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Andrew Burks

Precinct analysis: At Large #2

At Large #2 was one of two such races featuring an incumbent that will go to a runoff.


Dist  Robinson  Rivera    Dick   Davis   Burks
==============================================
A        3,715   1,679   3,982   3,586   1,281
B        5,283   1,243   1,649   3,405   4,335
C       14,736   2,571   6,379   5,446   2,002
D        6,008   1,644   1,632   4,285   7,131
E        5,247   2,596   7,431   6,012   1,549
F        2,650   1,270   1,512   2,238     920
G        8,492   1,517   7,163   8,440   1,895
H        3,788   3,760   1,393   1,735   1,264
I        2,837   3,578   1,273   1,556   1,226
J        1,918     910   1,150   1,481     586
K        5,676   1,553   1,904   3,596   2,995
					
A       26.08%  11.79%  27.96%  25.18%   8.99%
B       33.20%   7.81%  10.36%  21.39%  27.24%
C       47.33%   8.26%  20.49%  17.49%   6.43%
D       29.02%   7.94%   7.88%  20.70%  34.45%
E       22.98%  11.37%  32.54%  26.33%   6.78%
F       30.85%  14.78%  17.60%  26.05%  10.71%
G       30.87%   5.51%  26.04%  30.68%   6.89%
H       31.73%  31.49%  11.67%  14.53%  10.59%
I       27.10%  34.17%  12.16%  14.86%  11.71%
J       31.73%  15.05%  19.02%  24.50%   9.69%
K       36.10%   9.88%  12.11%  22.87%  19.05%
CM David Robinson

CM David Robinson

First-term CM David Robinson did all right in his first re-election bid, which was his third citywide race overall, but he didn’t exactly dominate anywhere. He did do reasonably well in Republican districts, and easily carried District C. He led the way in seven districts, including B, which is encouraging for his re-election prospects. The main source of concern is that none of the also-ran candidates have voter bases that would naturally or necessarily transfer to him. He received the HCDP endorsement (more on that later) and had $87K on hand in his 8 day report after showing strong reports earlier, so he ought to have the resources he needs to do voter outreach for the runoff. He’s going to have to work at it, as he’s not been a particularly high-profile Council member, and while he did run in and win a runoff against an African-American candidate in 2013, he did so in an environment that didn’t have a Mayoral race. Basically, Robinson has the flipside of Georgia Provost’s challenge: He can’t win without African-American voters. A couple of days ago, Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out an email that touted the endorsements of City Council members Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins, and Larry Green. It would surely be a boon for his chances if these three Council members issued a similar endorsement for their At Large #2 colleague.

I’m still not sure what to make of Willie Davis. He not only finished behind former CM Andrew Burks in Districts B and D, he also finished behind Robinson there. He did all right in A, E, and G, but not as well as Eric Dick in A and E, and was a pinch behind Robinson in G. He certainly has room to grow in those districts, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll pick up the voters from other candidates, either. He has a Democratic primary voting history, but the HCDP endorsed Robinson; in other races with two Ds (District H and HISD II), the party gave dual endorsements. That primary voting history may dampen Republican support for him despite his status as the anti-HERO candidate; remember that the Republican establishment attacked Ben Hall during the first round. If he can execute the vaunted Pincer Strategy, he can win. As with Provost in AL1, his next finance report ought to tell the story.

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Change to term limits may be on the November ballot as well

Here we go again.

calvin-on-term-limits-for-dads

Mayor Annise Parker’s proposal would wait until 2020 to lengthen City Council members, the mayor and and controller’s terms; while Councilman Jerry Davis is proposing a staggered roll-out starting in 2016. Supporters say the 2020 plan would be the easiest sell to voters, with no current elected officials standing to benefit.

Though Parker has said the presence of the equal rights ordinance on the November ballot will distract from a “good government” campaign for term limits, she said Wednesday she plans to vote in favor of the 2020 proposal.

“It’s easier for everybody to be able to stand here and say it wouldn’t happen until people were sworn into office in January 2020 than it would happen when people are sworn into office in 2016,” Parker said. “‘And, oh by the way, you’re voting for mayoral candidates and you don’t know if that person is going to serve two years or four years.’ That’s a heavy lift.”

Davis’ proposal would affect only those council members who already have one or two more terms of eligibility left:

Any council member or elected official who is currently in their final term would not be eligible to serve an additional term — Parker, for example.
Any council member or elected official who is in midst of their second term currently would be eligible for one four-year term — Davis is in this category.
Any council member or elected official who is still in their first term currently would be eligible for two four-year terms.

“There’s always going to be a problem with the transition,” Davis said. “And I think with a new mayor coming in, it’s actually a good time. In the essence of good government, it’s a good time.”

I don’t have an opinion on this, because I still believe that the “two four-year terms” plan is not an improvement on the “three two-year terms” status quo. I understand why incumbents don’t want to have to run for re-election every two years – I don’t blame them, but given that Helena Brown and Andrew Burks would still be on Council right now if we were under that plan, my sympathy has its limits – but I don’t care for the alternative. Either increase the number of terms a Council member can serve – six terms has always seemed like a good number to me if we must have term limits – get rid of them altogether, or don’t bother. I don’t see myself voting for this proposal regardless of when it would begin to take effect.

Alvarado’s term limits bill

From the inbox:

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Rep. Carol Alvarado

State Representative Carol Alvarado has filed HB 2917 that, if passed by the Legislature and approved by voters, would change the city’s term limit structure to two four-year terms for the mayor, city controller and councilmembers.

“The city’s current structure of three two-year terms restricts an elected official’s ability to truly dive into the issues that are affecting the city and their respective member’s district,” said Rep. Alvarado. “By changing the term limit structure, members would have a better opportunity to engage in long term planning for the city and have more influence in local, state and national policies that can affect the city.”

Efforts to change the city’s term limits have occurred on both the state and local levels. For the past several years, Representative Garnet Coleman has filed a bill that would amend the city’s term limit structure. Additionally, Houston’s City Council Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, which has been studying this issue, voted to recommend changing the term limits of city officials to two four-year terms instead of the existing three two-year terms beginning in 2019. If approved by city council, this amendment could go before the voters in November of 2015.

“I would like to thank Representative Coleman, as well as the city’s Ad Hoc Charter Review Committee, for their hard work on this issue and look forward to working with them this session to get this issue passed and to the voters,” added Alvarado.

Rep. Coleman’s bill from 2009, which would have extended Houston’s term limits from six years to twelve, passed the House by a wide margin and won unanimous approval from the Senate committee, but did not come up for a vote by the full Senate. I didn’t note any of his subsequent bills, so my guess is that they didn’t get anywhere. (Sorry, too lazy to look them up.) Be that as it may, that bill was filed at a time when a commission that had been appointed by outgoing Mayor Bill White was holding hearings and soliciting feedback. In the end, they made the same recommendation of two four-year terms that the Council committee made this year, but that committee’s proposal was rejected by Council. A different proposal made in 2012 by then-CM Andrew Burks was also rejected. I presume this bill, which has the same two fours mandate as this Council committee, is there as a backup in case the Council plan goes down. I’m not sure what purpose it serves otherwise. I’ve got to say, given the attack on local control this session, I’d rather the idea be dropped if Council refuses to approve it for the ballot. Let city office holders be accountable for this decision, whichever way they go.

Runoff precinct analysis: At Large races

I finally got a draft canvass report from the Harris County Clerk for the December runoff elections. Let’s take a look at the two At Large runoffs and see what we can learn about them. Here’s At Large #2:

Dist Burks Robinson Burks % Rob % ===================================== A 2,145 2,331 47.92% 52.08% B 1,798 451 79.95% 20.05% C 1,464 4,286 25.46% 74.54% D 4,244 1,229 77.54% 22.46% E 1,086 1,347 44.64% 55.36% F 278 418 39.94% 60.06% G 1,280 2,980 30.05% 69.95% H 791 820 49.10% 50.90% I 1,425 1,459 49.41% 50.59% J 300 471 38.91% 61.09% K 1,292 1,006 56.22% 43.78%

Andrew Burks did pretty well where he needed to, in Districts B, D, and K – better than he did in the 2011 runoff, at least on a percentage basis. It seems likely to me that the lesser turnout this year hurt him. He had about a 5,000 vote lead in B and D in 2011, but only a 4,400 vote lead this year, a drop of 600 votes in a race he lost by 500 votes. I don’t mean to pile on Burks, but I have to think that a better candidate could have pulled this one out. Robinson did just enough in C and G to edge him. It’ll be interesting to see if he draws a serious challenger in 2015.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Morales Kubosh Mor % Kub % ===================================== A 2,108 2,755 43.35% 56.65% B 862 1,359 38.81% 61.19% C 2,784 2,821 49.67% 50.33% D 1,800 3,601 33.33% 66.67% E 1,347 1,271 51.45% 48.55% F 404 332 54.89% 45.11% G 2,155 2,280 48.59% 51.41% H 944 739 56.09% 43.91% I 1,962 1,156 62.92% 37.08% J 437 376 53.75% 46.25% K 954 1,345 41.50% 58.50%

Despite Michael Kubosh’s relatively substantial win, it looks to me like the conditions were there for Roy Morales to pull it out. He held his own in the Republican districts, and got a boost from the elevated turnout in the District I runoff. He lost in B, D, and K, where you would expect Kubosh to do well, but he didn’t get creamed. If he had had David Robinson’s numbers in District C, he would have won. Obviously, Mayor Parker did not get involved, and Kubosh did a decent job of presenting himself to Parker supporters, which enabled him to not only be competitive in C but to carry it. You have to tip your hat to that. Further, despite my speculation that there could be a significant undervote in this race, the undervote rate was less in AL3 than it was in AL2. As with Robinson, I look forward to seeing who, if anyone, decides to challenge Kubosh in two years. Both of them, but especially Kubosh, can affect that with their performance in office. I can’t wait to see how it goes when Mayor Parker gets on with the rest of her third term agenda.

I’ll have a look at the other races in a later entry. In the meantime, let me know what you think about these numbers.

Payday lending ordinance passes

In the end, it wasn’t close.

The Houston City Council overwhelmingly passed restrictions on payday and auto title lenders Wednesday, avoiding rumored parliamentary maneuvers to delay the vote and calling on the state Legislature to follow suit.

The vote was 15-2, with Councilwoman Helena Brown and Councilman James Rodriguez opposed. Rodriguez did not seek to delay the measure as had been speculated.

[…]

“Something must be done; something should be done,” Councilman Andrew Burks said. “Our Legislature, they had the ball and dropped it. I don’t like this, but I have to vote for it because … this is the only thing on the table, and it does do something.”

Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who said her office has helped seniors get back cars that had been repossessed after they defaulted on title loans, praised the outcome.

“I’m so proud to know we are taking a stand in protecting our constituents throughout our community,” Adams said. “I think this is something right.”

The measure will take effect July 1, with the city’s new budget year.

The Chron story from yesterday morning about the vote that was scheduled to take place made it sound like it would be closer, though it didn’t quote any member of Council that claimed to be undecided. The two that did vote against it were not a surprise. It’s what CM Brown does, and CM Rodriguez, the subject of a scathing column by Lisa Falkenberg that made Campos see red, was known to not object to payday lenders. The only question was whether CM Rodriguez would tag the ordinance – he was absent at the Council meeting last week and thus eligible to apply a tag, though that is usually not done – which would have the effect of pushing it onto the new Council. As it turns out, that likely would not have made any difference.

But I’m glad they didn’t wait. This was important, it needed to get done, and now there’s that much more time next year to do other things. Even with the head start, there are still plenty of items on Mayor Parker’s third term agenda. So far, so good. Statements praising the ordinance have been sent out by Sens. Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, as well as the AARP, who like Sen. Ellis calls the ordinance a message to the Lege to get its act together. PDiddie, Stace, Texas Leftist, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.

Yes, Council is short on women

It is what it is.

CM Ellen Cohen

CM Ellen Cohen

The Houston City Council will have its fewest women in 15 years this January, which political observers called a troublesome regression for one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.

Just two women will remain on the 16-member council. And for the first time in about 25 years, a minority woman will not hold a seat.

“It’s more a step back rather than a step forward for the city of Houston,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “Women represent slightly over 50 percent of population but will account for less than a fifth of the City Council.”

There are currently four women on the council. Except for 1999, when there were also just two, the council has had at least three females in each of the last 25 years. It peaked at eight in 2005, according to data compiled by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. Also, from 1989 until 1999, there were at least three women on council.

Political analysts say the makeup, likely a result of chance, is not an optimal mix.

[…]

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Stein said a persistent finding in social science research shows that a higher proportion of women on governing bodies means less gridlock and more efficiency. He said some believe this is a genetic trait in women and also because women have different experiences than men.

Stein said this election season saw a diverse group of candidates in the mix, including women, but the turnout was extremely low. He predicted it would be a challenging year for Mayor Annise Parker, who is heading into her final term with her sights on statewide office. In part, this will be because women may be more sympathetic to some of her issues, such as discrimination.

Rice University’s Jones said because Parker will be at the helm of city government, the policy impact will not be dramatic, but that the new council makeup could draw attention to the under-representation of women in governing bodies.

He said these election results were due to bad luck and he does not believe there is any broader anti-woman trends in Houston, noting several races where women were contenders. He also pointed out this low representation of women could persist because incumbents have such an advantage in future elections.

