Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Harris County Judge

Emmett to teach at Rice

Fitting.

Ed Emmett

Outgoing Harris County judge Ed Emmett said Tuesday he will teach at Rice University, his alma mater, starting in January.

Emmett made the impromptu announcement after a Rice University undergraduate spoke during the public comment portion of Commissioners Court, when he encouraged her to sign up for his class.

“I’ll be teaching a class in the spring and two classes in the fall, and assisting the Kinder Institute on policy projects,” Emmett said.

He will be a non-tenured professor and senior fellow at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research. Though he said he looks forward to taking a step back from politics, Emmett’s first class will focus on policy topics within the Texas Legislature, which returns to Austin in January.

In an interview at his office, Emmett said Rice President David Leebron approached him last month about joining the faculty. Emmett in November lost his bid for a third full term as county judge, a position he has held since 2007.

I’m sure he’ll do a great job, and I’m sure his classes will be popular. I wonder if now that he is freed of the responsibility of governing and of being a politician, he’ll say some things in these classes that he’d always wanted to but never felt he could before. I’m sure we’ll hear about it if he does.

Lina Hidalgo gets the national press treatment

You need to get past the first couple of paragraphs, but overall a decent piece.

Lina Hidalgo

Even in defeat, Beto O’Rourke did a big favor to fellow Democrats all over Texas. A couple hundred thousand young people who might otherwise have skipped the election turned out to vote for the charismatic young liberal, and when they did, they also voted for his party down the ballot. The Republicans still won the statewide races, but the margins were the narrowest they’ve been in decades, and in local races, there were a number of upsets by Democrats.

Perhaps the biggest surprise — or accident, as far as local conservatives are concerned — was in the race for the top administrator of Texas’s largest county, the one that surrounds Houston. The winner, Lina Hidalgo, was the most millennial candidate ever, a 27-year-old perma-student who relied on her parents’ financial support to launch her campaign. Her only jobs so far have been the short-term gigs she’s worked amid her schooling.

It’s safe to say she wasn’t chosen for her qualifications. Eighty-seven percent of her votes came from straight-ticket ballots. Now she’ll be overseeing a county of 5 million people — the third-largest in the U.S., larger than 26 states — along with a $5 billion budget and a payroll of nearly 17,000 people. (Only a few local hospitals and grocery stores employ more people, including Walmart, which has 34,000 Houston-area workers.) On top of that, Harris County has a vulnerable population of more than half a million undocumented immigrants, and surrounds a city that’s made entirely of concrete, as though it’s designed to encourage the maximum possible damage from floods — of which there have been two apocalyptic ones in the last decade.

Sometimes during the campaign, it didn’t look like she was even trying all that hard to win. A common refrain in news coverage was that she’d never attended a meeting of Harris County’s commissioners court, the governmental body she’d be overseeing, which is sort of like a city council. In one debate she couldn’t name the city auditor.

But the truth is that Hidalgo is more formidable than her short résumé suggests. To anyone paying closer attention, it was clear that she and the incumbent had fundamentally different ideas about what the administrative position should be. She thought, and still thinks, that there’s a way of transforming it from a mostly managerial role — someone who fills potholes, balances the budget, and cleans up after floods — to one that mobilizes the county’s resources to improve public health, expand public transportation, reform the jails, and reduce global warming.

“Any issue you choose, it’s easy to say, ‘We can’t do anything — that’s not the county’s deal,’ she said in a phone interview last week. “But fundamentally, it’s about priorities. Budgets are about priorities and they’re about values.” When she gets into the details, she’s persuasive — maybe because the transition has given her a chance to study the system up close. On criminal justice, she points out, the county has spent somewhere north of $6 million in the past year fighting a judge’s order to reform its bail system. On health, she cited an independent 2015 report that suggested the county could improve its services by coordinating better among its hospitals, clinics, schools, and public-health department. And on transit, she argued, the county can manage development in a way that discourages sprawl, and can divert some of its money for trains.

Just out of curiosity, can you name the county auditor? (County, not city – that’s an error in the article.) I’ve got the answer at the end of this post.

I feel like people haven’t really wrapped their minds around the ways in which things are likely to change, not just due to Hidalgo’s election but due to the new Democratic majority on Commissioners Court. The Court has always operated in a very clubby you-do-your-thing-and-I’ll-do-mine way, with Republicans having either a 3-2 or 4-1 majority most of the time. The late El Franco Lee, who was one of those Democrats for a thirty year period, did a lot of things for Precinct 1 in his time but was nobody’s idea of an agitator for change at the county level. It’s not just Lina, it’s Lina plus Rodney plus Adrian that will have a chance to shake things up and question things we have been doing for years, if not forever. Some of that is going to generate a ton of friction. As someone once said, elections have consequences.

By the way, later in the article Hidalgo responds to the complaint about her not having attended a Court meeting. She notes she watched them online, then makes the very good but often overlooked point that Court meetings are held during the work day for most people, and in general are not very welcoming to public input. That’s one of those things that I figure will be changed, and it will be welcome. Business is not going to be as ususal.

By the way, the county auditor is someone named Michael Post. Go ahead and do a Google News search for “harris county auditor” or “michael post harris county”, or a Chron archive search for either, I’ll wait. Maybe the reason Lina Hidalgo didn’t know the name Michael Post off the top of her head is because the man and his office have basically been invisible? Just a thought.

Use that mandate in Harris County

Jay Aiyer pens an agenda for Harris County and its Democratic government.

First and foremost, flood mitigation has to be at the top of any list. Harris County has taken good initial steps to improve flood control infrastructure, and the passage of flood control bonds was badly needed. Those steps however, are only the beginning of what needs to be done. Development changes that prohibit growth and expansion in the floodplain, and ideas from experts like Rice University’s Raj Makand to impose a moratorium on new municipal utility districts until the region has a comprehensive plan for flood mitigation should be considered. Infrastructure development in Harris County — everything from toll road expansion to affordable housing construction should be factored into flood control efforts. Flood mitigation needs to be the county’s top priority.

[…]

The need for ethics and transparency is also required at the Commissioner’s Court itself. Unlike Houston City Council or the Texas Legislature, Harris County government remains largely shrouded in secrecy. The lack of broad transparency and pro-forma meetings results in a policy process that is largely kept behind closed doors. Commissioners have wide latitude in how business is conducted within their precinct, but that should be governed by a strong ethics policy that requires lobbyists to register and places limits on campaign contributions. A strong government requires one grounded in ethics and transparency.

Access to the ballot box and the integrity of voting process remains a major concern to all voters. Harris County needs a transparent and error-free voter registration process that works to actively register voters. Texas is eliminating straight ticket voting in 2020 and Harris County needs to start preparing for the longer lines and logistical strains that surround the longest electoral ballot in the country. This means expanding the number early voting locations throughout the county, as well as extending the hours of operation. Harris County also needs to follow other Texas counties and create election day voting centers that allow voters to cast a vote at location throughout the county — not just at a precinct.

Part of the improving voting means replacing the outdated machines. The current click-wheel electronic voting system is outdated and slow in handling our long ballot. Harris County needs to invest in modern, verifiable voting machines that can provide confidence in the electoral process while allowing voters to exercise their vote quickly and efficiently. County government has historically worked to make voting more difficult and cumbersome, and these reforms would be a good first step in reversing that.

Finally, Harris County should also revisit initiatives around the expansion of early childcare. In 2013, the well-meaning pre-K training initiative “Early to Rise,” which called for a ballot initiative to expand pre-K training programs, was strongly opposed by outgoing County Judge Ed Emmett and the Republican majority of Commissioner’s Court. While that initial plan was limited in scope, the idea of a regional approach to expanding early child care is one that needs to be explored. Research indicates that investing in early education initiatives are the best way to mitigate the effects of poverty and improve long term educational outcomes. A countywide program may be the smartest long term investment that Harris County could make.

I endorse all of Jay’s idea, which he proposes as a first-100-days plan, and I’d add a few things of my own, none of which need to be done immediately. One is for Harris County to be a more active partner with Metro, and to be fully engaged in the forthcoming transit plan and referendum. There are a lot of ways the county can contribute to better transit, and with everything Metro has going on now, this is the time. Two, continue the work Ed Emmett started in consolidating services with Houston and other cities, and make non-MUD governance a part of that development reform Aiyer outlines. Three, figure out what the office of the Treasurer can and should be doing. Incoming Treasurer Dylan Osborne has his own ideas, of course, but my point is that back in the 90s Commissioners Court basically neutered the office during Don Sumners’ term. Maybe now the time has come to restore some actual power to that office. Other counties have Treasurers, perhaps we should look to them to see if there’s a good model to follow.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ideas. (The parts that I cut out for this excerpt talked about criminal justice and bail reform, some of which have been going on.) Reviving the pre-K proposal is especially something we should all get behind. The point is, there is much that can be done, and no reason to feel restrained by “we’ve always done it that way” thinking. If it’s a good idea, let’s talk about it and figure out if we can make it work. It’s a new era in Harris County.

Emmett’s farewell

I wish him the best with whatever comes next.

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday did not rule out returning to public service after he gives up the gavel in January, but made clear he first would return to the private sector following last week’s re-election loss.

Democrat Lina Hidalgo defeated Emmett, a Republican who has helmed Harris County government since 2007. She will assume office Jan. 1. Meanwhile, Emmett said he planned to work with Hidalgo to ensure she transitions smoothly into the role.

With two Commissioners Court meetings left in his term, Emmett likely will decide on his next move in early December and told reporters he faces “numerous options.”

“You know, I had a life before I became county judge,” Emmett, 69, said after his first post-election court meeting. “As I’ve told many people, you know, I didn’t die.”

[…]

Emmett said he would remain interested in how the revamped court handles Harris County’s growing unincorporated population, and remained willing to offer “anything I can do to help that.” However, Emmett also indicated he would not hover over Hidalgo’s shoulder upon leaving office.

“I don’t intend to be one of those people that every day says something about what’s going on in the county,” he said. “I’m going to move on with my life and she’s going to move on with the county.”

