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Interview with Adam Milasincic

Adam Milasincic

We are officially in the home stretch of primary season. Early voting starts eight days – eight days! – from today. Between now and then I will be bringing you interviews from the contested State Rep primaries in Harris County. I limited myself to the races in Republican-held districts, because there’s only one of me and there were only so many weeks before the election. These are some of the districts in which any gains that are available to be made this year are likely to be made. We start in HD138, where two Democrats vie to face Rep. Dwayne Bohac in November. Adam Milasincic is one of those candidates, and was one of the first to file for a legislative office this cycle in Harris County. Milasincic is an attorney and litigator who touts his pro bono advocacy on behalf of inmates and immigrants, among others. He was also one of two primary candidates to be singled out by labor for his firm’s role in a recent lawsuit against the SEIU. I asked him about that, and about other things, in the interview:

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

Judicial Q&A: Jason Luong

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

Jason Luong

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

My name is Jason Luong, and I am running to be the Democratic candidate for Judge of the 185th District Court in Harris County, a felony district court. I have over 17 years of legal experience as a former prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and civil attorney. My wife is a former Marine. Our daughter attends St. Michael Catholic School and trains with the Houston Ballet. I come from a family of public servants. My father worked for the City of Houston for over 20 years. My mother worked for the Houston Police Department for over 20 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles felony criminal charges, where the range of punishment can range from 6 months in the state jail all the way to life in prison or the death penalty. Drug charges, assaults involving a deadly weapon or serious bodily injuries, third time DWI’s, homicide, sex assault cases and crimes against children are just a few examples of the felony offenses that this court hears.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to bring my experience as a former prosecutor and defense attorney to serve and represent the citizens of Harris county. In fact, I was a prosecutor assigned to the 185 th District Court. Our courts need to be more responsive to the people they are intended to serve. This means making our courts accessible to people and running them efficiently.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 17 years of legal experience as a former Harris County prosecutor, civil attorney, and criminal defense attorney. My family and I have strong Texas roots. I am a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, with honors. I started my legal career as a law clerk to a U.S. District Court Judge, where we handled one of the largest criminal dockets in the country. As a Harris County prosecutor, I prosecuted thousands of cases on behalf of Harris County residents, including one of the only prosecutions of members of Aryan Brotherhood under Texas’s Hate Crime Statute. Currently I have my own criminal defense practice where I handle both court-appointed and retained cases. I have tried over 50 cases to a jury verdict. I am passionate about bringing my experience to serve the people of Harris County.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our criminal courts are important. Harris County is one of the most important criminal jurisdictions in the country. The 185th District Court handles the most serious criminal offenses, including crimes against children, serious drug cases, and murder.

This race is a chance for the citizens of Harris County to elect a judge who has the experience necessary for this high office. Furthermore, it is a chance to ensure that our criminal courts reflect the diversity of Harris County. If elected, I would be the only Asian-American judge on any county-wide criminal bench, and I would be the first Vietnamese-American judge elected in Harris County. I believe that our courts, like our juries, should reflect the diversity of our population.

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

The people of Harris County should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate in this race. I have over 17 years of legal experience. I am the only candidate in this race who has experience as a Harris County prosecutor. I have also been endorsed in this race by The Houston Chronicle and the Harris County Tejano Democrats. I am proud to have earned their endorsement. I will bring a balanced perspective and broad experience to this Court. I would ensure that all persons in my court whether a defendant or a victim, would be treated fairly and impartially under the law.

Stanart’s workshop

Our County Clerk has been doing some tinkering.

The Harris County Clerk has spent hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to build, from the ground up, an electronic voter check-in system at the polls, Channel 2 Investigates has learned.

“It’s taken more than two-and-a-half years. There’s been investments of more than $2 million, and we don’t really have anything to show for it yet,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas Director of Public Citizen, a citizen advocacy group.

Based on receipts provided by his office, Stan Stanart, an elected official in his second term, has spent $2.75 million of public funds, so far, inventing what he calls an “electronic poll book.”

It is unclear how much more Stanart plans to spend to bring the project to fruition or how much the system will cost in annual maintenance.

Stanart has said his project could ultimately offer substantial savings to Harris County versus an “off-the-shelf system” which by Stanart’s estimates would cost between $3.99 million and $6.12 million. (View document)

Stanart’s project principally consists of an iPad, custom software and a customized stand to hold the iPad. The finished product will alleviate long lines at voting locations by making the check-in process more efficient, Stanart has said.

The clerk procured hundreds of individual parts for the project, including thousands of dollars of washers, magnets and foam.

The purchase of 2,400 iPads was made in July 2015. The vast majority of those iPads stayed in a warehouse, unopened and unused for more than two years.

Stanart has said he is now in the process of mating the iPads to his custom-built stands. He rolled out less than 100 of them in November for a test run. The county clerk has not publicized the results of that initial foray, but has said he plans the full implementation of his system in March’s primaries.

“I think most reasonable would say you probably shouldn’t have spent $1 million on iPads if you weren’t going to use them sometime soon,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.

Both Ellis and Shelley said the idea of automating the voter check-in process is a worthy pursuit, but questioned why the project has not had more transparency.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say that I agree with Ellis and Shelley. It’s entirely possible that this was a worthwhile project for the County Clerk to take on, but:

1) Are we sure there wasn’t a commercial or open source solution out there? Even if it was more expensive, being able to deploy it in earlier elections would have mitigated the extra cost.

2) What oversight did this project have? I’ve been involved in some big projects in the corporate world. We have timelines, signoffs, approvals, all sorts of things to ensure that the people who need to know about it do know about it and know where it stands. How much has Commissioners Court been looped in on this?

3) Are there any design documents, or other technical descriptions of what this is, what it is intended to do, what the requirements are, etc etc etc? In other words, is it written down anywhere what to expect when this thing finally debuts? And if so, where is that?

4) Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but what was the original budget for this, and how does that compare with what has actually been spent?

Maybe this thing will be great, and maybe it will be a dud. The idea is a good one, but that means nothing if the execution isn’t there. It’s way past time for these questions to be answered.

Endorsement watch: County criminal courts

One last round of judicial endorsements.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 2: Harold J. Landreneau

Harold Landreneau earns our endorsement for this primary slot with a significant caveat. Landreneau, 49, needs to shed the communication style of a chief clerk of a justice of the peace court, a job he held for over a decade, and assume the more deliberate and focused demeanor of a member of the judiciary. It’s not enough to be courteous to litigants: To be an effective manager, a judge needs to be concise.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 5: David M. Fleischer

In this toss-up race to replace Judge Margaret Stewart Harris, our endorsement goes to David M. Fleischer, a graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School over Armen “Hammer” Merjanian.

Both candidates believe in more emphasis on rehabilitation in the county criminal court system. Even though Merjanian’s noble goal of ending mass incarceration needs more refinement, both candidates showed passion for changing a system that’s set in its ways and that needs much improvement. Fleischer, 43, has eight more years of experience as criminal lawyer than Merjanian. The idealistic Merjanian – whose five years of experience barely exceeds the statutory minimum for this bench – has the potential to be a good judge. While we’d strongly urge Merjanian to run again, voters should cast their ballots in this primary contest for Fleischer.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 7: Andrew W. Wright

The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W. Wright is his long rockstar-style hair and beard – not what voters are used to seeing on a judge. The reasons for his copious coiffure? He’s growing out his hair to donate it, and the beard covers up a double chin.

Wright’s experience as a lawyer is significantly more traditional. The South Texas College of Law Houston graduate has been practicing law for over a decade, and has been exclusively practicing criminal defense for eight years. Wright, 35, has endorsed personal recognizance bonds as the norm for misdemeanor court – we agree – and assured us that, hairstyle aside, he plans on staying to the straight and narrow of his judicial responsibilities. That includes helping first offenders, supporting the expansion of diversion courts and sentencing the worst criminals to the highest punishment possible for county criminal courts – one year in jail.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11: Gus Saper

A Jewish lawyer appointed to represent a general in the Aryan Brotherhood? That sounds like it could have been a movie, but it’s only one case in candidate Gus Saper’s 43-year career as a criminal defense attorney. With the Harris County Criminal Justice Center out of action for another two years due to Hurricane Harvey, this bench needs a resourceful judge like Saper.

A graduate of the South Texas School of Law Houston, Saper, 69, has the depth of knowledge and the historical perspective to know how to upgrade the procedures in this court to make them more courteous and efficient even with limited resources.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 12: Juan J. Aguirre

Juan J. Aguirre started his career in law by working alongside his father – a courthouse janitor in Del Rio.

“I got my baptism into the law field by cleaning up the courtroom,” Aguirre told us at his screening.

Since then he has graduated from South Texas School of Law Houston and worked for the past 16 years as a criminal law attorney, first as an assistant district attorney for Harris County and then as a criminal defense attorney. Aguirre, 51, takes pride in his mentorship of young lawyers, advising them to delve deep into their profession by visiting the crime scene and the crime lab and riding with the police to see what law enforcement sees. Before becoming a lawyer, Aguirre worked as a city planner and manager after obtaining a Masters of Urban Planning from Texas A&M University.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 13: Raul Rodriquez

Raul Rodriquez, 58, is our choice for the Democratic primary. With 28 years of experience practicing criminal law, Rodriquez is well-qualified. This naturalized citizen is a clear communicator who also happens to be bilingual. He has judicial experience, having served as city of Houston municipal court judge for 12 years. Finally, he displays the right temperament for the judiciary.

