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Gene Locke

Commissioner Locke’s last day

He served well, and did a lot in his short time in office.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke, who was appointed Harris County commissioner nearly a year ago after the death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, was praised for his effectiveness during a meeting Tuesday at which he cast his final vote.

The former city attorney and mayoral candidate received a standing ovation from his colleagues at his last commissioners court meeting.

“This is a public service job, and it’s been an honor for me to have the mantle of commissioner and do community service,” Locke said. “It makes me feel that there is a side of government that Americans don’t see and don’t talk about.”

Other members of the commissioners court heralded Locke’s initiatives on repairing streets, installing safe sidewalks for schoolchildren, and removing debris during his almost 11 months in office. His final day in office is Dec. 31.

Locke, a Democrat, also emphasized collaboration with the city of Houston, much of which falls in his precinct.

That, I think, was the key to Locke’s tenure, and a driver (I hope) of Rodney Ellis’. I’ve long felt as a resident of Houston and Precinct 1 that my Harris County tax dollars have gone overwhelmingly to building infrastructure and encouraging development in the outer reaches of the county, at the expense of maintenance and investment everywhere else. I don’t expect the county to supplant the city on things like roads and drainage, but I do expect them to be a part of it. We are still part of Harris County, after all. Commissioner Locke addressed that in a way that I hope will serve as a model going forward. Thank you for your service, and all the best with whatever comes next.

The Reliant Stadium area is ready for its closeup

For the Super Bowl, of course. Gotta look pretty, you know.

Currently, the area surrounding NRG Park, which includes NRG Stadium and the Astrodome, is “functional” but hardly an impression-maker for a throng of out-of-town guests, said Ed Wulfe, chairman of the Stadium Park Redevelopment Authority.

“The Super Bowl was the motivating factor the area needs,” he said. “The land around the stadium will be a focal point for the world.”


The work will focus on McNee Road, between Main and Kirby Drive; along Main, between McNee and Murworth Drive; and near the yellow parking lot on Main.

NRG will provide new branding and way-finding signs at each of the Main Street entrances. Harris County will build a new sidewalk along the south side of McNee with trees, landscaping and fencing. LED lights will be added along McNee and Murworth. TxDOT will add new sidewalks, landscaping and trees to the esplanades.


TxDOT also has plans to update the South Main corridor with more landscaping using a $310,000 grant from Keep Houston Beautiful. The agency plans to save 31 oak trees from work underway along Post Oak Boulevard and replant them in the area near the stadium.

Construction has begun and the work will continue into January.

Harris County has also been working on street repairs and striping of several streets in the NRG Park area in preparation for the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 5.

(Yes, I know, it’s NRG Park now. Just assume I’m one of those annoying people who still talks about “the Summit” and “Transco Tower”, and move on.)

As the story notes, some of this work was initiated by Commissioner Gene Locke, who took the radical step of spending county money on infrastructure that was also in the city of Houston. I don’t work out that way anymore, so I can’t say what the transformation will look like, but at least as of when I last worked in that area in 2013, there were definitely some streets and sidewalks that needed work. I’m glad to see it happening.

Commissioners Court approves Astrodome parking plan

Here we go.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County commissioners approved the first piece of a $105 million plan to transform the stadium into part parking garage and part event space for things like concerts and trade shows.

After years of indecision, advocates for preserving the Dome are hailing the move as one that might breath new life into the stadium’s future long after many Houstonians had written its obituary.

“We’re really happy to see some concrete action taken,” said David Bush, acting executive director of Preservation Houston, which has been advocating for the Dome’s preservation for 16 years. “This is a significant first step.”

The $105 million plan, first unveiled by county officials in June, calls for the floor of the Astrodome to be raised two floors, or 30 feet, to ground level. Two levels of parking or 1400 spaces will be installed underneath.

The new ground floor could be used by conferences like the Offshore Technology Conference, or for music festivals or other events. Officials from OTC wrote a letter earlier this month in support of the plan with the Houston Auto Show, Houston International Boat, Sport and Travel Show and the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market, a ballet fundraiser, among others.

In the future, the 550,000 square feet that surrounds the core could be used for retail, commercial or other options, though none have been determined yet.

No events have yet made any formal commitments to use the re-purposed dome, a point acknowledged by Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke whose precinct includes the Astrodome.

“I’m more confident that doing this is better than doing nothing,” he said.


Despite Tuesday’s vote, not everything is final. [County Judge Ed] Emmett and other county officials believe as the $105 million project enters the design phase, the overall price tag will go down, especially if other funding sources like Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds or tax credits can apply.

But the cost could also go beyond $105 million, something several commissioners have said they will watch out for.

Regardless, commissioners will have to vote again likely next year to spend the rest of the money on the actual construction.

See here for the preview. To address some things I’ve seen here and elsewhere, the point of this is to begin the process of making the Astrodome viable for other uses, whatever those may turn out to be. The extra parking would presumably make the space more amenable for the Texans and the Rodeo as well, though those two entities have remained firmly uncommitted to the whole idea so far. As there is no money being borrowed to pay for this, there is no need to hold a public vote. If and when we get to a point where financing is needed, then there will have to be a referendum to get the public’s approval to borrow the money – in other words, a bond referendum. While the rejected 2013 referendum was often seen as a vote for demolition, it was in the strictest sense just a rejection of that financing/renovation plan. Not everyone will agree with that last statement, of course. If you’re one of those people, you’ll either get another chance to vote against a bond issuance, or you’ll get to (have to) take comfort in the knowledge that any financing will be done by a private entity.

In the meantime, there’s always the possibility that the bill will go up once design phase begins, which may lead to further reckoning. If we get past that with no worrisome cost estimate increase, then Commissioners Court will need to commit to an actual design, of which there have been many. One presumes it would be some version of the Urban Land Institute plan, though that isn’t exactly fully-formed, and besides, the county has gone through Astrodome plans like Spinal Tap has gone through drummers, so who knows what we’d get. For now, what we’re getting is underground parking. At least that is something we can all comprehend. KUHF and Swamplot have more.

Harris County to fix some Houston roads

Some good news from the inbox:

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

As part of an agreement approved by Houston City Council today, Harris County Precinct 1 will pay for additional street improvements worth millions of dollars within the Houston city limits by year’s end. This is a continuation of an arrangement Mayor Sylvester Turner and outgoing Commissioner Gene Locke negotiated earlier in the year. A total of $45 million of projects are planned.

“Houstonians are more concerned about seeing results than they are about which governmental entity is paying for them,” said Mayor Turner. “This is government working together to meet the needs of our shared constituents. It is city/county cooperation at its best.”

Harris County has already started work on about seven miles of City streets, including work around NRG Stadium in anticipation of Super Bowl 51. City Council’s vote today clears the way for another five plus miles of City streets to be totally reconstructed or overlaid with asphalt by Harris County in the next four months.

The following City street segments were included in today’s council action:

  • Amboy/Wayne from Liberty Road to Quitman
  • Carr Street from Mills to Quitman
  • Hiram Clarke Rd. from Beltway 8 to W. Fuqua
  • Lee Street from Semmes to Jensen
  • Noble Street from Jensen to Semmes
  • Ruth Street from Scott Street to dead-end
  • Scott Street from Elgin to Old Spanish Trail
  • Semmes Street from Lorraine to Campbell
  • Sumpter Street from Semmes to Jensen
  • Waco/Hirsch from I-10 to Clinton Drive

Council’s previous action included:

  • Ardmore from Holcombe to Holly Hall
  • Bellfort from SH 288 to MLK Blvd.
  • Buffalo Speed Way from W. Fuqua to Anderson Road
  • Crosstimbers from IH 45 to Shepherd Drive
  • El Rio from IH 610 to Holly Hall
  • Holly Hall from Fannin to SH 288
  • Homestead Road from Laura Koppe to Parker
  • Knight Road from IH 610 to Fannin
  • McNee from South Main to Kirby
  • Yellowstone from SH 288 to Scott

In order to facilitate this agreement, the City must temporarily transfer these streets to the Harris County Road Log. Once the work is finished, the streets will be transferred back to the City’s jurisdiction for ongoing maintenance.

Here’s the Chron story on this. The second list contains the streets around NRG Stadium. This is the fulfillment of a promise Commissioner Locke made a few months ago, and kudos to him for it. I hope we see more of this from Commissioner Ellis next year and afterward.

Who’s willing to pay for more flood mitigation?

I have three things to say about this.

Commissioner Steve Radack

Commissioner Steve Radack

Harris county’s four commissioners said Wednesday they could support either a property tax increase or reallocation of funds in the county budget to better fund flood control projects after a series of storms and floods this spring destroyed property and claimed the lives of more than a dozen people.


Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he would support a tax increase if there was a concrete plan on what to do with the extra revenue, and Gene Locke of Precinct 1 said through a spokeswoman he could likely get behind such a measurebut also would want the federal government to help pay more for flood control projects.

The two other commissioners – Jack Cagle in Precinct 4 and Jack Morman in Precinct 2 – said they would not support increasing the tax rate but could support reallocating funds to tackle flooding problems.

County Judge Ed Emmett declined to comment, but said through a spokesman he would not weigh in before a specific proposal was on the table.

The discussion about a possible property tax rate increase was sparked by recent comments Radack made at a meeting with a civic group in Cypress, which was recently hard-hit by flooding.

“I will tell you right now, I will vote for a tax increase for the Harris County Flood Control District,” Radack said to dozens in the audience last week, noting that he’s the only commissioner on court who has ever voted for a property tax increase. “But I’m one person. I’m not criticizing my colleagues. I’m just telling you this. That’s the way it is.”

On Wednesday, Radack reiterated his support for a tax increase, but qualified his position somewhat saying he would want to see a list of projects vetted by the public and by county government and would want to involve the city of Houston and the federal government in helping fund the projects.

He said he would want to have county voters weigh in on a potential bond issue that outlined that list of projects.

“I would support a tax increase for flood control, I would support it,” he said. “Now bear in mind, you don’t just have a tax increase without a plan.”


The tax rate for the flood control district is currently about 4 cents per $100 of assessed property value, [county budget officer Bill] Jackson said. That includes the amount designated directly for the flood control district – 2.7 cents per $100 – as well as a chunk that’s being used by the county to pay down debt.

The flood control district’s property tax rate can be raised by commissioners to no more than 30 cents per $100, Jackson said.

Morman was adamant, however, that he would not support an overall tax increase to solve the problem.

“I’m a homeowner, most of my constituents are homeowners, we already pay enough property taxes,” Morman said. “It’s kind of like enough is enough at some point.”

Morman said he could also support reallocation of funds, but did not know exactly where that money would come from.

Locke could in theory support a tax rate increase, though he would need to see the final plans and would want the federal government to help pay for more flood control projects, spokeswoman Mary Benton said.

