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HCDP

Apparently, that pay parity debate did happen

I missed the last twist in this saga, but in the end it did happen.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After months of trading barbs from a distance, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the head of Houston’s firefighters’ union met in a vigorous but civil debate Saturday, displaying their fundamental differences over just about everything related to the November ballot referendum that would grant firefighters pay “parity” with police officers of corresponding rank and seniority.

The dispute revolves around a divisive question: If the measure known as Proposition B passes, can the city afford it? If anything, the debate at St. John’s United Methodist Church between Turner and Houston Professional Fire Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton revealed how irreconcilable the opposing views on that question truly are.

From Turner’s perspective, Houston firefighters deserve to receive better pay, but not to the extent that their raises “bankrupt the city,” as he claimed Proposition B would do by mandating 29 percent raises for firefighters, at a cost of than $100 million a year.

What’s more, Turner said Saturday, the measure does not call for true “parity” because it mandates only equal pay, ignoring retirement benefits, training and education requirements — in practice granting firefighters better pay, Turner argued.

To Lancton, the city has balanced its budget on the backs of firefighters to the point that the department’s rank-and-file members are struggling to make ends meet, with salaries far lower than those of firefighters in other Texas cities.

“What Houston firefighters seek is fair, competitive pay. Because of low pay, many Houston-trained firefighters are leaving for other departments,” Lancton said. “Our pay is so low that starting firefighters, supporting families, can even qualify for government assistance. We’ve asked the city for competitive pay for nearly a decade. The city has repeatedly rejected our efforts to reach an acceptable contract agreement.”

It goes from there, and I don’t think there’s much that you haven’t seen if you’ve been following this. At last report, Lancton had pulled out of the debate because the firefighters didn’t want Lisa Falkenberg moderating (because they didn’t like the Chron’s editorial stance against Prop B) and had wanted to address the Democratic precinct chairs in an effort to get Prop B endorsed by the HCDP. Neither of these conditions changed – Falkenberg still moderated, and the HCDP precinct chairs are not getting together for an endorsement vote – so I don’t know what changed from the firefighters’ perspective. Be that as it may, I’m glad this happened – the voters deserved such an event. I wish I could have been there but I was out of town. If you attended or saw a stream of it, please leave a comment with your impressions.

The pay parity proposal debate that wasn’t

Let’s not get ready to rumble!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s firefighters union has withdrawn from a Saturday debate with Mayor Sylvester Turner on their proposal to seek pay “parity” with police officers, saying the event’s host, the Harris County Democratic Party, had given the mayor too much control over the event.

The hour-long event would have marked the first time the mayor and the union addressed the contentious issue on the same stage.

“We looked forward to the debate,” Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a Wednesday morning statement, “but we recognize that party insiders failed to stop the manipulation of the ground rules to advantage the mayor. We are disappointed in the HCDP’s acquiescence to the mayor, but are grateful for the support of HCDP precinct chairs and the many Houstonians they represent.”

Among the union’s complaints were that Houston Chronicle opinion editor Lisa Falkenberg was to serve as moderator (the editorial board expressed opposition to the parity proposal in July 2017), and that Democratic Party officials did not agree to let Lancton address precinct chairs or let them vote on whether to endorse the proposition.

Alas. Here’s the earlier story announcing the event that was the original basis of this post. I am not able to be there for this not-a-forum, but perhaps you can be.

County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter said the party engaged in “extensive conversations” with both camps on the format of the discussion but respects the union’s decision to withdraw.

“The event details appeared in a Facebook announcement seen and approved by all parties last week. It is unfortunate the firefighter’s union has determined these details do not meet their needs,” she said. “We regret voters will not hear from the firefighter’s union at this time. Mayor Turner and Lisa are welcome to use the full hour we have allotted for this event.”

The party’s leadership committee, after hearing from the fire union at a recent meeting, Schechter said, voted to schedule the debate to hear from both sides. She said the gathering was never envisioned as ending in a vote, saying such votes only occur at quarterly gatherings of all precinct chairs, the last of which was held Sept. 13.

Yes, speaking as a precinct chair, that’s how our rules work. Precinct chairs vote to endorse or not endorse ballot measures like this at our quarterly meetings. We endorsed the flood bond referendum at the June meeting, for instance. There were members from the firefighters’ union at the September meeting, talking up their proposal, but no motion for an endorsement vote. Which I have to say would have been contentious, and because of that I’m glad it didn’t come up. I don’t know what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but I do know they could have made a pretty big fuss about this at the meeting if they had wanted to.

Personally, I think an event like this, aimed at the general public, rather than an agenda item for a normally dry meeting of precinct chairs, would be a much better way to allow both sides to air their views (I’m assuming that if Lancton had been given time to address us, then Mayor Turner or a representative from his office would have been given time as well). But hey, whatever. Perhaps the Mayor and Lisa Falkenberg can discuss the cost of this referendum.

The cost of Houston firefighters’ push for pay parity with police of corresponding rank and seniority could be 14 percent cheaper than what Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration has estimated, city Controller Chris Brown said Tuesday.

Brown’s office estimates that the proposal, which will appear as Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot, will cost $85.2 million a year, lower than the $98.6 million figure Turner has used. Neither estimate includes the 7 percent raise police would receive over the next two years if the city council approves a new proposed contract this week. That would increase the cost if voters decide to link fire and police salaries.

Brown acknowledged his analysis required a series of assumptions related to how the parity proposal would be implemented, and said the estimate shows the cost of the proposal would be “unsustainable.”

“The controller’s office believes that a sustainable solution exists but can only be achieved through negotiation in the collective bargaining process,” Brown said while presenting his estimate to the city council’s budget committee. “It’s through that process that the men and women of HFD should be able to negotiate a well-deserved raise, but also a well-deserved raise the city can actually afford over the long term.”

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton viewed Brown’s analysis as vindication of his view that Turner’s estimate is inflated.

“As the city controller proved today, the mayor’s Proposition B claims cannot be trusted. His math, like his judgment, is driven by an obsession with punishing Houston firefighters,” Lancton said.

[…]

Brown and Turner’s estimates are nearly identical on the projected increase to firefighters’ base salaries and the associated increase in retirement benefits: that roughly 20 percent increase would cost about $65 million per year.

The two estimates differ mostly on various incentives and allowances known as “special pays,” some of which firefighters receive now but which parity would increase, and some of which firefighters would receive for the first time if voters approve the measure.

Not sure how a reduction in the cost estimate from $98 million to $85 million is a vindication of the firefighters’ case, especially when $85 million is still a pretty damn big number and Controller Brown calls it “unsustainable”, but maybe that’s just me. I continue to believe this thing is going to pass so I sure hope the cost estimates we are seeing are overblown, but all things being equal I’d rather not have to find out. Be that as it may, if you don’t know what to make of all this, go attend the not-a-forum and see what you think.

If you can’t win, cheat

This is some bullshit.

Harris County residents keen to vote in the upcoming midterm elections should be very careful about checking their mail. Recently, some residents of Third Ward received letters informing them of an address change they had not actually filed and which, if not answered, would put their franchise into suspension. It looks to be the result of a Republican-led challenge to thousands of Houston voters.

Lynn Lane, the well-respected Houston photographer who does a lot of theater and dance photography, almost threw the envelope away, thinking it was junk mail. Instead, it was from Ann Harris-Bennett, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar. Though Lane has lived at his address for the past five years, his letter said otherwise. Furthermore, lack of response would cost him the right to vote.

It reads:

“If you do not respond at all to this notice, your registration will be canceled if you have not confirmed your address either by completing the response form or confirming your address when voting before November 30 following the second general election for state and county officers that occurs after the date the confirmation notice is mailed.”

Lane subsequently checked his voter registration and found that his voting rights were indeed listed as suspended. He says that a neighbor and others he had spoken to – who declined to be named in this story – had received similar letters.

“Something is definitely fishy with them trying to cancel voters registration stating our addresses have changed and if we don’t return these forms completed they will remove us from the registration it we will not be able to vote in November,” says Lane.

Archie Rose in Harris-Bennett’s office said that he suspected voter registration challenges were to blame when contacted for comment. According to Section 16 of the Texas Election Code, “a registered voter may challenge the registration of another voter.” Alan Vera, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee, has delivered 4,000 such challenges to Harris-Bennett’s office.

[…]

Lane’s letter is indicative that Vera and the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee’s movement has resulted in some lawfully registered voters in minority neighborhoods seeing their right to vote jeopardized. As the current system allows any registered voter to initiate such challenges against anyone they suspect or wish to accuse of improper registration, it is open to coordinated mob misuse.

“This is voter suppression at its finest,” says Lane. “And it’s also a waste of taxpayer dollars to send out all of these forms and then have us send them back to make sure we’re okay when we were okay before.”

Voters are encouraged to check their mail carefully in case they have also been challenged, and to make regular checks of the Secretary of State website to confirm their voter registration status. Anyone who receives a letter like Lane’s should respond promptly as instructed.

So, three things here. One, check yourself (choose “VUID and date of birth” for the Selection Criteria; your VUID is right there on your voter registration card) and tell everyone you know to check themselves. Two, the law in question being used to challenge these voters’ registrations needs to be tightened up. The person making the challenge must “state a specific qualification for registration that the challenged voter has not met based on the personal knowledge of the voter desiring to challenge the registration”, which seems awfully broad. Let’s define a standard of evidence here, and let’s include a penalty for making false claims. And three, while there may not be a prescribed remedy for someone who has been fraudulently challenged, I’m thinking a lawsuit against the perpetrators is in order anyway. Maybe file four thousand of them in JP court, for a bit of cosmic balance.

Be that as it may, this story deserves to be more thoroughly reported and widely known. It’s been all over Facebook among local Democrats, and the HCDP took notice as well. From an email sent out by HCDP Chair Lillie Schechter:

We were alerted yesterday that the voter registrations of nearly 4,000 democratic voters had been challenged by Republicans. Taking advantage of a loophole that allows challenged voter registrations to be placed on a suspense list requiring them to either update their address information online or complete a Statement of Residence at their polling place.

Making it harder to vote is one of the oldest tactics in the playbook of Republicans who are right now shaking in their boots at the thought of the expanding electorate and the coming blue wave.

HCDP is working to identify every democratic voter affected and alert them to this change in their registration status. We plan to contact them by mail and phone to ensure they have all the information needed to exercise their right to vote in November and beyond.

Good, and exactly what they need to do. It sucks that they have to do this, but that’s the world we live in, where people who have lived at the same address for years can have their voter registrations challenged by random assholes. Know what’s going on, and don’t let anyone disenfranchise you or someone you know.

Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

Davila lawsuit over ballot access rejected

So much for that.

Diana Davila

Amidst claims of illegal signature gathering and improper mailers in an East End justice of the peace race, a visiting senior judge ruled against a Houston Independent School Board trustee in her suit against the county Democratic Party for rejecting her application to be on the primary ballot.

HISD Trustee’s Diana Davila’s lawsuit, filed last week, stated that she had submitted a petition to the Harris County Democratic Party containing 310 signatures that would qualify her to be on the ballot, but had omitted printing the name of the person circulating the petitions in an affidavit on a single line at the bottom of each petition.

The Democratic Party chairwoman rejected many of the signatures on that count. She said that she could not decipher the names registered as those collecting the signatures and said Davila could not be on the ballot.

Judge J.D. Langley conceded in a Thursday court hearing that may be a technicality, but said he was hesitant to upend the election process or reverse the Democratic Party chairwoman.

“The court should stay away from it,” Langley said.

He also cited state statute that he interpreted as Davila having passed the deadline to amend her forms.

See here for the background. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s better to let candidates be on the ballot rather than disqualify them on small technical deficiencies in their applications. On the other hand, the requirements they have to meet are not onerous and the vast majority of candidates had no trouble with them. As noted in the story, Davila is not a first time candidate, and she knew what was needed. This isn’t that hard, and I can’t say I have a great deal of sympathy. Better luck next time.

Diana Davila sues over ballot rejection

There’s one of these every cycle.

Diana Davila

Diana Davila said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state district court that her application to run for justice of the peace Precinct 6, Place 2 in the March primary election was inappropriately rejected by the Democratic Party.

The lawsuit states that Davila had submitted a petition containing 310 signatures that would qualify her to be on the ballot, but had omitted printing the name of the person circulating the petition on one line in the petition.

The name appeared elsewhere on the page and the petition was signed and notarized.

“The only thing that’s important is that this person signed their name before a notary,” said Davila’s attorney Keith Gross.

The lawsuit states that despite that omission, Davila should be allowed to run in the primary. She would face one challenger in the primary election, Angela Rodriguez.

