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Let’s have some Valdez/White runoff debates

I have three things to say about this.

Lupe Valdez

The Democratic primary runoff for governor ramped up Tuesday with a debate over debates between Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, the two candidates still standing from the nine-way primary a week ago.

Within the span of a few hours, White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, called for debates with Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, ahead of the May 22 runoff and Valdez signaled an openness to sparring but with far less urgency. White was the runner-up in the March 6 primary with 27 percent of the vote behind Valdez, who drew 43 percent.

“The party’s nominee for governor – whether it’s Lupe or I – should begin spring training now for the fall campaign against Greg Abbott,” White said in a statement. “A few debates between the two of us before the runoff would make the eventual nominee all the stronger. And who doesn’t love a good debate?”

Andrew White

As part of its response, Valdez’s campaign suggested she was amenable to debating White closer to the runoff date — and took a shot at her rival over the attention-grabbing move.

“We will be glad to work out a debate schedule when the voters become more focused on the race, but this primary won’t be won on 30-second debate responses,” Valdez spokesman Kiefer Odell said in a statement. “While we understand why someone who received such low support in most of Texas’ major urban areas and the Rio Grande Valley needs a debate to create buzz, Sheriff Valdez is focused on developing substantive relationships with voters across the state — just as she has done in Dallas County for the last 13 years.”


After the election last week, The Texas Tribune and two Austin public broadcasting stations, KUT and KLRU, offered to host a debate between Valdez and White in mid-May in Austin. Valdez has not yet agreed to it, while White has.

1. Just as a reminder, some 30% of primary voters picked someone other than Valdez and White on March 6. Some of them surely made a conscious decision to vote for one of the other candidates, but some of them just as surely picked a name more or less at random. Neither Valdez nor White has a whole lot of money right now, and neither campaign has done that much voter outreach yet. Having debates will do a lot to perform outreach to the voters who for whatever reason didn’t pick one of the frontrunners the first time around, and they’re basically free.

2. As I said before, Democrats have the only statewide runoff on the ballot as well as more Congressional runoffs. The Democratic gubernatorial runoff is the highest-profile race on the ballot right now, the only one that can claim to give a reason for everyone to vote. (Well, everyone except those who voted in the Republican primary.) Maybe this is just restating point #1, but Valdez-White debates are the best opportunity we will have to focus attention on our eventual nominee for Governor, and perhaps the only opportunity we will have to do so in a way that isn’t filtered through the default Republican perspective. This is a great gift, and both candidates should embrace it.

3. Beyond the practical concerns elections with candidate debates >>> elections without candidate debates. Yeah, sure, most debates are more about choreography and pre-packaged applause lines and zingers and whatnot. They’re still the best chance to see what a candidate looks like under pressure, and without a squadron of consultants standing by to keep them on message. Why wouldn’t we want this? Campos has more.

Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

TX-07 Progressive Candidate Policy Forum

An event of interest for folks who will have a tough decision to make in March.

TX-07 Progressive Candidate Policy Forum
Hosted by Indivisible to Flip Texas District 7

Saturday, December 2 at 2 PM – 4 PM
Cook Middle School
9111 Wheatland Dr, Houston, Texas 77064

The progressive candidates running for District 7 House of Representatives will attend this event to meet constituents and participate in a policy discussion.

Please fill out this opinion survey on your top policy issues:

Come make your voice heard. And learn how to get involved. Working together, indivisible, we can #FlipTX07.

RSVP and share this event with your friends:

This is the third Town Hall Forum by Indivisible Texas Dist. 7 and Swing Left 7, two groups of progressive Houstonians who are working to unite the voters and residents to unseat U.S. Congressman John Culberson in the mid term election. The two previous Town Halls were held in May and July with a total of about 500 folks in attendance turn out combined. All six candidates are confirmed to attend: Joshua Butler, James Cargas, Lizzie Fletcher, Laura Moser, Alex Triantaphyllis and Jason Westin. Come see who you want to be your candidate in November.

More on HISD IX, and a little on HISD VII Alief ISD

Wanda Adams

As noted before, I did not do interviews in HISD Trustee races in districts VII and IX. In VII, I did interview now-incumbent Anne Sung and challenger John Luman last year when they were running in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Harvin Moore. You can listen to those again if you want a refresher on those two candidates.

As for IX, I just could not get to it. Life is like that sometimes, I’m afraid. Thankfully, there is an opportunity for you to hear from the candidates in that race – Trustee Wanda Adams and challengers Karla Brown and Gerry Monroe – if you want. There was a debate sponsored by the Forward Times on October 4, and audio of it is available here. In addition, there were articles written about each candidate in the aftermath of the debate by debate moderator Durrel Douglas:

Part 1: Wanda Adams
Part 2: Karla Brown
Part 3: Gerry Monroe

There’s also a recap of the debate, with video embedded from the event. It’s not the same as individual interviews, but it’s a chance to see how the candidates interact with each other. Go take a look or give a listen – the audio should be available as a podcast in the 610 News feed – and see what you think.

Finally, Stace rounds up the candidates in Alief ISD. I wish I had more time to follow races in other ISDs, but alas, I don’t. These elections – for school board and for city council – will have more effect on your daily life than elections for Congress and Senate do. The latter have more power, but the former have more impact. Know who you’re voting for and why you’re voting for them.

The Commissioners Court candidates forum

El Franco Lee

On Sunday, I attended the candidate forum held by the HCDP for the people who are interested in being named to replace the late El Franco Lee on the ballot this November. The Chron has a report on it here, but I’m just going to give you my impressions of the event and the candidates.

The event started with an introduction by HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, who gave a long and obviously written by a lawyer explanation that just because someone was participating in this event does not mean that person has declared himself a candidate for the office. In fact, one doesn’t ever have to declare oneself a candidate for this office, but instead can graciously accept the spot on the ballot if the precinct chairs in their wisdom call upon one to take it. I’ll give you three guesses which candidate present for this event this was aimed at.

There were six candidates in attendance for what was to be a fairly standard candidate forum, in which a moderator (KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall) would ask questions (some prepared beforehand, some solicited from the audience) that participants would answer. Each candidate got to make a two-minute intro speech, and the questions would be assigned to two candidates each, though some of them were answered by all. Marshall picked the candidates and the order in which they responded. Overall, it went pretty well, and I’ll get to the candidates and my view of them in a minute, but first I want to share the two most important things I learned from this event.

First and foremost, if on the initial round of voting at the Precinct Executive Committee meeting on June 25 at which the nominee is picked no candidate receives a majority of the precinct chairs in attendance, then the top two will go to a runoff, to be conducted immediately following that vote. There had been a lot of confusion on that point – several people at the event asked me this specific question, which was finally answered by Gerry Birnberg after the debate part was over. He also emphasized that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, only the relevant precinct chairs in attendance at the event could vote. No proxies or phone-ins would be allowed. To say the least, that puts a lot of emphasis on the most concentrated get-out-the-vote effort you’ll ever see.

The other item had to do with the selection of candidates for the 507th Family Court and Harris County Criminal Court At Law #16, for which I’ll write a separate post. I had originally been under the impression that we would take care of all of this business on the same day, June 25. That is not the case. As Lane Lewis told me, we need to keep those things separate to ensure that only chairs in Precinct 1 are involved in the selection of the Commissioners Court nominee. The judicial nominees will be chosen five days later, at the next County Executive Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 30.

As for the candidates at this forum for this race:

Ricky Tezino: I have no idea what he was doing here.

Georgia Provost: She got a lot of audience response from making numerous provocative, mostly anti-establishment statements. That’s an interesting strategy to pursue in an election that will be decided entirely by precinct chairs, but she did have some support in the crowd. She and the other two candidates who are not current officeholders pitched themselves as scrappy outsiders not beholden to anyone who would come in and shake things up. There’s a place for that kind of candidate – City Council, for which Provost has made two recent campaigns, is one example – but I for one am not sure that’s a good idea for the lone Democrat on Harris County Commissioners Court. YMMV and all that.

DeWayne Lark: Of the three “outsider” candidates, he made the best impression on me. At one point during the forum, there was a somewhat bizarre question about the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. Georgia Provost, answering first, gave a rambling response in which it was not at all clear she understood that there was a PD’s office already and that it had been in operation for several years. Lark followed that with an unequivocal statement that we already have such an office, and the main issue with it is that judges in Harris County are not required to use it instead of the old system of assigning an attorney themselves. Lark was in general fairly well informed, he gave concise answers, and he offered the best slogan of the evening, “Come out of the dark and vote for Lark”.

