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Jack Morman

January 2018 finance reports: Harris County candidates

You know the drill. Links to reports where I could find them, plus a summary table at the end. Let’s do this.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Lina Hidalgo

Commissioner, Precinct 2

Jack Morman

Adrian Garcia
Roger Garcia
Daniel Box

Commissioner, Precinct 4

Jack Cagle

Jeff Stauber
Penny Shaw

District Clerk

Chris Daniel – through December 14
Chris Daniel – Dec 15 through Dec 31

Marilyn Burgess
Rozzy Shorter
Kevin Howard
Michael Jordan

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Abel Chirino-Gomez

Diane Trautman
Gayle Mitchell
Nat West

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Dylan Osborne
Cosme Garcia
Nile Copeland

HCDE, Position 3 At Large

Marcus Cowart
Richard Cantu
Josh Wallenstein

HCDE, Position 4, Precinct 3

Josh Flynn
Andrea Duhon

HCDE, Position 6, Precinct 1

Danyahel Norris

Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
Emmett    County Judge    91,222    188,409        0    450,230
Hidalgo   County Judge    54,949     47,828    1,400      7,443

Morman      Comm Pct 2    11,000     31,941   39,382  2,247,067
A Garcia    Comm Pct 2       650          0        0          0
Box         Comm Pct 2         0      1,250    1,250          0
Melancon    Comm Pct 2
R Garcia    Comm Pct 2       352      4,509    5,250        998

Cagle       Comm Pct 4    81,350    238,199        0    896,279
Shaw        Comm Pct 4       500      1,215        0        800
Stauber     Comm Pct 4       600      1,250        0        600

Daniel  District Clerk    26,025     30,038   55,000     34,857
Burgess District Clerk    10,980      8,273        0      6,518
Shorter District Clerk    11,738      3,091        0      8,647
Howard  District Clerk       700      3,622        0        700
Jordan  District Clerk         0          0        0          0

Stanart   County Clerk    18,625     11,773   20,000     71,002
Gomez     County Clerk         0          0        0          0
Trautman  County Clerk     8,230      8,208        0     18,287
Mitchell  County Clerk     1,613      1,465        0        300
West      County Clerk         0          0        0          0

Sanchez      Treasurer         0      6,420  200,000    199,621
Osborne      Treasurer     4,305      1,855        0      2,449
Garcia       Treasurer         0      1,453        0          0
Copeland     Treasurer         0        270        0          0

Cowart          HCDE 3       750        750        0          0
Wallenstein     HCDE 3     5,422      1,751    5,416      9,086
Cantu           HCDE 3       200          0        0        200
Patton          HCDE 3

Tashenberg      HCDE 4
Flynn           HCDE 4         0        110        0          0
Duhon           HCDE 4     1,475        750        0        725

Miller          HCDE 6
Norris          HCDE 6     8,468      4,198        0      4,680
Bryant          HCDE 6

Not everyone has filed a report, but most people have. It’s possible that some people hadn’t yet designated a treasurer, which is required to raise money, before the deadline. This would be more likely for the later entrants in some races.

Ed Emmett has a decent amount of money, but not a crushing amount. He doesn’t really need much – he’s been in office over ten years, this is his fourth time on the ballot, people know who he is. If he’s raising money, it’s to support the ticket as a whole. Given the ideological purge going on at the state level and the fact that he had originally been planning to retire, it wouldn’t shock me if he lets that aspect of his job slide a bit.

No such slacking for Jack Morman, who is armed and ready for a tough election. I’m not sure it’s possible to spend two million bucks in a race like this in a way that couldn’t be described as “extravagant”, if not “excessive”, but we’ll see. I would have thought that between his Mayoral and Congressional campaigns Adrian Garcia would have had a few bucks left over, but apparently not. He’s always been a strong fundraiser, so I’m sure he’ll have a healthy sum to report in July.

There isn’t much of interest below the Judge/Commissioners level, as there usually isn’t that much money in these races. I don’t know why Chris Daniel filed two separate reports, but together they cover the full filing period, so whatever. Orlando Sanchez still has that $200K loan on his books. I don’t know what the source of it is, nor do I know its purpose – he clearly isn’t spending it down. Maybe he just knew that this day would finally come, I don’t know.

That’s about all there is to say here. I will look at city of Houston reports soon, and I may do the same with some state reports from other races of interest. As always, I hope you find this useful.

Harris County files lawsuit against Arkema

More trouble for that nasty and troublesome chemical plant.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday authorized the county attorney to file a lawsuit against Arkema over its struggles to manage stores of hazardous chemicals during Hurricane Harvey.

The county’s Pollution Control Services Department found serious violations of the Texas Clean Air Act by Arkema, County attorney Vince Ryan said in a statement. The county will try to recover the costs from responding to the crisis at the company’s Crosby plant. It will ask the court to review Arkema’s emergency preparedness plan and its environmental practices. The commissioners made the decision to approve the suit as part of its agenda wide unanimous vote.

“We’ve shown if you’re a bad actor, we’ll hold you accountable,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman.


Arkema lost control of its Crosby facility after floodwaters cut the power and wiped out its back up generators. With the power out and cooling systems failing, volatile organic peroxides exploded multiple times over a week, producing towering pillars of fire and thick plumes of black smoke.

A 1.5 mile evacuation zone was set up when government officials got access to the company’s chemical inventories. About 300 homes were evacuated during the crisis.

“During the height of this storm event, we had to have literally dozens of first responders tied up at this facility when they could have been in other areas of the county,” said Rock Owens, managing attorney for the county attorney’s environmental group.

Arkema’s claims that there was no way to anticipate six feet of water inundating the Crosby plant isn’t believable, Owens said. “We all knew for a week that we might get up to 50 inches of rain,” he said. ,” Owens said. “That’s not true. We all knew it was coming.”

See here for some background. Basically, the allegations in this lawsuit and the one filed by first responders are that this plant was woefully inadequate on safety measures, and they covered up their inadequacies as much as they could, which put residents and those first responders in needless danger. I would very much like to see them held responsible for this.

July campaign finance reports – Harris County candidates

The Harris County situation for candidates and campaign finance reports is a bit complicated. Take a look at my January summary and the reports and data that I’ve found for July, and we’ll discuss what it all means on the other side.

Ed Emmett

Jack Morman
Jack Cagle

Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel

Diane Trautman

David Patronella
George Risner
Don Coffey
Lucia Bates
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir
Daryl Smith
Jeff Williams
Armando Rodriguez
Zinetta Burney
Louie Ditta

Name        Raised    Spent     Loans     On Hand
Emmett     472,172   99,684         0     551,875

Morman     635,050   98,611     44,339  2,261,453
Cagle      561,350  197,375          0  1,008,707

Stanart     49,100   10,124     20,000     69,384
Daniel      49,350   51,681     55,000     25,359

Trautman    15,251    2,978          0     18,009

Patronella  20,215    5,075          0
Risner       2,550    7,202          0     81,053
Coffey         200    7,214          0     57,694
Bates (*)      850      575          0        567
Korduba (R) 24,870    5,085          0     33,466
Smith (**)       0      300          0          0
Williams (R)     0        0     60,000     13,396
Rodriguez        0        0          0      2,219
Burney           0        0          0        902
Ditta (R)        0    1,907      2,000     17,006

Let’s start with what isn’t there. I don’t see a report as yet for Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, nor do I see one for HCDE Trustees Louis Evans (Position 4, Precinct 3) and Erica Lee (Position 6, Precinct 1). Diane Trautman (Position 3, At Large) has a report, but she is running for County Clerk, so as yet there are no candidates of which I am aware for the position she is vacating. Finding Louis Evans’ name among the list of Trustees was a bit of a surprise, since he had not been elected to that position in 2012. He was appointed to the seat in November of 2015 to replace Kay Smith, who stepped down to run in the Republican primary for HD130. I just missed that announcement, so my bad there. Evans as noted in the linked release, was Smith’s predecessor in that position, serving the six year term from 2007 to 2013. He was not on the ballot for the GOP primary in 2012, so if he runs for another term this would be the first time he has faced voters since 2006.

County Judge Ed Emmett does not have an opponent yet, as far as I can tell. There’s a bit of confusion because three people – Christopher Diaz, Shannon Baldwin, and LaShawn Williams – have filed requests for authorization forms for electronic filing, with County Judge as the office they plan to seek. At least two of these people are not running for County Judge, however. Williams appears to be a candidate for Harris County Civil Court at Law No. 3, and has filed a finance report listing that office as the one she seeks. She has also filed a report for the office of County Judge. I presume the latter is an error, but they both have different numbers in them, so who knows? Baldwin’s case appears to be more clear, as she has a Facebook page for her candidacy for County Criminal Court #4, for which she has filed a finance report, again with the correct office listed. As for Diaz, I have no idea. I don’t think he is the Precinct 2 Constable Chris Diaz. Here’s the Christopher Diaz County Judge RFA, and the Constable Chris Diaz finance report. You tell me.

Jack Morman is clearly aware of his status as biggest electoral target of the year. He’s got plenty of money available to him for his race, whoever he winds up running against. Cagle has only the primary to worry about, as his precinct is highly unlikely to be competitive in November. The other countywide offices generally don’t draw much money to their races. I suppose that may change this year, especially in the County Clerk’s race, but first we’re going to need some candidates.

Constables were elected last year, as were Justices of the Peace in Place 1, so what we have on the ballot this time are the JPs in Place 2. According to the listing of judicial candidates that we got at the June CEC meeting, David Patronella and Zinetta Burney have primary opponents, but neither of them have July finance reports on file. Rodrick Rogers, who is listed as a candidates against Republican Jeff Williams in Precinct 5, also has no report. Lucia Bates is a Democrat running in the primary against Don Coffey, while Daryl Smith is a Democrat running against Repubican incumbent Laryssa Korduba Hrncir, who at last report was the last holdout on performing weddings post-Obergefell. I do not know if there has been any change in that status. Whatever the case, there’s not a lot of fundraising in these races.

So that’s what I know for now. It’s possible some of the non-filers will have reports up later, I do see that sometimes. For sure, we should expect to hear of some candidates in the places where we currently have none. If you’ve got some news on that score, please let us know.

“What are we fighting for?”

That’s the key question for the county in the bail lawsuit.

As legal costs mount, surpassing $200,000 per month, pressure is building for Harris County officials to settle a lawsuit over the county’s cash bail system that a federal judge has ruled unconstitutional.

Newly available documents reveal that teams of defense lawyers are racking up massive ongoing expenses, including one lawyer on retainer since June at $610 per hour and a Washington, D.C. appellate lawyer on board since mid-April at $550 per hour.

Among the two dozen county officials named as defendants in the civil suit, one is fed up.

“It’s time to settle,” said Criminal Court at Law Judge Darrell Jordan. “What are we fighting for?”

A settlement offer remains on the table from lawyers representing poor people stuck in jail for misdemeanor offenses because they could not afford cash bail. But none of the other defendants in the suit has budged, according to attorney Neal Manne, whose firm donated its services in filing the suit with two civil rights organizations.

First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said Friday he anticipates his office will have a recommendation for the Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning. Discussion of the case is included on the Commissioners Court agenda, with possible action to follow.

As of Friday, however, the county has been billed about $2.85 million by outside counsel – a cost the county attorney’s office says is not out of line given the number of defendants and a local criminal justice system that is one of the largest in the nation.


On Friday, Criminal Court at Law Judge Jordan hand-delivered a letter to County Judge Ed Emmett asking that he be allowed to settle the case immediately.

Emmett spokesman Joe Stinebaker explained the office’s response to Jordan’s letter.

“Judge Emmett has no authority whatsoever to allow or prevent any of the defendants in this suit from taking any action they deem appropriate,” he said.

