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Election 2011

2017 EV daily report: Final numbers and our attempt at projecting turnout

Here are the final numbers. Believe it or not, people did vote on Friday despite the fact that the entire metro area appeared to be at the Astros parade. Here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017   46,224  12,205   58,429   19,875
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2011   49,669   8,676   58,345   15,264
2007   43,420   6,844   50,264   13,870

So 2017 early voting is almost identical in total to 2011 and ahead of 2007, but the source of the votes are different. 2017 trails 2011 with in person voting but makes up for that in absentee ballots, and holds a sizable lead in absentee ballots over 2007. That’s a clear change in voter behavior, and something to continue to watch as we go forward.

One other difference to point out, which requires another set of numbers. Here are the last day in person totals for the odd year elections going back to 2007:

2017 = 9,092
2015 = 35,493
2013 = 18,893
2011 = 10,559
2009 = 17,072
2007 = 10,473

Even with more people voting early, this year’s last day totals are the weakest we’ve ever seen. I’d attribute some of that to the Astros parade, and some of it to the overall lack of campaign activity compared to previous years. One possible effect of this is that more people will wind up voting on Tuesday than we would have expected. Turnout wasn’t just lower than one might have thought on Friday, after all. The whole week was lighter than it might have been, and to the extent that was a real thing and not just the way this year would have played out anyway I’ll cite the World Series as a reason. Unless the term limits referendum gets thrown out and we get put back on two year terms, we’ll next have a chance to see what a non-Mayoral election year is like in 2021. And who knows, maybe the Astros will be in the World Series again then.

So we turn our attention to final turnout. For once, I’m not going to overthink this. As we’ve already established, city turnout in odd years is roughly 70% of the county; it ranges from about 67% in years where there isn’t something that specifically drives non-city voters to the polls to 73%, and we’re splitting the difference. In odd years past, early voting has been between 40 and 50 percent of final turnout. I continue to believe that early voting will be a higher share of this year’s tally, partly because of trends we’ve seen in other years and partly out of the belief that hardcore voters are more likely to vote early, but I’m not going to put all my eggs in that basket. If we assume the range of outcomes is that early voting will be between 40 and 60 percent of the final total, then when the dust clears we should expect between 54,000 and 81,000 voters. Which, again, corresponds pretty well to my original gut-feel estimates of 50 to 75 thousand. I love it when reality seems to line up with my intuition. All that said, I could be off in any number of directions, and that guesstimated range is wide enough to cover a lot of potential error. Feel free to make your own guesses in the comments.

2017 EV daily report: Day 10, and the first sign of an uptick

Here are the numbers through Wednesday. I know I said yesterday that I don’t usually report the latest results in Week 2 because they come in late, but like everyone else I was up late watching Game 7, so here you go. Here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017   31,865  10,801   42,666   19,875
2015  107,086  26,508  133,594   43,280
2011   33,201   6,888   40,089   15,262
2007   27,522   5,625   33,147   13,870

First, let me note that I screwed up the Mailed totals for this year in yesterday’s post. I must have read from the Ballots Returned line – the County Clerk used to have the Ballots Mailed totals right underneath the in person totals, which never made sense, but they have since changed that. Anyway, Wednesday was the high-water mark for in person votes, with 4,172, but it followed a Tuesday in which only 3,250 people voted, and they had no World Series sleep deprivation to blame it on. In the other years I’ve featured, both Tuesday and Wednesday were new highs for in person voting. That trend continues in all years through the next two days. I expect that to happen here, but maybe we won’t have the big spike on Friday. Or maybe we will, I don’t know. If there is another World Series hangover, it would certainly be on those days. I’m pretty sure nobody has a turnout modeler that takes this sort of thing into account. I’ll report the final numbers on Sunday.

2017 EV daily report: Day 8, and one more look at a way to guess turnout

Here are the numbers through Monday. Now that we are in the second week of early voting, when the hours each day are 7 to 7, these reports arrive in my inbox later in the evening. Here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017   24,442   8,201   32,643   21,320
2015   73,905  23,650   97,555   43,279
2011   23,621   4,958   28,579   14,609
2007   19,250   4,353   23,603   13,589

The first Monday of Week 2 was busier than all preceding days, by a lot in 2015 and by a little in 2011 and 2007. Each day after that was busier still. This year, the second Monday was less busy than Thursday and Friday last week. I suspect an Astros hangover from Sunday night may have had something to do with that – Lord knows, traffic on I-45 in the morning and in the downtown tunnels at lunchtime were both eerily mild – in which case we ought to see more of an uptick going forward.

As for the other way of guessing turnout, which would be my third model for thinking about it, we have the May 2004 special city charter election, called by Mayor White to make adjustments to the pension funds, in the immediate aftermath of reports that recent changes had greatly increased the city’s financial obligations. A total of 86,748 people showed up for that election. I seriously doubt we’ll approach that, but my initial guesses on turnout for this year before I started looking at any data were 50,000 to 75,000, so it’s not ridiculously out of the question. Let’s file this one away for next May, when we may have to vote on the firefighter’s pay parity proposal.

2017 EV daily report: Day 6

Here are the numbers through Saturday. Sunday’s numbers didn’t come in last night, but it’s the shortest EV day so its numbers are always the smallest. Here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017   19,425   8,201   27,626   19,873
2015   57,657  21,141   78,798   42,938
2011   18,205   4,340   22,545   14,105
2007   14,235   3,555   17,790   13,097

No insights today, just a reminder that the next five days are always the busiest period for early voting, though sometimes that’s just the last day or two. It will be interesting to see how this plays out this year.

2017 EV daily report: Just remember, the reports we get are all of Harris County

Here are today’s numbers, and here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017   11,953   7,513   19,466   19,581
2015   36,322  19,789   56,111   42,520
2011   10,818   3,823   14,641   13,697
2007    8,080   3,126   11,206   12,775

So 2011 appears to be the closest comparison so far. That might imply a much higher level of turnout than what I’ve been suggesting, but I’m not prepared to believe that yet. The main reason for this is that less than 40% of the vote was cast early in 2011, and I seriously doubt that’s what we’re going to get this time. Odd year elections skew more towards Election Day and less towards early voting than even year elections – in 2015, just over half of the vote was cast early – but I think this year we will see a higher percentage of the vote cast early. The message from the County Clerk is to take advantage of the early voting period because a number of polling sites are unavailable thanks to Harvey, and I think people will heed that. We’ll take our guesses about that later in the EV period, but for now just keep that in mind. 2017 may be a bit ahead of 2011 in early voting, but I suspect that’s because more people will be voting early than usual.

It should also be noted that these reports encompass all of Harris County, so some of those numbers above are not for Houston or HISD. I’ve gone through this exercise before, but let’s review the percentage of county turnout that was in Houston in these elections:

Year   Harris  Houston   Share
2015  421,460  268,872   63.8%
2013  260,437  174,620   67.0%
2011  164,971  121,468   73.6%
2009  257,312  178,777   69.5%
2007  193,945  123,413   63.6%
2005  332,154  189,046   56.9%
2003  374,459  298,110   79.6%

“Share” is just simply the percentage of the county vote that came from Houston. There’s a big span here, but that comes with an asterisk, because the conditions were not the same each year. For example, in 2015 and 2007, Harris County had bond elections in addition to the state constitutional amendments. In 2005, the notorious state anti-gay marriage referendum was on the ballot, which coupled with a non-competitive Mayoral election meant a much larger county share. Finally, in 2003 there was the Metro referendum, which covered all of the county. There were also no state constitutional amendments on the ballot, as those had been voted on in September, to enhance the odds of the tort “reform” amendment passing.

Bottom line, with boring constitutional amendments on the ballot, I’d suggest that county/city ratio will be like the other years, which is to say between 67 and 73 percent. Let’s say 70%, just to split the difference. That’s another thing we’ll have to take into account when we do our projections later on.

2017 EV daily report: Day One

Happy first day of early voting! If you’re expecting me to have today’s EV totals from Harris County, as well as EV totals from past elections, you’re right. Here are today’s numbers, and here are the daily totals from previous years:






And here’s a select comparison:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2017    2,718   5,355    8,073   18,665
2015    8,891  14,240   23,131   40,626
2011    2,557   2,079    4,633   12,041
2007    1,681     957    2,638   11,646

As you can see, 2017 is going to be a lot quieter than 2015, which is exactly what you’d expect given the lack of a contested Mayor’s race (or any city race) and a high-profile referendum. It was a little busier than 2011, at least in terms of in-person votes, and busier still than 2007, though the latter is almost surely due to a much greater prevalence for early voting nowadays. Note also the larger number of mail ballots sent and returned. As we have discussed before, I think a decent share of that is people shifting their behavior, and with the large number of displaced voters, it’s not hard to see why that would especially be the case this year.

Anyway. I will of course be tracking this data, and we’ll see how accurate my various flailing attempts at guessing turnout wind up. Maybe people will surprise us.

An unsatisfying attempt at projecting turnout

So as we all know, this in an unprecedented election, as there are no city races on the ballot. This has everyone wondering about turnout, because the usual drivers of turnout are a Mayor’s race and/or a big referendum, and we have neither of those. What can we guess from past turnout?

There are two components of interest here, overall turnout in the city and in the districts that have contested races. Those races of interest are in HISD, so my first thought was to look at some past elections to see what we could learn from the ratio of voters in each district to total voters in Houston. If that’s reasonably consistent, then we can make a projection for the districts on the ballot based on what we think the top level is.

HISD Trustee terms are four years, so our points of comparison are the years in which the same districts are up. Here are the citywide numbers from the Harris County Clerk:

Year      Turnout
2001      284,748
2005      189,046
2009      178,777
2013      174,620

Yes, there are city voters outside Harris County, but none of them intersect with HISD, so we can safely ignore them. Now here are the totals for the five HISD districts that are normally on the ballot in these cycles:

Dist   2001 Share    2005 Share    2009 Share    2013 Share
I    12,515  4.40  10,159  5.37   9,823  5.49  10,521  6.03
V    21,761  7.64                14,550  8.14
VII                                            12,394  7.10
IX   17,524  6.15  12,372  6.54  12,299  6.88  11,245  6.44

And right here you can see why I called this an “unsatisfying” attempt at this projection. The County Clerk only shows the results for contested school board races, and Districts V, VI, and VII haven’t had a lot of those in recent years. We do have good data in I and IX, and those numbers are interesting. District IX is very consistent. If you know what overall city turnout was, you can make a pretty good guess as to turnout in IX. District I, on the other hand, shows a steady upward trend. I’d say that’s the result of changes in the district, which encompasses a good chunk of the Heights and surrounding areas that have been gentrifying. As such, I’d consider the 2013 numbers to be a floor for this year.

That leaves us with the question of what citywide turnout might be. We do have a model for guessing turnout in elections with no Mayor’s race. Since 2005, there have been six At Large City Council runoffs with no corresponding Mayor’s runoff, and in 2007 there was a special May election with June runoff for At Large #3. Here are the vote totals in those races:

2005 At Large #2 runoff = 35,922
2007 At Large #3 May    = 33,853
2007 At Large #3 June   = 24,746
2007 At Large #5 runoff = 23,548
2011 At Large #2 runoff = 51,239
2011 At Large #5 runoff = 55,511
2013 At Large #2 runoff = 32,930
2013 At Large #3 runoff = 33,824

Those numbers are pretty consistent with my earlier finding that there are about 36,000 people who voted in every city election from 2003 to 2013. There won’t be a Mayor’s race this year, but the school board candidates are out there campaigning, and I expect they’ll draw a few people to the polls who aren’t in that group. Similarly, there will be a campaign for the bond issues on the ballot, and that should nudge things up a bit as well. I think a reasonable, perhaps slightly optimistic but not outrageous, estimate is about 50,000 votes total. If that’s the case, then my projections for the school board races are as follows:

District I   = 3,000 (6% of the total)
District V   = 4,000 (8%)
District VII = 3,500 (7%)
District IX  = 3,250 (6.5%)

You can adjust up or down based on your opinion of the 50K overall estimate. If these numbers represent the over/under line, I’d be inclined to put a few bucks on the over in each, just because there will be actual campaign activity in them and there won’t be elsewhere. I don’t think that will be a big difference-maker, but it ought to mean a little something. All of this is about as scientific as a SurveyMonkey poll, but it’s a starting point. I’ll be sure to follow up after the election, because we may want to do this again in four years’ time, when the next Mayor-free election could be.

