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UT/Trib: Hegar leads Senate primary pack

A small bit of clarity in a muddled race.

MJ Hegar

MJ Hegar has widened her lead over her rivals for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, but she’s one of a dozen candidates in that Texas race who remain strangers to a large majority of their primary voters, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Those widely unknown Democrats are vying for the seat held by Republican John Cornyn, a well-known incumbent who first won election to the U.S. Senate in 2002. Cornyn faces four opponents in the Republican primary.

The large number of candidates almost ensures a May runoff after the March 3 primary, but it’s not clear who might be in it. Hegar had the support of 22% of self-identified Democratic primary voters in Texas — the only candidate with double-digit support. Six candidates were next in line, in a tight grouping that makes it impossible to say for sure who’s in second place. With support ranging from 5% to 9%, that group includes Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, Royce West, Annie “Mamá” Garcia and Sema Hernandez.

The rest said they preferred one of the five remaining candidates or “someone else,” or they refused to say who they’d vote for.

“There’s going to be a runoff, and Hegar is candidate one. But there is a six-car pileup for No. 2. Who knows who No. 2 is?” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s extraordinarily volatile.”

That pretty much sums up my view of this. I’ve largely ignored Dem Senate primary polling, mostly because none of the candidates had much name recognition and that led to poll results with nobody having more than ten percent of the vote. Hegar is the one candidate who has raised significant money, she has the outside group VoteVets spending on her and also has the DSCC endorsement, and she ran a high-profile campaign for Congress in 2018, so she should be leading the pack. As for who is most likely to end up in the runoff with her, I’d pick Royce West (who should get a lot of votes in the Dallas area) and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez as the favorites. But yes, the rest of the pack are all in the running, and most outcomes would not surprise me.

2020 Primary Early Voting begins today

We don’t have a long primary season in Texas – the filing deadline was barely two months ago, though to be sure some candidates have been running for much longer than that – and the first part of it is drawing to a close, as early voting officially begins today. For those of you in Harris County, you can find the schedule and locations here. Please be aware that there are new locations, and some old locations are no longer in use. For example, if you live in the Heights area, the SPJST Lodge location is not being used any more, but Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church (Room 106) at 2025 West 11th Street is available. You can find a map and get directions to any location here. There are 52 early voting locations in the county, every one open from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except this Sunday (1 to 6 PM as usual for Sundays) through next Friday, the 28th. You have plenty of time, so be sure to go vote.

For other counties:

Fort Bend
Montgomery
Brazoria
Galveston
Waller

This Chron story has the basic facts about voting – if you’ve done this before it’s nothing new, but if you know a newbie, it would help them.

Also new, here in Harris County: Virtual translators.

Harris County residents who primarily speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese or 26 other languages now will have access to a virtual translator at the polls, County Clerk Diane Trautman announced Friday, part of a series of initiatives aimed at improving the county’s voter participation rate.

In a nod to Harris County’s diversity — more than a third of its 4.7 million residents are native speakers of a language other than English — elected officials want to eliminate communication barriers at voting sites.

“With this innovative technology, interpreters can communicate with the voter and poll worker in real time via video chat to make the voting process easier and more accessible,” Trautman said.

Flanked by county Elections Director Michael Winn, Trautman offered a demonstration of the machines at the West Gray Multi-Service Center. The tablet devices, which previously stored electronic poll books and were set to be discarded, allow a poll worker to make a video conference call to a translator in the desired language. The translator then can help the poll worker and voter communicate.

[…]

Trautman said the virtual translators will be available at all 52 early voting locations for the March primary elections.

Dozens of Korean-speaking voters were frustrated when then-County Clerk Stan Stanart barred translators from operating inside a Spring Branch polling site in 2018. Stanart said he had to follow the Texas Election Code, which limits who can operate inside a 100-foot buffer zone at polling places.

Korean American Voters League President Hyunja Norman, who helped organize the Spring Branch voters, welcomed the virtual translation devices.

“I think they can be very beneficial,” she said. “Still, the human factor cannot be ignored.”

Norman said many of the Korean-American residents in Houston who need language assistance are elderly immigrants who are new to voting and often intimidated by technology. She said she still would like to see real-life translators gain more access to polling sites.

Pretty cool. And if I’m reading this correctly, the virtual translator will be working with a poll worker at the site, so there will be some human involvement. Hopefully this will help the folks who need it.

I’ve talked about turnout before, and as is my habit I will be following the daily EV reports to see how that is progressing. I have the daily EV reports from other years to serve as points of comparison: 2012, 2016, and 2018. Sadly, I don’t have a daily report from 2008 – looking back at my posts from then, I made the rookie mistake of linking to the report on the County Clerk website, which was the same generic URL each day. Alas. Here’s my blog post after the last day of early voting, and here’s the cumulative report from the Dem primary. Note that back in those early days of early voting, most people still voted on Election Day. For the 2008 Dem primary, there were 170K early in person votes (plu 9K mail ballots), and 410K total votes. That’s one reason why the subsequent predictions about November turnout were so off the charts – in November, unlike in March that year, a large majority of the vote was early, which is the norm now in even-numbered years. But because we had been used to less than half of the vote being early up to that point, we way over-estimated the November numbers. We have a better handle on things now.

So that’s the story. I’ll aim to post daily updates, which will depend to some extent on when I get the reports. When are you planning to vote?

Judicial Q&A: Amparo Monique Guerra

(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.)

Amparo Monique Guerra

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

My name is Amparo Monique Guerra and I am running for Justice, First Court of Appeals, Place 5. I am a lawyer, judge, mom of three children, and wife. I am the first Hispanic partner in my law firm. I have 17 years’ experience as a litigator, at both the trial and appellate levels, in state and federal courts throughout Texas and the U.S. I handle complex cases for a wide range of clients, from individuals to large multi-national corporations. When I was originally appointed to be a Municipal Judge for the City of Houston in 2005, I was the youngest sitting judge on the court, having been appointed at 28 years old.

I am a graduate of Rice University (double-major in Sociology and Latin American Studies), where I was on the President’s Honor Roll. I obtained my J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center, which awarded me a Dean’s Merit Scholarship, as well as Public Interest Fellowships to work with Texas Rural Legal Aid, and with Farmworker Legal Services in Michigan.

I clerked for a U.S. District Judge immediately following law school. I look forward to bringing my background, strong work ethic, and experience as a lawyer and a judge to the Court of Appeals.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The intermediate courts of appeals hear civil cases (including, but not limited to, business, family, probate, and personal injury) and criminal cases (except death penalty cases, which are appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) from the trial courts throughout a ten-county district, which includes Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington Counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Public service has always been a passion of mine. My mother (Retired Justice Linda Yanez) was the first Latina on a court of appeals in Texas. I was a federal judicial law clerk for U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela immediately following law school. Judge Vela showed me that the duties of a judge include being an excellent jurist, but should also extend beyond the courtroom to the community it serves. He often had us law clerks speak at schools and at naturalization ceremonies. In addition, we were instructors in a pre-law academy for undergraduate students. He and my mom instilled in me how one can use a law degree to serve the community, and so as soon as I could be a judge, I became one at 28 years old. As a judge, I treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter who they are or where they come from.

I am the first Hispanic partner at my law firm, and I have been promoting diversity on the bench for years. When I saw that Democrats could win seats at the courts of appeals here (which essentially had not happened in about 20 years), I was ecstatic, but when I looked at the composition of the bench, I noticed that the court sorely lacked the diversity that I know this community embodies. Houston is the most diverse city, and Fort Bend is the most diverse county in the country; however, our courts of appeals have no African American and no Hispanic justices. This is the perfect opportunity for me to utilize my unique background, education, exceptional legal skills, and experience as a judge to serve my community in a greater capacity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In addition to the qualifications listed in response to Question 1, I am eminently qualified to be a justice on the court of appeals because I have a wide breadth of experience as a lawyer handling cases throughout Texasin federal and state, trial and appellate courts, and other states, and I have judicial experience in a criminal court.

My most notable strength is my ability to dive into complex legal issues, and quickly master and apply the law to the facts. I have a varied background representing all types of clients from individuals and families, to business of all sizes, including sole proprietorships and large multi-national corporations. In fact, for the past four years, I have served as lead counsel for the largest corporation in the world in state and federal courts in Texas and Colorado.

I have experience as a federal judicial law clerk, and as a trial court judge, having presided over many trials. Therefore, I know firsthand what it means to make decisions from the bench that effect litigant’s lives, and the profound responsibility that entails. I have a deep respect for the rule of law, and I strive to apply the law in the most just way possible.

I handily won the State Bar of Texas Judicial Poll, which shows that more lawyers prefer me and find me more qualified than my opponent in the primary. I am humbled by the outpouring of support I have received during this campaign from elected officials, and highly respected members of the bar, including criminal defense lawyers, civil litigators, personal injury lawyers, legal aid lawyers, appellate practitioners, criminal law and appellate law professors, in-house counsel, and a former Justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest criminal court in Texas).

5. Why is this race important?

As stated in my response to Question 2, this is a court of general jurisdiction that hears civil and criminal cases from its ten-county district. Unlike the Texas Supreme Court (Texas’ highest court for civil cases), and the Court of Criminal Appeals (Texas’ highest criminal court), which decide which cases to accept on a petition for review, the intermediate courts of appeals must issue opinions regarding each and every case that is appealed to them. Because fewer cases are appealed to our two supreme courts, and those courts do not accept review of every case, the intermediate courts of appeals are often the last word on many important legal issues. Where there is no opinion from the two supreme courts on an issue which an intermediate court of appeals is called to decide, that appellate opinion controls the lower/trial courts within the court of appeals district.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I have a wide breadth of experience in my seventeen years of practice, in addition to being a judge. I have worked in legal aid clinics, municipal and federal courts, as well as law firms of all sizes—small, mid-size, and large. I am the only judge, the only woman, and the only person of color in this race. I am the first Hispanic partner at my law firm. I have 3 children, 2 jobs, and a husband who is a tremendous partner.

I have an outstanding reputation among my peers for excellent research and writing and oral advocacy skills, as well as a keen ability to dive into complex legal issues, swiftly master and apply the law to the facts, and successfully advocate for my clients. I do all of this in an environment where I am typically the only woman and/or the only person of color among my colleagues and opposing counsel.

I have demonstrated I have judicial temperament on the bench. I am a vetted and trusted public servant. I was repeatedly reappointed to serve as a municipal judge because of my impeccable record of integrity, impartiality, and strong work ethic (I handle a demanding law practice full-time, and I serve on the municipal court part-time).

I have represented all types of clients from individuals and families, to businesses of all sizes, including sole proprietorships, small businesses, and national, as well as multi-national, corporations. In fact, I have been lead counsel for the largest corporation in the world for the past four years, handling cases for it in state and federal courts in Texas and Colorado.

I have experience handling very complex (and typically very high-dollar) matters, not just run-of-the-mill cases, in the following areas: business disputes including business torts and breach of contract cases in various industries, such as energy, oil & gas (including Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act matters), medical care, real estate, and insurance; employment and ERISA litigation and advice; consumer litigation; insurance coverage and bad faith; civil rights; receivership; Carmack Amendment; toxic/mass tort; and personal injury, including wrongful death. I also serve as a guardian ad litem in personal injury cases involving minors.

My education has been in highly competitive academic environments. I have always been a studious person ever since I was very young. When I was in seventh grade, I was selected based on my exemplary achievement test scores by the Duke University Talent Identification Program to sit for the SAT with high school students. My scores prompted interest in me by an organization called A Better Chance (ABC), which places academically gifted students in selective college preparatory schools throughout the country. Through ABC, I was accepted to and received a full scholarship to attend St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island as a boarding student. I attended St. George’s for all four years of high school and graduated with distinction. While in high school, I worked during one summer with Mano A Mano, a March of Dimes organization in Brownsville. I worked in medical clinics for indigent people in very impoverished areas on both sides of the border, and did community outreach to educate and disseminate information to women regarding proper prenatal health. This program was, in large part, a response to the prevalence of encephalitic births on both sides of the border. Working in clinics in Mexico and Brownsville without electricity or running water, and witnessing the lives of those much less fortunate than I impacted me greatly and reinforced my interest in public service. That experience showed me two worlds – one of extreme wealth in New England, and another of extreme poverty on the U.S.-Mexico border. That juxtaposition has stayed with me and informs much of what I do and how I think about social justice issues.

I am multi-lingual—an invaluable asset in this most diverse area of the country. I am fluent in Spanish from my family background and formal education. I have a Superior Certification in Legal and Commercial Spanish from the Chamber of Commerce in Madrid, Spain. I also speak Portuguese and Italian.

When I set my mind on a goal, I give it my all. My candidacy is no exception. My hard work is one of the many reasons I have been awarded every organizational endorsement granted to date in this race. My organizational endorsements are in addition to my many individual endorsements from elected officials and well-respected lawyers.

