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Harris County

More details on the flood bond referendum

This is the longer version of the original story.

Through at least two-dozen public meetings across the county’s watersheds, County Judge Ed Emmett said residents have a crucial role to play as they provide feedback for the projects they think most will benefit their neighborhoods.

“As that comes in, Flood Control can make adjustments,” Emmett said. “You could have some projects just completely dropped. You could have some projects added we hadn’t thought about.”

The bond vote is an all-or-nothing gamble by Commissioners Court, whose members hope residents will commit to strengthening flood infrastructure after Harvey flooded 11 percent of the county’s housing stock this past August. If the bond passes, Harris County will have access to as much as $2.5 billion to make, over the next 10 to 15 years, the largest local investment in flood infrasctructure in the county’s history. If the bond fails, engineers will be limited to the flood control district’s annual operations and capital budgets, which total a paltry $120 million in comparison.

“This is the most important local vote I can remember in my lifetime,” Emmett said. “We either step up as a community and say we are going to address flooding and make our community resilient, or we kind of drib and drabble on, and it wouldn’t end well for anyone.”

A preliminary list of projects includes $919 million for channel improvements, $386 million for detention basins, $220 million for floodplain land acquisition, $12.5 million for new floodplain mapping and $1.25 million for an improved early flood warning system.

Also included is $184 million, coupled with $552 million in outside funding, to purchase around 3,600 buildings in the floodplain – more than the flood control district’s buyout program has bought in its entire 33-year history.

The draft list includes $430 million — nearly a fifth of the total — for contingency funding and “opportunities identified through public input.”

[…]

The bond would not finance the construction of a third reservoir in west Houston, but does include $750,000 to study, with the Army Corps of Engineers, whether another reservoir is necessary.

Other line items call for de-silting channels that lead into Addicks and Barker reservoirs, or possibly providing funding to the Army Corps to remove silt and vegetation from the reservoirs. Addicks and Barker are managed by the Army Corps, not Harris County, leaving any decisions about the future of those basins in the hands of the federal government.

The flood control district plans to work through the summer on the list of projects the bond would fund, and Emmett has pledged to publish a complete list by the time early voting begins in August. Until then, Emmett said plans may continue to change based on input from residents.

See here for the background. The county has a lot of work to do to finalize what the to-do list is, and to educate voters about it. Of course, first they have to make sure that the voters even know this is on the ballot in the first place, in August, at a time when no one has cast a vote in recent memory. I’m going to keep harping on this, because while I understand the reasons for expediting the election, I remain skeptical that it was a wise idea. I just don’t know, and neither does anyone else. It’s going to be fun trying to guess what turnout will be, I’ll say that much.

Paxton wants magistrates’ lawsuit tossed

We all want things, Kenny.

Best mugshot ever

The state attorney general Monday asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by three Harris County hearing officers who are fighting sanctions by Texas’ judicial ethics commission earlier this year over unfair bail practices.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also asked that the case brought by three admonished magistrates be transferred from Harris County, where the judges sit, to Travis County, where the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is based. Paxton also asserts that the state watchdog agency has “sovereign immunity” from being sued.

The lawsuit, filed in May by three local magistrates, challenges the commission’s finding that they violated the state code of conduct for judges during probable cause hearings for newly arrested defendants. The hearing officers, Eric Hagstette, Jill Wallace and Joseph Licata III, initially challenged the commission’s findings through a more straightforward appeal to the state’s Special Court of Review. However, they later withdrew that appeal and sued the commission to have their records be cleared of the findings of misconduct.

Mike Stafford, who is representing the magistrates free of charge in this lawsuit, said the sanctions should be eliminated because the watchdog commission surpassed its authority in telling magistrates they can’t refer bond matters to the judges assigned to the cases.

“This case presents an important and rare opportunity to affirm that the Commission may not interpret Texas law and to ensure that the Commission is not allowed to exceed its mandate,” Stafford argued in district court filings.

See here for the background. I presume the reason to ask for a transfer as well as a dismissal is that if you don’t get the one you might at least get the other. Beyond that, I have no particular insights so I’ll just note this for the record and move on.

Once more with the bail order for Harris County

Getting close to the end.

The federal judge presiding over the landmark bail lawsuit against Harris County said she planned to issue revised instructions within two weeks for how pretrial release should operate for thousands of poor people arrested on low-level offenses.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal fielded input Thursday from attorneys on both sides of the contentious two-year dispute about which defendants should be held in custody and which ones released during the first two days following an arrest.

Rosenthal’s instructions from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals were to figure out details, but she said she hoped the county, which has spent more than $6.1 million battling the lawsuit, was on board with the appeals court’s overall findings about the unfairness of “wealth based detention.”

[…]

The attorneys for the indigent defendants asked Rosenthal to consider ordering the immediate release of poor people arrested on certain offenses like drunk driving or writing bad checks if people with the means to pay bond were being released immediately on the same charges.

Lawyers for Harris County, and the hearing officers and county court at law judges who oppose the lawsuit, requested that Rosenthal follow the appeals court instructions to allow up to 48 hours for indigent defendants to appear before a judge who can make an appropriate determination about bail.

Judge Rosenthal had issued final instructions earlier in June, so I presume this is a modification of that. It’s my hope that the next development in this case will a ruling that satisfies the plaintiffs and that the defense accepts. We really do need to end this litigation, and there’s not much of an argument left for the county to make. Regardless, it’s still a good idea to vote out the judges that made us go through all this in November. A political resolution on top of a legal one would really make the difference.

We may have reached peak independent candidate

Meet Jonathan Jenkins, who would apparently like to be on your ballot for the Senate this fall.

Jonathan Jenkins

It’s got a high-tech evangelist for a founder, $6 million in private equity investments, even its own crypto-currency.

No, it’s not a driverless car start-up or some new, life-changing app.

It’s the Indie Party — billed as a “movement” to end the “two-party duopoly” in the United States but built more like a political consulting and technology firm with profit in mind. Its first target — and at this point its only target — is the high-stakes U.S. Senate race featuring Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

Its candidate and founder is a self-described “successful tech entrepreneur” and fluent Mandarin speaker named Jonathan Jenkins. The Euless native has been busily gathering the 47,000 or so signatures he needs to qualify for a spot as an independent on the November ballot alongside Cruz and O’Rourke.

[…]

Jenkins is the co-founder of company known as Order With Me (or just WithMe), which helps companies develop pop-up retail outlets. A graduate of Trinity-Euless High School and Abilene Christian College, Jenkins announced the launch of the Indie Party in March and said it had raised some $6.5 million in start-up capital within 72 hours.

Slick videos on the Indie Party website promote independent candidates as the solution to politics as usual, and the party offers a high-tech innovation: a crypto-currency called Indie Tokens that volunteers can earn and sell to donors, and that can be used to buy campaign merchandise or political services from vendors, lawyers and pollsters.

It’s “a party that is owned by you, the people, not by the politicians,” declares one of several videos on the Indie Party website. “This is real transparency, instead of behind closed doors and in the shadows.”

But the Indie Party is not a political party at all. It’s a private, for-profit corporation whose finances are — despite the gauzy advertising — not entirely transparent. And it’s owned not by the voters but by private equity investors who provided the start-up funds.

Indie Party spokesman Mitch Allen identified one of the investors as Las Vegas-based Global Trust Group, and said William Attinger, a former Morgan Stanley derivatives specialist, “led the initial investment” on behalf of the group. Attinger is managing director of venture management for Global Trust Group and is on the board of Raise The Money Inc., an online platform for political fundraising, according to his online bio. Calls and emails left with the Global Trust Group were not returned.

Neither Jenkins nor the Indie Party would identify the three other investors who contributed. Nor did Jenkins or the party say how much Jenkins was paid during his stint as CEO of the Indie Party Co., although Jenkins said his compensation was considerably less than the $600,000 the Indie Party estimated in a U.S. Securities and Exchange filing it would pay officers or directors. At the time of the filing Jenkins was the only disclosed officer or director.

All that will be clarified, Allen said, when Jenkins files his required personal financial disclosure later this summer as a Senate candidate.

You know how some people complains that the Republican and Democratic parties have been taken over by big money corporate interests? With the Indie Party, you can skip the middleman and join a “party” that started out as a big money corporate interest. To once again quote the great philosopher Dogbert, sometimes no sarcastic remark seems adequate. They’ve got a week to turn in their petitions to the Secretary of State (Sec. 142.006. REGULAR FILING DEADLINE FOR APPLICATION. (a) An application for a place on the ballot must be filed not later than 5 p.m. of the 30th day after runoff primary election day, except as provided by Section 202.007.) For what it’s worth, Carole Keeton Strayhorn turned in 223,000 signatures and Kinky Friedman turned in 169,000, both in 2006 for their indy candidacies for Governor. We’ll see how Jenkins compares.

(Note: Strayhorn and Kinky had to turn their sigs in by May 11 that year because the 2006 primary runoffs were held on April 11. The date of the primary runoffs was moved from the second Tuesday in April to the fourth Tuesday via SB100 (see section 6) in 2011. They had less time to collect signatures, but only about 1.2 million people voted in a party primary that year while over 2.5 million did so this year; people who voted in a party primary or a party primary runoff are ineligible to sign a petition for an independent candidate.)

Mentioned in the story but not my excerpt: The Harris County Republican Party has filed a complaint against Jenkins and the Indie Party with the FEC, alleging that “Jenkins and the corporation have violated federal law by providing improper corporate contributions to the Jenkins campaign; illegally coordinating with the Jenkins campaign in getting signatures to put him on the ballot; and failing to file with the FEC as a political committee”. You can find a copy of the complaint here and the attached exhibits here, and you can read into that whatever you want.

Anyway. If you surmise that I am not impressed by Jonathan Jenkins or Indie Party, Incorporated, you would be correct. Whether I need to care about their existence beyond June 21 remains to be seen. Have you observed any of their petition-gatherers? Please leave a comment and let us know.