In a statement, the Harris County Democratic Party stated that Rodriguez filed a complaint with the party about Davila’s paperwork. The party then followed up on the complaint and rejected Davila’s application because “the challenge appeared to be well founded.”

I don’t have a dog in this fight. The reason for the rejection may seem persnickety, but ballot applications have been rejected for reasons like this before. That doesn’t mean Davila won’t prevail in her lawsuit, just that the HCDP – which consulted with the Secretary of State’s office before making their decision – had a valid reason for rejecting her filing. We’ll see what the court makes of it.

Lillie Schechter elected HCDP Chair

Lillie Schechter

Six candidates were nominated for HCDP Chair at Sunday’s County Executive Committee meeting: Dominique Davis, Johnathan Miller, Chris Spellmon, Keryl Douglass, Eartha Jean Johnson, and Lillie Schechter. Each candidate was given two minutes for a speech in a pre-determined order, and the most interesting thing to come out of those speeches was candidates Spellmon and Douglass urging their supporters to cast their votes for Johnson. I presume this was a strategic move, to not split the vote among the three of them and give one candidate – Johnson – the best possible odds of making to a runoff. You may ask, as I did, why they just didn’t decline the nomination. Assuming they could decline the nominations, which may or may not be the case under the rules, being nominated meant they got to deliver those speeches and thus advocate for Johnson.

Not a bad plan, but it wasn’t enough. There were 359 current precinct chairs in attendance – afterwards, in the regular meeting, a bunch of new precinct chairs were inaugurated, but they were not eligible to vote in this election – and via the “division of the room” method we are all familiar with by now, Schechter emerged victorious in the first round, collecting 190 votes to Johnson’s 118; Miller had 30 and Davis 21. She was then sworn in by TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, who was present for the meeting.

In the end, I supported Schechter. It was a tough choice – I liked all four of the candidates who asked for our votes – but in the end I decided Schechter had the best combination of priorities, experience, and fundraising abilities. She got off to a good start, calling all of the Chair candidates up to the dais and thanking them for their dedication. There’s always the possibility of bitterness after an election like this, but I didn’t get the sense there was any after this one. I hope that remains the case.

One promise all of the candidates made was to ensure the Party is fully funded for its day-to-day and campaign efforts, and to fill the empty precinct chair positions. The 359 chairs who voted were about 75% of active chairs at the time. There were others sworn in following the election as noted, but the grand total is still only about half of the total number of precincts, or maybe 60% of the precincts that have any real population in them. There’s plenty of room to grow, and that’s without mentioning the fact that some precinct chairs are more active than others. We will definitely have some objective data by which to judge Schechter’s tenure as Chair.

All in all, it was a good experience. I hope it’s a long time before I’m called upon again as a precinct chair to select someone for office. I’ve exercised enough power to last a lifetime, thanks. My thanks to now-former Chair Lane Lewis, and congratulations to Lillie Schechter. I think I speak for many when I say we hope for big things from you. The Chron has more.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Lillie Schechter

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Lillie Schechter

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I grew up in the Democratic party, whether I was marching with my cousins, chanting, “vote for Annie, she’s our granny,” as part of my grandmother’s successful bid for Tax Assessor-Collector in Hood County; block walking, making signs and working polls when my mom was the State Representative of District 134; working at the HCDP office in High School; attending or working at fundraisers hosted by my family; or working on my dad’s campaign for HCC Trustee.

Since 2009, I have run my own consulting firm, working with non-profits, organizations and helping progressive candidates in all areas of campaigning, from candidate training to fundraising and campaign strategy. I have had the pleasure to work and volunteer on campaigns in Houston, Pasadena and Galena Park, including races for United States Senator, State Senators, County Commissioner, Sheriff, City Council, Constable, School Board, Judicial, State Representative & Mayoral. I have had the fortune of working closely with some of the superstars of Texas and national Democratic politics, including Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood, Wendy Davis, Leticia Van De Putte, and Hillary Clinton.

Regardless of the pleasure I’ve had to work on these efforts, my real passion has always been a solid blue Harris County. Since 2012, I have worked on a team effort to organize a coalition of elected officials, grassroots organizations, local and national donors and labor in order to push the County’s largest get-out-the-vote efforts ever. In 2016, it really paid off. Harris County Democratic voters turned out, electing all county-wide Democrats and giving Hillary Clinton the largest victory in Harris County of any Democratic Presidential candidate since LBJ.

In addition to working with the local party and with Democratic candidates, I gauged the need for a leadership-training program focused on growing, recruiting and training progressive candidates in Texas. After researching organizations across the country, I worked to bring Texas’s first chapter of the New Leader’s Council (NLC) to Houston. I raised money for the program and helped assemble an advisory board that has become a who’s who of local politics. NLC has thrived ever since, with twenty new progressives entering the program each year and chapters forming in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

I am running for HCDP chair because keeping Harris County blue and flipping Texas starts with having a strong local party. We not only need to elect more democrats in Texas, we also need to drive up the Democratic vote share in our largest counties so we can flip Texas as a whole. I don’t want to live in a state that denies people the right to public education, health care, a living wage and who separates families. As a 7th generation Texan, I want to live in and raise kids in a state that respects all its residents and provides every citizen a fair shot, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or citizenship status. My experience will enable me to hit the ground running on Day One and position the Harris County Democratic Party for gains in 2017, 2018 and beyond.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

HCDP has a strong core of dedicated volunteers, clubs, precinct chairs, and activists. HCDP in recent years has been able to dedicate time and resources into running a mail ballot program and we have indeed increased our share of Democratic mail ballot voters. To move forward, though, the Party needs to grow. The size and infrastructure of the Party should reflect the fact that Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the country and larger than 24 states.

In addition to doing mail ballots, the Party needs to expand its infrastructure to support the vast number of strong clubs and dedicated volunteers. This means expanding resources including training materials, and more group and one-on-one VAN trainings, increased number of staff, and making office space available when needed.

The first step toward creating a Party that reflects the size of Harris County is raising money. We need to expand our base of financial supporters. I want to grow the number of small dollar donors and large dollar donors. We can grow our base of small donors by being more active locally by increasing the frequency of in-person events, expanding our social media reach in order to get new people in the doors, and expanding our engagement and appreciation of small dollar donors who sacrifice what they can to make the Party better. We will grow our large dollar donations by creating a strategic plan that investors believe in. Increasing the amount of money raised through the Party can only be done through creating professional, goal-oriented plans with deliverable results.

In addition to building the HCDP infrastructure and raising money, we need to create a Party that works with the larger constellation of organizations that work to make Harris County more progressive, like AFL-CIO. We have no shortage of potential voters to contact in election years and no shortage of voters to register here in Harris County. No one organization can do all the work, but HCDP can collaborate and assist with other organizations to get us to our shared collective goal, not just keeping the county blue, but creating a more progressive county for us to live in.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media to keep my friends, family and followers up to date on my activities and to amplify the work and beliefs of those I support. In this capacity, HCDP’s social media footprint has been fairly well done, but as an organization social media is more than just an outlet to amplify ideas and notify followers of events, social media is a tool.

While likes are not equal to votes, they are a good way to get someone’s foot in the door who then comes to an event and eventually becomes a volunteer, and later a sustaining member. Social media needs to be used as a tool that increases our base and helps us reach our goal of building a bigger Party.

In addition to using social media as a tool to build our volunteer and donor base, social media is an emerging tool in voter contact. When talking to voters we must use the best medium to get our message through. For some that is a knock at their door, a phone call, or a piece of mail. For others, particularly younger voters and first time voters, social media is their chosen line of communication. Targeting voters on social media has come a long way and we no longer use it to cast a wide geographic net, but can use it to target specific individual voters. As Chair I will make sure that we are using social media in the most current, strategic and effective way possible to grow our base of volunteers, donors and voters.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

If there are progressive candidates on the ballot, HCDP should be involved. Organizing doesn’t only happen the months leading up to a November election in even years. From our work in Harris County, we have learned that we need to talk to voters year-round and voters from previous elections are easier to turn out for the next elections. This includes people who turned out for the first time in a Mayoral or odd year election.

That means turning out Democrats to vote in non-partisan races when there is a clear D-R match-up should be an integral part of our overall strategy for keeping Harris county blue and contributing to turning Texas blue.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

Improving Democratic turnout in ’18 starts this year. That means organizing voters in upcoming May and November elections and doing voter registration.

The key to winning in 2018, and 2020, and 2022 is voter registration. HCDP has the most valuable and underused resource when it comes to registration, our volunteers. As chair, I will increase the number of trainings done at HCDP and increase our outreach to our volunteers to let them know about other trainings.

In addition to working to get more HCDP volunteers trained as deputy registrars, I plan to make a calendar available and send emails about all events in the county where VDR’s can go and register voters.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am honored to be a part of a good group of candidates running for chair and am sure that our party will be stronger and in better shape after the election on March 5th. My extensive professional and volunteer experience working on every level of campaigns sets me apart from any other candidate. I know what it takes to create, fundraise, and implement multi-tiered campaign plans focused on door knocks, phones calls, mail and media in Harris county and have been involved in executing these efforts during multiple cycles. I have spent the last ten years building coalitions to support different campaigns and build the local Democratic Party.

This experience will allow me to put HCDP in a better position to organize toward the future from Day 1 and I look forward to being able to work with all allies in the county. I ask for your support to help elect me Chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party so that we can continue working together to keep Harris County Blue and flip the state.

You can also find out more at www.lillieforchair.com.

Date set for HCDP Chair election

From the Inbox:

Lane Lewis

Two months ago, I announced my intention to resign in February 2017. This will result in a vacancy, therefore we must move forward with a special election. The Precinct Chairs of Harris County will elect a replacement Chair at the next County Executive Committee Meeting.

I am confident that our Precinct Chairs will select the best candidate to serve as Party Chair. Keep an eye out for further emails with meeting location information in the next coming days. The CEC Meeting will be open to the public.

February 26, 2017 from 4:00 PM-6:00 PM: Public Forum to meet the individuals interested in consideration for the Harris County Democratic Party Chair position. The Forum will be hosted by the HCDP (All are welcome and public comment will be encouraged).

March 05, 2017 from 3:00 PM-6:00 PM: CEC Meeting to select the replacement Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party (All are welcome, but only Precinct Chairs currently listed on the Texas Secretary of State’s website are eligible to vote).

I will definitely be there for both. In the meantime, Lillie Schechter made her formal announcement for Chair, while Tomaro Bell dropped out and endorsed Schechter. Assuming that Art Pronin is still either on the fence or not going to get in, we have: Robert Collier, Eartha Jean Johnson, Lillie Schechter, Chris Spellmon, Dominique Davis, Keryl Douglass, Johnathan Miller, and Rony Escobar. I hope to have Q&A responses from all of them before the 26th.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Eartha Jean Johnson

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Eartha Jean Johnson

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

My name is Eartha Jean Johnson and I am an attorney and President and CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide (formerly, LegalWATCH), an award-winning risk mitigation company that helps executives reduce and prevent compliance sanctions, lawsuits and negative press associated with company policies, processes and employee actions and communications. We also have a family business, LJ5 Real Estate Development Company LLP. I am married to Lonnie Johnson, a former lobbyist and attorney. We have 3 children who are also attorneys, practicing here in Houston.

I have worked in politics in some form or fashion for more than three decades. I have served as a Telephone and Block Walking Canvasser, Election Protection volunteer, Poll Watcher, Deputy Voter Registrar and have traveled out of state to campaign. In addition, I have donated to candidates and worked on numerous Presidential and Judicial campaigns. Most recently, I organized Houston’s Women of Color for Hillary Clinton, which resulted in one of the largest reception turnouts of Women of Color for Hillary across the country. I also started the Turn Texas Blue Movement; an idea that turned into a movement, where we utilized innovative ideas and approaches that significantly increased the number of registered voters, mail in ballots, and voter turnout for the November 2016 election.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

Harris County needs a leader who: 1) is selfless and has strong leadership skills, 2) is inclusive and can work across the aisles and with all personalities; 3) is an independent thinker and fighter; 4) can raise money; and 6) most importantly, has the passion and enthusiasm to motivate people to action and get results.

I am that person and have demonstrated performance to show it. As Chair, I pledge to bring innovative approaches, experience, fundraising skills and most importantly a detailed plan to move the party forward. Not only will we have a well-funded Harris County Democratic Party, we will be a more inclusive and collaborative Party, with an infrastructure that will position us to play more offense than defense. Like Martin had a dream for the world, I have a dream for the Democratic Party.

