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Bill King

Metro’s challenge

It’s all about BRT.

Houston transit officials are betting on bus rapid transit as a big part of the region’s long-term plans, at times going as far as calling it the “wave of the future.”

If seeing is believing, however, voters in the region will go into the election booth blind when it comes to bus rapid transit, or BRT. Houston has local buses, MetroLift buses, commuter buses and even articulated buses on major routes, but BRT is MIA.

“(Light) rail seems to be very well maintained and it has a high degree of reliability,” said Lex Frieden, a Metropolitan Transit Authority board member. “BRT, since we have not experienced that, we can only imagine how a bus can be as stable as the sense you have on a train. How can it be as reliable as a train? Part of the issue is familiarity.”

Growing transit, specifically via BRT, is a major component of the $7.5 billion plan Metro developed over the past 18 months. The agency is expected to ask voters for authority to borrow money in November, with the specifics of the projects still under review. Plans include 20 more miles of light rail, two-way HOT lanes along most freeways and about 75 miles of BRT.

Bus rapid transit uses large buses to operate mostly along dedicated lanes, offering service similar to light rail without the cost or construction of train tracks. It has proven successful in communities such as Cleveland and Los Angeles.

The first foray into BRT in the region will be along Post Oak Boulevard in the Uptown area. Drivers already have felt the construction pain, but riders will not hop aboard until next March, months later than initially scheduled when construction began in 2016.

In the interim, Metro will try to convince people to support something most have never seen. Part of that will mean getting people to reconsider their own biases.

“The second people hear bus, they have an image in their mind,” said Metro board member Sanjay Ramabhadran.

[…]

If voters approve, BRT could become a big part of regional transit. Metro plans BRT along five major corridors, at an estimated cost of $3.15 billion. The routes mostly mirror where Metro previously proposed rail, most notably between the University of Houston and Uptown and from downtown to Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The former, once dubbed the University Line, long has been a point of contention. Voters in 2003 narrowly approved the Metro Solutions plan that included light rail from UH, through downtown and on to Uptown, but the project sputtered under intense opposition from residents along Richmond Avenue.

Now resurrected as a bus rapid transit project, the pains of the previous rail fight linger. Transit critics still question Metro’s ability to execute a major project that does not disrupt traffic, noting the Post Oak project has taken longer than expected and derailed driving along the street.

Rail backers, meanwhile, insist trains are superior, with some opposed to any Metro plan that does not include trains to and from downtown and Uptown.

I mean, we don’t have BRT now, but we almost had it for the Green and Purple lines back when Frank Wilson and David Wolff were screwing things up at Metro. There were questions about the funding for those lines, which were eventually resolved in Metro’s favor. (I wrote about this stuff at the time, but I’m too lazy to look up the links right now. Please take my word for it.) The concept isn’t completely new to Houston, is what I’m saying.

Be that as it may, I’m not too worried about BRT being a negative for Metro in the referendum. The question, as is usually the case with referenda, is who will oppose this, and how much money they will put into opposing it. Will John Culberson rise like a white walker and raise a bunch of untraceable PAC money to block the issue? (We still don’t know who funded the anti-Metro effort from 2003, by the way.) How will the Mayor’s race affect this? We know Bill King is anti-rail, but I don’t know what (or if) Tony Buzbee thinks about it. It’s too early to say how this will play out. Metro does have to come up with a good marketing plan for its referendum, once it is finalized – they’ve been busy running a bunch of generic feel-good spots during the NBA playoffs – but get back to me when and if organized opposition arises.

Off and running for Council

I confess I haven’t paid very much attention to the Houston city races so far. Part of that is the existential angst I feel at being forced to take seriously anything Bill King or Tony Buzbee says, and part of that is because the Council races haven’t really started taking shape yet. Oh, there are plenty of candidates, as this Chron story details, but right now it’s basically spring training, as everyone works to raise some money and put up a website and start making the rounds to civic groups and political clubs and what have you.

This is going to be a weird election, because it’s been four years since the last city election and it’s the first time we’ve experienced that, because of the contested Mayor’s race, and because our city elections are by definition a little weird. It’s just that like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, every city of Houston election is weird in its own way.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

More than six months remain until Nov. 5, when voters will cast ballots in the races for mayor, controller and 16 city council seats, but challengers already are taking swings at incumbents and candidates are lining up to replace term-limited office-holders.

“The mayoral race got off to an early start, and that’s having a contagion effect on the council races,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “In some ways, it’s this big collective action problem. I think most people would prefer not to get mixed up in the process so early, but, for instance, if one person starts running hard for At-Large Position 5, everyone else has to, lest they get left behind.”

Activity on the campaign trail has started earlier than ever, prompted by a pace-setting mayoral race that has seen candidates Tony Buzbee and Bill King repeatedly lambast incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner, saying he has mismanaged the long-running Proposition B firefighter pay parity feud and accusing him of failing to adequately distance City Hall from campaign donors. Turner has denied both charges.

District D Councilman Dwight Boykins also could join the mayoral field and will decide sometime in June whether to mount a run or seek re-election to his council seat, he said Monday. Also mulling a run for higher office is At-Large Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who said she has yet to decide whether to take a swing at the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

Prospective candidates for those two seats may be waiting on the sidelines, or seeking other council seats for now, as they wait on the incumbents’ decisions, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“It’s a domino effect,” Rottinghaus said. “There are a couple of offices that are holding up decisions on other races down the ballot, and Edwards is an example of that.”

[…]

So far, five incumbent council members remain without official challengers: Greg Travis (District G), Karla Cisneros (District H), Robert Gallegos (District I), Martha Castex-Tatum (District K) and Edwards.

Travis, Cisneros and Edwards each are coming to the end of their first four-year terms on city council. Castex-Tatum won a special election year to replace former Councilman Larry Green, who died of a drug overdose.

Gallegos, meanwhile, is one of a handful of council incumbents first elected in 2013 who still is eligible for another term.

The shift to four-year terms likely has emboldened potential challengers who ordinarily would wait out an incumbent’s two-year term, but are less keen to sit on the sidelines for four years, Rottinghaus said. More than half the incumbents seeking re-election have drawn opponents.

You can read on for more about the Council candidates, but bear a couple of things in mind. One is that the only “official” candidate list is maintained on paper by the City Secretary. Filing a designation of treasurer is a necessary condition for running, but doesn’t mean you’ll actually file by the deadline, and it doesn’t mean you’ll file for the race you now say you’re running for. People jump in and drop out and change races all the time up till deadline day. Civic heroes like Erik Manning maintain candidate databases, for which we are all grateful, but in the end nothing is official till the filing deadline passes. You will get some idea of who is out there and who is serious about it when the June finance reports get posted, but again, things can and will change between then and the end of August.

Anyway. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about interviews – there are just too many candidates for the amount of time I will have. I’ll figure something out, and should start doing interviews in July. I’ll put up my own Election 2019 page sometime before then. In the meantime, start familiarizing yourself with these names. We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make in November.

Turner officially announces his re-election bid

And he’s off.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner made it official Wednesday, launching his re-election campaign for Houston’s top elected office.

Turner announced the news in a 96-second video that appeared on a revamped campaign website, where the mayor also posted notice of a formal kickoff event March 30 at Minute Maid Park.

Election Day is Nov. 5.

Though observers say Turner is the odds-on favorite to win, several politically challenging issues have emerged that could hinder his re-election chances.

Early opponents Bill King, a businessman who narrowly lost to Turner in 2015, and Tony Buzbee, a millionaire attorney, have each taken aim at the mayor over his long-running wage dispute with firefighters. They also have criticized Turner for the city’s recent problems with trash pickup, and levied charges that political donors hold too much sway over City Hall, a notion the mayor denies.

Recently, Turner lost the support of Houston’s largest teachers’ union over the firefighter compensation issue, which now revolves around the city’s slow implementation of Proposition B, a voter-approved charter amendment that grants firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding status.

Still, Turner heads into re-election with a multi-million-dollar war chest, according to a January campaign finance report, and a tangible record that he can cite on the campaign trail. That includes a landmark overhaul of Houston’s pension systems, a topic Turner highlighted in his announcement video.

I support Mayor Turner and will vote for him. I’ll stipulate that his first two years, when he pushed pension reform through the Lege, were a lot better than the year-plus since then. The passage of Prop B has done him no favors, but that’s the hand he’s been dealt and he needs to bring it to a resolution. That has also not been the only issue, so to whatever extent one wants to blame Prop B for the rocky road he’s been on, he’d still be bumping around without it. He’s lucky that Tony Buzbee is a joke, and Bill King has nothing to run on now that pension reform has been passed, but that only gets him so far. Sylvester Turner is a smart man, a sharp politician, and a Mayor who has shown he can get things done. He can get himself back on track, and he needs to get going on that. People aren’t really paying attention now, but they are forming impressions. He needs to give them some more good ones.

January 2019 finance reports: City of Houston

It’s January, and you know what happens in January: Campaign finance reports get posted. This is a city of Houston election year, so first order of business is to look at the city of Houston finance reports. I’ve put all the candidate reports I could find from the city’s finance reporting site in this Google Drive folder, so they should all be visible. Now let’s look at the numbers:


Candidate   Office     Raised      Spent       Loan    On Hand
==============================================================
Turner       Mayor  1,240,587    633,726          0  2,853,986
Buzbee       Mayor          0    541,957  2,000,000  1,458,042
King         Mayor          0      1,677    110,000    108,516

Stardig PAC      A     16,204     22,507          0    112,005
Peck             A          0        750      5,000      4,250
Davis            B     20,700     13,976          0    153,846
Cohen            C     12,155     17,533          0     51,885
Hellyar          C     26,663      5,398          0     19,957
Nowak            C      5,426      1,356          0      4,069
Kennedy          C     10,355         20          0     10,331
Boykins          D     14,680     89,412          0     22,829
Martin           E     11,750     22,922          0    121,055
Le               F     48,425      7,787     30,823     51,207
Travis           G     49,250     21,020     21,000     86,307
Cisneros         H     25,250      5,645          0     68,167
Gallegos         I     46,525     22,944          0    102,335
Laster           J      8,500     16,174          0    170,823
Castex-Tatum     K     28,710     15,913          0     16,593

Knox           AL1     32,975     15,352          0     87,083
Robinson       AL2     58,850     17,126          0    205,926
Kubosh         AL3     33,875     16,035    276,000    102,700
Edwards        AL4     60,346     45,727          0    168,581
Christie       AL5      7,513     27,448          0      5,983
Alcorn         AL5    145,906      9,483          0    134,922
Boone          AL5          0          0          0          0

Brown   Controller     91,547     17,145     75,000    199,405

McNeese          ?          0          0          0          0
Adriatico        ?      5,300      1,186      5,000     10,350

All Houston Mayors raise a lot of money, and Sylvester Turner is no exception. He also has the distinct advantage of not having a blackout period, as previous Mayors and Council members had, so he has a running start on 2019. Tony Buzbee has already loaned himself $2 million. Well, technically, he contributed it to himself. I can’t remember if you’re allowed to do that, or if he mis-filed this as a contribution when it’s really a loan that he doesn’t necessarily intend to pay back. Whatever the case, expect that he will continue to self-finance. As for King, he hasn’t really gotten started yet. I’ll need to go back and review his finance reports from 2015, but I do know that he loaned himself $650K in that race, and wasn’t that big a fundraiser outside of that. He wasn’t bad, just not in Turner or Adrian Garcia or Steve Costello’s league. My guess is he writes himself another check, but I don’t know how much of one he cuts. He can’t outraise Turner and I don’t see him out-spending Buzbee. I’m not totally sure where that leaves him, but we’ll see.

The Council group can be sorted into three buckets: Term-limited incumbents, incumbents up for re-election, and non-incumbents. I’m going to save the first group for a separate post, as they have the bigger question of “what next” to ponder. The incumbents who are running for re-election are by and large all in pretty good financial shape. Martha Castex-Tatum has the least on hand, but she also ran in recent memory. Dwight Boykins can self-fund if he wants to. He spent the most by far, with the single biggest expense being $6K for a holiday party. Everyone else is about where I’d expect them to be. No incumbent had an opponent who was in position to file a finance report as of January. As noted before, Raj Salhotra has filed for At Large #1; I am aware of some people who are considering At Large #3 and District F. The July finance reports will tell us much more.

