Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Election 2019

Where to find the HD148 candidates

One of the things I observed as I was frantically updating lists of who had filed to run in the HD148 special election was that some of the candidates were easier to find online than others, and that some had already created a web presence for themselves while others had not. As I intended to do interviews for this race, that mattered to me. About two weeks out from the filing deadline, I’ve been able to track down many of them, and the Erik Manning spreadsheet has more information. But for my convenience and yours, here’s how to find the Democrats of the HD148 special election online:

Rob BlockFacebook
Kendra Yarbrough CamarenaFacebook
Anna EastmanFacebook
Adrian P. GarciaFacebook
Terah IsaacsonFacebook
Michele LealFacebook
Mia Mundy (no website, just Facebook)
Anna NúñezFacebook
Penny ShawFacebook
Alva TreviñoFacebook
Chris WattFacebook

Still can’t find anything online for Carol Denson. I’ll leave it to you to locate the Republicans.

If you want to know if you or someone you know is in HD148, you can of course look yourself up on the Tax Assessor’s voter registration webpage. Or, you can use this map of HD148 to see if your address is in or out. I will have a bunch of interviews with HD148 candidates for you beginning September 30, so you’ll have a chance to hear what they have to say for themselves. If you’ve had the chance to see any of them in action, let us know what your impression was.

No, crime is not up in Houston

Facts are stubborn things.

Like the rest of the country, crime in Houston has plummeted over the last 30 years, as has residents’ fear of crime being the city’s most pressing problem. FBI data show that most categories of crime in Houston have fallen or remained stagnant during Turner’s term, which began in January 2016. Criminologists also scoff at the claim that Houston is among the country’s most dangerous cities.

Violent crime is down more than 10 percent from 2017, during its peak under Turner’s administration, according to preliminary FBI data. Non-violent crime has dropped about 6 percent since 2015.

From 2015 to 2018, murders dropped and robberies fell; burglaries decreased; thefts fell; and fewer vehicles were stolen. The exceptions were aggravated assaults and rapes, which rose in 2017 before declining again in 2018.

[…]

“We are at the bottom of a 30-year decline, more or less, in the crime rate,” said Scott Henson, of Just Liberty, a criminal justice reform nonprofit.

In Turner’s first year in office, for example, criminals murdered 301 Houstonians. The city saw 279 murders in 2018, a slight uptick from 269 in 2017.

The city’s murder rate is four times that of New York, the safest large city in the United States, and a sixth of St. Louis, the nation’s most deadly. A survey of the nation’s 297 largest cities (meaning they had populations of 100,000 or more) shows Houston’s ranked 75th in murders, and 31st in violent crime.

“When we talk about the murder capitals of the country, the violent crime capitals of the country, Houston is not one of the cities people put on that list,” said Jeff Asher, a New Orleans-based criminologist. “At least anyone familiar with the data.”

Ames Grawert, senior counsel for the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, said it is misleading to compare the crime rate of a city with 2.3 million people to those of small towns, which frequently have much lower crime rates.

A more accurate measure, he said, would be to look at other large cities across the country.

Among the nation’s 30 largest cities, Houston’s murder rate “is thoroughly middle of the road,” Grawert said. “I don’t see Houston as being one of the more ‘violent’ places in the country.”

And while criminologists acknowledge the city’s overall crime rate is indeed higher than 95 percent of other American cities, towns, and villages, they say such comparisons overinflate the importance of more common but less serious crimes like thefts.

“As a major American city, Houston has some crime,” said Asher. “That’s the same as me saying Houston has more trash cans than 95 percent of cities … Houston is one of the largest cities in the country. Of course it does.”

Experts say it is not useful to measure crime on a year-to-year basis because one-year outliers do not accurately reflect trends or significant changes in crime patterns.

Since 1985, the annual number of murders has risen as high as 608 in 1991 and as low as 198 in 2011. Overall, the city’s murder rate has trended downward from about 26.5 per 100,000 to 11.5 per 100,000 in 2018.

“Houston is safer than has been for a really long time, honestly, is the truth of it,” said Henson.

This article was written because the non-Mayors in the Mayoral race were all claiming that crime is up and mayhem is rampant. I mean, what else do they have to talk about? I don’t know about some of these candidates, but I was living here in 1991, and I remember what it was like. I remember looking for rental properties with my roommates in Houston and noticing that the most prominent feature on many places in Montrose was burglar bars. I remember that the conventional wisdom was that single women should not live in the Heights because it wasn’t safe for them. Hell, when I bought my first house in the Heights in 1997, Tiffany’s parents (who live in Bellaire) were worried about its location. The Houston we live in now is so much safer.

One more thing: Insistence that the city is swamped by crime leads naturally to a demand for more aggressive policing – more traffic stops, more “broken windows”-type arrests, more zero-tolerance mindset, etc. We all know what that means for minority communities. At a time when people are recognizing the great harm that over-incarceration and the “war on drugs” have caused, this is dangerous and deeply out of step with the popular will. And pretty much what I’d expect from King and Buzbee, the two loudest voices in that story. Grits, who was quoted in the story, has more.

Interview with Raj Salhotra

Raj Salhotra

This week I will have interviews from two of the At Large races that feature challenges to sitting incumbents. First up is At Large #1, where candidate Raj Salhotra is among the four challengers to first-term incumbent Mike Knox. Salhotra is a native Houstonian, the son of immigrants, and another one of those younger candidates this year we keep reading about. A graduate of Rice University and Harvard Law School, he has taught high school math, worked on economic development policy with Mayor Turner, and co-founded a non-profit to help students get to and through college. Here’s the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #1 is here, my 2013 interview with incumbent Mike Knox, who was then a candidate for District A, is here, and my 2013 interview with candidate Georgia Provost, who was running for District D at the time, is here.

Voting centers everywhere

In Dallas:

Starting in November, problems like Mr. Voter’s, at least in Dallas County, will be a thing of the past. Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office officially gave the county permission to participate in the countywide voting program the state allows its most populous counties to opt into. That means that whenever you vote, whether it’s early or on Election Day, you can vote at whatever polling place you choose, as long as you’re both registered to vote in Dallas County and physically in Dallas County.

County commissioners voted to ask the state to get in on the program this spring, after county staff said participation would streamline the voting process, potentially increase voter turnout and decrease the number of voters who cast provisional ballots.

“It is time to come into the 21st century and have an election system that actually works,” Commissioner Elba Garcia said in March. “The main point about vote centers is that we have people, over 3,000 people, that wanted to vote during the last election and they were not able to do it. Voting centers bring that to the table. It’s time to make sure that anyone who wants to vote is able to go and vote in the right place without any problems.”

[…]

In order to participate in countywide voting this November, Dallas County had to upgrade its voter check-in system, something you may have noticed if you’re one of the literally hundreds of people who voted in May or June’s municipal elections. Those looking to cast ballots now check in on a cloud-connected tablet that has service from two carriers, in case one is on the fritz.

November’s state constitutional amendment election is essentially a dry run. If everything comes off without a hitch, and Dallas County sends a successful report to the state, the county will be able to offer countywide polling places during all elections moving forward.

In San Antonio:

The Secretary of State approved Bexar County’s adoption of the vote center model Friday for the upcoming November election, Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen told county commissioners Tuesday.

The November election will serve as the “soft rollout” for the vote center model, Callanen said. Vote centers allow voters to cast ballots at any location in Bexar County on Election Day. The county previously used the precinct model, under which voters were required to cast ballots at their specific precincts on election day.

“When we do publication [of voting locations], we’ll have Vote Center 1, VC 2, VC 3, and addresses listed,” Callanen said. “No longer are we precinct-driven.”

Callanen said she expected people to get used to the new model after a complete election cycle. The Elections Department plans to start its advertising push after Oct. 1 to allow people enough time to hear about and understand the new voting model.

“I think that will take a little assistance to get the word out,” she said.

This year’s Nov. 5 Election Day will feature 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot, and turnout is expected to be low. However, county election officials view the election as an important dress rehearsal for the November 2020 presidential election.

Both will join Harris County, which had its dry run in May and will get a fuller test this November, with the city of Houston elections and the Metro referendum. It’s a good thing that voting centers are spreading, because traditional polling places have been going away in the state in recent years.

A new report out from the Leadership Conference Education Fund found that Texas is leading the nation in polling place closures, another practice that voting rights advocates fear can lead to disenfranchisement.

The report, titled “Democracy Diverted: Polling Place Closures and the Right to Vote,” looked at 757 of the 861 counties and county-level equivalents across the nation that were previously covered by Section 5, and found that 750 polling places in Texas have been shuttered since Shelby. That constitutes almost half of all polling places in the U.S. closed since 2013. Fourteen Texas counties closed at least 50 percent of their polling places after Shelby, and 590 have been shuttered since the 2014 midterm election.

Maricopa County in Arizona had the most polling place closures, but that was followed by six counties in Texas: Dallas lost 74 places; Travis lost 67; Harris shuttered 52; Brazoria closed 37; and Nueces closed 37.

“The large number of polling location closures is attributable to the size of Texas and the fact that we’re no longer under preclearance,” said Beth Stevens, director of the Voting Rights Program at the Texas Civil Rights Project. Now, “there’s no one [the state needs] to ask for permission to make changes.”

[…]

This comes into focus when looking at the demographics of some of the counties that saw the most closures. Brazoria County, which lost 59 percent of its polling locations since Shelby, is 30 percent Latino and 13 percent African American. The number of polling places in Nueces County, home to Corpus Christi and 63 percent Latinx, dropped by nearly a third. In Jefferson County, where Beaumont is located, about 34 percent of its 250,000 residents are African American and 20 percent are Latino; polling places there dropped from 57 in 2012 to 39 in 2018.

