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Dwight Boykins

Prop B layoffs rescinded

No Prop B, no need for layoffs. Funny how that works.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston City Council on Wednesday formally reversed the 220 firefighter layoffs and hundreds of demotions it approved earlier this year, making official Mayor Sylvester Turner’s pledge not to lay off or demote any firefighters in the aftermath of a judge’s ruling that Proposition B is unconstitutional.

Before a state district judge threw out Prop B, the voter-approved charter amendment granted firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and seniority. Turner warned that Prop B would require layoffs to offset the cost of the raises, a point hotly disputed by the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association. City council voted in April to send firefighters 60-day layoff notices, which the panel unanimously rescinded Wednesday.

The council also voted to reverse more than 400 demotions within the Houston Fire Department. The layoff notices had gone to the lowest-ranking firefighters, initially requiring the city to fill in those positions from the top down through demotions.

“This puts everything back the way it existed prior to that vote,” Turner said.

The city also had sent layoff notices to 47 municipal employees, but Turner already had rescinded those unilaterally because those layoffs did not require council approval.

Councilman Dwight Boykins asked Turner if the layoff reversal would impact Fire Chief Sam Peña’s proposed department restructuring, which would move HFD from a four-shift to three-shift model — a move the union opposes. Turner confirmed that Wednesday’s vote has no bearing on the proposed shift change.

Councilwoman Brenda Stardig also asked Turner if the city plans to recoup back pay granted to firefighters before Prop B was ruled unconstitutional. Some department employees received raises the week before the judge’s ruling.

Turner said his administration is “addressing how to deal with that issue,” but in the meantime he sees the raises as a “credit on future negotiations.” The mayor said last month that he did not intend to “claw back” funds from any firefighter.

Obviously, this isn’t the end. We’re about to have an election that will re-litigate this whole thing – though don’t expect anyone to give a plausible answer to how they would have handled this all differently – and that court ruling has been appealed to the 14th Court of Appeals. But in a real sense, this is over. Whatever happens next, it will occur in a context of Prop B not having happened. So maybe now, at least for a little while, we can talk about something else.

Scarface

If CM Dwight Boykins is running for Mayor, then someone has to run for District D.

Brad Jordan

Your mind isn’t playing tricks. A former member of the pioneering hip-hop group Geto Boys could wind up representing a large part of the city.

Brad Jordan, better known as his rap moniker “Scarface,” on Sunday announced his bid for Houston City Council District D. The seat is currently held by Councilman Dwight Boykins, who recently filed paperwork indicating he will run for mayor, according to earlier reports in the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

“It’s official,” the rapper said in an Instagram post. “I’m offering myself for service as the next Houston City Councilmember for District D. Join our movement! More details to come. www.bradfordistrictd.com.”

Fellow Houston rappers Paul Wall and Bun B have already showed their support for Jordan’s announcement online. “I’m here for this!” Bun B said in a comment on the post.

That website is just a placeholder right now, so check back later if you want to know more. I look forward to seeing his finance reports, I’ll tell you that much. I would expect that there will be multiple candidates in this race, even with a big-name person like Jordan jumping in. Welcome to the race, Scarface.

Looks like Boykins is in for Mayor

This had been rumored for some time.

CM Dwight Boykins

Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins has filed paperwork indicating he will run for mayor, setting up a clash with incumbent Sylvester Turner and at least two other major candidates.

Boykins filed a report Tuesday afternoon with the city secretary designating a campaign treasurer, a necessary step to raise funds.

He listed former Houston mayor Lee P. Brown as his campaign treasurer.

Boykins, who represents District D, has signaled for months that he was considering a mayoral bid; he had said he would decide by June whether to run for mayor or seek re-election to his council seat.

On Saturday, a website surfaced at the domain name dwightboykinsformayor.com that included a page allowing visitors to register for an announcement event. The site later was taken down.

Though once a political ally of Turner, Boykins has become increasingly combative with the mayor amid the city’s ongoing labor dispute with the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.

Miya Shay has a photo of the paperwork on Twitter. I have three things to add at this time.

1. Nothing is final until the filing deadline passes. At this point in time in 2003, Michael Berry was a candidate for Mayor. He subsequently went back to running for Council. It seems quite likely Boykins will run at this point, but there’s still plenty of time for him to change his mind.

2. I’m kind of hard pressed to come up with an idea for what the Boykins for Mayor campaign will be about, other than “I promise to be nicer to the firefighters”. Which is fine, people can certainly think they deserve better than what they’ve gotten, but Prop B is now dead (pending appeal), and Boykins’ proposal to pay for it, which would have cost most homeowners something like $200 to $300 per year, maybe wouldn’t be all that popular. Some people like to talk about how Prop B passed with almost sixty percent of the vote. I wonder how it would have done if it had come with that price tag prominently displayed on it.

3. I know there are Democrats out there who are disappointed in Mayor Turner and who think he isn’t progressive enough. I would just like to remind them – and everyone else – that back in May of 2014 when City Council voted on HERO, Dwight Boykins voted “No”. He still refused to support HERO a year later when Council had to put the HERO repeal proposal on the ballot. I for one cannot and will not vote for anyone who didn’t support HERO. You do you, but that’s a deal breaker for me.

Layoffs and demotions

I’m so ready for this to be resolved.

Houston firefighters have started to receive layoff notices amid the implementation of Proposition B, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a statement Wednesday.

Houston City Council voted last week to layoff 220 firefighters to help offset firefighter raises mandated by the voter-approved proposition. The union said the firefighters received the notices via email Tuesday in what Lancton called a “slash-and-burn plan” from Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Lancton also expressed disappointment with Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña over the layoffs.

“We are deeply disappointed that Samuel Peña has become the first fire chief in Houston history to willingly execute mass layoffs and demotions of firefighters,” Lancton said in a statement. “From the city’s founding to the Great Depression, to two world wars and deep downturns of the energy industry, no fire chief had taken this course of action until today. Chief Peña now is alone among all Houston fire chiefs in that dubious distinction.”

Hundreds of HFD personnel also received demotion notices Wednesday, according to a letter provided to Chron.com. The firefighters union estimates upwards of 450 HFD personnel will be demoted.

This all follows a week in which CM Dwight Boykins made some loud claims about Council not being briefed about demotions, only to be smacked down by other Council members and HFD Chief Pena. Meanwhile, mediation is still underway, so the chance remains that all this can be reversed. (Or maybe not.) Pour yourself a drink and sit for awhile.

Also, too: This is the part where I point out that for all of the artillery being aimed at Mayor Turner, I’ve yet to see any suggestion for what alternatives exist to all this. Here are the constraints that must be satisfied:

– Prop B implemented, with the accompanying increase in expenditures by the city.
– No layoffs or demotions.
– The budget must be balanced, as mandated by city charter.
– The city cannot raise any new revenue beyond what is allowed by the revenue cap, which in the past five years has cost the city half a billion dollars via mandated tax cuts.

Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. If you say that’s not your job, that’s the Mayor’s job, I’ll say sure, but we have a couple of Mayoral wannabees who are busy lobbing spitballs about this without offering any of their own ways forward. (Though, in fairness, one of them is busy engaging in silly Twitter fights, so at least he has his priorities straight.)

Off and running for Council

I confess I haven’t paid very much attention to the Houston city races so far. Part of that is the existential angst I feel at being forced to take seriously anything Bill King or Tony Buzbee says, and part of that is because the Council races haven’t really started taking shape yet. Oh, there are plenty of candidates, as this Chron story details, but right now it’s basically spring training, as everyone works to raise some money and put up a website and start making the rounds to civic groups and political clubs and what have you.

This is going to be a weird election, because it’s been four years since the last city election and it’s the first time we’ve experienced that, because of the contested Mayor’s race, and because our city elections are by definition a little weird. It’s just that like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, every city of Houston election is weird in its own way.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

More than six months remain until Nov. 5, when voters will cast ballots in the races for mayor, controller and 16 city council seats, but challengers already are taking swings at incumbents and candidates are lining up to replace term-limited office-holders.

“The mayoral race got off to an early start, and that’s having a contagion effect on the council races,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “In some ways, it’s this big collective action problem. I think most people would prefer not to get mixed up in the process so early, but, for instance, if one person starts running hard for At-Large Position 5, everyone else has to, lest they get left behind.”

Activity on the campaign trail has started earlier than ever, prompted by a pace-setting mayoral race that has seen candidates Tony Buzbee and Bill King repeatedly lambast incumbent Mayor Sylvester Turner, saying he has mismanaged the long-running Proposition B firefighter pay parity feud and accusing him of failing to adequately distance City Hall from campaign donors. Turner has denied both charges.

District D Councilman Dwight Boykins also could join the mayoral field and will decide sometime in June whether to mount a run or seek re-election to his council seat, he said Monday. Also mulling a run for higher office is At-Large Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who said she has yet to decide whether to take a swing at the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

Prospective candidates for those two seats may be waiting on the sidelines, or seeking other council seats for now, as they wait on the incumbents’ decisions, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

“It’s a domino effect,” Rottinghaus said. “There are a couple of offices that are holding up decisions on other races down the ballot, and Edwards is an example of that.”

[…]

So far, five incumbent council members remain without official challengers: Greg Travis (District G), Karla Cisneros (District H), Robert Gallegos (District I), Martha Castex-Tatum (District K) and Edwards.

Travis, Cisneros and Edwards each are coming to the end of their first four-year terms on city council. Castex-Tatum won a special election year to replace former Councilman Larry Green, who died of a drug overdose.

