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Cindy Siegel

Scouting the opposition in CD07

Not impressed so far.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Facing a roomful of conservative voters at a meet-and-greet earlier this month, Republican Wesley Hunt laid out the stakes for his party’s primary in Texas’ 7th Congressional District.

“This is about putting the best candidate forward who can beat Lizzie Fletcher. Period.” Hunt said.

Republican voters still are smarting from their 2018 loss in this suburban west Houston district, where Fletcher, a Democratic Houston energy lawyer, toppled nine-term GOP incumbent John Culberson. Her five-point win flipped the seat blue for the first time since the 1960s, prompting Republicans to take aim at the district almost as soon as Fletcher took office.

The GOP primary field already has come into focus, setting up a clash between Hunt, an Army veteran who works for Perry Homes, and Cindy Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor and METRO board member. Battle lines are sharpening, but not around the two candidates’ conservative bona fides or the strength of their policy proposals. The early contours of the race instead have centered on the question: Who is best positioned to snatch the seat from Fletcher?

Threatening to upend the primary is the potential candidacy of Pierce Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston affiliate and grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, who once represented the district.

Bush in an email earlier this month said he still is mulling a run for the seat and has been “flattered by people who are encouraging me to consider running,” though he did not lay out a deadline for a decision.

Meanwhile, both declared Republicans have their electability pitches ready to go. Hunt, 37, contends the party could use a “new generation of leadership,” and he peppers his stump speech with references to his time as a helicopter pilot in the Army, including his combat deployment to Iraq. Siegel, meanwhile, pitches her governing experience serving on Bellaire city council and as mayor, along with a number of boards and commissions.

Also, she contends that it will take a Republican woman to beat Fletcher.

“I feel that way strongly,” the 64-year-old Siegel said. “It’s coming as no surprise to anyone, on a national basis: Women have moved away from the Republican Party.”

[…]

In 2018, Trump’s name did not appear on the ballot, but scores of voters in Texas’ 7th said they viewed the election as a referendum on the president nonetheless. Now, the president’s down-ballot impact is set to become amplified, for better or worse, with his name likely atop the Republican ticket in 2020.

After the president lost the district to Clinton in 2016, 48 to 47 percent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took notice and weighed in heavily on Fletcher’s behalf, spending north of $3.5 million on the seat in 2018.

This time, House Democrats’ campaign arm again figures to play a heavy role, making early attempts to muddy the GOP waters. When Trump visited Houston in April, for instance, the group sent reporters a news release with the subject line: “With Trump in Houston, How Far Will Hunt and Siegel Go to Win Him Over?”

That last bit is more important than who wins this primary, because whoever it is will have Donald Trump as their running mate. Unless the national mood starts souring on Democrats, I think that’s going to be too big an obstacle to overcome.

Beyond that, it’s just too early to have any opinions about these two, or possibly three, candidates. I fully expect one or two other names to pop up, though whether the field expands like it did on the Democratic side in 2018 I couldn’t say. Given the need to raise funds for this race, time is starting to run out for any other wannabes.

Speaking of fundraising, here’s a data point to note for when Hunt and Siegel file their Q2 finance reports. The top four Dem contenders in CD07 raised $1.2 million combined as of July 2017. Fletcher had the second most, with $365K. The eye-popping early numbers all around the country were a leading indicator of Democratic enthusiasm for the 2018 election. I’ll be very interested to see how things look this time around.

One more thing. What happens to CD07 in the 2021 redistricting cycle. Before the 2018 election, when I figured John Culberson would still be the incumbent, my thinking was that Republicans were going to have to shift some of the district out of Harris County – maybe into Montgomery, maybe into western Fort Bend, maybe northwest into what’s now part of CD10 – to keep it red enough for him. At the very least, they’d have to take some of the bluer-and-bluer inner Harris parts out to keep things in their favor. What happens now if Fletcher wins again? Well, they could try this anyway, to take that seat back by other means. Redistricting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and with CDs 02, 10, and 22 all getting competitive it might be too much to save everyone, especially in a solidly blue Harris County and a much more balanced state as a whole. It would not shock me if the Republicans basically gave up on CD07 and used parts of it to shore up those other districts, especially CD02. That’s more or less what they did with the State House in 2011, making HD133 (which they had lost in 2008) redder while making HDs 137 and 149 bluer. Incumbent protection is still a thing that matters, and in a state with fewer safe Republicans, it may matter more than ever. Just a thought.

CD07: Here comes another Bush?

Oh, goodie.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

A number of West Houston political insiders are abuzz at the prospect that Pierce Bush, the Houston-based CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Lone Star and member of the storied Bush family, might run for the Congressional seat currently occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher.

