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Jose Vela

Runoff races, part 2: Legislative

There’s one Democratic primary runoff for SBOE, one for Senate, and seven for the House. Here’s a brief look at them.

SBOE12

Suzanne Smith
Laura Malone-Miller

Smith led with 48.12% in March to Malone-Miller’s 26.31%. Smith has the DMN endorsement, while Malone-Miller doesn’t have a website. This is a Republican open seat – Geraldine “Tincy” Miller won with 61% in 2014 but is not running for re-election. This district went for Trump by a small margin in 2016, 50.1%to 44.4%, so it’s a dark horse contender to be flipped.

SD17

Rita Lucido
Fran Watson

Lucido, the 2014 candidate in SD17, nearly won this outright in March, finishing with 48.96% to Watson’s 35.09%. My interview with Lucido is here and with Watson is here. They’re both good candidates and good people.

HD37

Rep. Rene Oliveira
Alex Dominguez

Rep. Oliveira picked a lousy time to get busted on a DUI charge. That’s the sort of thing that tends to held usher Democratic incumbents out of office. Dominguez is a Cameron County Commissioner, so he’s a real threat to Oliveira, who led 48.48% to 36.40% in March.

HD45

Rebecca Bell-Metereau
Erin Zwiener

HD46

Jose “Chito” Vela
Sheryl Cole

HD47

Vikki Goodwin
Elaina Fowler

HD45 used to be a mostly rural district that elected a Democrat from 2002 through 2008 when rural Democrats were common enough, then went Republican in 2010 and has stayed that way as the district has become more suburban as San Marcos and the northern parts of Hays County have grown like gangbusters. Bell-Metereau, who led Zwiener 45.49% to 30.63% in March, is a three-time SBOE candidate, while Zwiener is a children’s author and Jeopardy! winner half her age. This is the kind of district Dems need to win to really make gains in the House, and there’s more focus and optimism on that score than we’ve seen this decade.

HD46 is the seat now held by Rep. Dawnna Dukes, who lost in the primary. The winner of this runoff will be the next Rep; there is a Republican, not that it matters, and an independent candidate who was going to be in a special election to succeed Dukes that never happened dropped out after the March result, citing the fact that both Vela and Cole are fine by him and more importantly to him not Dukes. Thanks to Dukes’ high profile and the fact that a win by Vela could mean there are no African-American legislators from Travis County (see below for HD47), this is probably the hottest House runoff on the ballot. The Trib, the Statesman, and the AusChron all have recent coverage. The score in March was 39.52% for Vela and 38.23% for Cole.

HD47 is the one Travis County district held by a Republican; Rep. Paul Workman rode the 2010 wave and got a friendlier map in 2011, but the district is not deep red and if there’s a year he could be in trouble, this is it. I really haven’t followed this one and only learned about these candidates while writing this post, but there’s coverage in the Statesman and AusChron if you want to catch up. The AusChron endorsed Fowler and Vela; Fowler is African-American so if she makes it all the way then Travis County would still have African-American representation at the Capitol.

HD64

Mat Pruneda
Andrew Morris

Another race I haven’t followed. HD64 is in Denton County, where incumbent Rep. Lynn Stucky is a ParentPAC endorsee. The district is in Denton County and it is red but not super duper red, though it is redder than neighboring HD65. The latter will flip before this one does, but it will be worth keeping an eye on it to measure progress.

HD109

Deshaundra Lockhart Jones
Carl Sherman

This is the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Helen Giddings. The runoff winner will be sworn in next January. Both candidates exceeded 40% in March, with Jones leading by four points. Sherman is the former Mayor of DeSoto, and he has the DMN endorsement. Jones is also from DeSoto and has served a couple of terms on its City Council. This race, along with the one in HD46, are rare instances this year where a female incumbent could be succeeded by a male candidate. (I overlooked the HD109 race when I wrote about the gender of primary challengers in January.) Sheryl Cole is an Annie’s List candidate but Deshaundra Lockhart Jones is not; I don’t know if that means something or not. Just wanted to mention it.

HD133

Sandra Moore
Marty Schexnayder

Moore missed hitting the 50% mark by four – count ’em four – votes in March, though I should note that Schexnayder topped forty percent as well. They’re both good candidates and good people, running in a tough district, and I interviewed them both in March – Moore here, Schexnayder here. Moore has the Houston GLBT Political Caucus endorsement, Schexnayder has the Chron. Like I said, they’re both good, so pick who you like and you can’t go wrong.

2018 primary results: Legislative

Rep. Sarah Davis

Statewide Dem totals
Statewide GOP totals

Harris County Dem totals
Harris County GOP totals

(Please note that all results were coming in very slowly. I expect there will still be some precincts not yet reported by the time this publishes. So, I’m going to be less specific than usual, and may have to make a correction or two by Thursday.)

