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Jarvis Johnson

Endorsement watch: A veritable plethora, part 4

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, part 3 is here, and the full endorsements page is here. I had thought this would finish up all the races of interest for us, but then I decided the Republican races were sufficiently interesting as well, so I’ll do those tomorrow.

CD18: Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee is so deeply entrenched in her congressional seat, knocking her off her throne is pretty close to mission impossible.

She won her post 24 years ago after downtown power brokers — notably Enron CEO Ken Lay — abandoned then-congressman Craig Washington over his opposition to NAFTA and the space station. Since then Jackson Lee has become legendary for her aggressive self-promotion, whether it’s speaking at Michael Jackson’s funeral or planting herself on the aisle before State of the Union speeches to get her picture on television shaking the president’s hand.

But even Democratic politicos who joke about her insatiable appetite for camera time have come to respect Jackson Lee as a hardworking voice for progressive causes. With almost a quarter-century of seniority, she now serves on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Budget committees. She likes to brag about her role in securing federal funds for a wide range of needs — from education to veteran services — for constituents in her district.

As you know, I agree. Nothing to see here, let’s move on.

SBOE4: Lawrence Allen

Lawrence Allen, Jr. who was first elected to the board in 2004, has been a principal, assistant principal and teacher across town and is now community liaison at Houston Independent School District. He holds a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Prairie View A&M University. As the senior Democrat on the board, Allen, 56, says that he sets the tone for his fellow Democrats about how to approach an issue in a professional way that’s not cantankerous. His collaborative style has been useful in steering this board away from the shores of political controversy and toward fact-based governance.

Since Allen has been on the Board for more than a decade, some could argue that it’s time for a change. However, Allen’s opponent, Steven A. Chambers, is not the person that voters should turn to as his replacement. Chambers, a pastor and educator, told the editorial board that he believes creationism should be taught as an option alongside evolution in Texas schools. After years of struggles with religious fundamentalists, the board has finally started embracing science standards and rejecting dogma. Electing Chambers to the board would risk reigniting this debate and undo the progress made by the board.

This isn’t my district, but I’ll sign on to that. Say No to creationism, always and in every form.

SD15: John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

Long-time State Senator John Whitmire, 68, is facing two talented challengers in the March 6 Democratic primary, but we endorse him for re-election because his experience and political skills will be needed as recovery from Hurricane Harvey continues.

State storm aid has been hard enough to come by even with him in Austin. We can only imagine how it would be without him and his 44 years in the state legislature, the last 35 in the Senate.

He is the dean of that body, has a deep knowledge of how it works and a rare ability in these polarized times to bridge political differences to get things done.

[…]

Of his two opponents, we were particularly impressed by Damian Lacroix, 43, a lawyer who offers a vision of a Texas Democratic Party that fights for its ideals and tries to heighten the contrast with Republicans rather than working behind the scenes for smaller and smaller gains.

“Being a state senator is more than just passing legislation and regulation,” Lacroix told the editorial board. “It is also being able to galvanize people and getting a message out to people, bringing them into the fold.”

There’s something to what LaCroix says, but especially when you’re in the minority you need some of each type. Whitmire’s the best we’ve got at the first type. There are more appealing options elsewhere in the Senate to add to the LaCroix type.

HD147: Garnet Coleman

Rep. Garnet Coleman

After 27 years on the job, state Rep. Garnet F. Coleman, 56, knows his way around the Texas Legislature about as well as anybody there and better than most. He’s a liberal Democrat in a sea of conservative Republicans who manages to get a surprising number of things done.

“Some people know how to kill bills, some people know how to pass bills. I know how to do both,” he told the editorial board.

[…]

Coleman has a long history of working on issues of mental and physical health and of seeking funds for the University of Houston and Texas Southern University, both in his district, which extends from downtown southeast past Hobby Airport.

He also says the state needs a revolving fund like the water development fund that local governments can tap into for flood control projects.

It was an oversight on my part to not include Rep. Coleman on the list of people I endorse. He’s one of the best and he deserves our support.

HD146: Shawn Thierry

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Freshman state Rep. Shawn Nicole Thierry, a 47-year-old attorney, showed a lot of promise in her first session of the Texas Legislature last year as she learned the ropes of being a Democratic legislator in a heavily Republican body.

She was successful enough to get six bills through the House of Representatives — not bad for a rookie legislator — and worked with Republican state Senator Lois Kolkhorst to pass a bill in the special session that extended the Task Force on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity.

The task force, which is studying our state’s Third Worldish maternal mortality rate and what to do about it, was scheduled to end next September, but now will continue until 2023.

Thierry has learned the importance of the personal touch in legislating – it was her letter to Gov. Greg Abbott that convinced him to include the task force issue in the special session.

As noted, Rep. Thierry was selected by precinct chairs as the substitute nominee for HD146 in 2016 after Borris Miles moved up to the Senate to succeed Rodney Ellis. She wasn’t my first choice for the seat – I’d have voted for Erica Lee Carter if I’d been one of the chairs who got to vote – but I agree that she’s done a good job and deserves another term. And with all due respect to her two male opponents, the Lege needs more women, not fewer.

HD142: Harold Dutton

Rep. Harold Dutton

State Rep. Harold V. Dutton, Jr. has served as representative for District 142 since 1985 and we see no compelling reason to lose his seniority and its advantages at a time when Democrats need all the help they can get.

The 73-year-old attorney has been a loyal fighter for his heavily black and Hispanic district that starts in the Fifth Ward and goes east then north to 1960. In last year’s legislative session he authored 106 bills, a big part of them having to do with criminal justice.

He cites improvements to the Fifth Ward’s Hester House community center as his proudest achievement, but he also passed laws that restored the right to vote to ex-felons, effectively stopped red-lining by insurance companies and protected home-buyers from fraud in the use of contracts for deeds. He is involved in efforts to improve struggling district high schools Kashmere, Worthing and Wheatley.

He is also responsible for the state bill under which the Texas Education Agency is threatening to shutter those schools. That might make him vulnerable to a strong challenger.

Rep. Dutton is definitely getting dragged on social media over his authorship of that bill, and also over some nasty remarks he’s directed at Durrel Douglas, who’s been among those fighting to save the mostly black schools that are at risk. His opponent isn’t particularly compelling, but he could be vulnerable going forward. I don’t have a dog in this fight – like most veteran legislators, Dutton has some good and some not-so-good in his record, but his seniority gives him a fair amount of clout. I expect him to win, but this is a race worth watching.

HD139: Jarvis Johnson

Rep. Jarvis Johnson

State Rep. Jarvis Johnson is being challenged by former Lone Star College board chairman Randy Bates in the largely black and Hispanic District 139 on the city’s near northwest side.

He served three terms on the Houston City Council before winning his first term in the Texas House in 2016, succeeding Sylvester Turner who left to run for mayor.

Johnson, 46, is a strong supporter of vocational education, proposes that police officers be required to get psychological exams every two years, holds job fairs in the district and wants to prevent gentrification of historic neighborhoods such as Acres Homes.

Bates, 68, was on the Lone Star board for 21 years, seven of those as chairman, and the main building on its Victory Center campus is named for him. He’s an attorney who heads Bates and Coleman law firm.

He ran for the state seat in 2016 and is running again because he said people in the community complained that Johnson “is not doing enough for our district.”

We have a lot of respect for the work Bates did on the Lone Star board, but he didn’t give us a compelling reason to support him over Johnson.

This is almost certainly the best chance to defeat Rep. Johnson, who doesn’t get the seniority argument that most of the other incumbents listed above have. He didn’t do much as a freshman, but that’s hardly unusual for a member of the minority caucus. I don’t have a strong opinion about this one.

HD27: Wilvin Carter

Four-term incumbent state Rep. Ron Reynolds is running for re-election despite the fact that he may be facing a year in jail for his conviction in 2016 for five cases of misdemeanor barratry, also known as ambulance chasing for his law practice.

He’s being challenged in his Fort Bend district by another lawyer, Wilvin Carter, a former assistant attorney general and Fort Bend County assistant district attorney. The district includes Sienna Plantation, Stafford and most of Missouri City. No Republicans are running for this seat so this Democratic primary essentially serves as the general election for District 27.

[…]

The unfortunate thing about Reynolds is that he is has a strong record for supporting environmental protection and gay rights, but with the possible jail sentence hanging over his head it’s hard to support him. He is a lawmaker who has been convicted of breaking the law, which is a breech of trust. Also, practically speaking, how much can he do for his constituents if he’s behind bars?

Voters should support Carter instead.

Reynolds is good on reproductive choice and a whole host of other issues as well. The Chron has endorsed Reynolds’ opponents in recent years due to his legal troubles and they have been pretty harsh about it, but here they recognize the dilemma. Reynolds’ voting record and personal charm have helped him maintain support, and I would bet on him being re-elected. I continue to hope he will step down and get his life straightened out, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

January 2018 finance reports: Harris County legislative candidates

We’ve looked at Congressional fundraising, now let’s look at some local legislative races.

Fran Watson – SD17
Rita Lucido – SD17
Ahmad Hassan – SD17

Natali Hurtado – HD126
Undrai Fizer – HD126

Gina Calanni – HD132
Carlos Pena – HD132

Marty Schexnayder – HD133
Sandra Moore – HD133

Allison Sawyer – HD134
Lloyd Oliver – HD134

Adam Milasincic – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Randy Bates – HD139
Jarvis Johnson – HD139

Richard Bonton – HD142
Harold Dutton – HD142

Shawn Thierry – HD146
Roy Owens – HD146
Ricardo Soliz – HD146

Garnet Coleman – HD147
Daniel Espinoza – HD147 – No report found

Here are the totals:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
Watson            SD17    24,212      9,773        0      6,968
Lucido            SD17    10,826      7,456    3,000     10,868
Hassan            SD17       775      1,845        0          0

Hurtado          HD126     2,250        978        0        750
Fizer            HD126       800          0        0        450

Calanni          HD132        10        750        0         10
Pena             HD132         0          0        0          0

Schexnayder      HD133     6,330      3,744        0      3,332
Moore            HD133       650        939        0        362
Other guy        HD133

Sawyer           HD134     7,493     11,160        0     16,355
Oliver           HD134         0        750        0          0

Milasincic       HD138    64,071     11,816        0     54,577
Pool             HD138     1,000        623        0        346

Bates            HD139    39,730     17,720        0     27,178
Johnson          HD139     8,014      8,299   15,174     18,562

Bonton           HD142     3,000     24,203        0      1,538
Dutton           HD142    22,000     48,112        0     61,677

Thierry          HD146    31,200     19,270   20,650     10,629
Owens            HD146         0      4,278        0        550
Soliz            HD146         0          0        0          0

Coleman          HD147    43,433     51,012        0    333,602
Espinoza         HD147

A lot less money here than in the Congressional races, that’s for sure. Some of that is because many of these candidates didn’t get into the race until December. Adam Milasincic, who has raised the most, has also been running for the longest, at least among the candidates in Republican districts. As it happens, thanks to the compressed primary schedule, the 30 day reports are already up – the reports I’ve linked and figures I’ve posted are all January reports, which run through the end of 2017. The 30-day reports cover roughly the five weeks after that. I may add them to the 2018 Legislative page, but I doubt I’ll do another one of these till the July reports are up. Point being, there’s more recent data if you want to find it.

The bottom line is that while we’ve done a great job funding our Congressional challengers, there’s work to be done at this level. As I said, many of our candidates were late getting in, so the picture may be different elsewhere in the state. I’ll repeat my call from the previous post for Congressional candidates who don’t make it to the runoff to consider sharing the wealth down the ballot. Be that as it may, the well is more than deep enough to support all of our standard-bearers. We just need to do it. I’ll have more from other races soon.

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

Filing news: Lupe Valdez is in for Governor

Here she comes.

Sheriff Lupe Valdez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of that primary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-holiday weekend filing update

Pulling this together from various sources.

– According to the Brazoria County Democratic Party, Beto O’Rourke has company in the primary for Senate. Sema Hernandez, whose campaign Facebook page describes her as a “Berniecrat progressive” from Houston, is a candidate as well. I’d not seen or heard her name before this, and neither she nor Beto has officially filed yet as far as I can tell, so this is all I know. Some free advice to Beto O’Rourke: Please learn a lesson from the Wendy Davis experience and run hard in South Texas and the Valley so we don’t wake up in March to a fleet of stories about how you did surprisingly poorly in those areas against an unknown with a Latinx surname. Thanks.

J. Darnell Jones announced on Facebook that he will be filing for CD02 on November 30, joining Todd Litton in that race. Jones is a retired Navy officer (he has also served in the Army) who ran for Pearland City Council this past May. He had been associated with this race for awhile, so this is just making it official.

