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Endorsement watch: Star system

The Chron has made a change in how it presents its endorsements.

The quality of candidates on the ballot varies widely from race to race. At times, both candidates are good choices. At times, there are no good choices to be had. Still, the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements. Why? Because in the end voters have to vote. They have to make the hard decision. So should we.

As such, we may end up endorsing a mediocre candidate. We may end up not endorsing an excellent candidate. Not all endorsements are equal. That’s one reason why we’re adding an extra dimension to our endorsements this year by ranking candidates on a five-star system. Star rankings can help voters easily compare candidates across different races.

These ratings are specific to each individual race — a five-star judge might make for a two-star representative. A candidate who impresses one year might fumble in the next election.

They then go on to illustrate what each of the ratings – one star through five stars – means. I always appreciate transparency in process, but I’ll be honest, I never had a hard time telling in the past how the Chron felt about a candidate or a choice in a race. To their credit, they did a good job of making it clear when they really liked a candidate or were just settling on the lesser of two evils. You knew when it was a tough choice or an obvious call. I didn’t always understand why they liked or didn’t like someone, but that’s a much more subjective question. The star system puts a quantitative value on this, but I at least don’t feel like it shone much more light on the system. Your mileage may vary, and again I do applaud the effort even if it feels marginal to me.

One other point – In the endorsements they have done so far, all in judicial races, they have a couple of races where both candidates get the same star rating. They broke the ties in favor of the (Republican) incumbents in these cases, but it’s not totally clear why the scales tipped in that direction. Given that the stated intent was to help make the tough choices, why not make the measurement system more precise? Give everyone a numeric value, say on a one to five scale (Candidate A gets a 4.6, Candidate B a 4.5) or even 1 to 100. Go nuts with it. If the idea is that there are no ties, then calibrate the metric to reflect that.

Anyway. Of the races so far, Jason Cox is the only endorsed Democrat. The races are in the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals plus the County Probate Court races. I strongly suspect we’ll see more Dems getting the nod when we get to the County Criminal Court races.

In other endorsement news, the Texas ParentPAC gets involved in some, but not all, statewide races.

A group of pro-public school parents is doling out political endorsements to dozens of candidates this year but is refusing to back Democrat Lupe Valdez because her campaign for governor is lacking, the group’s co-founder said Thursday.

“She doesn’t meet our criteria for endorsement,” said Dinah Miller, a Texas mom who helped form Texas Parent PAC. “You’ve got to have a really good campaign put together and she just doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure.”

The group won’t endorse Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, either.

[…]

Texas Parent PAC endorsed Democrats Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Justin Nelson for attorney general, saying those candidates are the most critical to improving public education. The group wants to defeat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, two conservative Republicans who support school vouchers, which allow parents to send their students to private school with public education funds. Abbott also supports school vouchers.

Here’s their press release. I wish they had made a call in the Governor’s race, but I understand where they’re coming from. It is what it is.

Last but not least, from the inbox and the campaign of Nathan Johnson for SD16:

Fellow Texans,

With the critical issues of education, health, transportation and other infrastructure so important to the state of Texas, it is important that all thirty-one Texas state senators be focused on solutions and not lobbyists and special interest large donors. It is important that a state senator be focused on the senate district and Texas and not a rating on fabricated conservative scorecards produced to promote a selfish agenda and not the overall well-being of the people of Texas. Don Huffines does not meet any of these criteria.

Huffines is one of the most ineffective members of the Texas Senate. He has passed virtually no bills and nothing of consequence. His demagoguery has prevented him from effectively representing his constituents and the people of Texas. On his first day as a state senator, Huffines was on the front steps of the Capitol supporting a challenger to the speaker of the House of Representatives who already had more than the required number of votes for reelection.

Apparently, Mr. Huffines did not know senate bills have to go through the house. He compromised his office and district by getting involved in something a senator had no business in.

Fortunately, the voters of Senate District 16 have a viable choice in Nathan Johnson. While as a conservative Republican I would rather be supporting a Republican for this election,Mr. Huffines’ lack of leadership and accomplishment leave little choice. Senate District 16 deserves better. Mr. Johnson and I do disagree on ProLife issues as well as some second amendment issues, but he is clearly the better candidate.

I served Dallas and Dallas County for twelve years in the Texas Senate. By listening to my constituents, including their other elected officials, and with their help we accomplished much. Mr. Huffines seems to be tone deaf to all as he pursues an agenda for himself and supporters from Austin, west Texas and Houston. What kind of elected official yells at visiting children when they ask him questions about an issue? The answer is: Don Huffines.

It is sad that low voter turnout in Republican primaries has allowed a small number of voters to give us the likes of Bob Hall, Don Huffines, and Koni Burton to represent the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and surrounding rural areas. This is a viable and growing area. We need more.

I moved to Dallas as a child in 1960. I love this area. Dallas and Senate District 16 need strong and effective leadership in the state senate and not rote scorecard voting. We need an informed and independent senator that will put the district and Texas first. We have that in Nathan Johnson.

Regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, if you care about the important issues facing our community and state you will vote for Nathan Johnson.

Bob Deuell, M.D.
Former Member, Texas Senate
Greenville, Texas

Dang. Deuell was definitely a conservative, at least in the sense of that word ten years or so ago, but he was about as collegial as they came in the Senate. I happened to be in Austin in 2013 for a tenth anniversary celebration of the Aardmore Exodus, which was a very partisan event. The celebration attendees were overwhelmingly Democratic, as one might imagine, with one prominent exception: Bob Deuell, then still in the Senate, sitting in at the drums (he’s quite talented) with the Bad Precedents. You can view this however you like, but based on what I know of Bob Deuell, I take him at his word in this letter.

Republicans “against” Dan Patrick

RG Ratcliffe reports on a “loose coalition” of business and education interests who are seeking to clip Dan Patrick’s wings.

[FBSID Board President Kristin] Tassin is now running for a seat in the state Senate, and she is just one candidate in a growing coalition of education and business groups that want to roll back the social conservative agenda of Patrick and Governor Greg Abbott. And recognizing the ineffectiveness of the Texas Democratic Party, they are concentrating their efforts on the upcoming March Republican primaries instead of betting on candidates in the general election. “There is a perfect storm brewing, and it goes a lot deeper than just a vouchers vote,” Tassin told me. “What really led me to step into this race is I really see this past session as an indicator of failed leadership and, often, particularly in the Senate.”

This is, at best, a loose coalition. Some by law are restricted to urging people to vote based on certain issues, while others are gathering money to put behind candidates who will clip Patrick’s dominance in the Senate. If they just pick up a few seats, Patrick will no longer be able to steamroll controversial bathroom bills and school voucher bills through the Senate, because he will lack the procedural votes needed to bring the legislation to the floor for debate.

[…]

One of the main groups that fought against the bathroom bill was the Texas Association of Business, and its political committee currently is evaluating which candidates to support in the primaries. “You’re seeing more and more business leaders engaged in this election—this time in the primaries in particular—than you probably ever had,” TAB President Chris Wallace told me. He said the leaders are motivated because “we had such a divisive time” during the 2017 legislative sessions.

Most of the TAB endorsements will be made over the next several weeks, but the group already has endorsed state Representative Cindy Burkett in her Republican primary challenge to incumbent Senator Bob Hall. In the TAB scorecard for pro-business votes, Hall sat at 53 percent and Burkett was at 94 percent, even though she supported the “sanctuary cities” legislation that TAB opposed. Hall voted in favor of the bathroom bill, but it never came up for a vote in the House. Because Burkett also carried legislation adding restrictions to abortion last year, she probably would not gain much support among Democrats. But as an advocate of public education, she already is opposed by the Texas Home School Coalition.

Emotions already are running high. When Hall put out a tweet that he is one of the most consistently conservative senators, a former school principal responded: “No, @SenBobHall, the reason we’re coming after you is because you side w/ Dan Patrick over the will of your constituents time and again. That’s why we’ll vote for @CindyBurkett_TX in the Mar. Primary. We’re not liberals, just ppl who want to be heard. #txed #txlege #blockvote.”

The Tassin race may create divisions in this loose coalition. She is challenging incumbent Senator Joan Huffman of Houston in the primary. Huffman gave Patrick a procedural vote he needed to bring the voucher bill to the floor, but then voted against the legislation. Huffman also voted in favor of killing dues check-offs, which allow teacher groups to collect their membership fees directly from a member-educator’s paycheck. But Huffman’s pro-business score is almost has high as Burkett’s, even though Huffman voted for the bathroom bill. Huffman also received a Best Legislator nod from Texas Monthly for helping negotiate a solution to the city of Houston’s financial problems with its police and firefighter pensions. However, the firefighters are angry over that deal and likely will work for Tassin in the primary. Huffman, though, has received an endorsement from Governor Abbott. We can’t make a prediction in that race until the endorsements come out.

I agree with the basic tactic of targeting the most fervent Patrick acolytes in the Senate. Patrick’s ability to ram through crap like the bathroom bill and the voucher bill is dependent on their being a sufficient number of his fellow travelers present. Knocking that number down even by one or two makes it harder for him to steer the ship in his preferred direction. Neither Kristin Tassin nor Cindy Burkett are my cup of tea, but they have a very low bar to clear to represent an improvement over the status quo.

The problem with this approach is twofold. First and foremost, depending on Republican primary voters to do something sensible is not exactly a winning proposition these days. There’s a reason why the Senate has trended the way it has in recent years. To be sure, it’s been an uneven fight in that there has basically been no effort like this to rein in the crazy in favor of more traditional Republican issues. To that I’d say, were you watching the Republican Presidential primary in 2016? The traditional interests didn’t do too well then, either. The Texas Parent PAC has had a lot of success over the years supporting anti-voucher candidates, often in rural districts where that issue resonates. I have a lot of respect for them and I wish them all the best this year, along with their allies of convenience. I just don’t plan to get my hopes up too high.

That leads to point two, which is that there needs to be a part two to this strategy. The two purplest Senate districts are SDs 10 and 16, where Sens. Konni Burton (who also scored a 53 on that TAB report card, tied with Bob Hall for the lowest tally in the Senate, including Democrats) and Don Huffines (and his 60 TAB score) will face Democratic challengers but not primary opponents. It’s reasonable for TAB et al to not have any interest in those races now, as they work to knock off Hall and (maybe) Huffman. If they don’t have a plan to play there in the fall, then at the very least you’ll know how serious this “loose coalition” is. I fully expect TAB and the other business groups to roll over and show Patrick their bellies after March. But maybe I’m wrong. I’ll be more than happy to admit it if I am. I wouldn’t bet my own money on it, though.

One more thing about vouchers

I’m going to enjoy this just a little bit more.

The Texas House of Representatives all but killed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s prized school choice bill Thursday, dealing the powerful Republican a major loss as he struggles to push his agenda through this year’s legislative session.

House members considering the state’s budget plan for the next two years voted overwhelmingly against diverting public education funds to private schools in the next biennium, registering their resistance to a so-called school voucher program and sending a message to Patrick that the bill has no chance this year of passage.

“The House stands strongly in support of our neighborhood schools and our public school teachers and that any scheme, such as a voucher or otherwise that attempts to siphon funds away from our public schools, is not something that would be acceptable in the House,” said Rep. Abel Herrero, a Robstown Democrat. He sponsored an amendment expressly blocking any school voucher program.

Lawmakers, in the midst of a day-long marathon session debating the state’s $218 billion spending plan for the next two years, voted 103-44 in favor of the amendment. The revision declared state money “may not be used to pay for or support a school voucher, education savings account, or tax credit scholarship program or a similar program through which a child may use state money for non-public education.”

The Republican-led House also rejected a follow-up amendment allowing the state to fund a smaller so-called school voucher program limited to children from poor families. The chamber voted that idea down 117-27, signalling that paring down Patrick’s prized Senate Bill 3 will not win it more votes.

“Good-bye SB 3,” Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, said from his desk after the vote.

Assigned a low bill number to reflect its importance among Patrick’s priorities, SB 3 would create education savings accounts that parents can tap to pay for private school tuition, home school costs, tutoring or other expenses. The bill would also create a tax credit scholarship program that rewards businesses with a tax break for cutting checks to the state to fund scholarships that could send children to private school. The Senate passed that plan last week on a 18-13 vote.

[…]

With the bill unlikely to pass this year, advocates for vouchers and school choice will use the vote to drive their political activities in the 2018 elections by singling out lawmakers who voted against vouchers, said Randan Steinhauser, co-founder of Texans for Education Opportunity, which advocates for broader school choice.

“This isn’t surprising. The House has always been an obstacle, and there are many Republicans who are not representing their constituents and their school children,” said Steinhauser, who has already gone door-knocking in several Republican lawmakers’ districts to pressure them into voting for vouchers. “This is an opportunity for parents in the state of Texas to see who is standing in the way of educational opportunity.”

See here for the background. I’ll get back to this in a second, but in the meantime, as Depeche Mode advises, enjoy the silence.

A day after Texas House members pointedly approved an amendment to prohibit the use of public money for private schools, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Legislature’s most vocal proponent of so-called “school choice,” has yet to issue a public reaction.

[…]

Repeated calls and emails to Patrick’s office for comment went unanswered Thursday and Friday, although his staff has posted videos of him on Facebook talking about child abuse prevention initiatives and tuition set-asides since the House vote Thursday morning.

Patrick, who has rallied for years to pass a school choice program, assigned the proposal a low bill number to indicate its importance among his legislative priorities. Last week, he and Taylor, the Senate education chairman, pared down the bill to appease senators on the fence about the proposal, agreeing to exempt counties of less than 285,000 unless voters there petition for a voucher program.

Taylor, a Friendswood Republican and sponsor of the bill, did not respond to requests for comment Friday about whether he had been in contact with Patrick about how they would proceed on the measure.

House lawmakers long have said they have little interest in passing SB 3 and Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said he did not want to force his committee to vote on the bill. The measure, which passed the Senate 18-13, is now awaiting action in the House.

A defeat on school vouchers likely would not hurt the lieutenant governor, said Jason Sabo, a longtime political observer and education lobbyist. Instead, he said, the House vote shows how politics are evolving away from party loyalty and toward regional and issue-based factions.

“It’s not about party. It’s about place,” he said. “If the largest employer in half the counties in your giant legislative district are public schools, you hate vouchers, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You’re anti-voucher. ”

Who knew it was even possible to get Dan Patrick to shut up? And with all due respect to Jason Sabo, whose remarks may be a bit out of context here, this alignment on vouchers is nothing new. As this DMN article from January notes, people have been pushing for vouchers, thankfully without success, for going on thirty years. The Legislature came fairly close to fulfilling the wishes of people like GOP megadonor James Leininger, who was then the main force behind vouchers, during the 2005 session. Among other things, this led to the rise of the Texas Parent PAC and its shocking primary win over then-House Education Committee Chair Kent Gruesendorf. Patrick has taken up the banner in the two sessions since he became Lite Guv, but the fight long predates him.

And this is why Randan Steinhauser is wrong. At this point, there have been many elections, mostly Republican primaries, in which public education has been a big issue. Even with the likes of Leininger and then-Speaker Tom Craddick and now Dan Patrick behind them, voucher proponents have basically gained no ground, and aren’t anywhere close to a majority in the House. Hell, we’re at a point where they had to rebrand themselves, because “vouchers” has become a toxic label, and resort to a third-rate astroturfing campaign for their lobbying. Voucher supporters are the definition of a narrow interest group seeking to carve out an advantage for themselves. I’m not going to say they’ll never succeed, because politics doesn’t work like that, but I see no evidence that they are gaining public acceptance. They got the fate that they, and Dan Patrick, deserved.

Huberty says vouchers are dead this session

Always nice to hear.

The top education policy official in the Texas House said Tuesday that he would not allow the approval of school vouchers this legislative session, a blunt pronouncement that could be fatal to the prospects for legislation that is a priority for many top Republicans in the state.

The official, House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, said during a Texas Tribune event here that he and his colleagues in the House already had debated the issue at length and determined that vouchers would reduce school accountability by putting public dollars in private schools that are not subject to the same rules and also would distract from more pressing challenges, such as fixing the school finance system.

Asked whether that meant a high-profile voucher proposal from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was “dead, dead, dead,” Huberty said yes. Asked whether there was anything that could change his mind, Huberty said no.

“Why don’t we talk about the real issues?” Huberty said.

Excellent question. You can see the video of this conversation here. Rep. Huberty has been backed by the Texas ParentPAC, which came into existence back in 2005 for the purpose of supporting legislators who support public schools, which among other things means opposing vouchers. Why should we oppose vouchers? Well for one thing, they just don’t work.

Education secretary Betsy DeVos has been a champion of school vouchers for decades, and has claimed students don’t benefit from better funding of public schools. But a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows that vouchers do not improve student achievement in any meaningful way.

A significant body of research on vouchers over the past 15 years has found that there is not enough evidence to support the claim that vouchers significantly improve student achievement, wrote Martin Carnoy, Vida Jacks Professor of Education and Economics at Stanford University. In some cases, vouchers exacerbate issues that hurt students’ quality of education, such as racial and economic school segregation and a flow of inexperienced young teachers into schools.

Research on voucher experiments in New York City, Dayton, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. showed that there were no significant improvements for students, especially for students Republicans argue will benefit from them the most: students of color.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program in Washington, D.C., which is directly funded by Congress, showed no significant reading or math gains for students who used vouchers and scholarships compared to students who did not. Still, the Trump administration may move to expand the program, The Washington Post reported.

In Milwaukee, which has the country’s largest and oldest voucher program, only one in four students attend their public school. But black students, who are the main recipients of the vouchers, had lower eighth grade math scores than students in every city but Detroit. The scores were even worse for reading, where Milwaukee eighth graders scored lower than black eighth graders in all other 12 cities included in the study. Although Milwaukee students made large gains in the 2007–2008 school year, there were not significant gains in reading between 2007 and 2011.

Although proponents of vouchers say that competition forces public schools to improve, Carnoy came to the conclusion that it is more likely that accountability measures are driving improvements in struggling public schools.

