Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

endorsements

Endorsement watch: Close choices

The Chron endorses on both sides in SD17.

Republican State Senator, District 17: Joan Huffman

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

On the other side:

Rita Lucido

State Senator, District 17: Rita Lucido

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Getting into the county

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

Adrian Garcia

County Commissioner, Precinct 2: Adrian Garcia

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

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

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

Penny Shaw

County Commissioner, Precinct 4: Penny Shaw

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

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

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

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

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

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

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess

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

County Clerk: Diane Trautman

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Congresspalooza

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

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

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

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

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

United States Representative, District 22: Sri Preston Kulkarni

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

Dayna Steele

United States Representative, District 36: Dayna Steele

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: County criminal courts

One last round of judicial endorsements.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 11: Gus Saper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 13: Raul Rodriquez

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

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

Judge, County Criminal Court No. 15: Kris Ougrah

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: CD02 and the road ahead

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

Todd Litton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Two for CD07

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

Jason Westin

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

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

Lizzie Fletcher

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: Judges and more judges

For probate court.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 2: Michael Newman

Candidate Jim Peacock told us that temperament is the key issue in this race, and it’s true that good judges should be courteous, calm and respectful. But whether a candidate’s experience prepares him to don the black robe is easier to ferret out than whether his temperament is suited for it.

While Peacock and his opponent, Michael Newman, 61, have each been practicing law for more than three decades, Newman has handled more cases in the probate courts. The University of Houston Law Center graduate has practiced probate law for 19 years, and he’s running because he is tired of appearing before judges who don’t know the law, don’t know how to apply the law or who have prejudged his case.

[…]

Voters should cast their votes for Newman in this primary contest, and Peacock should run again. The winner in this race will face Republican candidate Ray Black in the general election.

Judge, County Probate Court No. 4: James Horwitz

James Horwitz worked early in his career as a social worker, and he’s running for this bench because it helps with the probate courts’ mental health docket. In his family law, estate planning and probate practice, Horwitz, 68, spent 40 years dealing with the grieving, the divorced and the disabled. The University of Houston Law Center graduate also wants to use the bench as a bully pulpit to help the community.

I’ve got a Q&A from Peacock here and from Galligan, whom the Chron also urged to run again, here. I’ve got one from Horwitz in the queue. These are tough races, with each candidate getting some support along the way.

In the meantime, here are the endorsements in the civil courts.

District Judge, 55th Judicial District: Latosha Lewis Payne

Our nod goes to Latosha Lewis Payne in this coin toss race. Both Payne and her opponent, Paul Simon, have spent 18 years practicing law and each has attained excellence in their respective careers. Both candidates have devoted significant volunteer time to helping indigent people secure needed legal representation. What’s more: Both candidates displayed a clear understanding of the present inefficiencies of this court and suggested thoughtful ways to improve them. Payne was raised in Acres Homes, graduated from the University of Texas Law School and went onto become a partner at a major Houston firm.

District Judge, 113th Judicial District: Rabeea Collier

Voters should cast their ballots for the more seasoned candidate in this primary contest. To put it simply, Rabeea Collier, 35, has the requisite experience to serve on this bench. A graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Collier has practiced for more than a decade, currently specializing primarily in civil litigation, and has brought a considerable number of jury trials to verdict. She also earns high marks on her ability to communicate courteously and clearly, important skills for an effective civil district court judge.

District Judge, 189th Judicial District: Scot “dolli” Dollinger

The candidates for the Democratic nomination for this seat are among the most affable and personable of any whom we have screened. Both men are qualified, possess the appropriate temperament for the bench and appear to be in the race for reasons of public service. But decide we must, and Scot “dolli” Dollinger stands out for the intangible attributes of focus and advocacy that he exhibited during the screening.

Fred Cook has the advantage of a broader legal background, having tried banking, bankruptcy, construction, contract disputes, insurance, oil and gas, real estate and trust cases, while Dollinger’s practice revolves around personal injury suits in which he has represented both insurance companies and plaintiffs. Although Dollinger’s legal experience is narrower in content, he’s gained the distinction of being board certified in his field.

District Judge, 234th Judicial District: Lauren Reeder

Lauren Reeder, 33, earns our support for her crisp communication style, her impressive academic background and her passion for the job. This Harvard Law School graduate has experience in both civil and criminal matters; she started at a big law firm working on complex civil litigation and is now at the district attorney’s office trying felony cases.

District Judge, 269th Judicial District: Cory Sepolio

How can civil district judges use their position to ensure that everyone, wealthy or poor, receives true justice in their courts? We pose that question to candidates throughout the endorsement process, and Cory Sepolio’s precise answer reveals an admirable jurist in the making.

“The biggest thing to fix the playing field is jury service,” Sepolio said during a meeting with the editorial board. “One of the problems I see all the time is that folks that are flying down here with all the money and defending themselves, they have more representation in the jury box than the mom and pops. We need to get with the clerk’s office and we need to expand the pool of possible jurors.”

District Judge, 281st Judicial District: George Arnold

George Arnold has 26 years of experience in civil litigation, primarily insurance defense. He also appears to have the even temperament exhibited by the best judges. But the Baylor Law School graduate earned our support for his crisp communication style and his thoughtful specificity about ways to improve the existing system. Arnold, who will be 51 on the March 6 primary voting day, promised, if elected, to act on unopposed motions within three business days, to schedule hearings within 14 days of request through the use of contingency settings and to find an online scheduling system that can be implemented.

Whew! Here are all the associated Q&As:

Paul Simon
Scot Dollinger
Shampa Mukerji (269th)

Like I said, there are some tough choices, and there are some where there appears to be a consensus. I’ll definitely be leaning on the endorsements this year.

Endorsement watch: Sylvia and more

The Chron makes the obvious choice in CD29.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

The frontrunner is clearly state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, the only current elected official on the ballot, who has name identification with this area’s voters that stretches back more than 20 years. The breadth of her experience as Houston city controller, a Harris County commissioner and a state senator gives her an almost insurmountable advantage in this race. Congress could use someone who so intimately understands the problems faced by city, county and state governments. So Garcia has our endorsement, but not without some reservations.

Garcia was the only member of the state Senate willing to vote against Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s budget, which relied on a hike in property taxes. Democrats should lament losing that voice in Austin.

It’s also noteworthy that Garcia will be 68 years old on the day she hopes to be inaugurated into Congress. It’s a safe bet she won’t stay in Washington as long as her predecessor. When she retires, the Houston area will lose her seniority on Capitol Hill.

And as a number of her opponents point out, young people are dropping out of the political process, rightly realizing that gerrymandering has rendered November congressional elections all but meaningless. Millennial voters might be drawn back into this election if they had the opportunity to support a dynamic younger candidate. We’re especially impressed by Roel Garcia, a whip smart Latino lawyer who we hope to see back on the ballot running for another office.

Yes, and at the risk of being indelicate, Sylvia Garcia will be old for a Congressional first-termer. In a body that runs on seniority, that’s a non-trivial concern. Of course, if she’s won her first election for CD29 back in 1996, she’d have plenty of it. Life is like that, and it’s not her fault this is her next best chance at the seat. As for the complaint about millennials, I mean come on. For one, how is this on Sylvia? Two, there apparently is a dynamic younger candidate in this race. Millennials are free to vote for him if he’s what they’re looking for. Three, this district includes State Rep districts that are and have been represented by millennials – Armando Walle in HD140, and Ana Hernandez in HD143. Four, there are plenty of candidates from that cohort elsewhere on the ballot. You know, like the 26-year-old Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. And I swear, if when the Chron makes an endorsement in that race for November, they say something about her “lack of experience”, I’m gonna break something.

Anyway, now that we’ve all gotten that out of our system, let’s look at some other recent endorsements of interest. The DMN, who like the Chron endorsed Andrew White for Governor over the weekend, seeks a new direction at Lite Guv.

The difference between an ideologue and a partisan can be measured in how they approach issues and policy. To that end, we recommend Scott Milder, a candidate with a conservative ideology over Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, a rank partisan.

Both candidates represent the Republican Party. But Milder, 50, a former city council member from Rockwall and senior associate at Stantec, an engineering and architectural firm, brings to the table a more nuanced and reasonable outlook on the issues facing the people of Texas.

We know how well that goes over in Republican primaries these days. Look no further than what Greg Abbott is doing for proof.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed Hollywood Park Mayor Chris Fails in his primary challenge of four-term state Rep. Lyle Larson, who became the latest of several Republican incumbents to have Abbott come out in support of a primary opponent.

Abbott posted a video on his YouTube channel Monday morning in which he praised Fails’ stance on property tax reform.

“[Fails] knows firsthand the devastating impact that rising property taxes have on families and on small businesses,” Abbott said in the video. “I know that he will work with me to advance my plans to empower Texas voters to rein in skyrocketed property taxes for the people of his district.”

Fails told the Rivard Report that the endorsement in the state House District 122 primary came because of what he called Larson’s track record of voting to block property tax reform.

“My opponent has voted to block property tax reform in the past and I have committed to support Governor Abbott’s plan to get people some control over their property taxes,” Fails said.

