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Loren Jackson

Endorsement watch: Stay the course

Harris County Democrats have one incumbent up for re-election: County Attorney Vince Ryan. The Chron gives their approval for another term.

Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

[Ryan] said that he actively pursues pollution enforcement lawsuits against big companies – such as Volkswagen after it lied about emissions tests, or the corporations responsible for the San Jacinto waste pits. But in a state where legislators and regulators routinely erect barriers to citizens seeking justice from the industries that poison our water and pollute our air, Ryan’s headlines over matters of public concern look more like necessary leadership than disregard for cooperation.

That’s not to say Ryan hasn’t been an important team player with other law enforcement agencies across the county. He’s harnessed the power of the county attorney’s office to go after dangerous gangs, sex traffickers and Kush merchants. He also helped the county cut through the Gordian Knot of same-sex marriage by quickly and clearly instructing judges to follow the U.S. Supreme Court after it held bans to be unconstitutionally discriminatory, yet refrained from hounding individual county employees who preferred to pass onto their coworkers the historic duty of marrying same-sex couples.

Running for his third term, the former District C councilman and longtime assistant under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll brings a steady and experienced hand to an important position that has a vast spectrum of responsibilities, including advising county officials, preparing contracts, defending the county from lawsuits and protecting communities through civil action. He’s served the county well, and voters should keep him in office.

Other than some judges, Vince Ryan is the only Democrat elected countywide in 2008 to remain in office. Loren Jackson, who won a special election to fill the remaining term of District Clerk, lost in the 2010 sweep. HCDE At Large trustees Jim Henley, who resigned in 2014, and Debra Kerner, who lost in 2014, and Adrian Garcia, who stepped down as Sheriff to run for Mayor in 2015, followed. I feel pretty good about the Dems’ chances of adding to that roster this year, but it starts with Vince Ryan.

Endorsement watch: The clerks

Two more endorsements from the Chron, one of which may be the least enthusiastic endorsement they’ve ever given.

District Clerk: Chris Daniel

The Harris County district clerk’s office runs behind the scenes in our judicial system. It maintains records for district and county courts at law, accounts for legal fees and deposits and administers the jury summons system. For all the drama and justice that goes down in courtrooms, there is nothing particularly exciting about this managerial position. Over the past four years, Republican Chris Daniel has served as a steady hand and deserves another term.

[…]

Daniel is a common presence at community and political events across the county – from heritage festivals to tea party meetings – yet never brings the nonpartisanship of his office into question. With youth and ambition matched by effective governance (he’s 31 years old) Daniel has served as an impressive administrator in an office that had previously suffered from constant turnover.

His Democratic challenger, Judith Snively, 59, works as a lawyer-turned-entrepreneur. You may have seen her at Spec’s promoting the Kardámili line of olive oils, which she imports. In running for the office, Snively points to problems of high turnover among individual district court clerks. That’s a challenge that Daniel needs to investigate in his next term, all while managing the rollout of electronic filing in criminal courts and electronic subpoenas. There is little doubt, however, that Daniel will do his job well.

Daniel had a rough start four years ago after defeating the well-regarded Loren Jackson in the 2010 landslide. I haven’t heard much grumbling about him lately, and the Chron’s assessment of him and his term in office is accurate. Judith Snively made some good points in her interview with me, and she unquestionably has a wealth of experience with the courts. She would certainly make a fine District Clerk, but I’m not surprised the Chron recommended Daniel.

This one, however, was a big ol’ head-scratcher.

County Clerk: Stan Stanart

If you’re an interested voter in Dallas County, then you have the simple pleasure of being able to look at the upcoming November ballot on DallasCountyVotes.org. If you live in Harris County, as of Friday, you get nothing more on HarrisVotes.com than a vague splash page stating that information will be posted “as Soon as it is Available.”

That’s par for the course under Republican County Clerk Stan Stanart.