You can see that well-timed research here. Closer to home, RG Ratcliffe highlights another issue with the Patrick plan: There just aren’t many private schools in poor neighborhoods, which is both screamingly obvious when you think about it and also kind of a logistical problem.

Dallas County has more than 30,000 children attending about 100 accredited private schools. The majority are clustered in wealthier areas of North and East Dallas, the News’ analysis of education and demographic data shows.

Meanwhile, entire swaths of southern Dallas County lack a single private school. These poorer neighborhoods have lots of low-rated public schools — the very schools that voucher supporters say they want to help kids escape.

And of course, the Patrick plan wouldn’t pay the full tuition for poor kids who wanted to go to St. John’s or Hockaday or wherever, so the end effect would be even more limited. You can see why Rep. Huberty isn’t excited. What’s far less clear is what Patrick and Abbott and so on keep pushing this idea.

Final runoff early voting numbers

EarlyVoting

Here are your final early voting numbers for the Republican and Democratic primary runoffs in Harris County. Note that in both cases, mail ballots have accounted for the majority of the total so far: On the Dem side, there have been 10,913 mail ballots to 10,364 in-person votes, and for the Rs it’s 15,297 to 12,742. For that reason, I don’t expect Tuesday’s results to provide a big boost to turnout, though there are still plenty of people who could vote if they wanted to. We’ll see how good a job the campaigns do at getting their people out.

There are two legislative runoffs in Harris County. In the increasingly nasty HD128 runoff between Republican incumbent Wayne Smith and challenger Briscoe Cain, the effect can be seen in the daily totals from the County Clerk. There were 1,858 in person votes in HD128, nearly double the amount of the next busiest district. It’s more muted on the Democratic side, where 932 people have shown up to pick between Jarvis Johnson and Kimberly Willis. That total trails HDs 146 (984) and 142 (949), not to mention the 1,012 votes cast at the West Gray Multi-Service Center. Of course, the dailies from the Clerk are for in person votes only. We won’t know how many absentee ballots have been cast in each district until Tuesday night.

Speaking of Jarvis Johnson, I could swear I saw a story late last week saying he had been sworn into office after his win in the May 7 special election to fill the remainder of now-Mayor Sylvester Turner’s term, but if so now neither Google nor I can find it. Johnson did pick up Mayor Turner’s endorsement for the primary runoff last week, and he has been endorsed by the Texas AFL-CIO COPE as well. Kimberly Willis has the support of the Texas Parent PAC, but not as far as I can tell Annie’s List. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus did not make an endorsement in this runoff.

Outside of Harris County, you know about the HD27 runoff. The other legislative runoff of interest is in HD120, where candidate Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (who is endorsed by Annie’s List) kicked up a bit of a fuss with labor by appearing to give support to “right to work” laws at a candidate forum. That cost her one endorsement she’s previously received; you can read Express News columnist Gilbert Garcia for the details. By the way, the basically useless special election to fill the unexpired term in HD120, which involved four people who are not in the primary runoff, will have its runoff election on August 2. Lord help us all.

Finally, in the Republican runoff for State Board of Education, District 9, Mary Lou Bruner, this cycle’s winner of the Biggest Idiot Who May Actually Get Elected To Something award, may have inadvertently demonstrated that even in a Republican primary runoff for SBOE in East Texas, there are some limits on stupidity. Maybe. That’s not a proposition I’d want to bet my own money on, but we’ll see. SBOE 9 did elect Thomas Ratliff once, so there is hope and precedent. Ask me again on Wednesday.

Early voting for special election runoffs has begun

EarlyVoting

It began yesterday, but I forgot to queue up a post in time to mention it. Here’s some relevant information for those of you who need to get out and vote in one or more of these runoffs.

For SD26 and HD123, here are the Bexar County early voting locations. The Bexar County Elections page is here as well.

For HD17, here are the early voting locations for Bastrop County, Caldwell County, and Lee County. The Bastrop County Elections page is here, and they already have Election Day voting locations up as well. Both the Caldwell and Lee pages have early voting and election day locations. As for Karnes County and Gonzales County, you’ll need to call the elections administrators for information, as you had to do for the January election.

For HD13, here are the early voting locations for Burleson County, Colorado County, Fayette County, Grimes County, Lavaca County, and Washington County. All of those pages also have Election Day locations, except for Fayette and Washington. I could not find information for Austin County, so call the elections administrator there for the scoop.

Googling around on the candidates’ names, I found basically zero new information since the original election, except for a couple of stories relating to the SD26 runoff. The only endorsements I found, as was the case in January, was from the Express News, which reiterated their choices from the first round.

In the Senate race, we recommend Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer to replace mayoral candidate Leticia Van de Putte.

The district will be in good hands regardless of who wins the showdown between Martinez Fischer and Rep. José Menéndez. Both Democrats who have been in the House since 2001.

But Martinez Fischer’s strong leadership ability unequivocally makes him the right choice for the Senate.

[…]

We strongly encourage voters to cast their ballots for former City Councilman Diego Bernal, who faces Republican Nunzio Previtera.

Bernal represented San Antonio’s City Council District 1 from 2011 until resigning late last year to seek the House seat. During his tenure at City Hall, Bernal showed courage by successfully sponsoring a highly controversial nondiscrimination ordinance that provided new protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status.

The 38-year-old Bernal also played a lead role in creating an advisory panel to study the future of Alamo Plaza. The city has failed to nurture the downtown asset, and Bernal’s efforts have revived hope for real improvements. This is an issue of statewide importance.

They also had a recent story about how Bexar Dems are dismayed by the negativity in the all-Dem SD26 runoff. Those of us who remember the SD06 special election from two years ago feel their pain. I figure turnout will be less than or equal to the first round, so if you live in any of these districts, your vote counts for a lot. There are no Dems in either HD17 or HD13, but John Cyrier and Carolyn Bilski are backed by the Texas Parent PAC, and Cyrier’s opponent in particular is aligned with the likes of Empower Texans, so even without a home team there’s still a rooting interest. I’ll keep an eye on the voting as we go. The Rivard Report has more.

HD13 special election news roundup

The special election in HD13 to succeed Sen. Lois Kolkhorst is next Tuesday. Early voting ends today, and there’s not much news out there to find. HD13 is a rural district with only small-paper coverage – one of those papers, the Brenham Banner Press, is subscription only – and there doesn’t appear to be much money or any feuds like the Texans for Lawsuit Reform kerfuffle in SD26 to get the larger outfits to notice this race. I did find some news while googling around, so here you go.

From the Navasota Examiner, a report from a candidate forum.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst

While Grimes County reported an all-time low of 20 total votes for the first day of early voting, Grimes County Republican Party Chairman Joe Fauth told forum attendees residents were probably waiting to hear from District 13 State Representative candidates before casting ballots.

Governor Rick Perry ordered a special election to be held on Tuesday, Jan. 13, in Texas House of Representatives District 13 for the purpose of electing a representative to fill the vacancy in the seat previously held by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst. Monday night, Republican candidates – petroleum and mining geologist Becky Berger of Schulenburg, Austin County Judge Carolyn Cerny Bilski of Sealy and Attorney Leighton Schubert of Caldwell – faced off at the American Legion Hall Anderson, as Grimes County Republican Party hosted a forum. Fauth said that Democratic candidate and retiree Cecil R. Webster Sr. of Carmine was not invited to participate.

The bulk of questions centered around how candidates planned to protect the county against the threats of a proposed high-speed rail project, proposed transmission lines and the proposed State Highway 249 toll road.

[…]

When asked what candidates would do to secure funding from Proposition 1 funds for Grimes County infrastructure, Bilski said that since legislative sessions starts on Election Day, she promised constituents would have an active voice.

“Prop. 1 has a lot of pieces to it, so for me to say I’m going to author a bill today, I have to look at the legislation that’s already been pre-filed and work towards whatever deadlines we might still have,” Bilski said.

Berger said she would “fight any diversion of funds,” as the legislature has not spent appropriated money properly.

“If I have to filibuster, I will do it. I will be one of those people that fights for your best interest,” Berger said. “I’m going to go up there and fight like it’s mine to make sure that you get to keep what’s yours, and that our roads are taken care of in this area.”

Schubert said that there is no doubt that Texas is growing, as the population is expected to increase by 82 percent by 2060.

“Vital infrastructure is necessary to our growth and continued economic development. We have to make sure our funding is prioritized,” Schubert said.

The attorney added that while TxDOT has stated that $5 billion is needed annually to maintain roads, ensuring gas tax money is utilized for infrastructure would provide $700 million for roads annually.

“That’s just one solution – designated funds need to go where they are. Secondly, we have to maintain our fiscal conservatism and make sure that we are prioritizing our spending, because there’s never enough to go around. But infrastructure does need to be at the very top of our list,” Schubert said.

When asked what the most pressing issue for the district is, Berger said protecting property rights, as well as working on water, infrastructure and academic needs.

“It’s not just happening in Grimes County; it’s happening in every county,” Berger said. “And we now know that the Supreme Court will hold up a better use clause, so that someone can take your property by eminent domain – even if it’s a company, instead of a public entity. We need to fight that in Texas.”

Schubert said his top priority would be to provide a strong voice for rural Texas and “protect our way of life,” as well as ensure that rural healthcare is funded.

“We need to recruit good doctors to come back to rural areas to serve our population. We need to protect our private property rights and second amendment rights, but the main goal is to keep rural Texas strong,” Schubert said.

Bilski said quality of life would be her main objective for the district.

“Quality of life takes in water, your road infrastructure and property rights, and those are all going to be filed under different bills and amendments,” Bilski said. “Toll roads are something you’re going to have to deal with, and I’ll be there to help protect your quality of life.”

Basically, it was about the level of discourse you’d expect at a GOP-only candidate forum. At least these three say they support spending some money on infrastructure, which in our perverse current environment counts are forward thinking. Bilski, the Austin County Judge, is the Parent PAC candidate for those of you keeping score at home. Education issues apparently didn’t come up in that forum – make your own joke here – so we have that and this to help us sort things out.

Did I mention fundraising? The Victoria Advocate takes a look at the finance reports.

The candidates in a special election for the Texas House District 13 seat are working with little money and time as Election Day looms.

The four candidates collectively have raised about $90,000 so far during their candidacies to succeed Lois Kolkhorst, who resigned from the seat after 14 years to become a state senator. Republican contender Leighton Schubert, an attorney from Caldwell, is leading the group, having raised $47,450.

Following are Republican Carolyn Cerny Bilski, Austin County judge, with $24,655.63 raised; Democrat Cecil Webster Sr., a Carmine retiree of the U.S. Army, with $19,083.32; and Republican Becky Berger, a geologist of Schulenburg, with $200, according to documents campaigns submitted to the Texas Ethics Commission. Most candidates said the amount of time to campaign affected how much they were able to raise. All have used some of their own money to campaign.

Schubert’s report is here, and it’s legit. My initial assumption was that he had a sugar daddy or two, but while he does have several four-figure donors, he has a decent array of individual givers – no PAC money that I could see – and the vast majority of it was local. Good for him. I’d have thought Berger might draw some wingnut establishment money, but apparently not.

And that’s all I can find. I get the impression that turnout will be low even by oddly-timed special election standards, but we’ll see. Bilski has all the appearance of a frontrunner, but whether she can get a first-round majority, and who might have a shot at a runoff, are anyone’s guess. If you live in HD13, I’d love to hear your observations about this race.

Special elections roundup

I haven’t seen any newspaper endorsements in the special elections that will conclude on Tuesday. I can tell you that the Texas Parent PAC has endorsed Diego Bernal in HD123 and John Cyrier in HD17. In the absence of further endorsements to report on, here’s a news roundup based on Google searches of the various candidates.

In SD26, it’s all about the money.

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer

A powerful special interest group that has contributed millions of dollars mostly to state Republicans over the years is targeting Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer’s bid to fill a vacant Senate seat.

And now Martinez Fischer is attempting to draw connections between the group, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, and his main opponent in the race, Democratic state Rep. José Menéndez.

TLR is the richest and most influential tort reform group in the state, and its political action committee has already spent close to $180,000 to influence Tuesday’s special election in District 26, state records show. That includes research and polling, along with TV ads and mailers blasting Martinez Fischer.

In a campaign memo released Wednesday, Martinez Fischer leveled his strongest public accusations to date about links to the group and Menéndez, claiming the head of TLR has personally made calls to help Menéndez and to “thwart” Martinez Fischer’s own fundraising efforts.

Martinez Fischer, in the memo, goes on to note that TLR contract lobbyist Ed Lopez was named earlier this month as part of the Menéndez finance team and then claims another unnamed lobbyist working for the group recently held a fundraiser for Menéndez.

[…]

“In my estimation, José’s relationship with TLR is obvious,” Martinez Fischer says in the memo.

On Wednesday, Menéndez remained steadfast that he’s not in cahoots with the group.

“It is obvious to me that Trey is desperate to try to create a connection between TLR and myself that doesn’t’ exist,” he said. “We’re running our campaign, and we’re not in a position that we feel like we need any help from outside sources.”

Menéndez also said that Lopez, the TLR lobbyist Martinez Fischer cited in his memo, is a personal friend dating back to his days on San Antonio City Council, and that “he’s a supporter of mine because he believes in me as a person.”

TMF has greatly outraised Menendez, though a lot of his donations have been non-local. Both candidates are spending heavily on TV ads. When the first order of business is to make sure people are aware that there is an election going on in the first place, you do what you have to do.

Meanwhile, the candidates in HD123 are trying to be heard over that volume.

The ballot includes three Democrats: businesswoman Melissa Aguillon, former San Antonio City Councilman Diego Bernal, and Walter Martinez, also a former city councilman, who served in the Texas House in the ’80s.

The lone Republican is insurance agent Nunzio Previtera. Clinical psychologist Paul Ingmundson is the Green Party candidate, while Libertarian Roger Gary rounds out the ballot.

Gary, like the others, has education reform high on his list. He wants to get back to the basics, like, he says, teaching basic math. ”I’ve asked some other people who say they’re doing it all on computers; people’s grammar and spelling and math, let’s get back to those basics. That’s what we need. The rest of the stuff they’re squabbling about, what’s in a high school history book? Well, who cares if they can’t read and write.”

Republican Nunzio Previtera wants schools to put as much emphasis on vocational training as they do on college preparation. “The primary goal of our school system needs to be to provide our students with opportunities to prosper as working adults, get them ready to be adults. Our magnet schools have done a pretty good job, but they need to be expanded, and our primary schools need to put a lot more emphasis on vocational skills and training people for their adult life.”

Paul Ingmundson went to UT Austin, where he paid $50 a semester. He says college tuition today is outrageous. He wants the first two years of college to be free. He’d pay for that by taxing oil and gas producers. “We can address the fossil fuel problem and the education problem with one policy change. I think even Republicans are going to start to get used to this. They are going to look around for money, and if you’re going to look around for money, the deepest pockets are in the oil and gas fields.” 


More affordable higher education and technical training are also high on the agendas of Democrats Melissa Aguillon and Walter Martinez.

“It was challenging for my parents to put me through college,” says Aguillon. “I actually had to pretty much fund my own college tuition, and so, I want to make sure that higher education is accessible for all students that want to go to college.” But she adds, there are far more career paths available to those students now, and far more jobs being created, “21st century jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year education.”

“I think it’s important that the necessary skills for trades are also accessible to them,” says Aguillon. Fellow Democrat Martinez agrees, and adds, “The delivery and implementation of workforce training, also providing technical training, to be able to provide the workforce that modern technology requires, those are all part of the agenda as far as supporting public education.”

Democrat Diego Bernal says the first bill he’d file would overhaul the way the state decides how much money each school district will receive. “The very first one I would file would have to do with public education and the formula that we use to pay for students who are either economically disadvantaged or English language learners. There’s a formula they use to give districts extra money and that formula hasn’t been updated since the mid-’80s. So if you want to know what my very first attempt at a bill would be, that would be it.”

Here’s an Express News overview of this race. The SA Current did Q&As with four of the candidates in the HD123 race – with Diego Bernal, Melissa Aguillon, Walter Martinez, and Roger Gary. They also profiled Bernal and noted that Aguillon had received financial support from a Georgia-based auto title loan business owner.

As for HD17, news is a lot harder to find. What little I have is from the Gonzalez Inquirer. Here’s their overview of the race:

Republican candidate John Cyrier, 41, of Lockhart, was in town Monday morning for a brief rally at the Roger M. Dreyer Memorial Airport to kick off early voting. He arrived by air in his Cessna Skylane II— which appropriately sported the colors red, white and blue.

[…]

The other Republican in the race, Brent Golemon, 46, of Bastrop, got a taste of politics early in life. Golemon worked as a legislative aide and chief-of-staff at the capitol after graduating Hampden-Sydney College while his father was a 35-year lobbyist in Austin.

Golemon co-founded GalleryWatch, the nation’s first online legislative tracking service in 1996, which was sold eight years later. His current occupation is listed as “entrepreneur.”

The closest Golemon gets to an elected office credential is a stint on the Tahitian Village Property Owners Association and a board appointment to the Bastrop County Water District. In his spare time, he enjoys coaching six-man football at a Christian-based athletics program for home-schooled and private school families.

The first of two Democrats on the ballot is Ty McDonald, 43, also of Bastrop. She is a 1993 graduate of Texas A&M University and is married to former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald.

McDonald’s early education into elected public service was as legislative director for State Rep. Yvonne Davis in the early 90s. She also served as campaign coordinator for John Sharp during his failed bid for comptroller.

After serving as a public school teacher for seven years, she was elected to a single term to the board of the Bastrop Independent School District. Her last year was served as president of that body.

After flirting with a run for state rep earlier this year, McDonald switched races to challenge incumbent Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. She lost that contest in November.

The other Democrat is Shelley Cartier, 51, yet another candidate from the Bastrop area. Her business card describes her as a non-politician and small business owner.

On the issues, she supports local control and small growth. Public education is also in her platform and she says she is a “defender of property and water rights for all.”

