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Endorsement watch: State propositions and Katy bonds

Hey, did you know that there are constitutional amendments on the ballot? It’s true! (Spoiler alert: There are constitutional amendments on the ballot every odd-numbered year.) The Chron has some recommendations for how to vote on them.

State of Texas, Proposition 1: For

This amendment would allow the Legislature to exempt partially disabled veterans and surviving spouses from paying property taxes on a home received from a charity at less than the market value. An exemption has already been granted when homes are given for free, and this opens the door to some cost sharing.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 2: Against

Consider it a form of post-traumatic stress. Any time banks ask for looser rules, we get flashbacks to the 2008 economic crisis. Financial institutions granted bad loans, good loans – some even made fake loans – knowing that the instruments would eventually be wrapped into a package and sold off. If the debt went bust, some other sucker would be stuck holding the bomb.

The global economic system ended up as the big loser in that game of hot potato.

Now the Texas Legislature is asking voters to tear down some regulations that help keep lenders in line. We recommend voting against.

[…]

State of Texas, Proposition 3: Against

The governor selects hundreds of unpaid appointees to serve on state boards and commissions, most of which run for four- or six-year terms. But if the term expires and no replacement is appointed, that volunteer is allowed under the state’s “holdover” provision to remain until the slot is filled. This amendment to the state Constitution would force out the incumbents even if there’s no new appointees and render the positions vacant.

We have no quarrel with the current “holdover” rule and recommend voting against.

There are seven of these in total, so I presume this was part one of two. I did receive a mailer the other day in favor of one of these, so there’s at least one active campaign involved. I don’t remember which one it was, though. This is why you need to send more than one piece of mail to ensure that your message penetrates, kids.

Moving a bit outside the usual boundaries, the Chron casts a virtual vote in favor of Katy ISD’s bond referendum.

Katy needs more schools.

That simple fact becomes obvious to anybody who looks at the Katy Independent School District’s explosive growth. During the decade between 2005 and 2015, Katy ISD’s enrollment rose by a whopping 47 percent.

Take a deep dive into the numbers and you’ll discover another telling insight from the state comptroller’s office, which diligently tracks data on Texas school districts. Between 2006 and 2015, Katy ISD’s tax-supported debt per student actually declined by a little less than 1 percent.

Now one of the fastest growing school districts in Texas wants voters to authorize a bond issue allowing them to borrow another $609 million. Katy ISD officials have earnestly made a compelling case for passing this referendum. Even some longtime activists in the district who’ve opposed previous bond issues fully support this one. Voters should, too.

As the piece notes, despite being one of the hardest-hit areas by Harvey, KISD’s enrollment was up this year, highlighting just how rapid its growth has been. This is one of those “you can pay now, or you can pay later” situations, and paying now – especially when interest rates remain low – is almost always the better choice.

Remember the Katy Prairie

From the four things we could have done differently to maybe mitigate some of the worst effects of Harvey:

Preserve and restore as much prairie land as possible

Much of northwest Houston used to be covered in prairie land, where tall grasses could absorb huge amounts of floodwater. But most of it has been paved over in the past two decades amid rapid development and a massive influx of people. Between 2000 and 2010, this part of Houston grew by nearly 70 percent to a population of 587,142 — equivalent to that of Milwaukee. Restoring or preserving prairie can’t prevent flooding altogether, but it can be a tremendous help in mitigating the damage.

Some local officials flat-out disagree with this conclusion; they believe you can erect public works projects to catch and manage runoff — essentially fighting water with concrete — and don’t need more green space.

But the vast majority of scientists believe the region needs to impose stricter regulations on those who want to develop prairie land.

Just a reminder, because I see some variation of this – some more egregious than others – in every story like this one: The vast majority of this development and growth is outside the city of Houston. It affects the city of Houston, but there’s literally nothing the city could have done about it because it’s outside the city’s borders and ETJ. In the case of this story, I would note that while “the region” may need to impose stricter regulations on development, there is no “regional” authority to do that.

Now, let’s be honest enough to admit that even if we had all the green space we had thirty years ago, there’s only so much to be done about nine trillion gallons of water being dumped on you. A storm this size was always going to be a catastrophe, it just might have been a slightly smaller one if we had been smarter and perhaps a bit luckier. We can’t undo what has been done, but we can be more specific about just what paved over these former wetlands.

Torrential rains that flooded hundreds of northwest Harris County homes last week reinforced long-standing worries that development on the Katy Prairie could make future floods more frequent or more severe.

