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Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 1

Whoa, all of a sudden the Chron is chock full of endorsements. Let’s run through ’em. Actually, let’s start to run through them. So many appeared all at once that I’m going to need to break this into more than one post.

For Lite Guv: Anyone but Dan.

Lieutenant governor: Scott Milder

Scott Milder has become the tip of the spear in this statewide effort to fight back against Patrick, and we endorse his run to unseat the incumbent as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. A former City Council member in Rockwall, a Dallas suburb, Milder, 50, is aligned with the schools, business interests and pastors who are hoping to restore the conservative values of local control and pro-growth that for decades sat at the core of Texas politics. It is a movement that wants to put an end to the potty-bill politics that have dominated our state Legislature under Patrick.

From El Paso to Texarkana, Brownsville to Canadian, local cities and counties are starting to stand together against a state government obsessed with the political minutiae that excites the partisan wings but does little to make our state a better place to live. A vote for Milder will be a vote to fix school funding and return Texas to normalcy.

Democratic Lieutenant governor: Mike Collier

In the Democratic primary for this important post, the Chronicle recommends Mike Collier, the more experienced, better qualified of the two candidates vying to face off against the Republican winner in the November general election.

A graduate of the University of Texas with a bachelor’s degree and MBA, Collier wants to see more state money directed to public schools, arguing that overtaxed homeowners cannot afford to carry what ought to be the state’s share of education funding. An accountant by training, Collier held high-level positions in auditing and finance during his career at a global accounting firm, giving weight to his proposal to close a corporate tax loophole as a means of raising revenue for public education and property tax relief.

Collier, 56, is well-versed in this region’s need for storm surge protection and Harvey recovery, and he’s ready to tap the state’s substantial rainy day fund to pay for it. “Let’s crack it open and stimulate recovery as fast as we can,” he told the editorial board.

Collier supports expanding Medicaid to improve health for poor children, and he wants to improve care for rural Texans dealing with local hospital closures and few physicians wanting to practice outside large cities.

I count myself lucky that I have not yet been subjected to Dan Patrick’s TV ad barrage. I’m all in for Mike Collier, but for sure Scott Milder would be a step away from the dystopia that Patrick is determined to drag us all to.

Land Commissioner: Not Baby Bush.

Four years ago, this editorial page enthusiastically supported Bush in his first bid for elected office. We were mightily impressed with his command of the complex issues facing the General Land Office. Anybody who thought this guy was just coasting on his family name was wrong. “George P. Bush is the real deal,” we wrote.

Now the real deal has become a real disappointment.

Bush has repeatedly stumbled during his first term in his first elected office. He directed the General Land Office to spend nearly $1 million in taxpayer money to keep at least 40 employees on the payroll for as long as five months after they’d actually quit their jobs, but only if they promised they wouldn’t sue Bush or the agency. Three days after a contractor scored a $13.5 million hurricane cleanup contract, Bush’s campaign accepted almost $30,000 in contributions from the company’s executives.

But his highest profile problem has been his plan to “reimagine” the Alamo. It’s an ongoing mess criticized not only by Texas history buffs but also by Republican lawmakers irate about the way it’s being managed. Among other problems, Bush played a cynical shell game with state employees, shifting about 60 people over to a taxpayer-funded nonprofit so he could brag that he cut his agency’s staff. As one incredulous GOP fundraiser put it, “How do you screw up the Alamo?”

To his credit, months before Hurricane Harvey, Bush wrote President Donald Trump a detailed letter requesting funding for a coastal storm surge barrier. Unfortunately, since then we haven’t seen him do much to advance the cause of this critical infrastructure project.

Losing faith in a man who once looked like a rising political star is disillusioning, but voters in the Republican primary for Texas land commissioner should bypass Bush and cast their ballots for Jerry Patterson.

I feel reasonably confident that Jerry Patterson will not buy any secret mansions with secret money. He was a perfectly decent Land Commissioner whose service I respect as you know, but just clearing that bar would have been enough to prefer him. I only wish the Chron had expressed an opinion on the Democratic side, as that’s a race where I don’t feel like I know much about the candidates. Maybe we’ll get that later.

For County Treasurer – Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

Three Democrats are running in this friendly race. All seem to be self-starters, and all recognize that taxpayers need to get more for their dollar than a mere office figure head who oversees routine financial operations conducted by professional staff. All want to increase efficiencies and cost savings, and improve service through better use of technology.

Our choice, Dylan Osborne, 36, is the candidate with the background in customer relations and experience in community service needed to elevate this job from one of sinecure to public service.

Osborne, who holds a Master’s in Public Administration, currently works in the city of Houston Planning and Development Department. The University of Houston graduate got his start as the manager of a restaurant and an auto parts store and has risen his way through city ranks. While employed by two city council members, the personable Osborne organized events with civic clubs and super neighborhoods to educate citizens about local issues.

My interview with Dylan Osborne is here and with Nile Copeland is here; Cosme Garcia never replied to my email. The Chron has endorsed Orlando Sanchez in the last couple of general elections. Maybe this year they’ll break that habit.

And for HCDE: Josh Wallenstein and Danny Norris.

County School Trustee Position 3, At large: Josh Wallenstein

This Democratic primary is a coin toss between Josh Wallenstein and Richard Cantu.

The HCDE has come under political fire in recent years, and it needs to achieve two goals to stay on course. The department needs to avoid conflicts of interest and maximize its use of the public dollar. Wallenstein was chief compliance officer of a major corporation before starting his own law firm and could bring to the board the skill of contract review and analysis including, minimizing waste, fraud and abuse, conflict of interest and self-dealing and maximizing efficiencies for schools. He graduated from Stanford Law School.

The department does a good job of offering school districts services at a much reduced rate, but it does a poor of job of communicating to voters how it saves taxpayer money. Cantu, who holds a masters in public administration from St. Thomas University, would be in the best position to develop partnerships and collaborations around the city and to help the department get the word out. He’s held management positions with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Baker Ripley, the Mayor’s Citizens Assistance Office and currently he’s deputy executive director of the East Aldine Management District.

It was a tough choice but choose we must, and we endorse Wallenstein.

County School Trustee, Position 6, Precinct 1: Danyahel (Danny) Norris

There is no Republican running for this seat vacated by Democratic incumbent Erica Lee Carter, which stretches from the portion of Friendswood in Harris County to near Galena Park in the south. The winner of this primary will become a trustee on the HCDE board. Two candidates — John F. Miller and Danyahel “Danny” Norris — stand out in this three person race. We tip our hat to the only candidate with experience in education policy: Norris.

Norris, 37, holds the distinction of being a chemical engineer, a former teacher and tutor for math students, a lawyer with a degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law, a law professor, and a librarian with a masters of library science from the University of North Texas.

Miller, who is also a chemical engineer, demonstrated an admirable commitment to the board position, having attended all of its meetings since September. However, he didn’t convince us that his budgeting or hiring skills would fill a gap in the board’s expertise.

Interviews:

Josh Wallenstein
Richard Cantu
Elvonte Patton
Danny Norris
John Miller

Prince Bryant did reply to my email request for an interview a week ago, but then never followed up when I suggested some possible times to talk. I agree with the Chron that the choices we have in these races are good ones.

