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Chris Bell

Trying again to primary Cuellar

Good luck. It’s not going to be easy.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A grass-roots Democratic group that helped power the upset victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has identified a Texas Democrat as its first target ahead of the 2020 congressional primaries — but as of now, Ocasio-Cortez herself is staying neutral.

Justice Democrats, a political committee founded after the 2016 election to reshape the Democratic Party through primary challenges, is working to recruit a challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a seven-term congressman from a strongly Democratic district who’s one of the few anti-abortion-rights voices in the party’s House conference.

In a statement, the group compared Texas’s 28th Congressional District, which gave the president just 38.5 percent of the vote in 2016, to other districts where left-leaning candidates have unseated incumbents. It is launching a “primary Cuellar fund” to encourage any potential candidate that there will be resources if he or she jumps into the race.

“There’s an Ocasio-Cortez and [Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna] Pressley in blue districts across America, tired of seeing long-standing incumbents serve corporate interests, work with Trump’s agenda, and work against the progressive movement,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats. “These grass-roots leaders just need a little bit of encouragement and support.”

[…]

The Justice Democrats’ campaign to oust “corporate Democrats” was restarted after the 2018 elections, with Ocasio-Cortez, one of her party’s biggest stars, as its de facto spokeswoman. In a mid-November call with activists, Ocasio-Cortez said that they could “save this country” by either shaming incumbents out of accepting “money from oil and gas companies” or by ousting them at the polls.

“We’ve got to primary folks,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, who would become the congresswoman’s chief of staff.

But Ocasio-Cortez is not intervening in the “primary Cuellar” campaign right now. In her first days in office, the congresswoman has publicly criticized a House rule that required offsets for any spending increases, while privately working to get appointed to at least one committee with jurisdiction over taxes or health care.

While she was not appointed to the Ways and Means Committee after a left-wing campaign on her behalf, Ocasio-Cortez is expected to get a seat on the Financial Services Committee. She is not part of Justice Democrats’ primary recruitment push.

As the story notes, Cuellar gave Democrats in Texas another reason to be annoyed with him when he contributed to Republican Rep. John Carter’s re-election campaign. Let’s state up front that it’s hard to defeat an incumbent in a Congressional primary in Texas. Since 1992, by my count it has happened four times in a Democratic race:

1994 – Sheila Jackson Lee defeats Rep. Craig Washington
2004 – Al Green defeats Rep. Chris Bell
2004 – Henry Cuellar defeats Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
2012 – Beto O’Rourke defeats Rep. Silvestre Reyes

The two from 2004 have an asterisk next to them, as they came after the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, which made each of those incumbents’ districts less hospitable to them. Most years most incumbents face no or token opposition. It’s no easier on the Republican side, as only two incumbents have been ousted during this time. Ron Paul knocked off Greg Laughlin in 1996 after Laughlin had switched parties following the 1994 election, and John Ratcliffe beat the 91-year-old Ralph Hall in 2014.

Anyway. Washington had some ethical issues and a high rate of missing votes at the time SJL took him out. Bell’s CD25 was taken out of Harris County and replaced with CD09, which was drawn to elect an African-American Democrat. CD28 was redrawn to include Webb County, which heavily favored the Laredo-based Cuellar. The 2012 race was the closest thing on this list to an ideological race, but Reyes also had some ethical issues that O’Rourke hit on.

The two ideology-based primary races I can think of are Ciro Rodriguez’s rematch against Cuellar in 2006 (he lost 53-40 in a three-candidate contest) and Adrian Garcia against Gene Green in 2016 (Green prevailed, 57-39, in another three-candidate race). There’s not a viable model in the state for the Justice Dems to follow, is what I’m saying. If they want my advice, I’d say find a candidate with deep ties to the Laredo area, and make your main issue Cuellar’s too-close ties to Republicans. Try to pin him to Donald Trump, if only by association. Downplay as much as you can any and all support your candidate will receive from outside the district and outside the state. And good luck. I wouldn’t advise anyone to get their hopes up, but one never knows.

Lupe and Beto

Beto O’Rourke has a year-old, well-funded campaign for US Senate. Lupe Valdez doesn’t have anything like those advantages in her campaign for Governor. Will her lower profile effort have a negative effect on his higher profile one?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The race for governor is often the biggest spectacle in Texas politics, and the governor’s mansion the biggest prize.

