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Michael Wolfe

2018 primary runoff results: Harris County

Here are the election night results, with a handful of precincts still not in as of 11 PM. Most of these races were basically decided once the early voting numbers were in, but one was neck and neck all night. The winners:

District Clerk: Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk: Diane Trautman
County Treasurer: Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3 At Large: Richard Cantu (probably)
HCDE Position 6 Precinct 1: Danny Norris
JP Precinct 7: Sharon Burney

Cantu was leading by a score of 25,427 to 25,026 for Josh Wallenstein, with 965 of 1012 precincts reporting. This one swung back and forth – Wallenstein was leading by a few votes as of the 10 PM update – and could still swing again.

Turnout was a smidge over 55K, which is higher than I expected, as about 36% of votes were cast on Tuesday. On the Republican side, turnout was at 50K with 981 of 1012 precincts reporting. One race, for 295th Civil District Court, was too close to call as Michelle Fraga led Richard Risinger 23,477 to 23,419. One bit of good news is that actual public servant Jeff Williams will retain his JP bench in Precinct 5, defeating the troglodyte Michael Wolfe. The downside to that is that Wolfe will remain on the HCDE Board of Trustees, but at least we can fix that in 2020. Congratulations to all the winners. Onward to November.

UPDATE: Got up this morning and Richard Cantu was still the winner in the at large HCDE race, 26,041 to 25,780. That’s a lead that will almost certainly hold up after overseas and provisional ballots are counted. Oh, and final Dem turnout was 57,237, compared to 50,716 on the R side.

2018 primary results: Harris County

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.)

Short and sweet, because it’s late and I’m tired:

– Marilyn Burgess fell just short of 50% for District Clerk. She will face Rozzy Shorter in May.

– Diane Trautman and Gayle Mitchell will run off for County Clerk.

– Dylan Osborne and Cosme Garcia were the top two finishers for County Treasurer.

– Richard Cantu led for HCDE Position 3 At Large, with Josh Wallenstein just ahead of Elvonte Patton. In a very tight race, Danny Norris was ahead of Prince Bryant by a nose for HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, with John Miller farther back. There were only a few precincts out as I wrote this, but things were close enough that the standings could change.

– Adrian Garcia and Penny Shaw will be the nominees for County Commissioner in Precincts 2 and 4, respectively.

– Lucia Bates toppled Don Coffey for JP in Precinct 3. Sharon Burney and Cheryl Elliott Thornton will compete for JP in Precinct 7.

– There were only a couple of races of interest on the R side. Josh Flynn won the nomination for HCDE Trustee in Place 4, Precinct 3. Current HCDE Trustee and total chucklehead Michael Wolfe will face Jeff Williams for JP in Precinct 5. Paul Simpson held on as party chair.

– Dem turnout was 160,085 with about fifty precincts left to report. Republican turnout was 148,857 with 85 precincts still out.

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.

Time to pay attention to the HCDE again

Some highlights from the HCDE meeting agenda for this Thursday at 1 PM, as emailed to me:

1. Changing board meeting dates.

2. Michael Wolfe wants to name our Post Oak facility for his deceased mother.

3. Create a Home School Division.

4. Create a School Choice Division.

5. Create a board services division that reports directly to the board. Transparency anyone?

6. Create a new travel policy for superintendent and board – no reimbursement for out of town travel or training. Most board training conferences are out of town.

7. Change superintendent’s spending authority without board approval from $50,000 to $5,000. If something were to happen at one of our schools and they needed emergency repairs, etc., the superintendents hands would be tied.

8. Fire current attorney and hire a new one.

9. New construction for special ed school and recovery high school are still on hold.

The meeting is tomorrow, Thursday, at 1:00pm at the main HCDE Administration building, 6300 Irvington. We had a couple of blissful years of sanity with the HCDE after 2008, but the craziness came back in 2014 when Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners were elected to at large positions. If you have the time and capacity to attend and keep an eye on them and their shenanigans, that would be a good thing to do.

Endorsement watch: HCDE

I believe this wraps up endorsement season.

Sherry Matula

Sherry Matula

County School Trustee, Position 1, Precinct 2: Sherrie L. Matula

We emphatically endorse Sherrie L. Matula in this race to replace Marvin Morris, a respected trustee who lost in the Republican primary. Matula, 65, has the resume of an education expert, working for decades as a school teacher in Clear Creek Independent School District and Pasadena Independent School District. She also served two terms on the CCISD Board of Trustees, on the board of the Texas State Teachers Association and as president of the Galveston County Education District.

County School Trustee, Position 2, Precinct 4: Marilyn Burgess

In this race to replace Board President Angie Chesnut, our strong choice is Marilyn Burgess, a certified public accountant. As the former director of the Texas Parent Teacher Association, Burgess, 62, would bring a valuable educational perspective to this board as well as financial expertise. If elected, Burgess, a Democrat, promises to make sure the county gets the most out of every dollar spent and to increase the classes available for high school dropouts to complete their diplomas, as she says these classes fill up the day that they open.

Matula, who made a couple of very respectable runs for State Rep in HD129 back in 2008 and 2010, has a shot at this, as Precinct 2 leans Republican but could easily go blue in a year like this where Democrats are polling so well countywide. Burgess is running in the most Republican Commissioners Precinct in the county – forget a landslide, it would likely require a tsunami to make that race competitive. Which is unfortunate, because the candidate who will get elected is Eric Dick, who will then join forces with Michael Wolfe to make a mockery of things. Getting Matula elected would help balance that out a bit, though there’s only so much one person can do. If you live in Precinct 2, which is Commissioner Jack Morman’s precinct, be sure to vote for Matula in this race.

This endorsement was published in Friday’s Chron, so they got them all in before early voting began. That has not always been the case, and I’ve criticized them in the past for being pokey about this, so kudos to the editorial board for their diligence. The full list of Chron endorsements for this cycle can be found here.

HCDE happenings

The Chron paints an unflattering portrait of the Harris County Department of Education.

HCDE has operated in relative obscurity for decades, fighting off lawmakers’ occasional efforts to eliminate it by bankrolling lobbyists and political consultants.

Advocates for the agency say it provides indispensable support services to the 25 independent school districts in Harris County. But a prominent Senate Republican is leading a push for a state-led Sunset Advisory Commission Review of HCDE, saying its finances need to be scrutinized and its programs streamlined to avoid duplication with other agencies. And he has plenty of ammunition.

The Houston Chronicle requested to review HCDE’s financial records in January and found a reticent agency that had violated its own spending rules and declined to explain why its former superintendent, John Sawyer, stepped down three months into a new contract – and received a buyout.

Records show that Sawyer had doled out stipends to employees without notifying the Board of Trustees or seeking its approval, a policy violation.

He also had hired lobbyists and political consultants, including a convicted felon, for amounts just under limits that would have required the board’s OK.

Records also show that HCDE paid more than $1.5 million during the past decade to a nonprofit educational foundation accused of endorsing political candidates for HCDE’s board. The nonprofit’s president, its lone full-time employee, has received more than $1.5 million in salary and benefits since 2005, tax records show. His annual compensation has averaged about $182,000 – more than Harris County’s chief executive officer.

Board President Angie Chesnut said trustees took swift action after they learned in June about the stipends, which were paid for extra work. The total payments to 60 employees came to about $450,000 over the past decade, according to the agency’s records.

Chesnut said the board stopped pending payments, tightened the policy and meted out discipline. She would not disclose who was punished or exactly what action was taken.

The new superintendent can only approve cellphone and travel allowances without board approval. All political contracts – regardless of cost – now must go before the board.

“Do we make mistakes? Of course we do. Every organization makes mistakes,” Chesnut said. “The key to me, as a business manager, is that when you find those, you act to correct them, and that’s what we do.”

