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Pearland

The June elections

You may not realize this, but there are multiple elections going on right now around Texas. I’m aware of three:

1. The Klein ISD Tax Ratification Election:

Our shared vision in Klein ISD is that every student enters with a promise and exits with a purpose. In order to make our vision a reality for EVERY student, we need resources. We believe it’s important that every member of the Klein community understands how our schools are funded by the State and local taxpayers. For example, you might be surprised to know that as your home value grows causing you to pay higher school taxes, the State decreases their share of funding.

The above videos explain the current school funding system and the impact it has on the Klein ISD budget. It also explains steps the district has taken over the years to maintain the current educational programs.

See here and here for some news coverage about this election. I only know about it because Klein ISD is in Harris County, up near the Woodlands, and I’ve been getting the daily early vote totals for it. The EV period for this is over and the election itself is tomorrow, the 16th. You can find your polling place here if that applies to you. I’ve no idea why this is being held now as opposed to the May uniform election date, but you can learn more about TREs and why school boards need to have them here and here.

2. The Pearland City Council runoff:

After neither candidate garnered more than 50 percent of the vote as polls closed Saturday, Adrian Hernandez and Dalia Kasseb will face each other in a runoff next month to decide who will be the next Position 4 council member.

“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support. … I’m excited to keep going,” Hernandez said. “It’s no different today than it was yesterday or how it will be tomorrow. I’ve been serving the city and I’ll keep doing that. I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

It’s a familiar result for Kasseb, who faced six candidates in 2017 for a council position before ultimately losing to Woody Owens in a runoff for Position 7.

“I am buoyed to know I can count on growing support from the community,” Kasseb said. “We will continue the fight to become that voice for all on city council and be the solution to the challenges we face in our rapidly growing community.”

In early vote totals, Hernandez had a winning margin of votes, but as Election Day ballots were counted, both Kasseb and G. Sonny Atkins picked away at his lead.

“She’s a formidable opponent,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to look to those people we have not reached yet and fill in those gaps.”

Pearland City Council has staggered three-year terms, so they have elections for a subset of their members every year. Mike Snyder had a decent overview of this a couple of weeks ago. Like the Klein ISD TRE, this one will happen on Saturday, as early voting ended on Tuesday. Voting location information is here and a map is here. At least the runoff this year seems to be a lot less ugly than last year’s was.

3. The special election in CD27.

Twice.

That’s the number of times candidates for Texas’ 27th Congressional District have already had their names on a ballot. For months they’ve traveled the district, shaken hands, and gone to meet and greets. They’ll need to get used to that campaign trail.

That’s because even when the top two contenders to fill the seat — Republican Michael Cloud and Democrat Eric Holguin — arose, the battle on the ballot was still far from over.

Voters will next cast their ballots in the June 30 special election. There could be two more elections after that as well. At the very least there’s one more in November.

[…]

The winner will be in office for less than a year.

That time could be cut down even more if one of the nine candidates on the ballot does not get more than half of the votes. If that happens, a runoff would follow.

When voters head to the polls they’ll see nine names on the ballot — Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Independents alike.

Three of those names should be familiar to voters: Holguin, Cloud and Raul “Roy” Barrera. Win or lose in the special election Holguin, a Democrat, and Cloud, a Republican, will face off again in the November general election.

On the last election night, Holguin said the primary runoff election’s outcome would play a “huge role” going into June.

“It shows who the top two candidates are,” he said. “I know there are nine candidates, but we are the ones that are going to be going face to face in November. So we’re the ones that people are going to be paying attention to and really focusing on.”

Last month, Bech Bruun, who lost to Cloud in May, endorsed the former Victoria GOP chair, asking people to vote for him in both June and November. Bruun’s name still will appear on the June ballot.

Bruun said a large part of the endorsement was so hopefully his supporters would switch to Cloud and a runoff would be avoided.

The Corpus Christi Caller also endorsed Cloud for the special election, though they reserved the right to change their mind for November. TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa endorsed Eric Holguin, as the only chance Dems have is in a low-turnout context with the bulk of Dem votes going to Holguin. I don’t care for his odds, but we’ll see if the trend of Dems cutting into Republican margins from 2016 holds here. Early voting for this one started on Wednesday, with E-Day on June 30. Oh, and just so we’re clear, Blake Farenthold is still a leech.

But wait! I hear you cry. Wasn’t there also supposed to be a runoff in the special election for HD13? Yes there was, and no there won’t be.

Following a March 6 Primary Election, May 5 Special Election and a May 22 Primary Runoff Election, former Grimes County Judge Ben Leman will take the oath of office Thursday, May 31, as the new Texas State Representative of District 13.

According to the Texas Secretary of State office, Leman was considered duly elected to fill the vacated seat for the remainder of the current term following the withdrawal of opponent Jill Wolfskill from the runoff special election that was set to occur in late summer. Wolfskill made a formal concession from the race May 23 via her Facebook page and submitted a “signed, notarized withdrawal to the office of the Secretary of State” to announce her decision.

“I want to say a big thank you to my family, friends, supporters, and volunteers on the Jill Wolfskill campaign these past four months,” said Wolfskill. “Running this race in has been a great honor and I am so blessed by the amazing support I received, and by the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet throughout this district.”

Wolfskill and Leman had both previously made public comments regarding the concession of the candidate who received the least number of votes in the May 22 Primary Runoff Election to prevent unnecessary financial burdens to the seven counties in House District 13. Leman took the majority of the 14,602 votes with 57.33 percent, while Wolfskill had 43.03 percent.

Leman still has to win the November election against Cecil Webster, but if he does he will have a head start in seniority over his fellow members of the class of 2018. And the good news is we should get the entire month of July off from elections.

May 5 election results

Martha Castex Tatum

Martha Castex-Tatum is your winner of the District K special election. She dominated in Harris County with over 65% of the vote, and while she finished below fifty percent in Fort Bend County, she had more than enough votes to clear the bar. By my highly unofficial count, she got 59.7% of the vote overall. Congratulations to Martha Castex-Tatum on her victory.

In the HD13 special election, the two Republican candidates will run it off in June for the right to get a bump in seniority over other members of the legislative class of 2018. Cecil Webster appears to be on track to finish a point or so behind his November 2016 percentage, but about seven points ahead of his 2015 special election percentage. Would have been nice to say he ran ahead of the 2016 numbers, but it didn’t happen. Thanks to the contentious primary runoff, there was a lot more money spent on the Republican candidates in this race.

Other races that I mentioned along the way: Dalia Kasseb is headed for a runoff in her Pearland City Council race. She made it to a runoff in a different Council race last year but came up short from there. Daniel Hernandez lost in Pearland ISD, and Monique Rodriguez also lost in her race for Deer Park ISD.

Next up: Primary runoffs. Early voting begins a week from Monday, May 14. I’ll have plenty of info on those races coming up.

Early voting for the May 5 elections begins today

From the inbox:

EARLY VOTING BEGINS FOR HOUSTON COUNCIL DISTRICT K 

Local jurisdictions, including schools, emergency, and utility districts, also holding May 5 Elections

Houston, TX –Early Voting for the May 5, 2018 City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election begins Monday, April 23rd.  The Early Voting period for this election cycle runs thru Tuesday, May 1st.

In Harris County, four sites will be available for 86,000 District K registered voters to cast a ballot in person before Election Day.  The Early Voting locations include, the Harris County Administrative Bldg. (1001 Preston, 4th  Floor), Fiesta Mart (8130 Kirby Dr.), Hiram Clarke Multi-Service Center  (3810 W. Fuqua St.), and Platou Community Center (11655 Chimney Rock Rd.).

“The Harris County Early Voting locations are only available to individuals who are registered to vote in Harris County within Houston’s Council District K,” said Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the County. The hours of operation for the Harris County Early Voting sites are as follows:

·         April 23 – 27: 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 28: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
·         April 29: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
·         April 30 – May 1: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The majority of Houston Council District K is located between Brays Bayou and Almeda in Southwest Harris County.  However, a portion of District K which comprises a fifth of the electorate is located in Fort Bend County.  District K registered voters residing in Fort Bend County must contact the Fort Bend County Election Office for information regarding the May 5th Election.

Aside from the City of Houston election, over 70 political entities in Harris County, including school, emergency, and utility districts, are conducting an election on May 5th.

“While my office is only conducting the City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election, all Harris County registered voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com to determine if they reside in one of the 70 jurisdictions that are holding an election on May 5th,” informed Stanart.

For more information about the May 5th City of Houston Council Member District K Special Election and the May 22nd Democratic and Republican Primary Runoff Elections voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.  Voters may also visit the website to determine if theyare eligible to vote in an upcoming election or review the list of acceptable forms of identification to vote at the polls.

You can see the map and schedule for Harris County, which is to say District K, here. Fort Bend County voters, including those in District K, you can find your early voting information here.

The District K special election is the only election being conducted by the Harris County Clerk. There are some local elections being held in Harris County, including Deer Park ISD and Galena Park municipal elections. There’s just one race for Deer Park ISD, and you can find information about that here, including a nice profile of candidate Monique Rodriguez, who has the endorsement of both the Harris County AFL-CIO and the Area 5 Democrats. For Galena Park, that information can be found here. I know nothing about those candidates.

A little farther out, the city of Pearland and Pearland ISD have regularly scheduled elections. Here’s the information for the city of Pearland and for Pearland ISD. These elections are being conducted by the Brazoria County Clerk, so early voting information for each can be found here. One candidate in each race has been Texas Democratic Party: Dalia Kasseb for Pearland City Council Position 4 – she fell short in a runoff for Council last year – and Daniel Hernandez for Pearland ISD School Board Trustee Position 4. There are also elections in Friendswood – a list of candidates there and in Pearland is here – but as with Galena Park I know nothing about any of them.

There are other elections around the state, as well as the special election in HD13 featuring Cecil Webster. I suggest you check with your county clerk or elections administrator if you’re not sure if there’s a reason for you to vote. Hot on the heels of this are the primary runoffs, on May 22, so if you’re not voting now you’ll be able to soon.

What are the elections of interest this May?

That’s a question I’m asking as well as one I’m trying to answer. Normally, there are no elections in May of any kind of year for Houston folks, though there are some for parts of Harris County and surrounding areas. This year for the uniform election date of May 5 we do have the special election in City Council District K to succeed the late CM Larry Green. The filing deadline for this is March 26, so we should know in very short order who is in the running.

We should also know by March 26 whether that firefighters pay parity proposal will be on the ballot or not. The firefighters would like to know about that, too.

