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Harris County Treasurer

Interview with Nile Copeland

Nile Copeland

I have one more interview for County Treasurer. There are three candidates, but Cosme Garcia did not return my email asking to schedule something, so two is all I have. As before, if Garcia gets back to me now I will do my best to accommodate him. In the meantime, here is my interview with Nile Copeland, who currently serves as a municipal judge in Houston and who has been a candidate for district court judge in Harris County in past years. Publishing this today reminds me of one of the perils of doing interviews in advance as I do. It’s a rare days when incumbent Treasurer Orlando Sanchez does something newsworthy – honestly, I think it’s a rare day when he does something other than surf Facebook – but there he was getting quoted in that story about Harris County’s recent cybercrime near-miss. Had that story run a few weeks ago, or if I had done these interviews more recently, I’d have brought this up, but alas, it was not to be. So you’ll have to do with what we did talk about:

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

Interview with Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

We move on now to Harris County races. There are races for county courts and Justice of the Peace, which I am covering via the judicial Q&As. Lina Hidalgo is unopposed in the primary for Harris County Judge. In the races for County Clerk, District Clerk, and County Commissioner in Precinct 2, I have chosen to endorse candidates instead of interviewing the slate. That leaves County Treasurer, HCDE Trustee in Position 3 At Large and Position 6, Precinct 1 (Andrea Duhon is unopposed in the primary for Position 4, Precinct 3), and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. The next two weeks will be devoted to these races, beginning today with County Treasurer.

Treasurer is an odd office, a constitutional holdover that was eliminated at the statewide level in 1995. Three Democrats have filed to try to defeat incumbent Orlando Sanchez, who was first elected to this office in 2006. Dylan Osborne was the first of the three to jump in. Osborne works in the Planning & Development Department for the City of Houston, and he has been on staff for two City Council members, most recently Richard Nguyen in District F. Here’s what we talked about:

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

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: Jeffrey Payne and a whole lot of Congressional candidates

And then there were six Democratic candidates for Governor.

Jeffrey Payne

Signing paperwork and presenting a $3,500 check, [Dallas businessman Jeffrey] Payne became the sixth Democrat to file for the state’s top office. In addition to Payne, the list currently includes Houston electronics businessman Joe Mumbach, Dallas financial analyst Adrian Ocegueda, former Balch Springs Mayor Cedric Davis Sr., retired San Antonio school teacher Grady Yarbrough and San Antonio businessman Tom Wakley.

Two more, Houston entrepreneur Andrew White and [Dallas County Sheriff Lupe] Valdez, are expected to declare their candidacy before the filing period ends in a week, on Dec. 11.

“I have had great response to my campaign and, after touring the state for the past several months, I think we can win — even though it’s going to be uphill,” Payne said at the Texas Democratic Party headquarters, where he filed his candidacy papers. “People want a politician who listens to them.”

Payne said he thinks he will have to raise $8 million to win the March primary. He had earlier pledged to put up to $2.5 million of his own money into his campaign, but said Monday that he hasn’t had to tap his accounts yet.

He also said that if Valdez runs, the campaign will mark a milestone by having two gay candidates running for governor. “That says something about where Texas is now,” he said.

Payne was the first announced candidate to be considered newsworthy. He’s not the last. Going by what I’ve seen on Facebook, White appears poised to announced – at Mark White Elementary School in Austin Houston – his official filing on Thursday the 7th. I don’t know exactly what will happen with Sheriff Valdez, who had that weird “she’s in/not so fast” moment last week, but the consensus seems to be that she will be in. I’ll have more fully formed thoughts later, but for now it is clear we are in for the most interesting and active set of Democratic off year primaries since 2002.

Moving along, in bullet point form…

– Steve Brown filed as promised in CD22. The total number of Democratic candidates in each Congressional district in Harris County:

  • Four in CD02, with at least one more expected
  • Five in CD07, with one more expected
  • One in CD08, and one in CD09, the only two that do not have contested races
  • Two in CD10, with at least two more potential candidates out there
  • Two in CD18, as Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee draws a challenger
  • Four in CD22
  • Four in CD29, with Adrian Garcia still in the wind
  • Two in CD36

Looking around the state, the only districts that don’t have at least one Democrat running are CDs 04 and 13, two of the reddest districts in the state.

Gina Calanni filed for HD132, leaving HDs 134 and 135 as the only two competitive State House districts in Harris County that still need candidates. I don’t have a good read on the rest of the state yet.

– District Clerk and County Treasurer are now contested primaries as Kevin Howard and Cosme Garcia (respectively) filed in each. She hasn’t filed yet, but Andrea Duhon appears to be in for HCDE Board of Trustees Position. 4, Precinct 3. That was the last county office that really needed a candidate.

Still more to come. If you know of something I’m missing, leave a comment.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Targeting straight ticket voting

From Trail Blazers:

Texas is one of only 10 states still doing straight-ticket voting but a North Texas legislator is hoping to change that.

At a hearing today, Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) told the Elections Committee that doing away with such an option here would lead to a more informed voter and improve turnout in non-partisan ballot measure.

“The purpose of this bill is to increase the number of Republican elected officials thought out the state of Texas,” he halfway joked. “However I do believe the added benefit will be a more educated voter.”

But Glenn Maxey, of the Texas Democratic Party, said such a move could discourage voters.

“People are going to be standing in line for hours and hours because it’s going to take people not 10 minutes to vote but a half hour to do that kind of marking,” he said.

Bill Fairbrother, of the Texas Republican County Chairman Association, said cost is a concern.

“Think of all the additional machines, clerks, polling places … That instead of being able to click one box to take care of those races, you have to go back and choose on average 25 separate races,” he said.

However, both Maxey and Fairbrother noted that within their parties, there was division as those in more rural areas favored the bill.

Rep. Simmons wrote a TribTalk piece in February about this:

Rep. Ron Simmons

Every campaign season, candidates and interest groups spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to “inform” voters. I use that word — rather than “educate” — on purpose.

Informing is nothing more than providing information to another party. Educating requires action on the part of the recipient, who must want to understand the information and absorb it. There’s no better example of this than at the ballot box. Anyone who has read our Founding Fathers’ writing would agree that their intent was for voters to be educated on the candidates and issues of the day. Unfortunately, current Texas law provides a way for citizens to skip spending the time and energy needed to become educated voters. It’s called straight-ticket voting.

Straight-ticket voting allows someone to simply select one box to vote for an entire slate of candidates from a particular political party. This often leads voters to elect candidates without any knowledge whatsoever of who they are. This subverts the purpose of our electoral process and puts the citizens of Texas at a severe disadvantage.

Virtually all voters educate themselves on candidates at the top of the ticket (president, governor, etc.). But many voters, partially because of straight-ticket voting, make little or no effort to educate themselves on the candidates at the bottom of the ticket running for offices that have the most direct effect on individual citizens — think county clerk, county commissioner, justice of the peace and state representative. These voters simply check the one box, either Democrat or Republican, and move on without giving it a second thought. This is bad for Texas.

I drafted a post at the time but had not gotten around to publishing it. Now seems like as good a time as any to rectify that, so here’s what I wrote in response to that.

Rep. Simmons has filed HB1288 to eliminate straight ticket voting. A different bill, to exempt judges and county officials from straight-ticket ballots in Texas’ largest counties, has been filed by Rep. Jason Villalba. I’ve nattered on about straight ticket voting in the past, and I’ll neither defend it nor condemn it today. I do, of course, have a couple of thoughts about this.

I agree that many voters are not fully educated about downballot candidates. Hell, a lot of voters are misinformed about the top of the ticket candidates, and of the top issues of the day. That problem is outside my scope here, but as a matter of general principle, eliminating straight ticket voting isn’t going to do anything to solve that problem. What it can and likely will do is reduce the number of people voting in those races. Maybe that means the average voter will be slightly more educated in those races, and maybe one can claim that’s a “better” outcome. I think that’s at best an open question.

Which leads to another question: Just how big an effect would this be? Putting it another way, if straight ticket voting were eliminated, how many more people would wind up skipping downballot races? I don’t have the bandwidth to do a thorough study, but here’s a quick and dirty look at the last four non-Presidential elections in Harris County:

Year Straight% CClerk% DClerk% Treas% ========================================= 2002 54.78% 6.74% 2006 47.67% 6.89% 7.99% 6.68% 2010 66.89% 4.50% 4.71% 3.93% 2014 68.04% 3.90% 4.09% 3.46%

“Straight%” is the total percentage of straight ticket votes, which as you can see has been much greater in the last two elections than the first two above. “CClerk%”, “DClerk%”, and “Treas%” are the undervote percentages for the County Clerk, District Clerk, and County Treasurer races. I picked those because they’re pretty far down on the ballot and they’d be targeted by Rep. Villalba’s bill. The County Clerk and District Clerk races were uncontested in 2002, so I don’t have a complete data set, but this suggests that more straight ticket votes means fewer undervotes, which is not too surprising. I wouldn’t draw too much of a conclusion from this, as the partisan environments are stronger now, with both parties making a priority out of urging their voters to fill in an oval in each race. The total effect isn’t that great – three percentage points in a 700,000 voter turnout context is a 21,000 vote difference – but it’s not nothing.