Emmett, a moderate Republican, has been at odds with his party’s more conservative wing, and on Tuesday offered some criticism for those at the top of the ticket, without naming names. During the campaign, he told the Houston Chronicle editorial board that he planned to vote for Mike Collier, the Democratic challenger to Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Every statewide Republican official lost Harris County, including Patrick, who faced a 14-point deficit here. Democrat Beto O’Rourke also trounced Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, at the top of the local ballot. Republicans nonetheless won their statewide elections.

“I think that people at the top of the ticket need to start looking at what they’re saying to the voters, ’cause the voters aren’t buying it,” Emmett said. “And I think voters want to pay attention to competence, and people that will address the needs of their daily lives, and get away from all this other stuff.”

I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of Ed Emmett. I expect he’ll take some time off – he’s certainly earned it – and probably down the line he’ll wind up in some other form of public service, on a commission or board or what have you. He’ll be welcome in whatever capacity he chooses. As for his fellow Republicans, I’m sure they won’t pay heed to what he’s saying. Some lessons need to be learned the hard way, and the ones in Texas who most need that have unfortunately not yet had that experience. Be that as it may, I thank Ed Emmett for his service, and wish him and his family all the best.

There better be a bail lawsuit settlement

I mean, duh.

The Democratic sweep of Harris County leadership posts in the midterm election could prompt a settlement in the protracted legal dispute over how judges handle bail for poor people arrested for petty offenses, according to statements made in federal court Tuesday.

The shift in attitudes became evident during an early morning hearing in Houston before Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, who has presided over the civil rights action since 2016 and ruled in 2017 that the county’s bail practices discriminated against poor people. Lawyers for both sides acknowledged the proverbial elephant in the room: that all 14 county judges who oppose the bail lawsuit are Republicans who will be replaced in the new year by Democrats who have pushed for deeper bail reform.

Rosenthal congratulated the attorneys’ willingness to “accommodate any changes that have recently occurred in a reasonable way” and set a hearing for Feb. 1 where the lawyers may begin discussing plans for a possible settlement that would avert a costly trial.

[…]

Standing with [plaintiffs’ attorney Neal] Manne and others in the courthouse hallway after the hearing was Franklin Bynum, a 36-year-old Democratic Socialist in the mold of Bernie Sanders, who was elected last week to the misdemeanor bench for County Criminal Court No. 8. Bynum said he’d read documents and sat through hearings in the historic bail case from the beginning.

“It was this lawsuit that originally inspired me to run for judge,” Bynum said.

He said he and his fellow Democratic candidates all promised residents on the campaign trail they intended to settle the bail lawsuit quickly.

“Certainly, we’re going to behave differently than the current judges did, like being obstinate …and defending the indefensible,” he said.

In April 2017, Rosenthal ruled that the county’s bail policy violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. She wrote that misdemeanor judges’ bail determinations amounted to wealth-based detention for poor defendants who could otherwise qualify for pretrial release, whereas similar defendants with money could resume their lives at home on bond.

The topic of a settlement surfaced again an hour later at the start of the first Commissioners Court meeting following the election.

A lawyer for County Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan, the only Democrat on the misdemeanor bench and the only judge to retain his seat in last week’s election, implored county leaders to “stop the hemorrhaging of money” and end their appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Basically, at this point there’s no one in power that wants to see this continue. County Judge-elect Hidalgo, County Commissioner-elect Garcia, and all of the incoming misdemeanor court judges ran on ending the lawsuit and implementing bail reform. We just need to do it, and we have every right to expect results after the new officials and judges are sworn in.

Hidalgo gets started

If you weren’t paying attention to County Judge-elect Lina Hidalgo before, you are now.

Lina Hidalgo

Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, the lone Democrat currently on the court, said Hidalgo is a quick study who will settle into the role quickly.

“She’s smart and was very bold to make the decision to run, and to make a commitment to public service,” Ellis said.

Hidalgo said her immediate focus is recruiting a top-flight staff and pledged to announce a transition plan in coming weeks. Depending on how many Emmett holdovers Hidalgo retains, she could have as many as 30 positions to fill.

[Robert] Eckels, who served as county judge from 1995 to 2007, urged Hidalgo to focus on building relationships with the four county commissioners. Unlike the mayor of Houston, who has significantly more power — and far more leverage over — city council, the county judge can accomplish little without the support of commissioners.

“The county judge position is by nature a weak position,” Eckels said. “One vote is one vote. Three votes can change the world.”

Eckels said the mild-mannered Emmett was successful because he was able to manage the sometimes outsized personalities of commissioners.

Hidalgo said she would welcome Emmett’s advice during the transition. She said a top priority is to make county government more transparent, and suggested holding regular town halls. She also is eager to settle the federal lawsuit brought by poor criminal defendants brought two years ago, in which they argue Harris County’s cash bail system is unconstitutional.

She emphasized the importance of flood control, and said she has yet to determine whether to make changes to the projects list for the $2.5 billion flood protection bond voters approved in August.

[…]

With the election of Adrian Garcia in the Precinct 2 commissioner’s race, Democrats will have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court, starting in January.

The Republican commissioners, Steve Radack and Jack Cagle, said they looked forward to working with Hidalgo. Radack, who has served under three county executives since he first was elected in 1988, said he expects court members to continue to work well together with Democrats in charge.

Cagle said he would not be bothered if Hidalgo used her new pulpit to speak out on statewide and national issues like immigration and criminal justice, so long as the county continues to serve its largely nonpartisan functions, like maintaining infrastructure and providing health services.

“When you fix a pothole, there’s no R or D that goes on it,” Cagle said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday morning he was surprised Hidalgo won. He praised Emmett, with whom he worked closely during storm events including Hurricane Harvey and the Tax Day Flood, as a treasured partner.

“The reality is that for all of us, we’re not indispensable,” Turner said. “I can be here, tomorrow I can be someplace else and the city will go forward, the city will go on.”

Indeed. The power on Commissioners Court lies mostly with the Commissioners themselves – they have the bigger budgets, after all. The Court has always operated in a collegial environment and with consensus among the commissioners. We’ll see how that changes now that Dems have the majority. For now, the priority for Hidalgo is going to be getting to know her future colleagues and everyone else who will need to get to know her.

Initial reactions: Harris County

Let’s start with the obvious.

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Democrats rode a surge in voter turnout to a decisive victory on Tuesday, unseating several countywide Republican officials, including longtime County Judge Ed Emmett, and sweeping all 59 judicial races.

Emmett, who courted Democratic ticket-splitters and leaned on his reputation as a steady hand during hurricanes, conceded at 11 p.m. to 27-year-old challenger Lina Hidalgo, who was running in her first race for public office.

After defeating the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago, Harris County Democrats now will control all of the countywide elected posts. In addition, former sheriff Adrian Garcia defeated incumbent Republican Jack Morman in the Precinct 2 commissioner’s race, giving Democrats control of Commissioners Court.

[…]

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus attributed the Democrats’ success to changing demographics in the largest Texas county and a superb get-out-the-vote effort by Democratic groups.

“Democrats have harnessed the blue wave, at least locally,” Rottinghaus said. “Harris County is going to be trending more purple, which is going to spell difficulty for Republicans in countywide races in the future.”

The upset fulfilled the nightmare scenario Republicans feared: Democratic straight-ticket voters who have a positive opinion of Emmett failed to venture far enough down the ballot to vote for him, handing the win to Hidalgo.

Hidalgo will be the first Latina county judge, and youngest since a 23-year-old Roy Hofheinz was elected in 1936. She has lived in Harris County sporadically as an adult and has never attended a meeting of Commissioners Court.

Hidalgo was an energetic campaigner who implored voters not to settle for the status quo. She criticized Emmett for failing to push harder for flood protection measures in the decade before Hurricane Harvey, when parts of the county were flooded by several storms. Emmett had campaigned on his record, contrasting his 11 years as the county’s chief executive with Hidalgo’s lack of formal work experience.

At Emmett’s watch party at the Hotel ZaZa, his supporters stared in disbelief at monitors displaying the results. Emmett spoke briefly and compared this election to the 1974 midterms following the Watergate scandal, when a wave of incumbents were defeated.

“If this happens the way it appears, I won’t take it personally,” Emmett said. “It is a bitter pill to swallow, but Harris County will move on. I will be fine.”

Supporter Xavier Stokes chalked up the county judge race result to straight-ticket voting, rather than a referendum on Emmett himself.

“He’s done such a good job, and yet here we are,” Stokes said. “It just shows you how this type of voting distorts the outcome.”

I’m not surprised to see straight ticket voting get the blame here. Lisa Falkenberg and Judge Emmett himself are both pushing that narrative, though to Falkenberg’s credit she also recognized that some awful Republicans in Harris County had been the beneficiary of straight ticket voting in the past. Judge Emmett is a good person and he has been a very competent County Judge, but his problem wasn’t so much the straight ticket option as it was that so many more Democrats than Republicans voted. Beto O’Rourke carried Harris County by almost 200,000 votes. All of the statewides except Lupe Valdez (+66K), Joi Chevalier (+97K), and Roman McAllen (+100K) carried Harris by more than the Democratic margin in straight ticket votes. Emmett pitched his campaign at Democrats because he had no choice. He knew he was swimming in very deep waters. To assume that the straight ticket voters cost him the election is to assume that without that option, the Democratic straight ticket voters would have significantly either undervoted in the County Judge race or gone on to vote for Emmett as the (likely) only Republican they chose – which, remember, they still could have done anyway – and also that a significant number of Republican straight ticket voters would have remembered to vote all the way down the ballot as well. Maybe straight ticket voters cost Emmett this race and maybe they didn’t, but when you start out with a deficit that large you need everything to go right to have a chance at overcoming it. Not enough went right for Ed Emmett.

Two other points to note here. One is that I don’t remember anywhere near this level of mourning when straight ticket Republicans in 2010 ousted then-State Rep. Ellen Cohen and then-County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, the latter in favor of a little-known young first time candidate. Two, it was within the power of the formerly-Republican-dominated Commissioners Court to take measures to mitigate against the seemingly pernicious effects of straight ticket voting. They could have engaged in efforts to better educate everyone in Harris County about how its voting machines worked instead of leaving that mostly to the political parties. They could have invested in newer voting machines that provided voters with more information about their range of options in the booth. They did not do these things. Which, to be fair, may not have made any difference in the era of Donald Trump and a rising demographic tide that is increasingly hostile to Republicans. It’s just that when men of great power and influence claim to have been undermined by forces entirely beyond their control, I tend to be a bit skeptical.