In her spare time she advocates for the humane treatment of animals and hosts several rescue horses on her property.

Rounding out the list is the lone Independent candidate, Linda Curtis, 63, the final Bastrop resident. Her tagline is “If you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em!”

They also have a profile of Cyrier.

Cyrier hails from Caldwell County where he and his wife Rachelle live on a ranch south of Lockhart. His political fact sheet touts many accomplishments for the 42 year-old—successful businessman, past county commissioner and former commander of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band. He now wishes to be State Representative for District 17, which includes Gonzales County.

His business career began after he received a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Texas A&M University. A couple of stops in the general contracting business and branch office management led him to launch Sabre Commercial, Inc. in 2008, a commercial construction services company specializing in general contracting. It employs 51 people and has won numerous distinctions from the Austin Business Journal including a nomination for Best CEO Award in September.

“I surround myself with good people and I take care of them,” said Cyrier. The good working morale has led Sabre to three top-10 “Best Places to Work in Central Texas” designations from the Journal.

Cyrier’s political career began in 2010. There was a vacancy on the commissioner’s court in Caldwell County and longtime County Judge H.T. Wright, Jr., a Democrat, picked Cyrier based on his community accomplishments. The judge knew that he would take heat for the appointment since Cyrier was a Republican, but he saw a need to balance the court and invite all ideas to the table.

Turns out that Cyrier was only the second Republican to ever hold a seat on the court. Party designation didn’t matter to most voters, for he was elected outright later that year by 60 percent of the ballots and was named Judge Pro-Tem in 2012.

“I loved being a county commissioner,” he said.

Cyrier decided to serve out his term but opted not to run in the general election in 2012. He figured that he could do just as much good for the community away from the commissioner’s court than he could on it. The list of boards on which he currently serves include: Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), Caritas of Austin, Lockhart ISD Education Foundation, Caldwell County Republican precinct chair—and the list goes on — prove just that.

During the Thanksgiving holiday he received a call from Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt had resigned and the county’s leadership was looking for a candidate to promote. One GOP candidate had already popped up in Bastrop, but they were looking for something more. They believed that Cyrier had the vision to be the district’s next leader.

With the added urging of longtime Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett, Cyrier decided to run and continue his community service at the elected level. Soon he had a list of supporters that any candidate would envy.

There are three things that Cyrier lists as top priorities in the upcoming legislative session: education, water and infrastructure. Luckily for District 17, all three topics resonate throughout the five rural counties he would represent.

On education, Cyrier already counts superintendents from Bastrop, Smithville, Karnes, Lockhart, Gonzales and a host of other education professionals as supporting his candidacy.

He shows a strong command of the issues facing public schools in the state. His concerns are on elected officials that look to defund public education to send dollars elsewhere. Oftentimes school is the only place a child can eat a regular meal for breakfast, lunch— and more often now— even dinner.

Diverting public dollars would have an adverse affect on education, especially in communities like this one where the school system is the major employer. Cyrier looks to be a strong advocate for these independent school districts.

He also draws a parallel between the growth the district has seen based on underground resources—water to the north and oil to the south. Where Bastrop County has seen sprawl eat on its western flank, water developers look to siphon off the precious resource to far-flung housing developments throughout the I-35 corridor and down to San Antonio. Similar concerns can be seen here.

The other boom is down south with the shale explosion in the Eagle Ford. Gonzales County is experiencing growth and road degradation associated with this as is its neighbor to the south, Karnes County. Cyrier understands this and how public infrastructure funding is so important to the area.

Since all five counties in the district are still largely rural, he feels that the area shares the same challenges.

So there you have it. If you live in one of these districts, please make sure you vote.

Endorsement watch: State Reps and Sam Houston

The Chron made its State House endorsements in two parts. The highlight from Part One was a couple of key races.

Susan Criss

Susan Criss

District 23: Susan Criss

In one of the few competitive contests, Democrat Susan Criss and Republican Wayne Faircloth are battling to replace retiring Democratic state Rep. Craig Eiland in a district that includes all of Galveston County and part of Chambers County. Criss, a former judge and prosecutor, is supported by trial lawyers, while Faircloth, an insurance agent, is backed by insurance companies, who are not much loved in a region that had problems with them following Hurricane Ike in 2008. Faircloth’s campaign comes right out of the Republican textbook – less regulation and secure the border. Criss, 53, wants to restore all education funding cut in 2011’s budget crunch so that public school students are not short-changed. She says big corporations must pay their fair share of taxes so average people don’t have to pay more. She wants the proposed “Ike Dike” to protect against future storms so people won’t lose their homes again. And she wants insurance companies to treat people fairly. We agree, so we endorse Susan Criss for District 23.

District 149: Hubert Vo

Another of the rare competitive races pits longtime state Rep. Hubert Vo against Republican Al Hoang, 38, in a battle between two Vietnamese immigrants who share a culture but not political philosophies. Vo, 58, is a moderate Democrat who concentrates on bread-and-butter issues while Hoang, a former Houston city councilman, tends to echo conservative bromides. Hoang says he reflects the true values of the Vietnamese community, which makes up about 20 percent of the district that stretches from Alief to the Energy Corridor on Interstate 10. The low-key Vo has a list of modest accomplishments, including creation of the International Management District and sponsoring legislation that helped bring private space company SpaceX to Texas. He is a strong supporter of public education and wants the state to accept the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Care Act. Buried in Hoang’s rhetoric about abortion, the death penalty and other red meat issues are a few good ideas. But the Legislature has enough members who think pushing hot political buttons is good policy, so we endorse Hubert Vo for a sixth term.

Wise choices if you ask me, obviously. Susan Criss also picked up an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, which ought to help. The main thing that will help here is elevated turnout, to overcome the red lean of the district. My interview with Susan Criss is here in case you missed it. By the way, it was interesting to see the Chron venture outside Harris County, making recommendations in Galveston, Fort Bend, and Montgomery. I couldn’t swear to this, but my recollection is that this has not been their usual habit. Am I wrong about that?

Round Two was mostly about races featuring incumbents, all here in Harris and all but two getting the Chron’s nod. Those two races, plus one of the open seat races of interest:

District 132: Mike Schofield

Republican lawyer Mike Schofield, 50, handled legislative matters for Rick Perry for six sessions, which gives him an understanding of the lawmaking process that Democrat Luis Lopez does not have. Lopez, 25, has a compelling story: He came from Mexico as a child and has gone on to become a citizen, accountant and business owner. But Schofield can more immediately help the far west Houston district that includes Katy and the Cy-Fair area deal with the explosive growth expected there, so we endorse him.

District 135: No endorsement

As Republican incumbent Gary Elkins tells it, his biggest accomplishment during 20 years in the Legislature was the elimination of slower speed limits at night. His other unfortunate claim to fame was in 2011 when he disgraced the House by defending the payday lending business against state regulation in a massive conflict of interest – he himself owns payday lender businesses.

Elkins, 59, told us he will fight against overregulation, but couldn’t give any specifics. He couldn’t remember how many bills he filed last session or the details of a key constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot. Yet, this hapless spouter of Republican clichés keeps getting re-elected in the northwest suburban district that includes Jersey Village and the Cy-Fair area. His opponent, Democrat Moiz Abbas, 60, is a good guy and smart, but we haven’t seen much of a campaign, so we’ll make no endorsement.

District 150: Amy Perez

Incumbent Debbie Riddle, 65, is seeking a seventh term in the House where she is a dependable conservative vote with a bad habit of sticking her foot in her mouth. She is best known for her absurd – and telling – rant that free education “comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell.” She also flamed out on CNN claiming “terror babies” were being born in the U.S. In contrast, Democrat Amy Perez is a history teacher in a local district and dedicated to public education and fully knows its problems. Once, she won teacher of the year in a local district, then got laid off because funds for social studies ran out. Perez, 29, has no political experience, but is super smart and might teach the Legislature something about education. In the district that goes from the Woodlands south to FM 1960 and includes Spring, it’s time for a change. We endorse Amy Perez.

Endorsing opponents to The Riddler is old hat for the Chron by now. She is the worst, after all. Here’s a brief Q&A from a neighborhood paper with Perez and Riddle if you want to know more. Elkins is right up there – or down there, I suppose – with Riddle, and he’s in a district that has a chance of being competitive before the next round of redistricting. Not really sure what their hangup was with Moiz Abbas, but whatever. As for HD132, another district that is trending the right way, I’d say that assuming Mike Scofield will use that experience he has to actually help his district may be assuming facts not in evidence.

Moving elsewhere, Sam Houston gets two more endorsements. Here’s the DMN:

Serious legal issues dogging Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton should rule him out for consideration to be the next attorney general of Texas. It’s fortunate for voters that there’s a solid alternative in a Houston attorney whose name isn’t easy to forget.

Career litigator Sam Houston, a Democrat, is making his second run for office, having been on the ballot in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for the Supreme Court of Texas.

This newspaper recommended Houston for office then and recommends him now, on the strength of his legal experience and ideas for the office.

Paxton’s impaired candidacy stems from his written admission that he broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board even though he solicited paying clients for a financial services firm that paid him a 30 percent cut. It wasn’t a one-time slipup on Paxton’s part. The Securities Board’s civil complaint against him cites solicitations from 2004, 2005 and 2012.

As if to make the situation vanish, Paxton, 51, a veteran lawmaker from McKinney, declined to contest the disciplinary order and paid a $1,000 fine in May. But the matter lives on. A complaint has been filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has postponed any decision on taking the matter to a grand jury until after the election. That raises the possibility of felony charges against a sitting attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Voters should not invite that kind of embarrassment for Texas.

And here’s the Express News:

We strongly urge Texans to elect Democrat Sam Houston, a native of Colorado City who has practiced law in Houston for 26 years.

Houston faces Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton, a McKinney lawyer. The Express-News reported that Paxton “admitted in May to referring clients to a North Texas investment firm without registering with state authorities as required by law. The Texas State Securities Board reprimanded Paxton and fined him $1,000, concluding that he violated state securities law in 2004, 2005 and 2012.”

The episode was a dominant theme for Paxton’s GOP primary runoff opponent and is being emphasized by Democrats this fall. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Travis County district attorney’s office. Travis County prosecutors wisely will not consider the complaint prior to the Nov. 4 election.

Whether the issue results in a criminal investigation or not, the case raises disturbing ethical questions about Paxton. We believe voters should take this blemish on Paxton’s record seriously as they consider who should be the state’s top lawyer.

At this point we’re just waiting for the Chron to make it a clean sweep. They should have a pretty good idea of what the arguments are by now.

Primary runoff results

So long, Dave.

So very sad

Riding a wave of conservative sentiment that Texas Republicans were not being led with a hard enough edge, state Sen. Dan Patrick crushed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff election for lieutenant governor, ending the career of a dominant figure in state politics for the last dozen years.

The Associated Press called the race shortly after 8 p.m., just an hour after polls closed in most of the state. As votes were still being counted, Patrick was winning by a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent.

Patrick’s victory marked the end of a rough campaign for Dewhurst, who trailed Patrick, a second term senator, by 13 percentage points in the four-way March primary. The incumbent sought to define Patrick, who is far less well-known statewide, as an untrustworthy figure more given to self-serving publicity stunts than the meticulous business of governing.

[…]

Dewhurst, who built a fortune in the energy industry and entered politics as a big-dollar Republican donor, won his first election as land commissioner in 1998 which laid the groundwork for a successful run for lieutenant governor in 2002, twice winning re-election in 2006 and 2010.

But Dewhurst’s luck turned when he lost the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012 to Ted Cruz, a former solicitor general, who captured the spirit of the rising tea party movement in Texas. Cruz took advantage of an election calendar delayed by redistricting fights, holding Dewhurst to less than 50 percent in the primary and surging past him in the mid-summer runoff.

Dewhurst’s defeat at the hands of Cruz exposed Dewhurst’s vulnerability and when it turned out that he was going to try for a fourth term as lieutenant governor as the capstone of his career, Patrick, Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples proceeded with their candidacies to try to take him out.

Let’s be clear that while Dan Patrick is a terrible human being who should never be entrusted with political power, David Dewhurst deserves no sympathy for his plight. He brought it on himself, and no one should be surprised by what happened. I doubt Dewhurst could ever have been sufficiently “conservative” to satisfy the seething masses that Dan Patrick represents, and I doubt he could have been powerful enough to have scared Patrick and his ego from challenging him, but there was nothing stopping him from being a better and more engaged Lt. Governor. I’m sure his many millions of dollars will be an adequate salve for his wounds, so again, no need for sympathy.

Democrats were obviously ready for this result. I’ve lost count of the number of statements and press releases that have hit my inbox so far. This statement from Yvonne Gutierrez, executive director, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, was the first to arrive:

“Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick are two peas in a pod when it comes to women’s health, having led the fight to block Texas women from their rights and access to health care. Both oppose access to safe and legal abortion, even in cases of incest or rape. And both have worked to cut women off from preventative health services, and to close health centers, including Planned Parenthood clinics, that offer affordable birth control and cancer screenings.

Abbott and Patrick have made clear that they do not trust Texas women to make their own health care decisions. But the decision Texas women make at the ballot box this November will decide the election. You can’t win in Texas by working against Texas women. We’ve had enough of politicians like Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick, who want to impose their personal agenda on all Texas women – and between now and Election Day, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes will be working around the clock to make sure that Texas women know what the Abbott-Patrick ticket will mean for their access to health care.”

Others came in from Sen. Van de Putte, the Wendy Davis campaign, who wondered when we’d see Patrick and Abbott together, the Texas Organizing Project, and Annie’s List. The van de Putte campaign also released a statement announcing the support of “two prominent business leaders”: William Austin Ligon, the co-founder and retired CEO of CarMax, and Republican Louis Barrios, with whom we are already familiar. It’s a nice move to deflect a bit of attention, but I sure hope that list grows and grows and grows.

In other Republican news, the deeply unethical Ken Paxton won the AG nomination, the deeply unqualified Sid Miller won the Ag Commissioner nomination, and Ryan Sitton won the Railroad Commissioner nomination. As I’ve said before, this is easily the weakest Republican statewide slate in my memory. Doesn’t mean they won’t win, just that there’s no reason to be scared of them – as candidates, anyway. They should scare the hell out of you as officeholders, but they’re no electoral juggernaut.

On the Democratic side, the good news is that David Alameel won easily in his runoff for the US Senate nomination, with over 70% of the vote. All I can say is that I sincerely hope this is the last we hear of Kesha Rogers, and if it’s not I hope enough people know who and what she is so that she won’t be a factor in whatever race she turns up in. In other news – whether good or bad depends on your perspective – Jim Hogan defeated Kinky Friedman for the Ag Commissioner nomination. Hogan’s a zero, but I guess too many people weren’t ready to forgive Friedman for his prior offenses. I voted for Kinky in the runoff, but I understand the feeling. The main lesson here is that a first-time candidate in a statewide primary needs more than just endorsements to be successful. Either they get the funds they need to get their name out to a few hundred thousand voters, or you get a random result. Ask Hugh Fitzsimons, and ask David Alameel.

Dem statewide results are here and Republican statewide results are here. Bob Deuell lost in the SD02 runoff, making the Senate that much more stupid next year than it needed to be, while 91-year-old Congressman Ralph Hall appears to be finally headed for retirement. Some reasons for guarded optimism downballot: Ben Streusand lost in CD36, SBOE member Pat Hardy defeated the truly bizarre Eric Mahroum, and most of the Parent PAC candidates appear to have won. You take your victories where you can. Also, as noted below, Denise Pratt was soundly defeated in her runoff. So there’s that.

There will be plenty of time to talk about these races in more depth as we go. I may do some number-twiddling with them if I think there’s anything of interest in the county and precinct results. For now, it’s on to November, with a brief pause along the way in June for the SD04 runoff. For various reactions and liveblogs, see the Observer, the Trib, BOR, PDiddie, Juanita, and the always full of wit John Coby. And in closing, this may be the saddest thing I’ve ever read:

As the early voting totals rolled in, showing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst behind by nearly 20 percent, supporters trickled in to a small election watch party north of the Galleria.

Members of the press outnumbered the early crowd, but campaign staff said they expected nearly 200 people to arrive. Many were still working the polls, they said, hoping to eke more votes out of a rainy day.

Almost enough to make me feel sorry for him. Almost.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

The big news on the Democratic side is the close loss by longtime Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90, who fell by 111 votes to Ramon Romero Jr. I know basically nothing about Rep.-elect Romero, but I do know that Rep. Burnam has been a progressive stalwart, and it is sad to see him go. His district is heavily Latino, and he defeated a Latino challenger in 2012, but fell short this year. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Romero. Also in Tarrant County, Annie’s List-backed Libby Willis will carry the Democratic banner in SD10 to try to hold the seat being vacated by Wendy Davis. Elsewhere in Democratic legislative primaries, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who earned a Ten Worst spot this past session for a DUI bust during the session, was running third for her seat. Cesar Blanco, a former staffer for Rep. Pete Gallego, was leading with over 40% and will face either Gonzalez or Norma Chavez, whom Gonzalez had defeated in a previous and very nasty primary. I’m rooting for Blanco in either matchup. All other Dem incumbents won, including Rep. Mary Gonzalez in HD75. Congressional incumbents Eddie Berniece Johnson and Marc Veasey cruised to re-election, while challengers Donald Brown (CD14), Frank Briscoe (CD22), and Marco Montoya (CD25) all won their nominations.

On the Republican side, the endorsements of Rafael Cruz and Sarah Palin were not enough for Katrina Pierson in CD32, as Rep. Pete Sessions waltzed to a 68% win. Rep. Ralph Hall, who was born sometime during the Cretaceous Era, will be in a runoff against John Ratcliffe in CD04. All other GOP Congressional incumbents won, and there will be runoffs in CDs 23 and 36, the latter being between Brian Babin and Ben Streusand. I pity the fool that has to follow Steve Stockman’s act.