Dwight Boykins: He was at his best when he was talking about the things he has done on Council and how he would implement them as a County Commissioner. He spent a lot of time talking up his second chance job programs in particular. He also had two bad moments that stuck out. Late in the forum, there was an audience-submitted question regarding HERO. Ellis gave a short answer stating his firm support for HERO. Locke also strongly supported HERO, but criticized the way the campaign in support of it was handled. Lark said something about opposing discrimination but having issues with the wording of the ordinance, which was not a good answer but at least was short. Boykins’ response began with his intent to work with Mayor Parker to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, until he started getting calls from constituents who didn’t like it, so he had to vote against it. The whole thing was a mess. Later, he walked right into the biggest haymaker of the evening, in response to a question about why were the candidates Democrats. Ellis was first, and he gave a rousing, red meat answer that got a big cheer from the crowd. Boykins followed, and after beginning by saying he was born a Democrat, he took a shot at Ellis for having previously referred to him as a Republican. Ellis responded to that by saying well, what do you call someone who votes in a Republican primary? (The crowd responded as you might expect to that.) Boykins tried to salvage things by saying he voted for Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry, and the Democrats didn’t have a candidate. The crowd didn’t appear to catch that he had just publicly overlooked Bill White in 2010, but everyone I talked to about it afterwards noticed. It was not Boykins’ finest moment.

Gene Locke and Rodney Ellis: I’m putting these two together because they both had the most visible presence at the event. They had display tables in the lobby, they brought a bunch of supporters wearing their campaign T-shirts, and more importantly, they both made it through without saying or doing anything that would make a supporter change his or her mind about them. They emphasized their experience and credentials, with Ellis making a spirited defense of his 30+ years in public office, and they both brought their A games rhetorically. The Chron story said that Locke’s discussion of his plan to help fix the streets in front of Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl was contentious, but I have to confess I missed any negative response to it from the crowd. The bottom line is that if you came in thinking these two were the frontrunners, I saw nothing in the event to change that perception.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update


Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

Time to get out the vote

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayoral debate #1

Who watched?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballot order drawn


Here is the official ballot order for City of Houston candidates this November, via Chron reporter Mike Morris on Twitter. You’re all familiar with my rant about ballot order by now – we have electronic voting machines, they should simply randomize the ballot order for each voter – so I’ll just skip it and move on. Whether anyone’s ballot position ultimately makes a difference or not – I sure hope it doesn’t, but I wouldn’t bet on it – we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that in any field with more than four candidates, I’d rather be first or last than anywhere in between.

This would be a short entry if this were all I had to say, so in the interest of filling out a proper length, here are two announcements about candidate forums. On Monday, Mental Health America of Greater Houston is hosting a Mayoral forum on behavioral health, a topic I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard much about in this election. The Houston Police Department has one of the only Mental Health Divisions in the entire country, so this is an issue that needs some public discussion. MHA of Greater Houston, NAMI of Greater Houston, the Council on Recovery, and the Houston Recovery Initiative are partnered for this event. That’s this Monday, August 31, at 6:30 PM at the University of St. Thomas, Jones Hall, 3910 Yoakum – see here for details.

Want a forum for candidates other than Mayoral candidates? On Thursday, September 3, you can attend a forum on environmental issues for At Large Council candidates, brought to you by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, League of Women Voters of Houston, and over 20 cosponsors representing environmental organizations in the Houston region, including Hermann Park Conservancy. The event is at 6 PM at the Cherie Flores Pavilion in Hermann Park, and it will be moderated by yours truly. It’s free and open to the public – see here for details. Don’t leave me hanging, come on out and hear what the candidates have to say.

TOP/SEIU Mayoral forum report

From David Ortez:

After the dust settled, the forum commenced with the hosts explaining the four pillars of their platform. It boiled down to: 1) Good Jobs; 2) Neighborhoods of Opportunity; 3) Infrastructure; and 4) Immigrant Rights. At the end of the forum, all the candidates would be asked to endorse this platform by signing a large four by five foot petition. Every candidate expect Bill King would end up signing and supporting the platform.

The first question was regarding the first 100 days as mayor. Garcia and Turner employed their well-rehearsed and appropriate non responsive answers explaining that each candidate would meet with TOP and SEIU Texas to set an agenda. Garcia stated that he would welcome and support immigrants. Turner also welcomes immigrants to our city but added that he would want to help out areas that been ignored. King, on the other hand, noted that he would address the redistribution of wealth in neighborhoods, citing the current Houston decision to spend millions on Post Oak to create a dedicated bus lane in the Galleria area. McVey stated that he would implement an Identification Card program for undocumented residents and supports a $15 minimum wage in the city. It was not clear if this minimum wage would only apply to municipal employees or all employees within the city.

The next sets of questions were addressed to each candidate individually. Garcia was hit hard for not standing up against the controversial 287(g) program as Harris County Sheriff. 287(g) allows trained local law enforcement officials to conduct immigration enforcement within their jurisdictions. In Harris County, this usually takes place when a suspect is booked after being arrested regardless of culpability. Some defendants then have an immigration hold placed, which results in deportation. Garcia began his response by reminding folks, “First and foremost, I worked as sheriff to keep people safe. I worked to get criminals off the streets.” Then, he attempted to spin the question by claiming that it only applies to criminals in jail. This is a false statement. He concluded his response by claiming to have fought against the program. How? I am not really sure.

King was asked which program he would cut first as mayor. He did not hesitate to throw the Houston Crime Lab under the bus and vowed to eliminate programs that provided duplicate services. McVey was asked to share his strategy for success as an unknown candidate; he began by explaining that he was unknown because he was not a career politician, then he cited his resume as someone that comes from the private sector that knows how to create jobs. Turner had the softer question of the group when he was asked to explain how he would improve the quality of jobs for employees. Turner took the opportunity to support a $15 minimum wage. He would also like to provide Houstonians with skills to obtain new trade jobs. He noted that not everyone is destined for college.

There’s more, including a few pull quotes from candidates that aren’t in the main body of the post, so go check it out. I couldn’t find any mainstream news coverage of this event, which focused on some issues that don’t get as much attention as others. Here’s the TOP/SEIU platform, called “Houston 4 All”, from their press release:

  • Good Jobs: A strong mayor can incentivize good jobs with living wages and benefits that enable working parents to sustain a family.
  • Neighborhoods of Opportunity: A strong mayor can lead a city-wide effort to help all of our neighborhoods not just survive, but thrive. That means focusing on areas with greatest need first, supporting minority homeownership, cleaning abandoned properties and lots, and prioritizing development projects in the most neglected neighborhoods.
  • Immigrant Rights: A strong mayor can create a municipal ID program to increase public safety and symbolically welcome, engage and include vulnerable populations who face barriers in obtaining IDs accepted by Houston authorities like the police, independent school districts and city departments.
  • Sound Infrastructure: A strong mayor can invest infrastructure dollars for drainage, street, and sidewalk improvements in areas where they are needed most.

I’m not exactly sure how some of these would translate to specific policy proposals, but David’s report gives some clues from the questions that were asked. I’ve been wondering when a higher minimum wage would come up in the conversation. How far that might get with Council I couldn’t say, but I’m glad to see it get discussed.

The other stuff that got discussed at the third forum

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

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayoral candidate forum season is underway

They talk about the arts.

Not exactly

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

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

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

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

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

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

CultureMap filled in the third question.

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

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

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

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

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

Next, they talked about the budget.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Mayoral candidate forum season gets underway

Gentlemen, start your oratorical engines for these upcoming Mayoral candidate forums.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The events, which will focus on arts and culture, economic development, and labor and community concerns, kick off a months-long cycle in which the candidates will appear before various interest groups, speaking to their specific concerns.

Wednesday’s arts forum at the Asia Society comes two days after the conclusion of this year’s legislative session in Austin and is expected to be the first time the candidates appear together since former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia entered the race.

The forum hosted by Houston Arts Alliance, Houston Museum District, Theater District Houston and Miller Outdoor Theatre begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be moderated by KTRK reporter Miya Shay.


Thursday’s forum hosted by SPARC Growth Houston, a coalition of economic development groups, will focus on the city budget and economic development. It begins at 6 p.m. at the University of Houston.


Then, on Saturday, the candidates are set to appear before area labor and community organizations for a 9 a.m. forum at Talento Bilingue.

I realize that these particular forums are tightly focused, subject-wise. Nonetheless, as a public service, I offer to the moderators of these forums and any and all future forums, the following questions that I think these candidates should be asked.

1. What is your opinion of the plan TxDOT has put forward to remake I-45 from Beltway 8 into downtown? Have you taken the opportunity to submit feedback to them via their website? The deadline for such feedback is today/was May 31.

