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Election 2020

UH poll: Biden, Bernie tied

One more primary poll.

Texans are split between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as their choice in the Democratic presidential primary, according to a University of Houston poll released Monday.

The poll, from the university’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, shows the two candidates in a statistical dead heat, with Biden slightly edging out Sanders among likely Democratic primary voters, 22.5% to 22.1%.

Among the rest of the field, 18.3% of likely voters supported Elizabeth Warren, 13.4% supported Michael Bloomberg, 11.9% supported Pete Buttigieg, 7.2% supported Amy Klobuchar, 3.5% supported Tulsi Gabbard, and 1.1% supported Tom Steyer.

But a split between moderate candidates could still leave Sanders with the most delegates. The poll predicts Sanders earning 85 delegates in Texas, compared to Biden taking 80. Following behind, Elizabeth Warren is expected to take 61, with Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg winning one delegate each.

“It’s so early but Sanders is the front-runner now, and of course there’s a debate on Tuesday night. And I suspect all the contenders are going to go after him the way some of them went after Bloomberg in the last debate,” Hobby School executive director Jim Granato told Houston Matters host Craig Cohen on Monday.

Most important to those polled was picking a candidate who could beat Donald Trump in November’s general election. More than half of respondents said defeating Trump was their No. 1 priority, while a little less than a third said agreeing on the issues was most important. Just 11.1% found experience to be a major factor in their decision.

Here’s the Hobby School’s poll webpage, and here is the full report. I asked on Twitter if they did head-to-head matchups with Trump and was told No, but that they did ask voters if there were any Democratic candidates that they felt they could not support in November against Trump, and found that outside of Tulsi Gabbard, there were no significant differences among the contenders. The survey was fielded between February 6 and February 18 with 1,352 YouGov respondents, which is almost entirely before the Vegas debate that won Elizabeth Warren such plaudits, so it’s possible she has improved her standing since the questions were asked. We’ll have to wait and see on that. They did do a poll of the Senate primary, which should come out today. I’ll write that one up when I see it. In the meantime, the four recent Dem Presidential primary polls of Texas show Biden with a big lead over Bernie, with a small lead over Bernie, tied with Bernie, and slightly behind Bernie. You may now leap to your own conclusions about What It All Means. The Texas Signal has more.

Who will carry the flag in CD31?

This primary interests me mostly to see if we can get a truly viable challenger in this district or not. No one person has emerged yet, that’s for sure.

Democrats who want to be Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter’s challenger in November think focusing on health care will turn the 31st District north of Austin blue. But Republicans, who have long held the seat, say their opponents won’t have much luck without a high-profile candidate like 2018’s MJ Hegar, who is now focusing on a U.S. Senate run.

Democratic candidates Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, Dan Janjigian, Christine Mann and Tammy Young are vying for their party’s nomination in the district includes suburban Williamson County and the more rural Bell County. They say rising health care costs and support for military veterans are voters’ top priorities — and most want to expand access to affordable health care to address those concerns.

“I would put health care at the top of the list because we have a lot of people that don’t have access to health care because it’s not affordable,” said Hanke, a 41-year-old singer-songwriter who recorded a new song, “Turn Texas Blue,” for a campaign ad.

But whoever snags the party’s nomination will need to unseat Carter, who was first elected in 2002 and said the general election in November will be about economic security and safety.

[…]

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer, became a strong challenger to Carter after a viral ad documenting her military service garnered millions of views. She came within 3 percentage points of unseating Carter, making the district a target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle.

“MJ really put this race on the map and showed us that this was possible,” said Young, a 51-year-old Round Rock City Council member. “For too long, we’ve allowed Washington insiders to stay in office as long as they want, not believing things could change. MJ showed us what is possible with the right candidate.”

[…]

So far, there is no clear Democratic front-runner, according to State Rep. James Talarico. He campaigned alongside Hegar for his seat in the Texas House and said the key to flipping the congressional district is to have an inclusive platform and work across the aisle.

“It’s going to take a candidate who has a message that appeals to a broad base of community members. One that fires up our Democratic base while still being inclusive of independents and even some disillusioned Republicans,” said Talarico.

Mann, who entered the primary before the other four candidates, has been the top fundraiser in contributions, collecting $171,000 through Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission records. Imam has raised $208,000, though it includes a $100,000 loan to herself.

Steve Armbruster, chair of the Williamson County Republican Party, sees Hegar’s 2018 run as lightning in a bottle and is doubtful Democrats will replicate her performance.

“I don’t think that the Democrats have anybody on their side of the aisle that they could choose that would have the ability to draw voters out like they had two years ago,” Armbruster said.

Hegar said she believes this year’s Democratic lineup is competitive enough to finish what she started in 2018.

“We have a strong batch of candidates, and I am confident that by continuing to mobilize volunteers and voters the eventual nominee will close the 2.9 [percentage point] gap we had left and send John Carter to retirement in 2020,” Hegar said in an email.

The story of CD31 is like the story of several other Congressional districts, in that it took a small step in a blue direction from 2012 to 2016, then went really far in that direction in 2018. It’s no surprise at all that CD31 is on the DCCC target list, but let’s do keep in mind how far we have come.


2012

Carter  61.3%  Wyman   35.0%
Romney  59.4%  Obama   38.1%
Keller  57.8%  Hampton 36.8%

2016

Carter  58.4%  Clark   36.5%
Trump   52.6%  Clinton 40.1%
Keasler 56.8%  Burns   37.3%

2018

Carter  50.6%  Hegar   47.7%
Cruz    50.5%  Beto    48.4%
Keller  52.7%  Jackson 44.2%

That’s incumbent John Carter versus his opponent that year, then the top of the ticket, and then a Court of Criminal Appeals race for further context. Carter was used to doing better than other Republicans in CD31, but that did not happen with MJ Hegar as his opponent. The blue shift has occurred up and down the ballot, but the top has gone farther in our direction, as you can see. That means there’s still work to be done, and that the candidate quality will matter. It also means that if the environment isn’t quite as good as we hope it will be, what looks competitive now will be less so later. On the other hand, if the Presidential race remains as close as recent polling has indicated it is, then we should expect to see conditions much like 2018, with the extra benefit of further demographic change and Presidential year turnout.

I don’t know any of these candidates well enough to have a preference. I’m sure they’d all be fine. I also don’t expect anyone to raise money like Hegar did, but we do need someone to start raking it in, so that they can have the resources they will need in November. I’m hoping the primary will give us some clarity, at the very least.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Seven

And we’re back at it. Here’s the Day Seven report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609   14,063   19,672
2016  10,180   28,367   38,547
2018  11,207   30,064   41,271
2020  16,651   44,339   60,990

2012  12,535   29,508   42,043
2016  14,683   40,547   55,230
2018  13,812   26,959   40,771
2020  18,949   39,207   58,156

A big mail day for the Republicans keeps them close to even with the Dems, who had their best in person day (by 100) and their best overall day not counting Day One (by 300). The usual pattern is for small gains on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the big step on Thursday and Friday.

What’s going on statewide? Let’s see what Derek Ryan had to say Monday.

Someone reached out and asked what turnout looked like compared to 2016. I was only able to compare the top 15 largest counties to this same point in 2016. Interestingly enough, the number of voters in the 2020 Republican Primary is larger than it was at this point in 2016 (225,826 vs 212,142). The current turnout percent is 2.1% in these counties in the Republican Primary.

I was honestly a little surprised that the total numbers were up since there is no contested presidential race in the Republican Primary this cycle. So, for comparison, I looked at the turnout in the 2012 Democratic Primary when President Obama was basically unopposed in his bid to be the Democratic nominee for a second term. Turnout at this point in 2012 was only 1.3%. (One reason turnout is higher this year in the Republican Primary compared to the 2012 Democratic Primary is the number of contested primaries for congressional seats.)

On the Democratic side, turnout is up significantly over 2016 in the top counties. Over 100,000 more people have voted in the Democratic Primary in 2020 than voted at this point in 2016 (271,377 vs. 170,839). The current turnout percent is 2.6%.

Click over to see a chart comparing the early vote so far in the top 15 counties from 2016 to 2018, as well as his Day 6 analysis. I’ve been curious about how much the top 15 counties’ turnout represents for each party, so I put together this table:


Year D   Big 15      Total  Big 15%
===================================
2016  1,062,607  1,423,895    74.0%
2020    271,377    374,320    72.5%

Year R   Big 15      Total  Big 15%
===================================
2016  1,527,315  2,836,488    53.8%
2020    225,826    464,569    48.6%

The 2016 numbers in each case are final totals, and the 2020 numbers are what we have so far. You’d expect that Dems get most of their turnout from the big counties, while Republicans get a lot of theirs from the other counties. I find it somewhat encouraging that Dems are getting a slightly larger share of their primary vote from the other counties, and I find it interesting that Republicans’ share of turnout from the big counties has dropped as much as it appears to have. I’m presenting this for entertainment value only, as we can really only compare the final totals for each, so just enjoy it for now and we’ll check it again later.

Republican former Senators defend anti-majoritarian practices

I appreciate the spirit in which this was offered, but it’s completely out of touch with reality.

The purpose of the 31-member Texas Senate is similar to that of the U.S. Senate: to cool down some of the fevered legislation filed in the Senate or passed by a simple majority of the Texas House of Representatives.

This is accomplished by a Senate rule that requires a super-majority vote (60% of senators on the floor at this time) to bring up a bill for debate. This rule was enacted in 2015; for 70 years previously, a larger, two-thirds vote was required (21 votes of those present).

It’s no coincidence that the 2015 rule change mirrored the Senate’s partisan balance. It allowed Republicans, who held 20 seats, to bring up and pass a bill without any Democrat support. Now — with the possibility that Democrats may gain Senate seats in the general election — the idea has been raised to further lower the threshold during the 2021 legislative session to require only a simple majority vote.

As former Republican senators — with a total of 80 years of service in this wonderful, deliberative body — we oppose this possible change. Requiring only a simple majority would be bad for the Texas Senate, the Texas Legislature, and the State of Texas.

[…]

A stronger rule encourages, even forces, senators to work with colleagues across the political aisle. In our experience, working in a bipartisan manner led to better legislation and made the Texas Senate a more collegial body.

It also ensures legislators from rural and urban areas work together. In our heavily urban state, rural areas could be more easily outvoted under a rule change. In fact, some senators believe this issue is more about the urban/rural split than a partisan one.

Democrat and Republican Lt. Govs. Bill Hobby, Bob Bullock, Rick Perry, Bill Ratliff and David Dewhurst had successful terms under the two-thirds rule. It could be argued that this rule made them better leaders and improved the landmark legislation they passed (school finance, criminal justice reform, tort reform, tax cuts, worker comp reform, etc.).

Anyone notice which Lite Governor they left out of that recitation in the last paragraph? It’s not a coincidence, I assure you.

Let’s put aside the fetishization of super-majorities and the mythmaking that it’s the House producing all of the fever dream legislation these days while the Senate awaits with calm and wisdom to sort out the wheat from the chaff. (Tell me again, which chamber passed the “bathroom bill” in 2017?) The whole “require Senators to work across the aisle for the betterment of The People” thing sounds all nice and “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”-like, but it ignores the utterly predictable reality of what will happen when and if Democrats achieve a majority in the upper chamber: Republican State Senators will immediately adopt of a model of intractable opposition to any bill that represents a Democratic priority, in the same way that Republican US Senators under Mitch McConnell used the filibuster to block literally everything President Obama wanted to do.

One reason for this is because Democratic State Senators have, to a large degree, taken similar action on many high-profile Republican priorities: redistricting, voter ID, more abortion restrictions, de-funding Planned Parenthood, “sanctuary cities”, “bathroom bills”, and so on. This is exactly why Dan Patrick, and to a lesser extent before him David Dewhurst, first weakened and then replaced the two-thirds rule, on the grounds that an elected legislative majority should be able to pass its bills with majority support. I hate these bills and I hate the effect they have had, but that’s why we have elections. I want a Democratic majority to be able to pass its bills with majority support when it is in that position as well.

But it’s the notion that requiring bipartisan consensus will be a net improvement to the process that is so laughable. Perhaps former Senators Deuell and Estes have forgotten, but the entire reason they are former Senators is because they were defeated in Republican primaries by opponents who successfully argued to the Republican voters in their districts that Deuell and Estes were too bipartisan, and too accommodating to the Democratic minority. They showed insufficient fealty to the Republican orthodoxy, and they needed to go. Would either of them argue with a straight face that Senators Bob Hall and Pat Fallon would “work with colleagues across the political aisle” in a hypothetical 16-15 or 17-14 Democratic Senate, in order to encourage better legislation and a more collegial atmosphere? I couldn’t even type that last sentence without snorting. The outcome we will get in a Senate with a modest Democratic majority and any kind of super-majoritarian rules is a Senate that passes no bills.

Again, I understand why this super-majority idea has some appeal. Maybe in a Democratic Senate where the likes of Krier and Ratliff and Sibley and Ogden and Deuell and Estes were the typical Republican Senators and none of them feared being tarred and feathered by their seething primary voters, we could indulge in this little fantasy. We don’t live in that world any more. I can’t even see it in my rearview mirror. The only thing this proposal would accomplish is the extended lifespan of every Republican priority from the past 20 years, possibly forever. I suspect they all know this, and that it appeals to them a lot more than the let’s-all-join-hands-and-work-together ideal ever would.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Six: On to Week Two

We’re back from the weekend, where the only votes tallied are in-person. We have five more days of early voting to go. Here’s the Day Six report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609   11,880   17,489
2016   8,850   23,384   32,234
2018   9,620   24,335   33,955
2020  15,101   36,712   51,813

2012  12,111   25,097   37,208
2016  12,205   32,641   44,846
2018  12,642   21,856   34,498
2020  16,528   32,630   49,158

Democrats had 11,538 voters on Saturday and Sunday combined, Republicans had 7,852. Week Two is where it should start getting busier. Dems have fallen behind their earlier pace, as they now have increased their 2016 vote by about 61%; Republicans are ahead of 2016 by about eight percent. I think things will pick back up this week, but if we want to guess final turnout, the great unknown is how much of the vote will be cast early, and how much will show up on Tuesday, March 3. There’s no obvious pattern in recent primaries:


Year     Mail    Early    E-Day   E-Day%
========================================
2008    9,445  169,900  231,560    56.4%
2010    7,193   33,770   60,300    59.5%
2012    8,775   30,136   35,575    47.8%
2014    8,961   22,727   22,100    41.1%
2016   14,828   72,777  139,675    61.5%
2018   22,695   70,152   75,135    44.7%

E-Day% is the share of the vote cast on Primary Day. In the two high-turnout Presidential-year primaries, more than half the vote was cast on Primary Day. My gut says we’ll see similar behavior this year, but whether it’s 55% of the vote on Primary Day or over 60%, I don’t know. We’ll take a shot at guessing final turnout another day. Have you voted yet?

