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Brandon Creighton

A really dumb “Trump and the train” article


Texas is closer than ever to building the first high-speed train in the United States, thanks to President Donald Trump’s fascination with these transportation projects and a well-timed pitch to his administration.

Now developers nationwide are looking to the privately owned Texas Central Railway as a test case of what can get done with Trump in the White House.

Former Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., a member of the company’s board of directors, met recently with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in Washington. He wasn’t seeking any of the taxpayer-funded grants sought by high-speed rail projects in California and the Northeast.

What the $10 billion Texas Central Railway really needs is a green light from the agency Chao oversees.

“It was an opportunity to make a first impression,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Railway.

The meeting clearly stuck. Soon after, Chao mentioned the Texas Central Railway at the National Governors Association winter conference as an example of the kind of “very impressive” project the administration is interested in.

The question now is whether private investment — coupled with regulatory relief — is a model the Trump administration could use to finance and expedite his promised $1 trillion infrastructure push, and not just in Texas.


California is building a 220-mph high-speed rail system, but that project has been delayed by political opposition. Its trains also have to meet more rigorous federal standards for crash protection because they will share tracks with commuter trains, Amtrak and some freight.

By building a self-contained system where trains will not intersect with street traffic or encounter slower trains, the Texas project can employ off-the-shelf technology in use in Japan for more than 50 years.

“It’s going to be a lot easier than the California project,” said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates and chairman of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, both advocacy groups that support the Texas project. “They’ll have a little harder way to go in California than in Texas.”


High-speed rail has been a topic in Texas for 30 years, but Keith thinks its moment has come.

“What’s happening in Texas is private entrepreneurs are saying, look there’s demand, there’s pent-up demand,” he said. “We can meet the demand.”

The biggest obstacles for the railway could be back home in Texas. Some landowners along the route want to derail the project, and they have help from allies in the state Legislature.

“You’re talking about property rights. In Texas, we love our land,” said LeCody with Texas Rail Advocates.

LeCody said Texas was changing and needed a transportation system that addressed road congestion and population growth.

“We’re such a growing state,” he said. “We’ve got to learn how to move people from point A to point B without highways.”

See here for previous Trump-and-the-train coverage. Where to begin with this article?

1. The article makes it sound like interest in high speed rail is something unique to Dear Leader Trump. In fact, President Obama had national high speed rail ambitions, which included plans for Texas that unfortunately didn’t pan out due to our own lack of initiative. To be sure, that was government funding for high speed rail, while Texas Central is all about private funding. I’m just saying that the idea of high speed rail here did not originate with Trump.

2. The opposition to Texas Central is barely acknowledged in this story, much less analyzed. There’s a full court press in the Legislature, which Texas Central itself acknowledges as an existential threat. I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of the likelihood of success for the Texas Central opponents, mostly because they don’t appear to have grown their base beyond the mostly rural counties in East and Central Texas, but they are working hard at this and they have some powerful and influential Senators on their side. Not talking to a Brandon Creighton or Lois Kolkhorst about Texas Central is at the least a disservice to the readers. For crying out loud, the story uses a Texas Central booster to discuss the opposition. Even as a Texas Central supporter myself, I say that’s just lousy journalism.

3. Outside the Legislature, there is a fervent grassroots opposition to Texas Central as well, with a lot of that coming from county and municipal governments in the affected areas as well as from private citizens. There’s already been litigation over access to the land needed for the TCR right of way, and there will surely be more for as long as this project is in its planning and construction phase. One might also note that this opposition comes from places in the state that voted heavily for Trump. Maybe this isn’t the sort of thing that might get a voter to change their mind about a President, but again, not at least acknowledging this leaves the reader with a false impression.

4. Finally, the opposition to TCR includes two powerful Republican Congressmen from Texas, one of whom chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. If you don’t think it’s possible that Rep. Kevin Brady could slip a rider into the budget that guts Texas Central, much like Rep. John Culberson did to Metro and the Universities line, you’ve got an insufficiently active imagination.

Other than that, it was a fine article.

And as if to prove my point, we have this.

The Texas Senate’s chief budget writers Wednesday added a provision to its proposed state budget aimed at limiting state assistance in a private firm’s efforts to build a Dallas-Houston bullet train.

The budget rider approved by the Senate Finance Committee would prohibit the Texas Department of Transportation from spending funds to help plan, build or operate a high-speed train.

The company developing a 205-mph bullet train between Dallas and Houston called the language a “job killer.” Texas Central Partners has vowed it won’t take any state funds to develop the 240-mile line between Texas’ two largest metropolitan areas. But, the company said, it still needs to work with state transportation officials.

“Texas Central engineers and employees need to be able to coordinate with TxDOT on the planning, engineering and construction of the high-speed train to accommodate the state’s growth,” said in a statement released by the company Wednesday.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, denied that the budget rider he wrote was meant to kill the project.

“If we are being told that this is never going to take any bailouts, they need to put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

A similar amendment nearly killed the project two years ago, but was eventually omitted from the state’s final budget.

See here and here for the background. Note that it was Sen. Schwertner who tried this trick in 2015 as well. We’ll see what happens with it. I trust you see my point about why this article sucked.

Here come the anti-Texas Central bills

From the inbox:

[Tuesday], a group of key state lawmakers filed a slate of legislation to push back against Texas Central Railway’s controversial proposal to construct a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. Senators Birdwell (R-Granbury), Creighton (R-Conroe), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Perry (R-Lubbock), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined with Representatives Ashby (R-Lufkin), Bell (R-Magnolia), Cook (R-Corsicana), Schubert (R-Caldwell), and Wray (R-Waxahachie) to file a total of 18 bills addressing a number of concerns ranging from protecting landowners threatened by eminent domain abuse to ensuring the state isn’t later forced to bail out the private project with taxpayer dollars.


The following bills were filed this morning:

SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell (Railroad Determination Before Surveys) – prohibits a private high-speed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.

SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook (Option Contract Protection) – voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity.

SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) – provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private high-speed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies.

SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby (No Taxpayer Bailout) – prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas.

SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 Bell (Property Restoration Bond) – requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.

SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook (Right of Repurchase for Non-HSR Use) – prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail. If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given the opportunity to repurchase the land.

SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert (Put Texas First) – prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds. Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor.

SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray (Interoperability) – requires an entity constructing a high-speed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology.

SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby (High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study) – upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project. The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities.

The full press release is here, and a Chron story about it is here. I was expecting some bills to be filed for the purpose of throwing sand in TCR’s gears, but this was more than I expected. Still, the basic dynamics of this fight have not changed as far as I can tell. The legislators leading it are primarily rural – even the ones who are based in suburban areas represent a lot of rural turf as well – and there are only so many of them. I’ve yet to see any legislator from a big urban area sign on to this. Which is not to say that at least some of them won’t go along with their rural colleagues, especially the urban Republicans, but that’s the ground on which this battle will be fought and won. If these legislators can convince enough of their urban colleagues to join them, then TCR is in a world of hurt. If not – if TCR can hold on to the urbanites – then it can survive the session and maybe get to a point where actual construction begins. Getting one or more of Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Joe Straus, and Ken Paxton to pick a side would help that faction greatly as well. Keep an eye on these bills as the committee hearings get off the ground. The DMN has more.

Three bad bills

Bad bill #1:

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, has been trying for months to pass legislation that would make it tougher for local entities to bring in more tax revenue by taking advantage of rising property values.

On Thursday, he managed to add language to a bill from state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, that could do just that, though not as severely as many local officials had feared.