Cagle said he would not support an overall tax increase, but would support reallocating funds toward flood control from the county’s public hospital district. In the past, they had been reallocated toward the hospital district and away from flood control, he said.

“I believe the taxpayers are interested in a reallocation of the tax base back to making flood control the priority that it once was,” Cagle said.

1. This was what Radack was talking about when he made his infamous “some people enjoy flooding” remarks. The Press had a story that ran after I published that included his thoughts on the tax rate, and I think there’s a lot to what he’s saying here. He definitely put his foot in his mouth on this point – I get what he was trying to say, but you’d think a guy who’s been in office for as long as he has might have a better grasp of how not to say things in the worst possible way – and he deserves the heat he’s getting, but the rest of what he said should not be lost.

2. Morman and Cagle’s insistence that we don’t need to raise any more revenue, we just need to shuffle things around in the budget is a load of bollocks. How much should we be spending on flood mitigation? What specific budget items would you cut to make up the difference between what we now spend and what you think we should spend? Give me details and then maybe I’ll believe that you’re not just dodging the question.

3. All that said, the single best thing we could do going forward to not make our flooding problem worse is to stop paving over the undeveloped land that currently serves as the best flood mitigation we’ll ever have. People have been saying for years that the Grand Parkway would be a disaster from a flooding perspective, but that didn’t stop the County from building a massive road in the middle of what used to be nowhere to serve the needs of people who didn’t live there yet. If we ever got serious about encouraging denser development and transportation solutions that support it, we’d have less mitigation to worry about having to pay for.

More on the jailed rape victim

The Chron pens a harsh editorial.

DA Devon Anderson

Although a spokesman for the district attorney’s office has admitted this miscarriage of justice should never have happened, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson defends the prosecutor involved in the case. She says the prosecutor tried to find a suitable place for the sexual assault survivor to stay after her breakdown and even paid for a night in a hotel out of his own pocket. Calling it “an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation,” the DA said there were “no apparent alternatives” that would ensure the victim’s safety and that she also would appear to testify. Coming from a district attorney who presents herself as a champion of crime victims, that’s mighty hard to swallow. Throwing a mentally ill rape victim into jail because there’s supposedly no other place for her to go should shock the conscience of every citizen of Harris County.


Voters will pass final judgment on Anderson’s handling of this matter. With the district attorney up for re-election in November, the incident already has become a political issue.

Meanwhile, we call upon our elected leadership to ask the U.S. Justice Department for a federal investigation of this case. The DA and the sheriff have offered their own explanations, but an independent inquiry is absolutely essential.

We also urge Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners Jack Cagle, Gene Locke, Jack Morman and Steve Radack to take the time to read the lawsuit the victim’s lawyer filed. It’s a frightening document outlining an unimaginable perversion of justice. We hope they lose sleep thinking over what they need to do about it.

See here and here for the background. We absolutely should be hearing more from Judge Emmett and Commissioners Court – including Sen. Ellis – on this. Do they support a federal investigation into what happened? We need to know.

and yes, this is a campaign issue.

District attorney candidate Kim Ogg on Tuesday again pushed for reform in the treatment of crime victims, criticizing the controversial jailing of a rape victim by Harris County prosecutors to ensure the woman would testify in court.

Ogg said the district attorney’s office could improve how victims are detained if prosecutors are worried witnesses might fail to show up in court. She also suggested the creation of a new division in the district attorney’s office that would be responsible for prosecuting people who commit sex crimes.

“I will never put a crime victim in jail to secure a conviction,” she said at a Tuesday press conference. “There are so many other things we can do … There is no excuse for putting this woman in jail.”


Ogg called last week for an independent investigation of the case and has now made crime victim treatment a campaign priority, saying her proposed reforms would be implemented if she is elected in November.

Sheriff candidate Ed Gonzalez has also been speaking out about this. You may say, we shouldn’t politicize this. I say District Attorney and Sheriff are political offices for a reason, and it is ultimately on the voters to decide how and when to hold the people who serve in those offices accountable when stuff like this happens. DA Anderson and Sheriff Hickman have given their responses to what happened. We get to decide how we feel about that. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

July finance reports for county candidates

Most of the interesting race in Harris County this year are the countywide races. Here’s a look at how the candidates in these races have been doing at fundraising.

District Attorney

Friends of Devon Anderson PAC
Kim Ogg

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
Anderson   253,670   55,392         0    368,907
Ogg        143,311   34,417    69,669    108,872

Devon Anderson received a $60K contribution from Richard Anderson; I have no idea if there’s any family connection there. She’s a strong fundraiser, but she’s also had her share of bad publicity, and I suspect it’ll take more money than what she has in the bank to wipe that away. As for Ogg, her biggest single contribution was $13,500 from Nancy Morrison. I feel like Ogg’s totals don’t quite work, since she reported $30K on hand for her February 20 eight-day report, but it’s not that big a deal. This is also a reminder that the totals listed above for Ogg were from the period February 21 through June 30, while Anderson’s are for the full six months.


Ron Hickman
Ed Gonzalez, May runoff report
Ed Gonzalez, July report

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
Hickman    127,153  175,247         0    135,868
Gonzalez    38,435   35,587         0     20,117

Hickman had primary opposition, so his report is from February 21 through June 30. He got $21,700 from Suzanne and Keith Moran for his biggest donation. He also spent a bunch of money – $59K to Strategic Media Services for TV ads, $41K too Neumann and Co for mailers, and (my favorite) $10K to Tom’s Pins for “promo items and Golf Promo items”. I bet that’s a lot of pins and little pencils. As for Gonzalez, he had raised $130K from Feb 21 to May 14, during the primary runoff period. His July report is only for May 15 through June 30. In other words, don’t freak out at the disparity in amount raised.

Tax Assessor

Mike Sullivan
Ann Harris Bennett

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
Sullivan    70,300   39,196         0    101,564
Bennett     26,190   11,536         0      1,837

Both Sullivan and Bennett were in contested primaries, so both reports cover February 21 through June 30. You could call Sullivan an efficient fundraiser – he raised that $70K from 55 total donors, 52 of whom gave $250 or more, and three of whom gave $100 or less. Bennett has never been much of a fundraiser, and this report bears that out. Some $17K of her raised total was in-kind, which contributed to the extra low cash on hand amount.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan
Jim Leitner

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
Ryan         72,400  33,652         0    171,677
Leitner      12,550  10,225     9,500      8,765

Leitner had to win a primary, while Ryan was the one Dem who had a free ride. Ryan is also the one Democratic incumbent, and he built up a bit of a cushion over the past four years. Leitner wins the award for being the one guy to fill out his form by hand rather than electronically. Not a whole lot to see here otherwise.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack
Jenifer Pool

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
Radack     747,500  177,604         0  1,616,948
Pool        13,750   13,054         0          0

This is the one contested County Commissioner’s Court race. Radack’s Precinct 3 is redder than Jack Morman’s Precinct 2 but less red than Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4. In a normal year, I’d expect Radack to get around 60% of the vote, though downballot candidates have done better than that in recent years; Adrian Garcia topped 47% there in 2008. This is obviously not a normal year, though whether the effect of that is primarily at the top of the ticket or if it goes all the way down remains to be seen. To the extent that there is an effect, Precinct 3 ought to serve as a good microcosm of it.

And for completeness’ sake:

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

El Franco Lee – Still has $3,774,802 on hand.
Rodney Ellis – $1,959,872 on hand. Same as his state report.
Gene Locke – Raised $258K, spent $182K, still has $115K on hand.

I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that Gene Locke has run his last campaign. Very little money has been spent from El Franco Lee’s account – one presumes his campaign treasurer hasn’t given the matter any more thought since he was first asked about it in January. Rodney Ellis has promised to give $100K to the HCDP coordinated campaign. I say Gene Locke and J. Kent Friedman (El Franco Lee’s campaign treasurer) should do something like that as well. This year presents a huge opportunity for Harris County Democrats, and it’s not like that money is doing anyone any good sitting in the bank. It’s not my money and I don’t get to say how it gets spent, but I do get to say what I want, and this is it. Put some money into this campaign, guys. There’s absolutely no reason not to.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, Commissioner Locke has nothing to do with the late Commissioner Lee’s finance account. I was under the impression that Lee’s campaign treasurer controls that purse, but it has been suggested to me that (at least by now) that may have passed to his widow. Be that as it may, and again to be clear, Commissioner Locke has no involvement in anything but his own finance account.

Astrodome parking plan coming

Better get ready.

Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

Harris County officials on Friday unveiled a $105 million plan to raise the floor of the Astrodome and build two new levels of parking beneath it, the strongest signal yet that the county plans to maintain and find another use for the one-time architectural marvel.

The proposal, which the county has been studying for months, would represent a critical step toward repurposing the stadium, which has sat vacant for decades as the community has debated its fate.

“This ensures that it’s protected for future years,” said Joe Stinebaker, a spokesman for County Judge Ed Emmett, who strongly backs transforming the 51-year-old structure, once dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

The plan would allow some 240,000 square feet of ground-level space to be used for events or for an indoor park. County officials envision attracting retail, commercial or hospitality uses to the more than 550,000 square feet of space that surrounds the core.

County government offices could even be housed in the retrofitted stadium, said County Engineer John Blount.

“What we do next, it becomes an open tablet,” Stinebaker said.

Commissioners will be publicly presented with the proposal for the first time Tuesday and could vote on authorizing design and construction by as early as September, said county budget officer Bill Jackson.


Stinebaker said the commission is currently reviewing the parking proposal, which would raise the floor by two levels and convert those levels into parking with 700 spaces each. Any other changes would likely have to go before the historical commission.

See here and here for the background. We’ll know more on Tuesday, but the main piece that’s missing from all this is how it will be paid for. I feel confident saying there will be no bond referendum, for what I assume are obvious reasons, but beyond that we’ll just have to wait. The late El Franco Lee liked this plan, so one presumes it will receive support from current Commissioner Locke. There’s nothing about this that would prevent any of the multiple proposals for repurposing the Dome from happening along with this. Perhaps having this in place would make the whole thing more attractive to the long-hoped-for private investor. Who knows? I look forward to seeing what gets presented tomorrow.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.


A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Today’s the day for the Commissioners Court selection process

I’m sure we’re all ready for it to be over.

El Franco Lee

Just last week, state Sen. Rodney Ellis claimed he had enough support from Democratic Party chairs to become the next Harris County commissioner for Precinct 1. Not that he’s resting easy in a race as unusual as this one.

“I do wake up in the middle of the night, remembering somebody I was supposed to call and didn’t call,” the longtime legislator said.

On Saturday, Ellis will try to secure the majority of votes from among the 125 precinct chairs needed to win the post, which represents 1.2 million people, controls a budget of more than $200 million and helps to govern the third-largest county in the nation.