There is one legislative special election on tap for May 5. State Rep. Leighton Schubert in HD13 stepped down earlier this year, so this race is to fill out the remainder of his term. That doesn’t really mean much unless the winner of that race also wins in November, in which case he or she will have a seniority advantage over all the other members of the class of 2018. If I’m reading this list correctly, there are three candidates – Democrat Cecil Webster, Republican Ben Leman, and Republican Jill Wolfskill. Webster is on the November ballot – he also ran in 2016, getting 21.4% against Schubert in a district that voted 76.8% to 20.4% for Donald Trump. Leman and Wolfskill are in the runoff for the GOP nomination. If Webster can somehow make it to the runoff for this, even with the low stakes, it would be quite the achievement.

Closer to home, I know there are elections in Pearland for Pearland City Council – they have three-year terms, so they have elections every year – and Pearland ISD – I don’t know offhand what their terms are, but as you can see on the election results page, they have those races every year as well. Dalia Kasseb, who ran a strong race for Pearland City Council last year, is making another run this year. She is on the list of TDP-endorsed Project LIFT slate, as is Al Lloyd for Pearland ISD.

There are other races on that slate, though none in the Houston area. I’ve seen ads on Facebook for a candidate running for Deer Park ISD, but at this time I know nothing about her. Ballotpedia says these are three-year terms but there isn’t a page for 2018 yet. These elections are apparently not conducted by the Harris County Clerk, and I’m not seeing anything on the DPISD Board of Trustees webpage, so I’m throwing this out to y’all – if you know anything about this, please leave a comment and let me know.

So there you have what I know about elections for this May. What am I missing? Please fill me in.

Cricket in Houston

If cricket ever becomes a big deal in the US, the Houston region will play a key role in that.

Houston has had adult [cricket] leagues since the 1970s. Most players, then and now, are from Commonwealth countries – nations once ruled by the British Empire where cricket remains incredibly popular – including India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Caribbean nations. In that way, American cricket remains insular. The sport continues to grow in popularity as more immigrants from Asia, Africa and Oceania settle in Houston, but native-born Americans rarely encounter a cricket pitch.

Yet the same could be said for the relationship between Americans and soccer before the 1970s and ’80s. Since then, soccer has thrived at the high school and college levels, and the sport’s popularity supports men’s and women’s professional leagues. Millions of Americans watch European soccer leagues, whose games are now broadcast by U.S. networks. Cricketers see a similar path for growth.

Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world, behind soccer. More than 1.5 billion fans watched the 2015 Cricket World Cup. Created in England in the 16th century, cricket is a parent, or at least an estranged uncle, of baseball. The sports are similar in that a batsman (batter) hits a ball to score runs while a bowler (pitcher) and fielders try to get him out. The similarities dwindle after that, but both could be summed up as being played at a sometimes leisurely pace punctuated by moments of excitement.

But to have any hopes of following in the footsteps of soccer, American cricketers have to surmount two glaring obstacles: how to convince local governments to build more pitches and how to nudge Americans without a Commonwealth heritage to give it a try.

The Houston Cricket League plays on 10 grounds in the Houston area, stretching from Wallis to Pearland to Humble. Several coaches were quick to praise Harris County Judge Ed Emmett for favoring public support for cricket, but conceded that lobbying politicians is often a challenge.

“The city officials, probably when we go talk to them, you first have to explain what cricket is. They have no clue,” Sushil Nadkarni said with a chuckle. “It could be as simple as some other game they’ve never heard of, or it could be like croquet, as far as they’re concerned.”

Nadkarni, a former captain of the U.S. national team who is regarded as one of the best Americans to ever play the game, lives in Katy and runs a cricket academy for youth players. An Indian immigrant, he moved to Texas to get his master’s degree in engineering.

He envisions a cricket farm system similar to baseball that develops young players and feeds the best to the national team. A tinge of envy in his voice, he described how Ireland and Afghanistan, despite their small size, recently were promoted to test status, the highest level of international cricket.

Surely, the U.S. should follow. With more kids joining leagues, talk of cricket becoming an Olympic sport and the ability to watch international cricket through streaming services, Nadkarni believes cricket is on the verge of exploding in popularity here. He brought many of his academy players to watch last Sunday’s match.

They play cricket in San Antonio, which also has a decent-sized South Asian population, as well. As the story notes, the first cricket stadium in America, a 2000-seat facility financed by a local businessman, was built in Pearland in 2013. International professional cricket players have settled here and are working to build the sport. I can see this happening, but crossing over from the population that already loves it to the much larger population that knows nothing about it will be the big challenge.

There is an obvious, if unstated, flaw in the let’s-do-what-soccer-did argument. Soccer is easy to understand for players and fans. Cricket, to a novice, is incomprehensible – a major barrier to attracting newcomers. Even for baseball fans who embrace their sport’s complexity, like those who delight in debating what is or is not a balk, keeping track of the silly point, fly slip, gully, square leg and deep forward mid-wicket positions on a cricket pitch may be a bridge too far.

The length of a cricket match is also an obstacle, though there is a version of the game that takes about two and a half hours, which is perfectly fan friendly. Picking up the basics of the game is another matter. I’ve encountered enough cricket to kind of get the idea, but I don’t understand it well enough to explain it to anyone else. Teaching people the hows and whys of cricket will be very necessary. I wish them all good luck.

May runoff results

I know I’ve been all about the Pearland and Pasadena runoffs, but this is easily the big story from yesterday.

Ron Nirenberg

With little more than 75% of precincts reporting, Mayor Ivy Taylor conceded victory to Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8) just after 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 10.

Nirenberg received 54.43% of the vote to Taylor’s 45.57% so far. Exactly 5,266 votes separated the two in the early voting results. That margin has grown to more than 8,080.

“There are many issues obviously that differentiate my vision from Mayor Taylor’s – on transportation issues, on diversity issues, on public safety issues – and I think that the voters have made some clear choices about the direction that they want to take the city,” Nirenberg said. “This is a brand new Council so we want to get that everyone together and start working on a unified direction for the city.”

It’s been a fierce runoff over the past month with negative mailers and television ads coming from both sides. An incumbent upset is not unheard of, but relatively rare in San Antonio.

[…]

“In terms of specific issues, the things I’ve been talking about are getting modern transportation strategy put on paper so we can start developing it,” Nirenberg said. “Part of that will be voter approval of a mass transit system for San Antonio.”

You can see vote totals here. What Nirenberg says all sounds fine, but when I think of Ivy Taylor, I think of her vote against San Antonio’s non-discrimination ordinance, and more recently her vote against the SB4 lawsuit. Suffice it to say, I am pleased by this result. Congratulations, Mayor-elect Nirenberg.

Coming closer to home, results were mixed in Pasadena.

Pasadena City Council member Jeff Wagner beat businessman John “JR” Moon Saturday in the heated election in Pasadena to replace outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell,

Wagner is closely aligned with Isbell, who has tightly controlled the city politics for decades but could not run again because of term limits.

“Voters in Pasadena don’t seem to be ready for change,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “It’s hard to persuade voters about change in a local election.”

[…]

Besides the race for mayor, Daniel Vela lost to Felipe Villarreal who were both vying for an open city council seat representing District A.

“It was going to be a tight race, either way,” Villarreal said. “I’m glad I got the better part of it.”

Vote totals are here, at least until the canvass. Villarreal was trailing after early voting, then won on Runoff Day by a 2-1 margin, which put him over the top. He was a Project LIFT candidate, so winning that race takes a bit of the sting off of the Mayor’s race result, and keeps Council at the previous mix, meaning new Mayor Wagner has four allies and four skeptics serving with him. We’ll see what he does with the voting rights lawsuit appeal – he had said he’d put it before Council, but as things stand he won’t get a majority to favor continuing the appeal. At best, it’ll be a 4-4 tie, which puts the ball back into his court. And it should be noted that despite Prof. Rottinghaus’ pessimism, the anti-Isbell forces were ten votes in May away from having control of Council. It’s not quite progress yet, but it’s not a step back either.

Pearland, alas, was less positive.

Pearland Mayor Tom Reid was leading challenger Quentin Wiltz in early returns Saturday in an election runoff over who will lead the fast-growing south Houston suburb.

And in the race for a newly created City Council position, Woody Owens was leading Dalia Kasseb in early returns.

The runoff elections reflected a city grappling with change in a suburb that has grown significantly in recent decades, with new and diverse residents moving to master-planned communities built on the west side of town.

Vote totals are here, though as of nearly 10 PM all there was to see were the early vote numbers. Both Reid and Owens were over 60%, so unless something shocking happened yesterday, they won easily. Turnout was higher for this race than it was for May – indeed, more votes were cast before yesterday than for the May election – so it seems the forces of the status quo carried the day. Unfortunate, but there it is. Thanks to Quentin Wiltz and Dalia Kasseb for running honorable campaigns and providing a base to build on for next time.

Today is Runoff Day

While I have nothing to vote for tomorrow, there are hot races in Pasadena and Pearland.

Changes in Pearland’s demographics have mirrored those in Houston, amplifying the effects of what this election will show, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said.

“This election will tell us a lot about where the future of Houston will go and, therefore, where the future of Texas will go,” he said.

In the mayor’s race, 91-year-old incumbent Tom Reid faces a challenge from Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old project manager whom the mayor once recommended for a city park board position. In the council race, businessman and former city council member Woody Owens, 69, is running against 30-year-old pharmacist Dalia Kasseb, the first openly Muslim candidate for public office in Brazoria County history. She has never before run for elective office in the city, but Wiltz encouraged her run.

Owens says his past experience on council and professionally will be a benefit. He maintained that Pearland grew from a solid foundation and that the diverse city still has a united, small-town atmosphere. The campaign of the mayor, who has supported Owens, did not provide comment.

“We’re all Pearlanders,” Owens said.

Wiltz and Kasseb, who have been campaigning together, insist they have much to offer. They knocked on thousands of doors, they said, discussing with residents their ideas on mobility (HOV lanes, park and ride, a rail line), a nearby landfill that has been the subject of residents’ complaints and overall quality of life. They derided anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim social media posts that surfaced.

“Pearland has changed,” Wiltz said. “The challenges have changed.”

This one got a bit nasty, which may have helped generate some turnout. In May, there were 7,660 total votes cast. Early voting turnout for the runoff was 9,740 votes. I have no idea who that might benefit, but it’s interesting. Polling places for Pearland can be found here. I’ll report the results tomorrow.

There’s a more stark contrast in Pearland, both partisan and generational, which is less present in Pasadena.