Creighton’s bill,, aims to make the administration of local property taxes more transparent with provisions such as directing the comptroller to publish a ranking of property tax rates statewide and requiring local entities to justify future tax increases on election notices and ballots.

Under Bettencourt’s amendment, 60 percent of the members of a city, county, school district or other local entity’s governing body would have to approve a property tax rate that brings in more revenue from existing homes and businesses than was collected in the previous year — a metric known as “the effective tax rate.” Currently, approval of a simple majority of a local governing board is all that is needed.


The Texas Municipal League, which counts more than 1,000 Texas cities among its members, first heard rumors about Bettencourt’s amendment Thursday morning, and began lobbying senators against it, fearing that it was an attempt to pass his revenue cap bill, according to to executive director Bennett Sandlin.

The actual amendment language could pose problems for some local entities, Sandlin said. But he stopped short of promising that the municipal league would work to kill it in the House.

“We’re still digesting,” Sandlin said. “It’s not a full-blown revenue cap so I don’t want to say we’re going to go to the mat on this.”

Sandlin argued that the amendment should have been vetted more thoroughly by the Senate.

“It was never in a bill and it never had a hearing,” Sandlin said.

Bad bill #2:

Legislation that would upend the legal process in Texas to allow the attorney general to have a three-judge panel to decide cases with statewide implications, rather than a single district judge, was approved Thursday by the state Senate after a lengthy and pitched debate.

Senate Bill 455 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would allow the attorney general to request the Texas Supreme Court’s chief justice to form a panel of judges to hear any cases filed in a district court in which the state is a defendant.

School finance and redistricting were two examples cited as among the types of cases that could be covered by the change, which supporters argued was needed to keep one county from steering the outcome of important cases that affects all of Texas.

“When one county is given that much control, it effectively disenfranchises voters of the other 253 counties who did not vote for that district court judge,” Creighton said. “We’ve seen a 40-year saga in and out of court on school finance. We have one trial court that hears that case and it is reviewed on appeal by the Supreme Court based on parameters and decisions set by that court. It would be better representation across the state to allow a process where other judges are involved in decisions of that magnitude.”


Under the bill, a single state district judge still could hear cases with statewide impact, unless the attorney general requested a three-judge panel. A state district judge and an appellate judge from elsewhere in Texas would join the original district judge in hearing the case.

“It sounds totally unnecessary, since those cases go directly on appeal to the Supreme Court that is 100 percent Republican,” said F. Scott McCown, a University of Texas law professor and former Austin district judge who heard school finance cases between 1990 and 2002. “It will be more costly and slower to have three judges on a trial. Three-judge panels are very awkward and inefficient.”

And if lawmakers think they might get a different outcome with a three-judge panel, McCown and other legal experts noted that the Texas Supreme Court has ruled against the state in five of the six of the school-finance cases since 1984.

Bad bill #3:

Texas is poised to widen its welcome mat to a wide range of industries.

Claiming that the state’s bureaucracy is shooing away businesses, House lawmakers on Thursday night gave initial approval to a bill aiming to quicken regulators’ pace of cranking out permits for major industrial projects – by limiting public scrutiny.

Over the objections of consumer groups and environmentalists, the chamber tentatively passed Senate Bill 709, which would scale back contested-case hearings, a process that allows the public to challenge industrial applications for permits at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) – such as those allowing wastewater discharges or air pollution emissions.

Texas’ current bureaucracy puts the state at a “serious disadvantage” compared to its neighbors, said Rep. Geanie Morrison, R-Victoria, adding that her legislation would give businesses more certainty.

Already approved by the Senate, the measure sailed through the House by a 92-50 margin after Democrats put up a roughly 90-minute fight, arguing that lawmakers were poised to squelch the voices of their constituents.

“This bill is very, very serious,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, who saw his and other proposed amendments to soften the bill shot down. “You will have to explain to your constituents why you have taken away their right, why you have enhanced their burden and why you have stripped them of protection.”

Contested case hearings resemble a trial in which companies and their critics present evidence and testimony in front of an administrative law judge in the hopes of swaying regulators, who have the final say. For particularly complicated – and controversial – industrial projects, the process can yield information that the short-staffed TCEQ did not foresee.

Protesters rarely convince regulators or a company to completely withdraw a permit application, but veterans of the process say they often win concessions that shrink a plant or landfill’s effects on the community.


Less than 1 percent of permit applications ever draw a contested-case hearing.

Of 1,960 waste, water and air permit applications filed with TCEQ last year, for instance, the commission granted hearings to just 10, according to an analysis of public records by the advocacy group Public Citizen. The agency confirmed those numbers to The Texas Tribune.

The analysis also found that Texas typically processes air quality permits faster than Arkansas, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Colorado and even Louisiana.

I grouped these three bills together because they neatly encapsulate two of the main Republican priorities for this session: Partisan advantage and stomping on local control. Bettencourt’s amendment to Creighton’s bill, which as the story notes is at least not his infamous revenue cap bill, is both an ideological obsession on his part, and a nuisance bit of effluvia that in the end may not make much difference. The city of Houston hasn’t raised its property tax rate in my memory; thanks to its own stupid revenue cap, it may never be able to do so again. HISD raised its lower-than-most property tax rate in 2014 as it said it would as part of the 2012 bond referendum. That passed on a 7-1 vote, so it would have easily cleared the higher bar. As far as counties go, remember that they all have four-member Commissioners Courts plus a County Judge. To pass anything requires either a 3-2 or 3-1 vote depending on whether the Judge votes or not, and all of those are 60% or better. I’m sure this will have some effect somewhere, but here in Houston? Probably not much.

The contested case hearing bill, like the anti-fracking-ban bill, is an example of what happens when the state fails to uphold its responsibilities to the people. Just as there would be no demand in cities to regulate fracking within their limits if the Railroad Commission wasn’t such an industry lapdog, neither would there be much demand for contested case hearings if the TCEQ were worth a damn. The folks in Denton and elsewhere have done what they have done because it was the only viable option available to them. (Well, at least until enough people statewide realize that they need better and more responsive government at that level.) Now that option has been taken away, and this one may be as well. Better hope you don’t live anywhere close to a site that may someday be used for industrial purposes.

(You didn’t think I’d let these bills go by without asking once again what the Mayoral candidates think of them, did you? At least we know what Sylvester Turner thinks of the contested case bill. The Lege and TxDOT are going to have a bigger effect on the next Mayor’s tenure than any of them seem to realize right now.)

Finally, the make-school-finance-lawsuits-more-complicated bill – the story also mention redistricting litigation, but that’s usually done in federal court, and I don’t know that the state has any authority there – is another nuisance partisan bill that like Bettencourt’s amendment may wind up having little practical effect. I mean, if the Supreme Court upholds Judge Dietz’s latest ruling, can anyone claim that politics was a factor? I would also note that it is entirely within the Legislature’s power to ensure that there are no more school finance lawsuits ever again. All they have to do is a better job funding the schools.

Opposition to the high speed rail line gets organized

You had to figure something like this was coming. I was recently informed of, and I’ll let them introduce themselves:

Texas Central Railway (TCR), a Japanese funded Texas-based private railroad company, is set to build and operate a high speed train system from Dallas to Houston. With stations slated only at the ends of the line, the train will run at over 200 mph through some of Texas’ most beautiful farmland, marring the landscape and tranquility of our great state, as well as displacing families and disrupting farming and ranching operations. Closer into the terminating cities, historic neighborhoods and small businesses will be affected in irreparable ways. Property value loss, probable tax hikes to offset lost revenue from lowered property values, property loss, environmental impacts, lack of economic benefit and noise/vibration disruptions will all impact the lives of so many Texans.