Some trouble in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Deuell appears headed for a runoff, and Sen. John Carona appears to have lost. Sen. Donna Campbell defeats two challengers. Those latter results ensure the Senate will be even dumber next session than it was last session. Konni Burton and Marc Shelton, whom Wendy Davis defeated in 2012, are in a runoff for SD10.

Multiple Republican State Reps went down to defeat – George Lavender (HD01), Lance Gooden (HD04), Ralph Sheffield (HD55), Diane Patrick (HD94), Linda Harper-Brown (HD105), and Bennett Ratliff (HD115). As I said last night, overall a fairly tough night for Texas Parent PAC. Rep. Stefani Carter (HD102), who briefly abandoned her seat for an ill-fated run for Railroad Commissioner, trailed Linda Koop heading into a runoff.

I’ll have more thoughts on some of these races later. I’d say the “establishment” Republican effort to push back on the Empower Texas/teabagger contingent is at best a work in progress. May open an opportunity or two for Dems – I’d say HD115 is now on their list in a way that it wouldn’t have been against Rep. Ratliff – but barring anything strange we should expect more of the same from the Lege in 2015.

Endorsement watch: Kim Ogg for DA

The Chronicle gives a ringing endorsement to Kim Ogg in the Democratic primary for District Attorney.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Ogg has experience as a board-certified felony prosecutor, but she also has the broad view that comes from serving as director of Houston’s first anti-gang task force. After overseeing a 40 percent drop in gang violence, Ogg went to work as executive director of Crime Stoppers, where she helped unite community resources to solve thousands of unsolved crimes. With this experience, Ogg knows that it isn’t merely about racking up prosecutions but setting countywide policy that is directly connected to reducing crime. She points to creative use of civil law to prevent crime before it happens. Harris County has used nuisance injunctions to keep gang members away from schools and apartments, and Ogg wants to expand that strategy to fight people whose businesses act as fronts for sex trafficking.

[…]

Ogg also will put people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana where they belong: along our bayous performing community service, rather than in jail at taxpayer expense.

But like the heroine in a bad horror movie sequel, Ogg has to defeat a sad soul who keeps coming back: Lloyd Wayne Oliver. Just when you thought it was safe to vote in the Democratic primary, he’s on the ballot again for the free publicity. Primary voters should give Oliver the thrashing he deserves for making a mockery of our elections. And they should give Ogg a place in the general election come November.

We all know what the stakes are here. Either we nominate Kim Ogg and have ourselves a real candidate to support who can drive a real debate about the DA’s office and its direction, or we punt the race for the second time in two years. Given that we’re basically going to punt the County Judge race, since the only qualified candidate on the ballot is incumbent Judge Ed Emmett, that’s a lot of dead weight at the top of the county ticket. While I don’t think that will be a drag on Wendy Davis and the rest of the statewide ticket, it certainly won’t help. It’s up to Ogg and her team to do the heavy lifting of voter outreach, but we can do our part as well. Vote for Kim Ogg, and tell everyone you know to vote for Kim Ogg.

On the same page, the Chron did a series of endorsements in contested House primaries. Of interest to us:

District 131: Alma Allen

We endorse Allen, the incumbent, because of her familiarity with the Legislature and her 10 years of seniority there, and because her position on the education committee and long history as a school principal enable her to promote better state funding for public schools. Those serve her south Houston district well. But her energetic challenger, 27-year-old Azuwuike “Ike” Okorafor, is a promising newcomer. We hope to see him run for other area offices.

District 145: Carol Alvarado

In the House, Alvarado has a strong record of fighting for Democratic causes, such as education funding, women’s health and Medicaid expansion, without alienating the Republican colleagues she needs to get things done. She and her staff are notably visible and accessible, providing a high degree of constituent services in a heavily Hispanic district that stretches from part of the Houston Heights southeast to Beltway 8. She’s the clear choice in this race.

No surprises in either one, and I too would like to see Azuwuike Okorafor run for something else if he doesn’t win this time. On the Republican side, they endorsed Chuck Maricle in HD129, Ann Hodges in HD132, Rep. Sarah Davis in HD134, and Rep. Debbie Riddle in HD150. Maricle was endorsed by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, the only Republican who screened with them for this primary; Hodges was endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC; Rep. Davis was endorsed by Equality Texas, the first Republican to get their recommendation. So they have that going for them.

January finance reports for area legislative offices

Just to complete the tour of semiannual finance reports, here’s a look at the cash on hand totals for area legislators. First up, the Harris County House delegation.

Patricia Harless, HD126 – $308,221

Dan Huberty, HD127 – $69,058

Wayne Smith, HD128 – $218,425

John Davis, HD129 – $99,962

Allen Fletcher, HD130 – $46,559

Alma Allen, HD131 – $33,479

Bill Callegari, HD132 – $315,904

Jim Murphy, HD133 – $103,538

Sarah Davis, HD134 – $59,871

Gary Elkins, HD135 – $337,111

Gene Wu, HD137 – $32,504

Dwayne Bohac, HD138 – $28,286

Sylvester Turner, HD139 – $404,829

Armando Walle, HD140 – $72,571

Senfronia Thompson, HD141 – $345,547

Harold Dutton, HD142 – $85,127

Ana Hernandez Luna, HD143 – $111,652

Mary Ann Perez, HD144 – $118,832

Borris Miles, HD146 – $54,485

Garnet Coleman, HD147 – $173,683

Jessica Farrar, HD148 – $65,005

Hubert Vo, HD149 – $52,341

Debbie Riddle, HD150 – $67,757

I skipped Carol Alvarado in HD145 since we already know about her. Sarah Davis just finished running an expensive race – she got a much tougher challenge for her first re-election than either of her two most recent predecessors, so she didn’t get to build a cushion. I’m sure she’s start rattling the cup as soon as session is over and the moratorium is lifted. Borris Miles and Huber Vo do a fair amount of self-funding. Gary Elkins and Bill Callegari are in the two Republican held seats that were more Democratic in 2012 than their 2008 numbers suggested. Beyond that, nothing really remarkable. Here’s a look at the representatives from neighboring counties:

Cecil Bell, HD03 – $27,712

Steven Toth, HD15 – $25,832

Brandon Creighton, HD16 – $360,842

John Otto, HD18 – $480,066

Craig Eiland, HD23 – $92,623

Greg Bonnen, HD24 – $47,123

Dennis Bonnen, HD25 – $370,909

Rick Miller, HD26 – $30,561

Ron Reynolds, HD27 – $6,654

John Zerwas, HD28 – $470,622

Phil Stephenson, HD85 – $14,209

Ed Thompson, HD29 – $92,008

Bell, Toth, and Creighton represent Montgomery County – Bell in part, Toth and Creighton in full. Bell’s district also covers Waller County. Eiland is parts of Galveston and all of Chambers, while Greg Bonnen has the rest of Galveston. Eiland has two reports, both of which are linked with the sum of the two as his cash total. Dennis Bonnen and Ed Thompson share Brazoria County. Miller, Reynolds, and Zerwas are in Fort Bend, along with a chunk of Stephenson’s district. John Otto represents Liberty County, among others. Bell, Thompson, and Greg Bonnen are all ParentPAC candidates. Until such time as Democrats are in a position to retake, or at least come close to retaking, a majority in the Lege, sanity on public education is going to depend in no small part on people like them. I truly hope they’re up to that, because the ones that were there in 2011 sure weren’t. Of course, the more reasonable they are the more likely they’ll get teabagged by doofus chuckleheads like Steve Toth, who took out the unquestionably conservative but generally fact-based Rob Eissler last year. Not that Eissler distinguished himself last session, but still. You can perhaps see some higher ambitions in Creighton and Zerwas’ numbers – I have a feeling Zerwas will be very interested in Glenn Hegar’s Senate seat if Hegar makes a statewide run as some people think he will. I wouldn’t be surprised if Creighton has his eyes on CD08 someday.

And finally, the Senate:

Tommy Williams, SD04 – $1,164,109

Dan Patrick, SD07 – $1,485,091

Larry Taylor, SD11 – $183,826

Rodney Ellis, SD13 – $2,016,660

John Whitmire, SD15 – $6,167,111

Joan Huffman, SD17 – $707,914

Glenn Hegar, SD18 – $1,617,306

Hegar drew a four year term and can thus scratch his statewide itch without giving up his Senate seat. Dan Patrick was not so lucky, poor thing. As for Whitmire, all I can say is “wow”. As much cash on hand as Rick Perry, and no reason to believe any of it will be used for a significant purpose any time soon. I don’t even know what to say.

What they’re saying about education

The Chron has a couple of stories focusing on area legislators and their priorities for 2013. There will be many new faces in the Lege and the Senate in this session, so the more we know about what these folks have in mind, the better. This story is about Pearland Rep. Ed Thompson (R, HD29) and Sen. Larry Taylor (R, SD11), who was previously the State Rep. in the Friendswood-anchored HD24. The story covers a lot of ground, but I’m primarily interested in their thoughts on education.

Rep. Ed Thompson

District 29 State Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, said the state’s growing population is an indicator of economic strength.

“People are coming to Texas, because it’s a pro-business state,” Thompson said. “And our unemployment is dropping. It proves that our economy in Texas is improving.”

Thompson hopes these indicators will translate to a higher budget for the next biennium.

“With the economy doing better, revenues are going up. How much there’s going to be and what we’re going to do with it, that’s the question,” he said. “There will be a lot of discussion going back and filling holes in the budget from our last biennium.”

Taylor is optimistic that a stronger economy in the state will prevent the budget shortfall and resulting issues from last session, but he also said there will be several topics of debate in the session.

“Our economy is doing better than it was, but we are still facing a lot of challenges,” he said. “There are a lot of hard decisions ahead.”

Sen. Larry Taylor

Taylor said his second priority after creating a balanced budget is education reform.

“We are in the process of transforming our educational system for the 21st century,” he said.

Among the changes he hopes to see are increased use of technology and more focus on career training.

“We should be reaching out to people with different talents and gifts,” he said. “Not everyone needs to attend a four-year university. We have people gifted with their hands, and we need to reach out to them and help them get good jobs.”

Thompson also wants schools to offer students more career training options.

“Only about 30 percent of jobs in the U.S. require a four-year degree,” he said. “I think we need to allow them to pursue certifications and technical degrees that will allow them to get a job when they finish high school.”

While funding for education remains a hot topic, Thompson believes the issue cannot be fully examined until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

“I think the Legislature will probably take a wait-and-see position pending the decisions on the lawsuits in the courts,” he said.

Superintendent John Kelly from Pearland Independent School District and Superintendent Fred Brent of Alvin Independent School District also expect the Legislature to delay decisions until the court case is resolved.

The Pearland district has joined one of the lawsuits.

“I would be the most surprised person in the state if the system is not declared unconstitutional,” Kelly said.

Kelly has worked in education for the past 30 years and said over that time, state regulations have increased, while funding has decreased – a challenging combination.

“If people are going to keep passing laws that increase the burden on school districts, they need to provide the funding,” he said. “If they don’t have the funding, they need to reduce the regulatory burden.”

Kelly hopes to also see a reduction in the amount of required testing, particularly the end-of-course exams. He recommends reducing the average number from 15 to around five.

“These 15 tests are in addition to the PSAT, SAT, ACT, AP and dual-credit tests the students are taking,” Kelly said. “It’s not like we don’t have enough tests.”

Kelly believes legislators are aware of the problem. “I think there’s a strong push to address this,” he said. “I think there’s momentum in that direction. The Legislature has heard from so many parents and school districts. They have to listen to that.”

Brent said, “Indicators show that state revenue is increasing, however, not at the rate of population growth and increasing student enrollment.

“The state needs to account for the increased student population growth and look for opportunities to help schools, and fast-growth districts, address the changing facility needs and instructional dynamics that come along with increasing student enrollment.”

Brent hopes the Legislature will make education funding a priority. “I do believe there will be opportunities to put money back into the school funding system that was pulled out, denied or supplanted with federal funds during the previous biennium,” he added.

In previous sessions, state dollars were replaced with federal funds, Brent noted. “However, the federal funds have ceased and it is critical that this funding is restored from the state level,” he said.

It’s encouraging to hear Thompson talk about growing the budget. We’ll see what that means in practice, but it sure beats talk about artificially restricting the budget for ideological purposes. As for education, it’s unfortunate that neither Thompson nor Taylor had anything substantive to say. At this point, talking about technology and vocational training is practically a shibboleth. Everyone agrees these are Good Things – as do, I, sincerely – and as far as I can tell there’s no actual opposition to these points. That doesn’t mean that there will necessarily be legislation addressing those issues, nor does it mean there won’t be a debate over how much to spend on tech and vocational training versus other things, but at the end of the day no one is lobbying against them. Hearing that Thompson and Taylor support them tells us nothing.

What we do need to know boils down to two things. How much of the $5.4 billion that was cut from public education last session do you want to see restored, and what do you think about Sen. Patrick’s so-called “school choice” proposal? I will stipulate that the Lege is certain to wait and see what the courts do with the ongoing school finance litigation, and that Sen. Patrick’s proposals are not fully formed yet, and as such I’ll be tolerant of a certain amount of hedging and “wait and see”-ing. But this is where the rubber meets the road, and I want to know what everyone’s general philosophies are, and what they hope to attain or to prevent. Moreover, Thompson is a Parent PAC candidate. The Texas Parent PAC was founded in part to oppose vouchers, and one of their guiding principles is to “ensure that local and state taxes collected to fund preK-12th grade education are used only to fund Texas public schools”. That’s a pretty clear statement. How does Rep. Thompson evaluate Sen. Patrick’s proposal in light of that? It’s important that we know.

A second article about one of the new legislators from Fort Bend does at least partially address these questions.

Rep. Phil Stephenson

For state Rep. Phil Stephenson, freshman Republican for the new District 85, encompassing Rosenberg and Needville, parts of Fort Bend County and Wharton and Jackson counties, education, transportation infrastructure and water are major concerns for him and his constituents.

While public safety, fiscal discipline, economic development and children’s health and education are priorities for seasoned state Sen. Joan Huffman, a Republican representing Senate District 17, comprising Brazoria, Fort Bend and Harris counties.

Having been a trustee on the board of Wharton County Junior College for 16 years until Stephenson took state office, fixing public education from kindergarten through 12th grade is essential.

“We’ve got to do a better job of K-12 education,” he said. “We have to have a properly educated work force.”

He wants to cut the amount of testing under the State of Texas Assessments for Academic Readiness, put more teachers in classrooms, pay them more and bring in more programs for higher education.

A certified public accountant, Stephenson supports restoring some funding to education but not all the $5.3 billion that was cut in the last session. Rather than raise taxes, he said lawmakers must look at areas to cut funding, such as the Texas Education Agency, to spread the money around.

That doesn’t tell us much – how much funding would Rep. Stephenson want to restore, and how would he pay for it? His actual suggestion sounds like funny accounting to me – but it tells us more than the other story did. Favoring any kind of restoration is good to hear, because not everyone favors that.

Finally, this story gives the school district perspective top billing.

Officials from the Cy-Fair Independent School District are hopeful that the new session will result in more funding for education.

“It’s going to be an interesting session, and I think there will be a lot of focus on education,” said Teresa Hull, associate superintendent, governmental relations and communications for CFISD.

Hull believes that state legislators are receptive to the concerns of educators.

“There’s a lot of support across the state from the school districts and the legislators,” she said. “We’re feeling very optimistic about some positive outcomes.”

Hull said the district has several priorities going into the session.

Adopting a school finance system that is adequately funded and equitable is at the top of the district’s wish list – which would include restoring the previous biennium’s funding cuts.

Hull acknowledged, however, that the Legislature may not be able to move forward on the issue until the court makes a final ruling on multiple lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the state’s school finance system.

[…]

Hull said that while the state might put education finance on the back burner, there are other school-related areas that can be addressed.

“The ones I think we’re going to see get the most attention right off the bat will be accountability and testing,” she said.

The district would like to see a reduction in the amount of high-stakes testing, as well as the elimination of the requirement that an end-of-course exam count for 15 percent of a student’s final grade.

Hull said CFISD also wants districts to have more flexibility to manage classroom personnel based on individual school and student needs.

“Let us decide how we want to allocate money into those programs instead of dictating how much and where it will go,” she said.

Hull also hopes to gain more local control for the districts.

This would include the elimination of a standard school start date.

She said that the district plans to oppose legislation that would divert funding from public education, such as voucher programs.

Instead, she prefers policies that expand on public school choice programs that already exist.

“It’s not that we’re opposed to choice,” she said. “But the idea of public funds going to private and parochial schools is concerning. It diverts public funds from public education.”

Cy-Fair is of course in SD07, home of “school choice” bill author Sen. Patrick, whom Hull praises as a “good listener”. We’ll see about that. The story does also include quotes from a legislator:

District 132 State Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, said several educators have communicated concerns about the high number of tests required for students to graduate.

“They have to take 15 or more tests to graduate from high school. A lot of people feel that’s just too much emphasis on testing,” he said. “I’ve talked to teachers, parents and superintendents, and they just think it’s overdone.”

Callegari would also like to see more emphasis on career and technical training.

“These are not menial jobs – they are very important jobs,” he said. “We need to bring a stronger advocacy for career and technical training, making sure we provide the opportunity to get training and not precluding anyone from going to college.”

Again with vocational training, which is to say nothing much, plus some concerns about testing, which is both good and the continuation of a theme. But nothing about restoring funds or vouchers. These are the questions we need answered, and if you see any story in which a legislator is quoted on matters relating to education but these questions aren’t addressed, the article is incomplete. We need to know, and we need to know now before the debating and voting begin.

First pass at analyzing the 2012 results

This is kind of a brain dump, based on the information available now. I’ll have plenty more to say once precinct data has been released.