There’s more, so go read it. One always wonders what the genesis of such stories is. In this case, given that it opens with an anecdote from Trustee Michael Wolfe, who was ousted in 2012 but re-elected in 2014, and that much of the story focuses on now-former Superintendent John Sawyer, that would be my guess. There’s no shortage of bad blood between Wolfe and Sawyer, so if there was an opportunity for a bit of retribution on Wolfe’s part, I’m sure he grabbed it with both hands. It might have been nice to mention Wolfe’s tumultuous tenure on the HCDE board instead of just quoting him and moving on, but bygones are bygones, I suppose.

As for the substance of the story, I received the following email from former Trustee Debra Kerner, which she also sent to the Chron as a letter to the editor. I’ll let it speak for itself:

Dear Houston Chronicle Editorial Page Editor,

Regarding “HCDE draws sharp look” (Sunday, May 24, 2015, pg.1), I served as a countywide elected Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) from January 2009 to January 2015. During that time, I held various Board positions including Vice President. I read the article, “HCDE Draws Sharp Look” from Sunday, May 24, 2015 with intense interest and felt that as a private citizen and former board member, I had to respond. I would ask that the public consider these clarifying facts.

1) HCDE serves students, educators and school districts. Their services are provided at the request of Harris County school districts. They seek to enhance and innovate and provide services to the school districts and the residents of Harris County. All 25 of the school districts in Harris County choose to use at least some of the services from HCDE. HCDE provides even more services than are listed in the article, including Safe and Secure Schools. As told to me by the head of Region 4, all of these services cannot be duplicated by the Education Service Center (Region 4). Who would provide these services, if HCDE had to close?

2) During my tenure, HCDE underwent several audits and a Texas legislative study. These studies determined that HCDE’s education services saved taxpayer dollars and that it would cost school districts significantly more to replicate. While areas for improvement were identified, none of the studies recommended closure. The Board had always taken steps to improve the department and continues to do so.

3) One example that was noted in the article was the policy on hiring political consultants. The Board did not have the chance to vote on the Eversole contract. Once the board learned about these hirings, the policy was changed to bring more transparency to the process of hiring political consultants. While I understand, the concern about using tax dollars for this purpose, I believe it would be unfair to the students and educators served by HCDE to not give them a voice regarding the educational resources that are so valuable to them. Many school districts also hire lobbyists and political consultants to help educate legislators and others about their needs. In addition, HCDE has a group consistently seeking its abolishment. Three year olds and other students with severe disabilities cannot go to Austin to indicate the true value of HCDE, so HCDE does it for them. HCDE is a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.

4) Ms. Vera and the Houston Chronicle have initiated countless open records request. HCDE has been compliant and constantly sought to increase transparency. Responding to these requests has been costly; however, none of these requests have yielded information that rises to the level of criminal activity. Any issues that were found, the Board had already initiated steps to improve the situation. At the same time, HCDE has continued to educate students, train teachers and provide valuable wraparound services.

5) We should focus on what HCDE is doing now. HCDE has hired a new superintendent, James Colbert, who is moving forward. The Board has made changes to address policies and procedures to ensure that things are done correctly and transparently. HCDE continues to respond to the needs of partner districts. I participated in the hiring of Mr. James Colbert and from what I’ve seen thus far, he is a true leader who is very responsive to the educational needs in Harris County. The reason HCDE has fought against additional studies regarding abolishment is that it is hard to plan for the future when the threat of closure hangs over their heads.

I was honored to serve with Trustees who truly cared about enhancing education in our county in a fiscally responsible way. It is a shame that the voices of a few are taken as fact when thousands of students and the 25 Harris County school districts find value in HCDE every single day.

Thank-you,
Debra Kerner
Former Trustee,
Harris County Department of Education

It must be noted that it was Kerner who lost to Wolfe in 2014. I’m the only one who’s making something out of Wolfe, so make of that what you will. I have always believed that HCDE serves a good and useful function – there’s plenty of testimony out there from teachers and many of Harris County’s smaller school districts to back that up – and have never understood the hate on that some people have for it. That’s politics for you, I suppose. Stace has more.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Leticia

It’s amazing how easy some endorsement decisions are, or at least should be, this year.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

The differences between the candidates this year could hardly be more stark. State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, the Democratic candidate, is not only knowledgeable and experienced but also congenial and easy to work with. Her Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, is divisive, disruptive and self-aggrandizing.

We urge a vote for Van de Putte. Texas voters, regardless of party, need to think long and hard about a potential demagogue becoming lieutenant governor.

[…]

Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who finished fourth in the March Republican primary for lieutenant governor, described his erstwhile opponent as an unsavory combination of Huey Long, Elmer Gantry and W. Lee “Pass the Biscuits Pappy” O’Daniel. Patterson said he would not vote for Patrick and told reporters that of the 31 members of the Senate, “very, very few of them have any trust in Sen. Patrick. Very few of them.”

Patrick, 64, is a formidable politician. He’s smart, he’s articulate and he knows the issues, but those attributes make him all the more dangerous in a leadership position.

Van de Putte, a moderate Democrat of Mexican descent, is a mother, grandmother and small-businesswoman. She was elected to the Texas House in 1990 and the Senate in 1999. The exact opposite of Patrick, the 59-year-old lawmaker has earned the respect of her colleagues in the majority-Republican Senate. They know she’ll work with them.

It’s a familiar litany, and I will be very surprised if all the other major papers don’t follow it as the Chron and the Caller have done. Despite his occasional attempts at bamboozlement, I doubt Dan Patrick himself would dispute the substance of these pieces. He is what he is and he knows it. The choice really couldn’t be any clearer.

Meanwhile, the Chron also made the obvious calls in the HCDE Trustee races.

County School Trustee, Position 5, At Large: Debra “Debby” Kerner

Our strong choice for this position is the Democratic incumbent Debra Kerner. Elected in 2008, Kerner is a career speech/language pathologist who brings a valuable perspective to this board, as she has spent her entire career working with special-needs children. She earned a masters degree from Columbia University and has been an instructor of speech pathology at University of Houston. She has also served as president of the Houston Association for Communication Disorders and a former vice president of the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Kerner, 65, is being challenged by Republican candidate Michael Wolfe, who currently works as Community Outreach Director for the Harris County District Clerk’s Office. Wolfe has previously served as an HCDE trustee, where he was censured for his frequent absences from meetings and failure to notify the board about his whereabouts for three months. He was also accused of threatening board members during an executive session. When the editorial board asked about his absences, Wolfe did not give a satisfactory reply. Showing up is important. Without any question, Kerner deserves another term.

County School Trustee, Position 7, At Large: Melissa Noriega

We encourage voters to go with Noriega. After working for nearly three decades in the Houston Independent School District, three terms as an at-large member of Houston City Council and a short stint as a Democratic state representative, Noriega, 60, understands where HCDE contributes to local schools and how to pull the levers of government. As she will be the first to admit, the job of bulk purchasing, record storage and specialty schools isn’t particularly sexy, but it is valuable.

It’s a highly qualified and well-respected incumbent Trustee and one of the better City Council members we’ve had in recent years against two of the biggest jokers to “serve” in Harris County government; Noriega’s opponent is former Tax Assessor Don Sumners, whose mess is still being cleaned up in that office. The stakes are a lot smaller, but as with Lite Guv, the choices couldn’t be clearer. My interview with Debby Kerner is here, and my interview with Melissa Noriega is here. Please don’t overlook these races at the bottom of your ballot.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

BagOfMoney

In our previous episode, we looked at the campaign finance reports for Democratic statewide candidates. Today, let’s have a look at the reports for candidates for countywide office in Harris County. I’m not going to get down to the Constable or JP level – I’m not aware of any interesting primaries, those districts tend not to be too competitive, and there are only so many hours in the day. Neither County Commissioner Jack Cagle nor Jack Morman has an opponent, so I’m skipping them as well. The real interest is in the countywide campaigns, so here are those reports.