I noted this last week. Took about as long as I figured it might for the Chron to write a story about it. As I said at the time, I think it’s a temporary aberration and not indicative of any trends. If the ball bounced a little differently in the first round of At Large #3, we might not be having this conversation at all. Or maybe we’d be talking about another missed opportunity, who knows. Be that as it may, I don’t quite understand the comment about turnout. Turnout this year was roughly the same as it was in 2009, and it was much higher than it was in 2011 or 2007. It’s not clear to me what effect turnout is supposed to have had on the outcomes. It’s not clear to me that a higher level of turnout would have benefited Graci Garces in the runoff – given the margin of victory in District D, I don’t think any level of turnout could have helped Georgia Provost – or one of Jenifer Pool and Rogene Gee Calvert in November. As for the effect on Mayor Parker and her agenda, I look at it this way: Mayor Parker swapped out two troublemakers in CMs Brown and Burks, and got back only one potential troublemaker in CM-elect Kubosh in return. I’m thinking she’ll take that deal.

While I do think the results of this year’s elections are not predictive of future elections, that doesn’t mean that the current makeup of Council should be accepted without any need to do things differently next time.

Cindy Clifford, who runs a Houston-based public relations company, said she plans to start a group to empower promising women in Houston to consider public office and donate to female candidates. She said women have a harder time raising money and asking for things for themselves. She said she hopes to inspire confidence in promising female leaders.

“It’s important for women to have a seat at the table,” she said. “Women see things differently; there will be a different dialogue and discussion.”

Having good candidates run and ensuring they get the support they need is always a fine idea. If you find the lack of women on the new Council troublesome, now is an excellent time to start working on a solution for 2015.

Is CM-elect Stardig term limited or not?

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

I brought this up yesterday in my wrapup of the city and HCC runoffs, and I’m asking it again here in the hope that someone who can provide a definitive answer will offer one. The question I have is whether or not CM Brenda Stardig is eligible to run for re-election in 2015. As I noted in that post, CM Stardig’s position is similar to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, who flirted with the idea of running in District D this year, thus igniting a stir over whether or not the term limits law allowed for her to run. The law says “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.” City Attorney David Feldman interpreted that to mean that Jones could not run again, since she has served two full terms. My initial reaction was that Stardig was in the same kind of boat, but thinking about it again now, she’s not. If Stardig were to run for a third term, she would file for that election prior to serving out her second term, thus meeting the requirements of the term limits ordinance. A Houston Politics post from 2012 that includes a copy of Feldman’s position supports that view. In practical terms, that means that if you’re an incumbent Council member and you must lose an election, better it to be after your first term than after your second. You can win one, lose one, then win two more, but if you win two and then lose one, you’re out of luck. In other words, Helena Brown and Andrew Burks could come back and wind up serving three terms on Council just as Stardig could, but Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang are finished as Council members, though they could still run for Controller or Mayor.

All that assumes you accept Feldman’s interpretation, which Jones at least said she didn’t. I have to say, while this may be technically correct, it feels wrong to me. The clear intent of the term limits law was to restrict Council members, Controllers, and Mayors to three terms. It’s possible there was some discussion at the time of whether or not those terms had to be consecutive or not – it’s been a long time, I sure don’t remember – but even if there were I’m willing to bet that the prevailing opinion among city voters would overwhelmingly favor the simple “three terms and you’re done” perspective”. I presume that sooner or later this is going to need to be settled by a judge, or by a fix to the ordinance being passed by the voters. Be that as it may, I feel confident that the subject will come up again, any time the subject turns to Stardig and her possible re-election effort in two years.

One reason why this may matter, beyond the simple effect on folks like Stardig and Jones, was vocalized by Texpatriate, who wondered “if Brenda 2.0 becomes super conservative just to placate some of her angry, right-wing constituents”. Maybe the odds of that are greater if she has the option to run for re-election – she might emulate some of CM Brown’s positions in order to protect herself against a third matchup with Brown, for example. No guarantee she’s behave this way – Stardig might well conclude that there are limits to the crazy in District A, and her successful comeback is proof of that. Regardless, it’s not unreasonable to think that a term-limited Stardig could be a different Council member than a Stardig who has one more campaign to go.

So that’s my question. Writing this has led me to what I think is the technically correct answer, but I’m not convinced that the matter is settled. What do you think?

Runoff results: Rough day for incumbents

I have no complaint about the results.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

With all precincts reporting, controversial first-term council incumbents Helena Brown, in northwest Houston’s District A, and Andrew C. Burks Jr., in At-Large Position 2, fell to their challengers, as did HCC trustees Yolanda Navarro Flores and Herlinda Garcia.

Brown lost her rematch with Brenda Stardig, the incumbent she defeated to gain the seat two years ago.

“We’re very proud of the work we’ve done on our campaign and we wanted to get back out there and support our community,” Stardig said. “We’ve had the support of police and fire and so many in our community.”

[…]

Burks fell to challenger David W. Robinson, a civic leader and former city planning commissioner. Robinson raised far more campaign cash than did Burks, who had run unsuccessfully numerous times before winning his seat two years ago. Both men were among the 10 candidates who sought the post when it was an open seat two years ago.

[…]

In the At-Large 3 runoff, bail bondsman and civic activist Michael Kubosh, best known for leading the charge against Houston’s red-light cameras, topped former Harris County Department of Education trustee and former mayoral candidate Roy Morales.

“I appreciate all the people who have supported me and all of my staff that’s worked so hard through the last few months,” Kubosh said. “I’m looking very forward to working on City Council and getting things done.”

[…]

In south Houston’s District D, lobbyist Dwight Boykins bested businesswoman Georgia D. Provost. Boykins had thumped the 11 other candidates in fundraising heading into November. Term-limited District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams was elected to the Houston ISD board.

In a very low-turnout race in the East End’s District I, Harris County jailer and civic activist Robert Gallegos beat Graci Garcés, who is chief of staff for the term-limited James Rodriguez.

So I was three for four in my prognostications. I can’t say I’m unhappy to have been wrong about District A. I am curious about one thing, however, and that’s whether or not Brenda Stardig is eligible under the term limits amendment to run for election again in 2015. If you consider her situation to be analogous to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, and you go by the interpretation given by City Attorney David Feldman, the answer would seem to be No. I made an inquiry about this with the City Attorney’s office several weeks ago, but they have never gotten back to me. Guess I need to try again. Anyway, congratulations to CMs-elect Stardig, Boykins, Gallegos, Robinson, and Kubosh.

The results I’m really happy about are these:

In the Houston Community College contests, District 1 incumbent Flores lost to challenger Zeph Capo, a vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. In District 3, Adriana Tamez, an education consultant, beat incumbent Garcia, who was appointed to the post after the resignation of the prior trustee. In the runoff for the open District 5 seat, businessman Robert Glaser topped commercial real estate agent Phil Kunetka.

Capo over Flores is a huge step up, and Tamez is an upgrade as well. Both Flores and Herlinda Garcia were palling around with Dave Wilson, so having them both lose makes the HCC Board of Trustees a better place. Major congrats to Zeph Capo, Adriana Tamez, and Robert Glaser.

Here are the unofficial Harris County results. There were an additional 308 votes cast in Fort Bend, so the final turnout is right at 37,000. Here’s an update to that table I published Friday:

Year Absent Early E-Day Total Absent% Early% E-Day% ============================================================ 2005 5,350 8,722 24,215 38,287 13.97% 22.78% 62.25% 2007s 5,464 7,420 11,981 24,865 21.97% 29.84% 48.18% 2007 4,456 6,921 13,313 24,690 18.05% 28.03% 53.92% 2011 8,700 15,698 31,688 56,086 15.51% 27.99% 56.50% 2013 9,883 10,143 13,517 36,123 27.36% 28.08% 37.42%

See, that’s the kind of pattern I was expecting for the November election. I guess the turnout was too high for it. Gotta tip your hat to whichever candidate’s mail program generated all those votes. It’s good to be surprised sometimes.

At Large #2 runoff overview

One of these runoffs is not like the others.

CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

On paper, the Houston City Council incumbent most at risk heading into Saturday’s runoff elections is first-termer Andrew Burks, in At-Large Position 2.

Challenger David Robinson had spent more than $201,000 as of last week, to Burks’ roughly $76,000. Robinson, who also earned more votes than Burks on Nov. 5, was the only challenger to out raise a council incumbent. Robinson also had about $73,500 on hand entering the campaign’s final week, more than three times what Burks had.

Burks, a preacher and small businessman, was a long shot in a 10-candidate field two years ago, having unsuccessfully sought public office numerous times. Political analysts, however, said he nonetheless will enjoy the advantage of incumbency against Robinson, an architect, Super Neighborhood Alliance past president and former member of the city Planning Commission. Robinson was among those who sought the At-Large 2 seat two years ago.

David Robinson

David Robinson

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said Burks may also be helped by a runoff in heavily black District D, which will drive turnout in areas likely to support him, whereas there are no district runoffs in Robinson’s best areas to drive turnout for him. Overall turnout is expected to be dismal.

“At-large races are tough because it’s citywide and it’s very difficult to reach voters,” Jones said.

Robinson’s cash edge will help him only if he spends it efficiently, said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus.

“In a low-turnout election, more money is likely to trump ideology or the incumbency affect,” Rottinghaus said. “If they can adequately use those resources to get turnout in their direction, then it could be a very close race.”

As was the case with the November election and as is now the case with the runoff, Robinson has easily led in fundraising, with his finance reports looking like an incumbent’s. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything – Burks won on a shoestring two years ago, with Kristi Thibaut raking in the establishment cash in the runoff as Robinson has been doing all year. It’s a matter of who turns out.

One more thing:

Burks claimed Robinson has tried to fool black voters into thinking he is related to one of several past black council members named Robinson.

“By not showing up or putting his picture out in that community, he’s trying to get votes I normally would have because I am seen in the community,” Burks said.

Robinson rejected the charge, saying he has worked to raise his profile citywide, not obscure it.

Yeah, Dave Wilson will continue to be a pollutant in our elections for years to come. Some people may be confused by David Robinson‘s name, but unlike Wilson, Robinson is not running a stealth campaign. That means he’s doing things like showing up to candidate forums and having an actual photo of himself on his Facebook page. I don’t think I’d ever seen a picture of Dave Wilson before this November. If CM Burks is concerned that people may not have an accurate impression of David Robinson, there is nothing stopping him from working to correct that impression.

Runoff 8 Day Finance Reports

I did not get to looking at the 8 day finance reports for the November election – too many candidates, not enough time. But there was no reason I couldn’t take a gander at the 8 day reports for the runoff. Here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loan On Hand ===================================================== Burks AL2 27,150 14,933 0 21,563 Robinson AL2 93,720 71,771 0 73,536 Kubosh AL3 60,045 59,221 15,000 13,192 Morales AL3 50,030 31,540 3,300 22,274 Brown Dist A 38,928 29,875 0 30,272 Stardig Dist A 35,909 15,102 0 45,321 Boykins Dist D 81,175 65,667 0 25,974 Provost Dist D 24,600 19,047 18,535 2,258 Garces Dist I 53,355 42,056 0 20,071 Gallegos Dist I 35,196 12,348 1,252 18,518

My comments, with links to the reports, is below.

BagOfMoney

Andrew Burks – Received $8,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $3,500 from Across The Track PAC, $1,000 from HAA Better Government Fund. He also got $375 from CM Bradford’s campaign, $250 from Justice of the Peace Zinetta Burney, and $250 from Jeri Brooks, who was the manager of Mayor Parker’s 2009 campaign and who is now working on behalf of the payday lenders. Burks’ wife Lillie contributed $1,500.

David Robinson – As has been the case all along, Robinson’s finance report reads as if he is the incumbent. He got $8,500 from TREPAC, $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies, $2,500 from HOME PAC, $2,500 from Houston Associated General Contractors PAC, $2,000 from HOME PAC, $1,500 from Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLC, $1,000 from LAN PAC, $1,000 from Pipefitters’ Local Union No. 211 COPE Account, $500 from Bracewell & Giuliani Committee, $500 from Cobb Fendley PAC, $500 from HOUCON PAC, $500 from Houstonians For Responsible Growth-PAC, $500 from Amegy Bank of Texas PAC, and $250 each from Associated Builders & Contractors PAC, CDM Smith Inc. PAC Account, Houston Westside PAC, and Huitt Zollars Inc. Texas PAC. He also got $5,000 from Peter Brown, $1,000 from Locke Lord, which is Robert Miller’s firm, and $500 from Marcie Zlotnick, who I believe is CM Ellen Cohen’s daughter.

Michael Kubosh – $47,000 of the amount raised was his own contributions. He got $2,500 from the HPOU PAC, $1,000 from the IEC TX Gulf Coast PAC, $500 from the BOMA PAC, $1,000 from the Baker Botts Amicus Fund, and $1,000 from lobbyist/attorney/blogger Robert Miller, who is also currently working on behalf of the payday lenders.

Roy Morales – $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies Inc PAC, $1,000 from HVJ PAC, $2,300 from HOME PAC, $250 from Associated Builders & Contractors PAC, and $1,000 from himself. I did not see any contributions from Democratic-aligned PACs or prominent progressives on either his report or Kubosh’s. I’ll be very interested to see what the undervote rate is like in this race.

Helena Brown – $1,000 from IEC Texas Gulf Coast PAC, $500 from BAC-PAC, $250 from Seafarers PAC, $500 from Greater Houston Mobility PAC, $1,000 from Group 1 Automotive, Inc. PAC, $500 each from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP and Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP (Robert Miller’s firm), and $1,000 from TREPAC, which remember is the realtors. She also got $500 from Toni Lawrence’s campaign and $100 from Bruce Tatro, meaning that her predecessors that backed her in 2011 are backing her again after sitting out the regular election cycle. Finally, she too received $250 from Jeri Brooks. I think it’s fair to say the payday lenders are choosing sides in these races.

