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Ben Leman

So will there be any effort to help Cecil Webster in the HD13 special election?

So as we know, there is a special election set for HD13 on May 5.

Cecil Webster

Governor Greg Abbott has ordered a special election for May 5, 2018, to fill the State Representative District 13 seat vacated by Leighton Schubert. District 13 includes the counties of Austin, Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, Grimes, Lavaca and Washington.

Schubert had submitted his notice of candidacy to run a third term, but withdrew three days before the filing deadline, citing a desire to be with his family and step back from politics.

“My family has made tremendous sacrifices to allow me to serve in this position and it is time for me to focus more on that role,” Schubert said.


Early voting for the May 5 election will begin Monday, April 23.

Five Republican candidates have filed for the March 6 primary, Daniel McCarthy, David Stall, Ben Leman, Jill Wolfskill and Marc Young. The winner of the Republican Primary election will face Democrat candidate, Cecil Ray Webster Sr. in the November election.

That story is from February 23. It was the only article I found directly related to the forthcoming special election in a Google news search. There’s plenty of coverage from the primaries, but it’s safe to say this special election is not on anyone’s radar at this time.

As noted in my earlier post, the three candidates who are in the special election are Webster, Leman, and Wolfskill, with the latter two being in the runoff for the Republican nomination. The winner gets a boost in seniority over the rest of the class of 2018, assuming he or she goes on to win in November.

Now as I’ve said before, this is basically a dead red district, one that voted 76.8% to 20.4% for Donald Trump. It’s also one with a recent special election history, in which Webster received 12.93% of the vote and finished third out of four, back in January of 2015.

But that was then and this is now. We’ve just come off a year in which Democratic candidates have been greatly outperforming their 2016 baselines, with many of them winning races for state legislative offices. We’ve also just witnessed a special Congressional election in which a Democrat won a mostly-rural district that Trump had carried by twenty points. It wouldn’t take that much for Webster to outperform his 21.37% tally in 2016; if he can get to 33%, he can assure himself a spot in the runoff, assuming neither Leman nor Wolfskill can top 50%. Webster by himself got more votes in 2016 (14,965) than were cast for all four candidates in that 2015 special election (9,939). He got 3,883 votes in the 2016 primary, which would have been enough to advance in that 2015 special election. It’s well within the realm of the possible that Webster can finish in the top two this May.

And while the stakes of this election are low, surely that’s worth aiming for. I don’t know about you, but I’m beyond tired of the “there was no blue wave in Texas” hot takes. Well, the best way to change that narrative is for a Democrat to overperform in a little legislative special election, especially in a rural district.

So I ask: What effort is there to support Cecil Webster in this election? Are any of the various grassroots organizations – Indivisible, Swing Left, Pantsuit Nation, Our Revolution, etc etc etc – going to make a push for him? How about the establishment groups, like the HDCC? This should be a fairly low-cost effort, and win or lose it can have the effect of giving a better measurement of Democratic engagement in 2018. But first we have to try. Who’s in?

What are the elections of interest this May?

That’s a question I’m asking as well as one I’m trying to answer. Normally, there are no elections in May of any kind of year for Houston folks, though there are some for parts of Harris County and surrounding areas. This year for the uniform election date of May 5 we do have the special election in City Council District K to succeed the late CM Larry Green. The filing deadline for this is March 26, so we should know in very short order who is in the running.

We should also know by March 26 whether that firefighters pay parity proposal will be on the ballot or not. The firefighters would like to know about that, too.

There is one legislative special election on tap for May 5. State Rep. Leighton Schubert in HD13 stepped down earlier this year, so this race is to fill out the remainder of his term. That doesn’t really mean much unless the winner of that race also wins in November, in which case he or she will have a seniority advantage over all the other members of the class of 2018. If I’m reading this list correctly, there are three candidates – Democrat Cecil Webster, Republican Ben Leman, and Republican Jill Wolfskill. Webster is on the November ballot – he also ran in 2016, getting 21.4% against Schubert in a district that voted 76.8% to 20.4% for Donald Trump. Leman and Wolfskill are in the runoff for the GOP nomination. If Webster can somehow make it to the runoff for this, even with the low stakes, it would be quite the achievement.