– The field in CD10 is growing. Richie DeGrow filed at TDP headquarters before Thanksgiving. He lives in Austin has kind of a meandering biography that among other things indicates he has had a career in the hospitality industry; I’ll leave it to you to learn more. Tami Walker is an attorney in Katy who has experience with various state and federal regulatory agencies; I’m told she’s active with Indivisible Katy. Tawana Cadien, who has run a couple of times before, is still out there, and Ryan Stone has filed campaign finance reports, though I can’t find a web presence for him, and neither has filed yet as far as I can tell. Finally, Michael Siegel, who is an assistant City Attorney in Austin is collecting petition signatures in lieu of paying the filing fee.

– In CD22, we have Mark Gibson, a businessman and retired Army colonel who was the candidate in 2016, and Letitia Plummer, a dentist in Pearland who is unfortunately an object lesson in why you should register your name as a domain before entering politics. I am also hearing that Steve Brown, the 2014 Democratic candidate for Railroad Commissioner and former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, is planning to jump in.

– We have some interesting primaries for State House in Harris County. The rematch from 2016 in HD139 between first term Rep. Jarvis Johnson and former Lone Star College trustee Randy Bates may be the headliner, but there’s also Adam Milasincic versus two-time Council candidate Jenifer Pool for the right to run in a very winnable HD138. Finally, there’s Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore (about whom I can find no information) in the much less winnable HD133.

– In Fort Bend County, Sarah DeMerchant is back for a return engagement in HD26, Meghan Scoggins is running in HD28, and Jennifer Cantu, who does not yet have a web presence, is in for HD85. Rep. Ron Reynolds will once again have an opponent in HD27, this time facing Wilvin Carter.

– Still missing: Candidates in HDs 132 and 135 in Harris County, and 29 in Brazoria County. Also, Fort Bend has a number of county offices up for election this year – District Attorney, County Clerk, District Clerk, Treasurer – and no candidates for those offices that I am aware of. There’s two weeks left. Let’s not miss out.

An incomplete filing update

First, a little Republican action in CD02.

Rep. Ted Poe

Hurricane Harvey is reshaping congressional campaigns in Houston.

When the flood waters socked the Meyerland area, it also washed out the home of former hospital CEO David Balat, a Republican, who was hoping to unseat fellow Republican and current U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

“Like so many people, we’re being forced to relocate because of Hurricane Harvey,” Balat said. “We’re having to start over.”

Balat is now in the market for a new home and he’s had to revise his political plans. He’s still running for Congress, Balat has amended his campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and announced he is instead running for a different congressional district. Instead of Culberson’s 7th District – a mostly west Houston and western Harris County seat – Balat is now among a growing list of GOP candidates hoping to replace Rep. Ted Poe, R-Atascocita.

[…]

Last week, Rick Walker jumped into the race. The self-identified conservative Republican, said he will focus on more efficient government spending, smaller government and “cutting bureaucratic waste.” Walker, 38, is the CEO of GreenEfficient, a company that helps commercial businesses obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Also, Texas Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Houston, earlier this month filed papers to run for the 2nd Congressional District as well.

I figured there would be a big field on the Republican side for CD02. There are four now for CD02, the three mentioned in this story plus Kathaleen Wall, according to the county GOP filing page, and I would guess there will be more. I am a little surprised that only one current or former officeholder has filed for it, however.

Two other notes of interest on the Republican side: Sam Harless, husband of former State Rep. Patricia Harless, has filed for HD126, the seat Patricia H held and that Kevin Roberts is leaving behind. Former Rep. Gilbert Pena, who knocked off Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 in 2014 and then lost to her in 2016, is back for the rubber match.

On the Democratic side, we once again refer to the SOS filings page, hence the “incomplete” appellation in the title. Let’s do this bullet-point-style:

– Todd Litton remains the only Dem to file in CD02 so far. I’m sure he won’t mind if that stays the case. Five of the six known hopefuls in CD07 have made it official: Alex Triantaphyllis, Laura Moser, Jason Westin, Lizzie Fletcher, and James Cargas. Sylvia Garcia has filed in CD29, and she is joined by Hector Morales and Dominique Garcia, who got 4% of the vote as the third candidate in the 2016 primary; Armando Walle has not yet filed. Someone named Richard Johnson has filed to challenge Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. Dayna Steele filed in CD36; I expect Jon Powell to follow suit after the HCDP office reopens on Monday.

– It’s not on the SOS page yet, but Fran Watson posted on Facebook that she filed (in Austin) for SD17. Ahmad Hassan has also filed for that seat.

– We will have a rematch in HD139 as Randy Bates has filed for a second shot at that seat, against freshman Rep. Jarvis Johnson. Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147 also has an opponent, a Daniel Espinoza. There will be contested primaries in HDs 133 and 138, with Martin Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in the former and Adam Milasincic and Jenifer Pool in the latter. Undrai F. Fizer has filed in HD126, and Fred Infortunio in HD130.

– We have a candidate for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, a Daniel Box. Google tells me nothing about him, but there is someone local and of a seemingly appropriate geographical and ideological profile on Facebook.

That’s the news of interest as I know it. Feel free to tell me what else is happening.

Endorsement watch: Labor for Thompson, the Mayor for Miles

From the inbox:

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

Rep. Senfronia Thompson

The Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO today announced their support of Senfronia Thompson for State Senator District 13.

“Our unions screened two candidates for Senate District 13 — Representatives Senfronia Thompson and Borris Miles,” said Zeph Capo, President of the Area Labor Federation. “Both candidates have been steadfast allies in our efforts to give workers a voice on the job, raise wages for all, adequately fund public services, and defend civil rights. Ultimately, Thompson’s deep experience and long record as a champion for working families led us to back her.”

“Over her twenty-two terms of public service, Senfronia Thompson has been an energetic and consistent advocate of initiatives to help better the lives of working families,” said John Patrick, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “She is one of the most reliable, influential, and effective leaders with whom I have ever worked. Her knowledge of how state government works is what sets her apart from the other candidates.”

“Representative Thompson has the integrity, the vision, and the will to advocate for all of SD 13’s constituents. Labor will work hard to get her elected to office and help her achieve that goal,” added Hany Khalil, Executive Director of the Area Labor Federation.

The release, which came out on Thursday, is here. It was followed on Friday by this:

Rep. Borris Miles

Rep. Borris Miles

Dear Fellow Democrat,

Please join me in supporting Borris Miles for State Senate, District 13.

With the departure of Senator Rodney Ellis to join Commissioners Court, we need to make sure that we have an energetic warrior for the people representing us in the State Senate. That’s my friend and former House colleague, Borris Miles.

I’ve worked with Borris for years and watched his commitment and skill in moving our Democratic priorities forward.

From giving misguided kids a second chance at a better life, to doubling fines for outsiders who dump their trash in our neighborhoods, to increasing access to health care and expanding educational opportunities for us all – Borris gets the job done.

Believe me, it’s tough getting things done as a Democrat in a Republican-controlled legislature. But that’s exactly what our communities deserve.

I’m for Borris because Borris is a warrior for the people. That’s why I respectfully ask you to cast your vote for Borris as the Democratic Party’s nominee for State Senate, District 13.

Warm regards,

Mayor Sylvester Turner

But wait! There’s still more!

Thompson, who first was elected in 1972, has picked up a slew of endorsements from area Democratic congressmen and state legislators.

They include U.S. Reps. Al Green and Gene Green, as well as state Reps. Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Jessica Farrar, Ana Hernandez, Ron Reynolds, Hubert Vo, Armando Walle and Gene Wu.

Fort Bend County Commissioner Grady Prestage and the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation and the also have endorsed Thompson, among others.

[…]

Miles also touted Dutton’s support, in addition to that of former Mayor Annise Parker, state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jarvis Johnson, among others.

Dutton could not immediately be reached for comment to clarify which candidate he has in fact backed.

Asked if he has received any endorsements, Green said he is focused on earning precinct chairs’ support.

I’m a little surprised at how active Mayor Turner has been in intra-Democratic elections so far. Mayor Parker was a lot more circumspect, and Mayor White basically recused himself from party politics for his six years in office. I guess I’m not that surprised – the Lege was his bailiwick for a long time – and while these family fights often get nasty, I’m sure he’s fully aware of the pros and cons of getting involved. Whatever the case, this race just got a lot more interesting.

Democratic primary runoff results

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Harris County results

Fort Bend County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Just for the record, we didn’t get any precinct results until 8:34, at which time only 8% of precincts had reported. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of overwhelming turnout this time. We did get a big batch just after 9, but thanks to some close races, Harris County results will be the last ones I write about in this post.

Grady Yarbrough cements his position as this generation’s Gene Kelly by winning the Railroad Commissioner runoff. I’ll say again, you want a decent candidate to win these downballot primaries, especially against a perennial candidate, you’re going to need some investment in those races.

On a more interesting note, first-time candidate Vicente Gonzalez won the runoff in CD15 to succeed retiring Rep. Ruben Hinojosa. Gonzalez drew support from a bunch of Congressional incumbents, including the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Someone at least thinks he has a bright future, so keep an eye on him.

In Bexar County, Barbara Gervin-Hawkins will succeed retiring Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in HD120.

In fairness to Stan Stanart, the Fort Bend County result reporting was even worse. They posted some precinct results a few minutes before Harris did, then bizarrely went back to showing early votes with zero precincts in. That was still the case as of 9:45 PM, then finally at 10 PM all the results came in at once. The deservedly maligned Rep. Ron Reynolds led 59-41 after early voting, then held on for a 53-47 margin. I wonder if voters were changing their minds, or if it was just the nature of Reynolds supporters to vote early. Whatever the case, he won.

And from Harris County:

– Dakota Carter wins in SBOE6.
– Ed Gonzalez will be the nominee for Sheriff.
– Judge Elaine Palmer easily held off JoAnn Storey for the 215th Civil District Court. Kristin Hawkins had an easy win for the 11th. The closest race of the evening was in the 61st, where Fredericka Phillips nosed out Julie Countiss by 210 votes after overcoming a small early lead by Countiss.
– Eric William Carter won in JP Precinct 1, while Hilary Green held on in JP Precinct 7.
– Chris Diaz romped in Constable Precinct 2, while Sherman Eagleton cruised in Constable Precinct 3.

And finally, Jarvis Johnson won in HD139, entirely on the strength of absentee ballots. Kimberly Willis won the early in-person vote as well as the Runoff Day vote, but not by a large enough margin given the modest number of people who turned out. Johnson will have the seniority advantage over his fellow freshmen thanks to his win in the special election, but this is not the kind of result that will scare anyone off for the next cycle.

Final runoff early voting numbers

EarlyVoting

Here are your final early voting numbers for the Republican and Democratic primary runoffs in Harris County. Note that in both cases, mail ballots have accounted for the majority of the total so far: On the Dem side, there have been 10,913 mail ballots to 10,364 in-person votes, and for the Rs it’s 15,297 to 12,742. For that reason, I don’t expect Tuesday’s results to provide a big boost to turnout, though there are still plenty of people who could vote if they wanted to. We’ll see how good a job the campaigns do at getting their people out.

There are two legislative runoffs in Harris County. In the increasingly nasty HD128 runoff between Republican incumbent Wayne Smith and challenger Briscoe Cain, the effect can be seen in the daily totals from the County Clerk. There were 1,858 in person votes in HD128, nearly double the amount of the next busiest district. It’s more muted on the Democratic side, where 932 people have shown up to pick between Jarvis Johnson and Kimberly Willis. That total trails HDs 146 (984) and 142 (949), not to mention the 1,012 votes cast at the West Gray Multi-Service Center. Of course, the dailies from the Clerk are for in person votes only. We won’t know how many absentee ballots have been cast in each district until Tuesday night.

Speaking of Jarvis Johnson, I could swear I saw a story late last week saying he had been sworn into office after his win in the May 7 special election to fill the remainder of now-Mayor Sylvester Turner’s term, but if so now neither Google nor I can find it. Johnson did pick up Mayor Turner’s endorsement for the primary runoff last week, and he has been endorsed by the Texas AFL-CIO COPE as well. Kimberly Willis has the support of the Texas Parent PAC, but not as far as I can tell Annie’s List. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus did not make an endorsement in this runoff.

Outside of Harris County, you know about the HD27 runoff. The other legislative runoff of interest is in HD120, where candidate Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (who is endorsed by Annie’s List) kicked up a bit of a fuss with labor by appearing to give support to “right to work” laws at a candidate forum. That cost her one endorsement she’s previously received; you can read Express News columnist Gilbert Garcia for the details. By the way, the basically useless special election to fill the unexpired term in HD120, which involved four people who are not in the primary runoff, will have its runoff election on August 2. Lord help us all.

