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Fort Bend County

The Trib on CD22 and Fort Bend

A closer look at a lower-profile but highly interesting primary runoff.

Sri Kulkarni

At a glance, volunteers at Sri Kulkarni’s campaign headquarters are no different than those for congressional campaigns across the country — huddling over laptops, tapping voters’ numbers into their cell phones and concentrating on the call scripts in front of them.

But when the person on the other end of the line picks up, some volunteers greet them not in English but in Vietnamese, Hindi, Urdu or Mandarin Chinese.

For Kulkarni, a Democrat vying for a congressional seat in a Republican-leaning district, getting his message out to voters means not just knocking on doors and calling voters but also speaking the language they speak.

“You need to reach out to those communities the way they are and the way they want to be reached,” Kulkarni said. “The blue wave is real. That force is coming from all of us.”

Letitia Plummer

Kulkarni and Letitia Plummer are vying in Tuesday’s Democratic runoff to take on U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. Though President Donald Trump won the district by 8 percentage points in 2016, both Democrats see it as vulnerable, in part due to demographic changes — the same shifts that both candidates are using to their advantage. The district includes most of Fort Bend County, one of America’s most ethnically diverse counties: 20 percent of its residents are Asian, 20 percent are black, 24 percent are Hispanic and 34 percent are white. Clinton won the county decisively in 2016.

In the March primaries, Kulkarni and Plummer came in first and second among five Democrats vying for the seat, drawing 32 and 24 percent of the vote respectively.

Kulkarni, a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, has focused his campaign on groups of voters that he thinks will help bring about a local “blue wave” in November — particularly Asian-Americans and Latinos, who have had low voter turnout in the past.

When they’ve gone block walking in minority neighborhoods, Kulkarni and his team said they’ve noticed a sense of gratitude mixed with shock because campaigns have so rarely engaged those areas.

“A lot of folks have told me that no one has knocked on their door before, no one has called them before,” Kulkarni said. “Some of them just grab me and pull me in like a life preserver because they’ve never had somebody come out that way.”

Kulkarni’s campaign has translated his website into Spanish and Chinese, visited local temples and mosques and arranged appearances with Latino, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Indian media outlets, including Hindi/Urdu, Telugu and Malayali talk shows.

[…]

Nathan Gonzalez, editor and publisher of the Washington, D.C.-based Inside Elections, said he’s skeptical when campaigns appear to be relying heavily on turning out non-voters, but doesn’t rule out the strategy’s potential effectiveness, particularly in a climate in which Trump’s presidency is prompting an increase in civic action.

“I think the burden of proof is on Democrats to show that they can harness the energy from the protests and increasing fundraising and large number of candidates in races into votes,” Gonzalez said.

CD22 also includes parts of Harris and Brazoria counties, but going by the 2016 and 2014 results, about two thirds of the total vote in CD22 will be cast in Fort Bend. If a Democrat hopes to win CD22, he or she is almost certainly going to have to carry the part of the district that’s in Fort Bend. That’s a tall order based on electoral history, but it’s the task at hand.

The story notes Fort Bend’s diversity. That carries over into CD22, which has more Asian-American residents than any other Texas Congressional district (the “Other” classification in these reports generally refers to Asian-Americans). And while Nathan Gonzalez’s point is well taken, if you’re going to go after non-habitual voters, Asian-American voters make a lot of sense from a Democratic perspective.

In 1992, the first year that exit polls specifically tracked Asian Americans—an umbrella term referring to anyone with ancestry from East Asia, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent—55 percent of them supported George H. W. Bush over Bill Clinton. Eight years later, Al Gore became the first Democrat to win a majority of Asian American votes, and by 2012, the group favored Obama over Mitt Romney by almost 75 to 25. And the trend seems to be accelerating. More than a quarter of Asian American Republicans have abandoned the GOP since 2011, by far the largest shift of any demographic group. At the same time, the Asian American share of the population has doubled since 1990 to 6 percent overall.

The GOP’s increased nativism after 9/11 has long been a turnoff for Asian Americans, even before Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015. Trump has spent the better part of three years fear-mongering about undocumented immigrants—one out of six of whom is Asian. Asian Americans are the biggest beneficiaries of family reunification policies, which Trump and other prominent Republicans have taken to bashing as “chain migration.” (Family reunification is how nearly all Vietnamese and Bangladeshi immigrants have come to America.) Asian Americans might not be the direct target of Trump’s disdain as often as Hispanics, but the modern Republican Party’s increasingly overt hostility to nonwhite immigration can’t help but push them away.

All of which is good news for Democrats. But here’s the problem: Asian Americans have among the lowest voting rates of any racial group in America—49 percent of eligible voters, in 2016, compared to 65 percent among white people and 60 percent among black people. Not coincidentally, they also are less likely to be contacted by parties and campaigns. “Democrats are leaving a lot of votes on the table,” said Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and an expert in political demography. “They don’t need 100 percent Asian turnout, but if Asians could come close to what whites vote at, or even blacks, it could have a big difference.”

That may make Sri Kulkarni the stronger general election candidate, but he has to win the runoff first. We’ll know soon enough about that.

Today is May Election Day

From the inbox:

Saturday, May 5, 2018 is Election Day for voters in Houston Council Member District K. Voters will determine who will fill the vacancy in the southwest Council District. Polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

There will be twenty-eight (28) Election Day polling locations for registered voters to cast their ballot in District K. However, each voter must vote at the polling location designated for the voting precinct in which they are registered to vote.

“Harris County polling locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County, noting that District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5, Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5. “While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965. Voters may also visit the website to determine if they are eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can look up your polling place here. Basically, this is a normal election in the sense that you would vote at your normal precinct location. If you’re in Fort Bend County, you can look up your precinct location here.

Also on the ballot today is the special election in HD13.

Two Republicans are battling until the end — over everything from endorsements to toll roads — ahead of a special election Saturday to fill a rural Texas House seat east of Austin that will give the winner momentum in the race for a full term.

Former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman and Bellville businesswoman Jill Wolfskill — plus one Democrat, Cecil Webster — are on the ballot Saturday to finish the term of ex-state Rep. Leighton Schubert, R-Caldwell, who resigned in February for a local junior college job after previously announcing he would not seek re-election. Leman and Wolfskill are also in a May 22 runoff for the full term representing House District 13, a solidly Republican district that covers a seven-county region between Austin and Houston, stretching from outside Bryan down toward Victoria.

The winner of the special election will complete the rest of Schubert’s term, which ends in January, while the victor in November will serve the full two-year term that comes next.

That has upped the stakes for the special election, in which a victory could be a boon to a candidate’s fortunes in the contest 17 days later. Yet little is assured in the low-turnout, unpredictable environment of a special election, and Leman and Wolfskill — who finished just 525 votes apart in the five-way March primary — are leaving nothing to chance as they seek to distinguish themselves in the home stretch.

The rest of the story continues to focus on the two Republican candidates, with one more passing mention of Cecil Webster at the very end. It’s all about who has or hasn’t been endorsed by which terrible conservative group. Which all makes sense, since whoever wins the Republican nomination will be the overwhelming favorite to win in November in this 75%+ Trump district. That doesn’t mean Webster can’t make it to the runoff of this election, however. It would take good turnout on the Dem side, and probably an uneven split between the two R’s, but it can happen. I’ve seen a few Facebook ads for Webster this past week, so he’s running a real campaign. I’ve got my fingers crossed. I’ll have the results tomorrow.

Early voting for the May 5 elections begins today

From the inbox:

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR HOUSTON COUNCIL DISTRICT K 

Local jurisdictions, including schools, emergency, and utility districts, also holding May 5 Elections

Houston, TX –Early Voting for the May 5, 2018 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election begins Monday, April 23rd.  The Early Voting period for this election cycle runs thru Tuesday, May 1st.

In Harris County, four sites will be available for 86,000 District K registered voters to cast a ballot in person before Election Day.  The Early Voting locations include, the Harris County Administrative Bldg. (1001 Preston, 4th  Floor), Fiesta Mart (8130 Kirby Dr.), Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center  (3810 W. Fuqua St.), and Platou Community Center (11655 Chimney Rock Rd.).

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County. The hours of operation for the Harris County Early Voting sites are as follows:

·         April 23 – 27: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
·         April 29: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 30 – May 1: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The majority of Houston Council District K is located between Brays Bayou and Almeda in Southwest Harris County.  However, a portion of District K which comprises a fifth of the electorate is located in Fort Bend County.  District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5th Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5th.

“While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the 70 jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5th,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5th City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election and the May 22nd Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if theyare eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can see the map and schedule for Harris County, which is to say District K, here. Fort Bend County voters, including those in District K, you can find your early voting information here.

The District K special election is the only election being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. There are some local elections being held in Harris County, including Deer Park ISD and Galena Park municipal elections. There’s just one race for Deer Park ISD, and you can find information about that here, including a nice profile of candidate Monique Rodriguez, who has the endorsement of both the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Area 5 Democrats. For Galena Park, that information can be found here. I know nothing about those candidates.

A little farther out, the city of Pearland and Pearland ISD have regularly scheduled elections. Here’s the information for the city of Pearland and for Pearland ISD. These elections are being conducted by the Brazoria County Clerk, so early voting information for each can be found here. One candidate in each race has been Texas Democratic Party: Dalia Kasseb for Pearland City Council Position 4 – she fell short in a runoff for Council last year – and Daniel Hernandez for Pearland ISD School Board Trustee Position 4. There are also elections in Friendswood – a list of candidates there and in Pearland is here – but as with Galena Park I know nothing about any of them.

There are other elections around the state, as well as the special election in HD13 featuring Cecil Webster. I suggest you check with your county clerk or elections administrator if you’re not sure if there’s a reason for you to vote. Hot on the heels of this are the primary runoffs, on May 22, so if you’re not voting now you’ll be able to soon.

Harris County is not growing the way it used to

And the reason for that is that people aren’t moving here the way they used to. Quite the opposite, in fact.

There’s been a lot of publicity lately about the fact that in the last couple of years, Harris County has not been the population growth machine it’s been in the past – while nationwide the suburbs are now growing faster than core urban areas.

As we reported not long ago, the most recent Census estimates show that metro Houston fell far behind metro Dallas in population growth last year, after several years in the No. 1 spot. Meanwhile, the Census found that last year Harris County fell far behind Maricopa County, Arizona, which is now the No. 1 county in the nation for population growth. And recently the respected demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution found that population growth in core urban areas like Harris County has now fallen behind growth rates in the suburbs, the exurbs, and rural areas.

Further analysis by the Kinder Institute finds that underlying all three of these trends are two striking facts: First, the decline in population growth in metropolitan Houston is all occurring in Harris County. And second, that decline in population growth is due entirely to a striking reversal in domestic in-migration in Harris County. Natural increase (births over deaths) and international migration are holding steady, but in 2017 far more people moved out of Harris County to go to other places in the United States than moved into Harris County from other places in the United States, according to the recently released Census data.

Clearly, many of these out-migrants may simply be going to the Houston suburbs. But the population dynamics in the suburbs have not changed much in the last couple of years. And the idea that Harris County is losing domestic migrants flies in the face of Houston’s own self-image. After all, the idea that you live off of natural increase and international migration – while losing your own residents to other places – is often viewed in Houston as a California kind of thing, not a Texas kind of thing.

Click over and read on for the charts and the details. For Harris County, both natural population growth – i.e., births minus deaths – and international migration have held steady, and those numbers are enough so that even with more people moving out rather than moving in, Harris County is still growing, just more slowly than it was as recently as 2014. But natural growth is contingent on having a young population, which we have in part because of migration, and with the lunatic xenophobe in the White House right now I wouldn’t bank on these things continuing as they have, at least in the near-to-medium term. Population is power in our world, so if these trends continue then we may see Harris County lose influence relative to the big suburban counties as the city of Houston has lost influence relative to the county in the past couple of decades. If this is a trend, it’s the beginning of one, so it may still be a blip and there may be things we can do to affect it. I’d say it’s worth our time to try and figure this out.

2018 primary early voting, Day Four: On to the suburbs

The Chron’s Mike Snyder ventures outside Harris County for early voting numbers.

As the Chronicle’s Jeremy Wallace reported, nearly 50,000 people voted in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, the first day of early voting, in the state’s 15 most populous counties. That’s more than twice the total from the first early voting day in 2014, the last midterm election.