Interview with John Miller

John Miller

Today we come to the end of HCDE week. As I said, there are three candidates running in Position 6, Precinct 1 – there is no Republican candidate, so the winner of the primary has his ticket stamped – but I only have two interviews, as candidate Prince EW Bryant did not respond to my email. I hope that between these interviews and my efforts to highlight the many programs and services that HCDE offers, you have a better understanding of this important but often overlooked institution. John Miller also has a degree in Chemical Engineering, from the University of Cincinnati, and he has applied that degree at a number of manufacturing jobs. (His campaign Facebook page doesn’t have any biographical information on it, but I got these facts from his LinkedIn profile.) He was a candidate for HCDP Chair last year, and he is one of several dozen LGBT candidates seeking office this year. Please note when you listen to the interview that while I have been asking candidates about their position on sexual harassment policies, I failed to do so with Mr. Miller, for the simple reason that I forgot. Such are the dangers of working without written notes. I apologize for the oversight. Now here’s our conversation:

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

Interview with Danyahel Norris

Danyahel Norris

The Board of Trustees of the Harris County Department of Education is comprised of seven members, three At Large and one for each County Commissioner precinct. Republicans have generally held a majority of the positions on the Board, with the exception of the period between the 2012 and 2014 elections, as Democrats had won the At Large seats in 2008 and 2012, but then lost two of them back in 2014. The one position that is basically a lock to be Democratic – as long as Democrats run a candidate, which for bizarre reasons didn’t happen in 2006 – is Position 6, Precinct 1, where incumbent Trustee Erica Lee Carter is stepping down after one term. Three candidates are vying to succeed her. Danyahel Norris came to Houston to attend UH, where he got a degree in chemical engineering. After teaching math for a few years, he got a law degree from the Thurgood Marshall school at TSU and practiced in the US Patent and Trademark Office before becoming the Associate Director of the Law Library at TSU. Here’s my interview with him:

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 Elvonte Patton

Elvonte Patton

Did you know that the Harris County Department of Education serves as the central operations site of the Texas Virtual School NetworkElvonte Patton is a full-time student working on his Doctorate Degree in Educational Leadership at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; he has a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Early Childhood Education from Texas Southern University. He started his education at a Head Start program, much like the one the HCDE provides, as a child in Oklahoma. Here’s our conversation:

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

Interview with Richard Cantu

Richard Cantu

It’s Day Two of HCDE Week here. Did you know that the Harris County Department of Education provides Head Start and Early Head Start services to 1,200 children in Harris County? There’s a big need for programs like that, especially in a county like Harris. Richard Cantu is a public service veteran, having served such roles as the Director of the Mayor’s Citizens’ Assistance Office and as the Deputy Executive Director of the East Aldine Management District. A native Houstonian and graduate of HCC and UH, Richard was a candidate for the HISD Board of Trustees in 2005, and serves on numerous boards. Here’s the interview:

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

Interview with Josh Wallenstein

Josh Wallenstein

This week’s interviews are all about the Harris County Department of Education, a body that serves as a co-operative and clearinghouse for the thirty-plus school districts in Harris County, providing programs and purchasing power to make their budgets go farther. Among the services the HCDE provides is adult education, including workforce training, GED classes, and English as a second language. The HCDE Board of Trustees consists of seven members, three At Large and one each for the four Commissioners’ precincts. There are two open seats this year, in At Large #3 and Position 6, Precinct 1, as trustees Diane Trautman and Erica Lee Carter are stepping down. There are three Democratic candidates seeking to succeed each of them. Josh Wallenstein was the first candidate to emerge as a contender for the Trautman seat. An attorney who recently opened his own firm, he has also served as a Chief Compliance Officer at a major corporation. 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: Lupe Valdez is in for Governor

Here she comes.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced Wednesday morning that she is running for governor, giving Texas Democrats a serious candidate for the top job with five days until the candidate filing deadline for the 2018 primaries.

“Like so many hardworking Texans, I know it’s tough deciding between buying food, finding a decent place to live, and setting aside money for college tuition,” Valdez said in a statement before filing at the Texas Democratic Party headquarters in Austin. “Opportunity in Texas ought to be as big as this great state, but it is out of reach for far too many, that’s why I’m running for Texas Governor. I’m a proud Texas Democrat. I believe good government can make people’s lives better, and I intend to do just that.”

Until Wednesday, six little-known Democrats had filed to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who is seeking a second term in 2018. Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, has been exploring a run for weeks and is set to announce his campaign Thursday in Houston.

Any Democrat running for governor faces a steep climb against Abbott, who easily defeated the party’s 2014 nominee, Wendy Davis, and has built a $40 million-plus war chest for re-election. Texas has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in over two decades.

Speaking with reporters after filing, Valdez said she was undaunted by the challenge, particularly when it comes to fundraising.

“I think we’re going to raise whatever money’s necessary. I don’t believe that we need 40, 60, 90, bazillion dollars,” Valdez said. “Abbott may have the money — we’re going to have the people.”

The Trib has video of Sheriff Valdez’s announcement here. As you know, she was said to be in, then confusion reigned, and after that settled down it was assumed that she was in fact in, and so here we are. I think it’s reasonable to tamp expectations down a bit about how much money one can raise – no one is going to out-money Greg Abbott unless they have their own nine-figure checkbook to play with – but people power hasn’t gotten us very far, either. Valdez, if she wins the primary (more on that in a minute), ought to draw a lot of earned media and should gin up a fair amount of excitement, both of which in turn should help her bring in some cash so she can establish name ID. Of course, all these things were also true of Wendy Davis at this time in 2013, so. We have a lot of evidence to suggest that this year is different in ways that benefit Democrats, but certain fundamental rules still apply.

Speaking of that primary:

With less than a week left in the filing period, six little-known Democrats have filed to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott next year, with two more prominent names expected to enter the race by the Monday deadline: Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White. An eight-way primary could be the party’s most crowded nominating contest for governor since at least the 1980s.

While Valdez — the only current elected official among the eight candidates — would immediately secure frontrunner status if she runs, she faces no guarantee of the kind of cakewalk to her party’s nomination that former state Sen. Wendy Davis enjoyed in 2014. White, who is set to announce his campaign Thursday in Houston, has been laying the groundwork for a serious bid, while some of the other contenders have been campaigning for months.

“I think that if Sheriff Valdez runs and if Mr. White also announces, then I think that the two of them would likely be the higher-profile candidates in the primary, and I think that voters in the Democratic primary in 2018 will have a lot of choices,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the Grand Prairie Democrat who chairs the party’s caucus in the House and served as Davis’ campaign manager. “I think that dynamic is good and hopefully makes for an interesting choice and conversations for Democrats in 2018 in the primary.”

“I expect we’ll have a competitive primary, and I think that’s a good thing — it’s healthy,” added Ed Espinoza, the executive director of Progress Texas, a liberal advocacy group.

