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Kathaleen Wall

The rising cost of losing

Womp womp.

The price of losing keeps going up for Republican Kathaleen Wall.

Four months after losing her campaign for Congress, the Houston Republican had to put yet another $150,000 of her own money into her campaign to pay for final expenses related to the race, newly released Federal Election Commission records show.

That pushed the total she spent on her failed campaign for the 2nd Congressional District to just under $6.2 million — the most self-funding any candidate in Texas has put into a campaign for a U.S. House seat since at least the year 2000 and the second highest amount any candidate for the House has spent nationwide this year.

Only Maryland Democrat David Trone has spent more of his own money to campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives this year. Trone, the co-founder of Total Wine & More, has so far spent just over $10.2 million on his campaign. He won his primary last month and faces Republican Amie Hoeber in November.

[…]

Wall’s final report to the FEC showed she needed the extra money for a variety expenses after losing her race, including for online advertising bills that were paid in April.

I know, it’s in poor taste to kick someone when they’re down. But good Lord, those Wall ads on TV were horrible, and you COULD NOT ESCAPE THEM. I’m getting twitchy just thinking about it. She deserves one last raspberry from those of us who had to survive them.

The CD02 primary runoff

Oh, yeah, that’s happening.

Rep. Ted Poe

Kevin Roberts already overcame a $6 million onslaught from self-funding multimillionaire Kathaleen Wall to keep his hopes of winning a seat in Congress alive.

Now the Republican’s challenge is beating retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, a dark horse candidate who emerged from the primary election with surprising momentum.

Roberts, 51, said he’s not intimidated as the May 22 runoff approaches in the GOP primary battle to replace U.S. Rep. Ted Poe in Congress and will stick to his strategy.

“We will continue to run our race,” said Roberts, a businessman who was elected to the state Legislature in 2016. “All I can do is focus on our campaign and work to get our core message out … Experience matters.”

But Crenshaw isn’t about to give an inch on that front either.

Crenshaw, 33, has never held office but said he’s more than ready to put his nearly 10 years in the Navy up against Roberts’ political experience. Crenshaw said his time in the military taught him leadership skills, which he said are at the core of being a good public servant.

Crenshaw said that experience gives him an edge over Roberts on foreign policy and national security issues. Crenshaw served in South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2012, while on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, a roadside bomb nearly killed him. He lost his right eye and medically retired from the Navy in 2016.

On the one hand, I’m sure I speak for millions of Houstonians when I say I’m so relieved I’ll never have to see another Kathaleen Wall advertisement again. On the other hand, this runoff without Wall’s cartoon villainy is pretty much dullsville. I mean, these guys are about as compelling as unbuttered toast. Them’s the breaks, I guess. Anyway, eventually one of these guys will win the right to go up against Todd Litton, who I hope is busy raising more money right now. In the meantime, I’ll try to remember that this race exists.

2018 primary results: Congress

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

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.)

Barring anything strange, Texas will have its first two Latina members of Congress, as Sylvia Garcia (CD29) and Veronica Escobar (CD16) were both over 60%. I for one approve of both of these results. Now we can have that important debate about whether one of them is officially the “first” Latina or if they both get to share that designation; I lean towards the latter, as you know, and it appears that the Trib is with me as well. Maybe this will be a short debate. In any event, my congratulations to both women.

Veronica Escobar

Todd Litton was over 50% in CD02 with about a third of the precincts in. Lizzie Fletcher and Laura Moser were headed towards the runoff in CD07 with just under half of the precincts reporting; Jason Westin was within about 850 votes of Moser, but he was losing ground. I will note that Fletcher, who led Moser by about seven points overall, led her in absentee ballots by 36-18, in early in person votes by 30-23 (nearly identical to the overall tally), and on E-Day 28-27. Maybe that’s the DCCC effect, maybe Fletcher has earlier-by-nature voters, and maybe it’s just one of those random and meaningless things.

Other Dem Congressional results of interest:

– Gina Ortiz Jones was at 40% in CD23, so she will face someone in the runoff. Judy Canales and Rick Trevino was neck and neck for second, with Jay Hulings trailing them both by about two points.

– Colin Allred was also around 40%, in the CD32 race. Lillian Salerno, Brett Shipp, and Ed Meier were competing for runnerup, in that order.

