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Election 2022

Three very early primary thoughts

1. After the exceedingly small number of mail ballots requested and cast in the District G special election, the primaries will be our next test of the SB1 effect on voting by mail. I will be interested to see if the number of mail ballots requested are down, and in particular if there’s a difference in the numbers for each party. For purposes of comparison, this is how many mail ballots were requested by voters in Harris County for each primary in 2020 and 2018.

2020

Dem – 38,667 requested
GOP – 31,162 requested

2018

Dem – 33,236 requested
GOP – 30,579 requested

That’s how many were requested, not all of which were returned. Switching to returned mail ballots, they made up the following percentages of total votes cast in each primary:

2020 Dem – 28,346 mail ballots out of 328,496 total = 8.6%
2020 GOP – 25,562 mail ballots out of 195,723 total = 13.1%

2018 Dem – 22,695 mail ballots out of 167,982 total = 13.5%
2018 GOP – 24,500 mail ballots out of 156,387 total = 15.7%

I will do a comparison with these totals after the votes are in. Still won’t be enough to draw conclusions, but it will be a significant data point.

2. Also of interest, given the huge amount of attention that the increase in Republican voting in various South Texas counties got in 2020, is how this may affect the turnout for the 2022 primaries. Dems have dominated these for years, so this will be a good test of the idea that the 2020 general election has changed voting patterns in this part of the state. Again, I would not draw any broad conclusions – primary turnout may be affected more by local races than the statewide or legislative contests, and primary voting may be a habit that dies more slowly than general election voting, if indeed there is a real change and not a one-election blip happening. I’m going to watch five counties – Cameron, Hidalgo, Maverick, Starr, and Webb. Here’s how they turned out in the 2018 primaries:


County      Dem votes  GOP votes
================================
Cameron        14,123      4,003
Hidalgo        37,739      7,050
Maverick        6,300        111
Starr           6,729         15
Webb           21,137      1,426

Those totals for Starr and Webb are not typos, I assure you. The Republican statewide primary races are much higher profile this year than they were in 2018, so that by itself might draw more people to that side of the ledger. As before, local races may pull people in the Democratic direction, in the way that numerous Democratic lawyers used to vote in the Republican primary in Harris County so they could affect the judicial races. I’m just looking for a data point.

3. I haven’t gotten any email from Erica Davis recently. That introductory video I noted in her email to Democratic precinct chairs from earlier in the month had 413 views and zero comments as of Friday afternoon. Her campaign Facebook page has 830 followers. She has five posts for January, with this one getting 24 likes and two comments. None of the others has as many as ten likes. By comparison, Judge Hidalgo has 47K followers, and most of her posts have hundreds of likes – this one has over 1,600 likes – and dozens of comments. To be sure, some of the comments are from people who oppose her, and of course she’s had a much longer time to build a following; this is very much an advantage of incumbency. All I’m saying is that whatever Erica Davis is doing, it’s not reaching a lot of people. And she still has not told us why we should vote to replace Judge Hidalgo on the ballot with herself.

HCC will have an election to fill its vacancy

So much for an appointment.

Re: HCC Board of Trustees District II Position

Residents of District II and the Community At-Large:

The Houston Community College (HCC) Board of Trustees remains committed to serving the best interest of the entire community. This commitment extends to our students, faculty, staff, and equally to each and every district that comprises the HCC service area.

During the course of the past few months, the HCC governing board has had the responsibility of navigating challenging circumstances which directly impact District II and its residents. In fact, these unforeseen circumstances impact the entire HCC district and call upon us as a governing board to act prudently in a manner that best serves our community, while meeting the legal and policy requirements available to us.

Notably, the events surrounding the District II position have been distressing for many in District II, the HCC community, and for the HCC governing board. However, we will overcome this difficulty by working together in service to our remarkably diverse community.

To advance this important matter, the law provides for an election to fill the District II trustee position in May 2022. This anticipated election empowers the people of District II to choose their desired trustee and once elected, that individual will begin service on the HCC Board of Trustees. Until a new trustee is seated, we invite the District II community to apprise us of any concerns, questions and needs that may arise.

We greatly appreciate all the residents of District II and your patience throughout this process. We will continue to diligently work – in partnership – with the community to ensure that we all emerge from this situation stronger.

See here and here for the background. The message was signed by Dr. Cynthia Lenton-Gary, the new Board Chair. I don’t know why they were unable to find a suitable person to appoint to the position, which has been the normal course of action, but here we are. The election has not yet been set – I presume that will happen at the next Board meeting – but as noted before, it will be the only election run by Harris County on the uniform election date in May, which is Saturday, May 7. The primary runoff date is Tuesday, May 24, so you lucky duckies in HCC District 2 will get to vote twice in May. The lucky ducky who wins that election will then have to run again in 2023. I’ll let you know when there’s more.

We’ll probably never know who Ken Paxton’s big campaign donors are

He has no interest in telling us, and there’s basically no mechanism to make him.

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton recently announced a hefty $2.8 million campaign haul, showing the competition he can still raise big bucks while under FBI scrutiny.

But where most of the money came from is a mystery.

Paxton has yet to name all his campaign donors, despite a deadline last week that required disclosure.

Among the missing are those who paid up to $50,000 to rub elbows with Paxton and former President Donald Trump at a fundraiser in December. Entry to the private reception, held at Trump’s swanky Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, started at $1,000.

Paxton’s campaign blamed technical issues for the delay and promised to file an update once fixed. But the campaign has not said when and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Lax state ethics laws give Paxton little incentive to move quickly, open government advocates said. The fine for turning in his campaign finance report late is a flat $500, no matter whether it is tardy by a day or a month.

“Texas has the weakest, most corruption-prone campaign finance system in the country,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas. “It is striking that our top law enforcement official can’t manage to meet our extremely low disclosure requirements.”

All statewide candidates had to file reports by midnight Jan. 18 that detailed their fundraising and spending in the second half of 2021. The accounts offer a glimpse at campaigns’ financial health heading into the final stretch before the March 1 primary.

Three Republicans are vying to oust Paxton in what many see as the marquee GOP primary race. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert all posted seven-figure fundraising hauls last week.

Paxton did too. But his report came a day late and named the donors who gave just $652,000 of his $2.77 million total. Details dropped off for contributions made after mid-October.

The report is notable because Paxton’s fundraising was dwindling in late 2020 after several top staffers accused him of abusing the office to help a campaign donor and the FBI began investigating. Paxton has denied wrongdoing, but his GOP challengers say the scandal makes Paxton unfit for office and leaves the post vulnerable to Democratic flip.

Paxton’s fundraising fortunes seem to have shifted last summer when Trump endorsed his bid for a third term as attorney general. The fundraiser at Trump’s club on Dec. 9 reportedly netted Paxton’s campaign a whopping $750,000 – more than he reported raising in the months of July, August and September combined.

Those donors should be disclosed in Paxton’s campaign finance report. Only people who write checks or give cash worth less than about $90 don’t have to be named.

Staff for the Texas Ethics Commission, which oversees campaign finance reporting, have been in touch with Paxton’s campaign, general counsel J.R. Johnson said in a statement. But Johnson said he is “unaware of any planned date for an updated filing.”

Not really much to add here. Paxton doesn’t care about not following the rules, he knows there’s nothing anyone can do to make him follow the rules or enforce any consequences, and he figures that basically no one will care. He’s shown us who he is at every opportunity, and then goes looking for more. John Coby has more.

Judicial Q&A: Alycia Harvey

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Alycia Harvey

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Alycia Harvey and I am running for the 482nd Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 482nd is a new court as of 9/1/2021 that hears felony criminal cases.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The first elected judge of this new court should be someone that has significant experience, someone who knows the law, someone who has long-standing ties to Harris county, and someone who has demonstrated a commitment to the people of Harris County as a public servant and is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work.

After finishing a multi-victim Capital Murder trial at the beginning October, I didn’t see anyone stepping forward to take on the task that the 482 nd was presenting. At nearly the same time, I spoke with the father of a murder victim on another of my cases who inspired me to take stock of my skills and abilities, and determine what more I had to offer the people of Harris County.

I have been extraordinarily privileged to be able to represent the people of Harris County over the last 20 years as an Assistant District Attorney. I’ve worked exceedingly hard at becoming a person who is well-versed in every area of criminal law. I’d be honored to use the knowledge and courtroom training I’ve amassed to serve the people of Harris County as the 482nd District Court Judge.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 20 years’ experience in criminal law. I’ve been Board Certified in Criminal Law since 2018. I’ve handled every single stage of a criminal proceeding, beginning with being physically present at crime scenes. I’ve helped investigate cases, including writing all kinds of warrants; I have significant expertise in those involving electronic communications. I’ve made charging decisions, prepared cases for trial, tried them and even done post-conviction work. I’ve investigated civil rights claims and those involving actual innocence. The depth and breadth of knowledge I have in criminal law is not something that is easy to amass or that very many people possess.

5. Why is this race important?

The criminal justice system in Harris County is under water. The 482 nd criminal district court and the litigants who have cases pending in that court do not have time to wait while a judge gets up to speed on the best way to handle the docket. As a felony district court chief with many years of experience, I am ready to handle the court and the docket from day 1.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am the most experienced person in this race; I am the only one who is board certified. You may not recognize my name, but you know my cases: they’re the high-profile ones you see on the news. My experience in putting cases together for trial and in tearing them apart post-trial gives me an exceptionally wide frame of reference to know both what the law allows and what the people of Harris County expect and deserve. I’m ready to rededicate myself to a new role in Harris County public service and would be humbled to continue to serve you in a new capacity.

