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Zack Fertitta

Chron overview of DA primary

I can’t stress enough how much this race matters.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Running for the Democratic nomination for Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg has spent the past four months shaking hands, staking out her positions on criminal justice issues and raising about $100,000.

Her opponent, perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver, has been watching television.

“It’s my race to lose,” Oliver said after reporting that he has neither raised nor spent a dime on his campaign. “My strategy is to watch a lot of TV, I think. That’s all I’ve been doing.”

That may be all he needs to do in a down-ballot race in a primary that is not expected to see high voter turnout.

In 2012, Oliver befuddled the political establishment when he bested much better-funded Democratic primary opponent Zack Fertitta. In that race, Oliver spent only $300, for laminated flyers.

“Ogg’s got to figure out a way to get a reasonable share of the African-American vote, which Mr. Fertitta did not get in 2012,” said Richard Murray, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. “We may have only 60,000-70,000 come out for the (Democratic) primary and with two million registered voters, it’s a real crapshoot.”

This year, Oliver said, he does not plan to campaign until the general election. Name recognition, he said, will determine who wins the primary.

And Oliver appears to have plenty of that. Since 1994, Oliver has run for judge five times, and district attorney once. Having his name in front of voters every few years – which Oliver uses as advertising for his legal practice – paid off in his race against Fertitta. He expects it will again.

“There’s really nothing you can do,” he said. “Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen in the primary.”

Nonetheless, Ogg, 54, is taking him seriously.

“I’ve believed Lloyd every time before when he’s said he runs as a publicity stunt,” she said. “I’m not about to take one thing for granted, even Lloyd’s ability to get votes despite when he does nothing.”

Taking a cue from his missteps in 2012, Oliver said he purposefully is doing little in order to minimize criticism.

It’s my hope that this time when people see Lloyd Oliver’s name on the ballot, they’ll remember all that well-deserved negativity from 2012. When people remember the reason why they recognize your name and realize that it’s not for good reasons, then name recognition isn’t much of an asset. Ideally, Ogg will spend some of that money she’s raised helping people remember why they remember Lloyd Oliver’s name. The thought of nominating Oliver again is just too gruesome to contemplate. If you’re voting in the Democratic primary in Harris County, please make sure you vote for Kim Ogg, and make sure your friends know that they need to vote for her as well. We can’t afford to screw this up again.

He’s baaaack

The Lloyd Oliver Tree

I was at HCDP headquarters on Monday night, participating in a panel discussion hosted by the Texas Democratic Women of Harris County along with my friends Perry and Neil. On the back wall of the main room is a big listing of all offices that will be on the ballot this year and the signatures of candidates that have filed for these offices. I took a look at it that night and heaved a sigh as I came across a familiar and unwanted name – Lloyd Oliver has filed to run for District Attorney again, thus pitting him against Kim Ogg in the March primary.

That was one of the subjects we discussed on the panel Monday night. I suppose the good news about Lloyd Oliver’s surprise victory in the 2012 primary is that now he’s at least slightly less obscure than he was before. Two years ago he was just a familiar name on the ballot. Now one would hope that more people realize that he’s a toxic black hole on the ballot. No good Democrat wants him on the November ballot. The HCDP’s well-intentioned but wrong effort to boot him from the ballot after his upset win means the party has no official reason to maintain its policy of neutrality in that race. They can, and should, openly support Kim Ogg for the nomination. Everyone else who cares about putting our best ticket forward also needs to get off the sidelines and spread the word. Everyone endorsed Zack Fertitta in 2012, but that’s not enough. Publicize those endorsements beyond your own membership – if you have a webpage or Facebook page, post them there – and highlight this race, the candidates, and the right choice of Kim Ogg. We cannot take anything for granted, because we know what can happen if we do. Texpatriate has more.

Other filing news of interest: Rita Lucido officially filed to challenge Sen. Joan Huffman in SD17. If you like the idea of more strong, pro-choice women in Texas government, you will very much want to check her out. I met Alison Ruff, who has filed for HD134, at the Monday event, and I look forward to hearing more from her. A fellow named Moiz Abbas has filed in HD135, and a fellow named Luis Lopez is set to file in HD132. As you know, those are the two Republican-held districts in which Dems gained ground in 2012 over 2008, and HD132 is now an open seat, so I’m particularly encouraged by that news. I don’t know much about either of these gentlemen right now, but I’m sure I will learn more as we go on. If you’re aware of other filings or soon-to-be-filings, leave a comment and let us know.

Birnberg files complaint to force Oliver off the ballot

I’m far from thrilled to have Lloyd Oliver as the Democratic nominee for District Attorney, but this seems a bit much to me.