County officially puts flood bond referendum on the ballot

Here we go.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously agreed to place a $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond before voters on Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. If passed, the bond would be the largest local investment in flood mitigation since the storm flooded 154,000 homes across the county.

“I think the whole nation is going to be watching us,” County Judge Ed Emmett said of the region’s approach to flooding post-Harvey. “Everyone is saying Houston, Harris County, the whole region — we have the chance to do it right.”

[…]

Emmett last month said the number of projects to be included in the bond issue would be in the hundreds. He has said he hoped to publish a complete list of projects to be funded with bond proceeds by the first week of August, when early voting begins.

Three residents spoke in favor of the bond proposal Tuesday. Belinda Taylor of the Texas Organizing Project said the nonprofit would support the bond only if it includes projects that benefit northeast Houston, around Mesa and Tidwell, in the Greens Bayou watershed.

Taylor also said residents who volunteer their homes for buyouts should be able to move to comparable housing in drier areas.

“Any buyouts … must leave people with the same kind of housing, no additional debt and in non-flooding neighborhoods,” Taylor said.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said that a priority for bond funds must be communities that are less likely to benefit from federal assistance. He said that the federal government uses a formula for dispersing disaster recovery money that places a premium on increasing property value rather than assisting the most people, which Ellis says skews unfairly toward wealthy neighborhoods.

See here and here for the background. The 2018 Harris County Flood Control District Bond Program webpage is here, the proposed project list is here, and the schedule and locations for the remaining public engagement meetings is here. Don’t worry, I plan to do some interviews to help you make sense of this. I’ll need to for myself, too. I agree with Judge Emmett that the country will be watching as we vote. I’m sure the first thing they’ll say if this fails to pass will be “What the heck were you thinking, having this in August?” There doesn’t appear to be any organized opposition to this yet, but as we’ve discussed before, that doesn’t matter. Unless there’s a strong pro-referendum campaign, it’s at best a tossup. We’ll see how that goes.

The Ohio voter purge case

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

I refer to the Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute case that was decided by SCOTUS on Monday. Here’s a long reading list if you want to get up to speed on it:

SCOTUSBlog
Pema Levy
Mark Joseph Stern
Kira Lerner

Daniel Nichanian
Josh Douglas
Dahlia Lithwick
Rick Hasen
Ian Millhiser
Ari Berman
Kevin Drum

Go ahead and peruse. I’ll wait.

All right. The coverage and analysis of this ruling focuses on Ohio, for the obvious reason that this is where the case came from, and also because, as Dahlia Lithwick puts it, Ohio is the “purgiest of all the purgey states”. There’s some discussion about how this ruling paints a roadmap for other states that are inclined to do what Ohio has been doing to follow, though as the Rick Hasen piece notes there’s also a potential roadmap for blocking such efforts in the courts. What I want to know, of course, is how this will and may affect Texas. To the best of my knowledge, this kind of voter roll updating/purging is done at the county level. We certainly saw various underhanded tricks here in Harris County, like sending notices to update one’s voter registration information to known old addresses, back in the Paul Bettencourt/Leo Vasquez/Don Sumners days, but with Ann Harris Bennett in office now it’s less of a concern.

So my question is, what role does our Secretary of State play in all this, and what opportunities does our SOS have to “assist” the county election admins/voter registrars in “cleaning up” their voter rolls? What does the SOS do now, and what could our Lege enable or direct it to do now that Husted is law? I don’t have the expertise to say, and the election law-minded folks on Facebook that I rely on have not had anything to say about this. It sure would be nice if one of our professional news-gathering organizations put someone on to this question.

Final county report on Harvey

It was what we thought it was.

In the weeks and months after Hurricane Harvey, the evidence of its historic scope and intensity trickled out bit by bit: Record rainfall totals. Record reservoir levels. Record destruction.

Now, nine months after the storm, a report by the Harris County Flood Control District combines and analyzes all the available data about Harvey and its aftermath, distilling the numbers into a single message: By every conceivable measure and in every imaginable context, Harvey caused the most disastrous flooding in the nation’s history. And it could have been worse.

“All 4.7 million people in Harris County were impacted directly or indirectly during the flood and after the flood waters receded,” states the 32-page memorandum by two flood control district officials, Jeff Lindner and Steve Fitzgerald.

The compilation of all the data into one document provides a useful backdrop for ongoing policy discussions about recovering from Harvey and strengthening the region’s resilience to future floods. On Tuesday night, county officials were scheduled to host the first of 23 planned public meetings on a $2.5 billion August bond issue for flood control projects.

[…]

In Harris County, the highest total recorded over four days was 47.4 inches at Clear Creek and Interstate 45. (Totals exceeding 51 inches were recorded in Liberty County east of Houston.) The lowest four-day total in Harris County was 26 inches.

According to the report, the Texas state climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, examined the largest rainfall events in U.S. history and compared them with Harvey for durations of 48, 72 and 120 hours, and covering areas ranging from 1,000, to 50,000 square miles.

“Harvey exceeded the previous records in all of the 18 different combinations except one,” the report states. “The most astounding statistic is that for the 120-hour duration over 10,000 square miles, Harvey exceeded the previous record from June 1899 by 13.33 inches or 62 percent. The rainfall amounts and spatial coverage of those amounts have never been experienced across the United States since reliable records have been kept.”

The Flood Control district puts out a report like this one, which you can find here, after every major flood. For the most part, this is data we’ve seen before, but not all in one place, and not with all of the comparisons this report includes. It’s pretty sobering to read and think about, so by all means go do so. Swamplot has more.

DCCC poll: Culberson 47, Fletcher 45

Game on.

Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House race between GOP incumbent John Culberson and Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is generally expected to be closer than most in this traditionally Republican enclave of west Houston and the Harris County suburbs.

Now an internal Democratic poll of the 7th Congressional District shows it to be a statistical tie. The poll of district voters, released Friday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, found Fletcher within 2 points of Culberson, 45 percent to 47 percent. That is within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

[…]

The DCCC poll shows Fletcher leading Culberson by 8 points among women (50 percent to 42 percent), 20 points among independents (52 percent to 32 percent), and by 28 points among voters under 50 (57 percent to 29 percent).

Further proof that that the district could be in play: The poll found that a generic Democrat is within striking distance of a generic Republican – 46 percent to 47 percent. That’s tighter than the difference between Fletcher and Culberson, but still within the margin of error.

The Democratic poll also gave Culberson a net-negative favorability rating, with 32 percent of voters having a favorable view of the congressman, compared to 39 percent who don’t. Similarly, the poll found that 35 percent of voters approve of Culberson’s job performance, while 39 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, Trump also remains underwater in a district, which he lost by 1.4 points in 2016. In the DCCC poll, 50 percent of Seventh District voters disapprove of his job performance, while 42 percent approve.

I first heard about this poll via G. Elliott Morris’s Twitter feed, but this story adds some details. Internal polls are generally treated with skepticism – scroll down to see the responses to that tweet for a couple of examples – and I want to talk about why that is first. The main reason why internal polls are looked at differently is because when an internal poll is released, you have no way of knowing how many other polls that particular campaign or committee might have done that they did not choose to release. In other words, the poll that gets released may be the most favorable of the bunch, cherry-picked to present a sunny view of the situation. Media and tracking polls are public, with all their results out there to be seen, so when there’s an outlier it tends to stand out. You just don’t know if an internal poll is an outlier or not.

The other reason why internal polls are different is that they are sometimes used for specific purposes like testing a message or attracting financial support. Polls that take the measure of a race, then “inform” the respondents about one of the candidates and re-ask the original question again at the end, are a common example of this. The Justin Nelson poll from December is in this category. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a valuable campaign tool – but since the result comes from an idealized scenario – in a real campaign, both candidates get to “inform” voters, assuming they have the resources to do so – these polls are not very useful as predictive tools.

For those reasons, and because full poll data is often not available, poll aggregators and election modelers tend to give internal polls less weight. All that said, this poll is an example of one we can probably take more seriously. For one thing, given that the runoff was less than two weeks ago, there very likely have not been any other polls done by the DCCC since Fletcher became the nominee. There’s (again, probably) nothing to cherry-pick from. The DCCC, which has now added Fletcher to its Red to Blue group, generally doesn’t try to convince funders to invest in a particular race, and for them to want to include CD07 as a race to target they’ll want accurate horse-race numbers. None of this means that they couldn’t have made optimistic assumptions about turnout or the makeup of the electorate – we don’t have the internal poll data, so who knows what they sampled from – but all pollsters have to make those judgments.

All things considered, I believe we can take this poll more or less at face value. Which is to say, it’s a data point, and we hope to see more of them to get a fuller picture of what may be happening. Given that, the way to think about this is not just for this race, which we believe will be close and competitive, but for how it fits into the bigger picture. For one thing, Democrats swept Harris County in 2016 while John Culberson was winning in CD07 by 12 points. If we’re in an election year where CD07 is truly a tossup, then that strongly implies an even better year for Democrats in the county. Even more than that Lina Hidalgo poll, this should be encouraging for Dems, and downright terrifying for Republicans.

But it’s not just Harris County. There are two big reasons why CD07 is and has been seen as a top pickup opportunity. The main reason is because Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, but as we have discussed here before, some of that was because of crossover voters. Like I said above, Culberson still won the district 56-44. The other, equally important, reason is that the national atmosphere is one that favors Democrats and strongly indicates that the Republican advantage in districts like CD07 will be greatly diminished. Put another way, we expect that more Democrats and fewer Republicans will vote than in other similar election years. And that’s not just true in CD07, and in other battleground districts like CD23 and CD32. It’s true across the board, and it’s factored into every election prediction model, like the Morris model. Scroll down to the “Forecasts for every House seat” section and compare his projected margin in each Congressional district to the actual margins from 2016 and 2014.

