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Astros fire Taubman

It’s something.

The Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on Thursday afternoon and issued an apology to a Sports Illustrated reporter whom they falsely accused of fabricating a story about his clubhouse tirade.

The Astros “proactively assisted” Major League Baseball in an investigation over the last two days, the team said in a statement disseminated on Thursday. MLB separately interviewed eyewitnesses to Taubman’s actions on Saturday in the Astros’ celebratory clubhouse.

[…]

When Sports Illustrated’s story first published on Monday — one for which the Astros initially declined comment — the club issued a defiant denial that claimed reporter Stephanie Apstein attempted “to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

“We were wrong,” the Astros said in their Thursday statement that terminated Taubman.

“We sincerely apologize to Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated and to all individuals who witnessed this incident or were offended by the inappropriate conduct. The Astros in no way intended to minimize the issues related to domestic violence.”

See here for the background. This would feel a whole lot different if the Astros had taken more decisive and more appropriate action in the immediate aftermath of Taubman’s rant, even if all they had said originally was that they took the allegations seriously and would look into them. It would also feel different if this had happened before Jeff Luhnow’s ridiculous claim that “we may never know” Taubman’s intent. (Pro tip: Maybe try asking him.) At this point, it mostly comes across as damage control, and leaves one wondering why it was so hard to get it right in the first place.

But it is what it is, and so here we are. Late is still better than never, and I’m glad the Astros eventually got to the right place. I hope they truly learn something from this. Nonequiteuse and Texas Monthly have more.

Still more Bonnen business

I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be obsessing over the Bonnen implosion, but we’re not done yet. Today’s topic is What It All Means for 2020.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

“The quarterback and coach have been taken off the field,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Republican lobbyist. “It’s short notice, it’s a big leadership change, and they don’t have a lot of time. It’s problematic for Republicans.”

One of the more obvious questions is what happens to Texas Leads, the political action committee that Bonnen unveiled in July to help keep the majority — and touted in his conversation with Sullivan. Bonnen started the group with $3 million transferred from his own campaign, which saw a seven-figure flood of donations after he emerged late last year as the likely next speaker. Bonnen promised an “ongoing commitment” to the PAC, though its first campaign finance report is not due until January, so it is unclear how much more he raised since the PAC’s July launch.

In any case, the money now carries the stain of Bonnen’s scandal — “I don’t see how any of us could take any money from him,” recently remarked a member targeted in the Sullivan recording — and likely would only make a race more complicated. Still, Democrats are not taking any chances.

“I can give you 3 million reasons why Democrats are not gonna let their guard down going the 2020 election cycle,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, who Bonnen referenced in the recording while talking about his rule against member-versus-member campaigning. “Speaker Bonnen’s announcement is by no way a message that Democrats can take the day off. We have a lot of work to do.”

[…]

In addition to the fate of Texas Leads, uncertainty abounds about Bonnen’s end-of-session threat of consequences for members who campaign against other members. Bonnen’s edict was already undermined by comments he made in the recording, but his decision to not seek reelection only further invalidated his self-appointed role as political disciplinarian.

“I don’t think that Speaker Bonnen — and we heard it on the tape — I don’t think he ever was sincere about that edict,” said Royce Brooks, executive director of Annie’s List, which works to elect Democratic women at the state level who support abortion rights.

Brooks and other Democrats involved in House races said Tuesday it was full steam ahead regardless of Bonnen’s political standing throughout the rest of the cycle. For Annie’s List, that means following through on its plan to have female nominees in at least 20 of the 29 seats that it believes are in play.

See here for the previous update. Honestly, I think the main effect of the Bonnen affair will be to depress and disorganize Republicans by at least a little bit. The ten Republicans who were targeted by Bonnen have every reason to be pissed off, and in being pissed off pull back a bit from being a team player in favor of focusing on themselves. Is that a difference-maker at a state level, or in the most hotly contested districts? Probably not. But it won’t help them, and this year they need all the help they can get. On the other hand, it clarifies things greatly for Democrats, and puts focus on the goal of winning the House. I’d say there was already clarity and focus in abundance, but a little more can’t hurt. It’s not much but it’s better for us than for them, and that’s good enough.

Buzbee and Hotze

Buddies.

One of the leaders of a controversial, anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said Tony Buzbee met numerous times with Steven Hotze before the Republican power broker endorsed his mayoral campaign, contradicting comments Buzbee made at a televised debate the night before.

Buzbee and Hotze met three or four times, starting in late September, according to Jared Woodfill, who for years has worked directly with Hotze and his group, Campaign for Houston, including as its spokesman.

During the meetings, Woodfill said, Buzbee asked for the group to “support” his campaign but did not ask for its endorsement. Woodfill said he and Hotze did not see a distinction between the two.

Hotze ultimately chose to back Buzbee, penning a full-page letter of support in the Link Letter, a popular conservative newsletter. Asked during Monday’s debate if he shares Hotze’s anti-LGBTQ views, Buzbee said he only had met Hotze once at a church and does not agree with the views Hotze has espoused.

The first meeting, Woodfill said, occurred in late September at Hotze’s home. Woodfill said a photo in the Link Letter showing Buzbee with his arm around Hotze’s shoulder was taken in Hotze’s study.

“It lasted about two hours,” Woodfill said. “I was there. I saw him there. … It was a great time. (Hotze) was very impressed by him. He said all the right things.”

Campaign for Houston decided to endorse Buzbee’s campaign after three more meetings that Woodfill said amounted to roughly seven hours of face time. Woodfill said they believed Buzbee held similar positions on issues that Hotze has made a focal point of his political career, including Drag Queen Story Hour.

“His positions on the issues seemed to be very consistent with Dr. Hotze’s,” Woodfill said.

There are no circumstances under which any decent human being should want to meet with Steven Hotze. The only thing more pathetic than this is Buzbee’s lame attempt to lie about having met with Hotze. Which, hilariously, has led to Hotze withdrawing his endorsement. I am loathe to attribute anything praiseworthy to Jared Woodfill, who is himself a contemptible excuse for a human being, but this is some next level shade:

“At this point, we’ve withdrawn the support, clearly based on the response last night. It appears Mr. Buzbee is trying to disassociate himself with the organization, disassociate himself with Dr. Hotze. And just to be honest with you, Dr. Hotze is very concerned that he would forget about the four days that they actually spent time together,” said Woodfill.

Truly, Buzbee and Hotze deserve each other. Two peas in a poison pod.

Day Three 2019 EV totals: It’s still early

Sorry I skipped yesterday’s EV totals. I’m going to try to do this every day but that’s easier said than done. Let’s pick it up from here.


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019   26,206   6,050  32,256   22,142
2015   27,596  18,196  45,752   41,994
2013   15,595  12,033  27,628   29,538

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Three file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here.

So as with Day One, the difference between this year and the two previous election years is the volume of mail ballots. The in person vote total is quite comparable to 2015, and well ahead of 2013, but thanks to three times as many mail ballots from 2015, and twice as many from 2013, the overall total is just slightly ahead of 2013 and well behind 2015. We’re getting close to a point where the number of mail ballots returned in 2015 will be greater than the number of mail ballots sent out from this year. I really don’t know what to make of that.

As it happens, the County Clerk’s office is now publishing the daily voter roster, broken down by vote type, so an enterprising soul could take a deeper look and try to arrive at some conclusions. It would help to get the daily roster from the earlier years as well, for comparison purposes. You’d have to make that request from the Clerk, but obviously you can do it. I’m hoping someone else will do this for me, but if I get desperate enough I may take a crack at it. Anyway, this is what we have now. Let me know what you think.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 21

The Texas Progressive Alliance mourns the passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings as it brings you this week’s roundup.

Off the Kuff rounded up reactions to the infamous Bonnen Tape.

SocraticGadfly talks about Beto, aka Bob on a Knob, O’Rourke batting 0-2 on recent constitutional issues.

Dos Centavos presents the Stace Slate 2019.

==================

And here are some posts of interest from other Texas blogs.

Matt Goodman digs into the hate expressed towards cities and counties by Speaker Bonnen.

TransGriot celebrates the opening of an LGBT Center at Prairie View A&M.

The Lunch Tray notes the link between universal free lunch and higher test scores.

The Texas Signal observes that some Texas cities no longer observe Columbus Day.

Robert Rivard compares Dennis Bonnen to Joe Straus and finds him wanting.

Stephen Young considers the effect of the Bonnen tape on Bonnen’s political future.

Bye bye, Bonnen

Wow.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

First-term Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen on Tuesday announced he will not seek reelection to the lower chamber in 2020 — completing a stunning fall for the Angleton Republican who enjoyed near unanimous support in the House just months earlier.

“After much prayer, consultation, and thoughtful consideration with my family, it is clear that I can no longer seek re-election as State Representative of District 25, and subsequently, as Speaker of the House,” Bonnen said in a statement, which included a list of 43 House Republicans — a majority of the House GOP Caucus — that the speaker said “have made clear that it is in the best interest of both myself and the House to move on.” (Bonnen’s own brother, Greg Bonnen of Friendswood, was among those on the list.)

[…]

Bonnen’s decision not to seek reelection means his seat in House District 25 will be open for the first time in over two decades. One Republican, emergency room nurse Rhonda Seth, was already running for the seat before Tuesday, aiming to take out Bonnen. The district in southeast Texas is solidly Republican.

With Bonnen’s exit, members will be jockeying among one another to become the next speaker. That election officially won’t happen until the next time the Legislature convenes, which is scheduled to happen in January 2021. In the meantime, if Bonnen remains in place until then, he can carry out typical interim duties, which include assigning issues for committees to study ahead of the next legislative session.

The race to replace Bonnen is coming ahead of a competitive election cycle for Republicans, who, after losing a dozen House seats to Democrats in 2018, are gearing up to hold onto their majority in the lower chamber. If Democrats were to flip nine seats and hold onto the dozen they picked up, they could be the party in power in the House and, consequentially, elect a member from their caucus to lead the lower chamber.

It’s unclear what role — if any — Bonnen will play in 2020 in helping to hold onto the GOP seats. In July before Sullivan’s allegations surfaced, Bonnen announced he had infused a new political action committee with $3 million to support House Republicans running for reelection. Since the speaker became engulfed with the drama though, some members have privately wondered whether Bonnen would be a help or hindrance to their fundraising efforts heading into the election cycle.

Shocking, but in retrospect not at all surprising. The day had started with this story about Republicans abandoning the Bonnen ship:

Some of the most powerful Texas House Republicans said Monday they no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen, marking the biggest blow yet to his political future amid the fallout from a secret recording released last week by a hardline conservative activist.

Five Republicans considered senior members of the lower chamber issued a statement withdrawing support for him: State Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Chris Paddie of Marshall and John Frullo of Lubbock.