The county clerk’s office maintains property records, court documents and marriage licenses, but is best known as the office that administers elections. Under Stanart, 58, Harris County elections have been marred by numerous problems and errors. The results of the 2012 primary runoffs were delayed due to technical errors, and the original numbers had to be corrected. His office published an inaccurate manual for election judges during the November 2011 election. And it feels like election information arrives at the last minute in Harris County. Stanart has pointed to human error outside his office as the reasons for delay. There may be truth in that claim, but the buck should stop at the top. After four years of questionable service, Stanart would be a vulnerable target for a strong challenger.

And yet they went ahead and endorsed him anyway, in spite of all that and in spite of the fact that they endorsed Ann Harris Bennett in 2010. This time they decided they didn’t like her, and without seeing a recording of their endorsement interview it’s hard to know exactly why. I will note that despite slapping some Family Court candidates on the wrist for their hostility to same sex couples, the Chron didn’t even mention Stanart’s front and center prominence with the HERO repeal effort. When is this a factor in your endorsements and when is it not, y’all? Some guidance would be appreciated. If they didn’t like Ann Harris Bennett this year for whatever the reason, then they didn’t like her. But that doesn’t mean they needed to endorse Stanart, who has been a mess as County Clerk. They would have been advised to go with “none of the above” instead.

Loren Jackson signs on with Sheriff’s office

Great news.

District Clerk Loren Jackson, who was defeated by Republican Chris Daniel last month, will likely stay in county government when his term expires on Dec. 31. Sheriff Adrian Garcia proposes hiring him as his chief of information technology.

Jackson is not named on the Commissioners Court agenda, but he is “the special assistant” candidate the sheriff has submitted for the Court’s approval.

County government has had a hiring freeze for more than a year, but the Court has been approving on a case-by-case basis some replacements and new positions like the one Jackson would fill. Jackson said recently that he has personally approached the commissioners seeking their OK before his hiring was put on the agenda.

Loren’s a hell of a guy who did a tremendous amount to make the District Clerk’s office better and more efficient. I’ll bet he finds enough ways to leverage technology for the Sheriff’s office to pay for his salary and then some. Good move all around.

Endorsement watch: The remaining countywides

After making a normal and expected endorsement of County Judge Ed Emmett and an abnormal and unexpected endorsement of Orlando Sanchez, the Chron goes Democratic for the remaining three countywide offices.

District Clerk: The duties of this office include summoning jurors for the district and county criminal courts, maintaining court records, preparing daily court dockets and receiving child support payments.

The choice for voters in this contest is easy. Democratic incumbent Loren Jackson has done an excellent job upgrading the electronic capabilities of the office and making it more efficient and user-friendly. On his first day in office, Jackson created an express window lawyers had long sought so they could quickly file papers and return to the courts.

[…]

County Clerk: In this contest to replace retiring incumbent Beverly Kaufman, the Chronicle endorses Ann Harris Bennett, a veteran of more than 14 years’ service as a district court coordinator.

[…]

County Tax Assessor-Collector: In this contest to fill the unexpired term of Republican Paul Bettencourt, who resigned shortly after his election in 2008, the Chronicle endorses the Democrat who narrowly lost to him, Diane Trautman. The incumbent appointed by Commissioners Court, Leo Vasquez, lost to a challenger in the GOP primary.

The Chron had endorsed Trautman in 2008 as well. I feel quite confident saying that the Tax Assessor’s office would be subsumed in much less controversy today had she won back then or been appointed to replace Paul Bettencourt after he cut and ran.

I’ve got all the relevant candidate interviews on the 2010 Elections page. If you don’t feel like listening to them again, then go check out Mark Bennett’s review of an interview that Jackson’s unqualified challenger did with David Jennings of Big Jolly Politics. You already know how good a District Clerk Loren Jackson is, that will give you an appreciation of the contrast between him and his opponent. PDiddie has more.

The Chron on the District Clerk race

You really should read the Chron story on the District Clerk race, since it sums up pretty nicely why Loren Jackson has done such a great job. It starts with an anecdote you’d have read on Mark Bennett’s blog and goes from there.

