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Not so open meetings

We’ll have to see how big a deal this is.

In a major blow to the state’s government transparency laws, Texas’ highest criminal court has struck down a significant provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act, calling it “unconstitutionally vague.”

That law, which imposes basic requirements providing for public access to and information about governmental meetings, makes it a crime for public officials to “knowingly [conspire] to circumvent this chapter by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations.” That provision aims to keep public officials from convening smaller meetings — without an official quorum present — to discuss public business outside the view of the taxpayers and the media.

Craig Doyal, the Montgomery County judge, was indicted under that statute for allegedly conducting “secret deliberations” — without a quorum of the commissioners court present — about a November 2015 county road bond. Doyal filed to have the charges dismissed, claiming the statute was unconstitutional. The case eventually made it to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which handed him a victory Wednesday. Two judges on the nine-member, all-Republican court dissented.

“We do not doubt the legislature’s power to prevent government officials from using clever tactics to circumvent the purpose and effect of the Texas Open Meetings Act,” Presiding Judge Sharon Keller wrote for the majority. “But the statute before us wholly lacks any specificity, and any narrowing construction we could impose would be just a guess, an imposition of our own judicial views. This we decline to do.”

Attorneys for Doyal argued months ago that the case should not be interpreted as a broad “take-down of the entire Texas Open Meetings Act.”

“This case is not about discussions of public matters in a quorum,” they wrote in a July 2018 brief. “This case is not about shutting out the public and the press from the political process.”

But open government advocates warned that the ruling, while specific to one slice of the open meetings act, importantly undermines its aims.

“I’m disappointed in the ruling,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Some people will use it as a chance to try to get around the spirit of the law. But the vast majority of people want to follow the law and want the public to understand government and participate in government. The vast majority of public officials know they can’t go around in secret and deliberate.”

See here for a bit of background on the Doyal case. I don’t know about you, but I have always assumed that Sharon Keller imposes her own judicial views on every appeal she hears. Be that as it may, my first thought on reading this story was whether it might have an effect on the accusations against five HISD trustees who are alleged to have formed a “walking quorum” and met illegally to discuss replacing Superintendent Grenita Lathan. That charge, if justified, represents another reason for the TEA to take over HISD. Unless, I presume, it turns out that what they allegedly did wasn’t actually illegal. As of yesterday, that was unclear.

The ruling could impact the Texas Education Agency’s investigation into allegations of Open Meetings Act violations by some members of the Houston ISD Board of Trustees.

TEA officials are investigating whether five trustees illegally coordinated ahead of an October 2018 vote to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan, who took over the position indefinitely in March 2018. The five trustees each spoke with Lathan’s chosen replacement, Abelardo Saavedra, prior to the vote. Some trustees have said they communicated with one other board member about a potential motion to remove Lathan.

Trustees ultimately voted 5-4 to replace Lathan with Saavedra, but they reversed the decision several days later following intense public backlash and Saavedra’s decision to back out of the job. Saavedra told the Houston Chronicle he quickly discovered HISD’s issues stemmed from the school board, as opposed to Lathan’s administration.

TEA opened a special accreditation investigation in January after receiving “multiple complaints” about violations of the Open Meetings Act. TEA leaders said they are investigating whether trustees were “deliberating district business prior to a regularly scheduled board meeting,” regarding Lathan’s removal.

While the notice alludes to misconduct described in the same statute that was overturned Wednesday, TEA officials did not indicate they are investigating HISD based on that statute. Rather, the TEA notice lists the entire chapter of open meetings laws, leaving it unclear whether the investigation rested entirely on the now-invalidated statute.

TEA officials declined to comment Wednesday “due to the open investigation.”

I Am Not A Lawyer and am thus not qualified to assess that possibility, but as a blogger I’m fully capable of speculating about it. My point is that this ruling may well have some odd and unexpected consequences. Greg Abbott says he wants state agencies to “continue to follow the spirit of the law”, whatever that means. I expect that would eventually lead to more litigation, until or unless the Lege fixes the law to satisfy this ruling. Anything is possible, but I tend to bet the under in these matters. Welcome to the mostly post-Open Meetings Act world that we now live in. The Observer has more.

Precinct analysis: Fort Bend

Did you know that Fort Bend County went blue in 2018 as well? Of course you did. Let’s take a closer look at how that happened.


Dist     Cruz   Beto Dikeman    Cruz%   Beto%    Dike%
======================================================
HD26   32,451  33,532    406   48.88%   50.51%   0.61%
HD27   17,563  47,484    348   26.86%   72.61%   0.53%
HD28   42,974  40,330    581   51.23%   48.08%   0.69%
HD85   18,435  21,053    281   46.36%   52.94%   0.71%

CC1    27,497  28,827    359   48.51%   50.86%   0.63%
CC2    11,238  40,905    263   21.44%   78.05%   0.50%
CC3    42,882  33,373    544   55.84%   43.45%   0.71%
CC4    29,806  39,294    450   42.86%   56.50%   0.65%

As a reminder, HD85 is only partially in Fort Bend. It also covers Wharton and Jackson counties, which are both red and which are the reason this district is not as competitive as it might look. The other three State Rep districts are fully within Fort Bend. The bottom four entries are for the four County Commissioner precincts.

For comparison, here are the 2016 data for the County Commissioner precincts and for the State Rep districts. Beto, as is the case pretty much everywhere we look, outperformed the 2016 baseline everywhere. In 2016, HD26 was won by Donald Trump by five points and by downballot Republicans by 15 points. In 2016, County Commissioner Precinct 1 was won by Trump by three points and downballot Republicans by ten or so, while Precinct 4 was won by Hillary Clinton by six points but by downballot Republicans also by six points. Trump won CC3 by 19 points and HD28 by ten points. All this happened while Clinton carried Fort Bend. Anyone still surprised that Dems swept FBC this year?