The formalities were of little importance to Jordan, who said it seems obvious the county should settle, given Rosenthal’s comments that the indigent defendants are likely to prevail at trial.

It’s true that Judge Emmett doesn’t have the authority to make a settlement happen. So let’s be clear about who can make it happen: The County Court judges who are the defendants in the case and who (other than Judge Darrell Jordan, the lone Democrat among them) have insisted on continuing to fight, and County Commissioners Jack Morman, Steve Radack, and Jack Cagle, who have the authority to tell the judges that they will not pay for any further litigation. They have the opportunity to express that opinion on Tuesday. If they do not – if they vote to continue paying millions of dollars to outside counsel in pursuit of a losing and unjust cause – then we know whose responsibility this is.

January 2017 campaign finance reports: Harris County officeholders

We may or may not have City of Houston elections this year, but we will definitely have Harris County elections next year. Here’s a brief tour of the finance reports for Harris County officeholders. First up, Commissioners Court:

Rodney Ellis
Jack Morman
Steve Radack
Jack Cagle (PAC)

El Franco Lee
Gene Locke

Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
Ellis      283,394   336,611        0   2,012,250
Morman      17,500    48,609   48,863   1,700,320
Radack       4,000    47,466        0   1,419,710
Cagle      560,528   270,065        0     599,774

Lee              0         0        0   3,769,900
Locke            0    81,475        0      16,672

Jack Morman will likely be a top target in 2018 – he has one announced opponent already, and will almost surely have others – and no one can say he isn’t ready for it. I expect that cash on hand number to be well over two million by this time next year. Money isn’t everything, and returns on more campaign cash diminish beyond a certain point, but whoever runs against Morman will have some ground to make up to be able to get a message out and a ground operation going. Meanwhile, the campaign coffers of the late El Franco Lee have more in them than Morman and Rodney Ellis combined, and I still have no idea what’s happening with that. I have some suggestions, if anyone administering that account is curious.

Next, the countywide offices that are on the ballot next year:

Ed Emmett
Stan Stanart
Chris Daniel (PAC)
Orlando Sanchez

Diane Trautman

Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
Emmett      72,000   116,700        0     177,800
Stanart      1,100     8,272   20,000      22,956
Daniel      25,800    28,866        0       4,336
Sanchez      1,250    21,813  200,000     214,820

Trautman         0       554                3,029

I skipped the offices that were just elected, because life is short. Ed Emmett’s modest total is further evidence that he was not originally planning to run for re-election next year. I feel confident that he’d have more cash in his coffers if that had been the idea all along, and I also feel confident he’ll make up some ground before the next reporting deadline. Diane Trautman would be up for re-election to the HCDE Board, but as we know she is going to run for County Clerk, so I’m including her here. I’ll be interested to see if any money pours into this race. Orlando Sanchez has had that $200K loan on the books since at least the July 2014 report. I still don’t know where he got the money for it, or why he apparently hasn’t spent any of it since then, but whatever.

Here are the Constables:

Alan Rosen
Chris Diaz
Sherman Eagleton
Mark Herman
Phil Camus
Silvia Trevino
May Walker
Phil Sandlin

Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
Rosen       16,500    53,719        0     237,908
Diaz         5,600    26,127        0      10,479
Eagleton         0    18,426  102,550       2,132
Herman      10,000     8,713        0     248,578
Camus            0     1,259        0       4,650
Trevino      3,500     6,892        0         142
Walker      28,166    16,935        0      23,475
Sandlin      1,500    20,451        0      56,265

All of the Constables, as well as the Justices of the Peace in Place 1, were on the ballot last year, but as I have never looked at these reports before, I figure what the heck. Alan Rosen has always been a big fundraiser. Sherman Eagleton survived a primary and runoff, which is what that loan money is about. I presume all of the action for Mark Herman was in late 2015 and early 2016, after he got promoted and needed to win a primary. I’d have to check to see if Silvia Trevino raised and spent a bunch of money early on and then took a break, or if she just relied on name recognition to win. She did win without a runoff, so whatever she did do, it worked.

Finally, the JPs:

Eric Carter
David Patronella

JoAnn Delgado
George Risner

Joe Stephens
Don Coffey

Lincoln Goodwin
Laryssa Korduba Hrncir

Russ Ridgway
Jeff Williams

Richard Vara
Armando Rodriguez

Hilary Green
Zinetta Burney

Holly Williamson
Louie Ditta

Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
Carter       2,000     5,041  129,878       1,316
Delgado      1,500         0        0           0
Stephens     1,770     2,192   44,886          61
Goodwin          0       680  115,000      80,730
Ridgway          0     1,200        0      16,414
Vara         1,635       500    9,787       1,523
Green        1,700       236        0       1,684
Williamson   2,436     4,551        0      66,762

Name        Raised     Spent     Loan     On Hand
Patronella  40,665     3,574        0
Risner      37,365     9,680        0      84,532
Coffey      50,125    26,323        0      64,906
Hrncir         910       999        0      13,681
Williams         0         0   60,000      13,396
Rodriguez        0         0        0       2,219
Burney           0         0        0         902
Ditta            0     4,248    2,000      18,914

The Place 1 JPs were elected last year as noted, while the Place 2 JPs will be up next year. David Patronella’s form did not list a cash on hand total. For what it’s worth, all three groups (Constables and the two sets of JPs) have the same partisan mix, five Dems and three Republicans. I don’t have any further insights, so we’ll wrap this up here.

We have an opponent for Commissioner Morman

From the inbox:

Miguel Leija


For Harris County Commissioner Pct. 2

Houston, TX, March 6, 2017 Harris County is the most populous county in Texas and the third-most populous county in the United States with the fourth largest city in the United States.   It is known for its sports, ports and people. Our county is a centrally located place so many have come to raise a family, build a business and spend the best years of their lives.

I’m Miguel Leija Jr. and I’m running for Harris County Commissioner Pct. 2 because I want Harris County to be known as a place of opportunity.

We are at a pivotal place; will we continue to choose to only react to problems and simply make the quick fix or will we be proactive and cast a positive vision for the future of our County and maximize our opportunities over the next 10 to 20 years.

I believe the choice is clear and the time is now and my agenda is clear and focused.

First, we must prioritize with our budget and leadership the most important objective of government and that is Public Safety. We must protect our citizens by creating policies that protect our community no matter their legal status.  We will not be the county that tears families apart.

Second, if we are going to thrive and grow as a community we must commit to investing in our infrastructure and roads by anticipating growth; not merely reacting to it.  We will study where the population growth is and us innovation ways to combat heavy traffic.

Third, county government should create a consistent and predictable business environment when it comes to taxes; keeping taxes low allows all business, small and large to create jobs and to grow and succeed. We also need to impose a higher tax on refineries and put more regulation on these types of companies that pollute our county.

Fourth, we must provide more community services through our community centers.  We need to change how the community centers operate so we can accommodate new services.

  • Afterschool meals for all children under 18 years old.
  • Free Mental Health Counseling
  • Free individual/Marriage Counseling
  • Medicaid/SNAP application assistance
  • Healthy Precinct 2 Program which will bring gym equipment to all community centers.
  • Harris Health Financial Assistance application assistance
  • Employment and Volunteer opportunities for Senior Citizens.

And fifth, we need to provide our county employees Paid Family Leave. We need to start any new employee and adjust current employees to a $15.00 minimum wage. Our county staff can’t live on a poverty level wage.

Those are the priorities we must set, if we are going to have a county government that is responsive to tax-payers and employees.

That’s why I have invested myself in this community. Because I believe this is the best place to live, work and play. There is so much that is good about Harris County and I believe that together, we can leave this community better for the generations to come.  We will be hosting town halls around the precinct in the next few months so we can build out our platform around the citizen’s needs and not politician’s needs.

I look forward to meeting you as we knock on doors, visit community centers and get a chance to share and listen to your concerns, ideas and solutions.  I hope to earn your support and vote in the months to come. I want to make sure you stay connected to our campaign, make sure to sign-up for updates via email, connect with us via social media and consider making a contribution to fuel this effort.

Leija’s website is here. I have not had a chance to speak with Mr. Leija yet, so all I know about him at this time is in this post. I see three possibilities going forward. One is that Leija raises some money, picks up some establishment support, and positions himself as a strong challenger to Commissioner Jack Morman in what may be the highest profile race in the county next year. Option two is that someone who already has establishment support and fundraising chops gets in at some point in the near-to-medium future, and takes the mantle of top challenger to Morman for him or herself. And three, neither Leija nor any other candidate gains traction against Morman, leaving us with a candidate on the ballot next year but without the resources to really compete. Let’s just say that I’d find door #3 to be unacceptable, and I daresay I would not be alone in that. I welcome Miguel Leija, Jr to the race, and I wish him all the best in his campaign.

Precinct analysis: Gonzalez v Hickman

Ed Gonzalez scored a solid win for Sheriff, knocking out incumbent Ron Hickman to win the office back for Democrats. Let’s break it down.

Dist   Hickman  Gonzalez  Hickman%  Gonzalez%
CD02   162,915   111,689    59.33%     40.67%
CD07   139,292   113,853    55.02%     44.98%
CD09    26,869   106,301    20.18%     79.82%
CD10    81,824    36,293    69.27%     30.73%
CD18    48,766   153,342    24.13%     75.87%
CD29    35,526    95,138    27.19%     72.81%
SBOE6  341,003   265,358    56.24%     43.76%
HD126   36,539    24,813    59.56%     40.44%
HD127   48,891    24,516    66.60%     33.40%
HD128   41,694    17,117    70.89%     29.11%
HD129   41,899    26,686    61.09%     38.91%
HD130   59,556    21,256    73.70%     26.30%
HD131    7,054    38,887    15.35%     84.65%
HD132   38,026    30,397    55.57%     44.43%
HD133   47,648    27,378    63.51%     36.49%
HD134   44,717    43,480    50.70%     49.30%
HD135   32,586    27,180    54.52%     45.48%
HD137    8,893    17,800    33.32%     66.68%
HD138   27,480    23,366    54.05%     45.95%
HD139   12,746    39,223    24.53%     75.47%
HD140    6,376    20,972    23.31%     76.69%
HD141    5,485    32,573    14.41%     85.59%
HD142   10,801    33,924    24.15%     75.85%
HD143    9,078    23,689    27.70%     72.30%
HD144   10,765    16,194    39.93%     60.07%
HD145   10,785    23,462    31.49%     68.51%
HD146   10,144    37,991    21.07%     78.93%
HD147   12,100    45,136    21.14%     78.86%
HD148   17,701    29,776    37.28%     62.72%
HD149   15,702    27,266    36.54%     63.46%
HD150   49,904    26,142    65.62%     34.38%
CC1     74,178   239,211    23.67%     76.33%
CC2    125,659   125,416    50.05%     49.95%
CC3    193,214   158,164    54.99%     45.01%
CC4    213,519   156,417    57.72%     42.28%
Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez

Gonzalez received 16K fewer votes than Kim Ogg; his overall total of 680,134 would put him fourth in line among District and county court candidates, behind Kelli Johnson, Mike Engelhart, and Robert Schaffer. I said in my initial reactions that while Ogg received crossover votes, I think Gonzalez merely maxed out the Democratic tally. In retrospect, I think Gonzalez probably drew a few Republican votes, and as usual HD134 is the evidence for that. Overall, though, he wasn’t the draw that Ogg was, which is apparent not just by his lower total but also by a cursory examination of the Republican State Rep districts, where he consistently trailed Ogg by a thousand votes or so. If you look at those districts more closely, though, you will see that Gonzalez didn’t trail Ogg everywhere. In fact, Gonzalez did better than Ogg in five districts – HDs 131, 140, 143, 144, and 145, with the latter providing the biggest difference, 493 votes in Gonzalez’s direction. That’s four of the five predominantly Latino districts, with a fair amount of overlap with Gonzalez’s old City Council District H.

