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Republican Party

Taking on Ted

Rep. Mike McCaul isn’t saying that he will, but he isn’t saying that he won’t, either.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is not ruling out challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018, but he’s emphasizing that he is not focused on it for now.

“Like Reagan said, never say never, but it’s not something I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking about right now,” McCaul told reporters Wednesday in Austin.

McCaul, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, has been encouraged to take on Cruz following the Texas senator’s controversial showing last month at the Republican National Convention, where Cruz declined to endorse GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Speaking with reporters at a book signing, McCaul acknowledged that “a lot of people” have urged him to challenge Cruz and said he was flattered by their support, but stressed he has nothing to do with the effort.

“It’s, I think, been sort of organic, an effort to draft, if you will,” said McCaul, who is advising Trump on national security. “But right now I’m really focused on my re-election to the Congress. I’m focused on advising the nominee to regain the White House and also maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives, which is critically important to the nation.”

Asked whether he has been satisfied with Cruz’s tenure in the Senate, McCaul said Cruz has “for the most part spent a lot of time running for president.”

“I think he also represents the state of Texas in the Senate,” McCaul told reporters. “I think that’s an important job as well, and so I think the presidential campaign’s over and it’s time to — I think governance is important. I think in Washington getting things for the great people of Texas done is an important job.”

Pressed on whether he was suggesting Cruz has not always been focused on Texas, McCaul replied, “Again, I think he’s been focused on his ambition running for president.”

Nice. The Trib reported on this chatter before, and I’ll say what I was thinking at the time – it’s nice to imagine, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Like Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is also considering a challenge to Cruz in 2018, McCaul would have to give up his seat in Congress to try to take the step up. That’s not nothing, especially given that McCaul, now in his seventh term, has accrued some seniority. He’s also filthy rich, so if he decides he’s in he’d be able to pay for it, regardless of how fundraising goes. PPP has some not-terribly-encouraging news for both of them, slightly better for Castro than McCaul though I personally wouldn’t put too much stock in anything 2018-related at this early date. Maybe McCaul could win, and maybe he couldn’t – “moderate” Republicans do still win primaries in this state, though that’s a proposition I’m seldom willing to wager on. Whatever the case, it’s best to recall that “moderate” here is relative. McCaul would almost certainly be John Cornyn 2.0 if elected to the Senate, right down to his Cornynesque executive-style hair. Temper your expectations accordingly.

AG asked to investigate Hill County ballot irregularities

Weird, but we’ll see.

The Texas Attorney General’s office has been asked to launch an investigation into allegations that multiple people voted illegally in the 2016 Republican primary elections in Hill County, despite local officials’ claims that the discrepancies were caused by human error and would not have affected the results of any elections.

The Texas Secretary of State’s office made the request Thursday in response to a complaint from Aaron Harris, executive director of Direct Action Texas, a conservative political advocacy group. Harris noted that there were 1,743 more votes cast in the election than there were voters.

In the most hotly contested race involving the county, eight-term state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, eked out a victory in the House District 8 spring primary, receiving about 360 more votes than political newcomer Thomas McNutt, who is best known for his family’s ownership of the Corsicana-based Collin Street Bakery, a well-known fruitcake purveyor.

Cook did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and a spokesman for McNutt declined to comment. Even if the AG’s office finds evidence of misconduct, it would not change the election results. The time to contest the primaries has passed, said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

Six or seven primary voters are shown to have two ballot dates, and one voter appears to have voted as many as four times, Harris wrote in a letter sent to Hill County election officials in June.

“Our research in Hill County has revealed very significant discrepancies in the 2016 Republican primary election,” Harris said in a statement. “Given the magnitude of this issue, we must reform the election code to restore the integrity of the process.”

Hill County Election Administrator Patsy Damschen said the difference could be explained by human error. While most votes are counted by a machine, early votes and absentee ballots are tallied by hand. The early votes were accidentally counted more than once, Damschen said. They were added to the absentee ballot count, thus inflating the total number of votes.

But the mistake didn’t change the outcome of any elections, Damschen said. Removing the duplicated votes would lower the margin by which candidates won, but the winner in each of the county’s 22 precincts would remain the same.

You can see a copy of the letter here. I can’t reconcile the numbers mentioned with the figures I can see on the SOS webpage, which shows 8,929 votes cast in the GOP Presidential primary in Hill County, and 8,165 votes cast in Hill County, out of 22,300 voters. Cook won that race by 225 votes, per SOS figures, so as noted the total number of actual disputed votes is not enough to make a difference in the outcome. I agree with Mark Jones at the end of the story – this feels like sloppy bookkeeping by Hill County. We’ll see what the AG says.

Tesla tries another approach to getting access to Texas

If at first you don’t succeed, change your strategy.

Tesla Motors’ Lone Star ambitions won the blessing of the Texas GOP at the party convention in Dallas this month, paving the path towards a possible end to the three years of drama over the electric car manufacturer’s right to sell in Texas.

It’s a dramatic incremental victory for Tesla in Texas, the nation’s second-largest auto market, coming less than a year after the state’s top Republican, Gov. Greg Abbott, told Bloomberg that Texas wasn’t interested in the California car company’s direct sales.


The coming 2017 session seems poised to provide a breakthrough for Tesla, now that the company has courted the sentiments of Texas republicans.

With a booth at the party’s state convention in Dallas in May, a Tesla rep argued that repeal of franchise law amounted to a truer free market system. And the party agreed, adding a Tesla-friendly plank to its 2016 platform.

“We support allowing consumers in Texas to be able to purchase cars directly from manufacturers,” the addition said.

That will make it very hard for the state’s ruling party to continue to resist the years-long push when lawmakers convene again in Austin in January.

See here, here, and here for some background. Tesla has tried logic, and they have tried lobbyists, so why not try platform management? I hadn’t seen Abbott’s remarkable comment to Bloomberg before now – gotta love that commitment to free-market principles – but if he’s not on board with this, that’s a potentially significant obstacle for Tesla to overcome. Not impossible, of course, but that’s a challenge. I’ve often compared the Tesla/auto dealers fight to that of the microbreweries and beer distributors. That took multiple sessions, and a significant amount of grassroots engagement for the microbrewers to win the fight, even if it was a mostly qualified victory. While this action by Tesla is a step in that direction, I still feel like they haven’t done enough of it yet. We’ll see how it goes when the Lege reconvenes.

Cain retains lead in HD128 after recount

It’s all over.

Rep. Wayne Smith

After a recount, Briscoe Cain remains the winner in his Republican primary challenge to state Rep. Wayne Smith of Baytown.

Cain, an attorney from Deer Park, edged out Smith, a longtime incumbent, by 23 votes last month in House District 128. After initially conceding defeat in the May 24 primary runoff, Smith requested a recount.

The Texas Republican Party said Friday afternoon that Cain has won the recount. It was not immediately clear whether he prevailed by the same margin.


The deadline for requesting a recount of last month’s primary runoffs is 5 p.m. Monday.

See here for the background. We had previously been told that Thursday, June 2, was the deadline for requesting recounts. Not that it really matters at this point. In any event, as there is no Democrat running in HD128, Cain is the newest member of the legislative caucus from Harris County, so congratulations to him on his election.

Two runoff recounts in the works

It’s not over yet in HD128.

Rep. Wayne Smith

In a reversal, state Rep. Wayne Smith is now pursuing a recount in his narrow loss in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff.

Deer Park attorney Briscoe Cain beat Smith, a longtime incumbent from Baytown, by 23 votes in the runoff. As soon as the outcome became clear in House District 128, Smith conceded the race, and his campaign confirmed the next morning that he was not interested in a recount.

But in a statement issued Thursday night, Smith indicated he had changed his mind.

“After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided to move forward with a recount,” Smith said. “Whenever a race is this close, the option for a recount must be considered. In the past two days, I have been overwhelmed by friends and supporters who have encouraged this option.”

Smith lost in the closest race of the runoffs, though not the closest race of the cycle. I was surprised when he initially declined to ask for a recount, so I’m not surprised he changed his mind.

The other recount was announced immediately in the aftermath of Tuesday’s runoffs.

Tuesday’s Republican primary runoffs may not be over yet for at least one candidate.

The contests produced a number of narrow margins — including in House District 54, where Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper won by just 43 votes. His opponent, Killeen optometrist Austin Ruiz, said late Tuesday night he has “decided to pursue filing for a recount.”


A losing candidate can ask for a recount if the number of votes by which he or she lost is less than 10 percent of the total number of votes his or her opponent received, according to the secretary of state’s office. The deadline to apply for a recount is by the end of the fifth day after the election or the second day after the vote totals are canvassed.

That deadline is Thursday, June 2, at 5 PM, according to the Secretary of State. I can’t imagine there will be any other requests, as the only other runoffs for which the races were close have had the losing candidates concede. But if Wayne Smith can change his mind then someone else could, too.

Republican primary runoff results


Harris County results

Statewide results

Trib liveblog

Your new State Senators are Bryan Hughes, who defeated his former House colleague David Simpson, and Dawn Buckingham, who defeated former Rep. Susan King. Hughes is a Dan Patrick buddy, who will fit right in to the awfulness of the upper chamber. Buckingham is a first-time officeholder who needs only to be less terrible than Troy Fraser, but I don’t know if she’s capable of that. She has a Democratic opponent in November, but that’s not a competitive district.

The single best result in any race on either side is Keven Ellis defeating certifiable loon Mary Lou Bruner in SBOE9. Whether Bruner finally shot herself in the foot or it was divine intervention I couldn’t say, but either way we should all be grateful. State government has more than enough fools in it already. Here’s TFN’s statement celebrating the result.

Jodey Arrington will be the next Congressman from CD19. There were also runoffs in a couple of Democratic districts, but I don’t really care about those.

Scott Walker easily won his Court of Criminal Appeals runoff. Mary Lou Keel had a two-point lead, representing about 6,000 votes, with three-quarters of precincts reporting, while Wayne Christian had a 7,000 vote lead for Railroad Commissioner. Those results could still change, but that seems unlikely.

Two incumbent House members appear to have fallen. Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 lost to Kyle Biedermann after a nasty race. Miller is the third incumbent to be ousted in a primary since 2006. They sure are easily dissatisfied in the Hill Country. Here in Harris County, Rep. Wayne Smith has been nipped by 22 votes by Briscoe Cain. That race was nasty, too. You have to figure there’ll be a recount in that one, with such a small margin, but we’ll see. For other House runoffs, see the Trib for details.

Last but not least, in another fit of sanity Harris County Republicans chose to keep their party chair, Paul Simpson. Better luck next time, dead-enders. Final turnout was 38,276 with 927 of 1,012 precincts reporting, so well below the Stanart pre-voting estimate of 50,000. Dems were clocking in at just under 30K with about the same number or precincts out. That’s actually a tad higher than I was expecting, more or less in line with 2012 when there was a Senate runoff.

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.


Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

By all means, go for Jared

Keeping it classy.

The race for chairman of the Texas Republican Party has spawned charges that the party’s current leader, Tom Mechler, supports a “disgusting homosexual agenda.”

A supporter of Jared Woodfill, a Houston lawyer and former chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, has sent out campaign mailers blasting Mechler for allowing a gay and lesbian GOP group to have a booth at the upcoming state convention and not doing enough to move the event out of Dallas, which they call a “homosexual-friendly location.”