My election will change the face of the court of appeals where we sorely lack diversity. This court of appeals district includes ten counties, including Harris and Fort Bend. It is well-known that Houston is the most diverse city, and Fort Bend is the most diverse county in the country; yet, our courts of appeals do not reflect our rich diversity. We need diversity, not for diversity’s sake, but to have a mixture of backgrounds and ideas at the table on this multiple judge court. My mother, Retired Justice Linda Yanez, was the first Latina to serve on a court of appeals in Texas. She left a legacy I would be honored to continue here on the Houston court of appeals.

I will apply my strong work ethic, unique background, education, exceptional legal skills, and experience as a judge when I am elected to the court of appeals, where I will continue to be a hard-working judge ruling on cases expeditiously with respect for the rule of law.

HISD takes a step towards a bond referendum

Just a step. If there’s to be a bond referendum on the ballot, this year or later, they’ll have to vote again to authorize that.

Houston ISD trustees kept hopes alive for a November bond election during Thursday night’s board meeting, voting to approve spending on a facilities assessment that must be completed before asking residents to provide tax dollars for campus and security upgrades.

Board members voted 6-3 to spend up to $5 million on the assessment, which will document the conditions of HISD’s aging schools, space needs for campuses and demographic trends in the district. District officials said they will use the assessment to guide the creation of any bond proposals, which remain in the early stages of development.

[…]

Trustees and administrators who backed the assessment argued the analysis will provide vital information needed to create an accurate and updated picture of the district’s facilities needs. HISD last commissioned a facilities assessment in 2016, but the work only documented building conditions, with no alignment to academic and space needs.

Three trustees voted against the bond — Judith Cruz, Dani Hernandez and Elizabeth Santos — amid questions about timing of the assessment.

Board members and Lathan have not held extensive discussions about their detailed vision for the district since January, when four new trustees joined the nine-member board.

In addition, public trust in the district has waned over the past two years following extensive in-fighting, as well as the possible ouster of elected trustees due to multiple findings of misconduct by board members and chronically low ratings of Wheatley High School.

“It feels rushed, and I want to make sure we’re doing this the best way possible,” Cruz said.

The vote came after nearly 20 students, parents and educators spoke in favor of rebuilding crumbling schools, describing outdated facilities that disappoint children and scare away prospective families.

See here for some background, and here for a preview story from Thursday, when the vote was taken. The last bond was in 2012, and it’s getting to be time to do some more capital spending. Previous bonds have passed without too much commotion, and even with HISD’s current issues I think they’d be able to get one passed this year, if they do a decent enough job presenting what it would do and get sufficient buy-in from the community. The looming TEA takeover may work in their favor, as I for one have no idea whether a board of managers could or would attempt to authorize a bond, and waiting around for another four or five years seems like a terrible idea. Let’s see what the assessment says and we’ll go from there.

Endorsement watch: Ogg and Moore

Two (*) big endorsements on Sunday, in the races for District Attorney and Commissioners Court, Precinct 3. Let’s do the thing.

Kim Ogg for District Attorney:

Kim Ogg

“We are in the midst of righting a lot of wrongs,” Ogg told the Editorial Board during a meeting with all four candidates in the race. “What needs to be done is the prosecution of the officers involved, the reform of the way we prosecute and, eventually, the reform of the way drug cases are investigated.”

That’s a lot of talk of change for an incumbent who has left herself open to attack over her apparent tepidness on bail reform, most notably her last-minute objection last year to the settlement in the lawsuit over misdemeanor cash bail. Two of her opponents — senior prosecutors who left the district attorney’s office last year — have centered their campaigns on arguments that she’s failed to live up to her own reform pledges.

It’s true — Ogg has expressed concerns about the way the bail reform agreement has been implemented. But voters shouldn’t mistake her calls to tap the breaks — even if her foot is sometimes a little heavy — as a disavowal of her record, which is overwhelmingly for change.

During her first term, she has supported bail reform, expanded jail diversion for low-level misdemeanor offenders with mental health issues, and implemented a diversion program for people caught with small amounts of marijuana, cutting pot arrests by more than half and saving the county millions. She was years ahead of other reform-minded district attorneys in America’s big cities, from Dallas to Philadelphia.

I would encourage you to go listen to the interviews I did with the three main DA candidates (Todd Overstreet isn’t running a visible campaign) if you haven’t done so already: Kim Ogg, Carvana Cloud, Audia Jones. The Chron endorsement does a good job of capturing what this race is about, however you feel about the candidates. Kim Ogg has made real progress, not as much as people might have liked or expected and not without some missteps and backsliding, in an office and a culture that was long overdue for that kind of change. Whether you think she can and should have done more, and whether you think she can and should be doing it at a more rapid pace, will inform your vote in the primary.

Michael Moore for County Commissioner, Precinct 3:

Michael Moore

Moore’s attention to detail and practical focus on flood mitigation, infrastructure, traffic, an underfunded hospital district and other challenges in a growing region are why we recommend him for Precinct 3 Commissioner in the Democratic primary.

Moore, 57, whose private sector work includes communications for BP and regional vice president for Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail, is well-versed in the intricacies of issues and policies that face county government. Thanks to his communications background, he can also explain the stuff in plain English.

White, his former boss, vouches for Moore’s “servant’s heart and personal integrity.” And Moore is trying to prove that White’s brand of bipartisan pragmatism isn’t passé in this increasingly polarized political climate. His pledge to “work with anyone, anywhere to get results” may not charm partisans, but it’s a more productive mentality than sometimes prevails among Democrats on the court these days.

While Moore has insider cred, he pledges to govern with transparency and efficiency. Based on his six-year track record with White, we believe him.

Let me tout my interviews here as well: Diana Alexander, Michael Moore, Morris Overstreet, Kristi Thibaut. The Chron didn’t think Overstreet or Alexander had sufficient relevant experience, and didn’t think Thibaut articulated a good case for herself. You can listen to the interviews and judge that for yourself.

The endorsements we are still waiting for: US Senate, Congress (all races), Railroad Commissioner, Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, SD13, Tax Assessor, HCDE, and County Commissioner, Precinct 1.

(*) – They also endorsed Brenda Stardig on the Republican side for Precinct 3, and Amy Klobuchar for President, which shocks me not at all.

Nuro set to roll out

Ready or not, here they come.

Self-driving delivery vehicles that carry no humans will hit Houston roads next month.

Nuro, a San Francisco technology company, is planning to deploy its next-generation autonomous delivery vehicles in Houston after receiving federal approval. The R2, which features climate-controlled compartments and 360-degree cameras, radar and sensors, will carry grocery orders from Kroger and Walmart to customer’s homes, starting in March.

Nuro last year began piloting self-driving Prius cars in Houston, but the delivery vehicles still had a human driver and passenger to oversee the technology. The R2, which weighs about 2,500 pounds and has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour, will have no human driver or passenger.

[…]

Several grocers, including Kroger, Walmart and H-E-B, are testing self-driving grocery delivery service in Texas. Supermarket chains are investing heavily in new technologies to win over online shoppers. Customers using the autonomous vehicle delivery service will have to pick up their groceries from the vehicle curbside, notified of their arrival via text message. They will use a unique code to pick up their groceries.

See here, here, and here for some background. I am very interested in three aspects of this. One is just how many people will use this service at all, and how that changes people’s grocery shopping habits. You still have to shop, you’re just doing it over an app instead of in person at the store, where your decisions may be affected by the sights and smells of the goods, the samples and specials that are being pushed, whatever other impulses you may have, and what your kids may be nagging you for if they’re with you. I could see this being used more heavily for last-minute and “oops, I forgot I needed this thing and I don’t want to go back to the store” needs than as a full substitute for doing the in-person stuff.

Two, how many people who already use some form of human-delivered groceries will switch to this. The Nuro option will surely be cheaper (and there’s no guilt about tipping), but you have to be home to retrieve the groceries. As I’ve noted before, when we’ve used Whole Foods’ delivery service, we put a cooler on the front porch and have them deliver while we’re at work. That’s a real time and effort-saver for us, and as such it’s worth the extra cost. How tight a delivery window will you get with Nuro? If I know I’m only going to be home or available while I’m at home for a short period of time, do I trust my order will arrive when I need it to? And of course some people will require assistance in bringing their groceries in, and some people will not want to leave their house on days that are cold or scorching hot or rainy to haul bags of groceries inside. How that will break down is not at all clear to me.

Finally, note that the top speed of these things is 25 MPH. That’s nice and safe and very pedestrian-friendly, but it’s also going to mean a lot of aggrieved drivers on Houston’s main roads doing dumb things to get around the Nuro cars. I suspect there will be some number of accidents that aren’t the Nuros’ fault but wouldn’t have happened if they didn’t exist. I can’t wait to see a study about that effect. Also, going back to my second point, how confident will Kroger and Walmart be in the delivery time estimates they give their customers? My guess is their algorithms will have to be tweaked a bit here and there over time. What do you think? Does this option excite you or is it just another tech thing you’ll never use?

Weekend link dump for February 16

If you’re a fan of Lost and some other shows, you’ll be able to stream them for free soon.

“The New Majority Behind Sex Work Decriminalization”.

Finally got around to reading Diana Moskowitz’s story about the Netflix show Cheer and the uncomfortable truth about concussions in cheerleading. It’s worth your time, whether or not you watch that show.

“These folks are essentially asking the president to hate their enemies for them so that they can remain true to Jesus’s commandment to love their enemies.”

Really, almost any alternate primary system would be better than the one we have now.

RIP, Bob Boykin, who has served as the voice of Big Tex from the Texas State Fair since 2012.

All the EGOTs, including those who got them on technicalities.

Four words: Pablo Escobar’s cocaine hippos. You’re welcome.

“The semiannual national tradition of staying up a few hours past bedtime to know who will control our government is over. From close races to voting by mail to human error, it’s becoming clear that counting votes no longer fits neatly into prime-time television windows. Reporters and politicos should prepare to practice patience when handling and digesting the results.”

“I think he feels like the chains are off now. It’s like things have taken a turn. The gloves are off. And everything that used to be hush hush is now just… out in the open.”

“Pulling Liu’s name from the nomination to the Treasury position doesn’t just punish her for failing to give Trump’s associates the kid-glove treatment they deserved. Pulling her name also keeps her from giving public testimony, either on the kind of sentence Stone and Flynn deserved or on how she feels about the actions that have been taken toward her former office and former colleagues.”

RIP, Paula Kelly, dancer and Emmy-nominated actor for her role on Night Court.

“Was The Conners even the right show to choose for this type of live episode? The utter disinterest of most of these characters was so severe that it arguably defeated the entire purpose of the episode. Maybe black-ish would have been a better fit.”

“McClatchy Co., one of the nation’s largest newspaper publishers, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday, another harbinger of America’s deepening local news crisis.”

“This is precisely what Vindman did. He did not go to the press, which might have been morally justified but not prescribed by military training. Vindman saw something he believed was illegal and reported it to White House lawyers. That is precisely what they’re trained to do. Later, he received a congressional subpoena to provided testimony and he complied with that subpoena, which is literally what you are supposed to do and indeed must do. We are far into the legal-moral wilderness in which we now seem to see subpoenas as suggestions or requests.”

RIP, Paul English, longtime drummer for Willie Nelson.

RIP, Joseph Shabalala, founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

RIP, Clayton Williams, Texas oilman and onetime candidate for Governor, who lost to Ann Richards.

RIP, Katsuya Nomura, Japanese baseball legend.

Judicial Q&A: Cheri Thomas

(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.)

Cheri Thomas

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

My name is Cheri Thomas. I am running to be the Democratic candidate for Justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Place 7. I am a 15-year lawyer with significant appellate and litigation experience. My husband, Lewis Thomas, is a criminal defense attorney. Together, we have three amazing daughters and one fuzzy Samoyed.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court composed of nine justices who hear appeals and original proceedings. The Fourteenth Court has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal appeals from lower courts in ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

In 2017, I applied for and was selected to be a staff attorney for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, the same court for which I am now running. In that position, I worked on over 50 civil and criminal appeals, reviewing the record, conducting legal research, and drafting recommendations on various legal matters for the court’s consideration. I know how the court works, and I know what it takes to review appeals accurately and efficiently.

The 2018 election brought new justices to the court, with fresh perspective and a variety of backgrounds. Because the court reviews a wide variety of legal subject matters, justices with different backgrounds act as resources to one another in cases that touch upon their experience. On the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, many of the new justices have experience in criminal law and experience in small firm or solo civil practice. My experience working on complex civil matters in litigation and on appeal will serve as a helpful and necessary resource, balancing the variety of experience on the court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In the last few years, I have worked on more appeals than all my primary opponents combined during the same time period. Not only do I have significant appellate experience, I have significant trial experience. I practiced civil litigation at Baker Botts, LLP, working on a wide variety of civil trial matters, including contract, employment, securities, toxic tort, and personal injury matters in state and federal courts. I then joined Stuart PC, where I represented clients in civil and appellate matters, in state and federal courts all over the country. In 2016, I became a Partner at Stuart PC. I have managed cases at all stages of litigation. My experience as a litigator will give my appellate decision-making depth.