Gerry Birnberg, the former party chair, filed a complaint earlier this month to have Oliver removed from November’s ballot because he praised the sitting district attorney, Republican Pat Lykos.

Specifically, Birnberg said in his complaint, Oliver told the Houston Chronicle in May that Lykos was such a good candidate that she “would have gotten my vote.”

[…]

Birnberg said he was not retaliating against Oliver for beating Zack Fertitta in the primary, but said he is concerned about Oliver’s loyalty and the Republican strategy.

“I believe the Republicans are planning on using his colorful past as a way to bring down the entire ticket,” Birnberg said.

He also said he expects loyalty to Democrats across the ticket, “and if a candidate is saying that ‘Republicans are still good candidates too,’ that’s not helpful for the Democratic party.”

So much to cover here, but let me start off by noting that Gary Polland was the first to report this:

This hasn’t made the local media yet, but former Democratic Chair Gerald Birnberg has made a complaint designed to remove Democratic “accidental” District Attorney candidate Lloyd Oliver from the ballot. This is an interesting development.

TCR wonders, do the D’s intend to remove and replace with a handpicked star who they think could take advantage of the nasty GOP primary battle between incumbent Pat Lykos and successful primary challenger Mike Anderson? Do the Democrats think that they can convince enough swing and Lykos loyalists to vote their way, and win a tight battle? Maybe it’s time for the Anderson group to smoke the peace pipe with District Attorney Lykos and her supporters.

Birnberg is worried that the Republicans will user Oliver as a club against the Democrats elsewhere on the ticket. Polland is worried that the residual acrimony from the Anderson-Lykos primary could let Oliver win a race he has no business winning. We live in interesting times.

I’m sure that Birnberg and Polland have both forgotten more election law than I’ll ever know, but I don’t see how the Dems can do this. For one thing, the case Birnberg is making seems exceedingly weak to me. I mean, the Democratic Speaker of the State House in 2000 (Pete Laney) endorsed George Bush for President, and he was far from the only Dem to do so back then. Compared to that, Oliver’s words barely register. I mean, they’d be grounds to remove him as a precinct chair, but to declare him ineligible as a nominee? I just don’t see it. Oliver is an idiot, but unless he chooses to withdraw I’m afraid we’re stuck with him.

Assuming that HCDP Chair Lane Lewis buys the ineligibility argument, it’s also not clear to me that Oliver can be replaced. Section 145 of the Elections Code doesn’t specifically address the question of replacing candidates who have been declared ineligible on the ballot, but Sec 145.039 says “If a candidate dies or is declared ineligible after the 74th day before election day, the candidate’s name shall be placed on the ballot”. By my calculation, that makes the deadline this Friday, the 24th. I have no idea if the machinery can be made to move swiftly enough to allow for this, again in the event that Lewis goes along with Birnberg’s complaint. It just adds to my incredulity about this.

Precinct analysis: That mysterious Democratic DA primary

We return to Democratic primary results and to the Harris County canvass as we take a look at the race everyone is trying to understand, the Democratic DA primary. Here’s what the numbers look like:

Dist Oliver Fertitta Oliver % =============================== 126 623 571 52.18% 127 693 624 52.62% 128 772 651 54.25% 129 885 1135 43.81% 130 452 449 50.17% 131 3500 1874 65.13% 132 576 416 58.06% 133 577 1127 33.86% 134 903 3126 22.41% 135 610 522 53.89% 137 682 676 50.22% 138 512 646 44.21% 139 2721 1852 59.50% 140 768 571 57.36% 141 2014 1197 62.72% 142 2485 1593 60.94% 143 1732 1249 58.10% 144 861 761 53.08% 145 750 954 44.01% 146 3661 2668 57.84% 147 3339 3130 51.62% 148 795 1568 33.64% 149 779 541 59.02% 150 529 517 50.57%

The initial theory that was put forth as this result came in was that African-American voters helped put perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver over the top. There wasn’t enough information about the candidates available for them to make an informed decision, the theory goes, and “Lloyd Oliver” sounds like an African-American name. Oliver clearly did well in the African-American districts, but it’s not like they were his only strongholds. He won 18 of the 24 State Rep districts overall. For whatever the reason, people voted for Lloyd Oliver. For whatever the reason, Zack Fertitta’s campaign message did not work. We can either try to understand what happened or risk having it happen again.