Development encouraged by a planned segment of the Grand Parkway connecting Interstate 10 to U.S. 290 threatens to diminish the environmentally sensitive prairie’s capacity to absorb floodwaters, said Jim Blackburn, an attorney representing the Sierra Club in two related lawsuits.

“The Katy Prairie, for decades, has been our sponge,” Blackburn said, noting that the prairie also provides valuable wetlands and wildlife habitat.

Tension between development interests and environmental and neighborhood groups surfaced in the Sierra Club’s 2007 lawsuit challenging flood plain maps for the Cypress Creek watershed, which encompasses the area where last week’s floods were most severe. The organization has filed a separate lawsuit challenging the parkway.

The developers of the Bridgeland master-planned community intervened in the case last year, seeking to prevent an expansion of flood plain boundaries that would require the company to take expensive steps to offset increased runoff downstream.

An executive of Bridgeland GP, the company developing the 11,400-acre community, said in a Jan. 9, 2008, affidavit that the revisions sought by the Sierra Club would cost the company $28 million in flood mitigation measures that would “adversely affect” the development.

Despite the company’s efforts, the maps are being redrawn under U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal’s supervision. Rosenthal has stayed the lawsuit until October to allow time to complete the maps, but officials said they aren’t certain when the task will be finished.

Preliminary revised maps shown to the Houston Chronicle by Blackburn and the Harris County Flood Control District show a significant expansion of the flood plain in an undeveloped western segment of Bridgeland’s property and a reduction of the flood plain in other areas.

That story is from 2009. Here’s one from 2011:

Over the decades, this 1,000 square mile sanctuary has largely survived the encroachment of farmers and relentless development pressure from neighboring Houston, thanks in no small part to its dedicated supporters.

But the Katy Prairie has never faced a opponent like the Grand Parkway before. Piece by piece, the Houston area has been building a third — yes, third — bypass for the region. And much to the horror of local environmentalists, the next segment is planned to directly bisect this extraordinary habitat.

Development of this pristine land isn’t just collateral damage — it’s the point of the project. Project sponsors make no bones about it: The 15.2-mile Grand Parkway segment through Katy Prairie is a $462 million development project as much as it is a transportation project. Known as “Segment E,” it would be the third phase in a 180-mile “scenic bypass” for Houston. Each of the 11 segments is considered a separate and “independently justifiable project.”

Billy Burge of the Grand Parkway Association says right now there isn’t much need for Segment E, in terms of traffic. Burge and his colleagues don’t shy away from the fact that the project will generate more car trips and sprawl. In fact, they have what you might call a “build it and they will come” philosophy about road-building and traffic.

“There’s real demand in 15 to 17 years to have this,” said Burge, who chairs the association overseeing the project for the state and the region. “Once that link is completed, you’ll have a steady stream of traffic.”

To hear Burge and his colleagues at TexDOT and Harris County tell it, they are simply trying to get out ahead of what they see as inevitable: sprawl, on top of sprawl, on top of sprawl. But not in a bad way, they say.

“It will increase sprawl but that’s really the reason people come to Houston: to have a big house and a big yard,” said Burge. “You can call it sprawl, or you can call it quality of life.”

If you want to see what will likely replace the switchgrass and wildflowers of Katy, look to the Bridgeland development. This massive, 12,000-acre “new urbanism” development, where homes sell from $160,000 to north of $1 million, stalled in the real estate crisis. Since then, developers have stepped up pressure on local authorities to bring forward highway infrastructure needed to jump start sales.

Anything that we can do to protect and restore the Katy Prairie going forward, we must do. I hope that the scarring experience of Harvey will put enough political pressure on the people who can do something about this to take action. But one thing we can’t do is decide not to build the Grand Parkway. It’s too late for that.

Here comes Conroe

Not so little anymore.

This isn’t the first time Conroe, population 82,286, has recorded notable growth.

In 2015, it was one of the 13 fastest-growing cities by percentage, ranking sixth below other Texas cities like San Marcos, Georgetown and Frisco. The next year, according to Census numbers released Thursday, Conroe zoomed to the top spot and became the headline on news stories across the country.

Forty miles north of downtown Houston, Conroe is the county seat of one of the fastest growing counties in Texas. Montgomery County netted more than 19,700 residents between July 2015 and July 2016, as Houston-area suburbs continued to expand.

In fact, Texas had four of the five fastest-growing large cities in the U.S., each near a major city. Following Conroe were the Dallas suburbs of Frisco and McKinney, which grew by 6.2 percent and 5.9 percent, respectively. Georgetown, an Austin suburb, was the fifth-fastest growing city with a population increase of 5.5 percent.

