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Election 2018

Interview with Undrai Fizer

Undrai Fizer

Hard to believe, but the political version of spring training is almost over and the real season is about to begin, by which I mean early voting kicks off tomorrow. Barring any late additions, I have two more interviews to bring you, with the Democratic candidates in HD126. Dr. Undrai Fizer has one of the more diverse backgrounds of any candidate I’ve had the opportunity to speak with. He holds doctorates in Religious Education and Humanities, he is the founder of KAIROS Inter-Global, Inc. a personal vision and spiritual development organization, an author and founder of a publishing house, a jazz pianist, and a certified Goodwill Ambassador. Oh, and he’s running for the Lege now, too. Here’s what he had to say about that:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Latosha Lewis Payne

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Latosha Lewis Payne

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Latosha Lewis Payne and I am running for Judge of the 55th Civil District Court. I am a life-long Harris County resident raised in Acres Homes and Cypress as the oldest child of a single mom. I am married to my college sweetheart, Bronze star combat veteran, and I am mom to three amazing kids age 10, 7 and 5.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears all civil cases, including but not limited to personal injuries, wrongful death, product liability, breach of contract, insurance coverage, debt collection, and real estate cases. This court does not hear criminal, family, probate, juvenile, or bankruptcy cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 55th District Court because it is time for change. This Court needs a judge that will be fair to all—no matter their walk of life, individual or corporate status, representation by attorneys at big firms or small, or representing themselves. I am—and will be on the bench—respectful and will treat all people with dignity. I believe that "justice delayed is justice denied" and therefore will ensure that my court is organized, efficient, decisive, and moves cases along so that litigants can have their day in court or resolve their matters in a timely manner.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a University of Texas School of Law graduate and I have the integrity, temperament, knowledge, and ability to do this job, and do it well. I have had a diverse civil trial practice handling most of the types of cases that will appear in the court and. have tried cases as lead counsel/ first chair to jury verdict and final judgment.

I have excelled in law. I was promoted to partner at an International law firm in only seven and a half years. I am the only African – American to receive the Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award, named for Judge Woodrow B. Seals, by the Houston Young Lawyers Association in its over 30-year history, among other awards.

I have a heart dedicated to service and walk the walk in helping our community. In addition to mentoring various secondary students, law students, and young lawyers over the years, I have provided over 1700 hours of pro bono service to the Houston community. I have worked Election Protection efforts every year for the last 13 years. In the last year, my firm received the Houston Bar Foundation and the Harris County Bench Bar awards for outstanding pro bono service by a small law firm in 2017.

I seek justice for all. When I recognize injustice in the world, I mentor a child, I provide free legal services, I protect citizens’ right to vote, I speak up for citizens that may be disenfranchised by our jury selection process and I create a system of reviewing law firms and their effect on the progress of minorities.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because the courts are often our society’s last opportunity for justice under the law. As a first-generation college graduate and only lawyer in my family, I understand what it means to be unfamiliar with a system and thus at a disadvantage. I will be fair but also will bring a unique and different perspective, as shaped by my experiences, my love of the law, and my passion for serving the community to the 55th District Court.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am am a person of integrity, progressive values, and I fight for justice for all. I have been promoted and recognized for excellence as a lawyer and that will translate to excellence as a judge. I have a history of investing in making improvements in the civil justice system and community outside of my regular job since day one of my legal career– not just during election time.

I have had diverse legal and life experiences and I am the only candidate in the Democratic primary race that has tried both personal injury and breach of contract cases to final jury verdict in Harris County courts, which represents over 75% of the type of cases pending in this court. A broad range of non-partisan, Democratic, progressive, and lawyer-led organizations have endorsed me over my opponent, including the Houston Chronicle, Houston Black American Democrats, Harris County Tejano Democrats, Our Revolution (progressive), Harris County Chapter of the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Texas Progressive Executive Council, Pleasantville Voters League, the Clear Lake and Webster Bar Association (CLAW), and the Houston Association of Women Attorneys (AWA). I have also been endorsed by Harris County Chapter of the Harris County Labor Assembly of the AFL CIO, Area 5 Democrats, and Bay Area New Democrats.

The time is now for a unique and different perspective on the bench than what is being offered. The year 2018 marks twenty years since a woman was judge of this court. No African-American has ever been judge of this court. It is time for a change.

I ask for your vote! If you want to learn more about me and my campaign, please go to www.LatoshaLewisPayne.com.

Early voting for 2018 primaries starts tomorrow

Are you ready to vote? Wait, let me say that again. ARE YOU READY TO VOTE?

When and where can you vote early?

Early voting runs Tuesday, Feb. 20 to Friday, March 2. You can vote at any of the designated early voting locations (see map below or click here for the full list).

When and where can you vote?

On Tuesday, March 6, you must vote at the polling location designated for your precinct of residence. Click here to find your polling location and voter-specific sample ballot.

DEMOCRATS:

Click here for a list of Democratic polling places. Find the sample ballot below (or click here).

REPUBLICANS:

Click here for a list of Republican polling places. Find the sample ballot below (or click here).

Here’s that map of early voting locations. There are some changes – if you vote downtown, note that due to Harvey damage you will vote at the Harris County Law Library at 1019 Congress instead of at the Tax Assessor’s office. I’m pleased to see there’s a location quite near where I now work, as that solves some logistical problems for me. I heartily recommend voting early, especially if you have been displaced by Harvey yourself. You can vote at any early location, and you can get your address updated as needed. If you must vote on Primary Day, check and double-check the voting locations, because many of them will be consolidated. Pay attention too to the fact that some locations may have one primary voting there, but not the other. My Heights neighbors should especially take note of this, as neither Travis nor Hogg will be available to you if you vote Democratic. Vote early, and if you don’t vote early be super sure you know where your location is.

I will of course be tracking the daily totals as I get them. Here are the final daily early voting totals from the 2014 primaries, which is our basis of comparison. I’m ready, I’m excited, and I think we’re gonna have some good turnout. Let’s vote!

Metro to buy buses for Uptown BRT

Another step forward.

Metro officials next week are set to spend at least $11.2 million on buses for bus rapid transit service along Post Oak, committing the agency to spending on the controversial project after years of discussion.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members discussed the purchase, and an agreement with the Uptown Management District which is rebuilding Post Oak, Wednesday. The full board meets on Feb. 20, and at that time could approve both the purchase of 14 buses and the agreement.

“This project does exactly what good transit is supposed to do,” Metro board member Christof Spieler said. “It goes to a crowded area and delivers service that connects conveniently to the rest of the service area.”

Many details of the bus purchase and agreement with Uptown will be worked out in the coming week, after a discussion among board members at the capital and strategic planning committee.

Despite the loose ends, Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said she expected the board to approve the requests, so the agency will be ready for the rapid transit service by May 2019. That is around when Uptown officials expect to be ready, but about a year before the Texas Department of Transportation is set to open a bus-only system along Loop 610 that will speed transit times to the Northwest Transit Center north of Interstate 10.

See here for the most recent update in this process. Not mentioned in the story, but definitely a consideration, is that the Uptown BRT line would almost certainly connect to the high speed rail station, if not immediately then at some point between the line’s debut in 2019 and the Texas Central opening in 2024. I mean, it wouldn’t make any sense for them to not be connected. I’m sure this will be a part of the Metro referendum later this year as well. We’ll keep an eye on this going forward.

Judicial Q&A: Beth Barron

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Beth Barron

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Beth Barron. I am running for Judge of the 280th Family District Court. I am 56 years old. As a single woman, I adopted my precious daughter from CPS when she was an infant. She is now 11 years old. Before law school, I was an “Interior Architect” and then a flight attendant for Continental Airlines for 8 years. The last three years of flying, I attended law school. I flew on the weekends and went to law school part-time at night during the week. I studied all 7 days. My last year of law school, I was a full-time paid intern at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and went to school at night. Today I have been an Assistant District Attorney for 21 years. My daughter and I like to travel, read, and cook. Two years ago we were lucky enough to travel to Africa. This past Christmas season, we traveled to Canada with her youth choir to sing.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 280th Family District Court is often known as the “Family Violence Court”. This court has the ability to hear any family case. However, statutorily, it must give preference to those family cases that involve allegations of family violence. Historically it has only heard Protective Order cases which are lawsuits for a court order to prohibit family violence and provide other protections for victims of family violence.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because the people of Harris County deserve to have the very best judge to hear and pass judgement on these most serious cases with serious allegations. The judge of this court must possess extensive training and experience to be able to make a just ruling. No other candidate for this court can come close to my training and experience.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have had the honor of being an Assistant District Attorney for over 21 years. The first 4 ½ years I handled criminal cases. I was the attorney representing the State of Texas and the people of Harris County in various criminal cases of misdemeanor and felonies. These included misdemeanor thefts, drug possession, DWI, prostitution, assaults (including family violence assaults) etc. and felonies of felony theft, burglary, Forgery, Aggravated Assaults (including family violence assaults), Criminally Negligent Homicide and drug cases etc.

I have been the sole attorney on 35 Jury trials and 30 bench trials. In the year 2000, I took a special position at the District Attorney’s Office that I am still at today. It was originally slotted as a one year stint. I changed all that when I found I couldn’t leave it. For the last 17 years, I have had the honor of representing victims of family violence.  I have represented over 10,000 victims of family violence in the various family courts on a civil suit for a Protective order against their abusers. I have handled over 900 contested court trials. The victims in these cases represented over 30 different countries with many different races, religions languages, immigration status and cultures. I have been honored that they have trusted me to help them despite the fact that there were often prejudices against them.

I am partially paid by a federal VAWA grant (Violence Against Women Act). Under that grant, I am also charged with investigating complaints of Parental Kidnapping, Harboring a Runaway, Criminal Non-Support and Bigamy. I have taken complaints from hundreds of individuals in Harris County on these cases. Parental Kidnapping investigations involve intense research into the original family case documents. I have reviewed and assisted in the investigation of over 400 cases of Parental Kidnapping and directed law enforcement in their investigation of these cases. These cases necessarily involved all facets of family cases including divorce, custody, modifications, writs of attachment, writs of habeas corpus etc. I have assisted and advised 6 different states’ officials in their attempts to recover missing children who were located in Texas. I have worked with numerous out of state police agencies in their investigation of these cases including a case in Canada. 

I am published by the Texas District and County Attorney Association (at their request) to provide guidance to District and County Attorneys (and their assistants) all over the state of Texas on the issues of family violence and Protective orders. This booklet was distributed to every District and County Attorney’s Office in Texas. I regularly receive calls from those agencies for my advice and expertise in these cases.

I have trained judges, lawyers, over 30 different police agencies, social workers, court staff, clergy, and advocates on family violence and protective orders all over the state of Texas. I have trained at 12 family violence conferences in Texas, California, Florida, Louisiana and have presented and spoken at 2 international conferences on family violence. 

I have taught law school classes. I am an expert in Family Violence and Protective Orders and have testified in both misdemeanor and felony criminal cases.

5. Why is this race important?

All anyone has to do is read or watch the news to know that family violence is a serious social issue in our county. Not just for the victims but everyone. Family violence affects immediate family members, extended family members, friends, employers, clergy, health care and the criminal justice system. This court hears allegations of family violence and has the arduous task of making the right and just decision in these cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am simply the best candidate for this court. I have the training and experience this court demands. I am pragmatic and fair and possess the judicial temperament required of a true judge. I am responsible, thoughtful, and never impulsive. I have had the unique freedom for over 21 years of being charged with only making the right decision in my cases. If I don’t believe in a case, I do not file it. If I file a case and then find out it was not the right thing to do, I dismiss is. Unlike a private/paid attorney, I do not feel pressured to go forward on a case simply because someone has paid me to. I represent the people of Harris County. I am well respected by my peers at the courthouse and elsewhere.

I am endorsed by the Tejano Democrats, the AFL-CIO, the Houston Chronicle and I am waiting on 4 others. I am also endorsed by Sherri Cothrun, and other well respected family lawyers, criminal defense attorneys, police officers and deputies.

The Land Office in the news

Please enjoy this coverage of a downballot statewide race, which is not something we get all that much of.

