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Debby Kerner

Another national publication looks at CD07

Mother Jones, come on down.

Rep. John Culberson

In addition to [Laura] Moser, the top competitors for the March primary are first-time candidates with stories that fit the political moment in different ways. Lizzie Fletcher, a well-connected lawyer at a large downtown firm, got her start in politics as a teenager during the 1992 Republican National Convention, when she volunteered to stand outside abortion clinics blocking Operation Rescue types from chaining themselves to the entrance. Alex Triantaphyllis, who at 33 is the youngest of the bunch, co-founded a mentoring nonprofit for refugees in Houston after spending time at Goldman Sachs and Harvard Law School. Jason Westin, an oncologist and researcher at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center, told me he first thought about running a week after the election, after watching his daughter’s soccer game. She had taken a hard fall and Westin told her to “get back up and get back in the game”—but sitting on the couch later that day, scrolling through Facebook, he decided he was a hypocrite. He decided to enter the race with encouragement from 314 Action, a new political outfit that encourages candidates with scientific backgrounds to run for office. The primary is not until March, but in a sign of the enthusiasm in the district, Culberson’s would-be Democratic challengers have already held two candidate forums.

The 7th District starts just west of downtown Houston, in the upscale enclave of West University Place near Rice University, and stretches west and north through parts of the city and into the suburbs, in the shape of a wrench that has snapped at the handle. It had not given any indication of turning blue before last year. But a large number of voters cast ballots for both Hillary Clinton and Culberson. Moser and Fletcher see that as a sign that Republican women, in particular, are ready to jump ship for the right candidate. In the Texas Legislature, West University Place is represented by Republican Sarah Davis, whose district Clinton carried by 15 points, making it the bluest red seat in the state. Davis is an outlier in another way: She’s the lone pro-choice Republican in the state Legislature and was endorsed by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes in 2016. “To the outside world it looks like a huge swing,” Fletcher says of the November results, “but I think that a more moderate kind of centrist hue is in keeping with the district, so I’m not surprised that people voted for Hillary.”

But whether they’re Sarah Davis Democrats or Hillary Clinton Republicans at heart, those crossover voters still make up just a small percentage of the overall population. Houston is the most diverse metro area in the United States, and a majority of the district is non-white—a fact that’s not reflected in the Democratic candidate field. To win, Democrats will need to lock in their 2016 gains while also broadening their electorate substantially from what it usually is in a midterm election. That means making real inroads with black, Hispanic, and Asian American voters in the district, many of whom may be new to the area since the last round of redistricting. “[The] big thing in the district is getting Hispanic voters out, and nobody knows how to do that,” Moser acknowledges, summing up the problems of Texas Democrats. “If we knew how, we wouldn’t have Ted Cruz.”

[…]

At a recent candidate forum sponsored by a local Indivisible chapter, Westin, the oncologist, warned voters against repeating the mistakes of Georgia. “One of the take-home messages was that a giant pot of money is not alone enough to win,” he said. Westin’s message for Democrats was to go big or go home. While he believes the seven candidates are broadly on the same page in their economic vision and in their opposition to Trump, he urged the party to rally around something bold that it could offer the public if it took back power—in his case, single-payer health care. “We’re behind Luxembourg, we’re behind Malta, we’re behind Cypress and Brunei and Slovenia in terms of our quality of health care,” Westin says. “That is astounding.” Who better to make the case for Medicare-for-all, he believes, than someone in the trenches at one of the world’s most prestigious clinics?

Moser, who likewise backs single-payer, may be even more outspoken about the need to change course. She argues that the Obama years should be a teachable moment for progressives. They let centrists and moderates like former Sens. Joe Lieberman and Max Baucus call the shots for a once-in-a-generation congressional majority, she says, and all they got was a lousy tea party landslide. “I don’t know if we would still have been swept in 2010—probably, because that’s the way it goes—but at least we could have accomplished some stuff in the meantime that we could claim now more forcefully and more proudly,” she says. A missed opportunity from those years she’d like to revisit is a second stimulus bill to rebuild infrastructure in places like Houston, where floods get worse and worse because of a climate Culberson denies is changing.

In Moser’s view, Democrats lose swing districts not because they’re too liberal but because they’re afraid to show it. When DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, a congressman from New Mexico, told The Hill in August that the party would support pro-life Democratic candidates next November on a case-by-case basis (continuing a long-standing policy backed by Nancy Pelosi), Moser penned another article for Vogue condemning the position. “As a first-time Congressional candidate, I’ve been warned not to criticize Ben Ray Luján,” she wrote, but she couldn’t help it. Red states like Texas were not a justification for moderation; they were evidence of its failure. “I have one idea of how to get more Democratic women to polling stations: Stand up for them.”

Fletcher and Triantaphyllis have been more cautious in constructing their platforms. They’d like to keep Obamacare and fix what ails it, but they have, for now, stopped short of the single-player proposal endorsed by most of the House Democratic caucus. “I don’t think anyone has a silver bullet at this point,” Triantaphyllis says. Both emphasize “market-based” or “market-centered” economic policies and the need to win Republican voters with proposals on issues that cut across partisan lines, such as transportation. Houston commutes are notorious, and Culberson, Fletcher notes, has repeatedly blocked funding for new transit options.

Still, the field reflects a general leftward shift in the party over the last decade. All the major candidates oppose the Muslim ban, proposals to defund Planned Parenthood, and Trump’s immigration crackdown. Even in America’s fossil-fuel mecca, every candidate has argued in favor of a renewed commitment to fighting climate change. It is notable that Democratic candidates believe victory lies in loudly opposing the Republican president while defending Barack Obama in a historically Republican part of Texas. But Moser still worries her rivals will fall for the same old trap.

“I just think in this district people say, ‘Oh, but it’s kind of a conservative district,’ [and try] to really be safe and moderate, and I find that the opposite is true,” Moser says. “We just don’t have people showing up to vote. We don’t even know how many Democrats we have in this district because they don’t vote.”

Pretty good article overall. I often get frustrated by stories like this written by reporters with no clue about local or Texas politics, but this one was well done. This one only mentions the four top fundraisers – it came out before Debra Kerner suspended her campaign, so it states there are seven total contenders – with Moser getting the bulk of the attention. It’s one of the first articles I’ve read to give some insight into what these four are saying on the trail. They’re similar enough on the issues that I suspect a lot of the decisions the primary voters make will come down to personality and other intangibles. Don’t ask me who I think is most likely to make it to the runoff, I have no idea.

As for the claims about what will get people out to vote next November, this is an off-year and it’s all about turnout. CD07 is a high turnout district relative to Harris County and the state as a whole, but it fluctuates just like everywhere else. Here’s what the turnout levels look like over the past cycles:


Year    CD07   Harris   Texas
=============================
2002  37.37%   35.01%  36.24%
2004  66.87%   58.03%  56.57%
2006  40.65%   31.59%  33.64%
2008  70.61%   62.81%  59.50%
2010  49.42%   41.67%  37.53%
2012  67.72%   61.99%  58.58%
2014  39.05%   33.65%  33.70%
2016  67.04%   61.33%  59.39%

These figures are from the County Clerk website and not the redistricting one, so the pre-2012 figures are for the old version of CD07. High in relative terms for the off years, but still plenty of room to attract Presidential-year voters. Note by the way that there are about 40,000 more registered voters in CD07 in 2016 compared to 2012; there were 20,000 more votes cast in 2016, but the larger number of voters meant that turnout as a percentage of RVs was down a touch. Job #1 here and everywhere else is to find the Presidential year Democrats and convince them to come out in 2018; job #2 is to keep registering new voters. The candidate who can best do those things is the one I hope makes it on the ballot.

Debra Kerner suspends her campaign in CD07

From the inbox:

Debra Kerner

Dear friends:

Today I am announcing that I am suspending my campaign for Congress.

Over the last eight months, I have gotten to know more people in the district. It was my favorite part of the campaign. My profession demands that I be a good listener, and that is just what I was doing. I am convinced that the problems we face – here and in the rest of the country – can be solved.

Unfortunately for me, I spent too much time talking to voters and not enough time talking to donors!

Raising hundreds of thousands of dollars at this point in the race was never part of my plan, and neither was having a field of so many great Democrats. It is a race I did not expect in January 2017 when I decided to make a run for TX-7.

It is up to the voters of TX-7 to find a candidate that is authentic, represents the community that we all love and is able to raise the funds to replicate the win that Hillary Clinton got in this district in 2016. As the SDEC Senate District 17 Committeewoman, I will support the Democratic nominee.

But let us be clear, the only way we win TX-7 is with the support of moderate women.

