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endorsements

Get ready for more Buzbee ads

Keep that remote handy.

Self-funding millionaire lawyer Tony Buzbee on Wednesday said he would spend whatever it takes to unseat Sylvester Turner and predicted a “full-on slugfest” during the five-week runoff to decide Houston’s mayoral race.

The runoff will test the effectiveness of Turner’s strategy to portray Buzbee as an acolyte of President Trump — whom Buzbee once supported — against the challenger’s own blueprint of casting himself as a nonpartisan outsider with the chops to improve on Turner’s record handling flood control, infrastructure and crime.

After full election results were published Wednesday morning, Turner wasted no time framing the runoff as a choice between his political record and “a Donald Trump imitator” who Turner said “will say anything, do anything or spend anything to get elected.”

Buzbee, speaking to reporters hours later, said he would not allow Turner to make the election “a referendum on Donald Trump,” promising to instead focus on matters of policy while predicting a “full-on slugfest” up until the Dec. 14 runoff.

[…]

To defeat Turner, political observers said, Buzbee will need to broaden his support beyond the base of voters he assembled in the first round. That includes making inroads with left-leaning voters who did not support Turner, a longtime Democrat, along with winning the support of those who cast ballots for Bill King, who competed with Buzbee for conservative support but struggled to match his rival’s self-financed $10 million campaign war chest.

“I think he’ll pick up the majority of the Bill King supporters and he’ll pick up some other folks who were just not happy with the mayor for some reason,” said Nancy Sims, a local political analyst who is not affiliated with either campaign. “It’s a tough path to victory, but in 2015 we saw King come in in a similar position.”

For what it’s worth, Turner led King by about 19K votes, in a higher-turnout election, in 2015. He led Buzbee by about 24K votes this time, and as noted drew more votes than Buzbee and King combined. Every election is different and nothing is ever guaranteed, but Turner is clearly in a stronger position this time.

I don’t know how Buzbee plans to spend his money in the runoff. I’m not sure Buzbee knows how he’s going to spend it. I figure we’re going to face another barrage of TV ads, but who can say beyond that. Buzbee did spend a ton of money earlier in the year on polling. I know this because I was on the receiving end of what seemed like dozens of poll calls, some live and some robo, from the Buzbee campaign. (They never identified themselves, of course, but you could tell from the questions they were asking.) I haven’t gotten one of them in awhile, so I guess it’s on to other things. Whatever the case, when you have more money than brains you find ways to spend.

“Mayor Turner’s biggest enemy in the runoff is not Tony Buzbee, but complacency,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “But I don’t know if it’s a major problem, because he has such a strong and sophisticated campaign machine.”

Potentially boosting Turner’s chances, Rottinghaus and Sims said, are a host of city council runoffs in districts that went heavily to Turner in the first leg of the election.

Turner won a majority of the vote in districts B and D, and a plurality of the vote in C, F, H and J, all of which will be decided by runoffs. Across the six districts combined, Turner received 55 percent of the vote, to Buzbee’s 21 percent share.

Buzbee’s strongest districts, E and G, were decided without runoffs Tuesday. He won a plurality of the vote in District A, the lone remaining runoff district, receiving 39 percent to Turner’s 36 percent.

“I think the city council races that are in runoffs are going to determine a lot of voter turnout,” Sims said. “And very clearly, the city council district races that have runoffs favor Turner.”

I made that same observation. I don’t have the draft canvass yet, but when I do I’ll be sure to quantify this.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Buzbee acknowledged the need to scoop up support from voters who backed King and Boykins, who finished in fourth place and was backed by the firefighters union. Buzbee said he is “looking for (Boykins’) support,” along with the backing of the firefighters.

“I’m going to be seeking that endorsement, and I certainly would welcome that endorsement,” Buzbee said.

Marty Lancton, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association, made clear in a statement Wednesday that the firefighters union would get involved in city runoffs, though he declined to say more about how the union would approach the mayor’s race.

“Making City Hall accountable and fixing the fire department remain our priorities,” Lancton said. “We’ll find a way forward to help do that. Our political work is not done in 2019.”

Boykins and King did not respond to phone and text inquiries about their endorsement plans. Lovell said she would not endorse Turner, and “beyond that I haven’t had conversations with anyone else.”

Honestly, I have no idea how much these endorsements matter. Better to have them than not for sure, but I think it takes a specific set of circumstances for them to make much difference. The interesting bit here is the firefighters, who were so gung ho about beating Turner in the general and now seem all “meh” in the runoff. Are they abashed that their endorsed candidate barely got five percent of the vote, or are they just not into Buzbee? (“Both” is an acceptable answer to that question.) The firefighters do have a number of their endorsed Council candidates in runoffs, so they have plenty to do and much to gain whether or not they get involved in the Mayoral runoff. But after months of hearing about their feud with the Mayor and all the rest of the Prop B stuff, it’s quite remarkable that it will seemingly end on such a low-key note.

Hotze and Buzbee

But wait, there’s more.

Anti-gay leader Steve Hotze withdrew his support for Tony Buzbee on Thursday, and called the mayoral candidate a “charlatan and liar” for denying he had sought the Republican power broker’s political support.

In an emailed statement, Hotze said Buzbee actively worked to get support from his group, Campaign for Houston, and at one point wanted Hotze to reach out to older Republicans to encourage them to vote for him.

“Make no mistake about it, the reason Tony Buzbee wanted to meet with Dr. Hotze was to gain his support,” the statement said.

Earlier this week, in response to a question about Hotze’s endorsement during a mayoral debate, Buzbee said he “didn’t know” Hotze or why the anti-LGBTQ Campaign for Houston had endorsed his campaign. A day later, Jared Woodfill, a spokesman for Hotze’s group, said the two had met multiple times in the run-up to Hotze’s endorsement, which was published in the Link Letter, a popular conservative newsletter

In response, Buzbee said he had forgotten about the meetings when he claimed not to know Hotze or agree with his anti-gay stances.

Reached by text Thursday afternoon, a spokesperson for Buzbee said the campaign was reviewing Hotze’s statement.

Hotze’s statement details four meetings he and some of his associates had with Buzbee between Aug. 27 and Sept. 17. It was during those meetings, Hotze said, that Buzbee told him that he had opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015, and did not support the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.

“During this meeting, Buzbee had aligned himself with Dr. Hotze’s view on these issues,” the statement said in reference to the Aug. 27 meeting at Hotze’s home.

See here for the background. Who among us hasn’t forgotten meeting four times with a viciously homophobic political power broker for the purpose of securing his endorsement in our Mayoral campaign? Could happen to anyone. Honestly, what else is there to say? It’s just perfect.

Buzbee and Hotze

Buddies.

One of the leaders of a controversial, anti-LGBTQ group on Tuesday said Tony Buzbee met numerous times with Steven Hotze before the Republican power broker endorsed his mayoral campaign, contradicting comments Buzbee made at a televised debate the night before.

Buzbee and Hotze met three or four times, starting in late September, according to Jared Woodfill, who for years has worked directly with Hotze and his group, Campaign for Houston, including as its spokesman.

During the meetings, Woodfill said, Buzbee asked for the group to “support” his campaign but did not ask for its endorsement. Woodfill said he and Hotze did not see a distinction between the two.

Hotze ultimately chose to back Buzbee, penning a full-page letter of support in the Link Letter, a popular conservative newsletter. Asked during Monday’s debate if he shares Hotze’s anti-LGBTQ views, Buzbee said he only had met Hotze once at a church and does not agree with the views Hotze has espoused.

The first meeting, Woodfill said, occurred in late September at Hotze’s home. Woodfill said a photo in the Link Letter showing Buzbee with his arm around Hotze’s shoulder was taken in Hotze’s study.

“It lasted about two hours,” Woodfill said. “I was there. I saw him there. … It was a great time. (Hotze) was very impressed by him. He said all the right things.”

Campaign for Houston decided to endorse Buzbee’s campaign after three more meetings that Woodfill said amounted to roughly seven hours of face time. Woodfill said they believed Buzbee held similar positions on issues that Hotze has made a focal point of his political career, including Drag Queen Story Hour.

“His positions on the issues seemed to be very consistent with Dr. Hotze’s,” Woodfill said.

There are no circumstances under which any decent human being should want to meet with Steven Hotze. The only thing more pathetic than this is Buzbee’s lame attempt to lie about having met with Hotze. Which, hilariously, has led to Hotze withdrawing his endorsement. I am loathe to attribute anything praiseworthy to Jared Woodfill, who is himself a contemptible excuse for a human being, but this is some next level shade:

“At this point, we’ve withdrawn the support, clearly based on the response last night. It appears Mr. Buzbee is trying to disassociate himself with the organization, disassociate himself with Dr. Hotze. And just to be honest with you, Dr. Hotze is very concerned that he would forget about the four days that they actually spent time together,” said Woodfill.

Truly, Buzbee and Hotze deserve each other. Two peas in a poison pod.

Endorsement watch: Constitutional amendments

As you know, there are ten constitutional amendments up for a vote on the November ballot. They will be on everyone’s ballot, and depending where you are may be the only things on your ballot. The Chron makes their recommendations on them. I’ll highlight three of the ten:

Vote no on Proposition 1. To allow certain municipal judges to be elected to more than one office at the same time. We urge voters to reject the amendment. Even in small communities, candidates running for local office ought to be local residents. Existing law already allows for elected municipal judges to be appointed to serve in another court, but expanding that laxity to elected positions as well is unnecessary and unwise.

Vote no on Proposition 4. To ban outright an income tax for Texas.

There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead, as any fan of the cult classic Princess Bride knows well. If you’re mostly dead, Miracle Max the Wizard can work up a chocolate-covered pill to bring you back to life. If a person is all dead, the wizard says there’s only one thing to do: “Go through his pockets and look for loose change.”

Proposition 4 was designed to make sure that the wildly unpopular notion of a statewide personal income tax in Texas is not just mostly dead but all dead.

Voters already approved a constitutional amendment in 1993 that prevents lawmakers from enacting an income tax unless voters agree to it.

Proposition 4 would ban an income tax outright.

Yet, while that sounds awfully final, Miracle Max could still find a way around it. Say Prop 4 passes and becomes part of the Constitution. Any constitutional provision can be changed by a two-thirds vote in the Legislature and a popular vote.

In the end, though, it’s unclear why a change is needed. What’s more, some argue Prop 4’s wording of “individual income tax” is vague enough to draw a court challenge that could extend the ban to businesses, which could cost the state billions in revenue. Why take that risk?

We say vote “Against” and leave dead enough alone.

Vote yes on Proposition 9. To create a tax exemption for precious metal stored in the Texas Bullion Depository. Texas is the only state with a state-run metal depository, but some legislators thought allowing property taxes on precious metals puts the state at a competitive disadvantage. In one way, the amendment is superfluous, in that counties already don’t enforce property tax on precious metals. But by putting that exemption in law, it could boost the chance of the Texas depository joining COMEX, the leading marketplace for precious metals exchange. That’s a good thing and we urge voters to support this proposition.

See here for further discussion of the amendments. The Chron recommended a Yes for the rest; I agree with that, and with the No on Prop 4. I lean towards a Yes on Prop 1, and I’m a definite No on Prop 9. The whole Texas Bullion Depository thing is ridiculous, and I refuse to legitimize it in any way. The vast majority of these pass, usually with a strong majority, so to some extent this is just an expression of one’s feelings more than an exercise in democracy. But you never know, and some of these really do matter. Read up and do your duty.