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Ahmad Hassan
David Collins

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Emmett 28,600 119,244 401,209 Hassan 0 1,250 0 Collins 0 0 0

The only thing Judge Emmett has to fear, I’d say, is a 2010-style Democratic wave. Other than that, he should win without too much trouble. In the meantime, he will have plenty of campaign cash to spend on various things, including a $10K contribution to the campaign of Paul Simpson, who is challenging Jared woodfill to be Chair of the Harris County GOP, and $5K to the New Dome PAC. It’ll be interesting to see how much he spends on other campaigns from here on out.

District Attorney

Friends of Mike Anderson
Friends of Devon Anderson
Kim Ogg
Lloyd Oliver

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Anderson 0 29,730 36,739 Ogg 66,643 8,897 40,771 Oliver 0 0 0

The Friends of Mike Anderson PAC gave a contribution of $66,469.58 to the Friends of Devon Anderson PAC, which closed out the books on it. I presume Devon Anderson will commence fundraising at some point, and will have all the resources she needs. Kim Ogg has done a decent job fundraising so far, but it’s what you do with what you’ve got that ultimately matters. Zack Fertitta had $145K on hand as of his 30 day report in 2012, and we know how that movie ended. Early voting starts in three weeks, you know.

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Ann Harris Bennett
Gayle Mitchell

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Stanart 16,400 19,398 45,969 Bennett 10,748 7,113 2,442 Mitchell 1,138 2,010 0

Stan Stanart has $20K in outstanding loans, which was the case in July as well. His fundraising came almost entirely from two sources – the campaign of County Commissioner Jack Cagle ($10K), and a Holloway Frost of Texas Memory Systems ($5K).

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Friends of Chris Daniel
Court Koenning
Judith Snively

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Daniel 0 15,871 0 Daniel SPAC 31,843 24,166 20,859 Koenning 38,165 48,974 112,814 Snively 5,300 3,095 2,204

Still a lot of money in this race. Incumbent Chris Daniel’s PAC and challenger Court Koenning both have the same outstanding loan totals that they had in July – $74,500 for Daniel, and $50K for Koenning. Democrat Judith Snively has loaned herself $4K. I suspect we won’t see as much money raised in this race after the primary as we do before it.

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Arnold Hinojosa
David Rosen

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Sanchez 23,500 5,577 220,437 Hinojosa 0 1,250 0 Rosen 2,875 2,122 651

Orlando Sanchez’s eye-popping cash on hand total comes from an equally eye-popping $200K loan to himself. This leaves me wondering where he got that kind of money. Did he do really well for himself from 2002 through 2007, when he was in the private sector, or was he just that well off before he was elected Treasurer in 2006? Maybe someone with a journalism degree and some spare time should look into that. Google tells me that his primary challenger Hinojosa is a constable in Precinct 5. Other than paying the filing fee, he had no activity to report.

HCDE Trustee

Debra Kerner
RW Bray
Michael Wolfe – No report

Melissa Noriega
Don Sumners

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kerner 0 810 329 Bray 135 0 135 Wolfe Noriega 0 8,690 9,335 Sumners 0 750 0

Neither Michael Wolfe nor Melissa Noriega has filed a report with the County Clerk; Noriega’s report is from the Houston finance reporting system, for her City Council account, which will presumably be transferred at some point. Not a whole lot else to say except that everyone on this list has run for office at least once before, and with the exception of RW Bray has held office at least once. Who knew the HCDE Board of Trustees would be so popular?

113th District Civil Court (D)
311th Family District Court (R)

Steve Kirkland
Lori Gray

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Kirkland 55,065 6,806 35,963 Gray 35,000 30,209 4,791

Denise Pratt
Donna Detamore
Alecia Franklin
Anthont Magdaleno
Philip Placzek

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ========================================== Pratt 146,020 78,361 67,659 Detamore 0 2,591 0 Franklin 15,555 13,595 47,317 Magdaleno 7,562 11,519 299 Placzek 6,700 25,012 149

I’m not interested in watching all of the contested judicial primaries, but these two are certainly keeping and eye on. The 113th is shaping up as a rerun of the 215th from 2012, in which the candidate running against Steve Kirkland is being financed by one person. In this case, George Fleming and the Texans for Good Leaders PAC he runs gave all of the money that Lori Gray collected. I don’t know Ms. Gray – she has responded to Texpatriate’s Q&A, but as yet has not sent answers to mine; if she has a campaign webpage or Facebook page I haven’t found it – but I don’t care for lawyers with vendettas like Mr. Fleming.

As for Judge Pratt, she may have a gaggle of challengers this March, but she’s not feeling the financial heat at this time. She’s also doing what she can to stay in the good graces of the establishment, with $10K to Gary Polland’s Conservative Media Properties, LLC for advertising and $10K to the Harris County GOP for various things (I’m not counting the $2500 for the filing fee). We’ll see how much good it does her.

Still more state and county finance reports, plus the city reports, to go through, and the federal reports should start being posted on February 1. January is a very busy month.

Filing deadline today

Before I get into the details of who has or hasn’t filed for what, I have a bone to pick with this AP story.

Perhaps what the candidate filings reveal most is the relative strength and depth of the political parties in Texas. Four top Republicans are in a fierce battle for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general and five for agriculture commissioner.

Three Republicans are in the race for the Railroad Commission, an entry-level statewide office that gives the winner routine access to the state’s biggest campaign donors as well as the governor and attorney general. The only competition in the judicial races is for open seats vacated by Republican incumbents.

If a party can be judged by the number of people who want to lead it, Republicans certainly remain popular and thriving. Most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections.

Democrats have yet to field a complete slate of statewide candidates and have just one candidate each for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner. The only potentially competitive race pits failed gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman against Jim Hogan for agriculture commissioner.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, was first elected to the Texas House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1999. She has the most campaign experience among Democratic candidates followed by Davis, who won her Senate seat in 2008. Freidman and attorney general candidate Sam Houston have run statewide offices before, but have never won.

That lack of experience and the shortage of candidates reveal the shallowness of the Democratic bench after 20 years out of power. There are young Democrats who have statewide potential, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, but they’ve decided like some others to sit out the 2014 race, likely to let others test the waters before they take the plunge themselves.

I’ll stipulate that the Republican side of the ballot has more overall experience. For obvious reasons, it’s the only primary that features statewide officeholders. But to say “most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections” overstates things considerably. Outside of the Lt Governor’s race, most of their candidates are current or former legislators, and I submit that decades of winning a gerrymandered legislative district is hardly indicative of statewide potential.

To break it down a bit more scientifically, the GOP field for the non-Governor and Lt. Governor races are made up of the following:

Railroad Commissioner: One former State Rep and three people you’ve never heard of.
Land Commissioner: One scion of a political dynasty making his first run for office, and some other dude.
Ag Commissioner: Two former State Reps, the Mayor of a small town, and a state party functionary who lost a State Rep race in 2004.
Attorney General: A State Senator, a State Rep, and an appointed Railroad Commissioner that defeated a Libertarian in 2012 in the only election he’s run to date.
Comptroller: A State Senator, a State Rep, and a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, is it? What they have first and foremost is the advantage of their party. That’s no small thing, of course, but it has nothing to do with anything any of them has done.