Some women in this district voted for Clinton and Culberson and those voters should be our target. With a midterm election, there will be a lower turnout, which creates hurdles for everyone. At the end of the day, this seat is winnable if someone employs the correct strategy.

To everyone who supported me, thank you for your trust, time and contributions. It was your confidence that gave me the energy to take on this race. And it is because I feel you deserve a Democrat in Congress in this district that I must exit. For the time being, I will continue my important work in healthcare and education and will continue to help elevate issues that concerned me during the campaign.

Best,

Debby

Kerner was the first new candidate to announce her entry into the race. I touted her to David Nir of Daily Kos Elections, back when everyone was just figuring out that CD07 was an opportunity district, based on the fact that she had won a countywide election in 2008 for HCDE Trustee and the fact that she was generally well known and liked among Dem activists. I’m sad to see her drop out, but I understand and I’m not terribly surprised – she definitely lagged in fundraising, as well as in media attention. The remaining field is strong, and there is every reason to believe that a formidable contender will emerge from the primary. I hope Kerner will consider running for office again when the time is right. Best of luck to you, Debby.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – Congress

It’s July, and that means it’s campaign finance report season. Everyone has reports due at the end of June, so at every level of government there are reports to look at. I’ll be working my way through them, starting today with reports from the many people running for Congress as Democrats this cycle, some of whom have done very well in the fundraising department. I took a look at all of the Q2 FEC reports for Texas Democratic Congressional candidates, and found a few things to talk about. First, here are some of the more interesting reports:

Todd Litton – CD02

Jana Sanchez – CD06

Alex Triantaphyllis – CD07
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07
Jason Westin – CD07
James Cargas – CD07
Debra Kerner – CD07
Joshua Butler – CD07

Dori Fenenbock – CD16

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Derrick Crowe – CD21
Christopher Perri – CD21
Elliott McFadden – CD21

Christine Mann – CD31

Ed Meier – CD32
Colin Allred – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36
Jonathan Powell – CD36

And here’s a summary of what’s in them:


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          138,702    6,936        0   131,845

06    Sanchez          51,568   29,479        0    19,728

07    Triantaphyllis  451,165   48,776        0   402,389
07    Fletcher        365,721   22,671        0   343,049
07    Moser           234,901   42,530        0   192,370
07    Westin          152,448   32,560        0   119,888
07    Cargas           35,708   27,575   13,750    14,549
07    Kerner           17,173    3,602    2,700    13,571
07    Butler            9,470    7,371        0     2,099

16    Fenenbock       343,835   15,088   50,000   328,746

21    Kopser          204,639   68,816        0   135,823
21    Crowe            44,648   19,936        0    24,811
21    Perri            41,186   15,876    7,140    25,309
21    McFadden         37,209   18,517      500    18,691

31    Mann             19,771    5,820        0    13,685

32    Meier           344,366   45,996   27,848   298,369
32    Allred          205,591   56,993   25,000   148,597

36    Steele           64,627   19,052    1,231    45,574
36    Powell           27,158    5,153        0    22,004

I don’t have all of the candidates in here – there are over 100 reports, including incumbents, candidates from past races who are not active, and people who raised no money – just the ones I felt like mentioning. It’s a bit arbitrary, but I basically included races that had at least one candidate of interest to me. I did not include every candidate from every race – I skipped people in CDs 02, 21, and 32, in particular. Some candidates of interest are not here, specifically Veronica Escobar in CD16, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Pete Gallego in CD23; Escobar has not made her entry official as yet, and both Hegar and Gallego got in too late to have anything to file about.

With all those preliminaries out of the way, let’s note that the top story here is the large number of large numbers. Four Republican incumbents were outraised last quarter by at least one of their Democratic opponents – Ted Cruz, Ted Poe in CD02, John Culberson in CD07, and Lamar Smith in CD21. Pete Sessions in CD32 only just outraised Ed Meier, and once you add in Colin Allred he trailed the Democratic candidates significantly. Suffice it to say, we have never seen anything like this, certainly not since the DeLay re-redistricting. All of these Republicans have an overall cash on hand advantage, but it won’t be anywhere near the kind of advantage they’re used to. When Hegar and Gallego get up to speed, I expect both of them will be in the same class as their peers in these races.

The redistricting ruling is likely to have an effect on this for the next quarter as well. All of the maps presented by the plaintiffs created another Democratic district in the D/FW area, which was usually drawn as CD24, and significantly reconfigured CD27 as well. Neither of those districts currently has anyone who filed a finance report as a Dem, but if one of these maps or something like them gets adopted for 2018, that will change in a hurry.

Disclaimer time: Money isn’t everything, and fundraising isn’t destiny. But think of all the times you’ve heard people complain – or you yourself have complained – about Texas acting as an ATM for campaigns everywhere else. This is all money being raised for candidates here, and it’s happening in a year where there are and have already been plenty of opportunities to fund campaigns in other states. This is a level of enthusiasm and engagement we are not used to seeing. I don’t know how this will all turn out – these are still Republican districts that will take a major shift in the electorate to be competitive. Right now, a lot of people think that’s possible, and they are literally putting their money where that belief is. I don’t see how this is anything but good news.

Two more campaigns launched in CD07

Two from the inbox. First, from Tuesday:

Laura Moser

Laura Moser, writer and founder of the resistance tool Daily Action, formally launched her congressional campaign for District 7 at a happy hour on Monday in Houston, Texas.

“It’s time to send someone to Washington who knows how it works and wants to use that knowledge to serve the people of Houston — who actually cares about the people who live here,” Moser told the crowd.

In the aftermath of this year’s presidential election, Moser founded Daily Action, a text-messaging service that sends users an alert every weekday with a simple, curated action to resist the Trump agenda. Through Daily Action, over 250,000 subscribers have made over 778,000 calls totaling nearly 2.5 million minutes since its launch in mid-December. Moser’s experience organizing a mobile resistance inspired her to move back to Houston to engage directly in her hometown’s local politics.

“As Daily Action continued to grow, I couldn’t stop wondering what else I could do to fight the reckless, dangerous people who had taken charge of our country,” Moser said. “Making phone calls was great—but it would be even better if the people answering the phones were actually listening. In too many places around the country, including this one, that just wasn’t happening.”

Armed with the lessons afforded by her “close-up observation of DC dysfunction for the past eight years” and her on-the-ground organizing experience, Moser has come back home to Houston to fight for the people of District 7.

To learn more, you can follow Laura’s Facebook page here.

And second, from Thursday:

Lizzie Fletcher

Houston lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher announced today that she will run for Texas’ 7th Congressional District seat, pledging to build on her history of advocating for Houstonians and focusing on real solutions to their shared challenges. If elected, Fletcher would be the first woman to represent the district, which has been represented by Republican Congressman John Culberson since 2001.

“Every day, I work for real Houstonians, with real problems, who need real solutions – not platitudes, theories, or empty promises,” said Fletcher. “I have been talking to Houstonians from across the district, and they agree it is time to replace John Culberson in Congress with someone who represents the Houston we all know: a city that welcomes newcomers from around the world, that prides itself on scientific discovery, that serves as a hub for innovation, and that takes care of its neighbors. We need a partner in Washington who will listen to us and who will fight for us.”

A fifth-generation Houstonian, Fletcher is a partner at Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. (AZA), a Houston-based law firm with a formidable track record. Fletcher has been recognized by attorneys across the country as one of the Best Lawyers in America for commercial litigation and has been included on the 2016 Texas Super Lawyers list and the 2012-2016 Texas Rising Stars lists.

Fletcher said her priorities if elected would be upholding the rule of law by holding President Donald Trump accountable, making government more responsive to the people it serves, and addressing Houston’s critical infrastructure needs, especially transportation.

“John Culberson has not only failed to fight for us – he has actively worked against us, voting time and again to block transportation and infrastructure funding we need,” said Fletcher. “That failure is apparent now more than ever as he prioritizes politics over people by voting 100 percent of the time with President Trump.”

In addition to her work fighting for her clients, Fletcher co-founded Planned Parenthood Young Leaders and currently serves on the boards of Writers in the Schools (WITS) and Open Dance Project, which empower young Houstonians to express themselves. As a volunteer lawyer, she interviewed stakeholders as part of Texas Appleseed’s effort to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.

Fletcher graduated from Kenyon College in 1997, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and from the School of Law at The College of William & Mary in Virginia in 2006, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the William and Mary Law Review.

Fletcher and her husband Scott live in the district where they enjoy taking advantage of all Houston has to offer and spending time with their family and friends.

In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton narrowly carried the 7th district, which includes western parts of central Houston and a portion of western Harris County.