But the contest between incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez is forecast to be not much of a contest at all. Abbott, who in 2014 beat former state Sen. Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, looms like Goliath on the political landscape, with Valdez lacking the weaponry to take him down. She needs more than five smooth stones.

Democrats have focused much of their attention on the remarkable campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman who’s challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate.

The Cruz-O’Rourke showdown is the marquee race of the season, and could change the fortunes of Democrats and Republicans alike.

With Abbott poised to spend more than $40 million to turn out the Republican vote and in the process help Cruz, the question becomes: does Valdez’s presence on the ticket hurt or help O’Rourke?

Lupe Valdez

“Compared to nothing, she helps,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

[…]

Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell, who Democrats recruited to run for governor, said Valdez’s presence on the ticket will have little impact on O’Rourke’s efforts.

“I don’t think Lupe makes a difference to this race,” Sorrell said. “People view Beto’s race as a separate entity from Lupe’s race.”

Veteran Republican consultant Bill Miller said Valdez could be a problem for O’Rourke and other Democrats because her campaign is so irrelevant.

“The Democrats believe she helps, but in my opinion she hurts,” Miller said. “She’s not going to be a strong candidate and her race is not a hot race. She’s going to be discounted early on and that won’t help O’Rourke.”

My inclination is to agree with Michael Sorrell. We haven’t had a situation like this in recent memory. In the recent years where we have had concurrent races for Senate and Governor:

– Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign was much higher profile than David Alameel’s Senate campaign in 2014. Not that any of it made much difference.

– The four-way Governor’s race in 2006 defies comparison to anything else.

– Both Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk had well-funded campaigns in 2002, with Kirk doing a few points better in the end.

Honestly, the real factor here is Greg Abbott and his gazillions of dollars, which would be a major concern no matter who was his opponent. Valdez has improved as a candidate after a rough start, and in the end I think she’ll raise a million or two bucks, which is a water balloon against Abbott’s fire hose but will at least allow for some kind of campaign activity. The main way Abbott can use his money to affect other races is by spending a ton on GOTV stuff, which again he’d do if he were running instead against Andrew White or Julian Castro or whoever your fantasy alternative candidate might be. He still has to contend with whatever chaos Donald Trump unleashes, whatever discontent the electorate may feel about Hurricane Harvey and gun violence, and other things that money may not be able to ameliorate. All things considered, I think Valdez’s campaign will have little effect on Beto’s. It’s unlikely to be of any help, but it probably won’t hurt, either.

(Yes, I wrote this before the property tax story came out. I still don’t think one campaign will have much effect on the other.)

The ground game

Where we are with one day to go.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

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

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

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


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

Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 day finance reports: Mayoral candidates

Here’s the story:

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Election 2015 threefer

Three links of interest that weren’t quite worth a post on their own.

Cort McMurray deconstructs Bob McNair:

It’s not easy, being Bob McNair. Back in the old days, being a Houston billionaire was fun: Whether you made your fortune in the oil patch or, like McNair, you cashed in your Enron stock at exactly the right time, just before the soufflé imploded, life was lunch at the Petroleum Club and dinnertime ribeyes at Confederate House, and doing pretty much whatever you pleased.

You made deals. You attended charity galas. You bought a football team. And you basked in the grateful approbation of your NFL-deprived city. Those were the days, my friend, when you could step in front of a microphone and ask, “Are you ready for some football?” and have an ocean of Houstonians cheering and lining up to buy official Tony Boselli replica jerseys.

You were a community pillar, the Great Philanthropist, the Teflon Billionaire. You negotiated a stadium deal that would have made Bud Adams blush, and the fans chanted your name. You gave your team the most lunkheaded name this side of “Shelbyville Shelbyvillians,” and they lined up to buy licensed merchandise. You drafted David Carr, and Amobi Okoye, and Jadeveon Clowney, and it was someone else’s fault. McNair was the Billionaire Philanthropist, and Billionaire Philanthropists made no apologies.

That’s what makes this whole anti-HERO mess such a shock.

[…]

NFL football is more than a business. The Texans don’t belong to us, but they’re ours. Sports teams are the last unifying institution, the binding agent in a city that’s diffuse and diverse and in so many ways, divided. And while we’re glad the Rockets and the Astros are around, we only care about them when they’re winning. The Texans are different. The Texans are our football team.

