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Houston City Controller

2015 candidates’ voting history

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Regular commenter Mainstream took the time to investigate and document the recent voting history of the candidates on the 2015 city of Houston ballot. Here it is, for your perusal. A couple of caveats: Data is for Harris County, with some additions for a couple of candidates included and noted on the document. Voting history goes back to 2002, except for the 2003 and 2005 municipal elections. Runoffs and special elections are not included. Not everyone has lived in Houston for this whole time period, and I can think of at least one candidate (Philippe Nassif) who is too young to have a voting history that goes as far back as 2002; there are likely some others as well. So don’t make too big a deal out of the difference between voting in every election, and voting in almost every election.

Having said all that, this is a fairly engaged group. I was surprised to not see anyone who has no voting history, as it always seems like there’s one such candidate every election. Only four had no primary voting history in Harris County, while ten have voted at least once in each party’s primary. Sometimes people switch preferences, sometimes they have tactical reasons for choosing one over the other, sometimes there may be something else going on. You’d have to ask the candidate in question why he or she made those particular choices. Also, the Greens and Libertarians don’t do primaries, they do conventions, so if someone has a history of participating in those, this document would not show that. You can’t do both a primary and a convention, just like you can’t vote in more than one primary (or in a D primary and an R runoff or vice versa), so someone who does this regularly will look like someone who doesn’t participate in primaries.

Twenty candidates voted exclusively in Republican primaries, while 37 are Dem-only. That doesn’t quite tell the full story. CM Richard Nguyen voted twice in GOP primaries, but declared himself a Democrat last year and was featured in some Democratic campaign emails in 2014. Demetria Smith (one), Ben Hall (five), Willie Davis (three), and Andrew Burks (five) have all voted exclusively in Democratic primaries but are all HERO opponents of varying vitriol; on the other hand, John LaRue is a HERO supporter and a three-time GOP voter. You still have to get to know the candidates to make an informed decision. Voting history is good to know, but it’s just one piece of a bigger puzzle. I hope this information is useful to you, and my sincere thanks to Mainstream for putting it together.

Ballot order drawn

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Here is the official ballot order for City of Houston candidates this November, via Chron reporter Mike Morris on Twitter. You’re all familiar with my rant about ballot order by now – we have electronic voting machines, they should simply randomize the ballot order for each voter – so I’ll just skip it and move on. Whether anyone’s ballot position ultimately makes a difference or not – I sure hope it doesn’t, but I wouldn’t bet on it – we’ll have to wait and see. All I know is that in any field with more than four candidates, I’d rather be first or last than anywhere in between.

This would be a short entry if this were all I had to say, so in the interest of filling out a proper length, here are two announcements about candidate forums. On Monday, Mental Health America of Greater Houston is hosting a Mayoral forum on behavioral health, a topic I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard much about in this election. The Houston Police Department has one of the only Mental Health Divisions in the entire country, so this is an issue that needs some public discussion. MHA of Greater Houston, NAMI of Greater Houston, the Council on Recovery, and the Houston Recovery Initiative are partnered for this event. That’s this Monday, August 31, at 6:30 PM at the University of St. Thomas, Jones Hall, 3910 Yoakum – see here for details.

Want a forum for candidates other than Mayoral candidates? On Thursday, September 3, you can attend a forum on environmental issues for At Large Council candidates, brought to you by the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, League of Women Voters of Houston, and over 20 cosponsors representing environmental organizations in the Houston region, including Hermann Park Conservancy. The event is at 6 PM at the Cherie Flores Pavilion in Hermann Park, and it will be moderated by yours truly. It’s free and open to the public – see here for details. Don’t leave me hanging, come on out and hear what the candidates have to say.

Your official slate of candidates

Yesterday was the filing deadline. Here’s the official list of candidates, modulo any challenges or subsequently invalidated applications. The highlights:

– There are thirteen candidates for Mayor. The City Secretary might consider starting the ballot order draw now, this may take awhile.

– Dwight Boykins in D, Dave Martin in E, and Larry Green in K are the only incumbents not to draw opponents. No new contenders emerged in G or H.

– Kendall Baker became the third candidate in District F. Here’s a reminder about who he is.

– Former HCC Trustee Herlinda Garcia filed against CM Robert Gallegos in I. She was appointed to the HCC board in 2013 to fill Mary Ann Perez’s seat after having served before, and was supported in the 2013 runoff by Dave Wilson.

– Frequent commenter Manuel Barrera filed in District J, joining Jim Bigham and some other dude against CM Mike Laster. You can search for his name in the archives here. I think we have our 2015 vintage “straight slate”.

– Former District A candidate Mike Knox is in for At Large #1, and performance artist Eric Dick has graced us with his presence in At Large #2. Again, “straight slate”.

– I am disappointed but not terribly surprised to see that Durrel Douglas did not file in At Large #5. He hadn’t filed a July finance report, and as far as I could tell had not screened for endorsements. I know he’s been spending a lot of time in Waller County and working with the Houston Justice Coalition on the Sandra Bland case. Sometimes the time isn’t right.

– Former District F Council Member and 2009 Controller candidate MJ Khan filed for Controller. Not sure what’s up with that, but I’m guessing Bill Frazer isn’t thrilled by it.

– Here’s the Chron story, which includes the HISD candidates. The main point of interest there is former Trustee Diana Davila running for her old seat in District 8, against Trustee Juliet Stipeche.

That’s all I know for now. I’ll be updating the 2015 Election page over the next couple of days to get all the changes in. We’ll see if anything else shakes out. What are your impressions of the candidate list?

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Endorsement watch: Houston GLBT Political Caucus 2015

Congrats to all the endorsees.

A raucous municipal endorsement meeting brought mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner the coveted backing of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus on Saturday, positioning the 26-year state representative to broaden his coalition to include the city’s progressive voting bloc.

Caucus members voted 142-85 to endorse Turner after more than an hour of insult-laden discussion in which they rejected the recommendation of the group’s screening committee to endorse former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Turner also beat out former Congressman Chris Bell, a longtime ally of the gay community who had been considered a likely pick for the group’s endorsement.

Once-shunned, the caucus’ supprt is now highly sought-after by candidates aiming to win over left-wing voters, known for reliably showing up at the polls.

“This is a major step to the finish line,” said Turner, seen as a frontrunner in the crowded mayor’s race. “This is a race about the future of the city versus its past, and this group represents a vital component of Houston’s family.”

[…]

Of the five mayoral candidates angling for caucus support, Turner, Garcia and City Councilman Stephen Costello received the highest ratings from the group’s four-member screening committee.

Committee members said concerns about Bell’s viability landed him a lower rank.

Bell closed out the first half of the year with less money in the bank than any of the other top-tier candidates.

“He’s in a tough position, because absent resources, financial resources, he would need key endorsements like this one to bolster his candidacy,” [consultant Keir] Murray said. “It just makes what was already a tough road even tougher.”

Bell, for his part, remained optimistic after the endorsement vote.

“Obviously not everyone participates in the caucus endorsement process,” Bell said. “I still think I am going to have tremendous support in the progressive voting bloc.”

See here for some background. I followed the action on Facebook and Twitter – it was spirited and lengthy, but everyone got a chance to make their case and to be heard. Here’s the full list of endorsed candidates:

Mayor – Sylvester Turner

City Council
District B – Jerry Davis
District C – Ellen Cohen
District F – Richard A. Nguyen
District H – Roland Chavez
District I – Robert Gallegos
District J – Mike Laster
District K – Larry Green
At Large 1 – Lane Lewis
At Large 2 – David Robinson
At Large 3 – Doug Peterson
At Large 4 – Amanda K. Edwards
At Large 5 – Phillipe Nassif

Controller – Chris Brown

HISD District 2 – Rhonda Skillern Jones
HISD District 3 – Ramiro Fonseca
HISD District 4 – Jolanda Jones
HISD District 8 – Juliet Katherine Stipeche

HCCS District 3 – Adriana Tamez
HCCS District 8 – Eva Loredo

None of these come as a surprise. Several could have gone another way, thanks to the presence of multiple qualified and viable candidates. I look forward to seeing this slate – and the near-misses – do very well in November.

A closer look at Controller finance reports

Last week I took a closer look at the campaign finance reports for Mayoral candidates. Let’s do the same for the Controller candidates.

Candidate Raised In Kind Spent Loans On Hand ========================================================== Robinson 46,170 3,908 33,908 0 5,033 Brown 267,750 3,547 20,818 0 222,858 Frazer 128,097 1,009 120,956 32,500 53,973 Jefferson 8,653 2,943 9,255 1,860 5,521 Boney 8,390 0 5,487 0 2,902 Candidate PAC Max Non-Hou PAC % Max % Non-Hou % ================================================================== Robinson 8,500 10,000 17,000 18.4% 21.7% 36.8% Brown 2,500 140,000 42,450 0.9% 52.3% 15.6% Frazer 10,350 15,000 7,400 8.1% 11.7% 5.8% Jefferson 1,000 0 2,100 11.6% 0.0% 24.3% Boney 1,500 0 3,795 17.9% 0.0% 45.2% Candidate Overhead Outreach =============================== Robinson 1,750 28,889 Brown 10,535 1,923 Frazer 86,040 7,028 Jefferson 5,910 1,682 Boney 1,200 254

BagOfMoney

As always, all reports can be seen here. To review, PAC money is anything given by a PAC or business – basically, donations not from individuals – “Max” is the sum of donations from people who gave $5K and PACs who gave $10K (I didn’t see any of the latter on these reports), and “Non-Hou” sums up the contributions given from people who don’t have a “Houston TX” address. That was a bit more challenging in the case of Carroll Robinson, since he annoyingly only listed the state and ZIP code for his donors, but I managed. On the spending side, “Overhead” was initially intended to be the sum of money paid for items listed as “Consulting”, “Salaries/Wages/Contract labor” and payroll taxes, but as is often the case with these reports things got a little messy. Frazer had a bunch of payments to Mammoth Marketing Group that including things like Consulting Expense, Solicitation/Fundraising Expense, and Office Overhead/Rental Expense, which was for website design and maintenance. I included all of that, but listed expenses for Printing under Outreach, which is intended for advertising, mailers, yard signs, and the like. Frazer was also the only candidate to list rent for office space as an expense, so I included that under Overhead as well. Like I said, it got a bit messy.