Mechler said he had nothing to do with the decision to allow the group, the Metroplex Republicans, to have a booth at the state GOP convention.

“I understand that hatred has spewed into the chairman’s race,” Mechler said.

Quelle surprise. You can’t spell “zealous hatred of the gays” without the letters H-O-T-Z-E, and indeed this mail was sent by Houston’s gay-hatingest quack. Nothing surprising there, though you may find yourself wondering how in the heck Jared Woodfill could be in a position to fail upward like that. Well, Woodfill as State GOP Chair is indeed a thing that could happen.

Houston’s Jared Woodfill is trying to win control of the Republican Party of Texas, challenging the current management and saying it has been too quiet in the face of legislative defeats in a state government dominated by Republican officeholders and appointees.

The contest between Tom Mechler of Amarillo, the party’s current chairman, and Woodfill, who once led the Harris County GOP, is a fight about purity, about which kinds of conservatives the Texas GOP represents and about what the party is supposed to be doing. They don’t run as combined tickets, but former state party Chairman Cathie Adams is running for vice chair in tandem with Woodfill, while current vice chair Amy Clark is seeking reelection, along with Mechler.

The outcome of the elections, to be held at the GOP’s state convention in Dallas next month, probably isn’t going to change your life, but it’s interesting. Mechler wants the party to bring in more voters — he’s talking about minorities and millennials, among others — who have generally eluded the charms of the GOP. He doesn’t think it’s his job to tell the state’s Republican officeholders what to do.

“Every Republican should be comfortable within the party,” he says. “My vision is and will be that is that this party is welcoming and embracing all conservatives from all over the state of Texas.”

Woodfill is a bully-pulpit guy, a political figure whose effectiveness depends on everything from actual microphones on actual podiums to social media, news media and advertising.

He is appealing for the support of others who, like him, think the state political party should be whipping the Legislature to keep it in line with the GOP platform and the beliefs of Texans in its voting base.

His pitch against the current party leadership seems aimed more at the House than at anyone else. An example from the Facebook page promoting his candidacy: “Friends, we are engaged in a cultural war and our Republican Party of Texas leadership is running from the fight! One need only look at the 2015 legislative sessions to find evidence of the RPT surrendering our values.”

Woodfill focuses on a list of issues that met their demise, he contends, in the Texas House, including bills outlawing references to Sharia law in courts, requiring Texas cities to enforce federal immigration laws, allowing the use or diversion of tax dollars for private school tuition, repealing in-state tuition for the children of undocumented immigrantsnon-citizens who graduate from Texas high schools, and enacting new ethics legislation.

That plays into existing divisions among the Republicans in government, however they are characterized: establishment against insurgents, social conservatives against social moderates, chamber of commerce against grassroots.

The characterization that matters here is that Jared Woodfill is an idiot, and would almost certainly be a terrible state party chair. He’s certainly not going to be about building a party for the future, or one that intends to grow. All of which, needless to say, is fine by me. I’ve said that scandal, in the form of criminality from the likes of Ken Paxton and Sid Miller, may help boost Democratic prospects in Texas in the short term. Incompetent leadership, especially when combined with an unwelcoming attitude towards anyone who isn’t already fully on board with a full slate of ideological shibboleths, would also help. And Lord knows, we Democrats can use all the help we can get. So please do your part, RPT. Please put Jared Woodfill in charge of your party. Thanks.

Runoff watch: Leftovers

Three last races that didn’t fit into any other categories.

SBOE District 6 – Democratic

Jasmine Jenkins and Dakota Carter, the two candidates that actually campaigned for this office in this three-way race, finished one and two in the voting in March. Carter collected all of the endorsements that I tracked, which may help him make up the ground he needs in the runoff. As I’ve noted, this is going to be a very low turnout affair, but SBOE districts are huge and not at all conducive to shoe leather and door knocking, so if there’s ever a time for endorsements to make a difference, this ought to be it. Jenkins had a 7500 vote lead in Round One, so it would need to make a big difference. They’re both good, qualified candidates and I’d love to be more excited about this race, but the stark fact remains that Donna Bahorich won by a 100,000-vote margin in 2012. It’s going to take one hell of a Trump effect to make a difference here.

CD18 – Republican

You may be surprised to hear that four people ran in the Republican primary in CD18 for the right to get creamed by Sheila Jackson Lee in November. Lori Bartley and Reggie Gonzales were the top two vote-getters in that race. I’ve seen a couple of Bartley signs around my neighborhood, posted in random places. Here’s a little factoid to consider: Of the 23,937 votes cast in the four-candidate Republican primary in CD18, 7,041 (29.41%) skipped this race. Of the 54,857 votes cast in the Democratic primary in CD18, for which SJL was unopposed, 8,744 (15.94%) bypassed this race. Point being, even Republican primary voters aren’t exactly invested in this race. In a district where holding SJL to under 70% would be notable, that’s easy enough to understand.

County chair – Republican

Call me crazy, but I still think this is a result that maybe ought to pique the interest of a Chron reporter. I mean, it’s not a Robert Morrow situation, but surely it’s interesting that four years after knocking off Jared Woodfill in a nasty race, Paul Simpson is on the verge of being ousted in his first re-election attempt. Maybe there’s a story there? Some good quotes to be had from various insiders and wannabees? I’m just saying. You can read Big Jolly’s pre-election report on the race for one perspective. This is one race where I’d actually like to know what the usual gang of quotable types thinks. Can someone at the Chron please make this happen? Thanks.

Travis County GOP shakes its fist at its new Chair

Poor babies.

At a packed Travis County GOP executive committee meeting Tuesday night, it took less than a minute for someone to acknowledge the elephant not in the room.

“Give us wisdom to deal with the situation that we’re in,” Peggy Bower prayed during the opening invocation, to a chorus of quiet amens. “We pray this can be used as a lesson to everyone about how important it is to stay informed.”

Bower was referring to the recent election of Robert Morrow, the conspiracy theorist and author who won the Travis County GOP chairmanship in the March 1 election with a 55 percent majority. Morrow’s political beliefs — and non-stop stream of graphic tweets, which on Tuesday alone included references to bestiality and various Republican leaders’ sexual preferences — quickly attracted international attention.

Over the course of the two-hour meeting, which Morrow did not attend, Travis County GOP precinct chairs voted overwhelmingly to condemn “all profane or slanderous statements” Morrow made.

“The Travis County Republican Party seeks to raise the level of public debate,” the resolution read.

Although Morrow did not respond to the resolution specifically, he did tweet several pictures of women with what he described as “big titties” while the meeting was in session.

See here and here for the background. The Statesman has a few extra details and a copy of the Sternly Worded Letter than these folks wrote, which I have on good authority will surely frost Morrow’s cookies. Yes, I am enjoying all of this. The Press has more.

Greg Abbott does not approve of Robert Morrow

Aw, that’s so cute.

As the battle for control of the Travis County GOP heats up, and its newly elected chair writes increasingly raunchy tweets at breakneck speed, Gov. Greg Abbott has stepped into the fray to condemn his fellow Republican.

“Robert Morrow in no way speaks for the Republican Party or its values,” read a statement from Abbott’s office Thursday. “He cannot adequately represent the Travis County GOP.”

Although Abbott rarely addresses controversies within his own party, the Travis County GOP — whose territory includes the governor’s mansion — has been roiled by Morrow’s recent election. Morrow, an outspoken conspiracy theorist who regularly opines on the sexual predilections of political leaders in both parties, was elected chair by a clear margin Tuesday night.

In a tweet, Morrow made it clear he disagreed with Abbott. “I am the elected face of the Travis Cty Republican party,” he tweeted Thursday, citing Abbott’s statement. “The people have spoken.”

See here for some background. Greg Abbott can sniff disapprovingly all he wants, and Mark Mackowiak can hold his breath till he turns purple, but Robert Morrow isn’t going anywhere.

And although Mackowiak has pledged to take any action possible to remove Morrow from office, those efforts will likely come to naught, according to ethics expert Buck Wood, an attorney familiar with county bylaws. Unless Morrow resigns or commits a felony, Wood said, the position is his to hold.

Morrow told the Tribune he had no intention of resigning, adding that anyone opposed to him could “go fuck themselves.”

“They elected him county chair, and for two years, he’s going to be county chair,” Wood told the Tribune. “They can try to talk him into stepping down — but other than that, they just screwed up.”

I’m not an election law expert, but I can use Google, and so I will quote from this Texas GOP Vote post from 2011 in which a question about removing a county party chair was sent to the Secretary of State:

You ask whether there is a method under which a county party chair may be removed by the state executive committee or by a county executive committee. We do not believe so. The Secretary of State’s long standing position has been that there is no means provided in the Texas Election Code (the “Code”) to remove a county chair, as most recently expressed in the attached letter to State Representative Joe Farias concerning a similar issue with the Bexar County Democratic Party chair. This office may in past correspondence have acknowledged the role party rules generally play in political party affairs, but the Secretary of State has not to our knowledge stated that a county chair may be removed from office by party rule. Chapter 171 of the Code provides procedures for party organization including the process of filling county chair vacancies, while Chapter 172 provides the primary election procedures.

As noted above, both chapters are silent as to removal of a county chair once the chair has been elected by party members of the county voting at the primary election. We note that there are no cases or Attorney General opinions directly on point on this subject. We suggest state law has in effect preempted the election process for the primary-holding parties, while the parties retain authority over the elements of their required rules as set out in Section 163.002 of the Code. A more recent example of this state authority is provided in Section 171.0251, which created a process by which a member of the executive committee called to active military service may appoint a replacement to serve on the committee during his or her time in active service. It is this office’s position that in the absence of express authority under the Code, the party may not by rule create a removal procedure for county chairs.

So there you have it. This is going to be so much fun to watch.

2016 primary reactions and initial impressions

First, a couple of minor notes. Rep. Byron Cook ultimately pulled out a win in his nasty and high-profile primary. That’s good news for Speaker Joe Straus and the general forces of “government that isn’t like a three-year-old coming off a sugar high”. Rep. Wayne Smith was forced into a runoff but did not lose outright. Also forced into a runoff was Rep. Doug Miller in HD73 – I missed that one on Tuesday night – and on the Democratic side, Rep. Ron Reynolds in HD27. That one apparently happened after midnight; Reynolds will face Angelique Bartholomew in May.

With all 7,963 now having reported, Democratic primary turnout statewide was 1,433,827, with over 800,000 votes coming on Election Day. To put that into some perspective, since the only point of reference any news story I’ve seen lately seems to be the off-the-charts year of 2008, here’s was turnout was for every Democratic primary through 1992, which is as far back as the SOS archives go:

Year      Turnout
2016    1,433,827
2014      554,014
2012      590,164
2010      680,548
2008    2,874,986
2006      508,602
2004      839,231
2002    1,003,388
2000      786,890
1998      654,154
1996      921,256
1994    1,036,907
1992    1,483,047

In other words, 2016 will have had the second highest turnout in any Democratic primary since 1992. Yes, I know, there are a lot more voters now than there were in 1992, but still. That’s not too shabby. Republican turnout with all precincts in was 2,832,234, so while it’s obviously a record-breaker for them, it falls short of the Dem number from 2008. So there.

