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Steve Toth

Meanwhile, in Montgomery County

There they go again.

The Republican primary defeat of embattled Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal — and close contests in two county commissioner races headed for runoffs — could signal major leadership changes and a shift further to the right in the fast-growing Houston suburb.

State Rep. Mark Keough, who defeated Doyal, was among several candidates favored by the county’s influential tea party movement — and like-minded statewide groups — who fared well Tuesday. Others in this cohort include Steve Toth, who overwhelmingly won the Republican nomination for the legislative seat that Keough is vacating, and Greg Parker, who got 43 percent of the vote in a three-person race and forced County Commissioner Charlie Riley, with 43.5 percent, into a primary runoff.

Toth and Parker have staked out positions aligned with the most far-right elements of their party. Parker’s campaign website says he wrote a book described as “a critical look at the myth and liberal hysteria surrounding climate change.” Toth, who was instrumental in the formation of the county’s tea party movement, has advocated eliminating property appraisal districts and freezing appraisals at the purchase price of a home.

[…]

Political observers agreed that toll roads emerged as a dominant issue in the county, where tea party groups carry a lot of clout, particularly in The Woodlands. Texas lawmakers have gone from championing to criticizing toll roads, a shift that some Houston-area leaders worry has gone too far and could limit coming projects.

“Without toll roads and that funding, I don’t know what we are going to do,” Doyal said late last year, citing the need for new roadways in rapidly growing parts of the Houston area.

Keough took a hard stance against toll roads.

“I think toll roads are another form of taxation,” Keough said last December. “I’m out on toll roads. Toll roads are about a bigger issue; it’s about big government.”

Doyal was embattled for a reason, and I’m sure that had something to do with it. I figure as long as the developers are able to keep building things life will go on more or less as normal up there. I mean, at some point they’re going to need to come up with a politically acceptable way to pay for the roads they want to build, but that’s their problem.

I confess, I don’t quite get the diatribe against toll roads. The whole idea with toll roads is that you only pay for them if you use them. Everyone pays gas taxes, whether they use the roads that get built with them or not. Which is fine by me, of course, but I’m one of those big-gubmint-loving-liberal types. If gas taxes, floating bonds, and toll roads are all off the table, what’s left? Perhaps Montgomery County will show us.

(Just a reminder, there is a choice if you think all of this is messed up.)

2016 primaries: Congress

Rep. Gene Green

Rep. Gene Green

The big story here is that Rep. Gene Green not only survived, but won big. He was up 65% to 32% in early voting, a margin of about 4,000 votes; in the end he won by about 58-38, for a margin of about 5,000 votes. I had a hard time getting a feel for this race. Green was on TV a lot, but I saw more people than I might have expected expressing support for Garcia on Facebook. Garcia homed in on some issues for which Green might have been vulnerable, and as I said before, he ran the campaign I’d have had him run if I’d have been running his campaign. In the end, people weren’t ready to fire Gene Green. I doubt he faces any more serious challengers between now and whenever he decides to hang ’em up. The Press has more.

The only other Democratic Congressional primary of interest was in CD15, where Rep. Ruben Hinojosa declined to run for re-election. Vicente Gonzalez and Dolly Elizondo were leading the pack, with Gonzalez over 40% and Elizondo at 25%. As noted before, Elizondo would be the first Latina elected to Congress from Texas if she won, but she has a lot of ground to make up in the runoff if she wants to get there.

On the Republican side, multiple incumbents faced challengers of varying levels of crazy. The only one who appeared to be threatened as of when I turned it was Rep. Kevin Brady in CD08, who eventually made it above the 50% mark against three challengers, the leader of whom was former State Rep. (and loony bird) Steve Toth. That would have been one butt-ugly runoff if it had come to that, but it won’t. Reps. John Culberson and Blake Farenthold were winning but with less than 60%. No one else was in a close race.

The one Republican open seat was in CD19, where the three top contenders were Jody Arrington, Glen Robertson, and Michael Bob Starr. Of the latter, John Wright noted the following for the Observer before the results began to come in (scroll down a ways to see):

Finally, in West Texas’ Congressional District 19, retired Col. Michael Bob Starr has come under fire from other GOP candidates for participating in LGBT Pride runs when he served as a commander at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene. If Starr wins, one of the nation’s most conservative districts would be represented by someone who is arguably moderate on LGBT issues, and the outcome could serve as a barometer of where the movement stands.

Starr was running third when last I checked, but he was behind the leader by fewer than 2,000 votes, so the situation was fluid. That said, as interesting as a Starr victory would be, he’d have to survive a runoff first, and I’d be mighty pessimistic about that. But we’ll see.

Democratic statewide resultsRepublican statewide results

SD04: Creighton defeats Toth

I went to bed before the final wrapup stories were written, but trust me, Rep. Brandon Creighton is now Sen. Brandon Creighton.