The 7th Congressional District has significant history in the Bush family: It’s the seat Pierce Bush’s grandfather, the late President George H.W. Bush, represented in the late 1960s.

“Over the past few months, I have been flattered by many people in Houston who have reached out and encouraged me to run for this seat,” Pierce Bush said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “I am currently putting my heart and soul into my role as CEO of the largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency in the country.

“With my awesome staff team, our volunteers, and donors, we are empowering thousands of kids in Texas to achieve their full potential in life through our outcomes achieving mission,” he added. “If I were to run for this office, or any other office, I would certainly run as a big tent candidate focused on discussing the important matters. Together, we can stand for real opportunity for the many who need it.”

It’s a nice statement, and it sounds sincere, but let’s face it, if you are running as a Republican in 2020, you are running with Donald Trump as your running mate. There’s no way around it. Trump himself would have it no other way, and for that matter neither would every other elected Republican in Texas. There may come a time when a Pierce Bush could run as a Republican while talking about “big tents” and “discussing important matters”. That time is not 2020.

There is already a high-profile Republican candidate in the race: Wesley Hunt announced his challenge to Fletcher earlier this month. A West Point graduate, Hunt is politically connected locally and nationally. Upon his entrance into the race, U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy highlighted Hunt’s candidacy in a memo to donors. Former Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel announced her run earlier this month as well.

See here for more on Hunt. Both Wesley Hunt and Cindy Siegel sound like they’d be decent candidates, in another time and without the stink of Trump on them. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t win in 2020 anyway – it will surely be a close race, though Rep. Fletcher’s five point win in 2018 well outpaced all the public polls – but I’m hard pressed to imagine a scenario where 2022, with (gods willing) a Democratic President in office and after the Lege does its thing in redistricting, wouldn’t be far more inviting.

Metro preps regional transit plan

This could be on our November ballot as well.

A pending long-term regional transit plan, and likely voter referendum as early as November, will determine where Metro goes. More importantly, they will show what level of support people in the Houston region have for more buses, longer train routes and commuter service to increasingly urbanizing suburban communities.

What’s clear, transit officials acknowledged on Feb. 15 during their first in-depth discussion of the transit plan’s focus, is many solutions to traffic congestion will sit on transit agency shelves for years to come.

“We know we will never have enough resources to build everything,” Metro board member Christof Spieler said. “How do we choose which projects are most worthwhile?”

Board members during the discussion said a host of factors will influence transit project priorities, though the critical litmus test will be whether a project can reliably and quickly serve a large number of riders and solve a congestion challenge. Officials predict as the region grows freeways will clog even more with cars and trucks for more hours of the day. Expansion of many freeways is limited, so using the lanes more effectively or drawing people off the freeway will be critical.

“We’re all going to be more transit-dependent because we can’t spend two hours getting to work,” Metro board member Cindy Siegel said.

Transit agency staff has started compiling a list of unfinished projects, including those left over from the contentious 2003 referendum and financial commitments from an extension of Metro’s 1 percent sales tax voters approved in 2012.

Along with public input and ongoing discussions, Metro could have a draft of a regional transit plan – incorporating not only service in Metro’s area, but beyond its own boundaries – by April under an accelerated timetable.

[…]

There are options for starting major transit projects within the next five years, but they require transit officials to either come up with alternative sources of money or ask voters to approve more spending, which could mean more borrowing and new taxes or fees to pay off the debt.

Officials are exploring both options. Last year, officials approved soliciting interest from private firms for development of a train line from the Texas Medical Center to Missouri City. The line, estimated to cost at least $400 million, has political support from many Houston area federal, state and local officials. Questions related to the proposal pushed the deadline for companies to express interest in partnerships with Metro from Feb. 7 to March 20.

Metro leaders, after new board members were installed by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner last year, also have said a voter referendum for more spending is likely. Transit board chairwoman Carrin Patman said the regional transit plan could lead to a vote as early as November, though the plan itself will inform what could end up in front of voters.

“It’s possible,” she said of an election in nine months. “We’ll have to see what kind of response we get to the plan and what is the best course.”

A referendum, officials said, could be approval for a single project that transit supporters consider high-priority or politically palatable. A entire suite of projects also could be put in front of voters.

See here for some background. The plan doesn’t exist yet, so it’s more than a little premature to speculate. The howling chaos in Washington doesn’t help, either. I’d prefer a bigger package to vote on than a smaller one, but a bigger one carries a lot more risk, as the opposition will be more intense. Still, we did pass the 2003 referendum against a pretty fierce and well-funded No effort, and I’d guess the Metro service area is more amenable to transit in general and rail in particular now than it was then. But even people who do support those things may vote against a referendum if they don’t think it gives them something they want. And even if Metro wants to put something up for a vote, there’s an argument to be made to wait till 2018 and do as much public engagement as possible beforehand. There’s a lot of ways this can go, so we’ll just have to see what they present when they have something to show us.