Larson, who chairs the House Natural Resource Committee, told the Rivard Report that he thought Abbott was “misinformed on this endorsement.”

“It’s sort of strange,” Larson said. “[Fails] was against two of the three issues that [Abbott] called in the special session, tax reform and annexation [reform].”

[…]

David Crockett, chair of the political science department at Trinity University, said Abbott’s decision to endorse the primary challengers of several incumbents would be a test of his influence.

“Greg Abbott wrote down a list of names at the last session of people who annoyed him,” Crockett said. “He is now going to use whatever influence he has to demonstrate, if he’s successful, his ability to punish people who criticize him and his agenda.”

That’s certainly one part of it. There’s also this.

Larson is the third House Republican Abbott has endorsed against following special session where he had vowed to keep track of which members embraced his agenda — and which ones didn’t. The governor backed primary challengers to state Reps. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, in November and Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, last month.

Both Davis and Larson were the stars of a news conference during the special session last year where they urged Abbott to add ethics reform to his 20-item agenda. The governor’s office later accused them of “showboating” and said their “constituents deserve better.”

Larson said he noticed a common theme among the three incumbents that Abbott is opposing: They all supported Larson’s proposed ban on “pay-for-play” appointments. The House passed the legislation, House Bill 3305, during the regular session, but it died in the Senate.

“To be honest … as a member of a party that prides itself on reform, we need to fix this issue before we lose control of the executive branch and the Legislature,” Larson said Monday.

That’s so 2014, Lyle. Welcome to today’s GOP.

Endorsement watch: Chron for White

The Chron endorses Andrew White for Governor.

Andrew White

Democrats need to choose the candidate who, quite simply, will appeal to the most voters in a contest against Abbott. We believe that candidate is Andrew White.

White, 45, is a Houston entrepreneur who’s never before run for office, but he’s not exactly a political novice. He’s basically the Democratic George W. Bush of this race. Like Bush in 1994, he’s never won an election. And like Bush, his most valuable political asset is his father’s name. He’s the son of former Gov. Mark White, an education reformer who was respected by many Texas Democrats until the day he died last August.

White has cast himself as a common sense Democrat running for governor “to bring sanity and reason back to state government.” His top priority is improving public education, and he’s campaigning on a pledge to give every public school teacher a $5,000 a year raise. White proposes to fund his teacher pay hike by closing loopholes under which big businesses routinely dodge paying billions of dollars in commercial property taxes.

We’re not exactly fans of political dynasties, but White ultimately won our endorsement with his answer to one obvious question. He’s the only Democratic gubernatorial candidate who seems to have given serious thought to the state government’s role in protecting Gulf Coast residents from flooding. While the other candidates who spoke to our editorial board offered only vague thoughts about this critical issue, White specifically discussed the need for a third reservoir in west Harris County and the importance of leveraging federal funds to build a coastal barrier system.

After Hurricane Harvey, flood control should be the top concern voters in the Houston area consider when they cast their ballots. Maybe White has a grasp of the issue only because he lives here and he piloted his boat around inundated neighborhoods rescuing flood victims. But any serious candidate for governor speaking to people in Houston should have good answers for basic questions about this topic.

Yesterday was a pretty good day for the White campaign, as he garnered the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement as well. (The AFL-CIO went for Lupe Valdez.) I prefer Valdez myself, but I can’t argue with the Chron’s reasoning. Frankly, flooding issues and the state’s lackadaisical response – it was worthwhile to call a special session on bathrooms, but not Harvey recovery? – as well as the uselessness of Congress ought to be a prime campaign issue for Dems up and down the ballot. If White has the best answers for these questions, that will undoubtedly make him a more appealing candidate.

Endorsement watch: Family courts

After nearly a week off, the Chron gets back to endorsing.

Family District Judge, 246th Judicial District: Angela Graves-Harrington

Angela Graves-Harrington earns our nod in this primary contest against a qualified opponent, Charles Collins. These two candidates graduated from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law within two years of each other. Both have more than a decade of experience in family law. Both are running to compel change in a bench that they view as disrespectful. But while Graves-Harrington has represented different clients in custody disputes, divorce litigation, mediations and arbitration, Collins has had only one client for over a decade – the state of Texas. Collins has worked as assistant attorney general and then managing attorney for the state attorney general, child support division. Although he’s handled a high-volume legal practice and has managed a team, his practice lacks the breadth of Harrington’s. Collins displays the steady, even demeanor of a good judge and should run again. But voters should back Graves-Harrington, 41, in this race.

Family District Judge, 280th Judicial District: Beth Barron

Voters have a difficult decision in the race for this domestic violence court. Both candidates are well-qualified and have dedicated their careers to providing protection to persons who face family violence. In this near coin-toss race, our nod goes to Beth Barron, 58, who as an assistant district attorney for over 21 years, has represented more than 10,000 victims of family violence seeking protective orders against abusers. The South Texas College of Law Houston graduate has also published family violence guidelines that are utilized throughout the state for the Texas District and County Attorney Association to assist victims and their legal representatives. Opponent Barbara Stalder is board certified in family law and deeply engaged in this field as a practitioner, a victim, an expert, a teacher and through her work at various worthy non-profits. Stalder even earned our endorsement when she ran for this bench in 2014. However, Barron’s level-headed experience in the matter of protective orders, which are the bread and butter of this court, is extraordinary. Voters can’t go wrong.

Family District Judge, 309th Judicial District: Kathy Vossler

Kathy Vossler, 55, deserves the Democratic nomination for this bench. This experienced family law attorney is a people-person who has developed long-lasting relationships with families she has helped in almost 20 years of practice. The University of Houston Law Center graduate exhibits the appropriate demeanor for this bench and is running to ensure that litigants are treated respectfully. Vossler advanced some promising ideas to improve court efficiency and is also passionate about a mentorship program for young lawyers to train them to help litigants who struggle to handle their own divorces. Democrats should get behind this qualified candidate who has seen flaws in the system and promises to find remedies for them. Also running is Linda Marie Dunson, an attorney who has served on the Children at Risk law advisory board.

Do I have Q&As? Of course I do, from Collins, Vossler, and Dunson, with one from Stalder in the queue. There are a couple of Republican endorsements in there as well. Still a lot of courts to go, and we haven’t gotten to the non-judicial races yet, either. Early voting starts February 20.

Endorsement watch: Two more benches

Bench One:

Judge, 313th Judicial District: Natalia Oakes

Natalia Oakes, 66, earns our support in this primary contest against a qualified opponent, John Stephen Liles. Although Liles has spent nearly twice as long as a member of the bar, Oakes has more experience in juvenile courts. Voters should want a candidate with that specific focus to serve on this specialty bench.

Both candidates favor a rehabilitative approach for juveniles. But while Liles emphasizes vocational training, Oakes displays a deeper knowledge of area rehabilitation and mental health resources. She has dedicated her legal career to helping children and her background as a teacher makes her well-suited to evaluate the most effective programs available to guide young people to a second chance in leading a successful life. Voters should give this Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University graduate the chance she requests “to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”

I’ve got a Q&A for Oakes in the queue – it will publish on Monday. A Q&A for Tracy Good, who is also in this race but apparently didn’t screen with the Chron, is here.

Bench Two:

Judge, County Civil Court-at-Law Court No. 2: Jim F. Kovach

Democratic voters have a choice between two qualified candidates with very different backgrounds. Jim F. Kovach is a former board chair of Legacy Community Health who has spent more than 20 years working almost exclusively in Harris County civil courts at law. Stanley Santire is a former military officer with extensive national and international experience, including working as chief legal counsel at Lockheed Aircraft International.

We encourage voters to back Kovach, 52, a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center. While Santire has an impressive career, Kovach has the on-the-ground experience in these specific courts that makes for a qualified judge.

I don’t have a Q&A from Kovach, but I do have one from Santire, which is here. That link also contains endorsements for two Republican primaries on these benches.

Endorsement watch: 14th Court of Appeals

More judicial races. We have a long way to go with these.

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 3: Jerry Zimmerer

This primary race presents voters with a choice between two candidates who each offer different strengths.

Jerry Zimmerer, who earned two Master of Law degrees from University of Houston Law Center in addition to his law degree from South Texas College of Law, considers this judicial bench an academic job. He has spent close to 25 years in private practice, and yet the candidate had trouble touting any cases where he fought for justice or had a lasting impact on jurisprudence in Texas.

His opponent, Joseph R. Willie II, is a retired dentist and Navy veteran in addition to being a lawyer, and he pointed to several significant appellate cases where he successfully advocated for the innocent and underdogs. However, Willie’s law license twice suffered a fully probated suspension imposed by the State Bar of Texas for running afoul of professional codes. At the end of the day, it’s hard to endorse someone with blots on his record even if he evinces the passion for the law that Willie demonstrates.

Our nod goes to Zimmerer, 63, who switched parties decades ago, noting that the Republican Party “has left me as it has left a lot of people.”

[…]

Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 8: Michele Barber Chimene

Michele Barber Chimene, our choice for Democratic nominee, has 25 years of experience practicing appellate law and has handled more than 50 civil appeals. It’s preferable that candidates have appellate experience for this bench, as the rules governing appeals are different than the rules of civil procedure that govern trials.

