September 23, 2008
It's "Guess the endorsement" time again

We're past Labor Day, the conventions are over, and as we head into the last few weeks of the campaign season, it's time once again to ponder the eternal mysteries of the Houston Chronicle's endorsement processes. As I've done for previous elections, I'm going to take my best guesses as to who they will recommend on the ballot. Please note this is not necessarily who I think they should recommend, but who I think they will recommend.

President/Vice President: John McCain/Sarah Palin. I'm actually quite uncertain about this, despite the Chron's 20-year-plus record of always endorsing the Republican for President and Governor. There's no Bush (all of whom they like) or Clinton (all of whom they dislike) on the ballot. They're aware of the lousy shape the country is in, and actually seem to be aware of whose responsibility that is. If they were to ever endorse a Democrat for President, it would have to be this election, with Barack Obama. And yet I can't quite bring myself to believe that they will. So I'll go with their history and hope to be proven wrong.

Normally, one endorsement does not relate in any way to another. This year, I have a feeling that who they endorse for President might affect who they endorse for some other offices. I think if they do break with their past and go for Obama, it means they're in a mood for sweeping changes, and that challengers, especially Democrats, will get a longer look from them as a result. If they stick with McCain, it means they're no more susceptible to that than usual. I'll note that in a few places. As it happens, I think they generally save this endorsement for last or close to it, so perhaps we'll get some hints about how they're leaning from who else they tout.

US Senate: Rick Noriega. The Chron picked Ron Kirk over John Cornyn in 2002, and I don't thjnk they're likely to have grown any fonder of Cornyn since then. He's too rigidly ideological for their taste, and I think Noriega's experience, especially as incident commander for Katrina evacuees at the Astrodome, will carry the day.

Oddly, I think this is one place where an Obama endorsement may make them more likely to go with a Republican incumbent. They may not want to go with the same party in each of the top races. It's a silly thing, but sillier things have happened.

Congress: Generally, the Chron sticks with incumbents, with exceptions for corruption, a belief that they're not representing Houston's best interests, and newer incumbents who weren't endorsed previously. I therefore expect them to endorse all incumbents, with the exception of Michael Skelly over John Culberson. I can see the (slight) possibility of them going with Pete Olson over Nick Lampson and/or Larry Joe Doherty over Mike McCaul, but I think this is the most likely alignment.

Railroad Commissioner: Michael Williams. They might have chosen Art Hall or Dale Henry had one of them been the nominee, but I cannot imagine them picking Mark Thompson.

State Supreme Court: I think we get a split decision here. I figure they'll stay with Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson over Judge Jim Jordan of Dallas, and I think they'll pick Judge Linda Yanez over Perry-appointed Justice Phil Johnson. The question is who they choose in the Sam Houston/Justice Dale Wainwright race. I'm going to guess this one depends on the Obama/McCain decision - an Obama endorsement means they tout Sam Houston, else they go with Wainwright.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Any respectable Democratic candidate running for the CCA, a/k/a "Texas' Worst Court", should expect to receive an endorsement. Susan Strawn, running for Place 3, easily surpasses that requirement. JR Molina, if he ever bothers to speak to an editorial board, might qualify as well. My guess is that he won't, so the Chron will go for Strawn and the two Republicans.

State Board of Education, District 7: Laura Ewing. The Chron prefers professionals to ideologues, which is exactly what we have here in the matchup between longtime teacher Ewing and evolution denier David Bradley. I'll be very surprised to be wrong about this one.

State Senate: Incumbent Sen. Mario Gallegos (SD06), Chris Bell (SD17) and Joe Jaworski (SD11). Gallegos is obvious. Bell strikes me as a clear choice for them, though I suppose they could get pissy about the fact that he's run for other offices before or something and decide to stump for a Republican, most likely Joan Huffman, instead. I'll be surprised if it's not Bell. Jaworski also seems clear since the Chron is a strong supporter of stricter environmental protections as well as a supporter of Mayor White's efforts to go after chemical plants outside Houston that damage our air quality. Sen. Mike Jackson is a big obstacle to those things, so I don't see the Chron recommending him. I'll be even more surprised if they don't pick Jaworski.

State House: For the open seat races, Carol Alvarado in HD145 is clear. It's a Democratic district, they generally like Alvarado, and her opponent is a nonentity. In HD144, I make Joel Redmond a slight favorite, but I don't know enough about Ken Legler to be confident in this.

