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Chron analysis of how Turner won

I suppose it’s a bit simplistic to say “he got more votes than the other guy”, but one way or the other that’s what happened.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner’s 24-year quest for the mayor’s office was realized by a narrow margin Saturday night, driven by overwhelming support from black voters and a robust effort to push supporters to the polls.

The tallies showed Houston’s long trend of voting in racial blocs held in this year’s runoff, by far the closest in 12 years.

Conservative businessman Bill King took 71 percent of the vote in the city’s majority-white voting precincts, where residents also turned out in the highest numbers. Turner won a whopping 93 percent of the vote in majority-black precincts, however, erasing King’s turnout advantage. Turner also had an edge in the city’s two predominantly Latino council districts, giving him the boost he needed to secure a 4,100-vote victory.

[…]

Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said the racial polarization reflected in the tallies is consistent with Houston’s electoral history. Adams’ research on black candidates’ performance in Houston elections from 1997 to 2009 shows Turner performed slightly worse than would be expected in Anglo precincts.

“Turner’s success in only a handful of majority-white precincts, all inside the 610 Loop, is interesting. He performed worse than other Democrats had in similar precincts,” Adams said. “His success is almost entirely attributable to the overwhelming vote in the African-American community.”

Turner lost the city’s progressive urban district west of downtown, District C, by more than 10 points, but Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the tallies are not necessarily a sign of racial polarization.

“It had more to do with the effectiveness of the Bill King campaign,” Jones said. “King’s message regarding the city’s fiscal crisis resonated with those voters in part because District C is the most educated and arguably the most politically interested council district. If it was going to resonate with any district that was a non-core conservative district, it was District C.”

Here’s another map of how the precincts voted, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m the wrong person to objectively evaluate King’s campaign, because I was never buying what he was selling. I will say three things about the race he ran, then move on:

1. The timing was good for him and his gloomy economic message. In 2015, with the local economy sputtering and some bills coming due for the city, voters were more receptive to his message than they likely would have been in, say, 2013. It also helped that the sky-is-falling crescendo about pensions has been incessantly drilled into people, thanks in no small part to King’s own column in the Chronicle and his apparent effect on their editorial board. This was a good year for that message.

2. King basically had the Republican vote to himself. Remember, at the start of the year Oliver Pennington was a candidate for Mayor. I think it’s fair to say that he would have eaten into King’s November vote total had he stayed on the ballot, and it’s quite reasonable to think that the two of them could have split the vote to the point of letting Adrian Garcia slip into second place. One need only look at At Large #1 this year and At Large #3 in 2013 to see the scenario I’m talking about. Yes, I know, Steve Costello is a Republican, but come on. He’s a pro-HERO, pro-“rain tax” Republican. Who else was going to get the Polland/Woodfill/Hotze vote? For that matter, King was lucky that the only true wingnut anti-HERO candidate on the ballot that could have sucked votes away from him on his right was Ben Hall, whom the local GOP establishment warned its voters away from for not being an actual Republican. Surely if an Eric Dick or Dave Wilson had decided to run, that would have made it harder for King to get into the final round.

3. Still and all, King ran a good campaign. I can’t think of any obvious mistakes he made, none that would have cost him any votes anyway. He might have unleashed some negative mail on Turner in the runoff, but looking at how he actually did in the Anglo Dem areas, it’s hard to say that he could have done much better. Unless things go badly wrong for Turner, I don’t think he’d have as much success in a rematch in 2019 (or in 2017, if term limits hadn’t been changed), but he took advantage of the opportunities he had at this time and came close to winning. There’s no shame in that.

Beyond that, every election is different. I’d be hesitant to draw any broad conclusions from this race. Barring legal intervention, the next city races are in 2019, and by then this year will be ancient history. Next year is completely different as well. Learn from what did and didn’t work and move on to the next election.

One more thing before I can move on to the next election: I have a nit to pick with this Daily Kos election roundup that states “Houston leans Democratic, but poor turnout from Team Blue almost allowed King to become the city’s first non-Democratic mayor since Republican Jim McConn left office in 1982.” This is what happens when out of towners try to make sense of our news. Turnout was fine in Democratic precincts. King did as well as he did in part by winning some Democratic crossover votes, and in part by giving Republicans a reason to vote. Both Turner and King had ground games going, and Turner’s was very effective. Let’s not fall into oversimplified narratives about what happened; that does no one any good.

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

I now have draft canvasses. You know what that means. All data is for Harris County only. First up, the Mayor’s race:


Dist  Hall  Turner  Garcia    King Costello    Bell
===================================================
A    1,906   4,587   3,509   6,265    1,522   1,129
B    2,494  15,947   2,159     459      259     277
C    2,575  10,951   6,804  12,121    4,894   7,451
D    4,060  17,033   2,637   1,571      702   1,022
E    3,409   4,258   4,831  15,228    2,122   1,745
F    1,189   3,297   2,561   2,428      820     574
G    3,017   5,036   4,076  20,042    4,040   2,787
H    1,194   4,721   7,145   1,585      810   1,119
I    1,237   3,717   6,114   1,327      650     796
J      902   2,151   1,900   1,810      594     598
K    2,777   9,912   2,922   3,022    1,097   1,806
						
A    9.80%  23.58%  18.04%  32.20%    7.82%   5.80%
B   11.38%  72.75%   9.85%   2.09%    1.18%   1.26%
C    5.64%  24.00%  14.91%  26.56%   10.73%  16.33%
D   14.66%  61.50%   9.52%   5.67%    2.53%   3.69%
E   10.56%  13.19%  14.96%  47.17%    6.57%   5.41%
F    9.79%  27.14%  21.08%  19.99%    6.75%   4.73%
G    7.60%  12.68%  10.27%  50.48%   10.18%   7.02%
H    7.06%  27.93%  42.27%   9.38%    4.79%   6.62%
I    8.65%  25.98%  42.73%   9.28%    4.54%   5.56%
J   10.67%  25.45%  22.48%  21.41%    7.03%   7.07%
K   12.57%  44.87%  13.23%  13.68%    4.97%   8.18%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The seven other candidates combined for 2.57% of the vote, so for the sake of space and my sanity, I’m omitting them from these tables, but I will say a few words about them here. Hoc Thai Nguyen, who had the seventh-highest vote total, scored 6.60% of the vote in District F, and 3.02% in J, the two most Asian-heavy parts of town. As it happens, F (1.93%) and J (1.15%) were Marty McVey’s two best districts, too. Nguyen also broke out of the square root club (*) in A (1.01%) and I (1.08%). No other candidate reached 1% in any district. Demetria Smith, who ran for District D in 2013, came closest with 0.93% of the vote in D. At the bottom of the ladder were Joe Ferreira (240 votes) and Dale Steffes (302), but it was Steffes who had the worst performance in any district. Nearly half of his votes (143 of them) came in District G, and he collected all of 2 votes in J and 3 votes in B. Ferreira got 7 votes in B, but made it to double digits everywhere else. Neither he nor Rafael Munoz made it to triple digits in any district, however. I guarantee, this is the kind of analysis you won’t see anywhere else.

The conventional wisdom on Sylvester Turner is that he needed to broaden his appeal beyond African-American voters, who were expected to strongly support his candidacy. He certainly received their strong support, as the results in B and D attest. Turner also finished first in districts F, J, and K, and finished second in A, C, G, H, and I. That looks pretty reasonably broad to me. If you’re alarmed by him finishing behind King in C, I would simply note that there do exist Republicans in District C, and C was where both Chris Bell and Steve Costello had their strongest showings. I feel confident saying that much of that vote will transfer to Turner. Ben Hall didn’t dent Turner’s support in B and D; given that plenty of anti-HERO voters also supported Turner, it seems likely to me that he will pick up a fair bit of Hall’s support. And perhaps with some help from Adrian Garcia’s endorsement, Turner ought to do well in H and I. None of this is guaranteed, of course. People do actually have to come out and vote, and if there’s any sense of inevitability that might make some people think they needn’t bother to show up. For what it’s worth, I get the sense from too much Facebook reading that plenty of disappointed HERO supporters are not depressed but angry, and that they know their best chance of a second shot at an equal rights ordinance is with Mayor Turner, not Mayor King. I think they’ll show up. Runoff early voting starts December 2, so we’ll know soon enough.

A word about Garcia before I move on: If every single voter in H and I had voted for him, his Harris County total would have been 62,623. If you then subtract the votes Bill King got in H and I from his total, he’d be left with 62,954. Garcia gained a net 267 votes on King in Fort Bend and lost a net 26 votes in Montgomery, so when you add it all up, he’d still have been out of the money. Now I know that H and I aren’t solely made up of Latinos – hell, I live in H, and I’m almost as white as King – and there are plenty of Latino voters in other districts. There could also have been higher turnout in these districts; both were under the overall average. My point in using this bit of shorthand is to say that it was really Garcia who needed to broaden his support, and to that end his biggest problem was other Democrats, not any anti-HERO surge. I think Garcia was handicapped by his late entry into the race, much as Sylvester Turner was by his late entry into the 2003 Mayor’s race. By the time Turner jumped in, after the legislative session, Bill White had locked up a significant amount of support from Democratic voters, including a non-trivial number of black Democrats. By the time Garcia got in, he had to ask a lot of people to reconsider the decision they’d already made about whom to support for Mayor in order to ask them to support him. That’s a much harder thing to do. He had his reasons for getting in so late, and it’s always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m just saying the reasons why Garcia isn’t in the runoff go beyond simply counting the number of Latinos that voted.

And while we’re still talking about broadening appeal, there’s Bill King. Look at those numbers above. King did very well in E and G, fairly well in A, C, F, and J, and not so well anywhere else, including below-the-Hoc-Thai-Nguyen-in-F-line finishes in B and D. Where does King turn to sufficiently improve his performance in the runoff to have a shot at it? I feel like the basic model for this is Jack Christie’s runoff win against Jolanda Jones in 2011, which is to say broaden his appeal outside of his Republican base, maximize those votes, and limit Turner to his own base in B and D. Easier said than done, but it has been done. It’s been suggested to me that a factor that may have driven turnout at least as much as the HERO vote was Republican voters in the city having a real choice for Mayor for the first time since 2003. There may be something to that, but if so I’d note as before that King received just 30,000 more votes than Roy Morales did in 2009, which receiving 33,000 fewer votes than Orlando Sanchez did in 2003. Make of that what you will. King ought to have room to boost Republican turnout in the runoff – Republicans have a few candidates they might like to support elsewhere on the runoff ballot as well – but I don’t think that gets him over the line on its own. I think he can’t win unless he can take some votes away from Turner. How he might do that, I assume we’ll find out.

I’ve got more of these to do over the course of the week. Remember again, these are draft canvasses, so no overseas or provisional ballots, and these numbers are all Harris County only. If you like seeing pretty pictures instead of numbers, these two Chron stories ought to have what you want. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll have the next post up tomorrow.

(*) This is an old Rice joke. The “square root club” referred to anyone for whom the square root of their GPA was higher than their actual GPA. This is a geeky way of saying “less than 1.0”, which for these purposes means “less than 1.00 percent”.

Hall sues his former consultant

It’s not really an election season if there isn’t at least one WTF story to make us all shake our heads.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall sued his former consultant for defamation Tuesday in connection to a radio advertisement that accuses Hall of lying to Houston voters.

The lawsuit links political strategist Justin Jordan and his company, Patriot Group Strategies, Inc., to an ad Hall’s campaign said aired on a local Radio One station, Magic 102.1.

The one-minute segment begins, “Ben Hall, this message is for you. You can no longer lie to the voters of Houston. You can no longer make up stories about owning a radio station that just aren’t true.”

According to Hall’s petition, the ad was purchased under the name Anthony Starks and a group called Historians for Truth, though the listed address and phone number were fake.

“Jordan caused a false FCC-required form to be fraudulently filled out on behalf of a non-entity called Historians for Truth,” the lawsuit says. “In addition to trying to fraudulently hide his identity, Jordan submitted for publication a radio broadcast that was intended to damage the reputation of plaintiff.”

There’s a longer version of this story in the print edition, which for some reason does not appear to be available online. Jordan, through his attorney, of course denied the allegations. I don’t have anything useful to say about this. I’m just amused. The Press, which adds a few details and is as amused by this as I am, has more.

8 day finance reports: Mayoral candidates

Here’s the story:

BagOfMoney

Adrian Garcia outspent his chief rivals in the Houston mayor’s race over the last month, hoping to hold what polls suggest is his slipping grip on a spot in the likely December runoff.

The final round of campaign finance filings before the Nov. 3 election, covering the period from late September through last Saturday, showed Garcia’s $1.1 million outlay made up a third of all six top campaigns’ spending for the period.

About $860,000 of the former Harris County sheriff’s expenditures were for advertising, double that of what some polls show is his closest rival, former mayor of Kemah Bill King.

[…]

City Councilman Steve Costello, who has been a strong fundraiser but trails Garcia and King in most polls, posted the second-highest outlay for the period, at $732,000. Of that, he spent $652,000 on advertising, and was helped by another $251,000 in ad spending by a political action committee organized to support him, Houstonians for the Future.

King spent $572,700 in the period, about $429,000 of it on advertising. He stopped running TV ads in the middle of last week but was to resume them on Tuesday, campaign spokesman Jim McGrath said. That gap is not concerning, McGrath said, pointing to consistent radio buys, key endorsements and strong early turnout from conservative areas.

“We like where we are,” McGrath said. “We could spend a good chunk of money on broadcast, but it’s all about getting the most bang for your buck. We like cable.”

