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November 19th, 2019:

Interview with Shelley Kennedy

Shelley Kennedy

District C has been represented by Republicans and Democrats over the years, from the likes of Vince Ryan and Ellen Cohen to Martha Wong and Ann Clutterbuck. This cycle it showed a distinctive Democratic lean, with about 60% of the total vote going to candidates with a Democratic history and putting two Dems in the runoff. Shelley Kennedy is an entrepreneur who runs a health care consulting and wellness company who has served on the boards of BikeHouston, the Human Rights Campaign, Keep Houston Beautiful Commission, and the Independent Police Oversight Board. She’s also a longtime Democratic activist who has served on the State Democratic Executive Committee and for two terms as the Chair in Senate District 15. Here’s my interview with her:

You can still refer to the Erik Manning spreadsheet for your race and candidate information. The July finance reports that include District C are here, and the 30 day finance reports are here.

Legislative runoff elections set for January 28

This came out to basically no fanfare on Friday:

Here’s the announcement:

Governor Greg Abbott today issued proclamations setting Tuesday, January 28, 2020 as the date for special runoff elections to fill three vacant Texas House District seats. The early voting period for these runoff elections will begin Tuesday, January 21, 2020.

The following Texas House Districts are included in the special runoff election date:

The Texas House District 28 seat in Fort Bend County vacated by the Honorable John Zerwas. (Read the proclamation)

The Texas House District 100 seat in Dallas County vacated by the Honorable Eric Johnson. (Read the proclamation)

The Texas House District 148 seat in Harris County vacated by the Honorable Jessica Farrar. (Read the proclamation)

The key bit of the proclamation is this: “WHEREAS, Section 2.025(d) of the Texas Election Code provides that the runoff election must be held not earlier than the 70th day or later than the 77th day after the date the final canvass of the main election is completed”. You can see that statute here. It’s pretty straightforward, which is why I always say I Am Not A Lawyer when I try to interpret legal matters. I will say, I did get the explanation of the early voting period for this correct. The reason why there are only four days of early voting for these runoffs is because Monday the 20th is MLK Day, and there is no voting on federal holidays. (*) We have had this happen in legislative runoffs before, most recently in 2016 with the special election runoff for HD118.

As Campos notes:

To put this in perspective, Early Voting in Person in the 2020 Texas Democratic Party Primaries begins on Tuesday, February 18, 2018. That is three weeks after the January 28 special election runoff and probably a week after the winner is sworn into office.

That makes this a huge challenge for the candidates, who will be competing for attention with all of the primary campaigns and who may themselves have to run in competitive primaries. Just having to explain to people that they have to vote in January and then again a few weeks later is headache-inducing. And note that early voting for the primaries starts on a Tuesday as well, because Monday the 17th is Presidents Day. Federal holidays, y’all. Anyway, now is a great time to get involved with the Eliz Markowitz and/or Anna Eastman campaigns. These runoffs may not be next month, but they’ll be here sooner than you think.

(*) Yes, I know many people would like to make Election Day a federal holiday. It’s a great idea! Be that as it may, when there’s a federal holiday during an early voting period in Texas, early voting is off for that day.

HFT may join lawsuit to block TEA takeover

That’s a lot of acronyms, so just read this.

Houston ISD’s largest teachers union is considering whether to join a lawsuit filed by the district’s school board that aims to stop the expected ouster of elected trustees by the Texas Education Agency.

Houston Federation of Teachers President Zeph Capo said the union is expected to decide this week whether to take part in the lawsuit, which claims TEA officials do not have legal authority to replace the district’s school board and would violate the federal Voting Rights Act in doing so. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced earlier this month that he plans to temporarily strip power from HISD’s elected trustees and install an appointed board, citing three reasons: chronically low academic performance at Wheatley High School; a state investigation that substantiated several allegations of misconduct by trustees; and the continued presence of a state-appointed conservator monitoring HISD.

“We do not feel the students and teachers are anyone’s first interest at this particular point,” Capo said. “We’re having our legal specialist looking at the Voting Rights Act and a few other things, to determine whether we could actually intervene in HISD’s lawsuit. I suspect that’s the way we would go.”

[…]

Legal experts have expressed skepticism about whether the state is violating the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the administration of elections. They noted all voters in HISD — not just black and Hispanic residents — would be impacted by the ouster of their elected officials.

The HFT likely would not have legal standing to fight the state’s authority to install an appointed board because the union cannot represent Houston ISD in court. However, the union’s lawyers could have legal standing to argue the TEA would violate the rights of voters in Houston, as long as a plaintiff resides within one of HISD’s nine single-member voting districts.

“We’re going to take care of that,” Capo said. “There will be voters. I’m making sure there’s one for every district.”

HISD trustees voted 4-1 in June to hire an outside counsel to represent the board for the purposes of the state’s investigation into potential trustee misconduct, which included allegations of Open Meetings Act violations and interfering with vendor contracts. At the time, HISD Board President Diana Dávila said trustees wanted legal clarification on aspects of the state law.

In subsequent months, the legal firm’s scope of work dramatically expanded, without another vote from trustees. The board’s lawyers now are seeing temporary and permanent injunctions that would stop state intervention. A hearing date for the temporary injunction request is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Austin.

See here for the background. There was another lawsuit filed in August as well, and at this point it’s not clear to me if these are two separate and active legal challenges, if they have been combined into one, or if the first one has been dropped or dismissed. It’s the same law firm representing HISD in this action, for what that’s worth. As I said before, I don’t expect this to be successful, but it’s not an unreasonable thing to try. I’ll be very interested to see what the HFT decides to do, and what happens at that hearing in December.

UPDATE: They have joined the lawsuit, and the state has filed a motion to dismiss.