Endorsement watch: For the Metro bond

All of the candidate endorsements have been done by the Chron, but there remain the endorsements for ballot propositions. Which is to say, the Metro referendum and the constitutional amendments. I’ll address the latter tomorrow, but for now here’s the Chron recommending a Yes vote on the Metro bond.

Houston Metro is asking voters’ permission to borrow a busload of bucks to add a robust bus rapid transit network, new rail service to Hobby airport and badly needed bus improvements.

It’s a big ask, and if voters agree, the agency will add up to $3.5 billion in debt to its balance sheet.

But Houston needs a better set of transit options. Metro has promised to add the borrowed billions to a giant plan for the future, dubbed MetroNext, and all together the $7.5 billion spending plan is an enormous step forward for the agency and for the city. We strongly urge Houston voters to support this first step, by voting yes on the ballot proposition to give Metro permission to issue the bonds it needs.

Voters should know that the proposal won’t add a dime to the taxes all of us already pay for Metro. Our penny in sales tax is already committed, and the additional borrowing won’t change that. Metro simply wants to sell bonds so it can leverage its future sales taxes to pay for projects right now, rather than wait for the accumulation of annual revenues to grow large enough to finally pay for them. By pooling future revenues, it can fast-track improvements for which users in Houston would otherwise have to wait years, or even decades.

It’s a reasonable argument — so long as the plan to spend the money is sound. We’ve looked at the details of the proposal and heard from those who support it and from those who loathe it. On balance, we think voters should readily support it.

See here for more details about the referendum, and give a listen if you haven’t already to my interview with Carrin Patman, in which we explored many aspects of the plan as well as broader transit topics. You know that I’m all in on this, and the one piece of polling data we have looks good. Either we want more and better transportation choices in the greater Houston area, or we want everyone to be stuck in traffic forever. Your call.

Endorsement watch: Turner and Brown

The Chron saved its biggest endorsement editorials for the Sunday edition. I did expect them to endorse Mayor Turner for another term, and they delivered, with more of an emphasis on the campaign than I would have thought.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Bats aren’t blind. The Great Wall of China is not really visible from space. And vaccines do not cause autism.

Many people believe these myths because they’ve heard them repeated enough times. Statements that are familiar start to feel right, regardless of accuracy.

It’s called illusory truth effect. And it’s been a powerful weapon in Houston’s rough-and-tumble mayoral race.

Houstonians have been told – at forums, in news articles, and in a barrage of TV ads – that Mayor Sylvester Turner’s tenure has been mired in corruption, that Houston has grown into a dangerous place under his watch, that he ignored the will of the people on firefighter raises.

If true, this editorial board would have no qualms about recommending that voters throw the bum out.

But facts – the real ones, scrutinized thoroughly by the Chronicle’s reporters in the newsroom – show a different picture.

While weak ethics rules make pay-to-play politics a perennial concern in Houston and Harris County politics, Turner’s opponents have failed to land a bombshell that proves he has abused his power. The most high-profile attempt to discredit Turner, involving a $95,000 “executive internship” created at the airport for a man who called Turner his mentor, fizzled after it was reported that the salary was in line with the employee’s experience and education, including three degrees.

While Houston’s violent crime has risen 6 percent during Turner’s tenure, FBI data show the rate of nonviolent crime has fallen 9 percent and overall crime has dropped 6 percent. Houston, like many major cities across America, has experienced a significant drop in crime over the past 30 years.

On Prop B, the voter-approved measure that granted firefighters pay parity with police – and, on average, a 29 percent raise in a cash-strapped, revenue-capped city – the mayor made good on his word to implement the measure, and the consequences, including layoffs, before the police union successfully overturned it in court.

[…]

Bats aren’t blind and neither are we. Prop B showed Turner was willing to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing. That’s the vision Houston needs, and it’s why we recommend Sylvester Turner, once again, for mayor.

It’s a solid editorial, and obviously I agree with its conclusion. We could have a conversation about the media’s role in those “myths” – the KPRC story about the “intern” was an embarrassment – but what’s done is done. And if as the polls suggest Turner wins and we never have to hear the words “Tony Buzbee” again, then I’ll live with it.

Over in the Controller’s race, the Chron endorses Chris Brown, in a less ringing fashion.

Chris Brown

In a city where the mayor’s office holds as much power as it does in Houston, checks and balances to that power ought to be nurtured and protected.

One of the biggest — and let’s face it, one of the few — checks on the Houston mayor’s office is the city controller. That office, elected independently every four years, is responsible for reviewing the city’s finances and reporting on their soundness without fear or favor.

Just as important, the controller has sole discretion to decide which areas of government — from the police to affordable housing to garbage collection, or any of the hundreds of functions of City Hall — should be subjected to performance audits.

Orlando Sanchez, the former City Council member and three-term Harris County treasurer, argues that incumbent Controller Chris Brown has failed to make adequate use of his auditing authority and thus provide the vitally important independent check on Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Sanchez, who was voted out as Harris County treasurer in 2018, raises a legitimate concern: A review of audits authorized by Brown reveals mostly efforts to find ways City Hall can save money — always a welcome goal — and few sweeping assessments of high-profile city departments, which could help hold the administration accountable.

Consider how many of the major debates involving the races for mayor and Council have turned on questions about operations at major city departments — from police use of body cameras and no-knock warrants to the city’s use of drainage fee revenues and how Turner processed Harvey recovery funds.

But while Sanchez promises to use the audit function more aggressively, he has no experience doing so. As county treasurer, he mostly focused on writing checks and managing the county’s bills. The kind of aggressive, independent audit function he promises would be an entirely new role for him.

Honestly, the cold statement that Orlando Sanchez has no relevant experience after twelve years in elective office is all you really need. Use that paragraph in any future story that mentions Orlando Sanchez, if there ever is a need for there to be a story that mentions Orlando Sanchez. And vote for Chris Brown, he’s fine.

Endorsement watch: Miscellania

We cover three endorsements today: HD148 (I presume the Chron is not endorsing in HD28), HISD IV, and City Council District C. Endorsements for the constitutional amendments were in the print edition on Saturday, I’ll run them on Tuesday. That leaves the Mayor and Controller, and I assume those will be in today’s print edition, and will have been online as of later in the day Saturday. I’ll get to those on Monday.

For today, we start with HD148 and the Chron’s recommendation of Anna Eastman in HD148.

Anna Eastman

Voters have their work cut out for them in making a choice because there are 14 candidates for the job, including 11 Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent — all of them appearing on a single unified ballot.

We recommend voters choose Anna Eastman, who was a respected member of the HISD board for eight years before she stepped down this year. Her HISD district included 75 percent of District 148.

Eastman stood out as a smart, dedicated member of the board who generally favored enlightened policies.

Should she win the House seat, she has a laundry list of issues she wants to tackle, including, of course, education, starting with improved teacher pay.

There are fifteen candidates running for this office, unless one of them has dropped out and I missed it. Not sure if the Chron knows something I don’t know or if they just goofed on the math. Either way, I agree that there are a plethora of good choices, and I’m kind of glad I don’t have to pick just one. My interviews with ten of these candidates can be found here, and a look at their 30 day finance reports is here. If you’re in HD148, who are you voting for?

Meanwhile, in another race with a lot of credible candidates, the Chron recommended Abbie Kamin in District C.

Abbie Kamin

Houston City Council District C is home to one of the city’s most vibrant and prosperous neighborhoods, the Heights, and neighborhoods hit hardest by Hurricane Harvey. It’s also home to some of Houston’s most engaged residents, so it’s no surprise that so many candidates are competing to represent the district on City Council.

Council member Ellen Cohen, the city’s mayor pro-tem, faces a term limit and is not in the race.

To replace her, voters should choose Abbie Kamin, a bright, thoughtful civil rights attorney. Three other candidates also stood out as strong contenders, each impressing the editorial board during screening meetings.

Shelley Kennedy, who served under former Mayor Annise Parker on the Keep Houston Beautiful Commission and currently serves on city’s police oversight board, was compelling. So was Greg Myers, who served on the Houston Independent School District board from 2004 to 2016. Amanda Wolfe asked smart questions about Metro, and obviously has a firm grasp on neighborhood-level concerns within the district.

But it was Kamin, 32, who brought the best mix of policy smarts and a can-do spirit of compromise and team work. Those skills, as much as determination to fight for her constituents, are absolutely essential to success as a member of the Houston City Council.

Kamin is also a fundraising machine, and has a record of achievement that makes you realize how big a slacker you were in your 20s. Again, there are a lot of strong candidates in this race, and with 14 candidates anything can happen.

Finally, there’s Matt Barnes in HISD District IV.

Matt Barnes

In a 2018 op-ed published on these pages (“Houston ISD’s misdiagnosis and the cure” ), Matt Barnes issued a clarion call to Houstonians, asking qualified candidates to run for the Houston Independent School District board of trustees. “Those of you who are as angry as I am about young people growing up unprepared for adult life: Get ready. The cure to HISD’s governance problem starts with us running (and voting) in 2019.” After his preferred candidate decided to pass on this race, Barnes tossed his own hat into the ring for District 4 that is held by outgoing board member Jolanda Jones. The district includes the Third Ward, where Barnes has been a resident for 20 years.

Barnes, 48, is well-suited in experience, temperament and commitment to be an outstanding trustee. His professional background includes more than 20 years of involvement in education from pre-K to university, including his recent position as CEO of Educational Makeover, an organization dedicated to providing free coaching to parents. Not only is Barnes familiar with the dividing line between board of trustees and management, he also has served on several nonprofit boards. To prepare for this race, the radio talk show host immersed himself in data about the district and has staked out his priority for enhanced student achievement, early literacy. While the candidate does not support a takeover of the board by the Texas Education Agency, if the change does occur, Barnes promises to be a “bridge builder” between the appointed board and the community.

My interview with Matt Barnes is here. I know it seems weird to be electing HISD trustees when the TEA is about to appoint people who will have the real power, but someone has to oversee those appointees and hold the TEA to its promises and responsibilities. In that sense, the HISD Trustee elections are even more important than usual. Don’t blow them off.

Endorsement watch: At Large 5 and District B

A much better decision by the Chron was to endorse Sallie Alcorn in At Large #5.

Sallie Alcorn

Alcorn, who is running for At-Large Position 5, has spent the past 10 years at City Hall — serving as chief of staff for three council members and as senior staff analyst for the city’s flood recovery officer. She has also worked in the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

In that time, Alcorn was instrumental in getting the city’s Adopt-A-Drain program launched, helped develop a public-private partnership that brought a Pyburn’s grocery store into the Sunnyside neighborhood and managed a task force focused on redevelopment and flooding policies.

“I have learned what works what doesn’t, when local government can help and when it should stay out of the way,” Alcorn, 57, told the editorial board.

Alcorn’s familiarity with the inner workings of city government and the needs of constituents showed when she listed the issues facing the next city council. She ticked off the big ones — flood mitigation, infrastructure, transportation, making the city more green and walkable, shoring up city finances — but also noted the kinds of services that most impact residents’ lives: reliable and effective public safety, trash and recycling, quality librariesand a faster permitting process.

“I know who to call to get things done, if your trash needs picked up, if you’ve got a pothole problem, if you’ve got a permitting issue,” Alcorn said. “That’s the meat of City Council, and there’s nothing more satisfying than helping a constituent make their way to resolve an issue in the community.”

Experience is a fine thing if it’s used well. My interview with Sallie Alcorn is here, my interview with Ashton Woods, who did not screen with the Chron, is here, and the relevant July finance reports are here.

Back to district races, and the Chron endorses Tarsha Jackson for B.