I offer my hands to work every day to unify our party, raise money and get Democrats elected; I offer my voice to make sure our concerns are heard; and I offer my heart to be a passionate, dedicated and relentless advocate as our Party Chair. Together we will make Harris County Democratic Party a model for our country.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Harris County has a strong Democratic base and awesome community and association leaders dedicated to doing everything in their power to keep Harris County blue. What HCDP needs to move forward is to capitalize on the strengths we have and unite and collaborate with Democratic Clubs, and with Community and Trade Associations across the county to devise a well thought out blueprint to build an inclusive, efficient, self-sustaining infrastructure that produces by far more successful than unsuccessful candidates. The days of uncontested Republican races are over. We will not only have individuals competing for every race on the ballot; we will have individuals who are competitive and understand what it takes to run a campaign and to win the race. We will put our money and support behind each candidate, from School Board to Congress.

In addition, it is essential we get our youth and young adults engaged and actively participating. We must begin by providing them with seats at the table and make every effort to fill vacant Precinct Chair positions with young adults; this way we will begin to build a pipeline of our Democratic leaders of tomorrow. We also need to form a Harris County Democratic Party Young Democrats Division, and allow our youth to set the young adult agenda, and develop programs and events to motivate and excite other youth to get involved and engaged.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media more as an informational tool to keep up with friends and on community issues and use social media as a conduit to voice my opinions on controversial issues in the press.

The use of social media and technology should be one of our organizations’ primary outreach platforms.

We must use social media and other technology to keep our constituents informed and engaged, i.e., solicit thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We should also use it as a vehicle to recruit and train candidates and as a conduit to notify our base of open position on the ballot. We can also use social media to poll our constituents on controversial issues and provide a chat room for open discussions on political issues, as well as to solicit thoughts and opinion on the future direction of our party. Additionally, we can use social media to provide monthly webinars to keep everyone informed and engaged. Finally, if elected, I plan to use social media to implement my 20.18 Plan fundraising initiative (see response to question 6).

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc.)?

We should support candidates who are independent thinkers and best align with our Party’s democratic ideas and values.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

If elected, we will continue the programs we initiated with the Turn Texas Blue Movement and implement the 20.18 Plan.

Turn Texas Blue Movement Internalized Voter Registration Initiative – Our goal was to get barber and beauty shop owners, church members, trade association employees, individuals living in senior living and assisted living facilities deputized so they could register voters on a continuous and ongoing basis. Our vision was get so many people deputized within businesses and organizations that a person couldn’t go within 5 miles of their homes without seeing a sign saying, “You can Register to Vote Here.”

Enhanced Voter Registration – By capturing email addresses, we notified voters when early voting began, provided a link to early voting locations and sent daily countdown reminders to increase the likelihood they would vote.

Mail in Ballot Initiatives

We will continue the Turn Texas Blue Movement, “Out of County College and University Initiative.” As part of this initiative, we reached out to colleges and universities, both in and out of state, with large populations of Texas residents and implemented a coordinated mail in ballot campaign, which resulted in over a 1000 mail in ballots.

We will also continue our Courthouse and Jail Voter Registration Campaigns – We registered voters as they entered and exited courthouses and notified past felons of their right to vote if they were off papers. We also had an initiative to register eligible individuals who were confined in jail.

Our Funding Source – The 2018 Plan

In 2016, Bernie Sanders raised a record $234,000,000 dollars, with an average contribution of $27.00. Bernie could raise the money because he was passionate about the things he fought for and got his base excited. Not only did Bernie’s constituents give, they became active and engaged. For the Harris County Democratic Party to improve our voter turnout, we need a Chair who can motivate our base AND get our young adults excited and involved, while holding onto those who have carried this party for decades. If we do this, we will have no problem raising money. Like Bernie, I have that fire and passion and a proven record of accomplishment starting a movement and getting people excited.

If elected, we will implement the 20.18 Plan to fund the total upgrade of the Harris County Democratic Party. The 20.18 Plan calls for getting 20% of Democrats who voted in the 2016 election to contribute a mere $20.18 per year, which will result in us raising over $5 million dollars by 2018. This will help us fund our mission to take back Democratic control of all local and state races in 2018. We will no longer just survive, but will thrive.

We will not only use the money to recruit and prepare candidates, we will use it to support Democratic candidates in every race, from school board to congress. No longer will we make it cost prohibited for judges to run for office. We will help them shoulder the financial burden and assist with their campaigns. Our goal is to make it easier for great candidates to run.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I have gotten to know most of my opponents and have come to respect and admire them. I believe, if successful, they will do a good job. What sets me apart from my opponents, however, are my innovative ideas and passion, which people tell me is infectious. It is my passion and God given ability to motivate people to act that will make all the difference. Like Bernie taught us, when you excite and motivate your constituents, not only will they get engaged, they will contribute. There is no other candidate in this race with my level of experience, fundraising abilities, leadership skills, and most importantly, passion to motivate others to act. It is the passion that makes the difference between good and great.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Robert Collier

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Rob Collier

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I am Robert Collier. I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and I am one of three siblings of Donnell and Dorothy Ann Collier. I am a product of a long list of staunch Democrats, civil rights activist, and community organizations such as Upward Bound. As a child, I witnessed KKK rallies in Jackson and the oppression of those without the means to fight back. I wanted to fight back, and the Democratic Party became my hammer. Like so many others, I became active in the Democratic Party in college, where I eventually became President. As President, I organized and mobilized students around issues such as police brutality, elections, and protests. I even managed to convince Jane Goodall to come to campus to promote her Roots and Shoots program to highlight the significance of environmental issues. I also wanted to become an attorney to hone my skills as an advocate. After college, I enrolled in law school.

In 2005, while in law school, I founded the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club. I clerked for U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson and the U.S. Homeland Security Committee. I had an opportunity to work there full-time, but declined because I realized D.C. politics was very different than local politics. After law school, I became a member of Meyerland Dems and eventually a Precinct Chair. I also served on the standing committee as Finance and Fundraising Chair for over 2 1⁄2 years. Moreover, in the last five years, I have hosted fundraisers and contributed to support candidates and advance the Democratic agenda. Most recently, I supported my wife, Rabeea Collier, in her campaign to become a judge in Harris County.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

We are the last line of defense for so many working families. If we fail, it will have a direct impact on families. Further, I don’t want to see the Party used to narrowly further the agenda of an individual or group of individuals. I want to see the Party flourish and advance all of our mutual interests; and to serve as a reminder of why we do what we do. Moreover, we have to transform into more than a political party, we have to become a community-service oriented organization. We have to show the community that we not only care about their vote, but we care about them. That’s why I’m running and I need your support.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Operationally, the Party is almost in the same position it has been in for years. We are under-utilizing our supporters’ talents. I believe the membership of most clubs and associations are burnt-out; and the current problems with the Party are accelerating that frustration and fatigue. We have to use technology to assist with a coordinated effort and communication. The Party is understaffed and under-capitalized, and we have to develop a long-term business plan of our goals and how we plan to grow as an organization.

Fragmented Effort. Due to the lack of strategic leadership and communication of our vision, our supporters are involved in so many different groups and grassroots issues. We have to provide a clear focus and road map of how we become successful. Our members are constantly being pulled in several directions, therefore it is imperative we communicate to them in advance when and how the Party will rely on their support. Further, due to limited resources, time, and volunteers, we have to become focused. I believe we can solve that by providing tactical and strategic leadership to our members.

Campaign Strategy. In my opinion, we have relied on two main strategies that I will refer to as the “top-of-the-ticket” and “straight-ticket” strategies, and for good reason. I believe the mid-term elections are a really good gauge of the effectiveness of our campaign strategy. The victory margins for Republicans have been roughly between 2%-10%, with the last election being roughly 2%. We have focused on multi-cultural issues, and that has helped us build strong coalitions, but it has also divided the Party. How do we advance the interest of one demographic of the Party without alienating another? We reclaim our identity as the Party for working families and labor. If I am elected, we will focus our campaigning, branding and messaging around working families and the economic realities that we all face. We have to tackle pocketbook and kitchen table issues.

My grassroots target audience will be the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. My geographic focus will be Kingwood, Spring and Katy areas. If we can penetrate the suburban areas of Harris County with strong messaging regarding the Republicans’ attack on public education and working families, we can win.

Lastly, building on the momentum of the presidential campaigns, I want to heavily focus on the 18-35 generation. We’ve been talking about increasing the involvement of young people for some time, but our membership of this demographic hasn’t changed in a meaningful way. If there was ever a time to have a significant outreach effort to this demographic, it would be right now.

Throughout 2017, we will be planning, recruiting and training candidates and precinct chairs; fundraising; and expanding our community engagement. In 2018, we will begin to focus on our core base and implementing our GOTV strategy. We don’t have a lot of time, and there is a lot of work to do. I have the experience and skill set to hit the ground running.

Fundraising. As a former Finance and Fundraising HCDP Chair, I have coordinated and assisted in organizing small dollar events for the Party across Harris County. That experience has taught me that the strategy cannot be the cornerstone of growing the Party. Additionally, we are severely exhausting the resources of our members when we only target our candidates, elected officials and members to support our fundraising events and campaigns. We have to align our fundraising events with our community engagement; and target an expanded community for fundraising.

I recently served as the national Finance and Fundraising Chair for the National Bar Association, the association of black attorneys that advocates for civil rights. I coordinated and assisted the organization in raising roughly $2.5 million dollars. I highlight this experience because it involved developing a strategy, building a consensus among strong personalities, and effectively executing that strategy. For my efforts, I was awarded the NBA’s highest award, the President’s Award. If elected, I will explore similar fundamental strategies that will lead to our success.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

My plan is to utilize our members and young supporters who are technologically inclined and to start a committee whose sole focus will be to expand our social media and online campaign efforts.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

Our Party is based on our values and ideas. They bind us together. We exists not just to get candidates elected, but to get Democratic candidates elected who will help us advance our values. There are a lot of non-partisan races that directly touch issues we care about such as public education and affordable property taxes. Furthermore, if I’m elected, we will get more involved in policy issues in a systematic and strategic way.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

We have 8-10 months in 2017 to develop a strategy, recruit candidates and precinct chairs, and educate supporters why mid-term elections matter. The branding and messaging that we implement in 2017 will be the branding and messaging for the 2018 elections. We will focus on an issue-oriented campaign and Trump’s policies that attack our core base. I want to focus on the issues that matter to the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. In addition to the “top-of-the-ticket” strategy, I want us to dig deeper and develop a segmented campaign, both geographically and demographically, that will address the issues that matter most to our core base and Democratic leaning supporters. Further, I will work to develop and implement a coordination strategy among our progressive groups that will help us all to utilize our resources effectively. You can learn more at www.robcollier.com.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am product of HCDP. In addition to serving in leadership positions within HCDP, I serve and have served in leadership positions in Houston and nationally. I’m ready to hit the ground running.

Based upon my experience in the HCDP office and working with the coordinated campaign political director, I have an appreciation for the Party dynamics and the Chair’s responsibilities including not only managing a campaign and outreach, but also managing state and federal regulatory compliance, balancing a budget, managing cash flow, fundraising, coordinating primary elections and etc. I think a lot of the candidates have passion, but I think my experience and clear vision sets me apart.

Further, there are candidates that have a skill set, but they have an agenda that I think will ultimately be corrosive to the Party. We are a Party that volunteers and makes change happen from the bottom up, and the election of our Chair should be no different. I think the Chair should be an idealist, skilled, and experienced Party volunteer.

I believe Precinct Chairs should support me because I have the passion, leadership and experience, both professionally and within the Democratic Party, to lead the Party. I have served HCDP as a Precinct Chair, a Fundraising Chair, Recount Committee Chair, pro-bono attorney, donor, senate district delegate and convention organizer, among other capacities. I recently supported my wife in running for judge from beginning to end, so I know how the Party can better serve our candidates. In all my years of being involved with the Party, I have never asked a candidate nor the Party to pay for my professional services or time provided to the Party. Moreover, I have raised thousands of dollars for candidates and I have never asked a single candidate for something in return, other than to serve well. I don’t have an agenda, other than to serve the Party faithfully. If you are looking for such a candidate, I ask for your support. Let’s move forward, not backwards.

Still more HCDP Chair hopefuls

From the inbox, from precinct chair Sterling Camp:

Lane Lewis

10 Possible County Chair Candidates

I’ve been emailed that Keryl Douglas, former executive director of Houston NAACP, will be running for County Chair. The list grows to 10.

Tomaro Bell
Robert Collier
Dominique Davis
Keryl Douglas
Rony Escobar
Eartha Jean Johnson
Johnathan F. Miller
Art Pronin (considering)
Lillie Schechter
Chris Spellmon

SD17 Forum Moved to Feb. 9

The SD17 County Chair Forum has been changed to Thursday, Feb. 9. All are welcome to attend. Further details to be provided.

