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Election 2019

Appeals court upholds District B ruling

We will finally get a runoff election in District B.

Cynthia Bailey

An appeals court ruled early Tuesday that Houston did not err when it declined to disqualify a District B city council candidate who had a felony conviction, clearing the way for a long-delayed runoff in the district.

Renee Jefferson-Smith, the third-place candidate in the race who filed the lawsuit, said she does not plan to appeal the ruling, which would effectively end the nine-month dispute.

“I am pleased with the court’s decision and I pray that Cynthia Bailey and Tarsha Jackson remain safe as they continue on with their campaigns to become the next City Council Woman for District B,” Jefferson-Smith said in a statement.

Tarsha Jackson

“It’s been long enough and the District deserves to know who will represent them. My family and I are truly excited about the opportunity to move forward and focus on what’s ahead in our lives.”

It is not yet clear when an election can be held. Attorneys involved in the case said they believe it will return now to the lower court, where visiting judge Grant Dorfman can order a new election date. In February, he ordered a May 2 election, which was derailed amid appeals.

One wrinkle is that the Texas Election Code mandates the runoff be held on the same day of the week as the original election, which was a Saturday, according to Assistant Harris County Attorney Doug Ray. That would mean the District B race cannot go on the Nov. 3 ballot, he said.

See here for my previous update. The law in question is quiet clear, mandating that a runoff election that was delayed by an election contest must be held on the same day of the week as the originally scheduled runoff. I hate the idea that this election can’t be held on the same day in November that everyone will be voting anyway, but I don’t know what can be done about it, other than Judge Dorfman saying “screw it” and daring someone to challenge him.

The central question of the case is whether Bailey, who finished second and qualified for the runoff with Jackson, is eligible for office despite her felony conviction.

Jefferson-Smith, who finished third and missed the runoff, had argued she is not. Jefferson-Smith filed two lawsuits seeking to have Bailey removed from the runoff ballot.

The Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas, like others that have handled the case, did not address directly the question of Bailey’s eligibility. A state statute says candidates cannot have felony convictions from which they have not “been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” but it does not define that phrase, which has led to varying interpretations and enforcement.

Instead, the court addressed Jefferson-Smith’s claim that the City of Houston erred in administering the election by failing to declare Bailey ineligible. Her team had sent the city a packet of documents, after the election but before the vote was certified, proving Bailey was convicted.

A trial court judge said the packet did not conclusively prove Bailey was ineligible because it did not say whether she had been pardoned or otherwise released. (Bailey has argued she is released because she completed her sentence.)

In a decision posted after midnight, the three-justice panel of the First Court of Appeals agreed.

“Because the documents that Jefferson-Smith presented to the Mayor’s Office in connection with her Demand for Administrative Declaration of Ineligibility present a fact question—whether Bailey has been pardoned or otherwise relieved of her disabilities—that the Mayor had no authority to resolve, the Mayor had no ‘duty imposed by law’ to declare Bailey ineligible and made no ‘mistake’ in declining to do so,” Chief Justice Sherry Radack wrote.

Candidates who run for office in Houston check a box on their application form swearing they have not been finally convicted of a felony. The city verifies they have checked the box but does not vet their accuracy.

I’ve read the decision, and while it’s pretty dry and technical, it’s easy enough to understand. The takeaway I got from it is that Jefferson Smith might have prevailed had she taken somewhat different actions, but given what she did do, it wasn’t enough to meet the requirements of the law. I suppose it’s possible the Supreme Court could have seen it differently – for what it’s worth, the panel that ruled on the case was two Republicans and one Democrat – but Jefferson Smith ultimately chose to end her pursuit, and for that I thank her. Now let’s get this election scheduled. Houston Public Media has more.

Hey, remember District B?

This makes me so mad.

Cynthia Bailey

For the last couple months, Tarsha Jackson has organized north Houston neighborhoods around criminal justice reform, helping to release a “Justice Can’t Wait” policy platform she said the city could enact immediately.

Cynthia Bailey has been working in the same communities, solving what she calls “neighborhood issues” and distributing masks and food amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected underserved communities like those in north Houston.

Renee Jefferson-Smith said she has helped ensure seniors there have hot meals and groceries.

They are familiar roles for candidates running for local office, but lately frustrating ones. Other candidates who ran on the same ballot last fall have been in office for seven months now, working within City Hall to enact policies they favor and helping to deploy city services to constituents that need them.

Tarsha Jackson

The election Jackson, Bailey and Jefferson-Smith ran in — the District B seat on city council — has been on hold since December amid an ongoing legal battle over the ballot.

District B, a majority Black and Latino area between just northeast of downtown to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, has been particularly challenged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Incumbent Jerry Davis, who ran unsuccessfully for a spot in the Texas House, has remained in the seat to ensure district residents have representation. Still, many residents and community leaders there feel left behind.

“They have gone from being upset about it, to trying to understand, to now they’re mad as hell,” said Angeanette Thibodeaux, president of the Acres Homes Super Neighborhood Council. “How ironic is this? How terrible is this? That in a time when we need representation and leadership and support, the one district that needs it more than any is disenfranchised once again. That hurts. In the pit of my stomach, that hurts.”

[…]

The candidates’ lawyers expect an appellate ruling in early August, perhaps as soon as next week, that they hope will settle the matter. Mayor Sylvester Turner has said the city will call an election as soon as the courts decide it can.

See here, here, and here for some background. First and foremost, I’m mad that our laws continue to punish people who have otherwise completed in full the sentence for whatever past crime they may have committed. Cynthia Bailey had as much right to be on that ballot as anyone. We need to fix these racist old laws.

Second, I’m mad at Renee Jefferson Smith for dragging this out. I can understand that she felt like the system wronged her, but the damage she has caused far outweighs any injury she may have received. At any point, she could have accepted the result, allowed the voters of District B to select their next Council member, and worked to change or clarify the law so that this situation would not happen again. She could have chosen to put the district’s needs ahead of her own, but she did not. She may prevail in court – I don’t think that would be a just outcome, because you cannot conclusively determine that she would have finished in the runoff had Cynthia Bailey never been on the ballot, but it is a possible ruling we could get – but if so she does not deserve to be rewarded for it. The only acceptable result at this point is for Tarsha Jackson or Cynthia Bailey to be the next Council member in B.

And just think, this situation could be even worse right now. If Jerry Davis had won his primary runoff against Harold Dutton, then District B would have no one sitting at the Council table for them, for however long it would take to get a court ruling. Even that could come with a down side, as the possibility still exists that someone will file a lawsuit over some vote or other action Davis has taken while serving as Council member-in-overtime, on the grounds that he was not legally able to serve past the end of his term. That hasn’t happened yet thank God, but it still could.

At this point, if we get a ruling before August 17, I think we can have the runoff on the November ballot. I’m assuming here a ruling that denies Jefferson Smith’s appeal and verifies that Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey are the only candidates for the office. I don’t know if this has to be approved by City Council or not, but if so we’ll need the ruling even sooner than that, say by August 10. It would be very nice to get that ruling this week. And if Jefferson Smith prevails and we need to have some kind of do-over…I don’t even want to think about it. Let’s just file this in the “Underappreciated Ways In Which 2020 Has Sucked” folder and go from there.

Budget amendments and a fight over police reform

That’s your City Council agenda for today.

City council members have authored more than four dozen amendments to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s proposed budget to trim spending, create new sources of revenue and expand police accountability measures.

Council members will take up the proposals Wednesday when they consider the mayor’s $5.1 billion budget plan, which is coming forward at an especially fraught moment. The city’s usual budget challenges have been aggravated by the economic crisis tied to COVID-19, while activists are gaining traction around the country in their calls to defund or scale back police departments after the death of Houston native George Floyd.

Many of the 50 budget amendments are a direct response to those topics, including one from Councilwoman Amy Peck that would establish a group to audit all city departments and programs, then recommend whether they should be continued with certain changes, folded into another program or dissolved altogether.

The process would in some ways parallel the zero-based budgeting process used for Turner’s spending plan, which required department heads to analyze every function and justify each dollar spent rather than adding to existing budgets. Peck said Turner’s administration never showed council members the detailed results of zero-based budgeting — and her so-called sunset review commission has a broader scope.

“With the sunset review, it’s looking at every line item, but it goes past that,” she said. “It involves citizens and stakeholders and really gets into whether (the program is) serving the constituents, whether there are ways to consolidate, if there are technology advances to make. There could be some program within a department that’s just not needed anymore.”

Other cost-cutting amendments include Councilwoman Sallie Alcorn’s proposal to study where Houston and Harris County can join forces instead of providing duplicate services, and a program suggested by Peck and Councilman Robert Gallegos that would allow city workers to voluntarily take unpaid time off. Councilman Greg Travis also proposed letting private firms compete with city departments for certain contracts, or studying whether it would save money to do so.

[…]

The mayor has expressed opposition, meanwhile, to a sweeping police reform amendment introduced by Councilwoman Letitia Plummer that would eliminate nearly 200 vacant positions in the Houston Police Department. The funds saved by getting rid of the positions and a cadet class would go toward beefing up de-escalation training and the police oversight board, among other proposals sought by those pushing for police department reform around the country.

Turner repeatedly said during last year’s mayoral campaign that he wants to grow the police department by several hundred officers, and he rejected the idea of reducing the police department’s budget during an appearance on CNN last week.

With a budget of over $900 million that is devoted almost entirely to personnel, HPD is by far the city’s largest department and would have little room to cut spending without diminishing the police force. The police union previously negotiated a 3 percent pay bump from July 1 through the end of the year, accounting for much of the department’s proposed budget increase.

On Monday, five black Houston council members released a series of proposed HPD reforms that include many of the measures contained in Plummer’s plan, but without the spending cuts. The letter included every black member of council — Martha Castex-Tatum, Jerry Davis, Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, Edward Pollard and Tiffany Thomas — except Plummer.

In a statement, Plummer said, “After reading my colleagues’ open letter, it appears we all want the same things. I look forward to having their support for my amendments on Wednesday.”

See here for some background, and here for the five Council members’ proposals. Here it must be noted that the police union was a big supporter of Mayor Turner, and they were the instigators of the lawsuit that killed the firefighter pay parity referendum. He campaigned on hiring more police, and that’s where he is. That said, nine votes on Council can pass a budget amendment, and in addition to those six black Council members there are five other Democrats – Abbie Kamin, Robert Gallegos, Karla Cisneros, David Robinson, and Sallie Alcorn – who should be open to persuasion on this matter. Maybe some of the Republican Council members might be willing to trim some budget as well – CM Dave Martin received no money from the HPOU PAC in 2019, for instance. Point being, there’s plenty of room to get at least the group of five amendments passed, if not the Plummer amendment. There’s a rally this morning at City Hall to build support for that. There won’t be any better opportunities anytime soon.

Metro slows its roll on system improvements

Not a surprise.

Houston-area transit officials will wait out a little more of the coronavirus crisis before soliciting bids on five of the first projects in their $7 billion construction bonanza for bus and rail upgrades.

