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Richard Morrison

Fort Bend DA to retire

The end of an era, and an opportunity for change.

Fort Bend County District Attorney John Healey announced Friday that he will not seek re-election, marking an end to what will be 26 years in office, according to a news release.

Healey said he will retire at the end of his term in 2018 to spend time with his wife. He will be a few weeks shy of 64, he said in an interview.

“I’ve often said retirement is too often wasted on the elderly,” he said. “There’s a whole other phase of life that I want to be able to enjoy with my family.”

Healey first took office by judicial appointment Nov. 18, 1992, when Fort Bend County was a far cry from the bustling county it has become. He presided over the growth of the office from what was then 16 prosecutors to what is now 64, according to the release.

[…]

Healey won in 2014 with 58 percent of the vote. His term will end Dec. 31, 2018.

First, let me say that I wish DA Healy well in his retirement. From a quality of life perspective, I think he has the right idea. Politically speaking, this is a big opportunity for Democrats in Fort Bend, as it is surely easier to win an open seat rather than knock off an incumbent with no obvious demerits. Finding a candidate would be the first order of business; former two-term County Commissioner Richard Morrison comes to my mind, but I’m just speculating idly. Fort Bend Democrats have other races of interest next year – HD26, Commissioners Court Precinct 4, the other countywide offices; big parts of SD17 and CD22 are also in Fort Bend – but this is a definite prize. I’m sure it will draw serious interest.

Precinct analysis: Fort Bend Commissioners Court precincts

I have not done Fort Bend precinct analyses in the past because I don’t get easily-worked-with CSV-format canvass reports from them after elections. However, it turns out that their election returns page for this year has a “Reports” button on it from which one can download an Excel-format canvass report. It’s laid out differently than the Harris County reports, in a way that made this all a bit more labor-intensive, but I was able to work with it. I’ve got it in two posts, one for today on the Commissioners Court precincts, and one for tomorrow on the State Rep districts. So with that said, let’s dive on in with a look at the Presidential races from this year and 2012.


President - 2016

Pcnct    Rep     Dem    Lib   Grn   Rep %   Dem %   Lib %   Grn %
=================================================================
CC1   28,737  26,823  1,502   332  50.07%  46.73%   2.62%   0.58%
CC2   11,969  41,887    925   470  21.66%  75.81%   1.67%   0.85%
CC3   44,899  29,891  2,555   472  57.70%  38.41%   3.28%   0.61%
CC4   31,607  35,874  1,916   508  45.21%  51.32%   2.74%   0.73%


President - 2012

Pcnct    Rep     Dem    Lib   Grn   Rep %   Dem %   Lib %   Grn %
=================================================================
CC1   26,771  20,521    362    74  56.09%  43.00%   0.76%   0.16%
CC2   12,354  38,699    274   100  24.02%  75.25%   0.53%   0.19%
CC3   42,394  17,862    528   111  69.62%  29.33%   0.87%   0.18%
CC4   34,607  24,062    555   175  58.26%  40.51%   0.93%   0.29%

Looking at these numbers, your first instinct might be to ask how it is that Commissioner Richard Morrison lost his bid for re-election in Precinct 1. I would remind you that he won in 2012 against a candidate that had been disavowed by the Fort Bend County GOP after it was discovered he had voted in multiple locations in a previous election. I’ll also say again not to be too distracted by the Trump/Clinton numbers, since there were a fair amount of crossover votes. This will become apparent when we look at other county races in the Commissioners Court precincts. The bottom line was that this was the first time Morrison, who was elected in 2008 to succeed a scandal-plagued incumbent, faced a conventional, establishment-type candidate with no obvious baggage, and it was too much to overcome in a precinct that skews Republican. It’s a shame, because Morrison is a great guy who did a fine job as Commissioner, but we were basically playing with house money. Morrison is still a young guy who could certainly run for something else if he wanted to – County Judge is one obvious possibility – so I hope we’ll see him again.