Learn more about Lizzie and her candidacy at www.LizzieFletcher.com

Moser and Fletcher were mentioned in my earlier post about the already-crowded field in CD07. They hadn’t officially announced anything at that time, but now they have and they join a field that includes Jason Westin, Alex Triantaphyllis, Debra Kerner, Joshua Butler, and James Cargas. I’m a little tired just typing that list out.

So that’s seven Democratic candidates for a longtime Republican seat. If you’re thinking that’s a lot of candidates, I’m thinking the same thing. Here are a few more things I’m thinking:

– I have to assume the DCCC’s interest in CD07 is driving not just the size of the field but also the early rush to the starting line. There hasn’t been national focus on CD07 since 2008, and probably not any time in recent memory before then. It’s a rare opportunity, and with Congressional campaigns being expensive, the promise of this kind of help is attractive.

– That said, 2018 ought to be a very different campaign than 2008 was. Michael Skelley was a good candidate who ran a strong race that generally outperformed other Democrats in the district, but he ran a very old school “centrist” campaign that sought out crossover voters. He took a swipe at MoveOn after some ginned-up controversy over a crowdsourced at contest they ran (I don’t remember the details because the whole thing is too stupid to waste brain cells on) that lost him some support among liberals and I doubt gained him much among Republicans. I’d like to think any and all of the candidates in this race would avoid that kind of misstep on the grounds that Democratic voters today will have no patience for that nonsense and any campaign adviser who counseled such an action would be committing malpractice. Still, with seven candidates vying for a spot on the ballot, there will be some effort made to differentiate themselves, and there is room for people to stake out the “moderate” end of the spectrum. We’ll see who ends up where.

– We may scoff an Skelley’s strategy now, but it’s important to remember that in 2008 there were still a lot of Democrats winning in heavily Republican districts, mostly long-term incumbents who were being re-elected perhaps more out of habit by then than anything else. Former US Rep. Chet Edwards was headed for a third win in his DeLay-gerrymandered district, for instance. All of those people got wiped out in 2010, and examples of candidates of either party winning in districts that have a majority from the other party are much rarer these days.

– Another key difference is that 2008 was a Presidential year, so turnout was already going to be maximized. That’s another reason why it made sense for Skelley to hunt for potential ticket-splitters. 2018 is an off year, and as we well know, solving the Democratic turnout problem is the huge pressing question of our time. For a variety of reasons, it seems likely Democratic turnout will be better next year than we have seen in an off-year in a long time, but the first priority for whoever wins this nomination – and all other Dems running against Republican incumbents – will be to get Democratic Presidential year voters out to the polls. There’s literally no crossover strategy that can work without getting sufficient base turnout first. I mean, this is easily a 60-40 seat in 2014 conditions. If we’re not boosting the base level, we don’t have any shot at this. It’s as simple as that.

– Overall, I’m really impressed with the quality of the candidates running, and I’m excited to see so many newcomers and people younger than I am. I don’t envy the Democrats of CD07 the choice they will have to make, in March and again in May for the runoff. I’d like to remind all of the candidates that whatever happens, this doesn’t have to be an end if you are not the one that gets to challenge Culberson. There will be other opportunities in other years. Anyone who runs a positive campaign that energizes people without tearing down their fellow candidates will surely find further opportunities open to them.

It’s already crowded in CD07

Gonna need a scorecard to keep track of all the players.

Rep. John Culberson

On Wednesday, two Texas Democrats are launching separate campaigns for Congress in a district that’s served as a Republican stronghold since the congressional days of former President George H.W. Bush. One is Alex Triantaphyllis, director of BakerRipley, a community development non-profit; the other is Dr. Jason Westin, a cancer research doctor at MD Anderson.

They are not alone. Four other Democrats have filed campaign papers with the Federal Election Commission, and one other is expected to soon. That’s in addition to two independent candidates, and one Republican primary challenger: Houston businessman David Balat.

Another potential GOP primary challenger is Maria Espinoza, a conservative activist and high profile Trump campaign booster.

Altogether, there could be a dozen candidates, including Culberson, contending in a Texas congressional election that’s still 18 months away.

[…]

“The results of the 2016 election in this district show that the people in this area are concerned about the direction that the president might take us, and I think they will become increasingly concerned that Congressman Culberson has stood with Trump,” said Triantaphyllis.

Westin also sees growing anti-Trump sentiment, particularly around the GOP’s latest Obamacare replacement bill, which Culberson supports. “There are a lot of smart people that don’t buy into some of the circus tricks that Mr. Trump is doing,” he said. “The enthusiasm of the grassroots movement is exciting.”

As you know, I’ve been tracking potential candidates for CD07 for some time now. This story doesn’t add any new names, at least not on the Democratic side. Balat is new (at least to me), while Espinoza ran against Culberson in the 2016 primary along with a third candidate, receiving 17 percent of the vote. I have no idea who the two independent candidates may be, but given that one needs to file a declaration of intent to run as an indy during the regular filing period (which doesn’t begin until November) and also collect 500 valid petition signatures from registered voters in the district who didn’t vote in the primary or primary runoff for either party for that year’s election (i.e., the 2018 primary) in the time period between the primary and 30 days after the runoff in order to qualify for a spot on the ballot, it may be a tad bit premature to care about their identities.

Joshua Butler, another candidate for CD07, recently posted a picture on Facebook of finance report data for several of the contenders in that district. I wouldn’t read too much into that – anyone who still has an active treasury, even if they are not currently a candidate, has to file a report – but it’s another way to keep track of who may be in. The first quarter ended on March 31 and as was the case with Beto O’Rourke’s announcement for the Senate, April and now May are busy times for new candidates to make themselves officially known. The next round of reports in July ought to be quite interesting.

The Chron wasn’t the only media outlet to note this round of activity. Here’s a longer story from the Trib:

Something strange is happening in Texas lately: Ambitious Democrats are coming out of the woodwork to run for Congress in places few in the party paid attention to even just a year ago.

Take the 7th Congressional District currently represented by Houston Republican John Culberson. Four Democrats had already filed for the seat before Wednesday morning, when two more jumped in.

“I’m running for Congress because I think we need to hold the president accountable,” said Alex Triantaphyllis, the director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers Inc., a Houston nonprofit. He said his young daughter was a motivating force for his run.

“I want her to know that we got results in our efforts, that we didn’t just have good intentions,” he added.

Jason Westin, a cancer researcher, was thinking along similar lines Wednesday morning.

“The politics of late is prompting me to say this is enough, and we need to get new people who aren’t the typical politicians..and get off the sidelines and do something,” Westin said, after his own announcement.

In past cycles, national Democratic groups had a heavy hand in candidate recruitment and telegraphed favored candidates to donors and reporters. This time around, thanks to a burst of anti-Trump enthusiasm and wounds from the 2016 presidential primary fight, party brokers are letting the primary process run its course without playing favorites in many districts around the country – including in Dallas and Houston.

The net result is a crush of candidates lining up to run for office, including three who announced their campaigns on Wednesday.

Triantaphyliss and Westin joined a crowded field vying to run against Culberson that already included Joshua Butler, James Cargas, Debra Kerner and Laura Moser.

ding! New candidate name alert! This is the first mention of Laura Moser as a potential candidate that I have seen. I don’t see any evidence of a campaign website or Facebook page, but Moser has been very actively engaged and has a connection to the Obama administration, so it’s easy to see where that might come from. I do note that Collin Cox, who was in that “very early speculation” post, was not mentioned in either of these stories, which may mean he’s already decided not to run or may mean he just hasn’t made any further steps towards running yet.

I should note that I received press releases from Westin and Triantaphyliss with their announcements, and later in the day I got one from Kerner, who made her own announcement. I’ve put them all beneath the fold. Looks like I may need to get going on creating an Election 2018 page, which means I’ll also need to create an Election 2017 page. It’s crazy.

Back to the Trib story:

Up north in Dallas, former Hillary Clinton staffer Ed Meier also announced he would join former NFL player Colin Allred in running for the Democratic nomination to take on U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions. Four other filed candidates – Awbrey Tyler Hughlett, Stephen Leroy Love, Ronald William Marshall and Darrell Allen Rodriguez – have also filed to run for the seat.

Party officials anticipate even more candidates to run in both districts.

“It is extremely unique – we don’t usually have this volume of conversations by April of the off-year,” said Jeff Rotkoff, of candidate outreach to his organization, the Texas AFL-CIO. “We have more interest in people running for Congress than I’ve ever experienced in my career.”

The DMN also notes Meier’s candidacy in CD32. I’m going to guess that the reason there isn’t an equally big rush towards CD23, which is the bluest of these three Clinton-carried districts, is that its status is in a bit of limbo due to the redistricting litigation. I figure someone will come forward in that district sooner or later anyway.