2. During the legislative session there was a bill by Rep. Chris Paddie that would have provided a regulatory framework for “rideshare” services like Uber and Lyft to operate anywhere in Texas. In the bill’s initial form, these regulations would have superseded local rideshare ordinances, though after pushback from cities Rep. Paddie agreed to make some changes. What was your opinion of Rep. Paddie’s rideshare bill? Should the state of Texas be the one to regulate these services? Did you contact Rep. Paddie and/or your own Representative to express your opinion on this bill?

3. Texas Central Railway is currently going through the federal environmental review process to get clearance to build a privately-funded high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas. One of the things they are trying to decide is where to put the Houston terminal for this line. Their original plan was for it to be downtown, but they have encountered strong resistance from the neighborhoods that it might have to pass through (there are two possible routes), who object to elevated trains so close to their homes. An alternative now being discussed is for the station to be located at the Northwest Transit Center, though downtown and some other possibilities are still on the table. Where do you believe the Houston terminal for this high speed rail line, for which construction may begin as soon as 2017, should be? Have you gone to any of TCR’s public meetings, or provided feedback to them in any form?

4. As you know, the city received several proposals in response to its RFP for a “one bin for all” solution for solid waste management. These proposals, which are still being evaluated by the city, would require new technology and a substantial investment by a private company. The city has said that if the idea turns out to be infeasible, it will not pursue it. Mayor Parker has said that one way or another, this will be a task for the next Mayor to finish. What is your opinion of the “one bin for all” idea? Would your preference be for the city to pursue it or drop it?

I really really look forward to hearing some answers to these questions, whether next week or sometime soon thereafter.

Comptroller candidates will debate

It’s a trend!

Mike Collier

Mike Collier

Candidates in the race for state comptroller have agreed to one televised debate, though watching the debate requires a Time Warner Cable subscription fo North Texas viewers.

Mike Collier, a Democrat from Houston, and Sen. Glenn Hegar, a Katy Republican, will face off 7 p.m., Oct. 29 in Austin. The 30-minute debate is sponsored by Time Warner Cable News. It will be broadcast to the Austin, San Antonio and Hill Country media markets.

The debate will be viewable statewide through the TWC’s On Demand service, as well as online here:

As chief financial officer, the comptroller’s office collects all taxes owed to the state and estimates the state’s tax revenue for the biennium, among other duties. Lawmakers use the revenue estimate to set the two-year budget.

“Senator Hegar looks forward to discussing the important issues facing our state,” said David White, a spokesman for the campaign.

“Texans deserve to hear from the person who will be accountable for their tax dollars. I’m honored to receive this opportunity to show Texans how I will be their financial watchdog in the Comptroller’s office, not just another career politician,” Collier said.

If you can get past the fact that it happens with two days left in early voting and it’s easily available to only a fraction of the state, this is a good thing. The fact that there’s a debate at all, and that the Dems have a candidate that’s worth having in a debate, makes it worthwhile. Yes, it would be better to have something more widely visible, but given that the baseline for comparison is “nothing”, it’s an improvement. The Trib has more.

By the way, Collier continues to dominate the newspaper endorsements, picking up nods from the Express News and Star-Telegram this week. I thought Collier would do well in the editorial board interviews, but as a first-time candidate going against an experienced legislator who wasn’t weighed down by sixteen tons of ethical baggage, it was hardly a slam dunk that he’d get a string of endorsements. That he’s one paper away from a Sam Houston-style clean sweep says a lot about his qualities as a candidate and as a person. He’s also been sharp in how he has presented himself, as his latest campaign ad attests. I’m hard pressed to think of any way in which Collier could have run a better campaign. I hope the actual viewership of that debate far exceeds my meager expectations.

On a related note, there’s also this.

The only debate scheduled between Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and his Democratic opponent, David Alameel, could end up only being broadcast in Spanish.

Cornyn and Alameel are scheduled to participate in a one-hour debate in Dallas hosted by Univision on Oct. 24. The debate will be conducted in English. Univision will broadcast the debate the next day with the candidates’ remarks dubbed in Spanish at 10 p.m. in eight markets around the state, according to Felicitas Cadena, community affairs manager for Univision Communications.

“The debate will not air in English in any market,” Cadena said in an email.


Cadena said the channel is open to talking with other media outlets about broadcasting the debate in English on television or online.

“We’re just looking at technical possibilities,” Cadena said. “We’d be more than glad to have that discussion.”

Putting the video online somewhere, pre-dubbed and post-dubbed, should not be too much to ask. I guess we’ll see.

Alameel and Cornyn will debate

We’ve had Davis-Abbott, we’ve had Van de Putte-Patrick, and we’ll get Alameel-Cornyn.

David Alameel

David Alameel

Sen. John Cornyn and Democratic challenger David Alameel have agreed to one face-to-face televised debate.

They’ll meet in Dallas at Mountain View College on Friday, Oct. 24. The hour-long debate will air Saturday night Oct. 25 at 10 pm on Univision stations across Texas. The debate will take place in English, with Spanish simulcast.

Neither campaign has announced the event.

“That’s the only one they asked for and we said yes,” said Cornyn, a Republican seeking a third 6-year term.

He mentioned the event this morning in a meeting with The Dallas Morning News editorial board, and Alameel spokesman Gustavo Bujanda confirmed it.

But Bujanda said the challenger sought many more debates, including and especially one aimed at a broader audience. The Cornyn side refused, he said.

“Alas, no success,” he said.

Cornyn campaign manager Brendan Steinhauser disputed that. He said he’s unaware of any requests from Alameel for other debates and said that this one stemmed from an invitation from Univision, not the challenger.

“I don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said.

There’s an open letter from Alameel to Cornyn at the link. Honestly, given that this event will take place after the first five days of early voting have taken place, I rather doubt there would be much value to any subsequent events. Mark your calendars for this one and we’ll see how it goes.

Gov debate II: That’s more like it

The second Governor’s debate was a lively affair.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has mostly avoided direct confrontation with his opponent in the race for Texas governor, took a hard swing at Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis over her ethics as a lawmaker in a televised debate Tuesday night.

And she let him have it right back.

While clashing over tax incentives doled out at both the state and local levels, Abbott accused Davis of using her role as a Fort Worth city councilwoman to pad her own pocketbook. Specifically, he said she made money on an economic development deal involving the sporting goods store Cabela’s, because her title company got a piece of the action during a time that she was serving on the council.

That exchange in the second half of the hour-long discussion was easily the most heated moment the two have shared in either of the two statewide debates, and it represented a far more personal and hands-on attack from Abbott, who has generally left the campaign dirty work to surrogates.

“When you used those incentive funds to attract Cabela, and then closed the deal, it was your title company that benefited by closing that deal,” he said. “So you personally profited. You were able to use your title company …”

He never got to finish his sentence. Davis, in keeping with her aggressive posture from the last debate, cut Abbott off and stopped just short of calling him a liar.

“Mr. Abbott, you are not telling the truth right now, and you know you are not telling the truth. I did not personally profit from that,” she said.

Then Davis pivoted to the latest controversy involving incentives at the state level — contained in the bruising audit from the state’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund — and revelations that much of the tax subsidies were doled out to companies with little oversight.

“You were the chief law enforcement officer over the Enterprise Fund. It was your responsibility to make sure that the tens of millions of dollars that were going to these companies were resulting in jobs, and you failed to do that,” she said.

When he was given a rebuttal opportunity, Abbott went back for more.

“I would like to respond by knowing how much your title company received by closing the Cabela’s deal that was granted an award from the Texas Enterprise Fund,” Abbott said.

Davis said the title company in question, Republic Title, which was run by her husband, “was not my title company.” She said she earned a salary that was “never depending on any deal that ever closed.” Davis finished her remarks by turning the attention back to Abbott and said he should have done more to stop misspending inside the Texas Enterprise Fund.

“Mr. Abbott, this is about your failure,” she said.

Video of the debate is here. By all accounts I’ve seen, the format was better and so was Davis’ performance than in the first debate. Here’s The Observer:

On the issues, Abbott and Davis made stark distinctions. Neither could really answer a question about how they’d fund their education plans, though Abbott at least had a dollar figure for student spending that made it appear that he had given it some thought. But Davis hit Abbott hard. It was ludicrous, she said, for Abbott to keep saying he would make Texas schools No. 1 while defending huge cuts to funding and refusing to commit to providing more resources.

“Mr. Abbott, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” she said. “You say you want to make Texas No. 1 in education. You cannot accomplish that goal without making the appropriate investments.”

On immigration, Abbott committed, after some pushing, to not vetoing a bill from the Legislature that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented migrants. There’s been a question about how Abbott would interact with a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Killing in-state tuition is one of Patrick’s top priorities, and Abbott’s on board, apparently.