Bellaire officially opposes Dynamo Westpark Stadium

Bellaire City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday night that opposes the construction of a Dynamo Stadium on Westpark.

“To ignore it and not speak up for our residents would be the wrong thing to do,” said Mayor Cindy Siegel, after introducing the resolution, which stated:

“Whereas, the proposed Midway stadium site is not compatible with the existing Bellaire and Houston residential neighborhoods that surround this site and would negatively impact their quality of life with significant noise, traffic gridlock, cut-through traffic, event parking on the CenterPoint Energy easement immediately adjacent to Bellaire and Houston homes’ backyards, and overflow event parking on Bellaire and Houston residential neighborhood streets.”

The council vote came on the heels of continued negative reaction from residents after news of the Midway proposal surfaced in late January.

“The Dynamo stadium in that area would be a logistical nightmare,” said resident Cynthia Freeman to the council.

Councilman Will Hickman said he conducted a survey of 110 residents on the issue and revealed that 89 percent of the respondents oppose any stadium plan near city limits.

Mayor Siegel was an early opponent of this idea. The proposed location is outside the Bellaire city limits so the resolution has no force, but it is a pretty clear expression of what the locals want. Given that the folks on the East End are strongly in favor of the original downtown stadium idea, perhaps this will give that project another nudge. Dynamo President Oliver Luck certainly hasn’t given up on that.

Dynamo President Oliver Luck said the council’s resolution doesn’t change his thinking because he is already trying to make the downtown site work.

“We won’t say no to any other reasonable proposals until we have a shovel in the ground but certainly the East End has been our focus,” Luck said.

So you’ve got one location for which nearly all of the pieces are in place and there’s community support, and another location that would have to start from scratch and overcome opposition from its closest neighbors. Makes you wonder why we’re even having this conversation, doesn’t it? Instant News Bellaire has more.

“There’s no such thing as a project like this without public money”

Dynamo President Oliver Luck throws a little cold water on the claims that a Westpark Stadium could be built exclusively with private funding.

“We have not been presented a plan by the Midway Companies,” Luck said. “I can’t say whether there’s ‘no public money’ involved.

“We (the Dynamo) won’t talk to the city or county about this deal — we have pushed that responsibility to Midway. We know what our conditions are, and basically, it’s replicating the financial structure of the downtown deal. That’s sort of a threshhold question. If they can do that, we’ll go ahead. If they can’t, it won’t happen.”

[…]

Midway recently completed a major mixed-use development in the Memorial area, City Centre, where there is a TIRZ — a tax increment reinvestment zone — in place with the city of Houston, that reinvests some property taxes into infrastructure improvements to help spur development.

Sources familiar with the Midway proposal say it is relying on extending a similar TIRZ in the Uptown/Galleria area, which ends at Highway 59, to encompass the Midway property south of Westpark.

That was news to John Breeding, who serves as executive director of both the Uptown TIRZ and Uptown Development Authority, who said neither agency is involved and is waiting to hear more.

Which comes around, again, to Oliver Luck, who knows a thing or two about stadiums from his four years as CEO of the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority. “There’s always infrastructure involved, public services that need to be provided,” he said. “There’s no such thing as a project like this without public money.”

Well, yeah. As I’ve said all along, it’s a matter of how much money the city and maybe the county would have to invest to make this happen, and whether or not that would wind up being less than what the East End stadium would require. Until there’s a real proposal on the table, we can’t make that evaluation. In the meantime, claims about “private financing” just distort the picture.

It should also be noted that the East End stadium deal is much farther along, and really just needs buy in from County Commissioners El Franco Lee and Sylvia Garcia. That deal could be completed quickly if they signed off on it. Residents in the area, who are facing the prospect that the city might view the location as suitable for a new jail facility if the stadium deal falls through, are pushing for it to get done. There’s no organized opposition to the East End proposal, while the Westpark concept would have to overcome pushback from Bellaire Mayor Cindy Siegel and possibly others. The bottom line is that if any stadium deal happens, the East End is still the heavy favorite to be the choice. David Ortez has more.

Finally, on a related note, freshman Bellaire City Council Member Corbett Parker, who has expressed support for the Westpark location and who is a friend of Oliver Luck, explains his relationship with Luck and the Dynamo.

Bellaire versus Westpark Stadium

Still more on the proposed Westpark location for Dynamo Stadium: The Mayor of Bellaire doesn’t like the idea.

