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Mike Sullivan

Harris County 2018 voter registration numbers

From the inbox:

Thank you Harris County Voter Registration Division and Harris County Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrars for your passion, dedication, and commitment in registering eligible voters!


Current number registered:   2,291,037
Voters registered in 2017:      67,753
Voters registered in 2018:      41,369

That was from a couple of weeks ago, just before the registration challenge debacle. The registration deadline for this November is October 9, so there’s still time for that number to increase. Here’s how it looks over the past few cycles:


Year   Registered   Change
==========================
2002    1,875,777
2004    1,876,296      521
2006    1,902,822   25,526
2008    1,892,656  -10,166
2010    1,917,534   24,978
2012    1,942,566   25,032
2014    2,044,361  101,795
2016    2,182,980  138,619
2018    2,291,037  108,057

It’s crazy that in the first ten years of this century, the total number of registered voters in the county only increased by a net of 67K. In the next six years after that, up 350K and counting. Having a Tax Assessor that thought registering voters was more important than purging them sure makes a difference, doesn’t it? To be clear, while Ann Harris Bennett gets the credit for this cycle, Mike Sullivan was in the office for the 2014 and 2016 periods, so he gets his props as well.

As you know, I believe the increases in registration are directly related to the improved Democratic performance in 2016, and key to our chances this year. So to everyone who’s out there registering people, I say “thanks”, and “keep up the good work”. The numbers tell the story.

Precinct analysis: Bennett v Sullivan

Ann Harris Bennett was the only countywide Democratic candidate to be trailing on Election Day as the early voting totals were posted, but as the night went on she cut into the deficit and finally took the lead around 10 PM, going on to win by a modest margin. Here’s how that broke down:


Dist  Sullivan  Bennett  Sullivan%  Bennett%
============================================
CD02   168,936  105,778     61.50%    38.50%
CD07   147,165  106,727     57.96%    42.04%
CD09    29,855  103,511     22.39%    77.61%
CD10    83,213   34,795     70.51%    29.49%
CD18    53,558  148,586     26.49%    73.51%
CD29    41,555   88,942     31.84%    68.16%
				
SBOE6  357,083  249,953     58.82%    41.18%
				
HD126   37,003   24,186     60.47%    39.53%
HD127   50,028   23,460     68.08%    31.92%
HD128   42,659   16,238     72.43%    27.57%
HD129   44,072   24,777     64.01%    35.99%
HD130   60,429   20,277     74.88%    25.12%
HD131    8,121   37,906     17.64%    82.36%
HD132   39,094   29,321     57.14%    42.86%
HD133   50,116   25,241     66.50%    33.50%
HD134   49,352   39,410     55.60%    44.40%
HD135   33,528   26,112     56.22%    43.78%
HD137    9,664   17,099     36.11%    63.89%
HD138   28,827   22,096     56.61%    43.39%
HD139   13,707   38,266     26.37%    73.63%
HD140    7,556   19,790     27.63%    72.37%
HD141    5,934   32,109     15.60%    84.40%
HD142   11,599   33,182     25.90%    74.10%
HD143   10,372   22,294     31.75%    68.25%
HD144   11,810   15,188     43.74%    56.26%
HD145   12,669   21,519     37.06%    62.94%
HD146   11,323   36,903     23.48%    76.52%
HD147   14,119   43,254     24.61%    75.39%
HD148   20,434   26,999     43.08%    56.92%
HD149   16,639   26,389     38.67%    61.33%
HD150   50,472   25,358     66.56%    33.44%
				
CC1     82,916  231,040     26.41%    73.59%
CC2    134,067  117,084     53.38%    46.62%
CC3    202,128  149,943     57.41%    42.59%
CC4    220,415  149,294     59.62%    40.38%
Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

This was Bennett’s fourth try for office. She had run for County Clerk in 2010 and 2014 against Stan Stanart, and for Tax Assessor in 2012 against now-incumbent Mike Sullivan, losing by fewer than 2,500 votes out of over 1.1 million cast. She becomes the fifth Tax Assessor since 2009, following Paul Bettencourt (who resigned shortly after being re-elected in 2008), Leo Vasquez (appointed to replace Bettencourt), Don Sumners (defeated Vasquez in the 2010 primary and won in November to complete the term), and Sullivan (defeated Sumners in the 2012 primary and then Bennett in November).

Incumbent Tax Assessors tend to do pretty well in re-election efforts. Bettencourt was the top votegetter in 2004, leading even George W. Bush by over 20,000 votes. He trailed only Ed Emmett in 2008, finishing 16K votes ahead of John McCain. Despite his loss, Sullivan was the high scorer among Republicans, beating all the judicial candidates by at least 19K votes. Only Sullivan in 2012 and Sumners in 2010, both first-timers on the November ballot, failed to make the upper echelon. Assuming she runs for re-election in 2020, it will be interesting to see if that same pattern holds for the Democrat Bennett as it has done for her Republican predecessors.

It’s instructive again to compare these results to the judicial races, as they provide a comparison to the base level of partisan support. While Sullivan finished well ahead of the Republican judicial candidates, Bennett wasn’t below the Democratic judicials; she was near the bottom, but did better than four of them. Looking at the numbers across State Rep districts, Bennett was usually a couple hundred votes below the Democratic judicial average, while Sullivan beat the Republican norm by a thousand votes or more. In HD134, he topped it by over 3,000 votes, though interestingly he wasn’t the high scorer there – Lunceford (50,193), Mayfield (49,754), and Bond (49,407) were all ahead of him, with Guiney (49,209), Halbach (49,173), and Ellis (49,081) right behind.

My general hypothesis here is that fewer Republicans skipped this race. I observed in the Sheriff’s race overview that Democratic judicial candidates had more dropoff than Republican judicial candidates did, while the non-judicial Democrats did a good job of holding onto those votes. Bennett performed more like a judicial candidate, while Sullivan overperformed that metric. I assume that the exposure Tax Assessors get, since every year everyone who owns a car and/or a home has to make at least one payment to that person, helps boost their numbers in elections. Again, we’ll see if Bennett benefits from that in her next election.

This concludes my review of Harris County races. I have one more post relating to Harris County in my queue, and I plan to take at least a cursory look at Fort Bend and Dallas Counties. Again, if you have any particular questions you want me to examine, let me know. I hope you have found this all useful.

Dems sweep Harris County

Hillary Clinton had a 100K lead in early voting in Harris County, and increased her lead as the night went on. The only countywide Republican who was leading early on was Mike Sullivan, but later in the evening, at the time when 80% of the Election Day vote was in, Ann Harris Bennett caught and passed him. Kim Ogg and Ed Gonzalez won easily, Vince Ryan was re-elected easily, and all Democratic judicial candidates won.

The HISD recapture referendum went down big, the Heights referendum to update the dry ordinance won, and Anne Sung will face John Luman in a runoff for HISD VII. Statewide, Clinton was trailing by about nine points, and with a ton of precincts still out was already at President Obama’s vote level from 2012. Dems appear to have picked up several State House seats, though not the SBOE seat or CD23. Clinton also carried Fort Bend County, though she had no coattails, and Commissioner Richard Morrison unfortunately lost.

I’m too stunned by what happened nationally to have anything else to say at this time. I’ll be back when I recover.

Chron overview of Harris County Tax Assessor race

It’s deja vu all over again.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

Republican Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan once again faces a challenge from Democrat Ann Harris Bennett, a rematch from four years ago for an office that oversees billions of dollars in property tax collections, maintains voter rolls and registers more vehicles than any other county in the state.

Bennett lost to Sullivan in the 2012 election by about two-tenths of a percent, or less than 2,400 votes.

Now, she is back, with a mission to unseat Sullivan and end the succession of Republican tax assessor-collectors, including Don Sumners and now-state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, that she said represents the establishment.

“They have used (the office) in ways that I don’t think the taxpayers of Harris County would be pleased with,” the former court coordinator said.

[…]

Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

Sullivan has made “customer service” his motto. He was a former city council member before becoming the county taxman, and was on the Humble ISD school board before that.

In almost four years in office, he has launched initiatives that he said touches virtually every resident of Harris County.

Among them, he said, were workshops to help people challenge their property appraisals and training sessions for high school principals in Houston ISD on how to register students as voters.

He pointed to his work with the county budget office to upgrade the office’s computers and software, and touted his creation of a military help desk to aid soldiers and their families navigate what can be complex tax rules. He said he also instituted an employee recognition program to improve morale.

He also points to decisions to allow people to pay for registration renewals or other transactions with credit cards and put televisions in the lobbies of all of his offices.

“For me, it’s all about serving the public,” Sullivan said.

For Bennett, a big part of what separates her from Sullivan centers on how and when to use the office’s soapbox to advocate for issues beyond its immediate control.

Last year, Sullivan was part of a delegation of county officials whose lobbying in Austin helped torpedo a bill that would have allowed Texas voters to register online.

Sullivan said that the process already is fraught with irregularities, adding that his office regularly has to deal with discrepancies between Department of Public Safety records and information on the voter rolls, discrepancies he said would only grow with online voter registration.

Sullivan pointed to a record number of registered voters in the county this fall – close to 2.2 million – as evidence that current methods are working.

There’s two ways of looking at this race. One is that Sullivan has unquestionably been an upgrade over the two clowns that preceded him, Don Sumners and Leo Vasquez. He’s also been less political than Paul Bettencourt was. The big strike against him, which led to the Chron endorsing Bennett, is his opposition to online voter registration. He has his stated reasons, and it is true that registrations are at a record high for the county. It’s also true that this is contrary to his generally modern approach to technology in other aspects of his office, that he could have pledged to work with the DPS to fix the problems he says they have with their data, and that even if people have been able to overcome the existing obstacles to getting registered, they shouldn’t have had to overcome them when a much easier solution was available. Like the other countywide races, the partisan tide will be the biggest factor in who wins and who loses. I think Sullivan has the best chance of the three Republican incumbents to survive if the Democrats have the overall advantage. Whether he does or he doesn’t, the issue of online voter registration is not going to go away.

Endorsement watch: A bit of a surprise

The Chron endorses Ann Harris Bennett for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

Ann Harris Bennett

When Mike Sullivan first ran for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector, he promised that he would: “Bring the office into the 21st century by embracing new technology.”

By Sullivan’s standard, we look forward to Apple releasing the Post Card 7, complete with four easy-to-handle sides and a convenient stamp location. Because if you want to register to vote in Harris County, or anywhere in the state of Texas, you have to do it by snail mail – and state legislators point to Sullivan as the reason why.

A majority of the state House had co-sponsored a bill to allow online voter registration during the last legislative session. However, testimony by Sullivan redirected the sure-fire bill into the garbage.

Whatever his other accomplishments in the office, whatever the deficits of his challenger, Sullivan’s failure to bring voter registration into the 21st century should disqualify him in the minds of voters. There is no excuse.

[…]

That is why we endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector. An experienced administrator with more than 14 years’ service as a district court coordinator, Bennett, 63, has long advocated for better registration and election processes. She also recognizes how our property tax system treats homeowners unfairly in contrast to commercial property owners.

I say this is a bit of a surprise for three reasons. One is that this means the Chron endorsed all Democrats for countywide offices. Given the dynamics of the other three such races, this was really the only one in which they might have endorsed the Republican and thus achieve some partisan balance, if that was a consideration. The Chronicle did not endorse Bennett in the primary, and they were not very complimentary to her at the time. Given those facts, and given that Mike Sullivan has been a considerable improvement over the two clowns that preceded him, I figured he would be an easy call for them. I did not expect them to put that much weight on the electronic voter registration issue. I’m glad they did, because this is easily my biggest point of disagreement with Sullivan. I fear that the moment may have passed for online voter registration – whatever consensus there was for it in 2015, I have a hard time imagining it being there in 2017. I hope I’m wrong, and for sure we should try again. Online voter registration would certainly be easier to make happen if the state’s biggest county officially supports it. Ann Harris Bennett is the one candidate who would offer that support.

July finance reports for county candidates

Most of the interesting race in Harris County this year are the countywide races. Here’s a look at how the candidates in these races have been doing at fundraising.