Special Election Meeting

I called the office, identified myself, and asked for when the meeting to elect the new County Chair is. The staff who answered the phone said that it has not been decided yet, and Precinct Chairs will be emailed when it is scheduled. So we still do not know when the meeting is.

Here’s Camp’s previous email, which contains information about the qualifications one needs to have to be a county party chair. I will make plans to attend that forum, which is being organized by SD17 Chair Tom Gederberg. I would note at this time that this race, like the ones last year for nominations to be County Commissioner and all that other stuff, will be decided by precinct chairs. What that means is that as was the case with those “races” last year, the only candidates will be those who are nominated during the selection process by a precinct chair, and what that means is that some number of people who say they are running will wind up on the sidelines when the actual vote takes place. That’s how it went with County Commissioner and SD13, where several of the announced candidates, some of whom participated in candidate forums, were never officially put up for consideration.

Which is why I’m a little puzzled that there hasn’t been more outreach from the candidates yet. I have received a couple of emails from Eartha Johnson, and both she and Rony Escobar were at a meeting of the Spring Branch Dems on Wednesday, where I had been invited to speak. I’ve now also received an email from Robert Collier, but so far that’s it. There are multiple people on that list above who have good resumes, but no clear frontrunners. Most if not all of them will need to introduce themselves and make a case for themselves to the precinct chairs. I hope we get more of that soon.

What I’m looking for in the next HCDP Chair

Lane Lewis

Following up on yesterday’s post, here are a few issues I’ve been thinking about regarding the position of HCDP Chair.

1. Focus on voter registration

My main takeaway from this past election is that Harris County is now fundamentally blue, with the majority of new voters coming into the county being more likely to be Democrats. By “new voters”, I mean people who move here, people who turn 18, and people who become citizens, so they are eligible to vote but have to actually register to do so. It needs to be our priority to make sure that they do. There are also a lot of people who move within the county every year and need to update their registrations, and there are still people who could be registered but aren’t. It should be the party’s goal, especially now that we have a friendly person overseeing the registration process, to maximize the voter rolls.

2. Expand the vote-by-mail outreach project (maybe)

There has been a focus under Chair Lewis to get more eligible Democrats to vote by mail. It has been successful by any measure, though I don’t know the details behind it. Specifically, I don’t know how many of these mail voters are people who had reliably voted in person before, and how many are new or lower-propensity voters. I’d like to hear how the Chair candidates evaluate this effort and what they would do to improve and expand it, if they think that is a good idea.

3. Continue the focus on “other” elections

Under Chair Lewis, the party has provided basic information about candidates in Houston municipal races – what their voting history is, who is or is not a sustaining member of the HCDP, etc. It has also done some advocacy for candidates in races where there is a clear choice between a lone Democratic candidate and one or more non-Democrats. This should definitely continue, and it should also be expanded, to include the various school board races, HCC and Lone Star College, and municipal races in other Harris County cities. The May elections in Pasadena should be a particular point of interest for the HCDP.

4. Think more regionally

Democrats did about as well as they could have in Harris County in 2016. I feel pretty good about making gains in 2018, though of course there are a lot of things that can and will affect how that election will go that have yet to play out. At some point, to continue the momentum, we are going to need to be more involved in races that go beyond our borders. Examples include the First and 14th Courts of Appeals, and multi-county districts like SD17 and CD22. Fort Bend and to a lesser extent Brazoria County are becoming more Democratic in part because they are more like Harris County in nature – more urban, and more attractive to the kind of person who tends to vote our way. We should seek to work more closely with our counterparts in neighboring counties to help maximize Democratic performance not just in Harris County but in the greater Houston region.

This is all high-level bullet point stuff, and there are more things that need to be in the discussion, but this is what I’ve been thinking about. I do intend to send out a Q&A to Chair hopefuls, to get a better idea of where they stand on things. If nothing else, I’ll need to make up my own mind about whom to support. What do you want the next Chair to focus on?

So who is running to succeed Lane Lewis as HCDP Chair?

Lane Lewis

It has been over a month since Lane Lewis announced his impemding departure as HCDP Chair. Since then, I have been asked by multiple people if I have heard from any potential candidates to replace him. My answer has been, and as of this morning continues to be, no I have not. I presume that with the holidays and the preparations for the Legislative session and the resistance to the Trump regime, this has been somewhat of a back burner item for people. That said, there will be a County Executive Committee meeting for the HCDP in February (date and time not yet scheduled, but we know it’s coming), at which precinct chairs will vote to name a successor. I have to assume that some time between now and then, the interested parties will make themselves known to the chairs and will ask them for their support.

In the meantime, I have now heard a few names mentioned as possibilities. The following are the names I have heard mentioned by more than one person:

Rony Escobar
Dominique Davis
Chris Spellmon
Lillie Schechter
Art Pronin

Lillie Schechter is a political consultant who has worked with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, CM Jerry Davis, former Council candidate Tom McCasland, and others. Her mother Sue Schechter was HCDP Chair in the late 90s-early 2000s, right before Gerry Birnberg. Art Pronin is the President of the Meyerland Democrats club, which is one of the more active clubs in the area. He’s the only person on this list that I have talked to so far, and isn’t committed to running but is thinking about it. He and Schechter are the two potential candidates that I know best. Davis is the Chief of Staff/Director of Operations of the HCDP, so she would clearly have plenty of experience going in. I’m sure I’ve met her but don’t know her beyond that. I don’t know Escobar or Spellmon at all. This email from the Meyerland Dems mentions the names Rob Collier and Tomaro Bell, whom I also don’t know. (The email actually says “Robin Collier”, but I have since received clarification that it is Rob Collier, whose wife Rabea was a candidate for judge in 2016.)

So that’s what I know at this time. I don’t have a preferred candidate yet, as I would like to hear from everyone and get an idea of what they have in mind to do as HCDP Chair. Tomorrow I will post about the sort of things I’d like to see our next HCDP Chair do.

UPDATE: One more name to add, Eartha Jean Johnson, who wins the distinction of being the first HCDP Chair hopeful to send me an official email of her candidacy.

Lane Lewis to step down as HCDP Chair

From the Inbox:

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

It has been 5 years to the month since you first elected me to be your Party Chair.

Over the last 5 years, our social media presence grew and enabled us to deliver our message to thousands more people; our fundraising increased and allowed us to have multiple full time staff all year every year; our mail ballot program went from non-existent to the most recognized in the state; we rebuilt strong relationships with our Union friends and engaged the resources of our Democratic Clubs especially in the suburbs; and we built an approach that the base is paramount and all Democrats need to be engaged regardless of where they live.

All of this came together this year and Democrats swept Harris County.

One of my campaign promises back in 2011 was to see us through the Presidential election of 2016 and I am immensely proud of all we have accomplished together. It is time for someone else to lead the Party and build on the successes we have had together.

Yesterday, I announced to the County Executive Committee of my intention to resign in February 2017.

I will call for a special election sometime in February (date to be announced soon). On that date, I will officially resign and the Precinct Chairs of Harris County will elect a replacement.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve, but we are not slowing down. We have coming up…

  • Early Voting: Dec 5th & 6th, and 10th Anne Sung, HISD Trustee District 7 Runoff (support a great Democrat and clearly the most qualified for the position) and Baytown Councilmember, District No. 3
  • Toast to A Blue Year: Thursday, December 8, 2016; 7:00 PM at Sterling House, Free admission for Precinct Chairs (come say thanks to all your 2016 candidates)
  • Harris Democrats University: mid-January 2016 (tentative) – (several of our students from the previous HDU won their elections in 2016 and/or worked on successful campaigns)

Thank you all for your support and service these many years!

Here’s the Chron story, which at this time doesn’t have any new information. This was announced at the Sunday CEC meeting, which I missed because I’m lame and had too many other things going on. I think Lewis has done a good job as HCDP Chair. Most people I talk to have a positive opinion of him, and the electoral results have been pretty good. The mail ballot program he instituted has been a success. Most importantly, there has been fairly little infighting, which is always a concern. There are still various fiefdoms within the county (and the state) that do their own thing and make it hard to tell who’s responsible for what – to be fair, I doubt any Chair could change this – and Lewis’ run for City Council in 2013 while still serving as Chair ruffled some feathers and opened questions about conflicts of interest that were never really addressed. I’d like to see the next Chair, whom I will get to help select, deal with that, and I’d like to see a more focused approach to stating and achieving our goals for 2018 and beyond. I will give some thoughts to what I want to see in the next HCDP Chair and write them up in the next few days. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll be hearing from those who want to be that Chair shortly. My thanks to Lane Lewis for all his hard work at this often thankless job. Enjoy your retirement and best of luck at whatever comes next.

UPDATE: Here’s a later version of the Chron story, which does contain one mention of a potential candidate:

Names of potential successors swirled in Democratic circles Monday, but as of early evening, no one had confirmed an intent to run for what many see as a vital but often thankless post.

Personal injury lawyer Donna Roth, 58, and a thrice-unsuccessful state district judge candidate, said in an email that she is “interested in the position and will be giving it further consideration.”

As I said, I’m sure that interested parties will begin to make themselves known, especially to precinct chairs, in short order.

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.

Appeals Court judge Terry Jennings switches parties

Cool.

Justice Terry Jennings

Justice Terry Jennings

It was just after presiding over a same-sex wedding, in January, that the formerly Republican Justice Terry Jennings, of the Texas First Court of Appeals, started thinking more seriously about changing his party affiliation.

Jennings had been considering becoming a Democrat for years as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Republican Party had trended toward the fringes, turning “moderate” into a dirty word, he said. And as his children, two daughters in college and a son in high school, continued to ask their dad why he still identified as a Republican, Jennings said the question continued to grow harder to answer.

Then came the wedding.

When others commented to him that deciding to preside over a same-sex wedding was a decision many other Republican judges may not have made, “that’s when I started thinking, Well maybe I’m not in the right party then,” Jennings told the Houston Press in an interview Monday.

The change-over makes him the only Democrat among the nine justices on the First Court of Appeals. Democrats make up just 12 of 73 jurists on the state’s 14 courts of appeal.

Jennings made the formal announcement at the Harris County Democratic Party’s Johnson, Rayburn and Richards fundraising dinner on Saturday evening, saying “today’s Republican Party has chosen a dark path I cannot take.” Elected in 2000 to the First Court of Appeals (which hears Harris County civil cases), Jennings said he was once proud to call himself a member of the Republican Party, and had always considered himself a conservative judge who applied the law just as it was written. Now, however, Jennings says his principles no longer align with those of the GOP.

“It’s just a party I didn’t feel comfortable being a member of anymore,” he told the Press. “You’ve heard the common expression a thousand times: I didn’t leave my party; my party left me. And it’s true.”

I got a blast email from HCDP Chair Lane Lewis about this on Monday. As you know, I’m hoping he’ll have some company on the 1st Court after this election. Whether that happens or not, his term is up in 2018, and as the story notes, he’s not sure if he wants to run for another term. Solving the turnout problem so that this is a question with more than one viable answer would be nice. In the meantime, welcome aboard, Justice Jennings. The Chron has more.

Once more on HD146

Christopher Hooks from the Observer was at Saturday’s festivities, and he files his report.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

And on Saturday, 24 precinct chairs met in a small room full of folding chairs at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center in south Houston to pick Miles’ replacement. They adjudicated a fierce contest between [Shawn] Thierry and Erica Lee Carter, member of the Harris County Board of Education and, more importantly, daughter of longtime Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Most years see no races resolved this way in Houston, but this year, there have been five such elections, including two minor judicial races. The campaigns to win them are very unusual. With the public completely out of the picture, candidates focus herculean efforts on pleasing the personal whims of precinct chairs, minor party functionaries who ordinarily have very little say in anything. And because Democratic nominees are essentially guaranteed a win in November in the five races so far resolved, and because incumbents can last a long time, this summer’s votes may be the last contested election Ellis, Miles and Thierry ever face.

[…]

Finally, the vote. In the first round of ballots, Blackmon took one chair, leaving Thierry with 12 and Lee Carter with 11. The lone Blackmon supporter, Craig Holtzclaw, would have to re-vote in the second round and act as a potential tiebreaker.

Bizarrely, committees like this are so rarely formed that party laws don’t really have any guidance about what to do in the event of a tied vote, apart from running the vote over and over again. If Holtzclaw had voted for Lee Carter in the second round, things could have gotten messy.