The Chron story also noted Abbott being in tune with Dan Patrick on this, and they included Davis’ answer in which she said she would veto such a bill. Perhaps someone ought to let the Latino voters that Abbott is trying to woo know about this. On a side note, Davis’ attacks on Abbott over his less-than-transparent actions with the Texas Enterprise Fund led to AG candidate Sam Houston pledging to make Enterprise Fund applications public if elected, as well as a hilariously over-the-top non-responsive answer to the question by his opponent, Ken Paxton. Gotta love it when candidates are in tune with each other.

Back to the Observer:

But the best part of the debate might have been the discussion over Medicaid expansion—at about 29:30 in the video above. Medicaid expansion is, quite literally, a matter of life and death, one of the most serious issues in the race. If Medicaid isn’t expanded in Texas, a quantifiable number of people will suffer and die—unnecessarily. But it hasn’t come up in the race as much as it might.

Abbott said he’d ask the feds to give Texas its Medicaid dollars as a block grant to be spent as the state sees fit, which few think is a realistic possibility. He assured listeners that he “wouldn’t bankrupt Texas” by imposing on Texas the “overwhelming Obamacare disaster.”

Davis laid out a forceful argument for Medicaid expansion. “I have to laugh when I hear Mr. Abbott talk about bankrupting Texas,” she said. “Right now Texans are sending their hard-earned tax dollars to the IRS, $100 billion of which will never come back to work for us in our state unless we bring it back. As governor, I will it bring it back. Greg Abbott’s plan is for you to send that tax money to California and New York.” Abbott’s rebuttal left Davis smiling from ear to ear. The whole fairly long exchange is worth watching.

The Observer also has video embedded, if you’d rather click over there. This was the last debate, which while a shame is at least two more than we got in 2010 and one more than in 2006. What did you think? PDiddie, Burka, Newsdesk, Campos, and Egberto Willies have more.

The Lite Guv debate

It was lively, and it was a good reminder of who Dan Patrick really is.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

In the only scheduled debate in their race for lieutenant governor, state Sens. Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte faced off on Monday night in a lively exchange that displayed their divergent positions on everything from health care and immigration to school finance and taxes.

Both candidates played offense: Patrick, Republican of Houston, attempted to portray Van de Putte, Democrat of San Antonio, as “out of step” with Texas voters. Van de Putte used the back-and-forth to try to pin Patrick down on votes he’d taken on cuts to public education. But one of the biggest points of contention in the hourlong showdown in Austin was over the state’s tax structure.

Patrick recently called for reducing the state’s dependence on the property tax to fund public schools and relying on the state’s sales tax instead. On Monday, Van de Putte used Patrick’s position to argue that he would raise the sales tax, which she said would negatively affect businesses and consumers. Patrick sought to clarify his proposal, saying he would only support increasing the sales tax “by a penny or two” to compensate for reduced revenue from property taxes.

“There are two candidates on this stage, and I’m the only one that doesn’t want to raise your sales taxes,” Van de Putte said. “To burden Texas businesses and families with a sales tax increase … well, that’s not being pro-business.”

There’s video of the debate here if you missed it or want to share it with someone else that didn’t see it but needs to. The Observer liveblogged it. Writer Forrest Wilder expressed amazement at Patrick’s admission that he’d raise the sales tax to finance a property tax cut, but he’s been saying this all along. I’ve been saying all along that someone needs to point out just how much Dan Patrick himself would benefit from the kind of tax swap he’s proposing. It’s not like we haven’t seen this before, after all.

Burka summed it up as follows:

The most interesting thing about the debate was Patrick’s persona. He felt no need to soften his message or appeal to more mainstream voters. This is exactly who he is, and who he wants to be: a true conservative radical.

Good to know his phony claims of being compassionate didn’t last long. I still don’t know why anyone would have believed him in the first place. The Chron story is here, and PDiddie, EoW, Juanita, Newsdesk, the TSTA Blog, and the Current has more.

Davis at TribFest

Wendy Davis expands on some debate topics and other campaign issues at the Texas Tribune’s TribFest.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

If elected governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis would consider using “executive action” to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act in the face of likely opposition from a Republican-dominated state Legislature, she said Saturday in a wide-ranging interview at The Texas Tribune Festival.

“There’s some indication that an executive action can achieve this,” Davis told Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. “Sometimes you have to do hard things when they’re the right things.”

Had Texas expanded Medicaid to cover more adults under federal health care reform, the federal government would have covered 100 percent of the cost for three years, eventually reducing its coverage to 90 percent. Davis criticized Republicans’ opposition to the offer, which she noted was projected to create as many as 300,000 jobs in the state.

“Once again, we’ve got people who are more interested in partisan rhetoric than being leaders for our state,” Davis said.

Davis spoke at length during the hourlong interview with Smith about her plans if she wins her race against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. She singled out two bills — a repeal of the state’s in-state tuition law for illegal immigrants and an “Arizona-style” immigration bill banning sanctuary cities — as measures she would veto if they reached her desk as governor.

Of the in-state tuition repeal, which has strong support among Republicans in the Texas Senate, Davis said she’d “veto it in a heartbeat.”

Given the Legislature’s likely makeup next year, Davis said she was pessimistic that a measure to repeal the abortion restrictions she filibustered last year would ever make it to her desk, though she would sign it if it did. She said it was the same case for a bill that would put the state’s redistricting process under an independent commission,

Smith began the interview asking Davis about Friday’s televised debate with Abbott. He questioned why she didn’t respond to Abbott when he asked her at the debate if she regrets voting for President Obama.

“No, I don’t regret it,” Davis said. She suggested that she didn’t answer Abbott’s question at the time because she thought it wasn’t valid in the “context” of a gubernatorial debate.

“I thought it was striking that when he had the one opportunity to ask me a question, instead of asking me who I would be as governor, he asked me who I voted for for president,” Davis said.

I seem to recall that the Lege passed a bill saying that their approval was needed for any kind of Medicaid expansion, but I could be wrong about that. That said, I’m glad to see Davis make clear her support for Medicaid expansion in this fashion, and I’m glad to see her draw lines in the sand about the Texas DREAM Act and the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. Good policy all around, and sure to be heartening to the people Davis will need to get out and vote in November. As for her answer about voting for President Obama, I’m sure some people would have liked her to have been more clear about what she meant, but sometimes in the heat of the moment you don’t quite say everything you mean to. At least there will be one more debate opportunity to tackle the question if it comes up again, and it’s not like Davis is going to be going into a rabbit hole anytime soon. Honestly, though, I don’t think there’s anything more to this at this point.

Debate night

Nothing like a 6 PM on a Friday debate that people don’t know how to find on their cable service.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrat Wendy Davis went on the offensive against Republican Greg Abbott on issue after issue Friday in their first debate in the race for governor. Abbott, the state attorney general and frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, calmly fended off the attacks during the one-hour face off.

As the candidates faced off at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance in the Rio Grande Valley, Davis took aim at Abbott’s comparison of South Texas corruption to that which occurs in third-world countries.

She targeted his defense of a voter ID law that a judicial panel has found to be discriminatory. She slammed him for defending the public education finance system in court, which he is doing by virtue of being the state’s top lawyer.

She said his defense of a system whose funding was pared back in 2011 is “just dumb,” and she pointed out that she fought those cuts through a brief filibuster that year. Davis later was among lawmakers who worked to restore the money that was cut.

You can see a video of the debate here if you missed it, and there’s more coverage from the Trib and the Observer. I’m not the debate-watching type, so my impression of how it went comes from what I’ve been seeing on social media, where most of the Davis supporters I’ve seen seem to be happy with her performance. Of course, while Davis was on the attack, Abbott was playing the equivalent of the four corners offense, which has been the Republican strategy all along and the reason why he refused to debate under any other conditions. What was your impression of the debate?

Let there be an AG debate

I can’t think of any good reason why there shouldn’t be a debate between Sam Houston and Ken Paxton.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston

Democratic candidate for attorney general Sam Houston wants his opponent, state Sen. Ken Paxton, to agree to a debate ahead of the November general election.

Houston is expected to issue the challenge Wednesday at a news conference in Austin, demanding his Republican opponent “quit hiding from the media and the voters,” spokeswoman Sue Davis confirmed.

“To me, this is fair. He’s either going to debate me or explain to somebody why he hasn’t,” Houston said Friday. “How is this guy going to be attorney general if he won’t even address the issues?”

Houston contends his opponent hasn’t made a public appearance in months, ever since Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade – a service for which he pocketed up to a 30 percent in commission – without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.


In response, Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm called Houston’s debate demand a desperate ploy from an underdog candidate.

“It’s not surprising that anyone losing by 20 points – and unable to raise meaningful campaign funds – would want free publicity. Rabidly pushing debates is most often the political equivalent of a Hail Mary pass,” said Holm.

He did not answer follow-up questions about whether Paxton would agree to a debate. Houston was unchallenged in the Democratic primary.

