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David Mincberg

Houston submits its DNC 2020 bid

From the inbox:

Houston, recognized for its record of successfully hosting mega-events, today submitted an official bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

The bid document of about 600 pages shows how Houston’s convention infrastructure and its people put the city in a superior position to host the presidential nominating convention.

The downtown Toyota Center indoor arena and the close-by, expanded George R. Brown Convention Center in the Avenida Houston convention campus would provide the main gathering spaces for the July 13-16, 2020 convention. A Metro light rail system crisscrosses downtown nearby. Delegates and other participants traveling by air would arrive at Houston’s two international airports. Both have a 4-star rating from Skytrax, making Houston the only U.S. city with two.

About 24,000 hotel rooms would be available within 14 miles of the convention sites, placing the city well ahead of other cities on hospitality logistics. A record-high 20 million visitors traveled to Houston in 2016.

Houston’s specialty in hosting major events shone through with the 2017 Super Bowl, the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament finals and the continuing annual Offshore Technology Conference, Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, Comicpalooza and others.

The city hosted the Republican National Convention in 1992 and the Democratic National Convention in 1928. Houston has since become the fourth most populous U.S. city and its most diverse, attracting new residents from across the nation and the globe. The city is praised as a pluralistic society that lives as one. (“Nothing less than the story of the American city of the future,” – Los Angeles Times, 5/9/2017)

Houston is strong and resilient. The city showed exceptional mettle, bravery and neighborliness in the aftermath of the floods caused by Harvey. “Houston has bounced back from Harvey faster than anyone predicted, inspiring the Twitter hashtag #HoustonStrong,” The New York Times said on 11/23/2017.

“I am confident that we are the right city and this is the right time to bring the convention to Houston,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said in letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez that introduces the bid package.

“Houston is a proven event town and has excelled in hosting high profile national events,” the mayor said in the letter. “Whether celebratory, such as the Super Bowl or somber, such as the recent memorial events for former First Lady Barbara Bush, we meet the producer’s goals while exceeding expectations with seamless execution and constant attention to public safety.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the Chron story. Video from the Council meeting where the bid effort was discussed and approved is here. Houston has definitely shown it can handle big events, and I’ll be delighted if we win, but we’re one of many, so keep expectations realistic. We should know in a few months.

Mayor Turner releases transition team report

From the inbox, a glimpse of what to expect in the near to medium future from Mayor Turner.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner has released a 17-page report that details the work of his transition team chaired by businessman and long-time civic advisor David Mincberg. More than 250 Houstonians from all walks of life participated. They have submitted policy recommendations on 13 different areas:

  • Comprehensive Financial Reform
  • Criminal Justice
  • Economic Opportunity
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Houston Airport System
  • Public Health
  • Public Safety
  • Public Works
  • Quality of Life
  • Rebuild Houston
  • TIRZs
  • Traffic and Transportation

“I want to thank this group for their hard work,” said Mayor Turner. “They dedicated countless hours of their personal time to this process. Some of these recommendations can be implemented sooner than others. They are constructive suggestions that will be helpful as I continue to put together my plans for Houston.”

The Chron story on this is here, and the full report is here. It’s worth your time to look at. It’s mostly a checklist, with the current status (“done”, “in progress”, or “under consideration”) for each item. Some of these items, like the Public Health category, have gotten very little attention before now. Those of you that want to see the TIRZ system overhauled will find much in there to contemplate. I don’t know what the time frame is for these things – obviously, for stuff like financial reform, the horizon is much shorter than for some others – and it’s not clear just how much “consideration” some of these things will get, but keep this handy for when you hear of a new initiative or proposed ordinance. Most likely, it’s on here somewhere, so we can’t say we haven’t been advised.

Turner wants to rethink transportation

I like the way he’s thinking.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, in less than a month on the job, has hit the streets at full speed. First he tackled potholes. Last week he tackled a state transportation department that’s spent the past half-century developing a highway network that is increasingly getting farther from Houston’s core and, according to the mayor, is worsening a congestion crisis.

“If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth,” Turner told the Texas Transportation Commission [recently]. “Our agencies must look beyond these strategies if we are to successfully accommodate the growth that Texas’ major urban areas are anticipating.”

[…]

Annise Parker was both cheered and criticized for her support of alternatives to driving such as expanded light rail and many new bicycling projects. The two local leaders Turner took with him to Austin for the meeting, the city’s planning and public works directors, were installed by Parker and praised by local transit advocates for their breaks from previous agency philosophy.

