Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Don Sumners

Harris County voter registration lawsuit settled

For now, at least. Something tells me we have not heard the last of this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Should not be that hard to get one of these

Harris County officials and the Democratic Party have settled an ongoing legal dispute over denial rates of new voter registration applications – at least for now – though an attorney for party officials say they remain concerned that more voters appear to get rejected here than in other large counties nationwide.

Harris County Tax Assessor Collector Don Sumners said Wednesday via email that his office has agreed to provide Democrats with a database and specific documentation about how 1,250 registration applications were denied, according to the terms reached in talks last week. The agreement spells out that the office can charge no more than $1,500 for providing the information.

Sumners argued that Friday’s mediation was unnecessary.

“They could have received the data without causing the county to spend a lot of taxpayers’ money on attorneys, not to mention expending the time of my employees,” he said in an email to the Chronicle.

But Chad Dunn, an attorney for Democrats, argued Sumners’ office repeatedly obstructed requests for voter registration data both from the party and from a nonprofit group.

“I’m disappointed that it takes a federal lawsuit to get information out of our tax office. For four months we’ve been seeking information about denials,” he said. “By every objective measure Don Sumners’ office is the worst performing voter registration department of any major county in America whether you look at total number of applications rejected or a completely flat line voter roll.”

The story notes that other large counties reject fewer voter registration applications than Harris does, and that Harris County has seen no growth in voter registrations over the past decade despite explosive population growth. As a data point, here are the registered voter tallies given by the County Clerk on Election Day for even-year election days going back to 2002:

2002 – 1,875,777

2004 – 1,876,296

2006 – 1,902,222

2008 – 1,892,656

2010 – 1,917,534

The story says “Harris County’s voter registration is about 1.88 million – a number that has remained relatively flat for six years.” As you can see, it’s been flat for longer than that. You tell me why that is the case.

Harris County rejecting fewer voter registrations

In other lawsuit-related news:

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County officials have rejected far fewer would-be voters since 2008, but Democrats are demanding more proof that voter rolls are not being illegally suppressed – particularly among Hispanics – as another U.S. presidential election approaches.

The two sides [met] in secret mediation Friday as Democratic officials seek assurances the county is following the terms of a 2009 settlement reached after the party challenged Harris County voter reviews in a federal lawsuit. The county’s voter registrations have remained fairly flat at about 1.9 million since 2008, failing to keep pace with a boom in the eligible voting population.

“Harris County continues to fall behind other large cities. Harris County rejects far too many applications and removes far too many eligible voters from the rolls,” Chad Dunn, an attorney for the Democrats, told the Houston Chronicle.

The Chronicle’s own analysis of voter registration data shows county officials denied about 39,000 applications in the last three years – far fewer than the 70,000 rejected as ineligible or incomplete in 2008. Of applications received in 2009 to 2011, about 14 percent were not immediately accepted. A slightly higher percentage of voters with Hispanic last names had applications denied, the Chronicle’s analysis shows.

[…]

U.S. District Court Judge Gray H. Miller, who oversees the settlement, ordered both sides to meet with a mediator Friday. If the dispute is not resolved, a hearing has been set next week.

County records show that most unsuccessful applicants from 2009-2011 -35,800 – provided incomplete information, such as leaving parts of the form blank.

As part of the 2009 settlement, Harris County officials agreed to be more flexible in reviewing voter addresses and accept those submitted from so-called commercial properties. However, about 3,000 voters’ applications apparently were red-flagged because of address-related issues in 2009-2011, according to data. In at least a few dozen cases, officials rejected valid addresses mostly from voters living in newly-built homes, the Chronicle found.

They did some good analysis of the rejected applications, so be sure to read the whole story. This action resulted from a followup complaint in 2010 by the TDP, which was itself a result of then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez getting in bed with the KSP. If the Tax Assessor’s office is now doing a better job of accepting valid registrations – and sorry, but I’m not going to just accept Don Sumner’s word for that – that’s great, but there’s still a long way to go before they earn any trust. PDiddie has more.

Still no voter registration cards yet

I’ve written about this before, but apparently there are some rumors running around regarding voter registration cards.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The only voter ID anyone should need

Central Texas elections officials are warning against a rash of emails spreading false information about voter registration — an already confusing issue for many because of an ongoing battle over redistricting that has delayed every step in the election process.

The emails claim that voter registration certificates expired at the end of last year and that residents hoping to have a say in the election need to get registered quickly.

“Probably just incompetence, to allow this change without public notification,” one email says. “Until this year voter registration cards were automatically mailed to arrive before expiration, but that did NOT happen this year. That means you will have to go in and apply for a new one.”

Whoever wrote the emails is clearly misinformed, said Williamson County Voter Registration Supervisor Julie Seippel. New voter registration certificates have not been printed yet, because a date for the primary election has not been set. An ongoing court fight over redistricting affects voting precincts and where registered voters may cast ballots, hence the delayed primaries and the lack of new registration cards.

Counties, including Williamson, Travis, Hays and Burnet, have tried to get the word out about the confusion, sending out press releases and talking to the Statesman about the issue.

The Secretary of State’s office sent out a press release trying to clear up the confusion yesterday. Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the office, said they have received several calls and emails from confused Texans.

“All previously-issued voter registration certificates expired on December 31, 2011, but only the cards expired, voter registrations remain valid,” the release said.

Here’s a press release from the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office:

Revised Feb. 22, 2012 — Normally, in mid January of every even-numbered year, persons registered to vote in Harris County get their new voter certificate in the mail.

Not this year. The 2012 redistricting maps drawn by the Texas Legislature are in dispute and the matter is in the hands of the federal courts.

“My office cannot prepare and mail the new certificates until the court has approved the redistricting maps. Only after that can voters be assigned to the correct voting precinct,” said Don Sumners,
the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar. “Once the court has approved the redistricting maps, we will mail new voter registration certificates at the earliest possible date.”

The Democratic and Republican party primaries have been delayed by the same dispute. Now it appears the primaries will be held no earlier than May 29.

“The delay in mailing the registration certificates will not interfere with anyone’s right to vote. I and my Voter Registration Department will support and protect the rights of every qualified voter. We will prepare and mail every certificate as soon as we can after the federal courts decide this case,” Sumners said.

“Look for a new certificate — yellow and white this year – soon after the decision is final,” Sumners said.

You know how I feel about Sumners, but he’s right. They can’t mail the cards until they know what the precinct boundaries are and what the maps look like. After we get maps, if you don’t get your card, feel free to call and raise hell. Until then, please be patient.

January finance reports: Harris County

January is a very busy month for campaign finance reports, since they are due for all levels of government. I’ve been busy updating the 2012 Primary Election pages for Harris County and elsewhere in Texas with reports as I can find them. Here’s an overview of some races of interest in Harris County. I’ll have similar reports for State Rep and Congressional races next week.