District Attorney

Friends of Devon Anderson PAC
Kim Ogg


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Anderson   253,670   55,392         0    368,907
Ogg        143,311   34,417    69,669    108,872

Devon Anderson received a $60K contribution from Richard Anderson; I have no idea if there’s any family connection there. She’s a strong fundraiser, but she’s also had her share of bad publicity, and I suspect it’ll take more money than what she has in the bank to wipe that away. As for Ogg, her biggest single contribution was $13,500 from Nancy Morrison. I feel like Ogg’s totals don’t quite work, since she reported $30K on hand for her February 20 eight-day report, but it’s not that big a deal. This is also a reminder that the totals listed above for Ogg were from the period February 21 through June 30, while Anderson’s are for the full six months.

Sheriff

Ron Hickman
Ed Gonzalez, May runoff report
Ed Gonzalez, July report


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Hickman    127,153  175,247         0    135,868
Gonzalez    38,435   35,587         0     20,117

Hickman had primary opposition, so his report is from February 21 through June 30. He got $21,700 from Suzanne and Keith Moran for his biggest donation. He also spent a bunch of money – $59K to Strategic Media Services for TV ads, $41K too Neumann and Co for mailers, and (my favorite) $10K to Tom’s Pins for “promo items and Golf Promo items”. I bet that’s a lot of pins and little pencils. As for Gonzalez, he had raised $130K from Feb 21 to May 14, during the primary runoff period. His July report is only for May 15 through June 30. In other words, don’t freak out at the disparity in amount raised.

Tax Assessor

Mike Sullivan
Ann Harris Bennett


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Sullivan    70,300   39,196         0    101,564
Bennett     26,190   11,536         0      1,837

Both Sullivan and Bennett were in contested primaries, so both reports cover February 21 through June 30. You could call Sullivan an efficient fundraiser – he raised that $70K from 55 total donors, 52 of whom gave $250 or more, and three of whom gave $100 or less. Bennett has never been much of a fundraiser, and this report bears that out. Some $17K of her raised total was in-kind, which contributed to the extra low cash on hand amount.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan
Jim Leitner


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Ryan         72,400  33,652         0    171,677
Leitner      12,550  10,225     9,500      8,765

Leitner had to win a primary, while Ryan was the one Dem who had a free ride. Ryan is also the one Democratic incumbent, and he built up a bit of a cushion over the past four years. Leitner wins the award for being the one guy to fill out his form by hand rather than electronically. Not a whole lot to see here otherwise.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack
Jenifer Pool


Name        Raised    Spent     Loans    On Hand
================================================
Radack     747,500  177,604         0  1,616,948
Pool        13,750   13,054         0          0

This is the one contested County Commissioner’s Court race. Radack’s Precinct 3 is redder than Jack Morman’s Precinct 2 but less red than Jack Cagle’s Precinct 4. In a normal year, I’d expect Radack to get around 60% of the vote, though downballot candidates have done better than that in recent years; Adrian Garcia topped 47% there in 2008. This is obviously not a normal year, though whether the effect of that is primarily at the top of the ticket or if it goes all the way down remains to be seen. To the extent that there is an effect, Precinct 3 ought to serve as a good microcosm of it.

And for completeness’ sake:

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

El Franco Lee – Still has $3,774,802 on hand.
Rodney Ellis – $1,959,872 on hand. Same as his state report.
Gene Locke – Raised $258K, spent $182K, still has $115K on hand.

I’m going to step out on a limb and suggest that Gene Locke has run his last campaign. Very little money has been spent from El Franco Lee’s account – one presumes his campaign treasurer hasn’t given the matter any more thought since he was first asked about it in January. Rodney Ellis has promised to give $100K to the HCDP coordinated campaign. I say Gene Locke and J. Kent Friedman (El Franco Lee’s campaign treasurer) should do something like that as well. This year presents a huge opportunity for Harris County Democrats, and it’s not like that money is doing anyone any good sitting in the bank. It’s not my money and I don’t get to say how it gets spent, but I do get to say what I want, and this is it. Put some money into this campaign, guys. There’s absolutely no reason not to.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, Commissioner Locke has nothing to do with the late Commissioner Lee’s finance account. I was under the impression that Lee’s campaign treasurer controls that purse, but it has been suggested to me that (at least by now) that may have passed to his widow. Be that as it may, and again to be clear, Commissioner Locke has no involvement in anything but his own finance account.

Year 2 for “One Sticker”

Surely this year will go more smoothly.

Texas dropped its familiar green safety inspection sticker a year ago, creating confusion for millions of vehicle and trailer owners in the state. Though inspections didn’t change – but might soon, as some lawmakers want to scrap them – the stickers went away as the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles shifted to a database system to verify compliance with state rules.

Though this year’s crop of registrations is not expected to result in the confusion and computer problems that plagued the process last year, some people may forget the new rules.

“I think we could have some confusion and the reason I say that is we have taken a decades-old process and kind of changed it,” said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, whose office handles vehicle registration.

[…]

Last year, owners of the roughly 17 million registered personal vehicles and trailers in Texas were able to renew, provided their inspection was current and valid. In other words, someone who renewed in March, and whose registration expired in April, did not have to undergo an inspection.

Now inspections and registration are closely tied. Lawmakers changed the rules in 2013, effective last year, requiring drivers to pass inspection within 90 days of renewing the vehicle registration.

Inspection results are uploaded into a state database, though officials suggest keeping the paper copy of the inspection report that stations and mechanics are required to provide after a vehicle passes inspection.

Sullivan said it is possible vehicle owners could start showing up without inspections because many didn’t need to conduct one last year. It’s also possible some drivers erred in the past 12 months. Someone whose car was inspected when its sticker expired in November will run afoul of the 90-day requirement if they try to renew their registration in April.

See here and here for some background. Ideally, this year people will understand the need to do their inspections around the time of their registration renewals, and there won’t be any technical glitches. Perhaps some periodic reminders about what is needed would be helpful. What has your experience with the new system been so far?

2016 primaries: Harris County

Though this will be the first entry published in the morning, it was the last one I wrote last night, and I’m super tired. So, I’m going to make this brief.

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

Democratic races of interest, with about 86% of precincts reporting

District Attorney: Kim Ogg with 51%, so no runoff needed.

Sheriff: Ed Gonzalez (43%) and Jerome Moore (30%) in the runoff.

Tax Assessor: Ann Harris Bennett (61%) gets another crack at it.

Judicial races: Some close, some blowouts, some runoffs. Jim Sharp will not be on the ballot, as Candance White won easily, while the one contested district court race that featured an incumbent will go to overtime. Elaine Palmer in the 215th will face JoAnn Storey, after drawing 43% of the vote to Storey’s 28%. Those who are still smarting from Palmer’s unlovely ouster of Steve Kirkland in 2012 will get their chance to exact revenge on May 24.

Turnout: For some reason, Dem results were reporting a lot more slowly than GOP results. As of midnight, nearly 150 precincts were still out. At that time, Dem turnout had topped 200,000, so the final number is likely to be in the 210,000 to 220,000 range. That’s well short of 2008, of course, but well ahead of projections, and nobody could call it lackluster or disappointing. As was the case in 2008, some 60% of the vote came on Election Day. I think the lesson to draw here is that when there is a real Presidential race, fewer people vote early than you’d normally expect.

Republican races of interest, with 92% of precincts reporting

Sheriff: Ron Hickman, with 72%.

Tax Assessor: Mike Sullivan, with 83%. Kudos for not being that stupid, y’all.

County Attorney: Jim Leitner, with 53%.

Strange (to me) result of the night: GOP Chair Paul Simpson was forced to a runoff, against someone named Rick Ramos. Both had about 39% of the vote. What’s up with that?

Turnout: With 67 precincts to go, just over 300,000 total votes. Interestingly, that was right on Stan Stanart’s initial, exuberant projection. He nailed the GOP side, he just woefully underestimated the Dems.

Bedtime for me. I’m sure there will be plenty more to say in the coming days. What are your reactions?

Primary Day is today

From the inbox:

vote-button

“Visit www.HarrisVotes.com to ensure you go to the correct voting location and to find your personal sample ballot for the Tuesday, March 1, Republican Party and Democratic Party Primary Elections,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, encouraging voters to use the information provided by the County Clerk’s election website before heading to the polls. “Voters can find everything they need to vote, including polling locations, their personal sample ballot, and a list of acceptable forms of Photo ID at www.HarrisVotes.com.”

On Election Day, polling locations will be open from 7 am to 7 pm. In Harris County, the Republican Party will have 401 polling locations and the Democratic Party 383. “Remember, voters are required to vote at the polling location their precinct is designated to vote at on Election Day. During primary elections, the political parties determine where the voting locations are situated based on their respective voter strongholds,” Stanart reminded voters.

In Texas, a registered voter may vote in either party’s Primary Election during an election cycle, but only one party, not both. Overall, in Harris County, there are over 150 races for each party. “Voters can expect to see about 50 contests on their personal ballot. I recommend voters print out their personal ballot, do their homework, and bring their marked up ballot with them into the polling booth,” advised Stanart.

At the close of Early Voting on Friday, 216,961 voters cast their ballots early, or by mail surpassing the 115,958 who voted early in the 2012 primary elections. “Voter participation in the Primary Elections is very important,” concluded Stanart. “If you have not voted, go vote. Your vote will make a difference.”

For more election information, voters can visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

You can find your precinct location here. Do not assume that your normal November location will be open – check first and be sure. You can get a free ride from Metro to your polling station if you need it.

PDiddie names the races he’ll be watching tonight. I agree with his list, and would the four contested Dem primaries involving incumbent State Reps as well – Alma Allen in 131, Gene Wu in 137, Jessica Farrar n 148, and Hubert Vo in 149. All four are vastly better than their opponents, and a loss by any of them would be deeply embarrassing and a kick to the face. I don’t expect any of them to be in danger, but one never knows, and the stakes here are high. The only other contested-incumbent race on the Dem side of interest is in El Paso, where Rep. Mary Gonzalez is being challenged by former Rep. Chente Quintanilla in a race that’s as much about the present and future versus the past as anything else. Quintanilla is one of several former members trying to get back into the game. At least in his case, I’d prefer he stay retired.

Beyond that, I will of course be interested in the rematch in SD26, plus the open seat fight in CD15, where Dolly Elizondo has a chance to become the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas. Most of the rest of the action of interest is on the Republican side, where the usual wingnut billionaires are doing their best to buy up the Legislature, and several incumbent members of Congress are running scared of the seething hoards in their districts. Turnout will be high, which may or may not be good news for Ted Cruz. It’s especially amusing to see professional Cruz cheerleader Erica Greider freak out about Cruz voters ganging up on House Speaker Joe Straus in his primary. I find myself having to root for members like Byron Cook and Charlie Geren, not because they’re great legislators from my perspective but because they’re part of a decreasing faction that still acts like grownups. The Senate is sure to get worse with the departure of Kevin Eltife, thought there’s at least a chance a small piece of that difference could be made up by whoever replaces the execrable Troy Fraser. One must find the small victories where one can. The SBOE is always good for either an atrocity or a belly laugh, depending on how you look at it. Lastly, to my Harris County Republican friends, if you let Don Sumners beat Mike Sullivan for Tax Assessor, you deserve to never win a countywide race again.

I may or may not post results tonight, or I may save them for the morning. Whatever the case, go vote if you haven’t. Remember, you forfeit all right to bitch about who gets elected if you don’t participate.

Endorsement watch: Dudley and Sullivan

The Chron makes its endorsements in the Tax Assessor primaries.

Brandon Dudley

Brandon Dudley

It is the time of year when the Harris County tax assessor-collector gains sudden prominence: Jan. 31 is the due date to pay property taxes, and Feb. 1 is the last day to register for party primary elections. Both of those duties are handled by the tax assessor-collector’s office, in addition to vehicle registrations and title transactions. These basic services demand that the office be run with customer satisfaction and ease as the highest goals. With these priorities in mind, we endorse incumbent Mike Sullivan in the Republican primary and Brandon Dudley in the Democratic primary.

This year’s Republican primary for Harris County tax assessor-collector is a rematch from four years ago, when Mike Sullivan ousted incumbent Don Sumners. At the time, Sullivan offered a customer-focused alternative to Sumners’ office, which faced accusations of being overly politicized. The battlelines haven’t changed since. Sumners, 76, says he is running to serve as a self-proclaimed taxpayer advocate and watchdog.