 Despite the Democrats’ improved turnout, however, Republican numbers were greater. Through Wednesday, 14,493 people had voted in the Republican primaries compared to 12,627 in the Democratic primary in Harris County, Wallace reported.

The Republican primaries also drew more voters in the two other Houston-area counties that rank among the 15 most populous in the state.

In Montgomery County, 8,364 early votes had been cast through Thursday in the Republican primary, compared to 1,437 in the Democratic primary.

The numbers were closer in Fort Bend County: Republicans 4,878; Democrats 3,403. (Totals in both counties include in-person and mail-in ballots.)

This is true, but it’s also not the whole story. Let’s go back to the SOS early voting page for a little context.


Party     County      2010    2014    2018
==========================================
Rep   Montgomery     3,851   6,944   8,364
Dem   Montgomery       383     393   1,437

Rep   Montgomery     1.58%   2.57%   2.61%
Dem   Montgomery     0.16%   0.15%   0.45%

Rep    Fort Bend     3,486   3,755   4,878
Dem    Fort Bend       871     921   3,403

Rep    Fort Bend     1.16%   1.07%   1.18%
Dem    Fort Bend     0.29%   0.26%   0.82%

Democratic turnout is up by a lot more in Fort Bend than Republican turnout is. Democratic turnout isn’t up as much in Montgomery County as Republican turnout is, but relatively speaking it’s up by a lot more. Another way of saying this is that as a share of registered voters, which is what those percentages represent, Republicans are up a pinch from 2014, while Dems are at triple their levels from 2014. I submit that’s a notable development.

So what about Harris County? Well, here you go:

EV 2010
EV 2014
Day 4 EV 2018 totals


Year  Party     Mail In Person    Total
=======================================
2010    Dem    4,129     8,229   12,358
2010    Rep    8,498    12,571   21,069

2014    Dem    3,592     5,949    9,541
2014    Rep   12,288    13,901   26,189

2018    Dem    8,844    16,110   24,954
2018    Rep   12,530    16,053   28,583

Dems had 5,214 people show up yesterday, which as you can see is only a bit less than their entire four-day total from 2014. Republicans had a few more than that and have nearly closed the in-person gap, but it’s the increase from previous years that is the real story. And while Dems still haven’t done as good a job returning their mail ballots, the 8,844 they have returned is more than the entire number of returned mail ballots in every primary before 2016, and should be on track to beat that year’s total. The news continues to be good. Let’s keep it going.

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 2

A quick look at the Chron’s endorsements page shows they basically did a massive update on Sunday night/Monday morning. Most of them are in legislative races, but there are a couple of others. I think I’m going to need two more of these multi-race endorsement posts to catch up with them, so today we will (mostly) focus on races in which there is not a Democratic incumbent. Today that means the Democrats challenging State House incumbents, plus two JP races. Let’s get going.

HD126: Natali Hurtado.

Natali Hurtado, 34, told us she is running “because I’m tired of just sitting back and watching our state go backwards” while Undrai F. Fizer, 50, said he wants “to inspire hope and passion” in the people of the 126th district.

[…]

Hurtado earned degrees from the University of Houston and University of St. Thomas, the latter a masters in public policy and administration, and got a taste of the political life working in City Hall and for politicians including longtime U.S. Rep. Gene Green, a Democrat.

She wants to close property tax loopholes for big business to ease the tax burden on individuals, get rid of Texas Senate Bill 4 — the “sanctuary cities” law that abrogates the discretion of local law enforcement on immigration issues — and accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act.

Fizer has a lot of charisma but needs to learn more about the issues. Hurtado has a better grasp of them and her time working with Green and others gives her an invaluable head start in the art of politics. We think both her head and heart are in the right place, and endorse her for this race.

My interview with Hurtado is published today, and my interview with Fizer went up yesterday. They’re both good people, and I think the Chron captured their essences pretty well.

HD132: Gina Calanni.

Candidate Gina Calanni told us [incumbent Rep. Mike] Schofield is “very beatable” because people, including her, are angry that he votes in ways that hurt public schools and favor the charter and private schools popular with Republicans.

Flooding is the other big issue, she said, not just because of the massive damage it caused, but also because many people are still suffering from the effects of it and not getting much help.

Calanni, 40 and a writer of novels, is a single mom without much money to spare, while her opponent former corporate lawyer Carlos Pena, 51, is neither seeking money nor spending much of his own.

“I don’t believe in taking campaign contributions because there are people who feel they are owed,” he said.

He’s out blockwalking, but Calanni is doing that and going to political events where she has gotten endorsements from, among others, the Harris County Tejano Democrats, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats and the AFL-CIO.

Our view is that Calanni has a fire in the belly to win that Pena may lack and with some money she can make a race of it. For that, she gets our endorsement.

My interview with Calanni is here; Pena never replied to me, and only recently put up a website. I agree with the Chron here. HD132 is a much more competitive district than you might think. It moved in a Democratic direction from 2008 to 2012, and is basically 55-45 going by 2016 numbers. It won’t take much in terms of the overall political climate for this to be a very winnable race, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for the Democratic candidate to make an effort to win it. From where I sit, Gina Calanni is the only candidate putting in that effort. She’d get my vote if I were in HD132.

HD133: Marty Schexnayder.

Sandra Moore, 69, and Marty Schexnayder, 51, are both making their first run at political office because of their frustration with [incumbent Rep. Jim] Murphy and state leadership in general.

“I think people in our district are disgusted by the Dan Patrick agenda,” Schexnayder, a lawyer, told us, referring to the state’s lieutenant governor.

[…]

Both candidates also spoke of the need for improved health care and education. Schexnayder said the state share of education costs must increase so property taxes will stop going through the roof.

We liked Moore, but overall we think Schexnayder is the stronger candidate and has a broader grasp of the issues. We endorse him for Democratic nominee in District 133.

My interview with Sandra Moore is here and with Marty Schexnayder is here. Moore received the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, which is the only club or group endorsements that I tracked that was given in this race. The main point here is that both of them are worthy of consideration, while the third candidate in the race is not. I will note again that while this district is pretty red, there was a significant crossover vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As such, it is not at all unreasonable to think that “the Dan Patrick agenda” is not terribly popular as well.

HD134: Alison Lami Sawyer.

Political parties always have their internal disagreements, but Harris County Democrats should nevertheless operate by a single, cardinal rule: Never, under any circumstances, vote for Lloyd Wayne Oliver.

A perennial candidate who runs for office to drum up his law practice — and undermine serious Democrats along the way — Oliver routinely makes a mockery of our electoral system.

Luckily, Democrats in this race have a qualified and impressive alternative in Allison Lami Sawyer.

Sawyer, 33, is a Rice University MBA alumnus who has her own company which uses special optics to detect gas leaks in oil installations in the United States and abroad.

[…]

Assuming Davis defeats Republican primary opponent Susanna Dokupil, who is backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, well look forward to an interesting campaign between two compelling candidates.

And remember: Don’t vote for Oliver.

My interview with Sawyer is here. I endorsed her way back when. The Chron is right: Don’t vote for Lloyd Oliver. Friends don’t let friends vote for Lloyd Oliver, either.

HD138: Adam Milasincic.

Democratic voters in District 138 have the luxury of picking between two good candidates to face well-entrenched incumbent Dwayne Bohac in the March 6 primary.

They are attorney and first-time candidate Adam Milasincic, 33, and Jenifer Rene Pool, 69, owner of a construction consulting company who has run unsuccessfully for City Council and County Commissioner and now wants a shot at tea party stalwart Bohac.

[…]

We could see both candidates becoming effective legislators in different ways for the west side district and, frankly, a race between Pool and the socially conservative Bohac could be fun to watch.

But Milasincic is super smart, thoughtful and passionate, all of which is useful when you’re taking on an incumbent. He has also raised an impressive amount of money for a first-time candidate in unfriendly territory. He gets our endorsement in the Democratic primary.

My interview with Milasincic is here and with Pool is here. I cut out a lot of the good stuff in this piece because I’d have had to quote the whole thing otherwise. This is the most competitive of the Harris County legislative districts – it should be the first to flip, if any of them do. I like both of these candidates and am looking forward to supporting whoever wins the nomination.

Over to Fort Bend for HD28: Meghan Scoggins.

Two Democrats are running against each other for the right to face incumbent state Rep. John Zerwas, who has represented district in the Texas Legislature since 2007.

If either of the primary candidates is up to the task, it’s Meghan Scoggins.

Scoggins, 38, has a detailed command of the issues facing this district, an expertise she says she developed observing — and sometimes testifying in — four sessions of the Legislature. (She casually mentioned to the editorial board that she drove to Austin in an RV that became her home away from home.) Although she has a background in business management and she did support work for the International Space Station, Scoggins spent the past few years focused on non-profit and community work. She not only brags about knowing most of the fire chiefs and MUD directors in the district, she also has a grasp of the problems they face. When she talks about infrastructure issues, she cites specific voter concerns like noise abatement problems surrounding the expansion of State Highway 99. She also specifically called for a county-wide flood control district, which would be a smart policy for the next session no matter who wins in November.

I haven’t paid that much attention to the races outside of Harris County – an unfortunate side effect of the cornucopia of candidates is that time and my attention can only go so far. HD26 is the more competitive district, but by all accounts I’ve seen Scoggins is a quality, hard-working candidate. I wish her well.

Last but not least, two for Justice of the Peace.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3, Place 2: Don Coffey

Our endorsement goes to the only lawyer in this race, incumbent Justice Don Coffey.

Coffey, 65, who was first elected in 2010, has had a positive impact on this precinct which runs from Baytown through communities like Highlands, Channelview and Sheldon — by working to change our state’s onerous truancy laws.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Audrie Lawton

Four people are running for this seat. Out of the pool, three candidates are lawyers, all of whom graduated from Thurgood Marshall School of Law. All of the candidates in this race possess experience dealing with individuals in crisis and would be compassionate jurists.

The non-lawyer in this race, Ray Shackelford, has considerable political charisma, and we would encourage him to consider a run for another position, such as city council. But for this bench we’re endorsing the candidate with the most relevant legal experience, Audrie Lawton. Lawton has handled thousands of cases in justice of the peace courts, and she also has quasi-judicial experience having served for seven years as an examiner for the Texas Education Agency, hearing cases where teachers faced non-renewal or termination. The 40-year-old, who is licensed in all the federal courts and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also articulated the clearest vision for updating this court through expanded use of technology.

Q&As for relevant candidates:

Audrie Lawton
Ray Shackelford
Cheryl Elliott Thornton
Lucia Bates

I don’t have anything to add here, but there are still more endorsements to get through. Kudos to the Chron to getting to them all, but man I would have appreciated it if they could have been spread out a bit more.

Cruz’s concerns about November

Take this for what it’s worth.

Not Ted Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

Filing roundup: Outside Harris County

A look at who filed for what on the Democratic side in the counties around Harris. These are all predominantly Republican counties, some more than others, so the Democrats are almost all challengers. On the flip side, there are many opportunities for gains.

Lisa Seger

Montgomery County

CD08 – Steven David

HD03 – Lisa Seger
HD15 – Lorena Perez McGill
HD16 – Mike Midler

County Judge – Jay Stittleburg
District Clerk – John-Brandon Pierre
County Treasurer – Mandy Sunderland

First, kudos to Montgomery County, hardly a Democratic bastion, for having so many candidates. They’re a County Clerk candidate away from having a full slate. I’m not tracking judicial candidates, County Commissioners, or Constables, but the MCDP has those, too. Steven David is a business and efficiency expert for the City of Houston. He’s running against Kevin “Cut all the taxes for the rich people!” Brady. Lisa Seger, whose district also covers Waller County, is a fulltime farmer in Field Store Community who has helped feed first responders during the fires of 2011 and is also involved in animal rescue. Her opponent is Cecil Bell, who was possibly the most fanatical pusher of anti-LGBT bills in the State House. She’s also a Facebook friend of my wife, who knows a lot of local farmers through her past work with Central City Co-Op. Jay Stittleburg is a Navy veteran and Project Management Professional who has worked in oil and gas. John-Brandon Pierre is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. A very solid group.