I also clerked for a federal judge. After graduating with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, I secured a federal clerkship working with the Honorable Jorge Solis of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where I had the opportunity to work on numerous civil cases involving various subject matters.

5. Why is this race important?

Except for death-penalty cases, all cases appealed from district and county courts in the ten counties listed above are considered by the First or Fourteenth Courts of Appeals. Intermediate appellate courts like the Fourteenth Court are often the last courts to review these appeals. The Fourteenth Court must review practically every appeal that comes before it whereas Texas’s highest appellate courts, the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, consider a limited number of appeals.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I understand that the court affects real people and real families. I am one of eleven children in a blended family. We have had our own unique set of struggles, and we have experienced struggles that most everyone has experienced: divorce, cancer, death. Voters can count on me to care.

My education and experience have given me the skills I will need to be an excellent Justice: good judgment and the ability to perform rigorous, meticulous legal analysis. I am the only candidate in my race that attended a top-ranked law school or graduated with honors. I am the only candidate that has worked at a leading international law firm or made partner at a law firm. I am the only candidate that has worked in an appellate court (or any court). I was named a “Rising Star” by the Texas Super Lawyers magazine five times, and I was recently elected as a Fellow to the Texas Bar Foundation. Texans are entitled to qualified, fair, and impartial justices. If elected, I will serve honorably. I will work hard, make well-reasoned decisions, and I will treat everyone with fairness and respect.

How should we police the police?

This article raises a number of interesting questions.

Kim Ogg

A quarter of the 60-plus law enforcement agencies operating in Harris County have refused to sign agreements to help local prosecutors track problem cops.

Under those agreements, all signed since District Attorney Kim Ogg took office three years ago, 46 agencies have promised to voluntarily turn over information about potentially untrustworthy or unreliable officers. But 17 other agencies declined to sign, a move that forces prosecutors to spend time getting the information through subpoenas and can potentially drag out the resolution of cases.

The Houston Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Metro Transit Police are among those that signed memoranda of understanding, but all of the county agencies — including all eight constable precincts and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office — declined to sign.

“Based on the County Attorney’s advice, the sheriff’s office has joined with other Harris County law enforcement agencies that are unable to sign the district attorney’s proposed memorandum of understanding at this time,” Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said in a statement to the Houston Chronicle, adding that his agency still “fully cooperates” with prosecutors by “providing all legally required information concerning all pending cases being prosecuted.”

A county attorney’s office spokesman declined to explain why lawyers told agencies not to sign the agreement, saying the office was “not comfortable” commenting on legal advice given to clients.

To Ogg, that’s all far from ideal: Without an agreement in place, her office must send out subpoena orders to make sure agencies turn over everything.

“It’s a great deal of added work,” Ogg said. “I just don’t think this (agreement) is anything that law enforcement agencies should fear.”

Long-time local defense lawyer Patrick McCann agreed that it was a “pretty fair point” that issuing added subpoenas could be a significant burden for prosecutors, and raised concerns about some agencies’ refusal to enter an agreement.

“It is absolutely indicative of the culture of hiding the ball,” he said.

[…]

The three-page agreement asks agencies to tell the DA’s office whenever a potential police witness is charged with or investigated for a crime, relieved of duty or suspended for misconduct allegations, taken off casework, determined to be untruthful through an administrative investigation, or found guilty of misconduct that could call into question their integrity. Getting agencies to sign the agreement, Ogg said, would reduce work time for prosecutors and ensure that they get all the information they need to turn over to the defense.

“We rely upon the agencies to give us the information that we would need to comply with disclosure (requirements),” Ogg said, “and instead of just blindly relying, we’ve asked them to sign written memorandums of agreement.”

To defense lawyers like McCann, the efforts to create a database and get law enforcement on board seem “laudable,” but he pointed out that ultimately it’s up to the DA’s office as to whether or when to turn that material over. “They’re still trying to keep a stranglehold on the information,” he said, “and they’re terrible about timeliness.”

So first and foremost, why is it that the County Attorney advised the Sheriff and the Constables not to sign this MOU? I would definitely have asked this question when I was doing County Attorney interviews if I had known about this. This arrangement has been in place for five years, though it started with just an informal agreement with HPD. Similar formal agreements exist around the country. It’s certainly possible there have been problems with these things in other places, but what about this particular MOU is troubling to the County Attorney? Surely there’s a way to resolve this. I’d like to understand more about this.

The information gathered via this agreement is compiled into a database, which is not publicly disclosed by Ogg. I can understand that – there are privacy concerns, the unions would surely put up a fight, and the possibility exists that a cop could get on this list as a form of retaliation by their department. One might also argue that a cop should be eligible to come off that list after a certain period of good behavior, and that a cop might have some process to challenge their placement on that list. I also understand the argument for making it public. There’s an awful lot of secrecy that surrounds law enforcement agencies, and if we’ve learned one thing in recent years it’s that such secrecy is toxic. I got an email from a person at The Justice Collaborative a little while ago, sending me their documentation about where Kim Ogg and the two main challengers stand on a variety of issues. They had all been sent a questionnaire, and I was given the responses sent by Audia Jones and Carvana Cloud; Ogg did not respond but where her position was known via public statement or her past record, it was noted. The issue of maintaining a disclosure database and making it public was included in the questionnaire – Jones supported having a public list, Cloud said she would not make it public, matching Ogg’s position. I don’t know enough right now to know how I feel about this, but I wanted to share that much with you.

Anyway. Having this arrangement is a good thing. Getting all 63 law enforcement agencies for Harris County on board should be a priority, with the non-participating agencies made known. Whatever is preventing the HCSO and the Constables from joining needs to be resolved. That can and should be a job for all of the relevant elected officials.

Endorsement watch: Supreme Court and SD11

The Chron’s endorsement process has been a bit haphazard this season – there are times when it looks like they’ve got a theme going, then they deviate from it in some head-scratching way that makes it hard for me to do these posts in a coherent manner. They gave us three endorsements on Saturday, two from Supreme Court races and the SD11 race, so I’m just going to roll with it and give them all to you here.

Susan Criss for SD11:

Susan Criss

Within hours of the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers, Judge Susan Criss of the Texas 212nd District Court in Galveston County began meeting with lawyers representing victims and BP to begin handling what would eventually number 4,005 settled claims. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Criss again oversaw a massive number of disputes over insurance claims even as she struggled to repair her own flooded home.

As a result of her judicial experience, and time as a criminal defense lawyer, Criss has an exceptionally deep understanding of how Texas laws can be improved. She is bursting with ideas for criminal justice reform, mitigating flood damage and making the workings of the Legislature more transparent. We believe all this adds up to make her an extraordinary candidate for the Texas Senate and Democrats’ best choice for Senate District 11 in the March 3 primary.

No argument from me. Susan Criss is a super candidate, and her opponent in the primary doesn’t appear to be running much of a campaign.

Larry Praeger for Supreme Court, Place 6:

Houston lawyer Kathy Cheng sees her race for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court as a prime opportunity for voters to break up what many see as a monoculture among the nine justices currently sitting on the state’s top civil court. There are six men and three women. Of them, only one justice — Eva Guzman — is Hispanic. There are no African-Americans, no Asian Americans and no Democrats, either.

Cheng says her experience as an immigrant, a woman, and a person of color equips her to see the world — and where the law fits into it — with more nuance and depth than her opponent, in part because he is white.

“If you don’t experience, say, racism in your own life, then you won’t have as deep, or as broad, an understanding of what that experience is like or what it means,” she said, describing the extra awareness she believes she’d bring to her role on the bench.

We agree with Cheng that this court could use a greater dose of diversity — and not just along racial lines. More variety in life experience, in legal practice and, yes, political ideology would be welcome. After all, how can judges apply the law to the facts of daily life in legal disputes without ready antennae capable of reading life in all its variegated nuance?

Cheng goes too far, however, to suggest that a vote for her opponent, Larry Praeger of Dallas, would be a missed opportunity to bring diversity of any kind to the court. Praeger, a former prosecutor who has built up his own mostly family law practice over 20 years, would also bring a radically different perspective to the court.

Cheng ran for this same Supreme Court position in 2018, losing to Jeff Brown, who has since stepped down, thus opening the seat and necessitating its spot on the ballot again. I don’t know much about Praeger. Both have received some endorsements, according to the Erik Manning spreadheet.

Peter Kelly for Supreme Court, Place 8:

Justice Peter Kelly of the 1st District Court of Appeals in Houston is our choice between two very qualified candidates in the Democratic primary for Place 8 on the Texas Supreme Court.

Both Kelly and his opponent, Justice Gisela Triana of the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, have served a little over a year as appellate court judges — so it is their experience prior to their election in 2018 that is the best gauge for voters in assessing what kind of Supreme Court justice they will make. And on that basis, we find Kelly’s decades-long career as an appellate lawyer, one who has argued roughly 30 cases before the court he now wishes to join, a stronger indicator of success than Triana’s impressively diverse career as a trial court judge.

[…]

Democrats are lucky to have two qualified choices in this race, but we urge them to vote for Kelly.

Not much to add here. Either candidate would have to be replaced on their current bench if they win in November, so Greg Abbott will get to appoint someone. That’s the price we pay for having candidates who have previously won elections.

Endorsement watch: For Menefee

We have our first major endorsement against an incumbent as the Chron recommends Christian Menefee for County Attorney over Vince Ryan.

Christian Menefee

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s decision to spend millions of dollars and waste precious legal resources to prolong the defense of an unconstitutional bail system raises serious questions about his judgment.

That Ryan still contends that the bail process was constitutional demands change.

This is a large part of why we recommend civil litigation attorney Christian Menefee in the March 3 Democratic primary for the job Ryan has held since 2008.

We were also impressed by promises made by Menefee, 31, to bring added energy and fresh perspective to the part of the job that goes beyond serving as a lawyer to county officials and judges. The county attorney also is responsible for using civil enforcement to protect neighborhoods, clean up the environment and shut down illegal enterprises.

“We need a relentless advocate who’s going to fight for the people of Harris County, all the people,” Menefee said in an interview with the Chronicle Editorial Board.

[…]

“I have great respect for Judge Rosenthal, but her finding of an unconstitutional system was, quite frankly, not something we agreed with,” Ryan told the Editorial Board, a stand that puts him in conflict with the courts and a growing body of legal reformers locally and across the country.

My interview with Vince Ryan is here, my interview with Christian Menefee is here, and my interview with Ben Rose is here. The Chron did endorse some challengers in judicial races, but this is a more significant decision. I’ve been saying for a long time that the bail lawsuit was going to be the main factor in this race, and however you feel about Vince Ryan – as I have said, I think he has been a pretty darned good County Attorney overall – Ryan has had to answer for this, and his answers have not been great. I don’t understand why the Chron didn’t stick to their position of strong support for bail reform in the primary between Judge George Powell and challenger Natalia Cornelio, but they are being consistent here. Again, I don’t know what the effect of the expected high turnout for the primary will be. I do expect that this issue has resonated with the Democratic electorate, but I don’t know how deep that goes.

UT/Trib: Two out of three polls say Bernie is moving up

This is Bernie Sanders’ best poll result in Texas so far.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has doubled his support among Democratic voters in Texas and now leads the race for that party’s presidential nomination in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Sanders had the support of 24% of the self-identified Democratic primary voters in the poll, up from 12% in October. Sanders passed both former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the two leaders in the October 2019 UT/TT Poll. Early voting in the Texas primaries starts on Tuesday; election day — Super Tuesday — is March 3.

The field of candidates has changed since the earlier survey. Beto O’Rourke, who was third in October, has dropped out of the race. And Michael Bloomberg, who entered the contest late, landed fourth in the newest poll, ahead of Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the second- and third-place finishers in this week’s New Hampshire primary. Warren finished fourth in that contest, with Biden fifth.

Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the presidential race this week, was behind Buttigieg and ahead of Klobuchar in the latest UT/TT Poll.

“Most of the movement has been Sanders and Bloomberg, with Biden [holding] still,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “To be unable to increase his vote share is pretty telling for Biden.”

While Biden’s support was static, Sanders was surging in Texas, and Bloomberg was rising on the strength of millions of his own money spent on advertising after a late start.

See here for more on the October UT/Trib poll. In the other two recent polls we’ve had, Biden led Bernie by two (Lyceum) and Biden had a commanding lead over Bernie (UT-Tyler). This poll was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, so perhaps it better captures any momentum or friction that these candidates may have had following Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s a lot of moving parts so it’s hard to isolate any one factor, but the evidence now says that Sanders is in a stronger position in Texas than he had been before.

