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Wanda Adams

Santos calls on Skillern-Jones to step down as HISD President

This happened last week. I’ve been waiting to see if there will be anything more to it.

Elizabeth Santos

Houston ISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos on Thursday called for school board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, to “immediately step down” from her position in light of last week’s heated board meeting, which resulted in two arrests and dozens of community members temporarily booted from the district administration building.

In a message shared on Facebook, Santos said Skillern-Jones’s “wholly unjustified” actions at last week’s board meeting have eroded public trust, prompting her call for Skillern-Jones to relinquish her post as board president. Santos did not demand Skillern-Jones resign her position as a trustee. She is the only member of the nine-person board who publicly has called for Skillern-Jones to give up her post, though other trustees have criticized Skillern-Jones’s handling of last week’s meeting.

“Right now, the shame of our actions and inactions at the April 24 board meeting looms over our board,” Santos wrote. “It clouds our decisions and intentions from proper public scrutiny and erodes the trust our community places in us.”

[…]

In a Facebook post the day after last week’s meeting, Skillern-Jones wrote, in part: “I hoped we could calm the tension and return for an orderly meeting. Unfortunately, the situation escalated and subsequently caused many unintended consequences. I’m saddened at this outcome as it was not at all what I wanted. I take responsibility for calling this recess and am regretful it only created more discord.”

Many crowd members who were ordered to leave last week’s meeting have called on Skillern-Jones to step down as board president. Reached by phone Thursday, HISD trustees Wanda Adams, Jolanda Jones and Sue Deigaard did not echo those calls.

“Many may not support her actions and the way it was done, but this doesn’t warrant stepping down as board president,” Adams said. She added that she believes it was “not proper” for Santos to publicly call on Skillern-Jones to step down without talking to the entire board of trustees.

Deigaard said she is listening to many different stakeholders — including parents who have not been vocal at community and board meetings — as she contemplates whether to support Skillern-Jones’ continued leadership of trustees. She called last week’s meeting “a powder keg” that could have been better diffused on all sides.

“I’m a very pensive person. I’m not a reactive person,” Deigaard said. “I’m looking at, long-term, what is the healthiest thing for the governance of our district so that we can focus on kids.”

See here for some background. Santos’ Facebook post, which had been shared 159 times as of this writing, is here; Skillern-Jones’ statement after the meeting mess is here. There’s no defending what happened at that HISD board meeting, and in fact a couple of trustees – Anne Sung and Jolanda Jones in particular – put out statements following that meeting apologizing for what happened. As far as I can tell from scanning Facebook, however, no other trustees have echoed or supported Santos’ call for Skillern-Jones to cede the role of President to someone else.

I am sure that the bylaws of the HISD Board of Trustees includes a provision for removing someone as Board President. If the goal is to get Rhonda Skillern-Jones to step down from that role, then a trustee could follow that route, or could simply get enough members on board with the idea and then approach her with that information so she could step down voluntarily. It doesn’t appear that anything like that has happened here, so I don’t know what comes next. But if it’s going to involve a change in the officers of the HISD Board, it’s going to need to take more than this.

2017 results: HISD and HCC

There were still precincts to be counted as I was writing this so there are a couple of races where I’ll have to equivocate, but here’s what happened in the local races that had actual candidates in them. Let’s start with the easier one, the HCC races:

– Trustees Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (73%) and Robert Glaser (58%) led from the get go and cruised to easy wins.

– In District 9, Gene Pack (42%) and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (37%) will head into a runoff for the right to succeed Chris Oliver.

In HISD, there are a couple of clear results, and a couple that I’ll have to update in the morning:

– Incumbent Trustees Wanda Adams (68%) and Anne Sung (60%) were easily re-elected.

– Jesse Rodriguez (41%) and Sergio Lira (32%) were going into overtime in Distric III, while Elizabeth Santos (45%) and Gretchen Himsl (33%) were doing the same in I. Given how the District I race has gone so far, I expect it to get a little nasty for the runoff.

– Sue Deigaard (53%) appeared to be headed for a clear win in her four-way race. As of this drafting, 37 of 56 precincts had reported, but Deigaard had 4,502 votes out of 8,446 total. If the remaining 19 precincts have a proportional amount of votes in them as the first 37, a little back-of-the-envelope math suggests she’d need about 43.4% of those votes to stay in the majority and win outright. I’d say those are pretty good odds, but we’ll see.

– The race that will have everyone up way past their bedtimes is in District VI, where with 35 of 40 precincts counted, incumbent Holly Flynn Vilaseca had 50.04% of the vote – she had 3,119 out of 6,233, which puts her five votes into a majority. Either she squeaks out a clean win – she was a pinch over 50% in early and absentee voting and a slightly smaller pinch under it on Tuesday – or she goes into a runoff with a substantial lead. Good position to be in, but boy I know what I’d prefer.

UPDATE: At 12:46 AM, the final results were posted, and Holly Flynn Vilaseca wound up with 50.38% of the vote, putting her back in office without a runoff. Here’s the Chron story.

Late money in the HISD races

Here it comes.

A political action committee mostly funded by the nation’s largest teachers’ union has received $225,000 to spend on supporting four candidates for the Houston ISD school board election and a city ballot measure, campaign finance reports show.

Houston United for Strong Public Schools plans to spend in support of three incumbent candidates — Wanda Adams, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca and Anne Sung — and newcomer Elizabeth Santos ahead of Tuesday’s election, records show. The PAC doesn’t plan to spend on candidates in two other Houston ISD board races.

Political action committees operate independently of individual candidates’ campaigns. Houston United for Strong Public Schools has received the most donations to date among PACs supporting local school board candidates.

Records show Houston United for Strong Public Schools took in $150,000 from the political arm of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents about 1.7 million public employees, most of them working in schools.

The PAC also received $75,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing about 1.6 million public service employees. In addition to supporting the four board candidates, the PAC plans to spend in favor of a Houston city ballot measure to authorize the sale of $1 billion in bonds under a pension reform plan.

That’s a lot of money, but at least from my perspective in District I, it hasn’t been particularly visible to me. I’ve received mail from the Santos campaign, but no more than what I’ve received from the Himsl and Richart campaigns. I haven’t received any robocalls or been visited by any canvassers – for whatever the reason, it’s extremely rare for someone to knock on my door on behalf of a campaign – and if there are ads running on TV or the radio, I’ve not seen them. I don’t think I’ve seen any Facebook ads or ads in my Gmail, either. Maybe the bulk of this money is being earmarked for a runoff, I don’t know. Risky strategy if that’s the case.

The eight day finance reports are now available, but you won’t see any activity related to HUSPS in there. For example, here’s Santos’ 8 day report, which includes a $5K donation from Houston Federation of Teachers COPE, but HUSPS is nowhere to be seen. You have to go to the Texas Ethics Commission page and search for Houston United for Strong Public Schools there. In their TEC report, you can see that while they’ve raised $225K, they’ve only spent $115K, and $47K of that was for polling, which ought to be fascinating given the turnout context. I can’t tell from this how much they have spent in each race – there isn’t a single entry that specifies a dollar amount for Santos, for example. I don’t spend as much time with PAC reports as I have done with candidate reports, so maybe I just don’t know how to read these. Point is, this is where to look to get the details.

All of this has caused some controversy, which has played out on Facebook. The HUSPS website has no “About” page, and it took some sleuthing to figure out their origin. Not to put too fine a point on it, but large amounts of money being spent on local races by groups whose backers are not apparent is generally something that many of us find alarming. As Campos has noted, it’s hardly unusual for the HFT to get involved in HISD elections – they’re as much of a stakeholder as anyone else, after all – but this method of doing so is new. I don’t understand the rationale behind this approach, either, but it is what they have chosen to do. We’ll see how it plays out.

More on HISD IX, and a little on HISD VII Alief ISD

Wanda Adams

As noted before, I did not do interviews in HISD Trustee races in districts VII and IX. In VII, I did interview now-incumbent Anne Sung and challenger John Luman last year when they were running in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Harvin Moore. You can listen to those again if you want a refresher on those two candidates.

As for IX, I just could not get to it. Life is like that sometimes, I’m afraid. Thankfully, there is an opportunity for you to hear from the candidates in that race – Trustee Wanda Adams and challengers Karla Brown and Gerry Monroe – if you want. There was a debate sponsored by the Forward Times on October 4, and audio of it is available here. In addition, there were articles written about each candidate in the aftermath of the debate by debate moderator Durrel Douglas:

Part 1: Wanda Adams
Part 2: Karla Brown
Part 3: Gerry Monroe

There’s also a recap of the debate, with video embedded from the event. It’s not the same as individual interviews, but it’s a chance to see how the candidates interact with each other. Go take a look or give a listen – the audio should be available as a podcast in the 610 News feed – and see what you think.

Finally, Stace rounds up the candidates in Alief ISD. I wish I had more time to follow races in other ISDs, but alas, I don’t. These elections – for school board and for city council – will have more effect on your daily life than elections for Congress and Senate do. The latter have more power, but the former have more impact. Know who you’re voting for and why you’re voting for them.

Endorsement watch: HISD VII and XI

Last two.

Anne Sung

Houston ISD, Trustee, District VII: Anne Katherine Sung

Anne Katherine Sung won in a runoff for this district last year after former trustee Harvin Moore resigned. Now voters are faced with a rematch between Sung and her former opponent, John Luman.

During her short time on the board, Sung has proved herself an engaged and effective trustee who deserves a full term representing this west Houston district, which covers River Oaks, Briar Grove and parts of Montrose and the Heights.

Sung, 38, brings in-depth knowledge of the educational landscape to the task. For more than a decade, she has been attending trustee meetings and preparing herself in multiple ways to assume a leadership role on the board.

The alumna of Bellaire High School has been a Teach for America Corp. member, an award-winning HISD physics teacher and co-founded an education advocacy group, Community Voices for Public Education. She’s currently serving as the chief strategy officer and vice president of the nonprofit Project GRAD Houston.

[…]

Wanda Adams

Houston ISD, Trustee, District IX: Wanda Adams

This troubled south Houston district needs all the help it can get. Fourteen schools within the boundaries, which stretch from the Westbury to Sunnyside, are failing according to ratings by the non-profit Children at Risk.

