its new location at the site of the old Fiesta in the Heights, should voters elect to make that area “wet” in November. The official site announcement took place at the old Fiesta location on 23rd Street and North Shepherd Thursday morning.

A permanent move into the Heights remains predicated on the No Dry Vote passing, and it appears H-E-B as well as the Coalition are confident in its future success, as evidenced by Thursday morning’s proceedings.

Advocates such as Heights resident, local attorney and chair of the coalition Steve Reilley told The Leader in September that opening an H-E-B within the Heights would provide a boon for the economy along with the diversity in shopping options.

“There are a lot of people who would like to have a big grocery store within walking distance because they don’t have transportation or would like to have a job they can walk to in the Heights,” he said.

McClelland’s recent inboxes seem to say as much.

“Over the last five years I’ve probably gotten more requests for a store in the Heights than anywhere else in Houston,” he said.

See here for all previous blogging on this topic. The former Fiesta site has been talked about as a potential HEB ever since the original store was sold and demolished. As noted, this is all predicated on the dry law revision being passed. KUHF addresses that.

In August, the City Council voted to place a referendum on the ballot to lift the ban on the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption.

Steve Reilley leads the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition, which collected more than 1,700 signatures on a petition to overturn the ban. He, together with city council members and representatives from the retail industry, kicked off the official campaign for a yes vote.

They’ll have to convince at least half of the estimated 10,500 voters who live here.

Considering there is no organized opposition, this sounds like an easy task but Reilley says they’re not taking it for granted.

“In Houston/Harris County, a November ballot in a presidential year is very, very, very long,” he says. “And so this one is literally going to be the last thing, the bottom of the ballot on that November ballot, so we have to get the word out.”

He says there’s also some misinformation about what the ordinance would do. It doesn’t repeal the original law that established the ban but merely allows for beer and wine to be sold in stores.

I don’t know about organized opposition, but I have seen one yard sign advocating a No vote, so someone is working against it. I make the referendum a favorite to pass, but it’s unusual enough – and this is a weird enough year – that I wouldn’t feel too confident about that. The Chron, Swamplot, and the Houston Business Journal have more.

Posted in: Election 2016.

Appeals Court judge Terry Jennings switches parties


Justice Terry Jennings

Justice Terry Jennings

It was just after presiding over a same-sex wedding, in January, that the formerly Republican Justice Terry Jennings, of the Texas First Court of Appeals, started thinking more seriously about changing his party affiliation.

Jennings had been considering becoming a Democrat for years as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Republican Party had trended toward the fringes, turning “moderate” into a dirty word, he said. And as his children, two daughters in college and a son in high school, continued to ask their dad why he still identified as a Republican, Jennings said the question continued to grow harder to answer.

Then came the wedding.

When others commented to him that deciding to preside over a same-sex wedding was a decision many other Republican judges may not have made, “that’s when I started thinking, Well maybe I’m not in the right party then,” Jennings told the Houston Press in an interview Monday.

The change-over makes him the only Democrat among the nine justices on the First Court of Appeals. Democrats make up just 12 of 73 jurists on the state’s 14 courts of appeal.

Jennings made the formal announcement at the Harris County Democratic Party’s Johnson, Rayburn and Richards fundraising dinner on Saturday evening, saying “today’s Republican Party has chosen a dark path I cannot take.” Elected in 2000 to the First Court of Appeals (which hears Harris County civil cases), Jennings said he was once proud to call himself a member of the Republican Party, and had always considered himself a conservative judge who applied the law just as it was written. Now, however, Jennings says his principles no longer align with those of the GOP.

“It’s just a party I didn’t feel comfortable being a member of anymore,” he told the Press. “You’ve heard the common expression a thousand times: I didn’t leave my party; my party left me. And it’s true.”

I got a blast email from HCDP Chair Lane Lewis about this on Monday. As you know, I’m hoping he’ll have some company on the 1st Court after this election. Whether that happens or not, his term is up in 2018, and as the story notes, he’s not sure if he wants to run for another term. Solving the turnout problem so that this is a question with more than one viable answer would be nice. In the meantime, welcome aboard, Justice Jennings. The Chron has more.

Posted in: Local politics.