The topline dollar figures speak for themselves. The spending is of more interest to me. Here’s a look at some of the items that caught my eye for each candidate.

Carroll Robinson – $29,200 of the money he spent went to Patriot Strategies Group, for the following items:

$1,000 for consulting fees
$8,500 for Auto Calls
$2,200 for Internet or Online Ads
$4,500 for Mailing
$9,500 for Auto Calls & Mail
$2,000 for Video Production & E-Blast
$1,000 for Social Media & Video Production
$500 for Social Media

Everything above is listed as Outreach except for the first charge. I don’t know why Auto Calls and Mail are lumped together on one item when they are separate on others, but like I said, this can get messy. $8,500 plus sounds a lot to me for robocalls, especially this early in a campaign.

Chris Brown didn’t actually spent that much – I expect that will come later – but one of his larger expenditures was $4,489 to Piryx for “online donation fees”. Piryx handles a lot of this sort of transaction = you’ll see their name on a lot of finance reports – but usually you see charges in the one to two dollar range. I have no explanation for this, unless maybe they take a cut of each donation and a bunch of those max contributions were made online.

Bill Frazer spent $22,825 from personal funds, with $6,077 in “unpaid incurred obligations”. As with Bill King, I think that burn rate could come back to haunt him.

Dwight Jefferson – All $2,963 in kind was from Coats Rose PAC for an Event Expense. On a somewhat odd note, the Andrews & Kurth PAC gave $1,500 to every candidate in this race except Jefferson, who got $1,000. I think if I were Dwight Jefferson, I’d ask them to make it up to me.

Jew Don Boney had a lot of food-related expenses listed as Solicitation/Fundraising Expense. There’s not much more of interest than that.

So that’s the Controller reports. I’ll try to see about doing the same with the Council reports.

Controller philosophies

Here’s a Chron story from a candidate forum for Controller candidates at which the main subject was the relationship that Controllers have with Mayors.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

“It’s the second-highest elected official in city government, and it needs to be independent to provide a check and balance on the office in power,” said former City Councilman Jew Don Boney, who went on to say the controller must not be an ally or lapdog to the mayor.

The city’s chief financial officer is tasked with performing audits, preparing financial statements and managing Houston’s investments and debt, though the office holder has no vote on City Council.

Still, Boney stressed the controller ought not approach the role bureaucratically.

“This is not an election for the chief bookkeeper of Houston,” Boney said. “We hire CPAs.”

Bill Frazer, 2013 controller runner-up, who touts himself as the only certified public accountant in the race, was not in attendance. Former Houston Community College board member Carroll Robinson also missed the bulk of the forum, walking in during closing remarks.

Meanwhile, deputy controller Chris Brown edged closer to the idea of a controller at odds with the mayor, albeit more gingerly.

Brown said the relationship between mayor and controller should depend on the state of the city’s fiscal affairs.

“In times of great surplus, where there’s a lot of money, I think the mayor and the controller should be adversaries, because that’s the time when the mayor’s gonna say, ‘Hey, we’ve got tons of money. Let’s just go spend it,’ ” Brown said.

“But,” he added, “I think in the times when we have difficult financial problems, there needs to be more of a concerted effort to work together to solve the financial problems in the city.”

Controller is kind of a strange office, as it has no authority to set agenda items or vote on Council. One can certainly argue that it should have more authority, as a counterbalance to the Mayor – this is a question I have asked before in interviews with Controller candidates, and will ask again – but as the story suggests, the Controller can always be a semi-official pain in the rear to the Mayor as needed. I personally think the Controller should focus more energy on audits and thinking up creative ways to save money. Beyond that, we’ll see what they have to say for themselves when I talk to them. For what is the second-most important office in the city, it sure doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia closed out the first half of the year with more than $1.3 million in the bank, eclipsing City Councilman Stephen Costello by a mere $7,423.

According to their campaign finance reports, Garcia raised $1.5 million and spent just over $122,000, while Costello raised about $30,000 less in contributions, was loaned $90,000 and spent $496,000.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner and former mayor of Kemah Bill King trailed in cash on hand, reporting $1.1 million and $544,000, respectively.

[…]

Costello’s campaign previously said his funds include a $250,000 personal contribution and a $262,000 transfer from his council account.

Among those with reports already in, King spent the most in the first half of the year, coughing up more than $680,000. He raised more than $755,000 and lent himself an additional $500,000.

Turner’s expenditures came in just under King’s, at $601,000, according to his report. However, his campaign noted that $125,000 of those expenditures were related to his state office, not his mayoral campaign.

After starting the race with about $900,000 in the bank from his legislative account, Turner raised an additional $763,000 in the nine days between when his state fundraising blackout period ended and the close of the reporting period.

See here for more. As previously noted, the reports are not in their usual place due to changes in state law and the reporting system. For now, you can see the reports that the city has posted here. I’ve linked to them on my Election 2015 page and will keep updating that as more of them appear. I’ll do a more in depth look at the reports once they’re all there, starting with the Mayorals, which were added to that page as of last night. Expect that for next week.

The Chron story has a spreadsheet embedded in it with totals for candidates who had turned in reports by publication time. Among the other Mayorals, Chris Bell had raised $381K and had $190K on hand; Ben Hall raised $94K and loaned himself $850K to have $812K on hand; and Mary McVey had raised $60K and loaned himself $1.075M to have $1.071M on hand. Forget the price of oil, this Mayoral campaign will be stimulating the local economy over the next few months.

So far, mayoral fundraising has far overshadowed that for Houston’s second-highest political post, city controller.

Deputy controller Chris Brown reported raising $270,000 and spending $22,000, leaving him with more than $222,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, raised $129,000, received $32,000 in loans, spent $120,000 and closed out the first half of the year with more than $53,000 in the bank.

Former Metro board member Dwight Jefferson lagged behind with $11,000 raised $1,800 loaned and $9,000 spent. It was unclear how much cash he had on hand.

Carroll Robinson had raised $50K and had $5K on hand; Jew Don Boney did not have totals posted. Other hauls of note: Amanda Edwards dominated At Large #4 with $165K raised and $118K on hand. Laurie Robinson was the runnerup with $43K and $26K, respectively. In At Large #1, Tom McCasland ($141K raised, $98K on hand) and Lane Lewis ($104K raised, $62K on hand) were far out in front; Chris Oliver raised $37K and had $23K on hand, while Jenifer Pool had not yet reported. CM Michael Kubosh was the only one with any money in At Large #3, raising $63K and banking $44K. Philippe Nassif had a very respectable $73K raised in At Large #5, but only $12K of it remained, far less than CM Jack Christie’s $100K cash on $124K raised; Durrel Douglas had not yet reported.

For district races, CM Mike Laster had a big haul and an equally big financial lead in J, while CM Richard Nguyen had a decent total in F. His opponent, Steven Le, did not have a report up as of last night. There was surprisingly little money raised in the two-person District G race; Greg Travis led in cash on hand over Sandie Moger thanks to a $41K loan to himself. Roland Chavez had the most raised and the most on hand in H, with Karla Cisneros and Jason Cisneroz a notch back. Abel Davila raised a small amount but loaned himself $20K to be even in cash on hand with the other two.

That’s it for now. For the other races, HISD and HCC reports lag behind the city’s – HISD by a little, HCC by a lot – so I’ll keep an eye on those and update as needed. As always, fundraising is just one aspect of one’s candidacy, and is in no way predictive in many races. We only get a few chances a year to see who’s funding whom, and this is one of them. I’ll have more when I can.

Sales tax revenues take a dip

Don’t freak out just yet, but do be a little worried.

Houston’s 53-month consecutive span of year-over-year sales tax revenue gains has come to an end, five months into an energy slump analysts said could dent the city’s economic numbers for the rest of the year.

The city’s $50.1 million sales tax revenues for April, received this month as its allocation from the state, represented a 2.3 percent decline from a year ago, according to the Texas Comptroller’s Office.

One month’s spending activity doesn’t represent a trend, and revenues from various sectors of Houston’s economy were all over the map. Among the top-grossing sub-sectors providing tax revenue in Houston, reported collections were down roughly 2 percent at discount department stores and family clothing stores that month compared with 2014, and off 2.6 percent at supermarkets and grocery stores. Full- and limited-service restaurant collections, on the other hand, rose 4.7 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively, figures show.

But as Houston’s sales tax revenues declined 2.3 percent, the state’s $2.6 billion in sales tax revenue represented a 5.2 percent increased over April 2014, suggesting that a sharp downturn in the oil and gas industry so crucial to Texas has affected Houston more significantly than the rest of the state.

[…]

In Houston, sales taxes account for 30 percent of the city budget’s general fund revenue. As the city prepares its next budget, whether the monthly dip is a blip or a more sustained rattle is being monitored, city Controller Ronald Green said.

“I think now’s the time not to panic but for us to kind of determine if there’s going to be a trend in this,” Green said, adding he needs two more months of data to determine whether’s April’s revenues were a trend or an anomaly.

Compared to the doom-and-gloom predictions of late last year, steadying crude prices for the last several weeks are a sign industry is making adjustments, said Ed Wulfe, chairman and CEO of Wulfe and Co., a commercial retail real estate brokerage firm. “I think it has corrected itself already,” he said of the energy downturn. “By and large, we’re starting to get back on the normal speed and level already.”

Crude oil prices began dipping last summer after reaching a peak above $100 per barrel and have hovered around $60 since April.

The effects of that sharp price decline began arriving at the beginning of April, said Jesse Thompson, business economist with the Houston branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

“At this point, the only thing that’s hitting us is what’s happening in the energy market,” Thompson said.

I basically agree with Ronald Green. A one month dip like this can be brushed off as an aberration. Three months of it is a serious problem. If it’s about what’s happening in the energy industry, there’s not much to be done about it except adjust behavior and expectations accordingly. Check back in August and we’ll see where we are.

Early look at the Controller’s race

We have our first race overview story of the season, with a focus on the Comptroller and whether the successor to Ronald Green will be more visible and possibly antagonistic towards the new Mayor, or more of the same lower-key style as the incumbent.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

And the five candidates – Chris Brown, Jew Don Boney, Bill Frazer, Dwight Jefferson and Carroll Robinson – sound more inclined to follow Green’s example than try to use it as a springboard for higher office.