Endorsement watch: The rest of Congress

I think we are finally getting to the end of the Chron’s primary endorsements. We had the Senate and Tax Assessor, there are these four Congressional endorsements, all of which ran on Saturday, and I think the only races left may be the HCDE primaries. We’ll see, I’m probably forgetting something. Anyway, let’s go through these:

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee for CD18.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Jackson Lee, one of the most senior Democrats in Congress, is consistently ranked as one of the most effective lawmakers. In 2019, according to GovTrack.us, she cosponsored 772 bills and resolutions and introduced another 38.

Last month, the president signed into law a bill authored by Jackson Lee and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, commissioning a federal study for a 51-mile Emancipation Trail between Galveston and Houston — a rare bipartisan effort in this politically polarized atmosphere. She has also taken up the late John Conyers’ effort to create a commission to study reparations, an effort applauded by this editorial board.

That record earns Jackson Lee our endorsement in the Democratic primary for Houston’s 18th Congressional District.

It is worth noting that Jackson Lee faces six challengers in the primary, a sign that many in her district are hungry for change.

[…]

Jackson Lee would do well to listen to her opponents’ concerns and the issues for which they are advocating.

I question the logic behind the claim having multiple opponents in this primary is “a sign that many in her district are hungry for change”. Maybe if she loses the primary or is forced into a runoff, that would be such a sign. John Cornyn had seven challengers in the 2014 Republican primary, which he wound up winning with 59% of the vote. Anyone with the right paperwork and a check for the filing fee can run for office. I don’t know what the number of candidates has to do with the electorate’s desire for change. And in the brief recitation (that I have omitted from this excerpt) of her opponents’ concerns and issues, I didn’t see anything that Jackson Lee would have been opposed or even indifferent to. Maybe be a little more specific here? Just a thought.

Sima Ladjevardian for CD02:

Sima Ladjevardian

With hopes of flipping a seat held by a high-profile Republican, the question of “electability” will be a top priority for Democratic voters in the March 3 primary for House District 2.

That would make Houston lawyer, political activist and former Beto O’Rourke adviser Sima Ladjevardian the logical choice.

A late entry in the race, filing just hours before the Dec. 9 deadline, Ladjevardian still reported the most money raised and cash on hand at the end of the year. She also has the best potential for raising the cash needed for the Nov. 3 election face-off with incumbent Dan Crenshaw, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

National pollsters and analysts put the race in the “likely Republican” category, but Crenshaw’s 53 percent vote in 2018 suggests he is not invulnerable.

The other Democratic challengers are Elisa Cardnell, a Navy veteran, a single mom and high school math and physics teacher, and Travis Olsen, who resigned his job with the Department of Homeland Security last year in protest of the administration’s family separation policy and other immigration issues.

Plenty of primary endorsements come down to this sort of practical assessment – these candidates are all roughly equivalent in terms of their positions and their experiences, so which one do we think will have the best shot at winning? I feel like it’s relatively uncommon for the Chron to state it this baldly, but there it is. Sima (*) has indeed been a brisk fundraiser, which is no doubt the reason why the DCCC added CD02 as a target. It’s easy to understand the rationale for all this, but it has to be a little frustrating for the candidates, not just for someone like Elisa Cardnell, who has been in this race for almost a year and hasn’t done too badly in fundraising herself while also making the “electability” argument based on her status as a Navy veteran, but also for Sima, whose own qualities get de-emphasized due to her ability to bring in money. It’s important to remember that the main reason for this rationale, whether you agree with it or not, and whether you agree with this particular conclusion to it or not, is that all three candidates are well-qualified and appealing, and we have to find a distinction somewhere.

(*) I recognize that it is often patronizing to refer to candidates, especially female candidates, by their first names. In this case, the candidate is doing that branding herself, on her domain name and campaign materials. I’m sure that’s in large part because “Ladjevardian” is much longer and more intimidating to pronounce and spell than “Sima” is – for sure, “Sima” fits quite nicely on a yard sign or T-shirt – and in part because there’s a well-documented penalty that candidates who have “funny” or “foreign-looking” surnames suffer. All this is a much more involved discussion for another time, I just wanted to acknowledge it.

Laura Jones for CD08:

Laura Jones

Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez see themselves as “regular people” who decided to do more than just complain about things. They each independently decided it was time to run for Congress.

For now, that means the two Democrats are trying to get their message out to voters in a solidly Republican House District 8 that sprawls across all or part of nine counties. They have little financial resources and almost no name recognition.

The winner of the March 3 Democratic primary will advance to the November election, almost certainly to face 12-term incumbent Kevin Brady, the top-ranking Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Brady was re-elected in 2018 with 73 percent of the vote.

Brady reported having more than $1 million in his campaign account at the end of 2019. Jones reported a little less than $2,000 and Hernandez had $0.

[…]

Jones, 42, said she has also made a point of meeting with mayors and other elected officials across the district, including many Republicans, to talk about these “regular people” problems.

It is that work and her experience in county politics that makes Jones the best choice in this Democratic primary.

It’s easy to look at a race like this and say it’s pointless, it’s hopeless, let’s put our energy and resources into races we can win. I get that, and I agree that a Democratic win in CD08 would be a monumental upset. But I’d also argue that running these races, with quality candidates, is important in their own fundamental way. For one, we can’t ever abandon any part of the state or subset of the population, not if we truly believe that our values and beliefs are beneficial to all. For another, things do change over time – see, for example, the former Republican stronghold known as Fort Bend County – and it’s so much better to have been a presence all along. At its most practical level, we Democrats need to give all our compatriots a reason to vote. We’re lucky to have people like Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez doing that work in places where the challenges are greater and the rewards are not as apparent.

Mike Siegel in CD10:

Mike Siegel

Democratic voters in Texas’s 10th Congressional District have a difficult choice to make, as the three candidates in the primary race — Shannon Hutcheson, Pritesh Gandhi and Mike Siegel — all offer compelling reasons why they should be selected to take on seven-term U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul.

Hutcheson, a lawyer who has represented Planned Parenthood, impressed us with her passion for education and bringing affordable health care to Texas families. Gandhi, a doctor and Fulbright scholar, protested the treatment of migrant children at the border and founded Doctors Against Gun Violence.

All promise solutions to issues such as climate change, gun control and health care, but in this race, we give the edge to Siegel.

His efforts in 2018, a race he lost by 4 percentage points to the powerful incumbent, convinced Democrats that the district was within grasp. He formed that challenge on a grassroots appeal that built upon his record of service as a teacher and assistant city attorney in Austin, where he led the charge in the suit against Texas’s anti-immigrant SB 4 law. During his campaign, he succeeded in protecting the voting rights of students at the historically black Prairie View A&M University.

“As Democrats, the way we’re going to win in Texas is by establishing this reputation that we will fight for the people here,” he told the Editorial Board.

Interestingly, this is in some ways a reverse of the endorsement in CD02, in that Siegel has raised the least money of the three candidates. Siegel did run before, and that’s valuable experience to have, and unlike in 2018 this race has been on the radar from the beginning, so the considerations are a little different. I’m just noting this in part because the distinction one has to find among otherwise equally attractive candidates doesn’t have to be about money. Other things can serve as a tie-breaker, too.

Trib overview of the CD10 primary

I have three things to say about this.

Mike Siegel

When Mike Siegel made a long-shot bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, two years ago, few were watching — until he surprised political observers and came within 5 points of flipping the longtime Republican seat. Now the seat is up for election again, and national Democrats are paying attention.

Siegel’s 2018 result means the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from metro Austin to the northwest outskirts of Houston, is finally considered in play after a 2003 redistricting left it deeply gerrymandered and solidly red. Many more eyes are now on the race, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s. But for Siegel, that has translated to tougher competition.

A former lawyer for the city of Austin, Siegel is vying for the Democratic nomination along with two newcomers: labor and employment lawyer Shannon Hutcheson and physician Pritesh Gandhi, both also from Austin.

A primary runoff is likely in TX-10, but with two weeks to go until Super Tuesday, it’s still uncertain who will make the cut. Siegel and his supporters put the district “on the map” last cycle after “the state and national party had left [it] for dead,” Siegel told The Intercept in June.

“People across this district remember me for showing up when for decades Democrats hadn’t really shown up, in some of these rural communities in particular,” Siegel told The Texas Tribune. “They appreciate that we brought this race so close without a lot of outside support.”

Siegel faced even more primary opponents in 2018 but won the nomination relatively easily. He garnered more than double the votes of each of his opponents in the first round of voting and went on to win the runoff by nearly 40 percentage points.

But Siegel holds views that might raise questions about whether he’s the right candidate to flip a traditionally red district. Because he is the most progressive candidate and the only one who supports “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, his bid could be seen as a riskier choice to challenge McCaul in the historically Republican district.

Hutcheson and Gandhi have taken more moderate positions, and each is getting some national support. Hutcheson has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, the influential group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Gandhi, meanwhile, has the backing of 314 Action, which backs scientists running for office.

Fundraising in the primary has been competitive, especially between Gandhi and Hutcheson. In the fourth quarter, Gandhi and Hutcheson raised $257,000 and $216,000, respectively, while Siegel has trailed behind with $96,000. This was the first quarter Gandhi out-raised his opponents.

1. I feel like we all need to aim for a higher level of precision when we use the word “gerrymandering”. A district that heavily favors one party is not necessarily “gerrymandered”. The old, pre-2003 CD10, which was a nice, compact, entirely-within-Travis-County district, was a safe Democratic seat and not at all “gerrymandered”. CD13, which hews almost entirely to state and county borders and is ridiculously Republican, is almost the exact opposite of “gerrymandered”. A funny-looking district isn’t necessarily “gerrymandered”, either. CD18 is an African-American opportunity district, and has been drawn the way it is to encompass many African-American neighborhoods. For sure, Texas is a longtime and notorious hotbed of gerrymandering, and we should expect more of it in 2021. But context matters, and it would be helpful to have a clear idea of why a particular district’s boundaries are offensive or illogical or just plain nakedly partisan, if only to pick the right battles.

The current CD10 was certainly drawn with ill intent, partly to defenestrate Lloyd Doggett (oops) and partly to deprive the city of Austin of representation. The irony here is that, at least based on the 2018 election, the end result was to conjure up a fairly competitive district, which was not at all what the Republicans had in mind. A combination of booming growth in Travis County, and a one-two punch of demographic change and Trump-inspired suburban shifting in Harris County – compare CD10 2012 and CD10 2018 to see the effect – has worked to threaten what Tom DeLay once envisioned. None of that undoes the malice in the map, but it does show that the best-laid plans can (maybe) be undone by sufficiently rapid increases in population and diversity.

2. It’s important to remember, though, that as hard as CD10 swung towards Democrats in 2018, it was not at all clear it would be as competitive as it turned out to be following the 2016 election. Trump still carried CD10 by a 51.9 to 42.8 margin, and no other Democrat reached 40% in the district. As the 2018 cycle went on, and it became clear what the political environment was like, it made sense to put some resources into longer-shot districts like CD10. Mike Siegel did raise almost $500K in the 2018 cycle, which sounds like nothing now but was one of many record-breaking hauls at the time. He was also on the low end of the spectrum, raising less money than candidates like Julie Oliver and Jana Lynne Sanchez. The DCCC has to make choices about where it spends its money, and CD10 wasn’t at the top of the list in 2018. Maybe a million bucks or two dropped on that district might have helped, who knows. I don’t think it was outrageous the way priorities were made last cycle .

3. Siegel is doing better on fundraising this time around – as of the January 2020 report, he had almost matched his entire total from the 2018 cycle. It’s just that this time, he has opponents who are doing even better on that score. Several repeat candidates from 2018 are far outpacing their opponents in fundraising – Gina Ortiz Jones, Sri Kulkarni, Julie Oliver – but Mike Siegel is not in that class. He can very much win this primary, and whoever does get the nomination will justifiably have establishment support going forward. He happens to have drawn strong opponents this year. That’s the way it goes.

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.

Endorsement watch: Senate and Tax Assessor

I’ve been very interested to see what the Chron would make of the Senate primary. Now we know: Royce West is their choice.

Sen. Royce West

We believe that candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, an African-American trailblazer whose record over 26 years in the Legislature is full of accomplishments as well as moments of courage and vision.

He’s been a state leader on issues as diverse as finance, criminal justice, public education and civil rights..

When then-Gov. Rick Perry drew fire in 2011 for a sign at his family hunting ranch that included a racial slur, it was West who spoke against labeling Perry, then running for president, a racist. But that same year, when the Texas division of the Sons of the Confederacy sought to have Texas issue license plates with the Confederate battle flag, West demanded the Department of Motor Vehicles reject the plates, which it did on a razor-thin vote. The decision triggered a challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before West’s position was affirmed.

[…]

Our support for West meant bypassing some incredible contenders. Former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards was an excellent public servant with a shining intellect whom we hope finds a way to continue in another role.

The front-runner in the race, Mary “M.J.” Hegar, showed why she has enjoyed early support. She was engaging, knowledgeable and told her remarkable story of bravery under fire as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. Michael Cooper, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Sema Hernandez, an activist in Houston making her second Senate run, , are also intriguing candidates. Among others in the race who have made a positive impression are former Houston council member and one-term Congressman Chris Bell, El Paso native Adrian Ocegueda and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

But among the dozen candidates on the ballot, none has anything like West’s legislative experience. We strongly suggest Democrats back his bid to challenge Cornyn. He also has an inspiring story, and a record to match.