Gallegos, meanwhile, is one of a handful of council incumbents first elected in 2013 who still is eligible for another term.

The shift to four-year terms likely has emboldened potential challengers who ordinarily would wait out an incumbent’s two-year term, but are less keen to sit on the sidelines for four years, Rottinghaus said. More than half the incumbents seeking re-election have drawn opponents.

You can read on for more about the Council candidates, but bear a couple of things in mind. One is that the only “official” candidate list is maintained on paper by the City Secretary. Filing a designation of treasurer is a necessary condition for running, but doesn’t mean you’ll actually file by the deadline, and it doesn’t mean you’ll file for the race you now say you’re running for. People jump in and drop out and change races all the time up till deadline day. Civic heroes like Erik Manning maintain candidate databases, for which we are all grateful, but in the end nothing is official till the filing deadline passes. You will get some idea of who is out there and who is serious about it when the June finance reports get posted, but again, things can and will change between then and the end of August.

Anyway. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about interviews – there are just too many candidates for the amount of time I will have. I’ll figure something out, and should start doing interviews in July. I’ll put up my own Election 2019 page sometime before then. In the meantime, start familiarizing yourself with these names. We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make in November.

First city layoff notices sent

Here we go.

The city has sent pink slips to 67 Houston Fire Department cadets, the first documented layoffs resulting from Mayor Sylvester Turner’s plan to implement Proposition B.

The trainees will remain employed through June 7, according to a copy of the layoff notices sent to cadets.

“The City of Houston has experienced a sizable budget shortfall due to the implementation of Prop B,” the layoff notices read, referring to the charter amendment passed by voters last November.

The measure requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police of corresponding rank and experience. Voters approved Prop B by an 18-point margin.

“I want to assure you that the elimination of your position was a business decision and does not reflect your work performance or the value we place on your service to the City,” the layoff notices, addressed from Fire Chief Sam Peña, also read.

Next week, 47 municipal employees will receive layoff notices, Turner said in a statement, while city council will vote April 17 on whether to lay off classified firefighters under the mayor’s plan to pay for Prop B-mandated raises.

[…]

His plan for implementing the raises prompted by Prop B, unveiled last month in talks with city council members, calls for the fire department to decrease its head count by 378 for the upcoming fiscal year, including layoffs.

Turner’s plan also calls for all city departments to cut their spending by 3 percent, which is expected to lead to the layoff of about 100 municipal workers.

In recent weeks, the mayor has said no layoffs would be needed if the raises required by Prop B could be phased in over four or five years.

See here, here, and here for some background, and here for the city’s statement. It will be interesting to see how Council handles this when it comes time to vote. Other than Dwight Boykins, it’s not clear to me who’s with the firefighters on this. This will certainly provide some clarity. As far as a phase-in period goes, if the city says “give us five years and we can avoid layoffs”, while the firefighters say “no, but we can go for three years”, I confess I don’t quite understand why some kind of deal can’t be reached. Maybe that’s just me. For what it’s worth, nothing has to be set in stone till Council votes on the budget. There is still time for an agreement to be reached. How likely that is, I have no idea. But at least theoretically, it could happen.

Garbage fee trashed

Not surprised, though I’d have thought it would get more support that this.

CM Dwight Boykins

Houston City Council disposed of a proposed garbage collection fee in a pair of 16-1 votes Wednesday.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, who floated the monthly fee as a way to help offset the cost of mandated pay raises for city firefighters, was the only person who voted in favor of the idea.

Most of the council’s members, including Mayor Sylvester Turner, previously had said they would not support the idea, which they called “regressive” and framed as a new tax on Houston homeowners.

Members including Turner reiterated those stances Wednesday before scuttling Boykins’ proposal in two separate votes.

“Let me be clear: the administration is not supporting this,” he said.

Boykins had offered three versions of the measure, with fees of $19, $24 and $27 a month. Council combined the two higher-rate options in one measure before rejecting it in a 16-to-1 vote.

See here for the background. Like I said, I didn’t expect this to pass, but I did think there was a chance it could draw enough support to make things awkward. Clearly, that was not the case. At least now we know, there’s no option to raise revenues on the table, not that this was a good one. It’s either layoffs, as already proposed, or an agreement to phase in Prop B in a way that allows the city to absorb the costs over time. The city says that requires five years, while the firefighters have offered three. Maybe there’s a compromise, and maybe someone needs to blink, I don’t know. But this is where we are. The Chron editorial board, which opposed the Boykins plan, has more.

How would you implement Prop B?

Here, from last week, is Mayor Turner’s official announcement about layoffs, following a failure to come to an agreement with the firefighters’ union about a time frame to fully implement Prop B. Here’s the Chron story about the firefighters protesting the layoffs, which we knew were coming – indeed, we’d known since last year, as that was one of the main points Mayor Turner made during the Prop B campaign. The Chron editorial board agrees with Turner that given the limited options available, layoffs are the only reasonable choice.

Now, to be sure, there is the garbage fee proposal, which Council will vote on this week. It would, at least in theory, pay for the increased costs that Prop B imposes, though there are objections. I’ve laid some of them out – a trash fee should be used for solid waste collection, the potential for litigation is non-trivial – and I’ll add another one here: If a garbage fee is the mechanism for funding Prop B, that necessarily means that only some Houstonians are contributing to that. Anyone who doesn’t live in a house that has city of Houston solid waste service would not be subject to this fee. (At least, I assume so – it’s not clear to me how this fee will be assessed.) Maybe you think that’s a big deal and maybe you don’t, but I guarantee someone will complain about it.

So the question remains, how would you implement Prop B? We all agree Prop B will cost some money to implement. The firefighters have never put a dollar figure on it themselves – they have made claims that the fire department brings in revenues that could be spent on the fire department instead of other things, which doesn’t actually solve anything but just recapitulates the argument that the city should spend more on firefighters. Raising the property tax rate is out, as it would violate the stupid revenue cap. Indeed, as we know, the city has had to cut the tax rate multiple times in recent years, costing itself a lot of revenue in the process. The basic options are a flawed fee that will charge some households up to $300 a year and others nothing, and layoffs. And if you’re going to do layoffs, the ones that make the most sense are the firefighters themselves, as the vast majority of calls to HFD are for emergency medical services and not fires – EMTs are cheaper to hire, don’t require expensive fire trucks to get to where they’re going, and aren’t in scope of Prop B. And that, barring any late-breaking agreement to implement Prop B more slowly, is what we are going to get.

So then, what if anything would you do differently? I’m open to suggestion.

UPDATE: Here’s City Controller Chris Brown saying the cost of Prop B is unsustainable outside an agreement to phase it in over five years, which is what the city has been pushing for.

Garbage fee on the agenda

I don’t think this is going to pass, but it will get a vote.

CM Dwight Boykins

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said he would put a proposed garbage fee on next week’s city council agenda, but will not vote for it.

Turner agreed to put the idea promoted by Councilman Dwight Boykins as a way to to offset the cost of firefighter raises mandated by Proposition B to a council vote, even as he called it “regressive” and said it would hurt low-income Houstonians.

“I will put it on the council agenda next week to let council members have their say, but I will not vote to impose this fee on the people of Houston,” he said on Twitter.

[…]

Boykins’ original proposal largely fell flat among his council colleagues, some of whom said the fees were far too high. Boykins since has floated lower rates, and said Wednesday that he would call for fees between $19 and $27 a month when council votes.

In a statement Wednesday, Boykins said he was the “only member of City Council to put forth a proposal that creates a steady revenue stream while preventing massive and destructive layoffs.”

“My proposal is an alternative that secures public safety while saving the jobs of up to 500 firefighters, 200 police officers and up to 300 city employees,” Boykins said. “It’s an opportunity for city leaders to lead, and I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this measure.

See here for the background. As you know, I support the concept of a garbage fee for the purpose of improving and expanding our existing solid waste services. I don’t support it for other purposes, such as using it to pay for firefighter raises. Fees are generally exempt from the revenue cap stricture – Mayor Parker raised a bunch of fees as part of her budget-balancing in 2010-2011, with some language at the time about what it cost to provide various services and how the fees for one service should not be subsidizing the cost of another. That said, I would wonder if something like this, which is both a big increase in what most people pay each year plus an obvious ploy to raise money to pay for something else, would run into a lawsuit challenging its validity under the revenue cap. Surely someone will seize on the opportunity to cause trouble. Be that as it may, the first question is who will vote for this. My gut says Boykins will have some support, but probably not a majority. But who knows? We’ll find out next week.

One more thing:

If the Mayor is opposed [to the garbage fee proposal], why put it on the agenda?

For one thing, so the firefighters will not be able to claim later on that Turner never even put a valid proposal to pay for Prop B up for a vote. The ads write themselves – “He never even gave it a fair chance!” They can still claim he opposed it, of course, but if Council votes it down by (say) a 12-5 margin, that takes some of the bite out of it. Also, too, by letting the vote go on there will necessarily be a discussion about how much the fee would be, which might make people think a bit differently about Prop B. It’s not like the firefighters ever put a price tag on it, after all. If people realize that paying for Prop B will cost them personally $200 to $300 a year – down from $300 to $500 as in the original proposal from Boykins – they might see the Mayor’s point more closely. Finally, if Turner is wrong and the proposal passes, he no longer has to lay anyone off and he can let individual Council members explain their vote. I think letting the garbage fee be voted on makes more sense from Turner’s perspective than refusing to put it on the agenda would have.