As for the general:

A slight majority of all Texas voters — 52% — said they would not vote to reelect President Donald Trump in November. Republicans remain solidly in his corner: 90% said they would vote to reelect Trump, including 80% who said they “definitely” would do so. Democrats feel just as strongly: 93% said they would not vote for the president’s reelection, including 88% who would “definitely not” vote for him. Independent voters were against reelection, but less so: 38% said they would vote to reelect Trump, while 62% said they would vote against him.

“With Trump at the top of the ballot, in congressional and legislative races where candidates are running with margins of 5% or less, where the independent [voters] go could become a factor,” Henson said. “It adds uncertainty to those races.”

But when pitted against some of the top Democrats in hypothetical head-to-head contests, the president topped them all, if somewhat narrowly. Trump would beat Sanders by 2 percentage points, 47%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error. He’d beat Biden 47-43, Warren 47-44, Bloomberg 46-41, Buttigieg 47-42, and Klobuchar 46-41. Trump had 45% support against Yang’s 43%. The president, whose reelect number was under 50% in the survey, didn’t get a majority of the vote in any of the matchups, even while getting more support than each Democrat.

“The Trump trial ballots confirm what we’ve seen, that Trump is winning, but he clearly is under-performing, given the party profile in the state,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin who co-directs the poll. “It is interesting when you put a flesh and blood Democrat up there, it drops that number, but here’s a Republican in a Republican state who’s not at 50%, which is a sign of weakness.”

That’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all along. For what it’s worth, Sanders was the closest competitor to Trump in the October UT-Trin poll, trailing him by five points, 45-40. Biden trailed 46-39, then-still-a-candidate Beto was down 47-41. We’ve seen these results all over the place as well, and it’s just as hard to isolate any reasons for the movement of one candidate or another. What has been consistent has been Trump’s inability to get and stay above fifty percent, as well as his mediocre approval levels and the significant “will not vote for him” totals. Again, I say compare to 2012 when Mitt Romney had a consistent double-digit lead on President Obama, who never got higher in the polls than the 42% he eventually received. We’re still early and the Democratic primary is still unsettled, but it’s clear the Republicans have reason to be worried. The Texas Signal has more.

The Observer overviews the DA primary

You’ve had a chance to listen to my interviews with DA candidates, now read this story for more on this important primary.

Kim Ogg

When Kim Ogg first ran for Harris County district attorney, she had a simple pitch for criminal justice reform: stop jailing people for petty pot possession. The position, novel to Houston politics in 2014, proved so popular that even her Republican opponent embraced a version of it. Ogg lost that first race, but she tried again in 2016, this time adding bail reform and a promise to create “a system that doesn’t oppress the poor” to her platform. She beat the incumbent by 8 percentage points to become Harris County’s first Democratic DA in 40 years.

Ogg was among the first wave of reform-minded “progressive prosecutors” elected across the country in recent years. This new class rejected a tough-on-crime ethos, advocating instead for fairness and jailing fewer people. Ogg quickly declared herself “part of the national reform movement” and started dismissing low-level marijuana charges for people who took a class and paid a fine. She also rejected so-called “trace cases” involving miniscule drug amounts and called for diversion instead of jail for small-time offenders. 

Over the course of her first term, however, progressives have soured on Ogg. While she publicly supported bail reform, she continued to seek high bail for people charged with minor offenses. She further disappointed them by objecting to historic bail reforms that followed a years-long lawsuit to end the practice of keeping low-level offenders in jail simply because they’re poor. Progressives have also bristled at Ogg’s repeated attempts to expand her office.

Now at the end of her first term, Ogg feels squeezed between opposing forces: a police union that accuses her of being soft on crime and critics on the left who say she’s failed to live up to her reputation. She’s facing a combative Democratic primary next month, flanked by challengers who insist that she’s stood in the way of progress during her first term. A Democratic sweep in the midterms that turned Harris County solid blue further emboldened local organizers who are seeking a new kind of reform prosecutor. 

While Ogg credits herself with boosting diversion programs and reducing prison sentences during her first term, her critics insist more fundamental changes are needed to fix yawning racial inequalities in the local justice system and to decarcerate one of the largest jails in the country. There was palpable tension between Ogg and the forces that helped elect her at a ACLU of Texas candidate forum in downtown Houston last Thursday. Some people in the standing-room-only crowd jeered as Ogg urged them to stick with her “balanced approach” to reform. After the forum, a woman walked up to Ogg and began arguing with her before campaign staffers quickly intervened.

In a phone call this week, Ogg sounded aggrieved and unappreciated, the way incumbents often do during tough re-election fights. “I started running before people in our local political arena even knew what a district attorney did,” she said. “Everything I wanted to do was a reformation of decades of static prosecutorial policy in Harris County. So of course I’m a reformer, and to be labeled otherwise—that’s a political issue more than a factual one.”

Ogg’s primary is one of several prosecutor races in Texas this year that could redefine the bounds of criminal justice reform in the state. As state lawmakers fail to make meaningful progress each legislative session, advocates for change have increasingly focused on amplifying key district attorney, judge, and sheriff races to transform how their communities are policed and prosecuted.

The article touches on the race in Travis County as well, where incumbent Margaret Moore is under similar fire. I have no idea what will happen in these races – they’re as prominent as any local election, but it’s hard to say how much of that breaks through in the non-stop fusillade of national political news – but they will have a significant effect in Harris and Travis Counties. A side issue I’ve been pondering, which I asked Audia Jones about when I spoke to her, is whether the Legislature (especially but not exclusively if it remains in Republican hands) will step in and try to impose some limits on what prosecutors can and can’t do. I can very easily see this as a red meat law-and-order issue for Dan Patrick (and, whenever someone wakes him up and reminds him that he’s Governor, Greg Abbott) in the 2021 session. I have no idea what they may try to do, but I’m sure their imagination won’t be so limited. Just something to keep in mind.

No metal detectors at HISD schools

For now, at least.

Houston ISD trustees shelved a request from administrators Thursday to authorize up to $3 million for metal detectors, arguing district officials need to provide more concrete recommendations and plans for school security before the board votes to allocate money for the machines.

The board’s decision comes as Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan’s administration continues to solicit feedback and analyze security protocols following last month’s on-campus fatal shooting of Bellaire High School student Cesar Cortes, 19. Lathan said she has not yet decided whether to install metal detectors in some middle and high schools, but her administration wanted quick access to funds for the machines if district leaders decide to buy them.

Some trustees suggested they remain open to possibly deploying metal detectors at access points in schools, though they said administrators and the board first need to conduct more detailed conversations about districtwide security plans. Several trustees questioned why Lathan asked for authority to spend on metal detectors now, rather than waiting until she decided to purchase the machines.

“It’s so easy to try to put a metal detector out there as a quick fix,” Trustee Anne Sung said. “I just want to make sure we’re being thoughtful and utilizing a strategy.”

[…]

Lathan said the prospect of installing metal detectors has received some public support, but three other security measures top her list of potential recommendations as of now: increasing the number of police officers on campuses; bumping up police officer pay to reduce vacancies and turnover; and adding social workers to address students’ social and emotional needs.

Students attending the district’s high schools have been particularly supportive of placing more police officers on campuses, Lathan said. Her comments came after closed-door meetings with about 25 Bellaire students last month and 35 high school students from across the district earlier this week.

“I thought that was powerful,” Lathan said. “Especially in this day and time, when there’s still animosity in some communities when it comes to police officers, what I heard is, we want more police officers.”

HISD trustees have not yet held extensive discussions about specific security recommendations, many of which would require the board to authorize additional funding. Some board members have asked Lathan to present data on the efficiency of metal detectors in schools, though relatively little national research exists.

“I think we need to have a conversation on what our philosophy and approach is as a district, rooted in conversation with community members and students — which I know we’ve begun to do — but also research and policies,” Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca said Thursday.

See here for the background. I’m glad we are not charging ahead with this, and I agree with Trustees Sung and Vilaseca that we need to put a lot of thought into this and do some research. And put me down in opposition to increasing police presence at schools, because the research we have on that shows that more police at schools is a key component of the school-to-prison pipeline. Too many kids win up getting citations for low-level, non-violent behavior that historically has been handled at the school level – that’s what police officers do, after all – and that has significant and long-lasting effect on the kids. Let’s take a long, serious look at other options before we go down this path, because the potential for unintended consequences is great.

Endorsement watch: More State Reps

The Chron finishes the task of endorsing in the State Rep primaries. Here was Round One, now let’s dive into the rest.

Natali Hurtado in HD126:

Natali Hurtado

Hurtado was 19 and a college student working at Olive Garden when she became a single mother. Her husband was arrested and convicted for a crime committed before she knew him and sentenced to life in prison, leaving her to fend for her young daughter. She moved back in with her parents and relied on food stamps and Medicaid. She stayed in school and eventually graduated from the University of Houston, before earning a master’s degree in public policy and administration at the University of St. Thomas.

She told the Editorial Board she’s running for a seat in the Legislature to represent “not just those that had a privileged upbringing but those with real struggles in life.”

Now 36, she has cut her teeth in politics in various positions with elected officials at City Hall, the Texas House and in Congress for U.S. Rep. Gene Green. She currently works as deputy head of a local management district. Hurtado’s ability to connect her own remarkable story, and those of district residents, to policy ideas is exactly what is needed in a legislator. Her platform includes expanding Medicaid, improving public education and addressing flooding. She also has her ear to the ground in terms of economic development and addressing blight in the district.

As noted before, this is a rematch of the 2018 primary between Hurtado and Undrai Fizer. Hurtado was endorsed by the Chron then, and won that race. HD126 is one of the districts targeted by the Dems this cycle – in 2018 it was on the fringe of the fringe – and will be a bigger deal this time around.

Akilah Bacy in HD138:

Akilah Bacy

House District 138 has been represented by Republican Dwayne Bohac since 2003, but the political currents could be changing and Democrats have a strong chance of picking up the seat in the fall. Last time, Bohac won his seat by just 47 votes and he’s not running again. That means the district, which has the Addicks Reservoir at its center and includes Bear Creek neighborhoods and parts of Spring Branch, is wide open.

Democratic primary voters have two strong candidates to choose from. Akilah Bacy, 34, has strong, on-the-ground experience that speaks to her passion and smarts. Josh Wallenstein, 44, has proven his commitment to improving education and other vital local issues. It’s a close decision, but we feel that a vote for Akilah is the best choice for Democrats in this district.

Bacy told the Editorial Board about an experience representing a client who could not read key legal documents, an encounter that motivated her to volunteer to teach adult literacy and ESL in her local school district and to hold free legal-rights classes. She has also represented children seeking asylum at the United States borders at no cost. Bacy grew up in northwest Houston and has an insider’s knowledge of its challenges. She attended Cypress-Creek High School, Spelman College and Texas Tech law school. She began her career as an assistant district attorney for Harris County before starting her own firm. Her focus is on core issues — education, healthcare, flooding, climate, employment rights, restorative justice — all issues voters in her district care deeply about.

I agree this is a tough choice. They’re both strong candidates and would represent the district well. Wallenstein has raised more money so far, but I don’t think that matters too much. This district is a top priority, there will be plenty of establishment support for whoever wins. Jenifer Pool is also in this primary so there’s a good chance this will go to a runoff. Pick your favorite and go with it.

Rep. Jarvis Johnson in HD139:

Rep. Jarvis Johnson

Angeanette Thibodeaux credits her opponent, State Rep. Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, for joining other community and elected leaders to help defeat plans to locate one more concrete batch plant in Acres Homes.

But rather than a reason to send him back to Austin for a fourth term, she says the fact that the batch plant operator was able to get a permit in the first place is grounds to fire Johnson and vote for her instead to fight for the seat in November. Experience like that, she said, is not worth keeping. “I won’t sleep at the wheel,” she said in a video posted to her website.

In politics, that’s called taking your opponent’s strength and turning it on its head to make it sound like a weakness. It can be effective, but Democratic voters in the 139th District should look beyond the jujitsu and stick with Johnson, 48.

He’s been in office three terms, and has been consequential even as a Democrat in a GOP-dominated chamber. He has passed bills, worked with Republicans and Democrats and rallied allies to safeguard the interests of his constituents. Far from being a liability, his work to help convince owners of the batch plant to drop plans to locate in Acres Homes is a powerful example of success.

I’ve been basically happy with Rep. Johnson. I didn’t think he was all that capable as a City Council member, and he never articulated a good reason for his 2010 primary challenge to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, but overall as far as I can tell he’s been fine as a State Rep. I haven’t met Angeanette Thibodeaux and can’t say how they compare. If you live in this district and have any thoughts about it, I’d love to hear them.

Rep. Harold Dutton in HD142:

Rep. Harold Dutton

There’s a reason why Harold V. Dutton Jr., who has been in the Legislature since 1985, has drawn his first competitive challenge in decades: the looming state intervention in the Houston Independent School District.