Let me preface this post by saying that I loathe the County Clerks’ Campaign Finance Reports page. You can’t search for an individual by name, you can only search for all candidates whose last name starts with a given letter. All of the reports are scanned PDFs, which means that most of them are handwritten, though even the ones that are electronically generated are then apparently printed and scanned. This has the effect of creating much larger files, which are then harder to navigate, and Adobe being what it is they managed to crash Chrome on my PC and IE9 on my laptop. They do open in the browser with a direct link, unlike the city’s reporting system which opens each report as an Acrobat file for download, which I then have to upload and share to make available on my page, so as long as your browser continues to function that’s nice. All I know is that when I am named Supreme Commander of the world, my first official action will be to outlaw paper filing of campaign finance reports. It’s 2012, for Pete’s sake.

OK, rant off. Here are the highlights:

District Attorney

Incumbent Pat Lykos starts the year in good shape, having raised $194K with $320K on hand; she spent $40K during the cycle. Primary opponent Mike Anderson reported no money raised or spent. He was a late entrant and likely hasn’t had any fundraisers yet. I’m sure he’ll have sufficient resources to wage a campaign. On the Democratic side, Zack Fertitta had an impressive haul, taking in $170K, with $141K on hand. I don’t know exactly when he named a treasurer, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t start raising money until a couple of months into the cycle. His primary opponent Lloyd Oliver, who is listed for some bizarre reason in the county financial reporting system as “Oliver Lloyd” – I only found his report by accident, looking for other L-named candidates – reported no money raised or spent.

Sheriff

Sheriff Adrian Garcia will have a tough race in November, and he starts the year well armed for it, having collected $187K and maintaining $302K. He has two primary opponents – Delores Jones has $1,038 on hand, while perennial contender Charles Massey El had no report visible; yes, I checked under M and under E. There are eight Republican hopefuls, but only four filed reports. Ruben Monzon raised $33K; Carl Pittman raised $13K and reported $24K in loans; Brian Steinacher claimed the princely total of $750 raised. The most interesting report belonged to Louis Guthrie, who claimed to raise $96K with $30K in loans. That caught my eye at first, but he only listed $21K on hand, which made me suspicious enough to read the whole report. The individual contributions he detailed added up to only $6450 in cash plus about $18K in kind for things like printing and food, which are usually considered expenses. Something is definitely off there, but even if you took him at his word, the four of them together raised less than Garcia did.

County Attorney

Not really on anyone’s radar since it’s a lower profile office and there are no contested primaries, but Democratic incumbent Vince Ryan raised $29K and has $126K on hand. Republican challenger and former State Rep. Robert Talton raised $14,650 and had $10,500 in loans, but spent $14,978 and was left with $10,367 on hand.

Tax Assessor

In the battle of Guys Whose Surnames Both Start With The Letter S And Are Thus Convenient To Find In The Otherwise Wack Harris County Finance Reporting System, incumbent Don Sumners reported no cash raised and $3,911 on hand, while current Council Member Mike Sullivan made good use of his remaining Council campaign fund, which allowed him to report $53K on hand. He actually raised $8200 for this cycle, and had $15K in loans outstanding. Democratic challenger Ann Harris Bennett, who was listed under the Bs, raised no money and had $1,856 on hand, presumably left over from her 2010 race for County Clerk. Remind me to ask Clerk candidates in 2014 about how they propose to overhaul the finance reporting system.

Constable

I didn’t bother looking at a lot of these reports, as there are just so many Constable candidates. Among those I did look at were ones for the open Precinct 1 seat. Alan Rosen did the most, raising $43K with $37K on hand. Cindy Vara-Leija raised $22K and had $15K on hand; Grady Castleberry, who also had a July report, raised $2K but had $19K in loans and $23K on hand. Quincy Whitaker’s January report was not visible as of this publication; his July report claimed $5K raised and $18K spent but did not list any loans or cash on hand.

That’s your Harris County finance report. I’ll have state and federal candidates next week. The one other county race I’m watching is the Democratic primary for Travis County DA, featuring incumbent Rosemary Lehmberg and former judge Charlie Baird. The Statesman noted their totals, and I have their reports linked on the non-Harris page – here’s Lehmberg, and here’s Baird. Check that page and the Harris page for more reports as they come in. Greg has more.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that there is a “Friends of Mike Anderson” finance report, which I would have found if I could have searched by name and not by letter, and that this report shows contributions of $152K and cash on hand of $135K. That report lists his office sought as the 127th District Civil Court bench, but that’s neither here nor there.

Sullivan says he’ll step down if he wins primary

He’s hoping to defuse a campaign issue.

CM Mike Sullivan

Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan will submit his resignation in July if he wins the Republican nomination for Harris County tax assessor-collector in April’s primary, he said.

The resignation would not be effective until January, when he would be sworn in as tax assessor if he wins the Republican primary and the November general election. He will face incumbent Don Sumners in the primary.

[…]

Submitting the resignation letter in July would allow the city to hold a special election on the November ballot to finish the remaining year on his term.

In planning for his departure, Sullivan said, he looked for “the most democratic process we can engage in at no cost to taxpayers for there to be an elected representative for District E.”

This issue has come up before, in 2006 when Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was running for Congress, and in 2008 when Adrian Garcia was running for Sheriff. Both remained in office during their races, both faced that as a campaign issue to varying degrees, and both were replaced in a special election the following May after they won their elections and subsequently resigned, leaving their seats empty for the interim. Sullivan seems to have found a loophole, which I must admit is clever. It’s clever enough that I’m sure he’ll still be criticized for it, but I give him credit for coming up with a creative way to avoid the mid-year special election, which would save the city a few bucks.

“I understand his logic,” Sumners said of Sullivan’s plans. “Somebody is just going to have to explain to me an election for a position that still has an occupant.”

Um, we just had one of those last year. Jarvis Johnson, Ann Clutterbuck, Sue Lovell – they were all still Council members in November and December, even though everyone knew they were not going to be Council members as of January. They even voted on stuff, along with defeated CMs Jolanda Jones and Brenda Stardig. It’s called being a lame duck, a position with which I hope Sumners becomes familiar later this year. If that’s the best you can do, maybe Sullivan won’t face any flak for this. Campos, who notes that this is also an issue for CM Wanda Adams, has more.

Sullivan files against Sumners

I was writing a long candidate update for the weekend on Friday that’s pretty much junk now, but not every election is affected by the SCOTUS stay ruling. One such election is for Harris County Tax Assessor, where on Friday Houston City Council Member Mike Sullivan officially filed to take on Don Sumners in the GOP primary. This is going to be a fun one to watch, from my perspective at least.

Sumners questioned Sullivan’s integrity for filing for another office within a month of winning reelection to his current seat.

“He’s known since maybe last summer he was going to run for this and went on and ran for city council anyway,” Sumners said. “So now they’re going to have to have a special election and it’ll probably cost a half-million dollars or something — if he wins. Of course I’m going to do my best to make sure he doesn’t. It just doesn’t sit right with me, and a know a lot of other Republican voters that it doesn’t sit right with either.”

Sullivan said that view shows how “uninformed” Sumners is about the process. Having consulted with the city attorney about the matter, Sullivan said if he wins the primary he would announce his intention to resign in late July, allowing an election for his successor to be held in November, when everyone is going to the polls anyway. He would then step down in January 2013.