Chimene, 60, is a University of Houston Law Center graduate and started her career as a geologist. She is admitted to practice before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, and told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that she firmly believes the Legislature should make the law, and the judiciary should just apply it.

Chimene’s Q&A is here, and a Q&A for her opponent Meg Poissant is here. They’ve split a couple of group endorsements, while Zimmerer has received all of the ones that have been given out in his race. His opponent doesn’t appear to have any web presence, which would have been a problem for me in any event. There was also a Republican race endorsement at this link, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Endorsement watch: Fast out of the gate

Another thing that has no doubt been affected by the tons of candidates running for office this year: The Chron’s endorsement process, which got off to a necessarily early start yesterday as they recommended candidates in a couple of open-seat judicial races.

Jason Luong

District Judge, 185th Judicial District: Jason Luong

Voters can’t go wrong in this primary race for an open seat but our nod goes to the more experienced candidate, Jason Luong, a practicing attorney for 18 years. Luong left a civil law practice to become a prosecutor and in 2014 unsuccessfully ran for a county criminal court-at-law seat. He now works as a defense attorney. Luong’s resume checks all the prestige boxes: graduated cum laude from Rice University, law degree from the University of Texas, a clerkship with a federal district judge and an internship with the Texas Supreme Court. He likes to tout the fact that he prosecuted a member of Aryan Brotherhood under Texas’s hate crime statute, but Luong, 43, also recognizes that the reality of our criminal courts means that, as he told the editorial board, “administration of justice is often about logistics.” Anyone who has seen the lines for the elevator at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center knows how true that is.

His opponent, Brennen Dunn, is a compelling candidate in his own right, and we’ll be disappointed if we don’t see his name on the ballot again.

Dunn hasn’t been afraid to take risky positions in defense of liberty, such his involvement in efforts to end a civil injunction “safety zone” at the Southlawn apartments. He also has a charisma that would make him a prime candidate to run for a seat outside the judiciary, say for City Council. Dunn told us he is in the race because as a defense attorney, he can help one person at a time, while as a judge, he believes he can help hundreds. Notwithstanding Dunn’s impressive motivation, Luong’s well-rounded background, attitude of public spiritedness and his thoughtfulness about the problems facing the judiciary earn our endorsement.

There was also an endorsement on the Republican side of this race, as well as in another race where the Democrats have an uncontested primary. Here’s Brennen Dunn’s Q&A; Jason Luong hasn’t submitted one yet, but he did in 2014. Given that early voting starts in exactly one month (!), I figure we’ll be seeing endorsements more or less every day from the Chron from now till it’s over.

The price of disrespect

Greg Abbott makes another endorsement.

Rep. Wayne Faircloth

Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday endorsed the Republican challenger to Galveston state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, a move that is expected to deepen simmering divisions within the state Republican party.

In a new video, Abbott called Mayes Middleton a “principled conservative — a conservative who will be a tireless advocate for his constituents.”

“In the next legislative session, we have an opportunity to continue to pass reforms that make Texas even better,” Abbott said. “To do this, we need leaders who will work with me to advance a conservative agenda that will benefit every Texans our great state. That is why I am endorsing Mayes Middleton for state representative.”

Middleton is an oil and gas businessman and rancher from Chambers County and is a board member of the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Abbott’s endorsement of Middleton is his second of a GOP primary challenger to a Republican incumbent running for reelection to the Texas House. In November, he endorsed Houston businesswoman Susanna Dokupil, who is challenging state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.

Like Campos, you may be wondering what’s up with that. Faircloth has no reputation as a Joe Straus/Sarah Davis “moderate”, and he hasn’t gone all maverick-y on bathroom bills or toll roads or whatever else. He’s basically a standard-issue Republican, more “conservative” than average by the Mark Jones method, at least in the last session. What does Greg Abbott have against him?

If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not cynical enough.

Abbott started the week by endorsing Mayes Middleton, a conservative who until last year served on the board of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, over state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Galveston, who irked the governor’s circle by supporting a ban on “pay for play” gubernatorial appointments of big political donors.

So there you have it. Don’t get between Greg Abbott and his sugar daddies. Greg Abbott will cut you.

Interview season begins tomorrow

We’re a month into primary season, and we’re also six weeks out from the start of early voting. You know what I did over Christmas vacation? I interviewed a bunch of candidates, that’s what. You will begin to see the results of that labor tomorrow, with more to come. Doing a bunch of interviews is always a challenge, but this year I had the additional task of trying to decide which interviews to do, as there just wasn’t the time to get to every race.

I have done interviews for a long time. I do them mostly to give candidates in races where there usually isn’t much media coverage the chance to be heard, and thus to give the voters who may not otherwise be able to know anything about them beyond what they can find on the Internet a chance to hear them speak for themselves. I usually stay neutral in the races where I do interviews (the 2009 Mayor’s race, where I was open about supporting Annise Parker, is an exception) because I want all the candidates to feel like I’m being fair to them, but also because I see my mission in doing these interviews as informative. I have always wanted to be broad and inclusive.

This year, the huge slate paired with the compressed primary timeline makes that goal unattainable. I thought about ways I might try to work around that, but in the end I decided that was neither practical nor desirable. And as I thought about that and considered my options, I realized I could approach things a little differently, and in doing so help me decide which races to prioritize.

What that means is this. For this year, I have decided there are some races where the better use of my platform is to make an endorsement rather than schedule and try to execute multiple interviews. If people come here to learn about candidates, then for this year I think it would be best for me to just say who I’m voting for in certain races. I’ve not done this before, and I may never do it again, but this year this is what feels right.

So with that long-winded preamble out of the way:

I endorse Beto O’Rourke for US Senate. Do I really need to say anything about this one?

I endorse Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. She works hard, she votes the way I want her to vote, I have supported her in previous elections, and I see no reason to do otherwise this year.

I endorse Sen. Sylvia Garcia in CD29. I was redistricted out of SD06 before she was elected there, but she has been an excellent successor to my former Senator, the late Mario Gallegos. She’s the clear choice in CD29.

I endorse Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15. In the hostile environment that is the State Senate under Dan Patrick, Whitmire’s experience and institutional knowledge are vital. Four years ago, I asked his primary opponent Damien LaCroix why we should forsake Whitmire’s seniority and clout for a freshman. He didn’t have a good answer then, and I doubt he has one now. We hope to get a lot of new Democratic blood in every branch of government this year, but we still very much need John Whitmire.

I endorse Allison Lami Sawyer in HD134. I do plan to interview Sawyer – I’m in discussion with her to set a time and place at the time of publication – but I can’t say enough that her primary opponent, Lloyd Oliver, is a clown and an idiot, and we would be doing ourselves a grave disservice if we let him slip through the primary. Not that there’s ever a good year to screw around and nominate a deeply problematic schmuck like Oliver, but this is an especially bad year for that. Vote for Allison Sawyer in HD134.

I dual-endorse Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in HD133. They both look like fine people (I haven’t reached out to them for interviews yet but probably will), but with all due respect to them this isn’t really about them. It’s about the third candidate in the race, who is even more of a problem than Lloyd Oliver. This other candidate, whom I will not name, has a long history of harassing me over a silly thing I said about him back in 2002. You can vote for Marty Schexnayder in HD133, or you can vote for Sandra Moore in HD133, but please do not even think about voting for the other candidate in HD133.

I endorse Diane Trautman for Harris County Clerk. I’ve known Diane for a long time. She’s a hard worker, a great Democrat, and she has served ably as HCDE Trustee. She was also the first Democrat to announce for anything for this cycle, and has been on the ground campaigning for months. Gayle Mitchell is a nice person who ran against Ann Harris Bennett for this nomination on 2014. You can listen to the interview I did with her then here. Ann Harris Bennett was the better candidate that year, and Diane Trautman is the better candidate this year. Nat West is the SDEC Chair for SD13, and is by all accounts I’ve heard a fine person. As far as I can tell, he has no web presence for his candidacy. With all due respect, Diane Trautman is the clear choice.

I endorse Marilyn Burgess for District Clerk. I only met her during this cycle, but like Diane Trautman she’s been out there campaigning for months, and she has great credentials for this office. All three of her opponents entered the race in the last days of the filing period. Two have no web presence – one was a candidate for SBOE in 2016, and had no web presence then, either – and one has a mostly unreadable website. District Clerk is – or at least should be – one of the least political elected offices out there. It’s about doing a straightforward information management job. I have faith Marilyn Burgess can do that job, and I’m voting for her.

I endorse Adrian Garcia for County Commissioner in Precinct 2. I’d been pining for him to run for this office for months, so I may as well be consistent.

So there you have it. Interviews begin tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

The Nation on Our Revolution in Texas

Here’s a feature story in The Nation from before the holidays about Our Revolution, one of the many grassroots groups that have become prominent post-Trump to organize and get better people elected. The focus of this story is on what OR is doing in Texas.