“If you want an administrator, Sullivan is your man,” Sumners told the Houston Chronicle editorial board.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

That’s exactly what we want. An administrator can ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively, and focus on the duties of office.

[…]

When she met with the editorial board, Democratic candidate Ann Harris Bennett, 62, had no difficulty listing the litany of problems she saw with the current incumbent tax assessor-collector. Brandon Dudley, however, listed the solutions. Dudley currently serves as chief of staff and general counsel for state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and that experience in the state Legislature is apparent. A graduate of the University of Houston Law Center with a background in social work, Dudley is a regular policy wonk. He is quick to point out the ways that wealthy commercial landowners can exploit loopholes in the property appraisal system, which shifts the tax burden onto average homeowners. Dudley, 42, has even reached out to other tax assessor-collectors across the state in search of innovative ideas and best practices for the office.

Bennett has run for this office once before, and she has a firm grasp of where it is today. Dudley has a vision for the future.

The Chron is far too kind to Sumners, who wasn’t just an overly political Tax Assessor, but also a massively incompetent Tax Assessor. I mean, any random third grader in HISD would do a better job than Sumners did in his two-year reign of error. To call this a no-brainer is to greatly understate the matter.

As for the Democratic side, my interview with Brandon Dudley is here and my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here. One suspects that the Chron would be happy to endorse a random third grader over Don Sumners in November if he manages to win the GOP primary, but they will have a tougher choice if Mike Sullivan prevails. They did slap him on the wrist for not supporting online voter registration, so that may be the fulcrum on which their decision turns for the fall. But please, Republicans, don’t make it easy on them. You know as well as the rest of us what an idiot Sumners is. Let’s not take any chances that he could get his old job back.

Morris Overstreet to run for DA

I know we’re all still recovering from Tuesday, but the 2016 filing season is almost upon us, and the Democratic race for Harris County DA just became a contested race.

Morris Overstreet

Former appeals court judge Morris Overstreet announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Harris County District Attorney.

Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who has been a licensed attorney since 1975, said he wanted to bring integrity to the state’s largest DA’s office, currently helmed by Republican Devon Anderson.

“I want to instill integrity, so that the people of Harris County have public trust in the office of the district attorney,” Overstreet said. “As a trial judge and a prosecutor involving hundreds of jury trials and thousands of non-jury trials, I’ve never had any criminal conviction reversed because of any error committed by me.”

Here’s a post of Facebook from Overstreet’s announcement. He had released a video on YouTube on October 28 teasing the announcement. Overstreet was a candidate for Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals in 2010, and more recently was appointed by the Waller County Sheriff to an independent panel of civilians to evaluate his department in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death. Overstreet joins Kim Ogg in the race, presumably against incumbent DA Devon Anderson, who has not yet announced but is expected to run and who as far as I know has not attracted a primary opponent. I look forward to the debate in this race, Lord knows there’s plenty to talk about.

As far as the rest of the primaries go, County Attorney Vince Ryan, the sole Democratic countywide officeholder, is expected to run again, and I have not heard word of a primary opponent nor of a Republican challenger yet, though I’m sure there will be the latter. Brandon Dudley, chief of staff to Sen. Rodney Ellis and 2010 judicial candidate, is running for Tax Assessor against Mike Sullivan; Ann Harris Bennett, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012 and County Clerk in 2010 and 2014, is also running. So far, no one has announced on the Democratic side for Sheriff. The name people bring up when I ask about it is Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who would be up for re-election this year. He himself has not said anything, for the same reason former Sheriff Adrian Garcia couldn’t talk about running for Mayor – he’d have to resign as soon as he did say something. There’s some speculation around outgoing CM Ed Gonzalez as well, but Rosen is the name I keep hearing. Incumbent Sheriff Ron Hickman should have at least one primary opponent, 2012 candidate Carl Pittman, but beyond that I don’t know. I’ll do a roundup on judicial and legislative and other races another time. If you have a name and some reasonably informed scuttlebutt to add to this, by all means please do.

Point/counterpoint on online voter registration

Point.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Texans can use www.Texas.gov for nearly 1,000 services, such as applying for concealed handgun licenses and driver records, and renewing driver licenses, vehicle registrations and many state-required professional licenses. It is time to allow Texans to use this proven, secure online portal to register voters.

Online voter registration does not allow online voting. Under the process that has been proposed for our state, Texans with a current Texas drivers license or Department of Public Safety-issued photo ID could electronically register to vote so long as the license and three other identification measures authenticate them to do so.

[…]

The National Council of State Legislatures calls online voter registration a truly bipartisan election issue. A 2014 Pew study reports states have not seen any change in the balance of party affiliation of registered voters following the introduction of online voter registration. States also report no security breaches or voter impersonation. The study further finds online registration applications five times more accurate than paper applications.

The three Texas agencies – Secretary of State’s office, DPS and Department of Information Resources – that would execute online voter registration are confident in their ability. Their representatives testified that registering voters online can work in Texas.

Department of Information Resources Executive Director Todd Kimbriel told the House Elections Committee that the state-contracted Texas.gov vendor processes more than $2 billion in annual payments from taxpayers. Since initiation in 2001, Kimbriel told lawmakers, there have been no security breaches.

An existing Texas.gov platform for voter registration is already in place, used to update residential addresses when a voter moves within a county. To initiate registration online, a person would be required to possess a valid Texas driver license or DPS ID that can only be obtained in person.

More than 60 percent of Texans polled in 2014 favor registering voters online. State Reps. Celia Israel, D-Austin and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, bill authors, agree it’s an opportunity to work together to make our voter registration system more efficient, accurate and cost-effective.

That was written by Elaine Wiant, the president of the League of Women Voters of Texas. The arguments are familiar, and I at least think they’re pretty persuasive.

And counterpoint:

Proponents of online voter registration point out 20 states currently have such systems in place. But that means that 30 states do not. They also point out cost savings with online registration but cannot accurately identify what those would be in Texas.

[…]

The current voter registration system in Texas works and works well. Virtually no case has come to light of someone wanting to register within the applicable deadlines and being unable to do so.

Those who wish to register can exercise several options. Eligible citizens may register at the Texas Department of Public Safety, many social service organizations, local libraries, post offices and any of the 16 Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s branch offices. Potential voters also may print an application from many websites to be completed, signed and mailed.

The Voter Registrar’s experienced and nonpartisan professionals cross check data to ensure accuracy of each application. Officials code voters for the proper voting precinct, verify the data submitted and mail out a voter certificate. This both protects the registration process and provides new voters with relevant information, including the voter’s eligible jurisdictions.

During the most recent federal election, the state’s election management system temporarily shut down on Election Day, almost crippling local voter activity. The Secretary of State’s office is scheduled to undergo a major software upgrade this year. This is long overdue but full of unknowns. It would be very risky to implement a new system for online voter registration with this pending upgrade, especially leading into a presidential election.

That of course is from Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who as we know opposed the bill to enable online voter registration. His arguments are familiar as well, and until that last paragraph above, not terribly persuasive to me. The one part of his case that I do find effective is the reminder about the state’s website problems last November. Add that to the problems that DPS had with the One Sticker rollout, and one can understand why someone like Sullivan might be skeptical about this kind of bill and any assurance from DPS and/or the SOS that they can handle it. That may be a reasonable justification for delaying this implementation, but not for not doing it at all. Just because something works well enough doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be improved. Online voter registration should be the goal, and whatever needs to be done to make it feasible in the next session should be on the to do list. Let’s not have the same debate in 2017.

Online voter registration bill appears to be dead

Alas.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A group of Harris County officials have succeeded in scuttling a bipartisan bill that would have made Texas the 27th state to let citizens register to vote online.

The proposal was co-sponsored by a majority of the House, but stalled in the chamber’s Elections Committee after the Harris County Clerk and the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector’s offices rallied opposition, arguing it would make Texas more vulnerable to voter fraud, even with the state’s controversial voter ID law.

Rep. Celia Israel, who sponsored the measure as a way to boost voter turnout and save the state millions of dollars, pronounced it dead Friday afternoon.

“Texas wants this. The majority of the people on this floor want this,” said Israel, D-Austin, gesturing to her colleagues. “But I can’t get it out of committee because of some partisan election officers from Harris County.”

[…]

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, a Republican whose job includes being the county voter registrar, denied that politics played any role in his position. He also denied that officials had organized a unified effort to derail the bill.

“Our state is not ready,” Sullivan said, arguing he had seen glitches from time to time in voter data that made him believe his office was not prepared to integrate information from the Texas Secretary of State and the Department of Public Safety into an electronic system.

Even a small risk of making it easier for fraudsters to falsely register to vote or steal information, or of software being compromised, is not worth the convenience for the few people that would sign up online, he said.

“I have a sworn duty to maintain the integrity of the voter roll,” Sullivan said. “I’ve sworn to do it. I campaigned to do it.”

National groups that have monitored the implementation of online voter registration in other states have dismissed the concerns as unfounded.

“No state with online voter registration has reported fraudulent activity or security breaches occurring through their systems,” according to a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

Online systems actually reduce fraud, according to the report, by virtually eliminating errors due to poor handwriting and other flaws of paper systems.

See here and here for the background. I don’t get this at all, and based on the reporting I’ve seen the objections seem a lot like foot-dragging to me. But perhaps there is a way to shed some light on this.

Sullivan, who said he opposed a similar measure last session, could see himself supporting online voter registration if his questions about voter data are addressed.

“I consider myself open to new technology, I consider myself open to new ways of doing business,” he said Saturday. “It would be a mischaracterization to say that I am forever opposed to online voter registration.”

I would have expected Mike Sullivan to be open to new technology, so I was disappointed to see that he opposed this bill. I wanted to understand why he took this position, so I emailed him to ask about it. He respectfully declined to comment, however, so for now at least we are left with speculation. Whatever the basis for this is, I hope we can get past it next time.

Not everyone likes the idea of online voter registration

And most of them are from Harris County.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A House panel got a taste late Monday of the deep skepticism toward bringing online voter registration to Texas, skepticism coming from at least one population-rich part of the state.

It was mostly shared by a handful of Harris County officials who expressed concerns the practice could compromise voter privacy and lead to fraud at the ballot box. Some members of the House Elections Committee took note of the common thread, and Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, ended its meeting by cautioning her colleagues against letting the “negative comments of one county in the state of Texas rule the evening.”

The panel nonetheless heard praise for two pieces of legislation, House Bill 76 and House Bill 953, both with the same purpose: adding Texas to the list of 20 states that already let its citizens sign up to vote online. The committee left both bills pending late Monday.

Israel touted her HB-76 as a sign of the bipartisan support the idea enjoys under the dome, pointing out it has several dozen co-authors from both parties. Rep. Carol Alvarado, the Houston Democrat sponsoring HB-953, pitched it as a way of curbing the government waste that comes with paper registration, which is costlier and more labor-intensive than the online alternative.

“This bill is about efficient government. It’s about cutting wasteful spending,” said Alvarado, who has estimated Texas could save more than $11 million by ditching paper registration.

Alvarado had some back-up from several speakers including Samuel Derheimer of The Pew Charitable Trusts. He cited recent polling from the organization that showed more than 60 percent of Texans support online voter registration, and a third think the state already has it.

Among those from Harris County opposing the bills were Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, Ed Johnson of the County Clerk’s Office and Alan Vera, chairman of the Ballot Security Committee of the Harris County GOP.

“Our current system works, and it works well,” said Sullivan, who like the two other speakers from Harris County expressed unease with the security of the state software that would handle registration.

Vera added that online sign-up could make it easier for voters to be impersonated at the polls, saying the “main fuel for voter fraud is registered voters who don’t show up to vote.”

See here for the background. Someone is going to have to explain to me what Alan Vera is talking about, because what he said makes no sense to me. To all those people who say they’re worried about fraud, I have to ask: Isn’t this the stated rationale for passing voter ID legislation? I mean, I could submit a registration request for Mickey Mouse, but unless someone shows up at the ballot box with one of the very few legally accepted forms of photo ID showing that he is in fact Mickey Mouse, what good would it do? I don’t see what the problem is here.