We all oppose the current primary and secondary routes being selected by Texas Central Railway. Help us save our homes and farmland from this high speed train by voicing your opposition!

Their Facebook page is here. While rural counties have been resistant to the high speed rail line for some time now, the focal point of the opposition appears to be in Montgomery County, as This story linked from the Facebook page illustrates:

More than 800 people packed the Lone Star Community Center in Montgomery Monday night to learn what they can do to stop a proposed multibillion-dollar high-speed rail route that would cut through West Montgomery County and connect Houston with Dallas.

According to local legislators and county elected officials, the Texas Central Railway, a private company planning the high-speed rail, has the power of eminent domain to make the project happen.

“This is one of the biggest threats to the county I have seen in years,” former Montgomery County Judge Alan B. Sadler told the crowd. “It’s extreme, ladies and gentlemen.”


“I am not a happy camper,” said state Rep. Will Metcalf, R-Conroe, adding he is frustrated by the lack of transparency on the project. “They are moving forward and we need your help.

“I don’t believe private enterprise should have eminent domain power. In regard to the 10th Amendment, I talked a lot about this during my campaign; we are living it here today. Federal overreach, they are bypassing us at the state, the county, and that is not OK.”

Metcalf urged residents to contact U.S Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

“When Montgomery County is joined together, we are unstoppable,” Metcalf said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley told the crowd that even though the project would cut through his precinct, he has not been contacted by TCR about the rail line. He said he is determined to stop the project.

“Whatever we need to do to stay united and stay strong, we will support it to make sure this doesn’t happen,” Riley said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador said while Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a resolution late last year that it did not support the project, he added it is time for the court to readdress that resolution and “toughen it up.”

I’ve discussed the Montgomery County issues before. At one point, Montgomery County Commissioners Court passed a resolution saying they would oppose any alignment that didn’t include the I-45 corridor. The impression I get now is that the locals there would prefer to try to kill project altogether. They’ve started collecting the support of elected officials to back them up. A story in the Leader News from a couple of weeks ago that as far as I know never appeared online mentioned three State Senators that have signed a letter to TxDOT opposing the use of eminent domain and any state funds for this project – Sen. Lois Kolkhorst was one, Sen. Brandon Creighton was another, and (oops!) I can’t remember the third. There’s a great irony here in that one of the selling points of the TCR approach has been that by not seeking public money for the rail line they can avoid a lot of the political battles and streamline the process. That sure doesn’t appear to be the case any more.

Meanwhile, the Houston-based opposition is still looking for alternate routes.

So what is the alternative? Civic leaders from the neighborhoods under threat from the two proposed routes have joined together to chart a better way forward, seeking solutions that will allow high-speed rail to serve Houston without blighting residential neighborhoods – theirs or anyone else’s. This inter-neighborhood working group has put forward two suggested approaches.

The first is to terminate the line outside Houston’s central business district, at a location such as the Northwest Transit Center, an idea that Texas Central Railroad itself has floated. Unlike many other cities, Houston has multiple commercial centers, and much of the potential ridership here is located west and northwest of downtown. An express bus service or a light-rail line could connect the terminus with downtown; at a public meeting last fall, a METRO spokesperson embraced the idea of providing such a connection. And terminating the high-speed rail line outside the Central Business District would avoid exacerbating traffic and parking problems the way a downtown terminus would, with riders from around the city having to travel downtown to reach it.

Alternatively, if a downtown terminus is deemed necessary, the approach to downtown should be routed not through residential neighborhoods but down highway or industrial corridors. A route along I-45 was one of the routes examined and rejected by the Federal Railroad Administration, but deserves reconsideration. A route along I-10, which Texas Central Railroad representatives have acknowledged as worthy of consideration, should also be investigated as a way to reach central Houston. Several other variations, involving the Hempstead/290 corridor, I-610 North Loop, and/or the Harris County Hardy Toll Road corridor, are worth looking into.

See here for the background. The actual route has not been determined yet, and as this statement from Texas Central, posted on the No Texas Central Facebook page, makes clear, even the two “preferred routes” that have been highlighted so far are really just corridors. We won’t have a clear idea of what we might get until the Federal Railroad Administration posts the scoping report to its website. In the meantime, there’s still a lot of opportunity to affect things. I’ll continue to keep an eye on it.

First steps in Montgomery County

You can’t win a race if you don’t have a candidate.

Michael Hayles

Democrat Michael Hayles says Montgomery County’s poor have to balance some tough choices, and he extends his arms in a rocking motion to make the point.

“Do I get cars fixed or do I buy food for my family?” Hayles said.

Hayles has been working with the poor for years and now hopes to take that experience to Austin. A candidate for the state legislature, Hayles, 58, is the only Democrat running for office in Montgomery County, one of the most conservative regions in the country.

He is also the first candidate to run against a Republican in the county in six years. No Democrat has beaten a Republican in more than two decades.

While Conroe native Will Metcalf said he is confident he can build on the momentum of his May primary victory and maintain the GOP’s winning streak, Hayles hopes to defy experts, history and fundraising barriers by getting more of those in need to vote.

“They’ve been ignored enough by local politicians,” Hayles said.

The 16th state House district, which is just north of The Woodlands and encompasses the cities of Conroe and Montgomery and communities as far east as Cut and Shoot, was represented by Brandon Creighton, who was elected to the state Senate in a special election last August.

Hayles said he plans to meet with community groups in poorer, outlying areas of the district like Dobbin and Deerwood. He tells residents that he’ll look after their interests.

The Democrat said he will focus on enabling those in need to get jobs through education and also use public dollars to invest in the area’s infrastructure. Texas’s budget surplus needs to be invested in education instead of tax breaks, he said.

Running for office at any level and in any geographic entity is difficult, but some races are tougher than others. To put this race into perspective, Bill White scored 22.48% in HD16 in 2010. Farther down the ballot, Hector Uribe, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner, scored 15.40%. Let’s just say this is a long-term project and go from there. Still, the first step on this thousand-mile journey is finding good people to take on this thankless task, and have them find and talk to the people that have been left out by the dominant political culture. I’m sure the vast majority of the people he talks to, however many of them he does get to, will not have had that experience before. That’s important, and it’s something that candidates and groups like Battleground Texas and the Texas Organizing Project can build on. I’ll be interested to see how Hayles does in comparison to that benchmark.

Like I said, Step One is to engage the people that live there and work to turn them into voters. This Chron story from a couple of weeks ago gave another peek into that in Montgomery County.

As accordion-heavy music played in the background, Lucia Mendez hunched over an electronic voting machine under a canopy, learning about the displays and controls she would see on Election Day.

Mendez, 19, said she had never voted before. But on Sunday, at a festival put on by the Montgomery County Democratic Party geared toward the region’s growing Latino population, Mendez registered to vote for the first time.

“If you want something to change you’ve got to be part of it,” Mendez said at the Conroe park where the event was held.

In one of the most conservative regions in the country, where whites dominate most political offices, community leaders say that Hispanics such as Mendez have felt perpetually disenfranchised even though they now make up one-fifth of the population.

Both major parties are trying to tap into the potential Latino voter base, with Democrats hoping they can tip the scale in a county that has been red for decades and Republicans looking to strengthen their supremacy.

Mendez said she wouldn’t commit to a party. But for Democrats in Montgomery County, just recruiting Hispanic voters like Mendez, who lives in Willis and feels strongly about immigration issues, to register is a victory.