That said, most current statewide officeholders made the initial leap from legislative offices – Rick Perry and Susan Combs were State Reps before winning their first statewide elections, with Combs spending two years in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office in between; Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson were State Senators. Dems have plenty of legislators that would make fine candidates for state office – two of them are currently running – but it’s a lot harder to convince someone to give up a safe seat for what we would all acknowledge is an underdog bid for higher office. How much that changes in 2018, if at all, depends entirely on how well things go this year. If we have one or more breakthroughs, or even if we come reasonably close, you can bet there will be plenty of candidates with “decades of experience winning elections” next time.

Anyway. As we head into the last day of candidate filing, the local Democratic ballot is filling in nicely. Dems have at least one candidate for nineteen of the 24 State House seats in Harris County. Four are GOP-held seats – HDs 126, 127, 128, and 130 – and one is HD142, which is currently held by Rep. Harold Dutton. Either Rep. Dutton is just dithering until the last day, or he’s planning to retire and his preferred successor will file sometime late today. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. The two additions to the Democratic challenger ledger are Luis Lopez in HD132, who appears to be this person, and Fred Vernon in HD138, about whom I know nothing. Dems also now have two Congressional challengers, James Cargas in CD07 as expected, and Niko Letsos in CD02, about whom I know nothing.

By the way, for comparison purposes, the Harris County GOP is only contesting 14 of 24 State Rep seats. The three lucky Dems that have drawn challengers so far are Rep. Gene Wu in HD137, Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 – we already knew about that one – and Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148, who draws 2011 At Large #3 Council candidate Chris Carmona. I have to say, if they leave freshman Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 unopposed, I would consider that an abject failure of recruitment if I were a Republican. Beyond that, the thing that piqued my interest was seeing the two worst recent officeholders – Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners – back on the ballot, as each is running for the two At Large HCDE Trustee offices. Putting aside their myriad and deep incompetencies while in office, the only possible reason these two clowns would be running for the HCDE is that they want to screw it up for the purpose of killing it off. As we know, Dems have Traci Jensen and Lily Leal running for one of those seats. Debra Kerner is the incumbent for the other seat and I believe she has filed but with petitions, so her status hasn’t been finalized yet. All I know is that we have enough chuckleheads in office already. We don’t need to put these two retreads back into positions of power.

Statewide, Texpatriate noted on Saturday that Dale Henry has filed to run for Railroad Commissioner, which will pit him against Steve Brown. Henry ran for this office as a Dem in 2006, 2008 (he lost in the primary to Mark Thompson), and 2010. Henry is a qualified candidate, but he’s a dinosaur in terms of campaign techniques and technologies. That might have been charming in 2006 or 2008, but it’s way out of place in 2014. All due respect to Dale Henry, but I’ll be voting for Steve Brown. We are still waiting to see how many statewide judicial candidates we’ll get. Word is we’ll have them, but who and how many remain unknown. Finally, between the Harris County primary filings email and the TDP filings page, I see that Dems have at least two candidates for the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals – Gordon Goodman for Place 7, and Kyle Carter, who was re-elected to the 125th Civil District Court in 2012, for Chief Justice. There are still slots on that court and on the 1st Court of Appeals, so I hope there are more of these to come. As always, if you are aware of other filings or rumors of filings, leave a comment and let us know.

2014 Democratic lineup updates

In honor of Peggy Fikac, an update on who is running for what as a Democrat in 2014. Starting at the top, folks who attended the HCDP Johnson-Rayburn-Richards event on Saturday had the opportunity to meet Maxey Scherr, a 33-year-old attorney from El Paso who will be filing to run for Senate against John Cornyn. Art Pronin has a couple of pictures of her on his Facebook page – see here and here, assuming his security settings allow for that, and see here for a brief bio and video. I had a chance to meet Maxey on Friday thanks to Barbara Radnofsky, who was hosting her and introducing her around. She would be a first-time candidate, which is daunting to say the least at a statewide level, but she has some connections that will serve her well to get going. She is friends with both Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Rep. Silvestre Reyes, and is good friends with and a former schoolmate of the daughter of John Cook, the former Mayor of El Paso who is now the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner. Scherr’s father James Scherr is a fixture in politics there and will apparently take a year off from his position as senior partner at their law firm to fundraise for her. I think she has the potential to raise a few bucks, which will be worth keeping an eye on. Rick Noriega took in about $4.5 million over the course of his candidacy in 2008; I think Scherr can top that. I also think she can take advantage of advances in technology and changes in the electorate and how to reach them to stretch those dollars farther. I expect her to run a progressive campaign geared at least in part towards voters of her own cohort, which is something we’re not used to seeing in this state and which ought to provide a good contrast to an old-boy establishment figure like Cornyn. Look for more information and a formal announcement from Maxey Scherr shortly.

A bit farther down on the ticket, BOR confirmed something that I first reported two weeks earlier, that former Fort Bend Democratic Party Chair Steve Brown is exploring a run for Railroad Commissioner. From BOR:

Steve Brown

In our exclusive interview, Mr. Brown spoke with me about his political history, including having served in the Clinton White House and how he was elected as chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party in 2010. He resigned the Chairmanship earlier this year when he began considering a run for elected office. He stated that he wanted to run for Texas Railroad Commissioner because the Commission needs an advocate for regular Texans while making sure people who are doing the right things in regards to oil and gas production are not being punished.

Mr. Brown stated his preference to see the Commission change its name to reflect that it is a regulatory commission over the energy sector, and not railroads. He also stated his desire to see stronger ethics rules implemented over the Commissioners. When asked about Republicans who cited federal oversight was a job killer, Mr. Brown responded that people who used that excuse were not being creative when it came to finding solutions. He pointed out again that one of the roles of a Commissioner is to punish bad actors who violate laws, not to give everyone a free pass.

Stephen Brown has been a great advocate for the Texas Democratic Party as Fort Bend County’s Chairman and served the Party with distinction and honor.

There’s an interview at the link, so go give it a listen. With Scherr and Brown jumping in, the one remaining hole among the non-judicial offices is Lt. Governor, where we are still waiting on a decision from Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. While she waits, as noted by PDiddie, Maria Alvarado, the 2006 Democratic candidate for Lt. Gov., has announced her candidacy. Good for her and all, but with all due respect, I’m still waiting for Sen. Van de Putte.

That still leaves judicial candidates. Via both Maxey Scherr and Attorney General candidate Sam Houston, whom I saw briefly on Saturday evening, El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody, the top Democratic votegetter in 2006, will be running for Supreme Court again. Sam Houston told me that the TDP was working with other candidates for Supreme Court and that he expected the Dems to field a full slate there, though he didn’t know what was going on with the Court of Criminal Appeals. This is the first news I’ve heard about the statewide judicial races, and it’s reasonably encouraging. If you have heard anything about these races, please leave a comment and let us know.

Finally, in Harris County, we now have a Democratic candidate for the At Large HCDE Trustee position that Jim Henley vacated in June. Traci Jensen, who ran for the State Board of Education in 2012 and who had expressed interest in being appointed to fill Henley’s seat, announced on Facebook that she would run for the position. Rumor has it that former Trustee Michael Wolfe, who was ousted by Diane Trautman last year, is seeking to reclaim a spot on the Board, so having a strong and well-qualified candidate like Jensen will be important.

Last but not least, Glorice McPherson is out collecting signatures to run for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, which would be against Jack Morman. McPherson ran against Steve Radack in 2012 in CC3, which puzzled me a bit at first, but her voter registration card indicates she lives in CC2, so I presume she moved in the last year or so. A lot of people have been talking about running in CC2 so I don’t expect this will be the last word, but for now there is at least one candidate in the race.

That’s all I’ve got. If you have any further rumor, innuendo, or actual fact about 2014, leave a comment and pass it on. Remember, the filing period begins November 9, so there’s hardly time to catch one’s breath after this election before the next one gets going.