Despite these problems, none of the challengers provide a compelling case to remove incumbent Wanda Adams from her seat.

While there’s no question that the district is rife with inequity and that some schools need more attention and resources, Adams is one member of a nine-member board in charge of setting policy. The responsibility for these failing schools falls on past superintendents, the entire board and the community, not on a single trustee.

Adams, 50, knows her community well. A former City Council member, this professor of political science at Texas Southern University currently serves as HISD board president and has worked to make key changes to governance. She’s applied time limits to trustees’ remarks to reduce grandstanding at board meetings and has worked to develop a framework to measure district progress.

In the end, I’d say this was a pretty conventional set of endorsements. All incumbents get the nod, and no surprises in the other races. Not that there was much potential for a surprise – as noted before, the slate of candidates is pretty good. I’m not even sure what might have been a true surprise recommendation, other than possibly one of the challengers in XI.

By the way, I have previously noted that right now, the HISD Board has seven women and two men. The range of possible outcomes this November are eight women and one man, to four women and five men. Trustees Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila are not on the ballot, while District I has only female candidates. Only District III, which has four male candidates, is certain to be represented by a man. I don’t have a point to make here, just an observation.

I did not do any interviews in these races. I interviewed both Anne Sung and John Luman for last year’s special election – you can listen to those here: Anne Sung, John Luman. I intended to get to District IX but life and too many other things got to me. I have a post in the works for that race, and if it goes to a runoff I’ll try again.

Endorsement watch: HGLBT Political Caucus, CVPE, and GPS

From the inbox:

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC met on September 9, 2017. At the meeting the membership voted to endorse the following candidates:

Kara DeRocha for HISD School Board Trustee – District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca for HISD School Board Trustee – District VI

Anne Sung for HISD School Board Trustee – District VII

Dr. Carolyn Evans-Shabazz for HCC Trustee – District IV

Pretta Vandible Stallworth for HCC Trustee – District IX

We also voted to endorse the following propositions:

Propositions A, B, C, D and E

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus PAC will hold a public forum on September 22, 2017 at 7pm at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church in Montrose, Room 217A & B. (Enter through the North Entrance on Hawthorne Street where the parking lot is located.) The public forum will highlight Elizabeth Santos, Gretchen Himsl and Monica Flores Richart, candidates for HISD School Board Trustee – District I. The membership will take an endorsement vote at the end of the public forum. The Membership will also vote on the recommendation of the screening committee in the HISD School Board race for District III.

I was just saying that we are only now beginning to see campaign activity again post-Harvey, and a part of that is the group endorsement process. The GLBT Caucus endorsements hit my mailbox late on Sunday, and on Monday I found out about a couple of others that have come out. Here’s Community Voices for Public Education:

Elizabeth Santos in HISD District 1
Kara DeRocha in HISD District 5
Holly Flynn Vilaseca in HISD District 6
Anne Sung in HISD District 7

CVPE members voted to not endorse in District 9 and will screen HISD District 3 candidates in the near future.

Yes, everyone is going to have to go over this again once the filing deadline comes for District III, which was extended to allow people enough time to make the decision to run following Manuel Rodriguez’s death. I am aware of one candidate in District III so far, and I am sure there will be others.

One more set of endorsements, from Houstonians for Great Public Schools:

District I – Gretchen Himsl

District V – Sue Deigaard

District VI – Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

District VII – Anne Sung

District IX – Wanda Adams

I’ll post more as I see them. I suppose it’s well past time for me to create an Election 2017 page to track all this, too.

July 2017 campaign finance reports – HISD

We still don’t know what’s happening with city of Houston elections this fall, but there’s plenty of action with HISD Trustee races. You can see all of the candidates who have filed so far and their July finance reports here. I’ve got links to individual reports and summaries of them, so join me below for some highlights.

Elizabeth Santos
Gretchen Himsl
Monica Richart

Kara DeRocha
Sue Deigaard

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca
Daniel Albert
Robert Lundin

Anne Sung
John Luman

Wanda Adams
Gerry Monroe
Karla Brown
Susan Schafer


Name        Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
==============================================
Santos      13,161    2,037        0     7,845
Himsl       17,685      832      500    17,352
Richart      5,565    5,996    6,197     5,765

DeRocha     17,676    2,006      355    15,669
Deigaard    22,716      769        0    20,381

Vilaseca    14,043      157        0    13,613
Albert           0        0   30,000         0
Lundin      13,480    1,565        0    11,915

Sung        31,660    1,673        0    29,208
Luman            0        0        0       456

Adams            0    6,484        0       421
Monroe           0        0        0         0
Brown            0        0        0         0
Schafer      4,690    2,543        0     2,026

So we have two open seats, in Districts I and V as Anna Eastman and Mike Lunceford are stepping down, one appointed incumbent running for a full term (Flynn Vilaseca), one incumbent who won a 2016 special election running for a full term (Sung), and one regular incumbent running for re-election (Adams). We could have a very different Board next year, or just a slightly different one. That includes all three of the traditionally Republican districts – V, VI, and VII. Interestingly, there is no Republican candidate in District V as yet, and the Republican runnerup in last year’s special election in District VII has apparently been idle so far this year. Daniel Albert is Chief of Staff for District F City Council member Steve Le, so I think it’s safe to say that he’s a Republican. Robert Lundin is a Rice faculty member who has been an HISD teacher and administrator and also opened YES Prep Southwest. I don’t have a guess as to what his politics may be. Whatever the case, I have to assume there will be more of a Republican presence in these races, but it’s starting to get a little late in the cycle.

The next most remarkable thing is Wanda Adams’ report. I’m not sure if it was filled out incorrectly or if she really did raise no money while spending her account almost empty. I don’t know what to make of that.

Otherwise, and putting the weirdness of the Sung/Luman situation aside, it looks like we have some competitive races shaping up. If you didn’t know anything but what is in this table, you might be hard-pressed to tell who’s an incumbent. I know there’s a lot of activity already for 2018, and I feel like we’re in a bit of a holding pattern until we know for sure what the deal is with city races. I suspect there’s a lot more to come in these races. Maybe we’ll see it in the 30-day reports.

Reintroducing recapture

The tune has changed, and it’s time we make sure everyone knows it.

It felt like déjà vu to many of the 150 people who packed into Tinsley Elementary School’s auditorium Wednesday evening.

Facing another controversial Houston ISD school finance referendum, speakers debated two unfavorable options, both of which will cost the school district millions of dollars.

Wednesday’s forum served as the latest update in a school finance saga that has pitted Houston ISD against the state after 62 percent of local residents voted in November against paying the state millions in so-called recapture fees.

Board President Wanda Adams, who hosted the town hall, thanked those present for voting against recapture in November. But she asked them to vote in favor of writing a recapture check. “Because of your no vote, you actually won. We were the first district ever to tell the state no, the first to say we will not write a check until you fund public education,” Adams said.

The Houston ISD Board of Education voted in February to hold a second referendum on the issue May 6 after the state lessened the amount HISD would pay in recapture fee and threatened to “detach” commercial properties.

Glenn Reed, general manager of HISD’s Budgeting and Financial Planning, said this referendum is different than the one that appeared in on the November ballot.

“This is not a vote on recapture; it’s a vote on how you want us to pay it,” Reed said.

Well, to be exact, the November referendum was about how to pay for recapture, too. Adams is right that we got what we wanted out of that No vote. As you know, I believe we should accept that victory and vote Yes this time around. Early voting begins April 24, which is just over three weeks from now. We’re not used to voting in May in Houston – we have primary runoffs in May, but that’s different. There’s no turnout model for this, we’re all just going to be guessing. Those guesses are going to be on the low end, it’s just a matter of how low. HISD is going to have to convince some people to show up for them if they want to win again.

Recapture re-vote will happen

Mark your calendars for May 6.

On Thursday, the board voted 5-3, with one abstention, to put another referendum on recapture on the May 6 ballot. Placing a second referendum on the May ballot will cost the district $800,000, according to an HISD spokesman

Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who campaigned in favor of not paying recapture with the first referendum, said HISD called the state’s bluff, and, in turn, the state called HISD’s bluff, but the state has the upper hand.

“The TEA offered this; the TEA is the same agency that has the power to take this district over. If they take over, do you think they’ll send people who care about equity or our kids? Their whole agenda is not about our kids,” said Skillern-Jones, who voted in favor of the second referendum.

But Trustee Jolanda Jones, who spearheaded the effort to reject paying recapture, said the whole reason for the first referendum was to get the Texas Legislature to move on overhauling school finance.

She said if the district pays recapture this year, the recapture fees will keep going up each year, essentially robbing the district of more and more money.

“The only reason they’re paying attention is not because we have a great lobbying team, it’s because we voted no,” Jones said.

About 10 speakers at Thursday’s meeting lambasted the idea of the board reversing its stance on paying the recapture money. Ken Davis, principal of Yates High School, said the TEA’s lessening HISD’s recapture bill is not a favor.

“That’s not a gift -they’re still taking money from our schools,” Davis said. “Push back on that. You are all standing at a time where you set a standard for what the rest of the state does. Stand up and take a step forward.”

See here and here for the background. According to the HISD News Blog, Wanda Adams, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Anna Eastman, Mike Lunceford, and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca voted for the approval of election, while Diana Dávila, Jolanda Jones, and Manuel Rodriguez voted No, with Anne Sung abstaining. I know Eastman was a Yes vote on recapture back in November; she is the only Trustee that I’m certain favored it at that time. I appreciate what Jolanda Jones is saying here, but I lean more towards what Rhonda Skillern-Jones is saying. I think this reduced bill for recapture, which came about after the TEA reinterpreted existing law to give HISD and other districts a break for allowing a larger homestead exemption, is the best we’re going to get without the Legislature getting involved, and I would not bet on that happening. This isn’t the outcome we really wanted, but it’s a lot better than where we began. I think we should declare victory, take the half-a-loaf being offered to us, and make an extra push for a genuine legislative fix in 2019. KUHF and Swamplot have more.

HISD Board to discuss recapture re-vote today

We should find out today if a re-vote on recapture is in our future.