The other point of interest is the Democratic growth in Precincts 3 and 4, especially 4, where Hillary Clinto got a majority of the vote. Again, there are crossover voters here, but as you’ll see in a minute, the growth is real. Precinct 4 will be up in 2018, so this is an obvious target of interest for Fort Bend Democrats. As with all population growth areas, ensuring that new residents are registered will be a key to any strategy, as will making new arrivals who are in line with Democratic values aware of the party’s presence while dispelling the myth that Fort Bend is a Republican stronghold. This growth has implications for the State Rep races as well, which we will get to in the next post.

Now let’s take a look at the contested county-level races, for some perspective on the partisan levels in each precinct.


District Judge,  240th Judicial District

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   31,249  25,475  55.09%  44.91%
CC2   13,490  41,211  24.66%  75.34%
CC3   50,214  26,881  65.13%  34.87%
CC4   36,630  32,260  53.17%  46.83%


District Judge,  400th Judicial District

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   31,481  25,299  55.44%  44.56%
CC2   13,570  41,177  24.79%  75.21%
CC3   50,401  26,694  65.38%  34.62%
CC4   36,803  32,186  53.35%  46.65%


Judge, County Court at Law No. 5

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   30,686  25,982  54.15%  45.85%
CC2   13,309  41,330  24.36%  75.64%
CC3   49,725  27,308  64.55%  35.45%
CC4   36,129  32,707  52.49%  47.51%


Sheriff

Pcnct    Rep     Dem   Rep %   Dem %
====================================
CC1   32,010  25,236  55.92%  44.08%
CC2   13,595  41,255  24.79%  75.21%
CC3   51,268  26,386  66.02%  33.98%
CC4   38,091  31,463  54.76%  45.24%

So as you can see, Precinct 1 is basically 55-45 Republican, which is close to what it was in 2012. Morrison lost by five points, so he did get some crossovers, just not enough to overcome the lean of the precinct. Republicans in Precinct 2 who didn’t want to vote for Trump went third party instead of crossing over for Hillary Clinton. Precinct 3 looks more like the Republican powerhouse it was in 2012, though as you can that while both Rs and Ds gained voters, Ds gained a handful more. That’s enough to reduce the Republican percentage of the vote, but it didn’t do much for the size of the deficit. The big difference in in Precinct 4, where Dems netted about a 6,000 vote gain to narrow the gap to about five points. That’s enough to make it an opportunity, but it’s still a challenge. I don’t know enough to have any specific advice for the Fort Bend folks, but the numbers are clear. Start the recruitment process as soon as possible, and look towards 2018.

Dems sweep Harris County

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

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

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

Interview with Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison is an old friend. He’s the first candidate I ever interviewed, on an old-fashioned tape recorder way back in 2003 as he was gearing up to challenge then-Rep. Tom DeLay in CD22. He fell short in that effort, but he gained a lot of respect and wound up on a path that led to him being elected to Commissioner’s Court in 2008. (Fun fact: Thanks to Morrison’s election, Fort Bend’s Commissioners Court has two Democrats on it, one more than Harris County’s does.) He’s thrived in a Republican-leaning precinct, and faces another challenging election this November with his usual combination of optimism, accomplishment, and strong grasp of the issues. Here’s what we talked about:

Interviews and Q&As from the primaries are on my 2016 Election page. I will eventually get around to updating it to include links to fall interviews.

The future of Fort Bend transit

Public transportation in Fort Bend County has grown quite a bit since its inception, and there’s a lot of potential for future growth if the pieces can be put into place.

On Tuesday, county leaders, staff and transit partners gathered in Richmond to celebrate the rapid evolution of the Fort Bend Public Transportation Department since it was formed 10 years ago. They marked projects that moved from the initially limited efforts of the 1990s, which benefited a few hundred people a month, into a system that serves tens of thousands of riders. Leaders also talked about what might be next for public transportation in the suburban county west of Houston.

“In 2003, we were providing 300 rides per month,” Patterson said. “This last six months, we transported 33,000 rides per month.”