Jerry Patterson

Incumbent George P. Bush, the 41-year-old grandson and nephew of U.S. presidents, is facing off against his outspoken predecessor Jerry Patterson, 71, who wants his old job back after leaving it to unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor.

Despite its low profile, the land commissioner has one of the state’s most critical jobs, especially now as hundreds of communities, including Houston, continue to recover in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“The (governor), the lieutenant governor and other statewide elected officials, including the land commissioner, are important positions because they touch so many lives,” said David Dewhurst, who served as the land commissioner from 1999 to 2003.

The Texas land commissioner is responsible for cleaning up oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, raising money for schools, preserving the state’s most iconic landmark, doling out benefits to veterans and helping communities recover from a natural disaster.

“Our land commissioner oversees extensive programs that benefit our veterans, and our oil and gas activities, which are important to provide more funding for public education, particularly when the Legislature has not been as aggressive as it has in the past to provide funding for public schools,” Dewhurst said.

[…]

Tex Morgan, who is running as a Democrat, said that if elected he’ll work to increase awareness about the land office’s duties.

“Too few Texans know the scope or depth of the GLO’s responsibilities, programs and opportunities,” Morgan, 31, said.

[…]

Miguel Suazo, a Democrat on the primary ballot, has repeatedly called out Bush for not demanding that the state tap its rainy day fund, which has about $10 billion available for budget emergencies.

In a January interview with the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Bush expressed support for calling a special session so that the state could provide more money for Harvey relief. A few days after the interview was published, Bush walked back the statement saying he “misspoke.”

Gov. Greg Abbott has said calling a special session is unnecessary.

“I agree that calling a special session is not necessary,” Bush said. “I will continue to work under Gov. Abbott’s leadership as we help Texans throughout the hurricane recovery process.”

Since recovery efforts began, Bush has said the land office is at the mercy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which determines eligibility for the recovery programs and distributes the funds.

Bush has three primary opponents, of whom his predecessor Jerry Patterson would appear to be his biggest threat. I feel like he’ll probably win, but let’s remember, Baby Bush was the top votegetter in the state among Republicans with Democratic opponents in 2014. He toyed with the idea of running for Governor before “settling” on the Land Office while he built his resume and bided his time till the old farts got out of his way and he could ascend to the throne vie for the top spot. He was a rising star, the half-Latino face of the Republican future, and now he could actually fail to win re-nomination. The fact that he has non-token opposition at all is remarkable.

(Oh, and also, too: Secret mansions financed by undisclosed loans. I mean, seriously?)

On the Democratic side, Suazo was the first candidate in, while Morgan filed at the last minute. They both look all right, though at this point I don’t know enough about them to make a choice yet. This is one of those races where I’ll probably let myself be guided by endorsements more than anything else. If you have a strong feeling about either Suazo or Morgan, leave a comment and let us know.

Endorsement watch: Close choices

The Chron endorses on both sides in SD17.

Republican State Senator, District 17: Joan Huffman

State Sen. Joan Huffman has been on board for some pretty bad bills, but it’s hard to overlook her herculean efforts to resolve the city of Houston’s formidable pension problems.

In last year’s legislative session, she carried the ball on a bill to reform the city’s public pensions and did a lot of heavy lifting in negotiations with the affected parties to come up with legislation that didn’t please everybody but, as she told us, likely “saved the city of Houston from bankruptcy.”

That and a sense that Huffman had been less intransigent than in the past earned her the selection by Texas Monthly as one of the best legislators in the 2017 session.

[…]

Huffman, 57, voted in favor of the silly “bathroom bill” that became a national laughing stock and for the macabre bill requiring burial or cremation of an aborted fetus, one of several she supported aimed at making it more difficult to get an abortion.

There were others, but we think Huffman plays below her weight when she panders to her party’s worst instincts.

I get the urge to reward Huffman for her work on the pension reform bill, I really do. But we need to be clear that this kind of productive output is the exception, not the norm. Bathroom bills, “fetal remains”, “sanctuary cities”, vouchers, the continued assault on home rule and local control – this is what Joan Huffman is about. She, like most of her Republican colleagues, will do Dan Patrick’s bidding whenever he tells them to. She was able to do the work she did on the pension bill because Patrick didn’t care to oppose her. As long as she’s there – and as long as he’s there – that’s what she’ll do. Thank her for the good work she was allowed to do if you want, but if you support her this is what you’re going to get. It’s not clear to me the Chron understands that.

On the other side:

Rita Lucido

State Senator, District 17: Rita Lucido

Democrats have two strong candidates running for the opportunity to challenge Republican incumbent Joan Huffman in November.

When Rita Lucido and Fran Watson, both attorneys, speak about the March 6 primary their words reflect their party’s rising anger at Republican extremism and a determination to put an end to it.

People want to “stop the nonsense” of bathroom bills and school vouchers and would “like to see their legislature get down to business and stop wasting time and money,” said Lucido, 61.

Watson, 40, has a youthful, enthusiastic organization seeking votes others have ignored by reaching deep into the neglected nooks and crannies of the district.

Her message is that everyone in Texas should have “equal access to the opportunity to succeed,” but the way is being blocked by state leaders, including Huffman.

Both candidates cited the need for state action on flooding in a post-Harvey world and for stopping the meteoric rise in property taxes.

This was a difficult call between two very talented women, but we endorse Lucido, 61, because, apart from being thoughtful and eloquent, she’s been on the frontlines for change for a long time and is tough as nails.

Much the same could be said of Watson so you can’t go wrong with a vote for either one.

Or you could break the tie in Watson’s favor by citing the need for more youthful enthusiasm in our legislature. I was excited for Watson’s entry in this race, and I remain excited by her candidacy. That’s in no way a knock on Lucido, who is all that the Chron says she is. It is a tough choice between good candidates.

On a side note, several people have reported to me that they don’t see full information on the various 2018 Election pages above. I get a complaint like this every cycle, and it’s very frustrating for me because there’s no pattern to it that I can see. I’m working on it, but I can’t make any promises about fixing a problem that I’m not yet able to diagnose. That said, I want people to be able to see this information, so I’ve come up with a workaround by grabbing the HTML code from my view of the pages and creating new ones based on that. So, if you are one of the people who have had trouble with these pages, try the following instead:

Backup 2018 Congressional
Backup 2018 Legislative
Backup 2018 Judicial
Backup 2018 Harris County

Already projecting ahead to November turnout

Some in the political chattering class think the end results in Harris County this yearwon’t be all that different than what we’ve seen before.

Harris County may be awash in Democratic hopefuls for the upcoming primary elections, but don’t expect that enthusiasm to translate into another blue wave this fall.

Yes, local demographics are slowly pushing the region further left, and President Donald Trump – who dragged down the Republican ticket here two years ago – gives progressives a ready campaign talking point. Democrats also point to their nearly full primary slate as evidence of newfound strength.

It is unlikely those factors will be enough, however, to counteract Republicans’ longtime advantage in Harris County midterms, political scientists and consultants said. Not only do local conservatives turn out more consistently in non-presidential years, but Republicans also have the benefit of popular state- and countywide incumbents on the ballot, advantages made only more powerful by straight-ticket voting in November.

“There is a very slow, but steady demographic shift that will favor Democrats. I don’t know if it’s enough this year for a gubernatorial cycle,” Democratic strategist Grant Martin said.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones agreed.

“Greg Abbott represents a red seawall here in Texas that I think will in many ways blunt the anti-Trump wave, and in doing so help hundreds of down-ballot Republican candidates across the state achieve victory,” he said.

[…]

Fewer than 54,000 Harris County voters cast ballots in the Democratic primary four years ago, compared to nearly 140,000 in the Republican primary. Come November, Republicans dominated down the ballot.

Though primary turnout certainly is not predictive of November performance, it can be, as University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus put it, “a good pulse check.”

Rottinghaus said he anticipates Democrats will perform better locally than they did in 2014, but still come up short in most local races, in large part because of their turnout problem.

“You’re definitely going to find a narrowed margin for most of these offices,” Rottinghaus said. Still, he added, “it would be hard to unseat the natural advantage Republicans have in the midterm.”

I feel like there are a lot of numbers thrown around in the story but without much context to them. Take the primary turnout totals, for instance. It’s true that Republicans drew a lot more people to the polls in March than the Democrats, but their margin in November was considerably less than it was in 2010, when the primary tallies were 101K for Dems and 159K for the GOP. Will anyone revise their predictions for November if the March turnout figures don’t fit with this “pulse check” hypothesis? Put a pin in this for now and we’ll check back later if it’s relevant.

But let’s come back to the November numbers for 2010 and 2014 for a minute. Let’s look at them as a percentage of Presidential turnout from the previous election


   2008 Pres  2010 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    571,883      431,690    75.5%
D    590,982      329,129    55.7%

   2012 Pres  2014 Lt Gov    Share
==================================
R    586,073      340,808    58.2%
D    587,044      317,241    54.0%

I’m using the Lt. Governor race here because of the significant number of crossover votes Bill White – who you may recall won Harris County – received in the Governor’s race. He did so much better than all the other Dems on the ticket that using his results would skew things. Now 2010 was clearly off the charts. If the share of the Presidential year vote is a measure of intensity, the Republicans had that in spades. I’m pretty sure no one is expecting that to happen again, however, so let’s look at the more conventional year of 2014. The intensity gap was about four points in the Republicans’ favor, but that was enough for them to achieve separation and sweep the downballot races.

What does that have to do with this year? The key difference is that there were a lot more voters in 2016 (1,338,898) than there were in either 2008 (1,188,731) or 2012 (1,204,167), and that the Democratic advantage was also a lot bigger. I’m going to switch my metric here to the 2016 judicial average, since there were even more crossovers for Hillary Clinton than there were for Bill White. In 2016, the average Republican judicial candidate got 606,114 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate got 661,284. That’s a pretty big difference, and it has implications for the intensity measure. To wit:

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 55.7%, which is what it was in 2010, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 368,335.

If Democratic intensity in 2018 is at 54.0%, which is what it was in 2014, then Dems should expect a base vote of about 357,093.

Well guess what? If Republican intensity is at 58.2%, which is what it was in 2014, then the Rs should expect a base vote of about 352,758. Which, you might notice, is less than what the Democrats would expect. In order to match the Democratic base, Rs would need 60.8% to equal the former total, and 58.9% for the latter.

In other words, if intensity levels are exactly what they were in 2014, Democrats should expect to win most countywide races. Republicans will need to be more intense than they were in 2014 just to keep up. And if Democratic intensity is up, say at 60%? That’s a base of 396,770, and it would require a Republican intensity level of 65.5% to equal it.

Where did this apparent Democratic advantage come from? Very simply, from more registered voters. In 2016, there were 2,182,980 people registered in Harris County, compared to 1,942,566 in 2012 and 1,892,731 in 2008. I’ve noted this before, but it’s important to remember that while turnout was up in an absolute sense in 2016 over 2012 and 2008, it was actually down as a percentage of registered voters. It was just that there were so many more RVs, and that more than made up for it. And by the way, voter registration is higher today than it was in 2016.

Now none of this comes with any guarantees. Democratic intensity could be down from 2010 and 2014. Republicans could be more fired up than we think they will be, in particular more than they were in 2014. My point is that at least one of those conditions will need to hold true for Republicans to win Harris County this year. If you think that will happen, then you need to explain which of those numbers are the reason for it.

Oh, and that “red seawall” that Greg Abbott represents? Republicans may have swept the races in 2014, but they didn’t actually dominate. 2010, where they were winning the county by 12-16 points in most races, that was domination. Abbott got 51.41% in 2014 and won by a bit less than four and a half points. Which was enough, obviously, but isn’t exactly a big cushion. Like I said, the Republicans will have to improve on 2014 to stay ahead. Can they do that? Sure, it could happen, and I’d be an idiot to say otherwise. Will it happen? You tell me, and account for these numbers when you do.

Endorsement watch: Getting into the county

The Chron goes all in on county races, where they had not spent much time before. Two editorials, with two endorsements per, starting with Commissioners Court.