I don’t know what the numbers might look like if straight ticket voting were eliminated. I’m sure the parties would work that much harder to convince their voters to vote in each race. Not being able to depend on straight ticket voters for a potentially significant chunk of their final tally would likely spur these candidates to do more fundraising to raise their name recognition. Outside groups, for which there’s no shortage of money, might also take a greater interest in these races. There are a lot of factors to consider, but it wouldn’t shock me if 50,000 or even 100,000 voters in Harris County might have dropped off without participating in these past races in the absence of straight ticket voting. That’s a wild guess of up to 15% or so of total turnout. I’d expect something similar in other large counties. How much that might change if the parties, candidates, and outside interests responded as I envision is a question I can’t answer.

(If you’re wondering about Presidential years, the rate of straight ticket voting in the last three Presidential elections has been about the same in each – 64% in 2004, 62% in 2008, 68% in 2012. I don’t feel I have enough data to say anything even marginally useful.)

One point that I’ve made before in the context of proposals to separate judicial elections from the partisan voting process is that partisan labels are sometimes the only reliable piece of information voters have about a candidate. Most candidates who call themselves “Democratic” or “Republican” fall within a reasonably well-defined range of policy positions and cultural identifiers. There are plenty of variations, both mainstream (think Sarah Davis and Eddie Lucio and their respective stances on equality, for example) and extreme (think Kesha Rogers), but if you consider yourself a D or an R and you vote for a candidate with the same label but without knowing anything else about that candidate, the odds are pretty good that you’ve just voted for someone that you’d basically like and approve of. More to the point, you’ve probably just voted for someone you’d basically like and approve of more than any of the other options available to you in that race, and yes that includes races with more than two candidates. Is that enough information to justify one’s vote? Is it enough to justify the convenience of being able to vote quickly, instead of having to make the same choice you’d have made anyway several dozen times in a big county like Harris? If all we’re doing is making it take longer to vote, will we also take steps to mitigate that, like having more voting stations available at busy locations so the lines don’t get too long, or making it easier to vote by mail at one’s convenience? I know there are bills filed to do those things, but I don’t expect them to go anywhere.

These are some of the things I think about when I hear someone make the kind of proposals Reps. Simmona and Villalba are making. If Rep. Simmons’ bill were to pass and we found that the number of people voting in, say, County Clerk races was 20% less than in Governor’s races, would we consider that to be a good thing or a bad thing? You tell me. On the one hand, it would be harder to argue that the results of those elections were determined by uneducated voters. On the other hand, a lot of people spend a lot of time every post-election period bemoaning the low number of people who show up to vote. Bemoaning low turnout, and enabling it for what could be a lot of races by eliminating the one-button vote seems to me to be contradictory. Do we want everyone to vote or not? Do we think having some people vote in some races but not in others is the better way to do it? Killing straight ticket voting is an easy answer, though none of these bills may have an easy path to passage. How to get a better-educated electorate is a much harder question. What is it we really want? I’d say we should answer that first. PDiddie has more.

January campaign finance reports – Mayoral wannabes

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

I wrote yesterday about the start of the 2015 campaign season in Houston, and how it’s started a bit early thanks to the ruling in the lawsuit filed by Trebor Gordon that invalidated the blackout period. This week also marked the January 15 finance report filing deadline, so now is as good a time as any to see who has what. The Gordon ruling really had no effect on the January filings – it came way too late for that – so as I’ve said before, the real story of its effect will be told in the July reports, when we can see who raised what during January. Because the blackout was in effect last year, several Mayoral candidates have no reports to file as yet – Chris Bell, Marty McVey, and Joe Ferreira fall into that category. Bill King did file a report, but only had some expenditures to list. Folks like Stephen Costello, Oliver Pennington, and Jack Christie have existing city finance accounts and thus had reports to file for their activity; Ben Hall still has his account from the 2013 race; and of course current holders of other offices like Rep. Sylvester Turner, Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and Treasurer Orlando Sanchez filed reports with their respective authorities. (In Sanchez’s case, since he would not be on the ballot until 2018 if he stays put, he was not required to file a January report he does not have a January report on the County Clerk website that I can find; I have his eight-day report from last year linked.) So without further ado:

Sylvester Turner
Stephen Costello
Oliver Pennington
Ben Hall
Jack Christie
Bill King
Adrian Garcia
Orlando Sanchez

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Turner 657,227 121,719 0 1,014,424 Costello 0 35,324 15,000 273,001 Pennington 0 126,039 0 116,632 Hall 0 26,300 2,000,000 59,300 Christie 0 11,404 0 4,080 King 0 7,300 0 0 Garcia 175,681 350,030 0 57,213 Sanchez 18,041 14,115 200,000 1,258 Locke 0 0 0 4,065 Parker 0 57,109 0 350,695

I included reports for 2009 candidate Gene Locke and Mayor Parker for the heck of it as well as for purposes of comparison. It will be interesting to see if Mayor Parker, who has her eye on a future statewide run, does any fundraising this year.

Turner’s report, with its sizable cash on hand total, and Garcia’s report, with its much less sizable COH number, are the ones that have attracted the most attention. You can see why Chris Bell really wants to enforce a $10,000 limit on the amount Turner could transfer to a city account. A million dollar head start is a big obstacle for him or anyone else to overcome. Turner, for his part, ramped up his fundraising last year in the expectation of being able to transfer it all because now that the Lege is in session, he’s on the sidelines until at least May unless he decides to resign, which I would not expect. As for Garcia, who has held some recent fundraisers for his county account, he could likely bring in some money quickly once he announced, if he does. But as Campos notes, the clock is ticking. The longer he waits, the harder it will get and the more likely that some of the deeper pockets will commit themselves to someone else. You have to figure that if he intends to get into the race, it will happen in the next month or so.

Beyond that, not too much to see. Jack Christie and Bill King can both do a certain amount of self-funding, though probably not to the extent that Ben Hall has done. I can only marvel at his outstanding loans figure, which I’ll bet goes up even more. Costello and Pennington have both shown to be strong fundraisers in past elections. I have no idea about McVey and Ferreira or whoever else might be thinking about it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there’s only so much space for viable candidacies in the Mayoral race. With a cap on how much and individual and a PAC can give in a cycle, there are only so many deep pockets to tap. Mayor Parker has done very well with a big network of small-dollar donors, but that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, and one usually has to have an extensive personal network to begin with. Like I said, the July reports will tell us a much more detailed story. I’ll check out the other finance reports in future posts. Stace has more.

UPDATE: A couple of people have asked me about the statement that Orlando Sanchez didn’t need to file a January report. I could swear that I saw something to that effect in the Chronicle, but now I can’t find where I saw it. So, since I can see that Stan Stanart, who also would not be on the ballot till 2018, has a January report filed, I’ve changed my wording above. My apologies for the confusion and for not being more skeptical of that.

Endorsement watch: Why Orlando?

The Chron has published its full list of endorsements for the 2014 election, but at the time they ran that they had not published all of the accompanying editorials. They began their catch-up on that on Wednesday with another expression of their love for incumbent Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez.

Orlando Sanchez

[Democratic challenger David] Rosen, 29, says he would work to completely revamp the office’s online portal, so that county residents would have a better sense of how their tax dollars are spent.

“I want to make open government a reality in Harris County,” he said. “This office has a real problem with transparency.”

[…]

Sanchez, a once and perhaps future mayoral candidate who’s been treasurer since 2007, told the Chronicle editorial board that he agrees with his opponent about the need for more transparency and has urged commissioners to replace the county’s “antediluvian [computer] system.”

Touting his experience in government, Sanchez said the county treasurer should serve as an “independent set of eyes” on the county checkbook. He said that his oversight of credit interest uncovered bond discrepancies that could have cost the county millions.

Rosen is an articulate and thoughtful candidate, but Sanchez has the experience. We endorse the incumbent.

The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez at every opportunity – in this year’s GOP primary, where they listed him as being five years older than they did in this piece, in 2010, and in 2006. After all this time, and all these paeans to “transparency”, I still have no idea what the dude has done in his eight years in office. That bit about his “oversight of credit interest” is the first mention I’ve seen of that. At this point I see no value in wailing and gnashing teeth about it. Whether it’s his enchantingly blue eyes or knowledge about the placement of buried bodies, Orlando Sanchez has a hold over the Chron editorial board. We’re going to have to find a way to live with that.

The Chron also got around to doing endorsements in the county criminal courts. As has been their way so far, they stuck with incumbents in most cases, but in each of their two-part set of endorsements, they picked one Democratic challenger. Here’s part one:

County Criminal Court at Law No. 6: Linda Geffin

Democratic challenger Linda Geffin, 61, knows firsthand the risks that come from fighting in our courts for justice: In 2011, she was beaten and left unconscious in an attack that Geffin believes was retaliation for her work in the County Attorney’s office against sex trafficking. With a 10-year tenure in the Harris County District Attorney’s office, this graduate of the South Texas College of Law has been active in her community and is a two-time recipient of Children At Risk’s “Hero of the Month” award.