Judicial Q&A: Ashleigh Roberson

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Ashleigh Roberson

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Ashleigh Roberson with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department (Detention Officer). I am running for Justice of the Peace 3 Place 2 located in Baytown, Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This particular court hears the following cases:
Class C Traffic Cases (Judge/Jury Trials)
Small Claims and Debt Collections (Sequestrations)
Civil Disputes
Evictions
Occupational License
Truancy
Landlord /Tenant disputes

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have gained so much knowledge over the years preparing myself for this position. I started as a clerk of the court in this particular court back in 2011, I began seeking knowledge while working in the criminal department along with defendants, attorneys and school triad workers throughout the years. I was actively involved in a program at M. B. Smiley High School called, “Teen Court.” The Judge who presided over this program so happen to be in my precinct that I reside in. I knew then I could one day become a Judge and follow the legacy of what was taught in my earlier years of education.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I sought a degree in Criminal Justice to certify myself in more court systems and practices. Through working for the Justice courts, I received a total of 5 years in clerical work later becoming the Assistant Chief Clerk. While in this position I received my certification as a Certified Clerk of the Court as I work alongside of the presiding Judge. As a young natural born leader, I continued to certify myself in the field of Criminal Justice. I was able to work for the Constables office doing multiple food drives and community events to put back into the community. While working hard during the day, I was able to seek Law Enforcement and complete the Police Academy. Now, that I am a Detention Officer (TCOLE Certified) in the Jail, I have seen a full circle of the spectrum of the system.

5. Why is this race important?

This particular race is important to me because my experience has proven over the years to prepare myself for the seat. I am a product of my community, I have been an active member of my church, community events and loyal to our seniors. With my resources and community involvement, I believe the community can help one another. Be resourceful and influential to those are in need our of help.

Knowledge is POWER.

I believe that if we come together and work along with our precinct Judge and Constables office we can make a difference in how the current view our courts are viewed.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am qualified for the position because I am Hardworking, Experienced and Fair with the community. The skills I have acquired throughout the years has prepared me to represent and make the best judgments based individual unique situation. My plan is to educate high schoolers through programs that can influence a future, share with the less fortunate and keep that revolving door of criminals out of the system.

Huffman wins District G election

No runoff needed.

Mary Nan Huffman

Mary Nan Huffman, an attorney for the Houston Police Officers’ Union, has won a special election to become the next District G representative on City Council, according to the unofficial returns.

With all voting centers reporting Tuesday night, Huffman finished with 54 percent of the vote, enough to clear the threshold to win without a runoff.

Community organizer and volunteer Piper Madland came in second with 30 percent, followed by attorney Duke Millard with 12 percent, retired Houston Fire Department assistant chief Roy Reyes, Jr. with 4 percent, and Houshang “Hank” Taghizadeh with 0 percent.

The election in west Houston was triggered to replace Councilmember Greg Travis, who resigned his post late last year to run for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives. Travis will remain at City Hall until his successor is sworn in.

[…]

Off-cycle elections typically feature meager turnout, and that was true in this race.

Roughly 8,300 people cast ballots in the election, a turnout of about 6 percent. That is down from 29,500 votes and a 23 percent turnout in the 2019 general election. The district has more than 137,000 eligible voters.

See here for the previous update, and here for the final unofficial vote totals. Huffman was just over 50% after early voting, and expanded on that on Election Day. I assume she’ll be sworn in shortly after the vote is canvassed, so maybe by the end of next week.

As for the turnout question, let’s fill in the rest of that table from the previous post:


Election        Mail   Early   E-Day  Total  Mail%  Early%
==========================================================
May09 Dist H     647   1,259   2,280  4,186  33.9%   45.5%
May18 Dist K   1,737   1,867   1,531  5,135  41.2%   70.2%
Jan22 Dist G     191   4,101   4,154  8,446   3.7%   50.8%

Remember, “Mail%” is “Mail” divided by “Mail + “Early”, and “Early%” is “Mail + “Early” divided by “Total”. As previously noted, final overall turnout as a percent of registered voters was 4.46% in H in 2009 and 6.01% in K in 2018. Going by the Election Day reporting (click on the box with the check in it, which is the “Voter Turn Out” tab), turnout here was 6.10%, just beating out the District K special in 2018. Did the previously-discussed lack of mail ballots result in a reduction of overall turnout, or did it mostly just shift voting behavior from mail ballots to in-person ballots? We can’t say from one data point. Might be worthwhile to check the voter files for previous odd-year elections to see who the regular mail voters had been and then see if they showed up for this one. I don’t have the time for that now but maybe someone else does. Whatever the reasons were, it’s a striking difference and will be worth paying attention to in future elections. Anyway, congrats to CM-elect Huffman, who will be on the ballot again next year for a full term.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Chuck Silverman

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Chuck Silverman

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Judge Chuck Silverman, the presiding Judge of the 183rd Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 183rd Criminal District Court handles felony cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I am proud of my many accomplishments during my tenure on the bench.

1. As evidenced by articles published in the Houston Chronicle, I was a leader of efforts to reform the felony bail system in Texas.

2. I believe that all defendants are entitled to a vigorous defense regardless of their economic status. That is why I support funding for and the use of the Public Defender's Office.

3. I am proud to partner with the Houston Gulf Coast Building & Trades Council to refer appropriate probationers to the Apprenticeship Readiness Program in order to afford such individuals the opportunity to learn a trade skill and subsequently become a productive member of the community.

4. I am proud of my ability to manage my docket during the pandemic as evidenced by the fact that my court has one of the lowest number of pending cases among the felony courts.

5. I am proud to have tried many cases, including a Capital Murder (Death Penalty), Capital Murder (Non Death Penalty) and many other serious felony cases.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I will continue to build on my accomplishments. I will continue to efficiently manage my docket. I will continue to treat all parties with the respect and dignity they deserve. I will continue to be a judge that the community can be proud of.

5. Why is this race important?

We have to ensure that we have fair and unbiased representation on the bench. I am sensitive to the challenges in our judicial system and have worked in collaboration with community based organizations and advocacy groups to address issues such as bail reform, indigent defense and pathways to trade skills and employment opportunities.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I love my job. I wake up every day looking forward to coming to work. It is the most rewarding and fulfilling work I have ever engaged in. It's an honor to represent the people of Harris County and I would very much appreciate the opportunity to continue to do so.

With respect to the March primary, I would point out that I have been active in the Democratic Party since 1986. I have been a Precinct Chair (711), volunteered for many City, County and State Democratic Party candidates, been a long time member and supporter of Democratic Party clubs and organizations, and, unlike my opponent, have never voted in a Republican Party primary.

The story of the paper shortage and the voter registration forms, in two tweets

One:

And two:

There was a Chron story about this, but you get the idea. Guess that ol’ supply chain went and got itself unclogged. Funny how these things work. Or maybe SOS John Scott figured out that there’s a whole government department dedicated to printing services, and that perhaps he ought to check with them before declaring that they have no paper. Whatever the case, I think we can put a bow on this one for now. If only we could say the same for the other problem we’re now facing. Take your wins where you can.

Interview with Molly Cook

Molly Cook

Sen. John Whitmire hasn’t had a lot of serious challengers in recent years, but he has one this year and her name is Molly Cook. Cook is an emergency room nurse, which would give her more experience in health care policy than at least 90% of the current legislature. She’s also a community organizer and advocate for equitable, sustainable transportation and development in the region. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she has been quoted multiple times in stories about the I-45 project on behalf of the Stop I-45 Coalition. All that gave us a lot to talk about, and you can listen to it all here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Angela Lancelin

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am Angela Lancelin, a Family law practitioner with extensive litigation experience throughout Harris and contiguous counties. My main practice area has been Family law. I have handled establishment and enforcement of child support orders in Texas, under the UIFSA, collection and enforcement of unpaid child support, asset forfeiture (foreclosure suits) probate, tax lien disputes, cps litigation and contested Bankruptcy issues. I am licensed in the Southern, Northern and Eastern Bankruptcy Districts. My duties also include complex litigation on behalf of the Office of the Attorney General that has been comprised of complex post judgment litigation. I am running for the 245th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 245th is a Family Court where matter concerning or related to Divorce, Sapcr, Cps, Adoptions, modification, enforcement related proceedings regarding post judgment property and child support matters. Family Courts also have to rule on matters related to Bankruptcy Stays/proceedings, Probate and civil asset forfeiture matters related to collection proceedings.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I believe being able to have a voice from the bench will allow my diverse work/ life experience and knowledge of Harris county’s underrepresented communities to further broaden my passion for public service. More specifically the current practice and policy for self-calendaring results in a lack of access to participate in the legal system. This system negatively impacts the underrepresented, low-income litigants who cannot afford or have access to internet service or a computer.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have 28 years of Family law experience including 26 years as an Assistant Attorney General assigned to region 6, Harris County. Designated as the Special Litigator for Regions 6, 5 and 10 (contiguous counties), to manage Bankruptcy claims and participate in adversarial hearings from date of filing to dismissal.

I have served as the IV- E (CPS) liaison in Harris and contiguous counties.

Prosecute contested hearings to establish parentage, enforce child support obligations, including child support collections in Tax, Probate, Criminal and Civil litigation matters.

Manage high volume and handle the complex litigation IV-D caseload in Harris and contiguous counties from intake to disposition.

5. Why is this race important?

This midterm election is crucial to determining if the underrepresented, low income, pro se, and private bar attorneys will be allowed meaningful access to the court.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have devoted my legal career to public service. I have learned the art of active listening providing a safe place for each party to express their concerns without judgment. My distinct ability to relate and adapt to different fact patterns, combined with my compassion and knowledge of the law will provide a balanced and impartial setting.

SD10 lawsuit gets its hearing

The last possible obstacle to a March primary, and the first redistricting lawsuit to get a merits hearing.