HCC Trustee Chris Oliver pleads guilty to bribery charges

Hoo boy.

Chris Oliver

A Houston Community College trustee faces up to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to bribery, federal prosecutors said Friday.

The case of 53-year-old Christopher W. Oliver, 53, of Houston was unsealed by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore on Friday, according to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez. Oliver was originally charged in March 2017 and pleaded guilty on May 15.

At Oliver’s plea hearing, it was revealed in open court that he had met with another person on several occasions at restaurants and coffee shops in Houston. Oliver admitted accepting cash in exchange for promises to use his position to help another person secure contracts with HCC, the news release said.

From December 2010 to about August 2013, Oliver allegedly “attempted to obstruct, delay and affect in any way and degree commerce and the movement of articles and commodities in commerce by extortion,” according to court documents.

Also, Oliver agreed between May 2015 and May 2016, to accept cash payments and Visa gift cards totaling $12,000 as a reward for actions that he would take as an HCC trustee, court records said.

Oliver may have to pay a financial judgement of nearly $90,000 because of his crimes, court records show.

What a mess. I’ve interviewed Oliver twice before, once in 2011 for his previous HCC campaign, and once in 2015 when he was a candidate for City Council At Large #1. We can at least be grateful he didn’t win that race. Oliver’s term expires at the end of this year. I don’t know if there were any candidates lining up for that seat, but I’m sure there will be now. The question I have now is at what point does Oliver step down or get removed from the HCC Board? The next Board meeting is August 10, Oliver’s sentencing is August 28, and the Chron story quotes Board President Eva Loredo saying “we will wait for court proceedings to be complete before we make any further statement”, which doesn’t help answer my question. The sooner he’s out of there the better, and if the Board chooses to fill his seat I’d greatly prefer it be with someone who will not be on the November ballot. In the meantime, all I can add to this is “ugh!”. The Texas Monitor and KTRK have more.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

Precinct analysis: At Large #5 runoff

Our last Council runoff review:

Dist  Christie   Moses
A        8,729   3,657
B        3,273  11,539
C       17,743   8,757
D        5,285  13,847
E       16,652   4,324
F        4,108   2,747
G       23,150   4,954
H        4,230   4,405
I        3,716   3,611
J        3,149   1,985
K        6,152   8,582

A       70.47%  29.53%
B       22.10%  77.90%
C       66.95%  33.05%
D       27.62%  72.38%
E       79.39%  20.61%
F       59.93%  40.07%
G       82.37%  17.63%
H       48.99%  51.01%
I       50.72%  49.28%
J       61.34%  38.66%
K       41.75%  58.25%
Jack Christie

Jack Christie

CM Jack Christie is a genuinely nice person, the kind of moderate Republican one fears is going extinct in Texas. He’s definitely been fortunate in the opposition he’s faced. He was fortunate to get then-CM Jolanda Jones into a runoff in 2011 – he trailed her in the November vote, and probably would have lost at that time if it had been just him and her in that race – then won in a low-turnout runoff, which unlike the runoff he lost to her in 2009 did not have a Mayoral race on the same ballot. He faced nominal opposition in 2013 from a couple of late entrants, and was put into a runoff again this year against a candidate who was not well known and who did not generate a lot of Democratic excitement. He’s one of six third term Council members who got two bonus years from the term limits change (five second-year members get four bonus years), and as a senior member of Council ought to have plenty of opportunities to help new Mayor Turner make his mark on the city.

Despite having interviewed her for the runoff, I’m still not sure what to make of Sharon Moses. I thought she came across reasonably well in the interview, though like many first-time candidates she didn’t have a deep knowledge of most issues. A lot of Democratic groups were hesitant with both her and Georgia Provost, and while Provost generally won their endorsements, Moses lagged behind, which is one reason why I expected Provost to do better. She was involved in a dustup over HERO and LGBT equality at a meeting of the Meyerland Democrats’ meeting prior to the runoff. Some of you may have seen a report on that elsewhere; Moses disputed that written account, but a couple of people later corroborated it to me in person. I don’t know how much of that was genuine disagreement and how much was a first-time candidate who maybe didn’t express her views as clearly as she could have, but the electoral effect was clear. In the end, the beneficiary was Jack Christie, and perhaps the candidates who will run for his to-be-open seat in 2019, the only open citywide office on the ballot that year barring anything unexpected.

Looking back and looking ahead for Mayor-elect Turner

Here’s a Q&A with our new Mayor that looks back on the campaign that just wrapped up.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Q: Economically, electorally, this is a divided city. You campaigned on a platform of bringing people together. How do you overcome that split now that you’ve been elected mayor?

A: When I woke up this morning, the campaign was over. So it doesn’t matter how people voted or who voted where, for whom. The point is, as I look forward to January, I’m the mayor for the city of Houston. And for me, it doesn’t matter whether it was 75/25 margin, 51/49. People want better streets. People want a safe city. Those things are kind of universal. People want a city where you’re operating within your means. And that’s neither Democrat nor Republican, rich or poor. At this point in time, I don’t see division.

Q: You won City Council districts B, D, H, I and K, all of which are majority-minority and largely economically disadvantaged. In the context of trying to bring people together, which was a pillar of your campaign, is that a concern?

A: No, not at all. It was a campaign. Oftentimes people make their decision based on a multiplicity of factors. I respect people’s right to make their decisions. It doesn’t matter that in a competitive political race when there’s so much political spin being put out there that people will gravitate to those candidates that they most identify with. I got that. I understand that. I’ve been in this business for a while. But now, if I govern with that in mind, I make a serious mistake. But if I wipe the slate clean, and the question is, ‘Sylvester, can I wipe the slate clean? Do I not see the numbers or where people voted, and govern with the best interest of the city of Houston in mind?’ If I can’t do it, I make a mistake and the division continues. If I can do it, then those who may have voted for someone else will end up being supportive.

Q: You have about three weeks before you take office. What’s on your agenda between now and then?

A: To assemble a pretty good transition team. There are lot of smart, talented individuals in the city who can help in making the transition from one administration to another, and I’m in the process of doing that right now. It may take a few days to a week to fully put that together.

Q: What are your first steps once you do take office? Roads and pensions were big components of the campaign, among other concerns. What’s top of the agenda?

A: What’s important is to make sure, for example, that people in Houston when they turn on the light switch, the lights come on, the buses run on time, you’re operating within your financial means. Infrastructure, streets, roads, making sure that we have a balanced budget at the end of June, public safety. Those are the fundamentals. We get the fundamentals right, then I think in large part people will give me a high mark.

Just a reminder, those divisions would still be there if the vote had gone the other way. Elections are like that. Putting that aside, I’ll be very interested in seeing who is on Mayor-elect Turner’s transition team. I suspect this transition will be a bit smoother than the other one we could have had would have been.

The Chron would also like to remind us that the road ahead will be bumpy.

Houston’s new mayor, Sylvester Turner, will have plenty of opportunities to leave his mark on the city. It just won’t be easy, and it certainly will not be immediate.

The city’s new chief executive will face crumbling roads, shaky finances and a shorthanded police department, with no quick fix, and some of those problems will require help from the Texas Legislature or a two-year wait to amend the city charter. With those policy problems looming, the next mayor will have to acclimate to the culture of City Hall, learning to lead a City Council with at least four rookie members and still respond to day-to-day demands from residents.

“A new mayor is going to arrive in office wanting to have a positive effect,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “But instead of providing services, they may need to cut spending on police and other services. Even the status quo is going to be difficult to maintain in the current budget climate.”

Houston faces deficits as far as the projections reach, starting with a $126 million gap between revenues and expenses that must be closed in the budget to be adopted in June. A slump in oil prices and falling sales tax revenues won’t help that.

Cut hours at the library, quit mowing the park or close the pool in the wrong civic leader’s neighborhood, and the new boss barely will have figured out how to work the council chamber microphone before making potentially lasting enemies.

I’m sure you know the drill by now. We went through something like it six years ago. Whatever one’s opinion of the new term limits law is, not having to run again until 2019 gives Turner more room to get things going the way he wants them to go – and to hope for the local economy to turn around – than Mayor Parker had. She might well have been in trouble if she’d faced a serious challenger in 2011. Sylvester Turner may or may not face a serious challenger in his next race, but at least he has four years to prepare for it, not just two.

Precinct analysis: Mayoral runoff

Believe it or not, the County Clerk’s office put out draft canvass reports last night. As a result, I can do the thing that I do. Here’s a look at the Mayor’s runoff race:

Dist    King   Turner
A      9,491    5,472
B      1,356   17,406
C     19,866   16,004
D      3,368   20,245
E     20,108    5,600
F      4,664    4,005
G     28,193    6,892
H      4,070    7,317
I      3,605    5,894
J      3,412    3,012
K      5,791   12,718
A     63.43%   36.57%
B      7.23%   92.77%
C     55.38%   44.62%
D     14.26%   85.74%
E     78.22%   21.78%
F     53.80%   46.20%
G     80.36%   19.64%
H     35.74%   64.26%
I     37.95%   62.05%
J     53.11%   46.89%
K     31.29%   68.71%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The Chron used this data to create some maps – a City Council district map, a precinct map, and a turnout map.

Remember as always that this is Harris County data only. Turner did win Harris County, by a small amount. The bulk of his margin is in Fort Bend, which is mostly in District K. You have to give King some credit. He won F and J after having trailed in them in November, and he carried C by a fairly healthy amount. I thought if he won in C he’d be in a strong position to win overall, and he came close to that. In November I suggested that King needed to duplicate Jack Christie’s 2011 runoff performance against Jolanda Jones to win. A performance like Christie had in District C would have done it for King, but he had some other avenues as well. Two questions to ponder in analyzing this result: How many previous supporters of Garcia and Bell and Costello did King move to his column, and how many new voters did he bring out? I will try to get a handle on that when I get a copy of the voter roster. A question I’m not sure how to answer is why did King do better on Election Day than he did in early voting, despite the expectations of some pundits? Turner clearly did a good job getting his voters out early. Maybe that’s all there was to it.

As for Turner, he did what he had to do. His margins in districts B and D were awesome, but it wasn’t just about the percentage, it was about the absolute total. It’s clear Turner needed the high turnout he got in those districts, but I think it’s an oversimplification to credit his win to “high turnout”, as I’d argue that King benefited from it as well. I’d love to see someone dig up precinct information from the 2001 Mayoral runoff between Lee Brown and Orlando Sanchez and do a side by side comparison with this year. I’m guessing there would be a lot of overlap.

I’ll be looking at the other races over the coming days. This result is understandable by looking at the numbers, as both candidates did what they needed to do, with Turner ending up on top. Some of the others are more of a puzzle, especially given the context of the Mayoral race. But we’ll get to that when we get to that. What are your impressions?

Overview of the open Council seat runoffs

Kind of late in the cycle given the number of lesser known candidates in these races, and not nearly complete, but here it is anyway.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

In addition to the first open mayor’s race in six years, Houstonians can expect to see at least four new faces on City Council next year – three of which will come from contests to be decided in Saturday’s runoff election.

In the At-Large 1 race, former police officer Mike Knox faces photographer and philanthropist Georgia Provost.


In the At-Large 4 race, municipal finance lawyer Amanda Edwards faces former Harris County Department of Education trustee Roy Morales.

Edwards, who has served on nonprofit boards such as Project Row Houses, worked in the Georgia Legislature while in college, then for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, before heading to Harvard Law School.

City Council must better articulate Houston’s goals, she said, so it does not work at cross purposes by retaining what she views as suburban parking rules, for instance, in areas primed for the sort of density that would enable bicycling and walking.

She said voters must be asked to modify a decade-old cap on city property tax collections at least to protect public safety spending, and rising pension costs also must be addressed.

“I can’t think of more complicated, pressing issues than some of the ones we face right now,” she said.


The race to replace term-limited Ed Gonzalez in largely Latino District H pits elementary school teacher Karla Cisneros against HPD community service officer Jason Cisneroz.

Cisneroz, an Army veteran, worked at City Hall as a staffer for Gonzalez and former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia. Cisneroz said he believes a staffing shortage at HPD can be resolved, in part, by more effectively coordinating calls for service with other law enforcement agencies.