Anyway. I understand the concerns that some people have about Lina Hidalgo. I think she’ll be fine, I think she’ll figure it out, and I think Harris County will be fine. I also think that the professional news-gathering organizations could send a reporter or two to Dallas and ask about their experience after the 2006 election when an even lesser-known and much less qualified Democrat ousted the respected longtime Republican County Judge in that year’s blue wave. That fellow – Jim Foster was his name – had a turbulent tenure and was ousted in the 2010 Democratic primary by current County Judge Clay Jenkins. I’m sure we could all benefit from a review of that bit of history.

Beyond that, the main immediate effect of the Hidalgo and Garcia wins will be (I hope) the swift conclusion of the ongoing bail practices litigation. With the defeat of all the Republican misdemeanor court judges, there’s no one outside of Steve Radack and Jack Cagle left in county government who supports continuing this thing, and they’re now outvoted. Longer term, the next round of redistricting for Commissioners Court should be more considerate of the Latino voters in the county, as Campos notes. I also have high hopes for some sweeping improvements to voting access and technology now that we have finally #FiredStanStanart. Long story short, a review and update of early voting hours and locations, an investment in new and better voting machines, and official support of online voter registration are all things I look forward to.

One more point of interest, in the race for HCDE Trustee Position 4, Precinct 3. Democrat Andrea Duhon nearly won this one, finishing with 49.58% of the vote. Precinct 3 is where County Commissioner Steve Radack hangs his hat, and it was basically 50-50 in 2018. Radack is up for election in 2020. Someone with the right blend of ambition and fundraising ability needs to be thinking about that starting now.

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

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.

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.

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.

July 2018 finance reports: Harris County candidates

Let’s take a look at where we stand with the candidates for county office. January report info is here. On we go:

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Lina Hidalgo

Commissioner, Precinct 2

Jack Morman
Adrian Garcia

Commissioner, Precinct 4

Jack Cagle
Penny Shaw

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Marilyn Burgess

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Diane Trautman

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Dylan Osborne

HCDE, Position 3 At Large

Marcus Cowart
Richard Cantu

HCDE, Position 4, Precinct 3

Josh Flynn
Andrea Duhon


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
Emmett    County Judge   618,590    138,209        0    934,714
Hidalgo   County Judge   183,252     67,007        0    116,263  

Morman      Comm Pct 2   612,400    178,027   30,185  2,710,005
A Garcia    Comm Pct 2   342,182    141,745        0    154,693  

Cagle       Comm Pct 4   199,800    451,189        0    658,641
Shaw        Comm Pct 4     7,838     10,591        0      1,234

Daniel  District Clerk   106,675    113,813   45,000     59,920
Burgess District Clerk     5,527      1,504        0      9,476

Stanart   County Clerk     5,820      5,836   20,000     75,389
Trautman  County Clerk     8,705      4,236        0     23,749

Sanchez      Treasurer    86,185      4,801  200,000    281,383
Osborne      Treasurer     1,645      2,441        0        491

Cowart          HCDE 3         0          0        0          0
Cantu           HCDE 3       953      1,606        0        656

Flynn           HCDE 4       200      2,134        0          0
Duhon           HCDE 4     1,476      1,149        0        977

All things considered, that’s a pretty decent amount of money raised by Lina Hidalgo, especially as a first-time candidate running against a ten-year incumbent. She has the resources to run a professional campaign, and she’s done that. I don’t know what her mass communication strategy is, but she will need more to do that effectively. We’re a big county, there are a lot of voters here, and these things ain’t cheap. She was endorsed last week by Annie’s List, so that should be a big help in this department going forward.

Ed Emmett is clearly taking her seriously. He’s stepped up his fundraising after posting a modest report in January. Greg Abbott has already reserved a bunch of TV time with his bottomless campaign treasury, and I figure that will be as much to bolster local and legislative candidates as it will be for himself. Still, those who can support themselves are going to continue to do so.

Which brings us to Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, one of the top-tier races of any kind in the region. Adrian Garcia started from scratch after his Mayoral and Congressional campaigns, and he’s done well to get prepped for the fall. That’s a challenge when the guy you’re up against has as much as Jack Morman has, but at least Garcia starts out as someone the voters know and have by and large supported. I will be interested to see just what Morman has in mind to do with all that money, but until we see something tangible I have a dumb question: Why, if you have $2.7 million in the bank, would you not just go ahead and clear up that $30K loan? Is there some subtle financial reason for it, or is it just that no one cares about campaign loans being paid back? Anyone with some insight into these burning questions is encouraged to enlighten us in the comments.

Speaking of loans, that 200K bit of debt for Orlando Sanchez keeps on keeping on. Sanchez managed to get a few people to write him four-figure (and in one case, a five-figure) checks this period. I literally have no idea why anyone would do that, but here we are. It gives me something to write about, so we can all be thankful for that.

I’ve got more of these to come. Let me know what you think.

Harris County poll: Hidalgo 53, Emmett 47

From the inbox last week:

Lina Hidalgo

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

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

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

Other poll findings of note include:

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

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

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

1. Government transparency
2. Education
3. Jobs

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Totals excluding undecided voters:


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

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

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

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

January 2018 finance reports: Harris County candidates

You know the drill. Links to reports where I could find them, plus a summary table at the end. Let’s do this.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Lina Hidalgo

Commissioner, Precinct 2

Jack Morman

Adrian Garcia
Roger Garcia
Daniel Box

Commissioner, Precinct 4

Jack Cagle

Jeff Stauber
Penny Shaw

District Clerk

Chris Daniel – through December 14
Chris Daniel – Dec 15 through Dec 31

Marilyn Burgess
Rozzy Shorter
Kevin Howard
Michael Jordan

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Abel Chirino-Gomez

Diane Trautman
Gayle Mitchell
Nat West

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Dylan Osborne
Cosme Garcia
Nile Copeland

HCDE, Position 3 At Large

Marcus Cowart
Richard Cantu
Josh Wallenstein

HCDE, Position 4, Precinct 3

Josh Flynn
Andrea Duhon

HCDE, Position 6, Precinct 1

Danyahel Norris


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
Emmett    County Judge    91,222    188,409        0    450,230
Hidalgo   County Judge    54,949     47,828    1,400      7,443

Morman      Comm Pct 2    11,000     31,941   39,382  2,247,067
A Garcia    Comm Pct 2       650          0        0          0
Box         Comm Pct 2         0      1,250    1,250          0
Melancon    Comm Pct 2
R Garcia    Comm Pct 2       352      4,509    5,250        998

Cagle       Comm Pct 4    81,350    238,199        0    896,279
Shaw        Comm Pct 4       500      1,215        0        800
Stauber     Comm Pct 4       600      1,250        0        600

Daniel  District Clerk    26,025     30,038   55,000     34,857
Burgess District Clerk    10,980      8,273        0      6,518
Shorter District Clerk    11,738      3,091        0      8,647
Howard  District Clerk       700      3,622        0        700
Jordan  District Clerk         0          0        0          0

Stanart   County Clerk    18,625     11,773   20,000     71,002
Gomez     County Clerk         0          0        0          0
Trautman  County Clerk     8,230      8,208        0     18,287
Mitchell  County Clerk     1,613      1,465        0        300
West      County Clerk         0          0        0          0

Sanchez      Treasurer         0      6,420  200,000    199,621
Osborne      Treasurer     4,305      1,855        0      2,449
Garcia       Treasurer         0      1,453        0          0
Copeland     Treasurer         0        270        0          0

Cowart          HCDE 3       750        750        0          0
Wallenstein     HCDE 3     5,422      1,751    5,416      9,086
Cantu           HCDE 3       200          0        0        200
Patton          HCDE 3

Tashenberg      HCDE 4
Flynn           HCDE 4         0        110        0          0
Duhon           HCDE 4     1,475        750        0        725

Miller          HCDE 6
Norris          HCDE 6     8,468      4,198        0      4,680
Bryant          HCDE 6

Not everyone has filed a report, but most people have. It’s possible that some people hadn’t yet designated a treasurer, which is required to raise money, before the deadline. This would be more likely for the later entrants in some races.

Ed Emmett has a decent amount of money, but not a crushing amount. He doesn’t really need much – he’s been in office over ten years, this is his fourth time on the ballot, people know who he is. If he’s raising money, it’s to support the ticket as a whole. Given the ideological purge going on at the state level and the fact that he had originally been planning to retire, it wouldn’t shock me if he lets that aspect of his job slide a bit.

No such slacking for Jack Morman, who is armed and ready for a tough election. I’m not sure it’s possible to spend two million bucks in a race like this in a way that couldn’t be described as “extravagant”, if not “excessive”, but we’ll see. I would have thought that between his Mayoral and Congressional campaigns Adrian Garcia would have had a few bucks left over, but apparently not. He’s always been a strong fundraiser, so I’m sure he’ll have a healthy sum to report in July.

There isn’t much of interest below the Judge/Commissioners level, as there usually isn’t that much money in these races. I don’t know why Chris Daniel filed two separate reports, but together they cover the full filing period, so whatever. Orlando Sanchez still has that $200K loan on his books. I don’t know what the source of it is, nor do I know its purpose – he clearly isn’t spending it down. Maybe he just knew that this day would finally come, I don’t know.

That’s about all there is to say here. I will look at city of Houston reports soon, and I may do the same with some state reports from other races of interest. As always, I hope you find this useful.

The case for the Astrodome

Lisa Falkenberg lays it out.

We have a plan!

But here’s the thing: leaders have to balance today’s needs with tomorrow’s. The long view has its virtues. And frankly, it’s been all to absent in the decision-making of Houston and Harris County. Shortsightedness has gotten us into a lot of trouble – from poor investment in flooding infrastructure to irresponsible growth that increased the region’s vulnerability during storms and rain events.

It has led us to pave over prairies. To bulldoze historic architecture and old trees and character. And yes, to leave an expensive, beloved, world-famous landmark with a lot of tourism potential rotting away in full view of visitors and homefolk alike.

So, sure, it may seem tone deaf to pour money into the Astrodome right now, but the decision seems to be in tune with Houston’s future needs.

And critics of the decision either don’t understand the facts, or willfully ignore them.