This is something that I don’t think has been absorbed by media outlets and pundits in this state, all of which comes very much to the fore when a statewide poll like the second one from Quinnipiac comes out. Greg Abbott, who carried Harris County by five points in 2014, carried CD07 by a 60-38 margin in 2014; Culberson won that year by a 63-35 score. Again, if we are in an election where CD07 is a tossup, then the effect of that will be felt statewide, not just countywide. More to the point, if we are in that election, then the same effect will be felt in every Congressional district in Texas. It will be felt more in some districts than in others, and in specific races with specific candidates with strengths and weaknesses that may counter or enhance the national mood. But it will be felt.

The point I’m making is that a poll like that second Quinnipiac poll may be right, and polls like the DCCC CD07 poll and the Hidalgo Harris County poll may be right, but they can’t all be right. If the Q-poll is right, the other two are almost certainly too optimistic about Democratic chances, and if the latter two are right, then that Q-poll is almost certainly understating Democratic statewide support. I wish the people who write about these things would take that into consideration when they do. We don’t know yet which view is right. The fact that these conflicting polls exist is almost certainly because everyone has a different idea of what that national atmosphere will be like, and how big its effect on Texas will be. If you’re skeptical of any effect here you need to explain why. For now at least, all I’m saying is that polls like these don’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t evaluate one without taking into consideration the others.

Final instructions in bail practices lawsuit

We may finally be nearing a conclusion in this matter.

A year after a landmark ruling that upended Harris County’s bail system, a federal appeals court Friday issued final instructions for a Houston judge to craft a revised plan for releasing poor people who qualify after arrests for low-level offenses.

Lawyers on both sides of the contentious two-year lawsuit hailed the ruling Friday as a victory, and the county said it offered a solid template for a final settlement.

Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who issued an injunction last year halting longstanding bail practices, set a new hearing June 14 for both sides to begin hammering out a detailed plan.

A New Orleans appeals court Friday rejected the county’s requests to halt or alter portions of the historic 2017 ruling in which Rosenthal found the county’s bail process violated constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, subjecting poor people to what termed “wealth-based detention.” The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the case back to Rosenthal to begin implementing adjustments to her order addressing the release of misdemeanor defendants who don’t have holds or detainers.

“Harris County has been working diligently to improve the criminal justice system,” said Robert Soard, first assistant to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan. “The county remains committed to a settlement that maximizes the number of misdemeanor detainees who are eligible for prompt release from jail without secured bail, that provides due regard for the rights of victims and protection of the community, and preserves the independence of the judiciary.”

But the court denied several requests from the county for immediate changes to Rosenthal’s order. Neal Manne, one of the attorneys for the indigent defendants, said he was delighted the court amended its ruling the way his legal team requested.

“We went 3-for-3 today, which is usually done only by Jose Altuve,” he said.

See here for the background. All I can say is that if everyone feels like they won in this ruling, then everyone should feel like they’re in a good position to negotiate a final agreement, and that maybe there aren’t that many points of disagreement left to dicker over. Perhaps we’ll find out on June 14. It is long past time for this matter to be resolved, and for a better and more just system to be implemented.

You got something to say about the Harris County bond referendum?

You’ll get a chance to say it.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Wednesday announced a series of public meetings to seek input from residents on an estimated $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond that commissioners plan to put before voters on the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey in August.

“On August 25, the voters of Harris County will make one of the most important decisions, I think, in our history,” Emmett said.

Throughout June, July and August, the county will hold public meetings on the bond in each of the county’s 23 watersheds.

[…]

Flanked by Harris County Flood Control District head Russ Poppe, Emmett said the $2.5 billion sum is a ballpark figure, and projects may be added or subtracted before commissioners decide on a final amount on June 12.

Emmett said the county intends to publish a list of planned projects by the first week of August, when early voting on the bond begins.

An initial list of possible projects and information about the community meetings can be found at www.hcfcd.org/bondprogram.

See here for the background, and here for a list of the meetings that have been scheduled so far. There’s one for each watershed, though as you can see most are not yet on the calendar. There’s a lot we need to know about this, and just two months before we start voting on it, so find a meeting near you, learn what you can, and ask questions. We all need to know what we’re voting on.

Harris County poll: Hidalgo 53, Emmett 47

From the inbox last week:

Lina Hidalgo

The Lina Hidalgo campaign for Harris County Judge today released the results of its first county-wide poll, showing the Democratic challenger leading the Republican incumbent by a stunning six percentage points; among Harris County voters who plan to vote in the County Judge race, 53% plan to vote for Lina Hidalgo and 47% say they will vote for Ed Emmett.

The poll, conducted by Texas Democratic Party-authorized polling firm, Change Research, surveyed more than 1700 registered voters in Harris County on May 11, 12, 13, 19, and 20, and has a margin of error of +/- 3%.

“This poll supports what I am hearing as I travel to every corner of Harris County – that people are ready for new, authentic leadership for the future,” said Hidalgo. “In spite of the poll’s heartening results, I plan to campaign every day as if we are six points down, not six points up. I will work my heart out to make sure that every voter in Harris County feels heard and included.”

Other poll findings of note include:

94% of Harris County voters report feeling more interested (56%) in or equally as interested (38%) in the 2018 election as they have felt about prior elections.

President Trump is viewed unfavorably by 60% of Harris County voters

Voters report that the three issues that will drive their voting behavior most in November are:

1. Government transparency
2. Education
3. Jobs

Like me, you probably had a lot of questions when you saw this. I went ahead and emailed the Hidalgo campaign to get more information about the poll, and they graciously provided me this executive summary and this spreadsheet with the questions and answers broken down by race/age/gender/etc. I think the best way to present the fuller data set and discuss the points I want to raise are to go through the questions and responses in the spreadsheet. So with that said, here we go.

Question: Which of the following best desribes you? “I live in Harris County, am registered to vote, and identify as a”:


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
Democrat     41.6%   1.2%    74.9%    23.2%
Republican   33.5%  78.9%     2.0%    14.2%
Independent  24.9%  19.9%    23.1%    52.6%

Question: Do you plan to vote in the November 6, 2018 elections?


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
Yes          81.4%  89.9%    87.9%    56.8%
Maybe        16.5%   8.8%    11.4%    30.0%
No            2.2%   1.2%     0.7%    13.2%

Question: How interested are you in the election in 2018 compared to previous elections?


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
More         56.3%   46.5%   69.1%    39.8%
Same         38.0%   50.4%   26.2%    37.4%
Less          1.9%    2.2%    0.8%     9.5%
Unsure        3.7%    0.9%    3.8%    13.3%

First things first, all responses are given as percentages rather than number of respondents. You can reverse engineer that, of course, but I think it’s more illustrative to provide both. That will especially be the case with some later questions. I sent a separate email to the contact for the polling firm about that; I’ll update if I get a response.

In the questions above, “Trump” and “Clinton” refer to the subset of people who said they voted for Trump or Clinton in 2016, while “No vote” are the people who said they didn’t vote in 2016. There isn’t a question asking why someone did not vote in 2016, so it could be the case that they were not eligible – too young, or not yet a citizen – or not registered. Basically, this says there are more people who identify as Democrats in Harris County – I don’t think that is a surprise to anyone – and a larger share of self-identified Republicans voted for Trump than Dems voted for Clinton. As for questions 2 and 3, it sure seems like everyone is excited to vote this fall, with Democrats perhaps more so. Needless to say, that remains to be seen. How true these sentiments are will be the million dollar question for candidates, pollsters, and loud-mouthed pundits.

Question: In the 2016 election, did you vote for:


Trump      36.8%
Clinton    48.7%
Johnson     2.8%
Stein       2.4%
No vote     9.4%

As a reminder, 53.95% of voters in Harris County actually voted for Hillary Clinton, while 41.61% voted for Trump. Gary Johnson took 3.03%, while Jill Stein had 0.90%, which means this poll oversamples Jill Stein voters. Make note of the date, you may never see that again. Another 0.43% wrote in Evan McMullin, and a further 0.09% wrote in someone else. If you go back to question 1, that’s why the Trump/Clinton/No vote subsets didn’t add up to 100%.

(Yes, I’m jumping around a little. This is how I want to present the data.)

Question: On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel about President Donald Trump today? 1 = strongly oppose, 10 = strongly support


               All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
===========================================
1            39.7%   0.3%    71.8%    35.5%
2            10.0%   0.0%    18.3%     3.5%
3-8          20.3%  15.2%     9.5%    47.9%
9             5.6%  14.2%     0.0%     4.3%
10           24.4%  64.1%     0.4%     8.8%

Allow me to point to this tweet by Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report to explain what this means.

90.1% of Clinton voters have the strongest negative feelings about Trump, while 78.3% of Trump voters have the strongest positive feelings about him. ‘Nuff said. Oh, and the non-voters mostly don’t like him, too.

Question: For whom do you plan to vote in the 2018 election for US Senate?


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ted Cruz       42.0%  93.4%     3.6%    31.2%
Beto O'Rourke  49.3%   2.1%    90.5%    52.2%
Neal Dikeman    1.9%   1.1%     0.7%     4.1%
Bob McNeil      6.9%   3.4%     5.2%    12.5%

Neal Dikeman is the Libertarian candidate. Bob McNeil is an independent who could be fairly classified as farther to the right than Cruz. He’s also not yet officially on the ballot yet, as he has to turn in some 47K petition signatures to the Secretary of State by June 21. Good luck with that. His presence in the question is basically noise, so don’t be too distracted by it. There won’t be a Green Party candidate. The 3.6% of Clinton supporters for Cruz is a reminder that there were a non-trivial number of Republicans who crossed over to vote for Clinton in 2016. Note here that all the numbers add up to 100, which is something that never happens in polls. You will see a possible mechanism for this in the next section.

Oh, and as for that Quinnipiac poll, don’t try to reconcile these two results. I think it is unlikely that O’Rourke could win Harris County by seven points while losing the state by double digits, but that doesn’t imply in any way that one poll is more “valid” or “correct” than the other. They are their own separate data points.

Question: For whom do you plan to vote in the 2018 election for Harris County Judge?


