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January 2022 campaign finance reports: Harris County

You know what January means around these parts. There’s lots of action in Harris County, so that’s where we’ll begin. Here’s my summary of the July 2021 reports as a reminder. Let’s dive in.

Lina Hidalgo, County Judge
Ahmed Hassan, County Judge
Georgia Provost, County Judge
Erica Davis, County Judge
Kevin Howard, County Judge
Maria Garcia, County Judge

Martina Lemon Dixon, County Judge
Robert Dorris, County Judge
Randall Kubosh, County Judge
Naoufal Houjami, County Judge
Hector Bolanos, County Judge
Oscar Gonzales, County Judge
Alexandra Mealer, County Judge
Vidal Martinez, County Judge
Warren Howell, County Judge
George Zoes, County Judge

Rodney Ellis, County Commissioner, Precinct 1

Adrian Garcia, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
George Risner, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Gary Harrison, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
John Manlove, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jerry Mouton, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Jack Morman, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Daniel Jason, County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Richard Vega, County Commissioner, Precinct 2

Tom Ramsey, County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Jack Cagle (SPAC), County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ben Chou, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Ann Williams, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Jeff Stauber, County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Teneshia Hudspeth, County Clerk
Stan Stanart, County Clerk

Marilyn Burgess, District Clerk
Desiree Broadnax, District Clerk
Chris Daniel (SPAC), District Clerk

Dylan Osborne, County Treasurer
Carla Wyatt, County Treasurer
Kyle Scott, County Treasurer
Eric Dick, County Treasurer
Stephen Kusner, County Treasurer


Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
======================================================
Hidalgo         900,323    424,448    1,400  1,488,652
Hassan              200      2,461        0          0
Davis            50,114     10,143   21,852     59,970
Howard
Provost
Garcia, M

Lemond Dixon    196,977    109,175        0     90,294
Dorris                0         68        0         68
Kubosh           15,075      9,051   60,000      7,165
Houjami           1,390        592        0        147
Bolanos               0          0        0          0
Gonzales          2,475      3,432      500          0
Mealer           60,049     15,464        0     15,840
Martinez        514,585     86,782  100,000    516,134
Howell            1,450      7,075        0        375
Zoes

Ellis           264,000    181,904        0  4,192,308

Garcia, A       587,885    364,783        0  2,119,825
Risner            3,250      1,899        0     51,550
Harrison              5      2,191        0          0
Manlove          19,452      4,285        0     68,870
Mouton           29,100      2,916        0     26,283
Morman           45,749     66,119        0    165,834
Jason
Vega

Ramsey          236,900    185,263        0    581,035

Cagle           285,673    501,923        0  1,119,432
Chou             80,590      4,133        0     77,490
Williams          2,600      1,250    1,250      1,450
Miller            5,293     10,560        0     10,336
Briones         244,974     60,571        0    229,258
Calanni           5,540          0        0      5,540
Stauber               0      1,250        0          0

Hudspeth         26,464     10,395        0     19,376
Stanart               0      3,054        0      8,053
Burgess          24,169     26,475        0     17,222
Broadnax          9,649      9,538        0        110
Daniel           11,875      1,393   25,000     12,264
Osborne           2,440        622        0      2,202
Scott             7,900     20,489   14,000      1,410
Dick                  0      1,489        0          0
Kusner              

If you don’t see a linked report for someone, it’s because there wasn’t one I could find on the harrisvotes.com page. The information I have here is current as of last night. It’s possible someone could still file a report, these things do happen, but I wouldn’t expect much from anyone who hasn’t by now.

There are items of greater substance to discuss, but I can’t help myself: Naoufal Houjami was a candidate for Mayor in 2019 – if you don’t remember him, it’s probably because he got a total of 565 votes, for 0.2%, finishing last in the field. He has filed a finance report as a candidate for Harris County Judge, but he is not listed as a candidate for either primary, according to the Secretary of State’s Qualified Candidates page. (The Harris County GOP candidates page doesn’t have him, either.) The first two pictures I saw on his webpage were one with him and Greg Abbott, and one with him and Sheila Jackson Lee. Go figure. He is fully supporting his friend George P. Bush for Attorney General, so you make the call. This is way more than you ever needed to know about Naoufal Houjami.

Anyway. Barring an unlikely late and lucrative report from Georgia Provost, who wasn’t much of a fundraiser as a City Council candidate, incumbent Judge Lina Hidalgo outraised all of the other candidates for that position combined. Erica Davis claimed $70K raised on the summary page of her report but just $50K on the subtotals page – I suspect the $70K number was a typo. She had six total donors listed, two of whom gave $25K each, one who gave $196, and the others gave $19.12 apiece. Vidal Martinez was the other big fundraiser, though as John Coby notes, almost 70% of his donations came from 14 people who each ponied up at least $10K. For sure, it’s all green, but that’s not exactly grassroots support. As for Alexandra Mealer, I’d been wondering about her because I’ve seen multiple signs for her in my very Democratic neighborhood. Turns out she’s also my neighbor, now living in one of the historic houses. That explains a lot.

I included the two Commissioners who are not on the ballot just as a point of comparison. Adrian Garcia is obviously well-equipped for battle. George Risner presumably had a few bucks in his account from his time as a Justice of the Peace, but his candidacy for Commissioner does not seem to have drawn much support so far. Jack Morman also had some coin still in his bank and drew more support on his attempt to come back, but he’s nowhere close to Garcia. For Precinct 4, Jack Cagle raised a reasonable amount, though as you can see not an earth-shaking total, with Lesley Briones coming close to him. He has a tidy sum in his treasury, but it’s less than what he had in July thanks to how much he spent. Gina Calanni didn’t raise much – to be fair, there isn’t that much time between the filing deadline and the finance reporting deadline – but her report showed $40K in pledges, which are noted as transfers from her State House campaign account.

None of the other offices tend to raise much. Chris Daniel has a personal report as well as the SPAC report. The non-SPAC account reported no money raised and $1,151 in expenditures.

Finally, someone named Stephen Kusner filed a finance report for Treasurer in July but is not on either ballot and has no report for January. I’m just making a note of that here in case anyone who looked at my July summary is wondering what happened to him.

I’ll take a look at some state reports next, and Congressional reports later. Let me know if you have any questions.

Bypass the GLO

Heck yeah.

All five members of Harris County Commissioners Court signed onto a letter Friday asking the local congressional delegation to ensure that future disaster relief bypasses the state government and goes directly to large counties.

The letter is the latest round of bipartisan outrage in Houston triggered by the Texas General Land Office’s decision last May to initially shut out the city and the county — the epicenter of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey — from $1 billion in flood control dollars later awarded to Texas after the 2017 storm.

The letter suggests that Congress or a federal agency require future disaster relief go directly to counties with at least 500,000 residents, instead of being administered by state agencies.

The court’s two Republicans, Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, joined the court’s Democratic majority — County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia — in signing the letter. Cagle and Ramsey had been sharply critical of fellow Republican George P. Bush, who runs the GLO, after the agency declined to award any money to the city or county.

In the letter, the five court members wrote that a direct allocation of federal aid would “bypass potential bureaucratic delay caused by various Texas agencies and by other entities that will harm our ability to have quick and efficient implementation.”

They did not mention the GLO by name, though the letter was sent to Harris County’s nine-member congressional delegation one week after federal officials halted the distribution of nearly $2 billion in flood control funds to Texas because, they said, the GLO had failed to send in required paperwork detailing its plans to spend the money.

I mean, based on past experience, why would we want to do it any other way? The GLO isn’t just not adding value here, they’re actively reducing it. It’s not a surprise that even the Republican commissioners signed on to this.

On a more philosophical note, a lot of federal relief funds that are targeted at cities and counties and school districts and whatnot have had to go through the state first. For the most part, with COVID funds, the Lege mostly rubber stamped it without much fuss. I know there had been concerns with the pace at which Harvey recovery funds had been spent and homes were being repaired – indeed, there are still a lot of unrepaired homes after all this time – but it seems that a big part of that problem has been having multiple layers of government involved, which led to conflicts and delays and issues getting funds to the people who needed them the most. Indeed, that story also cites issues with the way the GLO interacted with the city of Houston. With COVID relief there were issues with unemployment funds having to go through rickety state systems, no direct way to get other relief funds to people who didn’t have bank accounts, and so forth. There are bigger issues, having to do with underlying infrastructure, that are a big part of this. But even factoring that out, putting states in charge of distributing federal relief funds to localities has been a problem. More so in some states than in others. I don’t know what we can do about that, given everything else going on right now. But we really should do something.

Interviews and judicial Q&As through January 14

Updating from last week. This is to put all of the interviews and judicial Q&As in a single post for your convenience, in case you missed something. This past week was Commissioners Court Precinct 4. Starting Monday will be the County Treasurer and District Clerk races, and the week after that will be Senate District 15 and (I hope – it’s still in the works) Candis Houston from HD142. After that is CD38, and probably statewide candidates.

Here’s the interview list so far, followed by the judicial Q&As. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Let me know if you have any questions.

Interviews

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Judicial Q&As

Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court>,

Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

Interview with Clarence Miller

Clarence Miller

One last interview for Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 4. Next week I will have interviews for other county offices, and after that will visit with some more legislative and Congressional races. Today we speak with Clarence Miller, whom I had met in pre-COVID times and was running for this position well before the new map was drawn. Miller worked for the United States Postal Service for 29 years and served as Director of the Houston Post Credit Union, and was elected as Director of the Northwest Harris County Municipal Utility District #24. Here’s the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Interview with Lesley Briones

Lesley Briones

Next up for Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 is Lesley Briones. Briones was appointed to be the Judge of County Civil Court at Law #4 in 2019 following the Bill McLeod accidental resignation saga; while she resigned her bench upon announcing her candidacy, she remains in place pending the appointment of a new judge, which should happen in January. A South Texas native and graduate of Harvard University, Briones worked at Vinson & Elkins and was General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer of the Laura & John Arnold Foundation prior to her appointment to the bench. Here’s what we talked about:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Interview with Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

As I’ve noted before, there are several current or recent elected officials in this primary for Harris County Commissioners Court, Precinct 4. One of them is Gina Calanni, who won an upset victory for HD132 in 2018. Unfortunately, the 2020 election was not as successful for her, but she got a lot done in that one term, passing eleven bills during the 2019 session. Calanni is a single mother of three and a published author, and I interviewed her before, in the primary for that 2018 race, which you can listen to here. You can listen to this interview here:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Supreme Court rejects mandamus over Commissioners Court redistricting

The primary will proceed as scheduled, but the issue could be revisited sometime after the 2022 election.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected an effort by Republican commissioners and voters to block Harris County’s recent redistricting plan on Friday, suggesting another challenge still in the works will meet a similar fate.

In their challenge, the petitioners argued that the new maps amounted to illegal Democratic gerrymandering. The new precincts approved by Harris County leaders last year resulted in dramatic shifts that the challengers argued would disenfranchise voters in the upcoming primaries.

But in a narrow ruling, the justices found that they likely couldn’t provide any relief to the challengers because the wheels of the election were already in motion.

“(N)o amount of expedited briefing or judicial expediency at this point can change the fact that the primary election for 2022 is already in its early stages,” their opinion read. “This Court and other Texas courts are duty-bound to respond quickly to urgent cases that warrant expedited proceedings, but even with utmost judicial speed, any relief that we theoretically could provide here would necessarily disrupt the ongoing election process.”

