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City Council

Checking in on Pasadena

How’s it going over there?

A year into his four-year term, [Pasadena Mayor Jeff] Wagner says he is focused on unifying a city whose ethnic and socioeconomic inequities were displayed before a national audience during the 2016 trial over a redistricting lawsuit. Current and former city officials say Wagner’s more conciliatory style serves him well in achieving this goal, but they differ on how much progress he’s made.

Pasadena, like Houston, has a strong-mayor system of government. Isbell, who led the city off-and-on from 1981 to 2017, came to symbolize its reputation for intolerance and inequity as witnesses in the redistricting trial testified that the city had systematically neglected the needs of its mostly Latino northside neighborhoods.

In January 2017, Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal found that a revised council district system, initiated by Isbell, intentionally diluted the influence of Latino voters. The city, under Isbell, promptly appealed.

Last September, in what was arguably the most consequential decision of his first year in office, Wagner dropped the appeal. The city agreed to continue electing all eight council members from districts, and to pay a $1 million settlement to the Latino plaintiffs.

Isbell, who left office because of term limits, criticized Wagner’s decision, saying he believed the city would have prevailed on appeal. In an interview last week, however, Wagner said ending the case was an essential step in bringing the city together.

“I didn’t feel that we (the city) had done anything wrong,” said Wagner, 54, a retired Houston police officer. “But I felt we had to get out of it as quickly as we did.”

[…]

Former Councilwoman Pat Van Houte, who continues to keep a close eye on city affairs, offered a mixed assessment of Wagner’s first year leading the city.

“This mayor started with certain promises and he has fulfilled some,” she said, among those dropping the redistricting lawsuit. “He has shown some leadership skills.”

Van Houte said she had been disappointed, however, with some of the administration’s priorities, including the golf course improvements rejected by the council last week.

“The city has been spending quite a bit of money on buildings, and not much in neighborhoods getting the streets and sidewalks done,” she said.

Cody Ray Wheeler, one of three Latinos now on the City Council, was one of Isbell’s harshest critics. On the day of Wagner’s inauguration, Wheeler expressed optimism that Wagner would be more attentive to the needs of northside residents.

It hasn’t worked out that way, Wheeler said last week.

“I went in optimistic, but it feels after a year that it’s the same old thing with a new, smiling face in front of it,” Wheeler said.

As an example of continued inequities, Wheeler offered data about the city’s neighborhood network program, which provides grants to community organizations for neighborhood improvements. During the trial of the redistricting case, witnesses testified that Isbell’s administration had used the program as a political tool, steering grants to groups that were then encouraged to help get out votes for initiatives the mayor favored.

Wheeler did not allege that the practice has continued under Wagner. He said, however, that wealthy, mostly Anglo neighborhoods south of Spencer Highway had received more than $65,000 in grants, while areas north of Spencer had received about $3,000.

“This is a huge disparity in the way the city is handing out grant funds,” Wheeler said during Tuesday’s council meeting.

Settling that redistricting lawsuit was a big deal, and Mayor Wagner deserves credit for that. Sounds like there’s still a lot of room for things to get better. Fulfilling the promise made about bringing transit to Pasadena would be a big step in that direction, but it’s not the only one that could be taken. Maybe Mayor Wagner will make some progress on that on his own, and maybe he’ll need a push from the voters next May.

The June elections

You may not realize this, but there are multiple elections going on right now around Texas. I’m aware of three:

1. The Klein ISD Tax Ratification Election:

Our shared vision in Klein ISD is that every student enters with a promise and exits with a purpose. In order to make our vision a reality for EVERY student, we need resources. We believe it’s important that every member of the Klein community understands how our schools are funded by the State and local taxpayers. For example, you might be surprised to know that as your home value grows causing you to pay higher school taxes, the State decreases their share of funding.

The above videos explain the current school funding system and the impact it has on the Klein ISD budget. It also explains steps the district has taken over the years to maintain the current educational programs.

See here and here for some news coverage about this election. I only know about it because Klein ISD is in Harris County, up near the Woodlands, and I’ve been getting the daily early vote totals for it. The EV period for this is over and the election itself is tomorrow, the 16th. You can find your polling place here if that applies to you. I’ve no idea why this is being held now as opposed to the May uniform election date, but you can learn more about TREs and why school boards need to have them here and here.

2. The Pearland City Council runoff:

After neither candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote as polls closed Saturday, Adrian Hernandez and Dalia Kasseb will face each other in a runoff next month to decide who will be the next Position 4 council member.

“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support. … I’m excited to keep going,” Hernandez said. “It’s no different today than it was yesterday or how it will be tomorrow. I’ve been serving the city and I’ll keep doing that. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

It’s a familiar result for Kasseb, who faced six candidates in 2017 for a council position before ultimately losing to Woody Owens in a runoff for Position 7.

“I am buoyed to know I can count on growing support from the community,” Kasseb said. “We will continue the fight to become that voice for all on city council and be the solution to the challenges we face in our rapidly growing community.”

In early vote totals, Hernandez had a winning margin of votes, but as Election Day ballots were counted, both Kasseb and G. Sonny Atkins picked away at his lead.

“She’s a formidable opponent,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to look to those people we have not reached yet and fill in those gaps.”

Pearland City Council has staggered three-year terms, so they have elections for a subset of their members every year. Mike Snyder had a decent overview of this a couple of weeks ago. Like the Klein ISD TRE, this one will happen on Saturday, as early voting ended on Tuesday. Voting location information is here and a map is here. At least the runoff this year seems to be a lot less ugly than last year’s was.

3. The special election in CD27.

Twice.

That’s the number of times candidates for Texas’ 27th Congressional District have already had their names on a ballot. For months they’ve traveled the district, shaken hands, and gone to meet and greets. They’ll need to get used to that campaign trail.

That’s because even when the top two contenders to fill the seat — Republican Michael Cloud and Democrat Eric Holguin — arose, the battle on the ballot was still far from over.

Voters will next cast their ballots in the June 30 special election. There could be two more elections after that as well. At the very least there’s one more in November.

[…]

The winner will be in office for less than a year.

That time could be cut down even more if one of the nine candidates on the ballot does not get more than half of the votes. If that happens, a runoff would follow.

When voters head to the polls they’ll see nine names on the ballot — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents alike.

Three of those names should be familiar to voters: Holguin, Cloud and Raul “Roy” Barrera. Win or lose in the special election Holguin, a Democrat, and Cloud, a Republican, will face off again in the November general election.

On the last election night, Holguin said the primary runoff election’s outcome would play a “huge role” going into June.

“It shows who the top two candidates are,” he said. “I know there are nine candidates, but we are the ones that are going to be going face to face in November. So we’re the ones that people are going to be paying attention to and really focusing on.”

Last month, Bech Bruun, who lost to Cloud in May, endorsed the former Victoria GOP chair, asking people to vote for him in both June and November. Bruun’s name still will appear on the June ballot.

Bruun said a large part of the endorsement was so hopefully his supporters would switch to Cloud and a runoff would be avoided.

The Corpus Christi Caller also endorsed Cloud for the special election, though they reserved the right to change their mind for November. TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa endorsed Eric Holguin, as the only chance Dems have is in a low-turnout context with the bulk of Dem votes going to Holguin. I don’t care for his odds, but we’ll see if the trend of Dems cutting into Republican margins from 2016 holds here. Early voting for this one started on Wednesday, with E-Day on June 30. Oh, and just so we’re clear, Blake Farenthold is still a leech.

But wait! I hear you cry. Wasn’t there also supposed to be a runoff in the special election for HD13? Yes there was, and no there won’t be.

Following a March 6 Primary Election, May 5 Special Election and a May 22 Primary Runoff Election, former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman will take the oath of office Thursday, May 31, as the new Texas State Representative of District 13.

According to the Texas Secretary of State office, Leman was considered duly elected to fill the vacated seat for the remainder of the current term following the withdrawal of opponent Jill Wolfskill from the runoff special election that was set to occur in late summer. Wolfskill made a formal concession from the race May 23 via her Facebook page and submitted a “signed, notarized withdrawal to the office of the Secretary of State” to announce her decision.

“I want to say a big thank you to my family, friends, supporters, and volunteers on the Jill Wolfskill campaign these past four months,” said Wolfskill. “Running this race in has been a great honor and I am so blessed by the amazing support I received, and by the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet throughout this district.”

Wolfskill and Leman had both previously made public comments regarding the concession of the candidate who received the least number of votes in the May 22 Primary Runoff Election to prevent unnecessary financial burdens to the seven counties in House District 13. Leman took the majority of the 14,602 votes with 57.33 percent, while Wolfskill had 43.03 percent.

Leman still has to win the November election against Cecil Webster, but if he does he will have a head start in seniority over his fellow members of the class of 2018. And the good news is we should get the entire month of July off from elections.

What are the elections of interest this May?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nation on Our Revolution in Texas

Here’s a feature story in The Nation from before the holidays about Our Revolution, one of the many grassroots groups that have become prominent post-Trump to organize and get better people elected. The focus of this story is on what OR is doing in Texas.

When Jim Hightower, Nina Turner, and the Our Revolution road show rolled into Tyler, Texas, Ed Moore liked what he heard. “This is basically what we’ve all been needing,” explained the retired factory worker and union leader, who lives in a town where factories and unions have taken a lot of hits in recent years. Moore, a city councilman who represents working-class neighborhoods shaken by deindustrialization, nodded in agreement as Hightower channeled old-school Texas populism into a warning: “The powers that be…are knocking down the middle class. They are holding down the poor” and attacking “the essential ethic that holds America together—and that is the notion that we are all in this together.”

Our Revolution is the national group created by backers of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run with the goal of transforming the Democratic Party. When Turner, a former Ohio state senator who now leads the organization, finished her address by declaring, “We can change the world—one community at a time, one state at a time…. Tyler, Texas, can we do this?,” Moore joined the enthusiastic multiracial, multiethnic crowd, which was packed into an activity center on the local college campus, in answering: “Yes!”

[…]

Of the many resistance and rebuilding groups that are working on the ground to renew Democratic fortunes in the states, Our Revolution has made a notable decision: It’s betting big on Texas. As soon as the Sanders campaign gave way to the organization—with its slogan “Campaigns End, Revolutions Endure” and its promise to “transform American politics”—Hightower and a new generation of Lone Star populists vowed that they would make Texas Our Revolution’s most engaged, active, and, they hope, politically successful state branch. And after a shaky start, Our Revolution is developing into a muscular grassroots organization with nearly 500 chapters in 49 states and a burgeoning capacity to organize on behalf of issues and to help win elections. This is about the recognition of a need: Political movements that evolve out of presidential campaigns often have a hard time defining themselves as more than a reflection of a particular candidate and a particular moment in history. To get to that broader definition, groups that seek to fundamentally change parties and politics must deliver successful examples of how the politics of an insurgent presidential campaign can elect candidates in other races.