January 2019 finance reports: City of Houston

It’s January, and you know what happens in January: Campaign finance reports get posted. This is a city of Houston election year, so first order of business is to look at the city of Houston finance reports. I’ve put all the candidate reports I could find from the city’s finance reporting site in this Google Drive folder, so they should all be visible. Now let’s look at the numbers:


Candidate   Office     Raised      Spent       Loan    On Hand
==============================================================
Turner       Mayor  1,240,587    633,726          0  2,853,986
Buzbee       Mayor          0    541,957  2,000,000  1,458,042
King         Mayor          0      1,677    110,000    108,516

Stardig PAC      A     16,204     22,507          0    112,005
Peck             A          0        750      5,000      4,250
Davis            B     20,700     13,976          0    153,846
Cohen            C     12,155     17,533          0     51,885
Hellyar          C     26,663      5,398          0     19,957
Nowak            C      5,426      1,356          0      4,069
Kennedy          C     10,355         20          0     10,331
Boykins          D     14,680     89,412          0     22,829
Martin           E     11,750     22,922          0    121,055
Le               F     48,425      7,787     30,823     51,207
Travis           G     49,250     21,020     21,000     86,307
Cisneros         H     25,250      5,645          0     68,167
Gallegos         I     46,525     22,944          0    102,335
Laster           J      8,500     16,174          0    170,823
Castex-Tatum     K     28,710     15,913          0     16,593

Knox           AL1     32,975     15,352          0     87,083
Robinson       AL2     58,850     17,126          0    205,926
Kubosh         AL3     33,875     16,035    276,000    102,700
Edwards        AL4     60,346     45,727          0    168,581
Christie       AL5      7,513     27,448          0      5,983
Alcorn         AL5    145,906      9,483          0    134,922
Boone          AL5          0          0          0          0

Brown   Controller     91,547     17,145     75,000    199,405

McNeese          ?          0          0          0          0
Adriatico        ?      5,300      1,186      5,000     10,350

All Houston Mayors raise a lot of money, and Sylvester Turner is no exception. He also has the distinct advantage of not having a blackout period, as previous Mayors and Council members had, so he has a running start on 2019. Tony Buzbee has already loaned himself $2 million. Well, technically, he contributed it to himself. I can’t remember if you’re allowed to do that, or if he mis-filed this as a contribution when it’s really a loan that he doesn’t necessarily intend to pay back. Whatever the case, expect that he will continue to self-finance. As for King, he hasn’t really gotten started yet. I’ll need to go back and review his finance reports from 2015, but I do know that he loaned himself $650K in that race, and wasn’t that big a fundraiser outside of that. He wasn’t bad, just not in Turner or Adrian Garcia or Steve Costello’s league. My guess is he writes himself another check, but I don’t know how much of one he cuts. He can’t outraise Turner and I don’t see him out-spending Buzbee. I’m not totally sure where that leaves him, but we’ll see.

The Council group can be sorted into three buckets: Term-limited incumbents, incumbents up for re-election, and non-incumbents. I’m going to save the first group for a separate post, as they have the bigger question of “what next” to ponder. The incumbents who are running for re-election are by and large all in pretty good financial shape. Martha Castex-Tatum has the least on hand, but she also ran in recent memory. Dwight Boykins can self-fund if he wants to. He spent the most by far, with the single biggest expense being $6K for a holiday party. Everyone else is about where I’d expect them to be. No incumbent had an opponent who was in position to file a finance report as of January. As noted before, Raj Salhotra has filed for At Large #1; I am aware of some people who are considering At Large #3 and District F. The July finance reports will tell us much more.

Three of the four-so-far contenders for District C have reports – Nick Hellyar, Bob Nowak, Shelley Kennedy; Abbie Kamin didn’t announce till January. It’s too early to tell who might have a leg up on the field. Amy Peck was just getting started in recent weeks in District A. Keep an eye on Sallie Alcorn in At Large #5, who posted big league numbers in this report. Fundraising isn’t destiny, but it does help to get your name out, especially in a citywide race. I’ve also been told that Laurie Robinson will not be running after all, so Alcorn has a big head start. Marvin McNeese and Nelvin Adriatico did not indicate what office they were seeking in their reports.

As for Controller, Chris Brown did the top two things to smooth his path – he raised decent money, and he avoided doing anything that generated negative press. I won’t be surprised if he gets at most token opposition.

I’ll have some thoughts about the outgoing incumbents tomorrow, and I’ll post about the HISD and HCC reports in the coming days. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

Trash fee to pay for Prop B?

Hard pass.

CM Dwight Boykins

Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins on Thursday proposed charging property owners a monthly garbage collection fee to finance raises for firefighters while avoiding job cuts for other city staff.

Under the proposal, most Houston homeowners would be charged a flat, monthly fee between $25 and $40 to help the city absorb the cost of raises for firefighters mandated by the pay parity charter amendment approved by voters last month.

Unveiled at a Thursday press conference, Boykins’ proposal comes amid a legal challenge by the city over the constitutionality of Proposition B, the charter amendment granting firefighters equal pay to police officers of corresponding rank and experience. The amendment was approved last month by 59 percent of voters.

“I believe the issue of pay parity was settled at the ballot box,” Boykins wrote in a Thursday letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner and his colleagues on council. “As elected leaders, our primary mission is to settle on an appropriate and responsible way forward. To this end, I am convinced that introducing a garbage collection fee is the most plausible plan to provide firefighters a pay raise while ensuring that no city worker loses their job.”

Turner’s office issued a statement in which the mayor said he was opposed to the idea: “Council Member Boykins and the Firefighters Association’s proposal to enact a $25 monthly garbage collection fee to pay for a firefighter’s 29% pay raise, underscores what I have been saying for months. The City cannot afford Proposition B. This measure will cost the city more than $100 million each fiscal year. I will not support forcing Houston homeowners to pay a costly new tax on trash collection to pay for firefighters’ salaries.”

Look, I support the concept of a trash fee. I just want that fee to apply to the function of collecting and managing the city’s waste. More curbside recycling, including plastic bags, curbside compost collection – there are lots of things that other cities that have trash fees do with them. Propose this as part of a zero waste plan, I’ll shill for it all day long. This is not a good use for a trash fee. Nice try, but no.

July 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes the city of Houston, whose january report data we inspected here. Our next election is in 2019, and while this is still traditionally a little early for there to be much activity, there are the finance reports. Here’s what we’ve got:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
S Turner         Mayor   585,267    137,758        0  2,260,407

C Brown     Controller    13,070     17,650        0     59,164

M Knox      At Large 1    28,225     12,691        0     62,856 
D Robinson  At Large 2    61,650     21,468        0    162,079
M Kubosh    At Large 3    72,475     23,841  276,000     82,360
A Edwards   At Large 4    40,345     26,349        0    147,883
J Christie  At Large 5     3,263      6,055        0     25,918

B Stardig       Dist A    56,439     24,738        0    116,794
J Davis         Dist B    22,750     12,487        0    147,300
E Cohen         Dist C    33,990     18,591        0     57,264
D Boykins       Dist D   126,000     55,556        0     96,400
D Martin        Dist E    43,900     17,226        0    123,730
S Le            Dist F     4,000      6,445   30,823     10,570
G Travis        Dist G    69,468     81,775   21,000     56,571
K Cisneros      Dist H    34,399      5,660        0     49,176
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,875     21,319        0     80,288
M Laster        Dist J    20,330      7,524        0    173,358
M Castex-Tatum  Dist K    15,375        339    3,788     43,822

A Parker                       0     10,383        0     82,854
L Green                    5,500     42,118        0     40,492
Lift the Cap PAC               0          0        0      3,987
Citizens to Keep               0      1,803        0     47,564
 Houston Strong

As you may recall, there wasn’t much in the way of fundraising for anyone except Mayor Turner last time. I don’t know if it’s due to the time of year, the approach of the next election, or the overall political climate, but as you can see nearly all of our elected officials have been busy. The report for Martha Castex-Tatum, who was elected in May to succeed the late Larry Green, is in a shorter period than everyone else since she had to post 30-day and 8-day reports for her cycle; the others are all for the full January through June time frame.

Looking at these numbers, only Jack Christie has acted like the term-limited Member that he is. Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster have been more or less business as usual. I’ve speculated before about the possible future ambitions they may have, and I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m sure there’s a reason why the three non-Cohen members have been stockpiling the loot like this, but until they do something tangible it’s hard to say what that might be.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t speculate at all. I look at what Dwight Boykins and David Robinson are doing and I wonder a little. Both are on the ballot next year for their final terms (as always, modulo future rulings in the interminable term limits litigation), and while Robinson had to fend off four challengers and win in a runoff in 2015, Boykins cruised home unopposed. It could be that Robinson is merely gearing up for the next battle while Boykins is doing his best to keep potential opponents at bay. It could also be that they’re looking beyond their next term to a time when both the Mayor’s office and the Controller’s office will be open seats. I have no idea and no evidence – like I said, I’m just speculating. Dave Martin is also in that “one more term and has a lot of cash” group, but we don’t tend to elect Mayors who fit Martin’s political profile, though perhaps Controller might appeal to him.

Be all that as it may, this is the first time since we switched to four-year terms and no blackout period for fundraising that we’ve seen incumbents establish a clear financial advantage for themselves. No one on the outside has yet taken a concrete step (like designating a campaign treasurer and raising their own money) towards running for a Council seat, but do keep in mind there are several now-former candidates for Congress in town who likely have some cash remaining in their coffers (sorry, I’m only checking on still-active candidates). Surely it would not be a surprise if one or more of them decided to act more locally next year. Given that possibility, it’s hard to blame any of the members who are up for re-election next year to take precautions.