I agree with that, and I look forward to it. I’m working on a post about the huge volume of contested primaries up and down the ballot, and I think this will help shape the narrative to start out the 2018 election. That said, Dems don’t have candidates for Comptroller and Land Commissioner as I write this, and the thought occurs to me that we could reasonably repurpose a couple of the candidates in this race for better use elsewhere. Andrew White would make a fine candidate for Comptroller, where his more conservative social views won’t really matter but his business background should be a plus. And if I could pick one person from this crop to spend the next year haranguing silver spoon lightweight George P. Bush, it would be Tom Wakely. Neither of these will happen, of course, and both gentlemen could no doubt give me many reasons why this is all wrong. Get me decent candidates for Comptroller and Land Commissioner and I promise to forget I ever brought this up. For more on the Valdez announcement, see WFAA, the Current, the Trib again, Burkablog, and the Chron.

Elsewhere, there were a couple of Congressional announcements as Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to Ted Cruz, announced his candidacy for CD21, and longtime WFAA reporter Brett Shipp entered the fray in CD32, running as a Dem, bumping the total number of candidates there to six.

There were no major announcements in Harris County, but as has been the case every day there has been a lot of activity on the Democratic side. While the HCDP has not been publishing a running list of candidates for all offices, it has been updating this list of judicial candidates. It’s a bit oddly sorted, but you can at least get a feel for who’s running for what. By my count, in the district, county, and appeals courts – i.e., everything but the JP courts – there are 19 competitive primaries so far.

In other races, Alison Sawyer officially filed in HD134, leaving HD135 as the only box that really needs to be checked. There are now contested primaries in HDs 126 (Natali Hurtado and Undrai Fizer), 133 (Martin Schexnayder, Sandra Moore, and the candidate whose name I won’t mention, for whom you most emphatically should not vote), 138 (Adam Milasincic and Jenifer Pool), 139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson and Randy Bates), 140 (Rep. Armando Walle and Matthew Mendez), 146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry and Roy Owen), and 147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman and Daniel Espinoza). At the county level, the HCDE At Large Position 3 race is now contested as well, as Elvonte Patton joins Josh Wallenstein. Let’s just say that endorsing organizations are going to have their hands very, very full.

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.

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

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.

Marilyn Burgess to announce for District Clerk

Marilyn Burgess

In addition to a large slate of judicial offices, there are four countywide executive offices on the ballot next year. Democrats in Harris County have nearly all of the judicial races covered, and Diane Trautman has been in the race for County Clerk since early in the year. We are still awaiting candidates for County Judge and County Treasurer, but as of this weekend we have a contestant for Harris County District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess.

District Clerk is a position that’s all about organization and operations. Its job duties include recording the actions and the judgments of the district courts; transmitting the orders of the district courts to the authorities responsible for their execution; and assuming all other duties assigned by the presiding judge of a court, which includes things like bringing in people for jury duty. It’s not really political in the way that (for example) County Clerk and Tax Assessor are, but it is a constitutional office and it has a lot of important responsibilities.

Burgess is a CPA by profession, and spent four years as the Executive Director of the Texas PTA. She was a candidate for Harris County Department of Education in Precinct 4 in 2016, receiving 45% of the vote in that Republican area. She will have a formal announcement of her candidacy shortly. In the meantime, her campaign webpage is here; her campaign Facebook page is not ready yet. It’s certainly possible someone else may jump into this race – it’s still just August – but for now we at least have one more office covered.

It’s HCDE hunting season again

Every two years, like clockwork.

A Houston-area legislator has filed two bills targeting the Harris County Department of Education, renewing his assault on the agency that provides special education therapy services to hundreds of students.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Republican whose district covers much of northwest Harris County, said he was upset that the HCDE board last week rejected a proposed “sunset review” to evaluate the need for the continued existence of the department.

Bettencourt has introduced three separate bills that would study closure, or alternatively prevent it from collecting property taxes or eliminate it outright.

“I’m going to keep filing bills until we get what I think is an adult response from trustees,” said Bettencourt, who has concerns about the agency’s financal accountability. “It’s very disappointing that the board wouldn’t vote for a sunset review.”

James Colbert Sr., the superintendent of the HCDE, said that although bills that would hamper or close the department have been proposed before, he’s perplexed by the multiple bills filed by Bettencourt.

“One calls for a sunset review, one calls for abolishment. It seems odd to ask for two different things, especially as you’re asking for it to be abolished,” Colbert said. “It makes you wonder what is going on.”

Bettencourt said he would prefer to see the department undergo a sunset review to study its closure than close it outright.

One pretext is as good as another, I suppose. HCDE does good work and helps the many smaller school districts in Harris County save money. You would think that would make it uncontroversial, but these are the times we live in.

Time to pay attention to the HCDE again

Some highlights from the HCDE meeting agenda for this Thursday at 1 PM, as emailed to me:

1. Changing board meeting dates.

2. Michael Wolfe wants to name our Post Oak facility for his deceased mother.

3. Create a Home School Division.

4. Create a School Choice Division.

5. Create a board services division that reports directly to the board. Transparency anyone?

6. Create a new travel policy for superintendent and board – no reimbursement for out of town travel or training. Most board training conferences are out of town.

7. Change superintendent’s spending authority without board approval from $50,000 to $5,000. If something were to happen at one of our schools and they needed emergency repairs, etc., the superintendents hands would be tied.

8. Fire current attorney and hire a new one.

9. New construction for special ed school and recovery high school are still on hold.

The meeting is tomorrow, Thursday, at 1:00pm at the main HCDE Administration building, 6300 Irvington. We had a couple of blissful years of sanity with the HCDE after 2008, but the craziness came back in 2014 when Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners were elected to at large positions. If you have the time and capacity to attend and keep an eye on them and their shenanigans, that would be a good thing to do.

Kerner announces intention to run in CD07

Debra Kerner

In other candidate news, it has come to my attention that at Monday night’s Meyerland Democrats meeting, former HCDE Trustee Debra Kerner announced her intention to run against Rep. John Culberson in CD07. Kerner was elected to an At Large position on the HCDE Board of Trustees along with Jim Henley (who ran against Culberson in 2006) in 2008. This makes her the first opponent for Culberson who has previously won a general election. You know my assessment of CD07 as an electoral opportunity. It’s going to be a tough nut to crack, even if we get the dream scenario of depressed Republican turnout coupled with an energized Democratic base in 2018. That said, Kerner is well-liked among Democrats, which has not always been the case for Culberson opponents, and as noted she has won an election before. She will need to raise some money – HCDE races are nickel-and-dime affairs, and her last finance report with Harris County, filed last July, shows $763.60 on hand – but I have confidence she can do it. I’d hope that she would get some support from Annie’s List or the like. Kerner joins her erstwhile colleague on the HCDE Board Diane Trautman in getting an early jump on the 2018 campaign season. I look forward to running into Debra Kerner on the trail again, and if you don’t already know her I’d encourage you to reach out and get in touch.

Trautman announces run for Harris County Clerk in 2018

From the inbox:

Diane Trautman

Diane Trautman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Races I’ll be watching today, non-Legislative edition

vote-button

This is my companion to yesterday’s piece.

1. SBOE district 5

I’ve discussed the SBOE races before. This particular race, between incumbent Ken Mercer and repeat challenger Rebecca Bell-Metereau, is the one that has the closest spread based on past performance, and thus is the most likely to flip. If it does flip, it would not only have a significant effect on the SBOE, which would go from 10-5 Republican to 9-6, with one of the more noxious members getting ousted, it would also cause a bit of a tremor in that this was not really on anyone’s radar going into 2016. Redistricting is supposed to be destiny, based on long-established voting patterns. If those patterns don’t hold any more, that’s a big effing deal.