[…]

Designated by Our Revolution’s national board as the organization’s first state affiliate, the Lone Star group has hired staff; used Sanders-campaign lists to connect with grassroots activists; and begun organizing chapters at the local, county, and regional levels. It has spelled out a progressive agenda—a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, worker rights, support for immigrants, policies to address climate change, and a commitment to get big money out of politics—and it is encouraging political newcomers who came of age in the Sanders campaign, as well as the worker-rights, immigrant-rights, and Black Lives Matter movements, to start running in Democratic primaries and nonpartisan local elections.

Some of these newcomers have already won. Activist La’Shadion Shemwell, 30, was elected in June to the McKinney City Council in conservative Collin County, north of Dallas. “If I can do it,” Shemwell says, “having been arrested, being a minority, having tattoos and dreadlocks, being a poor person with all the odds against me—if I can do it, then anybody can do it.” In San Antonio, history teacher John Courage surprised nearly everyone by winning his uphill run for a City Council seat. “We can’t overstate how huge an upset this is,” said Our Revolution, which backed him. “Education activist John Courage has won his race in San Antonio’s most conservative district!”

The group plans to endorse candidates in 2018 for posts like state commissioner of agriculture—where Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel and rancher who has become a dynamic advocate for sustainable food production, seeks the Democratic nod—as well as in hundreds of down-ballot contests that have often been neglected in recent years. And it’s exploring the possibility of endorsing for governor and US Senate. There will be some primary fights, but in many parts of Texas, Our Revolution activists are working with local Democrats and stepping up as candidates supported not just by Sanders backers but by 2016 Clinton backers. “They’re bringing energy and a lot of young people into the party,” says Lorraine Broll, president of the Circle-C Area Democrats club in Central Texas. She isn’t a member of Our Revolution, but she’s pleased the group is organizing in places like Hays County, an area between Austin and San Antonio where Trump narrowly won in 2016 but where Democrats hope to make dramatic progress in 2018.

Part of the Our Revolution Texas strategy is to run in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to have a chance. To that end, it’s organizing not just frustrated Democrats but also independents and members of the largest political group in the state: nonvoters. This emphasis on expanding the voter roll and the candidate list intrigues Texans who have grown cynical after years of hearing that the demographics of this minority-majority state will soon make Democrats dominant.

It’s always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective on things in Texas. Sometimes they see things we don’t, sometimes they provide a reality check on our warped perspective. And sometimes you shake your head and say “you really should have run this past someone who knows something about Texas”. I have a few admittedly nitpicky examples of the latter to discuss.

First, a genuine question: What practical experience does Jim Hightower have in grassroots organization, and turning that into an effective means of not just communicating but actually winning elections? All due respect, but I can’t think of any prominent recent efforts he’s been involved in. He does his pundit/humorist thing, and that’s fine, but my perception here is that his main function is eminance grise and “Texas liberal person whose name non-Texan readers of The Nation will recognize”. Maybe I’m selling him short and if so I apologize, but it might have been nice to have had his recent accomplishments listed in the story.

The story does mention a couple of recent wins by OR-affiliated candidates, and that’s really where my observation about getting some input from a local applies. I mean, calling John Courage a “newcomer” is more than a little silly. Courage, who I interviewed in 2012 when he ran for State Senate, had previously run for Congress in 2006, and served on the Alamo Community College District Board of Trustees in the 1980s. I think highly of John Courage and am delighted that he won his race for San Antonio City Council, but he’s not a newcomer.

To be sure, there haven’t been that many opportunities for any group to exert influence in an election this year in Texas. The May elections were the main event – it would have been interesting to have seen what might have happened in a Houston election, but we won’t get that until 2019 – and there have been no legislative special elections as yet. The upcoming primaries will offer some opportunities. Kim Olson is unopposed in March, so that won’t tell us anything. The race to watch if you want to see what OR can do is in CD21, where OR has endorsed Derrick Crowe, who faces three opponents including one (Joseph Kopser) who has a lot of establishment support and has raised a bunch of money. I looked at the Our Revolution Texas Facebook page and didn’t see any other endorsement announcements – I don’t recall seeing any others while looking at all those Congressional candidate Facebook pages, either – but there’s still time and plenty of races to choose from. I will definitely be interested in that, and I expect there will be other players looking to leave their mark on the races in 2018 as well.

Anyway, read it and see what you think. Olson and Crowe were the only 2018 candidates mentioned by name, so I hope there will be more to be said about what OR is doing.

Patrick gets a primary challenger

The plot thickens.

Former Rockwall City Council member Scott Milder will challenge Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in next year’s Republican primary, Milder announced formally on Thursday.

Milder, a public education advocate and resident of North Texas, is the first Republican to officially challenge Patrick, a far-right conservative and one of the most powerful elected officials in Texas. Milder has criticized the lieutenant governor for his education policy stances and called Patrick “classless and clueless” for tweeting smiling pictures of himself and Hurricane Harvey first responders.

Milder’s decision to jump into the race was spurred by Patrick’s unsuccessful attempts this year to pass controversial legislation such as the so-called bathroom bill.

“Texans are fed up with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s antics and deserve a choice on the Republican primary ballot,” Milder said. “Voters want to support a traditional conservative leader who will govern with common sense and focus on the critical challenges facing our great state.”

[…]

The bathroom bill, which would have restricted public restroom access for transgender Texans, was the most divisive issue Texas lawmakers debated this year. The Rockwall City Council tackled the issue this year, too, and Milder opposed the effort he said would hurt the economy.

“I am not sympathetic to the transgender agenda, nor any agenda seeking special treatment for special interests under the law,” Milder wrote in a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed. “My opposition to this ordinance was strictly a business decision based in practicality.”

Saying he initially supported the concept of restricting restroom use based on sex, Milder changed his mind when he considered the reaction to “a man dressing up as a woman” and using the men’s room: “That is much more likely to turn some heads and cause trouble.”

Like the statewide effort, Rockwall’s bathroom ordinance also failed to pass.

You can find Milder’s webpage here and his campaign Facebook page here. A press release from his campaign is here. Milder served four years on Rockwell city council, losing a bid for re-election this year. I have no illusions about his chances, but I am interested in three things: How much support he gets – fundraising, endorsements, etc – what percentage of the vote he gets, and whether he endorses Patrick after he loses. I’d set the over/under for Patrick at 80% of the vote in the primary, and I figure anything over 70% will be seen as nothing remarkable. Still, it’s a big deal for someone to take on the biggest bully in the room, so on that score I salute Scott Milder and wish him well. As I like to say, nothing will change until someone loses an election over this stuff, and that starts with people being willing to take the challenge and run. Good luck to you, Scott Milder. Please do your best to soften Danny up for Mike Collier.

Pasadena City Council approves settlement in redistricting case

It’s over.

The Pasadena City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $1.1 million settlement agreement of a lawsuit challenging a city voting plan that a federal judge found diluted Latino voting influence.

Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler said that after four years of litigation and $3.5 million in legal fees he was glad to see the appeal come to an end.

“It all started out as a power grab that has now run its course,” Wheeler said. “In addition to the financial hit, the lawsuit gave the city a black eye in the national spotlight. It cost us progress and it cost us time.”

Councilman Phil Cayten said he would vote to end the lawsuit to save money even though he thought the city could have prevailed on appeal.

“I think the three more conservative judges of the appeal court would rule in favor of the City of Pasadena,” said Cayten, who apologized to constituents who favored continuing the appeal. “Let me just say that I believe in my heart that the City of Pasadena did not violate the Voting Rights Act or adopt a discriminatory election system.”

The settlement, recommended by new Mayor Jeff Wagner, calls for the city to pay for the plaintiffs’ legal fees and court costs, and to drop its appeal of U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling regarding the 2013 council election system.

See here for the background. One of the consequences of this is that Pasadena is will be put under preclearance for six years, meaning that any changes they make to district lines or other election procedures will have to be approved before they can be implemented. The Trib explores this aspect of the settlement.

The local voting rights squabble had caught the attention of voting rights advocates and legal observers nationwide as some looked to it as a possible test case of whether the Voting Rights Act still serves as a safeguard for voters of color. The local voting rights squabble had caught the attention of voting rights advocates and legal observers nationwide as some looked to it as a possible test case of whether the Voting Rights Act still serves as a safeguard for voters of color.

As things stand now, the dispute won’t set broader precedent across Texas or beyond state lines. But in a state embroiled in court-determined voting rights violations on several fronts, the federal guardianship of Pasadena’s elections is meaningful, particularly following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 finding that conditions for voters of color had “dramatically improved.”

“I think it’s significant that in 2017 we have a trial court finding of intentional racial discrimination by a city in Texas and that the drastic remedy of preclearance has been successfully imposed,” said Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine’s law school who specializes in election law. “The Pasadena ruling indicates that in some places racial discrimination in voting is very much a thing of the present.”

[…]

Rosenthal’s ruling was decisive for voting rights litigation playing out after that ruling, and the city’s move to drop its appeal and let the ruling stand sets up the possibility that Pasadena’s voting rights fight could play an outsized role in other court battles.

In 2013, the Supreme Court left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance — through the Voting Rights Act’s “bail-in” provision — if they committed new discriminatory actions. Rosenthal set a possible standard that other courts can look to in deciding whether to bail in other jurisdictions, legal experts observed.

“It’s one more black mark against Texas” that could help in other voting rights litigation, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

Pasadena’s vote to settle the case is likely to disappoint state leaders who had already filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal that warned of “unwarranted federal intrusion.” State attorneys had deemed Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling improper because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

See here for more on that. I don’t know what if any precedent Pasadena will set, but I’d rather have this outcome going forward than the alternative.

Still no word on what Pasadena will do with the redistricting appeal

We’re waiting.

Because the ruling went against the city, Pasadena is required to pay legal costs to attorneys for that group, the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund. In addition, the city’s fees to its legal representatives at Bickerstaff, Heath, Delgado and Acosta now total approximately $2.8 million as it pursues the appeal.

[…]

The council voted 5-3 on Aug. 1 to pay $45,585 to the Bickerstaff firm, bringing the total paid in legal fees over the last six months to the firm to more than $320,000. The city paid more than $2.5 million before the ruling.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, Councilman Don Harrison broached the topic of a settlement regarding MALDEF’s legal expenses.

“I understand through sources there are negotiations going on with MALDEF, who has requested $1.6 million to settle the lawsuit. We’ve had an executive session to discuss this, and yet we’re still continuing with the appeal,” said Harrison, who joined Sammy Casados and Cody Ray Wheeler in voting against approving the latest payment. “It’s time to settle this matter with MALDEF and get this lawsuit over.”

“We’re working everything we can, and once we get these numbers for sure we will have a council meeting to discuss this,” [Mayor Jeff] Wagner said.

