Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Election 2013

And then there were nine

One Democratic gubernatorial hopeful is now off the ballot.

Demetria Smith, a Democrat who had hoped to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2018 gubernatorial race, has been determined ineligible to run.

Smith, who attended a San Angelo forum for candidates in the Democratic primary Monday evening, was listed ineligible on the Texas Secretary of State’s website. The Texas Democratic Party said Tuesday that Smith’s check for a $3,750 candidate filing fee had bounced, said Glen Maxey, primary director of the party.

To run for governor in Texas, candidates must pay the filing fee or file a petition with 5,000 signatures.

Maxey said Smith filed Dec. 11, the last filing day, with a personal check that was deposited the following day, on Dec. 12; however, the party was not notified of the insufficient funds until Monday.

Because the deadline to pay the fee has passed, Smith cannot correct the error.

[…]

Smith, who called herself as the “constitutional candidate” at the forum, said in a phone interview after hearing the news: “I will be challenging the constitutionality of their decision,” referring to the Texas Democratic Party.

“If you accept the check on the last day, you should be able to clear it,” she said.

Smith is a perennial candidate who has run for Council (2.71% in District D, 2013) and Mayor (0.47% in 2015) and other things here in Houston. She was likely headed towards a 2-3% showing in the primary. As I’ve said before, the terms and conditions for getting on the ballot are pretty well known, and anyone who files on deadline day takes the risk that something will go wrong for which there is no time to make a correction. Smith could file a lawsuit to get back on the ballot, though it’s not clear to me what the basis of such a suit would be. My guess is that this is the end of the road for her, but I suppose anything can happen. The DMN and the Chron have more on this story and on that candidate forum.

Looking ahead to 2019

Yes, yes, I know. We’ve barely begun the 2018 cycle. Who in their right mind is thinking about 2019? I plead guilty to political insanity, but the beginning of the year is always the best time to look forward, and just as 2018 will be unlike any election year we’ve seen before, I think 2019 will be unusual, too. Let’s just take a moment to contemplate what lies ahead.

I’ve posted this list before, but just to review here are the Council members who are term-limited going into 2019:

Brenda Stardig – District A
Jerry Davis – District B
Ellen Cohen – District C
Mike Laster – District J
Larry Green – District K
Jack Christie – At Large #5

There is an opportunity for progressives to elect a candidate more favorable to them with CM Christie’s departure, and his At Large colleagues Mike Knox and Michael Kubosh will also draw attention. Against that, I would remind everyone that Bill King carried Districts C and J in 2015, so we’re going to have to play defense, too.

It is too early to start speculating about who might run where, but keep two things in mind. One is that there’s likely some pent-up demand for city offices, since there won’t have been an election since 2015, and two is that some number of people who are currently running for something in 2018 will find themselves on the sidelines by March or May, and some of them may decide to shift their focus to a more local race. The point I’m making here is expect there to be a lot of candidates, and not just for the term-limited offices. I don’t expect Mayor Turner to be seriously challenged, but I do expect the firefighters to find someone to support against him. Finally, I expect Pasadena to be a hotbed of action again for their May elections, as Democrats missed by seven votes in District B winning a majority on Pasadena City Council.

The following HISD Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Rhonda Skillern-Jones – District II
Sergio Lira – District III
Jolanda Jones – District IV
Diana Davila – District VIII

Skillern-Jones was forced into a runoff in 2015, but she then won that easily. Lira was elected this year to finish Manuel Rodriguez’s term. Jolanda is Jolanda, and no election that includes her will ever be boring. Davila sued to get on the Democratic primary ballot for Justice of the Peace, but was not successful. I have to assume whoever runs against her will make an issue of the fact that she was job-hopping in the interim.

The following HCC Trustees are up for election in 2019:

Zeph Capo – District 1
Dave Wilson – District 2
Neeta Sane – District 7

It is too early to think about who might be running for what in Houston and HISD. It is very much NOT too early to find and begin building support for a good candidate to run against Dave Wilson and kick his homophobic ass out of office. That is all.

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:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

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:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

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:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

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:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

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:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

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:

2015

2013

2011

2009

2007

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
VI
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.

Will we spend on some flood mitigation projects?

Maybe. We’ll see.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is calling for the construction of flood control infrastructure in the Houston area — things he said should have been built “decades and decades ago” — including a coastal barrier to protect the region from deadly storm surge.

“We need more levees. We need more reservoirs. We need a coastal barrier,” Patrick said late last week during an interview with Fox News Radio. “These are expensive items and we’re working with [U.S. Sens. John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz and our congressional delegation to … get this right. We’ve had three now major floods in three years — nothing at this level but major floods.”

The need is particularly pressing because of the state’s rapid population growth, Patrick added, noting that “a lot of that growth is around the Houston area.” And he said the billions in federal aid that Texas is poised to receive presents an opportunity for Texas “to really rebuild and do things that, quite frankly, should have been done decades and decades ago.”

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul is seeking $320 million to build another reservoir that would take pressure off Addicks and Barker. That’s exciting, Bettencourt said, because the Austin Republican “can lift more than the average congressman” as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

McCaul’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But last week during a meeting with officials in Katy, he described such a project as “long-term” and said he has discussed funding with Gov. Greg Abbott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

“We need to look at long-term solutions from an infrastructure standpoint,” he said.

None of it will be covered by the $15 billion short-term relief aid relief package Congress has approved for Texas, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will pay for any flood-control infrastructure projects in Texas.

As the man once said, show me the money. What we have here is state officials talking about getting Congress to spend some money on projects here. There’s no indication of willingness to spend any state funds, which among other things would raise ticklish questions about how to pay for them (*). Maybe this Congress is willing to do that, and maybe it’s not. Let’s just say that the track record is not encouraging.

(*) You may recall that in 2013, voters approved a constitutional amendment to fund a water infrastructure fund that among other things could be used to build reservoirs. The idea of this fund, which came on the heels of the devastating drought of 2011, was to make more water available for cities and industry, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be tapped for something like a flood-mitigation reservoir. I don’t know the specifics of the legislation, and frankly I haven’t heard much about this, the SWIFT fund, since its approval. As such, I may be mistaken in what it can and cannot be used for. But at the very least, it seems like a decent starting point for discussion.

Final EV report for the May 6 election

Before I get to the numbers, here’s a Chron overview of the Pasadena Mayor’s race that mentions the numbers towards the end.

“I believe it’s a pivotal time in this city’s history – that it can either draw together and continue being one city, or it can divide apart and be fractured,” said John Moon Jr., a commercial real estate agent who grew up in Pasadena and worked as a banker for more than 30 years.

In addition to Moon, the field of candidates includes Pasadena city council members Pat Van Houte and Jeff Wagner; Robert Talton, who served as a state representative from 1993 to 2009; Gilbert Peña, who represented the same district from 2015 until 2017; David Flores, a former city employee who runs a Pasadena-based construction business; and Gloria Gallegos, an assistant superintendent with the Pasadena Independent School District.

[…]

The candidates are stressing different issues.

Talton is campaigning for increased investment in the city’s police and fire departments and senior services. Moon wants a five-year capital improvement plan. Gallegos, based on her experience with the school district, is pushing workforce development programs to bring people out of the city’s growing poverty.

Peña has said he will invest in programs to grow small businesses. Flores is calling for city departments to formally justify funding requests. Flores has five misdemeanor convictions from 2001 to 2004, including for theft, assault and evading arrest, and giving a false name to a police officer. He said his trouble with the law helped spur a commitment to public service.

Van Houte, among others, calls for increased transparency among the city and touts her ability to speak English and Spanish as a means to better communicate with voters. She once was escorted from a council meeting after questioning Isbell’s redistricting plan.

Wagner emphasized boosting employee morale.

But while there are differences in the candidates’ priorities, all emphasize a strong need to break from the past, including what some have described as a “political machine” associated with Isbell.

“That machine is not alive and well right now, without a doubt,” Wagner said. “In the past, I’m sure they had it. But, this is a new day.”

It’s unclear whether the alleged disparate treatment of Latino residents will result in higher turnout by Hispanic voters. Historically, Hispanic voters have turned out at lower rates than white voters.

As of Tuesday, just more than 3,200 had cast ballots at Pasadena City Hall, which University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said was high. Rottinghaus said roughly 50 percent of voters come out to early voting, with another 50 percent on Election Day. In 2013, the number who cast ballots early was 1,327, according to city records.

Here are the final EV totals, which I saved for posterity since you never know when I may feel the need to reference them. (Like, maybe for the Pasadena Mayor’s race runoff.) There were 3,204 in person early votes cast in Pasadena, but that’s not the sum total of all votes, as of course there are also absentee ballots. I asked around and was informed that as of yesterday 1,548 mail ballots had been returned as well, for a grand total of 4,752. If Professor Rottinghaus is correct about how many votes are cast early versus on Election Day, then we are headed for either about 8,000 total votes cast or 9,500 total votes cast, depending on whether he meant to include absentee ballots in the half of votes being cast early.