They all said they have no mayoral aspirations, not yet anyway, and most said they hope to depart from the archetype of the controller as an outspoken mayoral critic.

“Historically, people have had the view that the controller and mayor are supposed to be antagonists,” said Robinson, a former Houston city councilman and former Houston Community College board member, who said he would prioritize making discussions of city finances more public. “But in my view, I think that’s the wrong approach.”

Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, agreed.

“I will not be an activist controller,” Frazer said, emphasizing his financial management experience as a certified public accountant. However, he added, “I do believe the controller can have a large bully pulpit to help keep the mayor and city council from making some of the terrible financial decisions that we’ve made in the past, and steer us in a better direction.”

Boney, a former city councilman, spoke at length about the need for political leadership in Houston, particularly on pension reform, calling the controller’s office one of the most important from which policy discussions can emerge.

“The city is facing some real fiscal choices and challenges,” he said.

Jefferson, a former METRO board member, discussed the need for transparency and fiscal conservatism, describing the controller’s job as primarily ministerial, with the officeholder presenting the mayor and city council facts on which to act.

Meanwhile, Brown, a deputy controller under Green, underscored his experience as the incumbent’s number two.

“We need someone, given the economic challenges, that can come into the office Day One and lead and start implementing some of these changes and working with the stakeholders,” said Brown, who noted that the city likely will have to tighten its fiscal belt again given the decline in oil prices.

I personally would like to see the next Controller spend some time on audits, and also promoting Bank on Houston. I don’t think there’s much to be done in refinancing debt, though if there are any opportunities they should be taken, and I think we have enough people yelling about pension funds. I don’t think it’s necessary for a Controller to be deliberately confrontational with a Mayor, but I do think it’s fine for them to call BS if they think the Mayor is trying to get away with something. As far as this crop of Controller candidates goes, I have no favorite at this time. I’ll see what I think after I do some interviews. Who are you leaning towards, if you have a preference in this race?

Robinson resigns from HCC Board

Yeah, it’s campaign season.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson, who has served as a Houston Community College trustee since 2012, will leave the college board to focus on his run for city controller, he announced Friday.

In a letter announcing his resignation, Robinson counted among his accomplishments helping with the creation of a sixth-grade pre-admission program, pushing to increase funding for scholarships and his involvement in establishing the Texas Academic Scholarship Day.

“All these things have helped bring a greater focus to improving the graduation rate and job placement rates for HCC students,” Robinson said. “The policies I implemented at HCC are a part of my broader commitment to ensuring that all Houstonians — our families, children, entrepreneurs and businesses — have An Opportunity To Do Better.”

There’s a full field for Controller, including Bill Frazer, Jew Don Boney, Dwight Jefferson, and Chris Brown, so one can understand the reason behind the resignation. As the story notes, Robinson’s brief tenure on the HCC Board has not been without some controversy. Robinson;s departure means that the Board will appoint a replacement Trustee, who (I believe) will be on the November ballot. That makes four Trustee elections on tap; as noted in January, fellow Trustees Adriana Tamez (who won a special election in 2013 to complete the unfinished term of now-former State Rep. Mary Ann Perez), Eva Loredo, and Sandie Mullins Moger (formerly Meyers), are up for re-election. Moger, however, is now confirmed to be running for City Council District G, so someone else will run for that position. Chris Oliver, who is not up for re-election, is as we know running for Council At Large #1, so there may be another vacancy to fill next year. And finally, as long as I’m mentioning At Large #1, this seems like as good a place as any to note that candidate Tom McCasland, who had announced his intention to run without specifying an office, has now officially declared AL1 to be his target. So there you have it.

Two challengers emerge in At Large #5

After Jan Clark bowed out in At Large #5, incumbent CM Jack Christie was left with no opponents after he announced his intent to run for re-election. That lasted until yesterday. Early in the morning, this email hit my inbox.

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif

Philippe Nassif is proud to announce his candidacy for Houston City Council At-Large Position 5. This seat is currently held by a council member whose out of touch policies and outdated ideas do not reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of Houston.

“Houstonians deserves an elected official that will represent the changing demographics of the city, and who can accurately represent their needs and vision for Houston’s success.” Philippe said.

Philippe is a proud Houstonian, non-profit leader, and community organizer. As the son of two successful immigrant parents—a Mexican mother and a Lebanese father—he believes strongly in the power of this city’s economy. His story is Houston’s story. This city has provided unparalleled opportunity for both newcomers and Houstonians that go back generations. He is running for City Council to tap into the potential of all of Houston’s communities and help lead the city into the future.

Philippe is the first of his family to be born in America–his parents moved to Houston because of the opportunities the energy industry offered them. The opportunities Houston has afforded Philippe drove him to give back through public service– which includes a career working for Mayor Annise Parker’s administration, The White House, President Barack Obama’s campaign, and now at a women’s empowerment organization where he lead advocacy efforts across 14 states to improve women’s rights around the world.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of St. Thomas and a Masters degree from St. Mary’s University, and currently lives in The Heights neighborhood. He is building his campaign the grassroots way — from the ground up.

“My campaign will focus on addressing our traffic crisis, pushing our city further to welcome startups and new businesses, fairness in policing, and ensuring equality for all Houstonians.” For more information visit www.NassifForHouston.com.

Nassif had previously been a candidate for At Large #1. He had previously criticized Lane Lewis for remaining on as HCDP Chair while running for that position. My guess is that Lewis has sucked some of the oxygen out of that race for other Democrats, as many people thought might happen, and Nassif decided to take his chances elsewhere.

And for a brief while, Nassif was the only Democrat and the only challenger in the AL5 race against CM Christie. Then later in the day, this email arrived.

Durrel Douglas

Durrel Douglas

I’m running for Houston City Council, At-Large Position 5. Visit www.douglasforhouston.com and save the date for our campaign kick-off:

Sunday, April 12th
5:30-7:30 PM
The Ensemble Theater
3535 Main
Houston, Texas 77002

I’m running because I’ve seen the amazing strides we make as a city when we work together, and, what happens when our elected officials ignore the voices of the people they serve. As your city councilman, I’ll continue to fight for hard-working families and together we’ll build a better Houston.

I grew up in Houston’s South Park on Selinsky street. After High School I went to college online majoring in Social Science at Western Governors University and worked full time for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice as a correctional officer–eventually moving up the ranks to sergeant and lieutenant. After five years, I decided to leave the prison system and instead work to improve the communities that led so many people from neighborhoods like mine to prison. After resigning, I worked for the Harris County Democratic Party before moving to Austin to work for a Democrat in the Texas House of Representatives. After the 2011 legislative session, I eventually moved back to Houston with the goal of empowering communities here. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting amazing Houstonians while working to make our city a better place.

For the past five years, I’ve worked as a community organizer standing shoulder to shoulder with Houstonians. From the fight for the HERO (Houston Equal Rights Ordinance) to recent wins with justice reform through the grass-roots organization I co-founded, I’ve seen great things happen.

In 2011, I met Debra Walker and Betty Gregory who were among those leading fighting for IKE repair funding.

In 2012, when our city considered expanding Hobby Airport, I worked with community leaders like Pat Gonzalez to include community members in the decision making process.

CLICK HERE FOR HOBBY AIRPORT NEWSCLIP

In 2013, we came together at city hall to pass the #DownWithWageTheft Ordinance which ensures an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. That same year we challenged HCAD to make wealthy downtown commercial building owners to pay their fair share of property taxes into the revenue stream. CLICK HERE FOR HCAD ARTICLE. We can address our city’s looming budget problems if we work with other government entities to close loopholes like this one.

In 2014, I met Houstonians like Fran Watson and Kristopher Sharp who worked together to pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) protecting every Houstonian from discrimination. That same year we fought school closures and launched a grass-roots organization to address local criminal justice reform CLICK HERE FOR LINK.

In 2015, we’re running for city council. Together.

I ask not only for your support during our campaign and vote in November, but for your ideas for our campaign and our great city. I’m inviting Houstonians to add their thoughts and ideas to our campaign platform titled “#OneHouston.” Sending suggestions via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, our platform will be of the people, by the people, for the people. With our fresh, bold ideas we’ll build a better Houston. Feel free to email info@douglasforhouston.com or give me a call/text at 832.857.5737.

Not too long ago, my opponent Jack Christie voted to give Valero a projected $17 Million tax break. CLICK HERE FOR LINK. With our crumbling roads, infrastructure and pension gaps, we don’t need elected officials who make decisions like this one. The men and women who work for the city (like my father who’s worked 29 years for the City of Houston) shouldn’t have to take a furlow day or cut in benefits at the expense of elected officials like my opponent who’d prefer to balance our budget on the backs of hard working families.

We have two choices. We can either sit back and allow others to continue making decisions on our behalf, or, we can seize this opportunity to change the way Houston does business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, transgendered or cisgendered, all of us deserve an equal seat at the table.

Let’s build a better Houston.

To say the least, the race for At Large #5 just got a lot more interesting. I know both Phillippe and Durrel – I noted that Chron story he linked above about the new generation of black leaders in Houston – and they’re both exciting candidates. Between them and Atlas Kerr in AL3, they are also among the youngest candidates we’ve seen for city office recently. If they can succeed in boosting the participation rate among younger voters this November – it wouldn’t take much to do that – they could have a big effect on the composition of the electorate, and maybe on the issues that get discussed. I look forward to seeing how they campaign.

Finally, on a tangential note, Metro Board member Dwight Jefferson announced his intention to resign from the Board and run for City Controller. Jefferson had been considering a run for some time, so this will make it official. He joins a crowded field that includes HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson, 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, former Council member Jew Don Boney, and Deputy Controller Chris Brown.

The pension deal

Not sure yet how I feel about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker and Houston’s firefighter pension trustees have reached a deal that would lower the city’s payments for three years, a move that would mark an abrupt reversal for the mayor.

The announcement came late Thursday from the fire pension board, whose leaders for years have fought any mention of changes to benefits as Houston’s enormous pension burden has continued to grow. The pension fund estimates the city would pay $77 million less over the next three years.

In a memo Thursday to the City Council, Parker said the agreement is a “modified version” of a proposal the pension board pushed last fall.