But Turner, at least in tone, said what none of his predecessors ever publicly uttered. To a dais filled with sate highway officials, he declared: You’re doing it wrong.

“The traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems,” he said. “These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.”

That story is from last week, right after Turner’s address. This is more recent, with some reactions to what Turner said:

Clark Martinson, general manager of the Energy Corridor District, called Turner’s speech “the boldest, best thing I have heard from a mayor in the 30 years I’ve been in Houston.” Martinson said more mass transit and nicer, safer routes for pedestrians and cyclists are as important for his west Houston area as they are for the blocks around City Hall.

To attract the sort of workers nowliving in Midtown and working downtown, Martinson said, the Energy Corridor must seek better streetscapes and more transportation options. Citywide, he said, that meanssidewalks near schools, better access to the Bayou Greenways trail network, and working with land owners to plant shade trees as city streets are rebuilt.

“I believe you cannot solve our congestion problems by building traditional highway projects,” Martinson said. “Once you build all the highways, you have now acknowledged that we’re always going to fill up those highways with cars. If we want to move more people, the way you move more people is you shift your resources from accommodating the single-occupant vehicle to encouraging high-capacity mass transit.”

It remains an open question, however, whether the paradigm shift Turner seeks is attainable.

Alan Clark, director of transportation planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, a regional planning group of local governments, noted that most state highway funds are restricted only for freeways. HGAC’s Transportation Policy Council, which divvies up regional transportation funding, also will play a key role, Martinson said, as council members work to change minds on a board that includes many representatives from far-flung counties with different needs.

“Making a major change in how the money is invested would be a big challenge,” Clark said.

[…]

One of the five state transportation commissioners Turner addressed last week was Jeff Moseley, a former director of the Greater Houston Partnership who said it struck his colleagues that Turner would travel to Austin in the midst of his mayoral transition to address them.

“That just speaks volumes about this mayor’s strong interest in working with all parties to make sure that the demands Houston is facing in its future have a comprehensive response,” Moseley said. “The mayor’s office over the last several administrations has looked at Metro as being the city’s response. What we see is that the mayor’s interested in Metro and all the other opportunities to address mobility.”

Moseley said he and TxDOT’s district engineer met with the leader of Turner’s transition team, David Mincberg, and the two heads of the mayor’s transportation transition committee recently, discussing everything from freight moving through the Port of Houston to pending work on U.S. 290, Texas 288 and Texas 249, and the concept of light rail expansion to Hobby and Bush airports.

It is good timing for Turner to seek a shift in thinking, Moseley said, because TxDOT will confront a legislative review during the 2017 session, having gotten the message in each of its last two so-called sunset examinations that its approach must broaden.

“The Legislature has been very, very clear that we are a Department of Transportation,” Moseley said. “When we were created about 100 years ago, we really were a highway department.”

Good to know. The main naysayer quoted was County Commissioner Steve Radack, who likes doing things the way they have always been and has no interest in the city. People like him are the obstacle that Turner will have to overcome to get anything done differently.

Let’s look a bit more closely at what Turner said. Here’s a trasnscript. The main points:

First, we need a paradigm shift in how we prioritize mobility projects. Instead of enhancing service to the 97% of trips that are made by single occupant vehicles, TxDOT should prioritize projects that reduce that percentage below 97%. TxDOT should support urban areas by prioritizing projects that increase today’s 3% of non-SOV trips to 5%, 10%, 15% of trips and beyond. Experience shows that focusing on serving the 97% will exacerbate and prolong the congestion problems that urban areas experience. We need greater focus on intercity rail, regional rail, High Occupancy Vehicle facilities, Park and Rides, Transit Centers, and robust local transit. As we grow and density, these modes are the future foundation of a successful urban mobility system. It’s all about providing transportation choices.

Second, I believe we need to focus the highway resources for our urban regions in the urban core, where congestion is most severe. Urban cores are the crossroads where freeways, railways, and ports such as the Port of Houston come together, and where the region’s mobility systems often bear the greatest stress. Spending limited resources on the region’s periphery, rather than the core, exacerbates the City’s already severe urban congestion and dilutes TxDOT’s ability to address the most vital challenges to economic development and mobility in the urban core.