Three of the four-so-far contenders for District C have reports – Nick Hellyar, Bob Nowak, Shelley Kennedy; Abbie Kamin didn’t announce till January. It’s too early to tell who might have a leg up on the field. Amy Peck was just getting started in recent weeks in District A. Keep an eye on Sallie Alcorn in At Large #5, who posted big league numbers in this report. Fundraising isn’t destiny, but it does help to get your name out, especially in a citywide race. I’ve also been told that Laurie Robinson will not be running after all, so Alcorn has a big head start. Marvin McNeese and Nelvin Adriatico did not indicate what office they were seeking in their reports.

As for Controller, Chris Brown did the top two things to smooth his path – he raised decent money, and he avoided doing anything that generated negative press. I won’t be surprised if he gets at most token opposition.

I’ll have some thoughts about the outgoing incumbents tomorrow, and I’ll post about the HISD and HCC reports in the coming days. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Trying to make “pay for play” an issue

Good luck.

With more than nine months to go until Houston’s municipal elections, Mayor Sylvester Turner’s first two opponents turned their attention this week to limiting political donors’ influence at City Hall.

Both challengers, millionaire lawyer and Texas A&M University System Regent Tony Buzbee and Bill King, the businessman and former Kemah mayor who lost to Turner in a close December 2015 runoff, announced they would spearhead separate petition drives to amend the city charter by temporarily blocking political donors from doing business with the city.

The issue of “pay to play” appears likely to become a focal point in the race for Houston mayor, and could feature prominently in city Council campaigns too, all of which will take place as national Democrats vie for their party’s presidential nomination amid growing calls for politicians to reject money that allegedly comes with strings attached.

Buzbee, in a full-page ad in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle, said he intends to lead a petition drive to bar anyone who donates to a city official from doing business with the city for a year.

King on Monday morning announced a similar idea at a press conference, proposing a two-year moratorium for people who give more than $250 to a city official. His idea would extend the ban to prospective lobbyists and appointees to boards or commissions, and cover candidates for mayor, controller and city council. Buzbee has not yet specified if his proposal would cover non-incumbent candidates.

[…]

“The city has long-established rules that govern potential conflicts of interest regarding campaign contributions, including a black-out period and prohibitions on the members of certain boards and commissions,” Turner said. “As with all city policies, we continually evaluate these rules to ensure they are meeting the city’s needs. The city will always entertain ideas and proposals from anyone, especially if they’re not trying to score political points.“

Houston’s charter bars officials from taking or asking for contributions once the city publicly seeks proposals or bids for a contract. They cannot start accepting bids again until 30 days after City Council awards the contract, or decides not to award it at all.

The same section of the charter also prohibits officials from accepting or soliciting vendors’ contributions at any point they know the vendor has interest in a contract. A separate provision also restricts when candidates who are not in office can accept contributions from vendors.

King’s proposal would prevent people who contribute more than $250 to an official from entering into a contract with the city, registering as a city lobbyist or receiving appointments to city boards of commissions.

I mean, I support the idea, it’s just my experience that this particular issue is not one that gets a whole lot of traction among voters. County Judge Lina Hidalgo is being rightly held up as the model, but you may note that this wasn’t what she campaigned on. She campaigned primarily on bread-and-butter issues like flooding, criminal justice reform, quality of life, and making county government more accessible to more people. I’m not saying this can’t be an effective campaign issue. It’s definitely a meritorious issue. I am saying it’s not the sexiest thing to lead with.

One other thing. At the risk of lapsing into whataboutism, as someone whose mailbox is regularly inflicted with King’s grumpy-old-man emails, his interest in this particular aspect of good government is a tad bit limited. I mean, we just re-elected the heavyweight champion of pay for play politics in this state, but good luck finding any mention of Greg Abbott and his penchant for appointing moneybag donors to statewide positions in King’s missives. Yes, I know, King is running for Mayor and not Governor, but he also regularly complains about the national debt, and last I checked he wasn’t running for Congress or (God help us) President. I know, he’s got his own thing to worry about now, but he was emitting those emails back in 2017 when he wasn’t running for Mayor and Abbott was actively blocking a bipartisan anti-pay for play bill in the Lege. The track record is thin, is what I’m saying.

The 2019 elections

We haven’t forgotten that there are some big elections on tap for us this year, have we? Let’s go a quick rundown.

May elections

Election campaigns are already in progress in the cities that have May elections, which includes big cities like San Antonio and Dallas, and smaller cities in our area like Pasadena, Sugar Land, and Pearland. Pasadena will be a hot zone again, with first-term Mayor Jeff Wagner up for re-election and local Democrats hoping to win the District A seat they came so close to in 2017, which would give them a 5-3 advantage on City Council. I don’t have much to say about these races yet, but I will note that my friend Nabila Mansoor is running for City Council in Sugar Land, so I wish her all the best with that.

Houston – Overview

This is the first city election since 2015, thanks to the change in the term limits law. It’s also the first city election since the election of Donald Trump, and the two high-turnout, Democratic-sweep elections in Harris County. How will that affect the course of this election? Normally, even if we have a hotly contested Mayor’s race, we’d be looking at 200 to 250K turnout max – less if the Mayor’s race was not contested – but with all the newly activated people from the past two years, will things change? The betting money always says No until events prove otherwise. The one other thing that may affect turnout this year is the Metro referendum, which itself will be conducted for the first time with no John Culberson in office. So many factors in play, so all I will say for now is don’t believe any firm, confident pronouncements. There’s a lot of room for variance and for doubt at this time.

Mayor

It’s Sylvester Turner versus Bill King, Round 2, with the extra zest (maybe) of Tony Buzbee. And maybe others, too – will anyone be surprised if Ben Hall manages to get a story published about how he’s “thinking about” taking another shot at it? The last Mayor to fail to be re-elected was Kathy Whitmire in 1991. Past performance does not guarantee future outcomes, but I figure there’s a reason for that. It’s Turner’s election to lose, and King doesn’t have his signature talking point from 2015 now that pension reform has been achieved, by Turner. He’s clearly going to attack Turner, but as to what he might campaign on beyond that, I have no idea.

City Controller

Honestly, I’ll be surprised if Chris Brown draws anything more than token opposition. Controller isn’t that sexy a job, and Brown hasn’t done anything to draw the bad kind of attention to himself.

City Council

Districts A, B, C, J, and At Large #5 are term limited. I’ve already received two invitations to like Facebook pages for District C candidates (Nick Hellyar and Bob Nowak), and I’m aware of at least two more such candidates (Shelley Kennedy and Abbie Kamin). Durrel Douglas listed some potential District B candidates a few weeks ago, and there are rumblings in the other slots as well. Raj Salhotra has announced a challenge to Mike Knox in At Large #1, while Laurie Robinson appears to be gearing up for another run in At Large #5. I’ll be reviewing the finance reports for January when they start to come out, which may yield a few more names. For now, let’s just say I expect a lot of activity, and not just in the open seats. Four years is a long time to go between city elections, and lots of people are in a mind to run for something.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that Sallie Alcorn, who had been Steve Costello’s chief of staff, has announced her candidacy for AL5.

HISD

Assuming we have HISD Trustee elections this November – we should know that for sure by August – the following Trustees are up in 2019: Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Sergio Lira, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila. Far as I know, all are planning to run for re-election. Lira was elected to fill out Manuel Rodriguez’s unfinished term in 2017, Skillern-Jones was forced into a runoff in 2015 and has had a rocky tenure as Board President, Davila upset Juliet Stipeche (now Mayor Turner’s education czar) in 2015, and Jolanda is Jolanda. I’m not currently aware of any opponents on the horizon, but I’m sure most if not all of them will draw someone. Assuming, again, we have HISD Trustee elections this November.

HCC

It will have been six long years, but we will finally have the chance to rid ourselves of the stain that is Dave Wilson, in HCC Trustee District 2, this November. Also up for election are Zeph Capo and Neeta Sane.

Metro

All of Harris County will have the Metro referendum, which is as yet unfinished, on their ballot in November. Again, I don’t have much to say about this yet, but this is one of my top interests for 2019. It will certainly be a component of the Mayor’s race as well. I figure if Metro could pass the 2003 referendum they have to be a favorite to pass this one, but you never know with these things.

That’s all I have for now. Next up will be the finance reports when they become available. If you know of any candidate announcements or other related news, leave a comment and tell us all.

Oh Lord, it’s Bill King again

siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh

Bill King, a Houston businessman who narrowly lost his bid for mayor in 2015, filed paperwork with the city secretary Wednesday marking his likely intent to challenge Mayor Sylvester Turner again in 2019.

King lost to Turner, then a state representative, in a runoff decided by about 4,000 votes, or 1.9 percentage points, out of more than 212,000 ballots cast.

Though King’s filing of a campaign treasurer’s report does not lock in his candidacy, he said in an interview that he is “leaning heavily” toward running.

“I’ve been watching City Hall for 40 years, and this is the most corrupt administration I’ve seen,” King said.

For now, King said he plans to conduct some polling — the reason he filed a treasurer’s report — and likely will make a formal decision in the next 60 days. Houston’s municipal elections will not take place until November 2019, with possible runoff elections occurring the following month.

Asked after Wednesday’s council meeting about King’s filing, Turner replied, “Next question.”

There was a time when I had respect for King’s fiscal conservatism. I didn’t agree with him, but he had a plan that he clearly articulated and seemed to believe in, and he repeated it often enough to make you think it might work. Then he supported Prop B, which demonstrated how little he actually meant any of it. But it was a bright shiny opportunity for him, so he took it. Gotta have something to run on now that pension reform has been done, I guess. On the plus side, the presence of Tony Buzbee means he has a chance to not be the worst candidate in the race.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – City of Houston

Let’s continue our survey of campaign finance reports with reports from the city of Houston.


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Turner     520,430  138,068         0  1,643,519

Stardig     59,470   36,402         0    102,289
Davis        5,500   13,231         0    147,050
Cohen        5,000    8,382         0     63,120
Boykins     93,839   40,547         0     57,358
Martin      20,092    8,221         0    106,427
Le          12,250    1,788    31,823      1,951
Travis      51,751   25,051    76,000     51,109
Cisneros    24,043    5,203         0     25,336
Gallegos    30,600    7,048         0     50,366
Laster      31,650    8,104         0    170,714
Green       17,150   39,770         0     84,627

Knox        21,185   13,373         0     23,149
Robinson    63,850   14,932         0     92,520
Kubosh      26,725   17,388   276,000     30,557
Edwards     73,843   31,295         0    144,198
Christie    33,090   20,323         0     31,458

Brown       59,220   19,494         0     79,101


HHRC        55,000   47,500         0     23,250
HTPR         3,625    1,652         0      3,624

As we now know, there will be no city elections of the non-referendum kind on the ballot this November. That would be one reason why there are no reports from anyone who has not already been a candidate. Only a couple of the reports belong to people who are not current or term-limited officeholders. These are folks like Bill Frazer, and none of them have any cash on hand worth mentioning. Actually, there is one person who may be of interest here, and that’s Helena Brown, who could run again in District A to succeed Brenda Stardig. Brown has $18,911.19 on hand, which would not be a bad start if she were so inclined.

I don’t want to dwell too much on this, but had the State Supreme Court dropped an election on us out of the blue, there was basically nobody outside of the current incumbents who have any resources for it. Usually, at this time of an odd numbered year, there are a lot of non-incumbent candidates, mostly circling around the offices that will be vacant. Whether people didn’t think the Supreme Court would take action, or if we were all just in denial about it, there were no candidates out there raising money. In a world where the Supremes had intervened, incumbents and people who can provide at least startup capital for themselves would have had a sizable advantage.

Now for those incumbents. We all knew Mayor Turner could raise money, right? All Houston Mayors can, it kind of comes with the office. Don’t underestimate the resources he could bring to a campaign over the firefighters’ pay parity proposal.