Officials in the Texas cities and the state’s demographer attribute the growth to various factors, including the state’s robust jobs market and the cities’ diversified economies, lower costs of living and skilled workforces that earn higher wages.

“A lot of times when people think of Texas, they think about cowboys and roping cows. But really we have … cutting edge manufacturing, technology and finance, and certainly all of the oil extraction activity as well,” Texas State Demographer Lloyd Potter said.

For Conroe Mayor Toby Powell, a self-described “ol’ boy” who has lived in the city all his 76 years, the growth is no surprise.

In fact, Powell said, Conroe officials already had been planning for increased demand for city services and infrastructure. A new police station has just opened, and a new fire station is under construction. The city also has purchased 75 acres of land to build a second sewer plant.

Traffic congestion already can be seen just a few minutes away from its town square lined by old-fashioned street lamps and dotted with benches extolling the city’s history. Along Highway 105, which runs east-west through Conroe, shopping centers are home to chain stores and restaurants like Target, Home Depot, Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill, and queues of cars back up at lights and turn lanes.

Maybe I shouldn’t have joked about Conroe trying to annex The Woodlands back in the day. The former-small-town-turned-booming-suburb narrative isn’t new, and like so many other places – Katy, Pearland, Spring, etc etc etc – two facts remain: The original small town and the booming suburb that supplants it are two very different places, and the secret ingredient in all of them is an abundance of cheap, undeveloped land on which to build. That was Houston’s secret once upon a time, too. I don’t have any large point to make here, but I will note that just as the politics in places like Katy and Pearland have started to change as their populations have increased and diversified, so too will this happen in Conroe. It would be nice to have a bit of Democratic infrastructure in place for when that happens.

Early voting for May elections begins tomorrow

Tomorrow is the first day of the nine-day early voting period for the May 6 election. I’ve generally not paid a great deal of attention to these May elections, but it’s safe to say that This Time It’s Different, and not just because I myself have an election to vote in. The people who live in the following political jurisdictions in Harris County have a reason to vote as well: City of Humble, City of Pasadena, Houston Independent School District, Humble Independent School District, Northgate Crossing Municipal Utility District 2, Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District 28, Oakmont Public Utility District, Harris County Water Control & Improvement District 91. You can see the locations and schedule for Harris County early voting here.

Note that there are other elections within Harris County that are not being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. This means that they have their own polling places and early voting schedules, which may or may not include Saturday the 29th and Sunday the 30th. Among them are:

Pasadena ISD – a list of their candidates with a link to their 30 day finance reports is here.

Katy ISD – see their list of candidates here.

San Jacinto College – locations and schedules are here, list of candidates is here.

City of Katy, which also has some charter amendments. Here’s some information about their candidates for Mayor and City Council Ward B. There was no election held in Katy in 2015 because no one filed to run against any of the incumbents, so they decided not to bother with it.

Other elections of local interest are in Fort Bend County and Brazoria County. For Fort Bend, note that the different locations have different hours, with some of them being open each day while some others are not. Check the links before heading out.

And of course there’s the HISD recapture re-vote. I am voting for recapture and recommend you do the same. The No vote last November accomplished what I hoped it would. Now is the time to move forward.

So there you have it. There are other elections around the state, the most interesting of which is surely the San Antonio Mayor’s race in which incumbent Ivy Taylor is seeking a second full term, but these are the local races of interest that I know of. Most of these elections get comically low turnout, so your vote counts for a lot if you actually go an cast it. We’ll see if it really is different this year or not.

Please don’t compare George Scott to Dave Wilson

I mean, come on.

George Scott

George Scott

I was a bit confused when conservative blogger George Scott told me he planned to strap on ice skates before heading to his swearing-in ceremony this past week as a Katy school board member. Was this some strange suburban leadership ritual? Then Scott delivered his punch line.

“Hell,” he said, “has frozen over.”

No doubt many of the students, parents and staff members in the Katy Independent School District had thoughts along those lines after Scott unseated Joe Adams, who had served on the board since 1989 and had defeated nine challengers before Scott slipped past him by a six-vote margin. And fellow board members might not be ready to welcome Scott with open arms, given his relentless criticism of the district’s leadership during his internet-based campaign.

I wondered who might offer sound advice to a scrappy challenger who had narrowly defeated an entrenched incumbent for a seat on a public education board, vowing to change a moribund institutional culture. If only someone else fit that description. …

“It’s tricky,” said Dave Wilson. “It’s going to be tough for old George.”

[…]

It’s important to note that the comparison between Wilson and Scott only goes so far. Scott, unlike Wilson, wasn’t accused of deceptive campaign tactics, nor does he share Wilson’s history of anti-gay activism.

