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Election 2018

Prop B ruled unconstitutional

Oh, my.

A state district judge on Wednesday ruled Proposition B, the voter-approved measure that grants Houston firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and seniority, unconstitutional and void.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought in November by the Houston Police Officers’ Union, which contended that the city charter amendment conflicts with the Texas Constitution.

In her ruling, state District Judge Tanya Garrison found that Chapter 174 of the local government code preempts Prop B. The city, which was named in the police union’s suit, has alleged that the parity measure section conflicts with a provision of Chapter 174 tying compensation for firefighters and police officers to that of comparable private sector employees.

Mayor Sylvester Turner briefly stopped the weekly city council meeting to announce the ruling. The fire union quickly announced it would appeal.

After the council meeting, Turner said the 60-day layoff notices he proposed and council approved sending in recent weeks to 220 firefighters and more than 110 fire cadets and municipal workers to help close a budget deficit exacerbated by Prop. B would be rescinded, along with hundreds of proposed demotions within HFD.

Turner cast the ruling as a “tremendous positive” for the city as a whole, saying he hoped it could spur a “reset” to reduce widespread acrimony over the issue. He also stressed that firefighters deserve a pay raise and looked forward to negotiating one with union leaders.

“They’re deserving of a pay raise that the city can afford and I do look forward to sitting down and talking with them about what would be an acceptable pay raise within the confines of the city’s financial capability,” Turner said. “We’ll do everything we can to move it forward.”

A release with the Mayor’s comments following the ruling, which came down while Council was in session, is here. Judge Garrison had sent the parties to mediation originally, saying she didn’t want to get involved if they could work it out among themselves. They did not, and so here we are. You can see a copy of her ruling here, which is an order granting summary judgment to the plaintiffs, the HPOU. The city is listed as the defendant and their motion was also granted, while the HPFFA’s motion was denied; someone who understands the law way better than I do will hopefully step in to explain how all that worked. Be that as it may, the firefighters will appeal, but that almost certainly means the city is off the hook for this fiscal year, possibly for the foreseeable future.

How should we feel about Joaquin Castro not running for Senate?

The Chron’s Erica Greider has opinions.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

In announcing that he won’t challenge Republican U.S. Sen John Cornyn next year, Texas congressman Joaquin Castro explained that he wanted to focus on the “important and meaningful work” he is doing in Congress.

Many Texas Democrats were saddened by this news because they were hoping Castro would run statewide. Others were disgruntled by it because they would like to flip the Senate seat, and Castro would have been a strong candidate in a year when Democrats hope to recapture control of the U.S. Senate.

I would have been proud to vote for Castro, but have little sympathy for those who denounced his decision as overly cautious. Both he and his twin brother, Julián, have faced this criticism at various points during their respective careers in electoral politics, and it’s not entirely baseless. The Castro twins are deliberate in their decision-making, and reluctant to take unnecessary risks.

[…]

Cornyn was re-elected by a 26-point margin in 2014, but he can hardly be considered invincible given the strong showing of Democrats in last year’s midterm elections. Other Democrats have taken notice. M.J. Hegar, an Air Force veteran and the 2018 Democratic nominee in Texas’ 31st Congressional District, threw her hat in the ring last month. Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also mulling a bid, and other contenders may come forward now that Castro has taken a pass on a 2020 Senate race.

And although there’s a sense among Democrats that now is the time to stand up Preisdent Donald Trump, it’s worth remembering that Castro is already in a position to do that as a member of Congress. He represents a heavily Democratic district, and is unlikely to face a primary challenge. His stature in Washington has grown with the Democratic takeover of the House last fall, as has his presence in the national media: he’s a frequent guest on cable TV news shows to discuss the Russia investigation or Trump’s border policies.

Frankly, Castro can probably serve as the congressman from Bexar County until he decides to do something else.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the issue is not that Joaquin Castro decided to stay put in Congress. The issue is that someone on behalf of Joaquin Castro let it be known that he was “all but certain” to announce his candidacy. If you do that, and then you follow it with weeks of silence and an announcement that you’re not running, well, people are going to wonder what you were thinking, and doing. Had it not been for that initial “all but certain” trail balloon, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. I wish I knew the story behind how and why that story got floated in the first place. Maybe some day we will.

In the meantime, there’s another person out there pondering a possible run, and this story about Stacy Abrams’ visit to Houston checks in on her.

The annual fundraising event drew a who’s-who of local Democrats, some of whom expressed similar optimism about the upcoming election cycle — including At-Large Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who told reporters she still is mulling a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“I’m feeling encouraged right now,” Edwards said. “I think that change is on the horizon in Texas, and I think the 2020 election cycle is when it will take place.”

Edwards said the Democratic nominee would have to “galvanize the base” to beat Cornyn, adding that her prospective campaign would draw lessons from the one run last cycle by Beto O’Rourke, whom Edwards said she has spoken with about her own possible run.

I remain skeptical of an Edwards candidacy, for basically the same reason why I was initially skeptical of Joaquin for Senate: Edwards has no opposition of note for re-election to Council At Large #4, and four years from now she’d make a very credible candidate for Mayor if she wants to do that. Would you give that up for a longshot at the Senate? Maybe Amanda Edwards would, I don’t know. I feel like she’s unlikely to draw this decision out for too long – if nothing else, the filing deadline for Houston municipal elections is the end of August – but we’ll see.

Firefighters get Prop B back pay

Good for them.

The city of Houston on Friday issued lump-sum paychecks to more than 3,900 firefighters, a move Mayor Sylvester Turner said reflects the implementation, retroactive to Jan. 1, of Proposition B, the measure granting firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and experience.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston fire union, said that contrary to the mayor’s “Orwellian claims,” the paychecks did not fully equalize base and incentive pay between fire and police, as laid out in Proposition B. Lancton said the city “badly botched” implementation of the measure.

The back pay, worth $27.4 million, comes a week after Turner and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association ended court-ordered mediation without an agreement to phase in the raises over several years.

[…]

For now, the fire department’s biweekly payroll will increase from about $10.2 million to $12.3 million, Turner said. The city has dipped into its reserves to fund raises from Jan. 1 through June 30, which Turner said will cost $31 million. Lancton also has questioned the accuracy of that figure.

Both sides, meanwhile, are awaiting a state district judge’s ruling in a lawsuit brought by the Houston Police Officers’ Union, in which the police union and city have alleged Prop B violates the Texas constitution.

I don’t have anything to add to this, I’m just noting it for the record. I look forward to the day when I will be able to get all of this out of my brain, as I hope to do with Game 6 of Rockets-Warriors.

Mediation fails to achieve Prop B agreement

I have three things to say about this.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday said a court-appointed mediator has declared negotiations between the city and firefighters union over the implementation of Proposition B at impasse, potentially leaving the future of the measure in the hands of a state district judge.

The announcement ends what had appeared to be some progress toward resolving the months-long dispute over how to phase in raises to firefighters required by the pay parity measure voters approved last November. The charter amendment requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police of corresponding rank and experience.

[…]

State district Judge Tanya Garrison had ordered the city, firefighters and the Houston Police Officers Union into non-binding mediation three weeks ago. Garrison’s order came as part of a legal battle between the three sides over the constitutionality of Prop B; she declined to rule on that issue until the three parties reached a settlement on implementation or an impasse was declared by the third-party mediator.

The three groups had met at least three times since.

At issue is how to implement the raises. The fire union has said it would ask its members to consider a three-and-a-half-year phase-in as long as no firefighters are demoted or laid off. Turner had said the city cannot avoid layoffs unless Prop B raises are phased in over five years.

At a Friday morning press conference, however, Turner said the city had agreed to the fire union’s previous offer to phase in the raises over three and a half years, with no firefighters demoted or laid off.

Turner said the union then refused to accept that agreement, as well as another offer that would have given it hundreds of millions of dollars in a block grant-like arrangement that the union could use at its discretion.

He accused the union of repeatedly “moving the goal posts,” and said that agreeing to its full demands would devastate Houston’s finances and credit rating.

“The city cannot go beyond what we have proposed without bankrupting the city,” he said. “As long as I am mayor, we are not going to bankrupt this city. Everyone in the city would pay the price.”

Mediator David Matthiesen did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

In a statement, the fire union said it had agreed to take a four-year phase-in to its members if pay parity was implemented “effective immediately,” the city agreed to no layoffs and if the city disclosed “what each firefighter will earn in salary and incentive pay.”

HPFFA President Marty Lancton also said the city demanded in negotiations that Prop B be rescinded and declared unconstitutional, a request he adamantly opposed.

“Citizens’ rights to petition the local government must be protected,” he said.

1. You really have to admire Marty Lancton’s ability to keep the focus of this debate on one point, which is the pay raise that the voters agreed to give the firefighters. The fight here is not over whether or not to implement Prop B, it’s over how to do it. That’s what the mediation was about, that’s what the layoffs are about. The firefighters don’t like the way the city is implementing Prop B and have been complaining nonstop – and very successfully, at least from a short term political perspective – about it. Their grievance is that some firefighters will be laid off, and some others demoted, in order for the city to pay for Prop B. If the city had decided instead to lay off police officers, solid waste workers, and more municipal employees instead, there’s nothing in the firefighters’ rhetoric to suggest they’d have had a problem with that. Beyond the fact that it was clear from the beginning that the city could not afford Prop B, this right here is why I don’t have much sympathy for the firefighters.

2. That said, part of the litigation that was brought by the police officers’ union was a claim that Prop B is illegal and should be invalidated by the court. The argument here is that the pay parity law conflicts with state law about collective bargaining. I Am Not A Lawyer, and I have no insight into that question. I had thought originally that the litigation over Prop B would follow the template of previous lawsuits over city referenda and be about ballot language. I was wrong about that, which is why I like to emphasize my not-a-lawyer status in these matters. Be that as it may, it seems like a big stretch to get an election overturned. I will be surprised if Judge Garrison (who, full disclosure, is a friend of mine) rules for the plaintiffs. But again, I Am Not A Lawyer, so place your bets at your own risk.

3. The last couple of paragraphs in this story are about how the people other than Sylvester Turner who are running for Mayor are also critical of his handling of Prop B implementation, without a single word being quoted about what these alternative Mayors think should be done instead. They don’t like what the Mayor is doing, they oppose what the Mayor is doing, but what would they be doing if they were Mayor? You cannot tell from reading this story. Perhaps the reporter chose not to include what they said about that, perhaps the story editor excised it for space, or perhaps none of them had anything useful to say on the topic. You can probably guess which one I think it is.

Joaquin is out for Senate

In the end, it’s hard to see this as a surprise.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, choosing instead to continue pursuing a fast-rising career in Congress focusing on security and border issues.

Castro’s decision could pave the way for a contest in 2020 between Cornyn and Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, an Afghanistan war veteran who ran a strong but losing race for Congress last year and who declared her candidacy last week.

Castro, 44, of San Antonio, announced his decision to stay out of the race in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

“Right now, I’m going to focus on my work in the House of Representatives. I’ve been doing what I feel is important and meaningful work here,” he said. “If and when I run for another office, it is likely to be something that takes me back home to Texas.”