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who remains the presumed frontrunner, raised nearly $400,000 in the period, spent the third-highest amount at $626,000 and entered this week with $285,000 on hand – roughly the same amount as Garcia and Costello. King entered the week with $123,350 banked.

Former Congressman Chris Bell, who has lagged in fundraising, spent $106,000 in the period and entered the final week with $60,500 on hand. Former City Attorney Ben Hall, who loaned his campaign $850,000 earlier in the year, continued to post low fundraising totals and spent $134,000 in the period, leaving himself nearly $694,000 on hand.

Eight day reports for Mayoral candidates and some others (still working on it) are on my 2015 Election page. Here’s my breakdown of the reports:


Candidate    Raised      Spent      Loans   On Hand
===================================================
Bell         96,167    106,155          0    60,564
Costello    294,033    731,861     90,000   278,987
Garcia      440,941  1,079,308          0   278,434
Hall         69,260    134,142    850,000   693,755
King        317,919    572,737    650,000   123,349
McVey         4,800     87,216  1,075,000   954,729
Turner      394,323    626,106          0   285,648

Candidate    Advertising     Print/Mail
=======================================
Bell               3,600         30,620
Costello         631,000         20,300
Garcia           860,000              0
Hall             137,500          1,750
King             430,000         15,000
McVey              2,750         10,262
Turner           160,000         60,000

“Advertising” and “printing” can be vague categories, and some reports are more organized and sensible than others. These are add-them-in-my-head totals, and I’m pretty good at addition, but don’t make any bar bets based on them because I may not have always been consistent in how I categorized things. A few comments:

– Chris Bell mentioned in the interview I did with him that he was a regular user of Uber, and his finance report bears that out.

– Steve Costello had some polling expenses in there, and was the only candidate who listed an expense for phone calls. He classified that as “advertising” on the report, but I didn’t include it in my total. The report for that “Houstonians For The Future” PAC is here.

– Remember how Adrian Garcia had fairly low expenses for consultants and staff in his July report because of his later entry into the race? He made up for that in this report, in addition to the buttload he spent on ads. He was the only one who didn’t have any obvious expenses for mailers that I could see.

– How is it that Ben Hall listed $134K in expenses yet I show him as having $137,500 in ads? He had $25,000 in in-kind donations listed as “Television/Univision”, plus $9,000 in one in-kind donation for “commercials”. Of the rest, there was a single $100,000 expense for “Media”, whatever that means, and a few bits and pieces besides. His “print/mail” total is all in-kind contributions for mail ballots. I feel like these in-kind contributions are somehow un-kosher, but I can’t say for sure.

– Unlike Hall and his monolithic “Media” expense, Bill King itemized all of his media buys, which were multiple ones for the local TV stations and some radio. He also did a fair amount of online advertising – he had several $500 expenses to Google for that, plus a couple other line items. A few other candidates had online ad buys as well.

– Marty McVey bought some Facebook ads, and had one mailer. I don’t know why you loan yourself a million bucks then don’t spend it, but whatever. Most of his expenses for consultants and other campaign services were listed under “Unpaid Incurred Obligations”.

– Sylvester Turner had less advertising expenditures than the fighting-for-second-place candidates, but he also had over $145K listed for “get out the vote” services. He also spent some money on polling.

With all that, I’ve still mostly seen Costello ads – they tend to run on cable, during sporting events – with a handful of Turners and Garcias thrown in. I’ve not yet seen a King ad, nor a Hall ad if one exists. It’s times like these that I’m glad to listen to non-commercial radio – satellite, HD radio, and college station KACC. I will try to summarize the other citywide race 8 day reports in the next day or two.

Time to get out the vote

A look at the strategies for turning out the vote for various Mayoral campaigns.

vote-button

In the days before Monday’s start to early voting, Houston’s top mayoral campaigns moved to mobilize their volunteer forces, aiming to ensure their supporters make it the polls. With 13 candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot and no incumbent, the vote is expected to splinter, forcing a December runoff. Early voting runs from Monday to Oct. 30.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who has the combination of high name identification and a reliable base, widely is expected to secure one of the two runoff spots, leaving his competitors to battle for second place.

Recent polls show the next four or five candidates separated by only a few percentage points, with former Kemah Mayor Bill King and Garcia, the former Harris County Sheriff, often in second and third place.

However, surveys also indicate a large share of Houston voters remain undecided, and the campaigns’ estimates of voter turnout vary widely, from 175,000 to 230,000.

The city’s controversial equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, is expected to bring non-traditional voters to the polls, but how many remains an open question.

In this volatile, low-turnout climate, ushering supporters to the ballot box becomes crucial, as just a few votes could separate the two candidates who advance from those whose campaigns sunset when the polls close on Election Day.

Read the rest for more details, but there’s no real mystery. Democratic campaigns are more focused on getting their people out, including some less-likely voters who might vote for their candidate if they vote. Republican campaigns are more focused on persuasion, as the polls we have indicate that more of the undecided voters lean conservative. There’s room for the four main non-Turner campaigns to get the edge for second place. The campaigns’ estimates of what turnout will look like is the most interesting piece of data in the story, and I wish there had been more information about who was banking on the lower end and who was planning for the higher end, as one’s overall strategy would be different for each.

Meanwhile, the last candidate forum delved into some topics that haven’t received a lot of coverage.

On housing, the city’s program to give a $15,000-per-unit subsidy for up to 5,000 apartments built downtown drew ample discussion, as it does not control affordability.

Hall called for those dollars to be given to help homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods afford their rising taxes; former Kemah Mayor Bill King said they should be used as down-payment assistance to single-family home-buyers; Costello and state Rep. Sylvester Turner said the city should target them to affordable units.

Former Harris County sheriff Adrian Garcia said the city should better market abandoned lots for redevelopment, and Bell called for policies to avoid gentrification in redeveloping areas.

Asked about the role of the civilian oversight board that reviews some HPD actions, former Congressman Chris Bell and Hall called for the board to be given subpoena power, and Garcia said he would consider that. Turner said the board needs more staff to be effective. Costello and King did not favor expanding the board’s purview.

Most candidates said they support citing and releasing minor possession offenders, rather than jailing them, and called for better collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address Houston’s role as a hub for human trafficking. Garcia, Turner and Costello called for more officers for the task; Hall said the crime must be deterred by punishing those who purchase sex.

Asked how the city should keep pace with its ongoing population growth, King called for neighborhoods to be given more tools to protect themselves against development and for builders to be forced to mitigate the impact of their developments.

Costello said he would use the city’s recently adopted general plan to guide city investments, steering development proactively into chosen areas. Turner said neighborhoods should be educated on the protections available today.

Along with growth came questions about transit’s role in reducing road congestion. King said he would focus on bus and park and ride services; Costello backed commuter rail. Turner agreed, and called for more buses and bike lanes. Bell stressed bus rapid transit as an alternative to light rail.

All of the candidates expressed concern about the number of recent hit-and-run accidents involving bicyclists, and many voiced support for the Vision Zero plan aimed at reducing road fatalities. Some also called for better enforcement of a city law requiring drivers to maintain a three-foot distance from cyclists. Garcia also said he would require motorists who receive moving violations to participate additional driver education.

I could have focused more on transportation issues, or on quality of life and housing affordability, or income inequality, or any number of other issues in my interviews with Mayoral candidates. There’s only so much time I can spend on them without wearing everyone out. That’s the good thing about the multitude of candidate forums – put them all together, and you can cover a lot of ground, which one needs for a powerful office like Mayor of Houston. I hope you feel like you got your questions answered somewhere.

My sense of where things stand right now

Here’s an aggregation of the polls we’ve seen so far:

Candidate HAR HRBC KHOU KPRC Avg ======================================== Turner 19 24 19 20 20.50 Garcia 19 14 9 13 13.75 King 10 18 9 14 12.75 Bell 10 11 6 12 9.75 Costello 9 8 5 11 8.25 Hall 6 8 4 4 5.50 McVey 1 0 1 1 0.75 HERO HAR HRBC KHOU KPRC Avg ======================================== For 52 31 43 45 42.75 Against 37 40 37 36 37.50

Poll averaging, with various weightings, adjustments, and other secret-sauce mumbo-jumbo, is all the rage for federal elections, so I thought I’d try it here, since we have a relative bonanza of polling data. I think the rankings in the Mayor’s race would conform with most people’s general impressions – I had Costello ahead of Bell, and Garcia ahead of King, before I filled in the numbers, but otherwise they are all where I placed them initially. Basically, Turner is by himself, Garcia and King are tied for second, and Bell and Costello are a notch behind them. Hall and McVey are non-factors. There are still enough undecideds to possibly shake things up a bit, though how many of those “undecideds” are actually non-voters is an open question.

As for HERO, that HRBC poll with the slanted wording is an outlier, and may not be as accurate as the others on this question. Without it, HERO prevails by a 46.3 to 36.7 margin, a much more comfortable margin than if we include the HRBC poll. I’m not inclined to throw it out on the grounds of having no idea what the turnout effect for HERO will be, and not knowing what effect the shriekingly hateful anti-HERO campaign will have. As I’ve said before, I feel optimistic but not yet confident. I was pleased to see a HERO endorsement in the African-American News, which one hopes will help counter this nasty anti-HERO op-ed from two weeks earlier. I really don’t know what I expected going into this, but I feel like there have been more positive surprises than negative ones.

The biggest area of uncertainty for me is in the downballot races. Ben Hall’s anemic poll numbers suggests that there just aren’t that many voters for whom being anti-HERO is their main or only issue. There are obviously a lot more anti-HERO voters than what Hall’s numbers show, but the combined numbers for Hall and King suggest that some number of them will be voting for at least some pro-HERO candidates. If that attitude prevails in Council races, I think we’ll mostly get good outcomes. If not, there could be some ugly runoffs. I think all contested Council incumbents are in decent shape, though any of these five (listed in descending order of likelihood) could wind up in a runoff: Nguyen, Christie, Laster, Robinson, Kubosh. We could have a very busy November.

UPDATE: It helps to do the arithmetic right if one is going to aggregate polls. I goofed on the King numbers, which is why I originally had him second, but on review I see I gave him too high a total. What’s there now is correct. My apologies for the error.

KPRC poll: Turner 20, others close together

Yet another poll with Sylvester Turner in the lead.

As of Oct. 15, State Representative Sylvester Turner finishes just ahead of the rest of the pack of 13 candidates with 20 percent of the vote; attorney Bill King gets 14 percent, neck-and-neck with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia at 13 percent;, former US Representative Chris Bell with 12 percent, and City Council Member Stephen Costello at 11 percent.

Ben Hall and Marty McVey are in single digits. Three percent would vote for one of the other candidates on the ballot. Twenty-two percent today are undecided.

“There are a lot of undecided voters who really haven’t started to think about the mayoral election, or are only starting to do so right now,” Mark Jones, political science chair at Rice University, said.

Turner leads by 6:1 among African-Americans and is strong among older voters and Democrats. King is strong among those most concerned with the city budget. Garcia leads by more than 2:1 among Hispanics and edges out Turner among those voters who say city taxes and fees will be the most important issue in determining their vote for mayor.

Here’s the full result set:

1. In the election for mayor of Houston, how do you vote? (margin of error +/- 4.5%)

AMONG ALL VOTERS:


UNDECIDED:        22%
Sylvester Turner: 20%
Bill King:        14%
Adrian Garcia:    13%
Chris Bell:       12%
Steve Costello:   11%
Ben Hall:          4%
Martin McVey:      1%
OTHER:             3%

All four polls we have so far show Turner leading by some amount, with his level of support being between 19 and 24 percent. One showed Adrian Garcia tied with Turner, one poll showed Bill King in second by a modest amount, and two other have now shown no clear second place finisher. I don’t know if this indicates that the attacks on Garcia have had an effect, or if that first poll just happened to be favorable to him. This conforms to my general feel of the race, which is that Turner is a huge favorite to make the runoff, and after that just about anything can happen. A few thousand votes could well be the difference between second and fifth.

And yes, KPRC also polled HERO.

Here are the poll numbers (margin of error +/- 4.5%):

  • 45 percent of those polled said they will vote in favor of Prop 1.
  • 36 percent plan to vote no.
  • 20 percent are not certain.

While it appears supporters are ahead, the issue is far from resolved.

“You really do have to consider that a majority, or perhaps three quarters of people who say they’re undecided or say they have no response, will end up if they turn out, will end up voting no,” Mark Jones, political science chair at Rice University, said.

I’m not exactly sure where Professor Jones gets that particular tidbit, but it’s not clear that makes much difference. If HERO is at 45% with 20% undecided, then if all undecided voters do turn out, HERO needs only a bit more than 25% of them to get above 50. It’s even less than that if some number of those folks wind up not voting; in fact, if half of them don’t vote, HERO is already at 50% of the sample that does, since 45 is half of the ninety percent that participates. None of this is a guarantee, of course, nor is it a reason to be complacent. It’s only one poll result, and they could have missed people who will vote but weren’t deemed likely. Still, now three of four polls show HERO winning. I’d rather be in our position than in the naysayers’.

Turner’s public agency work

A lot of the attacks in the Mayoral campaign so far have been aimed at Adrian Garcia, in part to knock him out of second place where he is perceived to be, and in part because there’s some real material to use. There has been some sniping between Costello and King, as they fish in the same ponds for voters, and some other stuff here and there, but not much as yet against the perceived and poll-supported frontrunner Sylvester Turner. Until now, anyway.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Two of Sylvester Turner’s mayoral rivals are criticizing the longtime lawmaker for reaping thousands of dollars in legal and land title work for public agencies, questioning the ethics of the sometimes lucrative arrangements while he holds elective office.