Cisneroz has emphasized the economic disparities in District H. Corralling stray dogs and catching illegal dumpers, he said, also would be top priorities. He also called for an independent “developer integrity unit” to make sure new projects do not adversely affect roads and drainage in the area.

“People talk about inequality all the time,” Cisneroz said. “I’m living it every day.”

Cisneros, too, has focused much of her campaign on inequality in the district, pointing to her experiences teaching elementary school on both sides of Interstate 45. The former Houston school trustee said many of the city’s tax increment reinvestment zones, which keep some property tax revenues within their boundaries for public improvements, have “institutionalized inequality.” Cinseros said she would work to limit the expansion of these zones and to disband others.

Not very conducive to excerpting, so read it all yourself. If there isn’t a story in today’s paper about the At Large #2 and #5 runoffs, I’ll be very disappointed. I mean, we could have a very different Council next year, with a ton of new faces, and yet I’d bet most of the voters who will cast a ballot today couldn’t name more than one or two of the eight At Large candidates off the top of their heads. I expect the undervote rates to be pretty high – not as high as they were in November, but in excess of 20% per race. We’ll see.

The Forward Times points out another notable aspect of today’s races.

This election is not like any other in Houston’s rich history.

After the November election, Council Members Jerry Davis (District B), Dwight Boykins (District D) and Larry Green (District K) were all re-elected to council. With Council Member C.O. “Brad” Bradford being term-limited, that reduces the number of African American council members to three. As a result of the general election results, however, Houstonians now have an opportunity to vote to have seven African Americans serving on Houston City Council at the same time, by voting for candidates in four At-Large city council races.

In the At-large Position 1 race, entrepreneur Georgia Provost faces Mike Knox; in the At-Large Position 2 race, Rev. Willie R. Davis squares off against incumbent David Robinson; in the At-Large Position 4 race being vacated by term-limited C.O. “Brad” Bradford, attorney Amanda Edwards faces Roy Morales; and in the At-Large Position 5 race, Sharon Moses faces incumbent Jack Christie, who defeated two-term incumbent Jolanda Jones, who fell short in her quest to complete her final term.

Not only would there be seven African Americans serving on Houston City Council, but in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Annise Parker as mayor of the city of Houston, Sylvester Turner also has a chance to be the 2nd African American mayor in Houston’s history. That would make a total of eight African Americans around the horseshoe at Houston City Council.

Some of those eight are better than others, obviously, but no question we could have a historic result. The story notes that we could have had six elected African Americans in 2011, but fell short when Jolanda Jones was defeated. Provost and Moses also have the chance to be the first African American women on Council since Wanda Adams’ departure in 2013. It will be interesting to see whatever happens.

HISD Trustee runoff overview

There are other races on the ballot this Saturday.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the board president, faces pastor Larry Williams in the District 2 race to represent north Houston.

In southeast Houston’s District 3, Jose Leal, a former HISD administrator, is challenging Manuel Rodriguez Jr., the board’s first vice president.

The contests have the potential to shake up a board that will see at least two new faces in January. District 4 trustee Paula Harris did not seek re-election, and District 8 trustee Juliet Stipeche lost in the November general election to Diana Davila, a former board member.

Political consultant Marc Campos said he doubts Skillern-Jones and Rodriguez are at serious risk, even though the other incumbent on the November ballot was ousted and they both failed to garner more than 50 percent of the vote to win outright.

“I think Stipeche was just out-campaigned,” Campos said. “It wasn’t so much, ‘Throw out the bums.’ ”


Jose Leal

Leal, a political novice, mostly funded his own campaign with no major endorsements. For the runoff, he has secured the backing of the Houston Federation of Teachers union and the Texas Organizing Project, an advocacy group for the poor.

The union hopes a victory by Leal will ensure enough votes on the board to overhaul the Houston Independent School District’s bonus program and teacher evaluation system. Both hold teachers accountable for students’ test scores using a statistical formula.

Leal said he, like the union, opposes the formula.

“You have people that are not teachers, and they’re writing an equation that does not make sense to the people that are teaching,” he said.

However, Leal said, he thinks test scores can be useful. For example, he said, when he was a school counselor, he would review the results and schedule teachers who were strongest in certain subjects to work with struggling students.

Leal, 57, started in HISD as a janitor and retired in 2011 as a dean at Johnston Middle School. He now works as an assistant principal for the Houston Can Academies charter school.

Here’s the interview I did with Rhonda Skillern-Jones; she’s the only one of the four I talked to, though I did interview Rodriguez in 2011. Jose Leal’s webpage is here and Larry Williams’ is here. I tend to agree with Campos that both incumbents are good bets to win, though Leal has picked up some support and may give Rodriguez a run for his money. Skillern-Jones ran unopposed for the then-open seat in District II (this is a point of contention in this race; Williams had previously run against the prior Trustee, Carol Mims Galloway) so this is her first real race. If you live in one of these districts, what if anything are you seeing in the runoffs?

Day 3 EV 2015 runoff totals

Here we go:

Date    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
11/15  27,596  18,196  45,792   41,994
12/15  35,756  22,116  57,872   39,649


The runoff numbers are here, and the final EV totals for November are here. Believe it or not, we’re almost halfway through early voting – basically, today is Hump Day for EV. After today, there are only two and a half days left, since the hours on Sunday are only one to six. Early voting has been pretty heavy, but as we’ve said before there just isn’t as much time for it to accumulate. The same is true for absentee ballots – note that only three more mail ballots have been sent out since Wednesday. The ceiling for mail ballots is going to be lower than it was in November.

It’s too early to talk turnout, but not too early to speculate about how much of the vote might be early as opposed to on Election Day. Are the early voting shares the same for runoffs as they are for November elections? Let’s take a look at some other elections:

Year    Early   E-Day   Total   Early%
2013   22,608  13,569  36,187   62.47%
2011   24,398  31,688  56,086   43.50%
2009   67,660  87,215 154,975   43.66%

Year    Early    E-Day    Total  Early%
2003   93,868  204,242  298,110   31.5%
2009   81,516   98,261  179,777   45.3%
2011   58,345   63,123  121,468   48.0%
2013  109,370   65,250  174,620   62.6%
2015  134,105  134,767  268,872   49.9%

The first table above has the numbers for runoffs, while the last table has November numbers. I hesitate to draw any broad conclusions, since turnout in runoffs can vary greatly depending on what races there are, but the shares for the last three elections are pretty darned similar for November and December. Is that a pattern or just an oddity? Hard to say, but if it is a pattern, then we can guess that about half of the votes will show up by Tuesday. I don’t know that I’d bet my own money on that proposition, but we’ll keep it in mind. Have you voted yet?

Precinct analysis: Where the voters came from

Yesterday we looked at the voting history of the people who participated in the 2015 election. Today we’re going to take a look at how those numbers broke down by Council district.

Dist   All 3    None    Rest   Total
A      4,686   7,238   8,173  20,097
B      4,873   8,829   8,738  22,440
C     11,471  17,129  18,588  47,188
D      6,988  10,196  11,204  28,388
E      5,906  14,302  13,392  33,600
F      2,348   5,456   4,942  12,746
G      9,703  13,523  17,630  40,856
H      3,035   7,452   6,958  17,445
I      2,897   5,939   5,856  14,692
J      2,001   3,437   3,305   8,743
K      5,730   8,101   8,846  22,677

Total 59,639 101,603 107,630 268,872


Just a reminder, “All 3” refers to voters who had also participated in the 2013, 2011, and 2009 elections; “None” refers to voters who voted in none of those three elections; “Rest” refers to the people who voted in one or two of those elections, but not all three. The first thing to notice is something I hadn’t noticed till I started working on this post, which is that for all the talk about “new” voters, there were a lot of “sometimes” voters in this election. Perhaps one of our oft-quoted poli sci professors could put a grad student or two on the question of why people vote in some city elections but not others. Obviously, some people are new to town or are newly eligible to vote, but what about the others? Why skip one election but vote in another? I don’t understand it. I wish someone would make the effort to try.

The other number that jumps out at you is the number of “None” voters in District E. It’s fair to assume a significant number of these were anti-HERO voters. Notice that E wasn’t the only district that saw the number of new voters be more than double the number of old reliables – F, H, and I also fit that bill. Why might that be? Could be any number of reasons – HERO, a disproportionate number of new and/or newly-eligible residents, the fact that there weren’t that many old reliables to begin with, some other reason. Of course, even the district that had a lot of old reliables, like C and D and G, saw a lot of newbies show up as well. What can you say? There were a lot of new voters. Even in this high-for-Houston-elections-turnout environment, there are still a lot of other people who vote in other years.

Another way of looking at this: The share in each district of each kind of voter:

Dist   All 3    None    Rest   Total
A      7.86%   7.12%   7.59%   7.47%
B      8.17%   8.69%   8.12%   8.35%
C     19.23%  16.86%  17.27%  17.55%
D     11.72%  10.04%  10.41%  10.56%
E      9.90%  14.08%  12.44%  12.50%
F      3.94%   5.37%   4.59%   4.74%
G     16.27%  13.31%  16.38%  15.20%
H      5.09%   7.33%   6.46%   6.49%
I      4.86%   5.84%   5.44%   5.46%
J      3.36%   3.38%   3.07%   3.25%
K      9.61%   7.97%   8.22%   8.43%

Again, you can see the differential in E. No matter how you slice it, District C is the leader, but who comes in second and third and by how much C leads the way varies. Again, I have no broad conclusions to draw, I just think this is interesting. What do you think?

Tomorrow we’ll have a look at how old the voters were this year. Let me know if you have any questions.

Precinct analysis: Old reliables, newcomers, and everyone else

I have three more views of the 2015 electorate, now that I have a copy of the voter roster. With that, and with the past rosters that I have, I can try to paint a more detailed picture of who voted in this election, and perhaps make some comparisons to past elections. Today we’re going to look at voting history. How many voters this year were new, how many had voted in one or more recent elections, and how do those numbers compare to previous years?

Year    All 3   1and2   1and3   2and3   Just1   Just2   Just3    None
2015   59,639  13,150  26,170   8,714  33,993   6,566  17,964 101,603
2013   46,582  22,044   4,721  13,148  12,239  20,690   6,046  48,662
2011   44,744   9,706  15,360   4,302  15,559   2,830   5,394  19,927
2009   55,117   5,818  22,122  25,227  10,907   7,684  20,218  38,755


Let me translate what those column headers mean. “All 3” is the number of people in that election who had voted in each of the three prior city elections. For the year 2015, that means the number of people who had voted in 2013, 2011, and 2009. For 2013, that means the number of people who had voted in 2011, 2009, and 2007. I trust you get the idea for 2011 and 2009; I have rosters going back to 2003, so that’s as far back as I can do this exercise. These are your old reliable voters – year in and year out, they show up and vote.

The next six columns specify one or more of these prior elections. A 1 refers to the election immediately before, a 2 refers to the election before that – i.e., two elections before – and a 3 is for three elections before. Again, for 2015, those elections are 2013 (“1”), 2011 (“2”), and 2009 (“3”). Thus, the column “1and2” means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2011, but not 2009. “1and3” means means all the people who voted in 2013 and 2009, but not 2011. “2and3” means all the people who voted in 2011 and 2009, but not 2013. Along similar lines, “Just1” means all the people who voted in 2013 but not 2011 or 2009, and so forth. Substitute other years as appropriate, and you’ve got it. Lastly, “None” means the people who had voted in none of the past three elections. These are your new voters.

I presume I don’t have to tell you that 2015 was indeed an outlier in this regard. We knew going in that years with high profile referenda have higher turnout than other years, and that’s what happened here. In addition, you have to remember that “high turnout” is a relative thing. Turnout for the Harris County portion of the city of Houston was 268,872, which is more than any odd-year election since 2003, but pales in comparison to the turnouts of recent even years in which city props have been on the ballot. In 2010, for example, 389,428 voters came out in the Harris County part of Houston – 40.9% turnout – with 343,481 casting a vote on the red light camera referendum. In 2012, for the four bond items and two charter amendments up for a vote, there were 565,741 voters, with as many as 435,836 ballots cast. Point being, there are a lot of even-year city voters. Some number of them decided to vote this year as well. I’m not in a position to quantify it further than that, but at a guess based on the other years, I’d say 30 to 50 thousand of those 101,603 were true newbies, while the rest had some prior voting history in Harris County. As we’ve discussed before, new people move in all the time, and some other people become newly eligible due to turning 18 or becoming citizens. If and when I get more details on that, I’ll be sure to share them.

