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January 11th, 2020:

After-deadline filing review: Fort Bend County

Fort Bend County had a big Democratic breakthrough in 2018 (though the gains weren’t fully realized, as some Republican incumbents were not challenged), but you could have seen it coming in 2016, when Hillary Clinton carried the county by almost seven points over Donald Trump. That did not extend to the downballot candidates, however, as all of the Republicans held on, but by very close margins; outgoing Sheriff Troy Nehls’ 52.05% was the high water mark for the county. With a full slate of candidates, a ringing victory in 2018, and four more years of growth, Fort Bend Dems look poised to continue their takeover of the county. Possibly helping them in that quest is the fact that none of the three countywide incumbents are running for re-election. Here’s a brief look at who the Dems have running in these races.

Previous entries in this series are for the greater Houston area, Congress, state races, the Lege, and the courts.

County Attorney

The first race we come to is Fort Bend County Attorney, where the outgoing incumbent is Roy Cordes, who has been in office since 2006. Cordes was not challenged in 2016. A fellow named Steve Rogers is unopposed in the Republican primary. (Former Harris County Attorney Mike Stafford, whom Vince Ryan ousted in 2008, had filed for this race but subsequently withdrew.)

I am thankful that the Fort Bend Democratic Party has a 2020 candidates webpage, because the first person listed for this office is David Hunter, for whom I could not find any campaign presence via my own Google and Facebook searching. (In case you ever wondered what the value of SEO was.) The searching I did do led to this video, in which Hunter explains his practice as a DUI attorney. Sonia Rash has a civil rights background and clerked in the 269th Civil Court in Harris County. Bridgette Smith-Lawson is the Managing Attorney for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Regions 5 and 6.

Sheriff

This is also an open seat, as incumbent Troy Nehls of “Fsck Trump bumper sticker” fame is one of a bazillion Republicans running for CD22. Someone smarter than me will have to explain why he hasn’t had to resign from office after making his announcement. Three Republicans are in the primary for Sheriff, including Troy Nehl’s twin brother Trever Nehls. Yeah, you really can’t make this stuff up.

There are three Democrats running: Eric Fagan, Geneane Hughes, and Holland Jones. I’m going to crib from this Chron story to tell you this much: “The Democratic primary features retired Houston Police officer and former president of the African American Police Officers’ League, Eric Fagan, U.S. Army veteran and former commander of criminal investigations for the Missouri City Police Dept. Geneane Hughes and U.S. Navy veteran Holland Jones, a former captain for the office of Harris County Precinct 7 Constable, who is also a licensed attorney currently working as an adjunct professor for Texas Southern University.” Without knowing anything more about them, all three would be a clear upgrade over Troy Nehls.

Tax Assessor

As previously noted, all of these offices are now open seats. Longtime incumbent Patsy Schultz, first elected in 2004, has retired. Commissioners Court appointed Carrie Surratt as a replacement, but she has apparently not filed to run this year. Four Republicans are on the ballot for this seat.

Two Democrats are running. Neeta Sane served two terms on the HCC Board of Trustees, stepping down at the end of her term in 2019 to run for this office. She had run for FB County Treasurer in 2006. She has degrees in finance and chemistry and is a Certified Life Coach, which is her current profession. Carmen Turner is a licensed property agent, and I can’t tell a whole lot more about her from her webpage.

Commissioners Court

Here we finally see Republican incumbents running for re-election. Vincent Morales is up for his first re-election bid in Precinct 1, and Andy Meyers, who’s been around forever, is up in Precinct 3. Dems have a 3-2 majority on the Court thanks to KP George winning the office of County Judge and Ken DeMerchant winning in Precinct 4 in 2018. It had been 3-2 Republican from 2008 through 2016, with Richard Morrison winning two terms in the Republican-leaning Precinct 1, then 4-1 GOP after Morales’ win in 2016. Precinct 1 is a definite pickup opportunity, though not as clear-cut as Precinct 4 was in 2018. I’d call it a tossup, and here I’ll admit I did not look at the precinct data from 2018, so we’ll just leave it at that. Precinct 3 is the Republican stronghold and I’d expect it to stay red, with a small chance of flipping.

Democrats running in Precinct 1 include Jennifer Cantu, an Early Childhood Intervention therapist who was the Democratic candidate for HD85 in 2018 (interview for that here); Lynette Reddix, who has a multifaceted background and has served as President of the Missouri City & Vicinity branch of the NAACP; Albert Tibbs, realtor, minister, and non-profit CEO; and Jesse Torres, who doesn’t have any web presence but appears to be a Richmond city commissioner and former Lamar Consolidated trustee. The sole candidate for the much more aspirational Precinct 3 is Hope Martin, an Air Force veteran and healthcare administrator.

There are also candidates for Constable and JP and the various courts, which I am going to skip. I still may come back and review the Harris County Constable and JP candidates if I have the time. As always, I hope this has been useful to you.

DMN profile of MJ Hegar

Third in the series, and first of the candidates to jump in the race, back when we still thought Beto would be a candidate.

MJ Hegar

As she looks confidently to November, and a chance to try to pack U.S. Sen. John Cornyn “off to take his three taxpayer-funded pensions,” MJ Hegar hustles a brand she insists is distinctive.

She’s a combat veteran who sacrificed a dream career to sue the military on behalf of other women. She’s also a “mama bear,” fiercely protective of her two young sons, a working mom, a tattooed motorcyclist and a rural Texan — OK, she grew up near Austin, but her high school in Leander still has hundreds of kids in FFA.