Sen. Brandon Creighton

In early returns in the race to succeed Sen. Tommy Williams, state Rep. Brandon Creighton was ahead of his opponent, Rep. Steve Toth,

Creighton, R-Conroe, was outpacing Toth, R-The Woodlands, for the District 4 Senate seat. It had been held by Williams for a decade before he resigned last year to become vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

Both candidates vying to replace him acknowledged the difficulty in luring voters to the polls for only a single race between two candidates, especially on a weekday in the summer. Creighton said this was the fourth time that a special election was held for a single Senate seat and the first time for a race between two Republican candidates.

[…]

[Creighton] will assume the Senate seat to complete Williams’ unexpired term through 2016.

Here are the vote totals. Creighton, who had led 45-24 after Round One, and he garnered the Chron endorsement for the runoff, was up big in early voting and cruised from there. About two thirds of the vote was cast early, so add that to your database of early voting behavior from this oddball summer special election runoff with a miniscule voter universe. In this case, form held as the candidate with the most initial support and by far the most money won easily. So congratulations to Sen.-elect Brandon Creighton. May you be a better and more constructive Senator than you were a member of the House.

Endorsement watch: Chron for Creighton

Hey, did you know that there’s an election coming up? It’s the special election runoff for SD04 to succeed Tommy Williams and it features the ghastly Rep. Steve Toth and the slightly less ghastly Rep. Brandon Creighton. The Chron, who had endorsed third-place finisher Gordy Bunch back in April, now chooses the lesser evil of Creighton in the runoff.

Rep. Brandon Creighton

To understand the difference between the two candidates seeking to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams in state Senate District 4, look at their reactions to the surge of Central American children crossing our border. For state Rep. Brandon Creighton of Conroe, it is a “full-blown humanitarian crisis.” For state Rep. Steve Toth of The Woodlands, it is a “full-blown invasion.”

Both men have sterling conservative credentials, but Creighton doesn’t have to tarnish children to prove his. In the runoff for the SD-4 special election, Creighton deserves voters’ support.

[…]

Creighton isn’t always the most impressive candidate, but we’ve seen him work well behind the scenes, particularly during fights last session over the state’s water funding. On the campaign trail, he’s pushed for local law enforcement to bolster Department of Public Safety efforts along the border while avoiding counterproductive fear-mongering.

In contrast, Toth spreads conspiracy theories about disease outbreaks and advocates for Montgomery County to reject temporary housing for any of the children who have made it to our border. You would expect more compassion from a former pastor.

“Sterling” isn’t perhaps the word I would have used in paragraph 2, but I will concede there’s a matter of perspective involved. As for Toth, given the state of what Fred Clark calls “white evangelical Christianity” today, I actually would not expect any more compassion from a “pastor” like him. I can think of quite a few other “pastors” right here in the Houston area with an equal lack of compassion, and I’m sure the Chron’s editorial board could as well if they put their minds to it. Be that as it may, I agree that Creighton is the less distasteful choice. Too bad we can’t do any better than that. Runoff Day is August 5, if you’re keeping score at home, with early voting set to start next week. Let’s see how many votes are needed to send one of these two to the upper chamber.

SD04 special election results

It’s Creighton versus Toth in the runoff, as expected.

Preliminary voting results show that Montgomery County state representatives Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, will face off in a June runoff for the District 4 seat. Creighton earned about 45 percent of the vote, while Toth received nearly 24 percent. Businessman Gordy Bunch took 22 percent of the vote, according to the Secretary of State website.

“We’re excited,” said Toth, a freshman tea party favorite. “This is how we thought this was going to turn out. The people of Senate District 4 want to continue this conversation.”

Creighton, who has held his current office for four terms, could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

The victor will take the place of former Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who unexpectedly resigned last October after a decade representing the district.

Experts had predicted that Creighton and Toth would be the front-runners to represent the right-leaning district, which represents nearly 816,000 residents spanning Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties.

The fourth contender for the seat was former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998.

Here are the results. Toth actually trailed Bunch by 65 votes after Early Voting but wound up ahead of him by 531. Creighton ought to be the heavy favorite in the runoff, but in low-turnout elections you can never be sure. Neither Creighton nor Toth is on the ballot for their State House seats, so the loser will stay home next year.

Early voting for SD04 special election begins today

Go make the best of the bad choices being offered.

SD04EVLocations

Early voting begins Monday in a special election to fill the seat vacated last year by former state Sen. Tommy Williams.

The Woodlands Republican left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

The following month, Gov. Rick Perry issued a proclamation scheduling a special election for May 10 to determine the next state senator for District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins Monday and ends May 6.

[…]

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bunch is the Chron-endorsed candidate, if that matters to you. From the County Clerk’s office, here’s more about the election and the early voting locations:

“Over 84,000 registered voters in Harris County are eligible to participate in the May 10, 2014 Special Election in State Senate District 4,” informed Stan Stanart, Harris County Clerk. Stanart, the chief election officer of the county, urges these voters to take advantage of the Early Voting Period which begins on April 28 for the Special Election. The Special Election is being held to fill a vacancy that was created at the end of last year.