Sen. Beverly Powell

A federal district judge in El Paso on Tuesday will preside over one of several challenges against the state of Texas and Gov. Greg Abbott after the Republican-led Texas Legislature redrew political maps following the 2020 U.S. Census.

And although this week’s hearing is limited in scope — it pertains to one state senate district in North Texas — attorneys said testimony could foretell what is to come later this year when a slew of other redistricting challenges are heard in a consolidated redistricting lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge David Guaderrama will hear a challenge to the redrawn political boundaries for Fort Worth’s state Senate District 10, currently represented by Democrat Beverly Powell. Powell and six Tarrant County residents filed the lawsuit in early November, alleging the new map purposely dilutes the voting strength of minorities.

“In each decennial redistricting cycle in modern history, Texas has enacted plans that federal courts have ruled to be racially discriminatory in intent and/or effect. Like clockwork, Texas has done so again,” the lawsuit asserts. “Remarkably, Texas has enacted the same racially discriminatory scheme to dismantle Senate District 10.”

[…]

Attorney Mark P. Gaber, who represents Powell and the other plaintiffs, said their case is scheduled ahead of the others this fall because they asked the judge to make a decision in time for the November 2022 General Election.

“The claims are that the drawing of the senate district was intentionally discriminatory by cracking apart Black and Latino voters. What we are asking the court to do is enter relief in time to affect the November 22 election,” he said. “So, we would put the district that exists now back in place and that would require some changes to the surrounding districts as well.”

Graber said this week’s hearing could foreshadow what to expect later this year.

“I imagine for one thing there is going to be testimony and that doesn’t go away. And that could be relevant to other claims as well,” he said. “We’ll probably get some legal ruling from the court that will affect issues beyond Senate District 10 in terms of what the court determines are the facts of law.”

See here for the background. The DMN has more details.

Of the federal redistricting complaints, Powell’s alone seeks an injunction and changes to the maps ahead of the March 1 primary elections. A panel of three federal judges set a September trial start date in the consolidated redistricting case. There’s also a challenge in Texas state court.

“A crucial fight is underway to preserve District 10 as a Tarrant County-based diverse district where minority voters and Anglos unite to elect their candidate of choice,” said Powell, who is suing as a private citizen and not in her official capacity, when she filed for reelection last month.

The previously Fort Worth-centric seat that had been contained inside Tarrant County grew at least tenfold in geographic size and added part of Parker County and all of Johnson, Palo Pinto, Stephens, Shackelford, Callahan and Brown counties.

It previously favored President Joe Biden by eight points, according to election returns. But the redrawn district would have gone for Donald Trump by 16 points, a 24-point swing that likely dooms Powell’s hopes for reelection.

Republicans say the maps are legal and fair. Lawyers for the state argued the Legislature acted according to partisan motivations, not racial ones, and warned that blocking the map would disrupt the 2022 elections already in motion.

“This case is about politics, not race,” state lawyers responded in a filing that was blunt about the GOP majority’s approach. “Their goal, as always, was to design to elect a Republican. And they succeeded, at least on paper.”

Texas argued the Tarrant County citizens’ claims fail because “the Legislature simply did not consider race for purposes of redrawing” District 10 except for compliance with applicable law.

[…]

To lock things in place until the lawsuit is resolved, Powell’s legal team asked the federal court to block the map, with respect to District 10, from being used in elections and to restore the district’s previous boundaries. The plaintiffs also asked the court to delay primary elections affected by that change, noting that lawmakers already approved a back-up primary schedule.

[…]

It’s unclear, if the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs on District 10, which other primaries would be delayed. The goal is to restore the seat with as few changes as possible to the rest of the map, said Matt Angle, founder and director of the progressive Lone Star Project.

I noted this hearing in yesterday’s post about the state of the state lawsuits, as those now will be held later (if they are not tossed by SCOTx) and will not have an effect on this year’s primaries. I don’t expect there to be any delays in the primaries this year. It’s possible that the three-judge panel, which has one Trump judge, one Obama judge, and the ever-present Jerry Smith, could issue an injunction, but I doubt that the Fifth Circuit would let it stand, and if somehow that happened then SCOTUS would intervene SCOTUS would get to have a say as well. (Yes, maybe I’m being cynical, but how is that a losing proposition these days?) Whatever does happen, it will have to happen quickly – we’ve already passed the deadline for mail ballots to be sent to military and overseas voters, and early in person voting for the primaries starts in less than three weeks. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this.

UPDATE: Made a correction to note that the appeals process from this three-judge panel goes to SCOTUS, not the Fifth Circuit.

Don’t expect the absentee ballot fiasco to improve

Things are working as planned.

Signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott in September, the voting law known as Senate Bill 1 contained an array of new restrictions on the state’s voting process and narrowed local control of elections.

Among its many provisions — and the earliest to be tested — are new rules for voting by mail. Absentee voters are now required to include a state identification number like a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security number on their applications for a mail-in ballot. Those numbers must match information in a voter’s record or their application will be rejected.

Regular mail-in voters must submit new applications each year, and when counties began accepting them this year, the rejection rates were staggering. Hundreds of applications were deficient, in some cases missing an ID number. In other cases, voters had listed a number that didn’t appear to be on file with the local elections office.

The secretary of state’s office has been working to backfill its records to include both driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers for most voters, but various Texas counties — including some of the state’s largest — did not know they were supposed to check the state’s database along with their own when trying to validate an application.

Election officials across the state said they either weren’t aware the driver’s license numbers had been uploaded to the state database, known by election administrators as TEAM, or weren’t aware that the new numbers would not sync with their local databases. To them, it appeared the numbers were missing from a voter’s record.

“There were several large counties that are offline that were not aware that they’d have to go beyond their internal systems, and I’m one of them,” said Chris Davis, the Williamson County elections administrator. (Counties that use a local database are known as “offline counties.”)

The discrepancy helped drive an initial 50% rejection rate of applications in Travis County, the “vast majority” of which officials attributed to the new rules, before offline counties learned the new driver’s license numbers had not been pushed to their local databases. The rejection rate had dropped to 27% in figures Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir released Tuesday, though the total number of applications the county received had more than doubled by then.

The rejection issues led to a public spat between DeBeauvoir, a Democrat, who criticized the state for not providing counties with comprehensive guidance, and the secretary of state’s office, which zeroed in on the county’s rejection of an “unusually large” share of applications in a press release calling on officials to correct “erroneous” rejections.

But the information gap over matching ID numbers went beyond Travis County. While “waiting to get clear instructions” from the state, Vona Hudson, the election administrator in rural Tom Green County, said she was running into ID issues with 40% to 50% of the applications coming in.

Hudson didn’t get clarity on the syncing problems until a last-minute webinar held by the secretary of state’s office Tuesday morning to address “frequently asked questions” about the new ID requirements.

In a statement this week, the governor’s office put the blame for issues with the new rules on county officials “erroneously interpreting the law” instead of asking the state for assistance.

“The bottom line is that counties should not be rejecting valid mail ballot applications,” said Nan Tolson, a spokesperson for the governor. “The Secretary of State’s office will continue to work with counties across the state to combat the misinformation being spread by county election officials and ensure that all valid mail ballot applications are processed.”

But beyond the confusion over how to match numbers, early figures released by some of the state’s largest counties showed that a bigger problem was applications coming in with no ID numbers on them at all.

For example, Bexar County initially rejected 125 applications because voters provided a driver’s license number that was not in their voter record, while 200 were rejected because the ID section was not filled out. Thirty applications were rejected because the voter submitted an outdated application form that didn’t include the new ID field.

Of the 208 applications Harris County initially rejected based on the new rules, 137 were rejected because voters had not filled out the new ID requirements. As of Jan. 14, county officials said they had rejected another 172 applications that lacked ID numbers.

In its update Tuesday, Travis County said about half of the 509 applications it had rejected did not include any ID information.

County officials said they were also hamstrung in how much education they could provide voters about the new requirements. In SB 1, Republican lawmakers made it a state jail felony for an election official to “solicit the submission” of an application to vote by mail if the voter did not request it — a broad prohibition election officials said has made them fearful that once unremarkable voter outreach efforts could now be construed as criminal.

SB 1 also made it a state jail felony for local election officials to proactively send applications to voters who did not request them, even if voters automatically qualify to vote by mail because of age. Political parties can still send out unsolicited applications on their own dime.

“It’s understandable if you’re focusing on what’s most important in a given week or a given month that you might lose track of some of these other issues, and I think that goes for secretary of state as well,” Remi Garza, the president of the Texas Association of Election Administrators, said of the miscommunication between the state and the counties.

But this was a foreseeable situation, said Garza, who serves as the elections administrator for Cameron County.

Voting rights advocates have panned state Republican leadership over the issues, both because the problems were forewarned and because the law’s implementation date has not allowed election officials enough time to roll out its new requirements. Over the last year, advocates questioned how voters were expected to know which ID number might be on their voter record when they aren’t required to provide both while registering to vote.

Lawmakers bear “the responsibility to foresee problems in the implementation of a law,” said James Slattery, a senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, who testified on the ID issues at the Legislature.

“They are now reaping what they’ve sown,” said Slattery. “Though I should say it’s really the voter reaping what they’ve sown, which is the tragedy of all this. At the moment, it’s the voters that are facing the consequences.”

It would be nice to think that the Republicans who passed this atrocity will hear it from their voters who have been adversely affected. I just don’t think there will be that much blowback on them. For one thing, it’s still the case that only a limited number of people even can vote by mail, so the people feeling the brunt of this are a relatively small group. Of those that are Republicans – since let’s face it, those are the only ones that Greg Abbott and company care about – you have to figure that Donald Trump has made voting by mail a lot less attractive to them. And, as we have seen, Republican voters don’t seem to mind laws that make their lives worse as long as they believe that it’s making the lives of people they don’t like even more worse. So, while there is still the potential for disaster that will very much affect only Republicans in the near future, I don’t expect there to be much pressure on the people responsible for it. This was a feature, not a bug. If there isn’t a federal law to clear out some of these obstacles, we’re going to be stuck with it until we can elect enough Democrats to change the law. Given that the State Senate is pretty well out of reach for the foreseeable future, even with a great result elsewhere this is going to take some time.