[…]

So let’s address the naysayers, point by point, with a little help from Emmett, the county judge.

*CLAIM: Harris County voters already voted to demolish the dome.

No, they didn’t. They voted down a proposed bond for a much bigger $217 million renovation project. They said loud and clear that they didn’t want county commissioners borrowing money to fund a dome project, and Emmett says the county listened. He says the stripped-down plan to raise the dome for parking and open it for special events makes financial and logistical sense, as it will produce revenue, and also provide space for first responders during a storm, and potential storage for the medical supplies during those events. “Would you really want us spending $35 million to tear down a perfectly usable building?” Emmett says he asks people who bring up the vote. And he points out that demolition is no longer an option anyway, since the Texas Historical Commission has designated the Astrodome a state antiquities landmark, giving the stadium special protections against demolition.

See here for some background. As you know, I think this is a decent and workable plan. I expect people will disagree with that – Emmett’s Democratic opponent Lina Hidalgo has made the “voters rejected the bond proposal” and “we have other priorities” arguments on Facebook. I believe the case for it is sound, and I appreciate Falkenberg laying it out as she did. If you don’t see it that way, take what she wrote as your starting point and take your best shot from there.

More on the national wave of female candidates

As the second Women’s March was taking place yesterday, there were stories in two national publications about the plethora of women running for office this year. Here’s TIME Magazine:

Erin Zwiener returned to Texas to settle down. At 32, she had published a children’s book, won Jeopardy! three times and ridden roughly 1,400 miles from the Mexico border up the Continental Divide on a mule. In 2016, she moved with her husband to a small house in a rural enclave southwest of Austin with simpler plans: write another book, tend her horses, paint her new home blue.

One day last February, she changed those plans. Zwiener was surfing Facebook after finalizing color samples for her living room–sea foam, navy, cornflower–when she saw a picture of her state representative, Jason Isaac, smiling at a local chamber of commerce gala. “Glad you’re having a good time,” she commented. “What’s your position on SB4?” After a tense back-and-forth about the Lone Star State’s controversial immigration law, Isaac accused her of “trolling” and blocked her. That’s when she decided to run for his seat. Zwiener never got around to painting her living room. She’s trying to turn her Texas district blue instead.

Zwiener is part of a grassroots movement that could change America. Call it payback, call it a revolution, call it the Pink Wave, inspired by marchers in their magenta hats, and the activism that followed. There is an unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates, overwhelmingly Democratic, running for offices big and small, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. At least 79 women are exploring runs for governor in 2018, potentially doubling a record for female candidates set in 1994, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. The number of Democratic women likely challenging incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives is up nearly 350% from 41 women in 2016. Roughly 900 women contacted Emily’s List, which recruits and trains pro-choice Democratic women, about running for office from 2015 to 2016; since President Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign. The group had to knock down a wall in its Washington office to make room for more staff.

It’s not just candidates. Experienced female political operatives are striking out on their own, creating new organizations independent from the party apparatus to raise money, marshal volunteers and assist candidates with everything from fundraising to figuring out how to balance child care with campaigns.

That story also quotes Lina Hidalgo, the Democratic candidate for Harris County Judge. I’ll get back to it in a minute, but first here’s The Cut, which is part of The New Yorker.

To date, 390 women are planning to run for the House of Representatives, a figure that’s higher than at any point in American history. Twenty-two of them are non-incumbent black women — for scale, there are only 18 black women in the House right now. Meanwhile, 49 women are likely to be running for the Senate, more than 68 percent higher than the number who’d announced at the same point in 2014.

To name-check just a fraction of these newly hatched politicians, there’s Vietnam-born Mai Khanh Tran, a California pediatrician and two-time cancer survivor vying for a House seat that’s been held by Republican Ed Royce for 13 terms. There’s military wife Tatiana Matta, who’s one of two Democrats trying to oust House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, who hopes to show New Jersey representative Rodney Frelinghuysen the door. (Twenty-three-year congressional veteran Frelinghuysen is descended from a family once ranked the seventh-most-powerful American political dynasty: His father was a congressman, his great-great-grandfather and great-great-great-uncle were senators; his great-great-great-great-grandfather — also a senator — helped to frame New Jersey’s Constitution.)

[…]

Of course, in most fields, altering power ratios is neither swift nor easy. Even if men are pushed from their lofty perches, those waiting to take their places, the ones who’ve accrued seniority, expertise, and connections, are mostly men. Women who’ve been driven out or self-exiled from their chosen professions often cannot simply reenter them — as partners or managers or even mid-level employees.

This is one of the relative virtues of politics: It can be swiftly responsive to change. You can, in theory, run for local or state or even federal office, even if you’ve never been as much as a student-council secretary. If you’re a preschool teacher or a law professor or a sanitation worker, there will be substantial obstacles, yes — weaker networks, fund-raising disadvantages; party machinery, institutional obstruction, and identity bias to push past. Yes. But you can run. And if you win, whether the office is small or large, you might be able to shake things up. The people who control state and local legislatures often determine who in their communities gets to vote easily, who has access to health care or to legal sanctuary; local governing bodies around the country have in recent years passed legislation for paid leave and paid sick days and higher minimum wages.

It’s certainly true that the policies that are enacted depend on which women run and win — the country is full of Sarah Palins, not just Elizabeth Warrens. According to the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics, however, so far it’s the Warrens who are getting into the game. Of the 49 women currently planning to run for the Senate (including incumbents, challengers, and those running for open spots), 31 are Democrats. Well over half of the 79 women slated to campaign for governor are Dems, as are 80 percent of the women setting their sights on the House.

This past fall’s elections — in which Danica Roem, a 33-year-old transgender woman, handily beat an incumbent who’d authored a transphobic bathroom bill and dubbed himself the state’s “chief homophobe”; in which Ashley Bennett, a 32-year-old psychiatric-emergency screener from New Jersey bumped off the Atlantic County freeholder who’d mocked the Women’s March by asking whether protesters would be home in time to cook his dinner — showed that improbable wins by improbable candidates are possible, perhaps especially if they can convert anger and frustration at the ways in which they’ve been discriminated against into electoral fuel.

This one has a companion piece that lists ten women to watch for. Two of them are by now familiar names from Texas: Laura Moser and Gina Ortiz Jones. The bit about Moser notes that she has Lizzie Fletcher as a primary opponent, and if you look at the embedded image, taken from the main story, you’ll see three of their pictures. Moser and Fletcher, along with Hidalgo, are on the TIME cover. I am as always delighted to see our candidates receive attention, but I wonder a little about how the decision is made about on whom to focus. Moser, Fletcher, and Jones are all strong candidates with good stories and fundraising to match, but as I noted before, the women who are most likely to make it to Congress from Texas are Sylvia Garcia and one of Veronica Escobar and Dori Fenenbock, none of whom have received a tiny fraction of the love from the press. I mean, there’s a non-trivial chance none of the three Texans in the Cut picture will be on the ballot in November – only two of them can be no matter what – and a larger chance none of them will get sworn in if they are. Maybe it’s because the three I’m noting are all current officeholders, though in that Cut companion piece three of the ten women featured are incumbents of some kind and one or two others are former Obama administration officials. I get that the women had previously been less engaged with the process are now the biggest part of the story, I just feel like the amount of attention they’re getting relative to what those who had been there before are getting is a bit skewed. It’s not that big a deal – I strongly suspect that once Sylvia Garcia is the nominee in CD29, possibly joined by Escobar in CD16, there will be a flurry of articles about the first Latina member(s) of Congress from Texas. It was just something I thought about as I read these. You should read them, too.

The Harris County slates

Let’s talk about the filings for Harris County. The SOS filings page is still the best source of information, but they don’t provide shareable links, so in the name of ease and convenience I copied the Democratic filing information for Harris County to this spreadsheet. I took out the statewide candidates, and I didn’t include Republicans because they have not updated the SOS office with their slate. Their primary filing site is still the best source for that. So review those and then come back so we can discuss.

Ready? Here we go.

– If there was an announcement I missed it, but HCDE Trustee Erica Lee, in Position 6, Precinct 1, did not file for re-election. Three candidates did file, Danyahel Norris, an attorney and associate director at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law; John F. Miller, who was a candidate for HCDE Chair earlier this year; and Prince Bryant.

– While there are contested races up and down the ballot, there’s one race that is no longer contested. Mike Nichols withdrew his filing for Harris County Judge, leaving Lina Hidalgo as the sole candidate to oppose Judge Ed Emmett next fall.

– The SOS page also shows that Sammy Casados withdrew his filing for County Commissioner. However, his campaign Facebook page makes no such announcement, and there’s no evidence I can find to confirm that. It’s possible this is a mistake on the SOS page. We’ll know soon enough, when the HCDP publishes its official final list. Anyway, the cast for Commissioner in Precinct 2 also includes Adrian Garcia, Daniel Box, Roger Garcia, and Ken Melancon, who was previously a candidate for Constable in Precinct 3 (note that Constable precincts, like Justice of the Peace precincts, do not correspond to Commissioner precincts). Also, there are now two candidates for Commissioner in Precinct 4, Penny Shaw and Jeff Stauber, who was a candidate for Sheriff in 2016.

– All other county races save one are contested. Diane Trautman has two opponents for County Clerk: Gayle Mitchell, who ran for the same office in 2014, losing to Ann Harris Bennett in the primary, and Nat West, who is the SDEC Chair for Senate District 13 and who ran for County Commissioner in Precinct 1 in that weird precinct chair-run election. Two candidates joined Marilyn Burgess and Kevin Howard for District Clerk, Michael Jordan and former Council candidate Rozzy Shorter. Dylan Osborne, Cosme Garcia, and Nile Copeland, who ran for judge as a Dem in 2010, are in for County Treasurer. HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large has Josh Wallenstein, Elvonte Patton, and Richard Cantu, who may be the same Richard Cantu that ran for HISD Trustee in District I in 2005. Only Andrea Duhon, the candidate for HCDE Trustee for Position 4 in Precinct 3, has a free pass to November.

– I will go through the late filings for legislative offices in a minute, but first you need to know that Lloyd Oliver filed in HD134. Whatever you do, do not vote for Lloyd Oliver. Make sure everyone you know who lives in HD134 knows to vote for Alison Sawyer and not Lloyd Oliver. That is all.