2. Appeals courts

I’ve also talked about this. The five courts of interest are the First, Fourth, Fifth, 13th, and 14th Courts of Appeals, and there are multiple benches available to win. I honestly have no idea if having more Democrats on these benches will have a similar effect as having more Democrats on the various federal appellate benches, especially given that the Supreme Court and CCA will most likely remain more or less as they are – I would love to hear from the lawyers out there about this – but I do know that having more Dems on these benches means having more experienced and credible candidates available to run for the Supreme Court and CCA, and also having more such candidates available for elevation to federal benches. Building up the political bench is a big deal.

3. Edwards County Sheriff’s race

Jon Harris is an experienced Democratic lawman running for Sheriff against a wacko extremist in a very Republican county, though one with a small number of voters. This one is about sanity more than anything else.

4. Waller County Sheriff’s race

I’ll be honest, I didn’t have this one on my radar until I read this Trib story about the race, in which the recent death of Sandra Bland is a factor. Waller County went 53-46 for McCain over Obama in 2008, though the Sheriff’s race that featured a problematic Republican was a lot closer. It was 58-41 for Romney, which is close to what it was statewide. Democratic challenger Cedric Watson will have to outperfom the countywide base to defeat incumbent Glenn Smith, it’s mostly a matter of by how much he’ll have to outperform.

5. Harris County Department of Education, Precinct 2

There aren’t any at large HCDE Trustee positions up for election this year, so I haven’t paid much attention to them. This race is interesting for two reasons. One, the Democratic candidate is Sherrie Matula, who is exceptionally qualified and who ran a couple of honorable races for HD129 in 2008 and 2010. And two, this is Jack Morman’s Commissioner’s Court precinct. A win by Matula might serve as a catalyst for a strong candidate (*cough* *cough* Adrian Garcia *cough* *cough*) to run against Morman in 2018.

6. HISD District VII special election

You know this one. It’s Democrat Anne Sung versus two credible Republicans and one non-entity who hasn’t bothered to do anything other than have a few signs put up around town. One key to this race is that it’s the only one that will go to a runoff if no one reaches 50% plus one. Needless to say, the conditions for a December runoff would be very different than the conditions are today.

7. HISD recapture and Heights dry referenda

I don’t think any explanation is needed for these.

What non-legislative races are on your watch list for today?

Endorsement watch: HCDE

I believe this wraps up endorsement season.

Sherry Matula

Sherry Matula

County School Trustee, Position 1, Precinct 2: Sherrie L. Matula

We emphatically endorse Sherrie L. Matula in this race to replace Marvin Morris, a respected trustee who lost in the Republican primary. Matula, 65, has the resume of an education expert, working for decades as a school teacher in Clear Creek Independent School District and Pasadena Independent School District. She also served two terms on the CCISD Board of Trustees, on the board of the Texas State Teachers Association and as president of the Galveston County Education District.

County School Trustee, Position 2, Precinct 4: Marilyn Burgess

In this race to replace Board President Angie Chesnut, our strong choice is Marilyn Burgess, a certified public accountant. As the former director of the Texas Parent Teacher Association, Burgess, 62, would bring a valuable educational perspective to this board as well as financial expertise. If elected, Burgess, a Democrat, promises to make sure the county gets the most out of every dollar spent and to increase the classes available for high school dropouts to complete their diplomas, as she says these classes fill up the day that they open.

Matula, who made a couple of very respectable runs for State Rep in HD129 back in 2008 and 2010, has a shot at this, as Precinct 2 leans Republican but could easily go blue in a year like this where Democrats are polling so well countywide. Burgess is running in the most Republican Commissioners Precinct in the county – forget a landslide, it would likely require a tsunami to make that race competitive. Which is unfortunate, because the candidate who will get elected is Eric Dick, who will then join forces with Michael Wolfe to make a mockery of things. Getting Matula elected would help balance that out a bit, though there’s only so much one person can do. If you live in Precinct 2, which is Commissioner Jack Morman’s precinct, be sure to vote for Matula in this race.

This endorsement was published in Friday’s Chron, so they got them all in before early voting began. That has not always been the case, and I’ve criticized them in the past for being pokey about this, so kudos to the editorial board for their diligence. The full list of Chron endorsements for this cycle can be found here.

Field set for HISD special election

Four candidates have filed, so no one else got in since my last post.

Harvin Moore

Harvin Moore

Four candidates have applied to run in a special election to be a trustee for the Houston Independent School District. The filing deadline was Aug. 25.

The District VII seat is open because Trustee Harvin Moore is resigning a year before his term ends.

[…]

The candidates include John Luman, a lawyer and lobbyist. He’s leading a fight to stop a proposed affordable-housing project in west Houston. Ann Sung is a former HISD teacher who now works for an organization that helps low-income students go to college. Victoria Bryant is a pharmacist who started her own home health care company. The final candidate is Danielle Paulus.

See here for the background. I’ve told you what I know about Anne Sung and Victoria Bryant, so here’s what I (and Google) can tell you about the other two. The story mentions Luman’s leadership in the movement to stop the Fountainview affordable housing project – see here for a bit of background on that story, which I confess I have not followed beyond the headlines. Luman’s name also comes up in some unflattering stories. His co-counsel at Bracewell and Giuliani, in an intellectual property lawsuit, was found to have lied to the judge in the case about some facts that came up during the trial. The case, brought by their client, was dismissed with prejudice. Lisa Falkenberg wrote about this when it happened in August of 2014; the O’Connor’s Annotations blog highlighted the key aspects of how it all went down. It was Luman’s co-counsel who was accused of lying, but in the end both of them left the firm shortly afterwards. I have to believe that this will come up in the campaign, though perhaps not until a runoff.

As for Danielle Paulus, other than being Eric Dick’s wife, there’s not much I can find. Here’s her Facebook page, which reminds me that I’m told Eric Dick did not care for my tone in that previous posting. I’m sure I’ll do better from here on out. This also reminds me that Eric Dick is a candidate for the Harris County Department of Education this November, as the member from Precinct 4. He’s the Republican candidate in a Republican district – this is Jack Cagle’s precinct, which is the most Republican precinct in the county. Which is to say, Eric Dick is finally going to get himself elected to something this fall, where he will join with incumbent HCDE Trustee Michael Wolfe to do the sort of things you’d expect those two characters to do. Isn’t that great? Those are six-year terms, too. I do not expect Danielle Paulus to join her husband in becoming an elected official, but Lord knows stranger things have happened. Anyway, the drawing for ballot order is today. There aren’t a whole lot of interesting local races this year, so I figure this one will get some attention as we go along.

Republican filing deadline highlights

As a followup to this, here’s a look at who filed for what in the Republican primary here in Harris County. Set your phasers to “snark” and come on in with me.