The remaining reports I included because they’re there. As we learned after the death of El Franco Lee, the remaining funds in Larry Green’s campaign account are to be distributed by his campaign treasurer, whose name is Kevin Riles. As we see from Lee’s July report, there’s no particular rush to do whatever that turns out to be. I don’t remember what Citizens to Keep Houston Strong was about, but Bill White is their treasurer. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more PACs and PAC activity as we move towards referenda for firefighters’ pay parity and the revenue cap.

Firefighter pay proposal officially on the ballot

As required.

Houston voters in November will choose whether to grant firefighters pay “parity” with police of corresponding rank and seniority.

After weeks of wrangling over the issue — including angry debates, rare legislative maneuvers and allegations of electioneering — the city council voted unanimously Wednesday to place the proposal before voters Nov. 6.

Mayor Sylvester Turner initially gave council the option of scheduling the vote in November 2019 instead, but ultimately pulled that item from the agenda. Still, Turner repeated his concerns about the idea on Wednesday, saying it will cost the city $98 million a year and force layoffs.

The mayor said he intends to host a town hall meeting in each of the 11 council districts before November to educate voters on the issue.

“I don’t have a money-making machine,” Turner said. “I agree they deserve a pay raise, but the question is, what is our ability to pay?”

[…]

Councilman Dwight Boykins was among those who voiced support for the measure, suggesting that the city’s voter-imposed cap on property tax revenues be adjusted to help cover the cost. Boykins also floated the idea of imposing a monthly garbage fee; Houston is the only big city in Texas without one.

Turner and some other council members were, at best, reluctant to embrace those proposals.

Other council members’ concerns took various forms. Councilman Greg Travis suggested the Turner administration and the firefighters were engaged in a game of chicken in which all Houstonians would lose. Councilwoman Brenda Stardig bristled at Turner’s “threats” to cut services if the proposal passes, saying it was a breakdown in contract talks that led the firefighters to push for parity. Councilman Mike Laster, meanwhile, worried the item’s passage would have “serious unintended consequences for firefighters themselves.”

You know the background, but see here for a recent relevant post anyway. I’m going to vote against this, not that it really matters since the inevitable ballot language lawsuit only lacks a plaintiff at this point. I’ll be interested to see who takes what side in this fight – CM Boykins is the first elected official I’ve seen publicly support the idea – and how nasty it gets. Who’s going to run an anti campaign, and who’s going to contribute money to one or the other?I look forward to the 30 day reports. KUHF has more.

No quorum for very special Council meeting

Close, but no cigar.

A handful of city council members who organized a rare special meeting to push for a Houston firefighters petition seeking pay “parity” with police to appear on the November ballot fell short of a quorum Friday and broke up without a vote.

The resolution they had put forward called on Mayor Sylvester Turner to let the council vote at its meeting next week to place the parity petition on the ballot.

Turner told one council member last Friday that he planned to have that discussion at the Aug. 8 council meeting, but word of that plan had not reached the full council Monday when members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum and Dwight Boykins signed a memo calling the special meeting.

[…]

No more than seven members reached the council chamber Friday morning, two short of the count necessary for a quorum, so Councilwoman Brenda Stardig called off the effort after 15 minutes.

Signatories Travis, Kubosh, Stardig and Boykins were present, though Boykins grew impatient and left. Council members Mike Knox, Steve Le and Dave Martin also were present. Castex-Tatum did not attend.

Martin had said he would skip the gathering, but the New Orleans native acknowledged he showed up in Cajun mode, spoiling for a fight.

See here for the background, and here for Mayor Turner’s statement. CM Martin did indeed mix it up, getting into squabbles with CMs Travis and Kubosh, which I encourage you to read. If more Council meetings had that kind of entertainment, I’m sure more people would tune in to them. There will be a Budget Committee hearing, followed by a Council vote on August 8, and we’ll have this thing on the November ballot.

A very special Council meeting

Who knew there was such a thing?

In a rare maneuver that sidesteps Mayor Sylvester Turner’s authority, five city council members have called a special meeting this week, hoping to force the issue of Houston firefighters’ push for a referendum on pay “parity” with police.

The council members aim to secure their colleagues’ support for a resolution calling on Turner to place an item on the council’s July 24 agenda to schedule a November election on the petition, which seeks to grant firefighters the same pay as police officers of corresponding rank.

In Houston’s strong-mayor form of government, the mayor generally has sole authority to decide what appears on the agenda for the weekly council meetings.

The lone exception allows three council members to set the agenda of a special meeting. Such gatherings — including this one — typically are organized without the mayor’s approval, and often struggle to muster a quorum, as many of the 16 council members are loathe to invite the mayor’s wrath.

Council members Greg Travis, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig, Martha Castex-Tatum and Dwight Boykins signed a Monday memo calling a special council meeting for Friday at 10 a.m.

Turner is on a trade mission in South America and will not be back in time to attend the meeting.

Kubosh said he signed the memo to help ensure the issue was discussed, noting that several elections have passed since the petition was submitted.

“They were successful last year at stalling it a whole year, so, yes, I think that’s possible,” Kubosh said, referring to the Turner administration.

[…]

[CM Dave] Martin [who chairs the Council’s budget committee] said he does not intend to attend Friday’s meeting and doubts the organizers will have the quorum necessary for a formal vote.

“If they don’t show up, they don’t show up,” Kubosh said. “But I’ll show up.”

It is unclear what the impact would be if the proposed resolution reaches a vote and passes.

City Attorney Ron Lewis declined to address whether that outcome could force the mayor to act, given that the city charter gives Turner control of the council agenda.

“As a practical matter,” Lewis said, “the item will go on an agenda that’s timely, and the mayor’s committed to that.”

Insert shrug emoji here. The petitions were certified in May, and one would think the vote would be in November. According to Mayor Turner’s chief of staff and confirmed by CM Martin, this was to be discussed at the budget committee hearing on July 26, with the item for placing it on the ballot to be on Council’s August 8 agenda. I don’t know what else there is to say.

Filing news: A few tidbits while we wait for the dust to clear

As you know, yesterday was the filing deadline for the primaries. Lots of things happen at the last minute, and the SOS filings page isn’t always a hundred percent up to date, so I’m hesitant to make final pronouncements about things right now. Here are a few things I do know about or have heard about, some of which I will double back to tomorrow, to suss out how they ended up.

– The one candidate who ultimately declined to run for Governor was Dwight Boykins, who announced over the weekend that he would stay put on City Council.

– Mark Phariss was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the overthrow of Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law. I noticed on the SOS page, and then saw it confirmed on Facebook, he is also now a candidate for office:

My Texas Senate District is District 8, formerly represented by Van Taylor. He has chosen not to run for re-election, but instead to run for the U.S. Congress to replace the retiring Rep. Sam Johnson. Republicans running to replace Van Taylor are Angela Paxton, Texas’ AG Ken Paxton’s wife, and Phillip Huffines, the twin brother of Don Huffines, who is already in the Texas Senate. Both of these candidates will, as you might suspect, work to enact Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda, which, sadly and wrongly, will include legislative measures, like bathroom bills, that will hurt the State of Texas and its most innocent citizens.

No longer willing just to stand by, this past Thursday with the encouragement and support of my wonderful husband, Vic, I filed to run as a Democrat for the Texas Senate, District 8. While District 8 is a conservative district, a win is doable. Trump only carried it by 8 percentage points in 2016. With a big enough Blue Wave and your support, we can win, and I intend to do what is necessary to win.

There is another democratic opponent, a very nice fellow. The primary is March 6, so I have to get very busy and need all of your support in order to be able to challenge Paxton or Huffines.

On Friday, I obtained a tax i.d. number and set up a checking account. And I am in the process of setting up an account with ActBlue to accept online contributions, but it it will be a couple of days before it is operational. If anyone doesn’t want to wait (or if someone prefers not to make online contributions), checks can be mailed to Mark Phariss Campaign, 6009 West Parker Road, Suite 149-126, Plano, TX 75093. My campaign e-mail address is markphariss4district8@gmail.com.

SD08 will be a very challenging fight, but the value proposition in supporting a genuine leader like Mark Phariss over atrocities like Angela Paxton or Phillip Huffines more than outweighs it. If you’re making your 2018 campaign contributions budget, put in a line item for Mark Phariss’ campaign.

Ivan Sanchez stepped down from the Houston Millennials group he founded to announce his entry into the field for CD07. That’s a daunting race to enter, as all the candidates that are already there have been there for months, long enough to have filed Q2 and Q3 finance reports. He starts out well behind in fundraising, but if even half the people who liked and shared his post and congratulated him on Facebook live in CD07, he already has a decent base of support.