I’m gonna lead with the Republicans this time. Sarah Davis and Lyle Larson, both viciously targeted by Greg Abbott, won their races easily. Sarah, here’s that picture I mentioned before. Also, too, the anti-vaxxers can suck it (in this race; they unfortunately appear to have claimed a scalp elsewhere). Abbott did manage to unseat the mediocre Wayne Faircloth, who was the most conservative of his three targets. Party on, Greg!

Back to the good side: Rita Lucido was leading Fran Watson in SD17, but was short of a majority. Beverly Powell won in SD10, Wendy Davis’ old district. Mark Phariss was leading in SD08, but it was too close to call. On the Republican side, Rep. Pat Fallon destroyed Sen. Craig Estes in SD30, but Sen. Kel Seliger beat back the wingnuts again in SD31. Sen. John Whitmire won easily. Joan Huffman easily held off Kristin Tassin on her side of SD17. And Angela Paxton won in SD08 over the lesser Huffines brother. Apparently, two Paxtons are better than one, and also better than two Huffineses.

Other incumbents in both parties had more trouble. On the D side, longtime Rep. Robert Alonzo lost to Jessica Gonzalez in HD104; her election increases the number of LGBT members of the Lege by one. First term Rep. Diana Arevalo lost to former Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer in HD116, and first-term Rep. Tomas Uresti, no doubt damaged by his brother’s legal problems, lost to Leo Pacheco. And Dawnna Dukes’ odyssey came to an end as challengers Sheryl Cole and Chito Vela both ran way ahead of her. Other Dems, including (sigh) Ron Reynolds hung on, though Rep. Rene Oliveira was headed to a runoff with Alex Dominguez in HD37. For the Rs, Rep. Jason Villalba was going down in HD114 – he was an anti-vaxxer target, though there were other factors in that race, so it sure would be nice for Dems to pick that one off in November. Rep. Scott Cosper was headed to a runoff in HD54. Other incumbents, including those targeted by the extreme wingnut coalition, made it through.

For Harris County, the following challengers won: Natali Hurtado (HD126; she celebrated by going into labor, so double congratulations to her), Gina Calanni (HD132), Adam Milasincic (HD138). Sandra Moore was briefly above 50% in HD133, but ultimately fell back below it to wind up in a runoff with Marty Schexnayder. Allison Lami Sawyer had a slightly easier time of it, collecting over 90% of the vote against the idiot Lloyd Oliver. Maybe, just maybe, this will be enough to convince Oliver that his run-for-office marketing strategy has come to the end of its usefulness. Sam Harless was on the knife’s edge of a majority in HD126 on the R side; if he falls short, Kevin Fulton was in second place.

There will be a few runoffs in other races around the state. I’ll get back to that another day.

The Socialists are coming

To a primary ballot near you.

The revolution will be down-ballot. Or such is the implicit promise of Franklin Bynum’s campaign for Harris County misdemeanor court judge. A 35-year-old former public defender, Bynum said he’s seen Houston’s criminal courts routinely railroad the poor into convictions that drive them further into poverty. Now, after nearly 10 years subject to the whims of conservative judges, he’s aiming to take the gavel for himself.

“Who are these courts being operated for? Right now, it’s the police, the bondsmen and the prosecutors, and people are just the raw material to be chewed up,” said Bynum, who’s running as a Democrat for Harris County Criminal Court at Law 8. Bynum’s platform includes expanding the use of personal recognizance bonds, waiving certain fees for the poor and reducing mandatory appearances, which he said are used only to “coerce” guilty pleas from defendants out on bail. “A democratic socialist judge would make the courts work for the people,” he said.

Bynum is one of at least 17 members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) running for office in Texas in 2018, including candidates for the U.S. House and offices ranging from governor to county treasurer. The DSA, which now counts more than 30,000 members nationwide, has grown explosively since Trump’s election and boasts at least 10 chapters in Texas. The group tends to prioritize issues on the left edge of the Democratic Party, like single-payer health care and a $15 minimum wage. There’s no official candidate list, but the Observer reached out to DSA groups around the state to compile this running tally. (Not all the candidates have been endorsed by DSA.)

Some of the candidates, like gubernatorial hopeful Tom Wakely — who styles himself the “Berniecrat with a Panama hat” and lost a 2014 congressional bid by 20 points — face the sort of uphill climb usually found in the Himalayas. But others stand a fighting chance, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. Jones pointed to congressional hopefuls Derrick Crowe, in District 21, and Rick Treviño, in the always-competitive District 23, as viable primary challengers.