That’s obviously a lot more than 2013, when Mayor Isbell was very lightly challenged by current candidate and former State Rep. Gilbert Pena. A better comparison is to 2009, when a much more contested Mayoral race drew 7,539 votes. This year seems to be on track to exceed that, possibly by a fair amount.

I’m not exactly sure how to tally up the early votes for Humble ISD, as there are two early vote locations in Humble ISD buildings plus a third location at Humble City Hall. The first two have seen a combined 2,817 votes, with another 426 at Humble City Hall. There are also some number of absentee ballots, but I have no way of knowing how many. In 2015 there were 2,150 early in person votes cast and 1,358 Election Day votes cast; in 2013 it was 2,410 early in person and 1,767 on Election Day. No matter how you slice it, this year looks busier, though it’s hard to say by how much.

Finally, in Brazoria County there have been 3,139 early in person votes cast in Pearland, which I will presume covers both the city and Pearland ISD. Just that amount, which does not include absentee ballots, is more than the grand total for the 2014 Pearland ISD election (the trustees there appear to serve three-year terms), in which 2,868 total votes were cast. The city of Pearland also appears to be on three-year terms, so they have elections each year. Turnout figures for those last three years: 2,744 in 2016, 3,559 in 2015, and 3,387 in 2014, which was the previous Mayor’s race. Again, it would seem that turnout will be higher than in any of those years, though at least some of that may be fueled just by population growth, as the number of registered voters in Pearland climbed from 58,563 in 2014 to 63,584 in 2016. Still, we appear to be three for three in terms of increased voter participation. We’ll see what if anything that means for the results.

One last look at the recapture re-vote

There’s a lot at stake here, and not a whole lot of people voting on it.

For the second time in seven months, voters within the Houston Independent School District will determine how – and if – it should pay tens of millions to help subsidize districts that collect little in property taxes.

The vote Saturday comes as some HISD trustees have reassessed a decision by voters in November not to write a $77.5 million check to the state to comply with Texas’ “recapture” policy.

While district leaders don’t think it’s fair that an urban district with many poor students and English-language learners should be slapped with such a financial penalty, they’re split over the best way to respond.

Some trustees argue that Proposition 1 will deal a blow to progress in getting state legislators to rethink Texas’ widely criticized school finance system. They believe refusing to pay will allow the district to sue the state to free HISD of its recapture obligations.

Others believe that voters should hold their nose and vote for the measure, especially with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath threatening that a “no” vote would prompt him to move some of Houston’s most valuable commercial properties out of the district’s taxable area.

That “detachment” scenario has never happened in Texas and could cost HISD $98.4 million in lost tax revenue this year, district officials estimate.

“Either scenario is bad,” acknowledged Glenn Reed, HISD’s general manager of budget and financial planning, adding that the district could end up losing more than 15 percent of its annual budget in a few years under either option. “You get used to living at a certain level, but now you can’t deal with cost increases. You have to start selling off furniture and only eat out once a week. It causes you to change how you do business.”

[…]

While Houston will owe $77.5 million in recapture fees this year, that number will soon balloon to $376 million owed just for the 2019-2020 school year, according to Houston ISD budget estimates. That same school year, Houston could lose as much as $413.2 million under the “detachment” scenario if property values rise (it would lose less than that amount if property values remain stagnant or decline).

Trustees including board President Wanda Adams, Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Mike Lunceford said they now fear vindictive action from the Texas Education Agency and lawmakers if the district doesn’t pay the recapture fees. But other trustees, including Jolanda Jones and Manuel Rodriguez Jr., want the district to hold steadfast in its decision not to pay the recapture fees. Jones said the district could take the state to court and argue that detachment is unconstitutional.

She contends that Houston ISD – the state’s largest school district – has the power to pressure the state to change its funding formulas.

“We can’t debate detachment until there’s an actual detachment,” Jones said. “No district has voted to detach, so that hasn’t been heard at all (in the courts).”

It should be noted that TEA Commissioner Morath isn’t “threatening” to detach properties. The TEA has already identified the properties it will detach. It’s just that the process doesn’t formally take place for another month or two, which is why HISD had the opportunity for the re-vote, which could prevent detachment from going through. Either we buy the attendance credits – i.e., vote Yes on the recapture proposition – or we experience detachment. Those are the choices.

Well, except that Trustee Jolanda Jones argues that detachment is unconstitutional. Which I suppose it could be – I Am Not A Lawyer, remember – but as Jones notes since no district has ever undergone detachment, the issues has not been litigated. I take that to mean that if the No vote wins again, someone will sue the TEA to stop detachment from happening. That does not strike me as the soundest of strategies, but I can’t say that it wouldn’t work. I can say that I personally would not choose to risk it, which is why I voted Yes.

Anyway. To get back to the matter of how many people are voting in this election, the final EV turnout document indicates about 8,500 in person early votes cast in HISD (basically, take the overall total and subtract the bottom five lines, to remove Pasadena, Humble, and Lone Star College from the amount), plus maybe 3,000 mail ballots. That suggests a final overall turnout in the 18-20K range. There’s no way to do a direct comparison to other HISD elections because the Trustees are on staggered four year terms, meaning that in a given election only some of the Trustees are on the ballot. HISD elections are also concurrent with city of Houston elections (though that will be different this year barring an order throwing out the term limits referendum), so turnout numbers in HISD districts are at least somewhat affected by that as well. To give a small amount of context, in 2013 there were 41,392 total ballots cast in three contested Trustee races (the County Clerk doesn’t provide the returns on uncontested Trustee races; state law allows for uncontested races to be skipped, which may be what happens in these cases), while in 2015 there were 76,184 voters in four contested races. Turnout rates ranged from 17 to 22 percent in the three districts in 2013, and from 21 to 28 percent in the four districts in 2015. Make of all that what you will.

Early voting Day Five: Can we make any guesses yet?

Mike Snyder wonders about the turnout so far in the May elections.

When Pasadena last chose a mayor, in 2013, about 7 percent of its registered voters determined who would lead the industrial port city of 150,000. Mayor Johnny Isbell, who won re-election by an overwhelming margin, attributed the paltry turnout to public satisfaction with “the direction the city is headed.”

Four years later, there is ample reason to question that sanguine assessment. But history suggests that turnout will again be low as voters in Pasadena, Pearland and other Houston-area communities choose mayors, council members and school trustees. Early voting started Monday, and election day is May 6.

[…]

In Pasadena, for example, the mayor who was returned to office by 3,599 voters was the driving force behind a change in the City Council structure that a federal judge found intentionally diluted the influence of the city’s Latino majority. And reporting by some of my Houston Chronicle colleagues will provide new details about the inequitable allocation of city services on Isbell’s watch.

Low turnout in local elections is not limited to Pasadena.

A year ago, just 2,744 Pearland residents – 4.3 percent of the fast-growing city’s registered voters – cast ballots in an election that included three City Council seats and three school trustee positions, according to the Community Impact newspaper. In Friendswood, 9 percent of voters – 2,422 residents – cast ballots for two city council seats and two sales tax increases.

It’s really hard to find information about past Pasadena elections, because before this year the city conducted their own elections, and the Pasadena city website sucks eggs. You can find returns on the 2015 election in Pasadena here, but note that Mayor Isbell was not on the ballot. The only data I can find from the May 2013 election, which Snyder references in his piece, is in this Chron story, which notes that Isbell defeated Gilbert Pena by 3,599 (83 percent) to 751 (17 percent), for a total turnout (not counting undervotes) of 4,350. In that 2015 election, again without knowing how many people may have skipped the two At Large Council races, the District G At Large race received 4,150 votes. So let’s make 4,350 the mark to beat for Pasadena this year.

As you can see from the updated Harris County EV totals, after five days 1,611 in person votes have been cast in Pasadena. If the next four days are proportional to the first five, then about 2,900 in person early votes will be cast. I have no way of knowing how many mail ballots received by the Clerk are Pasadena ballots – the proportion of Pasadena votes to total votes is about 1/4, so with 4,362 mail ballots so far there may be between 1,000 and 1,100 Pasadena mail votes. Which, if true – and please note that I’m really guessing here – would put Pasadena’s total so far at roughly 2,700 cumulative votes, which is on pace to reach or exceed 4,000 before Election Day. I don’t know what the actual number of Pasadena mail ballots is, I don’t know if the next fours days will meet, exceed, or fall short of the pace of the first five, and I don’t know what the share of Pasadena’s votes are usually cast early, so I could be way off, but if I had to bet right now, I’d put my money on the over for turnout. I’ll review this projection after early voting ends, but that’s my guess at this time.