House Bill 1842, spearheaded by Dutton in 2015 and approved with overwhelming support, set the district on a collision course with the state over chronically failing schools.

Dutton arrived at that legislation neither lightly nor quickly, he told the Editorial Board. He first proposed other options and tried to work with the school board to help underperforming schools, including Kashmere High School and Wheatley High School, both in his district and both of which have been on the state list of troubled schools for years.

While the remedy — sidelining an elected school board with a state-appointed board of managers — is extreme and offers no guarantees, Dutton believes that it’s better than the alternative of another year of students falling behind.

We wish Dutton’s legislation had allowed otherwise strong districts more flexibility in addressing campuses with long histories of failure. But we are convinced Dutton was acting in good faith to force accountability, and his authorship of this one bill is not enough reason to forget years of accomplishment, nor the advantages that his seniority in the Legislature confers.

Dutton has done a lot in his legislative career, and he’s been a force for good on voting rights and criminal justice reform. I think you can admire the intent of HD1842 and recognize that the overall consequences of it may be significant, without any guarantee of a payoff. Whether the one of these outweighs the other is the choice you get to make if you live in this district. I like Jerry Davis and I think he’d make a fine State Rep. We’ll see if he gets the chance.

The Chron still has a lot to do before they’re done – HCDE, Tax Assessor, District Attorney, State Senate, Railroad Commission, Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals, Congress, US Senate, and, you know, President. My gut feel on Friday as I write this is that they’ll go with Amy Klobuchar, but what do I know? The point is, there are still a lot more of these to come.

Judicial Q&A: Natalia Cornelio

(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.)

Natalia Cornelio

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

I am Natalia “Nata” Cornelio. I am an experienced, bilingual, Latina attorney. I am running for the Harris County 351st District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This is a Criminal District Court responsible for presiding over felony level cases. This includes presiding over trials and making decisions relating to pretrial release or detention, pretrial motions, sentencing, and certain post-conviction matters.

The Court is also responsible for making decisions and establishing procedures that are distinct from hearing cases, but that have a substantial impact on the community and on individuals appearing before it. For example, the Court has responsibility for case management and courtroom procedures, the appointment of counsel in indigent cases, and for bail-related schedules or policies.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I am running because I have the ability to apply the law in a manner that will improve the public’s confidence in our courts and their decisions.

I will work tirelessly to improve case management systems, to demonstrate an exceptional understanding of the law, to always respect the Constitution and people’s rights, and to thoughtfully consider people’s experiences when applying the law.

I am also running to bring desperately needed diversity to our criminal bench. I am a qualified Latina attorney who has directly served the communities that are often hit hardest by our justice system. Of the 38 criminal courts in Harris County, there are zero Latina judges serving on these courts. This is in spite of the fact that the population in Harris County is over 43% Latino.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have over 13 years of high-level legal & courtroom experience. I have substantial experience working directly with communities most impacted by the criminal justice system and have a clear, profound understanding of the consequences that judicial decisions have in these communities.

I received my law degree in 2006 from the University of Chicago Law School. I succesfully defended my first murder trial and suppressed evidence in two additional cases while a student at the Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid and Juvenile Justice Clinic.

I then served as a staff attorney for the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for nearly four years, where I drafted judicial opinions for federal appellate judges in criminal, immigration, and habeas corpus cases. I disposed of all legal arguments from both sides while applying the law and considering the record in each case.

Between 2011 and 2017, I was a Federal Public Defender here in Houston. During these years, I was in court handling criminal cases almost every day. I represented hundreds of clients charged with serious felony crimes through every phase of their trial proceedings. I litigated hundreds of bail and probable cause hearings. I successfully challenged a case on double jeopardy grounds before federal judge Lee Rosenthal, and successfully challenged a case where speedy trial rights were violated. I developed significant expertise in criminal law and procedure and developed a strong understanding of the immigration consequences that attach to criminal proceedings. While there, I also conducted Continuing Legal Education classes for other practicing attorneys regarding bail proceedings and on defending criminal immigration offenses.

From 2017 until 2019, I was Director of Criminal Justice Reform at the Texas Civil Rights Project. I managed a team of attorneys and litigated prominent, complex civil rights cases relating to our criminal justice system under Section 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. I investigated cases under the Fair Housing Act and Title IX. I successfully represented, on a pro-bono basis, parents forcibly separated from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border under the federal government’s zero-tolerance policy, the medically vulnerable prisoners held in swelteringly hot and cruel conditions in the Texas prison system, prisoners who have been in continuous solitary confinement for over 20 years, a man who was criminally charged in Greenspoint with “standing on the sidewalk,” and a mother in El Paso who was jailed while pregnant for being unable to pay traffic tickets. I was involved in panel discussions, training sessions, and media presentations regarding this work and our criminal justice system.

In the summer of 2019, I became the Director of Legal Affairs for Harris County Precinct One, where I helped negotiate and draft the final settlement agreement in the misdemeanor bail lawsuit against Harris County. This agreement was critical to ensuring and end to the Harris County practice of detaining thousands of misdemeanor arrestees each year prior to trial simply because of their inability to pay a cash bond. I serve as Co-chair of the Harris County Racial and Ethnic Disparities Committee. This committee is tasked with developing strategies to reduce racial disparities in our justice system. My experience in this rols has made me familiar with the resources available to our leaders to support the development of better policies and practices on critical issues relating to race, bail, and incarceration.

I also teach a course on trial advocacy to law students at The University of Chicago Law School for two weeks each year.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because we must always strive to elect judges who will improve the public’s confidence in our courts based on a demonstrated ability to apply the law.

While this includes any aspect of the court’s work, one critical issue facing our courts today is whether the law and Constitution will be faithfully followed on bail decisions and procedures. Federal Courts across the country have now held that criminal courts must not detain people simply because of their economic circumstances. In Harris County, the Fifth Circuit has found that we have harmed thousands of people, their families and their communities by solely relying on ability to pay in making bail decisions. These policies have perpetuated racial disparities in our justice system and act as a force in too often making innocent people plead guilty.

We need leaders who are committed to making changes in order to always comply with the law and Constitution. These changes will require hard work and a willingness to make difficult decisions. I am committed to ensuring that the law and Constitution are followed in all cases including in bail decisions and policies, and to ensure that all people receive equal justice under the law.

Diversity is also a pressing issue facing our courts. The lack of a Latina judge in our 38 criminal courts serves to undermine the public’s confidence in our courts. We have an opportunity to change that.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I will bring integrity, accountability, diligence, and a respect for the law and legal processes to the bench. I will base my decisions on law and fact. I will respect all members of the community, work hard, and never stop learning. I will always strive to build the public’s confidence in our courts. I ask for your vote.

What is happening in the CD22 primary?

Holy smokes.

Nyanza Moore

A state district judge on Wednesday barred Democratic congressional candidate Nyanza Moore from making domestic violence allegations against opponent Derrick Reed after the former Pearland councilman sued her for defamation.

Brazoria County Judge Patrick Sebesta issued a temporary restraining order after concluding that Reed would “suffer immediate and irreparable damage” to his integrity and reputation if Moore persisted with a series of social media posts implying that Reed “beats women.”

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Reed cited a handful of times in which Moore alleged or suggested that he had beaten his ex-wife or otherwise committed domestic violence. In one post, Moore indicated she possessed a protective order between Reed and his ex-wife.

In the court filing, Reed emphatically denied the allegations and said no protective order “exists between he and his ex-wife or any other woman.”

“Mr. Reed was with his ex-wife for approximately 20 years and has never beat or abused her,” the filing reads. “The police have never been called out to any of their residences for domestic violence or any physical altercation.”

In a statement, Reed’s ex-wife, Erin Reed, said, “The claim being made that my ex-husband, Derrick Reed, physically abused me during our marriage is false. This accusation is damaging and unfair to our young and impressionable children and is an untrue characterization of their father.”

The order prohibits Moore from making any allegations that Reed committed domestic violence, and instructs her to retract any prior statement “used to disseminate the defamatory statements.”

The lawsuit is embedded in the story, or you can see it here. There’s a high standard to meet to win in an action like this when you are a public figure and political speech is involved, as noted in the story. A hearing for the injunction will be held on February 25, after which there will be three more days of early voting. I think it’s safe to say that more people are now aware of this allegation than when it was first made.

We’re all more sensitive to claims about violence against women now, and we all know that just because such a claim was not decided in a courtroom doesn’t mean it was without merit. That said, there are two things about this particular case that stand out to me. One is Moore’s claim about that alleged protective order. She did’t say she heard that one existed, she said she had an actual copy of an actual order in her possession, which she has threatened to make public – “Keep it up and the Protective Order will see day light” was a response Moore made on one of the cited Facebook posts (see Exhibit B in the lawsuit). If you claim you have something like this, you better have it. If she doesn’t, that puts a big dent in her own credibility. Sooner or later in this process, she is going to be asked to produce that order.

The other thing is that if Reed is not being fully truthful, there is a chance someone else could come forward now that this has all been made public and provide their own evidence to back up Moore’s claim or make one of their own. We have certainly seen that dynamic play out in other cases. What we know for sure is that it cannot be the case that both of them are telling the truth. It could be the case that both of them are being less than fully honest, but at least one of them is wrong. We’ll see what happens in court.

One more thing, which isn’t relevant to the lawsuit but which I noticed in the document: Moore repeatedly referred to Reed as a Republican in the Facebook posts. The Erik Manning spreadsheet lists candidates’ primary voting history for the last four cycles. Derrick Reed did indeed vote in the Republican primary in 2016; he then voted in the Democratic primary in 2018. Nyanza Moore had no primary voting history shown. Make of that what you will.

Astros offer an apology

We’ll see how it goes for them.

From a local newscast in LA

Astros players issued their first public apology after being involved in a cheating scandal that rocked baseball in the offseason.

“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team by the organization and by me,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said in a press conference at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans. I would also like to thank the Astros fans for all of their support. We as a team are totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season.”

Jose Altuve followed up with a similar apology and said the team had a meeting Wednesday to talk about how they should move forward.

“I want to say that the whole Astros organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017,” said Altuve in a 38-second statement. “We especially feel remorse for the impact on the fans and the game of baseball, and our team is determined to move forward, to play with intensity and to bring back a championship to Houston in 2020.”

[…]

“At that meeting last night, the players showed tremendous remorse, sorrow and embarrassment for their families, organization, city of Houston and baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I want to ask for the baseball world to forgive them for the mistakes they made.”

Astros owner Jim Crane, who fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow when baseball released its report on the Astros’ cheating scandal, also apologized.

“I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened,” Crane said. “I want to repeat this will never happen again on my watch.”

I’ll get to Crane in a minute, but suffice it to say not everyone was convinced. I do think this will simmer down over time – if nothing else, the Red Sox punishment is coming, and that will provide a distraction and another target for fans to aim their displeasure – but it will be present for the season, if not longer. Every first meeting against another team, every time an Astros player gets hit by a pitch, any time someone pops off on Twitter, the whole saga will get rehashed. And if there are further revelations, well, as the man once said, hold onto your butts.

As for Astros owner Jim Crane, maybe he should have hired a better apology-writer.

The Astros, who now stand, in the words of one analyst, as “baseball’s unfaithful spouse,” tried to address the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal Thursday with a hybrid communications strategy that observers say left questions unanswered and failed to mollify the team’s critics.

While observers were more generous toward comments by Astros players in the spring training clubhouse at West Palm Beach, Fla., they were less complimentary of the 30-minute news conference staged by owner Jim Crane, which included brief remarks by players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.

Gene Grabowski, a partner at the crisis communications firm kglobal in Washington, D.C., said the Astros were ill-served by advisers in planning the opening news conference that got the morning off to a rough start.

“The core of the problem is that the team’s owner and players tried to declare the crisis over before it’s really over,” Grabowski said. “They sounded arrogant when they said they are moving on. That’s for the fans and sports writers to say — not guilty players and owners.

“The team’s news conference was ill-conceived and poorly presented. It was a horrible performance that has actually made the situation worse for the Astros.”

Mike Androvett, who owns a public relations, marketing and advertising firm that works with attorneys in Dallas and Houston, said the news conference failed to put the past to rest and, instead, “reinforced that the 2017 World Series win will likely be forever tainted.”

[…]

Marjorie Ingall with the website sorrywatch.com, which tracks and rates messages of public contrition, said the Astros news conference “was spectacular in its horridness. It’s the way not to apologize. It’s every example of terrible corporate policy.”

Among Crane’s failures during his news conference, Ingall said, was refusing to acknowledge the damage the Astros inflicted on their opponents.

“You have to apologize to the people you’ve harmed,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not really apologizing.”

She did, however, have good words for Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who began his remarks in the clubhouse with the phrase, “We were wrong for everything we did in 2017.”

