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Sarah DeMerchant

The Fort Bend blue wave

Let’s not forget that what happened in Harris County happened in Fort Bend, too.

KP George

Across the state, the “blue wave” that had long been a dream of the Democratic Party faithful failed to materialize in Tuesday’s midterm elections, with Republicans sweeping every statewide office for the 20th consecutive year, albeit by closer-than-expected margins.

But in Fort Bend County — the rapidly growing suburb southwest of Houston often heralded as a beacon of diversity — Democrats had their best election day since the political power base in Texas shifted from Democrat to Republican decades ago.

Political analysts attributed the near sweep in part to the county’s growing diversity, which also was reflected in the backgrounds of some of the winners: Middleton, who defeated Republican Cliff Vacek, is African-American, and Democrat KP George, who unseated longtime County Judge Robert Hebert, was born in India.

[…]

In Fort Bend County elections Tuesday, Democrats ousted Republican incumbents for county judge, Precinct 4 commissioner and district clerk. Middleton won the open district attorney race, and all 22 Democrats who ran for judicial positions — state district courts, appeals courts and county courts-at-law — prevailed; the lone Republican victor was opposed only by a Libertarian candidate.

Fort Bend County voters favored Democrats over Republicans for every statewide office on the ballot except governor. And even in that race, Gov. Greg Abbott, who won 56 percent of the statewide vote over challenger Lupe Valdez, managed only a slim plurality in Fort Bend County, besting Valdez by a mere 720 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

Only in legislative campaigns did the Democrats fall short. Sri Kulkarni, who failed in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in the multi-county 22nd Congressional District, lost in his district’s portion of Fort Bend County by 5 percentage points, roughly the same as the district-wide margin. Republican state Reps. Rick Miller and John Zerwas defeated Democratic challengers.

I agree that Fort Bend’s diversity played a big role in the result, but Fort Bend has been very diverse for years now. Democrats have come close before – Barack Obama got 48.50% in Fort Bend in 2008 – but they were never quite able to break through. This was the year it all came together, and I’d say it was a combination of demography, voter registration, Betomania, and the same disgust with Donald Trump from college-educated voters as we saw in Harris County and pretty much everywhere else. None of this really a surprise – we saw what was happening in Commissioners Court Precinct 4 in 2016 – but it still feels a bit unreal that it actually happened. The suburbs have long been the locus of Republican strength in Texas. That’s not true any more, and I think it’s going to take us all a little time to fully absorb that. In the meantime, I know some very happy people in Fort Bend right now. KUHF has more.

Interview with Sarah DeMerchant

Sarah DeMerchant

Back to the State House, and over to Fort Bend County, where there are three elections of interest this year. Fort Bend trended Democratic in 2016, and you can see that reflected in the State Rep districts. HD26 is the epicenter of Democratic growth in Fort Bend, and candidate Sarah De Merchant is back for a second attempt at taking it. DeMerchant has a degree in Computer Information Systems and a professional background in software development. She is involved in numerous community organizations and volunteered on the Wendy Davis and Barack Obama campaigns in past years. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Filing roundup: Outside Harris County

A look at who filed for what on the Democratic side in the counties around Harris. These are all predominantly Republican counties, some more than others, so the Democrats are almost all challengers. On the flip side, there are many opportunities for gains.

Lisa Seger

Montgomery County

CD08 – Steven David

HD03 – Lisa Seger
HD15 – Lorena Perez McGill
HD16 – Mike Midler

County Judge – Jay Stittleburg
District Clerk – John-Brandon Pierre
County Treasurer – Mandy Sunderland

First, kudos to Montgomery County, hardly a Democratic bastion, for having so many candidates. They’re a County Clerk candidate away from having a full slate. I’m not tracking judicial candidates, County Commissioners, or Constables, but the MCDP has those, too. Steven David is a business and efficiency expert for the City of Houston. He’s running against Kevin “Cut all the taxes for the rich people!” Brady. Lisa Seger, whose district also covers Waller County, is a fulltime farmer in Field Store Community who has helped feed first responders during the fires of 2011 and is also involved in animal rescue. Her opponent is Cecil Bell, who was possibly the most fanatical pusher of anti-LGBT bills in the State House. She’s also a Facebook friend of my wife, who knows a lot of local farmers through her past work with Central City Co-Op. Jay Stittleburg is a Navy veteran and Project Management Professional who has worked in oil and gas. John-Brandon Pierre is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. A very solid group.