Tarsha Jackson

It’s a sign of the character of City Council District B that voters will have a number of good candidates to choose from to succeed Jerry Davis, who after seven years representing the north Houston district that includes the Fifth Ward, Acres Homes, Greenspoint, Leland Woods and George Bush Intercontinental Airport is ineligible to run for another term.

The notable competitors to replace Davis include medical spa owner Renee Jefferson Smith, who worked so hard to help Hurricane Harvey victims that the city named a day in her honor; community activist Huey German-Wilson, who first became active politically 15 years ago in the fight to keep Kashmere High School open; Alvin D. Byrd, a former sanitation worker who climbed the ladder to later become chief of staff to two Council members, Jarvis Johnson and Richard Nguyen; and Broderick F. Butler, a public policy analyst who at different times was chief of staff for both Rodney Ellis and Sylvester Turner when they served in the Legislature.

The candidate whose background seems best suited to make an immediate impact, however, is Tarsha Jackson. She’s not a City Hall insider, but as the Harris County director for the Texas Organizing Project, she knows how the legislative process works and can use skills she learned as a lobbyist on behalf of District B residents.

Jackson, 48, who grew up in Acres Homes, told the editorial board that economic development would be a priority if she is elected. “The lack of businesses bothers me the most,” she said. “Greenspoint Mall has only a few open stores. It’s important that we create opportunities for people to make livable wages. I want to fight for the changes my district deserves.”

[…]

Jackson became an activist 18 years ago after her 10-year old son, Marquieth, was taken from school in handcuffs by police for kicking a teacher. She helped form Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth, which was instrumental in getting the Legislature to pass a juvenile justice reform bill in 2007 that stipulates youths won’t be sent to jail for committing a misdemeanor.

Now, she wants to address crime as a Council member. “When you have police taking people downtown for a traffic ticket, fees and fines they are not in our neighborhoods responding to grandma’s call about someone busting her window open,” said Jackson. “It would strengthen the police’s relationship with the community if they’re not over-policing them on traffic tickets, fees and fines.”

I have not done interviews in District B but intend to return to it in the runoffs. Relevant July finance reports are here.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes were made

A swing and a miss.

As a city council member, Mike Knox has not been afraid to clash with Mayor Sylvester Turner.

He voted against a $650,000 contract to boost participation in the 2020 Census, saying he had reservations about the “missions and agendas” of the firm chosen to do outreach.

He was one of six council members to vote against a contract that will pay up to $3 million over five years for musicians to perform live at Bush Intercontinental and Hobby airports — a program strongly endorsed by Turner.

And he was the only council member to cast a “no” vote on Turner’s historic pension reform proposal.

But Knox, 60,a former police officer running for a second-four year term in the At-Large Position 1 seat, is not merely a contrarian. Knox objected to the airport music contract because he thought the money could be better used for airport amenities, such as improved signage. He opposed an ordinance banning smokeless tobacco use by professional baseball players at Minute Maid Park, on the grounds that it violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

Knox’s said he voted against Turner’s pension plan because the mayor did not provide a draft copy to review. “Now I’m not in the habit and I will not be in the habit of voting for things that I don’t know what I’m voting on,” he told the editorial board.

The editorial board has tended to agree with the mayor on many of these issues, but what’s important about Knox’s positions is his ability to dispassionately look at policy options and, when he disagrees, to be willing to offer an opposing view anchored by logic. “We make too many decisions based on emotion, situational ethics and also just the desire to make a political statement.”

Yeah, that’s baloney. It’s fine to have principles, as long as they lead you to doing the right thing. Voting against Census outreach, at a time when the state Republican leadership is openly hostile to cities, is in itself disqualifying, and no one who votes against the pension reform plan gets to call themselves “fiscally responsible” or “fiscally conservative”, no matter what the pretext was for the No vote. The Chron rightfully had nice things to say later on about Raj Salhotra, but said he needed “some experience under his belt”. If Mike Knox is what having experience looks like, then “experience” isn’t all that useful, either. No thank you very much.

Anyway. My interview with Raj Salhotra is here, and the July finance reports that include At Large #1 is here; the 30 day reports are on their way, I swear.

That odd decision was then followed up with the even more confounding endorsement of CM Michael Kubosh.

In the last municipal election cycle, this editorial board endorsed Michael Kubosh for City Council At-Large Position 3 with a significant caveat: His opposition to Houston’s equal rights amendment (HERO) and his use of fear-mongering rhetoric gave us pause.

“If HERO were the only issue on the agenda for City Council’s next term,” we wrote in 2015, “Kubosh’s actions would be reason enough to boot him from office.”

As reasons to look past his wrongheaded views on the gay and transgender community, we pointed to the political skills that helped him pass an amendment to the mayor’s budget, his success in getting the funds needed to fish abandoned cars from the city’s bayous in a joint project with Harris County and his knack for constituent services.

Four years later, we are again torn. Kubosh kept his promise to retrieve submerged cars, a project that has removed more than 80 vehicles from Sims and Brays Bayou. He has been spearheading an effort to bring an Astro World-like theme park to Houston, a project that Mayor Sylvester Turner hinted in a recent tweet may be on the horizon. He has advocated for distribution of Harvey relief funds to the victims most in need.

However, in a candidate screening, Kubosh several times expressed opinions that reminded us powerfully of the caveats the board felt when recommending him last time. He said it is wrong to fire someone because they are gay or transgender and cited his hiring of a gay lawyer as proof that he doesn’t hold anti-gay sentiment, yet he also maintained — misleadingly — that the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance would have allowed any man to dress up as a woman and go into a women’s restroom.

“At the very end I couldn’t vote with them to allow a woman’s privacy to be violated not by a transgender person but by a possible predator who learned that Houston will now let you in their restrooms if you dress as a woman,” he told the editorial board. The conflation of transgender women with predators is not only offensive, it has been thoroughly debunked. And to state the obvious: There are already plenty of laws making it a crime for anyone to sneak into a bathroom to harm or harass anyone.

Kubosh, 68, also described Drag Queen Storytime at the Houston Public Library as a showcase for “adult entertainment” that could potentially harm children. That mindset is troubling, especially for a council member who represents all Houstonians — including members of the gay and transgender community.

As one of Kubosh’s challengers, Janaeya Carmouche, rightly pointed out, being a city council member is “not just simply the day-to-day minutiae of the job or the machinations of the job. It is understanding that you have a platform and your voice and your opinion will be amplified.“

They then wistfully conclude that Janaeya Carmouche and Marcel McClinton, like Raj Salhotra, might be Council-worthy some day, but today they are too young and inexperienced, and then finish up by expressing the hope that Kubosh will somehow be a different person over the next four years than he has shown himself to be. Hey, remember when the Chron endorsed Ted Cruz in 2012 on the grounds that they hoped he would stop being Ted Cruz and magically transform into someone who would be more like Kay Bailey Hutchison? I sure do. How’d that work out? I don’t know who’s writing these endorsement editorials these days, but they sure seem to lack the basic experience needed to understand how human nature works.

Look, if the editorial board likes and agrees with Michael Kubosh, then by all means they should endorse him. If they think his accomplishments outweigh the things about him they find offensive and troubling, then endorse him. If they think there’s sufficient value in having him on Council to serve as a check on Mayor Turner, then endorse him. (Just curious here: do they think Kubosh, or Mike Knox for that matter, would serve as a check on Tony Buzbee or Bill King?) But endorsing their fantasy version of Michael Kubosh, especially when they have already demonstrated that trick never works, is delusional and a disservice to the readers.

Endorsement watch: One more HISD, two in HCC

Some pretty easy calls for the Chron here. In HISD VII, they go with Judith Cruz.

Judith Cruz

Houston Independent School District does not need more of the same in its leadership. The embattled district must move away from the dysfunction that has tainted the current school board, from the in-fighting and public squabbles that have left its reputation in tatters and taken focus away from the needs of students.

State intervention, triggered by Texas law when Phillis Wheatley High School failed in yearly accountability ratings, will likely result in a state-appointed board of managers. But voters must also do their part by electing trustees who are well-prepared to guide the district no matter what is ahead.

In HISD’s Board of Trustees District VIII, which includes the East End and some of the city’s top performing schools, that means rejecting incumbent Board President Diana Dávila.

A Texas Education Agency investigation found that Dávila made false statements to state officials during an inquiry into potential violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act in late 2018, when she and other trustees unsuccessfully tried to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Latham. Dávila also faces accusations of improperly interfering in district vendor contracts.

Dávila, who declined to participate in a candidate screening by the editorial board, has denied wrongdoing, but the allegations and her role in the board’s missteps would only be a distraction.

Her opponent, Judith Cruz, 44, brings a commitment to rebuilding trust and transparency, as well as experience as a classroom teacher and in an educational nonprofit, DiscoverU. She began her career with Teach for America, and went on to teach ESL at Lee High School (now Wisdom) in HISD, and at Liberty High School, where she was a founding teacher.

[…]

It is time for a change in HISD. We recommend Cruz for Board of Trustees District VIII.

I expected this, based on the Chron’s endorsement of challenger Dani Hernandez in District III. Even without Dávila’s other baggage, the Chron was almost certainly going to call for a clean slate. My interview with Judith Cruz is here. Some but not all of the 30 day finance reports for HISD are up, I’m going to wait a little more before I post on them to give time for them all to appear. The Chron still has to make a call in HISD IV.

Also a trivially easy decision was to endorse Monica Flores Richart in HCC District 2.

Monica Flores Richart

Former Houston Community College District 2 trustee Dave Wilson announced in August he was quitting his seat in order to focus full time on running to represent District 1. Trouble is, he said he had moved from District 2 to District 1 seven months before, in January — and was only just then getting around to vacating an office he appeared to be no longer eligible to keep. He called Texas residency rules “vague” but there’s nothing vague about keeping a job representing a district you no longer even live in.

Now that he’s running to fill a different seat on the same board, we do not encourage anyone to vote for him.

Fortunately, the majority Hispanic District 1 on the northeast side has a really good candidate running against Wilson, and we heartily endorse her for the job.

She is attorney Monica Flores Richart, 45, who has an undergraduate degree in public policy from Princeton University, a law degree from Columbia University. She worked for U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, the Democrat who in 2006 won the heavily Republican district vacated by Tom DeLay. He got swept out of office in a Republican wave in 2008.

[…]

Richart is smart, has good ideas and strikes us as someone who can accomplish positive change in a professional way.

We endorse her for District 1 on the HCC board of trustees.

My interview with Monica Flores Richart is here. Honestly, they could have written dozens of paragraphs about what a bigoted jackass Dave Wilson is and then ended with those last two sentences above. But Richart really is a strong candidate, so better to emphasize that as well.

Finally, the Chron endorses Rhonda Skillern-Jones in Wilson’s old district, District 2.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

The District 2 candidates are former HISD board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, longtime educator and community leader Kathy Lynch-Gunter and attorney Brendon Singh.

Retired teacher Linda Murray, 70, is on the ballot but told us she has dropped out and supports Skillern-Jones.

Skillern-Jones, 52, is the heavyweight in the field, having served eight mostly laudable years on the Houston Independent School District board of trustees, including two as president.

The Texas Southern University grad’s reputation took a hit in April 2018 when she presided with a heavy hand over a failed attempt to transfer control of 10 troubled schools to a charter school company with a questionable reputation.

The emotional meeting resulted in two people being hauled off by police and, in the end, the transfer of schools was abandoned. Skillern-Jones, who had asked the police to help quiet the protesters, accepted blame for the debacle.