The result is that the new precinct maps will be allowed to stand. The Democratic majority on commissioners court adopted the maps on a 3-2 party line vote in October.

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the opinion, which is also embedded in the story. It’s fairly brief and pretty straightforward, so let me summarize:

– The current map violates federal law because of population differences among the four precincts. It was not an option for the court to order that the current map be used while the appeals played out.

– The court ruled that their role in redistricting is limited, and that they did not have nearly enough facts to go on, as many of the plaintiffs’ claims remain in dispute. The burden required to make them step in and halt or change the election, which is already underway, was far too high for them to take action on such a short notice.

– Regarding the (ridiculous) claim about people being disenfranchised because they would have to wait until 2024 to vote when they had been expecting to vote in 2022, the court noted that some number of people will always be in that position when redistricting occurs. The Constitution requires the State Senate (which like Commissioners Court has staggered four-year terms) to have everyone run after redistricting, but there’s no such requirement for Commissioners Courts, which moved to four-year terms by an amendment in 1954. Ordering all four precincts to be on the ballot in 2022 was rejected because of the limited time for anyone who might run in the other precincts to get going. The court also noted that any short-term remedy for Harris County might cause problems with other counties, if people could make similar claims about being disenfranchised.

– Given all that, the court said it had no choice but to reject the writ of mandamus and allow the 2022 election to go forward as planned. The court did not make any claims or judgments about the merits of the plaintiffs’ arguments, and said that if the matter comes back to them after going through the lower courts, they can evaluate them at that time.

So there you have it. There is still the Radack lawsuit out there, but as the story notes it seems extremely unlikely that will succeed at affecting this election based on this ruling. The Cagle/Ramsey lawsuit was dismissed in Harris County district court, so I presume the next step would be for the dismissal, which was made on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked jurisdiction (this is what the story said, perhaps this should be standing), to be appealed. Success for the plaintiffs would mean sending the case back to a district court, hopefully (for them) to get a hearing and ruling on the merits, which would naturally be appealed by whoever lost. My guess is that this whole process would take a few years if everything proceeds at its normal pace. While the Supreme Court allowed for the possibility of an all-precinct election (under another new map) in 2024, or even a special election presumably before then, I wouldn’t hold my breath on it. Same thing for the Radack lawsuit, which as far as I know has not had an initial hearing yet.

Finally, while this story does not mention it, I wonder if this may also signal the death knell for the two state court redistricting challenges, on the same grounds of not having enough time to do something before people begin voting. That last update suggested the possibility of a trial this week, but I am not aware of any news to that effect. The cases are in Travis County district court, if anyone wants to try to figure that out.

Interview with Ann Williams

Ann Williams

We continue with our series of interviews for the Harris County Commissioner Precinct 4 primary race. Today’s candidate is Ann Williams, who has served on the Alief ISD Board of Trustees since 2007 and is currently serving as that Board’s President; she has held that position for the past seven years. Williams works in information technology and has an MBA to go along with a bachelor’s degree in IT. She also serves as the President of the Texas Caucus Black School Board Members. Please note, there were a couple of times when the Zoom session froze for a few seconds. I apologize for the glitches. Here’s the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Back to Code Red

Hopefully not for too long.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Monday moved the county again to its highest COVID-19 threat level, her office said.

The announcement should be old hat for Hidalgo, who has moved to Level Red each of the past three calendar years.

“Unfortunately, today we find ourselves crossing a threshold we don’t want to cross,” Hidalgo said at Booker Elementary School in Spring ISD. “We are in the midst of another COVID-10 tsunami.”

She cited an explosion of new COVID-19 cases. She expounded on the dangers of the new Omicron variant. She pointed out that virus hospitalizations are increasing at a higher rate than ever.

Twenty-one months into the pandemic, a question looms: How many people are still listening?

Schools are back in session. Restaurants, bars, theatres and sports arenas are open to capacity. There are no county- or state-wide mask rules. Moving to Level Red does not change any of that; instead, it urges unvaccinated residents to stay home and avoid unnecessary contact with others. The decree is not enforceable.

[…]

Hidalgo has made warning the public about COVID-19 central to her messaging since the pandemic reached Texas in March 2020. For more than a year, she and county public health officials have cajoled, implored, exhorted, implored, advised, recommended, begged and even bribed residents to get vaccinated.

Hidalgo tried to remain optimistic, reasoning that getting more residents inoculated is the way to retreat from Level Red and never return.

“We can break that habit,” Hidalgo said. “I don’t want this always to be bad news.”

Growth of the county’s rate of vaccinated residents has slowed significantly. It now stands at 59.8 percent, up just 3.3 percent since before Thanksgiving. At this rate, 70 percent county of county residents would not be vaccinated until July.

See here for the previous time the threat level was raised. It’s a fair question whether anyone is still listening. I never really stopped wearing masks for indoor things like grocery shopping and ordering at restaurants – I eat outside if at all possible – but now I’m wearing KN95s instead of cloth masks. In my observation, we’re nowhere close to the levels of mask wearing we had a year ago, and few places are doing much about it. I guess we’re going to got for a low-rent version of herd immunity, at least for the short term. Better hope that the “milder” part of this strain holds up. More here from the Chron.

Interview with Ben Chou

Ben Chou

This week I will focus on what may be the most important local race, for Commissioners Court in Precinct 4. As you know, in the new Commissioners Court map, Precinct 4 was redrawn as Democratic-leaning, which gives Dems the opportunity to unseat incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle and take a 4-1 majority. There are seven candidates in the Democratic primary, and I have interviews lined up with five of them. We start today with Ben Chou, a Houston native and Rice graduate. Chou is an attorney who has worked in politics for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. More recently, he served as the Director of Innovation for the Harris County Clerk’s Office during the 2020 election, leading the team that pioneered drive-through voting. If you remember that preview of what Commissioners Court redistricting might look like from early last year, it was Chou who provided the maps. Here’s what we talked about:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Another lawsuit filed over Commissioners Court redistricting

What a bunch of crybabies.

A former county commissioner is suing Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, claiming Hidalgo and the county violated state law when they met to approve redistricting maps.

Former Commissioner Steve Radack argues the commissioners violated the Open Meetings Act because they did not make public the map that ultimately was approved within 72 hours of the meeting.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the court’s adoption of the new maps.

County Attorney Christian Menefee dismissed the suit as “meritless.” The Open Meetings Act requires governments to post public notices about meetings at least three days before they occur. Courts and attorneys general have said the notices have to be sufficiently specific to let the public know what will be addressed. It does not require them to post supporting documents, although governments sometimes do.

The county posted a timely notice of the meeting and met on Oct. 28 to take up redistricting. The lone item on the agenda said: “Request to receive public input regarding Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting plans, and consider and possibly adopt an order approving a new district/precinct plan for Harris County Commissioners Court, including any amendments thereto.”

This lawsuit was filed on December 31, just a few days after the first lawsuit was dismissed. Funny how this wasn’t an issue before then. This is another Andy Taylor joint, and how sweet it must be for him to get another ride on the ol’ gravy train. But seriously, cry me a river, fellas.

An early look at the primary for Commissioners Court, Precinct 4

I have a few thoughts about this.

With a new Harris County precinct map in place, Democrats may have their best chance in a dozen years of capturing Precinct 4. That’s set up a fierce, three-way contest in the Democratic primary to challenge the incumbent Republican, Commissioner Jack Cagle.

The Democratic primary to face Cagle includes former civil court judge Lesley Briones, former state representative Gina Calanni, former county elections official Ben Chou, and Alief ISD board president Ann Williams.

Briones joined the bench as presiding judge of Harris County Civil Court at Law Number 4 in April 2019, when Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court appointed her to fill out the term of Bill McLeod. Briones won a full term in 2020, but resigned from the bench in order to run for county commissioner.

Gina Calanni previously served as state representative for House District 132, representing portions of Katy. She served a single term, defeating Republican State Rep. Mike Schofield in 2018 but losing a rematch to him in 2020.

Ben Chou has held no elective office. He previously served in the Harris County Election Administrator’s office, overseeing 2020 voting innovations that included expansion of drive-thru voting. Before that, he worked for former governor of Maryland and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley and for then House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.

Ann Williams was first elected as Alief ISD board trustee in 2007 and has served as the board’s president for the past seven years.

“This will be a primary runoff election,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who prefaced his remarks by saying Chou was a former student of his. “I don’t think any one of these…candidates is likely to win 51% of the vote or 50% + 1.”

[…]

Even if the new map stands, Stein said, the power of incumbency means it is far too early to count Cagle out. He noted Cagle, who was first elected in 2010, has a long record of addressing flooding and road congestion problems that gives him broad appeal.

“I would think at this point,” Stein said, “if you’re going to beat an incumbent Republican, you’re going to have to have a Democrat who can draw on some Republican voters, or at least some independents.”

Stein doubted Calanni’s ability to do that, noting her record as much more progressive than her two Democratic rivals. “It remains to be seen whether Ben Chou has that, what I’d call, ideological moderate or centrist position,” Stein said. “But clearly, I would say former Judge Briones is in a strong position.”

First, there’s an error correction appended to the story that says it should have referred to this race being a four-way contest, not three. That said, there are actually seven candidates running, the four named in this story plus Jeff Stauber, Clarence Miller, and Sandra Pelmore. Stauber has run for Sheriff in 2016 and for County Commissioner in Precinct 3 in 2020. Miller and Pelmore are first time candidates as far as I know, with Miller making the pre-COVID and pre-redistricting rounds as a candidate. He has a campaign website, the others do not. I doubt any of them will get much in the way or financial or establishment support, but they are in the race and they will get some votes.

We haven’t really had a Democratic primary for a Commissioners Court seat like this before. There were multi-candidate primaries in 2020 for Precinct 3, which was open after the announced retirement of Steve Radack. The Republicans were favored to hold the seat, so their primary was a reasonably close analog for this one, and all three of their candidates were current or recent elected officials. On the Democratic side there were multiple candidates, but no electeds. I feel like the stakes are higher for Democrats than they were in 2020, since they invested capital in redrawing the Commissioners Court map, and if they fail to expand their majority they don’t really get another shot until 2026. And yes, there is a low but non-zero chance Dems could lose the majority they have now, and maybe see any chance to do more go away as Republicans would surely try to redraw the existing map.

As for Commissioner Cagle, it is true that incumbent Commissioners have punched above their weight in the past. Jack Morman ran ahead of other Republicans in 2018, even against a strong and well-known Democratic opponent in Adrian Garcia, and came close to hanging on. Garcia only took the lead in that race late at night, around the same time that Judge Lina Hidalgo was finally pulling ahead. Going back a little farther, then-Commissioner Sylvia Garcia also came close to hanging on in 2010 – again, she ran well ahead of other Dems on the ticket that year. If the environment is sufficiently favorable to Republicans, or if Cagle can really convince the muddled middle to stick with him, he could survive. That said, I say it’s Cagle who is going to have to draw on these voters, at least as much as the Democratic nominee. The whole point of the redistricting exercise was to make this precinct as favorable as reasonably possible for a more or less generic Democrat. If that’s not enough to unseat Cagle, it’s a pretty massive failure.

I’m not sure why Professor Stein singles out Calanni as less electable than any of the others. I mean, with rare exceptions (Jasmine Crockett comes to mind), freshman Democratic legislators tend to not get noticed all that much. I can’t think of anything in her record that would stand out as a clear liability. That’s not to say that she couldn’t be attacked for something that the Dems supported or opposed in the 2019 legislative session, though that was a fairly modest and serene one all things considered. But really, anything she could be attacked for, I’m pretty sure the others could be as well. I don’t quite understand this thinking.