As for Pearland, you can see the daily EV totals for Brazoria County here. It is broken down by location, and I assume (though I don’t know for sure) that the Pearland East and Pearland West locations are the only ones we care about for this purpose. There were 3,387 votes cast in May of 2014, which is the better comparison for this year since there was a Mayoral race then as well. Pearland ISD had 2,868 voters that year. In each case, about two thirds of the total final vote was cast early, so when we have a cumulative early vote total for Pearland, we can take a reasonable guess at final turnout. The Brazoria elections site only has three days’ worth of data at this time, so I’m not going to go out on any limbs here, but I will venture to propose that whatever the final EV total is for Pearland and Pearland ISD, the ultimate number will be about half again that much. Feel free to mock any and all of my numbers in the comments.

We don’t need another vote on the Astrodome

Not for this we don’t, anyway.

All this and antiquities landmark status too

Less than five months ago, the future of the Astrodome seemed to be more secure than it has been in the decades since it hosted its last Astros game, with Harris County commissioners moving forward on a massive renovation project they said would usher in festivals, conferences and commercial development to the aging stadium.

Now, that future again might be getting hazier. Veteran state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said Friday he plans to introduce legislation next week that would require the county to hold a referendum on its $105 million project to raise the floor of the stadium and create 1,400 parking spaces, a move many thought would be its saving grace.

Citing concerns about how the county is spending taxpayer dollars, Whitmire’s move is the latest in a series of skirmishes over the stadium, the world’s first multi-purpose domed stadium for sporting events. It comes more than three years after voters rejected a $217 million proposal to turn the Dome into a street-level convention hall and exhibit space, which many believed doomed it to demolition.

“I’m trying to allow the public to have a vote, the taxpayers to have a vote, before we spend over $100 million on the Dome with no stated purpose,” Whitmire said.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, who has long championed repurposing the Dome and was one of the chief advocates of the $105 million plan, said Friday that Whitmire’s proposal “risks derailing” that solution, which he called a “fiscally prudent decision.”

“The Dome is a vexing issue,” he said. “But to me, it’s an asset.”

Emmett said he had not heard about Whitmire’s plans to file the bill before Friday.

“It’s a little unusual for a legislator to file a piece of legislation that affects a specific piece of property that’s totally paid for,” Emmett said. “I have never heard of that before. It’s also unusual to have legislation filed directly that tells a county how tooperate without talking to the county.”

[…]

The exact language of Whitmire’s bill, which he said he is calling the Harris County Taxpayer Protection Act, will not be finalized until it is filed next week. He said it would be worded to target projects like the Astrodome that had been targeted by referenda in the past. He said it had “broad bipartisan support.”

Gov. Dan Patrick could not be reached for comment. But state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Patrick confidante and Houston Republican, said he supports Whitmire’s proposal.

“It’s a good idea,” Bettencourt said. “We had a referendum. The vote was no. Everyone was promised they would not use property tax money in that project. And now that’s effectively what they’re proposing to do.”

Whitmire also said: “I just think it’s a very hazardous way and irresponsible way to deal with taxpayer monies.”

He said he took issue with different components of the funding, saying that some of the funds used for the $105 million project could also be used for other facilities, like NRG Stadium.

See here and here for some background. I do not support this bill, whatever winds up being in it. We require a vote when a government entity like Harris County wants the authority to borrow money via bonds, which was the case with that $217 million proposition from 2013. We do not require a vote on individual budget items, any more than we require a vote on (say) the county’s budget as a whole. We elect people to write those budgets, and if we don’t like the way they do it we can vote them out. Requiring a vote for how a county government spends county money is a gross incursion on local control, which is something we’re already had way too much of. I will not support this.

Now to be sure, part of the problem here is that the stakes of that 2013 referendum were never made clear. “The people rejected this specific plan that was put forward to rehab the Dome” and “The people rejected the idea of rehabbing the Dome and want it demolished instead” are both valid interpretations of that vote. Commissioners Court and Judge Emmett did not communicate to the public what their intentions were if that referendum was voted down as it was, and as a result we have been in a state of confusion since. Many ideas continue to be put forth for the Dome, which has since gained Historical Antiquity status, making demolition that much harder to do if that’s what we wanted to do. There’s no clear consensus. That may be the best argument for requiring a vote, but it’s still a violation of local control, and any such election would occur in either a low-turnout context (as in this November) or one where it was overshadowed by other campaigns, as would be the case next year. I say let Commissioners Court move forward with what they are doing, and if you don’t like it take a lesson from your friends and neighbors who are busy raising their voices on many other issues and tell the Court what you think. Isn’t that the way this is supposed to work? Swamplot has more.

Is the end near for straight-ticket voting?

It could be.

Rep. Ron Simmons

Partisan efficiency experts might love the time-saving charms of straight-ticket voting, but a number of the state’s top elected officials are ready to outlaw the practice.

Straight-ticket, or one-punch, voting allows people to cast a ballot for all of one party’s candidates with one pull of the lever, stroke of the pencil or click of the voting button.

One and done.

Its requires partisan faith on the part of a voter, an expression of trust in a party’s primary voters, a conviction that the chosen candidates — no matter who they are, what they’ve done and whether they are qualified — are better than candidates offered by the opposition party.

And it makes the coattails of the people at the top of the ballot very, very influential.

Just ask a judge.

“I will say only a word about judicial selection, but it is a word of warning,” Texas Supreme Chief Justice Nathan Hecht said this week in his State of the Judiciary speech. “In November, many good judges lost solely because voters in their districts preferred a presidential candidate in the other party. These kinds of partisan sweeps are common, with judicial candidates at the mercy of the top of the ticket. I do not disparage our new judges. I welcome them. My point is only that qualifications did not drive their election; partisan politics did. Such partisan sweeps are demoralizing to judges and disruptive to the legal system. But worse than that, when partisan politics is the driving force, and the political climate is as harsh as ours has become, judicial elections make judges more political, and judicial independence is the casualty.”

State Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, has filed legislation — House Bill 433 —to end straight-ticket voting in Texas. He might have some angels: House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have both sponsored bans in the past. Both remain critical of one-punch voting.

The major political parties are reluctant to part with it, however — it’s part of the regulatory advantage that makes the Republicans and the Democrats appear to offer the only viable choices for Americans — or Texans — who want to take part in civic life.

The two-party racket just about kills the possibility that you can find a candidate with whom you completely agree. Instead, you’re generally stuck with two options, left to choose the least undesirable candidate in a field of two.

Libertarians and Greens and Teas and Occupies and who knows who else would love to elbow their way in, but this is a protectorate.

[…]

One of the best arguments for straight-ticket voting is that there are too many people on the general election ballot, that too little is known about them and that the party label is the average voter’s most reliable guide to which candidate is more likely to agree with that voter’s political preferences.

A strong argument against is that partisan coattails can be stronger than brains. Every election seems to end with an unintended consequence, often a good judge tossed aside because the political winds replaced one party’s flag with another — or a loon elected by voters who actually knew nothing about their candidate.

Rep. Simmons filed the same bill in 2015, and what I wrote about it then still stands. Putting aside the fact that nobody had a problem with this until Democrats started winning judicial races in Dallas and Harris Counties, the arguments that Ross Ramsey puts forth just don’t make sense. You can vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green, you know, and if you can’t vote “Tea Party” it’s because no one is identified on the ballot as such because no official political party by that name exists. This past year was in many ways the best year ever for third party candidates, as they racked up big numbers in multiple statewide races, in particular for President and for Railroad Commissioner, despite the prevalence of straight party voting. Plenty of “loons” get elected in primaries and non-partisan elections (see, for instance, Dave Wilson getting elected to the HCC Board of Trustees in 2013). In what way does straight ticket voting make the difference?

The one thing that will change if straight ticket voting is taken away is that it will take longer to vote. If I had any reason to believe that the people pushing this also intended to address that problem, by allocating some money for counties to buy extra voting machines or allowing longer early voting hours or broadening the class of people who can vote by mail, then I would have no strong objection to this. But they don’t, and I have no reason to see this as anything but another way to make voting a little harder and less pleasant for some people. As such, I continue to oppose these bills.

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.

Pasadena voting rights case in the judge’s hands now

We await a ruling.

Pasadena City Council

Armed officers guarded a closed-door committee meeting. Discriminatory comments surfaced at City Hall. Latino-backed council members were hustled from chambers by police.

The accounts of perceived intimidation and back-door dealings were detailed during testimony in a closely watched seven-day trial of a federal voting rights lawsuit that wrapped up Friday in a Houston courtroom.