– Joseph Kopser and Mary Wilson were right around 30% for CD21, with Derrick Crowe just under 23%.

– Jana Sanchez and Ruby Faye Woolridge were both around 37% in CD06.

– MJ Hegar and Christine Eady Mann were well ahead in CD31.

– Jan Powell (53% in CD24) avoided a runoff. Lorie Burch (49% plus in CD03) just missed avoiding one.

– Sri Kulkarni was at 32% in CD22, with Letitia Plummer and Steve Brown both around 22%. In CD10, Mike Siegel was up around 43%, while Tawana Cadien, Tami Walker, and Madeline Eden were in the running for the second slot.

– Dayna Steele was winning in CD36 handily. This is one of those results that makes me happy.

– On the Republican side, Lance Gooden and Bunni Pounds led in CD05, Ron Wright and Jake Ellzey led in CD06, Michael Cloud and Bech Bruun were the top two in CD27. I have only a vague idea who some of these people are. Ted Cruz minion Chip Roy led in the CD21 clusterbubble, with Matt McCall and William Negley both having a shot at second place. Finally, Kevin Roberts was leading in CD02, and while Kathaleen Wall had the early advantage for runnerup, Dan Crenshaw was making a late push, leading the field on E-Day. Dear sweet baby Jesus, please spare us from two more months of Kathaleen Wall’s soul-sucking TV ads. Thank you.

– I would be remiss if I did not note that Pounds has a decent shot at being the third woman elected to Congress from Texas this year; if she prevails in the CD05 runoff, she’ll be as in as Garcia and Escobar are. Wall’s path to that destination is a bit cloudier now, but unless Crenshaw catches her she still has a shot at it.

– Some of these results were changing as I was drafting this. Like I said, I’ll likely have some cleanup to do for tomorrow. Check those links at the top of the post.

On CD02 and CD29

The Trib asks whether there’s a race worth watching in CD29 or not.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Months ago, [Sen. Sylvia] Garcia appeared poised to easily win this race, but something happened along the way to the nomination: Out of nowhere, health care executive Tahir Javed, declared his candidacy for the seat and has, so far, raised $1.2 million, most of that his own money.

Garcia is widely expected to take first place here on Tuesday, but the operative question is will she win by enough to avoid a runoff?

“We’re still confident we can get out of this without a runoff,” she said. “It’s a crowded field but we’ve worked it really hard.”

[…]

Beyond Javed and Garcia, several other candidates are running: businesswoman Dominique Garcia, attorney Roel Garcia, educator Hector Adrian Morales, veteran Augustine Reyes and small business owner Pedro Valencia. All have raised under $60,000, but they could collectively keep the majority of the vote out of Sylvia Garcia’s grasp.

[…]

The race, oddly, has drawn the attention of two well-known New Yorkers.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York endorsed Javed just as early voting began. It was widely perceived as a nod to the extensive fundraising Javed has done over the years for the party – but it nonetheless enraged many Texas Democrats, including Green.

Green used to serve with Schumer when the New Yorker was in the U.S. House.

“Chuck ought to stay out of our business,” Green said. “I cannot imagine Chuck Schumer influencing one vote in our district.”

But Schumer’s fellow Democratic New York senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also got in the game and donated to Garcia’s campaign.

“I’ve made my choice,” said Gillibrand when recently asked by the Texas Tribune about the split with her senior senator.

The other reason this race matters beyond the district is that Garcia could become the first first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. She could also be, this year, among a class of the first Texas females elected to a full term in Congress since 1996.

I’ve dealt with that last point so many times I feel like the writers of these stories are just trolling me now. Sylvia Garcia could be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. So could Veronica Escobar in CD16. I suppose if one wins in March and the other in May, we can declare that one the official “first Latina”. If not, if they both win in March or they both win in May, they get to share that designation. Why it’s so hard to acknowledge that there’s more than one contender with a legitimate shot at this is utterly baffling to me.

As far as this race goes, let me say this. I have lunch once a month or so with a group of political types. We got together this past Friday, and the CD29 race was one of the things we discussed. We were split on whether Garcia would win in March or not, but the person most of us thought might push her into a runoff was not Tahir Javed but Augustine Reyes, son of former City Council member Ben Reyes. That’s a name a lot of people recognize, with ties at least as deep to the district. I’ll confess that I hadn’t thought much about Reyes before then, but it makes sense to me. We’ll know soon enough.