Here’s another way of looking at the data: The proportion of each class of voter for these elections.

Year   All 3   2 of 3   1 of 3   0 of 3
2015   22.3%    17.9%    21.9%    37.9%
2013   26.8%    22.9%    22.4%    27.9%
2011   38.0%    24.9%    20.2%    16.9%
2009   29.7%    28.6%    20.9%    20.9%

“2 of 3” and “1 of 3″ refers to voters who had voted in two of the previous three elections, and one of the previous three elections, respectively. Again, the share of new voters this year was clearly higher than in other years. It’s no surprise that the share of new voters was so low in 2011. It was a low turnout year – just over 117,000 voters in total – so you’d expect that a large majority of them would be the regulars. By the same token, the old reliable share this year was lower than usual, for the same reason. I’m fascinated by how stable the 1 of 3” share was across the four races. As we saw in the table at the top, the one prior election in question can be any of the three predecessors. It’s not just folks who’d been new the year before. That number is directly affected by the turnout levels of the election in question and the one before it.

So that’s our first look at this data. I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw here, I just find this stuff amazing. Who would have guessed that over 2,800 people who voted in the low-turnout 2011 election had also voted in the low-turnout 2007 election, but not the higher-turnout 2009 or 2005 elections? Well, now you know. I’ll have more tomorrow.

Precinct analysis: At Large #5

Last but not least, At Large #5:

Dist  Batteau  Christie  Nassif   Moses
A       1,034     8,302   1,895   2,876
B       2,784     3,157   2,374   6,849
C       1,782    13,555  10,866   4,592
D       5,108     4,098   3,138   7,231
E       1,247    15,479   2,664   3,355
F         811     3,815   1,143   2,545
G       1,079    20,058   4,567   3,203
H       1,349     3,895   2,445   3,502
I       1,372     3,531   1,678   3,062
J         616     2,744     988   1,545
K       2,149     4,891   2,946   5,259
A       7.33%   58.85%   13.43%  20.39%
B      18.36%   20.82%   15.66%  45.17%
C       5.79%   44.02%   35.28%  14.91%
D      26.09%   20.93%   16.03%  36.94%
E       5.48%   68.05%   11.71%  14.75%
F       9.75%   45.89%   13.75%  30.61%
G       3.73%   69.39%   15.80%  11.08%
H      12.05%   34.80%   21.85%  31.29%
I      14.23%   36.62%   17.40%  31.75%
J      10.45%   46.56%   16.77%  26.22%
K      14.10%   32.08%   19.32%  34.50%
Jack Christie

Jack Christie

This is not Jack Christie’s first runoff. It’s his third, in fact: He lost narrowly to then-CM Jolanda Jones in 2009, the defeated her somewhat less narrowly in 2011. He won without a runoff in 2013, and is now back in a familiar position. A review of the precinct data from the two previous runoffs is instructive. The comparison between the two isn’t exact due to the Council redistricting of 2011, but the basics are the same: Christie was clobbered in the African-American parts of town, but did well enough everywhere else. In 2009, the higher overall turnout from the Mayoral runoff was enough to sink his ship by making the margins he had to overcome in B and D that much greater, but the lower turnout of 2011 plus his improved performance in other parts of the city were enough to give him the win. We will be in a turnout environment more like 2009 than 2011 this year, and with Sylvester Turner running that could well boost his opponent and give him problems as was the case in 2009, but this time he’s running against a little-known first-time candidate and not a high-profile incumbent, which ought to work to his benefit. I surely expect a higher undervote rate this year than in 2011 when the AL5 runoff was the main event. I make Christie the favorite, but his re-election is far from assured.

As for Sharon Moses, I’m still getting to know who she is. She sent out a campaign email earlier in the week, which I have pasted beneath the fold. Her challenge and her path to victory are basically the same as they are for Georgia Provost, except that 1) her opponent is a two-term incumbent; 2) her opponent is fairly moderate and has a history of winning crossover support; and 3) she herself is less known than Provost is. Moreover, while Provost has picked up all the Dem-friendly runoff endorsements that I have seen so far, Moses has been a bit less successful in that endeavor. Both Provost and Moses were endorsed by the HCDP and by the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast Action Fund, but only Provost was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. I can see scenarios where they both get elected and where they both lose, but if only one of them wins I’d bet money it’s Provost and not Moses.

As for Philippe Nassif, it was a good effort by another first-time candidate, but the district view shows that he still had a ways to go. He did well in the friendly confines of District C, though not well enough to outdo Christie, but did not make enough of an impression elsewhere. If he wants to run again in 2019 – and he should, unless he gets elected to something else between now and then or moves to another city – my advice would be to stay engaged seek out opportunities to get his name out there. Take a more prominent and visible role in the 2016 and 2018 elections. Write some op-eds for the Chronicle. Find a cause and throw yourself into it. There are far more ultimately successful candidates who lost their first race (or races) than there are instant winners. Stay engaged, keep yourself out there, and you’ll enter 2019 more prepared than most. I hope to see you on my ballot again.


Precinct analysis: At Large #4

At Large #4 features a newcomer and a multi-time candidate in its runoff.

Dist  Edwards  Hansen  Blackmon  Robinson  Thompson  Murphy  Morales
A       3,707     572       662     2,378     2,565   1,844    2,702
B      10,732     306     1,296     2,109     1,160     327    1,477
C      11,309   1,226     1,189     6,688     3,891   2,967    3,911
D      12,636     400     2,691     2,618     1,559     542    1,902
E       3,612   1,054       960     3,197     5,033   5,288    4,158
F       2,673     438       542     1,368     1,370     713    1,675
G       4,914   1,150       960     7,210     5,746   4,073    4,193
H       4,121     304       475     1,397       982     468    4,664
I       3,187     302       537     1,022       895     418    4,568
J       1,911     281       325     1,031       909     408    1,339
K       8,357     395     1,444     2,555     1,730     646    1,900
A      25.69%   3.96%     4.59%    16.48%    17.78%  12.78%   18.72%
B      61.65%   1.76%     7.45%    12.12%     6.66%   1.88%    8.49%
C      36.27%   3.93%     3.81%    21.45%    12.48%   9.52%   12.54%
D      56.54%   1.79%    12.04%    11.71%     6.98%   2.43%    8.51%
E      15.50%   4.52%     4.12%    13.72%    21.60%  22.69%   17.84%
F      30.45%   4.99%     6.17%    15.58%    15.61%   8.12%   19.08%
G      17.40%   4.07%     3.40%    25.53%    20.34%  14.42%   14.84%
H      33.20%   2.45%     3.83%    11.26%     7.91%   3.77%   37.58%
I      29.16%   2.76%     4.91%     9.35%     8.19%   3.82%   41.80%
J      30.80%   4.53%     5.24%    16.62%    14.65%   6.58%   21.58%
K      49.08%   2.32%     8.48%    15.01%    10.16%   3.79%   11.16%
Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards turns in an impressive performance, even more so for being a first time candidate. It occurred to me in looking at these numbers that Edwards has the kind of profile that would make for a strong challenger to Michael Kubosh – a progressive African-American with solid business/establishment credentials. Of course, a candidate with that profile would be a formidable opponent for anyone, which is a big part of the reason she did so well here. Every candidate in the runoff is at least somewhat dependent on the Mayor’s race, as that will do far more to determine who votes and how many of them there are, but Edwards’ first round performance makes her less dependent on that than most.

I suspect a lot of people (I was one) expected Laurie Robinson to do better than she did. She’d run before, she collected a decent number of endorsements, including a few from more conservative groups who apparently weren’t too impressed with the Republican candidates in the race, and it seemed likely she would collect a fair share of the vote in districts B and D. Instead, Edwards blew her out of the water, so much so that Robinson slipped into third place and out of the runoff. Robinson did slightly worse in these districts than she did in 2011, though here there were seven candidates including three African-Americans, while in 2011 there were four and two. One possible explanation for this is that people may have held a grudge against her for opposing then-CM Jolanda Jones, who was forced into a runoff she eventually lost. I have no way to test that hypothesis, so it’s just a guess. Whatever the case, if Robinson wants to take another crack at a Council campaign in 2019, her inability to do well in these districts is an issue she’s going to have to address.

With Roy Morales sneaking ahead of Laurie Robinson into the runoff, this race shapes up as D-versus-R, as are most of the others. In this case, while there were several Rs in the first round, they combined to score almost no endorsements from the Republican/conservative establishment; as noted above, Robinson did better with that crowd than Morales, Matt Murphy, Jonathan Hansen, and Evelyn Husband Thompson combined. They’re pulling together for Morales now, as they did at the tail end of the 2009 Mayor’s race, and Morales does have the advantage of picking up some low-information votes in districts H and I, but this is Morales’ third runoff out of five citywide races (2007 AL3 special election, 2007 AL3 November election, 2009 Mayor, 2013 AL3, and 2015 AL4, with the first, fourth, and fifth being the runoff races) and it’s hard to see him doing any better than he has done before. One should never take anything for granted, but I suspect the Vegas oddsmakers would install Edwards as a strong favorite in this race.

Precinct analysis: At Large #3

Only one candidate running for citywide office won outright in November. That candidate was first term CM Michael Kubosh in At Large #3. Here’s how he won:

Dist  Kubosh   LaRue  McElligott  Peterson
A      8,782   1,042         835     3,152
B      8,988   1,526       1,251     3,541
C     16,414   2,314       1,409    10,138
D     12,074   1,599       1,367     4,385
E     15,033   1,249       1,217     5,314
F      4,192     973         819     2,274
G     19,632   1,463       1,069     5,433
H      6,149   1,284         925     3,055
I      5,121   1,057         953     2,567
J      3,230     600         492     1,566
K      8,524   1,271         989     4,283
A     63.59%   7.54%       6.05%    22.82%
B     58.72%   9.97%       8.17%    23.13%
C     54.22%   7.64%       4.65%    33.49%
D     62.16%   8.23%       7.04%    22.57%
E     65.90%   5.47%       5.33%    23.29%
F     50.76%  11.78%       9.92%    27.54%
G     71.14%   5.30%       3.87%    19.69%
H     53.88%  11.25%       8.10%    26.77%
I     52.80%  10.90%       9.83%    26.47%
J     54.86%  10.19%       8.36%    26.60%
K     56.57%   8.44%       6.56%    28.43%
CM Michael Kubosh

CM Michael Kubosh

There’s not a whole lot to say here. Kubosh won a majority in every Council district, only coming close to not having a majority in District F. Some of this is a perk of high name ID, but said name ID was earned through work on the red light camera referendum and by being visible on Council. There have been a lot more people running for At Large seats in recent elections, challenging incumbents as well as piling up in open seat races. Since 2009, when CM Melissa Noriega ran unopposed, two At Large members have been dislodged, and every At Large incumbent save Steve Costello and Brad Bradford in 2013 have had at least two opponents. Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones survived runoffs in 2009, while David Robinson and Jack Christie face them this year. In that context, Kubosh’s achievement as one of only two At Large incumbents to clear 60% against multiple opponents in this time frame (Bradford in 2011 is the other) is even more impressive. Give the man his due.

With all this recent interest in At Large races, and with the next election being four long years away (barring any further intervention from the Supreme Court), one wonders what the landscape will look like the next time these seats are up. As noted once before, CM Christie is the only At Large member whose term would be up in 2019, meaning that if he loses then every citywide officeholder as of January 2, 2016, can be on the ballot in 2019. (Like CM Kubosh, CM Robinson is in his first term, so regardless of the outcome in At Large #2, the incumbent in that seat can run for re-election.) With four years between races, one would think that there will be a lot of pent-up demand for Council offices, which may attract another truckload of citywide hopefuls. On the other hand, districts A, B, C, J (if CM Laster wins), and K will all be open then, so perhaps that will siphon off some of that demand. I really have no idea what it will be like, but barring anything strange, it seems reasonable to say that CM Kubosh will be a favorite to win a third term. Check back with me in January of 2019 and we’ll see how good that statement looks at that time.

