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Election 2020

Trib profile of Sima Ladjevardian

CD02 gets a boost in profile.

Sima Ladjevardian

In the final hours before the filing deadline on Dec. 9, Sima Ladjevardian arrived at the Harris County Democratic Party office in Houston to make a little bit of news: She was running for Congress.

The prominent Houston lawyer, Democratic activist and fundraiser, and former Beto O’Rourke adviser had been thinking about running for a while but had thrown herself into O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, which did not wind down until mid-November.

“It really wasn’t much time,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “I just went in and did it then.”

Now Ladjevardian’s candidacy is shaking up the primary for a seat that Democrats consider more flippable than some think — and held by a high-profile target no less: rising star and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston. About an hour and a half after Ladjevardian announced she was running, O’Rourke endorsed her. The next morning, the 2018 nominee for the seat, Todd Litton, made clear he was supporting her. And 48 hours after filing, she announced she had already raised over $200,000.

In making the last-minute entry, Ladjevardian charged into a primary that already featured two candidates, including one who has been running since February, Navy veteran Elisa Cardnell.

“It wasn’t a complete surprise,” Cardnell said of Ladjevardian’s entrance. “I welcome her to the field, but since day one, this has been about how we hold Dan Crenshaw accountable for his voting record. Honestly, I’m just glad more folks are seeing what we knew back when we launched — that Dan Crenshaw is not safe in Texas 2 and this is a winnable race.”

The 2nd District is not among the six seats that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has prioritized flipping this cycle in Texas, but Democrats have ample reason to believe it is within reach. Litton lost by 7 percentage points in 2018, despite no significant national investment on his behalf and Crenshaw rocketing on to the national stage a few days before the election after “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson mocked his war wound. At the same time, the U.S. Senate nominee, Beto O’Rourke, lost the district by just a point.

The DCCC is nonetheless paying some attention to Crenshaw, targeting him in a statement for this story over his vote last week against a prescription drug price bill.

Sima has a webpage now, which she didn’t have when she entered the race. The fact that didn’t have that kind of basic campaign material readily available, and that there was no pre-filing announcement, leads me to believe this was a late-breaking decision on her part. Which is fine, and she’s done quite well since entering, in terms of attention, endorsements, and fundraising. Her experience with the Beto campaign suggests she can roll out her campaign quickly. The “but” that I’m leading up to is that there’s such a short runway for the primary – hello, early voting starts in less than two months – and there are going to be a lot of people participating in the primary, many of whom will not be plugged-in, habitual Democratic primary voters. That adds a level of randomness to any race, especially for candidates without much name ID.

Elisa Cardnell has the advantage of being in this race for most of the year. She’s been quite active. Weirdly, the fact that she had the field all to herself for most of that time is not an advantage, because a lack of competition for the nomination means a lack of news about the race. This race should get a lot more attention now, which will be good for all three of the candidates in it. It should be on the national Dems’ radar, and I think over time it will be more prominent. For now, the three people running need all the attention this race can get.

On Republican female Congressional candidates

The sub-head for this article should be “It’s easy to show large percentage gains when you start from a very low base”.

Heavy recruiting of female candidates paid off for Texas Democrats in 2018, but it is Republican women who are making a splash in 2020.

At least 30 Republican women from Texas have filed to run for election to Congress next year, more than twice as many as in the 2018 elections. That year, 13 women ran under the GOP banner while almost three times as many women ran in the Democratic primary, state and party records show.

“If we’re going to have a pink wave, you need to have red in there,” said Nancy Bocskor, a longtime GOP fundraiser who is now director of the Center for Women and Politics at Texas Woman’s University.

Political strategists say the boost is a reaction to the 2018 election after Democrats made major gains in the suburbs, flipping a dozen Texas House seats and coming within striking distance of defeating several established Republicans in statewide office. Bocskor likens it to a wake up call: “They were asleep at the switch, they were not prepared.”

[…]

The number of Republican women running for Congress is up, but still short of the enthusiasm from Democrats. This year, 34 Democratic women are running for Congress.

We went through a similar exercise last cycle, when three Democratic women were actually elected to Congress – Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, Veronica Escobar, and Sylvia Garcia. It’s good to have a diverse slate of candidates, but some nominations are worth more than others, and having multiple women in a given race is no guarantee that the odds of a woman winning are any better. Let’s take a closer look at the races to see who has a decent shot at getting nominated, and of winning in November if they do.

On the Republican side, there are two open seats in which the Republican nominee is a gold-plated cinch to win in November: CDs 11 and 13. In CD17, the Republican nominee will have excellent odds of winning, surely over 90%. In each of these races, there are female candidates running. None stand out as likely to make the runoff, but who knows. A win by a female candidate in any of these three primaries is by far the best chance of increasing the number of Republican women from Texas in Congress. From one, to two. And that’s assuming that incumbent Rep. Kay Granger doesn’t lose her primary, thus reducing the number of Republican women from Texas in Congress from one to zero.

There are also several high-profile races that could go either way, in which there’s a decent chance the Republicans could win:

– CD07, held by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, in which Cindy Siegel is one of two women vying for the Republican nod. Wesley Hunt appears to have the establishment backing, however.
– CD32, held by Rep. Colin Allred, in which Genevieve Collins appears to be a strong contender.
– CD24, open seat being vacated by Rep. Kenny Marchant. Beth Van Duyne is the best known Republican hopeful.
– CD22, open seat being vacated by Rep. Pete Olson. Kathaleen Wall has moved in to dump more of her millions in a large primary field, but with the likes of Pierce Bush, Troy Nehls, and Greg Hill also running, she may once again fail to make the runoff.
– CD23, open seat being vacated by Rep. Will Hurd. Tony Gonzales is the establishment candidate, but there are some women also running.

I have no deep thoughts on who is or isn’t more likely to win than anyone else. I’m just saying that if I were a Republican and I cared about not looking entirely like an Anglo sausage party, I’d be rooting for a couple of these women to break through.

There are other women running in other Republican primaries, but none of the races will be remotely competitive. Ava Pate in CD18, where there are six people running to be the Republican nominee in a 75% Democratic district, is an example named in the story. I guarantee you, no one will mention Ava Pate’s name after the primary. (Fun fact: She was the Republican nominee in CD18 in 2018. See what I mean?)

On the Democratic side, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23 and Wendy Davis in CD21 are almost certainly going to win those nominations, and they will both have decent chances of winning in November. All of the leading candidates in CD24 are women, and there are viable women running in CDs 02, 03, 10, 22, 25 (both candidates are women in that one), and 31, with varying levels of hope for November.

So, in a way the Republicans are in the same position Democrats were in 2018, in that there are a couple of open seats that are guaranteed to be theirs, so if they manage to nominate a woman for them they’ll absolutely increase the number of women in their Congressional caucus. Of course, Dems had the likes of Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar to run for those seats in 2018. Republicans don’t appear to have anyone of similar stature this year. They do have some credible female candidates in other races where they can win. So do the Democrats, in more races and with better overall odds of those women making it through the primaries. Ask me again in May after the primary runoffs and we’ll see where things stand.

Bonnen “likely violated” the law

Well, isn’t that special?

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

The House General Investigating Committee on Friday unanimously adopted a report from its legal advisers that said House Speaker Dennis Bonnen “likely violated” state law during a June meeting with a fellow member and a hardline conservative activist — though members didn’t raise the idea of any possible action against Bonnen and said the investigation was closed.

“Today’s action concludes the committee’s investigation,” said state Rep. Morgan Meyer, a Dallas Republican who chairs the committee, after members met behind closed doors for over an hour.

Meyer, who left the hearing room at the Texas Capitol without taking questions from reporters, said the full report from the three legal advisers retained in October by the committee would be “promptly transmitted” to House members. The committee did not immediately release the report to the public, though a copy was later obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The report concluded by saying the information produced “militates against criminal prosecution” against either Bonnen or state Rep. Dustin Burrows, a Lubbock Republican considered one of the speaker’s top lieutenants who involved in the political fallout — a line that the speaker’s office reiterated in a statement after the news.

“The committee has confirmed what we have known for months and the conclusion of their report speaks for itself,” Cait Meisenheimer, a spokesperson for Bonnen, said in a statement.

Bonnen “likely violated” section 572.051(a) of the Texas Government Code, according to Meyer, who was reading from the report during the committee hearing — but advisers in the report said the law provided no “independent statutory consequences” for a state official who breaches it.

[…]

Democrats, for their part, said that Friday’s news reiterated the need for the Texas Legislature to pass “substantial ethics reforms.”

“It is unfortunate that Chairman Meyer scheduled today’s hearing to be part of a Friday news dump right before the holidays,” state Rep. Chris Turner, who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, said in a statement. “If the committee has found that there is no consequence for transacting campaign business in the state capitol building or exchanging House media credentials for political favors, then we need to pass new laws. House Democrats will be ready to lead that effort when the Legislature convenes in 2021.”

Further action is now up to the full 150-member House. The General Investigating Committee, according to House rules, can propose articles of impeachment — but did not do so during Friday’s hearing.

See here for the background, and here for a copy of the report. It’s a little frustrating to see the committee acknowledge that there was likely a violation of the law, then state that there’s basically nothing to be done about it. Not that I think Dennis Bonnen needs to be thrown in jail, just that it’s always annoying to see powerful people get away with abusing their power. Then again, at least Bonnen will be out of power soon enough, and not by his preference. It’s something, if not wholly adequate. Read the report and see what you think. And very much yes, this is a thing Democrats should make a priority out of, on the trail and in the Lege next session.

After-deadline filing review: The Lege

Now we come to the State House, which is where most of the action will be in 2020. In 2018, much of the energy and focus was on Congressional races, to the point where some hand-wringing articles were written about the lack of focus and resources on the legislative races. Dems managed to win 12 seats anyway, and by now we all know of the goal of winning nine more to take the majority. Both parties, and a lot of big-money groups, are locked in on this. That’s where we are as we enter the primary season.

So with all that, see here, here, and here for previous entries. The top target list, or at least my version of it, is here. As before, I will skip over the Houston-area races and focus on the ones I haven’t been talking about. Finally, one correction to that post on Houston-area races: I have been informed, and a look at the SOS candidate info page confirms, the two would-be primary challengers to Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 have been disqualified.

The top targets: I will start with the districts that Beto carried, then move to the next tier.

HD64Angela Brewer, adjunct professor of communication studies at UNT and Collin College. You can see a short video of her talking to a local journo here. This district is in Denton County, where HD65 flipped in 2018.

HD66Sharon Hirsch, a retired Plano ISD employee who came agonizingly close to winning in 2018 (she lost by less than 400 votes, 0.6 percentage points), will try again. Physician Aimee Garza Lopez is also running to take on lousy incumbent Matt Shaheen.

HD67 – Four candidates are running (a fifth withdrew) in a Collin County district that Beto carried by five and a half points (incumbent Jeff Leach held on by 2.2 points). Attorney Tom Adair, attorney and El Salvador native who fled its civil war in the 80s Rocio Gosewehr Hernandez, former teacher and legislative director Anthony Lo, and real estate agent Lorenzo Sanchez are your options.

HD108 – Another heartbreaking loss, as 2018 candidate Joanna Cattanach fell short by 220 votes, 0.2 percentage points. This was the most Republican district in Dallas County – in some sense, still one of the two most Republican districts, since there are only two left held by Republicans – and yet Beto took 57.2% here in 2018. Cattanach, a teacher, is running again, and she has company, from Tom Ervin and Shawn Terry, both businessmen.

HD121 – I feel like this district, which used to be held by Joe Straus, is a bit of an illusion. It looks less red than it is. Beto won it, but only with 49.7%, while new Rep. Steve Allison (who beat a wingnut in the 2018 GOP primary) took it by eight and a half points. I feel confident the Democratic Presidential candidate will carry it, and it may be Dem in some county races downballot, but much like HD134 has done I expect it to stick with its moderate Republican State Rep. Yeah, I know, I’m a buzzkill. Anyway, 2018 candidate Celina Montoya, founder of an educational non-profit, is back, and she’s joined by consultant and Moms Demand Action state leader Becca DeFelice and Jack Guerra, listed on the SOS page as a “small business owner”.

HD96 – We’re now in the districts Beto didn’t carry, though he only missed this one by 91 votes. I’ll be doing these in decreasing order of Beto’s performance. HD96 is one of five – count ’em five – target districts in Tarrant County, mostly thanks to Beto’s performance in 2018. This is now an open seat thanks to a last-minute decision not to file by Bill Zedler, one of the main anti-vaxxers in the Lege. Attorney Joe Drago has the task of flipping this one.