This year, the transit department will create a master plan to outline priorities and possibilities through 2040, coordinating with the roads department to anticipate future needs.

“Where is the growth going to be in Fort Bend County? Will it be residential or commercial? What will the overlay of transportation needs be?” Transportation Director Paulette Shelton asked, listing the core questions to be considered as the plan is developed. “We pull out 37 buses every day to do service. If I look ahead five years, we’ll probably be around 60 or 70 buses.”

How the system expands will depend on “where the development happens and the needs in the cities,” she said.

County Judge Bob Hebert said he does not intend for the county to ever operate a major bus system with fixed routes, but still expects to add new services. The future of the department will hinge “to some extent on where Harris County goes,” he said.

Because Fort Bend’s future is linked to the wider region – with about 60 percent of residents working in Houston, according to Census figures – many transportation and roads projects will require coordination with Harris County and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, known as Metro.

Hebert said the most common question about public transit that he is asked is, “When are we going to have commuter rail?” He compared the undertaking to the construction of Fort Bend toll roads.

“They have to be tied into a bigger system,” he said. “When Harris County started building the Westpark Tollway, our Westpark Tollway became viable. It gave you a path somewhere people wanted to be in large numbers. We will not put in rail until we know for certain there is rail coming out to the Harris County line.”

Commissioner Richard Morrison lists a commuter rail out to Missouri City and along Highway 90 as a top priority, but said a more practical concern must be considered first: funding.

Here’s the FBPTD website. Note that their buses are “demand response service”, which means you call at least a day in advance to schedule a stop by your house or wherever, and they take you where you want to go as long as it’s within their service area. Sounds an awful lot like the Flex Zones in Metro’s reimagined bus network, which have caused so much anxiety. I wonder how well this service has worked for Fort Bend. Might be nice for their to be some reporting on that, to get a better feel for what Houston Flex Zone riders might expect.

As for commuter rail into Fort Bend, that may well hinge on the Metro/Culberson peace treaty, as working to secure funding for that line was among the goodies Rep. Culberson promised to work on. The Lege may need to get involved to authorize Metro to operate in Fort Bend, but if there is a plan in place to get that rail line going, I would expect such authorization to be a formality. Mostly, I’m glad that this is such a persistent question for Judge Hebert, as that is surely a key component to moving this along. For now, I’d say the ball is in Congress’ court, and there is some motion (finally) on a transportation bill, so we’ll see what happens.

Morrison’s challenge

I often said last year that I wanted to get through the 2014 elections before worrying too much about the 2015 ones. I feel the same way this year, and thus don’t plan to spend much time writing about 2016 elections. But some stories are too important not to comment on, and this is one of them.

Richard Morrison

Richard Morrison

Rosenberg Mayor Vincent M. Morales Jr. announced on Jan. 29 that he’s running for Precinct 1 Fort Bend County commissioner.

Incumbent Precinct 1 Commissioner Richard Morrison said he intends to run for re-election in 2016. The Democrat first won election to the position in November 2008.

In announcing his run for commissioner, Morales, in his second term as mayor of Rosenberg, cited his desire to continue his service in a greater capacity.

“My work for Rosenberg is not done; it has only just begun,” said Morales, who will run for county office as a Republican. “By serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can continue my focus on economic development and vital infrastructure on a larger scale. I am committed to making certain that our community will be a viable place to live, work and educate our children and grandchildren for years to come, and by serving as Precinct 1 commissioner, I can do just that.”

In his second term in office, Morrison said, “I’ve accomplished a lot.

“I’ve extended, widened and built a lot of roads in Precinct 1. I fought to make sure local contractors and businesses get Fort Bend County construction projects. I’ve done the best I can, along with other members of court, to run a very lean county government, so taxpayers get the most bang for their buck.”