In addition to the mayor’s race, voters will decide the District A council seat, where Felipe Villarreal and Daniel Vela are vying to represent part of the city’s north side.

The mayor’s race, however, is taking center stage as it marks a change from Isbell, who has led the city, off and on, for decades and now is term-limited.

“I want to give every candidate the benefit of the doubt,” said Cody Ray Wheeler, a councilman who frequently has butted heads with Isbell. “Whoever the next mayor is, I want to work with them.”

Wheeler ran unopposed for his District E seat during the May 6 election.

The runoff comes amid conflicts over racial tensions and access to the ballot box. Nearly two-thirds of city residents are Hispanic, up from less than one-third in 1990.

[…]

Moon, a commercial real estate agent and banker who grew up in Pasadena, is positioning himself as the candidate of change, a break from Isbell’s legacy.

“People want change,” Moon said. “They don’t want a continuation of the same, and I believe my opponent is a continuation of the same.”

Moon’s priorities include developing a multi-year capital improvement plan to spread infrastructure projects across the city, including streets and sidewalks. He wants to implement zero-based-budgeting for city departments to make them justify their spending. And he touts his credentials as chief financial officer of Moody Bank, based in Galveston, to help make shrewder financial decisions for the city.

Wagner did not respond to repeated requests for comment by email or phone. After a Pasadena city council meeting Tuesday, Wagner said he would meet a Houston Chronicle reporter outside, before exiting into a private room and reportedly leaving City Hall.

In campaign literature, Wagner touts his experience as a former Houston police officer and as a city councilman. He is widely seen as the candidate most aligned with Isbell.

Wagner and Moon also differ in their stances on the controversial voting rights lawsuit, which the city is appealing. Moon said he would stop the appeal, while Wagner said he would survey city council before making a decision.

As of Monday, according to the Harris County Clerk’s Office, 4,389 people had cast ballots during early voting. About 8,300 votes were cast during the May balloting.

You can find your polling place for Pasadena here. Wiltz and Kasseb in Pearland, and Villarreal in Pasadena are all Project LIFT candidates. One way or the other, there’s going to be some spin on these results.

Here comes Conroe

Not so little anymore.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runoff endorsement watch: Moon for Mayor

The Chron picks their second choice for Mayor of Pasadena.

John “J.R.” Moon

The second-largest city in Harris County could use a good shake-up.

That’s why voters should elect John “J.R.” Moon Jr. for mayor in the city’s runoff election.

Moon, 58, would bring the outsider perspective that Pasadena needs. He has spent the past decade as a trustee for the top-rated San Jacinto College. In addition to his public service, Moon also has the business credentials to make for a fine mayor of a growing city – he is a certified CPA and former chief financial officer at Moody Bank. Moon currently works as a commercial real estate agent.

While scandal has dominated the headlines, Moon kept his focus on the core issues of education, economic growth and quality of life when he met with the editorial board. He specifically recommended updating the city’s infrastructure plans into a modern capital improvement system that’s the hallmark of transparent governance.

“It does not appear that we have had an effective plan over the last five years and you need to renew that plan on an annual basis,” Moon said.

[…]

Pasadena needs a mayor who can enter this office with eyes wide open if the city hopes to avoid further scandal.

Moon is Pasadena’s best choice to make these issues a thing of the past.

The Chron had previously endorsed Pat Van Houte, but she didn’t make the runoff. They remain steadfast in their desire to see as big a change from the Isbell era as possible. Early voting for the runoff is going on now through June 6 – you can see times and locations here. Felipe Villarreal is a Project LIFT candidate in the runoff for Pasadena City Council in District A, so if you live there please don’t forget about him, and don’t forget about Pearland if you live there. The runoff is June 10, so make a plan to make your voice heard.

Things get ugly in the Pearland runoffs

Nasty.

Dalia Kasseb

The hijab that Dalia Kasseb wears in public never seemed to disturb Woody Owens, her opponent in a June 10 runoff for a Pearland City Council position. Owens, Kasseb told me, has been perfectly cordial when their paths have crossed on the campaign trail.

Imagine Kasseb’s surprise, then, when she watched a video that includes screenshots of various groups’ harsh anti-Muslim messages that Owens had shared on Facebook. One particularly crude post features an image of a goat and the words: “I don’t want to grow up to be abused as a Muslim sex slave. Please ban Islam. #GoatLivesMatter.”

Another post recommends banning the Quran.

“Our few meetings have been very pleasant,” said Kasseb, a 30-year-old pharmacist who appears to be the first openly Muslim candidate for elective office in Brazoria County. “But for him to be sharing that stuff on Facebook really shows what he believes.”

The video criticizing the posts, which was produced by the Brazoria County Democratic Party, shows them interspersed with clips of longtime Mayor Tom Reid expressing his support for Owens at an event in April. “We need more guys with his background, his type of approach, and his vision,” Reid says of Owens.

Reid, 91, who has spent 34 years as Pearland’s mayor, also faces a runoff opponent: Quentin Wiltz, a 36-year-old executive at a pipeline coating firm. The winner will have to confront many challenges facing the fast-growing suburb on Houston’s southern edge, from mobility to tax policy to noxious odors from a landfill.

[…]

“We can’t not talk about the presence of misinformed people or what seems to be bigotry in this community,” said Wiltz, who is African-American.

Kasseb, who placed first among six candidates on May 6 with 41 percent of the vote to Owens’ 21 percent, said she is confident most Pearland residents don’t share the views expressed in her opponent’s Facebook posts.

“I’ve knocked on over 3,000 doors, and we’ve met people from throughout Pearland,” she said. “It has been a wonderful experience.”

See here for a bit of background. The seat in question is a new one, so there is no incumbent. Mike Snyder couldn’t get a comment from candidate Owens, which may have been just as well for him since when he has had something to say about this, it’s pretty lame.

Owens said he’s not apologizing because he didn’t share those posts on his Facebook page or at least he doesn’t recall doing so.

Owens said three posts had been removed from his page by Facebook at his request. He said Facebook told him it appeared the posts were doctored and he said he did not post them.

When Owens was asked if he shared all those posts, he said he doesn’t believe he did.

“I don’t think so to be honest with you, because when Facebook came back it looked like those posts were doctored with a name above it,” said Owens.

While Owens said the posts had been removed, ABC13 found they were still on his page and had not been removed.

When ABC13 asked to see the message sent to him from Facebook indicating they removed the doctored posts, he said he deleted the message because it contained the name of the person who was likely involved in doctoring the post and he didn’t want that person’s name out there.

“I did delete it off because it said something about the person who did it and I don’t want them mentioned,” said Owens.

Must be those Russian hackers I keep hearing about. The video in question is embedded in the Chron story, and if you view it you will see that all of the images are of Owens’ personal Facebook page, with none of them had being shared to his page by someone else . Even if one were inclined to believe that someone else infiltrated his page, these posts date back to 2015. One might think that if he himself hadn’t put them there, he might have noticed and taken action on them before now. If he didn’t approve of them being there in the first place, of course.

So yeah, I think we can agree that this has revealed Owens’ character, and I think we can agree that Mayor Reid would do well to at least state that he doesn’t approve of such trash. I don’t know what effect this will have on either of those races, but I do know that runoffs are so often determined by who cares enough to show up. The runoff elections are Saturday, June 10, and early voting for them begins today, Tuesday, May 30. In addition to Kasseb and Wiltz, there are other candidates worth supporting, Pearland and Pasadena and elsewhere. Now is not the time to lose focus. Look at that last link, and if you live in one of those places then make a plan to vote.

Mike Floyd gets his due

The newest star of Texas politics gets a nice profile in the Chron.

Mike Floyd

[Mike] Floyd’s stunning victory made national headlines. While school boards have had student representatives for decades, Floyd is the youngest person in recent memory elected to a school board in Texas.

His candidacy also reflects the increasing competitiveness of school board races in Houston’s suburbs as the districts become more diverse, as well as the rising political engagement of millennials since Donald Trump’s election in November.

“It is kind of funny to think about it – an 18-year-old just got a spot on the school board,” Floyd said. “I think people are excited to see a change here in Pearland.”

Much of Floyd’s platform focused on making Pearland ISD’s school board more transparent by live-streaming meetings and scheduling public-comment periods after traditional work hours. He also staked out a strong position on transgender issues, insisting that such students be able to use the restroom of their gender identify. That put him at odds with Superintendent John Kelly, who has been outspoken in arguing that students use the restroom that corresponds to their birth certificates.

Floyd described himself as someone who could better represent students’ and teachers’ interests because he had seen firsthand how district-level decisions affect local classrooms.

[…]

Deep dimples add to his youthful appearance, but Floyd speaks with the maturity of someone older, gesturing to emphasize nuances in the district’s 2016 bond package or Texas’ reviled school funding formula. Both of his parents are attorneys, his mother with the Department of Veterans Affairs and his father with his own firm. He has four siblings.

He said he ran in an effort to close the gap between district policies and classroom realities. He was also upset by Kelly’s stance on transgender issues. Kelly was unavailable for comment, and a district spokeswoman said it does not comment on school board election results.

Pearland ISD, by most measures, is a prototypical Texas suburban school district. It serves about 22,000 students between Beltway 8 and the yet-to-be-completed Grand Parkway, about a 30-minute drive south of Houston’s downtown.

While it used to be a Republican stronghold, voting trends are beginning to shift, particularly on its east side.

Pearland ISD has gone from a predominately white, semi-rural area to an ethnically and economically diverse suburb on the edge of an ever-expanding urban core.

Jay Aiyer, an assistant professor of public policy at Texas Southern University, said the area’s changing population has brought a fundamental shift to the left in Brazoria County, and in Pearland specifically.

“Often we think of that profile as an urban phenomenon,” Aiyer said. “But now we’re seeing places like Fort Bend County – and now in Brazoria County – with an increased diversity that has led to profound political changes.”

Those changing attitudes and demographic shifts apparently helped lift Floyd, a self-described liberal, to victory.

See here for an earlier story on Floyd. Aiyer is right that this is a big deal in a place like Pearland, and we saw a few hints of the change in voting patters last November. In this case, we have a candidate who worked really hard and clearly impressed a lot of people with his grasp of the issues and his ability to speak about them. A late-breaking controversy involving some stuff Floyd’s opponent posted on Facebook didn’t hurt his chances, either. Floyd ran a great campaign, he had a lot of people believing in him, and from all I’ve seen he’s got his priorities straight. I look forward to seeing what Mike Floyd can do as a Pearland ISD Trustee, and I strongly suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about him going forward.