I should amend my statement to say that Ken Paxton has plenty of reasons to not want to be asked questions in a public forum. Houston touched on all that at a press conference where he called out Paxton.

Speaking to reporters at the Austin Club, Houston said the public should question his Republican opponent’s openness and trustworthiness after Paxton admitted to repeatedly soliciting investment clients over the last decade without being properly registered with the state as an investment adviser representative.

“Mr. Paxton has voted to make certain conduct a felony. He then has knowingly violated that conduct before and since,” said Houston. “Now he says, ‘don’t indict me, don’t punish me even though I’ve made that a felony for other people. In fact, make me attorney general so I can enforce that statute.’”

Speaking after the event, Houston said “I have faith he won’t” accept the challenge to debate. “He hasn’t so far. Look, I don’t think he can. I mean, he’s going to have to answer that question and I don’t think he can answer it.”

Issues he’d like to address in a hypothetical debate include his opponent’s litigation experience as well as recent open records rulings dealing with volatile chemicals and Gov. Rick Perry’s travel schedule issued by outgoing Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Looking very much the trial lawyer, Houston stood between three exhibits showing the Texas Securities Act and the disciplinary order Paxton signed in early May admitting to the violation. Paxton was fined $1,000 and issued a reprimand. Texans for Public Justice, the same watchdog group that filed the original complaint against Gov. Rick Perry that eventually led to his August indictment, has also filed a complaint over Paxton’s noncompliance with the state ethics commission.

Houston repeated criticisms Paxton hasn’t spoken to the media “as far as I know” in 120 days, specifically citing an incident in late-July when Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm physically blocked San Antonio Express-News reporter Nolan Hicks from asking him questions.

“You can’t hide behind spokespeople,” said Houston. “That’s Exhibit A that this man should not be attorney general.”

Paxton’s spokesperson then denied the charge, which kind of proves the point. I mean, the dude has issues, and I’m not talking about the kind that candidates like to discuss. There’s a Debate Challenge Clock on Sam Houston’s website now. I don’t expect it to need to be stopped.

Honestly, though, Paxton’s sins aside, I can’t think of any good reason why we shouldn’t have at least one debate among the candidates for all offices, especially this year when every single one is open. Not that I’d expect, say, Glenn Hegar to want to square off against Mike Collier any more than Paxton would want to face Houston, but you’d think it would be a worthwhile endeavor on its face. I mean, when city elections roll around next year I guarantee that nearly every candidate for every office, from the top Mayoral challengers down to the most anonymous district Council wannabees, will do their best to make it to every candidate forum put on by every club, organization, or random group of concerned citizens around. I’ve been to a bunch of these events myself. All we’re asking for here is one lousy debate. That really ain’t much.

But I don’t expect it. Paxton, like his debate-phobic colleagues elsewhere on the ballot, figure they’ve already talked to all the voters they actually care about. At this point they figure it’s just Democrats and people who don’t pay attention anyway, so why give themselves an opportunity to say something stupid that will turn into headlines? It would be nice if people demanded more, but the people who’d be doing the demanding aren’t the people these guys listen to, so there you have it. Texas Leftist has more.

Abbott keeps moving the debate goal posts

It’s like he’s afraid to directly engage on the issues or something.

Four days after Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott backed out of a planned debate with Democrat Wendy Davis in Dallas, it was unclear Tuesday whether there would be a gubernatorial debate in the city at all.

Davis agreed to Abbott’s format preferences for a debate on Sept. 30 to be hosted by WFAA-TV in Dallas, the Davis campaign said Tuesday. But Abbott has committed to debating at a different venue in the city, Davis hasn’t accepted the invitation to the second one and WFAA says it’s no longer pursuing a debate. (The Texas Tribune had been a partner with WFAA on its original debate.)

Davis and Abbott had both agreed to the WFAA debate — as well as another debate in McAllen — but Abbott backed out of the WFAA event on Friday because of what one of his advisers said was “an inability to agree on specific details of the format.” The debate was to be a roundtable conversation with no specific time limits for candidate remarks.

Davis campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas issued a statement Tuesday after the campaign met with WFAA.

“We have spoken with WFAA this afternoon and expressed our willingness to alter the previously agreed upon debate format to accommodate the Abbott campaign’s concerns about the lack of timed responses,” Petkanas said. “Wendy looks forward to meeting Mr. Abbott in this more structured debate setting at WFAA on September 30th.”


WFAA President and General Manager Mike Devlin said the station will no longer pursue the debate because of Abbott’s unwillingness to cooperate.

“We expect people running for the governorship to behave in an honorable fashion,” Devlin said. “At a certain point when you are dealing with somebody who doesn’t keep commitments, why would we keep going back?”

After backing out of the WFAA debate Friday, Abbott agreed to another Dallas debate on Sept. 30 hosted by KERA, NBC5/KXAS-TV, Telemundo 39 and The Dallas Morning News. However, Davis did not agree to that debate because she had already committed to the WFAA event, the Davis campaign said Tuesday. But in a statement issued later Tuesday, Petkanas said the campaign “will open discussions with KERA tomorrow regarding the possibility of a debate.”

Emphasis mine. Can’t really say it any better than that, though the full statement from Zac Petankas is worth highlighting as well:

“If Greg Abbott isn’t tough enough to handle a roundtable discussion in front of a statewide audience, it’s hard to see how he’s tough enough to be Governor of Texas,” said campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas. “However, the fact that Greg Abbott isn’t willing to keep his word shouldn’t deprive voters of the chance to see both candidates debate issues like his defense of $5.4 billion in public education cuts. In that spirit, we will open discussions with KERA tomorrow regarding the possibility of a debate.”

Indeed. See here for more.

UPDATE: We have an agreement on a new debate.

Abbott will duck Dallas debate

How very statesmanlike of him.

Republican candidate Greg Abbott has reversed his decision to appear in the only gubernatorial debate scheduled to be broadcast statewide on television.

Abbott and his Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, had both agreed to participate in a Sept. 30 roundtable debate in Dallas.

But on Friday morning, Abbott’s team said it would not participate, expressing concern over the format.

“Due to our inability to agree on specific details of the format, Attorney General Greg Abbott will regretfully not be participating in the WFAA debate,” Robert Black, a senior campaign adviser said Friday morning.

Black, Abbott’s new debate consultant, joined the campaign on Aug. 4.

On May 28, Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager, sent a letter to WFAA accepting the terms of the debate.

“From grassroots events to policy announcements and roundtable discussions, we have made our personal engagement with voters a focal point,” Hamilton wrote to WFAA in May.

“We are deeply disappointed that the Abbott campaign has not lived up to the commitment it made to participate in this important debate,” said Mike Devlin, president and general manager of WFAA-TV. “WFAA has produced numerous debates which are balanced and fair to all the candidates. This debate would be no different. The citizens of Texas deserve to hear from the candidates for the most important office in the state.”

Here’s WFAA’s coverage of Abbott’s cut and run. Note the letter they include at the bottom in which Abbott’s campaign accepted the invitation to debate.

Later in the day, the story got a bit more complicated.

The Dallas debate was scheduled for 7 p.m. on Sept. 30 and would have been broadcast on all of Texas’ Gannett stations including WFAA-TV in Dallas – Fort Worth, KHOU-TV in Houston, KENS-TV in San Antonio, KVUE-TV in Austin, along with other affiliates in Amarillo, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, San Angelo and Tyler.

Outside of those Gannett markets the debate was going to be available to any radio and television station in the state. In addition, the debate would have been streamed on-line at all of the Gannett websites in Texas.

Gannett stations currently reach 83% of Texans.


Late Friday afternoon, Abbott announced that Dallas’ PBS affiliate, KERA-TV, has agreed to host a formal debate on September 30. Davis did not immediately agree to it after committing to the first one that Abbott backed out of today.

“Voters deserve a thoughtful and substantive policy discussion on how the next governor will lead Texas. Greg Abbott looks forward to sharing his vision for Texas’ future and participating in the upcoming debates,” said Wayne Hamilton, Abbott’s campaign manager in an emailed statement.

Gannett guaranteed live coverage on all 10 of its television stations in Texas which reach 83% of the state. It’s uncertain if any television station outside North Texas has agreed to simulcast KERA’s debate.

The Davis campaign shot back at Abbott following the KERA-TV debate announcement.

“There have been reports that the Abbott campaign has ‘committed’ to another debate, but as we learned today Greg Abbott’s commitments don’t mean very much,” said Zac Petkanas, communications director for the Davis campaign in a statement late Friday afternoon. “Wendy Davis has already committed the evening of September 30 to a debate on WFAA. The station has asked to have a discussion on Tuesday, September 2, to discuss options given the recent developments and, as Wendy Davis is someone who honors her commitments, the campaign looks forward to having that discussion.”

