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Harris County

Early voting for November 2018 starts today

From the inbox:

“Study the long November 6, 2018 Election ballot to ensure you make the right choices when voting,”  said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to visit www.HarrisVotes.com  and select “Find your Poll and Ballot” to review their personal sample ballot before heading to the nearest early voting location to vote. The Early Voting Period for the 2018 midterm election in Texas begins Oct. 22 and runs until Nov. 2.

“Most voters will see approximately ninety races on their ballot in which they may choose to vote,” informed Stanart, the chief election official of the county. Of the contests on the ballot, approximately fifteen percent are statewide, seventy-nine percent are countywide and six percent are district contests. In all, over seventy percent of the contests appearing on some voters’ midterm election ballot are for judicial positions.

“In Harris County, during the early voting period, forty-six locations will be in operation countywide for the county’s registered voters,” Stanart reminded voters. “Be mindful and exercise patience. Voter traffic at the polls is pretty heavy the first day and the last couple of days of Early Voting.”

 

For more voting information, a complete early voting schedule, or 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.

Stan Stanart is Clerk, Recorder and the Chief Elections Officer of the third largest county in the United States.

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November 6, 2018 General and Special Elections Early Voting Schedule
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
Atascocita Branch Library 19520 Pinehurst Trail Drive Humble 77346
Kingwood Community Center 4102 Rustic Woods Drive Kingwood 77345
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 Fwy, 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

Daily EV totals from 2014 are here, and daily EV totals from 2010 are here. Those 2010 numbers should serve as a reminder that just because turnout is high, doesn’t mean it’s good news for Democrats. As should be obvious, it’s about who turns out, especially in an election where more people don’t show up than do. Early votes were 55.1% of the total in 2014, 56.0% of the total in 2010, and 32.4% of the total in 2006. My guess is that early voting will exceed 60% of the total this year, but that’s just my guess. I’ll be keeping tabs on the daily numbers as they come in. When are you planning to vote?

Yeah, we’re still talking about the risk to our elections

And when we talk about these things, we talk to Dan Wallach.

When we think about those who defend the territorial integrity of our nation and state, we tend to imagine well-equipped members of the U.S. armed forces, or perhaps a square-jawed detachment of Texas Rangers. Increasingly, however, the twenty-first century battle for control of the American homeland is being fought in the computerized elections systems overseen by our humble county clerks.

Here in Texas, votes in federal and state elections are tallied independently by 254 local officials, one in each county seat, from big cities like Houston and Dallas to tiny courthouse towns like Tahoka and Floydada. If a hostile country decides to hack an election in Texas, that means pitting Russia’s (or Iran’s or North Korea’s or China’s) most skilled hackers against a group of officials and volunteers who may not even know their way around an iPhone.

“We’re asking county clerks, and for that matter local poll workers, to defend against a nation-state adversary,” says Dan Wallach, computer science professor at Rice and expert on election security issues. “That’s not a fair fight.”

Wallach, a graduate of J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson as well as U.C. Berkeley and Princeton, has made it his mission to assist local election administrators by helping to develop and advocate for the adoption of foolproof, verifiable election systems and policies in Texas. From 2011 to 2015, Wallach served on the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board; before that he led the National Science Foundation–funded ACCURATE (A Center for Correct, Usable, Reliable, Auditable, and Transparent Elections). Most recently, he’s been seen testifying before the Texas Senate on issues related to election security.

“From a security perspective, the systems that we use, these electronic voting systems, were never engineered with the threat model of foreign nation-state actors,” Wallach says of the status quo in Texas. “I have no idea if anybody’s planning to exploit them, but there’s no question that the vulnerabilities are present.”

That’s the bad news. The good news is that remedies are within reach, if Texas is willing to invest money and other state-level resources to improve election security. Experts like Wallach have identified best practices that can make elections reliably secure for the current threat horizon. Wallach proposes what amounts to a three-step plan for improved election security: better machines, better oversight, and better contingency planning.

The rest of the story delves into those three steps; it begins of course with auditable voting machines that include printed ballots. Speaking from my perspective in the IT security field, I can confirm that every big company that wants to stay in business past tomorrow zealously captures, indexes, and monitors its systems’ log files, both to look for real-time anomalies and to provide a written record of what happened in the event of a breach or other failure. It’s just standard practice in the real world. Why our state government is so resistant to it for our election systems is a question for which they really need to be held accountable. I would also note that the $350 million price tag to replace every obsolete voting machine in the state, which apparently we can’t do unless the feds pick up the tab, is something we could easily afford if we wanted to do it. For now, assuming we don’t get a state government that’s willing to do this, our best bet is to work towards a federal government that will do it, presumably after 2020. And hope like hell in the meantime that nothing goes horribly wrong.

Hotze and the judges

From family law attorney Greg Enos, who publishes a legal blog/newsletter called The Mongoose (I’ve referenced him here before):

Real Journalists Should Investigate How Republican Judges Are Funneling Money to Hotze’s Hate Group

I am a full-time lawyer and only a part-time journalist. Real news organizations need to look into the facts and questions uncovered in my story in this issue and tomorrow’s issue about how Harris County Republican judges are giving money to a politically powerful and hateful bigot, Steven Hotze, and his partner in anti-LGBT insanity, Jared Woodfill. Judges are paying money to a mysterious company that Woodfill and Hotze apparently partly own even as Woodfill is appearing in front of those same judges as a lawyer and being appointed by those judges to CPS cases where the county pays Woodfill’s fees. Go ask those judges if they are disclosing to the attorneys who oppose Woodfill in their courts that there is a business relationship between the judges’ campaigns and a company Woodfill apparently co-owns.

There have been news stories and blog posts about Hotze’s oversized and malignant influence on local GOP politics. But, no journalist has so far delved deeply into how money flows between Hotze’s various PAC’s, how his influential slate mailer is paid for, or where payments from judges to Hotze actually go. My two part article published today and tomorrow attempts to unravel and explain the tangled financial web of hate involving Hotze, Woodfill and most of the Republican judges in Harris County.

I started this project by trying to find out if the judges were making illegal contributions to Hotze’s political action committees (PAC). I realized during my investigation that some of the judges did not know exactly where their checks to Hotze ended up. But, I did conclude, based on the limited information I was able to uncover, that the judges’ payments were not illegally made to a PAC.

However, what I did learn poses just as serious questions about judicial ethics and the integrity of our judicial system. I am also now really curious about why these judges are paying money to Hotze’s and Woodfill’s company and what exactly they get for those payments if they are not paying for inclusion in Hotze’s slate mailer. I have spent dozens of hours on this investigation, and I still have more questions than answers.

That’s Part 1. Here’s Part 2. Both are long and detailed, far too in depth for me to usefully excerpt, so go read them. Enos is up front about generally supporting Democrats, but has no problem crossing over to support judges he likes, as well as District Clerk Chris Daniel. Enos documented a bunch of bad behavior by Judges Alicia Franklin and Denise Pratt in 2014; see here for those archives. If he’s coming at you, he’s got the receipts. Lord knows, no one deserves to be thoroughly and humiliatingly defeated more than Steven Hotze, and no judge worthy of the name should want to be associated with him. Go read what Enos has to say on the matter.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 2

The Chron lays down a marker on the county criminal courts.

Each election cycle we determine our judicial endorsements by interviewing the candidates, researching their backgrounds, consulting with experts and coming to a conclusion about who best would be able to run a courtroom and see that justice is done. This year, however, one piece of evidence outweighed every other consideration for the Harris County criminal courts at law: Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s 193-page memorandum declaring the bail system in our misdemeanor courts in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection.

[…]

While some of Judge Rosenthal’s remedies have been altered by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the underlying facts remain undisturbed. Those facts are shocking to the conscience, and should be enough to convince our misdemeanor court judges to work with the plaintiffs suing the county over its unconstitutional practices and reach a settlement. That hasn’t happened. Instead, all the judges except two — one Democrat and one Republican — have spent millions in taxpayer funds fighting the case in court.

In meeting with these judges we heard plenty of reasons why they’re continuing to fight. Some said they believe the plaintiffs’ demands go too far. Others said they want to make sure judges don’t lose discretion in individual cases. A few were worried about the effect on public safety of letting people accused of misdemeanors out of jail without a cash bond. Overall they pointed to the courts’ slow but steady progress and work with the Arnold Foundation in crafting a risk-assessment tool to improve the bail system.

These excuses are not enough to justify the perpetuation of a criminal justice system that Rosenthal says has resulted in “thousands of constitutional violations” of both equal protection and due process.

That is why we recommend that every incumbent judge continuing to fight the bail lawsuit be removed from his or her seat.

We do not make this recommendation lightly. There will be unfortunate consequences that weaken our misdemeanor courts in the short term. Harris County will lose experienced judges. Diversion courts will need new leadership if they are to continue. It’s possible that over the next four years we’ll face different sorts of challenges and scandals in pursuit of a new kind of judiciary. Our star ratings may seem off as we endorse challengers against incumbents with higher scores. But this is about something bigger than individual judges. This is about a criminal justice system in dire need of reform.

The public needs to send a message that we will not tolerate the status quo, one that the judges have been content to live with for too long. The only way to chart a path forward is to remove the current judges — root, branch and all.

A-frickin’-men. There was literally no other moral way for the Chron to handle this, and they did not get it wrong. Good for them. Note that this line in the sand still allowed for them to endorse a decent number of Republicans, as there were multiple incumbent judges who did not run for re-election. Of the 15 misdemeanor races, the Chron picked seven Dems and six Republicans, with one dual endorsement and one non-endorsement. (Yes, even though “the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements”. I’ll let it slide this time, but I won’t let it go unmentioned.) You should click over and read the recommendations, but the main thing to know is, don’t vote for anyone who supports the unconstitutional bail system. We have the power to fix this. Let’s not screw that up.

