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December 18th, 2019:

Interview with Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

We come to the end of our State Board of Education interviews. For all its dysfunction, the SBOE plays an important role in the maintenance and operation of Texas’ public schools, and it needs the best people it can get to serve on it. Like the other Democratic candidates, Debra Kerner is a career educator, with a speciality in speech-language pathology. She served a six-year term on the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees, winning office in the initial Democratic wave of 2008. She is also the current State Democratic Committeewoman for Senate District 17 and a co-founder and former president of the Meyerland Area Democrats. Here’s the interview:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6

The female face of City Council

Houston City Council is majority female for the first time in over a decade.

Starting next year, a record nine women will serve on Houston City Council amid a shift toward a younger and more progressive council for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s second term.

The new council will include no more than two Hispanic and no Asian members, however, with Anglo council members holding at least eight seats and the other six represented by African-American members.

It remains unclear whether District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos, the lone Latino on City Council, will be joined by Isabel Longoria, who finished 12 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Karla Cisneros in the District H runoff, according to unofficial returns.

[…]

The nine total women on council edges the previous record of eight who were elected in 2005.

The council’s African-American representation also will expand from four to six.

Fun fact: That Council class of 2005 included Addie Wiseman and Shelley Sekula Gibbs. I don’t really have a point to make here, I’m just noting that because I remember things like that.

In other Council news:

Regardless of who wins the District H runoff, Latino council members will hold no more than two seats out of 16, in a city where Latinos make up 44.5 percent of the population, according to 2018 census data.

Part of that disparity comes from Latinos making up a smaller share of the electorate: Houston’s registered voters are 23 percent Latino, according to data from Hector De Leon, a former communications director for the Harris County Clerk’s Office who studies Houston-area voting patterns.

“African Americans and Anglos are roughly 45 percent of the population combined, but they constitute 85 percent of the total vote. And elections are determined by people who turn out and vote,” [Jay] Aiyer said.

Registration among young, Latino voters has increased “dramatically” in recent years, in part because of President Donald Trump and mobilization efforts by political groups, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at University of Houston.

Houston’s Latino voting blocs also have fewer options, he said, because of the city’s use of at-large positions, which are elected on citywide basis.

“The problem is that the minority votes are compacted in one part of the city so it makes it very hard for them to win an election,” Cortina said. “They get drowned, for lack of a better word, by the votes of the majority.”

To strengthen Latino representation on council and in other offices, [CM Robert] Gallegos said he intends to pitch the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the idea of starting a mentoring program to educate young Hispanics about pursuing careers in politics.

In the meantime, Gallegos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I represent the Hispanic community in the city of Houston, even though I’m a district council member.”

I take issue with what Professor Cortina says – I’m pretty sure a review of the Census tracts in Houston would prove his statement to be inaccurate. If nothing else, Sandra Rodriguez came close to winning District J, which is on the opposite end of the city from H and I. The situation isn’t great right now, but it’s not hopeless.

Be that as it may, let me put this out there for you: The three top Latinx vote-getters in At Large races were Yolanda Navarro Flores (At Large #1, 18.30% in Harris County), Emily Munoz deToto (At Large #2, 21.09%), and Jose Gonzalez (At Large #3, 19.24%). The three of them combined raised literally no money. There were five Latinx candidates in the two open seat At Large races (Cristel Bastida and Javier Gonzalez in #4, Ralph Garcia, Catherine Garcia Flowers, and Sonia Rivera in #5). None of them raised more than a trivial amount of money, though the three in At Large #5 combined for over 27% of the vote, enough to have led the field if they were one candidate.

My point here is that stronger Latinx candidates in the citywide races would also help. I don’t have much to say about Orlando Sanchez, but he came within six points of being elected Controller, and if there had been a third candidate in that race there likely would have been a runoff between him and incumbent Chris Brown, and who knows what might have happened in that race. The Latinx At Large candidates in 2019 didn’t amount to much, but at least they were running. In 2015, there was a grand total of two Latinx candidates in At Large races: Moe Rivera in #2, and Roy Morales in #4, who squeaked into the runoff where he got crushed by Amanda Edwards. I feel like I’ve been saying this since Joe Trevino lost in the At Large #5 runoff to Jolanda Jones in 2007, an election in which there were 25K total votes cast, but maybe focus a little on recruiting strong Latinx candidates to run in the At Large races, and then support them financially? Just a thought.

This is also a possibility.

This near-absence of Latinos undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government and leads to an inadequate representation of Latino preferences in city policymaking. Houston’s political, economic and societal leaders must take action immediately to insure that in the 2023 election we do not witness a repeat of the 2019 election.