HD54 – Most of the pickup opportunities for Dems are in the urban and big suburban counties, where you would expect them to be. HD54 is one of three that are not. It’s in Central Texas, split between Bell (blue) and Lampasas (red) counties, it’s been a low-key swing district for some time, and Beto got 49.0% there in 2018. Likeithia “Keke” Williams is listed as the candidate – SD24 candidate Clayton Tucker had originally filed for HD54 but switched to the Senate race following her filing. I can’t find any online presence for her – Tucker mentions she’s a veteran, so we know that much – but I sure hope she gets the support she needs to run a serious campaign, because this is a winnable seat.

HD97 – Get ready for a lot of Tarrant County, with one of the other non-traditional targets thrown in. HD97 (Beto 48.6%) was blue for five minutes in 2008, after Dan Barrett won a special election to fill out Anna Mowrey’s term, then lost that November when Republican turnout returned to normal levels. It’s not been on the radar since, and incumbent Craig Goldman won by nine points last year. No one ever said this would be easy. Attorney and veteran Elizabeth Beck and Dan Willis, listed on the SOS page as an eye doctor, fight it out in March to take their shot in November.

HD14 – The second on the three “wait, where is that district again?” seats (it’s in Brazos County, for the record), HD14 put itself on the list by having Beto (48.4%) improve on Hillary Clinton’s performance (38.1%) by over ten points. Was that a fluke, either in 2016 or in 2018? I have no idea, but any district where Beto can get 48.4% is a district where we need to compete. Certified public accountant Janet Dudding and Raza Rahman, a senior at Texas A&M, have the honors of trying to do that competing.

HD92 – This is – or, thankfully and more accurately, was – Jonathan Stickland’s district. Need I say more? The air is fresher already. Steve Riddell, who lost by less than two points to Stickland in this 48.3% Beto district, and attorney and Air Force veteran Jeff Whitfield, are in it.

HD93 – Staying in Tarrant County, we have yet another anti-vaxxer’s district, this one belonging to Matt Krause. What’s in the water out there, y’all? It’s Beto at 48.2%, and Lydia Bean, sociology professor and non-profit founder and 2018 Dem candidate in the district, is back.

HD94 – Tarrant County has punched way above its weight in the Idiot Legislators department lately, thanks to a cluster of loudmouth anti-vaxxers. That group contains HD94 incumbent Tony Tinderholt, who entered the Lege by knocking out a leading pro-public education Republican incumbent, and who is a dangerous lunatic for other reasons. Tarrant County will be less toxic next session with Jonathan Stickland and Bill Zedler retiring, and taking out Tony Tinderholt would also help. Alisa Simmons, who does not have a campaign presence yet, has that task.

HD32 is a weird district. Located in Nueces County, it was a swing seat in the previous decade, finally flipped by then-rising star Juan Garcia in 2008, when Dems held a total of 74 seats. Todd Hunter, who had represented it in earlier years, won it back in 2010 and hasn’t faced a Democratic opponent since. With Beto taking 47.0% there, it’s again in the mix. Eric Holguin, the Democratic candidate in CD27 in 2018, is running in HD32 this cycle.

HD106 – We’re now very much into “stretch” territory, as the last four districts are all under 45% for Beto; this one, which was rehomed from Dallas to Denton County in the 2011 redistricting, scored at 44.2% for Beto and was won by first-term incumbent Jared Patterson with 58.3%. But if 2018 taught us anything, it’s that things can move in a hurry, so I don’t want to overlook potential possibilities, even if they’re more likely to be of interest in the longer term. Jennifer Skidonenko, who identifies herself as a mother and grassroots activist and who is clearly motivated by gun violence, is the candidate.

HD89 – This is the district that used to be held by Jodie Laubenberg. Remember Jodie Laubenberg? She was the author of HB2, the omnibus anti-abortion bill that Wendy Davis filibustered and the Supreme Court eventually rejected. Have I elevated your blood pressure just a little? Good. Laubenberg went off to do whatever horrible things people like her do after they leave the Lege, and Candy Noble is her replacement in this Beto 43.5% district. Sugar Ray Ash, the 2018 Dem nominee who is a veteran, former postal worker, tax attorney, DMN endorsed, and all around interesting guy, is back for another shot, and he has company in the person of Jon Cocks, whose website is from a prior race for Mayor of Fairview.

HD122 – The most Republican district in Bexar County, held by Greg Abbott frenemy Lyle Larson, Beto got 43.4% here, while Larson himself was getting almost 62 percent. Claire Barnett is a consultant for adult education programs and was the Democratic nominee here in 2018. She’s making another run in 2020.

HD84 – Last but not least, this is in some ways my favorite district on the list because it’s where you might least expect it – HD84 is in Lubbock County. Calling it a swing district is certainly a stretch – Beto got 43.1% in 2018, a big improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 34.8% in 2016, and incumbent John Frullo won by 20 points. But the direction is encouraging, and we’ve known since the 2011 redistricting cycle that one could build a Dem-leaning district in Lubbock if one were so inclined. If nothing else, keep that in mind as a thing to work for in the 2021 session. John Gibson, attorney and the Chair of the Lubbock County Democratic Party, announced his candidacy on Monday, deadline day, which made me happy because I’d been afraid we were skipping that race. I’m so glad we’re not.

I’ve still got judicial candidates and maybe a look at Fort Bend County candidates to look at. Stay tuned.

Flynn to “challenge” GOP decision to boot him from HD138 ballot

Still more filing finagling.

Josh Flynn

Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is challenging a decision by the Harris County Republican Party to rule him ineligible for the House District 138 primary because he did not “properly” submit his resignation from the county education department.

Flynn, a Republican who was elected to the Harris County Department of Education board of trustees in 2018, resigned last week after his eligibility for the Legislature came under question and a Houston attorney formally requested the Harris County GOP deem Flynn ineligible.

Under a state law that makes people who hold a “lucrative office” ineligible for the Legislature, Flynn’s position on the HCDE board appeared to bar him from running for the House. Though trustees earn just $6 per meeting, the Texas Supreme Court has determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Last week, Flynn submitted his resignation from the board and re-filed for the House District 138 primary. However, in a letter sent to Flynn Tuesday, Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson said Flynn was ineligible to run because he apparently submitted his resignation to the wrong person at the county education board.

“After you withdrew that initial application, HCDE administrative assistant Theresa Perez received notification of your resignation from the office of HCDE Trustee,” Simpson wrote. “The public records do not show that your resignation was delivered to the presiding officer, clerk, or secretary of the Harris County Department of Education.”

In the letter, Simpson cited a section of the Texas Election Code that says if an official is resigning from a governmental body, the resignation “may be delivered to the presiding officer of the body or to its clerk or secretary.”

Flynn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He told the Texas Tribune Wednesday that he is “fighting” Simpson’s decision, and on Thursday sent an email to supporters assuring them he would appear on the ballot despite the party’s decision.

“While it is unfortunate that they came to this conclusion, I have great confidence that I will indeed be running to be your next State Representative in next year’s election as the Election Attorney feels it is an open and shut case,” Flynn wrote.

See here and here for the background. I assume this means that Flynn plans to take legal action to force his way back onto the ballot, in the same way that Judge George Powell has done. I have a bit more sympathy for Flynn’s position, though as before this is one of those things where good advice from a seasoned campaign professional probably would have saved the day. I have no dog in this fight, but I am very curious to see what happens. And again, the Lege could take action to clean up these bits of law – this here would likely take a constitutional amendment as well – so as to avoid this situation in the future.

Meanwhile, in other HCDE news:

The Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees voted Dec. 18 to replace trustees George Moore, Position 1, Precinct 2 and Josh Flynn, Position 4, Precinct 3 with Amy Hinojosa and Andrea Duhon, respectively. Both Moore, board vice president, and Flynn, president, had tendered their resignations prior to the meeting.

“I give my sincere appreciation to Dr. George Moore and Josh Flynn for their service to the students and citizens of Harris County,” HCDE School Superintendent James Colbert Jr. said. “Dr. Moore is an outstanding man and has left a significant fingerprint on this organization as a fierce advocate for the underserved and as a great supporter for our 1,100 employees. Mr. Flynn was a good leader who is very well read, extremely efficient and took pride in his leadership post, and I wish him well in his new endeavors.”

Hinojosa, a Pasadena resident, was sworn into office shortly after her appointment. She is a 16-year, oil-and-gas project manager. She volunteers with an education advocacy group called ProUnitas. “I’m passionate about serving my community and about improving student outcomes,” said Hinojosa. “I look forward to the work ahead, and I’m excited.”

Duhon, a Katy resident, is a small business financial advisor who has a record for advocating for public education programs such as Head Start. HCDE currently serves 1,250 Head Start children and families in northeast and east Harris County. “I look forward to serving the community on behalf of the students of Harris County,” Duhon said.

Duhon, as the Chron story noted, lost by about 2,000 votes, or 0.6 percentage points, to Flynn in the 2018 election. I had completely forgotten this, but George Moore had won an even closer election in 2016, barely edging Sherri Matula by less than 500 votes and 0.2 percentage points. Duhon has filed for the Position 7 At Large seat in the 2020 primary, but in response to my question said she will be withdrawing from that race (there are three other candidates, including David Brown, who along with Duhon (then seeking the Position 5 At Large spot) had been an early entrant) and will serve the remainder of Flynn’s term, which runs through 2024. Some other mid-term appointments would require her and Hinojosa to run next year to fill out the unexpired terms, but apparently that is not the case for the HCDE Board.

This also means, as the Chron story points out, that the HCDE Board is now a 4-3 Dem majority, which had been the goal with the two At Large positions up for election. If the Dems win them, it’ll be a 6-1 split, with only Eric Dick on the Republican side (and, if you believe him, only kinda-sorta on the Republican side). That’s both exciting and a little worrisome, since the HCDE has been a target for some Republicans in the Lege to eliminate. Consider that a further incentive to win the State House in 2020. Also, too, At Large incumbent Michael Wolfe – you know, that guy – will not be running for re-election in 2020, as he takes another shot at knocking off Republican JP Russ Ridgway. Lots of changes on the HCDE Board, now and next year.

UPDATE: Flynn has now officially taken action:

Texas House candidate Josh Flynn sued the Harris County Republican Party on Thursday, alleging that party Chairman Paul Simpson erred in declaring Flynn ineligible for the House District 138 primary this week.

Flynn’s lawsuit, filed against the party and Simpson in state District Court, seeks a temporary restraining order and temporary and permanent injunctions to bar Simpson from ruling him ineligible.

[…]

In the lawsuit, Flynn contended that he effectively delivered his resignation to the board secretary — in this case Superintendent James Colbert Jr. — by leaving it with an administrative assistant in Colbert’s office while the superintendent was away.

Flynn, who also served as board president before resigning, claimed that he was personally the “presiding officer” of the board and therefore “delivered his resignation to himself.”

His attorney in the case is Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County Republican Party chair whom Simpson unseated in 2014.

We’ll see what happens with it.

Interview with Chrysta Castañeda

Chrysta Castañeda

As you may have noticed, there are a lot of contested Democratic primaries, and not a whole lot of time between now and early voting. In an ideal world, I’d have time to talk to candidates in all of the races that interest me and devote individual weeks to the interviews from one given race. In the world we’re in, I’ve got to make do and pick my spots. So, some of the time you’ll get bonus coverage from other races or other candidates, as I can do them. Today we visit the Railroad Commissioners race, where Chrysta Castañeda was the first candidate to make news. Castañeda is an engineer and attorney, with years of litigation experience in the energy sector. She is also a board member of the Texas Women’s Foundation and was previously the board chair of Ignite Texas, a non-partisan organization focused on building political ambition in young women. Here’s the interview:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6
Debra Kerner – SBOE6

I am reaching out to the other RRC candidates and will present those interviews as I can.

Trib overview of State House races

Let’s get the 2020 State House conversation started.

For the first time in years, Republicans and Democrats are acknowledging that the GOP could lose its grip on the Texas House — a turning point that would mark the state’s biggest political shakeup since the chamber last flipped nearly two decades ago.

With the 2020 ballot all but set, both parties are readying their candidates for the 150 state House races, with roughly 30 seats seen as competitive.

As recently as 2017, House Republicans relished in a 95-member majority. But now, Democrats, bolstered by their 12-seat pick-up last year, are effectively only nine away from gaining control of the chamber — and having a larger say in the 2021 redistricting process.