– Now then. SBOE member Lawrence Allen drew an opponent, Steven Chambers, who is a senior manager at HISD. That’s a race worth watching.

– Sen. John Whitmire has two primary opponents, Damien LaCroix, who ran against him in 2014, and Hank Segelke, about whom I know nothing. Rita Lucido, who ran for SD17, threw her hat in the ring to join Fran Watson and Ahmad Hassan.

– Carlos Pena (my google fu fails me on him) joins Gina Calanni for HD132. Ricardo Soliz made HD146 a three-candidate race, against Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owens. There are also three candidates in HD133: Marty Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and someone you should not vote for under any circumstances. He’s another perennial candidate with lousy views, just like Lloyd Oliver. Wh you should also not vote for under any circumstances.

– The Republican side is boring. Stan Stanart has a primary opponent. Rep. Briscoe Cain no longer does. There’s some drama at the JP level, where Precinct 5 incumbent Jeff Williams faces two challengers. Williams continued to perform weddings after the Obergefell decision, meaning he did (or at least was willing to do) same sex weddings as well. You do the math. Unfortunately, there’s no Democrat in this race – it’s one of the few that went unfilled. There was a Dem who filed, but for reasons unknown to me the filing was rejected. Alas.

I’ll have more in subsequent posts. Here’s a Chron story from Monday, and Campos has more.

UPDATE: Two people have confirmed to me that Sammy Casados has withdrawn from the Commissioners Court race.

Filing news: Two for County Judge

Yet another contested primary. At this point it’s easier to identify the uncontested races than the contested ones.

Mike Nichols

There will be a contested March Democratic primary election for Harris County’s top administrative position as the race for county judge now features two Democratic hopefuls.

Mike Nichols, a former Sysco executive who served as interim CEO of the Houston Parks Board from 2015 to 2016, announced his candidacy Friday, in a statement that focused heavily on flood control. Nichols called for at least five public hearings “on flood prevention and management.”

Nichols served for two terms as a state representative in the Georgia General Assembly from 1977 to 1981.

Lina Hidalgo, a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center announced her candidacy earlier this year. Hidalgo is running a campaign focused on criminal justice reform, public safety and home ownership as target issues, in addition to flood control.

Both are seeking to unseat Republican Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Nichols released a response to Judge Emmett’s State of the County address; see a text version of that here. I look forward to the two of them debating the issues. In the meantime, there’s lots of other filing news but I’ve put that in another entry, so keep reading.

State of the County 2017: Ed Emmett versus state leadership

That sound you heard was a fight breaking out.

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday used his annual State of the County speech to blast state leaders who he said attack local governments and seek to cut needed taxes but offer no real solutions to the myriad problems Texas’ large urban counties face.

Before a crowd of hundreds at NRG Center, Emmett called on state officials to invest roughly $500 million in a third reservoir and dam to boost area flood control efforts, fund a beleaguered indigent health care system, and revamp “broken” tax policies that force the county to rely on property taxes to serve an unincorporated area that, on its own, would be the fifth-largest city in the country.

In addition to helping with the county’s flood control efforts, Emmett called on the state to contribute more for mental health care and transportation improvements, citing the need for an Interstate 69 bypass on the east side of the county and renewed emphasis on railroads and technology to move freight from area ports.

He also reiterated his call for state leaders to accept increased Medicaid funding from Washington.

“The next time a state official makes a big deal about a fraction of a cent cut in the property tax rate, ask them why they won’t help Harris County property taxpayers fund indigent health care,” the judge said. “State leaders who are eager to seek for disaster relief should also be willing to accept federal dollars to provide health care for poor people. That would be real property tax relief.”

The state, he said, should treat the county more like a city, which by law can levy a sales tax and pass ordinances. The county is an arm of state government and relies on property taxes for most of its revenue.

“The whole point of today’s speech was to say ‘enough is enough,'” Emmett said afterward. “We need to be able to provide the services and the government that people expect in an unincorporated area.”

[…]

Emmett criticized the bills that would have forced the county to get voter approval on taxes and spending.

“Such a populist approach might sound reasonable, but the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who nobody ever accused of being a liberal, described direct referenda as ‘a device for dictators and demagogues'” he said.

He also lit into lawmakers’ attempts to limit property tax collections during the last legislative session, saying leaders “attacked counties and cities and other local governments, all the while offering no real solutions.”

“County government relies almost completely on property tax revenue, but the property tax is widely hated, and wholly inadequate as a means of financing the unique urban government that we have. Unfortunately, narrow-minded politics has pushed unfunded mandates from the state onto county government,” Emmett said.

“It is just pure ugly politics. And, by the way, the portion of county taxes paid by business is, I don’t need to tell the business community in this room, growing. We are reaching the point where tax policies are a drag on economic development.”

You can read the whole speech here. Most of the criticisms Emmett made about state leadership and recent political actions are in the story, but the whole thing is worth a read. Oh, and he was introduced by outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, which was a further provocation. Like the useless demagogues they are, Dan Patrick and Paul Bettencourt responded petulantly in the story. This is another skirmish in the culture wars of the Republican Party, and Republicans who are in the Ed Emmett/Joe Straus camp – including Emmett himself – are going to have to decide next year if they really want the likes of Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick dictating to them. A vote for the status quo is a vote for four more years of the things that Emmett was railing against in his speech.

Filing season has begun

Candidate filing season is now open, and it will run for a month, concluding at 6 PM on Monday, December 11. There will be a lot of activity this year – we are already aware of so many candidates – and I’m sure there will be a few surprises. You can find candidate filings on the Secretary of State webpage, though I expect that will lag a day or so behind what county parties have. Here are a few things I can say so far:

– The first candidates to file for Governor are Tom Wakely and sign Grady Yarbrough. Is it written somewhere that in every generation there must be an annoying perennial candidate? Jeffrey Payne and Garry Brown are still to file, and then we have the being wooed/thinking about it trio of Andrew White, Michael Sorrell, and Lupe Valdez. I figure when/if one of them files, the other two will step aside. I will be surprised if more than one of them jumps in.

– Michael Cooper, who has been doing some tandem campaigning with Wakely, has filed for Lt. Governor. Mike Collier has been running for months and should be filing soon.

Justin Nelson was late in announcing but prompt in filing for Attorney General.

– We have a candidate for Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen, who has a preference for bow ties and wordy biographies. He’s on the board of Preservation Texas, which would make him a welcome alternate perspective to the shills and know-nothings that currently serve on the RRC.

– I don’t have a link to point you to for activity in Harris County at this time. I do know from talking to people that Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Diane Trautman (County Clerk), and Dylan Osborne (County Treasurer) have filed. I also know that we may get a contested primary for County Judge as Mike Nichols is taking the filing period to explore a candidacy. Nichols has worked with the Houston Food Bank, the Houston Long Range Financial Management Task Force, Planned Parenthood, and the Houston Parks Board. We’ll see what he decides.

– At the state level, we still need someone to run for Comptroller and Land Commissioner; Kim Olson is running for Ag Commissioner. We know of two Supreme Court candidates, but we still need one more of those plus three for the Court of Criminal Appeals. We could use someone for CD22. In Harris County, we’re still looking for a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, a candidate for HCDE Position 4, Precinct 3, and State Rep in HDs 126, 132, and 135.

– Again, I think there will be some surprises. People get in and drop out at the last minute. I think we’re going to have a lot more contested primaries than we’re used to seeing. And of course I have no idea what may happen on the Republican side. It’s going to be an exciting four weeks. What are you looking for?

We have a candidate for Treasurer

Dylan Osborne

The Democratic slate for countywide offices in 2018 is now filled out as Dylan Osborne has announced his candidacy for Harris County Treasurer. Osborne has been a City Council staffer and currently works in the Planning & Development Department for the City of Houston. He joins the following on the ticket for next November:

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Diane Trautman, County Clerk
Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Josh Wallenstein, HCDE Trustee, Position 3 At Large

All this presumes there are no other entrants into the primaries. Given how crowded some other races are I wouldn’t bet on that, but this is what we have now. As noted in the previous update, we are still awaiting candidates for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, as well as some State Reps. Filing season opens in about five weeks.

Did you know that the current Treasurer, Orlando Sanchez, is the longest-tenured countywide official? He was elected in 2006, so this is his third term. County Judge Ed Emmett was appointed in 2007 and won his first election in 2008, along with County Attorney Vince Ryan. County Clerk Stan Stanart and District Clerk Chris Daniel were both elected in 2010. Everyone else, including the At Large HCDE Trustees, was elected no earlier than 2012. There are some judges who have been on the bench longer than Sanchez has been in office, there are Constables and JPs who have been around longer, and of course Commissioner Steve Radack was first elected during the Truman administration (I may be slightly exaggerating), but for countywide executive offices, it’s Orlando and then it’s everybody else. If we want to elevate somebody else to the title of most senior countywide elected official, next year will be our chance to do that.

A couple of race updates

Josh Wallenstein

The county slate is one step closer to being filled out for 2018, as Josh Wallenstein has announced his intent to run for the HCDE At Large Position 3 Trustee seat that Diane Trautman is giving up to challenge Stan Stanart. I had a brief chat with Wallenstein via Facebook over the weekend, but as you can see there’s not much on his page yet, so as of today I can’t tell you anything more about him than that he is running. Wallenstein joins Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Trautman (County Clerk), and Marilyn Burgess (District Clerk) on the countywide Democratic slate, which leaves only County Treasurer without a candidate so far. The Treasurer slot pays something like $96K per year, and if we know anything from Orlando Sanchez’s terms in office, there’s plenty of free time to go along with that. If you’re looking for new career opportunities, that may be something to consider. Also needed on the ballot are a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, and an HCDE Trustee for Position 4, Precinct 4, which is held by appointee Louis Evans. I feel more confident about the first one being filled than the second one, but we’ll see.

Also of interest is Murray Newman’s rundown of the incumbents and candidates for the various Harris County criminal courts. This encompasses the District Courts, which handle felonies, and the County Courts, which are for misdemeanors and the focal point of the ongoing bail practices lawsuit. Several judges are retiring or have already stepped down and been replaced by appointees, and a few others have challengers in the Republican primary. I tend to know the players in the other judicial races, so this was a very useful reference for me.