At their monthly meeting Thursday, trustees for the Houston Independent School Board will consider putting recapture back on the ballot.

[…]

In November, HISD voters rejected the traditional way to send a check to the state. Now HISD must pay with actual commercial property – almost $18 billion worth. In July, Education Commissioner Mike Morath is scheduled to detach that property and let another district, such as Alief or Aldine ISD, tax it instead. That’s known as detachment and will reduce HISD’s tax base.

“The only way we can be in this negotiation period is if we do not go into detachment,” HISD Board President Wanda Adams said.

“The homeowners are going to take the brunt of that, not the commercial properties, the homeowners. Right now it’s not a win-win for anyone, but right now at least we have them moving,” she added.

That’s why HISD may give voters another shot at the issue in May.

At the same time, HISD’s bill to the state has dropped by $55-60 million, according to state estimates. That’s more than a 30 percent drop from the original bill of $162 million.

See here for the background. One of the reasons why I was willing to vote No on recapture in November was the possibility that we could have a do-over in May if the Lege did not take action to mitigate the damage. Turns out we didn’t need the Lege to make something positive happen. I believe the No vote provided the impetus for that development. As such, I’m willing to vote for a reduced recapture bill if the Board sees fit to undertake one.

UPDATE: The Chron editorial board takes note of the developments.

Sung and Vilaseca sworn in at HISD

The HISD Board is back at full strength.

Anne Sung

As Anne Sung and Holly Flynn Vilaseca took their oaths of office and became Houston ISD’s newest Board of Education trustees on Thursday, their husbands swaddled their months-old babies in one hand and held holy books in the other.

Sung’s 11-month-old daughter, Sarita, and Flynn Vilaseca’s 13-month-old, Nicolas, hardly made a peep as their mothers became leaders of the nation’s seventh-largest school district.

Sung was elected as the District 7 trustee and will replace Harvin Moore, who resigned from the board last summer. Vilaseca was unanimously appointed by the board Monday to fill the District 6 seat vacated by Greg Meyers, who resigned at the board’s December meeting.

Both new members will serve through 2017. Then their seats will be back up for election.

[…]

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Sung and Flynn Vilaseca said top priorities include ensuring equity in terms of the number of talented teachers, funding and facilities across Houston’s campuses. Flynn Vilaseca said she would also like to focus on lobbying the state to abandon “recapture,” which takes money from so-called property-rich districts to assist those with lower property values.

Houston ISD officials have argued that because 75 percent of district students are considered low income, the money it pays to the state for recapture would be better spent locally.

Sung also hopes to make sure the board and district are operating ethically and transparently, particularly in the way it spends money.

Both also plan to focus on improving student achievement, especially among the district’s lowest-performing students.

“We need to bring attention back to doing what’s right for students and preparing them for life after high school,” Sung said. “We need to make sure we align what we’re teaching with what’s happening in the world.”

See here for more on Vilaseca. I’ve heard some chatter that she does plan to run for a full term in November, which will be a race to watch. I look forward to interviewing her down the line. In the meantime, the Board (which elected its officers for the year; Wanda Adams is now Board President) has a lot to deal with, including lobbying the Lege to do something about recapture, dealing with the revelations about special education, continuing the bond-funded construction projects, and so on. Welcome aboard, ladies (*), let’s get to work. The Press has more.

(*) In case you hadn’t noticed (I only just did), with the election of Sung and the selection of Vilaseca, the HISD Board is now comprised of seven women and two men.

A look ahead to Houston’s 2017 elections

I want to return to something in that story about Mayor Turner’s 2017 agenda, which was near the bottom but which is a very big deal for the coming year:

A lawsuit over the ballot language used last year to extend terms to a maximum of two four-year terms, from three two-year terms, hovers in the background.

A state district judge ruled in March that the language was “inartful” but legal, and the case now is under appeal.

At stake in the near term is whether Turner and members of City Council must run for re-election in 2017 or wait until 2019.

See here for the background. Usually around this time I’m writing about the upcoming election year and what we have to look forward to. Thanks to this lawsuit, we could have a year with no city elections, or a year in which nobody knows we have city elections until April or May and everyone operates on an insanely accelerated schedule from there. With that in mind, let’s look at our Year of Elections 2017 with a frame of The Elections We Will Have, The Elections We May Have, and The Elections We Could Have.

The Elections We Will Have

Whatever else happens with the term limits lawsuit, there will be elections in HISD and HCC. The following trustees for each board are up for election this year:

HISD – Anna Eastman (District I), Mike Lunceford (District V), Greg Meyers (District VI), Anne Sung (District VII), Wanda Adams (District IX)
HCC – Carolyn Evans-Shabazz (District 4), Robert Glaser (District 5), Chris Oliver (District 9)

Mike Lunceford is not running for re-election, so his seat will be open. Greg Meyers has already submitted his resignation, and a replacement Trustee will be selected by the Board in January. It is not clear if the Board will prefer a caretaker who will not run for election in November or if the new member will try to stake a claim. Anne Sung of course won the special election to succeed Harvin Moore a couple of weeks ago. Whatever happens in November, the Board will have three different members in the traditionally Republican districts than it had at the start of 2016. That has some negative potential, as all three were devoted to public schools in a way that is not necessarily characteristic of modern Republicans, meaning that whoever wins in November could be more antagonistic than what we are used to seeing. We’ll have a better idea when we know who is selected to replace Meyers, and who emerges to run for these seats. As for Eastman, she is my Trustee and as far as I know she is in for another term, but I haven’t spoken to her in the last few weeks, and she has not made any formal announcements. I’m not aware of any reason why Adams would not run for another term.

In HCC, both Shabazz-Evans and Glaser won elections to complete the unexpired terms for trustees who had resigned following their 2011 campaigns. Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson in District 4 in May of 2015, and then was unopposed for election. Glaser won a contested race to succeed Richard Schechter in 2013; appointed replacement Leila Feldman did not run for the seat. Oliver is a multi-term incumbent who easily defeated a challenger in 2011. Sometimes there are interesting things to say or look forward to in these races. This is not one of those times.

There will also be some number of constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, but we won’t know what they are until May or so when the Legislature finishes its business. If the term limits lawsuit goes down, preserving the new four-year terms for city officeholders, these referenda will be the only guaranteed items on your ballot this year.

The most interesting race in the area that is not in Houston will be in Pasadena, where Mayor Johnny Isbell is term-limited out and where the City Council lines may or may not be redrawn, pending the ruling in the voting rights lawsuit that is currently in the judge’s hands. That election will be in May. Other area cities such as Bellaire, West U, Sugar Land, and Rosenberg, also have elections in May. I hope to have some more information about some of these races in a subsequent post. Also of interest in May will be the San Antonio elections, where Mayor Ivy Taylor has some competition for a second full term. I’m sure I’ll do some writing about that as well.

The Elections We May Have

In addition to the statewide ballot propositions, there are two local ones that could be on your November eSlate machine, both of which could be quite contentious. Mayor Turner has stated his intention to put a referendum about the revenue cap on the ballot this year, though one presumes that could change if his pension reform bills do not pass. You can be sure that the opposition to this, mostly from the likes of Paul Bettencourt and no doubt with the help of the statewide Republican cabal, will be ferocious and very well-funded. Which in a way will be good for Mayor Turner, because if he can successfully cast this as a partisan issue, especially a “statewide Republicans meddling in our business AGAIN” issue, he ought to at least begin with the larger share of the vote. Getting those people to vote, whether or not there are other city elections to draw them out, will be the challenge. I suspect Mayor Turner doesn’t do anything without planning out how it will go, so I sure hope he has a plan for this one.

The other possible ballot item we might have is an updated Metro Solutions plan, which may include more rail construction projects, possibly including another shot at the Universities Line. This has been floated as an option by Metro Chair Carrin Patman, but it is not yet clear that it would be on the ballot, and if it would be there this year if so, and it is not yet clear what the scope of it would be. Needless to say, any rail component would generate some opposition, with a new Universities Line plan bringing out the usual suspects, some of whom would already be fully engaged in a revenue cap fight. It’s an interesting question whether you’d rather have this item on the ballot by itself, or in the same space as a revenue cap item. I’m glad that’s not my call to make.

The Elections We Could Have

This is the one that is entirely contingent on the Supreme Court, which as we know has not hesitated to stick its collective nose in our electoral business. If the 2015 term limits referendum is thrown out for having insufficiently clear wording, then the people who will be the most affected are the Council members who are in their last terms: Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, Mike Laster, Larry Green, and Jack Christie. Cohen’s District C and Laster’s District J represent challenges for Democrats, as Bill King carried both districts in the 2015 Mayoral runoff. The ideal District C candidate is in the Anne Clutterbuck-Ellen Cohen spectrum, while the low turnout District J will always be a bit of a wild card. Against that, Dems will have opportunities in both Christie’s At Large #5 and first-term CM Mike Knox’s AL #1, though as we have discussed before, cattle call races with lots of similarly-profiled Democrats have benefited Republican citywide candidates in the recent past. The ideal here is for a candidate who begins with a lot of backing to get in and largely hoover up all the support – think Melissa Noriega in 2007, or Amanda Edwards in 2015.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, as it’s even more speculative than usual, but I do want to at least put a marker on it, since if these elections do happen they may happen all at once, with little warning and not much time to prepare. I’ll be keeping an eye on this, and will be ready for either a busier or more relaxed interview season this fall.

We have a superintendent

Welcome to Houston.

The San Francisco public schools superintendent won over a divided Houston school board with what members described as his devotion to equity for all students, passion for the arts and willingness to collaborate.

The trustees, often split along ideological and racial lines, voted unanimously Wednesday to select Richard Carranza, an educator who has led the much smaller California district for four years, as the lone finalist for the superintendent’s job here.

The former teacher and principal, who spoke Spanish growing up in Arizona and learned English in school, said he looks forward to taking the helm of the Houston Independent School District after his contract negotiation and the state’s mandatory 21-day waiting period.

“We have come together as a team,” school board vice president Wanda Adams said. “We have agreed to disagree on issues. But at the end, we were able to cross the finish line.”