What about voting by mail? You don’t need a photo ID for that. That’s true. It’s also true that opponents of voter ID have made that exact same point about a billion times since the state GOP decided to push voter ID laws beginning in 2007. If you are concerned about the possibility of fraud via mail ballot, then you should discuss these concerns with your state legislators, since they most pointedly did not address any of those concerns in the voter ID law that they passed back in 2011. I’ll leave it to you to review the history of the voter ID fight to understand why the focus of that bill was entirely on in person voting and not at all on absentee voting.

But look, sooner or later we are going to transition from our current methods of voting, with the increasingly archaic and outdated machines we use now, to something more modern and in tune with the way people live their lives these days. Which is to say, we will do this via mobile technology. For sure, that introduces risks and security challenges. Believe me, I do that sort of thing for a living, I get that. If you think there aren’t glaring security holes in the systems we use now, you’ve got your head in the sand. We can choose to work with the technology of today and the emerging tech of tomorrow and meet those challenges head on, or we can pretend that what we’re doing now will be good enough forever and resist all attempts to change. I know which path I would prefer to take.

Vehicle registration renewal error notice

The following is a public service announcement. From the inbox:

320,000 Texas Drivers Receive Error in Renewal Notice
Mike Sullivan wants to ensure Harris County drivers are aware of issue

Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan wants to ensure Harris County drivers are aware of the issue concerning their vehicle registration notice.

According to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, two million vehicle registration renewal notices were mailed to customers on March 2, 2015 for their April renewals. From those notices, around 320,000 were printed with an incorrect inspection fee of $0.00 when a fee should have been printed. This only affects a select number of the April renewals.

“We don’t know how many Harris County drivers have been affected by this error, but my office is currently investigating the issue with the support of TxDMV staff,” said Mike Sullivan.

Affected drivers will receive a correct vehicle registration renewal and a notice in the mail from the TxDMV stating:

IMPORTANT NOTICE

Dear Customer: Please use the enclosed registration renewal notice when renewing your vehicle registration. The notice we sent to you earlier this month was printed with an incorrect fee and should be discarded. You are receiving a corrected renewal notice that displays the fee amount that is actually owed. You may disregard this notice if you have already received your registration sticker. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you have questions, please contact 1-888-DMV-GOTX (1-888-368-4689).

“If you have received your April vehicle registration renewal notice and have concerns if it is correct, please contact the TxDMV at 1-888-DMV-GOTX (1-888-368-4689),” said Mr. Sullivan.

If you have any questions please contact the Office of Mike Sullivan at (713)274-8000 or by email at tax.office@hctx.net.

A brief Chron story on this is here. This has been a public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

One sticker for all has begun

Hope it wasn’t too confusing for you if you had to deal with it this week.

On Monday – the first full day under the new system for registering cars, trucks, trailers and motorcycles in Texas – drivers trying to abide by the new law faced frustration as misunderstandings and a computer glitch led to overcharges for some motorists.

The confusion stemmed mostly from new rules about how certain fees are collected. Under the old two-sticker system, car owners in the Houston area paid a flat fee of $39.75 for an inspection sticker – $25.50 to the inspection station and a $14.25 clean air fee the inspection station collected and forwarded to the state.

Under the new system, which went into effect Sunday, motorists are required to pay the inspection station only its $25.50. The clean air fee now is added to the cost of registering the vehicle.

And therein lay the problem.

On Monday, many motorists who showed up at one of the 16 Harris County offices where owners can register vehicles reported they had been charged the $14.25 clean air fee twice. Similar problems were being reported in other counties.

“Things are not going well in a lot of places,” said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan, whose office is in charge of vehicle registration.

Monday was the first day tax collectors and motorists had to deal with the changes, and state officials relied on a computer database to link inspection and registration information.

State officials offered a more sanguine assessment of how the switch went on its first day.

“Overall, the system is performing as expected,” said Adam Shaivitz, spokesman for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. “A majority of inspections were verified electronically at the time of vehicle registration.”

But not well enough, apparently, to avoid frustration here and elsewhere in the state where similar problems were being encountered.

One of our cars was inspected and registered as of January, so it was all under the old system. The other has been registered, but its inspection expires this month. My understanding of how this works is that we’ll get it inspected as before, and then next year both cars will be under the new system. I presume all the bugs will have been worked out by then. Educating the public is always the hard part of this kind of change. You may have seen some billboards around town advertising the switchover – see here for more about them – or you can visit OneSticker.net for more about how things work now. Anyone got a story to tell? Dallas Transportation has more.

Sticker reduction coming

From the inbox:

Harris County is gearing up for a new Texas Two Step. Beginning March 1, 2015, the state will no longer issue vehicle inspection stickers and will move to a “Two Steps, One Sticker” program. Under the new system, Texas vehicle owners will need to pass inspection prior to renewing their registration. The familiar blue-bordered Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) registration sticker will serve as proof of both inspection and registration.

“We are prepared to make this transition as smooth as possible for our residents,” said Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan. “During the first year of the program beginning March 1, 2015, all you will need to do is make sure you already have a valid passing vehicle inspection before you renew your registration in our office, online or by mail.”

When vehicle owners renew their registration, the system will verify whether the vehicle has a valid inspection. It’s recommended to bring the hard copy of the vehicle inspection report when renewing your registration. Without a passing inspection, the vehicle will not be eligible for registration renewal.

During the second year of the program, beginning March 1, 2016, vehicles’ inspection and registration expiration dates will align to the date that is on the registration sticker. Once the expiration dates are aligned in that second year, you will have a convenient 90-day window to pass inspection first and then renew your registration before the end of the month listed on your sticker.

“When the ‘Two Steps, One Sticker’ program is fully implemented, Harris County residents will appreciate having just one sticker in the corner of their windshield and only one expiration date to worry about,” said TxDMV Executive Director Whitney Brewster. “And because a passing vehicle inspection will be a requirement to renew your registration, more vehicle owners will comply with inspection requirements leading to safer and more environmentally sound cars on Texas roads.”

The implementation of “Two Steps, One Sticker” is a result of House Bill 2305 which passed during the 83rd Legislative Session in 2013. The program is joint effort by the TxDMV, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in collaboration with the 254 county tax assessor-collector’s offices which process vehicle registrations and vehicle inspection stations across the state.

For more information:
www.TwoStepsOneSticker.com

The Harris County Tax Office Automobile Division performs more than 4.5 million automobile transactions in Harris County each year. It also works closely with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles to register motor vehicles, collect registration and title fees and distributes them to the proper entities. Learn more about the Automobile Services Division by visiting www.hctax.net.

See here and here for the background. I think this is a good idea, but I also expect there will be some confusion along the way. At the very least, having only one date to worry about instead of two, especially if you have more than one car at your household, will be nice.

Competition is good, except when it isn’t

I honestly don’t get this.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

As the Houston City Council prepares to vote Wednesday on whether to make its longtime back-tax collector share the lucrative work with a rival, city officials are getting ample pushback from the man responsible for collecting the taxes.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan is not the only one opposed to the idea, which he dubbed a “cramdown” from the city. Texas’ dominant collection vendor for local governments and the city’s collector of property taxes for three decades, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, is not keen on loosening its grip.

[…]

If the City Council approves Wednesday, Perdue would get a batch of the city’s delinquent accounts, estimated at about 3 percent of the total delinquent tax roll. The accounts would be drawn from three school districts for which Perdue already collects.

If one firm outperforms the other, it will be rewarded with more accounts to collect. Houston is moving to this “competitive” approach in all its collections in hopes of increasing revenue, City Attorney David Feldman said.

“They are both good firms, they both offer good service,” Feldman said. “It really comes down to a question of competition.”

Hogwash, said Sullivan, whose office is responsible for collecting city property taxes and would need to accommodate the multi-vendor collections model. Feldman and Sullivan have been in talks over the idea for a year, but you would not know it from the tax man’s comments.

“This is not about competitiveness at all. It’s smoke and mirrors that Feldman is using to try to convince council members that it’s a good thing to do,” Sullivan said. “When you are given business and then you are judged on what you do or don’t do, or perform or don’t perform, that’s performance, it’s not competitiveness. It’s deceptive.”

All due respect, but I couldn’t care less who performs this function for the city. All I do care about is that the job gets done effectively. Maybe there’s a good reason why a sole provider is best, but speaking as a bystander it’s not apparent to me. I really don’t think this makes that much difference one way or the other, but for curiosity’s sake I’d be interested to see how these two firms did in a head to head contest. Who knows, maybe we’d learn something interesting.

Still no injunction in voter registration lawsuit

Unfortunate.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A district judged erred by partially blocking the enforcement of new Texas voter registration laws while a lawsuit alleging that the laws suppress voting goes forward, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 opinion Thursday that there was not enough evidence to allow a preliminary injunction preventing the enforcement of five registration law provisions.

Judge Edith Jones was joined by Judge Jerry Smith in the panel’s opinion. Judge W. Eugene Davis dissented, saying the state laws conflict with federal election laws.

An emergency three-judge panel blocked U.S. District Judge Greg Costa’s injunction before the November elections last year, leaving the final decision to Jones’ panel.

The lawsuit, which alleges that Texas laws make it difficult to register voters and that they violate the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, will go forward, civil rights attorney Chad Dunn said.

“I can assure you the case is gong to continue,” Dunn said. “Texas is now the only state in the country where it is a criminal offense to run an organized voter registration drive.”

See here for the last update, with links to earlier entries. The plaintiffs can ask for a review by the full panel, they can appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court, or they can accept it and proceed with the lawsuit. I don’t know what the best course of action is, but I remain optimistic for the final outcome. I’m not sure why the situation warrants optimism, but I feel that way anyway.

One place where optimism is more warranted is the state of voter registration here in Harris County. Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan invited a number of local bloggers in to talk about his office and ask any questions about it. One encouraging thing I heard was that the voter registration total for Harris County stands at approximately 1,980,000 as of today. That’s up from 1,942,566 in 2012, and breaks a pattern of registration declines in odd numbered years:

2004 – 1,876,296; 2005 – 1,849,820
2006 – 1,902,822; 2007 – 1,799,757
2008 – 1,892,656; 2009 – 1,881,112
2010 – 1,917,534; 2011 – 1,869,359

The Chron confirms the registration total as well. In addition, the office has already done 20 46 training sessions for deputy vote registrars – the minimum required by the state is one per month – and most impressively was able to get all three federal lawsuits against Harris County over its voter registration practices withdrawn by making a commitment to stopping past bad behavior and adhering to good practices going forward. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Tax Assessor that has focused primarily on its duties and not on partisan matters. Sullivan made a promise to do that during the campaign, and so far he’s done a good job of keeping it. It’s a very positive accomplishment.

UPDATE: Corrected the number of deputy voter training sessions conducted. Please note that the “stopping past bad behavior” characterization is mine and not a quote from Mike Sullivan or anyone in his office. For other takes on our visit, see PDiddie, John Coby, and Greg.

The voter ID effect

The conventional wisdom is that we’re unlikely to see the full effect of the voter ID law until next year.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The true test of how voter ID will affect voters — and whether it will sway elections — won’t come next month after a special election in Edinburg.

And it might not even come this year.

That’s the assessment of at least one opposition leader, Chad Dunn, an attorney with Houston-based Brazil and Dunn who represents plaintiffs in a current lawsuit seeking to block the law. It requires voters to furnish one of several specified forms of ID before casting a ballot, the most common being a state-issued driver’s license or ID card.

It’s hard to determine the effect before next year’s state elections, Dunn added, because turnout for local elections is paltry. Elections have been held in Galveston and are ongoing in the Rio Grande Valley, but the true test will be a statewide or heavily contested election in a toss-up or majority-minority district.

“I don’t expect the law to be enjoined by the primary in March, or whenever it gets moved back because of redistricting,” Dunn said, linking voter ID and another volatile issue, the Legislature’s redistricting efforts, which are also tied up in litigation. The court battle makes it possible the primary elections could be delayed.

[…]

Also at play is how election officials handle complaints or missteps, Dunn said. In Bexar County, he said, officials are likely to resolve issues quickly regardless of political allegiance, race or any other factor. In others, not so much.

“In counties like Harris, which is completely on the voter suppression bandwagon, whatever problems there are, aren’t getting worked out,” he said.

I have some hope that new Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan will be more interested in the nuts and bolts aspect of his job and less interested in leading partisan warfare on voter registration than his predecessors were. You have to admit that the recent history of the county in regard to voting issues is not encouraging, however.