Fort Bend County

CD22 – Letitia Plummer
CD22 – Margarita Ruiz Johnson
CD22 – Mark Gibson
CD22 – Sri Preston Kulkarni
CD22 – Steve Brown

SD17 – Fran Watson
SD17 – Rita Lucido
SD17 – Ahmad Hassan

HD26 – Sarah DeMerchant
HD27 – Rep. Ron Reynolds
HD27 – Wilvin Carter
HD28 – Meghan Scoggins
HD85 – Jennifer Cantu

County Judge – KP George
District Clerk – Beverly McGrew Walker

Gotta say, I’m kind of disappointed in Fort Bend. They had a full slate for county offices in 2014, but this year there wasn’t anyone to run for County Clerk or County Treasurer? I don’t understand how that happens. Mark Gibson and Steve Brown list Fort Bend addresses, while Letitia Plummer and Margarita Johnson are from Pearland and Sri Kulkarni is from Houston. The Senate candidates we’ve already discussed. For the State House, Sarah DeMerchant ran in 2016, while Wilvin Carter is the latest to try to take out Rep. Ron Reynolds, who is the only incumbent among all the candidates I’m listing in this post and whose story you know well. Meghan Scoggins has a background in aerospace but works now in the nonprofit sector, while Jennifer Cantu is an Early Childhood Intervention therapist for a Texas nonprofit. KP George is a Fort Bend ISD Trustee and past candidate for CD22.

Brazoria County

CD14 – Adrienne Bell
CD14 – Levy Barnes

SBOE7 – Elizabeth Markowitz

HD29 – Dylan Wilde Forbis
HD29 – James Pressley

County Judge – Robert Pruett
County Clerk – Rose MacAskie

CD22 and SD17 also contain Brazoria County. HD25, held by Dennis Bonnen, is in Brazoria but it is one of the few districts that drew no Democratic candidates. I haven’t focused much on the SBOE races, but as we know longtime Republican member David Bradley is retiring, so that seat is open. It’s not exactly a swing district, but maybe 2018 will be better than we think. Adrienne Bell has been in the CD14 race the longest; she’s a Houston native and educator who was on both the Obama 2012 and Wendy Davis 2014 campaigns. Levy Barnes is an ordained bishop with a bachelor’s in biology, and you’ll need to read his biography for yourself because there’s too much to encapsulate. Dylan Wilde Forbis is one of at least three transgender candidates for State House out there – Jenifer Pool in HD138 and Finnigan Jones in HD94 are the others I am aware of. The only useful bit of information I could find about the other candidates is the Robert Pruett had run for County Judge in 2014, too.

Galveston County

HD23 – Amanda Jamrok
HD24 – John Phelps

CD14 and SBOE7 are also in Galveston. Remember when Galveston was a Democratic county? Those were the days. I don’t have any further information about these candidates.

Hope these posts have been useful. There are more I hope to do, but they’re pretty labor intensive so I’ll get to them as best I can.

Post-holiday weekend filing update

Pulling this together from various sources.

– According to the Brazoria County Democratic Party, Beto O’Rourke has company in the primary for Senate. Sema Hernandez, whose campaign Facebook page describes her as a “Berniecrat progressive” from Houston, is a candidate as well. I’d not seen or heard her name before this, and neither she nor Beto has officially filed yet as far as I can tell, so this is all I know. Some free advice to Beto O’Rourke: Please learn a lesson from the Wendy Davis experience and run hard in South Texas and the Valley so we don’t wake up in March to a fleet of stories about how you did surprisingly poorly in those areas against an unknown with a Latinx surname. Thanks.

J. Darnell Jones announced on Facebook that he will be filing for CD02 on November 30, joining Todd Litton in that race. Jones is a retired Navy officer (he has also served in the Army) who ran for Pearland City Council this past May. He had been associated with this race for awhile, so this is just making it official.