One thing to touch on here is that in both primaries, well more than half the vote came on Election Day, which as a result meant that the final turnout projections were low. Over 1.6 million Republicans voted on E-Day, so in both primaries about 43% of the vote was early, and 57% came on Election Day. You may recall that the early/E-Day split was similar in 2008, whereas in 2012 the early vote was about 52% of the total. The two lessons I would draw from this are 1) Final turnout projections are always a guess that should always be taken with a healthy serving of salt, and 2) The more hotly contested and high-profile a race is, the more likely that people will wait till the last minute to decide. Someone with more resources than I have should take a closer look at the makeup of the early and late voters to see what percentage of each are the hardcore and the casual voters; my guess, based on a completely unscientific survey of my Facebook friends, is that more hardcore voters than you might think waited till Tuesday. There’s an opportunity here for someone with an enterprising spirit and some number-crunching skillz.

Also on the matter of turnout, 226,825 Democrats and 329,014 Republicans cast ballots in Harris County. 61.4% of all Democratic votes and 59.1% of all Republican votes were cast on Tuesday. See my previous paragraph for what that means to me.

On the matter of the Republican primaries for Court of Criminal Appeals, here’s what Grits had to say during early voting:

Statewide, I’ll be watching the Sid Harle/Sid Smith race on the Court of Criminal Appeals to see if Texas GOP voters have flat-out lost their minds, and the Keel-Oldner-Wheless race to see if Judge Wheless’ strategy of ignoring the establishment and seeking Tea Party, pro-life and generally conservative movement support is enough to win a primary in a low spending, low-profile race.

Well, of the four candidates running in the primary for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 5, Steve Smith and Sid Harle came in third and fourth, respectively. A couple of guys named Scott Walker and Brent Webster will be in the runoff. As for Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Place 2, Raymond Wheless came in second and will face Mary Lou Keel in the runoff, while Chris Oldner of Ken Paxton grand jury fame is on the outside looking in. I’ll leave it to Grits to tell me What It All Means.

There were a few races on the Dem side that had people shaking their heads or their fists, but there weren’t any truly bizarre results. For sure, there was nothing on the Dem side that compares to this:

The newly elected chair of the Republican Party in the county that includes the Texas Capitol spent most of election night tweeting about former Gov. Rick Perry’s sexual orientation and former President Bill Clinton’s penis, and insisting that members of the Bush family should be in jail.

He also found time to call Hillary Clinton an “angry bull dyke” and accuse his county vice chair of betraying the values of the Republican Party.

“The people have spoken,” Robert Morrow, who won the helm of the Travis County GOP with 54 percent of the vote, told The Texas Tribune. “My friends and neighbors and political supporters — they wanted Robert Morrow.”

Morrow’s election as Republican chair of the fifth-largest county in Texas left several members of the Travis County GOP, including vice chair Matt Mackowiak, apoplectic. Mackowiak, a Republican strategist, immediately announced over social media that he would do everything in his power to remove Morrow from office.

“We will explore every single option that exists, whether it be persuading him to resign, trying to force him to resign, constraining his power, removing his ability to spend money or resisting any attempt for him to access data or our social media account,” Mackowiak told the Tribune. “I’m treating this as a coup and as a hostile takeover.”

“Tell them they can go fuck themselves,” Morrow told the Tribune.

All righty then. Morrow, whose comedic stylings are collected here, was a regular inhabitant of the comment section at BurkaBlog, back when Paul Burka was still writing it. He was also Exhibit A for why one should never read the comments. I’d feel sorry for Travis County Republicans, but as the story notes Morrow is now Greg Abbott’s county party chair, and that’s just too hilarious for me to be empathetic about. Have fun with that, y’all, because there’s not much you can do to make him leave before his term expires. Trail Blazers has more.

I’ll start digging into the data tomorrow, when I hope all the precinct results will be in for the SOS website, and when I get a draft canvass from the Harris County Clerk. The Trib has a graphical view for the Presidential race if you can’t wait for me. Any other results or tidbits you want me to look at? Let me know. David Collins lists the races that will go to runoffs, and Harold Cook, Marc Campos, PDiddie, the Obserer, and the Current have more.

2016 primaries: Harris County

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

Harris County Dem resultsHarris County GOP results

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republican races of interest, with 92% of precincts reporting

Sheriff: Ron Hickman, with 72%.

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

County Attorney: Jim Leitner, with 53%.

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

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

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

Republican filing deadline highlights

As a followup to this, here’s a look at who filed for what in the Republican primary here in Harris County. Set your phasers to “snark” and come on in with me.


There are nine Congressional districts partially or wholly within Harris County. Republicans have incumbents in six of them, and they are running candidates in two of the others, but for some reason only bother to list candidates in four of the eight races in which they have a stake. Rep. Ted Poe is unopposed in CD02, while Rep. John Culberson has two opponents in CD07. What about Reps. Kevin Brady (CD08), Mike McCaul (CD10), Pete Olson (CD22) and Brian Babin (CD36)? You can’t tell from the Harris County GOP’s candidate webpage. I don’t know what’s up with that. In any event, there are two Republicans vying to lose to someone in CD29, and four – four! – candidates who seek the opportunity to lose to Sheila Jackson Lee by fifty points in CD18. And no, that’s not an exaggeration – SJL defeated Sean Seibert 75.01% to 22.58% in 2012. Even in the disaster of 2014, she won 71.78% to 24.76%. Seibert appears to have learned his lesson; he’s not one of the four hopefuls this time.


Statewide candidates are not listed on this page. I did not go looking for the Texas GOP website looking for info on the judicial and Railroad Commission races, but this Trib story provides some info on the former, and this FuelFix post covers the latter, so there you have it.

State Legislature

No State Senate candidates are listed, so no one is challenging Sens. Sylvia Garcia, Rodney Ellis, or (presumably) any of the incumbent Republicans whose districts intersect Harris County: Brandon Creighton, Larry Taylor, and Lois Kolkhorst. On the House side, the highlights are as follows:

– Reps. Dan Huberty (HD127), Wayne Smith (HD128), Sarah Davis (HD134), and Debbie Riddle (HD150) all have primary opponents; Smith has two, and Riddle has three.

– Kevin Roberts is unopposed to try to succeed Patricia Harless in HD126; there are two Democrats running for that seat as well. Tom Oliverson and HCDE Trustee Kay Smith (whose term does not expire until 2018) are duking it out for HD130, left vacant by Allen Fletcher. The winner of that race will have no Democratic opponent.

– Two failed Council candidates, Matt Murphy (At Large #4) and Kendall Baker (District F) are challenging Democratic incumbents, the former in HD147 and the latter in HD137. Rep. Gene Wu, the incumbent in HD137, was active in campaigning for HERO this fall, while Baker as we know was one of the leading wingnuts in the anti-HERO campaign. Rep. Wu also has a primary opponent, and assuming he survives that I think we can guess what the fall campaign will look like.

Harris County

– Two-time City Council loser Chris Carmona and 2008 failed DA candidate Jim Leitner (who subsequently served as a top lieutenant under DA Pat Lykos) are running to oppose County Attorney Vince Ryan.

– DA Devon Anderson does not have a primary opponent, but Sheriff Ron Hickman has two: failed 2012 Sheriff candidate Carl Pittman and twice-failed Sheriff candidate Paul Day.

– Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan gets a rematch with Don Sumners, who parlayed his catastrophic tenure as Tax Assessor into an At Large HCDE Trustee gig. We all remember what a disaster Sumners was as Tax Assessor for the two years he had the job before Sullivan mercifully ousted him in 2012, right?

– Speaking of the HCDE, I presume current Board Chair Angie Chesnut is retiring, because she’s not listed as a candidate. Running to succeed her are Danell Fields and sigh Eric Dick. Can you imagine a board for which nearly half the membership is Don Sumners, Michael Wolfe, and Eric Dick? That might be enough to convince me that Ed Emmett and Commissioners Court have the right idea in wanted to have the Lege dismantle the HCDE. In the other HCDE race, incumbent Marvin Morris has George Moore as a primary opponent. There are Dems running in each race, but alas it’s Morris’ Precinct 2 seat that could be competitive in a Presidential year, and not Chesnut’s Precinct 4 seat.

– There are three candidates running for the open JP Precinct 1, Place 1 bench, the one being vacated by Dale Gorczynski. No Republicans ran against Gorczynski in 2012 or 2008; I’d have to check but my recollection from previous analyses is that it’s in the 60-65% Dem range. There are three GOP incumbent JPs on the ballot, but only Lincoln Goodwin in Precinct 4, Place 1 has a primary opponent.

– Is Constable Phil Camus in Precinct 5 retiring? He’s not listed on this page. You know who is? Former District F Council Member Al Hoang, who is one of two people shown running for that position.

– Finally, HC GOP Chair Paul Simpson has two challengers, one of whom has an email address that includes the string “creditrepairtex”. Boy, nothing says quality like that kind of email address, am I right?

I will say one utterly complimentary thing about the Harris GOP primary candidates webpage: They provide (where applicable) the webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter handle for their candidates. This is a great thing, one that would save a humble blogger like myself a lot of time and effort, not to mention the occasional mis-identification of candidates with common names. Can someone at the HCDP please make this happen in 2018? Thanks.

All right then. If all that still hasn’t sated your blood lust for candidate information, go visit this handy Trib guide to the state and federal races, which confirms that I counted the number of Dem State House candidates correctly and also missed the fact that we should have run someone in HD94, PDiddie, Stace, and Ashton Woods. And remember that while we Dems can certainly get nasty with each other, the Republicans will be enthusiastically eating their own this March.

Just leave already


State GOP leaders, in a predictable but closely watched vote, have defeated a proposal to ask Texas voters whether they favor secession.

In a voice vote Saturday afternoon, the State Republican Executive Committee rejected a measure that would have put the issue on the March 1 primary ballot. The ballot language would have been non-binding, amounting to a formal survey of voters on whether they would like to see Texas declare its independence from the United States.

While the proposal’s defeat was expected, the measure had sparked some heated debate on the 60-member executive committee, the governing body of the Republican Party of Texas. Seeking to avoid a protracted fight, the executive committee voted earlier Saturday afternoon to cap discussion of the issue at 30 minutes then put it to an up-or-down vote.

Tanya Robertson, the SREC member who introduced the proposal, argued at the executive committee meeting in Austin that the measure would have been “harmless,” allowing voters to register an “opinion only.” She also suggested the ballot language would have helped “get out the vote” among some Texas Republicans who have been sitting out recent elections.

“The goal of these is to take a thermometer of how Texans feels about an issue, and what better issue for Texans to do that with?” she asked.

See here for some background. I fully support Tanya Robertson and all her likeminded colleagues leaving the country if it’s not to their liking. I merely object to them trying to take me with them. Sorry you didn’t get your vote, Tanya, but seriously: No one is stopping you from leaving. It’s a big world, I’m sure there’s some other part of it that will be better for you.

One more thing:

Earlier Saturday, the executive committee defeated another controversial proposal, one in favor of moving the party’s 2016 convention from Dallas to Houston. The proposal, which was shot down in a nearly unanimous vote, was inspired by opposition to Dallas’ updated non-discrimination ordinance. Leading the charge to relocate the convention was Jared Woodfill, a key figure in the successful effort to repeal a similar law in Houston and a potential challenger to Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler.