[…]

There were a lot of things to like about Lynch-Gunter, 56, and Singh, 24, an HCC alumnus, but Skillern-Jones’ experience and knowledge of educational governance is hard to beat.

We agree with Skillern-Jones that her long record of public service shouldn’t be reduced to her actions during a single meeting. We urge voters to elect her to the HCC board of trustees, District 2.

You may ask, why does Skillern-Jones not get the same level of skepticism that fellow HISD Trustees Sergio Lira and Diana Dávila got? One, she wasn’t named in that TEA ethics investigation, and two I presume either the Chron didn’t consider her a part of the problem in the same way, or they decided that even with that on her record she was still the better choice for HCC. There’s one more HCC race, though it appears to be uncontested, and one more HISD race, the open seat in District IV. We’ll see what the Chron has to say about them.

Endorsement watch: Our first two At Large races

Continuing with its “one contested incumbent and one open seat” theme, the Chron begins by endorsing David Robinson for another term.

CM David Robinson

Unlike council members who speak for specific districts, at-large representatives must take a wider view and consider the city as a whole when making decisions and setting priorities. During his time on the council, David Robinson has providedfor his more than 2 million constituents a thoughtful and balanced voice.

Robinson, 53, told the editorial board there is still a lot more work to be done at City Hall. Voters should allow him to continue that work.

Part of that effort is to improve the city’s resilience in the face of changing climate.

“We’re existentially threatened by global climate change, by storm surge, by things that have not yet struck our city and we are in the infancy of providing protection for,” Robinson said. He added that the city must figure out cost-effective ways to supplement flood mitigation projects undertaken by the county and the federal government.

[…]

The incumbent has proven he understands the problems facing Houston and that he is focused on finding solutions to them. We continue to place our trust in David Robinson and recommend him for At-Large Position 2.

Here are the July finance reports that include At Large #2. I’ll have the 30 Day reports posted this weekend. Not much to add here, Robinson’s main opponent is an anti-HERO pastor who got into a runoff with Robinson in 2015 and then lost to him by nine points. I don’t see much different this time around.

Over in At Large #4, the seat vacated by Amanda Edwards once she entered the Democratic primary for Senate, the Chron goes with Nick Hellyar, who jumped into this race from District C after Edwards’s departure.

Nick Hellyar

The contenders, who bring a wide range of experience and involvement in community advocacy, include Bill Baldwin, a civic activist known as the “King of the Heights” and member of the city planning commission; Letitia Plummer, a dentist and granddaughter of a Tuskegee Airman flight instructor; James “Joe” Joseph, pastor and founder of a Fifth Ward nonprofit, and Tiko Hausman, a business consultant with a background in government procurement.

Their qualifications and grasp of the issues facing Houston — from flood mitigation to city finances — are impressive. The residents of Houston should be heartened by the caliber of candidates seeking to represent them.

One, however, stands out for his knowledge of the inner workings of city hall: Nick Hellyar is a 37-year-old real estate agent with a “passion for municipal government” that grew out of early jobs working as constituent services manager for then-city council member James Rodriguez, whose three-term tenure representing District I ended in 2013. Hellyar also served as district director in then-state Rep. Carol Alvarado’s District 145 office.

It was there, Hellyar told the editorial board, that he learned how important city services are in the everyday lives of Houstonians.

“If their trash can doesn’t get picked up, and they call their council office and it gets picked up, that makes a huge difference in somebody’s life,” he said. “We need common sense leaders at the city level just to get everyday stuff done — make sure our roads are smooth, make sure we have adequate drainage, ensure that the water runs when you turn on the tap, ensure that we have public safety. So I want to be a common sense leader.”

The same link above includes the AL4 finance reports from July, which I had started working on before Edwards’ announcement. I’m working on these now. Hellyar actually entered the local political scene before his employment in then-CM Rodriguez’s office. I met him when he was volunteering for Jim Henley’s 2006 campaign for Congress in CD07. As I’ve said before, Tiko Reynolds-Hausman is a friend of mine, I know Bill Baldwin, and I interviewed Letitia Plummer during her campaign for CD22 last year. There are some good choices in this race.

Endorsement watch: A and H

Looks like we’re going to keep getting these endorsements in pairs. Today’s duo includes an incumbent and an open seat candidate. First up, incumbent Karla Cisneros.

CM Karla Cisneros

Poverty and lack of academic achievement are problems that concern all of Houston, but they are particularly pressing in District H, an area that covers not only the growing Near Northside, Woodland Heights and East End, but also struggling neighborhoods north of 610 and near Buffalo Bayou. It’s a place where only about 14 percent of adult residents have a college degree.

“If 70 percent of the kids are black and brown and most of them are in poverty, that is the most critical issue that I see before our city,” Councilwoman Karla Cisneros told the editorial board. “We cannot rely on bringing people in to fill the jobs that we want, we need to grow our own.”

Cisneros, 65, has used her first term on the council to advocate for education, call attention to poverty and address the problem of stray animals and pet overpopulation, all issues that many of her constituents grapple with every day.

She has earned the right to continue to fight on their behalf.

[…]

The incumbent has drawn three challengers, all Latinas looking to make a change in the district: Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, a real estate broker; Gaby Salcedo, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University; and Isabel Longoria, a community organizer.

All have shown a commitment to help the district and a passion for public service, but it is Longoria who stands out among the contenders. She is energetic, knowledgeable and has experience working within local and state government — and anyone who describes herself as “a wonk” and “a nerd” who loves Houston, warrants our attention.

My interview with Isabel Longoria is here, my interview with Cynthia Reyes-Revilla is here, and my 2015 interview with then-candidate Cisneros is here. The relevant June finance reports are here, and while I haven’t posted the 30 day reports for this race yet, I can tell you that Longoria outraised Cisneros $49K to $20K for the period, but Cisneros still has $93K in the bank.

Over in District A, the Chron goes for Amy Peck:

Amy Peck

District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig may not be on the Nov. 5 ballot, but the race to replace her has become a referendum on the two-term incumbent’s tenure.

Stardig’s chief of staff, Amy Peck, is running to replace her boss and has become the dart board for her opponents seeking the seat. That’s ironic for Peck, who was herself a Stardig critic when she ran against her in 2009 and 2013. The next year, Stardig hired Peck to run her Council office.

“Any other job, you want that experience,” Peck told the editorial board. “You want someone who understands the job, so I don’t know why in this situation experience has somehow become something negative.”

[…]

Recognizing a problem is half the battle, but completing the mission requires specific plans. Peck’s experience working in District A makes her better qualified to develop successful plans than the other candidates. Peck won’t be a Stardig clone, but she has learned by working for Stardig what does and doesn’t work in each neighborhood. That’s an asset District A needs.

As noted, Peck has been a candidate for A twice before, and I interviewed her both times, most recently in 2013. I see her as being another Dave Martin type – considerably more conservative than I am, but serious about governing and up to the task. You could do far, far worse in a district like A, and for those whose memories stretch back to 2011, you know that we have. The July finance reports that include District A are here, and I promise I’ll have the 30 day reports up soon. I can tell you that Peck, who was never a prodigious fundraiser, has taken in a bit less than $50K so far. No one else is even over $10K. Which, for an open seat in particular, is kind of nuts. I figure that will change for the runoff, and of course she’ll have plenty of opportunity to make up for it as an incumbent, but for now enjoy a genuine throwback low-dollar Council race.

Endorsement watch: Two in HISD

The Chron goes against the incumbent in District III.

Dani Hernandez

[Incumbent Sergio] Lira, who was elected in 2017 after the death of longtime trustee Manuel Rodriguez, has 30 years of experience in education, with a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies, and time spent as a teacher and assistant principal. Although his experience allows him to easily expound on the board’s policies and programs, it could not keep him from finding himself at the heart of the board’s dysfunction.

Texas Education Agency officials concluded Lira and fellow trustee Diana Dávila made false statements to investigators looking into charges that some board members violated the state’s Open Meetings Act as a prelude to the embarrassing ouster and reinstatement of interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in late 2018. Lira told the editorial board he couldn’t comment because it was an ongoing investigation, but stressed the TEA’s findings were allegations, not proof.

Still, we agree with Hernandez that new leadership is needed in the district and believe she has the potential to provide it, quickly getting up to speed to better serve her constituents.

Hernandez, 31, became a teacher in the district through Teach for America after she graduated with a degree in sociology from Boston University. The daughter of immigrants and the product of HISD schools, she was the first in her family to go to college. After six years in the district she decided to join her family’s real estate business but never forgot her students.

“When I came back to HISD as a teacher, I saw the same challenges and the same educational inequities facing my students that I faced,” Hernandez told the editorial board. “If we want HISD to be able to graduate students who will be college ready, career ready, military ready — that achievement gap needs to shrink.”

See here for the background. I suspect the Chron will treat HISD Trustee incumbents in the endorsement process, this year and in 2021, in the same way as they treated misdemeanor court incumbents in 2018. In that case, no matter how good their record was otherwise, if they opposed bail reform they were opposed. Any Trustee the Chron deems to have been a part of the problem on the Board, regardless of other considerations, will be similarly opposed. Maybe those who are not up till 2021 will have a chance to rehabilitate themselves, who knows – 2021 is a long way off. But no one should be surprised if their tenure is held against them.

In the open seat District II race, they endorsed another teacher.

Cris Moses

In District II, home to Kashmere and Wheatley high schools — which have proud histories but have struggled of late — and North Forest High School, which came under the district’s control six years ago, voters have five candidates to choose from. Cris Moses, 35, a math and technology teacher at HISD’s Fleming Middle School, stands out from the crowded field as the right person for uncertain times.

Moses is the only teacher among the candidates, but our recommendation doesn’t hinge on the board’s need for more professional educators. The board functions best with the benefit of different skill sets and professional points of view. Moses’ leadership style singled him out. During our screening, Moses, a clear communicator, displayed an even temperament and an evident passion for kids.

We were also impressed that the five candidates agreed on many of the key issues facing the district. Each understood the critical distinction between governance and management and forswore the meddling and micromanaging that has plagued past HISD boards. Candidate Kathy Blueford-Daniels put it best when summing up recent board meetings: “This is not normally how adults are supposed to behave.”

All the candidates also said that the board should make the hiring of a permanent superintendent a priority and that the new hire ought to be someone from within HISD or with strong Houston ties.

One area of sharp contrast did emerge. One candidate — John Curtis Gibbs, a community outreach liaison and director of constituent services for City Councilman Michael Kubosh — favors a state takeover of HISD. Moses, Blueford-Daniels, a retired Postal Service supervisor, and accountant Jevon German do not. Chloe A. Veal, a student pilot, remains undecided.

The Erik Manning spreadsheet as always has more info about the candidates. I have not done any interviews in this race but may return to it for the runoffs. I’m working on the HISD and HCC candidate finance reports as well, hopefully soon. I don’t know how favoring a TEA takeover will play with the voters, but everyone needs to have a plan to get the district and the Board back on track, and for holding the TEA accountable during its time in charge.

Endorsement watch: For the incumbents in G and K

Two more Council endorsements from the Chron. First up, they recommend Martha Castex-Tatum for a full term in District K:

CM Martha Castex Tatum

District K Councilwoman Martha Castex-Tatum has a hard time leaving her work at the office.

“Trash keeps me up at night,” she told the editorial board, referring to the illegal dumping that has plagued parts of her district. “It is one of those things that if we don’t clean up our district, or maintain a clean district, it’s hard to attract economic development.”

That kind of 24/7 responsibility to her constituents is born from the deep personal relationship she has with the district she grew up in and which she has represented for the last 17 months. She was elected in May 2018 to succeed the late councilman Larry Green, for whom she served as director of constituent services.