I do think Briones has an early advantage, at least in the primary, for having received endorsements from Commissioners Garcia and Ellis. I expect that to show up in the campaign finance report as well, and that’s something that can extend to the general election also. But I would not sleep on Ann Williams as a candidate, as she has easily the longest electoral record, having been an Alief ISD Trustee since 2007. Those are very different elections, in terms of turnout and the electorate, but still. She’s the only one who’s been elected to something more than once, and I think that counts for something. Calanni also had more challenging races to win in each of her times on the ballot, and I’d say she overperformed in 2018. None of this is intended in any way as a slight to Lesley Briones, just my observation that there’s more nuance to this than what is expressed in the story.

Anyway. I hope to see a lot more stories like this one, as we are very much in the swing of primary season. It will be early voting before you know it, so let’s get to the campaign and candidate overviews. I’ll be running interviews with at least these four named Democratic candidates the week of January 10.

Lawsuit over Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting tossed

Missed this over the holidays.

A Harris County Judge on Wednesday tossed a lawsuit from Republican commissioners and voters over new county maps that favor Democrats.

Judge Dedra Davis ruled in favor of Harris County, finding that Republican commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey and three voters did not have jurisdiction to sue.

The Republicans’ attorney, Andy Taylor, indicated that he planned to appeal the ruling.

Cagle, Ramsey and the three voters filed the lawsuit against Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo and against Harris County last month. The suit alleged that the redistricting map proposed by Democratic Commissioner Rodney Ellis, known as the Ellis 3 plan, amounts to an unconstitutional gerrymander that would deprive more than 1.1 million voters of their right to vote.

Texas election law staggers county precinct elections every two years. All county commissioners serve four-year terms, but commissioners in even-numbered precincts and those in odd-numbered precincts take place at two-year intervals.

The next election for even-numbered precincts is in 2022. The lawsuit alleges that the Ellis 3 plan shifts more than 1.1 million voters from even-numbered precincts to odd-numbered precincts, depriving them of their right to vote until 2024.

“Plaintiffs submit that there is a very simple explanation for why this occurred,” the lawsuit reads. “Commissioner Ellis wanted to do whatever it would take to draw a new map that would create three…Democratic seats. Thus, the Ellis 3 Plan does just that.”

See here for the background. The lawsuit seemed pretty flimsy on its face, and it was dismissed without comment by District Court Judge Dedra Davis. The plaintiffs, which include Commissioners Cagle and Ramsey, and fan favorite attorney Andy Taylor, have filed a writ of mandamus with the Supreme Court in a last ditch effort to stop the new map from taking effect. The mandamus, which you can see here, makes the following claims:

  • The 2020 census revealed population changes among districts that required redistricting.
  • It was possible to comply with the “one man, one vote” rule by transferring 4% of the county’s population.
  • But Hidalgo, Ellis and Garcia chose a plan that moved 48% and overstepped their authority.
  • That plan will deprive 1.1 million people of their right to vote for commissioner in the next election and likely tip the result from Republican to Democrat in one precinct, creating a 4-1 supermajority for Democrats.

As soon as I saw that “moved 48%” of voters claim, I said to myself, where have I seen a statistic like that before? Right here:

The initial Republican proposal for redrawing Texas congressional maps calls for Harris County to once again be split into nine districts, but with major alterations to protect the region’s endangered GOP incumbents.

The shifts mean more than a million voters who live west of downtown Houston would have a different member of Congress representing them.

Ultimately, Democratic-held districts now represented by U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Lizzie Fletcher would all become more heavily blue under the proposed map released Monday by the Texas Senate. Under the proposal, Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw and Troy Nehls would get more like-minded voters in their districts, too.

The proposal adds a completely new congressional district in west Harris County — District 38 — designed to favor a Republican, stitched together by cutting into four existing districts.

A little back of the envelope math here, we have “more than” a million voters, in a county with just under 2.5 million registered voters, that’s over 40% of voters being put into new districts, for the express purpose of creating a new Republican district in the county and bolstering the Republican caucus in Washington. So, yeah. Cry me a river, fellas.

What Harris County could maybe do to counter SB8

From last week. I have my doubts much of it will happen, though.

Three months after Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court sought advice on how to counter Texas’ new abortion ban, policy analysts for the court on Tuesday advised County Judge Lina Hidalgo the county could spend public money to support groups that aid those seeking abortions — and perhaps even to directly fund abortion care.

The memo to Hidalgo and her top aides detailing the county’s options came in response to a resolution passed by Commissioners Court in September, two weeks after the abortion law took effect, that directed their policy analysis office to investigate how the county could “support individuals impacted by” the ban or “otherwise mitigate the law’s negative effects.”

The county is free, the analysts wrote, to send local and federal funds to groups that provide support services — including transportation, lodging and child care — to those seeking abortions outside the state. Austin officials have approved funding for similar usage, the memo noted, to get around a 2019 state law that bars local governments from sending taxpayer funds to abortion providers — a move that has withstood legal opposition.

The policy analysts said that while the 2019 law, known as Senate Bill 22, prevents Harris County from spending local taxpayer funds on abortion services, the county’s expected $915 million allotment of federal COVID-19 relief money may be eligible for that purpose.

[…]

Hidalgo, who is running for re-election next year and has drawn more than a dozen challengers, has been fiercely critical of the abortion law, known as Senate Bill 8, since lawmakers approved the measure this spring. One of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion policies, it bans the procedure in almost all cases once cardiac activity is detected — often around six weeks into a pregnancy, when most women do not know they are pregnant.

Hidalgo has been especially critical of the law’s enforcement mechanism: lawsuits filed by private citizens, who can collect $10,000 cash and recoup their legal fees if the challenge is successful. Hidalgo on Tuesday said the provision — which is aimed at shielding the law from court challenges — “creates a culture of vigilantism in the community.”

Facing criticism during Tuesday’s meeting, however, Hidalgo noted the memo had appeared on court agenda merely to be “transmitted” to the court from the Harris County Commissioners Court’s Analyst’s Office, which prepared the document. County departments routinely use the process to formally communicate with the court, which did not vote on any of the “policy considerations” outlined in the memo.

“It is not a proposal that is in front of Commissioners Court,” Hidalgo said. “I know some folks have been saying that. And with campaign season, these kind of accusations, misleading statements are only the first of many.”

I support any reasonable measures that Harris County can take to abet reproductive health care. I also have no doubt that anything the county does will spark a huge outcry from the forced birthers, and unless there is a change in state government from the 2022 election, there will be legislative reprisals in 2023, just as Harris County’s efforts to make it easier to vote were targeted in the voter suppression law. Doesn’t mean we should shy away from the fight, just that we should be clear about what we hope to accomplish, what we are potentially risking and who might be directly affected by it, and which fights are the best to pick. It’s good to have the discussion and know what our options are. Now let’s choose well.

Maybe flood tunnels really are the answer

Time for another study.

Japanese flood tunnel

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is revisiting the idea of constructing a large, underground tunnel beneath the city of Houston — part of its efforts since Hurricane Harvey to alleviate the potential for flooding around the Addicks and Barker reservoirs and along Buffalo Bayou.

Engineers plan to spend two more years studying the possibility and other alternatives, the agency announced Wednesday. It will use $1.8 million in federal funds to do so; an additional $3.4 million from two Harris County county commissioners will further local study of the concept, which community advocates have supported.

The project extension and potential re-imagining of how flood control works here comes after earlier possibilities that the Corps proposed elicited major public backlash. Engineers in an interim report last year suggested digging Buffalo Bayou wider and deeper, or building a third dam and reservoir on the Katy Prairie.

Local advocates have long fought to protect the bayou in its natural form. And environmentalists rallied around the prairie, which supporters consider a necessary, natural way to address flooding and improve water quality.

The agency announced Wednesday that engineers will spend two more years analyzing the tunnel option and other alternatives. The Corps will use $1.8 million in federal funds to continue the study.

An additional $3.4 million from two Harris County commissioners will support complementary research at the county level.

The Corps previously considered tunneling floodwater under the city to be too expensive, with an estimated cost of $6.5 to $12 billion. Engineers envisioned a tunnel some 150 feet below ground, starting at the reservoirs to the west and perhaps following the bayou’s path to the Houston Ship Channel.

Yet the agency noted Wednesday that it had received “substantial” community input. The Corps now hopes to release a draft report and environmental impact statement for what it calls the Buffalo Bayou and Tributaries Resiliency Study next fall. It would then accept more input and issue a final report, aiming to complete the study by December 2023.

“We are very committed to this important, monumental project,” Commander Col. Tim Vail of the Galveston District said in a prepared statement, “and we have heard the public’s feedback.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. As the story notes, and which I don’t think I realized, Austin and San Antonio have similar tunnels, though they are much shorter than Houston’s would be. Look at the map in the story – these suckers would go all the way from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs to either Buffalo Bayou or the Ship Channel. Honestly, that price tag is not really that high, if there’s federal investment in the project. I say study away and let’s see where it takes us.

Filing update: More candidates than you can count

This headline and first paragraph are short by a couple of candidates.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

A dozen potential challengers to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo were among the scores who filed ahead of Monday’s deadline to run for county offices next year.

[…]

Hidalgo, who is seeking a second term, faces three candidates in the Democratic primary: former Precinct 1 Constable’s Office Chief of Staff Erica Davis, real estate broker AR Hassan and photographer Georgia Provost.

Nine Republicans are vying for their party’s nomination, including attorney Vidal Martinez, former Army Capt. Alexandra del Moral Mealer, Humble Independent School District board president Martina Lemond Dixon and Randy Kubosh, brother of Houston Councilman Michael Kubosh. The others are Oscar Gonzales, George Zoes, Robert Dorris, Warren Howell and HQ Bolanos.

There are five Democrats running against Judge Hidalgo, not three. Joining Erica Davis on the last-day-to-file train were Kevin Howard and Maria Garcia; I know nothing about either of them. The photos in that Facebook post, plus the 2022 candidate filings album, are the main source that I have for figuring out where the SOS qualified candidates webpage falls short. Chron reporter Zach Despart must have gotten his info from there before the late-filers were included.

There are still some oddities and seeming exclusions on the SOS page as well. I know I saw a Democratic candidate for CD22 on there on Monday, but as of Tuesday there’s no listing. There’s still no one listed for HD22, the seat being vacated by longtime Rep. Joe Deshotel, but local news in Beaumont lists three candidates, one of whom (Joseph Trahan) is the Jefferson County Democratic Party Chair. Jonathan Cocks had been listed for well over a week as a candidate for SBOE8 but is now showing as a candidate for SD08, which makes sense because his address is in the Metroplex city of Allen, and because the Svitek spreadsheet had him going there after pulling out of the Land Commissioner race. Svitek lists two of the three HD22 candidates as the news story, and has the CD22 candidate (Jamie Jordan) as well.

Some other bits of interest:

HD80 was carried by Trump by four points in 2020, so yeah, that’s a big miss for the GOP.

Bryant represented the old CD05 through the 1994 election. He ran in the 1996 primary for US Senate and lost in the runoff to Victor Morales. His old seat was then won by Pete Sessions, who was drawn into CD32 by Tom DeLay in the 2003 re-redistricting, knocking off longtime Rep. Martin Frost the next year. This concludes your history lesson for the day.