When Jim Hightower, Nina Turner, and the Our Revolution road show rolled into Tyler, Texas, Ed Moore liked what he heard. “This is basically what we’ve all been needing,” explained the retired factory worker and union leader, who lives in a town where factories and unions have taken a lot of hits in recent years. Moore, a city councilman who represents working-class neighborhoods shaken by deindustrialization, nodded in agreement as Hightower channeled old-school Texas populism into a warning: “The powers that be…are knocking down the middle class. They are holding down the poor” and attacking “the essential ethic that holds America together—and that is the notion that we are all in this together.”

Our Revolution is the national group created by backers of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run with the goal of transforming the Democratic Party. When Turner, a former Ohio state senator who now leads the organization, finished her address by declaring, “We can change the world—one community at a time, one state at a time…. Tyler, Texas, can we do this?,” Moore joined the enthusiastic multiracial, multiethnic crowd, which was packed into an activity center on the local college campus, in answering: “Yes!”

[…]

Of the many resistance and rebuilding groups that are working on the ground to renew Democratic fortunes in the states, Our Revolution has made a notable decision: It’s betting big on Texas. As soon as the Sanders campaign gave way to the organization—with its slogan “Campaigns End, Revolutions Endure” and its promise to “transform American politics”—Hightower and a new generation of Lone Star populists vowed that they would make Texas Our Revolution’s most engaged, active, and, they hope, politically successful state branch. And after a shaky start, Our Revolution is developing into a muscular grassroots organization with nearly 500 chapters in 49 states and a burgeoning capacity to organize on behalf of issues and to help win elections. This is about the recognition of a need: Political movements that evolve out of presidential campaigns often have a hard time defining themselves as more than a reflection of a particular candidate and a particular moment in history. To get to that broader definition, groups that seek to fundamentally change parties and politics must deliver successful examples of how the politics of an insurgent presidential campaign can elect candidates in other races.

[…]

Designated by Our Revolution’s national board as the organization’s first state affiliate, the Lone Star group has hired staff; used Sanders-campaign lists to connect with grassroots activists; and begun organizing chapters at the local, county, and regional levels. It has spelled out a progressive agenda—a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, worker rights, support for immigrants, policies to address climate change, and a commitment to get big money out of politics—and it is encouraging political newcomers who came of age in the Sanders campaign, as well as the worker-rights, immigrant-rights, and Black Lives Matter movements, to start running in Democratic primaries and nonpartisan local elections.

Some of these newcomers have already won. Activist La’Shadion Shemwell, 30, was elected in June to the McKinney City Council in conservative Collin County, north of Dallas. “If I can do it,” Shemwell says, “having been arrested, being a minority, having tattoos and dreadlocks, being a poor person with all the odds against me—if I can do it, then anybody can do it.” In San Antonio, history teacher John Courage surprised nearly everyone by winning his uphill run for a City Council seat. “We can’t overstate how huge an upset this is,” said Our Revolution, which backed him. “Education activist John Courage has won his race in San Antonio’s most conservative district!”

The group plans to endorse candidates in 2018 for posts like state commissioner of agriculture—where Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel and rancher who has become a dynamic advocate for sustainable food production, seeks the Democratic nod—as well as in hundreds of down-ballot contests that have often been neglected in recent years. And it’s exploring the possibility of endorsing for governor and US Senate. There will be some primary fights, but in many parts of Texas, Our Revolution activists are working with local Democrats and stepping up as candidates supported not just by Sanders backers but by 2016 Clinton backers. “They’re bringing energy and a lot of young people into the party,” says Lorraine Broll, president of the Circle-C Area Democrats club in Central Texas. She isn’t a member of Our Revolution, but she’s pleased the group is organizing in places like Hays County, an area between Austin and San Antonio where Trump narrowly won in 2016 but where Democrats hope to make dramatic progress in 2018.

Part of the Our Revolution Texas strategy is to run in places where Democrats aren’t supposed to have a chance. To that end, it’s organizing not just frustrated Democrats but also independents and members of the largest political group in the state: nonvoters. This emphasis on expanding the voter roll and the candidate list intrigues Texans who have grown cynical after years of hearing that the demographics of this minority-majority state will soon make Democrats dominant.

It’s always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective on things in Texas. Sometimes they see things we don’t, sometimes they provide a reality check on our warped perspective. And sometimes you shake your head and say “you really should have run this past someone who knows something about Texas”. I have a few admittedly nitpicky examples of the latter to discuss.

First, a genuine question: What practical experience does Jim Hightower have in grassroots organization, and turning that into an effective means of not just communicating but actually winning elections? All due respect, but I can’t think of any prominent recent efforts he’s been involved in. He does his pundit/humorist thing, and that’s fine, but my perception here is that his main function is eminance grise and “Texas liberal person whose name non-Texan readers of The Nation will recognize”. Maybe I’m selling him short and if so I apologize, but it might have been nice to have had his recent accomplishments listed in the story.

The story does mention a couple of recent wins by OR-affiliated candidates, and that’s really where my observation about getting some input from a local applies. I mean, calling John Courage a “newcomer” is more than a little silly. Courage, who I interviewed in 2012 when he ran for State Senate, had previously run for Congress in 2006, and served on the Alamo Community College District Board of Trustees in the 1980s. I think highly of John Courage and am delighted that he won his race for San Antonio City Council, but he’s not a newcomer.

To be sure, there haven’t been that many opportunities for any group to exert influence in an election this year in Texas. The May elections were the main event – it would have been interesting to have seen what might have happened in a Houston election, but we won’t get that until 2019 – and there have been no legislative special elections as yet. The upcoming primaries will offer some opportunities. Kim Olson is unopposed in March, so that won’t tell us anything. The race to watch if you want to see what OR can do is in CD21, where OR has endorsed Derrick Crowe, who faces three opponents including one (Joseph Kopser) who has a lot of establishment support and has raised a bunch of money. I looked at the Our Revolution Texas Facebook page and didn’t see any other endorsement announcements – I don’t recall seeing any others while looking at all those Congressional candidate Facebook pages, either – but there’s still time and plenty of races to choose from. I will definitely be interested in that, and I expect there will be other players looking to leave their mark on the races in 2018 as well.

Anyway, read it and see what you think. Olson and Crowe were the only 2018 candidates mentioned by name, so I hope there will be more to be said about what OR is doing.

Filing news: The “What’s up with Lupe Valdez?” edition

On Wednesday, we were told that Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez had resigned her post in preparation for an announcement that she would be filing to run for Governor. Later that day, the story changed – she had not resigned, there was no news. As of yesterday, there’s still no news, though there are plans in place if there is news.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Candidates are lining up to replace Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez if she resigns to file for governor.

Valdez, who has led the department since 2005, has said she is considering the next stage — and earlier this month said she was looking at the governor’s race. Her office said Wednesday night no decision has been made.

Valdez could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

On Wednesday afternoon, media outlets, including The Dallas Morning News and WFAA (Ch. 8) reported that Valdez had resigned.

Lawyer Pete Schulte announced his candidacy Wednesday but later walked his intentions back after it became clear Valdez had not resigned.

He tweeted “Trying to find out how @dallasdemocrats Chair confirmed to some media today about @SheriffLupe retirement to run for Governor. Let me be clear: I have NO plans to run for DalCo Sheriff unless the Sheriff does retire early and will only run in 2020 IF Sheriff chooses to retire.”

At this point, I’m almost as interested in how the news got misreported as I am in actually seeing Valdez announce. Someone either said something that was true but premature, or not true for whatever the reason. I assume some level of fact-checking happened before the first story hit, so someone somewhere, perhaps several someones, has some explaining to do. I have to figure we’ll know for sure by Monday or so.

Anyway. In other news, from Glen Maxey on Facebook:

For the first time in decades, there are a full slate of candidates in the Third Court of Appeals (Austin), the Fifth Court (Dallas area) and the First and Fourteenth (Houston area). We can win control of those courts this election. This is where we start to see justice when we win back these courts! (We may have full slates in the El Paso, Corpus, San Antonio, etc courts, too. Just haven’t looked).

That’s a big deal, and it offers the potential for a lot of gains. But even just one or two pickups would be a step forward, and as these judges serve six-year terms with no resign-to-run requirements, they’re the natural farm team for the statewide benches.

From Montgomery County Democratic Party Chair Marc Meyer, in response to an earlier filing news post:

News from the frozen tundra (of Democratic politics, at least):
– Jay Stittleburg has filed to run for County Judge. This is the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s first candidate for County Judge since 1990.
– Steven David (Harris County) is running for CD08 against Kevin Brady. He has not filed for a spot on the ballot, yet, but has filed with the FEC.
– All three state house districts in the county will be contested by Democrats, but I’m not able to release names at this time.
– We have a candidate for District Clerk as well – he has filed a CTA, but is trying to get signed petitions to get on the ballot.
– We are still working on more down-ballot races, so hopefully there will be more news, soon.

It’s one thing to get Democrats to sign up in places like Harris and Fort Bend that have gone or may go blue. It’s another to get people to sign up in a dark crimson county like Montgomery. Kudos to Chair Meyer and his slate of candidates.