Finally, in the Republican runoff for State Board of Education, District 9, Mary Lou Bruner, this cycle’s winner of the Biggest Idiot Who May Actually Get Elected To Something award, may have inadvertently demonstrated that even in a Republican primary runoff for SBOE in East Texas, there are some limits on stupidity. Maybe. That’s not a proposition I’d want to bet my own money on, but we’ll see. SBOE 9 did elect Thomas Ratliff once, so there is hope and precedent. Ask me again on Wednesday.

Roundup of runoff candidate interviews and Q&As

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As we know, early voting for the primary runoffs begins in a week. I did my usual series of interviews and judicial Q&As for the primary, but there were a few candidates I didn’t get to for one reason or another. So, to refresh everyone’s memory and to give another chance to get acquainted with who will be on the Democratic runoff ballot, here are links to all those interviews and Q&As for your convenience. Remember that turnout in this election is likely to be quite low, so your vote really matters.

SBOE 6

Dakota Carter
Jasmine Jenkins

HD27

Rep. Ron Reynolds
Angelique Brtholomew

(Note: Rep. Reynolds declined a request for an interview.)

HD139

Kimberly Willis
Jarvis Johnson

District Judge, 11th Judicial District

Kristen Hawkins
Rabeea Collier

District Judge, 61st Judicial District

Julie Countiss
Fredericka Phillips

District Judge, 215th Judicial District

Judge Elaine Palmer
JoAnn Storey

Sheriff

Ed Gonzalez
Jerome Moore

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 1

Eric William Carter
Tanya Makany-Rivera

Jarvis Johnson wins HD139 special election

For whatever it turns out to be worth.

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Houston voters on Saturday selected Jarvis D. Johnson to fill the remainder of the unexpired term of former District 139 State Representative Sylvester Turner, now mayor of Houston.

Johnson, a former Houston city councilman, defeated Rickey “Raykay” Tezino in Saturday’s race, according to unofficial results. He was the only challenger.

Johnson will serve until at least January. To hold on to the position past that point, Johnson will have to defeat Kimberly Willis in a May 24 special election.

Willis, a social worker and community activist, did not choose to compete in Saturday’s bid to fill Turner’s unexpired term, instead focusing her efforts on the May 24 match up. Primary runoff elections in judicial, sheriff’s and constable races will also be held that day.

Here are the election returns from the Secretary of State. As you can see, the story does not convey the magnitude of Johnson’s win, which was with over 83% of the vote. Of course, that was 83% of 1,836 total votes, so as landslides go it was fairly modest in scope. It’s the election on May 24 that really matters. If Johnson wins that, he gets a head start on all the other freshman legislators-to-be. If not, he’s just another footnote.

Here are the HD120 special election results as well, in which two people who will not be a part of the 2017 Legislature will now go to a runoff to decide who gets to be called “Representative” for a few months. I pity everyone involved in that endeavor.

In other news, here are the election results from Fort Bend County. Of interest are the city of Richmond ballot propositions. As noted in that Chron story above, Proposition 1, to increase the number of city commissioners, passed by a large margin, with over 82% voting in favor. Prop 2, for single member districts, failed by a 47-53 tally.

And finally, every election has at least one reminder that every vote counts. Here’s this election’s reminder:

The Katy School Board Race between Joe Adams and George Scott will not be decided until Friday when provisional ballots are examined, and when additional military ballots could arrive in the mail.

When the votes were tallied on Saturday night George Scott was ahead of incumbent Joe Adams by seven votes. Scott had 1,473 votes to Adams 1,466 but there are 12 provisional ballots that need further examination. That examination will happen on Friday according to Scott. Friday is also the deadline for military ballots.

Seven votes, y’all. I couldn’t find an official election returns page, so I’ll assume that this story is accurate, and I’ll keep my eyes open for a followup on Friday. In the meantime, my tentative congratulations to George Scott for the win.

Early voting ends for HD139 special election

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Here are the final early voting totals from the HD139 special election. The disparity between absentee ballots and in-person votes is pretty amazing, isn’t it? I’m going to guess that the Saturday in-person total will be less than the 200 early votes, making the overall total in the 1500 to 1600 range.

As I noted before, this election is to finish out now-Mayor Turner’s unexpired term. The real race for HD139 is the Democratic primary runoff, which will take place on May 24. Early voting for that should run from May 16-20. If Jarvis Johnson wins the special election and the May 24 primary runoff, he gets to have a seven-month boost in seniority when he’s sworn in next January. Otherwise, barring an unlikely special session later this year, no one will remember anything about this election afterwards.

KUHF notes that there are a number of local elections on the menu this Saturday, though I think it’s fair to say that the vast majority of Harris County residents have no voting responsibility. Indeed, the HD139 special election is the only one for which the County Clerk is involved. Katy ISD, which includes parts of Fort Bend and Waller Counties as well, and the various MUDs are conducting their own elections, so you need to know if you live in one of those places and then find the appropriate website to know where and when to vote on Saturday. Sugar Land and Richmond in Fort Bend have local races going on, too.

The Rivard Report reminds me that HD139 isn’t the only special legislative election happening right now.

The four candidates for the special May 7 election are Latronda Darnell, Chris Dawkins, Lou Miller and Laura Thompson. Darnell, Dawkins and Miller each filed as a Democrat, and Thompson filed as an independent, to represent a heavily Democratic legislative district.

Darnell is a political newcomer and legislative director who interned for McClendon. Darnell and Lou Miller, an insurance agent, were among six candidates who ran in the March 1 Democratic primary for a full two-year term as the District 120 representative. Darnell and Lou Miller placed fifth and sixth, respectively.

Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, founder and superintendent of the George Gervin Academy (and sister of the Spurs legend), and former City Councilman Mario Salas emerged from the March 1 primary as the two top vote-getters and will be in a May 24 runoff. The winner will be unopposed in November’s general election.

See here for some background, and here for more on the primary in HD120. The fact that neither of the top two finishers in the March primary filed for the special election means that the stakes here are even lower than they are in HD139. Barring anything unexpected (*), the winner of the HD120 special election will be nothing more than a placeholder. I’ll be interested to see how the turnout in that compares to HD139. (The early voting totals from the Bexar County Elections department are for the whole county, not just HD120, and includes a referendum in the city of Castle Hills about continued participation in the VIA transit system, among other things.) The Trib, which covers both legislative specials, has more.

(*) Yes, we are expecting a ruling from the Supreme Court on school finance in the next month or so, and it is possible Greg Abbott could call a special session to deal with that. I’d bet that any school finance special session comes next year, after the regular session. The odds of a special session this year are not zero, but unless you gave me Leicester City odds, I would not bet any money on one happening.

Endorsement watch: Why bother?

The Chronicle barely musters a shrug for the special election in HD139.

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

The winner of this election will cast no ballots in the state Legislature – presuming that Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t call an unexpected special session. At the very best, that person will get to sit on a few interim committees and use the office’s bully pulpit to bring attention to important community issues.

With this position’s limited scope in mind, the Chronicle endorses Jarvis D. Johnson in the special election for District 139.

The former three-term city councilman did not receive our endorsement in the actual race for this seat. While on council, Johnson faced allegations of trying to direct city contracts and was charged with evading arrest. However, his opponent for the May 24 race, Kimberly Willis, is not running for this placeholder position. Instead, Johnson is running against Rickey “Raykey” Tezino, a self-proclaimed “conservative Democrat” who didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

That would serve as a pretty good dictionary example for the word “lukewarm”. The Chron didn’t waste any effort covering the race, either. You can be upset and cynical about this, or you can bear in mind that the stakes for this election are so low as to be basically non-existent. When you have a Legislature that only convenes every other year, it’s hard to be excited about an election that only affects the odd year out. The election that matters is May 24. This one is what it is.

Early voting for May 7 elections begins today

Hey, remember that special election to fill out Mayor Turner’s unexpired term in HD139? Early voting for it – and for the other elections on the May 7 ballot – begins today. Who knew, right? Here’s the press release from the County Clerk’s office:

HD139_early_voting_locations

The Early Voting Period for the May 7, 2016, Special Election in State Representative District (SRD) 139 begins Monday, April 25, and continues through Tuesday, May 3. The election is being held to fill the position vacated January 1 by City of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. A detailed Early Voting Schedule can be found at www.HarrisVotes.com.

“This Special Election provides voters in SRD 139 the opportunity to let their voices be heard and familiarize themselves with the new Early Voting locations in the area,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart. “Since the last presidential election, we have added two early voting locations in the SRD 139 area to relieve voting lines at the Acres Homes Early Voting site.”

In total, there will be four early voting locations where registered voters in SRD 139 may cast votes in the Special Election, including:

  • Acres Homes Multi-Service Center, 6719 W. Montgomery Rd., Houston, Texas 77091;
  • Lone Star College, Victory Center, 4141 Victory Dr., Houston, Texas 77088;
  • Fallbrook Church, 12512 Walters Rd., Houston, Texas 77014; and
  • The Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, Houston, Texas 77002

“I encourage voters in SRD 139 to vote at any one of the four early voting locations,” emphasized Stanart, the chief election officer of the County. “Voting early is the best option because, by law, voters are limited to voting at their designated polling location on Election Day.” There are approximately 91,000 registered voters in State House District 139.

To obtain more information about the SRD 139 Special Election, including an early voting schedule, a personal sample ballot, or a list of acceptable forms of photo identification required to vote in person, voters can call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965 or visit the Harris County Clerk’s election website, www.HarrisVotes.com.

Harris County voters may also visit www.HarrisVotes.com to find out if they are able to vote in any of the over 85 political entities within Harris County that are conducting elections on May 7, 2016.

The full early voting schedule is here. Now you may ask yourself, who exactly is running in this special election? Turns out, there are two candidates: Jarvis Johnson, who as you know is in the primary runoff for the Democratic nomination (the winner of which will be elected in November), and Rickey “RayKay” Tezino, who also has a Congressional campaign website that doesn’t specify a district, and an unclear idea about how long the term of office he is running for is. I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that Jarvis Johnson will win this race, which will give him a leg up on seniority if he also wins on May 24. Here’s my interview with Jarvis Johnson from the March primary if you happen to be thinking about voting in the special. At least there won’t be a runoff for this one.

Also on the ballot on May 7 is Katy ISD Board of Trustees, which has one contested race and one uncontested race. Katy ISD, like the city of Katy, exists in Harris, Fort Bend, and Waller Counties, so this election is not being administered by the Harris County Clerk. Katy ISD voting precinct information is here, and early voting information for it is here. I interviewed candidate George Scott for the contested race, in District 1, and you can listen to that here.

Beyond that, there are various races in Fort Bend County – you can see a list of the entities holding elections and sample ballots for them here, and the early voting schedule and locations here. I know nothing about any of these races, so I’m afraid you’re on your own there. And of course there’s the Uber ordinance referendum in Austin, which will likely have implications around the state and maybe the country. Any races of interest in your area? Leave a comment and let us know.

Runoff watch: Legislative races

I’m going to spend a few posts looking at the runoff elections that will be on the ballot this May. Primary runoffs are completely different than regular primaries, mostly because the races involved are low profile and only the hardest of hardcore voters come out for them. Remember how much time we spent this primary cycle talking about the 2008 Democratic primary and how off-the-charts high the turnout was? Well, turnout for the 2008 Democratic primary runoff in Harris County, which decided one District Judge nomination and one Justice of the Peace nomination, as well as voting on the nomination for Railroad Commissioner, drew all of 9,670 votes. Republican primary runoff turnout that year was 40,457, considerably higher but still quite paltry. The exception to this rule is when there is an actual high-profile race on the ballot, such as in 2012 when Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst went into overtime for the US Senate nomination. That year, in a runoff that happened in July, over 135,000 people came out to vote. The Democratic runoff, which also included a Senate race, drew 30,000 votes. Point being: Don’t expect much this year.

The bottom line is that there are two types of primary runoff voters: Those who are super plugged into the process and who turn out any time there’s an election, and those who are brought out by a campaign. In the absence of a high-profile campaign, the kind that draws news coverage and maybe TV advertising, the main kind of campaign that will draw out voters is one with a ground game. Legislative races are the best for that. There are three legislative runoffs of interest, two in Harris County and one in Fort Bend.

HD128 – Republican runoff

Rep. Wayne Smith

I don’t pay that much attention to most Republican primary races, and even if I did I doubt I’d have given this one much thought. Rep. Wayne Smith in HD128 is a low-key guy, serving as the Chair of the Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee and generally not doing much to attract my attention. He hadn’t had a competitive primary since he was first elected in 2002, and hadn’t had a non-third party opponent since 2004. Yet there he was on Election Day, trailing some guy named Brisco Cain by four points and coming close to losing outright in a three-candidate field. What happened?