Brenda Stardig – $10,000 from HPOU PAC, $5,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $2,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies PAC, $500 from Houston Westside PAC, $500 from Amegy Bank of Texas PAC, $250 from Arcadis G&M, Inc. Texas PAC, $500 from Associated Builders & Contractors of Greater Houston PAC, $250 from CDM Smith, Inc PAC, and $250 from Huitt-Zollars, Inc. Texas PAC. She has about $2,800 listed as expenses for postcards plus $200 from radio ads, but I don’t see much else that looks like voter outreach. Once again I wonder why she’s sitting on so much cash.

Dwight Boykins – Another report that looks like it belongs to an incumbent. Boykins raked in (deep breath) $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies Inc. – PAC, $5,000 from TREPAC, $2,750 from HOME PAC, $2,000 from BEPC LLC, $1,500 from HOUCONPAC, $2,000 from HAA Better Government Fund, $500 from Fulbright & Jaworski LLP Texas Committee, $500 from Andrews & Kurth Texas PAC, $1,000 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $250 from Houston Westside PAC, $1,000 from Pipefitters’ Local Union No. 211, $500 from Greenberg Taurig LLP Texas PAC, $250 from Cobb Fendley PAC, $500 from Bracewell & Giuliani Committee, $250 from CDM Smith Inc. PAC Account, $500 from LAN-PAC, $1,000 from Plumbers Local Union No. 68, $500 from Arcadis G & M, Inc. Texas PAC, $500 from Locke Lord (Robert Miller’s firm), $1,500 from Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, $1,000 from I.L.A. Local 26 P.A.C. Fund, $1,000 from Baker Botts Amicus Fund, $250 from Huitt-Zollars, Inc Texas PAC, $1,000 from HVJ Political Action Committee, $1,000 from Southwest Laborers District Council PAC, and $2,500 from HPCP Investments LLC. Whew! He also received $1,000 from CM Stephen Costello, and $500 from Anthony Robinson, who I guess did ultimately endorse in the runoff.

Georgia Provost – $1,000 from Woodpest Inc PAC was her only PAC contribution. She got $4,000 each from Alan and Renee Helfman; Alan Helfman is her campaign treasurer. She also received $1,500 from Peter Brown, and $250 from Anthony Robinson. Maybe Robinson didn’t pick a side in the runoff after all.

Graci Garces – $8,000 from TREPAC, $2,000 from Texas Taxi PAC, $500 from Seafarers PAC, $1,000 from Wolpert Inc PAC, $500 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $5,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $2,000 from HAA Better Government Fund, $2,500 from HPOU PAC, $2,000 from Across The Track PAC, and $2,500 from HOME PAC. She also got $500 from the James Rodriguez campaign – no surprise there – and $250 from One World Strategy, which is Jeri Brooks’ firm. In other business-pending-before-Council news, in addition to the Texas Taxi PAC money, Garces got $2,000 from Roman Martinez, the President of Texas Taxis, $1,000 from his wife Diana Davila Martinez (also Garces’ treasurer), and $1,000 each from Rick Barrett (VP of Texas Taxis), Duane Kamins (owner of Yellow Cab), and Ricky Kamins (owner of Liberty Cab). I’m thinking she might be a No vote on Uber.

Robert Gallegos – $4,539.72 in kind from TOP PAC, $1,500 from Teamsters Local $988, $1,000 from Plumbers Local Union No 68, $500 from LAN-PAC, $500 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $1,000 from Pipefitters Local 211, $2,500 from HPCP Investments LLC, and $1,500 from Houston Dock and Marine Council PAC Fund. He also received $4,400 from Peter Brown, and $225 in kind from Sen. Sylvia Garcia.

You may be wondering why I highlighted donations from people associated with the payday lenders. Isn’t that supposed to come up for a vote with this Council? Well, maybe and maybe not. And maybe the votes on Council will be according to the contributions, and maybe not. But at least now you know.

Early voting begins today for Council and HCC runoffs

EarlyVoting

Here’s the map. Note that only City of Houston locations are open, since the only runoffs are for City Council and HCC Trustee. Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 10, from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except for Sunday the 8th, when it is from 1 to 6 PM. Odds are pretty good you won’t encounter any lines whenever you go to vote. Remember that precinct locations are likely to be heavily consolidated on Runoff Day itself, December 14, so voting early will avoid confusion for you.

All City of Houston voters will have at least two races on their ballot, the two At Large runoffs. There are also runoffs in Districts A, D, and I, plus the three HCC Trustee runoffs, in HCC 1, 3, and 5. I will say again, if you live in HCC 1 I strongly urge you to vote for Zeph Capo. Let’s limit the number of friends Dave Wilson has on the board.

Here are the interviews I conducted with the various runoff candidates:

At Large #2
CM Andrew Burks
David Robinson

At Large #3
Michael Kubosh
Roy Morales

District A
CM Helena Brown
Brenda Stardig

District D
Dwight Boykins
Georgia Provost

District I
Robert Gallegos
Graci Garces

HCC 1
Zeph Capo

Get out there and vote, y’all. A press release from the Harris County Clerk is beneath the fold, and Hair Balls has more.

(more…)

Precinct analysis: At Large 2 and 3

Lots of action, and lots of candidates in the At Large races this year. Let’s look at the two races that are going to the runoffs, At Large #2 and 3. First is AL2, in which first term CM Andrew Burks trailed challenger David Robinson after Election Day.

Dist Robinson Rivera Burks Gordon =================================== A 3,644 1,475 3,533 883 B 3,419 840 6,239 332 C 12,038 2,808 5,024 1,127 D 4,294 1,228 9,250 729 E 4,647 3,339 3,761 932 F 2,263 981 1,649 438 G 8,313 1,826 6,072 1,592 H 2,484 2,593 1,836 333 I 2,111 2,655 1,963 396 J 1,813 725 1,269 283 K 4,520 1,285 4,818 575 Dist Robinson Rivera Burks Gordon ===================================== A 38.22% 15.47% 37.05% 9.26% B 31.57% 7.76% 57.61% 3.07% C 57.33% 13.37% 23.93% 5.37% D 27.70% 7.92% 59.67% 4.70% E 36.65% 26.33% 29.66% 7.35% F 42.45% 18.40% 30.93% 8.22% G 46.69% 10.26% 34.11% 8.94% H 34.28% 35.79% 25.34% 4.60% I 29.63% 37.26% 27.55% 5.56% J 44.33% 17.73% 31.03% 6.92% K 40.36% 11.48% 43.03% 5.13%

Though Robinson only led by a few points, he sure looks like he’s in good shape going into December. Robinson led in the Republican districts, dominated District C, and held his own in the African-American districts. In short, as Greg noted, he’s basically replicating Annise Parker’s coalition from 2009. His path to victory in the runoff is clear: more of the same, with maximal effort in C and a push for the Moe Rivera voters in H and I.

Andrew Burks also has a clear path to victory in the runoff: Maximize turnout in B and D, and hold his own in the Republican districts, which was his formula for victory in the 2011 runoff. Burks’ problem is that he’s never been good at maximizing turnout. The undervote in Burks’ At Large races is always higher than the undervote in the other At Large races. For example, this year the undervote in AL2 was 29.75%; in At Large #4, it was only 24.85%, and the next highest undervote after AL2 was in At Large #5, at 28.02%. In the 2011 runoff, the undervote rate was 8.63% in Burks’ race, 1.02% in the Jolanda Jones/Jack Christie race. In the 2009 runoff, the numbers were 19.47% and 12.63%. If Burks had approached Jolanda Jones’ numbers in B and D he would have won; in reality, he lost Harris County by nine points. If Burks can perform like Ronald Green or Brad Bradford in the runoff, he wins. If not, he loses. It’s as simple as that.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Batteau Chavez Calvert Kubosh Pool Morales ================================================= A 529 1,284 1,141 3,591 1,689 1,898 B 1,687 1,331 1,842 3,162 1,562 1,172 C 943 2,748 4,941 5,223 5,594 2,997 D 3,233 1,542 2,279 5,120 2,017 1,492 E 669 1,232 1,571 4,305 2,062 3,614 F 432 586 806 1,337 1,154 1,217 G 795 1,068 3,786 6,254 2,724 4,179 H 422 2,467 790 1,453 1,136 1,705 I 531 2,049 599 1,337 955 2,085 J 333 450 736 1,155 821 892 K 1,361 1,073 2,181 3,214 2,045 1,621 Dist Batteau Chavez Calvert Kubosh Pool Morales ==================================================== A 5.22% 12.67% 11.26% 35.44% 16.67% 18.73% B 15.68% 12.37% 17.13% 29.40% 14.52% 10.90% C 4.20% 12.24% 22.01% 23.27% 24.92% 13.35% D 20.61% 9.83% 14.53% 32.65% 12.86% 9.51% E 4.97% 9.16% 11.68% 32.00% 15.33% 26.86% F 7.81% 10.59% 14.57% 24.17% 20.86% 22.00% G 4.23% 5.68% 20.13% 33.26% 14.48% 22.22% H 5.29% 30.94% 9.91% 18.22% 14.25% 21.38% I 7.03% 27.12% 7.93% 17.69% 12.64% 27.59% J 7.59% 10.26% 16.78% 26.33% 18.71% 20.33% K 11.84% 9.33% 18.97% 27.96% 17.79% 14.10%

I’ve heard some grumbling from fellow Dems about how this race wound up as a runoff between two Republicans. I get the frustration, but I’m not sure what one would recommend doing about it. There were three good Democrats in this race, and they split the vote just evenly enough to keep themselves out of the top two slots. Short of going back in time and convincing one or more of them to not file or drop out, I don’t know what else there is to be done. Shrug it off as a fluke and put this one on the priority list for 2015.

I covered some of this ground yesterday, so let me just say again that I think Michael Kubosh has the advantage going into the runoff, and his path to victory is clear. Roy Morales needs help from the Annise Parker voters, which may or may not be there for him. It’s entirely possible we could see a sizable undervote in this race. It’ll be interesting to see whether more people skip this race or the one in At Large #2. I should add that while I’ve talked about Morales trying to convince the Parker voters to support him, there’s nothing stopping Kubosh from doing the same. He’s been cast as an adversary for the Mayor, but he can make a case that he was only opposing her on issues where he thought she was wrong and that on other things they’re reasonably in agreement. The field is open, and there’s plenty of room for either candidate to move to fill the space without having to move too far.

Anyway. This one can go a variety of directions. All I know for sure is that I have no idea yet how I will vote in that race. Houston Politics has more.

Three questions for the runoffs

There are eight runoff elections on the ballot in Houston – two At Large Council races, three District Council races, and three HCC Trustee races. As we transition into runoff mode, there are three questions on my mind for the races that will conclude in December.

1. Where will the vote come from?

November turnout is driven by Mayoral races. December turnout is also driven by Mayoral races. In runoffs where there isn’t a Mayoral race, turnout is driven by the district Council races, but at a much more modest level. You can go door to door in a District race as opposed to an At Large race, you don’t need as much money to get your message out, and people tend to think about district Council members as “their” Council member in a way they generally don’t about At Large members. District runoffs are in A, D, and I, with the bulk of the turnout likely to come from A and D. Turnout in D will benefit Michael Kubosh and CM Andrew Burks; turnout in A probably won’t strongly favor one candidate over another in either race; turnout in I will probably benefit Roy Morales. David Robinson’s base is deepest in District C – I’ll have the precinct analysis for the At Large races tomorrow – and it’s not clear where Morales will want to go to find his voters. I have a thought on that, which I will explore in item 2. I don’t expect the HCC runoffs to play a significant role in any of the Council races.

But the key is that runoff turnout will be lower, a lot lower than what we just saw. Turnout for the 2011 runoffs, which exceeded 50,000 thanks to the unusually high profile of the At Large #5 runoff. Thirty thousand votes would not be out of line for this year’s runoffs, so all of these races can be won with a very small number. Getting your voters out, whether or not there’s another race that might motivate them, is the goal.

2. Does Mayor Parker get involved?

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With five Council runoffs, the December races could have a significant effect on the makeup of Council, and therefore of Mayor Parker’s third term ambitions. Incumbent officeholders are often reluctant to involve themselves in these races – not always, but often – and for good reason, since no one wants to voluntarily add to one’s enemies list. But Mayor Parker has a stake in the outcome of at least two races, arguably three races, and she will never appear on a City of Houston ballot again, though perhaps she will run for something else someday. Given the scope of her ambitions and the need for a Council that will work with her, I’d argue she can’t afford to sit out the runoffs. Let’s look more closely at the races she might want to get involved in.

– District A. This is practically a no-brainer. Mayor Parker helped out then-CM Brenda Stardig in the 2011 runoff, though it was too little too late, so there’s no argument that neutrality is the default position. Stardig would be an ally on Council. CM Helena Brown is not, and unless there are some detente talks going on that I haven’t heard of, she will continue to not be an ally whether Parker meddles in this race or not. Brown is one of Parker’s main problems on Council, and this is an opportunity to solve that problem. I don’t know why she wouldn’t try.

– At Large #2. CM Burks isn’t an antagonist like CM Brown is, but he’s not a reliable vote for the Mayor. He opposes her food trucks ordinance and while he stated support for a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance in his Texas Leftist candidate questionnaire, he was non-committal about repealing the 2001 charter amendment that forbids the city from offering domestic partner benefits in the interview he did with me. I don’t know where he would stand on new regulatory items like the wage theft or payday lending ordinances. Even if he is on board with these other parts of the Mayor’s agenda, David Robinson unquestionably would be an ally, and would not need to be worked for a vote. Robinson is an upgrade from Parker’s perspective, but the decision here is not as clear because Burks does vote with the Mayor more often than not, and if he survives the runoff he likely would become a stronger opponent of hers if she works against his re-election. It’s a calculated risk, and I could see going either way. For sure, unlike in A, the safe choice is to stay out of it.