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ed Emmett      34.3%  74.9%    13.9%    14.0%
Lina Hidalgo   33.5%   2.8%    63.5%    30.4%
Won't vote     32.2%  22.4%    22.7%    55.6%

Question for undecided voters: If you had to choose for whom to vote for Harris County Judge in the 2018 election, who would you select?


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ed Emmett      24.7%  67.9%     9.8%    14.6%
Lina Hidalgo   44.7%  14.8%    74.7%    45.1%
Won't vote     30.7%  17.3%    15.5%    40.4%

Totals excluding undecided voters:


                 All  Trump  Clinton  No vote
=============================================
Ed Emmett      47.2%  93.7%    16.7%    28.5%
Lina Hidalgo   52.8%   6.3%    83.3%    71.5%

And here is how we get to the headline number. I don’t care for this construction. Having “won’t vote” as a choice rather than the more standard “don’t know” is a weird decision, one that casts some doubt on the “enthusiasm for voting” question. Regardless, any way you look at it, one may reasonably conclude that these voters as a group may be less likely than those who picked a name. As such, you can’t add them together. It’s my presumption that the pollster went through a similar exercise in the US Senate question (this might help explain the bizarrely high percentage for the candidate who probably won’t be on the ballot, who I’d bet none of the respondents had ever heard of – basically, he’s the “none of the above” choice), though they didn’t show the individual steps for how they got there.

I mean look, Ed Emmett has to be the best-known politician in the county, while Lina Hidalgo – who was unopposed in March and didn’t have much money as of January – surely has low name recognition. The fact that she was within a point of him in the first question, assuming the sample is reasonable, is pretty encouraging on its own. It’s a reflection of the partisan split in Harris County – remember, Emmett gets a significant number of crossovers – and demonstrates that Hidalgo has a lot of room to grow, as surely a decent number of those “won’t vote” respondents are actually likely Dems who just don’t know who she is yet. I don’t understand the need to push it further than that. And in thinking about it, I’m a little concerned that the O’Rourke/Cruz first-question numbers were a few points closer, with the “but if you had to choose” question being the reason for the larger gap.

So what do I make of this? As I say, it’s a data point. Maybe it will be in line with others – I’m sure we’ll see other polls – and maybe it won’t. I expect we’ll see plenty of conflicting results – again, so much of this depends on who shows up in November, and right now no one knows how that will look. We’re guessing. Some will guess better than others, and will base their guesses on better data. I think this particular result is optimistic, but reasonably so. Plausibly so. I’ll feel better if and when I see more results like it, or results from other races that correlate with it. But it’s one result, and the Quinnipiac experience reminds us again to not put too much stock in any one result.

That’s the Texas State Historical Astrodome to you, pal

It’s got a marker and everything.

All this and history too

More than 56 years after ground was broken on what would become the world’s first domed stadium, the Astrodome is now a bonafide recorded Texas historic landmark.

Installed on the stadium’s southwest end, a Texas State Historical Marker it will be visible for years to come just yards from neighboring NRG Stadium. The $2,000 price tag for the marker was picked up by the Houston Astros, who called the Dome home for decades before moving to Minute Maid Park across town.

[…]

The Dome has already been declared a state Antiquities Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The marker further solidifies its place in history and its permanence. The text mentions the part that the Dome played in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when it housed 16,000 refugees from the violent storm that hit New Orleans.

The 2017 state antiquities landmark designation provides special safeguards against demolition and requires Texas Historical Commission approval for any future changes.

See here for some background. I know some people don’t like the Astrodome redevelopment plan. Like it or not, your choices are the plan that’s been approved, some other plan that has not been vetted or approved, and going back to doing nothing and letting it rot. Which, now that I think of it, may be expressly forbidden by this latest designation. Point is, the Dome ain’t being demolished. Get used to it.

Harris County hearing officers sue to overturn their conduct sanction

An interesting twist.

Three Harris County hearing officers have sued the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in an attempt to overturn their discipline for denying personal recognizance bonds to misdemeanor defendants, contending that the agency overstepped its authority by interpreting law in meting out punishment.

Eric Hagstette, Joseph Licata III and Jill Wallace are Harris County criminal law hearing officers who assist elected state district judges with initial criminal court hearings that advise criminal defendants of their rights, set money bail and determine whether the accused are eligible for release on a personal bond.

All three of the hearing officers were issued public admonitions by the Judicial Conduct Commission in January after it found that they failed to comply with the law in strictly following directives from state district judges to refrain from issuing personal bonds to defendants.

[…]

The commission noted that it gave weight to the hearing officers’ arguments that they feared for their jobs if they didn’t obey orders from state district judges to deny personal bonds to defendants. Nevertheless, the commission determined the hearing officers had violated their constitutional and statutory obligations to consider all legally available bonds when they denied personal recognizance bonds to defendants.

In a recent petition filed in a Harris County state district court, the hearing officers argue that the commission exceeded its mandate in issuing the disciplinary actions based on its own interpretation of the law, rather than on well-settled law.

“All courts to have considered this question have agreed: The commission is not permitted to interpret the law and then find a violation. Yet that is precisely what the commission has done here,” the hearing officers’ petition alleges. “It has been nearly thirty years since the commission’s authority has been examined in Texas; this case presents an important and rare opportunity to reaffirm that the commission may not interpret Texas law and to ensure that the Commission is not allowed to exceed its mandate.”

Sen. John Whitmire filed the complaint that led to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct disciplining the hearing officers. I didn’t note when that decision was handed down, but a month after that we had testimony that the misdemeanor court judges violated state judicial conduct rules themselves by ordering the magistrates to deny bail. If this action were about setting that record straight I’d be firmly in the corner of the magistrates, but this looks to be about the role of the Commission, which interests me a lot less. Nonetheless, I suspect there’s some potential for more dirty laundry to be aired, and I am here for that.

2018 primary runoff results: Harris County

Here are the election night results, with a handful of precincts still not in as of 11 PM. Most of these races were basically decided once the early voting numbers were in, but one was neck and neck all night. The winners:

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk: Diane Trautman
County Treasurer: Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3 At Large: Richard Cantu (probably)
HCDE Position 6 Precinct 1: Danny Norris
JP Precinct 7: Sharon Burney

Cantu was leading by a score of 25,427 to 25,026 for Josh Wallenstein, with 965 of 1012 precincts reporting. This one swung back and forth – Wallenstein was leading by a few votes as of the 10 PM update – and could still swing again.

Turnout was a smidge over 55K, which is higher than I expected, as about 36% of votes were cast on Tuesday. On the Republican side, turnout was at 50K with 981 of 1012 precincts reporting. One race, for 295th Civil District Court, was too close to call as Michelle Fraga led Richard Risinger 23,477 to 23,419. One bit of good news is that actual public servant Jeff Williams will retain his JP bench in Precinct 5, defeating the troglodyte Michael Wolfe. The downside to that is that Wolfe will remain on the HCDE Board of Trustees, but at least we can fix that in 2020. Congratulations to all the winners. Onward to November.

UPDATE: Got up this morning and Richard Cantu was still the winner in the at large HCDE race, 26,041 to 25,780. That’s a lead that will almost certainly hold up after overseas and provisional ballots are counted. Oh, and final Dem turnout was 57,237, compared to 50,716 on the R side.

Today is Runoff Day

From the inbox:

As the chief election officer of the County, Stan Stanart reminds voters that Tuesday, May 22, is Primary Runoff Election Day.

“Due to consolidation of precincts, many voters will be voting at a new location and are strongly encouraged to visit www.HarrisVotes.com to find their polling location,” Stanart advised. Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. Voters must vote at the designated Election Day poll for the precinct in which they are registered.

According to Stanart, finding your polling location before heading to vote on Election Day is more important than ever due to a decrease in polling locations. “Voter participation on Election Day in Primary Runoff Elections is much lower. As a result, the political parties significantly consolidate many voting precincts into one poll,” informed Stanart.

“The Primary Runoff Elections are a party function. For Election Day, the political parties determine the number of voting locations, where the polls are located, and who runs the polls,” clarified Stanart. For these Primary Runoff Elections, there will be a total of 202 Election Day polling locations: The Democratic Party will have 112 Election Day Polling locations and the Republican Party 89. In contrast, for elections directly administered by the Harris County Clerk’s Office, on Election Day, there are usually over 750 polling locations.

There are a total of thirteen (13) races in the Democratic Party Primary and four (4) in the Republican Party Primary to be decided by the Runoff Election. “Every voter in Harris County is eligible to vote in either the Democratic Party or Republican Party Runoff Election. Still, a voter who participated in the March Primary Election may ONLY vote in the Primary Runoff Election of the same political party,” concluded Stanart.

It is not necessary to have voted in the March Primary Election to vote in one of the Primary Runoff Elections.

For more information about the May 22 Primary Runoff Elections, view a personal sample ballot, or review a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

As I said before, check to see what your precinct location is before you head out. The odds are good you’re not voting at your usual place. I don’t expect it to be terribly crowded wherever you go. I’ll have results tomorrow, and we’ll analyze the data and review where we are going forward.

2018 Runoff EV report: Final totals

Here are your final early voting totals for the 2018 primary runoffs, and here is a handy table with comparisons to previous years.


Year      March   Runoff    Pct
===============================
2018 R  156,387   33,768  21.6%
2018 D  167,982   33,706  20.1%

2016 R  329,768   39,128  11.9%
2016 D  227,280   30,334  13.3%

2014 R  139,703   96,763  69.3%
2014 D   53,788   18,828  35.0%

2012 R  163,980  136,040  83.0%
2012 D   79,486   29,912  37.6%

2010 R  159,821   43,014  26.9%
2010 D  101,263   15,225  15.0%

2008 R  171,108   40,587  23.7%
2008 D  410,908    9,670   2.4%

2006 R   82,989   10,528  12.7%
2006 D   35,447   13,726  38.7%

Democrats had more mail ballots – 18,106 to 15,837 – while more Rs showed up in person, 17,931 to 15,600. Based on recent primary runoffs, I’d say somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of the vote has already happened, so figure the final turnout numbers to be in the 45,000 to 50,000 range. Democrats did surpass their high-water mark for primary runoff turnout during the EV period as expected, while this looks like a more or less normal year for Republicans. If you are voting on Tuesday, check to see where your polling place is before you head out. I’ll have results from the final vote on Wednesday.