Dist   Abbott  Valdez Tippts  Abbott%  Valdez%   Tipp%
======================================================
HD26   36,516  28,762    898   55.18%   43.46%   1.36%
HD27   21,429  42,795    975   32.87%   65.64%   1.50%
HD28   47,549  35,016  1,213   56.76%   41.80%   1.45%
HD85   20,373  18,801    527   51.32%   47.36%   1.33%

CC1    30,249  25,584    779   53.43%   45.19%   1.38%
CC2    14,099  37,443    728   26.97%   71.63%   1.39%
CC3    47,081  28,501  1,129   61.37%   37.15%   1.47%
CC4    34,438  33,846    977   49.72%   48.87%   1.41%


Dist  Patrick Collier  McKen Patrick% Collier%  McKen%
======================================================
HD26   33,307  31,571  1,091   50.49%   47.86%   1.65%
HD27   18,455  45,617  1,018   28.35%   70.08%   1.56%
HD28   43,848  38,174  1,496   52.50%   45.71%   1.79%
HD85   18,824  20,025    685   47.61%   50.65%   1.73%

CC1    27,935  27,510    968   49.52%   48.77%   1.72%
CC2    11,979  39,438    796   22.94%   75.53%   1.52%
CC3    43,517  31,523  1,419   56.92%   41.23%   1.86%
CC4    31,003  36,916  1,107   44.91%   53.48%   1.60%


Dist   Paxton  Nelson Harris  Paxton%  Nelson% Harris%
======================================================
HD26   32,377  32,192  1,246   49.19%   48.91%   1.89%
HD27   17,454  46,307  1,249   26.85%   71.23%   1.92%
HD28   42,892  38,800  1,700   51.43%   46.53%   2.04%
HD85   18,234  20,455    775   46.20%   51.83%   1.96%
						
CC1    27,165  28,003  1,142   48.24%   49.73%   2.03%
CC2    11,271  39,983    915   21.60%   76.64%   1.75%
CC3    42,689  32,005  1,620   55.94%   41.94%   2.12%
CC4    29,832  37,763  1,293   43.31%   54.82%   1.88%


Dist    Hegar    Chev   Sand   Hegar%    Chev%   Sand%
======================================================
HD26   34,744  29,182  1,566   53.05%   44.56%   2.39%
HD27   18,579  44,486  1,690   28.69%   68.70%   2.61%
HD28   45,403  35,587  2,176   54.59%   42.79%   2.62%
HD85   19,151  19,106  1,107   48.65%   48.54%   2.81%

CC1    28,590  26,036  1,501   50.94%   46.39%   2.67%
CC2    11,842  38,830  1,361   22.76%   74.63%   2.62%
CC3    45,266  28,887  1,942   59.49%   37.96%   2.55%
CC4    32,179  34,608  1,735   46.96%   50.51%   2.53%


Dist     Bush   Suazo   Pina    Bush%   Suazo%   Pina%
======================================================
HD26   34,619  29,520  1,518   52.73%   44.96%   2.31%
HD27   19,148  44,329  1,352   29.54%   68.38%   2.09%
HD28   45,308  35,889  2,099   54.39%   43.09%   2.52%
HD85   19,175  19,251  1,001   48.63%   48.83%   2.54%

CC1    28,572  26,224  1,430   50.82%   46.64%   2.54%
CC2    12,382  38,693    995   23.78%   74.31%   1.91%
CC3    44,897  29,245  2,060   58.92%   38.38%   2.70%
CC4    32,399  34,827  1,485   47.15%   50.69%   2.16%


Dist   Miller   Olson   Carp  Miller%   Olson%   Carp%
======================================================
HD26   32,617  31,836  1,092   49.76%   48.57%   1.67%
HD27   17,346  46,414    982   26.79%   71.69%   1.52%
HD28   43,153  38,535  1,436   51.91%   46.36%   1.73%
HD85   18,190  20,465    699   46.22%   52.00%   1.78%

CC1    27,153  27,991    984   48.38%   49.87%   1.75%
CC2    11,087  40,180    739   21.32%   77.26%   1.42%
CC3    43,016  31,680  1,367   56.55%   41.65%   1.80%
CC4    30,050  37,399  1,119   43.83%   54.54%   1.63%


Dist Craddick McAllen Wright   Cradd% McAllen% Wright%
======================================================
HD26   34,651  29,418  1,446   52.89%   44.90%   2.21%
HD27   18,632  44,694  1,400   28.79%   69.05%   2.16%
HD28   45,440  35,871  1,842   54.65%   43.14%   2.22%
HD85   19,057  19,321    950   48.46%   49.13%   2.42%
						
CC1    28,489  26,271  1,321   50.80%   46.84%   2.36%
CC2    11,864  39,056  1,092   22.81%   75.09%   2.10%
CC3    45,237  29,103  1,746   59.46%   38.25%   2.29%
CC4    32,190  34,874  1,479   46.96%   50.88%   2.16%

Everyone met or exceeded the downballot baseline in the State Rep districts, while the top three Dems (Collier, Nelson, Olson) exceeded the Hillary mark in each. Dems should find a strong candidate to try to win back the County Commissioner seat in Precinct 1 in 2020, it sure looks like they’d have a decent shot at it.