– At Large #3. At first glance, it would not appear that there’s anything to be done here, as the runoff is between two Republicans, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Clearly, Michael Kubosh would stand in opposition to Mayor Parker. He’s been a vocal and active critic, fighting against the red light cameras and the homeless feeding ordinance. He endorsed Ben Hall this year, and has contributed financially to Helena Brown. Like CM Brown, I don’t think anything would change in his behavior or their relationship if Mayor Parker actively opposed him in December. Roy Morales ran against Parker in 2009, but then Peter Brown ran against her in 2009 and he was a supporter of hers this year. I certainly don’t see Morales as an ally, but there’s nothing to suggest he’s be an all-out opponent, either. He came across as a fairly mainstream right-of-center type in the interview I did with him. He would almost certainly be an upgrade over Kubosh from the Mayor’s perspective, perhaps a significant one. It can’t hurt for the Mayor to send an envoy to him and see what possibilities for cooperation might exist.

What it comes down to is this: Kubosh has campaigned as an opponent of the Mayor. His voters will have a reason to come out in December. Morales has a smaller base than Kubosh, and there’s not an obvious catalyst that would push his voters to the polls. That’s where Mayor Parker, who just won an election with 57% of the vote, can help him. Let her tell her supporters that a vote for Morales means a vote for supporting the Mayor, and this runoff gets a lot more interesting. There are no guarantees here – Parker would be trying to sell a guy that has held office and run for other offices as a Republican to a mostly Democratic group of voters, and they will have every reason to be skeptical of that – but a message that Morales would be better for the Mayor (assuming, of course, that he would be agreeable to this) than Kubosh is clear enough. This is all my thinking, I have no idea what the Mayor might make of this. But that’s how I see it.

Again, there are no guarantees. If the Mayor gets involved in any of these races and her candidates lose, that will start her third term off with a negative story line, that her support was unhelpful, possibly even hurtful. Some people, especially other officeholders, believe strongly that incumbents should avoid butting in on races like this, so even if she picks winners there will be some blowback. Surely CMs Brown and Burks have friends on Council, and they may not like the Mayor going after them. Playing in these races is a risk. It’s just a question of how the risk stacks up against the potential reward.

3. Will the HCC races finally get some attention?

As far as I can tell, the HCC Trustee races were not covered at all by the Chronicle before the election. No stories, not even a cursory one-paragraphs-about-each-candidate overview story of the five slots that were on the ballot, which is two more than usual thanks to the departures of Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Richard Schechter. Even after the election, with three runoffs and the victory by hatemonger Dave Wilson, there’s not much out there about these races. All things considered, I’m not that hopeful that we’ll get a more complete picture of the candidates that are running for these six-year-term offices.

As noted in item 2, one can make a case for Mayor Parker to get involved in some of the Council runoffs. I think there’s an even more compelling case for her to get involved with at least one of the HCC runoffs as well. Sure, they don’t directly intersect with city business, but this isn’t about that. It’s about Dave Wilson, who has been an opponent of equality in general, and of Annise Parker in particular, for many years now. We can’t do anything about Wilson’s election now, but something can be done to prevent him from having allies on the HCC Board of Trustees. We know he supported Yolanda Navarro Flores. There are now reports that Wilson supported Herlinda Garcia in HCC 3 as well. Given that, I can’t think of any good reason for Mayor Parker to sit on the sidelines. She needs to directly support the efforts of Zeph Capo, and if the reports in HCC 3 are true, of Adriana Tamez. The risks are the same as in the Council runoffs, but the case for action couldn’t be clearer. Let’s shine a nice, bright spotlight on these races and these candidates and who supports what, because letting these races go on under cover of darkness does us all no good.

Election results: Houston

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker easily won re-election, collecting over 57% of the vote in Harris County to beat Ben Hall by nearly thirty points, and far exceeding the expectations of most observers going into Election Day. I personally thought she had a decent chance of avoiding a runoff, but I wasn’t willing to commit to more than that, and I figured 55% was her ceiling. Good on her for such a strong win, which not only ought to wipe out any lingering talk about her unimpressive win in 2011 but also reinforces my belief, which I have said here several times, that she would be tougher to beat this time around. I’ll do a deeper look at the race once I have precinct data, but a peek at the Fort Bend County results suggests one reason for Parker’s dominant win: She managed a respectable showing among African-American voters. Ben Hall took 62% of the vote in Fort Bend. By comparison, Ronald Green won 89% there, and Brad Bradford coasted with 92%.

Speaking of Ronald Green, he won a much closer race, with about 51.7% of the vote after Fort Bend is added in. This was in line with my expectations for the race – I figured Green would win, but it would be close. I don’t know what his thoughts are for 2015, but I think it’s safe to say he’s probably not the frontrunner for Mayor.

In the At Large races, Stephen Costello, Brad Bradford, and Jack Christie all won easily, while Andrew Burks trailed David Robinson as the two head for a runoff. Going back to the Fort Bend results, Burks managed only 54.5% of the vote there. He could be in real trouble in December. In At Large #3, Michael Kubosh led the field with 28% in Harris and a 42% plurality in Fort Bend. He will square off against Roy Morales, who snuck his way into the runoff ahead of Jenifer Pool and Rogene Calvert, who had about the same number of votes each. The four Democratic candidates combined for 54% of the vote in this race, but the distribution was sufficiently tight that it allowed the two Republicans to finish in the money, not unlike District C in 2005. It will be fascinating to see how this one plays out in December.

While there were some mild surprises among these results, there were two truly shocking finishes. One was in District F, where little known challenger Richard Nguyen knocked off two-term incumbent Al Hoang by a 52-48 margin. That one counts as an even bigger surprise than Helena Brown’s win in 2011. Speaking of CM Brown, she will be headed to a runoff rematch against Brenda Stardig, leading by a 38-29 margin with Mike Knox coming in third at a shade under 20%. For what it’s worth, Brown led Stardig 47-41 after the November vote two years ago. Jerry Davis won in B, Dwight Boykins collected over 40% in D and will face off against Georgia Provost, and Graci Garces led the field of four in District I, with Robert Gallegos clinging to a 20-vote lead on Ben Mendez for the second slot.

The HISD races went according to script, with Anna Eastman and Wanda Adams winning big, with Harvin Moore claiming a closer victory. Unfortunately, the other shocker was in HCC 2, where hatemonger Dave Wilson was leading incumbent Bruce Austin by 26 votes. I can’t begin to say how catastrophically terrible that result is if it stands. Remember, HCC Trustees serve for six years. Dave Wilson is a terrible person who has no business being on any elected body, and he has zero qualifications for this job. He’s been running for various things lately just to be a pain in the ass, and it looks like this time in a low information, low turnout race, he managed to win. I’m so upset about this I’m almost unable to talk about it. I’m thoroughly disgusted by this election. Every time I’m asked to speak about elections, I talk about how HCC races are important but always overlooked. This is why.

In the other HCC races, Neeta Sane was re-elected in a squeaker. She lost Harris County by 300 votes but won Fort Bend by 900. All other races are headed to runoffs – Robert Glaser narrowly missed a majority vote in HCC 5 and will go up against Phil Kunetka; appointee Herlinda Garcia trailed Adriana Tamez in HCC 3; and Yolanda Navarro Flores, who benefited from Dave Wilson’s hatred, will face Zeph Capo. Please check and see if you live in HCC 1, because if you do you really need to show up in December and vote for Zeph.

One last word on the Houston races for now: Turnout was over 175,000 total votes, which approaches 2009 levels. Despite my oft-stated belief that this would be the year that the majority of the votes would be cast before Election Day, thus making odd-year elections more like the even-year elections, that didn’t happen – there were about 94,000 Election Day votes in Harris County, and about 80,000 early and absentee votes. A bigger slice was early, but not the lion’s share just yet.

I will write about results from other races in the next post.

EV Day 10: Two normally big days to go

EarlyVoting

We have completed ten days of early voting. Traditionally, the last two days are the big ones. Will we see the same this year? First, here are the comps:

2013
2011
2009
2007

Here’s a look at how turnout has gone over the first ten days of early voting for the past three municipal elections, and for the last two days:

Year 10 Day Last 2 Final Last2 % ====================================== 2013 80,959 2011 40,389 18,156 58,545 31.0% 2009 51,997 28,519 80,516 35.4% 2007 33,247 17,017 50,264 33.9%

Based on that, we can estimate final EV turnout at between 115,000 and 125,000, based on the 10 day total being between 65% and 70% of the final total. Obviously, we are in uncharted territory here, so it’s certainly possible that the last two days will be a smaller portion of the whole. We’ll just have to see.

I’m going to hold off on estimating final turnout until after early voting concludes. Some other folks have posted thoughts on turnout, runoffs, and so forth. Here’s a sample of them, with my comments, starting with turnout thoughts.

Campos:

In 2009, 178,777 votes were cast in the H-Town city elections. In 2009, 10,152 voted by mail and 52,276 voted early in person.

According to Kyle, through Monday 12,886 had voted by mail and 29,532 in person.

Kyle also says that 72% of the vote are hard core voters – they voted in the last three city elections.

It looks to me that we are not going to reach the 2009 total. It will be interesting to see if mail ballots and early voting in person exceed next Tuesday’s turnout. Stay tuned!

I’ve never thought we’d approach the November of 2009 turnout level, but the December of 2009 runoff level, which is a bit more than 150,000 votes in the city, is possible. I do think that at least half of all votes will have been cast by the end of early voting. In other words, I do think 2013 will be like 2008 for city elections.

Robert Miller:

With 52,170 votes already cast, you can see that, as expected, Harris County will disproportionately affect the outcome of the statewide constitutional amendment propositions. In 2011, 695,052 Texans voted in the constitutional amendment election, with 152,597 votes being cast in Harris County or 22%. In 2013, it appears the Harris County may approach 30% of the statewide total.

An analysis of the City of Houston vote by Kyle Johnston of Johnston Campaign estimates that through the first five days, the ethnic breakdown of those casting Houston ballots is African American 32%, Hispanic 12%, Asian 1%, and Other (Anglo) 55%. Mr. Johnston also finds that of the City of Houston voters, 61% have a Democratic primary history, 34% have a Republican primary history, and 5% have no primary history. This partisan breakdown provides further evidence that the time has passed when a candidate running as a Republican can be elected Mayor of Houston.

Houston Politics has the latest version of Johnston’s analysis, through eight days of early voting. I do believe a Republican can be elected Mayor – surely CM Stephen Costello will be a strong contender in 2015 – but I agree that it is highly unlikely someone running as a Republican, with all that means today, could win.

Here’s Robert on the runoff question:

In the current mayoral election, Mayor Parker’s polling is showing her pulling away from Dr. Hall. According to her internal polls, the undecideds are breaking her way and Dr. Hall’s pro forma television buy is not sufficient to keep him in the game. Either the Mayor’s polls are wrong or she is going to win without a runoff.

Lots of people have been asking me this question. I think Mayor Parker can win without a runoff, but I’m not yet ready to bet my own money on that. That’s my answer until I see the first round of results on Tuesday night.

New Media Texas:

I’m no expert, but I’m predicting a runoff for the mayor’s race between Parker and Hall. Mayor Parker barely slipped by with %50.83 of the total vote on Election Day in 2011 with 5 opponents–none of whom I could name without Google. With an open seat in the African-American dense District D and a pool of 12 driving up the AA vote and Hall’s hefty war chest, he’s worth about 30% on November 5th. He’s got a pretty impressive team, although it’s apparent he’s not allowing them to perform at their full potential.

This time around Mayor Parker’s not facing 5 opponents, she’s facing 8. She’ll come out on top on November 5th, but without the 50.1% it takes to avoid a runoff–just my opinion. If I had to guess it, I’d put her numbers somewhere around 47% or so looking at the spread–Hall and Eric Dick, who brought in about 8% in his race for at large in 2011, finishing off the top 3. I’m pretty sure Dick will bring similar numbers this time around.

If Parker gets 47% and Hall gets 30%, then Dick and the other candidates have combined for 23% of the vote. Based on past history and my own observation of those campaigns’ capabilities, I think that’s unlikely. I think the most likely route to a runoff is Hall topping 40%. Second most likely is Dick et al combining for about 15%. When I think about it this way, it seems to make a runoff less likely. But we’ll see.

Nancy Sims:

The Mayor’s race was expected to be much more intense but seemed to fizzle out towards the end. Initially, most of the pundits regarded Ben Hall as a serious contender to face Mayor Parker due to his ability to self-fund his campaign. Pundits also like good political theater.

However, Mr. Hall has let down most everyone in that regard. While he has spent lots of money, he consistently hit the wrong note with voters. He went dark on TV while Parker steadily blasted him with attack ads.

Council races also seem to be flying slightly below the radar. When I ask any average voter (non-immersed politico) about At-Large Position 3, they look at me blankly. When I name a few of the candidates running they sometime have a glimmer of recognition. A number of people have seen the billboard Roy Morales has on 1-10 at Silber. Many have heard of or seen signs for Michael Kubosh. If they are party connected, they probably know Rogene Calvert, Kubosh or Morales. Some know Roland Chavez has been a fire fighter and inner loopers seem to know Jennifer Rene Pool. This race is anybody’s best guess. Pundits think Kubosh wins but most won’t predict who is in a run-off with him.

Agree that At Large #3 is anybody’s guess. Still not convinced Kubosh is a sure thing for the runoff, but I have nothing to back that up. I’ll be very interested to see how the precinct breakdown goes in this one.

Texpatriate thinks that if Mayor Parker wins without a runoff, she may not get as amenable a Council for herself as she could have gotten.