The report attributes some of these closures to jurisdictions adopting the county-wide polling program and opening voting mega-centers. By allowing people to cast a ballot on Election Day at any location, instead of bounding them to their precinct, the program is supposed to make voting easier (more locations to choose from, shorter lines).

The Texas Civil Rights Project is supportive of the program, said Stevens—so long as it’s enacted responsibly. She pointed to counties like Harris and Bexar as good examples: they’ve moved to county-wide polling while maintaining every single polling location that they would otherwise be required to have.

But, the report notes, some counties with large drops in polling locations—like Somervell (minus 80 percent), Loving (minus 75 percent), and Stonewall (minus 75 percent)—didn’t transition to vote centers. The report adds, “voters in counties that still hold precinct-style elections have 250 fewer voting locations than they did in 2012.”

The report is here and I’ve just glanced at some of it, so I can’t give you too much extra context. Some of what’s reported in the Observer is a bit alarmist, however. Loving County had 110 total registered voters in 2016, and its demographics are almost entirely Anglo. I’d bet that its “75% reduction” is going from four sites to one. Stonewall County had 998 RVs total in 2016. Every voter counts, but not every county’s actions are equal in scope. The statistics for Brazoria, Jefferson, and Nueces counties sounds more ominous, but all of them use voting centers as well. Travis County, of course, is one of the pioneers of voting centers; one of the people in charge of implementing the Harris County program came from the Travis County Clerk’s office having done the same thing there. What all this means is we need more information about how well or not these are working and what the effect are on voters of color. Which, as is noted in the report summary, is a hard thing to assess without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This is definitely something to watch, I just can’t say right now what the level of concern needs to be. The Chron, whose story gets more into the details about voting centers, has more.

Why would you run for HISD Board of Trustees this year?

It’s a good question.

As she campaigns door-to-door to become the newest member of Houston ISD’s school board, Reagan Flowers is encountering many confused voters.

They ask whether school board elections matter this year, given the growing likelihood that state officials will strip power from HISD trustees within months. They wonder what Flowers will do if she wins but does not get any authority. They question how she would change the culture of the much-maligned board.

“There’s still a tremendous need to educate people, to inform them of the process,” said Flowers, an education nonprofit executive and one of four candidates vying to represent District IV, which covers parts of downtown and southern Houston. “I tell them I’ll be your representative, your voice, making sure the needs of the district are being met.”

As November approaches and the threat of state intervention in HISD looms, Flowers and fourteen other school board candidates find themselves in the midst of a highly unusual election season, aiming to convince voters to participate in potentially diminished races.

[…]

Some candidates said voters remain confused or apathetic about the off-year school board elections. About 25 percent of registered voters cast ballots for HISD trustee in 2015, with mayoral and city council races likely boosting turnout.

However, multiple candidates said more-engaged voters are aware of the school board’s self-admitted dysfunction, laid bare during a heated October 2018 meeting, and want trustees who will cut through the tumult. Dissension over whether to retain Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan has inflamed tensions on the board in the past 12 months, creating factions that largely split across racial and ethnic lines.

“The only thing I hear about (from voters) is that they’re concerned with the in-fighting on the board and they want it to stop,” said Patricia Allen, a District IV candidate and retired HISD principal. “I’m not hearing positive things about the board takeover. But what I am hearing is, the board needs changes, that they need someone in there to focus on education.”

That sounds about right to me. The story name-checks all of the candidates, for the two open seat races (Districts II and IV, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jolanda Jones will step down) and the two races against incumbents Sergio Lira (III) and Diana Davila (VIII). It’s not clear to me, or I suspect to anyone as this particular type of intervention by the TEA has never happened before, what exactly HISD Trustees will be doing once the TEA does its thing. Obviously, the goals are to improve outcomes in the schools, and to fix the problems the Board had so that it can be trusted to regain control. What that will look like in practice is something we will discover together. In the meantime and as always, please do pay attention to these races if you have one on your ballot (I don’t this time), and make good choices.

It’s not really a campaign until there are attack ads

I have three things to say about this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner launched a television ad Monday attacking Tony Buzbee for donating to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, marking the mayor’s first major attempt to link his political opponent to the president.

Buzbee, a millionaire businessman and lawyer, is one of 11 candidates running for mayor against Turner, who is seeking a second four-year term in November.

In the summer of 2016, Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump — who was then the presumptive Republican nominee — at his mansion in River Oaks.

In October 2016, after a video surfaced in which Trump is heard bragging about groping women, Buzbee disavowed Trump, posting on social media, “Sorry Donald. I’m done with you. Completely.”

He later contributed $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Turner’s ad opens with a clip of Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” at his 2015 campaign launch speech, when Trump also accused immigrants of bringing drugs and crime across the border.

“Noise, and more noise, from Donald Trump and his imitator, Tony Buzbee,” a narrator’s voice says.

1. Ideally, incumbents prefer to be able to run campaigns that don’t acknowledge their opposition. Even the most devastating negative ad still has the effect of raising the opponent’s name ID. Attacking Buzbee means there’s more value in trying to take him down than the downside of introducing him to a wider audience.

2. Buzbee is of course a target-rich environment, with his ties to Donald Trump and Rick Perry, his general douche-bro profile, his loose relationship with accurate information, and the fact that he’s basically a loudmouth know-it-all with no experience in government. You know, kind of like some other guy who was also a very bad idea to vote for.

3. The thing about running attack ads in a multi-candidate race is that it can have the side effect of improving the position of the candidate or candidates who are neither the target nor the instigator of the ad. Is Turner attacking Buzbee in hope of softening him up for the runoff, or in hope of knocking him out so he’ll face someone else in the runoff? Hard to say. If he keeps this up for weeks, or if he goes on to attack other candidates, we’ll have a better idea.

Interview with Carrin Patman

Carrin Patman

I’ve talked a lot about the METRO Next referendum on the 2019 ballot. The referendum, the first time METRO has gone to the voters to ask for bonding authority since 2003, is intended to fund a significant expansion of transit services, including light rail, BRT, HOV, and local bus. There’s a lot to take in, and while METRO will be running a campaign to inform voters about the referendum, I wanted to do a deeper dive into the details. METRO Board Chair Carrin Patman was the person to talk to about that, and I had questions for her about all aspects of the plan. We also delved into bigger picture issues of how METRO fits into the region, connecting with bicycles, future expansion, and how autonomous vehicles will affect things. Have a listen and let me know what you think:

I’ll be back to candidate interviews next week. I’ve got HISD, HCC, more from the city of Houston, and some ungodly number of HD148 contenders in the queue.

Campaigning for the Metro bond

Our campaign finance laws can be a bit weird.

Transit officials spent the past 18 months developing a plan to add $7.5 billion in new bus lines, rebuilt transit centers and rail expansion.

They have nine weeks to sell it to voters.

“We’re in campaign mode now,” said Metropolitan Transit Authority Chairwoman Carrin Patman.

With election season, however, comes some complications. Patman and other officials can stump for the plan, but cannot use Metro money or staff to directly campaign in favor it.

The agency, however, is almost guaranteed to be the biggest spender during the campaign because it is allowed to educate voters on the plan to add 75 miles of rapid bus service, 16 miles of light rail and nearly $600 million in local bus system enhancements ranging from road and bus station improvements along key routes to new or restored sidewalks to bus stops.

[…]

Metro, based on its 2020 budget, will spend $6.7 million to educate voters on the long-range plan, another $1.8 million for public engagement and $800,000 on legal expenses related to the plan.

The key distinction is Metro staff can talk about the plans for new projects and the benefits all they want: They just cannot encourage people to support them in November or spend any public money to solicit people’s vote for the ballot item in an official capacity.

“As a body, as a group, they cannot take action to in effect campaign for an issue,” Austin election lawyer Buck Wood said.

Board members, however, can campaign individually, with Patman and others already making the rounds without Metro staff in tow. Supporters started a political action committee, Moving to the Future, aimed at passing the bond. The campaign initially was led by Ed Wulfe, the Houston real estate tycoon active in local politics for the past 50 years. After Wulfe died July 28, engineer Wayne Klotz stepped in as treasurer.

I believe the same stricture exists on ISD and community college boards when they put capital bonds up for a vote. I confess, I don’t quite understand the rationale for it, but everyone seems to be able to play the game, so it’s not worth worrying about. I’ll have an interview with Carrin Patman for you to listen to next week – we talked about lots of things, from bikes to autonomous vehicles to I-45 – which I hope will help clarify the referendum a bit. As the story notes, there is no organized opposition as yet, though a couple of Mayoral candidates and one of the lesser At Large candidates are against it. Barring anything strange I expect this to pass, and the campaign for the referendum will boost overall turnout.

The special election lineups are set

From the Trib:

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Democrats in HD-28 have coalesced around Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz, who was the only Democrat to file. Markowitz, a Katy teacher, unsuccessfully ran last year for State Board of Education District 7, which overlaps with HD-28.