Abbott versus Houston on Harvey funds

I have three things to say about this.

Gov. Greg Abbott blasted the city of Houston for its response to Hurricane Harvey Wednesday, critiquing what he described as a lack of sound financial planning and sluggish progress repairing flooded homes.

The governor’s assessment, which he delivered in two terse letters Wednesday, was prompted by a request Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and 55 other Gulf Coast mayors and county judges sent Abbott on Tuesday, requesting state help meeting the local match for a key federal disaster mitigation program.

FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program is a standard aid process triggered after every federally declared disaster. In the case of Harvey, Texas will receive about $1.1 billion in mitigation funds, $500 million of which is available to local governments now. Local leaders must compete for the dollars and provide a 25 percent match to fund selected projects; FEMA covers the other 75 percent.

“The states of Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Georgia and Colorado have provided for local matches in situations utilizing HMGP,” the 57 Gulf Coast leaders wrote to Abbott. “We ask that the state of Texas make a similar effort in joining local jurisdictions as a partner in flood mitigation.”

Abbott, in his response to Turner, said he had worked to ensure local governments could use federal block grants to provide that match.

“Texas Department of Emergency Management has received zero applications from the city of Houston to access this funding, meaning there is hundreds of millions of dollars sitting on the table for your use,” Abbott added. “It is perplexing that you are seeking more funding when you have shown no ability to spend what you already have access to.”

This response confused and angered some local officials. Not only are the mitigation funds subject to a competitive application process, they said, but the hundreds of millions of dollars Abbott referenced are the exact funds they are seeking the governor’s help in matching to be able to use.

[…]

Emmett added that using federal block grants for the mitigation program — something Abbott mentioned in another recent letter to county officials — would cannibalize dollars needed for home repairs and additional infrastructure projects.

“It defies logic as to why you’d take federal dollars and, instead of using them for the purpose of relief and prevention, you’d use them as your local match for other federal dollars,” Emmett said.

Emmett said he was taken aback by Abbott’s letter to Turner.

“The tone of the governor’s letter is troublesome, and I don’t think it recognizes reality. All of us are merely seeking to speed up recovery and to take the burden off local taxpayers,” Emmett said. “Why that deserves a lecture I don’t know.”

In addition, Emmett and Turner said, the governor only selectively referenced the federal notice that authorizes the use of block grants as matching funds. The same filing also stresses the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s efforts to “promote policies that require state and local financial participation to ensure their shared commitment and responsibility for long-term recovery and future disaster risk reduction” and states “HUD expects grantees to financially contribute to their recovery through the use of reserve or ‘rainy day’ funds, borrowing authority, or retargeting of existing financial resources.”

“’Rainy day fund.’ That was an interesting choice of words that HUD used,” Emmett said.

1. As we know, the state’s “rainy day fund” is more properly known as the Economic Stabilization Fund, and it was originally intended as a way to stretch revenues during lean economic times, so that the budget didn’t have to be cut in drastic or harmful ways. That purpose more or less went out the window in 2011 when Rick Perry unilaterally declared that the fund could not be used to help with budge shortfalls because we needed to make sure it was sufficiently flush in the event that emergency funds were needed to recover from a natural disaster. You know, like Hurricane Harvey. As much as I decry the Perry decree about the rainy day fund and grind my teeth when I hear people on my side buy into that framing, I have to say that it does make for a very easy to grasp criticism of Greg Abbott. We have a rainy day fund, and it doesn’t get any rainier than Harvey, so why aren’t we using it?

2. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that Abbott is completely right in his criticism of Mayor Turner and all the other local officials who reached out to him for help. Which do you think makes for better politics, writing a bitchy, scolding letter that airs a bunch of grievances about how these local officials failed to follow bureaucratic processes correctly, or swooping in like a rich uncle and making a show of cutting red tape, providing cash, getting things done, and aiming your criticism at the feds for dragging their feet? I think you can guess which option I’d choose. Maybe that’s only something a guy like Abbott (or Perry) does when there’s a Democrat in the White House to serve as the bad guy, I don’t know.

3. Like Campos, I’d like to know more about what not only Judge Emmett thinks about all this, but also the Republican officeholders on the ballot here whose electoral fortunes will be at least somewhat connected to Abbott’s in Harris County. As you know, I already think Dems here are poised to do well this fall. If I’m right, then the main hope for survival may be to put a little distance between oneself and the less-helpful-than-he-could-be Republican Governor.

2018 Runoff EV report: Primary runoff turnout totals don’t much matter

Hey, have you been wondering how early voting has gone in the primary runoffs so far? Well, wonder no more, for here is the daily report through Wednesday. You have today and tomorrow to vote early, and then you’ll need to find a precinct location on Tuesday the 22nd. In the meantime, here’s a look at how this year so far compares to past runoffs:


Year      March   Runoff    Pct
===============================
2018 R  156,387   24,172* 15.5%*
2018 D  167,982   24,567* 14.6%*

2016 R  329,768   39,128  11.9%
2016 D  227,280   30,334  13.3%

2014 R  139,703   96,763  69.3%
2014 D   53,788   18,828  35.0%

2012 R  163,980  136,040  83.0%
2012 D   79,486   29,912  37.6%

2010 R  159,821   43,014  26.9%
2010 D  101,263   15,225  15.0%

2008 R  171,108   40,587  23.7%
2008 D  410,908    9,670   2.4%

2006 R   82,989   10,528  12.7%
2006 D   35,447   13,726  38.7%

The starred 2018 values are incomplete, obviously. So what have we learned? One, there’s basically zero correlation between primary turnout and primary runoff turnout. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since in theory there need not be any runoffs in a given year. When there’s a Dewhurst-Cruz or a Dewhurst-Patrick, you may have good runoff turnout. When there isn’t – in 2008, the Dems had runoffs for Railroad Commissioner, a district court judge, and a Justice of the Peace; in 2010, they had three district court judges plus a JP – turnout falls off accordingly. Nor does turnout in either the primary or the runoffs predict November outcomes. Maybe that will begin to change, if Democrats have more contested primaries and put more emphasis on them. Maybe it will continue to be random. Ask me again in eight or ten years.

As far as 2018 goes, the Democratic edge comes from a nearly 2,000 vote advantage in absentee ballots. Republicans have had more in person voters each day, but not enough to close that gap. As is usually the case, I expect today and Friday to be heavier on the in person votes – I myself will be voting Friday – so we’ll see if that pattern holds. Note that after three days of early voting, the Dem turnout level is already above the final totals except 2016 and 2012, and I think it’s safe to say those will be topped when all is said and done. Again, there’s no evidence to suggest this has mattered historically, but you can at least have all this in your back pocket for when you see the inevitable carping about runoff turnout. This is where we are now. I’ll report back after the final EV totals are in.

Runoff races, part 3: Harris County

I’m not going to give a big windup on this because I think we’re all familiar with these races, but just to make sure we’re on the same page.

District Clerk

Marilyn Burgess
Rozzy Shorter

County Clerk

Diane Trautman
Gayle Mitchell

County Treasurer

Dylan Osborne
Cosme Garcia

HCDE Position 3, At Large

Richard Cantu
Josh Wallenstein

First round:

Burgess 49.22%, Shorter 23.40%
Trautman 44.27%, Mitchell 40.42%
Osborne 38.11%, Garcia 36.63%
Cantu 39.03%, Wallenstein 30.77%

I did interviews in the latter two races – here’s Osborne, here’s Cantu, and here’s Wallenstein; Cosme Garcia never responded to my email asking for an interview. I did a precinct analysis of these races here. I endorsed Burgess and Trautman in the primary, and I stand by that. I voted for Osborne in the primary and will vote for him again; no disrespect intended to Cosme Garcia but other than a recently-constructed webpage I’ve not seen any evidence of him campaigning. Both Cantu and Wallenstein are good candidates and are worthy of your vote.

HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1

Danny Norris
Prince E. Bryant

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2

Cheryl Elliott Thornton
Sharon Burney

First round:

Norris 35.22%, Bryant 34.07%
Burney 31.86%, Thornton 24.62%

I did an interview with Danny Norris; Price Bryant got back to me late in the cycle to set up a time for an interview, but then didn’t respond to a followup email to schedule it. I received judicial Q&A responses from Cheryl Thornton, but not from Sharon Burney. I voted for Norris in March and will vote for him again. I don’t live in JP7 and don’t have a preference in this race.

Primary runoff early voting begins today

From the inbox:

Early voting for the May 22 Primary Runoff Elections will take place from Monday, May 14 to Friday, May 18. During that period, Harris County voters may vote at any of the 46 polling locations throughout the county. Polls will be open from 7 am to 7 pm.

“Every voter in Harris County is eligible to vote in either the Democratic Party or Republican Party Runoff Election.  However, a voter who participated in the March Primary Election may ONLY vote in the Primary Runoff Election of the same political party,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County.

It is not necessary to have voted in the March Primary Election to vote in one of the Primary Runoff Elections.  There are a total of thirteen (13) races in the Democratic Party Primary and four (4) in the Republican Party Primary.

 “Voting early is the best option because in Primary Runoff Elections, the political parties significantly consolidate many voting precincts into one poll due to low voter turnout. As a result, a voter’s usual polling location likely has changed for Election Day,” concluded Stanart, urging voters to take advantage of the early voting period.

Primary Runoff Elections are a party function. The political parties determine the number of voting locations and where the polls are located on Election Day.