Ellis is vying for the post in the heavily Democratic precinct with Gene Locke, who was appointed to the office five months ago following the death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee. Locke disputes Ellis’ claim to a majority of the 125 precinct chairs who will be making the decision and says he feels good about his chances.


While many see the race as between Ellis and Locke, Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins is also viewed as a contender.

Other candidates include photographer Georgia Provost, KPFT Radio chairman DeWayne Lark and educator Rickey Tezino, who have portrayed themselves as non-establishment candidates who could shake up the status quo.

For the most part, the candidates’ broad goals seem to align. Most if not all are committed to Lee’s priorities and goals, including boosting senior and youth programs and reforming the county’s criminal justice system.


With so few actual “voters,” turnout also will be key, said Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams. At least one precinct chair has already RSVP’d “no” to the gathering. Adams said he expects precinct chairs to be energized and to show up in large numbers.

“It is still about getting to 63 votes,” Adams said, referring to the number needed if all of the party chairs show up. “One-on-one campaigning is all that can really be done.”

The first order of business for the precinct chairs will be to select someone to lead Saturday’s gathering, according to Gerry Birnberg, a former chairman of Harris County Democrats.

That person will determine the process for voting. All four options are public, and they mainly differ on how the chairs signal who they are voting for.

If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of voting, the top two vote-getters will go to a runoff, Birnberg said.

“I don’t know what the outcome is,” Birnberg added, “but I don’t believe there is anybody that’s going to wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning to go downtown who doesn’t already know what they’re going to do when they get there.”

Technically, there’s at least one person who isn’t ready for it to be over, and that’s the precinct chair who sent out an email saysing we should “put a motion to the floor asking that we postpone the nomination for one month [so] that we as Precinct chairs can rally ourselves and get better clarity on the process”. I say the process is pretty clear and has been explained more than once, and if Rodney Ellis gets the nomination we need to get busy replacing him on the ballot, so it is safe to say I will not vote for this motion. I also think Gerry Birnberg is right – there ain’t a whole lot of undecided voters in this election. I will have a report tomorrow after all is (hopefully!) said and done.

Commissioners Court candidate questionnaire responses

El Franco Lee

Last week, the HCDP sent out a questionnaire to the candidates who had expressed an interest in the nomination for Commissioners Court in Precinct 1. You can see the responses that they got here. Only four candidates submitted answers: Sen. Rodney Ellis, Georgia Provost, Rickey Tezino, and someone named Vernell Jessie, about whom I know nothing. If you’re even a little surprised that Ellis’ answers were longer and more detailed than those of the other three combined, I’m not sure what to tell you.

There were a lot of in-depth questions in this document, and there was only a week or so to submit answers, so it’s not a big surprise that only some candidates did so. Commissioner Locke can reasonably point to his time on the Court and say “you can get your answers from what I’ve done in office”. I suppose CM Boykins could make a similar claim, though Council doesn’t really deal with a number of these issues. DeWayne Lark was the most interesting of the non-officeholding candidates at the May candidate forum, so I would have liked to see what he had to say here. Nat West did not attend that forum, so this may have been his one real chance to be heard by the precinct chairs. That’s the way it goes.

On a tangential note, I received an automated survey call on Monday about the Commissioners nomination process. It sounded like it was going out to Precinct 1 residents, with the intent of informing precinct chairs of the preferences of the voters they will be representing on Saturday, but there was no identifying information on the call, so I have no idea who it was that was collecting this information. Be that as it may, there were three questions in this survey (which now that I think about it didn’t ask about demographic information either). One was whether you considered policy or some other criterion that I’ve since forgotten as more important in selecting a candidate. Needless to say, I chose the “policy” option. Question 2 was about the late Commissioner Lee’s programs for seniors and whether the next Commissioner should continue and build on them. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know much about these programs, as I myself am not (yet) a senior, but I chose Yes anyway. Finally, we were asked which candidate we preferred, with the choices being Provost, Lark, Locke, Ellis, and Boykins. I’ll save my answer for another time, but I guess we can cross Tezino and West off the list of people who might have been paying for the survey.

I then got another automated call last night, from a gentleman who identified himself as “a senior living in Precinct 1”, calling to inform people about the June 25 meeting to select the nominee. He stated incorrectly that “Harris County Democratic Party rules” limited participation in this process to precinct chairs, then said that the way that anyone else could participate was to contact their precinct chair, and he spelled out the URL on to find one’s chair. (Greg, if this was your idea, you and me are gonna have to have some words.) Anyway, our mystery senior (I forgot his name within minutes of hanging up the phone; I should really try to take notes one of these days) then listed the same five candidates mentioned in Monday’s “poll”. I looked at my caller ID information and the two calls came from different numbers, for all that’s worth, but I’d bet a ten spot they both came from the same source. Did anyone else get one of these calls?

Endorsement watch: Chron for Ellis

I had wondered if the Chron was going to weigh in on any of the candidate-selection processes that will be going on over the next two weeks. I even sent an email to a couple of their editorial board members on Saturday morning to ask about it. Turns out, I needn’t have wondered, they were on it.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

It looks like Election Night will be over before it began, if you can even call it an election. State Sen. Rodney Ellis is already claiming victory in the bizarre June 25 contest to replace the late Precinct 1 County Commissioner El Franco Lee on the November ballot.

Lee died earlier this year with his name as the only choice in the March 25 primary and no opponent in the general election. The byzantine dictates of election law and political party structure mean that a smattering of 125 otherwise inconsequential precinct chairs get to pick his successor for this powerful position.

The United States has never been a direct democracy, but this entire process is about as far as a political system can get from representative government without leaving the realm of a republic altogether. After a primary season that left plenty of voters jaded across the political spectrum, Democrats need to take a hard look at this replacement process.

With only 65 votes, Ellis can claim an unopposed path to a seat on Harris County Commissioners Court, where he’ll represent 1.2 million people across a heavily gerrymandered and largely urban district that includes the heavily African-American Third and Fifth wards, in addition to southern parts of the county. In that seat, he’ll control a $200 million budget and receive a base annual salary of nearly $170,000. Important issues like flooding, toll roads and the criminal justice system are controlled by that five-member court.


Some candidates told us that they had to file open records requests to learn the names of the precinct chairs. Others said they still weren’t sure whether the eventual vote on June 25 would be a secret ballot or not. And Provost told the editorial board that she thought the party was working to push the whole thing in Ellis’ direction.

While the bulk of local Democrats don’t get to vote, they should at least consider themselves lucky that the chairs are apparently going with a well-qualified candidate. The only other challenger who comes close is Locke, a former Houston city attorney who was appointed to the position by County Judge Ed Emmett. Locke has worked as an attorney for the county and already has a deep knowledge of how county government functions and all the personalities at play. However, this insider perspective means that he’d be unlikely to shake up the status quo of the board’s under-the-radar activities. For example, when he met with the Chronicle editorial board, Locke rejected claims that responsibility for recent flooding rests with the Harris County Flood Control District. Does this show that Locke is too close to county government to see the big picture?

Let’s deal with that penultimate paragraph first. Precinct chairs are actual elected officials, so their names are a matter of public record. Go to the Secretary of State website – you can find that link right here on the HCDP page entitled “Precinct Chairs and Senate District Leadership” – and you can get a list of every precinct chair for both parties in the entire state. That wasn’t so difficult, was it? If you want contact information for precinct chairs, I’m sure a simple call or email to the HCDP will do. I’ve been a chair for eight years, and I’ve received plenty of email and snail mail from candidates during that time seeking the support and endorsement of my colleagues and myself. On the matter of how the June 25 ballot will be conducted, Gerry Birnberg has stated publicly at two different events – the spring CEC meeting and the May 25 candidate forum – that Texas Democratic Party rules expressly forbid secret ballots for this sort of thing. I don’t expect the Chron editorial board to know these things offhand – though honestly, how hard is it to go to and poke around a bit; it took me like 10 seconds to find what I was looking for – but anyone seeking this post really ought to be capable of reading the TDP rulebook or contacting their friendly neighborhood SDEC rep for clarification. I wish the Chron had identified the people who had made these claims, because to me it’s evidence that they are either too misinformed or dishonest to merit consideration.

Finally, in regard to Georgia Provost’s complaint, clearly this is the year of candidates claiming that The System is rigged against them. Let me state for the record that no one from the HCDP has contacted me about this race in any fashion except to announce public events like the candidate forum and the upcoming precinct convention. I suspect her beef is based on the forum and the convention being held at the CWA hall, with the CWA being supporters of Ellis. All I can say is that every official Democratic Party event I’ve ever been to has been held in one of three places – the old jury assembly room downtown, the IBEW hall next door to HCDP headquarters, and the CWA hall. How this is supposed to affect the outcome in any way is a mystery to me.

Now for the Chron’s grievances about the process. As one of those 125 otherwise inconsequential precinct chairs, believe me when I say I’d rather not have this power. I can’t wait for it to be over, and if you’ll allow me a bit of personal bitching, I’d much rather spend this Saturday morning driving up to Camp Allen to pick up my kids than spend it at the CWA hall engaging in what is likely to be an un-fun process. That’s life in the big city, and I doubt anyone cares. If you don’t like the process that we have, I encourage you to express that opinion to your legislators, since it’s state law that compels us to take this path. I’d advise you to suggest a replacement process if you do – the Chron did not offer any alternatives – and to bear in mind that this is a really unusual set of circumstances at play. Remember that a slightly larger group of precinct chairs will be selecting two judicial nominees next week, and nobody is having any agida about that. The difference is that those positions have less power than County Commissioner, and those candidates will face general election opponents in races that are seen as tossups. It’s the combination of the position’s power and the lack of a general election opponent that makes this one stand out.

I get the concern with that, I really do. But if you want to argue for a special election as an alternate process, bear in mind that this is to select a party nominee, not a general election winner. Any such election would need to be limited to the people who participated in the most recent primary election, since those are the people who would have made the choice if El Franco Lee had timed his death more propitiously. Had he died before December 15, someone else could have filed to be on the March ballot. Any special election process – including a runoff – would need to take place between March and August, to ensure that the replacement nominee would be on the ballot in time for the early September deadline for printing overseas ballots. That would be going on at the same time as other primary runoffs and the May general election, which I guarantee would lead to complaints of “election fatigue”. Finally, remember that if Lee had waited till after Labor Day to die, he’d have been on the November ballot, and after his term expired next January 1, Ed Emmett would have picked his replacement for the ensuing two years, after which whoever he named would get to be on the 2018 primary ballot as the incumbent. That is of course the Jack Cagle story, with Jerry Eversole resigning instead of dying, and I don’t recall there being this much fuss about it. If you don’t like the idea of 125 (duly elected) precinct chairs picking the next County Commissioner, how much would you like one County Judge, from the opposing party, doing it instead? It could have been worse, is what I’m saying.

