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November 5th, 2009:

You can still register for the runoff

I suspect that just about everyone reading this blog is a registered voter, but if you aren’t, or you know someone who isn’t, you get a second chance for the runoff.

Harris County Voter Registrar Leo Vasquez reminds citizens they can still register to vote and participate in the runoff election on Dec. 12, 2009. Citizens who are not registered to vote must do so on or before Thursday, Nov. 12 to vote in the City of Houston runoff election on Dec. 12.

Vasquez pointed out that there also will be runoffs in the City of Bellaire and the Houston Independent School District.

“These are crucial elections. In Houston, voters will choose a new mayor and new city controller. Several council races will be decided too. If you are registered, you can vote in the runoff even if you did not vote Nov. 3. But remember, if you are not registered, hurry and register now so your voice can be heard,” Vasquez urged.

Vasquez noted that his office has made registering to vote more convenient than ever in Harris County. Voter registration applications are available at all 16 Harris County Tax Office branches, public libraries, City of Houston multi-service centers, community centers and health clinics. Citizens can even download an application from the Harris County Tax Office’s Web site, www.hcvoter.net.

As they say, act now and don’t delay. You have a week. Martha has other relevant dates for the runoff.

It’s all about Roy

This article is supposedly about how Annise Parker and Gene Locke have started to get their campaigns back on track for the runoff, but the vast majority of it is about Roy Morales, who is apparently the most famous fourth-place finisher ever.

Annise Parker and Gene Locke, contenders in a Dec. 12 runoff, were favorites from the beginning, while Roy Morales, the only Republican in the race, had little money, minuscule name recognition and single-digit poll numbers just a few days before the election. In the end, though, the retired Air Force lieutenant colonel placed only a few percentage points behind Peter Brown, a city councilman who blanketed the airwaves with his “blueprint” for Houston and poured nearly $4 million of his family fortune into the race. The Morales surge probably knocked Brown out of the runoff.

“I didn’t take votes from Brown,” Morales said in an interview Wednesday. “I recaptured my votes from him. Mr. Brown was trying to portray himself as a conservative. Peter is a liberal.”

Analysts said Morales took advantage of media opportunities that put him on the same stage as his opponents to send a clear message.

In every campaign appearance — and there were more than 40 with all four major candidates — Morales beat the drum of Republican Party orthodoxy. His message was a one-note sonata: I’m conservative, these other people aren’t. I’ll cut your taxes, these other people won’t.

I’ll stipulate that this was Roy’s vote-maximizing strategy, and that he got a good bang for his buck. And in the end, that strategy was good for 20% of the vote and a fourth-place finish. Doesn’t seem like a productive path towards actually winning an election and doing all that tax-cutting you want to do, but maybe I just don’t understand the nature of conservative victory.

Putting this another way, this strategy netted Roy 35,802 votes. In 2007, with an electorate that was 2/3 the size of this one, Roy got 34,235 votes. At this rate, he’ll be poised to break through in 2035 or so. Run, Roy, run!

Anyway. Martha deals with the extremely spurious claim that GOP volunteers made 200,000 calls on Roy’s behalf on Election Day. (Did anyone get one of these? Seems to me if they did do all that dialing, a fair number of my readers were probably on the receiving end. Leave a comment and let me know.) Let’s take them at their word for a minute, and assume that had there not been this massive GOTV effort on Roy’s part, he’d have done as well on Election Day as he had in early voting. He got 15.37% of the early vote, compared to 22.86% on Tuesday. Plug the numbers in, and he’d have gotten 17,499 votes instead of the 26,030 he did get, for a difference of 8,531. That’s actually a pretty decent return – in fact, if you add another 8,531 votes to Roy’s final total, he’d have edged past Gene Locke and would be in the runoff with Annise Parker. Kind of makes you wonder why they weren’t doing all this for him from the beginning, doesn’t it? If you believe they really did it for him in the end, that is.

Where was I? Oh, yes, what the headline of this story says it’s about, which is the restart of the Parker and Locke campaigns.