Adrian Garcia

County Commissioner, Precinct 2: Adrian Garcia

While we lament that he ever stepped down as Harris County sheriff, Adrian Garcia has our support in this run for Commissioners Court. Garcia, 51, is uniquely qualified in this race. He is the only candidate with experience overseeing a budget and staff on this scale. As former sheriff, he knows the problems of an overcrowded jail and would be a loud voice for bail reform. A child of northside neighborhoods, Garcia understands the challenges facing the people who live in Precinct 2, which covers east Harris County and a sliver of north Houston. That includes income inequality, environmental threats around refineries, chronic flooding and a general lack of leadership.

We were particularly swayed when Garcia concisely explained why he opposes County Judge Ed Emmett’s current proposal for a massive billion-dollar (or more) bond sale to fund flood prevention infrastructure. First, he said, the proposal is too vague and needs public hearings. Second, it should be overseen by an independent review board. Third, any bond vote should to be held on Election Day in November rather than hidden on some obscure date.

“Let’s not have Republicans be afraid of having a tax increase next to their names, on the same ballot that they’re on,” Garcia told the editorial board.

Penny Shaw

County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Penny Shaw

If Precinct 4 were its own city, the sprawling north Harris County metropolis would be the 10th largest in the United States, falling between Dallas and San Jose, Calif. Two Democratic candidates are hoping to replace Republican incumbent Jack Cagle as the politician in charge. Penny Shaw, 51, is an attorney specializing in business litigation making her first run for public office. Jeffrey Stauber, 55, is a 32-year veteran of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office who previously ran an unsuccessful race for sheriff.

These candidates agree on more than they disagree. They both complain that commissioners do far too much of their work behind closed doors. They both think the county needs to spend more on flood control, but they’re reluctant to raise taxes to pay for it. And they both give low marks to County Judge Ed Emmett for failing to do more to protect the county against flooding before Hurricane Harvey.

“Where was he when the sun was out?” Stauber asks.

Stauber would bring to this job decades of experience with county government. But Shaw makes a convincing case that she’s the candidate more likely to “shake up the system” and that she would give Latinas and women in general a voice that’s been missing on the court since Garcia’s departure. She also had the keen insight that commissioners court is “vendor-driven, not community driven” – a problem she hopes to change.

My interview with Penny Shaw is here and with Jeff Stauber is here. Adrian Garcia was my choice for Precinct 2 all along; I didn’t interview in that race but you can easily find past conversations with Garcia in my archives. Shaw has basically swept the endorsements in Precinct 4, which is pretty impressive given that Stauber is a really good candidate. As the piece notes, Precinct 4 is tough territory for Dems, but a decent showing there would at least help with the countywide efforts.

And on that note, the Chron picks their Clerk candidates.

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess

The Harris County district clerk oversees the data infrastructure of the Harris County legal system, including jury summonses and the courts’ electronic filings. Democrat Marilyn Burgess earns our endorsement for this primary slot based on her focus on improving existing practices and her knowledge of office operations. Burgess, 63, calls for enhancing the hourly wage of clerks to reduce turnover, improving the website, adding diversity to the top level of leadership in the department and increasing outreach to improve minority participation in juries. As former executive director of Texas PTA and former president of North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce, Burgess, who is a certified public accountant, is the only candidate in this race who has managed a large organization.

County Clerk: Diane Trautman

Stanart has been a magnet for criticism over his two terms, and Democrats should put forward a strong candidate if they want to take a real shot at winning this seat in November. That means voting for Diane Trautman in the party primary.

Trautman, 67, is the only candidate with both the political experience and professional resume to win this election and serve as an effective county clerk. She was elected countywide to the Harris County Department of Education in 2012. Her background features a doctorate from Sam Houston State with a dissertation on women’s leadership styles and managerial positions in the public and private sector. That includes serving as a principal in Conroe and Tomball ISDs. Meeting with the editorial board, Trautman emphasized the need to improve election security, such as by bringing in outside auditors and creating a paper trail for electronic voting booths. She also proposed ways to improve Harris County’s low turnout rates, such as by opening “voting centers” across Harris County on Election Day instead of forcing people to specific locations.

“We must do better if we want to call ourselves a democracy,” she said.

They gave Stanart more of a spanking in the piece, so be sure to read and enjoy it. As you know, I agree with both these choices. I await their calls in HCDE and the Treasurer’s race.

Interview with Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

We wrap up the week in HD132, in the westernmost part of Harris County, including the Katy area. Democrats have not usually challenged in this district – going back to the 2001 redistricting, there has been a Democratic candidate in HD132 in only two elections, in 2010 and 2014. That’s as many candidates as we had file for this year, though only one of them appears to be actively campaigning. Carlos Pena did not reply to my email asking for an interview; he does now have a website, on which he says he “could have just as easily run as a Republican”, though he thinks they have gotten too extreme lately. Gina Calanni, on the other hand, has been out there campaigning and is clear about which party she represents. A published author and single mother of three, we had a good discussion about her candidacy, which you can listen to here. I’ll be back to round out the State House interviews next week.

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Judicial Q&A: James Horwitz

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

James Horwitz

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

James S. Horwitz, and I am a Democratic candidate on the March 6, 2018 primary ballot for the Judge for Harris County Probate Court #4.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Unfortunately as we all learn sometimes too soon, life is finite and will ultimately end in death. Additionally, age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient. Our society, as represented by our legislature, determined that for these reasons, all of us could use assistance in managing some or all of our daily affairs and ultimately our estate after our death. These activities are often managed by the intervention of Probate Courts. The Texas Constitution grants the Texas Legislature the authority to determine which court handles probate matters.

As a result of the efforts of our Texas Legislature, 10 of the 15 largest counties (specifically including Harris County) have Probate Courts. These Probate Courts handle matters of (i) the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), (ii) guardianship issues, (iii) issues regarding trusts; and (iv) in this Harris County Probate Court # 4, the determination of involuntary commitments of individuals to mental health institutions.

In regard to the administration of the distribution of the assets of a decedent (one who has died), the Court must:

(1) look to the laws of descent and distribution if one has died without a Will such as by granting an Order of Administration; and
(2) give judicial approval to the personal representative to administer matters of the estate;and
(3) determine the validity of Wills; and
(4) make orders concerning the provisions of a valid Will (by issuing the Order Admitting a Will to Probate); and
(5) rule on issues of breach of fiduciary duties by executors and administrators of estates.

Because Texas utilizes independent administration of a decedent’s estate, once an applicant’s paperwork has been presented to the Court and approved, that person as a representative of the Decedent’s estate can operate free of any further involvement/supervision by the Probate Court. The vast majority of cases (90%) before the Probate Court are of this nature which allows the Court to operate in merely an administrative function.

In contested matters involving probate with a Will, a Probate Court (1) examines the genuineness of a Will; and/or (2) whether the Will was made under duress or that the Will is not the last Will written by the deceased person. It is the job of the Probate Court to decide which Will is authentic. Once that determination is made, the Probate Court appoints an Executor to fulfill the terms of the Will. In many cases, an Executor is named in the Will and the court appoints that person. The Executor then executes the Will according to the deceased person’s wishes as stated in his/her Will.

When age, diseases, and injuries impact our abilities to be self sufficient, the establishment of a guardianship can occur. A guardianship is a relationship established by a Probate Court between the person who needs help – called a ward – and the person or entity named by the court to help the ward. This person or entity is known as a guardian. In Texas, a person does not have a guardian until an application to appoint one is filed with the court, a hearing is held and a judge then appoints a guardian. When the court appointment is made, the person the guardian cares for becomes the ward. There are different types of guardianships available in Texas. They are:

• Guardian of the person, full or limited
• Guardian of the estate, full or limited.
• Guardian of the person and estate.
• Temporary guardianship.

In addition to individuals, entities and guardianship programs can be appointed guardians. Guardians have legal responsibilities and are required to perform certain tasks and make reports to the Court while providing assistance to their wards.

The Probate Court should look at the individuals and programs willing to be guardians and base the appointment of guardians on several factors including: a preference to appointing a qualifying family member or another loved one such as a partner as guardian rather than guardianship programs or court appointed attorneys. The Probate Court also should establish how much freedom a ward may have to make his/her own decisions. The Probate Court should decide limitations on a guardian’s authority.

Finally this particular probate court has a mental health docket that can determine when folks are incapaciated and need hospitalization to protect themselves from harming themselves or the public from possibly being harmed from such an individual.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Civic engagement and community involvement have been an integral part of my public life since college. I see my job as a judge to be the natural progression of my abilities to continue to help the community. I believe in ensuring the law is equitably and honestly applied. I also believe we should seek ways of reducing costs for parties needing to appear before the Probate Court, such as encouraging more mediation. However, a unique aspect of my platform is working to create more community outreach. A Probate Judge should be impartial but not isolated from the community that elects he or she. As a private attorney for more than 40 years I have assisted individuals develop their estate plans utilizing Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney and other ancillary documents necessary for a comprehensive estate plan. My platform as a candidate for the probate bench is to expand that activity to include county wide activities. I believe the Probate Court should interact with the community far more than it currently does, with special emphasis on certain issues such as:

1. According to the legal database Lexis Nexis, nearly two thirds of adults in Texas do not have a will. In Texas, this is called dying intestate. Basically, if you do not have a will, then the State Legislature writes one for you. The “legislature-written will” tries its best to effectuate the person’s most-likely intent, but people are inherently different and unique. A common issue is that a person who has a spouse and two children (born to that spouse)would not, under the “legislature-written will,” give their entire estate to the widowed, even though many would-be testators would seek to do this if given a chance. There cannot be an executor if the person dies without a will. The court must appoint an administrator instead, which often requires approval from the court for a plethora of routine acts. This can spend valuable money and time better served going to the deceased’s loved ones.

I want to help the Harris County community write more wills. I think the county and the court system ought to be more active in the community, encouraging folks to write wills and be familiar with the law.

If I could change the law, I would prefer for folks who cannot afford an attorney to be provided one by the Probate Court in order to do things like write wills. But I am running for the Bench, and not the Legislature, so I want to best inform people, if hiring a lawyer is infeasible for any reason, how to take the most advantage of a law.

Texas embraces an old concept called the Holographic Will. This basically means a handwritten will. In Texas, a will written entirely in one’s own handwriting may be admitted to probate even without the byzantine formalities required of type-written wills. This provides a cheaper option for those who may be economically unable to retain an attorney.

I will help the Harris County community learn how to write holographic wills, or formal wills, whichever individuals may prefer, so that their final wishes may be respected easier and cheaper than intestacy.

2. An obstacle that often prevents folks, including those in our community, from seeking justice or remedies via the judiciary is the persistence of rumors, which are often incorrect. There is sometimes misconceptions about what the law says or what is excludes. In seeking out the community, I specifically want to help disprove persistent myths.

For example, Estates Code §201.060 prevents discrimination against heirs or devisees (basically, anyone who stands to receive something through the probate process) based upon their, to use the word in the statute, “alienage.” Since the Constitution of the Republic of Texas, this state has eschewed the old common law rule that allowed for inheritances only to citizens. So whether or not someone is a citizen is immaterial to whether or not they can inherit.

3. Additionally, there is no legal prohibition against writing a will in a foreign language. Wills need not be written in English in order to be admitted to probate.

4. Another issue in the community is that of Medical Powers of Attorney, Durable Powers of Attorney and Advanced Directives (Living Wills). I wish to better inform the community of what these documents mean, how to create them and why most folks should consider using them.

This is another example where I fear rumors can dissuade folks from executing what are otherwise imperative documents. For example, a Medical Power of Attorney or an Advanced Directive does not necessarily mean you are consenting to someone “pulling the plug,” so to speak.

These documents can be as detailed as the person creating them wants them to be. They can retain whatever powers the creator wishes to be retained.

I often say in my practice that there are few things one can really get their way. A significant activity that a person can have their way is in regard to their estate plan and probate matters. These forms do not box the creator into anything but what they choose, and are invaluable for making decisions after one is unable to do so.

5. Another aspect of the Probate Court system is the guardianship process. In Texas, if a person is deemed unable to care for him or herself, often an elderly or disabled person, then a guardian is appointed to care for that person. Most often it is a family member or other close friend, but sometimes, if none are available or the judge thinks such choices are too risky, a guardian ad litem is provided. Such a guardian ad litem is a professional paid for by the estate assets.

