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Sean Roberts

And they’re off

Gentlemen, start your fundraising engines.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Twitter handles have been rechristened, the first attacks have been fired and the “DONATE!” buttons have gone live.

The yearlong slugfest for mayor of Houston has begun.

In what is expected to be Houston’s most wide-open mayoral race in recent history, most of the dozen potential candidates are shedding their coyness after the traditional Feb. 1 starting gun was quieted by a federal court ruling last Friday that cleared the way for them to begin asking for their first dollars immediately.

Seven candidates have not been bashful about their intent to run: Rep. Sylvester Turner, former Congressman Chris Bell, former Kemah mayor Bill King, current council members Stephen Costello and Oliver Pennington, former airline executive Joe Ferreira; and 2013 candidate Ben Hall, who lost to Mayor Annise Parker, who is in her third and final term.

“Let the games begin,” Parker said Wednesday.

And they have.

Nearly every campaign has hired its top strategist and is sifting through the resumes of the potential campaign managers, fundraisers and spokesmen who they can now pay to implement that strategy.

[…]

For the candidates still dithering over a bid, they no longer have the luxury of effortlessly keeping pace with their competitors. Businessman Marty McVey, who previously said he was considering a run, now plans to designate a campaign treasurer next week. Sean Roberts, a personal injury lawyer, is a probable entrant, but has not committed to the race. And council member Jack Christie, who also is weighing a bid, continued to indicate this week that he would hold off on a race unless he knew if the business community would finance his bid.

Two other candidates, who must at least pretend to be undecided for legal reasons, still loom over the race: Harris County Sherriff Adrian Garcia, considered a top-tier candidate if he launches a bid as expected, and Orlando Sanchez, the county treasurer. Both would have to resign their offices under state law to run in a race they very well could lose.

Yes, that ruling has had an effect. I expect my inbox to fill up with invitations and solicitations shortly and quickly. With still more new names surfacing (Joe Ferreira?), no one’s email address is going to be safe.

Finance reports are slowly appearing on the city of Houston reporting site. I’m going to try to slog through the interesting ones this weekend and post a few tidbits. Later, I’m going to post a series of mini-manifestos to highlight the sorts of things I want to see discussed in this campaign. I’ve also got an opening look at the other races that will be on the ballot on my to do list. It’s going to be a long campaign, and it’s already well underway. Houston Politics has more.

Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

Inspired by this story, which doesn’t name any potential additions to the ever-large field of Mayoral wannabes for 2015 but which does put some things in context.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Most observers consider Rep. Sylvester Turner, with his support base from the African-American population that could cast a third of next year’s vote, to be the man to beat in November. Yet his fortunes to win in a December runoff – all but guaranteed to be needed in a large field – depend heavily on whom he faces in a one-on-one comparison.

Councilmen Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello have committed to the race, with Pennington going as far as to send mailers to potential supporters in July, 18 months before the first votes are to be cast. Ben Hall, who lost to Parker in 2013, launched radio advertisements last month, and former Kemah mayor and Chronicle columnist Bill King designated a campaign treasurer. Former Democratic congressman Chris Bell also is an all-but-filed entrant.

Six weeks before the campaign fundraising floodgates open, the field is settling save for a potential entrant who looms over much of the discussion in Houston power circles: Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet declared his intentions. Legally, Garcia cannot make an affirmative move toward running without being forced to resign his county post, though he has acknowledged the pressure he faces from others.

That pressure, though, is pushing him in both directions. Commissioners Court likely would replace Garcia with a Republican sheriff ahead of the next election cycle.

“You’re going to be giving them an early 2016 gift,” said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who had the sheriff at her home this month and expressed concern about a run. “Nobody wants a Latino mayor more than I do, but it’s got to be the right time.”