“There is a special level of accountability when you represent your parents and the people who raised you,” she said. “I’m honored to do it and want to continue serving.”

Voters should allow her to do so.

Here’s the interview I did with then-candidate Castex-Tatum during the 2018 special election, which she won in the first round. You can see the summary of her June finance report here; neither of the two opponents who eventually filed were in the race at that time. I’ll have a loom at the 30 day reports soon. Beyond that, this is a good call by the Chron.

In District G, they go with Greg Travis.

CM Greg Travis

“I have the unenviable position of advocating for people who others think are affluent,” Councilman Greg Travis told the editorial board, explaining that his district has both pockets of extreme wealth and of poverty. That means advocating for resources, just like the other council members, while representing a population that often doesn’t get much sympathy.

When elected in 2015, Travis promised to be a conservative voice focused on fiscal issues, road conditions, flood mitigation efforts and public safety. On all those issues he has represented his constituents well and deserves another term on the council.

In his four years at City Hall, Travis, 56, has sometimes found himself at odds with Mayor Sylvester Turner and a majority on the council. While he refuses to be a contrarian who votes against whatever Turner is for, he is not the mayor’s “lapdog,” either.

“I like the mayor; he and I get along personally. I don’t agree with his policies, many of the times; I don’t agree with his approaches,” Travis said. “I think when two people agree all the time, one of them becomes unnecessary.”

Under a strong-mayor system, that clash comes at a cost. While other council members spoke about direct communication with Turner, the incumbent complained that he struggled to get a meeting. Regardless of who wins the mayoral race, Travis should consider softening his approach to the chief executive — or find other ways to make himself relevant to the mayor’s deliberations.

My interview with Greg Travis as a candidate in 2015 is here, and the summary of his June finance report is at that same link above. I feel like he’s gone to Crazy Town a few times in his first term, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any particularly egregious examples. Like Castex-Tatum, Travis now has two opponents, including a progressive named Crystal Pletka, whom I did not have the opportunity to interview.

Endorsement watch: E and F

The Chron endorses incumbent CM Dave Martin in District E.

CM Dave Martin

It’s easy to find out the biggest problem in Houston City Council District E. Ask any of its residents and most likely they will tell you a flooding story. Water invaded so many homes in the Kingwood and Elm Grove neighborhoods after Harvey and Imelda that just the sight of dark clouds makes people nervous.

That’s why District E residents have come to depend on incumbent Councilman Dave Martin. Since first being elected in 2012, and has served one two-year and one four-year term. Martin has been working hard to make their homes less vulnerable to flooding.

During an endorsement interview, Martin told the editorial board that most of the flooding is due to runoff caused by excessive development in neighboring Montgomery County. The water cascades into District E whenever there’s a big rain.

Martin, 61, said he has asked the county for more water detention and retention facilities, including a berm between Elm Grove and Montgomery County. But the task has been difficult. “Let’s talk politics. You have a predominantly Democratic body in the city of Houston and a Republican body in Montgomery County,” Martin said.

He said the politics being played includes the developer responsible for much of the runoff problem. “It’s Perry Homes and everyone knows Perry Homes is one of the largest contributors to political campaigns in Texas,” Martin said. “I know what I’m up against.”

CM Martin, whom I’ve not had the opportunity to interview, is basically the best case scenario in a district like E. He cares about governing and doesn’t exist as a roadblock. I wouldn’t want a City Council full of members as conservative as Dave Martin, but I’m happy to have a Dave Martin in District E.

In District F, the Chron recommends Tiffany Thomas.

Tiffany Thomas

In a city known for its diversity, District F still stands out for its eclectic mix of white, black, Latino and Asian residents, a place where English may be a second or even third language spoken at home. But the ward, which spreads along the Westpark Tollway toward the city’s far western edges, is also known by many in the community as the “forgotten district” — under-resourced and left out of opportunities for economic development and revitalization efforts.

Tiffany Thomas, our choice for District F, wants to make greater Houston remember.

“The current system does not work for District F,” she told the editorial board. “We are forgotten when we look at investment, when we look at leadership, and when we look at our values at City Hall.”

Thomas, 38, grew up in the area, attending Alief schools. After graduating from Sam Houston State University, she moved back home and has been active in the community, working with nonprofit groups focused on education and health care. In 2013 she won a seat on the Alief ISD Board of Trustees, where she helped shepherd the 2015 bond referendum to create a Career Technology Center.

She points to the creation of the center as a high point of her service on the board as well as why she is running for council.

“Yes, we did $300 million for a CTE center, which is the best and brightest on this side of town for high-skill, high-wage jobs,” Thomas said. “The challenge is, there are no high-skill, high-wage jobs in the district.”

She hopes to use her position on the council, including through code enforcement and working with management districts, to hold absentee landlords accountable, revitalize neighborhoods and attract businesses.

My interview with Tiffany Thomas is here, and my interview with fellow District F candidate Anthony Nelson is here. Thomas and Giang “John” Nguyen were the two leading fundraisers as of July, but we’ll see how that goes now that the 30 day reports are coming in. The Chron had nice things to say about some of the other candidates, especially Nelson, but overall I agree that Thomas is the strongest candidate.

Endorsement watch: Let’s get this thing started

Endorsement Season has begun at the Chronicle, and while the number of elections to cover isn’t really higher than usual, the sheer number of candidates to bring in for interviews is massive and had to have been a logistical nightmare. They’ve now published their first three endorsements, so let’s have a look.

In District I, they endorsed incumbent Robert Gallegos.

Robert Gallegos

Early in Houston’s fight against SB 4 two years ago, Robert Gallegos was one of the leaders in the charge to stop the bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities.

Weeks before Mayor Sylvester Turner said he planned to join a lawsuit challenging SB 4, Gallegos denounced the bill as “an open door for racial profiling.” During contentious debate in Houston City Council, Gallegos spoke out forcefully in favor of joining other cities in legal action against the controversial bill.

“You ask why the city should join?” the Houston City Council member said. “Because the city of Houston is the largest city in the state of Texas and the most diverse in the nation.”

Taking a stand on a state law may seem outside the purview of a city council member, but Gallegos’ advocacy on the issue shows that he is in tune with the needs of his constituents in District I, which is 77 percent Latino.

Gallegos, who is running for his third and last term, has also proven himself adept at bringing in private investments to preserve green spaces in the rapidly evolving district, which encompasses the historic East End neighborhood, new development in EaDo, the Houston Ship Channel and areas running along Interstate 45 from downtown to Hobby Airport.

Here’s the interview I did with CM Gallegos back in 2013, when he was a candidate for the first time. I agree with the Chron’s assessment of him.

The next two are open seats. In District J, they went with Sandra Rodriguez.

Sandra Rodriguez

Councilman Mike Laster has served three terms and is ineligible to run again. Of the seven candidates running to replace him, Sandra Rodriguez’s background and community involvement make her best prepared to address the concerns facing this vibrant but struggling district extending from the 610 South Loop to Beltway 8 and includes Gulfton and Sharpstown.

Rodriguez, 40, works in the city Health Department’s Bureau of Youth and Adolescent Health. She has lived in Gufton since she was 6 and currently is president of the Gufton Super Neighborhood Council. Rodriguez, who says she once witnessed a drive-by shooting, worked in the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Office. She told the editorial board she wants to improve the relationship between District J residents and law enforcement because too many crimes go unreported.

That’s often a reflection of the language barriers faced by the district’s large immigrant population, Rodriguez said. “Since I’m the oldest in my family, I have always been there to translate, to complete forms, and I think that’s what makes me so passionate now,” she said. “I have experienced the discrimination from different providers as we would seek services.”

[…]

The other candidates for the District J seat are Edward Pollard, an attorney; Nelvin Adriatico, CEO of Core Realty; Barry Curtis, a retired Houston police officer; Freddie Cuellar, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1039; Andrew Patterson, a retired insurance claims adjuster; and Rafael Gavan, an Allstate insurance agent.

Here’s the interview I did with Sandra Rodriguez. I did one other interview in J, with Nelvin Adriatrico. I moderated a District J candidate forum a couple of weeks ago, at which all of the candidates other than Ed Pollard attended. You can see a Facebook video of the whole thing here if you want to get a sense of the other candidates.

And in District D, they went with Rashad Cave.

Rashad Cave

The district’s representative on Council must meld the concerns of more affluent communities with those of challenged neighborhoods struggling with crime and grime. Several candidates appear capable of that task, including community activist Travis McGee, who says better community policing will reduce crime; Texas Southern University professor Carla Brailey, who believes Sunnyside and South Park have been neglected; local attorney Ken Moore, who wants more economic development in the district; and Houston Community College board chairwoman Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, who wants to fix the city’s shrinking General Fund.

One candidate, however, has experience working in City Hall that would allow him to hit the ground running to serve a district that doesn’t have a lot of time for a novice to grow into the job. That’s Rashad Cave, 37, who for the past four years has served as the city Department of Neighborhood’s liaison to City Council.

That’s not a political post. The Department of Neighborhoods is on the front line helping communities deal with overgrown lots, dangerous buildings and abandoned buildings, enforces codes to reduce neighborhood blight, and includes both the Mayor’s Anti-Gang Task Force and the city’s Office of New Americans and Immigrant Communities.

“I work with Council members day in and day out, so I know what’s working and what’s not,” Cave told the editorial board. “I can truly be effective on Day One.”

He said calls to the city’s 311 help line show the most frequent complaint by District D residents is illegal dumping. “District B and District K have hot teams they call in to pick up trash; I want our district to have a hot team,” said Cave. The teams of two to four people would be employees of the city’s Solid Waste Management department paid overtime using District D funds to clean up the worst neighborhoods.

Kind of ironic that the district whose incumbent has advocated for a trash fee, to be used for things other than trash pickup, doesn’t already have something like this, but never mind that for now. I confess, I don’t know a lot of these candidates, and hadn’t noticed Rashad Cave before now. This is the first endorsement he’s racked up, according to the Erik Manning spreadsheet; Carla Brailey and Brad “Scarface” Jordan each have some, and that’s all so far. Most of these candidates didn’t enter the race in time to file a July finance report, either, but at least we’ll get a peek at that very soon. This is one of the races that are on my radar to do interviews for the runoff.

Endorsement watch: Warren sticks her neck out

Very interesting.

Jessica Cisneros

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is wading into one of Texas’ highest-profile intraparty fights, endorsing Jessica Cisneros, the primary challenger to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

“The people of Texas’ 28th district are ready for systematic change and deserve a Democrat that will be on the side of working people; not the side of big money and obstructionist Republicans,” Warren, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts, said in a statement Monday morning. “I believe Jessica Cisneros is that fighter.”

Cisneros, a young immigration attorney from Laredo, has the backing of Justice Democrats, the progressive group famous for helping elect freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., last year. Cuellar is among the more conservative Democrats in the House.

“Jessica knows our diversity is our strength and that when progressives are unapologetic about our values and who we’re in this battle for, we win,” Warren said. “It’s time Texans had a champion in Congress who does just that.”

See here for the background. This will certainly raise Cisneros’ profile, and I’d say it’s a good bet it will help her with fundraising, too. It’s a bit of a risk for Warren to take, partly because it may cost her some primary votes in a heavily Democratic part of the state, partly because she may have made a mortal enemy who can sabotage her agenda in the House if he survives and she wins, and partly because Henry Cuellar also has friends who are now motivated to work against her. It’s also very on brand for her, and if you’re looking for someone who walks the walk, Elizabeth Warren has the record to show she does that. This race just got more interesting. The Texas Signal has more.