Such a prospect has prompted newfound attention — and, in some cases, alarm — in a state that’s long been considered far out of reach for Democrats. And it’s created an awareness among Republicans, who have comfortably controlled virtually every lever of state government in Texas, that an updated — if not entirely new — playbook is needed.

Democrats still have their work cut out for them. The last time they controlled the House was 2001. In addition to holding onto the 12 seats the party flipped last year, Democrats would need to pick up the additional nine — and this cycle, the GOP says it’s more prepared for the threat than it was in 2018.

[…]

The battlefield for the House is large. In addition to the 12 seats that Republicans are trying to reclaim from the 2018 midterm election, Democrats are targeting 22 Republican-held seats where Beto O’Rourke, the 2018 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, won or lost by single digits. In 17 of those seats, the Republican incumbents won by fewer than 10 percentage points. Of those 17 seats, there are nine where both O’Rourke won and the incumbent won by single digits — those could be considered Democrats’ highest priorities.

Both parties are again calling North Texas ground zero for several of the House races considered to be in play by both parties, with the Austin and Houston areas also featuring clusters of competitive seats.

Even before the 2020 elections, Democrats have a chance to pick up a seat in the late January special election runoff to fill the seat of former Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond. Democrats were already targeting him before he resigned this fall to take a job with the University of Texas System.

Democrat targets have even grown to include once-unthinkable places like House District 32, where state Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, is facing his first challenger from either party since O’Rourke came within 5 points of winning the district.

The Democrat now running against Hunter, Eric Holguin, said the district has become more young and more diverse since the lines were drawn in 2011 — and last year brought into focus Democrats’ path to victory.

“In 2018, we were seeing such a seismic shift in our political landscape due to [President Donald] Trump already having been in office a couple years,” said Holguin, who ran for Congress last cycle in the area. “Now that we saw the results of what happened in 2018, we could build off from there. We know where the new bar is set at more locally, and we could take it from there instead of not knowing what would happen post-Trump being elected.”

The embedded chart is from the story, and it includes most of the districts I’ve identified as opportunities. Dems are targeting more than the group pictured, but the ones in that map are the most likely to flip. I’ve got my look at who filed for what in the State House in the works, so go have a look at the Trib story as your warmup.

Interview with Debra Kerner

Debra Kerner

We come to the end of our State Board of Education interviews. For all its dysfunction, the SBOE plays an important role in the maintenance and operation of Texas’ public schools, and it needs the best people it can get to serve on it. Like the other Democratic candidates, Debra Kerner is a career educator, with a speciality in speech-language pathology. She served a six-year term on the Harris County Department of Education Board of Trustees, winning office in the initial Democratic wave of 2008. She is also the current State Democratic Committeewoman for Senate District 17 and a co-founder and former president of the Meyerland Area Democrats. Here’s the interview:

    PREVIOUSLY:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Kimberly McLeod – SBOE6

We have a filing failure

In typical fashion, it’s bizarre.

Judge George Powell

One of the more bizarre things to happen during the recent filing period: Judge George Powell had his filing rejected because of a filing fee mistake. So he sued.

Powell filed on the last day, and according to the suit, he was told by a party person incorrectly that the fee is $1500, when it was $2500. However, the party would not allow him to correct the mistake, so the lawsuit was filed. They did not have to go far.

Powell and his lawyer, the venerable Kent Schaffer, had a TRO hearing today. After one judge recused, another did conduct a hearing, they were granted a TRO.

Full hearing in early January.

If Judge Powell is not allowed back on the Democratic primary ballot, his challenger [Natalia Cornelio] (who currently works for Comm. Rodney Ellis) would become the de facto Dem. nominee.

That’s from Miya Shay’s Facebook page – as of Tuesday morning, I didn’t see any news stories on this. Stace notes that Judge Powell, who was elected in 2016, should have known the rules, which have not changed any time recently. (That filing fee is not mandatory, by the way. You can collect 750 petition signatures – attend any Dem event in the months before the filing period and you will have multiple opportunities to sign judicial candidate petitions for this – and pay no fee, or collect 250 and pay the $2,500.) To be sure, he should have been given the correct information by whoever processed his filing at the HCDP, and they should do a review to see what went wrong. But in the end, this reinforces two things that I and others say over and over again:

1) The rules for filing for office are well-known and easy to learn. Any marginally competent campaign professional can properly advise you on how to comply with them. There’s really no excuse for this kind of failure.

2) Don’t wait to file till the very last minute if you can help it. Had Judge Powell filed a day earlier, he would have had the time to get this fixed. As it is, his fate is in the hands of another judge. If you someday decide you might want to run for office, don’t let this happen to you. Give yourself some extra time when you file.

(FWIW, Judge Powell was admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, along with several other felony court judges, for violating state law by ordering hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to thousands of poor defendants. I was inclined to support a primary opponent in his race anyway, so whether he makes it back onto the ballot or not is of no great interest to me. There were two other incumbent judges who received that sanction, Herb Ritchie (who is stepping down) and Hazel Jones, who did not get a primary opponent.)

UPDATE: On a not-really-related note, HCDE Trustee Josh Flynn has been disqualified from the Republican primary ballot for HD138. He would have had to resign to have been allowed on the ballot.

Interview with Kimberly McLeod

Kimberly McLeod

We continue on with the State Board of Education, which is that entity that is subject to redistricting that gets the least amount of attention. To be fair, it’s demanded less attention in recent years thanks to an absence of clownishness on the Board, but the potential remains and can best be addressed by having more Democrats in Board positions. Dr. Kimberly McLeod was a later entrant into the District 6 race. She’s a longtime educator, having been a classroom teacher and a professor and dean at Texas Southern University. She now serves as Assistant Superintendent of Education & Enrichment at the Harris County Department of Education. Here’s our conversation:

I’m just going to give links to previous interviews at this point:

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Travis Olsen – CD02

Michelle Palmer – SBOE6

Endorsement watch: DSCC picks MJ Hegar

I’m sure no one will have any feelings about this.

MJ Hegar

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is endorsing MJ Hegar in the crowded primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

The move by the DSCC, the political arm of Senate Democrats, is one of the biggest developments yet in the nominating contest, which has drawn a dozen candidates — some more serious than others but no decisive frontrunners.

Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot and 2018 congressional candidate, entered the primary in April and has emerged as the top fundraiser. But polls show the race remains wide open as Democrats look to pick up where they left off from Beto O’Rourke’s near-miss 2018 loss to the state’s junior senator, Ted Cruz.

“Texas has emerged as a battleground opportunity for Democrats up and down the ballot, and MJ Hegar is the strongest candidate to flip the U.S. Senate seat,” the DSCC’s chairwoman, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, said in a statement.

“As a decorated combat veteran and working mother, MJ has both the courage and independence to put Texas first and is running on the issues that matter most to Texans: making health care and prescription drugs more affordable, protecting coverage for Texans with pre-existing conditions, and taking action to address climate change,” Cortez Masto continued. “We are proud to support MJ in her fight to continue her public service in the U.S. Senate.”

This is where I point out that the entire mission of the DSCC is to elect (and re-elect) Democratic Senate candidates, and that a big part of their function is fundraising. Hegar is so far the best fundraiser among the Democratic candidates, partly because she’s been in the race the longest, and she has track record of strong fundraising from 2018, as well as being the most recent candidate to have run that kind of underdog race. From a strictly pragmatic perspective, it makes sense, and if the DSCC believes that Texas is a viable pickup opportunity and Hegar represents the best shot at it, the rest follows easily enough. Those who align more closely with other candidates and/or believe that another candidate will be stronger against Cornyn will of course disagree with this assessment.

On a broader level, there are arguments to be made for and against an outfit like the DSCC entering a contested primary, especially one without a frontrunner, when they would presumably want to support one or more of the other candidates as well. Bad blood is a thing, as anyone who survived the CD07 primary last year can attest. Perhaps the DSCC was motivated by that, in the sense that they wanted to help someone they already liked break out.

Democrats now officially have their work cut out for them as a dozen candidates — some more serious than others but no clear frontrunners — vie for the chance to face U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, despite universally low name ID and modest fundraising at best.

Tensions in the field have run mostly low, but that is beginning to change. At least one candidate, Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, has started moving more aggressively to distinguish herself, while additional areas of potential scrutiny have begun to emerge around other candidates. Tzintzún Ramirez has increasingly found a foil in rival MJ Hegar, who is holding firm on a general election-focused campaign while resisting the progressive impulses that Tzintzún Ramirez and some others have shown.

To that end, Tzintzún Ramirez’s credentials are getting a boost Friday with the endorsement of the Working Families Party, a labor-aligned third party that backed Bernie Sanders for president in 2016 and is supporting Elizabeth Warren for 2020. The group, which has an increasingly active Texas chapter, shared the endorsement first with The Texas Tribune.

“We think she’s the true progressive in the race, and that’s why we’re getting behind her,” said Jorge Contreras, the party’s Texas state director. “We’ve worked with Workers Defense and Jolt” — two organizing groups that Tzintzún Ramirez helped start — “and we see that she’s actually been throwing down for a long time in the state.”

Tzintzún Ramirez is campaigning on “Medicare for All,” a Green New Deal and a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons — all proposals that Hegar has not embraced or has even overtly rejected. Hegar, an Air Force veteran, is touting herself as neither a moderate nor a progressive but an “ass-kicking” working mom with broad appeal. For months, she has talked openly about training her campaign exclusively on beating Cornyn, ignoring primary rivals and declining opportunities to criticize them.

On a conference call with reporters after filing Monday, Hegar said she had no plans to change that approach as the primary gets closer and the field remains muddled, saying, “This is who I am, and who I am is not interested in taking shots at people who share my values” and are also trying to “move the needle.”

Still, Hegar’s strategy ran into some controversy a couple of days later when she was asked about Tzintzún Ramirez suggesting the primary was coming down to her and Hegar — and Hegar replied, “Well, it is a two-person race. It’s me and John Cornyn.” While Hegar added that she was not taking the primary for granted, Tzintzún Ramirez’s campaign fired back in a fundraising email hours later that said it “seems like MJ forgot that Cristina was most recently shown to be leading this primary, or that there’s a diverse crowd of other incredible Democratic candidates running too.” (The campaign was apparently referring to a November poll that had Tzintzún Ramirez in the No. 1 spot but within the margin of error of other candidates clustered in the single digits.)

[…]

Hegar’s supporters brush off the growing scrutiny, noting she is the fundraising leader in the primary — $2.1 million raised as of last quarter — and arguing she will be the strongest Democrat against Cornyn with her resources and ability to appeal to independent voters and even Republicans. They point to her military background as well as her stronger-than-expected performance in a traditionally red congressional district last year, losing by fewer than 3 percentage points to Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock.

“I think she’s the frontrunner — I thought that before, and I think that now,” said Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets, Hegar’s earliest national endorser. “When you have a huge state with a lot of media markets, it’s gonna come down to who voters get to know first. MJ’s raised more than anybody else.”

I’ll leave the debate over who stands for what and who should be supported for another time. I mean, that’s what a primary is for, and may the best candidate rise to the top. For what it’s worth, I like Hegar and Tzintzún Ramirez both quite a bit, and I also like West, Edwards, and Bell. I’ll pick which one I want to vote for eventually, but in the meantime I’m all about beating Cornyn. They’d all be far better than he has been, so the rest is strategy and fundraising. Let’s see what the January reports tell us, and let’s see who can get their voices heard. The Texas Signal has more.

Interview with Michelle Palmer

Michelle Palmer

This week we focus on the State Board of Education. As we’ve discussed before, there are three SBOE seats that had been carried by Beto in 2018 that are up for election this cycle, and if Democrats won them all they’d have an 8-7 majority on the Board. That effort goes through Harris County and SBOE District 6, where incumbent Donna Bahorich is stepping down. Three Democrats have stepped up to run for this seat. Michelle Palmer is a teacher who has Mathematics, ELA, and Social Studies. She has an abiding interest in the school curriculum, and is a frequent presence in online political forums. Here’s what we talked about:

I swear, I will come up with something to keep track of these interviews. In the meantime, you can revisit the ones I did for CD02: Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen.

CNN/SSRS: Trump 48, Biden 47

Time for a non-Mayoral poll. The story is about results, primary and general, in both California and Texas, so forgive the abrupt opening sentence.

In Texas, however, it’s a different picture, with Biden holding wide leads across nearly every major demographic divide among those likely to vote in the primary there. The former vice president also tops as best able to handle each of the five issues tested by no less than six points.