Progress Texas was keeping track of the races where a candidate was still needed:

Unchallenged Republicans

State House (click here to check out a Texas House district map to see who’s running – and not running – where)

  • HD 1: Gary VanDeaver (R)

  • HD 2: Dan Flynn (R)

  • HD 7: Jay Dean (R)

  • HD 9: Chris Paddie (R)

  • HD 21: Dade Phelan (R)

  • HD 25: Dennis Bonnen (R)

  • HD 30: Geanie Morrison (R)

  • HD 32: Todd Hunter (R)

  • HD 54: Scott Cosper (R)

  • HD 55: Hugh Shine (R)

  • HD 58: Dewayne Burns (R)

  • HD 59: Tan Parker (R)

  • HD 60: Mike Lang (R)

  • HD 68: Drew Springer (R)

  • HD 69: James Frank (R)

  • HD 72: Drew Darby (R)

  • HD 82: Tom Craddick (R)

  • HD 86: John Smithee (R)

  • HD 87: Four Price (R)

  • HD 128: Briscoe Cain (R)

  • HD 135: Gary Elkins (R)

  • HD 150: Valorie Swanson (R)

State Senate:

  • SD 31: Kel Seliger (R)

Judicial:

  • Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals Place 8: Elsa Alcala (R)

  • Chief Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals: Terrie Livingston (R)

  • Chief Justice, 10th Court of Appeals: Steve Smith (R)

  • Chief Justice, 11th Court of Appeals: Jim R. Wright (R)

  • Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals, Pl. 4: Bob McCoy (R)

  • Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals, Pl. 5: Sue Walker (R)

  • Justice, 2nd Court of Appeals, Pl. 6: Lee Ann Campbell Dauphinot (R)

  • Justice, 4th Court of Appeals, Pl. 2: Marialyn Barnard (R)

  • Justice, 4th Court of Appeals, Pl. 5: Karen Angelini (R)

I’ve crossed out the ones for which candidates have since appeared. I’m so glad someone finally filed in HD135.

– You know who else filed? This guy, that’s who.

In the face of a storm of controversy and a slew of challengers, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold indicated Monday he’s still running for re-election.

This time around, it will likely be a lonely battle for the Corpus Christi Republican.

“It’s lonelier than it’s been in past times, but he’s not alone,” said Farenthold’s chief of staff, Bob Haueter, on Monday evening.

I hope that means he’s under constant adult supervision. Have fun defending your record, bubba. I’ll have more tomorrow. In the meantime, here are the early recaps from the Chron and the Trib.

Andrew White “on the brink” of announcing for Governor

We’ll know shortly, but it seems to me that if the answer was going to be “nah, I’m outta here” we wouldn’t be hearing pre-announcement teasers.

Andrew White

Houston entrepreneur Andrew White, a conservative Democrat and son of the late former Gov. Mark White, is close to announcing he will become a candidate for Texas governor.

Supporters and allies said Tuesday they expect White, 45, has all but decided to run against Republican Greg Abbott. They said they expect an announcement on his decision in early December.

Reached by phone, White told the Houston Chronicle he “is moving from contemplating to executing and preparing.” He said he would discuss further details in coming days.

[…]

White would be the first Democrat with at least some street cred to run in a year when Democratic officials have, so far, failed to announce a banner-carrier to run against Abbott.

Two other Democrats have announced — Dallas gay bar owner Jeffrey Payne and San Antonio businessman Tom Wakely — but they are both considered long shots with not enough name ID or funding support to win.

White would be a “next gen” candidate, younger than Abbott and most other gubernatorial candidates, with hopes that he could coalesce support from Democrats and moderate Republicans disgusted with the GOP leadership’s push to enact a bathroom bill, a ban on sanctuary cities and other controversial proposals that have drawn widespread protests — even from the business community that traditionally supports Republicans.

See here for the background. At this point, I’ll be surprised if White doesn’t file, which probably means that the other potential candidates will fade away. But maybe not – White has the name, and likely some decent fundraising chops, but he hasn’t exactly bowled over the base. He’d be a strong favorite against the candidates who are already in, but a Lupe Valdez or a Michael Sorrell or a Dwight Boykins would be a fair fight for the nomination. I wouldn’t mind that at all – let’s have a real debate about who and what we want on the ticket. Absent that, I’d advise Andrew White to take a page from Beto O’Rourke’s playbook and get out there and meet a bunch of voters. Listen to what people are saying, especially those who have been critical of his positions on reproductive choice and immigration and other issues. Otherwise, I fear we’ll go from a narrative of “Dems don’t have anyone running for Governor” to one of “Dems don’t have anyone they like running for Governor”. We could do without that.

Add Boykins to the “mulling a run for Governor” list

The line forms to the left.

CM Dwight Boykins

As Democrats look for a serious candidate to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott in 2018, another big-city official is surfacing as a potential contender: Dwight Boykins, a member of the Houston City Council.

“I have had an opportunity to travel across our great state and meet a lot of hardworking people who feel no one is listening to their concerns or fighting for their families and I am humbled and encouraged by those who have asked me if I would consider running for Governor of Texas,” Boykins said in a statement to The Texas Tribune on Tuesday. “Like most people, I have noticed that our state is deeply divided over controversial social issues, while the major problems facing our state and the people who live here continue to go unresolved.”

Boykins said he has not made “a final decision about the possibility of running for a higher office,” but the clock is ticking with less than three weeks until the candidate filing deadline for the 2018 primaries.

[…]

Boykins mentioned Abbott’s refusal to immediately tap the state’s $10 billion savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to deal with the post-Harvey recovery, saying it shows the “disconnect between the current leadership of our state and the needs of the people.” Abbott has expressed openness to using the fund in the 2019 legislative session to make up for Harvey-related costs incurred between now and then.

Add his name to the list that contains Andrew White, Michael Sorrell, and Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Because Houston now has four-year terms for City Council, Boykins would have to resign in order to run, so that’s another factor for him to consider. I should note that Campos teased this in a post a couple of weeks ago; I’d since forgotten about it. Boykins would need to explain his vote against HERO in 2015 to some folks, myself included, if he were to make this official. Beyond that, as with the others, we’ll see what he has to say for himself if this becomes a thing. The Chron has more.

Today’s the day for SD13

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it? Today is the day for the Senate precinct convention in SD13, in which a nominee for that office to replace Sen. Rodney Ellis will be chosen. There are 96 precinct chairs in total across Harris and Fort Bend Counties, and we know the basic process by now. The main difference here is that as this district spans two counties, the TDP is the entity running the show. I doubt there will be as much parliamentary maneuvering as there was on June 25, mostly because there just hasn’t been enough time for the kind of organization to make that happen, but we’ll see.

A total of four candidates for SD13 have made themselves known, though I personally doubt more than three will receive a nomination. My guess is that this comes down to Rep. Borris Miles versus Rep. Senfronia Thompson, and I can make a case for either as the frontrunner. If it goes to a runoff and I’m right about these two being in the lead, then the big question is whether Ronald Green has given any guidance to his supporters about a second choice. At the convention for choosing the Commissioners Court nominee, all of Dwight Boykins’ supporters moved to Gene Locke’s side after Boykins conceded, at least as far as I could tell. This would have been a difference-maker if Ellis had not already secured a majority.

Once a new nominee for SD13 is chosen, the next question will be whether we need to do this one more time, in either HD141 or HD146. At this point, I have very little idea who may be circling around either seat in the event the opportunity arises, though I have heard some chatter that Boykins is looking at HD146. I will be interested to see who is there today, ready to hand out push cards or whatever. I’ll have a report from the convention tomorrow, which I am planning to attend, thankfully as a spectator and not a participant. PDiddie, who lives in HD146 and expects Rep. Miles to win, has more.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Here come the candidates for SD13

Here we go again.

Rodney Ellis

Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Borris Miles came prepared with signs Saturday when Rodney Ellis all but secured a seat on Harris County’s Commissioners Court – not in support of Ellis, but to launch his own campaign.

Ellis’ selection as the Democratic Party’s nominee to replace late Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee has begun to ripple across the November ballot, freeing up the first in what could be a series of openings in Harris County’s legislative delegation.

The 26-year state senator now must withdraw his name from the ballot for Senate District 13, requiring Democratic precinct chairs to meet yet again on July 16 to select a replacement candidate. Their nominee will run unopposed.

Miles, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and former City Controller Ron Green have thrown their hats in the ring as others mull joining the race.

The three-week campaign sprint is projected to be as contentious as the commissioner’s race was cordial.

“Many of the candidates have complex political histories that could result in a high level of discord,” Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams said. “I don’t think these people are going to be playing nice.”

[…]

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former Houston City Councilman C.O. Bradford said they also are considering running for Ellis’ seat. City Councilman Dwight Boykins and state Rep. Harold Dutton said they opted not to.

Rep. Dutton was a supporter of Gene Locke for Commissioner, so he might have encountered some resistance had he chosen to run for SD13. As noted on Sunday, Reps. Miles and Thompson were at the Saturday precinct convention that placed Ellis on the ballot for County Commissioner. Green was not there but announced his candidacy via Instagram. Rep. Coleman had expressed his interest in the seat in May, but hasn’t said anything official as yet. This is the first I’ve seen Bradford’s name – and Green’s, for that matter – in one of these stories. We’ll see if other names come up. There are 94 precinct chairs in SD13, according to this story, with 78 in Harris County and 16 in Fort Bend. None of them are me, and I’m happy to be an observer and not a participant this time. Good luck to those who have the task of selecting Ellis’ successor.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Today’s the day for the Commissioners Court selection process

I’m sure we’re all ready for it to be over.

El Franco Lee

Just last week, state Sen. Rodney Ellis claimed he had enough support from Democratic Party chairs to become the next Harris County commissioner for Precinct 1. Not that he’s resting easy in a race as unusual as this one.

“I do wake up in the middle of the night, remembering somebody I was supposed to call and didn’t call,” the longtime legislator said.

On Saturday, Ellis will try to secure the majority of votes from among the 125 precinct chairs needed to win the post, which represents 1.2 million people, controls a budget of more than $200 million and helps to govern the third-largest county in the nation.

Ellis is vying for the post in the heavily Democratic precinct with Gene Locke, who was appointed to the office five months ago following the death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee. Locke disputes Ellis’ claim to a majority of the 125 precinct chairs who will be making the decision and says he feels good about his chances.

[…]

While many see the race as between Ellis and Locke, Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins is also viewed as a contender.