It is legal for Texas lawmakers, who serve part time and earn $7,200 a year plus $190 per day of legislative session, to do work for local government entities.

Two of Turner’s rivals in the race to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker – former City Attorney Ben Hall and former Congressman Chris Bell – said the practice appears improper when it involves fees earned from entities over which he may wield authority as a state legislator.

“It may not be illegal, but it sure has the appearance of impropriety, especially given the timing in some of the instances,” said Hall, who last week called for an end to “pay-to-play” politics.

Both Hall and Bell stand to gain votes from Turner, who has positioned himself as an establishment candidate and has led or tied for the lead in recent polls.

Turner defended his work, saying it is neither illegal nor unethical for lawmakers to receive public business while in office.

“I think my track record speaks for itself,” he said. “When I believe people have not been performing up to par, regardless of the relationship – business relationship – that they may have had with my firm, I have not been hesitant in holding people accountable and responsible.”

Hall and Bell have cited $144,000 that Turner’s land title company, American Title, earned in 2014 on a Houston Independent School District real estate deal. Hall also has questioned what he says was more than $3 million Turner’s companies received in payments from Houston’s housing department for professional services.

“We have certain ethical standards that we need to abide by, and first and foremost is staying away from conflicts of interest,” Bell said.

In 2012, Turner initially criticized HISD’s $1.9 billion bond plan, saying he was worried it would not do enough to encourage students to attend neighborhood campuses. He ultimately endorsed the issue, which passed with 69 percent of the vote.

Two years later, his title company earned $144,000 on an HISD real estate transaction.

[…]

Tom “Smitty” Smith of the Austin-based advocacy group Public Citizen Texas said it is not uncommon for lawyer legislators to have contracts with one or more government agencies.

“A lot of the work – of legal work in this state – has to do with municipal or county or district governments of various kinds,” Smith said. “The gray area comes in the choice of that legislator’s law firm. Is it an open bidding process? Or is it just simply a gimme?”

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, another Austin advocacy group, said the practice comes with potential conflicts.

“Are the local governments hiring a particular lawmaker because that lawmaker has jurisdiction over issues that concern the local government?” McDonald asked. “That’s the basic issue. That’s the basic conflict.”

Let’s get one thing cleared up right off: Any time Ben Hall makes an allegation about any other candidate, the first question he should be asked is “So, have you paid your property taxes yet?” With that out of the way, there’s not much to this story. One can certainly argue that this kind of paid advocacy ought to be illegal, or at least more tightly regulated, and I would not disagree. But given that it is legal, this story is basically about nothing. There’s no allegation of wrongdoing on Turner’s part – the activity is legal, the fees he charged were in the normal range, and he did the work he was paid to do. It was all properly disclosed. The two professional ethics watchdogs had only the perfunctory “could cause a conflict” admonishment for it. People may not know about it, though this was hardly a secret, and they may not care for it once they do know it, which is all fair. It’s well suited for a negative mailer, but unless there’s something else out there, it’s not going to generate more than one story.

Race and runoffs and Turner

Everyone agrees that Sylvester Turner will be one of the candidates to make it to the runoff for Mayor this year. But what happens then?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Yet, to succeed term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, Turner, an African-American, will need to broaden his coalition beyond black voters – a challenge in a city where voting patterns often fall along racial lines.

“Since we don’t have party ID on the ballot, race is usually the No. 1 factor in predicting voter division patterns,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “Campaigns exaggerate this natural inclination, because they hunt where the ducks are.”

Turner’s campaign says it is not conceding any vote.

“I’m not running a race-based campaign,” Turner said, pointing to his support from groups including the city’s three employee unions, the Houston GLBT political caucus, the Latino Labor Leadership Council and others.

[…]

From 1997 through 2009, black candidates running citywide in biracial elections earned an average of 89 percent of the vote in predominantly black precincts, 37 percent in predominantly white precincts and 32 percent in predominantly Hispanic precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

Those results suggest it is unlikely Turner or former City Attorney Ben Hall, who also is black, will receive significant general election support outside of the African-American community, said TSU political scientist Michael Adams, one of the study’s authors.

“Even with the extensive endorsed support Turner has received, the historical analysis of citywide races indicates that even for a candidate as well known as Turner, his prospects are dim outside the African-American community for this round,” Adams wrote in an email.

Turner thus faces the challenge of luring white and Hispanic progressives while solidifying his base. To safely advance to the runoff, he needs the support of more than 70 percent of black voters, Murray said.

Recent polls indicate Turner’s chances of pulling that off are good. Three surveys released in the last week show Turner either alone at the front of the pack or tied for the lead with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

[…]

“African-American candidates must be able to create broad multi-ethnic coalitions; in particular they must be able to structure the race in partisan terms to be successful,” Adams said, pointing to the 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2009 races, in which African-American mayoral candidates qualified for the runoff.

In 1997 and 2001, when the races were effectively partisan, with a black Democrat running against a white Republican, the black candidate won. Otherwise, the white Democrat prevailed.

I’m not sure about including the 2001 race in this set, since the Republican in question was Orlando Sanchez, and there was quite a bit of chatter about how he could become the first Latino Mayor of Houston. It’s true that he drew the lion’s share of the Anglo vote in that race, but it still feels weird grouping him in there.

I can’t find that 2011 study, so I can’t comment on it. I just want to point out that right now, Sylvester Turner and Ben Hall have at least some amount of support in the general election from outside the African-American community. The polling data that we have tells us this:

Poll Turner Hall Black Turner% Hall% ================================================ HAR 19 6 20 95% 30% HRBC 24 8 22 109% 36% KHOU 19 4 21 90% 19%

“Black” is the African-American share of the polling sample. “Turner%” and “Hall%” are each candidate’s share of the black vote. In all three cases, that total is greater than the black share of the electorate – from 109% of it to 145% of it – ergo, at least some of their support comes from outside that share. That doesn’t contradict the thesis that they won’t get a significant share of the non-black vote, but depending on how much of the black vote is going to Hall, it does suggest that a significant share of Turner’s support is coming from non-black voters. None of these polls break the data down that far, so we can only guess.

As for how things may shake out in a runoff, it really depends on who the other candidate is. Bill King and Steve Costello are the Republicans in this race, but King is running a Republican campaign and drawing mostly Republican support, while Costello (who supports HERO) is running a more non-partisan campaign and has picked up some support from traditionally Democratic groups. Chris Bell is the Anglo Dem, but with his lesser financial position and Turner’s dominance of the endorsement process, he would seem to be an underdog. And of course, Adrian Garcia is a wild card, being neither Anglo nor Republican. I don’t know how a Turner/Garcia runoff would play out, but I’d bet it would differ greatly from the Lee Brown/Orlando Sanchez matchup of 2001.

HRBC poll: Turner 24, King 18

Looks like we’re going to see more polling than usual this cycle. This was sent as a press release from the Bill King campaign, which was kind enough to forward the full poll data to me when I requested it:

Thursday, the Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) released a poll of 428 active voters measuring support of Mayoral candidates and important issues facing city voters. The Survey was conducted October 5-6.

“Bill King is the clear choice among fiscal conservative voters,” said Chairman Alan Hassenflu. “Bill King’s message of getting back to basics has earned him the support of our organization and is resonating with voters who are concerned with the current fiscal crisis facing City Hall.”

The poll shows King has emerged from the pack of major mayoral candidates running very close to the presumed frontrunner. Only 13% of Houston voters say they have yet to decide who they will support in the upcoming election.

Founded in 1967, HRBC, comprised of top business leaders, has become Houston’s Premier Business Coalition by supporting public policy, elected officials and candidates for elected office that promote its core values of limited government, capitalism and private property rights.

BALLOT: If the election for Mayor was held today and these were your choices: Ben Hall, Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia, Bill King, Steve Costello, and Chris Bell, who would you vote for?

Ben Hall 8 Sylvester Turner 24 Adrian Garcia 14 Bill King 18 Steve Costello 8 Chris Bell 11 Other 4 Unsure 13

HERO ORDINANCE: Do you support the City of Houston’s Prop 1 ordinance, often referred to as the HERO ordinance – the law among other things would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Support 31 Oppose 40 Unsure 13 Refused 16

PENSION: Currently the City of Houston has $3.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and has little to no control of the pension funds. Would you support a proposal that would return control of pension funds to the Mayor and allow him to negotiate necessary changes to the current pensions?

Support 31 Oppose 21 Unsure 30 Refused 19

METHODOLOGY:
The sample size for the survey is 428 targeted voters in Houston, Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4.77%. All interviews were completed using automated telephone technology and were conducted October 5-6, 2015 by TargetPoint Consulting. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Full poll data is here. I said yesterday that we might get another poll that doesn’t agree with the HAR poll, I just didn’t expect one so quickly. A couple of things to note: One, in comparison to the HAR poll data, this sample is more Republican, but also younger and slightly less white. I’m gonna guess that means more west side/Clear Lake/Kingwood and less Montrose/Heights/Meyerland. It also highlights the importance of how questions are asked. Note here that the HERO question only refers to “sexual orientation or gender identity”, whereas the HAR poll mirrors the ballot language, which lists all the protected classes under HERO. This is Polling Methodology 101 here, and it’s no coincidence that HAR supports HERO while the HRBC opposes HERO and has backed a slate of candidates (including King) that opposes it as well. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – needless to say, it’s the way HERO opponents are doing their messaging, and very much the way they want people to think about Prop 1 when they vote – but it doesn’t mean this sample is “wrong” and the other one is “right”. It means that messages and campaigns matter, which is why it’s nice that HERO proponents have plenty of resources to get their message out.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which makes the same points I do.

Finally, some coverage on the pension issue

I kid, I kid. Like it or not, HERO or not, it’s what this race has been about.

BagOfMoney

The top candidates for Houston mayor are talking far more about the city’s growing cost of retiree benefits than voters are, which is, in some ways, a testament to the profound challenge presented by the city’s pension burden.

Sure, potholes, policing and parks have all gotten ample focus in the campaign, but when such core political talking points are available, why risk putting voters to sleep with talk of actuarial projections and unfunded liabilities?

In short, because paying the rising pension bill could play a role in preventing the new mayor from funding other items, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

“What the candidates realize, as well as the Houston business elite,” Jones said, “is that if the pension problem is not resolved, it’s going to eat up more and more of the budget, which will mean less money for police, less money for the fire department, less money for parks and libraries.”

The top seven mayoral hopefuls, to varying degrees, acknowledge pension reform is needed but disagree on the details.

You can read the rest for yourself. It’s not anything you haven’t heard before if you’ve been following the campaigns. I don’t know that I have anything to add that I haven’t said before, so I’ll just say that this is a topic that will be discussed in the Mayoral interviews that I am conducting/have conducted. Those will run beginning on Monday.

HAR poll

And some more good news here.

With less than four weeks to go before the election, the Houston mayoral race remains “fluid,” according to a new poll commissioned by the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR).

The poll finds Adrian Garcia and Sylvester Turner tied for the lead, with a second tier of closely-clustered candidates, including Chris Bell, Bill King and Stephen Costello. Digging deeper into the numbers yields more insight about those candidates with stronger name identification and favorable ratings, along with those candidates whom the voter would even consider supporting. Complete polling results may be found at www.har.com/poll.

“HAR has always had a voice in political matters affecting local real estate, and we commissioned the poll in an effort to enlighten our members about the candidate that best represents the interests of the citizens of Houston and the real estate industry,” said HAR Chair Nancy Furst. “Our 31,000-member association, the largest trade association in Houston, is regarded as the leading authority on real estate and the integral role it plays in quality of life issues.”

The telephone survey of 500 likely Houston voters was conducted from September 21-24 by American Strategies, a leading Washington, D.C.-based research firm specializing in political polling.

The release of this poll follows the HAR board’s announcement last week that it supports Proposition 1, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), in the November 3 City of Houston election. The poll included questions about HERO and showed a majority of Houstonians expressing their intention to vote in favor of the ordinance. Other organizations supporting HERO include the Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston and Houston Apartment Association.

Houstonians will be asked to vote on a new mayor as well as Houston City Proposition 1 (HERO) on the City of Houston ballot on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3.

The poll summary is a good read, too.

Garcia and Turner each capture 19 percent of the vote, almost twice the support of Chris Bell (10 percent), Bill King (10 percent) and Steven Costello (9 percent). Ben Hall (6 percent) and Marty McVey (1 percent) round out the crowded field, with 25 percent who are undecided.

Garcia and Turner are better known than the second tier candidates and each has strong backing from a base constituency. Overall, half of voters have a favorable opinion of Garcia (compared to 24 percent who are unfavorable) while 45 percent are favorable towards Turner (28 percent unfavorable). Garcia wins a majority (51 percent) of Hispanic voters, and also shows relatively strong backing from whites (17 percent). Garcia has more bi-partisan support than other candidates: he wins 21 percent of self-identified Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans (second only to King with 21 percent). Turner, by contrast, wins 55 percent of African-American voters and 11 percent of whites. He leads among Democrats with 32 percent, but wins just three percent of Republicans.

The front-runners have room to grow their support. For starters, their personal favorable ratings exceed their current vote. In addition, nearly one-third of those who are not currently supporting Garcia say there is a fair chance (18 percent) or small chance (12 percent) that they will vote for him – virtually identical to Turner’s numbers among those who are not currently voting for Turner (16 percent fair chance they will vote for him; 13 percent small chance).

