Our long strange trip is finally over.
Democratic party precinct chairs chose their replacement Saturday morning for a vacant spot on the party’s November ballot. Attorney Shawn Thierry secured the nomination for House District 146, a seat left empty after a series of changes following the death of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.
After Sen. Rodney Ellis was chosen to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, Rep. Boris Miles was tapped to fill Ellis’ legislative seat. This took Miles off the ballot for the District 146 seat, opening up the nomination.
Thierry, 47, edged out candidates Erica Lee Carter, a Harris County Board of Education trustee and daughter of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Larry Blackmon, a former educator and City Council candidate.
After one round of voting by raising hands, Thierry had 12 votes, Carter had 11 and Blackmon 1. This led to an immediate runoff between Thierry and Carter, with a request for a change of voting procedure. Instead of raising hands, precinct chairs stood in line next to their candidate of choice. This time, Thierry beat Carter by two votes.
I was there for this as promised, and there were sizable contingents for Thierry and Carter, the latter of which included her mother, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Blackmon was the only other candidate present, at least as far as I know. If Valencia Williams was present, no one pointed her out to me, and as for James Donatto, I am told he had not lived in the district long enough to be eligible.
A sense for how things would be came during the vote to select a presiding chair for the convention. There were two nominees for Chair, Jill Moffitt and Priscilla Bloomquist. The vote to decide who would serve as Chair ended in a dead tie, 12 to 12. Gerry Birnberg, serving as Parliamentarian, then informed the room that per state election law, in the event of a tie the winner would be determined by the candidates “casting lots”. Which is to say, HCDP Chair Lane Lewis flipped a coin. Moffitt, as the first person nominated, called “Heads”. It came up Tails, so Bloomquist took over as Chair.
After getting the positions of Secretary, Parliamentarian, and Timekeeper settled, the three candidates were nominated – Thierry, Carter, and Blackmon, in that order. Each was given three minutes to speak (which they had agreed to beforehand), going in alphabetical order. Blackmon spoke of his service on various City committees, and of the need for a “medical corridor” in the district. Carter, who currently serves as HCDE Trustee from Precinct 1, emphasized that she already had experience fighting for the district and against the Tea Party; she specifically called out Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Debbie Riddle for trying to kill the HCDE and the services it provides. She also mentioned other priorities for the district, including health care and improving neighborhoods. Thierry touched on most of the same points as Carter while stressing her ties to the district, citing the schools in HD146 that she had attended. The Chron story says that among other things she said she plans to “focus on school vouchers”, which has to be in error; for one, I don’t remember her saying that word, and for two, she’d have been booed out of the room if she had. She did exceed her three minuts allotment by quite a bit, and more or less had the microphone taken from her by Chair Bloomquist.
The vote went as noted in the story, with Birnberg informing us that for these purposes, having exactly half the votes does not constitute a majority. What that meant in practice was that the deciding vote in the runoff was cast by the one precinct chair who had nominated and in the first round voted for Larry Blackmon. Had he gone over to Carter’s side, we’d have had another coin flip. But he didn’t, so Thierry got her majority. For what it’s worth, according to some of the people I spoke to, at least two of the three precinct chairs who were not in attendance (one was reportedly in the hospital, and the other at the hospital with her husband) had been in Carter’s camp. If just those two had shown up, it would have been 13-12-1 in the first round, with that same chair then forcing the coin toss he’d helped us avoid in these circumstances. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.
So the summer of the precinct chair comes to a close. My congratulations to Shawn Thierry for the victory – I wish you all the best in Austin. As I said about HD139 after the lackluster turnout in the runoff for now-Rep. Jarvis Johnson, I will not be surprised if there is a lively primary in HD146 in two years. Heck, there have been lively primaries in HD146 nearly every cycle since 2006, so why should 2018 be an exception? But this November is between now and then, and that’s what really matters. The Trib and BOR have more.