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Sheila Jackson Lee

The women challenging Democratic men

One more point of interest from The Cut:

And Democratic women aren’t leaving the men of their own party undisturbed. In Minnesota, former FBI analyst Leah Phifer is challenging incumbent Democratic representative Rick Nolan; Sameena Mustafa, a tenant advocate and founder of the comedy troupe Simmer Brown, is primarying Democrat Mike Quigley in Illinois’s Fifth District. And Chelsea Manning, former Army intelligence analyst and whistle-blower, announced recently that she’s going after Ben Cardin, the 74-year-old who has held one of Maryland’s Senate seats for 11 years and served in the House for 20 years before that.

While the vision of women storming the ramparts of government is radical from one vantage point, from others it’s as American as the idea of representative democracy laid out by our forefathers (like Great-great-great-great-grandpa Frelinghuysen!). “Representative citizens coming from all parts of the nation, cobblers and farmers — that was what was intended by the founders,” says Marie Newman, a former small-business owner and anti-bullying advocate who is challenging Illinois Democrat Dan Lipinski in a primary. “You come to the House for a while and bring your ideas and then you probably go back to your life.” Not only has her opponent been in office for 13 years, Newman notes, but his father held the same seat for 20 years before that. “It’s a family that has reigned supreme, like a monarchy, for over 30 years,” she says.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, Newman and the rest of this girl gang are eyeing the aging cast of men (and a few women) who’ve hogged the political stage forever and trying to replace them. Replacement. It’s an alluring concept, striking fear in the hearts of the guys who’ve been running the place — recall that the white supremacists in Charlottesville this summer chanted “You will not replace us” — and stirring hope in the rest of us that a redistribution of power might be possible.

So naturally that made me wonder about what the situation was in Texas. For Congress, there are eleven Democrats from Texas, nine men and two women. Two men are not running for re-election, and in each case the most likely successor is a woman. Of the seven men running for re-election, only one (Marc Veasey) has a primary opponent, another man. Both female members of Congress have primary opponents – Sheila Jackson Lee has a male challenger, Eddie Bernice Johnson has a man and a woman running against her. That woman is Barbara Mallory Caroway, who is on something like her third campaign against EBJ. Basically, nothing much of interest here.

Where it is interesting is at the legislative level. Here are all the Democratic incumbents who face primary challengers, sorted into appropriate groups.

Women challenging men:

HD31 (Rep. Ryan Guillen) – Ana Lisa Garza
HD100 (Rep. Eric Johnson) – Sandra Crenshaw
HD104 (Rep. Robert Alonzo) – Jessica Gonzalez
HD117 (Rep. Phillip Cortez) – Terisha DeDeaux

Guillen’s opponent Garza is a district court judge. He was one of the Dems who voted for the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment back in 2005. I’d like to know both of their positions on LGBT equality. Speaking of which, Jessica Gonzalez is among the many LGBT candidates on the ballot this year. Note that Alonzo was on the right side of that vote in 2005, FWIW. Crenshaw appears to be a former member of Dallas City Council who ran for HD110 in 2014. There’s an interesting story to go along with that, which I’ll let you discover on your own. Cortez was first elected in 2012, winning the nomination over a candidate who had been backed by Annie’s List, and he drew some ire from female activists for some of his activity during that campaign. I have no idea how things stand with him today, but I figured I’d mention that bit of backstory.

And elsewhere…

Women challenging women:

HD75 (Rep. Mary Gonzalez) – MarySue Fernath

Men challenging men:

HD27 (Rep. Ron Reynolds) – Wilvin Carter
HD37 (Rep. Rene Oliveira) – Alex Dominguez and Arturo Alonzo
HD41 (Rep. Bobby Guerra) – Michael L. Pinkard, Jr
HD118 (Rep. Tomas Uresti) – Leo Pacheco
HD139 (Rep. Jarvis Johnson) – Randy Bates
HD142 (Rep. Harold Dutton) – Richard Bonton
HD147 (Rep. Garnet Coleman) – Daniel Espinoza

Men challenging women:

HD116 (Rep. Diana Arevalo) – Trey Martinez Fischer
HD124 (Rep. Ina Minjarez) – Robert Escobedo
HD146 (Rep. Shawn Thierry) – Roy Owens

Special case:

HD46 (Rep. Dawnna Dukes) – Five opponents

We know about Reps. Reynolds and Dukes. Bates and Owens represent rematches – Bates was in the 2016 primary, while Owens competed unsuccessfully in the precinct chair process for HD146, then ran as a write-in that November, getting a bit less than 3% of the vote. Alonzo and Bonton look like interesting candidates, but by far the hottest race here is in HD116, where TMF is seeking a return engagement to the Lege, and a lot of his former colleagues are there for him. I imagine things could be a bit awkward if Rep. Arevalo hangs on. Anyway, I don’t know that there are any lessons to be learned from this, I just wanted to document it.

Interview season begins tomorrow

We’re a month into primary season, and we’re also six weeks out from the start of early voting. You know what I did over Christmas vacation? I interviewed a bunch of candidates, that’s what. You will begin to see the results of that labor tomorrow, with more to come. Doing a bunch of interviews is always a challenge, but this year I had the additional task of trying to decide which interviews to do, as there just wasn’t the time to get to every race.

I have done interviews for a long time. I do them mostly to give candidates in races where there usually isn’t much media coverage the chance to be heard, and thus to give the voters who may not otherwise be able to know anything about them beyond what they can find on the Internet a chance to hear them speak for themselves. I usually stay neutral in the races where I do interviews (the 2009 Mayor’s race, where I was open about supporting Annise Parker, is an exception) because I want all the candidates to feel like I’m being fair to them, but also because I see my mission in doing these interviews as informative. I have always wanted to be broad and inclusive.

This year, the huge slate paired with the compressed primary timeline makes that goal unattainable. I thought about ways I might try to work around that, but in the end I decided that was neither practical nor desirable. And as I thought about that and considered my options, I realized I could approach things a little differently, and in doing so help me decide which races to prioritize.

What that means is this. For this year, I have decided there are some races where the better use of my platform is to make an endorsement rather than schedule and try to execute multiple interviews. If people come here to learn about candidates, then for this year I think it would be best for me to just say who I’m voting for in certain races. I’ve not done this before, and I may never do it again, but this year this is what feels right.

So with that long-winded preamble out of the way:

I endorse Beto O’Rourke for US Senate. Do I really need to say anything about this one?

I endorse Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. She works hard, she votes the way I want her to vote, I have supported her in previous elections, and I see no reason to do otherwise this year.

I endorse Sen. Sylvia Garcia in CD29. I was redistricted out of SD06 before she was elected there, but she has been an excellent successor to my former Senator, the late Mario Gallegos. She’s the clear choice in CD29.

I endorse Sen. John Whitmire for re-election in SD15. In the hostile environment that is the State Senate under Dan Patrick, Whitmire’s experience and institutional knowledge are vital. Four years ago, I asked his primary opponent Damien LaCroix why we should forsake Whitmire’s seniority and clout for a freshman. He didn’t have a good answer then, and I doubt he has one now. We hope to get a lot of new Democratic blood in every branch of government this year, but we still very much need John Whitmire.

I endorse Allison Lami Sawyer in HD134. I do plan to interview Sawyer – I’m in discussion with her to set a time and place at the time of publication – but I can’t say enough that her primary opponent, Lloyd Oliver, is a clown and an idiot, and we would be doing ourselves a grave disservice if we let him slip through the primary. Not that there’s ever a good year to screw around and nominate a deeply problematic schmuck like Oliver, but this is an especially bad year for that. Vote for Allison Sawyer in HD134.

I dual-endorse Marty Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in HD133. They both look like fine people (I haven’t reached out to them for interviews yet but probably will), but with all due respect to them this isn’t really about them. It’s about the third candidate in the race, who is even more of a problem than Lloyd Oliver. This other candidate, whom I will not name, has a long history of harassing me over a silly thing I said about him back in 2002. You can vote for Marty Schexnayder in HD133, or you can vote for Sandra Moore in HD133, but please do not even think about voting for the other candidate in HD133.

I endorse Diane Trautman for Harris County Clerk. I’ve known Diane for a long time. She’s a hard worker, a great Democrat, and she has served ably as HCDE Trustee. She was also the first Democrat to announce for anything for this cycle, and has been on the ground campaigning for months. Gayle Mitchell is a nice person who ran against Ann Harris Bennett for this nomination on 2014. You can listen to the interview I did with her then here. Ann Harris Bennett was the better candidate that year, and Diane Trautman is the better candidate this year. Nat West is the SDEC Chair for SD13, and is by all accounts I’ve heard a fine person. As far as I can tell, he has no web presence for his candidacy. With all due respect, Diane Trautman is the clear choice.

I endorse Marilyn Burgess for District Clerk. I only met her during this cycle, but like Diane Trautman she’s been out there campaigning for months, and she has great credentials for this office. All three of her opponents entered the race in the last days of the filing period. Two have no web presence – one was a candidate for SBOE in 2016, and had no web presence then, either – and one has a mostly unreadable website. District Clerk is – or at least should be – one of the least political elected offices out there. It’s about doing a straightforward information management job. I have faith Marilyn Burgess can do that job, and I’m voting for her.

I endorse Adrian Garcia for County Commissioner in Precinct 2. I’d been pining for him to run for this office for months, so I may as well be consistent.

So there you have it. Interviews begin tomorrow. Let me know what you think.

An incomplete filing update

First, a little Republican action in CD02.

Rep. Ted Poe

Hurricane Harvey is reshaping congressional campaigns in Houston.

When the flood waters socked the Meyerland area, it also washed out the home of former hospital CEO David Balat, a Republican, who was hoping to unseat fellow Republican and current U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

“Like so many people, we’re being forced to relocate because of Hurricane Harvey,” Balat said. “We’re having to start over.”

Balat is now in the market for a new home and he’s had to revise his political plans. He’s still running for Congress, Balat has amended his campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission and announced he is instead running for a different congressional district. Instead of Culberson’s 7th District – a mostly west Houston and western Harris County seat – Balat is now among a growing list of GOP candidates hoping to replace Rep. Ted Poe, R-Atascocita.

[…]

Last week, Rick Walker jumped into the race. The self-identified conservative Republican, said he will focus on more efficient government spending, smaller government and “cutting bureaucratic waste.” Walker, 38, is the CEO of GreenEfficient, a company that helps commercial businesses obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

Also, Texas Rep. Kevin Roberts, R-Houston, earlier this month filed papers to run for the 2nd Congressional District as well.

I figured there would be a big field on the Republican side for CD02. There are four now for CD02, the three mentioned in this story plus Kathaleen Wall, according to the county GOP filing page, and I would guess there will be more. I am a little surprised that only one current or former officeholder has filed for it, however.

