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Alma Allen

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

Alma Allen for HISD Superintendent?

It could happen.

Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

State Rep. Alma Allen, a former school principal, has emerged as a high-profile contender for the HISD superintendent’s job during the early stages of the search.

The Houston Democrat, who retired from the Houston Independent School District in 2000 and served on the State Board of Education for much of the 1990s, confirmed to the Houston Chronicle on Friday that she was seeking the post to lead the nation’s seventh-largest school system.

“I want people to know,” said Allen, 76. “I want them to know they have someone in the city who is a native Houstonian who is qualified for this position. …This is something I would love to do. I would love for my career to end on this note.”

[…]

The school board has indicated it plans to look across the country for a superintendent to replace Terry Grier, who retired Feb. 29. However, the trustees have not yet crafted a profile of the ideal candidate. The search firm they hired first plans to provide them with feedback from community meetings held over the last two months.

Allen, who worked four decades in HISD as a teacher, principal and central-office administrator, said she has the support of several elected officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former colleague in the state House. Turner’s spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

Allen said one of Turner’s staff members gave the school board’s search firm a letter of support for her at a meeting Wednesday night. State Rep. Gene Wu, who was at the meeting, said he did not read the letter but recalled the mayor’s staffer saying the mayor was sending a letter of support. Wu said he and state Rep. Hubert Vo, another Houston Democrat, both support Allen.

“We at least want her to be considered – someone who has had a lifelong tenure in education, someone who is intimately knowledgeable about our education system, someone who sits on the education committee in the Legislature,” Wu said. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have someone who is able to navigate the Legislature.”

There’s some other general praise for Rep. Allen, whose only known competitor for the job (if indeed she wants it) is interim Superintendent Ken Huewitt. Neither Allen nor Huewitt has ever been a Superintendent before – they would have to pass a certification exam or get a waiver from the Texas Education Agency in order to take the HISD job – and Huewitt doesn’t have a background in education but rather in finance, which has caused some people to express concern about him.

Joe Greenberg, spokesman for a local group of business leaders, parents and community leaders called the Coalition for Great Houston Schools, urged the board to pursue a national search.

“The board’s highest priority should be to search for a candidate with a track record of tangible academic achievement in a large, diverse urban district,” he said.

I like Rep. Allen and admire the work she’s done in the Lege. She would surely know how to work with them to ensure that the needs of a large urban school district such as HISD were being met. That said, the Board hired a search firm for a reason, and I think we need to let them do their thing before we begin to zero in on anyone for the job. I’d also like to know what the various parent and activist groups think. By all means, put Rep. Allen in the running. Just don’t make it a two-person race from the get go.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Endorsement watch: State reps

The Chron makes endorsements in some State Rep races. Here are the ones I’m interested in.

District 126: Cris Hernandez

Two strong candidates who grew up in district are running in the primary and hope to replace Republican Patricia Harless, who is not running for re-election. Cris Hernandez, a projects coordinator for a fiber optics company, is making his second bid for the northwest Harris County district that’s surrounded by Jersey Village, Cypress, Tomball and Spring. In 2014, Hernandez, who described himself as a “policy wonk,” ran as a Libertarian and received 13.7 percent of the vote. Our choice is Hernandez because of his firm grasp of the issues – holding the line on property taxes, equitable funding for Texas public schools and expansion of Medicaid – that will likely come up in the 2017 legislative session. His opponent, Houston attorney Joy Dawson-Thomas has the credentials and the potential to be an influential voice in the district in years to come. The winner of this race will face Republican Kevin Roberts, who is running unopposed.

District 131: Alma A. Allen

Incumbent Alma A. Allen is seeking her seventh term representing this southwest Houston District that includes part of Missouri City, and we believe she well deserves to be returned to Austin. A retired career public school educator who serves as vice chair of the House Education Committee, Allen has been a strong, powerful advocate for children and public education. Her expertise will be especially needed given the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on the way Texas funds its public schools and the possibility of a 2016 special legislative session. Her seniority, wisdom and voice in the education debate will be a plus for residents of House District 131 and greater Houston. Allen’s opponent is businessman John Shike.

Gene Wu

Gene Wu

District 137: Gene Wu

When the federal government announced that it would start resettling Syrian refugees in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott looked at the fleeing families and saw a dangerous threat. State Rep. Gene Wu saw his next constituents. His southwest Houston district of Gulfton and Sharpstown might as well be the Ellis Island of Houston, serving as home to the waves of immigrants that come to our nation in search of freedom and safety. Burmese, Afghani, Iraqi, Syrian, Lebanese, Libyans – Wu can tick off the timeline of new arrivals over the past several years. He knows who they are and knows he’ll be there to help. In the Legislature, he worked to pass an important bill that protected children who were victims of human trafficking, directing them to Child Protective Services instead of jail. And as a former Harris County prosecutor, he’s an important figure in the criminal justice debates in Austin. In this race he’s being challenged by attorney Edward Pollard, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat” who opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

District 148: Jessica Cristina Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Rep. Jessica Farrar

With 22 years in office, Jessica Farrar has become the 10th most senior state representative in Austin. And now that Sylvester Turner has left Austin for City Hall, Democrats are going to need all the seniority and institutional knowledge they can muster if they want to wage an effective defense against the Republican majority.

Over her 11 terms, Farrar has used her political power to become one of the foremost advocates for women’s issues in the state Legislature. While Farrar has been consistent in her advocacy, her changing north Houston district, which covers Spring Branch East, the Greater Heights, Near Northside and Northline, has brought new challenges to the office. Higher incomes and engaged citizens demand more from her office, and we hope she’s up to the task.

Farrar is being challenged by Dave Wilson, Houston Community College trustee for District II. Wilson told the editorial board that he is running to advocate for the middle class, but voters probably best know him for his anti-gay, anti-abortion stances, and all-around social conservatism.

District 149: Hubert Vo

First elected in 2004, Vo has grown comfortable as an advocate for economic development. He takes pride in supporting the Tier 1 bill that helped push the University of Houston into top ranks – and is still paying dividends as schools like Texas Tech climb the stats. Working to attract new tech companies to Texas, like SpaceX, also sits on his list of accomplishments. If reelected, he said he wants to focus on bolstering the infrastructure around the Port of Houston to accommodate increased trade after the expansion of the Panama Canal.

They call this “Part 1”, but the only Democratic race left to evaluate is in HD144. As such, I suspect Part 2 will be the Republican side, minus the three races they commented on here. In HD126, Joy Dawson-Thomas has so far won all the endorsements from the various clubs that have offered an opinion in this race, which makes me wonder what the Chron saw that they didn’t. Perhaps it was Hernandez’s previous Libertarian candidacy, or perhaps he just didn’t screen with them. As for the incumbents, the case for them all is clear. I’ve begun to hear some chatter that some of their opponents, in particular Dave Wilson and Demetria Smith, are being pushed by Republicans as an exercise in what Karl Rove once called ratf**king. I don’t know how seriously to take that, since Republicans will be plenty busy with their own long slate of contested races (not to mention, you know, the Presidential primary), while Democratic turnout is likely to be high enough to make any such attempt an exercise in futility, but the reward from a GOP perspective of getting one of those clowns nominated is pretty damn big, so a little paranoia is warranted. If only there were a deep-pocketed Democratic donor or two in this town who could write a check for some mailers in support of these candidates. Anyway, pay attention and for goodness’ sake don’t skip out after voting for Hillary or Bernie. The rest of these races matter.

