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December 9th, 2019:

Interview with Elisa Cardnell

Elisa Cardnell

Hey, you know what time it is? I’ll tell you – it’s time for primary interviews. I know, the filing deadline isn’t till later today, and we’re still in early voting for the city runoffs, but there’s no time to wait. Early voting for the 2020 primaries begins ten weeks (!) from today, and there are a lot of races to cover. I won’t come close to covering them all – I may return to some in the runoffs – but I’m going to try to get to the main races of interest for local folks.

We start with CD02, which was a race of interest in 2018 and which has a higher profile this time around. Elisa Cardnell was one of the first new candidates of the cycle, and has been a busy campaigner ever since. A Rice graduate who served five years of active duty in the Navy and more after that in the Navy Reserve, Cardnell is now a high school math and physics teacher. As noted before, I knew her at Rice – we were in the MOB together – and have been Facebook friends for a long time. Here’s the interview:

I don’t have an Election 2020 page yet, and as far as I know Erik Manning hasn’t put together a spreadsheet yet. I’ll do something to track all this at some point. In the meantime, I expect to run interviews this week and next week, take Christmas week off from running them, and then resume the week of the 30th and keep going till early voting. No pressure, right?

Willie D will not be on the Democratic primary ballot

He wanted to run for Commissioners Court but his application was rejected because of his previous felony conviction.

Willie Dennis

Former Geto Boys rapper William “Willie D” Dennis wants to run for Harris County Commissioners Court, but local Democratic party officials rejected his application to get on the ballot, citing his criminal history and a state law that has become a lightning rod in north Houston politics over the last month.

Dennis filed an application Thursday with the Harris County Democratic Party, seeking to challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for the court’s Precinct 1 seat. He said he wants to bring his unique perspective to government.

On Saturday, the party notified him that he was ineligible because of his 2010 felony conviction for wire fraud charges, stemming from an iPhone sales scam.

The party cited a state law that forbids candidates from running for public office if they have been convicted of felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.”

The statute doesn’t define that phrase and has invited varying interpretations that have not been definitively resolved by courts. It is currently the subject of a contentious lawsuit surrounding the stalled runoff in the Houston city council’s District B election.

“I would add that this is not my decision,” said party chair Lillie Schechter. “We follow the Texas Election Code.”

Officials told Dennis that they would reconsider the ruling if he could provide examples in which candidates with felony convictions were allowed to assume office, Schechter said.

Dennis said he was looking at options to appeal the decision. It marks the second time this year his political plans have been foiled by his conviction. His campaign for the District B seat was similarly derailed by eligibility concerns.

“I want my rights back — all of them,” Dennis told the Chronicle Saturday. “I did my time, now give me my rights.”

See here and here for the story of his attempt to run for District B. As far as the ongoing District B runoff situation goes, the latest news is that the hearing we were supposed to get on Friday was rescheduled for today. If there’s an immediate ruling that may provide clarity for both of those situations.

As to why the HCDP would not accept this ballot application when the city accepted Cynthia Bailey’s (and several others’), I’d say it’s simply a difference of interpretation. William Dennis himself said that he decided not to file in District B because he didn’t want to risk perjuring himself by swearing on the affidavit that he hadn’t been finally convicted of a felony. The initial ruling in the lawsuit filed by Renee Jefferson Smith that allowed Cynthia Bailey to stay on the runoff ballot gave him the confidence to try again, but the underlying law remains unclear. I don’t blame him for being upset and confused by this. This needs to be fixed by the Legislature, ideally in a way that allows people who have completed their sentences to fully participate in our – and, ideally, their – democracy again. Until then, we have a mess.

Another “resign to run” question

Reply hazy, ask again.

Josh Flynn

A state law that deems certain officeholders ineligible for the Legislature is raising questions about whether Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is allowed to run for the seat while keeping his current position as a Harris County Department of Education trustee.

Flynn, one of three Republicans to file for the House District 138 primary in March, joined the HCDE board in January after winning the Position 4, Precinct 3 election in 2018. The board elected Flynn president at his first meeting.

The law in question is a section of the Texas Constitution that deems “any person holding a lucrative office under the United States” ineligible for the Legislature. The law does not define “lucrative office,” but a 1992 Texas Supreme Court opinion issued by then-justice John Cornyn determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Flynn and his fellow HCDE trustees receive $6 per meeting, as required by state law.

The Constitution and the Supreme Court opinion do not appear to specify when “lucrative” officeholders must resign in order to be eligible. However, a 1995 attorney general letter opinion determined that the law “does not disqualify the holder of a lucrative office from running for the legislature … if the officeholder resigns from the lucrative office before filing for the legislature.”

Asked about his resignation plans, Flynn wrote in an email, “If I were to win the election in November of 2020, then I will resign my position with the HCDE.”