Here are the countywide candidates for Fort Bend:


Dist    Vacek    Midd   Vacek%   Midd%
======================================
HD26   33,939   30,925  52.32%  47.68%
HD27   17,978   46,218  28.00%  72.00%
HD28   44,422   37,771  54.05%  45.95%
HD85   19,031   20,001  48.76%  51.24%
				
CC1    28,339   27,352  50.89%  49.11%
CC2    11,489   40,138  22.25%  77.75%
CC3    44,369   30,842  58.99%  41.01%
CC4    31,173   36,583  46.01%  53.99%


Dist   Hebert   George Hebert% George%
======================================
HD26   35,058   30,030  53.86%  46.14%
HD27   18,504   45,803  28.77%  71.23%
HD28   45,183   37,094  54.92%  45.08%
HD85   19,256   19,856  49.23%  50.77%
				
CC1    29,061   26,671  52.14%  47.86%
CC2    11,779   39,896  22.79%  77.21%
CC3    45,061   30,192  59.88%  40.12%
CC4    32,100   36,024  47.12%  52.88%

Brian Middleton met or exceeded the Hillary standard everywhere, while KP George was a point or so behind him. Both were still enough to win. Note that for whatever the reason, there were no Democratic candidates running for County Clerk or County Treasurer. One presumes that will not be the case in 2022, and one presumes there will be a full slate for the county offices next year, with Sheriff being the big prize.

We should have 2018 election data on the elected officials’ profiles and the Legislative Council’s FTP site in a couple of weeks. When that happens, I’ll be back to focus on other districts of interest. In the meantime, I hope you found this useful.

Meet KP George

He’s the new Fort Bend County Judge.

KP George

In December, that strange suspended-in-motion month between his election and taking office, K.P. George was checking out the quaint old domed Fort Bend County Courthouse, soon to be his domain. In November, to the surprise of almost everyone outside his campaign, George had been elected Fort Bend’s county judge — which is to say, the top boss of one of the United States’ fastest-growing counties, with 765,000 residents, nearly 3,000 employees, and an annual budget over $370 million.

When George takes office on Jan. 1, he’ll become arguably the most powerful Indian-American in U.S. government — as well as a potent symbol of the new Fort Bend, and of Asian-Americans’ growing power in Texas and American politics.

[…]

And still, to most political insiders, George’s election came as a surprise. “He was not someone on our radar,” said Gautam Raghavan, executive director of the Indian-American Impact Fund. “It wasn’t a race we engaged in. In hindsight, that’s a lesson for us: In some of these places with fast-shifting demographics, like the Texas suburbs, there are huge opportunities for us.”

“For Republicans in Fort Bend County, Donald Trump is a real liability,” [Rice poli-sci professor Mark] Jones said. “Socially and fiscally conservative Asian-Americans used to vote for more Republicans. But Trump’s rhetoric and policies are seen as anti-immigrant — anti-Latino, but also anti-Asian.”

“Many Trump administration policies, such as targeting Muslims as terrorists, don’t play well with Asian-Americans…. Indian-Americans may not love Pakistanis, but the same racial discrimination that targets Pakistanis targets them.

“In Fort Bend, there was a double whammy for Republicans. A much larger proportion of Asian-Americans voted for Democrats, and Asian-Americans also turned out at a much higher rate than they had previously.”

Observers have long predicted that Texas’ changing demographics will eventually turn the most Republican of states into one that’s more bipartisan or even reliably Democratic. That’s already true of Texas’ cities. Now the battles have shifted to the suburbs.

Notably, George is a Democrat. “It’s a historic election for Texas,” said Jones — Fort Bend is the first exurb to elect a Democrat to the top of its county government. “It could portend the future for diverse counties such as Denton and Collin.”

I’m honestly surprised that this race wasn’t on the radar of any national organizations like the Indian-American Impact Fund. George was not a novice politician – he’d been twice elected to the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees. Fort Bend had been trending Dem for some time, and fit in every way the profile of the suburban, diverse, won-by-Hillary-in-2016 Congressional districts that were so hotly contested. Outgoing Judge Bob Hebert had served for a long time, but didn’t have the bipartisan cred that Ed Emmitt had, which might have helped him ride out the wave. This race should have been seen as a prime opportunity, and if it wasn’t that was a failure of imagination.

And yes, I believe this is a leading indicator for other suburban counties. Williamson County didn’t elect anyone countywide despite being carried by Beto O’Rourke, MJ Hegar, and Justin Nelson, but it did elect two Democratic State Reps and two JPs, while a Dem County Commissioner candidate fell just short. Dems didn’t carry any race in Denton or Collin, but elected a State Rep in Denton while just missing on two in Collin, and a JP in Denton County. It was a big step forward. There are no guarantees for 2020, of course, but the obstacle of credibility – the belief that it’s really possible a Dem could win – has been cleared. That can only help.

Another straight-ticket truther

Hello, outgoing Fort Bend DA John Healey!

John Healey

When John Healey began his career as a young prosecutor in Fort Bend County in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan was president, MTV had just gone on the air and the then-rural county had fewer than 175,000 residents.

As Healey prepares to leave the office where he’s spent his entire career, including 26 years as the county’s top prosecutor, the sprawling suburb has roughly 764,000 residents with a growing number of diverse communities.

A Republican, Healey announced his retirement more than a year before the blue wave that swept many Democrats into county offices, including his own. Democrat Brian Middleton, a Houston defense attorney who once worked for Healey, will succeed him at the start of 2019.

[…]

The county is also tilting more toward the Democrats, from Hillary Clinton winning the county in 2016 to ousting longtime County Judge Bob Hebert, a Republican, this past fall. Hebert will be succeeded by Democrat KP George.

“I think you have a well-organized Democratic Party that mobilized a lot of people on fear across the board in the ballot of Donald Trump,” said Healey. “Those that voted straight-ticket voted good Republicans out of office, didn’t care that they were doing it, and maybe didn’t even know that they were doing it.”

I do so love the implication that people who voted straight ticket were too stupid to know who and what they were voting for. There’s nothing more appealing in a public official than insulting voters. The possibility that people may have been deliberately and consciously voting for a change of direction, to rebuke a corrupt and incompetent president, for the candidates who better reflected their values and experiences, or some combination of all three, just doesn’t occur to him. Which strongly suggests to me that he picked the right time to get off the stage.