“Moving this by a month does not hurt anything at all,” said Sanjay Ramabhadran, a Metropolitan Transit Authority board member.

Board members on Tuesday delayed approval of the procedure for selecting engineering, architecture and design firms for what could be more than $1 billion in bus and rail projects along key routes. The projects are the first in the agency’s long-range transportation plan, which voters approved in November, authorizing Metro to borrow up to $3.5 billion. The remaining costs for the program, called MetroNext, will be covered by federal grants and unspent local money Metro set aside for future budgets.

Instead, officials said the requests for proposals are set for approval in April for:

  • an extension of the Green and Purple light-rail lines to the Houston Municipal Courthouse
  • bus rapid transit and a dedicated lane along Interstate 10 from Loop 610 to downtown Houston
  • rapid bus service and use of managed lanes along Interstate 45
  • a new Missouri City Park and Ride
  • enhanced bus corridors along the Westheimer and Lockwood bus routes

The time will allow Metro officials to review the specifics of the agreements, Chairwoman Carrin Patman said.

See here and here for some background. No mention of the Uptown BRT line, whose target opening date is now July, though Lord knows what anything means at this time. Metro has suspended fare collection for now, in part because people need all the help they can get during this crisis, and in part because ridership numbers have plummeted during the crisis. Neither of those will have much effect on Metro’s cash flow in the short term, but the concurrent decline in local sales tax revenue will. We’ll know more about that in May when the Comptroller disburses the March tax revenues.

District B lawsuit drags on

Double ugh.

Cynthia Bailey

It could be another four to five months before voters in Houston’s District B can select a new city council member, extending a delay that has held up a runoff there since December.

The Houston-based First Court of Appeals previously denied requests from top vote-getters Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey to expedite the appeal process of the legal case that has held up the runoff. On Tuesday, the appellate court also denied a request to dismiss the case outright.

Doug Ray, assistant Harris County attorney, said the two sides now will exchange briefs on a standard schedule, a process he said could take four or five months.

The runoff was supposed to be in December with a dozen other city contests, and the winner would have taken her seat in January. It was pulled from the ballot amid the ongoing litigation. Now, it will miss the May 2 ballot, as well.

“Who knows when there will be an election?” said Larry Veselka, the attorney representing first-place finisher Jackson. “It’s ridiculous.”

[…]

Oliver Brown, attorney for Cynthia Bailey, said Jefferson-Smith’s team is just “beating a dead horse.”

“That’s all they’re doing now,” Brown said. “They’re costing these candidates money, because they keep trying to ramp up their campaigns, and then they have to stop.”

See here and here for the previous updates. This week is the deadline for printing mail ballots, so the absence of an expedited ruling or a dismissal of the appeal means we continue slogging our way through the process. There’s a calendar date for the case for March 23, so the May election is right out at this point. Next up, barring an expedited election date granted by the state, is November. I don’t even want to think about what could happen to that possibility. What a freaking mess.

Improved bus corridors are coming

Sounds promising.

Metropolitan Transit Authority is set to upgrade a pair of Houston bus routes, hoping that raising the quality of bus service will prove the key to increasing transit use.

The 54 Scott and the 56 Montrose/Airline routes will be the first put to the test of as part of Metro’s “Bus Operations Optimized System Treatments” — aka BOOST. The corridors will be decked out with spruced-up bus stops and shelters, bike racks and better sidewalk and trail access where practical. Digital signs at bus stops will give real-time information about when the next bus is coming.

Some of the most striking improvements, however, will be less about what riders can see and more about the technology that will provide buses an advantage by communicating with traffic signals. That could in some locations give the bus extra time to make a changing green light, or hurry through the red-light cycle to decrease the time the bus spends at an intersection.

“Getting through that intersection, if we can hold the green light a little longer, improves our travel time,” Metro CEO Tom Lambert said.

Less time sitting at stoplights could make transit more attractive.

“What they are trying to do is drive bus ridership,” said Jeff Weatherford, deputy director for Houston Public Works, which is working with Metro along the corridors.

Construction along the corridors is expected to start in the coming months and take 18-to-24 months to complete, transit officials said.

[…]

The Scott and Airline routes were chosen as the first of 17 BOOST routes because both follow bustling commercial corridors, have high ridership — both typically average around 6,000 daily boardings — and development along the routes is walk-able by Houston standards, officials said. Both lines also cross other core routes in the Metro system, such as the Red and Purple light rail lines and the Route 82 Westheimer, Route 2 Bellaire and Route 4 Beechnut bus lines.

We first heard about this last January as the first details of the MetroNext referendum started coming out. Traffic lights are a big variable in bus travel times, so adding some predictability, which in turn should allow for more frequency, is welcome. I used the 56 a lot when I was working downtown, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing this in action.

District B ruling appealed

Ugh.

Cynthia Bailey

The date of Houston’s stalled city council District B runoff is again in question after the third-place finisher in the race moved forward with an appeal of a court order earlier this month that the runoff go on without her.

The runoff, currently scheduled for May 2, could be delayed if a ruling is not final by March 9. The election was pulled from the Dec. 14 ballot, when a dozen other city runoffs were decided, because of the litigation.

Lawyers for Renee Jefferson-Smith previously indicated they had not decided whether to pursue an appeal of Visiting Judge Grant Dorfman’s ruling that the runoff between the top two vote-getters in the November election, Tarsha Jackson and Cynthia Bailey, should go forward.

On Thursday, however, Jefferson-Smith’s legal team filed what is called a docketing statement with the appeals court, indicating they were moving forward.

“We will request that the Court stay the City of Houston Election for City Council Member for District B pending appeal pursuant to” the Texas Election Code, the filing said. It listed a lawyer not previously involved in the case, Dorsey Carson, Jr., as lead attorney.

[…]

Jackson said she thinks Jefferson-Smith and her backers are just trying to delay the election at this point, and she called on leaders to do something to stop the delays.

“This appeal is not fair to the people of District B, it’s not fair to me and the other 12 candidates who ran to represent District B,” she said.

See here for the previous update. I suppose leaders could try to pressure Renee Jefferson-Smith into dropping the appeal, but you’d think if that might have worked she wouldn’t have filed it in the first place. At this point, a fast ruling from the court is the best bet. What a freaking mess this has been.

January 2020 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re done with the 2019 Houston election cycle, but there are still things we can learn from the January 2020 campaign finance reports that city of Houston candidates and officeholders have to file. Other finance report posts: My two-part look at the State House was here and here, Harris County offices were here, statewide races were here, and SBOE/State Senate races were here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       359,567    780,735        0     293,503
Peck           1,075     17,435    5,000          72
Davis          4,000     14,164        0     139,068
Kamin         24,158     93,810        0      18,717
E-Shabazz     14,394     18,965        0       2,145
Martin        14,600     48,754        0     148,989
Thomas        20,263     21,642        0      11,675
Travis         9,850     70,904   21,000      51,484
Cisneros      15,050     44,687        0      24,169
Gallegos      16,850     46,055        0      76,776
Pollard        4,525     25,007   40,000       1,882
C-Tatum       16,250      8,520        0      71,747
Knox           6,900     29,075        0       4,302
Robinson      11,625     82,515        0      40,735
Kubosh        14,770     31,570  276,000      94,540
Plummer       71,168     83,491   21,900      11,068
Alcorn        21,535     76,313        0      16,374
Brown          1,650    102,340   75,000      14,128

Bailey             0      2,400    2,600          70
Jackson       43,845     18,338        0      28,343

Buzbee         1,903    460,888        0      63,531
King          29,925    161,047  420,000      11,567
Parker             0     38,750        0      26,184
Laster             0     12,579        0     162,209
Salhotra      24,010     75,837        0       9,060
Sanchez       40,056     92,678        0      10,636
Edwards          499    109,812        0      89,987

HouStrongPAC       0     10,000        0      51,717

Nominally, this period covers from the 8 day report before the November election (which would be October 27) to the end of the year, but for most of these folks it actually covers the 8 day runoff report to the end of the year, so basically just the month of December. In either case, this is the time when candidates don’t raise much but do spend down their accounts, as part of their GOTV efforts. For those who can run for re-election in 2023, they will have plenty of time to build their treasuries back up.

Mayor Turner will not be running for re-election again, but it’s not hard to imagine some uses for his existing (and future) campaign cash, such as the HERO 2.0 effort or the next round of city bonds. He can also use it to support other candidates – I’m sure he’ll contribute to legislative candidates, if nothing else – or PACs. That’s what former Mayor Parker has done with what remains of her campaign account. Nearly all of the $38,750 she spent this cycle went to the LGBTQ Victory fund, plus a couple of smaller contributionss to Sri Kulkarni, Eliz Markowitz, and one or two other campaigns. Tony Buzbee has restaurant bills to pay, and those endless emails Bill King spams out have to cost something.

Others who have campaign accounts of interest: As we know, Jerry Davis has transferred his city account to his State Rep campaign account. I’ve been assuming Mike Laster is going to run for something for years now. The change to four-year Council terms may have frozen him out of the 2018 election, when he might have run for County Clerk. I could see him challenging a Democratic incumbent in 2022 for one of the countywide offices, maybe County Clerk, maybe County Judge, who knows. It’s always a little uncomfortable to talk about primary challenges, but that’s what happens when there are no more Republicans to knock out.

Other hypothetical political futures: Dave Martin could make a run for HD129 in 2022 or 2024, or he could try to win (or win back) Commissioners Court Precinct 3 in 2024. If Sen. Carol Alvarado takes my advice and runs for Mayor in 2023, then maybe State Rep. Christina Morales will run to succeed her in SD06. If that happens, Robert Gallegos would be in a strong position to succeed Morales in HD145. Michael Kubosh wasn’t on my list of potential Mayoral candidates in 2023, but maybe that was a failure of imagination on my part. As for Orlando Sanchez, well, we know he’s going to run for something again, right?

You may be wondering, as I was, what’s in Amanda Edwards’ finance report. Her activity is from July 1, since she wasn’t in a city race and thus had no 30-day or 8-day report to file. Her single biggest expenditure was $27K to Houston Civic Events for an event expense, and there were multiple expenditures categorized as “Loan Repayment/Reimbusement” to various people. Perhaps she has transferred the balance of her account to her Senate campaign by this time, I didn’t check.

Most of the unsuccessful candidates’ reports were not interesting to me, but I did want to include Raj Salhotra here because I feel reasonably confident that he’ll be on another ballot in the short-term future. The HISD and HCC Boards of Trustees are both places I could see him turn to.

Last but not least, the Keep Houston Strong PAC, whose treasurer is former Mayor Bill White, gave $10K to Move to the Future PAC. That’s all I know about that.

The Jerry Davis situation

Someday, this is going to be taught in political science classes. And possibly law schools.

CM Jerry Davis

The ongoing election dispute in District B has put Jerry Davis in a peculiar position, seemingly caught between two provisions of the Texas Constitution as he challenges longtime incumbent state Rep. Harold Dutton in the March 3 Democratic primary.