“The terms will deliver significant budget relief to the city of Houston,” Parker wrote. “As with any true compromise, both sides have surrendered hard positions to realize a mutually beneficial outcome.”

Craig Mason is a pension consultant who represents the city on the police, fire and municipal pension boards. Mason, who followed the talks but had not seen the final deal, said the deal would see firefighters contribute more of their pay toward their retirement and have the city contribute less, for a term of three years.

Mason and other pension reformers have said, however, that without changing pension benefits the city will not be solving the problem long term.

“I’m opposed to people calling that a savings,” Mason said of the deal. “It’s a temporary reduction in contributions, but it’s going to increase contributions in the future. It’s a short-term focus, which is typical for city administrations.”

[…]

Parker’s support for the deal is curious, given that she said the pension trustees’ proposal from the fall “reflects no true pension reform” and repeated the same stance as recently as Wednesday, saying, “There’s no reform in that … we’re just putting more money into a system that I think needs help.”

The announcement said that as part of the deal the city would drop two lawsuits against the fire pension, one that seeks more data to better predict future costs and another that challenges the constitutionality of the city being on the hook for payments over which it has no control; the pension and the city’s contributions are set by the Legislature. The city would agree not to lobby the Legislature for pension reforms for the three-year duration of the deal, Mason added.

The fire pension trustees’ plan from last fall that Mason said forms the basis of the deal would not touch current or future firefighters’ benefits, but would have them contribute 12 percent of their paychecks into the pension fund, up from 9 percent. In that proposal, the fire pension projected the city’s contribution rate would drop from 33 percent of firefighter payroll to 24 percent.

Before I say anything about this myself, let me quote from the reactions I received in my inbox to this, in the order I received them. First, from CM Stephen Costello:

“Our firefighters deserve to have their pensions covered in full and this deal, negotiated without City Council input or approval, not only leaves their pensions cut short but continues to put the city’s financial well-being at great risk over the long haul. This agreement simply continues the damaging cycle where the City of Houston fails to fund the pension, racking up tens of millions of dollars in new debt in the future. The ultimate solution in the long term is local control. Houstonians should have the authority to craft their own solution rather than continuing to leave our fate in the hands of politicians in Austin.”

From Bill King:

The proposed agreement regarding the Houston Fire Fighter pension plan announced yesterday represents a further abdication of fiscal responsibility. The parties to this deal owe taxpayers an explanation how borrowing $77 million at 8.5 percent is a good deal, or saves the City money. This deal does absolutely nothing to contain the costs to Houston taxpayers, but instead pushes off millions of dollars of pension obligations to the next administration.

I do not believe the City should incur this kind of additional liability without a full and open debate — and approval — by City Council especially when the City’s pension debt has soared by $1.2 billion over the last five years.

From Controller candidate Bill Frazer:

Once again, Houston’s taxpayers have been left holding the bag while its pension issues get kicked down the road for another 3 years. The City Controller stands idly by while the Mayor, a candidate for Mayor and a candidate for City Controller craft a backroom deal based purely on political expediency.

While kicking the can down the road, the Mayor has borrowed another $77 million at “credit card interest rates”, leaving the taxpayers with more debt and no solutions. Houston deserves a higher standard.

From HFRRF Chairman Todd Clark:

Today Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF) and Houston Mayor Annise Parker agreed on a set of legislative provisions that will save the City $77 million over three years while assuring soundness of the pension and putting a halt to the City’s lawsuits against the Fund. Mayor Parker supported the plan which increases firefighters’ contributions by 3% of their salaries and will reduce Houston’s General Fund expenses to the HFRRF by $21.4 million in Fiscal Year 2016 alone.

“The proposal protects Houston’s citizens by keeping and recruiting the best firefighters we can get,” said HFRRF President Todd Clark. “We are pleased the Mayor supports our proposal because it protects promises made to our firefighters and avoids reduction of benefits to new hires, which would be harmful to all parties.”

The Firefighters’ proposal, as accepted by the Mayor, provides a sustainable plan for the City while avoiding additional costly litigation and discontinuing current litigation while not impacting retirees at all.

And finally, from Mayor Parker:

Under the terms of the arrangement, which still needs legislative approval in Austin, firefighters will contribute three percent more to the pension system for the next three years. Correspondingly, the City’s payroll contribution to the fund will be locked in at 25.8% for Fiscal Year 2016, and 24% for both Fiscal Years 2017 and 2018. This represents a more than $70 million decrease from the amount the city would have to pay in the absence of this arrangement.

The HFRRF board proposed that the firefighters who benefit from the system should pay more. “This protects taxpayer interests and provides budget certainty for the next three years,” said Mayor Parker. “The agreement was achieved through good faith negotiations by both parties. While it is not the pension reform I have sought, it is a step forward. The work must not end here.”

The agreement is the result of informal discussions between the City and HFRRF over the last several months. State law gives the city the ability to meet and confer with the police and municipal pensions, but no such mechanism exists for HFRRF.

“Despite our differences, both of us came together to do what is best for the City,” said Parker. “This doesn’t change my position. I still strongly believe that those who fund our employee pensions should have a say in how we pay for them. These are decisions that must be made here at home, not in Austin.”

The Mayor’s full press release is here. Clearly, one’s view of this deal is dependent on how one views the overall pension situation. Also, if one is running for Mayor and one is not Sylvester Turner, who was credited by the firefighters for helping to broker this deal, one doesn’t like it. My view is that while this is clearly a kick-the-can-down-the-road proposal, the fact is that Houston is facing a (hopefully short term) fiscal crunch in the next few years, and will have to make cuts somewhere to cover those bills. Reducing the amount that the city will have to cut by $77 million over the next three years is nothing to sneeze at, especially if one is unwilling to try to lift the stupid revenue cap as a means of helping to mitigate those cuts. If this is a loan that needs to be paid back, or if there is a gap between what the city would have contributed and what the firefighters will wind up kicking in, then this deal doesn’t look as good. I’d like to see an analysis from a disinterested third party before I sign off on any interpretation, but the prospect of having to make $77 million less in cuts over the next three years counts for something to me. Campos and PDiddie have more.

King makes his official entry

Add Bill King to the “made his official announcement” list.

Bill King

In the middle of a noisy, torn-up west Houston street that he said epitomized Houston’s crumbling roads, Bill King launched his campaign for mayor Monday morning, pledging to return the city “back to basics.”

King, a former Houston Chronicle columnist and a mayor of Kemah, pledged to tackle the issue on which he long sounded the alarm – pension reform.

“There is no pathway to financial stability for the City of Houston that does not lead through meaningful pension reform,” said King. “Anyone who tells you differently is either misinformed or is not telling you the truth.”

King recognized that trimming pension payouts is “an emotional and difficult” issue, but stressed that he does not support changes to current city employees’ benefits, just future employees.’

King also took a veiled shot at who is likely to be his main competitor for the votes of the center-right, business crowds: Councilman Stephen Costello, who is tied to a road improvement plan called “ReBuild Houston” that King derided as the “Rain Tax.”

“We cannot afford to wait another five or six years to rebuild our streets,” said King, standing in the median of S. Kirkwood Road. “It’s time that we rethink ReBuild Houston.”

As you know, King is not at the top of my candidate list. Nothing against the guy, as he is perfectly nice and adequately qualified, but we do not see eye to eye on enough issues that I can’t see him being my choice in November. A case in point here is his shot at ReBuild Houston. Putting aside my distaste for anyone that uses the term “rain tax”, if you don’t like it but you want to make fixing the streets a priority, what would you do instead? We all agree that fixing the streets will cost a lot of money. ReBuild Houston provides a funding mechanism for that. There are certainly issues with it, not the least of which is a lack of visibility, but what would you do instead? This was a question that the foes of the Renew Houston referendum never ever attempted to answer. They agreed with the problem, opposed the solution, and had no alternate plan of their own. So I’ll ask again: If this isn’t the answer, then what is? You have eight months to come up with something viable.

Now sure, I get that this was a campaign event, not a get-all-wonky-with-details event, but as I’ve said before, just about everyone running for Mayor this year has been running in one form or another for a long time. I’ve said what my priorities are. I don’t plan to be patient waiting for the Mayoral herd to start talking specifics. I’m not singling out King here – so far, no one has said anything that isn’t suitable for a bumper sticker. I’m saying I don’t plan to grade on a curve, or to cut any slack. Just tell me what you want to do, in enough detail that it makes sense, and we’ll go from there.

Anyway. King is in, and there are still more of these announcements to come. I’ve put the press release I received from the King campaign beneath the fold. On a tangential note, I see via Facebook that Chris Brown has announced his intent to run for Controller this year. Brown is Deputy Controller, and his name surfaced as a potential candidate a few weeks ago. He joins three other candidates so far – HCC Trustee Carroll Robinson, 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, and former Council member Jew Don Boney. That Facebook photo is the only info I have on this, so it wasn’t worth a post on its own, thus the addendum here.

(more…)

More candidate updates

Another Council hopeful tosses his hat into the ring, though we don’t know exactly which office he intends to seek just yet.

Tom McCasland

Tom McCasland, who took over the Harris County Housing Authority after it suffered in scandal, will run for an at-large city council seat this year, according to a campaign treasurer designation.

McCasland told the Chronicle Thursday that he has not yet decided which of the five at-large seats to seek, but that he plans to make a decision over the next month-and-a-half. Incumbents are term-limited in at-large positions 1 and 4, and those vacancies have drawn most of the candidates over the past six months.

“I’m taking a look at all the options,” he said.

The HCHA director designated a treasurer for a campaign committee and a separate specific-purpose political action committee to support his campaign this week. He said he currently is assembling a campaign team and raising money.

See this Chron story for some background on McCasland, and this story for a brief refresher on the mess he inherited at HCHA. The Houston Politics post also mentions that McCasland worked on Bill White’s 2010 campaign for Governor. Far as I can recall I’ve never met him and don’t know anything about him beyond what I’ve noted here. Sometimes, people who say they’re running for “something” but don’t specify what wind up not running for anything. We’ll see what happens here.

Meanwhile, two other candidates who had previously been reported to be running for something have confirmed their candidacies. The first announcement to hit my inbox this past week came from Amanda Edwards, who is now officially a candidate for At Large #4. You can read her press release here.