“We want them all to come out and vote,” said Bruce Barnes, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

Over the last 15 years, the Hispanic population in the county has nearly tripled, from around 37,000 in 2000 to more than 100,000 people in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up more than 20 percent of the county of 500,000, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the most recent estimates.

Texas will be Massachusetts by the time Montgomery becomes a swing county, but that doesn’t mean efforts like these aren’t important. Turning Montgomery from a 75% GOP county to a 65% county would be a big step forward. Going back to the 2010 Governor’s race, if Bill White had lost by a 65-35 margin there, he would have netted a bit more than 25,000 extra votes. At that less hopeless level, you can seriously talk about winning municipal races, and build a bit of a bench with an eye towards a State Rep seat or a County Commissioner post. This is what the Republicans were doing all over the state forty and fifty years ago. No time like the present for the Democrats to be doing it as well.

SD04: Creighton defeats Toth

I went to bed before the final wrapup stories were written, but trust me, Rep. Brandon Creighton is now Sen. Brandon Creighton.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

In early returns in the race to succeed Sen. Tommy Williams, state Rep. Brandon Creighton was ahead of his opponent, Rep. Steve Toth,

Creighton, R-Conroe, was outpacing Toth, R-The Woodlands, for the District 4 Senate seat. It had been held by Williams for a decade before he resigned last year to become vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

Both candidates vying to replace him acknowledged the difficulty in luring voters to the polls for only a single race between two candidates, especially on a weekday in the summer. Creighton said this was the fourth time that a special election was held for a single Senate seat and the first time for a race between two Republican candidates.


[Creighton] will assume the Senate seat to complete Williams’ unexpired term through 2016.

Here are the vote totals. Creighton, who had led 45-24 after Round One, and he garnered the Chron endorsement for the runoff, was up big in early voting and cruised from there. About two thirds of the vote was cast early, so add that to your database of early voting behavior from this oddball summer special election runoff with a miniscule voter universe. In this case, form held as the candidate with the most initial support and by far the most money won easily. So congratulations to Sen.-elect Brandon Creighton. May you be a better and more constructive Senator than you were a member of the House.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Creighton

Hey, did you know that there’s an election coming up? It’s the special election runoff for SD04 to succeed Tommy Williams and it features the ghastly Rep. Steve Toth and the slightly less ghastly Rep. Brandon Creighton. The Chron, who had endorsed third-place finisher Gordy Bunch back in April, now chooses the lesser evil of Creighton in the runoff.

Rep. Brandon Creighton

To understand the difference between the two candidates seeking to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams in state Senate District 4, look at their reactions to the surge of Central American children crossing our border. For state Rep. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, it is a “full-blown humanitarian crisis.” For state Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands, it is a “full-blown invasion.”

Both men have sterling conservative credentials, but Creighton doesn’t have to tarnish children to prove his. In the runoff for the SD-4 special election, Creighton deserves voters’ support.


Creighton isn’t always the most impressive candidate, but we’ve seen him work well behind the scenes, particularly during fights last session over the state’s water funding. On the campaign trail, he’s pushed for local law enforcement to bolster Department of Public Safety efforts along the border while avoiding counterproductive fear-mongering.

In contrast, Toth spreads conspiracy theories about disease outbreaks and advocates for Montgomery County to reject temporary housing for any of the children who have made it to our border. You would expect more compassion from a former pastor.

“Sterling” isn’t perhaps the word I would have used in paragraph 2, but I will concede there’s a matter of perspective involved. As for Toth, given the state of what Fred Clark calls “white evangelical Christianity” today, I actually would not expect any more compassion from a “pastor” like him. I can think of quite a few other “pastors” right here in the Houston area with an equal lack of compassion, and I’m sure the Chron’s editorial board could as well if they put their minds to it. Be that as it may, I agree that Creighton is the less distasteful choice. Too bad we can’t do any better than that. Runoff Day is August 5, if you’re keeping score at home, with early voting set to start next week. Let’s see how many votes are needed to send one of these two to the upper chamber.

SD04 special election results

It’s Creighton versus Toth in the runoff, as expected.

Preliminary voting results show that Montgomery County state representatives Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, will face off in a June runoff for the District 4 seat. Creighton earned about 45 percent of the vote, while Toth received nearly 24 percent. Businessman Gordy Bunch took 22 percent of the vote, according to the Secretary of State website.

“We’re excited,” said Toth, a freshman tea party favorite. “This is how we thought this was going to turn out. The people of Senate District 4 want to continue this conversation.”

Creighton, who has held his current office for four terms, could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

The victor will take the place of former Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who unexpectedly resigned last October after a decade representing the district.

Experts had predicted that Creighton and Toth would be the front-runners to represent the right-leaning district, which represents nearly 816,000 residents spanning Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties.

The fourth contender for the seat was former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998.

Here are the results. Toth actually trailed Bunch by 65 votes after Early Voting but wound up ahead of him by 531. Creighton ought to be the heavy favorite in the runoff, but in low-turnout elections you can never be sure. Neither Creighton nor Toth is on the ballot for their State House seats, so the loser will stay home next year.

Early voting for SD04 special election begins today

Go make the best of the bad choices being offered.


Early voting begins Monday in a special election to fill the seat vacated last year by former state Sen. Tommy Williams.

The Woodlands Republican left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

The following month, Gov. Rick Perry issued a proclamation scheduling a special election for May 10 to determine the next state senator for District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 6.


The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bunch is the Chron-endorsed candidate, if that matters to you. From the County Clerk’s office, here’s more about the election and the early voting locations:

“Over 84,000 registered voters in Harris County are eligible to participate in the May 10, 2014 Special Election in State Senate District 4,” informed Stan Stanart, Harris County Clerk. Stanart, the chief election officer of the county, urges these voters to take advantage of the Early Voting Period which begins on April 28 for the Special Election. The Special Election is being held to fill a vacancy that was created at the end of last year.

“Harris County registered voters constitute about 18% of the almost half a million registered voters in State Senate District 4,” added Stanart. “Eligible voters may vote at any of the five early voting locations until May 6, the last day to vote early.”

Early voting locations for the May 10, 2014 Special Election to fill a vacancy in State Senate District 4 for voters in Harris County include:

1. Main Office: Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, 1st Floor, 77002 2. Far North: Champion Life Centre, 3031 FM 2920 Road, Spring, TX 77388 3. Humble: Octavia Fields Branch Library, 1503 South Houston Ave., Humble, TX 77338 4. Kingwood: Kingwood Branch Library, 4400 Bens View Lane, Kingwood, TX 77345 5. Crosby: Crosby ISD Administration Building, 706 Runneburg Road, Crosby, TX 77532

State Senate District 4 comprises part of North and Northeast Harris County, including 37% of Atascocita, 2% of Baytown, 100% of Crosby, 3% of Houston, 2% of Humble, 3% of The Woodlands and 1% of the unincorporated county. The District’s lines run through Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.

“Registered voters in Harris County have constituted 20% of the total vote in recent State Senate District 4 elections, playing a significant role in determining the outcome,” asserted Stanart. Overall, 32 of the district’s 232 voting precincts are within Harris County.

Aside from the State Senate District 4 Special Election, there are a number of elections being conducted on May 10 by School Districts, Emergency Service Districts, Municipal Utility Districts, and other political entities across Harris County. “We have populated our May 10 Election Day location lookup on with as much voting information as we could find regarding these elections,” concluded Stanart. “Even though these elections are not being administered by Harris County, it is important that we make an effort to assist voters in these political entities.”