There are sometimes horror stories of abuses by such professionals. Fortunately, Harris County has a fairly robust system to clamp down on abuse, and entities such as the Senior Justice Assessment Center (SJAC) has arisen of late to protect such people from abuses, neglect and exploitation. Like other community projects, I believe that the best way to protect against inequities is to be prepared in planning one’s estate. Designating agents in powers of attorney (including a durable or medical one) is one such opportunity.

But the judge has discretion to determine when friends or family are insufficient guardians. I promise to make that determination holistically, looking at not just economic factors but social ones as well, in recognition of what is in the best interest of the family overall.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for more than forty years in Harris County, Texas. I have represented thousands of clients in regard to their estate planning and their needs in Probate Court as well as at all levels of civil, corporate, criminal, family, juvenile and appellate courts in Harris County, as well as a multitude of other counties in Texas. My extensive background in family law is a definite asset in probate work since the determining the proper characterization of community versus separate property is essential when dealing with intestate estates and the distribution of such assets to relatives of the deceased individual. The probate court also has concurrent jurisdiction with the Civil Courts involving issues such as wrongful death/personal injuries that can affect a person’s estate or well being. For more than four decades I have represented individuals and families of individuals that have been presented with such terrible circumstances. I have handled all types of probate matters repeatedly for more than 40 years. A successful judge should include the qualities of experience, wisdom, compassion and knowledge. I certainly have the experience and knowledge base from the decades of legal practice. The wide variety of my legal practice has provided me with the wisdom to understand all types of people, recently divorced, accused criminals, business owners, disabled children and elderly parents all among them. All of my experiences provide me with the wisdom, and I believe the compassion, to be a successful judge. As I mentioned above in this questionnaire, the vast majority of work handled by the Probate Court is administrative non-contested matters. It is when a matter is contested, needing a trial that my long experience and acquired knowledge as a trial lawyer become so necessary to be a successful judge.

Additionally, being involved in the community helping to service the needs of those individuals that can be impacted by the Probate Court is a unique qualification for a probate judge. Having and showing compassion is in my opinion is a necessary ingredient for this probate bench. I work with families of disabled children helping those families get legally mandated special needs services from the public school. I have continuously worked as a volunteer at the Harris Center for Disabled Individuals. Recently in 2017 because of my history of working with incapaciated individuals, District Attorney Kim Ogg appointed myself and former Sheriff Adrian Garcia as Co-Chairs of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s mental health issues in the criminal justice system transition committee. I authored the report on this subject which was presented to District Attorney Ogg.

5. Why is this race important?

The Judge must be very familiar with the law and able to rule on legal matters including the admissibility of evidence and the procedures required to conduct trials and hearings. Uncontested matters will be heard by a judge. Contested matters will be heard by a trier of fact, either the judge alone or by a jury.

If a matter is solely before a judge, the judge is the ultimate decision maker as to the credibility of the evidence presented. In that case no one else has more power than the judge as to the believability of the facts presented. In those instances, the judge is the Supreme Court of the facts and the law of the case since the judge must decide whether testimony is credible. As a judge, that person is an officer and representative of the government. He or she cannot allow personal or religious views to cloud one’s judgment. He or she must uphold the law and apply them to all citizens equally. Having qualified individuals be on the bench in Harris County, Texas is required in order to protect the rights of all individuals that come before the Court. Ideology has no place in our judicial system.

For far too long in Harris County, Texas , Republican judges have imposed their belief systems upon our community that can impact their decisions when on the bench. One need to look no further than the decision of the Republican judges not to marry anyone. That decision is based upon the fact that if a judge agrees to marry a couple, that couple might be a same sex couple and the republican orthodoxy in Harris County does not support same sex marriage. Imagine a same sex couple that have not been formally married and one of those individuals die without a Will. A probate judge without an ideological bent could weigh the evidence fairly in a determination of whether the couple were common law married.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

Probate Court, as an administrative court, has an unusually high percentage of routine cases that are merely rubberstamped by the court. It is when there is a contest that trial experience becomes so necessary. When I began my legal practice, my primary opponent hadn’t even been born. Experience counts. For forty years, I have represented thousands of clients in estate planning and probate court as well as at all levels of the civil, criminal, family, and juvenile courts in Harris County, Texas, including also a multitude of other jurisdictions in Texas. According to the district and county clerk records of Harris County, my primary opponent has not appeared in any civil cases. Wisdom counts. My sound judgment has been gleaned from over four decades of work providing assistance to individuals and their families through my dedication to quality, my understanding of the foibles of people, and my understanding of the law. Compassion counts. I have the life experiences that have demonstrated my care for the unfortunate, the disabled, and the grieving.

Interview with Marty Schexnayder

Marty Schexnayder

We come for a return engagement in HD133. For all the legitimate issues in our state and around the country with gerrymandering, HD133 is fairly close to a plain old rectangle, bordered by I-10 to the north, Westheimer to the south, Beltway 8 Highway 6 to the west and Loop 610 to the east. It’s kind of like a more Republican version of HD134, including the large number of Trump refuseniks in 2016. Hoping to persuade those voters to keep standing firm is native Houstonian Marty Schexnayder. An attorney and UT graduate, Schexnayder volunteers at his church and serves on the board of directors for Faith in Practice, a non-profit agency dedicated to providing medical services to the citizens of Guatemala. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Ray Shackelford

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Ray Shackelford

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Ray Shackelford, and I am running for Justice of the Peace for Precinct 7, Place 2.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears civil suits up to $10,000, traffic and misdemeanor criminal cases, and tenant evictions, among others. The court is also responsible for performing weddings, issuing warrants, and other magistrate duties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for Justice of the Peace to ensure that the people of Harris County are given a voice. I want to make sure that members of the Houston community are able to achieve fair outcomes regardless of their education, station in life, or their ability to afford legal representation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a native Houstonian who strives to make a difference in the lives of others. As a civic leader in the Third Ward community, I have put in the time to learn the needs of Houston communities and worked to help those communities thrive. I am committed to justice for all communities, serving on the Independent Police Oversight Board for the City of Houston since 2016.

I was previously a leader in the Houston Area Urban League’s Housing Programs department and a certified housing counselor for the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program—both positions involved solving housing issues facing disadvantaged communities. I have experience providing direct services to clients facing evictions and foreclosures.

I am the host of the “Agents of Change” radio show on Synergy Radio Network, which focuses on community topics that are important to Houstonians. I am a cum laude graduate of Morehouse College, where I majored in Business. I also earned an MBA from the University of Houston.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is vital because the types of cases that the JP courts administer are critical to people’s everyday lives. For example, the outcome of an eviction case can truly be life-altering, and cases like this must be handled with empathy and compassion while also reaching a fair and just result.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

You should vote for me in the March primary because I have a track record of service to this community. I am not a serial candidate or someone seeking the trappings of public office–I am simply here to be a stronger voice for the Houston community that I have already been serving and advocating for over the last decade.

So where are we on Harvey response?

Stuff is happening.

Local and state leaders are moving toward a major, lengthy and costly overhaul of the region’s flood defenses that includes regulating developmentmassive buyouts of flood-prone properties and flood-prevention projects that have been discussed for decades but never built.

Few of the initiatives will be complete before hurricane season starts in June, but nearly six months after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the Texas Gulf Coast and devastated the nation’s fourth-largest city, leaders are seeking to address long-ignored shortcomings laid bare by one of the most intense rainstorms in U.S. history.

Gov. Greg Abbott says he can write a check for a third reservoir to better protect areas west of Houston from inundation as well as attempt to avoid the types of releases from Addicks and Barker dams that swamped Houston downstream during Harvey.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wants to join Harris County in strengthening regulation on the region’s rapid development to protect the city’s population from floodwaters and alleviate the burden on taxpayers to repair and rebuild flood-prone properties.

Harris County leaders want a major bond issue – and a corresponding increase in property taxes – this year to pay for bayou drainage projects and, possibly, broad buyouts in flood-prone areas.

There’s also broad support for legislation that would require buyers of property in reservoir flood pools, which are dry much of the time, to be notified of flooding risks; 30,000 homes have been built in the flood pools of Addicks and Barker, and many owners say they had no idea they were living in an area designed to hold water during times of heavy rain. More than 9,000 of those homes flooded during Harvey.

Some of the local response has been slowed as officials waited to see what Congress will be willing to fund, a logjam that started to break late in the week with the approval of nearly $90 billion for victims of this year’s storms and natural disasters – much of it for recovery, not prevention. But state and local officials tell the Houston Chronicle they remain committed to broader improvements.

That was written before the Congressional budget deal was reached, so that obstacle should be removed, though it’s still not totally clear what that will mean. County Commissioners will need to figure that out for the bond referendum they’re planning. There are now more FEMA funds available for recovery, which is nice but makes you wonder why it took so long.

It’s a little hard for me as someone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey to judge if “enough” progress has been made. My friends who were flooded out are still dealing with it; one family is about to move back into their repaired home, which was damaged by the dam releases, another has made the decision to sell and live elsewhere, others are in similar places. I can’t speak for them, but we will all have the opportunity to listen to them as the elections approach. I have to assume that every elected official is going to have to answer for his or her actions and decisions during and after Harvey. I feel like this could be a point of weakness for Greg Abbott, and I think that Andrew White’s campaign ad touting his actions during Harvey is a smart move. It’s too soon to say how much of an effect Harvey will have on November – I don’t get the sense that it’s a difference maker in the primaries, but at least on the Democratic side that may be because no one disagrees with the notion that more can and should have been done to aid the recovery and mitigate against future floods – but it will be there. The time to take action to shield oneself against charges that one’s response was inadequate is rapidly running out, if it hasn’t already.

Endorsement watch: Congresspalooza

The Chron Chron“>endorses in four Congressional primaries, three of which are Dem races.

United States Representative, District 10: Mike Siegel or Tami Walker

Seven candidates are running for this sprawling rural and suburban district that stretches from Austin to (almost) Houston. We recommend that Democratic voters send representatives from those two urban poles to compete in the almost-inevitable runoff: Austin assistant city attorney Mike Siegel and Katy-area attorney Tami Walker.

Siegel, 40, who graduated from Cornell Law School, said his boss once jokingly described Siegel’s job as waking up, suing Gov. Greg Abbott and going home. He is involved in Austin’s lawsuit against SB4, which abrogates local law enforcement discretion on immigration issues. Siegel has the passion of a professional politician, and we mean that as a compliment. However, his focus on renewable energy might fit well in Austin, but will likely run into a few bumps in Houston’s oil and gas enclaves.

Walker, 53, lives in Katy and after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law spent nearly three decades working as an attorney or general counsel in different industries. Her soft-spoken style embodies the moderate position of the suburban, oil patch Democrat.

United States Representative, District 22: Sri Preston Kulkarni

Incumbent Republican Congressman Pete Olson has attracted a total of eight challengers on both sides of the partisan divide to represent this diverse, suburban district that covers part of Harris County, most of Brazoria County and Fort Bend Counties, including Sugar Land. In the five-way Democratic primary, Sri Preston Kulkarni stands out as the most impressive candidate. As a foreign service officer in the U.S. State Department, Kulkarni served in Ukraine, Jerusalem and Iraq. He also worked as a foreign policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. All that international experience doesn’t mean Kulkarni, 39, ever lost his Houston roots. Kulkarni was quick to discuss flooding problems in Cinco Ranch when he met with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. He talks like a real Texan when it comes to energy policy, focusing on the reality of how market forces promote natural gas over coal, and how renewables threaten to do the same for our oil and gas economy. Kulkarni also keeps a focus on the district’s diversity – nearly a quarter Asian – and is promoting his campaign in Spanish, Chinese, Hindi and Vietnamese.

Dayna Steele

United States Representative, District 36: Dayna Steele

Back when she had a talk radio show, Dayna Steele had one rule: Never talk about politics, religion or cats. All that changed with the 2016 election. After taking part in the Women’s March, the former KLOL disc jockey decided to run to represent the massive 36th Congressional District, which sprawls from Galveston Bay to the Louisiana border, including the Johnson Space Center. Despite the district’s size, Steele, 58, has the natural ability to rattle off the specific challenges facing cities and towns that often go ignored in the deep-red district’s traditionally non-competitive races. Those challenges includes the job cuts in the lumber industry, the lack of broadband internet access, and the limited health care services.