“With Treviño and Crowe, it’s sort of the mirror image of what we saw with the tea party,” Jones said. “The advantage the establishment candidates have is money, but the tea party’s shown us that sometimes money can lose to these grassroots activist campaigns.”

In District 23, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and is currently represented by moderate Republican Will Hurd, Jones said a left wing platform that plays well with primary voters might fall flat in the general election. Hillary Clinton carried the swingy district by 3.5 percent in 2016, and Hurd’s margin of victory was just over 1 percent. But Treviño, a San Antonio high school teacher, is bullish: “[District] 23 is always described as a conservative district where ideas like Medicare for All or a living wage will turn off voters; that is absolutely false,” he wrote in a Facebook message to the Observer. “Across the district, these ideas are resonating, especially Medicare for All.”

There’s a list of DSA candidates at the bottom of the story and on this Google doc, which includes statements from some of them. As the story notes, some of these folks have a clearer path than others. Bynum has no primary opponent, so he’ll rise or fall with the rest of the countywide slate here in November. Danny Norris in HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, Chito Vela in HD46, the two Travis County judicial candidates – if they win their primaries, they’re in. Derrick Crowe has raised a decent amount of money but lags Joseph Kopser by a wide margin in that primary. A win in March by Crowe would be a big feather for the DSA’s cap. I’m much more skeptical about Rick Trevino, who has two well-funded and establishment-backed primary opponents, and is in a district that isn’t exactly conducive to blockwalking. It’s not just about fundraising, either – if you look at their campaign Facebook pages, Gina Ortiz Jones has more than three times as many followers as Trevino, while Jay Hulings has more than double his total. I don’t know what the best way is to measure “grassroots” support, but the measures I can find don’t corroborate the notion that Trevino has an underestimated level of backing. We’ll know for sure in a week.

On a side note, I’d observe that there’s less difference between the DSA position and the “establishment” position than you might think, at least on some issues. Look at what Bynum says about his priorities for the misdemeanor court he’s running for, then compare the judicial Q&As I ran for Harold Landreneau and Armen Merjanian. Bail reform – which is supported by the likes of DA Kim Ogg and Sheriff Ed Gonzalez – and finding alternatives to incarceration are pretty mainstream these days. Sure, there are some differences, and there are different priorities, but to a sizable degree a lot of it is about strategy and rhetoric, much as it is the case with the Tea Party and the “establishment” Republicans.

Dawnna Dukes case to go before grand jury

Awesome.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Travis County prosecutors and Texas Rangers will present evidence to a grand jury that state Rep. Dawnna Dukes abused the power of her office, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told the American-Statesman.

Among possible charges: abuse of official capacity and tampering with public records, Moore said.

Dukes was sworn into office for a 12th term Tuesday after reneging on a plan to step down before the Legislature convened.

Moore said that the grand jury proceedings will begin next Tuesday.

[…]

The case against Dukes began when members of legislative staff in early 2016 questioned her requiring them to do personal errands for her and work full-time on a nonprofit event. In one instance, Dukes gave a state employee a raise to cover gas money for driving her daughter to and from school.

See here for the background. KXAN was first with the story, and adds some more detail about the resignation that wasn’t.

When asked why she decided to retract her resignation, Dukes told KXAN’s Political Reporter Phil Prazan that she made her decision because her experience and qualifications make her the best person for the job. She said she had to listen to her constituents.

“I listened to the constituents who requested over and over and over again, since my announcement, that I would reconsider that I would come back,” says Dukes, who has served HD 46 since 1995. Dukes says she worked with her doctors to make sure she was healthy enough to make sure she would not be absent from the 2017 session.

[…]

There are currently five people who are vying for House District 46 and all appear to still be moving forward with their campaigns. Former Austin Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole held a news conference Tuesday afternoon to say that she’s still in the race, whether it will be in a special election or the Democratic primary for 2018.

Chito Vela also sent out an advisory for his official campaign kickoff, which is scheduled for Thursday. In his message, he says, “East Austin needs a progressive voice that will fight for the interests of working class voters.”

Gabriel Nila, the only GOP candidate going for the seat, knew he had an uphill battle in a district that typically votes at least 80 percent Democrat.

“Our concern, mine and several other people, is that she will do the exact same thing that she did in 2015—make a couple of appearances here and there, but not take care of the issues that need taking care of,” said Nila.

That sound you hear is me banging my head on my desk. The Trib has more.

One HD46 hopeful calls on Rep. Dukes to resign now

From the inbox:

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

This morning, Chito Vela called on current State Representative Dawnna Dukes to immediately resign her position as State Representative for Texas House District 46 instead of waiting until January 10, as she previously announced. If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, the seat will likely not be filled until March or even later if there is a runoff election.