Democrat voters are lazy. The preceding statement, while often controversial, is extremely true nonetheless. Presidential elections, those with higher turnout, see outcomes significantly more amicable to the Democratic Party in this State. As voter turnout drops into the low single-digits, Republicans become more and more successful in the heavily Democratic city of Houston.

For example, in the 2011 At-large position #5 election, the incumbent Jolanda Jones garnered a full 39% of the vote. Laurie Robinson, a likewise Democrat, earned a further 20% of the vote. According to reasonable inferences, Jones should have crushed her opposition in a runoff with close to 60% of the vote. However, when runoff election day came, Jack Christie defeated Jones with over 54% of the vote, rising over 21-points in the polls in the interim. The rise of 21 percentage points, however, was offset by actually about receiving 5000 fewer votes. This was possible because of a devastating drop in voter turnout. Without the Mayor’s race at the top of the ticket, over 1/3 of the electorate stayed home, allowing candidates severely out-of-touch from the interests of Houstonians to get elected.

The same thing will happen this year is Mayor Parker is re-elected in November without a runoff. Let us assume arguendo that this happens. The At-large position #3 will descend into a runoff between Michael Kubosh and one of the three major Democratic candidates (Rogene Calvert, Roland Chavez or Jenifer Pool), which Kubosh will decisively win without Annise Parker at the top of the ticket.

Similarly, I think there is a good chance Andrew Burks and David Robinson go into a runoff in At-large position #2. In that race, the comparably more conservative Burks will defeat Robinson in a runoff election that does not feature a Mayoral component.

If Kubosh replaces Noriega on the City Council, the horseshoe will be split 8-8 between the Mayor’s friends and her ideological opponents. (Costello, Davis, Cohen, Boykins/Richards, Gonzalez, Gallegos/Garces, Laster and Green vs. Burks, Kubosh, Bradford, Christie, Brown, Martin, Hoang and Pennington). Parker’s third term would be irreversibly marred by a recalcitrant and unreasonable City Council (similar to how President Obama’s last six years in office have been ruined by the House).

I don’t buy this analysis. For one thing, Andrew Burks, who has very little in his campaign coffers, doesn’t drive turnout. In 2009 and 2011, he greatly underperformed other African-American candidates on the ballot in runoffs – Gene Locke, Ronald Green, and Jolanda Jones twice. I think Burks will do better if Ben Hall is spending vast sums of money pushing African-American voters to the polls in December than if he is left to do that job for himself. I agree that the Republican Kubosh is likely to do better in a lower-turnout environment, but it’s not clearcut. Remember, Republicans were the biggest supporters of red light cameras in the 2010 referendum, so if Kubosh is running on that achievement, it may cut against him in a two-person race. I just don’t think we can make blanket statements about who does or does not benefit in a runoff if there’s a Mayoral race there or not.

Dave Wilson is up to his usual tricks

Yolanda Navarro Flores

As you know, Dave Wilson is running against incumbent HCC Trustee Bruce Austin in HCC District 2. I wasn’t sure at first if it was that Dave Wilson or not, but it unquestionably is. The fact that he’s running in HCC 2 isn’t stopping him from meddling in his usual slimy way in the HCC 1 race, where Zeph Capo and Kevin Hoffman are challenging scandal-prone incumbent Yolanda Navarro Flores. Here are front and back scans of a mailer Wilson has sent to voters in HCC 1:

Wilson mailer 1

Wilson mailer 2

Like fleas on a rat, Dave Wilson continues to cling to the body politic. Yolanda Navarro Flores then followed the path Wilson blazed:

Flores mailer 1

Flores mailer 2

She has also sent out a mailer touting the endorsement of some current and former elected officials:

Flored endorsement mailer

I wonder if these folks have any idea what else is being said on behalf of Yolanda Navarro Flores. Since she herself has (as far as I know) not asked Dave Wilson to stop saying hateful things about her opponents, perhaps her supporters might. So let me ask the following people:

HCC Trustees Carroll Robinson and Eva Loredo, whom I might add is my Trustee
Constables May Walker and Ruben Davis
CM Andrew Burks
Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel
Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez

Do you have anything to say about what Dave Wilson is doing in support of Yolanda Navarro Flores? Leave a comment, send me an email, post it on Facebook, just let me know one way or another and I’ll be happy to echo your sentiments. To be clear, I’m not calling on anyone to rescind their endorsement of Navarro Flores. I have no problem with anyone supporting her for whatever the reason. I am saying that I hope these folks would want to distance themselves from the Dave Wilson campaign playbook from which Navarro Flores is drawing. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to say that this kind of campaign rhetoric, like what HISD Trustee Manuel Rodriguez employed two years ago against Ramiro Fonseca, has no place in decent society. I especially don’t think it’s too much for Navarro Flores’ Democratic supporters, most especially those that will be on my ballot at some point in the future, to denounce such tactics. (Democratic voters in HCC 2 that have not cast their ballots yet might also note Navarro Flores’ support from the Texas Conservative Review. I’m just saying.) I look forward to hearing from you.

Chron overview of At Large #2

The Chron looks at one of the most competitive races involving an incumbent on the ballot this year.

CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

A minister, architect and city accountant are vying to unseat Councilman Andrew C. Burks Jr. from the Position 2 at-large seat on the Houston City Council, but Burks and his challengers differ on what the most important issue in the campaign should be.

Burks, 62, a minister and owner of AM-PM Telephone Service Inc., is seeking his second term, having won two years ago in his seventh attempt at a city council seat; overall, this is his 13th run for office. He is facing three challengers: David Robinson, 47, owner of Robinson Architectural Workshop; Trebor Gordon, 51, an associate pastor at Central Canaan Christian Church; and Modesto “Moe” Rivera, 58, an accounting supervisor for the city airport system.

The issues they see as key to the campaign are strikingly different, ranging from tax exemptions for senior citizens to the size of the city budget.

Worth reading the whole thing, especially if like me you’re one of those weird people that cares about issues and wants to know what priorities candidates have and what they plan to do about them. My interview with CM Burks is here and with David Robinson is here. I did not interview Trebor Gordon or Modesto Rivera-Colon, but you can see Texpatriate Q&As with them here and here, respectively; Rivera-Colon also did a Q&A with Texas Leftist here. The Chron endorsed Robinson. As I suggested earlier, I think CM Burks may be in some trouble, but we’ll see. Even after two sitting Council members were bounced in 2011, it has still been very difficult in the term limits era to oust an incumbent.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

Endorsement watch: Twofer number two

Another pair of endorsements from the Chron, again one obvious and one that required more thought. First, the easy one.

CM Al Hoang

CM Al Hoang

Centered along the Westpark Tollway toward the city’s far west edges, District F is Houston’s international district.

When people from around the world immigrate to Houston, that Houston is often in District F. Home to large parts of Asia Town, especially Vietnamese communities, the district’s diversity also includes a growing Hispanic base. It is almost like the Alief and Westside neighborhoods are the setting for Houston’s own West Side Story – parents seeking the American dream, kids breaking cultural barriers and, unfortunately, gang violence. You may even find choreographed musical numbers at karaoke bars.

Incumbent Council Member Al Hoang’s first term was marred by controversy, but he’s spent the second delivering for his district. Voters should give him a third.

The Chron endorsed his opponent in 2011, but unlike that year CM Hoang drew only a no-name challenger, and as the Chron notes he did have a better term this time around. I’m not exactly the world’s biggest fan of CM Hoang, but the choice this year was clear.

The more interesting choice was in At Large #2, and for the third time so far the Chron recommended a vote for a challenger to an incumbent.

David Robinson

David Robinson

The task of Houston’s five city council members at-large is to see the proverbial big picture while being well-briefed on the needs of City’s Council’s diverse 11 single-member districts. Only the mayor and city controller have similarly broad, citywide duties.

In At-large Position 2, the vision needs to be more expansive than that shown during the two-year incumbency of Andrew C. Burks, whose performance has not met acceptable standards.

Reports of the sitting councilman’s less than courteous behavior toward constituents coming before council on several occasions are especially concerning.

Burks has drawn three capable opponents in this November’s race. From this group, we recommend the candidacy of David Robinson, a challenger to Burks in the 2011 race for the seat formerly held by three-term Council member Sue Lovell.

Robinson, 47, holds a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Yale and a master’s in architecture from Rice University. He is a practicing architect and planner with strong, informed views on how Houston’s future should be shaped.

Robinson’s previous service to the city is extensive. He was appointed to the city Planning Commission by Mayor Bill White and reappointed by Mayor Annise Parker.

His direct involvement with the city’s neighborhoods runs equally as deep. Robinson’s eight years as an officer of the Neartown Association included two terms as president. He currently serves as president of the citywide Super Neighborhood Alliance.

The Chron endorsed Kristi Thibaut in the open seat race last time. I’ve said plenty about this race, so I’ll just point you to my interviews from this cycle with Robinson and Burks. What are your thoughts on this endorsement?

Interview with CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

CM Andrew Burks

There are so far three races in which an incumbent Council member faces at least one credible opponent. The first is in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is in his first term. As you know, CM Burks has a fascinating story. He had run for office – mostly but not exclusively Houston City Council – multiple times, enough that it’s hard to keep count of how often. He made it to a couple of runoffs, most recently in 2009 against then-incumbent Sue Lovell, but never won a race. Until 2011, of course, when he bested former State Rep. Kristi Thibaut in a runoff, having survived a field of nine candidates to get there. CM Burks is a native Houstonian, an Air Force veteran, and small business owner. Here’s our conversation:

Andrew Burks interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Council approves Costco tax rebate

I still don’t think this is a good idea.

The Houston City Council on Wednesday approved a $1 million economic development deal to help Costco build a store outside the city limits.

In a rambling discussion ending in a 12-3 vote, supporters argued that the sales tax rebate would drive further development in the area around the site of the proposed store, at Interstate 10 and the Grand Parkway, generating revenue the city would not collect otherwise.

Opponents said they had heard no argument for why the rebates were needed for the store to be built, or, in Councilman Andrew Burks’ case, said the deal did not ask enough of Costco.

Corporations should take a more active role in funding after-school and summer jobs programs in the city, Burks said, and should give preference to veterans in hiring.

[…]

The store would sit on 14 acres Costco has under contract in the Cimarron Municipal Utility District. The city since 2003 has had an agreement with the district under which the parties split the revenues of a 1-cent sales tax collected within the district’s boundaries. The city provides only animal control services there, and property owners pay no city property taxes.

Economic development experts have said the area is likely to develop without incentives, given that a new segment of the Grand Parkway connecting I-10 with U.S. 290 will open in December. Councilman C.O. Bradford, who joined Burks and Councilman Larry Green in opposing the deal, took a similar approach.

“Is the incentive necessary?” Bradford asked. “I haven’t heard anybody articulate the real need for the incentive.”

Councilman Ed Gonzalez said the proposal was necessary because Costco was considering a nearby site that would generate no revenue for the city.

“While technically, yes, it’s a very lucrative site, very high-profile and likely Costco would still come there, I think to some extent, by us having skin in the game, we guarantee they do come into this area,” Gonzalez said. “I would rather us control some of our own destiny here, make sure this investment is here and leverage our $1 million to bring a much greater return to the citizens of the city.”

See here for the background. I get why Council agreed to this, but the question I haven’t seen asked – let alone answered – is what the return for the city would be compared to what was likely to be built on that property if no rebate was offered. We all agree that something would be built, possibly this very Costco, but even if you accept that Costco would have gone elsewhere, something else would have been put there eventually. As such, it makes no sense to compare the revenue the city will get from making the deal to zero. Compare it to some scenarios where something else gets built, and compare it to that. Is it still worth the money the city is giving up? If it is, then I can live with this. If not, then we need to do a better job of making economic projections.

July finance reports for At Large candidates

Still plowing my way through all the July finance reports. July and January are very busy months, since everybody has finance reports to do. After I’m done with the city candidates, I’ll be looking at HISD and HCC candidates, then Harris County officeholders and area legislators. Thank $deity the special sessions are finally over.

I’m going to split the At Large candidates into three groups – the three (so far) unchallenged incumbents, the At Large #2 candidates, and the open At Large #3 candidates. Here’s a summary of everyone’s finance reports so far:

Race Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL1 Costello 155,590 42,389 161,646 15,000 AL2 Burks 40,910 17,867 18,042 0 AL2 Robinson 82,454 7,664 52,746 0 AL2 Gordon 1,540 100 1,078 0 AL2 Shabazz AL3 Kubosh 109,057 38,223 85,833 15,000 AL3 Calvert 83,906 18,587 75,318 10,000 AL3 Morales 37,625 2,413 35,211 0 AL3 Chavez 27,255 4,728 23,658 160 AL3 Pool 33,695 28,503 5,192 10,000 AL3 Carmona 0 0 0 0 AL3 Edwards AL4 Bradford 54,225 6,750 51,746 0 AL5 Christie 94,980 36,777 61,588 0

Unchallenged incumbents

Costello report
Bradford report
Christie report

All three are strong fundraisers, though clearly CM Costello is in a class by himself. If the rumblings I have heard about his future Mayoral ambitions are true, he’ll be very well placed in two years’ time. In addition to all of the usual PACs and big name players, with more donations of $1000+ than I’ve seen anywhere else save for perhaps Mayor Parker, the most interesting donation he got might have been the $40 he got from Stuart Rosenberg, who happens to be Mayor Parker’s campaign manager. I haven’t noticed Rosenberg’s name on any other report so far. Since I talked about consultant expenses in my post on Controller finance reports, I will note that Costello spent $36,500 on consultant fees, all of which were recurring expenses for his regular campaign operative. If you’re raising $150K+, that’s a sustainable amount.

