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interviews

Interview with Joshua Butler

Joshua Butler

We’re more than halfway through the Democratic field in CD07, and we’ll be keeping it going through the weekend. I’m not sure what I’d have done if there were more than the seven candidates there are. Good thing I don’t need to think about it. One of the first candidates in this race to reach out to me for a conversation last year was Joshua Butler, a first-time candidate like so many others this year. Butler is a native of Birmingham, Alabama and received a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Alabama. He worked for Blue Cross Blue Shield and the American Heart Association before moving to Houston to work at UH as Director of Advancement and then at a medical research firm as a Development Officer. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Interview with James Cargas

James Cargas

One of the themes of this year’s election is the large number of people who are new to electoral politics getting involved. That has led to a huge number of first-time candidates throwing their hats into every ring imaginable. That’s not true for everyone you’ll see on your ballot – some have done this before, often more than once, in cycles where they had far less company. James Cargas falls into the latter group, having been the Democratic candidate in CD07 in each of the last three elections. An attorney with a background in energy law and policy, Cargas has worked on Capitol Hill and on various committees with the last three Mayors. Here’s our conversation:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Interview with Alex Triantaphyllis

Alex Triantaphyllis

There are a lot of reasons why CD07 has drawn so much national attention. It’s a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016 despite being held by Republicans forever – this was Poppy Bush’s seat back in the day, for goodness’ sake. It’s the home of the kind of well-educated non-Trump Republicans that are, or could be, swinging Democratic. And it features two Democratic challengers who have been outraising the incumbent. Atop that list is Alex Triantaphyllis, who is the Director of Immigration and Economic Opportunity at BakerRipley (formerly Neighborhood Centers). Triantaphyllis is a Rice graduate who has also worked in finance and consulting, and you can hear me pronounce his name correctly (the accent is on the second syllable; there was a pronunciation guide on a whiteboard at his campaign office where we spoke) in the interview:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Interview with Laura Moser

Laura Moser

Today is Day Two of my weeklong tour of CD07, which is not only one of the better pickup opportunities in Texas but also a regular feature in national stories about the 2018 environment and the map that Democrats are aiming for to win back control of Congress. And in those stories that feature CD07, Laura Moser has been a staple as a highlighted candidate. An author and journalist whose husband was a videographer for President Obama, Moser was part of the tidal wave of mostly female new activists after the 2016 election, founding the Daily Action text messaging service that enabled thousands of people to engage with their representatives in Washington. Oh, and whether or not you’d heard of Laura Moser before now, you’ve probably seen a picture of her daughter. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Interview with Jason Westin

Jason Westin

Today we kick off interview season for the 2018 Democratic primaries. There are a lot of races and a lot of candidates, and I will bring you as many as I can. This week is all about CD07, with seven candidates in seven days, beginning with Jason Westin. Westin is an oncologist and cancer researcher, and has received a fair amount of national press in the year of trying-to-repeal-Obamacare as one of a group of Democratic doctors trying to take back Congress. Westin, whose wife is also an oncologist, interned in the Senate in 1998 and worked on health care policy while there. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my Congressional interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2018 Congressional Election page.

Interview season begins tomorrow

We’re a month into primary season, and we’re also six weeks out from the start of early voting. You know what I did over Christmas vacation? I interviewed a bunch of candidates, that’s what. You will begin to see the results of that labor tomorrow, with more to come. Doing a bunch of interviews is always a challenge, but this year I had the additional task of trying to decide which interviews to do, as there just wasn’t the time to get to every race.

I have done interviews for a long time. I do them mostly to give candidates in races where there usually isn’t much media coverage the chance to be heard, and thus to give the voters who may not otherwise be able to know anything about them beyond what they can find on the Internet a chance to hear them speak for themselves. I usually stay neutral in the races where I do interviews (the 2009 Mayor’s race, where I was open about supporting Annise Parker, is an exception) because I want all the candidates to feel like I’m being fair to them, but also because I see my mission in doing these interviews as informative. I have always wanted to be broad and inclusive.

This year, the huge slate paired with the compressed primary timeline makes that goal unattainable. I thought about ways I might try to work around that, but in the end I decided that was neither practical nor desirable. And as I thought about that and considered my options, I realized I could approach things a little differently, and in doing so help me decide which races to prioritize.