I said before that I believe there is a limit to how many candidates can and will run in these primaries. There’s only so much money and volunteer energy to go around. We won’t know for sure until the filing season officially opens. But so far at least, it’s looking like I may be wrong about my belief in the natural size of these races.

UPDATE: Naturally, as I had drafted this post based on the early version of that Chron story, the fuller version of that story then came out. I would have written this differently if I had only seen the later version, but them’s the breaks. This version includes more names and covers a lot of the same ground as the Trib story, and it throws a couple of new names into the mix as well:

In addition to the six Democrats who have formally announced or filed federal election papers, Houston trial lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher told the Chronicle on Wednesday that she is “very close to making the decision to step into this race.”

Ronald Kimmons, a former missionary and Reform Party member who works as a writer and translator, rounds out the field.

Like I said, you’re going to need a scorecard to keep up with all the names. I’m going to do my best to try.

(more…)

Very early speculation about Congressional campaigns

The Trib rounded up all the scuttlebutt about who may be running for various Congressional districts next year. I’ve picked out a few to comment on.

CD07:

National Democrats are interested in Houston attorney Collin Cox and Alex Triantaphyllis, the director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at Neighborhood Centers Inc., a Houston nonprofit, as possible recruits.

Conservative groups have also hinted at a possible primary challenge to Culberson. The Club for Growth just announced it was launching a TV ad in his district urging him to oppose a border adjustment tax.

There are four other candidates orbiting around CD07 that I know of; this is the first I’ve heard these two names. I’ve met Cox, who I know has been a contributor in numerous city races. I’ve not met Alex Triantaphyllis, but I assume he is related to Tasso Triantaphyllis, who was a Democratic candidate for district court judge in 2002. I don’t think there’s enough room in a Democratic primary for a traditionally Republican Congressional seat for six candidates, but who knows? And while Cox and Triantaphyllis may have caught the eye of the DCCC, this is one of those times where that probably doesn’t matter much, at least not for March. People are paying attention to this race now – there’s already a candidate forum for May 9 – and I daresay anyone who wants to make it to a runoff next year needs to be out there attending meetings and rallies and talking to people. Don’t sleep on this.

CD16:

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, a Democrat, is at the center of local and Washington speculation but is taking her time deciding on making a run official.

Other contenders are watching her movements, and they may soon get impatient. Other frequently mentioned names include state Rep. Cesar Blanco, who is well-regarded in Washington from his days as a staffer in the U.S. House to Democrat Pete Gallego. He is also mentioned as a potential Democratic recruit for the 23rd District.

This is the seat that Beto O’Rourke will be vacating. It makes sense for this Democratic seat to have a crowded primary, so assume there are plenty of other hopefuls looking at it. I’ve been impressed by Rep. Blanco, but it’s way early to speculate.

CD23:

The key here, in the Democratic worldview, is whether the 23rd District’s lines are redrawn amid ongoing redistricting litigation. Should new lines make this district easier for Democrats, look for a competitive primary.

Hurd’s rival from the past two cycles, Democratic former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, told the Tribune he would consider running for the seat again under new lines.

“If there’s a new map, then there’s a new race,” Gallego said. Other Democrats are likely to give the seat a serious look, including Blanco, the El Paso-based state representative.

But national Democrats are also looking into an up-and-comer in San Antonio: Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Hulings. A former Capitol Hill staffer on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Hulings is a member of the Castro twins’ Harvard Law School class.

Whether there are changes to this district or not, Rep. Hurd will be a tough opponent. He may get swamped by national conditions, but it will take some work to tie him to Trump. I’ve always liked Pete Gallego but after two straight losses it might be time for a different candidate.

CD27:

This is the general election race most reliant on external factors.

Former state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. told the Tribune he is considering a Democratic run for this Corpus Christi-based seat — but on the condition that the district’s lines change amid ongoing redistricting litigation.

This one is only interesting if the state’s attempts to delay or deny a new map are successful. I wish it were different, but CD27 was slightly redder in 2016 than it was in 2012, so new lines are the only real hope.

CD32:

There is no shortage of Democrats considering a challenge to Sessions. Dallas school board member Miguel Solis, Children’s Medical Center senior vice president Regina Montoya, former NFL player Colin Allred and former Hillary Clinton staffer Ed Meier are frequently named as possible recruits.

Allred is officially in.

Civil rights attorney Colin Allred has launched a campaign to unseat Rep. Pete Sessions of Dallas.

But first the former NFL player will have to run in a potentially crowded Democratic primary for the 32nd Congressional District. A former Hillcrest High School standout, he hopes his connection to the North Dallas district attracts him to voters.

“I was born and raised in this district by a single mother who taught in Dallas public schools for 27 years,” Allred said. “This community — my mom, my teachers, and my coaches — gave me the opportunity to succeed, play in the NFL, become a civil rights attorney and work for President Obama. I want to make sure future generations have the same opportunities and to make sure those values are being represented in D.C.”

Allred, 34, told The Dallas Morning News that he was inspired to challenge Sessions by the “grassroots energy” displayed after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

Sounds pretty good to me, but as noted he will not have a clear field. One primary opponent he won’t have is Miguel Solis, who says in the story that he will not be a candidate. We’ll see who else gets in, but I am looking forward to hearing more from Colin Allred.

UPDATE: I am informed that Regina Montoya is not at Children’s Medical Center any more. That bit of information came from the Texas Tribune story that I was quoting from, so I am noting it here as well.

Three candidates so far for CD07

Rep. John Culberson

One of the interesting things to come out of the early days of the Dear Leader regime is the number of candidates for office in 2018 who have already made themselves known. We all know that CD07 is on the national radar as a target for next year. What you may not know is that there are (at least) three people vying to be the candidate who opposes Rep. John Culberson. The first you know, and that’s James Cargas, who has run against Culberson in each of the last three years. The second candidate is former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner, who announced her intention to run in January. I don’t know if she has had a formal campaign kickoff yet – for that matter, I don’t know if Cargas has had one – but there is a meet and greet for Kerner coming up tomorrow, if you want to acquaint yourself with her.

Candidate #3 joined the fold last week, and in his case it was via a formal announcement. His name is Joshua Butler, and while I don’t know much about him right now, his policy page has an impressive amount of stuff on it. You want to know what he thinks about a broad range of issues, you can find out. His bio page says he is originally from Alabama and now works as a development officer for a research institute in the Medical Center. This is going to be an interesting race.

On a tangential note, we also have a candidate for HD134, where I daresay a lot of the CD07 campaign activity will also take place. Her name is Angie Hayes, and her campaign website is here; you may have noticed the mention of her and her candidacy in that story about millennials running for office. Hayes is a grad student at UTHSC in Biomedical Informatics in Public Health, a community activist and organizer, and the founder of Clinic Access Support Network, which provides logistical support to women seeking reproductive healthcare. She is having a campaign kickoff happy hour on April 10 if you want to learn more about her.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments and on the Facebook page, there are four candidates for CD07 at this time. My apologies to Jason Westin for missing him. You can meet all four candidates – who knows, by then there may be a fifth – at this town hall on May 9.

DCCC says it will aim for three Texas Congressional seats

We’ll see what this means in practice.

The House Democratic campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, announced Monday morning that the party intends to target two longtime GOP incumbents that, until recently, have long been considered locks for re-election: U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and John Culberson of Houston.

The two races are in addition to the committee’s targeting of U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of San Antonio, who represents Texas’ 23rd District, a perennial target which includes much of the state’s border communities.

[…]

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton carried all three districts in November, falling just short of an outright majority in each place, according to a DCCC analysis of election records. In contrast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney won the same districts in 2012.

While many political observers say Clinton’s performance was likely a one-time phenomenon in the Sessions and Culberson districts, it could serve as a warning sign to Republican incumbents as split-ticket voting is a diminishing habit.

Culberson’s district saw the most dramatic shift: Romney carried the seat with 60 percent of the vote. Four years later, Trump drew 47 percent support, according to the DCCC.

[…]

Democrats on Capitol Hill say President Trump’s performance in Texas against Clinton is why they are concentrating on a state they mostly ignored in the last several cycles, save for Hurd’s district. Trump’s 9-point win over Clinton in Texas was the narrowest for a Republican presidential candidate in 20 years.

Democrats further argue that Trump underperformed in Texas’ urban areas, particularly in Dallas and Harris Counties. At least one Democratic operative close to leadership who was not authorized to speak on the record called the president a potential “albatross around their neck.”

Multiple interviews with House Democratic sources have yet to scare up any possible recruits in the two districts.

“It’s more of a, ‘Where can we go and create opportunities?'” said Moses Mercado, a plugged-in Washington lobbyist with Texas roots.