Parker and Locke jumped right back into campaign mode Wednesday. After an early TV appearance, Parker went to City Hall to present her monthly financial report to City Council. Locke also was on early-morning TV.

Both worked the phones to woo potential newcomers to their campaigns, thank supporters and raise money for what many expect will be a hard-fought contest.

In an e-mail to supporters, Parker was blunt about her financial requirements.

“I need to raise more than one million dollars in the next four weeks to compete with the projected spending of my opponent,” she said.

As noted, Annie’s List is already beating the drum for Parker, and there’s a fundraiser hosted by Roland Garcia, who resigned from the Sports Authority to back Parker, on Tuesday. I’m sure Locke will have similar stuff going on, though word of it has not hit my Inbox as yet. Much more to come, I’m sure.

Six questions for the runoffs

Six questions that I can think of, anyway.

1. What will Peter do?

Will Peter Brown endorse someone in the runoff? If so, how vigorously does he support that person? He’s in a position to have an effect on the outcome if he chooses to do so. What will he do?

His won’t be the only endorsement that will be sought out and may make a difference. As you know, I don’t think Roy’s voters will be inclined to come back out in December, but I could be wrong about that. It is worth wondering what, if anything, Roy will do at this point. Beyond that, will Pam Holm pick a side in the Controller’s runoff? So far she hasn’t, but that could certainly change. Will the Democrats who sided with Herman Litt or Rick Rodriguez reposition themselves in At Large #1? Will Linda Toyota back a candidate in HISD I? Not all endorsements matter, and of those that do, some count for more than others. I believe these count for something, and I expect there’s a lot of inter-campaign conversation going on right now.

2. Where’s the money?

Gene Locke reported $391,969.75 on hand in his eight days out report. Parker had $83,229.73. I strongly suspect both of them are running lower than that now, and needless to say neither can write their own check. How much fundraising can they do over the next (say) three weeks, and which one can get back on the air first? What’s their plan to get their voters out if they can’t afford airtime?

3. What about the Republicans?

I estimate Roy won something like 55-60% of the Republican vote in this election, based on the fact that folks with a Republican primary history made up about 31% of early voters, and that Roy did better on Election Day (22.86%) than he did in early voting (15.37%). That’s a significant bloc if they decide they have a preference for one or the other remaining candidates. It doesn’t come without risk, however – there are still way more Democratic voters in this city, and a high-profile embrace of Roy might turn some of them off. There have been rumors for a couple of weeks that the likes of Steven Hotze and Dan Patrick will stump for Locke. I have no idea if there’s any truth to that, but it would very much be a double-edged sword for him. I can’t think of a better way to fire up Parker’s supporters than that.

Republicans may aim a little lower and try to win the Controller’s office, while knocking off incumbent Council member Jolanda Jones. Both are doable, though I don’t think either will be easy. They may also work to hold MJ Khan’s District F seat by supporting Al Hoang against Mike Laster. I consider Brenda Stardig the favorite to win against Lane Lewis in District A, but if there’s little Republican interest at the top of the ticket, Lewis may get some coattails from the dual Democratic Mayoral campaigns.

4. How negative are things going to get?

Hard to say. While all of the Mayoral candidates attacked each other, the main image I have of negativity is Brown’s ad campaign against Locke. You figure Parker and Locke have to attack each other, it’s just a question of how and how much. I will say this, since several people have asked me about it: I don’t expect Parker’s sexuality to be any more of an issue in the runoff than it was in the general. For one, that’s not who Gene Locke is, and for two, I don’t think it would be a successful strategy.

Similarly in the Controller’s race, the main source of attack ads is now out. Does Khan pick up the theme from Holm, or does he decide she didn’t gain anything from it and stick to his “I’m the most qualified” theme? For that matter, does Green bring up the residency issue against Khan? I think if the one happens then the other does, but it’s not clear if the one happens, or which campaign shoots first.