Meanwhile, in CD02:

There’s an etiquette to campaigning against a primary opponent in the same polling station parking lot.

On this windy Tuesday afternoon in a conservative stronghold in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, State Rep. Kevin Roberts and environmental consultant Rick Walker each worked the Kingwood Community Center parking lot hard while still allowing his rival to also speak to voters uninterrupted.

“At the end of the day, we want to elect the most qualified person that’s going to represent us, because whoever wins is going to represent us,” said Roberts, a Houston Republican.

But also, the two men had a common feeling about their race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe of Humble, whether it was overt or implied: intense frustration at another of their competitors, Republican donor and technology consultant Kathaleen Wall, who has dominated the field by spending nearly $6 million of her own money.

Walker went so far to suggest that if Wall was unable to draw the majority of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, the rest of the field would coalesce behind whomever is the opposing Republican candidate.

“We all want to win, but we understand we’ve got to live with each other in the long run,” said Walker. “And with a nine-person race, there’s going to be a runoff, and so the runoff is probably going to be against the one person trying to buy the race.”

“And so we’ve got to keep the personalities out of it,” he added. “So we may take digs on each other once in awhile, but in the long run we know we’re going to have to be working together.”

[…]

There are, to be sure, a host of other candidates running for this seat beyond those three. Health care executive David Balat, retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw and veteran Jonny Havens make up the second tier of candidates when it comes to fundraising, pulling somewhere in the ballpark of $150,000 in each of their campaigns.

Three others – investment banker Justin Lurie, doctor and lawyer Jon Spiers and lawyer Malcolm Edwin Whittaker – are also running for the Republican nomination.

Besides Wall’s self-funding, the top issues in this district are immigration and the post-Hurricane Harvey recovery effort. From that voting station parking lot, Walker pointed to an HEB across the way that flooded in late August amid the hurricane.

All the while, some national Republicans and Democrats have begun cautiously wondering whether this race is one to watch in November.

Poe easily held the seat for years and Republican Donald Trump carried the district by about nine points in 2016. That should be a healthy enough margin to protect it from Democratic control.

Even so, spikes in early voting turnout among Democrats in urban areas like Harris County have spurred questions as to whether this could shape up to be a sleeper race.

Democrats have five candidates running, including one named Todd Litton who has raised over $400,000 and is running a polished campaign. That is not the largest sum in the country, but it is a substantive amount, particularly given the partisan history of the district.

I feel like I have PTSD from constant exposure to Wall’s TV ads, which have been a constant and unwelcome presence through the Olympics and on basketball games, both college and the Rockets. I keep the TiVo remote by my side so I can hit pause as soon as I recognize one of her awful spots, then fast forward past it. I of course don’t live in CD02, so either Comcast needs to tighten up its distribution maps or Wall has been getting fleeced by her ad-buying consultants (if the latter, I can’t say I’m sorry for her). In any event, I’m hoping to be spared for the runoff, but I’m not expecting it.

The same folks I had lunch with on Friday all mentioned Crenshaw as a dark horse candidate in this one. We’re not Republicans – I know, you’re shocked – so take that for what it’s worth. And brace yourself for more Wall ads.

Endorsement watch: Republican roundup

The Chron makes a conventional choice in CD02.

Poe’s vacancy has attracted nine contenders in the Republican primary, and we encourage voters to look for a candidate who will aspire to embody the party’s values while also striving to represent a vast district.

Two candidates appear to lead the pack in this heated race: one-term state Rep. Kevin Roberts and wealthy activist Kathaleen Wall. However, both have developed a reputation for avoiding panels and other public events where they’ll stand alongside the seven other challengers. That tactic may be politically clever, but we get a sense that it frustrates voters.

Nevertheless, Roberts remains the best choice in this race. He works as executive director for the Lanier Law Firm and has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle. Support from county officials is a sign of faith in Roberts to advocate for Houston’s flood control needs at a federal level – the single most important issue in the 2018 election.