See here for some background. There’s no doubt that Trump underperformed in urban areas like Houston and Dallas. Further, the evidence I have so far suggests that the underlying partisan mix shifted in Democrats’ favor at least in CD07 and likely CD32; I have not had a chance to look at any part of CD23 yet. CDs 07 and 32 are still reliably Republican, but they are not overwhelmingly so. If 2018 winds up being a strong Democratic year, they’re in the ballpark. Even if not, if the partisan ground shifts by as much between 2016 and 2020 as it did between 2012 and 2016, then these two become genuine swing districts. Just in time for the next round of redistricting, to be sure, but still. It makes sense to pay attention to them, and there’s no reason not to start now.

For all the time I’ve spent cautioning about Presidential numbers versus judicial race numbers in gauging legislative districts, I am intrigued by the potential here. There were large numbers of Republicans in CD07 and CD32 who voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump, and a few more who voted for Gary Johnson or Evan McMullin or some other minor candidate instead of Trump. Surely some of these people, even as they generally voted Republican otherwise, will be open to the argument that in this election, if they still oppose Trump and want to do something to stop him, they need to vote against the members of Congress who are enabling him. I don’t know how many of these crossover voters might be willing to consider that – whatever the number is today, it may well be very different next fall – but we have some time to identify them and to figure out the best way to present that argument to them. If the DCCC really is serious about this, one way they can show it is to do a deep analytics dive into the precinct-level data and figure out who their target audience is. The hard part will be coming up with a message that is persuasive to them without alienating core Democrats, who are not going to be very tolerant about appeals to centrism or bipartisanship. A simple motto of “oppose Trump by opposing this Congressman who stand with him” is probably best.

As for finding candidates, we already have one in CD07, and I’m sure there will be plenty of people interested in CD23, as it is perennially competitive. As for CD32, again I’m sure there will be plenty of people who might want to run, but let me put in a good word for Allen Vaught, Army Reserve captain in Iraq and former State Rep from Dallas. I have no idea if he might be interested, but I do know he’d be a good candidate. D Magazine suggests current Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who would also be a fine choice. Let the recruiting begin!

Kerner announces intention to run in CD07

Debra Kerner

In other candidate news, it has come to my attention that at Monday night’s Meyerland Democrats meeting, former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner announced her intention to run against Rep. John Culberson in CD07. Kerner was elected to an At Large position on the HCDE Board of Trustees along with Jim Henley (who ran against Culberson in 2006) in 2008. This makes her the first opponent for Culberson who has previously won a general election. You know my assessment of CD07 as an electoral opportunity. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack, even if we get the dream scenario of depressed Republican turnout coupled with an energized Democratic base in 2018. That said, Kerner is well-liked among Democrats, which has not always been the case for Culberson opponents, and as noted she has won an election before. She will need to raise some money – HCDE races are nickel-and-dime affairs, and her last finance report with Harris County, filed last July, shows $763.60 on hand – but I have confidence she can do it. I’d hope that she would get some support from Annie’s List or the like. Kerner joins her erstwhile colleague on the HCDE Board Diane Trautman in getting an early jump on the 2018 campaign season. I look forward to running into Debra Kerner on the trail again, and if you don’t already know her I’d encourage you to reach out and get in touch.

Endorsement watch: Stay the course

Harris County Democrats have one incumbent up for re-election: County Attorney Vince Ryan. The Chron gives their approval for another term.

Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

[Ryan] said that he actively pursues pollution enforcement lawsuits against big companies – such as Volkswagen after it lied about emissions tests, or the corporations responsible for the San Jacinto waste pits. But in a state where legislators and regulators routinely erect barriers to citizens seeking justice from the industries that poison our water and pollute our air, Ryan’s headlines over matters of public concern look more like necessary leadership than disregard for cooperation.

That’s not to say Ryan hasn’t been an important team player with other law enforcement agencies across the county. He’s harnessed the power of the county attorney’s office to go after dangerous gangs, sex traffickers and Kush merchants. He also helped the county cut through the Gordian Knot of same-sex marriage by quickly and clearly instructing judges to follow the U.S. Supreme Court after it held bans to be unconstitutionally discriminatory, yet refrained from hounding individual county employees who preferred to pass onto their coworkers the historic duty of marrying same-sex couples.

Running for his third term, the former District C councilman and longtime assistant under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll brings a steady and experienced hand to an important position that has a vast spectrum of responsibilities, including advising county officials, preparing contracts, defending the county from lawsuits and protecting communities through civil action. He’s served the county well, and voters should keep him in office.

Other than some judges, Vince Ryan is the only Democrat elected countywide in 2008 to remain in office. Loren Jackson, who won a special election to fill the remaining term of District Clerk, lost in the 2010 sweep. HCDE At Large trustees Jim Henley, who resigned in 2014, and Debra Kerner, who lost in 2014, and Adrian Garcia, who stepped down as Sheriff to run for Mayor in 2015, followed. I feel pretty good about the Dems’ chances of adding to that roster this year, but it starts with Vince Ryan.

HCDE happenings

The Chron paints an unflattering portrait of the Harris County Department of Education.

HCDE has operated in relative obscurity for decades, fighting off lawmakers’ occasional efforts to eliminate it by bankrolling lobbyists and political consultants.

Advocates for the agency say it provides indispensable support services to the 25 independent school districts in Harris County. But a prominent Senate Republican is leading a push for a state-led Sunset Advisory Commission Review of HCDE, saying its finances need to be scrutinized and its programs streamlined to avoid duplication with other agencies. And he has plenty of ammunition.

The Houston Chronicle requested to review HCDE’s financial records in January and found a reticent agency that had violated its own spending rules and declined to explain why its former superintendent, John Sawyer, stepped down three months into a new contract – and received a buyout.

Records show that Sawyer had doled out stipends to employees without notifying the Board of Trustees or seeking its approval, a policy violation.

He also had hired lobbyists and political consultants, including a convicted felon, for amounts just under limits that would have required the board’s OK.

Records also show that HCDE paid more than $1.5 million during the past decade to a nonprofit educational foundation accused of endorsing political candidates for HCDE’s board. The nonprofit’s president, its lone full-time employee, has received more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits since 2005, tax records show. His annual compensation has averaged about $182,000 – more than Harris County’s chief executive officer.

Board President Angie Chesnut said trustees took swift action after they learned in June about the stipends, which were paid for extra work. The total payments to 60 employees came to about $450,000 over the past decade, according to the agency’s records.

Chesnut said the board stopped pending payments, tightened the policy and meted out discipline. She would not disclose who was punished or exactly what action was taken.

The new superintendent can only approve cellphone and travel allowances without board approval. All political contracts – regardless of cost – now must go before the board.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do. Every organization makes mistakes,” Chesnut said. “The key to me, as a business manager, is that when you find those, you act to correct them, and that’s what we do.”

There’s more, so go read it. One always wonders what the genesis of such stories is. In this case, given that it opens with an anecdote from Trustee Michael Wolfe, who was ousted in 2012 but re-elected in 2014, and that much of the story focuses on now-former Superintendent John Sawyer, that would be my guess. There’s no shortage of bad blood between Wolfe and Sawyer, so if there was an opportunity for a bit of retribution on Wolfe’s part, I’m sure he grabbed it with both hands. It might have been nice to mention Wolfe’s tumultuous tenure on the HCDE board instead of just quoting him and moving on, but bygones are bygones, I suppose.

As for the substance of the story, I received the following email from former Trustee Debra Kerner, which she also sent to the Chron as a letter to the editor. I’ll let it speak for itself:

Dear Houston Chronicle Editorial Page Editor,

Regarding “HCDE draws sharp look” (Sunday, May 24, 2015, pg.1), I served as a countywide elected Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) from January 2009 to January 2015. During that time, I held various Board positions including Vice President. I read the article, “HCDE Draws Sharp Look” from Sunday, May 24, 2015 with intense interest and felt that as a private citizen and former board member, I had to respond. I would ask that the public consider these clarifying facts.

1) HCDE serves students, educators and school districts. Their services are provided at the request of Harris County school districts. They seek to enhance and innovate and provide services to the school districts and the residents of Harris County. All 25 of the school districts in Harris County choose to use at least some of the services from HCDE. HCDE provides even more services than are listed in the article, including Safe and Secure Schools. As told to me by the head of Region 4, all of these services cannot be duplicated by the Education Service Center (Region 4). Who would provide these services, if HCDE had to close?

2) During my tenure, HCDE underwent several audits and a Texas legislative study. These studies determined that HCDE’s education services saved taxpayer dollars and that it would cost school districts significantly more to replicate. While areas for improvement were identified, none of the studies recommended closure. The Board had always taken steps to improve the department and continues to do so.