“Harris County registered voters constitute about 18% of the almost half a million registered voters in State Senate District 4,” added Stanart. “Eligible voters may vote at any of the five early voting locations until May 6, the last day to vote early.”

Early voting locations for the May 10, 2014 Special Election to fill a vacancy in State Senate District 4 for voters in Harris County include:

1. Main Office: Harris County Administration Bldg., 1001 Preston, 1st Floor, 77002 2. Far North: Champion Life Centre, 3031 FM 2920 Road, Spring, TX 77388 3. Humble: Octavia Fields Branch Library, 1503 South Houston Ave., Humble, TX 77338 4. Kingwood: Kingwood Branch Library, 4400 Bens View Lane, Kingwood, TX 77345 5. Crosby: Crosby ISD Administration Building, 706 Runneburg Road, Crosby, TX 77532

State Senate District 4 comprises part of North and Northeast Harris County, including 37% of Atascocita, 2% of Baytown, 100% of Crosby, 3% of Houston, 2% of Humble, 3% of The Woodlands and 1% of the unincorporated county. The District’s lines run through Chambers, Galveston, Harris, Jefferson and Montgomery counties.

“Registered voters in Harris County have constituted 20% of the total vote in recent State Senate District 4 elections, playing a significant role in determining the outcome,” asserted Stanart. Overall, 32 of the district’s 232 voting precincts are within Harris County.

Aside from the State Senate District 4 Special Election, there are a number of elections being conducted on May 10 by School Districts, Emergency Service Districts, Municipal Utility Districts, and other political entities across Harris County. “We have populated our May 10 Election Day location lookup on www.HarrisVotes.com with as much voting information as we could find regarding these elections,” concluded Stanart. “Even though these elections are not being administered by Harris County, it is important that we make an effort to assist voters in these political entities.”

For more election information, including the list of acceptable forms of Photo ID that can be presented to vote at the poll, voters may visit www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Interestingly, three of the five EV locations for SD06 aren’t actually in SD04, though two of them are just outside the boundaries. I assume turnout for this election will be low, and turnout for the inevitable runoff will be lower.

Today is also the last day to register for the primary runoffs if you haven’t done so already. From Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan’s press release:

Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan reminds residents that April 28, 2014 is the last day to register to vote in the May 27, 2014 Primary Run-Off Election.

“The Primary Run-Off Election is a month away, which means the deadline to register to vote is approaching,” said Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan. “I strongly encourage everyone who is not registered to vote to do so by the April 28, 2014 deadline.”

State law requires citizens to be registered to vote 30 days prior to the election date. Residents can visit the Tax Assessor-Collector’s (TAC) Office website at www.hcvoter.net to learn how to register to vote, update their address and make name changes.

Qualifications to Register to Vote:

  • You are a United States citizen and a resident of Harris County; and,
  • You are at least 17 years and 10 months old to register (to vote, you must be 18); and,
  • You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and,
  • You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.

Voter registration applications can be submitted to any TAC office branch location before 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 28th or mailed with a U.S. Postal Service postmark date of no later than April 28, 2014. For more information, please call 713-368-VOTE (8683) or email tax_voters@hctx.net.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Mike Sullivan also serves as the Harris County Voter Registrar, which conducts voter registration activities and maintains a certified list of registered voters. Learn more by visiting www.hcvoter.net.

As of when I wrote this, information about early voting for the May 27 primary runoff was not available on the Clerk’s website. I’m not sure if it’ll be seven days of early voting or five days, but I guess we’ll find out, probably after May 10. In any event, I presume everyone reading this is already registered, but if you know someone who isn’t, tell them to get cracking on it.

Oh yeah, that other election

We’ve had the primary, and we’ll have the runoff in late May. In between, there’s the special election in SD04 to replace Tommy Williams.

Tommy Williams

Overshadowed by a heated primary season, a special election will be held on May 10 in Harris and four surrounding counties to determine the next state senator from District 4, a Republican stronghold that spans Jefferson and Chambers counties and portions of Harris, Montgomery and Galveston counties. Early voting begins April 28 and ends May 6.

The four candidates on the ballot, all Republican, are: Former District 4 Sen. Michael Galloway, a businessman who served one term from 1994 to 1998; two Montgomery County state representatives – freshman tea party favorite Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, chairman of the House Republican caucus; and businessman Gordy Bunch, who serves as treasurer on The Woodlands Township board and as chairman of The Woodlands Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Willliams, R-The Woodlands, left the upper chamber last October after a decade in office to serve as the vice chancellor of federal and state relations for the Texas A&M University System.

[…]

With four credible candidates, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said “a runoff is pretty much in the cards.”

A summertime election, guaranteed to have extremely low turnout, will benefit the candidate who voters believe is the most conservative, Rottinghaus said, an advantage he gives to Toth. The tea party favorite is known for unseating 10-year incumbent Republican Rob Eissler in 2012.