[…]

In a brief phone interview Wednesday, Carranza said he sees Houston schools as ripe for improvement. He touted his efforts in San Francisco to focus on students’ social and emotional needs, in addition to academics.

“We never lower the bar for children, but we raise the level of support,” said Carranza, who described himself as a “blue-collar superintendent,” the son of a sheet metal worker and a hairdresser who was influenced by teachers to attend college.

“The role of the superintendent is to be in the community,” he said. “People are going to see me and are going to understand I’m approachable.”

Everyone gets the benefit of the doubt in the beginning, and Carranza appears to have earned quite a bit of that. He’s got a good resume, the teachers’ union has expressed cautious optimism, and anyone who can get the Board to be unanimous on anything is a force to be reckoned with. To be sure, he’ll have his work cut out for him, but I look forward to seeing what he can do. The Press has more.

Where are the women?

I have several things to say about this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donna Edmunson

From the inbox:

Donna Edmunson

Mayor Annise Parker has selected Donna Edmundson to be the new city attorney. Upon confirmation by City Council, Edmundson will become the first woman to hold the position. She has nearly 30 years of experience with the City Legal Department.

“With just a year left in my term and a wealth of internal talent, I did not see a need to consider an outside candidate,” said Mayor Parker. “Multiple employees were interviewed from within the department, and I concluded Donna is the best choice. She has deep and broad experience in matters of law and management. I particularly like that her recent experience has been in the area of neighborhood protection, which is one of my top priorities.”

Edmundson has been practicing law in the City Legal Department since 1986. Since 2008, she has served as Chief of the department’s Neighborhood Services Section. Her current responsibilities include managing 25 attorneys and support staff as well as providing legal advice regarding neighborhood issues to various city departments. She has pursued legal action against the owners of dangerous buildings and works closely with the Houston Police Department (HPD) on gang, drug and vice related matters. Her work targeting a north side gang known as the Hollywood Click resulted in a 40 percent reduction in criminal activity in a 48 square mile area on Houston’s north side. She was also intimately involved in the settlement that ended long-standing litigation between 16 area topless clubs and the City. The agreement set new regulations for operation of the clubs and provided funding for creation of a human trafficking unit within HPD.

Prior to being named to the management position of section chief, Edmundson served as a Senior Assistant City Attorney. She has a law degree from South Texas College of Law and a B.A. from Sam Houston State University.

Edmundson will replace David Feldman, who is resigning effective January 16, 2015, to go into practice with his son.

City Council is expected to consider Edmundson’s confirmation in two weeks.

The Chron story has some more details.

Colleagues describe the soft-spoken attorney – a fourth-generation Houstonian, Westbury High School graduate and the youngest, with her twin brother, of six siblings – as tireless, firm and passionate about her work.

Wanda Adams, an HISD trustee and former council member who worked with Edmundson on many neighborhood nuisances, said she has “a community heart.”

“She approaches her work with passion, and she’s very honest and transparent,” Adams said. “Donna would go out and look at the issue. She didn’t sit at the desk. I always used to talk about the landlords and dilapidated apartments. She would actually go out there and look and see and talk to the tenants.”

[…]

Parker lauded Edmundson’s work to secure a 10-year court order against a north Houston gang known as the Hollywood Click. The injunction, signed in 2011, severely limits gang members’ activities in a 48-square-mile area and, officials said, has cut crime there 40 percent. Edmundson also worked on a novel settlement with 16 area topless clubs that legalized lap dances in exchange for the clubs funding a new police vice unit and closing private rooms.

“The things that we do and we impact, you can directly see,” Edmundson said. “We can get a call about something that’s a dangerous building and get the owner to take it down. You have locations where there’s criminal activity. We can go in and sue them or get some sort of injunctive relief to bring that activity to a close.”

Neighborhood leaders praised Edmundson for her responsiveness. Glenbrook Valley residents had accumulated a backlog of alleged deed restriction violations the city had ignored when Edmundson took over theNeighborhood Services Division several years ago, civic leader Ann Collum said. Edmundson came to the neighborhood and reviewed the entire file.

“She’s very caring and very concerned,” Collum said. “There was a completely open communication line if we had a question or didn’t understand something. She will be an asset to the whole city.”

Councilman Mike Laster served in the city attorney’s office with Edmundson in the 1990s and has worked with her on issues in his district since joining the council in 2012.

“As a colleague in the city attorney’s office, she was a great mentor and a gentle teacher to young attorneys and other colleagues,” he said. “As a person who worked with a council member, she brought that same sort of intelligence and good humor to the table. She has the ability to be strong and firm and definite when that’s needed, and she also, more importantly, has an open mind.”

All very good to hear. Gotta say, I’d have thought we’d have had a female City Attorney by now, but apparently not. I wish Ms. Edmunson all the best. She’s coming in at a critical time, with the HERO repeal petition lawsuit about to get underway. Good luck with the new job, and please be immediately successful. Texas Leftist has more.

HISD approves its redistricting plan

As we know, HISD now includes all of the former North Forest ISD, and with that new territory came the need to reapportion its Trustee districts. They completed that task last week with a minimum of fuss.

HISD Redistricting Plan

The Houston school board Thursday unanimously approved a redistricting plan that changes all nine trustee districts to accommodate thousands of new voters from the former North Forest school system.

Trustee Greg Meyers, who represents District 6 on the city’s far west side, previously had expressed concerns about the plan, particularly over losing the precinct around Valley West and Milne elementary schools to District 9. Trustees ultimately agreed on a slight change, deciding to keep Valley West Elementary in District 6; the move affects only the campus, not the voters in precinct 525, who now will be represented by trustee Wanda Adams in District 9.

“Throughout this redistricting process, every board member lost and gained,” Meyers said Friday. “This was the best situation that could have occurred.”

The HISD board was required to redraw trustee districts after the state ordered the annexation of North Forest ISD, which added about 53,000 voters in northeast Houston. The plan evens out the number of voters across the nine districts and maintains a majority-minority population in seven of the nine districts.

See here for the background. The post above includes a list of schools that are now in different Trustee districts. You can check here to verify who your Trustee is, though it may not yet be updated to reflect the changes. For the most part, not too much changed, and there will be no special elections to deal with this. Check and see if you were affected, but the odds are that most people will never notice this.

Payday lending ordinance passes

In the end, it wasn’t close.

The Houston City Council overwhelmingly passed restrictions on payday and auto title lenders Wednesday, avoiding rumored parliamentary maneuvers to delay the vote and calling on the state Legislature to follow suit.

The vote was 15-2, with Councilwoman Helena Brown and Councilman James Rodriguez opposed. Rodriguez did not seek to delay the measure as had been speculated.

[…]

“Something must be done; something should be done,” Councilman Andrew Burks said. “Our Legislature, they had the ball and dropped it. I don’t like this, but I have to vote for it because … this is the only thing on the table, and it does do something.”

Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who said her office has helped seniors get back cars that had been repossessed after they defaulted on title loans, praised the outcome.

“I’m so proud to know we are taking a stand in protecting our constituents throughout our community,” Adams said. “I think this is something right.”

The measure will take effect July 1, with the city’s new budget year.

The Chron story from yesterday morning about the vote that was scheduled to take place made it sound like it would be closer, though it didn’t quote any member of Council that claimed to be undecided. The two that did vote against it were not a surprise. It’s what CM Brown does, and CM Rodriguez, the subject of a scathing column by Lisa Falkenberg that made Campos see red, was known to not object to payday lenders. The only question was whether CM Rodriguez would tag the ordinance – he was absent at the Council meeting last week and thus eligible to apply a tag, though that is usually not done – which would have the effect of pushing it onto the new Council. As it turns out, that likely would not have made any difference.

But I’m glad they didn’t wait. This was important, it needed to get done, and now there’s that much more time next year to do other things. Even with the head start, there are still plenty of items on Mayor Parker’s third term agenda. So far, so good. Statements praising the ordinance have been sent out by Sens. Rodney Ellis and Sylvia Garcia, as well as the AARP, who like Sen. Ellis calls the ordinance a message to the Lege to get its act together. PDiddie, Stace, Texas Leftist, Texpatriate, and the Observer have more.

Where things stand going into early voting

A few impressions of the state of the races as we head into early voting.

Mayor – The thing that I will be looking for as initial results get posted at 7 PM on November 5 is how the gaggle of non-competitive candidates is doing. The thing about having nine candidates in a race, even if only two of them have any realistic hope of winning, is that it doesn’t take much support for the long tail to make a runoff a near-certainty. Basically, the amount that the seven stragglers get is the amount Mayor Parker must lead Ben Hall by in order to win the election in November. If the group of seven gets 10%, then Parker needs to lead Hall by at least ten points – 50 to 40 to 10 – in order to win outright. If they collect 20%, Parker needs to lead by 20 – 50 to 30 to 20.

There are no good parallels to this year’s race, but for what it’s worth the three bit players in 2009 got 1.01% of the vote; in 2003 six no-names for 0.65%; in 2001 there were four minor candidates collecting 0.45%; and in 1997, the bottom five candidates got 11.94%. That last one, which may be the closest analogue to this year, comes with an asterisk since two of those five candidates were term-limited Council members, Gracie Saenz and Helen Huey, and they combined for 10.46% of that total. One reason why the past doesn’t offer a good guide for this year is that in all of these races there were at least three viable candidates. Everyone else, save for Saenz and Huey in 1997, was truly marginal. None of Eric Dick, Keryl Douglass, or Don Cook can be considered viable, but they all ought to have a slightly larger base than the perennials and no-names in these earlier races. How much larger is the key question, because however large it is, that’s how big Mayor Parker’s lead over Ben Hall will need to be for her to avoid overtime.

Controller – This race has been Ronald Green’s to lose from the get go, and it remains so. I don’t think his position is any stronger than it was nine months ago, but at least he hasn’t had any bad publicity recently, either. He’s largely held onto the endorsements he’s gotten in the past, though losing the Chron had to sting a little. He’s still an underwhelming fundraiser, but while Bill Frazer has done well in this department he hasn’t done enough to make himself a recognizable name, and that’s to Green’s advantage. Green probably needs Ben Hall to make a decent showing, because while Green did reasonably well in Republican areas in 2009, he will probably lose some of that support this time, and as such he may need a boost from African-American turnout. If Green loses he can certainly kiss any Mayoral ambitions he may have goodbye. If he squeaks by, I can already envision the postmortem stories that will talk about his close call and how that might affect his Mayoral plans. If he were to run for Mayor in 2015, I guarantee that narrative will follow him closely all the way through, just as Mayor Parker’s close shave in 2011 has followed her in this cycle.