3) One example that was noted in the article was the policy on hiring political consultants. The Board did not have the chance to vote on the Eversole contract. Once the board learned about these hirings, the policy was changed to bring more transparency to the process of hiring political consultants. While I understand, the concern about using tax dollars for this purpose, I believe it would be unfair to the students and educators served by HCDE to not give them a voice regarding the educational resources that are so valuable to them. Many school districts also hire lobbyists and political consultants to help educate legislators and others about their needs. In addition, HCDE has a group consistently seeking its abolishment. Three year olds and other students with severe disabilities cannot go to Austin to indicate the true value of HCDE, so HCDE does it for them. HCDE is a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.

4) Ms. Vera and the Houston Chronicle have initiated countless open records request. HCDE has been compliant and constantly sought to increase transparency. Responding to these requests has been costly; however, none of these requests have yielded information that rises to the level of criminal activity. Any issues that were found, the Board had already initiated steps to improve the situation. At the same time, HCDE has continued to educate students, train teachers and provide valuable wraparound services.

5) We should focus on what HCDE is doing now. HCDE has hired a new superintendent, James Colbert, who is moving forward. The Board has made changes to address policies and procedures to ensure that things are done correctly and transparently. HCDE continues to respond to the needs of partner districts. I participated in the hiring of Mr. James Colbert and from what I’ve seen thus far, he is a true leader who is very responsive to the educational needs in Harris County. The reason HCDE has fought against additional studies regarding abolishment is that it is hard to plan for the future when the threat of closure hangs over their heads.

I was honored to serve with Trustees who truly cared about enhancing education in our county in a fiscally responsible way. It is a shame that the voices of a few are taken as fact when thousands of students and the 25 Harris County school districts find value in HCDE every single day.

Thank-you,
Debra Kerner
Former Trustee,
Harris County Department of Education

It must be noted that it was Kerner who lost to Wolfe in 2014. I’m the only one who’s making something out of Wolfe, so make of that what you will. I have always believed that HCDE serves a good and useful function – there’s plenty of testimony out there from teachers and many of Harris County’s smaller school districts to back that up – and have never understood the hate on that some people have for it. That’s politics for you, I suppose. Stace has more.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Leticia

It’s amazing how easy some endorsement decisions are, or at least should be, this year.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

The differences between the candidates this year could hardly be more stark. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, the Democratic candidate, is not only knowledgeable and experienced but also congenial and easy to work with. Her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, is divisive, disruptive and self-aggrandizing.

We urge a vote for Van de Putte. Texas voters, regardless of party, need to think long and hard about a potential demagogue becoming lieutenant governor.

[…]

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished fourth in the March Republican primary for lieutenant governor, described his erstwhile opponent as an unsavory combination of Huey Long, Elmer Gantry and W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” O’Daniel. Patterson said he would not vote for Patrick and told reporters that of the 31 members of the Senate, “very, very few of them have any trust in Sen. Patrick. Very few of them.”

Patrick, 64, is a formidable politician. He’s smart, he’s articulate and he knows the issues, but those attributes make him all the more dangerous in a leadership position.

Van de Putte, a moderate Democrat of Mexican descent, is a mother, grandmother and small-businesswoman. She was elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Senate in 1999. The exact opposite of Patrick, the 59-year-old lawmaker has earned the respect of her colleagues in the majority-Republican Senate. They know she’ll work with them.

It’s a familiar litany, and I will be very surprised if all the other major papers don’t follow it as the Chron and the Caller have done. Despite his occasional attempts at bamboozlement, I doubt Dan Patrick himself would dispute the substance of these pieces. He is what he is and he knows it. The choice really couldn’t be any clearer.

Meanwhile, the Chron also made the obvious calls in the HCDE Trustee races.

County School Trustee, Position 5, At Large: Debra “Debby” Kerner

Our strong choice for this position is the Democratic incumbent Debra Kerner. Elected in 2008, Kerner is a career speech/language pathologist who brings a valuable perspective to this board, as she has spent her entire career working with special-needs children. She earned a masters degree from Columbia University and has been an instructor of speech pathology at University of Houston. She has also served as president of the Houston Association for Communication Disorders and a former vice president of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Kerner, 65, is being challenged by Republican candidate Michael Wolfe, who currently works as Community Outreach Director for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office. Wolfe has previously served as an HCDE trustee, where he was censured for his frequent absences from meetings and failure to notify the board about his whereabouts for three months. He was also accused of threatening board members during an executive session. When the editorial board asked about his absences, Wolfe did not give a satisfactory reply. Showing up is important. Without any question, Kerner deserves another term.

County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large: Melissa Noriega

We encourage voters to go with Noriega. After working for nearly three decades in the Houston Independent School District, three terms as an at-large member of Houston City Council and a short stint as a Democratic state representative, Noriega, 60, understands where HCDE contributes to local schools and how to pull the levers of government. As she will be the first to admit, the job of bulk purchasing, record storage and specialty schools isn’t particularly sexy, but it is valuable.

It’s a highly qualified and well-respected incumbent Trustee and one of the better City Council members we’ve had in recent years against two of the biggest jokers to “serve” in Harris County government; Noriega’s opponent is former Tax Assessor Don Sumners, whose mess is still being cleaned up in that office. The stakes are a lot smaller, but as with Lite Guv, the choices couldn’t be clearer. My interview with Debby Kerner is here, and my interview with Melissa Noriega is here. Please don’t overlook these races at the bottom of your ballot.

Interview with Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

We round out the county races this year with the Harris County Department of Education, a seven-member board that handles federal grants and provides various programs for the many independent school districts in Harris County. It’s hard to believe, but six years ago today there wasn’t a single Democrat on the HCDE. That started to change in 2008, when two Democrats won races for At Large seats against right-wing Republicans that had defeated more moderate incumbents in their primary. (One of those successful primary challengers was our current County Clerk, Stan Stanart.) Debra Kerner was one of those two Democrats, and now she’s running for re-election to Place 5, At Large on the HCDE Board. Kerner is a speech pathologist who has run her own consulting firm for over 30 years, and she has brought a wealth of experience and empathy to her job on the HCDE. With pre-kindergarten being so much in the news lately, from the recent efforts to fund a pre-k program in Harris County to the competing proposals from Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott, there was plenty for us to talk about:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

Filing deadline today

Before I get into the details of who has or hasn’t filed for what, I have a bone to pick with this AP story.

Perhaps what the candidate filings reveal most is the relative strength and depth of the political parties in Texas. Four top Republicans are in a fierce battle for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general and five for agriculture commissioner.

Three Republicans are in the race for the Railroad Commission, an entry-level statewide office that gives the winner routine access to the state’s biggest campaign donors as well as the governor and attorney general. The only competition in the judicial races is for open seats vacated by Republican incumbents.

If a party can be judged by the number of people who want to lead it, Republicans certainly remain popular and thriving. Most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections.

Democrats have yet to field a complete slate of statewide candidates and have just one candidate each for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner. The only potentially competitive race pits failed gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman against Jim Hogan for agriculture commissioner.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, was first elected to the Texas House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1999. She has the most campaign experience among Democratic candidates followed by Davis, who won her Senate seat in 2008. Freidman and attorney general candidate Sam Houston have run statewide offices before, but have never won.

That lack of experience and the shortage of candidates reveal the shallowness of the Democratic bench after 20 years out of power. There are young Democrats who have statewide potential, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, but they’ve decided like some others to sit out the 2014 race, likely to let others test the waters before they take the plunge themselves.

I’ll stipulate that the Republican side of the ballot has more overall experience. For obvious reasons, it’s the only primary that features statewide officeholders. But to say “most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections” overstates things considerably. Outside of the Lt Governor’s race, most of their candidates are current or former legislators, and I submit that decades of winning a gerrymandered legislative district is hardly indicative of statewide potential.

To break it down a bit more scientifically, the GOP field for the non-Governor and Lt. Governor races are made up of the following:

Railroad Commissioner: One former State Rep and three people you’ve never heard of.
Land Commissioner: One scion of a political dynasty making his first run for office, and some other dude.
Ag Commissioner: Two former State Reps, the Mayor of a small town, and a state party functionary who lost a State Rep race in 2004.
Attorney General: A State Senator, a State Rep, and an appointed Railroad Commissioner that defeated a Libertarian in 2012 in the only election he’s run to date.
Comptroller: A State Senator, a State Rep, and a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, is it? What they have first and foremost is the advantage of their party. That’s no small thing, of course, but it has nothing to do with anything any of them has done.