Judicial Q&A: Tanya Garrison

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Tanya Garrison

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Tanya Garrison and am running for the 157th Judicial District Court. I am a New Mexico native that moved to Houston in 1997. I am a Mom, Wife, Daughter, Sister, Aunt, and Friend to some of the most amazing people in the world.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Civil cases in which one of the parties is seeking monetary relief in an amount of money in excess of $500, some sort of equitable relief, or declaratory relief.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have the experience necessary to be a great civil court judge. I also have the right perspective. believing that all people truly come into the court as equals regardless of race, national origin, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation or identity, education, wealth, or any other life circumstance. I also have the passion for this job as a true believer in the judicial system and the right to a trial by jury.

I believe that being a great judge in the courtroom is only part of the job. With great power comes great responsibility. I believe that anyone given the privilege of serving the community as a district court judge also has a responsibility to give back, and this comes through work with the bar association, pro bono efforts, and the community in general. I know the importance of mentoring and helping others in the profession. This is especially true when it comes to valuing the voices of women and minorities in the courtroom.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been practicing trial law for 18 years. I am Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Texas Association of Civil Trial and Appellate Specialists. In 2011, I was awarded the Woodrow B. Seals Outstanding Young Lawyer Award. I am a Past President of the Houston Young Lawyers Association and on the Board of Directors of the Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program.

5. Why is this race important?

A citizen's mostly likely contact with an elected official is in the courtroom. If someone is involved in a civil dispute, an accident in which legal action is required, employment discrimination, or a dispute with the taxing authority the presiding judge of a court like the 157th will be one of the most important people in their case. The judge involved in any case sets a tone for the entire proceeding, and people and advocates should know that they are going to get a fair trial. They should be confident that the judge has the necessary experience and the required empathy to fairly adjudicate the dispute and treat everyone with respect.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I can best summarize the reasons to vote for me in three points: (1) passion for the work; (2) experience; and (3) perspective.

    Passion.

  I truly love being a trial lawyer and working in the courtroom.  I respect all parts of the process and believe that when the law is applied equally, the right result is possible.  Being a Judge is my dream. 

    Experience.

  I have practiced civil trial law since I graduated law school in 2000 and have been a part of trial teams with over 20 commercial cases going to a full jury verdict.  I am Board Certified in Civil Appellate Law, and have almost 45 appeals with my name on them. 

    Perspective.

  I am someone who sincerely believes that the greatest part of our government is its people.  The strength of our judiciary comes from the diversity of our people coming together to participate in our jury system.  I am a lifelong Democrat who values all backgrounds and life experiences.  I want to create a courtroom experience that welcomes everyone despite the fact that courtrooms and the controversies that are resolved there are intimidating and difficult.  Everyone is entitled to a fair and impartial trial, and it is my goal to ensure that they get one.

Judicial Q&A: Donna Roth

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Donna Roth

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Donna Roth. I am running for Judge of the 295th Civil District Court, Harris County, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 295th is a civil court of general jurisdiction. It is a district court which handles civil cases with amounts in controversy from $500 to any dollar amount. The court also has equity power to impose injunctions, restraining orders and declaratory judgments (a judgment that declares the rights of the parties). The court hears a wide variety of matters including but not limited to breach of contract, commercial disputes, personal injury, employment disputes, medical and legal malpractice, wrongful death, insurance disputes, corporate disputes, partnership/corporate dissolutions, property disputes, debt collection, bank foreclosures, attorney disbarment, attorney discipline and Harris County property tax collection.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The 295th is a civil trial bench. I have spent my professional career in the civil trial courts representing the people of Harris County, Texas. This bench is one where I can utilize my education, experience and life lessons to serve all the people of Harris County in a fair and equitable matter. Justice should be served with integrity, accountability and equality. I am running for the 295th to do just that!

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 1987 cum laude graduate from South Texas College of Law. For 31 years I have practiced civil trial law. I have extensive first chair jury trial experience, have litigated almost every type of case that could come before the court, have extensive trials before the bench and have mentored any number of younger lawyers by sitting second chair and assisting and advising. I represent people and families who have been seriously injured or lost a loved one because someone did something they should not have done or failed to do something they should have done. I am board certified in Personal Injury Trial Law and licensed not only in Texas but in Washington and New York. I have had active practices in all 3 states. As the managing partner of Roth & Associates since 1994 each person that has come to us for help has been treated fairly, equally and respectfully. It will be no different as your next judge of the 295th.

I have the patience and poise to listen to everyone who comes to the court seeking justice. Four years ago my daughter joined our firm as its newest associate. Nothing teaches patience and temperament like working six days a week with your only child. I will serve justice with integrity, accountability and equality. In the 31 years I have been practicing I have never had a judge enter an order referring to me as “unprofessional” or exhibiting “needlessly contentious conduct”. My opponent may not say the same.

5. Why is this race important?

Many, if not most people, will someday be required to come before a judge. Whether it be a civil judge, a family judge, a probate judge, a juvenile judge or a criminal judge, most people will find themselves before a court. If you have been fired and have to sue your employer for wrongful discharge or employment discrimination, or if you have been seriously injured or lost a family member because of another’s negligence, or if you have lost a limb or organ because of a medical facilities’ negligence, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court. If you have a property boundary dispute, a dispute with your homeowners’ association, or a disagreement with Harris County Appraisal District over the value of your property, you would file such a lawsuit in a civil district court.

Presiding over the determination of fair and adequate compensation for the loss of a loved one because of another’s negligence, whether one’s livelihood has been taken away without just cause, the value of one’s home, a contract or business dispute, or whether an insurance company should be required to reimburse you for the loss of a limb or organ are important matters that make this race and the determination of who the next judge in this court will be an important matter.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Experience:
The 295th Civil District Court is a civil trial bench. Because the role of the judge is to fairly and impartially try cases, trial experience is the most important qualification for voters to choose a candidate. As indicated by my qualifications, I can start working the day I am elected. I am also the candidate in this race that has received the endorsement of the three legal organizations who have screened and endorsed to date. In recognition of my experience and temperament these organizations in endorsing my candidacy have said that I am the candidate qualified to sit as the next Judge of this court. I have also been privileged to be acknowledged by my peers in the Houston Bar Association to be the candidate they believe is more qualified and preferred than my opponent.

I am a single mom. Four years ago my daughter, Andrea Roth, joined our firm as the newest associate. For the last four years I have worked full-time every day with my child. Nothing teaches patience and prepares you for the judicial temperament necessary to be a judge like working full-time with your only child.

Community Focused:
I maintain on my docket at least one pro bono case where I represent a woman in need of either a divorce, child support, child custody or a protective order. I volunteered after Hurricane Harvey and provided legal services at the hurricane victim’s assistance centers throughout the city. I volunteered for the Children’s Assessment Center and assisted participants at a skeet shoot. I serve as a “judge” at South Texas College of Law for the mock trial program. This I have done since I graduated law school in 1987. I also volunteered for nearly 10 years at JFK Elementary through Houston Trial Lawyer’s Foundation and mentored several 4th grade classes. I would spend approximately 2 hours each week with the class simply talking with them and encouraging them to be all that they can be. After months of practicing and rehearsing each year we would travel to the Harris County courthouse where the students would present the “Case of the Missing Cookies” to one of our civil judges. I feel that I have been fortunate in life to have obtained the education that I have received and to practice a profession I could only have dreamed about as a child. I want to share that with as many people as I can who cannot otherwise afford an attorney or someone to help them.

Justice for All:
It is important that we elect Judges who are fair and impartial, who do not have a preconceived notion about who should win before they hear any testimony or evidence. I have a passion for justice that has grown through my years of practice. I believe in the rule of law, I believe that each litigant that comes before the court, whether poor or rich, educated or not, whether represented by counsel or not, deserves a fair and impartial judge. Backed by my belief that justice and fair play are the fundamental values of the United States and Texas Constitutions, I am running for Judge of the 295th Civil District Court. My name is Donna Roth and I would consider it an honor and a privilege to serve as your next judge of the 295th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas and I am, therefore, asking for your vote on November 6, 2018.

What are your turnout scenarios?

I keep thinking about this:

County Clerk Stan Stanart predicts up to a million Harris County residents could be casting ballots in a string of hotly-contested races.

As you’ve heard me say many times, the Democrats’ main issue in off year elections in Texas has been that the base vote has not really increased at all since 2002. With the exception of the occasional Bill White or John Sharp, it generally tops out at about 1.8 million, which is what Wendy Davis collected in 2014. This year, there are multiple factors that strongly suggest Dems will blow past that number. The national environment, the plethora of candidates, as well as their terrific success at fundraising, the tremendous level of engagement, and on and on. But right up in there is the increase in voter registration, at the state level as well as here in Harris County. What do the numbers from the past suggest to us about the numbers for this year?

Let’s start with some basics:


Year      Harris      State   Ratio
===================================
2002     656,682  4,553,979  14.42%
2006     601,186  4,399,068  13.67%
2010     798,995  4,979,870  16.04%
2014     688,018  4,727,208  14.55%

Year      Harris   Register      TO
===================================
2002     656,682  1,875,777  35.01%
2006     601,186  1,902,822  31.59%
2010     798,995  1,917,534  41.67%
2014     688,018  2,044,361  33.65%

The first numbers are the turnout figures in Harris County and statewide in each of the last four off year elections. I wanted to see how big the share of the Harris County vote was. YThe second numbers are more familiar, turnout and registered voter totals for Harris County. Let’s use these to get a sense of the range of outcomes for this year. We know that we have about 2,316,000 registered voters in Harris County, based on the news reports we’ve seen. (The exact figure has not been released.)