The South Texas Law Center Houston graduate told us, “I believe it’s important for a judge to be involved in a community and to know what goes on there.”

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 15: Kris Ougrah

In this race between two young, passionate lawyers, we encourage Democratic voters to back Kris Ougrah, who told the editorial board he is running to improve the future of Houston’s youth. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Ougrah, 40, promises to take personal interest in setting young offenders on the right path in life. He also wants to run a mentorship program. However, we would recommend that Ougrah, who had a habit of being overly loquacious during his editorial board interview, focus on the judicious practice of a succinct comment.

Ougrah has been practicing law about twice as long as his opponent, Tonya Jones, who was admitted to the bar in 2011.

Relevant Q&As: Harold Landreneau, Armen Merjanian, Gus Saper, Kris Ougrah. One from Davis Fleischer is in the queue.

As noted before, that finishes off the judicial category for the Chron. They still have a lot of other ground to cover. In the meantime, it’s apparent that in some of these races, there are very clear choices, one candidate who got recommended by every group they screened with. In others the decision is tougher, but that’s because both of the options are good. I can’t complain about that.

Weekend link dump for February 11

Everything you wanted to know about the link between lead and crime but were afraid to ask.

Three words: Internet of dildos. You’re welcome. Also, too, Dan Quayle would totally say “Internet of dildoes”.

So what’s up with all the TV reboots, anyway?

“But neither Budweiser’s good deeds, nor its slick marketing, can camouflage what’s happened to the once-ubiquitous brand: Budweiser is in the midst of a long, steady decline, the victim of drinkers’ shifting preferences.”

A history of mocking how people from South Asia speak.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the Devin Nunes memo.

How to keep the Super Bowl experience going all year long.

“We lose track of how many things the President has done just in the last few weeks which were heretofore unimaginable and which all would be credible and robust grounds for removal from office.”

RIP, John Mahoney, Chicago stage actor best known for his role on TV’s Frasier.

“This bears repeating: Computational propaganda—defined as “the use of information and communication technologies to manipulate perceptions, affect cognition, and influence behavior”—has been used, successfully, to manipulate the perceptions of the American public and the actions of elected officials.”

“So now the main attack on the FBI is about font size. No doubt all the subsequent memos Nunes is promising to release will have additional bombshells.”

“One thing we’ve learned in the last two years is that no legal, moral, or cultural strictures bind Trump and that he is immune to the better angels of human nature. The moral event horizon around him consumes the good in anyone who becomes one of his vassals. There is no better version of Trump, ever.”

Like Game of Thrones in space, except not really.

RIP, John Perry Barlow, lyricist for the Grateful Dead and cofounder of Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“A new DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has concluded that early Britons had dark skin, dark hair, and light eyes — upending assumptions about what the area’s indigenous population really looked like.”

Woman Claims Airline Told Her To Flush Emotional Support Hamster Down Toilet“. I got nothing.

“It’s pretty strange that Pence is seriously losing it over being called out for his own dehumanizing views on LGBTQ community. Judging from his life’s work, he ought to be thrilled to not have to talk to a gay person. Instead, he’s resorting to passive-aggressive negging and self-pitying.”

“Grandma’s no-exceptions policy on divorce was an absolute rule, but it wasn’t her only absolute rule. And when that absolute rule clashed with another one — the rule that said women must be kept safe from the men who would harm them — she didn’t hesitate.”

Update on the Dallas ballot lawsuit

Still waiting on this.

Dallas County Republicans have filed a motion to remove Judge Eric Moyé from overseeing a lawsuit that would remove 127 Democrats from the 2018 general election ballot.

Moyé, a Democrat, has refused to step aside in the case, according to court documents. His decision is unlike one he made in an earlier case about ballot eligibility, when he recused himself.

Elizabeth Bingham, a lawyer for the Dallas County Republican Party, said it “boggles the mind” that Moyé did not remove himself from the case, given his ties to the Democratic Party and that he’s done so on similar cases.

Moyé, who is not up for re-election, has used Jeff Dalton as his political consultant. Dalton is the consultant for numerous Democrats on the 2018 election ballots.

“I am perplexed that he won’t recuse himself,” Bingham said.

But Buck Wood, a lawyer for 16 of the candidates who would be affected by the suit, said judges sometimes recuse themselves because of the political optics. But he said there’s no law requiring them to do so if they are in situations similar to Moyé’s.

“He said he’s not going to do it,” Wood said. “He’s certainly not required by any statute to recuse himself.”

[…]

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Feb. 16, but the case won’t move forward until Regional Administrative Judge Mary Murphy sets proceedings on whether Moyé should continue on the case.

See here for some background. I mean, if having a Democratic judge is a conflict of interest, then wouldn’t having a Republican judge be one, too? Maybe we’ve finally found a compelling-to-me argument for changing our system of electing judges. Good luck sorting this one out. Whatever ruling we eventually do get will be for the November election, not the primary. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were hoping for a quick resolution.

SaberCats Stadium

Houston’s new pro rugby team will soon have a home.

The city’s burgeoning rugby community is poised to have a new home after City Council inked a $3.2 million deal Wednesday that paves the way for the Houston SaberCats to build a 3,500-seat stadium.

The SaberCats, one of seven new Major League Rugby franchises, plans to finish the new facility and two practice fields at Houston Amateur Sports Park, along Texas 288 in south Houston, in time for the beginning of its 2019 season.

The city, meanwhile, will retain ownership of the site, lease the property to the SaberCats for 43 years and use $3.2 million from its 2012 bond package to reimburse the team for the cost of installing a 760-space parking lot and adding public utilities.

“This is a major step forward,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said of the deal. “We say we’re an international city, and this helps to create those venues that can appeal to the interests of a very diverse population.”

SaberCats President Brian Colona echoed Turner’s enthusiasm.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled to have the city council back this thing with great support from Mayor Turner and his staff,” Colona said. “This is the quintessential example of good public-private partnership in order to advance the needs of the community, and we’re happy to be a part of that.”

[…]

As part of the deal OK’d Wednesday, the SaberCats have committed to providing at least 200 hours of free children’s rugby training annually, hosting high school rugby matches and running free rugby camps for children ages 6 through 14, among other types of community engagement.

See here for some background on the SaberCats, who as you can see were formerly known as the Strikers, and here for an earlier article on this deal, which again notes that funds from the 2012 bond referendum that were earmarked for this facility are what’s being used. The main reaction from the SaberCats’ Facebook page is “why only 3,500 seats?”, since a recent exhibition game had 5,000 in attendance. There will be some 4,000 standing room spots as well, so they ought to be covered for now. I’ve never actually seen a rugby game before, I may have to check this out when they have their grand opening. Any fans of the sport out there?

Endorsement watch: CD02 and the road ahead

The Chron makes their pick on the Democratic side for CD02.

Todd Litton

If the primary race in the 7th Congressional District is the major-league showdown for Houston-area Democrats, then consider this election to be the Triple-A minor league version. In a contest between five exciting candidates, we encourage Democrats to back Todd Litton in the primary for the 2nd Congressional District.

Money isn’t everything in politics, but there’s something undeniably impressive about Litton’s ability to make headlines for out-raising incumbent U.S. Rep. Ted Poe last year. It was a sign that this oft-unchallenged district was, for the first time in years, facing a real political competition. Now Poe has announced that he won’t run for reelection, and Democrats will face a rookie candidate on the Republican side. If they hope to win, Democrats will need someone who can do the hard work of running a serious campaign in this sprawling, gerrymandered district that stretches from Montrose through Spring, Kingwood and Humble, and Litton has proven that he’s got what it takes.

They also had some nice words for Silky Malik. You can hear all the interviews I did with the CD02 candidates – I did eventually get to talk to all five of them – on the 2018 Congressional page.

You can see all the Chron’s endorsements here. I’m tracking endorsements on my pages, and Erik Manning has a comprehensive set of endorsements along with more candidate information on this Google spreadsheet. One thing you might note as you look at that is that there are an awful lot of races in which the Chron has not yet offered an opinion, and that’s without taking into account the Republican side of the equation. With only nine days to go till early voting starts – and hell, with only 23 days till Election Day – it’s hard to see how they cover everything in the time remaining. I don’t think they need to do them all – incumbents being challenged by no-names could reasonably be skipped, for instance – but there are some that really demand action. For instance:

Statewide – So far, we have their endorsement for Governor on the Dem side, and for one contested Republican race for Court of Criminal Appeals. But US Senate, Lite Guv, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner are at issue on both sides, plus Comptroller on the Dem side. I’ve got to say, the three lower-tier races for Dem nominations are up in the air for me. I’d love to see the Chron’s take on them.

Congress – The Republican race for CD02 is the obvious one missing here. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see it soon. The most interesting ones after that, at least as far as November competitiveness goes, are the Dems in CDs 10 and 22, and the Republican challenge to John Culberson in CD07.