Incumbent Judge Larry Standley, a Republican, took the bench in 1999 after serving as chief felony prosecutor at the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, Standley, 56, said he draws on his own troubled youth and undistinguished high school career as inspiration to help those who may have shared a similarly tough experience.

Both candidates have a good-hearted passion for the job, but Geffin seems better-suited for the duties of judgeship.

And part two:

County Criminal Court of Law No. 14: David L. Singer

Defense attorneys usually air their objections during trial, or perhaps through appeals. But earlier this year, a dozen of Houston’s top criminal defense attorneys took their protest to the hallway outside the courtroom of Judge Mike Fields. Handing out cards that explained defendants’ constitutional rights, these members of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association took aim at Fields, 49, for coercing defendants to waive their constitutional right to an attorney. The deck is already stacked against people who are in our criminal justice system, and Fields’ attempt to speed up the gears of justice pushed his court off the tracks.

Fields, a Republican, first came to this seat in 1998 and graduated from St. Mary’s School of Law.

Voters should cast their ballots for Democratic challenger David L. Singer. A graduate of the South Texas College of Law, Singer, 55, has served as a briefing attorney in the First Court of Appeals, followed by six years as a Harris County prosecutor. He now works as a defense attorney. In a notable accomplishment, Singer received more votes than Fields in the annual Houston Bar Association Judicial Preference Poll. That poll is a clumsy tool at best, reflecting only a tiny slice of lawyers, but rarely does a challenger beat an incumbent. We’ve endorsed Fields before, but the poll results are a sign that he has become a judicial outlier. Voters should give Singer a repeat victory on Election Day.

Also of interest is that for County Criminal Court of Law No. 10, the Chron decided they didn’t like either the Democrat George Barnstone or the Republican Dan Jeffry, so they gave the nod to Libertarian candidate Brad Walters. Putting aside the novelty of having a Libertarian candidate this far down the ballot, if there had been one race this year where I’d have thought a third party candidate might have gotten endorsed, it would have been the Ag Commissioner race. The Chron is just full of surprises, apparently.

Interview index

For your convenience, here is a list of all my interviews and judicial Q&As for the November election. This includes ones I did for the primary and runoff.

Interviews

US SenateDavid Alameel

Attorney GeneralSam Houston
ComptrollerMike Collier
Land CommissionerJohn Cook
Railroad CommissionerSteve Brown

State Senate, SD15Sen. John Whitmire
State Senate, SD17Rita Lucido

State House, HD23Susan Criss
State House, HD75Rep. Mary Gonzalez
State House, HD131Rep. Alma Allen
State House, HD133Laura Nicol
State House, HD145Rep. Carol Alvarado

District AttorneyKim Ogg
County ClerkAnn Harris Bennett
District ClerkJudith Snively
TreasurerDavid Rosen
HCDE Trustee At LargeDebra Kerner
HCDE Trustee At LargeMelissa Noriega

Judicial Q&As

14th Court of AppealsKyle Carter

180th Criminal District CourtRandy Roll
185th Criminal District CourtMack McInnis
230th Criminal District CourtGreg Glass
248th Criminal District CourtShawna Reagin
263rd Criminal District CourtHerb Ritchie

55th Civil District CourtKay Morgan
113th Civil District CourtSteven Kirkland
190th Civil District CourtFarrah Martinez
234th Civil District CourtBarbara Gardner
281st Civil District CourtTanner Garth

246th Family District CourtSandra Peake
247th Family District CourtChip Wells
280th Family District CourtBarbara Stalder
308th Family District CourtJim Evans
309th Family District CourtKathy Vossler
311th Family District CourtSherri Cothrun

313th Juvenile District CourtTracy Good

Harris County Probate Court #1Kim Bohannon Hoesl
Harris County Probate Court #2Josefina Rendon
Harris County Probate Court #4James Horwitz

Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 2Harold Landreneau
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 10George Barnstone
Harris County Criminal Court At Law No. 13Jason Luong

Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 2Scot Dollinger

Interview with David Rosen

David Rosen

David Rosen

Once you get past the District Attorney race, there’s not a lot of high-profile electoral action in Harris County this year. County Judge Ed Emmett has no Democratic challenger, and while there are things happening at the legislative level most of the focus has been statewide. A race doesn’t have to have a high profile to be important, however, and local races always matter. Which brings me to the remaining countywide races for which I’ll be running November interviews. I published an interview with Harris County Clerk candidate Ann Harris Bennett for the primary, and I encourage you to listen to it if you haven’t already done so. This week we’ll be focusing on the other two county executive offices on the ballot. First up is County Treasurer, where after two full terms the question remains “Just what exactly does Orlando Sanchez do all day?” There are some mysteries even I can’t plumb, but if you want to know what could be done with this office, meet Democratic candidate David Rosen. Rosen, who was a candidate for HCDE Trustee in 2012, is young and bright and has some good ideas for how to make the Treasurer’s office something useful again. His candidacy is also potentially historic, in that I’d bet he would be the first elected official to have been raised by same sex parents in the state of Texas, possibly in the country. See here for a campaign video he released about his parents, and listen to the interview for more about David Rosen and how he would make the office of Harris County Treasurer work for you.

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

July finance reports for Harris County candidates

All of the July finance reports for Harris County candidates are in. You know what that means.

County Judge

Ed Emmett

Ahmad Hassan

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Emmett 312,885 177,017 0 532,257 Hassan 0 0 0 0

Judge Emmett is the big dog, and he has the finance report to show it. Lots of donations in the one to ten thousand dollar range, from lots of PACs and recognizable people. Just over half of what he spent went to Paul Simpson’s successful campaign for Harris County GOP, $90K in total. One of the things I plan to do on each of these reports is search for evidence of any connection to the HERO repeal effort. It’s early enough in the process that the absence of such evidence is not conclusive, but if there’s one Republican in Harris County that I expect to stay away from that, it’s Emmett. I did not see any donations that made me think otherwise in this report.

As for AR Hassan, his report is an adequate summary of his campaign.

District Attorney

Devon Anderson

Kim Ogg

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Anderson 282,834 95,345 0 224,228 Ogg 83,458 99,312 0 61,678

Devon Anderson has been busy, and she has an impressive haul, with a large array of big dollar and not-so-big dollar donors. Former DA Chuck Rosenthal, who wrote a check for $5K, is the most interesting name among her contributors. No surprises or HERO repeal connections among her expenditures. Allen Blakemore gets his usual cut – $30K in consulting fees ($5K per month) plus $8K in fundraising fees.

Kim Ogg’s report isn’t bad, but it’s a definite step down from Anderson’s. One big difference is what while Ogg had a decent number of small dollar contributors, she had far fewer big check-writers. Anderson had multiple donors at the $10K level. Ogg had none, with only three donations at or a bit above $5K, one of which was in kind. She had a number of other in kind donations as well. Her biggest expenditures by far went to Grant Martin, who is also a campaign consultant for Mayor Parker – $39K in fees, plus another $27K for mailers sent during the primary.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

Ann Harris Bennett

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Stanart 15,750 23,619 20,000 38,728 Bennett 15,663 17,397 10,324 2,251

$15K of Stanart’s contributions came from Commissioner Jack Cagle. He spent $20K on two ads – $15K to Conservative Media Properties, and $5K to The What’s UP Program. He’s the first one to show up with a connection to HERO repeal – not surprising since he attended at least one of their events at City Hall – with a $150 donation to the Houston Area Pastors Council.

Bennett’s contributions included $7,933 in in-kind donations – $3,000 to Thomas Thurlow for campaign office space ($500 per month since January) and $4,933 to Allan Jamail for robocalls for the primary. She had one $1,000 contribution from Jim “Mattress Mac” McIngvale, a couple of $500 contributions, and the rest were small-dollar donations. She spent $5,574 from personal funds on signs and $2,400 on sign placement, all before the primary, and another $3,866 on push cards and door hangers since the primary.

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Daniel 11,800 32,081 74,500 500 Snively 9,300 9,730 4,000 1,774

Daniel had three big contributors – Thomas Morin for $5,000, James Sibley for $2,500, and Sarah McConnell for $2,000 – but the most interesting donation he received was for $250 from the Law Offices of Jack “Father of Kim” Ogg. Most of the money he spent was in the primary – $10K to the HCRP for a print ad, $5K to GOP PAC for a “public promotion”, and $10,500 of the $11,625 total he spent on consulting fees to Blakemore & Associates. If he had any financial connections to the HERO repeal effort, I did not see them.