But he picked Thierry, who will now be heading to Austin soon with a sweeping mandate of two votes. Lee Carter’s dejected supporters left the room, and Thierry’s gathered to pray together, thanking God for the guidance he had shown members of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Afterwards, I talked to Holtzclaw, the tiebreaker, who said he had taken his responsibility seriously, talking to all three candidates for more than an hour apiece. “This is a unique opportunity to practice republican deliberation — as in, a real republic,” he said. During the interrogations, he had asked them to recount their personal stories, their accomplishments, dreams and hopes, “and then I gave them a long sermon on what I believe,” and measured their beliefs to his.

Holtzclaw made a decent case for what seems on the surface like a foolish system. He held, it turned out, the fate of House District 146 in his hands, and might have just selected its representation in Austin for many years. And he had done his homework.

But what is it Holtzclaw believes, exactly? “I am a LaRouche Democrat,” he said, as in yet another acolyte of the infamous semi-cult leader who thinks Obama is Hitler, has argued that the Queen of England controls the global drug trade, and who wants to colonize space. Ah.

Holtzclaw said he had voted for the candidates who communicated to him that they were willing to take elements of the LaRouche platform to Austin, namely, telling all those tea-party Texas Republicans that we need “big government investment in infrastructure.” That’s what LaRouche calls “the science of physical economy.”

Blackmon and Thierry, he said, had seemed to embrace that line more than Lee Carter. And that’s why she lost, in part.

See here for my writeup from Sunday. Let me start by noting that the same provision of electoral law cited by Gerry Birnberg to settle the tie for convention chair would have applied in the event of a tie between Thierry and Carter as well, which is to say that the winner would have been determined by a coin toss. Roll your eyes if you want, but it’s there in the law, and if you can think of a fairer way of resolving an electoral tie than that, I’m all ears.

Hooks’ article got shared around quite a bit yesterday, with no small amount of snarky commentary from people whom I did not see at any of these precinct chair meetings, all with something pithy to say about “turnout” and “process”. Let me point out that 24 out of 26 precinct chairs in attendance represents 92% turnout, which I’m pretty sure would beat any other election in recent memory you’d care to find. It beats the pants off of the usual turnout levels for special elections and their runoffs, which often struggle to break into double digits, and which draw the same kind of disdainful remarks about apathy and disengagement and so on and so forth. We get it already. At least the precinct chairs bothered to show up.

And though I used similar language in my own report, I don’t care for the framing that this one chair picked the next Representative. He put Shawn Thierry over the top, but she’d gotten to the top without him. Everybody else’s vote meant as much to her election, his just happened to be the last one counted.

Finally, as far as who will or won’t face competitive races going forward, I tend to agree that Rodney Ellis won’t see too many as Commissioner. Which is to say, he won’t face any more than El Franco Lee did, or that Ellis himself did as Senator. Borris Miles won’t face the voters again till 2020, and I feel confident saying that people will be watching him, to see if he can harness his considerable talents and keep his demons under control. The answers to those questions will determine whether he can coast next time or not. As for Thierry, I’ll say again that I fully expect her to be challenged in 2018. There’s no shortage of politicos in that district, and the obscure path she took to win the seat this time means that she hasn’t faced a true test there yet. I will be surprised if she gets to skate in two years.

Thierry wins HD146 nomination

Our long strange trip is finally over.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

Democratic party precinct chairs chose their replacement Saturday morning for a vacant spot on the party’s November ballot. Attorney Shawn Thierry secured the nomination for House District 146, a seat left empty after a series of changes following the death of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.

After Sen. Rodney Ellis was chosen to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, Rep. Boris Miles was tapped to fill Ellis’ legislative seat. This took Miles off the ballot for the District 146 seat, opening up the nomination.

Thierry, 47, edged out candidates Erica Lee Carter, a Harris County Board of Education trustee and daughter of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Larry Blackmon, a former educator and City Council candidate.

After one round of voting by raising hands, Thierry had 12 votes, Carter had 11 and Blackmon 1. This led to an immediate runoff between Thierry and Carter, with a request for a change of voting procedure. Instead of raising hands, precinct chairs stood in line next to their candidate of choice. This time, Thierry beat Carter by two votes.

I was there for this as promised, and there were sizable contingents for Thierry and Carter, the latter of which included her mother, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Blackmon was the only other candidate present, at least as far as I know. If Valencia Williams was present, no one pointed her out to me, and as for James Donatto, I am told he had not lived in the district long enough to be eligible.

A sense for how things would be came during the vote to select a presiding chair for the convention. There were two nominees for Chair, Jill Moffitt and Priscilla Bloomquist. The vote to decide who would serve as Chair ended in a dead tie, 12 to 12. Gerry Birnberg, serving as Parliamentarian, then informed the room that per state election law, in the event of a tie the winner would be determined by the candidates “casting lots”. Which is to say, HCDP Chair Lane Lewis flipped a coin. Moffitt, as the first person nominated, called “Heads”. It came up Tails, so Bloomquist took over as Chair.

After getting the positions of Secretary, Parliamentarian, and Timekeeper settled, the three candidates were nominated – Thierry, Carter, and Blackmon, in that order. Each was given three minutes to speak (which they had agreed to beforehand), going in alphabetical order. Blackmon spoke of his service on various City committees, and of the need for a “medical corridor” in the district. Carter, who currently serves as HCDE Trustee from Precinct 1, emphasized that she already had experience fighting for the district and against the Tea Party; she specifically called out Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Debbie Riddle for trying to kill the HCDE and the services it provides. She also mentioned other priorities for the district, including health care and improving neighborhoods. Thierry touched on most of the same points as Carter while stressing her ties to the district, citing the schools in HD146 that she had attended. The Chron story says that among other things she said she plans to “focus on school vouchers”, which has to be in error; for one, I don’t remember her saying that word, and for two, she’d have been booed out of the room if she had. She did exceed her three minuts allotment by quite a bit, and more or less had the microphone taken from her by Chair Bloomquist.

The vote went as noted in the story, with Birnberg informing us that for these purposes, having exactly half the votes does not constitute a majority. What that meant in practice was that the deciding vote in the runoff was cast by the one precinct chair who had nominated and in the first round voted for Larry Blackmon. Had he gone over to Carter’s side, we’d have had another coin flip. But he didn’t, so Thierry got her majority. For what it’s worth, according to some of the people I spoke to, at least two of the three precinct chairs who were not in attendance (one was reportedly in the hospital, and the other at the hospital with her husband) had been in Carter’s camp. If just those two had shown up, it would have been 13-12-1 in the first round, with that same chair then forcing the coin toss he’d helped us avoid in these circumstances. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.

So the summer of the precinct chair comes to a close. My congratulations to Shawn Thierry for the victory – I wish you all the best in Austin. As I said about HD139 after the lackluster turnout in the runoff for now-Rep. Jarvis Johnson, I will not be surprised if there is a lively primary in HD146 in two years. Heck, there have been lively primaries in HD146 nearly every cycle since 2006, so why should 2018 be an exception? But this November is between now and then, and that’s what really matters. The Trib and BOR have more.

HD146 nomination process is today

You know the drill.

Borris Miles

Borris Miles

Twenty-seven southwest Houston precinct chairs are set to tap a replacement for Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles on Saturday, the third time in less than two months many of them have convened to fill a hole on the party’s November ballot for non-judicial seats.

The vacancy is the latest result of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s death in January, which set off a chain of openings. Precinct chairs in June selected state Sen. Rodney Ellis to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, and they later chose Miles to fill Ellis’ legislative seat.

At least four candidates are running to represent Miles’ district of more than 175,000, which stretches from Sharpstown to Sunnyside.

Harris County Board of Education Trustee Erica Lee Carter and attorney Shawn Theirry are seen as frontrunners, with former City Council candidate Larry Blackmon and activist Valencia Williams also seeking the Democratic nod for District 146.

[…]

Precinct chair Tiffany Hogue, of Brays Oaks, discussed the challenge of trying to represent the views of her constituents, as well as the opinions of those in surrounding areas who do not have a precinct chair.

“A process that people never expected to use has been used three times in the course of a month and a half,” referring to the Democratic Party meetings to replace Lee, Ellis and Miles.

“We’ve definitely seen some of the pros and cons of filling vacancies on ballots this way.”

See here for the background. As this is now the second sequel to the process to replace El Franco Lee on the ballot, there have been plenty of complaints about how we go about doing it. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for the complaints – everyone is welcome to address them to their legislators, along with their proposed alternative method – but it has been strange, and it has consumed a whole lot of time and energy.

The good news is that this was a particularly singular set of circumstances, whose like we will probably never see again. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when this process was last used to fill a vacancy for something other than a newly-created office. The Republicans almost went through it back in 2006 when Tom DeLay tried to declare himself “ineligible” to run for re-election. He was later ruled to have withdrawn and could not be replaced, but until a final ruling came in there was candidate activity by various interested parties (then-State Rep. Bob Talton was considered the frontrunner) prior to what would have been the selection. Before that, I have no idea when this was last done. Anyone out there recall a previous instance?

Anyway. As before, you’re only actually running for this if someone nominates you, and for a 27-voter universe the old saw about every vote counting has never been more accurate. Erica Lee Carter, whom the Chron endorsed on Wednesday, would seem to be the favorite, but we won’t know till it’s over. I’ll have a report tomorrow.

HD146 nomination process to take place on August 6

Mark your calendars.

Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Last Saturday, State Rep. Borris Miles secured the Democratic nomination to replace Senator Rodney Ellis for Senate District 13. As a result, Rep. Miles will have to vacate his seat in House District 146. Precinct chairs will convene again to select a replacement nominee for House District 146.

The replacement process will take place at the House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting on Saturday, August 6, 2016 at 10 AM. The event is open to the public, however only precinct chairs that reside in the district are allowed to nominate.

House District 146 Executive Committee Meeting
Sunnyside Multi-Service Center (map)
August 6, 2016
10:00 AM-12 PM
9314 Cullen Blvd
Houston, TX 77051

Nominations will be accepted from and voted on by the precinct chairs in attendance at the August 6th meeting. The replacement candidate does not have to register or announce a candidacy; there is no legal filing process. However, any individuals interested in the vacancy are encouraged to contact the Harris County Democratic Party Headquarters to complete an Unofficial Declaration of Interest Form.

This form helps HCDP keep track of all interested candidates and brings some organization to the process. Candidates listed below have either given written notice or expressed interest in the HD 146 seat. There may be other individuals interested in running. Here are the potential candidates:

1. Erica Lee Carter

2. Larry Blackmon

3. Valencia L. Williams

4. Rashad L. Cave

5. Shawn Thierry

6. James Donatto

I should be able to make it to this. Here’s what I can tell you about the candidates:

Erica Lee Carter is the HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1, elected in 2012. Here’s the interview I did with her for that primary. If she wins the nomination and is subsequently elected in November, the HCDE Board would select a new member to fill her seat until her term would be up at the end of 2018. And yes, if you didn’t know, Carter is the daughter of US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Larry Blackmon has been a candidate for City Council a few times, most recently in 2015 for At Large #4. I have not done any interviews with him, but there are a couple of links to Q&As he did elsewhere on my Election 2015 page.

– Valencia L. Williams – I got nothing.

Rashad Cave – Per his bio, Cave is a “Motivational Speaker, businessman, entrepreneur, and father”.

Shawn Thierry was the runnerup for the 507th Family District Court; her Q&A for that is here. She was supported by the Mostyns during her run for the 507th; we’ll see if that translates to this election.

James Donatto II is as noted before a board member of the Greater Houston Black Chamber, and his father is a committee chair on the Houston Southeast Management District.

There are not a lot of precinct chairs in HD146 – I believe the number I heard at the SD13 event was 27 – so to say the least this will be a tight process. If you have anything to add about any of these candidates, please leave a comment.

SD13 nomination process update

Two possible candidates have taken themselves out of the running.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Rep. Garnet Coleman and former City Councilman C.O. Bradford have decided not to run for Rodney Ellis’ state Senate seat, citing a desire to retain seniority in the state House and concerns about the electoral process, respectively.

That leaves state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles, and former City Controller Ron Green vying for Senate District 13, which stretches from northeast Fort Bend County to Houston’s northeast corner.

[…]

“At this moment in time, I believe I can serve my constituents better in the House,” Coleman, who took office in 1991, told the Chronicle Thursday. “You don’t have to be a senator to affect the process, and I know that I have the ability to affect the process in the House, and it would be much better than the Senate.”

C.O. Bradford also was considering joining the race, but said Tuesday that he had decided against it because of the requirement that precinct chairs vote publicly.

“Casting a secret ballot is considered almost sacred in the democratic process,” Bradford said. “I opt not to pressure citizens to compete and cast open votes that defy a very meaningful component of our democracy.”