I cut out the bit where Wilson offers “advice” to Scott because the comparison falls apart as soon as it’s made. First and foremost, Scott ran an actual campaign for Katy ISD, whereas Wilson was a name on a ballot with a misleading website and mailers. Scott ran for Katy ISD based on his longstanding interest in education matters and his detailed policy ideas for the board. Wilson ran for HCC because he’s a perennial candidate who has run for Mayor, City Council, County Commissioner, and State Representative, and possibly other things that I may have missed. And to whatever extent Wilson has had problems getting stuff done on the HCC Board, putting aside the fact that most of what he’s tried to get done has been his usual anti-gay crap, it’s because he ran a dishonest non-campaign that had nothing to do with anything other than his desire to be elected to something, while Scott has been busy reaching out to his soon-to-be colleagues on the Katy ISD board so he can get started on the real work of the job he actually ran for. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it’s “don’t be like Dave Wilson”, which is both good general advice and something I’m sure George Scott already knows. Let’s never discuss this again, OK?

Typhoon Texas

Someplace new for the summer.

Not far from Katy Mills Mall, rainbow-colored slides tower seven stories high over a new water park that has taken shape on 25 acres.

A short hill with a waterfall running through it greets visitors. Inside, they’ll find nine water rides, a 25,000-square-foot wave pool, a lazy river and a Texas-style barbecue restaurant. About 18 acres sit next to the park for a planned expansion.

“It’s finally come to reality,” said Johnny Nelson, a former city administrator for Katy who first discussed the idea of a water park next to the 175-store outlet shopping mall back when it opened in 1999.

Katy has been known more for its powerhouse high school football team and popular mall than for any particular tourist attractions. The Katy MKT Depot and a nearby caboose stand as proud reminders of Katy’s railroad past, but they’re off the beaten path and not huge draws.

The rapid growth of the region, and surveys indicating residents wanted more in the way of family entertainment in the suburb induced city officials to come up with amenities that would attract large numbers of visitors. The water park may be one of them.

Interest in the $50 million Typhoon Texas facility, which [opened] Saturday, has been high on social media. It is anticipated to draw 400,000 visitors each year during its summer operating seasons, according to Byron Hebert, the current city administrator.

It will serve as a main lure in a burgeoning suburban district that already boasts restaurants, hotels and store chains. These attractions will soon be complemented by a $150 million public-private development that includes a 2.5-mile boardwalk around a pond, a hotel, a 55,000-square-foot convention center and an 89-acre nature park.

“To have a water park, to have a mall like Katy Mills, to be doing the work they’re doing in downtown Katy to renovate it too, and then the boardwalk – that’s millions of millions of dollars in capital investment that the community sees,” said Chris Tanea, marketing manager at the Katy Area Economic Development Council. “The city is going to reap huge benefits because of it, but it extends beyond that.”

[…]

Hebert noted that city leaders were pitched water park proposals on six prior occasions; they rejected each, deciding to wait for a private developer to tackle the project. They got their wish last year, and ground was broken in August.

He predicts that the city’s sales tax revenue will increase by at least 2 percent because of the water park, but said it’s too early to say what will be generated by the coming Boardwalk District, which will take several years to finish.

“Katy has really begun to brand itself as a regional destination for this area,” Tanea said. “The goal is to bring more people in because there is so much to offer here, and we still have space for growth.”

One expert, however, sees “virtually no economic impact” for the Houston area as a whole.

“It’s just increasing the entertainment dollars in Katy that would have otherwise gone to other parts of Houston, so it’s more of a direct impact on the immediate Katy area,” said Bill Gilmer, director for the Institute of Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston. “Certainly, San Antonio has its own water park, and so does Dallas, so nobody will be driving from over there.”

Maybe, I don’t know. I’m well familiar with the argument that new entertainment options don’t really have an economic impact but instead just redistribute the collective budget for leisure spending in an area. It’s one of the linchpins of the case against subsidized stadium construction. I feel like big-ticket items like a water park have more than a basically zero-sum effect, however. They’re an indulgence that I think a fair number of people will splurge on, with the payment for it not necessarily coming out of their existing allocation for fun. For sure, it will have a positive effect for the area, and will no doubt put a few bucks into many teenagers’ pockets. For an awful lot of people, it’s now the closest option for that experience. Even for me, it’s not really much farther than Splash Town, and it’s closer than Schlitterbahn Galveston. I admit, I’m thinking about taking the kids out there sometime this summer. The park hours are a little odd; they’re open till 10 most Fridays and even some Thursdays, but generally only till 7 on Saturdays. Not sure why they do it that way – why not till 10 on Saturdays, too? – but whatever. We still like going to the Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels – I have family there as well, which is another reason we go – but this will be on my list as well. What do you think?