See here for some background. The calculation is that if Pasadena eventually wins the appeal, they only have to pay their own lawyers and won’t owe the plaintiffs’ attorneys a dime. But if they lose, they will not only have paid their own lawyers that much more to keep on this, they’ll also owe attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs, which will undoubtedly be a lot higher than the $1.6 million they’re apparently offering to take now. It’s almost as if that 2013 redistricting scheme pushed through by former Mayor Johnny Isbell was a really lousy idea that has served to put the city in such a terrible position today. Hindsight, y’all.

Pasadena has a decision to make

To continue the redistricting appeal, or to drop it and accept the ruling? One factor to consider is the cost involved.

Pasadena has already paid more than $2.5 million to its outside attorneys.

But there’s a complication: Under federal law, if the plaintiffs prevail, the city would be on the hook for their legal fees in addition to its own. The five Latino Pasadena residents who filed the lawsuit have been represented without charge by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“As a nonprofit, we do depend on collecting legal fees when we are entitled to them when we represent plaintiffs who have been found to have been discriminated against,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

The potential for additional legal fees could support an argument to continue the appeal or to end it.

If the city instructs its lawyers to drop the case now, the two sides would negotiate a payment to MALDEF based on the market rate for this type of legal work in Houston and the number of hours devoted to the case.

If the city appeals and wins, its own legal fees will increase but it will owe nothing to MALDEF. If it loses, the bill goes up even more.

“They can stop the bleeding now or take the risk that it goes even higher,” said Saenz.

First, let’s be clear that however much money Pasadena winds up spending, primary responsibility for it falls on its former Mayor, Johnny Isbell. Of course, Isbell couldn’t have done what he did without four willing Council members, one of whom was new Mayor Jeff Wagner, who gets to decide the course going forward. The state of Texas would like Pasadena to continue the fight, but it’s not like they’re going to pony up some money for the lawyers at the end of it all. Settling now give Pasadena cost certainty, and maybe they can get a good-faith discount from the plaintiffs’ attorneys. Fighting on has the chance of getting to pay less than what they owe now, but good luck calculating an expected value for that outcome. And fighting on and losing is the worst of all worlds. So how risk-averse do you feel today, Mayor Wagner?

The broader implications of the Pasadena voting rights lawsuit

Buried in this Trib story about the ongoing saga of Pasadena’s voting rights lawsuit is this nugget about the state getting involved.

The case could reverberate beyond Pasadena’s city limits. Legal experts contend that a decision by the 5th Circuit could guide other courts around the country that are considering similar voting rights cases.

The Pasadena ruling also has the potential to help build a case against the state, which faces its own voting rights challenges in court, said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston who has studied voting rights cases for decades.

In lifting federal electoral oversight for Texas and other jurisdictions in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court noted that conditions for minority voters had “dramatically improved,” but the justices left open the possibility that political jurisdictions could be placed back under preclearance if they committed new discriminatory actions.

Earlier this year, Texas faced a barrage of federal court rulings that found the 2011 Legislature intentionally discriminated against voters of colors by passing a stringent voter ID law and re-drawing the state’s political maps. Those cases are still making their way through federal courts in Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

The Pasadena ruling — “particularly because it was so thoroughly stated and so strong and by a judge that has no history of favoring blacks or Latinos in redistricting cases” — could serve as “another brick in building this case that Texas has a recent history of discriminatory action,” Murray said.

In a sign that Texas leaders also see Pasadena as a potential problem for its own cases, state attorneys filed an amicus brief in support of the city’s appeal, arguing that preclearance “must be sparingly and cautiously applied” to avoid reimposing “unwarranted federal intrusion.”

Judge Rosenthal’s preclearance ruling in the Pasadena case was improper, the state contends, because it was imposed for a single incident of discrimination instead of pervasive and rampant discrimination.

Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the state got involved. I’m surprised it took them this long. It is not yet clear if the city of Pasadena will continue to pursue this appeal. New Mayor Jeff Wagner has said he will abide by the will of Pasadena City Council. He hasn’t said much about it since being elected, including when he might ask them for their opinion. The Fifth Circuit declined to overturn Judge Rosenthal’s injunction on using the 6-2 Council map, but they did not address the merits of the overall ruling, including the bail-in on Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. I don’t know what the time frame for a hearing of that appeal at the Fifth Circuit might be, but broadly speaking it’s likely to be some time in 2018. Unless Pasadena decides to drop it and accept the lower court ruling, of course. Will the state’s intervention have an effect on that? We’ll know when Mayor Wagner asks Council to vote on the appeal.

Today is Runoff Day

While I have nothing to vote for tomorrow, there are hot races in Pasadena and Pearland.

Changes in Pearland’s demographics have mirrored those in Houston, amplifying the effects of what this election will show, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said.

“This election will tell us a lot about where the future of Houston will go and, therefore, where the future of Texas will go,” he said.

In the mayor’s race, 91-year-old incumbent Tom Reid faces a challenge from Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old project manager whom the mayor once recommended for a city park board position. In the council race, businessman and former city council member Woody Owens, 69, is running against 30-year-old pharmacist Dalia Kasseb, the first openly Muslim candidate for public office in Brazoria County history. She has never before run for elective office in the city, but Wiltz encouraged her run.

Owens says his past experience on council and professionally will be a benefit. He maintained that Pearland grew from a solid foundation and that the diverse city still has a united, small-town atmosphere. The campaign of the mayor, who has supported Owens, did not provide comment.

“We’re all Pearlanders,” Owens said.

Wiltz and Kasseb, who have been campaigning together, insist they have much to offer. They knocked on thousands of doors, they said, discussing with residents their ideas on mobility (HOV lanes, park and ride, a rail line), a nearby landfill that has been the subject of residents’ complaints and overall quality of life. They derided anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim social media posts that surfaced.

“Pearland has changed,” Wiltz said. “The challenges have changed.”

This one got a bit nasty, which may have helped generate some turnout. In May, there were 7,660 total votes cast. Early voting turnout for the runoff was 9,740 votes. I have no idea who that might benefit, but it’s interesting. Polling places for Pearland can be found here. I’ll report the results tomorrow.

There’s a more stark contrast in Pearland, both partisan and generational, which is less present in Pasadena.

In addition to the mayor’s race, voters will decide the District A council seat, where Felipe Villarreal and Daniel Vela are vying to represent part of the city’s north side.

The mayor’s race, however, is taking center stage as it marks a change from Isbell, who has led the city, off and on, for decades and now is term-limited.

“I want to give every candidate the benefit of the doubt,” said Cody Ray Wheeler, a councilman who frequently has butted heads with Isbell. “Whoever the next mayor is, I want to work with them.”

Wheeler ran unopposed for his District E seat during the May 6 election.

The runoff comes amid conflicts over racial tensions and access to the ballot box. Nearly two-thirds of city residents are Hispanic, up from less than one-third in 1990.

[…]

Moon, a commercial real estate agent and banker who grew up in Pasadena, is positioning himself as the candidate of change, a break from Isbell’s legacy.

“People want change,” Moon said. “They don’t want a continuation of the same, and I believe my opponent is a continuation of the same.”

Moon’s priorities include developing a multi-year capital improvement plan to spread infrastructure projects across the city, including streets and sidewalks. He wants to implement zero-based-budgeting for city departments to make them justify their spending. And he touts his credentials as chief financial officer of Moody Bank, based in Galveston, to help make shrewder financial decisions for the city.

Wagner did not respond to repeated requests for comment by email or phone. After a Pasadena city council meeting Tuesday, Wagner said he would meet a Houston Chronicle reporter outside, before exiting into a private room and reportedly leaving City Hall.

In campaign literature, Wagner touts his experience as a former Houston police officer and as a city councilman. He is widely seen as the candidate most aligned with Isbell.

Wagner and Moon also differ in their stances on the controversial voting rights lawsuit, which the city is appealing. Moon said he would stop the appeal, while Wagner said he would survey city council before making a decision.

As of Monday, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office, 4,389 people had cast ballots during early voting. About 8,300 votes were cast during the May balloting.

You can find your polling place for Pasadena here. Wiltz and Kasseb in Pearland, and Villarreal in Pasadena are all Project LIFT candidates. One way or the other, there’s going to be some spin on these results.

San Antonio files “sanctuary cities” lawsuit

Here they go.

The cities of San Antonio and Austin announced on Thursday they have joined the fight to stop the state’s new immigration enforcement law, Senate Bill 4, in federal court.

[…]

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed the suit Thursday on behalf of San Antonio City Councilman Rey Saldaña and a trio of nonprofit groups: La Unión Del Pueblo Entero, the Worker’s Defense Project and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education.

The city of Austin’s city attorney will file a motion to intervene and join the plaintiffs Friday but will use its own attorneys and introduce certain Austin-specific claims, a spokesperson for Austin City Councilman Greg Casar said.

Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton are the named defendants in the litigation.

During a press call late Thursday afternoon, Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF’s president and general counsel, said the lawsuit contains “arguments against each and every provision in SB4.” Specifically, the lawsuit alleges the bill, if enacted, would violate the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

“All of those multiple constitutional claims basically relate to the illegality of empowering each and every police officer, sheriff’s deputy, booking agent and other law enforcement figures in the state of Texas to decide on their own, without any guidance or restriction from their duly elected superiors and appointed police chiefs … whether and how to enforce federal immigration law.”

CM Saldaña had been pushing for this since SB4 was signed, and it was reported earlier in the week that the suit would be filed on Thursday/ Here’s more on Austin’s role in this.

Austin plans to file a motion to intervene, bringing “Austin-specific issues to the table,” City Council Member Greg Casar said on a conference call.

“Soon after Gov. Abbott signed this disgraceful law, community groups announced a summer of resistance against SB 4, calling on elected officials to file challenges against the law in court,” Casar said, refering to Senate Bill 4. “City leaders have responded swiftly. Upon filing suit against the State of Texas tomorrow morning, El Paso, El Cenizo, San Antonio and Austin all will have responded to the community’s call.”

The lawsuit alleges SB 4 violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It names the State of Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton as defendants.

As the story notes, Austin City Council had previously voted to pursue litigation, so this is the culmination of that vote. This lawsuit joins with the other lawsuits already in progress. MALDEF attorney Saenz is quoted in the Trib story saying that the Austin/San Antonio suits will likely be combined with the El Cenizo/Maverick County one at some point, but until then and before the September 1 implementation date there’s plenty of time for motions and discovery.

San Antonio’s decision to file suit was a bit contentious as Mayor Ivy Taylor did not want to get involved, at least at this time. That stance has become an issue in the Mayoral runoff.

Taylor’s move gives her an 11th-hour wedge issue in her mayoral runoff campaign. Her challenger, Councilman Ron Nirenberg, supports the lawsuit and Taylor is banking on the idea that North Side conservatives will remember that when they go to the polls.

Nirenberg said in a Thursday statement that he hopes the lawsuit “will bring a fast and final resolution on the constitutionality of the law so our local law enforcement can move forward with the job of protecting the people of San Antonio.”

Taylor was joined in her anti-lawsuit stance by North Side council members Joe Krier and Mike Gallagher. Like Taylor, Gallagher suggested that the city should work in coordination with the state’s other major cities before committing to litigation. Krier said the council should have voted in an open session, with full transparency and the chance for public discussion.