On an unrelated note but something that I’ve been looking for an excuse to include in a post, CD02 candidate Elisa Cardnell was recently endorsed by Rep. Marc Veasey, who among other things is the Regional Vice-Chair of the DCCC. CD02 is not currently on the DCCC target list, but in an ideal world the overall political climate, the Cardnell campaign fundraising prowess, and any available polling data would cause this race to be added in at some point. For now, it’s on the second tier, but the endorsement of an incumbent like Rep. Veasey is a boost for Team Cardnell, and suggests the national folks are keeping an eye on this one as well.

Endorsement watch: Noriega for HD145

The Chron makes their choice for the special election in HD145.

Melissa Noriega

While the legislative session started in Austin last week, early voting begins today to select a representative for House District 145. That’s not the usual order of things.

This special election has been delayed because Republican Gov. Greg Abbott dragged his feet in scheduling the Senate District 6 special election to replace now-Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia. The winner was then-state Rep. Carol Alvarado, who now has to be replaced as well.

On the losing end of these political shenanigans are the voters in this largely Hispanic, Democratic-leaning district, which straddles Interstate 45 from downtown to Pasadena. They may see their political power diluted this year as the Legislature starts without their new representative in place. The victor in this eight-way race will need the skill and experience to effectively advocate for constituents despite a truncated timeline. Luckily, voters have that candidate in Melissa Noriega.

The former city councilwoman actually held this seat in 2005 while her then-husband, Rick Noriega, was on active military duty in Afghanistan. She then ran for the at-large position 3 seat on City Council, which she held until term-limited out in 2013. During that time she developed a reputation as a well-informed consensus-builder and routinely earned our endorsement. Since then she has worked as a vice president at Baker-Ripley, focusing on disaster response after Hurricane Harvey.

Appearing alongside four opponents at the editorial board’s endorsement meeting, Noriega, 64, spoke with specificity about the challenges facing this district, including overburdened schools, disaster recovery, flooding and the planned redesign of I-45 and Interstate 69.

I am as noted in the tank for Melissa, so I’m happy to see the Chron endorse her. This race is all about whoever gets enough people to the polls to vote for them to make the runoff. Several campaigns are out there working – I’ve been contacted one way or another by three or four of them – but the runway for this is extremely short. If you’re in HD145, make a plan to vote and get out there and do it.

Endorsement watch: For Alvarado in the special

The Chron does its thing one more time.

Rep. Carol Alvarado

Of the four names on the ballot [in the SD06 special election], two stand out as qualified and impressive candidates: state Rep. Carol Alvarado and state Rep. Ana Hernandez.

We endorse Alvarado.

It isn’t a question of policy — the two Democrats seem to agree on practically everything. Both are pro-choice. Both oppose school vouchers. Neither wants to expand the sales tax or implement an income tax to help pay for public schools. The difference is one of strategy.

Alvarado, 51, is a former member of Houston City Council and was first elected to District 145 in 2008. Since then she has briskly climbed the leadership ranks and last session was appointed chair of the Urban Affairs Committee. Consider it a sign of the trust that Speaker Joe Straus put in her ability to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans to pass important bills. Notably, in 2015 she authored the grand jury reform bill that was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Those talents will be key to a successful tenure in the Texas Senate, which is dominated by Republicans.

Hernandez, 40, was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 but hasn’t gained the sort of leadership positions that Alvarado boasts. In meeting with the editorial board, she explained it’s because she refuses to compromise her ideals in pursuit of political ambition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Garcia embodied that model when she was the only senator to oppose the most recent budget. The vote undermined her ability to work with Republicans, but granted her the authority to point out the budget’s various flaws — cuts to education, reliance on higher property taxes — come election season. If Democrats want to grow their political footprint, they’ll need to start heightening the contrast with Republicans and give voters a real choice.

But for the sake of constituents’ immediate needs, we believe that Alvarado can do a better job of shaping and passing legislation.

Alvarado sent out email over the weekend touting endorsements from the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and the Planned Parenthood Texas Votes as well. She of course has run for this seat before, in the 2012 special election following the death of Mario Gallegos, finishing second behind Sylvia Garcia. You don’t want to put too much weight on these things, as it’s easy to over-interpret them in low-turnout special elections like this, but it’s a decent start for Alvarado. We have a full 12-day early voting period for this election, so if you are in SD06 you have from today through next Friday, December 7, to cast your ballot.

Will teachers turn out for Mike Collier?

He sure hopes so.

Mike Collier

On his long-shot campaign to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is hoping he’s popular in a lot of rooms that look like this one — where after hearing from him, education-focused voters in a reliably red county said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, then cross over to back Collier.

Collier, a Houston accountant and a failed 2014 candidate for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, perhaps insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, where Patrick has served in state government for more than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as much cash on hand.

Still, Collier says he can see a path to victory — and it starts here, in a crowd of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like sheets they’ve prepared for the occasion, sipping coffee out of teeny foam cups, some nodding along and a few nodding off.

But are there enough rooms like this to carry him to victory?

[…]

If Collier is positioning himself to draw center-right Republicans back over the line, public education may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial figure among teachers, retired teachers and public school parents.

As a former chair of the Texas Senate’s public education committee and as the leader of the upper chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, many of them public school educators, call “vouchers” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. During last summer’s special session, as the Legislature debated an influx of cash for public schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion more than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.

“When you have 700,000 school employees, they’re not all going to be on the same page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one person out there that they’re most unified about it’s probably the lieutenant governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was pushing reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t seem to favor class-size restrictions and they really, really do. He really does favor vouchers and they really, really don’t. And the funding issues have died in his hands or at his hands.”

If public education is your issue, then I don’t know how you can even think of voting for Dan Patrick. It’s just that generally speaking, public education hasn’t been a big motivating issue for a lot of people, even those who have a direct stake in it. Maybe this is the year, I don’t know. The story talks about how pro-education candidates lost in this year’s Republican primaries, but that misses the point. Collier doesn’t need a majority of Republican voters to defect for him to win. If base Democratic turnout is sufficiently high – still a big if, even with the encouraging early voting numbers so far – he probably needs between ten and twenty percent of them. That’s doable, and it’s within the range of past performances. That’s an if on top of an if, but at least it’s a chance. If the teachers want to send a message, it’s in their capacity to do so.

Endorsement watch: Fort Bend DA

One last recommendation.

Brian Middleton

The race for Fort Bend District Attorney presents voters with a choice that’s starting to feel familiar in Texas politics: An experienced Republican who represents the past and an upstart Democrat who wants to welcome the future.

In this race voters should go with the Democrat, Brian M. Middleton, because of his openness to new ideas in the realm of criminal justice.

Republican Cliff Vacek has decades of experience as an attorney, including overseeing a large law firm and serving as a district judge for 10 years with concurrent civil and criminal jurisdiction. He is board certified in personal injury law and received his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center. No doubt he has the resume to serve, but Vacek is skeptical of changes happening in our criminal courthouses. Practices that are routine in Harris County, under both Republicans and Democrats, are uncommon in Fort Bend and he likes it that way. For example, he told us that pretrial diversion — which helps people avoid convictions — should rarely be used.

For Vacek, the biggest problem in the Fort Bend courts are that it takes too long to get cases to trial.

[…]

What really convinced us was watching the two candidates sit side-by-side during the candidate screening and discuss drug policy.

Middleton said he though that low-level possession of marijuana should result in an automatic personal recognisance bond, an in-court assessment and, if appropriate, pre-trial diversion.

Vacek, on the other hand, spoke like a drug warrior and referred to marijuana as “a gateway drug.”

Times are changing, Fort Bend is changing, and the District Attorney’s Office needs a leader who is willing to change, too.

See here for some background. As we know, there have been a lot of reform-minded DAs getting elected around the country in the last couple of years, including here is Harris County. Most of them have been in heavily Democratic counties, with the wins coming in primaries. Winning in Fort Bend would be a new frontier for the criminal justice reform movement.

Endorsement watch: City propositions

The Chron says Yes on Prop A:

Here’s the blunt truth: Voting “against” on Proposition A won’t cut your taxes. It will, however, open the door to more municipal debt.

That is why Houstonians should vote “for” Proposition A, which will reaffirm the decision they correctly made eight years ago to fund needed drainage and street improvement projects in the city by a pay-as-you-go system.

A second vote is being taken to fund the Rebuild Houston program because the Texas Supreme Court ruled a similar ballot question in 2010 was incorrectly worded. The earlier proposition asked, “Shall the City Charter of the City of Houston be amended to provide for the enhancement, improvement and ongoing renewal of Houston’s drainage and streets by creating a Dedicated Pay-As-You-Go Fund for Drainage and Streets?”

A subsequent class-action lawsuit said the ballot question should have specifically explained that city residents would be asked to pay a drainage fee through their water bills to fund those infrastructure improvements.

And No on Prop B:

If Proposition B were a referendum on our love and affection for Houston firefighters, as their union president claims, the choice would be easy. We’d back it. And so would Mayor Sylvester Turner, who was endorsed by firefighters in his mayoral campaign after decades of advocating for them. Instead, the mayor is dipping into his personal campaign funds to fight the measure on which too many influential Houstonians have remained mum.

Voters, don’t let the smoke get in your eyes.

In Prop. B, firefighters are asking for more than just appreciation. They’re asking for pay parity with police of comparable rank and seniority. They’re asking for what the mayor says amounts to a 25 percent raise that could cost the city an estimated $100 million the first year, forcing deep cuts to services and nearly 1,000 layoffs of firefighters and police.

Yes, we value firefighters. We value our kids, too. But most of us can’t go out and buy Junior a Lamborghini just because he asks for it.

And we can’t ignore that firefighters’ jobs are different from those of police. Both entail a great deal of risk, but firefighters have long been able to tailor their schedules to accommodate second jobs and businesses. Several Houston firefighters live out of state. And yes, as police point out, firefighters are allotted sleep time during their longer, 24-hour shifts.

Firefighters are asking voters for something police earned through years of hard-fought negotiations that required give and take from both sides.

I still think the ruling against the Renew Houston referendum was a screw job by the Supreme Court, but here we are. You can listen to my interview with Marty Lancton and my interview with Mayor Turner if you want to hear more about Prop B, and in the case of the Mayor, more about Prop A as well.

Endorsement watch: County time

The Chron circles back to the county races they didn’t get to the first time around, and for reasons I cannot fathom, they still love them some Orlando Sanchez.

Dylan Osborne

The race for Harris County treasurer always seems to raise the same core questions about the office, such as: What is a county treasurer? Why do we have a county treasurer? And, who is the county treasurer?

For the past 12 years, the answer to last question has been Orlando Sanchez. We believe voters should make it the answer for the next four years, too.

The county treasurer is largely a ministerial office responsible for overseeing the payment of all expenditures made by the county government. Basically, he runs the checkbook.

There isn’t too much excitement to the position, and habitually people will run for the office on the grounds that it should be eliminated and responsibilities moved elsewhere within county government. Neither candidate is calling for that in this cycle.

Sanchez, 61, is running on his record as a trustworthy steward of the office and touts his ongoing update of the internal financial system. He previously served on City Council, made a failed run for mayor and ended up here. He’s a licensed real estate agent and was born in Havana.

[…]

Challenger Dylan Osborne, who works for the city and has a master’s in public administration, told us he wants to bring a more active role to the treasurer’s office and get engaged with the public.

“I don’t think there’s 300 people who know this position,” he said during an editorial board meeting.

That’s probably true. We’re sure he’d do a fine job if elected.