Spent a million bucks of his own money to do so, ultimately winning 3,831 votes, or 20.67%, against Rep. Garcia and several others. I suspect Rep. Fletcher won’t have too much trouble with him, but she’ll want to spend some money to make sure.

I will of course keep an eye on that. I’m sure there will be at least one more post in this general vein.

Two other items of note: While Fort Bend County Judge KP George did not draw a primary challenger, there are two candidates vying to take him on in November, including failed 2020 Sheriff candidate and Congressional brother Trever Nehls. Both incumbent County Commissioners, Grady Prestage and Ken DeMerchant, drew multiple primary opponents. Here in Harris County, while HCDE Trustee Eric Dick is one of two Republicans running in the primary for County Treasurer, his wife Danielle is running for his seat (Position 2) in Precinct 4. She will be opposed by Andrea Duhon, the incumbent in Precinct 3 who now lives in Precinct 4 following the adoption of the new map. A bit more than a year from now, we will have between zero and two members of the Dick household in public office. I can’t think of a better place to end this post.

UPDATE: Tahir Javed has withdrawn from the CD07 primary, leaving Rep. Fletcher without opposition in March. I’ll have a post on that tomorrow.

The filings I’m still looking for

Today is Filing Deadline Day. By the end of today, we’ll know who is and isn’t running for what. While we wait for that, let’s review the filings that have not yet happened, to see what mysteries may remain.

Congress: Most of the potentially competitive districts have Democratic candidates in them. The ones that remain are CDs 22, 26, 31, and 38, though I have been told there is a candidate lined up for that latter slot. Of the rest, CD22 would be the biggest miss if no one files. I have to think someone will, but we’ll know soon enough.

For open seats, CD15 has five candidates so far, none of whom are familiar to me. CD30 has six candidates, with State Rep. Jasmine Crockett receiving the endorsement of outgoing Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson. CD34 has six, with current CD15 Rep. Vicente Gonzalez the presumed favorite. CD35 has three serious contenders – Austin City Council member Greg Casar, former San Antonio City Council Member Rebecca Viagran, and State Rep. Eddie Rodrigues – and one person you’ve not heard of. CD37 has Rep. Lloyd Doggett and former CD31 candidate Donna Imam, in addition to a couple of low-profile hopefuls, but it will not have former CD25 candidate Julie Oliver, who has said she will not run.

Democratic incumbents who have primary challengers include Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 (I’m still waiting to see if Centrell Reed makes some kind of announcement); Rep. Veronica Escobar in CD16 (I don’t get the sense her challenger is a serious one); and Rep. Henry Cuellar in CD28, who gets a rematch with Jessica Cisneros, who came close to beating him last year. The Svitek spreadsheet lists some dude as a potential challenger in CD18 against Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, but so far no filing. Reps. Al Green, Joaquin Castro, Sylvia Garcia, Colin Allred, and Marc Veasey do not appear to have any challengers as of this morning.

Statewide: Pretty much everyone who has said they are a candidate has filed. Frequent candidate Michael Cooper and someone named Innocencio Barrientez have filed for Governor, making it a four-candidate field. Two Harris County district court judges, Julia Maldonado and Robert Johnson, have filed for slots on the Supreme Court and CCA, respectively. The Svitek spreadsheet lists potential but not yet filed contenders for two other Supreme Court positions but has no listings for CCA. The one potential candidate who has not yet taken action is Carla Brailey, who may or may not file for Lt. Governor.

SBOE: As this is a post-redistricting year, all SBOE seats are on the ballot, as are all State Senate seats. Dems have four reasonable challenge opportunities: Michelle Palmer is running again in SBOE6, Jonathan Cocks switched from the Land Commissioner race to file in SBOE8, Alex Cornwallis is in SBOE12, and then there’s whatever is happening in SBOE11. The good news is that DC Caldwell has company in the primary, if he is actually allowed to run in it, as Luis Sifuentes is also running. I would advise voting for Sifuentes.

There are two open Democratic seats, plus one that I’m not sure about. Ruben Cortez in SBOE2 and Lawrence Allen in SBOE4 are running for HDs 37 and 26, respectively. There are two candidates in 2 and three candidates in 4, so far. Georgina Perez is the incumbent in SBOE1 but as yet has not filed. If she has announced that she’s not running, I have not seen it. There is a candidate named Melissa Ortega in the race.

In SBOE5, the district that was flipped by Rebecca Bell-Metereau in 2020 and was subsequently made more Democratic in redistricting, we have the one primary challenge to an incumbent so far, as a candidate named Juan Juarez has filed against Bell-Metereau. I’m old enough to remember Marisa Perez coming out of nowhere to oust Michael Soto in 2012, so anything can happen here. The aforementioned Perez (now Marisa Perez-Diaz) and Aicha Davis are unopposed so far.

Senate: Nothing much here that you don’t already know. Every incumbent except Eddie Lucio has filed for re-election, and none of them have primary opponents so far. Lucio’s SD27 has the three challengers we knew about, Sara Stapleton-Barrera, State Rep. Alex Dominguez, and Morgan LaMantia. A candidate named Misty Bishop had filed for SD07, was rejected, and has since re-filed for SD04; I’m going to guess that residency issues were at play. There are Dem challengers in SD09 (Gwenn Burud, who has run for this office before) and SD17 (Miguel Gonzalez), but no one yet for SDs 07 or 08.

House: Here’s the list of potentially competitive districts, for some value of the word “competitive”. Now here’s a list of districts on that list that do not yet have a filed candidate:

HD14
HD25
HD28
HD29
HD55
HD57
HD61
HD66
HD67
HD84
HD89
HD96
HD106
HD126
HD129
HD133
HD150

I’m told there’s someone lined up for HD133. We’ll see about the rest.

All of the open seats have at least one candidate in them so far except for HD22, the seat now held by Joe Deshotel. There’s a name listed on the Svitek spreadsheet, so I assume that will be sorted by the end of the day.

Reps. Ron Reynolds (HD27), Ana-Maria Ramos (HD102), and Carl Sherman (HD109) are incumbents who have not yet filed. No one else has filed yet in those districts as well. Svitek has a note saying that Rep. Ramos has confirmed she will file; there are no notes for the other two. There is the possibility of a last-minute retirement, with a possibly preferred successor coming in at the same time.

Here is a complete list of Democratic House incumbents who face a primary challenge: Rep. Richard Raymond (HD42) and Rep. Alma Allen (HD131). Both have faced and turned away such opponents in the past. If there was supposed to be a wave of primary opponents to incumbents who came back early from Washington, they have not shown up yet.

Rep. James Talarico has moved from HD52 to the open HD50 after HD52 was made into a lean-Republican district. Rep. Claudia Ordaz-Perez, the incumbent in HD76, will run in HD79 against Rep. Art Fierro after HD76 was relocated from El Paso to Fort Bend.

Harris County: Again, nothing new here. Erica Davis has not yet filed for County Judge. County Clerk Teneshia Hudpseth is the only non-judicial incumbent without a primary opponent so far.

Far as I can tell, all of the county judicial slots have at least one filing in them, except for a couple of Justice of the Peace positions. George Risner, the JP in Precinct 2, Place 2 (all JP Place 2 slots are on the ballot this year) has not yet filed, amid rumors that he is mulling a challenge to Commissioner Adrian Garcia. Incumbent Angela Rodriguez in JP precinct 6 has not yet filed. No Dem challengers yet in precincts 4 or 8.

Other judicial races: Sorry, I don’t have the bandwidth for this right now. I’ll review it after today.

And that’s all I’ve got. See you on the other side. As always, leave your hot gossip in the comments.

We are making progress on the flood bond projects

Let’s not lose sight of that.

Three years into Harris County’s historic $2.5 billion flood bond program, progress can feel maddeningly slow. After decades of underinvestment in flood protection, however, any completed project is a welcome improvement for nearby residents.

Through October, 16 percent of the planned projects for detention basins, channel widening and other infrastructure was complete. All 181 projects are underway in some capacity, from design to construction, and each is on schedule.

“Our project life cycle is three to five years, and in some cases that cycle has just started,” Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Alan Black said. “But at least they’ve all been started. And on top of that, no project has been delayed due to lack of funding.”

Several completed works already are providing better flood protection for hundreds of thousands of homes, Black said.

Those include major maintenance along Cypress Creek and Spring Branch Creek, as well as the first phase of the Aldine Westfield detention basin project

In Kashmere, local officials heralded the progress of a $100 million Hunting Bayou channel improvement project that will remove more than 4,000 homes from the floodplain.

[…]

Whether the bond program is completed as originally planned remains an open question. Commissioners Court sold the bond to voters — who approved it overwhelmingly in 2018 — as, essentially, a buy-one-get-one-free deal. If voters agreed to pay $2.5 billion, the county predicted it could secure another $2.5 billion in federal matching dollars, bringing the total pot to around $5 billion.

So far, that plan has had mixed success.

You can say that again. I’m not going to rehash all of that – the article does so, you can keep on reading. The fact that we’re getting stuff done for flood mitigation is good. The fact that there’s so much more to do, well, that’s the reality.

[County Judge Lina] Hidalgo blamed some of the funding woes on the previous Commissioners Court, which she said was far too conservative in proposing a $2.5 billion bond. Flood control experts peg the total cost to protect Harris County against 100-year storms at more than $30 billion.

“Everybody will tell you, it should have been a much bigger number,” Hidalgo said. The leaders at the time thought it was a politically expedient number to select $2.5 billion.”

I think, if we had to do it all again and we knew that P Bush and the GLO were going to screw us on the federal funds, the Court at that time probably would have proposed a larger bond issue. I also think that the top number was going to be strictly limited by whether or not it would require a tax increase, even a small one. Maybe $30 billion is an overestimate of how much we need to spend to truly mitigate our flood risk. For sure, it’s more than $5 billion, and at some point we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that we’re going to need to pay up for that.

Filing update: We have an Ag Commissioner candidate

But before I can get to that and other news, I have to bring you this:

A Fort Worth man is running for the State Board of Education as a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian and Green Party member. Filing for a place on a primary ballot for multiple parties is allowed, however “a person who becomes a candidate in multiple parties’ primary elections would not be eligible for a place on the general election ballot,” a spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s office said in an email.

Fort Worth school district employee Daniel “DC” Caldwell, who previously ran for Fort Worth mayor, is seeking to represent Tarrant County’s District 11 on the State Board of Education, a seat held by Republican Patricia Hardy of Fort Worth. Caldwell, reached by the Star-Telegram on Wednesday, recognized the unusual nature of his bid.

“I understand that nobody hardly ever does that, but I have lots of reasons,”said Caldwell, who teaches special education at Boulevard Heights. “The simplest to articulate is really that we should have more unity and less division. Like really, I have friends on both sides of the aisle and even down the hall, as it were. I have an inclusionist rather than exclusionist philosophy. … I’ve read the platform or value statement of the Green Party, of Libertarian Party, of the of the Democratic Party, of the Republican Party, and when it comes down to fundamentals, we actually have far more in common than we’d like to admit.”

A spokesperson for the Texas Secretary of State’s office wrote in an email that filing for multiple parties is almost unprecedented, “with the notable exception of former Gov. Shivers,” who served as Texas governor from 1949-1957. He was both the Republican and Democratic nominee in his 1952 bid.

[…]

State law says a person “who voted at a primary election or who was a candidate for nomination in a primary is ineligible for a place on the ballot for the succeeding general election for state and county officers as … the nominee of a political party other than the party holding the primary in which the person voted or was a candidate.”