For more election information, including the list of acceptable forms of Photo ID that can be presented to vote at the poll, voters may visit or call 713.755.6965.

Interestingly, three of the five EV locations for SD06 aren’t actually in SD04, though two of them are just outside the boundaries. I assume turnout for this election will be low, and turnout for the inevitable runoff will be lower.

Today is also the last day to register for the primary runoffs if you haven’t done so already. From Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan’s press release:

Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan reminds residents that April 28, 2014 is the last day to register to vote in the May 27, 2014 Primary Run-Off Election.

“The Primary Run-Off Election is a month away, which means the deadline to register to vote is approaching,” said Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan. “I strongly encourage everyone who is not registered to vote to do so by the April 28, 2014 deadline.”

State law requires citizens to be registered to vote 30 days prior to the election date. Residents can visit the Tax Assessor-Collector’s (TAC) Office website at to learn how to register to vote, update their address and make name changes.

Qualifications to Register to Vote:

  • You are a United States citizen and a resident of Harris County; and,
  • You are at least 17 years and 10 months old to register (to vote, you must be 18); and,
  • You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and,
  • You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

Voter registration applications can be submitted to any TAC office branch location before 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 28th or mailed with a U.S. Postal Service postmark date of no later than April 28, 2014. For more information, please call 713-368-VOTE (8683) or email

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan also serves as the Harris County Voter Registrar, which conducts voter registration activities and maintains a certified list of registered voters. Learn more by visiting

As of when I wrote this, information about early voting for the May 27 primary runoff was not available on the Clerk’s website. I’m not sure if it’ll be seven days of early voting or five days, but I guess we’ll find out, probably after May 10. In any event, I presume everyone reading this is already registered, but if you know someone who isn’t, tell them to get cracking on it.

Oh yeah, that other election

We’ve had the primary, and we’ll have the runoff in late May. In between, there’s the special election in SD04 to replace Tommy Williams.

Tommy Williams

Overshadowed by a heated primary season, a special election will be held on May 10 in Harris and four surrounding counties to determine the next state senator from District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins April 28 and ends May 6.

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: Former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Willliams, R-The Woodlands, left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as the vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.


With four credible candidates, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said “a runoff is pretty much in the cards.”

A summertime election, guaranteed to have extremely low turnout, will benefit the candidate who voters believe is the most conservative, Rottinghaus said, an advantage he gives to Toth. The tea party favorite is known for unseating 10-year incumbent Republican Rob Eissler in 2012.

Although Creighton has a larger war chest and more experience in office, having won three House terms, Rottinghaus said some anti-establishment voters may be turned off by his caucus leadership position. That is because they may link him to House Speaker Joe Straus, who handily won his party nomination March 4 but frequently has to defend himself against charges he is too moderate.

Toth is seen as “kind of more an insurgent and, perhaps, more conservative than Creighton,” Rottinghaus said. “We are splitting hairs here, though, because I think they’re both probably equally conservative.”

[Rice PoliSci professor Mark] Jones, who has analyzed Toth’s and Creighton’s voting histories from the 2013 legislative session, said the two fell side-by-side on his ranking, which placed both of them solidly among the two dozen most conservative Republicans in the House.

While describing the race as “evenly matched” between the two men, who voluntarily resigned their House seats after entering the race, Jones gives the advantage to Creighton because of his money, more than $1 million, and experience.

Here are the January finance reports for each candidate:

Toth – $123K on hand
Creighton – $1 million on hand
Galloway – Less than $1K on hand
Bunch – $274K on hand, including $250K loan

They will have to file 30 day and 8 day reports as well.

As far as the race itself goes, it’s a measure of how degraded Republican politics have become that a person like me finds himself mourning the loss of a guy like Tommy Williams. Williams used to occupy a comfortable space on the right-hand end of the conservative spectrum, but his performance as Senate Finance Committee Chair showed him to be generally sane. When one considers that the top candidates to replace him are the secession sympathizer Creighton and the troglodyte Toth, one begins to see the appeal. Given that I know nothing about Galloway and Bunch, I’d probably have a slight preference for Creighton as the marginally less offensive alternative, but honestly it’s like being asked to pick my favorite Kardashian. Any way you look at it, you lose. I hope to live long enough to see the day when elections between Republicans can be about issues and solutions and not just a grunting contest among trolls, but that day isn’t here yet.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County legislative candidates


This could take awhile, and that’s with me limiting myself to contested races. First, the Senate.

Brandon Creighton
Steven Toth

Paul Bettencourt
James Wilson
Jim Davis

John Whitmire
Damian LaCroix
Ron Hale

Joan Huffman
Derek Anthony
Rita Lucido

Here’s a summary chart. For the record, Davis, Whitmire, LaCroix, and Lucido are all Dems, the rest are Rs.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Creighton SD04 296,267 205,591 1,002,464 Toth SD04 107,752 48,048 123,116 Bettencourt SD07 140,100 55,873 103,041 Wilson SD07 7,675 5,129 3,224 Davis SD07 1,250 1,250 0 Whitmire SD15 298,874 148,973 6,978,885 LaCroix SD15 16,329 33,866 0 Hale SD15 123 1,441 123 Huffman SD17 136,600 91,142 701,583 Anthony SD17 0 0 0 Lucido SD17 41,625 10,489 29,829

Technically, SD04 is not on the ballot. It’s now a vacant seat due to the resignation in October of Tommy Williams, and the special election to fill it has not been set yet; I presume it will be in May. Reps. Creighton and Toth aren’t the only announced candidates, but they both have the right amount of crazy, and at least in Creighton’s case plenty of money as well. It’s a statement on how far our politics have gone that I find myself sorry to see Tommy Williams depart. He was awful in many ways, but as the last session demonstrated, when push came to shove he was fairly well grounded in reality, and he did a more than creditable job as Senate Finance Chair. I have no real hope for either Creighton or Toth to meet that standard, and the Senate will get that much stupider in 2015.

Paul Bettencourt can go ahead and start measuring the drapes in Dan Patrick’s office. I honestly hadn’t even realized he had a primary opponent till I started doing this post. The only questions is in what ways will he be different than Patrick as Senator. Every once in awhile, Patrick landed on the right side of an issue, and as his tenure as Public Ed chair demonstrated, he was capable of playing well with others and doing collaborative work when he put his mind to it. Doesn’t come remotely close to balancing the scales on him, but one takes what one can. Bettencourt is a smart guy, and based on my own encounters with him he’s personable enough to fit in well in the Senate, likely better than Patrick ever did. If he has it in mind to serve the public and not just a seething little slice of it, he could do some good. The bar I’m setting is basically lying on the ground, and there’s a good chance he’ll fail to clear it. But there is some potential there. It’s all up to him.

I don’t have anything new to add to the SD15 Democratic primary race. I just don’t see anything to suggest that the dynamic of the race has changed.

I hadn’t realized Joan Huffman had a primary challenger until I started this post. Doesn’t look like she has much to worry about. I’m very interested to see how Rita Lucido does with fundraising. Senators don’t usually draw serious November challengers. The district is drawn to be solidly Republican, but Lucido is the first opponent Huffman has had since the 2008 special election runoff. I’m very curious to see if Lucido can at least begin to close the gap.