[…]

The effect of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on the mayoral contest is not clear. Just over half currently vote “For” HERO (52 percent), with 37 percent against and 10 percent undecided. Passions are high on the issue: 44 percent are very certain to vote “For” and 30 percent very certain to vote against. In the mayoral contest, by comparison, only 34 percent of voters are “very certain” of their candidate choice.

The results are similar in nature to the previous poll, which was done in June before we knew HERO was going to be on the ballot. Full poll data is here. I am always wary of polls done on the city of Houston because of the tricky nature of determining who really is a “likely voter”, but as with that June poll I have no major quibbles. This sample is old (67% are 55+, with 40% being 65+), white (62%), and well off (40% college graduates plus 24% post-grads), and that’s usually the kind of electorate we get in odd years. That said, HERO is of course a wild card. The Chron highlights this.

However, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones cautioned that the poll does not account for non-traditional city voters who may show up at the polls this year to vote on the ordinance, known as HERO.

It also likely under-represents support for Turner, Hall and potentially Garcia, Jones said, as it surveyed lower percentages of African American and Hispanic voters than are expected to turn out in November, given that there are two black candidates and one Hispanic candidate in the top-tier.

Sixty two percent of respondents identified as white, 20 percent as black, 10 percent as Hispanic and 2 percent as Asian.

“This survey would appear to be underestimating African American turnout by at least 10 percent and perhaps a little more,” Jones said.

“If there are people who are being driven to turnout by the HERO ordinance or by Adrian Garcia’s mobilization of the Hispanic community, they would not be represented,” he added.

As I’ve said, I do believe HERO will drive some turnout, as past city referenda have done. That’s not the same as saying that any of the candidates on the ballot will drive turnout. Sylvester Turner has run for Mayor before. So have Ben Hall, Lee Brown, Gene Locke, Orlando Sanchez, Gracie Saenz, and Roy Morales. Did any of them affect African-American and/or Latino turnout in their races? What were the African-American and Latino turnout rates in their races? I have no idea. Perhaps Mark Jones does, but either he didn’t say or his answer wasn’t included.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I’ve said repeatedly that I expect higher than usual turnout because of HERO, I more or less expect the racial and ethnic demographics of the electorate to be roughly the same. There’s lots of room for overall turnout to grow without that turnout needing to be disproportionately from one group. Do I know this to be the case? Of course not. Could there be a surge in African-American and/or Latino and/or Asian turnout? Absolutely, and for sure Turner and Hall and Garcia are working on that. So, while this result is encouraging – I’d always much rather be up 52-37 in a poll than down 52-37 – it’s hardly gospel. The next poll, whenever that may be, could show a very different result but look just as plausible. Do not take anything for granted.

Get ready for the TV ads to begin

Keep that DVR remote handy, because you’re going to have to start fast-forwarding through Mayoral campaign ads on TV soon.

After nearly topping the July fundraising that put this year’s mayor’s race on track to be the most expensive in recent city history, City Councilman Stephen Costello led the pack to the TV airwaves in late August.

His debut ad focused on three broad policy priorities: infrastructure, public safety and city finances.

Thus far, Costello has spent more on broadcast than any candidate in the race – about $625,000 across KTRK (Channel 13), KHOU (Channel 11), KPRC (Channel 2,) KRIV (Channel 26) and KIAH (Channel 39), according to his campaign – with ads scheduled in two waves through Nov. 2. He also has been advertising on cable since July.

“We saw the opportunity now to break out early, and thanks to successful fundraising and low overhead, we’re in a position to go back up and go back up strong,” Campaign Manager Ward Curtin said.

Meanwhile, presumptive frontrunners Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia, who closed out the first half of the year with more than $1 million in the bank apiece, have invested about $450,000 each in broadcast TV.

A Turner ad began airing this week on the same five Houston-area channels as Costello and briefly introduces the candidate and his policy initiatives: job training, a living wage, community policing, school partnerships and filling potholes.

According to his campaign, Turner also will begin advertising on cable on Oct. 12, having spent $75,000.

Garcia has opted for a more concentrated approach, with his ads slated to run only in the final three and a half weeks before the Nov. 2 election. They will air on six Houston-area channels, including Univision and Telemundo, beginning October 10, according to Campaign Manager Mary Bell.

“The Garcia campaign is communicating to all voters, including predominantly Spanish speaking voters, and paid communication is a part of that,” Bell said, adding, “we’re not finished buying.”

[…]

Federal Communications Commission records show [Bill] King has spent nearly $20,000 for time on KHOU next week, though campaign spokesman Chris Begala said King also will be going up on three other channels.

“Our intention is to stay up on broadcast until Election Day, but it would not be a deal-killer to be off a day or three,” Begala said in an email. “We are engaged in an aggressive mail program, social media, cable and radio buy.”

King has spent nearly $300,000 on cable, beginning in May, according to his campaign.

Chris Bell also has made a nominal foray onto television, spending nearly $25,000 to run a 30-second introductory spot this week on KTRK, KHOU, KPRC and KIAH, according to his campaign.

Greg goes into much more detail on this than I could, so let me direct you to him for an in-depth analysis. For what it’s worth, so far I’ve seen a few Costello ads and maybe on Bill King ad. I’ll just add that no candidates should overestimate their name ID. Adrian Garcia, by virtue of being elected countywide twice during Presidential years is the only candidate on this ballot that can feel reasonably secure that the voters know who he is. Everyone else from the Mayorals on down needs to assume they need to introduce themselves. An awful lot of people are just now starting to pay attention, and early voting starts in three weeks. Let’s see who does what with the opportunity they have.

GOP versus Hall

Pass the popcorn.

RedEquality

The Harris County Republican Party released a flyer Monday attacking Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall for his Democratic ties and previous support for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Among top-tier mayoral candidates, Hall, a Democrat, is the most ardent critic of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO. The law is set to appear on November’s ballot.

“Ben Hall says yes to HERO ordinance in 2013,” the GOP flyer reads, citing a 2013 Harris County Democratic Party questionnaire on which Hall said he would support a nondiscrimination ordinance.

The ad also labels Hall a “current Democratic Party sustaining member” and claims he contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, citing campaign finance reports.

Hall responded in a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he has been “crystal clear” on HERO.

“Ben Hall is the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has been opposed to the HERO ordinance from the very beginning, long before the campaign began for Houston Mayor, long before the court put it on the November ballot,” he said.

The full Chron story is here, and here’s the interview I did with Hall in 2013. I have no desire to go back and listen to it, but my recollection is that he said No when I asked if he would support an equal rights ordinance. He wasn’t a firebrand about it, just matter-of-fact. I also recall being surprised by that, as to my knowledge he hadn’t been opposed it before. I can’t swear to that latter part, I can just say what I remember thinking at the time. Whether Hall is virgin pure on hating HERO since the dawn of time or he cynically came to oppose it as a matter of political expediency somewhere along the line is irrelevant to me, and should be irrelevant to any decent person. He’s a hater now, he’s loud and proud about it, and that’s what matters.

Not that I really care, but I am a little curious as to why the Harris County GOP decided to pick this fight. I get their objections, I just think this is an odd hill to engage on. Hall’s HERO history was no problem for uber hater Steven Hotze, who endorsed Hall, among others. It’s fine by me if the antis spread their votes around in the Mayor’s race; better odds for good candidates making it to the runoff that way.

Anyway. I’ve seen some people asking about which candidates support what things – HERO and otherwise. You can listen to my interviews, of course, or do something crazy like check out the candidates’ websites and attend candidate forums and things like that. If you’re looking for a shortcut, both the local GOP and the HCDP have candidate guides that may help answer your questions. And at some point, one presumes, the candidates – the Mayoral candidates in particular – will start flooding our mailboxes and the airwaves. Greg has more.

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

The TL;dr version of this is basically “meh, not much happening”.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

With a bevy of candidates and midyear fundraising that collectively topped $7 million, Houston’s 2015 mayoral race has been poised to be a blockbuster.

Yet, just five weeks before the start of early voting, the race has remained relatively stagnant.

For the most part, the candidates still are spending little, agreeing often and floating only modestly different visions for the city’s future.

“This election has unfolded so far to be an election of single-interest forum after single-interest forum,” said local political observer Darrin Hall, who previously worked for mayors Annise Parker and Bill White. “There’s not a big picture – four major points that any candidate is exposing – like in years past.”

Put another way, the race to succeed term-limited Parker, essentially, is a popularity contest that at least five candidates still have a shot at winning, Democratic political consultant Keir Murray said.

It goes on, and while it won’t tell you much you didn’t already know if you’ve been following the race, it’s a good overview and I broadly agree with it. I am a little surprised that with all the money in the race there hasn’t been more TV advertising. If there’s one thing we should have learned from the last couple of municipal elections in this town, it’s that nobody should overestimate their name ID. Outside of Adrian Garcia, none of the candidates should be too comfortable in the percentage of voters who have heard of them. I get the argument that they;re keeping their powder dry until a runoff, but the harsh fact is that only two people are going to need it for the runoff, and if as everyone seems to think one of them will be Sylvester Turner, then I’m not sure what the purpose of waiting is.

Beyond that, the big x factor is what effect HERO will have on turnout. I feel confident saying turnout will be up from 2009, but I have no idea by how much, nor do I have any idea how many HERO-motivated voters will bother to cast ballots in the actual races. The number of HERO-only voters could be quite large. Consider that in 2005, the year of the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment, turnout in Houston was an amazing 332,154 voters, or well over 30%, but only 181,841 people cast votes in the Mayor’s race. To be fair, that year’s Mayoral election was a king-size snoozer, as Bill White cruised to re-election with over 90% of the vote, but still. Over 40% of all people who turned out to vote that year couldn’t be bothered to cast a vote for Mayor. I seriously doubt that will be the case this year, but I do believe that while more people than usual will undervote, that will still leave a lot of people casting ballots. Just compare 2005 to 2007 to see what things might have been like in the absence of a high-profile ballot item. The bottom line is that some number of people will show up specifically to vote on HERO, and some number of them will then decide that as long as they’re there, they may as well vote in those other races, too. What effect that will have on the outcomes is anyone’s guess, and the sort of thing that drives campaign managers to guzzle Pepto-Bismol.

Chron Mayoral profile: Ben Hall

This is the fourth in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston.

Ben Hall

Ben Hall

His dedication to accomplish whatever he sets out to do – regardless of public reaction – has jumped out for friend and foe during [Ben] Hall’s second mayoral run, as he vies to break in with the frontrunners by distinguishing himself as the candidate who opposes Houston’s controversial equal rights ordinance, whatever the repercussions may be.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church and a friend for more than 25 years, said Hall is taking a risky stance against HERO based on principle. “He believes in the end that principles outweigh practicality,” Caldwell said. “He’s bet his legal career on it, for better or for worse. The position he has taken not only singles him out in the entire field of mayoral candidates – if voters say no, his practice as a lawyer going forward is arguably in jeopardy.”

Part of that gamble involved rubbing shoulders with Dr. Steven Hotze, a powerful GOP operative and Christian activist at a public forum. Hotze lauded Hall’s position on HERO at a faith and family rally in August, introducing Hall to a standing ovation from a partially filled hotel ballroom.

By welcoming such attention, Hall, a socially conservative Democrat and ordained minister, aligned himself with a constituency that is “so fringe, they’re crazy,” said Maverick Welch of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus: “The people he is playing footsies with are tantamount to Klansmen.”

Some who see Hall, a lifelong NAACP member, as a champion of equal rights are confounded. “I’m surprised at his view on the ordinance,” said former U.S. Rep. Craig Washington, a Democrat who represented the 18th Congressional District. “It is incongruent with what I know his view to be on civil rights in general.”

The equal rights ordinance bans discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity – the flash points for critics – but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status. The ordinance applies to businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting.

To Hall, HERO boils down to a poorly worded legal document that jeopardizes women’s safety by letting heterosexual men use restrooms and locker rooms under false pretenses.

“I am clearly for no one discriminating against anyone. And I have to immediately say this ordinance is not the way to do it,” said Hall, 59. “I’m concerned about being right. I’m concerned about being just. I’m concerned about being true and authentic.” He said his position on the Nov. 3 HERO ballot proposal, which asks voters if they favor the ordinance, is firmly in line with traditional black voters.

There’s more to the profile, but none of it really matters. Hall’s candidacy is about opposition to HERO, and he’s grabbed it with both hands. More to the point, he’s bought into the lies about HERO. I mean, look, he’s a lawyer. He knows what the ordinance actually says. As a litigator, one presumes he is aware of the fact that the “danger” he warns of has not materialized in any other city around the country that has a similar ordinance. He knows, but he saw an opportunity to turn a floundering campaign that had nothing to build on after his disaster in 2013, and he took it. I can’t express the contempt I feel in strong enough terms.

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

We are a bit more than a month out from the start of early voting, and as such we are getting close to the start of Chronicle endorsement season. I know from doing candidate interviews that the Chron has been holding screenings in recent days, so it shouldn’t be long now. So while we wait for that, why not take a crack at guessing what their endorsements will be?

I want to stress up front that these are not my endorsements. I’m not making any endorsements, here or elsewhere. Nor are these necessarily the candidates I think the Chronicle should endorse. I’m not making any value judgments. These are my best guesses at who the Chron will endorse, based on past history and my read on what they are looking for this year.