[…]

His brother’s presidential campaign could have been helpful to Castro, creating excitement among Latino voters and national attention to the unprecedented effort of twins seeking high office.

But Joaquin Castro’s race also might have produced the uncomfortable scenario of extraordinarily close brothers parting ways on issues.

Joaquin Castro also had a ringside seat to his brother’s struggles to raise money, reporting a modest $1.1 million in receipts in the first three months of 2019. Thus far, Joaquin Castro has paid little attention to his own fundraising, bringing in just $36,000 in the first quarter, his Federal Election Commission report shows.

He said he is impressed with Hegar and others considering the race. “And like I have for many years, I’ll do everything I can to help our Democratic nominee win,” he said.

Barring another surprise at this point, that nominee will be MJ Hegar. The straws were in the wind after Hegar made her announcement. In a way, we’ve come full circle. When we started this cycle, I thought Joaquin Castro would be the best non-Beto option for Senate, but I also thought he’d stay put on the grounds that he’d be giving up too much for an iffy shot at a promotion. I should etch those words into a plaque and hang it on my wall, so I can enjoy being right about something till the end of time. I also noted that MJ Hegar was my next choice, so that all worked out pretty well.

I can totally understand why Joaquin Castro chose not to run. What I can’t understand is why we went through this whole “he’s in!” “he’s surely gonna be in as his friends give him a public pep talk” “um, someone else is in now what in the world is he doing?” “nvm, he’s out” cycle. Maybe someday someone close to him will spill the whole story to a reporter. The main lesson to learn here is don’t allow a story about how you are probably going to run for some higher office to get published unless you have a clear plan and a short time frame for following it up with a definitive answer. People are going to remember this, and when the 2022 and 2024 cycles come around and talk begins about who might run for what (Ted Cruz will be up again in 2024), there will be a strong tendency among the faithful to roll their eyes at the mention of Joaquin Castro. I hate to say this, but he may be on a path to John Sharp status.

One more thing, from the Trib:

Hegar is one of four Democrats who have announced they are running against Cornyn. The others are Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards has also said she is considering a run for the seat, and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas has been discussed as a potential candidate. Shortly after Castro announced his decision Wednesday, West told the Tribune that he is focused on the current legislative session and its two big issues: school finance and property tax reform.

I’m not at all surprised about Royce West not being a candidate. He was a very recent mention, and my guess is that it came up from speculation generated by Castro’s dithering rather than an actual desire on West’s part to run statewide. As for Amanda Edwards, I’d say the clock is ticking. MJ Hegar is now raising money and getting a bunch of press, and may soon have Emily’s List in her corner. Make a decision one way or the other. Finally, I stress again that Hegar needs to be running hard now, not just for November but also for March. Don’t let these no-hope candidates get primary votes by virtue of primary voters not knowing who you are. Texas Monthly and the Current have more.

Today is Joaquin Castro Decision Day

At least, that’s what we were told last week. Maybe it won’t be today but a few days later. In any event, it’s safe to say that expectations are not high right now.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

“I would say at this point, he’s not going to run,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

One Democratic operative who spoke on condition of anonymity put the odds at 50-50 but added, “If somebody bet me $50 he’s running, I wouldn’t take it.”

Castro, who still has his admirers, has promised supporters he will announce his decision by the first week of May.

But to many observers, the signs are clear that he is already out of the running — and a lot of it has to do with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

[…]

Schumer, who sources said had been frustrated by Castro’s indecisiveness, has taken an outsized interest in defeating Cornyn, the former majority whip. Earlier this year, Schumer tried to recruit Beto O’Rourke, who nearly defeated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

When O’Rourke made it clear he was running for president, Schumer interviewed Castro and then summoned Hegar to Washington.

Hegar was bolstered by polling done by the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, a PAC that supports female pro-choice candidates, that showed her with a wide lead over Castro, according to three sources who had been briefed on the private polling.

Schumer’s stance does not prevent Castro from running, although the leader has made clear that Hegar is his preference, say Democratic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“I don’t think Schumer was ever for Castro,” one Democratic operative who has spoken privately with the Senate leader told the American-Statesman. “He felt it was a mistake for both Castro brothers to run. Schumer never did think that (Joaquin) Castro was the right choice.”

[…]

“A lot of us wish he would decide,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic PAC. He added that many Texas Democrats were “scratching their heads” at the delay.

“This is a cold-blooded business. In Texas, it’s a $50 million proposition to run for U.S. Senate,” he said

Donors are already deciding. Aimee Cunningham, an Austin philanthropist and Democratic contributor, told the American-Statesman that she has been a longtime Castro supporter but supported Hegar, as well, in 2018, and urged the military vet to run for office again.

“I told Joaquin that if MJ ran for Senate, I would have to enthusiastically support her,” Cunningham said.

Latino lawmakers who want a Hispanic candidate near the top of the ballot in Texas, in a presidential year with anticipated high turnout, are particularly upset by Castro’s delay.

“Incredibly indecisive, and you can use that,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, by text, adding that he was “exasperated” with Castro.

Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, said, “The line between caution and indecisiveness can be hammered pretty thin, and it is pretty much see-through at this point for Castro.”

This story came out the same day as others that were asking the same questions, but I didn’t see it at the time, and this one has more details. I’m sure people won’t be thrilled with Chuck Schumer’s involvement, but at least he’s invested in beating John Cornyn. The bottom line is that the story about Castro being “all but certain” to be in for Senate was in mid-March, more than six weeks ago. Usually, when you see a story like that, it’s followed up withing a couple of days with something official. It means a decision has been made, and the announcement will happen once the last few loose ends have been tied up. It doesn’t take this long. I have no idea what was happening here, but it’s hard to escape the impression that the initial story, which I presume was the result of some authorized person giving the big-picture view so that the ground could be laid for the forthcoming announcement, came before the decision was made. Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. Whatever the case, something went wrong.

None of this means Joaquin Castro can’t or shouldn’t announce for Senate. He’s lost most of the advantage he would have had if he had followed the expected script and timetable, but he’s still an incumbent Congressman with a built-in base and some establishment support awaiting him. Give him a splashy rollout of his own, followed by strong fundraising for the rest of the quarter (and going forward), and this little episode will fade away. I would advise being quick about it, but after that there’s plenty of time to get back on track. It still fundamentally comes back to what Joaquin Castro wants to do, and when he’s prepared to tell us about it.

Two items about MJ Hegar and John Cornyn

Ross Ramsey makes an obvious but necessary point about the fight MJ Hegar hopes to have with John Cornyn.

MJ Hegar

It was money that made [Hegar’s close race in 2018 against Rep. John Carter] possible, just as money made O’Rourke’s challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz last year. O’Rourke had a lot going for him then, as Hegar does now. He’s got a knack for getting attention. His 254-county tour of Texas got him a lot of notice. Cruz is popular with Texas Republicans and gets the full-throated support of the loud ones. But he has the opposite effect on Democrats and Democratic activists. In the early days of the race, when the average Texan could pass O’Rourke in a parking lot without noticing him, the El Paso Democrat was already running pretty well against Cruz.

In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll a year before the election, 69% of Texans had no real impression of O’Rourke; only 17% didn’t view Cruz positively or negatively. In another UT/TT Poll in March of this year, the neutral opinions of O’Rourke — one measure of his recognizability — had dropped to 12 percent.

One of the many things that happened between point A and point B on the O’Rourke timeline was $70 million in campaigning. He was a good candidate, but money made him a threat.

Hegar’s congressional race was probably a beneficiary of whatever Democratic momentum O’Rourke built up. But she also had money, a good story and, in her case, a less energetic incumbent to knock off. If she’d pulled a few more votes in veteran-heavy Bell County — she’s a veteran, too, which is why the door from the helicopter she flew in Afghanistan is in her dining room — she might be in Congress today.

Hegar had to wrestle her way to Carter, finishing first in last year’s Democratic primary and then prevailing in a runoff with Christine Eady Mann. She’s the most serious Democrat to enter the race with Cornyn, but U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has been openly considering a run.

The two face obstacles O’Rourke overcame, starting with introductions. Neither has run a statewide campaign, and both can expect to see a lot of strangers on their way to a 2020 race.

So yes, MJ Hegar is going to have to raise a lot of money to make sure the voters know who she is, and why she’s the better choice to represent them. As I’ve said, she needs to start raising this money now so she can spend some of it for the primary, regardless of whether or not Joaquin Castro or anyone else gets in, because there will be an awful lot of people casting votes in the 2020 Democratic primary, and it would be nice (read: it is vitally necessary) if those voters know who she is.

One thing I’m not worried about is how Hegar will respond to the farrago of baloney that is already coming her way from the right wing noise machine.

As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn derides her as “Hollywood Hegar,” his newest Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar, says she’s not backing away from her celebrity fans — including comedian Patton Oswalt — and is happy to debate the Republican incumbent on the sources of their support.

“Not at all,” Hegar said in an interview Friday when asked if she felt the need to account for the high-profile backers. “I think it’s very clear to be able to be a working-class mom of two and veteran and to be able to take on an entrenched, establishment, dark money-backed Washington lackey, that I’m gonna have to be able to excite people and gain momentum and gain attention and get people excited and energized. I’m proud of my ability to do that and I’m frankly surprised that he wants to start the conversation by looking into where we get our support from.”

Citing Cornyn’s contributions from corporate PACs, the National Rifle Association and the pharmaceutical industry, Hegar added, “We can talk all day about where our support is coming from.”

That’s the way you do it. Now go raise a bunch of money so you can say that directly to the voters.

April 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

It’s April, and that means it’s time once again to review campaign finance reports for Congressional candidates. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle; these reports are the first ones for the 2019-20 cycle. A list of all Texas Democratic Congressional candidate campaign reports is here. A few points to note before we get started:

– FEC reports are cumulative for the cycle, so each number reported – raised, spent, on hand – is the current total for the entire cycle. Other systems – for Texas, for Harris County, for Houston, for HISD and HCC – are for that period only, though the cash on hand total will be as of that report. The point here is that for that cycle, raised + loans – spent = cash on hand for FEC reports, but not for other reports. For other reports, subtract the amount spent from the amount raised, then add or subtract as needed from the previous report’s cash on hand amount, and you should get the current cash on hand amount. Unless there are loans involved, in which case it gets more complicated. Trust me on this.

– Cash on hand carries over from 2018, however. For candidates that ran in 2018, that means that the “raised minus spent” total needs to be applied to the cash on hand amount from the previous cycle, and the same process as described above for other systems is what you need to use.

– Some of these reports are broken out by cycle, so for some candidates who were also on the ballot in 2018 you can choose to see the 2017-18 cycle or the 2019-20 period. Others, like for Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni, are not. This may be a function of timing, as it was originally the case that only the winners from 2018 (Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred) were done this way, but now others are as well. If so, then this will eventually be how it is for Siegal and Kulkarni.