Interview with Sen. John Whitmire

Sen. John Whitmire

We’re going to spend some time in SD15 this week, where we have one of the challenges against a legislative incumbent. You know that incumbent well, he’s Sen. John Whitmire, he’s been in the Lege since 1973 and in the Senate since the 80s. You also know him because I’ve interviewed him before. Sen. Whitmire is the senior member of the State Senate, he’s the longtime Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee where he’s still able to get things done even in Dan Patrick’s Senate, and he has a long list of accomplishments. He’s also announced that he intends to run for Mayor of Houston in 2023, which is one of the things I asked him about in the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Dianne Curvey

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Dianne Curvey

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

I am a native Houstonian who grew up in Houston’s Fifth Ward and graduated from MB Smiley High School in North Forest ISD. I am a mother of two and a fur-mom of three. Judge of the 280th Judicial District Court is the office is seek.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a unique court in that it is the only court specifically designed to handle domestic violence cases in the state of Texas. Any and all cases in Harris County that may warrant the need for a protective order will be heard in this court. Both the District Attorney’s Office and private attorneys may use this court to protect or defend clients who either file or are accused of domestic violence. I envision this court becoming a trailblazer for the manner in which other counties handle domestic violence cases and issue protective orders.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The reason I decided to run for this seat is because the law, under the Family Code, is not being followed. I know this because the rulings in this court have been overturned at least 26 times by the Court of Appeals due to similar improper judgments issued against Respondents. These duplicative errors lead me to believe that there is not only a misunderstanding of the applicable law, but also that there is a complete indifference for the rulings handed down from a higher court. Here is how it affects economically disadvantaged communities. The cases that were overturned were from Respondents who could afford an appellate attorney to obtain justice. Those Respondents who do not have thousands of dollars for that appellate attorney are stuck with the improper rulings that the Court of Appeals has already overturned for wealthier Respondents. That’s just not fair.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am a 16 year practicing attorney in the areas of Family and Criminal Law. I have handled over 2500 cases from Orange to El Paso, Texas. As a solo practitioner, I know how to manage both employees, finances, and dockets. I am a master of multitasking and rarely get rattled when things don’t go as planned. I am the only person in this race who has represented both Applicants and Respondents, which gives me a unique perspective on the people who will stand before me. I know how to be tough and extend empathy without violating the Family Code.

Before I became an attorney, I was a classroom teacher. This background provided me with the ability to understand how to work with communities different from mine with honesty and respect. No matter how disrespectful a young person became, I knew how to keep “my cool”. This is probably the most important skill I possess for the type of court I am seeking.

I have previously run for judge in 2010 and am well versed with the expectations and sacrifices that it takes to be successful.

5. Why is this race important?

Domestic violence is prevalent in all communities, but the consequences being administered seem to affect economically fragile people the hardest. Specifically, I am running because someone has to stand up for children who are losing their ability to have both parents active in their lives. Currently, this court is issuing 18 year protective orders against offenders as it pertains to them seeing their children. While it’s important to be “tough on crime”, there must also be a balance between being tough and being cruel towards the youngest victims of domestic violence. Children need both their parents, even if they only see the offending parent under a supervised setting.

In addition, there is a problem getting signed orders to the correct law enforcement agencies in a timely manner. I will push for legislation and reform that will designate a bailiff to work solely on delivering protective orders to law enforcement agencies by the end of the business day on which they have been signed.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

The people of Harris County should entrust me with their vote because I am fair, balanced, and competent. I have the judicial temperament to speak to both applicants and respondents in a respectful manner without becoming demeaning or condescending. I am the only person in the race who has handled cases for both applicants and respondents, so I understand how to be unbiased and to see the story from both sides. I also have the foresight to understand that a protective order means nothing unless it gets to the proper law enforcement agencies in a timely manner. Overall, Harris County will be a safer place to live with the judicial temperament, wisdom, and legislative reform I hope to bring to the bench.

District G special election final early turnout

I’m going to start this post with some numbers, to provide context.


Election        Mail   Early   E-Day  Total  Mail%  Early%
==========================================================
May09 Dist H     647   1,259   2,280  4,186  33.9%   45.5%
May18 Dist K   1,737   1,867   1,531  5,135  41.2%   70.2%
Jan22 Dist G     157   4,102                  3.7%

In the comments to my previous post, I was reminded that there was another recent special City Council election, the one in 2018 to succeed the late CM Larry Green, which I had overlooked. You can see the totals for that and the 2009 District H special election above, with the reminder that the 2009 election was done before the Council lines were redrawn and Districts J and K were created. Now compare those to the District G special election totals. Looks a little different, don’t they?

“Mail%” above is the share of mail ballots in all early votes – in other words, it’s the “Mail” column” divided by the sum of the “Mail” and “Early” columns, with the latter representing early in person votes. “Early%” is the share of all pre-Election Day votes, so “Mail” plus “Early” divided by “Total”.

It’s hard to say exactly what is happening in District G, but it is very obvious that the share of mail ballots is way lower than we’d normally expect. Perhaps this won’t have much effect on final turnout, as the early in person number is pretty good in comparison. We’ll have to see what Tuesday brings to make a guess about that. For what it’s worth, final overall turnout as a percent of registered voters was 4.46% in H in 2009 and 6.01% in K in 2018. I don’t know how many RVs are in District G right now, but I do know that in November 2019 there were 129,611 of them. That means we’d need a final turnout of 5,780 to reach District H’s level, and 7,790 to get to District K. That would mean 1,521 or 3,531 total votes on Tuesday, respectively. The former should be easy, the latter might be a stretch, though again it depends on whether people who might have otherwise voted by mail are still voting in this race. I should also note that District G is normally a high-turnout place – 28.83% in 2019, second only to District C and its 30.01% mark. That figure was 19.76% in H and 23.85% in K for 2019, so just equaling the special election turnout mark for those districts here is not much of an accomplishment. Unless a lot of people show up tomorrow – which could happen! We don’t know! – then I’d have to call turnout for this race a bit underwhelming.

Just too many variables in play. Another thing to consider is how much money the candidates have had to spend to inform voters about the race and push them to the polls. The Friday Chron story about the last day of early voting touches on that.

The candidates are: Mary Nan Huffman, an attorney for the Houston Police Officers’ Union and former candidate for Harris County district attorney; Piper Madland, a community organizer and volunteer; Duke Millard, a lawyer and former federal prosecutor; Raul “Roy” Reyes Jr., a retired Houston Fire Department assistant chief; and Houshang “Hank” Taghizadeh — though only “Taghi” will appear on the ballot — who said he works in construction.

City elections officially are nonpartisan, but Huffman, Millard and Reyes are running as conservatives. Madland is progressive, and Taghi has not responded to Chronicle inquiries and does not appear to be actively campaigning.

The candidates have focused mostly on flooding and public safety as they campaign for the seat. Huffman has raised $50,000 for her bid and spent $35,600; Madland has raised $26,000 and spent $16,000; Millard has raised $2,600 and spent $9,400; and Reyes and Taghi do not appear to be raising money.

Not a whole lot of money in this race. I’d be interested to know, if you’re in District G, if you’ve had any contact from any of the candidates. There will almost certainly be more money in the runoff, and I’d bet turnout notches up a bit as well, as it did in H in 2009; Martha Castex-Tatum won District K outright in 2018, so no runoff there. There are 15 polling places open tomorrow, from 7 AM to 7 PM, and you can vote at any of them if you’re in the district. I’ll have results on Wednesday. Go vote, and vote for Piper Madland.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 21

Updating from last week and the week before. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was the County Treasurer and District Clerk races. Next week will be Senate District 15 – I’ve tried to get something on the schedule with Candis Houston from HD142 but so far no luck. If it happens later, I’ll publish it later. The week after that will be CD38, and I’ve done a couple of Land Commissioner interviews for after that.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

January 2022 campaign finance reports: Harris County

You know what January means around these parts. There’s lots of action in Harris County, so that’s where we’ll begin. Here’s my summary of the July 2021 reports as a reminder. Let’s dive in.