– The current tally in the Presidential race on the Secretary of State webpage, with comparison to 2008, is as follows:

2008 Votes Pct =========================== McCain 4,479,328 55.45% Obama 3,528,633 43.68% 2012 Votes Pct =========================== Romney 4,542,012 57.19% Obama 3,285,200 41.36%

Slight uptick for Romney over McCain, slightly larger downtick for Obama. My sense is that this is mostly a turnout issue, that Obama’s coalition was mostly intact but not quite as fired up as in 2008, much like what we saw nationally. I think that’s fixable, but it’s going to take the same thing to fix it (money money money) as it has always been. I mean, Team Obama invested millions in a turnout operation in various parts of the country, and by all accounts it was successful. What effect might that have had here? I hope someday to find out.

– For all my skepticism of the polling in Texas, the pollsters were fairly in the ballpark on Romney’s margin of victory. I have to say, had you told me on Monday that Romney was going to win here by 16 points, I would never have believed that Wendy Davis and Pete Gallego would have won, and I would have doubted Dems’ ability to win the four contested seats in the Lege that they did. But they did, which is both a tip to the skill of the redistricters and a reminder that things could have been better. Overall, I’d grade it as a B- for Texas Dems – the Davis, Gallego, and Craig Eiland wins were huge, but there were missed opportunities, especially in Harris and Dallas Counties, where too many judges lost in the former and two Democratic legislative challengers fell just short in the latter.

– I don’t want to dwell too much on the legislative races, since we’re going to get a new map once the San Antonio court incorporates the DC Court’s ruling into their lawsuit, but there will clearly be more opportunities in 2014. Still, it should be apparent by now just how steep the hill is. Dems came close to parity in the Lege last decade in large part to a sizable rural contingent and an ability to win seats in otherwise-Republican districts. Well, the rural Dems are virtually extinct, and outside of Davis and maybe Eiland I doubt there were any crossover stars this time around; I’ll know for sure when I see precinct data. I still think there will be opportunities for both based on the forthcoming school finance ruling and 2013 legislative session, but we’re a long way from each and candidates still need to be found.

– One question I had going into this race was how well Obama would do in predominantly Latino areas. In 2008, Obama lagged behind the rest of the Democratic ticket in these areas, possibly due to lingering resentment over Hillary Clinton’s loss to him in the primary, but as we know Democrats nationally and Obama specifically have seen Latino support go up since then. Here’s a quick and dirty comparison to 2008 in some heavily Latino counties that will have to do until I get precinct data:

County 08 Obama 12 Obama 08 turnout 12 turnout ======================================================== Cameron 64.08% 65.72% 43.37% 41.46% El Paso 65.87% 65.63% 47.67% 44.58% Hidalgo 69.01% 70.42% 42.83% 45.59% Maverick 78.20% 78.60% 40.43% 37.84% Webb 71.44% 76.56% 44.40% 44.28%

Nice gain in Webb, modest gains in Cameron and Hidalgo. It’s a start.

– Congressional loser Quico Canseco is whining about fraud.

Gallego finished 13,534 votes ahead of Canseco early Wednesday morning.

“The race is not over, and it won’t be until all votes are properly and legally counted,” Canseco said in a statement the morning after the election.

Gallego campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuna said there is “no way” voter fraud occurred. “This just shows a lot about [Canseco’s] character, because he chose to go this route” rather than concede and congratulate Gallego, she said.

Canseco’s campaign alleges that officials in Maverick County double- or triple-counted some of the early vote sheets. A complaint to the Secretary of State indicates that Canseco’s campaign found a minimum of 57 duplicate votes when reviewing a list provided by the Maverick County Elections Office. The campaign also alleges that another county used photocopied ballots, a criminal offense, and that an extended delay in counting votes from other counties left “other questions unanswered.”

“There are too many disturbing incidents to declare this race over,” Scott Yeldell, Canseco’s campaign manager, said in a statement. “During the next several days we will be looking into these reports to assure only legal votes have been counted in this election.”

But Acuna said even if all the votes from Maverick County — where Gallego received 6,291 more votes than Canseco — were excluded, Gallego still would have come out ahead. “His argument — it’s not at all valid,” she said. “We won this race; it’s simple math.”

I don’t expect this to go anywhere.

– In Harris County, those last nine precincts were finally counted. Obama’s margin of victory in the county inched up to 585 votes, but as far as I can tell none of the downballot races were affected. Obama’s total was down about 6000 votes from 2008, while Romney improved on McCain by about 13,000 votes. Still, as noted in the comments yesterday, provisional ballots have not yet been counted, and overseas ballots are still arriving, Judges Kyle Carter (1,499) and Tad Halbach (2,786) had the smallest margins in those races, while Mike Sullivan also had a close shave, winning by 2,498 votes and a 48.94% plurality thanks to the presence of a Libertarian candidate that received 2.34%. I still don’t think any races are likely to change, but I daresay all three of these gentlemen will not rest easy until the counting has truly ceased.

– I have to mention a couple of national stories. First, Tuesday was a great day for marriage equality.

Voters in Maryland and Maine legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote Tuesday, the first time in U.S. history that gay marriage has been approved at the ballot box.

In Maryland, voters approved marriage equality 52 percent to 48 percent with 93 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press. The state government passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, but opponents succeeded in putting the issue on the ballot in November.

“Over these past few weeks, Marylanders joined together to affirm that for a free and diverse people of many faiths — a people committed to religious freedom — the way forward is always found through greater respect for the equal rights and human dignity of all,” Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), a champion of marriage equality in the state, said in a statement late Tuesday.

The AP also declared Maine voters had approved same-sex marriage Tuesday after defeating a referendum on it just three years ago, a sign of how quickly Americans’ views on the issue are evolving. With 57 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot measure led 54 percent to 46 percent.

In a third victory for gay rights advocates, Minnesota voters defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have banned same-sex marriage, according to CNN and the AP. Thirty other states have gay marriage bans on the books, including North Carolina’s, approved as recently as May 2012.

Proponents of marriage equality were still hoping Wednesday for a fourth victory in Washington, where a measure to approve gay marriage was still too close to call as of Wednesday morning.

Remember when this was an issue used to bludgeon Democrats? Never again, and thank goodness for it.

Poor John Cornyn. At the beginning of this year, you could have gotten lower odds on the Astros winning the World Series than the Democrats not only holding the Senate but making gains. Yet that’s exactly what happened.

“It’s clear that with our losses in the presidential race, and a number of key Senate races, we have a period of reflection and recalibration ahead for the Republican Party,” the Texas Republican said in a statement released by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which he directs. “While some will want to blame one wing of the party over the other, the reality is candidates from all corners of our GOP lost tonight. Clearly we have work to do in the weeks and months ahead.”

As of early Wednesday morning, Democrats (with an assist by an Independent in Maine) had picked up four Republican seats while losing just one of their own. Not a single Democratic incumbent was defeated.

Cornyn, who hopes to win a party leadership position in the new Congress, is now explaining the reasons for the 2012 failure.

“We know that our conservative vision is the right one to secure a stronger America for future generations,” Cornyn said in his statement. “We know that we are the party of big, bold ideas with the courage to fight for what’s right even if it’s not politically expedient. It was that courage and that vision that led to important gains for our party in 2010. But all of us should continue to learn from both our victories and our defeats, and work together to build an even stronger Republican Party.”

Basically, the Republicans had first and goal at the one yard line. Then, after a false start, two quarterback sacks, and an intentional-grounding penalty, their 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Elizabeth Warren, and returned for a touchdown by Joe Donnelly. The Democrats then added insult to injury by going for two and converting successfully. You just cannot overstate the degree and the stunningness of the turnaround in fortune. And if Big John thinks that the Republicans should just keep doing what they’ve been doing, well, I won’t try to persuade him otherwise.

– Other results of interest: The city of Austin will adopt City Council districts, while League City banned red light cameras. At least some things never change.

That’s all for now. PDiddie, Mark Bennett, Murray Newman, Harold Cook, and TM Daily Post have more, while Texas Parent PAC takes a victory lap.

Endorsement watch: The Parent PAC November slate

For your approval.

Texas Parent PAC is delighted to endorse the following candidates in the general election.  They are men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas.

Please vote for these endorsed candidates and encourage your friends and family to vote as well!  Early Voting is October 22 – November 2 and Election Day is Tuesday, November 6.

Read about the endorsement process here.  To find out your district number for State Senator and State Representative, look on your voter registration card or enter your address on the “Who Represents Me?” section at the Capitol web site.

Texas Parent PAC is a bipartisan political action committee.  In the 2012 Texas primary and general elections, the PAC has endorsed 28 Republicans and 25 Democrats.

Texas Senate
S.D. 10: Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth  www.wendydavisforsenate.com
S.D. 25: John Courage, D-San Antonio www.couragefortexassenate.org
S.D. 29: Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso www.senatorjoserodriguez.com

Texas House of Representatives
H.D. 23: Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston  www.craigeiland.net
H.D. 24: Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood  www.drgregbonnen.com
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland  www.electedthompson.com
H.D. 34: Abel Herrero, D-Robstown  www.abelherrero.com
H.D. 41: Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen  www.voteguerra.com
H.D. 43: Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice  www.voteyvonne.com
H.D. 45: John Adams, D-Dripping Springs  www.votedonna.com
H.D. 54: Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen   www.jdaycock.com
H.D. 59: J. D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville  www.jdfortexas.com
H.D. 74: Poncho  Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass  www.ponchonevarez.com
H.D. 78: Joe Moody, D-El Paso  www.moodyforelpaso.com
H.D. 85: Dora Olivo, D-Richmond  www.doraolivo.com
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington  www.dianepatrick.org
H.D. 95: Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth  www.votenicolecollier.com
H.D. 101: Chris Turner, D-Arlington  www.votechristurner.com
H.D. 102: Rich Hancock, D-Richardson   www.hancockfortexas.com
H.D. 105: Dr. Rosemary Robbins, D-Irving   www.voterosemaryrobbins.com
H.D. 107: Robert Miklos, D-Dallas  www.robertmiklos.com
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell  www.bennettratliff.com
H.D. 117: Philip Cortez, D-San Antonio   www.philipcortez.com
H.D. 118: Rep. Joe Farias, D-San Antonio  www.joefarias.com
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio  www.justin125.com
H.D. 134: Ann Johnson, D-Houston  www.voteannjohnson.com, TV spot
H.D. 136: Matt Stillwell, D-Cedar Park  www.mattstillwell.com
H.D. 137: Gene Wu, D-Houston  www.genefortexas.com
H.D. 144: Mary Ann Perez, D-Pasadena   www.votemaryannperez.com
H.D. 149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston   www.hubertvo.com

Here was their slate from the primaries, and an accounting of who won among those candidates. You may notice that there are four candidates that were endorsed in the GOP primary that are not on this list – Cecil Bell (HD02), Chris Peddie (HD09), Trent Ashby (HD57), and Jason Villalba (HD114). The first three have no Democratic opponents and are therefore for all intents and purposes already elected. As for Villalba, I asked Carolyn Boyle about that race, and received this response:

From the beginning, Jason was a “primary only endorsement” because Texas Parent PAC had endorsed Carol Kent in the past and she is great. Jason agreed that once the primary was over he would delete any reference to the Parent PAC endorsement for the primary, and the PAC did as well. It was important to defeat Bill Keffer in the primary, and Jason is a supporter of public education. We are staying out of the general election with Jason vs. Carol…let the voters decide, as both will advocate for public education.

So there you have it. As I did with the primary, I’ll check the scoreboard for Parent PAC after the election is over.

Endorsement watch: For Ann Johnson

I noted on Monday that the Chron listed Ann Johnson as one of its endorsed candidates. Yesterday they wrote the endorsement editorial to go along with that.

Ann Johnson

The tea party turnout of 2010 gave Republican candidate Sarah Davis the narrow victory she needed to win in District 134, a prosperous swing district that covers areas from River Oaks to Meyerland and the Medical Center, as well.

Davis speaks about politics with a fiery passion, but her passion often seems aimed more at Washington than Austin.

She successfully navigated the minefield of wedge-issue votes that defined the previous legislative session – voting no on the sonogram bill, for example. But voters deserve a representative who doesn’t just avoid bad votes, but leads on good ones. We believe Democratic challenger Ann Johnson can be that sort of leader.

[…]

Issues like education and health care aren’t just matters of compassion, they’re necessary to ensure that Texas has the healthy, educated workforce we need to power our economy.

In this race, Ann Johnson is the better bet for Texas’ future.

It’s interesting to see the Chron buy into the “independent” image that Rep. Davis is peddling. As I did before, I would challenge them to come up with two bills of significance besides the sonogram bill on which David voted against her party. On Monday I saw for the first time a broadcast of Davis’ TV commercial, for which Texans for Lawsuit Reform bought her $100K worth of airtime. Not surprisingly, Davis pushes this idea hard, claiming to support public education despite voting to cut $10 billion from it and to oppose restrictions on women’s health care despite voting to de-fund Planned Parenthood and to kill the Women’s Health Program if Planned Parenthood is successful in its lawsuit against the state. It’s very simple: Sarah Davis was a reliable Republican vote in the 2011 legislature. Her record bears this out. You would think that a reliable Republican, running in a district drawn by Republicans to elect a Republican, would be willing to tout her Republican-ness for her re-election rather than try to obfuscate it. In the case of Rep. Sarah Davis, you would be wrong about that.

Anyway. The Chron made the right call with Ann Johnson, whose interview with me is here if you haven’t had the chance to listen to it. You can also watch this TV ad that Texas Parent PAC did on Johnson’s behalf:

And here’s that ad by the Johnson campaign that I’ve seen on Headline News:

In case you’re wondering, Bill White beat Rick Perry by a 51.0-47.7 margin in 2010. Maybe that’s why Davis is pressing her “independent” credentials. I guess I would too if I were her. Neil has more.

Finally, on a tangential note, the San Angelo Standard Times joins the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal in endorsing Keith Hampton over Sharon Keller. Has anyone seen a newspaper endorse Keller yet? Again, this probably doesn’t matter much, but it could matter just enough.

Endorsement watch: E-N for Sadler, Parent PAC for Ann Johnson

Having made a good choice for the State Senate, the Express News follows it up with a good choice for US Senate.

Paul Sadler

Former state Rep. Paul Sadler is unequivocally the right choice on the Nov. 6 ballot to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.

Sadler has a strong record as an effective legislator who understands the need to work with both sides of the aisle.

The Democrat is best known for his impressive work teaming up with former Republican state Sen. Bill Ratliff to rewrite the state’s education code in 1995 in a bipartisan effort.

A legislator for six terms from 1991-2003, Sadler rose in the Texas House to be chairman of the House Public Education Committee and was named one of Texas Monthly’s 10 best legislators four times.

Sadler is a pragmatic problem-solver, who advocates a balanced approach to ending the national deficit and comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding immigrants, a work visa program and the DREAM Act.

Republican nominee Ted Cruz, a tea party favorite and a former state solicitor general, is touting troubling policy proposals that would not serve the state well.

If a grasp of policy is a factor in these editorial board interviews, Sadler ought to sweep the endorsements, much like Keith Hampton deserves to do. Cruz lives in a fantasy world, with a fairy-tale understanding of economics, foreign policy, and government in general. Assuming he wins, and he is certainly the overwhelming favorite to do so, you have to figure there are two ways for his term in office to go. One, he comes to learn the facts of life, and puts himself in position to be labeled just another sellout RINO by the ever-insatiable GOP primary base, or he remains steadfast in his delusions, and becomes the Senate version of someone like Michelle Bachmann, a sideshow freak who eventually exits elected office with few if any actual accomplishments to show for it. One wonders what his 2018 re-election campaign might look like under the latter scenario. Will whatever remains of the GOP establishment that actually likes getting stuff done – you know, building roads, steering defense contracts to the state’s military bases, that sort of thing – do something to derail him, or will they just accept their fate and bend over when called upon? I’d rather not find out, but I suspect it’ll be the latter if it comes down to it.

Meanwhile, the Texas Parent PAC, which has now begun making additional endorsements for the November election, announced that Ann Johnson was one of the first recipients of their recommendation. From their press release:

Ann Johnson

“Ann Johnson is a proven and effective advocate for children and families, and she will be a respected leader at the state Capitol,” said Darci Hubbard of Houston, a member of the Texas Parent PAC board of directors. “Ann will put kids before politics.” Hubbard said Johnson will seek permanent solutions for public school finance and work for meaningful tax relief for property owners.

Texas Parent PAC was created in 2005 by parents who joined together to elect state legislators who will stand up for schoolchildren. It is recognized as one of the state’s most successful political action committees.

Johnson is an attorney in private practice who represents children, including child victims of harassment and bullying in schools. Her practice includes representation in the newly created alternative courts: Growing Independence Restoring Lives (GIRLS) Court and the Harris County Mental Health Court. In addition, Johnson has been an adjunct professor at South Texas College of Law for 10 years. Earlier in her career, she was a Harris County prosecutor.

Johnson grew up in Houston, and she is carrying on her family’s tradition of public service. Her father, attorney Jake Johnson, was formerly a state representative, U.S. Marine Corps pilot, and teacher at Jones High School. Her mother, former Civil District Judge Carolyn Marks Johnson, taught at Alvin Community College, the University of Houston, and South Texas College of Law.

“Houston families deserve a legislator of Ann Johnson’s caliber,” said Texas Parent PAC Chair Carolyn Boyle. “She is an authentic leader with a unique combination of knowledge, experience, and personal gifts unmatched in the legislature.”

And unlike her opponent, who voted for the House budget that would have cut $10 billion from public education, Ann Johnson is a genuine advocate for public ed. So it all makes sense. In the meantime, take a look at what her former colleague with the Harris County DA’s office, Murray Newman has to say about her.

A question of how many

Yes, Democrats will pick up seats in the Lege this election. The question is how many seats.

Texas political experts expect Democrats will gain at least seven House seats.

“If the Democrats don’t get to 55 seats or more, the party has committed malpractice,” said GOP campaign consultant Eric Bearse.

Most of the competitive legislative races feature state House races. The lone state Senate seat in play involves a Fort Worth area district with Democratic incumbent Sen. Wendy Davis battling Republican state Rep. Mark Shelton. The GOP holds 19 of the Senate’s 31 seats.