“There is a hospital in Orange County, they call it the Band-Aid station, because that’s about all you can get there,” Steele told the editorial board. She says that’s why she supports Medicare for All.

Steele also points out that Congress needs to provide oversight on post-Hurricane Harvey recovery funds to ensure they end up in the poor towns that need help the most.

“It never gets down to the people in Winnie and Rose City and Bridge City and Orange and West Orange,” she said.

My interview with Dayna Steele is here I didn’t get to CDs 10 or 22 – just not enough weeks in the primary season – but will circle back to them for the runoffs. The Chron also had nice things to say about nearly all of the other candidates, which is always good to see. Having a lot of people file for office is one thing, having a lot of good choices is another. By all indications I’ve seen, we have the latter as well as the former.

Interview with Sandra Moore

Sandra Moore

From HD138 we move to its southern neighbor, HD133. Covering territory from the Galleria area to the Westchase District, it’s solid Republican area but with a significant crossover swing to Hillary Clinton in 2016; she lost HD133 by a 54-40 margin while other Dems were trailing by 30. Rep. Jim Murphy was first elected here in 2006, then after being swept out in 2008 came back in 2010 and hasn’t faced much competition since (a healthy dose of 2011 redistricting didn’t hurt in that regard). Murphy is a past President of the Westchase District, and his relationship with it still works to his benefit. Three candidates filed to take him on, two actual Democrats and a third person who isn’t worth mentioning. Sandra Moore is one of those actual Democrats, and I don’t have any biographical information for you here but I did ask her about her background and other things in the interview:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Barbara Stalder

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Barbara Stalder

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Barbara J. Stalder and I am running for the 280th Family Violence Court in Harris County Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears divorce, custody and protective orders involving family violence

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe the citizens of Harris County deserve the most qualified and knowledgeable person for this specialized Court. I was the democratic candidate for the 280th in 2014 and my compassion and desire to make this court a model family violence court has been in forefront of my mind since that time. I want to serve the citizens of Harris County in the most meaningful way I can and being judge can serve that function. I believe all citizens have a right to a fair and impartial hearing, to be treated with respect and to have judge make decisions on the merits of the case rather than their socio-economical, cultural, or legal status.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Family violence affects every facet of a family law case from who is appointed the primary custodial parent to a fair and just division of property. This court needs a judge who has extensive family law and family violence trial experience. I am board certified in family law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and an expert in family violence issues. I have tried hundreds of often complex family law cases to both a judge and jury and have several appeals including a case to the Texas Supreme Court. I have also presented at local, state and national conferences on family law and family violence topics. I am former clinical professor at UH Law Center where I taught and mentored law student attorneys in a low income legal aid clinic. I taught semester courses in family violence and marital property. I have been appointed by the family courts as an Amicus for a child in a contested custody matter. As Amicus I investigated the child’s circumstances, interviewed the child(ren), family members, friends and professionals such as counselors and teachers. I was responsible for helping the court decide who would be the primary custody parent, where the child would live, the rights of each parent, and the possession and access of the child by the noncustodial parent. I am an expert in the field of domestic violence and have been a consulting expert for attorneys in cases where domestic violence was alleged.

5. Why is this race important?

1-3 women and 1-4 men will experience family violence during their lifetime. Family violence is multigenerational in one form or another; from taking on the traits of the batterer to becoming a victim themselves. In 2015 Harris County had 23 domestic homicides where an intimate partner murdered the other partner. Most occurred with firearms. This court hears protective orders, divorce and custody matters involving family violence. The lives of men, women and children often hang in the balance and it is up to the judge to hear the evidence and make a decision based on the law. The cases this court hears can often have life and death implications. It is important to have a judge who understands the nuances of the Texas Family Code and the intersection of family violence. It is also critical the judge of this court have experience and expertise regarding the child’s best interest. Children who are exposed to family violence for any significant period of time have difficulty with brain development and without early intervention may not be able to reach their true analytical and emotional potential. It is not enough to have only cursory experience with children to know and understand the long term impact of family violence.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am the only candidate that is board certified in family law. I have also taken additional legal and non-legal courses on family violence and the impact on children. I have not only handled protective but severe family violence where the mother was murdered by the father and the family members were left to pick up the legal pieces and take care of the children. I have handled complex property cases, veterans issues such as those with PTSD, same sex custody and adoption cases, as well as unaccompanied minor who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by one or both parents. I am the right candidate with the right experience for this court and I can hit the ground running without any additional legal education or refreshers courses. Finally, I am fair, impartial and objective. I want to serve the citizens of Harris County and insure each child’s best interest comes first.

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

Poe’s vacancy has attracted nine contenders in the Republican primary, and we encourage voters to look for a candidate who will aspire to embody the party’s values while also striving to represent a vast district.

Two candidates appear to lead the pack in this heated race: one-term state Rep. Kevin Roberts and wealthy activist Kathaleen Wall. However, both have developed a reputation for avoiding panels and other public events where they’ll stand alongside the seven other challengers. That tactic may be politically clever, but we get a sense that it frustrates voters.

Nevertheless, Roberts remains the best choice in this race. He works as executive director for the Lanier Law Firm and has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle. Support from county officials is a sign of faith in Roberts to advocate for Houston’s flood control needs at a federal level – the single most important issue in the 2018 election.

It is worth noting that Roberts, 52, successfully authored and passed a resolution during the last legislative session urging Congress to provide sufficient funding for the construction of a storm surge barrier along the Texas coast – well before Hurricane Harvey. The carrots and sticks of party politics don’t usually encourage that kind of smart advocacy, so it falls on primary voters to reward Roberts’ push for a long-term investment in our region.

[…]

Meanwhile, voters in this primary should avoid Wall, who has spent around $2.7 million of her family’s money on this primary race alone. Writing a check is no substitute for a proven track-record. Wall has little in her resume to show that she’ll be an effective representative in Congress for either the Republican base or for Houston overall.

Republicans are going to face a tougher contest than they’re used to in this changing district, and Wall’s unrelentingly pro-Trump campaign is going make it hard to win over moderate voters in November. Or worse, her antics could energize the deep-blue Montrose-area precincts that already can’t wait to vote against anything that even sounds like Trump.

I don’t think we’ll need any more incentive, but thanks for thinking of us. Frankly, I expect we’ll all still be dealing with the PTSD from Wall’s nonstop barrage of awful TV ads.

Meanwhile, the Chron observes the maxim that it is always a good time to vote against Sid Miller.

“We like to eat, we like to wear clothes and we like to put gas in our cars. All three of those things are affected by the Department of Agriculture.”

That’s how Trey Blocker succinctly describes the importance of the agency he wants to manage. Blocker is unquestionably the best qualified candidate running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news coming out of this corner of Austin during the last couple of years knows it needs new leadership.

Blocker is a conservative ethics lawyer offended by what he calls “corruption and crony capitalism” in state government, but he’s also spent decades working as a lobbyist for the farming and ranching communities. Ask him anything about the myriad duties performed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and he’ll tell you not only how things work, but also how they need to change.

[…]

Texas voters are lucky that Blocker decided to enter this race, because he’s a well-qualified, conservative Republican alternative to Sid Miller. Even if you don’t follow state government very closely, you may have heard about the shenanigans of this embarrassing incumbent.

Miller claims he’s conservative, but he doesn’t act like one. After angering farmers and business owners by raising a host of regulatory fees, he gave employees of his agency more than $400,000 in bonuses. He used taxpayer money for a trip to Oklahoma where he got a so-called “Jesus shot” for chronic pain. He also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime where it so happened he wanted to participate in a rodeo. The Texas Rangers ended up investigating both incidents, and Miller ended up reimbursing the state’s coffers.

The incumbent agriculture commissioner needs to be put out to pasture. Republican primary voters should throw their support to Trey Blocker.

The competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but beyond a doubt Sid Miller is a championship contender. Honestly, to be much worse you’d have to be engineered in a lab.

And to complete the trifecta of terribleness, we meet up with one of the local contenders for “worst elected official” in this Republican Justice of the Peace primary.

November comes early this year. No Democrats have signed up to run for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2, which means that this Republican primary essentially functions as the general election.

Voters should feel comfortable reelecting current Justice of the Peace Jeff Williams to a third term in this sprawling west Harris County precinct.

Williams, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, exudes enthusiastic competence when discussing his job overseeing this low-level court, which handles more than 100,000 cases each year.

[…]

Williams’ challenger, J.R. Harris, said he would encourage landlord groups to go above and beyond the legal minimum to prevent evictions in the first place. Harris, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, currently works at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and has experience with the tax assessor’s office. He has the makings of a fine justice of the peace, but there’s no reason to boot Williams from office.

Both candidates had kind words about the other, and saved their criticism for Mike Wolfe, who declined to meet for an interview.

Both Williams and Harris said that they believe Wolfe had been put forward as a candidate by a reactionary anti-LGBT wing of the Republican Party hoping to fight same-sex marriage.

Yes, that’s the same Michael Wolfe from the HCDE; the editorial covers some of his more egregious recent actions on the Board. We’ll get a shot at ousting him in 2020, assuming he hasn’t been moved into this much safer seat in March. You’ll only be screwing yourselves if you vote him in here, Republicans.

Interview with Jenifer Pool

Jenifer Pool

We return to HD138 today. This is a district that has been held by Rep. Dwayne Bohac since 2002 but was carried by a tiny margin by Hillary Clinton on 2016, thus putting it high on the target list for this year. It’s a diverse district with a Latino plurality and a significant Asian population that had been on the fringes of contention before being thrust into the spotlight for 2018. Jenifer Pool made her entry into the race during the filing period. If you’ve been here before, you know Jenifer, who owns a construction and permitting consulting firm and has a long history of activism in the community. She’s run for Council a couple of times and became the first trans person to win a primary for county office when she was nominated for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2016. You can search the archives for past interviews I’ve done with her, and you can listen to the one I did here for this race:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Judicial Q&A: David Fleischer

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

David Fleischer

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is David Fleischer and I am running for Harris County Criminal Court at Law Number 5. I have an amazing wife and three sweet young kids, Jake age 7, Julia age 5, and Rachel age 2. I am a first-generation Hispanic Houstonian whose family hails from Santiago, Chile. I am a lifelong democrat and graduate of University of Houston (go Coogs) and Western Michigan Cooley Law School.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a County Court at Law that deals with criminal cases, Class B and Class A misdemeanors. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by zero to one hundred and eighty days in jail and/or up to a two thousand dollar fine. Offenses that are Class B include assault, driving while intoxicated (first offenses and those with breath/blood alcohol concentration under .15), and driving while license invalid. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by zero to three hundred and sixty-five days in jail and/or up to a four thousand dollar fine. Some Class A misdemeanors include assault (bodily injury), DWI (second offender or.15 or above alcohol concentration), resisting arrest, and possession of a controlled substance.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The current Judge is retiring and this will be an open bench. We need to ensure that the Judge that is elected is qualified and has the proper judicial temperament to deal with the hundreds of cases that pass through the court every week. We have a progressive sheriff, chief of police, and District Attorney; we are the last link to making local government progressive. I strive to change the culture of the judicial system, advance opportunities for all persons, as well as promote programs that aim to reduce mass incarceration and unjust punishment. Even today, minorities continue to suffer from the lack of equal justice in criminal cases. This injustice can take many forms. For example, some issues that must be addressed are the difference set in bail bonds, unequal representation and disparate sentencing. Sentences should reflect the gravity of the offense, not the color of one’s skin, place of birth or gender. As judge, I will make sure that everyone is treated equally. Lack of economic resources will not dictate whether someone is provided a competent defense. I will fight to change the culture of the criminal justice system to prevent innocent people from pleading guilty.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I was licensed to practice law in November of 2004. I have my own law practice and have been helping persons accused with crimes since that time. I only handle criminal cases, and in Harris County have represented over six-thousand, four hundred persons accused with crimes. My clientele consists of people charged with either felonies or misdemeanors, with most of the work focused on the latter. Additionally, my practice is devoted to representing indigent persons. This is via appointment by the current Harris County Judges. Moreover, I am Hispanic and speak fluent Spanish. Therefore, a majority of my cases involve minorities. The volume of cases I have handled has given me considerable experience in dealing with prosecutors, judges, and accused persons. I know the system, people, and procedures to be able to run a court efficiently. I also volunteered on the State Bar Grievance Committee for six years. This is the committee that disciplines lawyers for unethical behavior. This was a very eye-opening experience that enabled me to see the darker side of lawyering and make me strive to improve our profession in every way possible.