I agree with that point. That’s how Austin handled it, with a May 18 council vote to file suit over SB 4. By definition, City Council makes policy and deciding to participate in this lawsuit is a major policy move. In the words of former New York Jets head coach Herm Edwards, “Put your name on it.”

Saldaña agrees with the calls for transparency, but said San Antonio was running out of time because Austin and other cities are looking to S.A. to decide how they should proceed against SB 4, which goes into effect on September 1.

“The question that I posed to the mayor and the manager (Sheryl Sculley) and our city attorney was, ‘What is the best way to move quickly?’ And they said, ‘Let’s first discuss this in executive session and see what folks have an appetite for.’ But it kept getting stalled and several weeks passed from the time I originally proposed this,” Saldaña said.

“The people who are most in favor of getting it up for a (public) vote are just trying to delay the action that we’re taking. And Councilman Krier was one of them.”

Saldaña pointed out that Krier had no objections in 2014 when the council made an executive-session decision to file lawsuits against the police and fire unions over the city’s collective-bargaining agreements.

Here’s a list of statements by the Mayor and Council members following the vote to file suit. The runoff concludes June 10, so we ought to have some feedback on the political effect shortly. In the meantime, all eyes remain on Houston and Mayor Turner. ThinkProgress and the Current have more.

Runoff endorsement watch: Moon for Mayor

The Chron picks their second choice for Mayor of Pasadena.

John “J.R.” Moon

The second-largest city in Harris County could use a good shake-up.

That’s why voters should elect John “J.R.” Moon Jr. for mayor in the city’s runoff election.

Moon, 58, would bring the outsider perspective that Pasadena needs. He has spent the past decade as a trustee for the top-rated San Jacinto College. In addition to his public service, Moon also has the business credentials to make for a fine mayor of a growing city – he is a certified CPA and former chief financial officer at Moody Bank. Moon currently works as a commercial real estate agent.

While scandal has dominated the headlines, Moon kept his focus on the core issues of education, economic growth and quality of life when he met with the editorial board. He specifically recommended updating the city’s infrastructure plans into a modern capital improvement system that’s the hallmark of transparent governance.

“It does not appear that we have had an effective plan over the last five years and you need to renew that plan on an annual basis,” Moon said.

[…]

Pasadena needs a mayor who can enter this office with eyes wide open if the city hopes to avoid further scandal.

Moon is Pasadena’s best choice to make these issues a thing of the past.

The Chron had previously endorsed Pat Van Houte, but she didn’t make the runoff. They remain steadfast in their desire to see as big a change from the Isbell era as possible. Early voting for the runoff is going on now through June 6 – you can see times and locations here. Felipe Villarreal is a Project LIFT candidate in the runoff for Pasadena City Council in District A, so if you live there please don’t forget about him, and don’t forget about Pearland if you live there. The runoff is June 10, so make a plan to make your voice heard.

Things get ugly in the Pearland runoffs

Nasty.

Dalia Kasseb

The hijab that Dalia Kasseb wears in public never seemed to disturb Woody Owens, her opponent in a June 10 runoff for a Pearland City Council position. Owens, Kasseb told me, has been perfectly cordial when their paths have crossed on the campaign trail.

Imagine Kasseb’s surprise, then, when she watched a video that includes screenshots of various groups’ harsh anti-Muslim messages that Owens had shared on Facebook. One particularly crude post features an image of a goat and the words: “I don’t want to grow up to be abused as a Muslim sex slave. Please ban Islam. #GoatLivesMatter.”

Another post recommends banning the Quran.

“Our few meetings have been very pleasant,” said Kasseb, a 30-year-old pharmacist who appears to be the first openly Muslim candidate for elective office in Brazoria County. “But for him to be sharing that stuff on Facebook really shows what he believes.”

The video criticizing the posts, which was produced by the Brazoria County Democratic Party, shows them interspersed with clips of longtime Mayor Tom Reid expressing his support for Owens at an event in April. “We need more guys with his background, his type of approach, and his vision,” Reid says of Owens.

Reid, 91, who has spent 34 years as Pearland’s mayor, also faces a runoff opponent: Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old executive at a pipeline coating firm. The winner will have to confront many challenges facing the fast-growing suburb on Houston’s southern edge, from mobility to tax policy to noxious odors from a landfill.

[…]

“We can’t not talk about the presence of misinformed people or what seems to be bigotry in this community,” said Wiltz, who is African-American.

Kasseb, who placed first among six candidates on May 6 with 41 percent of the vote to Owens’ 21 percent, said she is confident most Pearland residents don’t share the views expressed in her opponent’s Facebook posts.

“I’ve knocked on over 3,000 doors, and we’ve met people from throughout Pearland,” she said. “It has been a wonderful experience.”

See here for a bit of background. The seat in question is a new one, so there is no incumbent. Mike Snyder couldn’t get a comment from candidate Owens, which may have been just as well for him since when he has had something to say about this, it’s pretty lame.

Owens said he’s not apologizing because he didn’t share those posts on his Facebook page or at least he doesn’t recall doing so.

Owens said three posts had been removed from his page by Facebook at his request. He said Facebook told him it appeared the posts were doctored and he said he did not post them.

When Owens was asked if he shared all those posts, he said he doesn’t believe he did.

“I don’t think so to be honest with you, because when Facebook came back it looked like those posts were doctored with a name above it,” said Owens.

While Owens said the posts had been removed, ABC13 found they were still on his page and had not been removed.

When ABC13 asked to see the message sent to him from Facebook indicating they removed the doctored posts, he said he deleted the message because it contained the name of the person who was likely involved in doctoring the post and he didn’t want that person’s name out there.

“I did delete it off because it said something about the person who did it and I don’t want them mentioned,” said Owens.

Must be those Russian hackers I keep hearing about. The video in question is embedded in the Chron story, and if you view it you will see that all of the images are of Owens’ personal Facebook page, with none of them had being shared to his page by someone else . Even if one were inclined to believe that someone else infiltrated his page, these posts date back to 2015. One might think that if he himself hadn’t put them there, he might have noticed and taken action on them before now. If he didn’t approve of them being there in the first place, of course.

So yeah, I think we can agree that this has revealed Owens’ character, and I think we can agree that Mayor Reid would do well to at least state that he doesn’t approve of such trash. I don’t know what effect this will have on either of those races, but I do know that runoffs are so often determined by who cares enough to show up. The runoff elections are Saturday, June 10, and early voting for them begins today, Tuesday, May 30. In addition to Kasseb and Wiltz, there are other candidates worth supporting, Pearland and Pasadena and elsewhere. Now is not the time to lose focus. Look at that last link, and if you live in one of those places then make a plan to vote.

May 6 election results

First and foremost, the HISD recapture re-referendum passed by a wide margin. The Yes vote was at 85% in early and absentee voting, and it will finish with about 84%; I started writing this at 10 PM, when 437 of 468 HISD precincts had reported. Turnout was over 27,000, with over 14,000 votes on Saturday, for about four percent turnout. Still not a lot of voters in an absolute sense, but more than I thought based on the EV tally.

In Pasadena, Council Member Jeff Wagner led the Mayor’s race with about 36% of the vote. He will face Lone Star College Trustee JR Moon, who had 18%, in the runoff. Wagner was the closest candidate to outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell, and he also had the most money in the race, so the status quo didn’t do too badly. Pat Van Houte, Gloria Gallegos, and David Flores, who basically represented the anti-Isbell faction, combined for about 33%, but it was evenly split among the three of them. We’ve seen that before in Houston elections.

Of the TDP-endorsed Pasadena City Council candidates, three were unopposed, one (Felipe Villarreal) will be in a runoff, two (Oscar del Toro and Larry Peacock) lost by wide margins, and one (Steve Halvorson) lost by nine votes out of 805. There could be a recount in that race. Halvorson trailed by 41 in absentee ballots, led early in-person voting by 11, and led Election Day by 21, but it wasn’t quite enough. If Villarreal wins his runoff, the partisan balance on Council will be what it was before. Turnout was around 7,500 votes, in line with the 2009 election with the Election Day total being less than early in person voting.

In Humble ISD, candidates Chris Herron and Abby Whitmire both lost, getting 37 and 38 percent, respectively. I don’t know how that might compare to previous efforts, since there’s basically no history of Democratic-aligned candidates like those two running. I’ll have to get the precinct data and see if I can tease out Presidential numbers for the district.

As for Pearland, well, as of 10:30 PM there was still nothing more than early vote totals for Pearland City and Pearland ISD. Who knew I’d feel a pang of longing for Stan Stanart? High school student and future rock star Mike Floyd was leading his race for Pearland ISD 1,755 to 1,681, and in the end he cruised to a victory with 54%. I don’t know why the results aren’t refreshing for me from the Brazoria County Clerk website, but there you have it.

In the Pearland Mayor’s race, incumbent Tom Reid was leading with over 52% in early voting, but challenger and TDP-endorsed Quentin Wiltz had a strong showing on Saturday and forced a runoff.

While longtime Pearland Mayor Tom Reid had more than 50 percent of the vote during early elections, support for Quentin Wiltz poured in on election day, and both Reid and Wiltz will face a run-off election on June 10. Reid secured 48.85 percent of the vote and Wiltz earned 45.64 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results posted by the Brazoria County Clerk’s Office. A third contender for mayor, Jimi Amos, received 5.51 percent of the vote.

“We have run a very positive campaign and it shows. People came out because they believe in the same message. It’s time to work; we’ve worked extremely hard, a lot of people know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue the momentum and see where it takes us. I’m just a guy who has been active in his community who really cares about where this community is going to go,” Wiltz said about his campaign, which is entering a run-off election in June.

Nice. There were a couple of races of interest for Pearland City Council as well:

Incumbent Gary Moore also won his re-election bid on May 6. After securing 58.65 percent of the early votes, Moore came out with 55.32 percent of the total votes, beating out contender J. Darnell Jones. Moore will serve his second term on city council; he was first elected to serve in 2014 when he beat out then-incumbent Susan Sherrouse.

[…]

The most contested race of the election cycle is Pearland City Council position No. 7, which had six contestants running for the newly created council position. Because no contestant secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Dalia Kasseb secured 40.78 percent percent of the vote. Kasseb will run against Woody Owens who received 21.05 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to keep at it keep sending our positive messages, keep talking to people and hearing their voices. We’re going to keep talking about the real issues and keep everything positive. That’s the main thing I want my campaign to be,” Kasseb said. “People in Pearland want diversity; they see that change coming in the future, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the voices of Pearland are going to be represented in council.”

If elected in a run-off, Kasseb would be the first Muslim elected to public office in Pearland and Brazoria County.

Wiltz and Jones were Project LIFT candidates. Dalia Kasseb was not, but as that second story notes she received support from the Brazoria County Democratic Party and had done a lot of campaigning in tandem with Wiltz. My guess is there was at least one other Democrat in that race, and I won’t be surprised if she gets a TDP nod for the runoff.

