April 15, 2008
The race to replace Janek

As we know, there will be a special election sometime this year to replace State Sen. Kyle Janek, who currently represents SD17 and who plans to resign in June. We also know of one declared Republican candidate, and a whole lot of speculation about who else might run.

Houston money manager Austen Furse already is putting together a campaign staff and raising money for the race. Former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Gary Polland said he is looking at the race but is concerned the district is trending Democratic.

And state Reps. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, and Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, also are considering running, but they won't be able to be candidates without giving up their House seats if Gov. Rick Perry sets the special election to coincide with the Nov. 4 general election.


The 17th District stretches from southern Harris County through Fort Bend County and Galveston before a tail sweeps out to Port Arthur. The state's Republican leadership drew the district to be Republican in 2001, but it has been changing in recent years.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama received more votes in this year's primary than Janek received in his general election victories in either 2002 or 2006, non-presidential years.

Hochberg said that statistic is less convincing to him that the district is trending Democratic than the fact that Texas Supreme Court candidate Bill Moody got 46 percent in the district with no Democratic get-out-the-vote effort.

Hochberg said Democratic congressional candidate Michael Skelly will be spending tremendous amounts of money to turn out voters in the portion of the 7th Congressional District that overlaps Janek's Senate district.

"You have a trend. The question is, which candidate can reach out to Republican voters, because you are still going to need them," Hochberg said.

Both Hochberg and Howard said they may look at running for the seat if it is not on the same day as the general election. State law would prohibit them for running for re-election to their House seats and running in the special Senate election on the same day.

"The only people it prevents from running for the seat are the current House members," Howard said.

As always in these matters, the question of when Governor Perry will set the special election date comes down to political advantage. What will give the Republicans the best chance to win? Here, I think it's a bit of a mixed bag. Rep. Hochberg would be a very strong candidate, but I think the Democrats would do better in November, when the Presidential race ought to give them a greater boost in turnout than the Republicans will get. But Hochberg almost certainly wouldn't run in November because he'd have to give up his State House seat; in an earlier special, he could keep his seat until and unless he won, as the House seat would not also be on the ballot. There may be another viable Democrat out there who could run in November, one who ideally would have the capability to self-fund, as this is surely going to be a million-dollar race and there won't be much time to raise that kind of scratch, especially in an environment where there's so many other candidates clamoring for contributions, but I've not heard of such a candidate as yet. For that reason, I'll give the edge to November for the special election. Given that there won't be any official legislative business to conduct between now and then anyway, that seems like the right time for it anyway; why spend the extra money holding this election if you don't have to? But as I said, the consderations are more prosaic than that, so we'll just have to see if another Dem emerges.

Polland said the trend toward the Democrats is because of people from New Orleans moving into Fort Bend County and also because of a general frustration with Republican leadership in Washington and Austin.

"Our voters are disappointed that they hear one thing in campaigns and then something else when they get into office," Polland said. "I'm pretty consistent. What you see is what you get."

Polland said he expects Obama to be the Democratic presidential nominee and that Obama's campaign will focus on turning out new voters. He said a Republican will have to reach across party lines to win.

Janek disagrees. He said half the district's vote comes out of Harris County and will remain very conservative. He said there may be a "little uptick" in Democratic voting but that the district should easily go Republican.

As noted before, I think Polland's assessment of the district is more in line with reality. That said, I'd feel a lot more confident about Democratic chances there if we already had a candidate running and raising money for this seat instead of speculating now about who might run depending on when the election is. The numbers can only take you so far - you still need a good candidate and the resources to get that candidate's message out. The district's odd geography makes that a challenge. I actually think having about half the vote in Harris County - Janek is correct about that - is more help than hindrance for the Dems, as a fair amount of that will be coming from the clearly Dem-trending HD134. It's the Fort Bend and Brazoria portions of the district, which account for about 40% of the vote, that concern me. By any objective standard, SD17 is Republican favored, but it's not the slamdunk Janek claims. A good Dem - Hochberg for sure - with sufficient funding would make it a race.

At the risk of starting a rumor, I can think of a well-qualified candidate in SD17 who could run in November with good name recognition and at least the capability of raising some money: Chris Bell. Please note that this is 100% fact-free speculation on my part, so use only as directed, some restrictions may apply, not valid in all locations, yadda yadda yadda. If you can think of someone else, go ahead and name names in the comments. May as well have some idea of what our options are in the not-unlikely event of a November special and no Hochberg in the race. Greg and BOR have more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 15, 2008 to Election 2008

My take is that Polland will throw his hat into the ring and his comments are in the likely event he loses.

Gary bleeds politics. However, sometimes your 15 minutes of fame are up.

Posted by: Ron in Houston on April 15, 2008 9:29 AM

It will an interesting race...in an open primary a dem would be almost a sure thing to advance to a runoff, and then who knows! This is a million dollar race...so you better get fundraising! Any Michael Skelly clones laying around....

Posted by: Jackson on April 15, 2008 11:17 AM
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