Congress

There are nine Congressional districts partially or wholly within Harris County. Republicans have incumbents in six of them, and they are running candidates in two of the others, but for some reason only bother to list candidates in four of the eight races in which they have a stake. Rep. Ted Poe is unopposed in CD02, while Rep. John Culberson has two opponents in CD07. What about Reps. Kevin Brady (CD08), Mike McCaul (CD10), Pete Olson (CD22) and Brian Babin (CD36)? You can’t tell from the Harris County GOP’s candidate webpage. I don’t know what’s up with that. In any event, there are two Republicans vying to lose to someone in CD29, and four – four! – candidates who seek the opportunity to lose to Sheila Jackson Lee by fifty points in CD18. And no, that’s not an exaggeration – SJL defeated Sean Seibert 75.01% to 22.58% in 2012. Even in the disaster of 2014, she won 71.78% to 24.76%. Seibert appears to have learned his lesson; he’s not one of the four hopefuls this time.

Statewide

Statewide candidates are not listed on this page. I did not go looking for the Texas GOP website looking for info on the judicial and Railroad Commission races, but this Trib story provides some info on the former, and this FuelFix post covers the latter, so there you have it.

State Legislature

No State Senate candidates are listed, so no one is challenging Sens. Sylvia Garcia, Rodney Ellis, or (presumably) any of the incumbent Republicans whose districts intersect Harris County: Brandon Creighton, Larry Taylor, and Lois Kolkhorst. On the House side, the highlights are as follows:

– Reps. Dan Huberty (HD127), Wayne Smith (HD128), Sarah Davis (HD134), and Debbie Riddle (HD150) all have primary opponents; Smith has two, and Riddle has three.

– Kevin Roberts is unopposed to try to succeed Patricia Harless in HD126; there are two Democrats running for that seat as well. Tom Oliverson and HCDE Trustee Kay Smith (whose term does not expire until 2018) are duking it out for HD130, left vacant by Allen Fletcher. The winner of that race will have no Democratic opponent.

– Two failed Council candidates, Matt Murphy (At Large #4) and Kendall Baker (District F) are challenging Democratic incumbents, the former in HD147 and the latter in HD137. Rep. Gene Wu, the incumbent in HD137, was active in campaigning for HERO this fall, while Baker as we know was one of the leading wingnuts in the anti-HERO campaign. Rep. Wu also has a primary opponent, and assuming he survives that I think we can guess what the fall campaign will look like.

Harris County

– Two-time City Council loser Chris Carmona and 2008 failed DA candidate Jim Leitner (who subsequently served as a top lieutenant under DA Pat Lykos) are running to oppose County Attorney Vince Ryan.

– DA Devon Anderson does not have a primary opponent, but Sheriff Ron Hickman has two: failed 2012 Sheriff candidate Carl Pittman and twice-failed Sheriff candidate Paul Day.

– Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan gets a rematch with Don Sumners, who parlayed his catastrophic tenure as Tax Assessor into an At Large HCDE Trustee gig. We all remember what a disaster Sumners was as Tax Assessor for the two years he had the job before Sullivan mercifully ousted him in 2012, right?

– Speaking of the HCDE, I presume current Board Chair Angie Chesnut is retiring, because she’s not listed as a candidate. Running to succeed her are Danell Fields and sigh Eric Dick. Can you imagine a board for which nearly half the membership is Don Sumners, Michael Wolfe, and Eric Dick? That might be enough to convince me that Ed Emmett and Commissioners Court have the right idea in wanted to have the Lege dismantle the HCDE. In the other HCDE race, incumbent Marvin Morris has George Moore as a primary opponent. There are Dems running in each race, but alas it’s Morris’ Precinct 2 seat that could be competitive in a Presidential year, and not Chesnut’s Precinct 4 seat.

– There are three candidates running for the open JP Precinct 1, Place 1 bench, the one being vacated by Dale Gorczynski. No Republicans ran against Gorczynski in 2012 or 2008; I’d have to check but my recollection from previous analyses is that it’s in the 60-65% Dem range. There are three GOP incumbent JPs on the ballot, but only Lincoln Goodwin in Precinct 4, Place 1 has a primary opponent.

– Is Constable Phil Camus in Precinct 5 retiring? He’s not listed on this page. You know who is? Former District F Council Member Al Hoang, who is one of two people shown running for that position.

– Finally, HC GOP Chair Paul Simpson has two challengers, one of whom has an email address that includes the string “creditrepairtex”. Boy, nothing says quality like that kind of email address, am I right?

I will say one utterly complimentary thing about the Harris GOP primary candidates webpage: They provide (where applicable) the webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter handle for their candidates. This is a great thing, one that would save a humble blogger like myself a lot of time and effort, not to mention the occasional mis-identification of candidates with common names. Can someone at the HCDP please make this happen in 2018? Thanks.

All right then. If all that still hasn’t sated your blood lust for candidate information, go visit this handy Trib guide to the state and federal races, which confirms that I counted the number of Dem State House candidates correctly and also missed the fact that we should have run someone in HD94, PDiddie, Stace, and Ashton Woods. And remember that while we Dems can certainly get nasty with each other, the Republicans will be enthusiastically eating their own this March.

Filing deadline highlights

I’m taking a look at interesting bits from the state and Harris County Democratic Party filings. You can see the latter here; there isn’t a page dedicated to this on the TDP webpage (why?) but via this press release we find the SOS candidate filing report, which once filtered for Dem only gives us what we want, albeit in a not-so-pretty package. We soldier on nonetheless. Here are the things that caught my eye.

Federal

– In addition to the three candidates with whom you may be familiar, your choices for President in Texas include Calvis L. Hawes, Keith Judd, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente, Star Locke, and Willie L. Wilson. Hawes, Judd, and Locke are themselves from Texas.

– Democratic candidates filed for 30 of the 36 Congressional seats, the exceptions being 8, 11, 13, 19, 32, and 36. Of those, only 32 could be considered on the horizon of competitive, so no great loss. Incumbent Democrats facing primary challengers are Beto O’Rourke (CD16), Henry Cuellar (CD28), Eddie Berniece Johnson (CD30), and of course Gene Green (CD29), who like Johnson has two opponents, both named Garcia (Adrian and Dominique). There are seven candidates for the open CD15. Former Rep. Pete Gallego, trying to take back CD23, has a primary opponent to overcome first. Frequent candidate A.R. Hassan is one of two hopefuls for CD22. And hey, remember Ray Madrigal, the guy who ran against Wendy Davis in the gubernatorial primary in 2014? He’s a candidate for CD27, along with two other folks.

Statewide

– Your candidates for Railroad Commissioner are former State Rep. Lon Burnam, 2014 Senate candidate Grady Yarbrough, and Cody Garrett.

– All of the statewide judicial offices have candidates: Mike Westergren, Dori Contreras Garza, and Savannah Robinson, for places 3, 5, and 9 on the Supreme Court; incumbent Judge Larry Meyers (remember he switched parties last year), Betsy Johnson, and Robert Burns, for places 2, 5, and 6 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. I think you have to go back to 2002 to find the last time we had all such slots filled.

SBOE

– I guess first-term SBOE member Martha Dominguez decided not to run for re-election, because she didn’t file for it. Dominguez was more than a little flaky about running after her surprise win in the 2012 primary (why she was in the primary if she was reluctant to run for November remains a mystery), so no great loss here. Three candidates – Georgia Perez, Joe Fierro, Jr., and Lynn Oliver – are on the ballot to replace her.