Speaking of Harris County, the big news is in County Commissioners Court Precinct 2, where Pasadena City Council member Sammy Casados has entered the primary. As you know, I’ve been pining for Adrian Garcia to get into this race. There’s no word on what if anything he’ll be doing next year, but that’s all right. CM Casados will be a great candidate. Go give his Facebook page a like and follow his campaign. He’ll have to win in March first, so I assume he’ll be hitting the ground running.

Adrian Garcia was known to have at least some interest in CD29 after Rep. Gene Green announced his retirement. I don’t know if that is still the case, but at this point he’s basically the last potential obstacle to Sen. Sylvia Garcia’s election. Rep. Carol Alvarado, who lost in SD06 to Sylvia Garcia following Mario Gallegos’ death, announced that she was filing for re-election in HD145; earlier in the day, Sylvia Garcia announced that Rep. Green had endorsed her to succeed him. I have to assume that Rep. Alvarado, like her fellow might-have-been contender in CD29 Rep. Armando Walle, is looking ahead to the future special election for Sen. Garcia’s seat. By the way, I keep specifying my Garcias in this post because two of Sylvia’s opponents in the primary are also named Garcia. If Adrian does jump in, there would be four of them. That has to be some kind of record.

Finally, in something other than filing news, HD138 candidate Adam Milasincic informs me that Greg Abbott has endorsed HD138 incumbent Rep. Dwayne Bohac. Abbott has pledged to be more active this cycle, as we’ve seen in HD134 and a few other districts, but Bohac has no primary opponent at this time. Bohac does have good reason to be worried about his chances next year, so it’s probably not a coincidence that Abbott stepped in this early to lend him a hand. Milasincic’s response is here, which you should at least watch to learn how to pronounce “Milasincic”.

UPDATE: I didn’t read all the way to the end of the statement I received from Rep. Alvarado concerning her decision to file for re-election. Here’s what it says at the very end:

I also look forward to following through on the encouragement that many of you have given to me about laying the groundwork for a campaign for a possible vacancy in Senate District 6.

As expected and now confirmed. Thanks to Campos for the reminder.

Endorsement watch: HISD and HCC runoffs

In two of the three runoffs on the ballot, the Chron endorsed candidates who did not make the cut. As early voting begins for the runoffs, they make their new choices and reiterate the one they got right.

Houston Community College System, trustee, District IX: Pretta VanDible Stallworth

Experience as a teacher in higher education combined with previous tenure on the HCC board sets apart Pretta VanDible Stallworth. An impressive résumé and firm grasp of the HCC board duties should earn her the seat being vacated by Chris Oliver, who pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in May.

VanDible Stallworth, 59, has worked as an adjunct professor at Bellhaven College and guest professor at DeVry University. She also served on the HCC board from 1989-1993. Her position as chaplain for Senate 13 District PAC also demonstrates a healthy ability to reflect the values of her community. While we’ve expressed a cautiousness about VanDible Stallworth’s belief that the board should be more involved with reviewing contracts, her education and experience makes her the best candidate in this race.

Gretchen Himsl

Houston ISD, trustee, District I: Gretchen Himsl

Houston Independent School District, the seventh-largest public school system in the nation and the largest in Texas, is at a crossroads. The school district is facing a takeover by the state for failure to improve about a dozen schools. This drastic step would mean that Houston voters would lose the right to elect officials to govern the school system, which educates 216,000 of our children, and for which we pay local property taxes. The district also faced a budgetary shortfall even before Hurricane Harvey cut a path of destruction across the district and damaged many of its schools.

These are hard issues, and voters need to elect the candidate best qualified to deal with the complexity.

Two candidates are in a runoff for trustee of District I, a position that was ably held by Anna Eastman for eight years: Elizabeth Santos, a schoolteacher, and Gretchen Himsl, who works at Children At Risk, a Houston nonprofit.

Both have demonstrated a commitment to students through their actions for many years, Santos in the classroom and Himsl in the policymaking and volunteer world. Both women care deeply about public education.

The two candidates also agree on several policy points, including the need to rein in high-stakes testing.

But the similarities stop there. The two candidates bring markedly different skill sets to the table. Himsl is a policy wonk and volunteer. Santos is a passionate educator and advocate.

At a time when the future of the entire district has been brought into question, voters should pick someone with the skills to analyze and articulate the policies that can save HISD – and the ability to implement them as solutions. That candidate is Gretchen Himsl.

Sergio Lira

Houston ISD, trustee, District III – Unexpired Term: Sergio Lira

We endorsed Sergio Lira during the general election and again encourage voters to pick him to fill the seat previously held by longtime trustee Manuel Rodriguez Jr., who passed away in July.

Lira, 56, has spent nearly his entire career as an educator in this southeast district, although he currently serves as an assistant principal at Bellaire High School. He has direct experience turning around underperforming campuses and was awarded “Teacher of the Year” when he taught in elementary schools. In addition to his classroom and administrative experience, Lira also has an impressive list of credentials: a master’s in education management, a certificate from the Superintendent Certification program and a doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of Houston-Clear Lake College of Education.

My interviews with the HISD candidates from earlier:

Gretchen Himsl
Elizabeth Santos

Sergio Lira
Jesse Rodriguez

I did not get the chance to interview the candidates in HCC IX. Early voting began yesterday, and runs through Tuesday, with Runoff Day on Saturday, December 9. Which, if you live in my neck of the woods, is the same day as Lights in the Heights. So vote early, it will be much more convenient.

Abbott v Davis

It’s getting real out there.

Rep. Sarah Davis

In what promises to deepen divisions in the Texas Republican Party, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday endorsed a GOP challenger to incumbent state Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston.

Abbott gave his public thumbs-up to Susanna Dokupil, a more-conservative Republican like Abbott, who is running against the more moderate Davis, who also touts herself as “a conservative voice in Austin.”

The announcement was the first endorsement of a legislative challenger by Abbott, who had announced last summer that he would support legislative candidates who supported his positions on issues. In the past, it has been relatively rare for governors to get involved in legislative races so early — if at all.

[…]

Davis, an attorney, has challenged Abbott’s positions on a number of issues in the past year, including the bathroom bill. She has represented a district that includes West University Place for four terms in the Texas House.

“We need leaders in Austin who will join me to build a better future for Texas,” Abbott said in his endorsement statement. “I trust Susanna, and I know voters in House District 134 can trust her too to fight for their needs in Austin, Texas. Susanna is a principled conservative who will be a true champion for the people of House District 134, and I am proud to support her in the upcoming election.”

Dokupil, who is CEO of Paladin Strategies, a strategic communications firm based in Houston, worked for Abbott as assistant solicitor general while he was Texas attorney general, before becoming governor. There, she handled religious liberty issues, he said.

Abbott said he has known Dokupil for more than a decade.

Davis is a part of the House leadership team. She chairs the House General Investigating and Ethics, serves as chair for health and human services issues on the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the influential Calendars Committee that sets the House schedule.

In a statement, Davis appeared to dismiss the Abbott endorsement of her challenger, who said she represents the views of her district.

“I have always voted my uniquely independent district, and when it comes to campaign season I have always stood on my own, which is why I outperformed Republicans up and down the ballot in the last mid-term election,” Davis said.

This ought to be fun. Davis has survived primary challenges before, though she hasn’t had to fight off the governor as well in those past battles. She is quite right that she generally outperforms the rest of her party in HD134. Not for nothing, but Hillary Clinton stomped Donald Trump in HD134, carrying the district by an even larger margin than Mitt Romney had against President Obama in 2012. If there’s one way to make HD134 a pickup opportunity for Dems in 2018, it’s by ousting Davis in favor of an Abbott/Patrick Trump-loving clone. Perhaps Greg Abbott is unaware that he himself only carried HD134 by two points in 2014, less than half the margin by which he carried Harris County. Bill White won HD134 by three points in 2010. HD134 is a Republican district, but the people there will vote for a Democrat if they sufficiently dislike the Republican in question. This could be the best thing Greg Abbott has ever done for us. The Trib and the Observer, which has more about Davis’ opponent, have more.

What about Roy?

Who wants to stand with this particular predator?

Texas’ two U.S. senators found themselves under intense pressure Thursday after explosive allegations surfaced that a candidate both men have endorsed pursued underage teenage girls decades ago.

The Washington Post is reporting that Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee in an upcoming Senate special election to succeed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, tried to become romantically involved with four girls between the ages of 14 and 18 while he was in his 30s.

U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have both endorsed Moore in his bid.

[…]

Cornyn, the second-ranking GOP senator, called the allegations “deeply disturbing and troubling.”

“I think it’s up to the governor and the folks in Alabama to make that decision as far as what the next step is,” he said.

Cruz declined to answer questions as he passed reporters but said in a later statement, “These are serious and troubling allegations. If they are true, Judge Moore should immediately withdraw. However, we need to know the truth, and Judge Moore has the right to respond to these accusations.”

You should also read this. The way some of Cornyn and Cruz’s fellow Republicans have responded to this is quite astonishing, even in this day and age. Remember when the GOP branded itself as the party of virtue and values? Boy, those were the days.