Now, U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal will decide if Pasadena violated the federal Voting Rights Act by reconfiguring its city election system, a ruling that is expected in time for February filing deadlines for May elections in which city council seats and the mayor’s job are up for grabs.

A group of Latino voters filed the federal lawsuit, saying city leaders changed the structure of council elections in a deliberate attempt to quell the Hispanic vote.

“The city moved to dilute voting strength just as Latinos were starting to exercise it,” said Nina Perales, lead attorney in the suit for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in her closing arguments to the court.

City attorneys argued that leaders did not set out to diminish Hispanic representation by presenting an option to voters to change the city election systems. The growing Latino population has an equal chance to participate in the political process to elect their candidate of choice, said C. Robert Heath, a veteran attorney who specializes in voting rights and election law.

“No one said, ‘Vote yes (on the ballot measure) to diminish Hispanic representation,’ ” he said.

See here and here for the background. There were a couple of other stories related to this case published last week. From Monday, when Mayor Isbell took the stand:

The mayor of Pasadena chuckled and shook his head Monday when his defense lawyer asked if he had ever been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, which had its headquarters in the city for many years.

“No. It’s a despicable organization as far as I’m concerned,” Mayor Johnny Isbell, who is white, testified.

He is not racist, nor is Pasadena a racist city, he testified.

[…]

Isbell said he had appointed African-Americans and Hispanics to top jobs in his administration and actively backed a few Hispanic candidates’ campaigns. He said he supported redistricting and switching from eight single-member districts to six single-member districts plus two at-large seats because decades in public office taught him a mixed election system worked best.

He also contradicted testimony last week by Hispanic City Council member Ornaldo Ybarra, who said Isbell was known to have said to like-minded constituents that if they didn’t back his proposed revisions that the city government would be overpowered by “an invasion of Hispanics.”

The mayor testified that the changing demographics of Pasadena don’t bother him, and he quibbled with Ybarra’s portrayal of a north-south split in Pasadena, with Hispanics in the northern sector having to live amid urban blight, poorly maintained streets and subpar drainage.

The judge asked questions to clarify how the city divided.

Isbell said the north was mostly Hispanic and the south was majority white. But Isbell said the charter vote was not a white-versus-Hispanic issue.

“It was a Democrat and Republican issue, that’s the way it ended up,” he said.

The next day one of Isbell’s allies made an embarrassing admission during his testimony.

A top Pasadena official admitted on the witness stand that he violated state ethics laws by campaigning during work hours for the mayor’s re-election bid and for a 2013 charter amendment to change the city’s election system.

Richard Scott, the city’s director of community relations, testified in trial in a federal voting rights lawsuit before U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal that he’d used city workers and resources to do campaign work during business hours and sent campaign-related emails from his city account.

He said he regretted his actions and knew they were in violation of state law.

The statute of limitations has expired on the 2013 admission but Scott could be charged with a crime for working on the mayor’s 2015 campaign, according to Nina Perales, one of the team of attorneys from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund pursuing the lawsuit.

[…]

Scott’s testimony came during questioning by MALDEF attorney Ernest Herrera in the civil trial of a lawsuit filed by Hispanic voters.

Scott, a longtime confidante of Mayor Johnny Isbell, sat up tall and answered the questions without hesitation. Yes, he had used his work email address. Yes, he’d had city employees help him during work hours on the campaigns. Yes, he knew that was a violation of campaign law.

Okay then. Chron reporter Mike Snyder attended the trail and picked out a few key quotes to highlight from it.

“You don’t have to look at the budget to see that one side of town is clearly being treated differently than the other.” – Pasadena Councilman Cody Ray Wheeler.

The councilman, a Latino in his second term who is part of the faction that has opposed the mayor on contentious topics, was discussing the real-world consequences of the issues in the case. Residents of Pasadena’s mostly Latino north side have long complained that the quality of their streets, drainage and other essential services lags far behind conditions on the predominantly Anglo south side.

The most recently adopted council structure of six district seats and two at-large ones replaced a system of eight district positions. If, as the suit alleges, the new system makes it harder for the city’s growing Latino population to elect its preferred candidates, this under-representation is reflected in residents’ daily lives. This trial is not a theoretical exercise.

[…]

“Who are you to vote against me?” – Isbell to Wheeler, according to Wheeler’s testimony.

Wheeler said the mayor posed this question after Wheeler voted against a bond package that Isbell initially supported. Isbell has not confirmed or denied having made the statement, but it’s the kind of thing a longtime public official accustomed to having his way might say to a young, ambitious politician like Wheeler. Isbell, 78, has held elective office in Pasadena almost continuously since 1969 – 16 years before the 31-year-old Wheeler was born. A sense of entitlement can be a byproduct of all that experience.

[…]

“We’ve got to keep Pasadena Pasadena.” – unidentified Anglo precinct judge to Wheeler, explaining his support for the new council system on Nov. 5, 2013 – the day voters narrowly approved it.

I think this comment speaks for itself.

Indeed, though it’s up to Judge Rosenthal to decide if it merits legal redress. She has promised a decision in time to conduct the May elections in Pasadena, which all things considered probably means by February.

Time once again to discuss Latino political participation

Let’s jump right in.

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

The long wait continues for Houston and Harris County residents eager for a steep uptick in elected Latino representation.

Hispanic residents last year were 42 percent of the county population, up from 23 percent in 1990, yet Houston has yet to elect a Latino mayor, and no at-large City Council members are Hispanic.

At the county, low-profile Treasurer Orlando Sanchez is the lone countywide Latino elected official, judges aside. Even Harris County’s congressional delegation lacks a Hispanic member.

By January, however, that will change. Four of the area’s most prominent public officials are going to be Latino, thanks to three recent Houston appointments – Police Chief Art Acevedo, Fire Chief Samuel Peña and school Superintendent Richard Carranza – paired with the election of Ed Gonzalez as county sheriff.

University of Houston political scientist Jeronimo Cortina framed the rise of these leaders as providing an opportunity to boost Hispanic civic engagement.

“It’s going to send an empowering message to Latino kids that they can do it. It doesn’t matter how you look or where you come from,” said Cortina, who specializes in American and Latino politics. “People are going to get motivated, especially the young generation.”

Hispanics punch below their weight at the ballot box nationally and locally, where voters with a Spanish surname represent just 21 percent of registered voters despite being a plurality of Harris County residents, according to Hector de Leon, who directs voter outreach for the county clerk’s office.

That relatively low percentage has grown, however, as the region’s young Latino population has come of age.

Spanish-surnamed voters now make up 31 percent of Harris County registered voters between the ages of 18 and 24, according to de Leon, and a quarter of registered voters between ages 25 and 29. The share of Spanish-surnamed registered voters drops below 21 percent only among voters ages 50 and above.

Even so, voters with a Spanish surname made up just 17 percent of Harris County’s early vote this year, de Leon said. Election Day data was not available.

“If you engage Latino voters at this early age and excite them to participate politically, civically, then you’re going to be creating a very robust voting bloc that is going to be the future of the state,” Cortina said.

I don’t have sufficient data to make any firm statements about how Latino voting this year compared to 2012. That really has to be done at the individual precinct level and with the full roster of all voters. What I can do is note that in the most heavily Latino districts, participation was up this year over 2012:

CD29 – 117,291 votes from 239,552 voters in 2012; 136,801 votes from 264,213 voters in 2016

SD06 – 137,993 votes from 284,248 voters in 2012; 158,365 votes from 311,045 voters in 2016

HD140 – 24,213 votes from 53,338 voters in 2012; 28,652 votes from 59,339 voters in 2016
HD143 – 31,334 votes from 62,715 voters in 2012; 34,279 votes from 65,713 voters in 2016
HD144 – 24,673 votes from 54,579 voters in 2012; 28,120 votes from 57,173 voters in 2016
HD145 – 30,346 votes from 60,056 voters in 2012; 35,918 votes from 66,975 voters in 2016
HD148 – 40,230 votes from 71,705 voters in 2012; 49,819 votes from 79,995 voters in 2016

This is a crude measurement in several ways. For one thing, there’s a lot of overlap between CD29, SD06, and the five State Rep districts. For another, just because there were more voters doesn’t mean there were more Latino voters. Voting was up overall in Harris County thanks in large part to a significant increase in voter registrations. I haven’t compared the increases in these districts to the others to see where they fall proportionally. The point I’m making is simply that there were more votes and more voters in each of these districts, with the turnout rate being a bit higher in each place as well. It’s a start, and a step in the right direction.