Biden prompts the highest enthusiasm among Texas’ likely Democratic primary voters (44% say they would be extremely enthusiastic about a Biden nomination vs. 38% for Sanders, 31% for Warren and 23% for Buttigieg).

On the Republican side of the primary picture, Donald Trump appears unlikely to face a serious challenge in either state. In Texas, 86% of likely Republican primary voters say they back the President, in California, it’s 85%. Neither of his declared opponents reaches even 5% support in either state.

But Trump’s approval rating overall is underwater in both states. In California, just 32% approve of the way the President is handling his job, while 61% disapprove. In Texas, 42% approve and 50% disapprove. Trump’s numbers among independents (38% approve) and women (34% approve) in Texas would seem to suggest a warning sign for his general election prospects in a reliably GOP state.

But hypothetical general election matchups in the Texas poll point the other way.

Trump and Biden run about even in Texas among registered voters, 48% back Trump to 47% for Biden. Against three other Democrats, Trump holds significant leads: He holds 51% over Warren’s 44%, and Buttigieg and Sanders each have 43% support to Trump’s 50% in their matchups.

You can find all of the poll data here. To summarize the important bits:

A1. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?


Total Respondents
                   Approve Disapprove No opinion
December 4-8, 2019     42%        50%         8%
October 9-13, 2018     41%        50%        10%

Registered Voters
December 4-8, 2019     48%        47%         5%
October 9-13, 2018     47%        48%         6%

Q12. If (NAME) were the Democratic Party’s candidate and Donald Trump were the Republican Party’s candidate, for whom would you be more likely to vote?


                      Biden  Trump
December 4-8, 2019       47     48

                  Buttigieg  Trump
December 4-8, 2019       43     50

                    Sanders  Trump
December 4-8, 2019       43     50

                     Warren  Trump
December 4-8, 2019       44     51

Those are relatively bad approval numbers for Trump, and better overall levels of support, at least in comparison to other recent polls. The same poll as noted shows Biden with a big lead in Texas in the Dem primary; I’m less interested in that. Otherwise, standard disclaimers apply – one poll, snapshot in time, lots of Dems haven’t made up their minds yet, etc – and that’s about all there is to say.

After-deadline filing review: RRC, SBOE, Senate

Moving on to state offices that are not the State House (that’s next). See here and here for previous entries.

RRC: The only statewide non-federal office on the ballot, as is usually the case in Presidential years. There are four candidates, three of whom we’re acquainted with. I’ve previously mentioned two of the candidates, Chrysta Castañeda, whom I met at the recent CEC meeting, and Kelly Stone, whom I’ve not met but have spoken to over the phone. There’s former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, who was defeated in the primary last year by State Rep. Jessica Gonzalez. The fourth candidate is Mark Watson, whom I cannot conclusively identify. Thankfully, Grady Yarbrough did not file.

SBOE: Late in the day, Rebecca Bell-Metereau filed for SBOE5; she has run for this office a couple of times before, including in 2016, when she lost by four points as Hillary Clinton carried the district. This would be the year to run. I still can’t find anything related to Letti Bresnahan’s campaign, not even confirmation that the person I believe to be the candidate for this office is indeed that candidate. There are two candidates for SBOE10, the third district that Beto carried but the longest reach of the three. One is Stephen Wyman, who has run a couple of times for HD20 in Williamson County, and the other is Marsha Burnett-Webster, who appears to be the wife of Cecil Webster, former Fayette County Democratic Party Chair who has run for HD13 a couple of times. Finally, the Democratic candidate in SBOE8, Sharon Berry, has dropped out.

Senate: I’m going to go through the individual races that I didn’t discuss in the Houston-area post.

Audrey Spanko is running in SD01 – here’s a news story about her. She sounds like a terrific candidate, running in a tough district.

There are two candidates running in SD12, which is the closest thing to a swing-ish district we have – it’s a bit more Republican than SD19 is Democratic, and a teensy bit bluer than SD11. If we’re seriously talking about it being competitive next year, Democrats are having an amazing cycle. Anyway, Shadi Zitoon and Randy Daniels are vying to be the nominee.

SD19 is the noisy epicenter of the otherwise quiet Senate campaign space. In the context of a Presidential year, it should be a ten-to-twelve-point Dem district, and it’s a must have. There are four candidates running, and we’re familiar with two of them, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez, and Xochil Peña Rodriguez,, daughter of former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. The others are Freddy Ramirez, a Bexar County prosecutor, and Belinda Shvetz.

SD22 and SD24 are not competitive districts. Robert Vick and Clayton Tucker have the arduous tasks of running in them.

Sen. Eddie Lucio is finally getting the serious primary challenge he deserves in SD27. Ruben Cortez and Sara Stapleton Barrera hope to usher him out.

SD29 is open following the retirement of Sen. Jose Rordiguez. State Rep. Cesar Blanco has the field to himself.

Next up, the Lege. As always, let me know what you think.

After-deadline filing review: Congress

Let’s continue our walk through the filings. I’m going to take a look at some of the interesting Congressional races, skipping over the ones we just looked at.

CD01: It’s still not remotely competitive, but I once again want to salute Hank Gilbert for fighting the good fight against the preposterous Louie Gohmert. Seriously, if you saw a character based on Gohmert in a TV show or movie, you’d be complaining about what an insulting and outdated stereotype of a Texan he was. If only. Anyway, Hank’s candidacy is a reminder that good people do exist everywhere, and that Louie Gohmert is also complicit in Trump’s Ukraine-related crimes.

CD03: In the end, Tanner Do did file, joining Sean McCaffity and Lulu Seikaly. Not a top tier race, but on the radar.

CD17: Rick Kennedy is running again. He’s joined in the primary by David Jaramillo and William Foster. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go pour one out for Chet Edwards.

CD21: It’s Wendy Davis and Jennie Lou Leeder, and that’s it. I’m actually a little surprised no one else jumped in, though the way Davis has been crushing it at fundraising, as well as her name brand, it’s not that surprising.

CD23: Basically, it’s Gina Ortiz Jones and a bunch of people who have not established much of a presence in the race. I do not understand why Rosey Abuabara has not filed a finance report. Liz Wahl, the first person connected with CD23 this cycle, did not file.

CD24: We’re familiar with the main players in this group – Kim Olson, Candace Valenzuela, Crystal Fletcher, Jan McDowell, John Biggan. I still feel like we could have won this seat last year with a stronger nominee. As long as we avoid that mistake this time, we should have a great shot at it now.

CD25: Julie Oliver and Heidi Sloan, and that’s it. Another not-top-tier race, but still one to watch.

CD31: All five of the people mentioned here, plus one more, filed. I would really like to see at least one of them post a strong Q4 finance report.

Incumbents: We know about the challenges to Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee, and of course the Henry Cuellar/Jessica Cisneros matchup is the marquee attraction. Other incumbents who face primary opponents: Joaquin Castro (CD20, two opponents), Eddie Bernice Johnson (CD30, three opponents), Marc Veasey (CD33, one opponent), Filemon Vela (CD34, two opponents), and Lloyd Doggett (CD35, one opponent). I do not expect any of them to have any trouble. All other Dem incumbents are unopposed in March.

Other races: None of these outside-the-Houston-area districts are competitive, but they all have contested primaries anyway: CDs 12, 13, 14, 26, 27. They contain a mix of new and repeat candidates. Godspeed to them all.

Next up, state offices (may break that into two posts), and judicial races. Let me know what you think.

Interview with Travis Olsen

Travis Olsen

Continuing in CD02, which now has three candidates and while not on the national radar at this time it’s very much in the conversation. For today we have Travis Olsen, who had been an employee in the Department of Homeland Security for three years before resigning to protest the actions of the Trump administration. A graduate of Spring Branch ISD, Olsen is an attorney who volunteers on the Klein ISD leadership council, where his kids go to school. Here’s the interview:

I don’t have an Election 2020 page yet, and as far as I know Erik Manning hasn’t put together a spreadsheet yet. I’ll do something to track all this at some point. In the meantime, I expect to run interviews this week and next week, take Christmas week off from running them, and then resume the week of the 30th and keep going till early voting. It’s gonna be great, I swear.

After-deadline filing review: Houston area

There’s a lot to digest following Monday’s filing deadline, and as I’ve said I’m going to take some time and go over it in as much obsessive detail as you’ve probably come to expect from me. As a reminder, the filing info can be found here, with the caveat that it may not be fully complete. Only two Dem filers in CD03 are listed, for example, while the not-listed Tanner Do sure seems to have filed. This will all get fixed over the next couple of days, but let’s do keep that in mind.

Congress: Sima Ladjevardian’s entry into the CD02 primary was the main news here. She doesn’t have much online presence as a candidate yet, just a Twitter account with three tweets. I hope to have the chance to interview her, and if I do I’ll ask about this, but I get the sense this wasn’t just a late filing, but a late decision to run. That process is always fascinating to me. Anyone who runs against Dan Crenshaw is going to have to raise a lot of money, because he has a lot of money. She strikes me as the kind of candidate who is capable of that, which makes me wonder why not get started sooner? I understand, people have their own reasons for that, I’m just curious. She has three weeks till the next reporting deadline, we’ll see how she does.

Elsewhere, CD10 stayed at three candidates but CD22 now has five, as Chris Fernandez (mentioned in passing in this story and someone named Carmine Petricco whom neither Google nor Facebook can find entered. CD08 has two candidates, Laura Jones, who we knew about a month ago, and Elizabeth Hernandez, whom I cannot identify. If you know anything about any of these folks, please leave a comment.

As noted before, Rep. Al Green has an opponent in CD09, and Sheila Jackson Lee has six – count ’em, six – opponents in CD18. Three of them – Marc Flores, Bimal Patel, and Stevens Orozco – have been around campaigning for awhile, the other three are more recent entrants. And while it’s not a contested primary, I feel compelled to note that Rashad Lewis, who became the youngest person elected to Jasper City Council as a write-in candidate in 2017, then ran for Mayor earlier this year but fell short, is in for CD36. I’m going to want to interview him for November.

Legislative: SBOE6 has three candidates as before; I’ll be publishing interviews with them next week. In the Senate, as noted before Sen. Borris Miles has two opponents in SD13. Former Galveston judge Susan Criss and 2018 CD22 primary candidate Margarita Ruiz Johnson are competing in SD11. Carol Alvarado has SD06 to herself, while Jay Stittleburg (SD04) and Michael Antalan have clear paths to November.

The big news for the State House is that the HD148 primary is now a five candidate race: Anna Eastman, Penny Shaw, Emily Wolf, Adrian P. Garcia, and Cynthia Reyes-Revilla. Garcia was in the HD148 special election, and Reyes-Revilla finished out of the money in District H. I think it’s safe to say there will be a runoff in the primary, as there was in the special election. HD126 is a rerun from 2018, as Undrai Fizer and Natali Hurtado square off again. HD128, which was uncontested in 2018 (and is the reddest district in the county) has Josh Markle, who recently got a boost from Beto, and Mary E. Williams, whom I cannot find. HD134 has the three candidates you know, and HD138 has the two you know plus a repeat engagement from Jenifer Pool. HD129 (Kayla Alix), HD130 (Bryan Henry), HD133 (Sandra Moore, who ran in the 2018 primary), and HD150 (Michael Robert Walsh, whom I cannot conclusively identify) are all uncontested for March.

Among the Harris County incumbents, Reps. Alma Allen (HD131) and Harold Dutton (HD142) have four challengers, with CM Jerry Davis in HD142 being the biggest threat to either of them. Reps. Garnet Coleman (HD147) and Hubert Vo (HD149) each have two opponents, Reps. Jarvis Johnson, Senfronia Thompson, and Shawn Thierry have one, and Reps. Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, Gene Wu, Armando Walle, Ana Hernandez, Mary Ann Perez, and Christina Morales are unopposed. Thierry’s opponent, as noted before, is Ashton Woods, who had run in At Large #5.

Elsewhere, Rep. Ron Reynolds (HD27) did pick up a primary opponent. I’ve been hard on Reynolds since his misdemeanor conviction, and I stand by everything I said. He’s now served his sentence, and I’m not aware of any further legal issues. I’m not quite ready yet, but assuming nothing else happens we are going to need to consider extending him the same grace we’re willing to give others who have served their sentences and deserve a clean slate, at least as far as voting and holding office is concerned. The infamously now-open HD26 has the four candidates we already knew of. Eliz Markowitz remains the candidate in HD28, and there are solo Dems running in HD03 (Martin Shupp), HD15 (Lorena McGill, the 2018 candidate), HD23 (Jeff Antonelli), HD24 (former Chron reporter Brian Rogers), HD25 (Patrick Henry), HD29 (Travis Boldt), and HD85 (Friend-of-Dos-Centavos Joey Cardenas).