“We’re not going to run a campaign comparing the two of us. It’s going to be a very positive, issues-based campaign — we think there are issues to talk about,” Sullivan said. “I have a history both in the private sector and at city council of strong customer service. The tax office is in a customer-service business, selling license plates, renewing auto titles, registering voters. Those are things we can do very well and we think we can make a great impact on those particular departments within the tax office.”

Sumners said he, well, does plan to compare himself to his opponent.

“My phrase that I’m going to be using is, ‘Don Sumners is everything his opponent isn’t.’ Education, experience, competency, all those things. It’ll be hard hitting from the get-go,” Sumners said.

Bring on the Battle of the Grumpy Old Men! You can see Sullivan’s announcement here. His interest in the job has been known for some time, and he starts out with a decent amount of cash on hand. Given how this race has begun, I’m looking forward to the candidate forum. Ann Harris Bennett, who ran for County Clerk in 2010, has filed as a Democrat and is so far the only candidate on that side.

Sumners v Sullivan?

Well, this would be entertaining.

County tax assessor-collector Don Sumners thinks Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan may be preparing to take a run at him in next year’s GOP primary, and Sullivan isn’t denying it.

Sumners took a swipe or two at Sullivan without referring to him by name at a recent Greater Houston Pachyderm Club luncheon at which Sullivan was in the audience. When asked about the luncheon, Sumners said he made the digs because, “I needed to know so I could take action right away.”

When asked what action that might be, Sumners said, “Basically, I’d start beating up on him right away.”

Sullivan said he plans to be in the city secretary’s office the moment filing begins on Aug. 8 for City Council races. Sullivan said he will run for a third two-year term as the District E councilman, after which he would be termed out of office.

“I’m not ruling it out,” Sullivan said when asked if he was considering a run for tax assessor. “I have been approached by a number of people in the community to run for tax assessor- collector, but at this time, I’m focused solely on running for re-election to the City Council.”

Sumners is the Abe Simpson of local politics. Sullivan is less cranky but still perfectly willing to say whatever is on his mind. Put them together in a primary and the entertainment potential is very high. In the end, of course, it will be best if a good Democratic candidate beats whoever wins that primary – I have some thoughts about who I would like to see enter that race, as you know – but we can certainly enjoy this prospect in the meantime.

More on the drainage fee exemptions

Here’s the Chron story about the Mayor’s change in direction to exempt churches and schools from the new drainage fee.

Under previous numbers published by the administration, exempting those institutions would raise the monthly fee on other property owners by about 7.6 percent. But on Friday, Parker said city officials had “refined our estimates” and found that they could include the exemptions without raising the rates on home and business owners.

“The average homeowner in the city of Houston will still pay that $5 on a curb-and-gutter street and $4.06 per month on an open-ditch street, and still accommodate what I heard over and over again — particularly for the school districts – that they needed relief considering what was going on in Austin,” Parker said.

[…]

Parker campaigned in the fall in favor of an ordinance with no exemptions and continued that stance in the months since city voters passed Proposition 1 last November, which calls for a monthly surcharge on property owners to raise $125 million a year for drainage and street improvements, starting in July.

Her rhetoric softened in recent weeks as she faced a divided council, a coalition of church and school leaders clamoring for relief from the fee and a push in Austin to impose exemptions through state legislation. Her council allies on the issue also are using the language of compromise.

“I will vote for exemptions if this is the kind of thing that’s necessary to move it forward. A principled no-exemptions position is not something I’m going to go to the mat on,” said Councilwoman Anne Clutterbuck, whose District C voted overwhelmingly in favor of Proposition 1.

We’ll get the specifics on Monday, and I’ll get to those revised estimates in a minute. It must be noted that while this is a big victory for the churches, they’re still not satisfied.

“We are thankful that due to massive public pressure and outcry the mayor has finally reversed her position and is supporting exemptions for churches and schools. If she is sincere, she will instruct the city’s lobbyists to support SB 714 in the state Senate,” the Houston Area Pastor Council said in a release. “Moreover, our basic position is that due to the election results being challenged in court and major ethical issues unresolved, the City Council should not act on any ordinance at this time with or without exemptions.”

Councilman C.O. Bradford said he agrees with the group, adding, “Today, I would be a no vote, pending discussion.”

You may recall that the Houston Area Pastor’s Council was the first group to bring the anti-gay hate during the 2009 election. I can’t tell you how sick it makes me to give these jerks anything. Shame on you for abetting them, CM Bradford.

As for the refined estimates, a few weeks ago Don Sumners, the county’s crazy uncle in the Tax Assessor’s office, alleged that the city’s planned fee structure would bring in more revenue than they claimed it would. He made his charges in this presentation, which was based on the city’s presentation of the way the fee was calculated. I sent an inquiry to the Mayor’s office about this, and they responded with this document. There were two critical adjustments the city made, which account for the lower revenue figure they project:

1. The estimate of total impervious acreage was based on aerial images. The city validated its estimates by taking actual measurements of a sample of properties. Based on that, they concluded that the real total acreage was somewhat less, so the amount billed would be less than what Sumners’ calculations showed. They also assumed that a few people would successfully protest their acreage assessment, and would thus reduce the total amount billed further.

2. Sumners’ revenue figure is based on everyone paying in full. In real life, that doesn’t happen. The city’s revenue figure takes into account the fact that some bills, for water service and for sewer service (most people get billed for both in Houston, but some only get billed for sewer) go uncollected. Guess this never occurred to Sumners.

Put the two together, and you get the lower revenue numbers the city cited. I’m not exactly sure how this relates to the revelation about not needing to charge more if churches and schools are exempted, and the matter of county buildings is still up in the air as far as I can tell, but I’d still prefer they got included. Not gonna happen, unfortunately. We’ll see how the rest goes on Monday.

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.

What now for Sylvia Garcia

This story about Sylvia Garcia’s last Commissioners Court meeting leads to the obvious question of what she might do next.

A former Houston city controller and an attorney who hasn’t practiced for more than 25 years, she’s still interested in seeking public office, perhaps trying to win back her courthouse job in 2014 or running for what is expected to be a newly drawn, Hispanic-majority congressional seat. (She ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 1992.)

She leaves office with close to $1 million in her campaign account, although most of that money can’t be spent on a race for Congress.

“I’m not ruling anything in, and I’m not ruling anything out,” she said. “In politics it’s all about window of opportunity. Sometimes some unusual or unforeseen turn of events changes things just overnight, so I’m just going to have to look at every opportunity that comes available and look at it closely and see if it’s a good fit.”

Would she consider running for mayor?

“I wouldn’t rule it out, but it has to be the right opportunity,” she said. “I support Mayor Parker and certainly wouldn’t even consider running against her, so that would require waiting five years, because I feel confident she’s going to get reelected two more terms. So again, I’ve made no decision; this was such an unexpected turn of events that I’ve not had time, quite frankly, to even focus on where I’m going to be even in the next 60 days.”

Greg deals with the “newly drawn, Hispanic-majority congressional seat” possibility, which to make a long story short is almost certainly an illusion. If Commissioner Garcia wants to run for Congress, it’ll almost certainly be either via a rematch against Rep. Gene Green, or waiting for Green to retire. I don’t know that I’d bet on that being any sooner than 2014.