“That’s the first sentence of a good apology: ‘We were wrong,’” Ingall said.

Well, maybe the worst is now over. Gotta think positive, right? Sports Illustrated has more.

Endorsement watch: Some State Reps

The Chron made seven endorsements in contested Democratic State Rep primaries on Thursday, plus two in contested Republican State Rep primaries. This must be Part One, because there are multiple races left for them to do. I’ll get to that in a minute, but for now, here’s a recap of the action.

Rep. Alma Allen in HD131.
Rep. Senfronia Thompson in HD141.
Rep. Garnet Coleman in HD147.

None of those are surprising, or all that interesting given that these are three of the best from Harris County. Moving on.

Josh Markle in HD128.

District 128 borders and straddles the Houston Ship Channel. In the last election, the Democratic Party did not run a candidate against the incumbent Rep. Briscoe Cain. This year, both candidates in the Democratic primary, Josh Markle and Mary Williams, want voters to at least have a choice even if they face long-shot odds. That’s smart, as no seat should be so safe that incumbents aren’t even challenged.

[…]

Markle was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, and besides environmental issues, his platform includes the full gamut of core Democratic issues — healthcare, education, jobs and criminal justice reform. He’ll give voters in the Republican-leaning district a promising alternative to consider in the fall.

Williams served the Houston Police Department as a civilian for more than 23 years. We applaud her spirit of service and dedication to her community. But we believe Markle will give voters ready for a change in the district a better option.

Markle got a fundraising boost from Beto back in September, as you may recall. Good candidate, very tough race.

Ann Johnson in HD134.

Ann Johnson

Child prostitutes were seen as criminals not victims under Texas law until 2010 when Ann Johnson won a case at the Texas Supreme Court involving a girl who was 13 when she was arrested. The case changed both the state law and the national conversation around sex trafficking, and is among several achievements that distinguish Johnson from a strong slate in the Democratic primary for House District 134.

[…]

Ultimately it is Johnson who presents the strongest chance for Democrats to take back control of District 134. She speaks with authority about a broad range of issues and with the persuasive power of a former prosecutor. After the landmark case she argued to the Texas Supreme Court, she was was hired by a Republican district attorney as a human-trafficking specialist. She worked with Republican judges to start the CARE court to assist child victims of human tracking and SAFE court for people 17 to 25 charged with prostitution. Now she’s calling for public-private partnerships to establish a victim recovery village.

Even if Democrats do flip the House, whoever wins this seat will have to work those across the aisle. Johnson has a record of appealing to common values to get important work done.

It is a strong field in HD134, as any of Johnson, Ruby Powers, or Lanny Bose would be an excellent State Rep. You can’t go wrong here.

Rep. Shawn Thierry in HD146.

Rep. Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry traces her interest in politics back to early childhood when she was the first black child in her Houston public elementary school. Thierry’s teacher quit because she said she couldn’t teach a “colored child.”

Her mother, the first black teacher to integrate Sharpstown High School, used to call her “little Barbara Jordan,” after the revered Texas politician who was the first African-American woman in the Texas Senate and the first from the Deep South elected to the U.S. Congress.

[…]

Thierry is being challenged for the seat, which represents a demographically diverse community from Sunnyside through Meyerland and Westbury past Sharpstown, by Houston Black Lives founder and community activist Ashton P. Woods.

Woods, who ran for City Council last year, brings passion for communities that often go unheard, especially on issues impacting the LGBT community. His is a much-needed voice that we hope will be heard.

Thierry, however, brings pragmatism and perseverance that is critical in making change happen in the Legislature. We endorse Thierry for House District 146.

Thierry was elected in 2016 after winning the nomination in one of those precinct chair selections, after Borris Miles moved up to SD13 to replace Rodney Ellis. She had a primary challenger in 2018 but won that easily. I heard a brief rumor after the 2019 election that Dwight Boykins might file for this seat, but in the end that didn’t happen. Woods is the strongest challenger to a Dem incumbent this side of Jerry Davis, and he’s picked up a few endorsements including the GLBT Political Caucus and the Texas Organizing Project. Keep an eye on this one as well.

Rep. Anna Eastman in HD148.

Rep. Anna Eastman

Eastman, whose HISD district included 75 percent of District 148, told the Editorial Board that education would be one of her priorities. She wants to ensure that funding from HB3, the school finance bill passed in the last session, is preserved and the money goes where it is needed. She also believes the state school rating system needed to be reviewed.

“There’s a huge disconnect when you have a district like HISD getting a B rating, triggering a board of managers and having schools that we know really are not serving our kids in a way that they’re worthy of,” said Eastman, 52.

She also supports increasing access to safe, legal abortion and a number of gun reform measures, including closing background-check loopholes, red-flag laws and banning assault-style weapons and ammunition.

We were also encouraged by Eastman’s plan to spend the next several months establishing her office, getting to know her constituents and “showing up in Austin in January ready to serve and do work that matters.”

Eastman was the Chron’s choice in the special election, so this is not a surprise. Penny Shaw has racked up all of the group endorsements, however, so this ought to be a tough race. Most likely, Eastman will have to run a fourth time, in a primary runoff, for the opportunity to run for a fifth time, in November.

Still to be endorsed: HDs 126 and 138, the two remaining challenges to Republican-held seats, and HDs 139 and 142, the other two challenges to Dem incumbents. Also, too, SDs 11 and 13, and a bunch of other races. We’re still waiting.

Judicial Q&A: Judge Amy Clark Meachum

(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.)

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

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

My name is Judge Amy Clark Meachum, a three-term district court judge from Travis County, and I am running for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort for civil appeals (including civil cases, family law matters, administrative appeals, probate and estate matters, child protection cases and juvenile justice cases) in Texas.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

It is time for a new generation of judicial thought leaders to bring much needed balance to the all-Republican Supreme Court. Texas has never elected a woman chief justice to its highest court, and I am proud to be the first woman to ever run for this office. We need a system of justice that respects the Constitution, protects the vital role of citizen juries, and addresses the economic barriers that too often prevent women, persons of color, and working families from seeking and obtaining justice. We need to elect judges who put public service and fairness over special interests.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

As presiding judge for the 201st District Court in Travis County, I have general jurisdiction and have presided over cases at the trial level for almost a decade. I am currently the Civil Presiding Judge for all civil and family courts in Travis County, and serve on the Administrative and Public Law Council for the State Bar of Texas. I am a guest lecturer on legal ethics, active on the CLE circuit, and a board member with Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas. Before taking the bench, I practiced civil litigation at two of the best firms in Texas. I graduated with honors from the University of Texas School of Law in 2000, where I was a member of the Texas Law Review, and graduated magna cum laude from Southern Methodist University in 1997.

5. Why is this race important?

The Supreme Court of Texas has been controlled by the Republican Party for over 25 years. SCOTX is considered by legal watchdog groups to be one of the most ideologically conservative in the nation, consistently ruling in favor of large corporations and insurance companies and against individuals and everyday Texans. I am committed to returning the state’s highest civil court to a much more balanced center — and affording all persons equal justice under the law. Even the skeptics agree that 2020 is the best opportunity for Democrats to win statewide in 25 years, and we have the opportunity to possibly win four seats on a nine-member court. This is the most consequential election in our lifetime. Now, more than ever, we need a system of justice that respects the Constitution and values the role of our judiciary and the rule of law.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

When you compare my nearly decade of judicial experience to my primary opponent’s one year, any reasonable person will conclude that I am the more qualified and experienced candidate. When you investigate my judicial record, it will show a decade of standing up for the values of fairness, equality and justice under the law. After winning a contested Democratic primary in Travis County in 2010, I ran for reelection unopposed in 2014 and 2018. Not a single Democrat nor a single Republican ran against me in 2014 or 2018. That speaks to the quality of my work and the fairness of my rulings. In the most consequential election of our lifetime, let’s do something bold and give the voters a clear choice next November. I don’t exactly look like or sound like my primary opponent, my general election opponent, or any of the men who have previously been elected Chief Justice. I am making an important statement for women in the law and women in our party in 2020 and I would appreciate your support!

Chron overview of the HD142 primary

Also known as the How Mad Are People At Harold Dutton? primary.

Rep. Harold Dutton

Longtime state Rep. Harold Dutton is facing the most serious re-election test of his 35-year political career in an acrimonious primary against two Democratic opponents.

The race, which has generated few headlines but produced ample tension between the candidates, pits Dutton against Houston District B Councilman Jerry Davis and transportation logistics executive Richard Bonton. A fourth candidate, Natasha Ruiz, does not appear to have a campaign website and has yet to file any campaign finance reports.

Imperiling Dutton’s re-election is a well-funded challenge from Davis, who since 2012 has represented much of the same northeast Houston territory as Dutton, including Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens and Trinity/Houston Gardens.

The candidacy of Bonton, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2018, also raises the prospect that Dutton could be forced into a runoff for the first time since his initial run for the seat in 1984, said Michael Adams, chairman of Texas Southern University’s political science department.

“I think it’s a very competitive race,” Adams said. “Harold is a long-standing incumbent, but that cuts both ways, because Jerry has a lot of recognition from his city council races.”

Nothing has drawn more attention in the race than Dutton’s role in crafting a 2015 law that requires the Texas Education Agency to penalize a district if any of its schools fails state standards for five consecutive years by closing the school or replacing the school board.

[…]

Dutton shrugs off the criticism over HISD, noting that the law received widespread bipartisan support when it sailed through the Legislature five years ago.

“I stand by it totally,” Dutton said. “I just couldn’t in good faith sit there and do nothing while these students linger in the education toilet. HISD, like most school districts, could have taken the opportunity to fix the schools. That’s what could have happened and should have happened, but didn’t happen.”

I just don’t know what to make of this one. It’s certainly the strongest challenge Rep. Dutton has faced in a long time – he made it through the Craddick years without being targeted – I just don’t know how much people will hold the TEA takeover stuff against him. He’s right, the bill had broad support when it passed, and there’s certainly a case that if a school continues to struggle year after year, it’s being failed by its district as much as anything else. On the other hand, he doesn’t have much money, he probably doesn’t have much of a field operation (since he’s never needed to have one, and he’s far from the first name you think of when you think of team players in the countywide campaign), and he doesn’t have much in the way of establishment organizational support. Labor has mostly sided with Davis (with the exception of the Texas State Teachers Association, which may see him as a friendly incumbent), as has the GLBT Caucus, while HBAD has endorsed Bonton, and the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats co-endorsed Bonton with Dutton. Maybe the high expected turnout will help him, as he’s likely the best known name on the ballot even after Davis has won three elections, and maybe less-frequent voters will feel less affinity for him. I really have no idea. If you live in the district and have seen the campaign activity there, please leave a comment.

Endorsement watch: The judges

After a couple of Republican endorsements, the Chron gives us a slate of judicial candidates for the Democratic primary in the district courts. A brief summary:

Singhal in Democratic primary for 1st Court of Appeals, Place 3

We recommend Dinesh Singhal, 52, who has tried more than 25 cases and handled 19 appeals.

Hootman in Democratic primary for 1st Court of Appeals, Place 5

We recommend Tim Hootman, 57, an experienced appellate lawyer who is known for having an atypical legal approach.

Robinson in Democratic primary for chief of the 14th Court of Appeals

We recommend Jane Robinson, 46, who is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

Kronzer in Democratic primary for 14th Court of Appeals Place 7

We recommend Wally Kronzer, 65, who has extensive appellate court experience in state and federal courts.

Weiman in Democratic primary for 80th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent Larry Weiman, 64, who has been on this bench since 2008.

Harvey in the Democratic primary for the 164th Harris County District Court

We recommend Grant J. Harvey, 55, who is a highly regarded litigator who has participated in numerous trials and appeals.

Daic in the Democratic primary for the 165th Harris County District Court

We recommend Megan Daic, 34, for a court that needs a more efficient and decisive judge.

Acklin in the Democratic Primary for the 176th Harris County District Court

We recommend Bryan Acklin, 34, who is a former prosecutor and is now a criminal defense attorney.

Martinez in the Democratic Primary for the 179th Harris County District Court

We recommend Ana Martinez, 39, who gained a sterling reputation as a human trafficking prosecutor before she became a defense attorney.

Moore in the Democratic Primary for the 333th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent Daryl Moore, 58, who may be the most respected incumbent running in Harris County.

Kirkland in the Democratic Primary for the 334th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent Steven Kirkland, 59, who has been on this bench since 2016 and served on another civil bench and a municipal bench before that.

Gaido in the Democratic Primary for the 337th Harris County District Court

We recommend Colleen Gaido, 39, who is a respected former prosecutor and current criminal defense attorney.

Bell in the Democratic Primary for the 339TH Harris County District Courts

We recommend Te’iva Bell, 39, who has served in the felony courts from three perspectives – as a prosecutor, a criminal defense attorney and a public defender. H

Powell in the Democratic Primary for the 351th Harris County District Court

We recommend incumbent George Powell, 54, who was elected to this bench in 2016.