And just for the record:


Straight R    81,228
Straight D    89,491
Margin         8,263

240th District Court

Bridges      117,587
Fraley       132,199
Margin        14,612

268th District Court

Hawkins      116,476
Williams     133,419
Margin        16,943

458th District Court

Cannata      117,370
Rolnick      132,206
Margin        14,836

District Attorney

Vacek        115,370
Middleton    134,915
Margin        19,545

County Judge

Hebert       118,001
George       132,783
Margin        14,782

District Clerk

Elliott      117,534
Walker       132,630
Margin        15,096

I skipped a few county court races, all of which were in the same range. Point being, even if you accept the ridiculous and ridicule-worthy claim that straight ticket votes are somehow less than other votes, every countywide Democrat in Fort Bend still won their race. Nowhere was that margin greater than in the race for DA, to succeed John Healey. You can believe what you want to believe, John. The voters knew what they wanted.

The Fort Bend blue wave

Let’s not forget that what happened in Harris County happened in Fort Bend, too.

KP George

Across the state, the “blue wave” that had long been a dream of the Democratic Party faithful failed to materialize in Tuesday’s midterm elections, with Republicans sweeping every statewide office for the 20th consecutive year, albeit by closer-than-expected margins.

But in Fort Bend County — the rapidly growing suburb southwest of Houston often heralded as a beacon of diversity — Democrats had their best election day since the political power base in Texas shifted from Democrat to Republican decades ago.

Political analysts attributed the near sweep in part to the county’s growing diversity, which also was reflected in the backgrounds of some of the winners: Middleton, who defeated Republican Cliff Vacek, is African-American, and Democrat KP George, who unseated longtime County Judge Robert Hebert, was born in India.

[…]

In Fort Bend County elections Tuesday, Democrats ousted Republican incumbents for county judge, Precinct 4 commissioner and district clerk. Middleton won the open district attorney race, and all 22 Democrats who ran for judicial positions — state district courts, appeals courts and county courts-at-law — prevailed; the lone Republican victor was opposed only by a Libertarian candidate.

Fort Bend County voters favored Democrats over Republicans for every statewide office on the ballot except governor. And even in that race, Gov. Greg Abbott, who won 56 percent of the statewide vote over challenger Lupe Valdez, managed only a slim plurality in Fort Bend County, besting Valdez by a mere 720 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

Only in legislative campaigns did the Democrats fall short. Sri Kulkarni, who failed in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in the multi-county 22nd Congressional District, lost in his district’s portion of Fort Bend County by 5 percentage points, roughly the same as the district-wide margin. Republican state Reps. Rick Miller and John Zerwas defeated Democratic challengers.

I agree that Fort Bend’s diversity played a big role in the result, but Fort Bend has been very diverse for years now. Democrats have come close before – Barack Obama got 48.50% in Fort Bend in 2008 – but they were never quite able to break through. This was the year it all came together, and I’d say it was a combination of demography, voter registration, Betomania, and the same disgust with Donald Trump from college-educated voters as we saw in Harris County and pretty much everywhere else. None of this really a surprise – we saw what was happening in Commissioners Court Precinct 4 in 2016 – but it still feels a bit unreal that it actually happened. The suburbs have long been the locus of Republican strength in Texas. That’s not true any more, and I think it’s going to take us all a little time to fully absorb that. In the meantime, I know some very happy people in Fort Bend right now. KUHF has more.

Meanwhile, in Montgomery County

There they go again.

The Republican primary defeat of embattled Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal — and close contests in two county commissioner races headed for runoffs — could signal major leadership changes and a shift further to the right in the fast-growing Houston suburb.

State Rep. Mark Keough, who defeated Doyal, was among several candidates favored by the county’s influential tea party movement — and like-minded statewide groups — who fared well Tuesday. Others in this cohort include Steve Toth, who overwhelmingly won the Republican nomination for the legislative seat that Keough is vacating, and Greg Parker, who got 43 percent of the vote in a three-person race and forced County Commissioner Charlie Riley, with 43.5 percent, into a primary runoff.

Toth and Parker have staked out positions aligned with the most far-right elements of their party. Parker’s campaign website says he wrote a book described as “a critical look at the myth and liberal hysteria surrounding climate change.” Toth, who was instrumental in the formation of the county’s tea party movement, has advocated eliminating property appraisal districts and freezing appraisals at the purchase price of a home.

[…]

Political observers agreed that toll roads emerged as a dominant issue in the county, where tea party groups carry a lot of clout, particularly in The Woodlands. Texas lawmakers have gone from championing to criticizing toll roads, a shift that some Houston-area leaders worry has gone too far and could limit coming projects.

“Without toll roads and that funding, I don’t know what we are going to do,” Doyal said late last year, citing the need for new roadways in rapidly growing parts of the Houston area.

Keough took a hard stance against toll roads.

“I think toll roads are another form of taxation,” Keough said last December. “I’m out on toll roads. Toll roads are about a bigger issue; it’s about big government.”

Doyal was embattled for a reason, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. I figure as long as the developers are able to keep building things life will go on more or less as normal up there. I mean, at some point they’re going to need to come up with a politically acceptable way to pay for the roads they want to build, but that’s their problem.

I confess, I don’t quite get the diatribe against toll roads. The whole idea with toll roads is that you only pay for them if you use them. Everyone pays gas taxes, whether they use the roads that get built with them or not. Which is fine by me, of course, but I’m one of those big-gubmint-loving-liberal types. If gas taxes, floating bonds, and toll roads are all off the table, what’s left? Perhaps Montgomery County will show us.

(Just a reminder, there is a choice if you think all of this is messed up.)