For more information about the May 22 Primary Elections, view a personal sample ballot, or review a list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

The list of early voting locations is below. As usual, you are best off voting early – there’s going to be a limited number of Election Day precincts open, so vote early and avoid confusion. My look at the Congressional runoffs is here and the legislative runoffs is here. Of course there’s the Governor’s race, so wherever you are there’s a race to vote in, and here in Harris County we have runoffs for District Clerk, County Clerk, County Treasurer, HCDE Position 3 At Large, HCDE Position 6 Precinct 1, and Justice of the Peace in Precinct 7. Get out there and vote.

Early Voting Locations for the May 22, 2018 Primary Runoff Elections in Harris County, TX
Location Address City Zip
County Attorney Conference Center 1019 Congress Avenue Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Lake Houston Church of Christ 8003 Farmingham Road Humble 77346
Kingwood United Methodist Church 1799 Woodland Hills Drive Kingwood 77339
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
East Harris County Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library 5414 Franz Road Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Freeway, 1st Floor Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Living Word Church the Nazarene 16607 Clay Road Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Galena Park Library 1500 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 South Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi Service Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77051
Young Neighborhood Library 5107 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Big Stone Lodge 709 Riley Fuzzel Road Spring 77373
Lone Star College Creekside 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
Spring First Church 1851 Spring Cypress Road Spring 77388

Abbott approves August flood bond referendum

One more step forward.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday approved Harris County’s request to call a multi-billion-dollar bond election to pay for flood control measures on Aug. 25, the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey.

By state law, the county needed Abbott’s permission to call the “emergency special election” in spite of his oft-stated goal of reducing property taxes. The flood control bond package almost certainly will be accompanied by an increase in Harris County’s property tax rate.

Abbott granted the county’s request to put the issue to the voters, affirming his stated belief that responding to Harvey does “qualify as an emergency” and stating that he is “committed to working with Harris County to achieve its goals in the most efficient way possible.”

“As this request for an emergency special election was duly passed by a unanimous vote of the Harris County Commissioners Court, I hereby grant approval as governor of Texas for this emergency special election to be called for bonds to fund flood-related mitigation projects that respond to Hurricane Harvey,” Abbott wrote in a letter accompanying his decision.

[…]

The county plans to launch a public outreach campaign to seek input on what to include in the bond package, as well as drum up support for the measure. [County Judge Ed] Emmett said the focus would be on helping the most people possible.

“The worst thing we can do is say, ‘Just give us money and trust us,’” Emmett said. “It’s got to be a very open, transparent process.”

See here for the background. Commissioners Court still has to officially call the election, which means they have to define what the issue covers and what the wording of the referendum will be. There’s stuff in the story about that, but we’re not really any farther along than the “well, we could have this and we could have that” stage yet. That will all work itself out one way or another.

I’m more interested in the politics of this. What will the county’s strategy be to sell people on this idea and get them to come out at a weird time of year to vote for it? Who will spearhead the effort, and how much money will they spend on it? Who will be on Team Referendum, and who (if anyone) will stand in opposition? As I’ve said before, while city of Houston bonds tend to pass with room to spare, Harris County bonds tend to have less margin for error, and can’t be assumed to be favored even in the absence of organized resistance. They’re going to need to figure out what this thing is quickly so they can start selling it ASAP. Among other things, the difference between an election in August and an election in November is that people expect to vote in the latter. The first part of the sales job is going to be making sure people know that they need to vote at a different time. I’ll be keeping a close watch on this.

Today is May Election Day

From the inbox:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reducing solitary confinement

This is good.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

Almost five years after images surfaced of a mentally ill inmate wallowing in a cell full of human waste and bugs, the Harris County jail has cut in half its use of solitary confinement.

The decrease is due in part to a decision to stop putting rule-breakers in solitary, officials say, and in part to the creation of two rehabilitative mental health units that provide a path out of isolation.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Anthony Graves, a death row exoneree who has spoken out against the use of solitary confinement since his release. “It says that people are now getting serious about criminal justice reform.”

In the fall of 2014, the jail had 240 inmates isolated in so-called administrative separation. By March of this year, that number had plummeted to 122, or just over 1 percent of the jail’s population, according to data from the office of Sheriff Ed Gonzalez.

[…]

“There’s a nationwide trend where correctional facilities are moving away from the use of administrative separation and in keeping with best practices and current practices, and also trying to do what’s best for the inmates themselves,” [Sheriff’s Office Major John] Martin said. “There are a lot of studies out there that suggest keeping them confined by themselves might not be best so gradually we started changing a lot of our practices. I think a difficult part is changing mindsets – just getting people to think differently.”

The following year, in an effort to shift mentally ill inmates out of isolation, the jail launched the first of two pilot programs. The 2015 initiative, now known as the Social Learning Program and housed in the 2L unit at the 1200 Baker complex, holds just under two dozen inmates who get 16 hours of out-of-cell time per day.

“They were in the hole — but now they’re not because of the program,” said Major Mike Lee, who oversees the jail’s mental health and diversion programs.

In the 2L unit, arrestees get programming and cognitive behavioral therapy-based groups twice a day. Groups focus on communication skills, medication management and anger management.

“It’s so they won’t resort to the same behaviors when they get out,” said Sean McElroy, the jail’s mental health program administrator through The Harris Center.

But part of the goal is also that, after some time spent in the program, the inmates can be transferred back to general population.

“It’s something we feel is in everybody’s best interest,” Martin said.

Michele Deitch, a criminal-justice expert and senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Austin, concurred, adding that mentally ill inmates are often at a higher risk for landing in solitary.

“It’s well-established that solitary confinement is detrimental to the health of people, especially people with mental illness,” she said. “People with mental illness are far more vulnerable than other populations in the jail. They are more likely to be exploited by other inmates, they’re less likely to be able to follow directions, they are more likely to deteriorate under the conditions of confinement in the jail and, because of their frequent inability to conform their behavior to the rules, they are disproportionately likely to end up in solitary.”

This is what I want to see. This change in policy is more humane, will lead to better outcomes, and will ultimately cost the county less money. And it’s just heartening to see the Sheriff’s office staying on top of staying on top of the research and following the best practices. We deserve and should expect nothing less.

We’ll be voting on flood control bonds in August

Not my first choice, but it is what it is.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to seek a special election on Aug. 25 for what likely will be a multi-billion-dollar bond package that, if approved by voters, would be the largest local investment in the region’s flood control system after Hurricane Harvey.

The move comes a month before the start of the 2018 hurricane season and more than seven months after Hurricane Harvey, with the election timed to coincide with the storm’s one-year anniversary. County officials have spent months wrangling over when best to schedule the election, lest the measure fail and scuttle efforts to overhaul the area’s flood control efforts after one of the biggest rain storms in United States history.

“Why August 25?” Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said. “It’s the one year anniversary of Harvey. I don’t think we want to go a year and not be able to say we’re doing something. People who care about mitigation, resilience, flood control, they’ll be energized and they’ll want to go out. Will there be somebody who wants to stand in the face of what we went through during Harvey and say ‘I want to be against it’? I kind of dare them to do it.”

It is not clear yet what the bond referendum will include. The court on Tuesday floated a $2.5 billion price tag — a number that could change as a priority list of flood control projects emerges. Emmett said the number of projects would be in the “hundreds” and likely would include the buy-out of all of the county’s high-priority areas at highest-risk of flooding, approximately 5,500 properties.

A huge chunk of funds, between $500 and $700 million officials estimate, could go toward local matches for federal grants and projects. A match could be required for the completion of four bayou widening and straightening projects underway with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers along Hunting, White Oak, Brays Bayou and Clear Creek. Bayou engineering projects on Halls and Greens Bayou — some of the areas in the county most vulnerable to flooding — also likely would be targeted.

Emmett said all of the county’s 22 watersheds would see some sort of investment.

The bond funds also could help finance the construction of an oft-discussed third reservoir northwest of the city to contain storm water from Cypress Creek.

See here for the background. I would have preferred to have this on the November ballot, and from the article most of the Commissioners at least started out with that same preference. County Judge Ed Emmett pushed for the August date, and convinced them to go along. Again, I get the reasoning, but the county is really going to have to sell this. Recent history has shown that even non-controversial bond issues with no organized opposition don’t pass by much. This one will have a big price tag, a (minor) property tax increase, and no obvious benefit for anyone who wasn’t directly affected by Harvey, all wrapped up in a weird election date. This should pass – it’s easy to scratch your head and say “how could it not?” – but do not take it for granted. The county still has to get approval from Greg Abbott, which should be straightforward, then formally call the election. I hope they start gearing up the campaign for this in the meantime.

The timing of a Harvey bond referendum

How does August grab you?

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday will consider calling a special election for August 25 — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey — to ask voters to OK a massive bond referendum for flood control projects.

The amount of the referendum has yet to be determined as the county continues to assess its needs and as other funds, including as federal grants, become available. At least three members of Commissioners Court said Friday they envision a measure that could reach $2.5 billion.

[…]

The referendum could help finance property buyouts, as well as a range of infrastructure projects, such as the widening and deepening of bayous or the construction of a much-discussed third reservoir in northwest Harris County.

Tuesday’s vote follows months of wrangling over the logistics of holding the bond election, including the cost of holding a special election and the ideal date to ensure voters turn out to support the measure.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Friday said he supports presenting the bond referendum to voters during the November general election, when turnout is expected to be considerable as voters weigh in on mid-term congressional elections.

“Without evidence of a clear path to victory for a summer-time bond election, which is likely to have low turnout, I have serious reservations about the proposed August date,” Ellis said. “The future of Harris County hinges on the success of this flood bond.”

It also is not yet clear what the bond referendum will include. Harris County Flood Control District Director of Operations Matt Zeve said that would be determined after Tuesday’s discussion at Commissioners Court.

County officials have said the necessity for bond money grows as federal grants pour in to prepare the Houston area for future floods or to recover from Harvey, many of which require a sometimes hefty financial match from local governments.

“The risk is that they may allocate the funds elsewhere and, thus, become unavailable for our region,” Emmett states in the proposed letter to Abbott.