It should be noted that the “if true” formulation here is basically meaningless. There’s not going to be any trial, so there won’t be a formal verdict to hold out for. Unless more women turn up with the same story – always a possibility, to be sure – this is all the evidence you’re going to get. Is that enough evidence? Only you and your conscience and your God can decide. Slate, which reminds us of Moore’s long record of gay bashing as a means of “protecting” children from predators much like himself, has more.

What about those constitutional amendments?

Would you like someone to explain to you what those seven Constitutional amendments are about, in painstaking detail, with a recommendation for how to vote on each? Daniel Williams is here for you.

It’s that time of the biennium again! Time for voters to consider constitutional amendments on small minutia of public policy. Texas has the longest state constitution in the nation. It’s so detailed and specific that many ordinary and noncontroversial provisions of the law must be submitted to the voters for approval. That means that we the voters have a responsibility to educate ourselves on all that ordinary and noncontroversial minutia and do our best to vote in an informed and thoughtful way.

I’ve included the text of each proposed constitutional amendment, along with an attempt to briefly explain what the amendment is trying to do and how I’ll be voting when early voting starts tomorrow. I’ve also included information on how various advocacy groups and media outlets on all sides of the political spectrum have endorsed. If I’ve left off a group you think should be included let me know in the comments and I’ll add it.

Click over to read said painstakingly detailed explanations, the TL;dr version of which is “vote FOR props 1, 3, 5, and 7, and AGAINST props 2, 4, and 6”.

If you want further reading on the amendments, the League of Women Voters 2017 guide has you covered, though they don’t make recommendations. They do have information about the city of Houston bond referenda, and a brief Q&A with the HISD and HCC candidates; all but two of them provided answers. Finally, the Texas AFL-CIO has a guide to the amendments as well, along with their recommendations. You may find this exercise exasperating, but you can’t say you don’t have sufficient information to make good decisions.

On the matter of other elections, Instant News Bellaire has coverage on the elections for Bellaire’s Mayor and City Council. And if you live in Alief ISD, Stace has a slate for you. Now get out there and vote!

Endorsement watch: Don’t forget the city bonds

The Chron circles back to where they started this endorsement season.

The spotlight of public attention has focused on the billion dollar pension bond referendum, Proposition A, whose passage is absolutely critical to Houston’s financial future. But if you’re a Houston voter, you’ll also find on your ballot four bond issues that will pay for a long list of projects and equipment essential to our city government.

Proposition B would authorize the city to borrow $159 million for the police and fire departments. The Houston Police Department needs the money for everything from improvements to its training academy to pouring new pavement at HPD facilities. The Houston Fire Department would use its funds to pay for renovating and expanding some of its fire stations. And both departments need to tap the bond money to update their aging fleets of cars, trucks and ambulances.

Proposition C would authorize $104 million in bonds for park improvements, including upgrades to 26 of the 375 parks around the city, making sure they are usable, safe and fun. To take one example: Baseball and soccer are popular with both young and older athletes in many neighborhoods, but many city ball fields are equipped with old wooden light poles. The bond issue would allow the Houston Parks and Recreation Department to replace them with new metal poles, energy efficient lights and underground wiring. The upgrade would also include a remote control feature that would reduce personnel costs.

Proposition D would raise $109 million for a variety of public health and solid waste disposal expenses. Much of this money would go to renovating and rehabilitating old multi-service centers, which are used as everything from health clinics to election polling places. Houston’s Solid Waste Management Department, the people who pick up our garbage, would spend their share of this money on a “to do” list that includes a new disposal facility and a storm water mitigation project.

Proposition E would go a long way toward upgrading library services throughout the city with a $123 million bond issue, directly benefiting at least 24 of the city’s 42 libraries. Not everyone can afford a home computer, yet in this digital age access to a computer is crucial to success. That’s why it’s such a shame that so many of Houston’s neighborhood libraries are in disrepair. The bond proceeds will replace the roofs and repair the exteriors of ten libraries and will rebuild four neighborhood libraries.

Maybe you’re wondering why these propositions don’t include money for flood control after Hurricane Harvey. It’s a logical question with an equally logical answer. In order to appear on the ballot in November, the plans for these bond issues were presented to city council in early August, weeks before the storm hit.

Beyond that, flood control in the Houston area has mainly been the responsibility of the county and federal governments. When voters ask why more hasn’t been done to mitigate flooding, those are questions that need to be addressed mainly to the county judge and commissioners as well as our elected representatives in Washington.

The Chron had endorsed these bond issues in their first such editorial of the cycle, but that one was primarily about the pension bonds, and only mentioned the others in passing. You read what these are about, it’s hard to understand why anyone would oppose them, but a lot of people don’t know much about them, and of course some people will always oppose stuff like this. As you know, I believe the bonds will pass, but we’re all just guessing. We’ll know soon enough.

Endorsement watch: More state propositions

The rest of the constitutional amendments, from the Chron.

State of Texas, Proposition 4: For

Everyone deserves to know if they’re being sued – even the state of Texas. The Legislature passed a bill in 2011 that would have required courts to provide notice to the attorney general if the constitutionality of a state statute was being challenged, and requiring a short waiting period before striking down a law.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 5: For

Fans of the Rockets, Astros or Texans are probably familiar with the charity raffles that have become a staple of gametime entertainment. Right now the state Constitution restricts these sorts of lotteries, which have routinely raised thousands for worthy causes, to the state’s 10 major league sports franchises. Voters should approve this amendment to expand the opportunities for charity to all the minor and major league teams in Texas.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 6: For

First responders put themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe from criminals, fires and everything else that goes bump in the night. When one of Texas’ finest falls in the line of duty, we all have a responsibility to keep his or her family safe in return. This means guaranteeing that surviving spouses don’t have to worry about rising property taxes after losing not just a loved one, but also a breadwinner.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 7: For

Banks used to hand out toasters to lure first-time depositors. Maybe it’s time to bring that back. More than one-third of the state doesn’t have a simple savings account. About half lack an emergency fund that could last three months.

At this point, we’ll support almost anything that encourages people to open up a basic account and take the first steps to financial responsibility. That includes allowing credit unions and other financial institutions to entice savers with promotional raffles or lotteries.

See here for the first three. I’ve seen some differing opinions on these items, but for the most part I don’t think any of them amounts to much. Take whatever action you deem appropriate.

Endorsement watch: State propositions and Katy bonds

Hey, did you know that there are constitutional amendments on the ballot? It’s true! (Spoiler alert: There are constitutional amendments on the ballot every odd-numbered year.) The Chron has some recommendations for how to vote on them.

State of Texas, Proposition 1: For

This amendment would allow the Legislature to exempt partially disabled veterans and surviving spouses from paying property taxes on a home received from a charity at less than the market value. An exemption has already been granted when homes are given for free, and this opens the door to some cost sharing.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 2: Against

Consider it a form of post-traumatic stress. Any time banks ask for looser rules, we get flashbacks to the 2008 economic crisis. Financial institutions granted bad loans, good loans – some even made fake loans – knowing that the instruments would eventually be wrapped into a package and sold off. If the debt went bust, some other sucker would be stuck holding the bomb.

The global economic system ended up as the big loser in that game of hot potato.

Now the Texas Legislature is asking voters to tear down some regulations that help keep lenders in line. We recommend voting against.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 3: Against

The governor selects hundreds of unpaid appointees to serve on state boards and commissions, most of which run for four- or six-year terms. But if the term expires and no replacement is appointed, that volunteer is allowed under the state’s “holdover” provision to remain until the slot is filled. This amendment to the state Constitution would force out the incumbents even if there’s no new appointees and render the positions vacant.

We have no quarrel with the current “holdover” rule and recommend voting against.

There are seven of these in total, so I presume this was part one of two. I did receive a mailer the other day in favor of one of these, so there’s at least one active campaign involved. I don’t remember which one it was, though. This is why you need to send more than one piece of mail to ensure that your message penetrates, kids.

Moving a bit outside the usual boundaries, the Chron casts a virtual vote in favor of Katy ISD’s bond referendum.

Katy needs more schools.

That simple fact becomes obvious to anybody who looks at the Katy Independent School District’s explosive growth. During the decade between 2005 and 2015, Katy ISD’s enrollment rose by a whopping 47 percent.

Take a deep dive into the numbers and you’ll discover another telling insight from the state comptroller’s office, which diligently tracks data on Texas school districts. Between 2006 and 2015, Katy ISD’s tax-supported debt per student actually declined by a little less than 1 percent.

Now one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas wants voters to authorize a bond issue allowing them to borrow another $609 million. Katy ISD officials have earnestly made a compelling case for passing this referendum. Even some longtime activists in the district who’ve opposed previous bond issues fully support this one. Voters should, too.

As the piece notes, despite being one of the hardest-hit areas by Harvey, KISD’s enrollment was up this year, highlighting just how rapid its growth has been. This is one of those “you can pay now, or you can pay later” situations, and paying now – especially when interest rates remain low – is almost always the better choice.

Endorsement watch: HCC

The Chron wraps up their endorsements for November.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

HCCS, Trustee, District IV: Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

The ideal candidate for this seat would be someone with a bold vision for HCC who is capable of collaborating with existing board members. It would be a candidate free from controversy. That candidate is not in this race. So instead we encourage voters to find the best candidate via the process of elimination.