What that means is this. For this year, I have decided there are some races where the better use of my platform is to make an endorsement rather than schedule and try to execute multiple interviews. If people come here to learn about candidates, then for this year I think it would be best for me to just say who I’m voting for in certain races. I’ve not done this before, and I may never do it again, but this year this is what feels right.

So with that long-winded preamble out of the way:

I endorse Beto O’Rourke for US Senate. Do I really need to say anything about this one?

I endorse Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. She works hard, she votes the way I want her to vote, I have supported her in previous elections, and I see no reason to do otherwise this year.

I endorse Sen. Sylvia Garcia in CD29. I was redistricted out of SD06 before she was elected there, but she has been an excellent successor to my former Senator, the late Mario Gallegos. She’s the clear choice in CD29.

I endorse Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15. In the hostile environment that is the State Senate under Dan Patrick, Whitmire’s experience and institutional knowledge are vital. Four years ago, I asked his primary opponent Damien LaCroix why we should forsake Whitmire’s seniority and clout for a freshman. He didn’t have a good answer then, and I doubt he has one now. We hope to get a lot of new Democratic blood in every branch of government this year, but we still very much need John Whitmire.

I endorse Allison Lami Sawyer in HD134. I do plan to interview Sawyer – I’m in discussion with her to set a time and place at the time of publication – but I can’t say enough that her primary opponent, Lloyd Oliver, is a clown and an idiot, and we would be doing ourselves a grave disservice if we let him slip through the primary. Not that there’s ever a good year to screw around and nominate a deeply problematic schmuck like Oliver, but this is an especially bad year for that. Vote for Allison Sawyer in HD134.

I dual-endorse Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in HD133. They both look like fine people (I haven’t reached out to them for interviews yet but probably will), but with all due respect to them this isn’t really about them. It’s about the third candidate in the race, who is even more of a problem than Lloyd Oliver. This other candidate, whom I will not name, has a long history of harassing me over a silly thing I said about him back in 2002. You can vote for Marty Schexnayder in HD133, or you can vote for Sandra Moore in HD133, but please do not even think about voting for the other candidate in HD133.

I endorse Diane Trautman for Harris County Clerk. I’ve known Diane for a long time. She’s a hard worker, a great Democrat, and she has served ably as HCDE Trustee. She was also the first Democrat to announce for anything for this cycle, and has been on the ground campaigning for months. Gayle Mitchell is a nice person who ran against Ann Harris Bennett for this nomination on 2014. You can listen to the interview I did with her then here. Ann Harris Bennett was the better candidate that year, and Diane Trautman is the better candidate this year. Nat West is the SDEC Chair for SD13, and is by all accounts I’ve heard a fine person. As far as I can tell, he has no web presence for his candidacy. With all due respect, Diane Trautman is the clear choice.

I endorse Marilyn Burgess for District Clerk. I only met her during this cycle, but like Diane Trautman she’s been out there campaigning for months, and she has great credentials for this office. All three of her opponents entered the race in the last days of the filing period. Two have no web presence – one was a candidate for SBOE in 2016, and had no web presence then, either – and one has a mostly unreadable website. District Clerk is – or at least should be – one of the least political elected offices out there. It’s about doing a straightforward information management job. I have faith Marilyn Burgess can do that job, and I’m voting for her.

I endorse Adrian Garcia for County Commissioner in Precinct 2. I’d been pining for him to run for this office for months, so I may as well be consistent.

So there you have it. Interviews begin tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

Interview with Robert Glaser

Robert Glaser

One more time with HCC – it’s possible I may have more of these, but this is what I have at this time. Robert Glaser, like Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, is running for his first full term in office, after having won a special election in 2013 to complete the term of then-Trustee Richard Schechter. Laila Feldman was appointed to replace Schechter but was unable to stay after moving out of the district; Dianne Johnson was then appointed to replace Feldman, with the understanding that she would not run for the seat. Glaser is a businessman and neighborhood activist, and has been outspoken about HCC’s procurement and board ethics issues. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Jasmine Jenkins of Houstonians for Great Public Schools