Legislature – Both sides in SD17 and HD134, and the Dem races in the swingiest districts – HDs 126, 132, and 138 – should be the priorities.

County – None of these have been done yet. I have to assume they’re coming, hopefully this week.

Judicial – This is easily the best-covered group. Far as I can tell, all that remains are the county criminal courts and the JPs.

So there you have it. My advice to the Chron editorial board is to rest up after March 6, and start planning very early for November. Like, maybe get started in August, or even July. You have a lot of work ahead of you.

Will we or won’t we get a county bond election for flood control?

Answer unclear, try again later.

Judge Ed Emmett

In an interview with the Chronicle, [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett described the various factors that are at play as the county grapples with the possible bond referendum, which would be one of the biggest ever proposed by the county.

There isn’t a clear picture yet of what would be part of the bond referendum. At a recent Commissioners Court meeting, officials emphasize the need to keep the language vague enough to give them flexibility in how to spend the money, but specific enough to make sure the voters know what they are buying.

Emmett said the construction of a highly-anticipated third dam and reservoir northwest of the city would not be part of the measure.

County officials previously have described buyouts and improvements to Houston-area bayous as things that could be paid for with the bonds.

What is included depends, in part, on what happens in Congress, and whether the state is willing to pay for any projects.

The timing and content of what will be included in the referendum have, thus far, hinged on knowing what the federal government is willing to pay for. That will not become clear until Congress passes legislation that could fund at least some flood control projects, such as improvements to Brays, White Oak, Hunting bayous or Clear Creek.

[…]

“You have some in Washington who say if the local government calls a bond election before they act, that will send a signal that ‘Well they don’t necessarily need as much money because they’re doing it locally,'” he said. “There’s another group up there that says if a local government calls a bond election, that shows they are real partners.”

See here for the background. This week’s Congressional budget deal includes the long-awaited disaster relief funds, so perhaps that will clarify things a bit for Commissioners Court. I can’t really imagine them not putting something on the ballot, it’s just a matter of what. We’ll see if they can figure it out now.

Sandra Bullock hurts Dan Patrick’s fee-fees

Poor little snowflake.

I can see why she might intimidate him

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick is not too pleased that Oscar winning actress Sandra Bullock has agreed to star in a movie about former state Sen. Wendy Davis, whose 13-hour filibuster helped stall an anti-abortion bill in 2013.

“It saddens me that Sandra Bullock agreed to play Wendy Davis in a movie called ‘Let Her Speak,'” Patrick said in downtown Austin, just miles from where Bullock once owned a home.

When a member of the audience doubted it, Patrick assured the crowd it was true.

“Sandra Bullock,” he repeated. “I used to like her.”

But Patrick said he’s already taking steps to keep Bullock and film crews out of the Senate chamber to recreate the filibuster that raised Davis’s statewide profile. Davis ran for governor in 2014 and lost to Gov. Greg Abbott.

“And by the way, if I have anything to do with it, I’m not going to let them use the Senate chamber to shoot, because they’ve already disgraced it once,” Patrick said. “They’re not going to do it a second time.”

Patrick told the audience at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative public policy advocacy group, that he already has other issues with the movie. He said they sent him a script and asked, “Guess who the villain is?”

After a pause, Patrick raised his right hand and smiled: “Me.”

Can’t imagine why anyone might think of you that way, Danno. Now please go ahead and show me where that mean lady hurt you. You’re safe now. RG Ratcliffe has more.

Texas Monthly long read on Beto

Worth your time to peruse. It’s a feature from their January 2018 print issue.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Talk to political scientists, pollsters, operatives—both Democratic and Republican—around the state and you’ll hear plenty of reasons why, despite the surprising crowds in places like San Angelo and Tyler, O’Rourke is almost certain to go down in defeat, even if he manages to improve on Davis’s numbers. O’Rourke’s first problem is that he’s the only high-profile Democrat running for any statewide office, which means that he won’t be able to count on, say, the Joaquin Castro for Governor campaign to help mobilize volunteers and turn out new voters. His second problem is that the national Senate map in 2018 will force the Democrats to defend 26 seats, including 10 in states that Donald Trump won. The priority of the party’s Senate campaign committee and its major donors and super-PAC financiers will be to save vulnerable incumbents. Their choice will be easy: they can either fund a Lone-Star Hail Mary or—for the same price—help sitting U.S. senators in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

O’Rourke’s third problem is simple arithmetic. As of the 2016 election, Republican voters still significantly outnumbered Democratic voters in the state. Trump performed terribly in Texas, posting the worst results for a Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole, in 1996. Trump did particularly poorly with the kinds of suburban, college-educated voters who helped turn Texas into a Republican state in the first place. But he still won by 800,000 votes.

O’Rourke knows all of this, and he can’t tell you exactly how he’s going to beat the odds. When I asked him about what it would take to put together the kind of winning coalition that Obama did nationwide, the congressman said, “I’m not that smart or strategic, I’m not very tactical, I’m not into carving up the state. I think there’s a lot of energy right now everywhere in Texas.”

There are three phrases that O’Rourke repeats at nearly every campaign event: The first is “Texas isn’t a red state or a blue state, it’s a nonvoting state,” which is O’Rourke’s way of saying that he needs a lot of first-time voters to come to the polls in order for him to have a chance. The second is “There’s clearly something happening right now,” which reflects O’Rourke’s belief that the Trump presidency and the radicalization of the Republican party are initiating a tectonic shift in the state’s political orientation. The third is “I’m here,” and it’s O’Rourke’s game plan: if he shows up everywhere that he can, he will convince voters—even longtime Republicans—that he cares, that he’s capable, and that he might just deserve a shot to represent them.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about the narrative. Believing this year will be different is one thing. Being able to point to empirical evidence that this year is different is another. The burden of proof is on us. There’s a lot more to this story, including some great bits from Harvey, so go read the whole thing.

Endorsement watch: Two for CD07

The Chron wades into the deep waters of CD07 and comes away with two favorites.

Jason Westin

If Democrats are going to win this race, they’ll need a strong candidate whose views will appeal to voters disillusioned with their tea party Republican congressman. It’s a tough call, but we believe the best two candidates for the inevitable runoff in this seven-way race are Jason Westin and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Westin’s professional credentials alone are impressive enough; he says his peers elected him to lead the largest clinical trial team in the nation seeking new treatments for aggressive cancers. But don’t think for a second this doctor is a one-trick-pony running on a health care platform. He’s impressed crowds at community forums with his conspicuously thoughtful command of a wide variety of issues. Westin launched his candidacy with the help of a nationwide group that’s trying to get more scientists to run for office. When he says he’s bothered by “disrespect of facts and science,” he speaks with a quiet passion that seems to be winning over a growing number of supporters.

Lizzie Fletcher

Fletcher’s background is also impressive. After starting her law career at Vinson & Elkins, she joined AZA, a 50 person firm specializing in high-stakes business litigation and she became its first woman partner. She has served on the board of Planned Parenthood and she was on the front lines defending abortion providers from protesters during the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston. Like Westin, she has a firm grasp of the issues in the race. Just as important, she understands the importance of appealing to independent voters in this swing district.

Both Westin and Fletcher are extremely accomplished professionals with a deep understanding of complex public policy matters. Both of them exude an intelligent and level-headed pragmatism that will appeal to the moderate voters of this district, whose support Democrats will need if they’re serious about defeating Culberson.

Most important of all, both Westin and Fletcher would make fine members of Congress.

You can find all the interviews I did in CD07 on the 2018 Congressional page. There have actually been very few endorsements given out in this race so far, which is a testament to the depth of the field. I suspect many organizations will revisit this race in the runoffs. I don’t envy anyone the decision in this one, but at least you know you have a lot of good choices.

Friday random ten – Dance party

Everyone on the dance floor!

1. Dance – ESG
2. Dance Away – Roxy Music
3. Dance Hall Days – Wang Chung
4. Dance In The Dark – Lady Gaga
5. Dance Like Nobody’s Watching – Laura Marano
6. Dance On – Love Motel
7. Dance This Mess Around – B-52’s/Asylum Street Spankers
8. Dance To The Music – Global Village
9. Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) – Chic
10. Dances Fantastic – Neva Dinova

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the song “Dance Hall Days” over the past thirty-some years, but I am still not confident I’m singing along to it with the right lyrics. I know, I could look them up. I’m just saying that with some bands, you have to. I heard the Spankers’ version of “Dance This Mess Around” before I heard the B-52’s original, and the first time I saw them perform it I thought it was one of their original funny songs. Easy mistake to make. If you’re wondering where some other dance-related songs are, tune in again next week.