CM Bradford, the other sitting Member with rumored Mayoral visions, raised about the same amount as he did in the same period in 2011. Thirty-six hundred of his total was in kind, for use of his personal vehicle and for office space. He had basically no expenses – that was the case for July 2011 as well – so I’m not sure why his cash on hand total isn’t higher. He didn’t file a January report as far as I can tell, and his January 2012 report showed a cash balance of $20K. I presume he had some expenses between then and January 2013, but I couldn’t tell you what they were. I can tell you that his July report showed no expenditures made on consultant services.

CM Christie also had a solid report, and like CM Bradford the last report I show for him is January 2012, when he had only $3K on hand after his bruising runoff win. He made numerous, mostly modest, contributions to various Republican groups, but I didn’t see any Republican officials among his donors. He spent $18K on consultant services, which represents six monthly payments to his primary person.

At Large #2

Burks report
Robinson report
Gordon report

There is a fourth candidate, Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, according to Campos‘ scouting of the filings with the City Secretary’s office. She did not have a report filed as of this publication. Note that Campos lists a Brent Gordon for At Large #2, and his political page has a Trebor Gordon in At Large #3. I think these are the same person, and he filed a second designation of treasurer to reflect that he switched races. But I’m just guessing.

CM Burks is in his first term after finally winning a race in 2011. This will be the first time he’s had to run as a serious candidate rather than as a gadfly. As you can see, compared to some others his report isn’t that impressive. He did get $17,500 in PAC donations ($5K each from HPD and HFD), which feels like it’s on the low end to me, but I didn’t do the math on the other candidates, so I could be wrong about that. I didn’t see any consultant fees, but he did list an expense of $1,250.65 for “placement of 4X8 signs around Houston”. You’ve probably seen a few of them adorning various hurricane fences around town.

David Robinson’s report is more like what you’d expect from an incumbent. You may recall that Robinson finished just out of the money in At Large #2 in 2011, and he made the calculation that I thought someone would that a rematch against now-CM Burks offered better odds than a multi-candidate pileup on AL3. He received contributions from numerous interesting people, including $3000 from Peter Brown, $500 from Anne Clutterbuck, $200 from Kristi Thibaut, and $100 from Sue Lovell, but none stood out to me more than the $1000 he got from chef/entrepreneur Bobby Heugel. I’m going to step out on a limb here and guess that Robinson will be a food truck supporter.

Gordon’s report omitted $8,610 worth of in kind donations, and $10K in pledged donations in its totals. There are always a few candidates who get confused about how to fill in these forms.

At Large #3

Kubosh report
Calvert report
Morales report
Chavez report
Pool report
Carmona report

Al Edwards and Trebor Gordon, if he is a distinct person from Brent Gordon, did not file reports as of publication.

At Large #3 is the one open At Large seat, and it has drawn a large crowd of candidates that can plausibly claim a path to victory. There’s quite a bit of variation in the finance reports, however.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh

Greg pointed out that Michael Kubosh’s report contained a $72,000 donation from “Felix M. Kubosh”, which would be illegal if it were a contribution from another person. (“Felix M. Kubosh” also made three more contributions, for another $24K, or $96K in total.) This drew a disdainful response from Big Jolly, because everybody knows that “Felix M. Kubosh” and “Michael Kubosh” are the same person. I mean, duh, right? So obvi.

Greg then fessed up to his sad lack of Kubosh family knowledge. I will simply note two things. One is that as far as I can tell, the name “Felix” is not to be found on the Kubosh for Council webpage. Similarly, a Google search for “Felix M Kubosh” does not display the name “Michael” on the first two result pages, though “Michael Felix” does appear on page 3. Suggestive, but hardly conclusive, since for all we know “Felix” is Michael Kubosh’s middle name, and the “M” in “Felix M Kubosh” could stand for Mark or Milton or Madagascar for all we know.

The other thing is that if you do a search on the name “Kubosh” at the Tax Assessor’s website, you will find not only a registration for Felix Michael Kubosh but also a registration for Christopher Michael Kubosh. Perhaps Big Jolly knows how to tell at a glance who is the One True Michael Kubosh, but I’m afraid that knowledge eludes a mere mortal such as myself. Thank goodness we have Big Jolly around to show us the way.

Be that as it may, the fact that Felix M. “Michael” Kubosh contributed $96K of his $109 total means he got $13K from everyone else, and if you subtract out the $5K he got from his brother Paul, he raised only $8K from people not named Kubosh. That casts his report in a rather different light. As to why he contributed to himself rather than loaning it to himself, or paying for things from personal funds with the intent to seek repayment later, since one can only repay a maximum of $15K on a loan to oneself for an At Large seat, I don’t know. I do know that Kubosh spent $19,500 on consultants, so perhaps they can explain the different options for self-funding to him. Kubosh also paid $3975 to one of those consultants for advertising and signage, and donated $5K to the Spring Branch Republicans.

That leaves Rogene Calvert with the strongest report among AL3 contenders. Like David Robinson, she had some interesting donors as well – $5K from Andrea White, $1K from Gordon Quan, and $100 from former County Clerk Beverly Kaufmann. Her expenses were fairly modest as well, so she should be in good position going forward. Remember, no one should ever overestimate their name ID in a race like this. Spend your money making sure the voters have at least heard of you.

One person that might be reasonably well known to the voters is former HCDE Trustee Roy Morales, who ran for At Large #3 twice in 2007, and for Mayor in 2011. He needed only 35 donors to generate that $37K in cash, for an average contribution by my calculation of $1077 per person.

Former Houston firefighter Roland Chavez received $10K from the HPFFA, which is the kind of support you’d expect them to show him, but it means they can’t give him any more unless he makes it to a runoff. He also got $200 from Sue Lovell and $100 from Bill White’s former chief of staff Michael Moore.

Jenifer Pool is one of two candidates in this race to have run for an At Large seat in 2011; Chris Carmona, who filed a report claiming no money raised or spent and who ran against AL3 incumbent Melissa Noriega last time, is the other. Pool’s contributions included $5K in kind. Though she spent a fair bit of money, she had no large single expenditures – I think I saw maybe one or two expenses that exceeded $1000. She had many small listings for consulting services that amounted to things like field work, social media, field supplies, and phone calls.

Al Edwards did not have a report filed as of this posting. I still don’t know what to make of his candidacy.

On a side note, PDiddie complains about the emphasis on finance reports as a proxy for candidate viability. He and I disagree on this point, which is fine and I don’t want to rehash any of that. I will simply note that finance reports are public information that candidates are required to disclose. I believe that information deserves to be reviewed and examined, so that anything questionable can be brought up. How else can we know if the candidates are doing what they’re supposed to do? You can assign any value you want to the contents of the report, I see this as an exercise in transparency.

That’s it for the citywide candidates. I’ll wrap up the Houston elections next with a look at the district races. Any questions or requests, let me know.

Budget time in Houston

Houston City Council has begun the process of debating Mayor Parker’s budget for the next fiscal year by proposing 60 amendments to it.

BagOfMoney

Parker’s budget would spend $4.5 billion, including fee-supported enterprise funds such as the aviation department and utility systems, and is a 6.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed general fund budget, supported chiefly by property and sales taxes, is $2.2 billion, an increase of 4.9 percent over the current budget, but just 2.4 percent over projected spending for the current year.

The council is expected to begin hashing out the budget next week.

The big-ticket proposals related to property tax relief for seniors, with council members Andrew Burks, C.O. Bradford and Helena Brown each offering at least one idea on the topic. Most of their amendments sought to raise Houston’s $70,862 residential property tax exemption to match Harris County’s $160,000. Affected homeowners would save $569 annually under Bradford’s most aggressive proposal, and up to $58 under his most modest.

Brown’s proposal, which would hike the city exemption in steps to match the county’s by 2019, would cost $5.7 million next year and $102 million cumulatively by 2019, City Finance Department director Kelly Dowe estimated. Those numbers likely are understated, he said, because they are based on 2012 tax data and assume no growth in appraised values.

CM Brown’s proposal would therefore cost the city an average of $16 million per year through 2019 under current appraisals. The single year total would be higher than that in 2019, probably $22 or $23 million, and would be at least that much going forward. That’s a lot of money, and though it isn’t “spending” in the way that a new program or an expansion of services is, it’s still millions of dollars being diverted from the budget. Maybe it’s a good idea, and maybe it’s something the city should do, but if you’re one of those people that likes to focus on the city’s financial situation, implementing this kind of tax cut would have a significant effect on the bottom line. I just want to make sure we’re all clear on that. By way of contrast, the most expensive new spending proposal was $3 million per year, for a summer jobs program for youth.

For a lot more detail on the budget, in particular the details of various city departments’ budgets, see the recent coverage in Houston Politics here, here, here, and here. Can anyone explain to me why none of this stuff made it into the print version of the paper, or even the houstonchronicle.com website, as far as I can tell? This is what you really need to know if you want to understand the budget.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.

Mayor

Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.

HISD and HCC

There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

Endorsement watch: Planned Parenthood gets an early start

From the inbox on Friday:

Today the Board of Directors of the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast ACTION FUND Inc, (PPGCAF) voted to endorse the following candidates for the November City Election. Each of the endorsed candidates has demonstrated a strong commitment to the health and well being of Texas women and families. PPGCAF encourages all Houston registered voters to cast their ballot for candidates who support women’s health education, information and services. 

 

  • Annise Parker for Mayor
  • Ronald Green for Controller
  • Stephen Costello for Houston City Council At-Large Pos. 1
  • C.O. Brad Bradford for Houston City Council At-Large Position 4
  • Jerry Davis for Houston City Council District B
  • Ellen Cohen for Houston City Council District C
  • Ed Gonzalez for Houston City Council District H
  • Mike Laster for Houston City Council District J
  • Larry Green for Houston City Council District K
  • Anna Eastman for HISD Board of Trustees District I

A copy of the release is here. I’m still a little too focused on the legislative session to pay that much attention to the city elections, but I’m not going to let a slate like this pass by without notice. The only mild surprise on this list is CM Costello, who started out as a Republican in good standing but who has been a pragmatic moderate in office. He drew a challenge from the right in 2011 and will likely draw another this time around, but he was still viewed with considerable skepticism by left-leaning groups despite winning numerous endorsements from Democratic clubs. It’ll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out this time around.

The PPGCAF will likely have more endorsements to make as the open seat contests come into greater focus; it’s possible they’ll take a side against an incumbent or two, depending on who files for what. I’ll be curious to see if they take a position in At Large #2, where CM Andrew Burks is a Democrat but will almost surely face a strong challenge or two. The same is true for HIDS Trustee Larry Marshall. Speaking of HISD, Anna Eastman now has an opponent, Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for District H in 2009. As I noted before, there are currently no open seats in HISD. Campos had an update on who’s filed designations of treasurer so far. Needless to say, that list is a work in progress. This is as good a time as any to ask what rumors and rumblings you’ve heard lately. Leave a comment and let us know.

A first look at the 2013 elections

It is 2013, right? So while we have the SD06 special election and the new legislative session to worry about, it’s not too early to start talking about the 2013 elections. Let’s start with a peek at the campaign finance reports from last July of the Houston officeholders who will be on the ballot this November:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,281,657 Ctrl R Green 9,983 AL 1 Costello 57,345 AL 2 Burks 3,160 AL 4 Bradford 20,590 AL 5 Christie 14,535 A Brown 22,641 B Davis 64,211 C Cohen 45,597 F Hoang 6,429 G Pennington 119,951 H Gonzalez 57,899 J Laster 31,816 K L Green 9,107

I omitted the three Council members who are term-limited out (Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, and James Rodriguez), as well as newly-elected Dave Martin, since his July report would not be relevant. Normally there would have been five open seats this year, but with Mike Sullivan stepping down due to his successful candidacy for Tax Assessor and Jolanda Jones losing in 2011, there are only three vacancies, and as such there will likely be a stampede for those seats. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a closer look at where the non-term limited incumbents are.

Mayor

As we know, Mayor Parker will probably by challenged by former City Attorney Ben Hall, will possibly be challenged by her former Housing Director James Noteware, may possibly be challenged by some yet unknown candidate or candidates, and will certainly have a few fringe challengers as well. It could be quite the crowded race at the top of the ticket. While Hall would certainly be a more serious opponent in terms of money, resume, and presumed base of support than the 2011 hopefuls were, with Noteware and the others also possibly having more juice, I have believed for some time now that Parker starts out in a stronger position this year than she was in two years ago. The much-improved economy and real estate market mean that the city’s budget is far healthier than it was, which means the Mayor can do positive things rather than negative things like layoffs and service reductions. Distractions like red light cameras and Renew Houston are in the past, while the overwhelming passage of the city’s bond referenda gives the Mayor some wind at her back and a nice accomplishment with which to begin the year. Anything can happen, and we’ll see who if anyone else emerges to run against her, but I believe we will look back and say that 2011 was the better chance to beat her.

How would one go about defeating Mayor Parker if one were inclined to do so? The conventional wisdom is to aim to replicate the 1991 campaign, in which State Rep. Sylvester Turner and eventual winner Bob Lanier squeezed then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire into a third place finish. This is the vaunted “pincer strategy”, combining African-Americans and Republicans to shrink the remaining voter pool for the white Democratic lady Mayor. I’m skeptical of this. For one thing, Whitmire – who garnered an incredibly low 20% of the vote in that election – was running for her sixth term in those pre-term limits days, at a time when the term limits movement was gaining steam. There was a strong case for change, or at least there was a more restless electorate that was going through an economic downturn that year. Whitmire was also coming off a bruising defeat, as her $1.2 billion monorail proposal was killed by Metro’s board chairman, who was none other than Bob Lanier. Lanier promised to spend that money on roads, which was much more popular. There isn’t an issue right now that could be used as a cudgel against Parker, which makes the argument to fire her that much more challenging.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be used against Parker, but they’re not issues that I think are likely to be used effectively by an establishment insider like Hall, or any Republican who may file. Given that Hall is who he is, I think a more potent strategy would be to pair him with an outspoken liberal, who can compete with Parker’s base voters in District C by attacking her for things like the homeless feeding ordinance, the lack of any effort to advance equality in Houston, and the Metro referendum if one believes the University Line is mortally wounded. Quantifying the irony of Whitmire losing for promoting a rail plan, and Parker losing for being perceived as insufficiently supportive of rail, is left as an exercise for the reader.