And it is unlikely to change until the courts clear the way for voters to cast ballots in the long-delayed runoff for his council seat.

Until then, Davis is stuck in the council seat he was supposed to leave in January because of term limits.

[…]

With no new council member seated by the first of the year, Article XVI, Sec. 17 of the Texas Constitution kicked in, requiring Davis to remain in the District B seat until his successor can be elected and seated.

“All officers of this State shall continue to perform the duties of their offices until their successors shall be duly qualified,” the provision reads.

When Davis filed Dec. 9 to challenge Dutton for the District 142 seat in the Texas House, it raised another constitutional clause, this one found in Article III, Sec. 19.

That provision says no public official who holds a “lucrative office… shall during the term for which is he elected or appointed, be eligible to the Legislature.”

Texas Supreme Court rulings have held that any paid public office, no matter how small the compensation, is considered “lucrative.” Additionally, the high court has ruled that the eligibility requirement extends to one’s candidacy.

A Houston city council salary is around $63,000 a year.

To date, no one has challenged Davis’ eligibility.

The councilman said he believes he is in the clear because his elected term ended in January. Democratic Party officials, tasked with determining eligibility for primary candidates, say they believe he qualifies because his appointed term as a hold-over should end long before he would join the Legislature next January if he wins.

And Dutton has not lodged any complaints or challenges. That could change, should Davis prevail in the March election.

Buck Wood, an authority on Texas election law who has represented clients in landmark Supreme Court rulings on the subject, said the law holds that candidates have to be eligible while they are running for office, not just on the date they take it.

Since Davis still is on the council, someone could make the case that he is not eligible, he said.

“The problem is, the court has also held that you have to be eligible as of the date that you file,” Wood said.

The interaction of those two constitutional clauses is an open legal question, left unresolved for now by Texas judges.

“The courts have not ruled on that hold-over provision,” he said.

It gets deeper into the weeds from there, and I’ll leave it to you to read up. For now, all is well and legal and good. Until such time as someone files a lawsuit – either Dutton over Davis’ eligibility to be on the ballot (an irony that may wash us all into the sea), or a city resident alleging that some action Davis has taken since January 1 as Council member is invalid, or maybe some other claim I can’t envision right now – there are no problems. Maybe we’ll make it all the way to the (we hope) May runoff in District B and there will still be no problems. It can all come crashing down at any time, and if that happens it’ll tie up the legal system for years, but for now, make like Wile E. Coyote and keep on running. As far as you know, the end of that cliff has not yet arrived.

(Note: this story ran, and I drafted this post, before the ruling in the District B runoff lawsuit. The fundamentals are the same, as Davis will still be serving till we have a runoff winner.)

Bailey stays on District B runoff ballot

Hopefully, this is the end of the line.

Cynthia Bailey

In a long-awaited decision, a visiting judge ruled Tuesday that a Houston city council candidate who has a felony conviction should remain on the ballot for the District B runoff, declining a plea from the third-place finisher to replace her on the ballot.

Renee Jefferson-Smith, who finished 168 votes behind Cynthia Bailey in the Nov. 5 general elections, had argued that Bailey’s 2007 felony conviction for theft made her ineligible and the city erred in not declaring her as such before it certified the November results.

Jefferson-Smith’s lawyers cited a state law that says candidates cannot have felony convictions from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.” It doesn’t define that phrase, which has invited confusion about who qualifies and who does not.

She asked the judge to rule that the city should have declared Bailey ineligible and then place Jefferson-Smith on the runoff ballot with top vote-getter Tarsha Jackson.

Special Judge Grant Dorfman declined to do so, saying that Jefferson-Smith did not “conclusively prove Contestee Bailey’s ineligibility.”

“No grounds were presented that warrant the voiding of the November 5, 2019 election,” Dorfman wrote.

In a separate order, Dorman called for a May 2 runoff between Jackson and Bailey.

[…]

Dorfman also clarified that his rulings did not resolve an earlier case that Jefferson-Smith filed, in which she asked a judge to declare Bailey ineligible. The judge in that case dismissed that request, and appeals courts have declined to order the city itself to declare her ineligible.

Nicole Bates, an attorney for Jefferson-Smith, said shortly after the ruling was released that she had to consult her client before deciding whether they would appeal the ruling.

See here for the previous update. We’d been expecting a ruling last week, but I’ll let it slide. And Lord knows, I hope Jefferson-Smith accepts the defeat and does not appeal. It’s time to let District B vote.

Runoff results: Eastman wins, Markowitz loses

I’m posting this before all the votes are in, but the results are not in doubt.

Anna Eastman was leading Luis La Rotta by a 67-33 margin in HD148 after 26 of 37 vote centers were in. See here for the numbers. Eastman faces multiple candidates in the March primary, which will be the more difficult race for her.

Eliz Markowitz was trailing Gary Gates by a 59-41 margin, with some unknown-to-me number of election day votes counted. See here for those numbers. Given that Meghan Scoggins got a bit less than 46% in 2018, this would not count as beating the spread. Special legislative election runoffs have not been very kind to Dems in recent years – see SD19 in 2018 and HD118 in 2016 for examples. That said, Dems won back HD118 that fall with no trouble, and that embarrassing setback in SD19 was not in the least indicative of what was to come later that year. So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and remember that as with those years, it’s November that counts.

Finally, Lorraine Birabil was leading James Armstrong 68-32 in the HD100 runoff, to succeed Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. See here for those numbers. That was a D-versus-D race in a deep blue district, though there was criticism of Armstrong for taking money from Texans for Lawsuit Reform. I’m never sad to see those guys lose a race, so I’m fine with this one.

Anyway, congrats to all the winners. Early voting for the March primary starts in 20 days. You’re welcome.

What to expect in HD28?

Time to play the expectations game.

Eliz Markowitz

It is hard not to argue Democrats have gone all in on the special election runoff for House District 28.

Ahead of the Tuesday election, at least three presidential candidates have come to the aid of Democratic candidate Eliz Markowitz. State and national groups have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into her race against self-funding Republican Gary Gates. And Beto O’Rourke has practically made Fort Bend County his second home, spending days at a time there to help Markowitz to flip the seat — and give Democrats a shot of momentum as they head toward November intent on capturing the lower-chamber majority.

But all the activity belies the reality that District 28 is far from the most competitive district that Democrats are targeting this year, a point they are increasingly making as expectations balloon around Markowitz’s campaign. Republicans, meanwhile, are voicing confidence after the early-vote period, raising the prospect of a decisive win Tuesday that delivers an early blow to Democrats’ hopes of flipping the House.

“We want to send a message after this election,” Gates said at a block walk launch here Saturday morning. “We don’t want to win by 2 or 3, 4 points.”

Markowitz and Gates are vying to finish the term of former Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, who won reelection in 2018 by 8 percentage points while O’Rourke lost the suburban Houston district by 3. Those numbers do indeed put HD-28 far down the list of 22 seats that Democrats have designated as pickup opportunities in November — 16th, to be exact.

But there is no denying that the deluge of high-profile Democratic attention has laid the foundation for a highly anticipated result Tuesday, complicating efforts to keep the race in perspective. Texas Democratic Party spokesman Abhi Rahman said Friday that Democrats “have already won by the fact Republicans have had to invest as much as they have in this district.”

“I’m hard-pressed to see how we lose on Tuesday regardless of the outcome,” Markowitz said in an interview Sunday evening. “Whether or not we walk away having won [the runoff] … we will have walked away establishing a movement for change and that movement will continue across the state of Texas through November.”

[…]

The four-day early voting period ended Friday, and turnout was 16,332, which blew past that of the November special election, which drew 14,270 voters. That is especially notable because there were 12 days of early voting for the November election, and many more polling places were open. Also, Gates was vying against five other Republicans, while Markowitz was the sole Democratic candidate.

But who that increased turnout benefits is a separate question. In the Gates campaign analysis, the early vote was 53% Republican, 30% Democratic and 17% independent — auguring a massive disadvantage for Markowitz heading into Election Day. Democrats have not offered similarly detailed numbers, but Markowitz said their “analysis is showing that we’re at a dead heat and it’s really going to come down to Election Day turnout.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but winning is better than losing, and only one side gets to win. Covering the spread is a reasonable consolation prize and a thing one can hopefully point to as a portent for November, as long as one remembers that special elections can be goofy and are often not a great predictor of what will follow. But in the end, losing by a smaller-than-expected margin is still losing, as Sen. Ted Cruz can tell you.

We will overcome the narrative of this race, whichever way it goes, and move on to the next race, because that’s what we all do. I don’t care what pundits and Republicans will say if Markowitz winds up losing by a not-respectable margin. I do care that some of the people who worked so hard to elect her may be discouraged by such a result, but at least we know there are plenty of races to focus on, including this one in November. We all remember that the winner of this race has earned the right to serve until the end of this year and still has to win in November to be a part of the actual legislative process, right?

Whatever we learn twelve hours or so from now, Markowitz ran a strong race and had a lot of support, from within the state and from outside it. Win or lose, whatever the final score, we have to learn from that experience and build on it for November. That’s what really matters.

District B lawsuit has its hearing

Feels like we’ve been waiting forever for this.

Cynthia Bailey

Lawyers for the third-place finisher in Houston city council District B’s election told a judge Friday that the city erred in failing to declare an opponent ineligible because of her felony conviction and asked the court to throw out the votes that landed Cynthia Bailey in a still-to-be-scheduled runoff.

The judge, they said, should discount the votes Bailey received in the Nov. 5 election and put their client, Renee Jefferson-Smith, into the runoff against top vote-getter Tarsha Jackson.

Visiting Judge Grant Dorfman did not make a ruling Friday, but said he hoped to have a decision by the end of next week.

[…]

Jefferson-Smith’s legal team argued that Bailey’s well-documented 2007 felony conviction makes her ineligible to run under state law, and the city should have declared her as such when they they submitted a packet of supporting documents to the city secretary on Nov. 13. Bailey served 18 months of a 10-year sentence for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in checks from North Forest Independent School District.

Jefferson-Smith is basing her case on a state law that says a person cannot run for elected office if he or she has been finally convicted of a felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.”

The law does not define “resulting disabilities” and courts have interpreted it differently. Bailey has said she can run because she completed her sentence and can vote. Jefferson-Smith’s team has cited at least one case in which a candidate similarly disclosed a conviction and then was almost immediately removed from the Galveston City Council under the same law.

The City of Houston received documents from Jefferson-Smith’s lawyers on Nov. 13 — a week after Election Day, but before city council canvassed the results. The documents included a Harris County record of Bailey’s conviction and a Texas Attorney General opinion stating that restored voting rights do not mean a restored ability to run for office.

“They are not allowed to ignore conclusive proof of ineligibility,” said Lindsay Roberts, a lawyer for Jefferson-Smith. “They have to make that determination of eligibility and, importantly, they have to do so before certification.”

Attorneys for the city rejected those claims, arguing the submitted documents did not conclusively prove that Bailey had not been cleared of those “resulting disabilities.” They also said the documents were sent and received after Jefferson-Smith already had lost two court rulings in a separate lawsuit.