5. Why is this race important?

We have the opportunity to advance criminal justice to a more progressive form. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of persons committing crimes. We can achieve this through education and counseling; we can help close the revolving door of the criminal justice system and help people appreciate consequences of certain acts and behaviors. Many accused persons are short-sighted and would rather take an easy way out by pleading guilty than work for a better outcome. With the proper motivation, we can change this. Diversionary programs, that ultimately end in a dismissal of charges, are a great enticement to help someone keep their record clean and more importantly teach them the value of not re-offending. I plan on taking a proactive, progressive approach to tackle these underlying issues.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

My longevity as a criminal defense lawyer, experience in dealing with criminal cases and negotiating with prosecutors, judges, and accused persons; as well as working for the State Bar of Texas Grievance Committee have given me with the tools to be a resourceful, compassionate, and fair judge. This is valuable knowledge that is only gained through experience. Oftentimes persons who are inexperienced will, invariably, make poor decisions on issues before them which affect every person involved and waste countless resources. Most importantly, bad decisions can make bad law. I will strive to ensure that justice is sought and provided to everyone equally, without regard to economic status, color, gender or orientation.

Cruz’s concerns about November

Take this for what it’s worth.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is preparing Texas Republicans for a turbulent election year amid super-charged Democratic enthusiasm — including in his own re-election campaign.

Traveling the state for GOP events this weekend, Cruz portrayed an uncertain midterm environment that could go down as disastrous for Republicans if they don’t work to counteract Democratic energy throughout the country. Cruz has spent previous election cycles airing similar warnings against GOP complacency in ruby-red Texas, but this time it hits much closer to home for him — he is facing a well-funded re-election challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Addressing the Fort Bend County GOP on Friday night, Cruz warned of an “incredible volatility in politics right now,” calling Democrats “stark-raving nuts” in their opposition to Trump. He pointed to Trump’s recent State of the Union address and Democrats’ reluctance to applaud, saying the scene “underscores the political risk in November.”

“Let me tell you right now: The left is going to show up,” Cruz said, delivering the keynote address at the party’s Lincoln Reagan Dinner. “They will crawl over broken glass in November to vote.”

As a general rule, one should be wary of assigning a truth value to anything Ted Cruz says. Be that as it may, he’s right that Democrats are fired up, and Republicans need to be worried about it. That’s especially true for counties like Fort Bend and Harris, where Republicans don’t have a numerical advantage and need an edge in enthusiasm to make up for it.

What the likes of Cruz say in public to their core supporters, who seek inspiration from their standard-bearers, doesn’t tell us much. I’m much more interested in what they’re saying behind the scenes, with their consultants and pollsters, but for obvious reasons that information is harder to get. We can take inspiration from Cruz’s “we’re under siege” message as well, but we need to work at making that message an accurate one.

Julian 2020 still in the works

He says he’s still thinking about it, but I’m guessing it’s a “yes unless something unexpected happens” situation.

Julian Castro

In an interview this week, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro gave the strongest indication yet that he’s interested in running for president in 2020.

Castro, a Democrat who led the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, told NBC News that he has “every interest in running.” His speech next week at an awards dinner in New Hampshire will help him take the temperature of voters in the early primary state.

“Part of the process of figuring out whether I’m going to run is going to listen to folks and feel the temperature” of voters, he said.

Castro told the San Antonio Express-News last week that he’d make a decision on whether to run by “the end of 2018.”

It’s way too early to think about who I’d like to support in 2020, but I’m all in favor of Castro running. The best thing he can do now to build a base and engender good will among the faithful is make that Congressional PAC of his as successful as he can. Be sure some of that action is here in Texas, too. We’ll await the go/no go decision, but we’ll be watching until then. The Current has more.

Interview with Adam Milasincic

Adam Milasincic

We are officially in the home stretch of primary season. Early voting starts eight days – eight days! – from today. Between now and then I will be bringing you interviews from the contested State Rep primaries in Harris County. I limited myself to the races in Republican-held districts, because there’s only one of me and there were only so many weeks before the election. These are some of the districts in which any gains that are available to be made this year are likely to be made. We start in HD138, where two Democrats vie to face Rep. Dwayne Bohac in November. Adam Milasincic is one of those candidates, and was one of the first to file for a legislative office this cycle in Harris County. Milasincic is an attorney and litigator who touts his pro bono advocacy on behalf of inmates and immigrants, among others. He was also one of two primary candidates to be singled out by labor for his firm’s role in a recent lawsuit against the SEIU. I asked him about that, and about other things, in the interview:

You can see all of my legislative interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Jason Luong

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Jason Luong

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Jason Luong, and I am running to be the Democratic candidate for Judge of the 185th District Court in Harris County, a felony district court. I have over 17 years of legal experience as a former prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and civil attorney. My wife is a former Marine. Our daughter attends St. Michael Catholic School and trains with the Houston Ballet. I come from a family of public servants. My father worked for the City of Houston for over 20 years. My mother worked for the Houston Police Department for over 20 years.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court handles felony criminal charges, where the range of punishment can range from 6 months in the state jail all the way to life in prison or the death penalty. Drug charges, assaults involving a deadly weapon or serious bodily injuries, third time DWI’s, homicide, sex assault cases and crimes against children are just a few examples of the felony offenses that this court hears.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running to bring my experience as a former prosecutor and defense attorney to serve and represent the citizens of Harris county. In fact, I was a prosecutor assigned to the 185 th District Court. Our courts need to be more responsive to the people they are intended to serve. This means making our courts accessible to people and running them efficiently.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 17 years of legal experience as a former Harris County prosecutor, civil attorney, and criminal defense attorney. My family and I have strong Texas roots. I am a graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, with honors. I started my legal career as a law clerk to a U.S. District Court Judge, where we handled one of the largest criminal dockets in the country. As a Harris County prosecutor, I prosecuted thousands of cases on behalf of Harris County residents, including one of the only prosecutions of members of Aryan Brotherhood under Texas’s Hate Crime Statute. Currently I have my own criminal defense practice where I handle both court-appointed and retained cases. I have tried over 50 cases to a jury verdict. I am passionate about bringing my experience to serve the people of Harris County.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because our criminal courts are important. Harris County is one of the most important criminal jurisdictions in the country. The 185th District Court handles the most serious criminal offenses, including crimes against children, serious drug cases, and murder.

This race is a chance for the citizens of Harris County to elect a judge who has the experience necessary for this high office. Furthermore, it is a chance to ensure that our criminal courts reflect the diversity of Harris County. If elected, I would be the only Asian-American judge on any county-wide criminal bench, and I would be the first Vietnamese-American judge elected in Harris County. I believe that our courts, like our juries, should reflect the diversity of our population.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

The people of Harris County should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate in this race. I have over 17 years of legal experience. I am the only candidate in this race who has experience as a Harris County prosecutor. I have also been endorsed in this race by The Houston Chronicle and the Harris County Tejano Democrats. I am proud to have earned their endorsement. I will bring a balanced perspective and broad experience to this Court. I would ensure that all persons in my court whether a defendant or a victim, would be treated fairly and impartially under the law.

Stanart’s workshop

Our County Clerk has been doing some tinkering.

The Harris County Clerk has spent hundreds of hours and millions of dollars to build, from the ground up, an electronic voter check-in system at the polls, Channel 2 Investigates has learned.

“It’s taken more than two-and-a-half years. There’s been investments of more than $2 million, and we don’t really have anything to show for it yet,” said Adrian Shelley, Texas Director of Public Citizen, a citizen advocacy group.

Based on receipts provided by his office, Stan Stanart, an elected official in his second term, has spent $2.75 million of public funds, so far, inventing what he calls an “electronic poll book.”

It is unclear how much more Stanart plans to spend to bring the project to fruition or how much the system will cost in annual maintenance.

Stanart has said his project could ultimately offer substantial savings to Harris County versus an “off-the-shelf system” which by Stanart’s estimates would cost between $3.99 million and $6.12 million. (View document)

Stanart’s project principally consists of an iPad, custom software and a customized stand to hold the iPad. The finished product will alleviate long lines at voting locations by making the check-in process more efficient, Stanart has said.

The clerk procured hundreds of individual parts for the project, including thousands of dollars of washers, magnets and foam.

The purchase of 2,400 iPads was made in July 2015. The vast majority of those iPads stayed in a warehouse, unopened and unused for more than two years.

Stanart has said he is now in the process of mating the iPads to his custom-built stands. He rolled out less than 100 of them in November for a test run. The county clerk has not publicized the results of that initial foray, but has said he plans the full implementation of his system in March’s primaries.

“I think most reasonable would say you probably shouldn’t have spent $1 million on iPads if you weren’t going to use them sometime soon,” Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said.

Both Ellis and Shelley said the idea of automating the voter check-in process is a worthy pursuit, but questioned why the project has not had more transparency.

I’ll cut right to the chase and say that I agree with Ellis and Shelley. It’s entirely possible that this was a worthwhile project for the County Clerk to take on, but:

1) Are we sure there wasn’t a commercial or open source solution out there? Even if it was more expensive, being able to deploy it in earlier elections would have mitigated the extra cost.

2) What oversight did this project have? I’ve been involved in some big projects in the corporate world. We have timelines, signoffs, approvals, all sorts of things to ensure that the people who need to know about it do know about it and know where it stands. How much has Commissioners Court been looped in on this?

3) Are there any design documents, or other technical descriptions of what this is, what it is intended to do, what the requirements are, etc etc etc? In other words, is it written down anywhere what to expect when this thing finally debuts? And if so, where is that?

4) Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but what was the original budget for this, and how does that compare with what has actually been spent?

Maybe this thing will be great, and maybe it will be a dud. The idea is a good one, but that means nothing if the execution isn’t there. It’s way past time for these questions to be answered.

Endorsement watch: County criminal courts

One last round of judicial endorsements.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 2: Harold J. Landreneau

Harold Landreneau earns our endorsement for this primary slot with a significant caveat. Landreneau, 49, needs to shed the communication style of a chief clerk of a justice of the peace court, a job he held for over a decade, and assume the more deliberate and focused demeanor of a member of the judiciary. It’s not enough to be courteous to litigants: To be an effective manager, a judge needs to be concise.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 5: David M. Fleischer

In this toss-up race to replace Judge Margaret Stewart Harris, our endorsement goes to David M. Fleischer, a graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School over Armen “Hammer” Merjanian.

Both candidates believe in more emphasis on rehabilitation in the county criminal court system. Even though Merjanian’s noble goal of ending mass incarceration needs more refinement, both candidates showed passion for changing a system that’s set in its ways and that needs much improvement. Fleischer, 43, has eight more years of experience as criminal lawyer than Merjanian. The idealistic Merjanian – whose five years of experience barely exceeds the statutory minimum for this bench – has the potential to be a good judge. While we’d strongly urge Merjanian to run again, voters should cast their ballots in this primary contest for Fleischer.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 7: Andrew W. Wright

The first thing you’ll notice about Andrew W. Wright is his long rockstar-style hair and beard – not what voters are used to seeing on a judge. The reasons for his copious coiffure? He’s growing out his hair to donate it, and the beard covers up a double chin.

Wright’s experience as a lawyer is significantly more traditional. The South Texas College of Law Houston graduate has been practicing law for over a decade, and has been exclusively practicing criminal defense for eight years. Wright, 35, has endorsed personal recognizance bonds as the norm for misdemeanor court – we agree – and assured us that, hairstyle aside, he plans on staying to the straight and narrow of his judicial responsibilities. That includes helping first offenders, supporting the expansion of diversion courts and sentencing the worst criminals to the highest punishment possible for county criminal courts – one year in jail.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11: Gus Saper

A Jewish lawyer appointed to represent a general in the Aryan Brotherhood? That sounds like it could have been a movie, but it’s only one case in candidate Gus Saper’s 43-year career as a criminal defense attorney. With the Harris County Criminal Justice Center out of action for another two years due to Hurricane Harvey, this bench needs a resourceful judge like Saper.