Finally, as you may have noticed last week, I succeeded in putting together a 2017 Election page for this year’s races. It was a lot less work than it usually is thanks to the lack of city races, but as you know things have been highly out of the ordinary lately. Anyway, if you have any corrections or additions to suggest, please let me know. Thanks.

Lina Hidalgo for Harris County Judge

From the inbox, our first announced candidate for Harris County Judge:

Lina Hidalgo

Today, Lina Hidalgo, a young, Harvard and Stanford-educated immigrant, announces her candidacy for Harris County Judge, the top seat on the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Ms. Hidalgo and her family fled Colombia in the height of the drug war, and arrived in Houston after living for several years in Peru and Mexico. Ms. Hidalgo attended public high schools and went on to attend Stanford University, where she graduated with a degree in political science in 2013. She became a U.S. citizen the same year.

“Harris County has given me and my family so much, and I feel a deep responsibility to give back,” said Ms. Hidalgo, when asked why she is running for office. “I had friends who, like me, were eager for knowledge and an opportunity to grow but whose family, unlike mine, ran into tough luck instead of a lucky break. I want Harris County’s government to help foster opportunities for everyone who is lucky enough to live here.”

Hidalgo has spent years working on behalf of the community and for fairer and more effective criminal justice systems. She has gone on to pursue a joint degree in law and public policy at NYU and Harvard. Hidalgo’s aim is to harness the power of Harris County to reform the County’s criminal justice system; make sure people are safe from flooding; promote safe, accessible neighborhoods; and pave the way for better jobs.

“Change can’t come fast enough to communities who are hurting from the losing side of discrimination, poor infrastructure decisions, and inequality,” Hidalgo said. “I am eager to serve my community and give back. We have to fight to fix the gross inequality and waste in our criminal justice system, to build a Commissioners Court that more in touch with the community, and to make sure every family here has a fair shot.”

Hidalgo’s website is here and her Facebook page is here. She is the first declared Democratic candidate for County Judge; Annise Parker is known to be considering the race, but as yet has not made any commitments. This is obviously the toughest race on the county ballot for a Democrat, as Judge Ed Emmett has been a top votegetter and will have plenty of goodwill and financing. Hidalgo is an interesting new face and appears to have a good story to tell about herself. I look forward to hearing more from her.

July campaign finance reports – Harris County candidates

The Harris County situation for candidates and campaign finance reports is a bit complicated. Take a look at my January summary and the reports and data that I’ve found for July, and we’ll discuss what it all means on the other side.

Ed Emmett

Jack Morman
Jack Cagle

Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel

Diane Trautman

David Patronella
George Risner
Don Coffey
Lucia Bates
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir
Daryl Smith
Jeff Williams
Armando Rodriguez
Zinetta Burney
Louie Ditta


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans     On Hand
=================================================
Emmett     472,172   99,684         0     551,875

Morman     635,050   98,611     44,339  2,261,453
Cagle      561,350  197,375          0  1,008,707

Stanart     49,100   10,124     20,000     69,384
Daniel      49,350   51,681     55,000     25,359
Sanchez

Trautman    15,251    2,978          0     18,009
Evans
Lee

Patronella  20,215    5,075          0
Risner       2,550    7,202          0     81,053
Coffey         200    7,214          0     57,694
Bates (*)      850      575          0        567
Korduba (R) 24,870    5,085          0     33,466
Smith (**)       0      300          0          0
Williams (R)     0        0     60,000     13,396
Rodriguez        0        0          0      2,219
Burney           0        0          0        902
Ditta (R)        0    1,907      2,000     17,006

Let’s start with what isn’t there. I don’t see a report as yet for Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, nor do I see one for HCDE Trustees Louis Evans (Position 4, Precinct 3) and Erica Lee (Position 6, Precinct 1). Diane Trautman (Position 3, At Large) has a report, but she is running for County Clerk, so as yet there are no candidates of which I am aware for the position she is vacating. Finding Louis Evans’ name among the list of Trustees was a bit of a surprise, since he had not been elected to that position in 2012. He was appointed to the seat in November of 2015 to replace Kay Smith, who stepped down to run in the Republican primary for HD130. I just missed that announcement, so my bad there. Evans as noted in the linked release, was Smith’s predecessor in that position, serving the six year term from 2007 to 2013. He was not on the ballot for the GOP primary in 2012, so if he runs for another term this would be the first time he has faced voters since 2006.

County Judge Ed Emmett does not have an opponent yet, as far as I can tell. There’s a bit of confusion because three people – Christopher Diaz, Shannon Baldwin, and LaShawn Williams – have filed requests for authorization forms for electronic filing, with County Judge as the office they plan to seek. At least two of these people are not running for County Judge, however. Williams appears to be a candidate for Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3, and has filed a finance report listing that office as the one she seeks. She has also filed a report for the office of County Judge. I presume the latter is an error, but they both have different numbers in them, so who knows? Baldwin’s case appears to be more clear, as she has a Facebook page for her candidacy for County Criminal Court #4, for which she has filed a finance report, again with the correct office listed. As for Diaz, I have no idea. I don’t think he is the Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz. Here’s the Christopher Diaz County Judge RFA, and the Constable Chris Diaz finance report. You tell me.

Jack Morman is clearly aware of his status as biggest electoral target of the year. He’s got plenty of money available to him for his race, whoever he winds up running against. Cagle has only the primary to worry about, as his precinct is highly unlikely to be competitive in November. The other countywide offices generally don’t draw much money to their races. I suppose that may change this year, especially in the County Clerk’s race, but first we’re going to need some candidates.

Constables were elected last year, as were Justices of the Peace in Place 1, so what we have on the ballot this time are the JPs in Place 2. According to the listing of judicial candidates that we got at the June CEC meeting, David Patronella and Zinetta Burney have primary opponents, but neither of them have July finance reports on file. Rodrick Rogers, who is listed as a candidates against Republican Jeff Williams in Precinct 5, also has no report. Lucia Bates is a Democrat running in the primary against Don Coffey, while Daryl Smith is a Democrat running against Repubican incumbent Laryssa Korduba Hrncir, who at last report was the last holdout on performing weddings post-Obergefell. I do not know if there has been any change in that status. Whatever the case, there’s not a lot of fundraising in these races.

So that’s what I know for now. It’s possible some of the non-filers will have reports up later, I do see that sometimes. For sure, we should expect to hear of some candidates in the places where we currently have none. If you’ve got some news on that score, please let us know.

Why won’t the county settle the damn bail lawsuit?

Lisa Falkenberg asks the same question I’ve been asking.

Now that Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal – it should be noted, a Republican appointee — levelled her devastating assessment of Harris County’s rigid bail system a few days ago, ordering county officials to cease practices that violate misdemeanor defendants’ rights to due process and equal protection, you’d think the elected officials who hold the purse strings would admit the futility of fighting the lawsuit and stop funding this exercise in fiscal irresponsibility.

So, why doesn’t the county just settle the lawsuit, and put the money it is spending on lawyers to better use?

I got a surprising answer when I raised that question with the office of Ed Emmett, the county’s chief executive.

“We have consistently been told by the county attorney’s office that the other side does not want to settle,” Emmett said.

The county attorney is Vince Ryan, whose office represents county officials in legal matters. The “other side” is the plaintiffs: two civil rights groups –Texas Fair Defense Project and Civil Rights Corps – and local law firm Susman Godfrey.

Emmett’s spokesman, Joe Stinebaker, said that while commissioners decide whether to keep funding the county’s defense, they can only decide “based on honest and full advice of the county attorney’s office.”

OK. But why would the civil rights groups and a law firm working pro bono to improve the system refuse to settle? Could that be true?

“That’s totally false,” said Neal Manne of Susman Godfrey. “Anyone who claims it’s impossible to settle or we were not willing to settle either has mistaken information or is intentionally not telling the truth.”

[…]

Thoroughly confused, I reached out to the county attorney’s office. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard promptly responded. I asked him if his office had really been recommending to Emmett and other commissioners not to settle because the other side wasn’t interested.

“I guess I can’t comment on that because you’re getting into settlement talks and we’re not allowed to talk about that,” he said.

He did offer an observation: “It takes two parties to settle a case. We can make offers, we can make suggestions but unless they’re accepted, there can’t be a settlement.”

Well, yes. But failure to agree to specific terms of a settlement is very different from refusing to settle at all. I told Soard about Karakatsanis’ offer to settle if the county would just abide by Rosenthal’s ruling. At this point, it could save the county millions in legal fees.

“If they make an honest promise and put it in writing we’ll certainly look at it,” Soard said. He noted that although his office can recommend a settlement, it can’t mandate one; all the county officials named as defendants would have to agree.

You know where I stand on this. Like Falkenberg, I’m not sure who’s blowing smoke here. The one thing I would push back on is the notion that Commissioners Court merely approves or denies the requests to fund the county’s defense. Our commissioners are a lot more invested in this case than that, and as we have clearly seen, at least two of them (Radack and Cagle) don’t appear to be willing to give up the fight. I would want to know more about what the Commissioners – other than Rodney Ellis, who has been quite vocal about not supporting any more expenditures on the lawsuit – ave been saying and doing. They themselves may not be the clients in this lawsuit, but they sure do wield some influence.

And now we have this.

A new settlement offer is on the table in the high-stakes federal lawsuit over Harris County’s bail system in the face of a judge’s ruling that poor people are wrongly kept behind bars because they can’t post cash bail.

The offer comes less than 24 hours after County Judge Ed Emmett told the Chronicle that he’d been informed repeatedly by the county attorney’s office that the lawsuit couldn’t be settled because attorneys for the inmates were unwilling to reach a deal.

The comments brought an immediate offer to the county from a lawyer representing misdemeanor suspects: Agree to the terms outlined by Chief U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal and the lawsuit can be resolved.

“If they’re willing to settle today, we’re happy to settle, and they could stop spending taxpayer money defending a hopeless cause,” attorney Neal Manne, a managing partner at Susman Godfrey, said Wednesday.

[…]

Manne said the settlement offer is just the latest attempt to reach an agreement out of court. He said he submitted the first settlement offer at the county’s request on June 1, which led to two days of mediation in August. After that, the two sides exchanged multiple drafts of proposals, with the final one early this year before the injunction hearing was initially set to begin in February.