At Large Council – I feel confident saying that CMs Costello, Bradford, and Christie will win, though Christie will have the closest call and could conceivably be forced into a runoff. His two opponents have picked up a decent assortment of endorsements between them given their late entries and fairly low profiles. One wonders how things might have gone if someone had jumped into this race early on, as I suggested many moons ago.

I think CM Andrew Burks could be in trouble. He’s done a reasonable job collecting endorsements, but he hasn’t done as well on that score as a typical incumbent does. Like Ronald Green, he needs Ben Hall to have some coattails in the African-American districts, but remember that Burks has not done as well in those boxes as other African-American candidates. But it’s fundraising where you really see the red flags. Combining his three reports for this year, Burks has hauled in about $57K total. His main challenger, David Robinson, reported raising over $66K just on his 30 Day form. Robinson took in another $82K on the July report. He also has over $73K on hand for the late push, while Burks has just $8K. Money isn’t destiny, but these numbers are the exact reverse of what you’d usually see with an incumbent and a challenger.

As for At Large #3, it is as it has been all along, basically wide open with each of the five viable candidates having a plausible case for making the runoff. Bob Stein pegs Michael Kubosh as basically already having a ticket punched for the runoff, but I’ll wait and see. He probably has the best name ID of the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s terribly well known. I just don’t know enough about this one to hazard a guess.

District Council races – A year ago at this time, I’d have marked first term CM Helena Brown as an underdog for re-election. Now I’m not so sure. She’s done well at fundraising, she’s garnered some endorsements – getting the HAR endorsement was both a finger in the eye for Brenda Stardig and a nice bit of establishment sheen for herself – and she hasn’t generated any embarrassing headlines in months. I believe she’s still going to be in a runoff, most likely with Stardig but not necessarily with her, but I think runoff scenarios that don’t include Brown are unlikely at this time. I might bet a token amount on her being un-elected, but I wouldn’t bet any real money on it.

Brown’s freshman colleague Jerry Davis looks to be in better shape. There’s still resentment to him in some quarters, mostly from former CM Carol Mims Galloway and her supporters, but Davis has good support on his side, and he’s gotten the large majority of campaign contributions. Kathy Daniels is a good candidate and she’ll make some noise – a runoff isn’t out of the question – but I see Davis as the clear favorite.

Districts D and I are anyone’s guess. Dwight Boykins has the edge in D, but it’s a strong field, and if Boykins doesn’t clearly separate himself from the rest of the pack he could be vulnerable in December if the bulk of the runnersup back his opponent. Anything could happen in I, where none of the four candidates seems to have a clear advantage over the others. It won’t shock me if it’s a close finish among the four, with a small number of votes separating the runoff contestants from the other two. Some runoff scenarios are preferable to others, but all scenarios are possible.

HISD and HCC – No surprises in HISD. I believe Anna Eastman gets re-elected, Harvin Moore gets re-elected though Anne Sung will have put herself on the map, and Wanda Adams wins in IX. Zeph Capo has run a strong race in HCC1 – this is one of those times where a string of endorsements will mean something – and I believe he wins there. I think Bruce Austin and Neeta Sane get re-elected, but I don’t know about Herlinda Garcia, and I have no clue who will win in the open District 5 seat.

Everything else – I think the two Harris County propositions, for the Astrodome and for the joint processing center, will pass. I think the constitutional amendments will pass, though one or more may fail for some goofy and unforeseeable reason. I do think Prop 6, the water infrastructure fund, passes. The one non-Houston race I’m keenly interested in is the Pasadena redistricting referendum. I have no idea how that is going, but obviously I’m rooting for it to go down.

Endorsement watch: HISD

Clearly, this is an early endorsements year for the Chronicle, as they follow up their HCC recommendations with their endorsements in the contested HISD Trustee races.

District 1: Anna Eastman, the board president, has been a thoughtful leader and a strong advocate for tightening the board’s ethics policy. We heartily endorse her re-election.

Eastman, an HISD parent, joined the board four years ago. She believes that the turnover among the district’s best principals and teachers is too high, and that HISD needs to pay more attention to retaining and developing its staff, and not focus only on non-renewal of low performers: “You can’t fire your way to excellence.”

She argues that openness is the best way to fight graft. “Corruption isn’t overt,” she says. “You don’t see bad people lurking in the corners. It’s far more subtle, an assumption about the way that influence works. The best way to fight it is to make as much as possible accessible to outside third parties.”

About Apollo 20, she says, “The program has noble, worthy origins, and I think it’s done an incredible job at changing school cultures. But it’s very, very expensive. The analysis that we’ve done to date shows that its biggest impact comes from the math tutors, which are the expensive part, but we haven’t seen whether their effects last beyond a year. Are there sustained performance gains?”

District 7:Harvin Moore, a member of the board since 2003, has been perhaps the strongest supporter of Superintendent Grier. Though we are impressed by his challenger Anne Sung, we endorse Moore as a steady hand and a master of HISD’s details.

Moore is a fan of technology-aided “blended learning,” which he says could help eliminate benchmark tests that consume too much classroom time. He supports expansion of Apollo 20: “It’s shown astounding results in math. And no one doubts that it’s reduced the dropout rate.”

Moore, who has served on HISD’s audit committee, says that the best way to fight corruption on the school board is to have a strong superintendent. And he argues that high teacher turnover has been good for the district: “We retained 90 percent of the most highly functioning teachers, and we exited 52 to 54 percent of the lowest.”

District 9: Of the three candidates vying to replace long-time board member Larry Marshall, a magnet for scandal, we believe that Wanda Adams, currently a member of Houston City Council, would do the best job. She is energetic and active in community affairs.

To fight corruption, she suggests that HISD make school board candidates’ campaign filings available in ways that are easy for the general public to search. And she says that when a board member has shown shaky ethics, it’s up to other board members to hold him or her accountable.

She presents herself as a consensus builder. And she is conscious of the changing needs of District 9, an historically African-American area with a growing Hispanic population.

I just finished publishing my HISD Trustee interviews, but in case you missed them, here they are:

Anna Eastman, District I
Hugo Mojica, District I
Harvin Moore, District VII
Anne Sung, District VII
Wanda Adams, District IX

As I’ve said before, I support Anna Eastman, who is my Trustee and who I believe has done an excellent job. I’m glad to see the Chron support her as well, not that I expected otherwise.

Interview with Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

Wanda Adams

As we know, longtime District IX Trustee Larry Marshall decided not to run for re-election this year. Three candidates are running to succeed him, one of whom is term-limited City Council Member Wanda Adams. Adams is serving her third term in District D, and before serving on Council she worked for the city in a variety of capacities, including City of Houston Housing Authority, Harris County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Association, Solid Waste Management, and the Mayor’s Citizen’s Assistance Office. Adams is also a professor of political science at TSU, where she received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Here’s the interview:

Wanda Adams interview

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2013 Election page.

HISD race overviews

The Chron takes a look at the three contested HISD races.

CM Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

The District 9 race in south Houston sees the return of W. Clyde Lemon, an attorney who held the seat for two years until Marshall ousted him in the 1997 election.

“Here we are, wanting to move the focus back to children being the priority in public education,” said Lemon, 57.

City Councilwoman Wanda Adams, whose term is expiring, and HISD teacher Coretta Mallet-Fontenot also are vying for the seat.

As a way to engage students and their parents, Lemon said he would like to see Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops based at elementary schools. He also suggested offering bonuses to draw teachers to the neediest campuses.

To help with public trust, Lemon said, he thinks HISD board members should have to file personal financial disclosure forms, as state lawmakers do.

Adams, 46, said campaign contributions should be posted online in an easily searchable system like the city’s.

With the area’s growing Hispanic population, Adams said, she wants to make sure there are enough bilingual teachers on staff. She also said HISD should seek partners to tutor struggling students at all campuses, not just prioritize the 20 schools in the Apollo reform program.

Mallet-Fontenot, 42, a second-grade teacher at Law Elementary, said the Apollo label has driven students away. She criticized the “revolving door of teachers and administrators” in the district and said teachers need to have more input in their job evaluations.

I’m just quoting from the District IX section here because I interviewed all of the candidates in the other contested races – Anna Eastman and Hugo Mojica in District I; Harvin Moore and Anne Sung in District VII. Wanda Adams was the only candidate I interviewed in District IX. These are important races, and one factor not mentioned in this story is the divergent opinions among Board members about Superintendent Terry Grier. Eastman is a prominent critic, while Moore is a big supporter. There’s potential here for Grier to wind up facing a very different Board, one way or the other. That’s worth keeping an eye on as well.

The 2013 lineup

So many candidates.

He’s baaaaaaack…

More than 60 candidates have filed to run for city of Houston elective office this fall, many of them rushing in before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline.

[…]

Atop the ballot, [Mayor Annise] Parker is challenged by wealthy attorney Ben Hall, conservative Eric Dick, repeat Green Party candidate Don Cook, and six others. City Controller Ron Green is opposed by accountant Bill Frazer.

The ballot’s most crowded council race, with 11 contenders, will be for District D, the south Houston seat held by term-limited Wanda Adams, who has filed to run for a seat on the Houston ISD board.

Looking to succeed Adams are several candidates who have sought the seat or other council posts before, including Dwight Boykins, Larry McKinzie, Lana Edwards and Keith Caldwell. First-time contenders include Anthony Robinson, a businessman and lawyer who was exonerated after serving 10 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, and Houston Housing Authority vice-chair Assata-Nicole Richards, who briefly was homeless and went on to earn a doctorate in sociology.

[…]

Other notable filings include Issa Dadoush, who formerly ran the facilities department for the city, then HISD. He will challenge incumbent Councilman C.O. Bradford. Perennial candidate Michael “Griff” Griffin – who said his 10th failed bid for City Council in 2011 would be his last – also filed, against At-Large 1 incumbent Councilman Stephen Costello.