Mostly positive reviews for the Aycock school finance plan

So far, so good.

Jimmie Don Aycock

A plan from a top House lawmaker to overhaul the state’s public education funding system received largely favorable reviews from school districts during a marathon legislative hearing that ended late Tuesday night.

“While this bill, some consider it not to be perfect, for us fortunately it is a significant step in the right direction,” Houston Independent School District Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones said during a meeting of the House Committee on Public Education.

Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, has argued since the legislative session began that lawmakers shouldn’t wait for the outcome of a school finance lawsuit to consider changes to the school finance system.

[…]

Aycock’s proposal removes multiple provisions in the current school finance system.

It drops the number of districts that must send money back to the state under “recapture,” or what’s commonly known as Robin Hood. The nickname comes from the practice of taking property tax revenue from richer districts and redistributing it to poorer districts in an attempt to equalize school funding throughout Texas.

That adjustment, Skillern-Jones said, was a life raft for school districts that are “property rich, but poor in students,” like Houston. The district faces sending $200 million back to the state in the 2016-2017 school year.

(See how individual school districts would fare under Aycock’s plan here.)

It also eliminates the “Cost of Education Index,” which gives districts extra money based on characteristics like size, teacher salaries in neighboring districts and percentage of low-income students. Under Aycock’s proposal, that money would instead go to overall per-student funding.

That change that generated the most discussion Tuesday. Both smaller school districts that would lose money meant to help them account for economies of scale and districts with high numbers of the low-income and English-language learning students that the index is supposed to help raised caution about the effects of such a shift.

“While I never say no to money… I would ask that it would be looked at in the way that it is distributed,” said Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers. “I believe that our most needy students … are perhaps are going to get left out.”

See here for the background. The Observer notes the points where there is still work to be done.

But the biggest change Aycock proposes is the elimination of the Cost of Education Index (CEI), which steers more funding to urban and high-poverty districts to pay for higher teacher salaries. In the last few weeks, Aycock has stressed that the index is hopelessly outdated—it was created in 1991 and hasn’t been updated since—and nobody argued that point Tuesday night. But many weren’t willing to simply let it go.

“The underlying premise of the CEI is undeniably sound,” said Lori Taylor of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, who has conducted a series of studies since 2000 on how the Legislature could update the index to reflect current costs.

Former state Rep. Paul Colbert (D-Houston), a school finance leader in the ‘80s and ‘90s, agreed that while the index is flawed, its purpose—steering more money to urban and high-poverty districts that must pay higher salaries—is still vital. “You can’t just do away with it and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. You’re merely not addressing an uncontrollable cost,” Colbert said. “And that’s not equitable.”

Aycock agreed the change would affect districts unevenly; changing any piece of the school finance system creates winners and losers. Aycock has said he’s trying to minimize the pain of simplifying the system. “The party that gets hit the worst removing the CEI is the Valley area,” he noted at one point last night.

“How do we fix that?” wondered Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston).

“I don’t know that I can,” Aycock told her. “I’ve done everything I think I can to fix that.”

[…]

Aycock has suggested his bill would improve equity by moving more districts closer to the state average of per-student funding. But it would also enrich wealthy districts more than poor districts, which some analysts last night noted was basically the opposite of equity. San Antonio’s Edgewood ISD, with 96 percent students are from low-income families, would gain $171 per student under Aycock’s bill, while nearby Alamo Heights—with 22 percent low-income students—would gain $469. In South Texas, Los Fresnos CISD would gain $54 per student while the wealthier Point Isabel ISD. which includes South Padre Island, would gain $289.

Analysts outside the Capitol realm have noted these disparities too. Bellwether Education Partners analyst Jennifer Schiess recently told Education Week that Aycock’s bill “isn’t negative on equity. It just doesn’t move very far.” Schiess wonders whether such modest improvement is truly worth the fight.

Representatives from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Center for Public Policy Priorities and the Intercultural Development Research Association urged the committee to focus on steering money to students who need it most, and to follow Travis County District Judge John Dietz’s suggestion last year by updating the adjustments for poor students and those with limited English. Like the CEI, those weights have been untouched for decades.

None of these problems are going to get solved until there’s more money allocated to public education. That ain’t gonna happen until the Supreme Court says so.

Aycock’s bill has not yet been voted on in committee, and while I expect it will eventually pass who knows what will happen when it hits the Senate, which has shown little appetite so far for anything positive for public education. Even if this does get signed into law, there will still be questions of adequacy of school funding for the Supreme Court to rule on, as well as to decide whether or not this satisfies the equity issue. There’s still a long way to go.

Primary results: Harris County

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

The big news here is that there were no surprises on the Democratic side, in particular no unpleasant surprises. By far the best news was that Kim Ogg easily bested Lloyd Oliver in the primary for DA, with over 70% of the vote. I doubt we’ve seen the last of this particular plague on our house, but I think it’s fair to say that this time, Oliver’s name recognition did not work for him. I hope by now there have been enough negative stories about him – that Observer piece got shared far and wide on Facebook – that now when people see his name, it’s not a good thing for him. In any event, we Dems managed to not make the same mistake we made in 2012, so we can have ourselves a real DA race this fall. Thank goodness for that.

The three incumbent legislators that had primary challengers all won without breaking a sweat. Sen. John Whitmire had 75%, Rep. Carol Alvarado had 85%, and Rep. Alma Allen was right at 90%. The other race of interest was in the 113th District Civil Court, where Steven Kirkland pulled out a close win. The thing I noticed was that while Kirkland won early voting with 51% (he trailed slightly in absentee ballots), he won Election Day with over 54%. I have to think that the late stories about serial sugar daddy George Fleming worked in Kirkland’s favor. If so, that makes me very happy. If Kirkland wins this November, it means it’ll be at least until 2018 before we have to deal with Fleming’s crap again. Maybe by then he’ll have gotten a grip and moved on with his life. I for one certainly hope so.

On the Republican side, Rep. Sarah Davis easily held off teabag challenger Bonnie Parker, clearing 70% with room to spare. Hard to believe now that this was seen as a hot race. Embattled Family Court Judge Denise Pratt led the field of five for her bench, but she had only 30% of the vote. That runoff will be interesting to watch. Most other incumbents won easily – Sen. Joan Huffman, Rep. Debbie Riddle, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez – while former Council member Al Hoang defeated Nghi Ho for the nomination in HD149. One other incumbent wasn’t so lucky, now-former Party Chair Jared Woodfill, who was ousted by Paul Simpson. I don’t know if County Judge Ed Emmett smokes cigars, but if he fired one up after these numbers started coming in, I for one would not blame him.

On turnout, Election Day wound up being roughly equal to early non-absentee voting on both sides. I’d say the weather plus maybe a bit of Mardi Gras had an effect. We got the results we wanted in Harris County, so I’m not too concerned about it.

UPDATE: I have to laugh at this:

Ogg, 54, said she spent $150,000 to get her message out for the primary. Her opponent, Lloyd Oliver, did not raise or spend a penny on his campaign.

“I guess the weather did me in,” Oliver said Tuesday.

Before the election, the 70-year-old said gray skies meant only the “party elite” would make it to the polls.

“They control the establishment side, and for some reason, I don’t see me ever making it on the establishment side,” he said. “You can either be establishment or a loose cannon, but you can’t be in-between.”