That should lead voters, however reluctantly, to incumbent Carolyn Evans-Shabazz.

Appointed to the Board of Trustees in May 2015 to represent District IV, which includes Sunnyside and the Third Ward, Evans-Shabazz has carved out a leadership role on the board, chairing the success committee, which works on issues such as homelessness and food insecurity on campus. Off the board, she serves on the NAACP-Houston branch executive committee.

[…]

Robert Glaser

HCCS, Trustee, District V: Robert Glaser

Incumbent Robert Glaser deserves a second term representing this diverse district that extends from West University to Bellaire to Memorial to Beltway 8.

Glaser, 56, points to HCC’s progress during the past four years. The community college has hired a new chancellor, reduced its overall bond debt and kept taxes level. In addition, tuition rates have been frozen for the last three years while faculty and staff have received raises. Still, the businessman sees room for much improvement.

[…]

HCCS, Trustee, District IX: David Jaroszewski

A lawyer and interim dean of academic studies at Lee College in Baytown, David Jaroszewski stands out as one of the few candidates for HCC with a clear vision about the role that community colleges should play, and how properly run boards help them achieve those goals.

The former PTO president has extensive experience in community college systems and understands the difference between governing and managing. He also expressed a dedicated focus on boosting HCC’s retention rate.

But Jaroszewski, 64, earned our endorsement when he said: “The board should not be inserting themselves into the procurement process.”

That’s what voters should want to hear.

Pretta VanDible Stallworth previously served on the HCC board from 1989-1993 and has been a adjunct professor at Bellhaven College and guest professor at DeVry University. Well-positioned to reflect the values of the community, the chaplain for Senate 13 District PAC would have likely earned our endorsement except for her position on a key point: Stallworth believes that the board should be better trained and then given more responsibility with respect to reviewing contracts for compliance with HCC policies.

My interview with Carolyn Evans-Shabazz is here, and my interview with Robert Glaser is here. I’ve taken my guesses at turnout for HISD, but with six-year cycles and frequently unopposed incumbents, there’s not much data there to try the same thing for HCC. I suspect these numbers will be pretty low, with more undervotes than in HISD. I hope people are paying attention, that’s all I can say.

Endorsement watch: HISD VII and XI

Last two.

Anne Sung

Houston ISD, Trustee, District VII: Anne Katherine Sung

Anne Katherine Sung won in a runoff for this district last year after former trustee Harvin Moore resigned. Now voters are faced with a rematch between Sung and her former opponent, John Luman.

During her short time on the board, Sung has proved herself an engaged and effective trustee who deserves a full term representing this west Houston district, which covers River Oaks, Briar Grove and parts of Montrose and the Heights.

Sung, 38, brings in-depth knowledge of the educational landscape to the task. For more than a decade, she has been attending trustee meetings and preparing herself in multiple ways to assume a leadership role on the board.

The alumna of Bellaire High School has been a Teach for America Corp. member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher and co-founded an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. She’s currently serving as the chief strategy officer and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston.

[…]

Wanda Adams

Houston ISD, Trustee, District IX: Wanda Adams

This troubled south Houston district needs all the help it can get. Fourteen schools within the boundaries, which stretch from the Westbury to Sunnyside, are failing according to ratings by the non-profit Children at Risk.

Despite these problems, none of the challengers provide a compelling case to remove incumbent Wanda Adams from her seat.

While there’s no question that the district is rife with inequity and that some schools need more attention and resources, Adams is one member of a nine-member board in charge of setting policy. The responsibility for these failing schools falls on past superintendents, the entire board and the community, not on a single trustee.

Adams, 50, knows her community well. A former City Council member, this professor of political science at Texas Southern University currently serves as HISD board president and has worked to make key changes to governance. She’s applied time limits to trustees’ remarks to reduce grandstanding at board meetings and has worked to develop a framework to measure district progress.

In the end, I’d say this was a pretty conventional set of endorsements. All incumbents get the nod, and no surprises in the other races. Not that there was much potential for a surprise – as noted before, the slate of candidates is pretty good. I’m not even sure what might have been a true surprise recommendation, other than possibly one of the challengers in XI.

By the way, I have previously noted that right now, the HISD Board has seven women and two men. The range of possible outcomes this November are eight women and one man, to four women and five men. Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila are not on the ballot, while District I has only female candidates. Only District III, which has four male candidates, is certain to be represented by a man. I don’t have a point to make here, just an observation.

I did not do any interviews in these races. I interviewed both Anne Sung and John Luman for last year’s special election – you can listen to those here: Anne Sung, John Luman. I intended to get to District IX but life and too many other things got to me. I have a post in the works for that race, and if it goes to a runoff I’ll try again.

Endorsement watch: HISD V and VI

Two more HISD endorsements, two more to go.

Sue Deigaard

Houston ISD, Trustee, District V: Sue Deigaard

Four qualified candidates are running for an open seat in this southwest Houston district, which covers West University, Bellaire and Meyerland. Yet Sue Deigaard stands above them all. Her knowledge of this district is so deep and broad that she talks with the authority of a trustee, even though this is her first run for office.

For Deigaard, 48, it is all about HISD, and she said during her meeting with the editorial board that if we found another candidate more qualified, we should support that person. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone more prepared for any election.

The daughter of a high-school drop-out, Deigaard was the first member of her family to graduate from college. After receiving a degree from Rice University, she worked in alumni affairs at her alma mater for more than five years. But volunteer experience sets her apart.

For more than a decade, Deigaard has been an advocate for public education. In addition to being a near fixture at board meetings and other district functions, she serves as a parent representative on HISD’s district advisory committee and chairs the communication committee for the Arts Access Initiative, which has a goal of expanding arts education opportunities to all K-12 students at HISD. She has also organized and facilitated community finance and engagement meetings for education advocacy groups and school districts.

[…]

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Houston ISD, Trustee, District VI: Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January when long-time trustee Greg Meyers resigned, and she deserves to serve a full term. Vilaseca has gained a reputation for being a steady hand and reasoned voice on the board representing her west Houston district, which includes the Energy Corridor and Sharpstown.

Vilaseca, 36, is the daughter of immigrants and was the first in her family to attend college. She began her career in education as a Teach for America Corp. member and went on to teach bilingual and dual language early childhood classes for six years. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in social and organizational psychology and currently works for a nonprofit in the education space.

Her opponent, Robert Lundin, has an outstanding resume as well. He has served as long-time educator and former HISD employee who resigned to run in this race. Not only does he hold a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in educational leadership, but he also serves as a faculty member at Rice University. In addition, Lundin has an impressive list of endorsements, including former U.S. Secretary of Education Dr. Rod Paige. Lundin and Vilaseca are fluent in both English and Spanish.

Interviews:

Sue Deigaard
Kara DeRocha
Sean Cheben

Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Robert Lundin

The Chron was complimentary to all the candidates I interviewed, which I suppose validates in some way my reason for interviewing them. Mostly it speaks to the level of candidate we have running this time around. That is very much not always the case. Districts VII and IX remain to be evaluated.

Endorsement watch: HISD I and III

We have our first candidate endorsements of the season.

Monica Flores Richart

Houston ISD, Trustee, District I: Monica Flores Richart

In this heated race between three passionate candidates to represent Garden Oaks, the Heights and Near Northside, we endorse Monica Flores Richart.

No other candidate in this race or others has demonstrated such a clarity of vision about the problems vexing HISD’s complicated school-funding system, with specific ire reserved for magnet programs and gifted and talented programs that divert funds toward already-wealthy schools.

“We have never really had a cohesive set of priorities and goals for our magnet program,” Richart told the editorial board while rattling off the statistical specifics with ease. Also on her agenda is a thorough auditing of the school budget, zero-based budgeting and a dedication to equity.

“What bothers me most about HISD is the disparate educational opportunities among the communities.”

[…]

Sergio Lira

Houston ISD, Trustee, District III: Sergio Lira

Longtime trustee Manuel Rodriguez, Jr. passed away in July and four candidates have stepped up to fill his seat.

Two stand out: Sergio Lira, an assistant principal at Bellaire High School, and Rodolfo (Rudy) Reyes, a former League City council member and court-appointed child advocate.

Lira, 56, has a record as an outstanding educator and has spent virtually his entire career in the district he is seeking to govern. An educational background is a plus for a trustee, but in a perfect world, a trustee should have experience beyond the immediate classroom.

Reyes has a broad professional background that ranges from employment as a contract specialist for the National Cancer Institute to teaching English to four-year-olds in public school. He currently serves as a court-appointed child advocate.

While his budgetary expertise would be useful, this accomplished candidate seems to equate service on this board with his experience on city council. School trustees need to understand that principals aren’t their primary constituents.

Undoubtedly Reyes would be a quick study, but we’re tipping our hat to Lira, as he seems to be in a better position to govern immediately.

Here are all the interviews I did in these races:

Monica Flores Richart
Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl

Carlos Perrett
Jesse Rodriguez
Sergio Lira

Rodolfo Reyes never replied to the email I sent him asking for an interview. The Chron was complimentary to Himsl, and appreciative of the others. I figure both of these races are going to a runoff, and if so we know who their backup choices are if it comes to that. Early voting starts on Monday the 23rd, so get ready to get out there and make your voices heard.