“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our Speaker,” they said in a joint statement released Monday night. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the Speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”

All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker. A number of them also chair some of the chamber’s most powerful committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee; Huberty heads the Public Education Committee; Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee; and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.

Later Monday night, another high-profile chair, Phil King of Weatherford, who heads the Redistricting Committee, joined the calls for Bonnen to resign. So did Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, who said on Twitter she planned to pen a letter on Tuesday to the caucus chair requesting a caucus meeting to vote on it. Even Dan Flynn of Van, who just days before had reiterated his support for Bonnen, said he could no longer support the speaker.

See here for the previous update. Clearly, things snowballed from there. Bonnen likely could have won re-election – HD25 is indeed a strong R district, where Ted Cruz got nearly 70% – as there were no big name primary challengers yet, but he was certainly toast as Speaker, and I guess he didn’t want to deal with life as a regular member again. I’d have had a hard time with that too, given all that has come out. I supported Bonnen as Speaker this year – he was hardly ideal from my perspective, but he was smart and was effective as Speaker pro tem. Dems did all right under him. I’m still shocked that he was dumb enough to trip over his own dick like this. Rick Casey summarizes it well in describing Bonnen’s ill-fated meeting with MQS as “almost criminally stupid – both tactically and strategically.” I don’t know what happens from here – obviously, Dems winning enough seats to put one of them at the podium would be best, but someone from the wingnut faction could end up on top as well – but at this point it’s hard to be sorry about what happened. Dennis Bonnen brought this on himself. He deserves what he’s getting. Good riddance. A statement from the TDP (which has also moved to dismiss its lawsuit over the recordings) is here, and Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Texas Signal, the Observer, and the Current have more.

Jackson to challenge Ellis in Precinct 1

Here we go.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Former Harris County criminal court judge Maria T. Jackson will challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for Harris County Precinct 1 commissioner, her campaign announced Monday.

Jackson, the county’s longest serving felony judge until her resignation last month, plans to hold a campaign kickoff on Tuesday. She said she was unavailable for comment Monday.

Jackson, a Democrat, served as presiding judge of the 339th State District Court in Harris County between 2008 and 2019. Previously, she was a Houston municipal court judge. She unsuccessfully ran for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2018.

Jackson earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas and graduated from the Texas A&M School of Law. She faces a well-funded opponent in Ellis in the March Democratic primary. Ellis, a former state senator, was first elected Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

She faces a well-funded opponent in Ellis in the March Democratic primary. Ellis, a former state senator, first was elected Precinct 1 commissioner in 2016.

On his most recent campaign finance report filing in July, Ellis listed a war chest of $3.8 million, more than any other elected official in Harris County. Jackson listed $13,812 cash on hand for her judge campaign account, which she can transfer to her campaign for commissioner.

University of Houston political science Professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the fundraising deficit is one of several significant challenges Jackson would have to overcome to have a chance of victory. Rottinghaus said Ellis is widely known to the public and popular among Democratic voters. He also said judges often struggle to transition to legislative or executive elected positions.

“Judges tend not to be visible, politically,” Rottinghaus said. “They aren’t used to talking about core political issues and using that to build coalitions.”

See here for the background, and here for my 2016 judicial Q&A with Jackson. Ellis formally announced his re-election campaign on the same day, not that there was any doubt about his intentions. I tend to agree with Prof. Rottinghaus on this, especially when the other candidate is as well known as Commissioner Ellis is. I support Ellis, I voted for him as a precinct chair in 2016, and I’m happy with what he’s done. Guess I need to add this race to my list for primary interviews.

For shame, Astros

I hate to harsh anyone’s World Series buzz, but this was and still is appalling.

Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman apologized to “anyone that was offended by my actions” after directing an expletive-filled tirade toward a group of female reporters in the team’s celebratory clubhouse following the American League Championship Series.

As Sports Illustrated first reported Monday night and the Chronicle later confirmed, Taubman yelled ““Thank God we got (Roberto) Osuna! I’m so (expletive) glad we got Osuna! about a half dozen times” toward the group. Osuna had just blown a save in the ninth inning of Houston’s 6-4 win against the Yankees.

“I used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed,” Taubman said in a statement on Tuesday. “In retrospect, I realize that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate. My overexuberance in support of a player has been misinterpreted as a demonstration of a regressive attitude about an important social issue.”

[…]

Sports Illustrated reported that one of the women to whom Taubman directed his vitriol was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Sports Illustrated offered both the Astros and Taubman a chance to comment before the story published on Monday. Both parties declined. In a statement released after Sports Illustrated’s story ran on Monday night, the Astros called the piece “misleading and completely irresponsible” while adding they were “extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

Sports Illustrated released a statement on Tuesday in which it “unequivocally” stood behind the reporting of Stephanie Apstein, the article’s original author.

Not once in the statements released on Tuesday did the Astros deny that Taubman used offensive language. Eyewitnesses told The Chronicle that no players were in the area of the female reporters who were yelled at, disputing the Astros’ assertion that Taubman’s rant was about “an Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing.”

Literally everything about this incident, which MLB is now investigating and for which the Astros were thoroughly dragged on the internet, is awful. The “apology” is utter bullshit – the offending statements were not “inappropriate language” but an honest representation of what Brandon Taubman believes, because no one says stuff like that without having thought about it first. The Astros’ initial response was monstrous and a libel against reporter Apstein. There’s not enough bleach in the state to wipe clean this stain.

I’m not going to tell you not to root for your Astros. The players you love (minus Osuna, of course) aren’t responsible for this, the underlying misogyny is a societal problem, and domestic violence is a problem that sports in general and MLB in particular have not come to terms with. Plenty of other teams have dirty hands on this issue as well. But all of us need to deliver a loud and clear message to our favorite teams that this shit is not acceptable. They need to clean up their act, and they need to do it now. Jenny Dial Creech has more.

Endorsement watch: Constitutional amendments

As you know, there are ten constitutional amendments up for a vote on the November ballot. They will be on everyone’s ballot, and depending where you are may be the only things on your ballot. The Chron makes their recommendations on them. I’ll highlight three of the ten:

Vote no on Proposition 1. To allow certain municipal judges to be elected to more than one office at the same time. We urge voters to reject the amendment. Even in small communities, candidates running for local office ought to be local residents. Existing law already allows for elected municipal judges to be appointed to serve in another court, but expanding that laxity to elected positions as well is unnecessary and unwise.

Vote no on Proposition 4. To ban outright an income tax for Texas.

There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead, as any fan of the cult classic Princess Bride knows well. If you’re mostly dead, Miracle Max the Wizard can work up a chocolate-covered pill to bring you back to life. If a person is all dead, the wizard says there’s only one thing to do: “Go through his pockets and look for loose change.”

Proposition 4 was designed to make sure that the wildly unpopular notion of a statewide personal income tax in Texas is not just mostly dead but all dead.

Voters already approved a constitutional amendment in 1993 that prevents lawmakers from enacting an income tax unless voters agree to it.

Proposition 4 would ban an income tax outright.

Yet, while that sounds awfully final, Miracle Max could still find a way around it. Say Prop 4 passes and becomes part of the Constitution. Any constitutional provision can be changed by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and a popular vote.

In the end, though, it’s unclear why a change is needed. What’s more, some argue Prop 4’s wording of “individual income tax” is vague enough to draw a court challenge that could extend the ban to businesses, which could cost the state billions in revenue. Why take that risk?

We say vote “Against” and leave dead enough alone.

Vote yes on Proposition 9. To create a tax exemption for precious metal stored in the Texas Bullion Depository. Texas is the only state with a state-run metal depository, but some legislators thought allowing property taxes on precious metals puts the state at a competitive disadvantage. In one way, the amendment is superfluous, in that counties already don’t enforce property tax on precious metals. But by putting that exemption in law, it could boost the chance of the Texas depository joining COMEX, the leading marketplace for precious metals exchange. That’s a good thing and we urge voters to support this proposition.

See here for further discussion of the amendments. The Chron recommended a Yes for the rest; I agree with that, and with the No on Prop 4. I lean towards a Yes on Prop 1, and I’m a definite No on Prop 9. The whole Texas Bullion Depository thing is ridiculous, and I refuse to legitimize it in any way. The vast majority of these pass, usually with a strong majority, so to some extent this is just an expression of one’s feelings more than an exercise in democracy. But you never know, and some of these really do matter. Read up and do your duty.

30 day campaign finance reports: Open City Council seats, part 2

Finishing up with City Council candidates. Part One, for the other open seats, is here. July reports for F, J, and At Large #5 are here, and for At Large #4 are here. All of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Thomas        31,040     13,401        0      28,433
Huynh         21,600     20,599    9,500           0 
G Nguyen         740      1,001        0      19,981
Nelson         2,385      3,100        0       1,678
Zamora             0        305        0           0
R Nguyen

Adriatico     27,606     25,393   22,000      19,129
Cuellar       21,300     14,297        0      36,069
Curtis        15,105     11,867        0       7,639
Pollard       13,051     30,277   20,000      17,226
Rodriguez     10,069     10,070        0      10,620
Galvan           200        695        0         200
Patterson

Baldwin      110,394     38,562        0      52,074
Hellyar       49,841     36,372        0      32,763
Dolcefino     15,355      9,002        0       7,112
Plummer        9,834     23,490        0      32,139
Hausman        5,845      8,654        0       2,098
Bastida        1,103         51      200         750
McCrutcheon        0          0   34,000         150
Joseph
Laney
Rowe
Gonzalez

Alcorn        71,421     66,284        0      258,320
Woods          9,791      7,624        0            0
McNeese        9,705     13,606   30,000        3,305
Flowers        8,015     12,471    2,987        2,157
Rivera         2,335      1,732        0          602
Dick           1,435     93,248   75,000        1,435
Bonton           200     10,005   20,000       20,000
Batteau            0          0        0            0

We know that fundraising is not destiny. Especially in races where no one raises enough money to really do effective outreach, other factors (which most definitely include random luck) will affect the outcome. Plus, not all fundraising hauls are equal. A large number of small donations beats a small number of large donations, as that indicates breadth of support, and while all candidates can and do tap their personal networks, donations from within the city or district are worth more than donations from people elsewhere. You get the idea.

With all that said, we can draw some broad if shallow conclusions here. Tiffany Thomas has been the strongest fundraising in F from the beginning. Van Huynh has done a good job since July – he entered too late to have a July report – but apparently doesn’t have any cash on hand. His report leaves that field blank, and that figure can get fuzzy when a candidate also writes his own check. As for Giang “John” Nguyen, he reported $20K raised in July with the absurd amount of $8 in expenditures. He apparently hasn’t spent much more, so despite not taking in anything significant he’s still got almost $20K in the bank. You know how baseball fans say that at any given game you’ll see something you’ve never seen before? Reviewing city election campaign finance reports is kind of like that.