Given that basically no one runs for a less prestigious office than the last one they held, which in this case would eliminate City Council, school board, and the Lege as possibilities, Garcia’s options if she really does want to run for something are somewhat limited. Running for her old seat means waiting four years, which is forever in political terms, and may mean gunning for something that has been made less Dem-friendly in the upcoming redistricting. It occurs to me, though, that there is an office available sooner than that which is of equivalent prestige and well suited to Garcia’s past experiences. I’m referring of course to Harris County Tax Assessor, which will be up for its normal four-year term in 2012. I feel confident that the field would be cleared for her if she chose to run for Tax Assessor – I love Diane Trautman, and in a just universe she’d be our Tax Assessor now, but I think it’s fair to say that after two tries, it’s time to consider other options – and with her campaign cash reserves, her presence on the countywide ticket would be a boon for the rest of the Democratic slate as well. Finally, Lord knows that Garcia will present a contrast sharp enough to cut diamonds against the clown that currently inhabits that office. This is such a no-brainer I’m surprised there isn’t already a movement for it. Who’s with me on this?

On a somewhat related note, it should be clear from this that the biggest beneficiary of the election that Garcia lost is Steve Radack, who now effectively controls two seats on the Court; if and when Jerry Eversole resigns, given that the Court will choose his replacement, we could be looking at a Court of Radack, two mini-Radacks, and El Franco Lee. Have I mentioned before that the most important local election for Harris County Democrats in 2012 will be the one against Radack? Well, this is me mentioning it again.

UPDATE: I received a call from Joe Stinebaker in Judge Emmett’s office to let me know that in fact Judge Emmett would select Eversole’s replacement if Eversole were to step down, not the Court. I apologize for the error, and I thank Stinebaker for the feedback.

LWV update

The following email has been sent to League of Women Voters registration volunteers:

To Our Voter Registration Volunteers:

It is with great pleasure that I write to tell you that we shall after all be able to provide our usual on-the-spot voter registration service to new citizens at the Houston Area Naturalization Ceremony to be held on December 15th. And, with a few minor procedural tweaks, we anticipate being able to continue with this excellent program in 2011 and beyond.

Mr. Sumner’s plans were unsupportable as a matter of law, as a matter of wise governance and as a matter of simple good sense.

I ask you to make every effort to join our Corps of Volunteers and help welcome new citizens to the electorate on December 15th.

As always, please reply to this email and let us know if you’ll be able to be there. We’ll then provide additional instructions and prepare your credentials. It’s going to be a great day.

With kindest regards from Ann and from me,

Linda W. Cohn

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area
Education Fund

I’m very glad to hear it, and I look forward to receiving word that the matter has been satisfactorily resolved.

Meanwhile, the Chron editorial board took notice of Sumners’ actions.

Seems to us that facilitating the registration of new citizens should be a top priority of an elected official with voter registrar responsibilities, and we don’t know of a surer pool of potential voters than those people who’ve just been sworn in as U.S. citizens.

[…]

After the controversy erupted, Sumners announced he would seek a waiver from the Texas secretary of state to allow the League of Women Voters to collect the registration forms and deliver them to his office. He also postponed the change in policy pending review by the Justice Department. It’s too bad he didn’t do that before setting off a needless brouhaha.

Linda W. Cohn, voter registration chair for the league, says she’s received assurances from the Texas secretary of state’s office that the current method of registering voters at naturalization ceremonies is proper and that the process will continue at the ceremony next Wednesday. “I am concerned that one of Mr. Sumners’ first acts of governance was so ill-considered,” notes Cohn. “It would seem to me that a voter registrar would so happily embrace the opportunity to welcome new citizens to the electorate at a minuscule cost to the tax office.”

We hope this is not an indication of the quality of policy decision-making by Sumners in the future. Now that the election’s over, we believe Commissioners Court should create an independent election administrator position that will insulate this vital governmental function from the partisanship and issue grandstanding exhibited by recent tax assessor-collectors.

I for one am quite certain that this is an indication of the quality of Sumners’ future policy decision-making. I’ve expressed some concerns about the elections administrator idea, but minimizing the damage Sumners is capable of doing outweighs a lot of that.

More on Sumners and the LWV

I’ve got some updates on the change in policy by Tax Assessor-to-be Don Sumners regarding voter registrations at naturalization ceremonies. First, Sumners has acknowledged the need to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for any changes to voter registration procedures, so the change has been suspended pending resolution of that. Linda Cohn, the Voter Registration chair for the League of Women Voters, forwarded me an email chain between herself and the Secretary of State’s office that confirmed that as long as there is a Tax Office employee present to take immediate custody of the registration forms then no receipts are required. I can’t share that because I have not had the chance to ask permission from the SOS employee who corresponded with Cohn, but I do have a few other items:

Here’s Sumners’ letter to the LWV informing them of the change in policy.

Here’s the LWV response (page one, page two), which asserts that he has his facts wrong.

And here’s a brief conversation I had with Cohn recapping some of these items:

Download the MP3 file

The good news is that the LWV and Sumners are discussing possible resolutions to this that would allow them to continue their work; one possibility that she mentions is for an LWV representative (likely herself) to substitute for the Tax Office person for the purpose of taking immediate custody of the registrations.. That’s all well and good, and I hope her optimism about a mutually agreeable outcome is warranted. But I’ve got to agree with Greg that this is going to be par for the course, not just from Sumners but from all of the voter regression crowd, which is why the fight over voter ID and similar measures is still vitally important no matter what the partisan makeup is in the Lege or what those who think the right to vote isn’t all that big a deal say.

No voter registration for you

The following email, sent from the League of Women Voters registration address to its membership, was forwarded to me. I present it below in its entirity:

From: LWV Voter Registration
Sent: Sunday, December 05, 2010 3:19 PM
Subject: Voter Registration at Naturalization Ceremonies

To our Voter Registration Volunteers:

It is my sad duty to inform you that we are no longer able to offer our customary on-the-spot voter registration service to new citizens at Houston Area Naturalization Ceremonies.

Mr. Don Sumners, newly elected and installed as Harris County Tax-Assessor Collector and Registrar of Voters, has issued directives that make it impossible for us to continue with our robust, comprehensive and efficient program.

We will distribute voter registration applications that can be completed and mailed; we will operate a limited receipt service for aspiring voters who wish to remain after dismissal for individual attention.

Please let Ann or me know if you wish to volunteer for duty at the Naturalization Ceremony to be held on December 15. We hope that you will want to be there.

We remain grateful to the United States District Court and to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for allowing us the opportunity to rejoice with America’s newest citizens on one of the most important days of their lives. We remain committed to seeking a correct, convenient and celebratory path for each new citizen to enter the electorate. We will always welcome discussions with Mr. Sumners to this end.

Until that happy day, please remember that over the past four years 63,080 new citizens became voters by your hands, an accomplishment that stands as proud testament to your dedication to civic virtue.

For Ann and for me, it is as always a personal pleasure. You have our thanks and our admiration.

