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Cody Wheeler

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.

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.

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 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.

As goes Pasadena

If Texas Democrats ever figure out the secret of getting more Latinos engaged in the voting process, it’ll be in places like Pasadena where they find the key.

When Oscar Del Toro tries to persuade his fellow Pasadena Latinos to vote, he appeals to them on practical and emotional levels.

Practical: If you and your neighbors get the voting numbers up in your precinct, elected officials will start paying attention to your neighborhood even if your candidate doesn’t win.

Emotional: You’ll feel better about yourself if you participate in your community. Del Toro’s parents came to Pasadena from Monterrey, Mexico, and became U.S. citizens years before he did, but they never voted until he took them to the polls.

“You could see the pride in their faces,” he says of that day.

Del Toro, 53, who runs a cartridge toner and laser printer business out of his home, lost a bid for a seat on the Pasadena City Council last year. His adopted hometown, meanwhile, was becoming a national symbol of the struggle to protect and expand voting rights for minorities and to boost the historically low level of Latino participation in elections.

It seems that the “sleeping giant” – the perceived potential of more than 27 million eligible Latino voters nationwide to help swing Texas and other Republican-dominated states toward the Democrats – has yet to be roused.

Take the November 2013 decision by Pasadena voters to change the city council structure from eight single-member district positions to six district seats and two at-large, or citywide, posts. The charter change passed by 79 votes out of more than 6,000 cast.

[…]

The result was discouraging to Del Toro and to like-minded Pasadenans like Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler, who is Latino. Both men are featured in “The Giant Still Sleeps,” a new documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Miguel Alvarez. In the film, Wheeler suggests that the change in the council makeup could strengthen the sense among many Latinos that their vote won’t make a difference. Mayor Johnny Isbell had pushed for the charter changes just weeks after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ended advance federal approval of election-law changes in some states with a history of discrimination.

“It almost validated what I kept hearing – they moved the goal posts back again,” Wheeler says. “It doesn’t matter; they’re going to do what they want to anyway. As we get closer to making this city more equal, they’re going to push back hard on us. It’s very sad, but we have to come back even stronger.”

Wheeler and Del Toro vow to continue their struggle, even as other residents who filed a lawsuit challenging the charter change await their day in court. The documentary includes shots of Del Toro speaking to civic groups and interacting with Pasadena Latinos who tell him that they have never voted – because their jobs and family responsibilities don’t leave them with enough time, or due to cultural differences.

I met Mr. Del Toro at the June 25 County Executive Committee meeting, the one where we picked the two judicial nominees. Nice guy, I enjoyed talking to him. He’s got the right idea for how to get people involved, it’s just that this is a very labor-intensive method. It’s also what I thought Battleground Texas was going to be about when it first appeared on the scene. Regardless, the more of this going on, the better. Click that Trib link and see the Austin Chronicle for more on the documentary.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Endorsement watch: Stragglers

The Chron ran a list of all their primary endorsements last Monday, which included recommendations in a couple of race where they had not included an accompanying editorial. They have now closed that gap, at least on the Democratic side, with two late-breaking nod. First is to Dakota Carter, running in the three-way primary for SBOE District 6:

Dakota Carter

Dakota Carter

A psychiatrist currently pursuing a doctorate in education at the University of Houston, Carter has a specific expertise in childhood development. Carter told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he wanted to bring in more experts to write state curricula and ensure that state educational standards corresponded with the proper age and grade level. He also wanted to reduce Texas’ reliance on across-the-board standardized testing.

“I think we really need to look hard at how we’re treating our students and realize that students are not a test score.”

Carter is running against Jasmine Jenkins and Michael Jordan, who doesn’t seem to be running a campaign. Jenkins has a doctorate in education policy from the University of Houston and used to teach a fourth-grade bilingual class. She now works at a private tutoring company. Jenkins said she would ensure that Texas’ high school standards aligned with national benchmarks. However, she seemed less willing than Carter to push back against the conservative political activism that’s turned the State Board of Education into joke material for late-night comedians. Democrats should want someone willing to fight.

My interview with Carter is here. The other race in which the Chron played catch-up was in HD144, where they endorsed former incumbent Mary Ann Perez.