Although Creighton has a larger war chest and more experience in office, having won three House terms, Rottinghaus said some anti-establishment voters may be turned off by his caucus leadership position. That is because they may link him to House Speaker Joe Straus, who handily won his party nomination March 4 but frequently has to defend himself against charges he is too moderate.

Toth is seen as “kind of more an insurgent and, perhaps, more conservative than Creighton,” Rottinghaus said. “We are splitting hairs here, though, because I think they’re both probably equally conservative.”

[Rice PoliSci professor Mark] Jones, who has analyzed Toth’s and Creighton’s voting histories from the 2013 legislative session, said the two fell side-by-side on his ranking, which placed both of them solidly among the two dozen most conservative Republicans in the House.

While describing the race as “evenly matched” between the two men, who voluntarily resigned their House seats after entering the race, Jones gives the advantage to Creighton because of his money, more than $1 million, and experience.

Here are the January finance reports for each candidate:

Toth – $123K on hand
Creighton – $1 million on hand
Galloway – Less than $1K on hand
Bunch – $274K on hand, including $250K loan

They will have to file 30 day and 8 day reports as well.

As far as the race itself goes, it’s a measure of how degraded Republican politics have become that a person like me finds himself mourning the loss of a guy like Tommy Williams. Williams used to occupy a comfortable space on the right-hand end of the conservative spectrum, but his performance as Senate Finance Committee Chair showed him to be generally sane. When one considers that the top candidates to replace him are the secession sympathizer Creighton and the troglodyte Toth, one begins to see the appeal. Given that I know nothing about Galloway and Bunch, I’d probably have a slight preference for Creighton as the marginally less offensive alternative, but honestly it’s like being asked to pick my favorite Kardashian. Any way you look at it, you lose. I hope to live long enough to see the day when elections between Republicans can be about issues and solutions and not just a grunting contest among trolls, but that day isn’t here yet.

January campaign finance reports for Harris County legislative candidates

BagOfMoney

This could take awhile, and that’s with me limiting myself to contested races. First, the Senate.

SD04
Brandon Creighton
Steven Toth

SD07
Paul Bettencourt
James Wilson
Jim Davis

SD15
John Whitmire
Damian LaCroix
Ron Hale

SD17
Joan Huffman
Derek Anthony
Rita Lucido

Here’s a summary chart. For the record, Davis, Whitmire, LaCroix, and Lucido are all Dems, the rest are Rs.

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Creighton SD04 296,267 205,591 1,002,464 Toth SD04 107,752 48,048 123,116 Bettencourt SD07 140,100 55,873 103,041 Wilson SD07 7,675 5,129 3,224 Davis SD07 1,250 1,250 0 Whitmire SD15 298,874 148,973 6,978,885 LaCroix SD15 16,329 33,866 0 Hale SD15 123 1,441 123 Huffman SD17 136,600 91,142 701,583 Anthony SD17 0 0 0 Lucido SD17 41,625 10,489 29,829

Technically, SD04 is not on the ballot. It’s now a vacant seat due to the resignation in October of Tommy Williams, and the special election to fill it has not been set yet; I presume it will be in May. Reps. Creighton and Toth aren’t the only announced candidates, but they both have the right amount of crazy, and at least in Creighton’s case plenty of money as well. It’s a statement on how far our politics have gone that I find myself sorry to see Tommy Williams depart. He was awful in many ways, but as the last session demonstrated, when push came to shove he was fairly well grounded in reality, and he did a more than creditable job as Senate Finance Chair. I have no real hope for either Creighton or Toth to meet that standard, and the Senate will get that much stupider in 2015.

Paul Bettencourt can go ahead and start measuring the drapes in Dan Patrick’s office. I honestly hadn’t even realized he had a primary opponent till I started doing this post. The only questions is in what ways will he be different than Patrick as Senator. Every once in awhile, Patrick landed on the right side of an issue, and as his tenure as Public Ed chair demonstrated, he was capable of playing well with others and doing collaborative work when he put his mind to it. Doesn’t come remotely close to balancing the scales on him, but one takes what one can. Bettencourt is a smart guy, and based on my own encounters with him he’s personable enough to fit in well in the Senate, likely better than Patrick ever did. If he has it in mind to serve the public and not just a seething little slice of it, he could do some good. The bar I’m setting is basically lying on the ground, and there’s a good chance he’ll fail to clear it. But there is some potential there. It’s all up to him.

I don’t have anything new to add to the SD15 Democratic primary race. I just don’t see anything to suggest that the dynamic of the race has changed.

I hadn’t realized Joan Huffman had a primary challenger until I started this post. Doesn’t look like she has much to worry about. I’m very interested to see how Rita Lucido does with fundraising. Senators don’t usually draw serious November challengers. The district is drawn to be solidly Republican, but Lucido is the first opponent Huffman has had since the 2008 special election runoff. I’m very curious to see if Lucido can at least begin to close the gap.