Last but not least, there will be a runoff in the San Antonio Mayor’s race, with incumbent Ivy Taylor facing Council Member Ron Nirenberg. I wasn’t following that race very closely.

Final EV report for the May 6 election

Before I get to the numbers, here’s a Chron overview of the Pasadena Mayor’s race that mentions the numbers towards the end.

“I believe it’s a pivotal time in this city’s history – that it can either draw together and continue being one city, or it can divide apart and be fractured,” said John Moon Jr., a commercial real estate agent who grew up in Pasadena and worked as a banker for more than 30 years.

In addition to Moon, the field of candidates includes Pasadena city council members Pat Van Houte and Jeff Wagner; Robert Talton, who served as a state representative from 1993 to 2009; Gilbert Peña, who represented the same district from 2015 until 2017; David Flores, a former city employee who runs a Pasadena-based construction business; and Gloria Gallegos, an assistant superintendent with the Pasadena Independent School District.

[…]

The candidates are stressing different issues.

Talton is campaigning for increased investment in the city’s police and fire departments and senior services. Moon wants a five-year capital improvement plan. Gallegos, based on her experience with the school district, is pushing workforce development programs to bring people out of the city’s growing poverty.

Peña has said he will invest in programs to grow small businesses. Flores is calling for city departments to formally justify funding requests. Flores has five misdemeanor convictions from 2001 to 2004, including for theft, assault and evading arrest, and giving a false name to a police officer. He said his trouble with the law helped spur a commitment to public service.

Van Houte, among others, calls for increased transparency among the city and touts her ability to speak English and Spanish as a means to better communicate with voters. She once was escorted from a council meeting after questioning Isbell’s redistricting plan.

Wagner emphasized boosting employee morale.

But while there are differences in the candidates’ priorities, all emphasize a strong need to break from the past, including what some have described as a “political machine” associated with Isbell.

“That machine is not alive and well right now, without a doubt,” Wagner said. “In the past, I’m sure they had it. But, this is a new day.”

It’s unclear whether the alleged disparate treatment of Latino residents will result in higher turnout by Hispanic voters. Historically, Hispanic voters have turned out at lower rates than white voters.

As of Tuesday, just more than 3,200 had cast ballots at Pasadena City Hall, which University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said was high. Rottinghaus said roughly 50 percent of voters come out to early voting, with another 50 percent on Election Day. In 2013, the number who cast ballots early was 1,327, according to city records.

Here are the final EV totals, which I saved for posterity since you never know when I may feel the need to reference them. (Like, maybe for the Pasadena Mayor’s race runoff.) There were 3,204 in person early votes cast in Pasadena, but that’s not the sum total of all votes, as of course there are also absentee ballots. I asked around and was informed that as of yesterday 1,548 mail ballots had been returned as well, for a grand total of 4,752. If Professor Rottinghaus is correct about how many votes are cast early versus on Election Day, then we are headed for either about 8,000 total votes cast or 9,500 total votes cast, depending on whether he meant to include absentee ballots in the half of votes being cast early.

That’s obviously a lot more than 2013, when Mayor Isbell was very lightly challenged by current candidate and former State Rep. Gilbert Pena. A better comparison is to 2009, when a much more contested Mayoral race drew 7,539 votes. This year seems to be on track to exceed that, possibly by a fair amount.

I’m not exactly sure how to tally up the early votes for Humble ISD, as there are two early vote locations in Humble ISD buildings plus a third location at Humble City Hall. The first two have seen a combined 2,817 votes, with another 426 at Humble City Hall. There are also some number of absentee ballots, but I have no way of knowing how many. In 2015 there were 2,150 early in person votes cast and 1,358 Election Day votes cast; in 2013 it was 2,410 early in person and 1,767 on Election Day. No matter how you slice it, this year looks busier, though it’s hard to say by how much.

Finally, in Brazoria County there have been 3,139 early in person votes cast in Pearland, which I will presume covers both the city and Pearland ISD. Just that amount, which does not include absentee ballots, is more than the grand total for the 2014 Pearland ISD election (the trustees there appear to serve three-year terms), in which 2,868 total votes were cast. The city of Pearland also appears to be on three-year terms, so they have elections each year. Turnout figures for those last three years: 2,744 in 2016, 3,559 in 2015, and 3,387 in 2014, which was the previous Mayor’s race. Again, it would seem that turnout will be higher than in any of those years, though at least some of that may be fueled just by population growth, as the number of registered voters in Pearland climbed from 58,563 in 2014 to 63,584 in 2016. Still, we appear to be three for three in terms of increased voter participation. We’ll see what if anything that means for the results.

Justice Department will send election monitors to Pasadena

Okay.

Pasadena City Council

The U.S. Department of Justice is monitoring the Pasadena city elections as the suburb faces mounting federal scrutiny in the wake of a federal judge’s ruling that the city intentionally violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics.

Two observers will be present to ensure the Saturday elections are conducted smoothly, said C. Robert Heath, an attorney representing the city in the voting rights case.

But he said he didn’t know who asked for them, what their specific charge would be and which polling locations may be watched.

“They’re observers, and make sure everything goes right,” Heath said. “The city is happy to cooperate and we don’t have anything to hide.”

He said the city has already received preclearance from the Justice Department for its election contract with Harris County and for changes to polling locations that he described as “very minor.”

[…]

The justice department’s decision to use observers for the election drew praise from advocates for the city’s Hispanic voters.

“This week’s election is an important opportunity for all Pasadena voters, especially Latinos, to have their voices heard in selecting candidates to represent their interests and needs,” said Nina Perales with the the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and lead attorney in the voting rights lawsuit. “MALDEF welcomes the U.S. Department of Justice, along with other observers who will watch this historic vote.”

Mayoral candidates Pat Van Houte and Gloria Gallegos, whose campaign sent out a press release about this item on Tuesday, are both quoted in the story with positive reactions to the news. I don’t know what to make of this any more than anyone else, but it can’t hurt to have some outside experts keeping an eye on things. Jeff Sessions is an evil troll, but there are still plenty of good rank and file people in the Justice Department. One hopes there will be nothing particularly interesting for them to observe.

Trib overview of the Pasadena elections

Good stuff.

Pasadena City Council

When voters head to the polls here Saturday, their city council and mayoral picks could have repercussions well beyond this working-class Houston suburb.

It will be the first election since a federal judge struck down the city’s 2013 redistricting plan as discriminatory, paving the way for a new balance of power at City Hall.

It comes as Texas Democrats redouble their efforts on the local level after a 2016 election that gave them ample reason to be optimistic about their future, especially in Harris County.

And it could offer a gauge of just how far down the ballot President Donald Trump, unpopular in even a deep-red state like Texas, is energizing Democrats.

For Pasadena, a city whose representation has long lagged its majority-Hispanic population — much like Texas writ large — it could actually be the “new day” that multiple candidates are promising.

“You have racial discord undergirding partisan politics,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “You’ve got one side trying to use the rules of the vote to change the structure of elections. And the other side is using the legal process … to fight the electoral damage that might result.”

“That,” Rottinghaus added, “sets the stage for Pasadena as an important part of the story in Texas’ transition to a new racial electorate.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed five city council candidates in Pasadena — more than it has endorsed in any other municipality for the May 6 elections. Other Democratic groups are on the ground in the city, including Battleground Texas, which has been working to make the state more competitive for Democrats since the 2014 election cycle.

Much of their efforts are focused on two council races — in District A and District B — that are considered key to ushering in a new Democratic, predominantly Hispanic majority at City Hall. Battleground Texas is specifically working with District A candidate Felipe Villarreal and District B candidate Steve Halvorson, husband of Area 5 Democrats President Jennifer Halvorson, the only instances this election cycle where the group has directly partnered with candidates.

In those districts, which cover the heavily Hispanic north side of Pasadena, Democrats face a test similar to the one they face statewide: turnout.

“Those two districts — they vote overwhelmingly Democratic in November elections,” Jennifer Halvorson said. “Those voters don’t typically vote in May elections.”

See here for those endorsed candidates, among others. I’ll have one more look at early voting turnout tomorrow, though it will be limited in that I can’t tell you where the voters are coming from. Republicans are paying attention to the Pasadena elections as well, and the chair of the Harris County GOP, which as we know had such a stellar showing last year, says they are fully engaged. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on one election, but this is our first chance to vote in the Trump era, and it will tell us something one way or another. In the meantime, if you live in Pasadena or know someone who does, make sure you and they get out to vote on Saturday.

Early voting Day Five: Can we make any guesses yet?

Mike Snyder wonders about the turnout so far in the May elections.

When Pasadena last chose a mayor, in 2013, about 7 percent of its registered voters determined who would lead the industrial port city of 150,000. Mayor Johnny Isbell, who won re-election by an overwhelming margin, attributed the paltry turnout to public satisfaction with “the direction the city is headed.”

Four years later, there is ample reason to question that sanguine assessment. But history suggests that turnout will again be low as voters in Pasadena, Pearland and other Houston-area communities choose mayors, council members and school trustees. Early voting started Monday, and election day is May 6.

[…]

In Pasadena, for example, the mayor who was returned to office by 3,599 voters was the driving force behind a change in the City Council structure that a federal judge found intentionally diluted the influence of the city’s Latino majority. And reporting by some of my Houston Chronicle colleagues will provide new details about the inequitable allocation of city services on Isbell’s watch.

Low turnout in local elections is not limited to Pasadena.

A year ago, just 2,744 Pearland residents – 4.3 percent of the fast-growing city’s registered voters – cast ballots in an election that included three City Council seats and three school trustee positions, according to the Community Impact newspaper. In Friendswood, 9 percent of voters – 2,422 residents – cast ballots for two city council seats and two sales tax increases.

It’s really hard to find information about past Pasadena elections, because before this year the city conducted their own elections, and the Pasadena city website sucks eggs. You can find returns on the 2015 election in Pasadena here, but note that Mayor Isbell was not on the ballot. The only data I can find from the May 2013 election, which Snyder references in his piece, is in this Chron story, which notes that Isbell defeated Gilbert Pena by 3,599 (83 percent) to 751 (17 percent), for a total turnout (not counting undervotes) of 4,350. In that 2015 election, again without knowing how many people may have skipped the two At Large Council races, the District G At Large race received 4,150 votes. So let’s make 4,350 the mark to beat for Pasadena this year.

As you can see from the updated Harris County EV totals, after five days 1,611 in person votes have been cast in Pasadena. If the next four days are proportional to the first five, then about 2,900 in person early votes will be cast. I have no way of knowing how many mail ballots received by the Clerk are Pasadena ballots – the proportion of Pasadena votes to total votes is about 1/4, so with 4,362 mail ballots so far there may be between 1,000 and 1,100 Pasadena mail votes. Which, if true – and please note that I’m really guessing here – would put Pasadena’s total so far at roughly 2,700 cumulative votes, which is on pace to reach or exceed 4,000 before Election Day. I don’t know what the actual number of Pasadena mail ballots is, I don’t know if the next fours days will meet, exceed, or fall short of the pace of the first five, and I don’t know what the share of Pasadena’s votes are usually cast early, so I could be way off, but if I had to bet right now, I’d put my money on the over for turnout. I’ll review this projection after early voting ends, but that’s my guess at this time.