Gonzalez also fell just short of a majority in Commissioners Precinct 2 – I mean, 243 votes short out of 250K cast – where Ogg carried it by over 6,000 votes. Here it’s worth noting that while Ogg carried this precinct on the strength of crossovers, Gonzalez nearly took it merely by not losing Democratic votes. Look again at the judicial average vote totals in CC2. The Republican average judicial vote is less than 500 higher than Hickman’s tally, but the Democratic average judicial vote is nearly 5,000 votes less than what Gonzalez got. Gonzalez outperformed the judicial average in all four Commissioners precincts – the undervote in his race was 3.56%, compared to about five percent in most judicial races – but the point here is that the difference is almost entirely on the Democratic side. One conclusion you might draw from this is that a serious candidate for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, one who runs a real campaign, ought to do better than the “average Democrat” benchmark for the simple reason that fewer people who are generally voting Democratic will skip the race. Just something to think about.

I have two more in this vein to do, and I have on my list a look at Fort Bend County, too. I’ve got one or two other oddball things to look at if I can find the time, because what’s the fun of having this data if we don’t examine a few rabbit holes? If there are any particular questions you want me to try to address, leave a comment and let me know.

Precinct analysis: District courts

Today we will look at the Harris County-specific judicial races, by which I mean the district courts plus two County Court benches. I’m going to begin with something a little different, which is a look at the distribution of how many votes each candidate received. We know that most people know little to nothing about most judicial candidates, yet there’s a surprising range of outcomes even in a year like this where one party swept all the elections. Is there anything we can glean from that? Let’s take a look.

Bench    Democrat    Votes  Bench   Republican    Votes
178th   K Johnson  684,467  165th   Mayfield *  621,070
151st Engelhart *  681,602  CC#16     Garcia *  620,356
152nd  Schaffer *  680,521  337th      Magee *  620,322
129th     Gomez *  677,144  61st   Lunceford *  619,823
127th   Sandill *  673,122  179th     Guiney *  619,027
80th     Weiman *  672,840  176th       Bond *  617,013
125th    Carter *  670,653  177th    Patrick *  615,513
164th   S-Hogan *  670,438  351st      Ellis *  613,151
339th   Jackson *  664,205  333rd    Halbach *  610,904
507th   Maldonado  663,465  338th     Thomas *  610,756
133rd McFarland *  661,240  CC#1    Leuchtag *  607,896
174th     Jones    660,685  334th    Dorfman *  606,184
11th      Hawkins  665,619  174th     McDaniel  605,912
215th    Palmer *  663,604  133rd        Smith  605,601
334th    Kirkland  658,759  11th        Fulton  604,450
CC#1    Barnstone  656,755  507th    Lemkuil *  601,461
333rd       Moore  654,602  339th      McFaden  600,896
338th    Franklin  653,880  215th     Shuchart  600,874
351st      Powell  650,948  125th     Hemphill  598,956
177th   R Johnson  650,703  80th        Archer  597,157
61st     Phillips  650,248  164th         Bail  596,556
176th      Harmon  648,830  127th      Swanson  594,224
CC#16      Jordan  647,122  129th      Mafrige  591,350
165th        Hall  646,314  151st     Hastings  586,609
179th        Roll  645,103  152nd         Self  586,199
337th     Ritchie  643,639  178th      Gommels  580,653


Asterisks represent incumbents. Three benches – the 11th (Civil), the 174th and 178th (both Criminal) – are held by incumbents (all Democrats) who chose not to run for another term. The first thing we can tell from this is that incumbents did the best overall. Maybe that’s a name recognition thing, maybe that’s the effect of the legal community crossing party lines to support the judges they know, maybe it’s a random one year phenomenon. Interestingly, all but one Democratic incumbent (Terri Jackson in the 339th) is a Civil Court judge, while the Republicans are on Civil (Mayfield, Lunceford, Halbach, Leuchtag, Dorfman), Criminal (Garcia, Magee, Guiney, Bond, Patrick, Ellis), and Family (Lemkuil) benches. Maybe that means something, and maybe it’s just random.

The top votegetters for each party did about 40K votes better than the bottom. Because there’s an inverse relationship, this means that the margins of victory were very divergent. Herb Ritchie won by 23,317 votes. Kelli Johnson won by 103,786. I have no clear idea why Johnson, running for an open Criminal bench, was the top performer overall, but she was. Speaking as a Democrat, hers was far from the most visible campaign to me. Most of the incumbents were pretty busy with email and social media, with a few doing other things like billboards (Engelhart) and cable TV ads (Sandill). Among the non-incumbents, I’d say Kristin Hawkins and Steven Kirkland were the ones I heard from the most, followed by Hazel Jones and Julia Maldonado.

It’s become a tradition – since 2008, anyway, when Democrats in Harris County first broke through – for their to be calls to Do Something about judicial races after an election. In particular, the call is to Do Something about the effect of straight ticket voting on judicial elections. This year was no exception, though in the past this call has gone unheeded since stakeholders on both sides recognize the pros and cons from their perspective. In Harris County, there were about 71K more Democratic straight ticket votes than there were Republican straight ticket votes, which among other things means that every Democrat from Alex Smoots-Hogan up would have won their race even if we threw out all of the straight party votes. Of course, the people who voted straight ticket did vote, and it’s more than a little presumptuous to think that they would have either skipped the judicial races or done a significant amount of ticket-splitting had they not had that option. They just would have had to spend more time voting, which would have meant longer lines and/or necessitated more voting machines. Somehow, that never seems to be part of the conversation.

Of course, part of this is just another way to complain about the fact that we elect judges via partisan contests. We’ve discussed that plenty of times and I’m not going to get into it here. I’ll just say this: While one may not be able to draw conclusions about how a random person may have voted in the Presidential race this year, it’s highly likely that the Republican judicial candidates this year had previously voted for Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, and Ted Cruz, while the Democratic candidates would not have done so. If someone wants to base their vote in these races on how the candidates likely voted in those races, I don’t see why that should be a problem. People are going to vote based on the information they have.

Anyway. Let’s take a look at some districts. Here I’m going to go with the average vote totals for each party’s candidates in the districts that I want to highlight.

Dist    R CJ Avg  D CJ Avg  R CJ Pct  D CJ Pct
CD02    162,006    108,132    59.97%    40.03%
CD07    140,809    108,532    56.47%    43.53%

SBOE6   341,855    254,815    57.29%    42.71%

HD126    35,612     24,770    58.98%    41.02%
HD132    37,744     29,907    55.79%    44.21%
HD134    46,749     39,776    54.03%    45.97%
HD135    32,189     26,673    54.69%    45.31%
HD137     8,995     17,430    34.04%    65.96%
HD138    27,529     22,527    55.00%    45.00%
HD144    10,981     15,673    41.20%    58.80%
HD148    18,532     27,741    40.05%    59.95%
HD149    15,724     26,816    36.96%    63.04%

CC1      75,017    234,844    24.21%    75.79%
CC2     126,175    120,814    51.09%    48.91%
CC3     193,936    152,622    55.96%    44.04%
CC4     210,878    153,004    57.95%    42.05%

One point of difference between the district/county court races and the state court races is that these are all straight R-versus-D contests. There were no third-party candidates in any of these matchups. As such, I consider this a better proxy for partisan strength in a given district.

There are four Congressional districts that are entirely contained within Harris County. The Democratic districts are far bluer than the Republican districts are red. These districts are fairly solid for the GOP now, but they’re going to need some bolstering in the 2021 reapportioning to stay that way. It’s not crazy to think that one or both of them may include non-Harris County turf in the next redrawing.

As for the State Rep districts, I will first call your attention to the HD134 numbers, which you may note are just a little different than the Presidential numbers. Are we clear on what I meant by crossover votes? This is why we need to be very careful about using Presidential numbers to evaluate future electoral opportunities. I’d love to believe that HD134 is more Democratic than before, but the evidence just isn’t there.

Against that, I hope the HCDP is beating the bushes now looking for people to run in HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126, in that order. All of them need to be thought of as two-cycle efforts, to account for differing conditions, the slow pace of demographic change, and the fact that these are still steep challenges. There are only so many viable non-judicial targets in 2018 for Democrats, and these four districts should be prioritized.

I ask again: Is it time to stop thinking of HD144 as a swing district? Given that it went Republican in 2014, I suppose the answer has to be No, at least until Rep.-elect-again Mary Ann Perez can demonstrate that she can hold it in 2018. But note that HD144 is a lot more Democratic than before. The Democratic judicial average is six points higher than the top statewide candidates from 2012, and eight points above what President Obama got there in 2012. It’s higher than what Adrian Garcia got. Heck, Perez outdid herself by eight points from 2012. I’m sure Donald Trump had something to do with this, but that’s still a big shift. In 2016, HD144 was nearly as Democratic as HD148 was. Let’s keep that in mind going forward.

There’s a universe in which all four Harris County Commissioners are Democrats. There are more than enough excess Democratic votes in Precinct 1 to tip the other three, if we wanted to draw such a map. Said map would certainly violate the Voting Rights Act, and I am in no way advocating that. I’m just engaging in a little thought experiment, and pushing back in a small way at the notion that the division we have now is How It Should Be. The more tangible way to do that would be to win Precinct 2 in 2018. I’m not going to say that will be easy, but I will say that it’s doable. Like those State Rep districts, it needs to be a priority.

I’ll have a look at the other countywide elections next. As always, let me know what you think.

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”


Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

Who’s willing to pay for more flood mitigation?

I have three things to say about this.

Commissioner Steve Radack

Commissioner Steve Radack

Harris county’s four commissioners said Wednesday they could support either a property tax increase or reallocation of funds in the county budget to better fund flood control projects after a series of storms and floods this spring destroyed property and claimed the lives of more than a dozen people.


Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he would support a tax increase if there was a concrete plan on what to do with the extra revenue, and Gene Locke of Precinct 1 said through a spokeswoman he could likely get behind such a measurebut also would want the federal government to help pay more for flood control projects.

The two other commissioners – Jack Cagle in Precinct 4 and Jack Morman in Precinct 2 – said they would not support increasing the tax rate but could support reallocating funds to tackle flooding problems.

County Judge Ed Emmett declined to comment, but said through a spokesman he would not weigh in before a specific proposal was on the table.

The discussion about a possible property tax rate increase was sparked by recent comments Radack made at a meeting with a civic group in Cypress, which was recently hard-hit by flooding.

“I will tell you right now, I will vote for a tax increase for the Harris County Flood Control District,” Radack said to dozens in the audience last week, noting that he’s the only commissioner on court who has ever voted for a property tax increase. “But I’m one person. I’m not criticizing my colleagues. I’m just telling you this. That’s the way it is.”

On Wednesday, Radack reiterated his support for a tax increase, but qualified his position somewhat saying he would want to see a list of projects vetted by the public and by county government and would want to involve the city of Houston and the federal government in helping fund the projects.

He said he would want to have county voters weigh in on a potential bond issue that outlined that list of projects.

“I would support a tax increase for flood control, I would support it,” he said. “Now bear in mind, you don’t just have a tax increase without a plan.”


The tax rate for the flood control district is currently about 4 cents per $100 of assessed property value, [county budget officer Bill] Jackson said. That includes the amount designated directly for the flood control district – 2.7 cents per $100 – as well as a chunk that’s being used by the county to pay down debt.

The flood control district’s property tax rate can be raised by commissioners to no more than 30 cents per $100, Jackson said.

Morman was adamant, however, that he would not support an overall tax increase to solve the problem.