I definitely expect some negativity in the Council races, where a last minute attack on Sue Lovell may have helped keep her below 50%. If Jack Christie, or someone on his behalf, doesn’t send out at least one mailer attacking Jolanda Jones, I’ll be shocked.

Finally, remember that negativity doesn’t mean lower turnout. If this election doesn’t drive a stake in the heart of the notion that voters are turned off by negative campaigns and prefer nice, quiet, issues-oriented ones, I don’t know what would.

5. Who will the Chron endorse?

Time to get off the fence, fellas. Who’s it gonna be, Parker or Locke, and how long will you make us wait? Will any other endorsing entity that declined to pick a side in the first go-round commit to one candidate or the other in overtime? My guess on the latter question is No, but surely the Chron won’t weasel out again. Or maybe they will, if their editorial board is sufficiently divided. I can’t wait to see what they do.

6. What will early voting look like?

As noted, 31% of all votes in Houston were cast early, which is a significant uptick from previous city elections. My guess is that an increasing number of the more habitual voters, who needless to say were the bulk of this electorate, have shifted their habits towards early voting. I would guess that a similar share of the runoff vote, perhaps more, will vote early.

Those are my questions. Prof. Murray has a few as well. What are yours?

UPDATE: I get some answers to one of my questions via press release from Karen Derr:

Candidate Karen Derr for Houston City Council At-Large Position 1 has received mounting support from a broad base of organizations and elected officials. Karen Derr has gained the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Democracy for Houston, and the Houston AFL-CIO. In addition, Karen Derr has also received the endorsements from State Representatives Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez.

The HGLBT Political Caucus endorsed Herman Litt in the first go-round; I’m not sure about the other groups offhand. But this is a pretty clear sign to me that much of Litt’s support will transfer to Derr.

Runoff rules

Council Member Mike Sullivan sheds some light on my confusion about runoffs in school board elections.

As a former school board member, I know the answer well.

In short, in the state of Texas, a candidate for school board has to only achieve a plurality to win. It is not necessary to win by the conventional “50% + 1″ to win an election. You only have to receive more than one vote that everyone else in the race to win.

While this may seem like a strange, or archaic method, it has served this state well. There almost 1100 school districts in the state, and as they say, “you do the math”. It would be expensive, time consuming, and certainly a financial burden for almost school districts if the election law was written any other way.

I appreciate the feedback. I assumed Alief ISD would have a runoff because HISD has them. Checking the statutes, however, makes it clear that HISD is the exception and not the rule:

Sec. 2.001. PLURALITY VOTE REQUIRED. Except as otherwise provided by law, to be elected to a public office, a candidate must receive more votes than any other candidate for the office.

So there must be a provision elsewhere that allows for or requires HISD elections to need a majority. And I believe this is it in the Education code.

Sec. 11.057. DETERMINATION OF RESULTS; OPTIONAL MAJORITY VOTE REQUIREMENT. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (c), in an independent school district in which the positions of trustees are designated by number as provided by Section 11.058 or in which the trustees are elected from single-member trustee districts as provided by Section 11.052, the candidate receiving the highest number of votes for each respective position voted on is elected.

(b) In a district in which the positions of trustees are not designated by number or in which the trustees are not elected from single-member trustee districts, the candidates receiving the highest number of votes shall fill the positions the terms of which are normally expiring.

(c) The board of trustees of an independent school district in which the positions of trustees are designated by number or in which the trustees are elected from single-member trustee districts as provided by Section 11.052 may provide by resolution, not later than the 180th day before the date of an election, that a candidate must receive a majority of the votes cast for a position or in a trustee district, as applicable, to be elected. A resolution adopted under this subsection is effective until rescinded by a subsequent resolution adopted not later than the 180th day before the date of the first election to which the rescission applies.

So the default is “most votes wins”, but a district may make its own rule that requires a majority. Which is I presume what HISD has done. I looked around but didn’t find such a resolution for HISD, so if anyone happens to know where to look for one, I’d appreciate it.