For obvious reasons, there’s going to be a lot of focus on HISD, both in the next year as the district recovers from Harvey and tries to fend off a takeover by the Texas Education Agency, and going forward, as these issues and others may fade but will never go away. The Board of Trustees will be very different than the one that was inaugurated after the 2015 election, and could be very different than the one we have right now. There’s been a lot of scrutiny on the HISD Board lately, due in part to concerns (expressed by multiple candidates in the interviews I’ve done) that the Board has not been very effective or collaborative lately. One group keeping an eye on this is Houstonians for Great Public Schools, whose mission is “to increase public understanding of the roles and responsibilities of school board members and to hold members accountable for high performance”. I had the chance to speak with their Executive Director, Jasmine Jenkins, about what that means and what they hope to accomplish. (If the name Jasmine Jenkins sounds familiar, I interviewed her last year when she was running for the Democratic nomination in SBOE 6.) Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz

HCC Trustee races never get the attention they deserve. That’s on me too, as I could spend more time with them, but it’s a systemic problem as much as anything. What I can do about it right now is bring you this interview with Trustee Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, running for a full term in District 4 after being appointed to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Carroll Robinson. Evans-Shabazz has been a teacher and Lead Evaluation Specialist with HISD, an educational diagnostician with both Aldine and Fort Bend ISDs, and an adjunct professor at Texas Southern University. She is a member of the Executive Committee of the NAACP-Houston branch where she serves as Chair of the Education Committee. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

More on HISD IX, and a little on HISD VII Alief ISD

Wanda Adams

As noted before, I did not do interviews in HISD Trustee races in districts VII and IX. In VII, I did interview now-incumbent Anne Sung and challenger John Luman last year when they were running in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Harvin Moore. You can listen to those again if you want a refresher on those two candidates.

As for IX, I just could not get to it. Life is like that sometimes, I’m afraid. Thankfully, there is an opportunity for you to hear from the candidates in that race – Trustee Wanda Adams and challengers Karla Brown and Gerry Monroe – if you want. There was a debate sponsored by the Forward Times on October 4, and audio of it is available here. In addition, there were articles written about each candidate in the aftermath of the debate by debate moderator Durrel Douglas:

Part 1: Wanda Adams
Part 2: Karla Brown
Part 3: Gerry Monroe

There’s also a recap of the debate, with video embedded from the event. It’s not the same as individual interviews, but it’s a chance to see how the candidates interact with each other. Go take a look or give a listen – the audio should be available as a podcast in the 610 News feed – and see what you think.

Finally, Stace rounds up the candidates in Alief ISD. I wish I had more time to follow races in other ISDs, but alas, I don’t. These elections – for school board and for city council – will have more effect on your daily life than elections for Congress and Senate do. The latter have more power, but the former have more impact. Know who you’re voting for and why you’re voting for them.

Interview with Sergio Lira

Sergio Lira

We come to the end of our week with candidates in HISD District III, to succeed Manuel Rodriguez. Bringing us home is Sergio Lira, who has been an assistant principal in HISD since 2006 – he is currently at Bellaire High School – and in Pasadena ISD for seven years before that. Lira holds an EdD from the University of Houston, and also has Superintendent certification from UH. He was the recipient of the 2016 Courage Award from the Texas Organizing Project. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Jesse Rodriguez

Jesse Rodriguez

We continue with interviews in HISD Trustee District III, where four candidates vie to fill out the term of the late Manuel Rodriguez. Today’s interview subject is Jesse Rodriguez, no relation to Manuel, also known as DJ Jumpin’ Jess. Rodriguez has a long and varied background in radio and the entertainment business; it’s hard to summarize, so go look at his About page for how he puts it. He has served on multiple non-profit boards, including the Rusk Athletic Club, the National Hispanic Professional Organization, and the Houston Media Source board, to which he was appointed by Mayor Parker. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Carlos Perrett

Carlos Perrett

On we go to District III, which would normally not be up for election this year, but the untimely passing of longtime Trustee Manuel Rodriguez created a vacancy that needs to be filled. The Board appointed an interim Trustee to finish out the year, but he was chosen with the agreement that he would not seek a full term. Four other people have stepped up to do that, and I have interviews with three of them. First up is Carlos Perrett, who at 21 is the youngest person on the ballot. Many people who run for school board tout their past education experiences in HISD, but Perrett, a graduate of Chávez High School, can speak to much more recent and relevant experience. He was awarded the Kallick Community Service Award in 2017, the Student Leadership Award in 2016, and was a Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones Scholar and Pritzker Scholar in 2014. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Robert Lundin