I think Royce West is a fine candidate with a long and distinguished record of accomplishment in the State Senate. In an earlier cycle, he’d have been hailed as a hero for taking on the challenge. Hell, that would have happened in 2018, even with Beto’s entry into the race. This year, he’s still a serious candidate with a known base of support, but he was the fourth serious candidate in the race, with Amanda Edwards stepping on his entrance. He’s been fine, and his Dallas base gives him a great shot at making the runoff, but I wouldn’t say he’s generated much excitement. Again, he’s fine and he’d be fine. This is who he is.

And back in Harris County, they endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

In the summer of 2018, Harris County voters could have used a bulldog. That’s when the Harris County tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, Ann Harris Bennett, mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on a suspension list after a local Republican party operative challenged the registrations of 4,000 voters.

Bennett was criticized for confusing voters and not following the law, which allowed voters time to respond before they were placed on any suspension list. Bennett quickly corrected the problem and she told the Editorial Board during a candidate screening that the two employees who generated the erroneous notices are no longer with her office.

Her Democratic challenger, Jolanda Jones, says that’s not good enough. Being a criminal defense lawyer, Jones says she has the knowledge to make sure the office follows the law. Being a bulldog, the former Houston city councilwoman and “Survivor” contestant says she’d fight for voters, and for taxpayers, to protect their rights and their hard-earned dollars.

We have to admit, Jones made such an appealing case that we were almost willing to overlook her tumultuous political career, including her contributions to a fractious Houston ISD board known for petty squabbles and so much dysfunction that it’s in the process of being taken over by the state. Jones points out, correctly, that a Texas Education Agency investigation into wrongdoing on the board did not take issue with her.

“I’m going to use the same vigor, even when it’s not popular, like I did on the school board to fight for taxpayers,” Jones told us. “I’m going to be a taxpayer warrior.”

We love her spirit. We’re just not sure that the tax office, which oversees billions of dollars in property tax collections and processes millions of vehicle registrations and title transfers every year, needs a fighter as much as a diligent public servant.

I mean, that’s the choice in this race. Either option can be justified, and they each have their plusses and minuses. (A perennial crank is also in the race, and none of that last statement applies to him.) My interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. You have the info you need, now make your choice.

Judicial Q&A: Veronica Rivas-Molloy

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Veronica Rivas-Molloy

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Veronica Rivas-Molloy. I am honored and proud to ask for your support to become a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, Place 3.

I am a wife, a mother of three young sons, a proud immigrant to this country, and a practicing attorney of almost 20 years. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, the first to obtain an advanced degree, and the first attorney. If elected, I will be the first judge in my family, the first Democratic elected Hispanic attorney to serve on the First Court of Appeals, and only the second Latina to serve on the court in 128 years, bringing much needed diversity to our appellate bench.

I have a degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish (with honors) from the University of Texas at El Paso. I graduated with honors and at the top of my law school class from the University of Houston Law Center. After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, gaining invaluable experience. For the last 17 years, I have worked at top-tier law firms representing my clients in litigation and appellate matters in Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have handled hundreds of complex litigation matters involving various industries and areas of the law, tried over 20 jury cases (including civil, criminal, and immigration matters), and counseled my clients on a variety of appellate matters. My experience is extensive and it has prepared me well for the position I now seek.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

There are 14 Courts of Appeals in Texas, each presiding over a specific geographic territory. The First Court of Appeals is located in Houston, Texas. The Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices preside over the court and hear civil and criminal (except death penalty) appeals originating from trial courts in 10 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to serve my community and give back to the legal profession that gave me a voice and the opportunity to advocate on behalf of others. I have a passion for what I do, and I want to use my skills and experience to give back to our community and serve our judicial system, for which I have profound respect. I also want to bring my wealth of experience and diverse voice to our appellate bench, where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution.

On a personal level, I also want to set an example for my children and diverse youth who may be considering a career in law. I want them to know the importance of civic duty and service, and for them to grow up knowing that immigrants, mothers, and diverse attorneys can be Justices and serve our communities with integrity, excellence, and hard work.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for almost 20 years, handling a wide-variety of complex business disputes throughout Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have represented numerous clients in state and federal courts, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and before domestic and international arbitral tribunals in disputes involving oil and gas operations, real estate, healthcare, construction, personal injury, employment matters, trade secrets, non-compete and restrictive covenants, and a diverse range of complex contractual and business-related matters. I have met the highest and most rigorous standards at all levels of my legal profession: student, law clerk, and legal practitioner.

I graduated with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso with a double degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish. I graduated from the University of Houston Law Center with honors and at the top of my law school class, where I served as an Article Editor on the Law Review, a Prosecutor on the Honor Court, the Vice President of the Hispanic Student Bar Association, and a Class Representative for the Student Bar Association.

After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk working for the Honorable Ewing Werlein, Jr. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where I gained invaluable experience working on a significant number of civil litigation matters. I worked on procedural and substantive matters assisting the court with trials, dispositive motions, jurisdictional disputes, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, injunction hearings, pre-trial matters, jury charges, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. I engaged in rigorous legal analysis and extensive brief writing, drafting recommendations on the myriad of cases and legal matters presented to the court over the course of two years.

Working in court also helped me understand not only the importance of having open access to our courts and the significance of the rule of law to our democracy, but also the importance of staffing and administration of a court’s docket to ensure efficient, fair and prompt resolution of pending cases. I also understood very early on that judges are servants of our judicial system, and, that as such, they have a duty to rule with impartiality, justice, equality, and with utmost respect for our judicial system. I learned the importance of having proper judicial temperament, and the importance of excellence, hard work and integrity.

Following my clerkship, I worked at the law firm of Baker Botts, LLP, where I continued to work on various litigation matters helping further refine my analytical, oral, and written advocacy skills. I represented clients across different industries in matters involving general commercial litigation and complex business disputes. I also served as a volunteer prosecutor for the City of Houston, where I managed the docket of the court (first-chair) once a week, engaging in various matters, such as plea bargaining, interfacing with defense counsel, working with court staff, officers, and witnesses, and trying numerous cases to the jury involving administrative and criminal matters.

For the last 10 years, I have worked at the law firm of Jones Walker, LLP, advocating for my clients and representing them on a diverse range of complex business disputes and appellate matters. I represent clients in state and federal courts across Texas, and other jurisdictions in the United States, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and arbitral tribunals. I have first-chair experience handling a significant number of bench and jury civil matters, helping my clients develop legal strategy and conduct fact discovery and investigations, motion practice, depositions, preparation and presentation of witnesses and experts, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, legal briefs, jury charges, pre-trial matters, mediations, arbitrations, trial, and appeals in a wide-variety of complex business disputes.

My significant experience in civil litigation makes me uniquely suited to be a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, because more than half of all appeals filed before that court involve civil matters, including complex business disputes like the ones I have been handling for years. It is important to elect judges who have a robust civil litigation practice and experience in trial courts, from which these civil appeals originate. I have that experience. In addition, it is vital that we elect judges who have strong written advocacy skills. As a litigator and former law clerk, a significant part of my practice has been devoted to rigorous legal analysis and extensive written advocacy.

In addition to my litigation practice, I work directly with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) providing pro bono representation to unaccompanied minors in their immigration and asylum proceedings. I also serve as General Counsel for Holy Trinity Episcopal School of Greater Houston, where I provide pro bono legal advice and representation to the school on various matters. I am also actively involved in my sons’ schools, having served on their parent teacher organizations, volunteering on multiple committees and special projects, and volunteering as their catechism teacher at our church.

5. Why is this race important?

Our courts of appeals hear significant cases that affect not only the parties before the court, but our communities at large. The decisions appellate courts render also influence our jurisprudence on a statewide level because they set the precedent our lower courts and legal practitioners apply and follow in their daily practice. It is important to elect judges who have a proven record of success, high qualifications for the job, and a commitment to doing the hard work necessary to give each case the attention it deserves for the parties, our communities, and the integrity of our judiciary and system of laws.

It is also vital that our courts reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. No attorneys of color presently serve on the First Court of Appeals, which presides over some of the most diverse counties and cities in our country. It is imperative that we improve the diversity of our appellate bench. Diversity not only enhances our judiciary by ensuring that different life perspectives and experiences form part of the decision-making process when ruling on significant legal issues, it also helps enhance the public perception and legitimacy of our judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I have significant experience and the skill set necessary to be an excellent Justice on the First Court of Appeals. My record of success is a testament to the quality of work and commitment I will bring to the bench.

I have a strong work ethic and self-discipline, both of which have served me well and have resulted in my success as an attorney. I have achieved not only academic success in my career, graduating with honors and at the top of my law school class, but also professional success, securing a federal clerkship and working at top-tier firms, providing legal advice to my firm clients and also giving back by representing indigent clients on a pro bono basis in various matters. I will bring that same work ethic and discipline to the bench to ensure diligent, fair, and prompt resolution of matters before the court.

I have a reputation for producing high caliber legal work, and for professionalism, always working with the utmost respect for my colleagues, clients, and adversaries. I strive to work with integrity and the highest ethical standards at all times—values that are the foundation of my legal career and should be at the core of any judicial candidate or jurist. If excellence, hard work, and integrity are values that resonate with you, then I ask for your vote. Those values have defined me as a person and professional, and they will guide me as a Justice on the First Court of Appeal serving you and our community. I hope to earn your trust and your vote. It will be a privilege to serve you and our judiciary.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Four: First Friday

We are at the end of the first business week, shortened by the holiday on Monday. It’s been a brisk week, especially compared to other years, but there should be a lot more to come. Here’s the Day Four report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609    8,542   14,151
2016   8,850   14,554   23,404
2018   8,844   16,110   24,954
2020  15,101   25,254   40,355

2012  12,111   18,643   30,754
2016  12,205   21,348   33,553
2018  12,530   15,515   28,045
2020  16,528   24,778   41,306

A large number of Republican mail ballots being returned push them into the lead so far. More Dems have voted in person, and more Dem mail ballots remain to be returned than Republican mail ballots (23K to 15K). Democrats have had a bigger jump in turnout from 2016, but they had a lower base to start with. I’m seeing more or less what I expected from Dems, but more Republicans are turning out than I thought would. We’ll see how that continues.

By the way, I combined Days Four and Five from 2012 in this report. Unlike the 2016 and 2018, the 2012 primary was in May (remember that?), so that year the first week of early voting was a full first week. All the totals you see now are through the Friday of that year.

It’s been a long week and I don’t have it in me to do much analysis. I’ll have more tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

Endorsement watch: Not Borris

The Chron makes its second major endorsement against an incumbent.

Melissa Morris

Texas Senate District 13 stretches through Harris County into the northeastern corner of Fort Bend County. It winds through struggling neighborhoods such as Sunnyside and the world-renowned Texas Medical Center and reflects our city’s rich diversity in the East End, Greater Fifth Ward and Chinatown.

Its residents deserve an elected representative attentive to its needs and able to pass legislation that will make a difference where it’s most needed.

State Sen. Borris Miles has been effective in getting funding for programs such as the Miles Ahead Scholars Program, a mentoring initiative for boys of color. He also introduced legislation to stem maternal mortality and end criminal prosecutions for failing to keep up with rent-to-own payments.

But Miles fell short in his response to the discovery of a suspected cancer cluster in Fifth Ward. Miles told the Editorial Board that he first learned of the cluster in 2017 and responded by holding community meetings and sending a strongly worded letter to TCEQ. It wasn’t until U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee got involved, Milessaid, that the issue got the attention it deserved.

That raised serious questions for us — and for one of his challengers in the Democratic primary,

During our candidate screening, attorney Melissa Morris asked Miles why he had not contacted Jackson Lee when he first learned of the cluster.

“I didn’t share it with her in 2017,” Miles responded. “I felt it was a state issue.”

Morris countered that such a serious issue merited a more urgent response from the senator representing the afflicted neighborhood. We agree. Miles’s contention that he had to follow a process doesn’t hold water when the health and lives of the people in his district are at stake.

They mention, in passing, the harassment allegations against Sen. Miles, which were an issue in the GLBT Caucus endorsement process but have otherwise been largely ignored, but this cancer cluster and Sen. Miles’ response to it was their red line. I don’t know how consequential this will be. Morris has little money, no other endorsements, and a poorly constructed webpage that doesn’t display her banner photo correctly (on two machines, and in two browsers) and links to facebook.com and twitter.com (and Google Plus, for crying out loud) instead of her own campaign Facebook account (no Twitter or Instagram, as far as I could find for her). Point being, she may be a good person and a qualified candidate, she’s probably not the most formidable opponent one could imagine.

Also endorsed yesterday: US Rep. Al Green in CD09.

While other congressional Democrats are facing primary challenges from the left wing of the party, eight-term Rep. Al Green has the opposite problem.

His lone opponent in House District 9, political newcomer Melissa Wilson, describes herself as “pro-life,” especially concerning late-term abortions, opposes an assault-weapons ban and is against imposing a higher minimum wage on small businesses.

Far from criticizing Green for not being progressive enough, Wilson says she is running against the incumbent as a “moderate” who will bring much-needed “young blood and fresh eyes” to Congress.

While a greater diversity of thought would make both political parties healthier, there is no evidence that Green’s more traditional liberal positions are out of step with his district. He was reelected with 89 percent of the vote in 2018, 81 percent in 2016 and 91 percent in 2014.

It also would be counter-productive for area voters to surrender Green’s seniority and leadership position on the Financial Services Committee when Democrats are expected to retain control of the House.

Green, 72, points to his work in securing $90 million for flood protection projects along Brays and Sims bayous. He says he continues to work on legislation to streamline recovery aid in future disasters.

Green is the right choice for voters in the March 3 Democratic primary.

I like Rep. Green and would have supported him regardless, but all this is a hard no from me. Better young blood and fresh eyes, please.

Chron overview of Tax Assessor race

I wasn’t expecting an interesting race here, at least not going into the filing season, but we have one.

Ann Harris Bennett

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett is familiar with elections, appearing on the ballot five times in the last six election cycles and overseeing the office responsible for the voter rolls in Texas’ largest county.

She finds herself in new territory this year, however, with a feisty Democratic primary opponent — former Houston city councilwoman and HISD trustee Jolanda Jones — who is forcing Bennett to defend her record as an incumbent for the first time.

After unseating Republican Mike Sullivan in 2016, Bennett assumed elected office for the first time, taking control of the Harris County office responsible for overseeing billions of dollars in property tax collections and serving as voter registrar. The office also processes millions of annual vehicle registrations and title transfers.