Linda Cohn
The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area Education Fund

A followup email from the LWV explained the situation in some more detail:

As you know, we have the honor of being present at Houston Area Naturalization Ceremonies for the purpose of conducting an on-the-spot voter registration service. We are guests of the United States District Court and of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, who kindly grant us a few minutes at the conclusion of the ceremony to distribute voter registration applications and collect the completed applications as the new citizens exit the naturalization venue. At the typical ceremony 1500 petitioners are sworn; about 80% will register to vote on-site, literally within minutes of their oath. I know you’ll agree that it is an efficient and celebratory way for new citizens to enter the electorate.

The numbers and exigencies of safety and crowd control make receipted voter registration applications impractical. During the Bettencourt and Vasquez administrations tax office personnel were cheerfully dispatched to take immediate custody of completed voter registration applications; this waived our duty to provide each aspiring voter with a receipt. Mr. Sumners has withdrawn this element of support, which would amount to about an hour and a half of employee time per month. We can still distribute voter registration applications that new citizens can complete and later mail (although we cannot assist or answer questions – that would trigger deputy volunteer registrar protocols and hence the need for receipts). We can still offer one-on-one receipted voter registration to any aspiring voter who wishes to remain for personal attention. But this new iteration would be a feeble remnant of what was an excellent community outreach.

I am hopeful that Mr. Sumners will be persuaded that his decision was unwise and should be reversed.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know why a voter registrar would not want to allow registrations to take place at naturalization ceremonies. After all, this is the one time you can truly be sure of someone’s citizenship. Chris Moran of the Chron got some answers from Sumners about this.

[Sumners] said Monday that technically the League’s voter registration activities at monthly naturalization ceremonies are illegal without the receipts.

[…]

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerry Birnberg filed a protest with the county attorney’s office, alleging a violation of the federal Voting Rights Act that requires the U.S. Department of Justice’s approval for any change in the way voter registration is conducted.

Sumners, who took office on Nov. 15, acknowledged that the change will create difficulties for the League. But he said all other voter registration groups have to submit receipts, as does the League at events other than the naturalization ceremonies.

“It’s a matter of bringing everybody under the same rules,” Sumners said.

Cohn said it was her understanding that the League operated under a state-approved exemption for its work at the ceremonies.

But Sumners said the state has granted no such exemption. The arrangement has been merely a tradition.

Sumners said he intends to send a letter to the Secretary of State this week to ask for a formal exemption for the League.

“We recognize the problem and we’re willing to help solve it,” Sumners said.

So Sumners is saying that his predecessors had been breaking the law all these years. I’d love to know if Bettencourt and Vasquez would agree with his characterization of their actions. I’m also very interested in hearing what the DOJ will say about Sumners’ actions. Since it seems to me that in the end Sumners thought this was basically a technicality, there must have been a less disruptive way for him to have dealt with it. Something tells me this won’t be the last time we say something like that about one of his actions. KHOU has more.

So what about that elections administrator?

Buried in this story about Abe Simpson Don Sumners, our new Tax Assessor, is this little nugget:

So, if [County Judge Ed] Emmett insists on putting the election administrator position on a Commissioners Court agenda, Sumners said, “I think we can promise him a big demonstration.” Sumners said his first call will be to the King Street Patriots, the tea party group that rooted through the voter rolls looking for voter registration fraud this summer.

It’s kind of adorable how Sumners thinks this election was about him, isn’t it? Here are three things to consider about this:

1. County Commissioners generally do what they want to do and don’t worry too much about what anyone else thinks. Outside of this year’s once-in-a-blue-moon loss by Sylvia Garcia, they generally don’t need to worry about what anyone else thinks.

2. Three fourths of Commissioners Court is comprised of members that Sumners feuded with back in the 90s, everyone except the newbie, Jack Morman, whose best buddy in the world is Steve Radack. So I guess there’s no point in Sumners going on a charm offensive here if and when the elections administrator item comes up for a vote.

3. Emmett received over 50,000 more votes than Sumners did, and unlike Sumners he’s not up for election again until 2014. I doubt he’s quaking in his boots over whatever teabagger revolution Sumners is vowing to bring.

In sum, I’m still not sold on the idea of an elections administrator for Harris County, but I sure do love a good pissing contest. This one ought to be all kinds of fun. In the meantime, it’s not too early for a good Democratic candidate to start raising money to ensure that this joker’s second go-round in county office is no longer than his first.

Chron overview of Tax Assessor race

Sometimes, the difference between two candidates is especially clear.

Don Sumners has been complaining about government for so long that the Republican’s slogan for his campaign for tax assessor-collector is “I was tea party before tea party was cool.” Elect him, he said, and he will use the office as a megaphone to amplify the message he currently spreads through low-budget yellow fliers: The government taxes and spends too much.

Diane Trautman said the next Harris County tax assessor needs to tone it down, not stir up partisan fights. The Democrat said she would like to lead an office focused on customer service instead of fighting off lawsuits accusing it of suppressing voter registration.

[…]

Trautman wants to save taxpayers time, too. She said she would investigate establishing an express line at the tax office and its branches for customers who have simple transactions. She also said she intends to install a number system so that, instead of standing in line, customers can sit down while waiting their turns at the window. She also proposes setting up pilot voter registration projects in five area high schools.

Trautman said she has heard from people who protest their assessments that they get their tax bills late. She promised to push immediately after the election to get the those bills out in a more timely fashion.

Sumners said he intends to do whatever he can to make those bills lower, starting with pressuring the Harris County Appraisal District to give better treatment to those who protest their property appraisals. Part of the problem, he said, is that HCAD is not transparent. “They need to lay out their appraisal plans and methodology,” he said.

Basically, you’ve got one candidate who wants to make the office better and has numerous ideas for how to achieve that, and one candidate who wants to use the office as his own personal megaphone. I know which one I prefer.

I-Day Houston

From the Inbox, from the League of Women Voters:

The League of Women Voters of the Houston Area and the American Society of Civil Engineers are set to host two debates, a candidate meet-and-greet, and infrastructure townhall meetings during the Infrastructure Day Houston (I-Day) event at the George R. Brown Convention Center on Sat., Sept. 18, 2010. The first of two debates will begin at 6:00pm. Candidate meet-and-greet opportunities and infrastructure townhall meetings will begin as early as at 3:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public.

The League is hosting and facilitating two debates for the offices of the Harris County Judge and Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. Elisabeth MacNamara, National President of the League of Women Voters of the United States, is introducing the candidates. Laurie Johnson, host of NPR’s All Things Considered, is moderating the debates. The Tax Assessor-Collector debate with Don Sumners and Diane Trautman is from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. The County Judge Debate with Ed Emmett and Gordon Quan is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Prior to the debates, the candidate meet-and-greet and the infrastructure-related townhall meetings will run from 3:00 to 5:30 pm. Voters will be able to meet over 150 candidates running for public office in Harris County for the election being held on November 2, 2010. The townhall meetings will focus on topics including: Transportation, Energy, Ports and Airports, and Storm and Waste Water. Experts, including Dr. John Lienhard, host of the Engines of Our Ingenuity program on National Public Radio, will lead the discussions and information sessions.