Third, our agencies should to continue to collaborate to find comprehensive solutions for the traveling public. TxDOT and local partners like the City of Houston should work together to ensure TxDOT’s projects are coordinated with enhancements to the local street system – the “last mile”. Highway improvements impact our local thoroughfares, and that last mile must have adequate capacity to receive increased volumes resulting from highway improvements. Cities need to be at the table throughout project development to ensure highway improvements do not create new congestion problems along local thoroughfares with inadequate capacity.

The argument that widening the highways causes at least as much “last mile” congestion on the local streets as it relieves on the freeways is one I’ve made before, usually in the context of proposals to add lanes to 288 in town, with some kind of “dedicated lanes’ for the Medical Center. At some point, people still have to get into parking lots, one car at a time. To me, there are two basic principles that need to be understood and observed. One – and this is a point I’ve made in the context of providing bike parking, too – is that it’s in everyone’s best interests if we make it easier for the people who can walk or bike or carpool or take transit to do so. The more people who can find alternate means of transportation that do find it, the fewer single-occupancy vehicles that are competing for highway lanes and parking spaces. That’s a win all around.

What that requires is more robust transit, a more extensive bike infrastructure, better and safer sidewalks and crosswalks, not just for getting to and from work but also for going to lunch and running the basic kinds of errands that people who have cars do during the work day. Tiffany and I carpool into work downtown, and we face this all the time. Metro has been our solution for when one of us needs to go somewhere else after work, and recently for when we both needed to go somewhere at lunchtime. She wound up taking the 82 bus to her appointment, which with its 10-minute off-peak headway made it a viable option. This is what I’m talking about.

The other principle is simply that we are reaching, if we have not already reached, a point at which it no longer makes sense to prioritize minimizing travel times for single occupancy vehicles over other transportation solutions. Yes, the Katy Freeway needed to be expanded, and yes we were going to get a lot of extra traffic out that way whether we built more capacity or not. But that project was sold from the beginning as an answer to traffic congestion. That has not been the case, and any further “solution” of a similar nature will be a lot more expensive and convoluted and destructive to the environment, including and especially the built environment. Hell, just look at what’s being proposed for I-45 downtown to see what I mean. It has to make more sense at this point to find and implement ideas that encourage and allow people to drive by themselves less often. That’s my way of thinking, and I’m glad to know that not only is it also Mayor Turner’s way of thinking, it’s something he’s willing to say to those who need to hear it. CityLab, Streetsblog, and Houston Tomorrow have more.

Hassan drops out of County Judge race

I’m okay with this.

Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Democrat Ahmad Hassan has ended his campaign for Harris County judge, saying incumbent Republican Ed Emmett should be given another four-year term to finish projects vital to the community.

Hassan, owner of the Katy-based Alexandria Realty and Mortgage, said he decided to withdraw after a recent meeting with Emmett, the county’s top administrator since 2007.

“It was not an easy decision,” Hassan said. “I am a leader. I’ve never withdrawn from anything.”

[…]

With Hassan’s withdrawal, Emmett will run unopposed in November.

Emmett said he met with Hassan earlier this week.

“I do have things I’m trying to accomplish – the mental health pilot program at the jail, regional governance, the Astrodome,” Emmett said. “I thanked him. I thought it was an honorable thing to do. He is a successful person, and he truly wants to give back. I can appreciate that.”

I agree that Ahmad Hassan is a well-meaning person who wants to do good. Having interviewed him in 2010, however, he is not qualified for the office of County Judge. He had no grasp of the issues and no idea what he would do if he were elected. This would have been his third run for County Judge – he lost in the Democratic primary in 2008 to David Mincberg and in 2010 to Gordon Quan – and he has also run for Congress in 2006 as a Republican, and for Commissioners Court in 2012, again losing in the Democratic primary. I appreciate how difficult it is to run for office and what a huge burden it can be on a candidate and his or her family. I believe it’s best for all candidates to have to earn the job they seek by defeating one or more qualified opponents, and as a Democrat I hate seeing Republicans go unchallenged. But Ahmad Hassan was nothing more than a name on a ballot. He’d raised no money this year, which was typical for him, he had no campaign website or Facebook page that I could find, and the only campaign activity I can recall him engaging in was some emails plus reaching out to me for an interview in 2010. There are candidates like him all over the ballot, but he actually had a non-zero chance of winning, given the partisan splits in Harris County. Remember when Dallas accidentally elected a candidate like that to be their County Judge in 2006? However unlikely that would have been here, I didn’t want it to happen. Someone has to be a counterweight to the rest of Commissioners Court, and whether you like him or planned to vote for him or not, Judge Emmett does that. Ahmad Hassan would not have been able to do that.