Harris County: The main races – DA, County Attorney, Sheriff, Tax Assessor – you know about and nothing new has happened. There’s plenty of action in the two HCDE At Large races – Position 5 now has two candidates (Erica Davis, Paul Ovalle) and Position 7 has four (David Brown and Andrea Duhon, the two we knew about originally, and Bill Morris and Obes Nwabara). Also, too, I have not seen anything to indicate that Josh Flynn has resigned his spot as he runs for HD138 on the GOP side, so there’s that. Willie D is now listed in the primary for Commissioners Court Precinct 1, which doesn’t make sense but maybe something changed. If so, that’s a three-candidate race. There are six candidates for Precinct 3, the four you’ve heard of (Michael Moore, Diana Alexander, Kristi Thibaut, Morris Overstreet) and two you haven’t (Zaher Eisa and Erik Hassan, who is now calling himself Erik “Beto” Hassan, which, no). Alan Rosen did indeed file for Constable in Precinct 1.

That’s all I have the energy for now. I’ll keep going with this tomorrow.

All have filed who are going to file

Barring any late challenges, disqualifications, or lawsuits, what we have now is our lineup for the March primary. Most of what there is to say was covered in yesterday’s post, but here are the highlights and there is some big news.

– Pretty much all of the “not yet filed” people did indeed file. There are three notable absences that I can see, though do keep in mind that the SOS page may be behind and shouldn’t be considered final until we have confirmation. Be that as it may, two people I don’t see are Judge Elaine Palmer (215th Civil Court; no one is listed on the Dem side for this court as of Monday night) and Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen. Hold those in mind, because there are news stories about some of the other interesting bits. Until I hear otherwise, the absence of any mention of those two suggests to me there’s no news, just a not-fully-updated SOS filing page.

– News item #1: Commissioner Steve Radack retires.

Steve Radack will not seek a ninth term as Harris County commissioner for Precinct 3, vacating a powerful position he has held for three decades that Democrats hope to flip next year.

Radack, 70, said he plans to invest his time and significant campaign account into helping Republicans regain seats after disastrous elections in 2016 and 2018.

“I’m not through being involved in public service, and I felt that there’s a lot I can do to help the Republican Party,” Radack said.

[…]

Radack and Harris County’s other Republican commissioner, Jack Cagle, endorsed Spring Valley Village Mayor Tom Ramsey for the seat.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said Radack’s impending retirement speaks to the shifting county electorate, which has helped Democrats sweep every countywide race since 2016.

“It is getting harder and harder for Republicans to compete in a rapidly changing county,” Rottinghaus said.

[…]

Several candidates from both major parties have joined the race. Ramsey, City Councilwoman Brenda Stardig and former West University Place Mayor Susan Sample will run in the Republican primary. The Democratic race will feature Michael Moore, chief of staff to former Mayor Bill White, former state Rep. Kristi Thibaut, educator Diana Martinez Alexander and three other candidates.

I wish Commissioner Radack well in his retirement. And I am very much looking forward to seeing a Democrat elected to succeed him.

– News item #2: Council Member Jerry Davis will challenge State Rep. Harold Dutton in HD142.

Houston City Councilman Jerry Davis filed Monday to run as a Democrat for House District 142, a northeast Harris County seat long represented by state Rep. Harold Dutton.

Davis, who has represented District B since 2011, is prevented from seeking re-election due to Houston’s term limits. His council district overlaps part of the House district, which includes the Fifth Ward and runs east and then north to FM 1960.

The move ensures Dutton, D-Houston, will have his most challenging primary in years. He was first elected to the Legislature in 1984 and frequently has coasted to victory without primary opposition. Last cycle, he beat primary challenger Richard A. Bonton, 65 percent to 35 percent.

Bonton is running for the seat again this cycle.

I always figured CM Davis would run for something else when his time on Council ended, it was just a matter of what opportunity there would be. I’ll have more to say about this later, but for now this is an exciting race.

– News item #3:

Well, I did hear that a “big name” was set to enter this race. Now we know.

– News item #4:

And now Beto has endorsed Sima. I’ve already published one interview in CD02, and I have another in the works. I’ll figure out something for this.

– Five Democratic incumbents in Congress do not have primary opponents: Reps. Lizzie Fletcher (CD07), Vicente Gonzalez (CD15), Veronica Escobar (CD16), Sylvia Garcia (CD29), and Colin Allred (CD32). Everyone else needs to be gearing up for March. As was the case in 2018 and for the second time ever, Dems have at least one candidate in all 36 districts.

– All of the statewide offices except CCA Place 9 are contested, with several having three candidates. Already, the potential for multiple primary runoffs is high.

– According to the TDP, in the end Dems have candidates in all but one of the Senate districts that are up (only SD28 is uncontested), and they have candidates in 119 of the 150 State House races. HD23 drew a candidate, but HDs 43 and 84 apparently did not. In Harris County, only HD127 is uncontested.

– There is now a third candidate for HD148, an Emily Wolf. I cannot conclusively identify her – maybe this person? – so it’s impossible to say more than that.

– And on the Republican side, State Rep. Mike Lang in HD62 is your promised surprise retirement. Dems do have a candidate in this not-swing district.

– Looking at the Republican filings, quite a few Democratic judges have no November opposition. We have officially come full circle.

Again, remember that the SOS page may not be complete. The parties have five days to notify the SOS of their candidates. It’s possible there are still surprises lurking, to be confirmed and reported. If you’re not sure about a particular candidate, google them or find them on Facebook, to see if there’s been an announcement. I’ll have more as we go this week.

Interview with Elisa Cardnell

Elisa Cardnell

Hey, you know what time it is? I’ll tell you – it’s time for primary interviews. I know, the filing deadline isn’t till later today, and we’re still in early voting for the city runoffs, but there’s no time to wait. Early voting for the 2020 primaries begins ten weeks (!) from today, and there are a lot of races to cover. I won’t come close to covering them all – I may return to some in the runoffs – but I’m going to try to get to the main races of interest for local folks.

We start with CD02, which was a race of interest in 2018 and which has a higher profile this time around. Elisa Cardnell was one of the first new candidates of the cycle, and has been a busy campaigner ever since. A Rice graduate who served five years of active duty in the Navy and more after that in the Navy Reserve, Cardnell is now a high school math and physics teacher. As noted before, I knew her at Rice – we were in the MOB together – and have been Facebook friends for a long time. Here’s the interview:

I don’t have an Election 2020 page yet, and as far as I know Erik Manning hasn’t put together a spreadsheet yet. I’ll do something to track all this at some point. In the meantime, I expect to run interviews this week and next week, take Christmas week off from running them, and then resume the week of the 30th and keep going till early voting. No pressure, right?

Willie D will not be on the Democratic primary ballot

He wanted to run for Commissioners Court but his application was rejected because of his previous felony conviction.

Willie Dennis

Former Geto Boys rapper William “Willie D” Dennis wants to run for Harris County Commissioners Court, but local Democratic party officials rejected his application to get on the ballot, citing his criminal history and a state law that has become a lightning rod in north Houston politics over the last month.

Dennis filed an application Thursday with the Harris County Democratic Party, seeking to challenge incumbent Rodney Ellis for the court’s Precinct 1 seat. He said he wants to bring his unique perspective to government.

On Saturday, the party notified him that he was ineligible because of his 2010 felony conviction for wire fraud charges, stemming from an iPhone sales scam.

The party cited a state law that forbids candidates from running for public office if they have been convicted of felony from which they have not been pardoned or otherwise released from its “resulting disabilities.”

The statute doesn’t define that phrase and has invited varying interpretations that have not been definitively resolved by courts. It is currently the subject of a contentious lawsuit surrounding the stalled runoff in the Houston city council’s District B election.

“I would add that this is not my decision,” said party chair Lillie Schechter. “We follow the Texas Election Code.”

Officials told Dennis that they would reconsider the ruling if he could provide examples in which candidates with felony convictions were allowed to assume office, Schechter said.

Dennis said he was looking at options to appeal the decision. It marks the second time this year his political plans have been foiled by his conviction. His campaign for the District B seat was similarly derailed by eligibility concerns.

“I want my rights back — all of them,” Dennis told the Chronicle Saturday. “I did my time, now give me my rights.”

See here and here for the story of his attempt to run for District B. As far as the ongoing District B runoff situation goes, the latest news is that the hearing we were supposed to get on Friday was rescheduled for today. If there’s an immediate ruling that may provide clarity for both of those situations.

As to why the HCDP would not accept this ballot application when the city accepted Cynthia Bailey’s (and several others’), I’d say it’s simply a difference of interpretation. William Dennis himself said that he decided not to file in District B because he didn’t want to risk perjuring himself by swearing on the affidavit that he hadn’t been finally convicted of a felony. The initial ruling in the lawsuit filed by Renee Jefferson Smith that allowed Cynthia Bailey to stay on the runoff ballot gave him the confidence to try again, but the underlying law remains unclear. I don’t blame him for being upset and confused by this. This needs to be fixed by the Legislature, ideally in a way that allows people who have completed their sentences to fully participate in our – and, ideally, their – democracy again. Until then, we have a mess.

Another “resign to run” question

Reply hazy, ask again.

Josh Flynn

A state law that deems certain officeholders ineligible for the Legislature is raising questions about whether Texas House candidate Josh Flynn is allowed to run for the seat while keeping his current position as a Harris County Department of Education trustee.

Flynn, one of three Republicans to file for the House District 138 primary in March, joined the HCDE board in January after winning the Position 4, Precinct 3 election in 2018. The board elected Flynn president at his first meeting.

The law in question is a section of the Texas Constitution that deems “any person holding a lucrative office under the United States” ineligible for the Legislature. The law does not define “lucrative office,” but a 1992 Texas Supreme Court opinion issued by then-justice John Cornyn determined that “an office is lucrative if the office holder receives any compensation, no matter how small.”

Flynn and his fellow HCDE trustees receive $6 per meeting, as required by state law.

The Constitution and the Supreme Court opinion do not appear to specify when “lucrative” officeholders must resign in order to be eligible. However, a 1995 attorney general letter opinion determined that the law “does not disqualify the holder of a lucrative office from running for the legislature … if the officeholder resigns from the lucrative office before filing for the legislature.”

Asked about his resignation plans, Flynn wrote in an email, “If I were to win the election in November of 2020, then I will resign my position with the HCDE.”

[…]

Kay Smith, a former HCDE trustee, resigned her position on the board in November 2015 to mount an unsuccessful run for House District 130 the following year. Eric Dick, a current board member, is running for Houston City Council and was able to retain his seat, department officials confirmed to the Chronicle earlier this year. The constitutional “lucrative office” provision applies to the Legislature and does not reference municipal offices.

In a statement, Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, said, “We have not yet certified any candidate for the ballot, and will evaluate any challenges as required by law.”

Am I the only one who remembers Roy Morales, who not only did not resign to run for City Council in 2007, or for Mayor in 2009, or for Congress against Gene Green in 2010? I don’t remember there being a question raised about whether or not Morales needed to resign for any of those races, but I admit it’s long enough ago that I just might have forgotten. I suppose if “the Legislature” is the only office that one could seek where this provision matters then it wasn’t an issue. Sure seems like this would be a good thing to clean up in the next Lege, along with that question about the rights of felons who have completed their sentences. In the meantime, we’ll see what the county GOP says about this.

The “Has Not Yet Filed” list

Today is the actual, official filing deadline. Anyone who has not filed for a spot in the primary by 6 PM today is not a candidate for a Democratic nomination in 2020. A whole lot of people have already filed, and a whole lot more will file today – I’m going to have a lot to talk about with this tomorrow and for the rest of the week – but there are still a few notable absences (with the caveat that the SOS list may not be complete). So with that in mind, here are the “why aren’t they there yet?” list to ponder as the hours tick down.

US Senate: MJ Hegar is not yet listed. John Love, the Midland City Council member who announced his candidacy in October, has ended his campaign, on the grounds that he lacked the time and finances. Good for him for recognizing his situation, and I hope he looks at 2022 for another possible statewide campaign. Eleven candidates have filed so far, Hegar will make it 12 when she makes it official.