See here, here, and here for the background. I get the reason for wanting to do this as quickly as possible, as grant money may get grabbed up by other places before we could approve a November referendum. August is a weird time for an election – looking at the County Clerk election result archives, the only August date I see is in 2014, for a special election runoff in SD04, which is only part of the county.

The last election that wasn’t in March or May or November that included the entire county was the 2003 Constitutional Amendment special election, which included the infamous tort “reform” measure and which was done in September specifically to reduce turnout from the Houston area, since we had an open seat Mayoral race that November. Turnout for that, which was a state election and not a county election, was 238,334, or 13.38% of registered voters. We have more registered voters now, but that percentage would still put us south of 300K. Compare that to the November 2014 general election, which had 688,018 voters, which was still only 33.65% turnout. I’d bet on November this year being closer to 800K voters, and likely a lot more Democratic than either of those other two contexts.

So on the one hand, you’ve got a need to get this done, and the one year anniversary of Harvey as a rallying cry, but a smaller electorate that may be more likely to not support any kind of spending measure. You also need Greg Abbott’s approval to hold this election, which you’ll probably get but is still an unknown factor. On the other hand, you could have a November vote with a bigger and likely friendlier electorate, but you risk losing out on some grant money, and maybe that much farther away from Harvey people will feel less of a sense of urgency to do something, or at least something that may be historically big. All things considered, my preference is still November, but we’ll see what Commissioners Court decides.

It’s hard being pregnant in Harris County

We need to figure this out.

Life-threatening, pregnancy-related complications — the iceberg beneath the surface of the U.S. maternal health crisis — are on the rise in Harris County, according to a new report.

The report not only confirmed the Harris County rate is worse than that of the state and nation, it found that it increased more than 50 percent between 2008 and 2015. Texas’ rate of life-threatening, pregnancy-related complications went up 15 percent in the same time period.

“In subtle and unintentional ways, women’s health in Harris County has been subjugated to the health of babies so profoundly that the health of women of childbearing age is often not prioritized,” says the report, a project of the Houston Endowment.

Dr. Lisa Hollier, a Houston obstetrician-gynecologist and a co-chair of the task force that produced the report, said Harris County’s high rates “point to the need for greater intervention to promote safety around the time of delivery. Such complications are 50 times more common than pregnancy-related deaths, but don’t get near the amount of attention.”

Hollier and Dr. Cecilia Cazaban, the report’s principal investigator, said it is unclear why Harris County’s rate is increasing at such a high rate. They said that analysis is next on tap for the task force.

[…]

The new report focuses on severe maternal morbidity, the term for conditions that require such treatment as a respirator or blood transfusions or hysterectomy during delivery or in the immediate hours thereafter. It can lead to maternal death, but even when the patient survives, it can cause damage, such as kidney or heart failure, sometimes requiring lifelong treatment. It also is costly to the patient and health care system.

Harris County’s rate of severe maternal morbidity in 2015 was 2.4 percent, meaning there were 238 cases for every 10,000 deliveries. The 2015 rate was 1.97 in Texas and 1.46 in the United States.

See here for some background. The task force website is here, though I don’t think this report is on there. I hope there’s no need for me to say anything more than we really need to understand this problem so we can solve it.

Ellis puts up money for city’s bike projects

I like this plan.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis on Monday announced a one-year $10 million commitment to bicycling projects in Houston, in the hopes of jump-starting the city’s transformation into a bike-friendly place.

“Working together, we can better leverage scarce resources from governmental entities and the private sector and share our collective expertise to serve the people in this region,” Ellis said.

A year after Houston leaders approved an ambitious plan for hundreds of miles of protected, safe bike trails, little progress has been made, something cycling supporters said Ellis’ pledge will change. Officials estimated the money would build at least 50 miles of protected bike lanes considered crucial to providing usable bike access to neighborhoods and jobs.

“​This really gives us a boost we needed,” Houston Planning Director Patrick Walsh said.

The money, along with city funds from its capital improvement plan, will go toward repainting bike lanes, developing safer intersections and other improvements aimed at making riding a bike in Houston easier and safer.

[…]

Projects will be chosen for their ability to start soon. Ellis stressed officials have one year to spend the money he committed, and any unspent funds will return to other priorities in his precinct.

[Mayor Sylvester] Turner said the funding, along with $1.1 million the city plans to spend in each of the next five years, will act as seed money for upcoming projects, including planned bike lanes along Austin and Caroline and new space for cyclists along Hardy and Elysian on the city’s Near Northside.

See here for some background. This is about putting up some money for projects that are already in the pipeline but have been delayed for a variety of reasons. Commissioner Ellis is an avid cyclist himself, so it’s not a surprise to see him make this a priority. Much of his precinct intersects with the city, and as you know I’m delighted to see some county investment in the not-unincorporated territories. I hope the city takes full advantage of this.

Harris County is not growing the way it used to

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

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

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

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

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

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

Head of “voter fraud” troll group that sued Harris County gets sued himself

Delightful.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A conservative activist and voter fraud alarmist is facing a federal lawsuit Thursday over dubious allegations of massive voter fraud in Virginia. A civil rights group and four Virginia voters filed a suit against J. Christian Adams and the legal outfit he runs, alleging that Adams and the group violated state and federal law when it accused thousands of Virginians, many of them eligible citizens, of voting illegally.

Adams, a former member of President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, is the president and general counsel of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), which in 2016 and 2017 published two reports alleging that thousands of “aliens” had committed felony voter fraud in Virginia and, in indexes to the reports, published personally identifiable information about those people. But many of Adams’ would-be criminals are in fact eligible voters, including all of the plaintiffs.

In the lawsuit, a local Virginia chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and four individuals allege that Adams and his legal firm violated state defamation laws, as well as federal civil rights laws that protect against voter intimidation. The lawsuit alleges that the reports Adams published are a form of voter intimidation against the people named in the report, and put them at risk by publishing their personal information alongside the allegation that they are felons.

See here for the background and here for more on the Virginia case. This guy is a professional liar whose mission is to keep people from voting by any means necessary. He needs to be beaten back at every opportunity. I wish the plaintiffs in this suit all the best.

On Latino primary participation

Time for some numbers.

The predictions about Harris County Latinos becoming more engaged in the recent mid-term primary were right: The number of Latino voters who cast their ballot more than doubled compared to the previous primary of the same kind, in 2014, with an overwhelming majority voting in the Democratic election. Experts attribute the increase to factors such as the national political climate polarized by the immigration discussion and a high number of Latino candidates, among others.

According to the office of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, 36,184 Spanish-surnamed voters voted in the 2018 primary election compared to 13,721 in 2014.

The increase in turnout –which is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot in a particular election– also doubled: 491,912 Spanish-surnamed voters were registered in the county as of February, which means the turnout was close to 7.4 percent, compared to the 370,293 Spanish-surnamed voters who were registered in the county in 2014, which means the turnout that year was 3.7 percent.

The break down by party was also significant.

In 2014, 53 percent of Latino voters participated in the Republican primary and 47 percent voted in the Democratic election, while this year 70 percent of that segment of the electorate took part in the Democratic primary and 30 percent voted in the GOP election.

Let’s break this down a little more, since this jumble of totals and percentages and whatnot muddles what it is we’re actually comparing.


Year  LatinoR  LatinoD    All R    All D  LatinoR%  LatinoD%
============================================================
2014    7,272    6,449  139,703   53,788     5.21%    11.90%
2018   10,855   25,329  156,387  167,982     6.94%    15.08%

“LatinoR” and “LatinoD” represents the number of voters with Latino surnames who voted in the respective primaries for the given year, with those numbers derived from the percentages given. The percentages are the share of Latino voters in that primary.


         Growth
===============
LatinoR   49.3%
NonLatR    9.9%
All R     11.9%

LatinoD  292.8%
NonLatD  200.7%
All D    211.2%

“Growth” is the percentage increase of the group in question for the R or D primary from 2014 to 2018. The number of Latino Republicans increased by 49.3% from 2014 to 2018, the number of all other Republicans increased by 9.9%, and so on.

I’m presenting this all just for the sake of clarity. I don’t care to draw any conclusions because I don’t think we have enough data. Especially on the Democratic side, there was so much growth from 2014 to 2018 that it’s basically a waste of time to look at subgroups, because there’s growth everywhere. (OK, “waste of time” is an overstatement. If Latino participation had grown at a smaller rate than non-Latino participation, that would have been genuinely interesting.) A big part of the reason for this is that the turnout in the 2014 primary was so low. We won’t know for years if this is a new baseline or just a blip. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t make any guesses about November based on what happened in March. There’s value in knowing the numbers. Beyond that, be very careful about making broad statements.

Orlando Sanchez is not happy with the dominatrix investigation

This case is going to challenge headline and blog post title writers for the foreseeable future.

Orlando Sanchez

Two elected Harris County officials squared off Tuesday over a bizarre case in which a top treasury official was charged in a $35,000 check kiting fraud to meet the financial demands of a dominatrix.

Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez was critical of how District Attorney Kim Ogg handled the criminal case against a top administrator in the county’s treasurer’s office, after he was arrested last week for an alleged check fraud scheme and claimed he was being blackmailed by a financial dominatrix.

“What’s disturbing to me is that the district attorney knew about the investigation six months ago,” Sanchez said Tuesday. “Neither the sheriff or the district attorney gave me a phone call—as a heads up without going into the specifics of the investigation—that there was somebody in my office being looked at.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Ogg defended the way her office handled the six-month investigation and when they alerted Sanchez.

“Because it was an ongoing investigation, we did a lot of work before any witnesses were talked to,” said said. “And that kind of investigation is never made public otherwise it is impossible to know who might be involved.”

The county’s top prosecutor said she phoned Sanchez minutes after confirming that her office was filing charges against Lueb.

See here for the background. I just want to say that “Financial Dominatrix” is going to be the name of my Liz Phair tribute band. Also, remember how I said that the last thing Sanchez would want would be for this to be a multi-day story? You’re doing it wrong, dude. Not that I don’t appreciate it, mind you.