Interview with John Miller

John Miller

Today we come to the end of HCDE week. As I said, there are three candidates running in Position 6, Precinct 1 – there is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the primary has his ticket stamped – but I only have two interviews, as candidate Prince EW Bryant did not respond to my email. I hope that between these interviews and my efforts to highlight the many programs and services that HCDE offers, you have a better understanding of this important but often overlooked institution. John Miller also has a degree in Chemical Engineering, from the University of Cincinnati, and he has applied that degree at a number of manufacturing jobs. (His campaign Facebook page doesn’t have any biographical information on it, but I got these facts from his LinkedIn profile.) He was a candidate for HCDP Chair last year, and he is one of several dozen LGBT candidates seeking office this year. Please note when you listen to the interview that while I have been asking candidates about their position on sexual harassment policies, I failed to do so with Mr. Miller, for the simple reason that I forgot. Such are the dangers of working without written notes. I apologize for the oversight. Now here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

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

Scot Dollinger

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

I am Scot “dolli” Dollinger. I am running for the 189th Civil District Court in Harris County Texas. In Harris County in 2018, there are 10 Civil District Courts in play.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County divides its courts up into the following categories: criminal, family, probate and civil. The 189th Civil District Court hears every kind of case except those in the criminal, family or probate categories and has no amount in controversy limit. It is a court of general jurisdiction meaning it takes all the cases not otherwise assigned to another case category. The court hears primarily personal injury and commercial litigation disputes but also hears other kinds of cases such as employment, civil rights and defamation cases. The court also has the power to issue injunctions – orders which prevent people from taking certain actions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

For the last year, I have been going all over Harris County telling people I am running for judge of the 189th Civil District Court because I am completely and totally in love with the good people of Harris County in all its diversity. The people deserve a skilled, knowledgeable judge who will give all people fair access to a fair forum regardless of their race, gender, sexual identity, religion – or not, economic status or any other factor. When folks go to court they need to know they will be treated fairly by a skilled knowledgeable judge who will follow the rule of law. I cannot stand injustice. The law is my life. Justice and fair treatment are my passions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have lived and worked in Harris County for over 25 years and been doing the work of the 189th Civil District Court for over 30 years. I have litigated cases in over 60 counties and every Texas U.S. District Court (N, S, E & W). I am well-educated (Northwestern University & Emory Law School), I have clerked with a federal judge, I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, I have run my own firm for over 15 years, I am an equal opportunity employer having hired employees who are African American, Hispanic, Asian and Caucasian, both men and women and from the LGBTQ community, I have the highest rating from Martindale-Hubbell (AV) which is a rating service that rates lawyers based on the anonymous opinions of other lawyers in the community, I have tried 40 trials and prosecute 10 appeals from state and federal trial courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of Texas and the Supreme Court of the United States.

I have demonstrated a heart for the community by not only regularly giving to my church which helps to feed the homeless in Houston, but I also mucked 7 houses after Harvey and made phone calls to people to arrange for mucking services. I worked at the Houston and San Antonio Food Banks. Over the last ten years, I have donated over 1,000 in pro bono legal services. My wife and I have sponsored 3 World Vision Children for over ten years. We are trained as Child Advocates and have completed foster parent training and are close to receiving our license. We were guardians for an 8 year old girl for ten years until she turned 18 – she is 22 and about to graduate from college. We give to many charities such as Star of Hope, Salvation Army, Harbor House, Doctors without Borders, Northwestern University, Emory School of Law, Houston Food Bank, San Antonio Food Bank, Planned Parenthood, St. Jude’s, Sigma Gamma Rho – National Sorority, Susan G. Komen, Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, Equality Texas, Montrose Center, #MeToo, Trevor Project, American Humanist Association, ACLU, American Cancer Society, Friends For Life Animal Rescue, La Union De Pueblo, Kennedy Elementary – Ms. Walker’s 5th Grade Class, Christmas gifts, Homeless Gay Kids, Alzheimer’s Association, Scripture Memory Fellowship International, One Patient – Global Health Initiative, Interfaith Ministries, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Villalobos Rescue in the Hood, Parkinson’s Foundation, Montrose Grace Place, Disabled Vets, CBMC – Christian Business Men, Lolas Lucky Day, Pld Dog Rescue, American Red Cross, Houston Independent School District Foundation, Educate 7 Foundation, JJ Watt Foundation, Central Texas Food Bank, Greater Houston Community Foundation, The Arc of Houston, A Simple Thread, Austin Pets Alive, Dallas DogRRR – Rescue Rehab Reform, Faith in Texas – Pico, Help Us in Mexico, End Homelessness in Houston, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Changing Hearts and Minds, Transgender Women of Color, Equality Texas Foundation, ASPCA and Work Faith Connection.

I believe in separation of church and state, separation of powers and evidence based decision making. I celebrate the strength of a diverse community such as Harris County. I care about people and want to help them as the law allows. I am here to work and serve, not retire.

5. Why is this race important?

We currently have a Republican problem at our court house: Every Republican district judge in Harris County refuses to marry same sex couples. I can appreciate folks may have a private objection to same sex marriage, but those private objections should never be used by a sitting judge in a secular society. Same sex couples have a right to go into our court houses and be married under the law of the land. If Republican judges refuse to follow the rule of law here, in what other areas will they refuse to follow the rule of law? The law is not a Luby’s. Judges are not allowed to walk down the line and pick and choose what rules of law they want to follow. They are obligated in a secular society to follow every rule of law whether they personally agree with that rule of law or not.

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

I am the more qualified candidate with a heart for the people having received endorsements from the Bay Area New Democrats, Area 5 Democrats and Tejano Democrats. These are the only Democratic endorsements released to date where I have gone head to head with my opponent. Any positive my opponent has, I have also but more and better. For example, I believe I have tried more cases, handled more appeals and clerked with a federal judge. I am board certified, I have run my own firm and I have hired more diversely.

I have a very strong work ethic which I bring to every task including campaigning and understanding what is necessary to win in Harris County. I have been campaigning for over a year. In 2014, when I was on the ballot in Harris County running for Civil Court No. 2, I made more phone calls than any other Democratic candidate.

I have represented individuals, not institutions, virtually my entire practice. I worked as a defense lawyer for eight years being hired to defend people who were accused of hurting others. So, I understand the law from a defense lawyer’s perspective. I worked as a plaintiff lawyer for the last 22 years helping people who have been hurt. So, I understand the law from a plaintiff’s lawyer perspective. I clerk for a federal judge. So, I understand the law from a judge’s perspective.

I understand that the courts belong to all the people. Judges are trustees of the judicial power given to our courts. That power must be exercised with the utmost good faith and checked at every turn to battle against the tendency for power to be abused.

I understand the law is here to protect the weak from the strong and powerful. The end of all government is justice for all – equal protection and fairness are corner stones of the house of justice. There are two things difficult for any person to accept:

– Being unjustly harmed/wronged;
– Being unjustly accused.

For every matter at issue, our courts must be respected and known for properly sorting out which is which. If a person has been unjustly wronged, then the courts must give and provide proper remedies. If a person has been unjustly accused, then the courts must release the wrongly accused and deny the accuser the remedy sought.

My work and life experience have prepared me for this job. I am ready, willing and able to service my community well on day one. Please vote for me. Thank you.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.

Endorsement watch: Judges and more judges

For probate court.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 2: Michael Newman

Candidate Jim Peacock told us that temperament is the key issue in this race, and it’s true that good judges should be courteous, calm and respectful. But whether a candidate’s experience prepares him to don the black robe is easier to ferret out than whether his temperament is suited for it.

While Peacock and his opponent, Michael Newman, 61, have each been practicing law for more than three decades, Newman has handled more cases in the probate courts. The University of Houston Law Center graduate has practiced probate law for 19 years, and he’s running because he is tired of appearing before judges who don’t know the law, don’t know how to apply the law or who have prejudged his case.

[…]

Voters should cast their votes for Newman in this primary contest, and Peacock should run again. The winner in this race will face Republican candidate Ray Black in the general election.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 4: James Horwitz

James Horwitz worked early in his career as a social worker, and he’s running for this bench because it helps with the probate courts’ mental health docket. In his family law, estate planning and probate practice, Horwitz, 68, spent 40 years dealing with the grieving, the divorced and the disabled. The University of Houston Law Center graduate also wants to use the bench as a bully pulpit to help the community.

I’ve got a Q&A from Peacock here and from Galligan, whom the Chron also urged to run again, here. I’ve got one from Horwitz in the queue. These are tough races, with each candidate getting some support along the way.

In the meantime, here are the endorsements in the civil courts.

District Judge, 55th Judicial District: Latosha Lewis Payne

Our nod goes to Latosha Lewis Payne in this coin toss race. Both Payne and her opponent, Paul Simon, have spent 18 years practicing law and each has attained excellence in their respective careers. Both candidates have devoted significant volunteer time to helping indigent people secure needed legal representation. What’s more: Both candidates displayed a clear understanding of the present inefficiencies of this court and suggested thoughtful ways to improve them. Payne was raised in Acres Homes, graduated from the University of Texas Law School and went onto become a partner at a major Houston firm.

District Judge, 113th Judicial District: Rabeea Collier

Voters should cast their ballots for the more seasoned candidate in this primary contest. To put it simply, Rabeea Collier, 35, has the requisite experience to serve on this bench. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Collier has practiced for more than a decade, currently specializing primarily in civil litigation, and has brought a considerable number of jury trials to verdict. She also earns high marks on her ability to communicate courteously and clearly, important skills for an effective civil district court judge.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

The candidates for the Democratic nomination for this seat are among the most affable and personable of any whom we have screened. Both men are qualified, possess the appropriate temperament for the bench and appear to be in the race for reasons of public service. But decide we must, and Scot “dolli” Dollinger stands out for the intangible attributes of focus and advocacy that he exhibited during the screening.