Yes, the weather did you in, Lloyd. Which is why Kim Ogg was leading with over 70% in early voting. Please feel free to go away and never come back now, Lloyd.

Endorsement watch: Kim Ogg for DA

The Chronicle gives a ringing endorsement to Kim Ogg in the Democratic primary for District Attorney.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Ogg has experience as a board-certified felony prosecutor, but she also has the broad view that comes from serving as director of Houston’s first anti-gang task force. After overseeing a 40 percent drop in gang violence, Ogg went to work as executive director of Crime Stoppers, where she helped unite community resources to solve thousands of unsolved crimes. With this experience, Ogg knows that it isn’t merely about racking up prosecutions but setting countywide policy that is directly connected to reducing crime. She points to creative use of civil law to prevent crime before it happens. Harris County has used nuisance injunctions to keep gang members away from schools and apartments, and Ogg wants to expand that strategy to fight people whose businesses act as fronts for sex trafficking.

[…]

Ogg also will put people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana where they belong: along our bayous performing community service, rather than in jail at taxpayer expense.

But like the heroine in a bad horror movie sequel, Ogg has to defeat a sad soul who keeps coming back: Lloyd Wayne Oliver. Just when you thought it was safe to vote in the Democratic primary, he’s on the ballot again for the free publicity. Primary voters should give Oliver the thrashing he deserves for making a mockery of our elections. And they should give Ogg a place in the general election come November.

We all know what the stakes are here. Either we nominate Kim Ogg and have ourselves a real candidate to support who can drive a real debate about the DA’s office and its direction, or we punt the race for the second time in two years. Given that we’re basically going to punt the County Judge race, since the only qualified candidate on the ballot is incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, that’s a lot of dead weight at the top of the county ticket. While I don’t think that will be a drag on Wendy Davis and the rest of the statewide ticket, it certainly won’t help. It’s up to Ogg and her team to do the heavy lifting of voter outreach, but we can do our part as well. Vote for Kim Ogg, and tell everyone you know to vote for Kim Ogg.

On the same page, the Chron did a series of endorsements in contested House primaries. Of interest to us:

District 131: Alma Allen

We endorse Allen, the incumbent, because of her familiarity with the Legislature and her 10 years of seniority there, and because her position on the education committee and long history as a school principal enable her to promote better state funding for public schools. Those serve her south Houston district well. But her energetic challenger, 27-year-old Azuwuike “Ike” Okorafor, is a promising newcomer. We hope to see him run for other area offices.

District 145: Carol Alvarado

In the House, Alvarado has a strong record of fighting for Democratic causes, such as education funding, women’s health and Medicaid expansion, without alienating the Republican colleagues she needs to get things done. She and her staff are notably visible and accessible, providing a high degree of constituent services in a heavily Hispanic district that stretches from part of the Houston Heights southeast to Beltway 8. She’s the clear choice in this race.

No surprises in either one, and I too would like to see Azuwuike Okorafor run for something else if he doesn’t win this time. On the Republican side, they endorsed Chuck Maricle in HD129, Ann Hodges in HD132, Rep. Sarah Davis in HD134, and Rep. Debbie Riddle in HD150. Maricle was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, the only Republican who screened with them for this primary; Hodges was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC; Rep. Davis was endorsed by Equality Texas, the first Republican to get their recommendation. So they have that going for them.

Interview with Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

In addition to the contested primary in SD15, there are two contested Democratic legislative primaries this cycles. The first is in HD131, where Rep. Alma Allen faces a challenger for the second cycle in a row. Rep. Allen was first elected in 2004, defeating Craddick Dem and all around quisling Ron Wilson. Rep. Allen had a long career in public education, serving as teacher, vice principal, principal, and in central administration with HISD. She served on the State Board of Education for ten years prior to her election in HD131, and for the last two sessions in the House she has been the Vice Chair of the Public Education committee. With all the changes made to graduation requirements and standardized testing, not to mention the still-ongoing litigation about school finance, we had a lot to talk about.

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2014 Election page.

Who are these people on our ballot?

The filing deadline is long past, and campaigning for the primary and general election is well underway. Democrats in Harris County have a fairly full complement of legislative candidates this fall, some of whom are better known than others. I thought I’d take a moment to look over the primary ballot list and see what I can find about the candidates who are challenging incumbents of either party. In particular, I’m looking to see if I can find a campaign webpage and/or Facebook page, plus whatever Google can tell me. I’m limiting this to Harris County and to legislative races not counting the US Senate. I may do more of these later if I have the time and the inclination. For now, let’s get started.

Congress

CD02 – Niko Letsos: No webpage or Facebook page that I can find so far. Google tells me nothing.

CD07 – James Cargas and Lissa Squiers – Both ran for this office in 2012. Their links from that year still work.

CD10 – Tawana Cadien: Another repeat candidate from 2012. Her old website and Facebook page are still available. Interviews for all three of these candidates can be found on my 2012 Primary Election – Harris County page.

CD22 – Frank Briscoe and Mark Gibson: Neither appears to have a webpage or a Facebook page yet. Briscoe is a candidate with some pedigree. He ran for CD22 in 2002, losing by a hair in the primary to Tim Riley. He’s the son of the late District Attorney and two-time Houston Mayoral candidate Frank Briscoe, Senior, and apparently a relative in some fashion of former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe. Here’s an interesting Q&A with him in Architectural Record, which isn’t dated but based on context appears to be from not too long after his unsuccessful run in 2002. As for Mark Gibson, Google tells me there’s a Mark Gibson that was an independent candidate for Congress in Virginia in 2012. I rather doubt this is the same Mark Gibson – it’s not that unusual a name – but that’s what I could find in Google.

CD36 – Michael Cole. Cole was the Libertarian candidate for CD36 in 2012 before announcing in August that he would run again as a Democrat. Here’s an interview he did with a Daily Kos member shortly thereafter, which includes links to all his relevant web and social media pages.

State Senate

SD07 – Jim Davis: Google tells me nothing.

SD15 – Sen. John Whitmire and Damian LaCroix: Sen. Whitmire has served in the Senate for many years, but is new to the internets; his Facebook page was created on November 19. I’ve written about LaCroix before and will have an interview with him, and one with Sen. Whitmire, soon.

SD17 – Rita Lucido: Lucido is a longtime activist and volunteer, and is the highest-profile challenger to a Republican incumbent among the legislative candidates. Her campaign Facebook page is quite active.

State House

HD129 – John Gay: No webpage or Facebook presence yet, but Google tells me that John Gay ran for CD14 as a Republican in 2012; he finished seventh in the field of nine. His campaign webpage domain (johngay.org) has expired, but via here I found his personal Facebook page, and while I consider myself to be open and welcoming to party-switchers, it’s safe to say that this guy is a problem. Here’s a screenshot from his Facebook page, so you can see what I mean. Barring a major and convincing change of heart from this guy, my advice is to not waste any time or effort on him. There’s plenty of other good candidates to support.

UPDATE: Upon further investigation, it appears there are two John Gays, the one who ran as an R in 2012 in CD14, and the one who is running in HD129 as a Dem. The latter one does not have any web presence that I found at a cursory search, hence the confusion. I’ve got a business phone number for the HD129 John Gay and will try to reach him tomorrow to discuss. My apologies for the confusion.