2,316,000 at 31.59% = 731,624
2,316,000 at 33.65% = 779,334
2,316,000 at 35.01% = 810,831
2,316,000 at 41.67% = 965,077

You can see where Stanart came up with that “up to a million” figure. It’s hardly implausible, based on past performance. Even the fairly modest 35% turnout projection would give us a new record for an off year. Now what might this translate to at the state level?

731,624 at 16.04% = 4,566,941
731,624 at 13.37% = 5,352,040
965,077 at 16.04% = 6,016,689
965,777 at 13.67% = 7,034,967

Six million may well be the over/under total. The Upshot is predicting a range of 6.3 million to 7.2 million, based on the polling data they’ve seen.

Which leads to the next question. If six million is accurate, and Beto O’Rourke is headed to a 45% performance, that’s about 2.7 million votes. Remember when I said that Wendy Davis got 1.8 million in 2014? That’s a 50% improvement over her. Even if you buy into the idea that Lupe Valdez is heading for a 20-point loss, she’d still collect 2.4 million votes out of 6 million. The flip side of this is that Ted Cruz would collect 3.3 million votes, and Greg Abbott would get 3.6 million. That’s a ten percent improvement over the 2010 baseline for Cruz and 20% for Abbott, and it’s about an 18% improvement over 2014 for Cruz and 36% over 2014 for Abbott.

Frankly, all of those numbers seem outrageous to me. Not unrealistic, certainly not impossible, just amazing. A more modest scenario might be the 810K in Harris County, and Harris being about 14.5% of the state total. That gives an estimate of 5.6 million overall, with Beto’s being a bit more than 2.5 million and Lupe Valdez’s 40% translating to 2.24 million. Still a big boost over 2014, no matter how you slice it. You have to contort things to an unrealistic place to not reach historic numbers.

Personally, I do believe Democratic base turnout will be up, quite possibly a lot, over 2010 and 2014. It almost has to be for Beto to be within ten points. Given that Beto is clearly outpolling Lupe Valdez, his vote total will be even higher. You could assume that he’ll still be in the Bill White zone of 2.1 million or so votes, with Valdez doing a Wendy Davis-like 1.8 million. That would imply about 2.5 to 2.6 million votes for Cruz and 2.8 to 2.9 million votes for Abbott. Do you believe that overall turnout will be static from 2014? This scenario leads to a turnout rate of 29.5%, roughly 4.67 million voters out of 15.8 million registered. That seems far more unrealistic to me than the various vote-increasing totals.

I don’t have any conclusions to draw. I’m putting this out here because this is what the numbers we have are saying. What I want to know is, what are the experts saying? What turnout situation do the pollsters expect? The political scientists? The campaigns themselves? I’ll be happy to see a range of possibilities from them as well. It’s easy to say, oh, Quinnipiac has Beto down by 9, it’s all over, but what do you think that means the final score will be? How did you arrive at that? These are the things I think about when I see new polls.

Judicial Q&A: Chuck Silverman

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Chuck Silverman

1. Who are you, and what are you running for?

I am Chuck Silverman and I am the Democratic Party candidate for the 183rd Criminal District Court in Harris County, Texas.

I grew up in Corpus Christi, Texas and attended Tulane University where I received my undergraduate, master's and law degrees. I have lived in Houston since 1986. I am married and have three children. In my spare time I enjoy cycling and shooting skeet and sporting clays.

For more information please visit www.Chuck4Judge.com.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd District Court handles felony cases. Felonies are the most serious criminal cases and include murder, aggravated robbery, and sexual assault. The sentences in these cases can range from a period of probation to life imprisonment or in some instances, death.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for this bench because I am passionate about the law and how it should be applied equally and fairly to all, regardless of race, religion or financial situation.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a broad range of legal experience that will serve me well as a district court judge. I have practiced law for over three decades and have represented hundreds of clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts. In addition to my litigation experience, I have represented clients in administrative hearings and alternative dispute resolution forums throughout Texas. For the last 11 years I have been the General Counsel of a multinational corporation. I believe that a judge must be an effective administrator and a fair-minded decision maker. I am confident that I can be both.

5. Why is this race important?

One of the major issues facing the criminal justice system in Harris County is the fact that for too long Harris County has had two systems of justice. One for those who have money and the other for those who don’t. A significant percentage of those incarcerated in the Harris County Jail are awaiting trial. Consequently, I think there is a need to reform the systemic denial of personal recognizance bonds to nonviolent defendants in felony cases.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

My hard work ethic, calm demeanor, impartiality, courtroom experience and knowledge of the law make me a superior candidate. I have more than 32 years of legal experience and have many published appellate court decisions. Additionally, I have a good judicial temperament, would be fair to lawyers and litigants and have the extensive depth of legal knowledge required of a district court judge.

Chron profiles both County Judge candidates

Good story on Lina Hidalgo.

Lina Hidalgo

First-time candidate Lina Hidalgo hopes Harris County voters frustrated with what she says is poor leadership on flood control and criminal justice reform will help her defeat longtime County Judge Ed Emmett.

Hidalgo, 27, is the Democratic nominee for the county’s top executive position. She is one of a record number of Hispanic candidates in Harris County this year, and would be the first woman and Latina county judge. Democrats are betting high turnout among their voters, which helped defeat a Republican sheriff and district attorney in 2016, will overcome Emmett’s broad popularity with residents.

“What I have is the moral compass to ensure we are putting the community’s interests ahead of the next election,” Hidalgo said in an interview at her Galleria campaign headquarters.

Even in a year where Democrats are motivated by a viable Senate candidate and united in anger against an unpopular president, Hidalgo faces a tough task. She is running against possibly the most popular local figure who did not win the World Series last year. Though Emmett has more experience, is far more well known and has raised more money than Hidalgo, election researchers say she has a path to victory if too many Democrats forget to vote for him.

Hidalgo’s background is similar to those of the one-quarter of Harris County residents who are immigrants. She was born in Colombia in 1991, during that country’s war with drug cartels, and moved with her parents and younger brother first to Mexico, and then to Houston in 2005. She graduated from Seven Lakes High School in Katy ISD in 2009, and earned a political science degree from Stanford University four years later.

She enrolled in 2015 in a joint master’s program at Harvard University and law program at New York University. As part of her studies she has interned with the public defender’s office in New Orleans and an inmate mental health project in New York City. Back in Houston, she spent two summers at Ben Taub Hospital translating for Spanish-speaking patients.

Putsata Reang, her supervisor during a research project in Thailand studying free speech rights in Southeast Asian countries, described her as a hard worker eager to take initiative.

“She’s like this incredible force where we were getting 10 employees out of one because of the sheer workload she could handle,” Reang said.

Go read the rest, then take a look at the companion piece on Judge Emmett.

Judge Ed Emmett

If there is a nightmare keeping Harris County Judge Ed Emmett awake at night, it may go like this: It starts months before November, when Democrats tell pollsters they, of course, will vote for Emmett, even though he’s a Republican. They like how he led the county during Hurricane Harvey, and the storms before that, stretching back to Ike a decade ago.

Election Day arrives. A surge of Democrats turn out, motivated by anger with Republicans at the top of the ticket and President Donald Trump, who is absent from the ballot. They have no quarrel with Emmett. But the lines are long, the ballot is long, and the county judge’s race is below dozens of state and federal contests.

At the top of the ballot, however, voters can select the straight ticket of their party with one button. Democrats pick theirs, and leave. And Emmett loses to a 27-year-old who never has held political office.

That is the scenario, in the last Texas election with straight-ticket voting, election researchers say could sweep Emmett out of office. Though Emmett is likely to win a third full term, they said in an election in which Republican voters likely will be a minority, the judge should be reminding Democrats to buck their party and stick with him.

“It’s all about Democrats voting for Ed,” said Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University. “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility, however remote or odd it sounds, that Democrats never remember to.”

[…]

Stein said his research shows Emmett winning re-election, but with only around 55 percent of the vote — despite being viewed positively by 70 to 80 percent of the electorate. University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said Emmett, though popular, could become collateral damage in a backlash against the Republican Party.

“The wave may very well drown a moderate Republican,” he said. “That’s true for Emmett and, potentially, for State Rep. Sarah Davis.”

You should read the rest of this one as well, but let me push back a little on the math here. In 2014, the undervote rate in the dozens of contested judicial elections was consistently right around four percent. That amounted to roughly 30,000 votes in each of those races, and in every case that total number of non-votes was smaller than the margin of victory, in race where the victorious Republican candidate mostly drew between 53 and 55 percent. Going farther down the ballot, in the non-judicial countywide contests that appeared after Emmett, the undervote in the races for District Clerk was 4.09%, for County Clerk was 3.90%, and for County Treasurer was 3.46%. I feel like if people remembered to vote for Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, they’d probably not forget to vote for Ed Emmett.

As for the estimated share of the vote Emmett might get, we can’t really look at 2014 because he didn’t have a Democratic opponent. In 2010, when most Republican judicial candidates were getting between 55 and 57 percent of the vote, Emmett received 60.6%, so he ran between four and six points better than his partymates. I think 55 is on the high end of the spectrum for Emmett this year, but it’s plausible. The real question I have is, what do you think the baseline percentage for Republicans elsewhere will be? I fully expect Emmett to exceed the baseline, as he has done in the past, but he can’t completely defy gravity. He’s going to need the Republican base vote to be there as well, and if it isn’t then he’ll be in trouble.