Ideally, there would have been a much stronger candidate on the ballot to oppose Emmett, someone like Mincberg or Quan, but it’s not hard to understand why no one of that caliber stepped in. Even in a good Democratic year, you’d be an underdog against Emmett, who has a sizable campaign treasury and demonstrated crossover appeal. He’s also made it clear that this will be his final term, so why risk going down in flames when you can take a shot an an open seat in 2018? Finally, not to put too fine a point on it, but Emmett’s been a pretty good County Judge, and unlike a few other Republicans I could name he’s put the job ahead of partisan interests – he supports Medicaid expansion, he has been a big advocate for mental health treatment over incarceration, and so on. I have plenty of policy disagreements with him and would rather have someone closer to my own perspective in that office, but we could do an awful lot worse than Ed Emmett.

It should be noted that Emmett is not actually unopposed, despite what the story says. There is a Green Party candidate on the ballot – David Collins, who was the GP candidate for US Senate in 2012 – so if you really can’t stand the idea of voting for Ed Emmett, you do still have a choice. PDiddie and Texpatriate have more.

Susan Criss to file in HD23

Some excellent news from the inbox, via Carl Whitmarsh:

Susan Criss

For fifteen years I was honored to wear a black robe for the people of Galveston County. Four times I raised my hand and swore, so help me God, to faithfully execute the duties of the office of the 212th District Court of Galveston County, Texas and to the best of my ability protect, preserve and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of Texas.

While I dearly love this job it is time for me to serve my community in a different capacity. In order to do that I am required by law to resign from this position before December 9, 2013. I sent a letter to Governor Perry resigning from this bench effective at 5 pm December 6, 2013. I ask that he appoint someone to fill this term.

On Sunday December 8, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. I will file for the office of State Representative of District 23 at the Texas Democratic Party office in Austin.

For a decade and a half I administered justice to the best of my ability. I tried to be fair to everyone who appeared before my bench. When I was a young prosecutor Judge Raymond Magee told me that the man who drives to the courthouse in a pickup truck deserves the same justice as the man who drove there in a Cadillac. I never forgot his words and aspired to live up to them every day.

I was addressed as “Your Honor”. That was an appropriate term but not because I was special. It truly was my greatest honor to be able to serve the people of Galveston County in our justice system. I loved this job, the people I worked with, the lawyers who appeared before me and the people I served.

One sign on the door of my courtroom reads “This court belongs to the people.” The other has a quote by Sam Houston, “Do right and risk the consequences.” Both signs reflect my beliefs about justice and about government service.

The pink granite building in Austin also belongs to the people, the ones who drive Cadillacs, the ones who drive pickup trucks and the ones who cannot drive at all.

The people of District 23 deserve strong effective representation in the Texas House. I am excited about working hard to ensure that District 23’s voices are heard in Austin

She also posted that on her Facebook wall, along with that badass picture embedded above. I had wondered if anyone had filed in HD23, and I’m delighted to see a positive answer to that. Retaining this seat that’s being vacated by Rep. Craig Eiland will not be easy, but Judge Criss is as strong a candidate as one could want to make the effort. The Chron has picked up the story, and PDiddie was on it before that.

In other filing news, we have a couple more contested primaries in Harris County. An Azuwuike Okorafor, who may be this attorney, has filed to challenge Rep. Alma Allen in HD131. Allen easily turned back a campaign by Council Member Wanda Adams in 2012, so barring anything unexpected I don’t think this time will be any different. Also, a Lily Leal, who may be this person, filed to run for HCDE Trustee At Large Position 7, which is the seat formerly held by Jim Henley for which 2012 SBOE candidate Traci Jensen filed earlier in the period.