I’ll leave you to read this Big Jolly post to get an idea. Basically, it’s one part Smith not being “conservative” enough – Cain drew a ton of support from the “grassroots” organizations – and one part this being yet another proxy fight over Speaker Joe Straus. That’s likely to be how the runoff plays out, though so far it’s been as under the radar from the perspective of an interested outsider like myself as the March race was. Smith’s best chance, it seems to me, is for Straus’ money to buy him some voter outreach, and get as many people who think he’s been good for Baytown to the polls. Cain, who ran for HD129 in 2014 but finished fourth in the seven-candidate primary, needs to harness the same seething anger that propels candidacies like his. He had a 500-vote lead on March 1, and the kind of people that vote for the kind of candidate that he is tend to be highly motivated to turn out, so I see this as Cain’s race to lose. I predict there will be at least one controversy over a mailer or online ad attacking Smith, because that’s the way these things tend to go and also because groups like Empower Texans are backing Cain. If you’re a Republican, how do you see this race?

HD139 – Democratic runoff

This is the race for Mayor Turner’s open seat, with the winner of the primary runoff the winner of the office, since there is no Republican running. (The same is true for the HD128 runoff.) Candidate Randy Bates collected the most institutional support, and he led the field when the initial results, from early and absentee voting, were published. He then collected only 20% of the vote on Election Day, and slid into third place behind Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. I’m not sure what happened there, but if I had to guess I’d posit that 1) Willis had a better ground game, and 2) Johnson benefited from the high turnout on Election Day, as perhaps it featured a higher percentage of voters who were voting for a familiar name. Like I said, that’s just a guess.

I could see this runoff going either way. I have not yet seen updated endorsements from the groups that had backed Bates in March, but I’ll be surprised if it isn’t the case that Willis cleans up among them. She has been by far the more active campaigner of the two, and Johnson’s legacy as Council member isn’t the best. I think Willis will be able to turn out some voters for this race, and that gives her the edge, but Johnson’s name recognition can’t be denied. Willis’ model needs to be Erica Lee’s runoff win for HCDE in 2012, which she accomplished despite Johnson nearly taking a majority in the first round. If she can reach enough voters, she can win.

On a side note, there is a complicating factor for this race, and that’s the special election to fill out the remainder of Turner’s term, which will be held on May 7, a mere 17 days before the primary runoff. I don’t know when the filing deadline is for this, and I don’t know who all will be in that race, but surely Willis and Johnson will file for it. If nothing else, it’s another opportunity to get out there before the voters. As long as they understand that their obligation doesn’t end with that race and they come out again on May 24, that is.

HD27 – Democratic runoff

The one non-Harris County race of interest, and the one with the highest profile so far. You know the story – three-term Rep. Ron Reynolds and his tsuris, with Annie’s List-backed Angelique Bartholomew the last candidate standing against him. Reynolds, like Briscoe Cain in HD128, was above 50% for most of the night on March 1. In fact, I went to bed around midnight having stated that Reynolds had pulled it out. Not so fast, as it happened.

What Reynolds has going for him is that a lot of people still genuinely like him – for all his self-inflicted wounds, even his opponents have compassion for him – and he hasn’t lost the support of elected officials and many establishment groups. What he has going against him, besides his conviction for barratry, is at least one establishment group that is sure to spend money to try to defeat him, money that he doesn’t have and probably won’t be able to raise. There’s also ammunition to use against him that goes beyond the barratry issue. I think he’s buoyant enough that this is still his race to lose – again, he came very close to winning outright in the first place – but he’s not invulnerable. If there are any further cracks in his support, it could shatter on him.

2016 primaries: State races

Let’s start with the Democratic race for Railroad Commissioner, and a few words from Forrest Wilder:

Not that Gene Kelly

The Gene Kelly Effect: Texas Democrats are almost perennially embarrassed by what you might call the Gene Kelly Effect — the depressing tendency of many Democratic primary voters to vote for a name they recognize on the ballot, without any regard to the person’s experience or qualifications.

Gene Kelly is the clever/annoying fellow who shares a name with a long-dead dancer and ran repeatedly in the ’90s and ’00s, garnering millions of votes and forcing expensive and time-consuming runoff elections without even pretending to run a campaign. (Perhaps it’s also a reflection of the electorate’s average age, since the dancer Gene Kelly’s heyday was in the ’40s and ’50s.)

Though Gene Kelly hasn’t run for office since 2008, a new spoiler has arrived on the scene. His name is Grady Yarbrough and his last name sounds awfully similar to (but is in fact different from) Ralph Yarborough, the legendary liberal Texas senator. In 2012, Yarbrough won 26 percent of the vote in a four-way race to be the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate. That was enough to muscle his way into a runoff with former state Representative Paul Sadler and score 37 percent of the vote.

This year, Yarbrough is running against former state Rep Lon Burnam and Democratic labor activist Cody Garrett for a spot on the Texas Railroad Commission. Burnam is by far the most serious candidate — if measured by endorsements, money raised, legislative experience, etc. Can Burnam (or Garrett) clear 50 percent and avoid a costly runoff, or will Yarbrough, like Gene Kelly, be singin’ in the rain (of ballots)?

Sadly, that was not to be, as Yarbrough led the field with about 40% and Burnam coming in third at 26%. I’ll be voting for Cody Garrett in the runoff, thanks. Burnam did raise a little money, but it was a pittance, the kind of total that would get you laughed at in a district City Council race. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, one of these days the big Democratic check-writers are going to have to realize that they need to robustly support qualified candidates in these low-profile primaries, or we’re going to stop getting any qualified candidates for these offices. I know that the Republican nominee is the overwhelming favorite to win in November, but that’s not the point, and besides, who knows what might happen with Trump at the top of the GOP ticket. One of these days a Democrat is going to win one of these races, and if we’re not careful it’s going to be whatever schmo that bothered to pay the filing fee. Do we want to avoid that fate or actively court it?

Anyway. The marquee race was the rematch in SD26, and it was headed for the same result as before, with Sen. Jose Menendez holding a comfortable lead. However you viewed this race, I’m sad for TMF and sorry to see him leave the scene. He’ll be missed. Congratulations, Sen. Menendez. Also winning, by a much wider margin, was Sen. Carlos Uresti over the widow of former Sen. Frank Madla.

For the State House races, I had said yesterday that I was a little worried about the four Harris County Democratic incumbents who had drawn challengers. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Reps. Alma Allen and Jessica Farrar cruised with nearly 90% (!) of the vote, while Gene Wu and Hubert Vo were up by two-to-one margins. Whew! There was good news also out of El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez was over 60% against former Rep. Chente Quintanilla. In not so good news, Rep. Ron Reynolds was headed towards a clear win in HD27. All I can say is that I hope he’s not in jail when the gavel bangs next January. As long as he’s still in office, any calls for Ken Paxton to resign are going to ring just a little hollow.

For the open seat races, Randy Bates led in early voting in HD139, but as the evening wore on he was passed by Kimberly Willis and Jarvis Johnson. Former Rep. Mary Ann Perez started slowly but eventually won a majority in HD144, with Cody Ray Wheeler next in line behind her. Other races of interest:

HD49: Gina Hinojosa, daughter of TDP Chair Gilbert Hinojosa, was headed towards a clear win to succeed Elliott Naishtat. Huey Ray Fischer was in third place.

HD77: Lina Ortega wins big to succeed Rep. Marissa Marquez.

HD116: Diana Arevalo was over 50% to succeed TMF. Runnerup Martin Golando was TMF’s chief of staff. To say the least, not a good day for Trey Martinez-Fischer.

Hd118: Tomas Uresti gets another shot at winning that seat. Hope he does better than in that special election runoff.

HD120: Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, daughter of former Spurs legend George Gervin, will face Mario Salas in a runoff.

SBOE6: Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter head to the runoff.

SBOE1: Georgina Perez, the more interesting candidate, won without a runoff.

On the Republican side, there is too much so I will sum up: Supreme Court incumbents all won, while there will be runoffs for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Reps. Byron Hughes and Susan King were the leading candidates for the two open Senate seats. Speaker Joe Straus won his race handily, but several incumbents were losing at last report: Stuart Spitzer, Byron Cook (a top lieutenant for Straus), Marsha Farney, Molly White, Wayne Smith (surprise #1), and Debbie Riddle (surprise #2). I can’t wait to hear some of those stories. Here’s the story on the GOP Railroad Commissioner race, one in which there was a lot of money spent. Last but not least, the crazy may be back in the SBOE, as Mary Lou Bruner was close to a majority of the vote. Praise the Lord and pass the bong.

For plenty of other information on these and other races, here’s your supplemental reading assignment:

Trib liveblog

Observer liveblog

Chron live coverage

Rivard report

Austin Chronicle

BOR

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

Interview with Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

When I first did interviews for candidates in the primary for HD139, I did not include former Council member Jarvis Johnson. The main reason for this was that I couldn’t find any online presence for him – the Google searches I did led me to old webpages of his, from prior campaigns – and thus didn’t have any way to contact him. Well, I don’t know if Google had an indexing issue or if I was just doing it wrong, but he does indeed have a current campaign webpage, and he reached out to me to inquire about the omission, so here we are. Johnson is the owner of Aunt Bea’s restaurant, for which part of the mission is to give a second chance to people who have been in the criminal justice system, and a three time Council member from District B who has also run for Congress in 2010 and the HCDE in 2012. I have interviewed him twice before, once for his last Council campaign and once for his Congressional race. Here’s what we talked about this time:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2016 Election page.

Endorsement watch: Succeeding Sylvester

The Chron makes its choice for HD139.

Kimberly Willis

Kimberly Willis

We encourage Democratic Party voters to look for a candidate who will emulate Turner’s successful model of connecting constituents’ interests with the levers of state power in Austin. We believe that Kimberly Willis will be that candidate.

Willis’ experience as a former staffer in the Legislature and as a social worker in Houston gives her a comprehensive view of the ways in which government programs can impact neighborhoods.

“I understand what good public policy does for a community,” she told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

[…]

Also running for the position are Randy Bates, 66, a former Lone Star College trustee; Jerry Ford Jr., 23, a student activist; and Jarvis Johnson, 44, a former member of Houston City Council.

Ford has an impressive passion and said he is running to spark a movement of youth involvement in politics, but he could use a little more experience. Bates and Johnson both have that experience as elected officials. However, Bates relied too much on vagaries when he talked with the editorial board. Johnson faced allegations of unethical and illegal behavior while on City Council, including allegations of trying to direct city contracts and being charged with evading arrest. He was never indicted or convicted, but too many questions still remain about Johnson’s political ethics.

Here are my interviews with Willia, Ford, and Bates. I’ll just note that Jarvis Johnson had no online campaign presence as my last check, and did not file a January finance report. He does almost certainly have the most name recognition among the foursome, and came dangerously close to winning a seat on the HCDE in 2012, so don’t count him out.

Meanwhile, since I happened to come across it, here are some primary legislative recommendations from San Antonio:

In Texas House District 116, three Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination to replace state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who is vacating the post to run for the Texas Senate.

The three contenders are Diana Arévalo, Martin Golando and Ruby Resendez. All three have the potential to be solid public servants, but Golando has far more relevant experience than the others. And for that reason, we recommend that voters cast their ballots for Golando.

Serving as Martinez Fischer’s chief of staff for almost 10 years, Golando has a vast amount of experience in the legislative process that will enable him to hit the ground running. A lawyer, Golando has served as the general counsel of the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, which was led by Martinez Fischer.

[…]

We strongly urge Democrats to nominate [Gabe] Farias [in HD118], who has served as president and CEO of the West Side Chamber of Commerce since 2012. Farias has an understanding of business issues that will be helpful in the Legislature. He also has served on the staff of two City Council members and worked in the office of state Rep. Roland Gutierrez.

Additionally, Farias demonstrates a superior knowledge of key legislative matters, advocates expanding Medicaid and is a strong supporter of public education.

[…]

We recommend that voters cast their ballots for Byron Miller, an Edwards Aquifer Authority board member who has been elected to the EAA District 2 post three times. Miller’s EAA experience gives him a strong foundation to be a voice for Bexar County on water policy, which is a crucial issue in the state.

Miller is a lifelong resident of District 120 and has a long record of civic involvement, ranging from being a Boy Scoutmaster to serving on the Carver Cultural Center and Witte Museum boards. Miller also served on the Bexar County Coliseum Advisory board.