Free t-shirts will be given at the door for the first 100 attendees. For more information on the event, visit our website www.lwvhouston.org.

The Facebook invitation for this event is here. I had received a press release about this last month but didn’t post about it at the time because the event was so far off. It’s not so far off any more. Some of you will note that Saturday is also Yom Kippur. It’s unfortunate that this event, which may include the only debates of this kind, falls on a day when a significant number of people cannot attend, including State Reps. Ellen Cohen and Scott Hochberg. But this is when it is, so if you can make it I hope you will do so.

Fundraising: Harris County

The top story for the Harris County money race is that County Judge Ed Emmett has a big lead in financial resources over challenger Gordon Quan.

Gordon Quan said he knew from the start that challenging County Judge Ed Emmett would be a David and Goliath race. Their bank accounts now confirm this: Quan has $63,000 to sling against Emmett’s million-dollar might.

[…]

“The onus is on Gordon to close that gap, and quickly, if he’s going to have a shot,” said political consultant Keir Murray, who is not affiliated with either campaign.

Nonetheless, Murray and others said, the race is not over before it really has started. Quan still has time to raise money.

County races also are influenced by top-of-the-ticket contests, such as this year’s gubernatorial election between Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White. Emmett and Quan’s names are deep into a ballot that in some places will be dozens of pages long.

“When you have a ballot with over 100 names on it, I don’t know that people are going to be looking for just my name or his name,” Quan said.

The surgery took him away from the campaign for six weeks, Quan said, but he now is in the midst of a schedule of speaking at ethnic gatherings, Democratic club meetings and senior citizens events.

You can see Quan’s report here and Emmett’s very large report here. Prevailing conditions, straight ticket voting, and GOTV efforts will likely have more of an effect on the county races than campaign finances will, but as we saw in 2008 that only goes so far. Emmett has incumbency, greater name recognition, and modulo what may happen this season, he still wears a halo from his performance during Hurricane Ike. He’s got to like the position he’s in right now.

Nobody else has anywhere near Emmett’s resources, which is not surprising given that with the possible exception of Tax Assessor, none of these offices are high profile enough to draw a lot of interest from the contributing classes. Here’s what I found poking through the county’s campaign finance reports page.

Ann Harris Bennett Contributions - 34,010.00 Expenditures - 7,130.36 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 26,728.24 Stan Stanart Contributions - 2,425.00 Expenditures - 2,314.81 Loans - 20,000.00 Cash on hand - 13,415.56

Bennett got $10,000 from Annie’s List, $3,000 from the ROADWomen PAC, $1,500 from EMILY’s List, and a decent assortment of other donations besides. About half of Stanart’s expenditures were listed on the Schedule G form, which is for expenditures made from personal funds. He likes the Spaghetti Warehouse – I counted a dozen entries for what I presume was lunch for himself there, ten on the Schedule Fs and two on the Gs. His loan must have been made in a previous reporting period, as it was not documented in this report.

Diane Trautman Contributions - 60,566.00 Expenditures - 18,323.00 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 74,766.04 Don Sumners Contributions - 1,500.00 Expenditures - 2,501.76 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 1,500.00

Sumners had four contributors – former Coucil Member Bruce Tatro, both Kubosh brothers, and a woman named Mary Williams. Trautman had nearly 50 pages’ worth of contributors, including the same donations as Bennett from Annie’s List, EMILY’s List, and the ROADWomen. She also got $1000 from her peeps in the Kingwood Area Democrats. I am deeply gratified to see her do so well in comparison to Sumners.

Loren Jackson Contributions - 63,030.16 Expenditures - 42,617.70 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 49,396.30 Chris Daniel Contributions - 32,000.00 Expenditures - 45,989.86 Loans - 20,000.00 Cash on hand - 2,148.56

The money race between Loren Jackson and Chris Daniel may appear competitive, but if you go through Daniel’s report, you’ll see he had two enormous contributions from family members (his mom, and I believe his sister), totaling $29,100. As it happens, one of his expenditures is for that exact amount, with the explanation that it’s the payment of loans from earlier in the cycle. In other words, taking out that bit of churn, Daniel raised less than $3,000 and spent about $17,000 on actual campaign-related things, $5,000 of which was money going into Allen Blakemore’s pocket. Jackson had a $4,500 contribution from the Texas Democratic Party plus a few $2,500 donations.

Billy Briscoe Contributions - 16,445.76 Expenditures - 13,671.74 Loans - 2,500.00 Cash on hand - 3,024.02 Orlando Sanchez Contributions - 1,850.00 Expenditures - 1,054.53 Loans - 5,175.00 Cash on hand - 933.76

I had no idea what to expect from Briscoe, who’s seeking the least useful office in Harris County. His total contributions looks good, except that $14,195.76 of it is listed as coming from “Campaign Account of Billy Briscoe”. I guess that’s a transfer from a previous campaign, but I don’t know for sure. As for Orlando, clearly he’s as diligent about fundraising as he is at his job. Having said that, his expenditures report had the best single line item I’ve seen. On page six, the third entry down is $16.00 for a subscription to “Glamour” magazine. I guess he has to do something to while away those lonely hours. All I know is I couldn’t make this stuff up.

UPDATE: Briscoe’s $14,195.76 came from his campaign for State Rep. Thanks to PDiddie in the comments for reminding me about that.

UPDATE: Orlando speaks to the Press about his “Glamour” subscription. Why he didn’t just buy the one issue he says he needed from a newsstand remains a mystery, but at least we now know why he subscribed.

Casey and the Chron on an elections administrator

Rick Casey sums up the recent proposal by County Judge Ed Emmett to consider adopting a non-partisan elections administrator for Harris County:

While Dallas and Tarrant counties have found it a source of electoral confidence and stability, Bexar County went through a dark period when one administrator was convicted of stealing about $50,000 in state funds, and another one, though clearly incompetent and lazy, couldn’t be fired because state law requires a 4⁄5 vote of the board, and unrelated politics kept the Republican county clerk from following the lead of the Republican county judge.

The commissioners court responded by abolishing the office and returning, for a time, to the old arrangement before it re-established the election administration office.

They agreed with Commissioner Lee: The leadership is more important than the structure.

Which is more or less how I feel about it, though I have a preference for it to be an elected office, because at least then the method of removing a poor administrator is well understood and doesn’t depend on any political oddities. As I said before, you can never truly eliminate the politics from something like this, which is why having these positions be elected is as good as anything.

I didn’t discuss the specific politics of Judge Emmett’s proposal when I wrote about this before because I just wanted to explore the idea itself. Yesterday’s Chron editorial did a good job of highlighting that aspect of it.

All too often it seems that Commissioners Court is making decisions that should be made by Harris County voters.

That’s why we are suspicious of the motives of Emmett and [County Clerk Beverly] Kaufman in pushing for the creation of an election czar who would be appointed by Commissioners Court and be overseen by a board that includes the judge, the county clerk, the tax assessor and representatives of both political parties.