In the 22 months since [November 2008], Jackson has vastly increased the numbers and kinds of court documents available online. He has made public an online criminal background check tool that previously only government employees could use. He is testing an electronic filing system aimed at giving local lawyers an alternative to the state’s more expensive system. His team set up a docketing notification system that informs attorneys when their cases are scheduled.

Jackson, a Democrat, has been a darling of local lawyers because he has saved them trips to the courthouse as well as saved taxpayers’ money in staff time at windows and scanning machines. Texas Lawyer called him a “technology geek” and mentioned his claim that no county in the country provides as much online access to court records.

In fact, Jackson has received little criticism in his 22 months on the job, even from Republicans.

Do a good enough job and the people you do it for will want you to keep doing it. Jackson’s opponent then makes a ridiculous claim about – I kid you not – terrorists that isn’t worth quoting because life is too short for stuff like that. So go read the Chron story, and when you’re done with that go read Murray Newman and Bennett again for more. And then tell your friends to vote for Loren Jackson.

Interview with Loren Jackson

District Clerk Loren Jackson

Next up is Loren Jackson, who is finishing up the unexpired term of Harris County District Clerk that he won in 2008 after incumbent District Clerk Charles Bacarisse resigned to run in the GOP primary for County Judge. Jackson has been a whirlwind of activity in the HCDC’s office, swiftly implementing major upgrades to the Clerk’s website, and being widely lauded for that work. He’s also responsible for bringing WiFi to the Jury Assembly room. Here’s what we talked about:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Fundraising: Harris County

The top story for the Harris County money race is that County Judge Ed Emmett has a big lead in financial resources over challenger Gordon Quan.

Gordon Quan said he knew from the start that challenging County Judge Ed Emmett would be a David and Goliath race. Their bank accounts now confirm this: Quan has $63,000 to sling against Emmett’s million-dollar might.

[…]

“The onus is on Gordon to close that gap, and quickly, if he’s going to have a shot,” said political consultant Keir Murray, who is not affiliated with either campaign.

Nonetheless, Murray and others said, the race is not over before it really has started. Quan still has time to raise money.

County races also are influenced by top-of-the-ticket contests, such as this year’s gubernatorial election between Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White. Emmett and Quan’s names are deep into a ballot that in some places will be dozens of pages long.

“When you have a ballot with over 100 names on it, I don’t know that people are going to be looking for just my name or his name,” Quan said.

The surgery took him away from the campaign for six weeks, Quan said, but he now is in the midst of a schedule of speaking at ethnic gatherings, Democratic club meetings and senior citizens events.

You can see Quan’s report here and Emmett’s very large report here. Prevailing conditions, straight ticket voting, and GOTV efforts will likely have more of an effect on the county races than campaign finances will, but as we saw in 2008 that only goes so far. Emmett has incumbency, greater name recognition, and modulo what may happen this season, he still wears a halo from his performance during Hurricane Ike. He’s got to like the position he’s in right now.

Nobody else has anywhere near Emmett’s resources, which is not surprising given that with the possible exception of Tax Assessor, none of these offices are high profile enough to draw a lot of interest from the contributing classes. Here’s what I found poking through the county’s campaign finance reports page.

Ann Harris Bennett Contributions - 34,010.00 Expenditures - 7,130.36 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 26,728.24 Stan Stanart Contributions - 2,425.00 Expenditures - 2,314.81 Loans - 20,000.00 Cash on hand - 13,415.56

Bennett got $10,000 from Annie’s List, $3,000 from the ROADWomen PAC, $1,500 from EMILY’s List, and a decent assortment of other donations besides. About half of Stanart’s expenditures were listed on the Schedule G form, which is for expenditures made from personal funds. He likes the Spaghetti Warehouse – I counted a dozen entries for what I presume was lunch for himself there, ten on the Schedule Fs and two on the Gs. His loan must have been made in a previous reporting period, as it was not documented in this report.