[…]

In District 124, we strongly recommend Ina Minjarez, who last spring was elected to the post formerly held by Sen. José Menéndez with only weeks remaining in the legislative session.

Starting at the bottom, Minjarez was the E-N’s preferred candidate in that special election last year, and all the things I’ve heard about her so far have been positive. I don’t know Martin Golando, but people in San Antonio and with connections to the Lege that I respect are all high on him, and that’s good enough for me. The stakes may have been low in that HD118 special election, but Tomas Uresti lost it, and that sure seems like a good reason to support Gabe Farias (also the E-N choice in round one of that special election). Finally, I don’t know the candidates in HD120 (Art Hall ran for Railroad Commissioner in 2008 but finished out of the money in a three-way primary), so I welcome any input from the locals in that race.

On helping District B

District B Council Member Jerry Davis is taking a direct approach to improving his district.

CM Jerry Davis

Davis hopes to inspire through his do-it-yourself approach a strengthened ethic of self-reliance. The answers to the challenges of District B, and there are many – high poverty, low graduation rates, abandoned homes, illegal dumping and crumbling streets – often lie with the residents of the district, not with City Hall, he said.

Davis is trying to fix District B one lot at a time. He frequently goes into the field in khakis or shorts to do trash pickups and weed lots. He is trying to find a way to make free estate planning advice available to reduce the number of homes that fall into decay once the family matriarch dies without a will. He has convened a task force to strategize ways to combat illegal dumping. He has formed a District B advisory council, not just to get feedback on what needs fixing, but to ask attendees what they intend to do about the issues they raise. On Saturday, he led a march at Tidwell Park to promote literacy in a district where just 31 percent of residents have high school diplomas.

His approach differs in emphasis from that of his predecessors. Jarvis Johnson, who served six years as District B councilman until last December, lauded his successor’s willingness to toil in the trenches. Johnson himself focused much of his energy on wooing developers. It is a matter of impact, Johnson explained.

“I didn’t want to chase my tail. The only way you change a community is by creating development,” Johnson said. Cutting weeds down works for a short time, Johnson said. Then the weeds grow back.

“When you can build on a vacant lot, it no longer is a weeded lot. It no longer is a dump site,” he said.

Johnson talks about luring a Joe V’s discount grocery store and a residential development known as Leland Woods to the district more than he does about his cleanup days.

Carol Mims Galloway, the District B councilwoman from 2000-2005, made roads, bridges and drainage her main concern. The district became the leading recipient of city capital improvement project funds on her watch.

“If you don’t lay the foundation, how are you going to attract businesses?” Galloway asked. She questioned whether Davis had a true feel for the district given that he only recently returned to live there. Even as he campaigned for office last year, Davis continued to claim a homestead property tax exemption on a house in Pearland.

There’s merit in both approaches, but it’s also somewhat of a chicken-and-egg question. District B needs cleanup and infrastructure, and it also needs to attract not just new businesses but new residents. The Fifth Ward will be the last bastion of affordable property in the urban core. It’s very much in the city’s best interest to help District B flourish. We can argue about the details later, but let’s get a commitment to the goal first.

HCDE election lawsuit dismissed

The lineup for the fall elections is now officially set.

Erica Lee

The disputed election results for the trustee runoff between two Democratic candidates will stand after a federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Harris County Department of Education after a flawed primary in May.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal released a 16-page opinion dismissing the suit against Harris County, Tax Assessor-Collector and voter registrar Don Sumners and Harris County Clerk and chief elections officer Stan Stanart seeking to scrap the results because of a flawed May primary filed by the department of education in June.

Sumners has acknowledged his office used outdated boundary information, making some ballots incorrect in two races. The judge ruled Thursday that the suit failed to show irreparable harm by the use of the incorrect boundary lines.

The suit had asked for a special election for two board seats on Nov. 6, in conjunction with the general election. The judge’s ruling said modifying the election will “disserve the public interest.” Candidates would have had to re-file, and Democrats and Republicans would be on the same ballot, pitting three Democrats and one Republican against each other. County attorneys, the Democratic and Republican parties and Democratic candidate Erica S. Lee filed motions to dismiss the suit in July.

[…]

Jarvis Johnson

The Position 6 trustee runoff election between Lee and former Houston city councilman Jarvis Johnson was the main focus of the lawsuit. The other flawed primary between Republicans for Position 4 was unaffected by the incorrect boundaries because the two candidates were separated by 21,000 votes and fewer than 1,500 voters were affected by the error.

Johnson argued he could have been the clear-cut winner after he received 49.5 percent of the vote to Lee’s 40.6 percent in May had there not been an error. Lee won the runoff with 75 percent of the vote.

Johnson called the judge’s ruling a “travesty of justice” for the voters and the candidates.

“They are just trying to push this thing through without having justice served,” he said. “I think this does set a bad precedent, the worst precedent of all. Mistakes can be made in the system and the only thing we are going to do is sweep it under the rug.”

See here, here, and here for background. Johnson could have won it outright in May if the boundaries had been correct, but he’d have needed to do very well in the omitted precincts for that to have happened. There were no good answers to this mess, but this one does have the benefit of leaving the November election as is. I suppose Johnson could pursue his own litigation, which could subsequently overturn this result and force the special election we could have had this time, but I’ll worry about that when and if it comes to pass. For now I’m just glad we have all the litigation behind us.

On a side note, I did not see a headline on the front page of the redesigned Chron.com for this story, nor did I see a headline for it in the Houston/Texas section. I saw it in the print edition, and then searched the archives for it. Color me not impressed.

Who wants to sue over the HCDE election?

Depends who you ask.

At a court hearing July 30, the county, both political parties and an attorney for [runoff winner Erica] Lee all said they wanted the department of education’s suit dismissed (the school board wanted it to continue). First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said a dismissal would be the most “efficient” thing to do. The result of the runoff would be clear, O’Rourke said, and any voter or candidate who chose to challenge the result later would be a more appropriate party to the lawsuit than the county or department of education.

That rationale sounded pretty odd when the department of education this week filed its response to those motions to dismiss. Three times, the school board’s lawyers wrote that the people now asking to dismiss the suit were the same people who had asked them to file it in the first place:

HCDE said it filed the suit “at the urging” and “at the invitation” of county officials.

Robert Soard, chief of staff in the County Attorney’s office, said HCDE may have misinterpreted discussions among various officials about whether the political parties, the candidates, the department of education or someone else should file a suit.

“I would dispute the claim that they were encouraged to do it or asked to do it by our office,” Soard said. “They have their own lawyers. They understood from the beginning we’re not their lawyers.”

The county and the Democratic Party have now also filed replies in supportive of their motions to dismiss with the court.

HCDE’s motivation for pressing on with the suit, as expressed in that Chron story from the 30th, is that they have to hold legal elections or they could get sued later. That makes sense, and as an ideal I agree. At this point, however, it seems to me that the only person likely to be interested in trying to force a change is Jarvis Johnson, and so far he has not taken any action. Maybe he’s waiting to see what happens with HCDE’s litigation, I don’t know. Maybe we could all save some time and have him testify or at least submit a brief in this suit, and go from there. I guess there could be a technical legal reason why that isn’t possible. Everything about this is uncharted territory. At this point, I’d just like to get a resolution so we can put our full focus on November. In the meantime, here’s a little musical interlude to get us through.

Or don’t. Let’s just make a decision and go with it, OK?

HCDE runoff will be held

So ruled a judge yesterday in the ongoing lawsuit filed by the HCDE to void the Democratic primary in Precinct 1 Position 6.

The Harris County Department of Education told a federal judge Monday it wants to proceed with the lawsuit as a growing number of parties sought to dismiss the case.

Erica Lee

Sarah Langlois, general counsel for the department of education, said the board’s motivation to continue the suit is the same as its reason for filing it: its trustees must be elected lawfully, lest their decisions be legally challenged later.

The department of education provides services to school districts in Harris County, from after-school programs to purchasing.

County attorneys filed a motion to dismiss the suit with U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s court on Monday, followed by a similar motion from the county Democratic Party. County Republic Party chairman Jared Woodfill, in an act of inadvertent bipartisanship that sent laughs through the courtroom, soon approached the bench and said he, too, wanted the suit dismissed; a lawyer for Democratic candidate Erica S. Lee echoed the sentiment.

Jarvis Johnson

Tuesday’s Position 6 trustee runoff election between Lee and former Houston city councilman Jarvis Johnson will proceed as scheduled using the correct boundary lines. The other flawed primary, between Republicans for the Position 4 seat, was a blowout, the outcome of which was unaffected by the error.

“I am pleased that the election that is in progress continues,” Lee said after the hearing.

Johnson called Lee’s position “disingenuous,” saying it would disenfranchise 1,400 voters who should have been able to vote in the May primary, but could not because the contest did not appear on their ballots.

“The 1,400 votes that could be counted would clearly favor me by making me the clear-cut winner. I believe I am the winner,” said Johnson, who got 49.5 percent of the vote in May to Lee’s 40.6 percent.

That’s what I’d argue if I were Jarvis Johnson, but let’s see what the numbers have to say. Johnson had 16,557 votes out of 33,459 cast in May (see here, page 21). Let’s take his figure of 1400 additional votes that should have been cast as accurate. There was a 13.60% undervote rate in that election, so we would expect 1210 actual ballots cast in that race, bringing the revised total to 34,669. Johnson would then need 17,335 votes for a clear majority, or 778 more than had actually had. That’s 64.3% of the 1210 extra ballots. I don’t have the statistical chops to calculate the odds of someone who received 49.5% of the first 33,459 votes collecting 64.3% of the next 1210 votes, but it seems unlikely to me. Unless you have some reason to believe that these votes came from a particularly Johnson-friendly set of precincts, it’s hardly a lock that he’d have won outright under a valid set of boundaries.

The lawsuit has not been dismissed; Judge Rosenthal will not rule on that until after all parties have submitted briefs on Friday and Monday. I prefer this to the settlement deal that had originally been proposed. What happens if someone files suit afterward is anyone’s guess; there’s no precedent for this that I know of. I hope we get a clear result, but at this point nothing will surprise me. Miya Shay and Houston Politics have more.

No settlement deal for HCDE election screwup

Just as well, because this wasn’t a good deal.

A proposed settlement hashed out Thursday evening would have seen the Republican race – a blowout victory – stand, and the Democratic race – for which a runoff is under way – voided. In that race, the November ballot would list all three Democrats and the one Republican who filed for the Position 6 trustee seat. The leading vote-getter would win the seat.

“I am wholeheartedly in disagreement,” Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis said Friday. “If you’ve got the Democrats splitting their votes three ways and the Republicans only have one person to vote for, I don’t see how mathematically it would be possible for a Democrat to win.”

Lewis said if an unfair agreement is presented to the court, his party would be forced to intervene and file an injunction to block the settlement.

First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke said that proposal was outdated, adding that Lewis’ party will have to agree to any settlement. The goal, O’Rourke said, is to present a settlement to Commissioners Court for approval Monday morning, then take the document into court Monday afternoon. A judge could reject all or part of any agreement, he noted.

While I understand HCDP Chair Lewis’ concern, the split among the three candidates in May was 49.5 – 40.5 – 10, so it seems unlikely to me that there would be an even three-way split among them in a hypothetical November special election. Even if there were, Precinct 1 is Democratic enough that one of them might still prevail over the Republican candidate. But regardless of that, under this proposal we could be electing someone to a six-year office with no resign-to-run requirement and taxing authority with less than 30% of the vote. That ain’t right no matter who it is. I get that the county wants to avoid the expense of a separate election or runoff for just this race, but that’s too bad. We shouldn’t short-circuit democracy to save a few bucks. A solution I could live with is this: Hold the voting Tuesday under the correct lines (if the eSlates can all be programmed correctly by then) so that all of the in person votes and most of the absentee votes are correct, then see if the margin between winner and loser exceeds the total number of misplaced absentee ballots. If so, let the result stand; if not, proceed to a November special election and bite the bullet on a December runoff, just as you would for any other November special election like the SD17 special election in 2008. It’s the best we can do, and it might survive a subsequent lawsuit by whoever loses on Tuesday. If you’ve got a better idea, leave it in the comments.

HCDE sues for new election

From the inbox:

The Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) today filed suit in federal court seeking new elections for Trustees whose district boundaries were wrong in the May 29th primary.

HCDE officials learned earlier this week that outdated boundaries were used in the primary election for Trustees in Positions 4 and 6. The boundaries should have been updated to match the new boundaries for county commissioners drawn by a federal court for the 2012 election. Thousands of registered voters were affected by this error—many people voted who were not supposed to vote in that particular Trustee race and many people were not afforded the opportunity to vote in the correct Trustee race.