US Congress: Reps. Joaquin Castro (CD20) and Colin Allred (CD32) are not on the list as of Sunday evening. Some of the more recent entrants in CDs 03 and 31 – Tanner Do, Chris Suprun, Dan Jangigian – are not yet on the list. Much-ballyhooed CD28 challenger Jessica Cisneros is not yet on the list. Wendy Davis has CD21 to herself right now, as Jennie Leeder has not yet appeared. CDs 19, 27, and 36 do not yet have Democratic candidates. And while this has nothing to do with our side, the Republican field in CD22 is mind-bogglingly large. Good luck with that.

Railroad Commissioner: Kelly Stone had not filed as of Sunday, but she has an event on her candidate Facebook page announcing her filing at 2:30 today. Former State Rep. Robert Alonzo has joined the field.

SBOE: All positions are accounted for. Letti Bresnahan remains the only candidate in District 5, the most flippable one on the board. I still can’t find any information online about her candidacy.

State Senate: No candidates yet in SDs 12, 18, 22, or 28. Not surprising, as none are competitive, but a full slate is still nice. Sens. Borris Miles and Eddie Lucio now each have two opponents, the field in SD19 is four deep, and Rep. Cesar Blanco still has SD29 all to himself.

State House: Far as I can tell, the only incumbent who hasn’t filed yet is Rep. Rene Oliveira in HD37. Of the top targets for 2020 based on Beto’s performance, HDs 23, 43, and 84 do not yet have Democratic candidates. Those are if not the bottom three on the competitiveness scale, with the first two trending away from us, they’re close to it. If they go unfilled it will still be a waste, but about the smallest possible waste. Rep. Ron Reynolds does not have a challenger. Sean Villasana, running for the HD119 seat being vacated by Rep. Roland Gutierrez as he runs for SD19, has the field to himself so far. In all of the big counties, the only one missing a Dem right now is HD99 in Tarrant, which is not particularly competitive.

District Courts: Limiting myself to Harris County, Judges Jaclanel McFarland (133rd Civil), Ursula Hall (165th Civil), Elaine Palmer (215th Civil), and George Powell (351st Criminal) have not filed. Other candidates have filed in the 165th and 351st, as have candidates in the 337th Criminal (Herb Ritchie) and 339th Criminal (Maria Jackson) where the incumbents are known to not be running again. Alex Smoots-Thomas now has an opponent for the 164th, and I am told another may be on the way.

Harris County offices: All of the candidates I’ve tracked for District Attorney, County Attorney, Sheriff, and Tax Assessor have now filed; I’m told another candidate may be filing for Tax Assessor, but I don’t know any more than that. David Brown has not yet filed for HCDE Position 7 At Large, but he was at the CEC meeting yesterday and I expect to see him on the ballot. Luis Guajardo has not yet filed for Commissioners Court in Precinct 3. There’s still no JP candidates in Precincts 4 and 8, and no Constable in Precinct 8. And Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen is still missing. Could that mean something? We’ll find out today. I’ll have a report tomorrow.

Beto: Still not running for Senate

And as of Monday evening, we can stop talking about this.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke is reiterating that he is not running for U.S. Senate next year as speculation swirls ahead of the Monday filing deadline.

The former El Paso congressman has long said he would not challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, but since he dropped out of the presidential race last month, some supporters have held out hope for a reversal and buzzed that he may be giving it new consideration.

“Nothings changed on my end,” O’Rourke told The Texas Tribune in a text message Thursday night. “Not running for senate.”

O’Rourke’s statement comes three days after the release of a poll showing he would fare much better against Cornyn than other Democrats who are running. The survey, commissioned by a group led by an O’Rourke booster, breathed new life into the speculation simmering since early November that O’Rourke could be convinced to make a late entry into the race.

[…]

The lineup for the Democratic primary includes Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee; Amanda Edwards, a member of the Houston City Council; MJ Hegar, the 2018 congressional candidate; Royce West, a state senator from Dallas; Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, a progressive organizer; and Sema Hernandez, O’Rourke’s 2018 primary opponent who got a stronger-than-expected 24% of the vote.

So far, none of them has come close to replicating the massive fundraising or frenetic campaign pace of O’Rourke’s 2018 bid.

At least one of them, West, has weighed in on the prospect of an 11th-hour bid by O’Rourke.

“I’d be disappointed because one of the things that I did before getting into the race was to talk to Beto and ask him — not once, but twice — if he decided to get out of the [presidential] race, would he get in [the Senate race]? And he said no,” West recalled during at a Texas Tribune event last month.

You know how I feel about that poll. I don’t know why so many people have been resistant to taking Beto at his word, but here we are. It’s only for a couple more days. In the meantime, Beto is out there working to help flip the State House, and I think he’s doing fine.

Beto boosts State House candidates

Very nice.

Beto O’Rourke

A month after ending his presidential campaign, Democrat Beto O’Rourke has turned his attention to state politics — namely, an effort to help flip the Texas House of Representatives from Republican control to the Democrats.

With Texas Democrats nine seats away from retaking the majority of seats in the Texas House, O’Rourke is trying to convince his donor base to send money to an organization called Flip The Texas House, which has targeted 17 House Districts in which Republican candidates won by fewer than 10 percentage points last year. More than half are districts in which O’Rourke won the majority of votes as he ran for U.S. Senate.

“In 2018, I carried nine of the 17 districts now represented by Republicans. So we know that we can do this,” O’Rourke said in the email. “We just need your help to make sure that we make the most of this opportunity.”

Ten of the targeted districts are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and five are in and around Houston. One is in San Antonio and one is in Killeen.

As always, my analysis of the interesting House races is here. Those five Houston-area districts are HDs 134 and 138 in Harris County, HD29 in Brazoria County, and HDs 26 and 28 in Fort Bend. HD26 is now an open seat after incumbent Rick Miller said some deeply stupid things that even Greg Abbott condemned. It’s not even 2020 yet, and things are already off the chain.

Let me just say, we’re really not ready for the amount of money that’s going to be spent on campaigns in Texas next year. Ads – on TV, on the internet, on Facebook and YouTube and Twitter and Instagram and everywhere else – and mailers and texts and calls and canvassers, it’s going to be nuts. We as a non-swing state for many years are not prepared for this. I feel like we all need to spend a week in Iowa or New Hampshire to get a taste of it. Just brace yourself, that’s all I’m saying.

Filing update: Focus on Harris County

One more look at who has and hasn’t yet filed for stuff as we head into the final weekend for filing. But first, this message:


That’s general advice, not specific to Harris County or to any person or race. With that in mind, let’s review the landscape in Harris County, with maybe a bit of Fort Bend thrown in as a bonus. Primary sources are the SOS candidate page and the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet.

Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Lizzie Fletcher do not have primary opponents, though the spreadsheet does list a possible opponent for Garcia. As previously discussed, Rep. Al Green has a primary opponent, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has three so far, with at least one more to come. Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen have filed in CD02. Mike Siegel and Shannon Hutcheson have filed in CD10, and none of the three known contenders have filed yet in CD22. (Before you ask, no, I don’t know why some candidates seem to wait till the last minute to file.)

In the Lege, the big news is that Penny Shaw has filed in HD148, so the voters there will get their third contested race in a four month time period. At least with only two candidates so far there can’t be a runoff, but there’s still time. Ann Johnson and Lanny Bose have filed in HD134, Ruby Powers has not yet. Over in Fort Bend, Ron Reynolds does not have an opponent in HD27, at least not yet. No other activity to note.

Audia Jones, Carvana Cloud, and Todd Overstreet have filed for District Attorney; incumbent Kim Ogg has not yet filed. Christian Menefee and Vince Ryan have filed for County Attorney, Harry Zamora has entered the race for Sheriff along with incumbent Ed Gonzalez, and Jack Terence, last seen as a gadfly Mayoral candidate in the late 90s and early 2000s, has filed for Tax Assessor; Ann Harris Bennett has not yet filed. Andrea Duhon has switched over to HCDE Position 7, At Large, which puts her in the same race as David Brown, who has not yet filed. Erica Davis has already filed for Position 5, At Large.

In the Commissioners Court races, Rodney Ellis and Maria Jackson are in for Precinct 1; Michael Moore, Kristi Thibaut, Diana Alexander and now someone named Zaher Eisa are in for Precinct 3, with at least one other person still to come. I will note that Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen has not yet filed for re-election, but three other candidates, two of whom filed within the first week of the period, are in for that position. Rosen’s name has been bandied about as a possible Commissioners Court challenger to Steve Radack, and if he is planning to jump to that race it makes sense that he’d take his time, since he’d have to resign immediately afterward. I have no inside scoop here, just a bit of idle speculation. There are no Dems as yet for either Constable or JP in Precincts 5 or 8.

This brings us to the District Courts, and there’s some interesting action happening here. There are a couple of open seats thanks to retirements and Maria Jackson running for Commissioners Court. Herb Ritchie is retiring in the 337th; two contenders have filed. One person has filed in Jackson’s 339th. Someone other than George Powell has filed in the 351st, and someone other than Randy Roll has filed in the 179th. I’m not sure if they are running again or not. Steve Kirkland has a primary opponent in the 334th, because of course he does, and so does Julia Maldonado in the new 507th. Alexandra Smoots-Thomas does not yet have a primary opponent.

Fort Bend County went blue in 2018 as we know, but Dems did not have a full slate of candidates to take advantage of that. They don’t appear to have that problem this year, as there are multiple candidates for Sheriff (where longtime incumbent Troy Nehls is retiring and appears poised to finally announce his long-anticipated candidacy for CD22, joining an insanely large field), County Attorney, and Tax Assessor (HCC Trustee Neeta Sane, who ran for Treasurer in 2006, is among the candidates). The Dems also have multiple candidates trying to win back the Commissioners Court seat in Precinct 1 that they lost in 2016 – one of the candidates is Jennifer Cantu, who ran for HD85 in 2018 – and they have candidates for all four Constable positions.

There are still incumbents and known challengers who have been raising money for their intended offices who have not yet filed. I expect nearly all of that to happen over the weekend, and then we’ll see about Monday. I’ll be keeping an eye on it all.

County to seek new voting machines

About time.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously approved County Clerk Diane Trautman’s plan to seek vendor proposals for new voting machines.

The clerk’s office plans to issue a request for proposal for a new voting system this month. An evaluation committee composed of county government officials will vet proposals and recommend a model by August 2020, according to a timeline Trautman provided.

“We did establish a community advisory community and met with them, and we received written and online feedback,” Trautman said. “We also had an election machine vendor fair where the community came out … the next step is to start the RFP process.”

The clerk’s office plans to purchase the new machines by the end of 2020.

After training election judges and staging demonstrations for the public, Trautman plans to debut the devices in the May 2021 elections. Trautman initially had explored the idea of buying new machines in time for the November 2020 general election, which could see a record number of voters because it is a presidential year, but concluded that timeline was not feasible.

Rolling out the machines in a low-turnout election would allow elections officials to more easily address any problems that arise, she said.

[…]

County Judge Lina Hidalgo urged Trautman to look for ways to decrease wait times at polling sites in the 2020 general election. Since the Legislature eliminated straight-ticket voting after the 2018 election, a time-saving method 76 percent of Harris County voters used that November, officials across the state worry future elections would feature long lines to cast ballots.

“I just want to reiterate my commitment to you to support work to make those lines shorter and fast, and anything we need to do for these 2020 elections, given that we still use these old voting machines,” Hidalgo said.

Security, ease of use, and some form of paper receipt should be the top priorities. Look to Travis County for some ideas – as with voting centers, having Michael Winn on staff will surely help with that. Those voting centers are intended to help with the long lines – having extended hours and more locations during early voting helps, too – and maybe we could remind some folks that they have the ability to vote by mail, too. I’m very much looking forward to seeing the vendor proposals.

It could be March before District B gets to vote in their runoff

And honestly, by the same calculations, it could go later than that.

Cynthia Bailey

The Houston City Council District B runoff could be delayed until March if a lawsuit contesting last month’s election result is not resolved by Monday, the Harris County Attorney’s office said.

The third-place finisher in the race filed the contest, arguing that second-place finisher Cynthia Bailey’s felony conviction bars her from holding public office.

Meanwhile, incumbent District B Councilman Jerry Davis said he intends to hold the seat until a successor is elected, while Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said the runoff should not have been delayed.

“There’s a lot of people out there that are angry,” Ellis said at this week’s Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday. “And to be honest with you, I’m angry as well.”

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said Dec. 9 is the deadline to place District B on the Jan. 28 ballot, which also will feature the runoff for the vacant District 148 seat in the Texas House of Representatives. The county will begin sending mail ballots for that election next week, Ray said.

“We don’t want to have to run another election in addition to the ones that we’re already doing,” Ray said.

A hearing on the election contest has been scheduled for Friday.

