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October 16th, 2019:

Interview with Sallie Alcorn

Sallie Alcorn

We come to the end of the interviews that I had originally planned. As is often the case, a late request came in and you will see that on Friday. For City Council until the runoffs we are at the end of the road. Sallie Alcorn is a former Chief of Staff to CM Stephen Costello who is running for At Large #5. Alcorn has worked for two other Council members, the city’s flood recovery officer, and in the Department of Housing and Community Development. She also works with offenders as a volunteer facilitator for Bridges to Life, and has served on boards at the San Jose Clinic, the Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Houston READ Commission. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #5 is here. I’ll do a post with all the city interviews to this point shortly.

The Bonnen tape is out

It’s a doozy.

During a June conversation at the Texas Capitol, Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen urged hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan to target members of their own party in the 2020 primaries and suggested he could get Sullivan’s group media access to the House floor, according to a secret recording of the conversation released Tuesday.

Bonnen could also be heard speaking disparagingly about multiple Democrats, calling one House member “vile” and suggesting that another’s “wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The 64-minute recording of Sullivan’s June meeting with Bonnen and another top House Republican, then-GOP caucus chair Dustin Burrows, was posted on Sullivan’s website and the website of WBAP, a talk radio station in Dallas on which Sullivan appeared Tuesday morning. The recording largely aligned with Sullivan’s initial description of that June 12 meeting — and with what certain Republicans who listened to the audio before it was public had described.

While its release prompted immediate outcry from Democrats and silence from Republicans, Bonnen said in a statement that the audio makes clear he did nothing criminally wrong in the conversation, adding that the “House can finally move on.”

Roughly nine minutes into the recording, after discussing Sullivan’s recent trip to Europe, Bonnen tells Sullivan he’s “trying to win in 2020 in November.”

“Is there any way that for 2020 we sort of say … let’s not spend millions of dollars fighting in primaries when we need to spend millions of dollars trying to win in November,” Bonnen says. “I wanted to see if we could try and figure that out. … If you need some primaries to fight in — I will leave and Dustin will tell you some we’d love if you fought in. Not that you need our permission.”

Roughly five minutes later, the speaker said, “Let me tell you what I can do for you. Real quick, you need to hear what I want to do for you.”

“I don’t need anything,” Sullivan responded.

[…]

Before Bonnen made his offer, he also disparaged a number of House Democrats. The speaker said state Rep. Jon Rosenthal, a Houston Democrat, “makes my skin crawl” and is “a piece of shit.” Bonnen, after saying he’s”begging this is all confidential,” then recounted a meeting with the freshman, after which he asked his chief of staff, Gavin Massingill, what he thought about the new House member.

“Massingill said it best,” Bonnen recalled. “Well, his wife’s gonna be really pissed when she learns he’s gay.”

The room dissolved in laughter before Bonnen turned to discuss other members of the lower chamber’s minority party.

“We’ve got Michelle Beckley, who’s vile,” he said, referring to the freshman Democrat from Carrollton who unseated a Republican in 2018. He exhorted Sullivan to help target these Democrats in competitive districts.

See here for the previous update. I kind of don’t think there’s going to be any “moving on”, except in the sense that no Democrat has any reason to support Bonnen’s re-election as Speaker now. All well and good if Dems take the House in 2020, and still theoretically possible even if they come up a member or two short. Remember, Bonnen was also targeting ten of his fellow Republicans, who may well want to keep their own options open. It’s hard to imagine a Republican in a Republican-majority House backing a Democrat for Speaker, but at this point I think we can all agree that crazier things have happened.

By the way, in regard to those ten targeted Republicans, the Rick Casey theory that they were in Bonnen’s crosshairs because they opposed a bill to ban local government entities from hiring lobbyists sure looks on the money given this quote from the tape: “My goal is for this to be the worst session in the history of the legislature for cities and counties.” Quite the sentiment, no?

Anyway, there’s plenty more out there. The Signal has some clips, the Trib – which is all over this – has choice excerpts, and other outlets like the Chron, the Observer, Texas Monthly, and the Dallas Observer are going to town. If that’s still not enough, go search the #txlege hashtag on Twitter. On a side note, the TDP claimed victory in their lawsuit now that the tape has been released, but there was still a court hearing about it. All that’s left – before the next election, anyway – is for the DPS to finish their investigation. Hope this helps with evidence collection, guys.

On the air in HD28

The HD28 special may be the hottest race going right now.

Eliz Markowitz

The first TV ads are set to air in the special election to replace state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, as Democrats rev up their homestretch push to flip the seat.

On Tuesday, both a Democratic super PAC and one of the Republican candidates, Gary Gates, will begin cable advertising six days before early voting starts for the Nov. 5 contest. The super PAC, Forward Majority, will air a health care-themed spot in support of the sole Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, who faces Gates and five other Republicans.

It is relatively uncommon for TV ads to air in a Texas House race — less common in a special election — but state and national Democrats are making a serious effort to put Zerwas’ seat in their column as they head toward 2020 with hopes of taking the House majority.