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Ahmed Hassan, County Judge
Georgia Provost, County Judge
Erica Davis, County Judge
Kevin Howard, County Judge
Maria Garcia, County Judge

Martina Lemon Dixon, County Judge
Robert Dorris, County Judge
Randall Kubosh, County Judge
Naoufal Houjami, County Judge
Hector Bolanos, County Judge
Oscar Gonzales, County Judge
Alexandra Mealer, County Judge
Vidal Martinez, County Judge
Warren Howell, County Judge
George Zoes, County Judge

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
George Risner, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Gary Harrison, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
John Manlove, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jerry Mouton, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jack Morman, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Daniel Jason, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Richard Vega, County Commissioner, Precinct 2

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Jack Cagle (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ben Chou, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ann Williams, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Jeff Stauber, County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Teneshia Hudspeth, County Clerk
Stan Stanart, County Clerk

Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Desiree Broadnax, District Clerk
Chris Daniel (SPAC), District Clerk

Dylan Osborne, County Treasurer
Carla Wyatt, County Treasurer
Kyle Scott, County Treasurer
Eric Dick, County Treasurer
Stephen Kusner, County Treasurer


Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
======================================================
Hidalgo         900,323    424,448    1,400  1,488,652
Hassan              200      2,461        0          0
Davis            50,114     10,143   21,852     59,970
Howard
Provost
Garcia, M

Lemond Dixon    196,977    109,175        0     90,294
Dorris                0         68        0         68
Kubosh           15,075      9,051   60,000      7,165
Houjami           1,390        592        0        147
Bolanos               0          0        0          0
Gonzales          2,475      3,432      500          0
Mealer           60,049     15,464        0     15,840
Martinez        514,585     86,782  100,000    516,134
Howell            1,450      7,075        0        375
Zoes

Ellis           264,000    181,904        0  4,192,308

Garcia, A       587,885    364,783        0  2,119,825
Risner            3,250      1,899        0     51,550
Harrison              5      2,191        0          0
Manlove          19,452      4,285        0     68,870
Mouton           29,100      2,916        0     26,283
Morman           45,749     66,119        0    165,834
Jason
Vega

Ramsey          236,900    185,263        0    581,035

Cagle           285,673    501,923        0  1,119,432
Chou             80,590      4,133        0     77,490
Williams          2,600      1,250    1,250      1,450
Miller            5,293     10,560        0     10,336
Briones         244,974     60,571        0    229,258
Calanni           5,540          0        0      5,540
Stauber               0      1,250        0          0

Hudspeth         26,464     10,395        0     19,376
Stanart               0      3,054        0      8,053
Burgess          24,169     26,475        0     17,222
Broadnax          9,649      9,538        0        110
Daniel           11,875      1,393   25,000     12,264
Osborne           2,440        622        0      2,202
Scott             7,900     20,489   14,000      1,410
Dick                  0      1,489        0          0
Kusner              

If you don’t see a linked report for someone, it’s because there wasn’t one I could find on the harrisvotes.com page. The information I have here is current as of last night. It’s possible someone could still file a report, these things do happen, but I wouldn’t expect much from anyone who hasn’t by now.

There are items of greater substance to discuss, but I can’t help myself: Naoufal Houjami was a candidate for Mayor in 2019 – if you don’t remember him, it’s probably because he got a total of 565 votes, for 0.2%, finishing last in the field. He has filed a finance report as a candidate for Harris County Judge, but he is not listed as a candidate for either primary, according to the Secretary of State’s Qualified Candidates page. (The Harris County GOP candidates page doesn’t have him, either.) The first two pictures I saw on his webpage were one with him and Greg Abbott, and one with him and Sheila Jackson Lee. Go figure. He is fully supporting his friend George P. Bush for Attorney General, so you make the call. This is way more than you ever needed to know about Naoufal Houjami.

Anyway. Barring an unlikely late and lucrative report from Georgia Provost, who wasn’t much of a fundraiser as a City Council candidate, incumbent Judge Lina Hidalgo outraised all of the other candidates for that position combined. Erica Davis claimed $70K raised on the summary page of her report but just $50K on the subtotals page – I suspect the $70K number was a typo. She had six total donors listed, two of whom gave $25K each, one who gave $196, and the others gave $19.12 apiece. Vidal Martinez was the other big fundraiser, though as John Coby notes, almost 70% of his donations came from 14 people who each ponied up at least $10K. For sure, it’s all green, but that’s not exactly grassroots support. As for Alexandra Mealer, I’d been wondering about her because I’ve seen multiple signs for her in my very Democratic neighborhood. Turns out she’s also my neighbor, now living in one of the historic houses. That explains a lot.

I included the two Commissioners who are not on the ballot just as a point of comparison. Adrian Garcia is obviously well-equipped for battle. George Risner presumably had a few bucks in his account from his time as a Justice of the Peace, but his candidacy for Commissioner does not seem to have drawn much support so far. Jack Morman also had some coin still in his bank and drew more support on his attempt to come back, but he’s nowhere close to Garcia. For Precinct 4, Jack Cagle raised a reasonable amount, though as you can see not an earth-shaking total, with Lesley Briones coming close to him. He has a tidy sum in his treasury, but it’s less than what he had in July thanks to how much he spent. Gina Calanni didn’t raise much – to be fair, there isn’t that much time between the filing deadline and the finance reporting deadline – but her report showed $40K in pledges, which are noted as transfers from her State House campaign account.

None of the other offices tend to raise much. Chris Daniel has a personal report as well as the SPAC report. The non-SPAC account reported no money raised and $1,151 in expenditures.

Finally, someone named Stephen Kusner filed a finance report for Treasurer in July but is not on either ballot and has no report for January. I’m just making a note of that here in case anyone who looked at my July summary is wondering what happened to him.

I’ll take a look at some state reports next, and Congressional reports later. Let me know if you have any questions.

Judicial Q&A: Blair McClure

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Blair McClure

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Blair McClure and I am a candidate for Harris County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Place 2. This position was held by the Hon. George E. Risner for some 34 years, and I am honored to be considered to take his place.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Justice of the Peace in Texas presides over the Justice Court, which has jurisdiction in civil matters in which the amount in controversy is not more than $20,000, and in eviction cases. The criminal jurisdiction of the Justice Court includes misdemeanors punishable by a fine only, the most common being traffic offenses and Class C misdemeanors such as public intoxication, disorderly conduct, simple assault, and theft of property valued at under $100. The Justice of the Peace also presides over the Truancy Court, conducting cases where a child has been absent from school without excuse. And, the Justice of the Peace has a vast array of administrative duties, for example, dangerous dog determinations, determinations of the rights of owners of towed vehicles, and applications for occupational drivers’ licenses.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

The Justice Court is almost always a citizen’s first contact with the justice system, and I want the opportunity to serve the citizens of this community by bringing a common sense approach to equal justice for all. I want to promote dignity in court proceedings, processing cases timely and efficiently.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

While I am not a lawyer, I plan to bring my life experiences, and my willingness to work hard to this position. I have served the Justice Court Precinct 2 Place 2 as a community outreach liaison which has allowed me to become familiar with the laws and procedures governing Justice Courts; and I have 35 years of work experience with IBM as a project manager that has given me the practical knowledge and people skills which I can use to competently deliberate and decide the various types of disputes filed in the Justice Court.

5. Why is this race important?

The Justice Court is almost always a citizen’s first contact with the justice system, and a Justice of the Peace engages with the community on a grass roots level. I feel it is important to provide court participants with an opportunity to be heard, fairly and impartially, and to render decisions in accordance with the governing procedures and laws. I want to promote dignity in court proceedings, and process cases timely and efficiently.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I feel that I am the most qualified candidate in this race. I have been a resident of the Precinct 2 community for over 50 years. I bring the experience of 35 years as a project manager for IBM, and my service as the Court’s outreach liaison. I bring the understanding of the nature of the justice court as a place where citizens can go to assert their claims acting pro se. And, I want the opportunity to work hard to serve the citizens of the Precinct 2 community by brining a common sense approach to equal justice for all.

Sid Miller’s political consultant indicted

Well, this is interesting.

Todd Smith, a top political consultant to Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, was indicted Tuesday on felony charges of theft and commercial bribery related to taking money in exchange for state hemp licenses that are doled out through Miller’s office, according to Travis County district attorney José Garza.

Smith was arrested in May, accused of taking $55,000 as part of the scheme, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. Smith and others were accused of soliciting up to $150,000 to get an “exclusive” hemp license from the Texas Department of Agriculture. Smith allegedly said $25,000 would be used for a public poll on hemp. A hemp license from the state costs $100, according to the arrest warrant.

“We are holding accountable powerful actors who abuse the system and break the law,” Garza said. “Our community needs to know that no one is above the law and will face justice.”

Smith could not immediately be reached for comment but his attorneys said in a statement that their client has not broken any laws.

“We are disappointed that the Travis County District Attorney has obtained an indictment against Todd Smith, he was not invited to address the grand jury. He is not guilty of these charges and intends to vigorously defend himself against the allegations made by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office,” attorneys Sam Bassett and Perry Minton said in a statement.

[…]

Miller on Tuesday evening declined immediate comment, saying he was just learning the news of the indictment from the Tribune reporter. He later went on conservative radio host Chad Hasty’s show and said he’s gonna review indictment, but he’s “not ready to throw [Smith] under the bus” and is “not surprised,” suggesting it’s politically motivated. Miller says he still doesn’t believe Smith did anything wrong.

Smith has faced scrutiny before over his conduct and ties to the Department of Agriculture. In 2018, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Smith promised a San Antonio businessperson an appointment with the Department of Agriculture in exchange for a $29,000 loan. And in 2016, Miller gave Smith’s wife a newly created assistant commissioner position, one of the highest-paying roles in the department.

Miller is unlikely to take this seriously, though he did dump Smith shortly afterwards. His Republican opponents have been all over the story, and I suppose it’s always best to be proactive. As for the indictment itself, I think we all know that this sort of thing either gets resolved very quickly, via a plea deal or (more likely) the charges getting tossed, or it drags out for months if not years. To whatever extent this has an effect on Miller’s re-election chances, it will be because of what has already happened. We already know what kind of a person Sid Miller is, but it never hurts to have a reminder. The Chron and Reform Austin have more.

Interview with Desiree Broadnax

Desiree Broadnax

We wrap up our exploration of the non-County Judge executive offices with Desiree Broadnax, who is running for District Clerk. Broadnax is the manager of the Intake division at the District Attorney’s office, which means she has responsibility for all incoming case filings. She has worked in the DA’s office for nineteen years, starting out as a typist on the evening shift and working her way up. This has also had her in close contact with the District Clerk’s office over the years. We talked about that experience and her ideas for the District Clerk’s office, and you can listen to it here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Natalia Oakes

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Natalia Oakes

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Natalia Oakes, Judge of 313th Family (Juvenile) District Court and worked as a lawyer in Juvenile Court for 18 years handling juvenile delinquencies and CPS (Child Protective Services) cases before being elected judge to the 313th Juvenile Family District Court in 2018. Previously, I was a secondary school teacher.