Fred Cook has the advantage of a broader legal background, having tried banking, bankruptcy, construction, contract disputes, insurance, oil and gas, real estate and trust cases, while Dollinger’s practice revolves around personal injury suits in which he has represented both insurance companies and plaintiffs. Although Dollinger’s legal experience is narrower in content, he’s gained the distinction of being board certified in his field.

District Judge, 234th Judicial District: Lauren Reeder

Lauren Reeder, 33, earns our support for her crisp communication style, her impressive academic background and her passion for the job. This Harvard Law School graduate has experience in both civil and criminal matters; she started at a big law firm working on complex civil litigation and is now at the district attorney’s office trying felony cases.

District Judge, 269th Judicial District: Cory Sepolio

How can civil district judges use their position to ensure that everyone, wealthy or poor, receives true justice in their courts? We pose that question to candidates throughout the endorsement process, and Cory Sepolio’s precise answer reveals an admirable jurist in the making.

“The biggest thing to fix the playing field is jury service,” Sepolio said during a meeting with the editorial board. “One of the problems I see all the time is that folks that are flying down here with all the money and defending themselves, they have more representation in the jury box than the mom and pops. We need to get with the clerk’s office and we need to expand the pool of possible jurors.”

District Judge, 281st Judicial District: George Arnold

George Arnold has 26 years of experience in civil litigation, primarily insurance defense. He also appears to have the even temperament exhibited by the best judges. But the Baylor Law School graduate earned our support for his crisp communication style and his thoughtful specificity about ways to improve the existing system. Arnold, who will be 51 on the March 6 primary voting day, promised, if elected, to act on unopposed motions within three business days, to schedule hearings within 14 days of request through the use of contingency settings and to find an online scheduling system that can be implemented.

Whew! Here are all the associated Q&As:

Paul Simon
Scot Dollinger
Shampa Mukerji (269th)

Like I said, there are some tough choices, and there are some where there appears to be a consensus. I’ll definitely be leaning on the endorsements this year.

Interview with Danyahel Norris

Danyahel Norris

The Board of Trustees of the Harris County Department of Education is comprised of seven members, three At Large and one for each County Commissioner precinct. Republicans have generally held a majority of the positions on the Board, with the exception of the period between the 2012 and 2014 elections, as Democrats had won the At Large seats in 2008 and 2012, but then lost two of them back in 2014. The one position that is basically a lock to be Democratic – as long as Democrats run a candidate, which for bizarre reasons didn’t happen in 2006 – is Position 6, Precinct 1, where incumbent Trustee Erica Lee Carter is stepping down after one term. Three candidates are vying to succeed her. Danyahel Norris came to Houston to attend UH, where he got a degree in chemical engineering. After teaching math for a few years, he got a law degree from the Thurgood Marshall school at TSU and practiced in the US Patent and Trademark Office before becoming the Associate Director of the Law Library at TSU. Here’s my interview with him:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

January 2018 finance reports: Harris County legislative candidates

We’ve looked at Congressional fundraising, now let’s look at some local legislative races.

Fran Watson – SD17
Rita Lucido – SD17
Ahmad Hassan – SD17

Natali Hurtado – HD126
Undrai Fizer – HD126

Gina Calanni – HD132
Carlos Pena – HD132

Marty Schexnayder – HD133
Sandra Moore – HD133

Allison Sawyer – HD134
Lloyd Oliver – HD134

Adam Milasincic – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Randy Bates – HD139
Jarvis Johnson – HD139

Richard Bonton – HD142
Harold Dutton – HD142

Shawn Thierry – HD146
Roy Owens – HD146
Ricardo Soliz – HD146

Garnet Coleman – HD147
Daniel Espinoza – HD147 – No report found

Here are the totals:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
Watson            SD17    24,212      9,773        0      6,968
Lucido            SD17    10,826      7,456    3,000     10,868
Hassan            SD17       775      1,845        0          0

Hurtado          HD126     2,250        978        0        750
Fizer            HD126       800          0        0        450

Calanni          HD132        10        750        0         10
Pena             HD132         0          0        0          0

Schexnayder      HD133     6,330      3,744        0      3,332
Moore            HD133       650        939        0        362
Other guy        HD133

Sawyer           HD134     7,493     11,160        0     16,355
Oliver           HD134         0        750        0          0

Milasincic       HD138    64,071     11,816        0     54,577
Pool             HD138     1,000        623        0        346

Bates            HD139    39,730     17,720        0     27,178
Johnson          HD139     8,014      8,299   15,174     18,562

Bonton           HD142     3,000     24,203        0      1,538
Dutton           HD142    22,000     48,112        0     61,677

Thierry          HD146    31,200     19,270   20,650     10,629
Owens            HD146         0      4,278        0        550
Soliz            HD146         0          0        0          0

Coleman          HD147    43,433     51,012        0    333,602
Espinoza         HD147

A lot less money here than in the Congressional races, that’s for sure. Some of that is because many of these candidates didn’t get into the race until December. Adam Milasincic, who has raised the most, has also been running for the longest, at least among the candidates in Republican districts. As it happens, thanks to the compressed primary schedule, the 30 day reports are already up – the reports I’ve linked and figures I’ve posted are all January reports, which run through the end of 2017. The 30-day reports cover roughly the five weeks after that. I may add them to the 2018 Legislative page, but I doubt I’ll do another one of these till the July reports are up. Point being, there’s more recent data if you want to find it.

The bottom line is that while we’ve done a great job funding our Congressional challengers, there’s work to be done at this level. As I said, many of our candidates were late getting in, so the picture may be different elsewhere in the state. I’ll repeat my call from the previous post for Congressional candidates who don’t make it to the runoff to consider sharing the wealth down the ballot. Be that as it may, the well is more than deep enough to support all of our standard-bearers. We just need to do it. I’ll have more from other races soon.

Paxton and Paxton, Inc

How exactly is this not a conflict of interest?

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political campaign guaranteed a $2 million loan to help his wife fuel her bid for a state Senate seat in North Texas.

The Bank of the Ozarks loaned the money to Angela Paxton, a Collin County Republican, with the help of Ken Paxton’s campaign operating as a guarantor, according to the attorney general’s campaign spokesman. That means if Paxton’s wife’s campaign cannot pay the loan back, Ken Paxton’s campaign is responsible for paying off the debt.

“Attorney General Paxton is confident she is going to win and her campaign will be able to pay back the loan with interest,” said Matt Welch, a spokesman for the attorney general’s campaign.

Angela, a former guidance counselor, is running for Senate District 8, which sits north of Dallas. In the March 6 Republican primary election, she is running against Phillip Huffines, a former Dallas County GOP chairman and twin brother of Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas.

[…]

Justin Nelson, an Austin lawyer and Democrat, is running against him in the general election. Nelson’s campaign scoffed at the attorney general’s move to back the loan as “shocking but not surprising.

“This loan emphasizes the corruption of the political class. It’s not normal for the attorney general’s campaign to lend his wife’s campaign $2 million. It’s wrong,” said Nate Walker, Nelson’s campaign manager.

I mean, a bank loaning a couple million dollars to the chief law enforcement officer of the state to help with his wife’s campaign couldn’t possibly cause any ethical concerns, right? And while I’m sure the Paxton’s believe that God will provide for their lifestyle forever, what do you think might happen if Ken Paxton loses in November, or if he gets convicted before then? It may be a tad bit hard to raise that money to pay the bank back, especially if busking for his legal defense fund becomes a top priority. I might be a little peeved about this if I were a depositor at that bank. Oh, and as the Huffines campaign pointed out, if you had previously donated to Ken Paxton and you support Phillip Huffines in SD08, congratulations – your donation just help subsidize his opponent. Not like my heart is breaking for Phillip Huffines or any of his backers – you knew, or should have known, that Ken Paxton has the moral compass of a lesser Borgia family member – but this stuff does actually matter. And willingly or not, we’re all now soaking in it.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 5

At long last, the Texas Progressive Alliance will #ReleaseTheBlogRoundup for this week.