Closer to home, I know there are elections in Pearland for Pearland City Council – they have three-year terms, so they have elections every year – and Pearland ISD – I don’t know offhand what their terms are, but as you can see on the election results page, they have those races every year as well. Dalia Kasseb, who ran a strong race for Pearland City Council last year, is making another run this year. She is on the list of TDP-endorsed Project LIFT slate, as is Al Lloyd for Pearland ISD.

There are other races on that slate, though none in the Houston area. I’ve seen ads on Facebook for a candidate running for Deer Park ISD, but at this time I know nothing about her. Ballotpedia says these are three-year terms but there isn’t a page for 2018 yet. These elections are apparently not conducted by the Harris County Clerk, and I’m not seeing anything on the DPISD Board of Trustees webpage, so I’m throwing this out to y’all – if you know anything about this, please leave a comment and let me know.

So there you have what I know about elections for this May. What am I missing? Please fill me in.

High speed rail line route finalist chosen

Here’d where the Texas Central rail route will be, modulo some possible final tweaks and any further political obstacles.

Federal officials narrowed the possible paths for a Dallas-Houston bullet train down to one likely route Friday, providing an unknown number of rural Texans the most definitive answer so far as to whether their land will be in the path of the controversial project.

Much of the planned route had already been largely solidified. But documents released Friday by the Federal Railroad Administration filled in the rest of the gaps, favoring a more westerly route that runs through Navarro, Freestone, Leon, Madison and Limestone counties. Another potential route that was dropped from consideration would have avoided Limestone County.


The release of the draft Friday marked a major step toward getting federal clearance for the project. While it provides a clearer picture of the expected route, the path could slightly change in some areas as development and federal oversight continues.

The study also provided new details about stations planned in Grimes County and Houston. The Grimes County station is planned for State Highway 30 between Huntsville and College Station. There are three potential Houston station locations: land where Northwest Mall currently sits, an industrial area across from that shopping center and an industrial area closer to the nearby Northwest Transit Center.

The planned Dallas station remains just south of downtown.

The report is here. The original report, which listed six possible routes, came out two years ago – the environmental review process is not intended to be quick, but to be thorough. The station in Grimes County is intended to serve the Bryan/College Station area; the Texas Central summary of the report notes that “direct shuttle service to Texas A&M University” will be included, so you Aggie fans might make note of that. What I notice is that the route avoids Montgomery County, where a lot of the opposition to the line was based. Maybe some of those folks will lose interest now that they’re not in consideration any more. Grimes County, where the midpoint station will be located, is also a hotbed of resistance to TCR; Ben Leman, chair of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, just stepped down as Grimes County Judge to run for the Lege. If all goes well for TCR, they’ll have construction going before the next Lege gavels in.

Anyway. This is a big step forward for Texas Central. There’s still a 60-day public feedback period, and then the final route will be determined. Both DART and Metro will need to make some decisions about how they will connect to the terminals, and the Houston end has to be chosen. But we’re getting close. With a bit of luck, by this time next year we’ll have had a groundbreaking. I’m looking forward to it. The DMN has more.

Texas Central withdraws its land access lawsuits


The private developer of a planned bullet train between Dallas and Houston has withdrawn more than a dozen lawsuits against Texas landowners that sought court orders allowing the company access to private property to survey land for the 240-mile project.

Texas Central Partners officials said they are instead going to try and have an “open dialogue” with landowners about letting the company onto their land.

“We’re stepping back and going back to conversations and taking some of the heat out of our process,” said Texas Central President Tim Keith.

Texas Central Partners is developing a 240-mile bullet train line intended to transport passengers between Houston and Dallas in 90 minutes with a stop near Bryan. The company has partnered with Japanese train operator JR Central to bring its bullet train technology to Texas. The project has drawn support from officials in Houston and Dallas but opposition from communities and landowners that are expected to be near the train’s route.

In court filings, the company argued that state law allows it to enter private property to survey land that may be used for a potential route because it is a railroad. A group called Texans Against High-Speed Rail have said the company shouldn’t be considered a railroad because it doesn’t currently operate any rail lines.