It is never wrong to point out that Jared Woodfill is an idiot.

GOP versus Hall

Pass the popcorn.


The Harris County Republican Party released a flyer Monday attacking Houston mayoral candidate Ben Hall for his Democratic ties and previous support for a nondiscrimination ordinance.

Among top-tier mayoral candidates, Hall, a Democrat, is the most ardent critic of the city’s equal rights ordinance, known as HERO. The law is set to appear on November’s ballot.

“Ben Hall says yes to HERO ordinance in 2013,” the GOP flyer reads, citing a 2013 Harris County Democratic Party questionnaire on which Hall said he would support a nondiscrimination ordinance.

The ad also labels Hall a “current Democratic Party sustaining member” and claims he contributed more than $100,000 to Democrats, including President Barack Obama, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry, citing campaign finance reports.

Hall responded in a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he has been “crystal clear” on HERO.

“Ben Hall is the only candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has been opposed to the HERO ordinance from the very beginning, long before the campaign began for Houston Mayor, long before the court put it on the November ballot,” he said.

The full Chron story is here, and here’s the interview I did with Hall in 2013. I have no desire to go back and listen to it, but my recollection is that he said No when I asked if he would support an equal rights ordinance. He wasn’t a firebrand about it, just matter-of-fact. I also recall being surprised by that, as to my knowledge he hadn’t been opposed it before. I can’t swear to that latter part, I can just say what I remember thinking at the time. Whether Hall is virgin pure on hating HERO since the dawn of time or he cynically came to oppose it as a matter of political expediency somewhere along the line is irrelevant to me, and should be irrelevant to any decent person. He’s a hater now, he’s loud and proud about it, and that’s what matters.

Not that I really care, but I am a little curious as to why the Harris County GOP decided to pick this fight. I get their objections, I just think this is an odd hill to engage on. Hall’s HERO history was no problem for uber hater Steven Hotze, who endorsed Hall, among others. It’s fine by me if the antis spread their votes around in the Mayor’s race; better odds for good candidates making it to the runoff that way.

Anyway. I’ve seen some people asking about which candidates support what things – HERO and otherwise. You can listen to my interviews, of course, or do something crazy like check out the candidates’ websites and attend candidate forums and things like that. If you’re looking for a shortcut, both the local GOP and the HCDP have candidate guides that may help answer your questions. And at some point, one presumes, the candidates – the Mayoral candidates in particular – will start flooding our mailboxes and the airwaves. Greg has more.

The new closet

From this Observer story about how Democrats finally managed to put a stake through Rep. Cecil Bell’s awful anti-same-sex-marriage-license bill, comes word of the legislative preference that dare not speak its name:


[Rep. Jason] Villalba’s statements were a clear reminder that it wasn’t just Democrats who killed anti-LGBT proposals. And they were another sign of evolution, albeit glacially slow, on LGBT issues within the Republican caucus—punctuated by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place), who last week came out in support of same-sex marriage.

“I think of the 93 members of the House that signed the letter, I think if you had private conversations with them, a significant number of them would feel like I do,” Villalba said. “I’m not ready to go on record saying that I support marriage yet, like Sarah has. Sarah was very brave and courageous to do that. I think she feels confident that she represents her district well. I’m not certain that my district feels that way yet, and I also believe this decision is not going to be within our hands.”

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) said at times during the session, he felt as though it was his freshman year in 2005, when he served on a small floor team of Democrats working unsuccessfully to defeat the state’s marriage amendment.

“I thought the Republicans had sort of played out the anti-gay thing, because we hadn’t seen it for a couple of sessions,” Anchia said. “It’s clear that public opinion is moving away from them rapidly. This feels like a desperate last gasp to pander to the most hateful elements of the Republican primary electorate.”

Nevertheless, Anchia acknowledged that when members of his party worked to defeat anti-LGBT bills, they sometimes did so with the quiet encouragement of Republicans—both “moderate” and “not-so-moderate.”

“I can’t tell you how many members of the House have come up to me and said, ‘Will y’all please kill these bills, Democrats? Because we don’t feel good about them,’” Anchia said. “The reality is there are many Republican members of this Legislature who have gay children, gay siblings, who may be gay themselves but are just not out. As a result, they understand firsthand how hateful this legislation is.”

One often hears of these mythical Republican legislators, who are – to some measure, at least – secretly not anti-gay, or even anti-abortion. Doesn’t mean that they’re pro-equality or pro-choice in any fashion you or I would recognize, but they do have a limited appetite for tightening the screws any further than they already are. It’s just that they can’t admit to any of that in public, lest they be tarred and feathered by the howling fanatics who vote in the Republican primary elections. So they hide in the closet, their existence hinted at by the likes of Rep. Anchia, while the rest of us are left to speculate about their existence like some History Channel “expert”. Maybe this is who those American Phoenix Foundation yahoos have been hunting for. Anyway, I for one would like to know some names. I am sure that more than a few of them would surprise me. Feel free to speculate irresponsibly in the comments.

Another data point on Uber and Republicans

From Josh Barro.


Republicans have hailed Uber, the smartphone-based car service, as a symbol of entrepreneurial innovation that could be strangled by misplaced government regulation. In August, the Republican National Committee urged supporters to sign a petition in support of the company, warning that “government officials are trying to block Uber from providing services simply because it’s cutting into the taxi unions’ profits.”

But for Republicans, being the party of open and competitive markets is not always easy in practice. Just look at what happened two weeks ago, when UberX, one of Uber’s various ride-sharing options, began in Philadelphia. The local taxi regulator called UberX an illegal taxi service, so several drivers were fined and had their cars impounded.

Mayor Michael Nutter sent a clear message: Don’t blame me.

“I strongly support having Uber/Lyft services in Philly,” the mayor, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter on Oct. 27. “The #PPA, a STATE authority not run by the City, opposes them.” As Mr. Nutter correctly notes, Uber’s fight in Philadelphia is with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, a state agency that regulates taxis and whose board is appointed by the governor. Five of six parking authority board members are Republican appointees.

Anticompetitive business regulations are mostly imposed at the state and local level, and they usually have a strong built-in lobby: the owners of the businesses that are being shielded from competition.

The R.N.C. chairman, Reince Priebus, probably doesn’t get a lot of phone calls from taxi medallion owners, or car dealers, or other businesspeople who want to be insulated from competition.

But local politicians do; Republicans may be especially likely to hear from them because small business owners are a constituency that skews Republican.

As a result, in practice, it’s not clear Republicans are any more pro-market than Democrats when it comes to business regulation.

Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute think tank, has examined ride-sharing regulations around the country and doesn’t see a clear partisan divide. On Monday, R Street and Engine, a group advocating policies that support start-ups, [released] a report card rating the 50 largest cities on their friendliness to ride sharing. The eight cities receiving failing grades include ones in blue areas (Philadelphia and Portland, Ore.) and red ones (Omaha, Phoenix and San Antonio).

“There didn’t seem to be any obvious ideological trends,” Mr. Moylan said. “It may have something more to do with population density and consumer demand.”

In the case of Uber, the cities with the most to gain from innovation tend to be large and dense, and often Democratic. So at the local level, the leaders in welcoming Uber are often Democrats. Conservatives like to mock California as anti-business, but the state is one of just two to have enacted a comprehensive, statewide regulatory framework that is friendly to ride sharing. The other is Colorado, also run by Democrats.

But it’s not just about Uber and taxis. Consider state laws that prohibit auto manufacturers like Tesla from selling directly to consumers. Car dealers favor these laws, which interfere with Tesla’s direct sales model. Of 22 states that permit direct sales, 14 voted for President Obama. New York, California and Illinois all have freer markets in auto retailing than Texas. Did I mention that car dealers are a strongly Republican constituency? In 2009, the statistician Nate Silver found that 88 percent of car dealers’ political donations went to Republicans.

See here and here for previous musings on the subject of Uber and partisanship, and see here for the report. Note how California cities scored much better overall than Texas cities. R Street previously put out this press release that expressed their disappointment in Houston’s “onerous” regulations on ride sharing. We did score better than San Anotnio, for what that’s worth, and now you’ll be able to call Uber from the airports. As for Tesla, we all know about Tesla and Texas, right? Funny how that subject never came up during any of Rick Perry’s job-stealing trips. Anyway, I don’t have a lot to add to this, but as I’ve been tracking this sort of thing I thought it was worth mentioning.

Steven Hotze in his own words

Media Matters sat in on a conference call of professional haters, and, well, see for yourself.

Fox News hero and prominent Texas conservative Dr. Steven Hotze warned supporters during a conference call that gay activists want to overturn laws prohibiting pedophilia, calling gay people “perverted and deviant.”

On September 10, Conservative Republicans of Texas leader Steven Hotze held a “Marriage Battle Plan” conference call with supporters, aimed at laying out a “battle plan” for combating “pro-homosexual rhetoric and propaganda” in federal courts. The call, which also featured Texas GOP chairman candidate Jared Woodfill, was pitched as “a meeting that liberals will be talking about for years.”

During the call, Hotze warned that “perverted and deviant” homosexuals were attempting to overturn laws against pedophilia in order to recruit young boys into homosexuality — a sentiment Woodfill didn’t contest:

Hotze repeated the myth that gay people have lifespans “20 to 30 years shorter than the average person,” calling homosexuality “an unhealthy lifestyle” that “needs to be stopped”:

Hotze warned that, if same-sex marriage were recognized in Texas, children would be taught how to be gay:

He asked listeners to “stand up and fight” against homosexuality, comparing it to cancer:

Woodfill added that the gay “political agenda” included pushing for “universal acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle”:

In addition to Woodfill, Hotze’s conference call also featured Brian Camenker, president of the fringe anti-gay hate group MassResistance.

There’s audio at the post in each place where you see a colon above, so click over and have a listen. I like to think that I’ve lost my capacity to be surprised by this sort of thing, but every time I do someone like Steven Hotze goes and does something like this. I have not lost my capacity to be amazed at the amount of lying that people who consider themselves to be disciples of Christ are willing and able to do. This is what we’re up against, not just in the HERO fight but overall. They’re a dying breed but they’re still here now and they won’t go quietly. You want to help deposit them into the garbage can of history, you need to show up and vote, this year and every year.

Greg Enos turns his spotlight to Gary Polland

This ought to be good.

Gary Polland

There can be no doubt: Gary Polland is a smart, successful lawyer who knows how to make a lot of money from the practice of law. Polland is politically powerful and able to influence and profit from every Republican primary election. Polland should be your hero and role model if high income and political influence are your goals in life.

I asked a bunch of attorneys with experience in CPS cases how much they guessed Gary Polland had been paid in four and a half years for court appointments. Their guesses ranged from $300,000 – $700,000. They were totally floored to hear that Polland had been paid $1.9 million by Harris County since January 1, 2010 for court appointments. Just to be very clear, that is taxpayer dollars being paid to this one man for government court appointments only. It does not count the many cases where Polland was appointed by judges but paid by private parties.