Filing roundup: Outside Harris County

A look at who filed for what on the Democratic side in the counties around Harris. These are all predominantly Republican counties, some more than others, so the Democrats are almost all challengers. On the flip side, there are many opportunities for gains.

Lisa Seger

Montgomery County

CD08 – Steven David

HD03 – Lisa Seger
HD15 – Lorena Perez McGill
HD16 – Mike Midler

County Judge – Jay Stittleburg
District Clerk – John-Brandon Pierre
County Treasurer – Mandy Sunderland

First, kudos to Montgomery County, hardly a Democratic bastion, for having so many candidates. They’re a County Clerk candidate away from having a full slate. I’m not tracking judicial candidates, County Commissioners, or Constables, but the MCDP has those, too. Steven David is a business and efficiency expert for the City of Houston. He’s running against Kevin “Cut all the taxes for the rich people!” Brady. Lisa Seger, whose district also covers Waller County, is a fulltime farmer in Field Store Community who has helped feed first responders during the fires of 2011 and is also involved in animal rescue. Her opponent is Cecil Bell, who was possibly the most fanatical pusher of anti-LGBT bills in the State House. She’s also a Facebook friend of my wife, who knows a lot of local farmers through her past work with Central City Co-Op. Jay Stittleburg is a Navy veteran and Project Management Professional who has worked in oil and gas. John-Brandon Pierre is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. A very solid group.

Fort Bend County

CD22 – Letitia Plummer
CD22 – Margarita Ruiz Johnson
CD22 – Mark Gibson
CD22 – Sri Preston Kulkarni
CD22 – Steve Brown

SD17 – Fran Watson
SD17 – Rita Lucido
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

HD26 – Sarah DeMerchant
HD27 – Rep. Ron Reynolds
HD27 – Wilvin Carter
HD28 – Meghan Scoggins
HD85 – Jennifer Cantu

County Judge – KP George
District Clerk – Beverly McGrew Walker

Gotta say, I’m kind of disappointed in Fort Bend. They had a full slate for county offices in 2014, but this year there wasn’t anyone to run for County Clerk or County Treasurer? I don’t understand how that happens. Mark Gibson and Steve Brown list Fort Bend addresses, while Letitia Plummer and Margarita Johnson are from Pearland and Sri Kulkarni is from Houston. The Senate candidates we’ve already discussed. For the State House, Sarah DeMerchant ran in 2016, while Wilvin Carter is the latest to try to take out Rep. Ron Reynolds, who is the only incumbent among all the candidates I’m listing in this post and whose story you know well. Meghan Scoggins has a background in aerospace but works now in the nonprofit sector, while Jennifer Cantu is an Early Childhood Intervention therapist for a Texas nonprofit. KP George is a Fort Bend ISD Trustee and past candidate for CD22.

Brazoria County

CD14 – Adrienne Bell
CD14 – Levy Barnes

SBOE7 – Elizabeth Markowitz

HD29 – Dylan Wilde Forbis
HD29 – James Pressley

County Judge – Robert Pruett
County Clerk – Rose MacAskie

CD22 and SD17 also contain Brazoria County. HD25, held by Dennis Bonnen, is in Brazoria but it is one of the few districts that drew no Democratic candidates. I haven’t focused much on the SBOE races, but as we know longtime Republican member David Bradley is retiring, so that seat is open. It’s not exactly a swing district, but maybe 2018 will be better than we think. Adrienne Bell has been in the CD14 race the longest; she’s a Houston native and educator who was on both the Obama 2012 and Wendy Davis 2014 campaigns. Levy Barnes is an ordained bishop with a bachelor’s in biology, and you’ll need to read his biography for yourself because there’s too much to encapsulate. Dylan Wilde Forbis is one of at least three transgender candidates for State House out there – Jenifer Pool in HD138 and Finnigan Jones in HD94 are the others I am aware of. The only useful bit of information I could find about the other candidates is the Robert Pruett had run for County Judge in 2014, too.

Galveston County

HD23 – Amanda Jamrok
HD24 – John Phelps

CD14 and SBOE7 are also in Galveston. Remember when Galveston was a Democratic county? Those were the days. I don’t have any further information about these candidates.

Hope these posts have been useful. There are more I hope to do, but they’re pretty labor intensive so I’ll get to them as best I can.

KP George files for Fort Bend County Judge

From the inbox:

KP George

Current Fort Bend Independent School District Board Trustee, Board Certified Financial Planner, father of three beautiful children, husband of a FBISD educator, and an Asian American citizen, KP George of Fort Bend County, is announcing his campaign for Fort Bend County Judge.

With immense changes in the county, the county must meet the demands of the 21st century and the communities that live here. Fort Bend County residents deserve better emergency preparedness, real fiscal responsibility, and constant community support. While KP George neighbors and strangers alike during the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, it became clear that Fort Bend County was ill prepared to assist Fort Bend residents. After discussions with stakeholders, it is stark as daylight that there are flaws to the county’s response and changes need to be made to better assist the diverse group of Fort Bend residents.

For all Fort Bend County residents, KP George will fight for stronger emergency systems, total fiscal responsibility, increased government transparency, and constant community engagement and input. The KP George campaign will focus on giving a voice to the incredible diversity we have in Fort Bend County and fixing the shortcomings of the current county government.

Just recently, KP George was re-elected as a FBISD Trustee this past May 2017 with 64% of the vote. KP George wants to thank his family, his friends, and God for helping him come from a small, poor village to eventually achieve the American Dream right here in Fort Bend County.

Here’s his Facebook page and his campaign webpage, which as of Tuesday still reflected his 2017 campaign. I’d mentioned the lack of countywide candidates in Fort Bend on Monday, so I’m glad to provide an update. George ran for Congress in CD22 in 2012 – here’s the interview I did with him. Fort Bend Democrats broke through at the Presidential level last year, and much like in Harris County they could have a good year in 2018. Gotta have the candidates first, so kudos to George for stepping up. I’ve got a larger update in a subsequent post, but wanted to highlight this one on its own.