I didn’t get the sense that anyone had an issue with that on Thursday night, but then maybe it was only those chairs who were okay with it that showed up. One could always get involved with the party if one wishes to change the operating rules by which the party abides, which it adopts at its biennial conventions. Rep. Coleman sent out a press release just prior to Thursday’s meeting at which the judicial nominees were chosen, citing his seniority in the House and position as Chair of the County Affairs Committee and Legislative Study Group Caucus as reasons for staying put. Barring any unexpected entries at this point – a few of us were speculating on Thursday about CM Boykins, but no one had any information – or fringe candidates, the lineup appears to be set with Rep. Thompson, Rep. Miles, and former Controller Green. All three were there on Thursday night as well; they provided the food for the meeting, which was greatly appreciated given that we were all there till after 9:30.

As HCDP Chair Lane Lewis noted at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, SD13 covers both Harris and Fort Bend counties, so it is the state party’s role to call the convention at which the next nominee for SD13 will be selected. He said that was set for Saturday, July 16, at 10 AM at the CWA hall (the same location as for the Commissioners Court nomination process), and that it was open to the public if one wanted to observe. I may do that myself if my schedule allows. I will be happy to observe and not participate this time.

Maldonado and Jordan win court nominations

Last night at the quarterly Harris County Democratic Party County Executive Committee meeting, HCDP precinct chairs selected the nominees for the two newly-created judicial positions. It was a long meeting – it took some time to sign all the precinct chairs in, and there was some normal business to conduct before we got to the voting – but it was a civil process, with no challenges to the way it was conducted.

For the 507th Family District Court, the six candidates that I have been writing about here were all duly nominated and seconded, with no other candidates showing up at the last minute. Each had two minutes to speak, then we voted, using division of the house as we eventually did this past Saturday. This took the longest amount of time, as there were a lot of people moving around and a lot of noses to count, but in the end the top two candidates were Shawn Thierry and Julia Maldonado. After those totals were agreed upon, the voters for the other candidates had the opportunity to join one of those two remaining groups. Maldonado wound up collecting the bulk of the other candidates’ supporters, and won the runoff by the margin of 123 to 115.

The County Criminal Court at Law #16 process was much quicker, as there were only three candidates and it was easier dividing the room into discrete groupings. Darrell Jordan and Raul Rodriguez were the leaders, and after David Singer’s supporters made their second choice, Jordan maintained his lead and won the nomination.

I voted for Maldonado in both rounds for the 507th, and for Singer followed by Rodriguez in the 16th. Both were tough choices, and I didn’t really settle on whom to support until I was there. I was happy with all of the candidates, and they each acquitted themselves well in their brief speeches. Congratulations to Maldonado and Jordan for coming out on top.

There was a lot of energy in the room, and even as we all left, I got the sense that people were still basically happy, whether their candidates had won or not. It’s a good feeling going forward.

Ellis wins Precinct 1 nomination

In the end, it wasn’t close.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

State Sen. Rodney Ellis on Saturday won the Democratic nomination for Precinct 1 Commissioner, effectively guaranteeing the veteran lawmaker the office.

Ellis will be sacrificing 26 years in the Texas senate to become the next commissioner, an often overlooked but powerful local office. He will take over from current Precinct 1 commissioner Gene Locke in January, who also ran for the office and was seen as Ellis’ top opponent.

Saturday’s nomination ends one of the most unusual campaigns in recent history. Longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee, who represented Precinct 1 for more than 30 years, died in January while still on the March 1 primary ballot, leaving the choice for who will run as the Democratic candidate to 125 precinct chairs.

There is no Republican opponent in November, all but guaranteeing victory to Ellis.

[…]

A week before the nomination meeting, Ellis claimed he had the support of more than half of the precinct chairs, effectively claiming victory. He also claimed the endorsement of Lee’s widow.

He will be the only Democrat on the court, which has four other Republican members.

The Precinct 1 commissioner represents 1.2 million people and controls a budget of more than $200 million.

The precinct convention that ultimately placed Ellis on the ballot was a wild affair, with a ton of people of varying interests in attendance. The precinct chairs that were to vote had to check in and be verified, at which time we got a name tag that we wore allowing us to sit down front, where we would ultimately vote. Ellis and Locke had the largest contingencies, with many Ellis supporters wearing navy blue Ellis T-shirts. (This led to an objection by one precinct chair, who cited election law about campaign materials not being too close to where elections are held. It was ruled out of order on the grounds that by law this was a precinct convention and a party function, not an election.)

There were a few motions made about who was and wasn’t eligible to participate, and a lot of noise about the process to elect a convention chair. Rules allow the chair, which at the beginning was HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, to select the method of voting from a set of possible choices. After a voice vote on the convention chair was indeterminate, a “division of the house” process, in which supporters of each candidate went to different locations to be counted, was done. Once that was settled and a secretary was elected, we eventually got around to the main event.

Four candidates were nominated for the position. In order of their nomination, they were Nat West, Dwight Boykins, Rodney Ellis, and Gene Locke. I was a little surprised that no one else’s name came up, but that’s how it went. Among other things, it meant that Ellis was the only nominated candidate to have filled out the HCDP questionnaire. Each candidate got two minutes to address the crowd; motions to give them five minutes, and to allow two other supporters to speak on their behalf were loudly voted down. Division of the house was used for this vote. Nat West, who as a precinct chair nominated himself, had two votes. Dwight Boykins appeared to have about ten or so; he then declared that he was withdrawing, and from what I could tell all of his supporters went over to Gene Locke. In the end, Ellis had 78 votes, Locke had 36 (BOR reported 46; I’m pretty sure that’s a mis-hearing of the announced total), and West had two. There was no need for a runoff.

I’m very glad this is over, but this is just part of what needs to be done. There’s still the county convention for the judicial candidates on Thursday; several of those candidates, for the two different benches, were in attendance yesterday. With the selection of Ellis for the County Commissioner spot, there is now a vacancy for SD13. Candidates for that position were in attendance as well.

Ellis now must withdraw from the November ballot in Senate District 13, which covers a swath of southwest Houston. He will be replaced on the ballot by whichever Democrat can win the support of a majority of the precinct chairs in the district. The replacement will run unopposed in November.

At least three state representatives from the area are said to be interested in Ellis’ seat in the Senate: Garnet Coleman, Borris Miles and Senfronia Thompson.

Miles and Thompson were there yesterday, with the former handing out yard signs and the latter passing out pamphlets. I will not be surprised if other names surface for this – as with this position, being nominated is akin to being elected, as there are no other candidates on the November ballot – but the lesson to take from today is that just because one says one is running does not mean one will eventually be nominated to be a candidate. Also, I am not in SD13, so this is officially Not My Problem. I’ll do my part in the CEC meeting on Thursday, then I’m done.

Congratulations to Rodney Ellis, who I believe will do a great job as County Commissioner. We need to talk about doing something about him being the “only Democrat” on that body. The 2018 election will be a key opportunity to change that calculus. I would also like to offer my sincere thanks to current Commissioner Gene Locke, who I believe has done a very good job in his time in office. Under other circumstances I would have supported Commissioner Locke, so I am sorry I was unable to this time. I wish Commissioner Locke all the best as he completes the good work he has started, and in whatever comes next. I would also like to thank Council Member Boykins for his candidacy. He came up short but he brought attention to important issues that deserve it. I wish him all the best on City Council. It was an honor to take part in this process, but in all sincerity I hope I never have that kind of power again. It’t not something I’m comfortable with. I’m glad there are people for whom it is a better fit who can and do take on that challenge with wisdom and humility.

Commissioners Court candidate questionnaire responses

El Franco Lee

Last week, the HCDP sent out a questionnaire to the candidates who had expressed an interest in the nomination for Commissioners Court in Precinct 1. You can see the responses that they got here. Only four candidates submitted answers: Sen. Rodney Ellis, Georgia Provost, Rickey Tezino, and someone named Vernell Jessie, about whom I know nothing. If you’re even a little surprised that Ellis’ answers were longer and more detailed than those of the other three combined, I’m not sure what to tell you.

There were a lot of in-depth questions in this document, and there was only a week or so to submit answers, so it’s not a big surprise that only some candidates did so. Commissioner Locke can reasonably point to his time on the Court and say “you can get your answers from what I’ve done in office”. I suppose CM Boykins could make a similar claim, though Council doesn’t really deal with a number of these issues. DeWayne Lark was the most interesting of the non-officeholding candidates at the May candidate forum, so I would have liked to see what he had to say here. Nat West did not attend that forum, so this may have been his one real chance to be heard by the precinct chairs. That’s the way it goes.

On a tangential note, I received an automated survey call on Monday about the Commissioners nomination process. It sounded like it was going out to Precinct 1 residents, with the intent of informing precinct chairs of the preferences of the voters they will be representing on Saturday, but there was no identifying information on the call, so I have no idea who it was that was collecting this information. Be that as it may, there were three questions in this survey (which now that I think about it didn’t ask about demographic information either). One was whether you considered policy or some other criterion that I’ve since forgotten as more important in selecting a candidate. Needless to say, I chose the “policy” option. Question 2 was about the late Commissioner Lee’s programs for seniors and whether the next Commissioner should continue and build on them. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know much about these programs, as I myself am not (yet) a senior, but I chose Yes anyway. Finally, we were asked which candidate we preferred, with the choices being Provost, Lark, Locke, Ellis, and Boykins. I’ll save my answer for another time, but I guess we can cross Tezino and West off the list of people who might have been paying for the survey.

I then got another automated call last night, from a gentleman who identified himself as “a senior living in Precinct 1”, calling to inform people about the June 25 meeting to select the nominee. He stated incorrectly that “Harris County Democratic Party rules” limited participation in this process to precinct chairs, then said that the way that anyone else could participate was to contact their precinct chair, and he spelled out the URL on harrisdemocrats.com to find one’s chair. (Greg, if this was your idea, you and me are gonna have to have some words.) Anyway, our mystery senior (I forgot his name within minutes of hanging up the phone; I should really try to take notes one of these days) then listed the same five candidates mentioned in Monday’s “poll”. I looked at my caller ID information and the two calls came from different numbers, for all that’s worth, but I’d bet a ten spot they both came from the same source. Did anyone else get one of these calls?

Endorsement watch: Chron for Ellis

I had wondered if the Chron was going to weigh in on any of the candidate-selection processes that will be going on over the next two weeks. I even sent an email to a couple of their editorial board members on Saturday morning to ask about it. Turns out, I needn’t have wondered, they were on it.

Sen. Rodney Ellis

Sen. Rodney Ellis

It looks like Election Night will be over before it began, if you can even call it an election. State Sen. Rodney Ellis is already claiming victory in the bizarre June 25 contest to replace the late Precinct 1 County Commissioner El Franco Lee on the November ballot.

Lee died earlier this year with his name as the only choice in the March 25 primary and no opponent in the general election. The byzantine dictates of election law and political party structure mean that a smattering of 125 otherwise inconsequential precinct chairs get to pick his successor for this powerful position.

The United States has never been a direct democracy, but this entire process is about as far as a political system can get from representative government without leaving the realm of a republic altogether. After a primary season that left plenty of voters jaded across the political spectrum, Democrats need to take a hard look at this replacement process.

With only 65 votes, Ellis can claim an unopposed path to a seat on Harris County Commissioners Court, where he’ll represent 1.2 million people across a heavily gerrymandered and largely urban district that includes the heavily African-American Third and Fifth wards, in addition to southern parts of the county. In that seat, he’ll control a $200 million budget and receive a base annual salary of nearly $170,000. Important issues like flooding, toll roads and the criminal justice system are controlled by that five-member court.

[…]

Some candidates told us that they had to file open records requests to learn the names of the precinct chairs. Others said they still weren’t sure whether the eventual vote on June 25 would be a secret ballot or not. And Provost told the editorial board that she thought the party was working to push the whole thing in Ellis’ direction.

While the bulk of local Democrats don’t get to vote, they should at least consider themselves lucky that the chairs are apparently going with a well-qualified candidate. The only other challenger who comes close is Locke, a former Houston city attorney who was appointed to the position by County Judge Ed Emmett. Locke has worked as an attorney for the county and already has a deep knowledge of how county government functions and all the personalities at play. However, this insider perspective means that he’d be unlikely to shake up the status quo of the board’s under-the-radar activities. For example, when he met with the Chronicle editorial board, Locke rejected claims that responsibility for recent flooding rests with the Harris County Flood Control District. Does this show that Locke is too close to county government to see the big picture?