Robert Lundin

I have one more interview to bring you in HISD Trustee District VI, where longtime Trustee Greg Meyers stepped down last November and Holly Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to fill out the remainder of his term. Robert Lundin is a Rice graduate who has served as a bilingual 5th grade teacher and school support officer at HISD. In between those gigs, he opened YES College Preparatory School – Southwest, consulted on recruiting and training teachers in the UK, and taught at both the University of Saint Thomas and Rice. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

We turn now to HISD District VI, where longtime Trustee Greg Meyers resigned last year. Holly Flynn Vilaseca was selected by the remaining Trustees to fill out the last year of Meyers’ term, and now she seeks election to a full term. The first member of her family to go to college, Vilaseca has degrees from the University of Michigan and Columbia. She was a bilingual pre-k and early childhood teacher for six years via Teach for America, and currently works as Chief Relationship Officer at thinkLaw, an organization that uses real-life legal cases to teach critical-thinking skills. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Sean Cheben

Sean Cheben

We come to the end of my interviews in HISD Trustee District V, to succeed the outgoing Mike Lunceford. There are four candidates in the race but i have done three interviews, which is mostly a reflection of how much time I have available. Today’s candidate is Sean Cheben, a Houston native and Clear Creek ISD graduate who has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech. Cheben has worked at Chevron as a process engineer since his graduation and has served as a volunteer math tutor for fifth grade students at Poe Elementary, his neighborhood school. Here’s the interview:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Sue Deigaard

Sue Deigaard

We continue with interviews of candidates who seek to win the HISD Trustee seat held by the retiring Mike Lunceford. Sue Deigaard was the first member of her family to go to college, receiving two degrees from Rice University. She has a long record of volunteer service as a parent representative on HISD’s District Advisory Committee, a board member on the Houston Center for Literacy, and a founding board member of the Braeswood Super Neighborhood Council, among others. She is a frequent contributor to the Chronicle op-ed pages and has testified multiple times before the Legislature on education and school finance issue. I should note that I knew Sue at Rice, when we were both in the MOB. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all the interviews I’ve done as well as information about candidates and races at my Election 2017 page.

Interview with Kara DeRocha

Kara DeRocha

We move now to another district with a retiring Trustee. Mike Lunceford has served District V for two terms, and despite some confusion at the end of last year about his intentions, has decided to call it a career as a member of the HISD Board. Four candidates are vying to succeed him, and I have interviews with three of them. First up is Kara DeRocha. DeRocha is a graduate of of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at LSU and has worked as an environmental consultant and contractor to environmental firms. The mother of three kids at HISD schools, she has been an outspoken advocate on behalf of special education. Here’s the interview:

At long last, I have created an Election 2017 page, where you will see information about candidates in this November’s races.

Interview with Gretchen Himsl

Gretchen Himsl

Today we wrap up the series of interviews with candidates in HISD District I with Gretchen Himsl. Gretchen is a Policy Analyst for Children at Risk, an education-focused nonprofit that among other things puts out an annual evaluation of all area schools, and also works for the Children’s Learning Institute at UTHealth as a tutor for English language learners. A graduate of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, she spent three sessions working for the House Appropriations Committee on the state budget. For full disclosure, I served on the Travis PTA Board for two years while Gretchen was its President. As noted before, this interview was conducted after Harvey, so it contains questions that are different than those in the first interview. This is the case for all subsequent interviews, so since there won’t be that difference within a race I won’t keep bringing this up after today. Here’s what we talked about:

I am now working on an Election 2017 page like I’ve had in past years. It should be done shortly. I’ll have more interviews next week. Please let me know what you think.

Interview with Elizabeth Santos

Elizabeth Santos

There’s about a two week gap between my interview with Monica Flores Richart and my interview with today’s candidate, Elizabeth Santos. In between, of course, Harvey happened, and among many other vastly more important things it affected how interested anyone was in thinking or talking about the 2017 elections as well as everyone’s time and availability. As noted yesterday, with this interview and all others going forward I’ll have asked questions that are different from those I thought I’d be asking about. I apologize for the confusion and trust everyone will understand.