So we will have Griff to kick around again. Whoop-de-doo. No, I will not be interviewing him. My to-do list is a little longer now, but it doesn’t include Griff. Life is too short.

I’m still working on my 2013 Election page, since there are some names that remain unknown to me. I’ll wait and see what the final list of candidates on the City Secretary page looks like before I declare the page finalized. Some races are no different – At Large #2, Districts A, C, and I. Apparently, neither Chris Carmona nor Al Edwards filed in At Large #3, leaving that field a bit smaller than I’d have expected. The Bradford/Dadoush race in At Large #4 is potentially interesting. I know of at least one more candidate in At Large #5, James “father of Noah” Horwitz. And my God, could we possibly have more Mayoral candidates?

The big non-city-race news is the retirement of HISD Trustee Larry Marshall.

Marshall, who turned 81 in June, first was elected to the board of the Houston Independent School District in 1997. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The other four incumbents up for re-election are running, and two face opponents.

A civil lawsuit filed by a construction contractor in late 2010 put Marshall under intense scrutiny, accusing him of a bribery and kickback scheme with his political campaign treasurer to help certain construction firms land HISD contracts.

The Houston Chronicle also has reported that the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office had launched a criminal investigation tied to the lawsuit.

[…]

The candidates running for Marshall’s seat are: W. Clyde Lemon, who served on the board in the mid-1990s; City Councilwoman Wanda Adams; Anthony Madry, a former HISD assistant principal; and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot.

I need to update the District IX race on the 2013 Election page, but I have the other races right – Anna Eastman versus Hugo Mojica in I, Harvin Moore versus Anne Sung in VII, and nobody versus Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VIII. At least these races are straightforward.

Not mentioned as far as I can tell are the HCC Trustee races. Five trustees are up for election, thanks to the two appointments. Two incumbents, Neeta Sane and Bruce Austin, have no opponents that I am aware of. Yolanda Navarro Flores, who in 2011 lost a defamation lawsuit against her colleagues, is opposed by educator Zeph Capo and civic activist Kevin Hoffman, who narrowly lost to Navarro Flores in 2007. Herlinda Garcia, a former trustee who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by State Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HCC 3, is opposed by Adriana Tamez and Dane Cook. Leila Feldman, appointed to replace Richard Schechter after he resigned, is opposed by Phil Kunetka. Among other things, this means that the tail end of my interviewing schedule will be fuller than I originally thought it would be. As I said, these are the races I’m aware of. If I’ve missed anything, let me know. Stace and Campos have more.

July finance reports for non-candidates

Not everyone who files a finance report with the city is running for something this November. Term-limited incumbents, and former candidates who still have money in their campaign treasuries are required to file reports as well. Here’s a look a those who did this July:

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL3 Noriega 25,245 5,224 23,602 11,000 D Adams I Rodriguez 0 3,274 10,293 0 2011 Jones 0 0 3,203 0 2005 Lee 0 0 1,287 0 2009 Locke 0 427 4,065 0 2003 Berry 0 5,000 0 71,622

Here are all the reports. I did not find one for CM Wanda Adams. Doesn’t mean she didn’t file one – as noted CM Cohen filed one but it’s not visible on the city’s finance reports page – but one was not to be found.

Noriega report
Rodriguez report

Jones report
Lee report
Locke report
Berry report

CM Melissa Noriega has some debt, which is why she raised funds this year. I have no idea if she plans to run for something else in the future, but if she does I’ll be in the front row, cheering her on. I’m pretty sure she lives in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, not that I’m hinting or anything. CM James Rodriguez has been reportedly interested in taking on Commissioner Morman in 2014, but if so he hasn’t started fundraising for it.

As for the former candidates, I listed the year of their last election instead of an office, since only two of them held one. I presume at this point that Jolanda Jones is not going to push boundaries and run for District D. It wouldn’t surprise me if she does run for something else someday, but it doesn’t look like this will be the year for that. Mark Lee ran for Controller in 2003 and District C in 2005, narrowly missing the runoff in the latter race. Neither he nor Gene Locke nor Michael Berry seem likely to run for anything again, but one never knows. Unlike Congress and the Legislature, there’s just not that much leftover city campaign money lying around.

Payday and title loan regulation in Houston

From Nonsequiteuse, who got the following email in her inbox:

Where payday lending comes from

Proposed City of Houston Lending Ordinance
Presentation to Council Committee
Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The City of Houston Legal Department has proposed new regulations for credit access businesses, commonly referred to as payday loan or title loan institutions. The lending practices employed by these various businesses are currently subject to only limited state regulations. Because of such limited regulation and in spite of a borrower’s best intentions, there are those that suffer financial setbacks after they obtain credit and have difficulty repaying their financial obligations. Proposed changes to Chapter 28 of the City of Houston Code of Ordinances would establish minimum business practices for these institutions in hopes of substantially curtailing the likelihood of borrowers becoming trapped in a cycle of debt.

The proposed ordinance will be considered at the Housing, Sustainable Growth and Development Committee meeting on Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 10 a.m., in the Council Chamber on the second floor of City Hall, 901 Bagby, Houston 77002. Public comment is welcome in person or in writing.

To review and comment on the proposed ordinance, visit http://www.houstontx.gov/ordinancefeedback.html, Payday Loans (Chapter 28). For questions contact Larry Schenk at larry.schenk@houstontx.gov or 832.393.6447.

See also this press release from CM Wanda Adams. I’m very glad to see the city taking action on this. While it is the case that bills to regulate payday lending have been filed again in the Legislature, there’s no reason to believe any of them will pass, for the payday lending industry has strong defenders of its system working for them. While state or even federal action would be best, there’s no question that a local ordinance can be effective and can get enacted quickly, though of course the payday lenders won’t go without a fight here, either. I noted before an effort by the city of San Antonio to take action against payday lenders. Seeing this made me check up on that, and I’m pleased to see that their ordinance was passed in September. If Houston follows suit, they will join San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas in taking steps to curb the abuses on this industry. These are small steps, but every step forward is a good thing. I urge Council and Mayor Parker to follow through on this.

Two side items to note. One is that the Texas Fair Lending Alliance, which was involved in that San Antonio effort, is the main clearinghouse for the fight in the state legislature. Get involved with them if you want to be a part of this. Two, that Ordinance Feedback link is a reminder that Council has a pretty full agenda ahead of itself. In addition to payday lending, other issues on the horizon are Mobile Food Units, i.e., food trucks; Chapter 42, the density and development code; and Off Street Parking, for which Eating Our Words has an update. Got to pay attention to this stuff, it has at least as much effect on your daily life as what’s going on in Austin and DC.

The 2013 campaign season has officially begun

Sort of, anyway. Some of us received this email in our inboxes recently, touting the virtues of former Bill White chief of staff Terence Fontaine as a candidate for District D; incumbent Wanda Adams is term-limited out next year. I don’t know Mr. Fontaine and I don’t have any opinions on who might or should run in District D next year. I’m not going to think about the 2013 elections until the 2012 elections are safely in the past. But I do always wonder if emails like these really are coming from an organized group – “We are teachers, lawyers, community activists and business owners” this one proclaims – or a single individual, most likely a political consultant looking for an opportunity. In either case, what I really want to know is why are you using MailChimp? Did we learn nothing from the earlier unpleasantness? Seriously. Anyway, though Fontaine is not a declared candidate yet, he is the first named potential candidate for the open D seat. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more soon. Just, please, no sooner than November 7.

Budget amendment time

Now that Mayor Parker has formally submitted her proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, it’s time for Council members to submit their amendments for consideration. I’m going to start at the bottom of the story with the two proposals that intrigues me the most.

Two members called for a November election to amend the city’s term limits law, which forces council members, the mayor and controller from office after three two-year terms. [CM Wanda] Adams proposes two four-year terms; Councilman Andrew Burks proposes three four-year terms.

Councilman Ed Gonzalez has proposed a ban on plastic bags in Houston. Specifically, his amendment calls for the city to draw up an ordinance within a year that would phase out the use of the bags. Brownsville has banned the bags, and a ban goes into effect in Austin next year.

“We have a number of bayous, and they’re littered with plastic bottles and plastic bags,” which conservation groups spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year removing, Gonzalez said. He referred to trees on the banks of bayous with bags snagged in their boughs as “urban Christmas trees.” He said he does not envision the city offering businesses a financial incentive to abandon plastic bags.

As you know, I don’t like term limits at all, but if we have to have them I’d rather put the limit at 12 years rather than 6, for the simple reason that I don’t think six years is enough time to really accomplish much as a Council member. As such, I’d take Burks’ proposal over Adams’, though hers is still better than the status quo. However, I would prefer even more to have six two-year terms instead of three four-year terms. My argument for having two year terms instead of four year terms can be summed up in four words: Council Member Helena Brown. Four years is an awful long time to have to wait to correct an error like that.

As for the bag ban proposal, you know I’ve been following developments around the state and wondering when Houston might get in on the act. About time for it, I say. I don’t have a strong preference for any specific approach to this, whether a ban by fiat or by imposition of a tax on bags, perhaps to be replaced later by a full on ban. As long as the city engages all the stakeholders and gives plenty of opportunity for feedback, I’m sure the end result will be fine. All of these proposals assume Mayor Parker supports them, as they are unlikely to get very far if she doesn’t. We know she’s no fan of the current term limits system, and I’ll be very surprised if she doesn’t back up her Mayor Pro Tem on this one.

Council members Stephen Costello and Wanda Adams both call for giving $160,000 to the Houston Food Bank to help it enroll more people in SNAP, the federal program formerly known as food stamps.

One of Councilman Mike Sullivan’s amendments would eliminate funding for affirmative action monitoring on city contracts. Councilman Larry Green proposes increasing it.

From Councilman Jack Christie came a fill-it-or-kill-it plan that would have Council consider eliminating any position that remains vacant for three months.

First-term Councilwoman Ellen Cohen proposed a Houston version of the so-called “pole tax” she shepherded into law as a state legislator. The state law imposed a $5 per customer fee on strip clubs to raise money for sexual assault victims.