[…]

Kay Smith, a former HCDE trustee, resigned her position on the board in November 2015 to mount an unsuccessful run for House District 130 the following year. Eric Dick, a current board member, is running for Houston City Council and was able to retain his seat, department officials confirmed to the Chronicle earlier this year. The constitutional “lucrative office” provision applies to the Legislature and does not reference municipal offices.

In a statement, Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said, “We have not yet certified any candidate for the ballot, and will evaluate any challenges as required by law.”

Am I the only one who remembers Roy Morales, who not only did not resign to run for City Council in 2007, or for Mayor in 2009, or for Congress against Gene Green in 2010? I don’t remember there being a question raised about whether or not Morales needed to resign for any of those races, but I admit it’s long enough ago that I just might have forgotten. I suppose if “the Legislature” is the only office that one could seek where this provision matters then it wasn’t an issue. Sure seems like this would be a good thing to clean up in the next Lege, along with that question about the rights of felons who have completed their sentences. In the meantime, we’ll see what the county GOP says about this.

The “Has Not Yet Filed” list

Today is the actual, official filing deadline. Anyone who has not filed for a spot in the primary by 6 PM today is not a candidate for a Democratic nomination in 2020. A whole lot of people have already filed, and a whole lot more will file today – I’m going to have a lot to talk about with this tomorrow and for the rest of the week – but there are still a few notable absences (with the caveat that the SOS list may not be complete). So with that in mind, here are the “why aren’t they there yet?” list to ponder as the hours tick down.

US Senate: MJ Hegar is not yet listed. John Love, the Midland City Council member who announced his candidacy in October, has ended his campaign, on the grounds that he lacked the time and finances. Good for him for recognizing his situation, and I hope he looks at 2022 for another possible statewide campaign. Eleven candidates have filed so far, Hegar will make it 12 when she makes it official.

US Congress: Reps. Joaquin Castro (CD20) and Colin Allred (CD32) are not on the list as of Sunday evening. Some of the more recent entrants in CDs 03 and 31 – Tanner Do, Chris Suprun, Dan Jangigian – are not yet on the list. Much-ballyhooed CD28 challenger Jessica Cisneros is not yet on the list. Wendy Davis has CD21 to herself right now, as Jennie Leeder has not yet appeared. CDs 19, 27, and 36 do not yet have Democratic candidates. And while this has nothing to do with our side, the Republican field in CD22 is mind-bogglingly large. Good luck with that.

Railroad Commissioner: Kelly Stone had not filed as of Sunday, but she has an event on her candidate Facebook page announcing her filing at 2:30 today. Former State Rep. Robert Alonzo has joined the field.

SBOE: All positions are accounted for. Letti Bresnahan remains the only candidate in District 5, the most flippable one on the board. I still can’t find any information online about her candidacy.

State Senate: No candidates yet in SDs 12, 18, 22, or 28. Not surprising, as none are competitive, but a full slate is still nice. Sens. Borris Miles and Eddie Lucio now each have two opponents, the field in SD19 is four deep, and Rep. Cesar Blanco still has SD29 all to himself.

State House: Far as I can tell, the only incumbent who hasn’t filed yet is Rep. Rene Oliveira in HD37. Of the top targets for 2020 based on Beto’s performance, HDs 23, 43, and 84 do not yet have Democratic candidates. Those are if not the bottom three on the competitiveness scale, with the first two trending away from us, they’re close to it. If they go unfilled it will still be a waste, but about the smallest possible waste. Rep. Ron Reynolds does not have a challenger. Sean Villasana, running for the HD119 seat being vacated by Rep. Roland Gutierrez as he runs for SD19, has the field to himself so far. In all of the big counties, the only one missing a Dem right now is HD99 in Tarrant, which is not particularly competitive.

District Courts: Limiting myself to Harris County, Judges Jaclanel McFarland (133rd Civil), Ursula Hall (165th Civil), Elaine Palmer (215th Civil), and George Powell (351st Criminal) have not filed. Other candidates have filed in the 165th and 351st, as have candidates in the 337th Criminal (Herb Ritchie) and 339th Criminal (Maria Jackson) where the incumbents are known to not be running again. Alex Smoots-Thomas now has an opponent for the 164th, and I am told another may be on the way.

Harris County offices: All of the candidates I’ve tracked for District Attorney, County Attorney, Sheriff, and Tax Assessor have now filed; I’m told another candidate may be filing for Tax Assessor, but I don’t know any more than that. David Brown has not yet filed for HCDE Position 7 At Large, but he was at the CEC meeting yesterday and I expect to see him on the ballot. Luis Guajardo has not yet filed for Commissioners Court in Precinct 3. There’s still no JP candidates in Precincts 4 and 8, and no Constable in Precinct 8. And Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen is still missing. Could that mean something? We’ll find out today. I’ll have a report tomorrow.