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said Wednesday that settlement discussions had been ongoing prior to the injunction hearing in March and that he was not opposed to further talks since the judge’s ruling.

“I agree with Neal [Manne] that there have been ongoing talks about possible settlements,” he said. “They’ve made offers. We’ve made offers. I don’t know why it’s the county’s fault. Certainly the county is willing to settle on terms that are reasonable. There’s no question about that. And there’s no questions that there have been talks.”

Well OK then. Unless the county believes the judge’s terms are not reasonable, then the framework for a settlement is right there. What’s it going to be, fellas?

January 2017 campaign finance reports: Harris County officeholders

We may or may not have City of Houston elections this year, but we will definitely have Harris County elections next year. Here’s a brief tour of the finance reports for Harris County officeholders. First up, Commissioners Court:

Rodney Ellis
Jack Morman
Steve Radack
Jack Cagle (PAC)

El Franco Lee
Gene Locke


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Ellis      283,394   336,611        0   2,012,250
Morman      17,500    48,609   48,863   1,700,320
Radack       4,000    47,466        0   1,419,710
Cagle      560,528   270,065        0     599,774

Lee              0         0        0   3,769,900
Locke            0    81,475        0      16,672

Jack Morman will likely be a top target in 2018 – he has one announced opponent already, and will almost surely have others – and no one can say he isn’t ready for it. I expect that cash on hand number to be well over two million by this time next year. Money isn’t everything, and returns on more campaign cash diminish beyond a certain point, but whoever runs against Morman will have some ground to make up to be able to get a message out and a ground operation going. Meanwhile, the campaign coffers of the late El Franco Lee have more in them than Morman and Rodney Ellis combined, and I still have no idea what’s happening with that. I have some suggestions, if anyone administering that account is curious.

Next, the countywide offices that are on the ballot next year:

Ed Emmett
Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel (PAC)
Orlando Sanchez

Diane Trautman


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Emmett      72,000   116,700        0     177,800
Stanart      1,100     8,272   20,000      22,956
Daniel      25,800    28,866        0       4,336
Sanchez      1,250    21,813  200,000     214,820

Trautman         0       554                3,029

I skipped the offices that were just elected, because life is short. Ed Emmett’s modest total is further evidence that he was not originally planning to run for re-election next year. I feel confident that he’d have more cash in his coffers if that had been the idea all along, and I also feel confident he’ll make up some ground before the next reporting deadline. Diane Trautman would be up for re-election to the HCDE Board, but as we know she is going to run for County Clerk, so I’m including her here. I’ll be interested to see if any money pours into this race. Orlando Sanchez has had that $200K loan on the books since at least the July 2014 report. I still don’t know where he got the money for it, or why he apparently hasn’t spent any of it since then, but whatever.

Here are the Constables:

Alan Rosen
Chris Diaz
Sherman Eagleton
Mark Herman
Phil Camus
Silvia Trevino
May Walker
Phil Sandlin


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Rosen       16,500    53,719        0     237,908
Diaz         5,600    26,127        0      10,479
Eagleton         0    18,426  102,550       2,132
Herman      10,000     8,713        0     248,578
Camus            0     1,259        0       4,650
Trevino      3,500     6,892        0         142
Walker      28,166    16,935        0      23,475
Sandlin      1,500    20,451        0      56,265

All of the Constables, as well as the Justices of the Peace in Place 1, were on the ballot last year, but as I have never looked at these reports before, I figure what the heck. Alan Rosen has always been a big fundraiser. Sherman Eagleton survived a primary and runoff, which is what that loan money is about. I presume all of the action for Mark Herman was in late 2015 and early 2016, after he got promoted and needed to win a primary. I’d have to check to see if Silvia Trevino raised and spent a bunch of money early on and then took a break, or if she just relied on name recognition to win. She did win without a runoff, so whatever she did do, it worked.

Finally, the JPs:

Eric Carter
David Patronella

JoAnn Delgado
George Risner

Joe Stephens
Don Coffey

Lincoln Goodwin
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir

Russ Ridgway
Jeff Williams

Richard Vara
Armando Rodriguez

Hilary Green
Zinetta Burney

Holly Williamson
Louie Ditta


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Carter       2,000     5,041  129,878       1,316
Delgado      1,500         0        0           0
Stephens     1,770     2,192   44,886          61
Goodwin          0       680  115,000      80,730
Ridgway          0     1,200        0      16,414
Vara         1,635       500    9,787       1,523
Green        1,700       236        0       1,684
Williamson   2,436     4,551        0      66,762


Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
=================================================
Patronella  40,665     3,574        0
Risner      37,365     9,680        0      84,532
Coffey      50,125    26,323        0      64,906
Hrncir         910       999        0      13,681
Williams         0         0   60,000      13,396
Rodriguez        0         0        0       2,219
Burney           0         0        0         902
Ditta            0     4,248    2,000      18,914

The Place 1 JPs were elected last year as noted, while the Place 2 JPs will be up next year. David Patronella’s form did not list a cash on hand total. For what it’s worth, all three groups (Constables and the two sets of JPs) have the same partisan mix, five Dems and three Republicans. I don’t have any further insights, so we’ll wrap this up here.

Trautman announces run for Harris County Clerk in 2018

From the inbox:

Diane Trautman

Diane Trautman

As one of my long-time and best supporters, I wanted you to be one of the first to know that I have made the decision to run for Harris County Clerk in 2018!

As you know, I was elected in 2012 to the Harris County Board of Education for a six year term, and that term will be up in 2018. Rest assured, I will fulfill my six year term and be able to stay on the board while pursuing this new position.

Protecting our right to vote and ensuring a reliable, secure, and convenient voting process is not new to me. As you know, I ran for Harris County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar in 2008 and 2010 and came very close to unseating incumbent Paul Bettencourt.

Additionally, I am honored to be serving on the transition team for Ann Harris Bennett, our new Harris County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar, and I will also serve on her voter registration committee. Meanwhile, I will be speaking to voters at clubs and organizations all over the county to hear their ideas, suggestions, and voting experiences. I hope to hear from you as well. Look for more details on my campaign in the new year.

Thank you so much for your past support and I’m looking forward to turning Harris County completely blue in 2018!

I guess the 2018 election season has officially begun. Trautman is currently an At Large trustee on the HCDE board, and her term is up in 2018, so a run for County Clerk would be in place of a run for re-election. She will not have to resign from the HCDE board now that she has made this announcement because the constitutional resign to run provision does not apply to her. (See also: former HCDE Trustee Roy Morales, who ran for every office under the sun during his term in office.)

Trautman has the advantage of having won countywide office in the past, and being generally well liked among the Democratic base. I’m sure she announced this early in part to get out ahead of the competition, as County Clerk is now the most attractive office for a Democrat with ambitions to target in 2018 now that County Judge Ed Emmett has announced his intention to run again. I’m sure this won’t stop anyone from at least considering the race, and I’m sure there will be some people who will want to see some new blood get a chance. I’m perfectly happy for there to be contested primaries in 2018, and I hope these races draw lots of interest, from potential candidates and from voters.

Emmett says he will run for re-election in 2018

Well, this was unexpected.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Thursday that he plans to seek re-election when his current term is up in 2018, ending speculation that he might step aside after more than a decade at the helm of the nation’s third most-populous county.

Emmett, a Republican known for his pragmatic, steady approach, said he made the decision Wednesday night after conferring with family and friends.

“I’m in kind of a unique position to bring people together at a time when it’s needed more than any other,” the 67-year-old Emmett said. “Harris County is a big, diverse place with lots of problems. Those problems don’t have simple answers.”

[…]

Emmett’s current term expires Dec. 31, 2018.

He said part of the reason he announced his intention to run Thursday was because the March 2018 primary is less than 18 months away and campaigns would likely get underway soon.

“I’ve got some money in the bank,” Emmett said. “But if I’m going to run, I need to make it clear so that those people who support me can get behind me.”

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Friday that she had been considering a bid for the judgeship, but would not do so given that Emmett is seeking re-election.

“If he’s not there,” Parker said, “I’m going to be first in line.”

As is the way of all things these days, Emmett made his intentions known via Twitter. Judge Emmett himself told me he was planning to retire after his current term was up. He said that to me after an interview I did with him, saying something to the effect of “there are things you can do in your 70s that you can’t easily do in your 80s”. That was a comment made in passing, not a carved-in-stone promise, and clearly his thinking has changed. Or maybe he just likes the job too much to want to quit. Whatever the case, barring anything unusual there will not be a vacancy in this office in two years.

That obviously complicates things for Democrats who are thinking about the next election, as can be seen by Annise Parker’s comment. Judge Emmett is well-regarded and probably the most popular politician in the county. He was the top vote-getter in 2010, he ran unopposed in 2014, and was re-elected easily in 2008 despite the strong Democratic wave that year. I suspect that despite all this someone will run against him in 2018 anyway, as there are legitimate policy matters that deserve debate, and only so many opportunities available for a person of ambition. We’ll see how it goes.

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

More on the jailed rape victim

The Chron pens a harsh editorial.

DA Devon Anderson

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

and yes, this is a campaign issue.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

State of the county 2016

This year’s theme is cooperation and meeting challenges.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

In his ongoing effort to revive the Astrodome, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Tuesday proposed using the aging landmark for an outdoor light show when Houston hosts the Super Bowl next February.

Emmett discussed the future of the Ddome and touched on the challenges the county faces in health care during his ninth “State of the County” address before 1,100 business leaders at NRG Center.

He floated the idea of a projected light show on the exterior of the Astrodome to coincide with the Super Bowl. Emmett also laid out a long-term plan to convert the nine-acre interior into an indoor park with underground parking or storage and retail facilities above.

[…]

He also touched on another of his key themes, the county’s duty to meet fundamental health care needs of residents while it grapples with the cost of providing services without help from expanded Medicaid funds that state leaders refuse to pursue.

“So long as the county property taxpayer has to bear the cost of health care, we will have trouble meeting the challenge. Refusing to accept federal dollars available for indigent health care makes no more sense than turning down federal highway funds,” Emmett said. “Those who now reject federal dollars for health care are not only punishing individuals and families who need access to better care, they are increasing property taxes for all taxpayers.”

Emmett ended by pleading with business leaders to “push back against those who want to play politics with county government.” People vilify government, he said, but then they expect high-quality emergency services, flood control and a smooth commute.