As for Pearland, you can see the daily EV totals for Brazoria County here. It is broken down by location, and I assume (though I don’t know for sure) that the Pearland East and Pearland West locations are the only ones we care about for this purpose. There were 3,387 votes cast in May of 2014, which is the better comparison for this year since there was a Mayoral race then as well. Pearland ISD had 2,868 voters that year. In each case, about two thirds of the total final vote was cast early, so when we have a cumulative early vote total for Pearland, we can take a reasonable guess at final turnout. The Brazoria elections site only has three days’ worth of data at this time, so I’m not going to go out on any limbs here, but I will venture to propose that whatever the final EV total is for Pearland and Pearland ISD, the ultimate number will be about half again that much. Feel free to mock any and all of my numbers in the comments.

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.

The status of Section 3

Lyle Denniston looks at a key aspect of the voting rights-related lawsuits in Texas.

About four years after the Supreme Court took away the government’s strongest authority to protect minority voters’ rights, a backup power under the federal Voting Rights Act – weaker and harder to use – is now being threatened, just as federal courts have begun applying it.

At issue now, as it was when the Supreme Court decided the case of Shelby County v. Holder in June 2013, is a form of government supervision of voting rights that goes by the technical term, “pre-clearance.” When operating against a state or local government, that means that officials cannot put any new voting law or procedure – however minor – into effect without first getting approval in Washington, D.C.

Three cases now developing in federal courts based in Texas are testing whether the variation of “pre-clearance” will take the place of what the Supreme Court scuttled. And there are already serious challenges facing that prospect, in each of those cases.

[…]

District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, became the first since the demise of Section 5 pre-clearance to impose Section 3 pre-clearance as a remedy for a discriminatory voting practice. That case involves a shift of the way voters in Pasadena, Texas, elect the members of the city council. Judge Rosenthal, after finding that the change discriminated intentionally against the city’s Hispanic voters, adopted a six-year period of pre-clearance for any future change in voting laws in that locality.

That case has now moved on up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. And that is where one major threat to Section 3 remedies has arisen. It came in a legal brief filed by the state of Texas last month, supporting an appeal by the city of Pasadena as far as the city is challenging the remedy of Section 3 pre-clearance. That remedy, the state brief asserted, “must be sparingly and cautiously applied.”

The state’s filing argued that “misuse” of that mode of pre-clearance “threatens to re-impose the same unwarranted federal intrusion that Shelby County found could not be justified under the Constitution.” The brief contended that Judge Rosenthal had engaged in such a “misuse” of this provision by imposing it for only a single incident of discrimination – the one-time change in the method of electing the Pasadena city council.

The only circumstance in which a Section 3 pre-clearance remedy is valid, under either the specific language of Section 3, the reasoning of the Supreme Court in 2013, or the Constitution, the Texas brief contended, is when a judge can conclude that the discrimination was “pervasive, flagrant, widespread, and rampant.”

The Fifth Circuit Court has been centrally involved for years in Voting Rights Act cases, because the state of Texas (located in that Circuit) has so often been sued for discrimination in voting. If that court were to read the Section 3 pre-clearance provision in the limited way that the state seeks, that would be a major setback in this legal field.

The Pasadena ruling was in January, and it put Pasadena under preclearance through the 2021 elections. The practical effect of that is likely to be minimal in that Pasadena is unlikely to want or need to engage in redistricting any time soon (other things like voting locations and hours for elections conducted by the city of Pasadena are also in scope), but the precedent as the first use of Section 3 in the post-Shelby world is big. As Denniston notes, the voter ID case, in which a finding of intentional discrimination has already been made, and the legislative redistricting case where the matter of intent has not yet been resolved, could impose similar requirements on the state as well. If the intent finding in the voter ID case is upheld, that would affect redistricting even if no such ruling is made in that suit.

So, it’s not surprising that the state is arguing for a limited application of Section 3. There’s an awful lot at stake, and it all begins in Pasadena. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Link via Rick Hasen.

Pasadena Council not happy with redistricting appeal

Or maybe they’re just not happy with soon-to-be-former Mayor Isbell. Either way, they showed it.

Pasadena City Council

In a sign of waning confidence in its legal position, the Pasadena City Council voted Tuesday to withhold payment from the law firm that’s trying to prove that the city’s redistricting plan doesn’t discriminate against Hispanics.

The 7-1 vote, with Mayor Johnny Isbell absent, exposed the degree to which the mayor has unilaterally pressed for an appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that the plan was discriminatory.

Council members complained they don’t fully understand the status of the lawsuit or of the work being done by Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP of Austin.

Councilman Sammy Casados said he and other members have asked the mayor to put an update on the agenda, but he has declined.

[…]

Even council members who previously have aligned themselves with Isbell and his redistricting plan expressed concern.

Morrison noted the absence of city staff who could address questions about the lawsuit.

“Where do we stand on this thing and what is the next step?” Morrison asked. “For that reason, I won’t support this (payment).”

Only Councilwoman Pat Van Houte voted to make the $50,000 payment, but she did so reluctantly, saying it was compensation for work already completed and pledging not to vote for future payments.

See here and here for some background. The May election is proceeding under the pre-redistricting Council map, as an appeal to the Fifth Circuit to halt the judge’s order for this election was denied. The appeal of the ruling on the merits is still in process, though several candidates for Mayor including CM Van Houte have said they will drop the appeal if elected. I’m sure the city of Pasadena will eventually pay the law firm for the work it has already done, but this vote is a mighty clear indication that they’re had enough.

We could be at the end of the road of the Pasadena redistricting case

Mike Snyder continues his reporting on the Pasadena redistricting litigation. He notes that while the whole thing was concocted and pushed forward by current Mayor Johnny Isbel, several of the candidates to succeed Isbell are not interesting in picking up where he will leave off.

Pasadena City Council

Attorneys in the case say the city’s appeal is likely to be unresolved when Pasadena voters choose a new mayor on May 6. Seven candidates are seeking to replace Isbell, who has led the city off and on over 26 years but can’t run this year because of term limits. And at least three of the candidates say they’ll drop the appeal if they win.

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal “spent a week and a half hearing from many witnesses, looking at a lot of information, and made a decision,” Councilwoman Pat Van Houte, a candidate for mayor, told my colleague Kristi Nix. “The city has spent almost $2 million on the lawsuit already, and I don’t think it is in our best interest to spend more public money on this.”

Another candidate, former state Rep. Gilbert Peña, agreed: “If elected, I definitely would stop the appeal process,” he said. “There’s a lot of other things we could do with this money other than give it to lawyers.”

Candidate David Flores, a former city employee who runs a construction company, told Nix that the city’s money would be better spent on infrastructure than on additional legal fees.

Councilman Jeff Wagner, a retired Houston police officer, told me he would ask the City Council to vote on whether to continue the appeal if his bid for the mayor’s office is successful. Pasadena, like Houston, has a strong-mayor form of government, and Isbell has exercised his authority on this issue without consulting the council. But Wagner said he has a different leadership style.

“I’ll put this in front of the council, we’ll have a discussion and we’ll make a decision,” said Wagner, who was one of four council members who voted with Isbell to put the new council structure on the ballot in 2013. (Van Houte cast one of the four votes against the plan.)

I couldn’t reach the other three candidates: San Jacinto College trustee John Moon, former state Rep. Robert Talton, and Gloria Gallegos, a Pasadena school district administrator.

See here, here, and here for some background. If I had to guess, I’d posit that Gallegos is in the same camp as Van Houte, Pena, and Flores, while Talton is either on board with the appeal or would put it before Council, as does Wagner. It would be good if all three candidates stated their position for the record, and for all interested voters in Pasadena to know where all the candidates stand.

The 2017 lineup for Pasadena

Here are the candidates for office in Pasadena for this May:

I wish I could give that to you in a more reader-friendly format, but online news sources for this are scant. This Patch.com story is the only post-filing deadline news I’ve seen, and it bizarrely identifies my blogging colleague Gary Denton as a candidate for Mayor. (Denton is working with Council Member Pat Van Houte on her Mayoral campaign.) This Chron story from the end of January gives a bit of background on some of the Mayoral candidates, but others have since filed. I’ll be keeping my eyes open on this and will post more if and when I find something worth posting.

In the meantime, according to Gary, the three unopposed Council candidates are all Democrats, as are Felipe Villareal in A, Steve Halvorson in B, and Oscar Del Toro in G. I don’t have particulars about other candidates as yet. I plan to keep a closer watch on these local May races than I usually do, and I welcome feedback if you know about any campaigns or candidates I should be watching.

Pasadena won’t fight election order

The May election in Pasadena will proceed under the pre-redistricting eight-district Council map.

Pasadena City Council

The city of Pasadena will not fight an appellate court ruling over its election system, a decision that will allow the upcoming May council elections to proceed with eight-single member district seats, according to the lead attorney for the city in the closely watched voting rights case.

The elections will proceed under the district format and will not using six neighborhood council and two at-large seats, a system a district judge ruled was discriminatory against Latino voters.

[…]

The city will continue to appeal the judge’s ruling, which also ordered Pasadena to again obtain preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before making additional changes to its election system.

See here for the background. The filing deadline for the May election is today, so by not filing a quick appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s ruling that upheld the original order, Pasadena was basically conceding that fight. The appeal of Judge Rosenthal’s ruling on the merits will proceed at some point down the line, though I suppose depending on the outcome of the elections, the new Mayor and Council may choose to drop it. I will of course be following the election as we go forward.

Fifth Circuit upholds Pasadena election order

Good.

Pasadena City Council

The Pasadena election system that a judge ruled violated the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against Hispanics cannot be used in the upcoming May council elections, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a ruling by a lower court judge ordering the city to revert to a 2011 system using all single-member districts for the May 6 elections, when the entire city council and the mayor’s seat are on the ballot.

The expedited ruling – which came just two weeks before the deadline for candidates to file for office – is a blow to the city and its longtime mayor in a case being closely watched by voting rights advocates nationwide.

The decision Friday by a three-judge panel addresses only an attempt by Pasadena to temporarily halt the order for the May elections; the merits of the case and the judge’s ruling will be taken up later in full.

“This means all Pasadena voters will have a fair election on May 6,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of a group of Hispanic voters. “All voters of all races will have a fair opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents Pasadena and Mayor Johnny Isbell, said Friday he wasn’t sure if the city would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Such an appeal would have to happen quickly or could jeopardize the city elections.