For everything else:

HD126 - Rep. Patricia Harless (R). The Chron endorsed Chad Khan in 2006 for the open seat, but Khan has done a disappearing act this year, and Harless didn't do anything too terrible, so I think she gets the incumbent benefit.
HD127 - Joe Montemayor (D). The Chron has never endorsed Rep. Joe Crabb in a contested race that I can recall. I don't think they will start now.
HD129 - Sherrie Matula (D). The Chron went with Rep. John Davis in 2006 and could stick with him, but I think they'll flip to Sherrie this time.
HD133 - Tossup. The Chron endorsed Kristi Thibaut in 2006, highlighting Rep. Jim Murphy's opposition to abortion rights and stem cell research. That hasn't changed, but he hasn't done anything too egregious, so he may get it as the incumbent. I have an odd feeling they won't endorse both Matula and Thibaut, so on that basis I'm going to make Murphy the favorite. But honestly, this one could go either way.
HD134 - Rep. Ellen Cohen (D). Not even close.
HD135 - Rep. Gary Elkins (R). Trey Fleming is a good guy, and Elkins is fairly nondescript, but I don't think he's done anything to get dropped.
HD138 - Virginia McDavid (D). They endorsed Mark McDavid in 2006 (same link as for Thibaut), and Ginny is a better candidate than Mark, so I can't imagine they'd flip to Rep. Dwayne Bohac.
HD141 - Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D).
HD143 - Rep. Ana Hernandez (D).
HD148 - Rep. Jessica Farrar (D).
HD149 - Rep. Hubert Vo (D). This is not a sure thing. They could drop their support for Vo, whom they endorsed as an incumbent against Talmadge Heflin in 2006 but not as a challenger in 2004, over the apartments scandal, or they could stick with him because they found his response to the problems to be sufficiently quick and thorough. I make it a 75% shot for him to keep the endorsement over Greg Meyers, but won't be too shocked if it goes the other way.
HD150 - Brad Neal (D). The Chron picked Dot Nelson-Turnier over Rep. Debbie "Pit of Hell" Riddle in 2006 (see Khan/Harless link). Since I suggested this would be a future test of the Once You've Lost The Chron, It's Gone For Good thesis, I may as well stick to my guns.

County Judge: Ed Emmett. Before the hurricane, I had considered this to be a tossup, with Emmett a slight favorite over Democrat David Mincberg. But sometimes these things come down not to a body of work or a slate of issues but to a specific situation. Basically, Emmett was the man on the spot during Ike, and he did a good job. I believe the Chron will base their decision on that - it would have taken something really big to outweigh this, and there's nothing like that in his record - and that's about all there is to it.

District Attorney: Pat Lykos. The Chron endorsed her in March, and they have signaled that they don't like Brad Bradford.

Sheriff: Adrian Garcia. Easiest call of the bunch.

Tax Assessor: Probably Paul Bettencourt, but not necessarily. Not sure how to quantify this one. Maybe an Obama nod makes them more likely to go with Diane Trautman, maybe not. May depend on if they think Bettencourt has politicized the office.

County Attorney: Vince Ryan. I think they'll ding Mike Stafford for his role in the Ibarra lawsuit.

District Clerk: Tossup. There's not much of a public record on which to evaluate a District Clerk, so unless they go around asking the judges and their court clerks, I suspect this will come down to the interviews, and maybe the Presidential endorsement. Or they may just go with incumbent Theresa Chang because she's the incumbent. Who knows?

HCDE Trustees: Debra Kerner and Jim Henley. Professionals over ideologues.

County Commissioner, Precinct 3: Steve Radack. The incumbent Republican in a Republican district. Too bad Jerry Eversole isn't on the ballot, that would have been more fun.

Constables and Justices of the Peace: All incumbents. In the (Republican) open seat for Justice of the Peace, Precinct 8, Place 1, Republican candidate Holly Williamson.

Judiciary: Not enough info to make a call. They'll do some of each, which they didn't really do in 2006, but I have no idea how much. They may reference the HBA poll in some endorsements, but I don't think it will have much effect one way or the other.

So there are my guesses. Tell me what you think.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 23, 2008 to Election 2008

I agree with your pick of McCain / Palin. An editorial board that twice endorsed George W. would have no problem at all endorsing McCain. A reporter at the Chron, who shall remain unnamed, once told me that they had to appeal to their conservative Harris County readers and corporate advertisers. So they routinely complain and bad-mouth the nonsense promoted by conservatives, but then turn right around and say yessir let's have us some more. I'd bet a small fortune on the McCain / Palin endorsement. I would say a large fortune, but thanks to Bush, McCain and Gramm that sort of disappeared.

Posted by: Dennis on September 23, 2008 6:40 AM
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