May 6 election results

First and foremost, the HISD recapture re-referendum passed by a wide margin. The Yes vote was at 85% in early and absentee voting, and it will finish with about 84%; I started writing this at 10 PM, when 437 of 468 HISD precincts had reported. Turnout was over 27,000, with over 14,000 votes on Saturday, for about four percent turnout. Still not a lot of voters in an absolute sense, but more than I thought based on the EV tally.

In Pasadena, Council Member Jeff Wagner led the Mayor’s race with about 36% of the vote. He will face Lone Star College Trustee JR Moon, who had 18%, in the runoff. Wagner was the closest candidate to outgoing Mayor Johnny Isbell, and he also had the most money in the race, so the status quo didn’t do too badly. Pat Van Houte, Gloria Gallegos, and David Flores, who basically represented the anti-Isbell faction, combined for about 33%, but it was evenly split among the three of them. We’ve seen that before in Houston elections.

Of the TDP-endorsed Pasadena City Council candidates, three were unopposed, one (Felipe Villarreal) will be in a runoff, two (Oscar del Toro and Larry Peacock) lost by wide margins, and one (Steve Halvorson) lost by nine votes out of 805. There could be a recount in that race. Halvorson trailed by 41 in absentee ballots, led early in-person voting by 11, and led Election Day by 21, but it wasn’t quite enough. If Villarreal wins his runoff, the partisan balance on Council will be what it was before. Turnout was around 7,500 votes, in line with the 2009 election with the Election Day total being less than early in person voting.

In Humble ISD, candidates Chris Herron and Abby Whitmire both lost, getting 37 and 38 percent, respectively. I don’t know how that might compare to previous efforts, since there’s basically no history of Democratic-aligned candidates like those two running. I’ll have to get the precinct data and see if I can tease out Presidential numbers for the district.

As for Pearland, well, as of 10:30 PM there was still nothing more than early vote totals for Pearland City and Pearland ISD. Who knew I’d feel a pang of longing for Stan Stanart? High school student and future rock star Mike Floyd was leading his race for Pearland ISD 1,755 to 1,681, and in the end he cruised to a victory with 54%. I don’t know why the results aren’t refreshing for me from the Brazoria County Clerk website, but there you have it.

In the Pearland Mayor’s race, incumbent Tom Reid was leading with over 52% in early voting, but challenger and TDP-endorsed Quentin Wiltz had a strong showing on Saturday and forced a runoff.

While longtime Pearland Mayor Tom Reid had more than 50 percent of the vote during early elections, support for Quentin Wiltz poured in on election day, and both Reid and Wiltz will face a run-off election on June 10. Reid secured 48.85 percent of the vote and Wiltz earned 45.64 percent of the vote, according to the unofficial results posted by the Brazoria County Clerk’s Office. A third contender for mayor, Jimi Amos, received 5.51 percent of the vote.

“We have run a very positive campaign and it shows. People came out because they believe in the same message. It’s time to work; we’ve worked extremely hard, a lot of people know it doesn’t stop here. We have to continue the momentum and see where it takes us. I’m just a guy who has been active in his community who really cares about where this community is going to go,” Wiltz said about his campaign, which is entering a run-off election in June.

Nice. There were a couple of races of interest for Pearland City Council as well:

Incumbent Gary Moore also won his re-election bid on May 6. After securing 58.65 percent of the early votes, Moore came out with 55.32 percent of the total votes, beating out contender J. Darnell Jones. Moore will serve his second term on city council; he was first elected to serve in 2014 when he beat out then-incumbent Susan Sherrouse.

[…]

The most contested race of the election cycle is Pearland City Council position No. 7, which had six contestants running for the newly created council position. Because no contestant secured at least 50 percent of the vote, a run-off election will be held in June.

Shadow Creek Ranch resident Dalia Kasseb secured 40.78 percent percent of the vote. Kasseb will run against Woody Owens who received 21.05 percent of the vote.

“We’re going to keep at it keep sending our positive messages, keep talking to people and hearing their voices. We’re going to keep talking about the real issues and keep everything positive. That’s the main thing I want my campaign to be,” Kasseb said. “People in Pearland want diversity; they see that change coming in the future, and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure the voices of Pearland are going to be represented in council.”

If elected in a run-off, Kasseb would be the first Muslim elected to public office in Pearland and Brazoria County.

Wiltz and Jones were Project LIFT candidates. Dalia Kasseb was not, but as that second story notes she received support from the Brazoria County Democratic Party and had done a lot of campaigning in tandem with Wiltz. My guess is there was at least one other Democrat in that race, and I won’t be surprised if she gets a TDP nod for the runoff.

Last but not least, there will be a runoff in the San Antonio Mayor’s race, with incumbent Ivy Taylor facing Council Member Ron Nirenberg. I wasn’t following that race very closely.

Final EV report for the May 6 election

Before I get to the numbers, here’s a Chron overview of the Pasadena Mayor’s race that mentions the numbers towards the end.

“I believe it’s a pivotal time in this city’s history – that it can either draw together and continue being one city, or it can divide apart and be fractured,” said John Moon Jr., a commercial real estate agent who grew up in Pasadena and worked as a banker for more than 30 years.

In addition to Moon, the field of candidates includes Pasadena city council members Pat Van Houte and Jeff Wagner; Robert Talton, who served as a state representative from 1993 to 2009; Gilbert Peña, who represented the same district from 2015 until 2017; David Flores, a former city employee who runs a Pasadena-based construction business; and Gloria Gallegos, an assistant superintendent with the Pasadena Independent School District.

[…]

The candidates are stressing different issues.

Talton is campaigning for increased investment in the city’s police and fire departments and senior services. Moon wants a five-year capital improvement plan. Gallegos, based on her experience with the school district, is pushing workforce development programs to bring people out of the city’s growing poverty.

Peña has said he will invest in programs to grow small businesses. Flores is calling for city departments to formally justify funding requests. Flores has five misdemeanor convictions from 2001 to 2004, including for theft, assault and evading arrest, and giving a false name to a police officer. He said his trouble with the law helped spur a commitment to public service.

Van Houte, among others, calls for increased transparency among the city and touts her ability to speak English and Spanish as a means to better communicate with voters. She once was escorted from a council meeting after questioning Isbell’s redistricting plan.

Wagner emphasized boosting employee morale.

But while there are differences in the candidates’ priorities, all emphasize a strong need to break from the past, including what some have described as a “political machine” associated with Isbell.

“That machine is not alive and well right now, without a doubt,” Wagner said. “In the past, I’m sure they had it. But, this is a new day.”

It’s unclear whether the alleged disparate treatment of Latino residents will result in higher turnout by Hispanic voters. Historically, Hispanic voters have turned out at lower rates than white voters.

As of Tuesday, just more than 3,200 had cast ballots at Pasadena City Hall, which University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said was high. Rottinghaus said roughly 50 percent of voters come out to early voting, with another 50 percent on Election Day. In 2013, the number who cast ballots early was 1,327, according to city records.

Here are the final EV totals, which I saved for posterity since you never know when I may feel the need to reference them. (Like, maybe for the Pasadena Mayor’s race runoff.) There were 3,204 in person early votes cast in Pasadena, but that’s not the sum total of all votes, as of course there are also absentee ballots. I asked around and was informed that as of yesterday 1,548 mail ballots had been returned as well, for a grand total of 4,752. If Professor Rottinghaus is correct about how many votes are cast early versus on Election Day, then we are headed for either about 8,000 total votes cast or 9,500 total votes cast, depending on whether he meant to include absentee ballots in the half of votes being cast early.

That’s obviously a lot more than 2013, when Mayor Isbell was very lightly challenged by current candidate and former State Rep. Gilbert Pena. A better comparison is to 2009, when a much more contested Mayoral race drew 7,539 votes. This year seems to be on track to exceed that, possibly by a fair amount.

I’m not exactly sure how to tally up the early votes for Humble ISD, as there are two early vote locations in Humble ISD buildings plus a third location at Humble City Hall. The first two have seen a combined 2,817 votes, with another 426 at Humble City Hall. There are also some number of absentee ballots, but I have no way of knowing how many. In 2015 there were 2,150 early in person votes cast and 1,358 Election Day votes cast; in 2013 it was 2,410 early in person and 1,767 on Election Day. No matter how you slice it, this year looks busier, though it’s hard to say by how much.

Finally, in Brazoria County there have been 3,139 early in person votes cast in Pearland, which I will presume covers both the city and Pearland ISD. Just that amount, which does not include absentee ballots, is more than the grand total for the 2014 Pearland ISD election (the trustees there appear to serve three-year terms), in which 2,868 total votes were cast. The city of Pearland also appears to be on three-year terms, so they have elections each year. Turnout figures for those last three years: 2,744 in 2016, 3,559 in 2015, and 3,387 in 2014, which was the previous Mayor’s race. Again, it would seem that turnout will be higher than in any of those years, though at least some of that may be fueled just by population growth, as the number of registered voters in Pearland climbed from 58,563 in 2014 to 63,584 in 2016. Still, we appear to be three for three in terms of increased voter participation. We’ll see what if anything that means for the results.

Early voting Day Five: Can we make any guesses yet?

Mike Snyder wonders about the turnout so far in the May elections.

When Pasadena last chose a mayor, in 2013, about 7 percent of its registered voters determined who would lead the industrial port city of 150,000. Mayor Johnny Isbell, who won re-election by an overwhelming margin, attributed the paltry turnout to public satisfaction with “the direction the city is headed.”

Four years later, there is ample reason to question that sanguine assessment. But history suggests that turnout will again be low as voters in Pasadena, Pearland and other Houston-area communities choose mayors, council members and school trustees. Early voting started Monday, and election day is May 6.

[…]

In Pasadena, for example, the mayor who was returned to office by 3,599 voters was the driving force behind a change in the City Council structure that a federal judge found intentionally diluted the influence of the city’s Latino majority. And reporting by some of my Houston Chronicle colleagues will provide new details about the inequitable allocation of city services on Isbell’s watch.

Low turnout in local elections is not limited to Pasadena.

A year ago, just 2,744 Pearland residents – 4.3 percent of the fast-growing city’s registered voters – cast ballots in an election that included three City Council seats and three school trustee positions, according to the Community Impact newspaper. In Friendswood, 9 percent of voters – 2,422 residents – cast ballots for two city council seats and two sales tax increases.