What are they looking for this year? I don’t think that’s any mystery. They’re looking for candidates who support HERO and who are sufficiently “serious” about pension reform. That doesn’t mean these are their only criteria, nor does it mean that they can’t or won’t endorse a candidate who doesn’t agree with them on one or both of them. I’m not there in the screenings, I don’t know what else might be on their minds. I’m just making what I hope are reasonable guesses. None of this should be taken seriously. Consider this the political nerd’s equivalent of Sean Pendergast predicting the Texans’ season, with fewer references to the WWE and Game of Thrones.

So with all of that said, let’s begin.

Mayor

At first glance, you’d think this would be a tough one to guess, but looking back at what I wrote above, it jumps right out at you: I believe the Chron will endorse Steve Costello. He checks all their boxes, and he has the most experience in city government to boot. King and Hall are both anti-HERO. McVey is an extreme longshot. I think they will be too critical of the recent issues with the jail to go with Garcia. Bell and Turner are possible, I guess, but I don’t think the Chron would consider them “serious” enough on pensions; the Chron did not care for the agreement that Turner helped broker with the firefighters earlier this year. The more I think about it, the clearer it seems. I’ll be surprised if it’s not Costello.

Controller

This one is murkier. Chris Brown is possible, but I think they will ding him for being Ronald Green’s second in command, and it’s not like they were ever big fans of his father. They endorsed Bill Frazer in 2013 and could endorse him again, but I think that was at least partly about Green’s baggage. I also think that if I’m right about Costello, they may be reluctant to endorse two Anglo Republicans for the top offices of a city that is not particularly Anglo nor Republican. I believe they will view Carroll Robinson’s tenure with the HCC Board as a negative. Honestly, I think the favorite at this point is Dwight Jefferson, who was part of the best Metro board in recent memory and who has no obvious negatives about him. I’ll say Jefferson 60%, Frazer 25%, Brown 15%.

At Large incumbents

With incumbents there’s an extra factor to consider, namely whether the incumbent in question has done anything to disqualify himself or herself. There are no Helena Browns this year, so the main question is how big a strike against someone is a vote against HERO? I’ll get to that in a minute. In At Large #2, I think David Robinson is an easy call. He checks the boxes, and none of his opponents are anyone I’d expect the Chron to consider seriously. Kubosh and Christie are the tougher ones to guess. How much will their opposition to HERO be held against them? My guess is “some”, but unless the screening goes badly for them or I’ve underestimated the commitment the Chron has to HERO, I figure they’re both favorites. I’ll make it 80% for Kubosh and 65% for Christie, with the difference being that Christie made some goofy statements about vaccines in his first term, and Philippe Nassif is compelling enough that the Chron might take a flyer on him as a “breath of fresh air” candidate.

At Large open seats

I’m going to go with Tom McCasland in AL1 and Amanda Edwards in AL4. Edwards feels like the safer choice. It would have been a harder call if Laurie Robinson hadn’t flipflopped on HERO, but if my conviction about this means anything, it means it in this race. In AL1, I could see the Chron supporting Lane Lewis or Jenifer Pool – as with Carroll Robinson, I think the Chron will not consider Chris Oliver’s time with HCC to be a positive – but I think McCasland’s resume will carry the day. Let’s say 60% McCasland, 30% Lewis, 10% Pool.

District seats

All district incumbents will be endorsed. This is easy, as there are no disqualifiers and outside of F and J no challengers that are likely to be considered. The cases worth examining are the open seats in G and H. G is a two-candidate race, and you can make an argument for or against either – both candidates are sufficiently qualified, and both are against HERO in a district where that would be expected. The main negative for Sandie Mullins Moger is being on the HCC board – yeah, there’s a theme here – and the main negative for Greg Travis is that he recently announced an endorsement by Helena Brown. I make it 55-45 for Travis. As for H, I can see any of Jason Cisneroz, Roland Chavez, and Karla Cisneros getting the nod. For no reason I can easily explain, I think Karla Cisneros is a slight favorite – let’s say 40-30-30. Have I mentioned that I’m guessing?

HISD and HCC

For HISD, they’ll stick with incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche, and they’ll reverse themselves from 2011 and go with Ramiro Fonseca over Manuel Rodriguez. In the open District 4 seat, I don’t seem the picking Jolanda Jones, so I’ll say they’ll endorse Ann McCoy. The only contested races in HCC involve the two incumbents running for re-election, Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo. I’ll be surprised if they don’t endorse those two.

Referenda

Obviously, they’ll endorse HERO. I think they’ll be as “meh” on the term limits item as I am, and will either give it a lukewarm thumbs up or they’ll advocate a No. Same for the Harris County bond issue, with a slightly better chance of a Yes. I have no idea on the state constitutional amendments, if they bother with them. There were none that excited me one way or the other, though there are a few I’m likely to vote against.

So that’s how I see it. Go ahead and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. I’ll check back in a few weeks and see how good a job I did trying to read their mind.

Mayoral debate #1

Who watched?

In the first televised debate in the Houston mayor’s race, three of the candidates jockeying to replace Mayor Annise Parker took aim at former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and the agency’s allegedly low crime clearance rates.

The pointed effort marked a swift and telling segue from the candidates’ summer circuit of mostly small forums, featuring intermittent fireworks, to their biggest stage yet.

At the end of the debate, former Congressman Chris Bell, businessman Marty McVey and former mayor of Kemah Bill King all honed in on Garcia, a Democrat who many view as a frontrunner in the Nov. 3 balloting.

[…]

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the first televised debate typically previews some of the battle lines and messaging beginning to emerge as the campaigns heat up.

Still, with the race crowded and the time limited to one hour Thursday, it was difficult for any one candidate to stand out. There was little new policy territory covered, but the candidates did find themselves on the hot seat, both with one another and the moderators, more than in previous settings.

“This (debate) rises above the clouds in terms of its prominence and its significance in that its audience is all of Houston, not just a specific interest group, and its medium is television instead of the best-case scenario a somewhat unreliable Web stream from a forum,” Jones said.

With State Rep. Sylvester Turner seemingly “close to invulnerable getting into the runoff,” Jones said, “pretty much everyone has an interest in taking a hit on Garcia.”

PDiddie was impressed by what he saw, Campos not so much. I confess I didn’t watch. I’m not a big fan of general interest candidate forums, which are especially hard to do with multiple candidates. You need to limit response times to give everyone a chance to speak, but that generally invites sound bite answers. I think forums that are focused on narrower and more specific topics can be more illuminating, partly because they often cover ground that gets very little attention overall, and partly because it gives you a chance to see who has actually thought about some of this stuff, and who is faking it.

And along those lines, there are a couple of upcoming specific-interest Mayoral forums coming up. On Thursday, September 10, Shape Up Houston and the Kinder Institute are hosting a forum on urban health and wellness. The forum goes from 8 to 9 AM with preliminaries beginning at 7 – see here for details and a list of sample questions. The event will be livestreamed here if you want to check it out. That evening at 7 PM, the Houston area Sierra Club, Citizens’ Transportation Coalition, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby with support of OilPatch Democrats will be hosting a forum on growth and climate change. That will be at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, see here for more information and to RSVP. Finally, there’s an event this morning at Rice hosted by Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship, Mi Familia Vota, the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice (HACER), the Student Government Association at University of Houston-Downtown, and Young Invincibles on the subject of young adult and Latino community issues. It’s too late to attend if you wanted to – the venue is full – but this is one I wish I would have been able to see. I’m hoping it will be recorded, and if so I’ll post a link to the video. All of this is my longwinded way of saying that if you have an opportunity to go to an event like one of these, I recommend you take it. I think you’d learn more than you would watching a general purpose event. Just my opinion, of course, and your mileage may vary.

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.

Chron looks at Mayoral fundraising

They focus on small-dollar donors.

BagOfMoney

A Houston Chronicle analysis of the top seven candidates’ campaign finance filings covering the first six months of the year shows most businesses and special interest groups are waiting for the race to shape up before pushing their chips forward, and shows the top campaigns have each drawn roughly half their cash from wealthy donors giving the individual maximum of $5,000.

The most instructive data, political analysts say, comes from grassroots donors giving $50 or less.

For one thing, University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray says, there are far more people able to give $50 than $5,000 – and those folks often will cut additional checks to fund the final push to November.

“They’re the people you expect to do the door-knocking and stuff the envelopes and hustle up some additional votes,” Murray said. “That’s awfully important because turnout has dropped in city elections. Every vote becomes more valuable. And research shows one of the most effective ways to get people to vote is to tell your friends, ‘I’m going to vote and you should to.’ ”

Presumed front-runners Adrian Garcia and Sylvester Turner drew the largest share of their contributions from small donors, followed by City Councilman Steve Costello.

Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff, boasted 315 small donors, a quarter of all contributors to his campaign. Turner, a longtime state representative from north Houston, reported 141 small donors, also comprising about a fourth of his donors.

Costello drew a fifth of his donors from the grassroots. This surprised some analysts, who knew only that the moderate-to-conservative engineer was sure to draw business backing. Others said the haul was notable but needed context, given that Garcia entered the race months after Costello, and Turner had just nine days to solicit checks following the end of the legislative session and associated fundraising blackout rules.

Though his overall fundraising total was modest, former Congressman Chris Bell also drew a solid group of small donors, with these supporters making up 17 percent of his contributors.

Bill King only had 6 percent of his donors come from this small-dollar group, but Mark Jones assures us that doesn’t really mean anything, so don’t go wallowing in existential despair just yet. There’s also a chart that also tallies up contributions from PACs and max donors, or you could have read what I wrote a couple of weeks ago, with more information and fewer expert quotes. Snark aside, looking at the small-dollar donors is a worthwhile exercise that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do. More transparency is good.

Hall for all the haters again

Enjoy the attention while it lasts, dude.

RedEquality

Already a staunch opponent of the nondiscrimination law, Hall has become more vocal in the wake of last week’s Texas Supreme Court ruling that City Council must repeal the ordinance, known as HERO, or place it on November’s ballot.

From Twitter to television, Hall is using his criticism of HERO to set himself apart from the largely progressive mayoral field.

“There’s only one candidate in this race who has consistently for the last two years opposed HERO and supported the right of voters to vote,” Hall said in a Fox 26 segment that aired Tuesday. “When the pastors wanted to fight in the court system, none of the other candidates was present. I was.”

Most of Hall’s competitors have remained out of the HERO limelight, issuing a single press release about the Supreme Court’s decision or staying silent.

Five of them – former Congressman Chris Bell, City Councilman Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, state Rep. Sylvester Turner and businessman Marty McVey – have said they support the ordinance, while former Kemah mayor Bill King has tried to straddle the fence.

“I do not see the empirical need for a discrimination ordinance,” King said last Saturday, after previously saying he would not have put the item on City Council’s agenda.

Like Costello, King is seeking the support of Houston’s conservative west side.

Through a spokesman, King declined to comment Thursday on whether he would vote to repeal HERO.

“He’s between a rock and a hard place,” said University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray. “The right conservative base doesn’t like HERO, but the people who write big checks are more moderate on this issue.”

[…]

Even with the resurgent HERO issue, Murray said it is unlikely that Hall, who earned little conservative support in 2013, will have the votes needed in November to make the expected runoff.

As it was two years ago, Hall’s campaign largely is self-funded; he received contributions from just 36 individual donors in the first half of the year, taking in some $94,000, according to his finance report. Hall lent himself an additional $850,000.

“I don’t think you can ride that single issue into the runoff,” Murray said. “I don’t think it has enough resonance with voters that are so much more concerned about infrastructure and the deterioration of the streets.”

See here for the background. Let’s also not forget, Hall’s 2013 campaign was a disaster – no issues, no coherence, no organization. I don’t see any reason why this year would be different, even if this time he actually has a reason for running. It’s just that it’s a bad reason, and it won’t get him very far. I do agree it could cause problems for other candidates, primarily Turner and King, but that’s for them to sort out. Hall gets to have his name in the paper more often, and he gets some love from the bottom feeders. Beyond that, not much is different.

Hall for all the haters

He is who we thought he was.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall said Thursday he signed a petition seeking to define gender identity and prevent men “who perceive or express themselves as women” from entering women’s restrooms because he wants to protect the right to vote.

Hall’s press conference at his Montrose law firm comes three days after an LGBT blog reported that Hall signed the request, which it framed as “anti-gay.”

“I’m trying to correct the record about people who are mischaracterizing why we signed the petition. I want to make sure we change that narrative,” said Hall, who was accompanied by his wife. “We signed this petition because everybody has the right to vote, whether you like the outcome or not.”

Hall added that he “will protect all our citizens from illegal discrimination, gay or straight.”

Of this year’s crowded slate of mayoral contenders, Hall, the 2013 mayoral runner-up, is the most vocal opponent of the city’s equal rights ordinance, which bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy, genetic information, and family, marital or military status.

A picture of Hall’s signature was posted to the HOUEquality Facebook page a few days ago; Hair Balls confirmed it was in fact Hall’s autograph. I think everyone would agree that the one sure beneficiary of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling is Hall, who is the one Mayoral candidate with any visibility who is full-on for repeal. He’s got Wilson and the Hotzes in his camp, and where else are these voters going to go? Bill King isn’t a HERO supporter, but I don’t see him lining up with the repeal forces, not if he wants business support. Oliver Pennington voted against HERO on Council, but he’s not in the race any more. Who else is there? As David Ortez reported, at least one fringe candidate is rabidly pro-repeal as well, but there’s a reason why fringe candidates are on the fringe. Hall is the choice of those who think that HERO was crammed down their throats, and who want very badly to stick it to Mayor Parker. And yes, that choice of words is quite deliberate.

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of money in the Mayoral race this year, even after subtracting what the candidates have given or loaned to themselves. You may be wondering where all that money came from. This post aims to shed a little light on that.