Time for more information about Early To Rise

What Lisa Falkenberg says.

They’ve turned over more than 150,000 signatures in favor of putting an early education tax on the Harris County ballot in November. Now the folks behind the Early to Rise campaign need to turn over the details.

Actually, they should have turned them over a while ago. The well-meaning folks who signed the petition did so with only the vaguest notion that, somehow, they’d be helping kids, and our community. But some of us need a little more information.

The petition said only that it was authorizing the Harris County Department of Education to levy a tax of one penny per $100 of assessed home value “for early childhood education purposes to improve success of children in kindergarten and beyond.”

A fact sheet called the effort a “public/private partnership” that will provide training, assistance and equipment to preschool programs and parents. Clicking on “take a deeper look at the Early to Rise Plan” on the group’s website won’t get you any deeper. It gives the basics and a list of board members who would lead a newly formed nonprofit to administer the tax funds.

Those board members include respected community leaders such as James Calaway of the Center for Houston’s Future, former Houston first lady Andrea White and the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. But their good names aren’t enough. We need a detailed proposal, in writing, that spells out how money will be distributed, to what kinds of operations, under what criteria? How many families will be helped? How many children? At what age?

Not to mention how will the board members be chosen, what kind of oversight will they be subject to, what kind of disclosures will they have to make to ensure that any conflicts of interest can come to light, what is the process to remove a board member that needs to be removed, etc etc etc. We know these answers for elected officials, and we know these answers for boards and whatnot that are appointed by elected officials. We know none of that for Early To Rise and the Harris County School Readiness Corporation. The American Prospect, which has a nice overview of Early To Rise and the story so far, suggests that they don’t really have a good answer to these questions.

The obvious concerns over handing the revenues to an unelected nonprofit board are not lost on the leaders of Early to Rise. However Jonathan Day, a former city councilman and one of the Early to Rise board members, argues this is much better than the alternative of letting the Harris County Department of Education administer the program, which would politicize the process. The Department of Education has had its share of political drama, including hiring a former county commissioner and convicted felon as its lobbyist. Day worries that by giving the Department of Education control over the process, childcare centers would get selected for the program based on political advantage rather than need. He says that’s already become a problem with charter schools. “We have some bad charter schools. Are we able to close ‘em down?” he says. “Every one of those charter schools has a bunch of defenders, [including] the state representative.” By putting the money in the hands of an unelected body, Day believes the program will avoid many of the same political problems. “You can to a very significant extent, avoid those kinds of results which are very damaging,” he says, and notes that the Department of Education would still have oversight.

Day was a City Attorney, not a City Council member, but never mind that. I don’t get making HCDE out to be nefarious, especially since this proposal isn’t going to go anywhere without HCDE’s support. I agree that the hiring of Jerry Eversole was a forehead-slapping move, but he was hired for the purpose of lobbying Commissioners Court to back off its efforts to get a bill passed to kill the HCDE. I personally wouldn’t touch Eversole with a ten-foot pole, but that is a role for which he is qualified. Most of the actual political drama on HCDE had to do with a faction that never numbered more than one or two that was on board with the kill-HCDE agenda. The biggest, and possibly sole, protagonist of this was Michael Wolfe, who was defeated in 2012. Outside of Wolfe, the drama level at HCDE has been remarkably low. Bringing up charter schools is a distraction, since they have nothing to do with any of this, and besides, the Lege passed a bill this past session that among other things will – in theory, at least – make it easier to shut down substandard charters. Finally, I can’t believe that Jonathan Day is naive enough to think that an unelected and not-selected-by-electeds board would be less subject to political pressure or less tempted by favoritism than any other board. This goes right back to the question of oversight and what the consequences are for misbehavior. We need to have some assurances that our tax dollars are being used appropriately. That is not too much to ask.

Back to Falkenberg:

Bob Sanborn, CEO of the nonprofit watchdog organization Children at Risk, says he shares many of [County Judge Ed] Emmett’s worries: “I don’t really trust the governing structure. I don’t trust the taxing entity it’s going through, and that becomes a little problematic. This whole idea of unelected boards – what happens when they change membership?”

At the same time, he said he told Emmett in a conversation a while back, “you know, in the end, if this is on the ballot, it’s pro-children and I have to support it.”

I think that’s where many of our hearts are. Now the folks at Early to Rise just have to persuade our minds.

Yeah, that’s where I am, too. But it’s a huge leap of faith, and it’s one none of us should have to make. We’ll know on Tuesday what the plan is for HCDE. I sure hope these concerns get addressed.

Should Travis County DA Lehmberg resign?

Perspectives on that are colored by politics right now.

Rosemary Lehmberg

While Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg sought to put her weekend drunken driving arrest behind her, debate over her political future reached the State Capitol on Monday, where lawmakers weighed in on whether she should resign and how a replacement might be chosen.

Some officials pointed to an obscure provision in state law that allows a district attorney to be removed from office for being drunk. The provision also says that a single county resident could start such a removal.

If Lehmberg, a Democrat, were to resign or be removed from office, Republican Gov. Rick Perry would appoint a replacement who would be subject to confirmation by the GOP-controlled state Senate.

Chapter 87 of the state’s Local Government Code lists among the “general grounds for removal” of a district attorney and other county officials “intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage.”

Under that law, a removal petition could be filed by anyone who has lived in Travis County for six months and is “not currently under indictment” for a crime here. The petition would be filed with a district judge, and a trial would be held on the charge — with a jury to determine the official’s fate, according to the law.

While there was no indication Monday that such a petition was being contemplated, an unofficial online petition to Gov. Rick Perry seeking Lehmberg’s removal was gathering signatures at Change.org. The petition by “Beth S” in Cedar Park said Lehmberg, as a result of her arrest, “is not a person to lead this county in delivering justice.”

That petition has now been filed, though Lehmberg has said that she has no intention of resigning. She has also said that she will not contest the charges against her and will accept whatever punishment she receives, which will depend in part on the result of her blood alcohol test, which is still pending. If her BAC was less than 0.15, she will be charged with a Class B misdemeanor, for which the maximum sentence is a $2000 fine and six months in jail. More than that is a Class A, for which the max is a $4000 fine and a year in the pokey.

I’m curious about two things. One is how often District Attorneys get into legal trouble of their own, and how often they resign as a result. Surely Lehmberg isn’t the first DA in Texas to be arrested for drunk driving. What are the precedents here? We in Harris County saw Chuck Rosenthal resign in 2008, though that was a far different situation than Lehmberg’s, not least of which was that the pressure on Rosenthal came largely from his fellow Republicans, who correctly saw him as a major liability for them heading into that fall’s election. How often have DAs been arrested for something, and how often have DAs resigned for whatever the reason? It would be nice to know so we could have some context to evaluate Lehmberg’s case.

Also, while the max sentences Lehmberg can receive include jail time, it seems highly unlikely to me that a first time offender such as she will see the inside of a jail cell. What is the typical range of punishment for a first time DUI offense, in Travis County and across the state? I’m hardly an expert on this, but if you made me guess I’d assume that things like a fine, probation, alcohol counseling, and a suspension of her license would be in the mix, but not jail time. Those of you who do know more about this, please speak up in the comments. Does one’s perception of Lehmberg’s position change if that’s the actual punishment she’s likely to face? If she were County Attorney or Tax Assessor or some other office – I’m sorry, but that obscure law about drunk DAs needs to stay obscure – would that change your perception? These are the things I’d like to hear more about.