My interview with Lina Hidalgo is here if you haven’t already listened to it. I think we can all acknowledge that Ed Emmett has been a good County Judge while at the same time recognizing that there are things we could be doing differently, priorities we could choose to elevate or diminish, and causes we could support or oppose with more vigor. Campos has more.

Harris County to follow suit on robot brothels

If it’s good for Houston, or not good for Houston, I suppose…

Harris County commissioners are prepared to ban so-called robot brothels, just as Houston did last week.

Harris County already bans live sex acts at any place of business. Robert Soard, First Assistant County Attorney, said that, in his reading, that includes sex with “anthropomorphic devices.”

“Now, that being said, because of changing technology, it might be a good idea to amend the current sexually oriented business regulations,” Soard said.

[…]

Assistant Chief Tim Navarre said they’ll be ready to present it to Commissioners Court within two weeks. “The dialogue is…almost identical to the city’s, so, we’re way ahead of the curve,” Navarre said.

See here and here for the background. Harris County’s sexually-oriented business ordinance has generally been a mirror of Houston’s, so this is not surprising and mostly a formality. Nonetheless, if you ever had an inclination to attend a Commissioner’s Court meeting, here’s a bit of incentive for you to finally do so. Swamplot has more.

Final voter registration numbers

Busy last week.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Harris County added more than 11,000 voters to its rolls in the final week before the registration deadline, the last wave in a surge of half a million new Texas voters since the March primaries.

Democrats are most likely to benefit from the increase because new voters, many of whom are young and/or nonwhite, are more likely to support their party, University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinhaus said.

“There is a long legacy of Democrats seeking to get more people registered, and the investment is likely to pay off,” Rottinghaus said. “This is a moment where there’s going to be a lot of nail biting from Republicans on election night.”

More than 66,000 residents registered to vote in Harris County since the spring, more than any other Texas county, according to the Texas Secretary of State. Since the 2014 midterms, Harris County has added 280,000 voters.

[…]

Rottinhaus cautioned that there is a poor correlation between voter registration and turnout. Even as more eligible Harris County voters have registered since the 1990s, turnout has declined. Republicans, he said, are hampered by their past success since they already have registered most of their potential voters. Democrats have more room to grow, he said, especially with Latinos, African Americans, new citizens and young people.

See here and here for some background. I’m sure what was intended in that last paragraph was that while overall turnout has gone up, at least in all of the Presidential year elections in the county, the percentage of turnout of registered voters has declined. Far more people voted in Harris County in 2016 than in 2008, for example, but the rate of turnout was slightly lower, precisely because there were so many more registrations.

Anyway. Putting the numbers together, we’re at 15.8 million statewide, and around 2,316,000 in Harris County. Keep that latter number in mind when you read this.

County Clerk Stan Stanart predicts up to a million Harris County residents could be casting ballots in a string of hotly-contested races.

One million voters in the county would be a lot for an off year – a record amount, in fact – but it would still only represent about 43% turnout. The high water mark so far is 2010, with just under 800K voters, and 41.7% turnout. Can we beat that? It feels a little crazy to say so, but I think we can. I also think we’d have a very different electorate with that one million this year than we did with that 800K eight years ago. I think we’re headed for new heights statewide, too. It’s on us to make sure the mix of voters is what we want it to be.

Interview with Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

We finish our tour of Harris County candidates with one of the most successful Democrats in county politics, Adrian Garcia. You know his story, from HPD to Houston City Council to being the top votegetter in the county in the 2008 breakthrough year as Sheriff, replacing a corrupt longtime incumbent. Garcia is taking aim at another incumbent this year, as he seeks to oust two-time County Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2. Morman snuck into office in a Republican wave year, so it would be only fitting if he were to be ushered out in a Democratic wave year. Precinct 2 leans ever so slightly Republican, at least as of 2016, but like the rest of the county as a whole it’s moving in a blue direction. Adrian Garcia was my first choice for a challenger to Morman and his bottomless campaign treasury, and I was delighted when he declared his candidacy. He easily outpaced a multi-candidate field in the primary, and now we’re here for the main event, with the balance of power at Commissioners Court at stake. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Endorsement watch: One out of three will have to do

They endorsed Ed Emmett, which comes as a surprise to no one.

It is with a twinge of regret that we endorse Ed Emmett for re-election as county judge. We’d rather be endorsing the pragmatic Republican for governor.

A man who began his tenure with the admonishment to “hunker down” during Hurricane Ike has become a steadfast pillar in our state’s ongoing political gale. As county judge he serves as chief executive for the four million people in Harris County and oversees road construction, flood control, hospital services and a litany of other county responsibilities. At a time when Republican leaders in Austin seem to thrive on the chaos of partisan pandering at the expense of their basic duties, and Texas Democrats remain unable to mount a viable opposition, Emmett offers an alternative vision of government — one focused on fulfilling the essential responsibilities of his office and meeting the needs of his constituents.

[…]

We don’t agree with Emmett on everything — he and other GOP members of Commissioners Court are wrong to continue funding expensive outside lawyers to defend the county’s unconstitutional bail system. But there’s no one we’d rather have guiding our regional government.

As for his Democratic challenger, we were thoroughly impressed that Lina Hidalgo was able to hold her own when the two met side-by-side for their endorsement meeting. Hildalgo, 27, was born in Colombia, came to the United States as a teenager and has an impressive resume that includes elite institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and New York University. She has an academic background in criminal justice reform and has worked in Southeast Asia promoting government transparency. Closer to home, she spent time at the Texas Civil Rights Project and served as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center.

Hidalgo offers a vision of a county government more actively involved in public policy debates, such as working to help migrant families at the border. She also resurrected the idea of a county-sponsored pre-K program. Overall, she is committed to caring about the most vulnerable among us.

The most interesting thing in the editorial was the revelation that Emmett plans to vote for Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. That in itself isn’t too surprising – Patrick loathes Republicans like Emmett, and he sure hasn’t done anything good for Harris County – but saying it for the record is something new. One hopes he feels the same way about Justin Nelson over Ken Paxton, and Kim Olson over Sid Miller as well. As for Lina Hidalgo, if you haven’t listened to my interview with her, I encourage you to do so. I like what Lina has been saying and doing, and I’m glad she jumped into this race.

They endorsed Chris Daniel for re-election as District Clerk.

[Daniel’s] office has responsibility for overseeing the behind-the-scenes work in our district courts, including the ongoing project of implementing e-filing in the criminal courthouse. Both the civil and family courts have already transitioned to this new system. Daniel, 36, is also one of the rare Republicans to earn an endorsement from the AFL-CIO, which he told the editorial board he attributes to his support for a $15 minimum wage for his employees.

In his meeting with the editorial board, Daniel made a convincing case that his office needs additional funds to help support the specialty diversion courts that have become an important part of our criminal justice system. He also proposed that the legislature provide a tax incentive to compensate businesses that provide paid leave for employees on jury duty — an idea we fully support.

His Democratic challenger, Marilyn Burgess, has managerial experience in the public and private sector, including service as executive director of Texas PTA and president of North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce. While lawyers may be concerned that she doesn’t have a law degree, Burgess pointed out the situation is similar to hospital managers who aren’t doctors. Burgess, however, would bring the credentials of a certified public accountant.

The Chron was complimentary to Burgess, saying she would undoubtedly be excellent if she were elected. I did not do any interviews for District Clerk. I interviewed Loren Jackson twice, in 2008 and 2010, and I interviewed Judith Snively in 2014, and honestly there isn’t much to ask about, as District Clerk is a pretty straightforward job. I endorsed Burgess early on, as she was easily the best candidate in the primary and was one of the first candidates at any level out there campaigning.

Of greater interest, they endorsed Diane Trautman for County Clerk.

Diane Trautman

While we endorsed Stanart in 2014, we do not believe he is fit for a third term.

Instead, we encourage voters to support his challenger, Diane Trautman. A current at-large board member at the Harris County Department of Education, Trautman has managerial experience in the public and private sector and a doctorate from Sam Houston State University with a dissertation on women’s leadership styles. Meeting with the editorial board, she offered a litany of ideas for improving those frustratingly slow election night returns, including better training and a more transparent process. She also has a passion for creating countywide voting centers so that people don’t have to cast their ballots at specific — and often inconvenient — precincts on Election Day.

“Currently 52 counties [in Texas] are already using this method of voting successfully and increasing their voter turnout,” she said. “The question is: Why aren’t we?”

Overall, Trautman offers a more managerial sense of the role than Stanart’s current method of operating in the weeds. For example, the incumbent personally spearheaded a plan to create plastic stands to hold iPads to help run elections. The project made headlines for its $2.75 million price-tag, including $1 million worth of iPads that sat unused in a warehouse. It was one of many bizarre scandal to occur on his watch. The 2012 primary runoff results were delayed due to technical errors, and the original numbers had to be corrected. In the 2011 general election his office published an inaccurate manual for election judges.

Stanart’s use of George Soros-related fear-mongering on his campaign website also brings an unnecessary tinge of partisanship to his office and panders to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. His site says that the Jewish Hungarian billionaire “wants to control Harris County Elections” — a bizarre and inaccurate claim. Stanart told us it was based on a rumor that later turned out to be untrue but he never changed the website. Voters should want the person in charge of our elections to be above the usual political squabbles and avoid spreading unsubstantiated gossip.

There’s more Stanart-bashing in the piece, so go read and enjoy. My interview with Trautman is here, and you know I think she’s aces. You want to #FireStanStanart, this is your chance.