First question: How much of the money raised by Mayoral candidates came from Houston donors, and how much came from outside Houston?

Candidate Non-Hou $ Total $ Pct % ========================================== Garcia 539,949 1,441,792 37.4% Costello 312,660 1,276,281 24.5% Turner 296,588 747,793 39.7% King 103,501 721,250 14.4% Bell 51,288 366,770 14.0% Hall 35,925 69,025 52.0% McVey 21,750 43,927 49.5%

Disclaimer time: All reports can be seen here. My methodology was ridiculously simple. All donations for which the city listed in the report entry was something other than “Houston” was counted for this. Obviously, not all “Houston” addresses are actually within the city – mail sent to all of unincorporated Harris County and such small cities as West U and Southside Place say “Houston, TX” on the envelope – but I wanted to complete this exercise before the election took place, so I followed this guideline for ease of use. As with all totals presented here and elsewhere, this was a manual process, which means I looked over the reports and counted up the totals myself. It is highly likely that I goofed here and there, so consider these numbers to be reasonable estimates and not gospel truth. Finally, also as before, the “Total $” figures represent the cash money raised by each candidate, thus excluding in kind donations, loans, and (in the case of Costello) contributions from the candidate himself.

Having done this exercise, I (reluctantly) feel like I should go back and review Mayor Parker’s July forms from 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as Gene Locke and Peter Brown’s from 2009, to see if what we’re seeing here is completely out of whack with past results or not. I know Mayor Parker had a strong national fundraising network, but I’ve no idea offhand what that meant in total dollars and proportional amounts. Whatever the case, I feel confident saying that Adrian Garcia knocked it out of the park here. He raised more from outside Houston than Chris Bell, Ben Hall, and Marty McVey raised in total combined; his non-Houston total is 75% of Bill King’s overall total. And that still left $900K from in Houston. Holy smokes.

One thing I noticed while perusing Garcia’s report: He received a ton of contributions from people with Asian names, both in Houston and not. He also had a lot of contributions from Latino/a donors, but the sheer number of Asian supporters surprised me. Make of that what you will.

I am curious what motivates someone to donate to a Mayoral candidate they can’t vote for. I get why people contribute to Congressional and Senate candidates from other places – laws made in DC affect them regardless, and partisan control matters a lot – but the justification here is somewhat less clear. To be fair, the vast majority of these non-Houston donations came from places like Katy, the Woodlands, Sugar Land, and so forth. For all the griping I did about non-Houstonians driving the red light camera referendum, it’s clear that folks who work here but live elsewhere have a stake in the outcome of elections like this. And of course some of these out of towners are in the personal networks of the candidates – friends, family, in-laws, colleagues (Sylvester Turner received several contributions from other members of the Legislature, for example), and so forth. I’d still like to understand this phenomenon a little better. Surely one of our Professional Political Pundits can put a grad student on it.

Next item: In Houston, an individual can give a maximum of $5000 to a city candidate in a given cycle, and a PAC maxes out at $10K. Having an army of small-dollar donors is a great thing in many ways, but those big checks sure add up in a hurry. How much of these hauls came from the deep pockets?

Candidate # Maxes Max $ Total $ Pct % ===================================================== Garcia 148 745,000 1,441,792 51.7% Costello 138 720,000 1,276,281 56.4% Turner 76 410,000 747,793 54.8% King 71 365,000 721,250 50.6% Bell 25 125,000 366,770 34.1% Hall 11 55,000 69,025 79.7% McVey 2 10,000 43,927 22.8%

Again with the disclaimers: Same manual process as above. Not all max donors give $5K at once. There were several gifts of $2500 each, and other combinations I observed as well. “# Maxes” is the count of all max donors, both individuals and PACs, which I also counted as one even though they could give twice as much. Multiply “# Maxes” by 5,000 and the difference will tell you how many max PAC donations that candidate got.

With the large amounts of money collected, the large number of donors who gave their all should not be surprising. One reason why I did this was to see who might have a harder time replicating their success between now and the beginning of October, when the 30 day reports come due. You can’t hit up those who are tapped out for a repeat performance, after all. I guess this leaves Chris Bell in better shape than some others, but I’m not sure how much effect that will have.

I should note here that two of Ben Hall’s max donors were named Hotze, an “SM Hotze” and a “JS Hotze”. Hall has gone all in with the haters, despite his weak sauce denials. This could actually present a bit of a problem for King and to a lesser extent Costello, as both of them are in their own way wooing Republican voters. Clearly, some of those Republicans are not going to be open to them. I presume Hotze still has some sway among GOP voters (a subset of them, at least), so if he actively pushes for Hall via mail/robocall/whatever as the One True Candidate Who Will Stand Up To The Gays, then I think that has to put a ceiling on King and Costello. How much that might be I don’t know – if I were forced to guess right now I’d say “maybe two or three points” – but as we’ve been saying all along, this is likely to be a close race where not too many votes could make a big difference in the outcome. Hall is a threat to Turner as well, of course, I just wanted to point this possibility out.

I think that’s about all the patience I have for scouring the Mayoral reports. I may take a closer look at the other candidates’ reports as my copious spare time allows.

Mayoral finance reports: PACs and consultants

Let’s take a deeper dive into Mayoral candidate fundraising by examining one of the main categories of raised funds, and one of the main categories of spent funds. I speak of PAC money for the former, and consultant fees/staff salaries for the other. Here’s how much each candidate raised in PAC funds in their July report:

Candidate PAC $ Total $ PAC % ========================================= Turner 127,650 747,793 17.1% Costello 124,500 1,276,281 9.8% Garcia 87,150 1,441,792 6.0% King 41,000 721,250 5.7% Bell 5,500 366,770 1.5% McVey 3,000 43,927 6.8% Hall 0 69,025 0.0%

As a reminder, you can see all the finance reports that have been submitted on my Election 2015 page. I considered any contributor identified as a PAC or a business of some kind to be a “PAC” for these purposes. If you want to be technical, I’m adding up the contributions that didn’t come from individuals or couples. I also did not include in kind contributions in these totals. For most candidates, I found the value represented in the “Total $” column on the new Subtotals page, which is the modification to the forms that caused all of the trouble this cycle. Ben Hall, of course, didn’t bother with that page, and also included the $850,000 he loaned himself in his “Total Political Contributions” entry. His form was pretty short and it was easy enough to sort it out. Steve Costello’s total above is lower than what you’ll find on his report. This is because he contributed $175K to his campaign – it was reported as a contribution, not a loan – and his PAC donated an additional $10K. For the purposes of this post, I excluded them from his total amount, and didn’t add the PAC contribution to the “PAC $” figure. Sylvester Turner definitely gets the benefit of being a long-term office holder. We’ll see other effects of that in subsequent reports. I expect Adrian Garcia will pull in more PAC money for the 30 day report. As impressive as his haul is, he’s still catching up in some ways.

Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger:

Candidate Salary $ Consult $ Sum $ Raised Pct ========================================================== King 67,289 306,400 373,689 721,250 51.8% Turner 131,192 224,000 355,192 747,793 47.5% Costello 120,932 181,800 302,732 1,276,281 23.7% Bell 102,226 30,350 132,576 366,770 36.1% Garcia 52,427 31,300 83,727 1,441,792 5.8% McVey 60,500 9,000 69,500 43,927 158.2% Hall 0 24,200 24,200 69,025 35.1%

There are two basic categories of paying for people to do stuff – “Salaries/Wages/Contract Labor” and “Consulting”. I added all of the former to “Salary $”, and I also included anything classified as health insurance for staffers and payroll taxes. I did not include fees paid to payroll management services like ADI, because I’m just obstreperous like that. Here you can see the advantage of Adrian Garcia’s late entry into the race – unlike several of his competitors, he hasn’t been paying for staffers and consultants since January. Bill King raised a decent amount of money, but man that’s a big burn rate. If he’s going to hire all those people and run an air campaign, he’s going to have to keep writing checks to himself. Turner’s burn rate is almost as high, but he started out with (and still has) a lot of cash, and his strategy seems to be more targeted, and thus less likely to run into five- and six-figure media buys. Costello spent almost as much as those two did on people, but his much bigger haul gives him a lot of cushion. Bell is going to need to figure out how to run a lean and cost-effective campaign, because he’s not living in the same ZIP code as those four. While multiple candidates are doing at least some self-financing, Marty McVey shows what the edge case for that looks like. He literally wouldn’t have a campaign without his own money, and he still has plenty of it to spend. It will be interesting to see what he does with it. As for Ben Hall, all I will say is that he paid $12,500 to the Hall Law Firm for legal expenses. Hey, if you want something done right, you do it yourself, amirite?

In the next entry in this series, I’ll take another look at where all this money is coming from. You’re not at all wrong to think we’re swimming in it in a way that we weren’t in 2009 or 2003.

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia closed out the first half of the year with more than $1.3 million in the bank, eclipsing City Councilman Stephen Costello by a mere $7,423.

According to their campaign finance reports, Garcia raised $1.5 million and spent just over $122,000, while Costello raised about $30,000 less in contributions, was loaned $90,000 and spent $496,000.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner and former mayor of Kemah Bill King trailed in cash on hand, reporting $1.1 million and $544,000, respectively.

[…]

Costello’s campaign previously said his funds include a $250,000 personal contribution and a $262,000 transfer from his council account.

Among those with reports already in, King spent the most in the first half of the year, coughing up more than $680,000. He raised more than $755,000 and lent himself an additional $500,000.

Turner’s expenditures came in just under King’s, at $601,000, according to his report. However, his campaign noted that $125,000 of those expenditures were related to his state office, not his mayoral campaign.

After starting the race with about $900,000 in the bank from his legislative account, Turner raised an additional $763,000 in the nine days between when his state fundraising blackout period ended and the close of the reporting period.

See here for more. As previously noted, the reports are not in their usual place due to changes in state law and the reporting system. For now, you can see the reports that the city has posted here. I’ve linked to them on my Election 2015 page and will keep updating that as more of them appear. I’ll do a more in depth look at the reports once they’re all there, starting with the Mayorals, which were added to that page as of last night. Expect that for next week.

The Chron story has a spreadsheet embedded in it with totals for candidates who had turned in reports by publication time. Among the other Mayorals, Chris Bell had raised $381K and had $190K on hand; Ben Hall raised $94K and loaned himself $850K to have $812K on hand; and Mary McVey had raised $60K and loaned himself $1.075M to have $1.071M on hand. Forget the price of oil, this Mayoral campaign will be stimulating the local economy over the next few months.

So far, mayoral fundraising has far overshadowed that for Houston’s second-highest political post, city controller.

Deputy controller Chris Brown reported raising $270,000 and spending $22,000, leaving him with more than $222,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, raised $129,000, received $32,000 in loans, spent $120,000 and closed out the first half of the year with more than $53,000 in the bank.

Former Metro board member Dwight Jefferson lagged behind with $11,000 raised $1,800 loaned and $9,000 spent. It was unclear how much cash he had on hand.

Carroll Robinson had raised $50K and had $5K on hand; Jew Don Boney did not have totals posted. Other hauls of note: Amanda Edwards dominated At Large #4 with $165K raised and $118K on hand. Laurie Robinson was the runnerup with $43K and $26K, respectively. In At Large #1, Tom McCasland ($141K raised, $98K on hand) and Lane Lewis ($104K raised, $62K on hand) were far out in front; Chris Oliver raised $37K and had $23K on hand, while Jenifer Pool had not yet reported. CM Michael Kubosh was the only one with any money in At Large #3, raising $63K and banking $44K. Philippe Nassif had a very respectable $73K raised in At Large #5, but only $12K of it remained, far less than CM Jack Christie’s $100K cash on $124K raised; Durrel Douglas had not yet reported.

For district races, CM Mike Laster had a big haul and an equally big financial lead in J, while CM Richard Nguyen had a decent total in F. His opponent, Steven Le, did not have a report up as of last night. There was surprisingly little money raised in the two-person District G race; Greg Travis led in cash on hand over Sandie Moger thanks to a $41K loan to himself. Roland Chavez had the most raised and the most on hand in H, with Karla Cisneros and Jason Cisneroz a notch back. Abel Davila raised a small amount but loaned himself $20K to be even in cash on hand with the other two.

That’s it for now. For the other races, HISD and HCC reports lag behind the city’s – HISD by a little, HCC by a lot – so I’ll keep an eye on those and update as needed. As always, fundraising is just one aspect of one’s candidacy, and is in no way predictive in many races. We only get a few chances a year to see who’s funding whom, and this is one of them. I’ll have more when I can.

Initial Mayoral fundraising totals

Lotta money being raised out there, though not quite as much as the topline totals say.

BagOfMoney

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia was first out of the gate with his figures, announcing Tuesday that he raised $1.5 million since announcing his candidacy in May. According to his campaign, Garcia neither contributed his own money nor transferred funds from his sheriff’s account.

Former Mayor of Kemah [Bill] King followed with a statement Wednesday morning saying he raised $1.25 million, $750,000 of which came from donors, meaning King likely supplied $500,000 for his own bid.

[CM Stephen] Costello [who reported raising $1.8 million total] also financed his own campaign to the tune of $250,000 and transferred $262,000 from his city council account, according to his release.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner reported raising $750,000 in the nine days between the end of the state legislative fundraising blackout and the close of the reporting period. Turner started the race with $900,000 from his legislative account already in the bank.

Meanwhile, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall raised nearly $800,000, according to his campaign, $500,000 of which he donated himself.