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

In her interview with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Perez emphasized jobs, education, pollution and expanding Medicaid as her top priorities if elected.

“I think it is terrible that the states that have expanded Medicaid get to benefit from our federal dollars that we send over and we get absolutely no benefit out of it.”

Of the other two candidates, we were particularly impressed by Cody Ray Wheeler, a Pasadena city councilman who articulated a passion for helping the working class, both in Austin and back home in the district. It is a view that’s not heard enough in Texas politics. Democrats should hope that he stays involved.

My interview with Perez is here, with Wheeler is here, and with Bernie Aldape is here. The Chron had endorsed Perez in the general election in 2012, also as a late-in-the-cycle pick, but if they made a choice in the primary that year, I missed it. Why these endorsements came so late in the cycle I couldn’t say, but better late than never.

Interview with Cody Ray Wheeler

Cody Ray Wheeler

Cody Ray Wheeler

As there is one Democratic-held open legislative seat of interest this cycle, so too is there one formerly Democratic-held seat to be won back. HD144 was redrawn as a Latino-majority swing district in 2011 after being held by a Republican all last decade. It was won in 2012 by Democrats, then lost by a small margin in the 2014 debacle when turnout levels were down. Three challengers face each other to see who can try to win it back this year. Cody Ray Wheeler is a Pasadena City Council member, one of two Latino members of Council who was targeted by Mayor Isbell’s hotly contested redistricting scheme. A veteran of the Marine Corps, Wheeler was deployed twice to Iraq and received multiple awards for his service. He is working towards his Masters in Public Administration at the University of Houston. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Some early legislative race news

Just a few links of interest. First, the race in SD24 heats up.

Rep. Susan King

Republican state Rep. Susan King said Monday that she will join an increasingly crowded primary field to replace retiring GOP state Sen. Troy Fraser.

King had earlier said she would not seek re-election to the House, where she is serving her fifth two-year term, while exploring whether to run for Fraser’s district, which encompasses 17 counties mostly in the Hill Country, including a slice of western Travis County.

King, who announced her campaign at an evening event in her hometown of Abilene, joined five other candidates who have said they will compete in the Republican primary

See here for the background. Just a reminder, this district includes Abilene, Austin, and San Antonio. Gotta love redistricting.

Enfant terrible Jonathan Stickland gets a mainstream challenger.

Bedford pastor Scott Fisher plans to announce Tuesday that he is taking on Stickland, according to GOP sources. In recent days, Fisher has been informing friends in the district and Austin of his soon-to-be campaign.

Fisher, who serves as senior pastor at Metroplex Chapel in Euless, has a long resume of public service. He has formerly chaired the Texas Youth Commission and the board of the JPS Health Network, and he currently chairs the Texas Juvenile Justice Department and the board of Metroplex Chapel Academy.

Fisher has also been a member of the Texas Ethics Commission, and served on the boards of One Heart, a criminal justice project aimed at young people, and Mid Cities Pregnancy Center, which helps women deal with unplanned pregnancies.

The story lines will write themselves. All I can say is that a Lege without Stickland will be a better Lege. Having said that, RG Ratcliffe noted that Fisher was a bigwig in the Texas Christian Coalition back in the 90s, so this is definitely a case where one needs to be wary about what one wishes for.

And speaking of those story lines.

High-profile legislative races are already developing in Tarrant County nearly two months before candidates can even file to get their names on the ballot.

Two local Republican races heating up — for House District 99, represented by Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, and House District 94, now represented by Tony Tinderholt of Arlington — offer a glimpse of the type of races ramping up statewide.

“Tarrant County will be a microcosm of the battle between centrist conservative supporters and movement conservative opponents of Speaker [Joe] Straus that will take place across the state,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

On one side, there’s Geren, president of Railhead Smokehouse and a real estate developer, who has represented the district since 2001 and is a powerful top lieutenant of House Speaker Straus.

On the other, there’s Bo French, a private equity investor and political newcomer from Fort Worth, who served as a chief officer of the late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s tactical training company Craft International. He drew media attention last year for ending up in court arguing with Kyle’s widow about the future of the company.

The two men and their prominent families have long run in the same circles.

“I’ve known Bo all his life and I’ve known his parents a long time,” said Geren, 65, who added he was surprised when French jumped into the race. “I’m just going to run hard and win.”