As for the issue of Latinos in city government, I’ve said this before and i’ll say it again: Part of the issue is that there aren’t many Latinos who run for Council outside of Districts H and I. Roy Morales has made it to the runoff of two At Large races, in #3 in 2013 and in #4 in 2015, but that was because he nudged into second place ahead of a large field of other candidates and behind a clear frontrunner who then easily defeated him in the second round. Moe Rivera ran for At Large #2 in 2013 and 2015, finishing third out of four in 2013 and last out of five in 2015. Roland Chavez was one of the candidates Roy Morales nosed out in 2013. And of course there was Adrian Garcia running for Mayor last year, and I think we all understand by now why he didn’t do as well in that race as he might have hoped.

That’s pretty much it for Latino citywide candidates in the last two elections. Way back in 2009, when we were first talking about expanding Council from nine districts to 11, I asked Vidal Martinez why people like him didn’t do more to support Latino candidates who ran for At Large seats. I still don’t know what the answer to that question is.

Interview with Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

One of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and I will have interviews with three of them. First up is Anne Sung, who had run for this position before in 2013 (you can listen to my interview with her from that election here). Sung is a graduate of HISD schools and a former science teacher and department chair at Lee High School. She served on Mayor Turner’s Education Transition Team and is now the chief strategy officer and Vice President at the non-profit Project GRAD Houston. Here’s what we talked about:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman. I’ll have interviews with the latter two in the coming days.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Commissioners Court approves Astrodome parking plan

Here we go.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County commissioners approved the first piece of a $105 million plan to transform the stadium into part parking garage and part event space for things like concerts and trade shows.

After years of indecision, advocates for preserving the Dome are hailing the move as one that might breath new life into the stadium’s future long after many Houstonians had written its obituary.

“We’re really happy to see some concrete action taken,” said David Bush, acting executive director of Preservation Houston, which has been advocating for the Dome’s preservation for 16 years. “This is a significant first step.”

The $105 million plan, first unveiled by county officials in June, calls for the floor of the Astrodome to be raised two floors, or 30 feet, to ground level. Two levels of parking or 1400 spaces will be installed underneath.

The new ground floor could be used by conferences like the Offshore Technology Conference, or for music festivals or other events. Officials from OTC wrote a letter earlier this month in support of the plan with the Houston Auto Show, Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show and the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market, a ballet fundraiser, among others.

In the future, the 550,000 square feet that surrounds the core could be used for retail, commercial or other options, though none have been determined yet.

No events have yet made any formal commitments to use the re-purposed dome, a point acknowledged by Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke whose precinct includes the Astrodome.

“I’m more confident that doing this is better than doing nothing,” he said.

[…]

Despite Tuesday’s vote, not everything is final. [County Judge Ed] Emmett and other county officials believe as the $105 million project enters the design phase, the overall price tag will go down, especially if other funding sources like Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds or tax credits can apply.

But the cost could also go beyond $105 million, something several commissioners have said they will watch out for.

Regardless, commissioners will have to vote again likely next year to spend the rest of the money on the actual construction.

See here for the preview. To address some things I’ve seen here and elsewhere, the point of this is to begin the process of making the Astrodome viable for other uses, whatever those may turn out to be. The extra parking would presumably make the space more amenable for the Texans and the Rodeo as well, though those two entities have remained firmly uncommitted to the whole idea so far. As there is no money being borrowed to pay for this, there is no need to hold a public vote. If and when we get to a point where financing is needed, then there will have to be a referendum to get the public’s approval to borrow the money – in other words, a bond referendum. While the rejected 2013 referendum was often seen as a vote for demolition, it was in the strictest sense just a rejection of that financing/renovation plan. Not everyone will agree with that last statement, of course. If you’re one of those people, you’ll either get another chance to vote against a bond issuance, or you’ll get to (have to) take comfort in the knowledge that any financing will be done by a private entity.

In the meantime, there’s always the possibility that the bill will go up once design phase begins, which may lead to further reckoning. If we get past that with no worrisome cost estimate increase, then Commissioners Court will need to commit to an actual design, of which there have been many. One presumes it would be some version of the Urban Land Institute plan, though that isn’t exactly fully-formed, and besides, the county has gone through Astrodome plans like Spinal Tap has gone through drummers, so who knows what we’d get. For now, what we’re getting is underground parking. At least that is something we can all comprehend. KUHF and Swamplot have more.

Endorsement watch: Sung in the special

The Chron endorses Anne Sung in the HISD special election.

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Out of the four names on the ballot, Anne Sung is the only candidate who will be prepared to do a good job immediately. Sung, 38, a product of HISD schools, not only says that “education is the foundation of the American Dream,” but her life demonstrates that dream. The Bellaire High School alumna went on to graduate from Harvard University.

Sung has been a Teach for America Corp member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher, and the cofounder of an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. She’s currently filling another role in the education landscape by serving as the chief strategy office and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston. Her opponents, John Luman and Victoria Bryant, both seem to have what it takes to become strong board members. As a practicing lawyer, Luman would bring analytical skills to board deliberations. Bryant’s background in pharmacy would be useful in a district where 75.5 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. But the breadth of Sung’s professional career has given her a multi-faceted and nuanced perspective on the district that her opponents Luman and Bryant don’t come close to matching. Candidate Danielle D. Paulus did not answer our requests for a screening.

The Chron had endorsed Harvin Moore over Anne Sung in 2013, though they were “impressed” by her at the time. Looks like that good impression has remained. I’ll have candidate interviews for this election in the coming weeks. There’s a lot going on and thus a lot to talk about. If you live in this district, what are your impressions of the candidates? Leave a comment and let us know.

Precinct analysis: HISD Trustee district VII in a Presidential year

As you know, we have a special election for HISD Trustee in district VII on the ballot this November. There’s one Democratic candidate in that race and three Republicans. These races are normally held in odd-numbered years, in which turnout is considerably lower than in Presidential years. Overall turnout in Harris County in 2013 was 13.23%, with turnout in the HISD VII race at 21.86%; this was the highest level among the three contested Trustee races that year. In 2012, turnout in Harris County was 61.99%. There are going to be a lot more people at the polls for this Trustee race than there usually are, is what I’m saying. What effect might that have on the special election?

Well, the conventional wisdom is that Democrats do better in higher-turnout environments. There’s a lot of empirical evidence for this, but just because something is true in the aggregate doesn’t mean it’s true in all specific subsets. Here’s what the numbers look like in HISD VII in 2013 and in 2012:


Pcnct  Moore   Sung   Moore%   Sung%   Romney    Obama  Romney%   Obama%
========================================================================
54        79    222   26.25%  73.75%      531      444   54.46%   45.54%
70       271    375   41.95%  58.05%    1,487      825   64.32%   35.68%
129      473    373   55.91%  44.09%    2,369    1,279   64.94%   35.06%
135      377    205   64.78%  35.22%    1,366      657   67.52%   32.48%
139      199    317   38.57%  61.43%    1,027      965   51.56%   48.44%
177      102    134   43.22%  56.78%      628      398   61.21%   38.79%
178      198    177   52.80%  47.20%      878      375   70.07%   29.93%
204      261    537   32.71%  67.29%    1,411      939   60.04%   39.96%
217      480    226   67.99%  32.01%    1,388      633   68.68%   31.32%
227      377    118   76.16%  23.84%    1,089      289   79.03%   20.97%
233      298    351   45.92%  54.08%    1,496    1,310   53.31%   46.69%
234      629    280   69.20%  30.80%    2,327      606   79.34%   20.66%
269      398    125   76.10%  23.90%    1,278      282   81.92%   18.08%
272       77    132   36.84%  63.16%      404      660   37.97%   62.03%
282      112    186   37.58%  62.42%      765      481   61.40%   38.60%
303      541    165   76.63%  23.37%    2,052      404   83.55%   16.45%
312      247    246   50.10%  49.90%    1,286      982   56.70%   43.30%
421       11     19   36.67%  63.33%       45      169   21.03%   78.97%
431       38     40   48.72%  51.28%      309      867   26.28%   73.72%
432       35     55   38.89%  61.11%      158      402   28.21%   71.79%
434      176    128   57.89%  42.11%      657      319   67.32%   32.68%
435      303    304   49.92%  50.08%    1,515      716   67.91%   32.09%
436	 257    215   54.45%  45.55%    1,232      762   61.79%   38.21%
491      144    123   53.93%  46.07%      680      438   60.82%   39.18%
567       78    109   41.71%  58.29%      280      748   27.24%   72.76%
569      184    219   45.66%  54.34%    1,192      910   56.71%   43.29%
570       38     90   29.69%  70.31%      414      484   46.10%   53.90%
684        7      4   63.64%  36.36%       58       38   60.42%   39.58%
809        1      2   33.33%  66.67%       10       17   37.04%   62.96%
839       36     37   49.32%  50.68%      113      464   19.58%   80.42%
902      165    246   40.15%  59.85%      869      576   60.14%   39.86%
								
Total  6,621  5,773   53.42%  46.58%   29,314   18,439   61.39%   38.61%
Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Did that upend your view of this race? It upended mine. Before I get into what this may mean for the candidates, let’s try to answer the question why Republican turnout improved so much more in the Presidential year – or if you want to look at it more chronologically, why it deteriorated more in the off year. Here are a few thoughts about that.