[…]

If Garcia does not enter the race, Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a close friend of Garcia, could look to capture Latinos’ support. Other prominent Hispanic leaders look to pass on the race, including Metro chairman and Parker ally Gilbert Garcia and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo. Both expressed some signs of interest earlier, but do not appear to be joining the field.

Garcia’s exit also could create political lanes for other Democratic alternatives to Turner, like Bell. Though Bell has not formally committed to the race, he has filed a lawsuit challenging Turner’s fundraising strategy and plans to make an official announcement in January.

The other four candidates most seriously weighing bids are: Councilman Jack Christie, an at-large councilman uncertain whether he can raise the money needed to compete; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, who like Garcia would have to resign to run for mayor; Sean Roberts, a local attorney; and businessman and political neophyte Marty McVey.

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford considered the race earlier this year, but both now say they are unlikely to launch campaigns. And despite floating the idea that he was open to a run, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this month he had no plans to do so.

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around any of the six non-liberal candidates: Pennington, Costello, Hall, King, Christie or Sanchez.

“Right now, there’s no clear conservative choice yet, but people are obviously angling for being it,” said Paul Bettencourt, the new Republican senator from northwest Harris County.

1. It may be useful to think of these candidates as falling into one of three groups: Candidates with an obvious base of support, coalition candidates, and gadflies. Turner and Pennington fall into the first group, and as such you can sort of guess about what they might expect to get in November if that’s the limit of their appeal. It’s a decent position from which to start, especially in a multi-candidate race, but it’s no guarantee, as Turner himself could attest from his 2003 experience. Coalition candidates don’t have an obvious base of support, but can reasonably hope to draw from a broad range of constituencies. Bill White is the poster boy for such candidates, and folks like Bell, Costello, King, and Christie will all be competing for the kind of voters that propelled White to victory in 2003. Coalition candidates have a higher ceiling, but with so many people fishing in the same pond, it will be harder to stand out. White also had the advantage of lots of money to spend and no activity from anyone else at the time he launched his campaign. No one has that this year. Another consideration is that Turner and Pennington could have their bases eroded by Hall and Sanchez. I’d consider Sanchez a much bigger threat to Pennington if he runs than Hall would be to Turner – and Sanchez would have some appeal to Latino voters as well, not that he did so well with them in 2003 – but in a race where the difference between first and fourth or fifth could be a few thousand votes, I’d still be worried about it if I were Turner.

As for gadflies, he’s not mentioned in this story but Eric Dick, who I feel confident will run again since the publicity is good for his law firm’s business, is the canonical example. From what I have heard, Sean Roberts may be following in those footsteps. One could argue that Hall is a gadfly at this point based on the ridiculousness of his ads so far, but anyone with that kind of money to spend is still a threat to do better than the three to five points a typical gadfly might get.

Yes, there’s one candidate I haven’t mentioned here, and no I don’t mean Marty McVey, about whom I know nothing. I’ll get to him in a bit.

2. Conservatives may be better off not falling in line behind a single candidate just yet. Getting someone into the runoff is nice and all, but any Republican candidate will likely be an underdog in that runoff. The dream scenario for conservatives is what happened in the 2013 At Large #3 race, where three well-qualified Democratic candidates split the vote so evenly that none of them were able to catch up to the two Republicans. Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales were splitting a smaller piece of the electorate, but their two shares of that smaller group were greater than each of the three shares of the larger group. I still think Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner right now, but it’s not insane to imagine a Pennington-Sanchez runoff, especially if Ben Hall can be serious enough to put a dent in his numbers.