French, 45, said he picked this district to run in because he knows a lot of people in the district and believes that his “principles will represent them and their families.”

[…]

Tinderholt, a 21-year military veteran whose past included a bankruptcy filing in the 1990s and several marriages, unseated Rep. Diane Patrick in the GOP primary last year and won a fiery battle in the general election.

“Some ‘establishment’ conservatives may still be angry that Rep. Tinderholt defeated longtime favorite Diane Patrick and may try and unseat him,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington.

Despite concerns he would be a vocal dissenter in the Legislature earlier this year, Tinderholt, 45, for the most part appeared to follow the typical freshman play book, watching and learning.

“You could see he was a work in progress,” Kronberg said. “He was paying attention, learning issues. But throughout North Texas, there’s some despair that there’s very little active representation of the stakeholders (business, schools) that make the community work.”

Now Andrew Piel, 43, has announced he will challenge Tinderholt in the primary..

“This last summer, people came to me and said they had concerns about the effectiveness of the incumbent representing Arlington in an efficient manner,” said Piel, a business and construction law attorney and a former Tarrant County assistant district attorney. “I talked to people for months [and] prayed about it.

“I feel like it’s time for a change.”

Piel has lined up a host of supporters, including community leader Victor Vandergriff, former Arlington Mayors Robert Cluck and Richard Greene, former state Sens. Chris Harris and Kim Brimer, former state Reps. Toby Goodman and Barbara Nash, and Arlington school board members Bowie Hogg and John Hibbs.

Tinderholt is terrible, and a potential longshot pickup if he survives his primary. Geren has survived challenges before and will likely survive this one.

Finally, on the Democratic side, attorney and military veteran Bernie Aldape has thrown his hat into the ring for HD144, joining a field that already includes former Rep. Mary Ann Perez and Pasadena Council Member Cody Ray Wheeler. As things stand right now, that’s the most interesting local Democratic primary, for a seat that ought to swing blue next year.

Pasadena City Council member Cody Ray Wheeler announces for HD144

From the inbox:

Cody Ray Wheeler

I am excited to announce that I have decided to seek the Democratic nomination for State Representative District 144.

As a Pasadena City Councilmember, I have worked hard to ensure that under-served communities have a voice in city government. But it is clear that now more than ever, working people need a champion at the state level.

When I was growing up, my father provided a good life for me and my family without a high school diploma because he held a good paying union job at a refinery. I was able to afford college, and eventually grad school because of my service in the Marines. Yet, I am increasingly worried that future generations will not have the same opportunities that my family had.

Working families are being neglected by the Texas Legislature. Our public schools, healthcare and workers’ rights are under attack. Politicians at the capitol today are more concerned with pleasing big corporations and scoring political points than they are with helping the middle class.

As a legislator, I will fight to protect the American Dream for every Texas family–and I won’t back down from Tea Party Republicans or lobbyists who cater to special interest groups.

Wheeler is one of the Pasadena Council members who was targeted by Mayor Johnny Isbell, so he has some experience running in and winning tough elections. HD144 should be a slightly Democratic district in 2016 – every Democratic candidate carried it in 2012, though not by a lot; Mary Ann Perez outpaced them all in winning what was then an open seat – with a bigger challenge to hold it in 2018 as Rep. Perez was unable to do; she again led the Democratic field, but the baseline dropped by about five points in 2014.

Almost as if on cue, a day later an announcement that former Rep. Perez would be making another run in HD144 hit my mailbox.

Mary Ann Perez

Mary Ann Perez

Today, Mary Ann Perez announced that she will be running for the Texas House of Representatives in District 144, which includes parts of Houston, South Houston, Baytown, Deer Park and Pasadena.

“Hard-working Texas families deserve a strong, effective voice in the Texas House. I have a proven track record for getting things done,” said Mary Ann Perez.

Perez grew up in a working class family in East Harris County. A mother of two, she worked her way through college to earn a degree in Business Administration from the University of Houston – Downtown. While building a successful insurance agency, she was never too busy for her two sons or her community. She was an active member of her local neighborhood association and volunteer at her sons’ Little League and school functions.

