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January 31st, 2022:

Interview with Duncan Klussmann

Duncan Klussmann

This week we will have interviews with two of the Democratic candidates in the new CD38, as well as a couple of interviews with legislative candidates, about which I’ll say a bit more tomorrow. Today’s candidate for CD38 is Duncan Klussmann, a retired educator and former Superintendent of Spring Branch ISD. Klussman is a native of Brenham and a graduate of UT and Stephen F. Austin State University. He’s a resident of Jersey Village, where he has served on their City Council, and he was named a Houstonian of the Year for 2014 by the Chronicle. My interview with him is below, but I want to note before we get to it that candidate Centrell Reed declined the opportunity to do an interview, so that’s why there will only be two of them for this race. Here’s our conversation:

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: Erika Ramirez

(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.

Erika Ramirez

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Erika Ramirez, and I am running to be Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8.

Born and raised in Houston, I was taught at a young age the importance of justice and fairness. My family is from Laredo, Texas. As a teenager, my Dad was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (commonly known as leprosy). At that time, persons with Hansen’s were removed from society and confined, based on unfounded and unfair stereotypes and prejudices associated with the illness. As a result, my Dad was forcibly sent to the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana, where he lived for several years. My Mom, his high school sweetheart, stuck by his side while he lived in Louisiana. After the unjust practice of confining persons with Hansen’s ended, my parents moved to Houston. My parents harnessed their experiences into a commitment to serve other people who found themselves needing help. They both finished their degrees, became licensed social workers, and have had long careers serving veterans, persons with mental health issues, and children. Knowing my parents’ story and growing up around them, I have always had a deep appreciation for fairness and justice, as well as the urge to speak or act when I think someone is being treated unfairly – especially those who cannot speak for themselves.

After graduating from Bellaire High School, I received a degree in Public Relations from the University of Texas- Austin. I began my career as a teacher in a small rural town in Spain. When I returned to the Texas, I worked as a Caseworker Assistant with survivors of domestic violence. It was there that I was inspired to return to law school. I graduated from South Texas College of Law-Houston and become the first attorney in my family.

I have focused my legal career on criminal law, working as an Assistant District Attorney in Harris County.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 is one of the sixteen misdemeanor courts that covers the entire county. Class A and B misdemeanors are heard in the court. Class A misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine up to $4,000. Class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to 180 days in jail, and/or a fine up to $2,000. Some of the common types of criminal cases that appear in the court are Theft, Assaults, Driving While Intoxicated, and Criminal Mischief. These cases are important because misdemeanor courts can provide an opportunity for a great impact on the trajectory of a person’s life and our community’s collective well-being.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Through my experiences, including my time as a case worker assistant and prosecutor, I understand the serious ramifications criminal proceedings can have on all persons involved. I greatly respect the importance of a fair and impartial process. I also understand the interconnected nature of our courts and the communities they serve. I believe that every person who enters the courtroom should be allowed to have their voice heard and to avail themselves of every and all rights permitted by our laws.

I am running for Judge of Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 because I believe that the people of Harris County deserve a Judge who is respectful of the parties and the legal process, fair in applying the law, and involved in our community.

I am also running in the hope of attaining increased diversity in or judicial system.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have a diverse background of experiences that I believe qualify me for this position and allow me to serve Harris County as a respectful, fair, and involved Judge.
I currently work as an Assistant District Attorney in the Financial Crimes Division, where I assist victims of identify theft. In my time as a prosecutor, I have tried a multitude of criminal cases, from Class-C traffic tickets, Sex Assault of a Child, and Capital Murder. During this time, I have served Harris County by thoroughly evaluating every case and taking steps to protect the rights of the persons accused, victims, and the community. I have worked in the Trial Bureau (misdemeanor and felony cases), Juvenile Division, Domestic Violence Division, and Financial Crimes Division. I have served as a Misdemeanor Court Chief, where I supervised and trained junior attorneys. As a result, I am familiar and well-versed with the process and procedures in the County Criminal Courts at Law.

Before law school law school, I worked as a caseworker assistant at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office with the Domestic Violence Division. There, I assisted survivors by documenting their injuries and attending protective order court proceedings.

During law school, I interned with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, both in the misdemeanor and felony division; the Harris County Attorney’s Office with the Litigation Division, which focused on public nuisance suits (often massage parlors that engaged in human trafficking); the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) Division, which represented DFPS cases in the Juvenile Justice courts; and served as a guardian ad litem with Child Advocates, an organization that assists children who are in DFPS custody. My work earned me a Pro Bono College Award at South Texas College of Law two years in a row.