My investigation into this incredible situation has just begun, but here is what I know:

Polland has enormous political influence in Harris County Republican primaries, especially with judges, because he is one of the “Big Three” endorsers. It is virtually impossible to win a Harris County GOP judicial primary, even for an incumbent, without at least two of three endorsements from Hotze, Lowry or Polland. Unlike Hotze or Lowry, Polland is an attorney. Click here to see who Polland endorsed in the 2014 GOP primaries.


Attorneys appointed on CPS cases are paid a lower hourly rate than lawyers in private cases are paid. For example, I charge my clients $350 per hour for my work in divorce and child custody cases. Harris County pays CPS attorneys hourly rates which range from $75 to $125 per hour, depending on the specific service provided. Pay for trials is $300 to $500 per day. Young attorneys, who need experience and who want any paying case they can get, often seek CPS appointments. These young attorneys work hard to impress the judges and, because they are new, do not take CPS clients for granted. Massive amounts of appointments for just a few older, politically connected attorneys, take away from younger attorneys this opportunity to gain experience, help children and make a little money.

Most importantly, representation of abused children in CPS cases is not supposed to be an “assembly line” business to enrich the politically connected. CPS work takes time, dedication and focus on a few children at a time.

The $1.9 million paid to Polland by Harris County does not include what Polland has been paid in private cases by the parties where he was appointed a mediator or amicus attorney by a judge. In non-CPS child custody cases, the attorney appointed to represent a child is usually called an “amicus attorney.”


The $1.9 million Polland has been paid by Harris County since January 1, 2010 works out to $8,119.66 per week. Divided by $125 per hour (the minimum and usual non-trial hourly rate for CPS cases), that is 65 hours of billed legal work per week, every week, 52 weeks per year with no vacations or holidays. That would leave Mr. Polland very little time for his private appointments, mediations and civil cases where a client actually hires him. In contrast, for my clients, I work 7 – 10 hours per day but I usually bill a total of 4 – 6 hours per day. I clearly could learn a lot from Mr. Polland on how to efficiently bill for my time.

Every two years, Polland makes a lot of money from his business, Conservative Media Properties, LLC, doing business as the Texas Conservative Review, which endorses candidates in Republican primaries. Candidates give Polland money to pay for his mailers and local judicial candidates almost have to pay Polland because voters simply cannot know which of the dozens of judicial candidates are qualified. In election season, judges come to the attorneys asking for contributions, except for Polland. Unlike the rest of us, Polland is able to go to the judges and ask them for money. He is in a truly unique and powerful position.

My next issue will attempt to analyze which judges are appointing Polland and which paid his for-profit business for “advertisements” in his endorsement newspaper. For the next few months, a special feature in this newsletter will list each new appointment in family courts Polland gets and which judge appointed him. The judges who are appointing Polland are going to feel the spotlight even if they are unwilling to publicly explain why they choose him out of the hundreds of lawyers who seek appointments.

I can’t wait. Polland gets appointed to civil and criminal cases as well as to family court cases, and of course he is heavily involved in Republican primary politics, especially via his influential endorsement of judges. This year’s election is therefore particularly consequential for him, since a strong Democratic year would necessarily mean tossing out a bunch of judges that have been appointing him in favor of judges that would not have any electoral connection to him.

Enos’ calculation of Polland’s total bill to Harris County is about $300K higher than the figure he cites on his sidebar, where he lists the top 22 recipients of appointment earnings from Harris County since 2010. It’s still a lot of money either way. Keep that in mind the next time you hear Gary Polland rail against the Harris County Public Defender’s office. Its existence cuts into his bottom line.

Enos has invited Polland to reply to his reporting. I kind of doubt Polland will take him up on it, but I hope he does. It would be enlightening, if nothing else.

Petition deadline coming

Scott Braddock takes a look at the petition effort to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which must turn in its homework this week.

Opponents led by longtime – and now former because he was recently ousted – Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill are working to turn in at least 17,000 signatures of Houston residents by next Monday. If they can do that and the signatures are verified, the issue will be on track to cause all kinds of additional heat in Houston with potential statewide implications.

On the surface, this would seem to be a classic liberal versus conservative argument playing out at the local level. But one possible statewide consequence has do with Woodfill’s role in the fight coupled with speculation that he’d like to be the next Republican Party of Texas chairman. Meantime, the placement of what’s been framed as a gay-rights issue on the November ballot could be used by Democrats to push their voters to the polls in the state’s largest city during a non-presidential year.


Woodfill and others ominously call it a “sexual predator act.” As he and other opponents put it on this website: “It will by government decree open thousands of women’s restrooms, showers and girls locker rooms in the city to biological males! Predators and peepers can use it as cover to violate our women and children!”

Now working alongside Steve Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas, Woodfill told Quorum Report on Monday that his group is confident they’ll have enough signatures in time to meet the deadline. “We can’t afford to wait. Lives are at risk,” Woodfill said. “It’s about the safety of our wives and daughters and kids.”

See here and here for the background. According to TFN Insider, the due date is Thursday, July 3. The hate squad known as the Houston Area Pastors Council was ginning up one last Sunday effort; Woodfill had previously requested that petitions be returned by June 27, which was last Friday. I don’t know if that’s a sign they’re having trouble getting enough valid signatures or if they’re aiming to turn in an impressive amount of them. They need about 17,000 valid sigs, which isn’t that high a bar to clear, and pretty much everyone expects them to do so.

Woodfill declined to comment on growing speculation that he may be using the issue to position himself as the “conservative choice” for the next chairman of the Texas Republican Party. He stepped down as Harris County Chairman earlier this month after losing to challenger Paul Simpson. Voters in Houston could be forgiven, though, for not noticing Woodfill is no longer chairman given the amount of email blasts he is still sending out regularly about the ordinance. “This isn’t about anybody’s personality,” Woodfill said. “This is about the issue.”

For his part, Simpson said he supports the effort to overturn the ordinance and, he added, the county party leadership is in a state of transition. “I think repealing it is appropriate,” Simpson said.

Dear sweet baby Jesus, please let that incompetent boob Jared Woodfill be the next RPT Chair. It would be the best thing that could ever happen to them.

Some observers have said in a general election season when Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Ft Worth, needs to charge up her base in her bid for governor, this issue in Houston could give her specifically and Democrats broadly a boost. It is, of course, not likely that supporters of gay-rights would vote for Republicans if they do indeed show up at the polls this fall to make their voices heard about the ordinance.

“I think that’s right,” said University of Houston Political Scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. If Democrats are looking for ways to energize their base, the equal rights ordinance “would have to be on their list,” he said. Rottinghaus cautioned Democrats, however, that the issue is a double-edged sword. “They may want to use that as their tool to generate interest” but the problem is some reliably Democratic groups like many African-Americans and a significant percentage of Hispanics don’t have a traditional liberal view of gay rights, he said.

“There are opportunities for the Democrats to make this work and there’s also the potential there could be a serious backlash,” Rottinghaus said. Conservatives will also turn out with intensity to oppose the ordinance, he said.

Political Science Chair at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Jon Taylor, was more blunt in his assessment. He asked “Why give Democrats a reason to come out in November?” Taylor is a Republican and has long criticized Woodfill for his fiery brand of politics. “Do you really want to give extra ammunition to the opposition?” Taylor said. “Totally unnecessary. It is time to back off.”

PDiddie and I have talked about this before. I’ll say again, I don’t fear this fight. It sucks to have to engage in it, but if they want to bring it, then let’s get it on. I didn’t need any more motivation to vote and engage this fall, but I’m happy for there to be more. Let’s see what they’ve got for their signatures, and let’s get ready to rumble.

I repeat: Greg Abbott owns the RPT platform

This is what I’m talking about.

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

At its state convention in Fort Worth last week, the Texas GOP amended its platform to include support for reparative therapy “for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”

In response to the headline-grabbing plank, a spokesman for Davis’ campaign confirmed this week in an email to Lone Star Q that the Democratic gubernatorial nominee would back a statewide ban on reparative therapy for minors similar to laws that have passed in California and New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Abbott dodged a question about his party’s support for reparative therapy during a visit to East Texas on Wednesday. KYTX Channel 19 reports that Abbott “stopped short of condemning” the reparative therapy plank but said the issue isn’t near the top of his agenda.

“First is jobs, second is schools, three is roads, transportation and water, and four is making sure our border is secure,” Abbott told KYTX reporter Field Sutton.

“It sounds like reparative therapy is pretty far down on that list,” Sutton said.

“Well, if government does what it’s supposed to do, and then gets out of people’s way, everyone is a whole lot happier,” Abbott responded.

Objection, Your Honor, non-responsive answer. Look, this isn’t about whether or not Greg Abbott would meddle in the affairs of the Legislature if he gets elected Governor. That’s not the point. The point is that as Governor, the bills the Legislature passes, which may include bills on things like banning sanctuary cities, rescinding the Texas DREAM Act, and authorizing “reparative therapy” in some form, will come to Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature. Does he sign them, or does he veto them? It’s a simple question. Abbott knows this, and he knows he doesn’t want to answer it. He’s following the lead of Republicans elsewhere on this. Reporters like Field Sutton need to know this too, and need to not let him get away with it.

Being an idiot, on the other hand, is totally treatable

It’s actually a little amazing that stuff like this doesn’t happen more often.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Open mouth, insert corndog

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, speaking in San Francisco on Wednesday night, said the U.S. would better serve its diverse population by letting the states handle many economic and social policies, a point he perhaps inadvertently drove home when he compared homosexuality to alcoholism.

Addressing the Commonwealth Club of California, Perry argued the federal government should give up much of its policy-making power, letting states chart their own courses on issues ranging from business subsidies to abortion. He joked about his frequent habit of luring California companies to Texas and called the competition between the two states healthy for both, as well as the nation.

But as Perry eyes another possible presidential run, some of his comments illustrated the wide gulf that exists between blue California and red Texas – and within the nation as a whole.

The Texas Republican Party this month adopted a platform supporting access to “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, a widely discredited process intended to change sexual orientation. In response to an audience question about it Wednesday night, Perry said he did not know whether the therapy worked.

Commonwealth Club interviewer Greg Dalton then asked him whether he believes homosexuality is a disorder.

“Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” Perry said. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

The large crowd gathered at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel on Nob Hill included many Perry supporters. But the comment still drew a murmur of disbelief.

When you invite an ignorant fool like Rick Perry to speak to your group, you should not be surprised when he says something stupid. Reaction was swift.

“It’s not accurate and it’s not a reasonable conclusion that the world of medicine and psychiatry would endorse,” said Dr. John Oldham, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Baylor College of Medicine. Oldham also is chief of staff and senior vice president at the Menninger Clinic.

“Alcoholism is a form of addiction, which is an illness,” Oldham said. “Sexual orientation is not an illness.”

Defining homosexuality that way is simply outdated, he said.

“Many decades ago, in the diagnostic manual it was listed as a condition thought to be an illness,” Oldham said. “We’ve learned since that that was wrong.”

The governor’s comment came after he was asked about the Texas Republican Party’s new platform that supports “reparative therapy” for gays and lesbians, a process aimed at changing sexual orientation. Pressed to say whether he thought homosexuality could be cured by prayer or counseling, Perry responded, “I don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist; I’m not a doctor.”

The idea of changing someone’s sexual orientation throughtherapy has been “entirely debunked,” Oldham said. “Reparative therapy is not a legitimate therapy and, in fact, it can be destructive.”