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

I now have draft canvasses. You know what that means. All data is for Harris County only. First up, the Mayor’s race:

Dist  Hall  Turner  Garcia    King Costello    Bell
A    1,906   4,587   3,509   6,265    1,522   1,129
B    2,494  15,947   2,159     459      259     277
C    2,575  10,951   6,804  12,121    4,894   7,451
D    4,060  17,033   2,637   1,571      702   1,022
E    3,409   4,258   4,831  15,228    2,122   1,745
F    1,189   3,297   2,561   2,428      820     574
G    3,017   5,036   4,076  20,042    4,040   2,787
H    1,194   4,721   7,145   1,585      810   1,119
I    1,237   3,717   6,114   1,327      650     796
J      902   2,151   1,900   1,810      594     598
K    2,777   9,912   2,922   3,022    1,097   1,806
A    9.80%  23.58%  18.04%  32.20%    7.82%   5.80%
B   11.38%  72.75%   9.85%   2.09%    1.18%   1.26%
C    5.64%  24.00%  14.91%  26.56%   10.73%  16.33%
D   14.66%  61.50%   9.52%   5.67%    2.53%   3.69%
E   10.56%  13.19%  14.96%  47.17%    6.57%   5.41%
F    9.79%  27.14%  21.08%  19.99%    6.75%   4.73%
G    7.60%  12.68%  10.27%  50.48%   10.18%   7.02%
H    7.06%  27.93%  42.27%   9.38%    4.79%   6.62%
I    8.65%  25.98%  42.73%   9.28%    4.54%   5.56%
J   10.67%  25.45%  22.48%  21.41%    7.03%   7.07%
K   12.57%  44.87%  13.23%  13.68%    4.97%   8.18%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The seven other candidates combined for 2.57% of the vote, so for the sake of space and my sanity, I’m omitting them from these tables, but I will say a few words about them here. Hoc Thai Nguyen, who had the seventh-highest vote total, scored 6.60% of the vote in District F, and 3.02% in J, the two most Asian-heavy parts of town. As it happens, F (1.93%) and J (1.15%) were Marty McVey’s two best districts, too. Nguyen also broke out of the square root club (*) in A (1.01%) and I (1.08%). No other candidate reached 1% in any district. Demetria Smith, who ran for District D in 2013, came closest with 0.93% of the vote in D. At the bottom of the ladder were Joe Ferreira (240 votes) and Dale Steffes (302), but it was Steffes who had the worst performance in any district. Nearly half of his votes (143 of them) came in District G, and he collected all of 2 votes in J and 3 votes in B. Ferreira got 7 votes in B, but made it to double digits everywhere else. Neither he nor Rafael Munoz made it to triple digits in any district, however. I guarantee, this is the kind of analysis you won’t see anywhere else.

The conventional wisdom on Sylvester Turner is that he needed to broaden his appeal beyond African-American voters, who were expected to strongly support his candidacy. He certainly received their strong support, as the results in B and D attest. Turner also finished first in districts F, J, and K, and finished second in A, C, G, H, and I. That looks pretty reasonably broad to me. If you’re alarmed by him finishing behind King in C, I would simply note that there do exist Republicans in District C, and C was where both Chris Bell and Steve Costello had their strongest showings. I feel confident saying that much of that vote will transfer to Turner. Ben Hall didn’t dent Turner’s support in B and D; given that plenty of anti-HERO voters also supported Turner, it seems likely to me that he will pick up a fair bit of Hall’s support. And perhaps with some help from Adrian Garcia’s endorsement, Turner ought to do well in H and I. None of this is guaranteed, of course. People do actually have to come out and vote, and if there’s any sense of inevitability that might make some people think they needn’t bother to show up. For what it’s worth, I get the sense from too much Facebook reading that plenty of disappointed HERO supporters are not depressed but angry, and that they know their best chance of a second shot at an equal rights ordinance is with Mayor Turner, not Mayor King. I think they’ll show up. Runoff early voting starts December 2, so we’ll know soon enough.

A word about Garcia before I move on: If every single voter in H and I had voted for him, his Harris County total would have been 62,623. If you then subtract the votes Bill King got in H and I from his total, he’d be left with 62,954. Garcia gained a net 267 votes on King in Fort Bend and lost a net 26 votes in Montgomery, so when you add it all up, he’d still have been out of the money. Now I know that H and I aren’t solely made up of Latinos – hell, I live in H, and I’m almost as white as King – and there are plenty of Latino voters in other districts. There could also have been higher turnout in these districts; both were under the overall average. My point in using this bit of shorthand is to say that it was really Garcia who needed to broaden his support, and to that end his biggest problem was other Democrats, not any anti-HERO surge. I think Garcia was handicapped by his late entry into the race, much as Sylvester Turner was by his late entry into the 2003 Mayor’s race. By the time Turner jumped in, after the legislative session, Bill White had locked up a significant amount of support from Democratic voters, including a non-trivial number of black Democrats. By the time Garcia got in, he had to ask a lot of people to reconsider the decision they’d already made about whom to support for Mayor in order to ask them to support him. That’s a much harder thing to do. He had his reasons for getting in so late, and it’s always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m just saying the reasons why Garcia isn’t in the runoff go beyond simply counting the number of Latinos that voted.

And while we’re still talking about broadening appeal, there’s Bill King. Look at those numbers above. King did very well in E and G, fairly well in A, C, F, and J, and not so well anywhere else, including below-the-Hoc-Thai-Nguyen-in-F-line finishes in B and D. Where does King turn to sufficiently improve his performance in the runoff to have a shot at it? I feel like the basic model for this is Jack Christie’s runoff win against Jolanda Jones in 2011, which is to say broaden his appeal outside of his Republican base, maximize those votes, and limit Turner to his own base in B and D. Easier said than done, but it has been done. It’s been suggested to me that a factor that may have driven turnout at least as much as the HERO vote was Republican voters in the city having a real choice for Mayor for the first time since 2003. There may be something to that, but if so I’d note as before that King received just 30,000 more votes than Roy Morales did in 2009, which receiving 33,000 fewer votes than Orlando Sanchez did in 2003. Make of that what you will. King ought to have room to boost Republican turnout in the runoff – Republicans have a few candidates they might like to support elsewhere on the runoff ballot as well – but I don’t think that gets him over the line on its own. I think he can’t win unless he can take some votes away from Turner. How he might do that, I assume we’ll find out.

I’ve got more of these to do over the course of the week. Remember again, these are draft canvasses, so no overseas or provisional ballots, and these numbers are all Harris County only. If you like seeing pretty pictures instead of numbers, these two Chron stories ought to have what you want. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll have the next post up tomorrow.

(*) This is an old Rice joke. The “square root club” referred to anyone for whom the square root of their GPA was higher than their actual GPA. This is a geeky way of saying “less than 1.0”, which for these purposes means “less than 1.00 percent”.

Day 12 EV 2015 totals: Final turnout projections

The last day was another big one:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572

The running 2015 totals are here, the full 2013 totals are here, and for completeness the full 2009 totals are here. Before I go on, let me note that the numbers noted in the Chron story I blogged about on Friday were completely bogus. I have no idea where Mike Morris came up with them. Here’s a more accurate rendition, which please note reflects Harris County only:

Year     Early    E-Day    Total   Early%
2003    83,225  214,885  298,110    27.9%
2005    49,889  139,157  189,046    26.4%
2007    36,707   86,703  123,410    29.7%
2009    62,428  116,349  178,777    34.9%
2011    46,446   75,022  121,468    38.2%
2013    80,437   94,183  174,620    46.1%

2010   215,884  173,194  329,428    55.4%
2012   364,272  212,277  576,549    63.2%

I threw in 2005 and 2007 so we could see the trend. Morris’ overall totals were correct, but the way he apportioned mail, early in person, and Election Day subtotals was off the rails for some reason. I also included the two even years, both of which featured city of Houston ballot propositions, as a further point of comparison and to emphasize that there really is a lot of room for behavior shifting. My guess is that about 60% of all ballots have been cast as of now. Assuming about 140,000 of the early votes from Harris and elsewhere are Houston voters, that suggests a final city turnout of about 233,000. That’s in line with what the paid professionals are saying.


Political scientists projected between 220,000 and 250,000 city voters will head to the polls by election night’s close, up from more than 178,000 in 2009, the last time there was an open-seat mayor’s race.

Friday marked the close of two weeks of early voting in Harris County.

Early turnout was particularly strong in African American and conservative areas, political scientists said, a boon to Houston mayoral candidates Sylvester Turner and Bill King.

“I think Sylvester could get close to 30 percent of the vote,” Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said, noting that turnout by district so far “clearly advantages somebody like Bill King” for the second spot in a likely December runoff.

If those voting patterns continue through Election Day, the city’s equal rights ordinance, dubbed HERO, also is expected to face a tough road to passage.

“This may spell doom or defeat for the HERO ordinance,” TSU political scientist Michael Adams said, noting that turnout has been comparatively low among traditionally progressive inner-loop Anglo voters.

Citing a TSU analysis, Adams said about 53 percent of early city voters through Thursday were white, 28.5 percent were African American, 11.5 percent were Hispanic and 4 percent were Asian.

He also estimated that approximately 56 percent were Democrats, while 44 percent were Republicans.

As of September, more than two million Harris County residents were eligible to vote on Nov. 3, with more than 978,000 of them residing in Houston, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office.

The share of votes cast early or by mail in recent mayoral races has increased steadily, from 28 percent in 2003, to 46 percent in 2013.

These figures do not include the handful of city precincts outside of Harris County.

Though some have speculated that this year’s spike in early voting could portend low turnout on Election Day, Stein said he expects about half of those who cast a ballot will head to the polls on Tuesday.

I think it’s going to be a bit less than half, but we’ll see. I’ll spare you another discussion of the prospects for HERO, I’ll just note that the world is watching, so it would be nice for us to not look bad. I’ll also note again the overwhelming support for HERO from the business community, which 1) suggests that perhaps Republican voter support for HERO is being underestimated, and 2) suggests again that business leaders who have been supporting politicians like Dan Patrick and others who oppose so many of their interests really ought to rethink that. As for the effect on the Mayor’s race, put me donw for being slightly skeptical that robust Republican turnout necessarily benefits Bill King. Republicans are far from unanimous in their preference, and I’m not convinced that King has that much name recognition, especially with the less-frequent city voters. I’m not saying he won’t do well, just that it’s hardly a guarantee. Along these same lines, the effect of higher than usual turnout on the other citywide races, for Controller and At Large Council seats, is very much an open question. What do voters do when they don’t know the candidates, as will often be the case in these races, since it costs a lot of money to really get your name out there? I suspect that more than the usual number will skip these races – undervotes in the 30% range or higher, perhaps – and some will pick a name that sounds familiar to them. What effect that will have is anyone’s guess, but if there’s a goofy result or two, don’t be shocked.

Day 11 EV 2015 totals: So what do we think turnout will be, anyway?

One more day of early voting to go:

Year    Early    Mail    Total   Mailed
2015  128,611  27,952  156,563   43,280
2013   68,803  20,491   89,294   30,572

The running 2015 totals are here, the full 2013 totals are here, and for completeness the full 2009 totals are here. As noted yesterday, we have exceeded the 2013 early voting totals for Harris County as of Tuesday, and are up about 75% overall. How big is this thing going to get? Mike Morris takes a stab at it:

With two days of early voting left, Houston voters already have outpaced total votes cast in the November 2011 election. Are we on pace for a huge spike in turnout this fall?

Not necessarily.

As the chart shows, the city has seen a steady increase in the share of votes being cast early, as more Houstonians figure out that it’s easier to go to any of the open locations and often avoid a line than it is to vote at your assigned polling place on Election Day with all of your neighbors.

From 2003 forward, the share of votes cast early has steadily risen from less than one-third to nearly two-thirds during the last cycle in 2013.


It’s not really my job to guess, but political scientists have been estimating that this year’s turnout could fall between 180,000 and 240,000. With the early votes likely to come in today and tomorrow, that would track with a continuing share of people voting early.

I will note, however, that at this point if we only see 180,000 total votes (as we did in 2009) that will mean almost no one shows up on Tuesday, so expect a higher number than that.

Most observers have assumed a higher turnout is bad news for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, as city progressives already vote in high numbers. Thus, the next level of analysis is to see which early voting locations have seen spikes in turnout.