I do think that the upcoming city of Houston election will provide a test of the new law, assuming as noted that it hasn’t been enjoined; while the Justice Department has intervened in the litigation, so far no motion asking for an injunction has been filed. It’s not unreasonable to think that there could be 150,000 votes or more cast this year, vastly more than in Ediburg and that silly little Galveston election at which one local hack declared voter ID to have had no effect. The question is how to measure the effect. I can think of two things, one objective and one likely to be anecdotal at best. The objective way is to see how the number of provisional ballots compares to years past, especially the number of provisional ballots that get rejected. Remember, if you show up without an accepted form of ID, you can still cast a provisional ballot, but you have to show up later with a valid ID for it to be counted. Unfortunately, if there’s a publicly-viewable record of provisional ballots from past elections, I can’t find it. I know that data exists somewhere, and if there’s a spike in provisional ballots, that’s one indication that the law is having an effect. The anecdotal method is to collect stories from people who didn’t bother to vote or who decided to walk away rather than cast a provisional vote because they lacked the proper ID. I have no idea how to collect that kind of data, and to be honest I’d find it a little suspect if it were collected just by its very nature. But even if this can’t tell us much quantitatively, it has the potential to be a powerful kind of story anyway. We need to be talking to people and finding out what their experiences are. Whatever happens with the litigation and any potential legislative fixes from Congress, we can’t let what happens in the interim be overlooked or forgotten.

Finally, the Early To Rise plan

This is what we’ve got after their presentation to the HCDE Board of Trustees on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Harris County School Readiness Corp. pitched its plan to expand early education at a five-hour gathering with wary trustees for the Harris County Department of Education. The corporation’s proposal suggests that if voters approve a ballot initiative expanding the education department’s taxing authority by 1 cent per $100 of assessed value, the public agency should contract with the nonprofit to administer the estimated $25 million collected each year.

“Help is not on the way,” said Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board, about the need to improve early childhood education programs in Harris County. “We’re not going to get help from the federal government, or the state government. We believe this needs to start here on a local level.”

Responding to public and trustee concerns about accountability, the proposed 10-year contract would allow the department to appoint half of the agency’s governing board, to approve rules for spending tax dollars and to review 14 areas of performance.

A three-member staff of the corporation would contract with existing education groups to expand training for teachers and buy school supplies for child care centers serving children up to age 5.

See here for the previous update. The bit about allowing HCDE to appoint half of the governing board is a step in the right direction. Even better news is that at long last we have some firm details. Here’s a draft services agreement, and the Harris County School Readiness Corporation policies on accountability and conflicts of interests. Both came in late Wednesday via Houston Politics. I haven’t had the chance to read through them, but there they are.

There’s another wrinkle in all this, as noted by this story from before the presentation.

Before the department’s board can vote on any agreement, it must go through a state-mandated request for proposals, according to education department officials.

“We presume we’ll get at least one,” chuckled Superintendent John Sawyer, who represented the department in initial negotiations.

Jonathan Day, a member of the corporation’s board and a former Houston city attorney, said he is confident the request for proposals will not slow down the group’s reaching an agreement in the narrow window before the November election.

“We think this kind of structure we have proposed is the right one. We hope the board will agree,” he said. “But look, we’d be happy if somebody else could do this better than we can.”

I rather doubt there’s another group out there in position to submit a bid, but you never know. It’s not clear what happens if the measure passes but the Harris County School Readiness Corporation fails to reach an agreement with the HCDE. Does that mean that the HCDE board can choose not to implement the tax increase, thus essentially nullifying the election, or does it mean another round of RFPs?

Of course, first this has to make it to the ballot.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan has until Monday to verify at least 78,000 of the 150,000 petitions submitted by the group, which could trigger the proposal’s appearance on the ballot. The county attorney and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, have asked the attorney general’s office to clarify what Judge Ed Emmett must do if the minimum level of signatures are verified, arguing the initiative process used may not still be in effect.

I don’t think there’s any doubt that enough petition signatures were collected. The AG opinion is still the big unknown, but as I’ve said all along, I expect this to eventually be settled in court. How long that might take, and whether it affects the ballot this year or not, I have no clue. KUHF has more.

Early To Rise submits its petitions

From here it gets real.

The Harris County School Readiness Corp., a new nonprofit led by business and civic leaders, is calling for a ballot intiative to levy a 1-cent-per-$100 tax through the Harris County Department of Education to generate about $25 million a year for training teachers and buying school supplies for child care centers serving children up to age 5.

Chairman James Calaway touted the proposal Tuesday as he stood ready to roll a dolly stacked with five boxes filled with more than 150,000 signatures into the office of one of the plan’s most vocal critics, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

“Let’s deliver these to the county judge so he can begin his five days of verification to get it on the ballot,” he said.

Here’s their press release. There’s already a dispute over how quickly the signatures must be certified. Calaway says Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan has five days to randomly verify a subsample of the signatures. Sullivan and County Judge Ed Emmett say he has until the deadline for putting items on the ballot, which is August 26. That’s also the deadline for the Attorney General to render an opinion that would be relevant and timely. At the behest of Judge Emmett, County Attorney Vince Ryan has submitted a request for an AG opinion that asks “whether the Harris County Judge is authorized to deny a petition to order an election to levy and collect an equalization tax for the Harris County Department of Education and related questions”. (Sen. Dan Patrick has also requested an opinion.) You can hear all the attorneys limbering up in the background as they prepare for the inevitable lawsuit. I presume the fact that Ryan submitted the request means that Judge Emmett was told he couldn’t do it himself, a fact that Lisa Falkenberg pointed out awhile back. So at least this is known to be kosher.

I don’t know what will happen next, but if I had to guess I’d say this makes it to the ballot. Barring a ruling that the law being used is invalid, I’m not sure what the pretext would be for stopping it. Doesn’t mean Abbott couldn’t come up with a reason if he wants to, of course. But let’s say it does make it onto the ballot. I’m wondering now if the Harris County School Readiness Corporation has had any second thoughts about its reasons for pushing this in 2013 instead of waiting till 2014. As I understand it, they thought that they’d have a better shot in 2013, when voters from the city would be a disproportionately large share of the electorate. While I don’t think that support or opposition to the Early To Rise plan will cleave exactly along partisan lines, I do think it’s reasonable to think the Democrats are more likely to support it and Republicans are more likely to oppose it, and given that, you’d like for the mostly-Democratic city to be the bulk of the voters. Of course, in our generally low-turnout city elections, the voters who show up aren’t necessarily representative of what a high-turnout electorate would be. With the addition of the Astrodome referendum, it’s impossible to say what the county electorate will look like, and it’s no longer a guarantee that city of Houston voters will be the bulk of it. If the key to getting this passed is a Democratic electorate, then maybe it would have been better to wait till next year and the hoped-for Wendy Davis Express to serve as a tailwind. Of course, no one could have known all this six months ago, or whenever the Harris County School Readiness Corporation first geared up. They picked their target, now we’ll see how wise they were to do so.

That’s getting ahead of ourselves, because we still don’t quite know exactly what we’d be voting for.

For months, corporation members have been negotiating with the Harris County Department of Education on a governance agreement.

“We’ve been working to find the right balance of public oversight,” Calaway said, declining to talk specifically about details until the proposal is presented publicly to the department’s board of trustees Tuesday.

Wishing to dispel myths that the nonprofit simply would be cut a check for the tax dollars and left free to spend it on its own operations, Calaway said much of the finance and accounting work would be handled by the Department of Education.

The nonprofit’s three-person staff would coordinate with existing early education providers to spend the money, he said.

The challenge is sorting out how much public oversight to mandate for a private entity spending public dollars, Calaway and education department Superintendent John Sawyer agreed.

Sawyer said the proposal is unlike any other private-public partnership he has seen.

“Elected officials would allow the operations to be overseen by a board different from themselves,” he said. “My board has got to come to grips with that. Or not.”

The suggestion of having HCDE name a board member has been dropped by agreement. I suspect they’ll get the details hammered out, but I’m wondering what happens if they don’t. Does it make sense for the Harris County School Readiness Corporation to push a proposal that the HCDE hates? The whole reason why the Harris County School Readiness Corporation was able to mount this petition drive is because the HCDE still exists, unlike most other county school boards. It’s HCDE’s tax rate that we’re being asked to increase. Being harmonious with them would seem to be the first order of business. We’ll see what they come up with by Tuesday. Campos, who thinks the “right balance of public oversight” is “100%”, has more.

Credit cards at the Tax Assessor’s office

If you’ve paid your vehicle registration fees in person at the Harris County Tax Assessor’s office, you’ve had to bring cash or check to do so, because they don’t accept credit cards for that. Thankfully, that’s about to change.

Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan

More than a decade after the office began accepting credit and debit cards for property tax payments, in person and online, the tax office is preparing to do the same for all things to do with motor vehicles, including registrations and renewals.

Within a month, all counters at the downtown tax office will accept plastic. All 17 locations should be plastic-friendly within three months, [Tax Assessor Mike] Sullivan said, describing the current situation as “horrible, horrible, horrible customer service.”

“It’s going to be a big roll-out when we are able to tell people we accept all forms of payment, bringing the office into the 21st century,” said Sullivan, who took office in January and promised that and other innovations during his campaign. “We’re several years behind where we should be.”

The move is part of a pilot program that will allow the county to input credit and debit card payments directly into the state system. Sullivan said it should reduce the office’s infamously long lines.

The tax assessor said he also plans to post an experienced employee at the front door of each of the five busiest locations to make sure people have all the necessary forms, notarizations and other items to complete their transactions.

While all Texas residents have been able to use credit and debit cards to renew their vehicle registrations online through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles since 2001, those who visit the Harris County tax office in person have been able to use only cash or checks.

Some county tax offices already take plastic for motor vehicle fee payments in person, including in Dallas County, which first began allowing residents to use credit and debit cards for property and vehicle taxes more than two years ago, a spokesman said.

I pay my registration fees by mail so this hasn’t affected me personally, but as we know long lines at the Tax Assessor’s office is a problem that has needed solving, so kudos to Sullivan for taking this step. It’s a bit mind-boggling to think that in the year 2013 credit cards weren’t an option for something as basic as this – Harris County was one of the first counties to accept credit card payments for property taxes, after all. The state and the way it accepts payments from counties is partly responsible for this, but still. We’re two years behind Dallas. That’s embarrassing. Of course, given who our Tax Assessor was for those two years, it’s not terribly surprising. Consider it yet another reminder that elections do have consequences.

Anyway. Since as noted I do my payments by mail this doesn’t affect me, but it does make me wonder when those of us who pay this way will get the same service as well. It’s not a big deal from a time management perspective, but it would be nice to have the option to pay by credit card. Looking ahead, the next step would be online and mobile payments. Is someone working on an app to pay one’s vehicle registration fees? Surely we don’t want to hear that Dallas has beaten us again. Houston Politics has more.

Midyear 2013 election update

Back in January, I took an early look at the 2013 elections in Houston. At the request of the folks at the Burnt Orange Report, who also printed my initial overview, here’s an update on the races in the city of Houston in 2013.

Mayor

Back in January, Mayor Parker had no declared opponents, though everyone expected former City Attorney Ben Hall to jump in, and there were whispers of other potential entrants. Hall made his candidacy official about two weeks after my initial report, and formally launched his campaign in March, though things have been fairly low key so far. Mayor Parker, who just kicked off her own campaign a couple of weeks ago, has been busy touting her achievements, of which there have been many in recent months, and pointing out all the glowing praise Houston is getting in the national media for its food scene, arts, employment opportunities, and affordable housing. Hall has been introducing himself to voters – he was the featured speaker at a recent event at HCDP headquarters; Mayor Parker will get her turn for that later in June – though thus far he has stuck to general themes and not presented much in the way of specific policy initiatives. He suffered some bad press a month ago when news of his frequent delinquency when paying property taxes surfaced. That subject, and the fact that Hall lived outside Houston in the tony suburb of Piney Point until last year – he was ineligible to vote in the 2009 city election – will likely come up again as the campaigns begin to engage with each other.