And as long as I’m giving out advice, my suggestion to Team Annise is to work on building its ground game and seeking to increase turnout. There were 160K ballots cast in the 2009 runoff, but only 123K in 2011. Neither of these are particularly high totals for a city election – indeed, the 2011 total failed to reach the puny 125K ballots cast in the sleepy 2007 election. There are plenty of people who have voted in city elections, certainly as recently as 2003, but haven’t done so in the past few cycles. I rather doubt that Parker versus Hall et al is likely on its own to draw any more voters than Parker/Locke/Brown/Morales did in 2009 (181K, in case you’re curious), but there’s no reason Parker shouldn’t be working to identify and bring out voters who have a less consistent history of voting in city elections. I think that offers a better path to 50% plus one than another dreary exercise in talking to only the same old hardcore voters. You know, like me. She has plenty of money, she’ll have plenty more after the curtain comes up on fundraising season. Target a bigger universe, I say.

Controller

I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press.

Council At Large

Is it just me, or are those some anemic cash on hand totals? Six out of eight district Council members have larger campaign treasuries than three of the four At Large members. Bradford often reports a lot of in kind contributions – he has listed some things we might normally think of as expenditures as in kind contributions – which tends to reduce his COH figure. Burks, who raised $35K but had $34K in expenses, paid off a number of debts, including the $10K loan from his wife and two items dating from the 2009 campaign that totaled $4650. Christie also spent nearly as much as he raised – $66K raised, $63K in expenditures. This included $45K for “printing”, which I presume was a deferred expense from his runoff campaign.

As was the case in 2011, there’s only one open At Large seat, At Large #3, so once again I expect a cattle call in that race. I know Jenifer Pool, who ran in At Large #2 in 2011, is in for AL3 this year, and other names will surely emerge in the next few weeks. I have to think that it would be worthwhile for a Council wannabe who might be concerned about getting lost in that shuffle to consider taking on one of the incumbents instead, specifically Burks or Christie. Burks’ winning campaign in 2011 after however many previous tries was, to put it gently, atypical. The only policy item I can recall that he originated last year was a proposal to revamp Houston’s term limits ordinance, which never made it out of committee. He also drew scorn for suggesting that the propane tanks used by food trucks might potentially be used as weapons by terrorists. He doesn’t have much money, doesn’t have a history of fundraising, has generally run do-it-yourself campaigns, and his main asset is the name recognition that a dozen or more previous campaigns has earned him. You can make a similar case for Christie, who made an interesting proposal relating to shelters for homeless people that as far as I know went nowhere and who also said silly things during the food truck debate. Unlike Burks, Christie has been and should continue to be a good fundraiser, but also unlike Burks he has no natural constituency – he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t beloved by county GOP insiders. His win in 2011 could also reasonably be described as out of the ordinary. I’m not saying either would be easy to beat this year, I’m not even saying someone should run against them. I’m just suggesting that a multi-candidate open seat race where getting to the runoff is more crapshoot than anything else doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds of being sworn in next January.

District Council

Just so you know, former Council Member Brenda Stardig reported $26,574 on hand in July. If she aims for a rematch with Helena Brown, she starts out at parity in the money department. I’m not sure what’s up with CMs Hoang and Green, but I don’t expect either of them to have much difficulty this year. Everyone will be watching District A, probably even more than the two open seats, but I’d keep an eye on Jerry Davis in District B as well. Davis has worked hard, but doesn’t appear to have won over the insiders in the district, being a new resident of B himself. It would not shock me if he gets a serious opponent. Beyond that, Dwight Boykins appears to be in for the open seat in District D, and while other names will soon emerge we may have to get a judge’s opinion about whether Jolanda Jones can be among them. There are already two candidates for District I; if history holds, there likely won’t be too many more.

HISD and HCC

It’s a bit confusing because the County Clerk webpage doesn’t track uncontested Trustee races, but I’m pretty sure that the following people are up for election:

For HISD Trustee: Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Lawrence Marshall, and Harvin Moore. Lunceford and Eastman are finishing their first terms; Moore and Meyers were unopposed in 2009; Marshall won in a runoff. I have not heard anything so far to indicate that any of them are not running for re-election. If Anna Eastman runs for and wins re-election she will be the first Trustee in District I to do so since at least 1997 – I can’t check any farther back than that. Gabe Vasquez was elected that year, followed by Karla Cisneros in 2001, Natasha Kamrani in 2005, and Eastman in 2009.

For HCC Trustee: Mary Ann Perez’s election to the Lege in HD144 means there will be a vacancy in HCC Trustee District III. The Board has appointed former Trustee Herlinda Garcia to replace her. Garcia, about whom you can learn more here, will need to run in a special election to be able to serve the remainder of Perez’s term, which expires in 2015. The three Trustees whose terms are up this year are Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, whose district includes a piece of Fort Bend County, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. It’s fair to say that Trustee Navarro Flores’ current term in office has been rather eventful. She won a close race last time, and if she runs again I would expect her to get a strong challenger. Sane is completing her first term, while Austin, the longest-serving Trustee, was first elected in 1989. I am pleased to note that this year the Trustee candidates’ campaign finance statements are now available online. Sometimes, a little bitching and moaning goes a long way.

That’s all I’ve got for now. January finance reports are due next week, and a few will probably trickle in early. I’ll keep an eye out and will post a report when they’re all up, or at least at some point after they’re all supposed to be when I’ve run out of patience waiting for them. I’ll throw in the reports for County officeholders who are up in 2014 as well, just because. Please add your own speculation and rumormongering about who is or isn’t running for what in the comments.

MFU Houston encounters some resistance

No one ever said updating Houston’s food truck ordinances would be easy.

On Tuesday, more than 50 mobile food truck owners and supporters showed up at a council committee hearing to push for changes to the city’s mobile food unit ordinance, saying it would promote economic growth and improve vitality downtown.

“The way the ordinance is right now, it inhibits our growth and our survival,” said food truck vendor Joe Phillip, a representative of Mobile Food Unit Houston Collaborative. “It limits where and how we can sell. Other states and cities have vibrant food truck communities.”

The proposal would lift a ban on mobile food trucks with propane stoves or grills operating in downtown, eliminate the mandatory 60 feet of spacing between each truck, and enable truck vendors to provide seating.

Several council members expressed concern about propane use in the downtown area and the impact mobile food trucks would have on existing restaurants.

Councilman Andrew Burks Jr. opposed the changes, saying he said he has a problem with having multiple trucks lined up along downtown streets, a unsightly scene he has witnessed in other big cities.

Downtown parking is limited, and the close proximity of several trucks could be unsafe, he said.

“There is a danger here,” Burks said. “I don’t like this idea.”

[…]

Members of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, however, see the changes as a move toward deregulation of the food truck industry.

“Very few people in our industry, especially those who are members in our association, see this as something that’s going to really impact business downtown on a positive level,” said association past president Michael Shine.

“They see it, theoretically, as just splitting up a small pie. Members of the association don’t want this happening.”

See here for the background. I don’t believe the downtown food service business is zero-sum – if it were, I’d expect the GHRA to oppose the opening of any new brick-and-mortar eatery downtown as well, on the same grounds – but I do believe that opposition from groups like the GHRA is the main obstacle to be overcome. Ultimately, what’s going to matter is what Mayor Parker thinks about this, and she’s still in wait-and-see mode right now. If you feel strongly about this issue, now would be a good time to let the Mayor and your Council members know.

No term limits referendum this fall

Much as I dislike our silly term limits ordinance, I think this is the correct term of action.

CM Andrew Burks

A City Council committee on Monday killed a proposal to ask voters whether to give the mayor, controller and council members up to 12 years in office. They currently are limited to six.

Councilman Andrew Burks, whose budget amendment last month sent the issue to the council’s ethics and governance committee, first tried to build a case for longer terms on its merits. He argued that it would save money in avoided election costs, attract better candidates, encourage more long-term thinking, shift officials’ focus from fundraising to public policy and reduce the use of council positions as stepping stones to other offices.

Virtually every member of the committee told Burks the proposal was the wrong idea at the wrong time and voted 9-1 to put it to rest. Even Burks, who was elected in December on his 13th try for public office, voted with the majority. Only new District K Councilman Larry Green voted against spiking the proposal.

“I think that we need to revisit the three two-year terms. I think that the cost associated with it is a challenge, not only for the city, but also is a (fundraising) challenge for the candidates,” Green said.

District I Councilman James Rodriguez said any move to change term limits should come from the citizenry.

“I haven’t seen a groundswell of support for changing term limits, especially in my district, and I think they’d like us to get back to the business of running and managing this city,” he said.

While I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that a move to change term limits must come from the grassroots, I agree that there’s no real desire among voters for it to be changed right now. Recent polling data, referenced in a Houston Politics post, suggests the term limits ordinance is popular as it is. I think it’s highly unlikely that a referendum to modify this ordinance would succeed without a long campaign to discuss why it needs to be changed and why an alternative system would serve the city better. The latter half of a highly contentious Presidential election year is not a propitious time to start such a campaign even if the resources existed for it. As was the case in San Antonio, where Mayor Phil Hardberger successfully pushed to have their term limits ordinance changed, I believe that a campaign to do the same here could be initiated and led by a high profile individual like a current or former Mayor. While neither Mayors Parker nor White are supporters of the term limits ordinance, they have not shown any inclination to lead the charge here, and beyond them I don’t see any obvious candidates for the task. I appreciate CM Burks’ efforts, though I would advise him to not take the defeat so personally, but the time isn’t right and there’s no point in putting something on the ballot that’s going to lose. Campos has more.

Council defers on strip club fee

Tagged for a week.

Consideration of a $5-per-head fee on customers of strip clubs to pay for reducing the city’s backlog of untested rape kits has been delayed for a week.

Council members Melissa Noriega and Al Hoang both tagged the item, a parliamentary maneuver that puts off an agenda item for one week, no questions asked.

Neither Noriega nor Hoang said they were against the plan but wanted more time to consider the measure, which was introduced a week ago by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen.

I suspect this will go through in the end. The clubs themselves are unsurprisingly not happy at the prospect, but their main argument against is unlikely to strike fear in anyone’s heart.

Al Van Huff, lawyer for several Houston-area strip clubs, said the city can expect a court fight.

“It sounds great if you’re a politician,” Van Huff said. “The reality of the situation is, it’s going to be expensive for the city to attempt to impose such a tax on these businesses.”

Enforcing a city ordinance also could be complicated. Cohen estimated that about 30 clubs would be affected. Van Huff said fewer than a handful of clubs fit the city’s definition of a sexually oriented business, while an additional 50 clubs’ entertainers wear just enough clothing to skirt the classification.

The fee unfairly targets clubs with the intent of making them unprofitable and forcing their closure, Van Huff said. The clubs already are responsible for taxes as well as the state fee, he said.

The State Supreme Court upheld the legality of the state fee, and the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of that ruling. That case isn’t the be-all and end-all, it was strictly about the constitutional free speech issue, so the clubs may find a more promising avenue for litigation, but again the historical record is against them, as their suit against the 1997 SOB law ultimately went nowhere. Whether or not you approve of the idea, I don’t see litigation as a big threat to it.

Meanwhile, another budget item moves forward.

City Council‘s Ethics, Elections and Council Governance Committee will consider a charter amendment ballot proposition to change term limits from six to 12 years.

Councilman Andrew Burks proposed doubling Council terms from two to four years and keeping the three-term limit in place. Houston voters would have to approve a ballot measure to change current term limits, which are more than two decades old.

The committee would review ballot language, which Burks says will save the city $3 million each two years by reducing the number of elections for the mayor, 16 Council members and controller. Councilwoman Wanda Adams is a co-sponsor of the Burks proposal, which was submitted last week as a budget amendment.

The full Council would have to act by Aug. 20 to place language on the November ballot.

Burks said two-year terms are so short that “We really can’t get anything done” because Council members need to campaign for re-election. Extending terms “improves upon the ability of Council members and mayor to do a better job,” he said.

Councilwoman Helena Brown and Oliver Pennington voted against sending the matter to a Council committee.

“Four years is too long a time for change-out if we’re not doing our job right,” Brown said.

My thoughts exactly, Helena. If this gets approved, it will be yet another referendum on the fall ballot. Get ready to do a lot of voting, y’all.

And finally, there was the plastic bag issue.

Council has approved a budget amendment ordering city officials to consider doing something about the litter problems presented by plastic bags or even to phase them out.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez’s original amendment called for preparing an ordinance within a year that would address a bag ban. Gonzalez spoke of looking to Austin, where a plastic bag ban is in effect, as a possible model.

Numerous speakers criticized the proposal at Tuesday’s public session. The amendment was watered down Tuesday night to say the city should only ”address phasing out plastic bags” and deleted mention of an ordinance. At the Council table today, Councilman Oliver Pennington further softened the proposal by adding language calling on the city to “address littering by plastic bags or phasing out plastic bags.”

Not really sure what that amounts to, but we’ll see. I’m still perfectly fine with the idea of charging a fee for plastic bags and using that money to clean up trash around the city.