As early voting begins, Bennett is battling for a second term against Jones and frequent local candidate Jack Terence. Though she has endured a few choppy moments during her first three-plus years, she argues that her voter registration outreach efforts and the creation of educational “property tax workshops” are among the reasons she deserves another term.

[…]

Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, said Bennett has missed opportunities to register more voters in Harris County, where the share of eligible voters who are registered to vote is below the state average and far lower than some other large counties.

She said she would make aggressive efforts to register voters, including former felons and high school students, and would have Harris County buy into the “National Change of Address” database, which helps voter registrars keep track of registered voters when they move to new addresses.

Jones argued that Harris County’s voter registration has lagged behind that of other Texas counties that use the database, though Bennett has said her office already uses it to find residents in “suspense” status. Bennett said her office has done “everything that we could possibly do to do outreach,” including partnering with nonprofit groups and holding some 200 trainings for deputy voter registrars.

As a reminder, my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. They’re worth listening to if you haven’t yet. Bennett has had a fairly placid first term, with that SOS purge attempt being the main drama. She’s not a visionary, but she has gotten things done. Jones is smart and has bold ideas that she would aggressively fight for, but she had a tumultuous tenure on City Council and hasn’t been an administrator. Which path do you want to take?

Endorsement watch: Four more

The Chron endorses Rodney Ellis for County Commissioner, Precinct 1, and then proceeds to spend the endorsement mostly talking about his opponent.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Count us among those who were a little surprised when felony court Judge Maria T. Jackson resigned her seat as Harris County’s longest serving judge to run against Rodney Ellis, the powerful, well-funded longtime state senator-turned-county commissioner in Precinct 1.

Count us among those who welcomed her nerve. No public official should get used to running unopposed, even one as productive as Ellis. And the 65-year-old veteran lawmaker and former Houston city councilman has left himself open to criticism for not trying harder to build consensus with Republicans, a pattern that led to a failed tax increase before a legislatively imposed revenue cap.

So it’s disappointing that Jackson, 55, known as tough jurist who also served as a municipal judge and an administrative judge, fell far short of making a coherent case for why she’d be more effective on Commissioner Court.

In a 90-minute interview with the editorial board, Jackson’s main criticism of Ellis centered around his role shepherding through Harris County’s historic bail reform settlement, saying she supported the principle but it didn’t include help for victims and it has led to people out on no-cash bonds reoffending. But she misstated parts of the deal, claiming defendants would get free Uber rides and other assistance, items not included in the final agreement.

Jackson bemoaned millions of dollars for studies on why people don’t go to court — an oversimplification of the scope — saying “most of us know why people don’t go to court. They don’t want to go to jail.” That’s another oversimplification that betrays a lack of compassion for misdemeanor defendants who often balance multiple jobs and transportation challenges.

Asked why she thought her campaign had drawn significant donations from the bail bonding industry, which supported keeping the unconstitutional system of poverty jailing, Jackson answered: “good government.”

Jackson’s most troubling claim was that, when she was elected in 2008, there was only one drug court, and that “under my leadership and direction,” the county established three more and a list of other rehabilitation courts.

“I have been a change maker and been boots on the ground working with everyone and making things happen,” she told us.

In fact, Harris County already had four drug courts in 2007. Jackson didn’t start presiding over a drug court herself until 2017, according to a court newsletter. The other specialty courts were started by other judges.

I agree with the sentiment that no one deserves a free pass, and that having to actually account for oneself each election cycle is the best way to keep officials honest. I also agree with a sentiment that John Coby often expresses each cycle when people start filing for this or that, which is why are you running? Maria Jackson, who declined to be interviewed by me, has done a lousy job of answering that question. She has some undirected complaints, no clear ideas for why she would be an improvement, and multiple misstatements of the facts. You have to do better than that, a lot better when running against someone with a strong record of accomplishment. It’s Candidate 101. I can’t tell you why Maria Jackson is running any more than she can, but Rodney Ellis can, and you can hear him talk about it here.

Oh, and that bit about Ellis “not trying harder to build consensus with Republicans [leading] to a failed tax increase” is utter horsefeathers. Anyone who could type that sentence with a straight face has no understanding of Republican politics and politicians in our time. Treat your readers with more respect than that, guys.

The other three endorsements from Thursday were all for statewide offices.

Chrysta Castañeda for Railroad Commissioner:

Chrysta Castañeda

Ask Chrysta Castañeda what one of the biggest issues facing the Texas Railroad Commission is, and she answers flaring — the burning of surplus gas from oil wells.

The practice is “without any benefit and with environmental harm,” Castañeda, who is running in the March 3 Democratic primary for railroad commissioner, told the Editorial Board. “We’re lighting on fire enough right now to power the city of Houston.”

Castañeda, 57, an engineer and attorney with decades of experience in the oil and gas industry, has been raising the alarm about flaring on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, the man she is trying to unseat, Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton, issued a report on flaring.

[…]

Her opponents include Mark Watson, 63, an attorney who emphasizes the need for strict enforcement of current regulations, former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, 63, who spent 20 years in the Texas Legislature and Kelly Stone, 41, an educator and stand-up comic, who displays a genuine passion to protect the environment.

All three are also calling for constraints on flaring, but Castañeda’s expertise sets her apart. She understands the Railroad Commission’s dual mission is to both promote the development of Texas’ natural resources by regulating the oil and gas industry and to protect the state’s environment.

Those mandates can often seem at odds, especially during the kind of sustained oil and gas boom Texas has been experiencing. Castañeda’s experience will help her balance the economic concerns of the oil and gas industry with the need to protect the environment for all Texans.

My interview with Castañeda is here and my interview with Kelly Stone is here. They’re the two most active candidates, and while Castañeda has been collecting the newspaper endorsements (here’s your friendly neighborhood Erik Manning spreadsheet), Stone has gotten plaudits from those panels as well.

Brandy Voss for Supreme Court, Place 7.

Brandy Voss

We recommend attorney Brandy Voss for Place 7 on the Texas Supreme Court in the March 3 Democratic primary. Voss lacks the judicial experience of her opponent, Civil District Judge Staci Williams of Dallas County, but more than compensates for that with a career-long immersion in appellate law.

Voss spent a year after graduating Baylor University law school as a briefing clerk for then-Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, where she helped draft opinions. She then worked as an appellate lawyer in Dallas until relocating to McAllen with her family and later worked for four years as a senior staff attorney for Justice Gina Benavides on the 13th Court of Appeals. She again helped draft opinions and continued learning the intricacies of managing an appellate docket.

Those skills, along with experience in volunteer roles such as a member of the Texas Bar Association’s rules advisory committee, have prepared her well to be a member of the state’s top civil court. Lawyers responding to the Texas Bar Association judicial preference poll backed Voss over Williams by a 2-1 margin.

This is one of those races where I’ve had a hard time choosing, as both candidates look pretty strong and there’s no clear distinction between them. The Trib did a story about the contested Democratic primaries for statewide judicial positions and noted that all but this one and the three-way race for CCA Place 3 are a man versus a woman. If you’re looking for other distinctions, Voss has raised more money and has a slight overall edge in endorsements. Make of that what you will

Amy Clark Meachum for Supreme Court, Chief Justice.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Texas Democrats have two experienced judges to choose from as they vote in the March 3 primary to pick their nominee to challenge Chief Justice Nathan Hecht for his seat on the state’s top civil court in November.

Both have experience that would serve them well on the high court. But we strongly recommend District Judge Amy Clark Meachum over Justice Jerry Zimmerer, who sits now in Place 3 of the 14th Court of Appeals in Harris County.

Meachum, 44, is currently a civil district judge in Travis County, where she was first elected in 2010. She scores reasonably well on the local bar evaluation — 50 percent of respondents rated her overall as “excellent” and just 17 percent said she “needs improvement” — and her fellow judges have elected her as presiding judge for the county’s civil and family courts.

Here are Meachum’s Q&A responses. This one, I have a clearer idea of which way to go.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Three: Midweek meandering

I don’t have any clever openings today, so once again let’s just jump right in. Here’s the Day Three report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Three:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,209    4,962   10,171
2016   8,167   10,231   18,398
2018   7,641   10,896   18,537
2020  13,793   17,731   31,524

2012  11,430   10,205   21,635
2016  11,087   14,869   25,956
2018  11,558   10,243   21,801
2020  13,944   16,833   30,777

The Dems have almost caught up in mail ballots returned, while the two parties remain close in overall turnout. Dems still have about 25K mail ballots out, while Republicans have 17K still out. Dems are running more than 70% higher than they were in 2016, while Republicans are a bit below 20% ahead of their 2016 pace. The first week is usually pretty consistent day to day, it’s on Saturday and in week 2 that we really start to see stuff happen.

I shared a number of analyses from the 2018 election by Derek Ryan, a Republican analyst who did a lot of very useful public number crunching during the early voting period. He’s back with a closer look at the 2020 primaries so far. Here he is after Day Two (via his daily emails):

The average age of a Republican Primary early voter is 62.5, while the average age of a Democratic Primary early voter is 53.6. This is the average for in-person voters only (ballot by mail voters skew the averages up).

4.3% of the voters in the Democratic Primary are people who have previous Republican Primary history, but have not voted in a Democratic Primary in the last four election cycles. Some of these crossover voters could be due to the contested presidential primary. As a comparison, Democrats with no previous Republican Primary history made up 7.0% of the votes cast in the contested 2016 Republican Primary.

While it isn’t one of the top 30 largest counties, I would like to mention that my favorite county, Loving County, has seen seven people show up to vote in the Republican or Democratic Primary.

You can see his report here. As he notes, thanks to a new law passed last year, all counties are required to send their daily EV data to the Secretary of State, and you can see it all here. Pick the election you want, choose the most recent date, and submit for the whole state. Vote rosters for each county are also included. The new additional data makes direct comparisons to previous years impossible, since all we had before were the top 15 counties, but if you want to see what that looked like after two days in 2016, see here.

As of Day Two, there were 203,984 GOP early votes, and 160,353 Dem votes. I predicted way more Dem votes than Republican, which so far isn’t the case. I do think there’s something to the theory that Dems are waiting a bit to see what happens in Nevada and South Carolina, but even with that I clearly underestimated the Republicans. That said, Dem turnout is definitely up, even just looking at the counties where we can make direct comparisons. I’ll do a closer look at that in a day or two.

Statesman overview of the statewide judicial races

It’s good to have a full slate of qualified candidates.

After years of trouble scraping together enough candidates to run for seats on both statewide courts, Texas Democrats have the opposite situation in 2020 — contested primaries in almost every race.

In all four races for the Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court, two Democrats are vying to challenge Republican incumbents.

And for the state’s top criminal court, multiple Democrats are running in two of three available races for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The renewed Democratic interest comes after the party’s court candidates lost by 6 to 8 points in 2018 — defeats that seem strong after the party’s judicial candidates were drubbed by an average of 24 points in 2010.

As an added incentive, Democratic judicial candidates tend to do better in presidential election years like 2020.

Contested primaries are a mixed blessing, offering an opportunity to improve name recognition but depleting campaign coffers, particularly in Supreme Court races in which GOP incumbents can raise more than $1 million in contributions, largely from civil lawyers and law firms. In contrast, races for the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be low-cost affairs.

Let me start by saying once again that the “contested primaries are resource drains” narrative continues to be tiresome, and in a year where a lot of people will be voting in the primary it’s very much a good thing for voters to have some idea of who you are ahead of November. There are brief writeups of each candidate, not much more than that, but it’s a start. I have Q&A responses from a couple of the candidates, Judge Amy Clark Meachum (Supreme Court, Chief Justice) and Steve Miears, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. Texas Lawyer has Q&As with nearly all of these candidates as part of their judicial race coverage. Their Supreme Court candidate Q&As are here and for the Court of Criminal Appeals here. The Erik Manning spreadsheet shows everyone’s endorsements, and as you can see there were a lot of split decisions.

One race has drawn a bit more heat than the others, the Supreme Court Chief Justice primary.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Jerry Zimmerer, a Houston appeals court justice running for Texas Supreme Court, said his Democratic primary opponent, Amy Clark Meachum, has “selfish” motivations for running, pointing to the fact that she has cast her campaign to be the first woman elected chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court as a historic one.

“I just think somebody who wants to try to break barriers for their own benefit is not going to be successful,” Zimmerer told The Texas Tribune in an interview Thursday. “I just don’t think that’s what voters are looking for. … I just think that’s a goal she wants to achieve for herself.”

He said his campaign is different because “I actually want the best candidate to win.”

“I may not be the first anything, but I’m going to be the best,” he said.

Meachum said Zimmerer “should run on his own record instead of attacking mine.” Throughout her campaign, Meachum has said she hopes to restore balance to the all-Republican court and champion women in the legal profession.

“If he chooses to disparage a more qualified and experienced judge because of her gender, he’ll find himself on the wrong side of history,” she said. “These sorts of sexist comments are straight from the 1950s.”

[…]

In a state bar poll that gauges Texas attorneys’ support for judicial candidates, Meachum won more favor than Zimmerer, with 1,779 votes to his 326. The Republican incumbent, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, won 2,706 votes.

Meachum has said she is the Democrats’ best chance at winning a seat on the high court for the first time in more than two decades.

“I don’t exactly look like or sound like my primary opponent, my general election opponent, or any of the men who have previously been elected Chief Justice,” she said in a Houston Chronicle questionnaire. “I am making an important statement for women in the law and women in our party in 2020 and I would appreciate your support!”

Reached Friday for comment, Zimmerer said, “As someone who has traveled the state trying to pull together all the different groups that make up the Texas Democratic Party into a cohesive coalition, I have concerns with those who would seek to divide us.”

Yeah, put me down in support of Judge Meachum on this one. I know both of these candidates and I like them both, but I disagree with Justice Zimmerer’s argument. We’ll see what the voters think.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Two: In for the long haul

Let’s jump right in. Here’s the Day Two report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. As of Day One from those years :


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,100    3,035    8,135
2016   7,191    6,810   14,001
2018   5,651    6,976   12,627
2020  12,017   12,779   24,796

2012  11,116    6,730   17,846
2016   9,757    9,621   19,378
2018   7,817    6,138   16,955
2020  13,287   11,362   24,649

A couple of clarifications: I had yesterday’s mail and in person totals reversed for the non-2020 years (they’re fixed now), so sorry for the confusion. The group on the top is Dems, and on the bottom is Republicans. Right now, Dems lead in in-person votes while Republicans lead in mail ballots returned. However, Dems have 37K ballots mailed out, while the GOP has only 30K, so that lead could disappear. It’s the in-person votes that will be the biggest factor, though, and as is typically the case Day Two is a little down from Day One, but well head of 2016, with the Dems having a much bigger increase.