It’s really hard to find information about past Pasadena elections, because before this year the city conducted their own elections, and the Pasadena city website sucks eggs. You can find returns on the 2015 election in Pasadena here, but note that Mayor Isbell was not on the ballot. The only data I can find from the May 2013 election, which Snyder references in his piece, is in this Chron story, which notes that Isbell defeated Gilbert Pena by 3,599 (83 percent) to 751 (17 percent), for a total turnout (not counting undervotes) of 4,350. In that 2015 election, again without knowing how many people may have skipped the two At Large Council races, the District G At Large race received 4,150 votes. So let’s make 4,350 the mark to beat for Pasadena this year.

As you can see from the updated Harris County EV totals, after five days 1,611 in person votes have been cast in Pasadena. If the next four days are proportional to the first five, then about 2,900 in person early votes will be cast. I have no way of knowing how many mail ballots received by the Clerk are Pasadena ballots – the proportion of Pasadena votes to total votes is about 1/4, so with 4,362 mail ballots so far there may be between 1,000 and 1,100 Pasadena mail votes. Which, if true – and please note that I’m really guessing here – would put Pasadena’s total so far at roughly 2,700 cumulative votes, which is on pace to reach or exceed 4,000 before Election Day. I don’t know what the actual number of Pasadena mail ballots is, I don’t know if the next fours days will meet, exceed, or fall short of the pace of the first five, and I don’t know what the share of Pasadena’s votes are usually cast early, so I could be way off, but if I had to bet right now, I’d put my money on the over for turnout. I’ll review this projection after early voting ends, but that’s my guess at this time.

As for Pearland, you can see the daily EV totals for Brazoria County here. It is broken down by location, and I assume (though I don’t know for sure) that the Pearland East and Pearland West locations are the only ones we care about for this purpose. There were 3,387 votes cast in May of 2014, which is the better comparison for this year since there was a Mayoral race then as well. Pearland ISD had 2,868 voters that year. In each case, about two thirds of the total final vote was cast early, so when we have a cumulative early vote total for Pearland, we can take a reasonable guess at final turnout. The Brazoria elections site only has three days’ worth of data at this time, so I’m not going to go out on any limbs here, but I will venture to propose that whatever the final EV total is for Pearland and Pearland ISD, the ultimate number will be about half again that much. Feel free to mock any and all of my numbers in the comments.

Early voting so far

The Chron looks at the first day of early voting and some area races.

Early voting began Monday for local elections next month that will determine who leads increasingly diverse Pasadena, the fate of a major school bond referendum in League City and whether Houston’s largest school district pays tens of millions to the state to comply with a controversial policy and avoid a potentially bigger financial hit.

Across Harris County, 1,153 voters turned out Monday for the elections, figures show. They included many who live within the Houston Independent School District and voted for a second time on “recapture,” a process through which so-called property tax-wealthy school districts pay the state to help fund districts that collect less.

[…]

Two candidates, Bill Benton and Edmund Samora, are seeking to unseat Rosenberg Mayor Cynthia McConathy, who stirred debate last year after sending an email to city employees inviting them to participate in prayer at the start of the new year. Richmond Mayor Evalyn Moore has been serving in her post since the 2012 death of her husband, Hilmar Moore, who had been the city’s mayor for 63 years. She now faces Tres Davis, who is running what an online fundraiser calls a “People’s Campaign.”

Meanwhile, in Stafford, longtime Mayor Leonard Scarcella, who has held his seat since 1969, is running unopposed.

Sugar Land has only one contested seat: that to fill the position of Harish Jajoo, a city councilman who ran unsuccessfully in 2016 to be the city’s first South Asian mayor. He chose not to seek re-election as a councilman.

Of note among school district trustee races, Lamar Consolidated ISD’s Anna Gonzales, who was indicted on charges related to bribery in a case that was dismissed last year, faces an opponent in Joe Hubenak, the son of the late state representative and LCISD board member by the same name.

In Brazoria County, Pearland voters are heading to the polls to vote for mayor, City Council and school trustees. A letter from a real estate agent denouncing “liberal gay rights Democrats” trying to take over the city and school board elections there – which are nonpartisan – drew ire from many progressive groups, as well as longtime Mayor Tom Reid and two other candidates endorsed by the letter.

In Clear Creek ISD, the district is asking voters to approve a $487 million bond that officials say is needed to build new schools and keep up with growing student populations. But conservative groups are concerned that the bond’s steep price tag includes too many unnecessary frills, such as $13.7 million to renovate Clear Creek High School’s auditorium.

Consternation over the bond has set up a showdown between two warring political action committees, or PACs, which have spread from national races down to municipal races and local bond referenda.

The Harris County Clerk is sending out its daily EV reports as usual, with a new feature this time – they are posting that report online, which you can find here. As that is a generic URL, I presume it will simply be updated each day, so be sure to hit Refresh if you’re going back at a later date. The vast majority of the vote in the usual places should be for the HISD recapture referendum. There’s no way to tell how many of the mail ballots are for that and how many are for the other races. I may venture some guesses at overall turnout later in the process, but for now I’m just going to shrug and say this is all too new and unprecedented to make anything resembling an educated guess. Have you voted yet (I have not yet), and if so how are you voting on the HISD issue, if that’s on your ballot?

Endorsement watch: Project LIFT

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed a slew of progressive candidates enrolled in their Project LIFT (Local Investment in the Future of Texas) program. There were five rounds of endorsements, beginning on March 10:

Round 1
Round 2
Round 3
Round 4
Round 5

The endorsements cover races all over the state. I’m going to highlight candidates on these lists from races in the greater Houston area. The accompanying text comes from the endorsement pages.

Mike Floyd, Pearland ISD Position 2

As an 18 year old senior who has attended Pearland ISD schools for 13 years, he has deep knowledge of and personal experience with Pearland schools. With public education under attack, Mike knows we need strong progressive solutions on our school boards. Mike is running to bring real change and new leadership.

Quentin Wiltz, Pearland Mayor

Quentin works professionally as a certified project manager, and he truly embodies public service. He chairs the Brazoria County Alliance for Children and a key influencer for public policy for NACE International. He is past chair of Pearland Parks & Rec Board, and served as a director for the Pearland Chamber and the president of the Pearland Democrats. Proud husband to Monique, Quentin seeks to provide “Leadership for All” to the next generation of Pearland residents, including his sons Ethan and Evan.

J. Darnell Jones, Pearland City Council, Position 3

J. Darnell is a recently retired Naval Officer with 24 years of military service. He is a lawyer with a strong passion for civil and constitutional rights for all people. He graduated from the University of Memphis with a B.A. in Political Science and earned his J.D. at John Marshall Law School.

Steven Halvorson, Pasadena City Council District B

A former U.S. Army Engineer Officer, Steven served his country for 15 years, and has been a Scientific Research Director for 27 years. He is currently the Texas Organizing Project Treasurer, Harris County Democratic Precinct Chair 188, and Pasadena Area 5 Democratic Member.

Sammy Casados, Pasadena City Council District D

Sammy was raised in Pasadena’s Deepwater neighborhood and graduated from Deer Park High. He is a community-oriented family man who has passionately served the City of Pasadena. His priorities are improving the local economy, government transparency, and city services and infrastructure.

Felipe Villarreal, Pasadena City Council District A

Felipe is a Pasadena resident of more than 18 years, and is currently working as a code enforcement officer with City of Galena Park.

Oscar Del Toro, Pasadena City Council District G

Oscar and his family immigrated from Mexico in 2000, and became citizens in 2006. Oscar and his wife manage a local small business. He knows what it takes to fulfill the American dream and he wants everyone in Pasadena to have the same opportunity he had.

Chris Herron, Humble ISD Position 3

Chris is standing up for the belief that public funds should be used for public schools. He has the business acumen and community organization experience to help the district’s kids succeed.

Abby Whitmire, Humble ISD Position 4

Abby is proud to be a product of Texas public schools, from kindergarten through college. A mom who moved to Kingwood in 2014 for the schools, Abby’s work as a nonprofit fundraiser in New Orleans reinforced her commitment to public schools having seen the weaknesses of charter schools and vouchers.

Mike Floyd for Pearland ISD

What were you doing when you were 18 years old? Probably not running for school board.

Mike Floyd

Michael Floyd isn’t your typical high school senior.

The Dawson High School student says he’s been involved in politics since he was in fourth grade.

“I was the one kid who had a Barack Obama bumper sticker on my bike as I rode around town,” Floyd said. “Since then, I’ve worked on two Congressional campaigns, I’ve managed a state representative race, and I worked on a presidential campaign, managing it for our county.”

This spring break, while his classmates are enjoying their time off, he’s campaigning for a position on the Pearland ISD Board of Trustees.

“As a student, I’ve seen a lot more than the trustees have,” Floyd said. “I’ve been with teachers, students and faculty members for nine and a half months out of the year for 40 hours a week. I just see flagrant issues in our district.”

The 18-year-old is running against two-term incumbent Rusty DeBorde, who served as president during four of his six years on the board.

The Chron has also taken notice.

Floyd said one of his goals as a trustee is to improve the district’s communications efforts and allow improved access to information for tax payers.

“We need to open up and be as transparent as possible,” Floyd said. “I firmly believe that our district needs to be far more transparent than they are today both in regards to posting videos of board workshops online as well as disclosing what’s going on during closed-door meetings. Now, I understand there are several things that the State of Texas will not allow school board members to talk about publicly. But, I want to reduce the amount of business that the district does behind closed doors. We are a district that is funded publicly and I firmly believe that tax payers have a right to know how the district is operating.”

Unlike the Pearland City Council, Pearland ISD does not post videos of board workshops on their website. If elected, Floyd said he would work to change that. In addition, he said he supports posting more information on the district website such as the names of trustee candidates and campaign finance reports.

You know I support those last two items. Floyd’s campaign webpage is here, and his campaign Facebook page is here. His issues page addresses student rights, among other things, which is a topic I doubt you’ll see covered by other candidates. One issue I would have liked to have seen addressed there is Pearland’s pro-potty bill superintendent, whom Mike Floyd would have a role in overseeing if he gets elected. Having said that, he has made his opposition to SB6 and his support for transgender students very clear on his campaign Facebook page. Floyd was endorsed by the Texas Democratic Party in its first round of support for local candidates in the May elections. His father John Floyd was a candidate for State Rep in HD29 last November, so despite his young age he at least has some campaign experience. I wish him good luck, and I’ll be keeping an eye on this one on May 6.

A brief look at Pearland’s elections

Pasadena isn’t the only area city with a name that starts with P that will be electing a new Mayor this May.

Every weekday morning, Quentin Wiltz drives about 30 miles from his home in Pearland to his job in the Energy Corridor on Houston’s far west side. His wife Monique’s commute is even longer — almost 50 miles to a Lone Star College campus in northwest Harris County. The couple spends about $250 a month on tolls, the fees silently extracted from their accounts as they streak past electronic monitors.