McNair’s anti-HERO donation, despite his press release protestations that the contribution was a sincere attempt to encourage “a thoughtful rewrite” of problematic wording in the legislation, an effort to craft an ordinance that “would be less divisive of our city,” was a reminder that the Texans aren’t really Houston’s team; they belong to a Philanthropist Billionaire, who does what he pleases.

There is a surprised, hurt tone to the McNair’s press statement. From the pretzel logic opening — McNair argues that he made the anti-HERO donation so the city could craft an even better HERO ordinance — to the non sequitur Robert Kennedy quotation about ordinary folks changing history at the close, McNair sounds like a guy who can’t understand the fuss: He knows people are mad; he can’t figure out why. If dogs who were caught pawing through the kitchen garbage pail could write press releases, they would all sound like McNair’s statement on HERO.

Any relationship between McNair’s behavior and his team’s recent performance is strictly coincidental, I’m sure.

Jef Rouner says what a lot of people I know have been thinking:

This is the scenario people opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance want me to believe is going to happen: my little girl, all pink eyeglasses, blond curls, and a sass level over 9,000, will need to use a public restroom at the park or a restaurant. Once in there she will be at the mercy of a transwoman, maybe even one with a penis, who will use the rights protected by HERO to… what? Pee within a certain amount of feet from her? Expose herself? Molest her? What diabolical she-penis monstrosity has the City unleashed on our powerless womenfolk?

I’ve got to tell you I know a fair amount of trans folks, and the idea of any of them in the bathroom with my daughter scares me way less than the thought of someone who honestly holds these beliefs being in there with her does.

For once, I can honestly advise you to read the comments following the story. The couple of idiots who snuck in got roundly knocked down by everyone else. It’s almost enough to restore your faith.

And finally, the Trib covers the Mayor’s race.

Adrian Garcia, once a solid frontrunner and potentially the city’s first Hispanic mayor, has seen his support slip amid increased scrutiny of his tenure as Harris County sheriff. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King appears to be consolidating Republican support that had been splintered among a number of hopefuls. And the whole field — including Sylvester Turner, who appears guaranteed a berth in a runoff — are starting to sense a No. 2 spot on the second-round ballot that is increasingly up for grabs.

“It’s going to be Turner and,” local political analyst Nancy Sims said, pausing for effect. “It’s the ‘and’ we don’t know the answer to right now.”

A batch of recent polls show Garcia and King neck-and-neck, finishing second in the race to replace term-limited Annise Parker, whose 2009 election made Houston the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor. Yet the surveys have found at least two other candidates bunched near Garcia and King within the margins of error, and election watchers are urging caution with nearly half the respondents undecided in one poll.

Watching the battle for No. 2 unfold has been Turner, the 26-year state representative who is making his third bid for City Hall. Armed with high name recognition and a reliable African-American base, he is seen as a lock for the runoff, and analysts say such inevitability has persuaded rivals not to waste their time attacking him, letting him float above the fray — for now.

Yeah, the runoff will be very different, and I agree with Nancy Sims that at this point no one is willing to stick their neck out and predict who will join Turner in the December race. Choose which Election Night watch party you go to carefully, there’s a good chance that it could be a bummer for your host.

Time to get out the vote

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

vote-button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My sense of where things stand right now

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

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

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

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

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

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

KPRC poll: Turner 20, others close together

Yet another poll with Sylvester Turner in the lead.

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

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

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

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

Here’s the full result set:

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

AMONG ALL VOTERS:


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

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

And yes, KPRC also polled HERO.

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

We come to the end of this week of Mayoral candidate interviews. I still have one more to go, which will run on Monday, and I will have one more (non-Mayoral) interview to run after that. Today we have Chris Bell, who is making his second run for Mayor; he finished third in a race against then-Mayor Lee Brown and CM Orlando Sanchez in 2001. Bell has worn many hats in public service, serving as At Large Council member from 1997 to 2001 and as Congressman in what was then CD25 from 2004 to 2006. He was also the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2006. A former TV and radio news reporter and anchor, Bell is an attorney and has served on numerous national and community boards, in addition to being a popular emcee and host of political events. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Turner’s public agency work

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

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Race and runoffs and Turner

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

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KHOU poll: Turner 19, King and Garcia 9

Our third poll result in the past week.

Sylvester Turner remains the front-runner, but Adrian Garcia has lost his once firm grip on second place and Bill King rises into the top tier of contenders in the race for Houston mayor.