Changing demographics should help Democrats narrow the gap in coming years, but GOP-directed redistricting last year created only about a dozen swing House districts this fall.

“It was not possible with the most skillful and artful redistricting effort to protect 102 seats, which includes two party switchers in South Texas and two in East Texas,” Bearse said. “It’s not 2010. The floodwaters only rise so high every once in awhile.”

[…]

Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, a member of Texas Republican Representatives Campaign Committee, estimates his party will lose between seven and nine seats.

“Some people are more optimistic than that,” he said. “It depends on who turns out, the 2008 (pro-Democrat) group or the 2010 (pro-Republican) group.”

The four toughest seats for GOP incumbents to keep, according to Larson are: Rep. Connie Scott of Corpus Christi, Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville, Rep. Dee Margo of El Paso and Rep. John Garza of San Antonio. All won their seats in 2010. Scott, Lozano and Margo each face a former Democratic House member. Scott and Margo face the same opponents they defeated in 2010. Lozano flipped from Democrat to Republican last year.

[…]

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, chairman of the House Mexican American Legislative Caucus, believes Democrats will gain between seven and 14 House seats next month.

He also expects more Hispanics to win House seats in the 2014 election, which will again have new boundaries.

“Artful” and “skillful” are two words that can describe the redistricting effort. “Illegal” and “discriminatory” also work. I did my own analysis on this last month. Note that I miscounted the Democratic caucus – I thought it was 47 after Rep. Lozano’s switch, not 48, so add one to my totals where appropriate. Given that the Dems have already effectively picked up three seats, I think seven is a fair minimum, and I concur with Rep. Larson’s assessment of the most vulnerable incumbents. Fourteen is a bit of a stretch, but ten is a reasonably optimistic goal. As Rep. Martinez-Fischer notes, there will be other opportunities in 2014 when the next map is in place.

There’s not much to add to this. The numbers are what they are, though as I’ve noted elsewhere, continued population growth and demographic change may result in some surprises. Two additional things to note. First, as much as the numbers can tell us, there is still the matter of issues:

Carolyn Boyle, founder and chairman of the pro-public education Texas Parent PAC, said the public education funding issue has generated considerable enthusiasm among the organization’s financial donors.

“Candidates who are canvassing (neighborhoods) are telling us it’s the top issue as they go door-to-door talking to people,” Boyle said.

Democrats would certainly like this election to be as much about education as possible. The success Democrats had in 2006 and 2008 in picking up Republican-held seats was due in large part to then-Speaker Craddick’s hostility to public education. Opposition to vouchers drove a lot of that, too, though apparently no one told Dan Patrick about that. Be that as it may, the Trib had a story a couple of weeks back about GOP freshmen touting their pro-education credentials on the campaign trail. It may not be till the 2014 election for the full effect of this to be felt, but I’m happy to be fighting on that turf in the meantime.

Second:

Democrats also hope to win back the seat of Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston. The freshman lawmaker defeated Democrat incumbent Ellen Cohen two years ago by 701 votes out of more than 51,000 ballots. Davis now faces a challenge from attorney Ann Johnson in one of the districts fairly high on the Democrats’ target list.

Bearse, who is working for Davis, is counting on her to prevail.

“She is a perfect fit for her district. She has an independent streak as wide as Texas,” Bearse said. “Those Republicans who vote their district and show some independence should win if they raise money and get their message out.”

The numbers make Rep. Davis a favorite to be re-elected, so much so that it’s rather surprising and a bit telling to see her “moderate” bona fides being touted. I’ll agree that Davis is a “moderate” in tone, by which I mean she’s too smart to say anything as obnoxiously ignorant as Debbie Riddle or Leo Berman are wont to do. But I would challenge Eric Bearse to name two bills of substance other than the sonogram bill on which Davis voted against her party. I can’t think of any. She voted for the House budget bill, which would have cut $10 billion from public education, she voted to cut family planning funding and to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and she voted for the “sanctuary cities” bill. In short, she was a loyal Republican. You’d think someone running in a 55%+ GOP district wouldn’t feel the need to talk that much about their “independence”.

2012 Republican primary runoffs

All the results are here. In the end, Ted Cruz won a pretty solid victory. I’ll note that in the last two publicly released polls, PPP had Cruz up by 10, whereas Baselice & Associates claimed Dewhurst was up by 5. Oops. The latter poll sampled people who hadn’t actually voted in the May primary, which sure seems like a stretch now. By the way, Baselice & Associates is the pollster that did that first Metro poll. Two completely different universes, and one silly poll result doesn’t cast a shadow on another, it’s just a reminder that polling isn’t destiny.

In the Congressional primaries of interest, Randy Weber in CD14 and Roger Williams in CD25 won easily, while Steve Stockman won a closer race for CD36. Multiple incumbents went down to defeat, most spectacularly Sen. Jeff Wentworth in SD25. Am I the only one who thinks that he might have been better off switching parties? Hard to imagine he could have done worse in November than this. Nutjob John Devine won himself a spot on the Supreme Court, which like the Senate just got appreciably more stupid. I will console myself with the thought that Devine, who is in many ways a huckster, is highly likely to run afoul of the code of judicial conduct at some point. Speaking of party switching, former Democrat Chuck Hopson is now an ex-Representative, as are Sid “Sonogram” Miller and Jim Landtroop. The only legislative incumbent to survive was the other party switcher, JM Lozano, who now faces a tough race in November. The runoff was even hard on former incumbents, as Warren Chisum lost his bid for the Railroad Commission. However, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman did survive, and former SBOE member Geraldine Miller got her spot back.

In other races of interest, Rick Miller won the nomination in HD26, thus likely delaying the de-honkification of the Fort Bend County delegation for at least another two years. By my count, of the eight Parent PAC candidates in the runoff, all but Wentworth and Hopson won, which is a pretty impressive result. Maybe, just maybe, the Lege will be marginally less hostile to public education next year.

Finally, in Harris County, it took awhile for the results to come in, but Louis Guthrie won the right to face Sheriff Adrian Garcia in the fall. That will be one to watch. Did any of these results surprise you? Leave a comment and let me know.

UPDATE: Make that five of eight for Parent PAC. When I went to bed, Trent McKnight was leading in HD68, but by the time I got up this morning he had lost.

Runoff Day

At long last, the 2012 primary season is about to be over in Texas, other than perhaps the HCDE race. To say the least, it’s been a long, strange trip, one that I hope goes down in the books as a bizarre aberration, never to be repeated or approximated. If you have not voted yet in Harris County, you can find all the information you will need here. PLEASE be aware that only a handful of locations will be open, and they are not guaranteed to have both primaries at them. Check your location before you head out and avoid any needlessly unpleasant surprises.

As far as turnout goes, recent runoff history suggests that most of the votes have already been cast:

Year Mail Mail % Early Early % E-Day E-Day % ======================================================== 2006 D 2,920 21.3% 4,296 31.3% 6,510 47.4% 2006 R 5,432 51.6% 2,019 19.2% 3,077 29.2% 2008 D 4,568 47.4% 3,045 31.5% 2,056 21.3% 2008 R 11,373 28.0% 14,912 36.8% 14,262 35.2% 2010 D 5,885 38.7% 5,122 33.6% 4,218 27.8% 2010 R 12,220 28.4% 14,769 34.3% 16,025 37.3% 2012 D 7,304 11,715 2012 R 17,441 53,043

Final EV turnout numbers for this year are here. As there were no statewide Democratic primary runoffs in 2010, I had forgotten there were Harris County countywide runoffs that year. I have added in those numbers to my earlier post to complete the picture on that. My apologies for the oversight. Anyway, what we learn from this, other than the need for a good absentee ballot program, is that in each primary runoff of the past three cycles more than half the ballots were cast before Runoff Day. In fact, outside of the 2006 Democratic primary runoff, more than 60% of the ballots were cast before Runoff Day. Given that, don’t expect too much to be added to the vigorous early turnout so far. It could happen that the final total will be more than double what it is now for either primary, but history suggests otherwise.

Of course, we’ve never really had anything like the GOP Senate primary and runoff, so if there’s going to be another aberration, that would be where and why. I’m not dumb enough to try to guess who will win that race, but I will say that anyone who had made a prediction based on turnout level ought to be giving the matter more thought. It would also seem that Sarah Palin and Rick Perry are no longer BFFs. High school sure can be rough, can’t it?

The other GOP runoffs of interest to me are in SD25 and HD43. In the former, generally sane if occasionally eccentric Sen. Jeff Wentworth is trying to hang on against the decidedly crazy Donna Campbell, whose election would be another big step in the stupidification of the Senate, as well as a clean sweep for the teabaggers in the legislative primaries. HD43 is where turncoat Dem Rep. JM Lozano is hoping to not be yet another Latino Republican knocked off in a primary by a white guy. Expect some narrative-related punditry on that race no matter who wins.

On the Democratic side, obviously I’m rooting for Paul Sadler to carry the banner in the Senate race in the fall. Like EoW, I don’t know if a Cruz-Sadler matchup will be the definitive test of the myth/hypothesis that moderate Republicans may finally be willing to cross over and support a mainstream Dem over a nutty Republican – I’d argue that Bill White already provided some evidence to that, he just picked the wrong year to do it in – but if you want to start your speculation engines, Burka quoted a “nationally known Republican consultant” who said that “if Ted Cruz wins the Senate race, Texas will be a purple state in four years.” Campose says, why wait?

Why not accelerate things starting Wednesday morning?

A little over a million GOPers will cast votes in the GOP runoff tomorrow. In the 2008 General Election in the Lone Star State, eight million of us cast votes. That’s seven million voters that aren’t participating in the GOP mudfest. A lot of voters across the state have been turned off by the onslaught of negative ads that now have a mom blaming her kid’s suicide on Ted Cruz.

I think if Cruz wins he is damaged goods that Dems can seize upon over the next 99 days.

[…]

If Cruz does pull it off tomorrow we need to immediately paint him and the rest of the GOP ballot as too extreme for the Lone Star State and Harris County. Commentary has said it before that in order for Dems to grow here in Harris County we have to head northwest. Commentary is also partial to my client, State Board of Education, District 6 candidate Traci Jensen. Traci’s GOP opponent Donna Bahorich is State Senator Dan Patrick’s former district director and every bit as scary as Ted Cruz. The showcasing of Traci Jensen, Rep. Sadler, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia against extremist candidates in that part of the county will result in more Dem votes up and down the ballot countywide.

Sometimes unexpected opportunities just show up at your doorstep. If Cruz wins, an opportunity is at our doorstep.

If the Dems in charge just shrug it off and go on about business as usual and cede the state to Cruz, the Tea Baggers, and extremism, then a “shame on you” would be letting them off too lightly.

Well, it sure would be nice if Sadler had 45 million bucks to spend to remind everyone of all the awful things Dewhurst and Cruz have been saying about each other, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. But Campos is right, there’s no time like the present, and there’s no place like our own back yard to get started. What are we waiting for?

Beyond that, there are three Congressional runoffs that are big. It’s been clear for a few years now that the future of the Texas Democratic Party has been in the State House, and depending on how things go we could have as many as three former members of last year’s delegation on the November ballot (Joaquin Castro, who is already the CD20 nominee; Marc Veasey in CD33; Pete Gallego in CD23), with two of them all but guaranteed a win in November. I’d consider that a down payment on future state races. In addition, the woefully under-reported CD34 primary will determine whether or not the husband of a Republican judge will be the Democratic nominee for that newly created Congressional district. I have a hard time believing that, too, but here we are. There are numerous State House races of interest as well, with HD137 being the focal point for me. On the GOP side, seven House runoffs plus the Wentworth race feature Parent PAC candidates, so those are worth keeping an eye on, too. What races are you watching today?

GOP results, statewide

Full, though not necessarily the most up to date, results, are here. The Trib and the Observer have good roundups as well.

– Mitt. Yawn. He was at just under 70% statewide, with Ron Paul getting 11% and Rick Santorum 8%. You have to wonder what might have been if Santorum had held on through May.

– Dewhurst and Cruz in a runoff, with the Dew getting 45% to Cruz’s 33%. I will not be taking bets on the outcome of that one. Tom Leppert had 13% and Craig James – cue the sad trombone – was below 4%. Why did he get in this race again? And did he really think he had crossover appeal? Geez.

(UPDATE: Mike Baselice, Dewhurst’s pollster, says every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win. So Cruz may as well go ahead and concede now, right?)

– Christi Craddick and Warren Chisum will go into overtime for Railroad Commissioner, as will Barry Smitherman against Greg Parker. Supreme Court Justice David Medina got less than 40% in a three-way race and will face the will-he-never-go-away? candidate John Devine.

– All incumbent Congressfolk easily won re-nomination, with Campaign for Primary Accountability targets Ralph Hall (59%) and Joe Barton (63%) not particularly bothered. Kenny Marchant in CD24 was on some people’s watch lists as well, but he got 68% in his race. The two open seats for which the GOP is heavily favored in November were interesting. Roger Williams will duke it out with somebody, most likely Wes Riddle as I write this. Michael Williams was a total dud, finishing with just over 10% and in fifth place. Over in CD36, what in the world happened to Mike Jackson? Steve Stockman (!) and somebody named Steve Takach were neck and neck for the runoff slot. The other open seat, CD14, saw Pearlanders Randy Weber and Felicia Harris make it to the second round.

– The first signs of carnage are in the SBOE races. David Bradley, Barbara Cargill, and thankfully Thomas Ratliff all won, but George Clayton was headed to a third place finish in his four way race – Geraldine Miller, whom Clayton knocked off in a 2010 shocker, was leading the pack – and in a race that sure wasn’t on my radar, SBOE Chair Gail Lowe lost to Sue Melton. Where did that come from? The open SBOE 15 seat to replace Bob Craig was the closest race, with Marty Rowley leading Parent PAC-backed Anette Carlisle by 2000 votes.

– State Sen. Jeff Wentworth will have to keep running in SD25, as he had about 36% of the vote with 75% of precincts in. His opponent in July, in a blow to Texans for Lawsuit Reform, will not be Elizabeth Ames Jones, however, as Donna Campbell took for second place. I hope Wentworth can do better in overtime, because Campbell would make the Senate even dumber than Ames Jones would have. Former State Reps. Kelly Hancock (SD09), Mark Shelton (SD10, opposing Wendy Davis), Larry Taylor (SD11), and Charles Schwertner (SD05) all won the right to get a promotion in November.

– It’s in the State House that the body count begins to pile up. The following incumbents lost their races:

Leo Berman (HD06)
Wayne Christian (HD09)
Rob Eissler (HD15)
Mike Hamilton (HD19)
Marva Beck (HD57)
Barbara Nash (HD93)
Vicki Truitt (HD98)

Hamilton was paired with James White. Eissler was the chair of the Public Education committee. With Scott Hochberg retiring, that’s going to put a lot of pressure on two new people next year. And no, Eissler wasn’t beaten by someone who wanted to make public education better. Eissler didn’t distinguish himself last session in my opinion, but this is not an upgrade.

Incumbents in runoffs:

Turncoat Chuck Hopson (HD11, 47.15% to Travis Clardy’s 46.30%)
Turncoat JM Lozano (HD43, 41.55% to Bill Wilson’s 44.38% but with only 42 of 69 precincts reporting)
Sid Miller (HD59, 42.48% to JD Sheffield’s 41.50%)
Jim Landtroop (HD88, 34.63% in a four way race to Ken King’s 30.08% with two precincts out)

Speaker Joe Straus easily survived his re-election bid and picked up an opponent for Speaker before the first vote was counted.

– The Parent PAC slate had mixed results:

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless – Lost
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook – Lost
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio – Runoff

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville – Lost
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia – Won
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola – Lost
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview – Lost
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall – Won
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland – Won
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin – Won
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville – In runoff
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton – Leading, in runoff
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass – Winning as of last report
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford – Lost
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington – Won
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield – Lost
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth – Lost
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony – Lost
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas – In runoff
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell – In runoff
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio – Won
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston – Lost
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring – Lost

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont – Lost
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant – Won
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo – Lost

Unclear to me at this time if this is a net gain, a net loss, or a wash.

– David Bradley won his race, but Williamson County DA John Bradley was trailing as votes slowly trickled in. If that holds, it’s one of the best results of the day.

– Turnout was likely to be around 1.5 million, which will be a bit better for them than 2008 was (1,362,322 votes in the Presidential primary). Clearly, the Senate race drove their turnout. In 2004, they had less than 700,000 votes total.

(UPDATE: Total votes cast in the Presidential race were 1,438,553.)

On to the Democrats…

The unhelpful SBOE overview

The premise of this story is good and useful. Unfortunately, the execution falls short.

Rita Ashley

Conservatives and moderates get a rare opportunity this year to try to stack the State Board of Education with members who will help shape public education in the way each side considers best for Texas school children.

All 15 seats are up for re-election this year due to once-a-decade redistricting to reflect population changes.

[…]

Four social conservative board members face GOP primary challenges, and four social conservative candidates are running in four separate districts now represented by moderate Republicans.

Locally, social conservative board member Terri Leo, R-Spring, is retiring and likely will be replaced by another social conservative – Donna Bahorich, of Houston, who is running unopposed in the GOP primary for Leo’s District 6 seat. Three Democrats are running for their party’s nomination, but will run uphill in the Republican district.

Board Chairman Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, also a social conservative, is being challenged in the GOP primary by educator Linda Ellis, also from the Woodlands.

Longtime social conservative leader David Bradley, R-Beaumont, faces a serious primary challenge from Rita Ashley, also of Beaumont. Ashley has served as the House Public Education committee clerk.

And that’s pretty much all you get. Maybe I expect too much of these stories, especially when they cover multiple races and candidates. It sure seems to me, however, that a couple of primary battles between hardline conservatives who have been very much on the front lines of the culture wars and more traditional Republicans who actually value public education and want to get stuff done seems to me to be a worthwhile thing to explore in some depth. A quote or two from incumbents Cargill and Bradley, and challengers Ellis and Ashley, would have been nice. Noting that Ashley worked for Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Rob Eissler, claims Williams and Rep. Allen Ritter as supporters, and has the ParentPAC endorsement would have been nice, too. Listen to what Linda Ellis has to say if you want some contrast:

Linda Ellis

I’ve dedicated my life to the students and schools of Texas.