“If Rep. Dukes waits until January 10 to resign, families in East Austin, Manor and Pflugerville would go without any representation in the Texas House for most of the legislative session,” Vela said. “I know what it takes to run a Capitol office,” he continued. “It takes time to hire staff, set up shop, and propose legislation. By waiting so long to resign, Rep. Dukes is hurting her successor, her constituents, and all Texas Democrats.”

If Rep. Dukes resigns immediately, the seat can be filled quickly, ensuring working families in District 46 have a voice and providing an important Democratic vote against bad legislation. Vela challenged all other candidates for the seat to join him in calling for Dukes’ immediate resignation.

“Rep. Dukes needs to put the needs of her constituents first and immediately resign her seat,” he added. “The values and interests of our community will be under attack in the coming legislative session. Texas Democrats need every vote they can get.”

Once Rep. Dukes resigns, Governor Abbott has 20 days to call a special election for the seat. Because the vacancy will occur within 60 days of the start of the 85th Legislative Session, the election must be held no earlier than 21 days and no later than 45 days after Gov. Abbott calls the election. If Rep. Dukes resigns immediately, the election would be held well before the bill filing deadline of March 10, 2017. If she resigns on January 10 as she previously announced, it is unlikely the seat would be filled before the bill filing deadline, leaving her successor with little opportunity to propose new legislation.

See here for some background. Vela is echoing the same points I noted about the special election timeline, which will almost certainly include a runoff. There’s no particular reason I can think of why Dukes needs to delay her departure till January 10 – she’s long since been invested in the Lege’s pension, and it’s not like there’s any bills she has to file, since she wouldn’t be there to get them passed. One could argue that her constituents would have been best served if she had stepped down immediately after the election; if she had, the special to replace her would already be on the calendar. I find myself in agreement with Chito Vela on this one. Step down now, Rep. Dukes, and let your successor take office in time to have an effect on the 2017 session. The Austin Chronicle has more.

Who’s in to succeed Rep. Dawnna Dukes?

There are three confirmed candidates already to succeed Rep. Dawnna Dukes when she steps down next month.

Rep. Dawnna Dukes

Despite announcing her plan six weeks earlier to resign instead of serving another term, state Rep. Dawnna Dukes handily won re-election earlier this month.

Dukes, an Austin Democrat, abruptly announced her plan to retire in late September, citing health issues related to a 2013 car accident and concerns over caring for her 9-year-old daughter. Her announcement came amid an ongoing investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s office into Duke’s alleged misuse of staff and government funds. Prosecutors were ready to ask a grand jury to indict Dukes just before she announced her retirement, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Despite the cloud over her office, Dukes, who has served in the House since 1994, earned about 70 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Gabriel Nila and two minor-party candidates earlier this month. Dukes’ House District 46 includes parts of Austin, Pflugerville and Manor.

Dukes has said her resignation will take effect on Jan. 10, the opening day of the 2017 legislative session. Gov. Greg Abbott has 20 days from receiving Dukes’ letter of resignation to announce the date of a special election to fill the seat, according to the Governor’s office.

Here are the Texans who have openly discussed running in the special election:

Gabriel Nila

The 44-year-old has lived in the district since 2012 and teaches at-risk youths in the area. He ran as a Republican against Dukes in the November election, earning around 19 percent of the vote. It was his first bid for public office.

Sheryl Cole

The 52-year-old former Austin mayor pro tem and city councilwoman is a longtime resident of East Austin. She and her husband, Kevin Cole, have three boys.

Jose “Chito” Vela III

The 42-year-old attorney has lived in the district for 12 years and sits on the city of Austin’s Planning Commission. He is the former board chair of the Workers Defense Project, a law firm dedicated to serving immigrants.

Vincent Harding

The 29-year-old is current chairman of the Travis County Democratic Party. He is also a local attorney and graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.

Kevin Ludlow

Ludlow ran as a Libertarian against Dukes in the general election and came in third, drawing 6 percent of the vote. He also ran against Dukes in 2014. The 37-year-old is a University of Texas at Austin alumni who operates a software firm and has lived in Austin for 19 years.

See here for the background. Cole and Vela are Democrats, and they along with Nila all confirmed that they were running. Harding and Ludlow were both maybes. One Democrat who had previously expressed an interest, Joe Deshotel, said he was out. A Green Party candidate who had been on the ballot in November couldn’t be reached for comment in the story. I feel confident saying the final list of candidates will be longer than three. Given that Abbott will have till January 30 to call for the special election, I will assume it will happen in early to mid-March, with a runoff in early April. That will give whoever wins time to cast some important votes, but not to do much else.