That’s the headline from the latest poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and Houston Public Media, TV-8 and News 88.7, a survey indicating Garcia and King are now fighting it out for a chance to face Turner in a runoff.

Turner heads the pack of mayoral candidates at 19%, maintaining the lead he commanded in the same poll last May. No other candidate in this poll stands in double-digits.

Garcia and King tie for second-place, both supported by 9% of surveyed voters. Chris Bell comes in fourth at 6%, followed by Steve Costello at 5% and Ben Hall at 4%.

Still, a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. The survey of 567 likely voters conducted between September 25 and October 6 showed 42% undecided.

[…]

“I would say that Bill King is a slight — if not strong — favorite to get into the runoff,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who conducted the poll. “And I think Garcia is fighting now to stay in the runoff.”

Throughout the campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, other candidates have generally presumed Turner – a well-financed, longtime state representative who’s run for mayor twice before — will win the most votes in November. So other candidates, most notably Bell, have gone on the offensive against Garcia in hopes of knocking him out of second place.

This poll indicates the attacks criticizing Garcia’s performance as Harris County sheriff have done their damage.

A day-by-day analysis of the phone survey results also indicates the former sheriff’s candidacy has been hurt by a series of negative news reports, like a front-page Houston Chronicle story about jail inmate abuse and a KHOU 11 News I-Team expose on a $1-million jail ministry contract awarded to one of Garcia’s friends.

“We saw his support drop in half,” Stein said. “He is now in a competitive race for the runoff slot. And it’s not obvious to us that he is a guaranteed or even a likely runoff candidate.”

King has been the chief beneficiary of Garcia’s decline, mainly because of growing support from Republican voters. King and Costello have been fighting it out for GOP hearts and minds, emphasizing financial issues like the city’s growing pension obligations.

But Costello’s backing of the drainage fee to bankroll flood control infrastructure has hurt him with many Republican voters, who consider it a poorly implemented new tax.

“Bill King has gained tremendously,” Stein said. “He was barely measurable in our May poll. He’s now at 9 percentage points. Most importantly from our May poll, his gain appears to be from Republican voters.”

Republicans polled for this survey are breaking for King over Costello by a 4-to-1 ratio, Stein said.

“And here’s the good news for Bill King, if this trend continues: 45% of Republicans still don’t know who they’re voting for,” Stein said, indicating King will gain more votes as more GOP voters make up their minds.

“Keep in mind close to half of those Republican voters who are likely to vote still haven’t picked a candidate,” he said. “If the trend continues, Bill King will get that advantage, not only with Republicans over Costello, but maybe enough to get him into the runoff.”

I’d be hesitant to say that Garcia’s decline and King’s rise are related. If I had to guess, I’d say that Garcia’s former supporters are most likely to be in the “Undecided” column now, while King’s new supporters came from those who had previously been undecided. Garcia may be able to win back some of his lost supporters – I still haven’t seen any TV ads from him, so there’s plenty of room for him to go on offense, and if one of the other candidates don’t win them over, they may fall back to him. I’m sure the bad news and the attacks have taken a toll, I just wouldn’t count him out yet.

Poll data can be found here. Compared to the previous polls, the racial/ethnic mix and age distribution are about the same, with the KHOU sample having a similar partisan mix as the HAR poll, which is considerably more Democratic than the HRBC poll. That makes it better for King and more ominous for Garcia, though again there’s still room for Garcia to move back up. Note also that the HAR poll was from September 21-24, the HRBC poll from October 5-6, and the KHOU/KUHF poll from September 25-October 6, so that also suggests there is a trend away from Garcia. I don’t know if there are other polls in the pipeline, but if there are any from after October 6, I’d love to see them.

Two other matters. First, from the Chron:

In 2009, Houston’s last open-seat mayor’s race, fewer than 180,000 people cast a ballot – about 19 percent of registered voters. Stein said he expects between 200,000 and 220,000 voters to turn out this year.

That’s the first “official” guess on turnout that I’ve seen. If that’s accurate, it suggests the HERO referendum isn’t that big a driver of turnout, certainly not compared to other years with similarly high-profile referenda. I honestly don’t know what I think about that. I truly have no idea what effect HERO will have on the number of voters.

