Just last week, state Sen. Rodney Ellis claimed he had enough support from Democratic Party chairs to become the next Harris County commissioner for Precinct 1. Not that he’s resting easy in a race as unusual as this one.
“I do wake up in the middle of the night, remembering somebody I was supposed to call and didn’t call,” the longtime legislator said.
On Saturday, Ellis will try to secure the majority of votes from among the 125 precinct chairs needed to win the post, which represents 1.2 million people, controls a budget of more than $200 million and helps to govern the third-largest county in the nation.
Ellis is vying for the post in the heavily Democratic precinct with Gene Locke, who was appointed to the office five months ago following the death of longtime Commissioner El Franco Lee. Locke disputes Ellis’ claim to a majority of the 125 precinct chairs who will be making the decision and says he feels good about his chances.
While many see the race as between Ellis and Locke, Houston City Councilman Dwight Boykins is also viewed as a contender.
Other candidates include photographer Georgia Provost, KPFT Radio chairman DeWayne Lark and educator Rickey Tezino, who have portrayed themselves as non-establishment candidates who could shake up the status quo.
For the most part, the candidates’ broad goals seem to align. Most if not all are committed to Lee’s priorities and goals, including boosting senior and youth programs and reforming the county’s criminal justice system.
With so few actual “voters,” turnout also will be key, said Texas Southern University political scientist Michael Adams. At least one precinct chair has already RSVP’d “no” to the gathering. Adams said he expects precinct chairs to be energized and to show up in large numbers.
“It is still about getting to 63 votes,” Adams said, referring to the number needed if all of the party chairs show up. “One-on-one campaigning is all that can really be done.”
The first order of business for the precinct chairs will be to select someone to lead Saturday’s gathering, according to Gerry Birnberg, a former chairman of Harris County Democrats.
That person will determine the process for voting. All four options are public, and they mainly differ on how the chairs signal who they are voting for.
If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of voting, the top two vote-getters will go to a runoff, Birnberg said.
“I don’t know what the outcome is,” Birnberg added, “but I don’t believe there is anybody that’s going to wake up at 10 o’clock in the morning to go downtown who doesn’t already know what they’re going to do when they get there.”
Technically, there’s at least one person who isn’t ready for it to be over, and that’s the precinct chair who sent out an email saysing we should “put a motion to the floor asking that we postpone the nomination for one month [so] that we as Precinct chairs can rally ourselves and get better clarity on the process”. I say the process is pretty clear and has been explained more than once, and if Rodney Ellis gets the nomination we need to get busy replacing him on the ballot, so it is safe to say I will not vote for this motion. I also think Gerry Birnberg is right – there ain’t a whole lot of undecided voters in this election. I will have a report tomorrow after all is (hopefully!) said and done.