Throughout my 28 years as a Texas educator, while working in the schools and classrooms alongside teachers, I’ve always focused on two things: what’s best for students and helping teachers implement best practices in their classrooms.

That’s why, over the past decade, I’ve watched in horror as ideologues took over the State Board of Education and used it as a platform to politically divide our citizens while at the same time ramming their personal beliefs down the throats of Texas students.

With blatant disrespect for educational experts and ignoring local voices, these ideologues have systematically dismantled our state’s once great public school system and turned Texas public schools into material for comedians on late night TV.

They have done everything possible to demean our teachers and demoralize our students.

They are trying to create a new state. A divided state.

They must be stopped.

Now look at what Barbara Cargill is talking about. If there’s not a story in that, I don’t know where you’d find one. Unfortunately, where you won’t find one is in this Chron article, and more’s the pity for it. As for Ashley, her race against Bradley is more of a traditional intra-party pissing contest – see here and here for some less-than-high-minded exchanges – but Bradley has a higher profile than Cargill and is a bit of a bully besides. It’s possible that this primary could be a political career-ender for not one but two Bradleys, which would also be a hell of a story. I don’t think I’ve ever been this interested in the outcome of a couple of GOP primary races, that’s for sure.

Anyway. KHOU has a collection of videos made by area candidates for SBOE, which I found via TFN Insider. The winner in SBOE8 faces a Democratic opponent – Dexter Smith has been the more active candidate of the two running and has garnered most of the endorsements of which I am aware – and while there is no GOP primary in SBOE6 there is a three-way Democratic race for that nomination. I interviewed all three candidates early on in the cycle. Get to know your SBOE candidates so that when they meet next year and begin work on the next textbook or curriculum review you’ll know what to expect.

The Parent PAC slate

I mentioned some of the candidates that have been endorsed by the Texas Parent PAC in this post, but since then they have released their full slate of endorsees.

Texas Senate

S.D. 9: Rep. Todd Smith, R-Euless  www.toddsmithfortexas.com
S.D. 11: Dave Norman, R-Seabrook  www.davenormanforsenate.com
S.D. 25: Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio  www.senatorjeffwentworth.com

Texas House of Representatives

H.D. 2: George Alexander, R-Greenville www.alexanderforhouse.com
H.D. 3: Cecil Bell, Jr., R-Magnolia www.bellforstaterep.com
H.D. 5: Mary Lookadoo, R-Mineola  www.marylookadoo.com
H.D. 7: Tommy Merritt, R-Longview  www.tommymerritt.com
H.D. 9: Chris Paddie, R-Marshall  www.chrispaddie.com
H.D. 24: Dr. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood  www.drgregbonnen.com
H.D. 29: Ed Thompson, R-Pearland  www.electedthompson.com
H.D. 57: Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin  www.trentashby.com
H.D. 59: Dr. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville  www.jdfortexas.com
H.D. 68: Trent McKnight, R-Throckmorton  www.trentmcknight.com
H.D. 74: Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass  www.ponchonevarez.com
H.D. 92: Roger Fisher, R-Bedford  www.voterogerfisher.com
H.D. 94: Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington  www.dianepatrick.org
H.D. 96: Mike Leyman, R-Mansfield  www.mikeleyman.com
H.D. 97: Susan Todd, R-Fort Worth  www.susantodd2012.com
H.D. 106: Amber Fulton, R-The Colony  www.amberfortexas.com
H.D. 114: Jason Villalba, R-Dallas  www.texansforjason.com
H.D. 115: Bennett Ratliff, R-Coppell www.bennettratliff.com
H.D. 125: Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio  www.justin125.com
H.D. 138: Whet Smith, R-Houston www.whetsmith.com
H.D. 150: James Wilson, R-Spring www.wilsonfortexas.com

State Board of Education

SBOE 7: Rita Ashley, R-Beaumont  www.ritaashley.org
SBOE 9: Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant  www.thomasratliff.com
SBOE 15: Anette Carlisle, R-Amarillo  anettecarlisle.com

Of the 21 House races above, nine are in opposition to a sitting member:

HD02 – Rep. Dan Flynn
HD03 – Rep. Erwin Cain
HD05 – Rep. Bryan Hughes
HD07 – Rep. David Simpson
HD09 – Rep. Wayne Christian
HD57 – Rep. Marva Beck
HD59 – Rep. Sid Miller
HD96 – Rep. Bill Zedler
HD138 – Rep. Dwayne Bohac
HD150 – Rep. Debbie Riddle

They’re also targeting David Bradley in SBOE7. That House list contains some of the biggest chuckleheads in the lower chamber, so whatever hesitation I may have in my enthusiasm there’s no question that a few wins there would do a lot to make it a better place overall. As the Trib notes, in at least one of these races they’ll have some company in opposition.

There’s Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, defending himself in a redrawn district packed with voters he has never represented. The governor and the attorney general and the comptroller have endorsed Christian.

But many of the big trade associations that might normally be with those heavyweights are instead with Chris Paddie, a radio station manager and personality who has also served as Marshall’s mayor. Paddie has endorsements from trade groups for doctors, manufacturers, realtors, law enforcement groups, and even Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, whose Senate district overlaps the House district. While Christian been a reliable vote for social conservatives, the business groups say — for a variety of reasons — they can no longer count on him.

The story also notes that Rep. Beck has “institutional opposition”, though it doesn’t give any details. We’ll see if any of it matters.

UPDATE: Reps. Cain and Flynn were paired, with Cain declining to run and HD03 being left open. Made that correction, and added Rep. Bill Zedler in HD96, whom I had omitted earlier. Thanks to Carolyn Boyle with ParentPAC for the corrections.

Another story about parents and education cuts

I really want to believe that there’s an uprising in the works and that the Lege could be a very different place for the better next year, but I’m reserving judgment on that for now.

Deep cuts in school funding approved by the Texas Legislature last summer could energize angry parents in a way similar to how the tea party movement mobilized conservatives in 2010. In the 150-seat state House alone, at least 29 candidates who are current or former school board members, or have other education experience, are challenging incumbents or vying for open seats in the May 29 primary.

Seventeen are Republicans and 12 are Democrats — and most are pledging to fix Texas’ broken school finance system and dial back the importance of high-stakes standardized tests.

A possible education backlash has [Rep. Marva] Beck nervous and another incumbent, West Texas Republican Rep. Sid Miller, facing a primary challenge that could be tougher than expected. Among several candidates vying for an open seat in suburban Dallas, meanwhile, is Bennett Ratliff, scion of a well-known Texas political family who says his education background sets him apart from a crowded field.

“Funding is not the whole issue, but you can’t continue to cut, and continue to cut, and continue to cut. At some point it does become about funding,” said Ratliff, a Republican and nine-year veteran of the school board in Coppell, northwest of Dallas. His father is former Lt. Gov. Bill Ratliff and his brother Thomas is on the state Board of Education.

Beck and Miller, who was the author of the sonogram bill, are both awful and richly deserve to be ousted, but I’m not prepared to believe that their opponents will be measurably better, even if we just confine the discussion to the issue of public education. At this point, anything short of a commitment to restore the $5.4 billion in funding that was cut from education plus a commitment to work on closing the structural budget hole caused by the 2006 tax swap leaves too much room for the same old same old. I’m glad there’s something out there other than the nihilists that can put some fear into these guys, I just want to see it translate into better votes.

Carolyn Boyle heads the Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which in 2006 supported at least 10 candidates who unseated incumbents or captured open seats. This year, the PAC has conducted more than 25 interviews with pro-education candidates and will endorse an equal number of Republicans and Democrats.

“This could be a game-changer election,” Boyle said. “There are so many candidates with rich education experience.”

Republicans hold a 102-seat super majority in the Texas House and while they will likely lose as many as 10 seats due to redistricting, they will maintain control. But next year they take a different tack.

As I said before, being an educator is nice but hardly sufficient. I love what ParentPAC does and I’ll be keeping a close eye on their endorsements this year – so far, I have received emails announcing their endorsements of Republicans Trent Ashby in HD57, Ed Thompson in HD29, Roger Fisher in HD92, Susan Todd in HD97, Amber Fulton in HD106, Jason Villalba in HD114, Bennett Ratliff in HD115, and Whet Smith in HD138; they have also endorsed Democrat Justin Rodriguez in HD125 – but I have not forgotten that all of their previous Republican endorsees marched off the cliff with the rest of their party last year. Not a one as far as I can tell argued against the cuts to education – hell, not a one as far as I can tell argued against the twice-as-big education cuts that were in the House budget. How do I know that once they’ve been elected they won’t take Rick Perry’s budget suicide pledge and give us more of what we got last time? I really really hope I’m being overwrought about this, because we’re not getting a Democratic majority any time soon and we need there to be at least a decent contingent of pro-education Republicans in Austin, but I’m not seeing what I want in the rhetoric just yet.

Republican Mike Jones is a former college instructor and member of the school board in Glen Rose, southwest of Fort Worth, who calls fully funding school districts a centerpiece of his campaign. He says it has raised the profile of his challenge of Miller — a one-time vocational teacher himself who voted in favor of the school cuts.

“It’s like the school district is a Chevy Suburban and it’s been driven by a superintendent … then the state comes and saddles them with a 40,000 pound trailer on the back end of it and starts blaming the Suburban or the principals or the teachers or the kids,” Jones said. “It’s not their fault it’s that trailer put on there. It’s the unfunded mandates and the testing.”

Jones and others have also seized on what they call the state’s over-reliance on standardized testing, which districts are forced to prepare their students for more rigorously than ever despite budgets cuts.

I’m glad to hear this and I agree with what Jones is saying, but it doesn’t take much political courage these days to be anti-standardized testing. I’m happy for these candidates to pursue a more balanced testing policy – as the parent of a rising third-grader, I’ll be delighted to have less to worry about on this score – but let’s not confuse that with a solution for the school finance problem. We may find some savings there, but it’ll be little more than couch cushion money. Dialing back the standardized tests is worth doing on its own merits, but it’s a separate issue from the main event of education funding.

Electing educators

This sounds good, but there are a couple of things missing.

More than a dozen Republicans and Democrats who have sat on school boards are running for the Texas House this year, and a backlash over spending cuts and standardized testing might help them get there.

Legislators sliced per-student spending last year, prompting schools to trim programs, increase class sizes and enact new fees. The publicity surrounding those cuts could persuade voters to change their representation in Austin, particularly if the alternative is a candidate seen as friendlier to public schools.

“We’re saying it’s time to bring in a significant number of new legislators,” said Carolyn Boyle of Texas Parent Political Action Committee, which endorses and helps candidates who it deems pro-education.

Boyle said her group plans to back an equal number of Republican and Democratic candidates in legislative races this year. A similar strategy worked in 2006, when groups representing parents, teachers and others helped at least 10 candidates defeat incumbents or win open seats in the Legislature.

It would be nice to see a list of the candidates with school board backgrounds. Other than Alief ISD Trustee Sarah Winkler (D) in HD137 and Lufkin school board president Trent Ashby (R), who is named later in the story, I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I’m far too lazy to go through a hundred or so candidates’ webpage bios to try and figure it out.

Boyle said this year’s crop of candidates with school board experience is the largest she has seen since 2006.

But this year, the education community does not appear to be as unified as it was then. A candidate who appeals to the leadership of Boyle’s PAC, for instance, may not appeal to a teachers group.

“In 2006, we had a number of former school board members who were recruited at a time when we felt like public education was under attack, and it really united all of the education groups,” said Lindsay Gustafson, director of public affairs for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.

But since then, Gustafson said, “We’ve found that a lot of the former school board members that we supported weren’t necessarily going to be supportive of us on issues that were divisive in the education community between administrator groups or the school boards and educator groups.”

One of those divisions, for example, was over whether the state should loosen limits on class sizes in elementary schools. More broadly, some of the candidates who received help from Parent PAC and teachers groups in earlier races voted for the cuts in per-pupil spending.

“We’re going to have to be a little bit tougher when we’re vetting candidates,” said Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association. “A lot of folks that we felt like we helped get there didn’t seem to know us in 2011.”

This is where it gets dicey. I support ParentPAC, and have been a fan of theirs since they burst onto the scene in 2006. But the ParentPAC-backed Republicans – Diane Patrick, Jimmie Don Aycock, Dan Huberty, Four Price, among others – voted along party lines last session, which is to say they voted to slash spending on public education and voted for measures that would put more kids in classrooms and make it easier to cut teachers’ pay. If they’re not going to stand up for what’s right under those conditions – and let’s be clear, there will be more where that came from in 2013 – then what good are they? Maybe Trent Ashby, who is challenging the teabagger Marva Beck in HD57, will be an improvement over her – not that high a bar to clear, after all – and maybe so will some of the other Republican school board members running. I share Gustafson and Kouri’s concerns about how we can be sure about that. Good intentions and a good resume only go so far. I want to know what these people plan to do about fixing the structural budget deficit, what their general philosophy is about the inevitable next overhaul of the school finance system, and I want to hear them say that they will vote for restoring education funding, and against further cuts. Then I want them to be held accountable for their votes. That isn’t so much to ask, is it?

By the way, there was another Save Texas Schools rally in Austin yesterday, and it drew another good crowd.

More than 1,000 teachers, students and administrators from schools across Texas rallied Saturday at the state Capitol to decry $5.4 billion in cuts to public education and demand that lawmakers restore some of that funding — or at least not impose another round of cuts next year.

The demonstrators, who also included parents and a number of Democratic lawmakers, marched through downtown, than gathered under the Capitol’s pink dome for nearly three hours. They chanted “Save Texas Schools!” and held up signs that read: “Cuts hurt kids,” ”You get what you vote for,” and “If you can’t read this, thank your congressman.”

[…]

When crafting its two-year budget last summer, the state Legislature voted to pump an additional $1.5 billion into the account used to fund public schools, but made slightly more than that in cuts elsewhere. Lawmakers also rewrote the school funding formula to cut an additional $4 billion, despite average public school enrollment increasing by 80,000 students per year statewide.

Another $1.4 billion in cuts was made to grant programs. All told, Texas’ per-student funding fell more than $500 as compared to the last budget cycle, the first decline in per-pupil state spending since World War II.

Four lawsuits have been filed on behalf of more than 500 school districts representing more than 3 million Texas children. The suits charge that the Legislature’s plan is not equitable in how it distributes funding to school districts — but the legal fight likely won’t begin for months.

“For the first time in 60 years, the Legislature that meets in this building behind us failed to finance the current school funding law,” John Folks, superintendent of Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, told the crowd Saturday. “That shows very clearly the priority that Texas has put on public education.”

Another target at the rally was the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness or STAAR test. Students across the state will begin taking the new standardized test Monday.

“They say ‘STAAR,’ we say ‘No!'” the demonstrators chanted.

Every time I write about the devastating effect of the Republicans’ cuts to public education, I get a comment about how over the past decade spending on public education had grown faster in Texas than the growth in student enrollment. That’s true, but it doesn’t come close to telling the whole story. Aside from the fact that both state and federal legislation has increased costs on school districts via various accountability measures, school districts face numerous costs that are beyond their control and which are generally not given much consideration by the Lege. You may have noticed the high price of gasoline these days. School districts and their fleet of school buses certainly have. Probably the biggest factor in busting school districts’ budgets is the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, which increased by 131 percent between 1999 and 2009. What that means is that even without adding any more students or staff, school districts would be feeling the pinch. They can’t do anything about energy prices (electricity costs more now, too; thanks, utility deregulation!) and like the city of Houston they can only do so much about health insurance costs. What do you think they’re going to do when the Lege cuts their budgets? We’re seeing it now, and we’ll see more of it in the future if we don’t change direction.

We have a long history of screwing public schools in this state

I’ve been meaning to post about this Texas Observer story about the current status of school finance, the litigation challenging it, and the story of how we got here. Here’s a little local angle to illustrate one of the many ways in which the system is messed up.

Even one of the state’s most efficient districts, Northwest Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (ISD), is bleeding out slowly after eight years of cuts.

Cy-Fair, the state’s third-largest district, has become a model for doing more with less. It’s consistently a top performer not only in the state comptroller’s rankings of budget efficiency, but also in state test scores. The district hasn’t suffered the massive teacher layoffs some others have, and spokeswoman Kelli Durham says that’s because the district has grown so adept at finding other places to cut. Still, Cy-Fair has scaled back its custodial contracts, cut money for field trips, and skimped on new furniture, trimming $125 million (20 percent of the district’s current budget) in less than a decade. They’ve gotten more waivers than ever before to exceed the state’s 22-student cap in kindergarten-through-4th grade classrooms.

To keep running smoothly through the tight times, Durham says, district leaders cashed in on trust and goodwill they’ve built with their community over time, asking teachers and the whole Cy-Fair community to do more for their schools. But that solution, Durham says, is not sustainable. “In reality, people can’t do double-time for a long period of time.”

Most districts receive more than Cy-Fair’s annual $4,800 per student, but some get even less. The state’s current funding scheme harms them all in different ways. In wealthy districts, parents pay thousands in taxes every month, then watch the state give it to some other school. Their kids sell candy bars and magazines so their school can make ends meet. In poorer districts, students may have to pay to ride the bus to a school that’s more crowded than ever—the sort of environment that makes it easier than ever for students to drop out without being missed.

[…]

In 2005, the Texas Supreme Court ruled the school finance system unconstitutional. With so many districts maxing out their property tax rates, the court ruled that the system amounted to a statewide property tax—outlawed by the state constitution. State lawmakers were ordered to reduce property tax rates, which they did in 2006, but not before muddling the whole system even more.