Elected to the Houston Community College Board of Trustees in 2009, Perez increased higher education access for local students and developed programs to connect graduates with local employers to address regional workforce needs.

The announcement goes on to make the same point I did about her performance relative to the rest of the ticket last year. That’s to her credit, and I’m sure it will be a part of the discussion in the primary, but then so will be the fact that she lost. I’d like to hear Perez talk a bit about what she learned from that experience and how she might avoid a repeat in 2018 if she gets re-elected. I’m sure that will come up in the interviews I’ll eventually do. As for Wheeler, he’s been fighting the good fight in Pasadena, and he ought to have as good a chance at holding HD144 for more than one term as anyone. Got to win in 2016 first, of course, so take a look at his website (hers appears to be the same as it was in 2014) and see what you think.

Van de Putte and Taylor in SA Mayor runoff

Here we go.

Leticia Van de Putte

Leticia Van de Putte

Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte is set to face San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in a runoff for the city’s top job.

With 95 percent of all precincts reporting late Saturday, Van de Putte led Taylor 31 percent to 28 percent, according to unofficial returns. Former state Rep. Mike Villarreal trailed in third at 26 percent, and former Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson in fourth at 10 percent.

With 14 declared candidates — four considered runoff prospects — the chance of an outright victory seemed slim Saturday. The runoff is scheduled for June 13, with early voting taking place from June 1-9.

“Our work’s not over, because what this means is we’re doing to work even harder to convince those who may not have cast a ballot to trust Leticia, to believe in her vision in this city,” Van de Putte said shortly after 10 p.m., surrounded by her family as confetti lingered in the air at her campaign headquarters on San Antonio’s West Side.

As results came in, Taylor told supporters at her election night party she was ready for a runoff.

“We can’t rest on our laurels because we’ve got some work to do to get to June 13,” she said, shortly after Adkisson and Villarreal conceded.

The four major candidates were seen as Democrats, though the election was nonpartisan.

That much is true, though as the Rivard Report notes, Taylor was generally the preferred candidate for Republican voters. It’ll be interesting to see how the runoff plays out, as there was no love lost between Van de Putte and Villarreal in the first round. She’s going to need Democrats to turn out to win, and if Villarreal supporters carry a grudge, that could get dicey. I’m no expert on San Antonio’s politics, so take that with some salt. Runoffs are tricky things, and anything can happen.

That was the marquee race, but I was at least as interested in Pasadena and Fort Bend ISD. Here are the unofficial results from Pasadena:

DISTRICT A — Ornaldo Ybarra leads Keith Nielsen 284-45;

DISTRICT B — Celestino Perez leads Bruce Leamon 118-107;

DISTRICT C — Sammy Casados leads Emilio Carmona 108-81;

DISTRICT D — Cody Ray Wheeler (182) leads J.E. “Bear” Hebert (77) and Pat Riley (28);

DISTRICT E — Cary Bass leads Larry Peacock 144-96;

DISTRICT F — Jeff Wagner 219 (unopposed)

DISTRICT G At Large — Pat Van Houte leads Steve Cote 859-599;

DISTRICT H At Large — Oscar Del Toro leads Darrell Morrison 755-728.

If you look at the comment on that Pasadena post, you’ll see that the folks who opposed Mayor Johnny Isbell and his power grabbing did pretty well. I wish I could find a list of candidates endorsed by the Texas Organizing Project to compare to this, but I can’t. Still, it looks good. And finally, as far as FBISD goes, I’m glad to see that Addie Heyliger won her race, which will help make that board a little more diverse and a little more reflective of the community. Congrats to her and to all of yesterday’s winners.

Getting nasty in Pasadena

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell is not on the ballot this year, but he’s definitely involved in the Council elections.

A political action committee (PAC) with ties to Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell contributed more than $20,000 to three candidates in the current city council election and funded a series of attack ads targeting Pasadena City Councilmember Cody Ray Wheeler, who is running for re-election to his second term as the District D representative.

The Citizens to Keep Pasadena Strong received only one contribution during the last reporting period, a $35,000 donation from the Johnny Isbell campaign account on March 11, according to recent campaign finance reports.

The PAC’s expenditures totaled $21,302.56 and included contributions totaling $7,153 to District E candidate Cary Bass, $7,111.46 to District D candidate J.E. “Bear” Hebert and $7,037.25 to District C candidate Emilio Carmona.