Two other candidates have joined the race as well. One is Green Party perennial Don Cook, who ran for an At Large Council seat in 2009 and 2011, for County Clerk in 2010, and for CD22 in 2012. The other is 2011 At Large #2 candidate Eric Dick, and you can keep the jokes to yourself, he’s way ahead of you on that. Besides his name, Dick is best known for covering the city with bandit campaign signs two years ago; the signs and the controversy that accompanied them did wonders for his name recognition and no doubt his law firm’s bottom line. It’s not clear if he intends to run a more serious campaign this time or if it’s just going to be another round of nailing things to utility poles and denying all knowledge of how they got there, but Dick’s emphasizing that he’s the “Republican” candidate in this nominally non-partisan race suggests that at least one person is thinking about the old pincer strategy.

We’ll have a better idea of where things stand when the campaign finance reports come out in six weeks. Hall has made much noise about his willingness to self-finance his campaign, but nothing says “broad-based support”, or the lack of it, than one’s list of small-dollar donors. It will also be interesting to see where the establishment goes, and if there are any defections from Parker 09 to Hall or Gene Locke 09 to Parker. Finally, on the subject of Republicans, it’s well known among insiders but not at all outside that circle that Hall has a couple of Republican operatives on his campaign payroll. I feel confident saying that fact will gain prominence after the July 15 reports begin to emerge. Until then, there’s the parody Ben Hall Twitter feed to keep those of you who are into that sort of thing amused.

City Controller

Incumbent Ronald Green, who like Mayor Parker is running for a third term, also now has an opponent, a Republican accountant by the name of Bill Frazer. Frazer now has a Facebook page for his campaign, but still no webpage that I can find. As noted before, Green has had some bad press, and he has never been a dynamic fundraiser or campaigner. He didn’t have a lot of cash on hand in January, and I don’t recall much activity there since then. He could conceivably be vulnerable to the right candidate and some bad luck. I don’t think Frazer is that candidate, and as far as luck goes all Green really needs is no more dirt to come out about him before November. Outside of open seat years, we really don’t have a history of Controller races in Houston. The office tends to get a lot less attention than Council does.

City Council At Large

I took an early look at At Large #3, the one open At Large seat, back in April, and nothing much has changed since then. It’s an interesting field, to say the least, with three candidates that have run citywide in the past, and the three that haven’t can credibly claim to have a base of support. There is no clear frontrunner, though the lack of a prominent African American candidate in the race is a factor that could ultimately affect its trajectory. I continue to believe that’s a void that will eventually be filled. Again, the campaign finance reports will bring a bit of focus to the picture, but most likely there will be not that much to see just yet. Generally speaking, the usual powers that be steer clear of these multi-candidate pileups until the runoff.

I noted before that there might be more opportunity in a head-to-head matchup against one of the two freshmen At Large Council members than in the wide open At Large #3 scramble. David Robinson, who finished fourth in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, has apparently taken that to heart and is challenging CM Andrew Burks for that seat. Burks has not particularly distinguished himself in his first term, but he is generally well liked and remains well known due to his many previous candidacies. So far, no one has emerged to take on Burks’ fellow freshman, CM Jack Christie, and the two members running for their third terms, CMs Stephen Costello and Brad Bradford, are also unopposed. Both Costello and Bradford are known to have future Mayoral ambitions, so the tea leaf readers will have some material to work with after the election. Actually, they’ll have some before it as well, since Bradford is listed as a Hall supporter, while Costello, along with CMs Ed Gonzalez and Al Hoang, are Parker supporters.

District City Council

There are only two open district Council seats thanks to the resignation of now-Harris County Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who was succeeded by CM Dave Martin last November. Martin will likely draw a challenger or two as the newbie on Council, but so far all of the action is elsewhere. I am aware of four candidates for the District D seat now held by CM Wanda Adams: businessman and former ReBuild Houston oversight board member Dwight Boykins, who had previously run for At Large #5 in 2003, losing to Michael Berry; Houston Housing Authority board member Assata Richards; photojournalist and businesswoman Georgia Provost; and community advocate Keith Caldwell, who ran for D in 2007 and finished fifth in the field of seven. There had been some buzz about former At Large #5 CM Jolanda Jones throwing her hat in and forcing a legal decision to clarify Houston’s term limits ordinance, but I haven’t heard anything about that in months and have no idea if it is still a possibility.

District I has proven to be the liveliest race so far, as candidates Graci Garces and Ben Mendez have already gotten into the kind of spat that one only sees in election years. Garces is the Chief of Staff to current District I member James Rodriguez, who in turn was Chief of Staff to State Rep. Carol Alvarado when she held that seat; Garces was also on Alvarado’s staff. Mendez is a businessman. They are joined in the race by community activist and Sheriff’s Department employee Robert Gallegos, and Leticia Ablaza. Ablaza is the former Chief of Staff to District A CM Helena Brown, who resigned from that position along with Deputy Chief of Staff RW Bray after less than five months on the job, and she challenged CM Rodriguez in 2011, finishing with 35% of the vote. To say the least, her presence in this race makes it one to watch.

Speaking of CM Helena Brown, the field for District A is big enough to make you think it was an open seat as well. In addition to the incumbent, candidates include former CM Brenda Stardig, who assured me on the phone a few weeks ago that she’s going to run a much more organized and focused campaign than she did in 2011 when Brown ousted her; Amy Peck, the District Director for Sen. Dan Patrick who finished third in District A in 2009; and Mike Knox, who has been an HPD officer, Board Member of the Houston Police Patrolmen’s Union, and Director of Community Service for the Spring Branch Management District. All three have good establishment Republican credentials, and I suspect the strategy for all three is to get into a runoff with Brown and hope to consolidate enough support against her to win. As always, the July finance report will tell an interesting tale, and this is one time where I think the usual suspects will not be on the sidelines early but will already be backing one horse or another.

HISD and HCC

There is one update to report on HISD races. District I Board Member and current Board President Anna Eastman is now opposed by community activist Hugo Mojica, who ran in the special election for City Council District H in May 2009 to succeed Sheriff Adrian Garcia and finished eighth in the field of nine. District I is my district, and while I think Hugo is a perfectly nice person, I think Anna Eastman is an outstanding Trustee, and I’ll be voting for her in the fall. There are no other active races I’m aware of, but the impending takeover of North Forest ISD will necessitate a redraw of Trustee districts that could force a special election in Districts II and VIII, where Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche now serve. Neither would be on the ballot in 2013 otherwise. I don’t know what all of the ramifications of this will be, but that’s a possibility to watch out for. Finally, while no one has yet announced a campaign against him, District IX Trustee Larry Marshall continues to provide ammunition for whoever does take the plunge.

Lastly, there are two developments in HCC. There is now a second special election on the ballot, as former Board President Richard Schechter stepped down in January after successfully leading the push for HCC’s bond referendum in November. The board appointed attorney and former General Counsel for HCC Leila Feldman to succeed Schechter. Feldman is also the daughter-in-law of Houston City Attorney David Feldman and is married to Cris Feldman, whom aficionados of all things Tom DeLay will recognize as a key player in bringing about his demise. In any event, she will be on the ballot in November along with appointee Herlinda Garcia, who succeeded State Rep. Mary Perez, and incumbents Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. In the second development, Navarro has drawn two opponents, Zeph Capo, the vice-president and legislative director for the Houston Federation of Teachers, and community and Democratic activist Kevin Hoffman, who lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. HCC Trustee races never get much attention, but this one will be as high profile as these races get.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll be taking a close look at the finance reports when they come out.

UPDATE: Whenever I write one of these posts, I’m going by what I’ve seen and heard. Until the July finance reports come out, there’s no easy way to compile a list of candidate names, unless you drop in on the City Secretary and ask to see the dead tree document of people who have filed designation of campaign treasurer forms. As such, I’m going to miss some people, and I inevitably hear about them after I publish.

Three such names have come to my attention since I posted this. One is former State Rep. Al Edwards, who apparently is actively campaigning for At Large #3. The second is Clyde Lemon, who according to Burt Levine is going to run against HISD Trustee Larry Marshall. Neither has a webpage or a campaign Facebook page that I can find, and Google told me nothing about their efforts, so make of that what you will.

The third candidate I’ve heard of since posting is Ron Hale, who is running in the increasingly large District A field. Hale left a bizarre comment on Levine’s Facebook page, saying that I’m “another blogger trying to keep [his] name out of the article as if it hurts my campaign” and “one person in the district A race is a contributor to off the cuff (sic)”. I have no idea what he’s talking about – I am of course the only “contributor” to Off the Kuff – but whatever. Ron Hale is also running for District A, and now you know.

Mayor Parker kicks off her campaign

It’s the time of the season for Mayor Parker, who has a serious challenger this time, but also a stronger hand to play.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

In her tenure, Parker has given teeth to the city’s historic preservation rules, broken a deadlock with Harris County to help build the Dynamo stadium, gave scandal-ridden Metro new leaders and revised key city codes governing parking and development, the latter of which had languished for six years.

She gave priority in city contracting to local firms, moved to make the troubled city crime lab independent from Houston Police Department, opened a facility to divert drunks from city jails and saw passage of a plan to erase a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits.

Parker oversaw a successful $410 million bond election last fall, and in 2010 welcomed voters’ approval of Rebuild Houston, an ambitious infrastructure renewal program.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said all signs favor Parker, whose only fear should be a low turnout that could see a small group swing the results. Jones said Parker lately has been able to focus on her own plans instead of inherited ills, such as replacing the Metro regime, scrambling to defer pension costs and dealing with legal wrangling over an inflexible red-light camera contract after voters banned the cameras in 2010.

“Bill White left her with a lot of messes to clean up. That, combined with a very tight budget as a result of the recession, led to a difficult first two years,” Jones said. “The second term has been much smoother sailing. The voter mood is going to be much more positive as people go to the polls this fall, and there’s going to be less of a tendency to want to cast a protest vote against the mayor than there was in 2011.”

Perhaps easing the incumbent’s road is the mood of the 16-member City Council, which lately has been more amenable than in recent years. A new convention center hotel, in which the city will invest $138 million, a rewrite of the city’s affirmative action policy and a law allowing motorists to be cited for failing to give cyclists and joggers a wide enough berth all passed without even a “tag,” the one-week delay typical on complex, controversial or high-profile topics.

The difference between the Mayor’s first term and the second is night and day. The first term was all about defense, which is to say all about things she had to deal with rather than things she wanted to deal with. That’s what her second term has been all about, and while she got a lot done in each term it’s much easier to build a campaign around offense. I’ve thought all along that she’d be in better shape this time around, and I still think that. A stronger opponent in 2011 and she’d have been in a runoff. She could still have a tough race this year, but at least the wind isn’t in her face.

The bit about Council is worth noting as well. Part of this is good luck on her part. Two of her biggest antagonists, Jolanda Jones and Mike Sullivan, are no longer on Council. The third, CO Bradford, was appointed Vice Mayor Pro Tem and has largely been a team player ever since. Her main thorn in the side is Helena Brown, and it’s hard to say that’s been a bad development for her since it’s a lot easier to look reasonable and accomplished opposite the likes of CM Brown. Basically, not only has the Mayor had the money to restore or enhance city services, the ability to move her own agenda forward, and a Council that has worked with her a lot more than it has worked against her. If she doesn’t feel better about this campaign than the last one, she ought to.

She entered the 2011 election with an approval rating of 47 percent, the lowest of any mayor in decades, narrowly avoiding a runoff despite spending $2.3 million and facing five poorly-funded unknowns. Political observers had said Parker needed a decisive win to prevent a challenge this year, and 50.8 percent of the vote was not it.

Enter Ben Hall, a wealthy lawyer capable of financing his own campaign who served as City Attorney from 1992 to 1994. Hall says city taxes and fees are driving residents to the suburbs. He says Parker lacks vision and wastes time tinkering with smartphone apps and food trucks while Houston misses opportunities for international business growth.

“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” Hall has said. “We need more than just a manager, we need a leader.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said there may be some truth in Hall’s statements, but he said these are not significant enough to ignite anti-incumbent passions, adding that Hall’s message has lacked the specificity voters need to choose him over Parker.

“Motivations for mayoral elections are more about tremendous things that have gone wrong as opposed to more or less a tweak to what’s going right,” Rottinghaus said. “He’s got to make a really compelling case as to why things need to be changed, and as of yet, I’m not sure we’ve seen that.”