In that case, filed two days after the election and separate from the one heard Friday, Jefferson-Smith asked a judge for an emergency order — and then a preliminary injunction — declaring Bailey ineligible. Both requests were denied, and the First Court of Appeals and Texas Supreme Court have upheld those rejections.

With those initial denials in mind, Senior Assistant City Attorney Suzanne Chauvin said, the city council certified the results Nov. 18, as it is required by law to do.

“Essentially, they’re saying we should have second-guessed two rulings by the district court,” Chauvin said.

See here for the previous update. As you know, as a matter of principle, I disagree with Jefferson-Smith’s argument. I think the city should have accepted Bailey’s application, as they did with several other candidates who had prior felony convictions, and if there needed to be a legal challenge it should have happened after the filing deadline and before the election. That’s all water under the bridge now, and hopefully something the Lege will address (in a constructive manner) in 2021. For now, all I care about is getting a ruling, and then maybe a confirmed date for the next election. I don’t envy Judge Dorfman the decision, and I really hope that any appeals are resolved quickly.

Meanwhile, the HISD Board of Trustees is still a thing

Meet the new Board, not the same as the old Board.

Hours after Houston ISD’s four recently elected trustees took office, enshrining the district’s first all-female school board, the new-look governing team on Thursday made its first big decision.

Trustees voted 8-1 to postpone approving a facilities assessment contract sought by the district’s administration, which would serve as a significant step toward asking residents to approve a multi-billion bond package in November. Board members will return in February to decide on the contract, giving them additional time to consider the ramifications of the deal.

Multiple board members said they wanted more discussion between the administration and trustees before spending up to $5 million on a facilities assessment. HISD likely will face headwinds in gaining support for a bond package, the result of dramatic state intervention looming over the district and a decline in public trust following months of board in-fighting.

“If it were that important, these conversations should have happened months ago,” HISD Trustee Elizabeth Santos said. “To spring it on brand new board members and expect a vote is unfair.”

HISD administrators said the facilities assessment would help the district craft a bond proposal, which would involve extensive construction projects at dozens of campuses, major investments in school security and hundreds of millions of dollars in technology upgrades.

Derrick Sanders, HISD’s officer of construction services, said the delay in a facilities assessment “wouldn’t be a fatal blow, but it would be a challenging one” for placing a bond request on the November ballot.

District officials have not placed a price tag on any potential bond packages, but it would likely exceed $2 billion and come with little to no increase in the tax rate. HISD residents last voted on a bond in 2012, approving a $1.9-billion proposal. Nearly all projects financed by the package have been completed.

So the obvious question to ask here, which the story did not address, is whether there could be a bond election called by the Board of Managers. It’s been long enough since the last bond election that there’s surely a need for some capital spending, and waiting four or five years till the elected Board is fully back in place could ensure that the need is too great to be sufficiently addressed. These bonds usually pass without too much trouble – the 2012 bond got 69% of the vote – but it’s not hard to imagine a 2020 issue being controversial. I don’t know what the best course of action is here, but I hope the new Board figures it out quickly. Aren’t y’all glad you signed up for this?

Early voting for the legislative special election runoffs starts Tuesday

From the inbox:

Early Voting for the January 28, 2020 Special Runoff Election for State Representative District 148 begins Tuesday, January 21 and ends Friday, January 24. During the four-day Early Voting period, five locations will be available to more than 87,000 registered voters within the district. Voters can cast their ballot at any one of the five locations from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The last day to request a ballot
by mail (received, not post marked) for this Special Runoff Election is today, January 17.

“Early Voting locations for this election are only for voters who reside in State Representative District 148,”
said Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman. “A sample ballot is available online at HarrisVotes.com.”

See here for full early voting information, and here for the interactive map. Remember that Monday is the MLK Day holiday, which is why early voting begins on Tuesday. There’s no makeup day for it, just these four days. Don’t dilly-dally, in other words.

And for those of you in Fort Bend County, here’s your HD28 runoff info:

Tuesday is the first day of early voting for the District 28 runoff to fill a term left vacant by the retirement of state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond.

On the ballot will be Democrat Elizabeth “Eliz” Markowitz of Katy and Republican Gary Gates of Rosenberg. Markowitz is the sole Democrat running for the position. Gates topped a field of six Republicans to win his party’s nomination. But neither received the necessary 50 percent of the vote to win the election.

In Fort Bend County early voting will be 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, Jan. 21-24, at the following locations: Bowie Middle School, 700 Plantation Drive, Richmond; Cinco Ranch Branch Library, 2620 Commercial Center Blvd., Katy; Four Corners Community Center, 15700 Old Richmond Road, Sugar Land; Irene Stern Community Center, 6920 Katy-Fulshear Road; and Tompkins High School, 4400 Falcon Landing Blvd.

Election Day will be Jan. 28 and polls will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit https://tinyurl.com/v9fletv for Election Day polling sites.

Full early voting information is here. If you want a refresher, my interview with Anna Eastman is here, and my interview with Eliz Markowitz is here. Let’s get these women elected.

Who might run for Mayor in 2023?

Mayor Sylvester Turner

So Election 2019 is (modulo District B) safely in the books, and Sylvester Turner is in office for his second and final term. In years past at this time I’d be taking a look ahead at the next city election – who’s termed out, who could be vulnerable, who might be priming for a run, etc – but with the next election not until 2023 that seems like a stretch. We can start thinking about who might throw their hat into the ring for Mayor, however. The field in 2015 was quite large, and I’d expect something similar in 2023. Houston Mayor is a prime gig, and it doesn’t come open very often.

I’m going to run down a list of names that seem like potential contenders. I want to stress that this list is entirely the product of my imagination. I have no inside knowledge of anyone’s intentions, and I make no warranty on any of these claims. I’m just thinking out loud. So with that in mind…

Chris Brown – He’s the current City Controller, he’s won twice citywide (which among other things means he’ll be term-limited and thus would need to run for something else, if he wants to stay in city elected office), he’s a strong fundraiser, he’s got a long history in city politics. Annise Parker and Kathy Whitmire were both Controllers before they were Mayors. He does have a bit of baggage, and his win over Orlando Sanchez was not by much, but if there’s one person on this list who would surprise me by not running, it would be Chris Brown.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado – Served three terms as Council member in District I and was Bill White’s Mayor Pro Tem before winning election to the Lege in 2008, and continues to be involved with city issues as a legislator. If she has statewide ambitions – and as a young Senator looking at a Democratic-trending state, she should – Mayor of Houston would enable her to run from a bigger base. Legislators have been elected Mayor in various cities recently, including Dee Margo (El Paso), Eric Johnson (Dallas), and of course Mayor Turner. As an incumbent, she’d be in a strong position to build up a campaign treasury in advance of running, as Turner did in 2015. The main negative here is the old story of Latinos having a hard time winning citywide elections, but someone is going to break through, and being a veteran establishment Democratic elected official is a good way to get there.

Amanda Edwards – OK, sure, she’s running for US Senate now, but so are multiple other viable candidates, only one of whom can survive the primary, never mind the uphill battle that would follow. While she would certainly prefer to be well into her first term in Washington, it’s hardly crazy or insulting to say she might be available for this race. She was an At Large Council member, one who I thought would have been in a decent position to run for Mayor this year anyway before she changed course, with a strong fundraising history. Running statewide, especially for a federal office, is a great way to vastly expand your donor base. She may well be done with city politics regardless of what happens this year, but I’d be remiss if I left her off this list.

State Rep. Sarah Davis and State Rep. Jim Murphy – Both are incumbent Republican State Reps, and I’m lumping them together here. Davis has a decent chance of losing this year, and while Murphy will be a favorite to win in 2020, he may find himself in the House minority, and decide it’s not to his liking. Houston is a Democratic city, but as establishment, business-friendly, moderate-by-modern-GOP-standards Republicans, you could imagine one of them at least making it to a runoff in the way Bill King did in 2015, and if things broke right, they could win. As with everyone else on this list they can raise plenty of money, and if Texas is still run by Republicans in 2023 they could argue that they’re better positioned to defend our local autonomy better than any Dem running.

Abbie Kamin – I know, she was just elected to District C, and incumbent Council members don’t have a strong track record in Mayoral races (Dwight Boykins, Steve Costello, Peter Brown, Orlando Sanchez, Chris Bell, Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz…you get the point), but in both the November and December races her performance was impressive, she was one of the best fundraisers of the cycle, and having District C as your base is a pretty good jumping off point, especially in a multi-candidate field where the goal is to make it to round 2. Like I said, this is just me thinking out loud.

Orlando Sanchez – Yeah, him again. You just know he’s going to keep running for things. He has name recognition, he did better than expected in losing to Chris Brown, and hey, the third time was the charm for Sylvester Turner. Why not Orlando?

The field – Not every Mayoral contender is visible from a distance. Every recent competitive race has featured at least one wealthy non-politician type, some more successful than others (Bob Lanier, Bill White, Rob Mosbacher, Gene Locke, Ben Hall, Bill King, that guy from 2019). I’ll be surprised if 2023 is an exception, but I have no idea who that person may be at this time. Similarly, every competitive race has had at least one strong black candidate, and if Amanda Edwards sits it out, someone else will step up. One or more people that no one is thinking of now will be on the radar in 2023. Ask me again in a couple of years and we’ll see who that might be.

That’s my list. Who would you add?

Oh God, I have to mention Tony Buzbee again

There goes one New Year’s resolution.

Straight outta The Hights

There is a plate of crawfish on the table in front of Tony Buzbee, who has substituted his jeans-and-jacket campaign garb for a baby blue sweatshirt and Texas A&M baseball cap.

The setting: Crawfish & Noodles on Bellaire Boulevard, where Buzbee — three weeks removed from an unsuccessful mayoral bid — is facing a camera held by his girlfriend, Frances Moody, and digging into the ample helping of crawfish.

“The reason we know these are fresh is because they’re small, because it’s the very beginning of the season. Beware of large crawfish at this time of year,” Buzbee says, poking a finger at the camera. “Beware of places that freeze their crawfish. You want ‘em fresh.”

The 54-second video was posted Sunday to Buzbee’s Facebook page, which until recently promoted his campaign for Houston mayor. It since has been converted to a page for his new show, Uninvited, which Buzbee says will feature deep-dives into Houston restaurants, their owners and the food they serve.

Each of the 13 episodes will spotlight a different restaurant and likely will be posted online mid-summer, once a week on Facebook and YouTube, Buzbee said.

Five restaurants already have signed on to participate, and a crew is filming a promo for the show Thursday. Buzbee also has launched the rough draft of a website, tonybuzbeeuninvited.com, which still includes some dummy text and a few typos. And he has posted three teaser videos on Facebook, including the crawfish one.

[…]

“I thought I was Trump. Now I’m Anthony Bourdain,” he said. “That’s one comparison I would damn well take.”

