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Weekend link dump for November 17

“I realized then that Leia is more than just a character. She’s a feeling. She is strength. She is grace. She is wit. She is femininity at its finest. She knows what she wants, and she gets it. She doesn’t need anyone to defend her, because she defends herself. And no one could have played her like my mother. Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher. Carrie Fisher is Princess Leia. The two go hand in hand.”

“Another gender reveal celebration has gone wrong, this time causing a recent plane crash in west Texas.”

Well, I wasn’t planning to see Midway, anyway.

“It is striking that these Catholic justices met with some of the most vocal and vociferous of all the Holy Father’s opponents. I wonder if this were, say, 20 years ago, whether they would have posed with people who had accused St. John Paul II of heresy and implied that his papacy was illegitimate—and smiled while doing so.”

“Many, if not most, female runners, from elite athletes to those training for their first 5Ks, will suffer at some point because of a lack of recognition of their physical needs, and how their bodies differ from men’s.”

“What good does it do to push women into STEM fields without accounting for and remediating the structural factors such as sexism, racism, and overall hostile work environments that drive women students away from traditional professorial careers in STEM in order to maintain their sanity and self-respect? Looking at the results of recent studies, it may not be much.”

“As you well know, for over two years, Mr. Nunes has been maliciously harassed, stalked, bullied online, threatened and egregiously defamed on Twitter by the user or users who post day and night, through the anonymous Twitter account, @DevinCow.”

“The booing of Charlie Kirk, Don Jr, and Kimberly Guilfoyle by alt-right activists was the culmination of a month-long campaign that received no press attention.”

RIP, Laurel Griggs, Broadway actor.

“It is time for clarity and accountability anchored in democratic foundations. Instead of depending on tech executives or going through more frustrating hearings that generate few structural solutions, lawmakers themselves should urgently start answering the difficult questions on how to ensure the rule of law applies online as it does offline.”

“I doubt von Braun is the only former Nazi to ever have his story of faith and inspiration featured on the cover of that magazine, but he’s probably the least remorseful former Nazi to be featured there.”

“This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

“The Han-Greedo scene is the Oak Island Money Pit of movie scenes: it’s been excavated and flooded so much that it’s become more of an idea than anything else, its truths forever beyond our grasp.”

“That the whistle-blower has stayed out of view seems to have left Trump only more aggrieved—he prefers a flesh-and-blood foe.”

“When we ask ourselves which narrative most Americans will opt to believe, we aren’t really asking how these public performances will be received (they merely conform to the theories advanced). Instead, we are asking whether a plurality of Americans is willing to accept unfounded elaborate deep state multiparty conspiracy plots or the simple and elegant extortion plan alleged and borne out by multiple witnesses. America is either going to go for the clean shave with Occam’s razor here or cut its own throat.”

“In other words, the GOP’s ‘hearsay’ talking point seems to have backfired rather spectacularly.”

We should have a full statewide slate

Nice.

Judge Gisela Triana

For Brandon Birmingham, a state district judge in Dallas, the 2020 race for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals started on election night 2018.

As he watched Beto O’Rourke win more votes than any Texas Democrat ever had in a statewide race, Birmingham — who himself won reelection that night with 100% of the vote in his countywide district — began to mull his own chances at winning Texas. Within weeks, he’d reached out to the state Democratic Party. By December, he’d sat down with party officials over breakfast in Dallas to discuss a possible run.

Now, as the 2020 election season begins in earnest after the start of the filing period Nov. 9, Birmingham is one of 14 Democrats seeking one of seven seats on the state’s two high courts — an unusually crowded and unusually qualified field for races that have over the past two decades plus proved suicide missions for Democrats. This year, with a controversial Republican president on the ballot and sky-high stakes for Texas Democrats, candidates are hoping the races look more like heroes’ journeys.

“In 2018, 2016, 2014, 2012, the last four cycles, the month of October was spent talking and begging people to come to us, to run for these kinds of offices,” said Glen Maxey, a former Texas House member who is coordinating statewide judicial races for the Texas Democratic Party. “That’s what’s different about 2020. We did not make a single phone call. … We have not twisted a single arm about doing this.”

In past years, Maxey said, the party was often scrambling to find “any qualified attorney” to put on the ballot. This year, nearly every race involves at least one sitting judge or justice with years of experience.

[…]

Strategists sometimes consider statewide judicial races the best measure of the state’s true partisan split: Whom do voters pick when they know little or nothing about either party’s candidate?

Statewide judicial races are “important to watch in terms of partisan vote behavior,” said Mike Baselice, a GOP pollster. They show a “good reflection of base Democratic and base Republican vote in the state.”

That also means that judicial candidates typically rise and fall as a slate: Most likely, either all of them will win or none of them will, strategists acknowledge. It’s a blunt theory, but it offers clear strategic guidance: A rising tide lifts all boats.

“We won’t have them each deciding to be at the same chicken fry in Parker County on the same Friday,” Maxey said. Instead, he said, they’ll tell nominees: “We need you to travel. We need you to be making appearances as seven people in seven different media markets every day, so that people are hearing a Democratic message about equal justice, all over, everywhere.”

I agree with Mike Baselice that judicial races do indeed do a good job of measuring partisan vote behavior. As you know, I’ve been using CCA races across the years as my point of comparison. I like judicial races at the county level even more because they are almost always straight up R-versus-D contests, but a lot of these go uncontested in counties that have strong partisan leans, so the statewides are the best overall proxy.

By that measure, 2018 was easily the most Democratic year in recent memory. The Supreme Court and CCA Democratic candidates ranged from 45.48% (in a race that included a Libertarian) to 46.83%, the best showing since Sam Houston got 45.88% in 2008 and Margaret Mirabal got 45.90% in 2002. I’d quibble slightly with the assertion that all the Dems will win or none of them will – there is some spread in these races, so if the state is basically 50-50, you could have a couple Dems sneak through while others just fall short. That’s basically what happened in Harris County judicial races in 2008 and 2012, after all. The presence or absence of third party candidates could be a factor as well, as more candidates in the race means fewer votes, and only a plurality, are needed to win. Again, this is only relevant if the state is truly purple, and the range of outcomes that include a split in the judicial races is narrow, but it could happen.

My one complaint here is that the story only names one Democratic CCA candidate, while teasing that there are many more. So I asked some questions, of reporter Emma Platoff and Patrick Svitek, reporter and proprietor of the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet of announced candidates, and now that Statewide tab is full. Here. for your perusal, are your Democratic statewide judicial candidates:

Amy Clark Meachum – Supreme Court, Position 1 (Chief Justice)
Jerry Zimmerer – Supreme Court, Position 1 (Chief Justice)

Supreme Court, Position 6 – Brandy Voss
Supreme Court, Position 6 – Staci Williams

Supreme Court, Position 7 – Kathy Cheng
Supreme Court, Position 7 – Lawrence Praeger

Supreme Court, Position 8 – Gisela Triana
Supreme Court, Position 8 – Peter Kelly

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – William Demond
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Elizabeth Frizell
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – Dan Wood

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4 – Brandon Birmingham

Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 – Tina Yoo Clinton
Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 9 – Steve Miears

Kelly is a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, elected in 2018. He doesn’t appear to have an online campaign presence yet, but a search for “peter kelly texas supreme court” yielded this.

William Demond is a “constitutional rights attorney” in Houston. Elizabeth Frizell is a former County Criminal Court judge in Dallas who ran for Dallas County DA in 2018 but lost in the primary. This story in The Appeal has some information about her candidacy from that year. Dan Wood is a criminal appellate lawyer who ran for the Fifth Court of Appeals in 2012 and for CD05 in 2018.

Brandon Birmingham, the one candidate named in the story, was elected to the 292nd Criminal District Court in Dallas in 2014, re-elected in 2018.

Tina Clinton serves as Criminal District Judge Dallas County Number 1, which is a felony court. I don’t know why the nomenclature is different from the other District Courts as I had not heard of this kind of court before, but similarly-named courts exist in Tarrant and Jefferson counties as well. She was elected to this court after serving eight years as a County Criminal Court judge, and you can scroll down the 2018 election results page to see more judges like her. Steve Miears is a criminal and criminal appellate attorney from Grapevine.

And now we’re as up to date as we can be The Secretary of State is now providing candidate filing information, which tells me that as of Friday Lawrence Praeger was the only one to have formally filed. More are to follow, and I’ll keep an eye on it.

Will Kay Granger get KO’ed?

Rep. Henry Cuellar isn’t the only longtime Texas Congressperson facing a serious primary challenge.

Rep. Kay Granger

It’s the question on the minds of Republicans from Washington to Cowtown: Is one of Texas’ most powerful U.S. House members in political trouble?

Enough people think so that many in the GOP political class are bracing for Fort Worth to serve as the setting of the next nationalized battle between the party’s establishment and rebellious conservative factions.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, is running for reelection in her Fort Worth district. But at least one well-funded primary challenger has emerged: Chris Putnam, who shot out of the gate this fall with a burst of cash and accusations that Granger is not sufficiently loyal to President Donald Trump.

Unseating Granger would undoubtedly be a tall task — she’s a 12-term member of Congress who has been a force in Fort Worth politics since before she was mayor in the early 1990s.

“I sure as hell wouldn’t want to run against her,” said state Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth resident and brother of the man Granger replaced in Congress.

But Granger, who is the only Republican woman representing Texas at the federal level and the most senior Republican woman in the House, has never faced a competitive Congressional race, leaving state and national Republicans to wonder how she will respond.

“Sometimes, sitting congresspeople have knuckleheads who run against them in primaries, who have no chance,” said former Tarrant County GOP Chairman Tim O’Hare, who lives outside the district but is supporting Putnam. “This is certainly not one of those. He certainly has a chance. He is far more popular among conservatives than she is.”

The story notes a few factors that may lead to Granger’s electoral demise:

– Insufficient Trumpiness. Granger, first elected in 1996, is a “moderate” in the sense that she’s not a barking lunatic who spews unhinged conspiracy theories on Fox News and lower-rung media outlets. In a Republican primary, that’s not a compliment.

– Lack of recent experience with competitive campaigns, thanks to a red district and few primary challenges. The last contested primary she faced was 2012, which she won with 80%. Before that there was 2010, which she won with 70%, and 2002, where she won with 87%. She’s neither a seasoned campaigner nor one who has had to do much of it – she’s currently seeking out campaign staff, which is not a great place to be when one has a viable challenger four months out from the election.

– No major financial advantage. Granger has a senior leadership position in the GOP caucus, and a part of that is kicking into the national committees to help out other Republicans. That has left her cash on hand lower than you’d expect for someone like her, and enabled her challenger to mostly achieve parity with her. She’s got some heavy hitters ponying up for her now, and in the end should have all the resources she needs, but she has to get there from here.

– Not mentioned in the story but inescapable in this context, she’s a woman running in a Republican primary with a male opponent. That’s not a recipe for success in the modern GOP.

I have no dog in this fight, and I have no particular insight as to what Tarrant County GOP primary voters may do. I will be watching this result on Primary Day.

The Muscovy ducks of Pearland

The things you learn.

The bird sanctuary city of Pearland is encouraging residents to take matters into their own hands to address the growing problem of Muscovy ducks that have reportedly taken residence in the city.