– Two familiar names are back, Rebecca Bell-Metereau in SBOE5, and Judy Jennings in SBOE10. Both good candidates (you can search my archives for the interviews I did with them in 2010 if you are so inclined), with perhaps better chances of winning this time.

– There are three candidates for SBOE6 in Harris County – Jasmine Jenkins, Dakota Carter, and Michael Jordan. I know nothing about any of them at this time.

District appeals courts

– We seem to have these covered for Harris and the other counties in our two appellate districts:

Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals – Jim Peacock.
Justice, 1st Court of Appeals District, Place 4 – Barbara Gardner.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2 – Candance White and Jim Sharp. Yes, that Jim Sharp.
Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 9 – Peter M. Kelly.

That appears to be a full slate, unless there are any unexpired terms I’m not aware of. DA candidate Morris Overstreet ran for Chief Justice of the 1st Court in 2010. Peter Kelly is a neighbor of mine, so that’s cool.

– There’s a contested primary for Justice, 13th Court of Appeals District, Place 3, in South Texas, which had been held by 2008 Supreme Court candidate Linda Yanez; she lost it in a heartbreaker in the 2010 debacle. One of the candidates is Leticia Hinojosa, whom those with long memories may remember as Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s primary opponent for the re-redistricted CD25 in 2004. Everything old is new again.

State Senate

– You know about the TMF-Menendez rematch in SD26. Another “rematch” is in SD19, where Sen. Carlos Uresti faces Helen Madla, widow of former Sen. Frank Madla, whom Uresti ousted in 2006. Let me just say that as much as I love the city of San Antonio, I’m glad I’m not living there this primary season.

– Sen. Eddie Lucio also has a primary opponent, O. Rodriguez Haro III.

– Virginia “Jennie Lou” Leeder is running for SD24, the seat vacated by Troy Fraser. She won’t win, but at least someone is running. No one filed for the other open Senate seat, Kevin Eltife’s SD01.

State House

– By my rough count, Dems fielded candidates in 90 of the 150 State House districts, which I believe means they are challenging 38 Republican incumbents. Offhand I don’t know how that compares to other years. Some districts where I would have liked to have seen a challenger include 17, 32, 45, 132, and 138. Easier said than done, I know. The Dallas County Democratic Party put out a release touting the fact that all of their districts have a Dem running in them. Good on them for that.

– Incumbents with primary challengers, according to the SOS: Toni Rose (HD110), Ina Minjarez (HD124; she won a special election late in the session, so no shock here), Alma Allen (HD131), Gene Wu (HD137), Ron Reynolds (HD27; he has three opponents), Sergio Munoz (HD36), and Mary Gonzalez (HD75; she is facing former Rep. Chente Quintanilla). According to the HCDP page, you can add Jessica Farrar (HD148) and Hubert Vo (HD149) to that list, with both of their opponents being hot messes. Farrar faces Dave Wilson – yes, that Dave Wilson – while Vo draws minor Mayoral candidate Demetria Smith. Pass the Advil.

– Open seat report: Three candidates in HD116 (vacated by TMF in his Senate quest), two in HD118 (Joe Farias; son Gabe won the special election to fill out his term), six in HD120 (Ruth Jones McClendon), three in HD139 (Sylvester Turner), seven in HD49 (Elliott Naishtat), and two in HD77 (Marissa Marquez).

– Other contested races: HD117 (Philip Cortez tries to win back the seat he won in 2012 and lost in 2014; he faces San Carlos Antonio), and HD144 (Mary Ann Perez tries to do the same but first faces Cody Ray Wheeler and Bernie Aldape). Also of note, Lloyd Criss (father of former Judge and 2014 candidate Susan Criss) tries his luck in HD23, which he once represented some years back.

Harris County

– There are twelve contested judicial races. These are mostly for Republican-held benches, but incumbent Elaine Palmer drew two challengers. Guess I better start sending out those judicial Q&As.

– Those 12 judicial races are for district and county courts. There are also four contested JP races. Incumbent Richard Vara (Precinct 6, Place 1) has an opponent, and incumbent Hillary Green (Precinct 7, Place 1; she is the estranged wife of outgoing Controller Ronald Green) has seven (!) opponents, including 2012 HCDP Chair candidate and 2013 Mayoral candidate Keryl Douglas.

– There are 26 people running for 8 Constable positions. Incumbents Alan Rosen (Precinct 1) has two opponents; Chris Diaz (Precinct 2) has three; Henry Martinez (Precinct 6) has four; and May Walker (Precinct 7) has one.

– Sherrie Matula, who had a couple of good runs for State Rep in HD129 prior to the 2011 redistricting, is a candidate for HCDE in Precinct 2, while Marilyn Burgess is running in Precinct 4. There are no At Large HCDE spots on the ballot this year.

– Commissioner El Franco Lee is unopposed, while former Council candidate Jenifer Rene Pool and Eric Hassan square off for the right to challenge Steve Radack in Precinct 3.

…And I do believe that’s a wrap. There may be some late additions or corrections – the SOS page may not have full information from the county parties, for instance – but this is a decent overview. There are a few names on the ballot that I wouldn’t mind seeing disappear, and trying to make sense of all these races and candidates will be a monumental task with not a whole lot of time to accomplish it, but overall this is a good thing. Much better to have a plethora of candidates than a dearth in a democracy.

Auditing HCDE

We’ll see about this.

Later this summer, state auditors are expected to release their final report on the Harris County Department of Education. They’ve been examining the agency since last December.

Superintendent James Colbert told lawmakers about it at a hearing in April.

“We should have absolutely nothing to hide as far as I’m concerned and really they provide a free service for us for things that we need to fix. And so, that’s something that I’m open to,” Colbert said.

Critics contend the Harris County Department of Education has plenty to fix, from handling records requests to duplicating services with other agencies.

Its services include early learning, special education and adult education.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, said he wants to have a hearing in Austin after the audit is released.

“What I want this to come out with is an idea of ‘Do we have a model that works in Harris County, or do we need to change it?’” he said.

See here for some background. HCDE has long been a political target, so an audit like this could provide ammunition for its detractors, or it could provide evidence that there’s nothing of substance for them to attack. The Chron story I linked to in that earlier post certainly suggests there are some things going on at HCDE that need scrutiny. Hopefully, this audit will show that they have been addressed.

HCDE happenings

The Chron paints an unflattering portrait of the Harris County Department of Education.

HCDE has operated in relative obscurity for decades, fighting off lawmakers’ occasional efforts to eliminate it by bankrolling lobbyists and political consultants.

Advocates for the agency say it provides indispensable support services to the 25 independent school districts in Harris County. But a prominent Senate Republican is leading a push for a state-led Sunset Advisory Commission Review of HCDE, saying its finances need to be scrutinized and its programs streamlined to avoid duplication with other agencies. And he has plenty of ammunition.

The Houston Chronicle requested to review HCDE’s financial records in January and found a reticent agency that had violated its own spending rules and declined to explain why its former superintendent, John Sawyer, stepped down three months into a new contract – and received a buyout.