The Quorum Report characterized this as Abbott “hurriedly setting up another debate and then announcing it”. Lord only knows what they’re thinking over there. We’ll see what happens next.

Just as the timing of the school finance decision worked in favor of Wendy Davis and her education policies rollout this week, it works against Abbott, who of course was on the losing side in the lawsuit. Hard not to connect the two, no matter how much he’d deny it. Chalk this up as another way in which Greg Abbott is like Rick Perry, as if there had been any doubt. There will still be one debate, in McAllen on September 19, assuming Abbott doesn’t try to weasel out of it as well. PDiddie, John Coby, Juanita, BOR, Trail Blazers, the AusChron, the Trib, and the Current have more.

We have a Lite Guv debate agreement

Mark your calendars for September 29.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Both campaigns confirmed the date via email Thursday after the two sides had agreed to a Texas Tribune-hosted debate but couldn’t reach a consensus on a day. The Tribune originally proposed Sept. 24 and Sept. 27 as possible dates.

Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, accepted a debate invitation earlier this week and specified that she’d do it on Sept. 24.

Patrick’s camp shot back Wednesday that the 24th isn’t doable because it marks the start of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Patrick agreed to debate on Sept. 27.

That left the debate date in limbo until the two sides said Thursday they ended up agreeing on Sept. 29.

So there you have it. Sen. Van de Putte sent out a press release yesterday saying she still wants to have more than one debate, which I think ought to be the case as well. I hope Patrick will give some consideration to having more than one, since he participated in about a million of them for the primary and runoff. Take your show to a larger audience, Danno. The Current and Texas Leftist have more.

LVdP calls out Patrick on debates

You tell him, Leticia.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Letitica Van de Putte said Thursday that her Republican opponent, Sen. Dan Patrick, has yet to respond to her proposal for a series of debates ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

Van de Putte and Patrick spoke separately at the Texas Association of Broadcasters annual convention in a rare opportunity to see the two candidates address the same audience back to back.

A state senator from San Antonio, Van de Putte used the opportunity before cameras and microphones to reiterate her call for a robust schedule of debates.

She has challenged Patrick, a tea party favorite from Houston, to five debates, part of an aggressive plan to pit the candidates head-to-head in the state’s four largest markets and in the Rio Grande Valley. Neither Patrick nor his team have responded since she laid out the debate proposal more than a week ago, Van de Putte said.

“This is a race where there’s a big difference in candidates … and the people of the state need to hear the candidates,” she said. “He knows my phone number. I’m waiting.”

For a guy that normally loooooooooves the spotlight, Danno sure has been quiet about this.

Patrick, with less than 90 days before voters pick a new lieutenant governor, is showing no public signs of how he plans to respond to Van de Putte’s debate proposal.

The campaign has said it is “working to establish a debate schedule that is respectful to and complementary of the debates agreed to by the gubernatorial candidates.”

On Thursday, Patrick’s team used that more-than-week-old statement to shield itself from media inquiries about Van de Putte’s comments to reporters and in front of the broadcast industry trade group.

Minutes after his speech wrapped up, Patrick and his team zoomed out of the hotel lobby without answering media questions (both speeches were about a half-hour behind schedule).

Patrick did stick around just long enough to declare he has a “Huckabee event to attend” and that “I’ve been the most media-friendly guy in the Legislature.” Then he vanished.

Patrick figures, not without reason, that he has little to gain by actually engaging with Van de Putte, or doing much campaigning at all, really. He’s got the wind at his back and it’s his plan to let it blow him across the finish line. But as Stace reminds us, Lite Guv is a position with real power. The voters deserve a chance to hear what the candidates have to say for themselves. What are you afraid of, Danny?

Time for the debate about debates to begin

It’s getting to be debating season.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis on Tuesday proposed a series of six debates with Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott in their race for governor.

Her proposal came after Abbott earlier said he had accepted two invitations for debates in McAllen in September and in Dallas in October.

Davis envisions a series of debates from July through October in the Rio Grande Valley, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston and Lubbock.

In a letter to Abbott dated Tuesday, she said she would like at least two of them to be issue-specific debates focused on education and economic opportunity.

Davis proposed at least two 90-minute town-hall formats “with a technology partner and social media engagement;” at least one community college with a local media partner “on a weekend so parents can attend;” and at least one English-Spanish simulcast.

I’ve got Davis’ letter to Abbott beneath the fold. It’s interesting to me that Abbott made the first move by accepting the media-sponsored debates in McAllen and Dallas. I suspect that’s one part confidence in his oratorial skills, one part bravado about “competing” for the Latino vote, and one part recognition that maybe he can’t hope to hide in a corner like Rick Perry did. Davis had already come under some questioning for not immediately jumping to accept the two debates on offer, but she apparently had bigger things in mind. Let’s see how Abbott plays it from here. The Austin Chronicle and the Monitor have more.


Chron wants multiple multi-candidate debates

Don’t know if they’ll get what they want, but it can’t hurt to ask.

For the main show, mayoral candidate Ben Hall has called for six one-on-one debates with Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with three debates after early voting begins. Parker has rejected Hall’s proposal, agreeing only to one debate featuring multiple candidates.

Houston’s future is too important to limit the mayor’s race to one debate, and we’re far too diverse to restrict debates to an incumbent and a self-funded millionaire challenger. Putting multiple candidates on stage will provide a panoply of perspectives and a constructive conversation about our city’s needs. Municipal issues don’t always make for the most exciting discussions, but the horse-race atmosphere of elections provides a more compelling backdrop for topics like the city budget.

While we hope Ben Hall will use the debates to explain why he is spending his personal fortune on an uphill battle to unseat the mayor, the time for one-on-one debates is during a runoff. The general election should provide voters with multiple options for what our future will look like. Whether the race for mayor, controller or city council seats, voters are best served when candidates debate the issues and define what it means to be a city that is building forever.

See here for the background. It’s hardly clear to me that having candidates beyond Mayor Parker and Ben Hall in a debate will yield a “constructive conversation”. The candidates not named Parker or Hall would have to be running constructive campaigns for there to be some chance of that happening, and so far the evidence for that is lacking. The principle of democracy argues in favor of inclusiveness, but the principle of imparting useful information to as many voters as possible argues for limiting the debate to those that have something useful to say. Let whatever organizations that want to sponsor debates make their own decisions about who they want to invite, let Parker and Hall agree to abide by their decisions, and leave it at that. Campos has more.

Debating about debates

There will be some number of debates between Mayor Parker and Ben Hall between now and Election Day. How many debates, and how many participants there will be in those debates, is itself a matter of debate.

Mayor Annise Parker

In this corner…

In a letter to [Mayor Annise] Parker this week, [Ben] Hall sought three debates after Labor Day on Sept. 2 but before the start of early voting, and another three leading up to Election Day on Nov. 5.

“Too much is at stake for us not to share our plans for Houston with her citizens,” Hall wrote.

Parker campaign spokeswoman Sue Davis said the two-term incumbent has agreed to one debate, to include all mayoral candidates and to be scheduled after the Aug. 26 candidate filing deadline.

“All year long, Mayor Parker speaks daily about city issues to civic clubs, neighborhood groups and other organizations, holds tele-town halls and online chats and is available to the media,” Davis said.

…And in this corner

Hall campaign spokesman Mark Sanders cast Parker’s response as a win for the challenger.

“We are making progress,” Sander said. “A month ago she told Ben Hall there would be no debates. Today she said there would be one. We still look forward to six televised debates that will allow all the citizens of Houston to make informed decisions.”

Davis said Sanders was “misconstruing” Parker’s comment to Hall at a Juneteenth parade, where Davis said the mayor told Hall she would not debate “just him,” intending to include other entrants. The other three candidates in the race spent less than $25,000 as of June 30.


Republican political consultant Allen Blakemore said a key factor will be how many debates local civic institutions and media outlets want to host. The final debate count is likely to fall between one and six, he said.

“If Rice University says they want to put on a debate or the Greater Houston Partnership says they want to put on a debate and they’ve got local media participation, well, it’s difficult for Parker to say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t want to do it,’ ” Blakemore said.