Judicial Q&A: Sandra Peake

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Sandra Peake

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Sandra Peake, and I am the Democratic nominee for the 257th Family District Court

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears cases affecting the family relationship divorce, parent-child relationship, enforcement of and modification of existing orders, division of marital estates, adoptions and name changes.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

It is an open seat as Judge Judy Warne is retiring and not seeking re-election.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a licensed attorney with 30-plus years experience practicing before this kind of court, handling over 1,493 cases in Harris County Family Court, 193 cases in Fort Bend County Court, along with additional cases in Brazoria, Montgomery, and Chambers counties. I believe that for this reason I am experienced, knowledgeable and know how the court dockets are handled and where there is room for improvement. More importantly, I have represented in my practice the average citizen of Harris County, across racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I have a demeanor that will allow me to make decisions so that litigants and their attorneys believe that the playing field is level and without bias.

5. Why is this race important?

This race and all but one of the other family and juvenile courts in Harris County are on the ballot this year. We have not elected a Democrat to the Harris County Family and Juvenile Courts since the “sweep” of 1994. Family practitioners and litigants are tired of the stranglehold the local Republican Party has over the family courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I have diverse community support. I am the candidate who sought and obtained endorsements from groups that are representative of the rich diversity of our county. I have obtained the endorsements of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association of Houston, AFL-CIO, NE Baptist Ministers Association, Run Sister Run PAC, and have attended a political forum at one of the largest mosques in the city. Just as importantly, I have represented in my practice the average citizen of Harris County, across racial, ethnic, religious, lifestyle, cultural, and economic backgrounds. I believe that I have a demeanor that will allow me to make decisions so that litigants and their attorneys will have renewed faith that the playing field is level and without bias.

I will be responsive. Many litigants are self-represented, facing additional challenges navigating the Court system, from filing to relief/conclusion. I have given consideration to starting docket at 8:30 AM. Most dockets are called at 9:00, 9:30, and 10:00. This will provide an additional staggered start time. I have also given some consideration to having a telephone conference option for attorneys if both sides agree, which would provide meaningful resolution during times (in afternoon in particular) where some matters have settled and no hearings are scheduled.

I will call docket on time and will restrict docket time to docket matters. I am cognizant of how much time is spent during docket time in some courts on non-docket matters, which needlessly wastes everyone’s time.

Thank you for your consideration.

Endorsement watch: Criminal court judges

There’s a new slate of endorsements from the Chron up, all for Criminal District Court races. More Republicans, mostly incumbents, were endorsed than Dems, but in many cases it was close. Of interest to me was the first appearance of one-star candidates, reflecting the Chron’s new star rating system. One of the one star candidates is a Republican, and one is a Democratic, who was also the focus of a sidebar editorial about the perils of voting a straight ticket.

There are two ways to look at this. One is as that editorial says, that as long as we elect judges via a partisan political process, we ought to take the time to at least know who the standout candidates are and do our best to elect and retain the best of them, regardless of the party label. The other is that the only way to change the Republican Party as it now stands is to give it an epic, all-encompassing beatdown at the polls, and if a cost of that is the loss of a couple of good judges, well, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I’m not going to suggest a path for you – you’re all a bunch of intelligent and discerning individuals – but this is the real choice as I see it.

Interview with Lina Hidalgo

Lina Hidalgo

The office of Harris County Judge has always been held by a Republican, for all intents and purposes. Before Ed Emmett was Robert Eckels, before Robert Eckels was Jon Lindsay, and before Jon Lindsay I was in second grade, as Lindsay was first elected County Judge in 1974. Emmett withstood the Democratic tide of 2008, and has had two easy re-elections since then. Challenging Judge Emmett this year, and forty-plus years of history, is Democrat Lina Hidalgo. A native of Colombia, Hidalgo grew up in Texas and got her undergraduate degree at Stanford; she is currently pursuing a joint degree in law and public policy at NYU and Harvard. Hidalgo has worked for the Texas Civil Rights Project and in Southeast Asia as an advocate for government transparency and accountability. I spoke to her a few weeks ago about the flood bond referendum, and I spoke to her again about the rest of the job of Harris County Judge. Here’s that conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Beau Miller

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Beau Miller

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I’m Beau Miller and I am running for Judge of the 190th (Civil) District Court in Harris County. I’m a trial lawyer in Houston with 17 years’ experience in the courtroom, representing plaintiffs and defendants, individuals and corporations.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 190th District Court is a Civil Court, and hears cases involving title to land, election contests, civil matters in which the amount of money damages involved is $500 or more, and other matters in which jurisdiction is not placed in another trial court.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I strongly believe that everyone should have fair access to our courts and a fair shake when they get there. Too often judges’ political or personal beliefs interfere with the rights of individuals to have their day in court. I know that when judges don’t do their jobs effectively every day, the wheels of justice grind to a halt – and grind down hard-working people with limited resources who are just trying to have their case heard.

My experience in advocating for the rights of vulnerable individuals and in handling complex and challenging litigation, together with my track record of promoting diversity in the legal profession, make me a strong candidate for judicial office. If my campaign is successful, I will use my legal expertise, real world experience, and solid values to ensure that justice is done in every case that comes before me.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an experienced trial lawyer and I hope to make a significant and positive contribution to access to justice for the residents of Harris County. In my 17 years in the courtroom, I have represented a broad range of clients. As a civil rights lawyer, I understand discrimination and the critical role our judicial system can play in creating a community in which everyone can seek justice. Finally, as a leader in several community organizations, I have learned the importance of ensuring that everyone who participates in the legal system – parties, lawyers, witnesses, jurors, and courtroom staff – is treated with the dignity and respect that should be accorded to all people.

Through my years of courtroom experience I have had the good fortune to observe and learn from many excellent judges. In my own practice I have made every effort to treat my clients, my opponents, and the court fairly and respectfully. As a result, I believe I have a solid reputation in the legal community as a lawyer who knows his way around the courtroom and will work hard to ensure that justice is done.

5. Why is this race important?

The residents of Harris County are entitled to be served by judicial officers who will follow the law, respect the facts as they are presented, and judge each case fairly. Unfortunately, some judges do not always approach their role in a similar fashion. As a result, some litigants find that extraneous factors, including political considerations, can tilt the scale. It is critically important that every judge be impartial and unencumbered by personal, political, or religious bias. I am committed to bringing that kind of judicial integrity to the bench.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

Because I am committed to fairness. We operate in a world that sometimes falls short of our ideals of justice and equal treatment under the law. It is time to ensure that every member of the Harris County judiciary is impartial, and dedicated to the rule of law.

I intend to exercise exactly that kind of fairness in every case I hear. My experience, strong work ethic, common sense, and understanding of how the law actually affects real world situations will all help me to judge cases fairly. Finally – and importantly – I will bring the highest standards of personal and professional ethics to the role and won’t allow any form of bias to cloud my judgment.

Today is the last day to register to vote

Take action as needed.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

As Texas’ Tuesday voting registration deadline approaches, Nasser and a number of other deputy voter registrars, volunteers allowed to register voters on the spot, were out in force Saturday evening. While many states allow voters to register the day of an election, Texas voters must register one month before. The last day voters can register for the Nov. 6 election is Tuesday, since Monday is a federal holiday and the voter registrar office will be closed.

Voters who still need to register must visit their county voter registrar office to drop off a completed application or print and postmark an application to their county voter registrar by Tuesday. People can also register to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license.

As part of the Motor Voter Act, a federal judge has ordered Texas to allow voters to register online, but such a system will not be implemented in time for this midterm election because the order has been stayed while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton appeals the decision. Nonetheless, the Texas voter rolls have grown to 15.6 million people, a new record that is 1.6 million higher than the last midterm election, according to Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.

The last way to register is through a deputy voter registrar, which is why Nasser and a number of volunteers were standing outside the Festival Chicano.

[…]

States occasionally remove voters from the rolls. Such removals are meant to target felons and the deceased. Texas, however, sometimes mistakenly purges voters by incorrectly presuming them dead, according to a report by New York University Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Sometimes other mistakes are made, such as when 1,700 voter registrations were mistakenly suspended this year due to what Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett called a software glitch.

Voters can check whether they are registered on the Texas Secretary of State site, although the webpage is not the official register of a voter’s registration, which is instead kept by county voter registration offices.

Basically, if you were registered before and you haven’t moved, you should still be registered. You can certainly check if you want to – in Harris County, I’d go to the Tax Assessor website and search there; go to your county’s elections administration page if you’re in a different county – but if you’re a previously registered voter, you should have gotten your updated registration card this January. If you did, you should be fine.

We’ll see how high the final numbers get. The last update from Harris County was over a month ago, and I expect that to be up. I think we might approach 16 million, but that’s a bit optimistic. Nate Cohn, who is doing one of those “live polls” of the Senate race here, says their model is projecting 6.3 million voters for turnout, which is right at 40%. That’s what we had in 2010, by the way, but with far fewer voters. It starts with registration, that much is for sure. The DMN has more.

The timeline for the Astrodome

Work will get started after the Rodeo.

Soon to be new and improved

According to Ryan Walsh, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corporation and NRG Park, the final phase of asbestos abatement is scheduled to get underway at the Dome next week and should continue until the end of the year. The work is being done by county engineers deep in the walls of the disused landmark.

“That work will take several months up until the rodeo moves in,” Walsh said Wednesday.

Construction on the project is expected to end in February 2020 and Walsh said this week that soon he will receive a more detailed construction schedule for the months and years ahead.

After the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo concludes its 2019 season more intensive work is expected to begin on the Dome. The rodeo has “gate to gate” coverage of the NRG complex during rodeo season.