Other candidates include photographer Georgia Provost, KPFT Radio chairman DeWayne Lark and educator Rickey Tezino, who have portrayed themselves as non-establishment candidates who could shake up the status quo.

For the most part, the candidates’ broad goals seem to align. Most if not all are committed to Lee’s priorities and goals, including boosting senior and youth programs and reforming the county’s criminal justice system.

[…]

With so few actual “voters,” turnout also will be key, said Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams. At least one precinct chair has already RSVP’d “no” to the gathering. Adams said he expects precinct chairs to be energized and to show up in large numbers.

“It is still about getting to 63 votes,” Adams said, referring to the number needed if all of the party chairs show up. “One-on-one campaigning is all that can really be done.”

The first order of business for the precinct chairs will be to select someone to lead Saturday’s gathering, according to Gerry Birnberg, a former chairman of Harris County Democrats.

That person will determine the process for voting. All four options are public, and they mainly differ on how the chairs signal who they are voting for.

If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of voting, the top two vote-getters will go to a runoff, Birnberg said.

“I don’t know what the outcome is,” Birnberg added, “but I don’t believe there is anybody that’s going to wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning to go downtown who doesn’t already know what they’re going to do when they get there.”

Technically, there’s at least one person who isn’t ready for it to be over, and that’s the precinct chair who sent out an email saysing we should “put a motion to the floor asking that we postpone the nomination for one month [so] that we as Precinct chairs can rally ourselves and get better clarity on the process”. I say the process is pretty clear and has been explained more than once, and if Rodney Ellis gets the nomination we need to get busy replacing him on the ballot, so it is safe to say I will not vote for this motion. I also think Gerry Birnberg is right – there ain’t a whole lot of undecided voters in this election. I will have a report tomorrow after all is (hopefully!) said and done.

Commissioners Court candidate questionnaire responses

El Franco Lee

Last week, the HCDP sent out a questionnaire to the candidates who had expressed an interest in the nomination for Commissioners Court in Precinct 1. You can see the responses that they got here. Only four candidates submitted answers: Sen. Rodney Ellis, Georgia Provost, Rickey Tezino, and someone named Vernell Jessie, about whom I know nothing. If you’re even a little surprised that Ellis’ answers were longer and more detailed than those of the other three combined, I’m not sure what to tell you.

There were a lot of in-depth questions in this document, and there was only a week or so to submit answers, so it’s not a big surprise that only some candidates did so. Commissioner Locke can reasonably point to his time on the Court and say “you can get your answers from what I’ve done in office”. I suppose CM Boykins could make a similar claim, though Council doesn’t really deal with a number of these issues. DeWayne Lark was the most interesting of the non-officeholding candidates at the May candidate forum, so I would have liked to see what he had to say here. Nat West did not attend that forum, so this may have been his one real chance to be heard by the precinct chairs. That’s the way it goes.

On a tangential note, I received an automated survey call on Monday about the Commissioners nomination process. It sounded like it was going out to Precinct 1 residents, with the intent of informing precinct chairs of the preferences of the voters they will be representing on Saturday, but there was no identifying information on the call, so I have no idea who it was that was collecting this information. Be that as it may, there were three questions in this survey (which now that I think about it didn’t ask about demographic information either). One was whether you considered policy or some other criterion that I’ve since forgotten as more important in selecting a candidate. Needless to say, I chose the “policy” option. Question 2 was about the late Commissioner Lee’s programs for seniors and whether the next Commissioner should continue and build on them. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know much about these programs, as I myself am not (yet) a senior, but I chose Yes anyway. Finally, we were asked which candidate we preferred, with the choices being Provost, Lark, Locke, Ellis, and Boykins. I’ll save my answer for another time, but I guess we can cross Tezino and West off the list of people who might have been paying for the survey.

I then got another automated call last night, from a gentleman who identified himself as “a senior living in Precinct 1”, calling to inform people about the June 25 meeting to select the nominee. He stated incorrectly that “Harris County Democratic Party rules” limited participation in this process to precinct chairs, then said that the way that anyone else could participate was to contact their precinct chair, and he spelled out the URL on harrisdemocrats.com to find one’s chair. (Greg, if this was your idea, you and me are gonna have to have some words.) Anyway, our mystery senior (I forgot his name within minutes of hanging up the phone; I should really try to take notes one of these days) then listed the same five candidates mentioned in Monday’s “poll”. I looked at my caller ID information and the two calls came from different numbers, for all that’s worth, but I’d bet a ten spot they both came from the same source. Did anyone else get one of these calls?

Update on the nomination selection processes

vote-button

In six days, Democratic precinct chairs in County Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will select a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. In 11 days, all Democratic precinct chairs will select nominees for the 507th Family Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. This is a brief update on activity related to those races.

About a week ago, I received a letter addressed to precinct chairs concerning the 507th Family Court race. It was sent by fellow precinct chair Natalie Fairbanks and it enumerated the number of Harris County family court cases that each of the six known candidates had been involved in since 2008. I did a scan of the letter, which you can see here. A couple of days later, candidate Germaine Tanner sent an email to precinct chairs arguing that the data in the Fairbanks was inaccurate and incomplete, as all the attorneys in question have been practicing since well before 2008 and the count of cases did not include those “that were filed as post-divorce proceedings between the years 2008-2015, but with a case number that preceded the year 2008”. You can see this email here. Later that same day, candidate Julia Maldonado sent her own email pointing out that there are qualifications beyond number of cases worked, such as board certification, and that some attorneys handle cases outside of Harris County as well. You can see that email here.

As for the County Criminal Court at Law #16 race, the HCDP lists three candidates who have stated an interest in that nomination. Two of them have made themselves known to precinct chairs recently. David Singer, who up till recently was the only candidate I was aware of for this position, sent a letter to precinct chairs outlining his background and qualifications. I thought he had also sent that via email, but if so I can’t find it. This is the back side of his push card from the March primary for the 177th Criminal District Court, which is from an email he did send to precinct chairs in February. It’s a succinct summary of what was in the letter. Last week, I received an email from Darrell Jordan, who was a candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court in 2010. You can see that email here. The third candidate in this race is Raul Rodriguez, who had run for the 174th Criminal District Court this March and like Singer had been a candidate for one of the County Criminal Courts in 2014. I’ve not yet heard anything from him on this race. I do have Q&As from all three from past candidacies – Singer and Rodriguez for 2016, Jordan for 2010 – and will be revisiting those this week.

Finally, on the Commissioners Court race, candidate Georgia Provost made a pair of robocalls to precinct chairs this week. It was the first contact from a candidate not named Ellis, Locke, or Boykins that I received. And I have to say, of all the ways available to reach out to voters, I have no idea why she chose the robocall route. Robocalls have their place in the firmament – they’re a pretty efficient way of reminding people that there is an election in the first place – but given that nobody listens past the first five or ten seconds and you don’t know who actually picked up the phone, why would you do that for a more detailed sales pitch like this race? I mean, there’s 125 voters total for this race. At a very leisurely pace of five contacts per day, you could reach everyone in less than a month, and ensure that you personally get to talk to them. I can’t imagine a less effective strategy for a race like this than robocalls.

Finally, a few days ago I received a letter from Rep. Harold Dutton endorsing Gene Locke for the position. To the best of my admittedly spotty recollection, it’s the only letter I’ve received from an elected official endorsing someone other than Rodney Ellis. At the very least, it’s the only one I’ve received recently from an elected official.

Six days till we pick a Commissioner. Eleven days till we pick two judicial candidates. Hang in there, y’all.

Sen. Ellis claims a majority of Precinct 1 endorsements

This may end the suspense for the June 25 precinct convention.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Senator Rodney Ellis has won the public support of 65 of the 125 Precinct One precinct chairs eligible to vote in the June 25 selection process for the Democratic nominee for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct One.

Today’s announcement followed the endorsement of Ellis last week by Kaye Lee, the widow of the late Commissioner El Franco Lee, and the endorsements of many community leaders and a super-majority of Democratic elected officials representing Harris County.

Senator Ellis made the following statement:

“I am very grateful and very honored to have the support of these leaders who are tasked with the responsibility of selecting the Democratic Party’s nominee for Precinct One Commissioner.

“To the these 65 precinct chairs, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support. And to those who have yet to make a decision, I will continue to work hard to earn your vote.

“The next elected commissioner will stand on the shoulders of the late, great Commissioner El Franco Lee and must honor and build on his legacy. If selected, I look forward to working in partnership with our precinct chairs to do just that and to make Harris County a better place for all of us. Roads and bridges are important, but our increasingly urbanized county needs a Democratic commissioner who will fight for so much more.

“Going along to get along won’t stop people from dying in our jail, won’t increase the local minimum wage, won’t fix our roads or prevent flooding, won’t deliver mental health care services or bring new economic opportunity to those who have been left behind.

“If we want to make those things happen, we need to fight for them – that’s what I’ve done in the State Senate and that’s the kind of Democratic spirit I’ll bring to the Commissioner’s Court.”

This was posted to Sen. Ellis’ Facebook page yesterday morning; interestingly, the first comment was an expression of doubt from Dwight Boykins, who of course is also seeking the Commissioner nomination. The chairs who have endorsed Ellis are listed in both places, which as Campos notes means that Boykins and serving Commissioner Gene Locke now know which chairs they need to target. It is also possible that some people may just change their minds, but if their experience has been anything like mine then I can say that Team Ellis has been pretty diligent about checking with them to see if anything has changed in their status. A more pressing concern may be that for whatever the reason, some of these folks may not show up on June 25. If there was ever an election in which turnout was paramount, it would be this one. Beyond that, we’ll know soon enough how accurate this count is. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Here’s Commissioner Locke’s response to Sen. Ellis’ statement.