Fort Bend County

CD22 – Letitia Plummer
CD22 – Margarita Ruiz Johnson
CD22 – Mark Gibson
CD22 – Sri Preston Kulkarni
CD22 – Steve Brown

SD17 – Fran Watson
SD17 – Rita Lucido
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

HD26 – Sarah DeMerchant
HD27 – Rep. Ron Reynolds
HD27 – Wilvin Carter
HD28 – Meghan Scoggins
HD85 – Jennifer Cantu

County Judge – KP George
District Clerk – Beverly McGrew Walker

Gotta say, I’m kind of disappointed in Fort Bend. They had a full slate for county offices in 2014, but this year there wasn’t anyone to run for County Clerk or County Treasurer? I don’t understand how that happens. Mark Gibson and Steve Brown list Fort Bend addresses, while Letitia Plummer and Margarita Johnson are from Pearland and Sri Kulkarni is from Houston. The Senate candidates we’ve already discussed. For the State House, Sarah DeMerchant ran in 2016, while Wilvin Carter is the latest to try to take out Rep. Ron Reynolds, who is the only incumbent among all the candidates I’m listing in this post and whose story you know well. Meghan Scoggins has a background in aerospace but works now in the nonprofit sector, while Jennifer Cantu is an Early Childhood Intervention therapist for a Texas nonprofit. KP George is a Fort Bend ISD Trustee and past candidate for CD22.

Brazoria County

CD14 – Adrienne Bell
CD14 – Levy Barnes

SBOE7 – Elizabeth Markowitz

HD29 – Dylan Wilde Forbis
HD29 – James Pressley

County Judge – Robert Pruett
County Clerk – Rose MacAskie

CD22 and SD17 also contain Brazoria County. HD25, held by Dennis Bonnen, is in Brazoria but it is one of the few districts that drew no Democratic candidates. I haven’t focused much on the SBOE races, but as we know longtime Republican member David Bradley is retiring, so that seat is open. It’s not exactly a swing district, but maybe 2018 will be better than we think. Adrienne Bell has been in the CD14 race the longest; she’s a Houston native and educator who was on both the Obama 2012 and Wendy Davis 2014 campaigns. Levy Barnes is an ordained bishop with a bachelor’s in biology, and you’ll need to read his biography for yourself because there’s too much to encapsulate. Dylan Wilde Forbis is one of at least three transgender candidates for State House out there – Jenifer Pool in HD138 and Finnigan Jones in HD94 are the others I am aware of. The only useful bit of information I could find about the other candidates is the Robert Pruett had run for County Judge in 2014, too.

Galveston County

HD23 – Amanda Jamrok
HD24 – John Phelps

CD14 and SBOE7 are also in Galveston. Remember when Galveston was a Democratic county? Those were the days. I don’t have any further information about these candidates.

Hope these posts have been useful. There are more I hope to do, but they’re pretty labor intensive so I’ll get to them as best I can.

You can’t legislate from jail

That’s the Ron Reynolds story.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

There’s a chance state Rep. Ron Reynolds could be sentenced to serve a year in jail next year. If that happens, he wouldn’t have to resign, according to state officials.

The Houston-area Democrat recently lost his appeal to a 2016 conviction of five misdemeanor barratry charges for illegal solicitation of legal clients. Reynolds, a once-practicing personal injury lawyer, says his attorney is working to submit a petition to the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals to review the opinions issued by Texas’ 8th Court of Appeals, which upheld his conviction. It’s a last-ditch attempt to avoid serving his sentence of a year in jail.

In an interview with the Tribune, Reynolds refused to address what he would do if his final appeal fails.

“We’re very – and I’ve even got a second opinion – are very confident that we’ll prevail, so I don’t think it will get to that point,” Reynolds said in a phone interview.

Should Reynolds end up in jail next year, the four-term lawmaker could still hold office and continue to run for re-election. According to Sec. 141.001 of the Texas Election Code, the only criminal misconduct that would require an elected official to resign would be a felony conviction. Reynolds’ convictions qualify as misdemeanors.

“So technically, the representative could be serving out his sentence for a misdemeanor and still be a state representative,” said Sam Taylor, communications director for the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

[…]

Joel Daniels, a Montgomery County assistant district attorney who was among the lawyers who tried Reynolds’ case, noted that the opinions issued by the three-judge Eighth Court of Appeals on Nov. 29 were unanimous for each of the five charges. That bodes well for the prosecution’s case, he said.

“We are greatly gratified by the appeals court rejecting Mr. Reynolds’ attempt to overturn a jury’s verdict,” Daniels said. “This important decision brings Mr. Reynolds one step closer to justice.”

See here for the last update. I honestly don’t know what Reynolds’ end game is. I understand having hope, but you gotta be realistic, too. Reynolds received a decent amount of establishment support in his re-election bid two years ago. I got the sense at that time that patience was running out for him. In this environment, I have a hard time seeing how anyone could endorse him again, regardless of his voting record and their past personal relationship. Wilvin Carter is Reynolds’ opponent this time around. Perhaps the voters will render moot any concern about how Rep. Reynolds could perform his legislative duties while in jail.

Cricket in Houston

If cricket ever becomes a big deal in the US, the Houston region will play a key role in that.

Houston has had adult [cricket] leagues since the 1970s. Most players, then and now, are from Commonwealth countries – nations once ruled by the British Empire where cricket remains incredibly popular – including India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Caribbean nations. In that way, American cricket remains insular. The sport continues to grow in popularity as more immigrants from Asia, Africa and Oceania settle in Houston, but native-born Americans rarely encounter a cricket pitch.

Yet the same could be said for the relationship between Americans and soccer before the 1970s and ’80s. Since then, soccer has thrived at the high school and college levels, and the sport’s popularity supports men’s and women’s professional leagues. Millions of Americans watch European soccer leagues, whose games are now broadcast by U.S. networks. Cricketers see a similar path for growth.

Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, behind soccer. More than 1.5 billion fans watched the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Created in England in the 16th century, cricket is a parent, or at least an estranged uncle, of baseball. The sports are similar in that a batsman (batter) hits a ball to score runs while a bowler (pitcher) and fielders try to get him out. The similarities dwindle after that, but both could be summed up as being played at a sometimes leisurely pace punctuated by moments of excitement.

But to have any hopes of following in the footsteps of soccer, American cricketers have to surmount two glaring obstacles: how to convince local governments to build more pitches and how to nudge Americans without a Commonwealth heritage to give it a try.

The Houston Cricket League plays on 10 grounds in the Houston area, stretching from Wallis to Pearland to Humble. Several coaches were quick to praise Harris County Judge Ed Emmett for favoring public support for cricket, but conceded that lobbying politicians is often a challenge.

“The city officials, probably when we go talk to them, you first have to explain what cricket is. They have no clue,” Sushil Nadkarni said with a chuckle. “It could be as simple as some other game they’ve never heard of, or it could be like croquet, as far as they’re concerned.”

Nadkarni, a former captain of the U.S. national team who is regarded as one of the best Americans to ever play the game, lives in Katy and runs a cricket academy for youth players. An Indian immigrant, he moved to Texas to get his master’s degree in engineering.

He envisions a cricket farm system similar to baseball that develops young players and feeds the best to the national team. A tinge of envy in his voice, he described how Ireland and Afghanistan, despite their small size, recently were promoted to test status, the highest level of international cricket.

Surely, the U.S. should follow. With more kids joining leagues, talk of cricket becoming an Olympic sport and the ability to watch international cricket through streaming services, Nadkarni believes cricket is on the verge of exploding in popularity here. He brought many of his academy players to watch last Sunday’s match.

They play cricket in San Antonio, which also has a decent-sized South Asian population, as well. As the story notes, the first cricket stadium in America, a 2000-seat facility financed by a local businessman, was built in Pearland in 2013. International professional cricket players have settled here and are working to build the sport. I can see this happening, but crossing over from the population that already loves it to the much larger population that knows nothing about it will be the big challenge.

There is an obvious, if unstated, flaw in the let’s-do-what-soccer-did argument. Soccer is easy to understand for players and fans. Cricket, to a novice, is incomprehensible – a major barrier to attracting newcomers. Even for baseball fans who embrace their sport’s complexity, like those who delight in debating what is or is not a balk, keeping track of the silly point, fly slip, gully, square leg and deep forward mid-wicket positions on a cricket pitch may be a bridge too far.

The length of a cricket match is also an obstacle, though there is a version of the game that takes about two and a half hours, which is perfectly fan friendly. Picking up the basics of the game is another matter. I’ve encountered enough cricket to kind of get the idea, but I don’t understand it well enough to explain it to anyone else. Teaching people the hows and whys of cricket will be very necessary. I wish them all good luck.

Appeals court upholds Reynolds barratry conviction

Not good.

Rep. Ron Reynolds

A Texas appeals court has upheld the conviction of state Rep. Ron Reynolds, who was found guilty in 2015 of engaging in a scheme to illegally solicit potential clients for his law firm.

The three-judge appellate panel ruled Wednesday that there was sufficient evidence to convict Reynolds and that the trial judge did not violate any rules relating to the introduction of evidence.

[…]

In a phone interview Thursday, Reynolds said he plans to continue appealing his conviction and remain free on a $25,000 bond. He said he couldn’t respond to the appellate judges’ ruling because he hadn’t read their opinion.

“It would be premature of me,” Reynolds said. “Once (my lawyer) gets everything filed and once everything is adjudicated, I feel very confident I’ll be vindicated and cleared on appeal.”

In his appeal, Reynolds argued that he believed Valdez did not initiate contact with the potential clients for legal representation. Reynolds said he thought Valdez referred clients who had initially sought out Valdez for treatment at his medical clinics.

The judges found enough evidence to uphold the conviction, noting that Reynolds paid Valdez in cash, did not document the payments and used code words in text messages to cover potentially nefarious motives, among other tactics.

“The evidence here supports a rational construct that (Reynolds) was aware of Valdez’s scheme and knowingly permitted his conduct,” Eighth Court of Appeals Chief Justice Ann Crawford McClure wrote.

Rep. Reynolds was convicted of misdemeanor barratry in November of 2015, and received the maximum sentence of a year in jail a couple of days later. He has alleged that racial bias was a factor in his prosecution and conviction. His law license is on suspension while his case is being litigated. You know how I feel about this – I wish Rep. Reynolds would step down so he can better take care of his own business. I have no idea what his plan is for dealing with his legal issues at this time, but he’s once again running for election, and once again he has a primary opponent. One way or another, at some point this saga will come to an end.

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.

KP George files for Fort Bend County Judge

From the inbox:

KP George

Current Fort Bend Independent School District Board Trustee, Board Certified Financial Planner, father of three beautiful children, husband of a FBISD educator, and an Asian American citizen, KP George of Fort Bend County, is announcing his campaign for Fort Bend County Judge.

With immense changes in the county, the county must meet the demands of the 21st century and the communities that live here. Fort Bend County residents deserve better emergency preparedness, real fiscal responsibility, and constant community support. While KP George neighbors and strangers alike during the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, it became clear that Fort Bend County was ill prepared to assist Fort Bend residents. After discussions with stakeholders, it is stark as daylight that there are flaws to the county’s response and changes need to be made to better assist the diverse group of Fort Bend residents.

For all Fort Bend County residents, KP George will fight for stronger emergency systems, total fiscal responsibility, increased government transparency, and constant community engagement and input. The KP George campaign will focus on giving a voice to the incredible diversity we have in Fort Bend County and fixing the shortcomings of the current county government.

Just recently, KP George was re-elected as a FBISD Trustee this past May 2017 with 64% of the vote. KP George wants to thank his family, his friends, and God for helping him come from a small, poor village to eventually achieve the American Dream right here in Fort Bend County.

Here’s his Facebook page and his campaign webpage, which as of Tuesday still reflected his 2017 campaign. I’d mentioned the lack of countywide candidates in Fort Bend on Monday, so I’m glad to provide an update. George ran for Congress in CD22 in 2012 – here’s the interview I did with him. Fort Bend Democrats broke through at the Presidential level last year, and much like in Harris County they could have a good year in 2018. Gotta have the candidates first, so kudos to George for stepping up. I’ve got a larger update in a subsequent post, but wanted to highlight this one on its own.

Post-holiday weekend filing update

Pulling this together from various sources.