– The field in CD10 is growing. Richie DeGrow filed at TDP headquarters before Thanksgiving. He lives in Austin has kind of a meandering biography that among other things indicates he has had a career in the hospitality industry; I’ll leave it to you to learn more. Tami Walker is an attorney in Katy who has experience with various state and federal regulatory agencies; I’m told she’s active with Indivisible Katy. Tawana Cadien, who has run a couple of times before, is still out there, and Ryan Stone has filed campaign finance reports, though I can’t find a web presence for him, and neither has filed yet as far as I can tell. Finally, Michael Siegel, who is an assistant City Attorney in Austin is collecting petition signatures in lieu of paying the filing fee.

– In CD22, we have Mark Gibson, a businessman and retired Army colonel who was the candidate in 2016, and Letitia Plummer, a dentist in Pearland who is unfortunately an object lesson in why you should register your name as a domain before entering politics. I am also hearing that Steve Brown, the 2014 Democratic candidate for Railroad Commissioner and former Chair of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, is planning to jump in.

– We have some interesting primaries for State House in Harris County. The rematch from 2016 in HD139 between first term Rep. Jarvis Johnson and former Lone Star College trustee Randy Bates may be the headliner, but there’s also Adam Milasincic versus two-time Council candidate Jenifer Pool for the right to run in a very winnable HD138. Finally, there’s Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore (about whom I can find no information) in the much less winnable HD133.

– In Fort Bend County, Sarah DeMerchant is back for a return engagement in HD26, Meghan Scoggins is running in HD28, and Jennifer Cantu, who does not yet have a web presence, is in for HD85. Rep. Ron Reynolds will once again have an opponent in HD27, this time facing Wilvin Carter.

– Still missing: Candidates in HDs 132 and 135 in Harris County, and 29 in Brazoria County. Also, Fort Bend has a number of county offices up for election this year – District Attorney, County Clerk, District Clerk, Treasurer – and no candidates for those offices that I am aware of. There’s two weeks left. Let’s not miss out.

Chron overview of HD26

Back to Fort Bend for a look at another legislative race.

Rep. Rick Miller

Rep. Rick Miller

Incumbent state Rep. Rick Miller can describe his political perspective in five words: “I’m a Christian, conservative Republican.”

His opponent in November, political newcomer and Democrat L. Sarah DeMerchant, takes a different stance: “It’s not about my personal beliefs, wants and desires.” She aims, she said, to be a candidate of the people.

Still, Miller believes he has served the community in a way it likes. Residents first elected Miller to the state House District 26 seat in 2012, when he won with 63 percent of the vote. In 2014, the candidate triumphed again, with 70 percent. Though he does not take re-election for granted, he said he is optimistic he will prevail.

Sarah DeMerchant

Sarah DeMerchant

The Fort Bend County district that Miller and DeMerchant are vying to represent encompasses most of Sugar Land, plus all or part of several unincorporated communities, including Cumings, Pecan Grove and New Territory.

It is an area Miller, a leadership consultant and former Navy officer, says he dedicates about 90% of his time to serving. “My job is being a state representative,” he said, “and I take it very, very seriously.”

DeMerchant, however, wants residents “to take a stand,” and said she has an advantage over her opponent — who drew attention last year when his openly gay son challenged his stance against Houston’s anti-discrimination ordinance — because of what she said was her ability to listen to a diverse group of people.

As is usually the case, HD26 is not a swing district. John McCain carried it 61.5% to 37.8% in 2008, Mitt Romney followed with a 62.9% to 35.9% win in 2012. Between potential shifts in Presidential preferences in Fort Bend and the pro-Democratic trend of Asian voters, there’s definitely room for this gap to close.

On a side note, there’s a world in which this district really is a swing district. There were a couple of proposals during redistricting in 2011 that drew HD26 as basically 50-50, at least under the pre-2010 election results. Maybe we’ll see something like that in 2021.

Endorsement watch: Back to the State House, part 1

The Chron ventures outside Houston to make some Legislative endorsements.

Cecil Webster

Cecil Webster

State Representative, District 13: Cecil R. Webster

As an engineer who worked in weapons testing and procurement, retired Col. Cecil R. Webster knows his way around a firearm. But decades of experience couldn’t prepare him for the challenge of open-carry in Texas – specifically, procuring the exact state-mandated signs necessary to keep his church gun-free.