Two other notes of interest on the Republican side: Sam Harless, husband of former State Rep. Patricia Harless, has filed for HD126, the seat Patricia H held and that Kevin Roberts is leaving behind. Former Rep. Gilbert Pena, who knocked off Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 in 2014 and then lost to her in 2016, is back for the rubber match.

On the Democratic side, we once again refer to the SOS filings page, hence the “incomplete” appellation in the title. Let’s do this bullet-point-style:

– Todd Litton remains the only Dem to file in CD02 so far. I’m sure he won’t mind if that stays the case. Five of the six known hopefuls in CD07 have made it official: Alex Triantaphyllis, Laura Moser, Jason Westin, Lizzie Fletcher, and James Cargas. Sylvia Garcia has filed in CD29, and she is joined by Hector Morales and Dominique Garcia, who got 4% of the vote as the third candidate in the 2016 primary; Armando Walle has not yet filed. Someone named Richard Johnson has filed to challenge Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18. Dayna Steele filed in CD36; I expect Jon Powell to follow suit after the HCDP office reopens on Monday.

– It’s not on the SOS page yet, but Fran Watson posted on Facebook that she filed (in Austin) for SD17. Ahmad Hassan has also filed for that seat.

– We will have a rematch in HD139 as Randy Bates has filed for a second shot at that seat, against freshman Rep. Jarvis Johnson. Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147 also has an opponent, a Daniel Espinoza. There will be contested primaries in HDs 133 and 138, with Martin Schexnayder and Sandra Moore in the former and Adam Milasincic and Jenifer Pool in the latter. Undrai F. Fizer has filed in HD126, and Fred Infortunio in HD130.

– We have a candidate for Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, a Daniel Box. Google tells me nothing about him, but there is someone local and of a seemingly appropriate geographical and ideological profile on Facebook.

That’s the news of interest as I know it. Feel free to tell me what else is happening.

Can our dams handle the load?

Pretty important question, wouldn’t you say?

The state climatologist is warning that Texas dams will become less able to withstand extreme weather events like Hurricane Harvey, which are expected to occur more frequently as the earth’s atmosphere and oceans warm in coming years.

Dams are designed with a wide margin of safety and are meant to withstand extreme, worst-case scenarios that are never expected to happen. But what stunned state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon and other weather experts was that Harvey exceeded or matched the preposterous amounts of rainfall that dams in Texas are built to hold back.

“The probable maximum precipitation amount should never be reached,” said Tye Parzybok, the chief meteorologist at MetStat, a Colorado-based company that helped Texas calculate the rainfall amounts. “It should never get close to it.”

After Harvey, dam regulators will have to recalculate the maximum amount of water that dams should be capable of holding back, said Nielsen-Gammon. Climate change means that powerful storms are bringing vastly more rain than they did a century ago, he said.

“I’m not saying they’re unsafe,” said Nielsen-Gammon of Texas’ dams. “They will be less safe than they were designed to be.”

On the one hand, Harvey was an extremely unlikely event; by some estimates, a one in 500,000 year event. Nobody plans for that, and for good reason. On the other hand, if it could happen once it could happen again, and the consequences of a dam failure would be catastrophic. Even before Harvey, it was the case that the capacity of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs was declining due to the buildup of dirt and sediment over the years. Surely this is something that can be addressed.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Houston Democrat, is calling for the replacement of the aging Addicks and Barker dams that spilled over during Hurricane Harvey.

“As we recover and rebuild from the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey, it is crucial that we also learn from this catastrophic storm and prepare for the next one,” she said in a statement. “A critical takeaway is that our infrastructure is ill-prepared for the ferocity of thousand-year weather events and record-breaking rainfall.”

[…]

Jackson Lee, a senior member of the House Homeland Security Committee, is pushing provisions in the Energy and Water Appropriations Act that would provide $3 million to fund the Army Corps of Engineers’ Houston Regional Watershed Assessment Flood Risk Management Feasibility study, as well as $100 million for flood control infrastructure.

Seems like a reasonable approach to take. What do other members of Congress that represent the Houston area, as well as our two Senators, think of this? Before you answer that, consider this:

“Addicks and Barker were not designed to impound large pools behind them for an extended period of time,” an Army Corps official wrote in a 2011 email, which was made public through a lawsuit the Sierra Club filed against the Corps over a road project near the reservoirs. “These larger and longer lasting pools … [are] increasing the threat to both dams.”

Another Corps document, this one from 2010, shows that the agency was using terms like “risk of catastrophic failure” for the dams for flood events much smaller than what Houston experienced during Harvey.

That 2010 “interim reservoir control action plan” sets what it calls “maximum pool” levels for Addicks and Barker at elevations well under 100 feet, levels that could be expected during a 25-year storm — which has a 4 percent chance of occurring in any given year. Such a storm is about 30 times smaller than the rains generated by Harvey.

“The purpose of this … is to reduce the risk of catastrophic failure by [releasing water from the dams] quicker and increasing embankment surveillance,” the document says, adding that at 25-year levels, the dams “need to get additional attention.”

The document, which also became part of the 2011 Sierra Club lawsuit against the Army Corps, doesn’t specify what the true risk of dam failure might be at such levels. It also doesn’t say what exact actions the Army Corps would take when water reached that point.

[…]

“I think that the documents, and I think that the issues, are clear,” said Jim Blackburn, a Houston environmental lawyer who filed the Sierra Club lawsuit. “The consequences of failure are horrific, and it would be truly frightening to the public if they really knew what the worst-case scenario looked like.”

Blackburn said the failure of the Army Corps to make the 2010 document public is just one example of the agency’s hesitance to address the risk of a dam breach.

“I think they have not wanted to have an honest conversation about it, for some reason.”

Matthew Zeve, the Harris County Flood Control District’s director of operations, said he had not seen the 2010 document before the Tribune sent him a copy. But he said he didn’t think the document expressed concern about the dams actually failing at such low water levels but rather indicated a “trigger” for when the agency should be continuously monitoring the dams and doing whatever it can to diminish risk.

“It’s not, ‘Oh, we think it’s going to fail,’” he said, stressing that he was not speaking for the Corps but offering his personal interpretation of the document.

Yeah, that’s not very reassuring. Let’s start investing in better flood mitigation infrastructure, shall we?

One more in CD32

Meet Lillian Salerno, the third major candidate to take a crack at Rep. Pete Sessions in CD32.

Lillian Salerno

Lillian Salerno, who served as President Barack Obama’s deputy undersecretary of rural development for the Department of Agriculture, [officially launched] her candidacy for Congress on Tuesday at Randall Park in Dallas.

“I have the ability to bring people together, find common ground and make sure the vulnerable are protected,” Salerno told The Dallas Morning News. “If you’re going to beat Pete Sessions, the people of the district have to believe that they’ve got somebody who’s got their back.

Salerno, 56, was born at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas and raised in East Dallas. She moved back to the city this year after serving under Obama from 2012-2017. She’s a small businesswoman who led a company that developed retractable needles to protect health care workers from being stuck and infected by diseases like HIV.

Salerno, who has had a long career in politics, said that it was time to run for public office and that Sessions’ policies on health care and other issues made Congressional District 32 the right fit. “Sometimes you just do it,” she said. “The people are so much better than the politicians. … I knew I would get back to Texas.”

Salerno joins a crowded field for the Democratic nomination, including civil rights lawyer and former NFL player Colin Allred and nonprofit executive and Hillary Clinton campaign senior adviser Ed Meier.

Salerno’s webpage is here and her campaign Facebook page is here. The Dallas Observer has done some good Q&As with Meier and Allred, so I look forward to them doing the same with Salerno. In the meantime, if you want to get to know her a little better, I found this Washington Post op-ed she wrote while vying for a Democratic seat on the Federal Trade Commission, entitled “Want to rescue rural America? Bust monopolies.” Read it and see what you think.

On a side note, I am encouraged by the number of women who are running high profile campaigns for Congress in Texas. The two frontrunners in CD16 to succeed Beto O’Rourke are women, and races in CDs 06, 07, 23, 31, 36, and now 32 have leading female contenders as well. There are thirty-six members of Congress from Texas, of whom three – three! – are women. The last time a woman was elected to Congress in Texas was 1996, when Kay Granger won in CD12. Sheila Jackson Lee was elected in 1994, and Eddie Bernice Johnson in 1992. I hope we can all agree that this is maybe just a teeny bit out of whack. Before someone posts the usual tiresome comment, I’m not saying that anyone deserves a vote for being female, nor am I saying that we “have to” elect some number of women to anything. I am saying that 1) women are grossly underrepresented in Congress, both nationally and in Texas; 2) one good way to do something about this is for quality women to run for Congress and for people of good will to give them a fair hearing; and 3) at least the first part of #2 is happening this year, of which I approve. Whatever happens in this cycle, we need for that to continue to happen in 2020 and beyond.

Endorsement watch: The Congress you expect

The Chron makes the most predictable endorsements of the season, for Congress. Here’s Part 1:

United States Representative, District 2: Ted Poe

Consider this not just an endorsement for Ted Poe, but also heartfelt support as the six-term congressman recovers from treatment for leukemia. A former criminal district judge known for his creative sentences and shaming tactics, Poe has cut a niche for himself as a dedicated public servant who is leading the fight against sex trafficking and who listens to the constituents of his sprawling district, which spirals around from Atascocita through west Harris County, northwest Houston, Montrose and Southampton.

United States Representative, District 7: James Cargas

John Culberson didn’t receive our endorsement in the contested Republican primary, and we don’t plan on changing our minds for the general election. But this showdown will be Democrat James Cargas’ third attempt to replace the eight-term Republican congressman, and, frankly, it is starting to get a bit repetitive.

United States Representative, District 9: Al Green

If you’re worried about flooding in Houston, then Al Green is your man in Washington. Over the past year, he’s been working with his fellow Democrats, and across the aisle with Republicans, to push a bill that would prioritize federal spending on Houston’s bayous. Now in his six-term, Green has inserted similar language into the must-pass Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Don’t expect any of this to make major headlines, but if it ends up in the final bill, it will save homes and lives in our swampy city. Green’s goal-oriented, dedicated attitude deserves praise – and re-election – from voters.

United States Representative,District 10: Michael T. McCaul

Over his six terms in Congress, Michael T. McCaul has distinguished himself as a steely and smart leader on foreign policy. As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, the former federal prosecutor is on path to become the Republican face of international relations and national security. His sprawling district, which extends between Houston and Austin suburbs, grants him a certain luxury of being able to focus on these national and international issues.

And here’s Part 2:

United States Representative, District 14: Randy Weber

We agree with Randy Weber on one thing: There may be no congressman in the Texas delegation who has a more important district. His territory, which stretches from the Louisiana border to an area just west of Freeport, covers a mix of precious but vulnerable wetlands in addition to five key ports.