3. And then there’s Adrian Garcia. Will he or won’t he? You already know how I feel, so I won’t belabor that here. Garcia is both a candidate with a base and a coalition candidate, which is why he was as strong as he was in 2008 and 2012. Running against flawed opponents those years didn’t hurt him, either, so a little tempering of expectations may be in order here. I’m sure Garcia is carefully measuring the support he might have if he ran. I wonder if he’s trying to gauge how many Democrats he’d piss off by resigning and handing his office to a Republican, and how long said Dems would nurse that grudge when they will have at least two viable options in Turner and Bell to go with instead. It would be one thing if this were December of 2008, and Democrats had just had a great election and were feeling good about themselves. After last month’s debacle, I don’t know how forgiving anyone will be about any Dem that yields a freebie like that to the Republicans. I may be overestimating the effect, especially given how much time Garcia would have to make up for it, and I personally think the Presidential race will have a much larger effect on Democratic fortunes in Harris County in 2016 than Garcia would. But I think it’s real and I think Garcia needs to be concerned about it. Whether it’s enough to affect his decision or not, I have no idea.

Houston Press interview with Jarvis Johnson

In case you missed it, David Ortez did an interview with CM Jarvis Johnson for the Democratic primary race in CD18. He had previously interviewed Sean Roberts, and will have one up with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee soon. You can of course also listen to my interviews with all three if you haven’t already – just go to the 2010 Elections page to find them.

Interview with Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts

Sean Roberts

For what will most likely be my final interview of the 2010 primary cycle, I bring you a conversation with Sean Roberts, who was the first candidate to mount a challenge to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. Roberts is a UH graduate and attorney who now manages his own small firm. This is his first time running for office. The interview is here:

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As it happens, David Ortez ran an interview with Roberts in Hair Balls last week, the first in a promised series of three for this race, and there was a debate on Saturday featuring all three candidates. So you can’t say you haven’t had the chance to hear what the candidates have had to say.

Strange parallels

This Chron story about the primary challenges to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee goes out of its way to try to find parallels to Jackson Lee’s own successful primary election of 1994. A little too far, I think.

The district looks different: Its 228 square miles, mostly in the center of Houston, were reshaped in 2003 at the behest of Texas Republicans.

Its voters are different: African-Americans account for 40 percent of the eight-term Democrat’s estimated 652,000 constituents now, compared with 51 percent 16 years ago. Hispanics have doubled their share of the population to 36 percent. And the political power centers have shifted from the inner city churches to the neighborhoods like Windsor Village that ring Houston’s central core.

What’s more, the way candidates reach voters is different: When Jackson Lee first ran for Congress, she appeared with African-American ministers. On the day Houston City Councilman Jarvis Johnson declared his intent to replace Jackson Lee, his first interview was a roundtable with liberal Houston bloggers.

Then there’s the volatile political climate of 2010, similar in many ways to the 1994 wave that swept away three dozen incumbents, including Jackson Lee’s predecessor, Craig Washington. Just last week, two senior Democrats, Sens. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, abandoned their re-election plans after finding themselves trailing in early polls.

Okay, as someone who has lived in CD18 since Mickey Leland was its representative, this is quite the stretch. It’s true that Rep. Jackson Lee has gotten some bad press recently. One can argue, as I’m sure Johnson and Roberts will, that she’s lost touch with the district. But Craig Washington spent the better part of 1993 dealing with stories about how he was paying his ex-wife’s rent with campaign funds, which were also allegedly being used to help him out of personal bankruptcy; and about how he missed a committee hearing that he himself had called for to attend a charity golf event; and how his attendance record was the fourth worst in all of Congress. To put it mildly, there’s nothing remotely like that in Jackson Lee’s record.

The Dodd and Dorgan comparison is equally flimsy. The reason for Dodd dropping out (lousy poll numbers that stem from his abortive 2008 Presidential run and a sweetheart deal from Countrywide Financial) and Dorgan dropping out (popular Governor John Hoeven decided to enter the race) are very different. Other than a general narrative of “2010 is likely going to be a rough year for Democrats” – which doesn’t have much relevance in a Democratic primary – it’s hard to see what that has to do with Jackson Lee’s situation. I at least am not aware of any polls that suggest Jackson Lee is in any danger. This doesn’t mean that she isn’t, but it would be nice to have some objective data before we start comparing her to incumbents that actually are on their way out.