Update on the nomination selection processes


In six days, Democratic precinct chairs in County Commissioners Court Precinct 1 will select a nominee to replace the late El Franco Lee on the November ballot. In 11 days, all Democratic precinct chairs will select nominees for the 507th Family Court and the County Criminal Court at Law #16. This is a brief update on activity related to those races.

About a week ago, I received a letter addressed to precinct chairs concerning the 507th Family Court race. It was sent by fellow precinct chair Natalie Fairbanks and it enumerated the number of Harris County family court cases that each of the six known candidates had been involved in since 2008. I did a scan of the letter, which you can see here. A couple of days later, candidate Germaine Tanner sent an email to precinct chairs arguing that the data in the Fairbanks was inaccurate and incomplete, as all the attorneys in question have been practicing since well before 2008 and the count of cases did not include those “that were filed as post-divorce proceedings between the years 2008-2015, but with a case number that preceded the year 2008”. You can see this email here. Later that same day, candidate Julia Maldonado sent her own email pointing out that there are qualifications beyond number of cases worked, such as board certification, and that some attorneys handle cases outside of Harris County as well. You can see that email here.

As for the County Criminal Court at Law #16 race, the HCDP lists three candidates who have stated an interest in that nomination. Two of them have made themselves known to precinct chairs recently. David Singer, who up till recently was the only candidate I was aware of for this position, sent a letter to precinct chairs outlining his background and qualifications. I thought he had also sent that via email, but if so I can’t find it. This is the back side of his push card from the March primary for the 177th Criminal District Court, which is from an email he did send to precinct chairs in February. It’s a succinct summary of what was in the letter. Last week, I received an email from Darrell Jordan, who was a candidate for the 180th Criminal District Court in 2010. You can see that email here. The third candidate in this race is Raul Rodriguez, who had run for the 174th Criminal District Court this March and like Singer had been a candidate for one of the County Criminal Courts in 2014. I’ve not yet heard anything from him on this race. I do have Q&As from all three from past candidacies – Singer and Rodriguez for 2016, Jordan for 2010 – and will be revisiting those this week.

Finally, on the Commissioners Court race, candidate Georgia Provost made a pair of robocalls to precinct chairs this week. It was the first contact from a candidate not named Ellis, Locke, or Boykins that I received. And I have to say, of all the ways available to reach out to voters, I have no idea why she chose the robocall route. Robocalls have their place in the firmament – they’re a pretty efficient way of reminding people that there is an election in the first place – but given that nobody listens past the first five or ten seconds and you don’t know who actually picked up the phone, why would you do that for a more detailed sales pitch like this race? I mean, there’s 125 voters total for this race. At a very leisurely pace of five contacts per day, you could reach everyone in less than a month, and ensure that you personally get to talk to them. I can’t imagine a less effective strategy for a race like this than robocalls.

Finally, a few days ago I received a letter from Rep. Harold Dutton endorsing Gene Locke for the position. To the best of my admittedly spotty recollection, it’s the only letter I’ve received from an elected official endorsing someone other than Rodney Ellis. At the very least, it’s the only one I’ve received recently from an elected official.

Six days till we pick a Commissioner. Eleven days till we pick two judicial candidates. Hang in there, y’all.

Sen. Ellis claims a majority of Precinct 1 endorsements

This may end the suspense for the June 25 precinct convention.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Senator Rodney Ellis has won the public support of 65 of the 125 Precinct One precinct chairs eligible to vote in the June 25 selection process for the Democratic nominee for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct One.

Today’s announcement followed the endorsement of Ellis last week by Kaye Lee, the widow of the late Commissioner El Franco Lee, and the endorsements of many community leaders and a super-majority of Democratic elected officials representing Harris County.

Senator Ellis made the following statement:

“I am very grateful and very honored to have the support of these leaders who are tasked with the responsibility of selecting the Democratic Party’s nominee for Precinct One Commissioner.

“To the these 65 precinct chairs, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support. And to those who have yet to make a decision, I will continue to work hard to earn your vote.

“The next elected commissioner will stand on the shoulders of the late, great Commissioner El Franco Lee and must honor and build on his legacy. If selected, I look forward to working in partnership with our precinct chairs to do just that and to make Harris County a better place for all of us. Roads and bridges are important, but our increasingly urbanized county needs a Democratic commissioner who will fight for so much more.

“Going along to get along won’t stop people from dying in our jail, won’t increase the local minimum wage, won’t fix our roads or prevent flooding, won’t deliver mental health care services or bring new economic opportunity to those who have been left behind.

“If we want to make those things happen, we need to fight for them – that’s what I’ve done in the State Senate and that’s the kind of Democratic spirit I’ll bring to the Commissioner’s Court.”

This was posted to Sen. Ellis’ Facebook page yesterday morning; interestingly, the first comment was an expression of doubt from Dwight Boykins, who of course is also seeking the Commissioner nomination. The chairs who have endorsed Ellis are listed in both places, which as Campos notes means that Boykins and serving Commissioner Gene Locke now know which chairs they need to target. It is also possible that some people may just change their minds, but if their experience has been anything like mine then I can say that Team Ellis has been pretty diligent about checking with them to see if anything has changed in their status. A more pressing concern may be that for whatever the reason, some of these folks may not show up on June 25. If there was ever an election in which turnout was paramount, it would be this one. Beyond that, we’ll know soon enough how accurate this count is. The Chron has more.

UPDATE: Here’s Commissioner Locke’s response to Sen. Ellis’ statement.

What do you want in the next Precinct 1 County Commissioner?

Here’s one way to figure it out if you’re not sure.

El Franco Lee

Harris County Democrats have sent a questionnaire to Precinct 1 commissioners candidates, setting up one of the few instances in an unusual race where the public can compare candidates’ political and policy stances.

The questionnaire covers topics including how candidates propose to prioritize funds inside versus outside city limits, how candidates will continue longtime commissioner El Franco Lee’s senior programs, and the burdened county criminal justice system.

The party is seeking answers to the questionnaire by June 16.


The task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

Which as you well know happens on June 25. I’m sure our letter carrier will appreciate the lighter load she will get to carry once this race is over and the avalanche of mail I’ve been getting ceases. The questionnaire is embedded in the story – these are fairly involved questions, so I hope the candidates got them before Monday, because it will take some time to write thorough answers – and I will be eager to see the responses. I’ve said what my preferences are, but these questions go into quite a bit more depth. I’ll have a report on the answers once they are posted.

Endorsement watch: Rodney racks ’em up

One more to a long list.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

The widow of the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee has endorsed state Sen. Rodney Ellis for the seat that her husband held for decades, the senator said Friday.

A letter dated Tuesday and signed by Kaye Lee urges Democratic party district chairs to select Ellis, the longtime Democratic state senator, when they gather later this month. Ellis’s top rival in the race for the Precinct 1 seat is Commissioner Gene Locke, a Democrat who was appointed in January to fill Lee’s seat by County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican.

Kaye Lee has not confirmed the authenticity of the letter and did not respond to several phone calls, messages passed through intermediaries and a written note seeking confirmation of her endorsement. Ellis said Friday he had spoken with Kaye Lee after the letter was sent out and said it was genuine.

The letter stresses that Ellis is a “loyal Democrat” and family friend with a track record of electoral success.

“Your vote is much more than electing a replacement for an unopposed term,” the letter says. “On June 25, 2016, you will determine if we as a party will continue to have a voice and presence on Commissioners Court for years to come.”

“I think it’s extremely important,” Ellis said by phone Friday of the endorsement, which he called a game-changer. “I’m very honored to have it.”

Locke said in a statement this week that he was “surprised” by Kaye Lee’s decision, but he added, “I respect her right to endorse whomever she wishes.”

Locke’s campaign consultant, Keir Murray, added that the commissioner has been unable to reach Kaye Lee to discuss the letter.

I received a copy of the letter on Wednesday. Gotta say, it didn’t occur to me that it needed to be confirmed. For what it’w worth, I don’t think this endorsement, or any of the multiple others that Sen. Ellis has collected, means that much. I figure endorsements mean more when a significant portion of the electorate doesn’t have a strong opinion about the candidates involved, or when they just don’t know that much about them and are looking for some direction. That surely isn’t the case here, in an election to be determined by 125 or so precinct chairs. That hasn’t stopped Sen. Ellis from collecting a lot of them, with each endorser sending a letter on his behalf. How much of an effect they may have, I couldn’t say. They’re nice to have, to be sure, I just have a hard time believing they will change anyone’s mind.

Ellis v. Radack

From the inbox:

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

On Tuesday, Commissioner Steve Radack said during a public session of the Harris County Commissioner’s Court that Senator Rodney Ellis should “shut up” about criminal justice reform. Click here and scroll to the 30 second mark of the Executive Session.

Today, Senator Ellis offers the following response:

“In an outburst more in the style of Donald Trump rather than the more staid Commissioner’s Court, Commissioner Radack called me out by name and told me to ‘shut up’ about criminal justice reforms in our community,” said Senator Ellis. “As long as I have the privilege of public service, I’m not going to shut up.”

Ellis continued: “I’m not going to shut up about our broken criminal justice system and people dying in jail. I’m not going to shut up about a bail system that keeps people in a cage just because they’re poor. And I’m not going to shut up about the fact that the attorney you can afford too often determines the quality of justice you receive.”

“This isn’t an argument about statistics – it’s an argument about whether or not Harris County continues to needlessly destroy lives, jeopardize our communities, and waste taxpayer dollars with its broken justice system. I’m going to speak up for all people and especially the most vulnerable in our society, just as I’ve always done. And I will not be bullied by any Commissioner, regardless of where my public service takes me.”

“I challenge Commissioner Radack to sit down for a public debate about the criminal justice reforms needed in our community.”

All righty then. The video link above is to Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting. Note that what comes up is the Call To Order – you need to then click on the Executive Session link to see the bit in question. That clip is only 2:28 in length, so you may as well just watch the whole thing. Radack is referring to the lawsuit filed against Harris County by the non-profit Equal Justice Under Law over the county’s bail practices. That lawsuit has since been updated to add another plaintiff. See Grits for more details about that, and for a long-overdue move on the county’s part to actually use Pretrial Services in a meaningful way. Along the way, it would appear that some nerves have been touched and things may get a bit contentious. Bring it on, I say. Oh, and by the way, Commissioner Gene Locke sided with Sen. Ellis on this one. The Court is one of the chummier political institutions we have around here. This little bit of disharmony was welcome and refreshing.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story.

The Commissioners Court candidates forum

El Franco Lee

On Sunday, I attended the candidate forum held by the HCDP for the people who are interested in being named to replace the late El Franco Lee on the ballot this November. The Chron has a report on it here, but I’m just going to give you my impressions of the event and the candidates.