Six Republicans, meanwhile, filed for the seat, making it likely that there will be a runoff featuring one of them and Markowitz, who will not have to split the Democratic vote. The GOP contenders are:

  • Anna Allred, a Houston anesthesiologist from the same doctor group as [outgoing Rep. John] Zerwas
  • Gary Gates, a Rosenberg businessman who has unsuccessfully run for several other offices, most recently railroad commissioner in 2016
  • Gary J. Hale, a Katy business owner who has his own intelligence firm and is a retired intelligence official with the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Tricia Krenek, a Katy attorney and former member of the Fulshear City Council
  • Sarah Laningham, a Richmond woman who works in sales and unsuccessfully ran for House District 14 in 2018
  • Clinton D. Purnell, a Katy man who works in logistics and customs compliance

[…]

The HD-148 candidates:

  • Rob Block (D)
  • Kendra Yarbrough Camarena (D)
  • Chris Carmona (I)
  • Carol Denson (D)
  • Anna Eastman (D)
  • Adrian Garcia (D)
  • Terah Isaacson (D)
  • Michele Leal (D)
  • Ryan McConnico (R)
  • Mia Mundy (D)
  • Anna Núñez (D)
  • Luis La Rotta (R)
  • Penny “Morales” Shaw (D)
  • Alva Trevino (D)
  • Chris Watt (D)

See here for my interview with Markowitz. Most of these HD148 candidates we’ve discussed before. One of the four new names is Ryan McConnico, who was Farrar’s Republican opponent in 2018. Of the other three, the only one I can positively identify is Michele Leal, though there’s not yet any biographical info on her Facebook page or nascent campaign webpage. Here’s the public part of her LinkedIn profile, which notes her past presidency of the Latin Women’s Initiative, which in turn tells me she also goes by Michele Leal Farah. As for Rob Block and Carol Denson, I can find people with those names, but none that I can say with any degree of certainty are the people who filed for this election. If you know something about them, please leave a comment.

Three other points of note: Like Campos (who lists each candidate’s occupation), I don’t know what the deal is with the quotes around Penny Shaw’s maiden name. I don’t know if longtime Republican Chris Carmona is calling himself an independent due to a pure-hearted change of mind or a cynical attempt to differentiate himself from the other Republicans. And despite filing a CTA, it appears that Anna Nunez did not follow through and enter the race. Not sure what happened there.

I do plan to do some interviews, how many is yet to be determined. In the meantime, there’s your field. The candidates from the third legislative special election, in HD100 to succeed new Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, are also in the Trib story. What do you think?

UPDATE: Apparently, the omission of Anna Núñez from the Trib list of HD148 candidates was the result of an error by the Secretary of State, which has now been corrected. My apologies for my role in extending that error.

Checking in on the Mayor’s race

Remember the Mayor’s race? Yeah, that.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

“The candidates have been running for months but were focused on fundraising and defining their message,” said Nancy Sims, a Houston political analyst. “Labor Day is when people tune into the election.”

The stretch-run of the race follows months of campaigning from Buzbee, a businessman and trial lawyer who announced his candidacy last October. King, also a businessman and lawyer, joined the race in February, then the field expanded in June with the candidacy of District D Councilman Dwight Boykins and, weeks later, former At-Large Councilwoman Sue Lovell.

Seven other lesser-known candidates also are running.

Despite vigorous campaigning from Turner’s opponents, the race has yet to reach its loudest pitch, in part because Turner only has appeared at campaign events without other mayoral candidates. Earlier this week, Buzbee and King criticized the mayor for not yet attending any candidate forums.

A Turner campaign spokesperson said he was not invited to the Wednesday forum or to a prior forum held in June by the Lake Houston Pachyderm Club, which Buzbee and King attended.

Even as the race heats up, mayoral candidates are battling with a bloated field of Democratic presidential candidates for the attention of Houston voters, who typically do not tune into city elections en masse until September.

“I think the challenge for the city candidates this year is that they are greatly overshadowed by the 2020 race,” Sims said. “They are struggling to get the attention they need for people to focus in on the city elections.”

Even without distractions, such as the Sept. 12 Democratic presidential debate in Houston, municipal candidates often struggle to drag voters to the polls: Just 27 percent of registered Houston voters turned out in the 2015 race, the first time since 2003 that turnout was more than 20 percent.

Still, the candidates are entering the critical part of the race with ample resources to draw out voters. Buzbee is self-funding his campaign and as of June 30 had contributed $7.5 million of his personal wealth. He had spent more than $2.3 million at the same point, and recently made a six-figure TV ad buy through the end of September.

“Tony Buzbee is a very unique candidate because of his ability to self-fund, so the normal rules and strategies regarding TV don’t really apply to him, because he effectively has a bottomless wallet,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “For other candidates who have to keep their powder dry, we’re unlikely to see major media buys until the first or second week of October.”

We’ve discussed this before, but as a reminder what drives turnout in city elections is a high profile referendum on the ballot. Contested Mayoral races are a factor too, but the addition of a referendum is the difference between 2003 (381K votes, Metro light rail referendum) or 2015 (286K votes, HERO repeal) and 2009 (181K, no referendum). Even without a contested Mayor’s race, a sufficiently hot ballot item can bring a lot of voters out – see, for example, 2005 (332K, anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment). The Metro referendum this year isn’t nearly as controversial as the 2003 one was, and there may not be any astroturf opposition effort to it, but Metro will be pushing voters to the polls as well as the candidates are, and that should boost turnout a bit.

I would also push back against the notion that no one pays much attention to the Mayoral races before Labor Day, and I’d point to the last three open Mayoral elections as evidence. Bill White was running those white-background ads in 2003 early on in the year. Annise Parker, Gene Locke, and Peter Brown were releasing position papers and talking about ideas for traffic, crime, neighborhoods, economic development, and a whole lot of other things well before September. The pension issue, HERO, and the Adrian Garcia will-he-or-won’t-he tease dominated 2015. Maybe it was just the more engaged voters tuning in, but speaking as one of those engaged voters, there was a lot more happening in those past elections than there has been in this one.

Why might that be? Well, let me summarize the campaigns of the main Turner opponents so far.

Bill King: I’m a rich old guy who was once the Mayor of a town with fewer people than most HISD high schools, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Tony Buzbee: I’m a rich guy who’s buddies with Rick Perry, and I’m not Sylvester Turner.

Dwight Boykins: I’m not Sylvester Turner, and I supported Prop B.

Sue Lovell: I’m not Sylvester Turner, I supported Prop B, and unlike these other guys I also supported HERO.

I mean, you tell me why the excitement level has been set to “Meh”. I don’t see a whole lot changing from here, and it will be turned up to 11 in the runoff. Welcome to election season, y’all.

Interview with Eliz Markowitz

Eliz Markowitz

In addition to the city, HISD, and HCC races, the November ballot includes two special legislative elections in the greater Houston area. The first one that came about is in HD28, where outgoing Rep. John Zerwas stepped down to pursue other opportunities. Zerwas drew a spirited challenge in 2018 from Meghan Scoggins, prevailing with 54% of the vote in a district where Beto got 48%. HD28 was always going to be a Democratic target in 2020, and now we get a chance to win it even before then. Stepping up for this challenge is Eliz Markowitz, who had run for the SBOE in 2018. Markowitz is an educator who works at the Princeton Review and is the primary author of a high school algebra textbook. She has also worked in medical research and is an alum of my alma mater, Trinity University, which as you know always gets a bump in esteem from me. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is not following the HD28 race, but the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet is, and it looks like it’s Markowitz versus a bunch of Republicans. Fine by me. You can see her finance report here, and you can listen to my interview with 2018 candidate Meghan Scoggins here.

The HD148 field keeps growing

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Here’s the current list of people who have filed CTAs for HD148, not including Rep. Jessica Farrar and her 2018 opponent Ryan McConnico:

83999 COH Isaacson, Terah C. 08/20/2019 State Representative Dist 148
65547 COH Yarbrough Camarena, Kendra J. 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84004 COH LaRotta, Luis Humberto 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
83177 COH Mundy, Mia 11/26/2018 State Representative Dist 148
83989 COH Shaw, Penny 08/18/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84010 COH Nunez, Anna L. 08/22/2019 State Representative Dist 148
69682 COH Carmona, Christopher 08/26/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84029 COH Watt, Christopher B. 08/29/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84025 COH Garcia, Adrian 08/28/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84022 COH Eastman, Anna M. 08/27/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84026 COH Trevino, Alva I 08/27/2019 State Representative Dist 148

The first six, down to Anna Nunez, I’ve discussed before. Let’s review the others.

– No, that’s not County Commissioner Adrian Garcia. According to Carlos Calbillo on Facebook, this Adrian Garcia is a “former Texas Senate intern, Aggie and campaign worker in the race that now-Commissioner Adrian Garcia ran for Congress against Gene Green. He is no relation to the Commissioner.” You can see a picture of him at the link above, and this appears to be his Facebook page. It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.

– Chris Carmona is a Republican who has run for office a couple of times – City Council against Melissa Noriega in 2011, County Attorney in 2016 (he lost in the primary), and for HD148 against Rep. Farrar in 2014 (he got 39.7%). Having more than one Republican in the race may split that vote enough to prevent either of them from making the runoff, though with this many Dems in there as well I wouldn’t count on that. He still has his 2016 campaign Facebook page; I assume he’ll repurpose it for this race.

Christopher Watt is an attorney (this is why I’m pretty sure I’ve got the right person). His Facebook page suggests he’s a Democrat. I didn’t find any campaign presence for him.

Alva Trevino is an attorney who serves on METRO’s Executive Leadership Team, having previously been METRO’s General Counsel. Her husband Joe Trevino ran for City Council in 2007, losing in the runoff to Jolanda Jones for At Large #5. She should be a serious contender, able to raise some money quickly, which everyone is going to need to do in this short campaign with a lot of background noise.

– Last but certainly not least is Anna Eastman, who I’d say starts out with the name recognition advantage after serving two terms as HISD Trustee. She announced her candidacy on Friday to a lot of acclaim.