HD131 – Rep. Alma Allen and Azuwuike Okorafor: Rep. Allen has a primary challenge for the second straight cycle. Okorafor is a newcomer on the scene but looks like a good candidate. I intend to interview them both for the primary.

HD132 – Luis Lopez: No web presence yet, and the name is too common for Google to be reliable. This may be his personal Facebook page.

HD133 – Laura Nicol: No campaign webpage yet, but her campaign Facebook page is active. She and I have been Facebook friends for awhile, and I met her in person at an HCDP event a couple of weeks ago.

HD134 – Alison Ruff: No web presence as yet. I’ve mentioned her on my blog a couple of times, and met her at HCDP headquarters a couple of weeks back. This is her personal Facebook page.

HD135 – Moiz Abbas: I got nothing.

HD138 – Fred Vernon: Another blank, though this may be him.

HD145 – Rep. Carol Alvarado and Susan Delgado: Rep. Alvarado is my State Rep, and I consider her a friend. Delgado is a realtor, a multiple-time candidate, and the former mistress of the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. Based on comments she has left here and on her personal Facebook page, I think it’s fair to say mud will be flung in this race. For the record, I’ll be voting for Rep. Alvarado.

HD150 – Amy Perez: The full complement – webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Well done.

That’s it for now. I may do a similar exercise for judicial candidates if I find myself with a few spare hours. You can also check out my new 2014 Election page, where I’ll be tracking contested primaries mostly but not exclusively in Harris County. If you think I’ve misrepresented anyone here, or if I’ve missed anything relevant, please let me know. Thanks.

Susan Criss to file in HD23

Some excellent news from the inbox, via Carl Whitmarsh:

Susan Criss

For fifteen years I was honored to wear a black robe for the people of Galveston County. Four times I raised my hand and swore, so help me God, to faithfully execute the duties of the office of the 212th District Court of Galveston County, Texas and to the best of my ability protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas.

While I dearly love this job it is time for me to serve my community in a different capacity. In order to do that I am required by law to resign from this position before December 9, 2013. I sent a letter to Governor Perry resigning from this bench effective at 5 pm December 6, 2013. I ask that he appoint someone to fill this term.

On Sunday December 8, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. I will file for the office of State Representative of District 23 at the Texas Democratic Party office in Austin.

For a decade and a half I administered justice to the best of my ability. I tried to be fair to everyone who appeared before my bench. When I was a young prosecutor Judge Raymond Magee told me that the man who drives to the courthouse in a pickup truck deserves the same justice as the man who drove there in a Cadillac. I never forgot his words and aspired to live up to them every day.

I was addressed as “Your Honor”. That was an appropriate term but not because I was special. It truly was my greatest honor to be able to serve the people of Galveston County in our justice system. I loved this job, the people I worked with, the lawyers who appeared before me and the people I served.

One sign on the door of my courtroom reads “This court belongs to the people.” The other has a quote by Sam Houston, “Do right and risk the consequences.” Both signs reflect my beliefs about justice and about government service.

The pink granite building in Austin also belongs to the people, the ones who drive Cadillacs, the ones who drive pickup trucks and the ones who cannot drive at all.

The people of District 23 deserve strong effective representation in the Texas House. I am excited about working hard to ensure that District 23’s voices are heard in Austin

She also posted that on her Facebook wall, along with that badass picture embedded above. I had wondered if anyone had filed in HD23, and I’m delighted to see a positive answer to that. Retaining this seat that’s being vacated by Rep. Craig Eiland will not be easy, but Judge Criss is as strong a candidate as one could want to make the effort. The Chron has picked up the story, and PDiddie was on it before that.

In other filing news, we have a couple more contested primaries in Harris County. An Azuwuike Okorafor, who may be this attorney, has filed to challenge Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Allen easily turned back a campaign by Council Member Wanda Adams in 2012, so barring anything unexpected I don’t think this time will be any different. Also, a Lily Leal, who may be this person, filed to run for HCDE Trustee At Large Position 7, which is the seat formerly held by Jim Henley for which 2012 SBOE candidate Traci Jensen filed earlier in the period.

Democrats now also have a candidate for County Judge. Unfortunately, that candidate is Ahmad Hassan, the former Republican (he ran against Sheila Jackson Lee in 2006) who ran for County Judge in 2008 and 2010, losing in each primary to David Mincberg and Gordon Quan, respectively. He’s a perfectly nice person but has no real qualifications for this job or understanding of what it is – give a listen to the interview I did with him in 2010 to see what I mean. I don’t think there’s much appetite among Dems to run against incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett, and I can’t blame them – Emmett is generally well-liked, very well-funded, and was easily the top Republican votegetter both times he was on the ballot. I think 2014 is more likely to be a good year in Harris County than not, and while I expect Ed Emmett to run ahead of the GOP pack, it’s certainly possible he could lose. If he lost to a Mincberg or a Quan that would be one thing. Losing to Hassan would not be a good thing, and would invite comparisons to Jim Foster. This is one primary race that I would very much prefer to be a contested race.

Elsewhere, Trail Blazers confirms that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers has indeed filed to run for the Senate. I will reiterate what I said yesterday that it’s everyone’s job to make sure she doesn’t make it to a runoff, let alone wins the nomination. Ignorance cannot be an excuse, y’all. BOR reports that the Democrats “will indeed be fielding several statewide judicial candidates, who are in the process of gathering the signatures required to run”. I have heard that El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody was running again, and I had heard there were at least some other Supreme Court candidates out there, but that’s all I know. No clue whether we’ll have any CCA candidates. Finally, Tom Pauken has ended his quest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on the very reasonable grounds that he had no chance of winning. I can’t claim to have been a fan, but it was better to have more critics of Greg Abbott out there, so to that extent I’m sorry to see him go. Texpatriate has more.

Legislative quick hits

This is the time of the session where there’s lots happening, and there isn’t always the time or space to stay on top of it all. So here are a few quick updates on things that are happening in an attempt to at least not be too far behind.

A bill to give Tesla Motors an opportunity to operate in Texas moves out of committee in the House.

The House Business and Industry Committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would allow Tesla Motors to circumvent the state’s franchise dealer system and sell cars directly to Texans, giving a shot in the arm to the company’s efforts to operate in the state.

Tesla says an exemption from the franchise dealer system is the only way the company can operate successfully in Texas, but the owners of state auto dealer franchises have objected, saying the effort weakens a business model that has been key to their success.

House Bill 3351, by state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, D-Austin, was replaced by a committee substitute that offered auto dealers another layer of protection: If Tesla ever sells more than 5,000 cars a year in the state, it will become subject to existing regulation and must start to franchise its operations.

With Tesla projecting sales of only a few hundred cars a year in the state, the bill’s supporters, including Diarmuid O’Connell, the vice president of business development for Tesla motors, called this a workable approach.

“This would give us the space we need to introduce our technology in the state,” he said.

See here for the background. I’m rooting for this one.

A bill to allow online voter registration has passed the Senate.

[Tuesday] afternoon, the Texas senate approved SB 315, a bill proposed by State Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) to allow holders of unexpired Texas driver’s licenses or state-issued IDs to register to vote online.

Currently, registered voters in Texas may change their addresses online if they move within the same county but must complete a paper application if they are registering to vote for the first time or have moved to a different county.

In testimony on the proposed bill, election administrators said the legislation would both save significant money by reducing the need to manually enter information and eliminate transcription mistakes that happen with the current process.