– The report below for MJ Hegar is her Senate finance report. Her Congressional finance report from 2018 is separate. She did carry over her cash on hand from that cycle, as noted above. If Joaquin Castro does run for Senate, the linked report below will not be the one used for his Senate campaign.

– Most serious candidates from 2018 appeared during Q2 of 2017, so the short list of candidates now is to be expected. Look for this list to grow in the Q2 and Q3 roundups. Some announced candidates, like Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela in CD24, either did not do any Q1 fundraising or were not yet officially in the race.

I think that covers everything. Here are the reports:

MJ Hegar – Senate
Joaquin Castro – CD20/Senate?

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Todd Litton – CD02
Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
20    Castro           36,028     77,076        0     87,572
      Hegar             2,281     12,858        0     36,904

07    Fletcher        582,918     79,831        0    545,154
32    Allred          530,399    106,816        0    527,027


02    Litton            2,346     12,221        0     11,157
02    Cardnell         19,697      3,750        0     16,046
03    Burch            41,623     16,006   20,149     24,339
10    Siegel          143,232     44,081        0    102,641
10    Gandhi          162,380      5,320        0    157,059
22    Kulkarni              0     14,539        0     13,228
22    Moore            43,561     24,932        0     18,583
23    Ortiz Jones           0     14,828        0    103,518
23    Wahl              4,581      3,304        0      1,277
24    McDowell         15,193     13,515        0     14,998
25    Oliver           
26    Ianuzzi          47,731     12,465   40,695     35,266

New names here include Elise Cardnell, Pritesh Gandhi, Nyanza Moore, Liz Wahl, and Carol Ianuzzi. Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni are repeat candidates from 2018 that we have already noted. For the others, Julie Oliver is back, Lorie Burch is back, Gina Ortiz Jones is reportedly back, Jan McDowell is back and appears to be raising money as she never quite did in 2018. I don’t know if Todd Litton is back or not, but I included him here just in case. It’s possible there are some other active candidates among the no-money-raised reports included on the FEC summary page, but I’m not going to sweat that now. We’ll know much more when the Q2 reports come out. For now, this is what we have.

So what’s with Joaquin?

Nobody knows but him.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

From the nation’s capitol to the state capitol, the scuttlebutt was that Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro would announce within days — if not hours — his campaign for U.S. Senate.

That was four weeks ago.

Back then, practically everyone in politics assumed his challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was inevitable. More than a handful of political allies rushed to publicly and privately add their political clout to his potential campaign, with the belief that a long-pined-for statewide Castro campaign would be unstoppable.

Now, over a dozen Texas and national Democrats say they are increasingly skeptical that Castro will run at all.

Those allies are baffled and frustrated with the the lack of political clarity coming from the Castro camp, especially given that veteran M.J. Hegar announced her own run for the Democratic nomination earlier this week.

One of Castro’s closest friends in the Congressional delegation, Filemon Vela, went so far as joining a draft Castro campaign. This is the second time Vela has thrown his support behind his colleague. Castro similarly spent the spring of 2017 publicly mulling a run against Ted Cruz, the state’s junior senator, only to return his focus on the U.S. House. Vela texted the Tribune on Wednesday that he is “exasperated with the indecision” — an oft-repeated sentiment that a half-dozen state and national Democrats expressed privately.

But an announcement is nigh. Castro will announce his decision by Wednesday, according to his top political aide, Matthew Jones.

[…]

Several news reports in mid-March stated that Castro’s announcement was imminent. Politicians across the state began to organize around the notion of Castro running for Senate, trying to avoid holding major events on speculated dates when he might announce. Up in Washington, House Democratic leaders were sizing up potential candidates who might run to succeed him in his San Antonio-based Congressional seat.

And then, according to nearly a dozen state and national Democrats interviewed for this story, Castro went quiet.

Patience wore thin in mid-April when Castro filed his quarterly campaign finance reports.

U.S. House members have a unique advantage when running for Senate: They can raise money for their House campaigns without officially announcing for the upper chamber. Once he or she makes those Senate intentions known, the member can then transfer the House money to their Senate accounts. Oftentimes, House members will put out the message they are running in order to raise their profiles and coffers, only to pull back.

Castro’s filing showed he raised $36,000, a sum that could barely cover the cost of a statewide poll in Texas. In comparison, then-U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona raised $677,000 in the same window two years ago as she geared up for her eventual Senate run.

See here, here, and here for some background, here for Hegar’s announcement, and here for Castro’s finance report. Hegar has barely raised anything so far – she has $36K left from the 2018 cycle after disbursements from Q1 are factored in – but she wasn’t a candidate yet, so that’s not a surprise. My guess is she’ll make up for it quickly, and I’d expect Emily’s List to jump in soon. As for Joaquin, we’ve been over this several times. The main lesson here is that if you’re not moving forward then someone else is, and your window of opportunity may close faster than you think it will. We’ll see about that on Wednesday, maybe. In the meantime:

Besides Hegar, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is still considering a run. Two Dallas sources tell the Tribune that state Sen. Royce West has had recent conversations about his own potential run. And businesswoman Sema Hernandez is running again, after giving O’Rourke a run for his money in several Rio Grande Valley counties.

Amanda Edwards we know about. This is the first I’ve heard about Royce West, who was re-elected in 2018 and thus would not have to give up his seat to take a shot at this next year. I’ll wait to hear more about his potential interest before I make any judgments. As for Sema Hernandez, wake me when she files a campaign finance report. Until then, she’s a name on the ballot who will get a few votes from people who don’t know who any of the candidates are, and nothing more than that.

Meet the new marriage license

Time for a change.

Diane Trautman

A sketched portrait of a bride and groom has been nixed from Harris County-issued marriage licenses to make the records more inclusive to “all unions, backgrounds and faiths,” according to clerk officials.

The ornate image of a woman signing a book with the groom looming nearby has been on the document since 2012, when former Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart decided after taking office that the licenses were “not that appealing” and needed to better reflect “one of the most important days of a couple’s life.”

A keepsake version of the license now features intertwined rings instead.

Diane Trautman, the newly elected Democrat, chose to reverse her predecessor’s romantic flair on the government-issued licenses soon after taking over the county position. She unseated Stanart, a Republican, in last November’s election.

A news release from the Harris County Clerk’s Office on Thursday quietly announced the artistic changes without mentioning what prompted the tweaks, which happened nearly four years after the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that legalized the same-sex unions.

“It is important that marriage licenses are reflective of the diverse nature of Harris County and is inclusive of all relationships,” Trautman said in a written statement.

You can see the press release, plus images of the new license and the new keepsake version of the license here. The County Clerk represents all of Harris County, which includes people who would not fit the image on the old license. This was an easy call, and I applaud it.

(I was married well before Stan Stanart’s redesign in 2012. Our marriage license is in the safe deposit box at our bank. I see it a couple of times a year, and offhand I have no memory of what it looks like. I don’t know how important the document itself is to people once the wedding is over and official. It’s not in the top twenty of things I think about when I think about my wedding, or my marriage. So if for whatever the reason you feel outrage about this change, please don’t feel it on my behalf.)

Where the Republicans think they’re vulnerable

Always good to get the opposing perspective on these things.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Eight House Republicans, including the three from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, have been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of incumbents expected to face tough re-elections.

Members of the Patriot Program typically benefit from fundraising and organizational assistance. The list can be a signal to donors to direct checks to members in need.

“While Democrats continue to call them ‘targets,’ the NRCC will be empowering these members to stay on offense and run aggressive, organized campaigns against their Democratic challengers,” New York Rep. John Katko, Patriot Program chairman, said in a statement Friday.

[…]

Half of the GOP’s Patriot Program designees are from Texas. Two on the list — Texas’ Will Hurd and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick — were on the initial list for the 2018 cycle. Six of the 10 Republicans on that list lost last fall.

The four from Texas are among those you’d expect:

CD10 – McCaul
CD22 – Olson
CD23 – Hurd
CD31 – Carter

It’s more interesting to me to see the two that the NRCC chose not to include up front, namely CDs 21 and 24. CD24 was carried by Beto O’Rourke and was the closest of the districts in 2016 that wasn’t carried by Hillary Clinton. I’d easily make CD24 more vulnerable than CD31 (and that’s without taking into account the fact that MJ Hegar is running for Senate and not taking another crack at this), so its omission is a curious one to me. Maybe the NRCC knows something we don’t, maybe they’re lowering the priority on CD24 on the theory that it’s likely to be toast, maybe they’re happier with Kenny Marchant’s fundraising and cash on hand so far than they are with these others, or maybe it just worked out this way. For sure, this is a list that will grow over time, and as it does we can reassess the NRCC’s apparent defensive priorities.

Add CD10 to the contested primaries list

It has been that way for awhile now, but I’m only just noticing that there is a second candidate for the Democratic nomination in CD10. This Statesman story, which is about the multiple Congressional districts being targeted by Democrats for 2020, has the scoop.

Mike Siegel

There is perhaps no better example of the changed political landscape in Texas than the 10th Congressional District, stretching from West Austin to the Houston suburbs, where Democrats are already lining up to challenge incumbent Michael McCaul, the Austin Republican once considered invincible.

Mike Siegel, who ran an underfunded campaign in 2018 and lost to McCaul by just 4.3 points, will face political newcomer Pritesh Gandhi, an Austin primary care physician for the underserved, in the 2020 Democratic primary, possibly among others considering candidacies.

Gandhi, 36, a former Fulbright scholar and Schweitzer fellow, has the poise and bearing of someone who has been preparing all his life for this opportunity, and thinks he’s got what it takes to do what Siegel, 41, was unable to.

“What a lot of folks are asking, ‘Mike did a great job last year, why are you running?’” said Gandhi, who was born and raised in the Houston area and is the associate chief medical officer for People’s Community Clinic in Austin. “It is important for the party to have an open and honest discussion around what the issues are and the kind of candidate we can nominate that can beat McCaul.”

Siegel, meanwhile, left his job as a former assistant city attorney in Austin to run full-time. He has hired a campaign manager and is spending 20 to 30 hours a week calling potential contributors.

[…]

Pritesh Gandhi

Siegel said if he had lost by 10 points, he would not be making another go at McCaul.

But he recalled, on “election night, we were on the CNN board until late at night when the rural county Republican surge came in.”

“The fact that we came so close without money really made me wonder, if I did everything the DCCC tells me to,” Seigel said. “I had a grassroots, progressive coalition helping me, which is key. That’s a huge advantage in this primary for 2020. That is a big part of the foundation I’m building on, so what I’m hoping to add to that is the full-fledged D.C.-approved campaign structure.”

Gandhi said he and his wife on Nov. 6 were watching the election.

“We saw the outcome, and right then and there we knew that this was going to be in the cards,” he said.

“It’s really not about Mike McCaul,” Gandhi said. “It’s about the Mike McCauls of the world and it’s about holding the Mike McCauls of the world accountable for the votes they take in office and for the party they support and for the president they support,” Gandhi said. “So I had to run. It was no choice for me.”

On Tuesday, a week after his third daughter was born, Gandhi was at the monthly meeting of the Austin Tejano Democrats at Casa Maria restaurant on South First Street in South Austin, introducing himself.