Richard Morrison has long been one of my favorite people in politics. He hit the scene in 2004 when he ran a scrappy, underdog campaign against Tom DeLay in CD22; the interview I did with him in December of 2003 is the first I ever did for this blog. He took on the County Commissioner’s race in 2008, flipping the Republican seat by siding with locals who were unhappy with a proposed toll road in the area and winning large numbers of crossover votes in his home turf, the heavily Republican Greatwood development. He won re-election in 2012 against an opponent who was disavowed by the Fort Bend GOP after evidence surfaced that he had voted twice in an earlier election, once in Texas and once in Virginia.

The challenge is that Fort Bend Commissioners Precinct 1 has a decided Republican tilt. I pieced together precinct information from the Fort Bend election results page, and this is how it looked in the two races Morrison won.

2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 14,414 Straight D 14,246 McCain 23,902 54.27 Obama 20,137 45.73 Shoemaker 23,059 54.21 Hollan 19,478 45.79 Ordeneaux 21,191 49.12 Morrison 21,948 50.88 2008 Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Straight R 18,843 Straight D 15,124 Romney 26,762 56.60 Obama 20,521 43.40 Mullinix 26,768 57.50 Petry 19,784 42.50 Fleming 22,970 49.26 Morrison 23,661 50.74

The second race in each listing above is a District Court race, which I included as a measure of the non-Presidential dropoff; as you can see, that was greater on the D side and thus was another obstacle for Morrison to overcome. In 2012, the base Republican vote grew by about 3,000 over 2008, while the Dem baseline remained the same. Morrison swung about 2,000 votes in 2008, nearly all coming from six Greatwood precincts, and he swung over 3,000 votes in 2012, outperforming other Dems in just about every box while again dominating his back yard.

The main danger for Morrison is that Morales, a successful politician in his own right, will represent a safe choice for Morrison’s Republican friends in Greatwood and elsewhere to vote for, much as Sarah Davis was for Ellen Cohen’s crossovers in 2010. I’m not sufficiently plugged in to Fort Bend politics to know how good a job Morales did in Rosenberg or how much appeal he’ll have overall, but he only needs to get a few of those wayward Republican Morrison backers to come home in order to win. Morrison, who can win on the strength of Greatwood alone if countywide D turnout is good enough, needs to vigorously defend his home turf while working to boost his party’s numbers elsewhere. It won’t be easy, but it is doable. Whether Battleground Texas is a factor next year or not, this is exactly the kind of small ball that we should be playing. You want a local race to invest in for 2016, this one should be high on your list.

Pro tip: Vote only once

Oops.

Bruce Fleming

After the Fort Bend Star received a tip about the Republican candidate for Fort Bend County Precinct 1 Commissioner, the Star conducted an in-depth review of Bruce Fleming and his wife, Nancy Fleming’s voting record. Our research found that for several years Fleming voted both in Bucks County, Pa. and in Fort Bend County.

Although Fleming claims to be a 20-year resident of Texas, he first registered to vote in Bucks County, Pa. in 1992 and still owns a home there. He is listed as an active voter Bucks County.

Fleming first voted in Fort Bend County in the general election of 2006. He voted early in Fort Bend then voted absentee in Bucks County, Pa. in the same general election.

In 2008 he voted absentee in the general election in Bucks, County, Pa but in Fort Bend County he voted in person in the Democratic Primary and again in the 4/8/2008 primary run off. He also voted early in the November general election in Fort Bend.

In 2010 he voted absentee in the general election in Bucks County and in Fort Bend County he voted early in both the primary and the general election. Fleming voted in person in the 2010 primary in Fort Bend County and voted early in the primary run off.

The Star has been unable to get the primary voting records in Bucks County for 2012, but those records should be available next week.

According to Fleming, his wife, Nancy, is seldom seen in Fort Bend as she stays in their home in Pennsylvania in order to keep her job there. She usually votes in every general election in Pennsylvania. 2010 records indicate she voted in the general election in both Bucks County (absentee) and the general election in Fort Bend (also absentee).

However, in 2012 with her husband a candidate, she voted in Fort Bend in both the Republican primary (in person) and then absentee in the primary run off. She is classified as an active registered voter in both Pennsylvania and Fort Bend County, Texas.