Former Congressman and City Councilman Chris Bell ended the reporting period with the lowest number of the group, having raised $400,000.

Businessman Marty McVey and others who have filed to run for mayor have yet to release their fundraising totals.

Couple things here:

1. Money you donated to your own campaign is not money you raised. It’s real money, and it has a real effect, but it is not the same thing. I suspect that the reported self-donation totals here don’t quite tell the full story, but we won’t know until we see the reports.

2. Not all of those “money raised” figures is actual money, whether self-donated or not. In kind donations often make up a big chunk of some finance reports. Some of that represents real value – donated campaign office space, for example, or food and drink for a campaign event – but a lot of it is just plain puffery. Again, we’ll know when we see the reports. Note that the larger the in-kind donation total, the greater the disparity will be between total raised and total on hand, since in-kind ain’t money.

3. The other factor affecting cash on hand, of course, is how much you spent, and on what. Some campaigns wind up spending a lot more on consultants and other things that don’t exactly equate to voter outreach than others.

4. And yes, this stuff matters, which is why I spend time on it. You want to know who a candidate is appealing to, one way or another, finance reports don’t lie. They’re a peek behind the curtain, and no matter how you feel about the process, it’s better to know who’s financially tied to whom. (Nice Cyndi Lauper reference, btw. I always liked that song.)

For now, this is what we know. I will be going over all the reports when they come out, and will have them uploaded and posted to my 2015 Election page for your perusal. I’ll do a few posts summarizing and analyzing what’s in the reports as well. As always, money isn’t everything, but a campaign that can raise it and knows how to use it can be much more effective than one that can’t and doesn’t. Stace has more.

UPDATE: More from Greg.

Turner and Garcia lead early Mayoral poll

We have our first polling numbers for the 2015 Mayoral election.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia have emerged as the clear front-runners in the first independent poll before the election that will determine Houston’s next mayor.

The KHOU – Houston Public Media Poll indicates a clear divide between two tiers of candidates, with Turner and Garcia well ahead of all other contenders to take charge at Houston City Hall after the term-limited Mayor Annise Parker leaves office at the end of this year.

Turner, the longtime state representative making his third run for mayor, leads the pack with 16-percent of surveyed likely voters. Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff, comes in second at 12-percent.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

The rest of the candidates in the poll drop into single digits. Chris Bell, the former congressman making his second run for mayor, won the support of 8-percent of surveyed voters.

Both Ben Hall, the former city attorney making his second mayoral run, and former Kemah mayor Bill King, stand at 3-percent. City Councilman Stephen Costello stands at 2-percent.

“There’s two tiers of candidates,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst and Rice University political scientist who designed the poll. “If you had to pick a runoff match-up, it would have to be Turner and Garcia. And I don’t think that comes as any surprise.”

And here’s the KUHF version of the story, with audio.

News 88.7 Managing News Editor Jose Luis Jimenez sat down with pollster and Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein for a closer look at the results of our exclusive News 88.7/KHOU 11 News Houston Mayoral Election Poll.

Click on the audio link above to listen to the conversation.

To view the full poll results – including what Houston voters think are the major issues in the race – visit the 2015 Houston Mayoral Race special page.

OK then, let’s click the link.

Mayor Annise Parker cannot run again for Mayor because of term limits. There are seven major candidates for mayor. For whom would you be likely to vote for if the election were held today?


Choices            All   RVs   LVs
==================================
Stephen Costello    4%    4%    2%
Bill King           2%    2%    3%
Sylvester Turner   14%   13%   16%
Adrian Garcia      15%   15%   12%
Chris Bell          5%    4%    8%
Marty McVey         1%    1%    0%
Ben Hall            3%    3%    3%
Don't know         53%   54%   50%
Refused             3%    4%    6%

And finally, the methodology:

Methodology: Polling was conducted from May 20 to June 21, 2015 using two simultaneous samples of 500 eligible voters each. The first sample included registered voters (i.e. “Likely Voters”) who voted in two of the last three municipal elections in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The second sample included all other registered voters (i.e. “Registered Voters) who voted in at least one of the last three municipal elections. Results are reported for both samples separately and combined. The combined sample is weighted to reflect the actual representation of likely voters in the 2015 municipal election. The margin of error for each sample is +/- 4.5% and margin of error for the combined weighted sample is +/- 3.2%.

What do I think?

1. I think this mostly recapitulates name ID, which is about what you’d expect at this point.

2. I’ve complained about “likely voter” screens for this kind of poll in the past, but I have no major complaints here. Screening for those who have voted in two out of the last three city elections is the way I’d do it. The Likely Voter sample is whiter, richer, and older (average age = 69) than the sample as a whole and much more so than the city as a whole, which is – for better and worse – the kind of electorate we tend to get in our odd-numbered-year elections. The candidates and campaigns have the capability of altering the size and shape of the electorate, though barring anything strange it’s unlikely to change much. Bottom line is there’s nothing here that screams “unrepresentative sample” to me.

3. Don’t be mesmerized by the high “Don’t know” level. A late September 2013 poll, six weeks out from an election that featured a two-time incumbent, had a 48% “Don’t know” response. Here, each candidate has some base level of support, and the rest are people that I think very likely really don’t know yet. I’d have given the same answer myself if I had been polled, and I’m not exactly a low-information voter. Sometimes “Don’t know” means “I haven’t paid enough attention to it yet to have any idea”, sometimes it means “I do know who I’m voting for but I like to think I’m keeping my options open”, and sometimes it means “There’s more than one candidate that I like and I don’t know yet which one I’ll pick”.

4. Similarly, don’t let the low numbers for the nominal Republican candidates (King and Costello) fool you. Roy Morales polled at five and six percent in those 2009 polls, but wound up with 20% and actually did better than Peter Brown on Election Day itself, thanks in part to Republican voters figuring out and being told that he was “their guy” in the latter stages of the campaign. King and Costello will get their share of the vote, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough for a runoff for either of them. Their main danger is having some of those votes poached, by either a late entry from the wingnut population (think Eric Dick) or from Ben Hall, who has gone full-on anti-HERO. I don’t think there’s a lot of these votes to be siphoned off, but in a tight multi-candidate race like this it doesn’t take much to put the runoff out of reach.

5. When people ask me who I think will make the runoff, my answer is a firm shrug of the shoulders. I can make a case for at least five candidates to have a shot at it – Hall and McVey are the ones that I think are highly unlikely to make it into the top two. It’s entirely possible to me that only a few thousand votes will separate second place from fourth or fifth, and any number of things including dumb luck can affect who winds up a contender and who finishes as a palooka.

So that’s how it looks for now. There will be more polls, and things will surely look different as we go forward. PDiddie has more.

ReBuild Houston and the Mayor’s race

It’s all about the conservative voters, because no one cares what anyone else thinks.

When the most conservative candidate in the Houston mayor’s race dropped out two months ago, the battle to win over right-leaning voters became a two-man show: former Kemah Mayor Bill King versus City Councilman Stephen Costello.

Both candidates bill themselves as moderate fiscal conservatives chiefly concerned about the city’s finances – pensions in particular – and, by all accounts, neither is an ideal choice for the far right.

Nonetheless, support among local Republicans has begun to coalesce around King, who has taken a hard line against ReBuild Houston, the city’s controversial streets and drainage program.

Now, with Houston recovering from severe flooding and the state Supreme Court ruling against the city in a lawsuit over ReBuild, program mastermind Costello only looks to be in trouble.

“The timing of this couldn’t be worse for Costello,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, adding that King now has a window to break through.

ReBuild Houston is designed to allow the city to pay down existing debt while financing drainage and road improvements primarily through monthly drainage fees collected from property owners.

Earlier this month, hours after the Texas Supreme Court ruled the language of the 2010 charter amendment did not adequately describe the drainage fee to fund ReBuild, King released a statement attacking the program and Costello.

Last week, he called for ReBuild to be put back on the ballot this November.

Meanwhile, candidates to King’s left barely have touched on ReBuild.

Yes, it would be nice to hear what Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Marty McVey have to say about this. It’s been more than a week, guys. What kind of race are you running here? I don’t even know what to think.

As for this story, it’s an expanded version of the one I blogged about Saturday, in which King called for a revote on the Renew Houston proposition, with more quotes from his and Costello’s campaigns and various Republican types. I won’t repeat myself, so I’ll just take a moment to marvel at how issuing debt is now considered the preferred “conservative” choice over pay-as-you-go. Given the way debt has ballooned at the state level and the fact that this particular PAYGO plan involved creating a new revenue stream instead of cutting something or pretending to cut something, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m going to wait to hear what a court says about the status of the current litigation before I get too deep into all this. I hope to hear what the rest of the Mayoral field has to say before then.

Supreme Court deals a blow to ReBuild Houston

Ugh.

Houston’s divisive, multibillion-dollar effort to fund two decades of street and drainage improvements faces an uncertain future after the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the ballot measure voters narrowly approved in 2010 obscured the nature and cost of the drainage fee at the heart of the ReBuild Houston program.

The case now returns to the trial court level, where experts say the justices’ strongly worded opinion appears to make a victory for the city unlikely. At issue was whether the ballot language made clear what voters were being asked to decide.

“The city’s semantic obfuscation is particularly egregious here, considering that the ballot proposition at issue concerned a revenue-raising measure,” Justice Eva Guzman wrote, having taken the extra step of penning a concurring opinion to accompany her colleagues’ ruling.

Though the final outcome is far from certain, the possible absence of the largest of ReBuild Houston’s four sources of revenue – the hundreds of millions of dollars Houstonians have paid through the drainage fee – would greatly undermine the city’s infrastructure repairs. As of this spring, $655 million had been spent or earmarked for new projects under ReBuild Houston, with almost 100 projects completed. That work includes 515 miles of rebuilt or repaved streets, 697 miles of ditches graded and 188 miles of storm sewers cleaned – all while paying down old debt, supporters say.

Conservative activists, however, cheered Friday’s ruling as fervently as they long have railed against the drainage fee, which they deride as a burdensome “rain tax.” The lawsuit in question concerns a related criticism: that the ballot language was misleading, making the charter amendment illegal.

[…]

Houston appellate lawyer Richard Hogan, who is not involved in the litigation, said a separate legal action would have to be launched to make the drainage fee disappear from residents’ water bills. However, after reading the Supreme Court opinion and related filings, Hogan said he would put his money on an eventual victory for the plaintiffs.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that they’re not going to win the case when it goes back,” Hogan said. “I can’t imagine that, after the Supreme Court said all this, that a trial judge in Texas would thumb his or her nose at the Supreme Court and tell them, ‘No, it wasn’t misleading.’ ”

I have a copy of the opinion here. I’m still mulling this over, but for now I have three thoughts.

1. I freely admit this may just be sour grapes on my part, but I have a hard time seeing this ruling as anything but ridiculous. I don’t know how any actual voter who didn’t spend the last six months of 2010 in a coma could have failed to understand that voting for the Renew Houston proposition meant imposing a fee on themselves. I’m struggling to not see politics at the root of this decision.

2. So far the only Mayoral campaign reactions I have seen to this have been press releases from Bill King and Ben Hall, both of which hit my mailbox on Friday, and both of which were happy about the ruling. (Mayor Parker also put out a press release, which was quoted in full in the Chron story.) I’ve looked at the Facebook pages of the other five candidates, and so far nothing. Chris Bell, Sylvester Turner, Steve Costello, Adrian Garcia, and Marty McVey – what are you waiting for?

3. There’s still a lot of legal wrangling to come, but it’s fair to say that ReBuild Houston is on life support and may not survive. If it goes down, then what if anything replaces it? I feel like I spent a lot of time back in 2010 asking Renew Houston opponents what they would do to provide more funds for flooding and drainage improvements, and I never got anything resembling a coherent answer. So I’ll ask again, with an eye especially at the Mayoral candidates. If not ReBuild Houston, then what? How do you provide more funds to do more street repairs and flood abatement? Remember, we live in a revenue cap world, so simply proposing a property tax increase (not that anyone would, I suppose) is insufficient. If you don’t propose some kind of supplemental revenue stream, then as far as I’m concerned you’re not serious about wanting to do street improvements and flood mitigation. If you do have a proposal, then I want specifics, and I want to see evidence that you’re going to fight for it. Say what you want about Steve Costello, and I’m sure he’s going to take his fair share of abuse and criticism now, but he put his money where his mouth was in 2010, and he got something passed. If the Supreme Court has taken that away, what will you do instead?

The other stuff that got discussed at the third forum

The third Mayoral candidate forum on Saturday was supposedly about “labor and workers’ rights”, but of course the story is all about the great and powerful pension question, because there’s been so little coverage of it and where the candidates stand on that question is such a mystery. There is a bit at the end of the story about those other boring issues – hilariously, it’s in a smaller font without any spacing between the paragraphs, as if to emphasize the afterthought nature of it – and being the stubborn SOB that I am, that’s what I’m going to highlight here. In a normal-sized font, with spacing added, thankyouverymuch.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Bell said at least twice that he would put a labor liaison on his executive staff as mayor and also stressed the need to address growing economic inequality in Houston. “If we don’t address this issue we’re going to continue to have a city of haves versus have-nots,” he said.

Costello focused several times on worker training. He advocated the use of “best value” rather than “low bid” selections in city contracting to enable the city to better penalize irresponsible companies that cut corners. On affordable housing, he advocated for the city to provide more incentives to developers to avoid gentrification, and for similar efforts creating an affordable district for artists.