[Bellaire Mayor Cindy] Siegel has scheduled an executive session of the Bellaire City Council Monday following the 7 p.m. State of the City address and indicated she’s optimistic other councilmembers will join her in opposing the 20,000-seat stadium that would reportedly double as a concert venue and feature a 3,000-vehicle parking structure.

“I would hope council would see the negative impact and would listen to residents, who I’m already hearing from by e-mail,” Siegel told the Examiner.

In that interview, she called the plans by the Midway Companies “a betrayal of the vision” that had been worked out among Bellaire, Metro, Thompson + Hanson Nursery and Midway. Those parties had funded an architect’s conceptual plan for a transit-oriented development at the location, in the southwest corner of the 610/59 intersection, bordered on the north by Westpark Drive.

But [County Commissioner Steve] Radack says Bellaire doesn’t have to sign off on the deal, and that he sees support for the private funding.

“Bellaire does not have jurisdiction over any of this…If this deal gets worked out then there will be a whole lot of citizens a lot happier by seeing private money being spent than public money being spent,” he told the Examiner’s Steve Mark.

Sounds an awful lot like Radack is telling Siegel to sit down and shut up. It’s true that this location is not inside Bellaire, but it’s right next to the boundary line, and for sure a stadium there would have an effect, mostly negative, on Bellaire. Mayor Siegel’s letter to Midway CEO Brad Freels lays it out:

Quite frankly, Brad, I have to tell you that I was blindsided by your company’s proposal to use your land at S. Rice and Westpark for a Dynamo stadium. This proposal is completely contrary to what was envisioned for the transit oriented development that included your property and the Bellaire Research and Development District (RDD) when Bellaire, Metro, Thompson and Hanson, and Midway shared the cost of an architect to develop a conceptual plan for a transit oriented development at this location. As I have stated at every joint meeting that your company has attended with Metro and City of Bellaire officials – our primary concern has always been to protect the integrity of the Bellaire residential neighborhood directly south of this site, in addition to protecting the interests of the Bellaire property owners in the RDD.

In reviewing your plans further over the weekend and driving by the site Monday during the day and rush hour traffic in the evening. I cannot see any benefit to locating a soccer stadium (that would also be used as an outdoor entertainment facility) at your site. I believe strongly that the proposed stadium site on your property has serious limitations and will have an extremely negative impact to the residential Bellaire and Houston neighborhoods that adjoin your property and the RDD. As we discussed, the S. Rice and Westpark intersection already experiences significant delays due to traffic backups. (This traffic problem has been discussed several times in prior meetings regarding the placement of a Metro Rail transit station here.) Additionally, traffic backs from Fournace on the 610 Feeder road up to Westpark daily during evening rush hour. A stadium at this site would just increase exponentially what is already a significant traffic problem!

Additionally, there is an existing traffic problem at the 610 and 59 interchange that has been a tremendous drain on emergency personnel responding to accidents that would be compounded further if the stadium was built on your site. Bellaire and Houston emergency personnel (but primarily Bellaire) already respond s several times a day to accidents at this location. To add stadium traffic to what is already a horrible problem would be a financial and manpower resource burden that Bellaire cannot accommodate.

My in-laws live near there, so I can attest to the traffic issues in that area from personal experience. I do think that the University line will help to abate that somewhat, but it won’t be enough. Besides, last I checked that area wasn’t very walkable, so either parking is going to have to be right there, or a whole lot of money is going to have to be spent on infrastructure improvements. In response, Freels and Radack appear to be telling Mayor Siegel that she shouldn’t worry her little head about it.

The Midway site is in Radack’s Precinct 3.

“I think that that (Midway) area needs a shot in the arm and I believe when the Dynamo are playing, it’s not peak times for traffic,” Radack said.

Freels made much the same point.

“I think when she understands the plan in toto she’ll embrace it,” Freels said. “I wish she would have full information before she makes full judgment.”

Well, maybe if fuller information were available, we could all make fuller judgments, but how much more do you need to know to say this is going to affect traffic in that area? As for Radack’s pronouncement, looking through Dynamo schedules for past years (the 2010 schedule hasn’t been published yet), they have played most of their games on weekends. I don’t know if that’s been to accommodate UH, or if that’s just the norm. If that’s how it would be going forward, then it would lessen the impact somewhat, but the inclusion of retail properties on the site would have the opposite effect. Again, until someone does a study and produces a report, we’re all just guessing. I do remain convinced that none of this can happen without some public money being spent to improve the infrastructure around Midway, and as I said before, it’s not at all clear to me that this site would require less public spending than the east downtown one. It’s just too early to say. More on this from the Examiner here, with video from KTRK.

UPDATE: Bellaire City Council Member Corbett Parker has more.