District J looks pretty wide open. It’s rare to see a race where nearly everyone has at least raised some decent amount of money. I would not take any bets on who might make that runoff.

At Large #4 and #5 follow more familiar patterns. Bill Baldwin was a late entrant in #4 but has done well since then. I wouldn’t call that enough money to really get your name out citywide, but he has the potential to get there. He lives and has his office in my neighborhood so many people around here know him. I’ve seen a respectable number of Baldwin signs, and a couple of signs that say “Don’t vote for Bill Baldwin in At Large #4”, which amuses me. There are also signs for Tiko Hausman, who lives in the First Ward but has been a fixture in the PTAs at Travis and Hogg. Nick Hellyar and Letitia Plummer have gotten the lion’s share of the endorsements. Insert shrug emoji here.

Sallie Alcorn has dominated fundraising in At Large #5 from the jump, and she has the most endorsements. Ashton Woods has a few, and no one else has more than one. She’s in a similar position to Abbie Kamin in C – do you spend a bunch now to maximize your chances of getting into the runoff, or do you hold back and hope to overwhelm whoever your runoff opponent is, assuming you get there? I say fire your shot now and let tomorrow take care of itself, but there’s room for debate.

That’s it for the city elections. I will not have the capacity to review 8 day reports, but I’ll probably at least take a look at the Mayoral numbers. As always, I hope this has been helpful. I’ll have HISD and HCC reports up soon.

The Chron on Boykins and Lovell

Time for more profiles of Mayoral candidates. Here’s the Chron piece on Dwight Boykins.

Dwight Boykins

“My goal is to use this position as mayor to let people know that there is hope,” [CM Dwight Boykins] said. “I’m trying to help the least and the last.”

His run was rumored long before he announced it in June after he had broken with Mayor Sylvester Turner, repeatedly criticizing and questioning his one-time ally’s ongoing feud with firefighters over pay parity issues. That outspokenness has won Boykins the union’s backing, and thousands of dollars in donations.

With Election Day less than a month away, Boykins does not pose a serious threat to Turner, who according to a recent poll leads his closest challenger, Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, by 17 points. Boykins came in at fourth in the 12-person field, with 3.5 percent of the share of likely voters.

His “speak my mind” personality also has brought backlash: In July, he was criticized for telling teenage girls in a group of students at a youth advocacy summit to “keep their legs closed.” Boykins said he had been asked to “speak frankly” about the pitfalls for youth, including teen pregnancy.

In recent debates, though, Boykins’ voice largely has been drowned out as Buzbee, businessman Bill King and Turner increasingly trade barbs.

[…]

As mayor, Boykins wants to divert more money to parks and neighborhood programs, partner with outside groups for after-school tutoring programs, and increase police presence in the neighborhoods.

He also has promised to negotiate a contract between the city and its fire union within the first 60 days of his election, which he said would be financed in part by scrutinizing spending in other departments.

Yeah, I’m sure he’d like to do those things. Good luck figuring out how to pay for them, and as someone who’s been a part of multiple budget votes, I’m sure he knows that one can “scrutinize spending” all one wants, there won’t be any easy or significant savings to be found. Budget math aside, I said a long time ago that I would never support a candidate who opposed HERO, and Dwight Boykins voted against HERO on City Council. There’s not much else for me to say.

Next up is Sue Lovell.

Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell says Mayor Sylvester Turner got her fired by her largest consulting client, but that is not why she is running against him.

“I always wanted to run for mayor,” the former three-term at-large councilwoman said.

Lovell said she nearly ran in 2015, after then-mayor Annise Parker left office, but ultimately decided to pass.

This time around, she made the jump, saying she brings more credible experience at City Hall than any other candidate in the race.

During her six years on council, Lovell, 69, burnished a reputation as a candid and well-versed presence at City Hall, with a knack for gritty details and the bare knuckles to hold her own in a political fight. She forged those skills as an early and formative organizer with the Houston GLBT Political Caucus.

Those City Hall and progressive bona fides, perhaps, could have made Lovell a formidable challenge to Turner’s reelection chances. After a late entry into the race, however, Lovell is fighting for relevance in a contest that also features the 2015 runner-up, a self-funded lawyer spending millions on the campaign and an incumbent council member.

The only independent poll of likely voters last month found Lovell languishing with less than 1 percent of the vote. Her fundraising numbers similarly were dwarfed by the top four hopefuls, which has convinced debate hosts recently to leave her off the stage. She also has failed to garner the support of influential organizations with whom she has ties, including the Houston GLBT Political Caucus she once headed.

I have nothing but respect for Sue Lovell as a Council member, and unlike Boykins she’s on the right side of HERO. I can’t help but feel – and this is true of Boykins as well – that if it weren’t for the ridiculous firefighter pay parity fight, neither of them would be running for Mayor now. I can understand supporting Prop B, even if someone has carefully explained to you that there was no mechanism to pay for it, but that doesn’t mean I want such a person to be Mayor. Again, I’m not sure what else there is to say.

Endorsement watch: For the Metro bond

All of the candidate endorsements have been done by the Chron, but there remain the endorsements for ballot propositions. Which is to say, the Metro referendum and the constitutional amendments. I’ll address the latter tomorrow, but for now here’s the Chron recommending a Yes vote on the Metro bond.

Houston Metro is asking voters’ permission to borrow a busload of bucks to add a robust bus rapid transit network, new rail service to Hobby airport and badly needed bus improvements.

It’s a big ask, and if voters agree, the agency will add up to $3.5 billion in debt to its balance sheet.

But Houston needs a better set of transit options. Metro has promised to add the borrowed billions to a giant plan for the future, dubbed MetroNext, and all together the $7.5 billion spending plan is an enormous step forward for the agency and for the city. We strongly urge Houston voters to support this first step, by voting yes on the ballot proposition to give Metro permission to issue the bonds it needs.

Voters should know that the proposal won’t add a dime to the taxes all of us already pay for Metro. Our penny in sales tax is already committed, and the additional borrowing won’t change that. Metro simply wants to sell bonds so it can leverage its future sales taxes to pay for projects right now, rather than wait for the accumulation of annual revenues to grow large enough to finally pay for them. By pooling future revenues, it can fast-track improvements for which users in Houston would otherwise have to wait years, or even decades.

It’s a reasonable argument — so long as the plan to spend the money is sound. We’ve looked at the details of the proposal and heard from those who support it and from those who loathe it. On balance, we think voters should readily support it.

See here for more details about the referendum, and give a listen if you haven’t already to my interview with Carrin Patman, in which we explored many aspects of the plan as well as broader transit topics. You know that I’m all in on this, and the one piece of polling data we have looks good. Either we want more and better transportation choices in the greater Houston area, or we want everyone to be stuck in traffic forever. Your call.

Day One 2019 EV totals: Let’s get this started

It’s that time again, time to track daily early vote totals. Let’s get right to it, shall we?


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019    7,973   5,407  13,380   20,148
2015    8,889  14,240  23,129   40,626
2013    5,028   8,560  13,588   28,620

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day One file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here.

The most striking thing here is the drop in mail ballots that have been sent out this year compared to the two previous election years. A small percentage of mail ballots have been returned so far as well (26.5% this year, 30.5% in 2015, 29.9% in 2013). Without knowing more about who has and has not been sent mail ballots, I can’t say who this might benefit. Turner had a plurality of the mail votes in 2015, with King in second place, for what that’s worth. Early in person voting is down modestly, but as I would expect overall participation to be down from 2015, which was an open Mayor’s race and had a much hotter ballot proposition to go along with it, that’s not a surprise. Honestly, my opinion now is what it was before – this has been a relative snoozer of an election, with mostly negative campaigning. Doesn’t sound like the making of a big number.

All that said, this may be a year where there’s more turnout at the back end than at the front end. Maybe more people are undecided about more races and are thus taking their time. Maybe the percentage of votes cast early will be slightly lower than it was in 2015. It’s too early to say. This is what we have. We’ll know more every subsequent day.

UH poll: Turner 43, Buzbee 23, King 8

Another encouraging poll for Mayor Turner as early voting starts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner retains a wide lead over his opponents, most of whom have failed to gain traction with weeks left until Election Day, according to a University of Houston poll released Sunday.

The poll, published on the eve of early voting, shows Turner with 43.5 percent support among likely voters, followed by lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee at 23.4 percent. Bill King, Turner’s 2015 runoff opponent, trails with 7.8 percent, while 6.8 percent of voters said they support Councilman Dwight Boykins.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell was backed by 1.2 percent of respondents, while 0.2 percent of voters said they support one of the other seven candidates. Another 17.2 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.

For the poll, 501 likely voters were surveyed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Released weeks after a prior survey found Turner leading with 37 percent support, the new survey shows the mayor inching closer to the 50 percent-plus-one vote he would need to win the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the election will head to a December runoff between the top two finishers.

A significant share of undecided voters said they are considering Turner or view him favorably, results that indicate he has a narrow but unlikely path to outright victory on Nov. 5.

“Anything’s possible,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs and co-director of the poll. “Prior to this poll, I would have put my money on a runoff. But if you look at the undecided voters, there’s a possibility he could squeak it out in the general.”

See here for more on that previous poll, which was done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, and here for the details of this poll with the usual caveats about how tricky it is to poll municipal elections applying. I would not read this as evidence of Turner increasing his lead – it’s just two polls, two individual data points, there’s not nearly enough data to make claims about a trend – but it is corroborating evidence that Turner has a solid lead, that Buzbee hasn’t gotten much traction despite his millions in ads, and that Bill King is basically an afterthought. As with the other poll, Turner has a healthy, majority-support lead in runoffs with both Buzbee and King. This poll also found that a lot of undecideds lean Turner, and he’s pick up most of Boykins’ voters in overtime. Finally, Donald Trump has a 63-32 unfavorable rating in Houston, so the runoff campaign ads write themselves. All told, a whole lot of good and not much bad for Turner. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he could win in November – I think the path for that is too narrow – but he’s clearly in good shape.

So now what with Bonnen?

Democrats will wait and see.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

On Thursday night, as Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s political fate continued to hang in the balance, some of the most influential Democrats were in El Paso for a town hall and were split on whether the first-term leader should immediately resign from his post.

“That decision, ultimately, isn’t mine,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, a top Bonnen ally. “Like all other situations, that decision is best left up to the voters in the state of Texas. I trust them.”

“There is this urgency to respond in kind with negativity or delight in this situation,” Moody added. “[But] I am sad about this, I am disappointed in it. I don’t delight in this.”