On to the House:

HD129
Sheryl Berg
Briscoe Cain
Mary Huls
Jeffrey Larson
Chuck Maricle
Dennis Paul
Brent Perry
John Gay

HD131
Alma Allen
Azuwuike Okorafor

HD132
Michael Franks
Ann Hodge
Justin Perryman
Mike Schofield
Luis Lopez

HD133
Jim Murphy
Laura Nicol

HD134
Sarah Davis
Bonnie Parker
Alison Ruff

HD135
Gary Elkins
Moiz Abbas

HD137
Gene Wu
Morad Fiki

HD138
Dwayne Bohac
Fred Vernon

HD144
Mary Ann Perez
Gilbert Pena

HD145
Carol Alvarado
Susan Delgado

HD148
Jessica Farrar
Chris Carmona

HD149
Hubert Vo
Al Hoang
Nghi Ho

HD150
Debbie Riddle
Tony Noun
Amy Perez

HDs 129 and 132 are open. Each has multiple Republicans, all listed first in alphabetical order; the Dem in each race is listed at the end. In all other districts the incumbent is first, followed by any primary opponents, then any November opponents. I will note at this point that the last time I mentioned HD129, I wrote that Democratic candidate John Gay appeared to me to be the same person that had run in CD14 in 2012 as a Republican, based on what I could and could not find on the Internet. Two Democrats in HD129 contacted me after that was published to assure me that I had gotten it wrong, that there were two completely different individuals named John Gay, and that the one running as a Dem in HD129 was truly a Democrat. While I was never able to speak to this John Gay myself to ascertain that with him – I left him two phone messages and never got a call back – other information I found based on what these folks told me convinced me they were right and I was mistaken. That post was corrected, but I’m pointing this out here for those of you who might not have seen that correction.

With that out of the way, here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Cash on hand =================================================== Berg - R HD129 28,101 13,597 29,530 Cain - R HD129 17,246 9,614 4,131 Huls - R HD129 1,254 3,784 1,969 Larson - R HD129 325 1,130 4,226 Maricle - R HD129 3,520 30,207 879 Paul - R HD129 14,495 19,436 95,058 Perry - R HD129 51,297 19,100 52,687 Gay - D HD129 0 1,221 778 Allen - D HD131 8,877 13,662 21,573 Okorafor - D HD131 0 1,689 0 Franks - R HD132 0 4,604 43,396 Hodge - R HD132 51,330 19,741 41,925 Perryman - R HD132 26,550 7,178 30,788 Schofield - R HD132 43,665 15,449 45.454 Lopez - D HD132 Murphy - R HD133 102,828 44,004 184,174 Nicol - D HD133 2,380 750 1,640 Davis - R HD134 171,990 70,369 145,561 Parker - R HD134 0 10,213 10,161 Ruff - D HD134 0 750 0 Elkins - R HD135 28,150 17,136 331,672 Abbas - D HD135 0 0 0 Wu - D HD137 15,390 20,439 11,641 Fiki - R HD137 2,320 167 2,320 Bohac - R HD138 35,975 45,797 14,168 Vernon - D HD138 500 0 500 Perez - D HD144 18,400 23,705 34,386 Pena - R HD144 0 750 0 Alvarado - D HD145 51,915 6,585 54,035 Delgado - D HD145 0 750 0 Farrar - D HD148 37,771 6,739 75,861 Carmona - R HD148 325 883 2,442 Vo - D HD149 7,739 9,129 20,935 Hoang - R HD149 4,550 17,550 4,222 Ho - R HD149 4,198 1,211 3,736 Riddle - R HD150 23,200 15,327 61,809 Noun - R HD150 16,879 83,388 43,490 Perez - D HD150 3,139 452 116

I’m not going to go into much detail here. Several candidates, especially in the GOP primary in HD129, have loaned themselves money or are spending personal funds on campaign expenses. If you see a big disparity between cash on hand and the other totals, that’s usually why. I’m impressed by the amount Debbie Riddle’s primary challenger is spending, though I have no idea whether it will have an effect or not. I’m as impressed in the opposite direction by Bonnie Parker in HD134. Maybe she’s just getting warmed up, I don’t know. I figure her 8 day report will tell a more interesting story. What catches your eye among these names and numbers?

The party-switchers of Bexar County

Nice.

Carlo Key

A Bexar County judge elected during the “red tide” of 2010 is switching parties.

Standing at the foot of the Bexar County Courthouse steps, County Court-at-Law No. 11 Judge Carlo Key said Monday he is joining the Democratic Party and will seek reelection as a Democrat in November 2014.

“Make no mistake, I did not leave the Republican Party, it left me,” said Key, flanked by high-ranking Democrats. “My principles have led me to the Democratic Party, and my only hope is that more people of principle will follow me.”

While he’s been mulling the decision for several weeks, it was the recent federal government shutdown that caused Key to seriously consider switching parties.

[…]

A native of Marshall, Key, 38, was an attorney before he joined the wave of Republican judges who won seats in 2010, when all but one of the new county judges elected that year were Republicans. Key is a 2002 graduate of the Baylor Law School.