The lawsuit filed by HCDE against the county today maintains that using the wrong boundaries in these elections violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees “one person, one vote.” HCDE is seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief requiring that:

  • Harris County be enjoined from proceeding with the general election for HCDE Trustees based on the primary and run-off elections with incorrect boundaries;
  • the May 29 primary results be declared void for Trustee Positions 4 and 6, along with the Democratic run-off election scheduled July 31 for Trustee Position 6;
  • a special election for Trustee Positions 4 and 6 be held in conjunction with the November 6 general election;
  • filing for those seats be re-opened and that all candidates, whether Democrat or Republican, run in one race for each Trustee position using the correct boundaries;
  • Harris County be ordered to seek pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act; and
  • a schedule be ordered for the November 6 special election regarding filing and other deadlines.

The HCDE Board of Trustees in an emergency meeting July 17 authorized Board President Angie Chesnut and Superintendent Dr. John E. Sawyer to initiate legal proceedings on this issue. Early voting for the Democratic run-off for Position 6 begins Monday; mail ballots have already been distributed and returned for that race. It is too late to remove the candidates’ names from the ballot — HCDE is asking that the votes that are cast in that race not be counted.

In principle, the result in the Position 4 GOP primary race should be voided and the special election held as requested, but as a practical matter I would understand the judge letting that result be. The winner had 75% of the total and a 21,000 vote margin, nearly ten times as large as the number of misplaced votes. I’m not saying that this is how the judge should rule, just that you can make a good case for it.

Assuming that the judge does void one or both May primaries, it’s reasonable to assume that the ensuing special election will result in at least one runoff. If so, I’d like to make a motion that the cost of holding that runoff be billed to Don Sumners. The more I think about this screwup, the more egregious it appears to be. I mean, given that HCDE precincts correspond exactly to Commissioners Court precincts, from a system perspective the table in the master database of precinct information should define the “HCDE precincts” table as a straight copy of the “Commissioners Court precincts” table. There shouldn’t be any room for human error, it should be defined and controlled programatically, and there should have been a sanity check in place to make sure the records were in fact identical. This isn’t rocket science, but it is apparently too much for Don Sumners. Oh, and then there’s the fact that the error was just noticed now, after absentee ballots that still contained the incorrect 2001 precinct information had been mailed out. Heck of a job, Don!

You can see a copy of the lawsuit here. We’ll see how this mess gets resolved. K12Zone has more.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which adds a few more details.

Department officials say they hope for a quick ruling; early voting in the July 31 runoff for one of the seats is scheduled to start Monday. Mail ballots already have gone out.

The suit asks for a special election for two board seats on Nov. 6, in conjunction with the general election. Candidates would have to re-file, and Democrats and Republicans would be on the same ballot this time.

A judge would decide whether to require a runoff if a candidate did not get a majority of the votes, said HCDE’s general counsel, Sarah Langlois.

A separate runoff would cost the county at least half a million dollars, according to Sumners, who criticized the department’s suit.

[…]

Jared Woodfill, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said he disagreed with invalidating the Republican primary for the position 4 race because, according to Sumners, the boundary error did not affect the outcome. Fewer than 1,500 voters were affected, yet the two candidates were separated by roughly 21,000 votes.

Woodfill said he expected his party would intervene in the lawsuit.

The losing position 4 candidate, Raymond Garcia, said he agreed with the department’s lawsuit. His opponent, Kay Smith, could not be reached.

Lots for the judge to sort out. We’ll see how it goes.

Boundary screwup could affect HCDE race

This is just freakin’ great.

Because of a mix-up with the new district boundaries, not everyone who was qualified to vote in a school trustee race was able to and some voters who weren’t supposed to, were allowed to cast a ballot. And the implications of all this may be far reaching.

Erica Lee

There are a lot of lawyers looking at this problem and a lot of concerns about possible federal lawsuits by disenfranchised voters. We are just two weeks away from the runoff election between Democrats for county school trustee Position 6, and no one knows if it will count, or in fact, whether the primary counted in the first place.

When voters cast their ballots in two weeks in a number of run off races, one may still be in limbo. But while deciding the race between political newcomer Erica S. Lee and former city council member Jarvis Johnson for Harris County school trustee Position 6 is important, First Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke is worried about something bigger.

“One person, one vote and it just didn’t happen,” he said.

Jarvis Johnson

O’Rourke and the office is now scrambling to find a solution to a big districting mistake. According to a letter by outgoing Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners, the Harris County Department of Education trustee district lines were not updated for the May primary. In fact, each precinct was about 100,000 people off. An analysis of the Lee-Johnson race, Sumners writes, shows almost 1,400 people did not vote who should have and 872 people did who should not have.

“It’s a big mess and we’re trying to figure out a way to solve it in the most simple, elegant way possible,” O’Rourke said.

Johnson missed winning outright by less than 200 votes (see page 21 here), so this absolutely could be a difference maker. Also affected was the Republican primary for Precinct 4, Position 3, but as that race wasn’t close (page 23 here) its outcome is not in question. I wondered if there might be other races that could have been affected but weren’t mentioned in this story, such as the Dem primaries for County Commissioner in Precinct 4 (Sean Hammerle won by 328 votes) and Constable in Precinct 1, where 1214 votes separated fourth place and first place. I asked Terry O’Rourke the question, and he said that both the Tax Assessor and the County Clerk assured the County Attorney’s office that only the HCDE races were affected. Good to know, but this is still a big honking problem. The HCDE itself is not happy about this.

John Sawyer, the appointed superintendent of the department, said he expects that a judge ultimately will void the elections. He said his agency, which provides educational services to local school districts, would contest the election if no one else does.

“I will tell you that ultimately we would contest them because I don’t think they (the boundaries) were legally drawn, and I’m not going to be responsible for swearing in candidates that may not be elected legally,” Sawyer said. “I just can’t do that.”

In response, the Harris County Attorney’s Office likely would file court papers asking a judge to provide guidance on how to fix the problem, said [Assistant County Attorney Doug] Ray.

The judge could toss out the results of the May primary and order that a new election for the two affected school trustee seats be held in November, with candidates from all parties participating, Ray speculated. A judge may also decide that the May election can stand and that the situation would be resolved simply by applying the correct boundaries for the one seat for which the election resulted in a runoff.

“It’s speculative at this point to determine whether the outcome would have been the same or not” if correct boundaries had been used, Ray said. “There are so many affected parties. The court’s going to have to be the one to decide it, I think.”

I agree it’s speculative, but if I’m Jarvis Johnson, I’m pretty pissed off about it. Erica Lee has every right to be unhappy, too. The board voted to authorize the superintendent and board president to initiate or participate in legal proceedings about the election error. We’ll see where it goes from here.

The best part about this is in the letter Sumners sent to the HCDE explaining the screwup, which you can see in that K12Zone link. He says that the HCDE “failed to advise the Tax Office” of the changes to their boundaries. Of course, since the HCDE precincts are identical to the County Commissioner precincts, which Sumners sheepishly admits in the next sentence, this should not have been an issue. Frankly, if no one noticed that unchanged districts were being used it says a lot about the lack of oversight under Sumners, which shouldn’t come as a surprise at this point. Roy Morales, the outgoing trustee in Precinct 1, Position 6, called for Sumners to resign over this. I don’t think he’s sufficiently capable of embarrassment, but I agree in principle. Campos has more, and a statement from Ann Harris Bennett, the Democratic candidate for Tax Assessor, is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Endorsement watch: Better late than never

The Chron finally gets around to making an endorsement in the HCDE race for Precinct 1, Position 6.

Erica Lee

If you’ve never heard of the Harris County Board of Education, don’t feel bad. Even among people who care about school boards, this one maintains a low profile.

We’re pleased, though, that the sleepy board has attracted two unusually well qualified candidates. In the Democratic runoff for Position 1, Precinct 6, former Houston City Councilmember Jarvis Johnson faces Erica S. Lee, a promising political newcomer.

[…]

For the job, we endorse Lee, who combines real-world teaching experience with an impressive policy background. She taught first grade at HISD’s Lantrip Elementary before studying public policy at Duke University. After that, she served on a team that helped New York’s Gov. Eliot Spitzer prepare a $21 billion education budget – a budget that brought universal pre-K classes to New York kids.

Lee’s energetic campaign and long, wide-ranging list of endorsements – among them, the Houston Federation of Teachers, the Harris County AFL-CIO, Houston GLBT Political Caucus and Area 5 Pasadena Democrats – indicate both how seriously she takes the job and how well she’d be able to build coalitions to support our county’s schools. These days, our schools need all the help they can get.

You’d think an obscure office is one that the Chron would want to educate voters about, but never mind. I had wondered if the Chron would get to the races it had overlooked for the runoffs, and I’m glad to see they’ve at least covered this one. I also wholeheartedly agree with their choice – Erica Lee is a super candidate who has clearly done her homework about this job, and I will happily vote for her next week. But I’m a little curious about the Chron’s contention that the runoff for this seat features “two unusually well qualified candidates”. I’d have said that about the first round, when Reagan Flowers was also on the ballot, but with all due respect what exactly makes Jarvis Johnson “unusually well qualified” for this particular office? I’m not aware of him having a background in education, and I don’t recall him speaking about education matters while he was on Council. I tried to do some research about Johnson’s credentials, but there’s nothing to be found. He still has no campaign website, though if you Google him you can find his old Congressional campaign website and his long-dormant blog. His Facebook page has no mention of anything more recent than his Council service, and the only Twitter account I could find was from the Congressional campaign. I could live with the lack of an online presence if he had an active and visible campaign for this office, but it’s not active and visible to me – I’ve seen one email about a campaign event, and that’s it. Maybe he is “unusually well qualified” for this office, but if he is he’s doing an unusually good job of keeping it under wraps. Better to vote for the person whose unusually good qualifications are out there for all to see, and that person is Erica Lee.

Democratic results, Harris County

The good:

– Lane Lewis won a full term as HCDP Chair by a 55-45 margin. If you heard a whizzing noise this evening, it was the bullet we all dodged in this race.

– Sheriff Adrian Garcia easily won renomination with over 70% of the vote.

– State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles won their races. We may finally have seen the last of Al Edwards.

– Sean Hammerle held off Dave Wilson in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. It was a close race, but the forces of good prevailed.

The bad:

– Jarvis Johnson, who finally held a campaign event during the first week of early voting, nearly won HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 outright. A late surge by Erica Lee pushed him into a runoff. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson, but he didn’t lift a finger during this race and he was up against two much more qualified opponents. There’s nothing like being a familiar name in a race like this.

– Elaine Palmer drubbed Judge Steve Kirkland, winning over 60% of the vote. I’ll be honest, I had thought that Palmer and Keryl Douglas would win or lose together, but Douglas didn’t have much money, and really didn’t do that much campaigning. Palmer had plenty of money and it worked for her. I wonder if her financial backers will be there for her in November.

The ugly:

– Perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver became the heir apparent to Gene Kelly by defeating the vastly better qualified Zack Fertitta for the DA nomination. I just about threw up when I saw the early numbers, and they never got any better. Let this serve as a very painful example of what can happen when a good candidate doesn’t have enough money to raise his name ID up to the level of the barnacle that is running against him. You can assess the blame however you like for this debacle, all I know is that I will be skipping this race in November.

– If that isn’t bad enough, Kesha Rogers will once again be the “Democratic” nominee in CD22. KP George had an early lead based on a strong showing in Fort Bend County, but he lost in Harris and Brazoria, and that was enough. I don’t even know what to say.

The rest:

– Diane Trautman won the HCDE Position 3 At Large race against David Rosen. Traci Jensen scored a clean win in the three-way SBOE 6 primary. Dexter Smith won in SBOE 8.

– Rep. Alma Allen also successfully defended her seat, winning with 59% against Wanda Adams. Mary Ann Perez had a late burst to win the nomination in HD144 outright, while Gene Wu rode a strong early showing to the top spot in HD137. He garnered 44%, and will face Jamaal Smith, who had 23%, in the runoff.

– Lissa Squiers led the three-way race in CD07 with 40%. She will face James Cargas, who was second with 33%. Tawana Cadien will be the nominee in CD10.

– Incumbent JP Mike Parrott won re-election, as did incumbent Constables Ken Jones, Victor Trevino, and May Walker. In Constable Precinct 1, Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will face off in overtime; Grady Castleberry had been running second but Vara-Leija overtook him late. In the Constable Precinct 2 cattle call, Zerick Guinn and Chris Diaz made the cut.

– Turnout was about 73,000, with almost exactly half of it coming on Election Day. Some people just don’t like voting early.