Thousands of other residents of this booming city on Houston’s southern fringe experience variations of this grueling daily journey. Unlike his neighbors, however, Wiltz, 36, hopes soon to be in a position to do something about Pearland’s mobility challenges and other local issues. He is one of two young candidates challenging 91-year-old Mayor Tom Reid, who has led the city for 34 years, in the May 6 election.

Pearland’s population has tripled, to about 120,000, since 2000, according to the city planning department. This dramatic growth has created many challenges, but none is more vexing than mobility. Pearland has a relatively small employment base, and most of its residents, like Quentin and Monique Wiltz, commute to jobs elsewhere in the vast Houston region.

[…]

Reid, Wiltz and the third candidate, Jimi Amos, will no doubt be talking a great deal about this topic between now and May 6. It’s unclear, though, how many people will be paying attention.

In the last mayor’s race, in 2014, only about 3,300 people — less than 5 percent of Pearland’s roughly 70,000 registered voters — cast a ballot. (Reid easily dispatched former City Councilman Woody Owens, 2,278 votes to 1,000.)

The heaviest turnout in Pearland’s city elections generally comes from its older section, along Texas 35, rather than from the newer subdivisions and master-planned communities closer to 288. This limited engagement may account for the lack of diversity among the city’s elected officials.

When Derrick Reed defeated Wiltz in a 2015 runoff, he became the first African-American elected to Pearland’s City Council. A current group photo of the city’s elected leaders shows Reed standing among six white men, including Mayor Reid. This year’s mayoral challengers, Wiltz and Amos, are African-American.

All six council members are elected citywide, a system that tends to limit opportunities for people of color to get elected. Pearland’s population is about 47 percent Anglo, 25 percent Latino, 17 percent African-American and 9 percent Asian.

Quentin Wiltz’s website is here, if you’re interested. I don’t know any of the candidates, so I’m just going to say two things. One is that whatever one may think about Mayor Reid, I hope I have that much energy and desire to be active when I’m 91. Two, the bill to mandate November-of-even-years-only elections would certainly have an effect on the turnout in Pearland. What that might mean for this particular election, or to elections in general in Pearland, I couldn’t say. But it would have an effect, of that I am sure.

UPDATE: Jimi Amos has a campaign website as well, which you can find here.

Tough times for Presidential heads

This makes me sad.

As polarized politics continue to rage in the Beltway, rural Virginia still has a place where Democrats, Republicans — and some Whigs — stand shoulder to shoulder.

The busts of the first 43 U.S. presidents, each standing at least 15 feet tall and weighing nearly 10 tons, are huddled on the property of Howard Hankins, a local developer who saved them from destruction.

“They all listen to me,” Hankins said of the past commanders-in-chief.

The concrete busts are the remnants of the now-defunct Presidents Park in Williamsburg, Virginia. The 10-acre, $10 million open-air museum, citing a lack of interest from visitors, closed in 2010.

When the park opened in 2004, it was apparently too hidden from passersby, partially obscured by a Days Inn hotel. It appeared the park’s designers failed to consider a vital real estate mantra: location, location, location.

Seeing value in the presidential busts, Hankins said he stepped in and paid about $50,000 to move them to his property 10 miles away.

“The eyes look like they’re staring at you, just gazing at you. It’s incredible how big they are and lifelike,” he said.

First, Hankins had to crack the back of the presidents’ hollow heads to attach a chain that linked the steel frames inside to a crane. Then, each bust was jostled loose from their spot in the park.

Originally, the busts were assembled from two pieces, welded at the middle of their necks. This meant many of the busts suffered neck breaks during the move, as the head started to separate from the shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln’s head suffered the worst damage. The chain attached to it snapped, Hankins said, and even though tires were laid out to cushion any impact, Lincoln was dropped on the back of his head.

The hole in Lincoln’s head is not meant as an allusion.

In all, Hankins said moving the busts to his 600-acre farm required several days of work.

Now, all 43 presidential busts reside on Hankin’s property in various states of ruin. The once-pristine, white paint coatings have lost out to the elements, cracked and ripped off from wind, sun exposure and rain.

For those of us who are fans of David Adickes’ work, as you know I am, the pictures in that story are especially heartbreaking. As noted, these busts were shipped out to Williamsburg back in 2004, with a second set going to a Presidential park near Mount Rushmore and a third set heading to Pearland. Far as I know, those two sets are doing all right, though maybe we ought to do a wellness check on them. The good news here is that the Virginia heads ought to be fixable, and the guy who bought them cares for them and is trying to do right by them. Best of luck to you, Howard Hankins. Many thanks to Linkmeister for sending me this story.

Precinct analysis: Brazoria County

I had some time to spare, so I spent it with the canvass reports from Brazoria County. You know, like you do. Here’s what I was able to learn.


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Weber    Cole
=======================================================
Votes  36,572    15,127  37,036  14,996  37,917  14,678
Pct    68.58%    28.23%  71.18%  28.82%  72.09%  27.91%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Olson  Gibson
=======================================================
Votes  36,219    28,073  39,026  26,713  40,179  26,178
Pct    54.08%    41.92%  59.37%  40.63%  60.55%  39.45%


        Trump   Clinton   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Floyd
=======================================================
Votes  40,666    30,564  43,599  29,181  44,713  28,505
Pct    54.83%    41.21%  59.95%  40.05%  61.07%  38.93%

Votes  32,125    12,636  32,462  12,528
Pct    69.23%    27.23%  72.15%  27.85%

Brazoria County is part of two Congressional districts, CDs 14 and 22, and two State Rep districts, HDs 25 and 29. The latter two are entirely within Brazoria, so the numbers you see for them are for the whole districts, while the CDs include parts of other counties as well. The first table splits Brazoria by its two CDs, while the second table is for the two HDs. Incumbent Republican Randy Weber was challenged by Democrat Michael Cole in CD14, while Republican Pete Olsen was unopposed in CD22. The second group of numbers in the first table are the relevant ones for CD22; I didn’t include Olsen because there was no point (*). There were no contested District or County Court races, so the “R Avg” and “D Avg” above are for the four contested district Appeals Court races; these are the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, which as you know includes Harris County.

The second table is for the State Rep districts. In HD29, incumbent Republican Ed Thompson faced Democrat John Floyd, while Republican Dennis Bonnen was unchallenged in HD25. You can sort of tell from the tables and I can confirm from the raw data that HD29 mostly overlapped CD22, and HD25 mostly overlapped CD14. As I have done before, the percentages for the Presidential races are calculated including the vote totals for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, which is why they don’t add to 100%. The other contested races all had only two candidates.

Still with me? If so, you can see that HD29 was much more interesting than HD25, and was where basically all of the crossover Presidential votes were. Trump lagged the Republican baseline in HD25, but those voters mostly either skipped the race or voted third party. Viewed through the Presidential race, HD29 looks like a potentially competitive district, but if you pull the lens back a bit you can see that it is less so outside that, and that Thompson exceeded the Republican baseline on top of that. It would be nice to point to this district as a clear opportunity, but we’re not quite there. There is another dimension to consider here, however, and that is a comparison with the 2012 results:


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Weber Lampson
=======================================================================
Votes  35,571    13,940  34,618  13,865  33,931  14,444  33,116  14,398
Pct    70.82%    27.75%  69.34%  27.77%  70.14%  29.86%  69.70%  30.30%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Olsen  Rogers
=======================================================================
Votes  35,291    20,481  34,879  19,879  34,466  20,164  35,997  17,842
Pct    62.49%    36.27%  62.14%  35.42%  63.09%  36.91%  66.86%  33.14%


       Romney     Obama    Cruz  Sadler   R Avg   D Avg   Thomp   Blatt
=======================================================================
Votes  40,170    22,480  39,657  21,866  39,203  22,204  40,642  21,388
Pct    63.32%    35.44%  62.86%  34.66%  63.84%  36.16%  65.52%  34.48%

Votes  30,692    11,941  29,840  11,878  29,194  12,404
Pct    70.95%    27.60%  69.45%  27.64%  70.18%  29.82%

In 2012, Randy Weber was running to succeed Ron Paul in the redrawn CD14, which had a nontrivial amount of resemblance to the old CD02 of the 90s, which is how former Congressman Nick Lampson came to be running there. He ran ahead of the pack, but the district was too red for him to overcome. Pete Olsen was challenged by LaRouchie wacko Keisha Rogers, Ed Thompson faced Doug Blatt, and Dennis Bonnen was again unopposed. I threw in the numbers from the Ted Cruz-Paul Sadler Senate race in these tables for the heck of it.

The main thing to note here is that HD29 was a lot more Republican in 2012 than it was in 2016. Ed Thompson went from winning by 31 points in 2012 to winning by 22 in 2016, with the judicial average going from nearly a 28 point advantage for Republicans to just under a 20 point advantage. Total turnout in the district was up by about 11,000 votes, with 7K going to the Dems and 4K going to the Republicans. That still leaves a wide gap – 14K in the judicial races, 16K for Ed Thompson – but it’s progress, and it happened as far as I know without any big organized effort.

And that’s the thing. If Democrats are ever going to really close the gap in Texas, they’re going to have to do it by making places like HD29, and HD26 in Fort Bend and the districts we’ve talked about in Harris County and other districts in the suburbs, more competitive. If you look at the map Greg Wythe kindly provided, you can see that some of the blue in Brazoria is adjacent to blue precincts in Fort Bend and Harris Counties, but not all of it. Some of it is in Pearland, but some of it is out along the border with Fort Bend. I’m not an expert on the geography here so I can’t really say why some of these precincts are blue or why they flipped from red to blue in the four years since 2012, but I can say that they represent an opportunity and a starting point. This is what we need to figure out and build on.

(Since I initially drafted this, Greg provided me two more maps, with a closer view to the blue areas, to get a better feel for what’s in and around them. Here’s the North Brazoria map and the South Brazoria map. Thanks, Greg!)

(*) – As noted in the comments, I missed that Pete Olsen did have an opponent in 2016, Mark Gibson. I have added the numbers for that race. My apologies for the oversight.)

Chron overview of HD29

Over to Brazoria County for this one.

Rep. Ed Thompson

Rep. Ed Thompson

A Bernie Sanders’ liberal is taking on one of the most conservative members of the Texas House of Representatives in District 29 in Brazoria County, presenting voters with, perhaps, the starkest contrast between candidates of any race in Texas.