So that’s eleven candidates, which needless to say is a lot, all running for an office that they’d need to run for again next year, beginning with the primary. I had originally thought that whoever won the special election would have a leg up in the primary, but now I’m not so sure. Mostly that’s because with this many candidates – and remember, the filing deadline is Wednesday, so there’s still time for more people to jump in – the potential for an unexpected result is non-trivial. As I’ve said many times, we’re going to have a super high turnout primary next March, which means the incumbent advantage for someone who would have literally just won, will be small. I’d still give the winner of this race the edge, but it would not shock me at all if we wind up electing someone else next year.

I’ll update again once the filing deadline passes. I’m going to do some interviews for this race, but we’ll see how many.

Interview with Nelvin Adriatico

Nelvin Adriatico

One more time in District J, where the changing of the guard has me a bit nostalgic for the time when the new 11-district map was first presented for our perusal. Nelvin Adriatico is the president and founder of brokerage firm Core Realty LLC. A native of the Phillippines , he has served as the President of the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce Texas and Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee for the Office of the New Americans and Immigrant Communities, among many other things. He would be the first Filipino-American to serve on Council if elected. Here’s the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District J is here, my interview with candidate Sandra Rodriguez is here, and my 2015 interview with incumbent CM Laster is here.

HD148 update

From TX Elects:

HD148 special: Houston physician Terah Isaacson established a campaign committee for a potential run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) as a Democrat.

Houston resident Lui LaRotta established a campaign committee for the race as a Republican. LaRotta chairs the Houston area chapter of the Republican Liberty Caucus.

It turns out that you can search to see who has filed a designation of Treasurer for a state office. Scrolling down to the appropriate level, we get the following, as of Tuesday morning the 27th:

83999 COH Isaacson, Terah C. 08/20/2019 State Representative Dist 148
65547 COH Yarbrough Camarena, Kendra J. 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
84004 COH LaRotta, Luis Humberto 08/21/2019 State Representative Dist 148
83177 COH Mundy, Mia 11/26/2018 State Representative Dist 148
83989 COH Shaw, Penny 08/18/2019 State Representative Dist 148

The date next to the candidates’ names represents the date that the CTA was filed. Obviously, the ones from the last few days are the ones of interest, but I’ll review them all anyway. I’m skipping the CTA that outgoing Rep. Jessica Farrar has filed back in 1993. I’m also skipping Ryan McConnico, who was the Republican candidate for HD148 in 2018. He got 32% of the vote. I have to confess, I had no idea who he was till I saw his name here and looked him up. The fact that he has a Treasurer doesn’t mean he has any interest in this special election, but I’ll note his name in passing here anyway, just in case.

Terah Isaacson does not appear to have a Facebook page. This was the top Google result for her.

Lui LaRotta does have a Facebook page, and a LinkedIn page. I can’t tell you much more than that.

Mia Mundy (pronounced “Maya”, as in Maya Angelou) was a candidate in the SD06 special election earlier this year; she got 2.13% in that four-candidate race. Her Facebook page says she’s running in this special election as well.

Kendra Yarbrough Camarena and Penny Shaw, we’ve already discussed.

It also turns out that Trib reporter Patrick Svitek has been maintaining a spreadsheet of 2020 candidates, which for these purposes also includes candidates for the November 2019 special legislative elections. His list has Isaacson, LaRotta, Yarbrough Camarena, Shaw, and one more:

Anna Nunez, former Communications Coordinator for the ACLU of Texas, now a Special Programs Coordinator for the UT Health Science Center. I met her in 2015 during the fight to save HERO, and she’s pretty terrific. The voters in HD148 will have a tough decision to make, there are several really good candidates.

This campaign is very much a sprint, with the real action likely to occur in the runoff. The first job for everyone in this race is to communicate to voters that there is a special election and that they are running in it. That runoff, by the way, would be the same day as the city of Houston election runoffs as well, so given the large number of Houston elections that are sure to head to a second round, including the Mayor’s race, it won’t be much easier to get attention to this race in December than it is now.

(In case you were wondering, the last time there was a November special legislative election in the Houston area in an odd-numbered year was in 2005, for the special election in HD143 to succeed the late Joe Moreno. That runoff did coincide with the city of Houston and HISD runoffs, as would be the case this year. The main difference was that there was a small number of mostly low-turnout runoffs in 2005. That won’t be the case this year.)

One more thing, on an unrelated note:

This is one of the top Democratic priorities for 2020, after the debacle in the special election last year. With Presidential year turnout, this should be very gettable for a good Democratic candidate – it’s more Democratic than CD23, won by Carlos Uresti by a 56-40 margin in 2016. We did screw it up last year, though, so nothing for granted. I’ll comb through that Svitek spreadsheet and do a more comprehensive post later based on some of the interesting things I’ve seen there.

Dave Wilson’s residency shuffle

There he goes again.

Dave Wilson

Dave Wilson, a controversial Houston Community College board member, has resigned from his position as a trustee for HCC’s District 2 and has announced that he will run for a District 1 position on HCC’s board.

Fellow board members questioned Tuesday whether Wilson’s latest move is lawful.

Wilson resigned in an email to the board around 10 a.m. Tuesday writing that his resignation will help him “focus full time” on his candidacy for HCC District 1.

“It has been a privilege representing the great citizens of District 2,” Wilson wrote. “The only regret I have is that I will not be able to cast my vote against the property tax increase at the next board meeting.”

“I’ve always had a plan to resign to run for District 1. I was planning on the right time to,” he said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

But Monica Flores Richart, an attorney and HCC District 1 [candidate], calls Wilson’s latest move a clear conflict, noting that Texas law requires candidates to live within the district they intend to serve for six months before filing for election. State law also requires an elected official who moves outside of the district in which they serve to vacate their seat.

This brings into question how Wilson, who previously served District 2, is now running for District 1.

Wilson confirmed that he no longer lives in District 2 and moved from the area in January, and he calls the state’s laws about residency “a real convoluted deal.”

“The law is vague, and I didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the law, so out of caution, I went ahead and resigned,” Wilson said.

“The one thing I do firmly believe, which is the real travesty of it all — the board can’t make a decision on residency,” said Wilson, who declined to comment further about his residency.

Richart, however, believes Wilson is attempting to take advantage of the situation.

“He’s spent six months giving the illusion that he’s living in District 2, while at the same time trying to establish residency in a completely different district in order to run for the seat,” Richart said.

See here for the background. The story gets a little convoluted from here, but the bottom line is that Wilson moved from one of his warehouses to another, in order to establish “residency” in District 1 while still serving as the trustee in District 2. He originally claimed the board couldn’t do anything about that, but in the end he resigned from his District 2 seat. The remaining members of the Board, as has been done in the past when other members have resigned, will appoint an interim member from the community, someone who is not running in November.

The bottom line is that Wilson is up to his usual shenanigans. If you live in HCC District 1 – check your voter registration if you’re not sure – you get to vote his sorry ass out of office this November. Here’s the press release Monica Flores Richart sent out about Tuesday’s hijinks:

Despite clear Texas law that requires a six month residency to run for HCC Trustee, and that establishes that an elected official vacates their seat when they move outside of the District in which they serve, Dave Wilson, who has been serving as Trustee of HCC District 2, has filed for a place on the ballot in HCC District 1 for the November 2019 election. This deceptive behavior is nothing new for Wilson, who made national news by winning his seat six years ago in a majority African American District by purposely giving voters the impression that he himself was African American.

The HCC Board today took decisive action and found that Wilson has vacated his seat as HCC District 2 Trustee. The College will be seeking a temporary replacement to serve in the seat until the conclusion of the November 2019 election. While this is good news for the voters of HCC District 2, the voters of HCC District 1 must continue to contend with a candidate whose fluid residency and antagonistic behavior bring conflict to HCC.

Since being elected to the Board, Wilson has used his combative style to publicly criticize his fellow Trustees in an attempt to erode the strong working relationship of the HCC Board. He has brought various losing lawsuits against HCC, and has also used his role, time and again, to spread his bigoted views of the LGBTQIA community.

The Houston Area and HCC District 1 deserve better than Dave Wilson.

Monica Flores Richart is an attorney and long-time education advocate in the Houston area. She and her family have resided in HCC District 1 for almost 15 years. She has an undergraduate degree from Princeton University in Public Policy and a law degree from Columbia University. More information about Monica and her campaign can be found at MonicaForHCC.com.

We have a chance to fix the travesty of Wilson’s 2013 election. Let’s not blow it.

Interview with Sandra Rodriguez

Sandra Rodriguez

We move now to District J, one of the two new Council districts drawn in 2011, part of the settlement agreement to add two districts when the city’s population hit 2.1 million. Mike Laster has been the only Council member from District J so far, but he’s termed out now, and seven people filed to succeed him. Sandra Rodriguez grew up in the Gulfton neighborhood and now serves as the President of the Gulfton Super Neighborhood Council, among other organizations and committees. She has served in the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office and now leads the Southwest Multi-Service Center and Hiram Clarke MultiService Center. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District J is here, and my 2015 interview with incumbent CM Laster is here.

The 2019 ballot order

Time once again for this risible ceremony.

The order of the November Houston ballot was set Friday morning in a random drawing at City Hall, laying out how the candidates for mayor, controller and city council will appear when voters cast their ballots this fall.

Here is the order of the 12-candidate field for mayor, as it will appear on the ballot:

  • Demetria Smith
  • Naoufal Houjami
  • Victoria Romero
  • Roy J. Vasquez
  • Kendall Baker
  • Derrick Broze
  • Sue Lovell
  • Bill King
  • Sylvester Turner
  • Tony Buzbee
  • Dwight A. Boykins
  • Johnny “J.T.” Taylor

Though candidates listed atop the ballot traditionally receive a slight bump, the leading candidates for mayor this year are clustered together near the bottom, appearing to deny anyone a major advantage in the order.