Finally, on the matter of the petition to remove Lehmberg, BOR has a good analysis of what it means and what the procedures are, as well as a copy of the petition itself. It’s not quite as straightforward as news reports have made it sound. Interestingly, there’s a connection between the law being cited to remove Lehmberg and the attempt by the HCDE to oust Michael Wolfe. Which didn’t work, for whatever that’s worth. Anyway, if nothing else this has the potential to be some entertaining political theater, so keep an eye on it.

Riddle wants to abolish the HCDE

From Big Jolly:

State Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-150) filed HB945 [last] week. If enacted, it would abolish the Harris County Department of Education, transferring control of the assets to the Harris County Commissioners Court, and giving the commissioners one year to liquidate them.

The brains behind this, if you can call them that, is former member Michael Wolfe, who was thankfully unelected last year after a thoroughly undistinguished term in office. I can see an argument for abolishing the HCDE as an elected office – it’s basically the same argument for abolishing the SBOE as an elected office, in that very few people understand its function and the districts are far too large for campaigning to have any effect on electoral outcomes – but where the functions of the SBOE could reasonably be assumed by the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency, there really isn’t anything in the county to do what the HCDE does. (If you need a reminder of what the HCDE does, see the Chron’s November endorsement editorial or this document about the HCDE and this effort to eradicate it; you could also listen to one of my interviews from last year.) A bill to create an appointed board might be worth debating, though no less politically motivated given the shift on the board to a Democratic majority, but this is irresponsible. It won’t save any money, and it will deprive schools, teachers, and districts of needed services. I expect this bill is an underdog to pass, but someone in the Harris County Democratic delegation needs to keep an eye on it.

Overview of the HCDE races

The Chron has an overview of the races for the Harris County Department of Education, and in describing the one At Large race between incumbent Michael Wolfe and Democratic challenger Diane Trautman they do the useful service of describing what the HCDE does.

Diane Trautman

The department supports the county’s 26 independent school districts. It operates a co-op that allows the districts to buy food and supplies at lower prices. The department also runs adult-education programs, administers federal Head Start grants and Early Childhood Intervention programs, and supports after-school initiatives.

Most of the department’s budget comes from state and federal grants and fees for service paid by the districts.

Trautman said her opponent wants to abolish the department and has been censured by the board for unethical behavior.

Wolfe acknowledged that he would support abolishing the department, saying that he believes taxpayers pay twice for education. The 2008 censure, he said, was in retaliation because he was pushing for lower taxes.

In 2009, the board tried to remove him from office because they said he had a disregard for the department and its procedures and disrespect for the board.

Here’s what was said about Wolfe at the time:

Fellow trustee Jim Henley said the movement to oust Wolfe is based on his numerous absences and Wolfe’s “lack of acting in the best interests of the department.”

The board considered removing Wolfe for incompetence last year, but Wolfe appealed for a second chance and pledged to adhere to a list of ethical practices.

Henley said Wolfe has violated that pledge and continues to miss meetings without informing the board ahead of time of his absences — or explaining them afterward.

Board members voted 6-0 Monday night to seek Wolfe’s ouster from the $72-a-year position.

See here, here, and here for more on this. Henley is one of only two Democrats on the board right now, so that means four fellow Republicans voted to pursue ousting Wolfe. If you think they did so because they didn’t like him pushing for lower taxes, I’d say that’s pretty naive. Plus, as you may recall, it wasn’t just Wolfe’s board colleagues who didn’t like him. Read this letter from County School Superintendent John Sawyer to Wolfe from December of 2007 for a reminder of that. Wolfe is a clown, and in a just world he’ll be sent back to the private sector in a couple of weeks.

The race for Position 4, Precinct 3, between Republican Kay Smith, who successfully primaried the more moderate Raymond Garcia, and Silvia Mintz, is frustrating to me.

Silvia Mintz

In the Position 4 race, Smith, 61, a Republican, said she wants to bring more department transparency. She said it often is difficult to get information about operations and how money is spent.

“I want to know what we are doing with those tax dollars to ensure better education,” Smith said.

Mintz, her Democratic opponent, did not return calls.

On her campaign website, Mintz, 38, said she entered the race because she believes it is important to “protect the American Dream through education.”

Mintz ran for HD132 in 2010. She has a compelling personal story, and I was impressed by her when I interviewed her for tat race. She’s the kind of person I’d like to see get elected to something. But I have no idea what she’s doing in this race. She reported nothing raised and nothing spent on her 30 day finance report, after minimal activity on her July report. I made numerous attempts to reach her for an interview, but like the Chron never heard from her. Her campaign website appears to have been last updated in December, when she announced her candidacy. Her Facebook page indicates some activity, but that’s about it. She would be a distinct underdog in this race, but then so are people like Paul Sadler and Traci Jensen and Cody Pogue, all of whom have run active, highly visible campaigns. All I can say is that I’m terribly disappointed. I wish I knew what was going on with her.

Three for HD144, Lee for HCDE

Since Monday night, I have heard of three people who are interested in running for HD144, the State Rep district that was drawn to favor the election of a Democrat by the San Antonio court. For the record, the 2008 numbers in HD144 are as follows:

President: Obama 53.16%, McCain 45.92%

Senate: Noriega 59.25%, Cornyn 38.89%

Supreme Court, Place 7: Houston 59.01%, Wainwright 38.87%

Supreme Court, Place 8: Yanez 59.57%, Johnson 38.43%

CCA, Place 3: Strawn 58.06%, Price 39.79%

Two candidates have filed for this seat and a third announced that he was running, though his announcement came before the two filings were announced. The first to announce a filing was Kevin Risner, son of George Risner, the Democratic JP in Precinct 2. The second was Pasadena City Council Member Ornaldo Ybarra, whose statement is beneath the fold. Finally, there is Cody Wheeler, who made an announcement and put out this statement, but as of last night had not filed. I look forward to meeting and interviewing these gentlemen, and may the best person win, including any others who may yet be looking at this district.

In other Harris County news, Erica Lee, daughter of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has filed to run for HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1. She is the first Democrat to file for this position, the single easiest pickup opportunity for Democrats in Harris County next year, and whoever wins the primary will be virtually guaranteed to win in November. That person will not face incumbent Roy Morales, however, as he has undoubtedly done the math and will head off to the sunset and future opportunities to run for something. He wasn’t on the ballot this year and he may not be on it next year – I have no idea what this world is coming to. I am aware of at least one other person who had expressed an interest in this seat, but so far Erica Lee, whom I met briefly at the petition signing event the week of Thanksgiving (though I did not make the connection to her mother), is it. Stace has more.

I should note that we have two candidates for the at large HCDE position currently held by the ridiculous Michael Wolfe – Diane Trautman and David Rosen have both filed. There is also a Precinct 3 position for HCDE that does not have a Democratic challenger. I have heard that incumbent Republican Louis Evans is not running again, so while this would not be a likely pickup opportunity it seems to me that it deserves a candidate, since who knows what kind of candidate will emerge on the R side. For that matter, it would be nice to have a serious challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Yeah, I know, I’d like a pony, too. Hey, wishes are still free.

Meanwhile, over in Fort Bend County, attorney Vy Nguyen has announced her candidacy for HD26, the multi-cultural district that was drawn to be nearly 50/50 by the court. Her statement is here. It’s fair to say that the Democratic road towards a House majority will go right through that district.

Finally, a semi-comprehensive list of Democratic filings from around the state can be found here. I see that Sylvia Romo has made it official, so we will have that contested primary over there. If you’re aware of any filing news I’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.

UPDATE: According to Robert Miller, HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez is also interested in HD144, while incumbent Rep. Ken Legler has not decided if he will file for re-election.