Known for their red, warty-spotted faces and black, white, and brown plumage, Muscovy ducks are often considered a “problem duck.” Feral populations of Muscovy ducks are known to be aggressive and can cause property damage, transmit disease and create problems through competition with native species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the city of Pearland, the ducks have been spotted throughout the city, often frequenting the neighborhoods of West Oaks and Westwood Village. In response to the growing population, the city has advised residents they can lawfully shoot or dispose of the animals themselves.

“The general public has the legal authority to address the ducks—including Muscovy duck nests, eggs, and hybrids—on their property, without the requirement of a permit,” the city stated in a Nov. 1 release.

Residents are allowed to shoot and kill the ducks on their own property if: they are allowed permission by their respective homeowner’s association or landowner; if they are located outside of city limits; and if they use a nontoxic shot or nontoxic bullets, according to the release. The discharge of a firearm is “generally illegal” inside city limits.

If a resident destroys a duck within the city’s legal parameters, they must dispose of the animal through burial or incineration. Residents are not allowed to keep, consume, sell, offer to sell the duck or release the duck in another location.

Instead of shooting, residents can capture and transport the animals to Hidalgo, Starr, or Zapata County. A 2010 law deemed Muscovies an invasive species in the U.S. with the exception of these counties, where they are considered native and can be released, according to the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition (TWRC.)

Turns out Muscovy ducks have been a problem for a few years now, and not just in Texas. And now it’s pitting neighbor against neighbor, as some just want to be kind to their web-footed friends while others…do not. I literally had no idea about any of this. Thanks to Mary Flood for flagging this.

Lining up for the runoff

Runoffs always provide focus.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner is rallying the support of state and national Democrats as he seeks to fend off Tony Buzbee in the December runoff to win a second term at the helm of Houston government.

One week into the runoff, Turner has gathered the endorsements of Harris County’s four Democratic Congress members — Lizzie Fletcher, Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee — the Texas Democratic Party, 15 Democratic state legislators and the three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court.

Also backing Turner is the Harris County AFL-CIO, which declined to endorse any mayoral candidate in the first leg of the race.

[…]

At a news conference Monday, some of Turner’s elected allies sought to tie Buzbee to President Donald Trump, for whom Buzbee once hosted a fundraiser at his River Oaks home. In response to attacks from Turner over his Trump ties, Buzbee has noted his past support for members of both parties, including Turner, and accused the mayor of trying to distract from his record by making the election a referendum on Trump.

Green, a Houston Democrat and perhaps the most vocal congressional proponent of impeaching Trump, on Monday urged Houstonians not to follow what he said is a growing trend of electing millionaires who lack political experience.

“We cannot allow this paradigm to persist,” said Green, D-Houston.

[…]

The endorsements could represent a minor boost to Turner but have little practical effect because voters already perceived him as a Democrat, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. It was only a matter of when, not if, Turner’s Democratic allies would get behind him, he added.

“To the extent that there was a tiny crack open for Tony Buzbee to claim he’s a Democrat, this probably shuts the door on that,” Jones said, noting that Buzbee has framed himself as an independent and sought to appeal to voters from both parties in the nonpartisan mayoral race.

Even before the endorsements, Jones said, Buzbee likely would have had trouble catching on with Democratic voters because he has yet to effectively counter the Trump attacks.

“Some of his actions, in terms of extravagant behavior and his outsider approach, just reinforce the idea that he’s the Houston version of Donald Trump, even though on a policy level that’s not the case,” Jones said. “But most voters aren’t looking that deep.”

I mostly agree with Mark Jones here, but I would add that these endorsements also provide some incentive to vote. Mayor Turner just needs his voters to show up. One intent of these endorsements is just to remind people that they still need to do that, because the race isn’t over yet. Job One in any election is to make sure your supporters know that there is an election and they need to vote in it.

Meanwhile, the firefighters have decided to go ahead and endorse Buzbee, which, I dunno, just seems kind of sad. I mean, they essentially recruited Dwight Boykins for the race rather than support Buzbee early on, and now after Boykins’s six percent showing they’re trudging over to Buzbee because I guess they feel like they have to do something. Good luck with that, I suppose.

Cynthia Bailey remains on District B runoff ballot

For now, at least.

Cynthia Bailey

A felon may remain on the runoff ballot in the Houston City Council District B race, a Harris County judge ruled on Friday, despite state law that may bar residents with felony convictions from seeking public office.

On Election Day, Cynthia Bailey qualified for the second and final runoff spot in District B, edging third-place finisher Renee Jefferson-Smith by 168 votes. Jefferson-Smith last week sued to remove Bailey from the ballot, arguing her 2007 conviction for theft of more than $200,000 made her ineligible to run.

Harris County 270th District Court Judge Dedra Davis on Friday denied Jefferson-Smith’s request to remove Bailey from the ballot, which would allow her a place in the runoff, said Oliver Brown, Bailey’s attorney.

The Texas Election Code is unclear on whether a felon may run for office. It bars candidates who have been “finally convicted” of a felony or who have not been “pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” though the law does not define these disabilities.

Brown said Bailey’s conviction is well known to voters, who can make an informed decision about whether this disqualifies her. He said District B residents can open the door to other felons to run for office if they elect Bailey.

“They can send a message to the city and state, that regardless of a candidate’s past, they believe in the redemption of citizens after they’ve been released by the Department of Corrections.”

See here for the background. Renee Jefferson Smith did not comment in the story, so we don’t know if she intends to appeal or let this be. Neither her campaign nor personal Facebook pages say anything about it, and her campaign hasn’t tweeted since May. We’re less than two weeks out from the start of early voting, and I presume mail ballots are being sent out as well, so it’s not clear to me that she could get a change now regardless. What happens after the election should Cynthia Bailey win is a matter we’ll address if and when it happens. In the meantime, the lesson I take from this is file the lawsuit after the August deadline and hope the issue gets decided then. And for Pete’s sake, let’s lobby the Lege to clean this up. I say that felons who complete their sentences should be free to vote and run for office as they see fit, but that notion will take a lot of work to pass. Better to start on that sooner than later.

Smoots-Thomas suspended from the bench

What you’d expect.

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas

A district court judge in Harris County has been suspended after she was indicted on federal wire fraud charges for allegedly misspending campaign donations.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, 44, will be removed from her bench without pay until the State Commission on Judicial Conduct determines otherwise, the oversight board said Tuesday, the same day it was presented with the indictment and ordered her suspension.

“We’re not surprised, but we’re still very disappointed that the state chose to take that action,” Smoots-Thomas’ attorney, Kent Schaffer, said. “It just adds to the fight that we have before us.

[…]

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has the authority to suspend judges, but can only recommend their removal to the Texas Supreme Court after conducting an investigation, according to the commission’s procedures.

Smoots-Thomas has rarely sat on her bench this year, Schaffer said, because she has breast cancer and has undergone several rounds of treatments.

See here for the background. I guess I can understand being disappointed in this entirely expected decision, but I don’t know what else might have happened. I can’t imagine a scenario in which a judge in similar circumstances would not be suspended. If nothing else, anyone appearing before her might reasonably question whether she could be on her game, since there would obviously be bigger things on her mind than whatever case was being argued.

I know that Judge Smoots-Thomas is collecting signatures to get on the ballot next year. I don’t know at this time if anyone else is doing the same. I’ll be surprised if that isn’t the case, but stranger things have happened. In the meantime, we’ll see how long this investigation takes.

Fifth Circuit overturns “motor voter” lawsuit verdict

Bummer. Totally expected and completely on brand for the Fifth Circuit, but a bummer nonetheless.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A federal appeals court has overturned a previous ruling that could have opened the door to online voter registration in Texas.

In a Wednesday court order, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a federal district judge’s ruling that Texas was violating federal law by failing to register residents to vote when they updated their driver’s licenses online. The panel of three federal judges that considered the case did not clear the state of wrongdoing but instead determined that the three Texas voters who had brought the lawsuit did not have standing to sue.

The case revolved around a portion of federal law, often called the motor voter law, that was designed to ease the voter registration process by requiring states to give residents the opportunity to register to vote at the same time they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses.

The legal dispute came after three Texas voters who moved from one county to another were unable to reregister to vote when they updated their driver’s licenses through the state’s online portal. Although the state follows the law for individuals who renew their driver’s licenses in person, Texas does not allow for online voter registration.

[…]

Two of the voters who sued the state believed they had registered and didn’t discover they were not on the voter rolls until they tried to vote in 2014. They were allowed to cast provisional ballots, but their votes were not counted. The third voter also believed he was registered to vote and only discovered he wasn’t when he sought help from county officials to determine his polling location for a 2015 election.

But the 5th Circuit sided with the state’s argument that the voters could not take the issue on in court because they had since successfully registered to vote and were no longer harmed by the state’s practice.

The federal appeals court found that [District Court Judge Orlando] Garcia erred when he reasoned that court-ordered compliance with federal law was needed to “prevent repetition of the same injury” to the three voters and others because the state’s challengers had not sufficiently proved the online system would continue to be a problem for them in the future.

I have a lot of links for this. The lawsuit in question was filed in 2016, and the initial ruling came two years later. Judge Garcia ordered the state to come up with a fix, which could have led to a partial implementation of online voter registration to comply. (Note how the main opposition to this, in mid-2018, came from the Harris County Clerk’s office. Elections matter, y’all.) The state said “nah, we’re good, no fixes needed or offered”, appealed the ruling, asked for an emergency stay of the order, which they received, thus putting everything on ice. And now here we are.

The fact that this was overturned on grounds of standing rather than on the merits suggests that maybe another go at this might be successful, if the right plaintiffs can be found. Which is still kind of ridiculous, since the claim wasn’t that people couldn’t get registered at all but that the state wasn’t following federal law and thus made it more of a pain to register and more likely that people would honestly think they had had their registration updated when they hadn’t. One of the plaintiffs was denied the opportunity to vote in the 2014 election, which sure seems to me to be a legitimate harm for a court to address. I’m not sure what a “correct” plaintiff looks like in this context. Be that as it may, it took over three years to get from the original filing to this ruling, and with no guarantee that a second try would work, or would succeed at SCOTUS even if it got past the Fifth Circuit, this is once again something that’s just gonna have to be solved by winning elections and passing laws, and in this case maybe also installing a DPS director that cares about complying with federal law. I wish it didn’t have to be this hard to secure basic rights and services from our state government, but it is, and we’re the only ones who are going to be able to do something about it. The Texas Signal has more.

News flash: Republicans still like Trump

I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

As in any sports bar in Texas when the Dallas Cowboys are playing on Monday night, most of the TVs at a British pub in northwest San Antonio were tuned to the game.

But on one side of The Lion and Rose, the sights and sounds were just a little off. None of the fans wore silver or blue. Instead, about 50 people, predominately wearing red, gathered around a bank of big-screen TVs playing C-SPAN as they ate bar food and cheered with each applause line that President Donald Trump delivered on a stage in Kentucky.