“I’ve spent my career fighting for people in this region, fighting for paid sick leave. I was on the border last year in Tornillo fighting for families and I do that every day in my job and so I’m happy to be here,” Gandhi said. “I’m sure in the next year I will get to know a whole bunch of you.”

“I think Mike (Siegel) is a great guy, a great dad. He’s a good lawyer. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about him,” Gandhi said after the meeting. “But I wouldn’t be running if I didn’t think the campaign we are building is the one that’s going to beat Mike McCaul, and I think part of the story here is that I have been fighting for these issues my whole life, all day and all night and every weekend long before I thought about politics.”

CD10 joins CD24 and CD22, and in the end probably all of the interesting districts and most of the not-as-interesting districts, inn attracting multiple viable candidates. That’s an encouraging sign. As it happens, I agree with both the proposition that Siegel did a great job in 2018, and that the voters in the Democratic primary should get the chance to decide whether Siegel or Gandhi or someone else represents the best choice to defeat the incumbent. Let’s talk it out – Gandhi is certainly modeling a good way to do it – and make a decision. And in the meantime, let’s be reaching out to all those voters.

As noted, the story is about multiple districts, all of which we are familiar with. Nothing to add for CD21, where Wendy Davis is still thinking about it, or CD31, where MJ Hegar still has a decision to make. As I discussed before, we’re about on par with where we were in 2018 for candidate announcements. By the time of the Q2 finance reports in 2017, many of the serious contenders were in, but there are quite a few names that hadn’t shown up (at least in time to raise some money) by then, including Mike Siegel, Sri Kulkarni, Gina Ortiz Jones, and MJ Hegar. So don’t panic if your district doesn’t have a candidate yet. There’s still plenty of time.

Council approves firefighter layoffs

And here we are.

City Council voted Wednesday to send 60-day layoff notices to 220 Houston firefighters to help pay for Proposition B, the voter-approved measure giving firefighters equal pay to police officers of corresponding rank and experience.

The 10-6 vote followed more than two hours of discussion. Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, meanwhile, continue to meet in mediation over how to implement Prop B.

Turner estimates the raises will cost the city roughly $80 million annually. He repeatedly has said that unless the union agrees to phase the raises in over five years, hundreds of firefighters and municipal employees will face layoffs.

The union has agreed to a phase-in over three and a half years, though Turner maintains that time frame would still necessitate some lay-offs.

Turner and the union will meet again Monday, but they face a looming deadline: The city must approve a balanced budget for the next fiscal year by July 1.

See here and here for the background. I’d have preferred a more decisive vote if I were Mayor Turner, but the die has been cast nonetheless. Maybe this will provide some incentive for a mediated agreement to be reached. If that happens soon, there would be time for Council to rescind this vote. Let’s say I’m not optimistic, but I won’t mind being wrong.

UPDATE: A later version of the story says who voted how:

For the layoffs: Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, David Martin, Greg Travis, Karla Cisneros, Robert Gallegos, Martha Castex-Tatum, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards and Jack Christie

Against: Dwight Boykins, Mike Laster, Mike Knox, Michael Kubosh, Steve Le and Brenda Stardig

I’m mildly surprised by Mike Laster, but otherwise this is about what I would have expected.

UPDATE: CM Travis’ office has emailed me to say he was not in attendance at Council yesterday due to a death in the family. As such, the vote was 9-6.

Hegar is in for the Senate

Boom.

MJ Hegar

Former Democratic congressional candidate MJ Hegar is running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, mounted a high-profile bid to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in November, fueled by attention-grabbing ads and massive fundraising. She ended up losing by less than 3 percentage points in the traditionally Republican district.

“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values, strength, courage, independence — putting Texas first,” Hegar said in an announcement video made in the style of her 2018 ads. “I didn’t get a pilot slot my first time trying. We Texans don’t give up easy, and everything we’ve accomplished is just the beginning.”

In the video, a motorcycle-riding Hegar emphasized Cornyn’s closeness with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Through last year, the Texan served as McConnell’s majority whip, making him the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.

“For those of you who don’t know, Sen. John Cornyn, he’s that tall guy lurching behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

[…]

To take on Cornyn, Hegar could face a competitive primary with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who has said he is considering a run and will make an announcement soon. Another Democratic elected official, Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, has also said she is mulling a campaign.

Three mostly lesser-known Democrats are already running: Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

I’m going to bullet-point this:

– Apparently, I’ve been saying MJ Hegar’s name wrong all this time. It’s “Hey-gar”, not “Hee-gar”, as I’ve been intoning it. I guess her pronunciation of her name in the “Doors” video didn’t make an impression on me.

– With all the attention that’s been paid to a Joaquin Castro candidacy, you have to wonder if Hegar jumping in before he (apparently) makes up his mind will cause him to reconsider. It’s one thing to give up a safe Congressional seat as a member of the majority party with some seniority for at best a coin flip shot at a Senate seat. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to give it up for a coin flip shot at getting that coin flip shot. I have no idea what Castro wants to do, but not having a clear path to the nomination has to make him recalculate his risk/benefit analysis.

– Regardless of whether Castro gets into the race or not, I can’t stress enough the importance of Hegar running a real campaign for the primary. That’s especially true if her only opponents are the no-names currently in the race, plus maybe some others like them. The history of Democrats voting for non-viable candidates in primaries because they have no idea who they’re voting for is long and grisly, and even when it doesn’t lead to the likes of Gene Kelly and Jim Hogan on the November ballot, it far too often leads to embarrassing questions about the lackluster vote totals for the anointed choices. (See: Beto O’ Rourke 2018, Wendy Davis 2014, Rick Noriega 2008, etc etc etc.) I can’t emphasize this enough: MJ Hegar not only needs to start raising money now, she needs to plan to spend a bunch of it between now and March. I don’t care how viral she was in 2018. I guarantee you, she needs to start introducing herself to voters, because she won’t like what happens if the voters don’t know who she is.

– I mean, turnout for the Dem primary in 2020 is going to be off the charts. It’s going to make 2008 look antiquated. Texas is going to play a big role in picking the Democratic Presidential nominee. An awful lot of people who are not in CD31 – millions, quite likely – will be voting in March. MJ Hegar needs to make sure they all know her name. This, more than anything else, is the reason why a high-profile, well-funded, contested primary among quality candidates is a good thing and not a bad thing. It’s the surest way to make sure that the voters do know who their candidates are.

– On a side note, I have no idea who Plan B is for CD31. Doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there, but it’s more likely than not that we don’t know who that person is yet. Alternately, CD31 may slide off the top tier pickup list, which would be a shame. I sure hope we find someone who can do half as well at exciting voters in CD31 as Hegar did in 218.

– The Republicans may express a lot of bravado about their odds of winning, but they’re not taking anything for granted. I got not one but two screeching press releases from the state GOP in the first few hours following Hegar’s announcement, including one that hilariously called on her to “disavow support from Patton Oswalt”. (No, I don’t know why. Life is too short to read stupid press releases.)

– Finally, as a friend said on Facebook, this race needs to be about Donald Trump. Lots of people turned out in 2018 to vote against Donald Trump. We need all of them and about a million more to do it again in 2020. If we do that, MJ Hegar, or Joaquin Castro, maybe even Amanda Edwards, can beat John Cornyn. Mother Jones, Daily Kos, and the Chron have more.

Off to mediation we go

Hope for the best, y’all.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mediation soon will begin in a lawsuit between the Houston police and firefighters unions over Proposition B, the voter-approved measure that gives firefighters equal pay to police officers.

In a Monday morning filing, State District Judge Tanya Garrison ordered the Houston Police Department, Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association and the city to meet Monday or Tuesday.

The parties last week agreed to turn to mediator Dave Matthiesen over Prop B, though representatives from the HPFFA said they would need more time to brief members.

In her filing, Garrison pushed back against HPFFA’s claim, saying it had plenty of time to prepare for mediation. She also ordered the parties to continue meeting until “a settlement is achieved” or “in the sole determination of Mr. Matthieson, they have reached an impasse.”

[…]

At a press conference Monday, some members of City Council joined with municipal employees to reiterate their support for mediation and a five-year phase-in.

Among the first positions cut will be librarians, dental assistants, custodians, a park ranger and an electrician, District I Councilman Robert Gallegos said.

“It’s totally unfair to them,” he said. “I don’t believe this is what Prop B is about and I’m sure that’s not what the voters intended. Firefighters do deserve a pay raise, but not at the expense of innocent municipal employees.”

See here for the background. Matthiesen is an attorney and Democratic supporter who is well known to all parties involved, so at least that was easy enough. I don’t envy him the task, but maybe everyone’s ready for this to be over already. As the story notes, Council will still proceed with voting on layoffs tomorrow, as this is part of the budget work. My guess is that this can be unwound if a suitable agreement is reached, but it’s also a bit of pressure on the firefighters, as this is where it officially gets real. I do wish the story had listed all the Council members at that press conference, if only so we can have a clearer idea of what the whip count looks like right now, but we’ll find out soon enough.

DCCC polls Trump in three target districts

News flash: Donald Trump is not very popular.

Surveys the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently conducted found that 41 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance in Texas’ 24th congressional district, where Rep. Kenny Marchant serves, while 44 percent disapproved.

In Rep. Mike McCaul’s 10th district, 44 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved of the job Trump is doing. And in Rep. Chip Roy’s 21st district, 45 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

Trump carried all three suburban seats by ten points or fewer during the 2016 presidential election.

[…]

To flip these traditionally GOP seats, Democrats say they are relying on moderate Republicans who have soured on the Trump-led party, as well as minority voters who have become a larger share of the electorate.

The DCCC’s polling, for example, showed Marchant’s district has increased its African American population by 26 percent between 2010 and 2016 among citizens of voting age. The Hispanic population rose by 29 percent, and the Asian population by 42 percent.

[…]

The Democratic polling showed that Marchant was viewed favorably by 26 percent of voters and unfavorably by 19 percent, while 55 percent didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

For McCaul, 31 percent viewed him favorably compared to 14 percent who viewed him unfavorably. As for Roy, 28 percent viewed him favorably and 19 percent viewed him unfavorably.

The DCCC conducted the surveys using a mix of live and automated calls from April 3-6 (the poll in the 21st district was in the field April 4-6). The 10th district and 21st district polls had a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points, while the 24th district poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points.

See here for 2018 numbers. As discussed, Trump’s 2016 number in the district was a decent predictor of the Beto number in 2018, though that was always at least a bit higher than the Dem Congressional number. The bottom line is that the worse Trump is faring in the district, the harder it’s going to be for the Republican Congressional incumbent, especially with these three CDs on the radar from the beginning. I hope we get to see similar results from other districts (yes, I know, it’s possible other districts were also polled but those numbers weren’t as good so these are the only ones we get to see). I have a feeling that there will be plenty of data to hang our hats on this cycle.

One more for CD24

Another contested primary.

Candace Valenzuela

Democrat Candace Valenzuela, a 34-year-old Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member, is launching a campaign Monday against Texas GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant, one of the party’s top targets in 2020.