Democrats now also have a candidate for County Judge. Unfortunately, that candidate is Ahmad Hassan, the former Republican (he ran against Sheila Jackson Lee in 2006) who ran for County Judge in 2008 and 2010, losing in each primary to David Mincberg and Gordon Quan, respectively. He’s a perfectly nice person but has no real qualifications for this job or understanding of what it is – give a listen to the interview I did with him in 2010 to see what I mean. I don’t think there’s much appetite among Dems to run against incumbent County Judge Ed Emmett, and I can’t blame them – Emmett is generally well-liked, very well-funded, and was easily the top Republican votegetter both times he was on the ballot. I think 2014 is more likely to be a good year in Harris County than not, and while I expect Ed Emmett to run ahead of the GOP pack, it’s certainly possible he could lose. If he lost to a Mincberg or a Quan that would be one thing. Losing to Hassan would not be a good thing, and would invite comparisons to Jim Foster. This is one primary race that I would very much prefer to be a contested race.

Elsewhere, Trail Blazers confirms that LaRouchie wacko Kesha Rogers has indeed filed to run for the Senate. I will reiterate what I said yesterday that it’s everyone’s job to make sure she doesn’t make it to a runoff, let alone wins the nomination. Ignorance cannot be an excuse, y’all. BOR reports that the Democrats “will indeed be fielding several statewide judicial candidates, who are in the process of gathering the signatures required to run”. I have heard that El Paso District Court Judge Bill Moody was running again, and I had heard there were at least some other Supreme Court candidates out there, but that’s all I know. No clue whether we’ll have any CCA candidates. Finally, Tom Pauken has ended his quest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination on the very reasonable grounds that he had no chance of winning. I can’t claim to have been a fan, but it was better to have more critics of Greg Abbott out there, so to that extent I’m sorry to see him go. Texpatriate has more.

Why these term limits?

David Mincberg has an op-ed about the city’s term limits law that makes some interesting points but doesn’t quite get at the issue of whether the system we actually have now is the best way to meet the goals of better and more diverse representation in Houston’s government.

Back in 1991, Republican Clymer Wright led the successful movement to limit Houston’s mayor and council members to three terms that total six years. Over the past 19 years, besides the turnover in mayors, Houston’s had five controllers examining the city’s budget.

At the same time, the wide-ranging turnover in council members has led to a City Council that mirrors a very diverse city. The days when council members held onto their positions for decades — collecting ever-greater campaign contributions from more and more city contractors — are mostly a distant memory.

Term limits have created a more open, transparent city government with fewer conflicts of interest. Coupled with financial reform, they are working as hoped. Restrictions on the amount of campaign contributions and blackout periods for contributions are working.

Mincberg spends a fair amount of time in his piece noting that while Houston’s government has undergone a lot of turnover since 1991, County Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole, who is uncontested for re-election and is expected to resign shortly afterward so a successor can be appointed, are still in office. I’ve made the same observation and agree that the lack of interest by the Clymer Wright crowd about this is curious, to say the least, but we’ll leave that for another day. One must acknowledge that all it took to change the city’s law was a single referendum, whereas imposing term limits on Harris County Commissioners Court would require legislative intervention and a constitutional amendment, which is a much steeper hill to climb. It’s still telling to me that no one seems to care much about it, certainly not anywhere near as much as the city’s term limits law.

That’s not what I want to talk about. The question, given that we’re stuck with term limits whether I like them or not, is whether the term limits law we have is fine as it is or if it should be changed in some fashion. I would agree with Mincberg that Houston’s government today is more diverse and representative of Houston’s changing population than it was in 1991, though how much of that is directly attributable to term limits is not clear to me. The fact that Houston is a lot more diverse now than it was even 20 years ago suggests to me that some of that change would have happened on its own. But surely having a steady supply of open Council seats has helped make that happen more rapidly, and term limits gets the credit for that.

Still, just having open Council seats hasn’t meant that people of color will win them, or even run for them. We’ve had exactly two Latino At Large Council members since 1991, none since Orlando Sanchez in 2001. When I interviewed Vidal Martinez and former Council Member John Castillo last year about their lawsuit to force City Council to be redistricted and expanded, I asked them why we didn’t see more Latinos running citywide. Their answer was that it costs a lot of money to do that, and that’s a barrier to entry for many Latino hopefuls. Term limits don’t do anything about that, and neither have the financial reforms of which Mincberg speaks. The solution that I would suggest is a form of public financing for city campaigns, in which matching funds are made available for small-dollar contributions.

Even when Latino candidates do run for At Large seats, they often don’t get a lot of financial support. Rick Rodriguez early on announced a slew of high profile endorsements for the At Large #1 race last year, but ultimately raised little money. Joe Trevino made it to the runoff for At Large #5 in 2007, but also attracted little monetary help. No term limits law will change this dynamic.