The version of the bill approved by the Texas senate differs slightly from the original filed version in that the passed bill no longer requires voters to use the address listed on their license or ID as their voter registration address.

A similar bill – HB 313 – by State Rep. Mark Strama (D-Austin) is currently pending in the state house.

See here for the background. Another bill I’m rooting for. BOR has more.

Sen. Dan Patrick’s charter school expansion bill had its hearing in the House

Lawmakers didn’t let on too much of their feelings about the bill—but Killeen Republican Jimmy Don Aycock, chair of the House Public Education Committee, said he didn’t consider the bill watered-down, because it allows the state’s charter network to grow. Charter school officials seemed to agree.

The bill still gives charter schools priority access to unused public school facilities, which Kathleen Zimmerman, executive director of NYOS Charter School, said is the bill’s most important improvement. Zimmerman said she has to give up her office for tutoring sessions because unlike public schools, charters don’t get facilities funding.

Under the Senate version, the education commissioner would revoke charters of schools that performed poorly in three out of five years.

Zimmerman said she didn’t focus on those higher standards because she wanted to highlight the positives. But, she said, “as a charter operator, I don’t want poor performing charters either.”

Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) said she’s concerned that charters may have a hard time getting loans because some banks want them to plan to be open for more than five years.

Charles Pulliam, chief development officer of Life School charter in Dallas, said that prospect would undermine the flexibility charters need to test out innovative education strategies.

“It scares me a little,” Pulliam said. “To have one blanket way of determining if they are successful is a mistake.”

The bill is SB 2, and it easily passed the Senate after adding a bunch of mostly Democratic amendments. It is pending in the House Public Ed committee.

Speaking of charter schools, a bill to limit the role ex-SBOE members can play at one has advanced.

A measure to bar former State Board of Education members from taking a job at a charter school or related foundation within two years of serving on the board is headed to the full Senate.

Senate Bill 1725 by state Sen. Bob Deuell, R-Greenville, is intended to close the revolving door between the SBOE and charter schools.

An amendment by Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, would allow former board members to take a job at a charter school within the two-year period so long as that member did not vote to create that particular school.

The Senate Education Committee passed the bill 6-3 late Tuesday.

The three nays all came from Republicans, which suggests this bill could have problems getting any farther.

The Lege has been trying to change the name of the Railroad Commission to something more reflective of reality for as long as I can remember. They’re still trying, and working on some other reforms as well.

The bill, SB 212 by State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, embodies a previous Sunset review of the Railroad Commission that didn’t pass in the last legislative session that would forbid certain campaign contributions. For instance, commissioners could not accept donations from a party involved in a contested case hearing. It would also limit campaign contributions to the 17 months before an election and 30 days after. Commissioners are elected to six-year terms.

A contested case hearing is the way citizens protest against an oil and gas company permit or action.

Barry Smitherman, Chairman of the Railroad Commission, said during testimony that the campaign restrictions were “tricky” because the commissioner position is elected statewide, the state is big, travel is necessary and commissioners must raise money.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, who sits on the committee, said the Sunset Commission had thought hard about how to put reasonable limits on the campaign financing.

“Sitting there for a six-year term, being able to raise unlimited amounts of money from the industry that they regulate, there clearly is a perception problem,” said Ellis.

The Railroad Commission should be subject to restrictions that differ from other statewide elected officials, like senators and representatives, because the nature of the commission is unique, Nichols said, because the commissioners have six-year terms, they regulate a specific industry and they set rates.

Similar Sunset legislation for the commission originating in the House, HB 2166 by State Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, recently passed out of committee, but largely stripped of the campaign and ethics reform, according to Texas Energy Report. That bill could end up competing with the Senate bill discussed Tuesday.

[…]

No one testified specifically against the name-change provision. [Commissioner Christi] Craddick suggested the more succinct Texas Energy Commission. State Sen. Glen Hegar, R-Katy, who worked on the Sunset review that failed to pass in the last legislative session, also suggested a new name.

“I’d like to change it to Texas Department on Oil and Gas because it sounds cool … TDOG,” Hegar said.

The official name in the bill is Texas Energy Resources Commission. But I like Sen. Hegar’s suggestion.

We close with two from the inbox. First, from Equality Texas:

Moments ago, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence advanced House Bill 2403 by Rep. Mary González of El Paso on a committee vote of 5-3.

HB 2403 would remove existing inequity in Texas’ “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense law. The “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is a logical approach to the reality that adolescents sometimes make sexual decisions that adults wish they had not made, but that adolescents have been making since the beginning of time.

Under current law, if teen sweethearts are of opposite sexes, consensual intimate contact remains a matter between parents and their children. However, the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense is not currently available to dating teens of the same gender. The state should not intrude on the right of parents to instill their values about sex into their children. Nor should the state interfere if teenage sweethearts make decisions that their parents believe are not what is best for them.

This needs to be a conversation between parents and their children. Not between parents, their children, an arresting officer, a prosecuting attorney, and a trial judge. That is why the “Romeo & Juliet” Affirmative Defense exists.

HB 2301 will ensure that it applies equally to straight & gay teens.

Today’s House committee action follows advancement of identical legislation by the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice. On April 9th, Senate Bill 1316 by Senator John Whitmire of Houston was advanced by the committee on a 4-1 vote. SB 1316 is on the Senate Intent Calendar for Tuesday, April 23, 2013.

See here for more. As far as I can tell, the full Senate has not taken up SB1316 as yet.

Last but not least, a non-good bill from Empower the Vote Texas:

HB 148 by Rep. Burkett is scheduled to be voted on by the full House tomorrow, April 25th. Please contact your State Representative and tell them to vote NO on this bill. If you are not sure who is your State Rep, you can use the “Who Represents Me” lookup tool. Emails addresses for all House members are firstname.lastname @ house.state.tx.us, however phone calls are much more effective.

Attached are the letter ETVT sent to all Representatives opposing this bill along with supporting documents. The original text of the bill as introduced, the new text of the committee substitute, witness list, and bill analysis can be found here.

A copy of the letter is here. The hearing is today, so we’ll see how it goes.

All the interviews for 2012

As we begin early voting for the November election, here are all the interviews I conducted for candidates who are on the ballot as well as for the referenda. These include interviews that were done for the primary as well as the ones done after the primary. I hope you found them useful.