The way I see it, there are only two possibilities. One is that people knew nothing about the candidates and voted based on the sound of the name, or ballot order (Oliver was of course first on the ballot, yet another example why I believe ballot order needs to be randomized on these electronic voting machines), or some other inscrutable reason. If that’s the case, then the question is why didn’t Fertitta’s campaign work? We know he did mail, we know he did calls, we know he did radio. Why didn’t it work? Alternately, perhaps people did know of Fertitta and for whatever the reason decided not to support him. Was his name a negative, as some of my commenters have suggested? Was there something about his campaign materials that turned voters off?

Ideally, someone will go back to the voters and ask them these questions. Go through the roster, pick a few hundred people in the precincts that went heavily for Oliver, and ask them what they knew about the candidates and why they voted the way they did. It may take some digging and some carefully worded questions to get at the reasons, but what choice do we have? We learn or we’re left to guess. Who’s going to want to run against Lloyd Oliver the next time he decides to pay a filing fee if we can’t say how to beat him?

The Oliver problem

sigh

Lloyd Oliver had run for office at least five times – likely more, he said; he’s lost count – and been beaten each time, falling short of judgeships and congressional seats, getting trounced as both a Republican and a Democrat.

Then he signed up to run as a Democrat for district attorney this year – and won, shocking himself and much of the criminal courthouse crowd.

The 68-year-old defense lawyer isn’t coy about why he has signed up for so many campaigns: Name recognition drives much of his business, and having his name on the ballot every few years is practically free advertising. Likewise, he had a simple explanation for his victory over well-liked primary opponent Zack Fertitta, a 36-year-old former assistant district attorney with a healthy war chest.

“They’ve seen my name on the ballot long enough, maybe they just thought I was the incumbent and voted for me,” Oliver said. “Sometimes you just can’t beat dumb luck.”

In a sense, this isn’t really a problem. Mike Anderson is an experienced prosecutor, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a competent District Attorney. I disagree with him on the matter of prosecuting trace drug cases, and I believe the worst case scenario Grits describes of the jails becoming overcrowded could well result from it, but at least there would be hope for some pushback from Commissioners Court and the Sheriff. The fact that the Democrats managed to nominate a potted plant to oppose him is a grievous tragedy from a political perspective, but not from a criminal justice one. It’s not like the alternative would have been four more years of John Bradley or Chuck Rosenthal.

The lost political opportunity really is a mortal sin, and I have to believe it was avoidable.

University of Houston political science professor Richard Murray said he thought Oliver may be a contender because black voters – who cast a huge share of Democratic primary ballots when there is no presidential race – would mistakenly assume he was African-American.

“If the choices are Zack Fertitta or Lloyd Oliver, that’s a pretty easy call for a lot of folks looking for somebody they think understands the issues in their community: ‘Let’s go with the black guy’ – who ain’t black, of course,” Murray said. “Mostly people are just throwing darts.”

Political consultant Joe Householder, of Purple Strategies, said in such a low-profile race, the odds of an unexpected result rise sharply.

“When (voters) start tracing their finger down the ballot, they say, ‘I don’t know anything about either of these guys, but I have heard of this guy, so I guess I’ll vote for him,’ ” he said.

Maybe some folks thought it was Chris Oliver that was running. Who knows? I tend to think that Householder has the more accurate explanation here, but a look at the precinct data once its available ought to settle the question. Be that as it may, this goes to what I said before about how we are (not) communicating with voters. I have no idea what Zack Fertitta, or for that matter any other non-African American candidate, did or does to tell African American voters about their candidacy. African American voters are a big part of the Democratic base and a big percentage of the primary electorate. Add to that the fact that there were three contested primaries in African American legislative districts, plus the HCDE primary in Precinct One and the Constable primaries in Precincts 1 and 7, and it didn’t take a genius to predict what the turnout pattern would look like. If anyone had adequate resources but didn’t have adequate outreach in these parts of the county, then no one should be too shocked by the result. Never overestimate your own name ID. I’m not saying Fertitta’s campaign did any of these things – I don’t know one way or the other – but I am saying these are things we need to learn from this debacle so that we can at least get something out of it.

Democratic results, Harris County

The good:

– Lane Lewis won a full term as HCDP Chair by a 55-45 margin. If you heard a whizzing noise this evening, it was the bullet we all dodged in this race.

– Sheriff Adrian Garcia easily won renomination with over 70% of the vote.

– State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles won their races. We may finally have seen the last of Al Edwards.

– Sean Hammerle held off Dave Wilson in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. It was a close race, but the forces of good prevailed.

The bad:

– Jarvis Johnson, who finally held a campaign event during the first week of early voting, nearly won HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 outright. A late surge by Erica Lee pushed him into a runoff. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson, but he didn’t lift a finger during this race and he was up against two much more qualified opponents. There’s nothing like being a familiar name in a race like this.