Diane Trautman Contributions - 60,566.00 Expenditures - 18,323.00 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 74,766.04 Don Sumners Contributions - 1,500.00 Expenditures - 2,501.76 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 1,500.00

Sumners had four contributors – former Coucil Member Bruce Tatro, both Kubosh brothers, and a woman named Mary Williams. Trautman had nearly 50 pages’ worth of contributors, including the same donations as Bennett from Annie’s List, EMILY’s List, and the ROADWomen. She also got $1000 from her peeps in the Kingwood Area Democrats. I am deeply gratified to see her do so well in comparison to Sumners.

Loren Jackson Contributions - 63,030.16 Expenditures - 42,617.70 Loans - 0.00 Cash on hand - 49,396.30 Chris Daniel Contributions - 32,000.00 Expenditures - 45,989.86 Loans - 20,000.00 Cash on hand - 2,148.56

The money race between Loren Jackson and Chris Daniel may appear competitive, but if you go through Daniel’s report, you’ll see he had two enormous contributions from family members (his mom, and I believe his sister), totaling $29,100. As it happens, one of his expenditures is for that exact amount, with the explanation that it’s the payment of loans from earlier in the cycle. In other words, taking out that bit of churn, Daniel raised less than $3,000 and spent about $17,000 on actual campaign-related things, $5,000 of which was money going into Allen Blakemore’s pocket. Jackson had a $4,500 contribution from the Texas Democratic Party plus a few $2,500 donations.

Billy Briscoe Contributions - 16,445.76 Expenditures - 13,671.74 Loans - 2,500.00 Cash on hand - 3,024.02 Orlando Sanchez Contributions - 1,850.00 Expenditures - 1,054.53 Loans - 5,175.00 Cash on hand - 933.76

I had no idea what to expect from Briscoe, who’s seeking the least useful office in Harris County. His total contributions looks good, except that $14,195.76 of it is listed as coming from “Campaign Account of Billy Briscoe”. I guess that’s a transfer from a previous campaign, but I don’t know for sure. As for Orlando, clearly he’s as diligent about fundraising as he is at his job. Having said that, his expenditures report had the best single line item I’ve seen. On page six, the third entry down is $16.00 for a subscription to “Glamour” magazine. I guess he has to do something to while away those lonely hours. All I know is I couldn’t make this stuff up.

UPDATE: Briscoe’s $14,195.76 came from his campaign for State Rep. Thanks to PDiddie in the comments for reminding me about that.

UPDATE: Orlando speaks to the Press about his “Glamour” subscription. Why he didn’t just buy the one issue he says he needed from a newsstand remains a mystery, but at least we now know why he subscribed.

Election results: Harris County

It was a bad day to be the establishment candidate for Harris County Clerk, let me tell you. Ann Harris Bennett crushed Sue Schechter for the Democratic nomination, winning with 63% of the vote. On the Republican side, wingnut Stan Stanart, who lost a 2008 race for the HCDE Board of Trustees after taking out a mainstream incumbent in that primary, won over 60% of the vote against Beverly Kaufmann’s hand-picked successor, Kevin Mauzy. Look for some scrambling to occur in both parties. I confess, I did not get to know Ms. Bennett, and did not see her victory coming. My bad on that one.

Meanwhile, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez suffered the same fate as Victor Carrillo.

Don Sumners won the Republican nomination for county tax assessor-collector Tuesday, ousting incumbent Leo Vasquez on his promises to continue the anti-tax crusade that characterized his tenure as county treasurer in the 1990s.

Sumners campaigned on a slogan of “I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

As treasurer, he publicly criticized Commissioners Court for increasing the tax rate and was an outspoken opponent of a bond measure that approved hotel and car rental taxes to fund football, basketball and baseball stadiums.

Summers will face Diane Trautman. Let’s just say that these are two races I’d really like for the Democrats to win. Elsewhere, Gordon Quan won a convincing victory in the Democratic primary for County Judge, and Republican Chris Daniel won the nomination for District Clerk for the right to face extremely well-qualified Democratic incumbent Loren Jackson.