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD02: Jim DoughertyWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD10 – Tawana CadienWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD21: Candace DuvalWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD29: Rep. Gene GreenWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

CD36: Max MartinWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

SD25: John CourageWebMP3

HD23: Rep. Craig EilandWebMP3

HD26: Vy NguyenWebMP3

HD127: Cody PogueWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD134: Ann JohnsonWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

HD150: Brad NealWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

Harris County District Attorney: Mike AndersonWebMP3

Harris County Attorney: Vince RyanWebMP3

Harris County Tax Assessor: Ann Harris BennettWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

HISD Bond Referendum: Interview with Terry GrierMP3

City of Houston Bond and Charter Referenda: Interview with Mayor Annise ParkerMP3

HCC Bond Referendum: Interview with Richard SchechterMP3

Metro Referendum: Interviews with David Crossley, Gilbert Garcia and Christof Spieler, Sue Lovell, and County Commissioner Steve Radack

Fall interview season begins tomorrow

I know that we just finished the primary runoffs, but we’re also now more than halfway through August, so it’s time to start doing interviews with candidates for the fall. I’ll be up candid, I don’t know exactly how many interviews I plan to do. For the most part, I don’t anticipate re-interviewing candidates that I spoke to for the May election – I’m already too far behind even if I did want to do that. I’m mostly going to concentrate on area races, but as always things can and do change, so don’t hold me to that. In the meantime, here’s a list of the interviews I did earlier with candidates who will be on the ballot in November:

Senate: Paul SadlerWebMP3

CD07: James CargasWebMP3

CD14: Nick LampsonWebMP3

CD20: Joaquin CastroWebMP3

CD23: Pete GallegoWebMP3

CD27: Rose Meza HarrisonWebMP3

CD33: Marc VeaseyWebMP3

SBOE6: Traci JensenWebMP3

SD10: Sen. Wendy DavisWebMP3

HD131: Rep. Alma AllenWebMP3

HD137: Gene WuWebMP3

HD144: Mary Ann PerezWebMP3

HD146: Rep. Borris MilesWebMP3

HD147: Rep. Garnet ColemanWebMP3

Harris County Sheriff: Sheriff Adrian GarciaWebMP3

HCDE Position 3, At Large: Diane TrautmanWebMP3

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1: Erica LeeWebMP3

Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Sean HammerleWebMP3

Constable, Precinct 1: Alan RosenWebMP3

You may notice if you click on the Web links above that the embedded audio player no longer works. The code comes from Google, and they unfortunately appear to have disabled it. I should have an alternate solution in place going forward, but just clicking on the MP3 file ought to work for you as well. And of course you can always download it for your iPod or whatever.

I am going to try again to reach Beto O’Rourke and Filemon Vela, but you know how that goes. I’ve given up on Rep. Lloyd Doggett; though I did finally make contact with a staffer before the primary, at this point I doubt there’s any interest on his end. There was a contested primary in CD10, but both candidates were late filers. I am trying to reach Tawana Cadien, who won the nomination, but she has no phone number that I can find and she has not as yet responded to an email I sent. If anyone knows how to reach her, please ask her to drop me a note: kuff – at – offthekuff – dot – com.

Democratic results, Harris County

The good:

– Lane Lewis won a full term as HCDP Chair by a 55-45 margin. If you heard a whizzing noise this evening, it was the bullet we all dodged in this race.

– Sheriff Adrian Garcia easily won renomination with over 70% of the vote.

– State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles won their races. We may finally have seen the last of Al Edwards.

– Sean Hammerle held off Dave Wilson in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. It was a close race, but the forces of good prevailed.

The bad:

– Jarvis Johnson, who finally held a campaign event during the first week of early voting, nearly won HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 outright. A late surge by Erica Lee pushed him into a runoff. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson, but he didn’t lift a finger during this race and he was up against two much more qualified opponents. There’s nothing like being a familiar name in a race like this.

– Elaine Palmer drubbed Judge Steve Kirkland, winning over 60% of the vote. I’ll be honest, I had thought that Palmer and Keryl Douglas would win or lose together, but Douglas didn’t have much money, and really didn’t do that much campaigning. Palmer had plenty of money and it worked for her. I wonder if her financial backers will be there for her in November.

The ugly:

– Perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver became the heir apparent to Gene Kelly by defeating the vastly better qualified Zack Fertitta for the DA nomination. I just about threw up when I saw the early numbers, and they never got any better. Let this serve as a very painful example of what can happen when a good candidate doesn’t have enough money to raise his name ID up to the level of the barnacle that is running against him. You can assess the blame however you like for this debacle, all I know is that I will be skipping this race in November.

– If that isn’t bad enough, Kesha Rogers will once again be the “Democratic” nominee in CD22. KP George had an early lead based on a strong showing in Fort Bend County, but he lost in Harris and Brazoria, and that was enough. I don’t even know what to say.

The rest:

– Diane Trautman won the HCDE Position 3 At Large race against David Rosen. Traci Jensen scored a clean win in the three-way SBOE 6 primary. Dexter Smith won in SBOE 8.

– Rep. Alma Allen also successfully defended her seat, winning with 59% against Wanda Adams. Mary Ann Perez had a late burst to win the nomination in HD144 outright, while Gene Wu rode a strong early showing to the top spot in HD137. He garnered 44%, and will face Jamaal Smith, who had 23%, in the runoff.

– Lissa Squiers led the three-way race in CD07 with 40%. She will face James Cargas, who was second with 33%. Tawana Cadien will be the nominee in CD10.

– Incumbent JP Mike Parrott won re-election, as did incumbent Constables Ken Jones, Victor Trevino, and May Walker. In Constable Precinct 1, Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will face off in overtime; Grady Castleberry had been running second but Vara-Leija overtook him late. In the Constable Precinct 2 cattle call, Zerick Guinn and Chris Diaz made the cut.

– Turnout was about 73,000, with almost exactly half of it coming on Election Day. Some people just don’t like voting early.

Endorsement watch: For Rep. Alma Allen

There are three contested Democratic primaries involving an incumbent State Representative in Harris County, and six such primaries involving Republicans. The Chron has now made an endorsement in one of those races.

Rep. Alma Allen

In the Democratic primary race for Texas House District 131, Houston City Councilmember Wanda Adams is challenging longtime incumbent Dr. Alma Allen. It is a contest of freshman passion versus experienced seniority, and in a time of budget cuts and legislative battles, Texas Democrats need all the seniority they can muster.

Rep. Allen spent nearly 40 years in the Houston Independent School District, working as a teacher, vice principal, principal and administrator, and served on the State Board of Education for ten years. With that experience, it should be no surprise that House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has appointed her to the joint interim committee to study the public school finance system. Looking toward an expected state-wide analysis of school funding, if not a complete overhaul, this is no time to kick education experts out of office.

At this rate, they may be done in time for the start of early voting for the runoffs. My interview with Rep. Allen is here. Did I mention that there are also two contested primaries for the open HD144 seat? Clearly, we are not getting there from here.

30 day reports, Harris County candidates for state office

We’re now 26 days out from the May 29 primary, which means more campaign finance reports from candidates for state and county offices who are in contested primaries. I’m going to post about all of these, starting today with reports from Harris County candidates for state offices. Here are the Democrats, whose reports are linked from my 2012 Democratic primary election page:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Nilsson SBOE6 1,100 1,267 0 1,092 Jensen SBOE6 8,105 9,462 0 4,699 Scott SBOE6 200 474 0 346 Allen HD131 103,451 52,965 0 60,002 Adams HD131 17,930 70,768 411 24,110 Madden HD137 15,968 12,232 0 13,987 Smith HD137 29,352 24,993 0 6,255 Winkler HD137 15,575 4,170 20,000 35,914 Wu HD137 35,579 30,539 0 73,468 Perez HD144 48,120 20,238 0 40,729 Risner HD144 9,315 15,158 0 4,156 Ybarra HD144 4,650 7,586 0 27 Miles HD146 16,600 27,776 730,000 58,573 Edwards HD146 14,449 13,685 0 764 Coleman HD147 41,525 39,052 0 84,433 Hill HD147

My post on the January reports is here. Some thoughts about these reports:

I think we can say that Rep. Alma Allen has eradicated the early lead Wanda Adams had in cash on hand. The establishment has rallied to Rep. Allen’s side, as is usually the case with an incumbent in good standing. A lot of money has already been spent in this race, and I don’t expect that to change over the next four weeks.