Speaking of HERO, item #2 is that this poll also asked about that issue, though for whatever the reason neither story mentioned that. HERO leads 43-37 in this poll – click the poll data link to see. Note that the pollsters also tested the efficacy of various campaign themes on the question. The “men in women’s bathrooms” attack shifts 15% of supporters, while the “we could lose the Super Bowl” attack shifts 24% of opponents. Make of that what you will. The poll also asked about the term limits referendum (44% support, 40% oppose) and the Harris County bond issue (53% support, 22% oppose), though that was from city of Houston voters only. With no campaign in support of either of those items, and given recent performance of Harris County referenda, I feel pessimistic about their chances despite their leads in this poll. There were also questions about the revenue cap and Rebuild Houston, but I’d consider them for entertainment purposes only at this point. There’s likely to be a lot of fluidity in those issues, and once they are taken up by a Mayor (if that happens at all for the revenue cap), opinions on the Mayor will come to affect the polling on them.

HRBC poll: Turner 24, King 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support 31 Oppose 40 Unsure 13 Refused 16

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

Support 31 Oppose 21 Unsure 30 Refused 19

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

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

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

Finally, some coverage on the pension issue

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

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAR poll

And some more good news here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poll summary is a good read, too.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get ready for the TV ads to begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

A broader overview of the Mayor’s race

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

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

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

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

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

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

Mayor

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

Controller

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

At Large incumbents

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

At Large open seats

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

District seats

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

HISD and HCC

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

Referenda

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

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

Mayoral debate #1

Who watched?

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

On the value of endorsements

The Chron asks what they’re good for.

Houston mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner has the backing of the city’s three unions. Do you care?

The C Club, a group of top conservative donors, supports former Kemah Mayor Bill King, and a handful of Houston pastors publicly have thrown their weight behind 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall. Will that impact who you vote for?

For most Houston voters, the answer likely is no. Rather, political observers said, a candidate’s ability to marshal support from political power-brokers demonstrates viability to deep-pocketed donors and, in certain instances, provides the campaign with added organizational muscle.

“Endorsements are primarily an inside game that influence money and, on some occasions, votes,” local political analyst Nancy Sims said. “But to the overall voters, it usually doesn’t matter.”

And so, in the quiet summer weeks preceding Labor Day – when voters’ minds were thought to be elsewhere – many in the crowded field seeking to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker hustled to rack up institutional support, touting their growing lists of supporters as evidence of campaign progress.

Let’s not overthink this. There are three ways that endorsements, which as you know I track on the 2015 Election page, can help a candidate. One is the organizational support of the endorsing organization. Endorsements from unions, the GLBT Caucus, and the Texas Organizing Project gets you the votes of most of the members as well as outreach from them to like-minded voters who aren’t members. Another is money, as a lot of endorsing organizations are PACs or have them. The police, the firesighters, the realtors, the contractors – all of them write checks up to $10K to their endorsed candidates. Finally, as the story notes at the end, endorsers can be signals to less-informed voters in some elections, or to voters like me who are looking for a tiebreaker between two otherwise equal candidates, especially in a race where one wants to ensure someone favorable gets into a runoff. None of these factors are likely to be decisive in any race, but in close contests where the difference between advancing and going home will be small, every little bit helps.

Chron Mayoral profile: Chris Bell

It’s “the first in a series of profiles on the top candidates running for mayor in Houston”.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Friends and colleagues said it’s [Chris] Bell’s belief in good government and that streak of political ambition, even in the face of sometimes daunting odds, that have fueled his 10 runs for various local, state and Congressional offices. And so, despite a seven-year break from the political circuit, it came as little surprise when Bell was the first candidate to publicly announce his campaign for mayor, an office he ran for in 2001 but lost to Lee Brown, who bested Republican Orlando Sanchez in the runoff.

In this year’s crowded race for term-limited Annise Parker’s seat, Bell’s first campaign finance report this summer put him behind other major mayoral contenders, which political scientists said didn’t rule him out but would make his path to City Hall tougher. Bell and his team said they aren’t concerned, pointing to his name ID in Houston and a record of showing well at forums and debates thanks to his ease with public speaking.

Bell’s campaign is centered around a promise to “modernize” Houston. He’s focused on mobility issues, pledging to synchronize traffic lights and build 200 miles of sidewalks in his first term as well as education, proposing to work with school districts and use library space for classrooms. Bell has also billed his experience at the local and national level as a boon to the city, dismissing suggestions that his recent campaign losses will be a vulnerability – he’s lost three races in a row.

Bell, 55, has been ambitious in picking races, often seeking election in districts that skew Republican or, as a young lawyer, running as a relative unknown. Bell has also drawn some criticism from colleagues for being quick to go on the offensive and deploying a sharp wit that doesn’t always translate well with constituents.