In order:

– I approve of the Costello/Adams proposal. Ensuring children have adequate nutrition is one of the best investments you can make. It is, to coin a phrase, a big effin’ deal.

– Sullivan may have won his Republican primary last month, but between this and some of his other amendments, which include a five percent pay cut for the Mayor and Council members, I guess he isn’t finished wooing those voters. I don’t expect them to go far, and as Campos notes, his colleagues who hope to be on Council longer than Sullivan intends to be probably aren’t too thrilled by this.

– I see some merit in Christie’s proposal, but on the whole I’d prefer to err on the side of more flexibility for department heads.

– I’m a tiny bit ambivalent about Cohen’s SOB proposal. No question, clearing the rape kit backlog is a huge priority, and with the favorable resolution of the lawsuit over the state “pole tax” law (that Cohen authored), this is the obvious vehicle for that. I just feel, as I did about the state law, that sexual assault is everyone’s problem and everyone’s responsibility, and as such it feels a little pat to put the entire burden for funding these needed items on strip clubs and the like. It’s a minor quibble, not enough to make me oppose Cohen’s amendment, I just felt like someone had to say that.

There’s more proposals than just these, of varying levels of seriousness and likelihood of adoption. In addition to her pension default tomfoolery, CM Helena Brown has a variety of no-hope amendments, including one to switch the city from a strong mayor system to a city manager system. There are pros and cons to each approach, and without commenting on the merits of one system over the other, I’ll just note that this would be a ginormous, fundamental change to how we do things, and as such would need a ton of discussion and engagement culminating in a charter referendum. All things considered, it’s hard to see this as anything but another attack on the Mayor by her political enemies. Stace has more.

30 day reports, Harris County candidates for state office

We’re now 26 days out from the May 29 primary, which means more campaign finance reports from candidates for state and county offices who are in contested primaries. I’m going to post about all of these, starting today with reports from Harris County candidates for state offices. Here are the Democrats, whose reports are linked from my 2012 Democratic primary election page:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Nilsson SBOE6 1,100 1,267 0 1,092 Jensen SBOE6 8,105 9,462 0 4,699 Scott SBOE6 200 474 0 346 Allen HD131 103,451 52,965 0 60,002 Adams HD131 17,930 70,768 411 24,110 Madden HD137 15,968 12,232 0 13,987 Smith HD137 29,352 24,993 0 6,255 Winkler HD137 15,575 4,170 20,000 35,914 Wu HD137 35,579 30,539 0 73,468 Perez HD144 48,120 20,238 0 40,729 Risner HD144 9,315 15,158 0 4,156 Ybarra HD144 4,650 7,586 0 27 Miles HD146 16,600 27,776 730,000 58,573 Edwards HD146 14,449 13,685 0 764 Coleman HD147 41,525 39,052 0 84,433 Hill HD147

My post on the January reports is here. Some thoughts about these reports:

I think we can say that Rep. Alma Allen has eradicated the early lead Wanda Adams had in cash on hand. The establishment has rallied to Rep. Allen’s side, as is usually the case with an incumbent in good standing. A lot of money has already been spent in this race, and I don’t expect that to change over the next four weeks.

Usually, establishment support and fundraising prowess go hand in hand, but not always. HD137 is one of the exceptions, as Gene Wu has been the strongest fundraiser despite garnering only one endorsement (that I’m aware of) so far – HAR, which is certainly a nice get but not a core Democratic group. Joe Madden and Jamaal Smith have racked up the endorsements but don’t have the financial support to match. Other than there will be a runoff, I have no idea what will happen in this race.

For a variety of reasons, many organizations have not endorsed in HD144. The candidates got off to a late start thanks to the changes made to the district in the second interim map, and no one had much to show in their January finance reports. HCC Trustee Mary Ann Perez, who has the backing of Annie’s List, clearly distinguished herself this cycle, which will undoubtedly help her in a part of town that’s not used to having competitive D primaries for State Rep. The other news of interest in this race has nothing to do with fundraising. Robert Miller reported on candidate Kevin Risner having had three arrests for DUI, a fact that I’m sure was going to come out sooner or later. Miller, who’s a Perez supporter, thinks Risner is in a good position to win the primary. I’m not sure I agree with his analysis, but we’ll see.

Poor Al Edwards. It’s hard running a race without Tom Craddick’s buddies, isn’t it? I think Rep. Miles is going to break the pattern of alternating victories this year. On a side note, the Observer’s Forrest Wilder listened to my interview with Rep. Miles, even if he didn’t link to it. I guess he’s not much of a fan of either candidate in this race.

As of this writing, Ray Hill had not filed a 30 Day report. He finally did file a January report that listed no money raised or spent.

Here are the Republicans:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loans Cash ==================================================== Cargill SBOE8 4,474 10,059 0 18,626 Ellis SBOE8 6,614 2,795 0 5,224 McCool SD11 5,957 4,959 0 997 Norman SD11 6,200 44,086 30,000 1,007 Taylor SD11 344,708 330,586 0 169,468 Huberty HD127 77,536 44,423 0 64,691 Jordan HD127 791 1,731 0 0 Davis HD129 49,816 42,193 0 70,317 Huls HD129 1,482 1,314 0 167 Callegari HD132 67,385 27,632 0 258,286 Brown HD132 2,275 2,380 0 93 Murphy HD133 110,665 89,167 0 211,004 Witt HD133 9,043 139,943 240,100 34,207 Bohac HD138 38,975 18,931 0 44,094 Smith HD138 22,998 13,562 100,000 105,504 Salazar HD143 Weiskopf HD143 Pineda HD144 28,100 6,591 0 19,613 Pena HD144 3,968 1,368 0 0 Lee HD149 Williams HD149 Mullins HD149 Riddle HD150 8,175 24,461 0 92,216 Wilson HD150 11,900 8,520 1,100 4,272

Note that there are differences from the last time. In January, there was a four-way race for HD136, which was eliminated by the San Antonio court in each of the interim maps. Ann Witt, who had been one of the candidates in HD136, moved over to HD133 and replaced the previous challenger, who apparently un-filed during the second period. In that second period, HD144 incumbent Ken Legler decided to drop out, and incumbent Dwayne Bohac picked up an opponent, and multiple people filed in HDs 143, 144, and 149.

Candidates Frank Salazar in HD143 and Jack Lee in HD149 did not have reports filed as of posting time. Their opponents did have reports filed, but those reports are not viewable until each candidate in the race has filed.

Witt had loaned herself $100K as of January; she has since more than doubled that amount. Whet Smith dropped $100K on himself in his challenge against Bohac. Why he’d do that and not have spent any of it as of the reporting deadline is a question I can’t answer. His $23K raised is a decent amount for the time period, but having more cash on hand with 30 days to go than the amount you loaned yourself makes no sense to me.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more money raised in HD144. That’s a key pickup opportunity for Dems. Gilbert Pena has run for office twice before – HD143 in 2010, and SD06 in 2008 – and I had assumed he’d be the frontrunner in this primary because of that. Am I missing something here?

That’s all I’ve got. I’ll work on the other Dem primaries in Texas and the Harris County races next.

Interview with Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

Also running in HD131 is Wanda Adams, who has served two full terms in Houston City Council District D and was re-elected easily for her third term last November. Adams is a native Houstonian who graduated from Kashmere High School and Texas Southern University. She worked for the city prior to her election to Council in 2007, serving in the City of Houston Housing Authority and the Harris County Mental Health and Mental Retardation Association, and in the Citizens’ Assistance Division of the Mayor’s Office. She is the Chair of the Housing, Sustainable Growth, and Development Committee on Council. Here’s our conversation:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

It’s always easier to talk in the abstract

I have three things to say about this.

The city of Houston has been papering over multimillion-dollar budget deficits for nine years by borrowing money, tapping its rainy day fund, selling buildings and just plain putting off bills to the future, according to city finance officials.

[…]

This year, Mayor Annise Parker has pledged not to rely on the patches of the past. She has little choice. The city has spent nearly as much of its rainy day fund as it can without affecting the city’s credit rating. Parker does not support continued borrowing to meet pension obligations. And the mayor learned a difficult lesson last year when she included the sale of city buildings in the budget only to see a $20 million hole emerge when the sales did not come off as planned.

Parker may be able to tap an emerging political will to bring income and spending into balance. There are seven new council members.

One of them, District A’s Helena Brown, has raised eyebrows with her no votes on spending items that previously sailed through council.

“By voting me into office this past election, the voters were mandating that the city have a serious dialogue on its spending habits,” Brown said. “My expectations are simple: Balance the budget and end irresponsible spending.”

Two returning council members have political incentives to act as budget hawks as they seek higher office. And all of the re-elected council members signed off on last year’s creation of the task force, which culminated with this month’s stern warning from Chairman Mike Nichols: “We have no option but to take action and make decisions. … This is not a time to kick the can down the road.”

1. CM Brown’s definition of “irresponsible” spending is “spending with which she does not agree”. This is a very common feature among self-proclaimed “deficit hawks”. The two are not equivalent.

2. One of the two returning Council members who is running for another office is CM Wanda Adams, who is challenging State Rep. Alma Allen in the Democratic primary for HD131. I haven’t interviewed CM Adams yet, so I can’t say with certainty about how she intends to position herself in that race, but speaking as a Democrat I feel reasonably confident that in the first election after Rick Perry and the Republicans in the Legislature imposed savage cuts on public education and many other things that the electorate she faces will not be terribly impressed by boasts and promises of even more austerity.

3. For all of the tough talk about pensions, it remains the case that approximately two thirds of the city’s non-capital budget goes to police, fire, and emergency services. Last year, I interviewed thirty-eight candidates for city office. I don’t recall any of them saying that they intended to cut spending on any of that. Most of them, including quite a few who spoke at great length about the need to cut spending, declared that portion of the budget to be off limits, with some others suggesting that we needed to spend more on those services. If there’s an “emerging political will” to act differently in this budget, it’s not apparent to me.