Despite the advantages for incumbents I talked about, four of the seven biggest cash on hand balances belong to those who can’t run – term-limited CMs Starding, Davis, Laster, and Green. Starding in particular makes me wonder what she was up to, raising all that cash this year. Usually, that makes one think maybe she’s looking at her next opportunity to run for something. I have no idea what that might be, but feel free to speculate wildly in the comments. Mike Laster has been mentioned as a county candidate once his time on Council ends. Maybe County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020? I can speculate wildly too, you know.

I have a couple of PAC reports in there. HHRC is the Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition, gearing up for the next Heights alcohol referendum. HTPR is the Houston Taxpayers for Pension Reform, with Bill King as its Treasurer. Maybe that was for a vote on forcing a switch to defined-contribution system that is not in the works? They didn’t have much activity, and most of their expenditures went to an outfit called PinkCilantro for advertising. Other PACs of note with reports are Campaign for Houston, which I believe was an anti-HERO group from 2015 and have a $50,000 outstanding loan, and Citizens to Keep Houston Strong, which belongs to Bill White and which has $56,734.11 on hand.

Finally, two reports from former officeholders. Anne Clutterbuck, who was last a candidate in 2009, filed a final report, to dispose of the remaining funds in her account. She donated the balance – $5,094.55 – to the Hermann Park Conservancy. Last but not least is former Mayor Annise Parker, whose account still has $126,013.31 on hand. She may or may not run for County Judge next year – she has talked about it but so far has taken no action – and if she does that’s her starter’s kit. I’ll have more reports in the coming days.

Bill King wants you to lower his property taxes

That’s not what he says in this op-ed, but it is the effect of what he’s arguing for, even if he’s not honest enough to come out and say it.

Let’s start with the basic point that despite King’s disingenuous attempt to rebrand it, what the city has is indeed a revenue cap and not a property tax cap. The mechanism that causes the cap to kick in is a combination of inflation and population growth, and if the city’s total revenue from one year to the next exceeds that combination, the cap gets enforced, which has so far always meant a reduction in the property tax rate. My point is that it doesn’t have to be an increase in property tax collections that triggers the cap. If sales tax collections were sufficiently robust, it could tip the revenue increase past the limit. If population growth plus inflation, which together have at best a small influence on the city’s expenses, are sufficiently small then even a modest increase in revenue could cause the cap to come into play. The factors that define the cap have basically nothing to do with the things that drive the city’s finances.

What the revenue cap does above all is prioritize property tax cuts over anything else the city might choose to do. If in a flush year the city wanted to pay down some bond debt or make an extra payment into the pension funds, well, too bad. The cap says the city has to cut the property tax rate, which doesn’t just affect the flush year in question. The reduced rate remains in place, thus hampering the city further in bad times like we just experienced. It also takes the option of increasing the tax rate off the table, which is one reason why Mayor Parker raised fees so much. These are the policy decisions that get made when policy options are artificially limited by bad laws. The effect of the cap is especially pernicious when the city is recovering from down years, as it is now, because even the process of revenues getting back to previous levels after falling due to a bad economy can trigger it. Every candidate for office in Houston I have ever interviewed has talked about spurring economic growth to improve the city’s bottom line. The revenue cap puts a limit on how much that growth can be leveraged. Why would anyone think that’s good policy?

And let’s be clear about who the main beneficiaries are when these forced property tax cuts are enacted: Wealthy property owners like Bill King. Renters get nothing, while owners of lower-priced houses get nominal reductions. It’s only once you get up int seven figures and more that the cuts start to add up. To be sure, it’s still not that much, mere pocket change to the beneficiaries, but the point is that the lion’s share of those benefits go to those who have the most to begin with.

Which brings me back to my main point. If Bill King thinks this dumb law is really good public policy, even if ratings services that he likes to cite when he argues about how to fix the city’s finances think it’s a dumb law, then fine, he’s allowed to argue for it. But just as people have been asking how much Donald Trump would benefit from the tax “reform” plans that are being floated by his administration and its Congressional enablers, we should ask how much he himself has benefited in recent years from the coerced property tax rate cuts that he wants us to go along with. The least he can do is tell us how much this policy that he advocates will add to his own bottom line.

UPDATE: King insists in the comments and via email that “other revenue sources” like sales taxes don’t trigger the charter amendment. Fine, whatever. This does not change my point that the revenue cap is a stupid idea, nor that people who have benefited from it, like Bill King, should be honest about that when they advocate for its continued existence.

Some dude opposes pension reform

Presenting this in a slightly redacted form.

[Some dude] has joined friend and ally Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, in rallying opposition to [Mayor Sylvester] Turner’s [pension reform] proposal among conservatives. He has attended at least three dozen forums on the topic, by his count, and has been running social media ads touting his views on Facebook, has traveled to Austin to lobby legislators and has formed a pension-focused political action committee with Bettencourt.

The recent mayoral runner-up’s central role in his rival’s most important initiative is unprecedented, political observers say.

“It does somewhat seem like sour grapes for a defeated mayoral candidate to continue to campaign against his victorious opponent,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “It perhaps would have been more productive to allow Sylvester Turner to handle this himself for the first legislative session of his tenure and only get more actively involved if that session had not resulted in a significant improvement.”

[…]

[Some dude] insists the aim of his critiques is to improve Turner’s proposal, not kill it, and says he is not using the issue to position himself for another mayoral run.

His critics aren’t buying that. They accuse [some dude] of acting out of self-interest in seeking to torpedo the reforms, or of at least failing to grasp that his actions will make that result far more likely.

In particular, [some dude] and Bettencourt want to move all new city workers to defined contribution, or “DC,” pensions similar to 401(k)s – which the employee groups despise because it leaves their retirement pay vulnerable to market fluctuation – and to force a referendum on the $1 billion in pension bonds that are a key piece of the reform package.

“I would concede that it’s unusual, but I don’t understand why there’s anything wrong with it,” [some dude] said of his role. “Just because one candidate advocates some things and loses an election doesn’t mean that all those things are wrong and are off the table forever.”

[Some dude] acknowledges his dozen email blasts attacking the proposal as a “secret” attempt to pass “a bad deal” that is “not real reform” and would “make the city a financial cripple” have sometimes been “harsh” or indulged in “hyperbole.”

[…]

“My role here is to fire up the Republican base to support the two reforms that I want added to the bill,” [some dude] said. “It is a Republican-controlled Legislature. The Republican base is not a little bit in favor of DC plans, they are way in favor of it.”

Not accounting for the union’s certain negative response to these controversial provisions, lawmakers and legislative observers said, means [some dude] might as well say he wants the deal dead.

“[Some dude] feels strongly that there should be defined contribution plans. He ran on that. We had a vote, and he lost,” said Robert Miller, a former Metro chairman and a longtime lobbyist for the city’s three pensions, among dozens of other clients. “That was not something the employee groups were willing to agree to. If you stick that in, there’s a high likelihood that the agreement falls apart. He is seeking to kill the deal.”

I’m sure you can tell who this story is about, but I have no desire to give him any more attention for it. I neither know nor care what this guy’s motivations are, but I do know this: He’s seeking to use the Legislature to overrule the voters who rejected him in 2015. I have no respect for that, and as such I no longer have any respect for him. Hope you’re happy, dude.

January 2017 campaign finance reports: Houston officeholders

Normally, at this time I would be scanning through Houston candidate campaign finance reports, to see where incumbents stand at the start of the season. Of course, barring near-term court action there is no season for Houston municipal officeholders this year, and unlike past years they have been able to raise money during what had once been a blackout period. It’s still worth it to check in and see what everyone has, so let’s do that.


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Turner     681,972   177,867        0   1,312,028

Stardig *   39,361    24,088        0      79,980
Davis *      8,500    27,439        0     154,707
Cohen *      8,350    21,563        0      77,451
Boykins     26,400    23,820        0         186
Martin       4,250    17,469        0      95,896
Le          13,100    13,519   42,823       2,023
Travis           0    12,984   76,000      23,606
Cisneros     7,500    15,295      273       4,959
Gallegos    20,834    14,742        0      33,077
Laster *     3,000     6,292        0     145,071
Green *     10,000    52,652        0     107,248

Knox         6,275    20,061        0      16,737
Robinson    44,750    15,277        0      52,408
Kubosh      10,925    12,907  276,000      20,824
Edwards     42,401    18,379        0     110,660
Christie *   1,367    22,653        0      18,563

Brown       30,520    52,814        0      41,245


Parker           0    36,503        0     136,368
King             0        50  650,000           0

Asterisks indicate term-limited incumbents. I included Annise Parker and Bill King mostly out of curiosity. Parker can’t run for anything in Houston, but if she does eventually run for something else she can transfer what she has in this account to whatever other one she may need.

Clearly, Mayor Turner has been busy. Big hauls by incumbent Mayors are hardly unusual, it’s just that Turner had the benefit of more time to make that haul. A few Council members plus Controller Chris Brown were busy, though there was nothing that was truly eye-popping. I didn’t look at the individual forms beyond the totals page, so I can’t say what everyone spent their money on, but if I had to guess I’d say recurring fees for things like consultants and websites, plus the usual meals, travel, donations, and what have you. Loan amounts always fascinate me – you have to wonder if any of them will be paid back. Probably not.

It’s not too surprising that the term-limited members are among those with the largest cash on hand totals. They have had the longest to build it up, after all. I have to assume some of them – in particular, Jerry Davis, Mike Laster, and Larry Green – have a run for something else in their future. For what will be mostly a matter of opportunity. Of those who can run again in 2019, I’ll be very interested to see how their fortunes change between now and the next two Januaries. One way or another, 2019 ought to be a busy year.

Year Two for Mayor Turner

Year One was busy, but a lot of what was done this year depends on what happens next year.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Tasked last year with distinguishing himself from a crowded field of mayoral candidates, Sylvester Turner styled himself as a progressive with expansive policy goals.

He pledged to boost wages, improve educational opportunities and implement a new road repair job training program, stressing that Houston’s future depends on pairing such initiatives with core services improvements.

“I am bullish on Houston,” Turner would repeat, radiating optimism in the face of a tight budget and looming pension crisis.

A year into office, however, the mayor has set aside much of that to-do list in favor of an ambitious but moderate “back to basics” approach.

Pension reform – a topic he shied away from on the campaign circuit – now is the linchpin in Turner’s two-year plan, and he is loath to discuss much else.

That focus has paid off in the form of a reform package that he says will eliminate the underfunding of Houston’s three retirement systems in 30 years and limit the city’s exposure to market downturns.

Crucially, the plan has received buy-in from the fire, police and municipal pension boards, as well as praise from experts.

“When you look at where we were on Jan. 1, 2016, on pensions and look at where we are today,” Turner said recently, “there is no question that we have come a long, long way from where we started.”

The deal now must earn approval from the Texas Legislature, which controls Houston’s pension systems.

[…]

If Turner is successful, however, he intends to spend his political capital – earned, principally, from pension reform and closing this year’s $160 million budget gap – on campaigning to lift Houston’s limit on property tax collections.

The voter-approved revenue cap was instituted in 2004 and limits the increase in the city’s annual property tax collections to the combined rates of inflation and population growth, or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

Turner is not shy about pitching projects he would take on, absent the revenue cap, such as expanding the Houston Police Department by 540 officers by 2020. This plan may take on even more urgency, as HPD has seen a sharp spike in the number of officers filing papers indicating they plan to retire in the first half of 2017.

“We need more police officers. We need more equipment. We need more EMS units. We need more training,” Turner said in September, after a southwest Houston shooting wounded nine. “You can’t keep lowering the property tax rate because of this revenue cap and expect the city to be fully equipped with all of the assets that are needed.”

I’m pretty sure there’s more than one person on Team Turner who is grinding their teeth at the “back to basics” usage, since that was very much not Turner’s campaign slogan. Be that as it may, the general formulation is correct. Turner spent a lot of time this year working on a pension deal, and what he does next is tied to his success at getting the necessary legislation passed to implement that deal. And if he is successful, then the rest of 2017 will largely be focused on amending the revenue cap. If he can get both of those things done, then the sky is the limit and anything he wants to do is on the table. If not, it isn’t fatal, but it does leave him stuck. How much time can he spend on other things if he still needs to work on getting these things done? I’m sure he’d rather not have to find out.