Here’s a very early look at who voted on Day One on the Dem side:

Click over for the thread. These numbers will change quickly as the in-person totals begin to swamp the mail ballots. I’ll stay on top of it as we go.

Endorsement watch: Sri again

The Chronicle endorses Sri Kulkarni in the CD22 primary.

Sri Kulkarni

We see Kulkarni as the strongest possible candidate for Democrats hoping to turn the seat blue. A former Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, Kulkarni is the son of an immigrant father and a mother whose family descends from Sam Houston. That mix of insider and outsider perspectives has served him well in a career that involved compromise and dialogue with hostile parties all over the world. He seems to prioritize civility and is open to finding common ground with those who differ from him ideologically.

He said he quit his post in the Foreign Service in 2017 when it became difficult to defend positions adopted by President Trump on race and immigration and decided to run for Congress. But for all his global perspective – he says he speaks six languages well – Kulkarni impressed us with his commitment to help people in his district. He wants Congress to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic so it can more readily be used as medicine for veterans and others whom it can help. He also promised to help area residents reduce the flood risk along the Gulf Coast region.

Given his close finish against Olson two years ago, Democrats can be optimistic about Kulkarni’s prospects for flipping the seat. He’s raised enough money for his campaign to contest even the best-financed Republican opposition in November. We recommend Democrats take advantage of that head start and vote for him in the primary.

The Chron endorsed Kulkarni in 2018, so this is not a huge surprise. They also had some nice things to say about Derrick Reed and Nyanza Moore despite the recent unpleasantness between them. Maybe they wrote this before that happened, or maybe they just decided not to clutter up their endorsement of Kulkarni with that side issue, I dunno. They also endorsed the latest Bush progeny in the Republican primary, if anyone cares.

Also in their meandering path to finishing off the endorsements, the Chron recommends Elizabeth Frizell for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3.

As a criminal defense attorney, Elizabeth Frizell has seen defendants who are wrongfully convicted and others who receive the death penalty in cases where a life sentence would have been more appropriate. She has seen higher courts rule verdicts in criminal trials must stand, even when lawyers or judges made significant errors in the trials that produced them.

Frizell, who is running in the Democratic primary for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3, says those issues would be among her top priorities in reviewing cases if elected.

The former Dallas County Criminal District Court judge, who has 26 years of legal experience, has also served as a municipal court judge and county family law judge. She narrowly lost her 2018 bid to be the Democrats’ nominee for Dallas County District Attorney. Prior to becoming a judge, she was a criminal defense attorney for 13 years and handled death penalty and court-appointed cases.

Frizell would bring a much-needed voice to the Court of Criminal Appeals, long an all-Republican bench. Her experience as a lawyer gives her insight into the flaws of the legal system, something that would help her weigh the life-and-death decisions that come before Texas’s highest criminal court. In the last fiscal year, for instance, the Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed eight death penalty cases.

Frizell has also been endorsed by the Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express News, according to the invaluable Erik Manning spreadsheet. William Demond has collected most of the group endorsements. Make of that what you will.

The interviews I didn’t do

As was the case with the 2019 Houston elections, there were too many candidates and too many races (and in this case, too little time as well) to do a full slate of interviews. I did what I could, and did a pretty good job of covering the races of interest in Harris County if I do say so myself, but if there had been more time I’d have done more. In some cases, I can point to previous interviews or other resources, so let’s have a review, and look ahead to what might be on tap for the runoffs.

US Senate: I’d have loved to interview some of these candidates, but it was unlikely I’d be able to get time on their calendars, especially after the filing deadline. The Texas Signal has done some Senate candidate forums, and you can see links to Facebook videos from one they did in Houston here. The Texas Trib also did a series of interviews with the five leading candidates, and they can be seen here, as well as a Q&A series here.

CD02: I interviewed Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen very early in the cycle, before the filing deadline and thus before Sima Ladjevardian entered the race. I’ve tried but have not succeeded at setting up a time to talk with her, and if there’s a runoff that she’s in that will be a top priority for me.

CD08: This is obviously not a district that anyone expects to be competitive, but I regret not having the time to speak to Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez. They both look like super candidates, and it’s important to support efforts to build Democratic infrastructure in places like Montgomery County. That race is on my list for November.

CD09: Rep. Al Green is the one Democrat in Congress from the area that I’ve never had the chance to interview. Tried to chase him down once a few years ago but couldn’t make it happen. I don’t see this as a competitive race and there’s no need to do a November interview, but one of these days I’d like to talk with him, just to have done it.

CD10: I interviewed Mike Siegel for the 2018 runoff. This race is on my list for the May runoff, if there is one.

CD18: I interviewed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee back in 2010. I would enjoy talking with her again, but I did not have it in me to do seven (!) interviews for this race. In the unlikely event of a runoff, I’ll definitely revisit this race.

CD22: I interviewed Sri Kulkarni for the 2018 runoff. My original thought was that if this goes to a runoff I’ll be there for it, but after the recent bizarre allegations between the two candidates who might make it into a runoff besides Sri Kulkarni, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

SD11: I interviewed Susan Criss when she ran for HD23 in 2014. I may or may not do this race for November, we’ll see.

SD13: I’ve interviewed Sen. Borris Miles twice, most recently in 2012, when he was running for re-election in HD146. Let’s just say I’d have to ask him some very different questions now, and leave it at that.

HD126: As it happens, I interviewed both candidates in 2018 – Natali Hurtado, and Undrai Fizer. I’ll probably do this one for November, we’ll see.

HD142: I have never interviewed Rep. Harold Dutton, I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I have interviewed Jerry Davis a couple of times, most recently in 2013. I will definitely want to do interviews in this race if there’s a runoff.

HD146: I have not interviewed Rep. Shawn Thierry, but I did run a judicial Q&A from her in 2010. I interviewed Ashton Woods for City Council last year.

HD147: I have interviewed Rep. Garnet Coleman multiple times, most recently in 2012. He’s always been a favorite person to talk to. In the unlikely event of a runoff, I’ll definitely revisit this race.

HD148: Had it not been for the special election in November, I’d have been all over this race. That said, thanks to the special election I’ve already done interviews with Rep.-elect Anna Eastman, Penny Shaw, and Adrian P. Garcia. I also interviewed Cynthia Reyes-Revilla for City Council. I might possibly revisit this in a runoff, but because I’ve done these interviews so recently it’s not clear to me I’d have anything new to ask these folks. We’ll see.

Sheriff: I’ve interviewed Sheriff Ed Gonzalez multiple times, including in 2016 when he first ran for Sheriff. I also interviewed Jerome Moore after he made it to the runoff with Gonzalez in 2016. I didn’t see this race as a particularly serious challenge to Gonzalez, so I put a higher priority on the DA and County Attorney races. If it turns out I was wrong and this one winds up in a runoff, I will of course revisit it.

HCDE: I also regret not doing interviews in the two At Large HCDE races, but there just wasn’t the time, and unlike with legislative offices there’s just so many questions about this position I can reasonably ask. I’ll probably do Position 7 if that race goes to a runoff, but we’ll see.

Yeah, I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years. Always room for more, though not always the time. I’ll be back to the task in March, and again later this year. Hope you find this useful.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day One: Off to a quick start

And we’re off.

On an overcast and drizzly day in much of Texas, early voting for the 2020 primary elections in some of the state’s most populous counties was up over turnout four years ago, despite warnings by political watchers that an ever-shifting Democratic presidential race might keep some voters at home as they wait for other states’ results.

By about 6 p.m., almost 7,000 people in Tarrant County had cast ballots, already more than the 6,908 that voted on the first day of early voting in the 2016 primaries.

By that time in Harris County, the more than 10,000 people had voted across 52 early voting locations was up significantly from the 7,840 in-person ballots from the first day of the 2016 primaries.

In Bexar, more than 8,000 had voted in person by Tuesday evening — up from 6,118 from Day 1 of early voting in 2016. About 6,000 had voted in Travis County by 4:45 p.m., up from 4,984 in 2016.

[…]

Some Democrats may be staying away from the polls as they hold out for the results of upcoming primaries in Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29, said Renee Cross, senior director at the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Primary outcomes have the potential to upend the dynamics of a race. After the New Hampshire alone last week, three candidates — former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. Michael Bennet and Andrew Yang — dropped out.

“Given the volatility of this primary for the Democrats, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a much higher than usual strategic voter turnout,” Cross said.

We usually get the bulk of early voting towards the end of the EV period, in particular the last two days, so that’s not unusual. Perhaps it will be more pronounced this year. In any event, the figures cited by the Chron are for both parties combined – we won’t know what the D versus R numbers are until we see the reports from each county. And note that these numbers are for in person voting. There’s also mail ballots:

To be fair, Dems didn’t really do mail ballots in 2008. It’s still impressive. Here’s the Day One report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. As of Day One from those years :


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   4,644    1,570    6,214
2016   6,344    3,292    9,636
2018   4,174    3,833    8,007
2020  11,571    6,819   18,390

2012  10,027    3,380   13,407
2016   8,172    4,548   12,720
2018   6,138    3,509    9,547
2020  12,890    5,411   18,301

So just on mail ballots, 2020 D is greater than 2016 D. In person turnout is slightly ahead of 2016, which had a final total of 227,280. We’ll have to pick things up to meet my prediction, but if the hypothesis that some folks will be waiting to see how Nevada and South Carolina go holds true, the opportunity to do so will be there. I myself will probably vote later this week. What was your experience if you voted, and what’s your plan if you haven’t done so yet?

Sen. Kirk Watson to retire

Well, this was unexpected.

Sen. Kirk Watson

State Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat, is retiring from the Texas Senate.

His resignation is effective at midnight on April 30, the Austin American-Statesman first reported Tuesday. Watson is leaving office to become the first dean of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs.

“This is a chance to build a world-class public affairs and policy school essentially from the ground up,” Watson said in a statement. “It is transformative work at a creative and ambitious university, located in one of the country’s largest and most diverse cities. … Only a unique opportunity to serve this state — and a compelling platform for that service — would cause me to leave.”

Watson, an attorney and former mayor of the city of Austin, represents Senate District 14, a historically Democratic seat. It covers Bastrop County and parts of Travis County. He was first elected to the seat in 2006, taking office in early 2007.

Watson’s early departure will set off a special election to serve the rest of the term, which will end in 2023. Watson delivered his resignation letter this morning to Gov. Greg Abbott, who will later set the date for a special election.

The race to replace Watson is likely to be a crowded one and could include multiple members of the Texas House’s Austin delegation.

Here’s Watson announcing his departure on Twitter:

Watson was re-elected in 2018 with 72% of the vote, so this is a safe Democratic seat. The special election, which will be for the remainder of this term ending in 2021, will almost certainly be in November, so it won’t be a low-turnout affair, either. I will be shocked if we don’t see at least a couple of current members of the Lege from Travis County take a shot at this. For one, it’s a freebie – you’ll still be on the ballot for your current seat, and won’t need to step down unless you win. For another, opportunities like this don’t come along very often – Watson was first elected in 2006, after all, following the departure of Gonzalo Barrientos. Every State Rep in SD14 should be giving this serious thought.

And if one of the current State Reps eventually wins this, we’ll be in for another round of Special Legislative Elections Happening During A Legislative Session. Assuming no one wins the SD14 special in November, there would be a December runoff. That would mean a special State House election in mid-to-late January, and a runoff if needed in late February or early March. Is it wrong that I’m just a tiny bit giddy about that?

Anyway. Watson was a terrific Senator, and he will be missed. I look forward to seeing him around Houston. Chuck Lindell has a thread with reactions from various potental candidates, and the Statesman and the Chron have more.

Endorsement watch: The story so far

The Chron lists all their endorsements so far as early voting begins.

It’s here. Early voting in the March 3 Texas primaries begins today and ends Feb. 28.

Over the past few weeks, the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board has interviewed and researched dozens of Republican and Democratic candidates, weighing such factors as incumbency, experience and accomplishments, to assemble a list of recommendations we hope will guide voters through some tough choices. We are the only nonpartisan group in the Houston area to provide this service.

Here’s a one-page summary of our picks so far. Take it into the voting booth with you, or print out our PDF online; you can’t take your cellphone:

They have this on a standalone page as well, which I presume will continue to be updated. Note that the linked article includes Republicans, whose races I have mostly ignored, several Democrats whose endorsements do not yet appear anywhere else on their site, and Tina Clinton, candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4, whose endorsement I had skipped over because it was a lone Dem endorsement and I was waiting for another one to accompany it. They also note the races they still have to endorse in.

The candidates they have endorsed but not yet published said endorsement: Commissioner Rodney Ellis for Commissioners Court, Precinct 1; and Elizabeth Frizell, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3. The races they list as yet to come:

U.S. Senate (D)

Texas Supreme Court (D): Chief Justice, Place 7

Railroad Commissioner (D)

U.S. House

Republican: Districts 9, 29, 36

Democrat: Districts 2, 8, 9, 10, 18, 22

State House

Republican: Districts 127, 128, 138

Democrat: District 149

State Senate

Democrat: District 13

I’m a little confused by the HD149 Democratic listing, since as far as I know the two people who had filed against Rep. Hubert Vo were ultimately rejected, but we’ll see. Still a lot of races to go, and we’ve already started voting, that’s all I know.

Five questions for the primary

Five questions I thought of, anyway. With my own answers, some of which are admittedly on the weaselish side. Feel free to discuss/disagree/ask your own questions/etc.

1. What kind of turnout are we going to have?

The short answer is “a lot”. Texas doesn’t always get to be a part of a contested Presidential primary, but when we are, we go to the polls. Dems in 2008 and Republicans in 2016 both topped 2.8 million voters – hell, more Dems voted in the 2008 primary than in the 2004 general election. I think the bidding on the Dem side starts at 3 million, with at least 500K in Harris County (we had 410K in 2008). I think 3.5 million is in play, which means a lot of first-time Dem voters. It’s going to be really interesting to see people’s voting histories in VAN after this.

