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October 21st, 2019:

UH poll: Turner 43, Buzbee 23, King 8

Another encouraging poll for Mayor Turner as early voting starts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner retains a wide lead over his opponents, most of whom have failed to gain traction with weeks left until Election Day, according to a University of Houston poll released Sunday.

The poll, published on the eve of early voting, shows Turner with 43.5 percent support among likely voters, followed by lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee at 23.4 percent. Bill King, Turner’s 2015 runoff opponent, trails with 7.8 percent, while 6.8 percent of voters said they support Councilman Dwight Boykins.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell was backed by 1.2 percent of respondents, while 0.2 percent of voters said they support one of the other seven candidates. Another 17.2 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.

For the poll, 501 likely voters were surveyed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Released weeks after a prior survey found Turner leading with 37 percent support, the new survey shows the mayor inching closer to the 50 percent-plus-one vote he would need to win the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the election will head to a December runoff between the top two finishers.

A significant share of undecided voters said they are considering Turner or view him favorably, results that indicate he has a narrow but unlikely path to outright victory on Nov. 5.

“Anything’s possible,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs and co-director of the poll. “Prior to this poll, I would have put my money on a runoff. But if you look at the undecided voters, there’s a possibility he could squeak it out in the general.”

See here for more on that previous poll, which was done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, and here for the details of this poll with the usual caveats about how tricky it is to poll municipal elections applying. I would not read this as evidence of Turner increasing his lead – it’s just two polls, two individual data points, there’s not nearly enough data to make claims about a trend – but it is corroborating evidence that Turner has a solid lead, that Buzbee hasn’t gotten much traction despite his millions in ads, and that Bill King is basically an afterthought. As with the other poll, Turner has a healthy, majority-support lead in runoffs with both Buzbee and King. This poll also found that a lot of undecideds lean Turner, and he’s pick up most of Boykins’ voters in overtime. Finally, Donald Trump has a 63-32 unfavorable rating in Houston, so the runoff campaign ads write themselves. All told, a whole lot of good and not much bad for Turner. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he could win in November – I think the path for that is too narrow – but he’s clearly in good shape.

So now what with Bonnen?

Democrats will wait and see.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

On Thursday night, as Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s political fate continued to hang in the balance, some of the most influential Democrats were in El Paso for a town hall and were split on whether the first-term leader should immediately resign from his post.

“That decision, ultimately, isn’t mine,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, a top Bonnen ally. “Like all other situations, that decision is best left up to the voters in the state of Texas. I trust them.”

“There is this urgency to respond in kind with negativity or delight in this situation,” Moody added. “[But] I am sad about this, I am disappointed in it. I don’t delight in this.”

Others were less measured.

“He’s done damage to the body,” state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin, the new head of House Democrats’ campaign arm, told a reporter for The Texas Tribune. “And for that reason, I think he should resign.” (Just months before, at the end of the legislative session, Israel said Bonnen was “the right man at this point in Texas history.”)

Those two answers — and that vast departure from where most members stood earlier this year — provide a glimpse into a caucus that’s navigating how to respond as the minority party to the drama that has dogged Bonnen over the past few months.

[…]

On Wednesday evening, roughly half the House Democratic Caucus met in Austin for a meeting that was already on the calendar. The Bonnen issue, of course, took center stage, and while no formal action was taken, multiple members there said there was talk of calling another meeting sometime soon to discuss potential further actions.

“I think there’s a desire to bring the entire caucus together with a specific agenda to have a discussion that could result in a vote,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told the Tribune on Thursday. “Certainly [Wednesday’s] discussion was clear that there was no one in the room who felt anything but anger and betrayal and disappointment.”

“The general consensus … was that people should feel free to put their own messages out there and that we should be united as a caucus moving forward,” Howard said. “So far I’ve heard nothing that would indicate that we’re not all on the same page.”

But there has been variation in Democrats’ public positions. There’s also the question of whether it would be politically advantageous for Democrats to act beyond what the caucus chair, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, has already said — that the latest “revelations are incompatible” with Bonnen serving another term — before Republicans have a chance to move on the issue themselves.

I don’t have any problem with deliberation, and the potential is there for the Republicans to fracture and generate some heat for us, but at some point we need to be speaking with one voice on the topic. Pick a direction and take it.

Meanwhile, the Republicans use harsh language.

After gathering behind closed doors for hours Friday, the House GOP Caucus released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” language used by Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants during a secretly recording meeting with hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

“Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members,” the statement said. “Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership.”

[…]

“We completely and fully support the [House] members mentioned in the recording,” the statement said. “Further, the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials.”

The statement was released as members, on the tail end of their annual retreat, left the ballroom at a resort in Austin. Most of them declined to comment as they departed the meeting, which was originally scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted for just over four hours.

But soon after, a group of four Republican lawmakers from North Texas — state Reps. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall; Matt Shaheen, R-Plano; Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano — issued a joint statement calling on Bonnen “to work diligently to prove to all 149 House members and, more importantly, to the people of Texas, that he can rebuild trust and continue to faithfully lead the House and our state forward.

“If that is not possible, the people of Texas expect and deserve a new Speaker of the House during the 87th Legislature,” the members said.

You can see the full statement here. Like I said, there’s plenty of potential for further dissension on the GOP side, and it’s fine to give them some room to express it. Just have a strategy and a plan to execute it, that’s all I ask.