The order for all of the Houston elections can be seen here. The ballot order for other elections, such as for HISD and HCC, are set by the entities that run those elections.

This is the time when I put on my Grumpy Old Man hat, hitch up my Grumpy Old Man pants, and complain for the umpty-umpth time about the whole “drawing for ballot position” thing. We are in the year of our Lord two thousand and nineteen. We have been using electronic doohickies to conduct our elections for almost two decades. Why in the name of Ada Lovelace have we not made it a requirement to have those electronic election doohickies randomize the order of candidates for each individual voter? The idea that there could be even a tiny advantage to the candidate who through the luck of the draw gets to have their name first on the ballot is an utter abomination, one that could be resolved by one line of code in the programming of those electronic voting doohickies. Why oh Lord why can we not do this?

(The answer to my overwrought rhetorical question is almost certainly “because state law doesn’t allow it”, and to be fair the people who have a genuine, good faith interest in conducting better and fairer elections have much bigger fish to fry than this pet issue of mine. That said, there’s nothing at all partisan in what I am once again bitching about. I would like to think that a bill that mandated random ballot order, to be implemented as each vote-conducting entity upgrades its current voting machines, or by some deadline ten or so years in the future, would not draw strong opposition. Maybe someday, someone will take up my admittedly small-bore cause. Until then, I look forward to whining about this again early next year, when the ballot order for the 2020 primary races is established.)

Early voting locations coming to UH and TSU

Nice.

Students at the University of Houston and Texas Southern University will be able to cast ballots on campus in this November’s general election, the Harris County Clerk’s office announced Monday.

For the first time, the two schools will host early voting sites. In the past, students could only vote on campus on Election Day.

“It’s so important for young people to be involved in the election process,” said Diane Trautman, the county clerk.

Administrators at both schools, which combined have more than 50,000 students, praised the move.

“Hosting a polling station will allow convenient access for our thousands of students, faculty, staff and members of the community to exercise their civic right to vote,” said Jason Smith, vice chancellor at the University of Houston.

Here’s the County Clerk’s statement about this. This serves a number of needs – among other things, there has long been room for more EV locations inside the Loop – and it is consistent with the campaign Diane Trautman ran for County Clerk in 2018. Elections have consequences.

Interview with Anthony Nelson

Anthony Nelson

One more interview in District F, which as noted will have its fourth member of Council after this election since 2013. Today’s interview is with Anthony Nelson, one of the many younger candidates running for office this year, as reported in an earlier Chron story. Nelson is a student at Prairie View A&M, where he is majoring in political science. I don’t have much else in the way of biographical info for him, but I did find this candidate Q&A by a 501(c)(3) called Houston PetSet, an organization “dedicated to ending the homelessness and suffering of companion animals and elevating their status in society”; you can find the rest of their Q&As here. They covered ground that I didn’t, so read their Q&As and then listen to the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District F is here, my interview with candidate Tiffany Thomas is here, my 2015 interview with then-challenger, now outgoing incumbent Steve Le is here, and my 2015 interview with then-incumbent CM Richard Nguyen, who is also running for this seat, is here.

Bonus commentary on 2019 lineup

There was a lot of last minute activity at Monday’s filing deadline, as there usually is. Probably more so this year, as approximately ten percent of Houston adults are running for office this November. The point here is that the news stories and other available sources at the time had a lot to do to keep up with it all, and those of us who follow them now recognize there were things we missed the first time around. So, after another review of the Erik Manning spreadsheet and the City of Houston 2019 election page, here are some semi-random observations about things I didn’t note or comment on the first time around. I’ll run this down race by race.

Mayor: Mostly, I’m going to point out the filers and non-filers that are worth mentioning for one reason or another. The usual reason is going to be because my reaction to the late filers was along the lines of “oh, Lord, not that person again”. Exhibit A is Kendall Baker, who has cluttered up multiple ballots since the 2007 special election in At Large #3. Most recently, he ran in HD137 as a Republican in 2016, and in District F in 2015. Baker wasn’t a late filer – he had a June finance report – but as I prefer to think pleasant thoughts I’d forgotten he was in the race. He was one of the anti-HERO loudmouths who has his own problems with inappropriate behavior.

District B: Willie D did not file, so we will have a maximum of one Geto Boy on Council.

District C: Kendra Yarbrough Camarena did not file. She instead filed for the special election in HD148. Erik is tracking those filings in his spreadsheet as well. Yarbrough Camarena appears to be the first official entrant in this race. And don’t worry about District C, there are still thirteen candidates for that office.

District D: Andrew Burks rises from the ash heap to run again. Can you still be a perennial candidate if you once won something? My ruling is Yes. Burks served one action-packed two year term in At Large #2 from 2011 to 2013 before being defeated by David Robinson. I was wondering about how the term limits charter amendment would apply to him, and I found the answer, in Article V, Section 6a: “Persons who served a single term prior to 2016 who are not serving in City elective office in 2015 and thus not subject to subsection (b), shall be eligible to serve one additional four-year term in the same City elective office.” So there you have it.

District F: Adekunle “Kay” Elegbede is listed as a Write-In Candidate. Obviously, this means he will not appear on the ballot, so what does it mean? Here’s the applicable state law. Basically, this means that any write in votes for this candidate will actually count (as opposed to write-ins for, say, “Mickey Mouse” or “Ben Hall”), and there’s no filing fee.

District J: Jim Bigham, who ran against Mike Laster in 2015 did not file. He did not have a finance report, so no big surprise.

District K: Republican Gerry Vander-Lyn, who ran in the special election that Martha Castex-Tatum won, and one other person filed. Neither will provide much of a challenge to Castex-Tatum, but their presence means that no one is unopposed this cycle.

At Large #1: Ugh. Yolanda Navarro Flores, defeated by Zeph Capo in 2013 from the HCC Board, is back. In addition to her ethical issues while on the HCC Board, she was also pals with Dave Wilson. ‘Nuff said.

At Large #2: Apparently, it really isn’t an election without Griff Griffin. I had honestly thought he’d gone away, but no. The funny/scary thing is that he could easily wind up in a runoff with CM Robinson.

At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino also jumps out of District C into this race. There are now 11 candidates in AL4, so it’s not like he landed in that much smaller a pond.

At Large #5: I guess Eric Dick isn’t having any fun on the HCDE Board, because here he is. As per the Andrew Burks Rule, which I just created, I label him a perennial candidate as well. Note that HCDE Trustees are not subject to resign to run, so Dick may continue on in his current gig, as Roy Morales had done for most of the time when he was on the HCDE Board.

HISD II: Lots of people signed up for this one after all. The one name I recognize is Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who had run for City Council in District B previously. Here’s an interview I did with her back in 2011, and another from 2013. Rodrick Davison, the one person to post a June finance report, wound up not filing for the office

HISD IV: Reagan Flowers was a candidate for HCDE in Precinct 1 in 2012. I interviewed her at the time. I feel like she ran for something else since then, but if so I can’t find it.

The 2019 lineups are set

Barring any late disqualifications or other unexpected events, we have the candidates we’re getting on our 2019 ballot.

More than 125 candidates turned in paperwork to run for city office by Monday’s filing deadline, setting up a packed November ballot likely to leave every incumbent with at least one opponent.

The unusually crowded field is driven largely by the city’s move in 2015 to extend term limits, allowing officials to serve two four-year terms instead of three two-year terms, said Rice University political science Professor Bob Stein.

“It used to be that you just wouldn’t run against an incumbent. You would wait until they term-limited out,” Stein said. “Candidates are no longer getting the two-year pass.”

Thirteen candidates have filed to run for mayor, including incumbent Sylvester Turner, who is running for a second four-year term. Turner’s challengers include his 2015 runoff opponent, Bill King, lawyer and business owner Tony Buzbee, Councilman Dwight Boykins and former councilwoman Sue Lovell.

By Friday evening, the city’s legal department had approved applications from at least 97 candidates. Another 28 candidates had filed for office and were awaiting approval from the city attorney’s office, and an unknown additional number of candidates filed just before the 5 p.m. deadline.

Ten candidates were officially on the ballot for mayor, with three others awaiting legal department approval by the close of business Monday.

Early voting begins Oct. 21 and Election Day is Nov. 5.

Late additions include retreads like Orlando Sanchez, who I guess hasn’t found steady work since being booted as Treasurer, and Eric Dick, seeking to become the next Griff Griffin, who by the way also filed. Sanchez is running for Controller, while Dick is in At Large #5, and Griff is once again running in At Large #2.

And there’s also HISD.

Two Houston ISD trustees filed paperwork Monday to seek re-election and will each face a single challenger, while several candidates will jostle to fill two other open seats on a school board that could soon be stripped of power.

HISD Board President Diana Dávila and Trustee Sergio Lira made their re-election runs official hours before Monday’s afternoon deadline, while trustees Jolanda Jones and Rhonda Skillern-Jones will not seek another term.

Thirteen newcomers will aim to unseat the two incumbents or win vacant spots on the board. The prospective trustees will square off in a November general election and, if necessary, runoff elections in December.

So much for them all resigning. You can read each of the stories in toto to see who gets name-checked, or you can peruse the Erik Manning spreadsheet, which is fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Note also that in the HCC races, Monica Flores Richart has the task of taking out the reprehensible Dave Wilson, while Rhonda Skillern-Jones faces Brendon Singh and Kathy Lynch Gunter for the trustee slot that Wilson is abandoning in his desperate attempt to stay on the Board, and Cynthia Gary appears to have no opposition in her quest to succeed Neeta Sane. Leave a comment and let us know what you think of your 2019 Houston/HISD/HCC candidates.