She will face an uphill battle for her party’s nomination in Texas’ 24th district, where several high-profile Democrats are eyeing the race. The suburban north Texas seat has long been a conservative stronghold, but the region’s rapidly changing demographics have recently made it more competitive.

Valenzuela, whose mother is Mexican-American and father is African-American, hopes to capitalize on that in her bid against Marchant, a seven-term congressman who narrowly beat a poorly funded opponent in 2018.

“We have a lot of folks moving into this area to live and go to work, this district isn’t the same as it was five-ten years ago,” Valenzuela said.

Valenzuela won her first and only election by defeating an 18-year incumbent on the school board of trustees in 2017, saying she wanted to add diversity to a panel did not match the student population.

[…]

Other candidates gearing up for the Democratic primary in the 24th district include Kim Olson, who ran unsuccessfully for state Agriculture Commissioner last year, Jan McDowell, the Democratic nominee against Marchant in 2016 and 2018, and Will Fisher, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in Texas’ 26th district last cycle.

See here for more on Olson’s entry. With the contested primaries now here and in CD22, I was wondering where things stood in comparison to 2018. In CD07, the field had begun to fill out in early April, with Jason Westin being the first of the candidates that raised significant money to enter. Alex Triantaphyllis entered in early May, with Laura Moser and eventual winner Lizzie Fletcher joining in mid-May. In CD32, Colin Allred was an early entrant, in late April.

There were lots of other contested primaries, of course, but you get the idea. Based on this much, I’d say we’re basically on the same track as in 2018. We had enough candidates by this time in the cycle to start to see real fundraising activity for the Q2 report. I expect we’ll have a similar experience this time. For tracking purposes, here’s what I know about other races of interest:

The DCCC top tier races:
CD10 – 2018 candidate Mike Siegel is in.
CD21 – Joe Kopser will not run again, but Wendy Davis is giving it a look.
CD23 – 2018 candidate Gina Ortiz Jones is giving all indications that she’s in, though she has not yet made an official announcement.
CD31 – MJ Hegar is being urged to run for this again, but she is currently looking at the Senate race. I have no idea who else might be looking at this one.

Other races:
CD02 – Elisa Cardnell is in, and it sounds like Todd Litton is not going to make another run.
CD03 – No idea yet.
CD06 – No idea yet.
CD25 – No idea yet.

That’s what I know at this time. I’ll be looking at the Q1 finance reports in the next few days, which may reveal some other names. If you know of more candidates, leave a comment and let us know.

UPDATE: Somehow, I managed to overlook CD22, where Sri Kulkarni and Nyanza Moore are in the race.

Mediation ordered in Prop B lawsuit

This ought to be interesting.

A state district judge on Thursday ordered the city, the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association and the Houston Police Officers’ Union to enter into mediation as they seek to resolve lingering differences over the implementation of Proposition B, the measure granting firefighters the same pay as police of corresponding rank and seniority.

Judge Tanya Garrison of the 157th Civil District Court ordered the mediation after hearing arguments in a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the pay parity amendment. During the hearing, Garrison said she would not issue a ruling on the case “any time soon,” concluding it would only set back ongoing negotiations to phase in firefighters’ Prop B-mandated raises.

“If I make a decision on this one way or the other … it will be the equivalent of throwing a bomb in the middle of the attempts to negotiate a resolution,” Garrison said.

The judge gave the parties until noon Monday to agree on a mediator. The court would appoint a mediator if they cannot settle on one.

The mediation is mandatory but not binding.

The mediator may suggest ways to resolve the dispute but cannot impose judgment, according to a list of rules attached to Garrison’s court order. If the parties do not voluntarily agree to a settlement, the issue returns to Garrison.

See here, here, and here for the background. As long as the mediator isn’t Tony Buzbee, I’m sure it will be fine. As a reminder, City Council will vote on the layoff plan on Wednesday (the agenda item was tagged last week), so perhaps that will provide some incentive to make things happen. In other news, the city provided financial data that the firefighters’ union had been demanding, though whether that will settle that argument or be the cause of further arguments remains to be seen.

CD07: Here comes another Bush?

Oh, goodie.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

A number of West Houston political insiders are abuzz at the prospect that Pierce Bush, the Houston-based CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star and member of the storied Bush family, might run for the Congressional seat currently occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

The 7th Congressional District has significant history in the Bush family: It’s the seat Pierce Bush’s grandfather, the late President George H.W. Bush, represented in the late 1960s.

“Over the past few months, I have been flattered by many people in Houston who have reached out and encouraged me to run for this seat,” Pierce Bush said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “I am currently putting my heart and soul into my role as CEO of the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the country.

“With my awesome staff team, our volunteers, and donors, we are empowering thousands of kids in Texas to achieve their full potential in life through our outcomes achieving mission,” he added. “If I were to run for this office, or any other office, I would certainly run as a big tent candidate focused on discussing the important matters. Together, we can stand for real opportunity for the many who need it.”

It’s a nice statement, and it sounds sincere, but let’s face it, if you are running as a Republican in 2020, you are running with Donald Trump as your running mate. There’s no way around it. Trump himself would have it no other way, and for that matter neither would every other elected Republican in Texas. There may come a time when a Pierce Bush could run as a Republican while talking about “big tents” and “discussing important matters”. That time is not 2020.

There is already a high-profile Republican candidate in the race: Wesley Hunt announced his challenge to Fletcher earlier this month. A West Point graduate, Hunt is politically connected locally and nationally. Upon his entrance into the race, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy highlighted Hunt’s candidacy in a memo to donors. Former Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel announced her run earlier this month as well.

See here for more on Hunt. Both Wesley Hunt and Cindy Siegel sound like they’d be decent candidates, in another time and without the stink of Trump on them. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t win in 2020 anyway – it will surely be a close race, though Rep. Fletcher’s five point win in 2018 well outpaced all the public polls – but I’m hard pressed to imagine a scenario where 2022, with (gods willing) a Democratic President in office and after the Lege does its thing in redistricting, wouldn’t be far more inviting.

What will Council do about Prop B layoffs?

We’re gonna find out.

Mayor Sylvester Turner told the Houston fire union Monday he would provide it with financial data leaders requested, a sign of progress at a critical point in negotiations between the mayor and union to phase in Proposition B raises for firefighters.

Officials from the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association have asked Turner to open the city’s books, allowing firefighters to verify that the mayor’s offer to phase in the pay raises over multiple years honors the terms of the charter amendment, which requires the city to pay firefighters the same as police of corresponding rank and seniority.

Turner’s refusal to do so has been a key sticking point preventing a deal, union President Marty Lancton said.

The development comes two days before Houston city council is scheduled to consider a measure to lay off 220 Houston firefighters, which Turner has said is necessary to offset the cost of pay raises if Prop. B is not phased in over multiple years.

[…]

Fire Chief Sam Peña said he was “encouraged” by Monday’s talks, even if they did not produce immediate results.

“Anytime we’re sitting at the table and having a conversation is progress,” he said.

Peña said he was not sure whether Wednesday’s scheduled council vote would be delayed, but the department is moving ahead with implementation of Prop B anyway.

“The process needs to move forward, because the books do need to be balanced by the end of the fiscal year” in June, he said. Among the biggest changes Peña has sought is a switch from a four-shift work schedule for firefighters to three. Currently, firefighters work 20 24-hour shifts every 72 days, with occasional extra shifts for which Peña has said there is a high absentee rate.

The new, three-shift model would give firefighters regular days off. Peña said he was considering that switch even before Prop B’s passage as a way to save money that could be reinvested in fleet upgrades, among other things. Now, he said, it is about maintaining public safety while confronting HFD’s roughly $25 million share of Prop B’s annual costs.

The proposal headed to council on Wednesday shows that most of the staff reductions would come from firefighters, engineers and captains, though Pena said that absent any phase-in agreement, some employees could be demoted instead of having their positions absorbed through attrition.

See here for the background, and here for Mayor Turner’s letter. According to KUHF, the firefighters’ union tentatively agreed to the 3.5-year phase-in idea, though it sounds like there may still be sticking points as Mayor Turner is not saying that will eliminate layoffs – he’s been clear about needing a five-year plan for that – but merely reducing them. Like I said, we’ll see. In the meantime, 47 city employees who had nothing to do with foisting a large new budget item on us received their layoff notices late last week. I personally find that to be the most upsetting part of this whole saga. Just so we’re all clear, the stupid revenue cap prevents the city from raising taxes to pay for Prop B, and the city charter mandates a balanced budget. That’s why layoffs are inevitable barring a sufficiently slow phase-in. It was true (and communicated) before Prop B was ratified, and it remains true now.

Using Beto 2018 to project Beto 2020

The NYT recently took a deep dive into the 2018 election data from Texas, and came out seeing a real swing state, partly because of Beto and partly for other reasons.

Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020. Republican voters, defined as those who have participated in a recent Republican primary, turned out at a higher rate than Democratic ones. Neither the Hispanic nor youth voter share of the electorate was higher than it was in 2016, when President Trump won the state by nine points.

On the contrary, Democrats in 2020 can be expected to enjoy a more favorable turnout because presidential races tend to draw in more young and Hispanic voters. Mr. O’Rourke might have won Texas last November if turnout had been at the level of a contested presidential race, based on an Upshot analysis of Times/Siena poll responses, actual results and voter file data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.

The data yields an estimate of how every registered voter in Texas would have voted, based on a long list of geographic and demographic factors that predicted vote choice in the Times/Siena polling. Importantly, turnout in 2018 is among those factors, which allows us to fully untangle how much of Mr. O’Rourke’s strength was because of strong turnout among his supporters.

The data indicates that two opposing turnout trends influenced the results. The electorate was older, whiter and more Republican than the state as a whole — or than the 2016 electorate. But an O’Rourke supporter was generally likelier to vote than a demographically and politically similar supporter of Mr. Cruz. This was the pattern nationwide, so it is not obvious that this can be attributed to Mr. O’Rourke specifically; it could have been the favorable Democratic environment more generally.

Either way, the extra turnout boost probably cut Mr. Cruz’s margin of victory by two points.

Mr. O’Rourke might have won with a turnout of around 10 million voters. (The actual turnout was around 8.4 million.) Without the extra edge of a Democratic wave year, it might have taken 11 million votes, a number that is not out of the question in 2020 if Texas is contested as a battleground state.

So how did Mr. O’Rourke fare so well? He did it through old-fashioned persuasion, by winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates.

[…]

No matter how you explain it, the president’s disapproval rating in Texas would seem to imply that there’s at least some additional upside for Democrats there, beyond what Mr. O’Rourke pulled off. And the president’s far lower approval rating among all adults (as opposed to among registered voters) hints at another opportunity for Democrats: mobilizing unregistered voters. In both cases, Hispanic voters could represent the upside for Democrats.

Mr. O’Rourke’s strong showing had essentially nothing to do with the initial vision of a Blue Texas powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Hispanic population. The Texas electorate was only two points more Hispanic in 2018 than it was in 2012, but President Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012, compared with Mr. O’Rourke’s 2.6-point loss.