Endorsement watch: Turner and Brown

The Chron saved its biggest endorsement editorials for the Sunday edition. I did expect them to endorse Mayor Turner for another term, and they delivered, with more of an emphasis on the campaign than I would have thought.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Bats aren’t blind. The Great Wall of China is not really visible from space. And vaccines do not cause autism.

Many people believe these myths because they’ve heard them repeated enough times. Statements that are familiar start to feel right, regardless of accuracy.

It’s called illusory truth effect. And it’s been a powerful weapon in Houston’s rough-and-tumble mayoral race.

Houstonians have been told – at forums, in news articles, and in a barrage of TV ads – that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tenure has been mired in corruption, that Houston has grown into a dangerous place under his watch, that he ignored the will of the people on firefighter raises.

If true, this editorial board would have no qualms about recommending that voters throw the bum out.

But facts – the real ones, scrutinized thoroughly by the Chronicle’s reporters in the newsroom – show a different picture.

While weak ethics rules make pay-to-play politics a perennial concern in Houston and Harris County politics, Turner’s opponents have failed to land a bombshell that proves he has abused his power. The most high-profile attempt to discredit Turner, involving a $95,000 “executive internship” created at the airport for a man who called Turner his mentor, fizzled after it was reported that the salary was in line with the employee’s experience and education, including three degrees.

While Houston’s violent crime has risen 6 percent during Turner’s tenure, FBI data show the rate of nonviolent crime has fallen 9 percent and overall crime has dropped 6 percent. Houston, like many major cities across America, has experienced a significant drop in crime over the past 30 years.

On Prop B, the voter-approved measure that granted firefighters pay parity with police – and, on average, a 29 percent raise in a cash-strapped, revenue-capped city – the mayor made good on his word to implement the measure, and the consequences, including layoffs, before the police union successfully overturned it in court.

[…]

Bats aren’t blind and neither are we. Prop B showed Turner was willing to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing. That’s the vision Houston needs, and it’s why we recommend Sylvester Turner, once again, for mayor.

It’s a solid editorial, and obviously I agree with its conclusion. We could have a conversation about the media’s role in those “myths” – the KPRC story about the “intern” was an embarrassment – but what’s done is done. And if as the polls suggest Turner wins and we never have to hear the words “Tony Buzbee” again, then I’ll live with it.

Over in the Controller’s race, the Chron endorses Chris Brown, in a less ringing fashion.

Chris Brown

In a city where the mayor’s office holds as much power as it does in Houston, checks and balances to that power ought to be nurtured and protected.

One of the biggest — and let’s face it, one of the few — checks on the Houston mayor’s office is the city controller. That office, elected independently every four years, is responsible for reviewing the city’s finances and reporting on their soundness without fear or favor.

Just as important, the controller has sole discretion to decide which areas of government — from the police to affordable housing to garbage collection, or any of the hundreds of functions of City Hall — should be subjected to performance audits.

Orlando Sanchez, the former City Council member and three-term Harris County treasurer, argues that incumbent Controller Chris Brown has failed to make adequate use of his auditing authority and thus provide the vitally important independent check on Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Sanchez, who was voted out as Harris County treasurer in 2018, raises a legitimate concern: A review of audits authorized by Brown reveals mostly efforts to find ways City Hall can save money — always a welcome goal — and few sweeping assessments of high-profile city departments, which could help hold the administration accountable.

Consider how many of the major debates involving the races for mayor and Council have turned on questions about operations at major city departments — from police use of body cameras and no-knock warrants to the city’s use of drainage fee revenues and how Turner processed Harvey recovery funds.

But while Sanchez promises to use the audit function more aggressively, he has no experience doing so. As county treasurer, he mostly focused on writing checks and managing the county’s bills. The kind of aggressive, independent audit function he promises would be an entirely new role for him.

Honestly, the cold statement that Orlando Sanchez has no relevant experience after twelve years in elective office is all you really need. Use that paragraph in any future story that mentions Orlando Sanchez, if there ever is a need for there to be a story that mentions Orlando Sanchez. And vote for Chris Brown, he’s fine.

Early voting for the November 2019 election starts today

From the inbox.

Early Voting Starts Today

Monday, October 21 to Friday, November 1

Voting is so much more convenient this year, and you can experience that starting at 7AM on October 21, when Early Voting starts. To find a location near you, all you have to do is check out our Poll Finder Map at HarrisVotes.com, text VOTE to 1-833-937-0700 or message us on our Facebook page.

Better than a Google search, these easy-to-use tools give you a more accurate set of options and directions than you would by searching online on the day that you vote.

Before you go to the polls, don’t forget to do your homework— go to our Your Vote Counts dashboard to find out more about how this election impacts your community. You can also print your sample ballot and bring it with you to the polls.

You can also get help if you have accessibility or translation needs. By law, you’ll need to ask your election clerks for help first, and then we’ll get you started!

Start planning now to #VoteYOURWay, whenever and with whoever you want!

The early voting map is here, with all locations open from 7 AM to 7 PM except for Sunday the 27th, when they are open from 1 to 6 PM. There are six new locations, including the long-awaited ones on the UH and TSU campuses, and a couple of new addresses for previous locations, so check out the map and know where you want to go. Metro will offer free rides to the polls on Saturday the 26th and Election Day, November 5th.

I will of course track the early voting numbers as they come in. This year will be different because of the new locations, and perhaps because of the extended hours during the first week, but it’s always a worthwhile exercise to monitor the progress. For comparison purposes, here are the final daily EV totals from 2015, 2013, and 2009. For a bit of extra reading, here’s a thing I wrote in 2015 about who exactly votes in these elections. Happy voting, y’all.