El Paso County Judge considering a run for Congress

She’s not running for re-election, so that seems the most likely next step.

Veronica Escobar

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won’t seek re-election, she said Monday, adding she is exploring a run for Congress.

“I am looking closely at the congressional seat for the 16th district. It’s not a secret. Congressman (Beto) O’Rourke has raised the bar in a way that is very inspiring. I’m so excited about his run for Senate and I think he can win,” she said.

However, she stopped short of confirming a run for Congress.

“I am certain that I am not going to run for re-election. I do think it’s important to provide the community with enough time so that interested leaders can examine whether they want to do it or not,” she told the El Paso Times on Monday.

She added, “It’s a big race. The countywide race is not easy. And the primary is in March. Folks who may be considering it will need to talk to their family because running for public office is a huge decision.”

The primary for the next county election is in March, with the midterm election in November 2018.

Escobar, 47, was first elected county judge in 2010, and her current term expires Dec. 31, 2018. She previously served as county commissioner for Precinct 2.

[…]

Under Escobar’s leadership, county commissioners implemented a number of reforms within the administration, including in the controversial purchasing office and later creating the county’s first chief administrator position that mirrors a city manager. The county recently created an economic development department.

In a controversial move, Escobar in August 2016 voted in favor of giving county commissioners a nearly $26,600 a year pay raise, bringing their annual salaries to more than $89,000. She voted against giving herself a raise, although commissioners voted to increase her salary by more than $14,400. She now makes $102,000 a year.

Escobar most recently led the county in suing the state over Senate Bill 4, the so-called “show me your papers” law that is set to go into effect Sept. 1. The federal civil lawsuit filed last month seeks to block its implementation, calling the law unconstitutional.

While someone with Escobar’s profile would surely be a formidable candidate, this is a strong Democratic seat, so she will have some company in the primary.

El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees President Dori Fenenbock is making her intentions clear. “If I can fight for El Pasoans,” she said. “I am happy to do it.”

Although neither have officially announced their candidacy, both say there needs to be a change on the Hill. ” We are feeling very frustrated and disgusted with our national government,” Fenenbock said. Escobar added, “This is a very, very important seat especially (with) what is happening in D.C. right now and all the decisions that will have a direct impact on the border and El Paso.”

Although the election is months away, both potential candidates are thinking about possible competition. “It’s hard to say who will be in the race this early,” Fenenback said. “But I am really focused on the work in Washington.”

I don’t know anything about El Paso politics, so I have no judgment on how good a Commissioner or County Judge Escobar was or how good a school board member Fenenbock is. I do know that if Escobar is elected to succeed Rep. O’Rourke she would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas, which would automatically give her a higher profile than the average Congressional newbie. Her departure from her current position may also encourage a current member of the El Paso legislative delegation to run for that job, so there could be a ripple effect to her decision. If you know more about either Judge Escobar or Ms. Fenenbock, please fill us in. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on this.

A Q&A about the TCDCC

Last week, I introduced you to the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC), which is focused on recruiting and supporting county-level Democratic candidates outside of our current urban strongholds. It’s an idea and an organization that is long overdue. I wanted to know more about it, so I sent some questions to TCDCC founder Robert Ryland. Here’s our conversation:

1. What made you think of this? Are there organizations like the TCDCC in other states, or is this a first?

Well, for starters, Democrats have lost hundreds of county offices over the last few cycles and not many people seemed to have noticed, but it is crippling us at the grassroots level. I’ve been organizing and working with local candidates in Bastrop County over the last three cycles and seen firsthand their difficulties in trying to be heard over the din of the big media and big money that drives so much of the election narrative – and which has a much bigger impact on turnout than seemingly anything our local party can do for them. It’s like trying to control the tides. Access to resources outside their immediate community is virtually non-existent, and the state party hasn’t had the bandwidth or the funding to really support them in any meaningful way. In a state so dominated by hyper-conservative messaging, local Democrats are at a huge disadvantage in close races, especially in rural & suburban areas like ours. Losing local races also means losing our profile in the community and makes local politics discouraging to activists. We can’t keep hoping that some magical leader will ride to our rescue – Democratic county officials have to unite and work together and fight for themselves and for more progressive and responsible local government.

And we’ve needed something like this for a while. Our caucuses in the legislature and Congress have PACs to protect endangered incumbents and recruit and support candidates for competitive seats; why shouldn’t we have something similar for our elected officials at the level that’s closest to the voters? This is long overdue, in my opinion.

I haven’t come across organizations like this in other states, though I would hope they exist somewhere. I do know that in some states with strong Democratic infrastructure, the party does this kind of work.

2. What are the goals of the TCDCC? Do you intend to contribute directly to candidates, or to provide in-kind assistance (consulting, website, etc)?

The big picture is about rebuilding our bench with capable candidates and rehabilitating the Democratic brand at the neighborhood level. Our immediate goals are bringing our county-level incumbents together as stakeholders in this endeavor; identifying potential pickups, recruiting and training good candidates to run competitive races and supporting incumbents who may be facing serious Republican challenges.

We’ve modeled this somewhat after HDCC. We’ll build this out to be able to provide different services depending on the candidate’s needs. That may be direct contributions, or in-kind work by helping them put together a solid campaign, connecting them with the right vendors, training them to run field programs and work with voter data, etc. It may mean other things directly from the PAC. Moving forward, we want to be able to provide a suite of member services to office-holders to help them serve their constituents more effectively and make the case for more progressive policy and budgeting at the county level.

3. How will you identify the candidates you want to assist? How can a candidate put himself or herself on the TCDCC’s radar?