Let’s deal with that penultimate paragraph first. Precinct chairs are actual elected officials, so their names are a matter of public record. Go to the Secretary of State website – you can find that link right here on the HCDP page entitled “Precinct Chairs and Senate District Leadership” – and you can get a list of every precinct chair for both parties in the entire state. That wasn’t so difficult, was it? If you want contact information for precinct chairs, I’m sure a simple call or email to the HCDP will do. I’ve been a chair for eight years, and I’ve received plenty of email and snail mail from candidates during that time seeking the support and endorsement of my colleagues and myself. On the matter of how the June 25 ballot will be conducted, Gerry Birnberg has stated publicly at two different events – the spring CEC meeting and the May 25 candidate forum – that Texas Democratic Party rules expressly forbid secret ballots for this sort of thing. I don’t expect the Chron editorial board to know these things offhand – though honestly, how hard is it to go to harrisdemocrats.com and poke around a bit; it took me like 10 seconds to find what I was looking for – but anyone seeking this post really ought to be capable of reading the TDP rulebook or contacting their friendly neighborhood SDEC rep for clarification. I wish the Chron had identified the people who had made these claims, because to me it’s evidence that they are either too misinformed or dishonest to merit consideration.

Finally, in regard to Georgia Provost’s complaint, clearly this is the year of candidates claiming that The System is rigged against them. Let me state for the record that no one from the HCDP has contacted me about this race in any fashion except to announce public events like the candidate forum and the upcoming precinct convention. I suspect her beef is based on the forum and the convention being held at the CWA hall, with the CWA being supporters of Ellis. All I can say is that every official Democratic Party event I’ve ever been to has been held in one of three places – the old jury assembly room downtown, the IBEW hall next door to HCDP headquarters, and the CWA hall. How this is supposed to affect the outcome in any way is a mystery to me.

Now for the Chron’s grievances about the process. As one of those 125 otherwise inconsequential precinct chairs, believe me when I say I’d rather not have this power. I can’t wait for it to be over, and if you’ll allow me a bit of personal bitching, I’d much rather spend this Saturday morning driving up to Camp Allen to pick up my kids than spend it at the CWA hall engaging in what is likely to be an un-fun process. That’s life in the big city, and I doubt anyone cares. If you don’t like the process that we have, I encourage you to express that opinion to your legislators, since it’s state law that compels us to take this path. I’d advise you to suggest a replacement process if you do – the Chron did not offer any alternatives – and to bear in mind that this is a really unusual set of circumstances at play. Remember that a slightly larger group of precinct chairs will be selecting two judicial nominees next week, and nobody is having any agida about that. The difference is that those positions have less power than County Commissioner, and those candidates will face general election opponents in races that are seen as tossups. It’s the combination of the position’s power and the lack of a general election opponent that makes this one stand out.

I get the concern with that, I really do. But if you want to argue for a special election as an alternate process, bear in mind that this is to select a party nominee, not a general election winner. Any such election would need to be limited to the people who participated in the most recent primary election, since those are the people who would have made the choice if El Franco Lee had timed his death more propitiously. Had he died before December 15, someone else could have filed to be on the March ballot. Any special election process – including a runoff – would need to take place between March and August, to ensure that the replacement nominee would be on the ballot in time for the early September deadline for printing overseas ballots. That would be going on at the same time as other primary runoffs and the May general election, which I guarantee would lead to complaints of “election fatigue”. Finally, remember that if Lee had waited till after Labor Day to die, he’d have been on the November ballot, and after his term expired next January 1, Ed Emmett would have picked his replacement for the ensuing two years, after which whoever he named would get to be on the 2018 primary ballot as the incumbent. That is of course the Jack Cagle story, with Jerry Eversole resigning instead of dying, and I don’t recall there being this much fuss about it. If you don’t like the idea of 125 (duly elected) precinct chairs picking the next County Commissioner, how much would you like one County Judge, from the opposing party, doing it instead? It could have been worse, is what I’m saying.

What do you want in the next Precinct 1 County Commissioner?

Here’s one way to figure it out if you’re not sure.

El Franco Lee

Harris County Democrats have sent a questionnaire to Precinct 1 commissioners candidates, setting up one of the few instances in an unusual race where the public can compare candidates’ political and policy stances.

The questionnaire covers topics including how candidates propose to prioritize funds inside versus outside city limits, how candidates will continue longtime commissioner El Franco Lee’s senior programs, and the burdened county criminal justice system.

The party is seeking answers to the questionnaire by June 16.

[…]

The task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

Which as you well know happens on June 25. I’m sure our letter carrier will appreciate the lighter load she will get to carry once this race is over and the avalanche of mail I’ve been getting ceases. The questionnaire is embedded in the story – these are fairly involved questions, so I hope the candidates got them before Monday, because it will take some time to write thorough answers – and I will be eager to see the responses. I’ve said what my preferences are, but these questions go into quite a bit more depth. I’ll have a report on the answers once they are posted.

The Commissioners Court candidates forum

El Franco Lee

On Sunday, I attended the candidate forum held by the HCDP for the people who are interested in being named to replace the late El Franco Lee on the ballot this November. The Chron has a report on it here, but I’m just going to give you my impressions of the event and the candidates.

The event started with an introduction by HCDP Chair Lane Lewis, who gave a long and obviously written by a lawyer explanation that just because someone was participating in this event does not mean that person has declared himself a candidate for the office. In fact, one doesn’t ever have to declare oneself a candidate for this office, but instead can graciously accept the spot on the ballot if the precinct chairs in their wisdom call upon one to take it. I’ll give you three guesses which candidate present for this event this was aimed at.

There were six candidates in attendance for what was to be a fairly standard candidate forum, in which a moderator (KPRC’s Khambrel Marshall) would ask questions (some prepared beforehand, some solicited from the audience) that participants would answer. Each candidate got to make a two-minute intro speech, and the questions would be assigned to two candidates each, though some of them were answered by all. Marshall picked the candidates and the order in which they responded. Overall, it went pretty well, and I’ll get to the candidates and my view of them in a minute, but first I want to share the two most important things I learned from this event.

First and foremost, if on the initial round of voting at the Precinct Executive Committee meeting on June 25 at which the nominee is picked no candidate receives a majority of the precinct chairs in attendance, then the top two will go to a runoff, to be conducted immediately following that vote. There had been a lot of confusion on that point – several people at the event asked me this specific question, which was finally answered by Gerry Birnberg after the debate part was over. He also emphasized that as per Robert’s Rules of Order, only the relevant precinct chairs in attendance at the event could vote. No proxies or phone-ins would be allowed. To say the least, that puts a lot of emphasis on the most concentrated get-out-the-vote effort you’ll ever see.

The other item had to do with the selection of candidates for the 507th Family Court and Harris County Criminal Court At Law #16, for which I’ll write a separate post. I had originally been under the impression that we would take care of all of this business on the same day, June 25. That is not the case. As Lane Lewis told me, we need to keep those things separate to ensure that only chairs in Precinct 1 are involved in the selection of the Commissioners Court nominee. The judicial nominees will be chosen five days later, at the next County Executive Committee meeting on Thursday night, June 30.

As for the candidates at this forum for this race:

Ricky Tezino: I have no idea what he was doing here.

Georgia Provost: She got a lot of audience response from making numerous provocative, mostly anti-establishment statements. That’s an interesting strategy to pursue in an election that will be decided entirely by precinct chairs, but she did have some support in the crowd. She and the other two candidates who are not current officeholders pitched themselves as scrappy outsiders not beholden to anyone who would come in and shake things up. There’s a place for that kind of candidate – City Council, for which Provost has made two recent campaigns, is one example – but I for one am not sure that’s a good idea for the lone Democrat on Harris County Commissioners Court. YMMV and all that.

DeWayne Lark: Of the three “outsider” candidates, he made the best impression on me. At one point during the forum, there was a somewhat bizarre question about the need for a public defender’s office in Harris County. Georgia Provost, answering first, gave a rambling response in which it was not at all clear she understood that there was a PD’s office already and that it had been in operation for several years. Lark followed that with an unequivocal statement that we already have such an office, and the main issue with it is that judges in Harris County are not required to use it instead of the old system of assigning an attorney themselves. Lark was in general fairly well informed, he gave concise answers, and he offered the best slogan of the evening, “Come out of the dark and vote for Lark”.

Dwight Boykins: He was at his best when he was talking about the things he has done on Council and how he would implement them as a County Commissioner. He spent a lot of time talking up his second chance job programs in particular. He also had two bad moments that stuck out. Late in the forum, there was an audience-submitted question regarding HERO. Ellis gave a short answer stating his firm support for HERO. Locke also strongly supported HERO, but criticized the way the campaign in support of it was handled. Lark said something about opposing discrimination but having issues with the wording of the ordinance, which was not a good answer but at least was short. Boykins’ response began with his intent to work with Mayor Parker to pass a non-discrimination ordinance, until he started getting calls from constituents who didn’t like it, so he had to vote against it. The whole thing was a mess. Later, he walked right into the biggest haymaker of the evening, in response to a question about why were the candidates Democrats. Ellis was first, and he gave a rousing, red meat answer that got a big cheer from the crowd. Boykins followed, and after beginning by saying he was born a Democrat, he took a shot at Ellis for having previously referred to him as a Republican. Ellis responded to that by saying well, what do you call someone who votes in a Republican primary? (The crowd responded as you might expect to that.) Boykins tried to salvage things by saying he voted for Kay Bailey Hutchison over Rick Perry, and the Democrats didn’t have a candidate. The crowd didn’t appear to catch that he had just publicly overlooked Bill White in 2010, but everyone I talked to about it afterwards noticed. It was not Boykins’ finest moment.

Gene Locke and Rodney Ellis: I’m putting these two together because they both had the most visible presence at the event. They had display tables in the lobby, they brought a bunch of supporters wearing their campaign T-shirts, and more importantly, they both made it through without saying or doing anything that would make a supporter change his or her mind about them. They emphasized their experience and credentials, with Ellis making a spirited defense of his 30+ years in public office, and they both brought their A games rhetorically. The Chron story said that Locke’s discussion of his plan to help fix the streets in front of Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl was contentious, but I have to confess I missed any negative response to it from the crowd. The bottom line is that if you came in thinking these two were the frontrunners, I saw nothing in the event to change that perception.

Overview of the Commissioners Court Precinct 1 “race”

I put “race” in quotes because it’s not like any other race you’v ever seen.

El Franco Lee

The campaign for the next Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner appears in many ways like any other: candidates are raising money, seeking endorsements and sending out targeted mailers touting their credentials.

But this is not a typical election, and voters won’t be heading to the ballot box. Instead, the task of picking a commissioner who will represent 1.2 million people – more than the populations of nine states – and control a $200 million budget falls to a group of 125 Democratic precinct chairs.

That’s because longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee’s name remained on the March 1 primary ballot after his death in early January, leaving the precinct chairs to select the party’s new nominee, who will be unopposed in November.

The unusual nature of the nominating process means the campaign is less democratic than most local elections and far more intimate – built around in-depth policy conversations and targeted wooing of party insiders.

Example: The presumed frontrunners, Rodney Ellis and Gene Locke, both sent flowers to female precinct chairs for Mother’s Day.

[…]

City Councilman Dwight Boykins has not formally announced his candidacy, citing concern that he could forfeit his municipal office by doing so. But he has been actively campaigning for the job.

Because voters last November extended the terms of Houston elected officials to four years, from two, those who become a candidate for another office now are subject to the so-called “resign-to-run” provision of the Texas Constitution, which applies to municipal officeholders with terms longer than two years. Though a Texas attorney general opinion issued in 2000 states that running for the nomination of a political party’s executive committee does not prompt an automatic resignation, the courts have yet to formally resolve the issue.

“My best bet is that the courts would rule that (then-Attorney General John) Cornyn is correct and you don’t trigger resign-to-run by seeking the nomination of the executive committee,” former Harris County Democratic Party Chair Gerry Birnberg said. However, he added, “Until the courts decide the issue, there is no way to say for sure, definitively, that Attorney General Cornyn was correct.”

So Boykins and other interested council members – Jerry Davis and Larry Green – have approached the campaign gingerly.

“I can neither admit or deny my interest in the seat because of the way the current law is drafted,” Green said recently. “However, I can say I have been approached by several precinct judges and other community members requesting that I do move forward in trying to run for the seat.”