Snively’s contributions were all small-dollar, the biggest being $500 from CM Mike Laster. Several past Democratic candidates for judicial office – Snively was a candidate for one of the county courts in 2010 – were among her contributors as well. Her biggest expenditure was $7K to the HCDP in two equal increments for the coordinated campaign. Both were made after the primary; unlike Daniel, she was unopposed for the nomination.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Sanchez 7,250 52,838 200,000 200,172 Rosen 8,641 3,984 0 798

You’d think a guy willing to loan himself $200K to stay in an office that pays half that much per year might be willing to spring a few bucks for someone capable of downloading the software needed to fill out the forms electronically instead of doing them in pen and paper and illegible handwriting, but then you’re not Orlando Sanchez. Actually, for reasons I can’t understand, his small list of contributions is done electronically, while his much longer list of expenditures is done by hand. Go figure. Anyway, Sanchez spent $11K on advertising in The What’s UP Program, $5K on an ad in The conservative Review, and a bit more than $5K in fees to Dolcefino Communications. Yes, that’s Wayne Dolcefino, who also has Kim Ogg as a client. No HERO repeal connections for him just yet.

To be fair, if I’m going to gripe about Sanchez filing a (poorly) handwritten report, I’ll gripe about David Rosen doing the same. Seriously, people. Adobe Acrobat is your friend. Rosen didn’t raise much money, and more than half of what he did report was $4,500 in kind from the TDP for access to the voter file, but all things considered he had a decent number of small dollar donors. Money won’t make that much difference this far down the ballot, but having dedicated supporters sure is nice.

County Commissioner

Jack Morman, Precinct 2

Jack Cagle, Precinct 4

Candidate Raised Spent Loan On Hand ================================================== Morman 534,770 79,580 0 1,274,471 Cagle 450,683 108,457 0 363,884

Did I say that Ed Emmett was the big dog? Jack Morman would clearly disagree. I’ve referred to several candidates’ success with small dollar contributors. If you want to know what a campaign based on big dollar contributors looks like, these are the reports to examine. Neither one has an opponent this November, but I looked at their reports because we only get so many opportunities to see what our elected officials are really up to. I’m also checking for HERO repeal activity. I didn’t find any on these reports, but as noted it’s still early days. We’ll have to check back in January for these two since as unopposed candidates they don’t have to file 30 day or 8 day reports. The one point of interest I’ll flag from Morman’s reports is $2,500 to Jared Woodfill’s re-election campaign. Easy come, easy go.

I’m not going to go through the Constable or Justice of the Peace reports at this time, so that’ll wrap it up for now. Like I said, I do expect to see some HERO activity in the next set of reports. That’s why it’s important to look, because you never know what you’ll find.

Who stands with Jared?

I noted yesterday that soon-to-be-former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is busy trying to gather petition signatures to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Here’s the beginning of his pitch:

Jared Woodfill

I want to thank all of you who stood against Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act. The battle to repeal this ordinance has begun. I encourage each of you to join me in taking a stand against the ordinance proposed by a Mayor who admits that the ordinance is all about her personal agenda and the campaign promises she made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (“LGBT”) community. The next step in this battle is to promote and circulate a petition that would force a city-wide referendum to repeal Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act.

There should be no special privileges for her special interests. Parker’s Unequal Rights Ordinance is 34 pages long and creates two new “protected classes” in the city charter’s anti-discrimination provisions. This new city ordinance would grant minority status for “sexual orientation” and “gender identification.” Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for transvestites, allowing men who dress as women to enter women’s public bathrooms and locker room areas. For example, if a biological male, who believes he is a female, wants to use the women’s restroom and you do not allow them to use the female restroom, then the leaders of the business, restaurant, church or other establishment could be prosecuted criminally for discrimination under the Mayor’s ordinance. Additionally, it forces these same entities to recognize same sex marriage or be prosecuted for refusing to do so.

The ordinance is really about Mayor Parker’s personal, social, LGBT agenda for the city, state, and country. She must be stopped!

Blah blah blah hurt feelings entitlement rage lots of lies and so forth. You get the idea. What I want to know is simply this: If this is the official position of the Harris County Republican Party, as well as of the statewide Republican slate, where do all of the Republican candidates running for office stand on this? There’s a lot of Republican judges running for re-election this fall. How many of them will stand with Jared and sign his petition? That’s something I think we ought to know. And yes, I’d like to know the same for the Democrats running against those judges; I’m thinking I’ll add a question to my usual judicial Q&A this year to inquire about that.

What about the other Republican officeholders in Harris County? Well, County Clerk Stan Stanart has participated in the anti-HERO rallies at City Hall, so I think we know where he stands. And while I don’t know his personal opinions on the subject, I’d venture to guess that County Judge Ed Emmett will not be involved in this effort. I suspect he sees no reason to meddle in the affairs of the city of Houston, he’s never given any indication that he’s motivated by so-called social issues, and he just spent over $100K to defeat Woodfill in the primary. So yeah, I expect Judge Emmett will take a pass. That leaves County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, whom I expect will stand with Jared, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and District Attorney Devon Anderson. I won’t venture a guess about the latter two. Someone ought to ask them, for the record.

Anyway. Jared’s little petition is here, and it says that petitions with notarized signatures must be received (by them) no later than June 27. Circle that date on your calendar, we’ll know by then if we might have another item on the ballot this fall.

Endorsement watch: The Chron still loves Orlando

They don’t love him enough to endorse him during or before early voting, but they do still love him.

Orlando Sanchez

[Republican] primary voters should give [County Treasurer Orlando] Sanchez a place on the November ballot.

Sanchez, 62, is a former three-term member of Houston City Council and two-time unsuccessful candidate for mayor, but he seems to have settled in well as county treasurer. While the duties of the treasurer’s office have been reduced to balancing the county checkbook, cutting checks and accounting for funds, Sanchez has also served as a reasonable voice against some government habits that deserve a second look.

Whether questioning Metro’s use of GO TEXANS marquees on buses or bringing attention to the county losing millions in credit swaps, Sanchez isn’t afraid to speak up where he thinks he has a duty. We wish he’d bark even louder as a county watchdog, even if there is a legislative muzzle over his office’s bite. Sanchez told the Chronicle he didn’t think it was his job to weigh in on commissioners’ individual spending choices, but an independent treasurer shouldn’t be afraid to provide independent opinions.

Just curious here, but do you think anyone on the Chron’s editorial board could name even one thing besides the “GO TEXANS” kerfuffle that Orlando Sanchez has done in his eight years as Treasurer? Here’s a suggestion of something they could have asked him about during their screening:

Sanchez hopes to reclaim the office’s past role in overseeing county investments, an idea with added momentum due to the legal problems of the current chief financial officer. To that end Sanchez completed a required investment education course to be certified as a county investment officer under the Texas Public Funds Investment Act.

That’s from the Chron’s 2010 general election endorsement of ol’ Orlando. Anyone know if he took any steps toward achieving that goal in the past four years? Anyone want to guess if the Chron asked him about it? But hey, he sure was on top of that issue of bus marquees. I wonder what accomplishment he’ll tout for the November endorsement screening.

By the way, if you click through the photo gallery in this story, you’ll see the Chron’s complete list of endorsements for the primary, not counting Sanchez and James Cargas. I guess that means the Chron officially took no position in the Democratic primary for County Clerk. Whether that was by accident or design, I have no idea.

“Go, Texans” OK’ed

Well, that‘s a relief.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez’s quest to ban “Go Texans” and other messages from Metro’s digital bus marquees has ended unsuccessfully with a pass from the Federal Transportation Administration and a scathing letter from the Metro board chairman.

Last fall, Sanchez asked the federal agency and the Harris County Attorney’s office to determine whether Metro was “misusing federal transit dollars” or somehow breaking the law by displaying certain messages on the destination signs on the fronts and sides of its buses. Sanchez argued that messages like “Go Texans” were not appropriate because they promoted a privately owned company on publicly owned property.

Both entities looked into Sanchez’s inquiry and concluded that Metro’s current policy is legally sound, with the federal agency saying the only applicable prohibitions of marquee messages would be the ones adopted by Metro itself.

In a letter to Sanchez this week, Metro Board Chairman Gilbert Garcia described the inquiry as “unnecessary” and said it jeopardized Metro’s relationship with the federal transportation agency, which he described as “a critical partner that provides crucial funding for projects that help move people throughout the region.”

“We hope to avoid distractions as we continue to keep the Houston area moving,” Garcia wrote. “Rather than pursuing unnecessary inquiries, we hope you will join us to positively address the transit needs in our community.”

Sanchez expressed no regrets, pointing out that “prior to my inquiry, Metro had no policy” on bus marquee messaging.

See here for the background. Sanchez apparently complained to the FTA after the Metro board adopted its policy to allow for these sporting messages plus other generic ones such as “Happy Holidays”, which seems a little petty to me. I just hope we have a football team that’s worthy of the exhortation this fall.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

BagOfMoney

In our previous episode, we looked at the campaign finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates. Today, let’s have a look at the reports for candidates for countywide office in Harris County. I’m not going to get down to the Constable or JP level – I’m not aware of any interesting primaries, those districts tend not to be too competitive, and there are only so many hours in the day. Neither County Commissioner Jack Cagle nor Jack Morman has an opponent, so I’m skipping them as well. The real interest is in the countywide campaigns, so here are those reports.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Ahmad Hassan
David Collins

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Emmett 28,600 119,244 401,209 Hassan 0 1,250 0 Collins 0 0 0

The only thing Judge Emmett has to fear, I’d say, is a 2010-style Democratic wave. Other than that, he should win without too much trouble. In the meantime, he will have plenty of campaign cash to spend on various things, including a $10K contribution to the campaign of Paul Simpson, who is challenging Jared woodfill to be Chair of the Harris County GOP, and $5K to the New Dome PAC. It’ll be interesting to see how much he spends on other campaigns from here on out.