UPDATE: In the end, the budget was approved, along with a few other amendments.

Budget amendment time

Now that Mayor Parker has formally submitted her proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, it’s time for Council members to submit their amendments for consideration. I’m going to start at the bottom of the story with the two proposals that intrigues me the most.

Two members called for a November election to amend the city’s term limits law, which forces council members, the mayor and controller from office after three two-year terms. [CM Wanda] Adams proposes two four-year terms; Councilman Andrew Burks proposes three four-year terms.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez has proposed a ban on plastic bags in Houston. Specifically, his amendment calls for the city to draw up an ordinance within a year that would phase out the use of the bags. Brownsville has banned the bags, and a ban goes into effect in Austin next year.

“We have a number of bayous, and they’re littered with plastic bottles and plastic bags,” which conservation groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year removing, Gonzalez said. He referred to trees on the banks of bayous with bags snagged in their boughs as “urban Christmas trees.” He said he does not envision the city offering businesses a financial incentive to abandon plastic bags.

As you know, I don’t like term limits at all, but if we have to have them I’d rather put the limit at 12 years rather than 6, for the simple reason that I don’t think six years is enough time to really accomplish much as a Council member. As such, I’d take Burks’ proposal over Adams’, though hers is still better than the status quo. However, I would prefer even more to have six two-year terms instead of three four-year terms. My argument for having two year terms instead of four year terms can be summed up in four words: Council Member Helena Brown. Four years is an awful long time to have to wait to correct an error like that.

As for the bag ban proposal, you know I’ve been following developments around the state and wondering when Houston might get in on the act. About time for it, I say. I don’t have a strong preference for any specific approach to this, whether a ban by fiat or by imposition of a tax on bags, perhaps to be replaced later by a full on ban. As long as the city engages all the stakeholders and gives plenty of opportunity for feedback, I’m sure the end result will be fine. All of these proposals assume Mayor Parker supports them, as they are unlikely to get very far if she doesn’t. We know she’s no fan of the current term limits system, and I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t back up her Mayor Pro Tem on this one.

Council members Stephen Costello and Wanda Adams both call for giving $160,000 to the Houston Food Bank to help it enroll more people in SNAP, the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

One of Councilman Mike Sullivan’s amendments would eliminate funding for affirmative action monitoring on city contracts. Councilman Larry Green proposes increasing it.

From Councilman Jack Christie came a fill-it-or-kill-it plan that would have Council consider eliminating any position that remains vacant for three months.

First-term Councilwoman Ellen Cohen proposed a Houston version of the so-called “pole tax” she shepherded into law as a state legislator. The state law imposed a $5 per customer fee on strip clubs to raise money for sexual assault victims.

In order:

– I approve of the Costello/Adams proposal. Ensuring children have adequate nutrition is one of the best investments you can make. It is, to coin a phrase, a big effin’ deal.

– Sullivan may have won his Republican primary last month, but between this and some of his other amendments, which include a five percent pay cut for the Mayor and Council members, I guess he isn’t finished wooing those voters. I don’t expect them to go far, and as Campos notes, his colleagues who hope to be on Council longer than Sullivan intends to be probably aren’t too thrilled by this.

– I see some merit in Christie’s proposal, but on the whole I’d prefer to err on the side of more flexibility for department heads.

– I’m a tiny bit ambivalent about Cohen’s SOB proposal. No question, clearing the rape kit backlog is a huge priority, and with the favorable resolution of the lawsuit over the state “pole tax” law (that Cohen authored), this is the obvious vehicle for that. I just feel, as I did about the state law, that sexual assault is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, and as such it feels a little pat to put the entire burden for funding these needed items on strip clubs and the like. It’s a minor quibble, not enough to make me oppose Cohen’s amendment, I just felt like someone had to say that.

There’s more proposals than just these, of varying levels of seriousness and likelihood of adoption. In addition to her pension default tomfoolery, CM Helena Brown has a variety of no-hope amendments, including one to switch the city from a strong mayor system to a city manager system. There are pros and cons to each approach, and without commenting on the merits of one system over the other, I’ll just note that this would be a ginormous, fundamental change to how we do things, and as such would need a ton of discussion and engagement culminating in a charter referendum. All things considered, it’s hard to see this as anything but another attack on the Mayor by her political enemies. Stace has more.

Two cities, one argument about airports

Turns out Houston isn’t the only city squabbling with United Airlines about airport expansions. There’s a similar fight going on in Chicago.

O'Hare International Airport

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gotten tough with the teachers union and muscled the City Council. But will he mess with somebody his own size?

Mr. Emanuel is at odds with airline boss Jeff Smisek over expansion of O’Hare International Airport. The CEO of United Continental Holdings Inc. jabbed at Mr. Emanuel recently, saying there’s no need to finish the multibillion-dollar project launched seven years ago.

The new mayor shot back with a demand to start talks now on the final phase of the expansion. The deadline for starting those negotiations isn’t until next March.

[…]

Mr. Emanuel can’t afford to let O’Hare fall behind rival airports. Mr. Smisek, on the other hand, has a different agenda. Unlike airline execs of the past, whose expansionist strategies dovetailed with the city’s desire for an ever-bigger O’Hare, he’s focused on the bottom line. He aims to boost profits by reducing capacity and competition in the airline industry, which has a long history of big spending, bloody fare wars and monumental losses. His merger of Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. and Chicago’s UAL Corp. advanced those aims while creating an airline with unprecedented market power, the largest in the industry.

Proceeding with the final phase of the O’Hare expansion would undercut Mr. Smisek’s agenda, adding capacity that could allow new airlines into the airport, where United and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines now control 80 percent of the flights. Their stranglehold makes it hard for newcomers to get into O’Hare and maybe offer lower fares. It also means that United and American pay most of the cost of any expansion projects at O’Hare, giving them clout in construction negotiations.

The terms of the debate are different in Chicago, but the bottom line is the same. What’s best for the city may not be best for United Airlines, and vice versa. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about a large company with near-monopoly control in a given market doing whatever it can to keep competition out. What is remarkable is that the argument to allow such competition would somehow be damaging to consumers is given any credibility.

Which brings me to Tuesday’s Council session, in which United and Southwest made their case before a joint meeting of the Budget & Fiscal Affairs and Transportation, Technology & Infrastructure committees.

CEO Gary Kelly spoke for Southwest. He framed the debate in his company’s David-and-Goliath narrative of the scrappy low-cost carrier trying to crack a market dominated by the big boys.

Kelly opened with, “It is déjà vu.” Southwest had to fight just to keep from being killed in its crib by legacy carriers that schemed and litigated all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the airline from starting up, by Kelly’s version of history.

“That group included Continental Airlines,” Kelly said, the hometown carrier that merged with United in 2010. “It was a cynical move.”

In 1971, Southwest sought to reopen Hobby, which had closed two years earlier when Houston Intercontinental Airport opened.

“Then, as now, the legacy carriers went ballistic,” Kelly said, “… insisting that reopening Hobby would cause irreparable damage to Intercontinental.”

[…]

[United] delivered PowerPoint slides with statistics on how over the past 19 years Southwest has increased its fares at a faster rate than the legacy carriers have and juxtaposed the city’s projection of a Houston-Bogota flight for $133 on Southwest with the airline’s recent advertised rate of $160 just to get from Chicago to Oklahoma City.

John Gebo, United’s senior vice president of financial planning, even contested Southwest’s central contention that its entry into Houston’s international travel market will lower fares:

“There are cases where Southwest’s fares are lower. There are cases where they’re higher. It is a fallacy that Southwest’s fares are always lower.”

They also focused on the future instead of history. A council vote to expand Hobby, they said, would prompt them to reconsider a $700 million investment they have planned at Bush’s Terminal B. United broke ground on the project in January, unaware that later that same day Kelly would be meeting with Mayor Annise Parker to discuss Hobby expansion.

Let me refer you back to the two posts in which my wife Tiffany Tyler analyzed Southwest’s proposal and the claims United was making at the time, which seem to have evolved somewhat. I understand United’s fear of this proposal. I understand their threats regarding Terminal B at IAH, though given the growth projections for IAH and the fact that they want to close down the former Continental hub in Cleveland it’s hard for me to take those threats too seriously – where else are they going to go? Unlike Southwest, which says it will go to San Antonio for their Latin American and Caribbean business if Hobby is not available to them, they’re pretty much locked in. What I don’t understand is how having more competition, even if it’s just for a handful of Latin American routes, can be bad for travelers. It makes no sense to me, and according to his press release it makes no sense to CM Andrew Burks, either. I hope in the end it makes no sense to the rest of Council.

Council is skeptical of Hobby International

Not so clear skies for expanding Hobby Airport into an international terminal.

A consultant’s study that forecasts an economic boon for Houston if Hobby is made into an international airport came under fire from city council members Monday as “biased” and “custom-made just to satisfy the demand of Southwest” Airlines, which is asking the city for permission to build a $100 million Customs facility and five-gate expansion at Hobby.

In a three-hour grilling of Houston Airports Director Mario Diaz, council members complained that the numbers in the study strained credulity, that they were kept in the dark about Southwest’s pitch for at least eight months, that airport officials have been condescending and that council and others should have been asked for input before Diaz recommended approval of the Hobby expansion.

According to the study, an international Hobby would lead to the creation of 10,000 jobs and inject $1.6 billion annually into the Houston area economy, as well as lower air fares. Comments from the general public have been overwhelmingly in support of Southwest’s plan to start flying to Mexico and the Caribbean.

The study is here; it and other supporting documents can be found here. I’ve skimmed the study but have not given it a full read yet.

“What may be the largest issue perhaps of the century, you all have blown it in my view,” Councilman C.O. Bradford told Diaz. “This rollout simply has been a complete disaster. I mean lack of transparency, arbitrary time lines, total disregard, disrespect for council. It’s just unconscionable.”

Councilman Al Hoang said, “I feel that this report is already biased, it’s already custom-made just to satisfy the demand of Southwest.”

[…]

Councilman Andrew Burks questioned the numbers in the report and singled out a projected fare of $133 to Bogota.

“You can’t even fly from Houston to Lubbock on Southwest for $133,” Burks said. “I really want to just throw this proposal out the window because, right now, when I see numbers that can’t match, it just don’t work for me.”

I can’t address Council members’ complaints that they have been disrespected, but from what I have seen of the study it seems pretty sensible to me. The case for international flights at Hobby is straightforward. There’s currently almost no competition for the market to Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Hobby is well suited to provide low cost carrier flights to that market, and Houston is about as ideal a population center for those flights as you could want. Several other cities have more than one international terminal, and recent history shows that not only can that work, the original carrier winds up increasing service as well. (See also page 18 of the study.) Unlike United, Southwest has other options for its international gateway if Houston passes; Orange County’s John Wayne Airport has a new Federal Inspection Service and would be a good alternative for Southwest.

Like I’ve said, I’m not the expert on this in the family – I’m working on getting her to contribute to this topic once more. I can’t speak to the specific objections Council members have raised. Perhaps the topline numbers – ten thousand jobs! $1.5 billion in economic activity! – are overstated. But honestly, does anyone believe that Houston fliers would not benefit from the increased competition? I don’t get it. I hope this was just Council doing its due diligence and not rejecting out of hand what looks like a good deal to me.

Tag this

Live by the pointless parliamentary maneuver, die by the pointless parliamentary maneuver.

CM Helena Brown

City Councilwoman Helena Brown’s colleagues, after weeks of frustration over her delays of what they consider vital city business, reached the limit of their patience Wednesday and twice took the unusual step of quashing her parliamentary maneuvers and admonished her to stop.

[…]

Council on Wednesday voted twice to override tags by Brown. An override generally is frowned upon as a break from council decorum. It is so unusual that it has not been done since last summer, and regular City Hall observers could not recall the last override before that.

“I understand that an override of a tag is considered a nuclear option around this table,” said Councilman Mike Laster, who said he had reached out to his fellow council members and found none with unanswered questions regarding more than $25 million in road projects in his District J. Brown tagged it without explanation, so Laster made a motion to override, and it passed 13-1. Brown also refused to answer questions after the meeting.

District K Councilman Larry Green called Brown’s tag “careless” and said it revealed a disregard for years of preparation.

“When you start coming into other people’s districts with regard to projects that other people have been working on for many years and to stall, delay if you will, without valid reason or opposition, I believe is disingenuous,” Green said. “I don’t think that it’s a precedent that this body needs to accept.”

The story says the other tag that was overridden was on the agenda item to raise taxi rates; according to Campos, it received the same 13-1 vote to override. Laster asked Brown to remove her tag, then moved for the override when she refused. Good for him, and good for CMs Larry Green and Andrew Burks for calling out their fellow freshman.

In that Hou Politics post, Brown is referred to as a “fiscal hawk”. Putting aside the fact that most so-called (and usually self-styled) “fiscal hawks” these days are huge hypocrites whose definition of “fiscal responsibility” is only spending money on stuff they like, the term has no meaning when applied to someone like Brown. Surely to earn a laudable title like “hawk”, one must at least have some comprehensible set of principles that clearly define what is good and responsible and what is bad and frivolous. Tagging, and voting “no”, on anything and everything for no articulated reason doesn’t make you a “hawk”. It makes you a nihilist and a speed bump. If that’s the way it’s going to be, then the sensible thing for the rest of Council to do is routinely override Brown’s scattershot tags. One of my principles is that you shouldn’t reward bad behavior. Guaranteed overrides would be a simple way of accomplishing that. If Brown can learn to pick her battles, or to at least deign to give a reason for doing her thing, that’ll be different. Until then, I see no reason why Council should play along when there are more important things to do. Campos has more.