Usually, establishment support and fundraising prowess go hand in hand, but not always. HD137 is one of the exceptions, as Gene Wu has been the strongest fundraiser despite garnering only one endorsement (that I’m aware of) so far – HAR, which is certainly a nice get but not a core Democratic group. Joe Madden and Jamaal Smith have racked up the endorsements but don’t have the financial support to match. Other than there will be a runoff, I have no idea what will happen in this race.

For a variety of reasons, many organizations have not endorsed in HD144. The candidates got off to a late start thanks to the changes made to the district in the second interim map, and no one had much to show in their January finance reports. HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez, who has the backing of Annie’s List, clearly distinguished herself this cycle, which will undoubtedly help her in a part of town that’s not used to having competitive D primaries for State Rep. The other news of interest in this race has nothing to do with fundraising. Robert Miller reported on candidate Kevin Risner having had three arrests for DUI, a fact that I’m sure was going to come out sooner or later. Miller, who’s a Perez supporter, thinks Risner is in a good position to win the primary. I’m not sure I agree with his analysis, but we’ll see.

Poor Al Edwards. It’s hard running a race without Tom Craddick’s buddies, isn’t it? I think Rep. Miles is going to break the pattern of alternating victories this year. On a side note, the Observer’s Forrest Wilder listened to my interview with Rep. Miles, even if he didn’t link to it. I guess he’s not much of a fan of either candidate in this race.

As of this writing, Ray Hill had not filed a 30 Day report. He finally did file a January report that listed no money raised or spent.

Here are the Republicans:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Cargill SBOE8 4,474 10,059 0 18,626 Ellis SBOE8 6,614 2,795 0 5,224 McCool SD11 5,957 4,959 0 997 Norman SD11 6,200 44,086 30,000 1,007 Taylor SD11 344,708 330,586 0 169,468 Huberty HD127 77,536 44,423 0 64,691 Jordan HD127 791 1,731 0 0 Davis HD129 49,816 42,193 0 70,317 Huls HD129 1,482 1,314 0 167 Callegari HD132 67,385 27,632 0 258,286 Brown HD132 2,275 2,380 0 93 Murphy HD133 110,665 89,167 0 211,004 Witt HD133 9,043 139,943 240,100 34,207 Bohac HD138 38,975 18,931 0 44,094 Smith HD138 22,998 13,562 100,000 105,504 Salazar HD143 Weiskopf HD143 Pineda HD144 28,100 6,591 0 19,613 Pena HD144 3,968 1,368 0 0 Lee HD149 Williams HD149 Mullins HD149 Riddle HD150 8,175 24,461 0 92,216 Wilson HD150 11,900 8,520 1,100 4,272

Note that there are differences from the last time. In January, there was a four-way race for HD136, which was eliminated by the San Antonio court in each of the interim maps. Ann Witt, who had been one of the candidates in HD136, moved over to HD133 and replaced the previous challenger, who apparently un-filed during the second period. In that second period, HD144 incumbent Ken Legler decided to drop out, and incumbent Dwayne Bohac picked up an opponent, and multiple people filed in HDs 143, 144, and 149.

Candidates Frank Salazar in HD143 and Jack Lee in HD149 did not have reports filed as of posting time. Their opponents did have reports filed, but those reports are not viewable until each candidate in the race has filed.

Witt had loaned herself $100K as of January; she has since more than doubled that amount. Whet Smith dropped $100K on himself in his challenge against Bohac. Why he’d do that and not have spent any of it as of the reporting deadline is a question I can’t answer. His $23K raised is a decent amount for the time period, but having more cash on hand with 30 days to go than the amount you loaned yourself makes no sense to me.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more money raised in HD144. That’s a key pickup opportunity for Dems. Gilbert Pena has run for office twice before – HD143 in 2010, and SD06 in 2008 – and I had assumed he’d be the frontrunner in this primary because of that. Am I missing something here?

That’s all I’ve got. I’ll work on the other Dem primaries in Texas and the Harris County races next.

Interview with Rep. Alma Allen

Rep. Alma Allen

I now finally turn my focus to legislative and Congressional primaries. As you might imagine, it’s been a bit of a challenge figuring this part out, since we just now know what the districts look like and who the candidates are. The order in which I do these going forward may be a bit jumbled, but I’m sure we’ll all cope. To kick things off, I have an interview with State Rep. Alma Allen, who has represented HD131 since 2004, when she did us all the great favor of knocking off the deplorable Ron Wilson. Rep. Allen spent 39 years in HISD as a teacher, vice principal, principal, and administrator. She holds a Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and a certificate in administration and supervision from the University of Houston, and served on the State Board of Education for ten years prior to her election to the Lege. In this past session she served as Vice Chair of the Corrections Committee, and she was recently named by House Speaker Joe Straus to the joint interim committee to study the public school finance system. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

It’s always easier to talk in the abstract

I have three things to say about this.

The city of Houston has been papering over multimillion-dollar budget deficits for nine years by borrowing money, tapping its rainy day fund, selling buildings and just plain putting off bills to the future, according to city finance officials.

[…]

This year, Mayor Annise Parker has pledged not to rely on the patches of the past. She has little choice. The city has spent nearly as much of its rainy day fund as it can without affecting the city’s credit rating. Parker does not support continued borrowing to meet pension obligations. And the mayor learned a difficult lesson last year when she included the sale of city buildings in the budget only to see a $20 million hole emerge when the sales did not come off as planned.

Parker may be able to tap an emerging political will to bring income and spending into balance. There are seven new council members.

One of them, District A’s Helena Brown, has raised eyebrows with her no votes on spending items that previously sailed through council.

“By voting me into office this past election, the voters were mandating that the city have a serious dialogue on its spending habits,” Brown said. “My expectations are simple: Balance the budget and end irresponsible spending.”

Two returning council members have political incentives to act as budget hawks as they seek higher office. And all of the re-elected council members signed off on last year’s creation of the task force, which culminated with this month’s stern warning from Chairman Mike Nichols: “We have no option but to take action and make decisions. … This is not a time to kick the can down the road.”

1. CM Brown’s definition of “irresponsible” spending is “spending with which she does not agree”. This is a very common feature among self-proclaimed “deficit hawks”. The two are not equivalent.

2. One of the two returning Council members who is running for another office is CM Wanda Adams, who is challenging State Rep. Alma Allen in the Democratic primary for HD131. I haven’t interviewed CM Adams yet, so I can’t say with certainty about how she intends to position herself in that race, but speaking as a Democrat I feel reasonably confident that in the first election after Rick Perry and the Republicans in the Legislature imposed savage cuts on public education and many other things that the electorate she faces will not be terribly impressed by boasts and promises of even more austerity.

3. For all of the tough talk about pensions, it remains the case that approximately two thirds of the city’s non-capital budget goes to police, fire, and emergency services. Last year, I interviewed thirty-eight candidates for city office. I don’t recall any of them saying that they intended to cut spending on any of that. Most of them, including quite a few who spoke at great length about the need to cut spending, declared that portion of the budget to be off limits, with some others suggesting that we needed to spend more on those services. If there’s an “emerging political will” to act differently in this budget, it’s not apparent to me.