Trump’s re-election campaign organized the watch party to connect with more potential volunteers as it seeks an army of campaign workers to help extract more votes, even out of Democratic-leaning areas like San Antonio. The event was part of the Trump campaign’s National Week of Action, essentially a dry run to “activate” thousands of volunteers needed next November to get out the vote.

It was the second San Antonio event in just three weeks — on Oct. 15 the president’s son Donald Trump Jr headlined a rally downtown aimed at firing up the party faithful as well as collecting names, emails and phone numbers of volunteers who can be deployed next fall. And President Trump himself was in San Antonio seven months earlier meeting with business leaders and holding a fundraiser.

“We’re not giving up on one single voter,” said Toni Anne Dashiell, the Texas Republican National Committeewoman from nearby Kerr County who was at the watch party last week.

Dashiell said the strategy is to mobilize while the Democrats are locked in a potentially long primary battle to determine their nominee. While the opposition is working on Iowa and New Hampshire, the Trump campaign is pouring resources into states such as Texas to shore up support.

The Democrats are convinced Texas is more in play that it has been in a generation, but by the time they get their presidential nominee, Dashiell said Trump will be way ahead in building the kind of ground game needed to hold the state.

Still, GOP optimism can be a tall order in Bexar County, which wasn’t kind to Trump in 2016. While Trump won Texas by 9 percentage points, his defeat in Bexar County wasn’t just bad — it was historically bad.

In winning just 40.7 percent of the vote, Trump did worse in the San Antonio area than any Republican Party candidate in nearly 50 years. Hillary Clinton won Bexar County by more than 79,000 votes — the biggest vote margin of victory for a Democrat in the county’s history.

Trump campaign officials say the 2016 returns are a symptom of “having left votes on the table.” They are convinced that if they can begin working now in Republican pockets in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, they can far exceed their 2016 showing.

On the bright side, Trump did do slightly better in Bexar County than Ted Cruz did in 2018. I mean, we know that Republicans are going to work for the 2020 election. They’re trying to register voters, they’ll spend a bunch of money, that sort of thing. What makes that newsworthy, of course, is that they feel they have to do that. It’s not just that Republicans came close to losing several statewide races last year, it’s also that they got annihilated in urban areas, lost numerous suburban counties that had long been their strongholds, and saw Democrats at every level set turnout records. All of that was driven by Donald Trump, and the strong need so many people felt to put the brakes on his destructive reign. Polling data we have so far suggests none of that has abated.

Now having said all that, Republicans should expect to get more votes statewide in 2020 than they did in 2018. I say that because they got more votes in 2016 than they did in 2018. Some number of Presidential year Republicans did stay home in 2018. That’s true of Democrats as well, even with the record-setting turnout, but it’s fair to say that Republicans start with a deeper well to dig into. Not that much deeper – we know that a lot of people with Republican voting history went Democratic in 2018, again as a response to Trump. I don’t see any evidence to suggest that has changed. But there are voters out there for the Republicans to reach, likely more in the rural and exurban areas than the urban areas, and I expect they will mostly succeed in reaching them. Democrats have the harder task, which is not only reaching their 2016-but-not-2018 voters but also finding the new voters, and they have more ground to make up. That’s the challenge we have to meet.

By the way, in regards Engage Texas, the right wing-funded voter registration project: Tiffany and I each received a mailer from them last week, urging us to get registered. Which is hilarious, because we are the very definition of vote-in-every-election people, and we are not the people that Engage Texas is looking for. I mean, even a third-rate data processing operation would have figured that out. Maybe the ROI for this extreme blanketing approach is worth the presumably high cost per new registration that they manage to generate. It’s fine by me if they want to waste their money like that, though. Send us more mail, Engage Texas!

State Rep. Poncho Nevarez busted for cocaine possession

It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Poncho Nevarez

Authorities issued a warrant Thursday for the arrest of state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, an Eagle Pass Democrat, on felony drug possession charges. A state special investigator claims in the warrant, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune, that Nevárez was caught on surveillance footage in September dropping an envelope with cocaine as he was leaving the Austin airport.

A magistrate judge in Travis County signed the warrant Thursday afternoon. Nevárez faces a charge of third-degree felony possession of a controlled substance, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison.

Neither Nevárez’s office nor the Travis County District Attorney’s Office immediately responded to a request for comment.

Thursday’s news came hours after an affidavit detailing the allegations, filed Oct. 29 in Travis County court by the Texas Department of Public Safety, was revealed and later obtained by the Tribune and other news outlets. The affidavit was attached to a warrant seeking to conduct a test to determine whether Nevárez’s DNA was on the envelope. The document says that the envelope had Nevárez’s official House seal and held “four small clear baggies” containing a substance found to include cocaine.

Nevárez, who chairs the House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, announced last week he was retiring from the lower chamber. And in a statement to the Tribune Thursday morning before the warrant was issued, Nevárez confirmed that the “news is true” — and that the events detailed in the affidavit prompted his decision to not seek reelection.

“I do not have anyone to blame but myself,” he said, noting that he plans to seek treatment. “I accept this because it is true and it will help me get better.”

1. Nevarez had previously announced he was not running for re-election, which I think we can all agree is for the best. Sometimes, regardless of other considerations, stepping back in order to get one’s life together is the stronger course of action.

2. And I really do hope he gets his life back together. Addiction is a terrible thing, and it has real costs not just on the addict but on the addict’s family and friends. Even if I am grossly overstating the issue here – I am making some big assumptions – I stand by the main point about the personal cost to all involved.

3. I hope we take this as an opportunity to further reflect on how the criminal justice system handles drug usage and possession. I would not advocate for decriminalization of cocaine, but I would hope we would all by now recognize that a ten-year jail sentence for possessing a small amount of it is ridiculous and serves no worthwhile purpose. It’s needlessly punitive, exorbitantly expensive, and surely does not have a positive effect on addiction and drug abuse. And we should reflect on the fact that while someone like Rep. Nevarez is unlikely to spend much if any time in jail, many many people in Texas and around the country are not so fortunate. Our drug laws are harmful and woefully out of date. We really should do something about that. If Rep. Nevarez’s situation helps even one legislator realize that, then at least one good thing will come out of this.

Filing period preview: Harris County

Previously: Congress, Statewide, and SBOE/Senate/House.

For County races, I cannot use the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, as it doesn’t include local races. I am instead using the Campaign Contribution and Expenditure Reports for Various County Offices link on the County Clerk webpage, as it includes Appointments of Treasurer. I set the filter for a time frame beginning July 15, and including all offices. Not perfect, and may miss candidates who filed Appointments of Treasurer, but it’s close enough. Earlier candidates will have been included in my roundup of July finance reports for county candidates.

So with all that said, here we go. I’m not looking for incumbents’ campaign webpages, we already know about them. I’m trying to identify the party for each of the candidates I found, but some are not easy to determine, so I left them as “unknown”. Feel free to correct me if you know more.

District Attorney

Note: I used some information in this Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center post in the following.

Kim Ogg (D)
Audia Jones (D). Has been running for several months.
Carvana Cloud (D). Former division chief within the DAO (see link above).

Mary Nan Huffman (R) Former ADA in the Montgomery County DA’s office, now working for HPOU.

Lori DeAngelo (Unknown) Another former assistant DA (see link above again). I can’t find much else about her.
Todd Overstreet – (Unknown). I have no new information about him since the July post.

Finally, rumor has it that our old buddy Lloyd Oliver is running for DA as a Republican. I don’t see any filings for him so I can’t readily confirm that, but 1) I’m sure he has an appointment of treasurer always on file, and 2) Lloyd Oliver is a barnacle on the body politic, so it pays to always expect something annoying from him.

Sheriff

Ed Gonzalez (D)
Harry Zamora (D). I have no new information on him since the July post.
Jerome Moore (D). Ran in the Dem primary in 2016. No new info on him, either.

Paul Day (R). He is a “Pro-Life, Christian Conservative”, and he ran in the Republican primary for Sheriff in 2008, against then-incumbent Tommy Thomas, getting 17% of the vote.
Joe Danna (R). As noted in July, a multi-time candidate for Constable in Precinct 1.

Lawrence Rush (Unknown). Current employee of the HCSO.

County Attorney

Vince Ryan (D)
Christian Menefee (D)
Ben Rose (D)

Nothing new here, both of these challengers have been running for months. I don’t see any evidence of a Republican candidate for County Attorney as yet.

Tax Assessor

Ann Harris Bennett (D)

Chris Daniel (R)

Daniel is the former District Clerk, elected in the 2010 wave and then un-elected in the 2018 assertion of Democratic dominance. His Appointment of Treasurer was filed on Wednesday but not yet viewable. His Friends of Chris Daniel PAC reported $438 on hand and $25K in outstanding loans as of July.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Rodney Ellis (D)
Maria T. Jackson (D). We know about this one. I could not find any web presence for her – her personal Facebook page still lists her occupation as a Judge – but I did find this Houston Style article about her campaign launch. I will be very interested to see what her January finance report looks like.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Steve Radack (R)
Brenda Stardig (R)

Diana Alexander (D)
Michael Moore (D)
Kristi Thibaut (D)
Erik Hassan (D)
Luis Guajardo (D)

The first three Dems, we know about. Alexander was the first candidate in. Moore is the former Chief of Staff to Mayor Bill White. Thibaut served one term in the Lege in HD133. Erik Hassan was a candidate in the 2016 Dem primary for Precinct 3, losing to Jenifer Pool. Luis Guajardo is a very recent filer whose personal Facebook page lists him as an urban planner. As for Brenda Stardig, soon to be former Council Member in District A, she filed her Appointment of Treasurer on November 8. Chron reporter Jasper Scherer says that Radack is running for re-election, so there’s another contested primary for you. Radack has a pile of cash on hand, and he may have to spend some of it in the next couple of months. As with Maria Jackson, I will be very interested to see what Brenda Stardig’s January finance report looks like.

I’m going to stop here, in part because this is long enough and in part because I’m not prepared to do the same exercise on Constables and Justices of the Peace. Just remember that Beto carried all eight Constable/JP precincts in 2018, so ideally every Republican incumbent should have a challenger, this year and in 2022 as well. I may take a stab at this next week, but for now this wraps up my look ahead at the filing period. I’m sure I’ll have more to say as actual filings pile up.

Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that the Astros stole signs electronically at Minute Maid Park during their World Series-winning 2017 season, adding another inglorious instance to the franchise’s recent run of cheating accusations.

The Astros have begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball, the club said in a statement on Tuesday. It’s unclear if this investigation is independent of the ongoing one involving the firing of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

Citing three anonymous sources along with an on-record interview and confirmation from Fiers, The Athletic reported the Astros had a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park fixated on the opposing catcher. A television located below the dugout showed the feed. Players watched the catcher and soon were able to detect what was coming, sometimes banging trash cans to alert hitters.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

[…]

Using technology to steal signs is against major league rules. The Red Sox were fined in 2017 after the Yankees filed a complaint against them. Major League Baseball discovered they were “sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.”

In his ruling that year, commissioner Rob Manfred said “all 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Whether the Astros will be punished remains to be seen. Major League Baseball still has an open investigation against the franchise as a result of Taubman’s tirade against female reporters following the American League Championship Series.