The answer is always Orlando Sanchez. I got nothin’.

For the HCDE, the Chron endorsed Richard Cantu for Position 3 At Large, and Andrea Duhon in Position 4, Precinct 3. For Cantu:

Richard Cantu, 49, is running for an open, at-large seat on the board of the Harris County Department of Education. The candidate has gotten to know our city well as an executive at the city of Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Baker-Ripley and at the Mayor’s Citizens’ Assistance Office. As part of his various jobs, the native Houstonian formed partnerships with community groups as well as worked with youth.

In addition, he would bring an understanding of finance, budgeting and management to the board. In his current role, Cantu directs the day-to-day operation as deputy executive of one of the largest management districts in Harris County.

For Duhon:

Andrea Duhon is our choice for this position at the only county department of education remaining in our state. This department needs more scrutiny, and Duhon’s background in cash flow analysis is apropos.

Duhon, 33, spends her professional life helping small businesses and individuals structure their finances. In our screenings, the McNeese State University graduate showed an appreciation of the importance of the after-school and Head Start programs offered by the department while expressing an enthusiasm for ferreting out inefficiencies. The spouse to an active duty 1st class petty officer in the U.S. Navy believes that the schools operated by the department could use more oversight.

Dems have two of the seven spots on HCDE right now. The At Large position belongs to Diane Trautman, so the best position we can be in is to have three seats. The other two At Large spots are up in 2020, so the potential is there for gain.

Last but not least, the Chron endorsed Adrian Garcia over incumbent Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2.

Adrian Garcia

Harris County is run by commissioners court, and no single member better reflects this dual nature of county government than Jack Morman. He’s media shy and stays out of the spotlight. Unlike other members of the court, Morman doesn’t seem to have a major personal project. He’s not building a greenbelt park system. He’s not calling for change in the criminal justice center. He hasn’t become a thought leader in resilience. He was first elected to this seat in 2010 after working as a civil attorney and since then Morman has held the seat quietly, effectively and scandal-free. He told us his big project involved better cooperation between the county and the local governments in this largely incorporated precinct.

We’re not convinced that’s enough.

County government can do more, and we believe that Adrian Garcia is the right man for the task.

The biggest difference between the candidates became clear during their joint meeting with the Houston Chronicle editorial board. Garcia presented what he saw as problems with Precinct 2, which largely covers east Harris County and a sliver of near Northside up to Beltway 8. He listed low health insurance coverage, poor educational attainment, dangerous pollution and a litany of other issues that needed addressing.

Morman, on the other hand, seemed to take offense at this description of the precinct and instead insisted it was a great place to live.

Just a reminder, Morman was this guy who came out of nowhere with a big boost from Steve Radack in the red wave year of 2010. He’s been more or less competent at the job, but no one should be surprised that he’s not exactly a visionary. As the endorsement suggests, I believe Garcia can and will get some stuff done.

My interview with Adrian Garcia is here, with Dylan Osborne is here, with Richard Cantu is here, and with Andrea Duhon is here. Danyahel Norris is also on the ballot for HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1, but he’s unopposed. My interview with him is here. The Chron also endorsed in Commissioners Court Precinct 4, going with incumbent Jack Cagle. Like Morman, Cagle has been a perfectly adequate Commissioner. He’s also got a long history with the anti-abortion industry, and as such I would never vote for him for anything. His opponent is Penny Shaw, and my interview with her is here.

Endorsement watch: Don’t forget the judges

The Chron got some national buzz for their blanket non-endorsement of judges who support the current bail structure, but overall they’re supported a large number of Republican incumbents on the bench. Not all by any means, but well more than a majority. I want to highlight three races where they endorsed Democratic challengers, as in all three cases the Republicans (two incumbents, one running for an open seat) are truly deserving of defeat.

For Supreme Court, Place 4, the Chron endorsed RK Sandill:

RK Sandill

District Judge R.K. Sandill is running for our state’s highest civil judicial office on a platform of moderation. We don’t usually hear that from judicial candidates, but most don’t run against an incumbent like John Devine.

Devine gained a reputation as an ideologue when he campaigned for district court with the promise to “put Christianity into government.” As a district judge, he cemented his reputation as a hard-right jurist when he fought to keep the Ten Commandments on display in his Houston courtroom. More recently, Devine wrote a bizarre dissent to a decision by his colleagues not to hear a case involving same-sex spousal benefits for city of Houston employees.

Devine wrote that government is justified in treating same-sex couples differently because “opposite-sex marriage is the only marital relationship where children are raised by their biological parents.” He completely ignored that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the case of marriage.

But you don’t have to rely on our assessment of Divine’s bias. Almost half of the attorneys polled in the Houston Bar Association 2017 judicial evaluation questionnaire gave him the lowest possible rating for impartiality. Sandill received more favorable votes on the Houston Bar Association preference poll than the one-term Devine — a rare occurrence of a challenger beating an incumbent. In the State Bar of Texas poll, Sandill received 2,446 votes to Devine’s 1,957.

Add our endorsement to the list.

Devine has been an embarrassment since he knocked off a perfectly fine district court judge in Harris County in 1994. He doesn’t belong anywhere near a bench. The Chron also endorsed Steven Kirkland for Place 2, but at least the incumbent he opposes isn’t a complete travesty.

For Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Chron endorsed Maria T. (Terri) Jackson:

Terri Jackson

The editorial board has faced so many tough decisions in our judicial endorsements that it’s a relief to have an easy choice. Voters should confidently pull the lever for Maria T. Jackson, 54, in this race for presiding judge on Texas’ highest criminal court. Jackson has been the criminal district court judge in Houston for more than a decade, handling thousands of cases ranging from low-level drug offenses to capital murder. She told us she’s only been reversed twice by the court she’s seeking to join.

The former municipal judge is proud of the many people she has helped to rehabilitate, but she first experienced transforming lives in the 1980s as director of a school that helped juvenile offenders and gang members.

Overall, Jackson’s approach reflects a blend of toughness and compassion. After she adopted more stringent probation policies for DWI defendants, the entire county soon followed her example.

The graduate of Texas A&M School of Law, formerly Texas Wesleyan School of Law, noted that people don’t tend to care about judges until they need them. But voters should care about ethics questions concerning the current presiding judge of Texas’ highest criminal court, Sharon Keller.

I trust you are familiar with Sharon Keller and her disgraceful body of work. If we want real criminal justice reform, we need some change at the top of the judicial heap as well as in the district courts and DA offices.

Finally, for First Court of Appeals, Place 7, the Chron endorsed Julie Countiss. They begin with the story of how outgoing Justice Terry Jennings switched to the Democratic Party just before the 2016 election, saying the GOP had left him behind:

Julie Countiss

Candidate Terry Yates, on the other hand, seems to fit in with the party Jennings abandoned.

Yates filed an amicus brief asking the 14th Court of Appeals not to construe the right to same-sex marriage to apply to equal partner benefits for city of Houston employees.

Counsel should have the right to advocate for the positions of their clients, but when we asked him about the legality of same-sex marriage during an editorial board meeting, Yates said he didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the overarching Supreme Court case to weigh in.

Throughout the meeting he dodged and weaved when we asked about his political activities and relationship with Steve Hotze — a political activist who once proclaimed that all the gays needed to be driven out of Houston and whose organization has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The close ties to Hotze is more than enough to disqualify Yates. Countiss only got one paragraph in the Chron endorsement, but it’s enough. Her Q&A with me is here. If you have Republican friends who are willing to split their ticket here and there, these are three races you can pitch to them for that.

Endorsement watch: Patrick and Patrick-lite

Now that the Chron has done an endorsement in every race of interest, I’m going to try to catch up on them, by group if not by individual race. We’ll start with the race for Lt. Governor, where there was another obvious choice and the Chron made it.

Mike Collier

There’s something nostalgic — some might even say naive — about the way Mike Collier talks about state government and his quest for arguably the most powerful political post in Texas.

For starters, the gray-haired, buttoned-up corporate accountant prefers facts and figures over dog whistles. A former oil company CFO and auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Collier is in his element talking about pragmatic solutions to property taxes, school finance reform and budget loopholes — things Texans actually care about.

Collier would be hopelessly out of his element talking about, say, the need to legislate adult bathroom choices.

Though running as a Democrat, Collier is a former Republican and much about him resembles one of Texas’ most respected lieutenant governors, Republican Bill Ratliff. Like the East Texas statesman, elected by his Senate colleagues in 2000, Collier is earnest almost to the point of boring, seemingly unencumbered by the partisanship and ego that often taint the process, and while we can’t say if he’d ever be knighted by his colleagues as Ratliff was with a nickname as lofty as “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” we can say Collier is a smart guy.

So smart, in fact, that his fellow Houstonian Dan Patrick wouldn’t dare debate him.

They didn’t quite call Patrick a chicken for refusing to debate Collier, but it’s there if you read between the lines.

Meanwhile, in the State Senate district Patrick used to represent, the Chron endorses the Democrat running against Patrick’s soulmate successor.

David Romero

When we endorsed state Sen. Paul Bettencourt in 2014 we described him as a “good-natured Dan Patrick” and a “happy warrior.” We just wish he were a warrior for a better cause.

Bettencourt’s top agenda item remains a state-imposed cap on property tax revenues for local governments. That plan is vociferously opposed by the Texas Municipal League, the Texas Association of Counties, plenty of moderate Republicans in the state House, County Judge Ed Emmett and this editorial board.

The issue is a breaking point for us, and it should be for voters as well. Bettencourt appears to be putting partisan preferences above local interests. So we can’t endorse him.

That’s a shame, because we agree with him on other issues that transcend the partisan lines. He’s skeptical of tax increment reinvestment zones and management districts, wants to find a solution to the challenge of unincorporated Harris County and is pushing to add at-large representatives to the Houston Independent School District’s board of trustees.

If those issues were the exclusive core of his platform, we’d shower Bettencourt in stars. But they aren’t.

Instead, we endorse first-time candidate David Romero. Although his political experience is limited to serving as president of his homeowners association, Romero demonstrated a nuanced knowledge of state issues that’s rare for a novice.

I mean, some of those issues the Chron cites are worthwhile, but I for one would be extremely skeptical of any “solution” Bettencourt might propose, for the basic reason that – stay with me here – he has always put partisan preferences above local interests. It’s not like his all-out assault on property tax revenues is a new obsession for Bettencourt. I have no idea what the Chron thought they were endorsing in 2014, but at least they’ve cleared up their confusion this time.

Not directly Patrick-related but sufficiently Patrick-adjacent to be worth noting, the Chron also endorsed Lisa Seger in HD03, and Michal Shawn Kelly in HD150. You can listen to my interview with Mike Collier here, with Lisa Seger here, and with Michael Shawn Kelly here.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Beto

The Chron finally corrects an old and egregious error.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

With eyes clear but certainly not starry, we enthusiastically endorse Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate. The West Texas congressman’s command of issues that matter to this state, his unaffected eloquence and his eagerness to reach out to all Texans make him one of the most impressive candidates this editorial board has encountered in many years. Despite the long odds he faces – pollster nonpareil Nate Silver gives O’Rourke a 20 percent chance of winning – a “Beto” victory would be good for Texas, not only because of his skills, both personal and political, but also because of the manifest inadequacies of the man he would replace.

Ted Cruz — a candidate the Chronicle endorsed in 2012, by the way — is the junior senator from Texas in name only. Exhibiting little interest in addressing the needs of his fellow Texans during his six years in office, he has kept his eyes on a higher prize. He’s been running for president since he took the oath of office — more likely since he picked up his class schedule as a 15-year-old ninth-grader at Houston’s Second Baptist High School more than three decades ago. For Cruz, public office is a private quest; the needs of his constituents are secondary.