District Attorney

Friends of Mike Anderson
Friends of Devon Anderson
Kim Ogg
Lloyd Oliver

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Anderson 0 29,730 36,739 Ogg 66,643 8,897 40,771 Oliver 0 0 0

The Friends of Mike Anderson PAC gave a contribution of $66,469.58 to the Friends of Devon Anderson PAC, which closed out the books on it. I presume Devon Anderson will commence fundraising at some point, and will have all the resources she needs. Kim Ogg has done a decent job fundraising so far, but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that ultimately matters. Zack Fertitta had $145K on hand as of his 30 day report in 2012, and we know how that movie ended. Early voting starts in three weeks, you know.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Ann Harris Bennett
Gayle Mitchell

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Stanart 16,400 19,398 45,969 Bennett 10,748 7,113 2,442 Mitchell 1,138 2,010 0

Stan Stanart has $20K in outstanding loans, which was the case in July as well. His fundraising came almost entirely from two sources – the campaign of County Commissioner Jack Cagle ($10K), and a Holloway Frost of Texas Memory Systems ($5K).

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Friends of Chris Daniel
Court Koenning
Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Daniel 0 15,871 0 Daniel SPAC 31,843 24,166 20,859 Koenning 38,165 48,974 112,814 Snively 5,300 3,095 2,204

Still a lot of money in this race. Incumbent Chris Daniel’s PAC and challenger Court Koenning both have the same outstanding loan totals that they had in July – $74,500 for Daniel, and $50K for Koenning. Democrat Judith Snively has loaned herself $4K. I suspect we won’t see as much money raised in this race after the primary as we do before it.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Arnold Hinojosa
David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Sanchez 23,500 5,577 220,437 Hinojosa 0 1,250 0 Rosen 2,875 2,122 651

Orlando Sanchez’s eye-popping cash on hand total comes from an equally eye-popping $200K loan to himself. This leaves me wondering where he got that kind of money. Did he do really well for himself from 2002 through 2007, when he was in the private sector, or was he just that well off before he was elected Treasurer in 2006? Maybe someone with a journalism degree and some spare time should look into that. Google tells me that his primary challenger Hinojosa is a constable in Precinct 5. Other than paying the filing fee, he had no activity to report.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner
RW Bray
Michael Wolfe – No report

Melissa Noriega
Don Sumners

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kerner 0 810 329 Bray 135 0 135 Wolfe Noriega 0 8,690 9,335 Sumners 0 750 0

Neither Michael Wolfe nor Melissa Noriega has filed a report with the County Clerk; Noriega’s report is from the Houston finance reporting system, for her City Council account, which will presumably be transferred at some point. Not a whole lot else to say except that everyone on this list has run for office at least once before, and with the exception of RW Bray has held office at least once. Who knew the HCDE Board of Trustees would be so popular?

113th District Civil Court (D)
311th Family District Court (R)

Steve Kirkland
Lori Gray

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kirkland 55,065 6,806 35,963 Gray 35,000 30,209 4,791

Denise Pratt
Donna Detamore
Alecia Franklin
Anthont Magdaleno
Philip Placzek

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Pratt 146,020 78,361 67,659 Detamore 0 2,591 0 Franklin 15,555 13,595 47,317 Magdaleno 7,562 11,519 299 Placzek 6,700 25,012 149

I’m not interested in watching all of the contested judicial primaries, but these two are certainly keeping and eye on. The 113th is shaping up as a rerun of the 215th from 2012, in which the candidate running against Steve Kirkland is being financed by one person. In this case, George Fleming and the Texans for Good Leaders PAC he runs gave all of the money that Lori Gray collected. I don’t know Ms. Gray – she has responded to Texpatriate’s Q&A, but as yet has not sent answers to mine; if she has a campaign webpage or Facebook page I haven’t found it – but I don’t care for lawyers with vendettas like Mr. Fleming.

As for Judge Pratt, she may have a gaggle of challengers this March, but she’s not feeling the financial heat at this time. She’s also doing what she can to stay in the good graces of the establishment, with $10K to Gary Polland’s Conservative Media Properties, LLC for advertising and $10K to the Harris County GOP for various things (I’m not counting the $2500 for the filing fee). We’ll see how much good it does her.

Still more state and county finance reports, plus the city reports, to go through, and the federal reports should start being posted on February 1. January is a very busy month.

Kim Ogg officially files for DA

This is the marquee matchup in Harris County in November, at least so far.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, the only Democratic yet to announce a bid for Harris County district attorney, said Monday that most voters do not identify with a particular party when it comes to criminal justice races.

“I think the race for Harris County’s criminal district attorney is potentially less partisan than other traditional legislative races,” Ogg said at her official filing at the Harris County Democratic Headquarters.

The former prosecutor who ran Crime Stoppers of Houston from 1999 to 2006 also said recent gains made by Democrats give her confidence.

“I think Harris County poses the greatest opportunity to reflect the change that’s happening in Houston, in Texas and in America,” Ogg said. “So I look forward to representing the Democratic Party as their nominee after the (primary) election in March.”

[…]

[On Monday,] Ogg said she would return the office to the [“trace case”] policy begun by [Pat] Lykos, whose position was that a tiny amount, less than 1/100 of a gram, was not enough to be tested by the prosecution and defense.

See here and here for the background. As you know, I support the Lykos “trace case” policy, so I am glad to see Kim Ogg take that position. I will be very interested to hear what she has to say about reviewing cases under the mandate of SB344 as well.

In related news, I get a daily report from the HCDP about who has filed for what, and I can report that Judith Snively has filed to run for District Clerk. Snively was a candidate for Harris County Criminal Court #3 in 2010 and did us all the favor of defeating Lloyd Oliver for the nomination in that race. Incumbent District Clerk Chris Daniel has a primary challenger, Court Koenning, but I was not aware of any Dem running for this office until just recently. Two candidates for other offices that had previously made their intentions known, David Rosen for Treasurer and Traci Jensen for HCDE Position 7 At Large, have also officially filed, and Ann Harris Bennett, who will run for County Clerk, sent out an email announcing that she will file on December 7. All incumbent Democratic State Reps except for Harold Dutton have filed so far. Finally, we have our first two legislative challengers, as an Alison Ruff has filed for HD134 and a John Gay filed for the open HD129. I had been aware of another person looking at the HD134 race, though she has since decided against it, but Ms. Ruff is a new name to me. Anyone out there know anything about her?

No, Texans!

If you regularly see Metro buses around town, you might have noticed that during the football season they will sometimes display “GO TEXANS!” on their marquees, rotating with their route information. They display similar messages for other local teams during their seasons as well. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez wants them to stop doing that.

It’s nothing personal against the Houston Texans, the Astros, Rockets or Dynamo. Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez just wants Metro to stop picking winners and losers with its digital bus marquees.

This spring, after Sanchez raised concerns, the Metro board of directors adopted a policy with pre-approved messages for display on the destination signs on the fronts and sides of its buses, including ones covering five “major” local sporting teams. Some of the messages, such as “Happy Holidays,” are appropriate, Sanchez said, but others, such as “Go Texans,” are not.

“We have great athletic teams, there’s a lot of great things in this city, but it’s troubling when an appointed, non-answerable board of directors of a publicly funded institution like Metro gets to pick and choose what corporations get to have their name placed on our infrastructure,” Sanchez said, noting that he has only seen the “Go Texans” message.

The complaint is similar to one Sanchez had a few years ago when the back halves of some Houston Police Department patrol cars were made to look like Yellow Cab taxis for what was supposed to be a public service announcement to deter drunken driving. The so-called wraps included the local Yellow Cab phone number.

That inspired the former Houston city councilman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, who said he plans to seek a third term as treasurer next year, to submit an inquiry to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which sided with him and – in an April 2011 letter – thanked him for his “efforts to prevent government waste, fraud and abuse.”

First let me say “Hey, look! It’s a story involving Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez!” I sometimes forget the guy exists. As a longtime proponent of Metro selling ads on its buses and light rail cars, I can see his point about this. This space has value, and Metro’s giving it away for free.

That said, my overall reaction to reading this story is “Really? What’s the big deal?” Metro was never going to sell ad space on the bus marquees – some people don’t want them to have ads on the exterior of their buses at all – so the value argument falls short. I see this as just basic civic boosterism. It’s hardly unusual for public officials to publicly state support for local sports teams – I’m pretty sure that if Orlando Sanchez had been elected Mayor in 2003, he’d have been out there leading the cheers for the Astros in 2005 as they made their run to the World Series – and I’ve never known that to be controversial, with the exception of the Mayor of a two-sports team town like New York openly favoring one team over the other. And for what it’s worth, Metro has used its buses and trains to promote things other than the Texans, such as the Houston Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science. Perhaps Sanchez would object to those as well, I don’t know. Again, I gotta say, what’s the big deal?