There are links in the story to that video and the website, but you can click over there to find them, I’ve already done too much. Just be aware that if you do go to his website, you will see pictures like this, so be prepared. Local Twitter is having a field day with this, with Nonsequiteuse having the most fun, so start there if you want to pile on.

One more thing:

Buzbee said the show will not impede on his law practice, to which he has returned full time since embarking on a post-election vacation he documented through a series of posts on Instagram. Buzbee also previously tried his hand at travel blogging, though his blog has remained dormant since he published a handful of posts in 2018.

Not just anyone has what it takes to be a blogger, let me tell you. Once a dilettante…

Mayor Turner’s second term begins

He’s on the clock now.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Freshly sworn in Thursday morning, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner promised to make significant strides in street repairs and flood control while boosting services for the city’s homeless in his second term.

He also called on private businesses and nonprofits to be more generous in their giving, saying they are crucial to helping the cash-strapped city fund his signature initiatives, including the Complete Communities neighborhood program.

“We ask financial institutions, businesses, developers, nonprofits and endowments to leverage their resources with the city and with one another to share the risks and expedite the transformation,” Turner said his inaugural speech at the Wortham Center. “Though many have stepped forward to assist, we are still missing that level of support, the investments that will serve as game-changers for those under-served communities in our city.”

Turner easily prevailed in the Dec. 14 runoff election over second-place finisher Tony Buzbee. In a post-election interview with the Chronicle, Turner promised to make transformational changes in his final term, including restructuring the fire department, accelerating the city’s permitting process and repairing streets as top priorities.

See here for some background. Turner is the first Mayor to have a four-year lame-duck term, but being in one’s last term has not been a hindrance to getting big things done in the past. Mayor Parker shepherded HERO through in 2015 (yes, that subsequently went south, but it was still passed by Council) and Mayor Brown oversaw the completion of the Main Street light rail line and the passage of the 2003 referendum that led to more light rail being built in his last year. I don’t think anyone will perceive of Mayor Turner as being in his last term until the candidates for the next Mayoral race begin to make themselves known. So barring big external events that force themselves onto the priority list (you know, like another big flood) I’d expect him to have the opportunity to get more big things done. He should have a fairly amenable Council, and at least some of the items on his list will have broad support. We’ll see how he does.

Precinct analysis: 2019 HD148 special election

I started this post while doing other precinct analysis stuff. Didn’t finish it with the others, but now that the legislative special election runoffs are next up on the calendar, I thought I’d finish it off. First, here’s how the main Mayoral candidates did in HD148:


Turner    9,631
Turner%  44.65%

Buzbee    6,280
Buzbee%  29.11%

King      2,947
King%    13.66%

Boykins   1,253
Boykins%  5.81%

Lovell      467
Lovell%   2.16%

Others      993
Others%   4.60%

Not actually all that different than how they did overall in Harris County. Mayor Turner was about 1.7 percentage points lower, while Sue Lovell gained 0.86 points. Oddly, it was the “Other” candidates who collectively gained the most, going from 3.72% overall to 4.60% in HD148, for a gain of 0.88 points. Keeping it weird, y’all.

Since I started this before the runoff, and even before the date for the HD148 runoff was set, I wondered what the effect might be of having Anna Eastman and Luis LaRotta slug it out at the same time as Mayor Turner and that other guy. I decided to zoom in on the best precincts for Eastman and LaRotta and see how the Mayorals did in them:


Eastman top 4

Eastman 1,557
LaRotta   557
Dem     1,508
GOP       547
Others  2,055

Turner  2,389
Buzbee    974
King      592
Others    370

LaRotta top 4

Eastman   242
LaRotta   600
Dem     1,006
GOP       515
Others  1,521

Turner    835
Buzbee  1,001
King      412
Others    245

Putting it another way, Anna Eastman’s best precincts were more Democratic, and more favorable to Turner, than LaRotta’s precincts were Republican and favorable to That Guy. Didn’t much matter in the end, but I was curious, and that’s what I learned.

Finally, there’s always the question of how much turnout efforts from one race can affect another. For sure, the Mayoral race was the big turnout driver in Houston in November, but as overall turnout was below thirty percent, there would still be plenty of people in HD148 who would normally vote in an even-year election, when this race is supposed to be on the ballot, but who may not vote in odd-year races. To try to get a handle on this, I looked at the undervote rate in the Mayor’s race in HD148, and compared it to the overall undervote rate for the Mayorals. In Harris County, 1.59% of the people who showed up to vote in November did not cast a ballot in the Mayor’s race. The undervote rate in the HD148 special was 5.87%, which is another way of saying it was the Mayor’s race that drove the majority of the action.

In the HD148 precincts, all of which are in the city of Houston, there were 22,001 total votes cast, according to the draft canvass sent to me by the County Clerk. That’s a smidge less than what you’ll see on the official election report, which is almost certainly a combination of cured provisional ballots (my canvass does not include provisional votes), split precincts (many voting precincts are partly in and partly not in the city of Houston, which makes all of the calculations I do that also involve non-city entities a little fuzzy), and whatever stupid errors I made with Excel. Be that as it may, of those 22,001 cast ballots, there were 387 non-votes in the Mayor’s race, for an undervote rate in the HD148 precincts of 1.76%, a hair higher than the overall undervote rate. If the voters in HD148 had skipped the Mayor’s race at the same rate as voters everywhere else in Harris County skipped it, there would have been only 350 Mayoral undervotes.

So, I’d say that the turnout effect of the HD148 special election was pretty small, since the voters in that race behaved very much like voters elsewhere. Perhaps if this had been a higher-profile race, with more money and a longer time on the ballot and a clearer partisan split – in other words, a race more like the HD28 special election – we might have seen more people who came out to vote for it and who had less interest in the other races, and thus a higher undervote rate in the Mayoral election. Sadly, we won’t know what that might look like at this time. I should note that I have no idea how many of the 1,288 non-voters in the HD148 special were also non-voters in the Mayoral race; there’s just no way to tell that from the data I have. Maybe some of those people were just there to vote for the Constitutional amendments, or the Metro referendum, or District H, or who knows what. I feel on reasonably firm ground saying that the turnout effect of the Mayor’s race was considerably higher than the turnout effect of the HD148 special election. Anything beyond that needs more study. You’re welcome.

HD28 poll: Markowitz 42, Gates 42

From the inbox:

Eliz Markowitz

With the crowded field now narrowed to two, a new internal poll shows Dr. Eliz Markowitz (D) in a dead heat — 42 to 42 —with her Republican challenger, perennial candidate Gary Gates, in the race to replace retiring State Representative John Zerwas in Texas House District 28.

“Dr. Eliz Markowitz has a big opportunity to flip the 28th,” noted lead pollster, Terrance Woodbury with HIT Strategies. Markowitz starts off in a dead heat, but with less name ID, simply “introducing likely voters to Dr. Markowitz moves them to vote for her in a big way,” Woodbury added. “After just hearing a short bio on her, 58 percent of voters say they are more likely to vote for her.”

House District 28 lies in the heart of Fort Bend County, a rapidly growing community the Houston Chronicle calls, “the model of diversity.” Fort Bend has also experienced increasingly competitive elections, including the 2018 election of Brian Middleton, the county’s first Democratic District Attorney in 26 years. Woodbury notes of their recent poll, “a plurality of voters in this district (43 percent) believe that we need to send Democrats to the Texas legislature that can work across the aisle and fix the hyper-partisanship that is stagnating our politics.”

“The poll reflects what we’re seeing on the ground,” noted Odus Evbagharu, Campaign Manager for Markowitz. “Eliz’s personal story of fighting for education and accessible health care speaks to the issue priorities of our community and the problem-solving leadership voters are looking for.”

The poll, conducted by HIT Strategies and commissioned by The Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee, surveyed 500 likely runoff voters in Texas’ 28th State House between December 10-16, 2019 with a +/- 4.4% margin of error.

You can see the polling memo, which doesn’t actually tell you anything about the poll, here. You should of course take this with several grains of salt – there’s no details about the poll, which was done by the campaign in question, it’s one data point, no one has any idea how to model “likely voters” in a January special election runoff, etc etc etc. That doesn’t mean there’s no value in this, or that a media/academic poll would be more accurate, just a reminder to keep some perspective. It’s also a reminder that this runoff, as well as the one in HD148, is still out there, and early voting will be upon us for it before you know it, which is to say on Tuesday the 21st; the election is the following Tuesday, the 28th. There will only be four days of early voting, as Monday the 20th is MLK Day. We’re all very focused on the primaries now, but let’s not lose sight of the business we already have.

Morath’s big talk

But can he back it up?

In his first public comments about plans to strip power from Houston ISD’s elected trustees, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Tuesday that the district’s leaders have engaged in “chronic neglect” of children in long-struggling schools, requiring the appointment of a replacement governing board that will better direct resources to HISD’s neediest students.

In an hourlong interview with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board, Morath said he wants the replacement governing board to close achievement gaps by improving the district’s pre-kindergarten offerings, placing more high-performing staff at low-rated campuses and re-establishing strong leadership practices during its temporary stay in power. He faulted the district’s elected trustees for failing to address achievement issues in HISD’s longest-struggling campuses, several of which have received multiple consecutive failing grades in the past decade.

“This is how you make real inroads on the achievement gap: you get very serious about resource allocation,” Morath said. “It’s about money and talent. This is, in fact, an underlying root cause as to why you have some of the highest-performing schools in the state and some chronically under-performing schools, all in the same district. It’s a tale of two cities.”

[…]

In his comments Tuesday, Morath made clear that he expects the appointed board to address a few key areas, including “a systemic investment in early childhood education” and “how we properly support teachers and incent them” to work at chronically low-performing campuses. However, Morath said he will allow appointed board members and the superintendent to craft plans for meeting those goals.

“I would expect the board to use its judgment and proceed in a strategic direction that they think, given the intel that’s coming to them, makes the most sense for the kids and taxpayers of Houston,” Morath said.

I mean, if Mike Morath thinks that his appointed trustees can make significant improvements without screwing anything up, blowing a hole in the budget, or taking action that significantly contravenes popular will, then more power to them. As the story notes, HISD already offers pre-K (even though the state has historically not paid for it) and also already offers bonuses for teachers who work at underperforming campuses. It’s not that no one has thought of this stuff before, it’s that doing it right costs money, and I don’t see any plans for the state to address that. But hey, if they really can move the ball forward and leave the district in better shape than they found it, then that would be great. I’ll need to see it happen first.

On a side note:

Morath added that the district’s four newly elected trustees, who will be seated in January, cannot join the appointed board. Three of the four election victors say they have applied or plan to apply, believing they were eligible.

I kind of figured this would be the case, since the word from the TEA all along has been that it will be two years or so before they start reinstating the elected trustees, but a whole lot is up in the air now, so who knows what could have been. I remain sympathetic to the argument that the newly-elected Board members have already solved part of the problem that the takeover is supposed to fix, but clearly Mike Morath is not. This is perhaps another aspect of the law in question that should be reviewed by the next Legislature.

District B runoff lawsuit hearing set

Let’s hope for a quick verdict.