I was born in Beaumont, Texas and raised in a big civic-minded family. I graduated from Tulane University with a B.A. in English Literature with a Teacher's Certificate and awarded my law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law of TSU. My parents stressed education. I am grateful for the honesty and integrity they taught me through example.

I worked in Juvenile Court as a lawyer for 18 before being elected judge. I joyfully interacted daily with lawyers, judge, clients, probation officers, court staff, assistant district attorneys, assistant county attorneys, detention officers, interpreters and bailiffs.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 313th hears Juvenile delinquencies, Child Protective Services cases, adoptions and child immigration cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

What we have accomplished in 3 years is a source of pride: We have implemented more rehabilitation measures to help prevent recidivism. Therapeutic services have been introduced to address the trauma that many of the youth have experienced. Multi Systemic and Family Functional Therapy are used to address the family's needs in dealing with the youth and helping the family deal with each other. This service is done in the home for better accessibility. Diversion programs, for non-violent offenders, are used so youth do not have to come to court; parents don't have to miss work nor, youth school.

Also, in 3 years we have developed many community partners who have input and output to redefine youth justice, who support the youth in their neighborhoods. There is a dual status docket concentrating on youth who are in the CPS system and delinquency system. The 313th presides over GRIP (Gang Recidivism Intervention Court) with MAGO (Mayor's Anti Gang Office) showing noted success in support for: education, family, substance abuse, counselling, relocation, mentoring). Houston Endowments for the Arts have come to the Detention Center to expose youth to ballet class, opera, music, slam poetry and other creative measures. Also, we are keeping the youth close to home and not sending all violent offenders to TJJD (Texas Juvenile Justice Department) Harris County has a placement for violent offender treatment and families can more easily visit, too.

There are fewer certifications, giving youth the opportunity to rehabilitate.

As for the CPS cases, keeping the family together and best interest of the child is the goal.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I want to continue to implement the rehabilitative programs that have been so successful. I want to add more trade and cultural programs. I want to broaden youth's exposure to new outside interests. I want to continue to forge the many relationships that I have made over 21 years practicing juvenile law for the benefit of the youth. There are many entities the juvenile judge deals with and a judge can harm the youth if any of the groups are alienated.

I would like to promote gun control, awareness, education in Harris County. The youth have so much access to guns that curbing the gun violence is difficult without some concerted effort from government and authorities.

5. Why is this race important?

When the youth benefit, we all benefit. When our communities are safe from teenage crime, communities thrive.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I am dedicated to Juvenile Law. I am very open to suggestions and have an open door to new ideas. The morale in the 313th Curt is very high. The court staff is polite, organized and efficient. They serve the public well and promptly.

I want to continue to promote programs that produce results for youth and families of Harris County.

Beto starts strong on fundraising

Good start, needs more of same.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke raised $7.2 million in the first 46 days of his campaign, while Republican incumbent Greg Abbott raked in $18.9 million over the last six months as his war chest topped $65 million.

Both campaigns announced their latest fundraising figures Tuesday morning, hours ahead of the deadline to report them to the Texas Ethics Commission. O’Rourke’s campaign went first, touting his opening haul — which covers Nov. 15 through Dec. 31 — as unmatched by any Democratic campaign in state history.

Abbott said in a statement his contributions “show just how excited Texans are for this campaign.”

The figures confirm what has long been considered the case: O’Rourke is a strong fundraiser, but he is up against a juggernaut in Abbott, at least when it comes to the money the governor has saved up. O’Rourke did not release his cash-on-hand number, but he was effectively starting from scratch when he launched his campaign in November, and his $7.2 million period means his cash on hand remains a fraction of Abbott’s reserves. Abbott had $55 million saved up for his reelection campaign at the end of June.

O’Rourke’s campaign said he got over 115,600 contributions over the 46-day period, while Abbott’s team said it received nearly 159,000 donations from July through December. Abbott’s campaign said it had an average contribution of “just over $119,” while O’Rourke’s team did not volunteer that number.

O’Rourke’s latest fundraising number includes $2 million that his campaign said he collected within 24 hours of announcing his run. Expectations have been high for O’Rourke’s fundraising after he proved a fundraising phenom during his 2018 run against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, when he raised more than $80 million. O’Rourke was subject to federal campaign donation caps in that race; Texas has no such restrictions.

Abbott’s haul was not entirely surprising. His campaign already reported raising $9.5 million on a series of reports that were due around the three, roughly monthlong special legislative sessions that occurred during the half-year period.

If you want to look at it on a rate basis, Beto’s $7.2 million in 46 days would equate to almost $29 million over six months. Easy to say, of course, harder to do. And yes, Abbott is currently sitting on a mountain of money, some of which he’s spending now on ads during the NFL playoffs. (When I am named dictator for life, I will ban all political ads on live TV events that I personally want to watch.) Beto doesn’t need to equal Abbott in fundraising – that would be nearly impossible in any event – he just needs to raise enough to run the campaign he wants to run. I wish he’d gotten started sooner, but he’s on the right track now. Don’t let up on the gas.

I’ll be posting summaries of campaign finance reports over the next couple of weeks as they come in and I have the time. I’m very interested to see what some certain Harris County candidates have done.

Interview with Marilyn Burgess

Marilyn Burgess

The other contested executive office that we will explore this week is Harris County District Clerk. This office was briefly held by a Democrat following a special election in 2008, but otherwise had been in Republican hands since the 1990’s, along with the other non-Presidential year offices. In 2018 it was won by Democrat Marilyn Burgess, who has had the challenge of revamping jury service during the pandemic. The District Clerk handles all of the filings from 90 courts in Harris County, but most people know it for handling the process of summoning and organizing jurors for the county’s courts. Burgess has overseen projects to do jury summonses electronically, with automated reminders, and has added vouchers for parking, coffee, and meals to the experience. She has other plans in mind as well, which we discussed in the interview. I should note that I did not do interviews for District Clerk in 2018 – it was just too busy a year – so this is the first time I’ve talked to District Clerk candidates since 2014. Here you go:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge David Patronella

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge David Patronella

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is David Patronella and I’m running for County Civil Court #4. I was elected to four terms in the Texas Legislature and was appointed to Justice Court Precinct 1 Place 2 where I’ve served eight terms. I’m a native Houstonian, proud graduate of Houston public schools, and a graduate of the University of Houston Honors College and the University of Houston Law Center. I’m also a husband, and father of two adult children living in a household with a total of four canine and feline companions-three of which are rescues.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears civil cases where the amount in controversy is less than $200,000. This jurisdiction includes civil appeals from justice courts ranging from small claims to eviction suits to debt claims.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I’m running for County Civil Court #4 because the court hears appeals from justice courts so my experience gives me a strong foundation to continue to serve. I’ve loved serving Precinct 1 and honored to have been elected eight times by the voters, but I am excited by the chance to work in a countywide capacity. I have been highly rated in Houston Bar Association Judicial Qualifications Polls for my legal knowledge, docket management skills, and judicial demeanor. In the most recent HBA Polls of attorneys expressing an opinion our court had the highest very good and excellent ratings among all justice courts and the second highest of all trial courts in the county. With the bench coming open this election cycle, I am uniquely qualified to step into this role.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Prior to my years of serving as judge, I practiced in the district and county civil courts, trying both bench and jury trials. Since 1989, I have served as Justice of the Peace for Precinct One, where I try civil cases and criminal misdemeanor cases. I also conduct administrative hearings—including seizures of neglected and abused animals.

In addition to my years of service on the bench, I’ve taught judges and court personnel through the Texas Justice Training Center for 25 years throughout Texas. In 2019, I was named Texas Judge of the Year by the state association.

I am currently serving my seventh year as a member of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which hears complaints of judicial misconduct and disciplines judges who violate canons of ethics. I am the only elected Democrat currently serving on this body. Prior to my appointment as commissioner, the Commission asked that I serve as a mentor to several judges to assist with ethics issues.

I have also served as Chairman of the Justice Courts section of the State Bar of Texas and have served four times as Presiding Judge for the 16 justice courts. In addition, I have completed over 1500 hours in continuing legal education-more than three times the amount required-to keep abreast of changes in procedural and substantive law. I have also authored Texas CLE presentations and participated in CLE planning committees.

I was appointed by the Texas Supreme Court to a six-year term on the Texas Judicial Council and chaired committees on Judicial Campaign Reform and Promoting Diversity in the Judiciary.

I am fluent in four languages including Spanish which is invaluable in handling court dockets as Harris County is one of the most diverse counties in the country, and parties often appear without translators.

5. Why is this race important?

Every race in the upcoming primary is important but, the county civil benches often receive less attention than criminal benches because we don’t sentence offenders accused of serious crimes. However, in this time of housing insecurity, the eviction matters we hear are of grave concern, as we determine whether someone may be left homeless. And in this time of job loss and food insecurity we enter civil judgments which impact many people who are teetering on economic despair. I have been proactive in bringing Gulf Coast Legal Aid and the Alliance and the Houston Volunteer Lawyers as well as the Houston Apartment Association in Zoom hearings to attempt to resolve these matters and often avoid an eviction judgment. Through this collaborative approach, nearly 80% of our nonpayment eviction cases were nonsuited or dismissed. It is important that the judge follows the law but also rules with compassion and recognition of how parties may be impacted. I bring both the knowledge and the sensitivity necessary to administer justice in this court.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have more experience than any other candidate in this race. Furthermore, my solid public record demonstrates that I will follow the law, administer justice and treat everyone with courtesy and respect.

Additionally, the recent Houston Bar Association Judicial Evaluations Poll showed that, of those who expressed an opinion, our court had the highest rating of any Justice of the Peace Court in the county – and was in the top two highest of all trial courts in the county. I have the legal knowledge and judicial temperament to serve Harris County.