January finance reports: City of Houston

Yes, I know, there are no city of Houston elections this year. (Not yet, anyway.) But the candidates and officeholders have to file reports anyway, covering the period from their last report through the end of the year. That period may be from eight days before the December runoff, eight days before the November election, or even the July reporting period if they were lucky enough to be unopposed in November. It’s how you see what the candidates in contested races did in the last days before the election, and it’s how you see who hopped on the late train for a candidate who wasn’t necessarily expected to win. I’ve updated the 2011 Election page to include links to the January finance reports for current and now-former Council members. I didn’t bother with non-incumbents who lost in November or December because life is too short. Here’s a brief summary:

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ================================================ Parker 64,329 260,317 1,272,794 RGreen 30,794 23,785 46,691 Costello 12,250 47,311 655 Burks 25,175 33,426 2,403 Noriega 4,326 14,600 14,108 Bradford 4,453 35,340 20,282 Christie 16,700 51,138 3,156 Brown 6,900 9,664 1,467 Davis 32,630 39,974 20,703 Cohen 24,008 67,375 6,413 Adams 13,100 27,687 59,572 Sullivan 8,200 14,629 53,641 Hoang 3,450 25,472 5,366 Pennington 89,025 167,555 123,326 Gonzalez 5,254 15,908 56,108 Rodriguez 4,729 26,456 21,328 Laster 20,563 23,314 20,473 LGreen 22,470 27,955 576 Lovell Jones 39,810 62,555 6,397 Stardig 13,450 45,176 36,956 Johnson Clutterbuck 0 22,199 38,223

The first thing to note here is the $1.2 million cash on hand Mayor Parker has. This is significant for two reasons. One, obviously, is that it’s the opening bid for how much a Mayoral wannabee will have to raise to be competitive with her next year. She will be able to add to that total this year, while anyone who has not filed a designation of treasurer will not; I will not be surprised if her COH figure tops $2 million in a year’s time. While this certainly isn’t insurmountable, the first question anyone who might want to challenge her is going to get from a potential donor is going to be “How do you plan to raise enough money to compete with Mayor Parker?” Some of them will likely say “Show me that you can raise some money first, then get back to me”, which needless to say makes fundraising that much harder. It’s a barrier to entry, and the higher it is the better off she’ll be next year.

The flip side to that is that she’s really lucky she managed to avoid a runoff. Not only because that meant she could sit on her cash rather than have to spend it in December, but also because by leaving that much cash in the bank she would have left herself wide open to criticism that she didn’t run as hard as she needed to going into November. Look at poor Brenda Stardig, who had a relative ton of cash on hand in her November 8 day report, mostly because she hadn’t run any kind of campaign up till that point. By the time she was forced to kick it into gear, it was already too late, and the money she had wasn’t of much good to her. This is the cautionary tale that the Mayor was fortunate to avoid.

As such, don’t be surprised by the small cash on hand totals that moneybags like Costello and Cohen posted. They emptied their weapons, left it all on the field, and otherwise engaged in all the suitable cliches when it counted. You don’t doubt their ability to replenish their coffers, right? I’ll check back again in July and again next January and we’ll see where they stand.

Of course, for Council members who have their eye on the next office, as CMs Adams and Sullivan do, the calculus is a bit more complex. Well, not for Sullivan, who was unopposed and was thus able to turn his current stash into a decent opening advantage. Adams also has an early financial lead in her race for State Rep, though as she had an opponent last year it wasn’t entirely without risk.

Since I mentioned the late train earlier, I will note that there wasn’t one I could see for Helena Brown. Her late donors list was short and familiar. As for Andrew Burks, his donors were African-Americans – at least, all of the names I recognized belonged to African-Americans – and the usual PAC and law firm suspects that generally give to all incumbents. Not quite the Republican rainbow coalition that may have helped him win the runoff, but a likely indicator that he’ll enter 2013 with a decent sum in his kitty. I will be very interested to see if the usual suspects latch on to Brown or not. They didn’t rush to do so after the election results were in.

Finally, we have the outgoing Council members. With the exception of Jarvis Johnson, who is running for HCDE Trustee, I don’t think any of them are currently angling for another office. Lovell has been interested in County Clerk, but didn’t run in 2010 and I have not heard anything to say she may in 2014. I don’t get a future candidacy vibe from Clutterbuck, Jones, or Stardig, but who knows. They could take a cycle or two off, do some backstage work or some such, and come back later. Johnson has not filed a report with either the city or the county, nor has he responded to my requests for an interview, so other than his candidacy for HCDE I have no idea what he’s up to.

Don’t draw broad conclusions from muddled evidence

I have a number of issues with the analysis presented in this Chron story about what happened in the runoffs and What It All Means.

The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.

In short: Voters want change.

“A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They’re agitated.”

[…]

The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“It’s a strong repudiation of this administration – not just the mayor, but the council,” Stein said.

First of all, I believe that voters who are angry and agitated vote. I don’t see how that’s consistent with an election with six percent turnout. I refer you to the 2010 election, and the historically high Republican turnout, for a canonical example. Maybe it’s just me, but the words I use to describe an electorate that fails to show up like this are “disengaged” and “apathetic”. Your mileage may vary.

But maybe turnout was disproportionately high in District A, which is the one election out of the four where I will agree there were angry voters sending a message to someone. To see if that was the case, I checked the ratio of turnout in districts to the Harris County portion of the citywide turnout for runoffs in the past five elections. This is what I found:

Year Dist Turnout Overall Ratio =================================== 2011 A 8.28 6.08 1.36 2011 B 6.76 6.08 1.11 2009 A 18.82 16.48 1.14 2009 F 13.41 16.48 0.81 2007 D 6.29 2.70 2.33 2007 E 5.05 2.70 1.87 2005 B 4.92 4.02 1.22 2005 C 9.38 4.02 2.33 2003 F 18.98 22.71 0.84 2003 G 29.53 22.71 1.30 2003 H 20.57 22.71 0.91

I only went back as far as 2003 because that’s as far back as the County Clerk has runoff data. The ratio of District A turnout to overall is higher than average, but by no means historic. To be fair, the higher level of turnout overall compared to the 2007 and 2005 runoffs may be masking the effect. There’s just not enough data points for me to say, and we’re still talking about eight percent turnout in A. I have a hard time assigning any special meaning to that.

Further, I strongly disagree with taking the result in District A and extrapolating it to the rest of the city. With all due respect to Professor Stein, if the voters intended to repudiate the Mayor a month after re-electing her, Jolanda Jones is the last Council member they should be kicking to the curb. CM Jones was arguably the Mayor’s most vocal and visible critic on Council. I feel pretty confident that they’re not losing any sleep in the Mayor’s office over this result. We may not know exactly what we’ll get with CM-Elect Jack Christie, but we do know that he’s a supporter of Rebuild Houston and that he voted to keep the red light cameras.

Perhaps there was an anti-incumbent message in these results. For sure, CMs Jones and Stardig are the first sitting Council members to be unelected since Jean Kelly in 1999, and only the third and fourth incumbents of any kind to lose since term limits were established. I would argue that there are unique circumstances to each of their losses. To put it mildly, CM Jones had some baggage, and was very nearly ousted in 2009. I’ve been saying all along that a runoff would be a crapshoot for her, and indeed she rolled snake eyes. With the help of Gene Locke’s mayoral campaign she was able to win the turnout fight two years ago, but not this time. I suspect as well that her performance deteriorated in Anglo and Hispanic Democratic areas – I’m sure the Bill White endorsement of Christie had some effect on that – though that’s a question that will have to wait for the precinct data.

As for District A itself, those voters did mostly vote against incumbents last time around, so it’s probably not much of a surprise that they did it to their incumbent District member in the runoff. That said, CM Stardig clearly had her own set of baggage. If anyone can think of another situation offhand in which the three prior incumbents of a given Council district were supporting the opponent of the current incumbent, let me know about it, because I doubt it’s happened any time recently. Far as I can tell, she didn’t have much of a campaign going into the November election – her eight day report showed expenditures on signs, some ads in neighborhood newspapers, and a $6K ad in the Texas Conservative Review that I’m guessing wasn’t well-received; her 30 day report had practically nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but let this be Exhibit A for future incumbents: Unless you’re unopposed, run hard. You never know. Hell, run hard even if you are unopposed. Never hurts to get people into the habit of voting for you – your name ID probably isn’t as good as you think it is.

Putting this another way, Stardig was primaried, and she was not prepared for it. Redistricting did her no favors on that score, either. It will be interesting to see how CM-Elect Helena Brown reconciles her professed political beliefs with the sort of things that constituents tend to expect to get done. Maybe there is such a thing as a Republican pothole.

There’s still two other races to consider. The result in District B could be considered an anti-incumbent vote, but when you consider that the outgoing incumbent is CM Jarvis Johnson, is it really that surprising? As for Prof. Stein’s thesis, here’s what CM-Elect Jerry Davis had to say for himself:

Davis, 38, said he hoped to begin working with the administration as quickly as possible to cut down his learning curve as he gets set to start his first job as a public representative. He said his main goal as a council member would be to represent the priorities of District B constituents.

“My job is to represent the people and do what the people want me to do and that’s going to be the number one step,” Davis said.

I mentioned before that of the five candidates I interviewed, only Davis said he supported Renew Houston prior to the referendum passing. If you listen to the interview I did with him, you will also note that Davis supported the red light cameras, again being the only candidate in the district to do so. Way to repudiate the Parker Administration, District B voters!

As for Burks v Thibaut, good luck making sense out of that one. Again, I’ll wait till I see precinct data, but it seems to me that the vaunted “pincer strategy” of African-Americans plus Republicans finally worked. Why Republican voters fell into line behind an Obama delegate at the 2008 DNC convention who once ran for HCDP Chair is a bit puzzling to me, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s not like Burks is well-known for policy positions, so he’s a pretty blank slate onto which one can project whatever one wants, and then there is that Hotze embrace to whet the appetite. I don’t think this result would have happened in an election where the votes were distributed more proportionally. Perhaps someone will test that hypothesis in two years’ time. Like I said, we’ll see what the precinct data tells us. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the one elected official who endorsed CM-Elect Andrew Burks was CM Brad Bradford. If you want a guide for how Burks is likely to vote, I’d say to start there. Greg and Stace have more.

Where the poverty is

It’s all around us, but more in some places than in others.

The number of Houston-area residents living in very poor neighborhoods almost doubled over the past decade, which researchers say increases their risk for unemployment, health problems and crime.

The neighborhoods identified in a Brookings Institution study of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas are concentrated in Houston’s inner city, with smaller pockets across the region.

Some of the increase came as rising unemployment pushed people already living in those neighborhoods below the poverty level. Researchers say the lack of affordable housing in more affluent neighborhoods likely contributed to the increased concentration of the poor, as well.

Many of these high-poverty neighborhoods – defined as those in which 40 percent or more of the residents are poor – have been the focus of renewal efforts for years.

“The Fifth Ward is void of jobs,” said Jarvis Johnson, whose City Council district includes the neighborhood east of downtown, home to several of the high-poverty census tracts cited in the study. “There aren’t any commercial grocery stores. There aren’t any places where young people can get a job.”

[…]

Kathy Flanagan Payton, who grew up in the Fifth Ward and now runs the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corp., said poverty too often leads to powerlessness.

“Poverty weakens the voice of the people,” said Payton. “It dampens the overall spirit of the community.”

Like Councilman Jarvis, she said the neighborhood is hurt by the lack of retail.

“No money is being spent in the community,” she said. “It’s all spent outside the community.”

I see that as being more effect than cause. Most of the money spent at a given business doesn’t necessarily stay in the community. Taxes go to the city and state, TIRZes aside. The owners and employees will spend their wages and profits where they live, which may or may not be in that community – if the business is not locally owned, much of its revenue may not even stay in the city.

Of course, having retail means having jobs, which certainly benefit the community, and it means having amenities that make people want to live there. It’s hard to attract people to a neighborhood that doesn’t have grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, dry cleaners, etc etc etc. It’s a chicken-and-egg problem – businesses don’t want to be where there isn’t an established market, and people don’t want to live where there’s nothing to do and no place to go.

The good news for the Fifth Ward, as I’ve said before, is its status as the last bastion of cheap real estate inside the Loop. Sooner or later, I believe, it will become attractive to the speculators and pioneer gentrifiers. The neighborhood appears to be ready for that.

[Payton’s] group builds affordable housing and is involved in efforts to renovate the DeLuxe Theater on Lyons Avenue, which Texas Southern University will use for classes and performances.

The goal isn’t to bring back the old Fifth Ward, which was the heart of African-American life in the 1940s and ’50s, Payton said, noting that it is now about 40 percent Latino.