At the same time, Mr. O’Rourke fared worse than Mr. Obama or Hillary Clinton in many of the state’s heavily Hispanic areas, particularly in more conservative South Texas. This could reflect Mr. Cruz’s relative strength among Hispanic voters compared with a typical Republican.

Instead, Mr. O’Rourke’s improvement came almost exclusively from white voters, and particularly college-educated white voters. Whites probably gave him around 33 percent of their votes, up from a mere 22 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.

I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, in part because of there being lots of other things to write about, and in part because I’ve been thinking about it. I want to present a few broad conclusions that I hope will help shape how we think about 2020.

1. I haven’t tried to study this in great detail, but my general sense since the 2018 election has been that Democratic base turnout could have been higher than it was, and that to carry the state of Texas in 2020, the Democratic Presidential nominee will need to aim for five million votes. Both of these are validated by this story.

2. The other point, about persuasion and flipping people who had previously voted Republican, is another theme I’ve visited a few times since November. Some of the districts that Dems won in 2018 – CDs 07 and 32 in particular – just weren’t going to be won by better base turnout. Better base turnout was always going to be needed, it just wasn’t going to be enough. Remember, in a Presidential year, John Culberson won CD07 by eleven points, and Republican judicial candidates won it by similar margins. There weren’t enough non-voting Democrats to make up for that.

3. The key to the above was Trump, and that statement in the story about “winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates” (emphasis mine) was the mechanism. CDs 07 and 32 were on the map, as were other districts like SD16 and the Dallas County State Rep districts, because they had been carried by Hillary Clinton. You may recall that I was skeptical of these numbers because it was clear that Clinton won those districts because a number of nominal Republicans just didn’t vote for Trump. It was an open question to me what they’d do in the next election. Clearly, now we know.

4. To be more specific, the not-Trump voters, who include those who voted for Gary Johnson and Evan McMullen and Jill Stein as well as those who actually crossed over to Clinton and those who skipped the race entirely, really did vote for Democratic candidates in 2018, at least in some races. Those candidates included Beto, most of the Congressional Dems, Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson, most of the legislative Dems, and some other downballot Dems. Some Republicans held onto the not-Trumpers – Greg Abbott, Glenn Hegar, George P. Bush, and Christie Craddick – but by and large these people were quite willing to stray. The proof is in the districts where the Trump percentage from 2016 was the ceiling for these Republicans in 2018.

5. Given this, the basis for Texas as a swing state, as well as a Congressional battleground, in 2020, is precisely the idea that these voters will again not vote for Trump, and base Democratic turnout will be higher. Implicit in this is the idea that the not-Trump voters who were also not-Hillary voters will be more inclined to vote for the 2020 Dem, which I think is a reasonable assumption. Dems will have their work cut out for them – we’re talking a million more votes than Beto got, which was 200K more votes than Hillary got and 500K more votes than Obama ’08 got – but the path is clear.

6. For example, Beto carried Harris County by 200K votes, with 1.2 million votes cast. If turnout in Harris is 1.5 million – hardly crazy, assuming 2.4 million registered voters (registration was 2.3 million in 2018), which in turn would be turnout of 62.5%, basically a point higher than it was in 2016 – you can imagine a Dem carrying the county 900K to 600K, which is about where the Republican vote total has plateaued. That’s 20 percent of the way to the goal right there, and it doesn’t even assume a heroic turnout effort.

7. Do I think Democratic turnout in Texas will be better if Beto, or for that matter Julian Castro, is the nominee than if someone else is? Maybe, but honestly I don’t think it would be by much, if at all. I think it really is about Trump more than it is about who the Dem is. Beto was very much the right candidate at the right time in 2018, but I don’t believe 2020 depends on him. I do think Beto as a Senate candidate may well have outperformed any Dem Presidential candidate (with the possible exception of Castro) in 2020, but that’s not the situation we will have. As a Presidential candidate, I don’t think he’d be that much different.

8. Bottom line, keep registering voters, and keep talking to people who haven’t been habitual voters. We’re going to need everyone working together to make this happen.

Two for CD22

I expect the primary season for the other competitive Republican-held Congress districts to be busy, and so it begins.

Nyanza Moore

Lawyer Nyanza Moore plans to officially announce her candidacy Sunday for Texas’ 22nd Congressional District, where she plans to seek the 2020 Democratic nomination for the seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land.

“My personal story is rooted in faith, guided by progressive values, and fueled by the will to overcome tragedy,” Moore said in a statement.

In a news release, Moore focused heavily on health care, recalling financial challenges when both of her parents were diagnosed with cancer, and when her sister once went into a coma. She connected the topic to Olson, contending he has “repeatedly voted to take away health care” from constituents.

Moore’s announcement comes the weekend after Democrat Sri Kulkarni launched his second campaign for the seat. Kulkarni was the district’s Democratic nominee last cycle and came within five points of unseating Olson.

See here for Kulkarni’s announcement, which notes that there is also a third potential contender out there as well. CD22 drew five Dem hopefuls in 2018, when it was an interesting but more remote possibility that wasn’t on the national radar. It’s very much on the radar now, which I suspect will increase the level of interest, even with Kulkarni showing himself to have been a strong candidate and good fundraiser. This is as good an opportunity as you’re likely to get and you miss all the shots you don’t take, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, why not give it a go? Nyanza Moore’s webpage is here and her Facebook page is here. As always, I’ll be looking forward to seeing the campaign finance reports.

Here comes the DCCC

National Dems really are serious about competing in Texas next year.

National Democrats are ratcheting up their Texas offensive yet again ahead of 2020.

The chairwoman of U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced Tuesday morning that her committee will open a new satellite office in Austin. The move replicates the committee’s 2018 California playbook, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a substantive, on-the-ground presence in the Golden State and flipped seven U.S. House seats there.

“When it comes to places where House Democrats can go on offense, it doesn’t get any bigger than Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of the DCCC. “In 2018, Texas Democrats proved that they can win in competitive districts. That’s why we are continuing our investments in the Lone Star State by opening a new DCCC:Texas Headquarters.”

The DCCC previously announced a national offensive effort for the 2020 elections that would install staffers in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio suburbs. Monday’s announcement takes that initiative a step further, opening a central office in Austin with eight staffers including Texas Democratic operatives Roger Garza and Michael Beckendorf.

[…]

Back in 2017, the DCCC’s decision to open an office in Orange County – the home of President Richard Nixon – was met with skepticism. Democrats swept the county, picking up four seats and won three others to the north in Los Angeles County and in the San Joaquin Valley.

As for Texas Republicans, there are mixed emotions about this kind of spending and rhetoric.

A number of Republican insiders working in the state look back at the 2018 midterms as a perfect storm with Democrats benefitting from a uniquely talented standard-bearer in former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running against a polarizing incumbent in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and a statewide burst of organic enthusiasm that may already be subsiding.

But other Texas Republicans are anxious about the U.S. House map. Many of the concerned conversations are happening in private, but the Republican Party of Texas has been eager to ring the alarm and raise money off of these kinds of DCCC announcements.

Roger Garza is a Facebook friend of mine, and he worked on Rep. Colin Allred’s successful 2018 campaign. I approve of his hire.

I mean, we all know the story here. There’s a lot of action, and a lot of potential pickups for the DCCC in these locations. We saw what can happen last year, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen again this year. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

No, we should not fear a competitive primary for Senate

This comes up all the time, for both parties. It’s way overblown.

Big John Cornyn

Democrats are closer than they’ve been in decades to winning statewide in Texas. But a looming clash between two of the party’s top prospects could blow their shot.

A pair of prominent Democrats — Rep. Joaquín Castro and MJ Hegar, a veteran who narrowly lost a House race last year —are seriously considering Senate campaigns, and a potential showdown between them is already dividing the party over who is best positioned to challenge three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Neither Hegar nor Castro has announced they’re running, but both have met with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss it. And both have prominent Democratic supporters convinced they represent the party’s best option to turn Texas blue. But a divisive primary would likely leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-depleted, making the uphill climb to unseat Cornyn that much steeper.

[…]

So far in the Senate race, Hegar appears to be moving faster than Castro. She met with Schumer in New York in early March, right after O’Rourke announced he would forgo another campaign to run for president instead.

Hegar wrote an email to supporters last week that she was “taking a very close look” at running for the Senate race and said the incumbent had shown a “complete lack of leadership” in Washington. Her timetable for an official announcement is not yet clear, but one source familiar with Hegar’s thinking said she remains “full steam ahead” on the race.

Castro’s intentions are less clear, according to conversations with more than a half-dozen Democrats in Washington and Texas. Castro met with Schumer last week to discuss the race, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Texas Monthly published a story last month quoting a source familiar with Castro’s thinking that he was “all but certain” to enter the race, which many Democrats interpreted as a hint an announcement was imminent.

But Castro has not publicly signaled what his plans are in the weeks since, leaving most Democrats uncertain if he will run — and some frustrated by his indecision.

“I’m going to kill him,” said one source close to Castro, exaggerating for effect to relate his frustration over the congressman’s equivocation.

Castro declined multiple requests to comment on his Senate deliberations outside the Capitol in the past week. His political adviser, Matthew Jones, said an announcement would be in the near future: “Joaquin will make his announcement about running for Senate on his own timeline and in a way that works best for the people of Texas and his own family.”

Hegar and Castro both have significant allies pushing for them to enter the race. Leaders at EMILY’s List have called for a woman to run in Texas, and Latino Victory Fund has launched a draft effort to push Castro into the race, including endorsements from four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Texas Democrats are fully prepared for the possibility of a primary between Hegar and Castro, and it remains possible other candidates will enter the race — including Amanda Edwards, an African American city council member in Houston. Edwards told POLITICO in an interview she is seriously considering a bid, and that Hegar and Castro’s decisions wouldn’t influence hers. She has spoken to EMILY’s List and the DSCC about the race, and said a decision could come “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Some top Democrats, however, argue a primary would actually be helpful, allowing candidates to sharpen their messages and introduce themselves to a wider set of voters.

“Nobody will be hurt in a contested primary, and you would have stronger candidates come out,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which recently launched a war room to attack Cornyn over the coming months. “Not that I’m hoping for a contested primary, but we’re not afraid to see that.”

Other Democrats are more nervous about the prospect. A contested primary would rob the candidates of months of time to focus solely on Cornyn and would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. The primary is in early March, earlier than any other state, and would allow ample time to pivot to the general election.

But if other candidates enter the race, and no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, robbing them of valuable time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn. One veteran Democratic operative, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, said even the prospect of a runoff “hurts everyone.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Clearly, I need to revisit my assumption that Castro would have a clear path to the nomination if he declared his intention to run. The main inference to draw from this is that a lot of people really think Cornyn is beatable in 2020, in a way that basically nobody outside of Beto O’Rourke at this time in 2017 thought Ted Cruz was beatable. I mean, it seems obvious, but this is well beyond just putting one’s name out there. Castro, as noted many times, has a safe seat in a majority Democratic Congress, four terms of seniority, and is already a leading voice in that chamber. Hegar could let Castro run and ride his likely coattails, DCCC support, and her own strong campaign experience to as good a shot at winning CD31 as one could want. Amanda Edwards could cruise to re-election this fall, and then be in good position to run for Mayor in 2023. All three of them are willing to give it up for a chance to run statewide, even if they have to go through one or more other strong Democratic contenders in a primary. You don’t do that if you don’t have a firm belief you can win.