I for one am looking forward to seeing what this finished product looks like. I’m also looking forward to an end of the griping about what has and has not happened to and for the Dome, what should have happened instead of this plan, etc etc etc. Not that any of that is likely to happen, but I still look forward to the end of it.

Interview with Andrea Duhon

Andrea Duhon

We had a couple of contested primaries for HCDE Trustee, which gave me the chance to talk about what HCDE does as I published interviews with those candidates. I figure lots of us don’t know all that much about this entity, which does a lot of work with the ISDs in Harris County to improve and deliver more services. That’s how Andrea Duhon came to be a candidate for Trustee in Precinct 3, which is the precinct of County Commissioner Steve Radack. Seeking answers from her school district about a particular program, she was pointed to HCDE for the answer, and after that encounter she decided she could do a better job. A financial services representative and active duty military spouse, Duhon also serves as a leader for the Lone Star Veterans Association. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Kelley Andrews

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Kelley Andrews

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Kelley Andrews and I am the Democratic Candidate for Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Court 6 is a misdemeanor court. If elected, I will preside over cases in which a person is charged with a criminal offense that carries with it the possibility of being sentenced to up to one year in the Harris County Jail. The types of cases that a misdemeanor court hears include DWI, Possession of Marijuana, Thefts (up to $2500.00), assault, domestic violence, possession of certain controlled substances.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe in judicial equality and in treating people as individuals, not running them through the court system as though it were a manufacturing plant. The cookie cutter model isn’t working in the criminal justice system and we need change. I have long believed that there are two areas in the criminal courts where you have a real chance at helping someone to redirect their life and get out of the criminal justice system. Those two areas are juvenile court and misdemeanor court because most often, these are the places a person first makes contact with the criminal courts. Judges must take the time to look at the individual who has been charged with a crime and determine if there are underlying issues, such as mental health diagnoses or addiction that contributed in whole or in part to their arrest. Those underlying issues must be addressed if there is any chance of helping them to redirect their life.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have been a criminal defense attorney for the last 11 years. Since passing the bar, I have worked consistently and continuously in the Harris County Courts. I have handled all levels of cases from Class B misdemeanors up to first degree felonies and have worked closely with my clients and their families while doing so. I have learned so much about mental illness and addiction and have a strong understanding of what people with those issues need. Having spent so much time in our courts, I have had the opportunity to observe what is really going on, to see what we are lacking, where we can do better, and what needs to change.

5. Why is this race important?

The criminal justice system needs to change. It isn’t working. Court 6 is an open bench. When I heard that the Judge currently seated there was going to retired, I had high hopes that someone would come along that believes all of the things that I believe regarding the courts and quickly realized that they only way to ensure that would be to run myself. So, here I am.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

I am motivated to help change the problems that I see with our court system. As a criminal attorney who practices in Harris County, I am an insider. I believe that if a judge treats the people in her court as individuals, takes the time to understand they underlying issues that got them into court, and then takes an interested in helping them get a handle on those issues, she has not only helped that person long after they have left the court system, she has helped the community as a whole.

Interview with Diane Trautman

Diane Trautman

For all the well-deserved focus on Congress and state offices, there are some races of real consequence here in Harris County. Control of Commissioner’s Court, some balance on the HCDE Board of Trustees, and of course the County Clerk, where the rubber meets the road in the conduct and security of our elections. Running for Harris County Clerk is a familiar face, that of Diane Trautman. Trautman is finishing up a six-year term as an At Large HCDE Trustee, where she served in various capacities including as Chair of the Head Start policy council. She has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Sam Houston State University and has been a teacher and principal in the public schools as well as a professor of education at Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. She has also worked in the banking industry, and has a long record of involvement in Harris County politics. I’ve known Diane Trautman since she ran for State Rep in HD127 back in 2006, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to her. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my interviews for candidates running for County office as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Harris County Election page.

Judicial Q&A: Jason Cox

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Jason Cox

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I’m Jason Cox and I’m the Democratic candidate for Harris County Probate Court #3, which is one of the four statutory probate courts in Harris County. I’m a third generation Houstonian and strong believer in public service. I love this community and want to bring my extensive knowledge and experience to bear for the benefit of the citizens of Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is an administrative and trial court that hears matters related to estates, guardianships, trusts, and fiduciary relationships (such as that between a principal and agent under a power of attorney); it also presides over a mental health docket and hears matters involving forced medication, involuntary commitment, and the issuance of mental health warrants.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

This court is blessed with a strong staff, but it appears that the presiding judge – a 20 year incumbent – has lost his enthusiasm for public service. He is consistently criticized by those who appear in his court (as reflected in the Houston Bar Association’s Judicial Evaluations) for an apparent lack of impartiality; a failure to use attorneys’ and witnesses’ time efficiently; a failure to work hard and be prepared; and a failure to treat those who appear before him with courtesy and respect.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 14 years’ experience in the area of probate and am a frequent writer and speaker on probate issues. I’m also heavily involved in the probate community and participate in a number of formal and informal practitioner groups. I have represented clients ranging from large financial institutions to indigent individuals and have acquired substantial knowledge in this area over my years of practice.

I personally find the area of probate interesting and engaging. In my legal practice, I emphasize the importance of finding solutions over engaging in legal combat for the purpose of combat alone. This approach requires the ability to look at issues from many different angles and positions and to set aside your own bias in order to fully assess the problem or dispute. This ability would an asset on this bench.

I’ve also been a longtime adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston where I teach pre-law classes to students who are among the first in their family to attend college and who often did not grow up in a primarily English-speaking home.

My time teaching at St. Thomas has provided me with insight as to how other members of our community feel as if they are on the margins and can be wary and mistrustful of the legal system. It has underscored for me the need to reach out to these communities so that they understand that they do not need to fear coming in to court to take advantage of the services it has to offer.

I also have the unique experience of being a former pediatric and adult cancer survivor who has gone back into this community as a longtime volunteer at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I started off working with cancer patients and their families one-on-one and over the course of ten years have helped create and supervise support programs for cancer patients, caregivers, and their families; sat on scholarship committees; spoken at conventions; and now work with a committee made up of doctors, faculty, staff, and administrators to improve healthcare and patient support at the institution for patients, caregivers, and families.

Having this background would be an asset when dealing with those cases involving people with mental health and substance abuse issues and working with the healthcare professionals that treat them. I have the experience collaborating with health care professionals, patients and families to solve problems – this is something this court needs.

5. Why is this race important?

It is more likely Harris County residents will have a reason to seek assistance from the probate courts than the civil, family or criminal courts. Death and incapacity affect most families in one way or another regardless of where you live, your socio-economic status, or your race. If you find yourself in a probate court, you’re probably going through one of the most challenging times in your life – you might be there dealing with the death of a loved one; trying to get help for an elderly family member or friend; or working to get emergency help for someone suffering from mental health issues or substance abuse problems.

Probate court judges need to have substantial knowledge and experience in this area, and compassion for those that appear before them. They need to be fair and respectful and they need to work hard every day for the people of Harris County.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

It’s time for a change. My opponent has held this bench for the last 20 years, and the criticisms of how he runs his court and treats those who appear in it have been constant and consistent. I have the deep knowledge and unique experience this job requires, as well as the compassion and enthusiasm for public service that a probate court judge needs.​

Who’s ready for a new flood plain map?

It’s coming, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it.

More than a year after Hurricane Harvey showed the Houston area’s floodplain maps were outdated and inaccurate, Harris County is prepared to begin the years-long process of drawing new maps.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday agreed to accept $6.5 million in federal FEMA funds to complement $8 million in local dollars to create new maps, to be completed by 2023.

“We’re excited about that, and it’s going to be a big undertaking,” said Russ Poppe, executive director of the Harris County Flood Control District. He added the county has already begun the search for contractors.

[…]

[County Judge Ed Emmett] said the redefined floodplains will be essential to planning future development and assessing flood risk in communities. For years, he said government and private developers failed to keep track of where creeks and bayous drained, and where water flowed when waterways crested their banks.

The re-drawn maps also will allow the county to more fairly enforce its new floodplain building codes. In the year after Harvey, Houston and Harris County added new requirements for floodplain development.

The county’s flood control district hopes to hire contractors through the end of the year to begin work in January. Director of Operations Matt Zeve said engineers hope to complete the new maps, which will cover nearly 800 miles of waterways, by 2023.

As the story notes, a large number of properties that flooded during Harvey were outside the official flood plain. For obvious reasons, having an accurate map is a necessary thing. The last modification was begun in 2001 and took six years, so things have improved a bit since then.

Lots more voters registered statewide

Always good to hear.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas voter rolls have grown to 15.6 million people, a new record, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos confirmed.

That is nearly a 400,000-person increase since March and a jump of 1.6 million since the last time Texas held a midterm election in 2014, according to election records.

And there is still time for more voters to join the rolls before Oct. 9, the final day to register in time to vote in the midterm elections.

[…]

Registering to vote and casting a ballot are two different things in Texas. Despite having 14 million registered voters in 2014, just 4.7 million people voted — about 34 percent of voters. In presidential cycles, voter turnout is much higher, hitting almost 60 percent in 2016 and 2012.

Here’s a convenient table that was included in the story to illustrate the progression of the voter rolls:

Voter Registration in Texas For Midterm elections over last 20 years


2018 - 15.6 million

2014 - 14.0 million

2010 - 13.2 million

2006 - 13.1 million

2002 - 12.6 million

1998 - 11.5 million

So there’s been more people registered to vote in the last four years than there were in the twelve years before that combined. There has been a comprehensive effort among various groups to increase Texas’ voter numbers – registering voters was in fact one of the few things that Battleground Texas did well in the 2014 cycle – so it’s good to see that pay off. Harris County by itself can account for nearly 250K of those new registrations since 2014. There’s definitely been a big focus on registering people in this cycle, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who has not been in a cryogenic state.