“We’re trying to diversify the community, both socially and culturally,” she said, “to improve the overall economics that will lead to much-needed retail and bring jobs.”

I hope to see it happen. See here for more on the national story.

More on the red light camera ruling

I said before that what happens next with the red light camera ruling is a political decision. Here’s how that’s shaping up.

City Attorney Dave Feldman said Friday’s ruling will force the city to choose from canceling the contract with American Traffic Solutions — which might cost the city $16 million — or keeping the contract in force and turning the cameras back on. A third choice would be to hold another referendum and ask voters which of the two options to choose, he said.

“We lost on the issue of the validity of the charter amendment, so what the court is saying (is), ‘OK city, now decide what you’re going to do with the contract,’ ” Feldman said. “We need to decide how we’re going to move forward and what position we’re going to take with the contract in light of the fact he’s declared the charter amendment invalid.”

Mayor Annise Parker said Friday afternoon that although she supports the use of red-light cameras and has the authority to turn them back on, she will not do so before conferring with the City Council and possibly the voters.

“The cameras are going to stay off until council is fully briefed, and we have an opportunity to discuss all of our legal options and choose one of those legal options,” the mayor said.

Complicating matters for Parker is that the city is still in a contract dispute with ATS over damages the company suffered when the city turned off the cameras.

The mayor said she and the City Council received sound legal advice last year from the city attorney, who advised that they were mandated to put the question on the November ballot.

Which is the exact opposite of what the judge said, as observed by JJ in the comments. Be that as it may, it will be very interesting to see how Council members react to this. As we know from the precinct data, the strongest opposition to red light cameras by far came from African-American neighborhoods. Republican and Anglo Democratic neighborhoods were the strongest proponents, with Latino and multicultural neighborhoods being modestly opposed. I think it’s reasonable though not certain to assume that the four African-American Council members would oppose turning the cameras back on, though the prospect of paying $16 million to ATS might mitigate against that. CM Sullivan is a known opponent of the cameras. On the flipside, CMs Lovell and Clutterbuck are known to favor the cameras, and I’d expect Pennington and Stardig to go along with their voters. That’s five probably against, four probably in favor, and four that are up for grabs. Should make for a lively debate, that’s for sure.

Putting the question of reinstating the cameras or paying off ATS up for another vote strikes me as the least messy way forward at this point. The questions then become how big a factor is the potential hit to the budget in affecting voter behavior, and how does the change in participation levels from an even-numbered year to an odd-numbered year move the numbers? The two groups with the loudest opinions are also the ones that tend to vote the most in city election years, but there’s still dropoff for each. As for the first question, the irony is that the city might argue that the voters didn’t really know what they were voting for when they supported removing the cameras, which would no doubt make Paul Bettencourt’s head explode. Nobody ever said consistency was a virtue in politics. This is going to be fun to watch, I’ll say that much.

Drainage fee passes with exemptions

Council has passed the drainage fee ordinance required by Renew Rebuild Houston, with exemptions for existing church and school properties.

The fee will apply to all future “impervious cover” at church and school buildings, such as roofs and parking lots.

Council members C.O. Bradford, Mike Sullivan and Jarvis Johnson voted against the measure.

“As we launch these projects and complete them, not only will we be able to keep water out of people’s homes and business and improve transiting our streets, but we’ll be able to keep ahead of future growth in Houston,” Mayor Annise Parker said after the vote.

[…]

Though [Mayor Annise] Parker campaigned last fall for a fee without exemptions, she came forward with the limited-exemption proposal in recent weeks in the face of a divided council and community opposition to charging churches and schools at a time when the Legislature is contemplating severe cuts to education spending.

After the vote, Parker said she would have preferred to see the ordinance passed without exemptions, but said she and others were “touched by the plight of schools,” and heard the call for churches to be exempt at numerous town hall meetings.

It was, Parker said, “a compromise that gave exemptions, but also put them all on notice that we expect them to do better in the future as they build. We are going to build to the future in a greener fashion and we’re going to do whatever we can to prevent flooding in Houston. They’re all a part of that effort.”

It’s not what I would have preferred as you know, but I can live with it. I like the way the Mayor framed the point about future construction being subject to the fee. I still marvel at the arrogance of some of the churches, acting as if what they do makes no contribution to the problem. I suppose they’ll just redouble their efforts to get Dan Patrick’s blackmail bill passed. I just hope the city is right that this bill will fail Constitutional muster and that the litigation won’t be too expensive. How much better it would be if they’d put this behind them and move on, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

A very early look at 2011 fundraising

A couple of weeks ago I took an early look at the 2011 city elections, but there was a key ingredient missing in that analysis: Money. The fundraising season for city candidates, which has been closed since last January, will open again on February 1. Let’s take a look at where various cast members stand now, before all the fun gets underway again.

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Annise Parker Mayor 1,050,253 Ronald Green Controller 15,677

One of the nice things about being elected Mayor is that you can hold a late-train fundraiser or two before the year-long moratorium sets in, and people with checks will attend them. Keep that number above in mind when discussing other potential Mayoral candidates. Sure, some of them would be able to raise big bucks as well, but 1) that takes time; 2) a lot of people who might otherwise like them will already be on the Mayor’s team; and 3) you can be sure she’ll have a couple of events lined up for as soon as the curtain is lifted, making the hole they start out in that much deeper. It’s a big factor, and when you hear someone say they’re “exploring” a race, what they mean is they’re calling around to see if there are enough people out there willing to write them enough big checks to make it worth their time. Waiting for term limits to do their thing is almost always the wiser course.

As for Controller Green, he defeated two better-funded opponents in 2009, so his lack of scratch is no big deal. Better yet, as you will see there’s no one out there with the kind of moolah MJ Khan and Pam Holm had to begin with. I’ll say again, it’s my opinion that Green is a lock for re-election.

The returning City Council members:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Stephen Costello CCAL#1 28,938 Melissa Noriega CCAL#3 1,681 C.O. Bradford CCAL#4 4,238 Jolanda Jones CCAL#5 22,304 Brenda Stardig Dist A 21,892 Wanda Adams Dist D 342 Mike Sullivan Dist E 162 Al Hoang Dist F Oliver Pennington Dist G 64,223 Ed Gonzalez Dist H 19,975 James Rodriguez Dist I 45,923

CM Hoang’s report was not available as of this posting. There were numerous issues with his finance reports in 2009. So far, 2011 isn’t starting off so well for him on that front.

You can see why I’ve been skeptical of the rumors about CM Bradford’s potential candidacy for Mayor. He has not demonstrated big fundraising abilities in two different campaigns, and he starts out with very little. Again, I’m not saying he (or anyone else) couldn’t do it, but the track record isn’t there, and the piggy bank isn’t overflowing.

After winning a squeaker of a runoff in 2009, it’s good to see CM Jones with a few bucks on hand. While I believe she won’t be any easier to beat this time around, she will undoubtedly continue to be in the news, so she may as well be forearmed.

CM Pennington raised a boatload of money in 2009 and won without a runoff, so I’m not surprised he starts out with a decent pile. CMs Rodriguez and Gonzalez were unopposed in 2009, and given that they may have very different diatricts this year, I’m sure they’re happy to have the head start. I’d guess CMs Adams and Sullivan will be hitting the fundraising circuit sooner rather than later.

The departing incumbents:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Sue Lovell CCAL #2 98,935 Jarvis Johnson Dist B 0 Anne Clutterbuck Dist C 89,534

Hard to know what the future holds for CM Johnson, but another candidacy doesn’t appear to be in the cards right now. The same can probably be said about CM Lovell, who had once wanted to run for County Clerk. That ship has sailed, and I don’t see there being much of a Lovell bandwagon these days. I won’t be surprised to see her disburse some of her funds to other candidates in the future, however.

I do feel that we’ll see CM Clutterbuck run for something again. No, not Mayor – at least, not this year. There was a time when I thought she’d be a big threat to win HD134, but unless Sarah Davis (whom Clutterbuck supported last year) stumbles badly, that seems unlikely now. She could possibly be groomed to take over for her former boss Rep. John Culberson. I’d hate to see that if it meant she’d morph into a Washington Republican – she’s far too sensible for that, I hope. Actually, what I wouldn’t mind seeing is for the redistricting fairy to move her into Jerry Eversole’s precinct (this map doesn’t quite do that, but it’s close), because she’d be an excellent choice for Ed Emmett to make in the event Eversole does get forced out before 2012. Just a thought.

Finally, a few others of note:

Name Office Cash on hand ========================================= Gene Locke Mayor 20,645 Roy Morales Mayor 5 MJ Khan Controller 1,657 Michael Berry CCAL #5 88,122 Jack Christie CCAL #5 0 Eric Dick CCAL #2 4,036 Mark Lee Dist C 1,287 Robert Glaser Dist C 301

If it’s an election year, you can be sure ol’ Roy will be running for something. Doesn’t really matter what – this is Roy we’re talking about. I’m sure he’ll let us know what soon.

Who knew Most Influential Houstonian of 2010 Michael Berry had so much cash left in his account? I seriously doubt he’d run for anything – he’s got a much cushier, not to mention higher-paying, gig now – but I suppose he could decide to throw a few bucks at someone. Hey, Roy, you got Berry’s phone number?

I have no idea if Jack Christie will take another crack at At Large #5. As I said above, I don’t think CM Jones will be any more vulnerable this time around, but who knows? It does seem likely she’ll draw a fringe opponent or two – Griff Griffin needs a race now that Lovell is termed out – so hoping for a runoff and better luck in same isn’t unreasonable. My advice, for what it’s worth, would be to start fundraising early, and not shoot your wad all in the last few days.

Mark Lee ran for District C in 2005, and for Controller in 2003. He’s reportedly looking at C again, but like Ellen Cohen will have to wait to see what the mapmakers produce. Robert Glaser ran against Clutterbuck in 2007 and 2009. Eric Dick, who as far as I know has not been a candidate before, will be running for the open At Large #2 seat; the cash on hand listed for him is the result of a loan.

There were a handful of other names listed among the reports, but none that are likely to be candidates this cycle. We’ll have a much better idea where things stand after the June 15 reporting date.

The Mayor editorializes for Prop 1

Mayor Parker lays out the case for Prop 1, the ballot referendum to establish a dedicated revenue source for street and drainage improvements.

Is it necessary? Absolutely! Approximately 65 percent of our streets and drainage systems are beyond their useful life – and at current funding levels it would take 100 years to replace them. Our police officers say that flooding and bad road conditions can keep police, fire or emergency medical personnel from responding quickly to emergencies. Likewise, a hard rain can prevent parents from picking up their kids from school or returning home after work. Just a few inches of rain can leave motorists stranded and bring this city’s commerce to a halt.

Is it the best option? Yes, and it will save millions of dollars for taxpayers! Instead of borrowing money and spending millions on interest payments, Proposition 1 mandates a responsible pay-as-you-go plan. For the first time in Houston’s history there would be a dedicated income stream – a lock box – that can only be spent for street and drainage improvements. Your vote would prohibit us from diverting these dollars for any other projects – with no exceptions. And your vote would mean the city could repair, replace or upgrade every street in Houston that is past its useful life.

Is it fair? On every level, yes. Everyone has a responsibility for helping to solve our drainage problems, and each of us will be asked to pay our fair share, but no more. This includes developers who will be assessed based on the impact their projects have on the drainage system. Commercial and residential property owners will pay a user fee based on their “impervious cover,” the amount of hard surface on their property – like buildings and driveways – that cannot absorb water. That fee is about $5 per month for a typical homeowner with 1,900 square feet of these hard surfaces. Property owners can estimate their own fee by following instructions on the city’s website.

It’s great to see Mayor Parker fully engaged on this, but there’s an awful lot of opposition to Prop 1 out there now. The Harris County GOP took the pro-flooding position last week. They’re joined by a non-trivial number of Democrats who claim they have a better plan than what has been proposed, not that they’ll do anything about it if they succeed in dunking Prop 1. The Metropolitan Organization, which should be foursquare behind Prop 1, is remaining neutral, at least for now, due to questions about the funding mechanism that have not been answered to their satisfaction. Four City Council members, CMs Jones, Adams, Johnson, and Bradford, have come out against Prop 1 with an op-ed of their own calling on the city to “start over” and come up with a different plan. (On the flip side, late in the day yesterday, I got a press release from State Rep. Garnet Coleman announcing his support of Prop 1.) And finally, as Rick Casey notes, various churches have lined up in opposition because they don’t want to have to pay for it. Prop 1 has its share of supporters, but that’s a lot of people against it. You know that I’m voting for Prop 1, but I’d be leery about betting on it.