– Elaine Palmer drubbed Judge Steve Kirkland, winning over 60% of the vote. I’ll be honest, I had thought that Palmer and Keryl Douglas would win or lose together, but Douglas didn’t have much money, and really didn’t do that much campaigning. Palmer had plenty of money and it worked for her. I wonder if her financial backers will be there for her in November.

The ugly:

– Perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver became the heir apparent to Gene Kelly by defeating the vastly better qualified Zack Fertitta for the DA nomination. I just about threw up when I saw the early numbers, and they never got any better. Let this serve as a very painful example of what can happen when a good candidate doesn’t have enough money to raise his name ID up to the level of the barnacle that is running against him. You can assess the blame however you like for this debacle, all I know is that I will be skipping this race in November.

– If that isn’t bad enough, Kesha Rogers will once again be the “Democratic” nominee in CD22. KP George had an early lead based on a strong showing in Fort Bend County, but he lost in Harris and Brazoria, and that was enough. I don’t even know what to say.

The rest:

– Diane Trautman won the HCDE Position 3 At Large race against David Rosen. Traci Jensen scored a clean win in the three-way SBOE 6 primary. Dexter Smith won in SBOE 8.

– Rep. Alma Allen also successfully defended her seat, winning with 59% against Wanda Adams. Mary Ann Perez had a late burst to win the nomination in HD144 outright, while Gene Wu rode a strong early showing to the top spot in HD137. He garnered 44%, and will face Jamaal Smith, who had 23%, in the runoff.

– Lissa Squiers led the three-way race in CD07 with 40%. She will face James Cargas, who was second with 33%. Tawana Cadien will be the nominee in CD10.

– Incumbent JP Mike Parrott won re-election, as did incumbent Constables Ken Jones, Victor Trevino, and May Walker. In Constable Precinct 1, Alan Rosen and Cindy Vara-Leija will face off in overtime; Grady Castleberry had been running second but Vara-Leija overtook him late. In the Constable Precinct 2 cattle call, Zerick Guinn and Chris Diaz made the cut.

– Turnout was about 73,000, with almost exactly half of it coming on Election Day. Some people just don’t like voting early.

Endorsement watch: Fertitta and Lykos

The Chron makes its endorsements in the two primary races for District Attorney. On the Democratic side, they make the easy and obvious call for Zack Fertitta.

Zack Fertitta

Zack Fertitta represents a new generation at the Harris County courthouse, and deserves to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for District Attorney. Youthful and energetic, Fertitta has an established history within county criminal justice circles, having served as a prosecutor, defense attorney and member of a grand jury. His breadth of experience shows when he talks about his plans for progress if elected district attorney, focusing on the future rather than the fights of the past.

Fertitta has an admirable drive to bring the DA’s office technologically up to date, with ideas for training prosecutors on search-and-seizure issues related to cell phones before that new area of privacy erupts into controversy. “Notions of digital privacy are really going to be the battlefield for the 21st century,” he told the Chronicle. And his plan to move the district attorney’s office from paper to digital files is a much-needed step that will save time and money in the long run.

There was never any question about this one, as the two candidates are worlds apart in terms of qualifications and experience. It was more interesting to see how they’d choose on the Republican side, with two candidates of roughly equal heft. In the end they chose to stay the course with Pat Lykos.

DA Pat Lykos

The two combatants, and we use the term advisedly, are the incumbent, District Attorney Pat Lykos, and her challenger, former prosecutor and criminal court judge Mike Anderson. We recommend a vote for Pat Lykos.

While both wear the Republican label proudly and genuinely, their views about the current state, and future direction, of the DA’s office, the nexus of criminal justice in Harris County, are as far apart as, well, Orange is from El Paso. The tone of a recent joint screening visit with the Houston Chronicle editorial board was testy and confrontational. Worthy of a well-argued courtroom trial, if we may say.

[…]

When it comes to qualifications for office, this race is a virtual dead heat. But two factors tip our endorsement call definitively to Pat Lykos. She’s an outsider, and following the Rosenthal debacle, that’s what the DA’s office needs. Over the past three and a half years she’s made good on her promise to begin reforming the culture of an important department that had descended to the level of “Animal House.” We see no good reason to change course. While recognizing Mike Anderson’s strengths, we commend Pat Lykos to voters in the GOP primary.

As I’ve said, I’ve got no dog in that fight. Sometimes you know which candidate you want to be your opponent, but I don’t know who I’d pick in this race. I’m as interested as anyone to see who emerges from that election.

The Democrats have a DA race, too

For which the Chron has an overview.