I think Blakemore gets this right. Sure, Parker and Hall could go the full Garland/Rooney route and put together their own traveling roadshow of Mayoral debates, but that’s usually not how these things work. Some number of organizations will want to sponsor debates. However many of them there are, it would look bad for either candidate to decline to participate. I suspect the final number will be two or three, but that’s just a guess. I do agree that one isn’t enough, and six is too many. There’s only so much material that can be reasonably covered in these debates, and after a certain point the questions start to get repeated or they become silly in an attempt to avoid repetition. On the other end, I agree with Texpatriate and Texas Leftist that the other activities Mayor Parker cites aren’t adequate substitutes for engaging her opposition, and that a lot of us thought it was bush league the way Rick Perry ducked debating Bill White at all in 2010. While it’s generally true that candidates that are leading have no great incentive to share the spotlight with those who hope to catch them, being the incumbent should mean being above that kind of game-playing. And personally, I don’t think she has anything to worry about. She has a strong record to defend, and Hall has yet to articulate any clear reason to vote her out, let alone what he himself would do as Mayor. Debating about debates eventually becomes its own issue. If I’m Mayor Parker, I’d rather talk about more interesting and substantive things than that. Texas Leftist also makes a point about it being better for any future political ambitions the Mayor may have to meet Hall head on, and I agree with that, too.

The side issue of who gets to participate in these debates will be fun to watch. Normally, frontrunners aren’t terribly excited about having a large number of debate participants since that just means more people taking potshots at them. Here, though, Mayor Parker appears to be more willing to allow the fringe characters into the as-yet-unplanned debates than Hall is. I’m generally ambivalent on this point. On the one hand, in a democracy all voices deserve to be heard. On the other hand, it’s hard to see what any of the bit players will bring to the table, since none of them has done anything to indicate they are seriously engaging in the issues that would be debated. A Mayoral debate is likely to be a 60 to 90 minute affair. How much of that time do you want to be spent on people that don’t have anything constructive to say, and how much of it do you want spent on Annise Parker and Ben Hall? Now, any organization that wants to host a debate will have its own preferences on this and that’s fine, but if Hall and Parker have different visions then it becomes another obstacle to getting anything done. If it were up to me, I’d let one or maybe two debates be all comers, but I’d insist on their being at least one of just Parker and Hall. I guarantee, we’ll get more out of that one than the others. Campos has more on that.

On a side note, I’m amused that the headline of the story was about Hall’s campaign “gathering steam” when the story was one part about the great debate debate and one part about the two new Republican campaign operatives he has coming in to replace two other Republican campaign operatives. Generally speaking, campaigns that have wholesale personnel changes midway through are not described as “gathering steam”. I will note that the new Hall team did something that the old one never did, which was send out email to the local bloggers with a copy of Hall’s letter to the Mayor containing his debate proposal; here’s a copy of it. I’m not egotistical enough to think that a handful of us Internet bloviators matter that much in the grand scheme of things, but I will point out that between us, we’ve written more about Hall and this race than the Chron has. If nothing else, you’d think a campaign might want to exert a little effort to ensure that their perspective is taken into account when we do our thing. My feelings about this campaign and the candidates aside, I’m glad to see that Team Hall has finally gotten around to doing that. Greg has more.

Three days of early voting in SD06

I’m not sure that the Chron’s classification of early voting so far in SD06 is accurate, but I’m not sure how I myself would characterize it since we have so few precedents to draw on.

Three days into early voting, the race to replace the late state Sen. Mario Gallegos continues to heat up, as does the balloting.

The first large batch of mail-in ballots was returned Friday, outpacing voters who visited the polls in person. Since early voting began, 1,561 ballots have been cast, two thirds of them in person. More votes were recorded Friday, 805, than in the two preceding days, 756.

Early voting continues through Jan. 22. Election Day is Jan. 26.

You can see the EV totals so far here. As noted, the difference was the arrival of mail ballots on Friday. 451 absentee ballots were received on Friday, which is more than the in-person total on any of the three days so far. I expect early voting to pick up as it always does, and every day of EV is from 7 to 7 except for next Sunday, which should be a boost as well, but I also expect that more than half the total ballots will be cast early. It sure would be nice to see some bigger daily numbers going forward.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones describes the relatively late date as “a strategic delay” on the part of Gov. Rick Perry and his fellow Republicans, who realize that the likely winner will be one of the Democratic candidates.

“Under the Senate’s two-thirds rule, until the new SD-6 senator arrives, the Republicans need to convince only one Democrat to vote with them to pass legislation, whereas once Alvarado or Garcia arrives in Austin, they will need two,” he said in an email.

On most legislation the difference is irrelevant, Jones said, but not on such controversial issues as the fetal pain bill, for example.

“With only 30 senators, the Republicans will need to tailor the final legislation to obtain the backing of only one of the handful of pro-life Democrats, not two of them,” he said. “The result will, quite possibly, be legislation that is closer to the Republican ideal than would have been the case if the support of both was required.”

There are three “pro-life” Dems in the Senate – Eddie Lucio, Carlos Uresti, and Judith Zaffirini – and it took all three of their votes to let the awful sonogram bill through. That was because Republican Jeff Wentworth joined the other nine Dems in opposing it, but he was ousted in favor of the wingnut Donna Campbell in last year’s GOP primary, so as noted once the new Senator is seated the GOP will only need two defections to overcome the two-thirds rule for further atrocities. Until then, one is enough.

For those of you still making up your minds about whom to support, the League of Women Voters Houston is here to help:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that the full two-hour Conversations with the Candidates telecast covering the Texas State Senate District 6 Special Election is now available for viewing on demand.

The Conversations program was originally telecast live on Thursday, January 10, 2013 on the channels of Houston MediaSource TV (Comcast Channel 17, ATT Uverse Channel 99 or livestreamed at, and will be re-telecast on:

Monday           1/21/13            3:00 pm

Tuesday          1/22/13            8:00 am

Tuesday          1/22/13            4:30 pm

Wednesday     1/23/13             2:30 pm

Thursday         1/24/13            4:30 pm

Friday             1/25/13            8:00 am

All eight declared candidates were invited to attend.  The seven who participated, in order of appearance, were:  Sylvia Garcia, Carol Alvarado, Maria Selva, Joaquin Martinez, Rudy Reyes, R. W. Bray and Dorothy Olmos.

The unique “candidate conveyor belt” format allowed each candidate the opportunity to explain his or her philosophy of governance and positions on selected issues.  Each candidate separately, in an order determined by drawing numbers, sat at a round table and participated in a friendly conversation with two League officials.

Members of the media are welcome to use Conversations material in their reports, and are encouraged to offer the public viewing opportunities via websites, social media or other vectors.  However, we ask that the program be made available in its entirety and without edits.  Our on-demand viewing page notes the order of candidate appearance for those who wish to scroll through to watch particular segments.

There have been numerous candidate forums as well, including one on Friday that was boycotted by Green Party candidate Maria Selva because it was sponsored by TransCanada, the company constructing the Keystone XL pipeline. From her press release, which you can see here:

“Tar sands refining will increase toxic air pollution along the Houston Ship Channel, negatively impacting the health of the people in District 6. The whole tar sands operation from mining to refining drastically increases carbon dioxide emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change, and is at odds with the push for clean, safe energy that is one of the principal goals of my campaign,” Selva said.

“This controversial firm [TransCanada] that Houstonians and Texans have been fighting to keep out of the state should not have inappropriate influence over the candidates by sponsoring a debate among candidates who would make decisions affecting it,” said Selva.

“Candidates who seek to represent the citizens of Texas Senate district 6 should not be attending events sponsored by corporations that will poison the air of the people they claim to want to represent. We need to keep money out of politics, and that starts with removing money and inappropriate influence from the decision-making process of citizens.”

I realize that opinions tend to differ about this sort of tactic, but I personally think it’s more effective in general for a candidate to participate in an event where she has issues like this with a sponsor and tell everyone in attendance at her turn to speak exactly how she feels. It’s almost certainly the case that the vast majority of attendees have no idea about any of this, and as such you have the opportunity to inform them. A press release is easy to ignore, assuming you ever knew of its existence in the first place. Someone telling you something to your face isn’t. Just my opinion.

And while I’m on the subject, I really have no idea what if any role the state government has in this. I know the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a federal matter. You know who would be in an excellent position to educate ignoramuses such as myself about what the state government can do to affect or prevent the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline? Someone who’s running for a state government office, like Maria Selva, that’s who. Yet on her campaign website, her Facebook page, and this article about a protest in which she was quoted, I have learned nothing more about the Keystone XL pipeline than the fact that Maria Selva opposes it, which I already knew. Look, there are more starting quarterbacks in the NFL than there are members of the Texas Senate. There are very few people in Texas who can affect what happens in Texas more than the 31 Senators. What exactly would Maria Selva do as one of these uniquely powerful people to put her beliefs into action? Is there some bill she would introduce, or try to block, or some existing law she would seek to repeal? Is there a hearing she could hold, or some official she would seek to influence? I can only speculate because Maria Selva has not provided that information anywhere I can find, and she declined a golden opportunity to inform an audience that would have been well served to hear it.