To seek therapy to change one’s sexual orientation, he said, “would be like saying, ‘I would really like to get reparative therapy because I don’t like being short.’ ”

The Republican Party of Rick Perry and Greg Abbott doesn’t care what a bunch of pointy-headed scientists think. They have their own truth, and that’s all they need.

Yes, Greg Abbott owns the RPT platform

Sorry, Greg. You can mumble all the vague platitudes you want, but this baby’s all yours.

You want to be the boss, you get to deal with boss problems

In the wake of the GOP’s approval of a platform that includes a hardline stance on immigration, Attorney General Greg Abbott finds himself at the top of the ticket for a party whose members are deeply divided over the subject and under fire from opponents who say the Republicans’ position is offensive to Hispanic Texans.

And it all comes during an election cycle in which Hispanic Texans are seen as an especially critical voting bloc that Abbott has worked to woo.

“It effectively puts him in an awkward position,” said Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, because the attorney general does not want to risk alienating Hispanic voters or contradicting the official party stance.

Last week, the Republican party adopted a political platform that no longer endorses a provisional visa program for immigrants and calls for ending in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants and for prohibiting “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce immigration laws.

Abbott has largely been silent on the issue. Representatives for the Abbott campaign did not respond to requests for comment for this story, and they have not responded to previous inquiries about his position on the immigration plank of the platform.

The Chron has a similar story, though they did get a mealy-mouthed reply from the Abbott campaign.

Young conservatives. Gay Republicans. Hispanic GOPers. Take your pick – they are all fuming at the platform approved over the weekend by the Texas Republican Party.

With a return to a hard-line stance on immigration and a resounding endorsement of psychological therapy to cure gays of their homosexuality, Texas Republicans in a single stroke alienated a small but emerging faction of the party and handed Democrats a new set of talking points to wield against them in the midst of a heated election cycle.

It also has provoked fervent responses within the party.

Take state Rep. Jason Villalba, a Dallas Republican considered one of the leading Hispanic voices in the Texas House. He penned an open letter to delegates in Texas Monthly on Monday, saying they essentially “adopted a ‘deport them all’ strategy that compares human beings to foreign invaders.”

Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, said Tuesday the platform will “haunt the party for the next two years.”

And Mark Brown, chairman emeritus of the Texas Young Republican Federation, which touts itself as the premier organization for conservative politicos under 40, called the party’s platform “quite abominable.”

“It’s divisive,” Brown said, adding that the party’s rejection of a plank supportive of medical marijuana also will hurt its image with young voters. “It will make it so much harder for some of us who want to grow this party to keep recruiting new members.”


On Tuesday, Wendy Davis’ campaign attempted to tie Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee for governor, to the Republican platorm.

Zak Petkanas, a Davis spokesman, said the GOP took “their cues directly” from Abbott to craft the planks, imploring the attorney general to make his support for the platform clear.

But [RPT Chair Steve] Munisteri noted that statewide elected officials never embrace every tenet in the platform.

“I’ve yet to see a candidate say ‘I support 100 percent of the platform, otherwise we’d have people endorsing nonpasteurized milk,” he said. “It’s not the Greg Abbott platform. He has his own platform.”

Avdiel Huerta, the attorney general’s spokesman, agreed Tuesday.

“Greg Abbott has unveiled his own platform that focuses on jobs, education, roads, water and securing the border,” he said in a statement.

Let me digress for a moment to deal with the likes of Rep. Villalba, Messrs. Davis and Brown. If you really, truly don’t like the platform and really, truly think that it’s hurtful to people you want to reach out to, and you really, truly think it will harm the party’s long-term prospects, but then you go ahead and vote straight-ticket R anyway, you’re part of the problem. I don’t expect any of these three to publicly support a Democrat or oppose a Republican, but in their heart of hearts I think they know who on their ballot is most closely aligned with this platform (hint: his name rhymes with Pan Datrick, though he’s hardly the only one), and it would not be a betrayal of their principles to skip the race or races involving those candidates in November. It’s a secret ballot, fellas. No one will know, I promise. Otherwise, you own this platform just as much as Greg Abbott and the rest of the statewide slate does.

As for Abbott, I’ll stipulate that party platforms have since the beginning of time contained bits of effluvia, wishcasting, personal grievances, and other things that would not be universally supported. Even for the more mainstream things, candidates have the right to be all mavericky and distance themselves from whatever they personally do not buy into. Democrats are no strangers to any of that. The big difference, especially this year, is that the non-universal parts of Democratic platforms have always been either things that would never come up for serious consideration (like, sadly, single-payer healthcare) or that are on the horizon of becoming totally mainstream (like marriage equality was a couple of years ago). The RPT platform, on the other hand, is chock full of things that can and likely will get real hearings in the Legislature and barring shenanigans or heroic levels of lobbying may well pass. They’re not historical curiosities or back-bench saber rattling, they’re real live legislative priorities, shared by people that will be working and voting on actual for-real bills.

That’s why Greg Abbott doesn’t get to wave his hands and say we’re all our own people here and I’m not bound by what a bunch of yahoos in flag-themed clothing came up with. What happened in Fort Worth is going to come to the floor in Austin next year. If Greg Abbott wants to be Governor, it’s totally fair to know, unequivocally, what parts of that platform he supports and what parts he doesn’t. If a bill banning sanctuary cities comes to his desk, does he sign it or does he veto it? If the answer is “it depends”, what does it depend on? What’s acceptable and what isn’t? If a bill that repeals the Texas DREAM Act of 2001 comes before him, does he sign it or veto it? How about a bill that authorizes “reparative therapy” for LGBT teenagers in some form? What does he do with that? This isn’t a hypothetical situation. We all know that someone is going to file these bills, and we all know that if Dan Patrick is elected, he will do everything in his power to pass them out of the Senate. What will Greg Abbott do? He should be asked that question every day until he puts on his big boy underpants and answers it.

One more thing, from this Texas Public Radio story:

Texas Association of Business CEO Bill Hammond said not having the support for a guest worker will leave huge gaps in the state economy and doesn’t only involve jobs in construction, agriculture or hospitality.

“In the Austin area alone, I’m told some 8,000 information technology jobs are left vacant because there’s not the workforce to fill those jobs,” Hammond said. “We could easily do that if we allowed more legal immigration through a guest worker program.”

Hammond said that the platform stance weakens the Texas economy and may have companies looking to relocate to Texas looking at other states that can support their needs.

“We’ve got many, many openings in Texas that could be filled by legal immigration by a guest worker program that would allow people to come and also go when the work was simply no there,” Hammond said.

Hammond said he agrees with Villalba that the removal of the party’s support for a guest worker program isn’t reflective of the entire Texas Republican Party, but is reflective of delegates at the party convention and some of those who are running in statewide elections in 2014.

Bill Hammond, I know you’re not stupid, and I know you’re not naive. We both know that the parts of the party platform that you find objectionable are also supported by large numbers of Republican legislators and legislators-elect. We know this because your organization has given or will give money to many of them. You and your toothless talk about immigration have been a big part of the problem for a long time because it has never been accompanied by any real action. Either work to defeat – or at the very least, publicly refuse to support – the politicians that are pushing the things you say you oppose, or shut up about it.

Who stands with Jared?

I noted yesterday that soon-to-be-former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is busy trying to gather petition signatures to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. Here’s the beginning of his pitch:

Jared Woodfill

I want to thank all of you who stood against Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act. The battle to repeal this ordinance has begun. I encourage each of you to join me in taking a stand against the ordinance proposed by a Mayor who admits that the ordinance is all about her personal agenda and the campaign promises she made to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (“LGBT”) community. The next step in this battle is to promote and circulate a petition that would force a city-wide referendum to repeal Mayor Parker’s Sexual Predator Protection Act.

There should be no special privileges for her special interests. Parker’s Unequal Rights Ordinance is 34 pages long and creates two new “protected classes” in the city charter’s anti-discrimination provisions. This new city ordinance would grant minority status for “sexual orientation” and “gender identification.” Mayor Parker’s ordinance would include minority status for transvestites, allowing men who dress as women to enter women’s public bathrooms and locker room areas. For example, if a biological male, who believes he is a female, wants to use the women’s restroom and you do not allow them to use the female restroom, then the leaders of the business, restaurant, church or other establishment could be prosecuted criminally for discrimination under the Mayor’s ordinance. Additionally, it forces these same entities to recognize same sex marriage or be prosecuted for refusing to do so.

The ordinance is really about Mayor Parker’s personal, social, LGBT agenda for the city, state, and country. She must be stopped!

Blah blah blah hurt feelings entitlement rage lots of lies and so forth. You get the idea. What I want to know is simply this: If this is the official position of the Harris County Republican Party, as well as of the statewide Republican slate, where do all of the Republican candidates running for office stand on this? There’s a lot of Republican judges running for re-election this fall. How many of them will stand with Jared and sign his petition? That’s something I think we ought to know. And yes, I’d like to know the same for the Democrats running against those judges; I’m thinking I’ll add a question to my usual judicial Q&A this year to inquire about that.

What about the other Republican officeholders in Harris County? Well, County Clerk Stan Stanart has participated in the anti-HERO rallies at City Hall, so I think we know where he stands. And while I don’t know his personal opinions on the subject, I’d venture to guess that County Judge Ed Emmett will not be involved in this effort. I suspect he sees no reason to meddle in the affairs of the city of Houston, he’s never given any indication that he’s motivated by so-called social issues, and he just spent over $100K to defeat Woodfill in the primary. So yeah, I expect Judge Emmett will take a pass. That leaves County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, whom I expect will stand with Jared, District Clerk Chris Daniel, and District Attorney Devon Anderson. I won’t venture a guess about the latter two. Someone ought to ask them, for the record.

Anyway. Jared’s little petition is here, and it says that petitions with notarized signatures must be received (by them) no later than June 27. Circle that date on your calendar, we’ll know by then if we might have another item on the ballot this fall.

Yes, Greg Abbott opposes the HERO

He just doesn’t want to be forced to admit it.

It’s a reporter asking questions we don’t want to answer!!!

When the Houston City Council passed its nondiscrimination ordinance including gay and transgender protections, top Democratic statewide candidates such as Sen. Wendy Davis were quick to celebrate.

“All people should be treated equally in every way,” Davis said. Her gubernatorial campaign pointed out that when San Antonio earlier approved its nondiscrimination ordinance, Davis said she’d like to see one in every Texas city.

But the campaign of Davis’ GOP opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, was silent, suggesting a balancing act on the issue as the general election approaches.

Abbott wasn’t shy about opposing San Antonio’s ordinance when it was proposed last year, before he won his primary nod. He said it ran contrary to the Texas Constitution’s ban on religious tests and its one man-one woman definition of marriage, which Abbott has staunchly defended.

He even suggested Texas might sue over the San Antonio ordinance but backed off after seeing the final version, which his spokeswoman said included needed changes.

Other Republicans weren’t as reticent about the Houston ordinance. They didn’t put out press releases, but they responded when I called. The Abbott camp didn’t respond to calls, texts and emails.