It’s important to keep in mind that odd year elections are different from even year elections, in that there generally isn’t much in the odd years for Republicans in Houston. Bill King last year was the first serious Republican candidate for Mayor since 2003, and he wasn’t running on the kind of culture-war issues that tend to boost Republican turnout in even years. There wasn’t much to draw Republican voters to the polls in 2013, at least in these precincts, so their turnout lagged more compared to 2012 than Democrats’ turnout did.

Along those lines, Anne Sung ran a campaign that strongly identified her as a Democrat and a progressive, which may have helped her draw some people out, or at least ensure that some of the people who had come out anyway continued down the ballot to vote for her. Harvin Moore is a Republican, but he doesn’t have a Republican brand, if you will. You wouldn’t know he was a Republican unless you paid close attention. The difference in branding may have affected some voters in a way that benefited Sung.

Of course, it’s not always about partisan labels. Moore was a strong supporter of former Superintendent Terry Grier; in fact, Moore was the trustee who proposed extending Grier’s contract more than a year before it was to expire. Sung was a critic of Grier’s, and identified herself as such in the campaign. It may be that the closeness of the race was more a reflection of that dynamic than anything else.

Anyway. The point I’m making here is that the higher turnout we’ll see in this race does not necessarily accrue to Anne Sung’s benefit, which is not what I had originally thought. Before I looked at the numbers, I would have said that her best bet to win would have been to achieve a majority in November and avoid a runoff, where turnout would be miniscule. Think Chris Bell in the special election for SD17 in 2008 as a parallel, or what I had thought would be a parallel. In reality, given what we saw in these numbers, I’d say Sung’s job is just to make it to the runoff, then try to drum up enough turnout among friendly voters in that race to win. Conversely, each of the three Rs should want to be the other person alongside Sung in that runoff, and reap the advantage of the district’s natural Republican lean. An R-versus-Sung runoff is preferable to them than an R-versus-R runoff, which will be more about persuasion than turnout.

Pasadena voting rights case moves forward

Good news.

Pasadena City Council

A federal judge has denied Pasadena’s request to throw out a lawsuit challenging its controversial city council redistricting plan, which a group of Hispanic and Latino residents alleges dilutes the voting rights of the suburb’s growing minority population.

Judge Lee Rosenthal’s ruling Wednesday after a roughly two-hour court hearing means the case continues toward trial, which Rosenthal has tentatively set for November.

Wednesday’s session was one of the first significant hearings in the voting rights case, which has received national attention as emblematic of modern-day battles over the issue more than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The city had asked Rosenthal to rule on a motion for summary judgment in favor of the city’s 3-year-old method of electing the council, which called for races for six single-member seats and two at-large seats, stating that the plan allows the Hispanic minority population the opportunity to elect four members.

Rosenthal rejected that argument, stating that the new method creates a majority of Hispanic citizens of voting age in three districts, compared to four in the previous election system, when there were eight single-member districts.

This lawsuit was filed in 2014 and stemmed from the redistricting plan pushed by Mayor Johnny Isbell in 2013 that switched the city from having eight district members to six district members plus two At Large members. I’m glad to see this happen, but it shows the stark difference between a world in which preclearance exists and one where it doesn’t. This redistricting plan had been previously denied by the Justice Department but went forward after the Shelby ruling from SCOTUS. Nearly three years after Mayor Isbell’s plan was narrowly approved by voters, the lawsuit over it is finally cleared for trial, with an initial ruling likely months away and ultimate resolution farther out. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it is still being litigated two years from now, or five years from initial passage of the scheme. If that redistricting plan is eventually found illegal, that’s an awful lot of time for it to have been allowed to be in place, presumably causing harm, while the lawyers fight it out. If preclearance were still in place, none of this would have happened.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that this plan will be tossed. It’s always hard to say how litigation like this will play out. In the meantime, the Chron’s Mike Snyder recently published a series of stories relating to the fight over voting rights in Pasadena that is worth your time to read if you haven’t already done so:

With changes looming, Pasadena mayor launched attack against Latino council hopeful

Mayor: New Pasadena council system would have passed federal review

Voting rights case part of long history of Pasadena ethnic strife

I’ll be keeping an eye on this.

Three more candidates announce campaigns for open HISD Trustee seat

From the inbox, candidate number 1:

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant, an entrepreneur and businesswoman, announced her candidacy today, August 15, for Houston ISD Trustee in District VII. The position is up for election this November with the resignation of Harvin Moore, one of the board’s longest-serving members.

District VII includes River Oaks, Memorial, and Briargrove, and is home to some of the best schools in the state. But this year the district faces the daunting budgetary challenge of funding school operations without disrupting classroom standards.

“Education is key to keeping Houston and Texas an economic powerhouse,” Bryant said. “As a mother with children enrolled in HISD schools, I will fight for a quality education system that will give them the tools they need to compete in a global economy.”

Bryant is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly. She currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the University of Houston’s College of Education and its College of Business.

“Victoria Bryant is an advocate for education with extensive experience in medicine and health care,” said Tony Buzbee, attorney and River Oaks resident. “Her business background will be crucial to solving the district’s budget shortfalls and modernizing our schools.”

Years ago education opened many windows of opportunity for Bryant, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees who resettled in Houston in the 1970’s. Bryant attended Carnegie High School and the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, where she earned her Doctorate of Pharmacy. “My dad did everything he could to make sure I had every opportunity in the world – and it started with a great education,” said Bryant. “Here in our district, we have incredible teachers and involved parents. That said, we have much more to do to educate and empower our children for success. As we invest in their future, I am your voice on the board.”

See here for the background. Anne Sung, who ran against Moore in 2013, has also announced her intention to run for the seat. I found this 2014 Houston Business Journal story on Victoria Bryant while googling around for her.

Sung and Bryant are joined by two others: John F. Luman, III and Danielle Paulus are also listed as candidates on the HISD webpage about the special election. Paulus, as you can see from her LinkiedIn profile, is also known as Danielle Paulus-Dick, and appears to be the wife of Eric Dick, which made my eyes roll so hard. I asked around and learned that both Bryant and Luman have Republican primary voting histories – Danielle Paulus appeared on this list after I had done that, but we do all know about Eric Dick – while Sung is a Democrat, so the basic contours of this campaign are clear, if there are no others jumping in. The filing deadline is tomorrow, August 25, so the clock is ticking. Whoever emerges victorious, in November or a December runoff, will have to do it again in 2017 for a full term. I’ll check back afterwards to see what the final lineup will be.

Anne Sung will run for HISD

From Facebook:

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

I am running for HISD School Board-Position 7 in November 2016 and I invite you to join me in my campaign.

As a proud graduate of TH Rogers and Bellaire High School, I know how important a high quality education is to every Houstonian. I am a former educator and Teacher of the Year with 7 years of experience teaching physics and leading change in Texas public schools as well as 3 years as Chief Strategy Officer for Project GRAD. I understand Houston communities and higher education and know what it takes for our schools to be successful.

Together we can rebuild trust and buy-in across HISD, bringing administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents, and the community at large together so every HISD school delivers a quality education.

This race will be a sprint and with your support I know we can win. Join us at at http://anne4hisd.com/.

This is to replace Harvin Moore, who has announced his resignation and expressed a preference for there to be an election and not an appointment. He got his wish for that, as reported at the end of this story. Sung ran for the Board in 2013 against Moore – you can check out my interview with her from 2013 here – and could do well in a Presidential turnout year, given how the vote went that year. The winner of the November special election would have to run again in 2017 for a full term. Now that we know there will be one, I expect other candidates to make their interest known.

Harvin Moore to resign as HISD Trustee

Best wishes.

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore, one of the Houston school board’s longest-serving members, said Thursday that he is resigning his seat.

Moore, who has served on the board since late 2003, has asked the board to call an election for November, a year before his term is set to expire. Moore said he expects voter turnout to be high with the presidential election. The board could decide to appoint someone to the post, but Moore said he supports the democratic process and intends to serve until a replacement takes office.

“I wanted to stay on until we had a new superintendent named, and I’m pleased with the choice,” Moore said in a message to the Houston Chronicle.

[…]

“After serving for 13 years, I’ve decided to resign to spend more time on my business and family,” Moore said in a statement. “I’m proud of the significant improvement in teaching and quality of principals and district leadership HISD has achieved over those years, and also the huge increase in the number and quality of magnet and neighborhood schools, including some of the most innovative and successful in the nation.”