What do you want in the next Precinct 1 County Commissioner?

Here’s one way to figure it out if you’re not sure.

El Franco Lee

Harris County Democrats have sent a questionnaire to Precinct 1 commissioners candidates, setting up one of the few instances in an unusual race where the public can compare candidates’ political and policy stances.

The questionnaire covers topics including how candidates propose to prioritize funds inside versus outside city limits, how candidates will continue longtime commissioner El Franco Lee’s senior programs, and the burdened county criminal justice system.

The party is seeking answers to the questionnaire by June 16.

[…]

The task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

Which as you well know happens on June 25. I’m sure our letter carrier will appreciate the lighter load she will get to carry once this race is over and the avalanche of mail I’ve been getting ceases. The questionnaire is embedded in the story – these are fairly involved questions, so I hope the candidates got them before Monday, because it will take some time to write thorough answers – and I will be eager to see the responses. I’ve said what my preferences are, but these questions go into quite a bit more depth. I’ll have a report on the answers once they are posted.

The Commissioners Court candidates forum

El Franco Lee

On Sunday, I attended the candidate forum held by the HCDP for the people who are interested in being named to replace the late El Franco Lee on the ballot this November. The Chron has a report on it here, but I’m just going to give you my impressions of the event and the candidates.

The event started with an introduction by HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, who gave a long and obviously written by a lawyer explanation that just because someone was participating in this event does not mean that person has declared himself a candidate for the office. In fact, one doesn’t ever have to declare oneself a candidate for this office, but instead can graciously accept the spot on the ballot if the precinct chairs in their wisdom call upon one to take it. I’ll give you three guesses which candidate present for this event this was aimed at.

There were six candidates in attendance for what was to be a fairly standard candidate forum, in which a moderator (KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall) would ask questions (some prepared beforehand, some solicited from the audience) that participants would answer. Each candidate got to make a two-minute intro speech, and the questions would be assigned to two candidates each, though some of them were answered by all. Marshall picked the candidates and the order in which they responded. Overall, it went pretty well, and I’ll get to the candidates and my view of them in a minute, but first I want to share the two most important things I learned from this event.

First and foremost, if on the initial round of voting at the Precinct Executive Committee meeting on June 25 at which the nominee is picked no candidate receives a majority of the precinct chairs in attendance, then the top two will go to a runoff, to be conducted immediately following that vote. There had been a lot of confusion on that point – several people at the event asked me this specific question, which was finally answered by Gerry Birnberg after the debate part was over. He also emphasized that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, only the relevant precinct chairs in attendance at the event could vote. No proxies or phone-ins would be allowed. To say the least, that puts a lot of emphasis on the most concentrated get-out-the-vote effort you’ll ever see.

The other item had to do with the selection of candidates for the 507th Family Court and Harris County Criminal Court At Law #16, for which I’ll write a separate post. I had originally been under the impression that we would take care of all of this business on the same day, June 25. That is not the case. As Lane Lewis told me, we need to keep those things separate to ensure that only chairs in Precinct 1 are involved in the selection of the Commissioners Court nominee. The judicial nominees will be chosen five days later, at the next County Executive Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 30.

As for the candidates at this forum for this race:

Ricky Tezino: I have no idea what he was doing here.

Georgia Provost: She got a lot of audience response from making numerous provocative, mostly anti-establishment statements. That’s an interesting strategy to pursue in an election that will be decided entirely by precinct chairs, but she did have some support in the crowd. She and the other two candidates who are not current officeholders pitched themselves as scrappy outsiders not beholden to anyone who would come in and shake things up. There’s a place for that kind of candidate – City Council, for which Provost has made two recent campaigns, is one example – but I for one am not sure that’s a good idea for the lone Democrat on Harris County Commissioners Court. YMMV and all that.

DeWayne Lark: Of the three “outsider” candidates, he made the best impression on me. At one point during the forum, there was a somewhat bizarre question about the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. Georgia Provost, answering first, gave a rambling response in which it was not at all clear she understood that there was a PD’s office already and that it had been in operation for several years. Lark followed that with an unequivocal statement that we already have such an office, and the main issue with it is that judges in Harris County are not required to use it instead of the old system of assigning an attorney themselves. Lark was in general fairly well informed, he gave concise answers, and he offered the best slogan of the evening, “Come out of the dark and vote for Lark”.

Dwight Boykins: He was at his best when he was talking about the things he has done on Council and how he would implement them as a County Commissioner. He spent a lot of time talking up his second chance job programs in particular. He also had two bad moments that stuck out. Late in the forum, there was an audience-submitted question regarding HERO. Ellis gave a short answer stating his firm support for HERO. Locke also strongly supported HERO, but criticized the way the campaign in support of it was handled. Lark said something about opposing discrimination but having issues with the wording of the ordinance, which was not a good answer but at least was short. Boykins’ response began with his intent to work with Mayor Parker to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, until he started getting calls from constituents who didn’t like it, so he had to vote against it. The whole thing was a mess. Later, he walked right into the biggest haymaker of the evening, in response to a question about why were the candidates Democrats. Ellis was first, and he gave a rousing, red meat answer that got a big cheer from the crowd. Boykins followed, and after beginning by saying he was born a Democrat, he took a shot at Ellis for having previously referred to him as a Republican. Ellis responded to that by saying well, what do you call someone who votes in a Republican primary? (The crowd responded as you might expect to that.) Boykins tried to salvage things by saying he voted for Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry, and the Democrats didn’t have a candidate. The crowd didn’t appear to catch that he had just publicly overlooked Bill White in 2010, but everyone I talked to about it afterwards noticed. It was not Boykins’ finest moment.

Gene Locke and Rodney Ellis: I’m putting these two together because they both had the most visible presence at the event. They had display tables in the lobby, they brought a bunch of supporters wearing their campaign T-shirts, and more importantly, they both made it through without saying or doing anything that would make a supporter change his or her mind about them. They emphasized their experience and credentials, with Ellis making a spirited defense of his 30+ years in public office, and they both brought their A games rhetorically. The Chron story said that Locke’s discussion of his plan to help fix the streets in front of Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl was contentious, but I have to confess I missed any negative response to it from the crowd. The bottom line is that if you came in thinking these two were the frontrunners, I saw nothing in the event to change that perception.

Overview of the Commissioners Court Precinct 1 “race”

I put “race” in quotes because it’s not like any other race you’v ever seen.

El Franco Lee

The campaign for the next Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner appears in many ways like any other: candidates are raising money, seeking endorsements and sending out targeted mailers touting their credentials.

But this is not a typical election, and voters won’t be heading to the ballot box. Instead, the task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

That’s because longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee’s name remained on the March 1 primary ballot after his death in early January, leaving the precinct chairs to select the party’s new nominee, who will be unopposed in November.

The unusual nature of the nominating process means the campaign is less democratic than most local elections and far more intimate – built around in-depth policy conversations and targeted wooing of party insiders.

Example: The presumed frontrunners, Rodney Ellis and Gene Locke, both sent flowers to female precinct chairs for Mother’s Day.

[…]

City Councilman Dwight Boykins has not formally announced his candidacy, citing concern that he could forfeit his municipal office by doing so. But he has been actively campaigning for the job.

Because voters last November extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, those who become a candidate for another office now are subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution, which applies to municipal officeholders with terms longer than two years. Though a Texas attorney general opinion issued in 2000 states that running for the nomination of a political party’s executive committee does not prompt an automatic resignation, the courts have yet to formally resolve the issue.

“My best bet is that the courts would rule that (then-Attorney General John) Cornyn is correct and you don’t trigger resign-to-run by seeking the nomination of the executive committee,” former Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg said. However, he added, “Until the courts decide the issue, there is no way to say for sure, definitively, that Attorney General Cornyn was correct.”

So Boykins and other interested council members – Jerry Davis and Larry Green – have approached the campaign gingerly.

“I can neither admit or deny my interest in the seat because of the way the current law is drafted,” Green said recently. “However, I can say I have been approached by several precinct judges and other community members requesting that I do move forward in trying to run for the seat.”

It’s a good overview of the process, so give it a read and familiarize yourself. I spoke to Chron reporter Rebecca Elliott on Thursday, but much like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, my role was left on the cutting room floor. One point I want to address in this story, which is as much about the great power that’s been bestowed on some 125 precinct chairs as anything, is the question of how this process could have been done differently. One precinct chair called for a special election instead of the current process. That has some intuitive appeal, but remember, we’re not actually picking a County Commissioner. We’re picking a Democratic nominee for County Commissioner. There’s no provision in the law for a special party primary election, and I’m not sure how you could conduct one in a way that mimicked an actual primary election. Those are technically open elections, but everyone who participates has to choose which primary they want to vote in. How do you ensure conditions like that in a special election environment? Remember also, we precinct chairs – not just the 125 or so of us in Precinct 1, but the 500 or so of us in all of Harris County – are also selecting nominees for two judicial races. There’s basically no concern about us doing that, in part for the obvious reason that those offices have far less power, but also because those nominees will have contested races against Republicans in November, and unlike the Commissioners Court race there’s no guarantee they’ll win. The concern about the un-democratic nature of this process is, in my opinion, entirely about the nature of the office of Commissioners Court, which has vast power and not a whole lot of electoral accountability under normal circumstances. It’s about the office, not the process. Fixing the process in some way, if there is a way, can’t address that.