(more…)

Trautman running for HCDE

And we have our first contested Democratic primary in Harris County for 2012 as Diane Trautman has announced her intent to run for Harris County Department of Education Trustee in At Large #3. Here’s her Facebook page for that. She joins David Rosen, who made his announcement last month. The At Large #3 seat is the one held by the notorious Michael Wolfe; also on the ballot will be the Precinct 1 seat now held by Roy Morales, which as we know will be the single easiest pickup opportunity for Dems next year, or at least it will be once there’s a candidate. If someone wins the At Large #3 race as well, Democrats will hold a majority on the HCDE Board of Trustees. Remember this race when you go to the polls next March, because it will matter.

In news related to this fall’s election, we have another challenger to an HISD trustee, as Ramiro Fonseca has announced his candidacy in District III, currently held by trustee Manuel Rodriguez. You can see his press release here.Fonseca is the president of the non-profit Houston Hispanic Forum; you can read a news story about it here. He has a personal Facebook page but does not as yet have either a campaign website or Facebook group that I have found.

Finally, there was another update from Educators For A Better District IV last night, including a link to a webpage for Arturo Huerta, so now I can say I know something about him. The full email is beneath the fold.

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David Rosen for HCDE Trustee

Via Facebook, we have our first announcement of a countywide candidacy for 2012, as David Rosen declares his candidacy for the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees. Here’s a video of the announcement that was posted:

Rosen will be running for the At Large #3 position, currently held by the infamous Michael Wolfe, whom Rosen says is running for re-election. Needless to say, the HCDE Board will be a much better place if Rosen succeeds in knocking him off. As for the other available spot on the Board, the Precinct 1 seat currently held by Roy Morales, I’ve heard rumors of various people being interested in it but have not heard of a committed candidate yet. Perhaps once county redistricting is done, we’ll get a clear indication from someone. Anyway, with Rosen’s announcement that’s one countywide position accounted for, with two others – District Attorney and Tax Assessor – to go.

The landfills of Waller County

There are three things I find remarkable about this story about a proposed landfill in Waller County, near Hempstead.

A Georgia-based company wants to build a landfill and industrial park just outside the city on Texas 6 and Kelley, on what is now 723 acres of private property known as the Deywood Ranch.

Officials with Green Group Holdings said they plan to invest about $40 million in what they are calling the Pintail Landfill and Pintail Industrial Park, bringing much-needed jobs to the community that has fallen on hard economic times since the closure of Hempstead’s biggest employer, Lawrence Marshall Chevrolet, in 2009.

Hempstead Mayor Michael Wolfe said the extra revenue and jobs would be inconsequential when compared to the negative effects a landfill would bring.

“This does not substantiate driving the economy in my personal opinion,” Wolfe said. “I don’t see this as (having) an immediate impact.”

[…]

Opponents also fear their property values will drop and the peaceful country life they are accustomed to will be disrupted by the sounds of as many as 200 trash trucks thundering through their community.

Oscar Allen, senior vice president of GreenFirst, LLC, a subsidiary of Green Group, said that the negative reaction is typical. He also said that most property value fears are exaggerated.

“Property values are not affected as much as people believe,” Allen said.

“In our experience and the industry’s experience, landfills do not decrease property values,” the company’s website states. “In fact, property owners near other landfill projects have sold their property for sizable profits.”

As someone who grew up a few miles from the Fresh Kills landfill, all I can say is that I’m surprised Allen’s trousers didn’t spontaneously combust when he said that. Things may be different now, but forty years after Fresh Kills was first built there was very little development of any kind in its vicinity. The West Shore Expressway was a mostly empty stretch of road, even as the rest of Staten Island was being built out. I’m sure just the smell of the landfill, which the prevalent winds would carry a long way, was enough to keep people away. Allen’s statement is ludicrous on its face.

More than 100 residents crowded into the Waller County Courthouse to voice their objections at a recent Hempstead City Council meeting. Mayor Wolfe said he recommended that the council oppose the landfill.

County Judge Glenn Beckendorff said he hopes residents read about the project before they take a stand.

“Nobody wants a landfill, but they’re a necessity of life,” Beckendorff said. “We will do our best to keep the quality of life in Waller County.”

Beckendorff said he’s known about Green Group’s landfill proposal since May, but a nondisclosure agreement prohibited the county from releasing the information to the public immediately.

I’m a little surprised that Waller County would be so apparently unconcerned about how the city of Hempstead might feel about this new neighbor. Harris County and Houston don’t always see eye to eye, but I’d expect that an equivalent public outcry plus official disapproval from our Council in a similar situation would mean something to the County. I’m also surprised that the county could be subject to an NDA like that. How would the potential development of a landfill not be considered public information once it became known to public officials? If the idea was to not upset Green Group’s ability to get permits before the poo started hitting the fan, I’d say that’s a feature, not a bug. Something seems rotten about this, and it’s not just the future air quality near Hempstead.

Finally, on a tangential note, I have to ask: Do we really need this much extra landfill capacity? Presumably, the developers envision trash from Houston and Harris County as being their main supply source. Given the long term recycling deal that Houston is seeking to make, one hopes that our long-range forecast for landfill space needs is at least leveling off, if not actually turning downward. I am told that the city’s Solid Waste department currently collects about 2,000 tons/month of single stream from 105,000 homes. Project that out to 375,000 homes and you get a little over 7,000 tons per month. Now consider that as of the year 2000 there were 717,945 households and 782,009 housing units – I’m not sure which is the proper figure to use for an apples-to-apples comparison here – and you could potentially double that number or more if we get on a long term path towards bringing single stream recycling to the whole city, and that’s even before we talk about businesses, restaurants, and so on. (For comparison, according to Solid Waste the city collects about 48,000 tons of trash each month.) Point being, there’s a whole lot Houston can, should, and hopefully will do to throw whatever projection Green Group is making out the window. Maybe before they build a big dump near people’s houses we ought to be absolutely sure it’s something that’s really needed, and not something that hopes to induce demand by its presence. See this letter to the editor from Texas Campaign for the Environment for more.

UPDATE: Via Swamplot, meet Stop Highway 6 Landfill. Not a lot of love in the Swamplot comments for these folks. I understand where that attitude is coming from, but I think it misses the bigger picture, which is that we should be working towards not needing more landfill space. The potential for Houston, and hopefully Harris County, to cut down the amount of solid waste it generates is enormous. Isn’t that the better way to go?

The single easiest pickup opportunity Democrats will have in 2012

I trust you are familiar with Roy Morales. He’s run for City Council, he’s run for Mayor, this year he ran for Congress (he lost to Rep. Gene Green), and I presume he’ll run for something in 2011. And in 2012, he will (again, I presume) run for re-election to the office he now holds, which is Harris County Department of Education Trustee. Morales was elected to this office in 2006. He ran unopposed.

I knew his term of office was coming up in the next cycle (as is that of one-man clown car Michael Wolfe), so I went back to check some data. The first thing I realized was that Morales did not run countywide. Of the seven HCDE Trustees, three are at large – i.e., elected countywide – and four are not. The next thing I noticed was that the undervote rate in his race was ridiculous – nearly 70% of the people voting in his race did not cast a ballot. (See page 30.) So I went back to the precinct data, where I discovered that the number of straight-ticket Democratic votes in the precincts where he was on the ballot far exceeded Morales’ vote total, 59,809 to 41,231. In other words, anyone with a heartbeat running as a Democrat would have defeated him. And I said to myself “WTF?”

That made me want to find out just what exactly the district was that he ran in, where it was and what it looked like. This led me to the HCDE Trustees page, where I noticed they’re not called “districts”, they’re called “precincts”. There are four of them, with Morales being in Precinct 1. And that’s when it hit me…

Roy Morales ran unopposed as a Republican in El Franco Lee’s precinct.

Let me say that again.

Roy Morales ran UNOPPOSED AS A REPUBLICAN in El Franco Lee’s precinct.