Here’s the Athletic story. It’s a pay site, but you can sign up for a free seven-day trial if you want to read the whole thing. This NJ.com story has a couple of excerpts, including this one that explains how the scheme allegedly worked:

The Astros’ set-up in 2017 was not overly complicated. A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway. When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming. Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A’s, what the Astros were doing.

Twitter user and video genius Jomboy illustrated this with a live example. The pitcher in that clip, Danny Farquhar, noticed the banging noises and is quoted about it in the Athletic story. Jomboy has subsequent examples here, here, and here.

The key to all this is the allegation that cameras were used, as it is the use of technology to steal signs that is illegal. If the MLB investigation bears that out, expect the Astros to suffer stronger punishment than what was meted out to the Red Sox in 2017, since Commissioner Rob Manfred has emphasized that this is illegal. As the Athletic story notes, while the Astros are under investigation, using tech to steal signs is a league-wide problem, with other teams also under suspicion. Expect to hear a lot more about this over the next few weeks. Jerome Solomon, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Press have more.

The County Clerk’s plan for the runoff

Things should be back to normal, and those of us who have to know the final results before we go to bed will get a little more sleep.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman on Tuesday said poll workers will drive electronic ballot boxes to the downtown counting center directly in hopes of speeding up vote counting during next month’s runoff elections.

The move comes a week after the clerk’s office was unable to fully report unofficial returns from the Nov. 5 elections until after 6 a.m. the next day.

Instead of waiting for constable deputies to pick up electronic ballot boxes from 10 sites around the county, Trautman told Commissioners Court that election judges will drive the boxes from roughly 300 voting centers to a central counting location. That represents a step back in how the county has counted and reported results on election night.

In recent elections, the office under former County Clerk Stan Stanart, used four relay sites to transmit results to the central counting center via phone line and modem.

Trautman’s plan was to use 10 such relay sites and transmit the results via the county’s intranet system. Trautman had used the same plan in the May elections and the Harris County Attorney’s office had concluded it was permitted by the Texas Election Code.

She was forced to change the plan, however, after the Texas Secretary of State’s office said it would violate state law prohibiting the transmission of election results via the internet.

See here for the background. The expectation is that we’ll get results more or less as we’ve seen them before, usually about 80% of precincts by midnight. I find all this a bit annoying since there was nothing inherently insecure about the electronic transfer plan they had in place, and used in May. As we know, the Secretary of State had no complaints when Stan Stanart was transmitting results via modem, which isn’t as secure as a VPN. Clearly, we need to add this to the list of Laws We Need To Change When Democrats Are Finally In Control, because there’s no incentive for Republicans to help out the big Democratic counties. Anyway, expect 75% less whining on Twitter on December 14, at least related to election night returns. Assuming we do get back to normal, people will forget about this.

Texas blog roundup for the week of November 11

The Texas Progressive Alliance is ready for the opening of the 2020 candidate filing season as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Filing period preview: SBOE, Senate, House

Previously: Congress, and Statewide. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to talk about here. I’m going to limit my discussion of State House races to the greater Houston area.

SBOE: There are three SBOE seats on the ballot that were carried by Beto in 2018. Winning all three would give Democrats am 8-7 majority on this famously flaky board. One of these seats in within Harris County, and that’s SBOE6, where Michelle Palmer and Debra Kerner have been in for some time.

State Senate: Unlike 2018, there’s really only one competitive district on the ballot, and that’s SD19, the seat Dems fumbled away in the special election. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, are in. Despite the self-own in 2018, the district is basically 55-45 Dem, with a bit of variance on either end. Beto took it by 15 points, but even Lupe Valdez cleared fifty percent. A return to normal partisan behavior should make Pete Flores a temporary Senator.

Democratic incumbents Carol Alvarado (SD06) and Borris Miles (SD13) do not have primary opponents as yet. I tend to think someone will run against Miles after those harassment allegations against him were reported, but if so it will likely be a newcomer. One other Dem who both needs and has primary opponents is Eddie Lucio; I discussed Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, his known opponents, here. SD29 in El Paso is open following the retirement of Jose Rodriguez, with State Rep. Cesar Blanco the only contender to succeed him so far.

The two Republican-held seats in the Houston area have Dem challengers. For SD04, mostly in Montgomery County, there’s Jay Stittleburg, who ran for Montgomery County Judge in 2018. Griffin Winkworth is listed in the spreadsheet as having filed a designation of Treasurer. SD11 has two contenders: Margarita Ruiz Johnson, who was a candidate for CD22 in 2018 but did not advance to the runoff, and Susan Criss, former District Court judge in Galveston County and candidate for HD23 in 2014. Neither district is particularly competitive – Beto got 41.5% in SD11, but most Republicans carried it by 20 or more.

State House: Let’s start with the districts that don’t have Dem challengers yet. As noted, this is limited to the greater Houston area. You can peruse the spreadsheet at your leisure for other districts.

HD03 (Montgomery/Waller)
HD15 (Montgomery)
HD16 (Montgomery)
HD18 (Liberty)
HD23 (Galveston)
HD24 (Galveston)
HD29 (Brazoria)
HD85 (Fort Bend/Wharton/Jackson)
HD127 (Harris)
HD129 (Harris)
HD133 (Harris)
HD150 (Harris)

HDs 29 (which originally had a Dem who later withdrew) and 127 were the only ones in 2018 that went unchallenged. HD29 in particular is a district of interest, as it was a 47% Beto district in 2018.

Now for Republican-held districts that do have Dem challengers, at least according to the spreadsheet.

HD25 (Brazoria, the now-open Dennis Bonnen seat) – Someone named J. Patrick Henry, whom I cannot conclusively identify.
HD26 (Fort Bend) – Sarah DeMerchant, the 2018 candidate; Rish Oberoi; Suleman Lalani.
HD28 (Fort Bend) – We all know about Eliz Markowitz, right?
HD126 (Harris) – Natali Hurtado, the 2018 candidate.
HD128 (Harris) – Josh Markle, who got a nice fundraising boost from Beto after his little tiff with incumbent Briscoe Cain over automatic weapons.
HD130 (Harris) – Bryan Henry.
HD134 (Harris) – Ann Johnson, the 2012 candidate; Ruby Powers; Lanny Bose, the most recent entrant.
HD138 (Harris) – Akilah Bacy; Josh Wallenstein, who was a candidate in the primary for HCDE at large in 2018.

Two Democratic incumbents so far have primary opponents, Alma Allen in HD131 (Carey Lashley) and Garnet Coleman in HD147 (Aurelia Wagner). Both always seem to draw primary opponents, for whatever the reason. Ron Reynolds in HD26 usually draws one as well, for reasons that are more clear. I note that the spreadsheet lists Richard Bonton as a Republican opponent for Harold Dutton in HD142. Bonton ran against Dutton in the Dem primary in 2018.

We can’t end this conversation without bringing up HD148. I fully expect Anna Eastman to win the special election runoff, which is most likely be on December 14, the same day as the city of Houston runoffs. It doesn’t have to be on the 14th – Greg Abbott sets the runoff date, and he has some discretion. The last time we had a special election for a State Rep seat in an odd year was 2005 with the election in HD143, and that runoff was held on the same date as the city runoffs. Not a guarantee, but a data point. In any event, whatever happens in that race, there’s no reason to believe that some other candidates won’t file for the primary in HD148 as well. Any of the runners up may conclude that this was a wonky election, and that maybe they lost some votes to not-that-Adrian-Garcia. For sure, the primary will have a very different electorate, and Anna Eastman will not be very well known to them. I will be a little surprised if Eastman has the primary to herself.

Last but not least in this series: county races. I don’t get to lean on the spreadsheet for that one.

The LBB report on HISD

There’s less here than you might think.

Houston ISD’s inefficient, poorly organized and unwieldy bureaucracy is shortchanging the district’s 209,000 students and city taxpayers, requiring structural changes across virtually all corners of the district, the Texas Legislative Budget Board said in a blistering report issued Friday.

A 325-page performance review of HISD by the LBB, a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature, identified extensive operational shortcomings and issued 94 recommendations aimed at improving operations in the state’s largest public school district.

The report took particular aim at the HISD’s prized decentralized power structure, finding the model delivers inconsistent resources to students and poor monitoring of spending, while also piling on the much-maligned school board for eroding public trust and district morale.

The board also proposed several potentially controversial measures, including the formation of a “campus closure and boundary advisory committee” and suggested the district could save $26 million by shuttering as many as 40 underutilized schools. The report also called for various consolidations that could cost hundreds of jobs.

LBB officials said their recommendations could save the district $237 million over the next five years and streamline the delivery of academic services. HISD leaders are not legally required to follow any of the board’s recommendations.

In a statement Friday, the HISD administration said it is evaluating the report.

“We will seek to implement new practices and continue proven methods that maximize student achievement and promote productive and efficient operations,” the statement read.

[…]

The LBB issued several politically palatable recommendations that some community leaders, educators and board members long have sought. They include reducing administrative positions, staffing more campuses with counselors and crafting stronger budget practices.

Most recommendations involve anodyne changes to oversight and structure of the district’s many behind-the-scenes departments, including technology, contract management and transportation.

Other recommendations likely would face immediate backlash, including the suggestion that the district consider shuttering underutilized campuses. School closures have proven particularly fraught in Houston, as lower-enrollment campuses typically serve lower-income children of color.

One of the bigger shifts recommended by the LBB involves centralizing more district operations to ensure consistent, uniform practices. Currently, HISD delegates extensive autonomy over campus-level finances, staffing and programming to principals, a rarity among the nation’s largest public school districts.

Supporters of the decentralized system argue campus leaders are best positioned to know their students’ needs and craft innovative plans for raising student achievement. Opponents claim the setup leads to inconsistent student outcomes, particularly for children in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The LBB largely sided with critics of the structure.

“Independent campus decisions result in a student experience that differs across the district, and students may not be served consistently,” the report’s authors wrote.

Jodi Moon, who studied HISD’s decentralized model as a researcher with Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium, said the district’s system creates “a greater continuum of successes and failures” between schools. She questioned, though, whether a district as large as HISD would see significantly different results under a centralized setup, noting that principal experience, school choice participation and myriad other factors contribute to campus-level outcomes.

“I just find it hard to believe that you’re going to find any of the larger, urban districts where there’s a lot of uniformity,” Moon said.

Please note first of all that this was a report the HISD board asked for. The LBB doesn’t do this sort of thing on their own, they have to be invited in. This report is the result of the Board seeking ways to improve.

Anyone who has paid any attention to HISD in recent years knows that there have been multiple efforts to close “underutilized” schools, and they have all foundered in the face of fierce pushback from parents, alumni, and other stakeholders. Closing smaller schools can look good on paper, but it has real effects on people’s lives and on the neighborhoods where those schools are. The Board has consistently responded to the voice of the people they were elected to represent. Whether the appointed board of managers that the TEA is about to install will take a crack at this, since they don’t have any voters to answer to, is a big and looming question as we enter the takeover era.

The centralization issue is one where I think you could very reasonably argue that any savings that might be achieved is more than offset by giving principals, who know their schools and students best, the autonomy to respond to their own individual needs. It’s far from clear to me that emulating this particular practice of HISD’s peer institutions – New York, LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc – is a desirable goal. Putting it another way, do you want to make the bureaucracy that much bigger? I get what the LBB is talking about, but this isn’t a simple matter, and it’s far from clear to me that the savings involved is real.

