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Jim Sharp

2016 primaries: Harris County

Though this will be the first entry published in the morning, it was the last one I wrote last night, and I’m super tired. So, I’m going to make this brief.

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic races of interest, with about 86% of precincts reporting

District Attorney: Kim Ogg with 51%, so no runoff needed.

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez (43%) and Jerome Moore (30%) in the runoff.

Tax Assessor: Ann Harris Bennett (61%) gets another crack at it.

Judicial races: Some close, some blowouts, some runoffs. Jim Sharp will not be on the ballot, as Candance White won easily, while the one contested district court race that featured an incumbent will go to overtime. Elaine Palmer in the 215th will face JoAnn Storey, after drawing 43% of the vote to Storey’s 28%. Those who are still smarting from Palmer’s unlovely ouster of Steve Kirkland in 2012 will get their chance to exact revenge on May 24.

Turnout: For some reason, Dem results were reporting a lot more slowly than GOP results. As of midnight, nearly 150 precincts were still out. At that time, Dem turnout had topped 200,000, so the final number is likely to be in the 210,000 to 220,000 range. That’s well short of 2008, of course, but well ahead of projections, and nobody could call it lackluster or disappointing. As was the case in 2008, some 60% of the vote came on Election Day. I think the lesson to draw here is that when there is a real Presidential race, fewer people vote early than you’d normally expect.

Republican races of interest, with 92% of precincts reporting

Sheriff: Ron Hickman, with 72%.

Tax Assessor: Mike Sullivan, with 83%. Kudos for not being that stupid, y’all.

County Attorney: Jim Leitner, with 53%.

Strange (to me) result of the night: GOP Chair Paul Simpson was forced to a runoff, against someone named Rick Ramos. Both had about 39% of the vote. What’s up with that?

Turnout: With 67 precincts to go, just over 300,000 total votes. Interestingly, that was right on Stan Stanart’s initial, exuberant projection. He nailed the GOP side, he just woefully underestimated the Dems.

Bedtime for me. I’m sure there will be plenty more to say in the coming days. What are your reactions?

Endorsement watch: What Brown can do for you

The Chron picks its favorite among the challengers in HD27.

Steve Brown

Steve Brown

[Rep. Ron] Reynolds, a three-term incumbent, was named Freshman of the Year by the House Democratic Caucus at the end of the 2011 session; two years later he landed on Texas Monthly’s “Worst” list. This year he needs to attend to his own problems while someone else takes on the task of representing District 27. The district covers most of Missouri City and parts of Houston and Sugar Land.

Challenging the incumbent are first-time candidate Angelique Bartholomew, 46, a certified mediator and director of compliance for a medical firm; Chris Henderson, 30, an assistant district attorney in Galveston County who also is running for the first time; and Steve Brown, 40, a former White House intern who owns a public affairs firm. The former Democratic Party chairman of Fort Bend County, Brown also worked as a budget analyst for then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner and was the Democratic nominee for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission in 2014.

Our choice for the Democratic primary is Brown. With 15 years of experience in politics and public affairs, including an unsuccessful run for the District 27 seat in 2006, he’s conversant with issues that resonate in this diverse, fast-growing district, including education and school finance, health care and economic development.

My interview with Steve Brown is here, and with Angelique Bartholomoew is here. The Chron has been pretty harsh on Reynolds lately – they begged people to challenge him after he was sentenced to jail time for barratry – so it was just a matter of who they liked. They had some good options here.

And as long as we’re discussing candidates the Chron doesn’t like:

Candance White brings a broad perspective and a wealth of experience to her quest to secure the Democratic party’s nomination for [Justice, 14th Court of Appeals District, Place 2]. White, 49, who graduated from the University of Texas School of Law and obtained a master’s in law from the University of Houston Law Center, began her career as an environmental lawyer. She has worked in private practice, served as a city of Houston municipal court judge, as an attorney for Adult Protective Services and as the inter-regional managing attorney for both Adult Protective Services and Child Protective Services. Currently, White serves as the Child Welfare Director for Protective Services for Harris County. “I know how to make complex decisions. I make them every day,” White told the editorial board. Her record is even more impressive when compared to that of her primary opponent. Former state appellate court judge Jim Sharp – booted out of office by voters following an episode of bullying behavior – lacks the necessary temperament to hold judicial office. Primary voters should unite behind White and give her a chance to serve on this important bench.

That was from last week. Strictly speaking, Sharp lost a general election in which all Democratic candidates for the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeal were defeated, so the Chron is assuming facts not in evidence. Be that as it may, it was clear who they were going to pick in that race.

January finance reports for Harris County offices

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

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

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

County Clerk Stan Stanart – $16,869 on hand

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

District Clerk Chris Daniel – $15,184 on hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for an investment

Some day, the national Democratic Party will make an investment in Texas rather than just use us as a glorified ATM. Just don’t ask me when that day will be.

Texans have become accustomed to occupying the nosebleed seats at the Democratic National Convention, extras in a production that favors states that are solidly blue or liable to swing that way. But this year, even the most cynical Texas Democrats say they sense a tangible shift — a feeling that that they’re being positioned to be closer to the front row.

There was the selection of San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, an ambitious young Latino with deep Texas roots, to give the convention’s Tuesday night keynote speech.

There’s the palpable energy behind several up-and-coming Texas Democrats running in key congressional races, a couple of them competitive enough to draw out-of-state dollars.

And there’s the sense, especially among longtime Democratic operatives, that there’s a new sheriff in town — a Texas Democratic Party chairman who has no qualms about asking the national party organization to make a serious investment in Texas, or else stop monopolizing the state’s biggest Democratic donors.

“I don’t want to overstate this,” Austin-based Democratic consultant Harold Cook said. “But they are suddenly showing some fight, some signs of life, which is a lot better than a quiet, sleepy little party.”