On to the House:

Sheryl Berg
Briscoe Cain
Mary Huls
Jeffrey Larson
Chuck Maricle
Dennis Paul
Brent Perry
John Gay

Alma Allen
Azuwuike Okorafor

Michael Franks
Ann Hodge
Justin Perryman
Mike Schofield
Luis Lopez

Jim Murphy
Laura Nicol

Sarah Davis
Bonnie Parker
Alison Ruff

Gary Elkins
Moiz Abbas

Gene Wu
Morad Fiki

Dwayne Bohac
Fred Vernon

Mary Ann Perez
Gilbert Pena

Carol Alvarado
Susan Delgado

Jessica Farrar
Chris Carmona

Hubert Vo
Al Hoang
Nghi Ho

Debbie Riddle
Tony Noun
Amy Perez

HDs 129 and 132 are open. Each has multiple Republicans, all listed first in alphabetical order; the Dem in each race is listed at the end. In all other districts the incumbent is first, followed by any primary opponents, then any November opponents. I will note at this point that the last time I mentioned HD129, I wrote that Democratic candidate John Gay appeared to me to be the same person that had run in CD14 in 2012 as a Republican, based on what I could and could not find on the Internet. Two Democrats in HD129 contacted me after that was published to assure me that I had gotten it wrong, that there were two completely different individuals named John Gay, and that the one running as a Dem in HD129 was truly a Democrat. While I was never able to speak to this John Gay myself to ascertain that with him – I left him two phone messages and never got a call back – other information I found based on what these folks told me convinced me they were right and I was mistaken. That post was corrected, but I’m pointing this out here for those of you who might not have seen that correction.

With that out of the way, here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Berg - R HD129 28,101 13,597 29,530 Cain - R HD129 17,246 9,614 4,131 Huls - R HD129 1,254 3,784 1,969 Larson - R HD129 325 1,130 4,226 Maricle - R HD129 3,520 30,207 879 Paul - R HD129 14,495 19,436 95,058 Perry - R HD129 51,297 19,100 52,687 Gay - D HD129 0 1,221 778 Allen - D HD131 8,877 13,662 21,573 Okorafor - D HD131 0 1,689 0 Franks - R HD132 0 4,604 43,396 Hodge - R HD132 51,330 19,741 41,925 Perryman - R HD132 26,550 7,178 30,788 Schofield - R HD132 43,665 15,449 45.454 Lopez - D HD132 Murphy - R HD133 102,828 44,004 184,174 Nicol - D HD133 2,380 750 1,640 Davis - R HD134 171,990 70,369 145,561 Parker - R HD134 0 10,213 10,161 Ruff - D HD134 0 750 0 Elkins - R HD135 28,150 17,136 331,672 Abbas - D HD135 0 0 0 Wu - D HD137 15,390 20,439 11,641 Fiki - R HD137 2,320 167 2,320 Bohac - R HD138 35,975 45,797 14,168 Vernon - D HD138 500 0 500 Perez - D HD144 18,400 23,705 34,386 Pena - R HD144 0 750 0 Alvarado - D HD145 51,915 6,585 54,035 Delgado - D HD145 0 750 0 Farrar - D HD148 37,771 6,739 75,861 Carmona - R HD148 325 883 2,442 Vo - D HD149 7,739 9,129 20,935 Hoang - R HD149 4,550 17,550 4,222 Ho - R HD149 4,198 1,211 3,736 Riddle - R HD150 23,200 15,327 61,809 Noun - R HD150 16,879 83,388 43,490 Perez - D HD150 3,139 452 116

I’m not going to go into much detail here. Several candidates, especially in the GOP primary in HD129, have loaned themselves money or are spending personal funds on campaign expenses. If you see a big disparity between cash on hand and the other totals, that’s usually why. I’m impressed by the amount Debbie Riddle’s primary challenger is spending, though I have no idea whether it will have an effect or not. I’m as impressed in the opposite direction by Bonnie Parker in HD134. Maybe she’s just getting warmed up, I don’t know. I figure her 8 day report will tell a more interesting story. What catches your eye among these names and numbers?

House Republicans reject Medicaid expansion

But that’s not quite the end of the story.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

House Republicans on Monday agreed not to expand Medicaid as called for under the federal Affordable Care Act — but left the door open to doing so if the Obama administration grants Texas enough flexibility.

“The current path as proposed is unsustainable from a fiscal standpoint,” said caucus chairman Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe. He said the caucus would continue to “propose solutions on the issue, which we’re formulating and will continue to do so throughout the session.”

Several Republican-led states have in recent weeks reached compromises with the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage to poor adults. Arkansas, for example, has received permission to use Medicaid expansion financing to subsidize private health coverage for individuals who would qualify for Medicaid under the expansion.

“State by state we’re going to study what every state proposes and compare it to what’s best for Texas,” Creighton said. “We are Texas, so we are very different. We’re not making a blanket statement or a hard position on anything.”


Some of the solutions Creighton said GOP lawmakers are considering include implementing co-pays to hold Medicaid enrollees fiscally responsible for their care or using the expansion funds to help subsidize private health coverage for poor Texans — similar to what Arkansas is considering.

The Arkansas option has its share of flaws – it’s likely to be more expensive up front, and in the longer term, especially once the federal match drops below 100% – but it’s a viable path forward that would cover a lot of people and would have a few advantages over traditional Medicaid. I haven’t seen any reaction to the Arkansas plan yet from Democratic leaders on health care, so there may be some gotcha I’m not aware of and I may be speaking out of school, but if the Lege pursues something like this I will consider it to be real progress. But first the Republicans have to decide what they want, and then they have to sell the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services that they’re serious. They don’t have a plan yet, so this is all theoretical anyway. Even if they get to the point of formulating a plan and advancing a bill, there’s still the little matter of Rick Perry.

“I’ve known Rick Perry for a long time and there’s nothing to make me believe that he’ll back down,” said Sen. Bob Deuell, a family doctor and Greenville Republican.

Another GOP physician-legislator, Rep. John Zerwas of Richmond, said it would be folly for lawmakers to support expanding Medicaid without first addressing Perry’s demands that the federal government allow Texas to administer the program the way the state wants.

“For us to try to move something at this end that isn’t going to incorporate any kind of flexibility in the program, he’s made it very clear that he would veto something like that,” said Zerwas, chief writer of the House’s budget for Medicaid and social services.

On Tuesday, supporters of the Medicaid expansion will march and rally at the Texas Capitol. On Monday, the House’s GOP caucus hurriedly met and pushed back, calling for continued resistance. In a closed-door meeting, the 95-member caucus supported Perry’s stand and voted overwhelmingly for a motion to reject the Medicaid expansion “as proposed” in the federal law.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham said House Republicans want to see “if we can work out a Texas-centric solution.” But she said House lawmakers are just starting to confer and are nowhere close to putting an alternative proposal to the Obama administration.

“The vote in the caucus reflects the governor’s current position,” said Kolkhorst, who heads the House Public Health Committee. Asked if House Republicans differ at all from Perry on Medicaid expansion, she replied, “I wouldn’t say there’s any daylight now.”

So don’t get your hopes up just yet. There’s still no evidence that the Republicans really care about this problem; they certainly don’t care enough to push Perry on it. While we sit around waiting for them to begin to care, people will die. “Pro-life”, my rear end.

January finance reports for area legislative offices

Just to complete the tour of semiannual finance reports, here’s a look at the cash on hand totals for area legislators. First up, the Harris County House delegation.