Actually, the next level is to get the daily rosters and figure it out at a more granular level, since as Morris notes you can’t go by EV locations except as a fairly rough estimate. Fortunately, Greg has done this work, and you should go look at his post. I’m going to take his main chart and add a little something to it:

============================================== Neighborhood 15EVTO% 13EVTO% 13TO% 13EV% ============================================== African-American Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Southside AfrAm 9.7% 9.3% 18.9% 49.2% Northwest AfrAm 12.4% 9.6% 18.1% 53.0% Fifth Ward 8.9% 7.4% 16.2% 45.7% Hiram Clarke 10.2% 9.0% 17.8% 50.6% Hispanic/Latino Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Lindale 8.7% 7.2% 16.4% 43.9% East End 6.2% 6.3% 15.2% 41.4% Anglo GOP Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Kingwood 18.7% 11.8% 22.5% 52.4% Clear Lake 12.3% 11.6% 24.3% 47.7% West 14.3% 11.8% 27.1% 43.5% Anglo Dem/Swing Neighborhoods ---------------------------------------------- Sharpstown 9.9% 9.3% 19.9% 46.7% Meyerland 10.6% 12.5% 34.6% 36.1% Heights - C 9.0% 8.8% 25.3% 34.8% Montrose 12.3% 11.5% 27.6% 41.7%

My addition is that last column, which shows how much of the total vote in these locations (see Greg’s post for the exact precincts in question) comes early. For whatever the reason, the Heights and Meyerland seem to like voting on Election Day, or at least they did in 2013; in a subsequent post, Greg suggests Meyerland’s 2013 performance may have been an outlier. Regardless, this is especially noteworthy when you consider how much of the overall vote in 2013 came early. Here’s a look at that trend, based on the chart in Morris’ story:

Year    Early    E-Day    Total  Early%
2003   93,868  204,242  298,110   31.5%
2009   81,516   98,261  179,777   45.3%
2011   58,345   63,123  121,468   48.0%
2013  109,370   65,250  174,620   62.6%

One of those things is not like the others. Certainly, as Morris says, some people will vote on Election Day. Let’s guess that the early vote total, which includes absentee ballots, is between 65 and 70% of the final amount. I’ll run some number for that after all of early voting is done, but whatever reasonable figure you choose, turnout will be up by some amount. What does this mean for HERO? The third level of analysis would be to look at voting history, and to focus on the people who don’t have any history of voting in city elections. Those folks can be broken into two groups. The first group is those with no voting history at all. They will predominantly be new arrivals to Harris County, with a few people who are newly of age and a few others who for whatever the reason had not been registered before. In the absence of any polling data specifically on that type of new voter, I’m not going to guess what their HERO preference may be. The second group is those that have voted in even year elections, but not odd year elections. These are the people who have come out specifically for this election, and it’s fair to say that HERO is the most likely reason for that. One may then reasonably guess based on where they live and what other elections they have voted in which way they probably lean. How many of these people are there? I have no idea, but I’m certain that the various campaigns do. You want to get a sense of how the wind is blowing, that’s where you should put up your weather vane.

Endorsement watch: Four for HISD

Here are the Chron endorsements for HISD Board of Trustees. The endorsements of incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche were expected and easily justified, so not particularly remarkable. The other two are worth comment.

Manuel Rodriguez

District III: Manuel Rodriguez

Our choice for this important position, Manuel Rodriguez, was first elected in 2003 and then re-elected in 2007. His school district in East Houston includes Milby and Cesar E. Chavez high schools. A Stephen F. Austin High School graduate, Rodriguez has been involved for more than 30 years in HISD schools and knows the district well. Even so, longtime district observers say his aloof style and lack of consistent physical presence in District III make it difficult to ascertain where he stands on issues. Ideally, members of the HISD community should make the effort to attend school board meetings, but they also have every right to expect school board members to take the initiative to disseminate important information to the communities they represent. Rodriguez’s challengers, Ramiro Fonseca and Jose Leal, bring a refreshing passion to the race. Still, Rodriguez appears more knowledgeable on the issues and better able than his opponents to respond to the challenges that HISD is facing at this time. Our advice to Rodriguez: Don’t take this position for granted. Our advice to the challengers: Participate in district issues and run again.

District IV: Ann R. McCoy

Voters should cast their ballots for Ann R. McCoy, a research director at the University of Houston, to fill this seat being vacated by Paula Harris. The area she would represent includes Debakey, Sterling and Yates high schools. A graduate of Bellaire High School, McCoy went on to earn a doctorate in counseling and a post-doctorate in mental health research. McCoy has spent her career evaluating the effectiveness of educational programs, and the board stands to gain muchfrom her analytical skills. She has also taught in area universities. During a District IV candidates’ meeting with the Chronicle editorial board, McCoy displayed the thoughtful and deliberative approach that is needed to tackle the issues facing the district. Her deep experience in education and collaborative temperament earn our endorsement over her opponents: attorney and former City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones, retired HISD principal Davetta Mills Daniels, and community activist Larry McKinzie.

The Rodriguez endorsement…I mean, look, if you really think he’s the best candidate, then fine. I disagree, but whatever. What I can’t understand is how you can not mention at all the endorsement that was retracted in 2011 after a bunch of homophobic mailers attacking Ramiro Fonseca were sent out, which Rodriguez shrugged at. It’s part of his record, and with Fonseca running again it’s a pretty important part. How do you not even mention it?

As for District IV, I predicted the McCoy endorsement – I was three for four in this group – so no surprise here. Honestly, I think both McCoy and Jolanda Jones would make good trustees, they’d just make very different trustees. Pick the style you prefer and go from there.

Interview with Ramiro Fonseca

Ramiro Fonseca

Ramiro Fonseca

HISD Trustee District 3 is a rematch of one of the uglier elections from 2011. Ramiro Fonseca is back to challenge incumbent Manuel Rodriguez again. The College Success Coordinator for Project GRAD Houston, Fonseca has a long history of service. He’s has served as President of the Houston Hispanic Forum, the Clean Houston Commission (Keep Houston Beautiful), the Mayor’s Hispanic Advisory Board, and as President & Chair of the HPD Eastside P.I.P. As for the ugliness in 2011, you may recall there was an anti-gay mailer sent in the latter days of the race, which Rodriguez didn’t admit to but didn’t disavow, either. This caused the Chronicle to withdraw their endorsement of him. In the end, Rodriguez was re-elected by 24 votes. Needless to say, all of that serves as background for this race, and it was one of the things Fonseca and I talked about.

(Note: All HISD candidate interviews took place before Superintendent Terry Grier announced his resignation.)

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Just how old are our city voters?


In my previous installment, we talked about how many people vote across city elections. In this post, we’re going to look at another aspect of our city races that is often remarked on but seldom specified: The ages of the people who vote.

As before, all the data comes from the voter files I got from the Harris County Clerk’s office, and it is all about city of Houston voters within Harris County, who comprise nearly all but not quite all of the electorate. I could have just done a straight average age for each election, but that leaves out a lot of other interesting information. Here’s how I prefer to present it:

2013 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 9,786 5.6% 31-40 15,209 8.7% 41-50 23,508 13.5% 51-60 40,235 23.1% 61+ 85,393 49.0% 2011 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 5,939 5.0% 31-40 9,488 8.1% 41-50 17,126 14.5% 51-60 28,601 24.3% 61+ 56,664 48.1% 2009 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 10,021 5.7% 31-40 16,798 9.6% 41-50 29,664 16.9% 51-60 43,814 25.0% 61+ 74,730 42.7% 2007 voters Range Number Pct ====================== 18-30 5,791 5.0% 31-40 10,599 9.2% 41-50 21,090 18.4% 51-60 28,633 24.9% 61+ 48,728 42.4%

If you’re wondering why I stopped at 2007, it’s because the years presented included a “birthdate” field that was just a year, which made it easy to sort by that and add up the totals in each group. The 2005 and 2003 files had a full date in that field, and since I didn’t think to check the data type when I imported the CSV files into Access to do my crunching, it came in as text and thus sorted left to right, which was completely useless.

I may go back and re-import the data to fix this, but for now this is what I have, and I doubt those other two years would tell me anything that these four don’t, which is that we do indeed have an old electorate in odd-numbered years. This should come as a surprise to exactly no one, but here you can see just how heavily it leans towards the older crowd. When two-thirds or more of your voters are over the age of 50, you’re probably going to have elections that are light on issues that younger voters care about. Consider this an application of the old saw that ninety percent of success is just showing up. It’s also an illustration of the challenges that HERO defenders will face.

You may ask, how do these elections compare to even-numbered years? I can’t answer that question yet for Presidential years (2008 and 2012), as I have not gotten those files imported into a database yet. I do have information from the two non-Presidential even-numbered years in my stash. Here’s what that looks like:

Of 685,704 total 2014 voters

53,067 (7.74%) were 18-29
83,268 (12.14%) were 30-39
112,722 (16.44%) were 40-49
160,508 (23.41%) were 50-59
276,139 (40.28%) were 60+

Of 799,287 total 2010 voters

72,841 (9.11%) were 18-29
110,386 (13.81%) were 30-39
155,643 (19.48%) were 40-49
200,114 (25.04%) were 50-59
260,302 (32.57%) were 60+

Yeah, I know, the boundaries are different. I did these calculations several months ago, then lost the files after a hard drive crash; thankfully, I’d at least started drafting some posts based on what I’d done, so at least I had that. I’m not in position to re-do this work yet, so you’ll have to cope with the inexactitude. It remains the case that these years are also dominated by older voters, though slightly less so. It’s highly likely that trend continues for the Presidential years, but we’ll have to wait and see to what extent that is true.

What about those new voters we talked about, some of which must surely come from people who reach voting age in the interim, or maybe who move back after graduating college? I have that data for the 2013 first-time voters:

2013 new voters ====================== 18-30 7,218 13.2% 31-40 8,153 14.9% 41-50 8,849 16.2% 51-60 12,067 22.1% 61+ 18,319 33.5%

How about 2014? Of 25,747 newly registered Harris County voters in 2014 who voted in the 2014 election:

9,521 (36.98%) were 18-29
5,001 (19.42%) were 30-39
3,617 (14.05%) were 40-49
3,610 (14.02%) were 50-59
3,998 (15.53%) were 60+

A bit younger in 2013, quite a bit younger in 2014. You may recall there was a registration drive that year, spearheaded by Battleground Texas. Whatever else you may say about BGTX, they helped get some younger folks to the polls. A similar effort this year would likely be as successful, and would definitely be advisable.

Who are the city voters?


Everybody knows that city of Houston elections are fairly low-turnout affairs. The general perception – and it’s one that I’ve echoed as well – is that the elections are dominated by the same voters, year after year.

What I haven’t seen are the numbers to back up those assertions. With all that’s on the line in this year’s election, I thought this might be a good time to try and figure some of this stuff out. So I got the election files from the Harris County Clerk for all of the odd-numbered years going back to 2003, and played around with them to see what I could learn.

Now, we know that the bulk of Houston voters are in Harris County, but not all of them. There are a couple of thousand voters in Fort Bend County, and a couple of dozen voters in Montgomery County. I didn’t try to get the data for these voters in these elections. They represent maybe two percent of the total each year, and I just didn’t feel like the effort to include that data was worthwhile. So when you see me tossing around total turnout numbers in this post, bear in mind I’m talking about Harris County turnout for the city of Houston.

The first question I wanted to answer was “Who are the truly hardcore voters in Houston, the ones who come out every election without fail?” My sense going into this was that there might be fewer of these people than one might think. The answer is that 36,036 City of Houston voters have participated in every November election since 2003. That’s 20.7% of the 174,132 Harris County voters who cast a ballot in Houston in 2013.

I don’t know what kind of number I was expecting, but I wasn’t terribly surprised by this. Houston is a dynamic city. People move in and move out, sometimes to or from the suburbs in Harris County and elsewhere, sometimes to and from other cities or states, or countries. We have a significant population of children, and some of them turn 18 every year. We also have an electorate that skews old – more on that in the next post from this series – and every year some of them age out, which is the poli-sci way of saying “die”. A lot of this can and will happen over a ten-year span. The total number of voters in a given year may reliably be in a narrow band, but the names do indeed change over time.