2. What does this mean for all of the other races on the ballot?

It’s really hard to say. I feel like when turnout is super low, it levels the field a bit for those who are challenging incumbents or maybe haven’t raised a ton of money because the electorate is limited to the hardcore faithful, who probably know more about the candidates, or at least pay attention to endorsements and stuff like that. In a normal high turnout environment, I figure incumbents and candidates who have raised more money have the edge, since they’re better positioned to be known to the voters. In a super high turnout election, where a significant number of people won’t be all that familiar with the many names before them, who knows? I still think incumbents will be better off, but even the high-money candidates will have to fight for attention as most voters are tuned into the Presidential race. I really don’t feel comfortable making any predictions. At least the number of goofball candidates is pretty low, so even with the likelihood of some random results, there don’t appear to be any Gene Kellys or Jim Hogans out there.

That said, some number of people who vote will just be voting in the Presidential race, so the topline turnout number will be higher, maybe a lot higher, than the size of the electorate downballot. I went and looked at primary turnout in recent elections to see what this factor looks like:


Year    President  Next Most    % Pres
======================================
2004 D    839,231    605,789     72.2%
2004 R    687,615    567,835     82.6%

2008 D  2,874,986  2,177,252     75.8%
2008 R  1,362,322  1,223,865     89.8%

2012 D    590,164    497,487     84.3%
2012 R  1,449,477  1,406,648     97.0%

2016 D  1,435,895  1,087,976     75.8%
2016 R  2,836,488  2,167,838     76.4%

“President” is the number of votes cast in that Presidential primary race, “Next Most” is the next highest vote total, which was in the Senate primaries in 2008 and 2012 and in either the Railroad Commissioner or a Supreme Court race otherwise, and “% Pres” is the share of the highest non-Presidential total. Some people could have voted for President and then skipped to a Congressional race or some other non-statewide contest, but this is a reasonable enough approximation of the dropoff. Bear in mind that context matters as well. In 2004, none of the Dem statewide primaries were contested, which likely meant more people skipped those races. The infamous Senate primary between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst and other lesser candidates was in 2012, which is why nearly everyone also voted in that race. All but one of the Dem statewide races are contested, though none are as high profile as 2012 R Senate – we may never see a race like that again.

So my best guess would be that if 3 million people vote in the Dem Presidential primary, somewhere between 2.2 million and 2.4 million people will then vote in the Senate and other statewide primaries. That’s still a lot, but the downballot races will have a slightly more engaged electorate as a result.

3. What about that Presidential primary?

Again, who knows? The polling evidence we have is mixed. Before the UT/Trib poll, the evidence we had said that Joe Biden was the leading candidate, though whether he has a big lead or a small lead over Bernie Sanders depends on which poll you’re looking at. Throw that UT/Trib poll in there, and maybe he doesn’t have a lead at all. Who knows?

The primaries that take place between now and March 3 will have an effect as well – candidates may gain or lose momentum before March 3. Bear in mind, though, that a whole lot of Texas primary voting will happen before either the Nevada caucus or the South Carolina primary happen, so the effect from those states will be limited. And Texas is one of many states voting on Super Tuesday, so candidates can’t just camp here, they have other states to worry about as well. They do all have campaign presences, however, with some of them having been here for months. Finally, quite a few candidates who have already dropped out, including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Julian Castro will still be on the ballot and will get some number of votes. That UT/Trib poll still had Andrew Yang in it, and he polled at six percent, higher than Amy Klobuchar. There are a lot of moving parts here.

To me, the X factor in all this is Michael Bloomberg, who has been carpet-bombing the airwaves (seriously, where do I go to surrender?) and has been ramping up his field presence in a way that other candidates may have a hard time matching. He was basically tied for third or just behind third but still super close in the UT-Tyler poll, and fourth in the UT/Trib poll, in double digits in each case. I won’t be surprised if these polls underestimate his strength. I mean, he sure seems like a candidate positioned to do quite well among those less-frequent Dem voters, and if your top priority is beating Trump, he did quite well on that score in the UT-Tyler poll, too. He’s now getting some establishment support, too. To say the least, Bloomberg is a problematic candidate, and the inevitable round of scrutiny of his baggage may drag him back down, but if you’re not prepared for the possibility that Bloomberg could do quite well in Texas in March, you’re not paying attention.

4. What about the runoffs?

Three statewide races – Senate, RRC, and Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – as well as 15 Congressional races have at least three candidates and could go to runoffs, plus who knows how many other downballot contests. Runoffs generally get far less attention and participation than the main event, but this could be a year where a reasonable share of the initial vote turns out again in May.

Because that’s the kind of person I am, I looked at the recent history of primary runoff turnout. Here you go:


Year    President     Runoff    % Pres
======================================
2004 R    687,615    223,769     32.5%

2008 D  2,874,986    187,708      6.5%

2012 D    590,164    236,305     40.0%
2012 R  1,449,477  1,111,938     76.7%

2016 D  1,435,477    188,592     13.1%
2016 R  2,836,488    376,387     13.3%

There were no statewide runoffs in 2004 for Dems (those races were all uncontested) or in 2008 for Republicans. We already know that the 2012 GOP Senate race is a unicorn, and you can see another dimension of that here. There was a Senate runoff in 2012 on the Dem side as well, and that’s the high water mark for turnout in the modern era. This Senate race isn’t that high profile, but I think there will be some money in it, and there will be some Congressional races of interest, so maybe 300K or 400K in May for Dems? I’m totally guessing, but it wouldn’t shock me if we hit a new height this year. The bar to clear is not at all high.

5. What about the Republicans?

What about them? This is basically a 2004 year for them – incumbent President, a super low-key Senate race, no other statewide races of interest, with a few hot Congressional races being the main driver of turnout. They’ll have several of those to finish up in May as well, but my guess is they top out at about a million in March, and don’t reach 200K in May. There just isn’t that much to push them to the polls at this time.

Judicial Q&A: Colleen Gaido

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Colleen Gaido

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Colleen Gaido and I am running for the Harris County 337th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 337th hears all manner of felonies, from state jail felonies like burglary of a building and possession of a controlled substance to first degree felonies such as murder and aggravated robbery.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was actually on maternity leave when colleagues from both the Defense bar and the District Attorney’s office reached out to me to let me know that the current judge, Judge Ritchie, was retiring and to encourage me to run. I am running because I care deeply about criminal justice in our community and I believe that I have the experience, temperament and progressive values to be an excellent judge for the residents of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Since graduating from the University of Houston Law Center in 2007 I have practiced criminal law exclusively. I began my career at the District Attorney’s Office where I tried dozens of jury trials, including capital murders, robberies and sexual assaults of children. I was also asked to teach at the state and local level on trial skills and prosecutorial ethics. In 2017 I left the District Attorney’s office to practice criminal defense. I have dedicated my practice to solely representing those who cannot afford counsel. This work has brought me a welcome change in perspective on the criminal justice system, the bail system and the effects of mass incarceration on our communities.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because Harris County has made great progress in its criminal justice system and that progress needs to continue. The judge in a criminal court must ensure several things, including ensuring that people’s Constitutional rights are protected; that bail is not used to punish defendants pretrial or as leverage to get defendants to plead guilty; that their court runs efficiently, goes to trial regularly, and gives scheduling priority to those accused who are being held pretrial; that defendants have access to excellent and zealous representation; and that everyone who appears before them is treated with dignity and respect. When a judge fails to do these things the system fails the community, and the community loses faith in that system.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

First, I’ve worked extensively in Criminal District Courts. I’ve handled hundreds of felony cases as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and practicing on both sides of has given me knowledge and a unique perspective that will assist me in being an informed, impartial judge. While that experience means that I know the law, it has not made me blind to the criminal justice system’s faults or weary of striving to make the system better for everyone involved.  Lastly, I have the temperament to treat everyone who comes before me with dignity and respect, and the work ethic to keep working diligently for the county long after I am elected.

UT/Trib: Hegar leads Senate primary pack

A small bit of clarity in a muddled race.

MJ Hegar

MJ Hegar has widened her lead over her rivals for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, but she’s one of a dozen candidates in that Texas race who remain strangers to a large majority of their primary voters, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Those widely unknown Democrats are vying for the seat held by Republican John Cornyn, a well-known incumbent who first won election to the U.S. Senate in 2002. Cornyn faces four opponents in the Republican primary.

The large number of candidates almost ensures a May runoff after the March 3 primary, but it’s not clear who might be in it. Hegar had the support of 22% of self-identified Democratic primary voters in Texas — the only candidate with double-digit support. Six candidates were next in line, in a tight grouping that makes it impossible to say for sure who’s in second place. With support ranging from 5% to 9%, that group includes Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, Royce West, Annie “Mamá” Garcia and Sema Hernandez.

The rest said they preferred one of the five remaining candidates or “someone else,” or they refused to say who they’d vote for.

“There’s going to be a runoff, and Hegar is candidate one. But there is a six-car pileup for No. 2. Who knows who No. 2 is?” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s extraordinarily volatile.”

That pretty much sums up my view of this. I’ve largely ignored Dem Senate primary polling, mostly because none of the candidates had much name recognition and that led to poll results with nobody having more than ten percent of the vote. Hegar is the one candidate who has raised significant money, she has the outside group VoteVets spending on her and also has the DSCC endorsement, and she ran a high-profile campaign for Congress in 2018, so she should be leading the pack. As for who is most likely to end up in the runoff with her, I’d pick Royce West (who should get a lot of votes in the Dallas area) and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez as the favorites. But yes, the rest of the pack are all in the running, and most outcomes would not surprise me.

2020 Primary Early Voting begins today

We don’t have a long primary season in Texas – the filing deadline was barely two months ago, though to be sure some candidates have been running for much longer than that – and the first part of it is drawing to a close, as early voting officially begins today. For those of you in Harris County, you can find the schedule and locations here. Please be aware that there are new locations, and some old locations are no longer in use. For example, if you live in the Heights area, the SPJST Lodge location is not being used any more, but Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church (Room 106) at 2025 West 11th Street is available. You can find a map and get directions to any location here. There are 52 early voting locations in the county, every one open from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except this Sunday (1 to 6 PM as usual for Sundays) through next Friday, the 28th. You have plenty of time, so be sure to go vote.

For other counties:

Fort Bend
Montgomery
Brazoria
Galveston
Waller

This Chron story has the basic facts about voting – if you’ve done this before it’s nothing new, but if you know a newbie, it would help them.

Also new, here in Harris County: Virtual translators.

Harris County residents who primarily speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese or 26 other languages now will have access to a virtual translator at the polls, County Clerk Diane Trautman announced Friday, part of a series of initiatives aimed at improving the county’s voter participation rate.

In a nod to Harris County’s diversity — more than a third of its 4.7 million residents are native speakers of a language other than English — elected officials want to eliminate communication barriers at voting sites.

“With this innovative technology, interpreters can communicate with the voter and poll worker in real time via video chat to make the voting process easier and more accessible,” Trautman said.

Flanked by county Elections Director Michael Winn, Trautman offered a demonstration of the machines at the West Gray Multi-Service Center. The tablet devices, which previously stored electronic poll books and were set to be discarded, allow a poll worker to make a video conference call to a translator in the desired language. The translator then can help the poll worker and voter communicate.

[…]

Trautman said the virtual translators will be available at all 52 early voting locations for the March primary elections.

Dozens of Korean-speaking voters were frustrated when then-County Clerk Stan Stanart barred translators from operating inside a Spring Branch polling site in 2018. Stanart said he had to follow the Texas Election Code, which limits who can operate inside a 100-foot buffer zone at polling places.

Korean American Voters League President Hyunja Norman, who helped organize the Spring Branch voters, welcomed the virtual translation devices.

“I think they can be very beneficial,” she said. “Still, the human factor cannot be ignored.”

Norman said many of the Korean-American residents in Houston who need language assistance are elderly immigrants who are new to voting and often intimidated by technology. She said she still would like to see real-life translators gain more access to polling sites.

Pretty cool. And if I’m reading this correctly, the virtual translator will be working with a poll worker at the site, so there will be some human involvement. Hopefully this will help the folks who need it.

I’ve talked about turnout before, and as is my habit I will be following the daily EV reports to see how that is progressing. I have the daily EV reports from other years to serve as points of comparison: 2012, 2016, and 2018. Sadly, I don’t have a daily report from 2008 – looking back at my posts from then, I made the rookie mistake of linking to the report on the County Clerk website, which was the same generic URL each day. Alas. Here’s my blog post after the last day of early voting, and here’s the cumulative report from the Dem primary. Note that back in those early days of early voting, most people still voted on Election Day. For the 2008 Dem primary, there were 170K early in person votes (plu 9K mail ballots), and 410K total votes. That’s one reason why the subsequent predictions about November turnout were so off the charts – in November, unlike in March that year, a large majority of the vote was early, which is the norm now in even-numbered years. But because we had been used to less than half of the vote being early up to that point, we way over-estimated the November numbers. We have a better handle on things now.

So that’s the story. I’ll aim to post daily updates, which will depend to some extent on when I get the reports. When are you planning to vote?

Judicial Q&A: Amparo Monique Guerra

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Amparo Monique Guerra

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Amparo Monique Guerra and I am running for Justice, First Court of Appeals, Place 5. I am a lawyer, judge, mom of three children, and wife. I am the first Hispanic partner in my law firm. I have 17 years’ experience as a litigator, at both the trial and appellate levels, in state and federal courts throughout Texas and the U.S. I handle complex cases for a wide range of clients, from individuals to large multi-national corporations. When I was originally appointed to be a Municipal Judge for the City of Houston in 2005, I was the youngest sitting judge on the court, having been appointed at 28 years old.

I am a graduate of Rice University (double-major in Sociology and Latin American Studies), where I was on the President’s Honor Roll. I obtained my J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center, which awarded me a Dean’s Merit Scholarship, as well as Public Interest Fellowships to work with Texas Rural Legal Aid, and with Farmworker Legal Services in Michigan.