I’ve chatted with Moore a few times, and interviewed him in 2013, when he was last on the ballot. He always struck me as a good guy, knowledgeable and caring about Houston’s schools. I wish him all the best in whatever comes next. If he gets his wish and there’s an election this November to replace him, it could be interesting. His district leans Republican, but it includes some usually low-turnout Democratic turf. In a Presidential year, especially with Donald Trump on the ballot, who knows what effect that could have? That said, this would be a non-partisan race, very likely with multiple candidates and a strong chance of a runoff, which would then be held in a much lower turnout environment. Plus, whoever wins that race would have to run again for a full four-year term in 2017, and that as things stand now would happen with n citywide races on the ballot, though possibly a bond issue and revenue cap referendum. So again, who knows? Be that as it may, my thanks to Harvin Moore for his service. The Press has more.

Appeals court upholds Wilson residency ruling

No surprise.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson

A state appeals court has sided with Houston Community College Trustee Dave Wilson in a lengthy legal fight over whether he lives in the district he represents.

Ever since Wilson was elected to the HCC board in 2013, the Harris County Attorney’s office has argued that he did not actually live in the district when he ran to represent it.

At issue is whether Wilson lived in an apartment in a warehouse on West 34th Street or with his wife at a home outside the district, which he has listed on tax forms. In 2014, a jury unanimously determined Wilson lived at the 34th Street address. A judge later upheld the ruling, and now the state appeals court has done the same.

“The State…did not conclusively establish that Wilson did not reside at West 34th Street on November 5, 2013,” the ruling says. “Wilson, on the other hand, presented evidence that he started living at the West 34th Street property in early 2012; that he intends for that property to be his residence; that he spends most of his time at that property, including sleeping there five nights a week; that he keeps personal belongings and receives personal mail at that address; and that while he spends two nights a week at the Lake Lane house, he always returns to the West 34th Street property.”

[…]

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan said in a statement that he was disappointed by the court’s ruling, but not surprised, because ” ‘residency’ as the court outlines, is basically where one says he or she lives with relatively insignificant requirements to establish that residency under the law.”

See here and here for the background. I appreciate the County Attorney pursuing this, but we are at the end of the line. Any further pursuit of this matter should be in the Legislature, an option Vince Ryan alluded to in his statement. We’ve discussed this before, and at this point I’d favor an approach that says 1) you can’t claim a homestead exemption at one address and a voter registration at another, and 2) you can’t claim a homestead exemption in one taxing entity (city, county, school district, etc) and run for office in another. No approach to this is foolproof, but this would at least attach a cost to the “I live where I say I live” shenanigans, and that may be the best we can do.

On a side note, I wonder if the absolute thrashing Wilson got in his attempt to knock off Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148 – she beat him by an 88.1 to 11.9 margin, which is the kind of spread one normally sees when a candidate has only third-party opposition – is partly the result of all the publicity Wilson has reaped from his fluke election to the HCC Board in 2013 and the subsequent attempts to disqualify him. He can’t operate in the shadows the way he used to, because now many more people know who he is and what he’s about. If so, then that’s one positive thing that has come out of this mess.

Precinct analysis: At Large #4 runoff

Here we have the least competitive runoff of the six that were citywide.


Dist   Edwards  Morales
=======================
A        6,322    6,153
B       14,660    1,761
C       17,813   10,238
D       18,341    2,882
E        7,688   13,231
F        4,046    3,080
G       11,996   15,203
H        5,610    3,903
I        4,371    3,774
J        3,070    2,287
K       12,150    3,830

A       50.68%   49.32%
B       89.28%   10.72%
C       63.50%   36.50%
D       86.42%   13.58%
E       36.75%   63.25%
F       56.78%   43.22%
G       44.10%   55.90%
H       58.97%   41.03%
I       53.66%   46.34%
J       57.31%   42.69%
K       76.03%   23.97%
Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

As was the case in November, Edwards had a dominant performance in the runoff, winning every district except E and G, and she didn’t do too badly in them, either. I saw more ads on TV for her and for Controller-elect Chris Brown than I did for the two Mayoral candidates combined. That may have helped her achieve the rare distinction of getting more votes than any other candidate, a hard thing to do when there’s a contested Mayoral race on the ballot since the undervote is so much higher for At Large contests. With this strong win, Edwards joins CM Michael Kubosh as the early favorites to not get serious challengers in 2019. Four years is an eternity, and it’s also uncharted waters for us in Houston, so it’s a bit silly to say such things now. It’s always possible for things to go wrong for a Council member, and who knows what the electorate will be like in four years. That said, AL5 will be open, AL1 is sure to draw interest, and five district Council seats will also be up – A, B, C, J, and K. Assuming nothing crazy happens between now and then, I’d surely put any of those races higher on my priority list if I were inclined to run for something.

As for Roy, he’s beginning to edge into Andrew Burks/Griff Griffin territory. He’s been on a ballot for something in 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2015, winning his HCDE seat by forfeit in 2006 and making it into an At Large runoff in 2007, 2013, and now 2015. What I find fascinating, beyond the psychology of people who run for office cycle after cycle without any clear plan for a campaign or idea of how they might win, is how little support Morales seems to draw in some of these elections. The runoff in the special election in 2007 was closer than supporters of Melissa Noriega would have liked, but that was mostly about the usual problem of getting Democratic voters out to the polls at non-standard times, and she still won by ten points. He got a bit of late support in the 2009 Mayor’s race, enough to get his Election Day vote total to nudge past Peter Brown’s though not enough to threaten the top two finishers. He didn’t seem to make much of an impression in 2013 or this year. Morales was unlikely to win against Edwards, and I can certainly understand why Republican players might have put a higher priority on folks like King, Frazer, Knox, and Le. I still wonder, do they just not like the guy? Do they get the same Burks/Griff vibe that I get? Is it that he’s just not good at asking for support? Whatever the case, it’s another familiar result. I wonder if he’ll be back for more in 2019.

Is Bill King a sign of a trend?

Probably not. Doesn’t mean that other candidates like him can’t do well, however.

Bill King

Bill King

Bill King’s near-upset over Sylvester Turner in the Houston mayoral runoff stoked the hopes of some Republicans that the party soon could break Democrats’ 34-year hold on City Hall.

Political experts, however, attributed King’s success more to his unique profile as a moderate fiscal conservative than a Republican resurgence in the Bayou City.

“King pretty skillfully positioned himself. He didn’t run as a Republican but happily accepted the support of Republicans,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “You might get elected with support from Republicans, but that’s not enough to win unless the turnout is extremely skewed.”

Murray estimated Republicans make up about 35 to 40 percent of the city electorate, just 21 percent of whom cast a ballot in last Saturday’s runoff election to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker.

[…]

Kingwood Tea Party co-founder Jim Lennon said King’s bid instilled new confidence in Houston Republicans.

“With the results of this race being so close, I think there’s a change in attitude,” Lennon said. “We know we can win. We know we can put together a coalition.”

Nonetheless, Lennon acknowledged that the former Kemah mayor’s bid may be difficult to replicate.

“I don’t think there’s a deep bench of Republican politicians that can duplicate that,” Lennon said.

As you know, I largely agree. King was a decent candidate who took advantage of the opportunities he had and ran a good campaign. He was also lucky – again, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation if Oliver Pennington had not dropped out of the race. I think we’d be talking about why Adrian Garcia fell short against Turner in the runoff. That’s the way it goes, and every successful politician, like every championship sports team, gets a bit of luck here and there.

Republicans may not be able to win a Mayor’s race in Houston, but they’ve done a lot better in At Large Council races. Steve Costello, Jack Christie, Michael Kubosh, and now Mike Knox have all won citywide since 2009. Of course, the first three all won with the support of a significant number of Democratic voters – Costello (who basically profiled and governed as a moderate Dem) and Christie have done well with Anglo Dems, while Kubosh has solid support among African-American voters stemming from his previous work on the red light camera referendum. Only Knox won based on Republican votes, and that comes with a bit of an asterisk, given how low profile his runoff election was. The real test will be in 2019, when Christie is termed out and Knox will have to run without the backdrop of a King candidacy. If the Dems could unite on a single candidate against Knox (I know, I know) then that person ought to be favored. But let’s worry about that later, like maybe after the current electeds get sworn in and figure out where their offices are.