Most of all, Hegar casts herself as “a disrupter.”

Unlike the last such person she says Texas elected to the Senate, GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, Hegar says she won’t sell out to party leaders or big donors, instead fighting for blue-collar Texans. Senate Republicans, though, assail her as “Hollywood Hegar,” someone too liberal for the state.

The one-third of Texans who are “in the middle” of the electorate distrust parties, Hegar said during a recent Texas Tribune event.

“They’re looking for character,” someone who will be a team player and “servant leader,” putting country above narrow or partisan interests, she said.

“We have not fielded a combat veteran as a Democrat in a statewide election in a state like Texas that is so pro-military and patriotic,” she told Tribune chief executive Evan Smith.

“It’s not just being a combat veteran, though,” she explained. “It’s being a disrupter. It’s not just being a veteran who goes along and does as they’re told. It’s being a veteran who took on the Pentagon, took on the establishment — and won.”

[…]

Hegar (pronounced hey-GARR) is 43 – in age, the median of the five major Democratic contenders. Last year, she came close to knocking off entrenched Central Texas GOP Congressman John Carter of Georgetown.

As she asks her party for its Senate nomination against Cornyn, Hegar is being followed at all her public appearances by three different “trackers,” who take video of her, she said an interview.

“A huge compliment,” she said. It means the GOP sees her as a threat, she noted. Of the Democrats running, Hegar has raised the most money by far — $2 million.

In 2016, Hegar cast a vote in her first primary, she recalled. She voted in the GOP primary “to stop Donald Trump,” she said. “I voted for Carly Fiorina and she had already dropped out.”

After September’s disclosures about suspension of U.S. military aid to Ukraine, Hegar backed an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s actions.

Following her recent Tribune appearance, several audience members old enough to be grandparents approached her to discuss climate change. Though Hegar said she favors “aggressive action,” she declined to bless a carbon tax measure, saying she wanted to make sure it doesn’t increase the cost of food for the middle class.

University of Texas law student Anthony Collier asked her position on Medicare for all, which would eliminate private health insurance.

Hegar said she favors preserving and improving Obamacare and adding a “public option” that would include subsidies for low-income people to be able to buy into Medicare. But she would keep private plans for Americans who want them, she said.

“We can still get there while offering people choice,” she told Collier.

Speaking to reporters after formally filing her papers Dec. 9, Hegar said people aren’t asking her about impeachment but about jobs, schools and health care.

“On some issues I’m this, on some issues I’m that,” she said. “I make up my mind based on what’s … right for my state. When Texans look at me, they don’t see a progressive or moderate. They see a bad-ass, ass-kicking Texas woman.”

Hegar probably comes into this race as the best-known candidate, thanks to her 2018 Congressional race against John Carter and the publicity she was able to generate thanks to her viral ad. The skimpy polling information we have shows her leading the primary field, though with numbers small enough for that to not really mean anything. She’s done the best at fundraising, but she’s raised Congressional numbers, not Senate numbers. We’ll see what the Q4 report has to say.

Hegar is more of a personality candidate, at least at this point, than an issues candidate, though as you can see from the story that she does have coherent positions on issues. As someone who talks to a lot of candidates and who hears a lot of answers of varying degrees of depth and understanding on basic issues, I tend to appreciate the latter more than the former, though history would suggest I’m in the minority. I also don’t want to overstate the case here or to be insulting to Hegar’s substance – she has plenty to say about issues, she just tends to lead with the “bad-ass, ass-kicking” stuff. Which, let’s be honest, is almost certainly a wise strategic move, one that makes an equal amount of sense in a future campaign against a milquetoast enabler like John Cornyn. Read the story for more.

(Previously: Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards.)

TEA appeals takeover-delay injunction

This isn’t settled just yet.

Texas Education Agency officials said they filed an appeal Thursday to overturn an injunction by a Travis County judge blocking it from replacing Houston ISD’s trustees with a state-appointed board of managers.

The appeal was sent to the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals, and if a panel of judges sides with the agency, it could resume its work to strip Houston ISD’s board of power.

If the injunction is upheld, the TEA would not be able to move forward until a lawsuit by the Houston ISD board of trustees has been decided. Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy on Wednesday set a hearing date for June 22.

[…]

Shepherd ISD, a small school district just south of Lake Livingston also is targeted for a board takeover by the TEA. That district also sought a temporary injunction this year to stop the education agency takeover. On Thursday, Travis County District Judge Karin Crump denied that application for an injunction.

HB 1842 was not the TEA’s only potential option to replace Houston ISD’s board. It could sanction the district over the state investigation. State law also allows the TEA to take over the board if a district has had a TEA conservator for two or more years.

HISD attorneys argue that the TEA’s investigation was biased and that because the TEA conservator was assigned to one campus, and not the district as a whole, her presence would not trigger a takeover.

The injunction by Judge Mauzy also blocks the TEA from acting under either of those rules.

See here for the background. The conventional wisdom seems to be that while the Third Court of Appeals may uphold the injunction, the all-Republican Supreme Court may be more favorable to the TEA. Make of that what you will. Time could be a factor, depending on how long it takes each court to hear and rule on the appeals. Honestly, I hope this gets decided on the merits in a timely fashion. Whatever the outcome, having some extra clarity on the law would be a good thing.