It is worth noting that Roberts, 52, successfully authored and passed a resolution during the last legislative session urging Congress to provide sufficient funding for the construction of a storm surge barrier along the Texas coast – well before Hurricane Harvey. The carrots and sticks of party politics don’t usually encourage that kind of smart advocacy, so it falls on primary voters to reward Roberts’ push for a long-term investment in our region.

[…]

Meanwhile, voters in this primary should avoid Wall, who has spent around $2.7 million of her family’s money on this primary race alone. Writing a check is no substitute for a proven track-record. Wall has little in her resume to show that she’ll be an effective representative in Congress for either the Republican base or for Houston overall.

Republicans are going to face a tougher contest than they’re used to in this changing district, and Wall’s unrelentingly pro-Trump campaign is going make it hard to win over moderate voters in November. Or worse, her antics could energize the deep-blue Montrose-area precincts that already can’t wait to vote against anything that even sounds like Trump.

I don’t think we’ll need any more incentive, but thanks for thinking of us. Frankly, I expect we’ll all still be dealing with the PTSD from Wall’s nonstop barrage of awful TV ads.

Meanwhile, the Chron observes the maxim that it is always a good time to vote against Sid Miller.

“We like to eat, we like to wear clothes and we like to put gas in our cars. All three of those things are affected by the Department of Agriculture.”

That’s how Trey Blocker succinctly describes the importance of the agency he wants to manage. Blocker is unquestionably the best qualified candidate running in the Republican primary for Texas agriculture commissioner. Anybody who’s been paying attention to the news coming out of this corner of Austin during the last couple of years knows it needs new leadership.

Blocker is a conservative ethics lawyer offended by what he calls “corruption and crony capitalism” in state government, but he’s also spent decades working as a lobbyist for the farming and ranching communities. Ask him anything about the myriad duties performed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and he’ll tell you not only how things work, but also how they need to change.

[…]

Texas voters are lucky that Blocker decided to enter this race, because he’s a well-qualified, conservative Republican alternative to Sid Miller. Even if you don’t follow state government very closely, you may have heard about the shenanigans of this embarrassing incumbent.

Miller claims he’s conservative, but he doesn’t act like one. After angering farmers and business owners by raising a host of regulatory fees, he gave employees of his agency more than $400,000 in bonuses. He used taxpayer money for a trip to Oklahoma where he got a so-called “Jesus shot” for chronic pain. He also traveled to Mississippi on the state’s dime where it so happened he wanted to participate in a rodeo. The Texas Rangers ended up investigating both incidents, and Miller ended up reimbursing the state’s coffers.

The incumbent agriculture commissioner needs to be put out to pasture. Republican primary voters should throw their support to Trey Blocker.

The competition for worst elected official in Texas is fierce, but beyond a doubt Sid Miller is a championship contender. Honestly, to be much worse you’d have to be engineered in a lab.

And to complete the trifecta of terribleness, we meet up with one of the local contenders for “worst elected official” in this Republican Justice of the Peace primary.

November comes early this year. No Democrats have signed up to run for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 5, Place 2, which means that this Republican primary essentially functions as the general election.

Voters should feel comfortable reelecting current Justice of the Peace Jeff Williams to a third term in this sprawling west Harris County precinct.

Williams, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, exudes enthusiastic competence when discussing his job overseeing this low-level court, which handles more than 100,000 cases each year.

[…]

Williams’ challenger, J.R. Harris, said he would encourage landlord groups to go above and beyond the legal minimum to prevent evictions in the first place. Harris, a graduate of the South Texas College of Law Houston, currently works at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and has experience with the tax assessor’s office. He has the makings of a fine justice of the peace, but there’s no reason to boot Williams from office.

Both candidates had kind words about the other, and saved their criticism for Mike Wolfe, who declined to meet for an interview.

Both Williams and Harris said that they believe Wolfe had been put forward as a candidate by a reactionary anti-LGBT wing of the Republican Party hoping to fight same-sex marriage.

Yes, that’s the same Michael Wolfe from the HCDE; the editorial covers some of his more egregious recent actions on the Board. We’ll get a shot at ousting him in 2020, assuming he hasn’t been moved into this much safer seat in March. You’ll only be screwing yourselves if you vote him in here, Republicans.

How many more women are we likely to have in Congress next year?