[…]

“The Texas Democratic Party has always strained to not complain about the extent to which the national party takes more than it returns,” said Jim Henson, a University of Texas political science professor and Texas Tribune pollster.

No longer. Party insiders say they’ve reached a breaking point: They can’t sit by, losing “winnable” local races for lack of funding while they watch Texas donors fill national coffers. Former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa, who took the helm at the TDP this summer, said his goal at the national convention is to “impress upon the leadership that Texas could be blue if we just got a little lovin’ from the national party.”

“Texas is the only state in the union that is majority-minority but doesn’t have a Democratic statewide elected official,” he said. “That’s something that needs to be talked about.”

I consider this to be a sort of companion piece to that story about Paul Sadler, because they both boil down to the same thing. No one thinks Texas is ready to be competitive for Democrats at the statewide level, so nobody is willing to fund statewide candidates. Bill White in 2010 was the first adequately funded statewide Democrat since 2002, and he picked the wrong year to run. But the lack of funding makes being competitive at a statewide level that much less likely and more difficult. I have no idea how Paul Sadler plus ten or fifteen million dollars would be polling against Ted Cruz right now, but I’ll bet it would be closer than people think. I often think Texas will go blue in a downballot race or two before anyone believes it could. This was the case in Harris County in 2006, when Jim Sharp carried the county in his race for the 1st Court of Appeals, and Mary Kay Green – who had a majority of the vote on Election Day – missed being elected to a Family Court bench by 7000 votes out of 550,000 cast. It wouldn’t have taken much to swing that one race and change everybody’s perception going into 2008, but it wasn’t seen as possible. But demographic change and a depressed year for turnout nearly made it happen. You just never know.

My point is simply this. We don’t know what the competitive landscape would look like in a state where the two parties were closer to financial parity. Dems did very well in legislative races in 2006 and 2008, and even did pretty well in 2004, netting a seat in an otherwise pretty red year. In those races they did have the funds to go toe to toe. Doing so at the state level is obviously a tall order, but we won’t know till we try. Unless we find out in a year where we’re not expecting it, of course. I’d rather be prepared for success than find it accidentally. The Democrats here are ready. When will the national party do its part?

From the “If you don’t have anything good to say” department

What were you thinking, Jim?

Meet Jim Sharp, a Houston state appellate judge running for the Texas Supreme Court as the Dems’ challenger against the recently appointed Debra Lehrmann, a Republican.

In an interview with the American-Statesman editorial board, Sharp expressed doubts about Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White and deep skepticism about Linda Chavez-Thompson, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor.

You can click over to see the details; there’s video as well, so no question about context. Sharp has already lost some votes as a result of this, and I’m sure he’ll be hearing it for a long time to come. I’ll just say this much: Everyone involved in politics should have a clear and realistic view of how their team is likely to do in a given election, however optimistic or pessimistic it may be. Everyone involved in politics should be able to offer a detailed and thoughtful critique of candidates in whose races they have an interest. And everyone involved in politics should know instinctively when it’s a good idea to share these thoughts with people who can and will publish them for the whole world to see and when it’s not. I say this as someone who publishes four or five of his own thoughts on the Internets every day. You should see the things I think of but don’t publish. Actually, you shouldn’t – that’s the point. Got that, Jim?

What do you do with a problem like Rick Green?

If former State Rep. Rick Green wins his primary runoff against Fort Worth family court judge Debra Lehrmann for the Supreme Court Place 3 nomination, he will join Railroad Commission nominee David Porter as a second underqualified Republican candidate on the statewide ballot. It’s clear that the GOP establishment gets this, and they are working to avoid it.

[Thursday,] five former state Supreme Court justices — Tom Phillips, Craig Enoch, Deborah Hankinson, Barbara Culver, and Alberto Gonzales — [threw] their weight behind Lehrmann in her bid for the nomination.

“It’s not unprecedented, but it is rare” for a coalition of former justices to publicly push a candidate in a closely contested race, says veteran judicial campaign consultant Todd Olsen. (Olsen worked for Houston Court of Appeals Justice Jeff Brown, who lost to Green and Lehrmann in the primary.)

It last happened in 2004, when all of the then-living former justices endorsed San Antonio Court of Appeals Justice Paul Green’s successful primary challenge against sitting GOP Justice Steven Wayne Smith. Just two years earlier, Smith had ousted incumbent Xavier Rodriguez, who Gov. Rick Perry had just appointed to the bench, a win some attributed to the perils of having a Hispanic name in a Republican primary. (See Victor Carillo, David Porter, and “The Elefante in the Room”). From any perspective, however, it was an upset victory: The little-known Smith spent only $9,500 in his race, while Rodriguez doled out more than $550,000.

In case you’re wondering, the Democratic nominee for Place 3 is Houston’s Jim Sharp, who was elected to the First Court of Appeals in 2008. You can see why those guys might be concerned about qualifications.

Powerbrokers have lined up against him, but Green, who did not respond to a request for comment, may still have reason to smile. His campaign has more 13,000 Facebook fans — a base that’s nothing to sniff at, especially in an obscure runoff race that doesn’t have a noisy gubernatorial contest drawing voters to the polls — and the support of rightwing celebrities like Chuck Norris, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, and the stars of TLC’s “18 Kids and Counting,” Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

I don’t think I can really add anything to that. I mean hey, why should the Court of Criminal Appeals have all the fun?

Jim Sharp investiture

Jim Sharp, who was elected to the First Court of Appeals in November, has asked me to pass along an invitation to his investiture, which will be held this Thursday, February 12, at 4 PM in the Gerald Treece Courthouse at the South Texas College of Law downtown. Details can be found here (PDF). Enjoy!