So what about it then, if two or three of them (plus the assorted minor candidates) meet in the primary? I see that as largely, almost entirely, positive for the reasons cited by “some top Democrats”. Nothing will get the candidates started earlier on engaging voters, raising money, pushing registration efforts, and so on like the need to win an election in March. Money spent on voter outreach in March is still money spent on voter outreach, and I’d argue there’s even more value to it early on. Sure, it could get nasty, and sure, people get tired of family fights when they have to go into overtime, but that’s a risk worth taking. I feel like I see this kind of hand-wringy story written about potential contested primaries in both parties every time they come up, and most of the time it makes no difference in the end. As I’ve said before, my main interest is in having a strong contender in every possible race, so to that end I’d prefer to see Hegar try again in CD31. But beyond that, come in whoever wants to come in. Let the best candidate win, and we’ll go from there.

Is there a city/firefighters agreement in the works?

They’re talking, for whatever it’s worth.

Officials from the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association said Friday they would seek union members’ approval of a 3.5-year phase-in of Proposition B if the city meets certain conditions.

After meeting with the union to discuss the terms, however, Mayor Sylvester Turner released a statement saying the provisions were “not consistent” with discussions held at the meeting.

Union president Marty Lancton said he had in fact laid out the union’s terms to the mayor, which include a guarantee that no firefighters will receive layoffs “before, during or after implementation of Proposition B.”

“We said it implicitly and explicitly,” Lancton said.

The mayor acknowledged the union delivered a copy of the letter, but accused Lancton of publicizing it before the meeting. Lancton also said this was untrue.

Aside from the no-layoff guarantee, union officials said any phase-in agreement would have to be ratified through a collective bargaining agreement.

Lancton also said Turner’s administration must provide the firefighters with “complete access to city financial and budget information” and implement “complete parity,” including base and incentive pay, with Houston police officers.

The two sides were scheduled to meet again next week before Houston City Council considers a measure at its Wednesday meeting that would authorize 220 firefighter layoffs.

See here for the latest update. I mean, maybe they’ll hammer something out and maybe they won’t. Deadlines have a way of focusing the mind, especially when layoffs are on the other side. I’ll reserve judgment about what may or may not be involved until there’s a resolution, but I will say this: Very early on in this process, Mayor Turner’s position was that Prop B had to be implemented all at once, there was no legal path to negotiating a phase-in. Everyone seems to have forgotten about that, which in and of itself doesn’t bother me too much since I like the idea of phasing it in regardless. But if this is true, then all it will take is someone filing a lawsuit to screw this all up. Let’s worry about that another day, as it’s not a thing until and unless a phase-in deal is ratified. There’s plenty of trouble here already without borrowing more.

Commissioners Court replaces Judge McLeod

Unfortunate, but understandable.

Judge William McLeod

A divided Harris County Commissioners Court declined to give County Court At Law Judge Bill McLeod a reprieve Tuesday after he inadvertently resigned last week, opting instead to appoint a replacement.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said letting McLeod remain as a holdover judge until a special election for the seat in 2020 was too risky, since he almost would certainly have to recuse himself from cases to which the county was a party, as Commissioners Court would have the power to remove him at any time.

Instead, the court voted 3 to 2 to appoint Houston lawyer Lesley Briones to hold the seat through next year, on the recommendation of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“I think voters deserve a judge who can be absolutely independent, as he was elected to be,” Hidalgo said. “This would put us in the untenable position that he would no longer be an unbiased person, because he would be beholden to Commissioners Court.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack and Precinct 4’s Jack Cagle voted against the appointment. Cagle told Briones he could not support her since the nomination was made just minutes earlier and he did not have a chance to review her qualifications.

Briones, a Yale Law School graduate and general counsel to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation until December, accepted the appointment on the spot.

“I have deep respect for the law and I respect that you made a hard decision, and I respect the consternation in this room,” Briones said. “But know that I will work extremely hard for everyone.”

See here and here for the background. There were some good legal arguments in favor of retaining Judge McLeod, while Judge Hidalgo’s point is worth taking seriously as well. In the end, I didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other; I think either decision was defensible. JUst a couple of thoughts to keep in mind as we go forward:

– McLeod’s point that the state constitution is incredibly long and arcane is unquestionably true. It’s also kind of disingenuous coming from a judge. More to the point, this is why potential candidates should talk to a political professional or two before making any public statements about running for office, because there are various weird rules related to candidacy that are easy to stumble over if you don’t know what you’re doing. I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head who could have pointed this out to McLeod before he filed his designation of treasurer. You gotta do your due diligence.

– Not to belabor the point, but there’s a reason why basically nobody had been felled by this problem before. As I said in my first post, nearly every story about then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s rumored candidacy for Mayor was accompanied by a discussion of how he couldn’t say anything without triggering the resign-to-run provision. Sheriff isn’t judge, but in this case they’re both county positions. One might well wonder if that provision applied to one job, would it apply to another?

– All that said, let’s not get too high and mighty at Bill McLeod’s expense. Yes, this was a dumb and avoidable mistake, but it’s not like this particular cul-de-sac of our word salad that is the state constitution was a cornerstone of our inviolable values as a state. County court judges have to resign to run for another office, but district court judges and appeals court judges don’t. All five Democrats who ran for statewide judicial positions last year were sitting on a bench while running for something else, and last I checked our state didn’t collapse. The fact that Bill McLeod had to resign is a quirk and not a principle, and it’s at least as dumb as McLeod’s unfortunate action. I’m sorry this happened to him. I’m sure we’ll all take the lesson to check and doublecheck whether “resign to run” applies to whatever office one holds before stating an intention to seek another, but maybe we should also take the lesson that these same rules are arbitrary and ought to be reviewed to see if they still make sense. Campos has more.

Wendy for Congress?

The great 2020 candidate shuffle continues.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis says she is not running for U.S. Senate in 2020 and instead is considering a bid for the U.S. House.

“I’m looking very seriously at Congressional District 21,” the former Democratic nominee for governor said in a new podcast released Friday, referring to the traditionally Republican district that Democrats came close to flipping last year.

Davis, also a former state senator, had mulled whether to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. But in the podcast, “The Rabble: TX Politics for the Unruly Mob,” Davis made clear she is no longer weighing a Senate campaign and reiterated her call for U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio to enter the race.

“There’s a reason I made a decision not to run for this Senate seat against John Cornyn,” Davis said on the show, which was taped Thursday. “I’ve been very candid about the fact that my dear friend Joaquin Castro is someone that I’d like to see run.

See here for some background. According to the story, Joseph Kopser, the 2018 candidate who came with four points of winning in CD21 and who also briefly flirted with running for Senate, has decided to sit out 2020. That leaves the need for a good candidate in CD21, and Wendy Davis would fit that bill nicely. She’d make for a great contrast with freshman Rep. Chip Roy, a former minion of both Ken Paxton and Ted Cruz who is doing his level best to achieve Lamar Smith levels of badness in his first term. I’d previously suggested CD25 for Wendy, but all things considered this would be best. I’m rooting for it.

They’re coming for Cornyn

Let’s bring it on.

Big John Cornyn

Texas Democrats are launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to help take down U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, regardless of who they ultimately choose as their nominee next year.

Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke — the state party is establishing a “Cornyn War Room” to “define Cornyn before he defines himself,” according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle.

“In 2020, we must seize the opportunity to flip Texas,” says the memo from the state party, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. It cites recent polling that found Texas “essentially tied” in the 2020 presidential election and that 64 percent of voters do not know or dislike Cornyn. “We cannot wait for the primary dust to settle before we launch our attacks on John Cornyn.”

The project, the memo adds, will “define Cornyn and reveal him for what he is — a coward, afraid of shadows on his right and left.”

The offensive has five fronts: digital, communications, messaging and polling, research, and data and targeting. There will be staff dedicated to the project and coordination with affiliated groups, county parties and activists.

The memo says the effort is “funded, in part, by record-breaking fundraising, including the most successful February totals in Texas Democratic Party history.” The memo does not specify the figures.

[…]

Several prominent Democrats are considering challenging Cornyn, perhaps most notably U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who said Tuesday she is “taking a very close look” at the race. Three lower-profile Democrats have already declared their candidacies.

With no disrespect intended to MJ Hegar, just as it was my assumption that the Senate race was Beto’s if he wanted it, it is now my assumption that it’s Joaquin’s if he wants it. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with that, just that I’d expect the establishment – most of it, anyway – would fall in line with Joaquin if he follows through on his reported interest in the race. Some people are already in line, they just need Joaquin to get to the head of it. My guess is that Hegar’s “close look” is at least one part a “just in case Joaquin doesn’t run” contingency. Someone has to get to the front of that line, after all. But she might jump in anyway, and if she does she’d be formidable, and might put Joaquin on the spot. My advice to him would be to make his mind up quickly. Easy for me to say, I know, but still.

The polls in question don’t really mean much – the “essentially tied” poll tested Cornyn versus Beto, not Cornyn versus anyone else or Cornyn versus a generic Dem – but compared to what we’re used to, they’re not bad at all. The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom at this time is that Texas will be competitive in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I need to sit down every time I say that. We are in exciting times.

What the rest of this means remains to be seen. Beto’s campaign in 2018 was singular, and I have no idea how much of it is foundational to this effort. Be that as it may, this is the sort of thing that a viable, competitive statewide party needs to be doing, and having the resources for it is fantastic. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. See the TDP statement for more.

First city layoff notices sent

Here we go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Kulkarni 2.0

Glad to see this.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Kulkarni, an ex-foreign service officer who last year came within five points of unseating U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, announced Thursday he is challenging the Sugar Land Republican anew in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.

Making his first run for office in 2018, Kulkarni drew attention by repeatedly out fundraising Olson and forming a multilingual campaign team to take aim at the district’s highly diverse population. He ultimately lost by more than 14,000 votes, or about 4.9 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, Kulkarni said his efforts will largely revolve around registering new voters in the district, where he has identified roughly 70,000 unregistered residents who are eligible to vote. Kulkarni also intends to reach more low-propensity voters this cycle, he said, and harness lingering energy from his prior campaign by jumping in only five months after the November midterms.

“We have people who are pumped up to come out and knock on doors right now, and we’re a year and a half away from the election,” Kulkarni said. “People wanted change in this district, and since we’ve built all that infrastructure, it would be a waste to start from scratch.”

Before he can set his sights on Olson, however, Kulkarni must first get past the Democratic primary, where he already faces two opponents. Nyanza Moore, a Fox 26 political commentator, and Joe Walz, an Army veteran, each are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Whoever emerges to face the Republican nominee will likely begin with better odds than Kulkarni did in 2018. Viewed for years as a longshot for Democrats, the district has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 battleground map, an early indication that national Democrats are willing to put resources into flipping the seat.