How likely is Turner to get the pension legislation through? I have no idea, but if there’s anyone in a position to do it, it’s Turner. This is one of those times when experience really matters. No guarantees, because the Lege doesn’t work that way, but if anyone knows how to navigate these waters, it’s Turner. I should note that the pension bills aren’t the only thing on the city’s legislative wish list for 2017. Most of the specific items are pretty narrow and wonky, but the overriding principles laid out in the first few pages will keep the lobbying team busy, primarily I fear on defense. But if you want to know what the city does and doesn’t want from Austin next year, there’s your reference guide.

One more thing:

[Bill] King, last year’s mayoral runner-up, said he is considering challenging Turner, depending on his health and how pension reform plays out.

“If he ends up not solving the pension problem – which he promised he would do – then I think somebody needs to step in and save the city from going bankrupt,” King said.

King, who would like to see Houston switch from defined benefit to defined contribution plans similar to 401(k)s, has gotten under the skin of Turner and his staff by sending regular email blasts criticizing the city, including on inauguration day, and holding occasional press conferences.

“The campaign is over, and the total focus should be on meeting the needs of all Houstonians in their moment of crisis,” the mayor tweeted in April, after King criticized the city’s flood response.

I get those emails, too. You can probably guess what my level of interest in them is. King is certainly able to be the next Ben Hall if he wants to – he’s got the money for it, and apparently the lack of anything better to do. The question is, what has Turner done so far to lose anyone’s support? Based on how things have gone so far, I’d say not much. But hey, keep hope alive.

Council ratifies Turner’s pension plan

From the inbox:

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

On a 16-1 vote, Houston City Council has endorsed Mayor Sylvester Turner’s historic package of pension reforms. The vote clears the way for the City to move forward in partnership with the pension systems to seek legislative approval of the reforms.

“I am bubbling over on the inside,” said Mayor Turner. “I am thankful to everyone who has helped get us to this point. That includes City Council, the pension systems, our City employees and many others. This plan is historic, transformative and budget neutral. We are solving our pension problem permanent and we are doing it without needed a tax rate increase. There is no other plan out there offering the same benefits. The Houston solution can be the model for other cities with similar challenges.”

The police, fire and municipal pension systems all signed off on the package of reforms prior to today’s City Council vote, marking the first time that the City and all of the pension groups have been united.

The plan immediately reduces the City’s nearly $8 billion pension debt by over 30 percent and then sets a 30-year fixed payoff schedule for the remaining $5.3 billion of debt. This immediate reduction is accomplished through a combination of benefits changes that include scaling back cost-of-living adjustments, higher employee payroll contributions and phasing out of the Deferred Retirement Option Program, known as DROP, which allows employees to accept retirement benefits while continuing to work for the City. In return for the concessions, the City has agreed to issue $1 billion in Pension Obligation Bonds to make up for years of prior underfunding of the pension systems.

“It is a big deal that employees have agreed to these benefit changes,” said Turner. “I know this has not been easy, and I thank each of them for their patience, understanding and service. This plan will provide stable and sustainable retirements at an affordable cost to the taxpayers who foot the bill. Retirees won’t have to worry if the check will be there.”

Moving forward, predictions about the anticipated performance of pension system investments will be based on a more conservative seven percent assumed rate of return. If there are market changes that cause costs to exceed pre-agreed limits, there is a mechanism to force additional changes in benefits to bring everything back in line. A requirement that both sides share information will ensure compliance with the required 30-year payoff schedule.

State Senator Joan Huffman and State Representative Dan Flynn are expected to carry the Houston pension legislation. Bill filing for the 2017 legislative session begins mid-November 2016.

See here and here for the background. CM Mike Knox was the lone No vote, saying he couldn’t support it without there already being a bill written. The Chron story fills in a few details.

Turner secured the political chip of a prompt and lopsided endorsement by using an impassioned speech to persuade Councilman Michael Kubosh to remove his “tag,” a parliamentary maneuver that would have delayed the vote. Kubosh had said he initially tagged the measure at the request state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who has called for a delay until more information was available on the reform plan.

“Either you all are going to represent the people of the city of Houston or – I’m going to borrow your term Councilmember Kubosh – are you going to represent political interests? I stand with the people of the city of Houston,” Turner said. “I was voted (in) to represent their interests, not some party affiliation or some political interest or somebody who wants to be mayor.”

Turner’s comments plainly were directed at Bill King, who was runner-up in last year’s mayoral race and who joined Bettencourt at his news conference. The duo said the detailed reform proposals were public for too short a time and too vague to be properly vetted, particularly a key “corridor” provision that would force benefit cuts in the future if a market downturn led the city’s payments to increase above a specified threshold.

King and Bettencourt say the city should switch new hires to retirement savings plans similar to 401(k)s, but acknowledged a well-written “corridor” provision could offer the same benefits to the city.

[…]

Most council members, however, referenced the briefings they had received on the plan and echoed Turner’s point that no public speaker in the six weeks since the reform outline was first announced had appeared before City Council to criticize it.

“I want to make sure the public understands we have been briefed, and it wasn’t a 24-hour-ago briefing,” Councilwoman Brenda Stardig said.

Councilman Dave Martin, like Stardig, a conservative, offered even stronger comments.

“I did not vote for you. I did not support you. I’m supporting you 100 percent on this,” Martin told Turner. “I think it’s ridiculous for people to criticize this plan. It’s been transparent; it’s been thorough. We’ve been diligent. We don’t need any more information. Maybe the state does, but do your homework.”

Yeah. Just as a reminder, the Kinder Institute has analyzed the plan, so we are not operating in an information vacuum here. I’m sure if Sen. Bettencourt had called the Mayor’s office and asked for a briefing, he’d have gotten it. But it’s easier to preen than it is to prep, so here we are. My guess is we’ll see bills get pre-filed for this, probably in November, so we’ll know soon enough what that will look like. The next question is who will support it and who will try to kill it. The games have just begun.

Precinct analysis: Controller runoff

One last election to review:


Dist     Brown  Frazer
======================
A        5,232   7,918
B       13,161   2,616
C       15,244  15,726
D       16,390   4,197
E        6,118  16,073
F        3,890   3,527
G        8,775  21,762
H        6,558   3,117
I        5,253   2,731
J        2,794   2,763
K       10,632   5,434

A       39.79%  60.21%
B       83.42%  16.58%
C       49.22%  50.78%
D       79.61%  20.39%
E       27.57%  72.43%
F       52.45%  47.55%
G       28.74%  71.26%
H       67.78%  32.22%
I       65.79%  34.21%
J       50.28%  49.72%
K       66.18%  33.82%
Chris Brown

Chris Brown

Chris Brown was the only runoff candidate who did not finish first in November to win in the runoffs. Brown ran better than Mayor-elect Sylvester Turner in every district except the three predominantly African-American ones, and he still had very strong showings in those districts. He won districts F and J, both of which Turner did not win, and came within 500 votes of winning District C. Some of that was due to a successful strategy of making this a D-versus-R race – Brown had multiple email blasts going out in the days after the November race highlighting endorsements from a phalanx of Democratic elected officials, including many African-American officials, which no doubt helped him in B, D, and J – and some of it was his continued TV advertising, which likely helped keep the undervote rate to a modest 14.20%, the lowest among citywide races. I can’t say for sure if Brown did a better job of holding on to Turner supporters than Frazer did of holding on to King supporters or if he claimed some crossover voters. It’s not clear because despite Brown’s better performance in the districts I cited, he still had a lower absolute vote total in all of them, so I can’t say for sure that there had to be some King/Brown voters. I’m sure there were some, I just can’t put any numbers to it. Whatever the case, it worked. Brown won, by a 10,000 vote margin.

As for Frazer, this is two close losses for him. The “thanks to my supporters” email he sent out after the runoff said he intends “to stay very involved in the financial issues of Houston as a private citizen, not as a candidate”, so I suspect this was his last campaign. That said, four years is a long time, and people have been known to reconsider. Maybe the Chronicle will want someone to take over their “pension reform columnist” gig. I didn’t agree with Frazer on a number of things, but I respected the way he ran for the office. You knew what he believed in and what he would do about it. We can always use more of that.

Precinct analysis: At Large #1 runoff

Let’s move on to the At Large races. Here’s how the vote went in At Large #1:


Dist    Knox  Provost
=====================
A      8,758    4,042
B      2,518   13,058
C     14,925   12,240
D      3,692   16,877
E     16,406    4,735
F      4,040    2,871
G     21,391    6,190
H      3,684    5,080
I      3,272    4,340
J      3,029    2,182
K      5,442    9,846
		
A     68.42%   31.58%
B     16.17%   83.83%
C     54.94%   45.06%
D     17.95%   82.05%
E     77.60%   22.40%
F     58.46%   41.54%
G     77.56%   22.44%
H     42.04%   57.96%
I     42.98%   57.02%
J     58.13%   41.87%
Mike Knox

Mike Knox

I suggested before that undervoting might be the key to understanding some of these results. I mean, obviously if everyone who supported Turner also supported other Democrats like Georgia Provost, these downballot candidates would win as well. That never happens, of course – undervoting in At Large races usually exceeds 20% of the total. Given that, the first question to ask is which Mayoral voters kept going down the ballot, and which were one and done? There’s also the fact that not everyone votes uniformly in these races. Some candidates are better known than others, some have appeal that others don’t, and so on.

Both of those factors are in play here. Mike Knox still got beaten badly in Districts B and D, but in each case he exceeded Bill King’s vote totals. I don’t know what the profile of a voter that supported both Sylvester Turner and Mike Knox might look like, but those folks clearly existed.

I can even quantify that to some extent. In my canvass spreadsheet, I subtracted Knox’s total for each precinct from King’s, and Provost’s from Turner’s, then sorted each column in turn to see what the differences looked like:

For Provost, there were 32 precincts in which she had more votes than Turner, for a net gain of 225. For Knox, there were 207 precincts in which he had more votes than King, for a net gain of 3,026.

On the flip side, for Provost there were 568 precincts in which she had fewer votes than Turner, for a net loss of 23,357. For Knox, 383 precincts in which he had fewer votes than King, for a net loss of 19,796.

Put that all together, and Knox had more crossover support, while holding on to more of King’s voters. I’ll be honest, I might have expected the latter, but not the former. I can only speculate about that, and the first thing that comes to my mind is that Provost wasn’t as well known as Knox was. He had more of a campaign, as well as some establishment support, for the November election, while Provost didn’t really have a campaign before the runoff and didn’t have much attention paid to her till then. That’s my guess, and yours is as good as mine. What did you think of this race?

Is Bill King a sign of a trend?

Probably not. Doesn’t mean that other candidates like him can’t do well, however.

Bill King

Bill King

Bill King’s near-upset over Sylvester Turner in the Houston mayoral runoff stoked the hopes of some Republicans that the party soon could break Democrats’ 34-year hold on City Hall.

Political experts, however, attributed King’s success more to his unique profile as a moderate fiscal conservative than a Republican resurgence in the Bayou City.

“King pretty skillfully positioned himself. He didn’t run as a Republican but happily accepted the support of Republicans,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “You might get elected with support from Republicans, but that’s not enough to win unless the turnout is extremely skewed.”

Murray estimated Republicans make up about 35 to 40 percent of the city electorate, just 21 percent of whom cast a ballot in last Saturday’s runoff election to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker.

[…]

Kingwood Tea Party co-founder Jim Lennon said King’s bid instilled new confidence in Houston Republicans.

“With the results of this race being so close, I think there’s a change in attitude,” Lennon said. “We know we can win. We know we can put together a coalition.”

Nonetheless, Lennon acknowledged that the former Kemah mayor’s bid may be difficult to replicate.

“I don’t think there’s a deep bench of Republican politicians that can duplicate that,” Lennon said.