I clerked for a U.S. District Judge immediately following law school. I look forward to bringing my background, strong work ethic, and experience as a lawyer and a judge to the Court of Appeals.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The intermediate courts of appeals hear civil cases (including, but not limited to, business, family, probate, and personal injury) and criminal cases (except death penalty cases, which are appealed directly to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals) from the trial courts throughout a ten-county district, which includes Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington Counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

Public service has always been a passion of mine. My mother (Retired Justice Linda Yanez) was the first Latina on a court of appeals in Texas. I was a federal judicial law clerk for U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela immediately following law school. Judge Vela showed me that the duties of a judge include being an excellent jurist, but should also extend beyond the courtroom to the community it serves. He often had us law clerks speak at schools and at naturalization ceremonies. In addition, we were instructors in a pre-law academy for undergraduate students. He and my mom instilled in me how one can use a law degree to serve the community, and so as soon as I could be a judge, I became one at 28 years old. As a judge, I treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter who they are or where they come from.

I am the first Hispanic partner at my law firm, and I have been promoting diversity on the bench for years. When I saw that Democrats could win seats at the courts of appeals here (which essentially had not happened in about 20 years), I was ecstatic, but when I looked at the composition of the bench, I noticed that the court sorely lacked the diversity that I know this community embodies. Houston is the most diverse city, and Fort Bend is the most diverse county in the country; however, our courts of appeals have no African American and no Hispanic justices. This is the perfect opportunity for me to utilize my unique background, education, exceptional legal skills, and experience as a judge to serve my community in a greater capacity.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In addition to the qualifications listed in response to Question 1, I am eminently qualified to be a justice on the court of appeals because I have a wide breadth of experience as a lawyer handling cases throughout Texasin federal and state, trial and appellate courts, and other states, and I have judicial experience in a criminal court.

My most notable strength is my ability to dive into complex legal issues, and quickly master and apply the law to the facts. I have a varied background representing all types of clients from individuals and families, to business of all sizes, including sole proprietorships and large multi-national corporations. In fact, for the past four years, I have served as lead counsel for the largest corporation in the world in state and federal courts in Texas and Colorado.

I have experience as a federal judicial law clerk, and as a trial court judge, having presided over many trials. Therefore, I know firsthand what it means to make decisions from the bench that effect litigant’s lives, and the profound responsibility that entails. I have a deep respect for the rule of law, and I strive to apply the law in the most just way possible.

I handily won the State Bar of Texas Judicial Poll, which shows that more lawyers prefer me and find me more qualified than my opponent in the primary. I am humbled by the outpouring of support I have received during this campaign from elected officials, and highly respected members of the bar, including criminal defense lawyers, civil litigators, personal injury lawyers, legal aid lawyers, appellate practitioners, criminal law and appellate law professors, in-house counsel, and a former Justice on the Court of Criminal Appeals (the highest criminal court in Texas).

5. Why is this race important?

As stated in my response to Question 2, this is a court of general jurisdiction that hears civil and criminal cases from its ten-county district. Unlike the Texas Supreme Court (Texas’ highest court for civil cases), and the Court of Criminal Appeals (Texas’ highest criminal court), which decide which cases to accept on a petition for review, the intermediate courts of appeals must issue opinions regarding each and every case that is appealed to them. Because fewer cases are appealed to our two supreme courts, and those courts do not accept review of every case, the intermediate courts of appeals are often the last word on many important legal issues. Where there is no opinion from the two supreme courts on an issue which an intermediate court of appeals is called to decide, that appellate opinion controls the lower/trial courts within the court of appeals district.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I have a wide breadth of experience in my seventeen years of practice, in addition to being a judge. I have worked in legal aid clinics, municipal and federal courts, as well as law firms of all sizes—small, mid-size, and large. I am the only judge, the only woman, and the only person of color in this race. I am the first Hispanic partner at my law firm. I have 3 children, 2 jobs, and a husband who is a tremendous partner.

I have an outstanding reputation among my peers for excellent research and writing and oral advocacy skills, as well as a keen ability to dive into complex legal issues, swiftly master and apply the law to the facts, and successfully advocate for my clients. I do all of this in an environment where I am typically the only woman and/or the only person of color among my colleagues and opposing counsel.

I have demonstrated I have judicial temperament on the bench. I am a vetted and trusted public servant. I was repeatedly reappointed to serve as a municipal judge because of my impeccable record of integrity, impartiality, and strong work ethic (I handle a demanding law practice full-time, and I serve on the municipal court part-time).

I have represented all types of clients from individuals and families, to businesses of all sizes, including sole proprietorships, small businesses, and national, as well as multi-national, corporations. In fact, I have been lead counsel for the largest corporation in the world for the past four years, handling cases for it in state and federal courts in Texas and Colorado.

I have experience handling very complex (and typically very high-dollar) matters, not just run-of-the-mill cases, in the following areas: business disputes including business torts and breach of contract cases in various industries, such as energy, oil & gas (including Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act matters), medical care, real estate, and insurance; employment and ERISA litigation and advice; consumer litigation; insurance coverage and bad faith; civil rights; receivership; Carmack Amendment; toxic/mass tort; and personal injury, including wrongful death. I also serve as a guardian ad litem in personal injury cases involving minors.

My education has been in highly competitive academic environments. I have always been a studious person ever since I was very young. When I was in seventh grade, I was selected based on my exemplary achievement test scores by the Duke University Talent Identification Program to sit for the SAT with high school students. My scores prompted interest in me by an organization called A Better Chance (ABC), which places academically gifted students in selective college preparatory schools throughout the country. Through ABC, I was accepted to and received a full scholarship to attend St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island as a boarding student. I attended St. George’s for all four years of high school and graduated with distinction. While in high school, I worked during one summer with Mano A Mano, a March of Dimes organization in Brownsville. I worked in medical clinics for indigent people in very impoverished areas on both sides of the border, and did community outreach to educate and disseminate information to women regarding proper prenatal health. This program was, in large part, a response to the prevalence of encephalitic births on both sides of the border. Working in clinics in Mexico and Brownsville without electricity or running water, and witnessing the lives of those much less fortunate than I impacted me greatly and reinforced my interest in public service. That experience showed me two worlds – one of extreme wealth in New England, and another of extreme poverty on the U.S.-Mexico border. That juxtaposition has stayed with me and informs much of what I do and how I think about social justice issues.

I am multi-lingual—an invaluable asset in this most diverse area of the country. I am fluent in Spanish from my family background and formal education. I have a Superior Certification in Legal and Commercial Spanish from the Chamber of Commerce in Madrid, Spain. I also speak Portuguese and Italian.

When I set my mind on a goal, I give it my all. My candidacy is no exception. My hard work is one of the many reasons I have been awarded every organizational endorsement granted to date in this race. My organizational endorsements are in addition to my many individual endorsements from elected officials and well-respected lawyers.

My election will change the face of the court of appeals where we sorely lack diversity. This court of appeals district includes ten counties, including Harris and Fort Bend. It is well-known that Houston is the most diverse city, and Fort Bend is the most diverse county in the country; yet, our courts of appeals do not reflect our rich diversity. We need diversity, not for diversity’s sake, but to have a mixture of backgrounds and ideas at the table on this multiple judge court. My mother, Retired Justice Linda Yanez, was the first Latina to serve on a court of appeals in Texas. She left a legacy I would be honored to continue here on the Houston court of appeals.

I will apply my strong work ethic, unique background, education, exceptional legal skills, and experience as a judge when I am elected to the court of appeals, where I will continue to be a hard-working judge ruling on cases expeditiously with respect for the rule of law.

HISD takes a step towards a bond referendum

Just a step. If there’s to be a bond referendum on the ballot, this year or later, they’ll have to vote again to authorize that.

Houston ISD trustees kept hopes alive for a November bond election during Thursday night’s board meeting, voting to approve spending on a facilities assessment that must be completed before asking residents to provide tax dollars for campus and security upgrades.

Board members voted 6-3 to spend up to $5 million on the assessment, which will document the conditions of HISD’s aging schools, space needs for campuses and demographic trends in the district. District officials said they will use the assessment to guide the creation of any bond proposals, which remain in the early stages of development.

[…]

Trustees and administrators who backed the assessment argued the analysis will provide vital information needed to create an accurate and updated picture of the district’s facilities needs. HISD last commissioned a facilities assessment in 2016, but the work only documented building conditions, with no alignment to academic and space needs.

Three trustees voted against the bond — Judith Cruz, Dani Hernandez and Elizabeth Santos — amid questions about timing of the assessment.

Board members and Lathan have not held extensive discussions about their detailed vision for the district since January, when four new trustees joined the nine-member board.

In addition, public trust in the district has waned over the past two years following extensive in-fighting, as well as the possible ouster of elected trustees due to multiple findings of misconduct by board members and chronically low ratings of Wheatley High School.

“It feels rushed, and I want to make sure we’re doing this the best way possible,” Cruz said.

The vote came after nearly 20 students, parents and educators spoke in favor of rebuilding crumbling schools, describing outdated facilities that disappoint children and scare away prospective families.

See here for some background, and here for a preview story from Thursday, when the vote was taken. The last bond was in 2012, and it’s getting to be time to do some more capital spending. Previous bonds have passed without too much commotion, and even with HISD’s current issues I think they’d be able to get one passed this year, if they do a decent enough job presenting what it would do and get sufficient buy-in from the community. The looming TEA takeover may work in their favor, as I for one have no idea whether a board of managers could or would attempt to authorize a bond, and waiting around for another four or five years seems like a terrible idea. Let’s see what the assessment says and we’ll go from there.

Endorsement watch: Ogg and Moore

Two (*) big endorsements on Sunday, in the races for District Attorney and Commissioners Court, Precinct 3. Let’s do the thing.

Kim Ogg for District Attorney:

Kim Ogg

“We are in the midst of righting a lot of wrongs,” Ogg told the Editorial Board during a meeting with all four candidates in the race. “What needs to be done is the prosecution of the officers involved, the reform of the way we prosecute and, eventually, the reform of the way drug cases are investigated.”

That’s a lot of talk of change for an incumbent who has left herself open to attack over her apparent tepidness on bail reform, most notably her last-minute objection last year to the settlement in the lawsuit over misdemeanor cash bail. Two of her opponents — senior prosecutors who left the district attorney’s office last year — have centered their campaigns on arguments that she’s failed to live up to her own reform pledges.

It’s true — Ogg has expressed concerns about the way the bail reform agreement has been implemented. But voters shouldn’t mistake her calls to tap the breaks — even if her foot is sometimes a little heavy — as a disavowal of her record, which is overwhelmingly for change.

During her first term, she has supported bail reform, expanded jail diversion for low-level misdemeanor offenders with mental health issues, and implemented a diversion program for people caught with small amounts of marijuana, cutting pot arrests by more than half and saving the county millions. She was years ahead of other reform-minded district attorneys in America’s big cities, from Dallas to Philadelphia.

I would encourage you to go listen to the interviews I did with the three main DA candidates (Todd Overstreet isn’t running a visible campaign) if you haven’t done so already: Kim Ogg, Carvana Cloud, Audia Jones. The Chron endorsement does a good job of capturing what this race is about, however you feel about the candidates. Kim Ogg has made real progress, not as much as people might have liked or expected and not without some missteps and backsliding, in an office and a culture that was long overdue for that kind of change. Whether you think she can and should have done more, and whether you think she can and should be doing it at a more rapid pace, will inform your vote in the primary.

Michael Moore for County Commissioner, Precinct 3:

Michael Moore

Moore’s attention to detail and practical focus on flood mitigation, infrastructure, traffic, an underfunded hospital district and other challenges in a growing region are why we recommend him for Precinct 3 Commissioner in the Democratic primary.

Moore, 57, whose private sector work includes communications for BP and regional vice president for Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail, is well-versed in the intricacies of issues and policies that face county government. Thanks to his communications background, he can also explain the stuff in plain English.

White, his former boss, vouches for Moore’s “servant’s heart and personal integrity.” And Moore is trying to prove that White’s brand of bipartisan pragmatism isn’t passé in this increasingly polarized political climate. His pledge to “work with anyone, anywhere to get results” may not charm partisans, but it’s a more productive mentality than sometimes prevails among Democrats on the court these days.

While Moore has insider cred, he pledges to govern with transparency and efficiency. Based on his six-year track record with White, we believe him.

Let me tout my interviews here as well: Diana Alexander, Michael Moore, Morris Overstreet, Kristi Thibaut. The Chron didn’t think Overstreet or Alexander had sufficient relevant experience, and didn’t think Thibaut articulated a good case for herself. You can listen to the interviews and judge that for yourself.

The endorsements we are still waiting for: US Senate, Congress (all races), Railroad Commissioner, Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, SD13, Tax Assessor, HCDE, and County Commissioner, Precinct 1.

(*) – They also endorsed Brenda Stardig on the Republican side for Precinct 3, and Amy Klobuchar for President, which shocks me not at all.

Judicial Q&A: Cheri Thomas

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Cheri Thomas

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Cheri Thomas. I am running to be the Democratic candidate for Justice of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, Place 7. I am a 15-year lawyer with significant appellate and litigation experience. My husband, Lewis Thomas, is a criminal defense attorney. Together, we have three amazing daughters and one fuzzy Samoyed.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The Fourteenth Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court composed of nine justices who hear appeals and original proceedings. The Fourteenth Court has jurisdiction over both civil and criminal appeals from lower courts in ten counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

In 2017, I applied for and was selected to be a staff attorney for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, the same court for which I am now running. In that position, I worked on over 50 civil and criminal appeals, reviewing the record, conducting legal research, and drafting recommendations on various legal matters for the court’s consideration. I know how the court works, and I know what it takes to review appeals accurately and efficiently.

The 2018 election brought new justices to the court, with fresh perspective and a variety of backgrounds. Because the court reviews a wide variety of legal subject matters, justices with different backgrounds act as resources to one another in cases that touch upon their experience. On the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, many of the new justices have experience in criminal law and experience in small firm or solo civil practice. My experience working on complex civil matters in litigation and on appeal will serve as a helpful and necessary resource, balancing the variety of experience on the court.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

In the last few years, I have worked on more appeals than all my primary opponents combined during the same time period. Not only do I have significant appellate experience, I have significant trial experience. I practiced civil litigation at Baker Botts, LLP, working on a wide variety of civil trial matters, including contract, employment, securities, toxic tort, and personal injury matters in state and federal courts. I then joined Stuart PC, where I represented clients in civil and appellate matters, in state and federal courts all over the country. In 2016, I became a Partner at Stuart PC. I have managed cases at all stages of litigation. My experience as a litigator will give my appellate decision-making depth.