– According to the Brazoria County Democratic Party, Beto O’Rourke has company in the primary for Senate. Sema Hernandez, whose campaign Facebook page describes her as a “Berniecrat progressive” from Houston, is a candidate as well. I’d not seen or heard her name before this, and neither she nor Beto has officially filed yet as far as I can tell, so this is all I know. Some free advice to Beto O’Rourke: Please learn a lesson from the Wendy Davis experience and run hard in South Texas and the Valley so we don’t wake up in March to a fleet of stories about how you did surprisingly poorly in those areas against an unknown with a Latinx surname. Thanks.

J. Darnell Jones announced on Facebook that he will be filing for CD02 on November 30, joining Todd Litton in that race. Jones is a retired Navy officer (he has also served in the Army) who ran for Pearland City Council this past May. He had been associated with this race for awhile, so this is just making it official.

– The field in CD10 is growing. Richie DeGrow filed at TDP headquarters before Thanksgiving. He lives in Austin has kind of a meandering biography that among other things indicates he has had a career in the hospitality industry; I’ll leave it to you to learn more. Tami Walker is an attorney in Katy who has experience with various state and federal regulatory agencies; I’m told she’s active with Indivisible Katy. Tawana Cadien, who has run a couple of times before, is still out there, and Ryan Stone has filed campaign finance reports, though I can’t find a web presence for him, and neither has filed yet as far as I can tell. Finally, Michael Siegel, who is an assistant City Attorney in Austin is collecting petition signatures in lieu of paying the filing fee.

– In CD22, we have Mark Gibson, a businessman and retired Army colonel who was the candidate in 2016, and Letitia Plummer, a dentist in Pearland who is unfortunately an object lesson in why you should register your name as a domain before entering politics. I am also hearing that Steve Brown, the 2014 Democratic candidate for Railroad Commissioner and former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, is planning to jump in.

– We have some interesting primaries for State House in Harris County. The rematch from 2016 in HD139 between first term Rep. Jarvis Johnson and former Lone Star College trustee Randy Bates may be the headliner, but there’s also Adam Milasincic versus two-time Council candidate Jenifer Pool for the right to run in a very winnable HD138. Finally, there’s Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore (about whom I can find no information) in the much less winnable HD133.

– In Fort Bend County, Sarah DeMerchant is back for a return engagement in HD26, Meghan Scoggins is running in HD28, and Jennifer Cantu, who does not yet have a web presence, is in for HD85. Rep. Ron Reynolds will once again have an opponent in HD27, this time facing Wilvin Carter.

– Still missing: Candidates in HDs 132 and 135 in Harris County, and 29 in Brazoria County. Also, Fort Bend has a number of county offices up for election this year – District Attorney, County Clerk, District Clerk, Treasurer – and no candidates for those offices that I am aware of. There’s two weeks left. Let’s not miss out.

The First Amendment remains in effect in Fort Bend

For now, at least.

Karen Fonseca, the owner of a white truck at the center of a social media dispute with Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, is considering a civil rights lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.

Fonseca’s attorney, Brian Middleton, made the announcement during a press conference on Monday. Middleton added that the American Civil Liberties Union has also expressed interest in a possible lawsuit.

“We should not allow Sheriff Nehls to intimidate people into silence,” Middleton said. “This is wrong and we will not let it stand.”

The threat of legal action stems from controversy over a Facebook post Nehls made on Wednesday, Nov. 15, regarding Fonseca’s truck, which bears a sticker that reads “F— Trump and f— you for voting for him.”

Nehls threatened to charge Fonseca with disorderly conduct over the sticker. A day later, Fonseca was arrested on a pre-existing fraud warrant out of the Rosenberg Police Department.

Middleton and State Rep. Ron Reynolds allege that Nehls’ public dispute with Fonseca is a politically-motivated attack designed to gain attention as Nehls considers a campaign against Rep. Pete Olson, who represents the 22nd District of Texas.

“I demand an apology from Sheriff Nehls for targeting (Fonseca) and making her life and her family’s life a living nightmare,” Reynolds said in a statement.

Fonseca has since added a new sticker that reads “F— Troy Nehls and f— you for voting for him.”

I hadn’t covered this before now, but I’m sure you’ve seen the stories; some earlier Chron articles are here and here. To be perfectly honest, I don’t much care for the Fonseca’s bumper stickers. They’re tacky, and as a parent I have sympathy for anyone who would prefer their kids not see that. But clearly, they have a right to decorate their truck in that fashion, and Sheriff Nehls has grossly abused his office by arresting Karen Fonseca, against the advice of the Fort Bend County District Attorney. He deserves to get his hat handed to him in court for this. Pull up a chair and enjoy the show, this ought to be good.

We will never stop widening our highways

Eventually, everything will be used for extra highway capacity.

For people in western Harris and Fort Bend counties, now is the time to sit down with your toddler and ask what kind of Interstate 10 they’d like to have.

Texas Department of Transportation officials, as required by federal policies, are seeking environmental clearance on the project to build two managed lanes along I-10 from Texas 6 to FM 359 in Waller County. The project is expected to begin construction in mid-2030.

That’s not a typo. TxDOT currently plans to open bids on the project in April 2030. Right around the time actor Channing Tatum turns 50.

The project will require about 45 acres of right of way in Fort Bend and Waller counties as the freeway is widened. In some cases, homes and businesses will be affected by the proposed widening.

But don’t worry, no Serious People will find anything to object about that, because it is a Road Project, and That’s Just How These Things Work. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunities to give feedback going forward. If you’re lucky, this will get dragged out in roughly the same way the I-45 widening project has been. But be prepared to gird your loins anyway.

What the Harvey needs are from the state

It’s not just about recovery. The long term needs, including mitigation against future events like Harvey, is where the real money will need to be spent.

More than one month after Harvey’s deluge hit, local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, testified at a state House of Representatives Appropriations Committee hearing that more than $370 million worth of debris removal and repair work on more than 50 government buildings has strained local coffers, necessitating quick aid and reimbursement from the federal or state government.

They also emphasized what likely will greatly exceed the costs of immediate recovery: how to prepare for the next storm. That could include billions of dollars for large-scale buyouts, a third reservoir on Houston’s west side, a reservoir on the Brazos River in Fort Bend County and hundreds of millions of dollars to jump start bayou improvement projects that have slowed in recent years without federal funding.

“There’s going to come a time where we have taken all the money from the feds, we have gotten all the money we’re going to get from the state, and we’re going to have to decide: What kind of community do we want to be?” Emmett said at the hearing.

Harvey’s record-smashing rainfall and floods damaged more than 136,000 homes and other buildings in Harris County and killed nearly 80 people across the state.

The Texas House Appropriations Committee and Urban Affairs Committee met at the University of Houston on Monday to understand public costs and where reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. Congressional appropriations were being directed in the storm’s wake.

Emmett, Turner and Fort Bend County officials testified, as did Texas A&M University Chancellor John Sharp, who is coordinating the state’s recovery efforts. The heads of several other state agencies also testified.

The hearing came just three days after Gov. Greg Abbott visited Houston and presented Turner with a check for $50 million. The check almost immediately was spoken for, Turner said, mostly for debris removal and insurance costs.

Appropriations Chairman John Zerwas, R-Houston, said Harvey, in theory, qualified as the “perfect reason” to use the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund,” a savings account comprised of billions in excess oil and gas taxes.

Abbott had indicated as much last week but said he would tap existing state emergency funds and reimburse them from the Rainy Day Fund when the Legislature next meets in 2019.

“Before the Legislature acts, we need to ensure what the expenses are that the state is responsible for,” Zerwas said.

Yes, that would be nice to know. There were other hearings this week as well.

The first order of business, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett told the House Natural Resources Committee, needs to be a flood control plan for the entire state — and the Gulf Coast in particular.

The Texas Water Development Board is already in the process of crafting a statewide flood plan, with the help of $600,000 state lawmakers gave them earlier this year. Lawmakers haven’t yet promised to back any of the projects that end up in the plan.

Emmett, a Republican and former state lawmaker, said Harris County intends to put together its own flood control plan in the meantime, add up the costs of its recommended projects, then see how much the federal and state government want to contribute. He said he’ll be the first to push for a local bond package to make up the difference.

Property taxes are “the most miserable tax created,” Emmett said. “But it’s what we’ve been given to work with so we don’t have a choice.”

Emmett said Harris County’s plan likely will include another major dam to catch runoff during storms and relieve pressure on two existing reservoirs, Addicks and Barker. Those reservoirs, which filled to historic levels during Harvey, flooded thousands of homes that may not have been inundated with additional protections.

Emmett and the city of Houston’s “flood czar,” Stephen Costello, suggested the state tap its savings account, known as the Rainy Day Fund, to pay for such a project, estimated to cost at least $300 million. (Gov. Greg Abbott has said lawmakers can tap that fund in 2019 or sooner if they need it for Harvey relief; so far, he has written Houston a $50 million out of a state disaster relief fund.)

Costello said Texas should also consider creating a multi-billion dollar fund to support flood control projects similar to one the state’s voters approved in 2013 for water supply projects.

So far all of the talk is constructive, and even Dan Patrick is doing his part. The real test will be whether we follow up on any of this when the Lege reconvenes. Also, while this doesn’t directly answer my question about the SWIFT fund, but it does clearly suggest that it’s not intended for this kind of infrastructure. Which makes sense, given when it was created, but I had wondered if there was some flexibility built in. I would hope there would be plenty of support for a similar fund for flood mitigation.

MUDs and Harvey

City governments have their pros and cons, and their challenges getting things done. But at least their existence means residents of said cities have places to go when they need various services. Not everyone has that, and in times of crisis like what Harvey has wrought, that’s a big deal.

Cinco Ranch, a master-planned community 25 miles west of downtown Houston, is governed by a patchwork of municipal utility districts – MUDs for short – obscure entities that sell bonds and collect taxes to pay for water systems, sewage plants, roads and other infrastructure.

The closest thing to a mayor for Cinco Ranch is G. Timothy Lawrence, 74. He’s a semi-retired businessman and president of the board of the community’s main MUD. He and his four fellow board members set the property tax rate and hire lawyers, engineers and financial advisers. Yet he has never lived in Cinco Ranch and did not set foot there during the flooding. His home is a 20-mile drive away, in the Royal Oaks section of Houston.

Drawdy and many of his neighbors had never heard of him.

MUDs have proliferated in the Houston suburbs, helping to power the region’s runaway growth, because they offer developers an advantageous way to fund infrastructure. In unincorporated stretches of suburbia, they have evolved into permanent mini-governments largely invisible to the taxpayers they serve.

The devastation wrought by Harvey has stirred fresh questions about whether MUDs and similar special purpose districts are sufficiently transparent and accountable, and whether they’re capable of putting the public interest ahead of developers’ interests – particularly in protecting neighborhoods from flooding.

Typically, MUDs are created at the initiative of developers, who pick their initial board members, lawyers and other professional advisers. The districts sell bonds to reimburse developers for infrastructure costs. Residents pay off the debt through property taxes.

MUDs usually do not have websites, nor any physical presence in their communities. In Cinco Ranch, which is divided into 16 separate MUDs, there is no city hall and no civil servants. Water and sewage facilities are operated by contractors hired by the main MUD. That MUD’s board members usually hold their monthly meetings not in Cinco Ranch, but in the offices of the district’s law firm near downtown Houston.

“It’s the difference between paying your monthly bills to a nameless organization with an acronym and a number versus someone you know, who could be held responsible for what happens in a crisis,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

You know how I feel about MUDs. It should be abundantly clear that MUDs are no substitute for government, which will mean different things to different people. Is this a good deal for the people of Cinco Ranch, who are dealing with the effects of Harvey without having any of the services and information dissemination capability that people who live in Houston expect? Is it the sort of thing that would make them reconsider their situation, and maybe work towards incorporating? I suppose if there’s no urge to think about those things now, there never will be. I wish the residents of Cinco Ranch and other such developments the best in getting the assistance they need, and in assessing their options going forward.

What should the people living near the dams have known?

More than they were told, is what they’re saying.