Elizabeth Santos is graduate of public schools in HISD District I and of UH-Downtown, where she earned a BA in English Literature. She is now a teacher at Northside (formerly Jeff Davis) High School. Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more interview to go in District I. Please let me know what you think of these.

Interview with Monica Flores Richart

Monica Flores Richart

So it’s been a very strange election season. I’m sure you don’t need me to go over all the reasons for that again. Let me cut to the chase by saying I will be presenting an abbreviated set of candidate interviews, mostly with HISD Trustee candidates. I’m not going to be able to talk to all of the candidates I’d normally want to, but I’m going to try to talk to most of them. I may wind up revisiting some races in the runoffs. It is what it is this year.

There are three candidates running in HISD I to succeed outgoing Trustee Anna Eastman. Monica Flores Richart is an attorney who has also worked as a political consultant – I met her when she was working with Nick Lampson’s Congressional campaign in 2006. She subsequently became an education advocate with a focus on HISD’s magnet school program, and has served on the Houston Heights Association Education Committee and the HISD Hispanic Advisory Committee. Please note that I conducted this interview before Hurricane Harvey paid us a visit, so as a result my focus is different than it will be in subsequent interviews. I have always tried to be consistent in the questions that I ask candidates, but in this case that just wasn’t possible. Here’s the interview:

I will have more interviews with HISD District I candidates this week and with other candidates going forward.

Interview with Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman

Anna Eastman has served two terms as HISD Trustee in District I, which is where I live. She has been a leading advocate for having strong accountability measures in place for schools, she was a frequent critic of former Superintendent Terry Grier, and she was the most outspoken Trustee for passing the recapture referendum, both the one that failed in November and the one that passed on Saturday. Her term expires this year, and she has decided that she will not run for a third term. As I did with her predecessor Natasha Kamrani, Eastman wanted to do one last interview to talk about what has happened while she was in office, where things are now and where they are headed going forward. I was happy to oblige, so here’s what we talked about.

(Note: we were interrupted twice by the Eastman dogs barking. I paused the recorder till we could restore order, so if there are a couple of places where it sounds a little weird, that would be why.)

I should note there are two candidates already in for HISD District I, and I expect there will be at least one or two more. I’ve got a post on who’s running for what in HISD planned for the near future. I will of course be interviewing candidates in the fall.

Re-interview with David Thompson

Last year, I published an interview with attorney David Thompson, who has worked with HISD for a long time on legislative and financial matters, including on the endless litigation over school finance, to discuss the November referendum on recapture. He clarified a lot of items, such as the wording of the referendum, the things that could be done to affect how much HISD would be required to pay, and what a No vote would mean, and in the end he endorsed a vote against the referendum in the hope of spurring action. Since then, as we know, the Texas Education Agency has indeed taken action that reduces HISD’s recapture payments, and the HISD Board of Trustees has put the item up for a vote again on May 6, with early voting from April 24 through May 2. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to talk to Thompson again about what has changed and why a Yes vote this time around makes sense. Here’s our conversation:

As noted, early voting begins April 24 and runs through May 2. Here are your early voting locations and hours, not just for HISD but also for (deep breath) City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, and Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91.

Interview with Gloria Gallegos

Gloria Gallegos

I have one more interview for Pasadena Mayor to bring you. Gloria Gallegos is the Associate Superintendent of Special Programs for the Pasadena Independent School District, having worked her career in education beginning as an elementary school teacher. A native of Mexico, Gallegos earned an associate’s degree at San Jacinto College followed by a bachelor’s and a master’s in education at UH-Clear Lake. She has served on a number of boards and committees for the City of Pasadena, including the Community Development Board, the Crime Control Board, and the Charter Review Commission. You can find a more in depth profile of her here, and since I’m not interviewing any of the other candidates, there’s a brief Chron story about them here. Here’s my interview with Gallegos:

Early voting for Pasadena’s municipal elections, which include City Council as well as Mayor, runs from April 24 through May 2, with Election Day being Saturday, May 6. You can find information about voting locations and hours, as well as Council maps, here. Note that the Pasadena municipal elections, the Pasadena ISD trustee elections, and the San Jacinto College trustee elections are separate; for information about Pasadena ISD, see here, and for San Jacinto see here. Yes, I know, that makes no sense, but it is what it is.