United States Representative, District 29: Gene Green

Gene Green is frustrated with the Affordable Care Act. More specifically, the 12-term Democratic congressman is frustrated that Congress won’t try to improve it.

“Any law that you ever pass, you typically go back to it and fix it,” Green told the editorial board. “We haven’t had that opportunity. In the last six years, they’ve tried to repeal it 60-plus times.”

Representing a largely Hispanic and blue-collar district that circles from north Houston around through Pasadena and east Houston, Green puts his focus on those meat-and-potato issues that help keep his constituents healthy and the Port of Houston humming.

United States Representative, District 18: Sheila Jackson Lee

“Sheila Jackson Lee is stalking me.”

Those are the words of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, courtesy of Wikileaks. He was complaining that Houston’s own Jackson Lee wanted to be “involved in everything” and wouldn’t stop hounding him about Clinton accepting the Barbara Jordan Medallion for Service at Texas Southern University.

Whether you call it tenacity or stalking, it worked: Clinton showed up in person at TSU to receive the award.

United States Representative, District 22: Pete Olson

Incumbent Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger, Mark Gibson.

I was going to say something about this, but it’s too boring. Move along, nothing to see here.

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.

Where are the ladies?

Not in Congress, where only three of the 36 members Texas sends to the House are of the female persuasion.

Week after week at the U.S. Capitol, the Republican congressional delegation from Texas gathers for a ritual Thursday lunch. And year after year, U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has been the lone woman sitting at the table.

“I keep ’em under control most of the time, but not all the time. I do my best,” Granger said with a laugh of her 24 male GOP colleagues.

“It just is puzzling,” she added about the disparity. “And I talk to young women all the time and say their voices need to be heard.”

The Democratic side of the state’s congressional roster is little better, with two women, Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas and Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, among 11. In total, that means Texas has three women serving in a 36-member House delegation, plus two male senators.

And its been nearly 20 years since the last new woman from Texas — Granger — entered Congress, if you set aside ex-Rep. Shelley Sekula-Gibbs’ largely ceremonial two-month stint in late 2006.

Republicans and Democrats tend to agree that electing women is good for party, country and Congress, and there is tangible evidence that both parties invest in trying to elect more of them. But actually doing so, particularly in Texas, has proved easier said than done.

About one-fifth of Congress is female, with 84 women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and 20 in the Senate. The partisan breakdown leans heavily in the Democratic column. As a dominant state in national politics, Texas’ dearth of females is a top concern for those who want to see women advance.

[…]

Nearly every state and national political operative interviewed for this story pointed to one major culprit: the congressional map.

The Republican-dominated Texas Legislature re-drew the state’s congressional districts after the 2010 census aiming to secure as many Republican seats as possible. But the new districts also protected incumbents. With little turnover comes fewer opportunities.

“There are members of Congress in the delegation, I’m sure, that have a very strong base in their district … and their constituents are happy with them,” Jackson Lee said. “But [female representation] is something that we have to put on the minds of Texans.”

Other Democrats are more blunt, arguing that any incumbent protection is going to favor men.

But there have been open-seat races in recent years, thanks in most part to Texas picking up four seats in the last census. And it’s not that women are getting beat. They aren’t even running.

Since the new lines were drawn, there have been at least a half-dozen open primary races where women either did not run or ran disorganized and underfunded campaigns.

In contrast, the mid-1990s marked the high point for women in Texas politics.

Here’s a look at the female candidates for Congress in 2012, the first election after the last round of redistricting.

Democratic primary Dist Name Result ================================== 01 Shirley McKellar 100% 04 VaLinda Hathcox 100% 05 Linda Mrosko 39% * 06 Brianna Flores 32% 07 Lissa Squiers 40% + 10 Tawana Cadien 57% 14 Linda Dailey 17% 21 Candace Duval 61% 22 Kesha Rogers 51% 25 Elaine Henderson 100% 27 Rose Meza Harrison 31% * 30 Barbara Mallory Caraway 18% # 32 Katherine McGovern 84% 33 Chrysta Castaneda 2% 33 Katherine Hicks 13% 34 Denise Saenz Blanchard 13% + 35 Maria Luisa Alvarado 6% 35 Sylvia Romo 21% Republican primary Dist Name Result ================================== 13 Pamela Barlow 22% # 14 Felicia Harris 19% + 15 Rebecca Cervera 20% 22 Barbara Carlson 24% # 25 Dianne Costa 9% 34 Jessica Puente Bradshaw 35% * 34 Adele Garza 36% + 35 Susan Narvaiz 52% 36 Lois Dickson Myers 3% * = Won runoff + = Lost runoff # = Challenged incumbent

A lot more Democratic challengers, which is consistent with the overall higher rate of female incumbency among Democratic women in Congress. Of course, Democratic candidates have a lot more targets to aim for, and in most cases these races are unwinnable. I don’t have any presciptions here – plenty has been written about how to encourage women to actually jump into races – but I do agree that a lack of competitive seats plus a lack of turnover among established incumbents does nothing to help. In other words, I don’t expect anything to change any time soon.

Hillary Clinton in town

You have a chance to see her if you act quickly:

BJFF Gold Medallion Markup final approved flyer-pageEDITED1  JPEG

You can register here if you are interested.

About the award:

THE BARBARA JORDAN INAUGURAL GOLD MEDALLION will be presented in 2015 at Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland Institute for Policy Research. This gold medal is awarded for the highest or noblest achievement by an American woman in any honorable field of human endeavor.

PURPOSE

The purpose of the medal is twofold: first to call the attention of the American people to the existence of distinguished merit and achievement among American women in public and private service and secondly to serve as a reward for such achievement, and as a stimulus to the ambition of young women.

CONDITIONS

The medal is presented annually to the woman who shall have made the highest achievement during the preceding year or years in any honorable field of human endeavor. The Committee of Awards is bound by no burdensome restrictions, but may decide for itself each year what particular act or achievement deserves the highest acclaim. The choice is not limited to any one field, whether of intellectual, spiritual, physical, scientific, artistic, commercial, educational or other endeavor. It is intended primarily that the medal shall be for the highest lifetime achievement. If no individual achievement in a year seems to merit the award, the committee may withhold it. The medal is presented to the recipient at the annual award event and the presentation speech is delivered by a distinguished citizen.

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Hope you can make it. PDiddie has more.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The slate running to replace Mayor Annise Parker features a globetrotting sailor, a triathlete grandfather, a millionaire minister and no women.

Despite the most-crowded pack of mayoral contenders in decades, no female candidates are expected to announce bids this spring, a reality that all but guarantees women will have fewer positions of power at City Hall next year than they had during the last six.

“You are sending a message,” said Kathryn McNeil, a longtime fundraiser who helped elect Parker. “My niece is now 16. For the last six years, she’s seen a strong woman running the city. There’s no question in her mind that a woman could be mayor.”

Though more than 10 candidates likely will appear on November’s ballot, few women even seriously considered the race, which some call a reminder of how much more work Houston’s women must do to achieve political equality.

Some say it creates a less compassionate and less personal, even if equally qualified, field of candidates. It also affects the strength of the democratic process, limiting the diversity of the candidates that voters can choose from when they imagine whom they would like as their next mayor.

“Regardless of who actually wins the race, not having a viable woman candidate can be a disservice for everyone,” said Dee Dee Grays, the incoming president of Women Professionals in Government in Houston.

For the record, in the eleven city elections post-Kathy Whitmire (i.e., since 1993), there has been at least one female Mayoral candidate not named Annise Parker in eight of them:

2013 – Charyl Drab, Keryl Douglas, Victoria Lane
2011 – Amanda Ulman
2009 – Amanda Ulman
2007 – Amanda Ulman
2005 – Gladys House
2003 – Veronique Gregory
2001 – None
1999 – None
1997 – Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz
1995 – Elizabeth Spates
1993 – None

Now, most of these were fringe candidacies – only term-limited Council members Helen Huey and Gracie Saenz in 1997 could have been considered viable, and they were both crushed in the wake of the Lee Brown/Rob Mosbacher/George Greanias campaigns. But for what it’s worth, history does suggest there will be at least one female name on the ballot this year.

Research shows that women nationally need to be recruited to run for office much more than men. That especially is true for executive positions, such as governor or mayor.

Amber Mostyn, the former chair of Annie’s List, a statewide organization that recruits and backs Democratic female candidates, said there is a need for local versions of the organization that would encourage qualified women to make bids for mayor.

“You’ll see men throwing their hat in the ring when they’ve never done the job before and say, ‘I’ll figure it out,’ ” said Mostyn, a Houston lawyer and prominent donor. “Women are very reluctant to do that.”

I’m well aware of the research regarding the recruitment of female candidates. It’s definitely an issue, though I wonder if it will turn out to be a generational one. Perhaps today’s girls and younger women won’t need the same kind of encouragement that their elders currently require. Be that as it may, if there was ever a bad year for that dynamic in the Mayor’s race, it’s this year. I mean, nearly the entire field, not to mention Adrian Garcia, has been known to be planning to run for a long time now. With that many candidates already at the starting line, and presumably working to collect commitments and financial support and campaign advisers, it would undoubtedly be that much harder to make a case for someone else to gear up now and thrown her hat in the ring. As I’ve said many times already, there’s only so much room for viable candidates in this race.

Cindy Clifford, a public relations executive and City Hall lobbyist, said the key to electing a female mayor is to first focus on recruiting women for lower-level elected office and to serve on boards and commissions. That requires a commitment by the city’s leaders to tapping individual women and showing them that they have support.

“If we’re not doing it, no one’s going to come and look for us,” Clifford said. “I always think the cream rises once they’re in the process.”

Council members Brenda Stardig and Ellen Cohen could be joined next year by several top-tier female candidates in council elections this fall, but some worry that the political “pipeline” of female candidates is thin, with few who conceivably could have run for mayor this year. One, Laura Murillo, the head of Houston’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, did publicly explore a mayoral bid last summer before deciding against it.

I would point out that one of the top tier candidates for Mayor this year is someone whose entire political career has been in the Legislature, and that the three main candidates currently running for Mayor in San Antonio include two former legislators and one former County Commissioner. One doesn’t have to be a city officeholder to be a viable Mayoral candidate, is what I’m saying. Hell, none of the three Mayors before Annise Parker had been elected to anything before running for the top job, let alone running for Council. The size of the “pipeline” is as much a matter of framing as anything else. Note also that several women who were once elected to city offices now hold office elsewhere – I’m thinking specifically of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, Rep. Carol Alvarado, and HISD Trustee Wanda Adams. Pipelines can flow in both directions.