A federal lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claims government officials knew for years that water impounded behind Addicks and Barker dams would flood thousands of suburban homes during an extreme storm – and yet did nothing to advise or compensate property owners.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Christina Micu, a homeowner in the Canyon Gate neighborhood in Cinco Ranch, a subdivision that essentially became part of the Barker Reservoir during Harvey. The case is pending in the Washington D.C.-based U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Canyon Gate was inundated for more than a week when the Army Corps allowed water impounded behind the dams, called the “flood pool,” to reach record size as more than 50 inches of rain fell between August 25 and 29th.

The suit was filed as a class action on behalf of everyone who owns property that flooded behind both dams. Though other lawsuits have been filed on behalf of those whose properties were flooded by dam releases, this is the first case filed on behalf of those whose property flooded directly from what engineers call “reservoir pools” or “flood pools.”

More than 30,000 people own property and more than 140,000 people live in areas that Harris and Fort Bend county officials have identified as subject to inundation from those flood pools, according to a Chronicle analysis of evacuation orders issued during Harvey.

There’s already one lawsuit over the issue of compensation for the damages caused by the dam releases – basically, that’s a takings claim, like when eminent domain is used. This one has that element and more in it, and there’s still more where those came from.

In the weeks since the storm, a slate of high-powered law firms have coordinated to recruit as many as 10,000 plaintiffs in Houston. Other lawyers — particularly those who specialize in eminent domain and environmental law — are operating independently. Most of them are pursuing cases for downstream residents like Pledger who live along Buffalo Bayou and were impacted by the Army Corps’ controlled releases.

On a recent weeknight, Pledger and dozens of other flood victims packed into a private meeting room at a local Mexican food restaurant to consider a pitch from yet another legal firm over complimentary fajitas. Other than flooding during Harvey — most for the first time — the residents all had one thing in common: They live downstream of two federally owned reservoirs that got so full during the unrelenting rainstorm that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had to release an unprecedented amount of accumulated water into a bayou that snakes through their neighborhoods.

[…]

All told, lawyers and legal experts say the spate of lawsuits may become one of the largest inverse condemnation-related legal challenges in U.S. history, driven in part by the high value of the impacted homes, which are all on Houston’s wealthier west side.

But they are mixed in their forecasts of how the cases might play out. Many say the property owners have little chance of winning, citing a variety of state and federal legal opinions; others say property owners have a fighting chance, although many admit it’s not a slam dunk.

They all agree on one thing: It will take years and untold millions of dollars to litigate.

“Generally speaking, I think it’s easy to say the government will win,” said New York University law professor Richard Epstein, who has been called the nation’s leading academic expert on eminent domain and takings law. But, he added, “There’s nothing about this which is straightforward or simple.”

If there are still legal battles being fought over this ten years from now, I won’t be surprised. Neither will I be surprised if there are a flurry of bills in the next legislative session to expand or abridge the rights of those who are suing. Get settled in for the long haul, we’ll be watching this for awhile.

Huffman gets a Republican challenger

This is definitely one to watch.

Kristin Tassin

Kristin Tassin, the president of the Fort Bend ISD Board of Trustees, is running against state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, in the 2018 GOP primary.

“I’m officially running,” Tassin told The Texas Tribune on Thursday. “The final decision really came down to the fact that the state Legislature is just not getting the job done on many issues that are important to families in Texas.”

Tassin citied issues including property tax reform and public education. “I feel like we need somebody in the Legislature who’s going to stand up for those things and bring real solutions and not be afraid to stand up to special interests,” she said.

Tassin has been an outspoken advocate for public education, penning a number of op-eds that have taken aim at the Senate — and Huffman — for how they have approached the issue. In one of those op-eds, Tassin took Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to task for his derisive use of the term “educrats.” 

“Most of us are parents, many with conservative views and values, who ran for the school board or got involved in our school districts in order to improve education and make a difference for the children in our communities and across the state of Texas,” Tassin said.

In the interview, Tassin said Huffman has “really been no friend to education,” pointing to Huffman’s vote during the regular session paving the way for a private school tuition subsidy bill to reach the floor. Huffman was among three Republicans who ultimately voted against the bill, but Tassin has argued the legislation would have never been able to make it to the floor without Huffman’s initial sign-off.

I’m Team Fran Watson all the way, but Kristin Tassin would be an upgrade over Joan Huffman. Huffman isn’t a freak like Bob Hall or Don Huffines, but she is a reliable vote for Dan Patrick, and anything that loosens Patrick’s grip on power is a good thing. We’ve seen plenty of wingnut challenges to establishment Republican incumbents before, but we’ve not seen a serious (much less successful) challenge by a more moderate R to a conservative incumbent. Mainstreamers have withstood challenges and they’ve won their share of open seat battles, but this is something new. I will be very interested to see who lines up behind whom in this race. I don’t expect any establishment Republican support for Tassin – that’s the way things are when an incumbent who is otherwise in good standing gets a primary challenger – but there’s plenty of room for outsiders to support her. Surely pro-education groups like Parent PAC will have to take a look at this race, and of course she can demonstrate strength in grassroots fundraising. If that happens, this could be a fascinating race. The odds are against Tassin, but the potential for shockwaves is real, and it would be amazing. I wish Tassin all the best.

The rural/suburban tradeoff

Martin Longman returns to a point he has been making about the way the vote shifted in the 2016 election.

Let’s try to be clear about what we mean. Hillary Clinton won a lot of votes in the suburbs from people who had voted for John McCain and Mitt Romney. She lost even more votes from folks in small towns and rural areas who had voted for Barack Obama.

So, if I understand what Jeet Heer and David Atkins are saying, it’s basically that the Democrats can’t make much more progress in the suburbs than they’ve already made and that the easier task is to win back Democrats that they’ve recently lost. Either that, or they’re just wrong about how likely Romney Republicans are/were to defect.

I don’t have a strong opinion on which would be the easier task. But I do know that so far this trade has not favored the Democrats. The left’s votes are already too concentrated and I can make this point clear fairly easily.

When suburban Chester County was voting 50-50 in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012, it was possible for the Democrats to also win down ballot seats. And the Democrats have succeeded in electing representatives from Chester County to the state legislature. Gaining 25,000 votes at the top of the ticket helps, but the area is still competitive. But in many other counties in Pennsylvania, the Democrats went from winning 50 percent or 40 percent to winning only 30 percent or 20 percent. The result is that many more legislative seats became so lopsidedly red that downticket Democrats no longer have a fighting chance.

In this sense, not all votes are equal. It’s more valuable for the Democrats to add a voter in a rural area than one in a competitive suburb, and rural votes are definitely of more use than added votes in seats where Democrats are already winning by comfortable margins.

Longman confines his analysis to Pennsylvania, which is obviously a critical state in Presidential elections as well as one that has been greatly affected by strongly partisan gerrymanders. Be that as it may, I wanted to look at how this perspective applies to Texas. It’s been my perception that Texas’ rural legislative districts, which had already been strongly Republican at the federal level but which still elected Democrats to the State House, had become more and more hostile to Democrats since the 2010 election, when nearly all of those Democratic legislators from rural districts were wiped out. If that’s the case, then the increased redness of these districts, while problematic as a whole for statewide purposes, doesn’t change anything in terms of legislative opportunities. On the other hand, if the suburbs are becoming less red, that would open up new possibilities, both now and in the future as this is where much of the population growth is.

That’s my hypothesis, anyway. To check it, I took the electoral breakdown of the State House districts for the 2012 and 2016 elections from the Legislative Council, and put the results from the Presidential election into a new sheet. I also added the results from the Keasler/Burns (2016) and Keller/Hampton (2012) Court of Criminal Appeals races in there, to act as a more neutral comparison. I then sorted the spreadsheet by the Romney percentage for each district, in descending order, and grouped them by ranges. I calculated the change in R and D vote from 2012 to 2016 for each district in both the Presidential and CCA races, then summed them up for each of the ranges I defined. That’s a lot of words, so let’s see what this looks like, and I’ll explain it again from there:


Romney 70%+ (42 districts)

Trump     + 143,209    CCA R   + 267,069
Clinton   +  36,695    CCA D   -   8,330


Romney 60-70% (31 districts)

Trump     +  15,054    CCA R   + 135,280
Clinton   + 164,820    CCA D   + 116,534


Romney 50-60% (23 districts)

Trump     -  32,999    CCA R   +  69,230
Clinton   + 148,633    CCA D   + 101,215


Romney 40-50% (9 districts)

Trump     +   3,081    CCA R   +  16,418
Clinton   +  45,233    CCA D   +  39,721


Romney 30-40% (20 districts)

Trump     -   9,360    CCA R   +  17,429
Clinton   +  84,385    CCA D   +  69,785


Romney < 30% (25 districts)

Trump     -   3,485    CCA R   +  23,031
Clinton   +  90,251    CCA D   +  76,447

Let’s start at the top. There were 42 district in which Mitt Romney collected at least 70% of the vote in 2012. In those 42 districts, Donald Trump got 143,209 more votes than Romney did, while Hillary Clinton gained 36,695 more votes than Barack Obama. In the CCA races, Republicans gained 267,069 votes while Democrats lost 8,330 votes. Which tells us two things: The pro-Republican shift in these already very strong R districts was pronounced, but even here there were some people that refused to vote for Trump.

Now that doesn’t address the urban/suburban/rural divide. You get into some rhetorical issues here, because West Texas includes some decent-sized metro areas (Lubbock, Midland, Abilene, etc), but is still more rural in character than anything else, and some primarily suburban counties like Montgomery and Williamson include sizable tracts of farmland. Keeping that in mind, of the 42 counties in this group, I’d classify nine as urban/suburban, and the other 33 as rural. To be specific:


Dist  County      Romney   Trump   Obama  Clinton     Diff
==========================================================
015   Montgomery  57,601  56,038  16,348   24,253 D +9,468
016   Montgomery  45,347  52,784  10,229   12,666 R +5,000
020   Williamson  49,271  56,644  17,913   20,808 R +4,478
024   Galveston   49,564  51,967  16,936   20,895 D +1,556
033   Collin      51,437  56,093  18,860   27,128 D +3,612
063   Denton      50,485  53,127  18,471   24,600 D +3,487
098   Tarrant     58,406  57,917  18,355   25,246 D +7,390
128   Harris      40,567  40,656  14,907   17,165 D +2,347
130   Harris      53,020  55,187  15,928   22,668 D +4,583

These are urban/suburban districts among those were 70% or more for Mitt Romney. Hillary Clinton gained votes everywhere except in the two, with the two exceptions being the most rural among them; HD16 is the northernmost part of Montgomery County, including Conroe, while HD20 has most of its population in Georgetown and includes Burnet and Milam Counties as well. In the other 33 districts, all of which I’d classify as rural, Clinton did worse than Obama in all but three of them, CDs 82 (Midland County, Tom Craddick’s district, where she had a net gain of 16 – yes, 16 – votes), 81 (Ector County, which is Odessa and Brooks Landgraf’s district, net gain of 590 votes), and 06 (Smith County, home of Tyler and Matt Schaefer, net gain of 871).

I’ve thrown a lot of numbers at you here, so let me sum up: Hillary Clinton absolutely got blitzed in rural Texas, with the gap between her and Donald Trump increasing by well over 100,000 votes compared to the Obama/Romney difference. However, all of this was concentrated in legislative districts that were far and away he least competitive for Democrats to begin with. The net loss of potentially competitive legislative races in these parts of the state is exactly zero.

Everywhere else, Clinton gained on Obama. More to the point, everywhere else except the 60-70% Romney districts, downballot Democrats gained. Even in that group, there were big steps forward, with HDs 66 and 67 (both in Collin County, both held by Freedom Caucus types) going from over 60% for Romney to under 50% for Trump, while HD26 in Fort Bend went from nearly 63% for Romney to barely 50% for Trump. They’re still a challenge at lower levels, but they’re under 60% red and they’re the swing districts of the immediate future.

Now I want to be clear that losing the rural areas like this does have a cost for Democrats. The reason Dems came as close as they did to a majority in 2008 is because they held about a dozen seats in rural areas, all holdovers from the old days when nearly everyone was a Democrat. Those seats went away in 2010, and with the exception of the one that was centered on Waco, none of them are remotely competitive going forward. The end result of this is that the most optimistic scenario I can paint barely puts the Dems above 70 members, not enough for a majority. To have a real shot at getting a majority sometime in the next decade or two, Dems are going to have to figure out how to compete in smaller metro areas – Lubbock, Abilene, Tyler, Odessa, Midland, San Angelo, Amarillo, Wichita Falls, etc etc etc – all of which are a little bit urban and a little bit more rural. Some of these places have growing Latino populations, some of them are experiencing the same kinds of problems that the larger urban areas are facing. Becoming competitive in the suburbs is great, but there’s still a lot more to this very large state of ours.