Reporter Peggy Fikac quotes spokespeople from the Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton campaigns doing their best Dave Wilson impersonations, while noting that their Democratic opponents Sen. Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston are in favor of the equal rights ordinance. Greg Abbott, meanwhile, lacks the courage of his convictions and is hoping to make it through the next five months without anyone asking any embarrassing questions about that. But don’t mistake that lack of courage for a change of heart.

Meanwhile, as Abbott cowers in a secure undisclosed location, the Harris County GOP has gone all in for repeal. We’ll see if they have any more success with this effort than San Antonio’s haters had last year.

(PS – Why is Jared Woodfill still acting as Harris County GOP Chair? When does the new guy take over? I’m just curious.)

Mail ballots being mailed out for primary runoffs

From the inbox:


The first batch of over 38,000 postal ballots for the May 27, 2014 Primary Runoff Elections have been mailed and will be arriving in voters’ mailboxes this week. This mailing represents the highest number of mail ballots issued for a mid-term runoff election in the history of Harris County. The previous high of 31,468 was recorded during the 2010 Primary Runoff Election.

“It is likely that a portion of the increase in mail ballots issued is due to a measure passed by the State Legislature during the 2013 Legislative session that makes the mail ballot request process more efficient,” informed Stan Stanart, the chief election officer of the largest county in Texas and third largest county in the nation. “Effective this year, voters who are 65 years of age or older, or who are disabled, have the option of submitting an annual ballot by mail application. The annual application is valid for all elections conducted by my office in the calendar year.”

Of the over 38,000 initial mail ballots issued for the Primary Runoff Elections, 96 percent were addressed to senior citizens and disabled voters who have taken advantage of the new law, one percent were sent to qualified voters who specifically requested a ballot for the Primary Runoff Elections, and three percent were mailed to Military and Overseas voters. For the May 27 Runoff Elections, the last day to apply for a ballot by mail is May 16, 2014.

There are a little over 300,000 registered voters on the Harris County voter roll who are 65 years of age or older and are qualified to submit an annual mail ballot application. “I encourage senior citizens and disabled voters who wish to vote by mail to submit an annual ballot by mail application,” asserted Stanart. “I want to ensure that every ballot by mail voter has sufficient time to vote their ballot and return it to my office by Election Day.”

“Permitting qualified voters who have difficulty going to a poll the opportunity to submit a single application to receive a postal ballot for multiple elections is good public policy,” concluded Stanart who supported the annual ballot by mail application for senior citizens and disabled voters.

For more information about the process to apply for a ballot by mail, or to download the new application for a ballot by mail, voters may visit

Yes, the runoff isn’t until May 27, but early voting will begin before you know it. If you plan to vote by mail for the primary runoff, now would be a good time to request your ballot if you haven’t already done so. Remember, if you didn’t vote in March you can vote in either runoff, but if you did vote in March you must vote in the runoff of the same party.

Speaking of parties, I was curious what the partisan breakdown of the mail ballots was, since that is something we know for primaries and primary runoffs. I sent the question to the County Clerk’s office, and this was the answer I got:

As of 4/15/2014:


Interestingly, that’s a fairly significant increase for Democrats, but not for Republicans. For the March primary, there were 12,722 Democratic ballots mailed, of which 8,961 were returned. For Republicans, there were 24,548 ballots mailed, of which 20,026 were returned. There’s still time for more ballots to be requested, so these tallies should increase. I fully expect there to be more action on the Republican side, but clearly at least the usual Democratic suspects are planning to vote.

Who’s afraid of the Republican slate?

I was reading this story about a kerfuffle in the Republican runoff for Railroad Commissioner when a thought struck me.

A Republican candidate seeking a post that regulates the state’s oil and gas industry said he won’t cut ties to his energy business if elected to the Texas Railroad Commission – a state board that historically has had a poor track record disentangling itself from industry interests.

Ryan Sitton is co-founder and chief executive officer of PinnacleAIS, which advises companies about maintenance of equipment used in oil and gas operations.

Sitton said he will maintain an ownership stake in Pinnacle­AIS if he becomes a commission board member – a declaration that raised questions by his GOP and Democratic opponent, ethics experts and tea party Republicans.

“That is a conflict of interest and it is very frightful,” said Wayne Christian, a former state representative also seeking the post.

I’m not terribly interested in the particulars of this fight because the overly cozy relationship between the energy industry and the elected officials that regulate them is a very old story, and typically neither candidate has clean hands. What occurred to me in reading this story is how undistinguished the two candidates are, and how that seems to be the case up and down the statewide ballot for the GOP this year. Consider this: Among the leading candidates in the primaries, including the two that won outright, Wayne Christian and Sid Miller are clowns, George P. Bush is a legacy whose advisers prefer to keep under wraps, Glenn Hegar and Ken Paxton are a couple of basically undistinguished legislators, and Dan Patrick is Dan Patrick. Murderer’s Row these guys ain’t. The fact that they’ve all spent the bulk of their campaigns talking about nothing – they all hate abortion, the Obama administration, illegal immigrants, and Sharia law, and they all love guns – adds to the overall picture of ridiculousness.

The Republicans did have some substantial candidates on their ballot. Malachi Boylus and J. Allen Carnes never had a chance to get out of their primaries. Jerry Patterson and Dan Branch, who is still alive but a big underdog, had to degrade themselves in their races in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to separate themselves from their mostly solid records of public service. Those past accomplishments, and their at least occasional willingness to talk about issues and – heaven forfend – what the office they’re running for actually does were anchors for them, not assets. I get that they’re running in a primary, and they have to address what the voters in that primary want to hear. Democratic primaries are often contests of personality as well, and the winner is often who loves what the base voters love the hardest, but the spectacle of these campaigns has been on another level.

And then there’s the top of the ticket. For all his status as the heir apparent to Rick Perry, Greg Abbott hasn’t exactly been setting the terms of the debate in the Governor’s race. I would argue that Wendy Davis has driven the story of this election from the beginning. That’s not always been good for her – indeed, for about two months running it was mostly bad news about her and her campaign – but good or bad, it’s been about her. Say what you want about Rick Perry, but all of his gubernatorial campaigns have been on his terms. Since February, Abbott’s tone-deafness and Davis’ attacks have been the main event. Oh, he tried to knock her back with his ethics proposal about bond lawyering that maybe ten people in the state understood, but it’s been a steady drumbeat Ted Nugent, Lilly Ledbetter, Charles Murray, and school finance. Neither Abbott’s own words nor those of his surrogates have done anything to help him or change the narrative, and there’s still more out there. At some point you have to wonder what else there is to him beyond a ginormous campaign warchest and a long history of being a Republican on statewide ballots.

Now in the end, of course, none of this may matter. We all know what Texas’ proclivities are, we know how historically weak the state Democratic Party has been and how far behind they are in building infrastructure and a GOTV machine. However you feel about the polls we’ve seen so far, none of them have shown a shift in the fundamentals. The next poll to give Wendy Davis 44% or more of the vote will be the first such poll since John Sharp roamed the earth. These guys may be clowns and empty suits, but they’re also the favorites to win. What I know is that I don’t fear them, at least not as opponents. If they beat us, it’s not because they can run faster or jump higher or lift heavier things. It’s because they have a head start. We may not be able to overcome that this time, but if this is what we’re up against, it’s all that we have to overcome. We will get there.

Pratt Mess gets messier

How much worse can it get?

Judge Denise Pratt

Hundreds of divorce, child support and custody cases dating back to 2012 will have to be revisited – and possibly sent back to trial – as a court administrator sorts out what he called the “random chaos” left behind by former District Family Court Judge Denise Pratt.

The freshman jurist, who abruptly resigned late last month, left nearly 300 court orders stacked on the floor and desk of her 311th District Court, according to Judge David Farr, the administrative judge for Harris County’s nine family courts.

Most of the orders, Farr said, are final agreements needing only a judge’s signature, meaning families are waiting to hear that their cases have been concluded or think they already are.

“Somebody may be out there thinking they’ve been divorced for a couple months; not the case,” said Farr, who is charged with finding judges to staff Pratt’s court until Gov. Rick Perry announces a replacement. Farr said cleaning the administrative mess after Pratt’s sudden departure likely will take months.


Farr said a majority of the orders he found in Pratt’s courtroom, some nearly a year and a half old, are topped with sticky notes – blue, yellow, green, pink – containing hand-written messages from Pratt giving directions, expressing concerns or posing questions about the terms of an agreement to which both parties had signed off.

He said there is no way to determine whether the issues raised on the sticky notes were addressed, or the correct status of the orders without them, meaning lawyers will have to be called in for status hearings, and many families will incur additional legal costs.

“It is random chaos that’s going to have to be dealt with case by case by case,” Farr said. “Every single thing I pick up makes my head hurt, it’s so problematic.”

Austin lawyer Lillian Hardwick, co-author of the “Handbook of Texas Lawyer and Judicial Ethics,” said a Texas judge as high ranking as Pratt has not left a “mess of this size” behind in recent memory, citing a statewide list of resignations since 2001. Some judges have been sanctioned in the past for similar administrative failures, she said.

Asked about the stacks of orders, Pratt’s lawyer, Terry Yates, said “the staff of the 311th are adamant that the numbers cited are grossly exaggerated.”

“It is kind of pitiful that people continue to beat a dead horse,” Yates wrote in an e-mail.

See here for the background. So basically, either the lawyers and clients and Judge Farr are all lying, or Judge Pratt really is a lousy judge. Seems like an Occam’s Razor situation to me. And remember – she’s still on the ballot, and still could be the Republican nominee.

National ag groups not happy with Republicans

It’s all about immigration reform.

Craig Regelbrugge, who co-chairs the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, says a large majority of his group’s members — which include large and small farming enterprises and growers all around the country — are Republican, and many give to the GOP. But he’s increasingly hearing from members who are so frustrated by the Congressional GOP’s failure to act on reform — which is central to maintaining a workforce in the industry — that they are considering withholding campaign donations.

“I hear from growers frequently who basically say, `I used to be a loyal check writer when the Republican Party called, but at this point, the checkbook is closed,’” Regelbrugge tells me. “I’m hearing from growers who are no longer writing checks supporting the party.”

Mike Gempler heads the Washington Growers League, which represents growers ranging from mom-and-pop outfits to enterprises spanning 10,000 acres, and he says that “well over 90 percent” of his members vote Republican, and many write checks. Some of them sit in the district of GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State, a member of the GOP leadership.

But, he says, they are increasingly convinced the GOP is no longer representing their interests in the immigration debate, if the failure to move on legislation is any indication, and are concluding that Republicans are very close to squandering a rare opportunity to achieve reform.

“We’re seeing a lack of response to our needs and concerns from significant parts of the Republican caucus in the House,” Gempler tells me. “They either have ideological issues or they are catering to a more reactionary crowd.”

“We want to see the leadership, including Cathy, move on this,” Gempler continues. “The chances for getting immigration reform are lessening quickly. If we don’t get this done by August recess, we’re going to be in trouble as an industry.”


All this gets to a point about the immigration debate that keeps getting lost: Major Republican-aligned groups want reform — from growers out west to the business community to to evangelicals — and when Republicans refuse to act because they fear blowback from anti-reform conservatives, they are prioritizing them over other core constituencies. Now the growers are increasingly convinced the chance for reform is slipping away and they are getting cut out as a result.