The event started with an introduction by HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, who gave a long and obviously written by a lawyer explanation that just because someone was participating in this event does not mean that person has declared himself a candidate for the office. In fact, one doesn’t ever have to declare oneself a candidate for this office, but instead can graciously accept the spot on the ballot if the precinct chairs in their wisdom call upon one to take it. I’ll give you three guesses which candidate present for this event this was aimed at.

There were six candidates in attendance for what was to be a fairly standard candidate forum, in which a moderator (KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall) would ask questions (some prepared beforehand, some solicited from the audience) that participants would answer. Each candidate got to make a two-minute intro speech, and the questions would be assigned to two candidates each, though some of them were answered by all. Marshall picked the candidates and the order in which they responded. Overall, it went pretty well, and I’ll get to the candidates and my view of them in a minute, but first I want to share the two most important things I learned from this event.

First and foremost, if on the initial round of voting at the Precinct Executive Committee meeting on June 25 at which the nominee is picked no candidate receives a majority of the precinct chairs in attendance, then the top two will go to a runoff, to be conducted immediately following that vote. There had been a lot of confusion on that point – several people at the event asked me this specific question, which was finally answered by Gerry Birnberg after the debate part was over. He also emphasized that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, only the relevant precinct chairs in attendance at the event could vote. No proxies or phone-ins would be allowed. To say the least, that puts a lot of emphasis on the most concentrated get-out-the-vote effort you’ll ever see.

The other item had to do with the selection of candidates for the 507th Family Court and Harris County Criminal Court At Law #16, for which I’ll write a separate post. I had originally been under the impression that we would take care of all of this business on the same day, June 25. That is not the case. As Lane Lewis told me, we need to keep those things separate to ensure that only chairs in Precinct 1 are involved in the selection of the Commissioners Court nominee. The judicial nominees will be chosen five days later, at the next County Executive Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 30.

As for the candidates at this forum for this race:

Ricky Tezino: I have no idea what he was doing here.

Georgia Provost: She got a lot of audience response from making numerous provocative, mostly anti-establishment statements. That’s an interesting strategy to pursue in an election that will be decided entirely by precinct chairs, but she did have some support in the crowd. She and the other two candidates who are not current officeholders pitched themselves as scrappy outsiders not beholden to anyone who would come in and shake things up. There’s a place for that kind of candidate – City Council, for which Provost has made two recent campaigns, is one example – but I for one am not sure that’s a good idea for the lone Democrat on Harris County Commissioners Court. YMMV and all that.

DeWayne Lark: Of the three “outsider” candidates, he made the best impression on me. At one point during the forum, there was a somewhat bizarre question about the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. Georgia Provost, answering first, gave a rambling response in which it was not at all clear she understood that there was a PD’s office already and that it had been in operation for several years. Lark followed that with an unequivocal statement that we already have such an office, and the main issue with it is that judges in Harris County are not required to use it instead of the old system of assigning an attorney themselves. Lark was in general fairly well informed, he gave concise answers, and he offered the best slogan of the evening, “Come out of the dark and vote for Lark”.

Dwight Boykins: He was at his best when he was talking about the things he has done on Council and how he would implement them as a County Commissioner. He spent a lot of time talking up his second chance job programs in particular. He also had two bad moments that stuck out. Late in the forum, there was an audience-submitted question regarding HERO. Ellis gave a short answer stating his firm support for HERO. Locke also strongly supported HERO, but criticized the way the campaign in support of it was handled. Lark said something about opposing discrimination but having issues with the wording of the ordinance, which was not a good answer but at least was short. Boykins’ response began with his intent to work with Mayor Parker to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, until he started getting calls from constituents who didn’t like it, so he had to vote against it. The whole thing was a mess. Later, he walked right into the biggest haymaker of the evening, in response to a question about why were the candidates Democrats. Ellis was first, and he gave a rousing, red meat answer that got a big cheer from the crowd. Boykins followed, and after beginning by saying he was born a Democrat, he took a shot at Ellis for having previously referred to him as a Republican. Ellis responded to that by saying well, what do you call someone who votes in a Republican primary? (The crowd responded as you might expect to that.) Boykins tried to salvage things by saying he voted for Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry, and the Democrats didn’t have a candidate. The crowd didn’t appear to catch that he had just publicly overlooked Bill White in 2010, but everyone I talked to about it afterwards noticed. It was not Boykins’ finest moment.

Gene Locke and Rodney Ellis: I’m putting these two together because they both had the most visible presence at the event. They had display tables in the lobby, they brought a bunch of supporters wearing their campaign T-shirts, and more importantly, they both made it through without saying or doing anything that would make a supporter change his or her mind about them. They emphasized their experience and credentials, with Ellis making a spirited defense of his 30+ years in public office, and they both brought their A games rhetorically. The Chron story said that Locke’s discussion of his plan to help fix the streets in front of Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl was contentious, but I have to confess I missed any negative response to it from the crowd. The bottom line is that if you came in thinking these two were the frontrunners, I saw nothing in the event to change that perception.

Overview of the Commissioners Court Precinct 1 “race”

I put “race” in quotes because it’s not like any other race you’v ever seen.

El Franco Lee

The campaign for the next Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner appears in many ways like any other: candidates are raising money, seeking endorsements and sending out targeted mailers touting their credentials.

But this is not a typical election, and voters won’t be heading to the ballot box. Instead, the task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

That’s because longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee’s name remained on the March 1 primary ballot after his death in early January, leaving the precinct chairs to select the party’s new nominee, who will be unopposed in November.

The unusual nature of the nominating process means the campaign is less democratic than most local elections and far more intimate – built around in-depth policy conversations and targeted wooing of party insiders.

Example: The presumed frontrunners, Rodney Ellis and Gene Locke, both sent flowers to female precinct chairs for Mother’s Day.


City Councilman Dwight Boykins has not formally announced his candidacy, citing concern that he could forfeit his municipal office by doing so. But he has been actively campaigning for the job.

Because voters last November extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, those who become a candidate for another office now are subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution, which applies to municipal officeholders with terms longer than two years. Though a Texas attorney general opinion issued in 2000 states that running for the nomination of a political party’s executive committee does not prompt an automatic resignation, the courts have yet to formally resolve the issue.

“My best bet is that the courts would rule that (then-Attorney General John) Cornyn is correct and you don’t trigger resign-to-run by seeking the nomination of the executive committee,” former Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg said. However, he added, “Until the courts decide the issue, there is no way to say for sure, definitively, that Attorney General Cornyn was correct.”

So Boykins and other interested council members – Jerry Davis and Larry Green – have approached the campaign gingerly.

“I can neither admit or deny my interest in the seat because of the way the current law is drafted,” Green said recently. “However, I can say I have been approached by several precinct judges and other community members requesting that I do move forward in trying to run for the seat.”

It’s a good overview of the process, so give it a read and familiarize yourself. I spoke to Chron reporter Rebecca Elliott on Thursday, but much like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, my role was left on the cutting room floor. One point I want to address in this story, which is as much about the great power that’s been bestowed on some 125 precinct chairs as anything, is the question of how this process could have been done differently. One precinct chair called for a special election instead of the current process. That has some intuitive appeal, but remember, we’re not actually picking a County Commissioner. We’re picking a Democratic nominee for County Commissioner. There’s no provision in the law for a special party primary election, and I’m not sure how you could conduct one in a way that mimicked an actual primary election. Those are technically open elections, but everyone who participates has to choose which primary they want to vote in. How do you ensure conditions like that in a special election environment? Remember also, we precinct chairs – not just the 125 or so of us in Precinct 1, but the 500 or so of us in all of Harris County – are also selecting nominees for two judicial races. There’s basically no concern about us doing that, in part for the obvious reason that those offices have far less power, but also because those nominees will have contested races against Republicans in November, and unlike the Commissioners Court race there’s no guarantee they’ll win. The concern about the un-democratic nature of this process is, in my opinion, entirely about the nature of the office of Commissioners Court, which has vast power and not a whole lot of electoral accountability under normal circumstances. It’s about the office, not the process. Fixing the process in some way, if there is a way, can’t address that.

I should also point out that as weird as this process is, it could be worse. For one, if the late Commissioner Lee had died next January after being elected and sworn in, instead of this January after the filing deadline had passed, then Judge Ed Emmett would have been able to not only pick a replacement as he did to fill out the last year of Lee’s term, but that replacement would have been able to file for election himself in 2018, and would almost certainly have cruised to an easy win. This is what happened with Jerry Eversole (who resigned after the 2010 election) and now-Commissioner Jack Cagle. At least here, it’s Democrats who are picking the replacement. Yes, we’d have gotten a shot at that person in the next primary, but that could mean nearly two years of a Commissioner in the most Democratic precinct in the county being chosen by a Republican County Judge, and an awful lot can happen in two years. We got lucky here, in that Judge Emmett is an honorable man, and his choice for this year of Commissioner Locke was a good one. But there was and would have been nothing to stop a less honorable Judge from picking whatever hack or crony he wanted to. It could have been worse, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing:

If Ellis earns the Democratic Party’s nod for commissioner, the party would need to convene another executive committee meeting to find a replacement for him on the ballot for state senator – and quickly, as all nominations must be completed by late August.

The angling has already begun.

“Of course anybody in the (Texas) House – or any other position for that matter – is going to look at that position as something to move to, and so I fall in that category of looking at it as a possibility,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of several politicians who have already expressed interest in Ellis’s seat. “These seats don’t change hands very often, and more than likely, whomever is selected to be the nominee for the Democratic Party, they’re going to be there for a long time.”

Naming Sen. Ellis to fill the nomination ensures at least one more round of this selection process, with the precinct chairs in SD13 moving onto the hot spot. (That does not include me, as I am in SD15.) And if the precinct chairs of SD13 select a State Rep to fill the slot left vacant by Ellis – at the very least, Reps. Coleman, Thompson, and Miles are waiting in the wings – then we get to do this a third time. There is an argument to be made that selecting Commissioner Locke to run for the seat in November puts an end to that process. Whether one considers that a pro or a con is a matter of personal preference.

Locke calls for jail administrator

Some strong words from Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Commissioner Gene L. Locke on Tuesday demanded that a certified jail administrator be hired after learning that four Harris County inmates have died after being assaulted by other inmates or suffered blunt force trauma while jailed over the last year.

The latest of the deaths during the tenure of Sheriff Ron Hickman, who took office in May 2015, came on April 5 after Patrick Joseph Brown, a Katy man arrested for allegedly stealing a guitar, was beaten to death in a crowded jail cell. Two inmates have been charged with aggravated assault in his death.