On the matter of Sanchez’s complaint, the first thing I’d say is what if any policies are there regarding how criminal investigations into county employees like Gregory Lueb are handled? In other words, did Ogg’s office do more or less what previous DAs have done in this sort of circumstance, or was there a substantial difference?

Putting that aside for a moment, I can think of at least three reasons why Ogg might have kept this under her hat until her team was ready to file a case:

1. Not to put too fine a point on it, but they needed to be sure that Sanchez himself was not in any way involved.

2. Once they have cleared Sanchez, if he knows that one of his employees is being investigated, that may cause him to act differently around them and thus possibly tip off the target of the investigation. There’s a reason this sort of information is generally kept quiet.

3. Even if you can completely trust Sanchez’s poker face, knowing that one or more of his employees is being investigated may change his perception of them, and this may persist even if the investigation winds up being dropped. He – and this is true of anyone, not just Orlando Sanchez – may have a lingering suspicion or sense of doubt, regardless of whether there was a reason for it.

So, unless Ogg violated previously accepted protocols, I see no cause for Sanchez to be upset. He was told when he needed to know, and that seems like the way to go. KUHF has more.

ACLU sues Galveston County over bail practices

From the inbox:

The ACLU of Texas, the ACLU and Arnold & Porter filed a federal class-action lawsuit today against Galveston County, Texas, for violating the constitutional rights of people arrested for misdemeanors and felonies.

The lawsuit was brought against the County itself, as well as each of the County’s judges who hear felonies and misdemeanors, the County magistrates, and the District Attorney. This is the first filing by the ACLU to include the District Attorney as a defendant in bail reform litigation. It seeks an immediate and permanent change to an unconstitutional cash bail system that discriminates against people who are financially strapped.

Those who cannot afford to pay money bail amounts determined by the county’s bail schedule are detained for a week or longer, while those who face the same charges but can afford to pay the money bail amounts are freed until trial. Galveston County’s district attorneys are involved in setting bail amounts for felony charges, often recommending bail amounts even higher than what the bail schedule suggests.

“A system that requires people to buy their freedom is not a system interested in dispensing justice,” said Trisha Trigilio, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas. “Our client is seeking one thing: a fair hearing. Rich or poor, everyone should have a meaningful chance for a judge to hear them out before they are locked in a jail cell – but that’s not what’s happening in Galveston County.”

The lawsuit argues that Galveston County’s system of money bail violates the Constitution because it keeps people in jail if they can’t afford bail, while allowing those who can pay to go home to their families, jobs, and communities. With each day in jail, the person’s chances for a fair trial diminish as evidence and witnesses disappear, and many who are innocent nonetheless plead guilty simply to end the ordeal.

“A person’s wealth should never decide their freedom, but that’s exactly what’s happening in Texas and across the country,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “Galveston’s bail system disregards the presumption of innocence, destroys families, and negatively affects jobs, and homes.”

The suit, filed on behalf of one plaintiff representing a class in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, accuses county officials of operating a two-tiered system of justice based on wealth, in violation of the right to counsel, the right to due process, and equal protection under the law.

“Studies consistently show that individuals who are held in jail until trial are more likely to be convicted, and more likely to be sentenced to prison, than those who are released pending trial,” said Christopher Odell, an attorney with Arnold & Porter. “Our goal is to ensure that the criminal justice system is fair to everyone in Galveston County, whether they’re rich or poor or somewhere in between.”

The plaintiff Aaron Booth, age 36, was arrested on April 8 for drug possession. He cannot afford the $20,000 money bail required by the court’s bail schedule. Mr. Booth fears losing his job because he is in jail; a job he needs to help his mother afford her monthly expenses.

Galveston’s system of wealth-based detention is arbitrary, the lawsuit argues. Each offense has an assigned dollar amount. If a person can arrange to pay the full amount to the sheriff in cash or property, or can arrange for payment through a bail bond company or another third party, the sheriff releases that person automatically.

Those who cannot pay the pre-determined bail amount must remain in jail indefinitely.

The lawsuit against Galveston County is a continuation of efforts from the ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice to end wealth-based bail detention in Texas and across the nation. This January, a related lawsuit aimed at ending Dallas County’s disciriminatory, wealth based bail practices was filed by the ACLU of Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union, Civil Rights Corps and the Texas Fair Defense Project.

The ACLU Campaign for Smart Justice — an unprecedented effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and to combat racial disparities in the criminal justice system — is focused on bolstering the movement to end money bail and eliminate wealth-based pretrial detention through legislative advocacy, voter education, and litigation. Thirty-seven ACLU state affiliates are spearheading efforts to end this unjust system.

The complaint can be found here. The Chron adds a few details.

The Galveston County Commissioner’s Court issued a resolution in September supporting an immediate end to pretrial detention for misdemeanor and state jail cell arrests and committing a minimum of $2 million to those efforts.

The county also voted in December to approve a contract with the Council of State Governments to help implement reforms to the county’s jail system.

But Trigilio said that the county has not committed to large-scale changes to its bail system in an appropriate timeframe. The ACLU drafted a standing order proposal outlining steps that needed to be taken to create a model pretrial system and requesting that the county come up with its own detailed plan. Their requests were ignored, with only one judge, Lonnie Cox of the 56th District Court, reviewing the standing order in November.

“We’re very open to collaborative solutions with policymakers, in fact, that’s what we prefer,” Trigilio said. “But it’s important to act with the urgency that the situation merits, and when they’re locking hundreds of people away every day just because they’re poor, that’s not something we can tolerate while we work out the nuances of a system that might be in place any year from now.”

Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said on Monday that he had not had a chance to look at the lawsuit yet but that the county has been working with the ACLU “for nine months or so” to implement their suggested reforms to the bail system.

“We are certainly trying, yes,” he said, adding that he had not yet seen the suit but that the county was “absolutely committed” to making the changes already discussed.

“It’s not necessarily in our control,” he said. “There are about 15 other elected officials that have to agree and implement their part of it.”

Those of us in Harris County can relate to that complaint. You know where I stand on this, so let me just say that I hope other counties are looking at their own practices and taking proactive steps to get in line so they don’t have to be sued as well. But if suing them is what it takes, then so be it. Think Progress and KUHF have more.

Misdemeanor diversion

Sounds good to me.

Kim Ogg

Houston’s non-violent misdemeanor offenders will soon be cleaning up trash and invasive plant species plants along Buffalo Bayou in an initiative to help offenders clear up their criminal record, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced Wednesday.

The program, dubbed “Clean and Green,” has existed in several incarnations since the 1970’s and was one of Ogg’s campaign promises when she ran for DA in 2014, and again when she won in 2016.

“It’s a big reason why I ran,” the top prosecutor said Wednesday as she announced the program at the historic Allen’s Landing, a downtown recreational area on the bayou. “I wanted to ‘green’ criminal justice. I felt like our system could give back in a measurable, meaningful way. Counting the cubic tons of garbage or how many tons of plastic we pull out, it all has a public safety value.”

Misdemeanor offenders, 17 and older, will be allowed to clean up litter and invasive plants, skim waterways and perform other conservation services in public spaces across the county, especially along bayous and tributaries, according to Ogg.

Eligibility for the program, which starts this month, will be determined by prosecutors on a case-by-case basis and excludes defendants facing domestic violence, assault or weapons charges.

[…]

The initiative is expected to offer 160 offenders a month the opportunity to avoid a criminal record while reducing tax dollars currently spent on traditional prosecution and punishment of those offenders.

If selected, participants will be required to work one or two six-hours shifts. They will have to pay $240 to participate, unless they are indigent. Completion of the program fulfills the community-service requirement of pre-trial diversion contracts.

If they successfully complete the program, their criminal case will be dismissed and the arrest can be expunged, Ogg said.

I approve of all of this. This is what we should want to do with non-violent misdemeanor offenders. And yes, it’s what we voted for. Keep up the good work.

The most interesting story related to the County Treasurer’s office you may ever read

Oh, yeah.

A top administrator at the Harris County Treasurer’s Office charged with stealing money from a county credit union told investigators he was using the funds to pay off a dominatrix he met online who was trying to blackmail him, county officials said Friday.

Gregory Wayne Lueb, the second in command at the Harris County Treasurer’s Office, is accused of stealing $35,000 in a check-kiting scheme that left the Harris County Credit Union holding the bag for the cash.

Lueb told investigators he met a dominatrix —a woman who punishes men in sexual situations — named “Mistress Cindy” on a sadomasochism website in 2016.

He said the woman blackmailed him into sending her money from his personal account at the credit union by telling him he’d tell his wife of his indiscretions if he didn’t.

In announcing the felony theft charges Friday, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said “Cindy” may or may not be real, but that Lueb had been arrested for a check fraud scheme that ran between August and December 2016.

“We don’t know if the dominatrix exists or not,” Ogg said. “The more salacious points are obvious in Mr. Lueb’s admissions, but whether they are true or not is really beside the point. We know that he was stealing from Harris County employees because it’s our money in the credit union.”

[…]

Ogg said Lueb was the target of two investigations: one initiated by the DA’s office and one begun by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. The two probes were combined when investigators realized both agencies were looking into allegations of fraud that linked back to Lueb.

Ogg called for an audit of the treasurer’s office, headed by County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez.

Sanchez said Lueb did not have sole access to county funds. He said well-established safeguards and forms require multiple signatures from different department heads, so he is not worried that Lueb could have embezzled from the treasurer’s office.

“No one person in this county has the ability to move a dime,” he said. “No one person in Harris County has the authority to move money … The important thing is there’s no public funds (involved, no county money.”

Lueb has since been fired. I’ll be interested to see if there are further calls for an audit of the Treasurer’s office. I doubt there would be anything terrible to find, but having to deal with that in an election year probably does not make Orlando Sanchez happy. The last thing he wants is for this to be anything more than a one-day story.