Others were less measured.

“He’s done damage to the body,” state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin, the new head of House Democrats’ campaign arm, told a reporter for The Texas Tribune. “And for that reason, I think he should resign.” (Just months before, at the end of the legislative session, Israel said Bonnen was “the right man at this point in Texas history.”)

Those two answers — and that vast departure from where most members stood earlier this year — provide a glimpse into a caucus that’s navigating how to respond as the minority party to the drama that has dogged Bonnen over the past few months.

[…]

On Wednesday evening, roughly half the House Democratic Caucus met in Austin for a meeting that was already on the calendar. The Bonnen issue, of course, took center stage, and while no formal action was taken, multiple members there said there was talk of calling another meeting sometime soon to discuss potential further actions.

“I think there’s a desire to bring the entire caucus together with a specific agenda to have a discussion that could result in a vote,” state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told the Tribune on Thursday. “Certainly [Wednesday’s] discussion was clear that there was no one in the room who felt anything but anger and betrayal and disappointment.”

“The general consensus … was that people should feel free to put their own messages out there and that we should be united as a caucus moving forward,” Howard said. “So far I’ve heard nothing that would indicate that we’re not all on the same page.”

But there has been variation in Democrats’ public positions. There’s also the question of whether it would be politically advantageous for Democrats to act beyond what the caucus chair, state Rep. Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, has already said — that the latest “revelations are incompatible” with Bonnen serving another term — before Republicans have a chance to move on the issue themselves.

I don’t have any problem with deliberation, and the potential is there for the Republicans to fracture and generate some heat for us, but at some point we need to be speaking with one voice on the topic. Pick a direction and take it.

Meanwhile, the Republicans use harsh language.

After gathering behind closed doors for hours Friday, the House GOP Caucus released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” language used by Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and one of his top lieutenants during a secretly recording meeting with hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan.

“Both members violated the high standards of conduct we expect of our members,” the statement said. “Their conduct does not reflect the views of our Caucus membership.”

[…]

“We completely and fully support the [House] members mentioned in the recording,” the statement said. “Further, the views expressed in the taped recording in no way reflect the high regard we have for our locally elected officials.”

The statement was released as members, on the tail end of their annual retreat, left the ballroom at a resort in Austin. Most of them declined to comment as they departed the meeting, which was originally scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted for just over four hours.

But soon after, a group of four Republican lawmakers from North Texas — state Reps. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall; Matt Shaheen, R-Plano; Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, and Jeff Leach, R-Plano — issued a joint statement calling on Bonnen “to work diligently to prove to all 149 House members and, more importantly, to the people of Texas, that he can rebuild trust and continue to faithfully lead the House and our state forward.

“If that is not possible, the people of Texas expect and deserve a new Speaker of the House during the 87th Legislature,” the members said.

You can see the full statement here. Like I said, there’s plenty of potential for further dissension on the GOP side, and it’s fine to give them some room to express it. Just have a strategy and a plan to execute it, that’s all I ask.

Endorsement watch: Turner and Brown

The Chron saved its biggest endorsement editorials for the Sunday edition. I did expect them to endorse Mayor Turner for another term, and they delivered, with more of an emphasis on the campaign than I would have thought.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Bats aren’t blind. The Great Wall of China is not really visible from space. And vaccines do not cause autism.

Many people believe these myths because they’ve heard them repeated enough times. Statements that are familiar start to feel right, regardless of accuracy.

It’s called illusory truth effect. And it’s been a powerful weapon in Houston’s rough-and-tumble mayoral race.

Houstonians have been told – at forums, in news articles, and in a barrage of TV ads – that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tenure has been mired in corruption, that Houston has grown into a dangerous place under his watch, that he ignored the will of the people on firefighter raises.

If true, this editorial board would have no qualms about recommending that voters throw the bum out.

But facts – the real ones, scrutinized thoroughly by the Chronicle’s reporters in the newsroom – show a different picture.

While weak ethics rules make pay-to-play politics a perennial concern in Houston and Harris County politics, Turner’s opponents have failed to land a bombshell that proves he has abused his power. The most high-profile attempt to discredit Turner, involving a $95,000 “executive internship” created at the airport for a man who called Turner his mentor, fizzled after it was reported that the salary was in line with the employee’s experience and education, including three degrees.

While Houston’s violent crime has risen 6 percent during Turner’s tenure, FBI data show the rate of nonviolent crime has fallen 9 percent and overall crime has dropped 6 percent. Houston, like many major cities across America, has experienced a significant drop in crime over the past 30 years.

On Prop B, the voter-approved measure that granted firefighters pay parity with police – and, on average, a 29 percent raise in a cash-strapped, revenue-capped city – the mayor made good on his word to implement the measure, and the consequences, including layoffs, before the police union successfully overturned it in court.

[…]

Bats aren’t blind and neither are we. Prop B showed Turner was willing to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing. That’s the vision Houston needs, and it’s why we recommend Sylvester Turner, once again, for mayor.

It’s a solid editorial, and obviously I agree with its conclusion. We could have a conversation about the media’s role in those “myths” – the KPRC story about the “intern” was an embarrassment – but what’s done is done. And if as the polls suggest Turner wins and we never have to hear the words “Tony Buzbee” again, then I’ll live with it.

Over in the Controller’s race, the Chron endorses Chris Brown, in a less ringing fashion.

Chris Brown

In a city where the mayor’s office holds as much power as it does in Houston, checks and balances to that power ought to be nurtured and protected.

One of the biggest — and let’s face it, one of the few — checks on the Houston mayor’s office is the city controller. That office, elected independently every four years, is responsible for reviewing the city’s finances and reporting on their soundness without fear or favor.

Just as important, the controller has sole discretion to decide which areas of government — from the police to affordable housing to garbage collection, or any of the hundreds of functions of City Hall — should be subjected to performance audits.

Orlando Sanchez, the former City Council member and three-term Harris County treasurer, argues that incumbent Controller Chris Brown has failed to make adequate use of his auditing authority and thus provide the vitally important independent check on Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Sanchez, who was voted out as Harris County treasurer in 2018, raises a legitimate concern: A review of audits authorized by Brown reveals mostly efforts to find ways City Hall can save money — always a welcome goal — and few sweeping assessments of high-profile city departments, which could help hold the administration accountable.

Consider how many of the major debates involving the races for mayor and Council have turned on questions about operations at major city departments — from police use of body cameras and no-knock warrants to the city’s use of drainage fee revenues and how Turner processed Harvey recovery funds.

But while Sanchez promises to use the audit function more aggressively, he has no experience doing so. As county treasurer, he mostly focused on writing checks and managing the county’s bills. The kind of aggressive, independent audit function he promises would be an entirely new role for him.

Honestly, the cold statement that Orlando Sanchez has no relevant experience after twelve years in elective office is all you really need. Use that paragraph in any future story that mentions Orlando Sanchez, if there ever is a need for there to be a story that mentions Orlando Sanchez. And vote for Chris Brown, he’s fine.

Early voting for the November 2019 election starts today

From the inbox.

Early Voting Starts Today

Monday, October 21 to Friday, November 1

Voting is so much more convenient this year, and you can experience that starting at 7AM on October 21, when Early Voting starts. To find a location near you, all you have to do is check out our Poll Finder Map at HarrisVotes.com, text VOTE to 1-833-937-0700 or message us on our Facebook page.

Better than a Google search, these easy-to-use tools give you a more accurate set of options and directions than you would by searching online on the day that you vote.

Before you go to the polls, don’t forget to do your homework— go to our Your Vote Counts dashboard to find out more about how this election impacts your community. You can also print your sample ballot and bring it with you to the polls.

You can also get help if you have accessibility or translation needs. By law, you’ll need to ask your election clerks for help first, and then we’ll get you started!

Start planning now to #VoteYOURWay, whenever and with whoever you want!

The early voting map is here, with all locations open from 7 AM to 7 PM except for Sunday the 27th, when they are open from 1 to 6 PM. There are six new locations, including the long-awaited ones on the UH and TSU campuses, and a couple of new addresses for previous locations, so check out the map and know where you want to go. Metro will offer free rides to the polls on Saturday the 26th and Election Day, November 5th.

I will of course track the early voting numbers as they come in. This year will be different because of the new locations, and perhaps because of the extended hours during the first week, but it’s always a worthwhile exercise to monitor the progress. For comparison purposes, here are the final daily EV totals from 2015, 2013, and 2009. For a bit of extra reading, here’s a thing I wrote in 2015 about who exactly votes in these elections. Happy voting, y’all.

Weekend link dump for October 20

“Quiet places have been on the road to extinction at a rate that far exceeds the extinction of species.”

When you’ve lost Matt Drudge

“For young people who have absorbed similar messages in Christian spaces, the redemption of Bathsheba matters very much indeed.”

The 25 worst Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees ever. I’m sure no one will find any of that the least bit controversial.

“But it’s not necessary. We’re not talking about a broad speech issue. We’re talking about political ads. Facebook doesn’t have to run political ads if the inherent problems are too hard to solve. They’ve even said themselves the money is not significant.”

“How Rudy Giuliani’s epic slide, from crime buster to conspirator, reveals America’s broken windows”.

“The Ironies of Columbus Day”.

“Though the president would later tweet out his support for Giuliani over the weekend, Trump has a long track record for being loyal to and supportive of a longtime associate, friend, or staffer—up until the moment he’s not.”

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up.”

“But for a percentage of them that is greater than zero, a video about Trump killing politicians and celebrities and journalists they don’t like isn’t a regrettable side-effect of Trump’s presidency. It’s the entire point of Trump’s presidency.”

“Is USA Today’s print edition headed for the sunset as GateHouse and Gannett merge? Signs point to yes.”

“The Trump administration is seeking to denaturalize and deport longtime U.S. citizens, seizing on tiny mistakes in the process and putting the status of every naturalized citizen at potential risk.”

“Jury awards Sandy Hook father $450,000 for defamation by local conspiracy theorist”.

“Has someone ever asked you to refer to them as they instead of he or she? Or, are you hedging because you can’t possibly refer to one single person as they? What if we told you that they has been used to refer to just one person since at least the 1300s?”

President Obama Was Right and Justice Alito Was Wrong“.

“Crude language resists the sanctimony that has degraded and diminished most of our language about morality, turning it into little more than a series of Orwellian euphemisms in service of bullying power-grabs.”

RIP, Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and longtime civil rights leader.

“Apple has a multibillion-dollar business in China, makes its phones there, and, like other corporations, generally doesn’t want to piss off the country’s leaders. But coming from a company that has fought for civil liberties at home—remember Apple’s stand for user privacy in the face of the FBI’s demand that it unlock the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone?—its actions in Hong Kong are jarring.”