As noted, registering and voting are two different things. That said, even if the turnout rate remained at 34 percent as it was in 2014, that would translate to 5.3 million ballots cast, modulo however many more people get signed up before the 9th. For what it’s worth, I investigated the question of new voters voting in Harris County in 2014. As I recall (I can’t find the post I wrote about it right now), something like 21% of the brand-new voters turned out in 2014. That’s not great, but it’s not nothing, either. Twenty-one percent turnout of those 1.6 million new voters statewide would still push the 2014 total to just over five million. In 2016, turnout as a percentage of registered voters in Harris County was down compared to 2008 and 2012, but the total number of actual voters was up 130K over 2012, precisely because there were so many (300K in all) more voters. One way or another, expect 2018 turnout to exceed 2014. The real question is who those voters will be.

Dallas County gets the Harris County treatment in its bail lawsuit

We have a precedent, even if everything is still a work in progress.

Taking a cue from the rulings on Harris County’s bail-setting practices, a U.S. district judge in Dallas issued a temporary order Thursday evening saying the county’s post-arrest procedures routinely violate inmates’ constitutional rights. The judge gave the county 30 days to change its ways.

U.S. District Judge David Godbey in Dallas said that the county has to stop the practice of imposing pre-set bail bond amounts, which often keep poor defendants locked up for days or weeks while letting wealthier ones go free, without individual consideration if arrestees claim they can’t afford it. He sided with the plaintiffs’ allegation that the county uses “wealth-based detention.”

“Wealthy arrestees — regardless of the crime they are accused of — who are offered secured bail can pay the requested amount and leave,” Godbey wrote. “Indigent arrestees in the same position cannot.”

[…]

Godbey relied heavily on Harris County rulings from the federal district court and the appellate court. He said the cases had the “same roots” — despite Dallas’ lawsuit also including felony defendants whereas Harris only involves those accused of misdemeanors — and concluded that doing anything other than what the appellate court ruled in Harris would “put the Court in direct conflict with binding precedent.”

“Broadly, those procedures include ‘notice, an opportunity to be heard and submit evidence within 48 hours of arrest, and a reasoned decision by an impartial decision-maker,’ he wrote, quoting the higher court’s ruling.

See here for some background, and here for an earlier story on how bail hearings have been done in Dallas. You know where I stand on this, and we both know that Dallas County has Democratic leadership, and thus I hope more than enough incentive to find a settlement. Some long overdue change is coming, and it is in everyone’s best interests to embrace it. The Chron and the Observer have more.

“Viva Texas! Viva Beto!”

It’s been too long since the last time I posted a video.

It all came from a love of the law and a shared dislike of Ted Cruz.

It was a few bigwig local prosecutors, a capital defense attorney, a seasoned member of the Harris County Attorney’s Office and others who got together over the summer, hoping to unseat the junior senator from Texas – with their music. It was, they promised, not as outlandish as it seemed.

“Before John F. Kennedy the only person to ever defeat Lyndon Johnson for public office was Pappy Lee O’Daniel,” said Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke.

“Pappy Lee beat Johnson by having a band and they went around to all these courthouses in Texas playing this song – ‘Pass the Biscuits Pappy’ – and Lyndon Johnson lost that election.”

Seeking to replicate that success, the legally-minded balladeers recorded three songs in support of Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke, including ditties like “Viva Texas! Viva Beto!” – released on YouTube Saturday.

“We are part of the resistance, we’re it’s tonal dimension,” said David Mitcham, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office trial bureau chief and lead singer of what’s become the de facto in-house band for the DA’s office, Death by Injection.

But the new political rock gathering calls itself The Yellow Dog Howlers.

Here’s the video, in all its glory:

Well, it’s not The Altuve Polka or It’s A Ming Thing, but I give them an A for enthusiasm. And look, it’s not like anyone is gonna write a song about Ted Cruz.

And since they mentioned it, here’s Pass The Biscuits Pappy:

For sure, they don’t write ’em like that any more.

Distributing the VW settlement money

Good for some, less good for others.

Texas cities will soon get millions of dollars to help clean up air quality, but Houston officials say the plan for distributing all that money isn’t fair.

The money is coming from a settlement in the Volkswagen (VW) emissions cheating scandal. Local governments will be able to use the money to reduce emissions from their vehicles and other equipment.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) plans to give the biggest chunk of the money – more than $73 million – to the San Antonio area, mainly because that city is closer than others to getting in line with federal pollution rules it’s currently violating.

Under the state’s plan, the Houston area, which has worse air quality, would get about $27 million.

The City of Houston says about a quarter of the cheating VW cars that were in Texas were driving in the Houston region.

“So we deserve at least a quarter of those funds, because we’re the ones that were harmed,” said Kris Banks, a government relations assistant with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office.

See here, here, and here for some background. Mayor Turner expressed his disenchantment with the amount allocated to Houston in a press release; you can see all of the city’s documentation on the matter here. The full TCEQ plan for the VW Environmental Mitigation Trust is here, or you can save yourself some time and read the Texas Vox summary of it. The TCEQ is still accepting feedback on the draft plan through October 8, so send them an email at VWsettle@tceq.texas.gov if you have comments. The Rivard Report has more.

CD07 “live poll”: Culberson 48, Fletcher 45

Here’s another of those NYT-Siena “live polls” of interesting Congressional races.

Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Rep. John Culberson holds a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Lizzie Fletcher, a poll conducted by The New York Times Upshot found Tuesday.

Culberson’s 3-point lead is within the 5-point margin of error for the poll, which The New York Times conducted Sept. 14-18. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they preferred Culberson, and 45 percent sided with Fletcher.

The nine-term congressman had a 43 percent favorable rating in the poll, compared to Fletcher’s 28 percent. That difference could be attributed to name recognition — 49 percent of those polled answered that they “didn’t know” if they had a favorable opinion of Fletcher, a Houston attorney, compared to 24 percent for Culberson.

Election handicappers such as Cook Political Report, FiveThirtyEight, and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have deemed the race a “toss-up,” while Inside Elections rated it a “lean Republican.”

[…]

Pollsters asked several other questions of district residents.

Of those polled, El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a 7-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz, who is from Houston. President Donald Trump had a 51 percent approval rating. Fifty-five percent opposed funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and 60 percent supported a ban on assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines.

The Upshot, in partnership with Siena College, called 40,665 people in the Houston district and received 500 responses.

The full NYT writeup is here. They had previously done a poll in CD23, which I wrote about here; a poll of CD32 is coming soon. The DMN story goes over the candidates’ fundraising and the ads they have running now – I’ve seen one of Fletcher’s, but not yet Culberson’s – but none of that interests me. There are two other things I want to talk about.

The first thing is the embedded image of where in the district they got their responses, and whether those responses were for Fletcher or Culberson. CD07 has a big piece inside Beltway 8, and a big piece on the farther west side of Harris County, outside Highway 6 and north of I-10 up to US 290. The original idea of this district was to pair the relatively small and mostly Democratic inner urban piece with the larger and more Republican outer suburban area. That has worked well for the decade, but as you can see, there are an awful lot of Fletcher-responding blue dots in the far-flung section of CD07. The outer areas of Harris County are the Republican stronghold, with sufficient population to counterbalance the Democratic city of Houston. If the unincorporated part of the county is trending bluer, that’s a big problem for the local GOP.

Which brings me to the second point. It’s important to remember that CD07 was a thirty-point Republican district in 2014. Kim Ogg, in her first run for DA in the special election against Devon Anderson, got 37.5% in CD07 in 2014. Ann Harris Bennett, then running for County Clerk, got 34.7%. Judith Snively, running for District Clerk, got 33.6%. It was a massacre.

Things were different in 2016, of course, but the fact that CD07 was carried by Hillary Clinton obscures the fact that CD07 was still fundamentally Republican. Ogg, in her rematch with Anderson, took 46.8% in the district. Vince Ryan got 46.2%, Ed Gonzalez got 45.0%, and Ann Harris Bennett, now running for Tax Assessor, just barely cleared 42%. The average Democratic district judge candidate got 43.5%.

Remember, though, that even in losing CD07 by 16 points (Bennett) or 13 points (average Dem judicial candidate), they all still won Harris County overall. Greg Abbott had a more modest 22-point win over Wendy Davis in CD07, and he needed all of that to win the county by less than five points. If CD07 is even close to being fifty-fifty, how does any Republican win countywide? If Beto O’Rourke is really leading in CD07 by seven points, then he’s going to crush it in the county, and that as much as any “likely voter” poll suggests a real, close race statewide.

Now of course all of this is predicated on this poll being accurate. As we discussed after the CD23 poll was published, this is a new and experimental approach to polling, and as always it’s just one result. We do have one earlier result, which happens to closely match this one, but two data points are only slightly better than one. My point is that this poll doesn’t have to be dead-on accurate to highlight the potential for a blue wave in Harris County. Even a modest shift from 2016 would point in that direction.

Judicial Q&A: Chip Wells

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for Democratic judicial candidates. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to my readers. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. You can see other Q&As and further information about judicial candidates on my 2018 Judicial page.

Chip Wells

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Clinton Chip Wells the Democrat nominee for Judge in the 312 th Family District Court. I have been practicing law for over 41 years in Harris County and across the State. I am married with three children (two of which are from my wife’s prior marriage) and one grandchild. I’ve been practicing law with my law partner John McDowell for more than 28 years.

