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November 16th, 2019:

Lining up for the runoff

Runoffs always provide focus.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner is rallying the support of state and national Democrats as he seeks to fend off Tony Buzbee in the December runoff to win a second term at the helm of Houston government.

One week into the runoff, Turner has gathered the endorsements of Harris County’s four Democratic Congress members — Lizzie Fletcher, Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee — the Texas Democratic Party, 15 Democratic state legislators and the three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court.

Also backing Turner is the Harris County AFL-CIO, which declined to endorse any mayoral candidate in the first leg of the race.

[…]

At a news conference Monday, some of Turner’s elected allies sought to tie Buzbee to President Donald Trump, for whom Buzbee once hosted a fundraiser at his River Oaks home. In response to attacks from Turner over his Trump ties, Buzbee has noted his past support for members of both parties, including Turner, and accused the mayor of trying to distract from his record by making the election a referendum on Trump.

Green, a Houston Democrat and perhaps the most vocal congressional proponent of impeaching Trump, on Monday urged Houstonians not to follow what he said is a growing trend of electing millionaires who lack political experience.

“We cannot allow this paradigm to persist,” said Green, D-Houston.

[…]

The endorsements could represent a minor boost to Turner but have little practical effect because voters already perceived him as a Democrat, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. It was only a matter of when, not if, Turner’s Democratic allies would get behind him, he added.

“To the extent that there was a tiny crack open for Tony Buzbee to claim he’s a Democrat, this probably shuts the door on that,” Jones said, noting that Buzbee has framed himself as an independent and sought to appeal to voters from both parties in the nonpartisan mayoral race.

Even before the endorsements, Jones said, Buzbee likely would have had trouble catching on with Democratic voters because he has yet to effectively counter the Trump attacks.

“Some of his actions, in terms of extravagant behavior and his outsider approach, just reinforce the idea that he’s the Houston version of Donald Trump, even though on a policy level that’s not the case,” Jones said. “But most voters aren’t looking that deep.”

I mostly agree with Mark Jones here, but I would add that these endorsements also provide some incentive to vote. Mayor Turner just needs his voters to show up. One intent of these endorsements is just to remind people that they still need to do that, because the race isn’t over yet. Job One in any election is to make sure your supporters know that there is an election and they need to vote in it.

Meanwhile, the firefighters have decided to go ahead and endorse Buzbee, which, I dunno, just seems kind of sad. I mean, they essentially recruited Dwight Boykins for the race rather than support Buzbee early on, and now after Boykins’s six percent showing they’re trudging over to Buzbee because I guess they feel like they have to do something. Good luck with that, I suppose.

Cynthia Bailey remains on District B runoff ballot

For now, at least.

Cynthia Bailey

A felon may remain on the runoff ballot in the Houston City Council District B race, a Harris County judge ruled on Friday, despite state law that may bar residents with felony convictions from seeking public office.

On Election Day, Cynthia Bailey qualified for the second and final runoff spot in District B, edging third-place finisher Renee Jefferson-Smith by 168 votes. Jefferson-Smith last week sued to remove Bailey from the ballot, arguing her 2007 conviction for theft of more than $200,000 made her ineligible to run.

Harris County 270th District Court Judge Dedra Davis on Friday denied Jefferson-Smith’s request to remove Bailey from the ballot, which would allow her a place in the runoff, said Oliver Brown, Bailey’s attorney.

The Texas Election Code is unclear on whether a felon may run for office. It bars candidates who have been “finally convicted” of a felony or who have not been “pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” though the law does not define these disabilities.

Brown said Bailey’s conviction is well known to voters, who can make an informed decision about whether this disqualifies her. He said District B residents can open the door to other felons to run for office if they elect Bailey.

“They can send a message to the city and state, that regardless of a candidate’s past, they believe in the redemption of citizens after they’ve been released by the Department of Corrections.”

See here for the background. Renee Jefferson Smith did not comment in the story, so we don’t know if she intends to appeal or let this be. Neither her campaign nor personal Facebook pages say anything about it, and her campaign hasn’t tweeted since May. We’re less than two weeks out from the start of early voting, and I presume mail ballots are being sent out as well, so it’s not clear to me that she could get a change now regardless. What happens after the election should Cynthia Bailey win is a matter we’ll address if and when it happens. In the meantime, the lesson I take from this is file the lawsuit after the August deadline and hope the issue gets decided then. And for Pete’s sake, let’s lobby the Lege to clean this up. I say that felons who complete their sentences should be free to vote and run for office as they see fit, but that notion will take a lot of work to pass. Better to start on that sooner than later.

Smoots-Thomas suspended from the bench

What you’d expect.

Alexandra Smoots-Thomas

A district court judge in Harris County has been suspended after she was indicted on federal wire fraud charges for allegedly misspending campaign donations.

Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, 44, will be removed from her bench without pay until the State Commission on Judicial Conduct determines otherwise, the oversight board said Tuesday, the same day it was presented with the indictment and ordered her suspension.

“We’re not surprised, but we’re still very disappointed that the state chose to take that action,” Smoots-Thomas’ attorney, Kent Schaffer, said. “It just adds to the fight that we have before us.

[…]

The State Commission on Judicial Conduct has the authority to suspend judges, but can only recommend their removal to the Texas Supreme Court after conducting an investigation, according to the commission’s procedures.

Smoots-Thomas has rarely sat on her bench this year, Schaffer said, because she has breast cancer and has undergone several rounds of treatments.

See here for the background. I guess I can understand being disappointed in this entirely expected decision, but I don’t know what else might have happened. I can’t imagine a scenario in which a judge in similar circumstances would not be suspended. If nothing else, anyone appearing before her might reasonably question whether she could be on her game, since there would obviously be bigger things on her mind than whatever case was being argued.

I know that Judge Smoots-Thomas is collecting signatures to get on the ballot next year. I don’t know at this time if anyone else is doing the same. I’ll be surprised if that isn’t the case, but stranger things have happened. In the meantime, we’ll see how long this investigation takes.