And let’s be honest. Even with the reforms that have been implemented, it’s still the case that candidates who can raise the most money tend to win, and much of the money these candidates do raise comes from the many special interest PACs that operate in the city. In this past election, in the five open seat Council races, at least four were won by the candidate that got the most PAC money. The one possible exception is Al Hoang, who still took in a decent chunk of PAC money but who also had an impressive amount of mostly small-dollar donations from individuals. Maybe we’re okay with this as it is. Maybe we like the alternatives, like the one I’ve suggested, even less. All I know is we’re only focusing on one part of the equation, and I think that’s inadequate.

The other question I’d raise about term limits is whether setting them at three two-year terms, for a total of six years in office, is optimal. We can debate the experience-versus-new-perspectives ideas all we want, but I look at it this way: It’s exceedingly rare for an incumbent Council member to face a serious electoral challenge. Once you’re in, you’re in for three terms. We did happen to have two incumbents get forced into runoffs this past year, though only one faced an opponent with real resources, and that was a genuine novelty. If you want to run for a Council seat, why would you bother going against an incumbent? You know the PAC money will be against you, and besides, it’s only six years to wait your turn for the open seat. Better to court the power brokers in the interim and make the pitch that you should be next in line than tilt at windmills. To me, this strongly suggests that allowing for longer terms in office, whether eight, ten, or twelve years, would lead to there being more truly contested races each election. The longer people have to wait for a seat to come open, the higher the likelihood that impatience will kick in, and the greater the pressure to take on an incumbent who is performing poorly. Couple that with some kind of reform that makes it easier for a challenger to raise money, and you might see serious challenges as the norm and not the exception. That’s the point at which I might agree we’ve got a system that truly promotes democracy. Maybe we can even apply it to county government some day.

Interview with Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Ahmad Hassan

Also running for the Democratic nomination for Harris County Judge is businessman Ahmad Hassan. Hassan is a real estate and mortgage broker and the owner & President of Alexandria Real Estate and Mortgage. He has been a US citizen since 1984 after emigrating from Egypt. He ran for the County Judge nomination in 2008, losing to David Mincberg, and ran for Congress in 2006 as a Republican against Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Here is the interview:

Download the MP3 file

A full list of the interviews I have done is on the 2010 Election page. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Chron poll: Brown leads

Campos teased the news earlier today, and now the story is up: Peter Brown leads in a new Zogby poll of the Mayor’s race.

According to the poll, Brown leads the field with 23.8 percent of the vote, followed by Parker with 19 percent, Locke with 13.1 percent, and Harris County Board of Education Trustee Roy Morales with 6.7 percent.

The results are drawn from a survey of 601 likely Houston voters. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

In head-to-head matchups that provide some insight on how the candidates may fare in a potential runoff, Brown’s lead withers to statistical insignificance against Parker, with him winning 35.3 percent to Parker’s 34 percent, and 28.8 percent undecided.

In a one-on-one contest between Brown and Locke, Brown leads with 36.9 percent to 24.9 percent, with 34.1 percent undecided.

While Parker is close to Brown and polled strongly among self-identified Democrats, women and younger voters, the results could spell trouble for Locke, who has only slightly better name recognition in the race than Morales, a more conservative candidate whose anemic fundraising has not allowed him to pay for any television, radio or mail advertising.

Well, that’s a strong suggestion that Brown’s domination of the airwaves has had an effect. There’s still a lot of undecideds, and I’m not sure I believe that Locke’s level of support is that low, but this is what we’ve got.

Greg, Martha, and Nancy add their analyses, and they cover most of the necessary ground. The main thing I would add is that it’s a wee bit unclear just what their voter screen is. The story says “a survey of 601 likely Houston voters”, but the sidebar says “601 likely voters, randomly drawn from a telephone list of registered voters”. Does that mean they spoke to more than 601 people from that list and used a filter of some kind to narrow it down, or does that simply mean 601 registered voters? There’s a big difference between the two. And if they did narrow things down, how many people did they speak to originally? Remember, in a good year turnout will be around 30%, so most registered voters are not “likely”, and that’s especially true this year when turnout might be more in the 20-25% range. So as happy as I am to see another data point, it’s still the case that you can only put so much stock in just one data point. It would not be a surprise at all if another pollster got a different result, if only because they made different assumptions about who is “likely” to vote this year.