Special election set for HD148

Straight from the source.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

Governor Greg Abbott today issued a proclamation announcing Tuesday, November 5, 2019 as the special election date to fill the Texas House of Representatives District 148 seat recently vacated by former Representative Jessica Farrar.

Candidates who wish to have their names placed on the special election ballot must file their applications with the Secretary of State no later than 5:00PM on Wednesday, September 4, 2019.

Early voting will begin on Monday, October 21, 2019.

Read the Governor’s full special election proclamation.

That is the same as the special elections in HD28 and HD100. Already some candidates are circling around this, some of more interest to me than others.

Also on Monday, HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos announced she is exploring a run to replace state Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, who announced her retirement last week. Santos, whose seat is not up for re-election until 2021, would not be required to vacate her position to run.

All due respect, but no. Not with all that is going on with the Board right now. I mean, I understand the desire to jump ship, but no.

One person says she’s in:

After 2018, several leaders asked if I planned to run again, my reply was- we have great seasoned leaders in my district. The Honorable @RepFarrar has served District 148 since 1994 and has earned the utmost respect for her decades of services, especially for women’s health issues & civil jurisprudence.
Like Jessica, I will also bring my legal background (19-year attorney) to this legislative office.
I ask for your support as I seek to uphold and bring continued progress to the community that I grew up with.
Vote Penny Morales-Shaw for 148.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you!

Shaw was a fine and hardworking candidate for Commissioners Court last year. She would be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

Also considering the race, in a post that is not public, is John Gorczynski, currently serving as the Chief of Staff to Rep. Sylvia Garcia; he was also her Chief of Staff while she was in the State Senate. He would also be a fine member of the Legislature if elected.

I’m sure we’ll hear from others in short order, as September 4 is not far away. As with the specials that happened during the session, this will be a sprint, and it will also carry the need to run for the nomination in March. I feel pretty confident saying that the winner of the special will be the heavy favorite for the nomination (yes, I’m assuming a Dem will win), I’m just saying that this is a more-than-one-race deal. We’ll know soon enough.

HISD has a lawsuit against the TEA over that ethics investigation

I missed the first act of this story, but that’s okay because this is where it gets interesting.

Lawyers for Houston ISD’s school board are seeking to stop the Texas Education Agency from replacing the district’s elected trustees following a state investigation into alleged misconduct, arguing the agency conducted a “one-sided investigation” that reached conclusions “unsupported by any credible evidence.”

In an amended lawsuit filed Friday, lawyers for the nine-member board cite several ways in which agency leaders violated trustees’ rights and failed to fully investigate allegations of wrongdoing. The lawsuit comes two weeks after TEA investigators determined several trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, improperly influenced district contracts and overstepped their governance role — allegations denied by the HISD board’s lawyers.

The 49-page complaint argues that TEA officials were determined from the outset of the inquiry to oust HISD’s school board, failed to fully investigate allegations and incorrectly applied the law to their findings. In addition, the lawsuit alleges the agency is violating federal civil rights laws by only replacing school boards in districts where a majority of residents are people of color.

“TEA intends to punish the district by replacing Houston ISD’s elected board of trustees with an unelected board of managers — a sanction that is unavailable under the law and facts of this case,” David Campbell, a lawyer hired by HISD’s school board, wrote in the complaint.

[…]

TEA officials already had appointed a conservator to oversee the district due to chronically low performance at several campuses. Appointing a state board of managers is considered the next most serious sanction at the agency’s disposal. Morath has not issued a final decision, which likely will come in the next several weeks.

The HISD board’s lawsuit, however, seeks to negate virtually all of the TEA’s findings and stop Morath from replacing the board. Trustees originally filed the suit in June, seeking to preempt possible state sanctions resulting from any finding that board members violated the open meetings law. Friday’s amended petition expands trustees’ defense in response to specific allegations by TEA investigators.

Lawyers for the trustees argue that board members did not violate the Texas Open Meetings Act because they did not meet together as a group of five or talk about replacing Lathan.

“At the time of these discussions, no board members discussed any terms of employment, or any other matters regarding the potential appointment of Dr. Saavedra as interim superintendent,” Campbell wrote.

As noted, this lawsuit is about the results of the ethics investigation. That investigation began in January and expanded to include things beyond the original open meetings complaint. The lawsuit was filed in June, and if there was a story about that I missed it. I’m not going to comment on the merits of this lawsuit or its likelihood to succeed – in addition to Not Being A Lawyer, I haven’t had a chance to read the thing yet – but as noted even if this succeeds then the HISD Board is still not out of the woods because of the accountability ratings. Oh, and yesterday was the filing deadline, and none of the four trustees up for re-election had filed as of the weekend; I don’t know yet who’s in and who’s not, but will have an update on that by tomorrow. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure.

Interview with Tiffany Thomas

Tiffany Thomas

We move now to District F, a district that will have its fourth Council member since 2013 with the departure of controversial first-term member Steve Le. Six people are lined up to compete for this open seat, many of whom had entered the race when it was still a challenge against an incumbent. One of them is Tiffany Thomas, who served from 2013 to 2017 as a Trustee on the Alief ISD school board. She has been in non-profit development management for over fifteen years, working for a variety of agencies focused on education, healthcare, and direct services, and is now an assistant professor at Prairie View A&M. She is a founding member of New Giving Collective, the first Black giving circle in Houston with the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Here’s the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, my 2015 interview with then-challenger, now outgoing incumbent Steve Le is here, and my 2015 interview with then-incumbent CM Richard Nguyen, who is also running for this seat, is here.

We await HISD’s fate

I mean, I think we know what it’s going to be, but there are still some questions.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath came to and left the Greater Houston area Thursday without addressing one of the biggest issues on his agenda: the fate of Houston ISD’s school board.

In the coming weeks, Morath likely will be forced to decide whether to replace all trustees governing Texas’ largest school district or close one of HISD’s most historic campuses, the consequence of historic Wheatley High School failing to meet state academic standards for a seventh consecutive time. While Morath was in no mood to discuss the looming decision following the release of academic accountability ratings Thursday — he hurried out of an Aldine ISD school without answering questions or making a statement on HISD — a review of comments by the commissioner, his top deputies and state education leaders offers insight into the likely process.

Barring a successful appeal of Wheatley’s grade, which became public Thursday, Morath is widely expected to strip power from the nine HISD trustees and appoint a new board of managers comprised of Houston-area residents. The process likely would take multiple months to complete, with a replacement board seated sometime in early 2020.

“These are not going to be people that live in Austin,” Morath told the Houston Chronicle in the spring of 2018, when asked about the possibility of a state-appointed board taking control of HISD. “These are going to be well-qualified people that live in Houston that just didn’t want to run for school board before, but they wouldn’t mind being appointed.”

See here for the background, with the reminder that the Wheatley academic rating issue isn’t the only peril that the HISD Board faces. I was told by someone who teaches at Wheatley that their rating basically comes down to one student. The reason for this is that there are myriad sub-categories at each school that are also included in the accountability ratings, and not meeting standard in any one of them can cause the school to get an F even if the rest of their ratings were sufficient. It’s possible Wheatley could prevail in that appeal, and by all means they should pursue it, but as noted that would still not be the end of HISD’s troubles.

At this point it seems clear that the TEA will not close down Wheatley, which is the right call, so barring anything unexpected it’s all about how they go about replacing the Board. The Chron asks some good questions about how this may play out.

Intervention must be undertaken with respect and careful attention to community concerns. New board members must reflect the district’s diversity and its values. They must understand the communities they serve as well as grasp the importance of inclusion and best practices in their governance. The panel should include experienced educators, as well as candidates with financial expertise and civic involvement. There must be a clear plan for implementation, for measuring success — and a defined exit strategy.

Parents, educators, students and taxpayers, therefore, must step up to ask hard questions and demand that the state provide honest answers. How will members be chosen? What criteria will be used to ensure that state appointees prioritize the needs of HISD students? Will there be additional financial resources to help schools improve? Will a strong ethics policy be in place and enforced?

Above all, Morath and TEA must promise — and provide — transparency. Parents need to be confident that their children’s welfare is at the center of every decision, every discussion. Houston is done accepting any less.

As we know, and as both the story and the editorial state, the history of TEA intervention is mixed at best, so we better know going in what the goals are and what the path to achieving them is. Otherwise, we’re just wasting our time.

On to the next big financial issue for the city

It’s always something.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Four years ago, the main source of Houston’s deteriorating financial health — billions of dollars in unfunded pension obligations — loomed over the race for mayor, promising a massive test for the winner.

Now, Mayor Sylvester Turner, having overhauled the city’s troubled pension systems, is running for re-election and touting the reforms as his signature policy accomplishment. He faces several challengers, including Bill King, the businessman he defeated four years ago, millionaire lawyer and self-funder Tony Buzbee, City Councilman Dwight Boykins who has clashed with the mayor over firefighter pay and former Councilwoman Sue Lovell, as well as a handful of lesser known candidates.

Whoever wins will be forced to confront another simmering financial problem: Houston’s $2.4 billion unfunded liability for retiree health care costs, the result of years of deferred contributions, an aging city workforce and, experts say, growing medical costs that outpace the city’s revenue.

The total has grown in recent years by an average of $160 million a year, or more than $400,000 a day. That is less than the $8.2 billion unfunded pension liability’s $1 million-per-day growth rate, but enough to require swift and sweeping changes, experts and local officials say.

“We’re in the earlier stages in this. It’s not a crisis by any means, but it would be better to address it now,” Controller Chris Brown said. “We don’t want to let this thing grow to another $8 billion unfunded liability. … Let’s pay a little now instead of paying a lot later.”