January finance reports: City of Houston

Yes, I know, there are no city of Houston elections this year. (Not yet, anyway.) But the candidates and officeholders have to file reports anyway, covering the period from their last report through the end of the year. That period may be from eight days before the December runoff, eight days before the November election, or even the July reporting period if they were lucky enough to be unopposed in November. It’s how you see what the candidates in contested races did in the last days before the election, and it’s how you see who hopped on the late train for a candidate who wasn’t necessarily expected to win. I’ve updated the 2011 Election page to include links to the January finance reports for current and now-former Council members. I didn’t bother with non-incumbents who lost in November or December because life is too short. Here’s a brief summary:

Candidate Raised Spent Cash on hand ================================================ Parker 64,329 260,317 1,272,794 RGreen 30,794 23,785 46,691 Costello 12,250 47,311 655 Burks 25,175 33,426 2,403 Noriega 4,326 14,600 14,108 Bradford 4,453 35,340 20,282 Christie 16,700 51,138 3,156 Brown 6,900 9,664 1,467 Davis 32,630 39,974 20,703 Cohen 24,008 67,375 6,413 Adams 13,100 27,687 59,572 Sullivan 8,200 14,629 53,641 Hoang 3,450 25,472 5,366 Pennington 89,025 167,555 123,326 Gonzalez 5,254 15,908 56,108 Rodriguez 4,729 26,456 21,328 Laster 20,563 23,314 20,473 LGreen 22,470 27,955 576 Lovell Jones 39,810 62,555 6,397 Stardig 13,450 45,176 36,956 Johnson Clutterbuck 0 22,199 38,223

The first thing to note here is the $1.2 million cash on hand Mayor Parker has. This is significant for two reasons. One, obviously, is that it’s the opening bid for how much a Mayoral wannabee will have to raise to be competitive with her next year. She will be able to add to that total this year, while anyone who has not filed a designation of treasurer will not; I will not be surprised if her COH figure tops $2 million in a year’s time. While this certainly isn’t insurmountable, the first question anyone who might want to challenge her is going to get from a potential donor is going to be “How do you plan to raise enough money to compete with Mayor Parker?” Some of them will likely say “Show me that you can raise some money first, then get back to me”, which needless to say makes fundraising that much harder. It’s a barrier to entry, and the higher it is the better off she’ll be next year.

The flip side to that is that she’s really lucky she managed to avoid a runoff. Not only because that meant she could sit on her cash rather than have to spend it in December, but also because by leaving that much cash in the bank she would have left herself wide open to criticism that she didn’t run as hard as she needed to going into November. Look at poor Brenda Stardig, who had a relative ton of cash on hand in her November 8 day report, mostly because she hadn’t run any kind of campaign up till that point. By the time she was forced to kick it into gear, it was already too late, and the money she had wasn’t of much good to her. This is the cautionary tale that the Mayor was fortunate to avoid.

As such, don’t be surprised by the small cash on hand totals that moneybags like Costello and Cohen posted. They emptied their weapons, left it all on the field, and otherwise engaged in all the suitable cliches when it counted. You don’t doubt their ability to replenish their coffers, right? I’ll check back again in July and again next January and we’ll see where they stand.

Of course, for Council members who have their eye on the next office, as CMs Adams and Sullivan do, the calculus is a bit more complex. Well, not for Sullivan, who was unopposed and was thus able to turn his current stash into a decent opening advantage. Adams also has an early financial lead in her race for State Rep, though as she had an opponent last year it wasn’t entirely without risk.

Since I mentioned the late train earlier, I will note that there wasn’t one I could see for Helena Brown. Her late donors list was short and familiar. As for Andrew Burks, his donors were African-Americans – at least, all of the names I recognized belonged to African-Americans – and the usual PAC and law firm suspects that generally give to all incumbents. Not quite the Republican rainbow coalition that may have helped him win the runoff, but a likely indicator that he’ll enter 2013 with a decent sum in his kitty. I will be very interested to see if the usual suspects latch on to Brown or not. They didn’t rush to do so after the election results were in.

Finally, we have the outgoing Council members. With the exception of Jarvis Johnson, who is running for HCDE Trustee, I don’t think any of them are currently angling for another office. Lovell has been interested in County Clerk, but didn’t run in 2010 and I have not heard anything to say she may in 2014. I don’t get a future candidacy vibe from Clutterbuck, Jones, or Stardig, but who knows. They could take a cycle or two off, do some backstage work or some such, and come back later. Johnson has not filed a report with either the city or the county, nor has he responded to my requests for an interview, so other than his candidacy for HCDE I have no idea what he’s up to.

Eight day reports, part 1

The eight day finance reports started getting posted on the city’s campaign finance page yesterday. I’m still working through putting them on my 2011 Election page, but here are a few highlights so far:

– Next to Mayor Parker, the big spender in October was CM Stephen Costello, who made full use of his deep campaign coffers by spending $127K for the period. Nearly all of that was on media – he reported two separate expenditures to Rindy Miller, one for $20K and one for $100K. I don’t know if one is for radio and the other for TV or if there’s some combination of each in each, but I do know that he has both TV and radio ads running. Clearly, he’s not taking any chances. He also raised $48K for the month, but has only $14K remaining after the big buy.

Ellen Cohen was another big spender, dropping $91K for October. Her big ticket items were direct mail (one expenditure for $29K and two others for $8175 each) and robocalls ($5450). She also raised another $53K and has $60K still on hand, which will come in mighty handy if she winds up in a runoff.

– Another big raiser was CM Al Hoang, who reported a $53K haul after taking in less than 11K in the previous cycle. Of that $53K, $25K was in kind, with the vast majority of those donations being reported as advertising of some kind – TV, radio, magazine, and newspaper. He’s got his game face on, too.

Mike Sullivan has no opponent and thus no need to spend money now, but as he has his eye on 2012, he has spent a few bucks to get a head start. He bought a $4K ad at the Texas Conservative Review, and dropped another $10K on something called the What’s Up Program, which my mind keeps wanting to call the What’s Happening!! Program. I figure that buys him a sponsorship mention of some kind, much like what happens incessantly during KILT’s broadcasts of Texans games – “Our commercial outros are brought to you by the Mike Sullivan campaign, because it’s time for a different cranky old white guy to be our Tax Assessor”. Anyway, he’s spending for next year, and he has $55K on hand for it.

Wanda Adams does have an opponent and has not made any public comments about what if any office she may have an eye on next, but if there is one in her mind she has $77K on hand for it after raising $23K and spending $27K. She spent a few grand on radio ads, and $8500 on a mail piece.

– Finally, the Houston Politics blog reports that Mayoral candidate Jack O’Connor spent $2500 to hire a plane to fly around with a “Jack O’Connor for Mayor” banner behind it. One wonders what the eyeball rate might be for something like that compared to, say, a Facebook ad. I suspect the literature is a bit lacking on that.

I’ll have more tomorrow as I slog on through these things. Greg has more, and the ever-resourceful Erik Vidor has a summary speadsheet.

Endorsement watch: Cohen and Adams

It’s a twofer, and it’s apparent confirmation that the Chron is going alphabetically by district. First, they tap Ellen Cohen for the reconfigured District C.

Among a strong field of candidates for Houston City Council District C – the district that includes Montrose, Meyerland, Braeswood, Oak Forest, Southampton and parts of the Heights – Ellen Cohen’s track record separates her from the rest. We endorse Cohen on the strength of that record.

Most important, given the city’s painful lack of money, is Cohen’s experience handling big, difficult budgets. As president and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center for 18 years, she managed a $6.2 million budget and a 120-person staff. And in the Texas Legislature, she served on the Appropriations Committee that, in 2009, crafted a budget bill that won unanimous passage in the House.

[…]

In a strong field, Cohen is an exceptionally strong candidate.

And they recommend a third term for CM Wanda Adams in D.

The significantly reconfigured Houston City Council District D, in the city’s south-central area, has been represented ably these past four years by Councilmember Wanda Adams.

We endorse Adams for a third and final term representing the diverse, rapidly changing district, which includes the Texas Medical Center and extends southward to Beltway 8. Adams, a District D native, has shown unstinting energy during her two terms.

[…]

We like Adams’ qualities as a team player in her work on City Council, as well as her commitment to the District D community, whether as a councilmember, a Sunday school teacher or a volunteer.

Wanda Adams well deserves two more years at City Hall.

The next question is whether they will bother to endorse in the uncontested races, of which the first example is District E. At the rate they’re going, they should easily finish by the start of Early Voting on October 24. Kudos to them for that.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention, my interview with CM Adams is here, and my interview with Cohen is here.

Interview with CM Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams

CM Wanda Adams was first elected in District D in 2007, and is now running for her third term. She was employed by the City of Houston before being elected to Council, so it was interesting to get her perspective on how the budget cuts will affect city services. Her district was changed pretty significantly by redistricting, which is likely why she has drawn a challenger already. These were some of the things we discussed in this interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle, plus other related information, on my 2011 Elections page.

That’s what I call double parking

Did you know that there were hydraulic parking lifts in use in Houston? I didn’t.

District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams, who represents Midtown, attached an amendment to the city budget passed last month that requires the planning department to craft an ordinance in the next three months to regulate lifts.

“When I saw the parking lifts, I was like, ‘Whoa! Do we have standards for these?’ ” Adams said. She’s concerned about the safety of the lifts, which she says don’t look like they can hold much.

The devices have been in use at bars and restaurants in other parts of the country for decades, but there’s only about 25 of them registered at Houston’s Planning Department. (Nine of them were at a now-closed bar on Washington Avenue.

[…]

Sy Zuckerman, an 80-year-old parking lift sales representative at Denver-based Harding Steel, said safety should not be an issue with proper parking lifts.

Zuckerman said he does not know if the lifts at the Houston bars are Harding lifts, but said the lifts he has at condominium complexes are so easy to operate that residents use them on a self-serve basis after five minutes of training.

“It’s a no-brainer to operate the machines,” said Zuckerman, adding that he doesn’t know of a single claim filed against the company’s liability insurance in its 43-year history.

See here and scroll down to “#16. The Model T Vending Machine” to see a more extreme example of this technology from 1936. (You can also see it here.) I don’t have any problem with Council wanting to enact “design and installation standards” or for requiring permitting fees, but they should be reasonable and not restrictive. Especially someplace like Washington Avenue, I’d much rather use vertical space than more horizontal space to meet its parking needs.