Anyway. There are good ideas in this report, and there will be opportunities to implement them. It all starts with that appointed board, which will be able to operate in a different manner than the elected board. How much of a good thing that is very much remains to be seen.

Who wants to host the 2030 World’s Expo?

The city of Houston, that’s who.

Congress is moving to free up funding for the U.S. to post a pavilion at the 2020 World’s Expo in Dubai — a move lawmakers say will put Houston “in play” to host the first World’s Expo in America since 1984.

The House of Representatives [last] week passed a bill that would allow the State Department to spend about $60 million to build a pavilion at the expo, also known as the World’s Fair, in Dubai next year.

It’s a move meant to demonstrate how serious America is about once again hosting the World’s Fair, an event that has left lasting marks on American cities, including Chicago and Seattle — but one that hasn’t been hosted on U.S. soil since a disappointing showing in New Orleans in 1984.

The pavilions are essentially a requirement for nations to host the expo, but the State Department is currently prohibited from spending money to build one, meaning the U.S. is the only country in the world that relies entirely on private donations to guarantee its presence at world expos. Funding has fallen short for seven of the last 10 proposed American pavilions.

Local leaders are vying for Houston to host the World’s Expo in 2030 as a show of the city’s international bona fides.

See here for more. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know this was still a thing. It’s cool, and now that I do know I’m rooting for Houston to win it for 2030. But seriously, who knew this was still a thing?

Filing period preview: Statewide

Previously: Congress. As before, I am using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet as my primary reference.

Statewide elections are much less exciting in Presidential years in Texas, since the state offices are on the ballot in the off years. We do have a US Senate race of interest, which I think you are familiar with. Beyond that, there’s the one Railroad Commission spot (there are three Railroad Commissioners, they serve six year terms, with one slot up for election each cycle), and the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals positions. We’ll take a look at those this time around.

Railroad Commissioner: We discussed this recently. Chrysta Castañeda and Kelly Stone are in, 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about it, and I will worry about Grady Yarbrough rising like a zombie to sow chaos until the filing deadline.

Supreme Court: There are four races, thanks to a previous retirement and appointment by Greg Abbott. Three of the races are contested.

Against Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, in Position 1, we have Amy Clark Meachum, a District Court judge in Travis County first elected in 2010, and Jerry Zimmerer, a Harris County judge elected to the 14th Court of Appeals in 2018.

For Position 7 against Jeff Boyd, the candidates are Brandy Voss, an attorney and law professor from McAllen, and Staci Williams, a District Court judge from Dallas County, first elected in 2014.

Position 6 is the open seat, where Jeff Brown was replaced by Jane Bland, a former First Court of Appeals judge who was defeated in 2018. Kathy Cheng, a Houston attorney who ran for this same position in 2018, finishing with 46.3% of the vote, and Lawrence Praeger, also a Houston attorney, are the contenders.

Position 8, held by Brett Busby, is the only one that has a lone Democrat, at least so far. Gisela Triana, a longtime District Court judge in Travis County who was elected to the Third Court of Appeals in 2018.

Court of Criminal Appeals: Three positions are up, as per usual: Bert Richardson (Place 3), Kevin Yeary (Place 4), and David Newell (Place 9). There are candidates running for Place 6, except that that election may not happen this cycle. The spreadsheet only lists the Place 3 race and doesn’t mention any Dem candidates, so at this point I don’t have any knowledge to drop on you. I’m sure there are people running for these positions, but for what it’s worth the one statewide office that Dems did not challenge in 2018 was a CCA slot. I will of course keep my eyes open for this.

Next up: SBOE, State Senate, and State House. Let me know what you think.

So when will the HD148 runoff be?

The TL;dr of this is “we may have two different runoff dates, one for the city of Houston and one for the special legislative elections”. If you’re confused, I understand. Let’s walk through it together.

First, there’s this:

I’ve said before that the last time we had a November legislative special election that required a runoff was in 2005, the special election in HD143. That runoff was held on the same date as the city of Houston runoff, as you can see from the election returns page. You would certainly think it makes sense to hold them at the same time – HD148 is entirely within the city of Houston, it costs less to have one election instead of two, people may be confused and turnout will certainly be affected by two runoff dates, etc etc etc. What’s the problem?

The problem is that the city of Houston runoff is on a Saturday, and as far as I can tell from scrolling through election returns on the SOS webpage, special election runoffs for legislative seats are almost always held on Tuesdays. I’ve looked at the date of each special legislative election runoff (House and Senate) going back to that 2005 runoff, and the only other example of a Saturday runoff date I could find was the SD06 special election runoff on March 2, 2013. Every single other one was on a Tuesday.

(I should note that some of these special elections were expedited due to the vacancy occurring near or during a legislative session. Special laws apply in those cases that govern the timing, including to limit the Governor’s discretion in setting the election dates. Not all of these were expedited, just some of them.)

One effect of that difference is in the number of early voting days. Here’s the relevant law:

Sec. 85.001. EARLY VOTING PERIOD. (a) The period for early voting by personal appearance begins on the 17th day before election day and continues through the fourth day before election day, except as otherwise provided by this section.

(b) For a special runoff election for the office of state senator or state representative or for a runoff primary election, the period begins on the 10th day before election day.

(c) If the date prescribed by Subsection (a) or (b) for beginning the period is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal state holiday, the early voting period begins on the next regular business day.

The 10th day before a Tuesday election is the previous Saturday, so by 85.001 (c), that moves the start of early voting to the Monday, and we get five days’s worth of it. That’s what we got in the recent HD145 special election runoff, for example. I’m not sure what the law is regarding city elections, but for our Saturday runoffs for our city elections, early voting starts the previous Wednesday and goes for seven says, as we got in 2015. The good news is that if the runoff is on a Saturday, then the tenth day before it is that same Wednesday.

Which is another way of saying that the runoff for HD148 – and really, for all three special legislative election runoffs, including HDs 28 and 100, which will surely be on the same day as HD148 but which do not intersect with other elections as far as I know – could be on Saturday the 14th, or could be on some other day, probably a Tuesday if recent patterns hold. Talking to some people at the HCDP Friendsgiving event on Saturday, the scuttlebutt seemed to be that the legislative runoffs would be in January, since once you get past the first two weeks of December it’s too close to Christmas. I’ve gone from being confident that the runoffs would all be on the same December 14 date to being convinced I was wrong about that to being convinced nobody knows anything and we’re all just waiting for a crumb of information to fall from Greg Abbott’s table. Abbott does have a deadline to set the date, which kicks in after the election results are officially canvassed. We will know for sure soon enough. I hope I have not confused you any more than necessary with this long-winded explanation.

Harris County’s gun surrender program

Just common sense.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County officials on Tuesday announced four measures aimed at curbing gun violence, which County Judge Lina Hidalgo said are necessary because the state and federal governments have missed opportunities to prevent shootings.

Hidalgo secured unanimous approval from Commissioners Court to expand a gun surrender program to all 22 of the county’s felony courts.

Additionally, county officials unveiled a streamlined system of reporting criminal convictions to the Texas Department of Public Safety, a new health department task force focused on violence prevention and a free gun lock program.

“We know the vast majority of Americans want common-sense gun reforms, and it’s an issue where we’re not just going to roll over,” Hidalgo said. “We’ve spent the last few months scouring what we can do within the framework that exists.”

[…]

The surrender program, which debuted in the 280th family court in December 2018, requires defendants charged with domestic violence offenses to give up their weapons to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office until their legal cases are resolved. To date, deputies have seized 25 guns under 10 protective orders.

Speeding up the reporting of convictions is one of the gun violence mitigation ideas Greg Abbott had in the wake of the El Paso murders. The surrender program for domestic violence offenders is just a recognition of the correlation between gun violence and domestic violence. Anyone who opposes these simple, broadly-supported, sensible solutions – a group that apparently includes one of the Republican candidates in HD148 – has no interest in reducing gun violence. Anyone who doesn’t support these proposals is part of the problem.

Filing period preview: Congress

So even though we still have the 2019 runoffs to settle, the 2020 election is officially upon us. I say this because the filing period for 2020 candidates began on Saturday the 9th, closing on December 9. I expect there will be a tracker of filed candidates on the TDP webpage, but until such time as we have something like that, my guidebook for this is the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet of declared and rumored candidates. I’m going to do a series of posts on who has announced their candidacies for what this week, and I’ll be using that as the springboard.

I begin with Congressional candidates. We’ve sort of been tracking this all along via the quarterly finance reports, since you can’t be a candidate (or at least, you can’t be taken seriously as a candidate) unless you’re filing finance reports. My roundup of Q3 filing reports is here, and I’ll supplement that in this post.

The first thing I noticed after I clicked over to the spreadsheet to begin my research was that there’s a new Democratic candidate in CD02. And sure enough, there was a Chron story to go with it.

Travis Olsen

Former Homeland Security Department employee Travis Olsen this week joined the race for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, becoming the second Democrat to vie for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston.

Olsen, who filed his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission Tuesday and launched his campaign Thursday, said he would seek to “provide an alternative” for residents “looking to move past partisanship and polarized politics,” contending that Crenshaw has not sought common ground with Democrats during his first term.

“We need leaders in Congress who are going to put country above party,” Olsen said in an interview. “And what we have seen is that Rep. Crenshaw will just follow the party line, follow the president, in his choices.”

[…]

To take on Crenshaw, Olsen first would have to win a Democratic primary next year that already includes Elisa Cardnell, a Navy veteran who filed her candidacy in February.

In response to Olsen’s campaign launch, Cardnell said in a statement that the race “has been, since day one, about how we put country over party and defeat Dan Crenshaw in 2020.”

“We’ve been making the case now for six months; if we want to hold Dan Crenshaw accountable for voting against lower prescription drug costs and against reauthorizing the national flood insurance program, it’s going to take a female veteran who can make him come to the table and talk about the issues, not just his past service,” Cardnell said.

Here’s Olsen’s website. He’ll need to start raising money ASAP, Crenshaw has bags and bags of it, and Cardnell has taken in $177K so far. From my perspective, this means another set of interviews to do for the primary. You’ll note as we go on there’s more where that came from.

Among Democratic incumbents, only Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 has no primary opponent. I won’t be surprised if some character wades in, but she won’t have much to worry about. Not in March, anyway; she will have a well-funded Republican opponent in November. Reps. Al Green in CD09 and Sylvia Garcia in CD29 each have one primary opponent. Melissa Wilson-Williams has reported $31K raised, though it all appears to be her own contributions. Someone named Nile Irsan says he’s running in CD29, but he has no web presence or finance reports as yet.

The primary for a Democratic seat with the most action is in CD18, where four announced candidates face Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee: Marc Flores (Q3 finance report), Bimal Patel (Q3 finance report), Stevens Orozco (Q3 finance report), and Jerry Ford (Q3 finance report). Flores and Patel have been in the race for awhile and have raised a few bucks; Orozco has only taken in $3K, while Ford has loaned himself $50K. Jackson had a token challenger in 2018 and took 85% of the vote. She had more serious challengers in 2010, including then-Council Member, now State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, but still won with 67%. It’s hard for me to believe she’ll face much adversity this time around.