As for the four open Council slots, the seat most likely to be won by a female candidate as things stand right now is At Large #4, where two of the three announced candidates so far are women. Jenifer Pool is running in At Large #1, but if I were forced to make a prediction about it now, I’d say that a Lane Lewis/Chris Oliver runoff is the single most likely outcome. Two of the three candidates that I know of in District H are male – Roland Chavez and Jason Cisneroz – and the third candidate, former HISD Trustee Diana Davila, is ethically challenged. One’s commitment to diversity does not include supporting someone one doesn’t trust. I have no idea at this time who may be running in District G, which is the other term-limited seat. Beyond those races, any additional women will have to get there by knocking off an incumbent.

One last thing: There may not be room for another viable candidate for Mayor, but that isn’t the case for City Controller. There are three known candidates at this time, with two more thinking about it, all men. A Controller campaign would take less time and money, and would therefore likely be fairly ripe for recruitment, especially given that a female candidate in that race would have immediate prominence. As Mayor Parker, and for that matter former Mayor Whitmire, can attest, that office can be a pretty good stepping stone. Just a thought.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that HCC Trustee Sandie Mullins is planning to run in District G. That not only adds another female candidate for Council, it also indicates that an HCC seat will be open this fall.

Laurie Robinson to run in At Large #4

From Texpatriate:

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson

Laurie Robinson, a local businesswoman, will run for the Houston City Council next year. Specifically, as Houston Chronicle reported Theodore Schleifer reported on Twitter, she will seek out At-Large Position #4. The seat is currently held by Councilmember C.O. Bradford (D-At Large 4), who is term limited. The seat, which was previously held by now-Controller Ronald Green, has historically been held by an African-American officeholder, and this recent history has been noted repeatedly in recent weeks as a plethora of Caucasian candidates have stampeded into At-Large Position #1 and only that position, the other open seat.

A number of other names have popped up for this seat in conversations taking place behind closed doors, but none with enough certainty to be written in ink. Thus far, as noted above, most activity has taken place around Position #1, currently held by the term limited Councilmember Stephen Costello (R-At Large 1), a likely mayoral candidate. As I noted in the article I linked above, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis will run for the post, as will Jenifer Pool, Philippe Nassif, Trebor Gordon and Griff Griffin. All except Nassif have run for office a few times (Griffin in particular about a dozen times).

Just a nitpicky note here, but it was At Large #5 that was held by African Americans for a long time; in particular, by Judson Robinson from 1971 to 1990, then by his son Judson Robinson III through 1997, then Carroll Robinson through 2001. It was in 2003, when Michael Berry, who had previously served one term in At Large #4 before making an aborted run for Mayor in 2003, won to break the streak, after which we had Jolanda Jones and then Jack Christie. AL4 was held by Anthony Hall and Sheila Jackson Lee before John Peavy won a special election in 1995 to succeed SJL after she ousted Craig Washington in the primary for CD18; Peavy was re-elected in November of 1995, then Chris Bell (’97 and ’99) and Berry (’01) represented AL4. Had Berry not chosen to make a run for Mayor in 2003, thus paving the way for Ronald Green with an assist from Bert Keller’s bumbling campaign, he might have won two more terms there, and then who knows what might have happened. (All data on city elections courtesy of the City Secretary webpage.) Berry himself was the beneficiary of some infighting over whom to support to continue the tradition of African American representation in AL5. Point being, the history is more interesting than what we have been saying, and for a few terms back in the day there were consistently two African American Council members serving at large; there were three following the 1991 election, when little-known Beverly Clark ousted Jim Westmoreland after he was caught making racist remarks relating to the late Mickey Leland and an effort to rename IAH in his honor. Clark served one term and was succeeded by Gracie Saenz. Thus endeth the history lecture.

Aaaaaaaaanyway. Robinson made a decent showing in AL5 in 2011 (my interview with her for that race is here, and though she was rumored to be a candidate for AL3 in 2013, she declined to run, saying she might try again another time. Which appears to be now. As for Griff Griffin, all I can say is that we can’t miss you if you won’t go away.

The bricks of Freedmen’s Town

Surely we can do something about this.

Most in the Fourth Ward community know the lore – that freed slaves and descendants first laid the bricks on the streets 100 years ago.

Now most agree the roads need repairs, but residents and preservationists worry a recently approved city plan to remove the bricks to fix piping underneath will ruin the original streets, a key element of Freedmen’s Town designation as a National Historic District. Some activists also say the process to approve the project violated federal laws intended to preserve national historic districts.

“I’m appalled that the mayor wants to disturb those bricks like that,” resident Terrance Williams said.

More than 100 years ago, Fourth Ward residents paid $1 per brick to have the streets paved in front of their houses, said Catherine Roberts, co-founder of the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum in Freedmen’s Town, and a major force for the area’s conservation. Not only are the bricks themselves significant, but the patterns they form tell a story. The designs at some intersections can be traced back to African crossroads – which pointed the way to safehouses for the black community – or religious traditions of the Yoruba people of West Africa.

“This is an in-the-ground cultural resource,” Roberts said. “You don’t take them out.”

Their inability to stop construction has made the community feel powerless – a community once considered the heartbeat of black Houston. Doctors, lawyers, dentists and ministers populated the area until the 1920s, when the Third and Fifth wards became more popular.

[…]

After decades of discussion and planning to install new utilities in the neighborhood, City Council approved a $5 million plan this month to repipe portions of Andrews and Wilson streets. Work is scheduled to start by early August, said Mike Cordova, project manager for the city.

Water and sewer pipes will be replaced, and then the salvageable bricks – estimated to be just one-third of those there now – will be cleaned and put back, but likely not in their original designs.

Texas Department of Transportation architect Mario Sanchez said the bricks will be regrouped at intersections rather than in their original locations. “It was determined infeasible to re-install them in their original locations, specifically because there would be a lack of continuity based on the number of salvageable bricks,” Sanchez wrote in the email to the Houston Chronicle.

That’s heartbreaking news to residents and historians, who believed that years ago they had reached a solution on upgrading the Freedmen’s Town streets. They pleaded with the city to tunnel underneath the bricks instead of moving them, and in 2007 former Mayor Bill White reached an agreement with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to do just that.

In a letter sent to the Chronicle from Jackson Lee to White, the congresswoman discusses the agreed-upon plan: using a combination of trenching and tunneling to put the water and sewer lines beneath the sidewalks instead of under the bricks, leaving them undisturbed.

City officials now say the streets are too narrow for tunneling, and construction costs could quadruple.

“It just wasn’t a practical way to move forward,” said council member Ellen Cohen, whose district includes Freedmen’s Town.

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? There’s a lot more in the story about the historic preservation process and whether it’s being followed correctly, and you should read the whole thing. What it comes down to is that these bricks and these streets are a unique and very important piece of culture and history in a neighborhood that has lost so much of that culture and history to the demands of modern times. We really need to find a way to improve these streets without losing or damaging what they’re all about.

Where are all the ladies?

Christy Hoppe of the DMN notices something missing on the Republican side of the 2014 ballot.

Rep. Kay Granger

The Texas Republican Party has a girl problem.

A glance down the list of GOP nominees set after Tuesday’s runoffs makes it look as if U.S. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth has signed up for shop class.

She is the lone woman among the 50 congressional, statewide and top judicial Republican candidates.

In a year when the marquee races for governor and lieutenant governor will feature Democrats Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, the Grand Old Party looks like it’s going stag.

Candidate Lisa Fritsch warned during the primaries of “the party of all these men and the same old recycled candidates.”

And Fritsch is a staunch conservative who was challenging Greg Abbott for the nomination for governor.

State party chairman Steve Munisteri said he’s noticed.

“I would tell you I’ve had discussions with elected officials and party leaders about this very issue,” he said Tuesday. “Frankly, it is a concern.”

He said he is placing women in high-profile jobs and hoping to recruit more women to run for office.

The story has gone national, but it should be noted that Rep. Granger isn’t quite as lonely as Hoppe says. There is one more Republican lady among the statewide and Congressional candidates – there is also Susan Narvaiz, who is running for CD35 against Rep. Lloyd Doggett. And it’s not like there were a bunch of viable female candidates that filed but couldn’t make it through the primaries. The only serious contender for a statewide office on the R side was Debra Medina, who finished third for Comptroller with 19% of the vote despite that crappy Trib poll that I’m still not tired of mocking that showed her leading, and the only serious contender for a Congressional seat was Katrina Pierson, who was defeated easily by Rep. Pete Sessions despite having Ted Cruz as her overlord. The lack of Republican ladies on the ballot was a problem that one could see coming from a good ways away.

To be fair, there’s not an overabundance of ladies on the Democratic side, but there are three women running statewide. Two of them you’ve probably heard of, plus Justice Gina Benavides of the 13th Court of Appeals, who is running for Supreme Court. There are also two Congressional incumbents – Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Berniece Johnson – plus two more Congressional candidates, Shirley McKellar and Tawana Cadien. That’s two Democratic incumbents to one Republican incumbent even though Republican incumbents overall outnumber Dems in this group by more than three to one, and seven Democratic candidates to two for the GOP. I’d have liked for there to be more female candidates on our ballot – I did vote for Maxey Scherr in the Senate primary, after all – but given the historic nature of the Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte candidacies – the first time ever that a party has nominated women for both of the top two slots – it’s still something we Ds can be proud of. Better luck next time, Republicans.

The farm team

Roll Call takes a look at the Texas Democrats of the future.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democrats rarely fielded competitive Senate candidates over the past two decades — the party’s three best performers in that time span received 44 percent, 43 percent and 43 percent — but that may change by the next midterm cycle. State and national Democrats are gearing up for a competitive Senate bid as early as 2018, when Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is up.

The first potential candidate names out of the mouths of most operatives are the Castro twins, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro and freshman Rep. Joaquin Castro — though there are mixed opinions about which one is more likely to jump. Wendy Davis’ name comes up as well, should she comes up short in this year’s gubernatorial race, and the buzz in some Democratic circles is that Davis’ running mate, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, has as promising a political future as Davis.

Beyond those four, there is a second tier of candidates who could possibly run statewide but don’t quite yet have the same star power. It includes freshman Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who ousted eight-term Rep. Silvestre Reyes in 2012. He is young and attractive, but his geographic base is weak — El Paso is remote and actually closer to the Pacific Ocean than it is to the Louisiana border.

Democrats also named state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer and Chris Turner as possible statewide contenders and pointed to Houston Mayor Annise Parker, albeit with caution. Parker is openly gay, and some say that while Texas is evolving on a number of issues, gay rights is not likely to be one of them in the immediate future.

We’ve discussed the 2018 election before. Based on her comments so far, I don’t see Mayor Parker as a potential candidate for the US Senate. I see her as a candidate for Governor or Comptroller, assuming those offices are not occupied by Democrats.

Among the future contenders for [Rep. Gene] Green’s seat, Democrats identified state Reps. Armando Walle, Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, plus Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

There is perpetual scuttlebutt in the state that [Rep. Lloyd] Doggett is vulnerable to a Hispanic primary challenge. Other Democratic strategists discount that line of thinking, citing Doggett’s war chest and ability to weather whatever lines he’s drawn into.