He has pitted himself against the law enforcement community by forbidding testimony that a horizontal gaze nystagmus test – in which an officer uses a pen or finger to track involuntary eye movements — indicates intoxication. This summer, Key learned he would face a challenger in the Republican primaries — Julie Wright, a prosecutor married to a police officer.

His announcement came just days after another Bexar County Republican left the party. Last week, Therese Huntzinger, 55, announced she will run for district attorney after recasting herself as a Democrat. Huntzinger, a criminal defense attorney who could face 15-year incumbent DA Susan Reed in the general election, ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for a district judge seat in 1998.

Bexar County Democratic Party Chair Manuel Medina said two other judges who attended a recent Democratic Party event could also make the switch in the near future, and U.S. Congressman Joaquín Castro said he expects more to follow Key and Huntzinger.

“The Republican Party is catering to such a narrow ideological base,” he said, “and many Texans are realizing that the Democratic Party is a better choice. The Texas Republican Party is going backward in respect to Latino issues. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

I tend to agree with Texpatriate that this says more about the state of the Bexar County GOP than it does about the state party. We’ve seen this movie before – it happened here in Harris County in the 90s as the GOP was taking over the judiciary, and in Dallas County after the 2006 Democratic wave. There’s already the usual rumblings on the R side about moving away from partisan elections of judges, which will only grow louder if Bexar and especially Harris have blue sweeps. You already now how I feel about that so I’ll spare you a rehash, I’ll just say again that there was no comparable level of angst during the red tide of the 90s, in Harris and elsewhere. I’ll stipulate that partisan judicial elections are not the optimal system, I’ll freely admit that some good judges are at risk of losing, I just don’t plan to feel sorry for anyone.

By the way, Judge Key has said that he didn’t make the switch for political advantage, but because he felt he “had” to do it. I don’t doubt his feelings about this, and frankly I hope there’s a lot more like him who feel that way, but I do think he’ll be better off as a Dem in Bexar County in 2014 and beyond. Consider it a nice alignment of the personal and the political.

Also of interest is the bit about the challenger to longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. This earlier story has some background on Therese Huntzinger.

In 1989, as a young prosecutor, she defied an order from then-DA Fred Rodriguez that she give up her pursuit of a witness-tampering indictment against one of Rodriguez’s friends and political sugar daddies. When Rodriguez responded by firing her, she filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against him and won a settlement from Bexar County.

Her dramatic fight against Rodriguez attracted the attention of “60 Minutes” and the Lifetime Network, which flirted with the idea of creating a movie about her life. The issue also helped Rodriguez’s 1990 challenger, Steve Hilbig, knock off the incumbent district attorney.

When Hilbig took office, he instantly made Huntzinger part of his prosecutorial team.

[…]

[DA Susan Reed] faced a serious general-election challenge in 2010 from well-funded defense attorney Nico LaHood, but a race against Huntzinger would present the brassy DA with a whole new set of messaging challenges.

For one thing, Reed wouldn’t be able to argue, as she did with LaHood, that Huntzinger lacks prosecutorial experience. Huntzinger has 13 years of work in the district attorney’s office on her résumé, in addition to 15 years as a defense lawyer.

More importantly, Reed will be unable to deflect criticism of her own record by making the election a referendum on her challenger, as she did in 2010, when she verbally pummeled LaHood over his 1994 bust for aggravated delivery of Ecstasy.

Huntzinger said her roots in the Democratic Party extend back to her grandfather, who was a union leader in the stockyards. But her whistle-blowing crusade against Rodriguez, a Democrat, and subsequent work in the office of Hilbig, a Republican, prompted local Republicans to draft her to run for district judge in 1998.

“I stepped out of my Democratic shoes for that race, I lost, and I’m fitting back into them,” Huntzinger said.

Huntzinger suggests that Texas would be better off with nonpartisan judicial and DA races but adds that she has determined in recent years that the Democratic Party is a “better fit” for her. Huntzinger is open about being a lesbian, and the GOP’s negative stance on same-sex relationships has surely been a factor in her break from the party.

Huntzinger contends that even some Republican loyalists are eager to see a change in the district attorney’s office.

“(Reed) believes that you’ve got to bring your toothbrush to the courtroom for every single case and expect to get hit with a hammer,” Huntzinger said. “Well, there’s more to prosecuting than that.”

That ought to be a race worth watching. In the meantime, I submit to you that regardless of what may be going on in Bexar County, this story is related to these two.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, said on Monday he will run to replace state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, who announced his resignation earlier this month.

In a press release announcing his candidacy, Toth, a Tea Party conservative, emphasized the need for “conservative advocates” like U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who will “go against the tide and stand for what is right no matter the consequences.”

“As Ted Cruz has courageously demonstrated, simply being a conservative vote is no longer enough,” Toth said.