The full speech is here. In his discussion of how senseless it is to reject federal dollars for indigent health care, he recalled his time in the Legislature when some of his colleagues wanted to turn down federal highway dollars because they didn’t want to mandate seat belt usage. It took a visit from Dr. Red Duke to convince them to come to their senses. “We need another Red Duke to bring reason to the issue of indigent health care,” he said. I love the parallel Emmett draws, but I respectfully disagree with his prescription. What we really need is fewer Republicans in Austin, beginning with the Governor and Lt. Governor, who would refuse to listen to what Dr. Red Duke would be telling them. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of other respected authorities – doctors, business folk, economists – who have been saying the same thing. The problem is the hammerheaded and entirely partisan unwillingness to listen.

Anyway. As always, the full speech is worth your time; background on the Dome stuff is here. Judge Emmett was introduced by Mayor Turner, which again bodes well for city/county cooperation going forward. Your Houston News and Swamplot have more.

State of the county 2015: Please cooperate more

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett makes his eighth State if the County address.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

In his eighth State of the County address, Emmett had choice words for both Austin – which is weighing a reduction in property taxes that form the backbone of county revenue – and for Houston – which has adopted a strategy of limited annexations of suburban areas but Emmett said will not adequately provide for its poor.

“County government must have the tools and resources necessary to improve those areas because I do not see a scenario in which the city steps up and improves the situation,” Emmett said at NRG Stadium to several hundred business leaders brought together by the Greater Houston Partnership.

A city spokeswoman said the limited annexations were two-sided agreements with utility districts, not city land-grabs.

Emmett nevertheless called for a “new model of urban governance” that would work for a booming unincorporated Harris County that is becoming increasingly urbanized. The county judge expressed concern that the unincorporated part of the county could struggle to provide health care for its indigent and build roads and railways for its economy.

Harris County, which soon will have more people living in these unincorporated areas than in Houston, has been mischaracterized by outside groups and policy makers as merely an urban core, Emmett said.

The city’s governance plan has included limited-purpose annexation of unincorporated areas. Those agreements strip suburban areas of possible revenue, and Emmett said he was prepared to spend some political capital to fight the city as it tries to bring neighboring areas into its jurisdiction.

“Suburbs and close-in areas that have been skipped over are struggling,” Emmett said. “For lack of a better term, suburban blight is staring us in the face.”

Equally menacing, Emmett said, is a state government that looks to implement “arbitrary limits” on the revenue or spending of the county, which is an arm of the state. While he supports lower taxes, Emmett derided proposed property tax caps Friday as merely “good sound bites.”

The state also should take some responsibility for health care for the indigent and the mentally ill, Emmett said, rather than relying solely on county resources.

“Should indigent health care really be a responsibility solely of the county?” Emmett asked. “Or is it time for the state to establish regional health care systems that support public and private clinics, hospitals and programs?”

Here’s the full text of Judge Emmett’s address. Just as a reminder, expanding Medicaid (which Judge Emmett supports) would go a long way towards addressing those needs. I don’t know enough about the annexation issue to have a strong opinion about it, but I wonder if going back to doing more full annexations might be a better way forward. As for the threat to the county’s revenue stream coming from Austin, the main problem there is too many Republicans in Austin that don’t really care about governing but are there to implement an ideological agenda. The Judge’s suggestion is for more November voters to get involved in the primaries. That may help, but I’d point out they could also make some different choices in November, too. Anyway, the end of the speech was about the Astrodome and the ULI plan for it. Whatever else happens, here’s hoping that gets some traction.

And we’re still talking about the 2015 Mayor’s race

Here we go again.

Mayor Annise Parker

Still the Mayor

The mayor’s race may be more than a year away, but nearly all candidates have launched shadow campaigns – and not all shadow campaigns are created equal.

[State Rep. Sylvester] Turner and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, considered early frontrunners if both launch bids for City Hall, already have the name recognition from years of holding public office. That advantage may be multiplied by their ability to raise money through their existing campaign committees – an opportunity they have capitalized on over the last month.

City ordinances prevent candidates from raising money for a mayoral bid before Feb. 1, but because Turner and Garcia currently hold non-city offices, they can raise cash through their committees.

Come February, they are expected to transfer the lion’s share of that money to their mayoral bids, turning the well-liked frontrunners into well-funded frontrunners.

“It’s a little bit of a head start for sure, but the people who are talking about it are lining up their donors the same way they are,” said Lillie Schechter, a Democratic fundraiser. “One person will have to pick up checks, the other person will have to transfer checks.”

[…]

In what is expected to be the most crowded mayoral field since the last open race in 2009, a dozen potential candidates have effectively launched their bids, hiring consultants, meeting with labor and business groups, and telling the political class that a campaign is imminent. They must sit on their hands, however, when it comes to raising the money that determines their political viability, unable to collect a single check until the nine-month brawl for the mayor’s office begins in February.

As many as seven Republicans are looking into entering the race: Ben Hall, who squared off against Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, and councilmen Steven Costello and Oliver Pennington said they will announce bids, while councilmen Jack Christie and Michael Kubosh and former Kemah mayor Bill King are waiting to assess the field.

Republican Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia, [Chris] Bell, City Councilman C.O. “Brad” Bradford and private equity executive Marty McVey are said to be considering bids.

See here for the previous roundup of wannabes, could-bes, and never-will-bes. I have four things to say.

1. Most of what I think about this story I’ve already said in that previous post. I do consider Rep. Turner to be the frontrunner, for whatever that’s worth, but we’re a long, long way from being able to assess the field. Hell, there really isn’t a field to assess right now. As I said, there are only so many max-dollar donors, only so many endorsements that are worth chasing, and only so much grassroots/volunteer energy to go around. The market, if you will, just can’t support more than about four serious candidates. Most of the names you see and hear now will disappear long before we get to put-up-or-shut-up time.

2. Like Texpatriate, I remain skeptical that Sheriff Garcia will throw his hat into the ring. He must know that a fair number of Democrats will be unhappy with him if he leaves his post to a Republican appointee, which is what we’ll get from Commissioners Court. I do not speak for Sheriff Garcia, I do not advise Sheriff Garcia, and I have zero inside knowledge of what Sheriff Garcia has in mind for his future. If I were advising him, I would tell him to line up a strong successor for 2016, then set his sights on running for County Judge in 2018, when we know Ed Emmett will step down. We all know that Sheriff Garcia has ambitions for bigger things. I’ll be delighted to see him on a statewide ballot some day. Mayor of Houston would certainly be an excellent springboard to something statewide. So would County Judge. I think he’d have a clearer shot at that, and he’d risk angering fewer current allies with that choice. This is 100% my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

3. Listing Ben Hall as a Republican made me guffaw, followed by some giggles. Any article that can do that to me is all right in my book.

4. I still don’t think we should be talking about the Mayor’s race now, and we shouldn’t be talking about it until after the election this November. That’s far more important right now. That said, I am thinking about what I do and don’t want in my next Mayor. I’ll publish it when it’s done, which I guarantee you will be some time after November 4.

Hassan drops out of County Judge race

I’m okay with this.

Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Democrat Ahmad Hassan has ended his campaign for Harris County judge, saying incumbent Republican Ed Emmett should be given another four-year term to finish projects vital to the community.

Hassan, owner of the Katy-based Alexandria Realty and Mortgage, said he decided to withdraw after a recent meeting with Emmett, the county’s top administrator since 2007.

“It was not an easy decision,” Hassan said. “I am a leader. I’ve never withdrawn from anything.”

[…]

With Hassan’s withdrawal, Emmett will run unopposed in November.

Emmett said he met with Hassan earlier this week.

“I do have things I’m trying to accomplish – the mental health pilot program at the jail, regional governance, the Astrodome,” Emmett said. “I thanked him. I thought it was an honorable thing to do. He is a successful person, and he truly wants to give back. I can appreciate that.”

I agree that Ahmad Hassan is a well-meaning person who wants to do good. Having interviewed him in 2010, however, he is not qualified for the office of County Judge. He had no grasp of the issues and no idea what he would do if he were elected. This would have been his third run for County Judge – he lost in the Democratic primary in 2008 to David Mincberg and in 2010 to Gordon Quan – and he has also run for Congress in 2006 as a Republican, and for Commissioners Court in 2012, again losing in the Democratic primary. I appreciate how difficult it is to run for office and what a huge burden it can be on a candidate and his or her family. I believe it’s best for all candidates to have to earn the job they seek by defeating one or more qualified opponents, and as a Democrat I hate seeing Republicans go unchallenged. But Ahmad Hassan was nothing more than a name on a ballot. He’d raised no money this year, which was typical for him, he had no campaign website or Facebook page that I could find, and the only campaign activity I can recall him engaging in was some emails plus reaching out to me for an interview in 2010. There are candidates like him all over the ballot, but he actually had a non-zero chance of winning, given the partisan splits in Harris County. Remember when Dallas accidentally elected a candidate like that to be their County Judge in 2006? However unlikely that would have been here, I didn’t want it to happen. Someone has to be a counterweight to the rest of Commissioners Court, and whether you like him or planned to vote for him or not, Judge Emmett does that. Ahmad Hassan would not have been able to do that.

Ideally, there would have been a much stronger candidate on the ballot to oppose Emmett, someone like Mincberg or Quan, but it’s not hard to understand why no one of that caliber stepped in. Even in a good Democratic year, you’d be an underdog against Emmett, who has a sizable campaign treasury and demonstrated crossover appeal. He’s also made it clear that this will be his final term, so why risk going down in flames when you can take a shot an an open seat in 2018? Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but Emmett’s been a pretty good County Judge, and unlike a few other Republicans I could name he’s put the job ahead of partisan interests – he supports Medicaid expansion, he has been a big advocate for mental health treatment over incarceration, and so on. I have plenty of policy disagreements with him and would rather have someone closer to my own perspective in that office, but we could do an awful lot worse than Ed Emmett.

It should be noted that Emmett is not actually unopposed, despite what the story says. There is a Green Party candidate on the ballot – David Collins, who was the GP candidate for US Senate in 2012 – so if you really can’t stand the idea of voting for Ed Emmett, you do still have a choice. PDiddie and Texpatriate have more.