Patricia Harless, HD126 – $308,221

Dan Huberty, HD127 – $69,058

Wayne Smith, HD128 – $218,425

John Davis, HD129 – $99,962

Allen Fletcher, HD130 – $46,559

Alma Allen, HD131 – $33,479

Bill Callegari, HD132 – $315,904

Jim Murphy, HD133 – $103,538

Sarah Davis, HD134 – $59,871

Gary Elkins, HD135 – $337,111

Gene Wu, HD137 – $32,504

Dwayne Bohac, HD138 – $28,286

Sylvester Turner, HD139 – $404,829

Armando Walle, HD140 – $72,571

Senfronia Thompson, HD141 – $345,547

Harold Dutton, HD142 – $85,127

Ana Hernandez Luna, HD143 – $111,652

Mary Ann Perez, HD144 – $118,832

Borris Miles, HD146 – $54,485

Garnet Coleman, HD147 – $173,683

Jessica Farrar, HD148 – $65,005

Hubert Vo, HD149 – $52,341

Debbie Riddle, HD150 – $67,757

I skipped Carol Alvarado in HD145 since we already know about her. Sarah Davis just finished running an expensive race – she got a much tougher challenge for her first re-election than either of her two most recent predecessors, so she didn’t get to build a cushion. I’m sure she’s start rattling the cup as soon as session is over and the moratorium is lifted. Borris Miles and Huber Vo do a fair amount of self-funding. Gary Elkins and Bill Callegari are in the two Republican held seats that were more Democratic in 2012 than their 2008 numbers suggested. Beyond that, nothing really remarkable. Here’s a look at the representatives from neighboring counties:

Cecil Bell, HD03 – $27,712

Steven Toth, HD15 – $25,832

Brandon Creighton, HD16 – $360,842

John Otto, HD18 – $480,066

Craig Eiland, HD23 – $92,623

Greg Bonnen, HD24 – $47,123

Dennis Bonnen, HD25 – $370,909

Rick Miller, HD26 – $30,561

Ron Reynolds, HD27 – $6,654

John Zerwas, HD28 – $470,622

Phil Stephenson, HD85 – $14,209

Ed Thompson, HD29 – $92,008

Bell, Toth, and Creighton represent Montgomery County – Bell in part, Toth and Creighton in full. Bell’s district also covers Waller County. Eiland is parts of Galveston and all of Chambers, while Greg Bonnen has the rest of Galveston. Eiland has two reports, both of which are linked with the sum of the two as his cash total. Dennis Bonnen and Ed Thompson share Brazoria County. Miller, Reynolds, and Zerwas are in Fort Bend, along with a chunk of Stephenson’s district. John Otto represents Liberty County, among others. Bell, Thompson, and Greg Bonnen are all ParentPAC candidates. Until such time as Democrats are in a position to retake, or at least come close to retaking, a majority in the Lege, sanity on public education is going to depend in no small part on people like them. I truly hope they’re up to that, because the ones that were there in 2011 sure weren’t. Of course, the more reasonable they are the more likely they’ll get teabagged by doofus chuckleheads like Steve Toth, who took out the unquestionably conservative but generally fact-based Rob Eissler last year. Not that Eissler distinguished himself last session, but still. You can perhaps see some higher ambitions in Creighton and Zerwas’ numbers – I have a feeling Zerwas will be very interested in Glenn Hegar’s Senate seat if Hegar makes a statewide run as some people think he will. I wouldn’t be surprised if Creighton has his eyes on CD08 someday.

And finally, the Senate:

Tommy Williams, SD04 – $1,164,109

Dan Patrick, SD07 – $1,485,091

Larry Taylor, SD11 – $183,826

Rodney Ellis, SD13 – $2,016,660

John Whitmire, SD15 – $6,167,111

Joan Huffman, SD17 – $707,914

Glenn Hegar, SD18 – $1,617,306

Hegar drew a four year term and can thus scratch his statewide itch without giving up his Senate seat. Dan Patrick was not so lucky, poor thing. As for Whitmire, all I can say is “wow”. As much cash on hand as Rick Perry, and no reason to believe any of it will be used for a significant purpose any time soon. I don’t even know what to say.

Support Senate Concurrent Resolution 2

Until something is done at the federal level about the awful Citizens United ruling, there’s not much states can do about it. One thing they can do is tell the feds that they want them to take action against this ill-considered expansion of corporate power. State Sen. Rodney Ellis has filed Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 to do just that. Here’s the key bit:

RESOLVED, That the 83rd Legislature of the State of Texas hereby respectfully urge the Congress of the United States to propose and submit to the states for ratification an amendment to the United States Constitution that overturns Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, clearly establishing that the spending of money to influence elections shall not be construed as speech under the First Amendment and may be regulated by federal, state, or local government, and clarifying that only natural persons are protected by constitutional rights and that corporations, limited liability companies, and other artificial entities derive their rights through the legislative deliberations of Congress and the states and remain subject to regulation by the people through federal, state, or local law.

Like Rep. Brandon Creighton’s idiotic secession resolution from 2009, this carries no force of law – it’s basically a legislative petition, saying this is what we believe. Unlike Rep. Creighton’s resolution, this one is worth getting behind. You can do that by signing this petition, and of course by calling your Senator and Representative to tell him or her that you support this and would like them to do the same. It sure would be nice for Texas to send a useful and constructive message to Washington, wouldn’t it?

Another point of order delays Eissler’s school bill

HB400, the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler that among other things raises the 22:1 student:teacher limit in grades K-4, came up for debate last night after the “sanctuary cities” bill got sidetracked by a point of order. Here was the original AP story about this bill going into the debate.

Districts could increase class sizes, cut employee pay and give teachers unpaid furloughs under the bill by Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands. Schools could also wait until the end of the academic year to notify teachers that contracts won’t be renewed. Current law says teachers have to be notified 45 days before the end of the year.

GOP House leaders say the bill will free schools from state mandates while saving teacher jobs. They say districts have been begging for more leeway in dealing with lower funding because of massive budget reductions.

“These changes should have been made a long time ago,” Eissler said, citing current law that only gives school districts the option of laying off teachers.

But key teacher groups statewide say the bill will devastate educators and their ability to stay in the classroom. They say Eissler’s bill is launching an attack on educators that will result in severe pay cuts and make it even easier to fire teachers.


Teacher advocates argue that the reforms Eissler seeks should be temporary, much like a Senate bill that allows teacher furloughs and salary reductions only while the state faces a budget crisis.

Democrats in the House argued that the bill was just paving the way for legislators to continue underfunding public schools.

“This is a conciliation bill that says we are prepared to downsize and dumb down the educational system of Texas,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “It is nothing to do about quality education, nothing to do about excellence, and everything to do with us not wanting to spend one additional dollar from the rainy day fund.”

Eissler did give some ground on these points as the debate opened.

Eissler, R-The Woodlands, demonstrated he came ready to deal when he offered an amendment from the floor that kept the 22-1 class size ratio for kindergarten through fourth grade but made it significantly easier from districts to get a waiver exemption as long as they maintained a 22-1 district wide average. And teachers’ groups scored a victory when Eissler agreed to make the bills’ measures temporary — something he previously said he would not do.

“As much as I hate weakening our 22-1 law at all, all I’m saying is that if we have to do it, we should sunset it,” said state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, the author of the amendment.

Eissler initially said he believed making the measure temporary would be “creating havoc” in school districts. But after a few moments of deliberation, he approved the amendment.

That sunsetting would be for the 2014 school year. These gains did not stop the bill from being put on hold by another point of order from Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, who had previously stalled the “sanctuary cities” bill as well.

[Martinez-Fischer] objected to Eissler’s bill because the committee minutes reflect that Rep. Todd Smith, R- Euless, offered a committee substitute for the bill, but the bill printing says it was offered by Rep. Jimmy Don Aycock, R-Killeen.

“So you either have a committee meeting problem, or you have a printing problem,” Martinez Fischer said.