Rather than update the old formulas used to determine how much money a district should get, the Legislature in 2006 invented a new benchmark— “target revenue”— based on each district’s property tax revenues in 2005. The strategy was meant to protect districts from losing money as the state lowered property taxes. But it created its own grave inequities in funding between districts. Target revenue not only doesn’t provide districts enough money, it makes inequalities worse over time.

In an absurd twist, the target revenue system actually punished the school districts that were most efficient with their money. This is why Cy-Fair ISD finds itself at such a severe disadvantage under the current system. It’s a large district that got by for years by pinching pennies. But now the district’s funding is tied to its 2005 levels of property tax revenue and per-student spending.

“If we had not been so efficient, we would’ve come up with a better target revenue [figure],” says Durham, the Cy-Fair spokesperson.

HISD is largely in the same position. Its property tax rate is below the mandated cap, and it could have made up for at least some of the funding cuts by raising its rate, but as primarily argued by Trustee Harvin Moore, it shouldn’t be in the position of having to subsidize the state’s failure. Once again, we wait for the courts to step in and force the Lege to Do Something. Let’s hope this time the effect is positive.

In the meantime, of course, you can get involved locally and at the Capitol. I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s worth showing again (and again):

Here in Houston, in addition to the community grassroots meeting this evening, you can hear Wayne Pierce, the Executive Director of the Equity Center, and David Thompson, the lead litigator on the lawsuit for which HISD is a plaintiff, give a talk on where things stand and what you can do about it. The talk is Monday, March 5, from 10 to 12 at the United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive (map). Here’s a flyer with the details. You can also team up with the Equity Center as they press forward.

If you can’t attend that, you can attend a family fundraiser for the Texas Parent PAC on Sunday the 4th, from 2 to 4 at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle at Evergreen in Bellaire. More details for that are here. If you want to sign on as a sponsor, see here for more. Get informed, get involved, and get out and vote. And don’t forget who’s on your side and who isn’t.

How you can help support policies and funding for public schools

From the inbox, sent by Sue Dimenn Deigaard:

Over the past week I have heard several legislators make the misleading claim that they increased funding for public education this past session.  As a parent with a child that is in a classroom with 29 other students this year, and as a parent that regularly attends local school board meetings where I witness their laborious and stressful discussions about where they can attempt to cut even more from our school district without further harm to our classrooms, I continue to be reminded why it is so imperative that we collaborate as a community to spread honest facts about the challenges confronting our public schools and engage others in support of effective policies and funding for public education in Texas.

Last session we all worked hard to minimize the impact of the legislature’s cuts on Texas students.  The result was a $5 billion reduction in funding as opposed to the nearly $10 billion that was originally proposed.  Through our letters, petitions, meetings with legislators, community outreach, and rallies, WE made that difference.

But there is still work to be done if we want public education to be a priority in Texas. In addition to the second round of cuts that most Texas school districts will experience this fall, the structural budget deficit that was not addressed by this legislature, coupled with the creative accounting that was utilized to balance the current budget with things like deferred payments, will set the stage for the potential of even more funding cuts again next year.

Over the past year, you have all expressed interest or have engaged in supporting public education in Texas.  Below are 3 upcoming events where you can connect with other parents and community members to build a collaboration of support for Texas schools, learn how you can effectively advocate for public education, and hear updates on the issues.

I will also leave you with this gem of video from the House Appropriations Committee meeting earlier this week where you can hear directly from legislators that they did, in fact, cut funding to public education in Texas.  As if our crowded classrooms and reduced resources had left us with any doubt.

Upcoming Events

Wednesday, February 29 – 6-8 p.m.
Grassroots Community Meeting and Advocacy Workshop
McGovern Stella Link Library, 7405 Stella Link
Connect with other community members, learn updates on the issue, and learn tools for effectively advocating in the community.

Sunday, March 4 – 2-4 p.m.
Family Fundraiser benefitting Texas Parent PAC
Bellaire Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Evergreen
Bring the kids for an afternoon of school carnival-like fun, frolic and fundraising so Texas Parent PAC can continue to support pro-education candidates.  Since 2006, Texas Parent PAC has helped elect 23 new legislators to stand up for our kids and education.
For more information about Texas Parent PAC, or to be a sponsor, please visit texasparentpac.com
(Donors who contribute $250 or more by February 29 will be acknowledged on a banner at the event.)
If you would like to volunteer to help with the event, please email texasedfunding@gmail.com

Monday, March 5 – 10 a.m.-noon
“Public Education: Where Things Stand and What You Can Do About It” 
United Way of Greater Houston, 50 Waugh Drive
Learn the basics of public school finance and an updated analysis from experts on the Texas public education lawsuits.
Keynote Speakers:   J.David Thompson, Partner, Thompson & Horton, LLP and Dr. Wayne Pierce, Executive Director, Equity Center
Sponsored by All Kids Alliance, CHILDREN AT RISK, Collaborative for Children, Houston A+ Challenge, One Voice Texas, Project GRAD Houston, Save Texas Schools, Stand for Children Leadership Center, and United Way of Greater Houston

RSVP to cirsvp@unitedwayhouston.org

Texas Ed Funding is a grassroots, non-partisan collaboration of individuals creating a community of support for Texas public schools.  We are not a formal organization, non-profit or PAC. (We just needed to call ourselves something to have an email address and website.) And while our initial purpose was to support the issue of funding during the crisis last spring, we have evolved to collaborate to support other efforts that affect public education in Texas.  Join us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TexasEdFunding.

The claim that the Lege actually increased funding is as we know a bald-faced lie. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to hear Republicans make those claims, since it strongly suggests that they do in fact fear there may be electoral consequences for what they did. Which is why it’s important to emphasize that the $5 billion in cuts that we got would have been twice as bad if the House budget had held sway. They’re vulnerable on this and they know it.

School finance lawsuit #5

The plaintiffs keep on coming.

A lawsuit by a small group of parents claims Texas is not getting enough bang for its educational buck, and asks the state’s courts to address inefficiencies in how education funding is spent.

Attorneys plan to file their litigation Friday in Austin on behalf of five families who say Texas schools aren’t meeting their children’s needs, as well as Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, a new group formed by three entrepreneurs. The plaintiffs made a copy of the filing available to The Associated Press before submitting it to the court.

[…]

[Lead attorney Chris] Diamond said the latest suit had nothing to do with the Legislature’s budget. He said it is about parents who “feel as if their children are trapped in an unproductive system.”

Going to court to settle school finance questions has been a staple in Texas for more than 40 years. Diamond said that in past rulings, the state high court has issued opinions that “all-but invited” a legal challenge to the overall way Texas pays for its schools.

“We’ve been challenging this funding issue, but we need to hear about the basic, fundamental issues in the system,” he said.

Diamond said the idea would be to have the courts force the Legislature’s hand, and rule the system unconstitutional so as to compel lawmakers to overhaul school finance.

I couldn’t find a website for “Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education” when I first googled them, which is always a bit suspicious. There was just something about what they were saying in this story that gave me an odd feeling. This confirmed it.

TREE’s founder, James Jones, said in a statement that Waiting for Superman, a documentary that highly praises charter schools, inspired him to “dedicate his personal time and resources to the cause of saving children who are trapped in dysfunctional and inefficient public schools in Texas.”

“Imagine if a parent didn’t think their child’s physician was meeting their kid’s needs and the law made it nearly impossible for them to change doctors. We owe it to our kids to do better than this,” said Jones, who runs a mineral royalty firm.

The lawsuit has high-profile supporters: Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch is a co-counsel, and former House Public Education Chairman Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, who left the Legislature in 2006, is the executive director of TREE.

In a statement, lead attorney Chris Diamond said the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that the question of funding is secondary to the question of efficiency. He said court has “issued a wide invitation for structural, qualitative reform that extends beyond the singular question of adequate funding” which the current system has not met.

Yeah, any group that has Kent Grusendorf on board is not to be trusted. I love how the story says that Grusendorf “left” the Lege in 2006. He left by getting beaten in the primary by Rep. Diane Patrick, who was backed by Parent PAC and who successfully attacked Grusendorf for his relentless hostility to public education. Subsequent googling found this press release for TREE, which in turn contained this website link. I presume Google’s indexing hadn’t caught up when I first went looking. There’s not much there, but at least they do have a website and it does contain their intervention pleading. Any lawyers want to comment on that?

The Statesman has some reactions to this effort.

Lonnie Hollingsworth, director of legal services and governmental relations for the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, said there is scant evidence that charter schools are more efficient since many of them get substantial private investments to supplement the public dollars they receive.

“It’s clearly an attempt to tag a policy agenda on a school finance lawsuit,” Hollingsworth said. “These are policy issues and they’ve been rejected by the Legislature.”

The group did not file a separate lawsuit but sought to join one of the existing suits.

Lawyers representing the school districts in the original lawsuit have the right to object to including the new plaintiffs. A judge will have the final say.

David Thompson, the lead lawyer on that suit, said no decision has been made on whether to do so. He welcomed some of the group’s arguments while disputing others.

“To the extent that there are allegations that school districts are being wasteful with funds, we strongly disagree and we believe the facts will show that school districts are being good stewards of public money,” Thompson said.

Thompson added that school districts are not afraid of competition from charter schools and are offering parents and children many new options. For example, the Austin school district recently hired IDEA Public Schools, a South Texas charter operator, to run a program out of an East Austin elementary school.

“We need to remember that 90 percent of the school-aged kids of Texas are in our (traditional) public schools, and any competition must be fair and on a level playing field,” Thompson said.

HISD does some partnering with charter schools as well. Go back and listen to my interview with Chris Barbic, the founder and now-former CEO of the YES Prep schools, in which he describes the relationship between charters and school districts as both cooperative and competitive. I will be very interested to see how the existing plaintiffs react to this. I don’t see it as a friendly intervention, but perhaps there’s more to it than I’m currently perceiving. The Texas Observer has more.

ParentPAC speaks about public ed funding cuts

Good.

The two-year budget passed by the Texas House is destructive, reducing public school budgets by $7.8 billion over the biennium. The budget passed by the Senate is better, but it cuts about $4 billion and leaves school funding woefully below what is needed to help students be successful.

Texas ranks 44th nationally for per pupil funding of public schools, and it will drop even lower if the devastating budget cuts are enacted.

Every recent poll shows that voters do not want to cut spending on public education. In a January poll, for example, 70 percent of voters opposed cuts to public schools. And in the University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in February, an astounding 82 percent of voters opposed cuts to public education.

[…]

Some lawmakers say they fear tea party activists and anti-government special interest groups who demand a cuts-only state budget.

But legislators should be more afraid of reactions by angry moms and dads of public school students, community volunteers, school board trustees, business partners, educators and others who do the unsung work of educating future generations of Texans.

Next year, parents will point their fingers at legislators when their children are taught in overcrowded classrooms, art and music classes are eliminated, there is no tutoring for struggling students, and favorite teachers no longer work at their child’s school.

I sure hope that’s the case. This was written by Carolyn Boyle, the chair of Texas ParentPAC. People need to understand that the budget and all of the cuts to public education came exclusively from Republican legislators. No Democrats voted for it. If this isn’t what you wanted, then you need to swap out Republicans for Democrats, otherwise you’ll get more of the same. And if you didn’t vote last year, or you voted Republican because you were mad at President Obama or scared about deficits or whatever but didn’t intend for your vote to be an endorsement of this kind of policy, then you need to remember that not just in 2012 but in 2014 and thereafter. Your vote matters, and so does your lack of it. Please don’t make the same mistake again.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC

I haven’t mentioned the Texas ParentPAC lately, as there’s been so much other stuff going on lately, but they are as busy with endorsements as ever. Here’s a list of candidates that they have announced they are backing for the general election. The links are to the press releases they sent out in each case:

State Rep. Robert Miklos, HD101

State Rep. Carol Kent, HD102

State Rep. Joe Moody, HD78

Loretta Haldenwang, HD105

State Rep. Ellen Cohen, HD134

State Rep. Joe Heflin, HD85

I’ll pass along any others that come my way.

UPDATE: Add the following to the tally:

State Rep. Chris Turner, HD96

State Rep. Allen Vaught, HD107

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC for Tim Tuggey

The Texas ParentPAC has gotten itself involved in another Republican SBOE primary, this time on behalf of San Antonio’s Tim Tuggey, who is challenging incumbent Ken Mercer in District 5. Here’s their release:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Tim Tuggey in the Republican primary for District 5 State Board of Education, which includes all or part of 12 counties in Central and South Texas.

“Tim Tuggey will be a partner with parents, educators, and elected school board trustees and an advocate for all schoolchildren,” said Texas Parent PAC chair Carolyn Boyle of Austin.”He has strong leadership skills, an engaging personality, and a conservative and collaborative temperament that will be a real asset on the State Board of Education.”

Texas Parent PAC was created by parents in 2005 with the goal of electing more state leaders who will consistently stand up for public education. A broad base of individuals and business leaders supports the PAC’s bipartisan grassroots campaign efforts.

The 15-member elected State Board of Education is not well-known by voters. The board is responsible for establishing policy, adopting curriculum standards and textbooks, and providing leadership for the state’s public school system. In Texas, 4.7 million students attend public schools on more than 8,300 campuses.

“This election has statewide implications, because the State Board of Education sets policy affecting every child and every public school classroom in Texas,” said Texas Parent PAC board member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. “Tim Tuggey understands there are too many education dictates coming from Austin and Washington, and more local control will help to achieve excellence in public education for all Texas students.”

Texas Parent PAC leaders said Tuggey has a proven record of leadership in three different cities in SBOE District 5. He is well-connected in rural and urban communities and understands their unique needs for education and work force development. For example:

In San Antonio, Tuggey served as chairman of VIA Metropolitan Transit, Leadership San Antonio, and Free Trade Alliance San Antonio, as well as a range of other civic activities.

In Austin, he is managing partner of business law firm Tuggey Rosenthal Pauerstein Sandoloski Agather LLP. The firm also has offices in San Antonio and Washington, D.C.

At Fort Hood in Bell County, Captain Tuggey commanded the 230 men and women in Company A, 54th Signal Battalion, which deployed all over the world to provide tactical communications.

Tuggey describes himself as an “Army brat,” as he followed his parents all over the United States and the world while his father was an Army officer. He graduated from Flour Bluff High School in Corpus Christi and then received a four-year Army ROTC scholarship to the University of Richmond in Virginia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English and political science. He later earned a master’s degree in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Tuggey has three children, Katherine, Chris, and Nora. His wife, Margaret, is a teacher at Akins High School in the Austin ISD.

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing a small and select number of Republican and Democratic candidates statewide. The PAC describes its endorsed candidates as “men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas.”

Public school supporters are encouraged to visit www.timtuggey.com to find a map of District 5 and persuade their friends and relatives throughout the large district to vote for Tuggey during the early voting period February 16 – 26 and on election day, March 2. Texas Parent PAC is also urging parents to volunteer in the Tuggey campaign and/or donate money and in-kind services.

As I’ve said before, my preferred outcome is for a Democrat to win this seat, and from what I have seen it looks like Rebecca Bell-Metereau is the best candidate for that. But if we don’t get that, then getting a better Republican to replace Mercer is still an improvement. If you or someone you know lives in SBOE District 5 (your voter registration card should indicate this) and are of the Republican persuasion, please check out Tim Tuggey for the primary.

Endorsement watch: ParentPAC for Thomas Ratliff

I’m very glad to see that the Texas ParentPAC is getting involved in the SBOE primaries. Here’s their press release for the District 9 GOP race:

The bipartisan Texas Parent PAC today announced its endorsement of Thomas Ratliff for election to District 9 State Board of Education, which includes all or part of 29 counties in East and North Texas.

“Parents and children deserve be represented by a respected leader like Thomas Ratliff,” said Texas Parent PAC board of directors member Pam Meyercord of Dallas. “His focus will always be on educational excellence in our public schools rather than on politics.”

Texas Parent PAC was created by parents in 2005 with the goal of electing more state leaders who will consistently stand up for public education. A broad base of individuals and business leaders supports the PAC’s bipartisan grassroots campaign efforts.

The 15-member elected State Board of Education is not well-known by voters. The board is responsible for establishing policy, adopting curriculum standards and textbooks, and providing leadership for the state’s public school system. In Texas, 4.7 million students attend public schools on more than 8,300 campuses.

“This election has statewide implications, because the State Board of Education sets policy affecting every child and every public school classroom in Texas,” Meyercord said. “Thomas Ratliff will respectfully listen to parents and educators and bring much needed business expertise and fiscal responsibility to this important board.”

He earned a bachelor of business administration degree from Texas Tech University and a master of public affairs degree from The University of Texas at Austin. Meyercord said Ratliff has the analytical skills, integrity, and judgment necessary to make better board decisions on managing billions of dollars in the Permanent School Fund.

Ratliff and his wife Stacy are rearing their two children surrounded by extended family in their hometown of Mount Pleasant, where both graduated from Mount Pleasant High School. Both Thomas and Stacy have served on leadership teams for their children’s public schools and in countless school volunteer roles.

Last year, Thomas was lay leader at Tennison United Methodist Church and is a frequent Sunday School teacher.

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing a small and select number of Republican and Democratic candidates statewide. The PAC describes its endorsed candidates as “men and women of integrity, open and responsive to parents, actively involved in their communities, and committed to investing in public education to achieve economic prosperity in Texas.”

Public school supporters are encouraged to visit www.thomasratliff.com to find a map of District 9 and persuade their friends and relatives throughout the large district to vote for Ratliff during the early voting period February 16 – 26 and on election day, March 2. Texas Parent PAC is also urging parents to volunteer in the Ratliff campaign and/or donate money and in-kind services.

This is great news, and I hope they have the kind of success in knocking off a virulent enemy of public education as they did in 2006 when they hit the scene with a splash by booting Kent Grusendorf. The release doesn’t mention Ratliff’s opponent, but I will: Don McLeroy, who may be the single most malevolent force against students and the curriculum today operating right now, given that the Lege is not in session. I hope the ParentPAC has enough muscles to flex in this Republican race to make a difference, and I hope they’ll be looking at some of the other primaries to see where they might be effective as well.