Phillips in the Democratic Primary for the 507th Harris County District Court

We recommend C.C. “Sonny” Phillips, 59, who has been practicing family law, and occasionally appellate law, for 34 years.

They did actually say more about the candidates they recommend, and they noted who else was on the ballot. Go read all that for yourself. As noted, Weiman, Moore, Kirkland, and Powell are incumbents, while Harvey (Alex Smoots-Thomas), Daic (Ursula Hall), Acklin (Nikita Harmon), Martinez (Randy Roll), and Phillips (Julia Maldonado) are running against incumbents. Here are the Q&A’s I’ve run from candidates in these races:

Tim Hootman, 1st Court of Appeals, Place 5
Jane Robinson, Chief Justice, 14th Court of Appeals
Wally Kronzer, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Grant Harvey, 164th Civil Court
Megan Daic, 165th Civil Court
Bryan Acklin, 176th Criminal Court
Ana Martinez, 179th Criminal Court
Judge Steven Kirkland, 334th Civil Court

Q&A’s from candidates not endorsed by the Chron:

Tamika Craft, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
V.R. “Velda” Faulkner, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7
Lennon Wright, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Cheryl Elliott Thornton, 164th Civil Court
Jimmie Brown, 165th Civil Court
Judge Randy Roll, 179th Criminal Court
Judge Julia Maldonado, 507th Family Court
Robert Morales, 507th Family Court

Q&A responses from Natalia Cornelio (351st Criminal Court) and Cheri Thomas (14th Court of Appeals, Place 7) are in the queue and will be published in the next couple of days. The Chron will do endorsements for the Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals separately, and will not be endorsing in the County Court, Justice of the Peace, and Constable races. That’s one way to get through this long list of candidates and races in a (mostly) timely fashion.

One last thing: As is often the case with these judicial endorsements, I agree with some and not so much with others. The one that surprises me is the endorsement of Judge Powell. After the big deal the Chron made about not endorsing any judge or judicial candidate who didn’t support bail reform in 2018, it’s a bit jarring to see no mention at all of that subject in this context.

Texas blog roundup for the week of February 10

The Texas Progressive Alliance knows the state of the union is very much under threat as it brings you this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Audia Jones

Audia Jones

We come to the end of the DA interviews, and also interview season for the primaries. It’s possible I’ll revisit some other races in the runoffs, but there’s not that many to pick from at this point. You never know, and I’m always open to the idea. Rounding out the season we have Audia Jones, who was the first challenger to DA Kim Ogg, and indeed the first official challenger to any of the countywide incumbents this cycle. Jones has worked as a Counsel Fellow for Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, which included managing the House Judiciary Committee Portfolio. She then worked in the DA’s office as an Assistant DA, working in both the misdemeanor and felony trial bureaus. She has received endorsements from some groups that had supported Ogg in 2016. Here’s the interview:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is back! You can track information for candidates on the Harris County ballot here.

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Harris Bennett – Harris County Tax Assessor
Jolanda Jones – Harris County Tax Assessor

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Sarah DeMerchant – HD26
Lawrence Allen – HD26
Rish Oberoi – HD26
Suleman Lalani – HD26

Rodney Ellis – Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Diana Martinez Alexander – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Michael Moore – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Morris Overstreet – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Kristi Thibaut – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Kim Ogg – Harris County District Attorney
Carvana Cloud – Harris County District Attorney

Judicial Q&A: Judge Julia Maldonado

(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.)

Judge Julia Maldonado

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

I am Julia Maldonado, the incumbent in the 507th Family District Court, Harris County Texas. I was elected to this office November 2016. I am running for re-election to the 507th Family District Court. I am Board Certified in Family Law, prior to becoming a judge, I practiced law for eighteen years. During my years as practicing attorney, I tried hundreds of cases and dealt with almost every situation that can come up in a family law setting. As a judge, I have made sure that every litigant is treated with dignity and respect and that each case is decided according to the law without favoritism.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 507th Family District Court hears divorces, suits affecting parent-child relationship (SAPCR), which include but are not limited to, custody, establishment of paternity and child-support. This court also hears enforcement of prior orders issued by this court, which include but is not limited to, child support, possession and access, property. Additionally, this court also hears cases from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (TDFPS), special Immigrant juvenile (SIJS) cases, adoptions and name changes for children as well as adults.

3. What are your main accomplishments in the past four years?

I created a mentorship program for attorneys who are in need of help from more seasoned attorneys; I ensured that the court appointed attorneys list included attorneys from different backgrounds to reflect the diversity of the county; I trained all the new family judges after the November 2018 election. I have implemented procedures in my court which allow the docket to be handled in an efficient manner to ensure that resources are not wasted.

4. What are your goals for the next four years?

To continue to work so that Information Technology is used to make the court more efficient by allowing litigants to set up hearings, check in for cases, and follow up on orders needed to be signed via the internet. Part of the work needs to be synchronized with the office of the Harris County District Clerk so that IT can work in the benefit of every person who comes to court. I will be implementing the electronic voucher system in the next couple of months as part of my ongoing work to ensure that appointed attorneys do not over bill and that there is a better control of the work done by each appointed attorney.

As a senior judge and the administrative judge of the Family Law Division of Harris County, I will continue working to promote that the ten family courts, with the exception of the protective order court, follow policies and procedures that are consistent among the ten courts.

5. Why is this race important?

It is important because family courts make decisions that have long lasting effects on families, both adults and children are impacted by the decisions of the court every day. The judge in charge of making those decisions needs to have vast experience on the matter and needs to have the judicial temperament required when dealing with the type of cases that a family court deals with. I have both, I have ample experience on the subject as an attorney and as a judge and I have the judicial temperament to make correct decisions in every case that comes in front of me.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

People should vote for me because I am the most qualified candidate for this job. I have been practicing family law in Texas since November of 1998. I became Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specializations in 2012. I practiced law for over 18 years prior to becoming a judge. 95% of my law practice was focused in family law. I was elected to the bench as a Family District Court Judge in November 2016. Since then I have gained a wealth of additional experience and have had the opportunity to provide training to all of the new ten family judges that were elected in November 2018. I am currently the Senior Judge and Administrative Judge for the Family Law Division in Harris County. I am now entering my fourth year as a District Court Judge. I have had all the training required by to be a judge and continue furthering my education through Continued Legal Education beyond the required number of hours. I have dealt with almost every scenario that can come up in a family law setting and have tried hundreds of cases related to family law. I have the judicial temperament needed to be a judge and to properly maintain court decorum.

We should get full delegate results on Primary Day

Good.

Texas counties have started seeing updates to the state’s election reporting system that will allow them to break out the vote totals needed to determine how many delegates are won by presidential contenders on Super Tuesday. The refinements to the portal used by the state’s 254 counties to report results come after Texas Democrats raised the prospect of a delay in calculating delegates.

A majority of the Democratic Party’s 228 pledged delegates will be apportioned based on how the candidates do in each state Senate district. The election system update will allow local officials to report returns broken out at the district level on election night, so party officials can calculate delegate totals for the myriad Democratic hopefuls. Election day is March 3; early voting begins Feb. 18.

[…]

State officials refuted Democrats’ claims that the data needed to calculate that delegate distribution wouldn’t be available on election night and said the data would be “reported in the same fashion” as it was in the 2016 presidential primaries, when local officials used a different reporting system.

But until last week, the state’s revamped reporting system did not allow local election officials to log that data at the state Senate district level.

In a Thursday email to county election officials obtained by The Texas Tribune, an election official with the Texas secretary of state’s office informed counties that an update to the reporting system that would address that issue would be added “in the next few days.”

Several county officials confirmed to the Tribune on Tuesday that the system has since been updated. The secretary of state’s office offered no comment on the update.

See here for the background. I don’t know if the complaints from the TDP forced this issue to be resolved, or if it was always on track but the SOS just wasn’t being forthcoming about it. Either way, as long as it’s been resolved, it’s good.

Former MLB pitcher sues Astros

Good luck with that.

Did not age well

A pitcher who has not appeared in a major league game since getting shelled by the 2017 Houston Astros filed a civil lawsuit against the ballclub on Monday, according to USA Today.

In the filing made Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Mike Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, along with negligence and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations, the report said. Bolsinger is seeking unspecified damages and wants the team to forfeit its 2017 playoff bonuses toward Los Angeles charities.

[…]

Toronto designated Bolsinger for assignment following its 16-7 loss that night. Bolsinger has not thrown a major league pitch since — ending a major league career that spanned 230 2/3 innings and three teams. He threw in the Japanese League in both 2018 and 2019.

Data compiled by Astros fan Tony Adams showed there were 54 bangs during the game in question — more than any other contest Adams charted.

See here for more on Tony Adams, and here for that USA Today story. Bolsinger was never a particularly good major leaguer, so it seems safe to call this a reach, but that doesn’t mean this will have no effect.

In other words, he could have company. Worth keeping an eye on, in any event.

Interview with Carvana Cloud

Carvana Cloud

Incumbent District Attorney Kim Ogg has three opponents in the Democratic primary this year. Two of the three are running serious campaigns, and I have interviews to present to you with each of them. Today’s candidate is Carvana Cloud. Cloud grew up in Acres Homes and started her legal career as a briefing attorney for United States District Judge George C. Hanks Jr., when he served as a Justice on Texas’ First Court of Appeals. From there, she worked in the DA’s office as an Assistant District Attorney before leaving to start her own law firm focusing on criminal defense and immigration matters. She then came back to the DA’s office after Ogg was elected and served as Bureau Chief of the Special Victims Bureau, the division that prosecutes domestic violence. She stepped down prior to announcing her candidacy, and you can hear her talk about all that here:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is back! You can track information for candidates on the Harris County ballot here.

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Harris Bennett – Harris County Tax Assessor
Jolanda Jones – Harris County Tax Assessor

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Sarah DeMerchant – HD26
Lawrence Allen – HD26
Rish Oberoi – HD26
Suleman Lalani – HD26

Rodney Ellis – Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Diana Martinez Alexander – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Michael Moore – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Morris Overstreet – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Kristi Thibaut – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Kim Ogg – Harris County District Attorney

Judicial Q&A: Judge Randy Roll

(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.)

Judge Randy Roll

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

I am Randy Roll the incumbent Judge of the 179th District Criminal Court first elected in 2008 and reelected in 2015. I have 32 yrs experience with more than 5000 clients, 8 yrs on the bench (including muni-court). Before practicing law, I was a teacher and housing contractor. I am a linguist and speak Spanish, Russian, German & French. I am the only attorney in the county qualified by the courts to accept appointments in 5 languages before I became judge. As an attorney I accepted appointments (more than 2000), primarily in Spanish as I had been certified in that language, despite never taking formal classes. I wrote the Spanish admonishments (legal warnings for defendants) the courts used for more than 15 years. I have had more than 150 trials as judge and attorney, my opponent has had 4 felony trials as a defense attorney. I have been involved, as a participant & candidate since 2002 in the judicial selection process.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

This felony court hears all 4 types of felonies, from theft to murder. This court hears Prostitution cases. Prosecutors like my opponent put prostitutes in prison. I defended them because they were victims. As judge, I have refused to put such victims in prison.

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

Immediately in 2009, (1) I made my grand juries reflect the diversity of this county. The legislature liked what we did and then made it law. (2) I was instrumental in adoption of the Public Defender’s Office. My vote and support was crucial for getting the Public Defender’s Office installed in Harris County. In 2009 we were only 9 Democrats to 13 Republicans. I had to convince Republicans to join us. (3) I spear-headed the use of DNA testing by appointed counsel. I am a progressive judge, (4) handing down more probations since 2009 and more 2nd chances to probationers in non-violent meritorious cases than all the other 21 judges. The DA’s Office has policies of not giving probations in many types of cases, so it falls on the judge. (5) I terminate probations early if they get their education or GED. (6) I also reversed the excessive probation sentences routinely given before 2009. For example, I do not give 10 years probation for possession of a small drug amount. Usually now it is 2 or 3 yrs with treatment where needed. (7) We use Intensive Out-Patient drug treatment and where warranted, in-patient treatment. (8) I have helped young offenders. Several ministers attend the court and we discuss how we can keep them out of harm’s way. My opponent says giving undocumented people probation is a trap for deportation. Tell that to the father of 5 who has lived here since he was a toddler and is now out working to support his family. (9) I began giving Personal Recognizance (PR) bonds (free) in appropriate cases. Since 2009 I have given more PR bonds than any judge. I had a written policy giving PR bonds for non violent meritorious cases. All other cases were on a case by case review. I was not sanctioned as 13 other judges were & that sanction was reversed. (10) I turned around the most bloated and anemic docket of criminal cases of the 22 courts and made it the 5th best and smallest docket, by working hard and taking 8 days vacation in my 1st 4 yrs. This allowed my court to go to trial more often and those waiting in jail had their delay to trial reduced from years to months. (11) Now, I am the senior judge with judicial experience and several new judges have come to me for advice. I still call older retired judges for advice. I am a dedicated to improving the system.