The best way for prospective candidates to put themselves on our radar right now is to contact us at info@TexasCDCC.com and tell us about themselves.

The big question for any candidate is always “can you win?” But it’s never as simple as the numbers might suggest.

We’ve started by looking closely at precinct-level election data, demographics, and trends as well as local issues and community assets. Several factors can affect a local race. Who has a good profile and background for the office, and the skill set to run a strong race? What kinds of factors might make the Republican incumbent or potential challengers vulnerable? I think that wherever we can find a strong candidate who wants to run, it’s important that we find a way to help them somehow – even if the numbers may not favor them this cycle. This is a long-term project. We have to look at future cycles too, find ways we can make a dent in the Republican machine. We should keep in mind that a lack of opposition implies consent. There’s an old saying: the best time to plant a tree is 40 years ago – the next best time to plant a tree is right now.

4. Do you intend to prioritize certain office types over others, or are all county offices in scope?

We want to start by focusing on the policy and budgeting end of county government – commissioners and county judges, for the most part. Administrative and law enforcement offices are a different animal, and we’ll need more time and study to figure out where those might fit in to our plan. In some counties they carry more authority than others. We don’t want to box ourselves out of anything at this point, so we will certainly examine any opportunity. But the commissioners’ courts are where our focus is for now.

5. You said in your introductory email that the TCDCC seeks to support “county-level Democratic candidates outside of our current urban strongholds”. Are there particular parts of the state that you will be targeting? Are there any races you are looking at already?

We’re looking all over the state, but working outside our urban strongholds is really central to this; it’s where we need it most. The big cities have strong local parties and campaign infrastructure; they’re already developing young candidates and campaign professionals through their ranks, and have a broader base of institutional assets to draw on. Plus, with electorates of their size, much larger financial interests come into play. We want to focus in counties where we don’t have such muscular advantages – but where a little investment could go a long way. Staying out of the biggest counties also stretches our resources because the voter universes are much more manageable, especially for first-time candidates. We can keep these contests on a grassroots level, where you can shake hands with pretty much every person who can cast a ballot for you, and build relationships with voters face-to-face. There are a number of races we’ve already identified as potential pickups and we’ve only scratched the surface. Keep in mind that we lost quite a few seats in 2010 that we shouldn’t have; there’s actually quite a bit of low-hanging fruit, even in some less-than-obvious places.

The fun part about looking at county-level seats is that, while a particular House district or county may be heavily Republican, it may still be possible to find a precinct where Democrats can win. Instead of fretting about our chances to elect a Governor in 2014, let’s drill down and find places where Democratic voters could be propelled to the polls by a local candidate. At that level, the playing field can be pretty broad. Lots of folks are talking about Battleground, and their work is very important, but it only creates a new set of building blocks for us. To make that effort meaningful we need candidates for these newly-registered people to vote for – at every level.

6. The email also mentioned candidate recruitment. What are your plans for that?

Recruitment is the most critical element in this project. There’s a lot of research and profile-building that goes into successful recruitment, but I believe there is a great deal of value to be found in people and places that have historically been overlooked by our party’s establishment. We’ve already met with some folks who are exploring runs for county office, and we’ll be meeting with local officials, community leaders, party activists and others, anywhere and everywhere over the next 6 months. I just came back from the West Texas Conference of the County Judges and Commissioners Association out in Midland, where I met some great local Democrats who are prevailing against a pretty stacked deck. There are more opportunities like that to talk with potential recruits and incumbents – but we certainly won’t limit ourselves to those. All over the state there are Democrats who are community & business leaders, local school board & city council members – lots of talented folks serving right now, or wanting to serve, who could make formidable candidates. It’s important to find people with a good background, who will reflect well on our party, but who also understand the local political landscape and what it will take to connect with voters in their community.

It’s worth noting that some of our existing candidate committees (HDCC, DCCC etc.) have been forced leave some talent off the field for lack of a competitive district, and some folks who would make great candidates have declined to run due to the hefty price tag. Running for the State House is now a half-million-dollar proposition at least. That’s intimidating to anyone, let alone someone who’s pondering their first race. County races are much more affordable and manageable, and the candidate has the added comfort of being able to remain much closer to home and the community they know best, so the learning curve is shorter as well. Those are strong selling points.

7. What has the reaction been from the Democratic establishment?

I’m happy to say that the reaction has been uniformly positive and supportive. Lots of folks had the same reaction you did – “Great idea! Why haven’t we been doing this already?” It’s been a perpetual weakness in our infrastructure, and not working at this level has cost us dearly in terms of our bench and our impact on public policy. There’s been lots of encouragement for the project so far; we need to translate that support into a steady revenue stream to build a strong organization and maintain it over the long haul. This is just the beginning.

8. What can people do to help?

Supporters can donate to TCDCC via ActBlue. For info on other ways to contribute, go to http://www.texascdcc.com/tcdcc-contribute.html.

Beyond that, We need help with the number-crunching. We need to build a database of crucial information, down to the voting precinct level, that can be instrumental not only to this project but to other Democratic organizations across the state. We also need current Democratic elected officials at every level to see the big picture and climb on board with this effort.

Of course folks should Like us on Facebook, and spread the word to their friends. And we need eyes and ears. A project of this scope needs to have friends everywhere who can help us identify local assets, potential candidates and funding sources. We’ll have to lean on locals who know their communities and what issues are important to their neighbors. Information is going to be our lifeblood, and in that sense, Democrats in all parts of the state can play a critical role in this effort. Honestly, what better way to rebuild than from the ground up?

Robert can be contacted at info@texascdcc.com if you have questions or information to share. I hope you’re inspired to donate to and like the TCDCC as I have been. There are many facets to turning Texas blue, and we need to be engaged in all of them.