Hall has made criticism of Parker’s vision, or lack of it, a main point of his campaign. That’s certainly a valid line of attack, but as I’ve said before, Hall’s own vision isn’t apparent. Rottinghaus makes a good point as well, in that generally speaking when trying to knock off an incumbent, you have to give people a reason to fire that incumbent before you can convince them that you’re a viable alternative. The case to fire the Mayor is harder to make when times are good and things are getting done. Plus, I think people generally like the Mayor. She has her share of opponents to be sure, but it’s not like we’re inundated with anti-Parker chatter. Her biggest challenge is going to be making sure that the people who do like her get out to vote. If I were her, I’d want turnout to exceed 2011’s anemic levels. Complacency is her enemy. Work that ground game and don’t settle for a small voter universe. In the meantime, I’ll be very interested to see what the June campaign finance reports look like, not just for how much each candidate raises but also for who is giving to whom. Parker has always had a broad fundraising base, and she starts out with a fair amount of cash. Hall can write his own check, but having his own broad base and getting support from sources that have given to Parker before would be a strong statement on his part. We’ll see how that goes.

Transition, schmansition

Don Sumners, ladies and gentlemen.

We won’t miss you, Don

“There is no transition,” said lame-duck Tax Assessor-Collector Don Sumners.

The occasionally cantankerous 73-year-old anti-tax taxman said he and his two predecessors came in cold, and [Tax Assessor-elect Mike] Sullivan will have to do the same.

“Frankly, I guess, it’s a little bit of bitterness on my part that he chose to run against me when really there wasn’t anything that I had done that would justify an opponent from my own party, and that he chose to, in effect, buy his way in with the slate votes,” Sumners said, referring to endorsements Sullivan received after contributing to prominent conservatives’ groups or advertising in their newsletters. “I just don’t feel like I owe him anything. He’s not qualified, he shouldn’t have run, so he’s just going to have to work it out when he gets here.

“I just decided to be uncooperative, I guess,” Sumners continued. “I was, quote, pissed.”

Sumners is the embodiment of the philosophy that says just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to act like a grownup. I don’t need to note Sumners’ many, many screwups as Tax Assessor to point out how ridiculous he sounds here, do I? I don’t know how much actual transition is needed for a job like this, but it shouldn’t matter. We expect elected officials to not act like spoiled children, even after losing an election. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Don.

Precinct analysis: City and county

If you know a little something about Excel (or in my case, OpenOffice Calc, which has the same basic functionality), it’s fairly straightforward to calculate the vote totals and percentages for various candidates in various county, state, or federal districts. These districts are well-defined, and by that I mean they contain a certain number of precincts in their entirity, and two districts of the same classification (i.e., two State Rep districts) have no overlap between them. (That actually isn’t exactly right, but it’s close enough to not worry about.) It’s not the same for determining the vote in the city of Houston versus the rest of Harris County. City boundaries do not conform to precinct boundaries. There are numerous precincts that are part Houston and part not-Houston. When I first tried to do this, after the 2008 election, I wound up counting a number of non-Houston votes as being from the city, which had the effect of underestimating the Democratic percentage by two or three points. After getting some feedback on this, I refined my methodology and got a result that I thought was more accurate. It’s definitely an estimate, but I’m confident it’s in the ballpark.

This year, I have the benefit of the city of Houston bonds and charter amendments on the ballot, which identify all of the precincts that contain city of Houston voters. Obviously, I don’t want to count all of the votes in each of those precincts as being city of Houston, for the reasons given above. You can look at the individual precincts and see a handful of bond votes but hundreds or thousands of Presidential votes, so you know you can’t count the whole precincts. What I wound up doing was counting the votes in any precinct that had at least ten Yes votes for Proposition B, the parks bond that was the biggest winner among the bonds, as Houston precincts. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough. Here’s what I got from doing that:

Candidate Votes R Votes Pct ===================================== Garcia 381,103 211,886 64.3% Obama 371,755 242,953 60.7% Ryan 370,181 225,952 62.1% Trautman 367,587 226,185 61.9% Hampton 359,110 227,134 61.2% Sadler 356,630 242,658 59.5% Petty 356,110 225,061 61.3% Bennett 353,317 234,256 60.5% Henry 342,986 240,103 58.8% Oliver 342,701 252,168 57.6%

By this calculation, which remember is as much approximation as anything else, Obama lost 0.3 percentage points from 2008, while Adrian Garcia lost about a point and a half. This is consistent with the amount they lost overall from 2008, so again I feel pretty confident. You can see that Garcia, Vince Ryan, and Diane Trautman all attracted some Republican support, while Mike Anderson, Christi Craddick, and Mike Sullivan all drew Democratic support.

Here’s the flipside, non-Houston Harris County, which is simply the totals above subtracted from the overalls:

Candidate Votes R Votes Pct ===================================== Garcia 230,860 310,551 42.6% Ryan 215,781 326,609 39.8% Trautman 214,896 326,012 39.7% Obama 213,696 341,913 38.5% Petty 208,702 321,146 39.4% Hampton 207,229 326,415 38.1% Bennett 206,689 328,248 38.6% Sadler 206,325 338,539 37.9% Oliver 199,443 343,351 36.7% Henry 198,206 334,588 37.2%

Pretty much what you’d expect based on the first set of results, with the exception of Paul Sadler sliding down a few spots, for which I’d blame – again – his lack of resources. I read these amazing stories about the turnout effort in Ohio, and I ask myself again what that might look like if it were ever tried here. I don’t really have anything more to add to this, so I’ll leave it here and we’ll continue with more analysis later.

Speeding tickets and vehicle registration

I confess, I’m puzzled by this.

Municipal Court Presiding Judge Barbara Hartle has a proposal on Wednesday’s City Council agenda to sign an agreement with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles that would have the state refuse to issue vehicle registrations to people who have outstanding traffic fines.

As proposed by Hartle, by investing about $20,000 a year into compiling lists of scofflaws and coordinating with the state, the city could reap a windfall of $432,000 a year in higher collections.

Two years ago, a similar proposal involving red-light camera runners was rebuffed by the county. City officials had proposed registration holds on red-light runners caught on camera. It required the buy-in of the county tax assessor-collector, who issues license plates and stickers. Leo Vasquez, then the tax collector, agreed to the deal and made the pitch to Commissioners Court. Because the county gets a cut of the fee when it issues a registration and would, essentially, be forfeiting revenue for cracking down on city scofflaws, Commissioners Court rejected the deal.

This time, the tax collector who would be in charge of placing the holds sits on the council, and he does not like Hartle’s plan. District E Councilman Mike Sullivan was elected tax assessor-collector this month and will leave the council in January when he is sworn in at the county.

“In my mind, it’s nothing more than an attempt to have the county collect fees and fines that the city should collect on their own,” Sullivan said. “It looks like the mayor wants to push this over to the county as another layer of enforcement to collect money for the city.”

Sullivan said he opposes the arrangement as he intends to fulfill campaign promises to shorten the lines at the tax office windows. In addition, he said he is worried that holds could mistakenly be placed on people who do not owe fines.

I understood the county not wanting to help with enforcing the collection of red light camera fines. This I have a harder time with. There’s no policy dispute about the legitimacy of the fines being imposed as there was with red light cameras. I appreciate Sullivan’s concerns about possibly ensnaring someone who doesn’t owe a fine, but surely this is a less intrusive approach than involving a collection agency or filing a lawsuit, which would be the options left to the city. This would also be by far the least expensive way to collect outstanding fines, which makes it the most efficient use of taxpayer money. I don’t get the reluctance to get involved. I note that the last time this issue came up, the ultimate decision rested with Commissioners Court, who overruled then-Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez on red light camera fine enforcement. Tax Assessor-Elect Sullivan’s disapproval may therefore not be the final word on this.

UPDATE: Today’s story, from after Council approved the plan on a 14-1 vote, adds some more detail and shows a possible path forward.

Council’s action essentially means scofflaws will not be able to renew their registrations on the DMV website. Instead, they will have to go to the window at the tax office, where tax assessor Don Sumners said he will continue to issue registrations even if the state prints the word “scofflaw” on their renewal forms.

“I don’t think they (the city) could pay us enough for the services it would cause.We don’t have enough people as it is,” Sumners said.

[…]

Sullivan said he also believes the city should not offload its collections operations onto county government. He left the door open to a deal after he is sworn in as tax assessor in January, though, if City Attorney David Feldman is the city’s broker.

“He’s apolitical,” Sullivan said. “This administration is nothing but political and has not been honest and direct and transparent with me as a council member. However, Mr. Feldman has always been fair with me in all of my dealings.”

So there you have it.

Endorsement watch: Martin and Sullivan

The Chron can’t quite believe that Steve Stockman is on the verge of being foisted on us again as a member of Congress, so they do what they can by endorsing his opponent, Max Martin.

Max Martin

Max Martin is a credible, if long-shot, candidate. Martin, a retired pilot who now owns an education software business in Clear Lake, is our endorsement choice over the stealth candidate Stockman to represent this economically diverse district. Martin is an old-school Texas Democrat, whose moderate, pro-business views should have appeal to many Republicans in the district, which includes refineries, Gulf fisheries, ranches and timbering operations. Constituents include blue-collar workers, small business owners and a growing number of retirees from out of state.

Martin, who came to live in southeast Houston with his family in 1955, has an admirable history as a self-starter. He also possesses an encyclopedic geographic knowledge of the area from his many years as a short-haul pilot for private businesses and Metro Airlines. In every sense he presents himself as someone truly representative of this district. By contrast, Stockman strikes us as a political opportunist whose out-of-the-mainstream views would not serve District 36 residents well.

We recommend a vote for Max Martin to represent Texas House District 36.

Martin had previously collected the endorsement of the Beaumont Enterprise as well. Sadly, CD36 was drawn to be heavily Republican, and even with the financial resources to mount the kind of campaign needed to alert people to what a whackjob Stockman is, it would be an uphill climb. And with the likes of Louie Gohmert in Congress these days, Stockman doesn’t even stand out as particularly crazy anymore.

Elsewhere, the Chron writes the last of the endorsement editorials for candidates listed on their master list by recommending Mike Sullivan for Harris County Tax Assessor.

Mike Sullivan

Over the past 15 years or so, the office of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector has been deliberately but needlessly politicized. It shouldn’t have been – and we’re confident it won’t be again if county voters elect Mike Sullivan in the Nov. 6 election.

Sullivan, the current Houston City Council member and former trustee of the Humble Independent School District board, has built a reputation as a straight shooter with facts and public finances. That is precisely what is required of a tax assessor-collector.

The assessor-collector’s office is where residents and taxpayers go, often online, to register their vehicles, pay their property taxes and register to vote.

It is, by definition, a service department, not a roost for partisans, whether Republican or Democrat, to spread their views on political issues.

The reason is clear: The constitutionally ordained duty of voter registration does not mix well – or at all – with politicking.

Perhaps it is churlish of me to point this out, but “over the past 15 years or so”, the office of Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector has been exclusively held by Republicans. Paul Bettencourt won a special election in 1998 to replace Carl Smith after he passed away earlier that year, and after him came Leo Vasquez and now Don Sumners. Maybe, just maybe, that might have had something to do with the problem that the Chron so astutely identifies, and if so maybe electing another Republican isn’t the optimal solution to it. I’m just saying. Sullivan, to his credit, says the right things about focusing on the clerical aspects of the job. If he is elected, I sure hope he lives up to that. But I still think that a real change is needed here, and to that effect I’ll be voting for Ann Harris Bennett. By the way, in case you missed it, here’s the Chron overview story of this race – there’s a Libertarian candidate as well – which appeared in the print edition a week ago but which I couldn’t find online until a few days after that.