July finance reports for Harris County officeholders and challengers

Odd-numbered years are primarily about city elections, but primaries are just around the corner, and some hopefuls for county and state offices are already out there lining up support and raising money. Here’s a peek at some of the Harris County incumbents that are on the ballot in 2014 and the people that have filed paperwork to take them on.

County Judge

Ed Emmett

Raised = $436,997
Spent = $86,579
On Hand = $496,580

Judge Emmett has no challengers that I’ve heard of as yet. I believe Harris County will be substantially Democratic in 2014, but even if it is, the last man standing on the Republican side will be Emmett, who has been the top Republican votegetter in each of his two elections. It’s possible he could be challenged by someone from the wingnut end of his party – one hears occasional rumblings of such things, but no names have reached my ears so far. If he decides that he’s had enough, I’m sure the primary to succeed him will be fierce on both sides. Emmett got a lot of money from the kinds of people and PACs you’d expect for someone in his position. Among the more interesting contributions he received were $5,000 from the PAC of CM Stephen Costello’s engineering company. He also got $2,500 from Drayton McLane and $10,000 from Bob McNair, so I guess football is a bigger influence than baseball for him.

Commissioners Court

Jack Morman

Raised = $508,820
Spent = $80,867
On Hand = $834,030

As we know, Morman’s race is likely to be the marquee event next year, and he’s fundraising like he is well aware of that fact. Eighteen of his contributions were for $10,000 each, though unlike Emmett he got only $2,500 from McNair and nothing from McLane. One person I have heard so far that is thinking about a challenge to Morman is term-limited CM James Rodriguez, but he has only $10K on hand as of July. Either he’s not that interested, or he’s taking his time about it.

Jack Cagle

Raised = $338,598
Spent = $83,361
On Hand = $346,087

Unlike Morman, Commissioner Cagle is unlikely to face any serious competition next year. Not really much to say about this one.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

Raised = $37,620
Spent = $7,354
On Hand = $48,764
Loan = $20,000

Stanart will be up for his first re-election after winning in the wave of 2010. He’s an ideological crusader, and his contributions reflect that, with donations from the likes of Norm Adams, Donna Bahorich, and the campaign funds of John Culberson and Paul Bettencourt. He has two opponents:

Ann Harris Bennett – $1,736 on hand after spending $3,194.
Gayle L. Mitchell – Designation of treasurer filing.

Bennett lost to Stanart in 2010, though she was one of the top votegetters among Dems, and lost narrowly to Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor in 2012. I know nothing about Gayle Mitchell beyond the fact that she has filed the designation of treasurer form for the purpose of running for County Clerk next year.

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

Raised = $0
Spent = $7,190
On Hand = $0

Friends of Chris Daniel

Raised = 27,350
Spent = $21,846
On Hand = $19,898
Loan = $74,500

Daniel’s PAC mostly took in money from other PACs, law firms, and bail bond companies. The expenditures on his non-PAC form were from personal funds, with the intent to seek reimbursement. He has an opponent for March:

Court Koenning

Raised = $54,075
Spent = $5,375
On Hand = $101,575
Loan = $50,000

Koenning is a former Chief of Staff for Dan Patrick, among other things. That’s a crazy amount of money for this race, almost entirely from individuals. Among his donors were Mr. and Mrs. Jerry Eversole, who gave $200, and Ashley and Jeremy Radack, who gave $2,500 and may or may not have any relation to Steve Radack. This will be a race to watch. In browsing the filings, I got a brief thrill from seeing Loren Jackson‘s name, but he was basically cleaning out his campaign coffers by making a payment to the TEC to settle a complaint. I’m sure there will be a Dem in this race, but he or she has not stepped forward as yet.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

Raised = $10,241
Spent = $7,044
On Hand = $3,165

Sanchez raised more money than I’m used to seeing him take in. Three thousand dollars of his total came from PACs, law firms, and bail bond companies. The first two have a lot of overlap with city elections, the latter one doesn’t, presumably because the jail is a county function. Sanchez got donations of $100 each from Bruce Hotze, Michael Kubosh, and Toni Lawrence.

David Rosen – Designation of treasurer

Stace noted Rosen’s campaign kickoff a few days ago. Rosen lost a Democratic primary for HCDE Trustee last year to Diane Trautman. He has a website up, with a lot more about what he’d do in office than Sanchez has done in eight years. As he noted in an email to me, if he wins he’d be the youngest elected official in Harris County in over 40 years, which is to say since well before he was born. But not me, because I’m old.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner

Raised = $0
Spent = $35
On Hand = $739

HCDE candidates don’t raise much money. For an At Large race, it would hardly matter anyway. No candidate has filed a designation of treasurer yet to succeed Jim Henley.

I expect we’ll see a lot more activity, or at least hear some more active rumors, after Sen. Wendy Davis makes her announcement. For now, this is how things stand.

January finance reports for Harris County offices

For the most part, it’s way too early to start thinking about the 2014 Harris County elections – we have a legislative session and a city election cycle to get through first – but since January 15 is a reporting deadline for county officeholders, I figure I may as well have a peek at who has what. I’m only looking at offices that are up for election in 2014, so here we go.

County Judge Ed Emmett – $151,586 on hand.

Thanks to his graceful under pressure performance during Hurricane Ike and a generally low-key, get-things-done style, County Judge Ed Emmett has been the top-performing Republican candidate in two diametrically opposite elections, the Democratic wave of 2008 and the Republican tsunami of 2014. Assuming there are no similar forces at work next year, Democrats ought to be in pretty good shape countywide – as I’ve noted before, Democratic turnout was pretty decent in 2010 despite the butt-kicking – but if there’s one person I’d expect to prevail on the R side even if there’s a strong wind behind the Dems’ backs, it’s Judge Emmett. Assuming of course that he hasn’t decided by then that he’s had it up to here with all this stuff and makes a beeline for the private sector, in which case I’d expect a jumble of Dems lining up to run for this spot. I’m sure someone will run regardless, but barring anything unforeseen I’d make Judge Emmett the favorite going in.

County Clerk Stan Stanart – $16,869 on hand

Outside of the big three – County Judge, District Attorney, and Sheriff – countywide offices don’t draw much fundraising attention, so don’t read much into these numbers. That said, 2012 wasn’t exactly a stellar year for Stan Stanart. I don’t know how much people will remember that by next year, but as with Don Sumners it ought to provide his opponent (or opponents if he gets primaried) with a fair amount of ammunition. Talk of an elections administrator has predictably died down again, but if it pops back up that will just remind everyone of why we began speaking of it in the first place. Stanart has overseen the relocation of voting machines to a new home, and the county campaign finance reform page sucks somewhat less than it used to, but beyond that I can’t think of any major achievements he’s racked up. (If I’m wrong about that, please correct me in the comments.) Assuming we don’t have an elections administrator by this time next year, I expect Dems to make this race a priority.

District Clerk Chris Daniel – $15,184 on hand

Unlike Stanart, Daniel has had a fairly quiet term as District Clerk. There was a fair amount of griping after Daniel defeated the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 sweep – Jackson was easily the top Democratic vote-getter that year – but for what it’s worth I haven’t heard any lately. Daniel has overseen the implementation of a new efiling system for pleadings in criminal cases, FREEfax, so he will have that to point to next year. If Daniel loses in 2014, his successor will be the fifth District Clerk since 2007, when then-District Clerk Charles Bacarisse resigned to challenge Ed Emmett in a primary for County Judge. Theresa Chang, now a County Court judge, was appointed to replace Bacarisse; she was defeated by Jackson in 2008, and Jackson was defeated by Daniel in 2010.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez – $1,141 on hand.

2014 will be another quadrennial opportunity to wonder just what the heck any Treasurer does in Harris County, and in particular just what it is that Orlando Sanchez, who was first elected in 2006, does. All I can tell you is that he has a delightfully minimalist webpage, and that this finance report does not include an expenditure on “Glamour” magazine.

County Commissioner Jack Cagle – $99,990 on hand.

Cagle was appointed in October of 2011 to replace the felonious Jerry Eversole in Precinct 4. He easily won a three-way primary and the ensuing November election to complete Eversole’s unexpired term; this will be his first election for a full four-year term. I expect he’ll build his campaign treasury up considerably over the next year or so, but it almost doesn’t matter. Barring any Eversole-like behavior on his part, Cagle ought to be able to keep this job for the foreseeable future. Demographic change will eventually make Precinct 4 more competitive in general elections, but there’s at least one more redistricting cycle in between now and that point. He’s in for the long haul.

County Commissioner Jack Morman – $410,078 on hand.