The other candidate to confirm what we had expected to be true is Bill Frazer, who sent out a media advisory saying that he will formally announce his candidacy for Controller on February 17. Frazer is one of three sure candidates, with two others still on the periphery. February is prime candidate-announcing time, so expect this sort of thing to continue for the next few weeks at least.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

January campaign finance reports – Controller wannabes

CarrollRobinson

Like the Mayoral race, the 2015 race for City Controller is wide open, as incumbent Ronald Green is term-limited. There are three candidates of which I am aware so far – HCC Trustee and former At Large city Council member Carroll Robinson, who formally announced his entry last November; 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer, who hasn’t made a formal announcement of which I am aware, but whose campaign website is still live; and Metro Board member Dwight Jefferson, who was kind enough to publicly acknowledge his interest in the office yesterday. I have heard other names bandied about for this office as well – former Council member and Mayoral candidate Peter Brown has come up in conversation, and I have heard rumors that Some People are trying to get Council Member Stephen Costello to switch races to this one – and I’m sure there are other possibilities.

As far as finance reports go, the only ones to reference are for Robinson and Frazer. Robinson has to file biannual reports as an HCC Trustee. They don’t have their January reports posted yet on the HCC Trustees website, so the best I can do for now is his July 2014 report. Frazer still has a city account from 2013, so he has a report on the city’s website.

Carroll Robinson
Bill Frazer

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Robinson 1,820 3,700 25,000 21,637 Frazer 0 3,503 0 160 Green 0 14,402 0 28,563

Incumbent Ronald Green’s totals are included as well for comparison. Not a whole lot to see here. Robinson was first out of the gate with a fundraising email on January 13, right after the injunction against the city’s blackout ordinance was handed down, but that wouldn’t have affected his January report anyway. Frazer ran a solid campaign in 2013 and gained a fair amount of traction against incumbent Green, who had some baggage to carry, but it’s not clear how much of that will stick in an open seat race. Controller races are often low-key, and it wouldn’t surprise me if one of the many Mayoral hopefuls makes the strategic decision to shift into this race, which if nothing else might provide a nice head start on the 2021 Mayoral campaign. And yes, my soul just died a little by the act of me typing that sentence. Anyway, this is what we have for now.

On game rooms and gambling

Looks like Fort Bend County wants to follow in the footsteps of Harris County when it comes to dealing with game rooms.

Last weekend, Fort Bend County sheriff’s deputies raided the H-90 Game Room on U.S. 90A east of Richmond, hauling away 97 slot machines, interviewing and releasing about 30 customers and charging one employee with a misdemeanor.

Unlike many places that get shut down, though, the business that opened in July had not been the subject of any police calls for service.

The raid has prompted a discussion about how much of a threat game rooms actually pose to community safety.

Some Fort Bend residents had been pressing authorities to crack down on game rooms that sprouted up in the wake of Harris County’s enforcement of new rules targeting the establishments, often the scenes of shootings and other criminal activity. They didn’t want a proliferation of game rooms bringing the same problems to Fort Bend.

Sheriff Troy Nehls acknowledged that residents’ concerns prompted his department’s recent action, which involved four divisions of his office.

“We’ve received calls from the community, so we did what we could to address the issue,” the sheriff said. “This one was right off Highway 90, so it was more visible. Thus, we had more people calling concerned about the operation.”

Nehls said he takes game rooms seriously, but he played down their impact so far. He noted that he has seen no evidence of an uptick in violence, nor had there been any calls for police service at either the H-90 Game Room or another gambling parlor, on FM 359. It was open just a few months before voluntarily closing under pressure from nearby homeowners.

[…]

Other residents say authorities are wasting time cracking down on an activity they think should be legalized, even if it is only to discourage the gang activity that was often attracted to the cash-based operations in Harris County.

Larry Karson, a criminology professor at the University of Houston, said it’s the responsibility of police leaders not only to crack down on illegal activity, but to educate communities about the actual level of crime, particularly when an issue becomes a public debate.

“One generally expects any law enforcement official to recognize the concerns of the community,” Karson said. “If, based on that officer’s experience, it’s not quite as dangerous as might be assumed, he obviously needs to communicate that.”

The Texas Constitution bans most forms of gambling, but the poker-based eight-liners common to game rooms are legal to own as long as the prizes do not exceed $5 per play. Police, prosecutors and other Houston-area officials argue that most game rooms do not operate within those narrow rules, awarding larger cash sums illegally and drawing other criminal activity. To thwart enforcement of the state’s ban, officials say, many game rooms require paid memberships designed to keep out undercover officers.

Karson differentiated between the risk of crime at game rooms and at casinos, both of which attract robberies because of their cash payouts.

“You run into that security nightmare that legitimate casinos deal with by coordinating with police,” Karson said. “Any business that’s illegal doesn’t have that option. That leads to a potentially nasty cycle.”

As we know, Harris County has tightened its enforcement on game rooms thanks to some legislative help, and after surviving a lawsuit, enforcement is on in full swing. It’s not a surprise that some of this activity might cross the border into Fort Bend, or that Fort Bend might be a bit proactive about trying to stop it. I figure Fort Bend will get the legislative help it now seeks in expanding its authority against game rooms, much as Harris did in 2013, and I won’t be surprised if other counties follow suit.

What did surprise me in that story was the almost casual mention of the “other residents” who think game rooms should be legalized. I’m not sure if there are actual people making that case, or if that’s just sort of a clumsy shorthand for support for expanded gambling in Texas, as there wasn’t any further exploration of it. I wouldn’t have given it much more thought had I not also received this email from Houston Controller candidate Carroll Robinson, which discusses the very subject of game rooms and legalized gambling:

The Houston Chronicle has recently reported that “local investigations have revealed how lucrative the illegal gaming trade can be, providing operators with as much as $20,000 per day. With such establishments spread across some 700 strip centers in the county, their total proceeds could be larger than the [$1.55 billion] budget for all Harris County government.…”

Not only are illegal gaming rooms generating hundreds of millions of dollars per year in untaxed revenue, they are also magnets for crime. Wouldn’t it be better to legalize slot machines (at existing legal horse and dog racing tracks) and Casinos in Houston and allow the city to regulate them and collect extra revenues to pay for city services?

Legalizing slot machines at existing race tracks and legalizing casinos would also help eliminate illegal gaming rooms and the crime associated with them.
Even Metro would receive revenue from the increased sales tax revenue generated from legalized gaming.

The City of Houston should investigate and evaluate all its options for legalizing and regulating slot machines and casino gaming under its Home Rule Authority.

I can’t say I’ve seen many city candidates take a position on expanded gambling in Texas, as that’s a matter for the Legislature and not likely to directly intersect with Houston. Sam Houston Race Park is outside city limits, and I can’t imagine a casino being built here. I’m sure there would be some effect on the city if one or both of these things were to be legalized, but I doubt it would be much. I don’t know how much effect it would have on the game rooms, but my guess is that we’d still have them regardless. You can like the idea of expanded gambling or not – as you know, I’m very ambivalent – I just don’t think it has much to do with the game room issue.

Carroll Robinson announces for City Controller

Not a surprise.

Carroll Robinson

Carroll Robinson

City Controller Race – I Am In – Carroll Robinson

Dear Friends,

As we begin to prepare for another holiday season, I wanted to personally let you know that, after much deliberation and prayer, I will run for City Controller in 2015.

I will officially launch my campaign in March 2015 at my annual Women for Robinson (WFR 2015) Meet, Greet and Network Reception.

Next year, the WFR Reception will be open to all who want to join me in my commitment to: 1) empowering the women of our community; 2) ensuring that all the young people in our city have “An Opportunity To Do Better”, and 3) Making Houston Greater.

[…]

I helped pass the city’s spending “Rev Cap” City Charter Amendment and I still support it. It forces fiscal discipline on City Hall and it is why the City Council Fiscal Affairs Committee is now engaged in the process of defining what “core” city services are and how they should be fully funded.

I support asking city voters to allow the city to keep excess revenue above the “Rev Cap” to speed up paying down the General Fund Debts and fully funding Public Safety Services.

I opposed establishing a city garbage fee when I was a City Council Member and I am still opposed.

I support Early Matters – the Greater Houston Partnership’s Early Childhood Education/Pre-K Initiative; creating the South Main Innovation Zone and putting all existing public infrastructure plans and city building permits into one common 3D GIS Database so that city, neighborhood and business leaders can all see the cumulative impact of what the city, Metro, TxDOT, H-GAC, Gulf Coast Rail District, TIRZs, MUDs and Water Districts are planning to build over the next five (5) to fifty (50) years so we can mitigate traffic congestion, storm water run-off, air pollution and avoid duplication, conflicts and wasting taxpayers money.

The Controller’s office doesn’t really get involved with most of these policy issues, but that’s neither here nor there. What I know and have said before and will keep saying is that I do not plan to support anyone who supports the revenue cap. Carroll Robinson is a smart guy with some good ideas, and I appreciate that he sees some things differently than I do, but the rev cap is a deal breaker for me. I’m sure we’ll have a spirited discussion about it when I do an interview with Carroll down the line. You can hear the interview I did with him for HCC here if you’re interested. Texpatriate, from who I got that Forward Times link, lists Metro board member Dwight Jefferson and 2013 Controller candidate Bill Frazer (candidate interview here) as other possibilities. I for one would like to see CM Ed Gonzalez give this race a try. It’s still very early, so don’t chisel anything into stone just yet. Houston Politics has more.

Post HERO, watch for the petition drives

Here’s the full Chron story about the passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. I’m going to skip ahead in the story and focus on what the haters are saying and planning to do.

Opponent Dave Welch, of the Houston Area Pastors Council, said his group will begin gathering signatures against the ordinance to trigger a referendum seeking its repeal this November. The group would need to gather roughly 17,000 signatures – or 10 percent of turnout in last fall’s mayoral race – in the next 30 days.

“Once we correct this grievous act through the ballot this fall,” Welch said in a statement, “we will then remind those members that patronizing a tiny interest group and outgoing mayor instead of serving the people leads to a short political career.”

[…]

Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

The most recent vote was spearheaded by Houston Community College trustee and longtime anti-gay advocate Dave Wilson, who said he plans to gather signatures to seek a recall election against “three or four” council members who voted yes.