Records show that Sawyer had doled out stipends to employees without notifying the Board of Trustees or seeking its approval, a policy violation.

He also had hired lobbyists and political consultants, including a convicted felon, for amounts just under limits that would have required the board’s OK.

Records also show that HCDE paid more than $1.5 million during the past decade to a nonprofit educational foundation accused of endorsing political candidates for HCDE’s board. The nonprofit’s president, its lone full-time employee, has received more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits since 2005, tax records show. His annual compensation has averaged about $182,000 – more than Harris County’s chief executive officer.

Board President Angie Chesnut said trustees took swift action after they learned in June about the stipends, which were paid for extra work. The total payments to 60 employees came to about $450,000 over the past decade, according to the agency’s records.

Chesnut said the board stopped pending payments, tightened the policy and meted out discipline. She would not disclose who was punished or exactly what action was taken.

The new superintendent can only approve cellphone and travel allowances without board approval. All political contracts – regardless of cost – now must go before the board.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do. Every organization makes mistakes,” Chesnut said. “The key to me, as a business manager, is that when you find those, you act to correct them, and that’s what we do.”

There’s more, so go read it. One always wonders what the genesis of such stories is. In this case, given that it opens with an anecdote from Trustee Michael Wolfe, who was ousted in 2012 but re-elected in 2014, and that much of the story focuses on now-former Superintendent John Sawyer, that would be my guess. There’s no shortage of bad blood between Wolfe and Sawyer, so if there was an opportunity for a bit of retribution on Wolfe’s part, I’m sure he grabbed it with both hands. It might have been nice to mention Wolfe’s tumultuous tenure on the HCDE board instead of just quoting him and moving on, but bygones are bygones, I suppose.

As for the substance of the story, I received the following email from former Trustee Debra Kerner, which she also sent to the Chron as a letter to the editor. I’ll let it speak for itself:

Dear Houston Chronicle Editorial Page Editor,

Regarding “HCDE draws sharp look” (Sunday, May 24, 2015, pg.1), I served as a countywide elected Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) from January 2009 to January 2015. During that time, I held various Board positions including Vice President. I read the article, “HCDE Draws Sharp Look” from Sunday, May 24, 2015 with intense interest and felt that as a private citizen and former board member, I had to respond. I would ask that the public consider these clarifying facts.

1) HCDE serves students, educators and school districts. Their services are provided at the request of Harris County school districts. They seek to enhance and innovate and provide services to the school districts and the residents of Harris County. All 25 of the school districts in Harris County choose to use at least some of the services from HCDE. HCDE provides even more services than are listed in the article, including Safe and Secure Schools. As told to me by the head of Region 4, all of these services cannot be duplicated by the Education Service Center (Region 4). Who would provide these services, if HCDE had to close?

2) During my tenure, HCDE underwent several audits and a Texas legislative study. These studies determined that HCDE’s education services saved taxpayer dollars and that it would cost school districts significantly more to replicate. While areas for improvement were identified, none of the studies recommended closure. The Board had always taken steps to improve the department and continues to do so.

3) One example that was noted in the article was the policy on hiring political consultants. The Board did not have the chance to vote on the Eversole contract. Once the board learned about these hirings, the policy was changed to bring more transparency to the process of hiring political consultants. While I understand, the concern about using tax dollars for this purpose, I believe it would be unfair to the students and educators served by HCDE to not give them a voice regarding the educational resources that are so valuable to them. Many school districts also hire lobbyists and political consultants to help educate legislators and others about their needs. In addition, HCDE has a group consistently seeking its abolishment. Three year olds and other students with severe disabilities cannot go to Austin to indicate the true value of HCDE, so HCDE does it for them. HCDE is a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.

4) Ms. Vera and the Houston Chronicle have initiated countless open records request. HCDE has been compliant and constantly sought to increase transparency. Responding to these requests has been costly; however, none of these requests have yielded information that rises to the level of criminal activity. Any issues that were found, the Board had already initiated steps to improve the situation. At the same time, HCDE has continued to educate students, train teachers and provide valuable wraparound services.

5) We should focus on what HCDE is doing now. HCDE has hired a new superintendent, James Colbert, who is moving forward. The Board has made changes to address policies and procedures to ensure that things are done correctly and transparently. HCDE continues to respond to the needs of partner districts. I participated in the hiring of Mr. James Colbert and from what I’ve seen thus far, he is a true leader who is very responsive to the educational needs in Harris County. The reason HCDE has fought against additional studies regarding abolishment is that it is hard to plan for the future when the threat of closure hangs over their heads.

I was honored to serve with Trustees who truly cared about enhancing education in our county in a fiscally responsible way. It is a shame that the voices of a few are taken as fact when thousands of students and the 25 Harris County school districts find value in HCDE every single day.

Thank-you,
Debra Kerner
Former Trustee,
Harris County Department of Education

It must be noted that it was Kerner who lost to Wolfe in 2014. I’m the only one who’s making something out of Wolfe, so make of that what you will. I have always believed that HCDE serves a good and useful function – there’s plenty of testimony out there from teachers and many of Harris County’s smaller school districts to back that up – and have never understood the hate on that some people have for it. That’s politics for you, I suppose. Stace has more.

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

Endorsement watch: Chron for Leticia

It’s amazing how easy some endorsement decisions are, or at least should be, this year.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

The differences between the candidates this year could hardly be more stark. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, the Democratic candidate, is not only knowledgeable and experienced but also congenial and easy to work with. Her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, is divisive, disruptive and self-aggrandizing.

We urge a vote for Van de Putte. Texas voters, regardless of party, need to think long and hard about a potential demagogue becoming lieutenant governor.

[…]

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished fourth in the March Republican primary for lieutenant governor, described his erstwhile opponent as an unsavory combination of Huey Long, Elmer Gantry and W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” O’Daniel. Patterson said he would not vote for Patrick and told reporters that of the 31 members of the Senate, “very, very few of them have any trust in Sen. Patrick. Very few of them.”

Patrick, 64, is a formidable politician. He’s smart, he’s articulate and he knows the issues, but those attributes make him all the more dangerous in a leadership position.

Van de Putte, a moderate Democrat of Mexican descent, is a mother, grandmother and small-businesswoman. She was elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Senate in 1999. The exact opposite of Patrick, the 59-year-old lawmaker has earned the respect of her colleagues in the majority-Republican Senate. They know she’ll work with them.

It’s a familiar litany, and I will be very surprised if all the other major papers don’t follow it as the Chron and the Caller have done. Despite his occasional attempts at bamboozlement, I doubt Dan Patrick himself would dispute the substance of these pieces. He is what he is and he knows it. The choice really couldn’t be any clearer.

Meanwhile, the Chron also made the obvious calls in the HCDE Trustee races.

County School Trustee, Position 5, At Large: Debra “Debby” Kerner

Our strong choice for this position is the Democratic incumbent Debra Kerner. Elected in 2008, Kerner is a career speech/language pathologist who brings a valuable perspective to this board, as she has spent her entire career working with special-needs children. She earned a masters degree from Columbia University and has been an instructor of speech pathology at University of Houston. She has also served as president of the Houston Association for Communication Disorders and a former vice president of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Kerner, 65, is being challenged by Republican candidate Michael Wolfe, who currently works as Community Outreach Director for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office. Wolfe has previously served as an HCDE trustee, where he was censured for his frequent absences from meetings and failure to notify the board about his whereabouts for three months. He was also accused of threatening board members during an executive session. When the editorial board asked about his absences, Wolfe did not give a satisfactory reply. Showing up is important. Without any question, Kerner deserves another term.

