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January 12th, 2022:

Interview with Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

As I’ve noted before, there are several current or recent elected officials in this primary for Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 4. One of them is Gina Calanni, who won an upset victory for HD132 in 2018. Unfortunately, the 2020 election was not as successful for her, but she got a lot done in that one term, passing eleven bills during the 2019 session. Calanni is a single mother of three and a published author, and I interviewed her before, in the primary for that 2018 race, which you can listen to here. You can listen to this interview here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Chris Morton

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates. Much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet.

Judge Chris Morton

1. Who are you and in which court do you preside?

I am Judge Chris Morton of the 230th District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This court hears Felony Criminal Cases.

3. What have been your main accomplishments during your time on this bench?

I have implemented policies and procedures that deal with bail and bond in a fairer more equitable way and in a way that more closely aligns with the constitutional laws of Texas.

4. What do you hope to accomplish in your courtroom going forward?

I hope to implement a fairer system of appointing attorneys to indigent defendants and I hope to move bail and bond practices closer to a point were dangerous individuals are detained and others are released without bankrupting their families.

5. Why is this race important?

The first virtue of every social institution is justice. Neutral objective judges are crucial to justice. Judges cannot be prosecutors on the bench. They cannot trade away justice merely to create security. Judges are currently being attacked from every angle in an effort to make authoritarian security supersede the virtue of justice. I'll stand with the law and with justice.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I have a proven track record of standing firm against those who will use the law as a means of oppression and who would subvert judicial independence. I stood up to Governor Greg Abbot when his executive orders sought to strip the judiciary of independence and to strip people of substantive statutory and constitutional rights by finding his executive orders unconstitutional. I stood up to the legislature when they sought to create a constitutional crisis in issuing arrest warrants for their colleagues by accepting a writ of habeas corpus from one of those beleaguered law makers. I have not been intimidate nor swayed from applying the law in a fair and equitable fashion by attacks from right wing organizations or attacks in the media. I have not been swayed or intimidated by criticism from fellow Democrats or left wing activists. I stand solidly with the law and with justice.

Supreme Court rejects mandamus over Commissioners Court redistricting

The primary will proceed as scheduled, but the issue could be revisited sometime after the 2022 election.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected an effort by Republican commissioners and voters to block Harris County’s recent redistricting plan on Friday, suggesting another challenge still in the works will meet a similar fate.

In their challenge, the petitioners argued that the new maps amounted to illegal Democratic gerrymandering. The new precincts approved by Harris County leaders last year resulted in dramatic shifts that the challengers argued would disenfranchise voters in the upcoming primaries.

But in a narrow ruling, the justices found that they likely couldn’t provide any relief to the challengers because the wheels of the election were already in motion.

“(N)o amount of expedited briefing or judicial expediency at this point can change the fact that the primary election for 2022 is already in its early stages,” their opinion read. “This Court and other Texas courts are duty-bound to respond quickly to urgent cases that warrant expedited proceedings, but even with utmost judicial speed, any relief that we theoretically could provide here would necessarily disrupt the ongoing election process.”

The result is that the new precinct maps will be allowed to stand. The Democratic majority on commissioners court adopted the maps on a 3-2 party line vote in October.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion, which is also embedded in the story. It’s fairly brief and pretty straightforward, so let me summarize:

– The current map violates federal law because of population differences among the four precincts. It was not an option for the court to order that the current map be used while the appeals played out.

– The court ruled that their role in redistricting is limited, and that they did not have nearly enough facts to go on, as many of the plaintiffs’ claims remain in dispute. The burden required to make them step in and halt or change the election, which is already underway, was far too high for them to take action on such a short notice.