“The report found that injury rates at the Amazon Staten Island distribution center are nearly 3 times the national rate for warehouse workers. Eighteen percent of workers said they’ve been injured on the job. The majority of those injuries were the result of getting caught in, hit by, or otherwise injured by machinery. The second highest cause of injury were cuts, lacerations, and other wounds.”

“One of the many lies of the Trump presidency is the idea that the president is so rich, he can’t be tempted by the conflicts of interests and penny-ante corruption other mere mortals couldn’t resist. This has almost certainly turned out to be the opposite of the truth, never mind Mulvaney’s claim that Trump has never profited from the presidency.”

30 day campaign finance reports: Open City Council seats, part 1

As before, my look at the July 2019 finance reports for these candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Peck          17,700     18,543    5,000      19,391
Coryat         8,585      3,899        0       3,303
AyersWilson    5,045      5,030        0          15
Cherkaoui      6,100      6,773    8,000       2,062
Zoes           3,025      4,717    4,000       4,401
Myers            951      1,192        0           0

J Smith       15,025     31,200        0       9,032
Byrd          11,095     13,774    2,500       5,063
Quintana      10,868      4,632        0       6,505
Jackson       10,105     18,378        0       8,025
K-Chernyshev  10,730     70,262   11,000           0
Bailey         2,925      1,032      200       5,705
Anderson       1,250          0        0           0
Bryant           373      1,331    1,011          53
Kirkmon
White
Butler
Gillam
Perkins
G Wilson

Kamin         89,742     37,377        0     177,882
Kennedy       35,031     32,928        0      12,056
Smith         26,138     33,001        0      30,175
Nowak         18,813     15,941    2,000       4,871
Cervantez     13,367      2,802        0      10,564
Marshall       9,350      6,922        0       2,527
Scarbrough     8,015      2,916        0      23,544
Meyers         5,003     15,181   35,000      36,729
Wolfe          2,373      1,154        0       1,238
Hill           2,604      2,604        0           0
Ganz             500        605        0          90
House            500        500        0           0
Walker (SPAC)  1,500        128      144         471

Brailey       28,406     19,090   11,853       9,550
Jordan        19,845     18,226        0      36,719
Moore         12,533        946    1,500      13,087
McGee          8,108      4,227        0       3,880
Hamilton       8,786      4,330        0       4,456
Christian      6,640      6,070        0         570
Provost        6,100      3,560        0       2,457
Cave           4,515      4,278    4,500         237
Grissom            0          0        0           0
E-Shabazz
Montgomery
Allen
Griffin
Thomas
Burks

This is what I meant when I expressed my surprise at the lack of money in the District A race. Peck has never been a big fundraiser, but she’s the only credible Republican in this race, unlike the 2009 and 2013 races. I’m honestly not sure what to make of this.

No one has raised that much in B either, but the cumulative total is more in line with what you’d expect. With such a large field, and multiple worthwhile candidates it’s credible that the donor class may wait to see who’s in the runoff and then pick a side.

The exact opposite situation exists in C, where Abbie Kamen continues to dominate fundraising, with Shelley Kennedy and Mary Jane Smith pulling in decent numbers. I expected more from Greg Meyers – it sure is nice to be able to write your own check – and Daphne Scarbrough has some cash on hand thanks to not spending much so far. If you’re Kamin, how much do you hold onto for the runoff, and how much do you feel you need to spend now to make sure you actually get into the runoff? It’s a big field, Kennedy is competing with her for the same voters, and there are plenty of Republicans in the district, so don’t overlook Smith or Meyers or Scarbrough. Runoffs are a sprint and it helps if you don’t have to hustle for dollars, but finishing third or fourth with $100K in the bank is like losing a walk-off with your closer still in the bullpen because you want to be prepared for extra innings.

District D is like B, with a wider distribution of money. Most of these candidates had no July report, as many of them entered close to or after July 1, following Dwight Boykins’ entry into the Mayor’s race. Brad “Scarface” Jordan was the only real fundraiser for that report. It’s not a huge surprise that he and Carla Brailey led the pack, but I could see the same “wait for the runoff” dynamic happen here. With a big field, you just never know what can happen.

I’ll wrap up the Houston reports next week, and move on to HISD and HCC as well as the Congressional quarterly. Let me know what you think.

Endorsement watch: Miscellania

We cover three endorsements today: HD148 (I presume the Chron is not endorsing in HD28), HISD IV, and City Council District C. Endorsements for the constitutional amendments were in the print edition on Saturday, I’ll run them on Tuesday. That leaves the Mayor and Controller, and I assume those will be in today’s print edition, and will have been online as of later in the day Saturday. I’ll get to those on Monday.

For today, we start with HD148 and the Chron’s recommendation of Anna Eastman in HD148.

Anna Eastman

Voters have their work cut out for them in making a choice because there are 14 candidates for the job, including 11 Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent — all of them appearing on a single unified ballot.

We recommend voters choose Anna Eastman, who was a respected member of the HISD board for eight years before she stepped down this year. Her HISD district included 75 percent of District 148.

Eastman stood out as a smart, dedicated member of the board who generally favored enlightened policies.

Should she win the House seat, she has a laundry list of issues she wants to tackle, including, of course, education, starting with improved teacher pay.

There are fifteen candidates running for this office, unless one of them has dropped out and I missed it. Not sure if the Chron knows something I don’t know or if they just goofed on the math. Either way, I agree that there are a plethora of good choices, and I’m kind of glad I don’t have to pick just one. My interviews with ten of these candidates can be found here, and a look at their 30 day finance reports is here. If you’re in HD148, who are you voting for?

Meanwhile, in another race with a lot of credible candidates, the Chron recommended Abbie Kamin in District C.

Abbie Kamin

Houston City Council District C is home to one of the city’s most vibrant and prosperous neighborhoods, the Heights, and neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey. It’s also home to some of Houston’s most engaged residents, so it’s no surprise that so many candidates are competing to represent the district on City Council.

Council member Ellen Cohen, the city’s mayor pro-tem, faces a term limit and is not in the race.

To replace her, voters should choose Abbie Kamin, a bright, thoughtful civil rights attorney. Three other candidates also stood out as strong contenders, each impressing the editorial board during screening meetings.

Shelley Kennedy, who served under former Mayor Annise Parker on the Keep Houston Beautiful Commission and currently serves on city’s police oversight board, was compelling. So was Greg Myers, who served on the Houston Independent School District board from 2004 to 2016. Amanda Wolfe asked smart questions about Metro, and obviously has a firm grasp on neighborhood-level concerns within the district.

But it was Kamin, 32, who brought the best mix of policy smarts and a can-do spirit of compromise and team work. Those skills, as much as determination to fight for her constituents, are absolutely essential to success as a member of the Houston City Council.

Kamin is also a fundraising machine, and has a record of achievement that makes you realize how big a slacker you were in your 20s. Again, there are a lot of strong candidates in this race, and with 14 candidates anything can happen.

Finally, there’s Matt Barnes in HISD District IV.

Matt Barnes

In a 2018 op-ed published on these pages (“Houston ISD’s misdiagnosis and the cure” ), Matt Barnes issued a clarion call to Houstonians, asking qualified candidates to run for the Houston Independent School District board of trustees. “Those of you who are as angry as I am about young people growing up unprepared for adult life: Get ready. The cure to HISD’s governance problem starts with us running (and voting) in 2019.” After his preferred candidate decided to pass on this race, Barnes tossed his own hat into the ring for District 4 that is held by outgoing board member Jolanda Jones. The district includes the Third Ward, where Barnes has been a resident for 20 years.

Barnes, 48, is well-suited in experience, temperament and commitment to be an outstanding trustee. His professional background includes more than 20 years of involvement in education from pre-K to university, including his recent position as CEO of Educational Makeover, an organization dedicated to providing free coaching to parents. Not only is Barnes familiar with the dividing line between board of trustees and management, he also has served on several nonprofit boards. To prepare for this race, the radio talk show host immersed himself in data about the district and has staked out his priority for enhanced student achievement, early literacy. While the candidate does not support a takeover of the board by the Texas Education Agency, if the change does occur, Barnes promises to be a “bridge builder” between the appointed board and the community.

My interview with Matt Barnes is here. I know it seems weird to be electing HISD trustees when the TEA is about to appoint people who will have the real power, but someone has to oversee those appointees and hold the TEA to its promises and responsibilities. In that sense, the HISD Trustee elections are even more important than usual. Don’t blow them off.

Endorsement watch: At Large 5 and District B

A much better decision by the Chron was to endorse Sallie Alcorn in At Large #5.

Sallie Alcorn

Alcorn, who is running for At-Large Position 5, has spent the past 10 years at City Hall — serving as chief of staff for three council members and as senior staff analyst for the city’s flood recovery officer. She has also worked in the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

In that time, Alcorn was instrumental in getting the city’s Adopt-A-Drain program launched, helped develop a public-private partnership that brought a Pyburn’s grocery store into the Sunnyside neighborhood and managed a task force focused on redevelopment and flooding policies.

“I have learned what works what doesn’t, when local government can help and when it should stay out of the way,” Alcorn, 57, told the editorial board.

Alcorn’s familiarity with the inner workings of city government and the needs of constituents showed when she listed the issues facing the next city council. She ticked off the big ones — flood mitigation, infrastructure, transportation, making the city more green and walkable, shoring up city finances — but also noted the kinds of services that most impact residents’ lives: reliable and effective public safety, trash and recycling, quality librariesand a faster permitting process.

“I know who to call to get things done, if your trash needs picked up, if you’ve got a pothole problem, if you’ve got a permitting issue,” Alcorn said. “That’s the meat of City Council, and there’s nothing more satisfying than helping a constituent make their way to resolve an issue in the community.”

Experience is a fine thing if it’s used well. My interview with Sallie Alcorn is here, my interview with Ashton Woods, who did not screen with the Chron, is here, and the relevant July finance reports are here.

Back to district races, and the Chron endorses Tarsha Jackson for B.

Tarsha Jackson

It’s a sign of the character of City Council District B that voters will have a number of good candidates to choose from to succeed Jerry Davis, who after seven years representing the north Houston district that includes the Fifth Ward, Acres Homes, Greenspoint, Leland Woods and George Bush Intercontinental Airport is ineligible to run for another term.

The notable competitors to replace Davis include medical spa owner Renee Jefferson Smith, who worked so hard to help Hurricane Harvey victims that the city named a day in her honor; community activist Huey German-Wilson, who first became active politically 15 years ago in the fight to keep Kashmere High School open; Alvin D. Byrd, a former sanitation worker who climbed the ladder to later become chief of staff to two Council members, Jarvis Johnson and Richard Nguyen; and Broderick F. Butler, a public policy analyst who at different times was chief of staff for both Rodney Ellis and Sylvester Turner when they served in the Legislature.