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus put it this way: “You can file for primaries for multiple parties but you won’t be able to win in the general if you do that.”

“Candidates who try to run in more than one party primary are effectively without any party,” he said in an email.

But Caldwell interprets the law as allowing him to appear on the general election ballot.

“It prevents you from running as an independent or running as a write in, or being nominated by more than one at the same time, but it does not prevent you from being in the primary,” he said. “But if you happen to win, you can only accept one of the nominations. That’s what it’s intended to do. That’s what it literally says.”

Pretty sure Caldwell also ran for the HCC Board in 2017. Dude gets around. I admit, I thought Patrick Svitek had somehow screwed up the spreadsheet, but no. There’s only one thing to say to that:

Anyway. I promised you a Democratic candidate for Ag Commissioner, and I aim to deliver. Meet Susan Hays.

I’m running for Agriculture Commissioner because corruption is bad for business. No one trusts the incumbent to do what’s right for Texas. Farming is hard, but ethics should be easy.

I grew up in rural Texas in the middle of ranching and hunting country. But like many of my generation I left for the city to get an education and make a living. My law practice took me to advising cannabis producers and businesses, and pushing Texas to open the door to this high-value crop with the hemp program. I welcomed the opportunity to get back to the country and find a way to make an income off the land again. Working on the roll-out of the hemp program, I started hearing rumors of corruption. Folks talking about having to pay thousands of dollars to get a hemp license which sounded pretty strange to me because I knew the law was intended to make things easy and affordable on farmers.

Then, the Commissioner’s political consultant got arrested for trying to sell hemp licenses for $25,000.

Licenses that cost $100 and are available to anyone.

And that made me mad.

And so here she is. In a just world, she’ll clean the clock of that malevolent clown Sid Miller. In this world we’ll have to see, but being pro-hemp and anti-corruption seems like a good place to start.

On the Congressional side, a couple of candidacies to note. One is in CD02, where Woodlands-area activist and organizer Robin Fulford has filed. No announcement yet – she’s been teasing it on Facebook, not that it was a terribly well-kept secret to begin with – but her name is now in bold on the Svitek spreadsheet. CD02 is a tougher district than it was before, not really a competitive one by the new numbers, but no one will outwork Robin. In CD07, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher now has a primary opponent, Centrell Reed. I know nothing more about her than what you can see for yourself. I would have thought if someone was going to challenge Rep. Fletcher in her newly drawn district it would be more of a traditional political type. That does not appear to be the case here. I’ll be interested to see how she runs.

I’ll wrap up in Harris County, where a name I’d forgotten about has turned up on the Commissioners Court Precinct 4 candidates list: Clarence Miller, who can credibly claim to have been the first candidate in this race. Also running for County Commissioner is Gary Harrison, who has filed in Precinct 2 against Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Finally, while Erica Davis hasn’t yet filed for County Judge, or updated her webpage to reflect her candidacy for that office, someone else has filed. Frequent City Council candidate Georgia Provost is now in the race. I’d say she’s better known than Erica Davis, and that’s not to be dismissed in a primary. I believe in Judge Hidalgo, and I believe she’ll want to start spending some of that campaign cash of hers sooner rather than later.

The deadline is Monday. There are still a number of races I’m looking at that don’t have candidates yet. I’ll update on Monday morning, and then we’ll see where we end up. Leave your hot gossip here in the comments.

Filing update: Judge Hidalgo makes it official

She has filed for re-election, in case you had thought there was some other possibility.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo announced her 2022 re-election campaign Friday afternoon as she filed paperwork at the Harris County Democratic Party headquarters.

Although progress has been made during her tenure, Hidalgo said her desire is for the county to continue its momentum on various social issues.

“This community has given so much to us, but we have to do better to remain competitive,” Hidalgo said. “Over the past few years we have done that on flood control, on early childhood education, on putting politics behind people… there is so much left to do.”

The incumbent Harris County judge will run against Republican candidate and Humble ISD School Board president Martina Lemond Dixon, who announced her candidacy on Sept. 22.

There are other candidates out there. Indeed, if you search the filings, Martina Dixon doesn’t appear yet. To be fair, neither does Judge Hidalgo as of Friday, but that may be updated by the time you read this. In my previous update I mentioned Republicans Vidal Martinez and Alexandra Mealer. On Friday, I heard that perennial candidate AR Hassan has filed as well, in the Democratic primary. Let’s just say I’m not worried about Judge Hidalgo’s chances there. If it makes her start campaigning in earnest earlier, that’s fine by me.

I see a new entrant in the race for County Commissioner in Precinct 4, Alief ISD Board President Ann Williams, whose Twitter account is here and whose personal Facebook page is here. I don’t know anything about her besides what I can tell from those sources. Oh, Williams’ colleague on the board Lily Truong has filed in the Republican primary in HD149 against Rep. Hubert Vo.

I don’t usually pay too much attention to the JP and Constable races, but I couldn’t help but notice that there are three people with filings for Justice of the Peace in Precinct 1, Place 2, which is where I am and where incumbent David Patronella presides. All three – Sonia Lopez, Steve Duble, and Victor Lombrana – are Democrats, which makes me wonder if Judge Patronella is retiring and I missed an announcement. Anyone have any ideas?

In Congress, I still don’t see a Democrat running in CD38. Nor do I see any primary challengers for Reps. Fletcher, Green, Jackson Lee, or Garcia. All of which is fine by me, though given that we’re in a post-redistricting cycle and there’s still a week-plus to go, I would not think that’s the final word. The main news of which I am aware is that Donna Imam, who was the Democratic candidate for CD31 in 2020, has announced that she will run in the new CD37 this spring. That will pit her against Rep. Lloyd Doggett, and with all due respect, she will not win. But no one is entitled to a seat, so go forth and good luck.

We now have a couple of Dems listed on the Svitek spreadsheet for Comptroller. One is Tim Mahoney, who ran in 2018 and lost in the primary to Joi Chevalier. Another is Angel Vega, who is a resident of Fort Bend and works in the non-profit industry. The spreadsheet also lists former HD14 candidate from 2020 Janet Dudding, whose campaign webpage has not been updated if she is indeed running. Dudding is a CPA.

Finally, the other news of interest is that Sen. Larry Taylor will not run for re-election. As with pretty much everything else to do with the state Senate, this is almost certain to make it a worse place than it is today.

Taylor chairs the Senate Education Committee and has served in the Legislature since 2003, first as a member of the House. He is also chair of the Senate Republican Caucus.

His decision comes just under two weeks before the candidate filing deadline for the 2022 primary. Within minutes of Taylor announcing his retirement, state Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, announced he had filed for for the Senate seat.

[…]

After news of Taylor’s retirement broke, he told a reporter with the Galveston Daily News that part of his decision was due to Middleton’s interest in his seat. Taylor told the reporter that he tried to dissuade Middleton, but that he is “ready to go and wanting to spend a lot of money.”

Middleton, an oil-and-gas businessman, is the chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, where he has been a member since 2019.

I mean, Larry Taylor is your basic cookie cutter Republican. I have nothing nice to say about him, but he doesn’t make me want to scream. Mayes Middleton is a rich guy who primaried out the Republican that had been in HD23 because he wasn’t sufficiently wingnutty. We all need another guy like that in the Senate like we need another hole in the head, but that’s what we’re gonna get.

The filing deadline is December 13, a week from Monday. I’ll check in again as we go.

UPDATE: I am reliably informed that Judge Patronella is running for the County Court bench that Lesley Briones is vacating to run for Commissioner. Also, there are even more Republicans than the ones I’ve listed here that are running for County Judge.

A brief filing update

Just a few observations as we head out of the holiday season and into what I expect will be the busier part of the filing period. I’m using the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet, the SOS candidate filing resource, and the candidate filing info at the harrisvotes.com site for my notes.

– There’s now a fourth candidate listed for Attorney General on the Dem side, someone named Mike Fields, who along with Joe Jaworski has officially filed as of today. I can’t find anything to clarify this person’s identity – there’s no address listed on the SOS page, and Google mostly returned info about the former County Court judge who is now serving as a retired judge and who last ran for office as a Republican. I seriously doubt this is the Mike Fields who is running for AG as a Dem. I know nothing more than that.

– No Dems yet for Comptroller or Ag Commissioner, though I saw a brief mention somewhere (which I now can’t find) of a prospective Dem for the former. I feel reasonably confident there will be candidates for these offices, though how viable they are remains to be seen.

– Nothing terribly interesting on the Congressional front yet. A couple of Dems have filed for the open and tough-to-hold CD15; I don’t know anything about them. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett, in her first term in the Lege, will run for CD30, the seat being vacated by the retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who has endorsed Crockett for the primary. That race will surely draw a crowd, but having EBJ in her corner will surely help. No incumbents have yet drawn any primary challenges, though Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (now running in CD34) and Lloyd Doggett (now running in CD37) will have company for their new spots. I am not aware of any Dem yet for the new CD38, which should be Republican at least in the short term but which stands as the biggest prize available for Harris County Democrats.

Michelle Palmer has re-upped for SBOE6, which will be a tougher race this time around. I’m working on a post about the electoral trends for the new SBOE map.

– Sara Stapleton-Barrera and Morgan LaMantia have filed for the open SD27 Senate seat; Rep. Alex Dominguez has not yet filed. Nothing else of interest there.

– For the State House, I’m going to focus on area districts:

HD26 – Former SBOE member Lawrence Allen Jr, who ran in the 2020 primary for this seat, has filed.

HD28 – Eliz Markowitz still has an active campaign website and Facebook page, but I don’t see anything on either to indicate that she’s running again. One person who is running though he hasn’t filed yet is Nelvin Adriatico, who ran for Houston City Council District J in 2019.

HD76 – The spreadsheet lists four candidates so far. Two ran in 2020, Sarah DeMerchant (the 2020 nominee) and Suleman Lalani (who lost to DeMerchant in the primary runoff). Two are new, Vanesia Johnson and James Burnett. This new-to-Fort-Bend district went 61-38 for Joe Biden in 2020, so the primary winner will be heavily favored in November.

HD132 – Chase West has filed. He’s not from the traditional candidate mold, which should make for an interesting campaign. This district was made more Republican and is not the top local pickup opportunity, but it’s on the radar.

HD138 – Stephanie Morales has filed. This is the top local pickup opportunity – the Presidential numbers are closer in HD133, which does not yet have a candidate that I’m aware of, but it’s more Republican downballot.

HD142 – Jerry Davis is listed on the Svitek spreadsheet as a challenger to Rep. Harold Dutton. He hasn’t filed yet, and I don’t see any campaign presence on the web yet. That’s all I know.

HD147 – I am aware of a couple of candidates so far to fill the seat left vacant by Rep. Garnet Coleman’s retirement. Nam Subramaniam has filed. HCC Trustee Reagan Flowers sent out a press release over the weekend stating her intention to run. I would expect there to be more contenders for this open seat.

– For Harris County offices, there are already some people campaigning as challengers to incumbents. Carla Wyatt is running for Treasurer, Desiree Broadnax is running for District Clerk. On the Republican side, former District Clerk Chris Daniel has filed for his old office, and someone named Kyle Scott has filed for Treasurer. There are no Democratic challengers that I can see yet for County Clerk or County Judge, though there are a couple of Republicans for County Judge, Vidal Martinez and Alexandra Mealer. Finally, there’s a fourth name out there for County Commissioner in Precinct 4, Jeff Stauber, who last ran for Commissioner in Precinct 2 in 2018 and for Sheriff in 2016, falling short in the primary both times.