George Scott hangs on after recount

A win by six votes is still very much a win.

George Scott

George Scott

A longtime Katy ISD board member conceded defeat Tuesday to a district critic in a closely watched race after a recount did not show him closing the narrow margin.

Trustee Joe Adams’ concession means that conservative blogger George Scott will be joining the board of the fast-growing suburban district west of Houston.

Adams has served on the board for 27 years.

Two four-member counting committees began recounting votes at 9 a.m. Tuesday. After mail-in ballots were recounted and votes did not swing Adams’ way, the incumbent conceded the race, not waiting for electronic votes to be recounted.

Before the recount, the district had said unofficial results showed Scott had defeated Adams by three votes out of nearly 3,000 votes cast. The recount showed Scott with 1479 votes to Adams’ 1473.

[…]

Scott blamed Adams for a lack of leadership on the board, though he softened his tone on Tuesday.

“Joe conducted himself with class and dignity in every way he interacted with me. He had a right to a recount,” Scott said Tuesday. “Obviously, I’m very excited. The issues that I campaigned on have not changed … but today is not about the issues. Today is about this incredible process.”

See here and here for the background. Scott had started with a three-vote lead, which expanded to six as the absentee ballots were counted and led to Adams’ concession. Scott’s swearing in date has not been announced, but he has been in attendance at recent board meetings, so I’m sure he’ll hit the ground running. Covering Katy, which includes a statement by Scott in the comments to their story, has more.

George Scott holds on in Katy ISD race

Every vote matters, y’all.

George Scott

George Scott

A longtime critic of the Katy Independent School District has ousted a 27-year incumbent from the board of trustees, winning by three votes out of nearly 3,000 cast, according to unofficial total results announced Friday.

Conservative blogger George Scott received 1475 votes to Trustee Joe Adams’ 1,472 votes, district officials said Friday. The final tally came six days after election day results left the Position 1 race too close to call.

Results will become official when the seven-member board canvasses them at a meeting Wednesday. Scott would be sworn in at the May 23 board meeting, along with Trustee Rebecca Fox, who was re-elected earlier this month.

Scott’s victory signals a major shift for the district. Adams is a widely recognized figure in the Katy area and has served on the board of directors for the Texas Association of School Boards.

A former media liaison for the Harris County Appraisal District and past publisher of The Katy Times newspaper, Scott has for years questioned the board’s fiscal decisions, transparency to the public and deference to Superintendent Alton Frailey, who is retiring this summer.

Scott contended that trustees became too influenced by Frailey and hadn’t held him sufficiently accountable. He criticized the district’s push for a $62.5 million stadium, a project that still divides the community because of its price tag. It is now being built alongside an existing one and is set to open next year.

In challenging Adams, Scott suggested that the incumbent had become complacent. Scott said voters heard that message.

“I’ve been a very strong critic, but my goal is to try and work with the other board members,” Scott, 66, said Thursday, a day before the final results were announced. “Can we agree that the district can do a better job with communication to the media and public? Can we hold the superintendent more accountable? I want those talks to be professional.”

Scott was ahead by seven votes with 14 provisional ballots to review and the possibility of overseas ballots still to come. Adams would have needed to net eight votes, which would be an 11-3 win on provisionals if they all counted. In the end, eight of those ballots were counted and Adams won them 6-2, but pending any recounts, Scott wins by a nose.

Covering Katy, which provided the details on the provisional ballots, also provides a peek at how first-time candidate Scott ousted the nine-term incumbent.

Even though it was a very close election, it was not easy to beat a man who has been re-elected nine times in a row. Scott won by running “a flawless campaign,” according to supporter A.D. Muller, who has worked as an advisor on numerous campaigns in Katy, including Scott’s campaign.

“I’ve never seen a Katy school board race with zero mistakes until this one, and I’ve never seen such an unconventional race as Scott has run this year,” Muller said.

Among the unconventional tactics Scott used was spending no money on campaign signs, until the very end of the campaign. Instead, Scott spent all of his advertising budget with Covering Katy during much of the campaign. Later in the campaign he also used direct mail.

“People thought I was crazy, but I know everyone reads Covering Katy,” Scott said. “I did not have a big budget. My choice was buy yard signs or buy a great advertising position on Covering Katy. The decision to go digital instead of traditional was a no-brainer for me. I had to constantly tell my supporters to trust me. They thought I was crazy because no one had ever run a successful campaign without yard signs,” Scott said.