Garcia: Touted his efforts while on City Council to get vaccines to Latino kids in his district when he learned his district had one of the city’s lowest immunization rates. He focused heavily on affordable housing and gentrification, and said the city must find ways to prevent citizens from paying for their neighbors’ investments in their own taxes.

Hall said he would give preference in city contracting to companies that provide apprenticeships and said he would pursue policies to “grandfather” existing homes in gentrifying areas to prevent residents from being pushed out.

King: Said he would work to increase the number of and funding for Federally Quality Health Clinics, and would evaluate whether city clinics unnecessarily duplicate services with county clinics. He said any contractor caught stealing workers’ wages should be fired and banned from doing business with the city.

McVey said because the Legislature has blocked the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the city should seek a way to get payments directly from Washington. McVey also called for more urban planning, with a focus on preventing gentrification.

Turner touted his support in the Legislature for expanding a health insurance program for impoverished youth and for increased funding for trauma centers, and took issue with an expansive subsidy program launched under Parker to pay developers $15,000 per apartment or condominium built downtown; “It’s about time we pushed that to the neighborhoods,” he said.

See, now wasn’t that interesting? Combine that with the first two forums, and you might have actually learned something you didn’t already know about what the candidates believe. Even if none of the questions I wanted to see asked got brought up. There’s still time for that, though. PDiddie has more.

Reviewing the Mayoral websites

The Chron reviews the candidates’ online presence so far.

Five months before voters head to the polls, the candidates’ digital platforms are up and running, but most are heavy on biography, light on ideas.

“They’re checking the box. They have a website, they have a Facebook, they have a Twitter,” said Luke Marchant, a Houston-based Republican consultant. “They’re all doing what they need to do, but no one’s really pushing the envelope.”

That is not surprising at this stage of the game, when the hot summer months loom large and politics remain an afterthought for all but the most active voters, political experts said.

[…]

Some of the contenders have made small forays into the online policy conversation, with state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s proposals including a job training program aimed at fixing the city’s streets and lifting the existing cap on public arts funding. Among former congressman Chris Bell’s suggestions are reorganizing the city’s public works department, expanding bus rapid transit and housing pre-kindergarten programs in city libraries and community centers.

“A lot of the effort right now is focused on fundraising, but the people who are donating to campaigns are no different than any other type of voter. They want to know where you stand,” Bell said, “and the best place for them to find that information in a quick manner is online.”

Others, namely City Council member Stephen Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King introduce themselves on their websites and broadly outline campaign priorities: Costello wants to add to the Houston Police Department’s ranks, while King suggests auditing the department and doing away with the city’s crime lab.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and businessman Marty McVey leave it mostly at biography. “Before I’m able to govern effectively, I need to know what’s important to the people,” McVey said, noting that his policy is developing as he talks to potential voters.

Meanwhile, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall’s website was down as of Friday afternoon, having previously sported ‘donate’ and ‘endorse’ buttons, as well as a countdown clock until election day, but no candidate information whatsoever. Hall said he was refining his policy positions before updating his website.

Hall may be between domains. His 2013 website and the site listed on his current Facebook page are different. Not that it matters much – Hall was feather-light on policy in 2013, and I doubt he’ll be any better this time around.

For all the grousing I’ve done about the substance of the campaign so far, I have to admit that as the story suggests, it’s not unusual at this point in time. I went back through my Election 2009 archives, and the first post I wrote about a candidate saying something serious policy-wise was this post about Annise Parker’s crimefighting plan on August 6. Following that, there was this post about Peter Brown’s traffic plan posted on August 10, and this post about Gene Locke’s crimefighting plan on August 26. I guess that means I’ve got another two months of waiting for something interesting and illuminating. That won’t stop me from pointing out, again and again, that there are things happening right now that will greatly affect the decisions and policies of the next Houston Mayor, and right now we have damn little idea of how any of them will react. Someday soon, I hope.

Mayoral candidate forum season is underway

They talk about the arts.

Not exactly

Houston’s mayoral candidates were full of praise for the city’s arts scene Wednesday, when they appeared at a forum together for the first time, though most said they would not support raising taxes or allocating new city funds to support arts and culture.

The forum hosted by four city arts groups – Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre – featured seven of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker and kicks off a series of similar interest-specific events leading up to November’s election.

The relatively conflict free event at the Asia Society Texas Center drew a standing room only crowd. It opened with statements from each of the candidates, who then went on to answer three arts and culture-related questions.

The first addressed the city’s recently implemented cap on arts funding from hotel occupancy tax revenues, about 19 percent of which are set aside to fund city arts organizations. Two years ago, City Council passed an ordinance capping the city’s arts and culture spending through this revenue stream, prompting criticism from some of the grantees.

Four of the seven candidates – former congressman and City Council member Chris Bell, former mayor of Kemah Bill King, businessman Marty McVey and state Rep. Sylvester Turner – said they do not support the cap. The other three – City Council member Stephen Costello, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall – did not come out directly in favor of the limit but said they would want to further review it once in office.

The second question addressed whether the candidates would support additional funding for arts education, with the final moderator-posed question touching on whether the candidates would see through Parker’s cultural plan. It is currently being created and is intended to guide Houston’s arts and cultural development in the coming decades.

CultureMap filled in the third question.

While much of the evening was taken up with policy wonk questions about a cap on the Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax (aka the HOT tax), which funds arts projects around the city, the best — and most humanizing question — came from an audience member, who asked, “Who is your favorite artist and why?” You could almost see the wheels turning in each candidate’s head as he scrambled to come up with an unscripted answer.

First up was former Kemah mayor Bill King, who lamely listed Van Gogh, whom he first learned about from his history teacher many years ago. Businessman Marty McVey picked the 13th century poet Rumi for the “great solace” his work provides, which drew applause of one audience member.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner was the first to turn the discussion to Houston artists — John Biggers and Michelle Barnes are among his favorites, and the other candidates quickly followed his lead, with Bell listing Lamar Briggs, Houston City Council member Stephen Costello mentioning Mark Foyle, muralist Ashley Winn and Justin Garcia, and former sheriff Adrian Garcia picking his daughter along with Project Row Houses founder Rick Lowe.

Attorney Ben Hall had the most unconventional answer — he’s mad about Surrealists M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali. “Read into that what you may,” he said cryptically.

I’d have gone with Beans Barton myself, though I have to admit that MC Escher is a fine answer if one doesn’t care about local pandering. Nancy Sims and Texas Leftist also reported on this forum.

Next, they talked about the budget.

Houston mayoral hopefuls swapped plans to shore up the city’s finances at a forum Thursday, pledging everything from pension reform to scrapping the city’s crime lab.

The event drew little in the way of political fireworks, with the rival candidates largely sticking to their own talking points at the University of Houston student center. More than 200 people were in attendance.

The forum was hosted by SPARC Growth Houston, a coalition of economic development groups that encircle the downtown core SPARC representatives asked six of the candidates jockeying to replace term-limited Annise Parker four questions, giving them 90 seconds to respond.

The seventh candidate, Ben Hall, the mayoral runner-up in 2013, was not present Thursday.

[…]

The questions from SPARC largely focused on how the candidates would spur economic development in neighborhoods to the north, east and south of downtown. The first question, however, broached how the candidates would curb the city’s looming budget deficit and drew more specific answers.

Looks like the candidate for people who thinks the revenue cap is stupid is Chris Bell, with Sylvester Turner the runnerup. There’s another forum this morning at Talento Bilingue in the East End to focus on labor and community issues, and there will be many many more after that. Find one that appeals to you and go hear what the candidates have to say for themselves. PDiddie has more.

Endorsement watch: Firefighters for Turner

From the inbox:

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON, March 23, 2015 – State Rep. Sylvester Turner has earned the endorsement of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association in this year’s mayoral race, the HPFFA said today.

HPFFA President Alvin W. White, Jr. said 84 percent of voting fire fighters approved the recommendation of the HPFFA board of directors to endorse Turner after a review of the public safety records of the mayoral candidates.

“Sylvester has been a consistent friend of fire fighters and an advocate for public safety in Austin for 25 years,” White said. “He is clearly the best choice for us in this mayoral race. We also appreciate that he has built a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, unions and community groups.”

White added, “Rep. Turner understands that Houston fire fighters are delivering excellent service to citizens, are good stewards of city resources, and are giving back to the community. He also has been a sensible voice – here and in Austin – in the debate about city employee pensions.”

Rep. Turner said, “I am proud to have earned the support of Houston’s firefighters. Together, we will work to keep our neighborhoods safe, teach our youth the values of courage and shared sacrifice and show the world that Houston is a place that working families are proud to call home.”

Rep. Turner has served 25 years in the Texas House of Representatives. He is a member of the Legislative Budget Board; Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Chair of the Subcommittee on Articles 1, 4 and 5 (General Government, Judiciary, Public Safety and Criminal Justice); and the House State Affairs Committee.

Born in the Acres Homes community of northwest Houston, Rep. Turner graduated from Klein High School, where he was valedictorian and student body president. He then attended the University of Houston and Harvard Law School. More information is available at www.sylvesterturner.com.

The press release is here, for when I get around to creating a 2015 Election page. I’m not going to note every endorsement that comes my way, but this one was of interest for two reasons. One is that it happened at all, especially this early on. I figure a lot of endorsing organizations are going to take their time – at the very least, until they’re sure if Adrian Garcia is in the race or not – and many may keep their powder dry till the runoff, since Lord only knows who might make it that far. The other is that it wasn’t clear early on who if anyone would be the firefighters’ preferred candidate, given the intense focus by several campaigns on the pension issue. Once the pension deal was announced that sort of settled that matter, but for awhile there it was not obvious.

This is a nice get for Turner, since every inch is going to count in a race where the difference between making the runoff and being a runnerup is likely to be small. That said, the firefighters’ record in recent Mayoral elections is not that great. They endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, Fernando Herrera in 2011, and Ben Hall in 2013; going back a bit more, they backed Orlando Sanchez in 2003. We’ll see if they have better luck this time.

January campaign finance reports – Mayoral wannabes

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

I wrote yesterday about the start of the 2015 campaign season in Houston, and how it’s started a bit early thanks to the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Trebor Gordon that invalidated the blackout period. This week also marked the January 15 finance report filing deadline, so now is as good a time as any to see who has what. The Gordon ruling really had no effect on the January filings – it came way too late for that – so as I’ve said before, the real story of its effect will be told in the July reports, when we can see who raised what during January. Because the blackout was in effect last year, several Mayoral candidates have no reports to file as yet – Chris Bell, Marty McVey, and Joe Ferreira fall into that category. Bill King did file a report, but only had some expenditures to list. Folks like Stephen Costello, Oliver Pennington, and Jack Christie have existing city finance accounts and thus had reports to file for their activity; Ben Hall still has his account from the 2013 race; and of course current holders of other offices like Rep. Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez filed reports with their respective authorities. (In Sanchez’s case, since he would not be on the ballot until 2018 if he stays put, he was not required to file a January report he does not have a January report on the County Clerk website that I can find; I have his eight-day report from last year linked.) So without further ado:

Sylvester Turner
Stephen Costello
Oliver Pennington
Ben Hall
Jack Christie
Bill King
Adrian Garcia
Orlando Sanchez

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Turner 657,227 121,719 0 1,014,424 Costello 0 35,324 15,000 273,001 Pennington 0 126,039 0 116,632 Hall 0 26,300 2,000,000 59,300 Christie 0 11,404 0 4,080 King 0 7,300 0 0 Garcia 175,681 350,030 0 57,213 Sanchez 18,041 14,115 200,000 1,258 Locke 0 0 0 4,065 Parker 0 57,109 0 350,695

I included reports for 2009 candidate Gene Locke and Mayor Parker for the heck of it as well as for purposes of comparison. It will be interesting to see if Mayor Parker, who has her eye on a future statewide run, does any fundraising this year.

Turner’s report, with its sizable cash on hand total, and Garcia’s report, with its much less sizable COH number, are the ones that have attracted the most attention. You can see why Chris Bell really wants to enforce a $10,000 limit on the amount Turner could transfer to a city account. A million dollar head start is a big obstacle for him or anyone else to overcome. Turner, for his part, ramped up his fundraising last year in the expectation of being able to transfer it all because now that the Lege is in session, he’s on the sidelines until at least May unless he decides to resign, which I would not expect. As for Garcia, who has held some recent fundraisers for his county account, he could likely bring in some money quickly once he announced, if he does. But as Campos notes, the clock is ticking. The longer he waits, the harder it will get and the more likely that some of the deeper pockets will commit themselves to someone else. You have to figure that if he intends to get into the race, it will happen in the next month or so.

Beyond that, not too much to see. Jack Christie and Bill King can both do a certain amount of self-funding, though probably not to the extent that Ben Hall has done. I can only marvel at his outstanding loans figure, which I’ll bet goes up even more. Costello and Pennington have both shown to be strong fundraisers in past elections. I have no idea about McVey and Ferreira or whoever else might be thinking about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s only so much space for viable candidacies in the Mayoral race. With a cap on how much and individual and a PAC can give in a cycle, there are only so many deep pockets to tap. Mayor Parker has done very well with a big network of small-dollar donors, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and one usually has to have an extensive personal network to begin with. Like I said, the July reports will tell us a much more detailed story. I’ll check out the other finance reports in future posts. Stace has more.

UPDATE: A couple of people have asked me about the statement that Orlando Sanchez didn’t need to file a January report. I could swear that I saw something to that effect in the Chronicle, but now I can’t find where I saw it. So, since I can see that Stan Stanart, who also would not be on the ballot till 2018, has a January report filed, I’ve changed my wording above. My apologies for the confusion and for not being more skeptical of that.