The Star contacted Bruce Fleming to ask him why he had voted in both states in the same elections for at least three different elections. According to Fleming he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007 and he was back and forth between Houston and Bucks County for treatment. He seemed to indicate that was why he voted in both states. However, our research shows that Fleming started voting in both states in the 2006 general election and continued to vote in both states through 2010. Again, the 2012 primary records for Pennsylvania are not available yet. Fleming told the Star that he would have to talk to his wife and get back to us. He didn’t.

Ouch. Fleming is the Republican candidate for Fort Bend County Commissioner Precinct 1, against Richard Morrison. Fleming’s vote in the 2008 Democratic primary was aberrant – as Juanita demonstrated, he’s a consistent Republican primary voter otherwise. One presumes he was among those who voted in the Dem primary that year at the exhortation of Rush Limbaugh, to mess with things. Anyway, the Chron story ties this back to a larger theme.

“I’m, frankly, shocked at the double, secret life that my opponent has been living for the past six years,” said Fleming’s Democratic opponent, incumbent Commissioner Richard Morrison. “I know a lot of precinct chairs that are Republicans here in Fort Bend County, and I know them to be hard-working, they play by the rules and they would never stoop to anything like this.”

Morrison and fellow Fort Bend Democrats took aim at Catherine Engelbrecht, founder and president of True the Vote, a Houston-based tea party group dedicated to combating voter fraud nationwide and pushing for voter photo identification. Engelbrecht lives in Fort Bend’s Precinct 1.

“While local and national Republican leaders were tilting at the windmills of imaginary voter fraud, real voter fraud was taking place under their noses,” said Fort Bend County Democratic Chairman Steve Brown. “It demonstrates that the Republicans’ crusade against voter fraud is either disingenuous or ill- conceived – maybe both – to be totally unaware of a serial fraudulent voter like Fleming while aggressively harassing little old ladies attempting to vote in Briargate (a Houston neighborhood in Fort Bend County).”

The irony sure is thick, isn’t it? The story has a fairly limp response from some TTV person, because let’s face it, people like Fleming aren’t who they’re interested in. Additional coverage from the Fort Bend Star is here, a little gloating from Juanita is here, further commentary from FBCDP Chair Steve Brown about what protecting the integrity of the vote really means is here, and PDiddie has more.

Crabb River Road and FM762

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison emailed me the following link from his blog:

I am seeking the support of my neighbors in Greatwood, Tara, Canyon Gate, Bridlewood Estates, Brazos Lakes and Brazos Gardens to widen Crabb River Road and FM 762 as it passes by the new high school. The project is more fully described below.

I don’t know the area or the roads in question, so I can’t comment on this. I’m passing it along for those who do live or work around there and who might be affected by this. Please give your feedback on this to Commissioner Morrison by email at richard.morrison@co.fort-bend.tx.us, or call his office at 281-344-9400. Thanks very much.

Morrison speaks on the Grand Parkway

Fort Bend County Commissioner Richard Morrison writes about the recently-greenlighted Grand Parkway Segment E and the possibility that stimulus funds could be used to fund what will become a toll road.

If Segment E is funded from the stimulus money and finally constructed, exorbitant tolls from this segment will be used to finance and construct the remaining segments in Liberty, Montgomery, Brazoria, Chambers, and Galveston Counties. That means the citizens of Fort Bend County and North-west Harris County will be paying for those segments even though they never drive on them. From a mobility standpoint many of these remaining segments are useless. Miles and miles of the remaining pieces will cross open prairie where no one lives, will have little or no effect on traffic and are not needed. When our transportation dollars from Washington D.C. are desperately needed to get people to and from our population centers, it only seems reasonable that the federal stimulus money should be spent on actual mobility projects.

There’s more, so check it out. On a related note, the Observer has a report from that rally at the Capitol that urged TxDOT to slow down and get more public input on how and where it should be allocating those funds. And quit pissing everybody off while they’re at it.