While in College at the University of Texas- Austin, I interned in the 310th Family Court with Judge Lisa Millard. I also worked at Baylor College of Medicine- Center for Educational Outreach. The program assisted high school students that live in the South Texas Rio Grande Valley to attend college and medical school so that they can return to serve their communities, which, unfortunately, are underserved communities.

5. Why is this race important?

Our County Criminal Courts at Law are of great importance to our community. Generally, misdemeanor cases provide an opportunity for substantial impact on the trajectory of a person’s life. It benefits our community when courts can take proactive steps to mitigate repeated entry into the criminal justice system. The important issues these courts address and serve highlight the need for a respectful, fair, and involved jurist.

6. Why should people vote for you in March?

I believe that I am the most qualified candidate for this position, and my goal is to work hard for our community. If elected, I will serve Harris County by assuring a fair, accessible, and just process for all persons who enter the courtroom. I will also remain involved and visible within our community. Early voting starts on Valentine’s Day, February 14th , through February 25th . Election day is March 1, 2022.

You don’t want to go to the ICU right now

And even if for some reason you did want to go to the intensive care unit, there probably wouldn’t be room for you.

The number of Texas intensive care unit beds available for adult patients is at an all-time low for the pandemic, with only 259 staffed beds open across the state as of Wednesday, as hospitals fight a historic staffing crisis and more unvaccinated people infected by the omicron variant pour into hospitals.

That’s 11 fewer beds than the previous record set in September during the deadly surge of the delta variant of COVID-19, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. An average of 295 available beds has been reported in the last week, which is also lower than previous record averages.

The crunch on the state’s intensive care units comes as patient cases skyrocket and as hospitals themselves work to fill shifts left open by more workers home sick from COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, more than 13,300 hospitalized Texans have tested positive for the virus.

“Because of the high level of transmission and infectivity of the omicron variant, so many of our staff are getting positive,” said Bryan Alsip, chief medical officer for University Health in San Antonio. “We’ve been doing this a long time now — close to two years. We’re now experiencing our fourth large surge of those patients. It can get tiring.”

Alsip said University Health — the public hospital system for the San Antonio and the third largest of its kind in the state — is approaching numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients that the system has not seen since the last deadly surges in the early months of 2021 or the fall and summer of 2020.


But while omicron is putting fewer patients into the ICU than in previous surges, there are also fewer ICU beds that are able to be staffed due to a nursing shortage, officials say — and the sheer number of omicron cases is pushing patient counts higher.

The bottom line, they say, is that there are fewer beds for any Texas patient who may be suffering a serious medical event and need intensive care — whether they were put there by omicron or not.

So yeah, now when people tell you to drive safely, it’s more than just a bit of politeness. We might be reaching peak omicron, but as noted before hospitalization is a lagging indicator. There’s still a few weeks to go before we start seeing declines in those numbers.

While it would be nice to think that once this omicron wave recedes we’ll be in for a longer period of calm, but Dr. Peter Hotez says don’t count on it.

Q: There’s a lot of talk about omicron creating herd immunity and the transition from pandemic to endemic. Your thoughts?

A: The big picture, I’m still concerned about. There’s a lot of happy talk about omicron somehow acting as a weakened virus, herd immunity and the end of the pandemic. I do not think so yet. I think we’re in for another wave this summer across Texas and it could be just like 2020 and 2021. Here are the reasons why.

One: I’m not convinced the durability of the protection from omicron is going to be adequate. It may resemble the short-lived immunity you get from the upper respiratory virus. The population could still be vulnerable in the spring.

And vaccination rates are still not great in lower- and middle-income countries where these variants arose. I think we’re still very vulnerable to another variant arising in Africa or Asia.

Q: As you pointed out, that runs contrary to a lot of the hopeful buzz about omicron that I’m coming across.

A: Yeah, you hear that coming from the White House. And I’m hearing it from a lot of my talking head colleagues. But to me, right now, that rings hollow. I don’t think it’s wise. I think what we need most urgently right now is a national strategy for how we’re going to prevent another big variant in the summer from hitting Texas and the southern United States. Here’s what I think that strategy requires.

One: a strategy for global immunization against COVID-19, which just doesn’t exist now. The White House announced another 400 million doses, which is slightly more than what our Texas Children’s vaccine has done. We need 9 billion doses.

Second: We need a greater understanding about the durability and protection from the mRNA boosters. We’re getting conflicting results about the durability. That needs to be clarified. We need to understand that for a strategy for moving forward. Whether we keep the singular focus on the mRNA vaccine or broaden our COVID stockpiles to include additional technology.