Campaign records indicate from the total, each candidate received $3,500 for “in-kind grassroots development” with the remainder spent for direct-mailers for each candidate.

Although several direct mail pieces sent by the PAC target incumbent District D candidate Cody Ray Wheeler, his opponent “Bear” Hebert said he had nothing to do with the contents of the mailers.

See here, here, and here for the background. The story neither shows the other side of this mailer, which is where whatever evidence the attackers have for their allegation would likely go, nor explores the truth value of it, so there’s not much for the casual reader to go on here. Wheeler has responded with two mailers of his own – there are others against him similar to the one shown above that have been sent as well – but he could easily be outspent; he tells me that Isbell has shelled out over $66K in this election, a huge amount for a small city like Pasadena.

In some sense the specifics of all this mail don’t matter, since this is really all about Mayor Isbell and his ongoing efforts to consolidate power by installing a more amenable Council for himself. The redistricting scheme was a part of that as well. The best antidote for that is for Isbell’s opponents to win their elections. Early voting is over in Pasadena – I have no idea how it’s going, as that information is not readily available – and Election Day is Saturday, May 9. If you’re in Pasadena and you want a Council that isn’t just a bunch of yes men for the Mayor, then CM Cody Wheeler is one of the candidates you ought to be supporting.

Chron overview of the Pasadena redistricting referendum

The Chron covers the most important ballot item in Harris County that isn’t the two countywide propositions, the charter amendment in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council

The charter change would replace two of Pasadena’s eight single-member City Council districts with seats elected citywide. But a citizens committee that reviewed the proposed change rejected it, 11-1.

Four council members from the older, predominantly Hispanic north end oppose the restructuring. They note that the U.S. Justice Department rejected this exact plan as potentially discriminatory, but now the pre-clearance requirement has been voided and opened the door for reconsideration.

“We are standing our ground against the change,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics on the council.

Opponents contend Proposition One is a “power grab” by the mayor, who was first elected to the council four decades ago and has served off and on ever since. They say the mayor doesn’t like the changes that he’s seeing in Harris County’s second-largest city, population 150,000, that once gained fame for its refineries and Gilley’s bar as featured in “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta and Debra Winger.

[…]

With emotions running high, an unusually large number have already gone to the polls.

Harris County’s election office reported that 2,164 residents had voted as of Monday, either in person or by mail, with four more days of early voting still to go. City officials say that tally is high for an off election year, amounting to almost half the votes cast in the last Pasadena mayoral election.

Wheeler believes that opponents have been effective in getting voters to the polls, saying preliminary analysis shows 60 percent of the early voting is coming from his side of the city.

In the past, Wheeler said that the issue is “about democracy and this mayor not getting the council he wanted and now trying to change the rules.”

See here, here, here, and here. It’s nigh impossible to look at this as anything but a power grab by Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, who pushed the issue against the recommendation of the citizens’ committee and who cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of putting it on the ballot. I certainly hope that it gets defeated at the ballot box because that would be the cleanest way to deal with it, but if it passes you can be sure there will be litigation.

Mayor Johnny Isbell and four council members from the more conservative southern side of town argue that the charter change would provide each citizen with more representation. They say each voter would then be able to elect three council members, instead of just one, to represent them.

Someone might want to explain to Mayor Isbell what a candidate of choice is. Look at it this way: Suppose Mayor Parker were to propose a similar idea for Houston, where Districts F and I got dismantled, with F mostly being put into District G and I mostly being annexed by District E, and two more At Large members were added. Do you think the voters of the former F and I would consider themselves to have “more representation” under that plan? Or do you think they’d wind up with three new Council members that didn’t live near them and who paid them little attention because they have a lot of children and non-citizens and they don’t vote all that much anyway? I know what outcome I’d expect, and I’d expect the same in Pasadena. I hope there are enough voters in Pasadena who see it this way, too. BOR has more.

Sen. Garcia joins the fight in Pasadena

Good.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia on Tuesday joined forces with four Pasadena council members and a community organizing group to mount a campaign against a new redistricting plan they say is designed to dilute the voting strength of Pasadena’s growing Hispanic population.