See here and here for the background. As I said in that previous update, the three-judge panel was quite conservative, so a unanimous ruling upholding Judge Rosenthal’s order is a pretty strong statement. I hope this will be the end of the line for litigation affecting this election – an appeal of the ruling on its merits, which will take place mush farther down the line, is of course to be expected – but there’s still a chance Pasadena could take a shot at SCOTUS. We’ll see.

Fifth Circuit hears Pasadena redistricting appeal

This is to decide whether to lift or leave in place Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling that the pre-2013 all-single-member-district Council map will be in place for the May elections in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The City of Pasadena asked for the expedited hearing before the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a narrow issue – the structure of Pasadena’s City Council districts for the upcoming election.

Hearing the case for the circuit court were judges Jennifer Walker Elrod, Priscilla Owen and Gregg Costa.

At a later date, the court will address the city’s appeal of a sweeping order from a lower court judge who threw out Pasadena’s city council election format, saying it was discriminatory against Hispanic voters.

The judge ordered the city to revert to a 2011 system for electing the council, with eight single-member-district seats, instead of the 2014 system that used six single-member and two at-large districts.

Attorney C. Robert Heath, who represents longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell, asked the appellate judges to grant a stay of the judge’s order because he said he was likely to win the overall appeal on the merits. His client did not intend to discriminate against Hispanic voters, and the election results did not reflect a diluted Latino vote, he said.

[…]

Costa pressed Heath about the harm that might be caused if the appellate panel switched the election to 6-2 and then the appellate court upheld the appeal.

“That’s significant harm, isn’t it?” Costa asked.

“It is if it has a discriminatory effect,” Heath said.

Nina Perales, with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the suit on behalf of Latino voters, stressed to the judges that the 8-0 system the lower court put in place would sufficiently eliminate questions of discrimination in Pasadena’s council race.

However, a decision by the appellate judges to temporarily lift the lower court’s 8-0 format would confuse voters and candidates who have already filed to get their names on the ballot and begun canvassing neighborhoods, she said.

“There is no reason to grant the stay based on (the city’s) likelihood of success because there is no single case supporting their contentions,” Perales said. “The case law is unified – if there is lower Hispanic registration and turnout rates it is tied to a history of past discrimination.”

See here for the background. Judges Elrod and Owen are both Dubya appointees, and are two of the more conservative members of the Fifth Circuit, so this is about as friendly a panel as Pasadena could have wanted. The city has the burden of proof here – they need to show that Judge Rosenthal erred in her ruling. We’ll see if the Fifth Circuit grades them on a curve for that. Given the time frame – the filing deadline is in two weeks, and multiple candidates have already filed for each of the eight Council seats – we should get a ruling shortly.

Pasadena appellate hearing set

Mark your calendars.

Pasadena City Council

With deadlines looming for the upcoming May elections, a federal appeals court has agreed to hear arguments Feb. 1 in a voting rights lawsuit that overturned the Pasadena election system.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will consider whether to temporarily halt the order from the Houston judge until after the appeals are exhausted. But that would leave in place an election system that has been found discriminatory against Latinos.

The Fifth Circuit court set an expedited hearing at the Bob Casey Courthouse in Houston for lawyers to present argument as to why the city should or should not proceed with its May elections for city council positions using a 2011 map of eight single-member district seats as directed by a federal judge in Houston.

The appellate court will focus on a request by Pasadena’s lead attorney in the high-profile voting rights case to temporarily halt the district court’s order for Pasadena to hold its May election using eight district positions, instead of a 2014 scheme that passed by a narrow margin of voters that uses six single-member and two at-large seats.

See here and here for the background. Candidates are already filing for office in Pasadena, so this really does have to be done quickly. The court would be deciding whether to use the current map, with six districts and two At Large seats, or the previous map with eight districts, which is what Judge Rosenthal ordered. We ought to know soon enough. Texas Monthly, which delves more into Judge Rosenthal’s ruling, has more.

Pat Van Houte for Pasadena Mayor

This is the local race to watch this May.

Pat Van Houte

A Pasadena councilwoman who became a key witness in a recent federal lawsuit contesting the city’s redrawn voting districts said she will run for mayor in the upcoming election.

Pat Van Houte, who holds an at-large seat, made her announcement Friday, Jan. 6, the same day a federal judge’s decision overturning the city’s 2013 redistricting measure was released.

[…]

Van Houte was in the middle of the political fray nearly four years ago when the council, led by Mayor Johnny Isbell, pushed for the redistricting and a switch to two at-large positions and six-single member districts. However, Van Houte found herself in the council’s minority opposing the changes and ultimately went on to win election to an at-large position in 2015.

“The position of mayor is not something I had considered before; but since serving as an at-large council member, I’ve been traveling and seeing many different parts of the city. Over the last year, as I’ve been out meeting with residents, many people have offered their support and asked me to run for mayor,” Van Houte said. “I’m not running because of this ruling. However, serving as an at-large council member has put me in contact with a lot more people and has made me think more about stepping to the next level as far as leadership and the direction of the city.”

All eight single-member districts, based on the May 2013 election map and plan, will be on the ballot in the upcoming election. Filing for candidates runs from Jan. 18 through Feb. 17.

Van Houte, who was first elected to serve as the District D council member in 2009, said she anticipated the ruling.

“I was hoping for this outcome. From some of the questions that the judge asked during my testimony and a few things I heard after that point, I wasn’t surprised. I could not assume this would be the decision but I was certainly hopeful and I’m pleased with the decision,” said Van Houte, who testified during the trial.

It’s not been easy finding news about the Pasadena elections so far, though Chron columnist Mike Snyder continues to do a fine job writing about the redistricting case and its related effects. Van Houte doesn’t have a website or Facebook page yet, but she was the Council member that Mayor Johnny Isbell threw out of the meeting where the redistricting plan was adopted for exceeding the three-minute speaking time he had imposed on everyone. I’m pretty sure her willingness to take a stand like that will be a campaign theme.

Other candidates that have filed or will file, according to my Pasadena-base blogging colleague Gary Denton, include Jeff Wagner, JR Moon, Robert Talton, and Gilbert Pena. All are Republicans, with the latter two being former State Reps in HD144. I will be keeping an eye on this race going forward.

Judge affirms Pasadena redistricting order

Back to the previous map, pending appeal.

Pasadena City Council

Hours after candidates began filing paperwork to run for city office, a federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Pasadena officials to delay her order that the city election be run under an 2011 election scheme to protect the rights of Latino voters.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal in Houston said Pasadena should conduct its upcoming May elections based on eight single-member districts, throwing out the six single-member and two at-large districts that the judge ruled had diluted the clout of Hispanics.

The focus now shifts to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Pasadena officials are challenging the judge’s ruling in a landmark voting rights case that has drawn nationwide attention.

[…]

Pasadena officials filed a request Tuesday to stay Rosenthal’s judgment, which was issued Monday during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. City lawyers also appealed the ruling, challenging the judge’s conclusion that the new voting scheme was put in place with the aim of intentionally stopping Hispanics from gaining a majority of candidates of their choice on council.

See here, here, and here for the background. I have no idea if the Fifth Circuit will overrule Judge Rosenthal and order the 2013 map to be put back in place, but as candidate filing has begun, they would need to be quick about it if they do. I’ll keep an eye on it.

Pasadena will appeal redistricting ruling

Not a surprise.

Pasadena City Council

An attorney representing the city of Pasadena said Tuesday the city will appeal a ruling that found Pasadena deliberately violated the voting rights of its Hispanic population, a move that could have immediate consequences for the city’s upcoming May elections.

The attorney, C. Robert Heath, said the city disagreed with Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s ruling earlier this month that a redistricting scheme adopted in 2014 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act by diluting the Hispanic vote.

“I think we’re right on the law and ultimately we’ll prevail,” Heath said.

[…]

Heath said the city will seek court approval to temporarily halt execution of Rosenthal’s order, meaning that upcoming elections could be conducted using the redistricting scheme Rosenthal found to be discriminatory. The 2015 elections were also conducted using that scheme.

“I don’t think they were trying to prevent Hispanic success,” Heath said.

City Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, who supported the goals of the lawsuit that led to Rosenthal’s ruling, called the appeal a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“The legal bill has already surpassed $2 million, but I guess since it’s not the mayor’s money, he doesn’t mind spending it,” Ybarra said, adding that “this council is told nothing” by the administration about the legal process.

See here and here for the background. Candidate filing begins today, so one way or the other we’re going to need a quick ruling on any motions for an injunction. I’ll be keeping an eye on it. The NYT, Rick Hasen, and the Texas Standard have more.

UPDATE: From the longer version of the story:

Timing in the case, now, is critical. Rosenthal must first weigh in on whether to stand firm in her decision to keep the single-member system in place for the May elections – or whether to grant a stay on her own ruling.

The city’s appeal of the full ruling, meanwhile, moves on to the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if Judge Rosenthal made a ruling on the stay right away. … It will be a yes or no, probably,” said Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas.

She said if Rosenthal denies Pasadena a stay, it is unlikely the city’s lawyers would be able to derail the May election.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer who has represented voters and governmental entities in voting rights cases, agreed.

“It would be out of the ordinary for the court to stop her ruling and let the election go forward under a plan that’s been found to be discriminatory,” said Dunn, who represents council members Ybarra and Cody Ray Wheeler, who vocally opposed changes to the city election system. “It’s more likely than not that Judge Rosenthal’s judgment will carry the day on this election.”

The circuit court can affirm the district judge’s decision, reverse it or remand it back to Rosenthal for additional fact-finding, said Austin attorney Roger B. Borgelt, who specializes in election and campaign law.

We ought to know pretty quickly what the election situation will be for Pasadena.

Final ruling in Pasadena redistricting lawsuit

It’s official – back to the original map.

Pasadena City Council

With candidate registration set to begin Tuesday, a federal judge Monday prohibited the city of Pasadena from using an unconstitutional redistricting scheme in the upcoming May elections, stating that the scheme violated the voting rights of Latino and Hispanic residents.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal in Houston wrote in the final judgment that the city must use a map the city generated in 2011 that featured eight single-member districts and gave “Latino voters an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Rosenthal also ordered the city to face preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for 6.5 years before changing the election system again.

[…]

Rosenthals’ order Monday – on a federal holiday recognizing the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., whose civil rights crusade led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – came two days before candidate registration opens for Pasadena’s municipal elections. All city council seats and the mayor’s office are up for contention.

See here for the background. There is no word as yet whether the city will appeal or not. The filing period opens tomorrow and runs through February 17, so if there is going to be an appeal and an injunction against using the previous map, the city will need to get its act together quickly. Not that I want them to, mind you, just stating a fact. We’ll see what they do.

UPDATE: Here’s a longer version of the story.

Judge rules for Pasadena plaintiffs

Wow.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge in Houston dealt a major blow Friday to the city of Pasadena in a closely watched voting rights case, ruling that officials deliberately diluted the clout of Hispanic voters by revising the system for electing City Council members.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ordered Pasadena to revert to its previous use of single-member districts for the upcoming May elections and ruled the city would need preclearance from the Department of Justice for any future changes.