Only the number of signatures equivalent to one-quarter of the votes cast for mayor in a given council district are required, which Wilson said makes some districts with poor turnout particularly ripe targets.

The signatures must be gathered within a 30-day period and a recall petition must list grounds related to “incompetence, misconduct, malfeasance or unfitness for office.” The target of such a petition could then object, triggering a vote of the City Council on whether the grounds are sufficient. City Attorney David Feldman said the city’s 100-year-old recall process has never been used, and added a single ordinance vote would not be valid grounds.

“Some people say it’s intimidation, et cetera, but I look at it as accountability,” Wilson said, adding he views Feldman as a biased source. “People are elected to represent their district. They’re not up there to propagate their own personal views.”

Wilson said he also is gathering the signatures needed to seek a charter amendment banning a biological man from using a women’s restroom. The ordinance passed Wednesday offers such a protection for transgender residents citywide, as does an executive order Parker signed in 2010 applying to city facilities.

The earliest a charter vote could appear would be May 2015, but Feldman said such an effort may be too relevant to the ordinance passed Wednesday, meaning the signatures gathered would need to fall within the 30-day window.

A petition to repeal the ordinance would require fewer than half the signatures needed to mount a recall effort against Mayor Parker. That’s a more attainable target, but we’ll see how it goes. As I said before, I don’t fear any of this. It’ll be a fight, but we have the numbers, we have the will, and we have the pleasure of being in the right.

It seems clear that anything other than a straight repeal effort within the 30 day time frame will generate a court fight. I rally don’t know how much weight to put on the wording of the petition versus the lack of any mention of grounds for recall elsewhere in the charter. I’d hate to have it come down to a judge’s ruling on that.

By the way, you know who’s an unsung hero in all this? Ben Hall, that’s who. Thanks to Ben Hall, Mayor Parker took the 2013 election a bit more seriously than the 2011 election, and drove up turnout to near-2009 levels as a result. If turnout in 2013 had been the same as in 2011, the haters would only need about 27,000 signatures to get the recall process started instead of the 42,500 they need now, and they’d need fewer than 11,000 sigs to force the repeal referendum instead of 17,000. So thanks, Ben Hall! You did something good with your campaign! Hair Balls, Juanita, BOR, Texas Leftist, Free Press Houston, and TransGriot have more.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audit letters

There’s a thing called audit letters that I hadn’t known existed. We’ve got them for Houston, but we had not been making them public even though other cities do as a matter of course.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

Houston officials have blocked the release of letters detailing weaknesses in the city’s financial accounting even though other large Texas cities routinely share such letters as a matter of transparency.

“What are they trying to hide, if anything?” asked Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “The financial business of a government entity is everybody’s business. It’s our money, and it’s our government.”

State law requires public agencies to hire an external auditor to review finances each year, ensuring that governments accurately portray their fiscal health in reports to leaders and the public. When that audit is complete, the full report is accompanied by a management letter that notes any apparent problems with accounting procedures uncovered while testing the accuracy of financial statements.

[…]

Though [City Controller Ronald] Green previously had said he supported the release of the letters, he has deferred to the city attorney’s office, which sought an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office on whether the city was required to release them.

Green last week did not respond to questions emailed to his office seeking further explanation of his stance, instead releasing a two-sentence statement. “Heretofore, Management Letters have not been disclosed based on direction from the City Attorney and Texas Attorney General. The City of Houston will continue, until advised otherwise.”

The attorney general’s office earlier this month issued an opinion saying the city did not have to release the audit letters.

“This is a discretionary section that city may elect to raise. It is not required,” wrote attorney general spokesman Jerry Strickland. “If other cities choose not to raise this exception and would rather release similar information, they have that option.”

[…]

Last October, City Controller Green refused to release the letters from the last 10 years when frequent city critic Bob Lemer and, later the Chronicle, requested them under the Texas Public Information Act.

At the time, Green said he believed the records should be public but deferred to the decision of the city attorney’s office and Texas attorney general. “I do not practice law here,” he said. “When it comes to Bob Lemer, he’s still looking for ways to gain legal standing over the city on Proposition 2.”

Lemer, a retired partner at Ernst & Young, said the refusal to release the letters bolsters his arguments that the city is hiding the extent of its financial troubles.

“They will not let the public know what a horrible mess the entire accounting system is,” he said.

In its letter seeking an opinion from the attorney general, the city attorney’s office cited an exception to the Texas Public Information Act allowing cities to decide whether to release “audit working papers,” generally seen as communications with city employees that auditors use to prepare their reports or incomplete drafts of their reports.

Lemer may well be a crank, but that doesn’t mean he’s wrong. Whether he is or he isn’t, withholding this information does give him an air of authenticity, and a lot more grist for his grievance mill. A followup story in the Chron quoted several Council members who were also mystified by this and who called for the letters to be released. I don’t know what purpose was being served here, but in the end Mayor Parker stepped in and made the right call.

Amid questions from City Council members about the propriety of keeping them secret, the mayor’s office on Wednesday released audit letters detailing weaknesses in the city’s financial accounting.

[…]

The mayor’s office released 10 years of the audit letters, totaling 96 pages but did not include the appendices, which may include more detailed explanations of deficiencies identified by auditors. A spokeswoman said the mayor’s office released what the controller had sent to the city attorney last October and directed the Houston Chronicle to seek the appendices from Green.

[…]

“It sounds like exactly the right decision,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said of the letters’ release. “The more the public can review what’s being done with their money, the better.”

The most recent letters sent by outside auditors Deloitte & Touche on Dec. 18, 2012, noted three areas in which projected revenues appeared to be understated. Those three – $2.5 million in Municipal Courts, $2.9 million in “other revenues” and $4 million in construction activities – were deemed by city officials to be immaterial to the overall financial statements, and were corrected in the city’s annual financial report.

An appendix provided by Councilman Jack Christie’s office noted “significant deficiencies,” a term used by auditors to highlight policies or actions that could let inaccurate record-keeping or fraud go undetected.

“While there was significant improvement in the City’s financial reporting process in the current year, the City should enhance this process by requiring responsible financial reporting personnel, at the department level, to perform analytical reviews of financial results on a periodic basis,” the auditors wrote.

The 2003 audit letter listed 35 recommendations; the 2012 letter made only 10.

City finance department officials said in a written statement that they have addressed the findings, noting 2012 was the first time in 10 years that external auditors deemed the city a low risk for accounting errors in federally funded programs.

“There are less complaints than in 2003, and they are not that serious,” said Steven Craig, a University of Houston economics professor. “I’m not sure why they wouldn’t want to release that letter.”

You and me both. Houston Politics has a copy of the audit letters themselves, in case you’re curious. The original story says that the AG’s office issued the opinion in question “earlier this month”, but neither of the two opinions I see for 2014 on the index page have anything to do with Houston. In any event, this appears to be the end of this episode of mountains-from-molehills manufacturing.

Precinct analysis: At Large 1, 4, and 5

Last week, we looked at the competitive At Large Council races. Now let’s look at the three At Large races that weren’t competitive. First up is At Large #1, where CM Stephen Costello won a third term.

Dist Costello Griffin Costello% Griffin% ========================================= A 5,465 4,784 53.32% 46.68% B 5,535 4,291 56.33% 43.67% C 15,767 7,919 66.57% 33.43% D 7,852 6,098 56.29% 43.71% E 7,844 5,554 58.55% 41.45% F 3,241 2,247 59.06% 40.94% G 12,328 7,177 63.20% 36.80% H 5,024 2,492 66.84% 33.16% I 4,702 2,416 66.06% 33.94% J 2,549 1,749 59.31% 40.69% K 6,620 4,643 58.78% 41.22%

This is a solid, across-the-board victory, with no obvious weak spots though perhaps some softness here and there. Greg, who has one of his customary color-coded maps, summarizes as follows:

Costello’s win certainly qualifies as a win and I won’t take anything away from it. There are more than one ways to look at the map below and one of them goes something like “Gee, that certainly is a broad base of support throughout the city.” But it still looks a bit weak when you look at how broad the 35-40% of what I’ll chalk up to as “anti-incumbent” vote.

I don’t think that a bar owner most familiar for his displays of team loyalty in the Luv Ya Blue era of Oiler football qualifies as a candidate with massive amounts of name ID. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s always a given that Griff earns a solid 30-40% of the vote just by putting his name on the ballot.

Keeping the dream alive

It’s an interesting question: How much of the Griff Griffin vote is an actual vote for Griff Griffin, and how much is basically a vote for “not the incumbent”? To try to answer that, because I’m just that kind of sucker, I went back and looked at every previous election that featured Griff somewhere on the ballot:

2011 AL2 (open), 10 candidates, 8.22%

2009 AL2 (Lovell), 4 candidates, 19.97%

2007 AL2 (Lovell), 2 candidates, 47.12%

2005 AL1 (open), 3 candidates, 17.06%

2001 AL4 (open), 5 candidates, 13.73%

1999 District C (open), 7 candidates, 15.32%

January 1997 AL4 (open), 16 candidates, 6.40%

1997 AL5 (open), 9 candidates, 13.45%

1995 AL3 (open), 11 candidates, 11.31%

1993 AL3 (open), 14 candidates, 7.08%

What do we take away from this, other than Griff has a preference for open seat races? Given that he has run in many multi-candidate races where there was likely to be at least one acceptable choice to even the most curmudgeonly, there’s a core of maybe 10 to 15% of the electorate that will choose to vote for Griff. Note that in several of these races, Griff finished third or fourth in the large field of candidates, so by any reasonable accounting he’s at least one step up from a placeholder. Viewed in that light, Costello’s performance looks a little better. And for what it’s worth, the one other time Griff ran in a two-candidate race, he got 47% of the vote against then-CM Sue Lovell. CM Costello easily cleared that mark. Make of all that what you will.