Interview with Pat Van Houte

Pat Van Houte

There’s a lot of interest in the May elections this year, driven in large part by a newfound level of engagement from progressives and other Trump opponents. Of the races in the Houston area, the most consequential is the Pasadena Mayoral election, where a group of candidates are vying to succeed term-limited Johnny Isbell. Pat Van Houte has served on Pasadena City Council since 2009, and has also served as a foil for Mayor Isbell, in particular on the controversial and now-illegal redistricting plan that Isbell pushed through in 2013. A former employee of the Texas Workforce Commission and Child Protective Services, Van Houte is a graduate of Michigan State University and has lived in Pasadena since 1980. Here’s what we talked about:

I have one more interview for this race in the works. Let me know what you think.

Interview with Holly Reed of Texas Central Railway

As you know, I’ve been following the ins and outs of Texas Central Railway and its efforts to build a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas since it was first proposed several years ago. Along the way, the proposal has picked up some dedicated opposition, mostly in rural counties where the line would pass through, and from the Representatives and Senators in those counties. Last week, a slate of bills were filed with the express intent of at least slowing down, if not killing, the train project. I’ve sort of made it a mission to talk to people involved with issues that are getting a lot of attention this legislative session, so of course I wanted to speak to someone at Texas Central about them and the bills that are aimed at them. Holly Reed is the managing director of external affairs for Texas Central Partners, LLC, so it’s her job to work with the Legislature on issues like this. I talked with her recently about how TCR is dealing with this slate of bills and other related items. One clarification, when I asked about the Surface Transportation Board, Texas Central is not seeking to ask the Board to reconsider its decision to not provide oversight during the approvals process, but that if things change then Texas Central could re-evaluate. With that, here is what we talked about:

Let me know what you think.

Interview with Bill Kelly

You may have heard that the city of Houston has some legislative business to take care of this session. Most notably, the city wants to get a bill passed to implement its pension reform plans, which may or may not have been complicated by the news that a vote could be required for the city to float pension obligation bonds. The person who is on point for this, to work with legislators to lobby for city issues and get the legislation it wants passed while stopping the legislation it doesn’t want passed is Bill Kelly, the Director of Government Relations under Mayor Sylvester Turner. I spoke to Kelly about his work in Austin, on topics ranging from pensions and “sanctuary cities” to speed limits and pipe bombs – yes, pipe bombs – and what the city’s goals are for each. We referenced a few links in our conversation, which include:

The Kinder Institute study on pension funds.
The City of Houston Legislative Priorities and the City of Houston Legislative Principles for the 85th Legislature.

With all that said, here’s what Bill and I talked about:

I’ve got a few more of these interviews about issues in the Legislature to do. I hope you find them useful.

Interview with Jose Garza

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

So it’s been a busy couple of weeks for the voter ID litigation. There was the motion by the Justice Department to delay the hearing on whether the law was passed with discriminatory intent, which everyone expects is a prelude to them switching sides in the case. Then there was the decision by the Supreme Court to not hear an appeal of the original ruling that found a discriminatory effect of the law, given with a promise by Chief Justice Roberts that they will be back later. With so much going on, I wanted to make sure I understood it all, and to that end I have for you an interview with Jose Garza, who serves as counsel for the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, one of the plaintiffs in this suit. We talked about both of these events in the case and what they may mean, and a few other items besides. Here’s our conversation:

I feel like I have a better handle on what’s happening, and I hope you feel the same. Let me know what you think.