“Any in-custody death is unacceptable, and to hear that four people died while in jail awaiting trial in Harris County is embarrassing and disgraceful,” Locke said in a press release. “The inmates’ families deserve answers, and the people of Harris County are entitled to know that their public servants are safely operating a place of confinement, which is meant to be temporary, and not a death chamber for inmates who have not been given a bond hearing or convicted of the crimes for which they have been accused.”

Hickman responded via an emailed statement that he shares Locke’s concerns about inmate care and said he welcomed “any additional assistance that can be provided to ease and/or identify problems with staffing.”

“Our position continues to be that we will never tolerate any abuse or improper treatment of any individual under our care or custody and protection of life is always our first priority,” Hickman said. “Many times, we are the first point of access to medical care when individuals who are brought to our facility are found to be ill, needing medical attention, or mental health services.”

See here for Commissioner Locke’s full statement. The idea of a separate jail administrator has come up before, with the proposal originally being put forward by Commissioner Steve Radack and Sheriff Hickman saying he was open to the possibility. I have expressed some skepticism about this idea, partly because I was afraid it was a stalking horse for some kind of jail privatization scheme, but also because we’re very light on the details for this. How exactly would this work? To whom is the jail administrator accountable? There are many questions to answer before we could consider moving ahead.

Commissioner Locke, who invited me to have lunch with him this week to discuss what he has been doing and planning to do as Commissioner, told me that his reasoning for this was simple: Sheriffs have a strong preference for putting more deputies into patrol and investigations, and they cut costs relating to the jail to pay for that. A jail administrator, who would only have responsibility – and budget – for the jail would instead be incentivized to improve jail operations rather than simply cut costs. I’m still not on board with the idea, at least not until some of the other questions are answered, but I can see the logic in that. Whatever the case, it is clear that what we are doing at the jail now is not working any better than it was before, and we need to make significant changes to bring an end to the violence and death we see all too often in the jail. To that extent, I’ll keep an open mind about having a jail administrator if there’s a proposal for one that makes sense and addresses these questions.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update


Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

The Greater Houston Storm Relief Fund

From the inbox:

After receiving calls from corporations and others who want to help financially, Mayor Sylvester Turner is establishing The Greater Houston Storm Relief Fund, to accept flood relief donations.

“We’ve been hearing from residents who are confused about where they should donate to get assistance directly to the residents of our city who are suffering, said Mayor Turner. “The creation of this fund will ensure the dollars donated stay in our community. The fund will focus on aiding storm victims and relief organizations in Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties.”

Mayor Turner thanked Waste Management for making a $50,000 donation, the first since the fund’s creation.

The Greater Houston Community Foundation, a 501 (c)(3)nonprofit public charity, will administer the fund at no cost, so 100% of all donations will go toward helping flood victims. However, online credit card donations will be assessed a small fee, typically 3%, by the credit card companies. Donors have the option of increasing their credit card donations to cover this fee.

To donate, go to and follow the instructions.

Donation instructions are here. If you’re looking for a way to help, this is a pretty good one.

Also from the inbox:

Commissioner Gene L. Locke’s crews will be picking up water-soaked debris that people re-move from their homes in unincorporated areas. Workers also will remove trees that have fallen on streets and sidewalks. Here’s how the program works:

Residents can place furniture, carpet and other items on curbside
Inform Commissioner Locke’s office about downed trees
Call Precinct One at 713-991-6881

In addition to the flood recovery that Precinct One is conducting in unincorporated areas of Harris County, Commissioner Locke has spoken with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and pledged to provide debris removal resources in portions of the city limits that are located in Precinct One.

A copy of the Commissioner’s flyer is here. Cleanup is a huge job, so if you’re in Precinct 1 and you need the help, reach out and get it.

In other news: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he would lead a project to develop a barrier system to prevent people from repeatedly driving into high water areas. Joke if you want, but three of the eight deaths reported in the Houston area attributed to the flooding happened in underpasses like these. If there’s something we can do to prevent them, we should.

The Addicks and Barker reservoirs are at record levels, and roads near them will be under water, likely for several days. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Mayor Turner was scheduled to give his first State of the City address this past Monday. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. Sometime between now and whenever that gets rescheduled, he will be appointing a flooding czar. That person will have “the sole responsibility of pulling together all the different stakeholders and coming up with a definitive plan on how to address flooding in the city of Houston.” Best of luck to whoever that is.

Finally, if you’re still thinking about helping out, give a thought to the folks in Greenspoint who were flooded out. They could definitely use a little help right now.

Once again with what we want from the next County Commissioner


El Franco Lee

The Chron has a story today on County Commissioner Gene Locke changing his mind and now wanting to become the Dem nominee for Commissioner. It looks like a race between Gene and State Sen. Rodney Ellis. The Chron mentions a few others that may be interested though.

Here is from the story today that Commentary finds interesting:

Lane Lewis, Democratic Party county chair, said he does not know which candidate the roughly 150 precinct chairs lean toward. So far, he said, the chairs have expressed concern about two main issues when considering contenders: whether the nominee will invest more within Houston city limits, since city residents also pay county taxes, and whether the nominee will play a more active role in Democratic Party politics.

Get it in writing folks or at least on YouTube. Make the county commissioner candidates say that they will start spending more of our tax dollars on projects within the H-Town City limits. How much? How about proportionately?

On the second point, we all know that county commissioners can raise a ton of campaign funds. Get them to say that in general election years, they will spend ten percent of what they have in their campaign bank account on Dem GOTV efforts in Harris County or at least within their precinct. If they have a million in the bank, then they commit to spend $100,000. No more of this piling up funds in their campaign bank account and hoarding it while the Dem Party continues to hold bake sales.

Make them take the pledge, please. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers.

I’ve already stated my agreement with the second item, though I didn’t specify a number, as well as some other things I’m looking for. I’m happy to include point 1 on my list. The story notes that there will be a forum in May, so perhaps we can get some answers to these and other questions. Clearly, I need to add some candidate interviews to my to-do list. What questions should we add to what we’ve already got?

By the way, as noted by Mainstream in this comment to Tuesday’s post, you can add County Criminal Court at Law #16 to the list of nominations we have to fill. I have no intel on that one at this time, but I’m sure I’ll hear some names sooner or later.

Locke makes it official

He would like to continue being County Commissioner.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke said Monday he has decided to seek the Democratic nomination — and thus another term — for the Precinct 1 seat.

Locke was initially appointed by county Judge Ed Emmett as a caretaker commissioner to fill out the term of longtime commissioner El Franco Lee, who died in January. Locke had previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

But Locke said Monday that a broad cross-section of supporters, including constituents and community leaders in Precinct 1, had swayed him. Locke said he has always maintained he would follow in Lee’s footsteps.

“I had mentioned early on in my consideration for this position that the continuation of his legacy would be one of the considerations that might make me change my mind,” Locke said.

See here for Locke’s official statement, here for my initial reporting on this, and here for a Chron story that resulted from that. I’ve seen a few negative reactions to Commissioner Locke’s initial statement of interest in the job, which at the time he took it was supposed to be just for this term, stuff that has accused him of not being true to his word. I’m not going to hold it against him – he never explicitly said he would not seek a full term, and as I’ve noted before, being a County Commissioner is a pretty damn sweet gig. I’m sure there have been people encouraging him to run, especially with the city-focused infrastructure work that’s he’s been pioneering, but as we know unless those folks include the 130 or so precinct chairs that will make a selection on June 25, it doesn’t much matter. For what it’s worth and speaking as one of those 130 people, I have had regular contact – phone, email, and/or snail mail – from three candidates regarding this nomination: Gene Locke, Rodney Ellis, and Dwight Boykins. I’ve not heard from anyone else since January, and have not heard from anyone else at all besides one other person. Whether that means this is just a three-person race, or that there are three candidates who are much better organized than the others, I couldn’t say. We will know for sure on June 25.

On vacant lots and city/county cooperation

I just have one question about this.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Houston residents living in neighborhoods afflicted with blight could see twice as much money poured into boarding up abandoned houses and mowing overgrown yards under a partnership city and county leaders trumpeted Tuesday.

Harris County Commissioner Gene Locke plans to invest $750,000 to $1 million in mowing lawns, boarding up broken windows and removing trash, discarded tires and other debris from properties in his Precinct 1, which covers much of urban Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Locke for the announcement in Turner’s native Acres Homes neighborhood, as the pair cheered what they called an unprecedented effort. Typically, such initiatives within Houston’s limits are conducted by the cash-strapped city government.

“When you’re dealing with minimum resources, you’ve got to stretch your resources as much as possible,” said Turner, who must close a budget gap of up to $160 million by July. “For people that live in this community, live next door, this is a tremendous advance.”

The city and county have collaborated before. The two governments are building a voter-approved joint inmate processing center and have begun operating a shared radio facility for their public safety fleets.

But elected officials have recently put an increased emphasis on partnership. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett pushed city-county ventures in his State of the County address last month, and Turner campaigned for mayor last year partly on a vow of increased collaboration.

Why is it that this sort of thing hasn’t been done before? I’ve wondered about this before, and I’m still wondering. The vast majority of Precinct 1 residents are City of Houston residents. Why haven’t we been the beneficiary of this kind of county investment before? I get that this is one part Commissioner Locke making a case to get the nomination for November, one part Mayor Turner following through on a campaign promise, and one part Judge Emmett’s emphasis on city-county cooperation. I also get that the most likely answer to my question is “because we’ve always done it that way, and no one thought to do it any differently”. I’m glad that’s no longer the case, and I suppose there’s not much value in looking back, but I just can’t help but marvel at how we’ve all accepted this as normal for as long as we have.

Chron story on Locke running for Commissioner

It’s officially official now.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke, appointed to fill the unexpired term following the sudden death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee last month, said Tuesday he may seek the nomination for the powerful local office in the November election.

Locke said he has not made a final decision, but his statement signals a shift for the former city attorney, who previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

It also would conflict with County Judge Ed Emmett’s previously stated desire to appoint a caretaker commissioner who would not seek the job beyond Dec. 31

“It’s the number of people who I respect that are asking me to consider it,” Locke said Tuesday.

He declined to name those asking him to run and said he needs to talk to his family about it. He did not give a timetable for when he would make a decision.


After Lee’s death on Jan. 3, several people announced interest in the office, including Houston Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said last month that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority.

“I have a lot of respect for Gene Locke and appreciate anyone who wants to serve the public,” Ellis said in a statement Tuesday.

Davis said the possibility of Locke seeking the nomination would not change anything for him.

“Right now, it’s just the opportunity to talk to different people and see what they want in the county commissioner,” he said.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said Locke had not told him if he was interested in the nomination.

You heard it here first. I mean, look, there are 130 or so precinct chairs who will make this decision. Locke’s task, or any other challenger’s task, is to convince enough of them to make him their first or second choice. I don’t know how that’s going to go, but it will be a campaign and an election like nothing else we’ve seen anytime soon.