Probably at least two, and more are possible.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

No freshman woman has come to Congress from Texas since Granger’s election 1996, with the exception of former U.S. Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs, who served as a placeholder for less than two months in late 2006. (Hutchison, who left the Senate in 2013, is now U.S. ambassador to NATO.)

The problem in Texas was not so much that women weren’t winning – it was that they weren’t running.

In interviews with candidates, officeholders and campaign consultants, the most-cited reasons for the lack of female candidates were concerns that gerrymandered districts would protect incumbents, an aversion to commuting to Washington while raising children and general apathy, a problem Jackson Lee cited back in 2016.

That all changed this year, in part due to a national backlash against Trump on the Democratic side and, in Texas, a wave of retirements on both sides.

Approximately 50 women have lined up this year to run for Congress in Texas, among hundreds running around the country. Of that sum, a handful are running well-funded, professional campaigns and have viable paths to serving in Washington.

[…]

Former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar and former El Paso School Board President Dori Fenenbock are the best-funded candidates aiming to succeed O’Rourke, and former state Rep. Norma Chavez threw her hat into the ring just before the December filing deadline. Escobar and Fenenbock both cited the same reason as contributing to their decisions to run: Their children are old enough that they felt comfortable making the Washington commute without creating disruptions in their families.

Three men are also running in the Democratic primary, but the betting money among political observers is on El Paso sending a woman to Washington.

Another potential future congresswoman is state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who is seeking retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green’s 29th District seat and has drawn Green’s endorsement. She faces a crowded field in a Democratic primary that will likely determine the outcome of the election. Houston political insiders say that, while there are no assurances, Garcia is in the driver’s seat for the nomination.

She ran for Congress previously in 1992 against Green and lost. Back then, she was part of another crush of women entering politics, at that time in response to the controversial Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings.

On the GOP side, Texas women running for open seats in Congress include political fundraiser Bunni Pounds and communications consultant Jenifer Sarver. Both women are in ferociously competitive primaries.

Pounds is running in CD05, the only woman among nine candidates. Sarver is in the 18-candidate pileup in CD21; there are two other women alongside her. I suppose you could add Kathaleen Wall in CD02 to this list as well. She’s the sole woman in that eight-contestant field, and she’s already advertising on TV, with a spot during the college football playoffs last week. Here’s my subjective ranking of the odds for each of these hopefuls.

1. Sylvia Garcia – She doesn’t appear to have any notable opposition, though one of her opponents has raised some money. If she wins the primary she’s a shoe-in for November. Frankly, I’ll be shocked if she’s not the winner in CD29.

2. Escobar/Fenenbock/Chavez – Like CD29, the primary winner has a cakewalk in November. There’s a non-zero chance that any or all of these women could fail to make the primary runoff, so I put their collective odds below Garcia’s.

3. Bunni Pounds – As with the others, she’s a lock if she wins the primary, but she has a tougher road to get there.

4. Gina Ortiz Jones – I originally had her lower than Wall and Sarver, but Dems are currently more favored to win here than the GOP is in CDs 02 or 21, and I figure she’ll be in a runoff with Jay Hulings, while neither Wall nor Sarver has as seemingly clear a path to May. Ask me again after I see the Q4 finance reports; Hulings outraised Jones in Q3 but he was officially in the race before her. We’ll see how she does with an equal time period.

5. Jennifer Sarver – The Republican candidate will be favored in CD21, but it’s not a lock. Sarver has to get through the primary first, and with that many candidates it’s like ping pong balls in a lottery machine.

6. Kathaleen Wall – You could swap Wall and Sarver without much argument from me. I think Dems have slightly better odds to win CD02, but Wall has fewer opponents in the primary, so it kind of balances out.

7. Lizzie Fletcher/Laura Moser – It’s a tough primary in CD07 and a coin flip in November, but if either of these women can make it to the November ballot she’ll have a decent shot at it.

8. The rest of the field – Lillian Salerno in CD32, Jana Sanchez and Ruby Woolridge in CD06, Letitia Plummer in CD22, Lorie Burch in CD03, Jan McDowell in CD24, Silky Malik in CD02, MJ Hegar in CD31, etc etc etc. The over/under is set at two for now, but there is a scenario in which the number of female members of Congress from Texas increases by a lot.