I also clerked for a federal judge. After graduating with honors from the University of Texas School of Law, I secured a federal clerkship working with the Honorable Jorge Solis of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, where I had the opportunity to work on numerous civil cases involving various subject matters.

5. Why is this race important?

Except for death-penalty cases, all cases appealed from district and county courts in the ten counties listed above are considered by the First or Fourteenth Courts of Appeals. Intermediate appellate courts like the Fourteenth Court are often the last courts to review these appeals. The Fourteenth Court must review practically every appeal that comes before it whereas Texas’s highest appellate courts, the Texas Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, consider a limited number of appeals.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I understand that the court affects real people and real families. I am one of eleven children in a blended family. We have had our own unique set of struggles, and we have experienced struggles that most everyone has experienced: divorce, cancer, death. Voters can count on me to care.

My education and experience have given me the skills I will need to be an excellent Justice: good judgment and the ability to perform rigorous, meticulous legal analysis. I am the only candidate in my race that attended a top-ranked law school or graduated with honors. I am the only candidate that has worked at a leading international law firm or made partner at a law firm. I am the only candidate that has worked in an appellate court (or any court). I was named a “Rising Star” by the Texas Super Lawyers magazine five times, and I was recently elected as a Fellow to the Texas Bar Foundation. Texans are entitled to qualified, fair, and impartial justices. If elected, I will serve honorably. I will work hard, make well-reasoned decisions, and I will treat everyone with fairness and respect.

Endorsement watch: Supreme Court and SD11

The Chron’s endorsement process has been a bit haphazard this season – there are times when it looks like they’ve got a theme going, then they deviate from it in some head-scratching way that makes it hard for me to do these posts in a coherent manner. They gave us three endorsements on Saturday, two from Supreme Court races and the SD11 race, so I’m just going to roll with it and give them all to you here.

Susan Criss for SD11:

Susan Criss

Within hours of the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers, Judge Susan Criss of the Texas 212nd District Court in Galveston County began meeting with lawyers representing victims and BP to begin handling what would eventually number 4,005 settled claims. After Hurricane Ike in 2008, Criss again oversaw a massive number of disputes over insurance claims even as she struggled to repair her own flooded home.

As a result of her judicial experience, and time as a criminal defense lawyer, Criss has an exceptionally deep understanding of how Texas laws can be improved. She is bursting with ideas for criminal justice reform, mitigating flood damage and making the workings of the Legislature more transparent. We believe all this adds up to make her an extraordinary candidate for the Texas Senate and Democrats’ best choice for Senate District 11 in the March 3 primary.

No argument from me. Susan Criss is a super candidate, and her opponent in the primary doesn’t appear to be running much of a campaign.

Larry Praeger for Supreme Court, Place 6:

Houston lawyer Kathy Cheng sees her race for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court as a prime opportunity for voters to break up what many see as a monoculture among the nine justices currently sitting on the state’s top civil court. There are six men and three women. Of them, only one justice — Eva Guzman — is Hispanic. There are no African-Americans, no Asian Americans and no Democrats, either.

Cheng says her experience as an immigrant, a woman, and a person of color equips her to see the world — and where the law fits into it — with more nuance and depth than her opponent, in part because he is white.

“If you don’t experience, say, racism in your own life, then you won’t have as deep, or as broad, an understanding of what that experience is like or what it means,” she said, describing the extra awareness she believes she’d bring to her role on the bench.

We agree with Cheng that this court could use a greater dose of diversity — and not just along racial lines. More variety in life experience, in legal practice and, yes, political ideology would be welcome. After all, how can judges apply the law to the facts of daily life in legal disputes without ready antennae capable of reading life in all its variegated nuance?

Cheng goes too far, however, to suggest that a vote for her opponent, Larry Praeger of Dallas, would be a missed opportunity to bring diversity of any kind to the court. Praeger, a former prosecutor who has built up his own mostly family law practice over 20 years, would also bring a radically different perspective to the court.

Cheng ran for this same Supreme Court position in 2018, losing to Jeff Brown, who has since stepped down, thus opening the seat and necessitating its spot on the ballot again. I don’t know much about Praeger. Both have received some endorsements, according to the Erik Manning spreadheet.

Peter Kelly for Supreme Court, Place 8:

Justice Peter Kelly of the 1st District Court of Appeals in Houston is our choice between two very qualified candidates in the Democratic primary for Place 8 on the Texas Supreme Court.

Both Kelly and his opponent, Justice Gisela Triana of the 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin, have served a little over a year as appellate court judges — so it is their experience prior to their election in 2018 that is the best gauge for voters in assessing what kind of Supreme Court justice they will make. And on that basis, we find Kelly’s decades-long career as an appellate lawyer, one who has argued roughly 30 cases before the court he now wishes to join, a stronger indicator of success than Triana’s impressively diverse career as a trial court judge.

[…]

Democrats are lucky to have two qualified choices in this race, but we urge them to vote for Kelly.

Not much to add here. Either candidate would have to be replaced on their current bench if they win in November, so Greg Abbott will get to appoint someone. That’s the price we pay for having candidates who have previously won elections.

Endorsement watch: For Menefee

We have our first major endorsement against an incumbent as the Chron recommends Christian Menefee for County Attorney over Vince Ryan.

Christian Menefee

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan’s decision to spend millions of dollars and waste precious legal resources to prolong the defense of an unconstitutional bail system raises serious questions about his judgment.

That Ryan still contends that the bail process was constitutional demands change.

This is a large part of why we recommend civil litigation attorney Christian Menefee in the March 3 Democratic primary for the job Ryan has held since 2008.

We were also impressed by promises made by Menefee, 31, to bring added energy and fresh perspective to the part of the job that goes beyond serving as a lawyer to county officials and judges. The county attorney also is responsible for using civil enforcement to protect neighborhoods, clean up the environment and shut down illegal enterprises.

“We need a relentless advocate who’s going to fight for the people of Harris County, all the people,” Menefee said in an interview with the Chronicle Editorial Board.

[…]

“I have great respect for Judge Rosenthal, but her finding of an unconstitutional system was, quite frankly, not something we agreed with,” Ryan told the Editorial Board, a stand that puts him in conflict with the courts and a growing body of legal reformers locally and across the country.

My interview with Vince Ryan is here, my interview with Christian Menefee is here, and my interview with Ben Rose is here. The Chron did endorse some challengers in judicial races, but this is a more significant decision. I’ve been saying for a long time that the bail lawsuit was going to be the main factor in this race, and however you feel about Vince Ryan – as I have said, I think he has been a pretty darned good County Attorney overall – Ryan has had to answer for this, and his answers have not been great. I don’t understand why the Chron didn’t stick to their position of strong support for bail reform in the primary between Judge George Powell and challenger Natalia Cornelio, but they are being consistent here. Again, I don’t know what the effect of the expected high turnout for the primary will be. I do expect that this issue has resonated with the Democratic electorate, but I don’t know how deep that goes.

UT/Trib: Two out of three polls say Bernie is moving up

This is Bernie Sanders’ best poll result in Texas so far.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has doubled his support among Democratic voters in Texas and now leads the race for that party’s presidential nomination in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Sanders had the support of 24% of the self-identified Democratic primary voters in the poll, up from 12% in October. Sanders passed both former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the two leaders in the October 2019 UT/TT Poll. Early voting in the Texas primaries starts on Tuesday; election day — Super Tuesday — is March 3.

The field of candidates has changed since the earlier survey. Beto O’Rourke, who was third in October, has dropped out of the race. And Michael Bloomberg, who entered the contest late, landed fourth in the newest poll, ahead of Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the second- and third-place finishers in this week’s New Hampshire primary. Warren finished fourth in that contest, with Biden fifth.

Andrew Yang, who dropped out of the presidential race this week, was behind Buttigieg and ahead of Klobuchar in the latest UT/TT Poll.

“Most of the movement has been Sanders and Bloomberg, with Biden [holding] still,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “To be unable to increase his vote share is pretty telling for Biden.”

While Biden’s support was static, Sanders was surging in Texas, and Bloomberg was rising on the strength of millions of his own money spent on advertising after a late start.

See here for more on the October UT/Trib poll. In the other two recent polls we’ve had, Biden led Bernie by two (Lyceum) and Biden had a commanding lead over Bernie (UT-Tyler). This poll was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9, so perhaps it better captures any momentum or friction that these candidates may have had following Iowa and New Hampshire. There’s a lot of moving parts so it’s hard to isolate any one factor, but the evidence now says that Sanders is in a stronger position in Texas than he had been before.

As for the general:

A slight majority of all Texas voters — 52% — said they would not vote to reelect President Donald Trump in November. Republicans remain solidly in his corner: 90% said they would vote to reelect Trump, including 80% who said they “definitely” would do so. Democrats feel just as strongly: 93% said they would not vote for the president’s reelection, including 88% who would “definitely not” vote for him. Independent voters were against reelection, but less so: 38% said they would vote to reelect Trump, while 62% said they would vote against him.

“With Trump at the top of the ballot, in congressional and legislative races where candidates are running with margins of 5% or less, where the independent [voters] go could become a factor,” Henson said. “It adds uncertainty to those races.”

But when pitted against some of the top Democrats in hypothetical head-to-head contests, the president topped them all, if somewhat narrowly. Trump would beat Sanders by 2 percentage points, 47%-45%, within the poll’s margin of error. He’d beat Biden 47-43, Warren 47-44, Bloomberg 46-41, Buttigieg 47-42, and Klobuchar 46-41. Trump had 45% support against Yang’s 43%. The president, whose reelect number was under 50% in the survey, didn’t get a majority of the vote in any of the matchups, even while getting more support than each Democrat.

“The Trump trial ballots confirm what we’ve seen, that Trump is winning, but he clearly is under-performing, given the party profile in the state,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin who co-directs the poll. “It is interesting when you put a flesh and blood Democrat up there, it drops that number, but here’s a Republican in a Republican state who’s not at 50%, which is a sign of weakness.”

That’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all along. For what it’s worth, Sanders was the closest competitor to Trump in the October UT-Trin poll, trailing him by five points, 45-40. Biden trailed 46-39, then-still-a-candidate Beto was down 47-41. We’ve seen these results all over the place as well, and it’s just as hard to isolate any reasons for the movement of one candidate or another. What has been consistent has been Trump’s inability to get and stay above fifty percent, as well as his mediocre approval levels and the significant “will not vote for him” totals. Again, I say compare to 2012 when Mitt Romney had a consistent double-digit lead on President Obama, who never got higher in the polls than the 42% he eventually received. We’re still early and the Democratic primary is still unsettled, but it’s clear the Republicans have reason to be worried. The Texas Signal has more.

The Observer overviews the DA primary

You’ve had a chance to listen to my interviews with DA candidates, now read this story for more on this important primary.

Kim Ogg

When Kim Ogg first ran for Harris County district attorney, she had a simple pitch for criminal justice reform: stop jailing people for petty pot possession. The position, novel to Houston politics in 2014, proved so popular that even her Republican opponent embraced a version of it. Ogg lost that first race, but she tried again in 2016, this time adding bail reform and a promise to create “a system that doesn’t oppress the poor” to her platform. She beat the incumbent by 8 percentage points to become Harris County’s first Democratic DA in 40 years.

Ogg was among the first wave of reform-minded “progressive prosecutors” elected across the country in recent years. This new class rejected a tough-on-crime ethos, advocating instead for fairness and jailing fewer people. Ogg quickly declared herself “part of the national reform movement” and started dismissing low-level marijuana charges for people who took a class and paid a fine. She also rejected so-called “trace cases” involving miniscule drug amounts and called for diversion instead of jail for small-time offenders. 

Over the course of her first term, however, progressives have soured on Ogg. While she publicly supported bail reform, she continued to seek high bail for people charged with minor offenses. She further disappointed them by objecting to historic bail reforms that followed a years-long lawsuit to end the practice of keeping low-level offenders in jail simply because they’re poor. Progressives have also bristled at Ogg’s repeated attempts to expand her office.

Now at the end of her first term, Ogg feels squeezed between opposing forces: a police union that accuses her of being soft on crime and critics on the left who say she’s failed to live up to her reputation. She’s facing a combative Democratic primary next month, flanked by challengers who insist that she’s stood in the way of progress during her first term. A Democratic sweep in the midterms that turned Harris County solid blue further emboldened local organizers who are seeking a new kind of reform prosecutor. 

While Ogg credits herself with boosting diversion programs and reducing prison sentences during her first term, her critics insist more fundamental changes are needed to fix yawning racial inequalities in the local justice system and to decarcerate one of the largest jails in the country. There was palpable tension between Ogg and the forces that helped elect her at a ACLU of Texas candidate forum in downtown Houston last Thursday. Some people in the standing-room-only crowd jeered as Ogg urged them to stick with her “balanced approach” to reform. After the forum, a woman walked up to Ogg and began arguing with her before campaign staffers quickly intervened.

In a phone call this week, Ogg sounded aggrieved and unappreciated, the way incumbents often do during tough re-election fights. “I started running before people in our local political arena even knew what a district attorney did,” she said. “Everything I wanted to do was a reformation of decades of static prosecutorial policy in Harris County. So of course I’m a reformer, and to be labeled otherwise—that’s a political issue more than a factual one.”

Ogg’s primary is one of several prosecutor races in Texas this year that could redefine the bounds of criminal justice reform in the state. As state lawmakers fail to make meaningful progress each legislative session, advocates for change have increasingly focused on amplifying key district attorney, judge, and sheriff races to transform how their communities are policed and prosecuted.

The article touches on the race in Travis County as well, where incumbent Margaret Moore is under similar fire. I have no idea what will happen in these races – they’re as prominent as any local election, but it’s hard to say how much of that breaks through in the non-stop fusillade of national political news – but they will have a significant effect in Harris and Travis Counties. A side issue I’ve been pondering, which I asked Audia Jones about when I spoke to her, is whether the Legislature (especially but not exclusively if it remains in Republican hands) will step in and try to impose some limits on what prosecutors can and can’t do. I can very easily see this as a red meat law-and-order issue for Dan Patrick (and, whenever someone wakes him up and reminds him that he’s Governor, Greg Abbott) in the 2021 session. I have no idea what they may try to do, but I’m sure their imagination won’t be so limited. Just something to keep in mind.