The main event races are CDs 10 and 22, and there’s no change in status for them. It won’t surprise me if some stragglers file for them, but the contenders are as they have been all along – Mike Siegel, Shannon Hutcheson, and Pritesh Gandhi in CD10; Sri Kulkarni, Nyanza Moore, and Derrick Reed in CD22. The newest candidates are in CD08, the Kevin Brady district mostly in Montgomery County. Jacob Osborne established a campaign committee in May and has a campaign finance account, but no money raised or web presence as far as I can tell. Laura Jones is a more recent entrant and the Chair for the San Jacinto County Democrats, but has not filed any finance reports yet. Democrat Steven David got 25% in CD08 in 2018 so this is not exactly a prime pickup opportunity, but it’s always nice to see qualified candidates take a shot.

Elsewhere in the state, most of what we know I’ve covered in the finance report posts. I’m still hoping for a more serious contender in the admittedly fringey CD17, and we have things to sort out in CDs 03, 06, 25, and 31. We may yet see some new entrants here and there but for the most part the big picture is fairly clear. I’ll take a look at legislative offices next.

Let this finally be the end of the Heidi Group’s grift

And you should all be thoroughly appalled at the waste, fraud, and abuse committed in the name of screwing Planned Parenthood.

Right there with them

An anti-abortion group that came under fire for failing to provide services to thousands of Texas women must repay $1.5 million in overpayments and prohibited costs, state investigators said Thursday.

The findings, announced by the office of the health inspector general, are a new blow to the Heidi Group. The organization had hoped to replace Planned Parenthood as a top family planning provider, but was cut off from millions in funding last year after failing to serve tens of thousands of low-income women.

The office said on Thursday it had uncovered “serious contractual violations” and is expanding its inquiry to the entire span of the Heidi Group’s contracts, going back to 2016. That could mean additional repayments.

Forensic accountants found the group had paid medical providers hundreds of thousands in excess fees, had overspent on payroll and fringe benefits, and had expensed thousands in unallowable costs like food, gift cards, clothing and retail membership fees, according to a copy of the internal investigation obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

The inquiry covered a seven month period, from September 2017 to March 2018.

“It’s a travesty when you look at all the women who should have been receiving services and were not because of this,” said Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin. “We’re talking about women who don’t have means to afford health care like many of us do.”

See here for a deeper dive on the Heidi Group’s utter failure, and here for all previous blog posts. As the Observer notes, the state finally canceled their contracts last month, after three years of shoveling good money after bad. In the meantime, thousands of women were denied the health care the needed and deserved. This is what happens when you put rabid ideology over reality. Until we get better government in this state, there’s always a chance it will happen again.

The evolving CD31 candidate landscape

We have a lot of Democratic candidates raising 2018-type money in the big, targeted Republican-held Congressional districts. Some have clear frontrunners, at least based on money raised – Wendy Davis in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23 – while CDs 10 and 24 have multiple candidates raising competitive amounts of money. And then there’s CD31, the district that MJ Hegar put on the map last year, where no one has yet raised much money or established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. With candidates still coming and going, let’s check in and see who’s who and what’s what.

Tammy Young

Round Rock City Council Member Tammy Young announced her bid for U.S. Rep. John Carter’s seat Wednesday, joining a crowded field of candidates hoping to unseat the Round Rock Republican.

Young moved to Round Rock after leading a nonprofit in New Mexico for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In Round Rock, she taught special education and later worked as a real estate broker. She was elected to the City Council in May 2017.

Democrats have been eyeing the district, which encompasses most of Williamson and Bell counties, after Carter defeated Democrat MJ Hegar by 2.9 points last year.

Young has hired major Democratic consultants, including AKPD, an ad firm that worked for U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in 2018 and is now Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s ad maker; AMHC, which did mailing for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns; GQR for polling and 4Degrees for digital.

Young, 50, said she was a teenage mother and a survivor of domestic violence. She has two children with ADHD, which led her to write a book for parents titled “Slow Down, So I Can Tell You I Love You.”

“I know what it’s like to struggle and to have to find solutions to what seem like impossible challenges,” Young said.

On the City Council, Young worked to pass a $15 minimum wage for all city employees and worked with the city’s Chamber of Commerce to invest in workforce skills training.

“Through that experience on council, I’ve learned that it’s possible to work in a bipartisan way,” she said. “I know that this can be replicated in Congress.”

[…]

Computer engineer Donna Imam raised more than $60,000 between July and August and has $53,000 in cash on hand. Christine Eady Mann, a family practice physician who ran for the seat last year, announced in August that she would run again. She raised $53,000 between July and September, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Omar Kadir, a former candidate for Williamson County treasurer; singer Eric Hanke and Dan Janjigian, an actor and ex-Olympic bobsledder, are among the other Democrats in the race.

Here’s Tammy Young’s webpage; she has a pretty compelling life story. Other candidates in the race include Dan Jangigian, Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, and 2018 returnee Christine Eady Mann, who was runnerup to MJ Hegar in the primary that year. Murray Holcomb has apparently dropped out, as have a couple others mentioned in this August AusChron story that I linked to in my Q3 finance report roundup. We’re less than a week out from the beginning of the filing period, so we should be getting clarity real soon. At this point what we need is for one or more of these candidates to demonstrate the ability to raise the kind of money that will enable them to run the kind of race that will be needed for CD31 to be competitive again. Hegar, with a big assist from Beto, moved the ball a long way in 2018. CD31 was on paper one of the less likely to flip districts in 2018 – Hillary Clinton lost it by 12 points in 2016. Hegar made it close enough that it’s already on the DCCC target lists for 2020. What we need at this point is for one (or more!) of these candidates to show that they can take that next step. I hope the Q4 finance reports will provide some evidence of that.

Weekend link dump for November 10

“It is not my job to decide if Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. It’s impossible for me to do so with incomplete information, and with no process for testing competing facts. But it’s certainly not my job to exonerate him because it’s good for his career, or for mine, or for the future of an independent judiciary. Picking up an oar to help America get over its sins without allowing for truth, apology, or reconciliation has not generally been good for the pursuit of justice. Our attempts to get over CIA torture policies or the Iraq war or anything else don’t bring us closer to truth and reconciliation. They just make it feel better—until they do not. And we have all spent far too much of the past three years trying to tell ourselves that everything is OK when it most certainly is not normal, not OK, and not worth getting over.”

“A Georgia law prevented 87,000 people from voting last year. And it could have a big impact in 2020.”

Everything you ever wanted to know about the girl from the “Baby Shark” viral video. You’re welcome.

How old are we? We’re so old that the movie Blade Runner is no no longer set in the future. That’s how old we are.

“E. Jean Carroll, the writer and advice columnist who in June came forward with allegations that President Donald Trump raped her inside the dressing rooms of Bergdorf Goodman more than twenty years ago, has filed a defamation lawsuit against the president.”

“To be clear, I have not seen any evidence that the president should be impeached. I obviously do not believe the president is a dictator, but his repeated use of unilateral action sure makes him look like one.” Guess who said that and about whom it was said.

Facebook has rebranded itself as FACEBOOK. I’m sure everyone will treat that with all due respect.

“Researchers hack Siri, Alexa, and Google Home by shining lasers at them”.

Mike Pence involved in the Ukraine quid pro quo? Mike Pence involved in the Ukraine quid pro quo.

“One of the finest spectacles in astronomy is to witness the passage of one object in front of another. This can transpire as an eclipse, an occultation, or a rare event known as a planetary transit. We get a shot at seeing just such a singular event next Monday on 11 November, as a transit of Mercury across the face of Sol occurs for the last time this decade.”

“Republicans’ Sad New Trump Defense: Is Attempted Murder Really a Crime?”

What Amber Briggle says.

“The whistle-blower is the one who is acting in the prescribed lawful way; the President and his henchmen are the ones—no surprise here—calling on the media to violate the point and purpose of the law.”

RIP, Nikki Araguz Loyd, Houston transgender activist.

“Perhaps most importantly, we need an alternative, affirmative internet that is powerful and attractive to users around the world in its own right. Right now, the choice is between the U.S. internet—dominated by Silicon Valley companies who proclaim the need for “internet freedom” to justify their hands-off approach to hate, terrorism, bullying, and election manipulation—and China’s.”

But…if Vanna is hosting Wheel of Fortune, then who’s turning the letters?

About those Council runoffs

All of a sudden there’s many fewer candidates to keep track of.

Tiffany Thomas

Some candidates said they were happy simply to have made it to a runoff. Several races had more than a dozen people vying for the top two vote counts, resulting in razor-thin margins that decided who moved forward.

Brad “Scarface” Jordan said he was still in shock Wednesday. The former member of the Geto Boys hip hop group hadn’t expected to advance, but ultimately took second in a 16-candidate field for District D.

“This is unbelievable bro,” he said. “I’m just as shocked as you are.”

Others, like incumbent Michael Kubosh in At-Large 3 (47.8 percent), Amy Peck in District A (45.4 percent) and Tiffany Thomas in District F (38.9 percent), enter their runoffs with commanding leads.

“We could have won outright last night if those clowns weren’t on the ballot,” Thomas said of the candidates eliminated Tuesday, most of whom polled in the single digits. “They didn’t work at the polls, they weren’t at early voting.”

Peck said her level of support indicated that voters want a continuation of the service they have seen under incumbent Brenda Stardig. Peck is Stardig’s chief of staff, and she has pledged to work towards finishing drainage and infrastructure projects already underway.

“Being that far ahead, it’s a clear message of what the voters want,” Peck said.

[…]

Thomas, the top vote-getter in District F, raised questions that her opponent, Van Huynh, has faced about his residency. He is incumbent Steve Le’s chief of staff.

Three of the last four District F council members, including Le, have faced questions about whether they live in the southwestern district, as required by city charter and state law.

“I don’t run nasty races, but I do think it’s a valid point that I’m in a runoff with someone who doesn’t live here,” Thomas said.

Huynh, who did not return calls for comment Wednesday, listed his address in campaign filings as a house he rents just off Brays Bayou, but he and his wife claim a homestead exemption on a home they have owned for two decades that sits outside District F.

The council aide has said he stays in the rental he listed on his filing form two to three nights a week, and last month provided a copy of his lease that lists his “main address” at his home outside the district.

Huynh said he and his family are in the process of moving to a new home in the district, but they did not purchase that home until July of this year. City rules require candidates to live in the district they hope to represent for 12 months before election day, but experts say the dictate is hard to enforce.

I must say, I appreciate Tiffany Thomas bringing a little spice to the conversation. She’s also right – an awful lot of those 124 candidates never bothered filing a campaign finance report, which is a pretty minimal Serious Candidate Thing to do. Now that we’re down to two candidates per race, we can get some focus. As I said before, all of the At Large races involve one Democrat and one Republican, which allows for some clarity of choice. Some of the candidates still on the ballot have done interviews with me, either this cycle or a previous one, and others I will try to get to between now and the start of December. Everyone will have either six or seven city candidates on their runoff ballot, depending on what happened in their district, so everyone has plenty of reason to vote again. Figure out who you want to support and make sure you show up.