What about the short term? The gold standard for voters to contact for candidate outreach is those who have voted in at least two of the last three elections. How many potential voters does that rule out, given what we now know about the amount of turnover in the electorate? Consider the 2013 election, which had a near identical voter total as the open 2009 election. 54,708 of 174,132 voters in 2013 had not voted in either of the 2011 or 2009 elections. That’s 31.4% of the total. The two-out-of-threes are a clear majority, but that’s still an awful lot of votes to leave on the table if you don’t try to find them.

This isn’t new. In 2009, 63,164 voters had not participated in 2003 – this is 36.1% of the 175,031 total voters. 58,973 2009 voters – 33.7% – had not voted in either 2005 or 2007. I feel pretty confident saying that when we look back on the 2015 election, we will find that something like 35% of the electorate was “new”. Given the past pattern of turnout being higher in years with high-profile referenda on the ballot, that’s likely to be an understatement.

Who are these “new” voters? As I’ve said before, some of them are new to Houston, and some of them are newly registered. Some of them have been here all along, and just hadn’t had a reason to come out to the ballot box before. How many of each there are, I couldn’t say. I can say that a candidate or campaign that isn’t trying to find and engage these voters is missing a significant opportunity. Especially in a year like this, that’s not a good idea.

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of money in the Mayoral race this year, even after subtracting what the candidates have given or loaned to themselves. You may be wondering where all that money came from. This post aims to shed a little light on that.

First question: How much of the money raised by Mayoral candidates came from Houston donors, and how much came from outside Houston?

Candidate Non-Hou $ Total $ Pct % ========================================== Garcia 539,949 1,441,792 37.4% Costello 312,660 1,276,281 24.5% Turner 296,588 747,793 39.7% King 103,501 721,250 14.4% Bell 51,288 366,770 14.0% Hall 35,925 69,025 52.0% McVey 21,750 43,927 49.5%

Disclaimer time: All reports can be seen here. My methodology was ridiculously simple. All donations for which the city listed in the report entry was something other than “Houston” was counted for this. Obviously, not all “Houston” addresses are actually within the city – mail sent to all of unincorporated Harris County and such small cities as West U and Southside Place say “Houston, TX” on the envelope – but I wanted to complete this exercise before the election took place, so I followed this guideline for ease of use. As with all totals presented here and elsewhere, this was a manual process, which means I looked over the reports and counted up the totals myself. It is highly likely that I goofed here and there, so consider these numbers to be reasonable estimates and not gospel truth. Finally, also as before, the “Total $” figures represent the cash money raised by each candidate, thus excluding in kind donations, loans, and (in the case of Costello) contributions from the candidate himself.

Having done this exercise, I (reluctantly) feel like I should go back and review Mayor Parker’s July forms from 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as Gene Locke and Peter Brown’s from 2009, to see if what we’re seeing here is completely out of whack with past results or not. I know Mayor Parker had a strong national fundraising network, but I’ve no idea offhand what that meant in total dollars and proportional amounts. Whatever the case, I feel confident saying that Adrian Garcia knocked it out of the park here. He raised more from outside Houston than Chris Bell, Ben Hall, and Marty McVey raised in total combined; his non-Houston total is 75% of Bill King’s overall total. And that still left $900K from in Houston. Holy smokes.

One thing I noticed while perusing Garcia’s report: He received a ton of contributions from people with Asian names, both in Houston and not. He also had a lot of contributions from Latino/a donors, but the sheer number of Asian supporters surprised me. Make of that what you will.

I am curious what motivates someone to donate to a Mayoral candidate they can’t vote for. I get why people contribute to Congressional and Senate candidates from other places – laws made in DC affect them regardless, and partisan control matters a lot – but the justification here is somewhat less clear. To be fair, the vast majority of these non-Houston donations came from places like Katy, the Woodlands, Sugar Land, and so forth. For all the griping I did about non-Houstonians driving the red light camera referendum, it’s clear that folks who work here but live elsewhere have a stake in the outcome of elections like this. And of course some of these out of towners are in the personal networks of the candidates – friends, family, in-laws, colleagues (Sylvester Turner received several contributions from other members of the Legislature, for example), and so forth. I’d still like to understand this phenomenon a little better. Surely one of our Professional Political Pundits can put a grad student on it.

Next item: In Houston, an individual can give a maximum of $5000 to a city candidate in a given cycle, and a PAC maxes out at $10K. Having an army of small-dollar donors is a great thing in many ways, but those big checks sure add up in a hurry. How much of these hauls came from the deep pockets?

Candidate # Maxes Max $ Total $ Pct % ===================================================== Garcia 148 745,000 1,441,792 51.7% Costello 138 720,000 1,276,281 56.4% Turner 76 410,000 747,793 54.8% King 71 365,000 721,250 50.6% Bell 25 125,000 366,770 34.1% Hall 11 55,000 69,025 79.7% McVey 2 10,000 43,927 22.8%

Again with the disclaimers: Same manual process as above. Not all max donors give $5K at once. There were several gifts of $2500 each, and other combinations I observed as well. “# Maxes” is the count of all max donors, both individuals and PACs, which I also counted as one even though they could give twice as much. Multiply “# Maxes” by 5,000 and the difference will tell you how many max PAC donations that candidate got.

With the large amounts of money collected, the large number of donors who gave their all should not be surprising. One reason why I did this was to see who might have a harder time replicating their success between now and the beginning of October, when the 30 day reports come due. You can’t hit up those who are tapped out for a repeat performance, after all. I guess this leaves Chris Bell in better shape than some others, but I’m not sure how much effect that will have.

I should note here that two of Ben Hall’s max donors were named Hotze, an “SM Hotze” and a “JS Hotze”. Hall has gone all in with the haters, despite his weak sauce denials. This could actually present a bit of a problem for King and to a lesser extent Costello, as both of them are in their own way wooing Republican voters. Clearly, some of those Republicans are not going to be open to them. I presume Hotze still has some sway among GOP voters (a subset of them, at least), so if he actively pushes for Hall via mail/robocall/whatever as the One True Candidate Who Will Stand Up To The Gays, then I think that has to put a ceiling on King and Costello. How much that might be I don’t know – if I were forced to guess right now I’d say “maybe two or three points” – but as we’ve been saying all along, this is likely to be a close race where not too many votes could make a big difference in the outcome. Hall is a threat to Turner as well, of course, I just wanted to point this possibility out.

I think that’s about all the patience I have for scouring the Mayoral reports. I may take a closer look at the other candidates’ reports as my copious spare time allows.

Turner and Garcia lead early Mayoral poll

We have our first polling numbers for the 2015 Mayoral election.

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner and Adrian Garcia have emerged as the clear front-runners in the first independent poll before the election that will determine Houston’s next mayor.

The KHOU – Houston Public Media Poll indicates a clear divide between two tiers of candidates, with Turner and Garcia well ahead of all other contenders to take charge at Houston City Hall after the term-limited Mayor Annise Parker leaves office at the end of this year.

Turner, the longtime state representative making his third run for mayor, leads the pack with 16-percent of surveyed likely voters. Garcia, the former Harris County sheriff, comes in second at 12-percent.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

The rest of the candidates in the poll drop into single digits. Chris Bell, the former congressman making his second run for mayor, won the support of 8-percent of surveyed voters.

Both Ben Hall, the former city attorney making his second mayoral run, and former Kemah mayor Bill King, stand at 3-percent. City Councilman Stephen Costello stands at 2-percent.

“There’s two tiers of candidates,” said Bob Stein, the KHOU political analyst and Rice University political scientist who designed the poll. “If you had to pick a runoff match-up, it would have to be Turner and Garcia. And I don’t think that comes as any surprise.”

And here’s the KUHF version of the story, with audio.

News 88.7 Managing News Editor Jose Luis Jimenez sat down with pollster and Rice University Political Science Professor Bob Stein for a closer look at the results of our exclusive News 88.7/KHOU 11 News Houston Mayoral Election Poll.

Click on the audio link above to listen to the conversation.

To view the full poll results – including what Houston voters think are the major issues in the race – visit the 2015 Houston Mayoral Race special page.

OK then, let’s click the link.

Mayor Annise Parker cannot run again for Mayor because of term limits. There are seven major candidates for mayor. For whom would you be likely to vote for if the election were held today?

Choices            All   RVs   LVs
Stephen Costello    4%    4%    2%
Bill King           2%    2%    3%
Sylvester Turner   14%   13%   16%
Adrian Garcia      15%   15%   12%
Chris Bell          5%    4%    8%
Marty McVey         1%    1%    0%
Ben Hall            3%    3%    3%
Don't know         53%   54%   50%
Refused             3%    4%    6%

And finally, the methodology:

Methodology: Polling was conducted from May 20 to June 21, 2015 using two simultaneous samples of 500 eligible voters each. The first sample included registered voters (i.e. “Likely Voters”) who voted in two of the last three municipal elections in 2009, 2011 and 2013. The second sample included all other registered voters (i.e. “Registered Voters) who voted in at least one of the last three municipal elections. Results are reported for both samples separately and combined. The combined sample is weighted to reflect the actual representation of likely voters in the 2015 municipal election. The margin of error for each sample is +/- 4.5% and margin of error for the combined weighted sample is +/- 3.2%.

What do I think?

1. I think this mostly recapitulates name ID, which is about what you’d expect at this point.

2. I’ve complained about “likely voter” screens for this kind of poll in the past, but I have no major complaints here. Screening for those who have voted in two out of the last three city elections is the way I’d do it. The Likely Voter sample is whiter, richer, and older (average age = 69) than the sample as a whole and much more so than the city as a whole, which is – for better and worse – the kind of electorate we tend to get in our odd-numbered-year elections. The candidates and campaigns have the capability of altering the size and shape of the electorate, though barring anything strange it’s unlikely to change much. Bottom line is there’s nothing here that screams “unrepresentative sample” to me.

3. Don’t be mesmerized by the high “Don’t know” level. A late September 2013 poll, six weeks out from an election that featured a two-time incumbent, had a 48% “Don’t know” response. Here, each candidate has some base level of support, and the rest are people that I think very likely really don’t know yet. I’d have given the same answer myself if I had been polled, and I’m not exactly a low-information voter. Sometimes “Don’t know” means “I haven’t paid enough attention to it yet to have any idea”, sometimes it means “I do know who I’m voting for but I like to think I’m keeping my options open”, and sometimes it means “There’s more than one candidate that I like and I don’t know yet which one I’ll pick”.

4. Similarly, don’t let the low numbers for the nominal Republican candidates (King and Costello) fool you. Roy Morales polled at five and six percent in those 2009 polls, but wound up with 20% and actually did better than Peter Brown on Election Day itself, thanks in part to Republican voters figuring out and being told that he was “their guy” in the latter stages of the campaign. King and Costello will get their share of the vote, though it remains to be seen if it will be enough for a runoff for either of them. Their main danger is having some of those votes poached, by either a late entry from the wingnut population (think Eric Dick) or from Ben Hall, who has gone full-on anti-HERO. I don’t think there’s a lot of these votes to be siphoned off, but in a tight multi-candidate race like this it doesn’t take much to put the runoff out of reach.

5. When people ask me who I think will make the runoff, my answer is a firm shrug of the shoulders. I can make a case for at least five candidates to have a shot at it – Hall and McVey are the ones that I think are highly unlikely to make it into the top two. It’s entirely possible to me that only a few thousand votes will separate second place from fourth or fifth, and any number of things including dumb luck can affect who winds up a contender and who finishes as a palooka.

So that’s how it looks for now. There will be more polls, and things will surely look different as we go forward. PDiddie has more.

Endorsement watch: Firefighters for Turner

From the inbox:

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON, March 23, 2015 – State Rep. Sylvester Turner has earned the endorsement of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association in this year’s mayoral race, the HPFFA said today.

HPFFA President Alvin W. White, Jr. said 84 percent of voting fire fighters approved the recommendation of the HPFFA board of directors to endorse Turner after a review of the public safety records of the mayoral candidates.

“Sylvester has been a consistent friend of fire fighters and an advocate for public safety in Austin for 25 years,” White said. “He is clearly the best choice for us in this mayoral race. We also appreciate that he has built a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, unions and community groups.”