Anyway. I can’t speak for places like Pennsylvania and Ohio, but in Texas I’d call the rural/suburban tradeoff we saw in 2016 to be a positive step. There are plenty more steps to take, but this was a good one to begin with.

Fort Bend DA to retire

The end of an era, and an opportunity for change.

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey announced Friday that he will not seek re-election, marking an end to what will be 26 years in office, according to a news release.

Healey said he will retire at the end of his term in 2018 to spend time with his wife. He will be a few weeks shy of 64, he said in an interview.

“I’ve often said retirement is too often wasted on the elderly,” he said. “There’s a whole other phase of life that I want to be able to enjoy with my family.”

Healey first took office by judicial appointment Nov. 18, 1992, when Fort Bend County was a far cry from the bustling county it has become. He presided over the growth of the office from what was then 16 prosecutors to what is now 64, according to the release.

[…]

Healey won in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote. His term will end Dec. 31, 2018.

First, let me say that I wish DA Healy well in his retirement. From a quality of life perspective, I think he has the right idea. Politically speaking, this is a big opportunity for Democrats in Fort Bend, as it is surely easier to win an open seat rather than knock off an incumbent with no obvious demerits. Finding a candidate would be the first order of business; former two-term County Commissioner Richard Morrison comes to my mind, but I’m just speculating idly. Fort Bend Democrats have other races of interest next year – HD26, Commissioners Court Precinct 4, the other countywide offices; big parts of SD17 and CD22 are also in Fort Bend – but this is a definite prize. I’m sure it will draw serious interest.

Who gets the VW settlement money?

That’s the fifty million dollar question.

Volkswagen faces billions of dollars in fines in Texas for its admitted cheating on emissions tests, but the potential payday is being held up as the state Attorney General and county officials fight in court over which government agencies will get to claim a share of the proceeds from the German auto giant.

Under Texas law, county governments are entitled to half the award that any legal action against Volkswagen brings – with the remainder going to state coffers. But with more than 20 counties suing Volkswagen in the aftermath of the emissions scandal, Attorney General Ken Paxton is attempting to toss out all but two of the counties from the case, leaving the state in charge and the counties with no chance to claim any of the penalties.

The stakes are high for both the state and counties. A single county could reap tens of millions of dollars in penalties, at a time when low oil and gas prices are straining budgets across Texas and leading to cuts in public services.

“It’s extremely important for the counties. We’re all strapped,” said Anthony Constant, a Corpus Christi attorney representing Dallas and other counties in the suit. “I have no idea what (the AG’s office) is doing or why they’re doing it, but it appears to me they have some concern it would somehow be bad for them if the counties were allowed (to) proceed.”

The Attorney General’s Office declined to comment. But in a filing earlier this year, Paxton argued that it was their office’s right to uphold Texas’ environmental laws and allowing the county lawsuits to proceed would lead to “the unconstitutional result” of Volkswagen being tried and fined multiple times for the same violation.

[…]

In Texas, the company settled violations of the state’s anti-fraud laws for $50 million in November. But Volkswagen still faces far more costly violations of the state’s air pollution laws, which could potentially mean fines of between $50 and $5,000 per day for all 32,000 of its clean diesel vehicles registered in Texas. Some, which were sold under both the Volkswagen and Audi brands, have been on the road close to a decade.

But the process of determining the extent of those penalties is being held up by the infighting between the state and counties over who gets to sue Volkswagen.

After the trial court in Austin ruled the counties could remain in the case, the attorney general’s office filed an appeal in October with the Texas Third Court of Appeals. Sensing an opening, Volkswagen’s attorneys filed a motion to delay the entire trial until the question of the county lawsuits was resolved.

With the matter of the county lawsuits potentially headed to the Supreme Court – a process that can take years – the state and counties’ attorneys both argued against delaying the trial. But in January the appellate court sided with Volkswagen.

See here, here, and here for the background. This settlement is from state-level litigation; there was a separate federal lawsuit settlement that netted money for the state, as only the state was involved. As the story notes, Harris and Fort Bend Counties filed their lawsuits first, then the state got involved, and subsequently tried to boot all the counties out as plaintiffs. I personally see no reason for that, but this is what the judge will have to decide.

Early voting so far

The Chron looks at the first day of early voting and some area races.

Early voting began Monday for local elections next month that will determine who leads increasingly diverse Pasadena, the fate of a major school bond referendum in League City and whether Houston’s largest school district pays tens of millions to the state to comply with a controversial policy and avoid a potentially bigger financial hit.

Across Harris County, 1,153 voters turned out Monday for the elections, figures show. They included many who live within the Houston Independent School District and voted for a second time on “recapture,” a process through which so-called property tax-wealthy school districts pay the state to help fund districts that collect less.

[…]

Two candidates, Bill Benton and Edmund Samora, are seeking to unseat Rosenberg Mayor Cynthia McConathy, who stirred debate last year after sending an email to city employees inviting them to participate in prayer at the start of the new year. Richmond Mayor Evalyn Moore has been serving in her post since the 2012 death of her husband, Hilmar Moore, who had been the city’s mayor for 63 years. She now faces Tres Davis, who is running what an online fundraiser calls a “People’s Campaign.”

Meanwhile, in Stafford, longtime Mayor Leonard Scarcella, who has held his seat since 1969, is running unopposed.

Sugar Land has only one contested seat: that to fill the position of Harish Jajoo, a city councilman who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to be the city’s first South Asian mayor. He chose not to seek re-election as a councilman.

Of note among school district trustee races, Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Anna Gonzales, who was indicted on charges related to bribery in a case that was dismissed last year, faces an opponent in Joe Hubenak, the son of the late state representative and LCISD board member by the same name.

In Brazoria County, Pearland voters are heading to the polls to vote for mayor, City Council and school trustees. A letter from a real estate agent denouncing “liberal gay rights Democrats” trying to take over the city and school board elections there – which are nonpartisan – drew ire from many progressive groups, as well as longtime Mayor Tom Reid and two other candidates endorsed by the letter.

In Clear Creek ISD, the district is asking voters to approve a $487 million bond that officials say is needed to build new schools and keep up with growing student populations. But conservative groups are concerned that the bond’s steep price tag includes too many unnecessary frills, such as $13.7 million to renovate Clear Creek High School’s auditorium.

Consternation over the bond has set up a showdown between two warring political action committees, or PACs, which have spread from national races down to municipal races and local bond referenda.

The Harris County Clerk is sending out its daily EV reports as usual, with a new feature this time – they are posting that report online, which you can find here. As that is a generic URL, I presume it will simply be updated each day, so be sure to hit Refresh if you’re going back at a later date. The vast majority of the vote in the usual places should be for the HISD recapture referendum. There’s no way to tell how many of the mail ballots are for that and how many are for the other races. I may venture some guesses at overall turnout later in the process, but for now I’m just going to shrug and say this is all too new and unprecedented to make anything resembling an educated guess. Have you voted yet (I have not yet), and if so how are you voting on the HISD issue, if that’s on your ballot?

Early voting for May elections begins tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first day of the nine-day early voting period for the May 6 election. I’ve generally not paid a great deal of attention to these May elections, but it’s safe to say that This Time It’s Different, and not just because I myself have an election to vote in. The people who live in the following political jurisdictions in Harris County have a reason to vote as well: City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Houston Independent School District, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91. You can see the locations and schedule for Harris County early voting here.

Note that there are other elections within Harris County that are not being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. This means that they have their own polling places and early voting schedules, which may or may not include Saturday the 29th and Sunday the 30th. Among them are:

Pasadena ISD – a list of their candidates with a link to their 30 day finance reports is here.

Katy ISD – see their list of candidates here.

San Jacinto College – locations and schedules are here, list of candidates is here.

City of Katy, which also has some charter amendments. Here’s some information about their candidates for Mayor and City Council Ward B. There was no election held in Katy in 2015 because no one filed to run against any of the incumbents, so they decided not to bother with it.

Other elections of local interest are in Fort Bend County and Brazoria County. For Fort Bend, note that the different locations have different hours, with some of them being open each day while some others are not. Check the links before heading out.

And of course there’s the HISD recapture re-vote. I am voting for recapture and recommend you do the same. The No vote last November accomplished what I hoped it would. Now is the time to move forward.

So there you have it. There are other elections around the state, the most interesting of which is surely the San Antonio Mayor’s race in which incumbent Ivy Taylor is seeking a second full term, but these are the local races of interest that I know of. Most of these elections get comically low turnout, so your vote counts for a lot if you actually go an cast it. We’ll see if it really is different this year or not.

Our first look at Senate district data

The Trib looks at the data we now have.

Sen. Don Huffines

In the state Senate, one Republican — Don Huffines of Dallas — is now representing a district that Clinton easily won, while two more — Konni Burton of Colleyville and Joan Huffman of Houston — are now sitting in areas that Clinton almost carried. In the House, 10 Republicans are now representing districts that Clinton won, while several more are now sitting in areas she came close to winning.

The question in those districts, like so many surrounding Trump’s election across the country, is whether the dramatic swings in 2016 were meaningful shifts that could have implications in future elections. That question is particularly pressing for the 11 Texas Republicans now representing districts that voted for Clinton, all of whom are up for re-election in 2018.

[…]

In addition to [Rep. Pete] Sessions’ [Congressional] district, [Dallas County Democratic Party Chair Carol] Donovan said the party is already zeroing in on Huffines’ district, which Clinton won by 5 points after Romney carried it by 15 points four years prior. Aware of the swing, Huffines’ team does not blame Democrats for prioritizing the district — but also is not sweating 2018 quite yet.

“We take it seriously, but it’s not a hair-on-fire moment,” said Matt Langston, a Republican consultant who works for Huffines.

While Huffines’ district was the only GOP-held state Senate district that Clinton won, she almost carried two others. She came within a point of winning Burton’s and Huffman’s districts, which in 2012 went for Romney by 8 points and 20 points, respectively.

I should note that the comprehensive data for the 2016 elections are not yet available at the Texas Legislative Council’s FTP site, but as of two weeks ago the data for each individual district can be found via the following formulation:

http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/senate/dist16/r8.pdf
http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/fyiwebdocs/PDF/house/dist66/r8.pdf

Just substitute the appropriate district number as needed and you’re good. Eventually, that data will be linked on each Member’s bio page on the official House and Senate sites, but for now this will do.

I’ve been talking about Huffines and the need to make him a top electoral target next year, and so I am delighted to see these numbers. As always, though, some context and perspective is needed, so with that in mind, here’s a larger view of the field of play.


Dist     Incumbent  Clinton%  Trump%    Obama%   Romney%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     42.6%   51.2%     36.6%     61.7%
SD09       Hancock     41.8%   53.1%     39.2%     59.3%
SD10        Burton     47.3%   47.9%     45.4%     53.3%
SD16      Huffines     49.9%   45.3%     41.6%     57.0%
SD17       Huffman     47.2%   48.1%     39.2%     59.4%

Dist     Incumbent   CCA16D% CCA16R%   CCA12D%   CCA12R%
========================================================
SD08      V Taylor     37.8%   57.9%     35.3%     61.1%
SD09       Hancock     39.2%   56.3%     37.9%     58.4%
SD10        Burton     44.5%   51.6%     44.4%     52.7%
SD16      Huffines     42.7%   52.9%     40.6%     56.0%
SD17       Huffman     42.2%   54.3%     39.1%     58.2%

All five of these Senators are on the ballot next year. “CCA16” refers to the Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 6, while “CCA12” is the Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race. The latter was the only R-versus-D race for the CCA in 2012, and like the Keasler/Burns race this year it featured a Libertarian but not a Green candidate, so the comparison is as apt as I can make it. For these purposes, the CCA races will suffice as a proxy for the “true” partisan split in these districts.