As you know, I interview a lot of candidates, and I generally don’t press them to be this specific about the process. Usually, just knowing what their principles are, and whether they support or oppose something that’s already out there, is sufficient. This is one of those times where it isn’t, for two reasons. One, as I just said, is because it’s not clear how the elected office in question is relevant to the candidate’s belief and the action she would like to take. If the main thing that will happen when you get elected is that you’ll go from a protester/activist to a protester/activist with an honorific, I’m not sure you’re making the best case for your candidacy or the best use of the political process. Second, if one of your complaints as a “third party” or “fringe” candidate is that you get no respect from the establishment, by which I mean the media and the various actors in the political process, and that your views never get a fair hearing, I say it’s on you to make it clear what is being missed by your exclusion. Show me how your perspective that doesn’t neatly fit into a two-party system would bring something new and needed to the table. If I were to ask Carol Alvarado or Sylvia Garcia – or RW Bray, for that matter – about Keystone, I’d expect them to say something like “That’s a federal matter”, and I’d find that to be an acceptable answer. Maria Selva had the chance to demonstrate why that isn’t an acceptable answer, but she didn’t take it. Further, from what I can tell it’s not clear that she could demonstrate that.

Putting this another way, if I still lived in SD06 I almost certainly wouldn’t vote for Maria Selva regardless, because I think Alvarado and Garcia are the two best candidates in the race. But if Maria Selva could articulate a way for a Senator to take on this issue – or any other, for that matter, especially one that isn’t being addressed by other candidates – and it made sense to me, I would at the very least press the candidates I would consider voting for to take a position on it. You want someone to listen to you, give them a reason to listen. I don’t think I’m asking for too much here.

Saggy pants

I’m not much of a candidate forum attender, but I wish I had gone to this one.

Half-a-dozen candidates in runoff City Council elections each made his or her case as champion of the downtrodden before a mostly black and Latino audience at a Fifth Ward church on Saturday afternoon.

Council aide Alvin Byrd faces nonprofit director Jerry Davis in District B; pastor Andrew Burks faces former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut for the At-Large Position 2 seat; and chiropractor Jack Christie is challenging incumbent Councilwoman Jolanda Jones for the At-Large 5 seat in the Dec. 10 elections.

At the forum sponsored by a coalition of labor and civil rights groups, the lead-off question prompted candidates’ positions on whether they would oppose changing public employee pensions from the guaranteed benefits they now offer to a 401(k) system in which the payouts are determined by how well retirement investments perform.


Burks generally did not answer questions directly but used the floor to complain that not enough police officers and firefighters live inside the city limits and that Mayor Annise Parker does not want him to defeat Thibaut in the race. He even responded to a question about providing birth control in city health clinics by calling for issuing tickets to young men who wear sagging pants that reveal their underwear.

That may be the most awesome thing I’ve heard from a candidate forum. I only wish the story had indicated how the audience reacted. Please, someone tell me you were there and can answer that.

League of Women Voters candidate debates

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund will hold a series of debates for candidates running for Council and Mayor, starting this evening. From their press release:

The League of Women Voters of Houston Education Fund is pleased to announce that we will sponsor a comprehensive series of one-hour Candidate Debates covering all contested municipal election races on the November 2011 General Election ballot. All declared candidates were invited to participate in their respective debates; some may choose not to attend.

We are committed to providing our community with helpful resources that will encourage an informed choice on Election Day and we believe that the Municipal Candidate Debate Series is an important element of this outreach.

The Municipal Candidates Debates Series will be telecast live from the studios of Houston MediaSource TV on Thursday evenings starting on September 8. The programs may be viewed on the Houston MediaSource TV website (, on Comcast Channel 17 or on AT&T Uverse Channel 99. There is no studio audience for the debate. However, members of the media are cordially invited to watch the debates from a remote viewing area within the Houston MediaSource Building (410 Roberts Street).

Ernie Manouse will serve as moderator for all debates. Mr. Manouse, a three-time Emmy winner, hosts the popular “InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse” series broadcast locally on Houston PBS.

Just so you know, I was one of the people that Manouse asked to submit questions that may be used during the debate. Fame and fortune will follow shortly, I’m sure. Here’s the full schedule of the debates:

September 8 Houston City Council Position 1 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 3 8:00 pm September 15 Houston City Council Position 4 6:30 pm Houston City Council Position 5 8:00 pm September 22 Houston City Council District A 6:30 pm Houston City Council District F 8:00 pm October 6 Houston City Council Position 2 6:30 pm Houston City Council District B 8:00 pm October 13 Houston City Council District C 6:30 pm Houston City Council District D 8:00 pm October 20 Houston City Council District J 6:30 pm Houston City Council District K 8:00 pm October 27 Houston Mayor 6:30 pm

Some of these races have very large fields. At Large #2 has ten candidates filed, District B has eight. Those may present some logistical challenges for the format. Tune in for yourself and see.

We’ll only debate you on our terms

From the inbox:

Democratic SBOE candidates accept yet another debate invitation – by all-Republican panel

Earlier: Republicans turn down debate after debate and hide from voters, claiming sponsor League of Women Voters is “too Democratic”

Note: The following statement is in reaction to yesterday’s announcement, made by the Texas Business and Education Coalition, that the organization will host a debate of the major party candidates for the SBOE races in districts 5 and 10, marking the first time of many attempts that the Republican nominees for those seats have not ducked a debate invitation.

Harold Cook, a spokesman for both Democratic candidates, said the following today:

“Judy Jennings and Rebecca Bell-Metereau are happy to debate their opponents and face voters any time, anywhere, unlike either of their opponents. There is no stronger evidence of this than the Democrats’ willingness to enthusiastically participate in a debate at which Bill Hammond, one of Texas’ leading Republicans, is among the moderators. The other two moderators have voted in Republican primary elections as well, leaving little doubt that the Republican SBOE candidates are only playing because they’ve stacked the deck.

“Despite the fact that the Republican SBOE candidates are simply exploiting this opportunity to claim that they are also willing to debate, Jennings and Bell-Metereau are nonetheless enthusiastic about the opportunity. They trust that the organizers and moderators will run a fair and enlightening event.

“Contrast that to the Republican SBOE candidates, who ducked a debate sponsored by the well-respected League of Women Voters, and treated as a joke another one sponsored by LULAC, an organization with more than 75 years of proud non-partisan achievement.

“Jennings and Bell-Metereau are more than happy to debate, even if it means participating in a Republican debate. Here’s hoping the two seemingly shy Republican opponents show up ready to admit to their extremist views, even to the Republican allies packing the room.”

See here and here for background. Debate ducking is a national phenomenon this year. I’ve included the press release from the Texas Business and Education Coalition beneath the fold, which needs to be seen to be believed. Yes, it really was DONE IN ALL CAPS, and it includes at least four misspellings that I spotted – “vying”, “incumbent”, “assistant”, and (my personal favorite) Cynthia Dunbar‘s maiden name. You really can’t make this stuff up.


The Perryless debate

The debate went on as planned.

In the fall campaign season’s first debate open to all candidates for governor, Democrat Bill White waited until his closing statement to attack the candidate who wasn’t there, incumbent Rick Perry, regarding allegations that he has used taxpayer funds to reward high-dollar campaign donors.


“I appreciate the other candidates being here,” White said in his opening remarks. “I think each of us views appearances in public forums as an obligation of a candidate to be accountable to you. Now there may be career politicians who think it can be done in 30-second sound bites that do not want to answer the tough questions about the state’s budget or why we’re number 49 out of 50 states of the percentage of adults with a high-school diploma.”

Alluding to the Emerging Technology Fund in his closing remarks, White told the audience of about 300 that it was important “to make sure that this state government is well-run as a public service for all the people and not as a political machine.”

Who watched the debate? What was your impression? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Here’s a good report from Texas Liberal.

Glass and Shafto get debate invites

Back in August, when I wrote about the upcoming media sponsored gubernatorial debate to be held will be held on October 19 that Rick Perry will duck, I said that if there was ever a time to ditch polling-related qualifications for third party candidates, this was it. Apparently, the sponsors now agree with that position.

In an effort to produce some form of a debate, the media organizations today will issue renewed invitations to Perry and [Bill] White and also invite Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Deb Shafto. Glass and Shafto will be allowed to participate regardless of whether Perry and White accept.

Glass and Shafto have accepted the invitation and will square off with White, while Rick Perry works on his dance moves. As I said, as a partisan I’d rather White have the stage to himself for an hour. But it was right to invite Glass and Shafto, just as it was cowardly of Perry to duck out. I’m sure the three candidates with the guts to face unscripted scrutiny will make the most of it.

Saturday video break: Dance, chicken, dance!

In honor of the debate Rick Perry will not be attending, I bring you this awesome chicken dance video:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: This is why I love the Internet.