Whenever he leaves office, Democrats named Martinez Fischer and state Rep. Mike Villarreal as likely contenders. Martinez Fischer could also run in Joaquin Castro’s 20th District if he seeks higher office.

As for Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s Houston-based 18th District, state operatives pointed to state Reps. Sylvester Turner and Garnet F. Coleman, who could also run for Rep. Al Green’s seat.

Working backwards, Rep. Sylvester Turner is running for Mayor in 2015. That would not preclude a future run for Congress, of course, but I doubt it’s on his mind right now. I love Rep. Garnet Coleman, but I’ve never really gotten the impression that he has his eye on Washington, DC. Among other things, he has school-age kids at home, and I’m not sure how much the idea of commuting to DC appeals to him. The same is true for Sen. Rodney Ellis, whose district has a lot of overlap with Rep. Al Green’s CD09. Ellis has by far the biggest campaign warchest among them, which is one reason why I had once suggested he run statewide this year. Beyond them, there’s a long list of current and former elected officials – Ronald Green, Brad Bradford, Jolanda Jones, Wanda Adams, Carroll Robinson, etc etc etc – that would surely express interest in either CD09 or CD18 if it became open. About the only thing that might alter this dynamic is if County Commissioner El Franco Lee decided to retire; the line for that office is longer than I-10.

As for Rep. Gene Green, I’d add Rep. Carol Alvarado and James Rodriguez to the list of people who’d at least consider a run to replace him. I’m less sure about Sheriff Garcia. I think everyone expects him to run for something else someday – he’s starting to get the John Sharp Obligatory Mention treatment – but I have no idea if he has any interest in Congress. And as for Rep. Doggett, all I’ll say is that he’s shown himself to be pretty hard to beat in a primary.

Texas’ 23rd, which includes much of the state’s border with Texas, is the only competitive district in the state and turns over regularly. If Democratic Rep. Pete Gallego lost re-election and Democrats were on the hunt for a new recruit, one could be state Rep. Mary González.

Should 11-term Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson retire, Democrats said attorney Taj Clayton, along with state Reps. Yvonne Davis and Eric Johnson would be likely contenders for her Dallas-based 30th District.

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez is also a rising star. But his local seat in the Brownsville-based 34th District is unlikely to open up any time soon — Rep. Filemon Vela, from a well-known family in South Texas, was elected in 2012.

The great hope for Democrats is that continued Texas redistricting litigation will provide an additional majority Hispanic district based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. State Rep. Rafael Anchia is the obvious choice for that hypothetical seat, along with Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Sergio L. De Leon.

And then there are a handful of Texas Democrats who stir up chatter but have no obvious place to run for federal office. Democrats put former state Rep. Mark Strama and Jane Hamilton, the current chief of staff to Rep. Marc Veasey, in this category.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Lily Adams, granddaughter of Ann Richards, is a respected political operative in Washington, D.C., and recently earned attention as a possible candidate talent.

I’m rooting for Rep. Gallego to win re-election this fall, but no question I’d love to see Rep. González run for higher office at some point. Taj Clayton ran against Rep. Johnson in 2012, getting support from the Campaign for Primary Accountability (which appears to be in a resting state now), along with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who also appears in this story as someone to watch. Rep. Anchia is someone I’ve been rooting for and would love to see get a promotion. Mark Strama is off doing Google Fiber in Austin. I have no idea if he’d want to get back in the game – like several other folks I’ve mentioned, he has young kids – but he’s been mentioned as a possible candidate for Mayor in Austin before; if he does re-enter politics, and if he has an eye on something bigger down the line, that would be a good way to go for it. Lily Adams is 27 years old and has never run for any office before, but she’s got an excellent pedigree and has apparently impressed some folks. In baseball terms, she’s tearing up it in short season A ball, but needs to show what she can do on a bigger stage before anyone gets carried away.

Anyway. Stuff like this is necessarily speculative, and that speculation about 2018 is necessarily dependent on what happens this year. If Democrats manage to beat expectations and score some wins, statewide hopefuls may find themselves waiting longer than they might have thought. If Democrats have a crappy year, by which one in which no measurable progress in getting out the vote and narrowing the gap is made, some of these folks may decide they have better things to do in 2018. As for the Congressional understudies, unless they want to go the Beto O’Rourke route and mount a primary challenge to someone, who knows how long they may have to wait. It’s entirely possible all this talk will look silly four years from now. We’ll just have to wait and see.

SJL for DHS?

That sound you heard Monday was a bunch of heads exploding.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Conservative bloggers went wild Monday when they got wind of the Congressional Black Caucus’ suggestion that President Obama pick Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston for the post of Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

Rich Cooper, avid blogger for Security Debrief, responded to the news of the Jackson Lee recommendation in a post by saying, “Apparently, it is not a joke. For reasons that baffle any sense of reality, it is a serious gesture on the part of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to encourage President Obama to nominate Rep. Jackson Lee as a replacement for outgoing-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.”

A letter dated July 25 and signed by CBC Chairwoman Rep. Marcia Fudge, an Ohio Democrat, urges President Barack Obama to consider Jackson Lee for the position formerly held by Janet Napolitano, the first woman to hold the position. Napolitano resigned earlier this month to become president of the University of California.

“Representative Jackson Lee would serve as an effective DHS Secretary because she understands the importance of increasing border security and maintaining homeland security,” the nomination letter reads.

Since entering Congress in 1995, Jackson Lee has served on several committees, including Foreign Affairs, Judiciary and Homeland Security, in which she was the Chairwoman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security and Infrastructure Protection.

“As Chairwoman, Representative Jackson Lee supported increased airplane cargo inspections and increased security for railroads, issues of great importance to the security of this nation and its citizens,” the letter continues.

Jackson Lee currently holds the post of Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, a position that the CBC says she “stands as a strong and honest ‘voice of reason.’”

I couldn’t care less what a bunch of conservative bloggers think about this. Rep. Jackson Lee is clearly qualified based on her service and experience in the House. Whether she’s the right person for the job or not is another matter and a decision for President Obama. I kind of think she’s not the person he has in mind because he does generally tend to prefer people who keep a lower profile. The drama that a bunch of yahoos would cause if she were nominated should have no bearing on that, though in the real world I’m sure it would be a consideration. I don’t expect this to go anywhere, but you never know. And if Rep. Jackson Lee were to be elevated, then I agree with Texpatriate that the special election to replace her will be quite the spectacle. A reason to root for her to be tapped if you like that sort of thing.

North Forest still fighting as the deadlines approach

Never give up, never surrender.

North Forest ISD has spent more than $595,000 appealing the state’s order to shut down, newly obtained records show, and the school district is continuing the court fight as its July closure date nears.

Despite the district’s ongoing appeal before an Austin court, the Texas Education Agency has ordered North Forest officials to start making serious plans to close – including taking action by May 1 to terminate the contracts of all employees for next school year.

The TEA’s appointee to oversee the closure, Doris Delaney, wrote a letter to North Forest ISD leaders this month ordering them to turn over personnel records to HISD – though they can withhold teachers’ job evaluations. She also instructed Superintendent Edna Forte to back up the district’s electronic files and took away the school board’s authority over spending.

“Effective immediately,” Delaney wrote in the April 13 letter, “the Board of Trustees and the superintendent are directed to obtain the consent of the conservator before making or approving any agreement, contract, purchase or payment.”

Delaney, given authority by TEA Commissioner Michael Williams, also told North Forest to grant HISD officials access to inspect the district’s campuses and buses.

[Superintendent Terry] Grier and several dozen HISD employees walked through the nine North Forest schools two weekends ago. He said the newer schools were in good shape but several need maintenance work. He’s particularly worried about the condition of one school, indicating that students may have to move campuses next year, but declined to specify.

Chris Tritico, the attorney hired by the North Forest school board, is holding out hope that the courts will side with him and allow the 7,000-student North Forest district to continue to exist.

[…]

HISD officials said they soon expect to get the North Forest personnel files. They also are seeking student records, but North Forest has raised questions about the release, arguing it may violate the federal educational privacy law.

“We don’t know exactly what we’re going to get,” HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said. “That information’s pretty critical as we try to figure out summer school and what kind of services students are going to need.”

In addition to the continued appeals and likely legal action to follow, the North Forest ISD Board of Trustees has dug in its heels, too.

The North Forest school board on Monday defied a state order to fire all its teachers for the next school year, leaving Texas Education Agency officials pondering their next move as the district is supposed to be taken over by Houston ISD come July 1.

Doris Delaney, a TEA appointee at the school board meeting, told the trustees that they had to take action to fire the teachers under state law, but the board refused, voting against the agenda items or simply not seconding the motions.

Trustees explained that they considered the state’s order “awful” and “immoral,” and community members at the packed meeting agreed, calling out, “Don’t do it. Stand up to them,” said Sue Davis, a spokeswoman for the North Forest Independent School District.

State law requires teachers in any district to be notified before the school year ends if their contracts will not renewed the following school year.

What a mess. HISD is not required to hire any of the North Forest teachers, and Superintendent Grier has said that he can’t guarantee jobs for them or any of the 900 existing North Forest employees. I have no idea what effect the board’s intransigence will mean – the TEA said it was “researching” its options.

Meanwhile, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, the most prominent backer of NFISD, continues to rally support for the charter school proposal that would keep North Forest alive. The latest administrative appeal for NFISD will be decided by May 29, but given the things that are supposed to happen or begin happening by today to get the merger into HISD started, it’s hard to imagine a different outcome. Given that one reason for NFISD’s problems historically has been low or negative cash balances, the amount they’ve spent on the appeals probably isn’t helping with that. The strongest argument for NFISD is that they’re as good as neighboring schools in other districts; against that, you have the longstanding mismanagement by the NFISD Board of Trustees. I don’t see how NFISD can prevail at this point, but deadlines or no deadlines I don’t think this will be settled anytime soon.

On a related note, Jay Aiyer takes to the op-ed pages to encourage HISD to think outside the box when it takes over North Forest.

HISD should consider an approach that brings the community directly into the educational policy process through a new kind of charter school model.

[…]

A new approach, developed by the Austin Independent School District and known as the community driven “in-district” charter model changes this. It brings teachers, parents and community leaders together to lead the conversion of several campuses in the Austin school district to create in-district community charter schools. This approach takes the success of charters and places it in the traditional “ISD” context. In sharp contrast to traditional charter conversions – existing teachers, campus union leaders, parents, school staff, community members and principals all share responsibility for the development and execution of each school’s instructional programs. While traditional models of reform impose change from the top down, this approach seeks immediate community buy-in on the front end, and allows them to direct reform.

At the core of this approach is the concept of self-directed schools – schools that are run by teachers, parents, principals and community leaders. What differentiates this from other charter concepts is the combination of substantial community and parental involvement with the great professional teacher autonomy and leadership opportunities that exist in traditional charters. The in-district community charter school concept combines the independence of the best charter schools and embeds it in the public school context.