It’s a good overview of the process, so give it a read and familiarize yourself. I spoke to Chron reporter Rebecca Elliott on Thursday, but much like Kevin Costner in The Big Chill, my role was left on the cutting room floor. One point I want to address in this story, which is as much about the great power that’s been bestowed on some 125 precinct chairs as anything, is the question of how this process could have been done differently. One precinct chair called for a special election instead of the current process. That has some intuitive appeal, but remember, we’re not actually picking a County Commissioner. We’re picking a Democratic nominee for County Commissioner. There’s no provision in the law for a special party primary election, and I’m not sure how you could conduct one in a way that mimicked an actual primary election. Those are technically open elections, but everyone who participates has to choose which primary they want to vote in. How do you ensure conditions like that in a special election environment? Remember also, we precinct chairs – not just the 125 or so of us in Precinct 1, but the 500 or so of us in all of Harris County – are also selecting nominees for two judicial races. There’s basically no concern about us doing that, in part for the obvious reason that those offices have far less power, but also because those nominees will have contested races against Republicans in November, and unlike the Commissioners Court race there’s no guarantee they’ll win. The concern about the un-democratic nature of this process is, in my opinion, entirely about the nature of the office of Commissioners Court, which has vast power and not a whole lot of electoral accountability under normal circumstances. It’s about the office, not the process. Fixing the process in some way, if there is a way, can’t address that.

I should also point out that as weird as this process is, it could be worse. For one, if the late Commissioner Lee had died next January after being elected and sworn in, instead of this January after the filing deadline had passed, then Judge Ed Emmett would have been able to not only pick a replacement as he did to fill out the last year of Lee’s term, but that replacement would have been able to file for election himself in 2018, and would almost certainly have cruised to an easy win. This is what happened with Jerry Eversole (who resigned after the 2010 election) and now-Commissioner Jack Cagle. At least here, it’s Democrats who are picking the replacement. Yes, we’d have gotten a shot at that person in the next primary, but that could mean nearly two years of a Commissioner in the most Democratic precinct in the county being chosen by a Republican County Judge, and an awful lot can happen in two years. We got lucky here, in that Judge Emmett is an honorable man, and his choice for this year of Commissioner Locke was a good one. But there was and would have been nothing to stop a less honorable Judge from picking whatever hack or crony he wanted to. It could have been worse, that’s all I’m saying.

One more thing:

If Ellis earns the Democratic Party’s nod for commissioner, the party would need to convene another executive committee meeting to find a replacement for him on the ballot for state senator – and quickly, as all nominations must be completed by late August.

The angling has already begun.

“Of course anybody in the (Texas) House – or any other position for that matter – is going to look at that position as something to move to, and so I fall in that category of looking at it as a possibility,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of several politicians who have already expressed interest in Ellis’s seat. “These seats don’t change hands very often, and more than likely, whomever is selected to be the nominee for the Democratic Party, they’re going to be there for a long time.”

Naming Sen. Ellis to fill the nomination ensures at least one more round of this selection process, with the precinct chairs in SD13 moving onto the hot spot. (That does not include me, as I am in SD15.) And if the precinct chairs of SD13 select a State Rep to fill the slot left vacant by Ellis – at the very least, Reps. Coleman, Thompson, and Miles are waiting in the wings – then we get to do this a third time. There is an argument to be made that selecting Commissioner Locke to run for the seat in November puts an end to that process. Whether one considers that a pro or a con is a matter of personal preference.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Court race update

HarrisCounty

Three items of interest:

1. There will be a public forum on Sunday, May 22, from 3 to 5 PM at CWA Local 6222- 1730 Jefferson St, Houston, TX 77002, to meet the people who have expressed interest in being named to fill the ballot in place of the late El Franco Lee. The four that have shared their interest with the HCDP so far are Sen. Rodney Ellis, interim Commissioner Gene Locke, Nathaniel West, Sr., and Georgia Provost. Everybody knows that CM Dwight Boykins is also interested in this nomination, but thanks to state law and the city’s new four-year terms for Council members, he can’t say that out loud just yet without (maybe) having to resign his seat. Nobody knows for sure if state law applies to this situation, as this election is unlike all others, but he understandably doesn’t want to take an unnecessary risk. That said, I am sure that CM Boykins will be in attendance next Sunday.

2. Another name I can add to this list is the Rev. DeWayne Lark, who is having a meet-and-greet this Sunday with (I presume) precinct chairs. I’m not able to attend, so that’s all the information I have at this time.

3. On Monday, I received in the mail a photocopy of a Chronicle story from April about Sen. Ellis and his bond work, which I blogged about here. Just a photocopy of the print story, no writing on the single piece of paper and no return address on the envelope. An attack mailer, clearly, one that does not meet legal requirements. This has got to be the cheapest election ever for sending attack mail, I figure. The entire voting universe is 130 or so people, and you know exactly who they are. It’s probably not the only piece of mail I’ll get between now and June 25.

RIP, Carl Whitmarsh

This was certainly a shock.

Carl Whitmarsh

Carl Whitmarsh used to joke that when he died, there would be as many people ready to dance on his grave as to cry over his death. A towering figure in Harris County Democratic politics, Whitmarsh rarely held his punches against those he disagreed with, but was a loyal friend and supporter of those on his side.

Whitmarsh died over the weekend at 64. The cause was not immediately clear, but he had been in ill health for years. The Harris County Democratic Party announced Whitmarsh’s death in an email to members Sunday evening.

“He was a somewhat cantankerous and often polarizing figure, but his primary role was in keeping everybody honest,” said Lane Lewis, a close friend of Whitmarsh’s and chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party. “I suspect there are people sharpening their knives as we speak without him keeping them in check.”

Whitmarsh served as executive director of the county Democratic party; as an aide to Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, the vice presidential pick on Michael Dukakis’ 1988 ticket; and most recently, as president of the Oak Forest Area Democrats, a group active in northwest Houston. Throughout his decades behind the scenes in politics, he helped hundreds of candidates get elected, said State Sen. John Whitmire, a close friend.

[…]

“Carl Whitmarsh was a dear friend,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in a statement. “There was no greater supporter than Carl. And no greater defender of the little person, those who were discriminated against and those who had nothing but their dignity. Carl was a mighty force of nature when he went after those he believed were hurting others or just plain wrong-headed about issues. But when he was your friend, Carl would go to the ends of the earth to help you.”

If you were at all involved in Democratic politics around here, you knew Carl. And if you knew Carl, you were undoubtedly stunned by the news of his death, announced via email from the HCDP on Sunday afternoon. Carl was as busy and active as he had ever been in these past weeks, so the odds are you saw him or spoke to him recently. He was doing what he always did, what he loved to do, which was supporting good Democrats and exhorting us all to get involved. If you could ask him right now, I’m sure he’d say is that his one regret is not being able to cast a vote for President Hillary Clinton. Carl was a force of nature, a stubborn old cuss, a hell-raiser to the bone, and a strong and loyal friend. Like so many others, I can’t quite believe there will be no more emails or phone calls or Facebook posts from him. You will be missed, Carl. Rest in peace, my friend.

Once again with what we want from the next County Commissioner

Campos:

El Franco Lee

The Chron has a story today on County Commissioner Gene Locke changing his mind and now wanting to become the Dem nominee for Commissioner. It looks like a race between Gene and State Sen. Rodney Ellis. The Chron mentions a few others that may be interested though.

Here is from the story today that Commentary finds interesting:

Lane Lewis, Democratic Party county chair, said he does not know which candidate the roughly 150 precinct chairs lean toward. So far, he said, the chairs have expressed concern about two main issues when considering contenders: whether the nominee will invest more within Houston city limits, since city residents also pay county taxes, and whether the nominee will play a more active role in Democratic Party politics.

Get it in writing folks or at least on YouTube. Make the county commissioner candidates say that they will start spending more of our tax dollars on projects within the H-Town City limits. How much? How about proportionately?

On the second point, we all know that county commissioners can raise a ton of campaign funds. Get them to say that in general election years, they will spend ten percent of what they have in their campaign bank account on Dem GOTV efforts in Harris County or at least within their precinct. If they have a million in the bank, then they commit to spend $100,000. No more of this piling up funds in their campaign bank account and hoarding it while the Dem Party continues to hold bake sales.

Make them take the pledge, please. Don’t let this opportunity slip through your fingers.

I’ve already stated my agreement with the second item, though I didn’t specify a number, as well as some other things I’m looking for. I’m happy to include point 1 on my list. The story notes that there will be a forum in May, so perhaps we can get some answers to these and other questions. Clearly, I need to add some candidate interviews to my to-do list. What questions should we add to what we’ve already got?

By the way, as noted by Mainstream in this comment to Tuesday’s post, you can add County Criminal Court at Law #16 to the list of nominations we have to fill. I have no intel on that one at this time, but I’m sure I’ll hear some names sooner or later.

Chron story on Locke running for Commissioner

It’s officially official now.

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Gene Locke, appointed to fill the unexpired term following the sudden death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee last month, said Tuesday he may seek the nomination for the powerful local office in the November election.

Locke said he has not made a final decision, but his statement signals a shift for the former city attorney, who previously said he intended to return to his job as a lawyer and spend time with his family after the end of the current term in December.

It also would conflict with County Judge Ed Emmett’s previously stated desire to appoint a caretaker commissioner who would not seek the job beyond Dec. 31

“It’s the number of people who I respect that are asking me to consider it,” Locke said Tuesday.

He declined to name those asking him to run and said he needs to talk to his family about it. He did not give a timetable for when he would make a decision.

[…]

After Lee’s death on Jan. 3, several people announced interest in the office, including Houston Councilmen Jerry Davis, Dwight Boykins and Larry Green. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said last month that he intends to run, sacrificing 25 years of legislative seniority.

“I have a lot of respect for Gene Locke and appreciate anyone who wants to serve the public,” Ellis said in a statement Tuesday.

Davis said the possibility of Locke seeking the nomination would not change anything for him.

“Right now, it’s just the opportunity to talk to different people and see what they want in the county commissioner,” he said.

Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said Locke had not told him if he was interested in the nomination.

You heard it here first. I mean, look, there are 130 or so precinct chairs who will make this decision. Locke’s task, or any other challenger’s task, is to convince enough of them to make him their first or second choice. I don’t know how that’s going to go, but it will be a campaign and an election like nothing else we’ve seen anytime soon.

Gene Locke is reportedly seeking the Commissioners Court nomination

Please see update at the end of this post. There is new information at the bottom.

Remember this?

Gene Locke

Gene Locke

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Friday named Gene Locke, a former city attorney and mayoral candidate, to complete El Franco Lee’s term on Commissioners Court.

Locke, 68, a senior partner at the Andrews Kurth law firm, served as city attorney under the late Mayor Bob Lanier in the 1990s and ran for mayor in 2009, losing in a runoff to Annise Parker.

“I plan to be a hands-on, on the ground, let’s get with the program commissioner, which means that I will follow in El Franco’s footsteps,” Locke said.

He added: “This precinct belongs to El Franco Lee, and anything that I do over the next several months is dedicated to him.”

Asked if he intended to run for the post in November, Locke said, “My intention is to go back to the practice of law and enjoy my family.”

As Carl Whitmarsh first noted on Friday, and others confirmed to me at the Saturday HCDP County Executive Committee meeting, Locke is now seeking to be named as El Franco Lee’s replacement on the ballot in December, thus allowing him to run for a full four-year term. I don’t know what may have changed his thinking – the obvious answer is that being County Commissioner is an amazingly sweet gig, and who wouldn’t want to keep doing it? – but something did. One of the tidbits I learned at that CEC meeting on Saturday is that there are about 130 Democratic precinct chairs in Commissioners Precinct 1, so that’s the target electorate he needs to work to get that job. Getting a headline about using county resources to help fix some city streets (*) is a nice thing that would no doubt help with March and November voters, but the pool to fish in is quite a bit smaller than that. We’ll see how he approaches it.

Meanwhile, Rodney Ellis and Dwight Boykins, who were both at that CEC meeting, remain the most visible-to-me contestants for that job. According to the discussion thread on Whitmarsh’s Facebook post, former City Council candidate Georgia Provost, and SD13 committee chair Nat West are also throwing their hats in the ring. Another thing I learned at the CEC meeting is that in order to be considered for the replacement nomination, one of those 130 or so precinct chairs needs to make a motion to nominate you. So we won’t really know who is and isn’t in play until June 25, the day the Precinct Executive Committee meets. Stay tuned.

(*) – Am I the only one who thinks it’s weird that a story about Commissioner whose precinct is almost entirely within the city of Houston proposing to use some of his infrastructure funds on city streets (among other things) is newsworthy? What else do these funds get spent on if city streets aren’t normally included? It’s all still Harris County, isn’t it?

UPDATE: Commissioner Locke called me to say that while he has been asked to consider seeking the nomination, he has not made any decisions. He is considering it, and he said that being Commissioner offers him a platform on which he can do a lot of good, but he also reiterated what he said in that earlier story about having grandchildren he loves spending time with. The bottom line is that he said he has not made any decisions about seeking the nomination.