White added, “Rep. Turner understands that Houston fire fighters are delivering excellent service to citizens, are good stewards of city resources, and are giving back to the community. He also has been a sensible voice – here and in Austin – in the debate about city employee pensions.”

Rep. Turner said, “I am proud to have earned the support of Houston’s firefighters. Together, we will work to keep our neighborhoods safe, teach our youth the values of courage and shared sacrifice and show the world that Houston is a place that working families are proud to call home.”

Rep. Turner has served 25 years in the Texas House of Representatives. He is a member of the Legislative Budget Board; Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Chair of the Subcommittee on Articles 1, 4 and 5 (General Government, Judiciary, Public Safety and Criminal Justice); and the House State Affairs Committee.

Born in the Acres Homes community of northwest Houston, Rep. Turner graduated from Klein High School, where he was valedictorian and student body president. He then attended the University of Houston and Harvard Law School. More information is available at

The press release is here, for when I get around to creating a 2015 Election page. I’m not going to note every endorsement that comes my way, but this one was of interest for two reasons. One is that it happened at all, especially this early on. I figure a lot of endorsing organizations are going to take their time – at the very least, until they’re sure if Adrian Garcia is in the race or not – and many may keep their powder dry till the runoff, since Lord only knows who might make it that far. The other is that it wasn’t clear early on who if anyone would be the firefighters’ preferred candidate, given the intense focus by several campaigns on the pension issue. Once the pension deal was announced that sort of settled that matter, but for awhile there it was not obvious.

This is a nice get for Turner, since every inch is going to count in a race where the difference between making the runoff and being a runnerup is likely to be small. That said, the firefighters’ record in recent Mayoral elections is not that great. They endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, Fernando Herrera in 2011, and Ben Hall in 2013; going back a bit more, they backed Orlando Sanchez in 2003. We’ll see if they have better luck this time.

How many candidates are too many?

The Rivard Report brings up a point I hadn’t considered before.

Candidates or their representatives arrived at City Council chambers Monday morning to draw lots to determine the order of name placement on the ballot. As candidates waited in the audience, the room seemed to be filled with equal parts anticipation and dread. It doesn’t matter much if you are first, second or even third in a three-person race. Three our four names fit easily enough on a single screen of a voting machine.

But there are 14 people running for mayor, and in an informal street poll I conducted downtown Monday, I was unable to find a single person who could name six candidates. Quite a few people named three, several named four, a few named five and none could name six. Four of the candidates are running visible campaigns with yard signs, frequent public appearances, organized block walking events and participating in public forums.

But what about voters who won’t recognize the names of Ivy R. Taylor, Mike Villarreal, Leticia Van de Putte or Tommy Adkisson? The four frontrunners are seasoned officeholders who have run multiple campaigns and appeared on multiple ballots. But they face 10 other candidates, some of whom have filed for office before but none of whom have much name recognition or a record of holding elective office. I’m talking about Paul Martinez, Douglas Emmett, Michael “Commander” Idrogo, Raymond Zavala, Rhett Rosenquest Smith, Julie Iris “MamaBexar” Oldham, Cynthia Cavazos, Gerard Ponce, Pogo Mochello Reese, and Cynthia Brehm.

The voting machines are going to have as hard a time as the voters with the mayor’s race. There is simply no way to list all 14 names on a single computer screen, and I wonder if even two screens will prove sufficient. It’s even more of a challenge when two of the candidates feature “Commander” and “MamaBexar,” nicknames that have to be listed.

If you are a candidate listed on the second screen, you have to wonder: How many people will think the contest is only between the candidates listed on the first screen and cast their vote before they get to the next screen? The computer allows a voter to reverse a decision and also prompts a voter to review his or her choices before pressing “VOTE,” but that’s small comfort to a second page candidate.

Here’s the Bexar County Elections webapge on their voting system. The video didn’t load for me, and the ES&S Flash Demonstration links are broken, but the picture at the bottom gives some idea of what they use. Here in Houston, we’ve not had a 14-candidate race in recent years that I can recall – there were 19 candidates in the January 1995 special election for Council At Large #4 – but we did have ten for At Large #2 in 2011 and twelve for District D in 2013. I’m pretty sure that Harris County’s eSlate machines were able to list everyone on a single page. At least, I don’t recall hearing anything about the candidate list spanning multiple pages. If San Antonio is like Houston, then Mayor will be the first race on the ballot. If the voting machines in Bexar County really can’t fit 14 names onto one page, then that seems like a serious flaw with them. Is this a real concern? I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around it.

This is also an opportunity for me to bring up one of my favorite hobbyhorses, which is that the draw for ballot position is ridiculous. I still can’t understand why an electronic voting machine system can’t be programmed to randomize ballot order for each race with multiple candidates and each voter. I’m sure it would take a change to state law to allow that – or better yet, require it – and I know that there would still need to be a draw for candidate order on mail ballots, but still. This seems like such a simple fix to a problem that vexes people in every single non-partisan election. Can we please do something about it?

At Large comings and goings

Meet Atlas Kerr, who will be running in At Large #3 against CM Michael Kubosh.

Atlas Kerr

I am an accounting and finance double major at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. I have in-depth knowledge over capital budgeting, debt/bond valuation, and capital asset price modeling. I am a registered volunteer instructor at the Women’s Resource of Greater Houston that teaches budgeting and financial literacy classes to women, high school teenagers, and men.

I am of African-American and Hispanic decent. I am a first generation American on my mother’s side and first generation college student on my father’s. As a proud Houstonian, Texan, and American, I believe in the American dream and have made vow to fight for equality for all inhabitants of our great city and tear down barriers of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Although we all come from different places and have grown up with different backgrounds, the law treats everyone as equals. This is the reason why I have so much respect for and strive to be a part of the legislative force of the municipal government.

For the entire duration of my campaign, I will be following in the footsteps of my greatest political hero Bob Lanier and run without identifying myself as either republican or democrat. Houston municipal elections are run non-partisan and I fully intend on running this way so that voters can be assured that my campaign platform are my own personal beliefs and no one else’s.

I have watched every single city council and committee meeting since 2012 and have met with many former and current city councilmembers to get the best possible picture of where the city is currently and where it has come from. I have such a great and profound respect for Houston. I want to thank my professors for being so accommodating, my friends and family for their outstanding support, and my contributors for believing in me. Without any of you, all of this would not be possible.

In prior communication with me, Kerr said that he had filed to run for Mayor in 2011 under the name Brian Carr, but he was not a resident of the city of Houston at that time, so he did not make it to the ballot. The name change was a personal decision he made.

Meanwhile, Jan Clark, who had previously announced her candidacy for At Large #5, has since announced that she will not run.


Thank you all very much for the incredible show of support. I am humbled and overwhelmed and so very grateful. However now I must tell you I am terminating the campaign. I got in committing fully, but due to recent changes in my personal obligations I cannot devote the time and effort needed to run the campaign I can be proud of, and you can be proud to support. Unless things change dramatically, very dramatically, I will not run in the 2015 election.

Yes, I considered waiting a while to terminate in case my circumstances changed again soon, but I chose to make a final decision now in part because it is still early enough that the campaign has not yet “accepted” any contributions. Contributions received have been refused/returned. Investing other people’s money believing I would end up having to make the same decision later is not something I could do. When I run, be assured I will not waste your contribution.

Please stay tuned. There are issues to talk about and many ways to serve the people of our great city. Having every reason to believe my circumstances will be in different in a year, I fully intend to run for city council in the 2017 cycle. At which time I will again ask for your support. It will be here before we know it.

With my heartfelt gratitude,


P.S. For what it’s worth the website ( and FB ( will stay up although obviously not for a specific office.

Sorry to see her have to drop out, but I believe that counts as the first candidate announcement for 2017. I look forward to seeing her on the ballot then.

Early voting is up in the special election runoffs

Make of that what you will.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

If three days of early voting are any indication, the tense runoff fight for the state Senate 26 seat between Trey Martinez-Fischer and José Menéndez is attracting more voters than cast ballots in the first round election on Jan. 6, the result of record spending in the campaign that has pitted two Bexar County Democratic members of the House against one another in the fight to succeed departing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for mayor.

The Jan. 6 state Senate ballot included two Republicans, Alma Perez Jackson and Joan Pedrotti, and a third Democrat, Al Suarez. Voter turnout was a miserable 5%. The five candidates in the first round drew only 19,158 voters, including 8,215 early voters. Martinez-Fischer finished well ahead of Menéndez and the others with 8,231 votes, or 43.28%. Menéndez finished a distant second with 4,824 votes, or 25.37%.

Special elections seldom draw many voters, and in most cases, a runoff would draw even fewer voters with one party knocked off the ballot. This time it’s different. A total of 6,977 people voted in the first three days of early voting this week, which continues today and Friday. At the current pace, that would add up to more than 11,000 early votes, or a 35% increase in the early turnout. If the same increased turnout occurs on Election Day the race will draw more than 25,000 voters, still a low percentage of registered voters, but enough of an increase to suggest a tight race.

You know I can’t turn down an opportunity like that to do some number-crunching. I looked at all the special legislative elections that included runoffs since 2010. Here are their respective vote totals:

Election Total Runoff Pct ===================================== SD22 5/10 29,851 24,557 82.3 HD14 11/11 13,519 6,736 49.8 SD06 1/13 16,369 18,141 110.8 HD50 11/13 14,936 10,520 70.4 SD04 5/14 30,348 22,605 74.5

“Pct” is the ratio of runoff turnout to total Round One turnout. Note that two of these special elections coincided with regular November elections, so it’s not terribly surprising that those runoffs lagged the most. Note also that the special election in SD06 in 2013 to succeed the late Mario Gallegos had higher turnout in the runoff than it did in the first round. That’s also the only race among these that was between two prominent Democrats, and as is the case this year it featured a nasty, negative overtime period. Not enough data to draw a firm conclusion, but the parallels are easy enough to see.

Having said all that, I kind of buried the lede a bit.

The increased turnout appears to be driven by negative campaigning and the role of outside money that aims to rally Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Menéndez. What’s different about this race is the role the powerful Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), an ultra-conservative lobby, is playing, contributing more than $550,000 to finance broadcast ads and direct mail pieces attacking Martinez Fischer and supporting Menéndez. The Express-News reported Tuesday that more than $2.3 million has been spent on the race, including the TLR money that actually exceeds the $513,000 that Menéndez has spent to date.


Martinez-Fischer is a plaintiff’s lawyer and a vocal, at times coarsely spoken Mexican-American. He looks and sounds like a boxer. Menéndez, also a lawyer, is softer spoken and less combative. People who watch Austin politics more closely than I say newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick would prefer to keep Martinez-Fischer out of the Senate, which is now a bastion of ultra-conservative Republicans, who now outnumber Democrats 20-11. Regardless of the runoff outcome, the winner will be the least senior of the minority party, but Martinez-Fischer would be a thorn in Patrick’s side, while Menéndez has said he would cross party lines to try to be effective.

I’ve said all along that TMF was my preferred candidate in this race. I had and continue to have nothing against Menendez, and I seriously doubt he’d be any more supportive of the evil trolls that make up TLR if he wins than he was in the House. But maybe he’ll be a little more supportive of them than TMF would be, and a couple hundred thousand bucks isn’t even pocket change to these guys, so all in they go. (They were a presence in the SD06 race as well, much as head lice is a presence in most elementary schools.) The point I’m making here is that even though this runoff is to them a choice between two candidates with whom they have little in common, they didn’t sit it out. They picked their lesser evil and did what they do to support him, in the hope that if it pays off, they’ll have an ever-so-slightly better Senate from their perspective. Say what you want about these guys – and believe me, I think they’re a greedy, rapacious, destructive force, too – it’s hard to argue that their approach had been anything but a big success. There may be a lesson in there for us somewhere, I dunno.

Anyway. It’s hard to know what effect this may have on the HD123 runoff, as HD123 is almost entirely within SD26. Like SD26, most Dems won HD123 by about ten points in 2010, the main exceptions being Bill White, who won it by more than 20 points, and Barbara Radnofsky, who lost it by a half point to Greg Abbott. I expect Diego Bernal to win easily enough, but one should never take anything for granted. Get out there and vote if you didn’t already do so. As for HDs 13 and 17, other than this report on campaign finances in HD17, there’s precious little news out there. I’ll have final results when they come in.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.