As you know, I largely agree. King was a decent candidate who took advantage of the opportunities he had and ran a good campaign. He was also lucky – again, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if Oliver Pennington had not dropped out of the race. I think we’d be talking about why Adrian Garcia fell short against Turner in the runoff. That’s the way it goes, and every successful politician, like every championship sports team, gets a bit of luck here and there.

Republicans may not be able to win a Mayor’s race in Houston, but they’ve done a lot better in At Large Council races. Steve Costello, Jack Christie, Michael Kubosh, and now Mike Knox have all won citywide since 2009. Of course, the first three all won with the support of a significant number of Democratic voters – Costello (who basically profiled and governed as a moderate Dem) and Christie have done well with Anglo Dems, while Kubosh has solid support among African-American voters stemming from his previous work on the red light camera referendum. Only Knox won based on Republican votes, and that comes with a bit of an asterisk, given how low profile his runoff election was. The real test will be in 2019, when Christie is termed out and Knox will have to run without the backdrop of a King candidacy. If the Dems could unite on a single candidate against Knox (I know, I know) then that person ought to be favored. But let’s worry about that later, like maybe after the current electeds get sworn in and figure out where their offices are.

Finally, however swell the GOP establishment may feel about their near-miss with Bill King, it should be noted that they also had a good chance to win the Controller’s office as well, but missed that by a wider mark. Bill Frazer was a well-qualified candidate who was much more clearly identified with the Republican Party and who was as focused on pensions and fiscal matters as King. He was also Chron-endorsed and led the field in November after running a strong race in 2013, yet he wound up more than 10,000 votes behind Chris Brown (remember to add in the Fort Bend votes when you tally it all up). Brown had a bit of a financial edge, he had a bunch of ads running on cable TV, and he definitely made this a D-versus-R race. At a guess, I’d say that he had the support of a lot of Anglo Dems who had gone with King. All of which is a longwinded way of saying what Jim Lennon said: It’s hard for them to duplicate what King did.

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: Mayoral runoff

Believe it or not, the County Clerk’s office put out draft canvass reports last night. As a result, I can do the thing that I do. Here’s a look at the Mayor’s runoff race:


Dist    King   Turner
=====================
A      9,491    5,472
B      1,356   17,406
C     19,866   16,004
D      3,368   20,245
E     20,108    5,600
F      4,664    4,005
G     28,193    6,892
H      4,070    7,317
I      3,605    5,894
J      3,412    3,012
K      5,791   12,718
		
A     63.43%   36.57%
B      7.23%   92.77%
C     55.38%   44.62%
D     14.26%   85.74%
E     78.22%   21.78%
F     53.80%   46.20%
G     80.36%   19.64%
H     35.74%   64.26%
I     37.95%   62.05%
J     53.11%   46.89%
K     31.29%   68.71%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The Chron used this data to create some maps – a City Council district map, a precinct map, and a turnout map.

Remember as always that this is Harris County data only. Turner did win Harris County, by a small amount. The bulk of his margin is in Fort Bend, which is mostly in District K. You have to give King some credit. He won F and J after having trailed in them in November, and he carried C by a fairly healthy amount. I thought if he won in C he’d be in a strong position to win overall, and he came close to that. In November I suggested that King needed to duplicate Jack Christie’s 2011 runoff performance against Jolanda Jones to win. A performance like Christie had in District C would have done it for King, but he had some other avenues as well. Two questions to ponder in analyzing this result: How many previous supporters of Garcia and Bell and Costello did King move to his column, and how many new voters did he bring out? I will try to get a handle on that when I get a copy of the voter roster. A question I’m not sure how to answer is why did King do better on Election Day than he did in early voting, despite the expectations of some pundits? Turner clearly did a good job getting his voters out early. Maybe that’s all there was to it.

As for Turner, he did what he had to do. His margins in districts B and D were awesome, but it wasn’t just about the percentage, it was about the absolute total. It’s clear Turner needed the high turnout he got in those districts, but I think it’s an oversimplification to credit his win to “high turnout”, as I’d argue that King benefited from it as well. I’d love to see someone dig up precinct information from the 2001 Mayoral runoff between Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez and do a side by side comparison with this year. I’m guessing there would be a lot of overlap.

I’ll be looking at the other races over the coming days. This result is understandable by looking at the numbers, as both candidates did what they needed to do, with Turner ending up on top. Some of the others are more of a puzzle, especially given the context of the Mayoral race. But we’ll get to that when we get to that. What are your impressions?

Other runoff results

Here are the rest of the winners from yesterday:

Controller: Chris Brown

At Large #1: Mike Knox

At Large #2: CM David Robinson

At Large #4: Amanda Edwards

At Large #5: CM Jack Christie

District F: Steve Le

District H: Karla Cisneros

District J: CM Mike Laster

HISD II: Rhonda Skillern-Jones

HISD III: Manuel Rodriguez

Here are the Chron stories for the Council/Controller and HISD races. A couple of stray thoughts:

– Chris Brown and David Robinson are to me the big winners of the make-it-partisan strategy that was employed. I was especially worried about Robinson, because an elevated level of African-American turnout would not necessarily favor him. But both won Harris County, by larger margins than Turner (15,000 votes for Robinson, 9,000 for Brown), and both won Fort Bend, so I have to think that the message about who was the Democrat got through.

– That said, I strongly suspect that undervoting was a key in these races, and also in the AL1 race. Brown won early voting by about the same margin as Turner did, but then also won on Election Day. Robinson led early voting by a smaller margin than Turner, mostly on the strength of absentee ballots. He then dominated Election Day. On the flipside, Georgia Provost trailed in early voting, losing in absentee ballots while barely leading the in person early vote. Basically, she collected 10,000 fewer in person early votes than Turner did, while Mike Knox lost only 5,000 votes off of King’s total. This is something I plan to look into more closely when I get the precinct data.

– A lot was made before the election about King leading the vote in District C. It was a small lead, and a lot of District C voters went for Adrian Garcia, Steve Costello, and Chris Bell. If I had to guess right now, I’d say Turner won District C, but other races may be all over the place. King clearly got some crossovers, almost surely more than Turner did, but how many will be hard to tell. I really think the undervotes will tell a big part of the story.

– I’m sad to see CM Richard Nguyen lose, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Again, I’ll be interested to see what the precinct data says. After the Mayor’s race, this one had the lowest undervote rate, at 8.77%.

– Amanda Edwards’ and Karla Cisneros’ wins means that Council will have four women but only one Latino. I’m guessing that’s going to cause some angst.

– Here’s my guess at a whip count if and when another HERO comes up:

Likely Yeses – Robinson, Edwards, Davis, Cohen, Cisneros, Gallegos, Laster, Green

Likely Nos – Knox, Kubosh, Stardig, Martin, Le, Travis

Voted No originally, but maybe could be swung – Christie, Boykins

Counting Mayor Turner, a worst case vote would likely be 9-7 in favor. It would be nice to focus some effort on Christie and Boykins and maybe get that to 10-6 or 11-5. It’s a small thing, but I’d hate to give the other side the talking point that HERO 2.0 was less popular on Council than the original was. If it’s not possible to move that needle, then aiming to take a couple of seats to make up the difference and trying again after 2019 might be the best course of action. Christie’s term will be up, while Mike Knox and Steve Le could be targeted. By the same token, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster will also be termed out, and those seats would need to be defended, so this strategy has some risk as well. I’m just thinking out loud here. Point being, it’s never too early to start thinking about this sort of thing.

Anyway. Congratulations to all the winners. May you all fulfill your promises to make Houston a better place.

Turner defeats King

It was close, but he led throughout.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner won the Houston mayor’s race with a down-to-the-wire finish to edge businessman Bill King Saturday.

While Turner won the most ballots in early voting, King narrowed the gap quickly on Election Day.

“We thought the early vote was going to be very close,” King said. “We were a little surprised we lost that by as much as we did but we felt very good about going out and visiting the polls today the energy we were seeing at the precincts. We think we’re going to continue to win the Election Day vote it’s just whether it will be enough to offset the early vote or not.”

More than 113,000 Houston voters cast an early ballot, down from roughly 130,000 in the Nov. 3 general election that narrowed the 13-member mayoral field. Turner emerged from early voting in the lead, but saw that lead shrink as Election Day returns filtered in.

“We’ve never had a mayor’s race where the word ‘pension’ was ever even mentioned before, so if nothing else we’ve at least brought that issue to public awareness and we got every single candidate in this race to admit the current system’s not sustainable,” King said. “That in and of itself we think is a big victory.”

Turner, a 26-year state representative, entered the race a frontrunner and maintained that status throughout, positioning himself as the Democratic establishment pick after two unsuccessful mayoral bids in 1991 and 2003.

Turner won by 4,082 votes out of 212,696 cast. This spreadsheet, which tracked the returns from all three counties, shows how it broke down. The margin for Turner was all of 678 votes in Harris County, and for awhile he was trailing in Harris, but thanks to his 93% performance in Fort Bend, he was always in the lead. As far as final turnout goes, if you bet the under on the projections, you would have won.

In regards to Turner’s early vote lead, which was about 4,700 votes in Harris County (Harris results here, Fort Bend results here), I want to highlight a couple of quotes from before the election. Quote 1, from December 9:

“I would expect King to win the early vote and Turner to win the election day vote, with the election then being decided by the margins for those two respective segments,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.

Turner actually won early voting by about 7,300 votes, but King won Election Day by about 3,200. Oops. Now here’s Quote 2, from December 8:

“Right now, I would say that King has the momentum and Turner is on the defensive,” Jones said in an email, citing what he said were King’s more concrete policy proposals and Turner’s negative campaigning. “I think the election outcome could rest on how effective Turner is in mobilizing African-American voters on Election Day.”

That’s a more accurate take, though how one squares Turner winning Election Day while on the defensive and with King having the momentum is a bit of a mystery to me. It does cover all the bases, I admit.

Snark aside, this is the result I wanted. A lot of folks like me were expressing fear and doubt over the past couple of days. I think making this a partisan race was the smart thing to do, not just for Turner but for the downballot candidates – see my next post for more on that – but boy howdy would it have sucked to lose with that strategy. I’ll be very interested to see what the precinct numbers look like. Until then, congratulations to Mayor=elect Sylvester Turner. It was a lot of hard work getting here, and there’s a lot more hard work to come, but for now we can all take a deep breath and celebrate.

The ground game

Where we are with one day to go.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The neck-and-neck Houston mayor’s race has become an all-out ground war in the final days before Saturday’s runoff election as Sylvester Turner and Bill King turn to local Democratic and Republican party operatives to get out the vote in what is putatively a nonpartisan contest.

Democrats, labor groups and local churches have pooled manpower to launch a comprehensive, intricately designed field operation to push Turner voters to the polls, while Republicans have poured resources into mailers, radio ads and phone banks urging Houston residents to back King and his message of fiscal reform.

The race carries symbolic weight, both parties say, presenting Democrats with an opportunity to maintain their longtime hold on the mayoralty and Republicans the long-awaited chance to make inroads in municipal politics.

By the close of early voting Tuesday, more than 113,000 voters had cast a ballot, an increase of about 39,000 from the runoff election in the city’s last open-seat mayor’s race six years ago. Several political scientists project overall participation will be 200,000 or more.

Early turnout was strongest in City Council District G, on the city’s conservative, majority-white west side, followed by predominantly white, progressive District C and conservative District E. King won all three in the general election.

“I would expect King to win the early vote and Turner to win the election day vote, with the election then being decided by the margins for those two respective segments,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.

It’s true that King won District C in November, but only by a small margin, with a large share of the vote going to Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Steve Costello. My gut says that if Turner picks up a majority of these voters, he’ll be in good shape. If not, that may be a problem. We’ll know when the returns start coming in. I’ll post about Election Day locations tomorrow. Who has not voted yet?

KHOU/KUHF poll: Tuner 38, King 38

We have a tie, according to the latest poll.

Sylvester Turner and Bill King are now locked in a dead heat in the race for Houston mayor, according to the newly released KHOU-News 88.7 Poll of likely voters.

The survey shows both candidates supported by 38 percent of surveyed voters, with roughly one-quarter of voters still uncommitted. About 13 percent told pollsters they didn’t know how they would vote, while another 11 percent refused to answer the question.