So that’s what I know at this time. Feel free to add what you know in the comments. I’ll post more updates as I get them.

Galveston adopts all-white Commissioners Court map

In case you missed it.

Commissioner Stephen Holmes

Dozens of residents crowded into a small county annex building Friday afternoon to urge, beg, lecture and warn commissioners against approving new precinct maps that dissenters called unfair, undemocratic and potentially illegal.

The protest, mostly by county Democrats and Black residents, culminated with a speech by Commissioner Stephen Holmes, the only Democrat and only minority member of the court, who said the maps would put people of his precinct at an electoral disadvantage.

“It’s about the people of Precinct 3 being able to pick the candidate of their choice,” Holmes said. “It’s not just an election, this is their life. They fought this for years.”

Holmes told the court the maps were drawn with a “discriminatory purpose” and presented his own versions of new precincts that would maintain the status quo in the county.

“We are not going to go quietly into the night,” Holmes said. “We are going to rage, rage, rage until justice is done.”

A majority of the court wasn’t moved by the outpouring of opposition, however.

Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve a precinct map that changes the balance of political power in the county. The map redraws political lines to give Republican voters a majority in each of four precincts.

Holmes’ Precinct 3 now contains a majority of Democratic voters based on results of recent partisan elections. The other three precincts already contained mostly Republican voters.

County Judge Mark Henry and commissioners Darrell Apffel and Joe Giusti voted in favor of the map. Holmes voted against it. Commissioner Ken Clark was absent. In a text, Clark said he was out of town because of a pre-planned family trip.

The county was compelled to draw new precinct lines to make population adjustments based on the 2020 census. Commissioners are required by law to have roughly equal-sized precincts by population.

Commissioners gave themselves an option to vote on two maps designed by a Republican Party strategist hired earlier this year. One map made minimal changes to precinct lines that mostly maintained the status quo. The second, the one approved Friday, makes extensive change.

The approved map doesn’t just change the party makeup of the county’s precincts. It also changes their racial makeup.

By the county’s own analysis, the new map would divide minority populations so that every precinct is mostly made up of white voters.

Holmes is Black, and his precinct is the only one where a majority of voters are Black or Hispanic.

You can see the proposed maps here, with Map 2 being what was adopted and Map 1 being close to what currently exists. Ari Berman, who notes a lot of similar activity by Republicans going on around the country, brings more details.

For more than two decades Holmes has represented a district running through the center of Galveston County where Blacks and Hispanics comprise a majority of eligible voters. But under the new maps approved by three white, male GOP county commissioners, voters of color would make up just 26 percent of eligible voters in Holmes’ new district, reducing the minority vote by a staggering 28 points and likely dooming his re-election chances in 2024.

Such a move would have been unthinkable and illegal before the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, ruling that states like Texas and jurisdictions like Galveston County with a long history of discrimination no longer needed to approve voting changes and electoral boundaries with the federal government. As a result of that decision—and the failure by Democrats to overcome four GOP filibusters in order to pass federal legislation protecting voting rights and outlawing extreme gerrymandering, such as the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act—Republicans are erasing decades of long-fought gains for voters of color, returning parts of the South to a pre-1965 status quo where conservative whites have effectively denied political representation to previously disenfranchised communities of color and are preventing major demographic changes from leading to shifts in political power.

[…]

Some of the GOP’s top mapmakers are behind the strategy to eliminate representation for communities of color. In 2011, Galveston County hired the firm run by GOP gerrymandering guru Thomas Hofeller to redraw districts for the county commission, justices of the peace, and constable offices. Hofeller practically invented modern gerrymandering and was well-known for drawing maps that aggressively helped Republicans.

Along with his partner Dale Oldham, Hofeller drew congressional districts in North Carolina that were struck down by the courts for racial and partisan gerrymandering. He also urged the Trump administration to add a question about US citizenship to the 2020 census so that the GOP could draw legislative districts that “would clearly be a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” he wrote.

The districts Hofeller drew in Galveston were blocked in 2012 by the Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act for reducing representation for communities of color. But two months after the Supreme Court’s decision gutting the VRA in June 2013, Galveston enacted the justice of the peace and constable districts that were previously deemed discriminatory, becoming one of the first jurisdictions in the country to target communities of color following the Court’s decision.

Hofeller passed away in 2018, but Galveston County hired Oldham to draw its commissioner districts in 2021. Holmes said he had “minimal interaction” with Oldham, but when they first spoke Oldham asked Holmes to draw the map he wanted for his district, which Holmes thought was odd because Oldham, not Holmes, was the mapmaker. Holmes sent Oldham a rough map of the district he wanted, but when Oldham traveled to Galveston to meet with the commissioners the maps he showed Holmes looked nothing like the one he suggested. “You didn’t draw the map I asked you to draw,” Holmes said he told Oldham. One map diluted the minority vote in Holmes’ district by adding a predominantly white area along the Gulf Coast, while another completely dismantled his district by taking away Galveston and other diverse, Democratic-leaning areas and concentrating his precinct in the heavily Republican and overwhelmingly white northern parts of the county.

Holmes objected to both maps, but when he talked to Oldham next over Zoom, “he showed me the same damn maps again,” Holmes said.

Commissioner Holmes has urged his constituents to contact the Justice Department and ask them to intervene. He has talked about filing a lawsuit, and even though I don’t have much faith in that vehicle these days, I hope he does. I don’t know what else there is to do. I’m sure all of the Harris County Republicans who have complained about the “radical changes” made to our map will be quick to condemn this one as well. Houston Public Media has more.

Gina Calanni joins the Commissioners Court Precinct 4 race

Gina Calanni

We’re up to three Democratic candidates for Harris County Commissioners Court in Precinct 4 as former State Rep. Gina Calanni throws her hat in. The announcement can be seen here, but it’s an embedded image so I’m not going to try to quote from it. Calanni won one of the closest races of 2018 in HD132 but was unable to hold on in 2020 as the district moved a few points to the right. As constituted now, HD132 went 56-43 for Trump, so not high on the list of potential takeover targets.

Calanni will face Ben Chou, Lesley Briones, and who knows who else. Her website is here and you can find out more about her here. Stace was first with the news.

Ben Chou files for Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Second to announce, first to officially file.

Ben Chou

I’m running for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4!

I’m a progressive Democrat, lawyer, and community organizer. I’m running for County Commissioner because I think we need to build a Harris County for all of our residents — one that centers our efforts around the pursuit of economic, racial, and environmental justice; a future we are proud to pass down to our kids.

I’m running because we can accomplish bold reforms while getting the basics done. We’ve got streets filled with potholes, sidewalks left broken for too long, and street lights that don’t turn on. Meanwhile flooding continues to plague our communities as small businesses and neighborhood safety teeter on the brink.

What’s happening in Texas today is appalling. Republicans have effectively banned abortion, are limiting what books can be taught in schools, and are trying to suppress the right to vote. That’s why this moment is so important. I’m running to bring the progressive, bold change needed to Harris County while also fighting back against Republican extremism.

We can’t afford to wait for change. We need leaders who embrace innovation and have a proven record of getting things done – now.

The Democratic primary for this seat is only a few months away on March 1, 2022. If you’re ready to move Harris County towards a better, brighter, more equitable future, then join me at: www.benchoutx.com.

He filed over the weekend, so he’s officially in, joining Lesley Briones and almost surely others. He’s the candidate I was aware of when Briones made her announcement. I will of course do interviews for this race. Stace has more.

No independent investigation of the AstroWorld tragedy

Not sure how I feel about this yet.

Harris County will not launch an independent investigation into the Astroworld festival disaster after commissioners declined to support a plan by County Judge Lina Hidalgo to do so.

Instead, the group on Tuesday voted unanimously to conduct an internal review, at the request of Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“I proposed a more thorough and detailed scope to increase the likelihood of objectivity and an impactful outcome,” Hidalgo said. “While this scales back my proposal, I am happy to see the court move as a unit on some next steps.”

Garcia, a former Houston Police Department officer, made a motion to support that agency’s investigation. The motion also directed the county administrator, Harris County Sports Authority and Harris County Sports and Convention Corporation to examine safety regulations for outdoor concerts.

“There’s a lot of moving pieces in this particular event, so my motion is intended to help us move forward in the spirit of making sure that we are coordinating and collaborating, but at the same time looking forward,” Garcia said.

He expressed concern that authorizing a new investigation would expose the county to lawsuits.

[…]

Hidalgo, as a member of the three-member Democratic majority, rarely loses votes on Commissioners Court. She was unable, however, to convince any of her colleagues behind closed doors to support her plan for an independent investigation of the festival, which she said would not interfere with the Houston Police Department’s probe.

Hidalgo said she hopes the review would suggest actions the county can take to make concerts safer.

I hope so, too. I liked the idea of an independent investigation, though there had been no discussion of what that might look like and what powers the investigator would have. Campos thinks it’s a mistake for the county to not pursue this, while Erica Greider has mixed feelings. The county’s review will not overlap with the HPD criminal probe, so maybe it will turn up some useful information. Like I said, I hope this is worthwhile.

UPDATE: Stace also thinks Commissioners Court should have approved the independent investigation.

Republicans sue over new Commissioners Court map

Hilarious.

Republican Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey have filed a voting rights lawsuit in state court in hopes of halting a Harris County redistricting plan they claim strips more than 1.1 million people of their right to vote in 2022.

Cagle and Ramsey, who are in the political minority in county government, lost ground in the redistricting plan their three political opponents supported, as Cagle’s Precinct 4 was redrawn last month to become majority Democrat.

Cagle and Ramsey announced Tuesday they were suing Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo and the county itself, but indicated through their attorney they see Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia as equally culpable of depriving voters’ rights. Three fellow plaintiffs who stood with the commissioners at a news conference were identified in court documents as registered voters and ethnic minorities.

One plantiff, Ranya Khanoyan, a senior in ROTC at Klein Cain High School, voted for the first time in November, but she would not be able to vote for Precinct 4 commissioner in the March primary or November election because the plan moves her to Precinct 3, which does not have an election until 2024.

“I’m not willing to look Ranya who just turned 18 in the face and say, ‘You know, sweetie, you’re going to have to wait til 2024 to vote,’” said the commissioners’ attorney, Andy Taylor. “The right to vote is sacred.”

See here for the background. Sure does suck to be on the other side, doesn’t it, fellas? And hey, welcome back to the spotlight, Andy Taylor. With Jared Woodfill filing all the crazy political lawsuits these days, I’d almost forgotten you existed.

My initial reaction, when I saw the early version of this story, was that this lawsuit was ridiculous on its face. If “I don’t get to vote for County Commissioner in the next election” is the standard, then it would be impossible to ever move a voter from, say, Precinct 1 to Precinct 4. I’d be willing to be that if we went back to past redistrictings, like the 2011 redistricting, we had some motion from an odd-numbered district to an even-numbered one, or vice versa. It would mean that the next time HISD has to redraw boundaries, it could only move voters between districts that are on the same four-year schedule. I have a hard time believing that’s a constitutional or statutory right that’s being violated here. At least one person agrees with me:

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said the commissioners’ lawsuit takes a creative approach but added, “This isn’t going anywhere.”

“The premise of it is that somehow because of staggered terms for county commissioners a person’s constitutional rights are being violated because they’ll have to wait two years to vote,” Jones said.