(more…)

Interview with Elvonte Patton

Elvonte Patton

Did you know that the Harris County Department of Education serves as the central operations site of the Texas Virtual School NetworkElvonte Patton is a full-time student working on his Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; he has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Texas Southern University. He started his education at a Head Start program, much like the one the HCDE provides, as a child in Oklahoma. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Kris Ougrah

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

Kris Ougrah

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

My name is Kris Ougrah and I am running for County Criminal Court at Law No. 15. I have 13 years of experience as a criminal defense attorney and know criminal law well. I am a first generation American. My father came to the US from Trinidad with a 3rd grade education and worked hard to make ends meet. I am the first in my family to attend college, attain a graduate degree, and become a professional. My wife is Mexican American and I am fortunate to have 3 young Latino children.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

County Criminal Court #15 is a misdemeanor court. Misdemeanors seen in this court are typically non-violent, “gateway crimes” and punishable up to one year, such as DWI, theft, possession of marijuana, and criminal trespass etc.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?
I was inspired to become a judge because of the discrimination I have observed in the courtroom. As a judge, my intention is to treat everyone fairly and with respect, regardless of race, religion, gender, political party, or any other identifying factor. I want to be in a misdemeanor court because I feel we can make an impact on young adults’ lives. These misdemeanors are often “gateway crimes” and through the court there is an opportunity for individuals to learn from their mistakes and avoid recidivism. I chose to run for Court 15 because it’s an open seat; the incumbent republican judge is retiring after 20+ years of service. It’s time for change.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I truly believe I am the more qualified Democratic candidate that can beat the Republican candidate in November. I have 13 years of experience in criminal law defense and have represented over 3,000 people, mostly in Harris County. I know the criminal law field well and my experience and knowledge will help me make informed, just decisions. During my 13 year career, I have been a voice for those that are accused of crimes and fought to make sure they are treated equally, that they return home to their mothers, fathers, spouses, kids, get back to work, and continue their educational goals by fighting accusations that the State of Texas has brought on them.

5. Why is this race important?

The judicial race for Harris County Criminal Court is important because judges have the opportunity to reform the criminal justice system. Judges at the misdemeanor level can help lower the mass

incarceration numbers in our country. Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, created 2nd chance programs for first time offenders of non-violent crimes. These programs can be great options for those who qualify, but the programs themselves mean nothing if judges do not use them as a form of punishment. I will make sure individuals that qualify are aware of these programs and not just plea out to a conviction. Along the same lines, Judge Rosenthal recently gave a federal ruling on Harris County Pre-Trial Bail Reform, which calls for almost all individuals charged with misdemeanors to be released on personal bond within 24 hours after their arrest if they could not afford bail, and if they are not subject to other holds. This would lower the number of people sitting in jail before they have even had their day in court, and it is up to the county criminal court judges to enforce it.

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

I truly believe I am the more qualified Democratic candidate that can beat the Republican candidate in November. I know the criminal law field well and my experience and knowledge will help me make informed, just, impartial decisions. I will uphold the law and make sure everyone is treated fairly.

Northwest Mall will be your Houston high speed rail terminal

No surprise.

Texas Central Partners and Houston-area elected officials on Monday announced that the company, which is seeking federal approval for a 240-mile high-speed train line, has chosen Northwest Mall near Loop 610 and U.S. 290 as their preferred site.

The company has an option to buy the land, said Jack Matthews, who is handling property acquisition for Texas Central.

The announcement was largely expected, as the mall site remained the most viable site to put a train station along Hempstead Road in the area around Loop 610. It also emerged from a federal environmental review as the most practical site in terms of displacing fewer homes and businesses. Still, the line will affect landowners along Hempstead as the tracks extend from the proposed station into northwest Harris and southern Waller counties.

[…]

Almost all of the stores within the mall itself are closed. Only a handful of stores and venues with exterior entrances remain open.

City leaders also joined with Metropolitan Transit Authority officials, noting they hoped the station could spur rail development from Metro’s nearby Northwest Transit Center to downtown Houston.

Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said the site was chosen because its location gives the company ready access to many Houston area travelers. The area around Loop 610 and U.S. 290 is essentially the population center of the region, as development has spread rapidly north and west of the urban core.

“This is the best site for Houston for many reasons,” Aguilar said.

That happened on the same day that the public hearing for the draft EIS was held in Cypress. The Dallas end of the line was chosen last week. The Trib adds a few details.

The chosen location is about 1.5 miles from Northwest Transit Center, a major bus hub and the closest public transportation connection. Despite that distance, the company said in a prepared statement Monday that the station will provide “convenient, efficient and direct” connections to the Houston METRO transit system.

METRO does not currently have any light-rail lines in that part of the city. The agency is working on a long-term plan for expanded transit service.

“So we’re in a broad range of conversation and thought as to how to provide that connection,” Texas Central President Tim Keith told The Texas Tribune on Monday.

There’s pictures at Swamplot, so go check it out. It’s true there’s not much there now, but as you can see there are big plans to change that. There aren’t any transit connections yet, but we’re talking about a 2024 debut for TCR, so there’s a lot of time for stuff to happen. I feel confident the forthcoming Metro referendum will include an item to deal with this in some fashion. I’m looking forward to it.

Medical marijuana is now available in Texas

To a very limited number of people, and only under a very strict set of circumstances.

Modern medicine has helped Laura Campbell’s 27-year-old daughter, Sierra, fight off many of her persistent seizures. At her peak, Sierra suffered from more than three seizures a day. Now, she’s down to one or two per month.

But the gains come with their own frustrations.

“She takes five pills twice a day, plus more if she needs an emergency supplement in case of a seizure. It damages her brain every time she has [a seizure]. Her IQ has gone down and her neurological functions are suffering,” Campbell said, trailing off between tears. “With every seizure she has, it just gets worse for her.”

Now Campbell, an Austin resident, is hoping she can wean her daughter off the “harsh” meds and turn to cannabis oil instead. That treatment was legalized in 2015, and a dispensary in Schulenburg made its first delivery of the oil to a young Texas child last week.

But as dispensaries are opening, Texans like Campbell’s daughter might still have a hard time getting access to the oil from marijuana plants. Currently, fewer than 20 doctors across the state are registered with the Texas Department of Public Safety to prescribe it.

They are able to do so under the Texas Compassionate Use Act, which legalized the sale of a specific kind of cannabis oil for a small group of Texans: epilepsy patients, like Sierra, whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.

But to qualify for the medicine, Texans must have tried two FDA-approved drugs and found them to be ineffective. The patients also must be permanent residents of Texas and get approval from two of the 18 doctors listed on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas.

Under the law, a physician can only sign up for the state registry if, among several other requirements, the doctor has dedicated a significant portion of his or her clinical practice to the evaluation and treatment of epilepsy and is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in either epilepsy or neurology.

The bill in question was passed in 2015, so it’s taken awhile just to get to this point. There are only three dispensaries in the state, and there’s not likely to be many more doctors on the registry, at least not while Jeff Sessions is on a reefer madness kick. The effect of this law should be big for those who are able to take advantage of it, but the number of such people will be very small. I hope that effect is enough to allow for a broader bill in the next Legislature, but the surer route to that destination is to vote for candidates who are willing to support that outcome. The Chron has more.

Interview with Richard Cantu

Richard Cantu

It’s Day Two of HCDE Week here. Did you know that the Harris County Department of Education provides Head Start and Early Head Start services to 1,200 children in Harris County? There’s a big need for programs like that, especially in a county like Harris. Richard Cantu is a public service veteran, having served such roles as the Director of the Mayor’s Citizens’ Assistance Office and as the Deputy Executive Director of the East Aldine Management District. A native Houstonian and graduate of HCC and UH, Richard was a candidate for the HISD Board of Trustees in 2005, and serves on numerous boards. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

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

Cheryl Elliott Thornton

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

I am Cheryl Elliott Thornton, candidate for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2. I am a native Houstonian who was born, raised and still continue to reside in Precinct 7, the precinct in which I am running to serve. I attended Lamar High School in Houston, Texas and received my BA from Trinity University and my MA from St. Mary’s University both in San Antonio, Texas. I then came home and received my JD from Thurgood Marshall School of Law.I am married for 19 years to Peter Thornton, professor at Texas Southern University.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace Court is the people’s court. It handles matters that affect a person’s every day life, such as evictions, tows, small claims, traffic tickets animal cruelty, right of possession and occupational license and truancy.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7 Pl 2 because it is the court closest to “the People” in terms of access. I am running for this particular bench because I believe the people of Precinct 7 deserve a JP who can offer them the same level of service and quality of character and professional qualifications as those in the other precincts. We should no longer feel that all we deserve are the second chancers or those in need of a job or those who feel entitled. We, the constituents of Precinct 7, deserve the most qualified candidate for the job. I am the most qualified candidate, as my qualifications as articulated throughout this questionnaire, will attest.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for over 32 years. Currently I serve as Assistant County Attorney for Harris County. I have served as an administrative law judge for two State of Texas agencies. Further, I have the administrative capabilities necessary to run a court as evidenced by my experience as General Counsel for a university and as as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas. I also have State of Texas certification as a Mediator and Ad Litem and have received legal training at Harvard University through the National Association of College and University Attorneys.

Further, in my community I have served as Precinct Chair, Senate District 13 General Counsel, Executive Board of West MacGregor Homeowner’s Association and General Counsel for the World Youth Foundation. I also serve as Co-Chair of the Houston Bar Association’s Gender Fairness Committee and serve on its Judicial Polls Committee. And to name just a few more of my community involvement activities which demonstrate my belief in public service, I am a member of the Texas District and County Attorney Association, Houston Lawyer’s Association, Harris County Democratic Lawyers and Women Professionals in Government. I have also successfully fundraised for United Negro College Fund, The University Museum at Texas Southern University, The Museum of Fine Arts Advisory Association, and the Houston Ebony Opera Guild.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because now the community is at a crossroads. I ran for Justice of the Peace Precinct 7, Place 1 in 2016 and am proud to say that out of a race of 8, I was in the runoff with the incumbent. The community at that time defined itself by re-electing the incumbent who has since been suspended from the bench pending removal That has left the community with a sitting JP who is not from the community and of whom the community does not know nor has chosen. In JP Precinct 7, Place 2, we have a JP who is retiring. Now the question becomes what caliber of person do we now choose. Do we choose someone with unyielding experience, who has proven herself to be the right person for the job , Cheryl Elliott Thornton, or choose someone based upon who they know. It is time for this community to hold its head up high and choose the best. That choice for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2 is CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON.