I should also point out that as weird as this process is, it could be worse. For one, if the late Commissioner Lee had died next January after being elected and sworn in, instead of this January after the filing deadline had passed, then Judge Ed Emmett would have been able to not only pick a replacement as he did to fill out the last year of Lee’s term, but that replacement would have been able to file for election himself in 2018, and would almost certainly have cruised to an easy win. This is what happened with Jerry Eversole (who resigned after the 2010 election) and now-Commissioner Jack Cagle. At least here, it’s Democrats who are picking the replacement. Yes, we’d have gotten a shot at that person in the next primary, but that could mean nearly two years of a Commissioner in the most Democratic precinct in the county being chosen by a Republican County Judge, and an awful lot can happen in two years. We got lucky here, in that Judge Emmett is an honorable man, and his choice for this year of Commissioner Locke was a good one. But there was and would have been nothing to stop a less honorable Judge from picking whatever hack or crony he wanted to. It could have been worse, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing:

If Ellis earns the Democratic Party’s nod for commissioner, the party would need to convene another executive committee meeting to find a replacement for him on the ballot for state senator – and quickly, as all nominations must be completed by late August.

The angling has already begun.

“Of course anybody in the (Texas) House – or any other position for that matter – is going to look at that position as something to move to, and so I fall in that category of looking at it as a possibility,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of several politicians who have already expressed interest in Ellis’s seat. “These seats don’t change hands very often, and more than likely, whomever is selected to be the nominee for the Democratic Party, they’re going to be there for a long time.”

Naming Sen. Ellis to fill the nomination ensures at least one more round of this selection process, with the precinct chairs in SD13 moving onto the hot spot. (That does not include me, as I am in SD15.) And if the precinct chairs of SD13 select a State Rep to fill the slot left vacant by Ellis – at the very least, Reps. Coleman, Thompson, and Miles are waiting in the wings – then we get to do this a third time. There is an argument to be made that selecting Commissioner Locke to run for the seat in November puts an end to that process. Whether one considers that a pro or a con is a matter of personal preference.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update

HarrisCounty

Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

Once again with what we want from the next County Commissioner

Campos:

El Franco Lee

The Chron has a story today on County Commissioner Gene Locke changing his mind and now wanting to become the Dem nominee for Commissioner. It looks like a race between Gene and State Sen. Rodney Ellis. The Chron mentions a few others that may be interested though.

Here is from the story today that Commentary finds interesting:

Lane Lewis, Democratic Party county chair, said he does not know which candidate the roughly 150 precinct chairs lean toward. So far, he said, the chairs have expressed concern about two main issues when considering contenders: whether the nominee will invest more within Houston city limits, since city residents also pay county taxes, and whether the nominee will play a more active role in Democratic Party politics.

Get it in writing folks or at least on YouTube. Make the county commissioner candidates say that they will start spending more of our tax dollars on projects within the H-Town City limits. How much? How about proportionately?

On the second point, we all know that county commissioners can raise a ton of campaign funds. Get them to say that in general election years, they will spend ten percent of what they have in their campaign bank account on Dem GOTV efforts in Harris County or at least within their precinct. If they have a million in the bank, then they commit to spend $100,000. No more of this piling up funds in their campaign bank account and hoarding it while the Dem Party continues to hold bake sales.

Make them take the pledge, please. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers.

I’ve already stated my agreement with the second item, though I didn’t specify a number, as well as some other things I’m looking for. I’m happy to include point 1 on my list. The story notes that there will be a forum in May, so perhaps we can get some answers to these and other questions. Clearly, I need to add some candidate interviews to my to-do list. What questions should we add to what we’ve already got?

By the way, as noted by Mainstream in this comment to Tuesday’s post, you can add County Criminal Court at Law #16 to the list of nominations we have to fill. I have no intel on that one at this time, but I’m sure I’ll hear some names sooner or later.

Locke makes it official

He would like to continue being County Commissioner.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke said Monday he has decided to seek the Democratic nomination — and thus another term — for the Precinct 1 seat.

Locke was initially appointed by county Judge Ed Emmett as a caretaker commissioner to fill out the term of longtime commissioner El Franco Lee, who died in January. Locke had previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

But Locke said Monday that a broad cross-section of supporters, including constituents and community leaders in Precinct 1, had swayed him. Locke said he has always maintained he would follow in Lee’s footsteps.

“I had mentioned early on in my consideration for this position that the continuation of his legacy would be one of the considerations that might make me change my mind,” Locke said.

See here for Locke’s official statement, here for my initial reporting on this, and here for a Chron story that resulted from that. I’ve seen a few negative reactions to Commissioner Locke’s initial statement of interest in the job, which at the time he took it was supposed to be just for this term, stuff that has accused him of not being true to his word. I’m not going to hold it against him – he never explicitly said he would not seek a full term, and as I’ve noted before, being a County Commissioner is a pretty damn sweet gig. I’m sure there have been people encouraging him to run, especially with the city-focused infrastructure work that’s he’s been pioneering, but as we know unless those folks include the 130 or so precinct chairs that will make a selection on June 25, it doesn’t much matter. For what it’s worth and speaking as one of those 130 people, I have had regular contact – phone, email, and/or snail mail – from three candidates regarding this nomination: Gene Locke, Rodney Ellis, and Dwight Boykins. I’ve not heard from anyone else since January, and have not heard from anyone else at all besides one other person. Whether that means this is just a three-person race, or that there are three candidates who are much better organized than the others, I couldn’t say. We will know for sure on June 25.

More speed bumps coming

Like ’em or not.

Houston officials are speeding up the process of slowing down residential street traffic.

A laborious process to improve traffic and safety by installing traffic calming devices such as speed humps is radically streamlined in a new method by the city’s public works department, unveiled Monday at a City Council committee meeting. Council members applauded the change.

“I am doing the happy dance here,” said District K Councilman Larry Green, whose southwest Houston area has some of the neighborhoods that have waited the longest for relief from speeding cars.

In the future, with demand for speed humps high in many areas, public works will no longer require traffic and speed analyses, Public Works Deputy Director Jeff Weatherford said.

“We believe all local neighborhood streets should automatically qualify for speed control if they want it,” Weatherford said, citing overwhelming evidence that pedestrians and bicyclists are safer with lower residential street speeds.

The change would only apply to residential streets, where speed humps are practical, and not thoroughfares that carry far higher volumes of traffic.

[…]

In the past, neighbors upset at a cumbersome city process left dissatisfied, especially when the analysis found they didn’t have a speeding issue. Residents would then frequently ask public works to assess the traffic volume, which would start the process over again.

When requests from residents come to public works in the future, staff will analyze the neighborhood and then deliver their recommendations to the district council member for the area.

Pending approval from the council member, public works will then coordinate construction of the speed humps. Plans are devised for entire neighborhoods, often a 10- to 20-square block area between two major streets. Public works will normally consider streets best suited for traffic calming, then locate humps, medians and other features where appropriate to control speed.

District D Councilman Dwight Boykins noted the city successfully dealt with fast-moving vehicles crashing in a curve in a residential area by placing the humps not at the curve, but leading to it.

Under the old way, however, that process often took nine months to complete. The new method that reduces studies decreases it to six to eight weeks, but it also puts a lot more responsibility in the hands of council members, [CM Ellen] Cohen said.

I confess, I hate these things. I hate driving over them, and will go out of my way to avoid them. But I understand why we have them, and I’ve seen more than enough jackwads doing in excess of 40 on residential streets to accept them without complaint. Well, OK, with a bit of whining, but without any expectation of sympathy. If we want safer streets and fewer traffic fatalities – and we do, or at least we should – then this is a part of that. I’ll just have to suck it up.

Gene Locke is reportedly seeking the Commissioners Court nomination

Please see update at the end of this post. There is new information at the bottom.

Remember this?

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

As Carl Whitmarsh first noted on Friday, and others confirmed to me at the Saturday HCDP County Executive Committee meeting, Locke is now seeking to be named as El Franco Lee’s replacement on the ballot in December, thus allowing him to run for a full four-year term. I don’t know what may have changed his thinking – the obvious answer is that being County Commissioner is an amazingly sweet gig, and who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? – but something did. One of the tidbits I learned at that CEC meeting on Saturday is that there are about 130 Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Precinct 1, so that’s the target electorate he needs to work to get that job. Getting a headline about using county resources to help fix some city streets (*) is a nice thing that would no doubt help with March and November voters, but the pool to fish in is quite a bit smaller than that. We’ll see how he approaches it.

Meanwhile, Rodney Ellis and Dwight Boykins, who were both at that CEC meeting, remain the most visible-to-me contestants for that job. According to the discussion thread on Whitmarsh’s Facebook post, former City Council candidate Georgia Provost, and SD13 committee chair Nat West are also throwing their hats in the ring. Another thing I learned at the CEC meeting is that in order to be considered for the replacement nomination, one of those 130 or so precinct chairs needs to make a motion to nominate you. So we won’t really know who is and isn’t in play until June 25, the day the Precinct Executive Committee meets. Stay tuned.

(*) – Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a story about Commissioner whose precinct is almost entirely within the city of Houston proposing to use some of his infrastructure funds on city streets (among other things) is newsworthy? What else do these funds get spent on if city streets aren’t normally included? It’s all still Harris County, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Commissioner Locke called me to say that while he has been asked to consider seeking the nomination, he has not made any decisions. He is considering it, and he said that being Commissioner offers him a platform on which he can do a lot of good, but he also reiterated what he said in that earlier story about having grandchildren he loves spending time with. The bottom line is that he said he has not made any decisions about seeking the nomination.