We’re a ways away from seeing switches at anything but the urban county level, but the more tightly the GOP binds itself to Ted Cruz and his blinkered, unbending zealotry, the closer that day comes. A statement from the TDP is beneath the fold, and BOR, EoW, and PDiddie have more.

(more…)

Endorsement watch: Pennington

The Chron endorses CM Oliver Pennington for a third term.

CM Oliver Pennington

CM Oliver Pennington

For the past four years, District G has been ably represented by attorney Oliver Pennington. We recommend a vote for Pennington to continue his service at city hall.

Pennington, a retired Fulbright & Jaworski partner and 40-year District G resident, brings decades of invaluable experience in municipal finance, municipal law and environmental law, as well as time spent representing local governments.

These are precisely the skills City Council will require as it faces issues such as city employee pension reform and ongoing issues related to water and drainage infrastructure.

In a third and final term, we would also encourage Pennington to be active in city efforts to manage the traffic congestion brought by the construction of numerous midrise apartment buildings across Inner Loop Houston.

This growth, while welcome, is threatening mobility on inner city thoroughfares, with consequences that extend to school and neighborhood safety as frustrated drivers seek cut-throughs to avoid delays on main routes.

I did not interview CM Pennington this time around, as my schedule was fuller and less accommodating this year. Here’s the interview I did in 2011 with him if you can’t bear the thought of not hearing me speak with him. I think CM Pennington has done a good job, and I’d vote for him if I lived in District G. One thing I appreciate about Pennington, and it’s something I appreciate more each day as we watch the ongoing train wreck in Congress and the already-nauseating Republican statewide primaries here is that he considers it his job to make things work better. He’s not there to tear things down, or obstruct for the sake of obstruction, or otherwise refuse to accept that not everyone sees the world as he does. He’s conservative and he operates as a conservative, but in the service of getting things done and making city government function effectively and efficiently. I wouldn’t want him to be Mayor, but people like him are needed on Council.

Another way to look at it, from my perspective anyway, is this: In any legislative body where people are elected from districts, any district map is going to include places where candidates that would represent my point of view are not going to get elected. The best outcome in those districts, especially in a legislative body where my kind of legislators are in the minority, is for those representatives to be more like Oliver Pennington and less like Ted Cruz. It’s not a matter of conservatism, at least for any definition of “conservatism” that makes sense, but of nihilism and radicalism. That point was driven home the other day as I read this Trib story about Sen. Tommy Williams, whose retirement announcement caught everyone by surprise. Look at who is being mentioned as a possible successor:

Williams was on the conservative end of the spectrum when he came into the Senate, but the spectrum moved with the elections of senators like Brian Birdwell, Kelly Hancock and [Ken] Paxton. He could be replaced by someone whose politics are more like theirs than his. The line is already forming, sort of: Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, might give up his bid for agriculture commissioner and run for SD-4 instead; Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, is looking; Ben Streusand, a serial Republican candidate who doesn’t hold office, is also considering it.

Tommy Williams is hardly my ideal Senator, but for a guy who represents the district he does, we could do worse. And if the likes of Steve Toth or Ben Streusand get elected, we’ll see just how much worse. Toth has already demonstrated that after his ouster of Rob Eissler. As I said after Sen. Donna Campbell defeated Jeff Wentworth, it’s not about the Senate getting more conservative, it’s about the Senate getting more stupid, and more mean. We’ve seen the effect in Congress. We’re seeing it in the Lege. I for one do not want to see it on City Council.

Turner seeks a way to get around Public Integrity Unit de-funding

Rep. Sylvester Turner takes aim at one of Perry’s vetoes.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

State Rep. Sylvester Turner

Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, said he would propose a House Concurrent Resolution advocating restoration of funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office, which was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry last week.

[…]

This morning on the floor of the Texas House, Turner raised what options lawmakers have in responding to the veto. Afterwards he told reporters he would seek the resolution for restoring the funding.

“Over the last 10 years, there have been attempts to eliminate, weaken, move the public integrity unit from Travis County to the AG’s (attorney general’s) office and over the last 10 years the Legislature has said no,” Turner noted. “We are entitled to know where the funding will come from or what the plan is. Is it the intent of the state to say no to the Public Integrity Unit, to significantly weaken it?”

Turner questioned Perry’s use of his veto power to influence who holds a particular office.

“I am just not comfortable with vetoing funding because some people here have problems with one person,” he said

A concurrent resolution is basically just a “sense of the chamber” vote, so even if such a thing passed (which I doubt) it wouldn’t compel anyone to do anything. This is about sending a message. The politics of this situation are increasingly complex, but there’s a good case to be made that whatever you think of Rosemary Lehmberg and her sins, it’s not up to Rick Perry to force the issue. There’s a process in place that is already in motion, and Perry’s involvement is a conflict of interest.

More on this in the Statesman:

From the back microphone of the Texas House, Turner asked Speaker Joe Straus if any options exist to fund the unit.

Straus said after Monday’s meeting of the House that his office would do some research for Turner.