See here for the previous update. According to the Secretary of State, the deadline to send out the mail ballots for the March primary election is January 18th. That means that if we don’t have a resolution by the 9th, we have a bit less than six weeks to get resolution in time to have the election in March. Otherwise, the next opportunity is May. Isn’t this fun?

The District B race was a topic of discussion at Commissioners Court, where Ellis questioned whether the county should have yanked the runoff from the ballot. He suggested the county attorney could have sought to quickly dismiss Jefferson-Smith’s suit so the runoff could proceed as scheduled.

Ellis said the county’s decision sets a dangerous precedent where any disgruntled party could cause delays to an election.

“We’re going to be the laughingstock of the country if there’s some last-minute challenge, and then somehow we’re going to affect the presidential primary on Super Tuesday,” Ellis said.

County Judge Lina Hidalgo suggested the county attorney’s office develop a strategy to more quickly resolve election challenges in the future.

To be fair, the fact that the state law in question is ambiguous and has not been resolved by a court is part of the problem. Short of declaring Bailey ineligible when she filed, I’m not sure what the County Attorney can do or could have done. That said, I Am Not An Attorney, and they are (it’s right there in the name), so maybe they can think of something. Whatever they do think of, getting that law fixed needs to be a priority as well.

City and county leaders have said they support keeping Davis on council until his replacement is named.

“Although his term will expire on January 2, 2020, the City expects Council Member Jerry Davis to serve on a holdover basis (if necessary) until his successor is elected and qualified for office,” said Alan Bernstein, communications director for Mayor Sylvester Turner.

While some question whether that may run afoul of the city’s term limits, Davis and county officials said the Texas Constitution allows him to stay.

“All officers of this State shall continue to perform the duties of their offices until their successors shall be duly qualified,” Article XVI of the Constitution says.

I’m fine with this as well, but we all know this is another lawsuit waiting to happen, right? Lord help us if Davis is on the winning side of a 9-8 vote in Council in 2020. It sure would be nice if we get a verdict by Monday.

Beacon Research: Trump 45, Biden 44

That’s not the headline of this story, but it’s what I’m leading with.

Beto O’Rourke

With just a week remaining before the deadline to run for office in Texas next year, some Democrats are still hoping to see Beto O’Rourke jump into the race to unseat Sen. John Cornyn.

Cornyn himself continued to raise money on Monday off the specter.

Poll after poll shows Cornyn would trounce the dozen or so contenders for the Democratic nomination at this point. None can touch the near-universal name recognition O’Rourke enjoys among Texas Democrats after his near-miss against Sen. Ted Cruz last year.

And a new poll commissioned by backers worried that the current crop of candidates would fall short shows that O’Rourke is by far the top choice of Democratic voters in Texas at 58%, with the runner-up, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas at 13%.

The poll also shows him in a near-tie, trailing Cornyn 46-42 at this point, which is far stronger than others already seeking the nomination.

[…]

The poll commissioned by the Democratic Policy Institute was conducted Nov. 9-21 – that is, after he ended his presidential campaign on Nov. 1.

“Beto has a strong statewide profile, certainly stronger than any of the other candidates at this point. He could certainly make this competitive,” said Chris Anderson of Beacon Research, a Boston-based Democratic pollster who conducted the survey.

“There’s no doubt that name ID is a huge asset for Beto, but it’s not something to be taken lightly,” Anderson said. “To have pretty much universal name ID across Texas is significant. And he has a loyal following that’s ready to reemerge for him. He really energized younger voters [against Cruz] and that means he could start with a leg up.”

You can see the poll info here. You may note there’s no mention of the Trump-Biden result in the excerpt I quoted. In fact, there’s no mention of it anywhere in the story, which as you can see is all about Beto. I’ll get to that in a minute, but in the meantime, here are the Presidential results from the poll:

Trump 45, Biden 44
Trump 46, Warren 41

Those are the only matchups they did. Biden does a touch better than Warren among Ds, Rs, and indies, and that explains the gap. The main takeaway here is that this is yet another result in which Trump tops out below fifty percent, and is in a tight race against all comers. And this is while the poll finds him even in favorability, 49-49. He’s had worse in other polls.

That was just an appetizer, because this poll was all about the Senate. Here’s what we get for that:

Cornyn 46, generic Dem 44 (broken down as definitely Cornyn 26, probably Cornyn 20, definitely Dem 26, probably Dem 18)
Cornyn 46, Beto 42
Cornyn 45, Royce West 33
Cornyn 44, MJ Hegar 30
Cornyn 45, Chris Bell 30
Cornyn 45, Sema Hernandez 29

For whatever the reason, they did not also test Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez or Amanda Edwards. I think the main difference between the Cornyn-Beto numbers and the Cornyn-other Dem numbers is, as evidenced by the Cornyn-generic Dem numbers, name recognition. I have no problem believing that some candidates may do better – or worse – against Cornyn than others. Candidates matter, and some people’s votes are up for grabs. We saw plenty of variance in the statewide vote last year among the races. But there’s Cornyn getting 44 or 45 against the four non-Betos; it’s a bit ironic, given the motivation for the poll, that he scores best against Beto, even if the margin is much smaller. Point being, Cornyn isn’t gaining at these other Dems’ expense, they just don’t have the consolidated support Beto has. Yet.

So make of this what you will. Beto isn’t running, and we’re going to be fine. The Texas Signal has more.

State Rep. Rick Miller drops re-election bid

This happened in a big hurry.

Rep. Rick Miller

State Rep. Rick Miller, R-Sugar Land, is no longer running for reelection after he sparked a firestorm for saying he was facing primary challengers because they are “Asian.”

“During a recent interview with the Houston Chronicle I made some statements that were insensitive and inexcusable,” Miller said in a statement to The Texas Tribune. “In trying to make a point about the campaign I used a poor choice of words that are not indicative of my character or heart.”

“I do not want to be a distraction for my party or my constituents, and therefore I have decided not to seek re-election,” he continued.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Miller said that two of his Republican opponents — former Fort Bend GOP Chairman Jacey Jetton and Houston Fire Department analyst Leonard Chan — likely joined the race because they’re Asian in a district with a sizable Asian population.

“He’s a Korean. He has decided because, because he is an Asian that my district might need an Asian to win. And that’s kind of racist in my mind, but anyway, that’s not necessary, at least not yet,” Miller said of Jetton.

The backlash was swift earlier Tuesday as Gov. Greg Abbott pulled his endorsement of Miller and the Fort Bend county GOP chair asked him to consider dropping out.

Chan “jumped in probably for the same reason,” Miller told the Chronicle. “I don’t know, I never met the guy. I have no idea who he is. He has not been around Republican channels at all, but he’s an Asian.”

Here’s that Houston Chronicle story. As we know, Beto carried HD26 in 2018, though Miller hung on. There are now four Dems lined up to run, and it seems likely some other Republicans will now get in. Whether this winds up making the seat easier for them to hold or not remains to be seen.

I don’t have anything else to say about this, so let me turn the rest of this post over to Rep. Gene Wu.


Go read the rest.

Our first Congressional race ratings

From Politico, here’s the early view of the state of Texas’ Congressional races in 2020.

Lean Dem

CD23 (Open, R)
CD32 (Allred, D)

Tossup

CD07 (Fletcher, D)
CD22 (Open, R)
CD24 (Open, R)

Lean GOP

CD02 (Crenshaw, R)
CD10 (McCaul, R)
CD21 (Roy, R)
CD31 (Carter, R)

Likely GOP

CD03 (Taylor, R)
CD06 (Wright, R)
CD17 (Open, R)
CD25 (Williams, R)

The rest are all Solid for their respective parties. A few thoughts:

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

– I think they are underrating CD07. It’s a Lean Dem to me, based on Rep. Fletcher’s performance, the continued anti-Trump atmosphere, the overall strength of the HCDP and the overall weakness of the Harris County GOP. Until and unless I see something to make me think otherwise, CD07 and CD32 are equivalent.

– The three Republican-held-but-open seats that are Lean Dem or Tossup seem right to me. I’ve been burned by CD23 before, but I’ve chosen to believe that Rep. Will Hurd had some special sauce that enabled him to survive two elections he really should have lost. We’ll see if I’m right about that or if this district will bedevil us again.

– The Lean GOP districts sure seem to be on a spectrum. On the one end, CD10 was carried by Beto O’Rourke in 2018, and all three Dems are raising good money; CD21 is a bit redder, but Wendy Davis is killing it in fundraising. On the other end, we still have no idea who might emerge as a serious contender in CD31, while Dan Crenshaw is getting Will Hurd levels of undeserved media attention, while also sitting on three million bucks in his campaign coffers. Both are trending in the right direction, and Elisa Cardnell is a good candidate (who now has a primary opponent), but it’s not hard to imagine these races being classified as “likely GOP” in the future or by other prognosticators.

– The Likely GOP districts seem about right, though the inclusion of CD17 is optimistic, to put it mildly, even if it is an open seat and even if the Ukraine-compromised Pete Sessions is the GOP nominee. (Unless someone persuades Chet Edwards to jump in, which would change things considerably.) CDs 03 and 06 have candidates with fundraising potential, and could possibly get upgraded if everything goes well. CD25 is a step behind them, but having it on the radar at all is a sign of how much things, and the perception of things, have changed since 2016.

– We’re getting way, way ahead of ourselves, but the GOP is going to have to think long and hard about what the landscape is going to look like over the next decade. The 2011/2013 gerrymander worked very well for them in a state that was 55-60% Republican. In a state that’s a tossup or close to it, they have a lot of seats to defend. Texas will get more Congressional seats in 2021, assuming its idiotic penury in supporting the Census doesn’t cause a dramatic undercount, which will give a bit more latitude, but the basic questions about how many reasonably safe GOP seats the state can support will remain. And if the Dems take the State House and gain leverage over the process, those questions will get even trickier for them.

Filing report update

We’re a week out from the official filing deadline for the 2020 primaries. There’s still a lot of known candidates who haven’t filed yet, but I expect there will be a mad flurry of activity this week, as is usually the case. Don’t be surprised if we hear of an out-of-the-blue retirement or two, as that is known to happen at this time as well. I’m going to take a quick look at where we stand now, and will provide other reports as needed before the deadline on Monday. My sources for this are as follows:

The Patrick Svitek spreadsheet.
The Secretary of State Candidate Information page, which is quite handy and reasonably up to date.
Texas Judges, whose provenance is unknown to me, but they have the most information I’ve found about candidates for statewide and Courts of Appeals judicial races.
Jeff Blaylock’s Texas Election Source – I may be too cheap to subscribe, but the free info he includes is always worth noting.

SBOE

We have a third Democrat in the race for SBOE6, Kimberly McLeod. She is Assistant Superintendent of Education & Enrichment at HCDE and a former professor at TSU. She joins former HCDE Board member Debra Kerner (who has filed) and teacher Michelle Palmer (who had not yet filed, at least according to the SOS, as of this weekend).

We have a filing for SBOE5, the most-flippable of the SBOE districts up for election this year, Letti Bresnahan. Google tells me that a person by this name was a Trustee at San Antonio’s Northside ISD (she is not on the Board now). She was elected in 2008, narrowly re-elected in 2012, and I guess didn’t run in 2016; the Bexar County Elections report for May 2016 doesn’t list the NEISD Position 6 race, so who knows what happened. In 2015, she voted to keep the name of San Antonio’s Robert E. Lee High school; it was subsequently changed to Legacy of Education Excellence (LEE) High School in 2017, by which time as far as I can tell she was no longer on the Board. That’s a whole lot more words than I intended to write about her or this race – and mind you, I can’t say for sure this is the same Letti (Leticia) Bresnahan. I noted this because I’ve been keeping an eye on this race – the district was carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, it was the bluest of the Republican-held SBOE districts in 2018, and the incumbent is a wingnut. So I was gonna write something when a Dem filed, I just didn’t expect it to be this.

State Senate

Someone named Richard Andrews has filed as a Democrat against Sen. Borris Miles. The Svitek spreadsheet has him as a General Election opponent, but his website clearly says “Democrat”, and the SOS has him as a Democrat. He’s a doctor, and that’s all I know about him.

State House

Current SBOE member Lawrence Allen, Jr, who is the son of State Rep. Alma Allen, has filed in the increasingly crowded Democratic primary in HD26. It’s one of the nine GOP-held districts that Beto won in 2018. Rish Oberoi, Suleman Lalani, and 2018 candidate Sarah DeMerchant have also filed.