“I’m a homeowner, most of my constituents are homeowners, we already pay enough property taxes,” Morman said. “It’s kind of like enough is enough at some point.”

Morman said he could also support reallocation of funds, but did not know exactly where that money would come from.

Locke could in theory support a tax rate increase, though he would need to see the final plans and would want the federal government to help pay for more flood control projects, spokeswoman Mary Benton said.

Cagle said he would not support an overall tax increase, but would support reallocating funds toward flood control from the county’s public hospital district. In the past, they had been reallocated toward the hospital district and away from flood control, he said.

“I believe the taxpayers are interested in a reallocation of the tax base back to making flood control the priority that it once was,” Cagle said.

1. This was what Radack was talking about when he made his infamous “some people enjoy flooding” remarks. The Press had a story that ran after I published that included his thoughts on the tax rate, and I think there’s a lot to what he’s saying here. He definitely put his foot in his mouth on this point – I get what he was trying to say, but you’d think a guy who’s been in office for as long as he has might have a better grasp of how not to say things in the worst possible way – and he deserves the heat he’s getting, but the rest of what he said should not be lost.

2. Morman and Cagle’s insistence that we don’t need to raise any more revenue, we just need to shuffle things around in the budget is a load of bollocks. How much should we be spending on flood mitigation? What specific budget items would you cut to make up the difference between what we now spend and what you think we should spend? Give me details and then maybe I’ll believe that you’re not just dodging the question.

3. All that said, the single best thing we could do going forward to not make our flooding problem worse is to stop paving over the undeveloped land that currently serves as the best flood mitigation we’ll ever have. People have been saying for years that the Grand Parkway would be a disaster from a flooding perspective, but that didn’t stop the County from building a massive road in the middle of what used to be nowhere to serve the needs of people who didn’t live there yet. If we ever got serious about encouraging denser development and transportation solutions that support it, we’d have less mitigation to worry about having to pay for.

More on the jailed rape victim

The Chron pens a harsh editorial.

DA Devon Anderson

Although a spokesman for the district attorney’s office has admitted this miscarriage of justice should never have happened, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson defends the prosecutor involved in the case. She says the prosecutor tried to find a suitable place for the sexual assault survivor to stay after her breakdown and even paid for a night in a hotel out of his own pocket. Calling it “an extraordinarily difficult and unusual situation,” the DA said there were “no apparent alternatives” that would ensure the victim’s safety and that she also would appear to testify. Coming from a district attorney who presents herself as a champion of crime victims, that’s mighty hard to swallow. Throwing a mentally ill rape victim into jail because there’s supposedly no other place for her to go should shock the conscience of every citizen of Harris County.


Voters will pass final judgment on Anderson’s handling of this matter. With the district attorney up for re-election in November, the incident already has become a political issue.

Meanwhile, we call upon our elected leadership to ask the U.S. Justice Department for a federal investigation of this case. The DA and the sheriff have offered their own explanations, but an independent inquiry is absolutely essential.

We also urge Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and county commissioners Jack Cagle, Gene Locke, Jack Morman and Steve Radack to take the time to read the lawsuit the victim’s lawyer filed. It’s a frightening document outlining an unimaginable perversion of justice. We hope they lose sleep thinking over what they need to do about it.

See here and here for the background. We absolutely should be hearing more from Judge Emmett and Commissioners Court – including Sen. Ellis – on this. Do they support a federal investigation into what happened? We need to know.

and yes, this is a campaign issue.

District attorney candidate Kim Ogg on Tuesday again pushed for reform in the treatment of crime victims, criticizing the controversial jailing of a rape victim by Harris County prosecutors to ensure the woman would testify in court.

Ogg said the district attorney’s office could improve how victims are detained if prosecutors are worried witnesses might fail to show up in court. She also suggested the creation of a new division in the district attorney’s office that would be responsible for prosecuting people who commit sex crimes.

“I will never put a crime victim in jail to secure a conviction,” she said at a Tuesday press conference. “There are so many other things we can do … There is no excuse for putting this woman in jail.”


Ogg called last week for an independent investigation of the case and has now made crime victim treatment a campaign priority, saying her proposed reforms would be implemented if she is elected in November.

Sheriff candidate Ed Gonzalez has also been speaking out about this. You may say, we shouldn’t politicize this. I say District Attorney and Sheriff are political offices for a reason, and it is ultimately on the voters to decide how and when to hold the people who serve in those offices accountable when stuff like this happens. DA Anderson and Sheriff Hickman have given their responses to what happened. We get to decide how we feel about that. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

What’s next for Adrian Garcia?

We haven’t seen the last of him, I suspect.

Adrian Garcia

Adrian Garcia

In less than a year, former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia has gone from being the top Democratic elected official in Harris County to an also-ran in back-to-back elections.

Garcia’s resounding primary loss to U.S. Rep. Gene Green on Tuesday leaves him politically precarious, having alienated several onetime allies by resigning the sheriff’s post last May to run for Houston mayor and later challenging an incumbent in a safe Democratic seat.

“When you take an oath, you run and take an oath to hold an office, it’s supposed to mean something,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, who backed Green. “And to leave in the middle and look like an opportunist and want to run for mayor, and then you don’t make that, and then you run against a congressman that most people felt was doing a very good job, a congressman that actually endorsed you for mayor … I think Adrian’s got real problems.”

Garcia’s campaign said he was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but he said at his election watch party Tuesday night the race was not personal and that he planned to rest before assessing future options.

“Will this be my last campaign? I doubt it,” he said to applause. “I lost two campaigns, but I jumped in always with the idea of doing more. I took a chance. My heart was in the right place.”


Many of the former sheriff’s attacks were biting. “Gene Green perpetuates the cradle to prison pipeline,” read a news release from late February. Another, from January, declared, “Gene Green protects polluters, not Pasadena.”

Facing limited financial resources, as well as opposition from many Democratic officeholders and area unions, however, Garcia was unable to outmaneuver Green, who outspent him $585,000 to $171,000 during the first six weeks of the year.

Those affiliated with Garcia’s campaign framed that financial shortfall as critical.

“We had a lot of factors working against us. We were in an extremely short two-month race against a 23-year incumbent who’d accumulated significant financial resources, and, yet, we made significant strides and held Congressman Green to 58 points,” Garcia campaign spokesman Sergio Cantu said in an email. “The message and the messenger were not the problems. We are proud of what we achieved, and we hope this opens the door to see change on the issues in this district.”

Several of the former sheriff’s supporters remained optimistic about Garcia’s political future.

“Will he run again? He might if it’s the right place for him to serve,” Garcia consultant Mustafa Tameez said. “That’s the nature of politics. You win some and you lose some. But he’s demonstrated his ability to raise money. He’s demonstrated his ability to get the votes.”

It’s true that after leaving the Sheriff’s office and having it handed to a Republican as well as running what were basically two contested Democratic primaries in the space of five months, Garcia has a few bridges to rebuild with past allies. But let’s not forget, he won five November elections before this, plus two contested primaries, so there’s no reason to believe he’s finished just because those last two elections did not go his way. There’s a very simple way for Garcia to get back into the good graces of his fellow Democrats, and that’s by working, vigorously and visibly, to help elect Democrats up and down the ballot this fall. Hold fundraisers, donate to candidates, attend as many campaign events for the party and for candidates as possible. Continue working on engaging with and boosting turnout in the Latino community. Keep talking about the issues that drove those two campaigns, and the good work that was done as Sheriff. Do those things, and I guarantee, bygones will be bygones.

Assuming we get to that point, then what office might Garcia reasonably seek in the near future? Before he resigned as Sheriff, when his Mayoral campaign was still in the rumor-has-it stage, I suggested Garcia stay in office, declare he wasn’t running for re-election in 2016, then at his first opportunity declare his candidacy for County Judge in 2018. He could still do that, but as we know there are some other people – Annise Parker, for one – who have expressed interest in that office as well. Now, there’s no reason why Garcia couldn’t declare for County Judge. No one is entitled to anything, and he’s be as strong a candidate as anyone we could put forth. But if we’re looking to maintain some harmony, if we’re trying to ensure that the reservoir of goodwill that he just finished refilling doesn’t get immediately drained, then we should at least consider a Plan B.

Which is why my suggestion is: County Commissioner, Precinct 2, the seat formerly held by Sen. Sylvia Garcia. It’s still a county office, which given Garcia’s tenure as Sheriff is a good fit, he’d be extremely likely to have a clear path to the nomination, and if we also have a strong candidate for County Judge it would put thoughts of having a Democratic majority on Commissioners Court in people’s heads, which is sure to get folks fired up. When I say this seat is a good fit for Garcia because of his time as Sheriff, I’m particularly thinking of all the crap he had to endure as Sheriff from the rest of the Court, which was generally hostile to him and got even more so after Jack Morman knocked off Sylvia Garcia in 2010. As a former Sheriff and a candidate for Commissioners Court, Garcia could turn a lot of the criticism they gave him back on them, in terms of budgeting, putting pressure on the criminal court judges to use Pretrial Services and set reasonable bail, and screaming from the rooftops in favor of Medicaid expansion and the much-needed boost for mental health funding and treatment it would bring. I can’t think of anyone better positioned to make these arguments in a Commissioners Court race, or anyone who could pose a bigger threat to a sitting Commissioner. We know Garcia can raise money, and the people who are grumbling about his Mayoral and Congressional races now would surely be willing to pitch in and help him in a race like this. If I had the power to do so, I would absolutely make this happen.

I don’t have that power, of course, I’m just another schmoe in the cheap seats making noise. But this is my scenario for Adrian Garcia, for whatever it’s worth. The path I’m highlighting is easy this year and a lot harder after that, but it’s all doable. What he chooses to do is up to him, but if he wants to know what I think, here it is.

Commissioners Court to get deposed

This ought to be interesting.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and all four county commissioners are scheduled to be deposed Monday in a federal lawsuit filed by former Houston Police Department crime lab supervisors who said they experienced retaliation after exposing problems with a mobile DUI testing program.

Amanda Culbertson and Jorge Wong say the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and county commissioners colluded in having them fired after they revealed problems in HPD’s breath-alcohol testing vehicles, known as “BAT vans.”

At the time of the terminations, Culbertson and Wong were working at a Lone Star College laboratory that supervised under-the-influence testing for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office. They say they lost their jobs when commissioners voted to cancel the Lone Star contract.

While working as analysts for HPD, Culbertson and Wong exposed problems with the BAT vans that complicated DUI prosecutions.

In retaliation, their 2012 lawsuit says, former Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos and Assistant District Attorney Rachel Palmer lobbied commissioners to cancel the county’s long-standing contract with their employer, Lone Star. The county subsequently signed a more costly deal for lab work with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

In September, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes authorized the depositions of commissioners El Franco Lee, Jack Morman, Steve Radack and Jack Cagle as well as Emmett and his criminal justice adviser Doug Adkinson. The judge also limited each inquiry to one hour.


HPD began using the BAT vans in 2008. Into early 2011, Culbertson reported temperature and electrical irregularities with instruments that could influence the integrity of tests, the lawsuit said.

In May 2011, Culbertson testified in a DUI trial that she could not verify a device had been working properly during a test. In July 2011 testimony, she said she could not trust the accuracy of a van analysis. That same month, Palmer, the assistant district attorney, wrote a memo to a supervisor in which she concluded that Culbertson “could not be trusted to testify in a breath test” and that she was “gravely concerned” about Culbertson’s ability to “testify fairly” in the future.

Culbertson and Wong resigned from HPD in 2011 to become technical supervisors at Lone Star.

In the fall of 2011, the college’s contract of nearly three decades with the county – which had been renewed annually – was terminated in favor of a more expensive DPS deal. Culbertson and Wong were fired by Lone Star in October 2011, shortly after the commissioners transferred the testing business.