2. What kind of cases docs this court hear?

The 312th Family District Court hears all cases of which it has jurisdiction in Harris County including but not limited to marriage dissolution, modification of prior orders, support, adoption and cases associated with the Child Protective Services.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running for the 312th Family District Court because of the clear distinction between my experience and that of the current Judge. As I stated above I have practiced law for over 41 years representing individual Texans and Texas families across the State. I have tried jury and non-jury cases in counties from El Paso to Beaumont and Denton to Brownsville. My experience is in the private practice of law resolving issues and obtaining relief for clients involving family law and personal injury claims. The distinction referenced above is that my opponent’s experience is almost exclusively institutional employment either through the County, State or Texas Guard. He has little or no experience representing individuals or families seeking affirmative relief. Thus, his experience lacks the component of compassion that comes with representing clients for over four decades.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

My qualifications are as stated above including the more than 41 years of experience practicing law in Harris County and across the State of Texas. I have represented families and individuals in both non-jury and jury trials in many counties across the State. I am married for more than 24 years. I have raised my wife’s two children from a prior marriage and one of our own. I have been married and divorced. I have experienced as a lawyer the issues that will be addressed in a family court on a daily basis. I have practiced law with my present law partner for over 28 years thus demonstrating loyalty, commitment and the ability to work well with others. I am a certified mediator in civil law and family law mediation.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important for the same reason that all of the judicial races are important. We elect our judges in Texas. Each Court whether civil, criminal or family is charged with the same obligation, to apply the law to the facts and circumstances of the case before it. Every Judge is required to apply the law. How those facts and circumstances are appreciated by the Judge charged with the obligation of applying the law is often the difference. The Judges that sit in our Courts should reflect the community as a whole and should serve the community with compassion, fairness and equity for all its members.

6. Why should people vote for you in November?

At present, the Harris County Family District Courts consist of nine Republicans and one Democratic Judge. As the Democratic nominee for the 312th Family District Court I am committed to maintain a courtroom open to all citizens of Harris County irrespective of race, origin, sexual preference or position. I am not beholden to any platform or litmus test for relief. I will strive to apply the laws of the State of Texas fairly, equitably and compassionately to all who may come before the Court.

I have the experience and background to serve all the citizens of Harris County. The citizens of Harris County should have access to Courts with Judiciary that reflects the community as a whole.

There are reasons why “suspect addresses” may be legit

Real talk here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texas law requires voters to register where they live. At the same time, state law requires counties to take voters at their word that their voter registration applications are truthful.

Registrars who suspect an address may be invalid can send letters to voters asking them to confirm where the live. If residents re-submit the same address, however, registrars must process the application. Sam Taylor, spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, said the only other remedy registrars have is to refer cases to district attorneys for prosecution.

“The Texas Election Code does not grant any sort of additional investigative authority to a voter registrar in that situation,” Taylor said. “That’s where investigators and/or law enforcement get involved.”

Taylor said the secretary of state’s office has received complaints about the issue in the past, but said instances in which voters insist they live at an address that appears commercial are not a widespread problem.

“It does occur occasionally and we do occasionally hear frustrations from county voter registrars,” Taylor said.

See here for some background. Let’s state up front again that elected officials routinely game the “home address” requirement, with far less scrutiny. Let’s also state that the election process for many utility districts is a sham, again with far less attention and outcry than a few votes with PO box addresses. We could be a little more consistent about this sort of thing, is what I’m saying.

Having said all that, let’s talk about why some people might legitimately not want to put their residential address on their voter registration. Some people are dealing with stalkers and abusive exes, and thus do not want their home locations to be publicly searchable. Some people are homeless, or in transitional situations. Some people may be on temporary assignments out of state or out of the country. I have a friend from college who spent several years as a road-warrior employee for a company that provided software and training services for law firms. She literally lived in hotels or at friends’ houses year-round, and used her employer’s New York office as her mailing address. Some people live in Winnebagos and drive around the country.

I would argue that all these people have a right to vote that should not be challenged by some busybody party apparatchiks. It may be that some folks have dishonorable reasons for not using a “true” residential address on their registrations, but let’s keep some perspective here. Four thousand of them may sound like a lot, but there are 2.3 million registered voters in Harris County, so we’re talking less than 0.2% of the total. It’s basically a rounding error, even if you refuse to grant that there are any legitimate reasons for doing this. Maybe instead of obsessing over this tiny number of technical violations, we could grant ordinary voters the same deference we insist on giving elected officials when it comes to where they say they live.

(If instead we want to crack down on elected officials with dubious residential situations, I know who I’d start with. But we both know that’s not going to happen.)

Second look at Metro’s long range transit plan

Still a work in progress, but there’s beginning to be some focus.

Transit officials inched closer Wednesday to asking voters next year for up to $3 billion for two-way express bus service along many Houston freeways, along with a few more miles of light rail.

The first stop for a new transit vision, however, is additional communication with community groups before a more refined plan is approved by Metropolitan Transit Authority, which ultimately will need voter approval to build any of it.

“The target date is still November 2019,” Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said of a voter referendum.

During a Wednesday workshop discussing the regional transportation plan, dubbed MetroNEXT, Metro staff detailed a number of proposed projects, developed after months of public meetings during the past 18 months.

The consensus preferences from the meetings, Metro vice president of systems and capital planning Clint Harbert said, is “really taking what we do well and making these trips faster and more reliable.”

As a result, many of the projects rely on roads and freeways, rather than rail. Metro has spent most of the last two decades mired in light rail debates and construction.

Instead, the early draft of the plan – which still will undergo months of community input before it is approved next year – includes only 12 miles of light rail, extending the Red Line north to Tidwell and south to Hobby Airport and the Purple Line to Hobby Airport.

Meanwhile, more than 34 miles of bus rapid transit – using large buses along mostly lanes solely for bus use – would spread westward from downtown. One of the key lines follows much of the path of the proposed University Line, a long-dormant light rail project that has been one of Metro’s most contentious.

The major bus rapid transit corridor would connect Kashmere to downtown, then head west to Greenway Plaza and Westchase. It would have a key connection to the bus transit planned along Post Oak, now under construction.

See here for some background. This represents the least ambitious of the possible plans, and it’s a combination of what’s most doable and what’s least controversial. Nothing wrong with that, I just wish we lived in a world where those conditions allowed for something more expansive. Even at this level, I expect plenty of friction from the usual suspects. Getting the eventual referendum passed will take a lot of engagement. I look forward to doing an interview with Metro Chair Patman about the final version of this for that election.

You know, there is a cheaper way to do this

Why are we still outsourcing inmates?

County commissioners next week will consider a proposal to outsource inmates to the Fort Bend County Jail, which would allow Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez to slow — but not stop — the flow of inmates to a private prison in Louisiana.

The deal would bring as many as several hundred inmates closer to their families and attorneys, but would cost Harris County more than twice as much as shipping prisoners to Jackson Parish, La. It would also fail to address the root causes of overcrowding at the Harris County Jail, one of the nation’s largest, and prolong an elaborate game of musical chairs as the sheriff searches for jails to take his inmates.

Harris County’s 10,162 inmates are already spread across five facilities in Texas and Louisiana. It currently outsources 724 inmates, more than twice as many as any other Texas county.

[…]

“If there’s a desire to bring inmates closer to Harris County, this is the best deal we’ve been able to find so far,” said Harris County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jason Spencer. “It doesn’t fully address the outsourcing issue, but it chips away at it.”

Harris County pays $29.33 per inmate, per day at Jackson Parish Correctional Center, with transport included. Fort Bend’s per diem is $55.00, and Harris County would also have to pay for transport. Spencer said the additional costs would push the county’s total monthly inmate outsourcing bill to around $1 million.

The jail had stopped farming out inmates in 2017 but a backlog in the courts following Harvey led to a surplus of people in the jail, and so here we are today. The monthly cost of doing so now is more than $500K, which will go up to about $1 million with the more expensive Fort Bend option. That may not be a choice as defense attorneys in Harris County have asked the Court of Criminal Appeals to bar sending inmates out of state. I know you know but I’m going to say anyway that if we had fewer inmates in the jail – and remember, the lion’s share of these inmates have not been convicted of any crime – we wouldn’t need to spend this money. It’s a choice we’re making, one we’ve been making for way too many years. At least we get to make another choice this November.

Harris County 2018 voter registration numbers

From the inbox:

Thank you Harris County Voter Registration Division and Harris County Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrars for your passion, dedication, and commitment in registering eligible voters!


Current number registered:   2,291,037
Voters registered in 2017:      67,753
Voters registered in 2018:      41,369

That was from a couple of weeks ago, just before the registration challenge debacle. The registration deadline for this November is October 9, so there’s still time for that number to increase. Here’s how it looks over the past few cycles:


Year   Registered   Change
==========================
2002    1,875,777
2004    1,876,296      521
2006    1,902,822   25,526
2008    1,892,656  -10,166
2010    1,917,534   24,978
2012    1,942,566   25,032
2014    2,044,361  101,795
2016    2,182,980  138,619
2018    2,291,037  108,057

It’s crazy that in the first ten years of this century, the total number of registered voters in the county only increased by a net of 67K. In the next six years after that, up 350K and counting. Having a Tax Assessor that thought registering voters was more important than purging them sure makes a difference, doesn’t it? To be clear, while Ann Harris Bennett gets the credit for this cycle, Mike Sullivan was in the office for the 2014 and 2016 periods, so he gets his props as well.

As you know, I believe the increases in registration are directly related to the improved Democratic performance in 2016, and key to our chances this year. So to everyone who’s out there registering people, I say “thanks”, and “keep up the good work”. The numbers tell the story.