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

I hope to continue the reforms I have made. I want to use my position as the most experienced senior judge to influence Commissioner’s Court to fund mental health services for the justice system. We should not be treating mental health patients by incarceration. I want to continue advising and leading newer judges. I fight everyday to give justice.

5. Why is this race important?

EXPERIENCE MATTERS! I only have 8 yrs as a judge, but that is the most of all 38 criminal judges (including 16 misdemeanor courts). SAFETY MATTERS! My opponent faults me for revoking bonds for people on serious drugs while in court. She implies it is ok for an Aggravated Robbery suspects to continue on bond doing serious drugs like Cocaine and PCP. Often when it is marijuana or some soft drug like this, I keep them for 30-45 days to dry out and then re-instate their bond. My opponent falsely says I do this regardless of the charge (her words). I fear for public safety. PCP is the most violent drug around. My opponent repeats statements she knows to be false. She said, “…he revokes bonds if a defendant tests positive for use of controlled substances – regardless of the charge …”. That is not true. I am providing documents to this blog from the Harris County District Court Administration showing I have revoked only 41 bonds in the last three years out of thousands of defendants. This is fewer than all the other 21 felony courts of Harris County. EXPERIENCE, JUDGMENT & TRUTH MATTER!

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

EXPERIENCE MATTERS. I came in as a reformer. I made reforms – grand jury, public defender’s office, DNA evidence with appointed attorneys, probations, early terminations, reasonable probations, drug treatment, young offender assistance, PR Bonds, and reduced the docket. I am the senior judge in judicial experience. I am in the best position to continue progressive reforms. I am the only true DEMOCRAT in this Democratic Party Primary. My opponent is a republican masquerading as a Democrat. She became a citizen and started voting in 2008. She has only voted 6 times in 12 yrs and half of those were in the republican primaries. In the same 12 yr period I have voted 13 times and only as a Democrat. She wants good voters to vote for her and yet she votes so sparingly. My ex-DA opponent has had very few felony trials, she admits to 4 as a defense attorney. Shouldn’t we want our judges to be qualified, experienced, involved, wise truthful and compassionate. EXPERIENCE MATTERS!

There’s still (a little) time to affect the I-45 design

There’s stuff happening this week. After that, it gets harder.

City officials and consultants will spend the coming weeks finalizing a few ways to turn the region’s largest and most controversial freeway rebuild of recent years into an Interstate 45 for commuters and inner-city-dwellers alike.

First, however, they must weigh about three dozen ideas with their costs, be it more traffic, trouble for pedestrians or added property acquisition.

“Every one of these is a set of trade-offs,” consultant Christof Spieler told a crowd Feb. 1 at Aldine Ninth Grade School. “If you make lanes narrower, that means you need less property, but it also means you might have more crashes.”

City planners and consultants said the ideas are all viable in and of themselves, but some would require the Texas Department of Transportation to seek federal waivers, such as one calling for 11-foot freeway lanes in certain areas. Others could be a choice between different interests, such as moving the freeway away from White Oak Bayou to preserve greenspace, at the cost of a “more massive” set of ramps, planners said.

The project, expected to cost at least $7 billion, will rebuild most of the downtown freeway system along I-45, Interstate 10, Interstate 69 and Texas 288 and assorted ramps. North of downtown, TxDOT plans to reconstruct I-45 with two managed lanes in each direction from I-10 to Beltway 8.

TxDOT is moving ahead with plans for final environmental approvals and could begin construction within 12 months.

City officials will accept comments on their proposed changes through Friday, and forward the refined ideas to TxDOT in the coming weeks.

[…]

State officials expect to release the final environmental assessment on the project, broken into three segments, in late spring or early summer. Paul encouraged people to examine the final proposal for some of the changes TxDOT already has incorporated to address some of the concerns.

That release will kick off a comment period — though the state does not plan to hold public meetings — before TxDOT can seek federal clearance. With that approval, TxDOT can proceed with construction, which is planned to begin on the southern end near I-69 and Spur 527 and move around downtown and then along I-10 and northward.

The main thing you can do is to take the City of Houston survey about the I045 project, to give them your input and thus help shape the feedback they will give to TxDOT. There are a lot of voices out there, and they don’t all want the same thing, so make your voice heard. You have until Friday, the 14th, for your answers to be included. It has 40 questions and takes a bit of time, so plan accordingly.

And in case you were wondering, this is still in the picture.

“It is a mistake to route our traffic through downtown,” said Michael Skelly, who has organized some of the efforts to change the project over the past two years.

While saying some of the city suggestions would improve the project, Skelly said Houston does not go far enough in demanding changes. Skelly said he wants officials to consider minor changes to I-45 and focus their efforts on routing traffic out of downtown along Loop 610 or the Sam Houston Tollway, through mostly commercial and industrial areas.

“If we’re going to spend $7 billion, I’d rather spend it on a big idea like this,” Skelly said.

The idea, along with opposition by a group arguing to stop the project entirely, contradicts the mandate designers had when they settled on the plan in 2015 to widen the freeway and re-route it to the east side of downtown. For years, their goal has been to increase capacity on I-45 — not move that capacity elsewhere.

“We’re not taking that for granted,” Spieler said. “If the response we get is that reducing capacity is a goal, that requires TxDOT to not fulfill what they are trying to do. Within that, we don’t know which of these are good ideas or bad ideas, but we think there are more options for change.”

I’m not exactly sure what it will take to make that happen, but at least it’s out there.

Interview with District Attorney Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Hard to believe, but we are one week out from early voting for the 2020 primaries in Texas. It’s been a busy interview season for me, as I’m sure you can imagine. This week we will wrap things up with the highlight race on the Democratic side, the primary for District Attorney. Kim Ogg is serving her first term as Harris County DA after winning decisively in the 2016 blue wave. Ogg began her career in the DA’s office in 1987, serving as a chief felony prosecutor during that time. She was appointed Houston’s first Anti-Gang Task Force Director by Mayor Bob Lanier in 1994, and served as the Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston from 1999 to 2006. She made an unsuccessful run for DA in 2014 before her winning campaign two years later. I interviewed her for each of those, and you can listen to the 2016 interview here. You can listen to this year’s interview right here:

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is back! You can track information for candidates on the Harris County ballot here.

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

Chrysta Castañeda – RRC
Kelly Stone – RRC

Vince Ryan – Harris County Attorney
Ben Rose – Harris County Attorney
Christian Menefee – Harris County Attorney

Ann Harris Bennett – Harris County Tax Assessor
Jolanda Jones – Harris County Tax Assessor

Ann Johnson – HD134
Ruby Powers – HD134
Lanny Bose – HD134

Akilah Bacy – HD138
Josh Wallenstein – HD138
Jenifer Pool – HD138

Sarah DeMerchant – HD26
Lawrence Allen – HD26
Rish Oberoi – HD26
Suleman Lalani – HD26

Rodney Ellis – Commissioners Court, Precinct 1

Diana Martinez Alexander – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Michael Moore – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Morris Overstreet – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3
Kristi Thibaut – Commissioners Court, Precinct 3

Judicial Q&A: Jane Robinson

(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.)

Jane Robinson

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

My name is Jane Robinson and I am running for Chief Justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. The Chief Justice serves as a justice on the Court, performs certain administrative duties, and also represents the Court when interacting with the Governor, the state legislature, and other courts across the state and country.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals hears civil and criminal appeals from trial courts in ten counties, including Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Galveston, Chambers, Austin, Colorado, Grimes, Waller, and Washington Counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

After more than two decades in private practice, I am eager for the opportunity to serve the public in a role that I am well qualified for, doing work that I know I will love. Because I am running for Chief Justice, it is particularly important that the winning candidate be well qualified for the role and ready to represent the court when interacting with other courts and branches of government. As a board-certified civil appellate lawyer with decades of experience in a broad range of civil litigation and appellate matters, covering many substantive areas of the law in courts across the country, I think my experience, qualifications, and perspective set me apart.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I am an appellate lawyer with extensive experience in both litigation and appeals in state and federal courts. I have been board-certified as a specialist in Civil Appellate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. I am a partner at Houston litigation boutique AZA, where I handle a wide variety of civil appellate matters, mostly involving business litigation and intellectual property disputes. I graduated from Dartmouth College (magna cum laude) in 1995 and from Duke University School of Law (with honors) in 1998, and practiced in California and North Carolina before moving to Texas over a decade ago with my husband, a professor at the University of Houston. I am a contributing author of O’Connor’s Texas Rules * Civil Trials, the most widely used civil litigation guide in Texas. I have also been selected nationally by my peers as one of the Best Lawyers in America for my appellate work. I am a member of the Texas Bar College and the Houston Bar Foundation, as well as many other professional associations.

5. Why is this race important?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals, like the other intermediate appellate courts in Texas, is the last stop for the vast majority of the appeals before it. The state’s highest courts (the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals) have the discretion to select which appeals they hear, and only a small percentage of appeals are ever heard by either of those courts. The Fourteenth Court shares jurisdiction with the First Court of Appeals over a ten-county area with more than six million residents. Intermediate courts, like the Fourteenth Court, are not only important for the litigants before them, but their opinions set precedent that shape the law in Texas. Most of the laws that affect people’s day-to-day lives are state laws that are interpreted and applied by these very important intermediate courts.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I will bring the highest level of qualifications, as well as local and national recognition as a top appellate lawyer, to a tough general election race. The Republican nominee, who is unopposed in the primary, is a sitting justice on the Court with an unexpired term. This means that if she wins, she will begin a new six-year term on the Court and the governor will appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of her term and run as an incumbent in 2022. I am only the second female partner in my well-regarded Houston litigation boutique firm (the first being Rep. Lizzie Fletcher). I will bring the same drive that I have shown in my career to this critical general election.

Still waiting to see which cities will get to host World Cup games

Houston’s right in the mix, and after that we’ll see.

This time last year, former Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti began to find his stride after leaving the team in late 2018 to lead the Houston 2026 World Cup Bid Committee.

This time next year, he hopes the committee and the city will be preparing to host those World Cup matches, which will be played in 16 cities across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Canada and Mexico will host three games each. The other 10 host cities will be chosen from a pool of 17 American venues which include those in Seattle, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

“We’re expecting U.S. Soccer and FIFA to be making a decision on the final 10 cities … at some point this year, so all focus is on that,” Canetti said.

[…]

While the Houston Dash and Dynamo host home games at BBVA Stadium (capacity: 22,000), the committee has proposed NRG Stadium (capacity: 71,995) to host Houston’s matches, although it’s not large enough to be eligible to host any semifinal or final matches.

Canetti and his staff spent 2019 assembling a board of directors, raising private funds to cover the cost of the bid process and developing their plan to differentiate Houston from the other U.S. cities.

In 2020, he’s expecting to receive more detail that outlines when meetings and site visits to Houston will occur.

“We’re waiting to hear from them in terms of what the guidelines may be on a site visit. How long will they be here? Will they be here a day, two days, three days? What do they expect to do and see when they’re in town?” he said. “Based on that information, we’ll be able to draft and develop an entire itinerary for them to showcase the city. It’s hard to say exactly what that entails until we know what the expectations are.”

See here for the last update, which was indeed a year ago at this time. Not much more to say here – Houston is very well suited to host this event, but the competition is stiff. I wish we knew more about when the decision will be made. Nothing to do but wait.

Endorsement watch: Ed again

This is an easy call.

Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

[Sheriff Ed] Gonzalez, 50, a soft-spoken Houston native, former councilman and 18-year veteran of the Houston Police Department, ran as a reformer and he hasn’t disappointed in his first term. From taking a bold stance in support of bail reform to minimizing the use of solitary confinement to expanding vocational programs to women in the jail, changes big and small have prioritized public safety as well as fairness and the dignity of inmates.

To address the opioid crisis, Gonzalez made the Harris County jail the first in Texas to offer Vivitrol, a drug that helps curb cravings and prevent relapses. In October, the jail began equipping departing inmates grant-funded supplies of the drug naloxone, which can save lives by reversing overdoses.

Certainly, bringing a jail of 8,500 inmates that was under two consent decrees when he took office into full compliance with state standards was no easy task. The sheriff has struggled at times to address vexing problems such as jail suicides, of which there were five in a span of two years. With new protocols in place, however, there have been none in the last year, a trend we hope continues.

[…]

Gonzalez’s track record and his drive to continue reform have earned our recommendation for sheriff in the Democratic primary.

They mention the recent cite and release policy as another reform effort Gonzalez has initiated. I think Sheriff Gonzalez has had a pretty darned solid first term, and he did not draw serious opposition. Like I said, this is an easy call.