Hughes dismissed the lawsuit in August 2013, but that decision was reversed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June. All claims against Lykos have been dismissed or settled, and all claims against Palmer have been tossed.

See here and here for some background. As I’ve said before, I haven’t followed this story closely enough to have a firm about about it, but as having all five members of the Court deposed in a lawsuit is an unprecedented situation, I figured it was worth noting. The Press has more.

The parks part of the county bond package

The plans are more specific for the part of the bond package that’s easier to sell.


Commissioner Jack Morman thinks of the East Aldine residents waiting outside Crowley Park before dawn for workers to unlock the gates. Commissioner Steve Radack cites Easter weekend crowds of roughly 75,000 at Bear Creek Park. Commissioner El Franco Lee pictures the opening day parade of Little Leaguers at his eponymous park. Commissioner Jack Cagle riffs on the joy of encountering turtles, egrets, herons and bald eagles along his greenways, mere miles from neighborhoods.

Harris County officials said they are in locked in a steady struggle to keep pace providing plentiful green space amenities as the population of unincorporated Harris County continues to grow unabated. They’re asking voters to approve millions in improvements in four upcoming ballot measures that total $848 million.

The $60 million park bond will help fund land acquisition, as well as updates and improvements in the county’s 170 parks. If the voters approve it, the money will be split four ways and each commissioner has discretion to spend his pot on park projects of his choosing, pending approval of Commissioners Court. They don’t need to pin the money to any specific undertaking. Each commissioner takes a unique approach to doling out the funds.

Commissioners said they almost never request all of the money up front. It’s usually spent to supplement projects that are underway as the costs come up. Bill Jackson, the county budget director, said there isn’t a final deadline for cashing in on bond money. In some cases, if the need never materializes, the bond debt is not issued, as was the case of the bond for a family law center that never got built.

Constituent needs vary throughout the county and within each precinct: “What matters to somebody in the northeast might not matter to somebody in the southeast,” Morman said.

In his precinct, he said, “We err on the side of doing something the community would love. My personal tastes don’t come into it.”

You can read the rest for each commissioner’s detailed wish list. The sidebar reminds us of the other items in the bond package, the biggest part of which is $700 million for roads and bridges, though we don’t know what the particulars are for that. What are your thoughts on these bond proposals?

Is this the plan that will save the Dome?


Still cheaper to renovate than the real thing

A few months ago Ed Emmett had a breakthrough moment about how to save the Astrodome, a goal he’s been chipping away at for the better part of eight years. The Harris County judge was driving out of the county administration building lot headed straight for the historic 1910 courthouse in downtown, and he thought, “There’s a building we completely re-purposed without bond money.”

Meanwhile, the Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation was mulling over a 38-page report by the Urban Land Institute outlining details for transforming the Astrodome into an indoor park with 1,200 parking spaces underneath it. What remained unclear was how to fund it.

And that’s where Emmett’s idea comes in. His plan has now become the blueprint for a public-private partnership overseen by a conservancy that would unite the city, county, the sports and convention corporation and other governmental entities with private investors to revive the Astrodome without requiring voter approval. Under the conservancy model, Emmett said, the Dome would earn tax credits, which would help significantly with covering expenses for renovation.

The details for the partnership – and who will commit to covering what percentage of the costs – are being discussed in meetings between representatives of various stakeholders, including during a session on Tuesday and another one scheduled for Friday.

The finished funding plan will come before county officials likely before year’s end, and, if the majority of the five-member Commissioners Court backs the proposal, the Astrodome revival will commence.


The two newest commissioners, Jack Cagle and Jack Morman, said in interviews Tuesday that they might ultimately support a conservancy to oversee a Dome project; however, neither could say for certain without reviewing the actual proposal.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said he would want to hear comments from the public, adding that “a plan that does not involve taxpayers’ money is certainly going in the right direction.”

Commissioner El Franco Lee expressed wholehearted backing for Emmett’s new strategy.

“I support and am pushing for the conservancy approach,” he said. “It gives philanthropic givers an opportunity to participate, and it takes us down the road much faster by doing some creative things.”

Lee said participants in the conservancy discussions are fully aware that the majority on Commissioners Court does not support taxpayer money going toward the Astrodome project, and he said the planning group will certainly keep that in mind as it crafts a proposal.

“At this point, I’m very optimistic,” Emmett said, “that it’s going to happen without a bond issue. That’s the direction we’re moving in. People seem to be coalescing around the idea of re-purposing the Dome as a green space, adding parking underneath, and adding a conservancy to oversee the upper parts.”

That’s the key right there, no bond issue, which would mean no vote need be taken. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of reason to be optimistic about any further Dome-related votes, so avoiding that would be a big deal. As Judge Emmett notes, this is the same concept that the Houston Zoo and Discovery Green use. That would require some kind of board that would be responsible for management and – more importantly – funding, with some operations money coming from the county and likely the city. I expect that would be easy enough to work out. This makes so much sense that you have to wonder why no one thought of it before. Better late than never, I guess. What do you think about this? Texas Leftist has more.

Henry Martinez named as interim Constable


Victor Trevino

A 23-year veteran of the Houston Community College police department will succeed the disgraced Victor Trevino as constable in Precinct Six, county officials announced Monday, elevating a Latino officer who promises to have no aspirations to become a Latino politician.

Harris County Commissioners Court formally appointed Henry Martinez Jr., who currently leads police operations on HCC’s Northeast campuses, as the constable serving the East End precinct. Commissioner Jack Morman, whose area includes most of Trevino’s old precinct, recommended Martinez to the court at a special meeting on Monday morning.

Dozens of candidates applied to Morman’s office for a job that many constables hold for decades, but many applicants were ruled out almost immediately. Morman had insisted that the winning candidate live in the precinct and promise not to run for the job in 2016. He also was sensitive to the desires of the heavily-Latino district.

Morman seems to have met all three of his preconditions with the selection of Martinez.

“As you can tell, I’m not a political type of person,” Martinez, 52, told reporters, saying there are no circumstances under which he would run in two years. “I’ll do the job and do it well – to the best of my ability – but as far as getting out there and running for a position, I’m not interested.”


Greg Cunningham, the chief of HCC’s police, said the new constable can be a demanding boss.

“He has high expectations of his people and he’s disappointed if they don’t deliver,” said Cunningham, who praised the selection. “He can be a tough guy to work for, but at the end of the day, he’s fair.”

Colleagues of Martinez similarly described him as a hardworking cop who rarely makes errors.

“He’s been one of those quiet leaders, so I think today’s a well-earned opportunity for him,” Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia said.

See here for the background. I wish new Constable Martinez all the success in the world as he embarks on this new journey. I’m just wondering how long it will be before someone else announces his or her candidacy for the 2016 primary. Campos has more.

Searching for a successor to Victor Trevino

Commissioners Court is on it.

Victor Trevino

Harris County commissioners are preparing to accept the resignation of convicted Constable Victor Trevino and to start looking for his replacement.

Trevino, who pleaded guilty last week to a felony charge as a jury was hearing evidence in his public corruption trial, resigned his office. Once commissioners accept his resignation Tuesday, they must select a replacement to serve out the remainder of Trevino’s four-year term.


“It’s important to find someone who is qualified, and has a history of living and working in the precinct and is community-minded,” said state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, adding she has told commissioners she favors a Hispanic who is a Democrat.


“This is the preliminary step to get someone appointed to that position,” said David Ellison, a spokesman for Commissioner El Franco Lee, who moved to place the Trevino-related matters on Tuesday’s agenda. “The commissioner was concerned it didn’t stay vacant for too long and wanted to get someone in there to take over the reins.”

Most of Trevino’s precinct is located within the boundaries of Commissioner Jack Mormon’s district; about one-quarter is in Lee’s. Mormon’s staff confirmed the screening process is underway with 12 to 15 applicants under review.

David Walden, Mormon’s chief of staff, said all candidates are under consideration regardless of race or ethnicity, but added, “It’s obviously a Hispanic district, with an overwhelming majority, so you want someone there who has community support.”

I went back to the 2012 precinct data that I have for Harris County, and it showed that Constable Precinct 6 voted 79.4% for President Obama. Commissioners Court can play games if they want, but I can pretty much guarantee the next elected Constable will be a Democrat. Commissioners Court officially accepted Trevino’s resignation, yesterday, and I’m glad to see that Commissioner Morman said it would be “almost an automatic disqualifier” for someone to express longer-term interest in the job. That’s as I would have it – let the voters make the choice without being influenced by external factors. We’ll know who the Court picks next week.

July finance reports for Harris County candidates

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

County Judge

Ed Emmett

Ahmad Hassan

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

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

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

District Attorney

Devon Anderson

Kim Ogg

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

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

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

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

Ann Harris Bennett

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

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

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

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

Judith Snively

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

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

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

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

David Rosen

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

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

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

County Commissioner

Jack Morman, Precinct 2

Jack Cagle, Precinct 4

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

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

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

The Rodeo and the Texans would like to demolish the Dome now, please

Yeah, I don’t know how well this will go over.

County leaders said Thursday they are open to considering a $66 million plan devised by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and the NFL’s Houston Texans to demolish the iconic Astrodome and turn the nearly 9-acre site into a massive outdoor space reminiscent of downtown’s Discovery Green.

The two organizations – the primary tenants of the South Loop sports complex where the vacant stadium stands – briefed commissioners on their proposal this week.

The project, titled the “Astrodome Hall of Fame,” calls for tearing down the dome, bringing the floor to ground level and installing an open-air structure where the walls once stood, according to a 37-page proposal obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The plan, drawn up by two architecture and construction firms, is designed to pay tribute to “the Astrodome’s history” and realize its potential as an “outdoor fulcrum” of NRG Park.

Renderings show what looks like the ribs of the former stadium circling a vast, grassy space with multiple event stages. Tributes to the various events, athletes and entertainers – from Elvis to Earl Campbell – who have played and performed at the stadium throughout the decades would be installed on each of 72 structural columns that would stand as tall as the 49-year-old structure.

“We think they came up with a tremendous idea and it’s the one thing we don’t have out there right now,” Rodeo Chief Operating Officer Leroy Shafer said of the plan devised by Gensler and Linbeck Construction. “This puts a park right in the center of our NRG park complex.”

Shafer and Texans President Jamey Rootes said they are open to helping foot the bill for the project, describing it as “affordable,” but would not say how much they would contribute.

Mighty thoughtful of them. You can see their proposal – which has a February, 2014 date on it, by the way – here; the embedded image comes from that document. The inspiration for turning the Dome into green space comes from Discovery Green. I love Discovery Green and I’m generally favorable towards more parks, but I am skeptical of this analogy. Discovery Green is a park surrounded by city blocks that are full of people who can walk to it. Astrodome Park would be surrounded by acres of parking lot that abuts a highway on one side. Who’s going to walk to it? I admit, it’s true that a significant number of Discovery Green visitors arrive by car, so I may be overblowing this. But as I look at the renderings, I can’t escape the feeling that this is something that’s being grafted on to the space. It just doesn’t feel natural to me.

Maybe that’s not important to the proponents of this idea, which include at least two members of Commissioners Court, Steve Radack and Jack Morman. (El Franco Lee is undecided but not obviously opposed, Jack Cagle did not comment for the story, and County Judge Ed Emmett is strongly against it.) Perhaps all that matters is that it would be used Rodeo attendees and Texans fans, and would make a pleasing backdrop for Super Bowl LI. I wonder if they’ll be happier about paying to maintain a lightly-used park than they are about upkeep on the aging Dome.