The candidate whose background seems best suited to make an immediate impact, however, is Tarsha Jackson. She’s not a City Hall insider, but as the Harris County director for the Texas Organizing Project, she knows how the legislative process works and can use skills she learned as a lobbyist on behalf of District B residents.

Jackson, 48, who grew up in Acres Homes, told the editorial board that economic development would be a priority if she is elected. “The lack of businesses bothers me the most,” she said. “Greenspoint Mall has only a few open stores. It’s important that we create opportunities for people to make livable wages. I want to fight for the changes my district deserves.”

[…]

Jackson became an activist 18 years ago after her 10-year old son, Marquieth, was taken from school in handcuffs by police for kicking a teacher. She helped form Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth, which was instrumental in getting the Legislature to pass a juvenile justice reform bill in 2007 that stipulates youths won’t be sent to jail for committing a misdemeanor.

Now, she wants to address crime as a Council member. “When you have police taking people downtown for a traffic ticket, fees and fines they are not in our neighborhoods responding to grandma’s call about someone busting her window open,” said Jackson. “It would strengthen the police’s relationship with the community if they’re not over-policing them on traffic tickets, fees and fines.”

I have not done interviews in District B but intend to return to it in the runoffs. Relevant July finance reports are here.

30 Day campaign finance reports: Incumbents and challengers for Council

As before, my look at the July 2019 finance reports for these candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Martin         8,150     20,389        0     147,952
Cleveland      5,682      5,330        0         352

Travis         9,800     20,193   21,000     121,297
Pletka         4,167      3,289        0           4
Baker              0        582        0           0

Cisneros      20,281     38,605        0      93,941
Longoria      49,639     20,243        0      23,589
ReyesRevilla  10,356      5,809        0      16,187
Salcedo

Gallegos      16,510     47,728        0     115,718
Gonzales       5,190      4,159    4,310       5,190

Castex-Tatum  15,850     11,568        0      44,409
Vander-Lyn       625          0        0           0
Sauke            100      2,008        0         130

Knox          32,188     35,540        0      24,990
Salhotra      81,218     67,748        0     180,947
Provost        4,850      4,775        0         468
Nav Flores       259        259        0           0
Blackmon

Robinson      52,008     48,267        0     255,938
Davis         20,665     29,110    3,000       8,832
Griffin        1,350        700        0         650
Detoto            24      3,124      500         439
Honey

Kubosh        40,035     39,076  276,000     122,578
Carmouche      3,975      7,156        0         708
McClinton     14,787     18,577        0       4,895
Gonzalez

Not a whole lot of interest here. There are multiple candidates who entered the race too late to have a July report who are showing up this time, but outside of Isabel Longoria in H none of them made much of an impression. That race continues to be the most interesting non-Mayoral challenge to an incumbent on the ballot. Karla Cisneros has plenty of resources available to her, but she’s in a fight.

Beyond that, as I said, not much to say. I wish Janaeya Carmouche had raised more money. Willie Davis and Marcel McClinton did raise a few bucks, but not nearly enough to make a difference in a citywide race. There’s just nothing else to say. I’ll have more reports tomorrow.

UPDATE: Because I’m an idiot, I overlooked the At Large #1 race initially. Raj Salhotra continues his fundraising superiority, while Mike Knox at least raised a few bucks, and no one else did anything of note. I see a lot of Raj signs in my neighborhood, but I think I’d feel better if I saw a TV ad or two from his campaign. Old-fashioned, I know, but it’s still the best way to reach a lot of voters.

More on the Constitutional amendments

I found this while answering a question from a reader, and figured it was worth publicizing to a wider audience.

Ten proposed constitutional amendments will be on the November ballot. The Texas League of Women Voters has compiled a nice list of the amendments along with important voting deadlines. Compare the pros and cons of each proposed amendment, and prepare to cast your vote on Election Day, November 5, 2019.

Proposed Constitutional Amendments

  1. Municipal Judges

  2. Assistance for Water Projects in Distressed Areas

  3. Tax Relief for Disaster Areas

  4. Personal Income Tax

  5. Sporting Goods Tax to Support State Parks

  6. Cancer Prevention & Research

  7. Funding Public Education

  8. Flood Control

  9. Tax Exemption of Precious Metals

  10. Law Enforcement Animals

See here for previous blogging on the topic. The links above go to League of Women Voters of Texas pages, each with For and Against arguments for each item, and a video explaining it. I’d have gone deeper on the reasons to vote against Prop 4, and I’d definitely have mentioned the “individual” versus “natural person” loophole that may make this thing a whole lot more expensive than it looks, but overall the LWV did a good job. In the meantime, the Trib and the Chron have written about the proposed amendments, Prop 5 is being pushed by environmentalists, and the latest edition of the H-Town Progressive podcast features Andrea Greer and host Rob Icsezen discussing them. Read – or listen – up and know what you’re voting on.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes were made

A swing and a miss.

As a city council member, Mike Knox has not been afraid to clash with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

He voted against a $650,000 contract to boost participation in the 2020 Census, saying he had reservations about the “missions and agendas” of the firm chosen to do outreach.

He was one of six council members to vote against a contract that will pay up to $3 million over five years for musicians to perform live at Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports — a program strongly endorsed by Turner.

And he was the only council member to cast a “no” vote on Turner’s historic pension reform proposal.

But Knox, 60,a former police officer running for a second-four year term in the At-Large Position 1 seat, is not merely a contrarian. Knox objected to the airport music contract because he thought the money could be better used for airport amenities, such as improved signage. He opposed an ordinance banning smokeless tobacco use by professional baseball players at Minute Maid Park, on the grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Knox’s said he voted against Turner’s pension plan because the mayor did not provide a draft copy to review. “Now I’m not in the habit and I will not be in the habit of voting for things that I don’t know what I’m voting on,” he told the editorial board.

The editorial board has tended to agree with the mayor on many of these issues, but what’s important about Knox’s positions is his ability to dispassionately look at policy options and, when he disagrees, to be willing to offer an opposing view anchored by logic. “We make too many decisions based on emotion, situational ethics and also just the desire to make a political statement.”

Yeah, that’s baloney. It’s fine to have principles, as long as they lead you to doing the right thing. Voting against Census outreach, at a time when the state Republican leadership is openly hostile to cities, is in itself disqualifying, and no one who votes against the pension reform plan gets to call themselves “fiscally responsible” or “fiscally conservative”, no matter what the pretext was for the No vote. The Chron rightfully had nice things to say later on about Raj Salhotra, but said he needed “some experience under his belt”. If Mike Knox is what having experience looks like, then “experience” isn’t all that useful, either. No thank you very much.

Anyway. My interview with Raj Salhotra is here, and the July finance reports that include At Large #1 is here; the 30 day reports are on their way, I swear.

That odd decision was then followed up with the even more confounding endorsement of CM Michael Kubosh.

In the last municipal election cycle, this editorial board endorsed Michael Kubosh for City Council At-Large Position 3 with a significant caveat: His opposition to Houston’s equal rights amendment (HERO) and his use of fear-mongering rhetoric gave us pause.

“If HERO were the only issue on the agenda for City Council’s next term,” we wrote in 2015, “Kubosh’s actions would be reason enough to boot him from office.”

As reasons to look past his wrongheaded views on the gay and transgender community, we pointed to the political skills that helped him pass an amendment to the mayor’s budget, his success in getting the funds needed to fish abandoned cars from the city’s bayous in a joint project with Harris County and his knack for constituent services.

Four years later, we are again torn. Kubosh kept his promise to retrieve submerged cars, a project that has removed more than 80 vehicles from Sims and Brays Bayou. He has been spearheading an effort to bring an Astro World-like theme park to Houston, a project that Mayor Sylvester Turner hinted in a recent tweet may be on the horizon. He has advocated for distribution of Harvey relief funds to the victims most in need.

However, in a candidate screening, Kubosh several times expressed opinions that reminded us powerfully of the caveats the board felt when recommending him last time. He said it is wrong to fire someone because they are gay or transgender and cited his hiring of a gay lawyer as proof that he doesn’t hold anti-gay sentiment, yet he also maintained — misleadingly — that the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance would have allowed any man to dress up as a woman and go into a women’s restroom.

“At the very end I couldn’t vote with them to allow a woman’s privacy to be violated not by a transgender person but by a possible predator who learned that Houston will now let you in their restrooms if you dress as a woman,” he told the editorial board. The conflation of transgender women with predators is not only offensive, it has been thoroughly debunked. And to state the obvious: There are already plenty of laws making it a crime for anyone to sneak into a bathroom to harm or harass anyone.

Kubosh, 68, also described Drag Queen Storytime at the Houston Public Library as a showcase for “adult entertainment” that could potentially harm children. That mindset is troubling, especially for a council member who represents all Houstonians — including members of the gay and transgender community.

As one of Kubosh’s challengers, Janaeya Carmouche, rightly pointed out, being a city council member is “not just simply the day-to-day minutiae of the job or the machinations of the job. It is understanding that you have a platform and your voice and your opinion will be amplified.“

They then wistfully conclude that Janaeya Carmouche and Marcel McClinton, like Raj Salhotra, might be Council-worthy some day, but today they are too young and inexperienced, and then finish up by expressing the hope that Kubosh will somehow be a different person over the next four years than he has shown himself to be. Hey, remember when the Chron endorsed Ted Cruz in 2012 on the grounds that they hoped he would stop being Ted Cruz and magically transform into someone who would be more like Kay Bailey Hutchison? I sure do. How’d that work out? I don’t know who’s writing these endorsement editorials these days, but they sure seem to lack the basic experience needed to understand how human nature works.

Look, if the editorial board likes and agrees with Michael Kubosh, then by all means they should endorse him. If they think his accomplishments outweigh the things about him they find offensive and troubling, then endorse him. If they think there’s sufficient value in having him on Council to serve as a check on Mayor Turner, then endorse him. (Just curious here: do they think Kubosh, or Mike Knox for that matter, would serve as a check on Tony Buzbee or Bill King?) But endorsing their fantasy version of Michael Kubosh, especially when they have already demonstrated that trick never works, is delusional and a disservice to the readers.

Endorsement watch: One more HISD, two in HCC

Some pretty easy calls for the Chron here. In HISD VII, they go with Judith Cruz.

Judith Cruz

Houston Independent School District does not need more of the same in its leadership. The embattled district must move away from the dysfunction that has tainted the current school board, from the in-fighting and public squabbles that have left its reputation in tatters and taken focus away from the needs of students.