African-American State Reps state their map objections

http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Black-lawmakers-blast-revised-Texas-voting-maps-2346838.php

Contending that African Americans have been an afterthought during the contentious yearlong redistricting process, four Houston lawmakers on Monday voiced their objections to the interim House map a three-judge panel drew recently.

“A lot of emphasis over the past year, even up to now, has been focused on redistricting’s impact on Republicans and Democrats and Hispanics with their increasing population,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, chairman of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, “but what we have concluded is that there’s not enough talk and conversation and debate with respect to the impact that redistricting will have on African Americans.”

At a news conference at the Julia C. Hester House in Fifth Ward, Turner noted that he and his fellow lawmakers – Reps. Borris Miles, Harold Dutton, Alma Allen and Senfronia Thompson – had no objections to maps drawn for the state Senate and for Congress.

They objected to the House map, he said, after an analysis of the numbers led them to believe that predominantly African-American districts in Harris and Dallas counties were being diluted and historic communities of interest were being divided.

These legislators raised these objections previously, during the feedback period. As noted then, if you read their brief, most of the changes they want involve precinct swaps between predominantly African-American districts; note Rep. Dutton’s complaint about Fifth Ward residents being placed into a Third Ward district. My point being, accommodating their changes would not affect the partisan makeup of the court’s map.

Greg delves more deeply into the concerns that these legislators raised.

Now that the politicians have been removed from the process, the districts aren’t quite to their liking. Here’s one instance, with what is apparently now MY State Rep district:

Rep. Borris Miles, who represents House District 146, said that he will lose 60 percent of his African-American district. “They split Sunnyside right in half,” he said. “It’s obvious to me that the three court judges did not know what they were doing when they came in and drew these new lines.”

As luck would have it, Borris gave his nickel version of this complaint at the same Meyerland Dems meeting where I was invited to speak at. He talked briefly about the numbers in the new district, as proposed by the San Antonio court: 41.6% Hispanic and 41.5% Afr-Am. He pointed to Gulfton in the district and said while he knew he could win the district because Gulfton had a lot of “non-voters”, he said his concern was for the person who came after him … or after the “sleeping giant” of Hispanic voters finally woke up.

I like Borris. I’m proud to have been a part of the team that got him elected in 2006. I’m looking forward to giving him all sorts of grief as my State Rep starting in January 2013. But he’s flat out wrong on this. The reason should be obvious if you’ve read more than a handful of posts here during the past year. It’s not that Gulfton has a lot of “non-voters” who might “wake up” and finally start voting. It’s that Gulfton has a lot of non-citizens. Who can’t vote. Period. In fact, by the time, you get to viewing the district’s Citizen Voting Age composition, it turns out that HD146 is 55% African-American. That’s better than HD131 and HD147, both of which are over 50% as well.

Another part of the complaint with the drawing on the south side is that Sunnyside is carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. What’s odd about this being a complaint from Borris is that he’s not won Sunnyside once in the three times he’s been on the ballot. Shedding a bit of Sunnyside might not be the worst thing in the world for him. There’s also the fact that the other two Afr-Am State Reps in the area reside in adjoining precincts to HD146 – Coleman to the north, Allen to the south. So if the concern is keeping Sunnyside whole, someone would likely have to be drawn out of their district. I’m fairly certain that there are no volunteers for this.

Point being, redistricting is hard, and it’s more multidimensional than just R versus D, which is why I say it’s way too early to take Steve Munisteri’s saber rattling with more than a grain of salt. I hope these complaints can be addressed for these legislators, but we’ll never get to a point where everyone, or even everyone in one party, feels like all of their concerns have been met.

Corporal punishment

Fascinating story in the Statesman from last week about the debate over the use of corporal punishment in schools.

People who are not educators can be confused about the meaning of corporal punishment. It is not a teacher shoving a student to break up a fight, pushing him from a chaotic classroom or striking him in self-defense. Corporal punishment is when a teacher deliberately inflicts pain as punishment or for discipline.

Technically, that could include coaches who order uncooperative athletes to perform squat thrusts or run extra laps. But most often it takes the form of smacking the student, typically with a wooden paddle, usually on the buttocks.

Texas is one of 19 states that permit the practice. Out of more than 1,000 districts, fewer than 100 prohibit the practice outright.

Yet it’s difficult to know exactly how many actively strike students. Neither the Texas Education Agency nor the Texas Association of School Boards keeps count.

Those districts that choose to administer licks or swats must have a written policy outlining the procedure. Most have similar guidelines: Use a less severe punishment before resorting to hitting, inform the student why he is being struck and have another district employee witness the act. It should be done in private with an approved instrument.

A bill pending in the Legislature, sponsored by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, would require districts to obtain written permission from parents before using corporal punishment on their children. (About half already require some form of parental permission, according to the Texas Association of School Boards.) Supporters say the law would safeguard parental rights; opponents insist it would remove a crucial element of local control of public schools.

A late amendment to the bill, filed by Panhandle Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, exempts counties with fewer than 50,000 residents. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimates, that’s three-quarters of the state’s 254 counties.

Chisum’s amendment reflects a divide between rural districts and urban and suburban ones on how corporal punishment is viewed and accepted in Texas. Educators say that although most large cities and their surrounding communities generally have shied away from the practice, smaller communities continue to embrace it as a symbol of traditional values.

Chisum’s amendment was subsequently stripped from the bill by the Senate; the House then concurred with the change and the bill was sent to the Governor. In case you’re curious, as I was, “Board of Education policy prohibits corporal punishment as a disciplinary method within the Houston Independent School District” – see the Code of Student Conduct, page 14. That’s good, because I don’t hit my kids and I damn sure don’t want anyone else hitting them. I personally feel that hitting a kid is an admission that you don’t really know how to discipline that kid. I will admit that for some kids there may not be a good way to discipline them, though in such a case I still don’t see how hitting them is going to help. For the record, my parents’ disciplinary arsenal did include corporal punishment, so I’m personally familiar with it. I’d be stunned if as many as one out of ten households on Staten Island in the 1970s and 80s did not hit kids as a matter of course. The Catholic elementary school I attended into the sixth grade made heavy use of corporal punishment, to the point of sadism in the case of at least one teacher. Whether it helped any of the miscreants among my classmates find their way to the straight and narrow I don’t know, as I’ve long since lost touch with everyone from that school. But let’s just say I have my doubts. I feel like we know a lot more now than we did then, and as such I don’t understand why anyone would still think this was a good idea. And I really don’t understand why anyone thinks that requiring parents to be fully informed about it might somehow undermine “local control”. What do you think?

The poll tax

Sometimes it’s hard to remember what century we’re in.

Rep. Alma Allen’s joint resolution to post-ratify the 24th amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed the House on second reading this afternoon. The 24th amendment is the one prohibiting states from levying a poll tax, or a tax on voting, which was used to keep minorities, women and low-income folks away from the polls.

When the 24th amendment was ratified in 1964, Texas was one of just five states that still levied a poll tax, and one of 12 states that didn’t ratify the amendment. Since then, Virgina, North Carolina and Alabama have post-ratified the amendment.

“It’s been a long time coming but it’s here today,” Allen said.

The measure is HJR39, which passed unanimously. Of course, a good number of those folks who voted to finally post-ratify the amendment that outlawed that poll tax are eagerly hoping for the chance to vote for its modern variant. Not that any of them would acknowledge the irony, of course. Ah, well, I suppose we should just celebrate the moment while we can.