Garcia called Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell’s proposed plan, which would switch two council districts to at-large positions, a “huge step backwards.” She noted that when the city last year sought pre-clearance for a similar plan from the U.S. Department of Justice that it was soundly rejected as being discriminatory.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent elimination of the pre-clearance requirement should not be seen now as an “open invitation” to attack the minority vote, said Garcia.

Four of the city’s eight council members from the predominantly minority north end of Pasadena, which Garcia’s 6th Senate District covers, echoed that sentiment. They are being assisted in the “Just Vote No” campaign against the proposed charter amendment that will be on the Nov. 5 ballot by Texas Organizing Project, a community organizing group that plans to help get out the vote.

[…]

Garcia, who in 2002 defeated Isbell to become a Harris County commissioner, said citywide elections can result in council representatives living on the same street or area rather than being spread across the city.

“This new plan is just retaliation by the mayor who doesn’t like having new independent voices on council,” said Cody Wheeler, one of two Hispanics serving on Pasadena’s council.

See here, here, and here for the background. Good for Sen. Garcia. The best solution to this problem, certainly the cleanest and quickest solution, is for Mayor Isbell’s plan to be defeated by the voters. That’ll keep the lawyers out of it, and it will ensure no harm is done before the courts have a chance to intervene. The only other elections going on in Pasadena in November will be the constitutional referenda and the Astrodome proposal. Get out the vote and kill this thing dead while you still can.

Three for HD144, Lee for HCDE

Since Monday night, I have heard of three people who are interested in running for HD144, the State Rep district that was drawn to favor the election of a Democrat by the San Antonio court. For the record, the 2008 numbers in HD144 are as follows:

President: Obama 53.16%, McCain 45.92%

Senate: Noriega 59.25%, Cornyn 38.89%

Supreme Court, Place 7: Houston 59.01%, Wainwright 38.87%

Supreme Court, Place 8: Yanez 59.57%, Johnson 38.43%

CCA, Place 3: Strawn 58.06%, Price 39.79%

Two candidates have filed for this seat and a third announced that he was running, though his announcement came before the two filings were announced. The first to announce a filing was Kevin Risner, son of George Risner, the Democratic JP in Precinct 2. The second was Pasadena City Council Member Ornaldo Ybarra, whose statement is beneath the fold. Finally, there is Cody Wheeler, who made an announcement and put out this statement, but as of last night had not filed. I look forward to meeting and interviewing these gentlemen, and may the best person win, including any others who may yet be looking at this district.

In other Harris County news, Erica Lee, daughter of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has filed to run for HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1. She is the first Democrat to file for this position, the single easiest pickup opportunity for Democrats in Harris County next year, and whoever wins the primary will be virtually guaranteed to win in November. That person will not face incumbent Roy Morales, however, as he has undoubtedly done the math and will head off to the sunset and future opportunities to run for something. He wasn’t on the ballot this year and he may not be on it next year – I have no idea what this world is coming to. I am aware of at least one other person who had expressed an interest in this seat, but so far Erica Lee, whom I met briefly at the petition signing event the week of Thanksgiving (though I did not make the connection to her mother), is it. Stace has more.

I should note that we have two candidates for the at large HCDE position currently held by the ridiculous Michael Wolfe – Diane Trautman and David Rosen have both filed. There is also a Precinct 3 position for HCDE that does not have a Democratic challenger. I have heard that incumbent Republican Louis Evans is not running again, so while this would not be a likely pickup opportunity it seems to me that it deserves a candidate, since who knows what kind of candidate will emerge on the R side. For that matter, it would be nice to have a serious challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Yeah, I know, I’d like a pony, too. Hey, wishes are still free.

Meanwhile, over in Fort Bend County, attorney Vy Nguyen has announced her candidacy for HD26, the multi-cultural district that was drawn to be nearly 50/50 by the court. Her statement is here. It’s fair to say that the Democratic road towards a House majority will go right through that district.

Finally, a semi-comprehensive list of Democratic filings from around the state can be found here. I see that Sylvia Romo has made it official, so we will have that contested primary over there. If you’re aware of any filing news I’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.

UPDATE: According to Robert Miller, HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez is also interested in HD144, while incumbent Rep. Ken Legler has not decided if he will file for re-election.

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