Houston Independent School District has been at the forefront of many innovative approaches to school reform – Apollo20, magnet school choice, Early Colleges/HILZ, etc. While each has been successful in its own way, all of them have been top-down reform initiatives. The community-charter approach would allow the community to choose any of these or other reforms it wants to turn around community schools. They could even choose to partner with KIPP, YES Prep or other traditional charters.

There is certainly evidence that the community wants to maintain some form of self-governance, and that they support the charter schools’ proposal. It would be worthwhile to explore this option and see how well it fits. The more the community is engaged, the better off everyone is likely to be.

At the Battleground Texas kickoff meeting

I attended the Battleground Texas kickoff meeting for Houston on Saturday. Houston was one of the last stops on their statewide introduction tour. I estimated about 300 people in attendance; BGTX gives it as 350, which is probably the more accurate number since they have the sign-in sheets. Numerous elected officials were also in attendance, including most prominently Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Gene Green, Sen. Sylvia Garcia, and Rep. Gene Wu. I took the picture embedded in this post from the back of the room; I couldn’t quite fit the whole crowd in, but you get the idea.

If one of their goals was to get people excited about their mission, they succeeded in spades – you could feel the energy in the room. Battleground Texas has done an excellent job spreading the word about themselves, aided in part by a national media that’s fascinated by the idea of former Obama campaign people coming to Texas (“of all places”, they don’t quite say but which you can detect anyway) to work the same magic here as they did in Ohio and Florida. Last week there were stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Economist; BGTX Executive Director Jenn Brown, who led the meeting, said that a reporter from Bloomberg News was also in the state. That doesn’t necessarily mean that local media will follow – I see nothing in the Chronicle, and a search of Google news says that only KTRK, which also had a preview/analysis story by Dr. Richard Murray, provided any reports. Well, we did identify scarcity of media coverage as an obstacle in the breakout session I was in.

The BGTX message is simple: The best way to get someone to vote is for a neighbor or someone they know to talk to them about voting and ask them to vote. Connect what’s important to them to the campaign issues and what the candidates stand for, and help them see that their vote really does matter. Easier said than done, of course, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done before that in registering voters and identifying those who will likely by receptive to your message, but that’s what it comes down to, and it’s what was done with so much success elsewhere. We know the potential for this exists in Texas – one of the things that BGTX people like Jeremy Bird have been saying all along is that one of the reasons why they came here to do this work is that there had been so much done in Texas and by Texans in 2012 to help with efforts in other states, and so much desire on the part of these people to be able to do that here. Jenn Brown gave the statistic that 400,000 phone calls had been made in Texas to Florida during the 2012 campaign. The people power is here, it just needs to be tapped.

But again, it’s the personal touch that matters. We went to a party at the home of a couple we’ve been friends with for several years last night. I was telling one of the hosts about the BGTX meeting at the party. He had actually traveled to Ohio (where he’s from) for the week leading up to Election Day last year, working with the Obama campaign on GOTV efforts. But he hadn’t heard about Battleground Texas. I promised to email him information about it. I took that as a reminder of the importance of telling people about BGTX as the first step. Not everyone gets the same information you do, so don’t assume everyone has heard about the same things as you. Start spreading the news now, because it most definitely isn’t too early.

Not so fast on the North Forest charter plan

Not everyone is convinced that the plan to allow a consortium of charter schools to take over North Forest ISD is a good idea.

In interviews Monday, state Rep. Senfronia Thompson and Sens. Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire, all Democrats, voiced reservations about the last-ditch attempt to prevent the annexation of North Forest to Houston ISD.

“I’ve got issues with some of HISD’s performance, but it is such a step up from North Forest in terms of administration, accountability, and they’ve got the resources,” said Whitmire, who represented the northeast Houston district for years until recent redistricting. “There’s a real opportunity for HISD to show what they can do for North Forest. The charters are just speculating at this point.”

The charter schools involved are KIPP, YES Prep and Harmony.

Ellis said he feared the charter schools would try to kick out students who misbehave or perform poorly. Thompson, whose granddaughter attends school in North Forest ISD, said she was unwilling to support an undefined plan.

[…]

[KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg] said the elected North Forest school board would collect taxes, but a nonprofit created by KIPP would essentially run the district starting in 2013, with control over major decisions such as hiring, firing and spending.

By 2014, he said, the nonprofit would turn North Forest into a “portfolio district.” School operators – including KIPP, YES, Harmony and others that are interested – would apply to start and run campuses in North Forest ISD. Families would choose where to send their children.

Those who did not want the new options would remain in traditional public schools run by the nonprofit, called PHILO, Feinberg said.

A director or chief executive officer responsible for managing the school district would be appointed by the PHILO board. Feinberg said the board includes himself, [former HISD Superintendent and Education Secretary Rod] Paige; Jodie Jiles, a past chairman of the Greater Houston Partnership; Shawn Hurwitz, a founding KIPP board member; a KIPP mother who now works for the charter network; and two KIPP alumni – an accountant whose family lives in North Forest and the head of the KIPP alumni association.

See here for the background. The idea has been endorsed by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sen. Dan Patrick, as odd a couple as you could find, but I’m a little worried that this may become more of a partisan issue than anything else. If there’s ever a situation where the details mattered, this is it, and so far all we have is a broad outline. I said before that I think this is a worthwhile idea to pursue, but now that we have seen what concerns people, let’s see how Feinberg et al respond to those concerns. So far, TEA Commissioner Michael Williams has maintained that they are moving forward with the HISD takeover, but he’s willing to consider the charter proposal. Let’s see a fully detailed plan, and then we can see if it’s a better idea than what is already on the table.

Charters apply to take over North Forest ISD

Fine by me.

In a potentially groundbreaking move, three of Houston’s top-performing charter schools are making a pitch to run the long-troubled North Forest school district.

The charter groups — KIPP, YES Prep and Harmony — are asking Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams to approve their plan, instead of having the Houston Independent School District take over North Forest ISD, KIPP co-founder Mike Feinberg confirmed Friday. The idea is still in the developmental stage, but the North Forest school board unanimously signed off on the concept Thursday night, said board president Charles Taylor Sr.

Williams ordered the annexation of North Forest into HISD last month after the former state education commissioner gave the district a one-year reprieve from closure. North Forest has long suffered academic and financial problems.

Under the plan, Feinberg said, the school board would collect taxes, but the charter schools and a nonprofit management group would run the district with power over spending, hiring and other decisions.

The partnership would be the first of its kind in Texas, marking unprecedented cooperation between the three popular charter schools. They typically start their own campuses from scratch, rather than try to turn around a struggling district.

“If I didn’t believe we could do it, we wouldn’t be trying to contribute as part of the solution,” Feinberg said. “At the same time, we recognize how difficult this work is and how very few examples we have of anywhere in the country of where it’s worked. But this is the work that ultimately needs to happen to convince our state leaders, our local leaders and society in general that not just all children can learn, but all children will learn.”

The Chron story adds a few more details.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, has thrown her support behind the plan. State lawmakers who represent North Forest could not be reached for comment, though Feinberg acknowledged some weren’t warm to the idea.

[…]

If the TEA approves the charter deal, the goal is for the new model to fully take effect in 2014, said Chris Tritico, an attorney for North Forest.

Many issues would have to be resolved: Would teachers have to reapply for their jobs? Who would run which campuses? What if students did not want to attend the longer school hours KIPP and YES traditionally require? Who would coordinate the food service, the busing, the program for students with disabilities?

HISD spokesman Jason Spencer said the district is moving forward with plans to annex North Forest “until we hear otherwise.”

Anna Eastman, the president of the HISD board, said she thinks the charter idea “merits consideration.”

“My only goal in this conversation is making sure the kids in North Forest end up on top,” she said. “A struggling, traditional ISD willing to relinquish management to three high-performing charters, with a good track record, could prove to be a model for other district and charter partnerships.”

One presumes that anything would be an improvement over the current status. KIPP, YES, and Harmony all have strong track records, so there’s plenty of reason to think they could do a good job. I think HISD would also do a good job of it, but they have a full plate already, and perhaps NFISD could benefit from more focused attention. If nothing else, this could help answer the question whether charters like these can produce the same kind of results as they have on their own with a student body that didn’t seek them out. The one thing I would insist on is that the teachers do not lose their collective bargaining ability. NFISD should still be a normal public school district under this plan. Assuming that is the case, I think this is a worthwhile thing to try, and if it goes through I will be eager to see what happens.

SJL talks high speed rail

The dream lives on.

I've been on this train

Officials in Japan and South Korea told Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee that they are interested in helping Texas build a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas.

The Houston Democrat said the foreign officials described their interest to her during an official congressional visit to Japan, South Korea and China.

“This is absolutely the right direction America should be moving toward,” said Jackson Lee, who traveled between Osaka and Tokyo on Japan’s world famous high-speed rail system.

[…]

Officials in Houston will make the next push for federal funding in 2013, Jackson Lee said.

I daresay the outcome of the next election will have a significant bearing on the odds of success for that push. Be that as it may, I presume these are the same officials in Japan that have expressed interest in this project before. All I can say is that it sure does take a long time for anything to happen with these ideas. Tune in next year and we’ll see if anything is different by then.

Trying to find a way with the WHP

I admire and applaud the effort. I abhor the fact that it was needed.

Leading Houston Democrats in favor of a seemingly doomed health care program for low-income women are pushing to bypass the state to keep federal money flowing to Planned Parenthood.

U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and state Rep. Garnet Coleman said Monday they are negotiating with U.S. Health and Human Services in hopes of finding alternative funding for the program, which provides health screenings and contraceptive services to 130,000 Texas women on Medicaid.

“It would be a look-alike program but not be the same thing,” said Coleman.

The Medicaid Women’s Health Program is due to end in Texas on March 31, the result of the state’s decision to exclude clinics affiliated with abortion providers, even those that do not provide abortions. Federal regulations say a state can’t exclude qualified providers from the program.

Coleman and Lee said the alternative might involve the federal government allocating money to local entities, such as counties, hospital districts or federally qualified health clinics. They noted that school districts have been allowed to apply for federal grants independently rather than through the state.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green said he will look at alternatives but acknowledged that “I doubt I could do much with this Congress.” He said he’s hopeful things will be more favorable after the election.

The main way that this would differ from Perry’s empty promise is that it would allow the existing providers (read: primarily, but not exclusively, Planned Parenthood) to continue doing their work instead of forcing thousands of women to find new doctors who may or may not ever materialize to take on that un-lucrative business. It also ensures that we don’t have to depend on Perry’s alleged commitment to women’s health, which was something he certainly did not have last year when it counted.