“With the questions from Mr. Turner and others, it’s certainly something that we should explore with the governor and with the Public Integrity Unit personnel. I’m assuming that the governor’s office has considered this,” Straus said in an interview. “We just have to assess where we are, and what the implications are as we go forward.”

[…]

Also Monday, state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, asked from the House floor if funding could be revived if Lehmberg resigns.

House leaders didn’t have an immediate response.

But Dale Craymer, president of Texas Taxpayers and Research Association, had a thought. The former top budget official for Govs. Ann Richards and George W. Bush said it is possible to restore funding through budget execution action, which involves the governor and the Legislative Budget Board agreeing on moving money from other parts of the budget.

I can’t claim to be optimistic about anything happening to counter Perry’s veto, but clearly we are in uncharted territory. Rep. Turner in particular got a lot done in the budget deal, so I would not discount his efforts.

On a related note, Travis County Commissioners Court is exploring its options as well.

Travis County commissioners will discuss the legislation and the governor’s actions on their agenda around 11 a.m. Tuesday.

“We likely will not take action tomorrow, rather just discuss this issue,” County Judge Sam Biscoe told KVUE. “There are a lot of unanswered questions. I have sent a list of questions to the county attorney to understand our authority and limitations on this matter. I also want to know whether the governor’s decision can be reversed by himself or the Legislature before September 1, 2013.”

Biscoe says the commissioners will address the item and then go into executive session. They will likely take action on June 25.

“From my understanding, the revenue from that unit goes to residents of Texas as well as the state and federal government. I personally don’t see the benefit of fully funding the unit if the money goes to outside agencies. We will explore the issue,” said Biscoe.

The main thing I’d be concerned about is that if Commissioners Court picks up the slack, what incentive does the Lege have to fund the PIU in a future session, post-Lehmberg? This is the same dilemma school districts that had room to raise their tax rates faced after the massive cuts to public education in 2011. A one-time fix can quickly be seen as the new normal.

Calling to add to the call

The special session is just a day old, and already legislators are lining up to extend its agenda to cover things that didn’t get done during regulation time.

snl-church-lady-special

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, and Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, have filed a resolution that would ask voters to approve diverting some of the revenue that traditionally goes to the state’s savings account into the state’s highway fund.

“We’ve talked to Perry’s office about it,” Williams said. “They like it. I think they’ll be very supportive of it.”

Last week, days before the end of the regular session, Williams proposed the same plan to House budget leaders, who were not receptive to considering it so late in the session.

Williams is now hopeful that Perry will add the issue to a special session agenda that so far only covers redistricting issues. At a news conference Tuesday, Perry did not rule out adding other issues to the special session agenda.

“Unlike water for the last decade, we have addressed transportation, so there’s been some important movement in the transportation side,” Perry said. “Is it enough, from my perspective? No, but, again, I think it’s a little bit premature, with less than 24 hours since we’ve called this special, to be addressing whether we’re going to be adding anything to the call or not.”

Transportation funding was one of those issues that just sort of went away at the end of the session, as there was no consensus on how to proceed. I’m skeptical that Perry will accept the use of Rainy Day funds for this purpose, even if ratified by the voters, and I’m even more skeptical that the teabagger contingent will go for it, but of all the things that could be added to the call of this session, that would be among the more constructive items. Among the less constructive items are bills that have been re-filed for more guns and fewer abortions. Perry isn’t saying yet what if anything else he might add to the call, but as I’ve said before, it’s hard to see how going full metal wingnut hurts him.

So for now at least, the special session is limited to redistricting, and in particular to passing bills to make the interim maps permanent. That hasn’t stopped Democrats from filing their own redistricting plans, but don’t hold your breath waiting for them to have a hearing. As with the existence of this session, filing these maps is about the ongoing litigation. Via BOR, Rep. Garnet Coleman sums it up:

“Governor Perry has called us back into special session in order to adopt the interim maps as the permanent maps for the State of Texas.

Based on the narrowness of the Governor’s call, no alternative plans may be considered. The interim maps were clearly intended to be only temporary so that the state of Texas could hold elections; they were not intended to address all of the Legislature’s failures in adhering to the Voting Rights Act under Sections 2 and 5.

House Committee Hearings on the interim maps are set for this Friday and Saturday, which is not enough notice to allow the public to provide adequate testimony on the interim maps. Even if this were enough time, the narrowness of the Governor’s call means that publicly requested changes could not be adopted, effectively shutting out the opinions of Texas citizens.

The San Antonio three-judge panel has previously shown with plan H302 that they are able to draw maps that adhere to Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act and allow for adequate minority representation. I am going to file this plan as a demonstration that an alternative plan can be drawn that satisfies the Voting Rights Act. I shall file an additional plan later this week that will also accomplish these goals.

During the first call of the special session of the Legislature, members of color will once again demonstrate that the Texas Legislature is pursuing a course to deny effective representation of racial and ethnic minorities and communities of interest.”

The San Antonio court will once again have its hands full, and not much time to deal with all the issues before them. June is going to be a hell of a month.