Zack Fertitta

A political newcomer with a famous family name, Houston attorney Zack Fertitta, 36, hopes to succeed Lykos – if, that is, he gets past a perennial candidate in the Democratic primary and if he bolsters his name recognition among Harris County voters.

His opponent, Houston lawyer Lloyd Oliver, 68, may be better known than Fertitta, not for his accomplishments, but simply for having run so often in races he had little chance of winning. A Lubbock native who grew up in Dallas, Oliver worked in the district attorney’s office in the mid-1970s, “but that didn’t work out.”

He has practiced criminal law in Harris County for more than 35 years and first ran for state district judge in 1994 as a Democrat. Two years later, he ran for the same office as a Republican. In 2010, he ran as a Democrat while under indictment for barratry, a charge that later was dropped. He lost the race.

Interviewed recently on the public-access TV show “Reasonable Doubt,” he said he has been indicted two or three times by the district attorney’s office, but has never been convicted.

Oliver was indicted on the barratry charge without appearing before the grand jury, but that indictment was dismissed. A second grand jury asked to hear his side of the allegations.

“After hearing my side of the story, the grand jury no-billed me. There was no merit to it.” he said. “I was a victim of the system.”

[…]

Accustomed to being asked about his well-known second cousin, Landry’s Restaurant founder and River Oaks billionaire Tilman Fertitta, he often explains the family connection before being asked. He concedes he has not been that active in Democratic Party politics, but as a former assistant district attorney and now a criminal defense lawyer, he insists he is well qualified to repair what he considers a broken district attorney’s office.

“The D.A.’s office is the hub of law enforcement in Harris County,” he said. “Now, you have an environment where law enforcement doesn’t trust the D.A.’s office. Seven thousand untested rape kits. One hundred two prosecutors out of 234 have left in 36 months. Imagine if 102 lawyers walked out of Baker Botts in 36 months. What kind of questions would the management committee be asking themselves?”

Fertitta, who worked in the district attorney’s office three years, is 20 years younger than Republican candidate Mike Anderson and more than three decades younger than Lykos. He insists the office is mired in the past, that it’s time for a change and that he is the person to bring that change about.

“I think I’m more in touch with modern investigation techniques and Fourth Amendment trends, and I’m the only candidate in the race who’s tried a case in the past decade,” he said last week. “I think you need an active trial attorney leading that office. You’d see a 180-degree change in terms of morale.”

[…]

Fertitta said a district attorney’s office under his leadership would establish a forensic science division, modeled in part on the state-of-the-art unit in Los Angeles. Priority No. 2, he said, would be to set up a special unit of prosecutors and Houston Police Department investigators, “and their sole purpose in life is to reduce and eliminate that 7,000 rape kit backlog. … If you’re the head law-enforcement official of Harris County, it’s your job to make sure that property room doesn’t have rape kits stacking up.”

As a reminder, my interview with Zack Fertitta is here. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: Zack Fertitta is the clear choice in this race. Oliver’s own words make that case even better than I did. It’s simple: A vote for Zack Fertitta is a vote for a young, well-qualified candidate who will give the Democrats their best chance to win, and will give Harris County a genuinely new perspective and direction in the District Attorney’s office. A vote for Lloyd Oliver is a vote for not contesting the race in November. I don’t know what else there is to say.

Chron profiles of Lykos and Anderson

We’ve already had an overview of the GOP DA primary, but that race is apparently too big for just one story, so now we have profiles of the two candidates, Pat Lykos and Mike Anderson. I figure if you’re following this race closely there’s not much stories like these are likely to tell you that you don’t already know, but they do sometimes remind you of things you may have forgotten about. That was the case for me in the Lykos story:

In this corner...

Going in to this political season, she has had to contend with two grand jury investigations of her office, both of which ended without returning any indictments.

One was an inquiry in to a former prosecutor’s allegation that she was made to under-report her overtime.

The other investigation, about HPD’s troubled breath alcohol testing vehicles, lasted six months and regularly was in the public eye because several court documents were released about the machinations of the process.

After the grand jury disbanded without any action, the members released a letter blasting Lykos for “unexpected resistance.” They also said she investigated them, which she denied.

The district attorney railed against the grand jurors and said the letter showed that the investigation was politically motivated.

The back and forth led to yet another investigation, this one by the Texas Rangers about whether county resources were used to investigate grand jurors. That investigation continues.

I’d forgotten about the first grand jury, and while I hadn’t forgotten about the Rangers investigation it hadn’t occurred to me recently to wonder what its status was. Now I know. As for the Anderson story, I did learn something new:

...And in this corner

“As a judge, Mike Anderson was very formal,” said defense attorney Norman Silverman. “I never had a problem with him, although as a judge he was state’s-minded. I had to have all my i’s dotted and t’s crossed.”