“I spent the last days of 2015 going around trying to find some cheap signs to put on my church that met the specifications so that we could tell folks: ‘Guns are not welcome inside my Rose Missionary Baptist Church,'” Webster said in his meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. “I find it ludicrous that we have to do that.”

State Representative, District 26: D.F. “Rick” Miller

After two terms in Austin, retired military veteran D.F. “Rick” Miller has tried to strike a balance between his Republican conservatism and the limited time available in session to address our state’s immediate needs. During the last session, Miller, 71, promoted bills to expand higher education in Fort Bend County and to empower county officials in going after game rooms. He said he relies on local committees to keep him informed about local issues, and plans to push during the next session on improving public education funding, mental health services for veterans, health care and transportation – a key challenge in this growing Fort Bend County district, which covers most of Sugar Land and part of Richmond.

But Miller’s record isn’t sterling. He made news for pushing a bill that would rescind local anti-discrimination ordinances, earning condemnations from his own son, an HIV-positive gay activist.

State Representative, District 27: No endorsement

Ron Reynolds certainly has found a way to turn lemons into lemonade. After being found guilty of barratry – a charge that he is currently appealing – this Democratic three-term state representative had to declare bankruptcy and is now prohibited from working as a lawyer. So how has this affected Reynolds’ ability to represent his Fort Bend County district, which covers most of Missouri City and Stafford? If anything, he told the editorial board, he now has an excess of free time to focus on his constituents.

“Honestly, I’ve been a full-time legislator,” he said.

State Representative, District 85: Phil Stephenson

Beyond the bathroom debates and firearm fiascos, the next legislative session in Austin will have to tackle dry, numbers-heavy topics like fixing education funding and Houston’s public pensions. State Rep. Phil Stephenson is well-equipped to tackle these important issues, and voters should send him back to Austin for his third term representing District 85, which stretches from Rosenberg and parts of Missouri City in Fort Bend County south through Wharton and Jackson counties.

Stephenson, 71, is a longtime certified public accountant and member of the Wharton County Junior College Board of Trustees. He told the editorial board that he wants to address unfunded liabilities – specifically pensions ­- and the property tax burden on homeowners.

However, he did seem a bit out of touch on other issues, such as when he referred to the “Spanish community” in his district – we presume he meant Hispanic. Stephenson also said that he supported the campus carry bill last session because it maintained prohibitions on guns in classrooms – it doesn’t.

State Representative, District 126: Kevin Roberts

In this race for a Spring-area seat being vacated by five-term state Rep. Patricia Harless, we endorse Kevin Roberts. A Chamber of Commerce Republican, Roberts, 50, is charismatic and loquacious – perhaps to a fault. He’s already well-practiced at a politician’s ability to speak at length without saying much, but he demonstrated a passionate knowledge about the issues facing his largely unincorporated district, which is centered around the intersection of FM 1960 and the Tomball Parkway. Throughout his meeting with the editorial board, Roberts dropped a few key shibboleths that revealed a deep understanding of the challenges facing our state, such as confronting “intergenerational poverty” and extending the expiring 1115 waiver that allows Texas to access Medicaid funds. He also recognized that state recapture of Houston Independent School District tax revenue is, in his words, “crazy.”

An experienced businessman and deacon at Champion Forest Baptist Church, Roberts told the editorial board that he wanted to focus on the state budget, economic development in his district, the systemic problems in Child Protective Services and public education funding.

Neither incumbent Rep. Leighton Schubert in HD13 nor Rep. Reynolds’ Republican opponent visited with the Chron editorial board, which eliminated them from consideration. I don’t recall the Chron endorsing in some of these races before, perhaps because there hadn’t been a contested campaign in them, but it’s a trend I support. They had some nice things to say about challengers Sarah DeMerchant in HD26 and John Davis in HD85 – the latter has an outside shot at winning if the Trump effect in Texas is sufficiently devastating to Republicans – but deferred to the incumbents. Cecil Webster ran in the special election for HD13 that was necessitated by Lois Kolkhorst getting a promotion to the Senate; he finished third in a district that’s probably never going to elect a Democrat. He’s doing something right, however, and I’ll be interested to see if he can move the needle a bit, no doubt with help from The Donald.