The unfunded liability refers to the city’s obligations in the coming decades for retired employees’ medical, life and prescription drug insurance, commonly called other post-employment benefits, or OPEB. Houston has covered its OPEB expenses through a pay-as-you-go system, akin to making a minimum credit card payment while the balance grows.

[…]

“We have also been in discussions with the employee groups working toward consensus, while keeping in mind the sacrifices employees have made to help us achieve the city’s historic pension reform,” Turner said.

The proposals align with recommendations from a separate firm, Philadelphia-based PFM, which said in its 10-year Houston financial plan the city should eliminate OPEB coverage altogether for retirees or dependents who have access to other coverage.

Other cities have taken a similar approach, limiting cuts for retirees and older employees who were promised certain benefits, while requiring bigger sacrifices from younger and future employees with more time to prepare.

The good news here is that the city doesn’t need to go through the Lege to fix this, and the basic plan for a fix is already in the works. Mayor Turner will be proposing his plan later in the year, and most likely that will put the city on a path towards containing this problem. There’s still a big piece of the puzzle missing, though.

Even after reigning in the city’s OPEB liability, Brown said, the city faces numerous looming financial problems, including annual deferred maintenance and, in the recent city budget, recurring spending that outstrips recurring revenue. In addition, Houston has been operating under a voter-imposed cap on property tax revenue since 2004 and has trimmed its tax rate to avoid collecting more money than allowed.

“This is another piece of the larger problem that’s looming for the city of Houston, which is the structurally imbalanced budget,” Brown said. “Essentially, we want to be paying for all of our current expenses in the fiscal year in full. And we don’t want to defer anything out, i.e. kick the can down the road.”

Yes, the revenue cap, which costs the city many millions of dollars for no good purpose. There’s a lot the city can do to control costs, but not everything is within its power. Some things just get more expensive over time, and if the city is not allowed to reap the benefit of economic growth, it cannot deal with those expenses. If we can get past this issue, and Mayor Turner gets re-elected, then maybe, just maybe, we can get a rev cap repeal measure on the 2020 ballot. There will never be a friendlier electorate to deal with t.

State Rep. Jessica Farrar departs

This was unexpected.

Rep. Jessica Farrar

State Rep. Jessica Farrar, a Houston Democrat who has served in the Texas House for over two decades, is retiring from the lower chamber at the end of September.

“I want to thank my constituents and the people of Texas for the high honor and privilege of representing them in the Texas Legislature these last 25 years,” Farrar said in a statement Friday. “My time in public service has provided me the opportunity to serve my state and community in ways for which I will forever be grateful.”

Farrar, an attorney first elected to the lower chamber in 1994, represents House District 148, which covers parts of northern and western Houston. The district has historically been a safe seat for Democrats.

In her statement, Farrar called her decision to retire a “very difficult and emotional decision” — and said her constituents “will always be deep in my heart.”

An early departure, Farrar said, would allow for her successor to take office and “hit the ground running” ahead of the 2021 legislative session. She called on Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for her seat on Nov. 5, the same day as Houston municipal elections, “to afford the most robust voter turnout at the least taxpayer expense.”

“I am encouraged in my decision to retire by enthusiasm and intelligence of emerging progressive leaders who will ensure that the momentum of positive change will continue forward,” she said. “While I will be stepping back from public office, be assured that I will continue being involved when the cause is good and just.”

Farrar served as vice chair of the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence during this year’s legislative session. She also chaired the Texas House Women’s Health Caucus. During the legislative session in 2011, Farrar served as chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

You can see her announcement on Facebook here. She cites the recent deaths of her father and father-in-law, and the need for her and her husband to be able to care for their mothers as factors in her decision to step down. Once you reach that point, and you’re reasonably sure there are no special sessions in the air, you may as well go all the way and give your successor the chance to get a head start and a boost in seniority. I’m going to presume that like HD28, we’ll get a November special with an early September filing deadline. Figure we’ll see the announcement from Greg Abbott on Monday or Tuesday.

I’m still kind of shocked by this, and more than a little sad. Jessica Farrar is one of the good ones, and she was my Rep from the time I moved into the Heights in 1997 until they redistricted me out of HD148 in 2011. She’s a friend, she did a lot to move Texas forward in her 25 years of service, and I wish her and Marco and the dogs all the best.

HISD misses on accountability ratings

There’s now a second reason for the TEA to step in and take over HISD.

Houston ISD moved a major step closer to temporarily losing local control over its school board Thursday, as long-awaited state academic accountability ratings showed one of the district’s longest-struggling campuses received its seventh consecutive failing grade, triggering a Texas law requiring harsh sanctions.

Barring a successful HISD appeal of Wheatley High School’s rating in the next several weeks, state law mandates that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath now must close the historic Fifth Ward campus or replace the district’s much-maligned school board with a state-appointed governance team. Morath and the agency’s leaders have strongly suggested they would appoint a new school board if forced to act.

The state law demands action against any district with a campus receiving five consecutive failing grades as of 2018, regardless of the district’s size. Wheatley avoided triggering sanctions last year because it received an accountability waiver due to Hurricane Harvey, but the campus narrowly fell short of meeting standards this year.

HISD received a “B” grade for districtwide performance, on par with many of the state’s largest urban districts. Its overall score of 88 marked a 4-point improvement over last year.

Twenty-one HISD schools received an “F” grade, equal to 7.5 percent of all district campuses. An identical number of HISD schools did not meet state academic standards last year, though most received a Harvey waiver.

Notably, several HISD high schools met standard after struggling in recent years. Kashmere High School received a “C” grade, the first time it has met standard in 11 years. Madison, Sterling and Washington high schools also earned “C” grades, while North Forest and Yates high schools narrowly missed a “C” rating and scored “D”s.

See here, here, and here for the background.As with the ethics investigation, in which the HISD board has a chance to respond, there’s an appeal process available for Wheatley. It should be noted, they came pretty close to making the grade, and the other three all did quite well. Which is not to say that all is wine and roses, as other schools got failing grades, and we could wind up in a similar place in a couple of years. Plus, as the Trib noted, other school districts in the same situation as HISD took advantage of the partnership provision of HB1842 to put the day of reckoning off for two more years. As we well know, that option was rejected by HISD in response to public pressure, without ever being fully explored. I thought that was a bad decision at the time, and I feel very justified in feeling that way today.

At this point, the only viable way forward that I see for anyone who wants to fight this is to explore legal action. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has been very clear in past public statements that the law does not give him any discretion in this matter. Either the failing schools (just Wheatley in this case) are closed, or a new Board of Trustees is appointed. A lawsuit could challenge that interpretation, and who knows, maybe it could succeed. I doubt it, but it’s got to be better odds than trying to put pressure on state leadership to find an alternative.

HISD Trustee Sue Deigaard wrote this op-ed about how we got here, detailing several points of failure by the Board. Perhaps if all nine Board members offered to resign on the spot, thus allowing an election of a new Board, that might satisfy the TEA. It would have to happen right now, because the filing deadline in Sunday, and we’d need to get a bunch of candidates up and running by then. This too is probably a pipe dream, but I don’t know what else there is to suggest at this time.

UPDATE: From this morning’s version of the story:

During an appearance with Morath on Thursday, state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, said HISD officials did not take advantage of funding opportunities and legislative maneuvers that could have staved off intervention. He cited the school board’s refusal to surrender control of long-struggling campuses to outside entities, an arrangement that could have temporarily prevented sanctions and brought an additional $1,800 per student to those campuses.

“We’ve given them every opportunity to be successful, and they continue to choose not to,” said Huberty, who chairs the Texas House’s Public Education Committee.

I hate to keep harping on the partnership thing, but as you can see it’s going to be used against the Board. And I hadn’t even known about the extra funds for students that was available.

Special election set in HD28

Looks like I was a bit confused about this.

Rep. John Zerwas

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday set a Nov. 5 special election to fill the Texas House seat being vacated by state Rep. John Zerwas, who last month announced he would retire from the lower chamber.

Candidates have until Sept. 4 to file for the seat, and early voting begins Oct. 21, Abbott’s office said in a news release.

Zerwas, R-Richmond, was first elected in 2006 and chaired the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee during the last two legislative sessions. He said he would step down Sept. 30 from his seat, which covers parts of Fort Bend County from Simonton to Mission Bend and Katy to Rosenberg.

[…]

Last week, former Fulshear city councilwoman Tricia Krenek announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination in Zerwas’ district, House District 28. Democrat Eliz Markowitz, a former candidate for the State Board of Education, is also running.

See here and here for the background. I had assumed that since Zerwas was not officially resigning until September 30 that no special election could or would be scheduled till after he was out. Maybe I’m just scarred by the Sylvia Garcia situation. Anyway, this will still be an interesting test of the trends that began last year, though probably more muted since it will be just another election in November rather than a headliner in May. I expect other candidates to get in, though probably no one serious unless they also plan to run for their party’s nomination in March, since that’s the more important of the two. In the meantime, if you live in this district, keep your eyes open for an opportunity to help out Eliz Markowitz.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: HISD and HCC

One last look at July finance reports. I’m lumping together reports for HISD and HCC, in part because there’s some crossover, and in part because there’s not all that much to these. As always, refer to the Erik Manning candidate spreadsheet, and note that for a variety of reasons people may not have had a report to file for this period. January reports for all HCC incumbents are here and for all HISD incumbents are here. I only checked on those whose terms are up this year for this post.