And not too surprisingly, things look distinctly less rosy when you pull back to that level. While Huffines’ district is a couple points bluer than it was in 2012 by the CCA metric, it’s still a ten-point district in the GOP’s favor. A big part of that is due to the fact that SD16 encompasses nearly all of HDs 108, 112, and 114, which as we’ve discussed before are the three most Republican State House districts in Dallas County. The good news is that there are clearly a sizable number of people in SD16 who are willing to vote Democratic against a sufficiently bad Republican. The bad news is that so far the only example of a race where that has happened is Clinton versus Trump. The challenge for Dallas Democrats will be threefold: Find a strong candidate to challenge Huffines, work to ensure the Dem base turns out in the off year (a task for which the track record is not great), and try to tie Huffines to Trump as closely as possible in order to entice the Hillary-voting Republicans in SD16 to cross over again.

As for the others, Konni Burton’s SD10 remains the closest thing to a swing district the Senate has, though it didn’t change much since 2012. It does have the distinction of electing a Democrat in part on the strength of Republican crossover votes as recently as 2012, though, and it probably wouldn’t take much of an erosion in Republican turnout to put her in peril, if 2018 is a year where Republicans don’t get fired up to vote. SD17 covers parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria in addition to Harris County. It will take coordination across the three counties as well as a commitment to turn out Dems in Fort Bend and Brazoria to be on the radar in 2018. SD08, which includes most of Collin County plus a small piece of Dallas, and SD09, which includes Dallas and Tarrant, aren’t really competitive in any sense, but they did move a bit in a Dem direction and included a fair number of crossovers as well. If we ever want to get closer to parity in the Senate, Dems are going to have to make serious gains in these suburban counties.

On those “improper” votes

Let’s be clear about this.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas election officials have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state’s toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID.

The chief election officers in two of the state’s largest counties are now considering whether to refer cases to local prosecutors for potential perjury charges or violations of election law. Officials in many other areas say they will simply let the mistakes go, citing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters.

[…]

An Associated Press analysis of roughly 13,500 affidavits submitted in Texas’ largest counties found at least 500 instances in which voters were allowed to get around the law by signing an affidavit and never showing a photo ID, despite indicating that they possessed one.

Others used the sworn declarations to lodge protest statements against the law.

One affidavit from Hidalgo County, along the Texas-Mexico border, read: “Did not want to ‘pander’ to government requirement.” In Tarrant County, an election judge noted on an affidavit: “Had photo ID but refused to show it.”

“If we see that somebody blatantly says ‘I have ID’ and refused to show it, we’re going to turn that over to the D.A.,” said Stephen Vickers, chief deputy elections administrator for Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth. “If they tried to use the affidavit to get around the system, yeah, I see that as a violation.”

[…]

In Fort Bend County, a suburb of Houston, more than 15 percent of voters who submitted 313 affidavits said they possessed a photo ID, but they were not required to show it.

Under a court order issued last year, election officials were not allowed to question a voter’s reason for signing an affidavit.

The cases do not amount to voter fraud because people still had to be registered to vote to qualify for an affidavit, said John Oldham, Fort Bend County’s elections chief.

Poll workers were trained to “err on the side of letting people use the affidavit instead of denying them the chance to vote,” Oldham said.

“We don’t consider it something that we want to go out and prosecute people over,” Oldham said. “But I wish we didn’t have this affidavit process. It makes the whole photo ID law entirely meaningless.”

First of all, these were all votes cast by registered voters. The only impropriety, if there is one, lies in how the court order that “softened” Texas’ voter ID law is interpreted. The affidavit process was to allow registered voters who didn’t have one of the accepted forms of ID to cast their ballot if they produced another form of ID and signed a statement swearing 1) that they were who they said they were, and 2) that they didn’t have an accepted form of ID. Some election officials, like Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart took that to mean that the affiant did not own one of those forms of ID, like a drivers license. Others, including attorneys representing plaintiffs in the ongoing litigation, thought that was too strict. What if someone’s license had been lost or stolen, and they didn’t have the opportunity to get a replacement? What if someone arrived at the polling location only to realize they had left their license at home? Maybe the voters in those situations would be permitted to vote – I certainly think the first group ought to be – but until the question comes before a judge, we’re all just guessing. And remember, we’re talking about a few hundred voters who may not have followed a set of rules that were interpreted in a variety of ways versus sixteen thousand people who got to vote in the first place. Perspective, y’all.

The Trib looks at Fort Bend’s Democratic trend

It’s worth noting.

Despite long being considered a Republican county, Fort Bend went blue on Nov. 8 when Hillary Clinton won the county with an almost seven-point margin of victory. It wasn’t just an electoral flip — it was a 13-point swing from the 2012 presidential election.

And it marked the third presidential election in which the Republican presidential candidate did not win the county by double digits.

Political observers say it’s still too early to call Fort Bend a battleground county after just one election in which it flipped from red to blue. But given its demographics — and the possibility that those could help it turn reliably purple in the future — they acknowledge that something is afoot in this diverse pocket of Texas.

“This phenomenon is a direct result of the fact that the two population groups Trump did the worst with was college-educated voters and minority voters,” said Jay Aiyer, a Texas Southern University assistant professor of political science and public administration. “Fort Bend is unique in that it has a high share of both.”

Like most suburbs, Fort Bend’s landscape is a combination of affluent neighborhoods, old ranch homes, rows of new subdivisions, strip malls and open space. About 45 percent its residents have bachelor’s degrees — well beyond the state’s overall rate of 28.4 percent.

But unlike most suburban counties, Fort Bend is home to minority working and middle classes — except here they aren’t in the minority.

Black and Asian Texans have long made up a larger share of the county’s population compared to their small numbers statewide. And as the share of the county’s white residents dropped from 40.7 percent in 2005 to 34.5 percent in 2015, the share of Hispanic and Asian residents has steadily grown.

[…]

The numbers are still being crunched, but political observers attribute Clinton’s win in the county to a boost in minority voters, particularly Asian Americans, splitting their tickets to vote against Trump.

Fort Bend County had the highest share of straight-ticket voters in November among the state’s 10 biggest counties, but Democrats outnumbered Republicans among the 76 percent of voters that cast straight-ticket ballots.

At a time when the Republican party both in Texas and nationwide is generally moving farther to the right, the challenge for Fort Bend Republicans in the future will be bringing back those typically Republican voters who switched over this year, said Aiyer, the political scientist.

“That’s the question: Has the shift become more permanent?” he added.

A lot of this is stuff I’ve covered before, so I don’t have any great insights. I do think the shift is more durable, given the numbers in the downballot races, but Fort Bend is a dynamic place, and the steady influx of new residents makes it hard to say what things will look like politically going forward. Democrats will have some opportunities this year to make gains in local elections, and that’s something we need to watch. A big piece of the puzzle here is just believing that it can be done, which maybe the 2016 results have helped to do. Fort Bend is still Republican-dominated, but it is not a Republican stronghold any more. It’s just a matter of time before the first part of that assessment changes as well.

A look ahead to Fort Bend County elections in 2017

(Note: From time to time I solicit guest posts on various topics, from people who have a particular interest or expertise in a particular topic. I don’t know much about local and municipal elections in Fort Bend County, so today’s post is by Steve Brown.

As has been aptly reported here over the last couple of weeks, Secretary Hilary Clinton was able to carry what was once seen as dependably “red” Fort Bend County. Those of us who’ve been working to turn Fort Bend purple, if not blue, have long known that our county wasn’t as conservative as most people believed. Our demographically diverse population, young families and growing base of millennials point to a Fort Bend ready to embrace more progressive values like adequate public school funding and climate change and denounce divisive, hate driven agendas. I have confidence that local Democratic Party leaders will continue working in advance of the 2018 midterms to keep that momentum going, but there are a few local elections on May 6, 2017 that can help to cement support among persuadable suburban voters and build our bench of new leaders.

There are a number of municipalities, school districts & MUDs that will hold elections this year – like Stafford, Rosenberg, Fulshear, Lamar Consolidated ISD to name a few. However, I want to draw your attention to the Fort Bend ISD and Sugar Land races.

If there’s one thing that the 2016 election taught us, it’s that a majority of voters in Fort Bend’s Commissioner 4 precinct either embraced Clinton’s message, rejected Trump or both. These voters live in diverse, highly educated communities like Telfair, Avalon and Sweetwater. Democrats have traditionally done well in our strongholds of Missouri City (which moved its city council election to November) and Fresno. The emergence of winnable precincts in and around Sugar Land create unique electoral opportunities. Although Clinton didn’t have the coattails to boost our down ballot candidates, she did leave behind a road map for these local races.

Fort Bend ISD

Fort Bend ISD trustees are elected district-wide. This year, three school board seats are up – one for a trustee who lives on the east side of the district, one from the west side and one elected at-large. Currently, there are only two minorities on Fort Bend ISD’s Board, and one of them, K.P. George, is up for re-election in May. It would be ideal to add at least one more progressive and/or minority to a Board that governs a district representing one of the most diverse student populations in the country.

Sugar Land City Council

Similarly, a progressive candidate in one of Sugar Land’s 4 district races could help to reshape that governing body as well. Clinton won about half of the precincts in Sugar Land and came extremely close in a handful of others to arguably make Sugar Land a “toss-up” municipality. Sugar Land’s four district council members will be up for re-election in May. Sugar Land recently annexed two master-planned communities so it may be too early to predict how that might impact electoral outcomes there. Nevertheless, good candidates should definitely consider running this Spring, and possibly win office with as few as 3500 votes.

2018 Midterms

As we look forward to the 2018 mid-term elections, having solid candidates to engage persuadable voters in the parts of Sugar Land and Fort Bend ISD that overlap with Commissioner’s Precinct 4 will help lay the groundwork to win that commissioner’s precinct in 2018. A prospective nominee for that office could be buoyed by the support of a newly minted school board trustee and Sugar Land city council member- not to mention access to their voter base and donors. With the right collaboration and coordination it’s plausible that GOTV in Precincts 2 and 4 (which would both be on the ballot in 2018) could help to elect Democrats countywide – including County Judge, District Attorney and various judicial benches. A competitive commissioner’s 4 race could also have a positive effect on the HD 26 race in 2018 and 2020.

Democrats can’t win the state if we can’t win suburbs – especially the diverse ones. Fort Bend has been on the cusp of political change for some time now. We can finally reach that tipping point by taking seriously these low hanging local elections. All elections matter.

Steve Brown is a former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party and Managing Director at Capitol Assets Sustainable Energy Development LLC.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

Precinct analysis: Brazoria County

I had some time to spare, so I spent it with the canvass reports from Brazoria County. You know, like you do. Here’s what I was able to learn.


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Weber    Cole
=======================================================
Votes  36,572    15,127  37,036  14,996  37,917  14,678
Pct    68.58%    28.23%  71.18%  28.82%  72.09%  27.91%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Olson  Gibson
=======================================================
Votes  36,219    28,073  39,026  26,713  40,179  26,178
Pct    54.08%    41.92%  59.37%  40.63%  60.55%  39.45%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Floyd
=======================================================
Votes  40,666    30,564  43,599  29,181  44,713  28,505
Pct    54.83%    41.21%  59.95%  40.05%  61.07%  38.93%

Votes  32,125    12,636  32,462  12,528
Pct    69.23%    27.23%  72.15%  27.85%

Brazoria County is part of two Congressional districts, CDs 14 and 22, and two State Rep districts, HDs 25 and 29. The latter two are entirely within Brazoria, so the numbers you see for them are for the whole districts, while the CDs include parts of other counties as well. The first table splits Brazoria by its two CDs, while the second table is for the two HDs. Incumbent Republican Randy Weber was challenged by Democrat Michael Cole in CD14, while Republican Pete Olsen was unopposed in CD22. The second group of numbers in the first table are the relevant ones for CD22; I didn’t include Olsen because there was no point (*). There were no contested District or County Court races, so the “R Avg” and “D Avg” above are for the four contested district Appeals Court races; these are the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, which as you know includes Harris County.

The second table is for the State Rep districts. In HD29, incumbent Republican Ed Thompson faced Democrat John Floyd, while Republican Dennis Bonnen was unchallenged in HD25. You can sort of tell from the tables and I can confirm from the raw data that HD29 mostly overlapped CD22, and HD25 mostly overlapped CD14. As I have done before, the percentages for the Presidential races are calculated including the vote totals for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, which is why they don’t add to 100%. The other contested races all had only two candidates.