I’ll try to sort out the judicial races later. The other big result in Harris County was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee winning easily in her primary.

As of late Tuesday, the veteran lawmaker had about 68 percent of the vote, fending off a challenge by [City Council Member Jarvis] Johnson that featured claims that Jackson Lee’s showboating style had impaired her ability to deliver for her hard-pressed inner city district.

Jackson Lee also defeated a political newcomer, Houston attorney Sean Roberts. Votes counted as of 10:30 p.m, showed she likely would face GOP challenger John Faulk, an accountant, in the predominantly Democratic district.

“The job is not finished. We promise you a fight in Washington to bring good health care to this district and to preserve NASA and the jobs that are ours,” Jackson Lee told supporters Tuesday night.

Faulk does appear to be the GOP winner. For purposes of comparison, there were 9,105 total votes cast in the GOP primary for CD18. Johnson collected 9,073 by himself in getting 28.33% against SJL.

In other Congressional news, we will have Roy Morales to kick around for a few more months, as the man who never met an election he didn’t like won the nomination in CD29 in a five-person field. He gets to be stomped by Rep. Gene Green in November before he decides what city race to pick for 2011.

Finally, Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is in a runoff with Ed Hubbard. That’ll be fun to watch.

District Clerk primary overview

There’s one race on the ballot that features an incumbent countywide Democrat in a non-judicial office, and that’s Harris County District Clerk, where Loren Jackson is running for a four-year term after being elected to complete Charles Bacarisse’ unexpired term. This Chron story is about the two Republicans who are vying to replace him. Frankly, neither sounds like all that serious a candidate to me, but you can go read the story and decide for yourself. And once you’ve done that, go read Mark Bennett on why you should support Loren Jackson in November regardless of who gets nominated to oppose him.

Loren Jackson files for re-election

Most of the focus for the Harris County Democratic Party in 2010 will be finishing the job from 2008, which is to say winning more judicial races and the executive offices that will be up for election. There are a couple of seats to defend at the countywide level, however – Judges Dion Ramos, Robert Hinojosa, and Kathy Stone, all of whom won unexpired terms, and District Clerk Loren Jackson, who won the office vacated by Charles Bacarisse. Here’s Jackson’s announcement about his filing for re-election:

Loren Jackson officially filed today seeking re-election for another term as Harris County District Clerk.

“I remain steadfast in my commitment to serve the people of Harris County through continued fiscal responsibility, proven leadership and practical innovation that reduce costs to our taxpayers,” said Jackson.

In his short time in office, Jackson has utilized technology innovation to boost operational efficiency, improve services and cut costs within the Office of the District Clerk resulting in significant taxpayer savings. To date his administration has:

· Quadrupled monthly e-filings from 3,000 to 12,000/month

· Made court records accessible online to the public and the Harris County Bar through a redesigned website

· Created new jobs by relocating its call center from San Antonio to an in-house location at a savings of more than $400,000/yr. to Harris County Taxpayers and

· Progressively increased awareness of and attendance to Jury Service each month, reducing the cost of printing and mailing of reminder Jury Summons.

“The accomplishments of our office over this past year have reduced: operating costs, document processing time, and the number of people making trips to the courthouse for services,” said Jackson. “I would be honored to continue serving the citizens of Harris County by ensuring sound, fiscal oversight of the District Clerk’s Office and by finding more ways to cut costs to our taxpayers.”

As District Clerk, Jackson has jurisdiction over the summoning of prospective jurors for 74 courts and is responsible for custodial care and safekeeping of all court records for 59 District Courts and 15 County Criminal Courts located in Harris County. In addition, the Harris County District Clerk has the important responsibility of providing customer service to all child support cases (causes) heard in Harris County.

And in addition to all that, Jackson is the man who brought us WiFi in the Harris County Jury Assembly Room. Jackson has been very busy this past year, and his accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. Keep an eye on Loren Jackson, and make sure you vote for him next year.