That said, most current statewide officeholders made the initial leap from legislative offices – Rick Perry and Susan Combs were State Reps before winning their first statewide elections, with Combs spending two years in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office in between; Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson were State Senators. Dems have plenty of legislators that would make fine candidates for state office – two of them are currently running – but it’s a lot harder to convince someone to give up a safe seat for what we would all acknowledge is an underdog bid for higher office. How much that changes in 2018, if at all, depends entirely on how well things go this year. If we have one or more breakthroughs, or even if we come reasonably close, you can bet there will be plenty of candidates with “decades of experience winning elections” next time.

Anyway. As we head into the last day of candidate filing, the local Democratic ballot is filling in nicely. Dems have at least one candidate for nineteen of the 24 State House seats in Harris County. Four are GOP-held seats – HDs 126, 127, 128, and 130 – and one is HD142, which is currently held by Rep. Harold Dutton. Either Rep. Dutton is just dithering until the last day, or he’s planning to retire and his preferred successor will file sometime late today. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. The two additions to the Democratic challenger ledger are Luis Lopez in HD132, who appears to be this person, and Fred Vernon in HD138, about whom I know nothing. Dems also now have two Congressional challengers, James Cargas in CD07 as expected, and Niko Letsos in CD02, about whom I know nothing.

By the way, for comparison purposes, the Harris County GOP is only contesting 14 of 24 State Rep seats. The three lucky Dems that have drawn challengers so far are Rep. Gene Wu in HD137, Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 – we already knew about that one – and Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148, who draws 2011 At Large #3 Council candidate Chris Carmona. I have to say, if they leave freshman Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 unopposed, I would consider that an abject failure of recruitment if I were a Republican. Beyond that, the thing that piqued my interest was seeing the two worst recent officeholders – Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners – back on the ballot, as each is running for the two At Large HCDE Trustee offices. Putting aside their myriad and deep incompetencies while in office, the only possible reason these two clowns would be running for the HCDE is that they want to screw it up for the purpose of killing it off. As we know, Dems have Traci Jensen and Lily Leal running for one of those seats. Debra Kerner is the incumbent for the other seat and I believe she has filed but with petitions, so her status hasn’t been finalized yet. All I know is that we have enough chuckleheads in office already. We don’t need to put these two retreads back into positions of power.

Statewide, Texpatriate noted on Saturday that Dale Henry has filed to run for Railroad Commissioner, which will pit him against Steve Brown. Henry ran for this office as a Dem in 2006, 2008 (he lost in the primary to Mark Thompson), and 2010. Henry is a qualified candidate, but he’s a dinosaur in terms of campaign techniques and technologies. That might have been charming in 2006 or 2008, but it’s way out of place in 2014. All due respect to Dale Henry, but I’ll be voting for Steve Brown. We are still waiting to see how many statewide judicial candidates we’ll get. Word is we’ll have them, but who and how many remain unknown. Finally, between the Harris County primary filings email and the TDP filings page, I see that Dems have at least two candidates for the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals – Gordon Goodman for Place 7, and Kyle Carter, who was re-elected to the 125th Civil District Court in 2012, for Chief Justice. There are still slots on that court and on the 1st Court of Appeals, so I hope there are more of these to come. As always, if you are aware of other filings or rumors of filings, leave a comment and let us know.

July finance reports for Harris County officeholders and challengers

Odd-numbered years are primarily about city elections, but primaries are just around the corner, and some hopefuls for county and state offices are already out there lining up support and raising money. Here’s a peek at some of the Harris County incumbents that are on the ballot in 2014 and the people that have filed paperwork to take them on.

County Judge

Ed Emmett

Raised = $436,997
Spent = $86,579
On Hand = $496,580

Judge Emmett has no challengers that I’ve heard of as yet. I believe Harris County will be substantially Democratic in 2014, but even if it is, the last man standing on the Republican side will be Emmett, who has been the top Republican votegetter in each of his two elections. It’s possible he could be challenged by someone from the wingnut end of his party – one hears occasional rumblings of such things, but no names have reached my ears so far. If he decides that he’s had enough, I’m sure the primary to succeed him will be fierce on both sides. Emmett got a lot of money from the kinds of people and PACs you’d expect for someone in his position. Among the more interesting contributions he received were $5,000 from the PAC of CM Stephen Costello’s engineering company. He also got $2,500 from Drayton McLane and $10,000 from Bob McNair, so I guess football is a bigger influence than baseball for him.

Commissioners Court

Jack Morman

Raised = $508,820
Spent = $80,867
On Hand = $834,030

As we know, Morman’s race is likely to be the marquee event next year, and he’s fundraising like he is well aware of that fact. Eighteen of his contributions were for $10,000 each, though unlike Emmett he got only $2,500 from McNair and nothing from McLane. One person I have heard so far that is thinking about a challenge to Morman is term-limited CM James Rodriguez, but he has only $10K on hand as of July. Either he’s not that interested, or he’s taking his time about it.

Jack Cagle

Raised = $338,598
Spent = $83,361
On Hand = $346,087

Unlike Morman, Commissioner Cagle is unlikely to face any serious competition next year. Not really much to say about this one.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

Raised = $37,620
Spent = $7,354
On Hand = $48,764
Loan = $20,000

Stanart will be up for his first re-election after winning in the wave of 2010. He’s an ideological crusader, and his contributions reflect that, with donations from the likes of Norm Adams, Donna Bahorich, and the campaign funds of John Culberson and Paul Bettencourt. He has two opponents:

Ann Harris Bennett – $1,736 on hand after spending $3,194.
Gayle L. Mitchell – Designation of treasurer filing.

Bennett lost to Stanart in 2010, though she was one of the top votegetters among Dems, and lost narrowly to Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor in 2012. I know nothing about Gayle Mitchell beyond the fact that she has filed the designation of treasurer form for the purpose of running for County Clerk next year.

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

Raised = $0
Spent = $7,190
On Hand = $0

Friends of Chris Daniel

Raised = 27,350
Spent = $21,846
On Hand = $19,898
Loan = $74,500

Daniel’s PAC mostly took in money from other PACs, law firms, and bail bond companies. The expenditures on his non-PAC form were from personal funds, with the intent to seek reimbursement. He has an opponent for March:

Court Koenning

Raised = $54,075
Spent = $5,375
On Hand = $101,575
Loan = $50,000

Koenning is a former Chief of Staff for Dan Patrick, among other things. That’s a crazy amount of money for this race, almost entirely from individuals. Among his donors were Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Eversole, who gave $200, and Ashley and Jeremy Radack, who gave $2,500 and may or may not have any relation to Steve Radack. This will be a race to watch. In browsing the filings, I got a brief thrill from seeing Loren Jackson‘s name, but he was basically cleaning out his campaign coffers by making a payment to the TEC to settle a complaint. I’m sure there will be a Dem in this race, but he or she has not stepped forward as yet.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

Raised = $10,241
Spent = $7,044
On Hand = $3,165

Sanchez raised more money than I’m used to seeing him take in. Three thousand dollars of his total came from PACs, law firms, and bail bond companies. The first two have a lot of overlap with city elections, the latter one doesn’t, presumably because the jail is a county function. Sanchez got donations of $100 each from Bruce Hotze, Michael Kubosh, and Toni Lawrence.

David Rosen – Designation of treasurer

Stace noted Rosen’s campaign kickoff a few days ago. Rosen lost a Democratic primary for HCDE Trustee last year to Diane Trautman. He has a website up, with a lot more about what he’d do in office than Sanchez has done in eight years. As he noted in an email to me, if he wins he’d be the youngest elected official in Harris County in over 40 years, which is to say since well before he was born. But not me, because I’m old.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner

Raised = $0
Spent = $35
On Hand = $739

HCDE candidates don’t raise much money. For an At Large race, it would hardly matter anyway. No candidate has filed a designation of treasurer yet to succeed Jim Henley.

I expect we’ll see a lot more activity, or at least hear some more active rumors, after Sen. Wendy Davis makes her announcement. For now, this is how things stand.

More on the HCDE pre-k proposal

Some more details on that pre-k proposal being pitched to the HCDE. It raises more questions than it answers.

pre-k

Members applauded the effort by the recently formed Harris County School Readiness Corp., a non-profit group whose membership includes business, philanthropic and community leaders, including former Houston first lady Andrea White. At the end of the meeting, they voted 6-1 to allow Superintendent John Sawyer, who was absent Tuesday, to further study the plan and bring back a recommendation for how to proceed.

The tone of the discussion, however, took a drastic turn during a question-and-answer session after a member of the corporation, former Houston city attorney Jonathan Day, presented the plan to the board with Carol Shattuck, president and CEO of partner group Collaborative for Children.