Those who might have to wait this time around because of the new map would vote in 2024 and 2028, he said. They wouldn’t lose their right to vote in Jones’ view. Like other southern politicians following the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder, which cut out key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the members of commissioners court had much more flexibility in reshaping districts in 2021 than in 2011, 2001 or 1991. The did not need preclearance to make the changes.

Jones likened the Republicans’ announcement this week to the Democratic redistricting lawsuits against the Texas House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.

“This is much more political posturing rather than legal strategy,” he said. “This is more a negative reaction to the extreme partisan gerrymandering by Rodney Ellis, Lina Hidalgo and Adrian Garcia.”

Jones’ colleague at Rice, Robert Stein, agreed that the county’s new district boundaries undoubtedly disadvantage both Republican commissioners and many of their supporters.

“There is great irony in the fact the two white Republican males are suing the County Judge over the county commissioners redistricting plan,” Stein said. “For the last 100 years Blacks and Hispanics have argued, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, that the partisan drawing of legislative districts prevented them from voting for the candidates of their choice.”

This was filed in state court, so some Harris County judge will get to deal with it. There’s no federal standard for partisan gerrymandering, because the concept was too hard for John Roberts to deal with, but state courts could find that such a thing had happened. I don’t know that the Republicans in Austin will be all that thrilled in that event. I will of course keep an eye on this.

Harris County to pause the I-45 lawsuit

Gonna give talking a try. You never know.

Harris County will pause its lawsuit against the Texas Department of Transportation over the proposed Interstate 45 widening in hopes that it leads to a consensus that has eluded them for more than four years.

The pause, approved unanimously by Commissioners Court at a special meeting Monday, instructs County Attorney Christian Menefee to seek a stay on the lawsuit in federal court as he negotiates with TxDOT to resolve differences between the changes the county seeks to the project and the current plan.

The project, estimated to cost at least $9 billion, would rebuild and widen I-45 from downtown Houston north to Beltway 8, including the freeway’s interchanges with Interstate 69, Interstate 10 and Loop 610 in Independence Heights.

The stay and pause, officials said, would give an opening to officials to work out details of the planned freeway widening without backing off their opposition to what TxDOT is proposing.

“I am willing to consider a pause,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said. “Not a dismissal, but I hope that will demonstrate our commitment.”

Menefee said he will ask the court for a stay of 30 days, and then potentially extend that for an additional 30 days if the discussions are “fruitful.”

“The pause is a show of good faith by the county to remind TxDOT that we’re in this to find solutions and address community concerns,” Menefee said in a statement. “We expect TxDOT to work alongside us to achieve the same. If that does not happen, the county will resume the suit and we’ll let the courts decide.”

[…]

Skepticism remains high among project opponents that TxDOT can be a willing participant. Jeff Peters, a member of the Stop TxDOT I-45, said backers consistently have bullied people into accepting their design with the threat of doing nothing if they do not get their way. He urged the county to proceed with the lawsuit, rather than relent.

“This is a critical piece of leverage that can bring TxDOT to the bargaining table,” Peters told Commissioners Court before it approved the pause.

Highway officials, however, have said since March that the federal review and lawsuit leave them no choice but to stop talking. At an Oct. 21 forum sponsored by Transportation Advocacy Group-Houston Chapter, Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan said the pause by the Federal Highway Administration and county lawsuit were more of an obstacle to open dialogue because they impede TxDOT from designing alternatives.

“We can’t spend money to design and we can’t spend money to do those things,” Ryan said at the forum, which drew criticism because it was for paying guests only at an event sponsored by various engineering, construction and planning firms.

See here for the background. As noted recently, there are other obstacles to the project, though perhaps if Harris County and TxDOT can settle their differences, those can be handled as well. I’m fine with this approach – if there’s a path to meeting the needs of the many people and groups that have been objecting to the design of this project, then sure, let’s go for it – but I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much. There’s already been a lot of time for talk, and I don’t know how much latitude TxDOT has to give. There’s some risk here for Harris County as well, as the opponents of this project aren’t likely to be happy with half a loaf. But hey, lawsuits are time- and resource-intensive, and they often end in settlements anyway, so why not give this a try. You never know.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court finishes its redistricting

Things were unsurprisingly partisan, as is the nature of redistricting as we do it.

After much confusion, heated discussion, and repeated delays, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court voted 3-2 on Friday to adopt new precinct boundaries.

The redistricting map was proposed by Fort Bend County Judge KP George. The map moves Needville and Fairchilds out of Precinct 1, Katy and Simonton out of Precinct 3, and extends Precinct 4 from Houston to Kendleton, dividing the county.

The map calls for Precinct 1 to include Simonton, Katy, Cinco Ranch, and part of Richmond and Rosenberg.

“After several weeks of discussions by Fort Bend County Commissioner’s, a clear majority adopted a progressive redistricting map that reflects the historic growth and change of the most diverse county in the nation, that will carry into the next decade,” said George, who voted in favor of his map along with fellow Democrats Grady Prestage, who represents Precinct 2, and Ken DeMerchant, who represents Precinct 4.

Precinct 1 Commissioners Vincent Morales Jr. and Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers voted against the map.

Fort Bend County began the redistricting process in September and has worked tirelessly to meet the Nov. 13 deadline set by the state to submit redistricting maps, George said.

“We listened to the concerns of the public over these past several weeks and the desire for more equitable representation,” he said. “The map I presented best represents the county and is reflective of the growth and changes in our community. This is historic, we set out to achieve proportional, fair, and equitable representation for all Fort Bend County residents. The approved map is the consensus of all voices and brings everyone together.”

[…]

Morales proposed substituting George’s map with the Precinct 4 map submitted by Commissioner DeMerchant.

He and Meyers both believed DeMerchant’s map was fairer than George’s and provided for two Republican precincts and two Democrat precincts as present precinct boundaries call for. George and all four commissioners presented redistricting maps for consideration.

Members of the public also provided maps for consideration but they were not discussed at Friday’s meeting because the presenters were not available to explain the maps. George and all four commissioners said their maps were fairer than the others.

Meyers said his map would have kept communities of interest together in the same precinct, as well as subdivisions, neighborhoods, municipal utility districts, and levee improvement districts.

See here and here for some background. The county’s redistricting page hasn’t been updated since I first looked at it, but Dave’s Redistricting App confirms that the map should end up with three Democratic Commissioners. The twist here is that it won’t happen until the 2024 election, because the two current Republicans were on the ballot last year. Better make sure County Judge KP George wins re-election, so as to avoid another new map being drawn. Commissioner Meyers said there would be litigation over this map, though it’s hard to see on what grounds it would be challenged, given the current state of play.

As for this year, there will be a Commissioner’s race of interest as former HCC Trustee Neeta Sane has announced her intent to run in Precinct 4, against first-term Commissioner Ken DeMerchant. I don’t know yet what my primary interview schedule is going to look like, but I might try to cover that one. Filing season has begun, so I at least will have a better idea of how busy I’m going to be over the next couple of months soon. The Fort Bend Star and the Fort bend Independent have more.

County Court At Law Judge Lesley Briones announces for Commissioner Precinct 4

From the inbox (and on Facebook):

Lesley Briones

Today, I announce my candidacy for Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 4.

I have devoted my career to helping people – and serving as a county commissioner will allow me to help improve people’s lives in a more direct, impactful way.

Together, we can build a county government that keeps our families safe, protects our homes from flooding, expands access to health care, treats everyone fairly, and creates good jobs that help our families thrive.

I have been represented by the current Precinct 4 commissioner for the last ten years. In that time, Harris County has changed – and now is the time for new leadership that will get better results for our community.

As part of this transition, I have resigned from my position as judge, and will continue serving until my successor is appointed. It has been a tremendous honor to advance equal justice on the bench, and I look forward to building upon my experience as we work to create a safer, healthier, and more prosperous Harris County for all.”

County Commissioner Adrian García made the following statement:

I enthusiastically give my full support to Judge Lesley Briones in her campaign for County Commissioner, Precinct 4. Lesley’s professional qualifications and life experiences make her the best qualified to confront the issues facing Precinct 4 and all of Harris County – from public safety and flooding to health care and jobs. I am unequivocally all in for Lesley!

County Commissioner Rodney Ellis made the following statement:

I am proud to endorse Judge Lesley Briones for County Commissioner, Precinct 4. Lesley’s proven values of fairness and equal justice, combined with her proven skills at getting results for children, seniors, and families, will help keep Harris County safe, healthy, and thriving for all our residents.

Briones was appointed to the County Court At Law #4 bench in 2019 following the Bill McLeod “wait, do I have to resign now that I said I was running for another office?” kerfuffle. Note that she explicitly mentioned her intent to resign in the press release, so good form there. She then decisively beat McLeod in the 2020 primary and easily won a full term that November. She’s the first candidate to announce for the newly-Democratic precinct, and comes out of the gate hot with the two endorsements. I’m aware of at least one other person looking at this race, so she won’t have the primary to herself, but she’s off to a good start. This is the biggest prize on the ballot in 2022 for local Dems, so for sure there will be some further interest in that race. Her Facebook page is here, she’s got a website on the way, and we’ll see who the Court picks to fill that bench again.

Fort Bend Commissioners Court redistricting update

Was supposed to be done this week, but has been delayed.

Fort Bend County Judge KP George has thrown a wrench in the Commissioners Court’s posted agenda to hold public hearings and adopt a final redistricting map on Oct. 26.

On Friday, George posted a letter on his Facebook page and later posted a video message suggesting that due to public demand for more time to consider the maps, he would recommend to commissioners court to postpone the adoption of the map until Nov. 2.

In “The letter to the Community Regarding Community Input in the redistricting process,” George said “I have received numerous communications from the public about the timeline the Commissioners Court has adopted to receive feedback on proposed maps and to allow the public to submit maps for consideration. While the timeline for when our maps must be adopted was unclear when the Commissioners Court originally adopted a timeline, we now have a clearer idea and are elated to learn that we have more rime than originally anticipated.

“I am confident that my colleagues on the Court share my belief that the most important voices in this decision, that will have an impact on the future of our county for the next decade, are the voices of our residents. As a result, I have instructed our Information Technology Department to continue to receive map options from the public and will ask the Commissioners Court to ratify this amended time line for public feedback.

“To allow every member of the Commissioners Court to analyze and continue to receive feedback from residents. I will also recommend that Commissioner’s Court members take no action to adopt commissioner precinct maps until at least Tuesday November 2, during the regularly scheduled Commissioners Court meeting.

“Feedback from the public is an important part of the redistricting process and the time is now for every resident to make their voices heard about what they expect the future of our county to look like. I commit to you to do everything that I can to ensure you have the opportunity to participate and meaningfully engage in this historic process.”

[…]

Precinct 1 is now 49 percent Republican and 49 percent Democrat. The future maps can keep the same percentage, or increase the Republican numbers slightly.

In Precinct 2, the Democrats are 74 percent to 24 percent Republicans. Here the Democrats can be slightly reduced, keeping the Democrats margin still high, in double digits.

Similar will be the status of Precinct 3, where Republicans are 57 percent to 41 percent Democrats. Voters can be moved to Pct. 1 and Pct. 4, still keeping it a Republican dominant precinct.

Precinct 4, now 53 percent Democrat and 45 percent Republican is likely to increase its Democratic voters’ margin.

Fort Bend County’s total population per 2020 census is 29.60 percent White, 24.1 percent Hispanic, 23.60 percent Asian and 22.30 percent Black.