“I’ve polled since 1979,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist who supervised the survey. “I don’t recall ever seeing a race this close in the runoff. Usually at this point in the campaign, one of the two candidates has, if not a significant lead, an approaching significant lead. I’ve never seen a race this close.”

Turner, a Democratic state representative who’s making his third run for an office he’s coveted for a quarter century, easily led the pack of candidates in November’s general election. But King, a businessman and former mayor of Kemah who’s courted fiscally conservative Republicans, has quickly closed the gap and turned Houston’s mayoral race into an intensely competitive campaign.

“We see no evidence of either candidate leading, so I think both are going to work extremely hard, come rain or shine, to turn out that base,” Stein said. “Upwards of half the vote, maybe more, will be cast on Saturday.”

The poll data can be found here. I will note four things. One, the KHOU/KUHF poll for the November race was not terribly accurate beyond declaring Turner as the frontunner. To be fair, most of the polls we knew about were not terribly accurate, either. Two, as was the case with that poll, this one has a very high number of “don’t know” responses, which just seems weird for a runoff election. I mean, how many people who are truly going to vote in this race don’t know which candidate they support? Note the contrast in “don’t knows” between this poll and the dueling campaign-aligned polls from a week or so ago. My guess is that some number of these people who say they don’t know really do know but didn’t want to say for whatever the reason. Three, the 2001 runoff between Mayor Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez was also viewed as a dead heat. Richard Murray, who is admittedly not Bob Stein, called it “an absolute cliffhanger” that would go down to the last vote. Finally, the KHOU/KUHF sample is 30% King voters from November, and 31% Turner voters from November; in reality, Turner led King 31-25 in November. That may be a reflection of actual turnout so far, or it may just be a reminder that who shows up is the big factor at this point. As with all polls, make of this as you will.

2015 eight day runoff finance reports

BagOfMoney

Here are the reports, for all but one of the runoff candidates:

Mayor

Sylvester Turner
Bill King

Controller

Chris Brown
Bill Frazer

At Large #1

Georgia Provost
Mike Knox

At Large #2

David Robinson
Willie David

At Large #4

Amanda Edwards
Roy Morales

At Large #5

Jack Christie
Sharon Moses

District F

Richard Nguyen
Steve Le – No report as yet

District H

Karla Cisneros
Jason Cisneroz

District J

Mike Laster
Jim Bigham

And here’s a summary of what’s in them:


Candidate   Office     Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Turner       Mayor  2,119,881  1,888,604        0    557,933
King         Mayor  1,381,193  1,272,967  650,000    331,134

Brown   Controller    198,596    197,552   30,000     16,489
Frazer  Controller    138,040    164,769   32,500     49,606

Provost      AL #1     25,350     23,511        0      1,789
Knox         AL #1     28,750     56,589        0          0

Robinson     AL #2     91,121     81,423        0     85,702
Davis        AL #2     26,610     16,343    3,000      2,979

Edwards      AL #4    189,569    151,624      500     75,707
Morales      AL #4     23,900     25,934    5,838        465

Christie     AL #5     73,502     79,098        0     29,456
Moses        AL #5      5,300      4,788        0        512

Nguyen      Dist F     52,630     56,759        0     43,752
Le          Dist F

K Cisneros  Dist H     23,725     24,606        0      5,770
J Cisneroz  Dist H     72,140     67,275        0     13,686

Laster      Dist J     62,421     18,558        0    184,415
Bigham      Dist J      1,700      5,421        0      4,936

Here’s the Chron story on the Mayoral fundraising, the short version of which is “lots raised, lots spent”. For all that spending, I haven’t seen many TV ads – one for Bill King, a couple that attacked Bill King, and that’s about it. I have gotten some mail from Turner, and I’ve seen a bunch of Turner web ads. I’m sure they’re both on the radio, too. I’ve also seen a few ads for Chris Brown, and for Amanda Edwards.

Edwards has truly been an impressive fundraiser – not many Council candidates have the wherewithal to run TV ads, and in a race where making sure people have some idea who you are is job #1, that’s a big deal. David Robinson is next in line, though I do wonder why hasn’t spent a bit more than he has. (I could say the same about Mike Laster, but he has far fewer voters to connect with, and arguably more justification for being on cruise control.) Jack Christie has a lower number than I would have expected – I’m not sure if he’s not sweating it, or if this is a sign of trouble for him that hadn’t been apparent before now.

None of the other candidates have raised much, though Knox didn’t do too badly before the November election. Provost, Davis, Morales, and Moses – none of them has had much, yet at least three of them (sorry, Roy) have a decent shot at being elected. Those of you who think there’s too much money in politics, this is what an alternate universe looks like. Or if you prefer, those of you who think that fundraising totals are the primary indicator of electoral viability, these are your counterexamples. Make of it what you will.

Dueling runoff polls: King 48, Turner 43 (HRBC) – Turner 47, King 40 (internal)

From the inbox yesterday morning:

Bill King

Bill King

The Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) released a poll of 300 active voters today measuring support of Mayoral candidates in the December runoff election.

“Bill King has built a broad base of support throughout the City of Houston,” said Chairman Alan Hassenflu. “Bill King is the only candidate offering thoughtful solutions to the fiscal disaster facing the City of Houston. 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 survey shows voters across Houston are seeing past Sylvester Turner’s negative campaign and looking towards Bill King to fix the City’s financial mess. Only 9% 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:
In the upcoming runoff election for Mayor, if you had to choose, would you be voting for Bill King or Sylvester Turner?

 
Bill King                 48%
Sylvester Turner          43%
Undecided                  9%

METHODOLOGY:
The sample size for the survey is 300 likely voters in Houston, Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4.00%. All interviews were completed using automated telephone technology and were conducted December 1, 2015 by Causeway Solutions. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Demographics:
Female 56%, Male 44%
Democrat 38%, Independent/Other 28%, Republican 34%
African American 28%, Hispanic 10%, Other 12%, White 50%

HRBC had the one poll from the November election that correctly had HERO losing, and they were the only pollster to show King with a clear lead over Adrian Garcia. As such, I would not dismiss this result. That said, there are a few curious things about it. Three hundred is an unusually small sample size – most public opinion polls have samples of at least 400. I’ve never seen one with a sample as small as 300. Moreover, the margin of error for a sample size of 300 would be 5.65%, not 4.00%. That would be the MoE for a sample size of 600, but I doubt they’d be able to get responses from 600 likely voters in one day. Whatever the case, one of those numbers is not right. The partisan mix is likely too light on Democrats, but at this point it’s all about who shows up. It’s too early to draw any conclusions on that from early voting.

I originally wrote this post to say that I expected there would be more polling soon enough. Like clockwork, this hit my inbox later in the day:

Sylvester Turner is the favorite to be elected Mayor of Houston in the December 12th runoff election. A survey of Houston voters likely to cast a ballot in next week’s runoff election shows Turner leading Bill King by 7-points (47%-40%), with 13 percent undecided. Turner has capitalized on his first place finish in last month’s general election by building momentum with key segments of the electorate. In addition to his strong base of support among African-Americans, Turner leads by 12-points among self-described moderates (47%-35%), and voters who vote most frequently in the City’s December runoff elections prefer Turner by a 9-point margin (49%-40%).

Table 1: Vote for Mayor of Houston


Vote for Houston Mayor Percentage

Sylvester Turner              47%

Bill King                     40%

Undecided                     13%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The survey also shows Turner campaign’s voter outreach program to be highly effective as Turner holds a 28-point (58%-30%) lead among respondents who report being contacted directly by a representative of either candidate. This finding demonstrates the strength of Turner campaign’s communications, and shows voters respond to his message of moving Houston forward.

Sylvester Turner is in a strong position in the final days of the campaign for Houston Mayor. He continues to expand his base of support as his voter outreach program gives him an advantage over his opponent. With sufficient resources to continue public communications through Election Day, Sylvester Turner is on track to be elected Mayor of Houston.

Methodology: From November 29-30, 2015, FM3 completed 604 telephone interviews on landlines and cell phones with randomly selected City of Houston voters who are likely to participate in the December 12th Mayoral runoff election. The margin of sampling error is +/-4.0% at the 95% confidence level; margins of error for population subgroups within each sample will be higher. Due to rounding, not all totals will sum to 100%.

Note that this has a more normal sample size, and that the MoE calculation is correct. The email that accompanied the poll document noted the MoE weirdness from the HRBC poll and stated that their poll included cellphone users, whom the automated HRBC poll was not allowed to call. Of course, with internal polls you never know if there were other results that were discarded, and in this case we don’t have the question wording, so apply an appropriate level of skepticism. (By the same token, recall that the HRBC is a supporter of King’s.) Like I said, it’s all about who turns out. PDiddie has more.

Runoff endorsement watch: Still for Turner

They clutch their pearls a bit over his (gasp!) negative advertising, but the Chron is still on board with Sylvester Turner.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The long-time state representative – and three-time mayoral candidate – offers voters the best balance between policy expertise and political acumen. As Houstonians have witnessed on issues like red light cameras, pensions and the Houston equal rights ordinance, having the right ideas isn’t enough. The mayor also has to usher policies through a political system of competing perspectives and countervailing powers.

Houston’s City Charter grants our mayor a degree of authority unique among Texas cities, with nearly total control over the executive and legislative functions at City Hall. But the mayor isn’t a dictator and still needs to build consensus – one of Turner’s political skills.

There’s much to admire in King’s passion for public policy. He has a firm grasp on the challenges facing City Hall, and there’s often little difference between him and Turner when it comes to listing the problems that vex our city.

But Houstonians deserve a City Hall that can address more than the mere basics. Yes, we can fix the roads, balance the budget and catch the crooks. We can also build roads that serve pedestrians and cyclists alongside drivers. We can balance the budget without burdening public servants. And we can catch the crooks while offering the after school programs that keep kids from falling into a life of crime.

We’ve also yet to see a solid proposal that sets Houston on a fiscally sustainable path without raising the revenue cap, which restricts property tax collection combined rates of inflation and population growth. Moody’s Investors Service specifically pointed to the trifecta of rising pension obligations, spiking debt payments and the city’s revenue cap as threats to Houston’s financial well-being. Turner wants to address all three of those issues. King instead continues to falsely equate lifting the revenue cap with a tax hike.

Here’s the original. You know how I feel, so that’s about all there is to say.

A roundup of interviews with runoff candidates

vote-button

For your convenience, as you try to decide whom to support in the runoffs:

Mayor

Sylvester Turner
Bill King

Controller

Chris Brown
Bill Frazer

At Large #1

Georgia Provost – 2013 election, District D
Mike Knox – 2013 election, District A

At Large #2

David Robinson
Willie Davis – No interview

At Large #4

Amanda Edwards
Roy Morales – 2013 election, At Large #3

At Large #5

Jack Christie
Sharon Moses

District F

Richard Nguyen
Steve Le

District H

Karla Cisneros
Jason Cisneroz

District J

Mike Laster
Jim Bigham

HISD District II

Rhonda Skillern-Jones
Larry Williams – No interview

HISD District III

Manuel Rodriguez – 2011 election
Jose Leal – No interview

Notice that for many of these candidates, there were interviews or Q&As published elsewhere that you may find useful (and that you can read instead of listening to). I’ve got links to them on my Election 2015 page, which will also remind you of who was endorsed by whom. There have been some other endorsements issued in recent days – Sylvester Turner received the American Council of Engineering Companies of Houston and 80-20 PAC endorsements, while Bill King received nods from the Homebuilders Association and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, for example – but I haven’t tracked them. The eight day finance reports for the runoff are due now and I will put them up as I see them. Early voting starts tomorrow, and an awful lot of our city government for the next four years is still to be determined. Get informed and make good choices between now and December 12.

Our partisan Mayoral runoff

I’m shocked, shocked to find that there are partisan interests in the Mayoral runoff.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Even though Houston elections officially are nonpartisan, the contest between Bill King and Sylvester Turner has evolved into a test of party might as voters prepare to elect the Bayou City’s first new mayor in six years.