A graduate of the South Texas School of Law Houston, Saper, 69, has the depth of knowledge and the historical perspective to know how to upgrade the procedures in this court to make them more courteous and efficient even with limited resources.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 12: Juan J. Aguirre

Juan J. Aguirre started his career in law by working alongside his father – a courthouse janitor in Del Rio.

“I got my baptism into the law field by cleaning up the courtroom,” Aguirre told us at his screening.

Since then he has graduated from South Texas School of Law Houston and worked for the past 16 years as a criminal law attorney, first as an assistant district attorney for Harris County and then as a criminal defense attorney. Aguirre, 51, takes pride in his mentorship of young lawyers, advising them to delve deep into their profession by visiting the crime scene and the crime lab and riding with the police to see what law enforcement sees. Before becoming a lawyer, Aguirre worked as a city planner and manager after obtaining a Masters of Urban Planning from Texas A&M University.

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 13: Raul Rodriquez

Raul Rodriquez, 58, is our choice for the Democratic primary. With 28 years of experience practicing criminal law, Rodriquez is well-qualified. This naturalized citizen is a clear communicator who also happens to be bilingual. He has judicial experience, having served as city of Houston municipal court judge for 12 years. Finally, he displays the right temperament for the judiciary.

The South Texas Law Center Houston graduate told us, “I believe it’s important for a judge to be involved in a community and to know what goes on there.”

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 15: Kris Ougrah

In this race between two young, passionate lawyers, we encourage Democratic voters to back Kris Ougrah, who told the editorial board he is running to improve the future of Houston’s youth. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Ougrah, 40, promises to take personal interest in setting young offenders on the right path in life. He also wants to run a mentorship program. However, we would recommend that Ougrah, who had a habit of being overly loquacious during his editorial board interview, focus on the judicious practice of a succinct comment.

Ougrah has been practicing law about twice as long as his opponent, Tonya Jones, who was admitted to the bar in 2011.

Relevant Q&As: Harold Landreneau, Armen Merjanian, Gus Saper, Kris Ougrah. One from Davis Fleischer is in the queue.

As noted before, that finishes off the judicial category for the Chron. They still have a lot of other ground to cover. In the meantime, it’s apparent that in some of these races, there are very clear choices, one candidate who got recommended by every group they screened with. In others the decision is tougher, but that’s because both of the options are good. I can’t complain about that.

Update on the Dallas ballot lawsuit

Still waiting on this.

Dallas County Republicans have filed a motion to remove Judge Eric Moyé from overseeing a lawsuit that would remove 127 Democrats from the 2018 general election ballot.

Moyé, a Democrat, has refused to step aside in the case, according to court documents. His decision is unlike one he made in an earlier case about ballot eligibility, when he recused himself.

Elizabeth Bingham, a lawyer for the Dallas County Republican Party, said it “boggles the mind” that Moyé did not remove himself from the case, given his ties to the Democratic Party and that he’s done so on similar cases.

Moyé, who is not up for re-election, has used Jeff Dalton as his political consultant. Dalton is the consultant for numerous Democrats on the 2018 election ballots.

“I am perplexed that he won’t recuse himself,” Bingham said.

But Buck Wood, a lawyer for 16 of the candidates who would be affected by the suit, said judges sometimes recuse themselves because of the political optics. But he said there’s no law requiring them to do so if they are in situations similar to Moyé’s.

“He said he’s not going to do it,” Wood said. “He’s certainly not required by any statute to recuse himself.”

[…]

A hearing on the case is scheduled for Feb. 16, but the case won’t move forward until Regional Administrative Judge Mary Murphy sets proceedings on whether Moyé should continue on the case.

See here for some background. I mean, if having a Democratic judge is a conflict of interest, then wouldn’t having a Republican judge be one, too? Maybe we’ve finally found a compelling-to-me argument for changing our system of electing judges. Good luck sorting this one out. Whatever ruling we eventually do get will be for the November election, not the primary. Sorry to burst your bubble if you were hoping for a quick resolution.

Endorsement watch: CD02 and the road ahead

The Chron makes their pick on the Democratic side for CD02.

Todd Litton

If the primary race in the 7th Congressional District is the major-league showdown for Houston-area Democrats, then consider this election to be the Triple-A minor league version. In a contest between five exciting candidates, we encourage Democrats to back Todd Litton in the primary for the 2nd Congressional District.

Money isn’t everything in politics, but there’s something undeniably impressive about Litton’s ability to make headlines for out-raising incumbent U.S. Rep. Ted Poe last year. It was a sign that this oft-unchallenged district was, for the first time in years, facing a real political competition. Now Poe has announced that he won’t run for reelection, and Democrats will face a rookie candidate on the Republican side. If they hope to win, Democrats will need someone who can do the hard work of running a serious campaign in this sprawling, gerrymandered district that stretches from Montrose through Spring, Kingwood and Humble, and Litton has proven that he’s got what it takes.

They also had some nice words for Silky Malik. You can hear all the interviews I did with the CD02 candidates – I did eventually get to talk to all five of them – on the 2018 Congressional page.

You can see all the Chron’s endorsements here. I’m tracking endorsements on my pages, and Erik Manning has a comprehensive set of endorsements along with more candidate information on this Google spreadsheet. One thing you might note as you look at that is that there are an awful lot of races in which the Chron has not yet offered an opinion, and that’s without taking into account the Republican side of the equation. With only nine days to go till early voting starts – and hell, with only 23 days till Election Day – it’s hard to see how they cover everything in the time remaining. I don’t think they need to do them all – incumbents being challenged by no-names could reasonably be skipped, for instance – but there are some that really demand action. For instance:

Statewide – So far, we have their endorsement for Governor on the Dem side, and for one contested Republican race for Court of Criminal Appeals. But US Senate, Lite Guv, Land Commissioner, and Railroad Commissioner are at issue on both sides, plus Comptroller on the Dem side. I’ve got to say, the three lower-tier races for Dem nominations are up in the air for me. I’d love to see the Chron’s take on them.

Congress – The Republican race for CD02 is the obvious one missing here. I’ll be surprised if we don’t see it soon. The most interesting ones after that, at least as far as November competitiveness goes, are the Dems in CDs 10 and 22, and the Republican challenge to John Culberson in CD07.

Legislature – Both sides in SD17 and HD134, and the Dem races in the swingiest districts – HDs 126, 132, and 138 – should be the priorities.

County – None of these have been done yet. I have to assume they’re coming, hopefully this week.

Judicial – This is easily the best-covered group. Far as I can tell, all that remains are the county criminal courts and the JPs.

So there you have it. My advice to the Chron editorial board is to rest up after March 6, and start planning very early for November. Like, maybe get started in August, or even July. You have a lot of work ahead of you.

Will we or won’t we get a county bond election for flood control?

Answer unclear, try again later.

Judge Ed Emmett

In an interview with the Chronicle, [Harris County Judge Ed] Emmett described the various factors that are at play as the county grapples with the possible bond referendum, which would be one of the biggest ever proposed by the county.

There isn’t a clear picture yet of what would be part of the bond referendum. At a recent Commissioners Court meeting, officials emphasize the need to keep the language vague enough to give them flexibility in how to spend the money, but specific enough to make sure the voters know what they are buying.

Emmett said the construction of a highly-anticipated third dam and reservoir northwest of the city would not be part of the measure.

County officials previously have described buyouts and improvements to Houston-area bayous as things that could be paid for with the bonds.

What is included depends, in part, on what happens in Congress, and whether the state is willing to pay for any projects.

The timing and content of what will be included in the referendum have, thus far, hinged on knowing what the federal government is willing to pay for. That will not become clear until Congress passes legislation that could fund at least some flood control projects, such as improvements to Brays, White Oak, Hunting bayous or Clear Creek.

[…]

“You have some in Washington who say if the local government calls a bond election before they act, that will send a signal that ‘Well they don’t necessarily need as much money because they’re doing it locally,'” he said. “There’s another group up there that says if a local government calls a bond election, that shows they are real partners.”

See here for the background. This week’s Congressional budget deal includes the long-awaited disaster relief funds, so perhaps that will clarify things a bit for Commissioners Court. I can’t really imagine them not putting something on the ballot, it’s just a matter of what. We’ll see if they can figure it out now.

Texas Monthly long read on Beto

Worth your time to peruse. It’s a feature from their January 2018 print issue.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Talk to political scientists, pollsters, operatives—both Democratic and Republican—around the state and you’ll hear plenty of reasons why, despite the surprising crowds in places like San Angelo and Tyler, O’Rourke is almost certain to go down in defeat, even if he manages to improve on Davis’s numbers. O’Rourke’s first problem is that he’s the only high-profile Democrat running for any statewide office, which means that he won’t be able to count on, say, the Joaquin Castro for Governor campaign to help mobilize volunteers and turn out new voters. His second problem is that the national Senate map in 2018 will force the Democrats to defend 26 seats, including 10 in states that Donald Trump won. The priority of the party’s Senate campaign committee and its major donors and super-PAC financiers will be to save vulnerable incumbents. Their choice will be easy: they can either fund a Lone-Star Hail Mary or—for the same price—help sitting U.S. senators in Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

O’Rourke’s third problem is simple arithmetic. As of the 2016 election, Republican voters still significantly outnumbered Democratic voters in the state. Trump performed terribly in Texas, posting the worst results for a Republican presidential candidate since Bob Dole, in 1996. Trump did particularly poorly with the kinds of suburban, college-educated voters who helped turn Texas into a Republican state in the first place. But he still won by 800,000 votes.

O’Rourke knows all of this, and he can’t tell you exactly how he’s going to beat the odds. When I asked him about what it would take to put together the kind of winning coalition that Obama did nationwide, the congressman said, “I’m not that smart or strategic, I’m not very tactical, I’m not into carving up the state. I think there’s a lot of energy right now everywhere in Texas.”

There are three phrases that O’Rourke repeats at nearly every campaign event: The first is “Texas isn’t a red state or a blue state, it’s a nonvoting state,” which is O’Rourke’s way of saying that he needs a lot of first-time voters to come to the polls in order for him to have a chance. The second is “There’s clearly something happening right now,” which reflects O’Rourke’s belief that the Trump presidency and the radicalization of the Republican party are initiating a tectonic shift in the state’s political orientation. The third is “I’m here,” and it’s O’Rourke’s game plan: if he shows up everywhere that he can, he will convince voters—even longtime Republicans—that he cares, that he’s capable, and that he might just deserve a shot to represent them.

This is what I’m talking about when I talk about the narrative. Believing this year will be different is one thing. Being able to point to empirical evidence that this year is different is another. The burden of proof is on us. There’s a lot more to this story, including some great bits from Harvey, so go read the whole thing.

Endorsement watch: Two for CD07

The Chron wades into the deep waters of CD07 and comes away with two favorites.

Jason Westin

If Democrats are going to win this race, they’ll need a strong candidate whose views will appeal to voters disillusioned with their tea party Republican congressman. It’s a tough call, but we believe the best two candidates for the inevitable runoff in this seven-way race are Jason Westin and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

Westin’s professional credentials alone are impressive enough; he says his peers elected him to lead the largest clinical trial team in the nation seeking new treatments for aggressive cancers. But don’t think for a second this doctor is a one-trick-pony running on a health care platform. He’s impressed crowds at community forums with his conspicuously thoughtful command of a wide variety of issues. Westin launched his candidacy with the help of a nationwide group that’s trying to get more scientists to run for office. When he says he’s bothered by “disrespect of facts and science,” he speaks with a quiet passion that seems to be winning over a growing number of supporters.

Lizzie Fletcher

Fletcher’s background is also impressive. After starting her law career at Vinson & Elkins, she joined AZA, a 50 person firm specializing in high-stakes business litigation and she became its first woman partner. She has served on the board of Planned Parenthood and she was on the front lines defending abortion providers from protesters during the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston. Like Westin, she has a firm grasp of the issues in the race. Just as important, she understands the importance of appealing to independent voters in this swing district.