For what it’s worth, Zogby did a pretty reasonable job polling Harris County in 2008 for the Chron, though they did show Bradford beating Lykos by 7 in the DA race, and gave Ed Emmett a much bigger lead than he eventually won with against David Mincberg. I believe this is a trickier race to poll, as again nobody has a firm grip on how big the electorate will eventually be. With all those undecideds, the question is will they eventually pick someone, or will they stay home? I guarantee everyone will be paying very close attention to how early voting goes.

Finally, as Nancy notes, the Chron also made its endorsements in the Mayor’s race. Yes, endorsements – they co-endorsed Parker and Locke. I can’t wait to see how that goes. A statement from the Parker campaign about the poll is here. I’ve reproduced it, plus a statement from the Brown campaign, beneath the fold. I have not as yet seen a statement from the Locke campaign.

UPDATE: Received a release from the Gene Locke campaign, which has been added beneath the fold as well.

(more…)

Hey, remember when we were gonna reform county ethics?

How’s that been going?

Efforts to clean up Harris County government appear to be on indefinite hold as any serious debate about ethics reform has been derailed for months by infighting and political gamesmanship.

Commissioners Court has yet to act on a slate of suggestions prepared by an ethics reform task force that County Judge Ed Emmett appointed as scandals involving his colleagues clouded his Republican primary campaign.

The most significant reforms would require legislative approval, but only one bill has been filed as the biennial session’s end quickly approaches.

That legislation, which aims to block county officials from profiting from their connections after they enter the private sector, was drafted at the behest of Commissioner Sylvia Garcia and does not have the backing of the full court.

When asked why the reform package has gone nowhere, locally or in Austin, court members are quick to assign blame to someone else.

Commissioners Steve Radack and Jerry Eversole said it is up to Emmett to bring the package up for a vote since he is the one who appointed the task force. He does not need court’s permission to push his own bills in Austin as long as he does not claim he is speaking for the entire court, Radack added.

“If Emmett doesn’t have the courage to place the proposals on the agenda, he shouldn’t blame me because I would vote for anything constructive and beneficial to Harris County,” Eversole said in a statement.

You may recall that back in September, Commissioner Eversole said he’d back whatever ethics reform bill came before the court because he expected to be busted by the FBI before the new laws would affect him. That’s the last time we’ve heard anything about ethics reform. As it happens, a couple of days after that Hurricane Ike paid us a visit, and the focus of the County Judge race shifted away from ethics, for obvious reasons. But it never went away, and with the legislative session creeping to a close, it’s getting to be now or never.

Ethics reform became a major theme of Emmett’s campaign last year after Eversole came under fire for questionable campaign spending and former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal resigned following the release of e-mails that included racist jokes, sexually explicit images, campaign materials and affectionate messages to his executive assistant.

Emmett promised on the campaign trail to push for legislation authorizing Harris County to establish a board to investigate ethics complaints, to require lobbyists to register and to close the revolving door. He acknowledged, however, he has done little lobbying on the measure since Commissioner El Franco Lee twice referred the package to the County Attorney’s Office for comparisons between current law and the recommendations.

County Attorney Vince Ryan submitted his final report in February. The court took no action, and the package has not reappeared on the agenda.

[…]

Failing to adopt the reforms he touted could provide ammunition to a Republican primary challenger in 2010, when Emmett faces running again for his first full four-year term.

Or, you know, for a Democratic challenger in November. Ethics reform was a big part of David Mincberg’s campaign last year. Emmett eventually co-opted some of Mincberg’s ideas when he formed that task force last May, but since then there’s been nada.

Garcia said she agrees with every element of Emmett’s package and would like to add campaign contribution limits and strengthen other financial reporting requirements.

She said she was the under the impression the court supported her revolving-door bill when she took it to [State Sen. Mario] Gallegos, a Houston Democrat.

She said she did not find out that Radack opposed the bill until Thursday night, minutes before she was supposed to testify about the measure before a Senate committee.

Radack said he would support the bill if it was amended to block city officials from remaining in office while running for a county post. Garcia remained Houston’s city controller while she ran for her current seat in 2002.

And there was Adrian Garcia, now Harris County Sheriff, last year. Council Member Sue Lovell is known to be looking at a run for County Clerk next year. You don’t suppose there might be a partisan motive in Radack’s objection, do you? Nah, surely not.