King has framed the runoff as the choice between a businessman and a career politician, a common appeal by Republican candidates against Democratic incumbents. Trying to paint King as too extreme for Houston, Turner’s campaign has taken to invoking the tea party and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the latter-day bogeymen of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the local Republican and Democratic parties have endorsed their favorites and affiliated groups are gearing up their ground games to phone bank and knock on doors for their preferred candidates.

The result is a race without overt party identification, but with all of the trappings of a partisan battlefield.

“We’ve seen across the country the intensity of the partisan division grow,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “It’s not that the overall population has become more partisan and polarized, but people who vote, particularly in a low-turnout election like a Houston mayor runoff, tend to be partisans.”

Murray said he expects turnout to be about 20 percent in the Dec. 12 runoff to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, down from 27 percent on Nov. 3.

[…]

Murray said the race is more partisan than usual for city races, attributing the dynamic in part to the equal rights ordinance thought to have brought many conservative Republicans to the polls.

“It’s not surprising that the Democrats particularly, since they have a significant edge in partisanship within the city, would try to make this a partisan race,” Murray said. “And Republicans hope that they can counter and in a low-turnout election get enough of their partisans to go to the polls to squeak out a win.”

I will note that 20% turnout for the runoff will equate to over 190,000 votes, which would be higher turnout than the 2013 or 2009 November races. The 2003 runoff had 220,725 votes, while the 2001 runoff had 326,254 votes. I feel confident saying we won’t reach that level. Both races were D versus R like this one, with Bill White winning by a huge margin in 2003 and Lee Brown squeaking by in 2001. The latter election had “first Latino Mayor of Houston” possibilities (so did the 2003 one, but by then the shine had largely come off of Orlando Sanchez), and it was heavily polarized by race. This runoff certainly won’t reach 2001 levels, and probably won’t reach 2003 levels, but I doubt it will be low enough for it to be particularly favorable to Republicans. I’ll say again, I think for King to win he’s got to blunt Turner’s appeal outside of his African-American base. That was the intent of the Bell endorsement, except that a large number of Bell voters were repulsed by it. The partisans are going to turn out, as they always have in these races. If Democrats of all stripes back Turner, he ought to win. If King can cut into that enough, he can win. That’s how I see it.

And before anyone bemoans all those dirty partisans besmirching their innocent non-partisan city race, please note that there are also significant policy differences between the two. HERO, the revenue cap, and Rebuild Houston are the headliners for that, but the list doesn’t end there. I for one would rather have a Metro Board Chair nominated by Turner than one nominated by King. It’s not like these guys largely agree on things and it’s just a matter of whose flag they fly. Sylvester Turner’s Houston and Bill King’s Houston will be different places. By all means, base your choice on that. From my perspective at least, the two roads lead to the same destination.

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

As the headline notes, this came as a surprise to many.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Former Congressman Chris Bell publicly backed fiscal conservative Bill King in the Houston mayoral runoff Tuesday, a move that could bolster King’s efforts to make inroads with progressive voters.

Bell’s endorsement came as a surprise to many political insiders expecting the progressive former mayoral candidate to support King’s rival, Democrat Sylvester Turner.

Bell cited King’s focus on pension reform, public safety, road repair and flooding as reasons for his endorsement, as well as the businessman’s thoughtful approach to policy issues.

“It might come as a surprise to some because of my political persuasion, but it really shouldn’t,” Bell said alongside King in Meyerland. “Truth be told, we agree much more than we disagree. As far as the major principles of his campaign, we’re in complete agreement.”

If you say so, Chris. From my perspective, the main area of overlap between the two campaigns was an enthusiasm for bashing Adrian Garcia. On a number of issues I can think of, from HERO to the revenue cap to ReBuild Houston to (yes) pensions, there seemed to be little in common. It’s easier for me to see agreement between Steve Costello and Sylvester Turner than it is for me to see concurrence between Bell and King. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder, I don’t know. But really, on a broader level, it’s that Bell positioned himself quite purposefully to Sylvester Turner’s left, with his greater purity on LGBT equality being a main point of differentiation. Though he missed out on getting the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement – amid a fair amount of grumbling about Turner buying the recommendation via a slew of last-minute memberships – Bell had a lot of support in the LGBT community; a couple of his fervent supporters courted my vote at the West Gray Multi-Service Center by reminding me of an old Turner legislative vote against same sex foster parenting. This is why it’s hard to believe his claims about there being so much in common between him and King, and why this announcement was met with such an explosion of outrage and cries of betrayal. It’s not a partisan matter so much as it is a strong suspicion that either the prior assertions about being the real champion of equality were lies or that this endorsement had to come with a prize. If Chris Bell honestly believes that Bill King will be the best Mayor, that’s his right and his choice. But no one should be surprised by the reaction to it.

Does this help King? Well, he needs to get some Anglo Dem support to win, and that was Bell’s base. Of course, speaking as someone in that demographic, I’ve seen very little evidence that any of his erstwhile supporters were impressed by this. Quite the reverse, as noted above. I guess it can’t hurt, I just wouldn’t expect it to do much.

In the meantime, various organizations have been issuing new and updated endorsements for the runoffs. A few highlights:

– As previously noted, the HCDP endorsed all Democratic candidates with Republican opponents. That means Sylvester Turner for Mayor, Chris Brown for Controller, Georgia Provost, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards, Sharon Moses, Richard Nguyen, and Mike Laster for Council, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jose Leal for HISD Trustee.

– The Houston GLBT Political Caucus added Georgia Provost and Karla Cisneros to their list of endorsed candidates. Turner, Brown, Edwards, and the incumbents were already on there. They did not take action on Moses and Leal.

– The Meyerland Democrats made their first endorsements in a city election: Turner, Brown, Provost, Robinson, Edwards, Nguyen, and Laster.

– Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out another email touting endorsements, this time from five previous Controllers – Ronald Green, Annise Parker, Sylvia Garcia, George Greanias, and Kathy Whitmire. As you know, I’m glad to see Green support him.

– As noted here, the Harris County GOP Executive Committee endorsed Willie Davis in AL2, though it wasn’t exactly unanimous.

– The Log Cabin Republicans transferred their endorsements to Bill King and Mike Knox, and reiterated their support for David Robinson, Jack Christie, and Steve Le. Guess being staunchly anti-HERO has its drawbacks.

– A group called the Texas Conservative View endorsed the candidates you’d expect them to – King, Frazer, Knox, Davis, Roy Morales, Christie, Steve Le, Jim Bigham – and one I didn’t, Jason Cisneroz. All of them were repeats from November except for Morales; they had previously endorsed Jonathan Hansen.

– Finally, the Houston Association of Realtors gave Bill King an endorsement that does mean something and makes sense, along with Amanda Edwards.

I think that catches me up. I’m sure there will be more to come – in particular, the Chron has a few races to revisit. They need to pick a finalist between Brown and Frazer, and make a new choice in AL1 and AL5. I’ll let you know when they do.

UPDATE: The line I deleted above about “being staunchly anti-HERO” was a reference to Willie Davis not getting the LCR endorsement in At Large #2. It made sense in my head when I wrote it, but I can see now that I didn’t make that clear at all. And given that the LCRs endorsed David Robinson in November, it doesn’t make sense even when I clarify who I intended that to be about. So, I take it back. Sorry for the confusion.

A new HERO will be up to the next Mayor

As it should be, whether we like it or not.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who championed the city’s ill-fated equal rights ordinance, HERO, said she no longer plans to try to revive it before leaving office at the end of the year.

In the aftermath of HERO’s resounding defeat at the polls November 3, Parker had indicated the current City Council could consider an amended non-discrimination ordinance before her term expires.

But during an appearance Saturday at a major LGBT fundraiser in Dallas, Parker said she now believes it’s too late.

“The problem is, I’m running out of runway,” Parker told the Observer before the annual Black Tie Dinner gala. “I have only so many council meetings left, and so it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to do anything with it. The council members who supported it still support it, and I do hope the the next mayor of Houston will pick it back up again.”

[…]

Parker told the Observer she’d be announcing her endorsement of [Sylvester] Turner “in the very near future.”

You know how I feel about this. I don’t have anything to add to that. The task for now is to elect Sylvester Turner and enough decent Council members to be able to take up a revised HERO at some point in the future, and go from there. Everything follows from that. The Mayor’s official statement on this is here.

Leave a new HERO to the next Mayor

I hate having to say this.

HoustonUnites

Opponents of Houston’s repealed equal rights ordinance haved placed 300,000 calls and will release a new TV ad next week warning about a possible City Council revival of the controversial non-discrimination law.

All that despite no certainty that Mayor Annise Parker will find the political will and, most importantly, the time, to bring forward new equal rights legislation in the dwindling weeks before her term is over at the end of December. Several City Council members are battling heated Dec. 12 runoff contests and unlikely to willingly delve into the politically charged law that 61 percent of voters opposed this month.

Shortly after the defeat, Parker said she had no set plan and needed to speak with council members about bringing back similar protections before she leaves office. But foes seized on her statement that some council members had suggested voting on individual protections, such as those offered in housing or employment or public accommodations.

“I’m going to sit down with the council members and see how they want to proceed,” Parker said. “We will also, of course, evaluate what the national and international response from the business community is, because that certainly will make a difference.”

[…]

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, one of the biggest champions of the law, said Friday that she has no plans to broach any non-discrimination legislation before the runoff election and “most likely not” before the end of the year.

“It would be the decision of the mayor but I think right now we need to concentrate on the runoffs and move forward,” Cohen said. “Quite honestly, I’m comfortable taking a breath. I do have plans at some point in the future to make sure that equality is brought to Houston.”

I can’t see any justification for bringing up any part of an equal rights ordinance before the end of the year. The liars won this round. (*) The runoff election presents another opportunity to engage the fight, since Sylvester Turner and Bill King are on record stating opposing views as to whether or not they would introduce a new HERO if they win. Get Sylvester Turner elected in December and there will be a mandate to have a do-over, hopefully this time with a better rollout campaign. I wish it were different, but then if it were we wouldn’t need to be having this discussion at all. The way to change the conversation is to win the next election. Let’s focus on that.

(*) Way to continue to characterize the “debate” over HERO as a he said/she said disagreement about bathrooms and how effective that campaign tactic was, Houston Chronicle. Very Shape of Earth: Views Differ of you.

Precinct analysis: Districts with runoffs

District F was a three-way race, with challenger Steve Le leading first-term incumbent Richard Nguyen. Kendall Baker ran as a HERO hater, and finished third overall but did manage to come in first or second in nine precincts. I thought I’d take a look at those precincts to see if they’d tell me anything about how the runoff might go.


Pcnct   Le  Baker  Nguyen  Turner  King  Other   Yes   No
=========================================================
0298   196    180     146      84   238   272    202  395
0509    19     32      14      15    10    59     36   58
0559   198    181     175     259   117   294    274  399
0566    99    162     137     175    86   240    210  277
0620   189    219     164     105   303   280    229  466
0627   194    115     109     138    77   272    179  295
0814    62     67      54      94    20   104     84  130
0971     3      5       1       5     1     3      4    5
1000    28     29      27      42    10    45     29   60

“Yes” and “No” refer to the HERO vote. The bulk of the “other” votes went to Adrian Garcia, who finished second overall in F. Beyond that, there’s not much of a pattern to detect. Baker did well in a couple of precincts where Bill King did well, presumably where there was a decent share of Republicans who voted the Hotze slate, and he did well in a couple of precincts where Sylvester Turner did well, possibly because of a decent African-American population. What happens to these voters in the runoff is anyone’s guess.

As for Le and Nguyen, the bulk of the remaining precincts was won by Le. Here’s a summary:


   Le  Baker  Nguyen  Turner  King
==================================
3,292  1,865   2,535   2,399 1,755
  654    440     702     501   247
Richard Nguyen

Richard Nguyen

CM Nguyen won a plurality in Fort Bend, though there weren’t many votes there.