Endorsement watch: The bonds

Endorsement season has officially begun.

The key referendum, Proposition A, is a solution to Houston’s potentially disastrous pension problem. A complex deal ushered through the Texas Legislature by Mayor Sylvester Turner would reduce the $8.2 billion unfunded pension burden now carried by Houston taxpayers to $5.2 billion. Union leaders representing police officers and municipal employees have agreed to sacrifice benefits worth roughly $1.8 billion. But the whole arrangement depends upon voters approving a $1 billion bond issuance, 1 of 5 city bonds on the ballot.

The pension bond wouldn’t raise taxes, nor would it increase the public debt. Houston already owes this money to its retired employees; this deal will take care of a debt that’s already on the books. The bonds will be paid off over the course of three decades. By coincidence, this happens to be a good time for the city to borrow money. This is like refinancing your mortgage when interest rates are low.

On the other hand, Turner bluntly and accurately told the Chronicle’s editorial board, if the pension obligation bonds go down, “it’s worse than the financial impact of Harvey.” Before this deal was struck, our city government was staring at the grim prospect of laying off more than 2,000 employees, about 10 percent of its workforce, a cut that would almost certainly impact police and firefighters.

[…]

Meanwhile, four other bond proposals would pay for facilities and equipment at everything from police and fire stations to city parks and libraries. At a time when our police officers are driving around in cars that are more than a decade old, we voters need to pass these capital improvement bonds.

The campaign for the bonds is underway, and I do expect them to pass. But this is a weird year, and turnout is going to be well below what we’re used to – and we ain’t used to particularly robust turnout – so anything can happen. The big task in this election for all campaigns is just making sure people know they need to go vote. If you’re reading this site, you already know that much. I say vote for the bonds as well, for all the reasons the Chron gives.

Endorsement watch: HGLBT Political Caucus, CVPE, and GPS

From the inbox:

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC met on September 9, 2017. At the meeting the membership voted to endorse the following candidates:

Kara DeRocha for HISD School Board Trustee – District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca for HISD School Board Trustee – District VI

Anne Sung for HISD School Board Trustee – District VII

Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz for HCC Trustee – District IV

Pretta Vandible Stallworth for HCC Trustee – District IX

We also voted to endorse the following propositions:

Propositions A, B, C, D and E

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC will hold a public forum on September 22, 2017 at 7pm at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Montrose, Room 217A & B. (Enter through the North Entrance on Hawthorne Street where the parking lot is located.) The public forum will highlight Elizabeth Santos, Gretchen Himsl and Monica Flores Richart, candidates for HISD School Board Trustee – District I. The membership will take an endorsement vote at the end of the public forum. The Membership will also vote on the recommendation of the screening committee in the HISD School Board race for District III.

I was just saying that we are only now beginning to see campaign activity again post-Harvey, and a part of that is the group endorsement process. The GLBT Caucus endorsements hit my mailbox late on Sunday, and on Monday I found out about a couple of others that have come out. Here’s Community Voices for Public Education:

Elizabeth Santos in HISD District 1
Kara DeRocha in HISD District 5
Holly Flynn Vilaseca in HISD District 6
Anne Sung in HISD District 7

CVPE members voted to not endorse in District 9 and will screen HISD District 3 candidates in the near future.

Yes, everyone is going to have to go over this again once the filing deadline comes for District III, which was extended to allow people enough time to make the decision to run following Manuel Rodriguez’s death. I am aware of one candidate in District III so far, and I am sure there will be others.

One more set of endorsements, from Houstonians for Great Public Schools:

District I – Gretchen Himsl

District V – Sue Deigaard

District VI – Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

District VII – Anne Sung

District IX – Wanda Adams

I’ll post more as I see them. I suppose it’s well past time for me to create an Election 2017 page to track all this, too.

Doctors against bathroom bills

Good.

[Last] week, the American Medical Association (AMA), the country’s largest medical organization, took several actions to solidify their defense of transgender people. This included a resolution opposing any policy or legislation — like “bathroom bills” put forth in North Carolina and Texas — that prohibits transgender people from living according to their gender identity throughout society.

During its annual meeting in Chicago [last] week, the AMA House of Delegates approved a resolution favoring “Access to Basic Human Services for Transgender Individuals.” As drafted, the resolution notes that laws that restrict which facilities transgender people can use “place undue harm on the physical and social well-being and safety of transgender individuals.” It also highlights the way that transgender minors “are at particular risk of social, mental, and physical detriment by being forced to disregard their gender identity or to publicly identify as transgender due to these policies.”

Thus, the AMA officially opposes “policies preventing transgender individuals from accessing basic human services and public facilities in line with one’s gender identity, including, but not limited to, the use of restrooms.” The resolution also calls for the creation of additional policies that “promote social equality and safe access to basic human services and public facilities for transgender individuals according to one’s gender identity.”

I’m glad to see it. This is exactly what a responsible, caring establishment organization ought to do. I would be remiss if I did not note that this is not enough. The politicians who are pushing these bills aren’t doing so because they are misinformed or misguided. They’re doing it because they see political advantage in pushing them, and because they do not care at all for the people they hurt by doing so. The proper response to politicians of this type is to vote them out of office. Which brings me to the awkward fact that the Texas Medical Association endorsed Dan Patrick in 2014. Now, the TMA is not the AMA – I googled around and searched their respective websites, and I can’t honestly say if there’s any official relationship between the two organizations. But they do broadly share the same mission, and I have no doubt that many members of the TMA are also members of the AMA, and vice versa. It may not be the AMA’s place to tell the TMA what to do, but if the AMA wants to achieve its goals as stated above, it’s going to need organizations like the TMA to be aligned with them on it, and to take the lead in the states where it is relevant. Words are good, but action is necessary.

Runoff endorsement watch: Moon for Mayor

The Chron picks their second choice for Mayor of Pasadena.

John “J.R.” Moon

The second-largest city in Harris County could use a good shake-up.

That’s why voters should elect John “J.R.” Moon Jr. for mayor in the city’s runoff election.

Moon, 58, would bring the outsider perspective that Pasadena needs. He has spent the past decade as a trustee for the top-rated San Jacinto College. In addition to his public service, Moon also has the business credentials to make for a fine mayor of a growing city – he is a certified CPA and former chief financial officer at Moody Bank. Moon currently works as a commercial real estate agent.

While scandal has dominated the headlines, Moon kept his focus on the core issues of education, economic growth and quality of life when he met with the editorial board. He specifically recommended updating the city’s infrastructure plans into a modern capital improvement system that’s the hallmark of transparent governance.

“It does not appear that we have had an effective plan over the last five years and you need to renew that plan on an annual basis,” Moon said.

[…]

Pasadena needs a mayor who can enter this office with eyes wide open if the city hopes to avoid further scandal.

Moon is Pasadena’s best choice to make these issues a thing of the past.

The Chron had previously endorsed Pat Van Houte, but she didn’t make the runoff. They remain steadfast in their desire to see as big a change from the Isbell era as possible. Early voting for the runoff is going on now through June 6 – you can see times and locations here. Felipe Villarreal is a Project LIFT candidate in the runoff for Pasadena City Council in District A, so if you live there please don’t forget about him, and don’t forget about Pearland if you live there. The runoff is June 10, so make a plan to make your voice heard.

Business groups endorse a Yes on recapture re-vote

It’s a very different campaign this time around.

The Greater Houston Partnership and other local organizations whose members own some of the city’s priciest commercial real estate have come out in support of a ballot measure over whether the Houston Independent School District should pay its share of property taxes to the state as part of the so-called Robin Hood system of school finance.

The business coalition, which also includes Central Houston, the Houston Building Owners and Management Association, Uptown Houston, the Houston Business Realty Coalition and the “C” Club, said the school district should pay the $77.5 million it owes to the state.

If not, it faces having $8 billion of the city’s highest-valued commercial properties permanently reassigned to another school district, a process referred to as “detachment.”

The detachment process would affect more than 80 commercial properties in the Galleria, Greenway Plaza, and downtown Houston, the coalition said in a statement Monday afternoon. While the value of commercial property slated for detachment this year is $8 billion, HISD estimates it would climb to $22 billion in 2018.

“No one in our community wins under detachment,” Greater Houston Partnership president and CEO Bob Harvey said in the statement. “We are encouraging a vote in support of Proposition 1 so that Houston businesses can continue to help fund Houston’s public schools and its future leaders.”

BOMA supported recapture last November, one of not too many groups or officials to do so. (If the other groups took a position last time, I don’t know what it was.) Very simply, most of the endorsements I saw last year were against the recapture, and most of the ones I am seeing now are in favor. In fact, as I was drafting this post, I saw an ad on TV (on ESPN during the Cubs-Pirates game) in favor of the recapture referendum, paid for by a group called “Houston Taxpayers for Quality Education”. None of this is any guarantee of success for the Yes side – this whole election is too much of an oddball to feel secure in any prediction – but for what it’s worth, the most consistent message I have seen is a message of voting for recapture.