State intervention, triggered by Texas law when Phillis Wheatley High School failed in yearly accountability ratings, will likely result in a state-appointed board of managers. But voters must also do their part by electing trustees who are well-prepared to guide the district no matter what is ahead.

In HISD’s Board of Trustees District VIII, which includes the East End and some of the city’s top performing schools, that means rejecting incumbent Board President Diana Dávila.

A Texas Education Agency investigation found that Dávila made false statements to state officials during an inquiry into potential violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act in late 2018, when she and other trustees unsuccessfully tried to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Latham. Dávila also faces accusations of improperly interfering in district vendor contracts.

Dávila, who declined to participate in a candidate screening by the editorial board, has denied wrongdoing, but the allegations and her role in the board’s missteps would only be a distraction.

Her opponent, Judith Cruz, 44, brings a commitment to rebuilding trust and transparency, as well as experience as a classroom teacher and in an educational nonprofit, DiscoverU. She began her career with Teach for America, and went on to teach ESL at Lee High School (now Wisdom) in HISD, and at Liberty High School, where she was a founding teacher.

[…]

It is time for a change in HISD. We recommend Cruz for Board of Trustees District VIII.

I expected this, based on the Chron’s endorsement of challenger Dani Hernandez in District III. Even without Dávila’s other baggage, the Chron was almost certainly going to call for a clean slate. My interview with Judith Cruz is here. Some but not all of the 30 day finance reports for HISD are up, I’m going to wait a little more before I post on them to give time for them all to appear. The Chron still has to make a call in HISD IV.

Also a trivially easy decision was to endorse Monica Flores Richart in HCC District 2.

Monica Flores Richart

Former Houston Community College District 2 trustee Dave Wilson announced in August he was quitting his seat in order to focus full time on running to represent District 1. Trouble is, he said he had moved from District 2 to District 1 seven months before, in January — and was only just then getting around to vacating an office he appeared to be no longer eligible to keep. He called Texas residency rules “vague” but there’s nothing vague about keeping a job representing a district you no longer even live in.

Now that he’s running to fill a different seat on the same board, we do not encourage anyone to vote for him.

Fortunately, the majority Hispanic District 1 on the northeast side has a really good candidate running against Wilson, and we heartily endorse her for the job.

She is attorney Monica Flores Richart, 45, who has an undergraduate degree in public policy from Princeton University, a law degree from Columbia University. She worked for U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, the Democrat who in 2006 won the heavily Republican district vacated by Tom DeLay. He got swept out of office in a Republican wave in 2008.

[…]

Richart is smart, has good ideas and strikes us as someone who can accomplish positive change in a professional way.

We endorse her for District 1 on the HCC board of trustees.

My interview with Monica Flores Richart is here. Honestly, they could have written dozens of paragraphs about what a bigoted jackass Dave Wilson is and then ended with those last two sentences above. But Richart really is a strong candidate, so better to emphasize that as well.

Finally, the Chron endorses Rhonda Skillern-Jones in Wilson’s old district, District 2.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

The District 2 candidates are former HISD board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, longtime educator and community leader Kathy Lynch-Gunter and attorney Brendon Singh.

Retired teacher Linda Murray, 70, is on the ballot but told us she has dropped out and supports Skillern-Jones.

Skillern-Jones, 52, is the heavyweight in the field, having served eight mostly laudable years on the Houston Independent School District board of trustees, including two as president.

The Texas Southern University grad’s reputation took a hit in April 2018 when she presided with a heavy hand over a failed attempt to transfer control of 10 troubled schools to a charter school company with a questionable reputation.

The emotional meeting resulted in two people being hauled off by police and, in the end, the transfer of schools was abandoned. Skillern-Jones, who had asked the police to help quiet the protesters, accepted blame for the debacle.

[…]

There were a lot of things to like about Lynch-Gunter, 56, and Singh, 24, an HCC alumnus, but Skillern-Jones’ experience and knowledge of educational governance is hard to beat.

We agree with Skillern-Jones that her long record of public service shouldn’t be reduced to her actions during a single meeting. We urge voters to elect her to the HCC board of trustees, District 2.

You may ask, why does Skillern-Jones not get the same level of skepticism that fellow HISD Trustees Sergio Lira and Diana Dávila got? One, she wasn’t named in that TEA ethics investigation, and two I presume either the Chron didn’t consider her a part of the problem in the same way, or they decided that even with that on her record she was still the better choice for HCC. There’s one more HCC race, though it appears to be uncontested, and one more HISD race, the open seat in District IV. We’ll see what the Chron has to say about them.

Interview with Carol Denson

Carol Denson

Lots of things go into my interview schedules each cycle, as there’s only one of me and usually way more candidates than I could possibly have time for. The large field in the HD148 special election was a particular challenge, but as it happened I had a three-day weekend right after the filing deadline that I could take advantage of, and wound up with seven interviews at the end. I reached out to everyone I had contact info for at that time. That unfortunately wound up leaving Carol Denson out, as her webpage and Facebook page weren’t ready when I was. She reached out to me this week, and so here we are. Denson is a longtime public school teacher and native of the Heights. She is also a climate change activist, advocating for HR 763 in the US House to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what we talked about:

Previous interviews with HD148 candidates can be found here. The 30-day finance reports for legislative special elections are here. I’m pretty sure I’m at the end of the interview cycle for November, but you never know.

Chron overview of City Controller race

It’s rerun season.

Chris Brown

It has attracted far less attention than the rowdy mayoral race, but the contest for the city’s second-highest office has intensified in recent weeks as Controller Chris Brown — the independently elected financial watchdog — finds himself battling to keep his seat against a familiar name on the ballot.

Orlando Sanchez, a former city councilman, mayoral candidate and Harris County treasurer, filed to challenge Brown in August with an hour to spare before the Aug. 19 deadline. He has pledged to conduct more audits and make the controller’s office more transparent. And, Sanchez alleges, Brown is too closely aligned with Mayor Sylvester Turner to serve as a check on his power.

“While it’s nice to have a cordial relationship with the mayor, I don’t think you need to act as an employee of the mayor,” said Sanchez, 61. “You are independently and in a sovereignly elected position that should answer all and any questions that the community has — the business community, the mayor’s office, the City Council.”

Brown, who served as deputy controller before his election in 2015, scoffed at Sanchez’s critiques. The controller’s office has conducted 39 audits during his tenure and prizes large-scale audits instead of smaller, more frequent ones, Brown said, adding that he has striven to distance himself from Turner on such issues as the mayor’s push to sidestep the voter-imposed revenue cap after Hurricane Harvey and his changing cost estimates for Proposition B, the voter-approved measure to link firefighters’ pay to that of similarly ranked police officers.

“I work for the taxpayer,” said Brown, 44. “If you look at my record over the last four years, whether that’s auditing, whether that’s going to the mat when the administration tried to raise taxes on taxpayers after Harvey, I went to the mat, I fought for the taxpayer and I won. From that standpoint, it’s vitally important for the controller to be independent.”

[…]

The race also has broken down along sharply partisan lines, despite both candidates’ insistence that the office should remain nonpartisan. Conservative support has coalesced behind Sanchez, a Republican who has raised about $45,000, with contributions from Republican congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall and state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston. Democratic officials — including former city controllers Sylvia Garcia and Annise Parker — are lining up behind Brown, who last month endorsed Julián Castro for president. He had $274,000 cash on hand at last count, compared to Sanchez’s $24,000 war chest.

The Controller’s race gets less attention than the Mayor’s race for the same reason why most Council races get less attention: The office has far less power, and there’s far less spending in those elections. For what it’s worth, in the clearly partisan 2015 runoff, Brown not only defeated Republican Bill Frazer, he did so by a considerably wider margin than Mayor Turner had over Bill King. Orlando Sanchez basically coasted for a dozen years on the county’s off-year partisan lean, before running out of luck last year. I’m not too worried about this one.

Chrysta Castañeda

The Senate race will be the top statewide contest in 2020, but beyond that it’s the judicials and the one Railroad Commissioner slot on the ballot. Candidate Chrysta Castañeda has thrown her hat into the ring for that job.

Chrysta Castañeda

The 2020 race for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission is beginning to seriously take shape as prominent Dallas attorney Chrysta Castañeda enters the Democratic primary to challenge Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton.

“The Railroad Commission’s number one job is to protect our natural resources and prevent the waste of oil and gas, but in its current configuration, it has abandoned that duty,” Castañeda said in a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing her candidacy.

The Railroad Commission is usually one of the lower-profile statewide races on the ballot, but in election cycles like 2020, the candidates play an important role for their parties because they top the non-federal statewide ticket. The contest for Sitton’s seat, one of three on the commission, will appear on the ballot after the races for president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House.

Castañeda has decades of oil and gas experience, first as a software engineer for companies and then as a lawyer for operators and others in the industry. In 2016, she won a $146 million verdict for the late Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens in a high-profile drilling rights dispute.

Castañeda is centering her campaign on the issue of flaring, or the burning of natural gas that companies do not move to market. The practice, which emits harmful pollutants into the air, has become increasingly rampant; Oil and gas producers say it’s because of a shortage of pipelines, while environmentalists say it’s due to economics with natural gas being far cheaper than oil. They also blame the Railroad Commission, which has approved a historic number of flaring permits, and extensions to flaring permits.

In her announcement video, Castañeda says the state “might as well be burning cash” and charged Sitton with refusing to enforce laws to curtail the waste.

“Texans deserve someone who will enforce the law and work for all of us,” she said. “Let’s stop wasting energy.”

No one can say she doesn’t have experience, though I’m sure some folks will be more impressed by it than others. I learned from this story that there is another candidate already in, Kelly Stone, who is clearly from a more progressive background. That should make for an interesting primary, with at least some possibility that either or both candidates could raise some money for the purpose of running a real campaign in the primary. (It’s not just for Senate hopefuls!) The story also notes that 2016 candidate Cody Garrett is thinking about running again. You may say to yourself “I don’t remember seeing Cody Garrett on the November 2016 ballot”. That’s because he wasn’t – he lost to perennial candidate Grady Yarbrough in the primary. I would not put it past Yarbrough to clutter up the 2020 ballot as well, but whether or not he does it’s important that we get a real campaign, with people being aware of their choices. Every race matters.

Endorsement watch: Our first two At Large races

Continuing with its “one contested incumbent and one open seat” theme, the Chron begins by endorsing David Robinson for another term.

CM David Robinson

Unlike council members who speak for specific districts, at-large representatives must take a wider view and consider the city as a whole when making decisions and setting priorities. During his time on the council, David Robinson has providedfor his more than 2 million constituents a thoughtful and balanced voice.

Robinson, 53, told the editorial board there is still a lot more work to be done at City Hall. Voters should allow him to continue that work.