“In Pasadena, Texas, Latino voters … do not have the same right to vote as their Anglo neighbors,” Rosenthal concluded in the 113-page decision released late Friday.

Patricia Gonzales, one of the plaintiffs who filed the federal lawsuit, said fairness can be restored to the city election system.

“All right,” she said, when informed of the ruling. “Now each section will be able to vote on who they want and their voices will be heard. I’m very pleased with the outcome.”

The ruling could provide a key test of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 that gutted portions of the Voting Rights Act, legal experts said.

“It is a great win,” said Michael Li, senior redistricting counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “This case shows that there is something you can do, at least if you have the facts, lawyers and resources.”

[…]

Rosenthal cited witness testimony in her opinion, noting that both Texas and Pasadena had histories of exclusionary practices and that discriminatory attitudes toward Latinos still endured among Pasadena residents.

In recent years, the political balance in Pasadena had begun to shift, the judge wrote. But just as Latino voters were poised to elect a majority of single-district representatives to the City Council, longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell and his backers proposed changes to the election system, the judge said.

“In short, Pasadena’s elections are racially polarized,” Rosenthal wrote. “The City’s 2013 racially polarized vote in favor of the 6–2 redistricting map and plan and the Council’s 2014 vote to approve the change were narrowly decided. The effect was to dilute Latino voting strength. That effect was foreseeable and foreseen.”

The city is likely to appeal the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but the ruling could have a significant impact nonetheless on the May elections. All City Council seats and the mayor’s post are up for election; Isbell is facing term limits and cannot seek re-election.

See here for the last update. Rick Hasen has a copy of and some excerpts from the decision. This is a big deal, and as the city of Pasadena has now been put back under preclearance, it’s a possible preview of what could be in store for Texas when we get a final decision on voter ID. Of course, being under preclearance now means a lot less than it would have under President Hillary Clinton, but it’s still something. We’ll see if there is an appeal, and if so if the Fifth Circuit steps in to halt any reversions to the old system before the May election. For now, I say congratulations and well done to the plaintiffs. A statement from the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus is here.

A look ahead to Fort Bend County elections in 2017

(Note: From time to time I solicit guest posts on various topics, from people who have a particular interest or expertise in a particular topic. I don’t know much about local and municipal elections in Fort Bend County, so today’s post is by Steve Brown.

As has been aptly reported here over the last couple of weeks, Secretary Hilary Clinton was able to carry what was once seen as dependably “red” Fort Bend County. Those of us who’ve been working to turn Fort Bend purple, if not blue, have long known that our county wasn’t as conservative as most people believed. Our demographically diverse population, young families and growing base of millennials point to a Fort Bend ready to embrace more progressive values like adequate public school funding and climate change and denounce divisive, hate driven agendas. I have confidence that local Democratic Party leaders will continue working in advance of the 2018 midterms to keep that momentum going, but there are a few local elections on May 6, 2017 that can help to cement support among persuadable suburban voters and build our bench of new leaders.

There are a number of municipalities, school districts & MUDs that will hold elections this year – like Stafford, Rosenberg, Fulshear, Lamar Consolidated ISD to name a few. However, I want to draw your attention to the Fort Bend ISD and Sugar Land races.

If there’s one thing that the 2016 election taught us, it’s that a majority of voters in Fort Bend’s Commissioner 4 precinct either embraced Clinton’s message, rejected Trump or both. These voters live in diverse, highly educated communities like Telfair, Avalon and Sweetwater. Democrats have traditionally done well in our strongholds of Missouri City (which moved its city council election to November) and Fresno. The emergence of winnable precincts in and around Sugar Land create unique electoral opportunities. Although Clinton didn’t have the coattails to boost our down ballot candidates, she did leave behind a road map for these local races.

Fort Bend ISD

Fort Bend ISD trustees are elected district-wide. This year, three school board seats are up – one for a trustee who lives on the east side of the district, one from the west side and one elected at-large. Currently, there are only two minorities on Fort Bend ISD’s Board, and one of them, K.P. George, is up for re-election in May. It would be ideal to add at least one more progressive and/or minority to a Board that governs a district representing one of the most diverse student populations in the country.

Sugar Land City Council

Similarly, a progressive candidate in one of Sugar Land’s 4 district races could help to reshape that governing body as well. Clinton won about half of the precincts in Sugar Land and came extremely close in a handful of others to arguably make Sugar Land a “toss-up” municipality. Sugar Land’s four district council members will be up for re-election in May. Sugar Land recently annexed two master-planned communities so it may be too early to predict how that might impact electoral outcomes there. Nevertheless, good candidates should definitely consider running this Spring, and possibly win office with as few as 3500 votes.

2018 Midterms

As we look forward to the 2018 mid-term elections, having solid candidates to engage persuadable voters in the parts of Sugar Land and Fort Bend ISD that overlap with Commissioner’s Precinct 4 will help lay the groundwork to win that commissioner’s precinct in 2018. A prospective nominee for that office could be buoyed by the support of a newly minted school board trustee and Sugar Land city council member- not to mention access to their voter base and donors. With the right collaboration and coordination it’s plausible that GOTV in Precincts 2 and 4 (which would both be on the ballot in 2018) could help to elect Democrats countywide – including County Judge, District Attorney and various judicial benches. A competitive commissioner’s 4 race could also have a positive effect on the HD 26 race in 2018 and 2020.

Democrats can’t win the state if we can’t win suburbs – especially the diverse ones. Fort Bend has been on the cusp of political change for some time now. We can finally reach that tipping point by taking seriously these low hanging local elections. All elections matter.

Steve Brown is a former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and Managing Director at Capitol Assets Sustainable Energy Development LLC.

Pasadena voting rights case in the judge’s hands now

We await a ruling.

Pasadena City Council

Armed officers guarded a closed-door committee meeting. Discriminatory comments surfaced at City Hall. Latino-backed council members were hustled from chambers by police.

The accounts of perceived intimidation and back-door dealings were detailed during testimony in a closely watched seven-day trial of a federal voting rights lawsuit that wrapped up Friday in a Houston courtroom.

Now, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal will decide if Pasadena violated the federal Voting Rights Act by reconfiguring its city election system, a ruling that is expected in time for February filing deadlines for May elections in which city council seats and the mayor’s job are up for grabs.

A group of Latino voters filed the federal lawsuit, saying city leaders changed the structure of council elections in a deliberate attempt to quell the Hispanic vote.

“The city moved to dilute voting strength just as Latinos were starting to exercise it,” said Nina Perales, lead attorney in the suit for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in her closing arguments to the court.

City attorneys argued that leaders did not set out to diminish Hispanic representation by presenting an option to voters to change the city election systems. The growing Latino population has an equal chance to participate in the political process to elect their candidate of choice, said C. Robert Heath, a veteran attorney who specializes in voting rights and election law.

“No one said, ‘Vote yes (on the ballot measure) to diminish Hispanic representation,’ ” he said.

See here and here for the background. There were a couple of other stories related to this case published last week. From Monday, when Mayor Isbell took the stand:

The mayor of Pasadena chuckled and shook his head Monday when his defense lawyer asked if he had ever been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which had its headquarters in the city for many years.

“No. It’s a despicable organization as far as I’m concerned,” Mayor Johnny Isbell, who is white, testified.

He is not racist, nor is Pasadena a racist city, he testified.

[…]

Isbell said he had appointed African-Americans and Hispanics to top jobs in his administration and actively backed a few Hispanic candidates’ campaigns. He said he supported redistricting and switching from eight single-member districts to six single-member districts plus two at-large seats because decades in public office taught him a mixed election system worked best.

He also contradicted testimony last week by Hispanic City Council member Ornaldo Ybarra, who said Isbell was known to have said to like-minded constituents that if they didn’t back his proposed revisions that the city government would be overpowered by “an invasion of Hispanics.”

The mayor testified that the changing demographics of Pasadena don’t bother him, and he quibbled with Ybarra’s portrayal of a north-south split in Pasadena, with Hispanics in the northern sector having to live amid urban blight, poorly maintained streets and subpar drainage.

The judge asked questions to clarify how the city divided.

Isbell said the north was mostly Hispanic and the south was majority white. But Isbell said the charter vote was not a white-versus-Hispanic issue.

“It was a Democrat and Republican issue, that’s the way it ended up,” he said.

The next day one of Isbell’s allies made an embarrassing admission during his testimony.

A top Pasadena official admitted on the witness stand that he violated state ethics laws by campaigning during work hours for the mayor’s re-election bid and for a 2013 charter amendment to change the city’s election system.

Richard Scott, the city’s director of community relations, testified in trial in a federal voting rights lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal that he’d used city workers and resources to do campaign work during business hours and sent campaign-related emails from his city account.

He said he regretted his actions and knew they were in violation of state law.

The statute of limitations has expired on the 2013 admission but Scott could be charged with a crime for working on the mayor’s 2015 campaign, according to Nina Perales, one of the team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pursuing the lawsuit.

[…]

Scott’s testimony came during questioning by MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera in the civil trial of a lawsuit filed by Hispanic voters.

Scott, a longtime confidante of Mayor Johnny Isbell, sat up tall and answered the questions without hesitation. Yes, he had used his work email address. Yes, he’d had city employees help him during work hours on the campaigns. Yes, he knew that was a violation of campaign law.

Okay then. Chron reporter Mike Snyder attended the trail and picked out a few key quotes to highlight from it.

“You don’t have to look at the budget to see that one side of town is clearly being treated differently than the other.” – Pasadena Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler.

The councilman, a Latino in his second term who is part of the faction that has opposed the mayor on contentious topics, was discussing the real-world consequences of the issues in the case. Residents of Pasadena’s mostly Latino north side have long complained that the quality of their streets, drainage and other essential services lags far behind conditions on the predominantly Anglo south side.

The most recently adopted council structure of six district seats and two at-large ones replaced a system of eight district positions. If, as the suit alleges, the new system makes it harder for the city’s growing Latino population to elect its preferred candidates, this under-representation is reflected in residents’ daily lives. This trial is not a theoretical exercise.

[…]

“Who are you to vote against me?” – Isbell to Wheeler, according to Wheeler’s testimony.

Wheeler said the mayor posed this question after Wheeler voted against a bond package that Isbell initially supported. Isbell has not confirmed or denied having made the statement, but it’s the kind of thing a longtime public official accustomed to having his way might say to a young, ambitious politician like Wheeler. Isbell, 78, has held elective office in Pasadena almost continuously since 1969 – 16 years before the 31-year-old Wheeler was born. A sense of entitlement can be a byproduct of all that experience.

[…]

“We’ve got to keep Pasadena Pasadena.” – unidentified Anglo precinct judge to Wheeler, explaining his support for the new council system on Nov. 5, 2013 – the day voters narrowly approved it.

I think this comment speaks for itself.

Indeed, though it’s up to Judge Rosenthal to decide if it merits legal redress. She has promised a decision in time to conduct the May elections in Pasadena, which all things considered probably means by February.