Democrat John T. Floyd, 48, who was a Bernie Sanders’ state delegate, is challenging Republican Ed Thompson, 65, who earned a 98 percent rating from the ultra conservative Eagle Forum.

The candidates may offer the most radically different visions of government of any race in Texas, said Elizabeth McLane, chairwoman of the government and economics department at Alvin Community College.

Floyd is making an audacious challenge in the most conservative of Texas’s 21 largest urban counties, McLane said. Even so, Democrats’ chances are better than ever and are likely to keep improving as the district becomes more urbanized.

John Floyd

John Floyd

District 29 stretches roughly from Beltway 8 south to FM 2004, with the city of Pearland covering the north end of the district, Manvel and Iowa Colony in the northeast, Alvin in the east central and Liverpool farther south. Nearly half the district’s population of 176,000 is in Pearland.

Nearly all the district’s growth is in west Pearland, which is trending Democrat. East Pearland is the oldest part of the city and dominated by traditional conservatives, as are the two other largest cities, Manvel and Alvin. The rest of the district is largely rural.

The expanding and increasingly diverse population in Pearland could make Republican control of the district difficult within five to 10 years, McLane said.

Floyd is a knowledgeable and articulate lawyer who could benefit from the population boom, making him the strongest candidate the Democrats have fielded for the house seat in more than a decade, she said.

Let’s maintain some perspective here, because this isn’t a swing district. John McCain carried this district 62.6% to 36.6%, and Mitt Romney did a little better, winning it 63.3% to 35.4%. It may well be that the demographics are going in a Democratic direction, but until we see that in an election result it doesn’t mean much. Floyd’s candidacy will provide an interesting data point in a longstanding debate – is it better in a non-hospitable district like this to find a candidate for the minority party who is a reasonably close ideological fit, or one who provides a clear and consistent contrast between the choices? The former approach tends to be the more common one, but that’s not what we have here. I’ll be sure to check and see what the numbers have to say when it’s all over.

Anyone want to help me sue the feds?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced Wednesday that he had filed a lawsuit challenging federal guidelines for transgender students, he said it was to protect a Texas school district that had adopted a policy requiring students to use bathrooms according to the gender cited on their birth certificates.

He didn’t say his office asked the district to pass the policy.

Nor did he say what The Texas Tribune has now learned: that his staff had approached another North Texas school district about pursuing the policy — and the lawsuit — 10 days earlier.

On May 16, two top Paxton aides attended a Wichita Falls school board meeting. The board was considering an agenda item regarding gender-specific restrooms and requesting legal representation from the attorney general’s office.

In a video recording of the meeting, Trey Sralla, the Wichita Falls school board president, introduces Paxton senior adviser Ben Williams and Assistant Attorney General Andrew Leonie, explaining that they are there to answer questions about the proposed policy.

“This has come down from the attorney general’s office, who have asked us to look at a policy here and [said] that they would be willing to on our behalf go and take this to the court system,” Sralla said at the meeting, which came three days after the federal government released guidelines instructing school districts to let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Leonie then fielded several questions from board members, including whether getting involved in legal action would mean the district would lose federal funding.

“I wish I had brought my crystal ball with me but I left that in Austin,” Leonie said. “We are here to reassure you that if you should adopt a policy like is under consideration, we will do what we can to back you and to protect you from the federal government, whether that means being proactive in filing a suit or whether it is responding to a suit, I don’t know.”

After about an hour of discussion, board members ultimately decided against adopting the policy, concluding that the district already had appropriate practices in place to address the needs of transgender students.

“I feel like in this situation we’ve been put between a rock and a hard place by both the federal and our state government where we are the ones who would be the sacrificial lambs effectively in this fight,” said board member Elizabeth Yeager. “I think that would be completely a waste of time and a distraction from our school business of educating students.”

Wichita Falls Superintendent Michael Kurht also came out against adopting the policy, citing legal counsel that the school district’s current policies were in compliance with the new federal guidelines.

“I don’t know that my time and the district’s time is best suited to do this,” he said.

[…]

Asked to clarify how many school districts the attorney general’s office approached about adopting the transgender policy, Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander did not provide a specific number.

I’m sure. There were many questions raised when this lawsuit was first announced, but the question of how many times the AG’s office had to ask and got a No answer is one that ought to be pursued. The fact that they didn’t immediately say “no one else, just Wichita Falls ISD” suggests to me that there was at least one other school district besides them. Let’s find out who they were. There was also a question about whether they looked anywhere other than the Wichita Falls area. Given that Pearland already has the policy in place that Paxton was seeking Wichita Falls ISD to adopt, one wonders why they needed them or Harrold ISD or whoever else they might have pursued. Well, OK, we do know the reason, we just don’t know how vigorously Paxton pursued it before finding his mark. Like I said, that would be nice to find out.

Making Pearland wet

It always amazes me that there are still cities that don’t allow alcohol sales in this day and age.

Absher is one of about 1,000 Pearland residents who have signed a petition to remove all restrictions on the city’s alcohol laws: opening up the possibility for bars, clubs and liquor stores within city limits. A group of residents is hoping to put the measure on the November ballot – they need to get almost 8,000 signatures by June 22.

Proponents say Pearland’s current liquor rules are unnecessarily restrictive and antiquated in a city that’s now grown to more than 130,000 people. They say tax dollars are unnecessarily going to nearby cities.

“It’s not stopping anyone from drinking in Pearland, it’s just putting that revenue into Houston or Friendswood or Sugarland,” said Kevin Murphy, a member of Leadership Pearland, a leadership program sponsored by the city’s chamber of commerce that’s spearheading the petition drive.

If Pearland gets its election, it would be part of a greater trend across Texas. In 2003, the state had 35 completely “wet” counties, or counties that had no restrictions on alcohol, and 51 completely “dry” counties, which banned alcohol sales, said Chris Porter, spokesman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

As of November, Texas had 49 completely “wet” counties and 10 completely “dry” ones, Porter said.

[…]

In 2007, Pearland removed a longtime restriction that required restaurants to register as “private clubs,” and patrons to sign up for those private clubs, to serve alcohol.

Now the city is looking to go even further. City councilman Tony Carbone said people visiting the city for conferences or other events “are not able to go out and have any drinks or anything.”

Removing restrictions would also help Pearland develop an identity as a city at a time when many of the new residents that have contributed to the suburb’s exponential growth look for entertainment elsewhere, like Houston.

“We want to have these things in Pearland,” said city councilman Greg Hill. “We don’t want to have to drive to Houston.”

Hill said most residents he’s spoken with are in favor of easing restrictions. But he said the hard part would be securing enough signatures to get it on the ballot, as many residents are not connected to local politics.

“The hard part is not going to be getting the vote to pass,” he said.

Anything that gets people more involved in their local politics is a good thing, if you ask me. I support this kind of effort on general principle, and I support it here. See this Community Impact story for more.

Pearland Presidential Head Park gets different development

What could have been, Pearland. What could have been.

What could have been

A 48-acre swath of land that once was envisioned as a park to showcase oversize busts of U.S. presidents has attracted a Chinese developer to Pearland.

Beijing-based Modern Green Development, an international company and one of the largest green building developers in China, hopes to build a large-scale mixed-use project on the site west of Texas 288 and south of Beltway 8.

The planned development would be its first in the United States and second in North America. The company has constructed 15 million square feet of mixed-use space around the world.

[…]

A similar mixed-use project was previously planned for that site around 2007, before the economic downturn stalled the idea and the property was taken over by a bank.

That project, to be called the Water Lights District, was to include a park to display 43 presidential busts by local artist David Adickes.

In Pearland, a suburb where farmland has rapidly given way to residential development in recent decades, the busts were meant to welcome visitors and give the area character.

Only six busts were installed in the Presidential Park & Gardens, and Barack Obama had yet to win election before the project stalled.

Adickes said the busts are now sitting in the yard near his studio in Houston. He said he did not know whether they would be utilized for the new plan.

“The set does exist and is waiting for a final home,” Adickes said. “Theoretically, they would do well there.”

See here, here, and here for the background, because OF COURSE I covered this obsessively. I’m sure this new project will be great and will be needed to deal with the demand of people wanting to live in Pearland. But seriously, you missed out on being the long-term home of the giant Presidential heads. That’s worth way more than any boring old residential development.

What they’re saying about education

The Chron has a couple of stories focusing on area legislators and their priorities for 2013. There will be many new faces in the Lege and the Senate in this session, so the more we know about what these folks have in mind, the better. This story is about Pearland Rep. Ed Thompson (R, HD29) and Sen. Larry Taylor (R, SD11), who was previously the State Rep. in the Friendswood-anchored HD24. The story covers a lot of ground, but I’m primarily interested in their thoughts on education.

Rep. Ed Thompson

District 29 State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, said the state’s growing population is an indicator of economic strength.

“People are coming to Texas, because it’s a pro-business state,” Thompson said. “And our unemployment is dropping. It proves that our economy in Texas is improving.”

Thompson hopes these indicators will translate to a higher budget for the next biennium.

“With the economy doing better, revenues are going up. How much there’s going to be and what we’re going to do with it, that’s the question,” he said. “There will be a lot of discussion going back and filling holes in the budget from our last biennium.”

Taylor is optimistic that a stronger economy in the state will prevent the budget shortfall and resulting issues from last session, but he also said there will be several topics of debate in the session.

“Our economy is doing better than it was, but we are still facing a lot of challenges,” he said. “There are a lot of hard decisions ahead.”

Sen. Larry Taylor

Taylor said his second priority after creating a balanced budget is education reform.

“We are in the process of transforming our educational system for the 21st century,” he said.

Among the changes he hopes to see are increased use of technology and more focus on career training.

“We should be reaching out to people with different talents and gifts,” he said. “Not everyone needs to attend a four-year university. We have people gifted with their hands, and we need to reach out to them and help them get good jobs.”

Thompson also wants schools to offer students more career training options.

“Only about 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a four-year degree,” he said. “I think we need to allow them to pursue certifications and technical degrees that will allow them to get a job when they finish high school.”

While funding for education remains a hot topic, Thompson believes the issue cannot be fully examined until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

“I think the Legislature will probably take a wait-and-see position pending the decisions on the lawsuits in the courts,” he said.

Superintendent John Kelly from Pearland Independent School District and Superintendent Fred Brent of Alvin Independent School District also expect the Legislature to delay decisions until the court case is resolved.

The Pearland district has joined one of the lawsuits.

“I would be the most surprised person in the state if the system is not declared unconstitutional,” Kelly said.

Kelly has worked in education for the past 30 years and said over that time, state regulations have increased, while funding has decreased – a challenging combination.