Reactions I’ve seen so far to this range from ambivalence and resignation to outrage, with a healthy dose of the latter on Facebook. I fall more into the first two camps. I’ve never had an emotional connection to the Dome but I don’t relish the idea of tearing it down, and I still think repurposing it is the better way to go. But after the bond referendum was voted down last year, even if one interpreted that as a rejection of that specific idea rather than of preserving the Dome, it wasn’t hard to imagine this kind of scenario playing out. The powers that be would like to have a plan in place to Do Something by 2017, when the Super Bowl arrives. There’s no consensus for a preservation plan, and no funding source, either. Demolition is the easy way to go, and hey, at least this beats more parking lots, right? If you feel strongly about this one way or another, I advise you to contact your County Commissioner and let him know how you feel. Time is running out. Hair Balls and Swamplot have more.

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” files

Sometimes you have to try try again for 24 years to get what you want.

The road in question

It seems as if he never existed, but he certainly did.

For 24 years, Charles Hixon attended nearly every Harris County Commissioners Court meeting to complain about a drainage problem at his property in Huffman, delivering a speech that evolved only slightly.

But Hixon, 55, who briefly suspended his biweekly plea in 2002 when was trying to unseat his then-county commissioner, Jerry Eversole, has missed the last half-dozen meetings.

At the last one he attended in September, the room fell silent as the gadfly stepped to the speakers’ podium and deviated from his usual script, one that county regulars can recite from memory.

“I’d like to recognize Commissioner Morman for his activity on Palm Lane and encourage your activity to a successful completion,” Hixon told the five-member court. “But I don’t have really too much of an idea as to what you’re doing.”

At the previous meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman, who had just become Hixon’s commissioner after a long-awaited court ruling that altered precinct boundaries, promised his new constituent he would try to fix his problem. Crews had already been dispatched to the site, Morman told him.

They have since cleared and re-dug the overgrown ditches Hixon had said were “overburdened and do not drain,” installed neat, sturdy culverts in more than a dozen driveways and paved over the dirt and caliche road avoided by U.S. mail trucks and school buses. The work wrapped up early last month.

Hixon has not returned to court to say whether he’s satisfied or returned phone calls requesting comment.

Hixon has been a semi-regular commenter on this blog ever since I noted his then-quixotic attempt to get Commissioners Court to listen to him a decade ago. He finally got some traction on his epic quest in August when he got a new Commissioner.

Harris County Commissioner Jack Morman aims to free up Charles Hixon’s Tuesday mornings.

The Huffman resident has attended almost every Harris County Commissioners Court meeting for 24 years, delivering the same scripted speech – with minor variations – complaining of a drainage problem at his property in northeast Harris County.

Various officials throughout the years have attempted to mollify the most persistent of gadflies, now in his mid-50s, but most have determined that he could not be helped because his .69-acre lot, between Palm Drive and Cry Baby Lane, sits on a road that is not listed on the county road log, meaning the county is not responsible for maintaining it.

That changed on Tuesday, when the Commissioners Court – at the behest of Morman – voted to take on Palm Drive and its ditches, which Hixon contends “are overburdened and do not drain.”

Morman, of Precinct 2, became Hixon’s commissioner this month when new county precinct boundaries took effect after a long-awaited court ruling on redistricting.

When the first-term commissioner learned he would inherit the persistent constituent, he asked county staff to look into the problem.

“There is a grading issue and a drainage issue, so yeah, there’s a problem for not just this guy, but for all of his neighbors,” Morman said.

Not really clear why Morman decided this was a county issue when everyone else had concluded otherwise, but that’s all in the past. The road is paved, the drainage issue is resolved, and everyone appears to be happy. Commissioners Court meetings may never be the same.

LaCroix files in SD15

Damian LaCroix

As of the Monday candidate filing update from the HCDP, Damian LaCroix has made official his primary challenge to Sen. John Whitmire in SD15. He announced his challenge in August, and what I said at that time still holds true for me as a voter in SD15 – I’m not interested in making a change unless it’s a clear upgrade, and so far I don’t see any evidence of that. I intend to interview both candidates for the primary, so we’ll all get a chance to learn more at that time.

Other than the District Attorney race and a rerun in CD07, this is the only other local Democratic primary action of which I am aware. There are of course several statewide primaries – Wendy Davis has an opponent, Kinky Friedman will square off against some guy named Jim Hogan for Ag Commissioner, and there are now four candidates for US Senate with the entries of David Alameel and a dentist from Odessa named HyeTae “Harry” Kim – but not that much in the legislative primary department. There are two open seats, HD50, where Celia Israel appears to have a clear path in March to try to succeed Mark Strama – she’s in a runoff for the special election right now – and HD23, where I have no idea who has filed to try to succeed Rep. Craig Eiland. Seriously, does anyone know anything about this one? There are several potential candidates, I just haven’t heard if any of them has actually filed or even announced. State Rep. Marisa Marquez of El Paso, who caught some (deserved) flak for backing Republican Dee Margo in his failed re-election bid against Rep. Joe Moody, has an opponent. She’s the only House incumbent I’m aware of who’s been challenged.

There are also two new Democratic House challengers on the scene – Laura Nicol in HD133, and Amy Perez in HD150. These are obviously two tough districts, but it’s good to see new faces and it’s especially good to see more Democratic women running for office.

There are still plenty of offices for which no one has filed as a Democrat. Texpatriate bemoans the lack of candidates in Tarrant County, despite its higher profile this year. In Harris County, there are three races to watch. One is County Judge, where Ed Emmett so far appears to be getting a free ride. I’m a believer in running everywhere, but it’s hard to get too worked up about that. Emmett does a good job, he has a ton of goodwill still from his performance during Hurricane Ike, and he’d be tough to beat. Given that this may be his last term, I’m fine with concentrating on other races, like DA and County Clerk. County Commissioner Precinct 2 is harder to swallow. Glorice McPherson has said she’s running against first term Commissioner Jack Morman, but she hasn’t filed yet and she’s unlikely to raise the kind of money needed to mount a serious challenge. Precinct 2 was very competitive in 2012, but that was under the old map, and we don’t know how it will perform in an off year, even one with as much promise as this one. Still, giving Morman a free ride, or just an easy ride, would be a big disappointment. Finally, as BOR notes, Rep. Harold Dutton still hasn’t filed in HD142. He’s the last holdout among Democratic legislative incumbents, and a last-minute retirement announcement is not out of the question. The deadline is December 9, and that’s sure to be a busy day. What are you hearing out there?

July finance reports for Harris County officeholders and challengers

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

County Judge

Ed Emmett

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

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

Commissioners Court

Jack Morman

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

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

Jack Cagle

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

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

County Clerk

Stan Stanart

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

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

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

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

District Clerk

Chris Daniel

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

Friends of Chris Daniel

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

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

Court Koenning

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

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

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez

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

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

David Rosen – Designation of treasurer

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

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner

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

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

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

Astrodome referendum officially on the ballot

It’s been a long, strange trip, but at last you will get to vote on the fate of the Astrodome.

The Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously voted to place a bond election for up to $217 million to convert the iconic stadium into a massive, street-level convention hall and exhibit space, saying residents should take part in deciding the historic structure’s fate.

Should voters reject the bonds, County Judge Ed Emmett and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman said Tuesday they see no other alternative than to demolish the former “Eighth Wonder of the World,” which has sat vacant since city inspectors declared it unfit for occupancy in 2009. The Reliant Astrodome has not housed a professional sports team since the Astros moved to Minute Maid Park in 2000.

“If it does not pass in November, then that should be the death knell for the Dome,” Morman said.


While the vote to put the measure on the ballot was unanimous, court members’ personal support for the project is not.

Only Emmett and Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee said they definitely will cast a vote in favor of the bond referendum. Both, however, said they have no plans to launch – or, in Emmett’s case, participate in – campaigns to get the measure passed.

“There needs to be some plans made to do it, if it’s going to be a success,” Lee, who wants to save the Dome, said of a campaign. “The judge is our leadership, so we’ll just see what occurs from there.”

The Commissioners Court on Tuesday also approved $8 million for work that needs to be done to the half-century-old stadium regardless of whether it is torn down or renovated. That work includes asbestos abatement, demolition of the exterior spiral walkways and the sale of signs and other salvaged items that qualify as sports memorabilia.

County engineers and consultants, who estimated it would cost $217 million to repurpose the Dome, also determined it would cost $20 million to demolish it, not including the $8 million.

If the bond fails in November, Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said it “would make no sense to me at all” to spend millions of dollars demolishing the structure.

“There’s another day to have another election,” he said. “Why are you going to spend $8 million and then tear it down?”

The vote to call the bond election was made with one condition championed by Radack: That the ballot language explicitly say that the project would require an increase to the county property tax rate, which has not been raised in 17 years.

See here for the last update. We were headed towards a referendum in 2008 back when Astrodome Redevelopment was proposing a convention center as the Dome replacement, but the economic collapse knocked that off track, and so here we are now. The big question at this point is who lines up to oppose this. The Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation, whose renovation plan is what the Court approved for the ballot, will take the lead in communicating the referendum and the reasons to vote for it to the public. I have no idea how much money they’ll have to mount a real campaign, however. It’s certainly possible that some deep-pocketed types could show up to fund a campaign in favor of this, or in opposition to it. It’s also possible that there will be little more than earned media and some online presence to inform the voters. If I had to guess, I’d say this passes, but who knows? How do you plan to vote on this? Leave a comment and let’s get a totally unscientific data point to bat around. Texpatriate and Swamplot have more.

County prevails in redistricting lawsuit

This came out on Friday.

Commissioners Court interim map

Activists failed to prove that a Harris County redistricting plan illegally diluted Latino votes in the only Latino-opportunity commissioner precinct, a federal judge has ruled.

In a long-anticipated decision filed late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore said the plaintiffs, led by Houston City Councilmen James Rodriguez and Ed Gonzalez, were unable to demonstrate that a map adopted two years ago by the Harris County Commissioners Court was unconstitutional or that race was the predominant factor in the design of the plan.

“There is no convincing evidence indicating that the Commissioners Court drew the district lines for the purpose of diluting plaintiffs’ voting strength,” Gilmore wrote in her ruling.

The plaintiffs, however, did raise valid concerns that impediments to equal opportunity to participate in the political process do exist, the judge said.


The lawsuit, which went to trial in November, was filed in 2011 as the Commissioners Court prepared to adopt a map with precinct boundaries based on the 2010 census.

As part of that process, the county added a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast portion of the county in Precinct 2 and slightly reduced the concentration of Hispanic voters.

See here for the last update. The original map that was drawn in 2011 will now go into effect. There was an interim map used in 2012 that was a bit different than the original map, but since Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman was not on the ballot it was no big deal. The interim map was slightly friendlier to Democrats in Precinct 2, and the 2012 election results showed that Precinct 2 would be very competitive in a high-turnout year. The Commissioners’ map was intended in part to shore up Morman’s re-election chances, and right now no one knows what the turnout model will be in 2014. No one knew about Battleground Texas or the #StandWithWendy phenomenon back when all this was being litigated. Point being, Precinct 2 should still be the marquee race around here next year. Commissioner Morman has the advantages he was given, and we’ll see how it shakes out from there.

I have a copy of Judge Gilmore’s ruling here. It’s long, technical, and detailed, and I mostly zipped through it. I want to quote from the conclusion, however, since it captures the main points and suggests that however things are now, they won’t be that way forever.

In conclusion, the Court finds that Plaintiffs have not established that the County’s Plan was unconstitutional. Plaintiffs did not prove that the County adopted the Plan intending to discriminate against Latinos nor did they prove that race was the predominant factor in the design of the Plan. Moreover, because Plaintiffs have not established the first Gingles factor, they cannot prove that, under the totality of the circumstances, Latinos have been denied an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice. See Growe, 507 U.S. at 40-41; Fairley, 584 F.3d at 667; Valdespino, 168 F.3d at 852.