In GOP party primaries this spring incumbent Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez, who Emmett helped appoint, was defeated by former County Treasurer Don Sumners, a tea party advocate who has criticized GOP commissioners in the past and would probably be a bigger nuisance for them than a Democrat. In the county clerk contest Kaufman supported her longtime chief deputy, Kevin Mauzy, but he lost to computer technician Stan Stanart. We wonder whether Emmett and Kaufman would be pushing for re-aligning election duties if their favorites were still in line to exercise those responsibilities.

It’s pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that no, we would not be talking about this at all if Vasquez and Mauzy were on the ballot. Which ought to be a good reason for you to vote for Ann Harris Bennett and Diane Trautman for County Clerk and Tax Assessor, respectively. I mean, if even Emmett and Kaufman think the Republican nominees aren’t up to the job, why should you? I’ll still be willing to discuss various ideas for changing how we do elections in Harris County, from combining voter registration and elections administration in one office to making all of those duties part of a non-partisan appointed office, after the election. But let’s see how the election goes first, if only to see if there’s still a sense of urgency about it.

Briefly noted

Some interesting things from today that I wanted to note…

There are plenty of people who want to be on the Appropriations Committee, so putting some who doesn’t want to be there, like State Rep. Joe Driver of Dallas, doesn’t make much sense. But once you’re on Appropriations, whether you wanted it or not, you ought to show up to the big budget meetings, what with the budget being such a big deal and all these days.

As you know, TFN will be live-blogging what may be the last clown show of some SBOE members’ careers. I expect the Texas Observer and the Trib to be there as well. If you want some preliminaries, you can attend TFN’s “Don’t White-Out Our History” rally, about which SBOE candidate Judy Jennings has more. You can also read Martha’s explanation of the Board’s agenda for the next few days.

The long-awaited Martinez-Fischer/Riddle debate finally took place. Rep. Martinez-Fischer declares victory and talks a little smack.

State Sen. Mario Gallegos writes another letter about HISD Superintendent Terry Grier.

Finally, a release from the HCDP:

On the recent episode of the PBS local series Red, White and Blue, Republican candidate for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners was asked if he was concerned about getting the support of the Hispanic community after defeating incumbent Leo Vasquez. His answer concluded with the following – “I don’t have a problem with their (Hispanics) agenda except for trying to get benefits that may not have been earned.”

Below is a statement from State Representative Armando Walle:

“Mr. Sumner’s position that Hispanic families don’t work hard for what they earn is both ignorant and offensive but not the least bit surprising. With their inflammatory rhetoric and political agenda, Texas Republicans have made it clear there is no room for Hispanics in their Party.

Most recently, local Republican state representative Debbie Riddle announced plans to introduce a Texas version of the highly controversial and discriminatory Arizona immigration legislation.  And later this week in Austin, the extremist Republicans who control the State Board of Education will meet to finalize their plans to purge Tejano heroes who died at the Alamo from our children’s social studies books. Latinos have played a major role in shaping Texas’s rich culture and history, but local Republican politicians see our community as a pinata to score points with the far right wing of their party. This assault on our community is disrespectful, intolerant and will not be forgotten when Hispanics head to the polls in November.”

I think that about covers it.

Ballot position and the Republican races

Inspired by a comment JJMB left on the previous post about the effect of ballot position on the judicial races, I went and looked at the Republican results to see what I could see. Here’s what I found.

– Though there were the same number of races on each ballot, the Republicans had far fewer contested judicial primaries than the Democrats had, a total of sixteen if you include the Supreme Court and Appeals Courts, all of which were unopposed on the Democratic side. By comparison, there were 30 contested Democratic judicial primaries. The reason for fewer multi-candidate GOP races is simple: the vast majority of them featured incumbents, who generally went unchallenged. On the one hand, having fewer contested races probably saves on brainpower, since you had fewer things to pay attention to and have fewer decisions to make. On the other hand, you still have to slog through all of those uncontested races, and having those fewer decisions to make may well be more boring and glazed-eye-inducing. I have no way to evaluate that, so I’ll leave it to you to decide if that makes voters more or less likely to find a shortcut.

– Skipping the two Supreme Court races, there were nine contested primaries for Appeals Court or District Court. The candidate listed first won twice, lost six times, and made it to a runoff once. I should note that of the six candidates who were listed first but lost, three of them were taking on incumbents – Evelyn Keyes, Mike Massengale, and Lynn Bradshaw Hull. I would not consider those races to be relevant to this conversation, as incumbents will have a higher level of name recognition, and presumably access to the needed resources to run a real campaign. I don’t get Republican mail so I can’t verify that, but I sure did see plenty of Mike Massengale signs in people’s yards. On the other hand, one of the top-spot candidates who won was a District Court incumbent (Sharon McCally) who took on a sitting Appeals Court incumbent (Leslie Brock Yates) in what turned out to be a rather nasty race. Again, I don’t think this is a relevant example.

– There were five contested races for County or Probate Courts. Four of the five candidates listed first lost; the exception was Don Smyth. One of those losing candidates, Charles Coussons, had withdrawn from the race between the filing deadline and the election, but too late to have his name removed.

– Finally, we come to three non-judicial races, for District Clerk, County Clerk, and Tax Assessor. Paul Dwight, Stan Stanart, and Don Sumners, respectively, were listed first for each, with Dwight losing and the other two winning. Given the track record of candidates listed first up to this point, I can’t claim that it helped Stanart or Sumners. At best, I’d say any effect was inconclusive, since their results were atypical. I’d probably make a stronger case for Stanart being helped than Sumners since I think the Tax Assessor race was higher profile, and featured an incumbent to boot. But again, I’m generally not on the business end of Republican campaigning, so I can’t accurately assess that. All I can tell you is what I’ve laid out here, and you can make of it what you will.

– Finally, reader Gwen sent me a spreadsheet, which I have made available as a Google doc, which contains a basic model that predicts the winner in the Democratic judicial primaries based on ballot position and the Chron endorsement. You are welcome to play around with it and see if you can build on what it does.

Vasquez and Carrillo

Newly-unelected Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez makes the same complaint about why he is headed for the unemployment line as Victor Carrillo did.

Carrillo started the ethnic angst with an e-mail to supporters indicating racial bias had cost him re-election. That was followed up by Vasquez’s campaign manager and girlfriend, SuZanne Feather, sending out an e-mail saying there were “many similarities” between Carrillo and Vasquez’s loss on Tuesday to tea party activist Don Sumners. Vasquez joined in during an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

“It is perplexing that someone could basically spend no money whatsoever and mount no campaign and win as handily as he did,” Vasquez said. “The same thing happened in the Victor Carrillo race as well.”

But Vasquez’s predecessor in office, Paul Bettencourt said Vasquez lost because he had issues in his personal life that cost him the support of social conservative organizations.

Consultant Allen Blakemore, speaking for social conservative leader Steve Hotze, said Republicans were upset with Vasquez for settling a voter-registration lawsuit with Democrats and for not being as vocal on property tax increases as Bettencourt. Blakemore said the “final blow” came when social conservative leaders learned Vasquez lives with a woman married to another man.

Vasquez admitted social conservative leaders Hotze and Terry Lowry “probably got him (Sumners) another 10,000 votes and maybe even made the full difference between us.”