– Regarding the (ridiculous) claim about people being disenfranchised because they would have to wait until 2024 to vote when they had been expecting to vote in 2022, the court noted that some number of people will always be in that position when redistricting occurs. The Constitution requires the State Senate (which like Commissioners Court has staggered four-year terms) to have everyone run after redistricting, but there’s no such requirement for Commissioners Courts, which moved to four-year terms by an amendment in 1954. Ordering all four precincts to be on the ballot in 2022 was rejected because of the limited time for anyone who might run in the other precincts to get going. The court also noted that any short-term remedy for Harris County might cause problems with other counties, if people could make similar claims about being disenfranchised.

– Given all that, the court said it had no choice but to reject the writ of mandamus and allow the 2022 election to go forward as planned. The court did not make any claims or judgments about the merits of the plaintiffs’ arguments, and said that if the matter comes back to them after going through the lower courts, they can evaluate them at that time.

So there you have it. There is still the Radack lawsuit out there, but as the story notes it seems extremely unlikely that will succeed at affecting this election based on this ruling. The Cagle/Ramsey lawsuit was dismissed in Harris County district court, so I presume the next step would be for the dismissal, which was made on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction (this is what the story said, perhaps this should be standing), to be appealed. Success for the plaintiffs would mean sending the case back to a district court, hopefully (for them) to get a hearing and ruling on the merits, which would naturally be appealed by whoever lost. My guess is that this whole process would take a few years if everything proceeds at its normal pace. While the Supreme Court allowed for the possibility of an all-precinct election (under another new map) in 2024, or even a special election presumably before then, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Same thing for the Radack lawsuit, which as far as I know has not had an initial hearing yet.

Finally, while this story does not mention it, I wonder if this may also signal the death knell for the two state court redistricting challenges, on the same grounds of not having enough time to do something before people begin voting. That last update suggested the possibility of a trial this week, but I am not aware of any news to that effect. The cases are in Travis County district court, if anyone wants to try to figure that out.

An email from Erica Davis

From the inbox, sent to Democratic precinct chairs:

Erica Davis

You elected me to serve as your Trustee for the Harris County Department of Education and I am very proud of what we have accomplished. I too believe in elevating voices, educating the uniformed and ensuring ethical leadership. I made a commitment to be a grassroots’ leader to our community.

Today I write to inform you in my most humble self, that I have filed to run for Harris County Judge. I have served Harris County residents for over a decade building relationships and working to keep people safe.

Every citizen deserves the same response time to safety, the elimination of wasteful spending, and bringing resources back to the Harris County residents. That is why I am running today, a native Houstonian with a purpose and passion for the residents of Harris County.

I’ll be giving you a call in the next week to speak with you. I’d like to share my vision for Harris County and invite you to discuss what matters to you. Thank you for your service and commitment to our community.

Emphasis in the original. Still no “why me and not Judge Hidalgo” statement, as previously noted, but there’s at least some mention of issues. Response times from law enforcement seems to me to be more of an HPD issue, but it could be a call for increasing the Sheriff’s budget, with maybe some more for the Constables as well. I find that a call to “eliminate wasteful spending” is in general sufficiently vague as to be meaningless. What is “wasteful” to you may be critical to me, and vice versa. If you can’t or won’t specify what you consider wasteful, we can’t have a real conversation about it. In other contexts, references to “wasteful” spending have usually meant an intent to cut spending overall. That would seem to be in conflict with a call for a bigger Sheriff’s budget, but 1) I’m drawing an inference here, and 2) we need specifics. As for “bringing resources back to the Harris County residents”, I guess talk to our legislative and Congressional delegations? I don’t know how to interpret this.

I should note that while I got that email on Monday, I got another one on Tuesday that contained this video, in which she restated her concerns about crime and “wasteful spending”, with additional concerns about property taxes and infrastructure. No ideas for improvements were mentioned – this was a brief introductory video – but again, it was the beginning of a critique of her opponent. How receptive a Democratic primary electorate that knows and likes Judge Hidalgo will be to this remains to be seen, but at least she’s saying something.

Good thing I’ll be getting a call to speak with Candidate Davis in the next week or so. As you may imagine, I have some questions.