And let me say, third: What’s our plan for global surveillance? So far we’ve been surprised by every major variant of concern. We need predictable surveillance models, but we don’t have them. That’s a need. What I’d like to see coming out of the White House is a national strategic task force to really dive into those three components. We need a realistic plan for the country. And I just don’t get the sense we have that right now. Nationally, we’re still in reactive mode every time.

As noted, Dr. Hotez and his colleague Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi have done what they can to help with global vaccine supply. But we still need to get more shots in arms here – ESPECIALLY KIDS – and I don’t know what we can do to make that happen. Rewards and gimmicks might help a little around the margins, but not enough to really make a difference. The various federal mandates would have made a real difference, but well, you know. Your safety is officially in your hands. Don’t screw around with it.

Trib overview of the Democratic candidates for Lt Governor

It’s a good field, I’ll be happy to support any of them, but boy do I wish they’d all raise more money.

Mike Collier

Three Democrats are facing off in the lieutenant governor primary for the chance to challenge a veritable Goliath in incumbent Dan Patrick.

While ideologically similar, their resumes are vastly different and candidates are campaigning on who brings the best experience to the table. But one thing is clear after last week’s deadline to disclose campaign donations for the last six months — even the strongest fundraiser of the bunch is wildly outmatched by Patrick’s war chest of $25 million.

Mike Collier, a 60-year-old accountant and auditor, who came within 5 percentage points of unseating Patrick four years ago, is so far leading the pack in fundraising with a haul of $826,862 over the last six months. Coming in second, Carla Brailey, an associate professor at Texas Southern University and the former vice chair of the Texas Democratic Party, raised a total of $39,490. She entered the race in mid-December.

Michelle Beckley, a small businesswoman who has served two terms as a state representative from Denton County, took in $32,386. She entered the race in mid-November.

Their combined total is still less than a third of Patrick’s nearly $3 million haul over the same six-month period. Patrick, a two-term incumbent who is one of the most conservative and well-known politicians in the state, will be expensive to compete with, especially for candidates with less name recognition.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Dan Patrick’s name ID is an advantage for him. People know who he is, but that doesn’t mean they like him, or even that they feel vaguely positive about him. There’s a reason he came close to losing in 2018, and ran behind all of his fellow Republicans except Ted Cruz and Ken Paxton.

Carla Brailey

Brailey’s political experience stems from her time as vice chair of the state party and in the administration of former District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty. She served in multiple roles under Fenty, including executive director of community affairs.

In 2019, she ran for Houston City Council but did not garner enough support to make the general election runoff.

Brailey, who is Black, is the only person of color in the race. She said her candidacy brings more voters to the table because she understands the experiences of voters of color and can bring them to the forefront.

“It brings experience in listening to other communities that may have not always been listened to or are listened to,” said Brailey, who added that she always seeks to advocate for marginalized communities in her work. “We get to hear their voice early.”

Brailey said her campaign priorities are affordable health care, public education, addressing the shortcomings of the state’s electric grid and the digital divide between poor and wealthy areas of the state.

Brailey said the state’s leaders have taken the state backward by passing laws like last year’s ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy and making it more difficult to vote.

“We’re in a very bad place in Texas and I really believe that our democracy is at stake,” she said. “Everything is big in Texas, and I think so goes Texas, goes the nation.”


Michelle Beckley

After flipping a Republican district in 2018, Beckley became a lightning rod for conservative criticism because of her support for issues like Medicaid expansion and her aggressive approach to politics.

Once in office, Beckley was vocally critical of what she saw as failures of the state’s GOP leaders and often feuded with Republican colleagues on social media.

Beckley has promised to bring that same combative approach to the role of lieutenant governor. She said Republicans have become too focused on controversial social issues like regulating which bathrooms transgender Texans can use and ignore real issues like the failure of the state’s electric grid, which resulted in hundreds of deaths last February.

“People are sick of that crap,” Beckley said. “People want what I represent: They want a functioning government.”

Even in a GOP-controlled Legislature in which she had a number of powerful enemies, Beckley said, she was able to pass one of her priorities last year when she tacked on to the Republicans’ elections bill a policy that will increase the number of counties that can apply for countywide voting programs.

Beckley said that legislative experience gives her an advantage over her opponents. She is the only candidate in the race to have been elected to public office and to serve in the Legislature.

I trust that my readers are generally familiar with Mike Collier, so I skipped his part of the story. You can listen to the interview I did with him in 2018 if you need a refresher. I have not yet made up my mind in this one. I was happy to see Collier announce his candidacy – he had an early start, which was also a positive – and under normal circumstances, I’d stick with the known quantity. But Carla Brailey and Michelle Beckley deserve consideration, and so they will get it. But again, whoever wins will be fine by me. And a billion times better than Dan Patrick.