This is, or at least it should be, the main event in Harris County in 2014. Morman’s win in 2010 was fueled mostly by the Republican wave of that year, but as currently drawn, Precinct 2 is highly competitive, with a slight lean towards the GOP. We are still awaiting a ruling in the federal lawsuit over the County’s redistricting plan. A full range of outcomes – a bit more Republican, a bit less Republican, exactly as it is under the interim map that was used last year – is possible for Precinct 2. The first question is who might run against Morman. To some extent, that may be determined by the result in the SD06 special election. Council Member James Rodriguez, whose is term-limited, is known to be interested in HD145 in the event Rep. Carol Alvarado wins a promotion to the Senate, but he has also expressed an interest in Precinct 2. I am certain he will not be the only person looking at this, and I for one will be a bit surprised if there isn’t a spirited Democratic primary for the right to oppose Morman. Demography, the lawsuit, Democratic GOTV efforts, the number of first-time off-year Republican voters from 2010 who decide to make it a habit, and of course the candidates themselves will be among the factors in determining the winner here. Buckle your seatbelts.

HCDE Trustee Jim Henley – No report, since he has not had a campaign fund since 2008 and thus is not required to file these reports
HCDE Trustee Debby Kerner – $774 on hand.

Going into the 2008 election, Republicans held all seven seats on the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees. Henley and Kerner’s 2008 wins in At Large seats, coupled with Diane Trautman’s At Large win and Erica Lee’s Precinct 1 win in 2012, transformed the Board into a 4-3 Democratic majority. If nothing else, that should tamp down on any talk about abolishing the agency, as that was something defeated member Michael Wolfe had pushed. HCDE Trustee is a fairly obscure office, with few resources available for candidates, so as with judicial and other low-profile races they are largely determined by partisan preferences. Henley and Kerner’s overperformance in 2008 – both got 52% of the vote – serves as a reminder that downballot dropoff isn’t always uniform. Still, they’ll rise or fall along with the Democratic Party.

Besides Henley and Kerner, there is exactly one more Democratic incumbent slated for the 2014 ballot: First Court of Appeals Judge Jim Sharp, who carried Harris County by a sufficient margin to win a seat on that bench in 2014. Since then, he has drawn attention to himself in a number of nonpositive ways, and as such it would not shock me if he were to face a primary challenge. Beyond that, it’s all Republican judges, and the slate is bigger in non-Presidential years than it is in Presidential years. If Democrats manage to sweep or nearly sweep these races, I can only imagine how loud the call will be in certain quarters to change the way judges are selected; if Republicans mostly or entirely hold on, I figure the subject will be dormant until after the 2016 election. As has been the case since 2008, I’ll be keeping an eye on the Appeals Court races. If Democrats can ever get a foothold on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, they’ll be in much better shape to find candidates for the statewide bench in the future.

County asks about exemption from drainage fee

Interesting.

County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez has asked County Attorney Vince Ryan for an opinion on whether the county has to pay the city of Houston’s new drainage fee.

Sanchez already has his own opinion.

“You’re getting a government, the city of Houston, starting to dip into multiple jurisdictions’ pots,” Sanchez said. “At some point, you just have to say you have to be responsible for your own operations and not look to other taxing entities.”

Sanchez is not an attorney, so he’s asking one. But his request for a legal opinion is premised on Mayor Annise Parker‘s statement of principles in October 2010 that the only properties exempt from the fee will be those required to be exempted by state law.

Among those properties exempted are state facilities.

So Sanchez asks Ryan in a memo:

Are Harris County improvements such as Reliant Center, the County Administration building, the Jury Assembly Room and other such facilities political subdivisions of the State of Texas; and therefore exempt from the drainage fee?

Nice to see ol’ Orlando in the news for something other than his reading habits. As for his query, if County Attorney Ryan gives him the ruling he’s seeking, then so be it. If not, then as far as I’m concerned the county should get no more consideration from City Council than school districts will. Everyone is affected by flooding, and everyone can pay their fair share to mitigate it.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes are made

The Chron has decided for some unknowable reason to endorse County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez for re-election.

Sanchez contends the treasurer’s office provides a vital checks-and-balances function on county spending, and that it would be a mistake to phase it out, even though he concedes it has been “emasculated” by Commissioners Court in recent years and is understaffed because of a hiring freeze.

Sanchez hopes to reclaim the office’s past role in overseeing county investments, an idea with added momentum due to the legal problems of the current chief financial officer. To that end Sanchez completed a required investment education course to be certified as a county investment officer under the Texas Public Funds Investment Act.

I have no idea what it is that the Chron sees in Sanchez – other than the color of his eyes, of course – but they must see something, since they endorsed him in 2006, too. It would be nice to know just exactly how Sanchez provides that vital check and balance function. Does he even show up at Commissioners Court meetings? Just one concrete example of something he’s done that would be reasonably considered a check or balance on the Court, that’s all I ask. As for the overseeing county investments, at least that answers my question about what steps he’s taken to do that, but it still doesn’t explain what took him so long. Surely that wasn’t a four-year course. If that’s such a fine idea, why didn’t he do it right after he took office?

A goofy endorsement for County Treasurer is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. A misguided endorsement for the SBOE is much more serious.

Republican Marsha Farney of Georgetown and Judy Jennings, an Austin Democrat, are competing to succeed Dunbar in representing the SBOE’s District 10, which includes Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, DeWitt, Fayette, Gonzales, Lavaca, Lee, Milam, Waller, Washington and Williamson counties, as well as parts of Brazoria, Fort Bend and Travis counties.

Both are calm, measured, reasonable and actually interested in advancing Texas public education and not hobbling it to suit a political agenda.

[…]

If Farney wins — given that the district was drawn to maximize Republican strength, that’s a strong possibility — her diplomatic and political skills will be tested almost from the first day. She can help move the board past the ideological fog in which it is now hopelessly lost.

We think Farney is up to that job, and that’s why we recommend her.

That’s a lovely thought if Farney really were a moderate, but there’s considerable evidence that she’s not. Why take the chance when there’s a known quantity who will do what they say they want? It makes no sense. At least the Statesman got the other race right, endorsing Rebecca Bell-Metereau, but there’s no reason for them not to have nailed them both.

Chron overview of the County Treasurer race

With this story, the Chron has overviewed all of the countywide races. The main issue to discuss, of course, is just what exactly is it that the Treasurer does.

Four years ago, [incumbent Treausrer Orlando] Sanchez’s Democratic opponent advocated eliminating the office, which would require a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment. This year’s Democratic challenger, Billy Briscoe, said that, if elected, he intends to commission an independent audit of the office to determine whether it still is needed. If the answer is no, he said, he will support that conclusion. However, he also wants the audit to look for ways to improve the office, not scrap it.

“I believe the scope and function of this office ought to be reviewed and possibly expanded,” Briscoe said. Whatever the duties assigned to the office, Briscoe said, he plans to go beyond them, driven by the question, “Is there more that we can be doing?”

Briscoe said he envisions using the treasurer’s post as one that would make him part of a pitch team to sell businesses on expanding or relocating to Harris County. Briscoe’s background as a lawyer, lobbyist, businessman and political aide have prepared him, he said, to present the county’s virtues to business groups and Austin policy makers who control the state’s enterprise fund.

“We don’t have a clearly definable county-wide elected person who’s talking about this as a cornerstone of their administration,” Briscoe said.

You know where I stand on this, and you can listen to my interview with Briscoe to hear him discuss it. If there is something to this job, he’s the guy for it.

Sanchez, too, would like to see the office’s duties expanded. For example, he said, his office has the expertise to oversee the county’s investments, debt payments and cash flow.

“All of the duties that are now given to the Office of Financial Services could be, if the (Commissioners) Court wanted to, be brought back to the treasurer’s office,” he said.

Yo, Orlando. You’ve had this job since 2006. Name one concrete step you’ve taken to make this thing you say you want to do happen. Have you even mentioned this idea to Commissioners Court, and if so what was their response? If this is such a good idea – I’m not passing any judgment on that one way or the other – why are we just hearing about it now?

The Houston Politics blog has more, specifically about the issue of immigration, which briefly surfaced in the 2006 GOP primary for Treasurer when Sanchez promised to be a fighting force of extraordinary magnitude against it, then dropped it like a bad habit after he was appointed to the job following Jack Cato’s death. Not that I mind that he dropped the subject – Lord knows, there’s more than enough hot air and hatred on this to last us all a lifetime or two; not following through on that is the single best thing Orlando Sanchez has done as an elected official – it just fits a pattern with Sanchez of all talk and no action. See here for some background.

Interview with Billy Briscoe

Billy Briscoe

We turn our attention now to Harris County races, and we’ll start with the race for what I have called the least useful office in the county, County Treasurer. This is partly a reflection of the office itself, whose powers were mostly stripped by Commissioners Court in the 1990s, and partly a reflection of the current occupant of the office, who as far as I can tell has done nothing of note since he was sworn in. In 2006, I was on the bandwagon of those who called for the abolition of the Treasurer’s office, which was being driven by the Democratic candidate for Treasurer, Richard Garcia. I still think that’s a worthy goal to pursue, but I don’t know that it’s an achievable one. As such, I’m open to the idea that something could be made of this position if it were held by the right person. That person is the Democratic candidate for Treasurer, Billy Briscoe. If anyone can make something of this office, I believe he can. Take a listen and hear for yourself:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Overview of the Tax Assessor primary

We’re a bit more than three weeks out from the start of early voting, so it’s time for some overviews of the contested primaries on the ballot. Here’s the first one, for the Republican race between County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez and former County Treasurer and now-retired employee of the Tax Assessor’s office, Don Sumners.