“If people are going to keep passing laws that increase the burden on school districts, they need to provide the funding,” he said. “If they don’t have the funding, they need to reduce the regulatory burden.”

Kelly hopes to also see a reduction in the amount of required testing, particularly the end-of-course exams. He recommends reducing the average number from 15 to around five.

“These 15 tests are in addition to the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP and dual-credit tests the students are taking,” Kelly said. “It’s not like we don’t have enough tests.”

Kelly believes legislators are aware of the problem. “I think there’s a strong push to address this,” he said. “I think there’s momentum in that direction. The Legislature has heard from so many parents and school districts. They have to listen to that.”

Brent said, “Indicators show that state revenue is increasing, however, not at the rate of population growth and increasing student enrollment.

“The state needs to account for the increased student population growth and look for opportunities to help schools, and fast-growth districts, address the changing facility needs and instructional dynamics that come along with increasing student enrollment.”

Brent hopes the Legislature will make education funding a priority. “I do believe there will be opportunities to put money back into the school funding system that was pulled out, denied or supplanted with federal funds during the previous biennium,” he added.

In previous sessions, state dollars were replaced with federal funds, Brent noted. “However, the federal funds have ceased and it is critical that this funding is restored from the state level,” he said.

It’s encouraging to hear Thompson talk about growing the budget. We’ll see what that means in practice, but it sure beats talk about artificially restricting the budget for ideological purposes. As for education, it’s unfortunate that neither Thompson nor Taylor had anything substantive to say. At this point, talking about technology and vocational training is practically a shibboleth. Everyone agrees these are Good Things – as do, I, sincerely – and as far as I can tell there’s no actual opposition to these points. That doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be legislation addressing those issues, nor does it mean there won’t be a debate over how much to spend on tech and vocational training versus other things, but at the end of the day no one is lobbying against them. Hearing that Thompson and Taylor support them tells us nothing.

What we do need to know boils down to two things. How much of the $5.4 billion that was cut from public education last session do you want to see restored, and what do you think about Sen. Patrick’s so-called “school choice” proposal? I will stipulate that the Lege is certain to wait and see what the courts do with the ongoing school finance litigation, and that Sen. Patrick’s proposals are not fully formed yet, and as such I’ll be tolerant of a certain amount of hedging and “wait and see”-ing. But this is where the rubber meets the road, and I want to know what everyone’s general philosophies are, and what they hope to attain or to prevent. Moreover, Thompson is a Parent PAC candidate. The Texas Parent PAC was founded in part to oppose vouchers, and one of their guiding principles is to “ensure that local and state taxes collected to fund preK-12th grade education are used only to fund Texas public schools”. That’s a pretty clear statement. How does Rep. Thompson evaluate Sen. Patrick’s proposal in light of that? It’s important that we know.

A second article about one of the new legislators from Fort Bend does at least partially address these questions.

Rep. Phil Stephenson

For state Rep. Phil Stephenson, freshman Republican for the new District 85, encompassing Rosenberg and Needville, parts of Fort Bend County and Wharton and Jackson counties, education, transportation infrastructure and water are major concerns for him and his constituents.

While public safety, fiscal discipline, economic development and children’s health and education are priorities for seasoned state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican representing Senate District 17, comprising Brazoria, Fort Bend and Harris counties.

Having been a trustee on the board of Wharton County Junior College for 16 years until Stephenson took state office, fixing public education from kindergarten through 12th grade is essential.

“We’ve got to do a better job of K-12 education,” he said. “We have to have a properly educated work force.”

He wants to cut the amount of testing under the State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness, put more teachers in classrooms, pay them more and bring in more programs for higher education.

A certified public accountant, Stephenson supports restoring some funding to education but not all the $5.3 billion that was cut in the last session. Rather than raise taxes, he said lawmakers must look at areas to cut funding, such as the Texas Education Agency, to spread the money around.

That doesn’t tell us much – how much funding would Rep. Stephenson want to restore, and how would he pay for it? His actual suggestion sounds like funny accounting to me – but it tells us more than the other story did. Favoring any kind of restoration is good to hear, because not everyone favors that.

Finally, this story gives the school district perspective top billing.

Officials from the Cy-Fair Independent School District are hopeful that the new session will result in more funding for education.

“It’s going to be an interesting session, and I think there will be a lot of focus on education,” said Teresa Hull, associate superintendent, governmental relations and communications for CFISD.

Hull believes that state legislators are receptive to the concerns of educators.

“There’s a lot of support across the state from the school districts and the legislators,” she said. “We’re feeling very optimistic about some positive outcomes.”

Hull said the district has several priorities going into the session.

Adopting a school finance system that is adequately funded and equitable is at the top of the district’s wish list – which would include restoring the previous biennium’s funding cuts.

Hull acknowledged, however, that the Legislature may not be able to move forward on the issue until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

[…]

Hull said that while the state might put education finance on the back burner, there are other school-related areas that can be addressed.

“The ones I think we’re going to see get the most attention right off the bat will be accountability and testing,” she said.

The district would like to see a reduction in the amount of high-stakes testing, as well as the elimination of the requirement that an end-of-course exam count for 15 percent of a student’s final grade.

Hull said CFISD also wants districts to have more flexibility to manage classroom personnel based on individual school and student needs.

“Let us decide how we want to allocate money into those programs instead of dictating how much and where it will go,” she said.

Hull also hopes to gain more local control for the districts.

This would include the elimination of a standard school start date.

She said that the district plans to oppose legislation that would divert funding from public education, such as voucher programs.

Instead, she prefers policies that expand on public school choice programs that already exist.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to choice,” she said. “But the idea of public funds going to private and parochial schools is concerning. It diverts public funds from public education.”

Cy-Fair is of course in SD07, home of “school choice” bill author Sen. Patrick, whom Hull praises as a “good listener”. We’ll see about that. The story does also include quotes from a legislator:

District 132 State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, said several educators have communicated concerns about the high number of tests required for students to graduate.

“They have to take 15 or more tests to graduate from high school. A lot of people feel that’s just too much emphasis on testing,” he said. “I’ve talked to teachers, parents and superintendents, and they just think it’s overdone.”

Callegari would also like to see more emphasis on career and technical training.

“These are not menial jobs – they are very important jobs,” he said. “We need to bring a stronger advocacy for career and technical training, making sure we provide the opportunity to get training and not precluding anyone from going to college.”

Again with vocational training, which is to say nothing much, plus some concerns about testing, which is both good and the continuation of a theme. But nothing about restoring funds or vouchers. These are the questions we need answered, and if you see any story in which a legislator is quoted on matters relating to education but these questions aren’t addressed, the article is incomplete. We need to know, and we need to know now before the debating and voting begin.

Population growth in the Houston suburbs

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

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

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

Giant Presidential heads coming home

We in Houston welcome them with open arms, for however long we get to have them back.

Less than a month after foreclosure proceedings put the brakes on Pearland’s WaterLights District and Presidential Park & Gardens, the homeless presidents are heading out, a company official said.

From 9 a.m. to noon today, workers using cranes will load the remaining presidents aboard three 18-wheelers for the trip to the Heights in Houston. Making the roughly 12-mile trip will be George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Frankin D. Roosevelt, John Kennedy and George H. Bush.

A sculpture of President Barack Obama was displayed at the site for 24 hours, drawing 700 visitors, but was moved to Houston last year.

Until a new location for the presidential park is found, the statues will remain in the Heights at the studio of artist David Adickes, who designed and sculpted the presidential busts, said David Goswick, spokesman for Boardwalk at the Spectrum LP, the developer.

No rush, y’all. We’re happy to keep them for as long as you need us to.
See here for more. Thanks to Prime Property for the link.

Pearland Presidential heads in peril

Oh, noes!!

A struggling national economy and tight credit market have taken their toll on the proposed WaterLights District in Pearland, which announced Wednesday that Amegy Bank has posted the property for foreclosure.

Plans for the mixed-used project at Texas 288 just south of Beltway 8 included offices, restaurants and retail and residential components. But perhaps the most anticipated aspect of the development was the Presidential Park & Gardens which eventually was to have featured giant busts of all the U.S. presidents.

All that, however, came to a halt after negotiations with the bank fell through on refinancing the loan and working out the release of potential legal claims, said David Goswick, executive director of Boardwalk at the Spectrum LP, the project’s developers.

I just hope that if this project can’t be salvaged that the giant Presidential heads come back to Houston. They deserve a better fate than that. According to the Chron, however, they hope to keep them right there in Pearland.

Goswick said Boardwalk at the Spectrum remains committed to building the Presidential Park & Gardens.

“We will develop and create a Presidential Parks & Gardens somewhere,” he said. “We just don’t know where yet. It is our sincere hope that it’s in the city of Pearland.”

I for one will be happy to welcome them back to Houston if that hope falls through. Thanks to Swamplot for the tip.

A new Presidential head comes to Pearland

You all know I’m a big fan of David Adickes and his giant Presidential heads, which were moved to Pearland last year. Well, they are about to be joined by the latest model.

A 20-foot-tall bust of Barack Obama made of concrete and weighing 3.5 tons will be on display in Pearland this Friday off Texas 288 near the Waterlights District starting at about 2:30 p.m.

The sculpture is the latest in a series done by Texas artist David Adickes and will briefly join other president heads by Adickes that are permanently displayed on the site.

While an Obama bust is eventually planned for the site, this particular statue will be just passing through on its way to the Presidents Park near Deadwood, S.D., where it will arrive in time to join 42 other presidential busts for a July Fourth celebration.

Between Friday and July 4, the bust will visit 30 cities in eight states. In some cities, life-size busts of Obama will be auctioned to raise money for the homeless.

According to Peter Smetek, chairman and CEO of Larrea Biosciences, a sponsor of the tour, the statue will be in Pearland overnight if police protection can be secured.

Don’t worry if you miss it though. A launch party will be held in Houston at 2500 Summer Street on Saturday starting at about 4 p.m.

Awesome. I drove by Summer Street to try to get a picture of the new Obama bust yesterday, but it wasn’t in the yard with the others and the studio was all closed up, so no dice. Maybe I’ll get the next one.

By the way, I don’t know if you’re the type that finds the Chron comments in general to be hilarious or appalling, but whichever the case, the comments on that post are a pure distillation of the genre. It’s a fetid swamp of racism, paranoia, and blithering stupidity, the kind that makes you think you can feel IQ points dripping out of your ears as you read them. If you like that sort of thing, the comments on that post are definitely the sort of thing that you’ll like. Enjoy, if you dare.

Tough times for local governments

It’s gonna be a bad year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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