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

The people should vote for me because I not only have the needed legal skills as shown above, but I also have the most practical experience as evidenced by my involvement in community affairs. Unfortunately, the judicial system is overwhelmed with judges who have limited community involvement and limited broad based experience. These types of limitations, are why the courts are perceived as unapproachable and biased toward most of the people it serves. All of my experience is what is necessary to be able to fairly adjudicate the issues and people brought before the people’s court. The people need something more than just a jurist—they need a person involved in their community, a diversified practitioner of the law, and a person experienced with all the types of constituents that come before her (most times representing themselves) in order to properly and equitably serve the people who come before the people’s court. The voters should vote for me, a person with over 32 years of legal and community experience, who has the judicial temperament to be the Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2. The voters need the best choice for that position-CHERYL ELLIOTT THORNTON.

More on Tahir Javed

Raising a lot of money is certainly one way to get noticed in a crowded election field.

Tahir Javed

Twenty-six years ago, a Houston political fixture named Sylvia Garcia ran for Congress. She came up short, placing third in the Democratic primary and missed her shot at the runoff.

Now a state senator, Garcia is running for Congress again and, until recently, some in Houston were predicting she would effectively swamp the other six Democrats in the race, winning the party’s nomination in a clear shot on the March 6 primary and avoiding a runoff.

The wildcard appears to be Tahir Javed, an outspoken healthcare executive who told the Tribune that he will “spend whatever it takes” to win the seat U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, is giving up after 25 years.

“I have invested in people all my life, and I want to do it one more time,” said Javed, CEO of Riceland Healthcare.

In the face of Javed’s promises to spend heavily on direct mail, television and radio advertising, some local Houston political insiders are beginning to wonder if Garcia’s path will be far tougher than anyone anticipated even just a few weeks ago.

She remains confident that the race will end on March 6.

“We take nothing for granted,” Garcia said in an interview. “We keep working like everyone of our opponents are not first-time candidates, but seasoned candidates. We’re ready. We’re confident we are going to win, and we are going to win without a runoff.”

[…]

The historical stakes are high for Garcia’s candidacy: She would be the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress from Texas and the first Hispanic altogether to represent the Houston area of Congress.

But Javed could make history as well. Texas has yet to elect an Asian-American to Congress.

He has national Democratic ties as a donor and fundraiser for party causes and candidates.

He outpaced Garcia in fourth quarter fundraising in individual contributions. She raised $201,000 to his $248,000. But he also loaned his campaign an additional $400,000, while she donated and loaned to her own campaign about $53,000.

The end result is that Javed ended the quarter with $553,000 in cash on hand, compared to Garcia’s $210,000 haul.

[…]

Javed touted that his lowest-paid employees make well above the minimum wage.

“I’m running because this is exactly what I’ve done…I’m a health care professional who has done [a] whole bunch of times bringing the health care to the underserved areas, and I have done it very well with top-notch health care there,” Javed said.

He was quick to rattle off unflattering statistics about the district. Intended or not, his negative assessments – specifically on health care – are implicit criticisms of Green, who is one of the most powerful House Democrats as the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health.

Javed also repeatedly ripped the pollution and cancer rates in the district – an attack used against Green in his own primary two years ago.

“Pasadena? They call it Stinkadena,” Javed said, of the need to clean up the refinery-heavy region.

When asked if Green was responsible for the problems in the district, Javed said: “I don’t want to point fingers, honestly speaking, on anyone, but my question to all of the elected officials [is]: How do you justify it?”

He then cited statistics of the district’s poverty and high-school drop out rates.

“It’s either his fault or somebody else before him or some state senators or state reps or school districts.”

See here for some background. Tahir’s Q4 finance report is here, and Garcia’s is here. For some reason I can’t see individual contributors in Javed’s report, so I can’t say how many of his contributions are local. I can say that Garcia also has $204K in her state campaign fund, so the gap between them is less than the story reports. I think this is one of those times where having a lot of money won’t mean much. I’ve seen Javed’s TV ad, and let’s just say he’s not the most compelling speaker I’ve ever heard. I’m also hard pressed to think of a context in which saying “Stinkadena” will be taken positively by the voters, even if it is wrapped in a legitimate criticism of the outgoing Congressman and the status quo as a whole, of which Garcia is a part. The subtlety will be lost, is what I’m saying.

On a side note, I’m tired of stories that mention that a particular candidate in this cycle could be the first person of a category to be elected to something from Texas without acknowledging that said person is not the only candidate who qualifies for that category. Sylvia Garcia could be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas, but so could Veronica Escobar or Lillian Salerno or Judy Canales. Fran Watson could be the first LGBT person elected to the State Senate, but so could Mark Phariss. Tahir Javed could be the first Asian-American elected to Congress from Texas, but so could Gina Ortiz Jones or Sri Kulkarni or Chetan Panda or Silky Malik or Ali Khorasani. You get the idea. Just recognize that there’s more than one way this could happen, that’s all that I ask.

Endorsement watch: Sylvia and more

The Chron makes the obvious choice in CD29.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The frontrunner is clearly state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, the only current elected official on the ballot, who has name identification with this area’s voters that stretches back more than 20 years. The breadth of her experience as Houston city controller, a Harris County commissioner and a state senator gives her an almost insurmountable advantage in this race. Congress could use someone who so intimately understands the problems faced by city, county and state governments. So Garcia has our endorsement, but not without some reservations.

Garcia was the only member of the state Senate willing to vote against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s budget, which relied on a hike in property taxes. Democrats should lament losing that voice in Austin.

It’s also noteworthy that Garcia will be 68 years old on the day she hopes to be inaugurated into Congress. It’s a safe bet she won’t stay in Washington as long as her predecessor. When she retires, the Houston area will lose her seniority on Capitol Hill.

And as a number of her opponents point out, young people are dropping out of the political process, rightly realizing that gerrymandering has rendered November congressional elections all but meaningless. Millennial voters might be drawn back into this election if they had the opportunity to support a dynamic younger candidate. We’re especially impressed by Roel Garcia, a whip smart Latino lawyer who we hope to see back on the ballot running for another office.

Yes, and at the risk of being indelicate, Sylvia Garcia will be old for a Congressional first-termer. In a body that runs on seniority, that’s a non-trivial concern. Of course, if she’s won her first election for CD29 back in 1996, she’d have plenty of it. Life is like that, and it’s not her fault this is her next best chance at the seat. As for the complaint about millennials, I mean come on. For one, how is this on Sylvia? Two, there apparently is a dynamic younger candidate in this race. Millennials are free to vote for him if he’s what they’re looking for. Three, this district includes State Rep districts that are and have been represented by millennials – Armando Walle in HD140, and Ana Hernandez in HD143. Four, there are plenty of candidates from that cohort elsewhere on the ballot. You know, like the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. And I swear, if when the Chron makes an endorsement in that race for November, they say something about her “lack of experience”, I’m gonna break something.

Anyway, now that we’ve all gotten that out of our system, let’s look at some other recent endorsements of interest. The DMN, who like the Chron endorsed Andrew White for Governor over the weekend, seeks a new direction at Lite Guv.

The difference between an ideologue and a partisan can be measured in how they approach issues and policy. To that end, we recommend Scott Milder, a candidate with a conservative ideology over Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a rank partisan.

Both candidates represent the Republican Party. But Milder, 50, a former city council member from Rockwall and senior associate at Stantec, an engineering and architectural firm, brings to the table a more nuanced and reasonable outlook on the issues facing the people of Texas.

We know how well that goes over in Republican primaries these days. Look no further than what Greg Abbott is doing for proof.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails in his primary challenge of four-term state Rep. Lyle Larson, who became the latest of several Republican incumbents to have Abbott come out in support of a primary opponent.

Abbott posted a video on his YouTube channel Monday morning in which he praised Fails’ stance on property tax reform.

“[Fails] knows firsthand the devastating impact that rising property taxes have on families and on small businesses,” Abbott said in the video. “I know that he will work with me to advance my plans to empower Texas voters to rein in skyrocketed property taxes for the people of his district.”

Fails told the Rivard Report that the endorsement in the state House District 122 primary came because of what he called Larson’s track record of voting to block property tax reform.

“My opponent has voted to block property tax reform in the past and I have committed to support Governor Abbott’s plan to get people some control over their property taxes,” Fails said.

Larson, who chairs the House Natural Resource Committee, told the Rivard Report that he thought Abbott was “misinformed on this endorsement.”