Finally, while it’s true that CD18 looks different now than it did in 1994, Jackson Lee has won re-election three times since the 2003 re-redistricting. It’s not like she has to re-introduce herself to the voters, who showed her plenty of love in 2008. Again, I’m certainly not saying she can’t lose – Jarvis Johnson represents the strongest challenge she’s faced since 1994, and with two opponents, it’s that much harder to get a majority. What I am saying is that if she does lose, it won’t have anything to do with the reasons why Craig Washington lost to her all those years ago, and it won’t have anything to do with the politics of Connecticut or North Dakota. As is often the case in a primary, it’ll be a referendum on her, and she’ll win or lose on who she is and what she has or has not done while in office. That’s the story that we should be focusing on.

Jarvis Johnson files for CD18

I’d heard this was coming over the weekend, and here it is. Council Member Jarvis Johnson has filed for the Democratic primary in CD18, challenging Sheila Jackson Lee. From his press release:

Houston City Council Member Jarvis Johnson filed today in the Democratic Party Primary for the United States House of Representatives, Eighteenth Congressional District of Texas. Johnson currently represents District B on the Houston City Council.

“America is a great democracy and the people are given the opportunity to choose their leadership. Leadership should be chosen by their examples of delivering meaningful services to their communities,” said Johnson.

“Over the course of the next two months, I look forward to having a spirited debate on who can best represent the people of the Eighteenth Congressional District. We’re going to have a frank discussion on who’s capable of bringing and creating good paying jobs for the people of the district. Who can spark genuine economic development, and who can provide leadership to marshal resources to help eliminate the dropout rate,” added Johnson.

This ought to be fun. And there is another candidate out there, Sean Roberts, who has apparently also filed. Having a three-candidate race could only make this more interesting, and there may be a fourth as well. We’ll know soon enough. Texas on the Potomac has more.

UPDATE: Still more from PDiddie, Martha, and John.

A challenger for SJL

Boy, the 2010 election season is wide open already, isn’t it? Via email from Carl Whitmarsh comes the news of a potential primary challenger for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. From the email:

Houston attorney Sean Roberts today announced he filed the necessary paperwork to form an exploratory committee to study his potential candidacy as a lawmaker representing the 18th Congressional District of Texas.

“The 2008 election demonstrated that the voters in the 18th Congressional District were ready for progress even though some of their leaders were not,” said Roberts. A self-described “Obama-Generation” democrat, Roberts believes the constituents of the district are ready for fresh ideas and new-school leadership that prioritizes economic development and educational opportunities as opposed to seizing on controversies. “Right now, from an appropriations standpoint, District 18 is a forgotten district. I’d like to fix that,” added Roberts.

Roberts believes the District’s constituents are eager to maximize the opportunities being created for small businesses and educational equality under the Obama Administration. “Our President needs effective Congressional support to accomplish his agenda. In turn, the 18th Congressional District needs a representative that can show Congress why major investments are needed in the district and what the returns will be for those investments,” Roberts said. “Houston is a major economic hub for key sectors like health care and energy – our primary focus should be keeping these industries strong so that Houston can capitalize on the current shift in federal spending priorities.”

Roberts also strongly supports programs that focus on our children, the foundations of economic growth. “The children living in this district need access to information and resources – libraries and functioning school facilities – so they have opportunities to compete and contribute,” said Roberts.

His website is here if you want to know more. Miya was on this earlier, and I tend to agree with her take that while there was a lot of interest in this seat when rumors were swirling that SJL would step down to take a job in the State Department under Hillary Clinton, it’s going to be hard for anyone to unseat her head-to-head. I at least don’t have any compelling reason to want to change. That said, a primary challenge, even the threat of one, can be a good thing, in that it forces incumbents to work a little harder to remind the voters why they push the button for them. As far as that goes, I look forward to seeing what Mr. Roberts will do.