The 30-second commercial from Forward Majority touts Markowitz in contrast to Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, invoking the lawsuit led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton designed to strike down the entire law.

“In the state House election Nov. 5, only Democrat Eliz Markowitz has consistently supported making insurance companies cover preexisting conditions like cancer,” a narrator says. “Eliz Markowitz — looking out for Texas families, not insurance company profits.”

[…]

Forward Majority, which is focused on state legislative races ahead of the next round of redistricting, is spending six figures to run its ad on cable and digital platforms through the election. Gates’ ad buy is also going through Nov. 5, and his campaign is spending over $100,000 on it, according to records on file with the Federal Communications Commission.

This is not Forward Majority’s first foray into the Texas. The group spent $2.2 million on an array of state House races here in the final days before the 2018 election, when Democrats captured 12 seats in the chamber.

With less than a week until early voting starts, the effort to consolidate Democratic support behind Markowitz is in full swing. On Friday, she received the endorsement of EMILY’s List, the influential national group that helps elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. And on Tuesday, state party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa is set to hold a news conference in Richmond to formalize the party’s support for her, along with other party officials and local elected officials.

You can see the 30-day finance reports here. Anna Allred and Tricia Krenek have the funds to run their own ads if they want, so there could be more coming. Doesn’t make much sense for anyone to keep their powder dry – Markowitz wants a first-round knockout, and if there is a runoff only one of the Republicans is likely to make it. If it comes down to Markowitz versus any of those Rs in December, you can be sure there will be plenty more money pouring in. The Texas Signal has more.

Endorsement watch: A and H

Looks like we’re going to keep getting these endorsements in pairs. Today’s duo includes an incumbent and an open seat candidate. First up, incumbent Karla Cisneros.

CM Karla Cisneros

Poverty and lack of academic achievement are problems that concern all of Houston, but they are particularly pressing in District H, an area that covers not only the growing Near Northside, Woodland Heights and East End, but also struggling neighborhoods north of 610 and near Buffalo Bayou. It’s a place where only about 14 percent of adult residents have a college degree.

“If 70 percent of the kids are black and brown and most of them are in poverty, that is the most critical issue that I see before our city,” Councilwoman Karla Cisneros told the editorial board. “We cannot rely on bringing people in to fill the jobs that we want, we need to grow our own.”

Cisneros, 65, has used her first term on the council to advocate for education, call attention to poverty and address the problem of stray animals and pet overpopulation, all issues that many of her constituents grapple with every day.

She has earned the right to continue to fight on their behalf.

[…]

The incumbent has drawn three challengers, all Latinas looking to make a change in the district: Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, a real estate broker; Gaby Salcedo, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University; and Isabel Longoria, a community organizer.

All have shown a commitment to help the district and a passion for public service, but it is Longoria who stands out among the contenders. She is energetic, knowledgeable and has experience working within local and state government — and anyone who describes herself as “a wonk” and “a nerd” who loves Houston, warrants our attention.

My interview with Isabel Longoria is here, my interview with Cynthia Reyes-Revilla is here, and my 2015 interview with then-candidate Cisneros is here. The relevant June finance reports are here, and while I haven’t posted the 30 day reports for this race yet, I can tell you that Longoria outraised Cisneros $49K to $20K for the period, but Cisneros still has $93K in the bank.

Over in District A, the Chron goes for Amy Peck:

Amy Peck

District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig may not be on the Nov. 5 ballot, but the race to replace her has become a referendum on the two-term incumbent’s tenure.

Stardig’s chief of staff, Amy Peck, is running to replace her boss and has become the dart board for her opponents seeking the seat. That’s ironic for Peck, who was herself a Stardig critic when she ran against her in 2009 and 2013. The next year, Stardig hired Peck to run her Council office.

“Any other job, you want that experience,” Peck told the editorial board. “You want someone who understands the job, so I don’t know why in this situation experience has somehow become something negative.”

[…]

Recognizing a problem is half the battle, but completing the mission requires specific plans. Peck’s experience working in District A makes her better qualified to develop successful plans than the other candidates. Peck won’t be a Stardig clone, but she has learned by working for Stardig what does and doesn’t work in each neighborhood. That’s an asset District A needs.

As noted, Peck has been a candidate for A twice before, and I interviewed her both times, most recently in 2013. I see her as being another Dave Martin type – considerably more conservative than I am, but serious about governing and up to the task. You could do far, far worse in a district like A, and for those whose memories stretch back to 2011, you know that we have. The July finance reports that include District A are here, and I promise I’ll have the 30 day reports up soon. I can tell you that Peck, who was never a prodigious fundraiser, has taken in a bit less than $50K so far. No one else is even over $10K. Which, for an open seat in particular, is kind of nuts. I figure that will change for the runoff, and of course she’ll have plenty of opportunity to make up for it as an incumbent, but for now enjoy a genuine throwback low-dollar Council race.