Gene Locke is reportedly seeking the Commissioners Court nomination

Please see update at the end of this post. There is new information at the bottom.

Remember this?

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

As Carl Whitmarsh first noted on Friday, and others confirmed to me at the Saturday HCDP County Executive Committee meeting, Locke is now seeking to be named as El Franco Lee’s replacement on the ballot in December, thus allowing him to run for a full four-year term. I don’t know what may have changed his thinking – the obvious answer is that being County Commissioner is an amazingly sweet gig, and who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? – but something did. One of the tidbits I learned at that CEC meeting on Saturday is that there are about 130 Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Precinct 1, so that’s the target electorate he needs to work to get that job. Getting a headline about using county resources to help fix some city streets (*) is a nice thing that would no doubt help with March and November voters, but the pool to fish in is quite a bit smaller than that. We’ll see how he approaches it.

Meanwhile, Rodney Ellis and Dwight Boykins, who were both at that CEC meeting, remain the most visible-to-me contestants for that job. According to the discussion thread on Whitmarsh’s Facebook post, former City Council candidate Georgia Provost, and SD13 committee chair Nat West are also throwing their hats in the ring. Another thing I learned at the CEC meeting is that in order to be considered for the replacement nomination, one of those 130 or so precinct chairs needs to make a motion to nominate you. So we won’t really know who is and isn’t in play until June 25, the day the Precinct Executive Committee meets. Stay tuned.

(*) – Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a story about Commissioner whose precinct is almost entirely within the city of Houston proposing to use some of his infrastructure funds on city streets (among other things) is newsworthy? What else do these funds get spent on if city streets aren’t normally included? It’s all still Harris County, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Commissioner Locke called me to say that while he has been asked to consider seeking the nomination, he has not made any decisions. He is considering it, and he said that being Commissioner offers him a platform on which he can do a lot of good, but he also reiterated what he said in that earlier story about having grandchildren he loves spending time with. The bottom line is that he said he has not made any decisions about seeking the nomination.

More Commissioner hopefuls make themselves known

The race is on.

El Franco Lee

With former city attorney Gene Locke in place to finish the late Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s term, Democratic players are quickly emerging as candidates in the November general election.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said late Thursday that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority in a bid for a powerful local office. City Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green said Friday they have begun campaigning, such as it is, under these unusual circumstances. Councilman C.O. Bradford said constituents had encouraged him to run, and he’s considering it.


Ellis was the first to go public with his campaign efforts. He began researching what it would take to run for the county position, since his name is on the November ballot for state senator.

A legal memo prepared for county Democratic chair Lane Lewis outlined a path by which Ellis said he could seek the ballot spot. In mid-June the Democratic party chairs for Precinct 1 will vote for a candidate to replace Lee on the ballot.

If the party chose him for commissioner, Ellis could withdraw his name from the ballot for state senator, which would trigger a second process by the Democratic leaders to pick a Democrat for state Senate.

Ellis said a move to local office would bring him back to his political roots.

“I started out in local politics in 1983” to run for the City Council, Ellis said. “I left a great job I loved as chief of staff of a U.S. congressman, Mickey Leland.”

Despite having passed 600 bills in the Legislature, Ellis said, he sees himself as “very much an activist” on local issues like urban homesteading and criminal justice.

When he ran for the state Senate, he always planned to find a path back to local office, “probably to run for mayor,” Ellis said. “I have done a lot of thinking, a lot of praying on this.”

This is from the fuller version of yesterday’s story regarding new Commissioner Gene Locke and Ellis’ first-in-line announcement. Good timing has its rewards. I don’t have much to add except to note again what I’m looking for in a new Commissioner. I’ll leave it to you to decide which of these candidates may fit what I have in mind.

Sen. Ellis to seek Commissioner’s position

We have our first public announcement of interest in filling the late El Franco Lee’s seat on Commissioner’s Court.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Longtime state Sen. Rodney Ellis has begun making calls to local Democratic Party leaders and plans to run for the Harris County Commissioner seat left vacant after the death of El Franco Lee, a spokesman said Thursday night.

County Judge Ed Emmett will announce and swear in Lee’s temporary replacement in Precinct 1 on Friday and Lee’s name will remain on the ballot for the primary.

But Ellis’ campaign spokesman David Edmonson said late Thursday the Houston lawmaker was not pursuing Emmett’s interim appointment. Ellis has researched the statute, and has asked an aide to lay out the steps a candidate like him would need to take to get his name removed from the November ballot for senator should the Democratic Party chairs choose him as the general election candidate for the commissioner’s seat.

Sen. Ellis has contacted me about this; he was calling precinct chairs, and I’m on that list. He’s not the only person I have heard from, but he is the first to be public about it. The post I wrote about what I’m looking for in a successor to Commissioner Lee was written after those conversations, to help me organize and fill out my thoughts on the matter. Sen. Ellis does meet my qualifications, but I’m waiting to see who else publicly expresses an interest before I commit to anyone. If Sen. Ellis wins the election of the precinct chairs, we will then have to go through a similar exercise to replace him on the ballot in SD13, but as I am not in that Senate district, I will not be a part of that. PDiddie has more.

In the meantime, County Judge Ed Emmett has made his choice for interim Commissioner.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

Here’s Judge Emmett’s press release. We know that new Commissioner Locke can keep a secret, so if he does have something up his sleeve, we’ll know it when he’s ready to let us know it. Honestly, though, I take him at his word. I will be more than a little shocked if Gene Locke winds up on the list of names for us precinct chairs to consider. Locke was chosen after Commissioner Lee’s widow passed on being considered for the post. I join with many others in wishing Commissioner Locke all the best with the new gig.

Endorsement watch: Our first twofer

My first clear misses, too.

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

For our next controller, voters should look for a candidate who can refocus the distracted office on the straight and narrow of Houston’s financial picture. In our current straits, we don’t have the luxury of electing a politician who wants to play public accountant. Controller has a specific job description and voters should limit their choices to the candidates who can boast an appropriate resume. This narrows the field of six candidates to two: Chris Brown and Bill Frazer.

We endorsed Frazer, 64, two years ago as a solid technician with impeccable qualifications. A retired accountant with 40-years experience as a certified public accountant, Frazer has worked as an auditor and as CFO for a series of oil industry companies. During his career he sat on the board of directors of the Texas Society of CPAs and served as president of the Houston CPA Society.

Chris Brown

Chris Brown

“The controller’s office should be one of credentials and one that has the ability to give the mayor and City Council clear and concise, understandable financial advice so they can make well-informed decisions and good decisions,” Frazer told the editorial board.

There’s little doubt that Frazer could do the job – he’s already done it for decades in the private sector.

Chris Brown, 40, currently serves as chief deputy controller under Green. He also served as chief of staff when Green was on council. While we’re wary of continuing Green’s tenure through his subordinates, Brown boasts a background in finance and experience in the controller’s office that would make him a fine fit for the job. Before he joined the ranks at City Hall, Brown worked as a trader for an investment bank and co-founded an equity trading firm, where he served as head of operations.


However, voters should avoid Carroll Robinson, a former city councilman and former Houston Community College trustee. When he served on the HCC board, Robinson was accused of redirecting a contract to an unqualified friend. In his current campaign, Robinson advocates for casino gambling – a policy far outside the purview of the controller’s office. And when he met with the editorial board, Robinson hinted at Ted Cruz-style obstructionism if elected by refusing to sign city checks.

I thought the Chron would go with Dwight Jefferson, so I whiffed on this one. In my defense, I did give Frazer and Brown some chances of being endorsed, and I predicted the diss on Carroll Robinson, so I do get partial credit. Judge me as you see fit. I will have interviews with all four candidates mentioned in this paragraph this week, so you can decide for yourself. As for the dual endorsement, this isn’t the first time the Chron has done this – remember the Parker/Locke twofer from 2009? – and to be fair, the Chron cites the certainty of a runoff (as they did in 2009) and the need to have the best choices in that race. Seeing this makes me wonder if they won’t do the same thing in this Mayor’s race as well. We’ll know soon enough. What do you think – is this feckless or a reasonable approach?

Mayoral finance reports: Out of town cash and max donors

You may have noticed that there’s a lot of money in the Mayoral race this year, even after subtracting what the candidates have given or loaned to themselves. You may be wondering where all that money came from. This post aims to shed a little light on that.

First question: How much of the money raised by Mayoral candidates came from Houston donors, and how much came from outside Houston?

Candidate Non-Hou $ Total $ Pct % ========================================== Garcia 539,949 1,441,792 37.4% Costello 312,660 1,276,281 24.5% Turner 296,588 747,793 39.7% King 103,501 721,250 14.4% Bell 51,288 366,770 14.0% Hall 35,925 69,025 52.0% McVey 21,750 43,927 49.5%

Disclaimer time: All reports can be seen here. My methodology was ridiculously simple. All donations for which the city listed in the report entry was something other than “Houston” was counted for this. Obviously, not all “Houston” addresses are actually within the city – mail sent to all of unincorporated Harris County and such small cities as West U and Southside Place say “Houston, TX” on the envelope – but I wanted to complete this exercise before the election took place, so I followed this guideline for ease of use. As with all totals presented here and elsewhere, this was a manual process, which means I looked over the reports and counted up the totals myself. It is highly likely that I goofed here and there, so consider these numbers to be reasonable estimates and not gospel truth. Finally, also as before, the “Total $” figures represent the cash money raised by each candidate, thus excluding in kind donations, loans, and (in the case of Costello) contributions from the candidate himself.

Having done this exercise, I (reluctantly) feel like I should go back and review Mayor Parker’s July forms from 2009, 2011, and 2013, as well as Gene Locke and Peter Brown’s from 2009, to see if what we’re seeing here is completely out of whack with past results or not. I know Mayor Parker had a strong national fundraising network, but I’ve no idea offhand what that meant in total dollars and proportional amounts. Whatever the case, I feel confident saying that Adrian Garcia knocked it out of the park here. He raised more from outside Houston than Chris Bell, Ben Hall, and Marty McVey raised in total combined; his non-Houston total is 75% of Bill King’s overall total. And that still left $900K from in Houston. Holy smokes.

One thing I noticed while perusing Garcia’s report: He received a ton of contributions from people with Asian names, both in Houston and not. He also had a lot of contributions from Latino/a donors, but the sheer number of Asian supporters surprised me. Make of that what you will.

I am curious what motivates someone to donate to a Mayoral candidate they can’t vote for. I get why people contribute to Congressional and Senate candidates from other places – laws made in DC affect them regardless, and partisan control matters a lot – but the justification here is somewhat less clear. To be fair, the vast majority of these non-Houston donations came from places like Katy, the Woodlands, Sugar Land, and so forth. For all the griping I did about non-Houstonians driving the red light camera referendum, it’s clear that folks who work here but live elsewhere have a stake in the outcome of elections like this. And of course some of these out of towners are in the personal networks of the candidates – friends, family, in-laws, colleagues (Sylvester Turner received several contributions from other members of the Legislature, for example), and so forth. I’d still like to understand this phenomenon a little better. Surely one of our Professional Political Pundits can put a grad student on it.