Last spring, I watched with dismay as the Texas House, led by Republican lawmakers, slashed – from $111 million to only $38 million – the only other program providing contraception for poor Texas women, administered by the Department of State Health Services.

Perry stood by silently as GOP lawmakers took the ax to the program, despite budget analysts reporting that the program would save the state millions of dollars by preventing unwanted children who would be delivered into this world on Medicaid’s dime.

[…]

Perry hasn’t really had an epiphany that contraception for the poor is a worthwhile, even “cost-effective,” program. He’s warring with President Barack Obama because the federal government won’t go along with his administration’s attempt to prevent Planned Parenthood from participating in the program.

“Why would the Obama Administration take away access to health care for low-income Texas women?” Perry asks on his website. “Because this administration puts funding for abortion providers and affiliates ahead of funding for women’s cancer screenings and other preventative health care.”

He conveniently fails to mention that no money that goes to Planned Parenthood can be used to provide abortions. It’s already illegal.

The money pays only for cancer screenings and contraception that poor women need. But Perry, the governor who is against the government picking your health care provider, has decided he gets to pick the health care provider for poor women.

That would be because, as the sonogram saga showed, Perry thinks women are incapable of making these decisions on their own. Women may disagree about that, but who cares what they think? Not Rick Perry, that’s for sure.

The bottom line is simply this.

Fran Hagerty, the head of the Women’s Health and Family Planning Association of Texas — which represents non-Planned Parenthood providers in Texas, including clinics, hospitals and medical schools — said she seriously doubts Gov. Rick Perry will be able to keep the pledge he made last week to maintain the roughly $30 million-per-year program without federal help. She said the “monstrous” family-planning funding cuts of the last legislative session, made before the Women’s Health Program was jeopardized, have eroded trust and have forced clinics to shut their doors.

“The funds made available to family planning providers through the Women’s Health Program is what is keeping most of them going at this point,” she said in a statement. “No one trusts Gov. Perry to find state money to fund them at the same level as the Medicaid program.”

Emphasis mine. No one should trust Rick Perry to care about funding the Women’s Health Program. His record on this issue is quite clear and has been for a long time. Once the spotlight is off and he no longer has to pretend he’s the good guy and the Obama administration is the bad guy, he’ll revert to form. Indeed, he already is, with his ludicrous funny-money funding proposal. Burka, who agrees with this assessment, and Trail Blazers have more.

Football season is over, but political football season never ends

It never even reaches the two minute warning.

The University Line, whether John Culberson likes it or not

The committee chairman described it as a “food fight,” an after-midnight bout as Republican Congressman Blake Farenthold tried to jimmy legislation to block federal money for Metro to build or extend the University and Uptown light rail lines.

In the end, his effort failed. But the wrangling in the wee hours last week spotlighted the countless little-noticed struggles that take place across Capitol Hill as lawmakers try to steer taxpayers’ dollars toward projects they favor – and away from projects they oppose.

In this case, the stakes were potentially the future of Houston’s light rail system and the unceremonious initiation of Farenthold, a freshman lawmaker with barely 13 months on Capitol Hill.

[…]

Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia said he had been “surprised that a congressman representing the citizens of Corpus Christi would get involved in our local matter.”

Needless to say, Farenthold was lackeying for John Culberson, parroting the usual BS about the 2003 referendum as if he were sitting on Culberson’s lap. Thankfully, Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida intervened on behalf of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and this particular bit of monkey business was defeated. Culberson and his ilk will never give up on this issue. Those of us who actually respect the outcome of that election can’t take our eye off the ball.

UPDATE: This would be entertaining at least, if there were any substance to it.

The Greater Houston Partnership has taken the unusual step of publicly taking U.S. Rep. John Culberson to task for his unsuccessful attempt late last week to block federal funding for Houston light rail, arguing that it makes the area vulnerable to other attempts of what it terms “reverse earmarking.”

It was so unusual that Partnership CEO Jeff Moseley argued that Culberson’s primary offense was not in opposing proposed light rail lines in his district along Richmond and Post Oak, but that the veteran lawmaker and light rail opponent did not work more quietly against the funding.

“We’re just saying whatever the questions might be on how they (funds) are being used, they’re best to be resolved quietly and not done in the front yard,” Moseley said during a visit to the Houston Chronicle editorial board Monday.

Nice, but as with the Texas Association of Business and immigration, it’s all just talk until someone funds an opponent.

Three for HD144, Lee for HCDE

Since Monday night, I have heard of three people who are interested in running for HD144, the State Rep district that was drawn to favor the election of a Democrat by the San Antonio court. For the record, the 2008 numbers in HD144 are as follows:

President: Obama 53.16%, McCain 45.92%

Senate: Noriega 59.25%, Cornyn 38.89%

Supreme Court, Place 7: Houston 59.01%, Wainwright 38.87%

Supreme Court, Place 8: Yanez 59.57%, Johnson 38.43%

CCA, Place 3: Strawn 58.06%, Price 39.79%

Two candidates have filed for this seat and a third announced that he was running, though his announcement came before the two filings were announced. The first to announce a filing was Kevin Risner, son of George Risner, the Democratic JP in Precinct 2. The second was Pasadena City Council Member Ornaldo Ybarra, whose statement is beneath the fold. Finally, there is Cody Wheeler, who made an announcement and put out this statement, but as of last night had not filed. I look forward to meeting and interviewing these gentlemen, and may the best person win, including any others who may yet be looking at this district.

In other Harris County news, Erica Lee, daughter of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, has filed to run for HCDE Trustee in Precinct 1. She is the first Democrat to file for this position, the single easiest pickup opportunity for Democrats in Harris County next year, and whoever wins the primary will be virtually guaranteed to win in November. That person will not face incumbent Roy Morales, however, as he has undoubtedly done the math and will head off to the sunset and future opportunities to run for something. He wasn’t on the ballot this year and he may not be on it next year – I have no idea what this world is coming to. I am aware of at least one other person who had expressed an interest in this seat, but so far Erica Lee, whom I met briefly at the petition signing event the week of Thanksgiving (though I did not make the connection to her mother), is it. Stace has more.

I should note that we have two candidates for the at large HCDE position currently held by the ridiculous Michael Wolfe – Diane Trautman and David Rosen have both filed. There is also a Precinct 3 position for HCDE that does not have a Democratic challenger. I have heard that incumbent Republican Louis Evans is not running again, so while this would not be a likely pickup opportunity it seems to me that it deserves a candidate, since who knows what kind of candidate will emerge on the R side. For that matter, it would be nice to have a serious challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Yeah, I know, I’d like a pony, too. Hey, wishes are still free.

Meanwhile, over in Fort Bend County, attorney Vy Nguyen has announced her candidacy for HD26, the multi-cultural district that was drawn to be nearly 50/50 by the court. Her statement is here. It’s fair to say that the Democratic road towards a House majority will go right through that district.

Finally, a semi-comprehensive list of Democratic filings from around the state can be found here. I see that Sylvia Romo has made it official, so we will have that contested primary over there. If you’re aware of any filing news I’ve missed, please let us know in the comments.

UPDATE: According to Robert Miller, HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez is also interested in HD144, while incumbent Rep. Ken Legler has not decided if he will file for re-election.

(more…)

Say “No” to Confederate license plates

I’ve been in Texas over 25 years now, but sometimes I just can’t escape my Yankee heritage.

A group of elected officials said Saturday that Texas cannot allow the Confederate flag – which they consider a symbol of oppression – to be put on Texas license plates.

“We cannot allow the state to issue a symbol of intimidation,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, said to a crowd of community leaders outside the Civil Courthouse in downtown Saturday.

Lee and other officials plan to go to Austin on Nov. 10, when the Department of Motor Vehicles votes on the design, with petitions and a letter from 17 state legislators to persuade them to vote against the license plates.

“We will not go backward; we are going forward,” Lee said.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that allowing these license plates would be allowing the people who lost a war to write history. “I’m glad they (the Confederates) lost,” he said. “They were on the wrong side of history.”

Here’s a story about the petitions, a copy of the letter signed by the 19 legislators, a separate letter sent by Rep. Garnet Coleman, and an op-ed in the Statesman, which also ran in the Sunday Chron, against the Confederate plates by Matt Glazer.

Like I said, I’ve been in Texas a long time now, but stuff like this proves to me that you can never truly take the Yankee out of the boy. You can talk all you want about “heritage”, but to me the Confederacy represents a group of people that took up arms against the United States, resulting in the death of over a million people. If they had been successful, the United States as we know it would not exist, and there would be an entirely different country in place as its southern neighbor. (One wonders if either or both countries would be talking about border fences in that scenario.) I cannot understand why anyone would want to commemorate that. Remember it, study it, learn from it, sure, but put it on a license plate? No thanks.

None of this takes into account the racial aspect of the stars and bars, or its sordid history as a symbol of intimidation against African-Americans. Here, my Northernness makes me unqualified to discuss it because I have no experience with it. I can’t say that I ever laid eyes on a Confederate flag until I was in my 20s. But I take seriously the objections and concerns that those who do have a personal history with this have raised, and as Glazer noted in his op-ed, those objections are bipartisan. The reason this is coming to a head now is because a ninth member has been added to the DMV commission that originally voted on this, meaning the next vote will not be a tie. I stand with those who say that this is a bad idea and it should be rejected.

Ryan issues opinions about poll watching

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan has issued a couple of opinions relating to poll watching that may help clear things up a bit. The first opinion has to do with where poll watchers may and may not go:

Poll watchers are entitled to observe all election activity from the time the electionworkers arrive at the polling place to set up in the morning until the equipment is packed up andlocked up at night. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.056 (Vernon 2010). However, poll watchers are not allowed to follow voters into the “voting station” to observe the voters unless the voter requests assistance from an election judge or election clerk. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 33.057 (Vernon 2010).

Questions have arisen as to what area of the polling place constitutes the “voting station.” Generally, this area includes all of the area surrounding the location of the eSlate machines or the privacy booths where paper ballots may be marked.

Disputes may be minimized by marking lines on the floor indicating areas where the”voting station” is located. The Texas Secretary of State’s office has indicated that as long as the lines are placed in a reasonable location, that this procedure is acceptable and has been used successfully in the past.

The second opinion has to do with recording devices:

Poll watchers must provide an affidavit that they are not in possession of any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound while serving as a watcher. TEX. ELEC. CODE §33.006(b)(6). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take pictures or record videos. A watcher may not be accepted for service if the watcher has in his possession such a device. The presiding judge may inquire whether a watcher is in possession of such a prohibited device before accepting the watcher for service. TEX. ELEC.CODE §33 .051 (c). This prohibition applies only to poll watchers.

