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October 18th, 2019:

Interview with Carol Denson

Carol Denson

Lots of things go into my interview schedules each cycle, as there’s only one of me and usually way more candidates than I could possibly have time for. The large field in the HD148 special election was a particular challenge, but as it happened I had a three-day weekend right after the filing deadline that I could take advantage of, and wound up with seven interviews at the end. I reached out to everyone I had contact info for at that time. That unfortunately wound up leaving Carol Denson out, as her webpage and Facebook page weren’t ready when I was. She reached out to me this week, and so here we are. Denson is a longtime public school teacher and native of the Heights. She is also a climate change activist, advocating for HR 763 in the US House to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what we talked about:

Previous interviews with HD148 candidates can be found here. The 30-day finance reports for legislative special elections are here. I’m pretty sure I’m at the end of the interview cycle for November, but you never know.

Chron overview of City Controller race

It’s rerun season.

Chris Brown

It has attracted far less attention than the rowdy mayoral race, but the contest for the city’s second-highest office has intensified in recent weeks as Controller Chris Brown — the independently elected financial watchdog — finds himself battling to keep his seat against a familiar name on the ballot.

Orlando Sanchez, a former city councilman, mayoral candidate and Harris County treasurer, filed to challenge Brown in August with an hour to spare before the Aug. 19 deadline. He has pledged to conduct more audits and make the controller’s office more transparent. And, Sanchez alleges, Brown is too closely aligned with Mayor Sylvester Turner to serve as a check on his power.

“While it’s nice to have a cordial relationship with the mayor, I don’t think you need to act as an employee of the mayor,” said Sanchez, 61. “You are independently and in a sovereignly elected position that should answer all and any questions that the community has — the business community, the mayor’s office, the City Council.”

Brown, who served as deputy controller before his election in 2015, scoffed at Sanchez’s critiques. The controller’s office has conducted 39 audits during his tenure and prizes large-scale audits instead of smaller, more frequent ones, Brown said, adding that he has striven to distance himself from Turner on such issues as the mayor’s push to sidestep the voter-imposed revenue cap after Hurricane Harvey and his changing cost estimates for Proposition B, the voter-approved measure to link firefighters’ pay to that of similarly ranked police officers.

“I work for the taxpayer,” said Brown, 44. “If you look at my record over the last four years, whether that’s auditing, whether that’s going to the mat when the administration tried to raise taxes on taxpayers after Harvey, I went to the mat, I fought for the taxpayer and I won. From that standpoint, it’s vitally important for the controller to be independent.”

[…]

The race also has broken down along sharply partisan lines, despite both candidates’ insistence that the office should remain nonpartisan. Conservative support has coalesced behind Sanchez, a Republican who has raised about $45,000, with contributions from Republican congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall and state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston. Democratic officials — including former city controllers Sylvia Garcia and Annise Parker — are lining up behind Brown, who last month endorsed Julián Castro for president. He had $274,000 cash on hand at last count, compared to Sanchez’s $24,000 war chest.

The Controller’s race gets less attention than the Mayor’s race for the same reason why most Council races get less attention: The office has far less power, and there’s far less spending in those elections. For what it’s worth, in the clearly partisan 2015 runoff, Brown not only defeated Republican Bill Frazer, he did so by a considerably wider margin than Mayor Turner had over Bill King. Orlando Sanchez basically coasted for a dozen years on the county’s off-year partisan lean, before running out of luck last year. I’m not too worried about this one.

Chrysta Castañeda

The Senate race will be the top statewide contest in 2020, but beyond that it’s the judicials and the one Railroad Commissioner slot on the ballot. Candidate Chrysta Castañeda has thrown her hat into the ring for that job.

Chrysta Castañeda

The 2020 race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission is beginning to seriously take shape as prominent Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda enters the Democratic primary to challenge Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton.

“The Railroad Commission’s number one job is to protect our natural resources and prevent the waste of oil and gas, but in its current configuration, it has abandoned that duty,” Castañeda said in a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing her candidacy.

The Railroad Commission is usually one of the lower-profile statewide races on the ballot, but in election cycles like 2020, the candidates play an important role for their parties because they top the non-federal statewide ticket. The contest for Sitton’s seat, one of three on the commission, will appear on the ballot after the races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Castañeda has decades of oil and gas experience, first as a software engineer for companies and then as a lawyer for operators and others in the industry. In 2016, she won a $146 million verdict for the late Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens in a high-profile drilling rights dispute.