Here’s At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Dadoush Bradford% Dadoush% ========================================= A 7,990 2,228 78.20% 21.80% B 10,861 835 92.86% 7.14% C 17,525 5,185 77.17% 22.83% D 14,861 1,551 90.55% 9.45% E 10,315 3,280 75.87% 24.13% F 4,133 1,388 74.86% 25.14% G 15,450 3,865 79.99% 20.01% H 5,909 1,685 77.81% 22.19% I 5,472 1,780 75.46% 24.54% J 3,422 964 78.02% 21.98% K 10,350 1,824 85.02% 14.98%

Now that’s a dominant victory. CM Bradford made a point of telling me, after I’d interviewed him, that he was not a candidate for Mayor in 2015. It wouldn’t make sense for him to support Ben Hall, he told me, if he wanted to be Mayor in 2015. All that may be true, but it’s hard to look at these numbers and not see a potentially formidable Mayoral candidate. He’d have some tough competition – besides Costello, Sheriff Adrian Garcia is said to be interested in running, and there’s still Ronald Green and a whole lot of others that are at least thinking about it – but after three easy electoral victories citywide, he has to be considered one of the top dogs.

Finally, At Large #5:

Dist Christie Shabazz Horwitz Christie% Shabazz% Horwitz% ========================================================== A 6,709 2,199 1,258 65.99% 21.63% 12.37% B 3,353 6,183 762 32.56% 60.04% 7.40% C 13,603 4,092 4,189 62.16% 18.70% 19.14% D 4,677 9,133 1,209 31.14% 60.81% 8.05% E 9,207 2,315 1,676 69.76% 17.54% 12.70% F 2,852 1,756 817 52.57% 32.37% 15.06% G 15,167 2,441 2,249 76.38% 12.29% 11.33% H 3,345 2,700 1,064 47.05% 37.98% 14.97% I 3,236 2,615 979 47.38% 38.29% 14.33% J 2,337 1,273 635 55.05% 29.99% 14.96% K 4,841 5,009 1,477 42.74% 44.22% 13.04%

Consider this: Ben Hall, who ran a year-long multi-million dollar campaign for Mayor, received 23,055 votes in Council districts B, D, and K, where he needed to run up the score in order to have a chance to make a runoff against Mayor Parker. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, a late filing, low-dollar candidate in At Large #5, received 20,325 votes in those districts, with a higher percentage of the vote in all three. Had the undervote rate been remotely comparable between the two races – 28.03% of all Harris County voters in AL5 simply skipped the race, ten times as many as the 2.76% undervote for Mayor – she would almost certainly have collected more total votes in these districts than he did. Have I made it clear yet how poor a performance Hall had?

As for Christie, he’s sort of the alternate universe in which Bill Frazer gets elected Controller. You can see what Frazer’s path forward might be based on Christie’s better numbers in Democratic districts, and you can also see where Christie could be in trouble against a stronger opponent or pair of opponents, in particular against opposition that gets an earlier start. There are going to be two open At Large seats in 2015, and I won’t be surprised if the winner of the Kubosh/Morales runoff faces a strong challenger. For that matter, the field for Controller is pretty open beyond Frazer if he’s into it. Christie might wind up getting a pass just because there are enough other opportunities available for the ambitious. Regardless, my point is that it’s better to start early than jump in at the last minute. Greg has more.

Precinct analysis: City Controller

Let’s move on to the Controller’s race, where incumbent Ronald Green held on to win a third term against challenger Bill Frazer.

Dist Frazer Green Frazer% Green% ===================================== A 6,609 4,102 61.70% 38.30% B 1,637 10,035 14.03% 85.97% C 14,185 9,385 60.18% 39.82% D 3,035 13,682 18.16% 81.84% E 9,777 4,130 70.30% 29.70% F 2,829 2,917 49.23% 50.77% G 15,914 4,844 76.66% 23.34% H 2,898 4,814 37.58% 62.42% I 2,789 4,726 37.11% 62.89% J 2,391 2,237 51.66% 48.34% K 4,226 8,232 33.92% 66.08%
City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

Green had a typically strong performance in the African-American districts – do a quick comparison of his numbers to Ben Hall‘s and you’ll see what a strong performance looks like – and he needed those numbers. The addition of an almost 2000 vote net in Fort Bend County gave him a little extra breathing room. What really stands out to me are the numbers in Districts G and C. District G I understand – it’s Republican turf, and Frazer generally received Republican endorsements – but the margin was a lot stronger than in A and E. More stunning is District C, which is Democratic territory. I presume that Green’s baggage had an effect here, but it’s still something to see. I had thought going into Election Day that Green might have needed to root for Ben Hall to drive some turnout in the African-American districts. Looking at these numbers, I think Mayor Parker’s turnout operation nearly swamped Green’s boat. C and G were her strongest and third strongest districts, and they had the largest number of voters by far. I didn’t see that possibility coming.

As for Frazer, he did pretty well for a first time candidate in a generally overlooked race. A little better performance in A and E, and who knows, we might have a new Controller today. As Greg points out, if the undervote rate in the GOP boxes had been as low as the undervote rate in the African-American boxes, he quite possibly could have won. The good news for Frazer is that he’s well positioned to make a serious run in 2015 if he wants to. Looking at the list of Council members that will be term limited out in two years – Costello, Bradford, Pennington, and Gonzalez – it’s not clear to me who his competition might be. He’d likely have a harder time against a candidate who didn’t carry Green’s negatives, but in any multi-candidate scenario he’d have to be a strong favorite to make it to a runoff, and from there anything can happen.

Election results: Houston

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker easily won re-election, collecting over 57% of the vote in Harris County to beat Ben Hall by nearly thirty points, and far exceeding the expectations of most observers going into Election Day. I personally thought she had a decent chance of avoiding a runoff, but I wasn’t willing to commit to more than that, and I figured 55% was her ceiling. Good on her for such a strong win, which not only ought to wipe out any lingering talk about her unimpressive win in 2011 but also reinforces my belief, which I have said here several times, that she would be tougher to beat this time around. I’ll do a deeper look at the race once I have precinct data, but a peek at the Fort Bend County results suggests one reason for Parker’s dominant win: She managed a respectable showing among African-American voters. Ben Hall took 62% of the vote in Fort Bend. By comparison, Ronald Green won 89% there, and Brad Bradford coasted with 92%.

Speaking of Ronald Green, he won a much closer race, with about 51.7% of the vote after Fort Bend is added in. This was in line with my expectations for the race – I figured Green would win, but it would be close. I don’t know what his thoughts are for 2015, but I think it’s safe to say he’s probably not the frontrunner for Mayor.

In the At Large races, Stephen Costello, Brad Bradford, and Jack Christie all won easily, while Andrew Burks trailed David Robinson as the two head for a runoff. Going back to the Fort Bend results, Burks managed only 54.5% of the vote there. He could be in real trouble in December. In At Large #3, Michael Kubosh led the field with 28% in Harris and a 42% plurality in Fort Bend. He will square off against Roy Morales, who snuck his way into the runoff ahead of Jenifer Pool and Rogene Calvert, who had about the same number of votes each. The four Democratic candidates combined for 54% of the vote in this race, but the distribution was sufficiently tight that it allowed the two Republicans to finish in the money, not unlike District C in 2005. It will be fascinating to see how this one plays out in December.

While there were some mild surprises among these results, there were two truly shocking finishes. One was in District F, where little known challenger Richard Nguyen knocked off two-term incumbent Al Hoang by a 52-48 margin. That one counts as an even bigger surprise than Helena Brown’s win in 2011. Speaking of CM Brown, she will be headed to a runoff rematch against Brenda Stardig, leading by a 38-29 margin with Mike Knox coming in third at a shade under 20%. For what it’s worth, Brown led Stardig 47-41 after the November vote two years ago. Jerry Davis won in B, Dwight Boykins collected over 40% in D and will face off against Georgia Provost, and Graci Garces led the field of four in District I, with Robert Gallegos clinging to a 20-vote lead on Ben Mendez for the second slot.

The HISD races went according to script, with Anna Eastman and Wanda Adams winning big, with Harvin Moore claiming a closer victory. Unfortunately, the other shocker was in HCC 2, where hatemonger Dave Wilson was leading incumbent Bruce Austin by 26 votes. I can’t begin to say how catastrophically terrible that result is if it stands. Remember, HCC Trustees serve for six years. Dave Wilson is a terrible person who has no business being on any elected body, and he has zero qualifications for this job. He’s been running for various things lately just to be a pain in the ass, and it looks like this time in a low information, low turnout race, he managed to win. I’m so upset about this I’m almost unable to talk about it. I’m thoroughly disgusted by this election. Every time I’m asked to speak about elections, I talk about how HCC races are important but always overlooked. This is why.

In the other HCC races, Neeta Sane was re-elected in a squeaker. She lost Harris County by 300 votes but won Fort Bend by 900. All other races are headed to runoffs – Robert Glaser narrowly missed a majority vote in HCC 5 and will go up against Phil Kunetka; appointee Herlinda Garcia trailed Adriana Tamez in HCC 3; and Yolanda Navarro Flores, who benefited from Dave Wilson’s hatred, will face Zeph Capo. Please check and see if you live in HCC 1, because if you do you really need to show up in December and vote for Zeph.

One last word on the Houston races for now: Turnout was over 175,000 total votes, which approaches 2009 levels. Despite my oft-stated belief that this would be the year that the majority of the votes would be cast before Election Day, thus making odd-year elections more like the even-year elections, that didn’t happen – there were about 94,000 Election Day votes in Harris County, and about 80,000 early and absentee votes. A bigger slice was early, but not the lion’s share just yet.

I will write about results from other races in the next post.

Chron overview of Controller’s race

It’s an interesting race.

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

On paper, City Controller Ron Green would appear to have been ripe for a bevy of challengers in November.

The city’s elected financial watchdog owes tens of thousands of dollars to the IRS, was criticized for lavish spending while on trips for city business and has publicized ties to a known felon.

Yet, those issues have hardly been discussed by his sole opponent, Bill Frazer, during Green’s campaign for a third and final term.

Instead, the two men have debated qualifications. Frazer, a first-time candidate for any office, argues that despite four years in office, Green does not have the financial background to do the job.

“I don’t think it’s going to do me any good to drag that up now,” Frazer said of Green’s previously publicized troubles. “I think it will take focus off the race. I’m more focused in on what needs to get done.”

Green contends his personal finances and the other issues raised during his first two terms are irrelevant, saying he already has addressed the concerns publicly and is making payments to the IRS.