Sumners sees the job as a platform for activism. He saw the county treasurer’s job that way when he held it from 1995 to 1998.

In his single term he spoke out against Commissioners Court’s increase of the tax rate, the pay raise it authorized for commissioners and other county employees and the bond measure that approved taxpayer funding for football, baseball and basketball stadiums.

“I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool,” Sumners declared. He said his candidacy did not result from the Tea Party movement, but that he hopes to gain its leaders’ endorsements.

[…]

Sumners, 70, retired last November so he could run against his new boss.

“I just didn’t want to see all the work that Paul had done to raise the stature of the office to make it something more than just a bureaucratic collection agency, which is really what it was under (Carl) Smith,” who led the office from 1947 until his death in 1998, Sumners said.

Vasquez, he said, has dropped the advocacy role of the office.

Vasquez counters, “The more one starts yelling and screaming about every little thing, the less people will listen to you.”

That’s actually an interesting philosophical difference. My view is that Sumners’ beliefs are more suited to the Treasurer than the Tax Assessor. I believe that as long as the Tax Assessor is also responsible for being the voter registrar, than that person ought to at least give the appearance of not being a strident partisan. I don’t see anything wrong with the Carl Smith model. Of course, I won’t be voting in that primary, so it doesn’t really matter at this time. We’ll see if Sumners’ views get any traction with those voters.

Three views of the Treasurer

Since posting this entry about the Democratic primary race for Harris County Treasurer and my views of that office, I’ve gotten some interesting feedback that I thought was worth sharing. First, if you go back to that post, you’ll see a comment from Chad Khan, one of the candidates, who says:

In 2006, Mr. Richard Garcia campaigned about abolishing the County Treasurer’s office and I supported his campaign. I still believe that the County Treasurer’s office has little use and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. Once elected, I will attend every meeting of the County Commissioner’s court with the intent of serving as a watchdog for the taxpayer, which would include working to prove the ineffectiveness of the office. I believe the abolishment of the office must begin from within the office and I vow to work toward that end.

Speaking of Richard Garcia, he sent me the following email:

Charles,

Thank you once again for the kind words.

You & I have pretty much agreed on most issues. I believe that you would concurred that we need an up and down review of operations and offices to look at how to get the most bang for the taxpayer’s bucks. Business as usual needs to be uprooted. As a fellow father, we have priorities, however taxes (both obvious and hidden) take away from the available options to help our families. Doing away with an office that is no longer needed was my call to arms in the last two elections. Doing away with the office would send it to the dusty shelves of steno pools, typewriters and bag phones. I was proud of my campaign donation from Jack Cato’s wife–he was a good man and I was honoured to have attended his services. Jack really served Harris County and Houston well and history will rightfully look favourably at his life and service.

As it looks more apparent that Harris County will be a democratic favouring county–I would not feel comfortable in running for an office without the intentions of eliminating the unnecessary office. The # 2 in command has served the taxpayers well and she would continue running the office–and honestly, I believe she can institute efficiencies just as [Loren] Jackson had put in place at the [District] Clerk’s office.

I am so proud of everyone that helped my cause. A Republican blogger took heat for supporting the idea. My fellow county precinct chairs supported my position. Elected officials. I had spoken with representatives from the statewide county treasurers and informed them that my intention was only to focus on Harris County–not their county. Their plea to our County Commissioners office not to abolish the office resulted in all four County Commissioners supporting abolishing the office (see they can work together). The voters who almost made it possible and most importantly, my Mom–who has since passed away to join my Dad.

I wish Billy and Chad well; and anyone else who would care to put their toe in the political waters. Perhaps others will run, they will give voters choices and and as Marta Stewart says, “…and that’s a good thing”.

Have a joyous holiday season.

Your Friend,

Rich Garcia

And finally, a voice in support of a Treasurer’s office, from Wally Kronzer, who is a candidate for the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 5:

I will not try to put my thoughts down in any great detail as it involves Texas history, county government, the Texas Legislature (the Texas Local Government Code), and ultimately, county power sharing. A thorough justification would take too long. I was once involved in a lawsuit involving a county treasurer, county auditor, and the commissioners court (not Harris County). There are good reasons for having an elected county treasurer that primarily boil down to checks and balances issues as to county finances. It is similar to why does company have a banker (the county treasurer) and an outside auditor (county auditor)?

Check the website for Texas Association of Counties description of the office of county treasurer: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/treasur.asp and county auditor: http://www.county.org/counties/desc_office/auditor.asp. At the county level the county treasurer has more involvement in the integrity of county investments, bonds, and retirement plans than most people imagine.

While this is not a fits-all-points comparison, but what if the City of Houston Controller was appointed instead of elected? Where would the checks and balances be in that situation (much less some of the great Houston political stories)? Texas may have eliminated the position of state treasurer and passed the duties on to the Texas comptroller. But an elected comptroller still oversees the finances. You could devise an elected county position to do the role of the county treasurer, but that role does not exist – nor is there any real interest in changing the status quo to do so. But, to put it bluntly, someone in the county checks and balances needs to be elected other than just the county commissioners.

The theoretical case certainly makes sense. In practice, can anyone claim that Orlando Sanchez is actually doing that job? Not as far as I can tell. That’s the reason why Richard Garcia’s argument has been compelling to me. I do plan to interview Chad Khan and Billy Briscoe, so we’ll see what their vision for the office and/or its elimination are. My thanks to all for the feedback.

Two for Treasurer

As of today, there are two declared Democratic candidates for Harris County Treasurer – Chad Khan, a three-time candidate for State Representative, and attorney Billy Briscoe, whose press release is beneath the fold. As you may recall, I spent a lot of time in 2006 arguing for the abolition of the office of Harris County Treasurer as I supported the campaign of Richard Garcia, whose platform included a pledge to work to do just that. Nothing since then has changed my mind about the uselessness of the office or of its current inhabitant, Orlando Sanchez, but I no longer believe that getting legislation passed to abolish it – I believe a Constitutional amendment would be needed – is likely. So what I’m looking for this time around is someone to explain to me how exactly they plan to make the Treasurer be something other than a waste of tax money. Find something useful to do in that office – a promise to attend every Commissioners Court meeting with the intent of being a general pain in their ass would be a good start – and I’ll support you. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

(more…)

Quan considering a run for County Judge

Miya has the story.

Former City Council Member Gordon Quan is THISCLOSE to throwing his hat in the ring for Harris County Judge. I heard the rumors a few days ago, but confirmed with Quan this morning.

[…]

When we spoke earlier today, I asked him what prompted him to consider challenging Ed Emmett. He replied, “Well, I’m thinking it’s now, or never.” However, Quan was quick to point out that this is not a “done deal.” He’s getting legal opinions on what relationship he can maintain with his firm. He’s also looking at the quality of campaign consultants that would be available. In addition, he’s got to convince his family members, who are often tough cookies.

Quan says he will make a decision in the next two weeks on whether or not to jump in the race. If he does, he says he will make a call to Judge Ed Emmett first, as it is the proper thing to do.

I too had been hearing these rumors for awhile. My guess is that the likelihood of Bill White running for Governor, which would presumably be a boost to Democratic turnout in Harris County, was going to push someone into this race, and Quan is at the front of the line if he wants it. If he ultimately decides against running, I do hope someone else of his quality gets in, because of this.

Businessman Ahmad Hassan, who ran in the Democratic primary election for county judge last year, has filed the paperwork appointing a campaign treasurer for another run for county judge.

Like most people, I think Ed Emmett has done a pretty good job as County Judge. But that is a partisan office, and partisan issues do come up, so as a Democrat, I’d rather have a Democratic County Judge. As a resident of Harris County, I want a competent person in that job. I’ll be happy to support a strong Democratic candidate like Gordon Quan if he decides to run. I won’t support a mediocre candidate against Emmett, however. Hassan, who previously ran as a Republican against Sheila Jackson Lee in 2006 and strikes me as a perennial candidate in the making, doesn’t measure up.

Anyway. Dems still need a candidate for County Treasurer against Orlando Sanchez. I’ve heard several names for that race, including 2006 candidate Richard Garcia, but have not heard anything new on this in a few weeks, so who knows where it stands right now. The filing period opens this Friday, the 4th, so we’ll know soon enough.

At least now we know what he does with his time

Apparently, Orlando Sanchez, our do-nothing County Treasurer, is a closet urbanist. I’ll direct you to Greg for a thorough review of Sanchez’s vision for Washington Avenue, to which there’s not much to add. I will note that Sanchez continues to be two-faced about light rail, and that he managed to write this entire piece without mentioning that there’s a pretty active Super Neighborhood group that’s been thinking about this sort of thing for (I daresay) a lot longer than he has. (And not to toot my own horn, but some of us have been thinking about the light rail possibilities in that corridor for awhile, too.) But at least now we know he’s done something other than play Solitaire during his time in office.