There’s definitely room to grow in a district that wasn’t at all on the national radar last year, but got more attention as the situation in Texas became clearer. I suspect that the promise of DCCC support for CD22 is contingent on Kulkarni winning the primary, as he has proven himself to be a strong candidate, though if one of the other two beats him I’m sure they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well. With all due respect, I’d prefer Kulkarni, as would a number of elected officials and other party figures who have endorsed him. I’m looking forward to reviewing the FEC reports for Congressional candidates again.

Revisiting El Franco Lee’s campaign finances

There’s still a lot of cash in the late Commissioner’s campaign finance account.

El Franco Lee

When 66-year-old Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee had a fatal heart attack in January 2016, his campaign account had $3.8 million. Since then, the cash has been managed by Ethel Kaye Lee, the late commissioner’s widow and campaign treasurer. Lee has invested much of the sum in securities, growing the fund at times to more than $4 million. Under Texas law, she has until 2022 to close the account.

Incumbent politicians often leave unspent campaign funds when they lose elections or die in office, but the size of Lee’s account three years after his passing presents a peculiar case. That Ethel Kaye Lee has the sole discretion to spend the fund potentially makes her one of the most powerful donors in Texas heading into the 2020 general election, University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said.

“A few hundred thousand dollars could mean the difference between a Democrat winning and losing,” Rottinghaus said. “She is in a position to exert tremendous political authority and to potentially sway a half-dozen seats all across the state.”

[…]

Under state law, dormant political campaigns must disburse their funds within six years to any of six sources: the candidate’s political party, a different candidate or political committee, the state treasury, a tax-exempt charity, a school or university for a scholarship program or as a refund to donors who gave in the final two years the candidate accepted contributions.

Ethel Lee said in a text message last week “all campaign funds have been allocated for the El Franco Lee campaign account in accordance with the guidelines from the Texas Ethics Commission. Recipients will be noted in the next compliance report.”

Lee did not respond to additional questions about the account. The next campaign reporting period, which covers the first six months of the year, ends June 30. Reports are due to the county clerk’s office two weeks later.

Lee’s campaign has made one political contribution since his death: $100,000 to Democratic attorney general candidate Justin Nelson in 2018. Nelson said he has known Ethel Lee his entire life and was grateful for the donation, which his campaign did not solicit.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schecter said the party would welcome donations from the Lee campaign, but has yet to receive any. Schecter said Ethel Lee does not regularly participate in party events or campaigns.

See here for the background, and here for the January 2019 report. I don’t know what will happen with all this cash, but I don’t expect much of it to be contributed to campaigns. Commissioner Lee was not known for doing that while he was alive. My guess is it will mostly go to schools and charities, which is fine. We’ll know for sure no later than 2022.

Precinct analysis: 2018 SBOE

There are 15 State Board of Education positions, currently divided 10 GOP to 5 Dem. They’re bigger than State Senate and Congressional districts but no one raises any money for them so they’re basically decided by partisan turnout. As with State Senate districts they were not for the most part drawn to be competitive – more like “these are yours and these are mine”. And yet, here we are:


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
SB2    53.6%   51.9%   45.3%   50.4%   51.2%   51.1%   49.8%
SB5       NA   54.8%   48.0%   51.8%   53.0%   52.2%   48.9%
SB6       NA   51.5%   44.7%   49.5%   50.3%   49.5%   45.0%
SB10      NA   50.0%   43.7%   47.8%   48.4%   47.5%   45.0%
SB12   47.9%   51.5%   43.7%   48.5%   49.6%   48.1%   44.9%

SBOE2 is the one Democrat-held district in the table above. We’ll need to keep an eye on it during the 2021 redistricting process. SBOE districts were not part of any redistricting litigation in past cycles, but with three competitive seats up for grabs in 2020, which would swing control of the SBOE if Dems sweep them, I have to assume this will get a bit more focus next time around.

SBOE5 was on my radar before the 2016 election. It was carried by Hillary Clinton and is currently held by true believer wingnut Ken Mercer, so flipping it is both well within reach and a nice prize to have. SBOE6 shifted quite a bit from 2012 to 2016, and even more from 2016 to 2018. It’s all within Harris County and overlaps a lot of the turf that moved in a blue direction. As we’ve discussed before, this is coming from people who used to vote Republican turning away from the Trump Party at least as much as it is from new and newly-activated Democrats. That will be key to taking it over in 2020, as the gap in absolute numbers is just too big to overcome on turnout alone. Dems have an announced candidate for SBOE6 in Michelle Palmer; I’m not aware of candidates for other SBOE slots yet.

SBOE10 will be the toughest nut to crack. It gets about two-thirds of its vote from Travis and Williamson Counties, with about half of the remainder in Bell County. Running up the score in Travis, and continuing the red-to-blue transformation of Williamson will be key to putting this district in play, but all those small rural districts combine to give the Republicans an advantage that won’t be easily overcome. I feel like we can win districts 2 and 5 with Trump still winning statewide, but we’ll need a Democratic majority statewide for 10 to truly be in play. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about that.

UPDATE Former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner has informed me that she also plans to seek this seat.

More on McLeod

Here’s the Chron story on the bizarre accidental judicial resignation.

Judge William McLeod

The Harris County attorney’s office was notified in March that Judge Bill McLeod, a Democrat presiding over Harris County Court at Law No. 4, had filed a transfer of campaign treasurer appointment with the Texas Ethics Commission stating he was seeking the office of chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Unbeknownst to McLeod, this filing triggered Article 16, Section 65 of the Texas Constitution which considers such an announcement by anyone holding a county judicial post an automatic resignation.

“This is insane,” McLeod said Wednesday. “All of the judges are going, ‘You did what? How? We didn’t even know (the constitutional provision) existed.’”

McLeod, who was elected in November, hopes that a different provision of the constitution will help rectify his mistake. Article 16, Section 17 states that a county Commissioners Court is not required to appoint a successor after a county officer resigns, and “may allow the officeholder who resigned…to remain in office” as a holdover. If this happens, McLeod would have to run again in 2020 even though he was elected to a four-year term.

[…]

McLeod is not the first judicial officer to fall victim to this provision. In 2013, Irene Rios, then a Bexar County (San Antonio) court-at-law judge, told county commissioners she intended to run for chief justice of the 4th Court of Appeals, triggering her automatic resignation. Rios remained in her seat for four weeks after her announcement before tendering her letter of resignation, and she continued to make legal rulings during that time.

A 1999 amendment to the Texas Supreme Court judicial code of conduct further affirms that judges can continue to hold judicial office while being a candidate for another judicial office.

[…]

Rodney Ellis, a Democratic commissioner, was noncommittal on McLeod’s future, stating: “I firmly believe that any action taken by Commissioners Court on this matter must uphold the Texas Constitution above all else and that principle is what will ultimately guide my decision on Tuesday.”

Commissioner Adrian Garcia and a spokeswoman for County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the two other Democrats on the court, did not respond to requests for comment.

Republican Commissioner Steve Radack said he would not be receptive to appointing a holdover for a judicial post.

“If he’s resigned then how can you justify having him as a holdover?” Radack said. “That’s certainly not the spirit of the law.”

See here for the background. As the story notes, the judicial code of conduct doesn’t override the Constitution, it just allows judges that aren’t subject to that Constitutional provision to run for other office while remaining on the bench. If you look at Chapter 16, Section 65, all the offices in question are county offices except for District Attorney. It’s a quirk of the code that’s surely a holdover from an earlier time (note the inclusion of public weighers), and when you think about it there’s no real logic to limiting that restriction to just those offices. But that’s the Constitution we have, so here we are.

As to what happens, who knows? Either three Commissioners agree with the argument that it doesn’t make sense to kick McLeod off the bench, thus allowing him to hold over till the 2020 election, or they don’t. Note that if McLeod has his sights on the Supreme Court, he would have to step down after 2020 anyway, as he wouldn’t be able to run to fill the remainder of his term. It’s a coin toss either way, and I don’t envy any member of Commissioners Court the decision.

UPDATE: The Washington Post covers the story, reprinted by the Trib.

UPDATE: Here’s a detailed legal argument in favor of retaining Judge McLeod, sent to me by Adam Milasincic. It’s pretty persuasive.

Please delete April Fools Day from your calendar

I just can’t.

Judge William McLeod

An April Fools’ Day resignation prank? One Texas civil court judge wishes it were so.

A newly elected judge in Houston accidentally resigned on Monday, according to local media and a county official, after he shared plans online to run for the state supreme court, apparently unaware that the Texas constitution considers such an announcement an automatic resignation.

The Harris County Civil Court judge, Bill McLeod, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. Local TV station KHOU 11 News on Monday reported that McLeod declined to comment on the move.

Article 16, Section 65, of the state’s constitution says that a judge’s announcement of candidacy for another office “shall constitute an automatic resignation of the office then held.”

The county attorney’s office will present the matter to county commissioners next Tuesday, First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said in a phone interview on Tuesday. County commissioners, who can appoint replacements, may decide to keep McLeod in office until there is a special election, KHOU 11 reported.

The judge’s supporters have organized on social media using the hashtag #IStandWithMcLeod. They plan to attend the commissioners’ Tuesday meeting and express their wish that the judge retain his office despite his blunder.

Here’s Judge McLeod’s Facebook page, where I assume this accidental resignation happened. I tried looking for that post, but there were too many posts in support of him to scroll past, so I gave up. Judge McLeod was one of the more energetic campaigners, both in real life and on social media, in 2018 and I’m not at all surprised that people are rallying to his defense. Commissioners Court has the discretion of allowing him to stay in place until the next election, essentially serving as his own appointed interim successor. If he’s lucky, he’ll just have to run again in 2020 – he should have no trouble winning if that happens – and then can run for re-election as usual in 2022. This KHOU story doesn’t mention the April Fool angle, so I’m not really sure if this was a joke that didn’t land or just a foolishly early announcement with unexpected consequences. Either way, it wasn’t the best idea anyone ever had.

(Just so we’re all clear, the Constitutional provision cited in the story applies to the following offices: District Clerks; County Clerks; County Judges; Judges of the County Courts at Law, County Criminal Courts, County Probate Courts and County Domestic Relations Courts; County Treasurers; Criminal District Attorneys; County Surveyors; County Commissioners; Justices of the Peace; Sheriffs; Assessors and Collectors of Taxes; District Attorneys; County Attorneys; Public Weighers; and Constables. That means that among other things, it does not apply to District Court judges or appeals court judges, which is why the Democratic candidates for Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2018, all of whom were sitting District Court judges in Harris County, did not have to resign. Remember how long there was speculation about Adrian Garcia running for Mayor in 2015 before he ever said anything? That was because he had to resign as soon as he did say it. Let’s all be aware of these things going forward, OK? Thanks.)

UPDATE: Here’s a legal defense of Judge McLeod’s actions. It’s more complicated than it first appears.