District Court Judge Smoots-Thomas accused of wire fraud

Yikes.

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas

A Harris County judge is facing federal charges that accuse her of using campaign donations for personal expenses, including for mortgage payments, private school tuition and travel.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, 44, is charged with wire fraud charges, according to federal prosecutors. She turned herself in to U.S. Magistrate Peter Bray, appearing before him with chains wrapped around her waist and ankles.

She pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the magistrate set a pre-trial conference for Jan. 6.

Wearing a gray and black suit, she kept her head down for most of the arraignment. Smoots-Thomas has breast cancer, and had a round of chemotherapy on Thursday, attorney Kent Schaffer said.

Schaffer denied the charges after the proceeding, alleging that the U.S. Attorney’s Office, under Ryan Patrick, was targeting Smoots-Thomas because she is a black female Democrat.

“She has not defrauded anybody,” he said.

Patrick’s office has been contacted for comment on Schaffer’s allegations.

A federal grand jury on Oct. 24 returned a seven-count indictment against Smoots-Thomas, who presides over the 164th District Court and has jurisdiction over civil cases within Harris County. The indictment was unsealed on Friday.

[…]

The indictment alleges Smoots-Thomas of soliciting campaign contributions on the premise the money would be used to help facilitate her re-election campaigns in 2012 and 2016, prosecutors said. She concealed the expenses from her campaign treasurer and the Texas Ethics Commission by filing false campaign finance reports, according to the charges.

Obviously, this is bad and upsetting. She is of course innocent until proven guilty, but federal prosecutors tend to prefer bringing charges in cases they feel confident about winning.

Judge Smoots-Thomas was first elected in 2008. She was known as Alexandra Smoots-Hogan then; I know she had gotten divorced, and I presume remarried. There’s always a question about whether elected officials who are accused of crimes should resign when that happens. This is where I point out that Ken Paxton is still Attorney General, and I have not called for his resignation because he has not yet been convicted of anything. I’m inclined to believe that Kent Schaffer’s allegation about Assistant US Attorney Ryan Patrick is more defense lawyer strategy than anything else, but if all it took was an indictment to force someone out of office, then it’s certainly possible to imagine a politically motivated prosecutor filing sketchy charges as a partisan tactic. Plenty of people have been unjustly prosecuted in other contexts, after all. It’s a terrible look and I’m sure Republicans are rubbing their hands with glee over the potential attack ads, but even public officials get their day in court.

You really have to plan for every election

Whether or not they actually happen.

Judge Michael Keasler

For months, Democrats Mark Watson and Mike Snipes have been running 2020 campaigns for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 6. They’ve raised money, filed official paperwork, gathered signatures, traveled to far corners of the state, devoured East Texas delicacies, created Facebook pages, won endorsements, launched websites and given interviews with journalists.

There’s just one problem: There is probably not going to be an election.

The current occupant of that seat, Republican Judge Michael Keasler, is 77, and according to the state’s mandatory retirement law for judges, he must finish his decades of service on the state’s highest criminal court by the end of next year at the latest. State law permits him to finish four years of the six-year term he was elected to in 2016.

According to the Texas Constitution, Keasler’s seat will become vacant at the end of next December, and Gov. Greg Abbott is empowered to fill judicial vacancies. But the little-known and rarely relevant law seems to have led to some confusion: Would Keasler’s seat be filled in 2021 by the governor, or in 2020 by the voters?

If the Democrats were confused, they certainly weren’t the only ones.

In August, when an official from the state Democratic Party emailed state elections administrators to ask whether there would be a race, a lawyer for the secretary of state’s office reported that there would.

“I figured it out,” wrote Christina Adkins in an Aug. 15 email obtained by The Texas Tribune. “Judge Keasler is subject to mandatory retirement so his position is on the ballot in 2020.”

The race was included on the state’s list of offices up for election in 2020, posted earlier this year, and remained there as recently as Wednesday morning. Later that day, a Texas Tribune journalist emailed the agency to ask whether the seat would be up in 2020. As of Thursday, it was no longer listed on the state’s website.

A spokesman for the agency said Friday that “there is no vacancy until December 31, 2020, and the office is not already on the ballot.”

The story includes a before-and-after screenshot from the SOS website, which one day did list CCA6 as a 2020 race and then the next day did not. At this point, I’d have to say that barring anything unexpected this race will next be on the 2022 ballot as currently scheduled. At least Watson and Snipes will be ready to hit the ground running when that time comes around.

Lawsuit filed over District B candidate eligibility

All right then.

Cynthia Bailey

Renee Jefferson-Smith, who trailed Cynthia Bailey by 168 votes in unofficial returns, sued the city of Houston and Harris County Thursday, contending that Bailey’s 2007 conviction for forging a $14,500 check makes her ineligible to appear on the ballot.

The Texas Election Code says candidates are eligible to run for office if they have not been “finally convicted” of a felony from which they have “not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” though the law does not define “resulting disabilities.”

In the state district court lawsuit, which seeks an injunction and temporary restraining order to bar Bailey from appearing on the ballot, Jefferson-Smith also argued that Bailey may have committed perjury by affirming in her candidacy application that she had not been convicted of a felony.

Though the law appears to prohibit convicted felons from seeking office, candidates with felony records successfully have reached the ballot in HoustonAustin and San Antonio, and the law has yet to be thoroughly tested in court.

For now, Bailey is set to face Tarsha Jackson in the District B runoff. The district, which covers several north Houston neighborhoods including Fifth Ward and Acres Homes, currently is represented by term-limited Councilman Jerry Davis. Jackson finished atop the 14-candidate field with 20.8 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election.

[…]

In the petition filed Thursday, Jefferson-Smith also contended that Bailey’s criminal record “will guarantee a victory for the other runoff candidate and deny voters in District B a real choice.”

Replacing Bailey in the runoff, Jefferson-Smith argued, would give voters “the opportunity to choose between two eligible candidates for the position of Council member for District B, thus ensuring that District B voters are not disenfranchised.”

Jefferson-Smith declined to comment through a spokesperson, though she posted about the lawsuit on Facebook Thursday.

“I had a decision to make, and believe me it was extremely tough, so please understand; this lawsuit and fight is not about me, it’s about the people in District B,” she wrote.

Jackson said she was disappointed Jefferson-Smith filed the lawsuit, and argued that Bailey should not be kept off the ballot.

“I’ve spent my whole life fighting for criminal justice reform and fighting for people to have a second chance. All the candidates knew she had a criminal record when the story came out,” Jackson said, referring to a Chronicle story published last month. “She finished second despite the story, and I think she should be able to finish the race.”

As you well know, I Am Not A Lawyer, so I have no idea what the courts will make of this. I expect we will get a quick decision, likely followed by a quick appeal to the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals, which in turn will either rule or refuse to take up the matter in short order.

Bailey’s status was reported by the Chron in October in a story that was primarily about residency requirements. You will note that three other candidates who were on the ballot were in the same boat, though none of them came close to advancing. You may also recall that former Geto Boy Willie D decided not to file in District B over concerns about his own status. I wonder what he’s thinking right now.

I don’t have a problem with the filing of the lawsuit, especially if one believes that Bailey would be prevented from taking office in the event she won because of her status. We don’t know that would happen, but it could and it seems likely that someone would take legal action to force the question. I would have preferred to adjudicate the question before the actual election, precisely to avoid issues like this, but the courts in their wisdom prefer to only get involved after elections. I’d also prefer for people like Bailey and Willie D to be able to run for office after they finish serving their sentences, but at the very least the law in Texas is unclear on that. I’ll keep an eye on this and we’ll see what the courts have to say.

Justice Higley resigns

This is clearly the best course of action.

Justice Laura Higley

Justice Laura Carter Higley, who lives in West University and served on the Houston-based court, submitted her notice to Gov. Greg Abbott, the appeals court’s clerk confirmed Tuesday. In the letter, she did not offer a reason for stepping down from the bench, he said.

“Her service is appreciated by us and the state of Texas,” clerk Christopher Prine said.

The justice, a Republican, has held Place 5 on the court since 2002. She was re-elected in 2008 and 2014, with her term set to expire December 2020.

[…]

It’s unknown whether Justice Higley has been on the receiving end of any official complaints related to her work. Those would be brought to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, the oversight group for judges, interim executive director Jacqueline Habersham has said.

See here for the background. Greg Abbott has accepted the resignation, and will appoint a new justice, who will be on the ballot in 2020 as Higley would have been. If recent patterns hold, he’ll appoint one of the Republican judges who were ousted in either 2016 or 2018. Regardless, I wish Laura Higley all the best with her health and care.

The future of the Texas Renaissance Festival

More specifically, what is the future of the town of Todd Mission, where the RenFest was founded and takes place, as its founder prepares to step down?

At a city council meeting earlier this month in Todd Mission, council members discussed re-doing street signs, and Mayor George Coulam doodled.

Coulam, 82, otherwise known as “King George,” pushed to incorporate this stretch of woodsy land 37 years ago. He had one goal: Protecting the Texas Renaissance Festival he founded here eight years before that.

Houston’s growth attracted Coulam to the area, and he knew better than to leave his life’s work vulnerable to it. The result is a quirky city intimately tied to his creation and under his control. He didn’t want someone else writing the rules.

Now that city is entering a new phase. Coulam is planning for what will happen to his creations after he dies — he’s already built a mausoleum across from his house — and officials in Todd Mission, 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston, are grappling with coming development.

A four-lane tollway is being built on the edge of town, a change they expect to transform this rural city in the pines, which attracted creative types and those who preferred to be somewhere remote.

It’s a scenario repeating across greater Houston, as roadways expand and push farther out — in this case, with a Renaissance twist.

“The city wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the festival,” said City Manager Neal Wendele. Renaissance lettering adorns city signs in Todd Mission. Festival sales tax and business license fees make up most of the $525,000 annual city budget.

Coulam remains a central figure, very much involved in festival operations. He has been the city’s only mayor.

But the municipality he formed is emerging from the festival’s shadow. Wendele was hired last year to fill the city manager position full-time, and the city secretary this year stopped working at the festival.

“We’re working on separating things a little,” said Council Member Heather Moon-Whinnery, who owns a festival shop. “For the longest time, Todd Mission was just the Renaissance Festival.”

There’s more, and it’s partly about the history of the RenFest, partly about founder Coulam, and partly about the landscape Todd Mission faces today. Like Father Time, urban sprawl comes for us all. Go read the rest.

Get ready for more Buzbee ads

Keep that remote handy.

Self-funding millionaire lawyer Tony Buzbee on Wednesday said he would spend whatever it takes to unseat Sylvester Turner and predicted a “full-on slugfest” during the five-week runoff to decide Houston’s mayoral race.

The runoff will test the effectiveness of Turner’s strategy to portray Buzbee as an acolyte of President Trump — whom Buzbee once supported — against the challenger’s own blueprint of casting himself as a nonpartisan outsider with the chops to improve on Turner’s record handling flood control, infrastructure and crime.

After full election results were published Wednesday morning, Turner wasted no time framing the runoff as a choice between his political record and “a Donald Trump imitator” who Turner said “will say anything, do anything or spend anything to get elected.”