30 Day finance reports, Harris County candidates

Here’s a look at the 30 day campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates. All reports can be found by going to the Harris County Clerk campaign finance reports page.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ========================================================== Garcia Sheriff 192,670 120,957 0 388,197 Guthrie Sheriff 158,700 48,633 171,000 98,152 Alessi Sheriff 1,019 2,007 700 1,719 Oliver DA 3,125 6,213 0 3,125 Anderson DA 136,555 41,685 0 128,241 Ryan County Atty 24,775 79,799 0 88,714 Talton County Atty 24,922 3,952 39,250 15,286 Bennett HCTA 6,630 7,220 1,690 3,217 Sullivan HCTA 20,950 23,115 10,000 2,396 Trautman HCDE 1,685 2,704 0 8,090 Wolfe HCDE 100 750 0 109 EF Lee Com Ct 16,543 49,689 0 3,328,226 Maricle Com Ct 1,765 9,811 2,500 1,502 Radack Com Ct 39,750 28,403 0 808,390 McPherson Com Ct 0 0 0 0 Cagle Com Ct 197,106 129,312 0 203,657 Hammerle Com Ct 225 883 1,176 9 Rosen Constable 51,531 55,130 5,000 16,447 Danna Constable 18,800 15,852 0 2,568 Diaz Constable 31,750 34,163 10,815 31,837 McDonald Constable 1,645 2,151 0 0 Jones Constable 6,876 17,314 0 26,221 Cruzan Constable 31,970 7,506 552 20,720 E Lee HCDE 0 1,550 0 0 Pack HCDE 610 550 0 1,625 Mintz HCDE 0 0 0 0 Smith HCDE 500 0 0 530

My thoughts:

– You don’t need me to point out that the Sheriff’s race is the one where the money is. No other race is particularly close; one wonders how the DA race would have played out with a different result in the Democratic primary. Sheriff Garcia has 10 donors that gave at least $5,000 each – nine who gave exactly that amount, and Don McGill, who donated a whopping $50,000. Louis Guthrie has only six $5K+ donors, but each of them gave at least $10K apiece. It’s not clear to me why Guthrie has not spent more.

– Speaking of not spending more, I’m not sure why Mike Anderson is sitting on his cash like that, though I suppose he could be planning to unload it this month. I certainly expect Anderson to win, but given how he says he’d deal with losing, I’d not be taking any chances. A couple of mailers to Democratic voters reminding them of Lloyd Oliver’s idiocy and the fact that even the HCDP didn’t want him on the ticket might not be a bad idea.

– Again on the spending theme, the disparity between Vince Ryan and Robert Talton is notable. Maybe there isn’t much that can be done at the County Attorney level to overcome the predominant partisan tendencies, but we won’t know from this race.

– Wasn’t there more money in the Tax Assessor’s race last time? Checking the July and 30 day reports for Paul Bettencourt and Diane Trautman, the answer is Yes, there was more money in that race in 2008. Your guess as to why that is not the case this year is as good as mine.

– Given all this, that’s a lot of money in the Constable races. Again, you tell me what that’s all about.

– I have no idea why El Franco Lee needs $3 million in his campaign account. What in the world is he ever going to use it on? I can’t think of any good reason why anyone would want to add to that.

That’s all I’ve got. What do you see in these numbers?

District E overview

Here’s the Chron overview of the special election in City Council District E to replace CM Mike Sullivan.

David Martin

The establishment guy is David Martin, a member of the Humble Independent School District board. Until he resigned in August, he was one of Mayor Annise Parker’s appointees to the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. He has the endorsement of incumbent Mike Sullivan, who is resigning the seat to run for county tax assessor-collector with a year left in his council term. Martin is the only candidate who has organizational endorsements, including those of the Houston Police Officers’ Union and the Houston Apartment Association, as well as from former District E Councilman Rob Todd and state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble. He is a managing director at Marsh & McLennan Companies.

Elizabeth Perex

He is cut from the same cloth as Sullivan, who is among the chief critics of the mayor and representative of the district where Parker fared poorly in her re-election last year. Martin describes himself as “a Republican, fiscal conservative, a Christian. I believe in good schools, I’m pro-business.”

Lonnie Allsbrooks

Yet, unlike his opponents, he is not throwing rocks at City Hall.

“I want to work with the mayor to get things done for District E,” Martin says. “I think she respects me and I respect her.”

The upstarts: Lonnie Allsbrooks and Elizabeth Perez.

Here are the candidates’ websites: Martin, Perez, Allsbrooks. As of this morning, Perez and Martin had 30-day campaign finance reports filed; she showed a paltry $375 raised and $1500 spent, with a $4500 outstanding loan to herself, while he raised $15,150, spent $3,742, and had $11,407 on hand. Martin is a first time candidate for Council, Perez finished third in the open At Large #2 race in 2011, Allsbrooks finished last among eight candidates for At Large #1 in 2009. Martin is also the lone Kingwood candidate, and the last two Council members from District E have been from Kingwood. I did not have the bandwidth to try to schedule interviews with these candidates, so I can’t give you an impression of them beyond that. (I did interview Allsbrooks in 2009.) If you live in District E, what is your impression of these candidates?

Three for E

There will probably be more when all is said and done, but at this time there are three candidates running for District E this November.

The candidates are:

Lonnie Allsbrooks – Former owner of Beer Island bar in the Heights. Ran for At-Large Position 1 council seat in 2009. Moved to Kingwood earlier this year. Wants to promote restaurant/hospitality industry issues.

Dave Martin — Humble Independent School District trustee, Harris County-Houston Sports Authority board member. Clear favorite of Sullivan, who served with him on the Humble board. Managing partner at Marsh McLennan, a professional services and insurance brokerage firm.

Elizabeth Perez – self-employed accountant who lives near Hobby Airport, plaintiff in unsuccessful suit to overturn the city’s drainage fee. Ran for At-Large Position 2 council seat last year.

Sullivan submitted his resignation last month. I presume the filing deadline for this will be in September sometime. Candidates from Kingwood have won the last two times the seat was open. We’ll see if that streak continues.

UPDATE: As noted by outgoing CM Sullivan in the comments, the filing deadline for District E has passed, and these three candidates are it. I guess I thought it would be later than this because that’s usually how it is for city elections; the filing deadline in 2011 was September 7. Be that as it may, this is your lineup. My thanks to CM Sullivan for the correction.

Here come the city bonds

For your approval.

Houston voters will decide in November whether local governments can borrow more than $2.7 billion for schools, parks, libraries and public safety.

City Council OK’d its portion of that total Wednesday, a $410 million package of bond measures. The crowded and costly ballot during a presidential election has some questioning whether voters will balk at the price tag.

“I think the voters are going to most likely turn down all bond referendums on the November ballot,” Councilman Mike Sullivan said. “There is very little sentiment for more tax dollars to be spent right now on virtually anything. You can look at the Cruz campaign and the way that that election turned out, and there’s a message there. People are fed up. People are tired of excessive spending.”

Sure, because a statewide Republican primary runoff is exactly like a Presidential year general election in a city that voted 61% for Obama in 2008. Makes total sense to me.

The bond measures come up this year as part of a routine cycle of going to voters every five to seven years for the equivalent of pre-approval for a mortgage so the city can borrow money to fix and replace its buildings, parks, streets and drainage.

The city’s last bond package of $625 million received voter approval in 2006. This year’s proposals would pay for the city’s recently approved five-year capital improvement projects list, which includes new police and fire stations, library renovations, playgrounds installed in parks and repairs to health and sanitation department facilities. By city ordinance, about $4.8 million will be spent on civic art as part of the projects.

Price tag aside, the campaigns face a challenge in educating voters about so many propositions, said Michael Adams, professor of political science at Texas Southern University.

“There can be some ballot fatigue in terms of the number of items” voters are being asked to understand and decide on,” Adams said.

All due respect to Prof. Adams, but I’d like to see some empirical data before accepting that proposition as fact. Heck, I’m not even sure what that evidence would look like. How do you measure “ballot fatigue”? How does a fatigued voter differ from a non-fatigued voter? Seems to me that such a voter would skip voting on a referendum, not stick it out to the end in order to vote against it in a fatigued fit of pique. Show me how you can measure this, and then I’ll tell you if I buy it.

One thing I can tell you is that there’s already a campaign going on to generate support for the parks referendum, which is Proposition B. We got a call on Tuesday night – before Council officially approved the ballot item – from Parks By You asking us to support it. An email sent to a neighborhood mailing list from another recipient of a Parks By You call suggests they’re already hard at work. Will there be organized opposition to this bond, or any of the others? That’s always the question. You can see more details on the bond referenda here, and Stace has more.

July campaign finance reports for Harris County candidates

You know the drill by now.

Office Candidate Raised Spent Cash Loans ============================================================ Sheriff A Garcia 47,025 41,900 357,818 0 Sheriff L Guthrie 70,176 75,646 33,075 157,000 Sheriff C Pittman 11,309 11,566 5,217 24,000 DA M Anderson 73,888 60,980 33,371 0 DA L Oliver 0 150 0 0 County Atty V Ryan 56,571 33,047 145,606 0 County Atty R Talton 7,250 17,359 2,020 39,250 Tax Assessor M Sullivan 2,900 24,126 1,966 20,000 Tax Assessor A Bennett 8,500 5,344 3,657 0 HCDE Pos 3 M Wolfe 0 0 9 0 HCDE Pos 3 D Trautman 6,674 1,722 8,849 0 Commish 1 EF Lee 307,025 199,407 3.2 M 0 Commish 1 C Maricle 0 4,085 3,520 2,500 Commish 3 S Radack 86,250 63,619 797,044 0 Commish 3 G McPherson Commish 4 J Cagle 16,850 36,738 178,700 0 Commish 4 S Hammerle 1,348 2,918 357 866 HCDE Pos 4 K Smith 0 0 31 0 HCDE Pos 4 S Mintz 710 2,000 506 0 HCDE Pos 6 E Lee 17,255 20,769 0 0 HCDE Pos 6 J Johnson HCDE Pos 6 BartlettPack Constable 1 C VaraLeija 32,264 3,056 13,404 0 Constable 1 A Rosen 54,811 69,130 16,600 0 Constable 1 S Danna 0 2,299 0 3,500 Constable 2 Z Guinn 12,275 2,669 9,637 0 Constable 2 C Diaz 9,950 11,748 28 23,337 Constable 2 C McDonald 0 2,013 0 0

My comments:

Some candidates do their fundraising through committees. These are the reports you have to check, their personal reports will show nothing. Such candidates include Adrian Garcia, Mike Anderson (I made this mistake with him before), and Jack Cagle.

I didn’t blog about this story about the colorful histories of Garcia opponents Louis Guthrie and Carl Pittman, so I figured this was as good a place as any to include it. I’m sure we’ll hear plenty more about it during the campaign.

Believe it or not, there was an actual debate between Mike Anderson and Lloyd Oliver. The mind reels. You can find links to footage of the debate here. I will note that Oliver did apparently manage to file a finance report this time, but it has not been posted on the County Clerk website as of this publication.

Vince Ryan seems to have learned from the example of his predecessor, Mike Stafford, who hadn’t raised much money for his 2008 campaign. I’d have thought Talton would have raised more by now as well, but then Ryan didn’t raise much as a challenger, either. That may just be how it is for County Attorney hopefuls.

Erica Lee not only has a July finance report up, she also has an eight day report, which covers the period of July 15 through July 18, up for viewing. She raised an additional $825 and spent $10,407 during this time period. Neither Jarvis Johnson nor JuLuette Bartlett-Pack, the GOP candidate, has a report of any kind that I can see. A. Robert Hassan, opposing Steve Radack for County Commissioner in Precinct 3, also has no report.

Cindy Vara-Leija does have a report filed, but like Oliver’s it is not viewable. As her filing date is given as July 16, I have no idea why this is so.

Chris McDonald is listed on the campaign finance reports page as being a candidate for Commissioners Court, but his actual finance report correctly lists him as a candidate for Constable in Precinct 2.

All right, that’ll do it till the 30 day reports. Is there anything in here that stands out to you?

UPDATE: Per the comments, I incorrectly identified A. Robert Hassan as the winner of the Dem primary for County Commissioner in Precinct 3. Gloria McPherson won that race, but like Hassan she has no report filed. The reports for Cindy Vara-Leija and Lloyd Oliver are now visible on the County Clerk site, and I have filled in the appropriate values for them. Still no reports for Jarvis Johnson or JuLuette Bartlett-Pack. Finally, in going over all this again I realize that I managed to overlook the Tax Assessor race in my initial roundup. I have included the totals for Mike Sullivan and Ann Harris Bennett as well. My apologies for the oversight.

UPDATE: Added in totals from Commissioner Precinct 1 at the request of Republican candidate Chuck Maricle. Commissioner El Franco Lee’s cash on hand total is $3,279,326, but I didn’t leave enough room in that column for a seven-figure total, so I abbreviated.