Finally, however swell the GOP establishment may feel about their near-miss with Bill King, it should be noted that they also had a good chance to win the Controller’s office as well, but missed that by a wider mark. Bill Frazer was a well-qualified candidate who was much more clearly identified with the Republican Party and who was as focused on pensions and fiscal matters as King. He was also Chron-endorsed and led the field in November after running a strong race in 2013, yet he wound up more than 10,000 votes behind Chris Brown (remember to add in the Fort Bend votes when you tally it all up). Brown had a bit of a financial edge, he had a bunch of ads running on cable TV, and he definitely made this a D-versus-R race. At a guess, I’d say that he had the support of a lot of Anglo Dems who had gone with King. All of which is a longwinded way of saying what Jim Lennon said: It’s hard for them to duplicate what King did.

Final EV 2015 runoff totals

And we’re done:


Date    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
11/15  61,008  21,141  82,149   42,938
12/15  86,233  27,153 113,386   39,649

EarlyVoting

The runoff numbers are here, and the final EV totals for November are here. I had guessed that the final EV total would be between 100,000 and 110,000, so I was off by a little bit. Remember again that about 100,000 in person early votes were cast in the last five days of November early voting, so don’t be alarmed by the disparity here. The total Houston early vote for November from Harris County was 134,105, so the runoff total was 84.55% of that. One way to guess final turnout would be to project it as 84.55% of November turnout, which would put us at 227,332. For what it’s worth, the December 2009 runoff total was 86.69% of the November 2009 election total, so that’s not a terrible guess. Guessing that December early voting was 49.9% of the final total as it was for November gets you an almost-identical total of 227,363. Of course, all of this may be a load of hooey, and with rain in the forecast for Saturday it’s entirely possible we’ve seen a bigger share of the final vote than other indicators might suggest. Who knows? We’re all just guessing here, and that’s as true of the guys with letters after their names as it is of amateur blowhards like myself. All the campaigns will now shift their efforts to Saturday, and if there are any late-arriving below-the-belt anonymous attack mailers, they’re already on their way. What’s your view of how thing stand?

Day 5 EV 2015 runoff totals

Two more early voting days to go:


Date    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
11/15  48,027  21,141  69,168   42,938
12/15  50,257  22,116  72,373   39,649

EarlyVoting

The runoff numbers are here, and the final EV totals for November are here. Day Five of runoff early voting was the Sunday half-day, while Day Five of November early voting is a Friday, so that allowed the November totals to catch up a bit. Of course, the November totals are for all of Harris County while the runoff numbers are just Houston, so early turnout for the runoff is still comfortably ahead. That said, there are only two days of runoff early voting left, while at this point in November there were seven days to go. About 100,000 early votes were cast in the last five days of November early voting; these are days 8 through 12, which don’t exist for December. People are more likely to vote earlier in the runoff cycle than they are in November for the simple reason that they have less time to wait.

Looking at just the last two days of early voting, from this November and from 2009 (there are separate tabs for the November and December elections), a bit more than half of all early votes were cast on the last two days. Looking at 2013, it was a bit less than half of all votes. Based on that, since there are only so many data points to go on, I’d wildly estimate that the final EV total for Harris County will be between 100,000 and 110,000. Could be more, could possibly be less, but that’s my guess. Let’s go with the high end, just for grins. If the runoff versus November early pattern holds, then we’re looking at about 220,000 votes total; I know that’s for Harris County only, but there won’t be that much more in Fort Bend. All of this could be rubbish, of course, and I reserve the right to change my mind once I see the final EV numbers. But if you were to accost me on the street today and ask me how many votes I thought there’d be in this election, that would be my answer.

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

EarlyVoting

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?

Runoff endorsement watch: New business

As I mentioned before, there are a couple of runoffs in which the Chron did not endorse a candidate who is still in the running. Those races are At Large #1, #4, and #5; I had forgotten about #4 when I recounted that. The Chron has now made their choices, while restating their preference in the other race.

Georgia Provost

Georgia Provost

At-Large 1: Georgia Provost

The runoff to succeed term-limited Councilman Steve Costello is a study in contrasts. Mike Knox, who led a crowded field in the general election with about 25 percent of the vote, is a former Houston police officer and the author of a book on gang and youth violence. His focus is on bringing the city budget under control by instituting what he calls “a confirmed revenue stream budget.”

His opponent, Georgia Provost, is a photographer and owner of a photography studio and public relations firm. A longtime community activist in the Third and Fifth wards, she is a fund-raiser for various charitable organizations supporting youth and law enforcement, a leader with the Texas Metropolitan Organization and executive director of the Texas Southern University Bayou Bend Alumni/Ex-Students Association Inc. This is the second council race for both candidates.

Knox is articulate and knowledgeable about the issues, but Provost brings grass-roots awareness and years of experience helping solve problems in her community. We believe those are qualifications that will prove valuable on the council. We’re confident she will speak up for Houstonians too often ignored by city government. We endorse Provost.

[…]

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards

At-Large 4: Amanda Edwards

Candidates often like to run as symbols of a greater issue: the conservative candidate, the community representative, the education wonk. In this race to replace term-limited Councilman C.O. Bradford, Amanda Edwards has become a sign of Houston’s future – hard-working, engaged and passionate.

A municipal finance lawyer with Bracewell and Giuliani, Edwards has more on-the-ground experience than plenty of politicians twice her age (she’s 33). A graduate of Harvard Law School, she has spent years working for community development corporations and nonprofits across the country, from Atlanta (where she served as student body president at Emory University) to New Orleans (where she moved after Hurricane Katrina).

[…]

Jack Christie

Jack Christie

At-Large 5: Jack Christie

For the past four years, Jack Christie has proven to be one of the most confounding members on City Council. He’s collaborative, soft-spoken and effective at working behind the scenes. He’s also expressed a personal opposition to vaccinations and water fluoridation.

Still, to this day, you can count on one hand the number of times that Christie has raised these issues at City Council. There are also plenty of times when the incumbent proved himself to be a well-prepared workhorse.

Christie faces a challenge from Sharon Moses, a former City Council staffer. When she met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Moses said she wasn’t running to oust the incumbent. If there’s no reason to boot him from office, voters should re-elect Christie.

The Chron re-endorsed David Robinson in AL2. Edwards was an obvious choice – frankly, she is who they should have endorsed in the first place. Far as I know, they have never endorsed Roy Morales in any of the races he has been in; they were pretty dismissive of him when they endorsed Michael Kubosh over him in the 2013 AL3 runoff.

Both of the other two could have gone either way. The Chron had said some nice things about Knox when they endorsed Tom McCasland in Round One. They didn’t mention Provost at all in that, though they had some kind words for her in their 2013 District D runoff endorsement. I approve of this choice, and I’m guessing they overlooked Provost in November because she wasn’t running much of a campaign at that time. As for Christie, he has been endorsed twice by the Chron before, just not this year. They weren’t necessarily disenchanted with him, I think they just liked Philippe Nassif more. I’m sure they considered Sharon Moses, but for better or worse, in this case they were happy enough to come back to him.

Runoff endorsement watch: Frazer breaks the tie

The Chronicle has a bit of unfinished endorsement business to take care of as we approach early voting for the runoffs. In the At Large #1 and #5 races, their endorsed candidate from November did not make it into the second round, while in the Controller’s race they double-endorsed, with both of their recommended choices making the cut. They narrowed their preference down to one by endorsing Bill Frazer.

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

When selecting their next controller, Houston voters should look for someone who can keep a focus on these core problems – someone who is unafraid to ring the siren about Houston’s approaching financial crisis.

Of the two candidates left in the runoff, Bill Frazer has proven himself most willing to do the dirty business of the controller’s office and warn the public about the looming fiscal wreck.

[…]

We don’t agree with Frazer on every policy. His support for the city revenue cap smacks more of political signalling than financial wisdom. However, the controller’s office does not make policy, and Frazer’s skeptical eye on city spending would be a healthy counterbalance to the political incentive for mayor and City Council to splurge on their constituents.

Frazer’s opponent, Chris Brown, has an impressive resume of his own. He’s worked as a trader for an investment bank, chief of staff on City Council and currently serves as chief deputy city controller. But when he met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Brown emphasized compromise and coalition-building as key to solving the city’s financial problems. Political problems are in the mayor’s portfolio. Controller, on the other hand, should be playing bad cop in the fight over Houston’s financial numbers.

As noted in the editorial, the Chron had endorsed Frazer in 2013, so this is neither a stretch nor a surprise. I’m not sure how much more of a “bad cop” Frazer would be than any of the other candidates – best I can recall, every candidate I interviewed espoused some variation on a stance of “not there to antagonize or collaborate but to call balls and strikes and provide accurate information to the Mayor and Council”. Perhaps the way Frazer said it was the more appealing to the Chron. Be that as it may, Frazer is certainly a qualified candidate, and he demonstrated some crossover appeal both in 2013 and in this November. For his part, Brown has been busy collecting endorsements from just about every Democratic elected official in town. It should be an interesting race.