Buzbee, speaking to reporters hours later, said he would not allow Turner to make the election “a referendum on Donald Trump,” promising to instead focus on matters of policy while predicting a “full-on slugfest” up until the Dec. 14 runoff.

[…]

To defeat Turner, political observers said, Buzbee will need to broaden his support beyond the base of voters he assembled in the first round. That includes making inroads with left-leaning voters who did not support Turner, a longtime Democrat, along with winning the support of those who cast ballots for Bill King, who competed with Buzbee for conservative support but struggled to match his rival’s self-financed $10 million campaign war chest.

“I think he’ll pick up the majority of the Bill King supporters and he’ll pick up some other folks who were just not happy with the mayor for some reason,” said Nancy Sims, a local political analyst who is not affiliated with either campaign. “It’s a tough path to victory, but in 2015 we saw King come in in a similar position.”

For what it’s worth, Turner led King by about 19K votes, in a higher-turnout election, in 2015. He led Buzbee by about 24K votes this time, and as noted drew more votes than Buzbee and King combined. Every election is different and nothing is ever guaranteed, but Turner is clearly in a stronger position this time.

I don’t know how Buzbee plans to spend his money in the runoff. I’m not sure Buzbee knows how he’s going to spend it. I figure we’re going to face another barrage of TV ads, but who can say beyond that. Buzbee did spend a ton of money earlier in the year on polling. I know this because I was on the receiving end of what seemed like dozens of poll calls, some live and some robo, from the Buzbee campaign. (They never identified themselves, of course, but you could tell from the questions they were asking.) I haven’t gotten one of them in awhile, so I guess it’s on to other things. Whatever the case, when you have more money than brains you find ways to spend.

“Mayor Turner’s biggest enemy in the runoff is not Tony Buzbee, but complacency,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “But I don’t know if it’s a major problem, because he has such a strong and sophisticated campaign machine.”

Potentially boosting Turner’s chances, Rottinghaus and Sims said, are a host of city council runoffs in districts that went heavily to Turner in the first leg of the election.

Turner won a majority of the vote in districts B and D, and a plurality of the vote in C, F, H and J, all of which will be decided by runoffs. Across the six districts combined, Turner received 55 percent of the vote, to Buzbee’s 21 percent share.

Buzbee’s strongest districts, E and G, were decided without runoffs Tuesday. He won a plurality of the vote in District A, the lone remaining runoff district, receiving 39 percent to Turner’s 36 percent.

“I think the city council races that are in runoffs are going to determine a lot of voter turnout,” Sims said. “And very clearly, the city council district races that have runoffs favor Turner.”

I made that same observation. I don’t have the draft canvass yet, but when I do I’ll be sure to quantify this.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Buzbee acknowledged the need to scoop up support from voters who backed King and Boykins, who finished in fourth place and was backed by the firefighters union. Buzbee said he is “looking for (Boykins’) support,” along with the backing of the firefighters.

“I’m going to be seeking that endorsement, and I certainly would welcome that endorsement,” Buzbee said.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, made clear in a statement Wednesday that the firefighters union would get involved in city runoffs, though he declined to say more about how the union would approach the mayor’s race.

“Making City Hall accountable and fixing the fire department remain our priorities,” Lancton said. “We’ll find a way forward to help do that. Our political work is not done in 2019.”

Boykins and King did not respond to phone and text inquiries about their endorsement plans. Lovell said she would not endorse Turner, and “beyond that I haven’t had conversations with anyone else.”

Honestly, I have no idea how much these endorsements matter. Better to have them than not for sure, but I think it takes a specific set of circumstances for them to make much difference. The interesting bit here is the firefighters, who were so gung ho about beating Turner in the general and now seem all “meh” in the runoff. Are they abashed that their endorsed candidate barely got five percent of the vote, or are they just not into Buzbee? (“Both” is an acceptable answer to that question.) The firefighters do have a number of their endorsed Council candidates in runoffs, so they have plenty to do and much to gain whether or not they get involved in the Mayoral runoff. But after months of hearing about their feud with the Mayor and all the rest of the Prop B stuff, it’s quite remarkable that it will seemingly end on such a low-key note.

How the TEA takeover is going to work

The Chron answers your questions.

The complex process has raised several questions among community members. Here are answers some of the most common queries:

What is the process for identifying and selecting candidates?

TEA officials on Wednesday released their plan for crafting the new board, as well as criteria they will use for picking appointed managers. Those documents can be seen here, along with a link to the agency’s public application to become an appointed trustee.

TEA has opened the process to the public, offering residents a chance to apply. The process includes 12 steps, with no time frames established for when they will take place or how long they will last.

First, the agency plans to conduct community meetings and receive applications. TEA officials will screen the applications, conduct reference checks with community and elected leaders, and perform background checks. Next, governance training will be provided to applicants and phone interviews will be conducted. Finalists will be subjected to two rounds of in-person interviews and required to perform an unspecified task and additional governance training.

Morath ultimately has the power to select the appointed members. He is expected to choose nine people, equal to the number of elected HISD trustees.

State officials have not said when a new board would take power, but it likely would not happen until March 2020 at the earliest.

Who can apply?

At a minimum, the agency requires that potential board members must: be an eligible voter living within HISD boundaries, pass criminal background screenings, and commit 40 hours per month to the board in the first six months and 15 hours per month thereafter.

Individuals with business ties to the district, conflicts of interest, involvement with a closed charter school or intentions to seek other elected offices will be disqualified, state officials said.

See here for the background, and read the rest for more. A more concise version of this story is in this Twitter thread from author Jacob Carpenter. There will be four community meetings, two next week and two the week after, to discuss the impending board appointments. This is the critical first step, and everything follows from there, so if you have an interest in this, there’s your chance to get involved.

Roland Gutierrez running in SD19

Most of the action in Texas in 2020 is in the Congressional and State Rep races, but there’s one big State Senate pickup opportunity, and we need to close the deal on it.

Rep. Roland Gutierrez

State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, is set to announce Saturday that he is running again for Senate District 19 after coming up short in a special election last year that ended in a Republican upset.

Gutierrez’s campaign said he will make the announcement at 2 p.m. at an event in San Antonio.

After the 2018 debacle, conditions are expected to be much more favorable for Democrats in November 2020, and they are confident they can knock off Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton. But first there will be a contested Democratic primary: San Antonio lawyer Xochil Peña Rodriguez is already running. She is the daughter of former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio.

For now, SD-19 is the only Texas Senate race expected to be competitive in the general election next year. Still, it has high stakes: If Democrats flip the seat, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick could lose the 19-member supermajority that is required to bring bills to the Senate floor without Democratic support.

That story was from Friday; Rep. Gutierrez subsequently did formally announce his candidacy. He’ll have to give up his State Rep seat to do this, but he will likely be the strongest candidate against Pete Flores. I feel like residual bad blood following the 2018 special election, in which later entrant Pete Gallego finished ahead of Gutierrez but then lost the runoff, was a part of why Dems failed to hold this seat. Having Presidential year turnout in a district that was basically 55-45 Dem in 2016 will certainly help, but having unity would be nice as well. Whoever wins the primary needs to have the support of everyone else going into November. No screwups this time, please.

Initial thoughts on Election 2019

All bullet points, all the time…

– Here’s my opening statement on the election returns debacle. We have more information about this now, but we still need more before we can go anywhere else with it.

– All incumbents want to win without runoffs, but for an incumbent that was forced into a runoff, Mayor Turner did pretty darned well. Including Fort Bend, he got about 12K more votes than Buzbee and King combined, and missed by about 2K outscoring Buzbee plus King plus Boykins. Suffice to say, he’s in a strong position for the runoffs.

– We are going to have a cubic buttload of runoffs. In addition to the Mayor, there are seven district Council runoffs, all five At Large Council races, two HISD races, two HCC races, and HD148. We might have had pretty decent overall turnout without the Mayor’s race included, but with it at the top it will be a lot like a November election. I’ll put the initial over/under at about 175K, which is roughly the 2009 Mayoral election runoff total.

– Among those Council runoffs are districts B and D, which along with HISD II and IV and HCC 2 will favor Turner. There are no runoffs in E or G, which would have favored Buzbee, and the runoff in A is almost certain to be a serene, low-money affair. Districts C and J went for King in the 2015 runoffs, but the runoffs in those districts involve only Democratic candidates. Turner has a lot more wind at his back than Buzbee does.

– For a more visual representation of the above, see this Mike Morris tweet. Nearly all of those Buzbee areas are in districts A, E, and G.

– In a sense, the main event in November is the At Large runoffs, all five of which feature a Republican and a Democrat. A Council that includes Mike Knox, Willie Davis, Michael Kubosh, Anthony Dolcefino, and Eric Dick is a Council that (including the members in A, E, and G) is fully half Republican, and could thus throw a lot of sand into the gears of the second Turner administration (or really grease the wheels of a Buzbee administration, if you want to extend the metaphor). Yes, I know, Council doesn’t really work like that, but the difference between that Council and one that includes three or more of Raj Salhotra, David Robinson, Janaeya Carmouche, Letitia Plummer, and Sallie Alcorn, is likely to be quite large. You want to have an effect on the direction Houston takes over the next four years, there you have it.

– Council could have been even more Republican, but at the district level it looks to remain at least as Democratic and possibly a little more so than it is now. Districts C and J may have gone for King in 2015 as noted, but Democrats Abbie Kamin and Shelley Kennedy are the choices in C (Greg Meyers and Mary Jane Smith finished just behind Kennedy), while Ed Pollard and Sandra Rodriguez are the contenders in J. (Yes, Pollard is considerably more conservative than most Dems, especially on LGBT issues. He’ll be the next Dwight Boykins in that regard if he wins.) District F has been (with a two-year break from 2013 to 2015) Republican going back to the 90s, but Tiffany Thomas is in pole position. She will no doubt benefit from the Mayoral runoff.

– I should note that in District C, the four candidates who were on a Greater Heights Democratic Club candidate forum I moderated in September – Kamin, Kennedy, Candelario Cervantez, and Amanda Wolfe; Kendra Yarbrough Camarena was also in the forum but switched to the HD148 race – combined for 55% of the vote in C. That’s a nice chunk of your HD134, CD02 and CD07 turf, and another illustration of how Donald Trump has helped kill the Republican Party in Harris County.

– Speaking of HD148, 69% of the vote there went to the Democratic candidates. Jessica Farrar got 68% in 2018, and she was on the high end.

– Remember when I said this about HD148 candidate Adrian Garcia? “It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.” I would say now the answer is “happy to vote for him”, because with all due respect I cannot see how he finishes third in that field if he was differently named. Low profile special elections are just weird.

– To be fair, name recognition also surely helped Dolcefino and Dick, neither of whom had much money. One had a famous name, and one has been a candidate multiple times, while littering the streets with his yard signs, so there is that.

– I’m just about out of steam here, but let me say this again: We. Must. Defeat. Dave. Wilson. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Monica Flores Richart in the HCC 1 runoff. We cannot screw that up.

– If you still need more, go read Stace, Nonsequiteuse, and Chris Hooks.