Travis Boldt has filed in HD29, in Brazoria County. That was one of two near-miss districts (Beto got 47.0%) in which no Dem was on the ballot in 2018; HD32, which does not yet have a candidate filed, was the other.

Sandra Moore, who lost in the 2018 Dem primary to Marty Schexnayder, has filed to run again in HD133.

Ashton Woods has changed the name of his Facebook page to indicate he plans to run in the primary for HD146, currently held by second-term Rep. Shawn Thierry. He has not filed as of this writing.

So far, no one else has filed to run in the primary for HD148, where Anna Eastman is in the runoff for the special election, and has made her filing for 2020.

First Court of Appeals

I hadn’t gotten into the Courts of Appeals in my previous discussions, but especially after the sweep of these races by Dems in 2018 (and not just on this court), they will surely be of interest to multiple candidates.

Veronica Rivas-Molloy, who has officially filed, and Dinesh Singhal are in the race for Place 3 against incumbent Russell Loyd, who was elected in 2014. The Texas Judges website also lists Keith F. Houston as a candidate, but he appears to have decided not to run.

Amparo Guerra and Tim Hootman have both filed for Place 5, which had been held by the now-resigned Laura Carter Higley. There are three Republicans running so far, and there may be another if Greg Abbott appoints someone to fill the still-vacant seat prior to the filing deadline.

14th Court of Appeals

Jane Robinson is the (so far, at least) lone Democrat running for Chief Justice. I saw her at the HCDP Friendsgiving last month but did not have the chance to walk up and say Hi. The position is held by Justice Kem Thompson Frost, who is not running for re-election. Justice Tracy Christopher, who holds Place 9, is running for Chief Justice. She was last elected in 2016, so she would not otherwise be on the ballot. My assumption is that if she wins, she will move over from Place 9, which will make Place 9 vacant, and Abbott will appoint someone who would then run in Christopher’s spot in 2022. If she loses, she’ll remain in her spot and run for re-election (or not, as she sees fit) in 2022.

Wally Kronzer, who has filed, and Cheri Thomas are running for Place 7. Kronzer ran for Place 5 on this court in 2010. Ken Wise, in his first term, is the incumbent.

District courts

I don’t see any primary challengers yet for incumbent Democratic district court judges. I have heard someone is circulating petitions to challenge Judge Alex Smoots-Thomas, which I think we can all understand. I’m not in a position to say anything more than that as yet.

County offices

Audia Jones has officially filed for Harris County DA. Christian Menefee and Vince Ryan have both filed for County Attorney. Michael Moore has filed for County Commissioner in Precinct 3; Kristi Thibaut and Diana Alexander both announced their filings on Facebook over the weekend, but the SOS has not caught up to those filings yet. Bill McLeod, of accidental resignation fame, has filed to win his old seat on County Civil Court at Law #4 back. Incumbent Judge Lesley Briones has not yet filed. We will have a contested primary for at least one of the two HCDE at large positions, as Erica Davis has filed in Position 5; here’s her appointment of treasurer. Andrea Duhon, who had run for a different HCDE position in 2018, has already filed an appointment of treasurer for this race. David Brown is running for the other spot, Position 7, and as far as I know has no Dem opponent as yet.

Now you know what I know. We’ll all know a lot more in a week’s time.

Texas GOP accidentally releases its 2020 strategy

Oops.

In a bizarre political blunder, a document laying out the Republican Party of Texas’s election strategy for the 2020 elections has ended up in the hands of Texas Democrats. Attacking Democratic candidates through websites and mitigating “the polarizing nature” of President Donald Trump are part of the plan.

The document — called a draft for initial discussion by the Texas GOP Party chair — was titled “Primary/General Election 2020 [Draft]” and began showing up in Democratic emails Monday evening.

It includes a target list of 12 statehouse districts, including six in North Texas, that Republicans are aiming to take back in next year’s elections. Negative attacks through websites, and highlighting diverse Republicans to counter a “narrative driven by Democrats” about the GOP’s lack of diversity are also part of the strategy.

Republican targets in North Texas are Dallas County Democratic Reps. Ana-Maria Ramos, Terry Meza, Rhetta Bowers, John Turner and Julie Johnson, as well as Denton County Rep. Michelle Beckley.

“Starting after the Primary, the RPT will generate microsites for negative hits against the Democrat candidates in our twelve target race—we expect each microsite to be roughly $500,” the document reads. “We will then begin rolling out these websites, prioritizing the races that were within 4% in the 2018 election.”

[…]

Many of the strategies in the plan, like identifying targets and setting up negative attack websites, are not uncommon in politics. But their public disclosure — especially if that disclosure is unwanted or embarrassing — and the level of detail that became public is unusual.

The document lays out a plan to purchase online domain names affiliated with the names of Democratic candidates so that Republicans can reroute them to the negative attack websites.

“For example, we will purchase ZwienerforTexas.com, ZwienerforTX.com, and so on,” the document reads.

Democratic Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood is among the other six House members on the list. The others are Reps. Vikki Goodwin and John Bucy of Austin, James Talarico of Round Rock, Gina Calanni of Katy and Jon Rosenthal of Houston.

The document says Republicans will audit search engine optimization results to make sure that the negative attack websites are on the front pages of various search engines and work with other stakeholders — such as Texans for Greg Abbott, the governor’s campaign arm — “to get any more insight on issues that matter to these districts.”

The target list isn’t a surprise, and the online strategies are fairly common. Every serious candidate, and for sure every elected official, should buy up all the variants of their name as domains to keep them out of enemy hands. This isn’t new – I mean, David Dewhurst was the victim of a domain squatter way back when he first ran for Lite Guv in 2002. At least now Democrats are on notice they need to do this if they hadn’t already. The good news is that there should be more than enough resources to anticipate and address these needs. And putting my professional hat on for a minute, for crying out loud please please please make sure there are cybersecurity specialists on the payroll. You don’t need to be Fort Knox, but you very much do need to use multi-factor authentication and make sure your patches are current.

We could go on, but you get the point. The real value in all this is the reminder that the Internet is dark and full of terrors, and forewarned is forearmed. No excuses, y’all.

One more thing:

“Given the polarizing nature of the President, I suspect some Republicans will refuse to turnout during the General Election because they don’t want to vote for him – though I don’t know that we will know what this universe would look like without us or a stakeholder creating a model,” the document reads. “Regardless, I suggest we set up a contingency budget to target these folks with mailers, digital ads, and texts to encourage them to turnout for U.S. Senate, State Senate, State House, and so on.”

It is unclear who the “I” in the document refers to.

The plan also identifies the Republican-led elimination of straight ticket voting as “one of the biggest challenges ahead of the 2020 cycle.” To address that, the plan details an effort to convince Republican voters to vote for GOP candidates all the way down the ballot manually through a tagline. Some of the potential taglines include: “Vote Right All the Way Down!” “Vote Right To The Bottom!” and “Vote RIGHT Down the Ballot!”

I’ve written way too much about straight ticket voting and how ridiculous it has always been for the pundit class to assume that the lack of straight ticket voting in the future would spell doom for Democrats. No less an authority than the Republican Party of Texas agrees with me on that. If I had a mike, it would be hitting the floor right now. The Chron, the Texas Signal, the Current, and Political Animal have more.

Trib overview of CD28

It’s going to be an interesting race. I have no idea what will happen, and anyone who says with any confidence that they know is suspicious to me, but we will learn something from it, however it goes.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

Not many people understand South Texas.

It’s one of the handful of blue pockets in the state, but unlike the others, it’s not clustered in an urban center. The congressional districts that represent it encompass small border cities and ranch lands alike. Like other heavily Hispanic areas, the number of young voters grows each election, and what that means for the Democratic Party is uncertain.

But a spirited primary campaign in the district long held by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Laredo, could test if and how the politics of the area are changing. Cuellar, who has served in Congress since 2004, isn’t too different from the other Democrats who represent the Rio Grande Valley in Washington and Austin. But now he’s facing a challenge from a former intern who is running on a progressive platform.

Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration attorney, has pushed for proposals like “Medicare for All,” gun control and the Green New Deal. Cuellar has argued that those ideas don’t align with the beliefs of the district and that the bulk of Cisneros’ support comes from people outside the region. The race has become one of the most closely watched in the country early in the primary season.

Jessica Cisneros

Texas’ 28th Congressional District spans from western Hidalgo County, right outside the McAllen city limits, and up north to Laredo and the eastern San Antonio suburbs. In 2016, it went to Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points, and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke won it by similar margins in the 2018 Senate election.

Cisneros said that’s evidence that dispels the myth that South Texas is conservative, and even more reason a right-leaning Democrat, or “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” as Cisneros calls Cuellar, should be replaced with a more progressive representative.

“I haven’t had a single person disagree with me in terms of my policies,” Cisneros said. “It’s not surprising to me to see folks super shocked that somebody who is running for office is at their doorsteps. There are people who simply respect that I’m putting the effort.”

Cuellar declined to comment for this story.

Both candidates have pointed to the other’s financial support as a sign that their opponents are out of touch with the district.

Cuellar has received money from the National Rifle Association, a political action committee associated with Koch Industries and the GEO Group, the private prison company that funds migrant shelters where several migrants have died. But he also takes in a large sum of money from donors within the district — and has tried to portray Cisneros’ support as largely driven by outsiders.

Few of Cisneros’ reportable donations come locally, which the Cuellar campaign has been quick to point out.

See here for the most recent finance reports. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know I’m no fan of Henry Cuellar. I just don’t know if Jessica Cisneros is the candidate that can beat him. She’s done all right on fundraising, but if her donors are largely from outside the district – likely from mostly outside the state – then I’m not sure how much that means. I can believe she’s working the district, but Cuellar isn’t an absentee like some vulnerable-to-primary members have been. If I had to bet I’d put my money on Cuellar, but we live in weird times and I don’t feel any confidence in trying to guess what might happen. I just don’t know what to expect.

People liked the voting centers

They’re great, so of course they do.

Diane Trautman

Half of Harris County voters who turned out Nov. 5 cast ballots outside of their home polling places, taking advantage of a new program that lets citizens vote at any Election Day polling place rather than only their assigned precincts.

The move to “voting centers” was a key plank in Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman’s campaign for the office last year, and this month’s election was the first time it was used on a wide scale.

Nearly 17 percent of the county’s 2.3 million registered voters cast ballots earlier this month, far more than the 4 percent turnout last May in a trial run of the voting-center approach, which Trautman’s office calls “Vote Your Way.”

Prior to last May, Harris County residents could cast ballots at any one of dozens of locations during early voting but were required to visit polls in their home precincts on Election Day.

Trautman said the benefits of the change are clear. In November 2018, she said, 2,500 voters showed up at polling places other than their assigned precincts on Election Day and had to cast provisional ballots that likely were not counted.

“This year there was no wrong location,” said Trautman, a Democrat. “One voter replied to us (on social media) and said, ‘I was just out jogging by West Gray and decided to go vote.’ It’s where your day takes you is where you can wind up voting. You see the signs out and you just go in and vote.”

[…]

A Houston Chronicle analysis of voting data shows that 52 percent of Election Day voters cast ballots at a location other than the polling place associated with their home precincts. Setting aside votes from the 265 precincts that had no home polling site cuts that figure to 46 percent.

Among the 747 polling places on Nov. 5 were roughly 50 early-voting locations that Trautman left open on Election Day, assuming voters would prefer familiar sites.

That hunch was right: Of the busiest 35 polling places on Election Day, 28 were early-voting locations. The busiest polling place — the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center in Montrose, which recorded 1,625 votes on Election Day — typically is the busiest location during early voting.

The trend did produce some counterintuitive results: Though voters could cast ballots anywhere, citizens’ preferences for familiarity left some needlessly waiting in line.

Of the 1,800 votes cast after the polls closed at 7 p.m. — the ballots count as long as voters stay in line — 63 percent were cast at early-voting sites, led by West Gray, Trini Mendenhall Community Center in Spring Branch, and Sunnyside Multi-Service Center.

You can see that analysis here. The experience of people preferring some locations even if they have to wait is one that other counties with voting locations share, and as Bob Stein notes later on, they’re fine with it because they’re voting where they want to. That makes sense, because the voting location most convenient to you may be the one near where you work, or on your way home from work, or some other place that is not in your precinct (never mind that not all precinct locations are available in many elections). I can’t emphasize enough how great it is to not have people miss out on having their votes count because they went to the wrong precinct location. It’s weird that we even have to talk about this, because in a world built for convenience and ease of use, we are totally unaccustomed to the idea that voting should be easy and convenient. Well, now it is in Harris County. That’s pretty damn awesome.