New trustee Howard Jefferson, who had just been sworn in, asked Day to describe the proposed terms of any agreement between the department and the corporation, and what responsibilities the department may have.

Explaining “work will be done by non-profit service providers,” Day told him “the control of the program in terms of allocation to various providers would be in the hands of the non-profit,” not the agency.

He went onto explain, admitting his bluntness, that the group wanted to avoid having the education department board handle the program because of its reputation as a stepping stone for higher political office. He also alluded to recent criticism the agency has faced for hiring lobbyists, including former county commissioner Jerry Eversole, who resigned in October 2011 after being accused of taking cash bribes in exchange for contracts.

“I think this kind of a structure will really work well,” Day said. “I’ll be very blunt with you, we are aware of the criticism about the structure of this board… But we thought that a nonprofit is a way to provide stability and to provide the assurance of the public that this is going to be mired down in partisan controversy.”

[…]

Board President Angie Chesnut and Board Vice President Debra Kerner, alluding to an earlier discussion, then asked Day, whether the the trustees would be able to appoint a member to the corporation’s board.

“Is that something we were still considering?” Kerner asked.

“That’s a matter we need to discuss,” Day replied. “It’s something that we are open to, but to be very blunt… we would like to avoid to the maximum extent possible the problems and perceptions of the partisanship and disagreements, we do not want to import that into our board.”

Chesnut then told Day: “I have to be honest with you, also. I will not support this process without having participation on your board.”

A clarification: In my previous post, I said that the HCDE approved the plan. As you can see from the first paragraph quoted above, all they approved was for Superintendent Sawyer to study the plan. I just misread the story on which I based that statement. My apologies for the confusion.

From this post, and from Big Jolly’s account of the HCDE meeting, it sounds like this idea isn’t fully formed yet. It would certainly help if the Harris County School Readiness Corporation would get their website and Facebook pages up so we can examine their plan in more detail, and give them feedback directly. I do think the HCDE Board needs to appoint at least one member to the School Readiness Corp’s board – at least two would be better. But really, just getting all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed would go a long way. I think this is fated to wind up in court one way or another, so while Judge Emmett is soliciting opinions from the County Attorney and the Attorney General about the legalities of all this, it would be wise for the HCSRC to get and publish its own opinion. Who knows, maybe there’s a less dicey way to make this happen. But let’s get some more information, no matter what else. Stace has more.

January finance reports for Harris County offices

For the most part, it’s way too early to start thinking about the 2014 Harris County elections – we have a legislative session and a city election cycle to get through first – but since January 15 is a reporting deadline for county officeholders, I figure I may as well have a peek at who has what. I’m only looking at offices that are up for election in 2014, so here we go.

County Judge Ed Emmett – $151,586 on hand.

Thanks to his graceful under pressure performance during Hurricane Ike and a generally low-key, get-things-done style, County Judge Ed Emmett has been the top-performing Republican candidate in two diametrically opposite elections, the Democratic wave of 2008 and the Republican tsunami of 2014. Assuming there are no similar forces at work next year, Democrats ought to be in pretty good shape countywide – as I’ve noted before, Democratic turnout was pretty decent in 2010 despite the butt-kicking – but if there’s one person I’d expect to prevail on the R side even if there’s a strong wind behind the Dems’ backs, it’s Judge Emmett. Assuming of course that he hasn’t decided by then that he’s had it up to here with all this stuff and makes a beeline for the private sector, in which case I’d expect a jumble of Dems lining up to run for this spot. I’m sure someone will run regardless, but barring anything unforeseen I’d make Judge Emmett the favorite going in.

County Clerk Stan Stanart – $16,869 on hand

Outside of the big three – County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff – countywide offices don’t draw much fundraising attention, so don’t read much into these numbers. That said, 2012 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for Stan Stanart. I don’t know how much people will remember that by next year, but as with Don Sumners it ought to provide his opponent (or opponents if he gets primaried) with a fair amount of ammunition. Talk of an elections administrator has predictably died down again, but if it pops back up that will just remind everyone of why we began speaking of it in the first place. Stanart has overseen the relocation of voting machines to a new home, and the county campaign finance reform page sucks somewhat less than it used to, but beyond that I can’t think of any major achievements he’s racked up. (If I’m wrong about that, please correct me in the comments.) Assuming we don’t have an elections administrator by this time next year, I expect Dems to make this race a priority.

District Clerk Chris Daniel – $15,184 on hand

Unlike Stanart, Daniel has had a fairly quiet term as District Clerk. There was a fair amount of griping after Daniel defeated the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 sweep – Jackson was easily the top Democratic vote-getter that year – but for what it’s worth I haven’t heard any lately. Daniel has overseen the implementation of a new efiling system for pleadings in criminal cases, FREEfax, so he will have that to point to next year. If Daniel loses in 2014, his successor will be the fifth District Clerk since 2007, when then-District Clerk Charles Bacarisse resigned to challenge Ed Emmett in a primary for County Judge. Theresa Chang, now a County Court judge, was appointed to replace Bacarisse; she was defeated by Jackson in 2008, and Jackson was defeated by Daniel in 2010.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez – $1,141 on hand.

2014 will be another quadrennial opportunity to wonder just what the heck any Treasurer does in Harris County, and in particular just what it is that Orlando Sanchez, who was first elected in 2006, does. All I can tell you is that he has a delightfully minimalist webpage, and that this finance report does not include an expenditure on “Glamour” magazine.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle – $99,990 on hand.

Cagle was appointed in October of 2011 to replace the felonious Jerry Eversole in Precinct 4. He easily won a three-way primary and the ensuing November election to complete Eversole’s unexpired term; this will be his first election for a full four-year term. I expect he’ll build his campaign treasury up considerably over the next year or so, but it almost doesn’t matter. Barring any Eversole-like behavior on his part, Cagle ought to be able to keep this job for the foreseeable future. Demographic change will eventually make Precinct 4 more competitive in general elections, but there’s at least one more redistricting cycle in between now and that point. He’s in for the long haul.

County Commissioner Jack Morman – $410,078 on hand.

This is, or at least it should be, the main event in Harris County in 2014. Morman’s win in 2010 was fueled mostly by the Republican wave of that year, but as currently drawn, Precinct 2 is highly competitive, with a slight lean towards the GOP. We are still awaiting a ruling in the federal lawsuit over the County’s redistricting plan. A full range of outcomes – a bit more Republican, a bit less Republican, exactly as it is under the interim map that was used last year – is possible for Precinct 2. The first question is who might run against Morman. To some extent, that may be determined by the result in the SD06 special election. Council Member James Rodriguez, whose is term-limited, is known to be interested in HD145 in the event Rep. Carol Alvarado wins a promotion to the Senate, but he has also expressed an interest in Precinct 2. I am certain he will not be the only person looking at this, and I for one will be a bit surprised if there isn’t a spirited Democratic primary for the right to oppose Morman. Demography, the lawsuit, Democratic GOTV efforts, the number of first-time off-year Republican voters from 2010 who decide to make it a habit, and of course the candidates themselves will be among the factors in determining the winner here. Buckle your seatbelts.

HCDE Trustee Jim Henley – No report, since he has not had a campaign fund since 2008 and thus is not required to file these reports
HCDE Trustee Debby Kerner – $774 on hand.

Going into the 2008 election, Republicans held all seven seats on the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees. Henley and Kerner’s 2008 wins in At Large seats, coupled with Diane Trautman’s At Large win and Erica Lee’s Precinct 1 win in 2012, transformed the Board into a 4-3 Democratic majority. If nothing else, that should tamp down on any talk about abolishing the agency, as that was something defeated member Michael Wolfe had pushed. HCDE Trustee is a fairly obscure office, with few resources available for candidates, so as with judicial and other low-profile races they are largely determined by partisan preferences. Henley and Kerner’s overperformance in 2008 – both got 52% of the vote – serves as a reminder that downballot dropoff isn’t always uniform. Still, they’ll rise or fall along with the Democratic Party.

Besides Henley and Kerner, there is exactly one more Democratic incumbent slated for the 2014 ballot: First Court of Appeals Judge Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by a sufficient margin to win a seat on that bench in 2014. Since then, he has drawn attention to himself in a number of nonpositive ways, and as such it would not shock me if he were to face a primary challenge. Beyond that, it’s all Republican judges, and the slate is bigger in non-Presidential years than it is in Presidential years. If Democrats manage to sweep or nearly sweep these races, I can only imagine how loud the call will be in certain quarters to change the way judges are selected; if Republicans mostly or entirely hold on, I figure the subject will be dormant until after the 2016 election. As has been the case since 2008, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Appeals Court races. If Democrats can ever get a foothold on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, they’ll be in much better shape to find candidates for the statewide bench in the future.