No person may use a wireless communication device within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(a). This section applies to any cell phone or other device that sends or receives an electronic communication signal, such as a laptop computer equipped with WiFi. No person may use any mechanical or electronic means of recording images or sound within 100 feet of a voting station. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.0 l4(b). This section applies to cell phones if they have the ability to take still pictures or videos. A presiding judge may require a person violating these provisions to turn off the prohibited device or to leave the polling place. TEX. ELEC. CODE §61.014(c). These provisions do not apply to an election officer in conducting the officer’s official duties or to the of election equipment necessary for the conduct of the election. TEX. ELEC. CODE §6l.0 14(d).

Both seem straightforward enough. We’ll see if they make a difference. Unfortunately, it’ll take a lot more than that to deal with stuff like this.

[R]esidents in local African-American neighborhoods are being told some misleading information about their vote.

The mysterious fliers were handed out in parts of Sunnyside and Third Ward Tuesday night, and it is adding confusion to an already tense early voting period.

The fliers start out by saying “Republicans are trying to trick us” and goes on to urge voters not to vote a straight Democratic ticket. It also says a single vote for Bill White is a vote for the entire Democratic ticket.

In the Sunnyside early voting location, several voters say they were handed such fliers.

“They just said, ‘Here take this,’ and I told them I didn’t need it,” said Gary Carter.

The flier says the Black Democratic Trust of Texas is responsible, but it’s a group that doesn’t seem to exist.

You can see video at that link. Too bad no one with a recording device was there to capture some images of the folks handing out these flyers. Relatedly, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has now joined the call for election monitors to be sent to Harris County by the Justice Department. Her press release and a copy of the letter she sent to AG Eric Holder are here. Amusingly, the King Street Patriots have made a similar request. To protect them from the voters they’re harassing, I guess. I don’t have their press release, so I don’t know what that’s about. Hair Balls has more.

Election results: Harris County

It was a bad day to be the establishment candidate for Harris County Clerk, let me tell you. Ann Harris Bennett crushed Sue Schechter for the Democratic nomination, winning with 63% of the vote. On the Republican side, wingnut Stan Stanart, who lost a 2008 race for the HCDE Board of Trustees after taking out a mainstream incumbent in that primary, won over 60% of the vote against Beverly Kaufmann’s hand-picked successor, Kevin Mauzy. Look for some scrambling to occur in both parties. I confess, I did not get to know Ms. Bennett, and did not see her victory coming. My bad on that one.

Meanwhile, Harris County Tax Assessor Leo Vasquez suffered the same fate as Victor Carrillo.

Don Sumners won the Republican nomination for county tax assessor-collector Tuesday, ousting incumbent Leo Vasquez on his promises to continue the anti-tax crusade that characterized his tenure as county treasurer in the 1990s.

Sumners campaigned on a slogan of “I was Tea Party before Tea Party was cool.”

As treasurer, he publicly criticized Commissioners Court for increasing the tax rate and was an outspoken opponent of a bond measure that approved hotel and car rental taxes to fund football, basketball and baseball stadiums.

Summers will face Diane Trautman. Let’s just say that these are two races I’d really like for the Democrats to win. Elsewhere, Gordon Quan won a convincing victory in the Democratic primary for County Judge, and Republican Chris Daniel won the nomination for District Clerk for the right to face extremely well-qualified Democratic incumbent Loren Jackson.

I’ll try to sort out the judicial races later. The other big result in Harris County was Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee winning easily in her primary.

As of late Tuesday, the veteran lawmaker had about 68 percent of the vote, fending off a challenge by [City Council Member Jarvis] Johnson that featured claims that Jackson Lee’s showboating style had impaired her ability to deliver for her hard-pressed inner city district.

Jackson Lee also defeated a political newcomer, Houston attorney Sean Roberts. Votes counted as of 10:30 p.m, showed she likely would face GOP challenger John Faulk, an accountant, in the predominantly Democratic district.

“The job is not finished. We promise you a fight in Washington to bring good health care to this district and to preserve NASA and the jobs that are ours,” Jackson Lee told supporters Tuesday night.

Faulk does appear to be the GOP winner. For purposes of comparison, there were 9,105 total votes cast in the GOP primary for CD18. Johnson collected 9,073 by himself in getting 28.33% against SJL.

In other Congressional news, we will have Roy Morales to kick around for a few more months, as the man who never met an election he didn’t like won the nomination in CD29 in a five-person field. He gets to be stomped by Rep. Gene Green in November before he decides what city race to pick for 2011.

Finally, Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill is in a runoff with Ed Hubbard. That’ll be fun to watch.

Endorsement watch: Obama for SJL

President Barack Obama has endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in her primary for CD18. From the press release:

“Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is a tireless champion for Houston’s working families,” said President Obama. “That’s why we need her back in Congress to help my efforts to bring real jobs back to Houston and the nation. I need you to cast your vote for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.”

“I am grateful and humbled to receive this endorsement from President Obama,” said Jackson Lee. “When he asked me to campaign for him, I found it so rewarding to see the outpouring of support for the change he represented and now he is the change agent that America and Houston needs today. I am proud to be working with President Barack Obama as we work to change lives for the better.

“Now that he is in office, it is exciting to work with President Obama on the many important issues facing our country,” the Congresswoman continued. “Now more than ever, I am grateful for the President’s trust and confidence in me.”

Two points of interest here. One is that this really ought to bury the 2008 Democratic Presidential primary, in which SJL’s support for Hillary Clinton eventually gave rise to rumors of a write-in opponent for her that November. I don’t really expect that, of course, but at least we know that Obama himself is over it.

The other point was raised by Martha: Is this a show of strength, or is it a last-ditch effort by a candidate who’s in danger of losing? As I said in a comment there, I’d lean towards the former. This is a Democratic seat, and there’s basically nothing at stake in terms of Obama’s agenda regardless of who wins. There’s no real reason for Obama to stick his neck out for someone in a race like this unless he’s pretty sure that person is going to win. We’ll know soon enough, I guess.

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.

Endorsement watch: Chron for SJL

The Chron recommends keeping Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee in office.

Over time, and with the Democratic takeover of the House, Jackson Lee has accumulated seniority and influence on a number of congressional committees and says she has used that added influence to help bring billions of federal dollars to the Houston area. She serves on the House Judiciary, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs committees. She cites her role in winning federal funding for veterans’ services in the 18th, including a grant for a post-traumatic stress disorder center at Riverside Hospital.

According to Jackson Lee, she has been a member of Congress who has “both acted in the district on behalf of constituents and internationally.” The congresswoman recently accompanied House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on a visit to quake-devastated Haiti.

Although Jackson Lee is a strong supporter of President Obama, she disagrees with his plan to eliminate NASA’s Constellation program that would favor developing new rockets and spacecraft to return to the moon.

“I support human spaceflight,” says the incumbent, who promises to work to get more congressional funding for NASA and to convince the administration that the Constellation program has merit.

The Chronicle urges primary voters to nominate Jackson Lee for a ninth term.

They also endorse the one Republican challenger to SJL for whom I’ve not seen any campaign signs in my neighborhood. Of course, the majority of the signs I have seen for the other two candidates are illegally placed on public rights of way, so this is actually a plus. Not that any of it matters, of course, since the Democratic nominee in CD18 will win easily.

I-10 frontage road update

Via email from the CTC:

More than 120 residents attended an informational meeting January 6th convened by State Representative Jessica Farrar concerning proposed IH-10 frontage roads inside the IH-610 loop. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and District H Council Member Ed Gonzalez were among the speakers and other Houston City Council offices were represented.

James Koch, director of design for TxDOT’s Houston district, led the presentation along with a hydrologist and two project engineers. Koch explained that TxDOT’s goal is to eliminate flooding in the depressed section of IH-10, while residents identified reducing flooding in their homes and neighborhoods as a higher priority.

Many attendees suggested design changes to improve the project, and were surprised and dismayed when Koch revealed midway through the meeting that TxDOT had let contracts for frontage road construction earlier that same day.

Congresswoman Lee and Rep. Farrar pressed TxDOT to acknowledge that design changes can still be accomplished with change orders, and assured the audience that they will continue to work with residents to improve the projects. Phased construction is expected to begin in March 2010 and will require approximately three years to complete.

Meanwhile, proposed flood detention ponds, which are necessary to mitigate the impacts of the roadway project, are not fully designed and contracts have not been let. TxDOT will conduct a formal public hearing regarding the ponds on February 18:

What: Public hearing regarding TxDOT IH-10 detention ponds at White Oak Bayou
When: Thursday, Feb 18, 2010 – 6:00 pm open house, 7:00 pm public hearing
Where: Reagan High School auditorium, 413 E 13th St, Houston, 77007 (map)

TxDOT will also accept written public comments through March 4, 2010. Comments can be emailed to HOU-PIOWEBMAIL@dot.stat.tx.us.

You can also read more about the IH-10 reconstruction and frontage roads project and the IH-10 detention near White Oak Bayou project in CTC’s online forum.

Information about the previous meeting is here. Please attend this one if you can. Marty Hajovsky has more.

Interview with Council Member Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Jarvis Johnson

Running to unseat Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in CD18 is Houston City Council Member Jarvis Johnson, who was recently elected to a third and final term in District B. (My interview with him from that race is here.) As he observes, District B is almost entirely within CD18, so he is familiar to many of the voters there. CM Johnson is the first serious opponent Rep. Jackson Lee has faced since her victory over then-Rep. Craig Washington in 1994. Here’s the interview:

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A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Interview with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

We turn our attention now to CD18, where Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is running for re-election. I’ve lived in the 18th since 1989, and have had Congresswoman Lee as my Representative since she defeated Craig Washington in 1994. I don’t think she really needs an introduction, so let’s just go straight to the interview.

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A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Interview with Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Also running for the Democratic nomination for Harris County Judge is businessman Ahmad Hassan. Hassan is a real estate and mortgage broker and the owner & President of Alexandria Real Estate and Mortgage. He has been a US citizen since 1984 after emigrating from Egypt. He ran for the County Judge nomination in 2008, losing to David Mincberg, and ran for Congress in 2006 as a Republican against Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Here is the interview:

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A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Endorsement watch: H-BAD and Tejano Dems

We’re getting close to the start of early voting for the primaries, and that means endorsements are coming out from various groups. Today I got press releases from the Houston-Black American Democrats (H-BAD) and the Harris County Tejano Democrats with their recommended slates. I’ve uploaded their releases here (H-BAD) and here (HCTD). Of note, both groups endorsed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and both groups endorsed former State Rep. Borris Miles in his rubber match against Rep. Al Edwards. I have updated the 2010 Election page to show which candidates received what endorsements. I expect to do the same for when the Houston GLBT Political Caucus makes its choices, and may or may not add any others – sending me a press release so I can see who all got endorsed is a good start.

Speaking of Rep. Jackson Lee, she also received endorsements from several Latino elected officials and the Latino Labor Leadership Council. It’s not terribly surprising to see folks like this back an incumbent, barring issues of scandal or heresy, but it’s still a good indicator that she’s in a strong position for her contested primary.