Interview with Jessica Shortall of Texas Competes

We are very familiar with the fight over Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, which is encapsulated in SB6 but also exists in a larger sense in several other bills. A major component in this fight is the business community, which sees such legislation as a threat to its ability to attract and retain talent, especially younger talent, as well as a more immediate threat to the bottom line. We have all seen the North Carolina experience, even if Patrick refuses to accept it. One of the players in the fight is Texas Competes, which as they state on their website is “a partnership of business leaders committed to a Texas that is economically vibrant and welcoming of all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people”. They’re not a lobbying group, which I confess I was not clear about going into this interview, but an engagement and education group, aiming to win hearts and minds to their cause. I spoke to their Managing Director Jessica Shortall last week about Texas Competes and how it is working to stop bad legislation like SB6 and promote a Texas that is welcoming and inclusive. Here’s what we talked about:

One useful point to add is their comparison of SB6 and HB2, the North Carolina law that has caused so much trouble for that state. The particulars of SB6 may change as Patrick tries to get enough votes to pass it, but the fundamentals remain.

Interview with Bill Baldwin of Keep Heights Dry

heightsdry1

As you know, there will be a referendum on the ballot for a very limited electorate this year, to alter the existing ordinance that enforces a dry zone in the historic Houston Heights to allow the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption – for retailers, not for restaurants and bars, in other words. This referendum, formally known as City of Houston Proposition 1, was placed on the ballot by a petition drive led by the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition, which in turn was backed by HEB, which has announced its intention to open a store in the old Fiesta location on North Shepherd at 24th if this referendum passes. I did an interview with Steve Reilley of the HHBC back in June when petitions were still being circulated to clarify some questions about this. At the time, I noted that I was unaware of any organized opposition to this effort.

Well, formal opposition to this effort does exist, and it’s called Keep The Heights Dry. I’ve seen a few of their yard signs around the neighborhood in recent weeks. Their argument as you can see on that Facebook page is one part preservationist and one part neighborhood protection, and last week they reached out to me to see about doing an interview. Bill Baldwin, who has a real estate office on Heights Blvd at 16th Street, is one of the leaders of this opposition effort and the person I spoke to about it. Here’s the conversation:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Interview with John Luman

John Luman

John Luman

My final interview for the special election in HISD District VII to fill the remainder of outgoing Trustee Harvin Moore’s term is with John Luman. Luman is an intellectual property attorney with engineering degrees from George Washington University and the University of Texas. He’s an active member on the Briargrove Elementary School’s PTO and PTO Executive Committee and helped lead the grassroots movement to stop the Houston Housing Authority’s proposed location of an apartment building that they say would have further burdened the already-overpopulated Briargrove school. Before I get to this interview, I’ll remind you one last time to also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum from last Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Luman, Anne Sung, and Victoria Bryant. Here’s my interview with John Luman:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Interview with Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

Victoria Bryant

As noted, one of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and today I have an interview with Victoria Bryant. Bryant is a graduate of HISD schools and the recipient of a Doctor of Pharmacy from UH. She is the founder and president of Ambassadors Caregivers, a home health care business serving seniors, the disabled, and the elderly, and currently serves as President of the World Chamber of Commerce of Texas and on the Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Women’s Advisory Council. She is also a member of the University of Houston Dean’s Advisory Board for the College of Education and College of Business. Here’s the interview:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Interview with Anne Sung

Anne Sung

Anne Sung

One of the more interesting races on the ballot this year is the special election to fill the remainder of outgoing HISD Trustee Harvin Moore’s term. There are four candidates running for this seat, and I will have interviews with three of them. First up is Anne Sung, who had run for this position before in 2013 (you can listen to my interview with her from that election here). Sung is a graduate of HISD schools and a former science teacher and department chair at Lee High School. She served on Mayor Turner’s Education Transition Team and is now the chief strategy officer and Vice President at the non-profit Project GRAD Houston. Here’s what we talked about:

You should also check out this Chron recap of a trustee candidate forum on Monday, which includes video and a transcript of some yes-or-no questions for candidates Anne Sung, Victoria Bryant, and John Luman. I’ll have interviews with the latter two in the coming days.

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

Interview with Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

Two-term Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan is currently the only countywide Democrat, though we hope he’ll have some company after November. An Army veteran and former City Council member, Ryan served under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll and maintains an unmistakable passion for the office. He has actively pursued industrial polluters and other environmental malfeasants – see this Chron story about the San Jacinto tar pits for an example – and he was first out of the box to sue VW over their emissions flim-flammery. Ryan has many more accomplishments than that – he provided me this fact sheet, which he refers to in the interview, for more on what he’s been doing – and if he gets a third term, you can expect more of the same. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.