“I didn’t buy a single campaign sign until the very end when a supporter said he’d donate to my campaign if the money was used for yard signs, so I bought some signs,” Scott said. Otherwise, he said he would not have purchased any signs.

Weather played in Scotts favor too. When the recent flooding hit Katy it spiked Covering Katy’s page views, meaning Scott’s advertisement was seen nearly 800,000 times in the last four weeks of the campaign.

Meanwhile, Joe Adams ignored Covering Katy. He would not provide a phone number or email address to be contacted for stories on the election. He never personally responded to any requests for interviews or comments.

Scott recognized Adams’ mistake and saw an opening. He provided Covering Katy with a barrage of big name endorsements, which bought him credibility with many Katy newcomers who didn’t know his background as a former member of the Harris County Hospital District, a staffer with the Harris County Appraisal District and the former owner of The Katy News.

Scott also quietly made amends with people he’d criticized on his blog George Scott Reports. Known for his slash and burn commentaries, Scott criticized people on all ends of the political spectrum. At the start of the campaign he needed to know if those he criticized would turn against him during the campaign. He visited with them and was surprised to find almost every person said they’d support him, some key people even endorsed his campaign publicly.

“At times during this campaign I’ve wondered what did I do to deserve this type of support after being so critical of these folks over the years,” Scott said. “I told them I’d understand if they told me no, but they all felt I’d do a good job on the school board and pledged their support. I’ve been supported by a lot of good people, and I appreciate what they’ve done for this campaign,” Scott said.

There’s more, and it’s worth the read. Small campaigns like this are just different than large ones, and there’s nothing that substitutes for personal contact from a candidate, which you can do much more easily in a campaign of that scale. I know a few campaign professionals who are nodding their heads vigorously at the bit about not spending money on yard signs. Anyway, as someone who appreciated George’s writing on property tax issues, I’m glad to see he won. Congratulations, and best of luck with the new gig.

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.

Interview with George Scott

George Scott

George Scott

I don’t often pay attention to the May elections in even-numbered years. There’s usually nothing on my ballot, and the big cities that have May elections have them in odd years. One entity that is having an election around here is the Katy Independent School District, and one of the candidates running for a spot on the KISD Board of Trustees is someone I’ve mentioned here a few times, fellow blogger George Scott. Scott has had quite the diverse career – community-based journalist, newspaper owner, chamber of commerce president, public policy researcher, board member for the Harris County Hospital District – an so forth. I’ve cited him several times for his writing on how things work at the Harris County Assessment District and why commercial property assessments are out of whack. He’s also been involved in education policy and accountability, joining with HFT president Gayle Fallon to come to the defense of former HISD principal Thaddeus Lott in the 90s. He’s running now against a long-term incumbent in Katy ISD – see here for a bit of local coverage of the race – and he had quite a bit to say when I interviewed him:

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

Keeping an eye on Katy ISD

This could be interesting.

Some of the details of George Scott’s “shadow school board” are still that – shadowy.

But as the conservative blogger has assembled a group to meet regularly to reach its own conclusions about the business of the fast-growing Katy ISD board, his mission is clear: to use public data to take aim at the district’s use of high-stakes testing.

He hopes the approach has far-reaching effects beyond the Katy ISD boundaries and will serve as a model for other districts.

“I’ve known George since I first became the president of the local, well over 30 years” said Gayle Fallon, the recently retired president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. “He and I have not always agreed, but I think he’s got a good idea here and one that if it takes off, could have a national impact.”

Scott and Fallon don’t necessarily see eye to eye on many things. But their interests align when it comes to the burden that they say standardized tests have placed on classroom teachers and students.

“With this new emphasis on data,” said Fallon, “teachers spend hours they used to spend with kids just doing data for school districts.”

[…]

If he can raise $13,000 through his Kickstarter campaign, Scott said the board will meet on Saturdays starting next year for all-day sessions reviewing data from ongoing public information requests. The money would go toward information requests, facility rentals and meals during the meetings but participants wouldn’t be otherwise compensated, according to Scott. If he raises more than expected, then the shadow board would prepare a budget. All the financials would be publicly available. In April, the board would produce a position paper with recommendations on how to push back on testing’s impact in the classroom as well as on other issues.

“There is an immense amount of data and the typical school board member hasn’t a clue,” said Scott. “They don’t have anybody getting a real actual understanding of the correlation between all of this testing they have and what it means in the organization and delivery at the campus level and the concept of holding people accountable.”