To give that a bit more perspective, Fred Head, our useless candidate for Comptroller that year who got 41.85% overall in Harris County, received 68.30% of the vote in Precinct 1.

Now, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that the HCDE existed as a political entity in 2006. I didn’t really pay attention to it till 2008 when Democratic candidates Jim Henley and Debra Kerner got elected to at large positions. Prior to that point, everyone on the board was a Republican. As we can see, that should not have been the case, but there you have it. In 2012, there’s absolutely no excuse for there not to be a Democrat challenging Morales for that seat. Whoever does is as sure a bet as you’ll find to win. You know that old expression about how 90% of success is showing up? It’s even higher than that here.

Someone should also challenge the ludicrous Michael Wolfe as well; if 2012 is anything like 2008, both seats will go Democratic. But one pickup is virtually guaranteed as long as someone with a pulse pays the filing fee.

Chron overview of the County Clerk race

Here’s the Chron overview story of the County Clerk race between Democrat Ann Harris Bennett and Republican Stan Stanart to replace the retiring Beverly Kaufman. This is the bit that interested me:

Where Bennett and Stanart diverge is their approach to the job. Bennett, as a former legal assistant, researcher and court coordinator, said she has a better feel for the customer-service aspects of the job. Stanart makes his pitch as the man with the technology background to make more of the county courts’ work paperless, and as a tax fighter who will bring his conservative background to controlling costs. His website warns, “Stop socialism.”

Kaufman breaks it down this way: “She has a stronger courts background. He has a stronger technical background.”

The Republican incumbent is not endorsing a candidate. She endorsed Stanart’s opponent in the Republican primary election, Kevin Mauzy, her chief deputy.

Yes, that’s what we really need in the County Clerk’s office, someone dedicated to stopping the forces of socialism from…well, it’s not clear what, exactly. I don’t suppose such details really matter to Stanart.

I note that Kaufman has not endorsed Stanart. This is the second time he’s run for a countywide office, and the second time he’s defeated a more mainstream, establishment Republican in the primary; in 2008, he and Mike “Mister Debbie” Riddle, with the backing of Michael Wolfe, knocked off incumbent Harris County Department of Education trustees in March. Thankfully, they lost in November. More to the point, they ran behind most other Republicans on the ballot:

Candidate Office Votes Pct ============================================== Ed Emmett County Judge 600,311 53.15 Paul Bennetcourt Tax Assessor 586,727 51.50 Pat Lykos District Atty 563,431 50.21 Theresa Chang District Clerk 540,992 48.94 Mike Stafford County Atty 538,486 48.61 Mike Riddle HCDE Trustee 523,138 47.49 Stan Stanart HCDE Trustee 520,778 47.42 Tommy Thomas Sheriff 495,246 43.72

The low score by any GOP judicial candidate was 523,551 votes, for 47.52%, by Georgia Akers running for an unexpired term on Probate Court #1. I think it’s safe to say that neither Stanart nor Riddle had much crossover support, and in fact probably lost more Republican support to their Democratic opponents than anyone not named Tommy Thomas. We’ll see how that goes this year. What I know is that Stanart ran for HCDE Trustee in 2008 not because he had any ideas about being an HCDE Trustee but because he wanted to get elected to something so he could fight his fight against socialism. He may have some ideas about being County Clerk, but really, he’s running for the same reason as in 2008. Ann Harris Bennett, whose interview you can listen to here, is running because she wants to be County Clerk and to do the job of County Clerk. That’s pretty much what this race comes down to.

Wolfe withdraws primary challenge

Last week, when we heard about the Harris County Department of Education taking action to boot Michael Wolfe off the Board, we learned that Wolfe, who still has three years remaining in his term as an At Large trustee, had filed to run in the Republican primary against Board President Angie Chesnutt in Precinct 4. Apparently, he has now changed his mind about that and will not be a candidate for that seat. Among other things, this means that if the attempt to remove Wolfe from the Board is successful, he will not have a back door to get in again. We’ll know in January where that stands.

HCDE moves to eject Wolfe

The strange saga of Harris County Department of Education Trustee Michael Wolfe takes another weird turn.

The Harris County Board of Education has voted to begin legal proceedings to kick Trustee Michael Wolfe off the board.

Fellow trustee Jim Henley said the movement to oust Wolfe is based on his numerous absences and Wolfe’s “lack of acting in the best interests of the department.”

The board considered removing Wolfe for incompetence last year, but Wolfe appealed for a second chance and pledged to adhere to a list of ethical practices.

Henley said Wolfe has violated that pledge and continues to miss meetings without informing the board ahead of time of his absences — or explaining them afterward.

Board members voted 6-0 Monday night to seek Wolfe’s ouster from the $72-a-year position.

Again, I can’t summarize this bizarre situation with just a link or two, so browse here to bring yourself up to speed. And if this wasn’t weird enough, consider this:

Despite having three years left on his term as the Position 3 at-large trustee, Wolfe has filed to run in the March primary election against Board President Angie Chesnut for the Precinct 2 seat.

Fun fact: Wolfe defeated Andrew Burks for that seat in 2006. Yes, he’d be moving from a countywide position to a district position if he wins that race against Chesnut. There’s a reason for that, which I’ll get to in a minute. I sent an email to Jim Henley to clarify a couple of points that were not clear to me from the story. According to Henley, the way the removal process will work is that the HCDE’s attorney will drawn up a petition for removal and submit it for board approval at the regular board meeting in January. If the board then approves the petition it will go to a civil trial with six jurors, and their verdict will determine Wolfe’s fate. However, even if they wind up removing him, if he then wins the Position 3 election, he would be eligible to serve again. Clever of him, no? Of course, given that Wolfe recruited a couple of fellow travelers to (successfully) primary two of his Republican colleagues last year, it’s likely also the case that he’s doing this in part out of spite. So all in all, just another day at the office for Michael Wolfe.

Today the HCDE, tomorrow the world!

Remember those Cy-Fair school board candidates I mentioned last week? Turns out they each have Facebook groups supporting their candidacies. A brief look at them reveals a couple of interesting things. One is that spelling, or at least spell-checking, is not a high priority. From Willie Wright’s group’s description:

The incumbent has also voted in recent years to raise property taxes in Cy-Fair and the incumbent also supported the building of the collosal Berry Center, also known as the Cy-Fair Taj Mahal or Ceasar’s Palace.

And from Bill Morris’ group’s description:

Additionally, as a GOP Precinct Chairman, Bill knows the importance of being a Conservtaive Republican voter, unlike the incumbent in this race who voted in the 2008 Democrat Primary.

Does the TAKS test include a spelling component? I’m just asking.

And two, these groups were both created by our old friend HCDE Trustee Michael Wolfe. Good to know Wolfe’s famous attention to detail isn’t just limited to his work with the Department of Education. Now, I don’t know what Wolfe’s involvement in these races is – it may be nothing more than setting up Facebook groups as part of the local GOP’s social media outreach program. But I do know that Wolfe tried to increase his influence on the HCDE by supporting a couple of far-right candidates in the 2008 primary; they won that battle, knocking off more moderate GOP incumbents, but thankfully lost in November to the much more qualified Debra Kerner and Jim Henley. And I do know that one of those Wolfe-backed candidates, Stan Stanart, is also in these groups and has apparently announced his intention to run for the to-be-open position of Harris County Clerk. (Former State Rep. and HCDP Chair Sue Schechter has announced her interest on the Democratic side.) Finally, I do know that I’d prefer less Michael Wolfe in my government, not more. So if you live in the Cy-Fair ISD, please be aware of who’s running for these offices, and please vote accordingly. That goes for the Alief ISD as well, about which I’ll have more to say shortly. Thanks.