See here for the background, and here for the seemingly out of date county redistricting page. The business will be done next week, assuming there is a consensus about what map to adopt.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court will meet in a special session on Nov. 4 at 10 a.m. to adopt a new redistricting map, but there is no consensus on which map will be adopted.

The county judge and four commissioners have proposed their own redistricting map. A few maps from the public have also been submitted.

[…]

Fort Bend County Democratic Party Chair Cynthia Ginyard made a honest and pertinent demand that three of the four new precincts should be having a Democratic majority.

County Judge KP George has already accomplished that in his map by making three precincts with Democrat majority. His map converts Commissioner Andy Meyers’ precinct from Republican majority to Democratic majority, by moving all Republicans to Commissioner Vincent Morales’ precinct.

George’s map may be a non-starter because none of the commissioners in their respective maps make three precincts with a Democratic majority. All of them maintain the status quo, namely two Republican precincts and two Democratic precincts. They have managed to move the population within this parameter.

I don’t know what any of the maps look like right now. The author suggests that Commissioner Grady Prestage’s map, or a variation of it, is most likely to be adopted. Based on the numbers that I was able to find for the previous post, that map may not be 3-1 Dem right away, but it would be headed in that direction. I don’t know enough to say what the outcome may be, but if you have some knowledge of the situation, please leave a comment.

Commissioners Court passes its new map

It differs from the first map in a few ways, which I will get to in a minute, but it checks all the boxes I wanted it to check.

For Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, it boiled down to this: Do I trust my Republican colleagues to set tax rates that will fund critical services like health care and childhood development as the population continues to grow?

The answer? A firm no, which convinced Hidalgo to support a commissioner precinct redistricting plan that will likely lead to a 4-1 Democratic supermajority on Commissioners Court in 2023.

“I am concerned that your party is in a race to the bottom, to literally not pay for lifesaving services,” Hidalgo told Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, referencing his proposal in September to cut the county hospital district budget by $17 million. “I haven’t forgotten that.”

Court Thursday afternoon adopted the new map, which will debut in next year’s elections, on a 3-2 party line vote. The group adopted the third proposal offered by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis, which he said keeps communities with similar interests together and reflects the leftward shift of the county over the past decade.

“I keep Katy ISD and Alief ISD together, the Energy Corridor together,” Ellis said. “It unites Sharpstown and Gulfton and combines watersheds in those areas.”

Cagle objected to the proposal, since it largely switches the current areas covered by precincts 3 and 4, which he said would leave those commissioners in charge of different road crews, parks and community centers for no reason.

“To be candid, I thought (this map) was a joke,” Cagle said. “It’s the stranger map. Your people of service are all going to be served by strangers, in terms of flipping all the resources.”

[…]

The current map, drawn by a Republican-controlled court in 2011, packs Democrats into Precinct 1, increasing the chance that Republicans would win elections in precincts 2, 3 and 4. Commissioners Cagle and Precinct 3’s Tom Ramsey proposed maps that would preserve that edge, even though Republicans have not won a countywide election since 2014 and President Joe Biden won here by 13 points last year.

The adopted Ellis map gives Democrats a decisive edge. According to analysis of election results from 2016 to 2020, Democrats will have an advantage of 50 percentage points in Precinct 1, 12 points in Precinct 2 and 12 points in Precinct 4. Republican voters are disproportionately crammed into Precinct 3, giving the party a 20-point advantage there.

If those trends hold, Democrats are likely to defeat Cagle in Precinct 4 next year to secure a 4-1 Commissioners Court majority. This is critical because setting tax rates requires a quorum of four members instead of the typical three, which gave Republicans tremendous influence in negotiations despite being in the minority.

See here, here, and here for the background. The current map can be seen here, the original Ellis proposal is here, and the final Ellis map, the one that was adopted, is here.

By switching the targeted precinct from 4 to 3, not only does this mean that it’s Jack Cagle and not Tom Ramsey who will get the boot (fine by me either way), it also moves up the date to do the booting from 2024 to 2022. That’s because Ramsey was elected in 2020 and would not be on the ballot again until 2024, while Cagle is on the ballot next year. Why wait? That makes the most sense.

I presume this will also have an effect on the HCDE, and in turn on Trustees Eric Dick in Precinct 4 and Andrea Duhon in Precinct 3; Amy Hinojosa in Precinct 2 will benefit in the same way that Commissioner Garcia will. Dick and Hinojosa are up for election next year, Duhon in 2024. Assuming Harris County stays blue overall, this will eventually result in the same 6-1 Dem split on the HCDE board, but with a two-year period between 2022 and 2024 in which everyone will be Democratic.

So there we have it. I’m fine with this, and I look forward to seeing who files to be the one to un-elect Jack Cagle. A statement from Commissioner Ellis is here and from Commissioner Garcia is here.

More on Harris County Commissioners Court redistricting

Tune up that tiny violin.

Republican Harris County Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey want to keep the decennial process of redistricting precinct boundaries simple. The maps they have proposed would add new zigs and zags to ensure each precinct has the same population but largely would leave the current lines intact.

The pair say their proposals would protect residents from disruptions to county services, though they also would protect something else: the political power of conservatives with an electorate that has shifted away from them.

Republicans have lost every countywide election since 2014, and President Joe Biden won here by 13 percentage points last year. Yet the proposal from Cagle and Ramsey, which packs Democratic voters disproportionately into one precinct, would leave Republicans well-positioned to regain control of the Commissioners Court next year.

“We’ve seen in the state Legislature where Republicans, instead of creating huge inroads in districts in which they lost, opt to protect themselves and protect the current status quo,” University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina said. “Republicans in Harris County are attempting to do a very similar thing.”

The difference, Cortina said, is that Cagle and Ramsey lack the power to do so. Democrats hold a 3-2 majority on the court and thus control redistricting.

Democratic Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis has proposed his own map, which likely would produce three precincts controlled by Democrats and one held by a Republican. He noted the redistricting criteria the Commissioners Court developed included “a desire to have precincts that will allow … representation to reflect the philosophical and partisan makeup of the county.”

“The so-called map that Commissioner Cagle has that I think I saw described as the status quo creates three solid Republican precincts,” Ellis said at a public hearing Thursday. “That was by design, that all of those folks of the philosophical persuasion that happened to tend for Democrats were stuck in Precinct 1.”

Cagle said he prioritized shifting as few residents between precincts as possible in drafting his map; Ramsey said he did not take politics into consideration.

“You can call me the naïve one, but I approached this from the standpoint of serving constituents,” Ramsey said.

[…]

The current map was drawn in 2011 by a Republican-majority Commissioners Court. It disproportionately pushed Democrats into Precinct 1, leaving Precincts 2, 3, and 4 with a majority of Republican voters. Notably, it shifted parts of heavily conservative Kingwood into Precinct 2, which had just been flipped by Republican Jack Morman, to boost his chances of reelection.

The county has shifted leftward in the decade since. Harris County voters have chosen the Democratic presidential nominee in every contest since 2008 and by 2018 had taken control of every countywide elected office. Democrat Adrian Garcia beat Morman in Precinct 2 in 2018, and now his party is keen to protect the seat.

See here and here for the background. I cannot emphasize enough how much I do not care about what Cagle and Ramsey want. Their constituents will be fine – they can commiserate with the many, many people who have been shuffled into various Congressional and legislative districts over the past couple of decades. But what they want, as far as their own political futures are concerned, that’s just not on the list of priorities. I’d say I’m sorry but we both know I’m not. The Texas Signal has more.

Harris County Commissioners Court begins the process of approving its new maps today

From the inbox, an email from Commissioner Rodney Ellis:

Every decade, after each U.S. census, states, cities and counties engage in a process called redistricting, where they adjust the boundaries of their governing districts to reflect changes in population growth and other factors.

For the last six weeks, Harris County has held public meetings across the county to hear your thoughts.

Based on what we learned, and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act, we’re proposing new boundaries for county commissioner districts that are reflected in the map posted here. Our plan seeks to keep communities of interest together and brings together areas that have been split apart for years.

For too long this county has been intentionally divided by precinct boundaries that deny people the opportunity to elect representation that accurately reflects the views of the majority of our communities. The boundaries proposed cease that continued suppression, and allows the voices and views of the people to be reflected by those who represent them.

In Harris County, we’re committed to a fair and transparent process. That’s why we held public meetings across the county and why we are taking public comment now on the proposed maps.

You will hear some of my colleagues complain – and complain loudly. Sadly, they are more concerned about preserving their political power and getting headlines than they are about getting better representation for you.

You can provide YOUR feedback on the proposed maps in person or virtually. Public hearings on the adoption of a redistricting map in Harris County will be held on Tuesday, October 26 and Thursday, October 28. You MUST complete this form in order to testify.

  • For questions or assistance with the Appearance Request Form, please contact [email protected] or 713-274-1111.
  • If you cannot attend, you can still let your voice be heard by submitting your written comments to [email protected]

Redistricting will impact the direction of this county for years to come. We will continue to fight for you to have the fair representation that everyone in Harris County deserves.

For more information on the Harris County redistricting process, you can visit the Harris County Attorney Office’s redistricting page.

See here for the background. You can expect the wailing and gnashing of teeth among Republicans who just want a nice, fair, inclusive, mapmaking process – you know, like the one we just had – to be turned up to eleven. I can only imagine the lawsuits they may file afterwards. The HCDP has put out its support of the Ellis map along with a tout sheet about what the new map will do, and undo. This is going to be messy but exciting.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court redistricting

From last week.

Fort Bend County commissioners has formally called for the redistricting process to begin this week.

The Commissioners Court will have to prepare maps of new precincts, following the 2020 census, to ensure that the boundaries retain “one-person-one-vote” balance.

Following this, new maps have to be offered for public hearing, before finally adopting a plan.

On Tuesday, Commissioners Court set public hearing on redistricting to be held on Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. and at 6 p.m. in the Commissioners Court.

The maps will be available for the public to view on Oct. 19 by 5 p.m. on the county website.

The primary task of reapportionment of voters will concentrate on the issue of numerical balance and minority representation in the formation of commissioners’ court precincts, according to the Fort Bend County’s redistricting consultant, ALLISON, BASS & MAGEE who gave an evaluation of the census numbers to commissioners court last week.

Fort Bend County has a total population of 822,799, so the ideal precinct size would be 205,695, i.e. divide the total population by four (4), the number of single member districts, i.e. Commissioner’s Court Precincts.

[…]

Currently, the political configuration yields two Republican precincts and two Democratic precincts.

It is likely that the status quo will be maintained, and the ratio of Democratic voters in Democratic precincts may be increased.

In another scenario of gerrymandering, one Republican precinct may be overloaded with more Republican voters, diluting the other Republican precinct, resulting in three Democrat and one Republican precinct.

Currently, Commissioner Grady Prestage and Commissioner Andy Meyers appear to be preparing their own maps.

As with Harris County, Dems in Fort Bend have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court after capturing a Commissioner’s seat plus the County Judge slot in 2018. The County’s redistricting page is here and it currently shows three proposed maps, with statistical information about them. There are other maps that have been drawn, however, and they produce a range of outcomes:

Commissioner Prestage’s map would likely keep things at 3-2 but with Precinct 1 more competitive and potentially flippable by Dems. The map proposed by County Judge KP George would make the Court 3-1 Dems, much as Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ proposed map would do in Harris County. The County’s redistricting page doesn’t say which map was proposed by whom, so I have no idea what to look for, but hopefully we’ll learn more soon. This is very much worth keeping an eye on.