His detractors also say that his candidacy is an exercise in revanchism – revenge by members of an old guard resentful that an outsider, Lykos, wrested the office from their grasp in 2008.

Silverman, who is backing Lykos, holds to that theory. “When [Johnny] Holmes and (Chuck) Rosenthal ran that office, it was very much of a good-ol’-boy network,” he said. “We had to copy offense notes by hand and could only take notes. Lykos has just brought a much more refreshing let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may attitude. She’s been much more forthcoming with sharing information.”

Anderson rejects the idea of revenge but agrees that he represents a return to an earlier way of running the office. “There are some things from the good, old days that are very, very important – honor, integrity, ethics,” he said. “I mean all of those things should just flow like a heart beat at that office.”

Holmes, who retired in 2000 after 21 years as district attorney, supports his former colleague. “I have no personal animosity toward Pat Lykos,” he said, “but what’s been happening in her office tells me she doesn’t know what she’s doing. This isn’t on-the-job training.”

Holmes added that if Anderson lost to Lykos in the primary, he would vote in the fall for the likely Democratic nominee, former assistant district attorney Zack Fertitta.

I figure after most hard-fought primaries, especially ones where there’s some bad blood to begin with, there are loyalists of the losing candidate who refuse to back the winner. I also figure that in most cases, the effect is fairly minimal, and that party affiliation usually wins out. This one may be an exception. I admit I was a bit stunned to see Johnny Holmes say for the record that he would not vote for Lykos if she gets re-nominated. Will that make a difference in the fall? Would there be the same effect if Anderson wins? I really can’t say, but it’ll sure be worth keeping an eye on. As a reminder once again, you can listen to my interview with Lykos here and with Anderson here.

Who not to vote for 2012

There are a number of interesting and exciting Democratic primary races on this year’s ballot. You can see a bunch of them here and here. There are many good candidates, and many races in which you may have a difficult choice but can’t really make a bad choice.

Unfortunately, that is not true for all races. There are a few right here in Harris County that include candidates that no rational, self-respecting Democrat should ever support. The main danger is that in a low-information race, these candidates all will attract some support. The best antidote for that is to ensure that you know who you are dealing with. With that in mind, this is my slate of people you should not even consider voting for. Not because I don’t like them or because I disagree with them, but because they do not represent Democratic values in any meaningful sense and will do real harm to the rest of the ticket if they are accidentally nominated.

First up is someone who did get accidentally nominated in 2010, and who did cause harm by doing so. I refer to CD22 candidate Kesha Rogers, who is a LaRouchie and impeachment advocate but who won the 2010 primary anyway because no one was paying attention. There’s no excuse this time. Rogers is running against KP George, a perfectly nice, respectable, sane Democrat whose interview I’ll be publishing in the next week or two. The Fort Bend County Democratic Party has officially endorsed KP George (and I hope the HCDP will make an exception in this case as well) and has been working to stop Kesha Rogers for some time. We will have no one to blame but ourselves if she gets nominated again.

Another candidate to watch out for would have been on the ballot in 2010 if he hadn’t been disqualified from the ballot is the notorious hatemonger and perennial candidate Dave Wilson, who is once again seeking to pollute the waters in Commissioners Court Precinct 4. I trust you’re aware of Mr. Wilson’s shameful resume by now, so I will simply note that he is opposed by Sean Hammerle, whose interview is here, and that if we have any clue at all it will be Hammerle on the ballot in November.

Harris County DA candidate Lloyd Oliver, another perennial who usually runs for a judicial seat, doesn’t have quite the long history that some of these other folks do, but he’s basically a nobody who escaped a barratry charge in 2010 and certainly won’t be an asset to the ticket the way that Zack Fertitta unquestionably will. And then there was this reply he sent to Carl Whitmarsh after Whitmarsh sent out news about the Justice Department spiking the hideous voter ID law:

Seems a GIANT STEP backwards….if you will not get an official state ID, you are probably an illegal alien or a convict…Don’t now who you are….but stop sending me your email crap…

Well, I “don’t now” about you, but I sure don’t want this clown on my ballot. Please help make that not happen by voting for Zack Fertitta, whose interview is here.