“But – you don’t have a chairman problem,” he said within earshot of Eissler.

The San Antonio legislator told Eissler he could have avoided the problem had only he “put in his two cents” and influenced House Speaker Joe Straus to make Martinez Fischer a chairman. Eissler and Straus are close allies.

“I’d be fixing all these bad bills,” Martinez Fischer said.

“That’s why I love Trey,” Eissler responded.

This morning, Speaker Straus upheld the point of order, saying the bill needed to be reprinted, so it will be Monday at least before it can come back to the floor. Seems like some Republicans must have been expecting this, because many of them didn’t show up on Saturday, enough to endanger the quorum in the House. Despite some frayed tempers, it appears that the House did indeed still have a quorum, and after a motion to stifle debate, the House rammed through the so-called “loser pays” rule, which was the most recent “emergency” declared by Rick Perry, then finally adjourned for the weekend. Monday is going to be a lot of fun.

You say “succeed”, I say “secede”


Lawmakers in the Texas House sent the U.S. Congress a message on Saturday to mind its own business.

But just so no one gets the wrong message, House Concurrent Resolution 50 now says that Texas is still proud to be part of the U.S. of A.

The resolution “is about succeeding in the union, not seceding from the union,” said Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, the resolution’s author. “It is not a slap. It is a reminder.”

Creighton objects to Congress handing down unfunded mandates, exploding the federal deficit and the intruding into the state’s authority.

The measure, which passed 99 to 36, reaffirms the state’s sovereignty and its rights under the 10th Amendment.


Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, cautioned that Texans need to be careful when talking about “state’s rights.”

“Growing up in the South, there are certain words that bring up certain emotions,” Coleman said, emotions connected to the denial of rights.

More here, here, and here. What a pointless waste of time. To all the Democrats who voted for this, I say way to hand Governor Perry a PR victory.

RIP, statewide smoking ban

I thought it still had a chance after it finally passed out of committee in the Senate, but the statewide smoking ban is officially dead.

[State Sen. Rodney] Ellis held a press conference to announce the death of the statewide smoking ban in public facilities and indoor workplaces after it failed to get enough Senate support.

The announcement comes at the end of a dramatic last minute push over the last two days by Ellis and others, notably Rep. Carol Alvarado who got one bended knee and pleaded with Sen. Mario Gallegos to change his “no” vote. “If you watch the tape you’ll either think I’m a dancer or I was working votes,” said Ellis. “I can assure you, I had very little to dance about.”

Yesterday, Ellis said he was at 20 votes in the Senate, just one short of the 21 needed to bring a bill to the floor. But, things changed between the end of yesterday’s floor session and this morning. “Some of the amendments that I was inclined to take [yesterday] became even more Draconian overnight,” he said. Ellis opted to end the fight rather than “gut the bill to the point where it’s almost meaningless.”

Advocacy groups like Smoke Free Texas vows to continue their fight as they look forward to the 2011 session. “Two years from now, when the Legislature returns,” Smoke Free Texas member and government relations director for the Texas High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society James Gray said in a statement, “more states will be smoke-free, more Texas communities will have passed local moke-free ordinances – and thousands more Texans will be ill or dead from secondhand smoke exposure.”

I thought this was the year for the statewide smoking ban, but it wasn’t to be. It did get farther than last time, so you have to like its chances in 2011. Better luck then, y’all. A statement from Sen. Ellis about this is beneath the fold.

Meanwhile, in other legislative news and notes:

– The handguns-on-campus bill gets new life in the Senate after an identical House bill had been declared dead. I can’t say I’m crazy about this, but given that private schools can opt out, I’m not too worked up about it. I thought at the time of its passage that the original concealed-carry law would be a disaster, and that has not proven to be the case. I suspect in the end this will not be any different. This still has to pass the House, however, and as Floor Pass notes, it may run out of time before that happens.

– Congratulations! It’s a bouncing new state agency.

The Texas Senate, GOP-controlled and usually advocating smaller government, voted this afternoon to create a new state agency — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles — to help streamline vehicle registrations in the state.

Earlier approved by the House, the measure includes only a transfer of registrations and three other functions from the Texas Department of Transportation.

It does not include vehicle inspection and driver licensing, which legislative leaders had earlier threatened to strip from the embattled Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Maintaining these functions under the TxDOT umbrella does not allow that agency to focus on its core mission” of building and maintaining Texas’ transportation system,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the Senate sponsor of the measure. “By separating these functions into a new agency, we can more rapidly automate the process.”

In addition to the Vehicle Title and Registration Division, the new agency will include the Motor Carrier Division, the Automobile and Vehicle Theft Prevention Division and and Motor Vehicle Division, Corona said. It will not include a transfer of overweight permits.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it. I still do.

– Sen. Patrick’s slightly-watered down sonogram bill got somewhat undiluted in the House State Affairs committee. If we’re lucky, that will make it too rich to pass the Senate again.

HCR50, the states-rights resolution that Governor Perry embraced for the teabagging demonstrations, got derailed, at least for now, on a point of order.

– That burning smell you might have detected earlier today was TxDOT getting grilled by the House over HB300.

– A lot of good environmental bills are still alive.

– When you make a mistake, and you admit you’ve made a mistake, you try to fix it, right? Well, then you’re not the Texas Railroad Commission, which needs for the Lege to clean up after itself.

– And finally, it’s probably a bad idea to imply that your primary opponent’s supporters are somehow akin to prostitutes. Eileen explains. No, that’s not legislative in nature, but I couldn’t pass it up.


Perry says “Look at me!”

In advance of yesterday’s teabag-a-rama, Governor Rick Perry made a successful ploy for a little national attention.

Tue Apr 14 2009 08:44:54 ET

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry joined state Rep. Brandon Creighton and sponsors of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 50 in support of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state,” Gov. Perry said. “That is why I am here today to express my unwavering support for efforts all across our country to reaffirm the states’ rights affirmed by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I believe that returning to the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution and its essential 10th Amendment will free our state from undue regulations, and ultimately strengthen our Union.”

Perry continued: “Millions of Texans are tired of Washington, DC trying to come down here to tell us how to run Texas.”

Except for all that stimulus money that Perry cordially accepted to “promote economic growth and create jobs” (PDF) that we’re now mostly using to protect the Rainy Day Fund and to pay for our property tax cuts this biennium. We like that stuff. Oh, and we’ve only just noticed things like the expansion of the federal government and the deficit and stuff like that – we didn’t pay any attention to it before.

Actually, let me just quote The Texas Blue here:

“Unfortunately, the protections it guarantees have melted away over the course of the years…”

Governor Rick Perry, five days ago: Governor Perry Calls FEMA To Assist With Wildfires

Governor Rick Perry, last month: Governor Perry Calls For 1,000 Troops To Be Sent To Border

Governor Rick Perry, five months ago: Governor Perry Requests 18 Month Extension Of Federal Aid For Ike Debris Removal

It looks to me like the only thing that has melted away over the course of the years is any sense of decency or shame that Republicans like Governor Perry may have had at some point in their lives.

Makes you wonder who he’ll call on for help when we secede. In any event, HCR50, which is one step up legislatively from things like birthday greetings, isn’t actual legislation but a bunch of “Whereas”es followed by a couple of “Be it resolved”s – you know, like a petition – that usually gets filed and forgotten. You’d think there’d be more pressing business to attend to at this point of the session, but then you’re not Rick Perry. All I can say is that if his goal was to distract the national media from Betty Brown, or (God help us all) to draw attention to himself as a potential Republican nominee for President in 2012, he succeeded.