Next item: In Houston, an individual can give a maximum of $5000 to a city candidate in a given cycle, and a PAC maxes out at $10K. Having an army of small-dollar donors is a great thing in many ways, but those big checks sure add up in a hurry. How much of these hauls came from the deep pockets?

Candidate # Maxes Max $ Total $ Pct % ===================================================== Garcia 148 745,000 1,441,792 51.7% Costello 138 720,000 1,276,281 56.4% Turner 76 410,000 747,793 54.8% King 71 365,000 721,250 50.6% Bell 25 125,000 366,770 34.1% Hall 11 55,000 69,025 79.7% McVey 2 10,000 43,927 22.8%

Again with the disclaimers: Same manual process as above. Not all max donors give $5K at once. There were several gifts of $2500 each, and other combinations I observed as well. “# Maxes” is the count of all max donors, both individuals and PACs, which I also counted as one even though they could give twice as much. Multiply “# Maxes” by 5,000 and the difference will tell you how many max PAC donations that candidate got.

With the large amounts of money collected, the large number of donors who gave their all should not be surprising. One reason why I did this was to see who might have a harder time replicating their success between now and the beginning of October, when the 30 day reports come due. You can’t hit up those who are tapped out for a repeat performance, after all. I guess this leaves Chris Bell in better shape than some others, but I’m not sure how much effect that will have.

I should note here that two of Ben Hall’s max donors were named Hotze, an “SM Hotze” and a “JS Hotze”. Hall has gone all in with the haters, despite his weak sauce denials. This could actually present a bit of a problem for King and to a lesser extent Costello, as both of them are in their own way wooing Republican voters. Clearly, some of those Republicans are not going to be open to them. I presume Hotze still has some sway among GOP voters (a subset of them, at least), so if he actively pushes for Hall via mail/robocall/whatever as the One True Candidate Who Will Stand Up To The Gays, then I think that has to put a ceiling on King and Costello. How much that might be I don’t know – if I were forced to guess right now I’d say “maybe two or three points” – but as we’ve been saying all along, this is likely to be a close race where not too many votes could make a big difference in the outcome. Hall is a threat to Turner as well, of course, I just wanted to point this possibility out.

I think that’s about all the patience I have for scouring the Mayoral reports. I may take a closer look at the other candidates’ reports as my copious spare time allows.

The Trib on the big Mayor’s races

Those being the Houston and San Antonio Mayors races, with a look at how candidates of color are faring.

If former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte wins the runoff for San Antonio mayor next weekend, she’ll become the Alamo City’s first Hispanic female mayor, though not the first Hispanic, nor the first female.

If opponent Ivy Taylor wins, she’ll become the first black person elected to the position, though she’s already the first black mayor by appointment, taking over when Julián Castro left for a federal job.

And when Houston voters pick their next mayor in the fall, they could make former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia the first Hispanic mayor of the state’s most populous city. A win by state Rep. Sylvester Turner would give the city only its second black mayor.

As Texas’ major cities continue their decades-long evolution to minority-majority populations — where there are fewer whites than blacks and Hispanics combined — tracking minority and female ascension to mayoral firsts has almost reached the complexity of a political trivia game.

But the diversity of candidates is not a mere function of census numbers, political organizers and local leaders say. It’s the result of years of work in the trenches as people of color have labored to accumulate political capital.

“It’s not a magic bullet,” said Laura Barbarena, a San Antonio-based political consultant.


In modern times, San Antonio has been led by only three Hispanic mayors, despite the massive Hispanic share — 63.2 percent — of the population.

But the configuration of its local and legislative districts — particularly on the East Side — has also helped propel blacks into leadership positions. Taylor hails from the East Side and represented it on the City Council from 2009 until her peers appointed her interim mayor in July 2014.

Whichever way it goes, the June 13 runoff will give San Antonio its first woman of color elected to the top post at City Hall.

Still in its early stages, the Houston race has no clear front-runners in a crowded field, with at least seven candidates looking to win the Nov. 3 election. But with high name identification and wide appeal, Garcia and Turner are likely among the top contenders. The five other candidates are all also men, four white and one black.

In a city more diverse than San Antonio — Hispanics make up 43.8 percent of the population, blacks 23.7 percent, almost double the state’s share — both candidates have been more overt with messages about bringing people together.

As far as Houston goes, I would note that we had an African-American candidate and a Hispanic candidate in each of the last two open-seat Mayor’s races. Gene Locke in 2009 and Orlando Sanchez in 2003 (as he had against then-Mayor Lee Brown in 2001) made it into the runoff but lost there. This year, I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff candidate combination, and I would not bet any amount of money on any runoff outcome. There are too many candidates with a credible shot at making it into overtime, and too many possible variables in play once that happens. Unless something happens to clearly separate one or two candidates from the rest of the pack, I will continue to believe that the difference between finishing in the money and finishing fourth or fifth could be as little as a couple thousand votes, much like the At Large 3 race in 2013. Anyone who says otherwise is probably on one of the candidates’ payrolls.

Today is the last day of early voting in the San Antonio runoff, with Runoff Day being this Saturday, the 13th. Early voting turnout is up from the May election, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that final turnout will be up. From what I have gleaned on Facebook, there are a decent number of new voters (i.e., those who did not vote in May) in the mix, so an uptick is definitely a possibility. Who that favors is a question I’m not in a position to answer. If you’re from San Antonio, what’s been your impression of how the vote is going so far?

Reviewing the Mayoral websites

The Chron reviews the candidates’ online presence so far.

Five months before voters head to the polls, the candidates’ digital platforms are up and running, but most are heavy on biography, light on ideas.

“They’re checking the box. They have a website, they have a Facebook, they have a Twitter,” said Luke Marchant, a Houston-based Republican consultant. “They’re all doing what they need to do, but no one’s really pushing the envelope.”

That is not surprising at this stage of the game, when the hot summer months loom large and politics remain an afterthought for all but the most active voters, political experts said.


Some of the contenders have made small forays into the online policy conversation, with state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s proposals including a job training program aimed at fixing the city’s streets and lifting the existing cap on public arts funding. Among former congressman Chris Bell’s suggestions are reorganizing the city’s public works department, expanding bus rapid transit and housing pre-kindergarten programs in city libraries and community centers.

“A lot of the effort right now is focused on fundraising, but the people who are donating to campaigns are no different than any other type of voter. They want to know where you stand,” Bell said, “and the best place for them to find that information in a quick manner is online.”

Others, namely City Council member Stephen Costello and former mayor of Kemah Bill King introduce themselves on their websites and broadly outline campaign priorities: Costello wants to add to the Houston Police Department’s ranks, while King suggests auditing the department and doing away with the city’s crime lab.

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia and businessman Marty McVey leave it mostly at biography. “Before I’m able to govern effectively, I need to know what’s important to the people,” McVey said, noting that his policy is developing as he talks to potential voters.

Meanwhile, 2013 mayoral runner-up Ben Hall’s website was down as of Friday afternoon, having previously sported ‘donate’ and ‘endorse’ buttons, as well as a countdown clock until election day, but no candidate information whatsoever. Hall said he was refining his policy positions before updating his website.

Hall may be between domains. His 2013 website and the site listed on his current Facebook page are different. Not that it matters much – Hall was feather-light on policy in 2013, and I doubt he’ll be any better this time around.

For all the grousing I’ve done about the substance of the campaign so far, I have to admit that as the story suggests, it’s not unusual at this point in time. I went back through my Election 2009 archives, and the first post I wrote about a candidate saying something serious policy-wise was this post about Annise Parker’s crimefighting plan on August 6. Following that, there was this post about Peter Brown’s traffic plan posted on August 10, and this post about Gene Locke’s crimefighting plan on August 26. I guess that means I’ve got another two months of waiting for something interesting and illuminating. That won’t stop me from pointing out, again and again, that there are things happening right now that will greatly affect the decisions and policies of the next Houston Mayor, and right now we have damn little idea of how any of them will react. Someday soon, I hope.

Endorsement watch: Firefighters for Turner

From the inbox:

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

HOUSTON, March 23, 2015 – State Rep. Sylvester Turner has earned the endorsement of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association in this year’s mayoral race, the HPFFA said today.

HPFFA President Alvin W. White, Jr. said 84 percent of voting fire fighters approved the recommendation of the HPFFA board of directors to endorse Turner after a review of the public safety records of the mayoral candidates.

“Sylvester has been a consistent friend of fire fighters and an advocate for public safety in Austin for 25 years,” White said. “He is clearly the best choice for us in this mayoral race. We also appreciate that he has built a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, business leaders, unions and community groups.”

White added, “Rep. Turner understands that Houston fire fighters are delivering excellent service to citizens, are good stewards of city resources, and are giving back to the community. He also has been a sensible voice – here and in Austin – in the debate about city employee pensions.”

Rep. Turner said, “I am proud to have earned the support of Houston’s firefighters. Together, we will work to keep our neighborhoods safe, teach our youth the values of courage and shared sacrifice and show the world that Houston is a place that working families are proud to call home.”

Rep. Turner has served 25 years in the Texas House of Representatives. He is a member of the Legislative Budget Board; Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Committee; Chair of the Subcommittee on Articles 1, 4 and 5 (General Government, Judiciary, Public Safety and Criminal Justice); and the House State Affairs Committee.

Born in the Acres Homes community of northwest Houston, Rep. Turner graduated from Klein High School, where he was valedictorian and student body president. He then attended the University of Houston and Harvard Law School. More information is available at

The press release is here, for when I get around to creating a 2015 Election page. I’m not going to note every endorsement that comes my way, but this one was of interest for two reasons. One is that it happened at all, especially this early on. I figure a lot of endorsing organizations are going to take their time – at the very least, until they’re sure if Adrian Garcia is in the race or not – and many may keep their powder dry till the runoff, since Lord only knows who might make it that far. The other is that it wasn’t clear early on who if anyone would be the firefighters’ preferred candidate, given the intense focus by several campaigns on the pension issue. Once the pension deal was announced that sort of settled that matter, but for awhile there it was not obvious.

This is a nice get for Turner, since every inch is going to count in a race where the difference between making the runoff and being a runnerup is likely to be small. That said, the firefighters’ record in recent Mayoral elections is not that great. They endorsed Gene Locke in 2009, Fernando Herrera in 2011, and Ben Hall in 2013; going back a bit more, they backed Orlando Sanchez in 2003. We’ll see if they have better luck this time.