Finally, there is one candidate who will sadly be on the ballot no matter what you do because he has no primary opponent. I am not going to name this individual because he has a history of harassment, but he is the “Democrat” running in SD07, against Sen. Dan Patrick. He’s a crazy perennial candidate who used to run as a Republican before deciding to inflict himself on us a few years ago, and if you never believe another word I say believe me when I say he is not worth your vote. I’d suggest that you vote for the Green Party candidate in this race in November, but they failed to put someone up in that race, which is a pity since it’s one where they would have provided a clearly better alternative. I don’t know if there will be a Libertarian there or not, but it doesn’t really matter. My advice, for those of you who are stuck in SD07, is to leave this one blank. If you vote a straight ticket, go back to the SD07 race and uncheck the candidate there – either party, I’m not picky – and then cast your vote. You’ll feel better afterward.

So that’s my list of people who are unworthy of your vote in May. This is not to say that there aren’t clear choices in some other races – I would certainly recommend voting for Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and for State Reps. Garnet Coleman and Borris Miles, for example – but at least the other candidates in those races can be safely called Democrats. These are the races in which to avoid unforced errors. If you know of others, where it’s not a matter of dislike or disapproval but of outright disgrace and disgust, leave a comment and let me know. Warning: Anything that falls outside that clear boundary will be deleted.

Interview with Zack Fertitta

Zack Fertitta

We move on this week to the two top of the ticket races for Harris County, DA and Sheriff, starting today with Zack Fertitta, who is running for the Democratic nomination for District Attorney. Fertitta spent several years in the DA’s office as a prosecutor, and since then he has had his own practice as a criminal defense attorney, so he has seen the courtroom from both sides of the aisle. Though he has an opponent in this primary, the person he’s running against is a perennial candidate with a questionable history. The choice in this race is very clear.

I have been asked by a number of people to do interviews with Republican candidates for the primaries as well. Generally speaking, I don’t have the time or the inclination for that, but if there’s one office on the ballot this year for which I’d make an exception it’s District Attorney. I’m pleased to say that I have been able to line up interviews with both of the Republican candidates for this office as well, incumbent DA Pat Lykos and challenger Mike Anderson. Look for them to run in the near future. In the meantime, here’s my conversation with Zack Fertitta:

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.

January finance reports: Harris County

January is a very busy month for campaign finance reports, since they are due for all levels of government. I’ve been busy updating the 2012 Primary Election pages for Harris County and elsewhere in Texas with reports as I can find them. Here’s an overview of some races of interest in Harris County. I’ll have similar reports for State Rep and Congressional races next week.

Let me preface this post by saying that I loathe the County Clerks’ Campaign Finance Reports page. You can’t search for an individual by name, you can only search for all candidates whose last name starts with a given letter. All of the reports are scanned PDFs, which means that most of them are handwritten, though even the ones that are electronically generated are then apparently printed and scanned. This has the effect of creating much larger files, which are then harder to navigate, and Adobe being what it is they managed to crash Chrome on my PC and IE9 on my laptop. They do open in the browser with a direct link, unlike the city’s reporting system which opens each report as an Acrobat file for download, which I then have to upload and share to make available on my page, so as long as your browser continues to function that’s nice. All I know is that when I am named Supreme Commander of the world, my first official action will be to outlaw paper filing of campaign finance reports. It’s 2012, for Pete’s sake.

OK, rant off. Here are the highlights:

District Attorney

Incumbent Pat Lykos starts the year in good shape, having raised $194K with $320K on hand; she spent $40K during the cycle. Primary opponent Mike Anderson reported no money raised or spent. He was a late entrant and likely hasn’t had any fundraisers yet. I’m sure he’ll have sufficient resources to wage a campaign. On the Democratic side, Zack Fertitta had an impressive haul, taking in $170K, with $141K on hand. I don’t know exactly when he named a treasurer, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t start raising money until a couple of months into the cycle. His primary opponent Lloyd Oliver, who is listed for some bizarre reason in the county financial reporting system as “Oliver Lloyd” – I only found his report by accident, looking for other L-named candidates – reported no money raised or spent.

Sheriff

Sheriff Adrian Garcia will have a tough race in November, and he starts the year well armed for it, having collected $187K and maintaining $302K. He has two primary opponents – Delores Jones has $1,038 on hand, while perennial contender Charles Massey El had no report visible; yes, I checked under M and under E. There are eight Republican hopefuls, but only four filed reports. Ruben Monzon raised $33K; Carl Pittman raised $13K and reported $24K in loans; Brian Steinacher claimed the princely total of $750 raised. The most interesting report belonged to Louis Guthrie, who claimed to raise $96K with $30K in loans. That caught my eye at first, but he only listed $21K on hand, which made me suspicious enough to read the whole report. The individual contributions he detailed added up to only $6450 in cash plus about $18K in kind for things like printing and food, which are usually considered expenses. Something is definitely off there, but even if you took him at his word, the four of them together raised less than Garcia did.