Nevertheless, Plaintiffs “have raised serious and valid concerns that hindrances to equal opportunity to participate in the political process are present.” Perez, 958 F. Supp. at 1230. Indeed this Court is troubled by evidence of the range and prevalence of voter suppression tactics employed against members of the Latino community. While some members of the Supreme Court imagine that barriers to voting have been eradicated, see Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. 1 v. Holder, 557 U. S. 193, 204 (2009) (noting that “things have changed in the South”), the record here is replete with evidence to the contrary. While, to be sure, the County has taken some strides toward voter equality, it is clear that more can be done to ensure that all citizens have a full and fair opportunity to participate in the political process.

Although Plaintiffs have not carried their burden today, the evidence presented leads to the inescapable conclusion that a Latino opportunity district will be possible in Harris County in the foreseeable future. The sleeping giant is waking and those standing in its path would be wise to move out of the way. The writing on the wall is clear: “the times, they are a changing’….”

It’s possible they will have changed enough by 2014 to be a difference maker, but that won’t happen without a lot of effort. Nonetheless, I think the odds of Commissioner Morman serving as long on the Court as some of his colleagues are slim.

Morman, who faces re-election in 2014, was pleased with the outcome and said his precinct remains competitive.

“It’s the only competitive precinct of the four, so whether it’s me or whoever is a county commissioner for Precinct 2, (we are) going to have to continue to do a good job to be elected,” he said.

And hope that a partisan wave doesn’t wipe you out anyway. I look forward to seeing what happens next year. Texas Redistricting has more.

County redistricting lawsuit costing a bundle

Redistricting is expensive, y’all.

Commissioners Court interim map

Harris County has spent nearly $1.3 million fighting a 2011 lawsuit filed by a group of Hispanic activists against the redistricting plan it adopted that year for its four county commissioner precincts.

The plaintiffs, led by Houston City Councilmen James Rodriguez and Ed Gonzalez, and represented by Chad Dunn, general counsel for the Texas Democratic Party, allege the map illegally dilutes Latino voting power in Precinct 2, on the east side.

The lawsuit went to trial in November, but U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore has yet to rule in the case.

The county has spent $1,246,569.99 on the lawsuit, according to data from the county attorney’s office, with the bulk of that — $1.1 million — going toward billing for attorneys and paralegals. Houston-based firm Andrews Kurth is representing the county.

The county also paid that firm roughly $620,000 for the redistricting maps themselves, after the 2010 census showed shifts in population growth, forcing new lines to be drawn to make the four precincts equal at about 1 million residents each.

“Anytime there is contested litigation, the costs do mount,” said First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard.

See here and here for the previous updates. I say there’s a pretty good argument for the county not pursuing any further appeals if they lose. There’s no principle at stake here, just Jack Morman’s electoral prospects. At the very least, if the county insists on continuing to litigate, they ought to demand a steep discount, if not an outright rebate, from Andrews Kurth. For one thing, you could say that if Andrews Kurth had done a better job advising the county on how to draw the map in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess today. For another, Andrews Kurth has already charged the county nearly double what Andy Taylor billed the state of Texas after the 2003 re-redistricting litigation. Sure, that was nearly ten years ago and costs do go up and all that, but Taylor wasn’t exactly cheap and Andrews Kurth has already made a bundle. It will be time for a little fiscal discipline if the county loses this round.

Medicaid expansion pressure is having an effect

Despite the mountains of evidence in its favor, I still can’t say that I see a path to Medicaid expansion in Texas. But stories like this do give me some hope.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Adamantly opposed to expanding Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had seemingly squelched efforts this legislative session to insure an additional 1.1 million low-income Texans under the Affordable Care Act.

But a determined campaign, targeting legislators with public pressure and private persuasion, has kept the issue alive by framing Medicaid expansion as an economic bonanza and tax-relief opportunity that would bring $79 billion in much-needed federal money over 10 years.

The arguments, pitched to Republican ears, have carved out a small space in which lawmakers can work toward an agreement that once appeared impossible.

Several key GOP legislators, though skeptical about expanding Medicaid, haven’t ruled out the possibility of a compromise, provided they can get several important concessions. Democrats are ready to deal.

“I’m tempering my rhetoric,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston. “I don’t want to say anything that backs them in a corner. I want to get this done.”


Last week, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to push the Legislature toward expanding Medicaid, echoing a similar call by Dallas County. Influential lobbying groups also have joined in, including the Texas Medical Association, which recently endorsed expansion if accompanied by reforms that include cutting red tape and increasing provider payments.

[State Rep. John] Zerwas, a medical doctor, said he is feeling the pressure to reverse his opposition.

“Absolutely. If you talk to hospitals, if you talk to counties, there is a substantial amount of money that is promised in the law that would benefit Texans. We do have a substantial uninsured problem,” Zerwas said.

But, he added, the expansion as proposed would be a Band-Aid solution, stressing an unsustainable Medicaid system that has grown so large it threatens spending on education, roads and other vital programs.

Still, Zerwas said there could be room to negotiate if Texas wins important concessions from the federal government to create a flexible system. The amount of needed flexibility “remains to be defined,” he said, but could include running the expansion program as a health maintenance organization and requiring co-pays.

Houston’s Rep. Garnet Coleman, one of the Capitol’s leading Democrats on health care issues, is fine with requiring co-pays and similar concessions.

Coleman, however, draws the line at attempts to use expansion as an opportunity to change Medicaid’s promise to children and disabled and elderly Texans. Talk of adding flexibility, he said, has often meant cutting people and services from the Medicaid system.

“Those of us who support the Medicaid expansion, we can walk away from the table, too, if we don’t think what is proposed is good for our constituents. This is a two-way street,” he said.

I presume Rep. Coleman is talking about block-granting Medicaid, which everyone knows would be used to cut benefits. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about the possibility of a deal on Medicaid expansion, but this is the first time we’ve seen some details, however sketchy. Obviously, the biggest hurdle is Rick Perry, and he’s painted himself into enough of a corner that I have a hard time imagining him signing anything that doesn’t include block grants as a cornerstone. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but no one has gotten rich underestimating Perry’s fanaticism lately. Still, bringing pressure from the county level is the smart move, though it would really help if Harris County would get into the game. If we can’t get that I’d settle for a resolution from Houston City Council. This needs to be a big issue for the 2014 elections, and it needs to be felt at the county level by folks like County Judge Ed Emmett and County Commissioner Jack Morman as well. If you’re not part of the solution then we need to get someone else who is.

January finance reports for Harris County offices

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

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

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

County Clerk Stan Stanart – $16,869 on hand

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

District Clerk Chris Daniel – $15,184 on hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Metro

The first rule of precinct analysis, at least as I do it, is that you really can’t learn much by doing it on lopsided elections. The Metro referendum, which passed with 78% of the vote, is Exhibit A of this phenomenon. Here’s how the vote went in the State Rep districts for the Metro issue:

Dist Yes No =================== 126 34,957 8,158 127 31,750 9,040 128 20 16 129 19,439 5,282 130 41,183 9,568 131 25,236 6,641 132 35,052 7,901 133 50,285 12,438 134 56,041 17,463 135 32,347 6,943 137 15,754 3,743 138 30,159 7,607 139 29,604 9,391 140 13,908 3,685 141 19,494 5,368 142 10,900 3,128 143 6,965 2,159 144 1,684 531 145 14,668 4,689 146 31,446 8,524 147 32,900 11,061 148 25,130 9,061 149 27,060 5,999 150 39,138 9,333

HD128 is Baytown, and HD144 is mostly Pasadena, so that’s why those vote totals are as low as they are. If you prefer pictures to numbers, go look at Greg’s map, or at Max Beauregard‘s reports for a visual representation. No matter how you look at it, though, there’s not much to see. No hidden pockets of opposition, just across the board support.

As for what the election means, you can argue that the issue was complex and that people wouldn’t have voted for the referendum if they had really understood it. I agree there’s something to that, but I don’t believe it will get you anywhere to pursue that line of thinking. Instead, I offer two thoughts. One is that for all the grassroots energy that fed the anti-referendum movement, there was basically no opposition to the referendum among candidates or elected officials. I did get one press release a few days before the election about Rep. Sylvester Turner speaking at a pro-transit rally, but I never got anything after the event saying what had happened, and though I looked I never saw any press coverage of the event. Beyond that, as far as I could tell, there weren’t any other elected officials or candidates speaking out on this. Given that both supporters and opponents of the referendum were casting it as the end of light rail construction in Houston, this ought to be a wake-up call to transit advocates. Metro Board Chair Gilbert Garcia has said that he hopes to build broader support for Metro and its rail plans by boosting system ridership via the expanded bus service this referendum will bring, and other Board members are talking along similar lines. One good way to hold them to these promises down the line is to generate pressure from public officials, and the first step in that process is to engage them to get them on your side, and where needed support candidates for office who already support your position. It’s time to get back to basics and make rail transit and the reasons why it’s needed a regular part of the conversation. It can’t just be the same people talking about this – we need our elected officials out there talking up rail, and the more the better. This needs to be a top priority for transit advocates.

Two, David Crossley of Houston Tomorrow has on more than one occasion expressed the concern that the comparable rates of growth in Houston and Harris County will cause the Metro board to shift from one with a Houston-appointed majority to one with a non-Houston-appointed majority by 2018 or so. I would just simply note that there’s no reason why the Commissioners Court of today needs to be the same as the Commissioners Court of 2018, when it might get the chance to reshape the Metro board. Commissioner Jack Morman will have a tough fight for re-election in 2014. That same growth in the outlying areas of Harris County ought to make Commissioner Steve Radack at least somewhat more vulnerable in 2016. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Commissioners Court that believed in something other than just building more roads as a solution to transportation problems? It could happen if enough people work to make it happen. Just something to think about.

Precinct data: County Commissioner precincts

I wish they called County Commissioner precincts by some other name, because it’s confusing to refer to them as such when one is discussing canvass data, which is data from the thousand-plus voting precincts in Harris County. But that’s the name we’re stuck with, so make sure the clutch on your context-shifter is in good shape. Before I get to the data, I’ve been looking for a formal story on the end of the county redistricting trial, but this Houston Politics post from Friday appears to be all I’m going to get.

Commissioners Court interim map

The court’s first Hispanic member, Democrat Sylvia Garcia, represented Precinct 2 for two terms before losing to Republican Jack Morman in 2010. She took the stand Thursday and testified about discrimination against Latinos. The plaintiffs have to prove that point (and several others) in order to get Precinct 2 declared a protected minority-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, which likely would produce a more favorable Precinct 2 for a Hispanic candidate than the map the county adopted.

“I think discrimination still exists. It just may be more subtle, it’s more creative, more clever, but it’s there,” Garcia said, adding that deficits Latinos face in education, housing and health care, and that local and state governments dissuade Latinos from participating in the political process.


The plaintiffs’ attorney Chad Dunn pressed [Morman’s chief of staff Dave] Walden on why, during the redistricting process, he had requested information about the politics, prevalence of straight-ticket voting, ethnic makeup and voter turnout in various voting precincts being considered for inclusion in Precinct 2. The data showed the precinct would have a higher share of white voters, and a higher share of Republican votes.

Dunn asked Walden if removing Latinos from a close district makes it harder for Latinos to elect a “candidate of their choice” (language from the Voting Rights Act).

“I really believe this: It depends on factors in addition to their ethnicity before I could give you a hard and fast judgment,” Walden said. “But going by ethnicity alone, you could probably say that.”