In one Harris County lawsuit, attorneys for a landowner echoed that argument. A trial on the merits of those legal arguments was set for July, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s office.

Keith said Tuesday that the company was confident it would have secured a ruling in its favor. Texas Central and landowners had already settled 21 other similar legal filings. The company said the decision to withdraw the remaining suits was largely based on the fact that it’s already reached access and land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners.

See here and here for some background. Seems a little weird to me, but I’ll take them at their word for now. The Chron adds some details.

The company planning high-speed rail service between Houston and Dallas announced Tuesday it has reached preliminary agreements to buy property from nearly one-third of the landowners along the planned route, including half of those in two counties where vocal opposition has been strongest.

Texas Central said they have reached option agreements with owners of about 30 percent of the necessary parcels in 10 counties. The option agreements bind property owners to selling the right of way for the train, with the company paying them now for the right to purchase the land once Texas Central has final federal approvals and the funding to build the line, estimated to cost $12 billion.

“This is a significant step in the progress of the high-speed train and it reflects the positive dialogue we have had with landowners along the route,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a statement. “Texans see the many benefits of a system that will provide a safe, reliable and productive alternative to the state’s transportation demands.”

Texas Central said 50 percent of the parcels needed in Waller and Grimes counties are covered by the option agreements. Landowners in the two counties have been some of the most vocally opposed to the line, which they say will ruin the rural character of the area. Many also have accused the company of heavy handed tactics negotiating with land owners.

Grimes County Judge Ben Leman, chairman of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said the concerns with how property owners were approached should make people doubt the support Texas Central claims.

“If you are a landowner and you are sitting in your house and someone comes to your door and says they have eminent domain, or you can sign this agreement and we’ll pay 5 percent down… are you going to use eminent domain and cross your fingers,” Leman said.


[Leman] predicted the legislative session will be the “next big battleground” as the company seeks to have state lawmakers affirm some of its rights to use eminent domain, including a remedy to counties that have voted not to issue any construction permits to any entity that doesn’t have eminent domain authority, if the entity is crossing a public street.

We definitely agree on the Lege being the next battleground. I’ve got my eyes open for relevant bills. Swamplot has more.

Grimes County takes its own steps against Texas Central

Another day, another obstacle.

In a rebuke of a private firm’s plans to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas, local officials in rural southeastern Texas moved Tuesday to restrict high-speed rail development in their corner of the state.

Grimes County commissioners voted unanimously to require high-speed rail developers to acquire a permit and provide sufficient proof of eminent domain authority before building a rail line over county roads, according to Ben Leman, the Grimes County judge.


On Tuesday, Texas Central released statements repeating that argument and affirming that “this high-speed rail project will continue, working closely with local governments to make this project a success for each community it will serve.”

“Texas statutes, as interpreted by courts and not county governments, have long granted eminent domain authority to railroads such as Texas Central, pipeline companies, electric power companies and other industries that provide the infrastructure necessary to serve the public efficiently and enjoy a healthy economy,” the company said in a statement.

The statement also criticized the Grimes Commissioners Court decision as “another delaying tactic.”

Leman, who previously filed a petition in opposition to the project, remains skeptical. The local measure will “clarify if they have eminent domain or not,” he said. “They claim to have it, or they publicly say they have it, but they’ve never demonstrated any proof of it in any court or any other entity.”

On the one hand, I understand why rural counties like Grimes hate this project. The trains will just pass through, they’re not getting any benefit from it, and they have no reason to trust any assurances that Texas Central will use eminent domain as little as possible. On the other hand, I want to scream “Will we ever be able to do anything other than build roads in this state?” in frustration. I see this project as being beneficial and necessary for the state, and it will only get more expensive to build the longer we wait. I know, it’s easy for me to say when someone else is being asked to take one for the team, but what do you want from my life?

Anyway. Either Texas Central will survive the various challenges to its ability to use eminent domain or it won’t. In either outcome, Grimes County’s actions here likely won’t matter. It’s just another step in the process.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement from TCR in response to this action, which disputes my claim that Grimes County will not see benefit from the project; they have also published this one-page overview of what Grimes County will get out of the railroad. Finally, here’s their statement on eminent domain.