Lastly, I am proud to be endorsed by Mayor Sylvester Turner, Senator John Whitmire, Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia, Congressman Al Green, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Representative Senfronia Thompson, Representative Hubert Vo, former Mayor Annise Parker and a host of current and former public officials at the city, county, state, and federal levels. A full list of endorsements is available at our website. www.Judgedavidpatronella.com If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out at [email protected] and follow us @JudgePatronella.

I hope to earn your support in the March 1st Primary.

Interview with Carla Wyatt

Carla Wyatt

Challenging the incumbent in the Democratic primary for Harris County Treasurer is Carla Wyatt, a longtime employee of the county. Wyatt has a PhD in Environmental Toxicology from Texas Southern University, where she also received bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She serves as a deputy director and manager of special projects for one of the Constables, and has led projects on redistricting and reorganization of park rules, and has served on a variety of other projects as well. She has worked as an environmental investigator for the TCEQ, and has worked on numerous tree and urban forestry initiatives with the city of Houston and related non-profits. She had a lot to say about using her experience at the county to the job of Treasurer, and you can hear about it here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Greg Glass

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Greg Glass

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

My name is Greg Glass, and I preside over the 208th District Criminal Court of Harris County, Texas. I am on the Democratic Party Primary Ballot in March of 2022.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This Court hears and handles felonies of all kinds, from State Jail Felonies at the bottom, all the way to and including Capital Murder at the top.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

The main accomplishments during my three years on the bench have all been Covid-19 related. I have been intimately involved in the creation of the GOB (General Order Bond) that allows the automatic release on bond of those persons accused of less-serious, non-violent felonies. A major consideration was the Covid Emergency affecting the inmates in the Harris County Jail, so
that releasing non-violent alleged offenders would reduce the jail population, and accordingly, the spread of Covid among the jail population.

Another main accomplishment has been the resumption of jury trials during Covid, in spite of the limitations imposed upon the Courts regarding the creation and installation of appropriate health and safety protocols.

I, unlike some other felony courts, have also continued to use Zoom and not require each Defendant or attorney to appear in person every setting, as some courts do. I feel the safety of all persons is important, especially as relates to possible Covid infections. Also, it reduces overcrowding in the Crimnal Justice Center.

I also take time, when requested by counsel for either the State or the Defense, to review defendants’ bonds. I believe in being equally fair to both the prosecution and the defense, and I have repeatedly shown that fairness.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

It is my intention to continue to provide the fair and equitable administation of justice in my courtroom while trying as many cases as possible, while keeping attorneys, defendants and jurors safe from Covid. Further, I and other judges now on the bench, are trying to standardize the various types of case settings for all the felony courts so that attorneys and defendants will know what should be accomplished by each court setting.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important because neither of my Democratic Primary opponents is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, as I have been since 1983. One is a prosecutor who lives in Harris County, but for the past number of years has been a prosecutor in Montgomery County and whom I have never heard of until shortly before her filing for the primary. The other opponent would not be eligible to run under the law which was recently passed but does not go into effect until after this primary cycle, as she has not been licensed for the length of time required by the new law. Additionally, she only this year was approved by the Board of Judges, myself included, to handle up to second degree felonies by way of appointment. Before this year, she could only be appointed to State Jail Felony and third degree felony offenses, or to Motions to Adjudicate Guilt or Rovoke Probation. She is not qualified for appointments to handle first degree felonies or capital felonies.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

As I mentioned, I am the only Board Certified Democratic Primary candidate in the field of Criminal Law. I have experience in handling lawyers, defendants and cases in general, which none of my opponents have. I have handled all the docket problems associated with Covid in a manner designed to both protect lawyers and defendant’s, but also to move as many as possible of the oldest and most serious cases to trial.

Interview with Dylan Osborne

Dylan Osborne

This week I’m going to focus on the two executive offices in Harris County that are not County Judge that feature contested primaries. Both were won by Dems in the countywide sweep of 2018, and so both are held by first-termers. The incumbent Harris County Treasurer is Dylan Osborne, who knocked off longtime incumbent Orlando Sanchez after winning a three-way primary. You can hear the interview I did with him for that race here. Earlier this month, Treasurer Osborne announced a historic partnership with Unity Bank, one of the few Black-owned banks in the country, here in Harris County. The Harris County Treasurer’s office has fairly modest duties, with the main one being responsible for handling payments and moving funds. That wasn’t always the case, and we talked about what Osborne has done with the duties he has, and what else there is and could be to do with that office. You can listen to that discussion here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Chris Watson

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Chris Watson

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Chris Watson and I am running for Harris County Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears community based issues such as small claims, evictions, and truancy.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I have been working for a better quality of life in this community for many years. This position will allow me to have an immediate impact on the people in our community. I feel this position offers me a great chance to touch lives and have immediate impact in this community in a positive way. For example, truancy cases, in particular, can give me the chance to positively touch the lives of our community youth, maybe before they are committed to lives of continuous crime. I would like to institute creative, positive ideas to deal with truant students and their parents.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Besides meeting all the stipulated legal qualifications for the Justice of the Peace in Texas, my experience as a credentialed Texas mediator, legal researcher for more than 15 years and community activist in this community for more than 25 years, has uniquely prepared me to serve the people of this community as a Justice in our community court.

5. Why is this race important?

In these trying times of COVID and economy, the community court has and will continue to play a crucial role in helping this community navigate through these turbulent times. In helping people to keep their homes and reestablishing their quality of life, there will have to be a community court that is fair, creative and compassionate and the justice that is in this court needs to be one who is prepared to be creative and compassionate enough find ways of compromise, within the law, to keep to bring our community together for the common good.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

Chris Watson is the one to vote for because of his long time commitment to building the quality of life in this particular community. He has worked alongside many of the community leaders and has been endorsed by leaders who know his commitment to our community. State Representative Jarvis Johnson, State Representative Senfronia Thompson, Senator Borris Miles, State Representative Alma Allen, and many other local leaders and activists have attested to Chris Watson’s dedication to this community and endorsed his campaign. He will serve in fairness and compassion as the Justice of the Peace and will work every day to improve the quality of life in Precinct 1.

Nobody is voting by mail in the District G special election

Here’s the early voting report through Saturday for the District G special election. A total of 1,608 ballots have been cast in the first six days, of which 1,569 have been in person and thirty-nine (39) have been by mail. Yes, thirty-nine. That’s out of 260 total mail ballots that have been sent to voters who have requested them.

To put this in a bit of perspective, in the November 2021 election, the HISD District I race had the smallest number of mail ballots cast. In that election, 1,438 people voted by mail out of 9,480 total votes. That’s about fifteen percent of votes cast by mail – we’re at 2.4% mail ballots in this race so far. In the November 2019 District G election, there were 2,308 mail ballots cast out of 29,500 total. That’s a much smaller 7.8% of the total, but still more than three times the rate of what we’re seeing so far. Given the increase in voting by mail since 2020, it’s clear something is happening here.

As to what that is, you have to assume that voter suppression bill SB1 is largely to blame. People will vote by mail if it’s available to them, but with only 260 mail ballots being sent out, zero of which had been returned by the first day of early voting, it’s clearly not available to the vast majority of District G voters. The Harris County Elections Administrator’s office is not allowed to send ballot applications to eligible voters. The candidates are, but given the compressed timeline for this race and the likely lack of funds for them so far, I have to assume they haven’t done so. We don’t know how many, but we can assume that a larger than usual number of mail ballot applications are being rejected. The result speaks for itself.

I don’t want to overstate what is happening here. This is a weird election, and as noted it seems likely that none of the candidates has been sending VBM applications to people. That won’t be the case in the primaries or the 2022 general election, and the parties can send applications as well. It’s still shocking to see such low numbers. I should note that we have basically no data for city of Houston special elections – the last one we had was the May 2009 District H special election, which was pre-redistricting and for which there was a much longer lead-up – so I can’t begin to guess how this might affect turnout. A total of 4,141 people voted in that District H race, and we could easily exceed that here. Of course, G is a high-turnout district while H is not, and even with there being fewer districts in 2009 there are far more registered voters in G right now (over 129K in G in 2019 versus 93K in H in 2009), so just surpassing H’s raw total means nothing. Given all the weirdness of this election and the many factors that could be affecting it, who knows what effect what the lack of mail ballots might have. But surely there is some.

Lots of mail ballot applications are being rejected now

This is a feature, not a bug.

Hundreds of Texans seeking to vote by mail in the upcoming March primary elections are seeing their applications for ballots rejected by local election offices trying to comply with stricter voting rules enacted by Texas Republicans last year.

Election officials in some of the state’s largest counties are rejecting an alarming number of mail-in applications because they don’t meet the state’s new identification requirements. Some applications are being rejected because of a mismatch between the new identification requirements and the data the state has on file to verify voters.

Under Texas’ new voting law, absentee voters must include their driver’s license number or state ID number or, if they don’t have one, the last four digits of their Social Security number on their applications. If they don’t have those IDs, voters can indicate they have not been issued that identification. Counties must match those numbers against the information in an individual’s voter file to approve them for a mail-in ballot.

In Harris County, 208 applications — roughly 16% of the 1,276 applications received so far — have been rejected based on the new rules. That includes 137 applications on which voters had not filled out the new ID requirements and 71 applications that included an ID number that wasn’t in the voter’s record.

In Travis County, officials said they’ve rejected about half of the roughly 700 applications they’ve received so far, with the “vast majority” of rejections based on the new voting law.

In Bexar County, officials have rejected 200 applications on which the ID section was not filled out. Another 125 were rejected because the voter had provided their driver’s license number on the application, but that number was not in their voter record.