As noted, Scott is a blogger and former member of the Board of Managers of the Harris County Hospital District, among many other things. He’s also been a voice for fairness and transparency in how properties, especially commercial properties, are appraised – I’ve cited his work here more than once. Like Gayle Fallon, I don’t see eye to eye with him on many things, but I respect him and his work, and I think this is a worthwhile project, whatever they ultimately do or don’t find. I wish you and your team good luck, George, and feel free to send me a press release any time you unearth something interesting.

What if they threw an election and nobody ran?

Congratulations, Katy!

The Katy City Council on Monday night canceled May’s municipal elections after no one sought to challenge the mayor and two other incumbents.

The deadline to file to run was at the end of February. The only candidates to file were Mayor Fabol Hughes and council members Bill Lawton and Jimmy Mendez, from Wards A and B respectively.

That left them unopposed and automatically re-elected for additional two-year-terms, said City Secretary Missy Bunch.

After taking the oath of office in May, Lawton will begin a third term and Hughes and Mendez will start their second.

Bunch said it was fairly common in the small town west of Houston for incumbents not to face opposition.

“Filing was open for a little over a month,” she said. “We had a couple people pick up books but nobody else signed up.”

City leaders interpreted the lack of opponents as a vote of confidence from the public.

“It just kind of makes you feel good,” Lawton said. “I just don’t believe that people weren’t paying attention. I think they knew an election was coming up and the feeling has been that things are going pretty good.”

That would be the optimistic interpretation, yes. I don’t live in Katy and I know nothing of the politics there, so I don’t have any reason other than my natural level of cynicism to dispute that. Personally, I think elections are better when they’re contested. Katy’s municipal election results don’t appear to be on the Harris County Clerk elections page, so I can’t tell you how these three did in 2013. Anyone from Katy want to comment on this?

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Election results: Harris County

The big story: RIP, Astrodome.

We still have the memories

A $217 million bond measure to fund a massive Astrodome renovation failed by several percentage points, a decision expected to doom it to the wrecking ball.

Proposition 2 would have allowed Harris County to issue up to $217 million in bonds to turn the beloved but bedraggled stadium into a massive event and exhibition center.

County commissioners have said they would recommend the wrecking ball if the bond failed.

“We’re going to have to do something quick,” County Judge Ed Emmett said afterward. “We can’t allow the once-proud dome to sit like a rusting ship in the middle of a parking lot.”

He called it “an interesting evening to say the least” and added, “We have an electorate that is for whatever reason anti-bond.”

The news came as a blow to representatives of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“There’s no disputing this building is an icon,” said the Trust’s Beth Wiedower. “Its legacy will live on even if it doesn’t. It seems like it’s fate is sealed obviously we are disappointed in the outcome.”

I voted for the Dome, and I’m sad to see it end this way. I saw a lot of mourning about this on Facebook and Twitter last night. I wonder how many of those folks were Harris County residents, and how many of them voted. I will be very interested to see what the precinct data says about this one.

Thankfully, the joint inmate processing center passed, though by a very close margin. My theory on the Astrodome was that in the end, this effort came too late. I think too many people had become cynical about the whole thing, and perhaps the somewhat staid New Dome proposal, chosen over a number of imaginative but fanciful alternatives, turned people off. I’m just guessing here. The pro-Dome campaign wasn’t particularly high-visibility, either, and that probably didn’t help. Like it or not, the people have spoken.

The Pasadena power-grab redistricting plan was passed in a squeaker as well, 3290 to 3203, with the No vote carrying Election Day, just not quite by enough. There were three other Pasadena proposals on the ballot, and they all passed with 64% or more of the vote. Expect the lawsuit against this to be filed any day.

Finally, in a race I paid only passing attention to, voters in Katy ISD rejected a $69 million bond proposal that included a massive new stadium by a solid 55-45 margin. I had no opinion on that one, but as an AP wire story I spotted on the Chron website said, it was a bad day for stadiums yesterday.

Population growth in the Houston suburbs

The Chron’s Newswatch blog had a post the other day showing population changes in different ethnic groups for a number of Houston suburbs between 2000 and 2010. It was done as a chart, and while it was a very nice chart, I’m a numbers guy, not a pictures guy. So I translated it all into something that made sense to me, and here it is.