County Attorney

Not really on anyone’s radar since it’s a lower profile office and there are no contested primaries, but Democratic incumbent Vince Ryan raised $29K and has $126K on hand. Republican challenger and former State Rep. Robert Talton raised $14,650 and had $10,500 in loans, but spent $14,978 and was left with $10,367 on hand.

Tax Assessor

In the battle of Guys Whose Surnames Both Start With The Letter S And Are Thus Convenient To Find In The Otherwise Wack Harris County Finance Reporting System, incumbent Don Sumners reported no cash raised and $3,911 on hand, while current Council Member Mike Sullivan made good use of his remaining Council campaign fund, which allowed him to report $53K on hand. He actually raised $8200 for this cycle, and had $15K in loans outstanding. Democratic challenger Ann Harris Bennett, who was listed under the Bs, raised no money and had $1,856 on hand, presumably left over from her 2010 race for County Clerk. Remind me to ask Clerk candidates in 2014 about how they propose to overhaul the finance reporting system.

Constable

I didn’t bother looking at a lot of these reports, as there are just so many Constable candidates. Among those I did look at were ones for the open Precinct 1 seat. Alan Rosen did the most, raising $43K with $37K on hand. Cindy Vara-Leija raised $22K and had $15K on hand; Grady Castleberry, who also had a July report, raised $2K but had $19K in loans and $23K on hand. Quincy Whitaker’s January report was not visible as of this publication; his July report claimed $5K raised and $18K spent but did not list any loans or cash on hand.

That’s your Harris County finance report. I’ll have state and federal candidates next week. The one other county race I’m watching is the Democratic primary for Travis County DA, featuring incumbent Rosemary Lehmberg and former judge Charlie Baird. The Statesman noted their totals, and I have their reports linked on the non-Harris page – here’s Lehmberg, and here’s Baird. Check that page and the Harris page for more reports as they come in. Greg has more.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that there is a “Friends of Mike Anderson” finance report, which I would have found if I could have searched by name and not by letter, and that this report shows contributions of $152K and cash on hand of $135K. That report lists his office sought as the 127th District Civil Court bench, but that’s neither here nor there.

Lykos versus the cops

Various law enforcement unions are not happy with Harris County DA Pat Lykos.

Leaders of six Harris County police organizations Tuesday announced a vote of no confidence in District Attorney Pat Lykos, saying she has “shirked her duty” and has turned down viable cases for prosecution.

The no-confidence vote – a rare public fissure in the traditionally close relationship between police and prosecutors – was triggered by Lykos’ announcement Monday that she would seek re-election, police officials said. The six groups, including the Houston Police Department, represent more than 10,000 present and former law officers in the county.

[…]

Lykos brushed aside police criticism of her policy of not accepting felony charges against suspects caught with trace amounts of drugs, usually found in a crack pipe or as the result of a nasal swab.

She said she wants to go after cartels, not crack pipes.

“We’re not prosecuting the residue cases, the crack pipe cases, or the flakes extruding from someone’s nostrils,” she said. “That’s why my focus is on dangerous criminals, not just getting arrests for the sake of having statistics.”

The police groups could not cite any cases or statistics relating to cases prosecutors declined or dismissed.

They were critical of Lykos’ policy, announced in January 2010, to bring misdemeanor charges in cases where the drug residue is less than one-100th of a gram.

Sorry, but I agree with Lykos here. Prosecuting these cases as felonies would mean even more inmates in our already overcrowded jail. That’s the most costly and least effective way to deal with low-level users, whom we should be diverting into treatment as the primary option. As someone who’s been advocating policies that will ease the overcrowding in our jail, I am glad to see DA Lykos take steps in that direction. There are plenty of things for which to criticize Pat Lykos, but this is not one of them. I will be very disappointed if the eventual Democratic nominee for DA goes after her over this.

On that score, by the way, I am aware of two candidates for the Dem nomination so far: Former prosecutor Zack Fertitta, and perennial candidate Lloyd Oliver. His campaign kickoff got a mention on CultureMap, which should give you some idea of who he is, and I’ve posted a copy of the press release he sent out when he filed beneath the fold. We’ll see if anyone else jumps in on the Democratic side. Lykos has also now drawn a Republican opponent, Mike Anderson, and since I received the statement she sent out about that, I’ve included it as well.

UPDATE: Here’s a Chron story about the entrance of former Judge Mike Anderson into the DA race. Not surprisingly, he’s siding with the cops on this. I’m not impressed.

UPDATE: Grits weighs in.

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