Part of that effort is to improve the city’s resilience in the face of changing climate.

“We’re existentially threatened by global climate change, by storm surge, by things that have not yet struck our city and we are in the infancy of providing protection for,” Robinson said. He added that the city must figure out cost-effective ways to supplement flood mitigation projects undertaken by the county and the federal government.

[…]

The incumbent has proven he understands the problems facing Houston and that he is focused on finding solutions to them. We continue to place our trust in David Robinson and recommend him for At-Large Position 2.

Here are the July finance reports that include At Large #2. I’ll have the 30 Day reports posted this weekend. Not much to add here, Robinson’s main opponent is an anti-HERO pastor who got into a runoff with Robinson in 2015 and then lost to him by nine points. I don’t see much different this time around.

Over in At Large #4, the seat vacated by Amanda Edwards once she entered the Democratic primary for Senate, the Chron goes with Nick Hellyar, who jumped into this race from District C after Edwards’s departure.

Nick Hellyar

The contenders, who bring a wide range of experience and involvement in community advocacy, include Bill Baldwin, a civic activist known as the “King of the Heights” and member of the city planning commission; Letitia Plummer, a dentist and granddaughter of a Tuskegee Airman flight instructor; James “Joe” Joseph, pastor and founder of a Fifth Ward nonprofit, and Tiko Hausman, a business consultant with a background in government procurement.

Their qualifications and grasp of the issues facing Houston — from flood mitigation to city finances — are impressive. The residents of Houston should be heartened by the caliber of candidates seeking to represent them.

One, however, stands out for his knowledge of the inner workings of city hall: Nick Hellyar is a 37-year-old real estate agent with a “passion for municipal government” that grew out of early jobs working as constituent services manager for then-city council member James Rodriguez, whose three-term tenure representing District I ended in 2013. Hellyar also served as district director in then-state Rep. Carol Alvarado’s District 145 office.

It was there, Hellyar told the editorial board, that he learned how important city services are in the everyday lives of Houstonians.

“If their trash can doesn’t get picked up, and they call their council office and it gets picked up, that makes a huge difference in somebody’s life,” he said. “We need common sense leaders at the city level just to get everyday stuff done — make sure our roads are smooth, make sure we have adequate drainage, ensure that the water runs when you turn on the tap, ensure that we have public safety. So I want to be a common sense leader.”

The same link above includes the AL4 finance reports from July, which I had started working on before Edwards’ announcement. I’m working on these now. Hellyar actually entered the local political scene before his employment in then-CM Rodriguez’s office. I met him when he was volunteering for Jim Henley’s 2006 campaign for Congress in CD07. As I’ve said before, Tiko Reynolds-Hausman is a friend of mine, I know Bill Baldwin, and I interviewed Letitia Plummer during her campaign for CD22 last year. There are some good choices in this race.

30 day finance reports: Metro referendum

There may be some opposition to the Metro referendum, but so far no one’s putting their money where their mouths are on that.

Supporters of a $3.5 billion transit bond election less than four weeks away have a sizable — but not unexpected — advantage over critics, who plan a grass-roots campaign to counter what has been flurry of educational campaigns using taxpayer dollars and aggressive catering to the Houston area’s business community.

Moving to the Future, the political action committee backing the bond amassed more than $437,000 in money or in-kind contributions, according to its financial report field last week, which includes fundraising until Sept. 26. The group is campaigning to support Metropolitan Transit Authority’s long-range transportation plan, the first phase of which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The fundraising by supporters gives them a roughly 73-to-one money advantage to the opposition Responsible Houston political committee, which has collected $6,000 from two donors, according to its Oct. 7 campaign report.

The disparity continues in terms of what each is spending money on. Responsible Houston, the PAC formed to oppose the bonds on the grounds it is wasted spending and unwise to give Metro a blank check for rail and bus projects without more specifics, spent most of its money, about $5,250, on website development to push a grass-roots online message.

See here for the background. Here are the relevant finance reports:

Moving To The Future (supports)
REsponsible Houston (opposes)


PAC     Raised   Spent   On Hand
================================
MttF   437,606  69,844   402,694
RH       6,000   5,795       204

As the story notes, Metro can use other funds to run ads that inform of the election and issues, without advocating a vote either way. That’s always controversial – the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not is fuzzy and often hinges on “magic words” like “support” or “oppose” – but it’s what we get. Either way, I’d expect to see a lot more Metro ads between now and November 5 – I’ve seen plenty of them already. Whether you see any anti-Metro ads remains on open question. It will be fine by me if that effort fizzles out, but we’ll take a look at the 8-day report when it comes out.

So are there any legal consequences to the Bonnen tape?

Probably not, but maybe a little. Does that help?

It was, according to his critics, “hurtful,” “vindictive” and “unbefitting of the high office he holds.” But was House Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s June 12 meeting with conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan illegal?

In June, when Bonnen met with the hard-charging Tea Party activist, he asked Sullivan to stay out of, and get into, certain electoral battles — “help us out, and maybe kill off one or two or three [moderate Republican House lawmakers] that are never going to help” — and in return offered Sullivan media credentials for the news arm of his organization — “If we can make this work, I’ll put your guys on the floor next session.”

During that meeting — a recording of which was released to the public Tuesday — Bonnen seemed to blur the line between the official and the political. It prompted the Texas House General Investigating Committee, which has subpoena power, to request a probe by the state’s elite investigative unit, the Texas Rangers.

With that investigation ongoing and little word from Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, who is expected to make the decision on whether to bring a criminal charge, there’s been ample room for speculation — which only escalated after the secret recording was made public Tuesday morning. In Capitol circles, the rule is generally: Don’t offer official tit for political tat. But whether the smudging of those boundaries constitutes criminal activity is a case-by-case consideration, a decision ultimately made by a prosecutor and, if it gets that far, a jury.

“With just the information we know at this time, it’s not clear that a crime was committed,” said Buck Wood, an Austin ethics lawyer who helped rewrite the state’s restrictions in the 1970s after a major political scandal. “But it’s also not clear that a crime wasn’t committed.”

See here for the background. Long story short, while the DPS is still doing its investigation, it seems unlikely that any criminal charges will ever result. The law in question is narrowly tailored to be about personal financial gain, and it would take a pretty broad reading of it to try to get an indictment. Unless there’s new evidence to uncover, I don’t see any danger for the Speaker here.

What about a civil case, though?

Democrats were in court in Travis County Tuesday pressing forward with their lawsuit arguing that Sullivan’s recording revealed serious violations of Texas campaign finance law. The party, along with state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, D-Richardson, sued Sullivan in August, demanding the release of the full recording of the meeting.

The lawsuit was also filed against an “unknown political committee” that the lawsuit said includes Bonnen and Burrows. But the two lawmakers are not named defendants. At the hearing, attorney Chad Dunn argued for the Democratic Party that the newly released recording confirms there was discussion in the Capitol about political spending and requested the release of more documents about the meeting.

He said if the judge orders the information released, the party will use those documents to decide if Bonnen and Burrows should also be named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Under Texas election law, a political contribution can’t be made or authorized inside the Capitol. A violation of the law could result in up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. In civil court, it could mean having to pay back targeted candidates or opposing PACs. Dunn said the recording contains “a whole lot of authorizing.”

“If we live in a state of laws, there’s not going to be private conversations with the Speaker in the people’s Capitol authorizing illegal political contributions and expenditures,” he said.

Roark said in the August memo to the Texas Rangers that there was no political contribution authorized at the June meeting, so the law was not applicable in this case.

See here for the background. I don’t have enough information to make a reasoned guess about this one. I will say, one thing the next Lege could do is review the existing laws on what constitutes bribery and political contributions, to see if they could be improved. That would never get through Dan Patrick’s Senate, but as was the case with ethics-related bills last session, it would still be worth the effort. Would be more likely to happen with a different Speaker, that much is for sure.

How other states are handling the Census

Better than we’re handling it.

So cities and states with big immigrant populations — like California and New York City — are supplementing the Census Bureau’s efforts like never before, allocating money to outreach groups that can go to communities spooked by the Trump administration’s efforts to identify non-citizens.

  • It’s an effort to coax everyone to fill out a census form, whether they’re in the country legally or not. (And, for the first time, people will be able to do this online.)
  • State, local and neighborhood groups “have the best chance of convincing people who are wary about participating in the census that it is safe,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, who has advised organizations and government associations on Census-related matters, tells Axios.

By the numbers: California is allocating $187 million — nearly 95 times what it did a decade ago, according to The Mercury News — far outspending every other state.

  • New York City has budgeted $40 million to Census outreach — the most ever — and plans to parcel it out to agencies and community-based organizations that will raise awareness about the Census.
  • New York state, meantime, will dedicate $20 million to Census efforts.
  • Utah is setting aside funds for the first time ever — with a big portion of the $1 million being spent to count “a relatively large population of children under 5,” PBS NewsHour reports.
  • Chicago plans to spend $2.3 million — the largest amount of funding the city has ever committed to the census, per the AP.

[…]

States have typically created advisory councils in preparation for the Census, called “Complete Count Commissions.” Those groups are busier and getting more attention now than in previous years.

  • “We’ve never had a context like this,” Beveridge says. “That means the efforts of the Complete Count Commissions are very important this year in areas like Florida, Texas, California and New York which have high number of immigrant households.”
  • Yes, but: Some of those states, including Florida and Texas, have taken no action at all yet. Efforts to bulk up Census outreach have failed to pass in those state’s legislatures.

We are well familiar with Texas’ utter indifference to the 2020 Census. It’s political malpractice, and also sadly par for the course from the state and legislative Republicans. Cities and counties are doing their part, but they deserved help from the state. To me, the best outcome of all this will be for accurate counts in the big urban and suburban areas, and undercounts in the rural areas. If that leads to Texas missing out on a Congressional seat it could and would have had, so much the better. Let there be some consequences for this, which can then be more effectively enforced in 2022. The only way to end bad behavior is for there to be a cost for engaging in it.

Texas blog roundup for the week of October 14

In its great and unmatched wisdom, the Texas Progressive Alliance presents this week’s roundup.

(more…)

Interview with Sallie Alcorn

Sallie Alcorn

We come to the end of the interviews that I had originally planned. As is often the case, a late request came in and you will see that on Friday. For City Council until the runoffs we are at the end of the road. Sallie Alcorn is a former Chief of Staff to CM Stephen Costello who is running for At Large #5. Alcorn has worked for two other Council members, the city’s flood recovery officer, and in the Department of Housing and Community Development. She also works with offenders as a volunteer facilitator for Bridges to Life, and has served on boards at the San Jose Clinic, the Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Houston READ Commission. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #5 is here. I’ll do a post with all the city interviews to this point shortly.