Harris County Jury Assembly Room now has WiFi

Jury service in Harris County just got a little more pleasant. The following is a press release from District Clerk Loren Jackson:

Today’s universal tech boom has given way to ‘digital dependence.’ Harris County citizens are no different when it comes to relying on digital connection. In a move bridging a major digital divide and potentially improving attendance to jury service, Harris County District Clerk (HCDC) Loren Jackson announced public wireless Internet in the Harris County Jury Assembly Room. Starting today, citizens summoned to jury service can bring laptops, personal digital assistants (PDA) or other wireless-ready devices to access filtered, wireless Internet while waiting on the jury selection process.

“Jury Service is crucial to the judicial system of Harris County,” Jackson said. “We are doing our part to make it more convenient for our citizens to show up when they’re summoned. Providing them with free WIFI enables them to stay connected to their family and their work. Jury service should be thought of as ‘a great form of service,’ not just an obligation or duty. Jury service is a way to serve your community and your peers.”

In Harris County, approximately 3000 people report for jury service each week, many of whom count on online access to stay productive and connected. While content filtering will be utilized, prospective jurors will be able to access most media and general content Web sites, as well as use general search engines, instant messaging and e-mail. Prospective jurors should ensure their digital devices are fully charged prior to reporting for jury service, as there are a limited number of power outlets available for use within the Jury Assembly Room.

The office of the Harris County District Clerk made providing wireless Internet access to prospective jurors one of its top priorities and worked closely with AT&T for several months to secure the installation servicing most of the first floor surrounding the Jury Assembly Room.

The installation of wireless Internet in the Jury Assembly Room is just part of a greater initiative launched by the District Clerk’s Office utilizing technology to provide improved, efficient services and greater convenience to the public.

Very cool. I’d first heard about this from Jackson a few weeks back, and I’m glad to see that it’s now in production. The District Clerk website, which says that a new version of itself is in the works, doesn’t have any further info on this, but I’m sure you can get any questions you might have answered by contacting them directly.

District Clerk update

Nice article in Texas Lawyer about what’s been going on in the Harris County District Clerk’s office under Loren Jackson.

Lawyers handling civil suits in Harris County district courts will soon have fewer excuses for missing a court hearing.

On Jan. 17, the Harris County District Clerk’s Office began testing an automated docketing feature that sends an e-mail to lawyers each weekend with a listing of all of their court hearings for the next week. By clicking on links in the e-mail, the lawyers have online access to docket information and all of the documents filed in the suit, which can help them prepare at home for their hearings.

The new automated docketing feature is one of several online-access additions the clerk’s office plans to launch in May or June. Significantly, District Clerk Loren Jackson says, the office also plans to offer searchable online access to criminal cases, including links to some documents such as indictments and judgments.

Jackson, a Democrat who defeated Republican Theresa Chang in the November 2008 election, says he’s doing his best to fulfill a campaign pledge to use technology to save people a trip to the courthouse.

“I want to make those records accessible. I feel very strongly about that,” says Jackson, who was a trial lawyer at McLeod, Alexander, Powel & Apffel in Houston before he was elected as district clerk. “That’s the reason I ran.”

Jackson, who was sworn in on Nov. 18, 2008, says his information technology department started testing the automated docketing feature a few weeks ago with a group of about 15 to 18 lawyers who mostly do civil work. The response from most of the lawyers in the test group has been favorable, he says.

“It’s fantastic, it’s innovative and it’s going to be an asset to every lawyer who has business in Harris County,” says Randall Sorrels, a partner in Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels & Friend who is one of the lawyers in the test group.

Sorrels says that after he received his e-mail on a recent Saturday, he saw what he had coming up on Monday, and read the court documents from home.

“I was able to go into the office and put my hand on the documents in the file quicker because I knew exactly what I was looking for,” Sorrels says.

Sounds good to me. There’s more at the link, so check it out. Thanks to David Ortez for the link.