Castañeda is centering her campaign on the issue of flaring, or the burning of natural gas that companies do not move to market. The practice, which emits harmful pollutants into the air, has become increasingly rampant; Oil and gas producers say it’s because of a shortage of pipelines, while environmentalists say it’s due to economics with natural gas being far cheaper than oil. They also blame the Railroad Commission, which has approved a historic number of flaring permits, and extensions to flaring permits.

In her announcement video, Castañeda says the state “might as well be burning cash” and charged Sitton with refusing to enforce laws to curtail the waste.

“Texans deserve someone who will enforce the law and work for all of us,” she said. “Let’s stop wasting energy.”

No one can say she doesn’t have experience, though I’m sure some folks will be more impressed by it than others. I learned from this story that there is another candidate already in, Kelly Stone, who is clearly from a more progressive background. That should make for an interesting primary, with at least some possibility that either or both candidates could raise some money for the purpose of running a real campaign in the primary. (It’s not just for Senate hopefuls!) The story also notes that 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about running again. You may say to yourself “I don’t remember seeing Cody Garrett on the November 2016 ballot”. That’s because he wasn’t – he lost to perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. I would not put it past Yarbrough to clutter up the 2020 ballot as well, but whether or not he does it’s important that we get a real campaign, with people being aware of their choices. Every race matters.

Endorsement watch: Our first two At Large races

Continuing with its “one contested incumbent and one open seat” theme, the Chron begins by endorsing David Robinson for another term.

CM David Robinson

Unlike council members who speak for specific districts, at-large representatives must take a wider view and consider the city as a whole when making decisions and setting priorities. During his time on the council, David Robinson has providedfor his more than 2 million constituents a thoughtful and balanced voice.

Robinson, 53, told the editorial board there is still a lot more work to be done at City Hall. Voters should allow him to continue that work.

Part of that effort is to improve the city’s resilience in the face of changing climate.

“We’re existentially threatened by global climate change, by storm surge, by things that have not yet struck our city and we are in the infancy of providing protection for,” Robinson said. He added that the city must figure out cost-effective ways to supplement flood mitigation projects undertaken by the county and the federal government.

[…]

The incumbent has proven he understands the problems facing Houston and that he is focused on finding solutions to them. We continue to place our trust in David Robinson and recommend him for At-Large Position 2.

Here are the July finance reports that include At Large #2. I’ll have the 30 Day reports posted this weekend. Not much to add here, Robinson’s main opponent is an anti-HERO pastor who got into a runoff with Robinson in 2015 and then lost to him by nine points. I don’t see much different this time around.

Over in At Large #4, the seat vacated by Amanda Edwards once she entered the Democratic primary for Senate, the Chron goes with Nick Hellyar, who jumped into this race from District C after Edwards’s departure.

Nick Hellyar

The contenders, who bring a wide range of experience and involvement in community advocacy, include Bill Baldwin, a civic activist known as the “King of the Heights” and member of the city planning commission; Letitia Plummer, a dentist and granddaughter of a Tuskegee Airman flight instructor; James “Joe” Joseph, pastor and founder of a Fifth Ward nonprofit, and Tiko Hausman, a business consultant with a background in government procurement.

Their qualifications and grasp of the issues facing Houston — from flood mitigation to city finances — are impressive. The residents of Houston should be heartened by the caliber of candidates seeking to represent them.

One, however, stands out for his knowledge of the inner workings of city hall: Nick Hellyar is a 37-year-old real estate agent with a “passion for municipal government” that grew out of early jobs working as constituent services manager for then-city council member James Rodriguez, whose three-term tenure representing District I ended in 2013. Hellyar also served as district director in then-state Rep. Carol Alvarado’s District 145 office.

It was there, Hellyar told the editorial board, that he learned how important city services are in the everyday lives of Houstonians.

“If their trash can doesn’t get picked up, and they call their council office and it gets picked up, that makes a huge difference in somebody’s life,” he said. “We need common sense leaders at the city level just to get everyday stuff done — make sure our roads are smooth, make sure we have adequate drainage, ensure that the water runs when you turn on the tap, ensure that we have public safety. So I want to be a common sense leader.”

The same link above includes the AL4 finance reports from July, which I had started working on before Edwards’ announcement. I’m working on these now. Hellyar actually entered the local political scene before his employment in then-CM Rodriguez’s office. I met him when he was volunteering for Jim Henley’s 2006 campaign for Congress in CD07. As I’ve said before, Tiko Reynolds-Hausman is a friend of mine, I know Bill Baldwin, and I interviewed Letitia Plummer during her campaign for CD22 last year. There are some good choices in this race.