Yes, despite the recent unpleasantness (which as of today may be compounded), there will be elections for HISD Trustee. HISD incumbent reports can be found via their individual Trustee pages, while reports for candidates who are not incumbents are found on a separate Elections page for the year in question, which for 2019 is here. Annoying, but it is what it is. Reports for HCC incumbents and candidates can be found here, though this includes a number of people who are not running for anything but have had reports in the past. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to it, but at least they’re online now. Here are the reports of interest:

Rodrick Davison – HISD II

Sergio Lira – HISD III

Jolanda Jones – HISD IV
Matt Barnes – HISD IV
Ashley Butler (CTA) – HISD IV

Diana Davila – HISD VIII
Judith Cruz – HISD VIII

Dave Wilson – HCC 1

Rhonda Skillern-Jones – HCC 2

Neeta Sane – HCC 7


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Davison            0          0        0           0
Lira               0          0        0       6,007
Jones              0          0        0      12,260
Barnes        18,246      2,586    2,491      15,310
Davila             0          0   19,178           0
Cruz          14,717      3,340        0      10,043

Wilson             0          0   12,782           0
S-Jones        9,300      4,310        0       5,281
Sane               0      4,766        0       6,553

As before, not a whole lot of activity, so let’s talk again about who’s running for what. So far, Rodrick Davison is the only candidate for the now-open HISD II position. Amazingly, Rhoda Skillern-Jones was first elected in 2011 when the seat was vacated by Carol Mims Galloway, and she was unopposed in that race. I did not find a website or campaign Facebook page for Davison (his personal Facebook page is here), but a Google search for him found this, which, um. Matt Barnes, Ashley Butler, and perennial candidate Larry McKinzie are running in HISD IV, which is now also an open seat. Still no word about what Diana Davila will do, but the filing deadline is Sunday, so we’ll know soon.

As we know, Monica Flores Richart is the candidate tasked with ending the execrable Dave Wilson’s career on the HCC Board. Brendon Singh is also running in HCC 2. Cynthia Gary, who has been a Fort Bend ISD trustee and past candidate for Sugar Land City Council, is the only candidate so far seeking to win the seat being vacated by Neeta Sane. We’ll check back on this after the filing deadline, which is August 16 and thus rapidly closing in. If you know of any further news relating to these races, please leave a comment.

Metro referendum is set

Here we go.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board members voted Tuesday to ask voters in November for permission to borrow up to $3.5 billion, without raising taxes. The money would cover the first phase of what local leaders expect to be the start of shifting Houston from a car-focused city to a multimodal metro region — even if it does not put everyone on a bus or train.

“Even if you ride in your car, it is more convenient if there are less cars on the road,” Metro chairwoman Carrin Patman said.

The item will be on the Nov. 5 ballot, the first vote for new transit projects in 16 years for the Houston region.

The bond proposition would authorize Metro to move forward on a $7.5 billion suite of projects including extending the region’s three light rail lines, expanding the use of bus rapid transit — large buses operating mostly in dedicated lanes — along key corridors such as Interstate 10 and to Bush Intercontinental Airport, and creating two-way high-occupancy vehicle or high-occupancy toll lanes along most Houston’s freeways.

“It doesn’t do everything we would like to do, but it does everything we can afford to do,” Metro board member Jim Robinson said.

In addition, the ballot item calls for extending the general mobility program, which hands over one-quarter of the money Metro collects from its 1 percent sales tax to local governments that participate in the transit agency. The 15 cities and Harris County use the money mostly for street improvements, but they can use it for other projects such as sidewalks, bike lanes and, in limited cases, landscaping and traffic safety and enforcement.

Local elected officials and business leaders will soon stump for the plan, which has not drawn sizable or organized opposition but is likely to require some persuasion.

[…]

Transit officials would also need to secure an estimated $3.5 billion in federal money, most likely via the Federal Transit Administration, which doles out money for major transit projects. Federal officials contributed $900 million of the $2.2 billion cost of the 2011-2017 expansion of light rail service.

The federal approval will largely dictate when many of the rail and bus rapid transit lines are built as well as where the projects run, Patman said. Though officials have preferred routes for certain projects — such as light rail to Hobby Airport or bus rapid transit along Gessner — those projects and others could change as the plans are studied further.

“Routes will only be determined after discussions with the community,” Patman said. “I don’t think anyone needs to worry about a route being forced upon them.”

Metro would have some latitude to prod some projects along faster than others, based on other regional road and highway projects. Speedier bus service between the Northwest Transit Center at I-10 and Loop 610, for example, could happen sooner if a planned widening of Interstate 10 within Loop 610 remains a priority for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, which has added the project to its five-year plan. Work on widening the freeway is scheduled for 2021, giving Metro officials a chance to make it one of the first major projects.

I must admit, I’d missed that HOV lane for I-10 inside the Loop story. I wish there were more details about how exactly this might be accomplished, but as someone who regularly suffers the torment of driving I-10 inside the Loop, I’m intrigued. This would effectively be the transit link from the Northwest Transit Center, which by the way is also the location of the Texas Central Houston terminal and downtown. This is something that has been bandied about since 2015, though it was originally discussed as a rail line, not BRT. (I had fantasies about the proposed-but-now-tabled Green Line extension down Washington Avenue as a means to achieve this as well.) Such is life. Anyway, this is something I definitely need to know more about.

You can see the full plan as it has now been finalized here. Other BRT components include a north-south connection from Tidwell and 59 down to UH, which then turns west and essentially becomes the Universities Line, all the way out to Richmond and Beltway 8, with a dip down to Gulfton along the way, and a north-south connection from 290 and West Little York down Gessner to Beltway 8. The Main Street light rail line would extend north to the Shepherd park and ride at I-45, and potentially south along the US90 corridor into Fort Bend, all the way to Sugar Land. Go look at the map and see for yourself – there are HOV and park and ride enhancements as well – it’s fairly well laid out.

I feel like this referendum starts out as a favorite to pass. It’s got something for most everyone, there’s no organized opposition at this time, and Metro has not been in the news for bad reasons any time recently. I expect there to be some noise about the referendum in the Mayor’s race, because Bill King hates Metro and Tony Buzbee is an idiot, but we’re past the days of John Culberson throwing his weight around, and for that we can all be grateful. I plan to reach out to Metro Chair Carrin Patman to interview her about this, so look for that later on. What do you think?

Interview with Cynthia Reyes-Revilla

Cynthia Reyes-Revilla

We continue today with another interview in District H, where first-term incumbent Karla Cisneros has drawn two challengers so far (the filing deadline is Sunday, so we’ll see if there are others). Cynthia Reyes-Revilla was the first candidate to enter the race, and posted some decent fundraising numbers for the June reporting period. Reyes-Revilla is a realtor and resident of the Near Northside. She has a broad background in civic engagement, serving on PTOs and Shared Decision Making Committees at her neighborhood schools, neighborhood groups such as Near Northside Safety Committee and Northside Dawgs, and on the City of Houston Safety Committee. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, my interview with candidate Isabel Longoria is here, and my 2015 interview with CM Cisneros, then a candidate for H, is here.

Revisiting City Council redistricting

This would be interesting.

At Wednesday’s council meeting, District E Councilmember Dave Martin said the city should consider redrawing city council district boundaries, particularly in his own district.

District E includes two far-flung suburbs, Kingwood and Clear Lake. Martin said it’s a “ridiculously arranged council district” where it is difficult to coordinate meetings.

“I’ve always felt that the folks in Clear Lake do indeed deserve their own representation there, because it is tough for someone to drive 60 miles on a weekend to get to a certain area,” Martin said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed with Martin’s assessment of District E.

“I will tell you it is an interesting drawing,” Turner said. “Because you certainly cannot go from Kingwood to Clear Lake for a town hall meeting, two town hall meetings.”

Turner said he would support taking a look at the map after the 2020 census.

“I don’t know what the thinking was back then,” Turner said. “But it does seem to be not in the best interest of two areas that are so geographically separated. I think it’s worth taking a look at.”

There’s a copy of the map embedded in the story, and you can also see it here, with links to individual district maps here. It’s true that District E is this two-headed amalgam of far-apart suburbs, with a bit of connecting tissue in between, but any proposed solution to address that is complicated. The problem is that the Kingwood part of E abuts District B, and the Clear Lake part borders on Districts D and I. Any redesign of the current map that would split District E into separate parts has to take into account merging a bunch of white Republicans with a bunch of black and Latinx Democrats. Even before we take Voting Rights Act requirements into consideration, I can guarantee you that a substantial number of people would be unhappy with any alternative.

What you could do is reduce the size of individual districts to be roughly the size of the Kingwood and Clear Lake pieces, then redraw the map with however many districts there would be with such smaller population requirements. That would result in a map with anywhere from 15 to 21 districts, depending on how much you padded out the two halves of E. We can debate whether that’s a good idea or a bad idea, but we’d also probably need a charter amendment to make it happen.

Personally, I’d be willing to at least explore the idea, and maybe have someone draw a few sample maps, to give a picture of what this might look like. Honestly, I think we ought to consider the same for the Legislature, where individual districts have grown in population quite a lot in recent years. This is especially true for Senate districts, which used to be smaller than Congressional districts but are now larger and will get more so in 2021 when Texas is given additional seats in Congress. It’ll never happen of course, but that doesn’t mean we should never think about it.

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

As I’ve said before, I’m going to be doing a limited set of interviews this fall, with some more likely to follow for the runoffs. (Which will then blend right into the 2020 primaries, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) My schedule and the sheer number of candidates don’t allow for anything more. One race that I do need to focus on is the one in my own district, District H, where two challengers have emerged against first-term incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. Isabel Longoria is someone I’ve known for a few years, through her work on the staffs of Rep. Jessica Farrar and then-Sen. Sylvia Garcia. She has also worked as a political consultant, and serves on the City of Houston’s Planning Commission, the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, and a bunch of other things. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, and my 2015 interview with CM Cisneros, then a candidate for H, is here.