If you’re a supporter of CM Nguyen, there’s not a whole lot here to feel optimistic about. While the No vote on HERO tracks pretty closely to the combined Le/Baker total in those precincts where Baker did well, there’s a falloff between the Yes voters and the Nguyen voters. This to me is a sign of a candidate who is not very well known; given that Nguyen won in a surprise two years ago on a mostly shoe-leather campaign, that’s not much of a surprise. He won far fewer precincts than Le, and he won them by a smaller amount. I see two bits of good news for him. One is that he had $38K on hand as of his 8 day report (Le had $6K on hand, but he’d also loaned himself some money and likely could do more of that), so at least he ought to have the resources to reach out to voters. The other is that as Sylvester Turner won this district, and Bill King came in third, he can try to cleave himself to Turner and hope to catch a coattail. I make Le the favorite here, but Nguyen does have a chance, and if the HCDP wants to do something in the runoffs as its previous email announced, this race ought to be a priority for them.

In J, CM Mike Laster got more than double the votes of his closest competitor, Jim Bigham, who snuck into the runoff a mere 28 votes ahead of anti-HERO candidate Manny Barrera. The precinct data tells a pretty simple story here, as not-close election data often do. Laster won or tied for first in 27 of 32 precincts (the one tie had only 15 votes cast; he and Bigham each got 6). Of the 27 precincts Laster won, Bigham finished last nine times, and third six times. He was first only once, in precinct 426, where he finished exactly two votes ahead of Laster; Barrera and fourth candidate Dung Le each won two precincts. I have no idea what a path to victory for Bigham looks like. Turner also won in J with King coming in third, so Laster simply running as the Democratic candidate works for him. Anything can happen, of course, but anything other than a Laster win would be a big surprise.

I didn’t do a detailed analysis of H, even though it’s my district. The battle lines are less clear here, since Karla Cisneros and Jason Cisneroz were both pro-HERO and aren’t terribly far apart on many policy issues. If there’s one thing to watch for, it’s that a Karla Cisneros win would mean only one Latino member of Council for the next four years. There were plenty of lamentations about Adrian Garcia’s performance, but this seems to me to be a bigger issue. Will Latino leaders rally around Jason Cisneroz? For that matter, will Roland Chavez, who didn’t miss making the runoff by much, endorse a candidate? One could also note that right now there are only two women on Council, with three in the At Large runoffs. A Karla Cisneros victory would even things out a bit on that score. I could see this one going either way.

Endorsement watch: Costello for Turner

I’m glad to see this.

CM Stephen Costello

CM Stephen Costello

Houston City Councilman Steve Costello endorsed Sylvester Turner for mayor Wednesday, dealing a potential financial blow to fellow conservative Bill King as he looks to expand his donor base in the runoff.

An engineer who finished sixth on Election Day with 7 percent of the vote, Costello is not likely to sway a large share of the electorate, but his endorsement could bolster Turner’s fundraising efforts, particularly among local engineers and contractors, who are consistent donors in municipal races.

Last week, former mayoral candidate Adrian Garcia also endorsed Turner.

“The real blow here is for fundraising,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “I think one of the goals for Turner in this runoff is to create an aura of inevitability behind his candidacy, and this, along with the Garcia endorsement, certainly aids that effort.”

[…]

In a statement announcing his endorsement, Costello cited ReBuild, public safety and transportation as reasons for backing Turner, a Democrat.

He said Turner agrees that ReBuild is a good baseline program from which to improve and that the Houston Police Department should be expanded with a focus on community policing.

Costello, who is term-limited, added that he will focus on improving Houston’s mass transit after leaving office.

“Sylvester Turner is the best candidate to connect all of Houston through multi-modal transportation, and I look forward to working with him on critical transportation issues like commuter rail,” Costello said.

A copy of the statement is beneath the fold. All due respect to Prof. Jones, but I’d put fundraising lower on the list of reasons why this is good for Turner. For one thing, while Costello didn’t get a large number of votes, I get the impression that his voters are the kind of people who are likely to show up for a runoff. As such, his endorsement ought to move some actual voters to Turner, since this endorsement could have gone either way. It also obviously makes Turner’s coalition a little broader, and it narrows the pool of voters that King will be fishing in. And while endorsements are often about supporting the person you want to win, they are also often about supporting the person you think actually will win. It’s not unreasonable to see Costello’s endorsement as a signal of which way the wind is perceived to be blowing.

Or maybe it’s much ado about nothing. Nobody really knows what any single endorsement is worth – we’re all just guessing. Maybe no one who wasn’t already voting for Turner cares. Maybe as many Costello voters think he’s nuts to endorse Turner as those who applaud it. We just don’t know. Be that as it may, campaigns love endorsements, and everybody reacts to them as if they mean something. Turner also received endorsements from multiple Latino elected officials, while King touted a few of his own, from former electeds and business leaders. I’m sure when more endorsements are made, we will all hear about them.

(more…)

Precinct analysis: Controller

Moving on to the office that is both second in prominence and last in ballot placement, the City Controller:


Dist  Khan   Brown  Frazer   Boney Jefferson Robinson
=====================================================
A    2,749   3,406   6,588     798       602    1,573
B    1,836   4,042   1,047   4,275     1,057    5,154
C    6,143  12,574  12,181   1,194       838    2,387
D    2,338   5,139   2,180   6,242     1,547    5,358
E    4,595   4,121  13,436     659       653    1,895
F    2,485   2,118   2,493     670       497    1,246
G    5,105   6,416  17,965     596       666    1,615
H    2,514   4,304   2,094   1,047       525    2,220
I    2,082   3,452   1,685   1,098       573    2,087
J    1,885   1,478   1,925     483       273      782
K    2,941   4,508   3,276   3,028       855    3,309
						
A   17.49%  21.67%  41.92%   5.08%     3.83%   10.01%
B   10.55%  23.22%   6.01%  24.55%     6.07%   29.60%
C   17.39%  35.60%  34.49%   3.38%     2.37%    6.76%
D   10.25%  22.54%   9.56%  27.37%     6.78%   23.50%
E   18.12%  16.25%  52.98%   2.60%     2.58%    7.47%
F   26.13%  22.27%  26.22%   7.05%     5.23%   13.10%
G   15.77%  19.83%  55.51%   1.84%     2.06%    4.99%
H   19.79%  33.88%  16.48%   8.24%     4.13%   17.47%
I   18.97%  31.45%  15.35%  10.00%     5.22%   19.01%
J   27.62%  21.65%  28.20%   7.08%     4.00%   11.46%
K   16.41%  25.61%  18.28%  16.90%     4.77%   18.47%
Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Remember how I said earlier that if you combined Lane Lewis, Tom McCasland, and Jenifer Pool in the At Large #1 race you’d have a leading candidate going into the runoff? The same can be said here for Jew Don Boney, Carroll Robinson, and Dwight Jefferson; just the first two together would be enough. Robinson was in the race first and had a more visible campaign, but Boney received some late-breaking endorsements from groups that likely moved a few votes. However you want to look at it, they basically canceled each other out.

MJ Khan got something for his party-like-it’s-2009 campaign strategy, just not nearly enough. He nudges ahead of Frazer in his old Council district once you add in Fort Bend, but then falls behind Chris Brown there. (Insert sad trombone sound effect.) The good news is that his timelessly generic TV ad that blanketed the airwaves over the past few weeks could easily be hauled out and reused in 2019 and/or 2023 as needed. He could be the model for campaigning in the Andrew Burks/Griff Griffin style with an actual budget to spend.

Here’s my three-point plan for Chris Brown to win next month:

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

1. Make sure Democrats know who he is and that he’s the only Dem in the race. Bill Frazer did about eight points better in District C than Bill King did. Putting it another, and more alarming way, Frazer plus Khan was almost 52% of the vote in C, while King plus Costello was 37%; even counting Ben Hall as a Republican only gets you to 43%. I can’t see a path to victory for Brown that doesn’t include a strong showing in C. The HCDP sent out an email on Monday saying that they would make recommendations now in races that have a single Dem in them, which will help a little, but I’d plan a blitz of mail targeting Democratic likely voters making sure they know which team each candidate in this race is playing for.

2. Deploy surrogates. First and foremost, do whatever is needed to get Brown’s soon-to-be-former boss Ronald Green to cut a radio ad or two for heavy rotation on KCOH and Majic 102 and so forth. Get Peter Brown to star in a mailer or two to voters who were known to like him from 2009 and his days on Council, and also from his days now advocating for sustainable urbanism. Chris Brown’s wife Divya is Indian-American; she and their baby daughter were in a standard family photo in Brown’s November mailings. I’d consider sending some mail to voters in F and J (where there is a high proportion of Asian voters as well as two district Council runoffs) that featured her more prominently. If a few voters there wind up thinking she’s the one they’d be voting for in this race, that would not be a bad outcome.

3. Make sure the police and firefighters are invested in this runoff. Frazer’s campaign is in large part based on the need for drastic action on pensions; there’s not much space between him and King on this issue. The police and firefighters’ unions backed Sylvester Turner for Mayor, but (as far as I know) did not take a position in the Controller’s race. Brown seems like a much better fit for them in the runoff. They may be gearing up to act anyway, but I’d be sure to talk to them and try to get them involved.

As for Frazer, he’s the frontrunner and thus only needs two bullet points: Make sure Republicans know who he is, and otherwise keep on doing what he’s been doing, which is to focus on the issues as he defines them and his qualifications as a CPA. The bad news for Frazer is that the runoff electorate is likely to be more favorable for Democratic candidates. The good news is that there’s no guarantee that voters who supported Robinson or Boney will necessarily transfer for Brown – one possibility is that they vote for Turner and one or more of the African-American Council runoff candidates and then stop there; Robinson recently sent an email urging support for Georgia Provost, Amanda Edwards, and Sharon Moses, but didn’t mention the Controller’s race at all – but Khan voters ought to have a home with him. What he’s done so far, in 2013 and this year, has worked pretty well for him. Don’t overthink it, and don’t do anything stupid, that’s my advice.

Mayoral runoff overview

Break’s over, back to the grind.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner and Bill King, the top two finishers on Election Day, present Houston with a clear-cut choice in everything from policy priorities to personal demeanor.

“I talk about the need for the mayor to emphasize education, opportunities, addressing the economic inequality – not having two cities in one, a city of haves and have-nots – and the importance of placing emphasis on the arts and parks and neighborhood parks,” Turner said last Thursday in his downtown law office. “Bill does not believe, you know when you talk about education and income inequality, that those things are vital components of a mayor’s duties and responsibilities. We disagree on that.”

King agreed with Turner that the runoff likely will focus more on issues than on personalities, given their distinct approaches to the city’s top political job.

“We have a career politician that believes that property taxes are to be raised by more than 4.5 percent a year versus a businessman who thinks the city needs to live within its means,” King told reporters last Thursday before reporting to jury duty on Houston’s west side. “We’ve got a career politician that’s been endorsed by all the employee groups that thinks we need to keep kicking the can down the road on the pension system versus a businessman who thinks we need to do what private industry did 20-30 years ago and solve this once and for all.”

[…]

Bill King

Bill King

Turner’s African-American base and King’s conservative one each make up about a third of the electorate, meaning if both groups return for the runoff, they effectively could neutralize each other, local Democratic strategist Keir Murray said.

“The battleground becomes what Anglo Democrats, Hispanics, Asians, independents – which of those voters come back and who gets them,” Murray said.

Already, King has tacked to the center.

Asked about the challenge of winning the mayor’s seat as a Republican, which has not happened in more than 30 years, King said, “I don’t claim to be a Republican. I really claim to be independent.”

Turner, meanwhile, received Garcia’s endorsement Friday.

After more than 260,000 city voters cast a ballot in the general election, outpacing even political scientists’ most generous projections, estimates for the runoff varied widely, from 140,000 to 210,000.

The runoff is expected to be around Dec. 12, but cannot be set until last Tuesday’s vote is canvassed.

I’ve given my thoughts on the precinct data and what it might mean for the runoff. I don’t know how many people who might be likely to vote in the runoff aren’t already aware of the policy differences between Turner and King, but however many of them there are, now is the time to figure it out. If I had to guess now, I’d expect more low end than high on the turnout scale, but it’s too early to guess. I figure the next step is for the TV ads to get started again. Hope you enjoyed this brief respite from the campaign.