Bellaire Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 13,030 12,237 -6.1% Latino 1,220 1,601 31.2% Black 125 270 116.0% Asian 985 2,360 139.6% Other 282 388 37.6% Overall 15,642 16,855 7.8% Cinco Ranch Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 9,326 12,536 34.4% Latino 649 2,339 260.4% Black 313 640 104.5% Asian 739 2,339 216.5% Other 168 420 150.0% Overall 11,196 18,274 63.2% Conroe Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 20,062 27,148 35.3% Latino 12,000 21,640 80.3% Black 4,012 5,508 37.3% Asian 331 956 188.9% Other 405 956 136.0% Overall 36,811 56,207 52.7% Katy Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 8,266 8,842 7.0% Latino 2,791 4,090 46.5% Black 530 705 33.0% Asian 59 212 259.3% Other 177 254 43.5% Overall 11,775 14,102 19.8% League City Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 34,810 56,993 63.7% Latino 6,135 14,457 135.6% Black 2,272 5,766 153.8% Asian 1,409 4,429 214.3% Other 818 1,922 135.0% Overall 45,444 83,568 83.9% Pasadena Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 66,870 48,737 -27.1% Latino 68,287 92,705 35.8% Black 1,983 2,832 42.8% Asian 2,550 3,130 22.7% Other 1,983 1,639 -17.3% Overall 141,674 149,043 5.2% Pearland Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 27,628 44,531 61.2% Latino 6,098 18,707 206.8% Black 1,957 14,692 650.7% Asian 1,355 11,224 729.8% Other 602 2,099 248.7% Overall 37,640 91,252 142.4% Spring Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 26,779 25,466 -4.9% Latino 5,822 15,421 164.9% Black 2,511 10,262 308.7% Asian 509 1,629 220.0% Other 764 1,520 99.0% Overall 36,385 54,298 49.2% Sugar Land Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 38,443 34,995 -9.0% Latino 5,003 8,276 65.4% Black 3,230 5,754 78.1% Asian 15,009 27,665 84.3% Other 1,583 2,128 34.4% Overall 63,328 78,817 24.5% The Woodlands Group Pop 2000 Pop 2010 % Diff ==================================== Anglo 48,693 73,670 51.3% Latino 3,673 11,449 211.7% Black 946 2,159 128.2% Asian 1,558 4,505 189.2% Other 779 2,065 165.1% Overall 55,649 93,847 68.6%

Please note that the individual totals may not sum up exactly because of rounding. Charts are nice, but I don’t think you can fully appreciate the huge scope of some of these changes without seeing numbers. Hope it’s as helpful to you as it was to me.

Build it here, flood it there

We can argue and debate all we want about where development should occur, and what responsibilities developers and governments have to protect flood plains and abate flooding and whatnot, but at the end of the day there’s a simple truth that needs to be reckoned with.

Flooding of streets and homes probably is unavoidable when rains are as intense as they were last week, said John Jacob, director of Texas A&M University’s coastal watershed program.

On the other hand, Jacob said, “The more you pave over stuff, the more flooding we’re going to get.”

One hopes that, at least, is uncontroversial. What we plan to do about it, that’s where the action is.

Tough times for local governments

It’s gonna be a bad year.

They’re not feeling the economic storm quite yet, but local governments across the Houston region are hunkering down anyway. Some have frozen hiring, others have stopped filling potholes. Planned purchases of police cars, golf course mowers, Tasers and sewage equipment have been halted.

The caution infecting budget offices is universal, whether down south, where Galveston County is anticipating shrinking its budget by $5 million, or up north, where Montgomery County continues to rake in the tax dollars from growth. All are playing it safe, waiting for property reassessments and 2009 sales tax figures to come in before making any major decisions.

“We need to be watching every dollar that we spend,” said Cheryl Hunter, Texas City’s director of finance. The recession may have come to Southeast Texas late, but it has come. Public finance officers fear a future double-punch: lower tax revenues from a slower economy, combined with Hurricane Ike’s destructive effect on tax rolls in coastal towns, counties, and school districts. After years of growth and decreasing tax rates, budget officers now just want to hold on.

Texas City lowered tax rates for two years, but probably will not this year. The overall budget will stay flat. On hold: a $1 million renovation of the Texas City Museum, and a $5 million expansion of Moore Memorial Library.

Baytown, Freeport, Sugar Land, Katy and Metro already have declared hiring freezes. In Pearland, there is no official freeze, but officials have postponed filling 10 positions – four of them police officers.

“So far, from the recession we’re not seeing any (revenue) impacts yet,” said Pearland’s finance director, Claire Bogard. Rebuilding after Ike even gave sales taxes a boost, as did the opening of two new retail centers in Pearland. Nevertheless, Bogard ordered department heads to identify ways to trim 6 percent from the next budget, just in case.

Guess that means Bill King won’t be running for office in any of those places, either. All I can say is that I hope none of these local officials are counting on any help from Rick Perry. If he thinks the feds shouldn’t be helping state governments make ends meet, he’s unlikely to think any differently about the state helping the cities and counties. At least there’s a chance that the Lege could bypass him and share the largess, such as it may be.