Dallas County’s elections administrator resigns

I spotted this story in the DMN the other day.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has called a meeting of an obscure commission charged with appointing a county elections chief, raising the suspicion that it’s an attempt to oust longtime Elections Administrator Bruce Sherbet.

The County Election Commission, which county officials say has not met since the late 1980s, is made up of Jenkins, Tax Assessor John Ames, County Clerk John Warren, local Republican Party Chairman Jonathan Neerman and local Democratic Party Chairwoman Darlene Ewing.

The meeting has been set for 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Fox conference room in the Dallas County Administration Building.

Jenkins said Tuesday he is not targeting Sherbet for removal but simply convening the meeting because state law says it must meet every two years.

“What this is to me is following what I understand to be the law,” Jenkins said. “All the members of the committee are free to nominate whomever they want to.”

Jenkins, who said the meeting would take five minutes, did not comment specifically about Sherbet or his job performance, saying it would be inappropriate for him to do so since he is county judge and Sherbet is a county employee.

The newly elected county judge, however, did not rule out that a vote on Sherbet would be taken at the meeting.

Neither of the two party chairs had any desire to make a change, according to the story, so the four-fifths majority to remove Sherbet didn’t exist regardless of what Judge Jenkins has in mind. In the end, that didn’t matter because Sherbet resigned later in the day. I know nothing about Bruce Sherbet and have no opinion as to how good a job he did, though clearly a lot of people liked him, I’m just noting this story out of curiosity over how Judge Emmett’s proposal for an elections administrator for Harris County is doing. I suppose the fact that the county is firing people left and right and is supposed to be under a hiring freeze would create obstacles to the creation of a new position. Still, I haven’t heard anything since Don Sumners’ post-election tantrum about the idea and the subsequent kerfuffle over his attempt to make voter registration more difficult, so I thought I’d throw this out there and see what happens.

Runoff roundup

Here’s a look at some of the runoff elections that will be on the ballot next month.

On the Democratic side…boy, there’s not much. No statewide runoffs, as Linda Chavez-Thompson got a majority in her three-candidate race for Lite Guv. One for Congress, where Robert Pruett and Winston Cochrane compete for the right to challenge Ron Paul in CD14. One for State Rep, where incumbent Norma Chavez in El Paso’s HD76 trailed Naomi Gonzalez by a handful of votes. In Harris County, there will be four judicial races and one JP race:

234th Civil District Court: Tanner Garth versus Jim Peacock
270th Civil District Court: Bob Thomas versus Lee Arellano
308th Family District Court: Bruce Kessler versus Julia Maldonado
311th Family District Court: Deborah Wright versus Brad Morris
JP, Precinct 3, Place 2: Don Coffey versus Denise Graves

I’m thinking you’ll be able to count turnout on your fingers. Which means that if you do vote, it’s worth that much more.

Two other runoffs of interest elsewhere: In Travis County, the open 299th Civil District Court bench will feature Mindy Montford, who lost a runoff to replace Ronnie Earle as DA in 2008, and Karen Sage. This is the bench that 3rd Court of Appeals Justice Jan Patterson had inquired with Rick Perry for an appointment, which annoyed a lot of the Dem faithful there since it would have allowed Perry to also replace her on the 3rd Court with a Republican, giving the GOP a 4-2 edge. Patterson wound up running for the 201st and was soundly defeated there by Amy Clark Meachum.

Finally, in Dallas County, Clay Jenkins came within a hair of winning the nomination for County Judge – he missed the 50% mark by 75 votes – and will be in a runoff with Larry Duncan. Both finished ahead of incumbent Jim Foster, who was swept into office in 2006 but wasn’t up to the task.

Much more action on the Republican side, starting with the Supreme Court race I mentioned before. Six Congressional runoffs, of which the ones in CD17, between Bill Flores and 2008 candidate Rob Curnock, and CD23, between Will Hurd and repeat nomination-seeker Quico Canseco, are the main ones of interest. One runoff for the SBOE, where Marsha Farney will face Cynthia Dunbar’s hand-picked successor, Bryan Russell, for her open seat.

There are eight runoffs for State Rep seats, two of which feature incumbents – Fred Brown in HD14 and Delwin Jones in HD83 – three of which are for open seats – Mabrie Jackson and Van Taylor in HD66, which was Brian McCall’s seat; Mark Griffin and John Frullo in HD84 to replace Carl Isett; Dan Huberty and Susan Curling in HD127, which was Joe Crabb’s seat; former Houston City Council Member Addie Wiseman came in third – and three of which are to challenge incumbent Democrats – Paul Workman and Holly Turner to face Rep. Valinda Bolton in HD47; John Gordon and Larry Gonzales to face Rep. Diana Maldonado in HD52; and Jack O’Connor versus Dianne Williams in HD149 to face Rep. Hubert Vo.

In Harris County, there are a couple of judicial runoffs and one JP race, plus the one for county GOP Chair.

180th Criminal District Court: Danny Dexter and Marc Brown
308th Family District Court: James Lombardino and Alice O’Neill
JP Precinct 5, Place 2: Jeff Williams and George Huntoon

I think that’s everything. If I missed something, let me know.

UPDATE: Burka has a good analysis of the legislative runoffs.

Clay Jenkins

Clay Jenkins is a candidate for County Judge in Dallas. He’s running in the Democratic primary against the incumbent, Jim Foster, who knocked off the Republican incumbent in the 2006 countywide sweep, in a race nobody expected him to win. (This is why we say Run Everywhere.) I don’t normally get involved in that kind of race outside of the Houston area, but Jenkins was a big supporter of Rick Noriega last year, and any friend of the Noriegas i a friend of mine. Rick and Melissa are hosting an event for Clay Jenkins at their place this Sunday – details are beneath the fold – so if you’d like to know more about Jenkins and what’s going on in Dallas, come on out to the Noriegas’ house on Sunday and find out.

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