“It’s sort of strange,” Larson said. “[Fails] was against two of the three issues that [Abbott] called in the special session, tax reform and annexation [reform].”

[…]

David Crockett, chair of the political science department at Trinity University, said Abbott’s decision to endorse the primary challengers of several incumbents would be a test of his influence.

“Greg Abbott wrote down a list of names at the last session of people who annoyed him,” Crockett said. “He is now going to use whatever influence he has to demonstrate, if he’s successful, his ability to punish people who criticize him and his agenda.”

That’s certainly one part of it. There’s also this.

Larson is the third House Republican Abbott has endorsed against following special session where he had vowed to keep track of which members embraced his agenda — and which ones didn’t. The governor backed primary challengers to state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, in November and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, last month.

Both Davis and Larson were the stars of a news conference during the special session last year where they urged Abbott to add ethics reform to his 20-item agenda. The governor’s office later accused them of “showboating” and said their “constituents deserve better.”

Larson said he noticed a common theme among the three incumbents that Abbott is opposing: They all supported Larson’s proposed ban on “pay-for-play” appointments. The House passed the legislation, House Bill 3305, during the regular session, but it died in the Senate.

“To be honest … as a member of a party that prides itself on reform, we need to fix this issue before we lose control of the executive branch and the Legislature,” Larson said Monday.

That’s so 2014, Lyle. Welcome to today’s GOP.

Interview with Josh Wallenstein

Josh Wallenstein

This week’s interviews are all about the Harris County Department of Education, a body that serves as a co-operative and clearinghouse for the thirty-plus school districts in Harris County, providing programs and purchasing power to make their budgets go farther. Among the services the HCDE provides is adult education, including workforce training, GED classes, and English as a second language. The HCDE Board of Trustees consists of seven members, three At Large and one each for the four Commissioners’ precincts. There are two open seats this year, in At Large #3 and Position 6, Precinct 1, as trustees Diane Trautman and Erica Lee Carter are stepping down. There are three Democratic candidates seeking to succeed each of them. Josh Wallenstein was the first candidate to emerge as a contender for the Trautman seat. An attorney who recently opened his own firm, he has also served as a Chief Compliance Officer at a major corporation. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Paul Simon

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

Paul Simon

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

I’m Paul Simon, your returning Democratic candidate, and I am asking for your vote to be the next Judge of the 55th Civil District Court in Harris County. I grew up in Northwest Houston, worked my through college at the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law, and have been a practicing attorney for 18 years. I am a member of several merit-based legal organizations, like the Texas Bar Foundation, which only admits the Top 1/3% of the Top 1% of Texas Lawyers, as well as scholarly organization like Phi Delta Phi (legal honor society) and the Order of the Lytae (academic achievement). I currently live in the Heights, where I have lived for many years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Like all civil district courts, the 55th Civil District Court hears virtually every kind of lawsuit you can think of, from personal injury cases, contract and business disputes, consumer cases/DTPA, land disputes, property tax cases and virtually every kind of civil case you can think of. It’s almost easier to say what kinds of cases a civil district court does not hear than to list every kind of case they do. They do not hear family cases, criminal cases, juvenile cases or probate cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I have an unparalleled dedication and passion for the law. Folks who know me know that dedication and passion is deeply-held. They know that I will listen to both sides, and I won’t play favorites. I am hard working and think it’s time for a change.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Over my 18-year career, I have successfully represented plaintiffs and defendants in virtually every kind of case that this court will hear, including one case which was originally filed when I was a Junior at Cypress Creek High School. Some of my clients are “household names,” or multinational companies, and some of their cases had multiple millions of dollars at stake (one even had one billion at stake), but most of my clients were folks just like you. I have helped many people fight injustice.

5. Why is this race important?

Have you ever been sued or thought you might be? Have you ever been forced to file a lawsuit or thought about filing one? Have you ever been called to jury duty or served as a juror? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should care about the people who want to serve as your judges. I cannot promise that I will rule in your favor, but if I am elected, here’s what I do promise:

  • I will give the parties a fair shake at justice.
  • I will work hard and be prepared every day I’m serving you and the people of Harris County.
  • I won’t waste the time of the jurors, the parties, or the attorneys.

In short, I promise to work hard every day so that cases are resolved quickly, and more importantly, fairly, and I promise not to be beholden to special interest lobbying groups.

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

People should vote for me because I have the relevant trial experience, commonsense life experiences, and judgment. That is why I am endorsed by the Honorable Dion Ramos, the last Democrat to serve as Judge of the 55th District Court, and the former Chief of the Houston Police Department, C.O. Bradford.

I would be honored to have your vote, and I promise that you won’t regret that vote.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

You can still vote if you have been displaced by Harvey

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ann Harris Bennett

Nikki Thomason, one of hundreds of people displaced when her Thornwood neighborhood filled with water, never thought her right to vote could be swept away too.

“Angry, angry, you know it’s kind of funny the people who are angriest with the government right now, are the people whose votes have been suspended,” she said.

Thomason and other displaced flood victims checking their voter registration online were shocked to see messages their registrations were in suspense. Many were not sure if they would be able to vote in the highly anticipated March primaries.

“What went through my mind is, why am I am suspended and why has nobody told me, surely thousands of people are in the same position,” said Kimberly Truitt-Turner, another flood victim from the west side.

Turns out, state law requires each county’s tax assessor-collector to send a voter registration cards to each voter every two years. If the post office can’t deliver the card for whatever reason and they are returned, the registration is automatically suspended.

[…]

The Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office says suspended voters can still vote, they just have to fill out a form at their polling location.

“You are still eligible to vote in the March primary, you just have to fill out the statement of residency form when you go and vote,” said Mike Lykes with the Assessor-Collector’s office.

Per state law, suspended voters can not update their addresses online. They either have to mail in a change of address or fill out a form when they go vote. Therefore, elections experts are urging worried flood victims to vote early so any confusion can be sorted out. But for those struggling to recover, this is one more hurdle they didn’t expect.

It’s not really a hurdle, in the sense that if you show up to vote you will be able to vote. You will just need to fill out the change of address form. It would be advisable to vote early, because you can vote anywhere and because having a few days before the election to ensure any problems are smoothed out is a good idea, but you could go to your original precinct location on March 6 if you want to. Yes, it’s another thing to think about, but all you really need to know is that you can still vote. Just show up as usual and the rest will be taken care of.

Now if you’re thinking “But why can’t I just update my voter information online?”, well, by all means you should be able to do that. The Lege needs to pass a law to make that happen first, and you know who’s been against such a law in the past? The Republicans, of course. Previous Tax Assessors have testified against online registration bills at the Lege. That obstacle has been cleared, but there’s still the whole Republican-majority-in-the-Legislature thing to deal with. You know what might help? A few thousand displaced-by-Harvey voters making a lot of noise about this, both in the 2018 election and the 2019 session. Channel that anger into something productive, and see what happens.

Weekend link dump for February 4

“In a recent review, published online Jan. 10 in the journal Astrobiology, a trio of scientists from the U.S. and Japan posited that viruses may be spread across interplanetary space. Those researchers want to convince astrobiologists to devote more time looking for these curious molecular machines.”

“Dear White Evangelicals, I need to tell you something: People have had it with you. They’re done.”

How likely it is that a reboot may happen for your favorite TV sitcom.

“But the sad fact, one year into this presidency, is that the current approach to covering this White House is no longer working. We are reading the same memes again and again, and the president, a savant at intuiting public sentiment, is doing everything he can to keep the treadmill moving.”

“As a straight male, the best teacher I ever had was a gay man.”

“The fitness tracking app Strava is giving away the location of secret US army bases.” Oops.

I for one welcome our new robot newscaster overlords.

“There have been very, very many attempts to identify the core of Trumpism, but this — stripped of conventional politics, stripped of considerations of wealth and celebrity — seems to reach it as few other anecdotes have: Donald Trump is a guy on dry land, staring at the television for hours because he wants to make himself feel terror and loathing toward sharks.”

Meet Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to go on the record to publicly accuse Larry Nassar of sexual assault.

Tom Hanks will play Mister Rogers in a forthcoming biopic of same.

RIP, Kevin Towers, former general manager of the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks.

“That belief is a political choice. It is a political choice to accept a big lie that the president and his defenders have been peddling for months about federal law enforcement and intelligence.”

“Alleging a concerted conspiracy by the FBI/DOJ in obtaining the Page FISA necessarily implicates the judge who approved it, and suggests they are incompetent (at best) or corrupt (at worst). If Nunes is alleging serious crimes on the part of the FBI and DOJ, he must put his money where his mouth is and identify the judge who approved the FISA application. If he doesn’t, it’s likely because even he knows that this would be taking his accusations too far.”

RIP, Oscar Gamble, former Yankee outfielder known for his glorious Afro.

No one says “No” when they mean “No”, so maybe we shouldn’t fixate on that.

I’m in a 7-foot blue shark costume. There’s no cool in that. So what’s the other option? Well, I’m gonna play a different character.”

“A Texas-size bollocking over proper attire, wasting taxpayer money and spying for the bureaucrats in Washington.”

RIP, Emma Primas, supercentenarian, businesswoman, and honorary ambassador for Houston.