“I’m proud of the fact that someone else with financial knowledge is even interested in the office, because I do believe it is a very valuable office,” Green said.

My interview with Controller Ronald Green is here, and with Bill Frazer is here. Both also did Texpatriate Q&As, here and here. The Chron endorsed Frazer. As I’ve said, I think this race is Green’s to lose – Frazer has run a creditable race, but I don’t think he’s well known enough to win. What are your thoughts? If you support Frazer, have you voted for Green in the past? Leave a comment and let us know.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

Chron profiles the Mayor

The Sunday Chron has an expansive profile of Mayor Parker.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

In a system where term limits cap elected officials at six years, City Hall veterans joke that new council members spend their first year finding the bathrooms and their sixth getting ignored by bureaucrats happy to wait them out.

Parker, however, spent six years on the City Council, then six as city controller, Houston’s elected financial watchdog. After nearly four years as mayor, she is Houston’s longest-tenured elected official since voters approved term limits in 1991. She is seeking a final two-year term on Nov. 5.

Institutional knowledge is particularly useful for someone with Parker’s technocratic leanings. The introverted former bookstore owner acknowledges she is excited by tweaks to internal city operations no citizen will ever see.

“I just love the minutiae of running the city. There are hundreds of things that we could do better, and I’m just popping them off one after another as soon as we can find them,” she said. “For the first time, in this year’s budget, we created a line item for maintenance, renewal and replacement of our facilities. You can’t say that’s a legacy item, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now, it’s going to be impossible, I think, for a future mayor to say, ‘We’re not going to line-item this again.’ And, hopefully, we won’t be in the condition that I was when I came in and we had all these facilities that you had years of deferred maintenance, falling apart. Those are the kind of things – that’s why I came to government.”

Her top challenger, former City Attorney Ben Hall, criticizes that approach, calling Parker a manager, not a leader. Parker spends too much time tinkering with pet projects, he said, while failing to plan for looming financial problems or to craft visionary policies to ensure the city’s continued growth.

Even if Hall’s criticism is true, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said, Parker’s results at the ballot box speak for themselves. “It’s a credit to her that she has been able to have such success while clearly positioning herself much more as a technocrat than as a charismatic leader,” Jones said.

They will have a similar story about Ben Hall this Sunday, which ought to be interesting given the drama of the endorsement screening. Overall, I thought this was a fair article about Mayor Parker. She is a technocrat, she has gotten a lot done in an environment that hasn’t always been friendly or in her control, she has pushed for things that needed to be done even if they weren’t popular, and she has the city and county working together in ways we haven’t seen in many years. She also appointed a Metro board that rescued it from catastrophe with the FTA and has gotten it back on sound footing and in better graces with the public, which wasn’t mentioned in the story. Frankly, I think that’s one of her best accomplishments, and it’s largely gone unremarked on. On the flip side, she is not awash in charisma, she does sometimes come across as someone who thinks she’s smarter than everyone around her – speaking as someone who also attended Rice, as a grad student in my case, this is a not-terribly-uncommon affliction among its alumni – and she has been very loyal to some longtime staffers that haven’t always been up to challenges of the office. Rebuild Houston is a great idea and a needed program that continues to be a work in progress. As for the vision thing, like I’ve said before I care more about results, and the results look pretty good overall. In any event, if you were new to the city or the state and didn’t know much about Mayor Parker, I thought this story would give you a reasonable first look. I look forward to the upcoming profile of Ben Hall.

Interview with Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

City Controllers have generally had it easy in re-election efforts. No sitting City Controller has had an opponent since Sylvia Garcia knocked off Lloyd Kelley in 1997. Until now, that is, as Bill Frazer filed to oppose Controller Ronald Green. Frazer is a career accountant, having served as President of the Houston CPA Society, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Texas Society of CPAs for the past 20 years. He retired last year as Chief Financial Officer of CB Richard Ellis Capital Markets, and has been a board member of GEMSA Loan Services. Here’s what we talked about:

Bill Frazer interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Interview with City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

City Controller Ronald Green

We move now from the Houston City Council races to the executive offices, beginning with two-term City Controller Ronald Green. Like his predecessor in the office, Mayor Annise Parker, Green served three terms as an At Large City Council member before winning an open Controller’s office after being term-limited out of Council. He also continued Parker’s work with Bank on Houston and took advantage of the historically low interest rates to refinance a chunk of the city’s debt. Outside of office Green is an attorney and real estate broker, and is married to Justice of the Peace Hilary Harmon Green. Here’s the interview:

Ronald Green interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

Endorsement watch: A change for Controller

The Chron endorses Bill Frazer to be Houston Controller.

Bill Frazer

Bill Frazer

At a time of looming pension obligations, we need someone who isn’t there to make friends, but to make sure that our house is in order. Bill Frazer is the man for the job.

Frazer, a 62-year-old retired accountant, has served as president of the Houston CPA Society and sat on the Board of Directors of the Texas Society of CPAs. He doesn’t have political ambition, just decades of experience. Houston needs a professional who can sit down and take the longer view on our finances. A solid technician with impeccable qualifications, Frazer could spend the next six years ensuring that we’re on the right track.

Frazer emphasizes transparency in government, noting that it isn’t just enough to release numbers. The controller should also explain what the numbers mean. Without that guide, it has become all too easy to ignore actual problems, or resort to apocalyptic predictions of immediate bankruptcy. His overall promise to address issues where they exist, and calm folks where they don’t, sets a proper tone for the office. Houston is not going to be Detroit any time soon – as long as we address our current obligations.

He also says that he’ll focus on auditing Houston’s tax increment reinvestment zones and tax abatements to determine whether they’re good policy. That question has gone unanswered for some time.

As you can see, I’m running Controller candidate interviews this week, incumbent Ronald Green today, Frazer tomorrow. He’s clearly got good qualifications, and like just about everyone else I interviewed, he came across as well-intentioned and in the race for good reasons. The Chron took a few shots at Green in their editorial, but Frazer stayed focused on his own candidacy. I like Ronald Green, I consider him a friend, I think he’s done a good job as Controller, but I don’t have anything negative to say about Bill Frazer. You can hear him for yourself tomorrow after you listen to Green today.

How city candidates have voted in past primaries

This is great to see.

The Harris County Democratic Party does not endorse candidates in the non-partisan City of Houston elections; however, in an effort to keep you informed as to which candidates are Democrats and which are not, we are providing this information page.

Candidates and elected officials who are current Sustaining Members of the Harris County Democratic Party are marked with a sustaining member badge on their photos. We have also included information regarding how each candidate voted in the last 3 (2012, 2010, 2008) Primary elections. Those noted with a “D” indicate that they voted in the Democratic Primary, those noted with “R” indicate that they voted in the Republican Primary. When “N/A” appears, the individual had no voting history for that year’s Primary.

You can click on the candidate’s photo to be taken to their website so you can learn their positions on the issues that matter to you and make an informed choice at the ballot box in November.

Thanks to Stace for highlighting this. I called for something exactly like this two years ago when the process of electing a successor to then-HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg had begun, so I am delighted to see it happen. As I noted then, this is something the Harris County GOP has been doing all along – you can see their page for the 2013 elections, which I think isn’t nearly as snappy as the Dems’ page. The Dem page does need to be updated to reflect the final, post-filing-deadline lineups in the HISD and HCC races – the GOP page is up to date on that, though they’re missing primary information for a lot of the school district and HCC candidates – and it would be nice if they included candidates for school districts other than just HISD. The fact that that did this at all, and in such a nicely presented way, is a big step forward. Kudos to all for the effort.

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

[…]

Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.

[…]

Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.

[…]

The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

Endorsement watch: GLBT Caucus and HSYD

We are entering the part of the election cycle where groups are making their endorsements. One of the first out of the box is the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which held its endorsement meeting on Saturday night. Here’s their press release, sent late Monday night:

150 members of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus met on Saturday to consider endorsements in the November 5, 2013 Houston municipal races and races for Houston Independent School District and Houston Community College System.

Mayor Annise Parker and 25 other candidates attended the four-hour meeting, during which candidate qualifications, campaigns, and support of equality issues were discussed and debated at length. All eligible candidates previously completed an extensive candidate questionnaire and sat for an interview with members of the Caucus Screening Committee.

“As always, our members engaged in spirited and passionate debate over which candidates are best equipped to serve Houstonians and the GLBT community.” said Caucus President Noel Freeman. “It is a very difficult process when you have so many great candidates competing for our support.”

You can see the individual endorsements announced on their Facebook page. Here’s their slate for 2013:

Mayor – Annise Parker (I)
Controller – Ronald Green (I)
At Large #1 – Stephen Costello (I)
At Large #2 – David Robinson
At Large #3 – Jenifer Pool
At Large #4 – C.O. Bradford (I)
At Large #5 – Jack Christie (I)
District A – No endorsement
District B – Jerry Davis (I)
District C – Ellen Cohen (I)
District D – Assata Richards
District E – No endorsement
District F – No endorsement
District G – No endorsement
District H – Ed Gonzalez (I)
District I – Graci Garces
District J – Mike Laster (I)
District K – Larry Green (I)
HISD District 1 – Anna Eastman (I)
HCC District I – Zeph Capo7

Note: (I) = Incumbent.

You can see a photo of their slate here. There are no major surprises on that list. Looking back to 2011, candidates in that election who did not receive the Caucus’ endorsement include Ronald Green (no endorsement in the Controller race that year); David Robinson (they endorsed Jenifer Pool on AL2); and Jack Christie (they endorsed then-incumbent CM Jolanda Jones). First-term CMs Davis, Cohen, Laster, and Larry Green were Caucus-endorsed as candidates.

On Tuesday, the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats announced their endorsements, which you can see here. They mostly overlapped with the Caucus; the only instance in which HSYD made an endorsement that differed from the Caucus was in At Large #3, where HSYD went with Rogene Calvert.

Like I said, endorsement season for groups and organizations is beginning in earnest. I’ve also seen announcements this week about Democracy For Houston and the Tejano Democrats. I expect plenty of others to follow soon. I generally wait to see a press release or some kind of web announcement before I update the Endorsements list on my 2013 Election page. If you’re aware of some endorsement announcement that I’ve missed, please send me the release or link or whatever, and I’ll update appropriately. Thanks very much.