At his campaign launch on a blustery January day at Sam Houston Park, Bell was careful to fend off perceived attacks from opponents about his election record; “if it’s necessary, I’ll talk about the races they’ve run and lost” he said.

Brett Shipp, a friend of Bell’s since high school in Dallas’ swanky Highland Park neighborhood, said Bell has been running for office ever since there was an office to run for, “a perpetual candidate for student council.”

“He was like this Bruce Springsteen – born to run,” said Shipp, now a broadcast reporter in Dallas. “I think it’s this innate leadership quality that he knows is part of his DNA. And he’s always been kind of a political junkie, a political savant, and he loves politics, and it really kind of fuels his fire.”

Bell grew up in what he said was a middle-class household. His high school was attended almost exclusively by white students, something that became more jarring to Bell when he left for the University of Texas in Austin. It’s there that Bell, who headed the Interfraternity Council and pushed to form a student government, began to truly shift across the political spectrum away from his conservative upbringing.

“I’ve talked about this campaign more than I really probably ever have because I think I’ve sort of reached a comfort level,” Bell said. “When you grow up in a middle-class home in one of the wealthiest areas in the entire state it’s obviously going to have an impact on you. I think it gives you sort of a sense of unfairness in certain instances and kind of more of a desire to stand up for folks who may not be as well connected or as powerful.”

Read the whole thing, it’s a good profile. I’ve known Bell for ten years, and known of him for ten more before that, so there’s not really anything new here for me, but if you don’t know Bel that well, this is a good introduction. I look forward to seeing the other six articles (I’m assuming they’re including Marty McVey in the “top candidates” list) in the series. I hope there will be an equivalent series of articles that go into as much depth about what the candidates would do as Mayor as well.

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Endorsement watch: Houston GLBT Political Caucus 2015

Congrats to all the endorsees.

A raucous municipal endorsement meeting brought mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner the coveted backing of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus on Saturday, positioning the 26-year state representative to broaden his coalition to include the city’s progressive voting bloc.

Caucus members voted 142-85 to endorse Turner after more than an hour of insult-laden discussion in which they rejected the recommendation of the group’s screening committee to endorse former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Turner also beat out former Congressman Chris Bell, a longtime ally of the gay community who had been considered a likely pick for the group’s endorsement.

Once-shunned, the caucus’ supprt is now highly sought-after by candidates aiming to win over left-wing voters, known for reliably showing up at the polls.

“This is a major step to the finish line,” said Turner, seen as a frontrunner in the crowded mayor’s race. “This is a race about the future of the city versus its past, and this group represents a vital component of Houston’s family.”

[…]

Of the five mayoral candidates angling for caucus support, Turner, Garcia and City Councilman Stephen Costello received the highest ratings from the group’s four-member screening committee.

Committee members said concerns about Bell’s viability landed him a lower rank.

Bell closed out the first half of the year with less money in the bank than any of the other top-tier candidates.

“He’s in a tough position, because absent resources, financial resources, he would need key endorsements like this one to bolster his candidacy,” [consultant Keir] Murray said. “It just makes what was already a tough road even tougher.”

Bell, for his part, remained optimistic after the endorsement vote.

“Obviously not everyone participates in the caucus endorsement process,” Bell said. “I still think I am going to have tremendous support in the progressive voting bloc.”

See here for some background. I followed the action on Facebook and Twitter – it was spirited and lengthy, but everyone got a chance to make their case and to be heard. Here’s the full list of endorsed candidates:

Mayor – Sylvester Turner

City Council
District B – Jerry Davis
District C – Ellen Cohen
District F – Richard A. Nguyen
District H – Roland Chavez
District I – Robert Gallegos
District J – Mike Laster
District K – Larry Green
At Large 1 – Lane Lewis
At Large 2 – David Robinson
At Large 3 – Doug Peterson
At Large 4 – Amanda K. Edwards
At Large 5 – Phillipe Nassif

Controller – Chris Brown

HISD District 2 – Rhonda Skillern Jones
HISD District 3 – Ramiro Fonseca
HISD District 4 – Jolanda Jones
HISD District 8 – Juliet Katherine Stipeche

HCCS District 3 – Adriana Tamez
HCCS District 8 – Eva Loredo

None of these come as a surprise. Several could have gone another way, thanks to the presence of multiple qualified and viable candidates. I look forward to seeing this slate – and the near-misses – do very well in November.