Cynthia Bailey

The stalled runoff in Houston city council District B likely will have to wait until May, if not longer, leaving north Houston neighborhoods without a new representative for months after the council convenes in January.

The election has been mired in a lawsuit that county officials said forced them to pull the race from the Dec. 14 ballot, when the dozen other city runoffs were decided. It then also missed the deadline to make the Jan. 28 ballot, when the county was holding a special election for a vacant seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

While the lawsuit inched a bit closer to a resolution Friday, with set of a trial date on Jan. 24, county officials said the runoff could not be held on March 3, when a slew of primary contests will be decided. Texas law states that “no other election may be held on the date of a primary election.”

County officials said the next scheduled election would be May 2, when smaller cities and school districts typically hold municipal and board elections, though a judge could have discretion on whether to schedule a special election. Harris County Special Assistant Attorney Douglas Ray said the County Clerk’s office would need about seven weeks notice to conduct a special election.

[…]

Presiding Judge Susan Brown set the Jan. 24 trial date Friday and tapped former Harris County Judge Grant Dorfman to be the special judge on the case.

The appointment is required by state law, which calls for a special judge whose judicial district does not include any territory covered by the election and who does not live in the territory.

See here and here for the background. At this point, there are three possible outcomes:

1. A final ruling from a court. That doesn’t mean it has to go all the way to the Supreme Court, just that the higher courts refuse to hear an appeal. The ideal situation here is for this to happen in time for the May election. I don’t even want to think about how much longer this could get dragged out if there isn’t a final resolution by mid-March, which would be the legal deadline for this election to happen in May.

2. Renee Jefferson Smith quits pursuing the case. Maybe that happens after the district court rules, or maybe she just decides at some point it’s no longer worth it to her. The first possibility could happen, the second seems extremely unlikely.

3. Cynthia Bailey could choose to withdraw from the runoff and concede the election to Tarsha Jackson. In theory, if she did that today, Tarsha Jackson would be sworn in with the other Council members in January. I say “in theory” because Jefferson Smith could continue to litigate, with the claim that Bailey shouldn’t have been on the ballot at all, so either the whole election should be done over or there should be a Jackson-Jefferson Smith runoff for the seat. I don’t think that argument would get very far in a court, but she might be allowed to make it, in which case we’d still be on hold till that was resolved. I also think it’s highly unlikely that Bailey would throw in the towel – she’s come this far, she’s making a principled stand on a righteous position, she’s not the one holding everything up – but it’s a thing that could happen.

Add it up, and the the best case scenario is likely the May 2 election. Hope for the best, that’s all I can say.

Meanwhile, in other Council race news:

With that, the District H race is settled. Congratulations to Karla Cisneros for her victory, and my sincere thanks to Isabel Longoria for running a strong and engaging race.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

The female face of City Council

Houston City Council is majority female for the first time in over a decade.

Starting next year, a record nine women will serve on Houston City Council amid a shift toward a younger and more progressive council for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s second term.

The new council will include no more than two Hispanic and no Asian members, however, with Anglo council members holding at least eight seats and the other six represented by African-American members.

It remains unclear whether District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos, the lone Latino on City Council, will be joined by Isabel Longoria, who finished 12 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Karla Cisneros in the District H runoff, according to unofficial returns.

[…]

The nine total women on council edges the previous record of eight who were elected in 2005.

The council’s African-American representation also will expand from four to six.

Fun fact: That Council class of 2005 included Addie Wiseman and Shelley Sekula Gibbs. I don’t really have a point to make here, I’m just noting that because I remember things like that.

In other Council news:

Regardless of who wins the District H runoff, Latino council members will hold no more than two seats out of 16, in a city where Latinos make up 44.5 percent of the population, according to 2018 census data.

Part of that disparity comes from Latinos making up a smaller share of the electorate: Houston’s registered voters are 23 percent Latino, according to data from Hector De Leon, a former communications director for the Harris County Clerk’s Office who studies Houston-area voting patterns.

“African Americans and Anglos are roughly 45 percent of the population combined, but they constitute 85 percent of the total vote. And elections are determined by people who turn out and vote,” [Jay] Aiyer said.

Registration among young, Latino voters has increased “dramatically” in recent years, in part because of President Donald Trump and mobilization efforts by political groups, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at University of Houston.

Houston’s Latino voting blocs also have fewer options, he said, because of the city’s use of at-large positions, which are elected on citywide basis.

“The problem is that the minority votes are compacted in one part of the city so it makes it very hard for them to win an election,” Cortina said. “They get drowned, for lack of a better word, by the votes of the majority.”

To strengthen Latino representation on council and in other offices, [CM Robert] Gallegos said he intends to pitch the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the idea of starting a mentoring program to educate young Hispanics about pursuing careers in politics.

In the meantime, Gallegos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I represent the Hispanic community in the city of Houston, even though I’m a district council member.”

I take issue with what Professor Cortina says – I’m pretty sure a review of the Census tracts in Houston would prove his statement to be inaccurate. If nothing else, Sandra Rodriguez came close to winning District J, which is on the opposite end of the city from H and I. The situation isn’t great right now, but it’s not hopeless.

Be that as it may, let me put this out there for you: The three top Latinx vote-getters in At Large races were Yolanda Navarro Flores (At Large #1, 18.30% in Harris County), Emily Munoz deToto (At Large #2, 21.09%), and Jose Gonzalez (At Large #3, 19.24%). The three of them combined raised literally no money. There were five Latinx candidates in the two open seat At Large races (Cristel Bastida and Javier Gonzalez in #4, Ralph Garcia, Catherine Garcia Flowers, and Sonia Rivera in #5). None of them raised more than a trivial amount of money, though the three in At Large #5 combined for over 27% of the vote, enough to have led the field if they were one candidate.

My point here is that stronger Latinx candidates in the citywide races would also help. I don’t have much to say about Orlando Sanchez, but he came within six points of being elected Controller, and if there had been a third candidate in that race there likely would have been a runoff between him and incumbent Chris Brown, and who knows what might have happened in that race. The Latinx At Large candidates in 2019 didn’t amount to much, but at least they were running. In 2015, there was a grand total of two Latinx candidates in At Large races: Moe Rivera in #2, and Roy Morales in #4, who squeaked into the runoff where he got crushed by Amanda Edwards. I feel like I’ve been saying this since Joe Trevino lost in the At Large #5 runoff to Jolanda Jones in 2007, an election in which there were 25K total votes cast, but maybe focus a little on recruiting strong Latinx candidates to run in the At Large races, and then support them financially? Just a thought.

This is also a possibility.

This near-absence of Latinos undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government and leads to an inadequate representation of Latino preferences in city policymaking. Houston’s political, economic and societal leaders must take action immediately to insure that in the 2023 election we do not witness a repeat of the 2019 election.

There are two principal types of representation, descriptive and substantive. Descriptive representation reflects the extent to which the composition of a legislature mirrors the population it represents. With Latinos accounting for 6 percent of the council and for 45percent of the population, it’s clear Houston earns a failing grade in descriptive representation. This grade will sink even lower with the dearth of Asian Americans on the council; 7 percent of Houston residents are Asian American.

Substantive representation reflects the extent to which members of a legislature promote the preferences of their constituents. While not an ironclad rule, the American Politics literature suggests that, all other things being roughly equal, an individual’s policy preferences are better represented by a legislator from their own ethnic or racial group. With one Latino council member, the substantive policy interests of Latino residents are being sub-optimally represented in crucial policy areas ranging from public safety and social services to road construction and job creation.

Four initiatives can help boost the number of Latinos in the council horseshoe in four years time.

First, eliminate the city’s five at-large council seats and replace them with five single-member district seats in addition to the existing 11 single-member district seats. The last time a Latino was elected to one of the five at-large positions was in 1999, with nine consecutive elections (45 separate contests) in a row where no Latino has been victorious. This year, all five at-large races were decided in a runoff, yet among the 10 runoff candidates there were zero Latinos.

Once the 2020 US Census data are available, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council could easily abolish the five at-large districts and create 16 new, less populous, single-member districts for the 2023 election. Since the shift from at-large to single-member districts enhances minority voting rights, it should be bullet-proof from legal challenge. If the number of single-member districts were increased to 16, it would be possible to draw five or six districts where Latino registered voters constitute an absolute or near absolute majority as well as one district where Asian Americans account for the largest share of voters.

That’s an op-ed from oft-quoted poli sci prof Mark Jones. I personally see no reason why Latinx candidates can’t get elected to at large positions. It’s not like there have been a bunch of frustrating near misses from well-regarded and sufficiently-funded candidates. We did elect Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz to citywide positions in the past. Jones’ other points include things like more voter registration, a focused effort on Latino turnout in city elections, and more recruitment and support of Latinx candidates. I’m on board with all of that, and I would argue that those things can and will lead to Latinx candidates getting elected citywide. If I’m wrong about that, I’ll gladly concede the point about getting rid of At Large districts. In the meantime, I do think there’s some value in having At Large Council members, as a backup for the districts when there’s an unexpected vacancy, as there was in District H in 2009 following Adrian Garcia’s election as Sheriff, and in District K in 2018 following the death of Larry Green. I’m not opposed to Jones’ proposal, but I don’t think it’s necessary to solve the problem.

Next up for Mayor Turner

A preview of his second term agenda.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would seek to enact “transformational” changes in his second term, previewing an agenda that will require city leaders to confront politically difficult issues and vastly expand the use of public-private partnerships — a critical step for some of the mayor’s otherwise unfunded signature programs.

Fresh off his re-election victory over Tony Buzbee, Turner also spoke in new detail Sunday about his plans to restructure the fire department, accelerate the city’s permitting process, build a new theme park and intensify efforts to repair damaged streets.

“I said when I came in, in 2015, I wasn’t going to ignore things because they were not politically convenient. That has not changed,” Turner said in an interview with the Chronicle. “If I have to expend political capital to get some things done, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Chief among Turner’s priorities, he said, is to improve Houston’s flood mitigation infrastructure and quicken the pace of recovery from Hurricane Harvey, which has lagged. The key flood control projects, Turner said, are the construction of new gates on the Lake Houston dam, detention basins in Inwood Forest, the North Canal Bypass channel and an underground detention basin south of the Memorial City area.

Three of the projects have received initial funding through a federal grant program that covers a large share of the cost, with only the underground basin awaiting approval.

More immediately, Turner faces a burgeoning flood control challenge in the General Land Office’s cap on how much Houston and other local governments may draw from a $4.3 billion federal mitigation aid package. Since Harvey, Turner has sparred over the recovery process with Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Gov. Greg Abbott, both of whom wield influence over how the resources are dealt.

Turner said he has no interest in “fighting somebody just to be fighting,” but stressed that he would push for Houston to receive a bigger chunk of the aid.

“I want to work with the governor and I want to work with the GLO, but when it comes to making sure that those dollars benefit people in Houston-Harris County that were impacted by Harvey and can be impacted by another storm, how do you justify a disproportionate amount of those dollars going to some other place?” Turner said. “I don’t think you can make that case.”