County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large: Melissa Noriega

We encourage voters to go with Noriega. After working for nearly three decades in the Houston Independent School District, three terms as an at-large member of Houston City Council and a short stint as a Democratic state representative, Noriega, 60, understands where HCDE contributes to local schools and how to pull the levers of government. As she will be the first to admit, the job of bulk purchasing, record storage and specialty schools isn’t particularly sexy, but it is valuable.

It’s a highly qualified and well-respected incumbent Trustee and one of the better City Council members we’ve had in recent years against two of the biggest jokers to “serve” in Harris County government; Noriega’s opponent is former Tax Assessor Don Sumners, whose mess is still being cleaned up in that office. The stakes are a lot smaller, but as with Lite Guv, the choices couldn’t be clearer. My interview with Debby Kerner is here, and my interview with Melissa Noriega is here. Please don’t overlook these races at the bottom of your ballot.

Interview with Melissa Noriega

Melissa Noriega

Melissa Noriega

We round out the county races this year with the Harris County Department of Education, a seven-member board that handles federal grants and provides various programs for the many independent school districts in Harris County. It’s hard to believe, but six years ago today there wasn’t a single Democrat on the HCDE. That started to change in 2008, when two Democrats won races for At Large seats against right-wing Republicans that had defeated more moderate incumbents in their primary. (One of those successful primary challengers was our current County Clerk, Stan Stanart.) Of those two winning Democrats, one was Debra Kerner, now running for re-election, and the other was Jim Henley, who stepped down last year leaving his position open for this election. Former At Large Houston City Council member Melissa Noriega is running to succeed Henley. In addition to her six successful years on Council, Noriega has a deep background in education, where she spent 27 years working for HISD in various capacities. We discussed her experience and her desire to help the HCDE continue doing its good works, among other things:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

Interview with Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

We round out the county races this year with the Harris County Department of Education, a seven-member board that handles federal grants and provides various programs for the many independent school districts in Harris County. It’s hard to believe, but six years ago today there wasn’t a single Democrat on the HCDE. That started to change in 2008, when two Democrats won races for At Large seats against right-wing Republicans that had defeated more moderate incumbents in their primary. (One of those successful primary challengers was our current County Clerk, Stan Stanart.) Debra Kerner was one of those two Democrats, and now she’s running for re-election to Place 5, At Large on the HCDE Board. Kerner is a speech pathologist who has run her own consulting firm for over 30 years, and she has brought a wealth of experience and empathy to her job on the HCDE. With pre-kindergarten being so much in the news lately, from the recent efforts to fund a pre-k program in Harris County to the competing proposals from Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott, there was plenty for us to talk about:

I will have more interviews in the coming weeks.

AG opines against Early To Rise

This kind of snuck in there.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion Monday saying a court would likely have found a petition effort last year to send a 1-cent property tax hike to voters to buoy local preschools to be illegal.

[…]

On Monday, Abbott wrote in a 4-page opinion addressed to state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who requested it, saying: “Because the Legislature has not authorized an election for the purpose of increasing a tax rate of a (countywide school district), a court would likely conclude that” the law does “not authorize a CSD to hold a petition-initiative election to increase the county equalization tax.”

Read the opinion here.

“I am grateful for the attorney general’s clear opinion today confirming the illegality of the Early To Rise initiative,” Emmett said in a statement. “Despite numerous threats of lawsuits, it was clear to me that this bizarre proposal was illegal and wrong-headed. It’s gratifying to have the confirmation of both the appellate court and the state of Texas.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Basically, the Early To Rise campaign submitted petition signatures on behalf of the Harris County School Readiness Corp, but County Judge Ed Emmett refused to put the measure on the ballot, a decision that was allowed to stand when the 14th Court of Appeals declined to hear HCSRC’s appeal. County Attorney Vince Ryan also submitted a request for an opinion on Emmett’s behalf, not that it makes much difference. As we know, AG opinions aren’t binding but they do have an effect, and as such I don’t see how the same process, with a differently worded petition, would be viable again. I do think we haven’t heard the last of this, however. The question is where they go from here. Neither the webpage nor the Facebook page has any reaction to the AG opinion. I sure hope there is a way forward of some kind, because there are lots of benefits to universal pre-K. Judge Emmett opposed the petition process but supports the idea. Surely there is a way to work this out and have another go in a way everyone agrees is legally acceptable.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

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.

Funding after school programs

This should be a no-brainer.

CM C.O. "Brad" Bradford

CM C.O. “Brad” Bradford

To combat youth crime, a former Houston police chief says the city must first solve another problem: unstable and inadequate funding for after-school programs.

City Councilman C.O. Bradford said it is more urgent than ever to make after-school programs a public-safety priority as federal grants continue to dwindle or expire, forcing dozens of area providers to shut their doors this year and leaving more children unattended during critical hours.

“Deadly house parties. Drive-by shootings. Killed kids,” he said. “We’re going to see more and more of that.”

Bradford, Houston’s police chief from 1997 to 2003, has failed on previous attempts to persuade Houston leaders to take city funds earmarked for new police officers and instead spend them to expand after-school programs, but he vows to continue the push.

Since 2011, Bradford has chaired a coalition of area after-school care providers called ENRICH, which is based out of the Harris County Department of Education’s Cooperative for After-School Enrichment. The group’s end-of-year report highlighted local studies it organized and funded that show that after-school programs are linked to reducing youth crime.

For more than a decade, numerous national and regional studies have concluded that about 20 percent of all crimes – and more than half of violent crimes – committed by kids and teens happen in the four hours after school on weekdays, combatting the perception that mischievous kids prefer to skulk the dark. Some hope a solution is as simple as providing positive alternatives during those hours.

Former Mayor Lee Brown touted after-school programs as an anti-crime measure when the city began funding some in the late 1990s. Although the city spends millions from federal grants each year, only about $225,000 comes from the general fund.

“Too many young boys and girls are being cited and being detained because they are simply being children, and we are not providing the proper guidance, coaching and counseling they need,” Bradford said.

ENRICH reported that 53 percent of funding for after-school programs in Harris, Waller and Fort Bend counties came from federal sources in the 2012-13 school year. Dozens of after-school programs focused on academic enrichment were forced to shut down after that school year as federal grants expired with no option to reapply for one or two years.

I completely agree with CM Bradford that this is a priority and a sound investment that needs to be funded. You know the old expression “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop”? That’s the idea here. Kids who are bored are more likely to get into trouble than kids who are busy. Doesn’t make them bad kids, it just makes them kids. I don’t know about you, but I certainly did a few stupid things when I was a kid and didn’t have anything better to do. The fact that federal grants are getting scarcer for this, presumably in the name of “austerity” or “smaller government”, is a scandal and a travesty, but this is the world we live in right now. We can pay now to help keep kids busy and engaged and productive, or we can pay later when they’re not. You tell me what makes more sense.