Still with me? If so, you can see that HD29 was much more interesting than HD25, and was where basically all of the crossover Presidential votes were. Trump lagged the Republican baseline in HD25, but those voters mostly either skipped the race or voted third party. Viewed through the Presidential race, HD29 looks like a potentially competitive district, but if you pull the lens back a bit you can see that it is less so outside that, and that Thompson exceeded the Republican baseline on top of that. It would be nice to point to this district as a clear opportunity, but we’re not quite there. There is another dimension to consider here, however, and that is a comparison with the 2012 results:


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Weber Lampson
=======================================================================
Votes  35,571    13,940  34,618  13,865  33,931  14,444  33,116  14,398
Pct    70.82%    27.75%  69.34%  27.77%  70.14%  29.86%  69.70%  30.30%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Olsen  Rogers
=======================================================================
Votes  35,291    20,481  34,879  19,879  34,466  20,164  35,997  17,842
Pct    62.49%    36.27%  62.14%  35.42%  63.09%  36.91%  66.86%  33.14%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Blatt
=======================================================================
Votes  40,170    22,480  39,657  21,866  39,203  22,204  40,642  21,388
Pct    63.32%    35.44%  62.86%  34.66%  63.84%  36.16%  65.52%  34.48%

Votes  30,692    11,941  29,840  11,878  29,194  12,404
Pct    70.95%    27.60%  69.45%  27.64%  70.18%  29.82%

In 2012, Randy Weber was running to succeed Ron Paul in the redrawn CD14, which had a nontrivial amount of resemblance to the old CD02 of the 90s, which is how former Congressman Nick Lampson came to be running there. He ran ahead of the pack, but the district was too red for him to overcome. Pete Olsen was challenged by LaRouchie wacko Keisha Rogers, Ed Thompson faced Doug Blatt, and Dennis Bonnen was again unopposed. I threw in the numbers from the Ted Cruz-Paul Sadler Senate race in these tables for the heck of it.

The main thing to note here is that HD29 was a lot more Republican in 2012 than it was in 2016. Ed Thompson went from winning by 31 points in 2012 to winning by 22 in 2016, with the judicial average going from nearly a 28 point advantage for Republicans to just under a 20 point advantage. Total turnout in the district was up by about 11,000 votes, with 7K going to the Dems and 4K going to the Republicans. That still leaves a wide gap – 14K in the judicial races, 16K for Ed Thompson – but it’s progress, and it happened as far as I know without any big organized effort.

And that’s the thing. If Democrats are ever going to really close the gap in Texas, they’re going to have to do it by making places like HD29, and HD26 in Fort Bend and the districts we’ve talked about in Harris County and other districts in the suburbs, more competitive. If you look at the map Greg Wythe kindly provided, you can see that some of the blue in Brazoria is adjacent to blue precincts in Fort Bend and Harris Counties, but not all of it. Some of it is in Pearland, but some of it is out along the border with Fort Bend. I’m not an expert on the geography here so I can’t really say why some of these precincts are blue or why they flipped from red to blue in the four years since 2012, but I can say that they represent an opportunity and a starting point. This is what we need to figure out and build on.

(Since I initially drafted this, Greg provided me two more maps, with a closer view to the blue areas, to get a better feel for what’s in and around them. Here’s the North Brazoria map and the South Brazoria map. Thanks, Greg!)

(*) – As noted in the comments, I missed that Pete Olsen did have an opponent in 2016, Mark Gibson. I have added the numbers for that race. My apologies for the oversight.)

Precinct analysis: Don’t be mesmerized by the Clinton/Trump numbers

From the DMN:

Donald Trump may have carried Texas and clinched the White House in November, but support for the Republican presidential nominee waned in parts of the Dallas area — news that, in a typical election year, could spell trouble for some Republican-held congressional seats.

A Dallas Morning News analysis of nine North Texas congressional districts revealed that, across the board, fewer voters backed Trump than backed Mitt Romney four years ago.

Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions saw his once-firmly red district turn blue as voters cast a majority of ballots for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Sessions cruised to re-election, as Democrats fielded no candidate.

Coppell Rep. Kenny Marchant, like Sessions, handily won his re-election bid, but the gap between those who voted for the Republican and the Democrat in the presidential race fell to just a single-digit margin.

There are signs the same holds true in other urban parts of Texas, such as Houston, where Republican Rep. John Culberson saw his district turn blue for Clinton and Democrats won every countywide seat.

Texas bucked the trend nationwide, with Trump winning the state with a smaller margin — 9 points — than any GOP nominee in decades. On the surface, that seems to be good news for Texas Democrats. But given the peculiarities of Trump’s candidacy, it’s not so clear-cut.

The drop in Dallas-area Republican support doesn’t necessarily indicate voters are moving away from the GOP, several experts say; rather, that many voters moved away from the controversial candidate.

Republican House members outperformed Trump in each of the GOP-controlled North Texas districts reviewed by The News, and the drop in support for the Republican presidential candidate didn’t result in an equal and opposite rise in support for Clinton.

Had Romney earned the same numbers four years ago, “it would indicate a decline in normal Republican vote share,” said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “Romney is very much a normal Republican. Trump is anything but a normal Republican.”

Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, suggested that Romney’s 2012 high numbers were at least partially due to Obama’s low approval ratings.

The drop in support this year could be from “an artificial high … to an artificial low created by the presence of a presidential candidate who alienated a subset of otherwise reliable GOP voters,” he said.

Or, you know, it could simply be that a lot of Republicans voted for Hillary Clinton in Texas. This is why I’ve been emphasizing the judicial races as a more accurate way of measuring partisan support in a given area, and for making comparisons to 2012. I don’t have that data for the Dallas-area districts at this time, but as we know from Harris County, CD07 still looks pretty red when viewed through that lens. I’d say Culberson has a little bit to worry about between now and the next round of redistricting in 2021, when I fully expect more of CD07 will be shifted to the west and north, but barring anything unusual and bearing in mind that no one has any idea what the short term political effects of the Trump regime will be, I’d bet Culberson will still be there.

There’s an image in the DMN story from this tweet by Miles Coleman, which in turn points to this story he wrote about the larger Houston metro area. Basically, it’s a color map of precincts in Harris, Fort Bend, and Montgomery County, all based on the Presidential race. That’s a lot of blue in Harris County, and while it’s concentrated in the center of the county, it’s spread out quite a bit, with a significant incursion into Fort Bend. I’d have liked to have seen Galveston and Brazoria included in this map as well, but what we have is still useful. As is the case with Pete Sessions’ CD32, which pokes into Collin County, there are a lot of districts that cross county borders, and that’s something we need to think about more. That’s for another day. For now, even with the proviso that there’s a lot of crossover votes in the blue of that map, take a look and ponder the potential.

Precinct analysis: Fort Bend State Rep districts

Following on from yesterday’s post, here’s a look at the vote in Fort Bend from the perspective of the State Rep districts.


Office	            Rep    Dem    Rep %   Dem %
===============================================
President        35,005  31,558  52.59%  47.41%
CJ, 1st CofA     40,047  28,336  58.56%  41.44%
1st CofA #4      39,311  28,940  57.60%  42.40%
14th CofA #2     39,351  28,873  57.68%  42.32%
14th CofA #9     40,008  28,185  58.67%  41.33%
240th JD         39,743  28,291  58.42%  41.58%
400th JD         39,954  28,130  58.68%  41.32%
County Court #5  39,194  28,774  57.67%  42.33%
Sheriff          41,342  27,454  60.09%  39.91%
HD26             39,672  28,876  57.87%  42.13%
President 08     39,210  24,076  61.96%  38.04%
President 12     39,595  22,554  63.71%  36.29%


Office	            Rep    Dem    Rep %   Dem %
===============================================
President        18,471  47,471  28.01%  71.99%
CJ, 1st CofA     21,234  46,194  31.49%  68.51%
1st CofA #4      20,732  46,629  30.78%  69.22%
14th CofA #2     20,635  46,766  30.62%  69.38%
14th CofA #9     21,235  46,072  31.55%  68.45%
240th JD         20,912  46,159  31.18%  68.82%
400th JD         20,999  46,161  31.27%  68.73%
County Court #5  20,590  46,422  30.73%  69.27%
Sheriff          21,147  46,215  31.39%  68.61%
HD27             21,531  45,648  32.05%  67.95%
President 08     18,186  42,374  30.03%  69.97%
President 12     18,939  42,811  30.67%  69.33%


Office	            Rep    Dem    Rep %   Dem %
===============================================
President        44,604  36,032  55.32%  44.68%
CJ, 1st CofA     50,370  33,133  60.32%  39.68%
1st CofA #4      49,824  33,595  59.73%  40.27%
14th CofA #2     49,791  33,655  59.67%  40.33%
14th CofA #9     50,503  32,857  60.58%  39.42%
240th JD         50,064  32,972  60.29%  39.71%
400th JD         50,238  32,827  60.48%  39.52%
County Court #5  49,563  33,405  59.74%  40.26%
Sheriff          51,110  32,457  61.16%  38.84%
HD28             56,777       0 100.00%   0.00%
President 08     30,636  21,813  58.41%  41.59%
President 12     40,593  22,001  64.85%  35.15%


Office	            Rep    Dem    Rep %   Dem %
===============================================
President        19,132  19,414  49.63%  50.37%
CJ, 1st CofA     20,705  18,695  52.55%  47.45%
1st CofA #4      20,563  18,773  52.28%  47.72%
14th CofA #2     20,484  18,845  52.08%  47.92%
14th CofA #9     20,795  18,524  52.89%  47.11%
240th JD         20,864  18,405  53.13%  46.87%
400th JD         21,064  18,238  53.60%  46.40%
County Court #5  20,502  18,726  52.26%  47.74%
Sheriff          21,365  18,214  53.98%  46.02%
HD85             20,876  18,539  52.96%  47.04%
President 08     28,328  19,638  59.06%  40.94%
President 12     30,652  19,087  61.63%  38.37%

I want to begin by noting that HD85 is only partly in Fort Bend; it also encompasses Jackson and Wharton counties. I have no explanation for why the Republican vote dropped off by 10K from 2012 while the Democratic vote has held more or less steady over the past three elections. I didn’t include the 2012 and 2008 Presidential numbers when I first drafted this post, so I wouldn’t have even noticed that had I not added them in later. Maybe there are fewer people in the district? I have no idea. Feel free to enlighten me in the comments.

HD26 is the revelation here. It’s never been on anyone’s radar as being potentially competitive, having been drawn as a 62% or so Republican district in 2011. What appears to be happening is that much like Commissioner’s Precinct 4, HD26 gained Democratic voters, about 6,000 of them over 2012, without gaining any Republican voters. This is not a coincidence, as 26 of the 41 voting precincts in HD26 are in CC4, so the fortunes of the two are clearly correlated. The non-Presidential numbers don’t really qualify HD26 as a swing district, but the trend is in the right direction, and if 2018 winds up a lower turnout year for Republicans, this could interesting. And while I’ve consistently downplayed the Presidential numbers in various contexts, one does have to wonder if a Republican who was persuaded to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016 might be open to the possibility of voting for a good Democratic candidate against a Trump-supporting Republican officeholder in 2018. The more we can test messages that might move the needle a point or two, the better. Whatever the case, even if 2018 is too soon for demographic change to make HD26 competitive, 2020 may not be. And remember that overlap between Commissioner’s Precinct 4 and HD26. A good candidate in one race can help the other, and vice versa.

Neither HDs 27 nor 28 are competitive, and neither are all that interesting to look at from this view. HD28 is clearly the fast-growing part of Fort Bend – it mostly overlaps with Commissioner’s Precinct 3, in case you were wondering. Turnout has increased by over 60% in HD28 since 2008. Democrats have kept up since 2012, but are behind overall from 2008. My guess is that if redistricting were to be done today, HD28 would be used to shore up HD26, while perhaps also dumping some Democrats into HD27, which hasn’t grown much. I don’t see HD28 becoming competitive based on what we observe here, but as a population center it’s imperative for Dems to engage here, because this area will have an outsized impact on countywide races. You have to keep the margin here manageable, and make sure that new residents who lean Democratic are aware that their votes are needed even if their local races aren’t really winnable.