[…]

Next term, Turner also said he would look to restructure the fire department by switching from a four-shift to a three-shift work schedule, which is generally viewed as more arduous and is opposed by the firefighters union.

Turner affirmed that such a move would involve lobbying the Legislature to raise the baseline at which firefighters begin accruing overtime pay. Under state law, Houston firefighters begin collecting overtime pay when they work for more than an average of 46.7 weekly hours during a 72-day work cycle. Without the added overtime cost, firefighters in other cities often work 53- or 56-hour weeks, with many operating on a three-shift cycle.

Calling the department’s model “archaic” and “not reflective of the current needs,” the mayor contended that these changes would allow HFD to more efficiently handle calls classified as EMS. Those calls make up more than 80 percent of the incidents handled by the fire department, though the fire union has noted that a far lower share of the department’s “man-hours” are spent responding to EMS calls.

There’s a long list, and we didn’t discuss the plan for HERO 2.0, which will surely use some of that capital as well. If there was ever a time to make changes to how the Fire Department operates, it’s now – the firefighters went all in on beating Turner, and they lost. I foresee a rocky road with Harvey recovery money, because it’s more in Greg Abbott and George P. Bush’s political interests to clash with Turner over how the funds are doled out and managed than it is for them to play nice and get things done. For everything else, political capital has a shelf life. We’ll be talking about the next Mayor’s race before you know it. The more the Mayor can get done next year, the better.

District H status

The closest election we had on Saturday remains unsettled.

CM Karla Cisneros

Just a dozen votes separate Houston City Council District H contenders Karla Cisneros and Isabel Longoria, and it may come down to an undetermined number of provisional, overseas and military ballots to determine a winner in the race.

According to the Harris County Clerk’s office, incumbent Cisneros had edged out Longoria by just .12 percent of the vote in Saturday’s runoff election. Cisneros won 5,283 votes or 50.06 percent, and Longoria received 5,271 votes, or 49.94 percent of ballots counted.

Longoria could request a recount under Texas election law. When the difference in the number of votes received between the two candidates (12 in the District H race) is less than 10 percent of the number of total votes received by the race winner (528 votes, in Cisneros’ case), the losing candidate could petition for a recount, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Longoria has not yet committed to requesting a recount, nor has she conceded in the race. The deadline to file a recount request is 5 p.m. Dec. 22, two days after Harris County will canvass or officially tally the votes.

“I will wait for every vote to be counted before making any decisions about a recount or other process,” Longoria said in a press release Sunday morning.

[…]

Trautman’s office can receive overseas and military ballots up to six days after an election, said Teneshia Hudspeth, a Harris County Clerk’s Office spokesperson. They do not know how many provisional ballots were cast.

It has no way of identifying if any of those ballots cast a vote for District H until the election canvass, Hudspeth said.

You can see the election night returns here, and Longoria’s press release here. I expect two things to happen: One, for Longoria to ask for a recount. She has every right to do this, and there’s no good reason not to do it. This was a super close race, and everything should be double-checked according to the rules. And two, I expect the recount will make no difference. They almost never do. There just aren’t that many overseas and military ballots, and there were never that many provisional ballots that ultimately counted. By all means, go through the process, but keep your expectations about what will happen as a result modest.

Council results

With one race still up in the air as I draft this:

With early voting tallies and most of Saturday’s Election Day results posted, Houston’s three incumbent at-large council members facing runoffs had won, while District H incumbent Karla Cisneros held the slimmest of leads over challenger Isabel Longoria. Four other incumbents already have reclaimed their seats, having won outright on Nov. 5: Dave Martin (District E), Greg Travis (District G), Robert Gallegos (District I) and Martha Castex-Tatum (District K).

At least half of the 16-member council will be new — five current members are term-limited and three vacated their seats: Dwight Boykins (District D) made a failed bid for mayor, Amanda Edwards (At-Large 4) is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, and Steve Le (District F) decided not to seek re-election.

One council race will not be decided Saturday: The third-place finisher in District B has filed lawsuits contesting the election and challenging the second-place finisher’s eligibility, citing her 2007 felony theft conviction and a state law that appears to bar candidates with such convictions from running for office. No election date has been set.

The simplest way to summarize what happened is this tweet:

With 367 of 385 voting centers reporting, Karla Cisneros had a 25-vote lead over Isabel Longoria. It had been a 14-vote lead with 323 centers reporting. Longoria had chipped away at Cisneros’ lead all evening. I have to think this one is going to get recounted, so whatever the final numbers are, expect this to remain an unsettled question for a little longer.

The At Large results could have been better, but they were sufficiently close in #4 and #5 that they also could have been a lot worse. When Mayor Turner puts forward a new version of HERO, he should have ten of sixteen Council votes in his favor. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, congratulations to all the winners.

HISD and HCC results

From the HISD runoffs:

Early election results showed Houston ISD school board candidates Kathy Blueford-Daniels and Patricia Allen with comfortable leads in their runoff races Saturday, as they aim to fill the final two seats on the district’s closely watched governance team.

With absentee and early votes counted, as well as 38 percent of precincts reporting, Blueford-Daniels, a retired postal manager, led City Council aide John C. Gibbs by a wide margin, mirroring her strong showing in the November general election.

Allen, a retired HISD administrator, appeared poised to break away from management consultant Matt Barnes after the pair each earned about 30 percent of the general election.

The two victors Saturday will join two newcomers who defeated incumbents in November’s general election. Judith Cruz and Dani Hernandez easily topped Diana Dávila and Sergio Lira, respectively, each earning about 64 percent of the vote.

Blueford-Daniels was leading by about 25 points as most voting centers had reported. Allen was up by about nine points. Congratulations to them both, and all the best in what should be a very challenging next few years.

And some very good news from the HCC races.

Monica Flores Richart

Early results in two Houston Community College Board of Trustees runoff races show Rhonda Skillern-Jones with a commanding lead, while Monica Flores Richart and Dave Wilson are locked in a tight battle.

With absentee and early-voting results tallied, as well as 38 percent of precincts reporting, Skillern-Jones, who has served on the Houston ISD school board for the past eight years, comfortably led longtime educator Kathy Lynch-Gunter in the race for District II. Skillern-Jones entered as a clear favorite after taking 45 percent of the general election vote to Lynch-Gunter’s 25 percent.

In District I, Flores Richart, a lawyer, held a slight lead over Wilson, who resigned from his HCC trustee seat in August and switched districts ahead of the race. Flores Richart nearly emerged from the general election with an outright victory, earning 48 percent of the vote to Wilson’s 32 percent.

[…]

The two winners will join newcomer Cynthia Lenton-Gary, who ran unopposed, on the nine-member board. A fourth new trustee will join the board next year if current HCC Board chair Carolyn Evans-Shabazz were to maintain her strong early lead Saturday in her Houston City Council race. Evans-Shabazz will have to resign her seat to join the council.

Flores Richart built on her lead on Election Day. May we never be cursed with Dave Wilson again.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz is on her way to winning in District D, so we’ll have a new Trustee in her place early next year. With Neeta Sane running for Fort Bend County tax Assessor, we could have two new HCC Trustees before the 2021 election.

Runoff Day is today

Hang in there, it’s almost over.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A nearly year-long mayoral election that culminated in a subdued runoff between Tony Buzbee and incumbent Sylvester Turner comes to an end Saturday when voters decide who wins control over City Hall for the next four years.

Buzbee, a millionaire businessman and trial lawyer, has sought out voters of all political stripes by citing his ties to both parties. For months, he has painted Turner as a corrupt career politician who had run the city into the ground, regularly reminding voters he self-funded his own campaign to avoid the appearance that he is beholden to campaign donors.

Turner, a longtime Democratic state legislator who is finishing his first four-year term, has painted a rosy picture of conditions in Houston, arguing that he has overseen an uptick in the police force and laid the groundwork to diversify the city’s economy through tech and start-up businesses. He also has pitched himself as an astute steward of the city’s finances, pointing to his signature feat: a major overhaul of the city’s costly pension systems.

During the runoff, the two candidates have focused on presenting their plans for the next four years, a marked difference from the general election, when they spent millions of dollars attacking each other. Since Nov. 5, when Turner finished about 19 percentage points ahead of Buzbee, the two have not faced off in a debate, with Turner almost ignoring his foe entirely.

“I think the realization was that Mayor Turner got 47 percent of the vote, and so, if he just didn’t make an embarrassing gaffe or make a wrong move, the election was his to win,” said Michael Adams, chairman of Texas Southern University’s political science department.

See here for the background. I’ve gotten multiple robocalls urging me to vote for Turner (and a few to vote for other candidates, like Raj Salhotra), culminating with one I got on Friday from rightwing radio host Sam Malone on behalf of Tony Buzbee. I finally saw a Buzbee ad on TV a couple days ago – it almost made me nostalgic, it had been so long since I had last seen one. In the meantime, Buzbee has been busy flip flopping on HERO again – what are the odds he could tell you right now what his most recent position on it is? All I know is that as of about 7 PM this evening, I can officially no longer give a shit about anything Tony Buzbee says or does.

Polling locations are here. As a reminder, you can vote at any location. My guess is that more than half of the final vote tally has already happened. I’ll have a report in the morning.

We continue to wait on the District B runoff

Ugh.

Cynthia Bailey

Any hope for a speedy resolution to a lawsuit that is holding up the runoff for Houston’s District B city council seat evaporated Wednesday when the presiding judge for the Houston region said she would not assign a special judge to take over the lawsuit until the state Supreme Court weighs in on a related case.

“Once that happens, she will make an assignment if necessary,” said Rebecca Brite, assistant for Presiding Judge Susan Brown. “We do not know when that will be.”

Brown is the presiding judge for the 11th Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, which includes Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Wharton and Matagorda counties.

Attorneys on both sides of the dispute had expected Brown to make an assignment in the contentious case by Wednesday.

[…]

Two days after the election, Jefferson-Smith asked a judge for an emergency order declaring Bailey ineligible. Judge Dedra Davis denied that request, as did the First Court of Appeals. The attorneys now are submitting arguments to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Jefferson-Smith filed a separate lawsuit on Nov. 15, formally contesting the election results and renewing the argument about Bailey’s eligibility.

[…]

“We are waiting for the complete appellate process to conclude,” Brite said.

Nicole Bates, who represents Jefferson-Smith, had said earlier this week she expected an assignment by Wednesday “at the latest.”

“I think (the appeal) clears the path to address those issues concerning eligibility, that the election contest will not,” Bates said after Brown’s announcement.

Bailey’s lawyer, Oliver Brown — no relation to the presiding judge — said the appeal would not resolve the election contest that county officials say is holding up the runoff.

“It should’ve happened already,” Brown said of the judicial assignment.

See here for the previous update. I assume that Jefferson Smith had filed a writ of mandamus, which is now with the Supreme Court, to request that Bailey be removed from the ballot. That was the mechanism that the HERO haters used to get their referendum on the ballot in 2015. The Supreme Court moves on its own timeline, though perhaps the exigent circumstances in this case will motivate them to shake a leg. But whatever the case, we’re waiting on them for the second lawsuit to be assigned and heard. I wasn’t optimistic before, and I’m less so now. I truly have no idea how long this will take.