“It’s disturbing that our senior citizens who have relished and embraced voting by mail are now having to jump through some hoops, and it’s upsetting when we have to send a rejection letter [when] we can see they’ve voted with us by mail for years,” said Jacque Callanen, the Bexar County election administrator.

[…]

Throughout last year’s protracted debate over the new voting law, state lawmakers were warned about potential issues that could arise from the new ID matching requirements, in part because the state does not have both a driver’s license and Social Security number for all of the roughly 17 million Texans on the voter rolls. Voters are not required to provide both numbers when they register to vote.

Last summer, the Texas secretary of state’s office indicated that 2,045,419 registered voters lacked one of the two numbers in their voter file despite the office’s efforts to backfill that information in the state’s voter rolls. Another 266,661 voters didn’t have either number on file.

Those numbers have since dropped. As of Dec. 20, 702,257 voters had only one number on file, while 106,911 didn’t have either, according to updated figures provided by the Texas secretary of state’s office.

Meanwhile, 493,823 registered voters didn’t have a driver’s license on file, which is the first number voters are asked to provide on both applications to register to vote and applications to vote by mail.

The new law is also tripping up voters who may be unaware of the new ID requirements. Callanen said she had to reject 30 voters who submitted an outdated application form that didn’t include the new ID field. Election officials in Williamson County, which has processed a total of 305 applications to vote by mail, said the same issue plagued a chunk of the applications that they rejected.

The sources of the outdated applications are unclear. While the Legislature banned county election officials from proactively sending out applications to vote by mail, even to voters who automatically qualify, voters can still receive unsolicited applications from campaigns and political parties.

This was both easily predictable and widely predicted. Since this election is a primary, and people have to request a specific party’s ballot, it would be very interesting to know how many rejections came from each party, and what percentage of the total number of requests for each party were rejected. Most likely it’s more or less evenly split, but you never know. Unintended consequences are everywhere.

I want to extend a little bit of grace to the employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who have had to do a massive update of their guidance for elections officials in a very short time. The fault lies entirely with the Republicans that shoved this travesty through, and with the raving lunatic former occupant of the White House, whose narcissism and dishonesty compelled his minions to pass such laws. But the lion’s share of the grace goes to the various elections administrators, who are on the business end of this mess. If you want a mail ballot, make sure you fill out the current form correctly, and get your request in ASAP.

Some commentary from Twitter:

That last one is more of a general comment, but you get the idea. In the meantime, Common Cause tells you how to take some control of the situation:

Voters who have applied for a mail ballot can check their status online at https://teamrv-mvp.sos.texas.gov/BallotTrackerApp/#/login. Voters who do not have internet access can call their county clerk’s office for information.

For voters planning to vote by mail in the March 1 primary election, the deadline for mail ballot applications to be received by the county’s Early Voting Clerk is Friday, February 18, 2022.

There’s more, so read the rest. Campos has more.

On primarying the quorum breakers

Of interest.

Working Families Party, a political party and relative newcomer to Texas politics that backs Democrats aligned with their platform, aims to spend in the ballpark of half a million dollars this cycle, WFP Texas Co-director Pedro Lira told the Signal.

Much of that money will go to door-to-door canvassing.

“At the end of the day, when you can really connect with people face to face, that’s really what motivates people to get out to vote,” Lira said. “We’re trying to build a real base of working class people. You can’t do that without involving those people.”

[…]

In partnership with CWA and Texas Organizing Project, WFP is also bankrolling “Texans for Better Dems,” a new political action committee that will primary Democrats in the state legislature who returned from Washington D.C. to restore quorum, a move that caused a rift in the state party and led to the creation of the Texas Progressive Caucus.

“We were incredibly proud of the Democrats who fled the state to deny Republicans quorum. It’s exactly the kind of leadership that we need from our elected officials,” Lira said. “We were also just as disappointed to see some of those Democrats come back. And it’s because those Democrats gave Republicans quorum that bills like the abortion ban and the anti-voting legislation were able to pass.”

Lira said the PAC was created specifically to primary those Democrats.

This was a thing I wondered about, and had seen some speculation about a few months ago when the quorum was freshly broken and tempers were high. I tried to keep an eye on it during the filing process, but there was a lot to keep up on, and if any WFP-backed candidates were out there, they didn’t make their presence known in a way that was visible to me. Now that we’re well past the filing deadline, let’s revisit this.

The first question is who the potential targets would be. I did a little digging into who among the Dems were here during the quorum break in Special Session #1, and who came back during Special Session #2 to bring the attendance count to the required level – this was in response to a private question I was asked. Long story short, I trawled through the daily journals on the Texas Legislature Online site, and found enough record votes to mostly fill in the picture.

For the first special session, I identified the following Dems who were present in Austin: Ryan Guillen, Tracy King, Eddie Morales, John Turner, Abel Herrero, Terry Canales, and Leo Pacheco. (There’s one I can’t identify; I suspect it was Harold Dutton, but he shows up in the next session, so it doesn’t really matter.) Guillen is now a Republican, Pacheco has since resigned, and Turner is not running for re-election. According to the SOS Qualified Candidates page, none of the others have primary opponents.

For the second special session, we can add these legislators, who were either there from the beginning or who showed up while the quorum was still not established: Dutton, Art Fierro, Mary Gonzalez, Bobby Guerra, Oscar Longoria, Eddie Lucio Jr, Joe Moody, James Talarico, Garnet Coleman, Armando Walle, and Ana Hernandez. Lucio and Coleman are not running. Talarico is running in a different district, HD50, which is open now that Celia Israel is running for Mayor of Austin. Fierro was paired with Claudia Ordaz Perez in redistricting. Of the rest, only Dutton and Gonzalez have primary opponents, and Dutton was a target well before the quorum break issue. Gonzalez, who has had primary challengers in the past as well for other reasons, faces someone named Rene Rodriguez, about whom I could find nothing. If the goal was to primary these Democrats, it sure doesn’t look like that goal was achieved.

Now, the WFP may well be playing a longer game. As we know, there wasn’t much time between the passage of the new maps and the start of filing season. Maybe they decided it was better to wait until 2024, or maybe they decided to focus more on races like CD35 (they have endorsed Greg Casar) and CD30. Maybe they’ll back Ordaz Perez and David Alcorta, the other candidate in HD50. Who knows? If they intended to make a bigger splash than that, I’d say they came up short. We’ll see what happens after this election.

Austin aims for pot decriminalization

We’ll see how this goes. I suspect the measure will pass, but I’m not sure it will be allowed to take effect.

As greater numbers of Texas voters sour on harsh punishment for marijuana offenses, Austin voters will likely decide in May whether to effectively decriminalize the drug.

The ballot measure, pushed by the group Ground Game Texas, would forbid Austin police officers in most cases from ticketing or arresting people on low-level pot charges like possessing small amounts of the drug or related paraphernalia — unless the offenses are tied to more severe crimes. The city also would not pay to test substances suspected to be marijuana — a key step in substantiating drug charges.

Both practices have already been informally adopted in Austin, but advocates want to solidify them at the May ballot box.

“The primary effect is that it would make the decriminalization that exists in Austin today actually long term and would put the force of law behind it,” said Chris Harris, policy director at Austin Justice Coalition.

[…]

But the measure faces one big obstacle: Although marijuana laws in Texas have loosened somewhat in recent years, the drug remains illegal at the state level.

Public support for harsh marijuana laws and prosecutors’ willingness to bring charges for minor offenses has waned in recent years.

The number of new charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession fell by 59% from 2016 to 2020, according to figures from the Texas Office of Court Administration, as prosecutors in the state’s major urban areas have increasingly deprioritized marijuana prosecutions.

Most Texas voters support decriminalizing marijuana in some form. Three-fifths of Texas voters say at least a small amount of marijuana should be legal, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll last year.

That support cuts across partisan lines. Nearly three-fourths of Democrats and independents think marijuana should be legal. So do 43% of Republicans, a plurality of that group.

It’s against that backdrop that Ground Game Texas — a progressive group focused on issues of “workers, wages and weed” — plans to mount decriminalization campaigns in Killeen and Harker Heights.

As the story notes, there’s an effort by Ground Game Texas to put a similar measure on the ballot in San Marcos. The City Council in Denton recently voted down an ordinance to do the same there, a move that perhaps validates this approach. The Austin police union, which has been resistant to the earlier efforts to decriminalize pot, is staying out of this election, but who knows what they might do afterward.

So what happens if this passes, as I expect it will? One obvious possibility is legal action to require the enforcement of the state laws. I’m sure there’s someone who’d be willing to be the plaintiff in such a filing, and no one has to encourage Ken Paxton to swing a bat in Austin’s direction. Legislative action is also possible – again, there’s nothing a Republican likes more these days than filing a bill to stop a city from doing something that legislator doesn’t approve of. A complicating factor in all this is that Greg Abbott is mumbling a few words in favor of being less harsh about pot, likely in recognition of the polling on this issue and Beto’s stronger pro-pot stance. I don’t know how much that complicates things for the keep-pot-criminal crowd, but it’s another dimension. I don’t know which way this will go, but it all starts with the measure being passed, and I feel pretty confident about that.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 14

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was Commissioners Court Precinct 4. Starting Monday will be the County Treasurer and District Clerk races, and the week after that will be Senate District 15 and (I hope – it’s still in the works) Candis Houston from HD142. After that is CD38, and probably statewide candidates.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court>,

Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Interview with Clarence Miller

Clarence Miller

One last interview for Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 4. Next week I will have interviews for other county offices, and after that will visit with some more legislative and Congressional races. Today we speak with Clarence Miller, whom I had met in pre-COVID times and was running for this position well before the new map was drawn. Miller worked for the United States Postal Service for 29 years and served as Director of the Houston Post Credit Union, and was elected as Director of the Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District #24. Here’s the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.