Chron looks at Mayoral fundraising

They focus on small-dollar donors.

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeking GLBT support in the Mayor’s race

In a crowded field where a small number of votes could be the difference between making the runoff and not, endorsements will be of greater importance. One endorsement that several Mayoral candidates would really like to have if the endorsement of the HGLBT Political Caucus.

Houston’s mayoral candidates are angling for the GLBT Caucus’ coveted support, with state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s campaign purchasing dozens of memberships and others urging supporters to sign up ahead of the group’s August endorsement meeting.

In the last month, caucus membership jumped by about 200 people, from 325 to 525, leaving some longtime members, particularly supporters of former congressman Chris Bell, concerned that this year’s endorsement already may have been bought.

Caucus President Maverick Welsh, however, said the campaigns’ efforts will not be enough to tip the scales.

“We know campaigns actively try to push as many people into the room as possible, and that’s why we’ve strategically tried to grow our membership over the last year and a half,” Welsh said. “I don’t think any candidate has enough members to be able to buy an endorsement.”

[…]

Former congressman Chris Bell has been actively encouraging supporters to join and show up for the August meeting, while City Councilman Stephen Costello has pursued what his campaign described as a “low-key effort” to get people to join the caucus’ ranks.

Turner, on the other hand, opted to write the group a $3,040 check two weeks ago – enough for at least 76 memberships, according to spokeswoman Sue Davis.

“It’s something that’s done every year,” Davis said.

All three candidates, as well as former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, are seen as contenders for the caucus endorsement.

I wouldn’t want to try to guess who will come away with it. Based on what I’ve been seeing in my inbox and Facebook feed, we should start seeing a bunch of endorsements come down in the next few weeks. There’s a lot of races, not just the Mayor’s race, where those decisions aren’t going to be easy. I’ll be tracking them on the 2015 Election page as I see them.

Mayoral finance reports: PACs and consultants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial Mayoral fundraising totals

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

BagOfMoney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couple things here:

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: More from Greg.

Turner and Garcia lead early Mayoral poll

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

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK then, let’s click the link.

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


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

And finally, the methodology:

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

What do I think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bell wants Meyerland flooding investigated

It’s a story about flooding and the Mayor’s race, but not the story about flooding and the Mayor’s race you might have been expecting.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Mayoral candidate Chris Bell on Sunday called for an independent investigation into why so many Meyerland homes flooded during the heavy Memorial Day weekend rains.

Surrounded by about two dozen residents at a press conference by Brays Bayou, Bell said it was important to figure out why infrastructure projects in the area didn’t prevent major flooding and why others were not completed on schedule. Bell challenged the assertion, backed by experts, that flooding was inevitable considering some areas were hit with more than 10 inches overnight.

“The least we are owed is an explanation of what happened,” said Bell, a former congressman and city councilman who lives in Meyerland.

Bell called for an outside investigation, saying that a report by the Harris County Flood Control District would be “biased” because the agency helped design projects in the area as part of the city’s drainage and streets program, ReBuild Houston. A spokesperson for the agency could not be reached Sunday.

Bell is not the first of the seven mayoral candidates to criticize the city’s ReBuild Houston initiative, the pay-as-you-go program that voters approved in 2010, in the wake of the Memorial Day flooding. Many of the candidates vying to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker have seized on the flooding to criticize the city’s infrastructure or talk about speeding up flood mitigation efforts.

Well, except that Bell never mentions ReBuild Houston in this story, and that the next three paragraphs have to do with Tropical Storm Allison in 2001 and the effect it had on Brays Bayou and the massive project that the Harris County Flood Control District undertook to mitigate those effects, which some people including Bell are now saying have taken too long and not done enough. None of this, you may note, has anything to do with ReBuild Houston. I’m sure Bell has been critical of ReBuild Houston, but as far as I can tell what he has not done – along with Adrian Garcia and Marty McVey – is publicly express an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling or the subsequent new litigation or the call for a revote. Any or all of those things would have been nice to know, but none of them are a part of this story. I don’t know if Chron reporter Tina Nazerian didn’t think to ask about any of these things or just didn’t report the answers she got when she did. Either way, we got nothing. For a bit of writing that does have something to do with ReBuild Houston, see PDiddie.

ReBuild Houston and the Mayor’s race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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