There are two principal types of representation, descriptive and substantive. Descriptive representation reflects the extent to which the composition of a legislature mirrors the population it represents. With Latinos accounting for 6 percent of the council and for 45percent of the population, it’s clear Houston earns a failing grade in descriptive representation. This grade will sink even lower with the dearth of Asian Americans on the council; 7 percent of Houston residents are Asian American.

Substantive representation reflects the extent to which members of a legislature promote the preferences of their constituents. While not an ironclad rule, the American Politics literature suggests that, all other things being roughly equal, an individual’s policy preferences are better represented by a legislator from their own ethnic or racial group. With one Latino council member, the substantive policy interests of Latino residents are being sub-optimally represented in crucial policy areas ranging from public safety and social services to road construction and job creation.

Four initiatives can help boost the number of Latinos in the council horseshoe in four years time.

First, eliminate the city’s five at-large council seats and replace them with five single-member district seats in addition to the existing 11 single-member district seats. The last time a Latino was elected to one of the five at-large positions was in 1999, with nine consecutive elections (45 separate contests) in a row where no Latino has been victorious. This year, all five at-large races were decided in a runoff, yet among the 10 runoff candidates there were zero Latinos.

Once the 2020 US Census data are available, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council could easily abolish the five at-large districts and create 16 new, less populous, single-member districts for the 2023 election. Since the shift from at-large to single-member districts enhances minority voting rights, it should be bullet-proof from legal challenge. If the number of single-member districts were increased to 16, it would be possible to draw five or six districts where Latino registered voters constitute an absolute or near absolute majority as well as one district where Asian Americans account for the largest share of voters.

That’s an op-ed from oft-quoted poli sci prof Mark Jones. I personally see no reason why Latinx candidates can’t get elected to at large positions. It’s not like there have been a bunch of frustrating near misses from well-regarded and sufficiently-funded candidates. We did elect Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz to citywide positions in the past. Jones’ other points include things like more voter registration, a focused effort on Latino turnout in city elections, and more recruitment and support of Latinx candidates. I’m on board with all of that, and I would argue that those things can and will lead to Latinx candidates getting elected citywide. If I’m wrong about that, I’ll gladly concede the point about getting rid of At Large districts. In the meantime, I do think there’s some value in having At Large Council members, as a backup for the districts when there’s an unexpected vacancy, as there was in District H in 2009 following Adrian Garcia’s election as Sheriff, and in District K in 2018 following the death of Larry Green. I’m not opposed to Jones’ proposal, but I don’t think it’s necessary to solve the problem.

We have a filing failure

In typical fashion, it’s bizarre.

Judge George Powell

One of the more bizarre things to happen during the recent filing period: Judge George Powell had his filing rejected because of a filing fee mistake. So he sued.

Powell filed on the last day, and according to the suit, he was told by a party person incorrectly that the fee is $1500, when it was $2500. However, the party would not allow him to correct the mistake, so the lawsuit was filed. They did not have to go far.

Powell and his lawyer, the venerable Kent Schaffer, had a TRO hearing today. After one judge recused, another did conduct a hearing, they were granted a TRO.

Full hearing in early January.

If Judge Powell is not allowed back on the Democratic primary ballot, his challenger [Natalia Cornelio] (who currently works for Comm. Rodney Ellis) would become the de facto Dem. nominee.

That’s from Miya Shay’s Facebook page – as of Tuesday morning, I didn’t see any news stories on this. Stace notes that Judge Powell, who was elected in 2016, should have known the rules, which have not changed any time recently. (That filing fee is not mandatory, by the way. You can collect 750 petition signatures – attend any Dem event in the months before the filing period and you will have multiple opportunities to sign judicial candidate petitions for this – and pay no fee, or collect 250 and pay the $2,500.) To be sure, he should have been given the correct information by whoever processed his filing at the HCDP, and they should do a review to see what went wrong. But in the end, this reinforces two things that I and others say over and over again:

1) The rules for filing for office are well-known and easy to learn. Any marginally competent campaign professional can properly advise you on how to comply with them. There’s really no excuse for this kind of failure.

2) Don’t wait to file till the very last minute if you can help it. Had Judge Powell filed a day earlier, he would have had the time to get this fixed. As it is, his fate is in the hands of another judge. If you someday decide you might want to run for office, don’t let this happen to you. Give yourself some extra time when you file.

(FWIW, Judge Powell was admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, along with several other felony court judges, for violating state law by ordering hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to thousands of poor defendants. I was inclined to support a primary opponent in his race anyway, so whether he makes it back onto the ballot or not is of no great interest to me. There were two other incumbent judges who received that sanction, Herb Ritchie (who is stepping down) and Hazel Jones, who did not get a primary opponent.)

UPDATE: On a not-really-related note, HCDE Trustee Josh Flynn has been disqualified from the Republican primary ballot for HD138. He would have had to resign to have been allowed on the ballot.