Dunn asked whether Walden knew that by making those changes Morman’s electoral advantage would increase. “True,” Walden said. Dunn asked whether Walden had an interest in making the district more Republican. “Absolutely,” he said.

The defendants have stressed that these gripes are about politics (a permissible factor in redistricting), not discrimination. They say the plaintiffs must “negate partisanship” to prove their claims.

The trial, or at least the testimony, wrapped on Friday. No clue when a ruling may come. Be that as it may, let’s take a look at the data. With three of the four Commissioners on the ballot, it was easy to sort out the data from all four precincts. I’ve divided the presentation below into two groups, one for the five statewide candidates, and one for the five non-judicial countywide candidates.

CCP Obama Sadler Henry Petty Hampton Tot votes ====================================================== 1 76.74% 75.90% 75.79% 77.57% 77.24% 293,101 2 48.63% 47.59% 48.40% 50.62% 49.78% 210,222 3 40.62% 39.93% 37.97% 40.66% 40.92% 317,331 4 36.99% 36.21% 35.15% 37.58% 37.20% 349,526 CCP Garcia Ryan Trautman Bennett Oliver ============================================== 1 79.05% 77.66% 77.62% 76.68% 74.35% 2 54.21% 50.75% 50.83% 49.21% 47.43% 3 44.83% 42.21% 41.70% 39.71% 37.37% 4 40.99% 38.22% 38.21% 36.59% 34.70%

The “Total votes” figure is simply the Romney plus Obama total for each precinct. I put that in for some perspective. Adrian Garcia had the largest margin of victory in Morman’s Precinct 2, defeating Louis Guthrie there by over 17,000 votes. Keith Hampton missed carrying Precinct 2 by 868 votes. It’s fair to say that in a Presidential year, the map used for this election makes Precinct 2 highly competitive. How things may play out in a non-Presidential year under a possibly different map is anyone’s guess at this time. For what it’s worth, I did the computations for all 34 District, County, and Circuit Court of Appeals races as well, and found that Democrats won 13 and lost 21. Of possible interest is the list of the top five vote-getters in Precinct 2 among the judicial candidates:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================================= David Mendoza 104,404 51.28% Julia Maldonado 104,389 51.08% Ruben Guerrero 103,474 50.80% Alexandra Smoots-Hogan 103,378 51.01% Michael Gomez 103,240 50.64%

I’m going to step out on a limb here and suggest that maybe it would be wise for the Democrats to run a Latino/Latina candidate here in two years. Just a thought, you know? Oh, hell, I’ll quit being coy: There’s no doubt in my mind that Sylvia Garcia would be the strongest candidate against Morman, if she chose to run. That would require her to lose in the special election in SD06, then want to get right back in the saddle again (likely with a depleted campaign treasury) and have a crack at a rematch with Morman. I have absolutely no idea how probable that scenario is.

Anyway, the other point of interest is Precinct 3, which as I recall was made slightly more Republican after swapping some turf with Precinct 1 in order to boost the latter’s overall population. That plus the decline in Democratic turnout from 2008 meant that Adrian Garcia lost about two and a half points from that year. On the plus side, this is the beginning of the decade, not the end of it, so if demographic change continues as it has been, I’d think there’s a decent chance of Precinct 3 being competitive in 2016. As always, this assumes a Democrat who can raise a few bucks steps up to run. It’s never too early to start recruiting.

Harris County redistricting lawsuit kicks off

Remember the lawsuit that was filed over the redistricting map for Harris County Commissioners Court? It’s been on hold since the beginning of the year, after an interim map was drawn to get us through this election and since the main point of contention in the new map was not an issue yet. Now that the 2012 election is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to get this lawsuit going. The hearing began yesterday, and as always it comes down to the numbers.

Commissioners Court interim map

The county’s map added a bloc of reliably conservative voters in the northeast to Precinct 2, and reduced the precinct’s concentration of Hispanic citizens of voting age from 34.9 percent to 33.8 percent, [plaintiffs’ attorney Chad] Dunn said. An interim map for use in this fall’s elections, drawn as part of the lawsuit by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore last year, put that number at 40.4 percent.

County officials say the need to protect Precinct 1, a black-opportunity district under the Voting Rights Act, made it difficult to add Latinos to Precinct 2 because they share a long border. Dunn said he will show both precincts can be drawn as minority-opportunity districts.

Dunn said taxpayers, essentially, are footing the bill for [Commissioner Jack] Morman’s campaign, saying only “illegal redistricting” would allow Morman to retain the seat he earned in an “outlier” election.

“We’re happy with a map very similar to what the judge drew, but it appears Harris County is unwilling to come to a map along those lines,” Dunn said. “A majority of Harris County Commissioners Court has determined they’re willing to spend large amounts of taxpayer funds in order to drown out the voices of Latino voters.”


The U.S. Department of Justice “pre-cleared” Harris County’s redistricting map last year, saying it did not violate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Dunn and Ray said that is because the Justice Department agreed Precinct 2 did not have protected status and could be altered. Dunn said he will argue, under Section 2 of the act, that the precinct should be declared a protected district.

Ray said going to trial could result in a rougher road to re-election for Morman than under the interim map the plaintiffs say they would accept.

“The map drawn by the judge, should the plaintiffs prevail, could be a lot more favorable for a Hispanic being elected in Precinct 2 than it is at present,” Ray said. “The real risky gamble of going forward is for Precinct 2.”

More on the preclearance of the map is here, and of course Greg has the numbers from the original map, the do-over map that Harris County is defending, and the interim map from whence the image embedded in the post comes. Now that I have a draft canvass for Harris County I’ll be looking at the relevant numbers for the Commissioners Court precincts. The nice thing about the special election in Precinct 4 is that I can easily suss out the numbers for all four CC precincts, since three of the Commissioners were on the ballot. Look for a post on that in the coming days, possibly after Thanksgiving.

Endorsement watch: Boring

The Chron expends more words on the history and function of Commissioners Court than it does endorsing the three incumbents running to stay on the Court.

Precinct 1: Veteran incumbent El Franco Lee is our choice over an energetic Republican challenger, Chuck Maricle, whom we encourage to continue his interest in seeking public office.

Precinct 3: Steve Radack, the 24-year incumbent, has our backing for another term as commissioner of this westside precinct.

Precinct 4: Since being unanimously appointed by Commissioners Court in 2011 to replace Jerry Eversole, veteran County Court at Law Judge R. Jack Cagle has shown himself to be a quick study in assessing both the needs and potential of his geographically diverse district, which covers much of the north side of the county and extends inside the 610 Loop.

Nothing to see here. Lee and Cagle, who’s on the ballot to finish out Jerry Eversole’s unexpired term, are in solid precincts. The only question about Lee is when he plans to retire – there’s a line of wannabe successors awaiting that announcement longer than any you’ll see at an Apple store on delivery day of a new iPhone. The election that mattered in Precinct 4 was the Democratic primary, where Sean Hammerle’s win over the homophobe Dave Wilson meant one fewer embarrassing candidate on the November ballot. As for Radack, we saw in 2008 that his precinct is slowly trending Democratic, but not enough yet to entice a potentially strong challenger to him. Maybe in 2016, I don’t know. Like El Franco Lee, Radack’s going to retire one of these days, and like El Franco Lee, when that happens there’s going to be a lot of people who will want to succeed him. So, as there’s not much to these elections, we’ll look forward to the forthcoming ruling in the redistricting lawsuit, and to see who steps up to challenge freshman Commissioner Jack Morman, elected in the hundred-year flood that was 2010, in 2014.

Metro meeting about the General Mobility Program

Put it on your calendar.

You’re invited to attend a special board meeting to tell METRO what you think about the agency’s General Mobility Program (GMP) and the upcoming referendum.

The board meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 18, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in METRO’s board room at 1900 Main St.

If you wish to speak before the board, you may sign up the day of the meeting at tables in the lobby. There’s a three-minute limit on comments.

If you have an opinion on this, make sure you attend so you can have your say. Harris County Commissioners Court has an opinion about it.

At the court’s May 22 meeting, Commissioner Steve Radack held a series of annual payments to economic development groups, saying he wanted to know whether they supported the continued flow of mobility money from Metro.

The county heard back from five of the groups — (1) Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership, (2) Baytown-West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation, (3) Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, (4) Katy Economic Development Council and (5) Lone Star College -– and all said they wanted to keep the road money coming (along with, presumably, their combined $316,000 in county support).

The Greater Houston Partnership didn’t respond, so Commissioner Jack Morman asked today if GHP had specified its position on the mobility money or planned to do so. County officials didn’t know, so Radack again held the item –- and GHP’s $140,000 payment -– for another two weeks.

“GHP has no position on that right now,” said Micah Hirschfield, the group’s vice president of communications, when I asked him Wednesday afternoon. “Until our board of directors passes a resolution, if they do pass a resolution, we will have no position on it.”

No one has ever accused Steve Radack of being too subtle. I just wonder, if the GHP comes back with the wrong answer, will Radack continue to hold up their funds until they see the light? Nice little annual payment you’ve got there, sure would be a shame if something were to happen to it. Houston Tomorrow has more.

DOJ preclears Commissioners Court map

This came in late Friday.

The U.S. Department of Justice has approved Harris County’s redistricting map for commissioner precincts, which has been the subject of a lawsuit from Latino activists since August.

The approval, known as “pre-clearance” under the Voting Rights Act, means the Department of Justice has determined the court’s plan complies with Section 5 of the act, said Gene Locke, a lawyer who advised the county on its map.

The activists’ lawsuit, which alleges the county’s plan illegally dilutes Hispanic voting power in the southeast commissioner precinct, Precinct 2, is ongoing under a section of the act intended to protect the voting power of minorities.

“Harris County’s plan came under criticism, but the commissioners were always careful to take all legal and policy considerations into account to craft a plan that meets federal law and allows Harris County to deliver a high level of service to its citizens,” Locke said. “Obviously I am pleased that the Department of Justice recognized the legality of Harris County’s plan and pre-cleared it.”


Chad Dunn, attorney for the plaintiffs, said the pre-clearance means that he will need to go before the court again to prove his case.

“We’re ready to do that,” Dunn said. “We think that the evidence already presented to the court demonstrates that the plan the county adopted should not be used moving forward, and we’re confident that that will continue to be the case.”

The lawsuit is about Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The interim map drawn by Judge Vanessa Gilmore for the 2012 election will stay in place; since the lawsuit is mostly about the way Precinct 2 was drawn, and Precinct 2 Commissioner Jack Morman isn’t up for re-election until 2014, it’s a minimal change from the map the Commissioners drew. The crux of the dispute is that Precinct 2 as drawn by the Commissioners contains a larger Latino population than it did in the 2000 Census, but a smaller Latino population than it does right now. The plaintiffs argue that this constitutes retrogression – see Greg for the numbers. That’s for Judge Gilmore, and one presumes ultimately SCOTUS to decide.

Harris County interim map is out

Apparently, judges do work on weekends, because federal Judge Vanessa Gilmore issued this order on Saturday creating an interim map for Harris County, to be used for the 2012 election while the Section 2 lawsuit is being litigated. Greg has a color view and the relevant electoral and demographic data. Basically, Precinct 2 shed some Anglo turf in northeast Harris County and regained a number of Latino precincts from Precinct 1. The resultant map is a relatively minimal change from the current map, with the needed population adjustments to even out the precincts’ sizes; you can compare it to the county’s proposal here. While Precinct 2 and Commissioner Jack Morman are not up till 2014 and the ongoing lawsuit could alter thing further, I’m sure Sylvia Garcia will be taking a long look at this map. As things stand, it’s pretty close to 50-50 and ought to produce a competitive election down the line, again assuming no further changes. 2014 could be a very interesting year around here.