It also gets at a point that I’ve made here many times, which is that while all these groups may want reform, they continue to support – or at least, not oppose – plenty of Republican officeholders that stand in their way. The Texas Association of Business and the late moneybag Bob Perry were and are classic examples of this in Texas. The Texas Farm Bureau has joined in this unhappy chorus this year, and it remains to be seen if they will be as all-talk-no-action as their peers. We’ll know by their actions in the Lite Gov race. As for the national groups, withholding financial support is something, though with the latest SCOTUS shenanigans it may not amount to much. The bottom line is that they have the power to do something about this. A few well-placed primary challenges could do a world of good, and wouldn’t even require them to support any icky Democrats. Until they actually try to use that power, I’m not going to waste any time feeling sympathy for them.

How can we miss you if you won’t go away?

Denise Pratt is a gift that keeps on giving.

Judge Denise Pratt

Denise Pratt may not be gone just yet.

Two days after announcing her immediate resignation as presiding judge of the 311th family District Court – and the suspension of her re-election campaign – Pratt sent a text message to supporters on Sunday asking them to “call or txt” an influential endorser, Dr. Steven Hotze, and encourage him to wait a few weeks before announcing his support for her challenger in a May 27 runoff, Alicia Franklin.

“I am stil heavily favored by the party and attys as seen by wed fundraiser,” Pratt wrote. “And let him know he will b supported also.”

“It’s bizarre,” Franklin said on Tuesday, noting that Pratt had called her on Friday to concede, making her promise to “win in November.”

Despite Pratt’s resignation late Friday, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said her name still will appear on the ballot next month because she missed a March 12 withdrawal deadline. If she wins, Stanart said, her name would appear on the November general election ballot unless she becomes ineligible by moving out of the county, being deemed mentally incompetent by a court, being charged with a felony or dying.

That was followed this morning by a statement, which I also received, that reads, in full, “Despite published reports to the contrary, I have, in fact, suspended my reelection efforts and I am not conducting a campaign.” That, I suppose, clears that up, but there’s still the fact that she’s on the ballot. Like I said yesterday, if her name is on the ballot she can still win the runoff, and thus be the nominee in November. If she withdraws at that time, Democrat Sherri Cothrun wins by default. If she tries some kind of evasive maneuver by claiming to be a resident of another county, which would allow for a replacement candidate to be selected a la Tom DeLay’s “I’m a Virginian” scam in 2006, you can be certain it will wind up in court.

(By the way, remember when Greg Abbott filed an amicus brief on DeLay’s behalf in that fiasco? Good times, good times.)

“If your name is on the ballot, you can win, on a technical basis, yes, that is technically possible,” said Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill. “The question would be: Is she going to run a campaign?”

Nice try, Jared, but “technically” winning is the same as winning. Feel free to make that argument in court if it comes to that. As Mark Jones says, y’all better hope she loses in May, because it gets messy for you otherwise.

Precinct analysis: Republican primary election

I’ve done the Democrats, so now let’s take a look at the Republicans. In this case, I did have a few specific questions in mind, so my approach here will be a little different. First, we all know that Steve Stockman’s performance art piece campaign against Sen. John Cornyn didn’t amount to anything, but did he at least make some noise in his own Congressional district?

Candidate CD36 Else CD36% Else% ============================================ Cornyn 8,231 65,363 48.69% 55.57% Stockman 5,359 27,093 31.70% 23.03% Others 3,314 25,161 19.60% 21.39% Total 16,904 117,617

So sort of, yeah. Cornyn was held under 50% in the bit of CD36 that’s in Harris County, and it’s clear that Stockman picked up that he lost, but it didn’t make a difference overall. As it happens, the other counties in CD36 are all entirely within CD36, so we can look at the whole district as well now that we have the Harris data:

County Cornyn Cornyn% Stockman Stockman% ================================================ Chambers 1,609 41.02% 1,322 33.70% Hardin 2,937 40.52% 2,986 41.20% Harris 8,231 48.69% 5,359 31.70% Jasper 1,274 54.28% 780 33.23% Liberty 2,496 38.02% 2,007 30.57% Newton 226 46.40% 194 39.83% Orange 3,546 44.51% 2,925 36.72% Polk 2,626 46.46% 1,820 32.20% Tyler 1,121 46.01% 961 39.44%

So again, Stockman held Cornyn under 50% in CD36, but he still trailed in every county except Hardin. His performance in Harris was particularly weak. It’s possible that someone could have beaten Big John, or at least forced him into a runoff, but Steve Stockman was not that someone.

Along similar lines, I wondered how Dan Patrick did on his home turf of SD07 versus the rest of the county:

Candidate SD07 Else SD07% Else% ============================================ Patrick 30,398 48,373 64.84% 53.78% Not Patrick 16,481 41,578 35.16% 46.22% Total 46,879 89,951

Unlike Stockman, Patrick really killed it on his home turf, but he still won a majority elsewhere as well. That cannot be a comforting thought to David Dewhurst.

Given the inflammatory rhetoric about immigration and the pushback by Latino Republicans against Dan Patrick, I also checked to see if Patrick did any worse in the five State Rep districts held by Latinos (HDs 140, 143, 144, 145, and 148) than he did elsewhere:

Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Patrick 5,515 73,256 56.58% 57.64% Not Patrick 4,233 53,826 43.42% 42.36% Total 9,748 127,082

Short answer: No. Of course, we don’t know how many of the Republican primary voters in these districts were Latino – the Anglo voting age population in these districts range from 12K (HD140) to 37K (HD148), so there are plenty of non-Latinos to go around. Regardless, at least in Harris County, Patrick’s rhetoric wasn’t a problem for these voters.

Finally, how did the Latino Republican candidates do in the Latino districts?

Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Abbott 8,929 119,258 92.28% 94.52% Martinez 381 2,713 3.94% 2.15% Others 366 4,207 3.78% 3.33% Total 9,676 126,178 Candidate Latino Else Latino% Else% ============================================ Medina 1,558 15,993 16.91% 13.56% Torres 420 3,144 4.56% 2.67% Hegar 4,442 62,214 48.22% 52.74% Hilderbran 2,792 36,620 30.31% 31.04% Total 9,212 117,971

A little bit of a benefit, mostly for Debra Medina, but overall less than a drop in the bucket. Even if the differences had been dramatic, the paucity of voters in these districts would have minimized the effect. But the difference was trivial, so it didn’t matter anyway.

Always going backwards

That’s the Republican Party of Texas.

When the Texas Republican Party made a guest worker program part of its 2012 platform, it was hailed as an important step forward for the party. The GOP needed to adjust itself, people said, to appeal to a new generation of Texas voters, and reorient itself toward some kind of immigration reform package. The acknowledgement of the need for a guest worker program was a small move in that direction, but it was significant. So naturally, two years later, some Republicans want to strip it back out of the platform ahead of this year’s state convention in June.

As reported by the Quorum Report’s Scott Braddock [last] Monday, the Texas Eagle Forum’s Cathie Adams has been floating language that would strip the guest worker plank out of the party’s platform. Cathie Adams, as Phyllis Schlafly’s top lieutenant in the state, may seem like a marginal figure to some—she’s spent much of the last several years attempting to persuade tea party groups that major figures in the national Republican party and U.S. government are secret Muslims—but she’s also a former chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party, and she holds a lot of sway with tea party groups around the state.

Adams told Quorum Report that it’s a mistake for the GOP to have anything other than a hard-line position going into the 2014 midterms and 2015 legislative session. Her proposed language unambiguously rejects any congressional moves to address immigration:

THEREFORE BE IT IS RESOLVED that we reject any and all calls for blanket or incremental amnesty and encourage the enforcement of existing state and federal laws regarding border security, national security, immigration and employment.


Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who became prominently identified with the platform change, told Bloomberg Businessweek he was less than certain about his side’s success as he rose to speak in favor of the change. “Well, here’s the end of a political career,” he remembers thinking. But the platform did change. Supporters hailed it as a “bold step toward leadership” on immigration.

But it’s debatable how much that small shift is evidence of a larger one in the GOP. For one thing, it’s never presented as a humanitarian issue—it’s a business issue. The important thing is ensuring a steady supply of labor, not the welfare and well-being of the countless documented and undocumented migrants in the state. “I’m no bleeding heart; I oppose birthright citizenship,” Patterson said later. “But we need the labor.”

Scott Braddock has a copy of the QR story on his site; the Chronicle is now reporting on it as well. That story was published a day before the one-year anniversary of the national GOP autopsy that detailed what they needed to do to deal with demography and shifts in public attitudes going forward. So much for that. This is likely to be a good year for the GOP nationally, with an extremely favorable Senate landscape and turnout patterns that still favor them in non-Presidential years. But 2016 looms as the polar opposite for them, with a brutal Senate scene and the potential Hillary juggernaut. One way or another, they’re going to have to face up to reality. I suspect it’ll take more than one electoral thrashing for that to truly sink in.

Pratt resigns

Good riddance.

Judge Denise Pratt

Under investigation by Harris County prosecutors for dismissing hundreds of cases without notice, embattled family court judge Denise Pratt resigned Friday, abruptly ending her re-election bid.

The freshman Republican jurist campaigned as a conservative advocate for children and families, touting her unique policy of keeping boyfriends, girlfriends and lovers of recently divorced litigants away from children. While a bevy of Houston-area lawyers and families who have rallied against Pratt challenged that claim, the Baytown native defended her record Friday in a statement that said her departure from the 311th state District Court was due to the damage that “relentless attacks by my political opponents” were having on the court, the local Republican Party and her family.

“I cannot, in good conscience, allow it to continue,” she wrote on her campaign website. “My goal has always been to serve the children and families of Harris County, but I won’t sacrifice my family’s well-being any longer to continue to serve as judge. … I don’t want to see my party, which I have worked to build, dragged down by the media circus.”


On Friday, Pratt critics said they were elated by the resignation, but also frustrated that she continues to deny wrongdoing.

“Instead of taking responsibility for her actions, she’s blaming people like me, when all the lawyers want are judges who show up to work and follow the law and treat people fairly,” Enos said. “Had she done that, she wouldn’t be in this position.”

See here for all the previous entries. I received a copy of Pratt’s statement on Friday, and it’s an epic miasma of whiny self-pity; I’ve pasted it beneath the fold so you can experience it for yourselves. Putting all partisan considerations aside, this is good news. Her incompetence and petulance were causing real problems for a lot of people, and her departure makes the judiciary better overall. I’m glad to see her service come to an end.

That said, as the story notes the deadline to withdraw from the ballot for the runoff was two weeks ago, so despite her resignation she could still be the nominee in the 311th District Family Court. If she manages to win the runoff against Alicia Franklin and then withdraws from the race, Democrat Sherri Cothrun will be unopposed in November. I’m thinking that might cause a bit of a hubbub in the media – if she really wanted to avoid any circuses, she should have submitted her resignation before the March 12 deadline for the runoff. Given Pratt’s refusal to admit any flaws on her part and her insistence that all the bad things we negative nellies have been saying about her are just dirty politics, one has to wonder what prompted this. One might speculate about the status of the latest complaint against her and the ensuing investigation. If we hear any news on that front, we’ll know. Beyond that, as I said I don’t really care. A bad judge is stepping down. That’s what matters. See below for her statement, and Texpatriate has more.