“The Republican Party, especially in Harris County, has been, unfortunately, overly controlled and influenced by a small, but vocal group on the religious right, and we need to get back to the core principles of fiscal conservative issues rather than these social issues that are being perpetuated by that small, but vocal, minority,” Vasquez said.

You’re just figuring that out now, Leo? What color is the sky on your planet?

As for the justifications Bettencourt and Blakemore give, I’ll say this much. I had heard about Vasquez’ relationship to Feather, and can say with confidence that it would have come up in the general election had Vasquez been the nominee. I have no idea how well known it was among the people who actually voted in that race – Big Jolly mentions it, while also acknowledging Vasquez’ complaint and noting that “there is still a lot of resentment around the county in the wake of Paul Bettencourt’s sudden resignation and Vasquez’ appointment” – but my suspicion is that it wasn’t particularly well known. Had Don Sumners made it a campaign issue, I expect it would have been news, and there was no such news reported. A Google search of “leo vasquez suzanne feather” yields nothing relevant. Similarly, I can’t really evaluate the claim about Vasquez’s settlement of the HCDP lawsuit. Big Jolly didn’t mention it, and a Google search turns up mostly Democratic links. Maybe more people knew about it than I might think, but if it was a campaign issue and not just something that a handful of connected folks were grumbling about, it was a mighty quiet one.

I don’t doubt that the issues Bettencourt and Blakemore cite affected how some people voted. The question is how many of the 120,000+ people who cast a vote in that race were affected by those particular factors. Unlike David Porter, Don Sumners was at least someone who had been an elected official before, and presumably started out with some kind of base. That in and of itself may have been enough for him to win.

One thing I am sure of is that Vasquez is now officially dead to the Republican establishment. Look at what they’re doing to poor Victor Carrillo:

Republican consultant Ted Delisi said Carrillo spent far less than Railroad Commissioners Elizabeth Ames Jones or Michael Williams did on their re-election campaigns and said Carrillo did little personal campaigning.

“In the end, a bad campaign is just a bad campaign,” Delisi said.

That’s a pretty remarkable piece of disinformation. First, it appears to be comparing Williams’ and Ames Jones’ general election efforts to Carrillo’s primary campaign. I say that in part because Michael Williams had no primary opponent in 2008, so however much money he spent in that race, his renomination was never in doubt. As for Ames Jones, she did have a primary opponent in 2006. Her eight days out report for that race shows that she spent $580,116. Carrillo’s eight days out report, by comparison, had expenditures of $525,666. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t meet my definition of “far less”. Finally, since Porter ran no campaign at all, Delisi is implying that Carrillo’s campaign was not merely inadequate but that it must have actively persuaded people to vote against him. Even by the standards of Republican consultants, that’s a pretty damn brazen thing to say. But it’s the sort of thing they’re going to be saying about you now, Leo. I hope you’re prepared for that.

Election results: Harris County

It was a bad day to be the establishment candidate for Harris County Clerk, let me tell you. Ann Harris Bennett crushed Sue Schechter for the Democratic nomination, winning with 63% of the vote. On the Republican side, wingnut Stan Stanart, who lost a 2008 race for the HCDE Board of Trustees after taking out a mainstream incumbent in that primary, won over 60% of the vote against Beverly Kaufmann’s hand-picked successor, Kevin Mauzy. Look for some scrambling to occur in both parties. I confess, I did not get to know Ms. Bennett, and did not see her victory coming. My bad on that one.

Meanwhile, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez suffered the same fate as Victor Carrillo.

Don Sumners won the Republican nomination for county tax assessor-collector Tuesday, ousting incumbent Leo Vasquez on his promises to continue the anti-tax crusade that characterized his tenure as county treasurer in the 1990s.

Sumners campaigned on a slogan of “I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

As treasurer, he publicly criticized Commissioners Court for increasing the tax rate and was an outspoken opponent of a bond measure that approved hotel and car rental taxes to fund football, basketball and baseball stadiums.

Summers will face Diane Trautman. Let’s just say that these are two races I’d really like for the Democrats to win. Elsewhere, Gordon Quan won a convincing victory in the Democratic primary for County Judge, and Republican Chris Daniel won the nomination for District Clerk for the right to face extremely well-qualified Democratic incumbent Loren Jackson.

I’ll try to sort out the judicial races later. The other big result in Harris County was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee winning easily in her primary.

As of late Tuesday, the veteran lawmaker had about 68 percent of the vote, fending off a challenge by [City Council Member Jarvis] Johnson that featured claims that Jackson Lee’s showboating style had impaired her ability to deliver for her hard-pressed inner city district.

Jackson Lee also defeated a political newcomer, Houston attorney Sean Roberts. Votes counted as of 10:30 p.m, showed she likely would face GOP challenger John Faulk, an accountant, in the predominantly Democratic district.

“The job is not finished. We promise you a fight in Washington to bring good health care to this district and to preserve NASA and the jobs that are ours,” Jackson Lee told supporters Tuesday night.

Faulk does appear to be the GOP winner. For purposes of comparison, there were 9,105 total votes cast in the GOP primary for CD18. Johnson collected 9,073 by himself in getting 28.33% against SJL.

In other Congressional news, we will have Roy Morales to kick around for a few more months, as the man who never met an election he didn’t like won the nomination in CD29 in a five-person field. He gets to be stomped by Rep. Gene Green in November before he decides what city race to pick for 2011.

Finally, Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is in a runoff with Ed Hubbard. That’ll be fun to watch.

Overview of the Tax Assessor primary

We’re a bit more than three weeks out from the start of early voting, so it’s time for some overviews of the contested primaries on the ballot. Here’s the first one, for the Republican race between County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez and former County Treasurer and now-retired employee of the Tax Assessor’s office, Don Sumners.

Sumners sees the job as a platform for activism. He saw the county treasurer’s job that way when he held it from 1995 to 1998.

In his single term he spoke out against Commissioners Court’s increase of the tax rate, the pay raise it authorized for commissioners and other county employees and the bond measure that approved taxpayer funding for football, baseball and basketball stadiums.

“I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool,” Sumners declared. He said his candidacy did not result from the Tea Party movement, but that he hopes to gain its leaders’ endorsements.

[…]

Sumners, 70, retired last November so he could run against his new boss.

“I just didn’t want to see all the work that Paul had done to raise the stature of the office to make it something more than just a bureaucratic collection agency, which is really what it was under (Carl) Smith,” who led the office from 1947 until his death in 1998, Sumners said.

Vasquez, he said, has dropped the advocacy role of the office.

Vasquez counters, “The more one starts yelling and screaming about every little thing, the less people will listen to you.”

That’s actually an interesting philosophical difference. My view is that Sumners’ beliefs are more suited to the Treasurer than the Tax Assessor. I believe that as long as the Tax Assessor is also responsible for being the voter registrar, than that person ought to at least give the appearance of not being a strident partisan. I don’t see anything wrong with the Carl Smith model. Of course, I won’t be voting in that primary, so it doesn’t really matter at this time. We’ll see if Sumners’ views get any traction with those voters.