Both Westin and Fletcher are extremely accomplished professionals with a deep understanding of complex public policy matters. Both of them exude an intelligent and level-headed pragmatism that will appeal to the moderate voters of this district, whose support Democrats will need if they’re serious about defeating Culberson.

Most important of all, both Westin and Fletcher would make fine members of Congress.

You can find all the interviews I did in CD07 on the 2018 Congressional page. There have actually been very few endorsements given out in this race so far, which is a testament to the depth of the field. I suspect many organizations will revisit this race in the runoffs. I don’t envy anyone the decision in this one, but at least you know you have a lot of good choices.

Interview with John Miller

John Miller

Today we come to the end of HCDE week. As I said, there are three candidates running in Position 6, Precinct 1 – there is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the primary has his ticket stamped – but I only have two interviews, as candidate Prince EW Bryant did not respond to my email. I hope that between these interviews and my efforts to highlight the many programs and services that HCDE offers, you have a better understanding of this important but often overlooked institution. John Miller also has a degree in Chemical Engineering, from the University of Cincinnati, and he has applied that degree at a number of manufacturing jobs. (His campaign Facebook page doesn’t have any biographical information on it, but I got these facts from his LinkedIn profile.) He was a candidate for HCDP Chair last year, and he is one of several dozen LGBT candidates seeking office this year. Please note when you listen to the interview that while I have been asking candidates about their position on sexual harassment policies, I failed to do so with Mr. Miller, for the simple reason that I forgot. Such are the dangers of working without written notes. I apologize for the oversight. Now here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Scot Dollinger

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Scot “dolli” Dollinger. I am running for the 189th Civil District Court in Harris County Texas. In Harris County in 2018, there are 10 Civil District Courts in play.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County divides its courts up into the following categories: criminal, family, probate and civil. The 189th Civil District Court hears every kind of case except those in the criminal, family or probate categories and has no amount in controversy limit. It is a court of general jurisdiction meaning it takes all the cases not otherwise assigned to another case category. The court hears primarily personal injury and commercial litigation disputes but also hears other kinds of cases such as employment, civil rights and defamation cases. The court also has the power to issue injunctions – orders which prevent people from taking certain actions.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

For the last year, I have been going all over Harris County telling people I am running for judge of the 189th Civil District Court because I am completely and totally in love with the good people of Harris County in all its diversity. The people deserve a skilled, knowledgeable judge who will give all people fair access to a fair forum regardless of their race, gender, sexual identity, religion – or not, economic status or any other factor. When folks go to court they need to know they will be treated fairly by a skilled knowledgeable judge who will follow the rule of law. I cannot stand injustice. The law is my life. Justice and fair treatment are my passions.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have lived and worked in Harris County for over 25 years and been doing the work of the 189th Civil District Court for over 30 years. I have litigated cases in over 60 counties and every Texas U.S. District Court (N, S, E & W). I am well-educated (Northwestern University & Emory Law School), I have clerked with a federal judge, I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, I have run my own firm for over 15 years, I am an equal opportunity employer having hired employees who are African American, Hispanic, Asian and Caucasian, both men and women and from the LGBTQ community, I have the highest rating from Martindale-Hubbell (AV) which is a rating service that rates lawyers based on the anonymous opinions of other lawyers in the community, I have tried 40 trials and prosecute 10 appeals from state and federal trial courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of Texas and the Supreme Court of the United States.

I have demonstrated a heart for the community by not only regularly giving to my church which helps to feed the homeless in Houston, but I also mucked 7 houses after Harvey and made phone calls to people to arrange for mucking services. I worked at the Houston and San Antonio Food Banks. Over the last ten years, I have donated over 1,000 in pro bono legal services. My wife and I have sponsored 3 World Vision Children for over ten years. We are trained as Child Advocates and have completed foster parent training and are close to receiving our license. We were guardians for an 8 year old girl for ten years until she turned 18 – she is 22 and about to graduate from college. We give to many charities such as Star of Hope, Salvation Army, Harbor House, Doctors without Borders, Northwestern University, Emory School of Law, Houston Food Bank, San Antonio Food Bank, Planned Parenthood, St. Jude’s, Sigma Gamma Rho – National Sorority, Susan G. Komen, Heifer International, Habitat for Humanity, Equality Texas, Montrose Center, #MeToo, Trevor Project, American Humanist Association, ACLU, American Cancer Society, Friends For Life Animal Rescue, La Union De Pueblo, Kennedy Elementary – Ms. Walker’s 5th Grade Class, Christmas gifts, Homeless Gay Kids, Alzheimer’s Association, Scripture Memory Fellowship International, One Patient – Global Health Initiative, Interfaith Ministries, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Villalobos Rescue in the Hood, Parkinson’s Foundation, Montrose Grace Place, Disabled Vets, CBMC – Christian Business Men, Lolas Lucky Day, Pld Dog Rescue, American Red Cross, Houston Independent School District Foundation, Educate 7 Foundation, JJ Watt Foundation, Central Texas Food Bank, Greater Houston Community Foundation, The Arc of Houston, A Simple Thread, Austin Pets Alive, Dallas DogRRR – Rescue Rehab Reform, Faith in Texas – Pico, Help Us in Mexico, End Homelessness in Houston, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Changing Hearts and Minds, Transgender Women of Color, Equality Texas Foundation, ASPCA and Work Faith Connection.

I believe in separation of church and state, separation of powers and evidence based decision making. I celebrate the strength of a diverse community such as Harris County. I care about people and want to help them as the law allows. I am here to work and serve, not retire.

5. Why is this race important?

We currently have a Republican problem at our court house: Every Republican district judge in Harris County refuses to marry same sex couples. I can appreciate folks may have a private objection to same sex marriage, but those private objections should never be used by a sitting judge in a secular society. Same sex couples have a right to go into our court houses and be married under the law of the land. If Republican judges refuse to follow the rule of law here, in what other areas will they refuse to follow the rule of law? The law is not a Luby’s. Judges are not allowed to walk down the line and pick and choose what rules of law they want to follow. They are obligated in a secular society to follow every rule of law whether they personally agree with that rule of law or not.

6. Why should people vote for you in the March primary?

I am the more qualified candidate with a heart for the people having received endorsements from the Bay Area New Democrats, Area 5 Democrats and Tejano Democrats. These are the only Democratic endorsements released to date where I have gone head to head with my opponent. Any positive my opponent has, I have also but more and better. For example, I believe I have tried more cases, handled more appeals and clerked with a federal judge. I am board certified, I have run my own firm and I have hired more diversely.

I have a very strong work ethic which I bring to every task including campaigning and understanding what is necessary to win in Harris County. I have been campaigning for over a year. In 2014, when I was on the ballot in Harris County running for Civil Court No. 2, I made more phone calls than any other Democratic candidate.

I have represented individuals, not institutions, virtually my entire practice. I worked as a defense lawyer for eight years being hired to defend people who were accused of hurting others. So, I understand the law from a defense lawyer’s perspective. I worked as a plaintiff lawyer for the last 22 years helping people who have been hurt. So, I understand the law from a plaintiff’s lawyer perspective. I clerk for a federal judge. So, I understand the law from a judge’s perspective.

I understand that the courts belong to all the people. Judges are trustees of the judicial power given to our courts. That power must be exercised with the utmost good faith and checked at every turn to battle against the tendency for power to be abused.

I understand the law is here to protect the weak from the strong and powerful. The end of all government is justice for all – equal protection and fairness are corner stones of the house of justice. There are two things difficult for any person to accept:

– Being unjustly harmed/wronged;
– Being unjustly accused.

For every matter at issue, our courts must be respected and known for properly sorting out which is which. If a person has been unjustly wronged, then the courts must give and provide proper remedies. If a person has been unjustly accused, then the courts must release the wrongly accused and deny the accuser the remedy sought.

My work and life experience have prepared me for this job. I am ready, willing and able to service my community well on day one. Please vote for me. Thank you.

No, the bathroom bill issue hasn’t gone away

Lisa Falkenberg tries to argue that the bathroom bill issue has faded away this election, but I don’t buy it and I don’t think she does, either.

But there’s one hot-button issue that’s been notably absent: the bathroom bill.

And actually, it has been notably absent from just about every Republican primary contest this season, as the Texas Tribune reported this week.

That is interesting, seeing as how the divisive provision regulating transgender bathroom use distracted from serious legislation and even triggered a special session. I asked those closely involved in fighting the bill for a ballpark figure on the hours wasted in hearings, negotiations, stakeholder meetings and floor debate.

Hundreds, they said.

The fact that the burning issue is now a non-issue is a bit surprising, seeing as how Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick warned lawmakers who worked successfully to thwart it that they would face consequences, namely the wrath of their constituents.

“Let them go home and face the voters for the next 90 days,” Patrick was quoted saying on the last day of the special session in reference to bill opponents.

Certainly, plenty of political observers, myself included, expected that the bill that launched protests, hours of debate among lawmakers and stoked fear in the hearts of parents and transgender Texans would play a role on the stump, whether employed as a strict litmus test or a mere dog whistle.

Now, it seems all but forgotten. The question is why.

[…]

Mark Jones, political science professor at Rice University, says the issue just didn’t have the staying power among the Republican base as issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and taxes. He said most GOP primary voters have largely forgotten about the issue, which was never a priority for them anyway.

Jones says he suspects one reason that potty politics have quieted is that “even for most conservative activists the bathroom bill was something of a manufactured issue, where some members of the GOP elite converted a relatively non-issue into an issue among the base, but one that absent a constant stoking of the fire by the GOP elite has for all intents been extinguished.”

He added, “Until such time that Dan Patrick decides to pour some gasoline on the remaining embers.”

Hold that thought for a minute. The Trib had an article along the same lines a day or two before Falkenberg’s piece.

For starters, its biggest champion, Patrick, is no longer promoting it with remotely the same level of enthusiasm he did before and during the 2017 sessions. In October, he declared bathroom bill supporters had “already won” by sending a message to any school or business thinking about providing the kinds of accommodations that led to the push for the proposal in the first place.

Furthermore, the two Republicans most closely associated with the legislation’s death — Straus and state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee — are not seeking re-election, avoiding primary challenges that could have been shaped by their opposition to the proposal.

For some bathroom bill supporters, the Cook and Straus retirements are enough proof that the failure of the legislation had political consequences.

[…]

In a small number of cases, primary challengers have sought to appeal to more moderate Republican voters by providing a contrast with incumbents who supported the bathroom bill. In her debut ad, Shannon McClendon, who’s running against state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels, said the incumbent “wants the government to intrude into our bedroom, our bathrooms and our boardrooms — I want to focus on our classrooms.”

That’s about as far as it goes among Republicans who weren’t keen on the bathroom bill, though. Even the political arm of the TAB, among the legislation’s biggest opponents last year, has kept talk of the issue at a minimum as it has sought to play a more aggressive role in the primaries. It snubbed a number of bathroom bill supporters in its primary endorsements, but it also backed some who unapologetically voted for it, like Campbell.

Hey, you know who’s a big bathroom bill booster that’s being challenged over that issue in the Republican primary? Dan Patrick, that’s who. His what-used-to-be-considered-mainstream Republican opponent is Scott Milder, who has gotten support from editorial boards and not much of a hold on the news pages. One reason why the bathroom bill isn’t getting much attention is precisely because this race isn’t getting much attention. Other reasons include the departures of Joe Straus and Byron Cook, and the big focus on federal races – Congress plus Beto O’Rourke – where bathrooms take a back seat to all things Trump. At the state level, there’s more attention on the Democratic gubernatorial primary than anything else.

But look, none of this really matters. What matters is what Mark Jones said. Dan Patrick doesn’t forget, and he doesn’t give up. The fact that there weren’t high profile fights over potties in the primary will be taken by him as proof that he was right all along, that Republican voters were on his side. And when you consider that there are no Republicans of prominence on the ballot who are disputing that, and that as expected the Texas Association of Business has been as toothless as a a newborn, why should he think otherwise? Republican primary voters are gonna do what Republican primary voters do, which over the past half dozen or so cycles has meant “nominate more and more unhinged lunatics”. You want to restore a little sanity and put things like bathroom bills in the trash can where they belong, vote Democratic. That’s a message that maybe, just maybe, Dan Patrick will have to listen to.