KHOU/HPM runoff poll: Turner 56, Buzbee 34

Feels about right.

Mayor Sylvester Turner leads Tony Buzbee among likely voters in the December 14 runoff election for Mayor by 56 percent to 34 percent, with 6 percent of voters undecided. Another 5 percent of respondents refused to reveal for whom they would vote.

Support for the Mayoral runoff candidates does not vary significantly among voters who are certain to vote in the runoff election and those who are very likely to vote in the runoff election.

“There’s really nowhere for Tony Buzbee to go and I think proof of that is he’s not buying a lot of TV ads, he’s not spending the kind of money he spent in the general election,” said Bob Stein, KHOU political analyst.

Among voters who supported Bill King in the November general election, 53 percent now support Tony Buzbee and 37 percent support Mayor Turner.

Among voters who identify as Democrat, Republican or Independent, the majority of Democratic voters support Turner and the majority of Republican voters support Buzbee. Votes for either candidate are roughly the same among Independent voters.

“This is a partisan vote, the mayor is winning well over 90% of democratic voters, but he’s picking up almost 20% of Republican voters,” Stein said.

See here and here for the November polls done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, both of which showed Turner leading Buzbee by about 20 points. I said after Election Day that all of Buzbee’s voters plus all of King’s voters were still less than all of Turner’s voters, so if Buzbee is only getting a big more than half of King’s voters, he’s in very deep doodoo. And as we know from the Keir Murray analysis, the electorate is much more Democratic than Republican, as is the city as a whole. It all makes sense, is what I’m saying. Note that the sample for this poll is “234 of the 516 registered voters who were previously interviewed in September and October 2019”, which is both a little weird and makes the margin of error higher than usual, but since the vast majority of runoff voters are people who voted in November, it’s quite reasonable. HPM has more.

Chron overview of the HISD runoffs

We had overviews of all the Council runoffs, but there are other races to consider.

Kathy Blueford Daniels

Voters in parts of Houston ISD return to the polls next Saturday to complete an overhaul of the district’s much-maligned school board, which will have four new members seated in January.

Runoff elections in District II, which covers large swaths of northern Houston, and District IV, home to parts of downtown and south-central Houston, pit four newcomers promising to refocus attention on students following months of acrimony on the board. None of the candidates earned the necessary 50 percent of the vote in November’s general election to win outright.

In District II, retired postal manager Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who earned 43 percent of the vote in the Nov. 5 general election, looks to hold off city council aide John C. Gibbs, who trailed with 22 percent.

In District IV, the race between retired HISD principal Patricia Allen and management consultant Matt Barnes figures to be close after Allen received 31 percent of the general election vote and Barnes snagged 30 percent.

[…]

After narrowly missing an outright victory in her five-candidate general election, Blueford-Daniels enters the runoff as the favorite to replace incumbent Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who is seeking a seat on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees. Blueford-Daniels and Gibbs both graduated from District II high schools in the mid-1970s — Wheatley and Booker T. Washington, respectively — and serve as community activists primarily on the city’s northeast side.

Blueford-Daniels said her managerial experience and dedication to reforming a dysfunctional school board should propel her to victory.

“I want to be that conduit between the administration and HISD, to find out what people in the community want for their children,” Blueford-Daniels said. “I know we won’t be directly engaged with administration and the schools, but I think I can relate to them.”

Gibbs said his deep ties to the district, burnished as a community outreach liaison for Houston City Councilmember Michael Kubosh for the past six years, give him the edge over Blueford-Daniels.

“You need to know personalities and people and issues that are indigenous to those particular schools and communities,” Gibbs said. “I know what the issues have been, and nobody is looking at the systemic problems that have to be solved.”

Blueford-Daniels and Gibbs both advocate for returning more vocational programs to high schools in District II, many of which have ranked among the lowest-performing in the state in recent years, and fostering more stable leadership in the principal ranks.

The candidates differed on applying for the potential state-appointed board, an option open to all candidates and elected trustees. Blueford-Daniels said she does not plan to apply, preferring to use her time without power to build trust among the elected trustees. Gibbs, who declared in October that he supported state intervention, said he plans to apply for the position amid concerns that an appointed board could close campuses.

Both Blueford-Daniels and Gibbs have run for Council before. I’ve interviewed her before, but have not met Gibbs and don’t know anything about him beyond what I know from stories about this race. I do know that I disagree with his cheerleading for the TEA takeover, and on those grounds I’d vote for Blueford-Daniels.

In the other race, I interviewed Barnes in September, and I didn’t realize until reading this story that Patricia Allen is the daughter of State Rep. Alma Allen. Both have applied or will apply to be on the Board of Managers. I feel like both would be good Board members.

2019 runoff early voting wrapup

Here are your final totals:


Date     Mail   Early   Total
=============================
Nov19  13,015  88,822 101,837
Dec19  18,935  96,269 115,204

The Day Ten EV Runoff file is here, and the final file from November is here. Keir’s thread is here, with a bit of bonus content about the runoff voters who didn’t vote in November – yes, they exist. In the end, there were 152,764 total November early votes cast – there were two more days of early voting, and as usual they were the busiest.

Projecting final turnout is a little tricky, because don’t have many comparable data points. Only 2015 and 2009 had Mayoral runoffs in the modern early voting era. In 2015, 44.58% of votes cast on Election Day, while in 2009 that figure was 56.28%. I strongly suspect that 2015 is the more accurate model, and I’d bet the under on that. I’m guessing we’re headed for final turnout in the 175-200K range. Just my guess, but with a mostly hardcore voter crowd and no romantic attachment to Election Day itself, I fully expect most of the voting to be over. Have you voted yet?

District B runoff lawsuit moved to another court

Still up in the air.

Cynthia Bailey

A Harris County judge on Monday referred the lawsuit stalling a runoff in Houston city council District B to another court, casting more uncertainty about when the contentious case will be resolved and when voters will choose a new council member.

[…]

Monday’s hearing in the case did not address the central claims of the lawsuit. [Plaintiff Renee] Jefferson-Smith has contested the Nov. 5 results and argues that [candidate Cynthia] Bailey’s felony conviction makes her ineligible for office.

Instead, the hearing focused on legal procedure. Attorneys for Bailey and Jackson argued Jefferson-Smith’s lawsuit did not constitute a proper election contest because she did not dispute the results. They asked the court to dismiss the case.

Judge Cory Don Sepolio declined, referring the case instead to the regional authority tasked with assigning a special judge. He cited a state law that says judges in the county where an election took place can’t hear a contest in that election.

Nicole Bates, attorney for Jefferson-Smith, said she expects the judicial assignment to be made in the next couple days. She hailed the move as a win.

“We are happy with this decision and look forward to pursuing the election contest, and hopefully we can give the voters a true choice on a candidate that can actually be seated,” she said.

[Candidate Tarsha] Jackson called the decision “disappointing.”

“The people of District B should be voting right now with the rest of Houston,” Jackson said. “We need to get on the ballot as soon as possible — in January — and I’m going to keep fighting to make sure people can exercise their right to vote.”

The lawsuit is the second case Jefferson-Smith has filed. In the first, a judge declined her request for an order declaring Bailey ineligible. Jefferson-Smith is currently asking the Texas Supreme Court to review that decision.

See here, here, and here for the background. I just want this to be over in a timely fashion, so that the people can finally get to vote. This is such a mess.

8 Day runoff 2019 campaign finance reports

We start with a Chron story.

Mayor Sylvester Turner raked in more than $1.7 million from late October through early December and spent roughly the same amount, leaving him with almost $600,000 for the final days of the runoff, according to a campaign finance report filed Friday.

The total marked a fundraising surge for Turner, who was aided by newly reset donor contribution limits for the runoff, though he still was outspent by Tony Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer and the mayor’s opponent in the Dec. 14 contest.

Buzbee, who is self-financing his campaign and refusing all campaign contributions, put $2.3 million of his own money into the campaign last month and spent almost $3.1 million between Oct. 27 and Wednesday, leaving him with about $524,000.

With a week to go in the election, Buzbee and Turner have now combined to spend about $19 million in what has become easily the most expensive Houston mayoral race yet. Buzbee has spent $11.8 million of the $12.3 million he has put into his campaign account, while Turner has spent $7.2 million since the middle of 2018.

As an earlier story notes, self-funding has only occasionally been a winning strategy in Houston. I don’t expect it to be any different this time, but I do note that Buzbee’s basic strategy has changed. I still haven’t seen a Buzbee TV ad since November, but we’ve gotten a couple of mailers (someone needs to clean up his database if he’s mailing to me), I’ve seen a bunch of web ads, and he’s been littering the streets with signs. Gotta spend that money on something.

Here’s a summary of the 8 day reports for the runoff:


Race   Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Mayor  Turner     1,741,906  1,722,625        0     597,624
Mayor  Buzbee     2,300,000  3,076,360        0     524,420

A      Peck          38,075     39,252    5,000      15,373
A      Zoes           6,600      7,562    4,000       3,723

B      Jackson
B      Bailey           355        284      200          70

C      Kamin        180,528    137,396        0     173,370
C      Kennedy       35,160     18,343        0      25,995

D      Shabazz       31,490     28,575        0       5,009
D      Jordan        28,190     11,688        0      53,724

F      Thomas        
F      Huynh         

H      Cisneros      54,700     75,012        0      41,632
H      Longoria      36,945     32,906        0      20,946

J      Rodriguez
J      Pollard       38,016     47,147   40,000      22,864

AL1    Knox          69,710     49,857        0      16,073
AL1    Salhotra     128,672    121,736        0      64,150

AL2    Robinson     111,280    199,791        0     189,649
AL2    Davis         27,725     10,367        0      19,816

AL3    Kubosh        72,215     69,164  276,000     113,500
AL3    Carmouche     17,570     11,757        0       5,812

AL4    Plummer       41,915     44,501   21,900      12,443
AL4    Dolcefino     19,215     17,482        0       6,478

AL5    Alcorn       195,105    154,757        0      49,463
AL5    Dick           1,100     65,205   75,000       2,545

I think there must be some reports that have not been uploaded – the Chron story mentions Sandra Rodriguez’s numbers, but there was no report visible on Saturday. It and the others may be there on Monday. In the Council races, what we see here is a continuation of what we had seen before. Big fundraisers raised big money, others didn’t. Eric Dick did his spend-his-own-money-and-file-weird-reports thing. Most of the spending has not been particularly visible to me – I’ve gotten a mailer from Robinson and Turner, and that’s about it.

How much any of this moves the needle remains to be seen. As we know from the Keir Murray reports, the runoff electorate is very similar in nature to the November electorate. That’s obviously better for some candidates than for others. If you think of fundraising in runoffs as being like the betting markets to some extent, then we’re probably headed towards the expected results. We’ll see if there are any surprises in store.