So there you have it. Note also that for city elections, you apparently need a majority to win in Bellaire, even though state law does not require that of them. Days like this make me think I should have gone to law school, if only so I could have a better understanding of how stuff like this works.

Lawrence backs out of running for Eversole’s seat

And we’re back where we started.

Houston Councilwoman Toni Lawrence has decided she won’t run against Jerry Eversole for the Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner’s seat.

“I did talk to Jerry on Tuesday and told him I was not going to run against him,” Lawrence said today. “I’m staying out of the race.”

[…]

Lawrence said she never intended to seek the office if Eversole campaigned again.

“We have a lot of mutual friends, we really do, and it was really tough on a lot of those mutual friends,” Lawrence said. “It was putting pressure on those people of who they were going to support and what they were going to do.”

So much for that. I just hope a halfway decent Democratic candidate takes on Eversole, if only so that someone can challenge him on the whole FBI investigation thing. Not too much to ask, is it?

Recount in HCC 3

No surprise at all.

Mary Ann Perez appeared to pull off a tight victory in the Houston Community College’s District III trustee race Tuesday night. But her opponent was in no mood for a concession.

“I’m requesting a recount,” said incumbent Diane Olmos Guzman, who added that “there will be a bright future for me.”

The unofficial final result is Perez 2881, Guzman 2837. That may change a bit as provisional votes are reviewed and any outstanding overseas votes come in. In the end, I doubt it will matter. Pam Holm defeated Jeff Daily in the 2003 runoff for District G by only 27 votes in an election with 37,000 total ballots cast, but that result stood up after further review. The only election I can recall offhand that changed after a recount was the 2004 primary in which Henry Cuellar unseated Ciro Rodriguez; Rodriguez led initially, then fell behind after some 200 uncounted ballots were found that heavily favored Cuellar. Anything can happen, of course, but I don’t expect that.

Waiting for KBH, the neverending story

There are dominoes that are all set to fall in North Texas if only Kay Bailey Hutchison would flick her finger and knock the first one over.

The thinking goes like this: U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison resigns to run for governor. State Sen. Florence Shapiro runs for Hutchison’s seat. State Rep. Ken Paxton runs for Shapiro’s seat. Various Collin County figures vie for Paxton’s seat. And so on.

If politics is sometimes a game of musical chairs, then this is the quiet moment before the song starts.

A series of public offices statewide is expected to come open should Hutchison give up her Senate seat to run for governor. That includes North Texas, where potential vacancies left by longtime incumbents such as Shapiro could spark a free-for-all.

That scenario also requires Shapiro to win the special election, which is far from a guarantee. She is up for re-election next November, but unless KBH times her long-awaited resignation to allow for the special to be at the same time, Shapiro can stay in place until and unless she wins.

But you know, waiting for KBH is a long, hard process. Never mind the question of when she may resign to run for Governor, she still hasn’t answered the question “What do you want to do as Governor?”

Kay Bailey Hutchison’s campaign for governor has taken shape around two general themes: Rick Perry is bad for Texas, and Barack Obama is bad for the nation.

Oh, and she would defend property rights as ferociously as the Texians defended the Alamo.

Aside from elaboration on these positions, the public has few specifics from Texas’ senior senator on how she would govern if she turns Perry out of the governor’s office. This comes despite Hutchison’s declaration of specific policy areas she would concentrate on.

In kicking off her campaign in August, she stated, “As governor, I will focus on five areas: fiscal policy, education, transportation, health care and government reform.”

It’s now November, and we await details. How would she change the way schoolchildren are educated, for example? Conscientious voters surely want to hear.

The Hutchison campaign has said for weeks that the senator plans a “rollout” of policy positions, but she doesn’t appear ready to begin. The primary election is in four months. What’s the holdup?

I daresay she figures that those things are enough to get her through the primary, where the nuances of policy details aren’t exactly a high priority. After that, if it still matters, she’ll eventually get around to that stuff. What’s the rush?