It was the rookie Cruz, riding high after a double-digit win in 2012, who brazenly took the lead in a 2013 federal government shutdown, an exercise in self-aggrandizement that he hoped would lead to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Cruz, instead, undercut the economy, cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion (and inflicted his reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” on an unamused nation). Maybe the senator succeeded in cementing in his obstructionist tea party bona fides, but we don’t recall Texans clamoring for such an ill-considered, self-serving stunt.

Cruz’s very first vote as senator was a “nay” on the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, a bill authorizing $60 billion for relief agencies working to address the needs of Hurricane Sandy victims. More than a few of Cruz’s congressional colleagues reminded him of that vote when he came seeking support for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Cruz’s Texas cohort, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, was effective in those efforts; the junior senator was not.

Voters don’t send representatives to Washington to win popularity contests, and yet the bipartisan disdain the Republican incumbent elicits from his colleagues, remarkable in its intensity, deserves noting. His repellent personality hamstrings his ability to do the job.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” is how Republican former House Speaker John Boehner described Cruz, adding: “I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

I never understood why the Chron thought it was a good idea to endorse Cruz in 2012, something that other major papers did not do. I thought it was clear at the time that he would never be anything like the Senator he was succeeding, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and I couldn’t fathom how it was they didn’t see him for what he was. Better late than never, I guess.

Over the weekend, the Chron dumped a massive number of endorsements in the remaining races. I’ll try to highlight and summarize the ones of interest over the rest of this week. They skipped State Rep races in which the incumbent was unopposed, in case you’re wondering about that.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 3

Remember when Land Commissioner George P. Bush was considered a rising star? The Chronicle does.

Miguel Suazo

Four years ago we enthusiastically endorsed George P. Bush for land commissioner. We said he was “the real deal.” Turns out, we were really off.

You don’t have to take our word for it.

Bush’s predecessor in the office, Republican Jerry Patterson, not only has refused to endorse Bush. He is actually reaching across the aisle to endorse Democratic candidate Miguel Suazo.

The defection from the party line is more widespread than a single Republican activist: Bush’s other Republican primary opponents — Rick Range, Davey Edwards and David Watts — all signed onto a letter with Patterson saying they would not be voting for Bush in November.

In these divisive times, when allegiance to political parties has become tribal, the bipartisan objection to Bush says a lot.

Suazo has our endorsement as well.

In contrast to so many politicians who like to play a hardscrabble cowboy in campaign ads, Suazo, 37, has lived that role. He grew up on a cattle ranch and labored as a janitor to put himself through the University of New Mexico. He has experience working as a staffer on Capitol Hill for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who retired in 2013.

Today, Suazo works as an Austin-based energy and natural resources attorney and has an expert’s knowledge of oil and gas law, and water law. These are key issues for the man in charge of Texas’ oldest state agency. The position’s most important job involves the massive oil and gas reserves under state soil. Revenues from those mineral rights serve as a core asset for the state’s Permanent School Fund.

See here for more on the Patterson endorsement, and read the rest for the Chron’s list of grievances against Bush. Bush was one of the top votegetters in 2014, and it’s a little hard to envision him losing even in a great Democratic year, but he’s not only been bad at his job, he’s also had his own share of headlines about questionable decisions and ethical morasses. In a state without Sid Miller and Ken Paxton, he might seem to be the most vulnerable statewide incumbent running. The fact that this is all barely a ripple says a lot about the Republican slate.

Elsewhere, the Chron endorses more judges, and unlike the theme of these last three endorsement posts, they generally like the Republican incumbents. If it weren’t for the bail lawsuit, they would have endorsed an overwhelming number of them by now, with nearly all of the star-system ties going to the office-holder. Keep that in mind if you hear anyone grumble about bias.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 2

The Chron lays down a marker on the county criminal courts.

Each election cycle we determine our judicial endorsements by interviewing the candidates, researching their backgrounds, consulting with experts and coming to a conclusion about who best would be able to run a courtroom and see that justice is done. This year, however, one piece of evidence outweighed every other consideration for the Harris County criminal courts at law: Chief U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal’s 193-page memorandum declaring the bail system in our misdemeanor courts in violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection.

[…]

While some of Judge Rosenthal’s remedies have been altered by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the underlying facts remain undisturbed. Those facts are shocking to the conscience, and should be enough to convince our misdemeanor court judges to work with the plaintiffs suing the county over its unconstitutional practices and reach a settlement. That hasn’t happened. Instead, all the judges except two — one Democrat and one Republican — have spent millions in taxpayer funds fighting the case in court.

In meeting with these judges we heard plenty of reasons why they’re continuing to fight. Some said they believe the plaintiffs’ demands go too far. Others said they want to make sure judges don’t lose discretion in individual cases. A few were worried about the effect on public safety of letting people accused of misdemeanors out of jail without a cash bond. Overall they pointed to the courts’ slow but steady progress and work with the Arnold Foundation in crafting a risk-assessment tool to improve the bail system.

These excuses are not enough to justify the perpetuation of a criminal justice system that Rosenthal says has resulted in “thousands of constitutional violations” of both equal protection and due process.

That is why we recommend that every incumbent judge continuing to fight the bail lawsuit be removed from his or her seat.

We do not make this recommendation lightly. There will be unfortunate consequences that weaken our misdemeanor courts in the short term. Harris County will lose experienced judges. Diversion courts will need new leadership if they are to continue. It’s possible that over the next four years we’ll face different sorts of challenges and scandals in pursuit of a new kind of judiciary. Our star ratings may seem off as we endorse challengers against incumbents with higher scores. But this is about something bigger than individual judges. This is about a criminal justice system in dire need of reform.

The public needs to send a message that we will not tolerate the status quo, one that the judges have been content to live with for too long. The only way to chart a path forward is to remove the current judges — root, branch and all.

A-frickin’-men. There was literally no other moral way for the Chron to handle this, and they did not get it wrong. Good for them. Note that this line in the sand still allowed for them to endorse a decent number of Republicans, as there were multiple incumbent judges who did not run for re-election. Of the 15 misdemeanor races, the Chron picked seven Dems and six Republicans, with one dual endorsement and one non-endorsement. (Yes, even though “the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements”. I’ll let it slide this time, but I won’t let it go unmentioned.) You should click over and read the recommendations, but the main thing to know is, don’t vote for anyone who supports the unconstitutional bail system. We have the power to fix this. Let’s not screw that up.

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 1

A trio of Congressional endorsements, beginning with Steven David in CD08:

Steven David

A Democratic candidate hasn’t run for the 8th Congressional District since 2012, so no doubt this will be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, voters should back challenger Steven David for this sizable north Houston seat, which stretches north from The Woodlands to Trinity, Houston, Grimes, Madison and the southern half of Leon County.

David, 34, is a Houston City Hall staffer who has focused on rooting out waste and abuse in local government. He’s running to ensure that Congress protects the best parts of the Affordable Care Act, including guaranteed coverage for maternity and newborn care, and chronic disease management.

For David, health care is a personal matter. He and his wife were foster parents of an infant child whose mother had done ecstasy, a methamphetamine, while pregnant. The baby was born with digestive and skin problems and needed routine medical care. However, the Medicaid program that paid to help keep the infant healthy and alive would have been cut under 11-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA, David told us.

That’s why he jumped into this race.

He also wants to expand student loan forgiveness programs and improve government efficiency — similar to his job at City Hall. It’s a solid agenda worth endorsing.

What really convinced us, however, is a quote from President Lyndon Johnson.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the newly ascendant Johnson made it his top priority to pass Kennedy’s civil rights bill. When his aides tried to dissuade him from pursuing such a politically risky agenda, he replied, “Well, what the hell is the presidency for?”

We find ourselves asking a similar question about the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Chron notes that they have regularly endorsed incumbent Rep. Kevin Brady – you will note that this is a recurring theme – but have had enough from someone who had a lot of power to do good and has chosen instead to use that power for provincial partisan interests. As they said, what good is being powerful if you don’t use it well? (See also Lizzie Fletcher’s argument against Appropriations Committee member John Culberson.)

Next, MIke Siegel in CD10:

Mike Siegel

Consider us impressed with a campaign that fought for and succeeded in protecting voting rights even before winning an election.

This is a tough call because we’re fans of incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, but in this race Siegel has our endorsement.

An assistant city attorney in Austin, Siegel, 40, wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, though he told us ideally he’d prefer single-payer health care.

He thinks the federal government has failed to make the proper investments in flood control infrastructure. That includes a coastal storm surge protection at the Port of Houston, which is outside his district but, as he recognizes, is key to the national economy. He’s also pushing for a pragmatic immigration plan similar to the 2013 bipartisan Senate bill.

Siegel has a specific focus on helping the rural parts of this district. He pointed to preventing rural hospitals from closing and expanding high-speed Internet access outside cities. Overall he’s running on a New Deal-style policy and wants to see the return of national public works projects.

The Chron noted their recent endorsements of McCaul, then called him out for remaining silent while Donald Trump has made a mockery of foreign policy. “He wouldn’t put up with what he’s tolerating from Trump if Barack Obama were still president,” they conclude. Hard to argue with that.

Last but certainly not least, Dayna Steele in CD36:

Dayna Steele

Steele has a contagious energy, impressive fundraising and undeniable communication skills that has some political observers looking at this typically deep-red district with renewed interest. She also has the ability to get [David] Crosby and [Melissa] Etheridge to show up for campaign concerts, which has classic rock fans paying attention.

She’s running against two-term incumbent Brian Babin, who has thorough experience in local government, including time as mayor of Woodville. He’s a dentist for his day job. In Congress he chairs the Space Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and in that role is getting more money for manned space flight, the Johnson Space Center’s specialty.

We like Babin and were particularly glad when he helped a space program that has been somewhat adrift, which explains why we have endorsed him before. But he’s on the wrong side of too many issues, including the complete pass he gave Trump for his sleazy personal behavior.

“I don’t think anyone thought Trump was going to be a saint,” he told us.

Maybe not, but we like Steele’s policy proposals and her focus on how the government can and should help people who don’t live in major economic centers. It’s a reminder of why New Deal Democrats were popular in Texas for so many years.

Wasting one’s power, remaining silent when speaking up was needed, and just plain being wrong. Those are three good reasons to not support candidates. Having three good alternative options sure helps a lot, too. And for good measure, throw in the DMN’s endorsement of Mike Collier for Lite Guv, for which all three of those reasons apply. My interview with Steven David is here, with Mike Siegel is here, and with Dayna Steele is here. All three are decided underdogs (Siegel slightly less so than the others), but at least the voters have a real choice in each of those races.

Endorsement watch: Another easy decision

Remember how I said the Chron’s endorsement of Kim Olson over Sid Miller was the easiest call they’d have to make this cycle? The one true competitor for that title is the AG race, where Justin Nelson is a LeBron-level slam dunk.

Justin Nelson

This is it. This is the race.

The election for attorney general offers the single best reason for a Texas Republican to cross over and vote for a Democratic candidate. You don’t even have to scroll down the burdensome ballot. Right on the front screen in the voting booth you’ll be able to vote the straight ticket for other Republicans and then vote for Justin Nelson. Hit the cast ballot button and you’re done.

Why you’d vote for Nelson is similarly straightforward. He’s an astoundingly qualified attorney who has a nonpartisan focus on ethics, ending gerrymandering and fulfilling the basic duties of the office. Plus, Republican incumbent Ken Paxton is facing felony indictments for fraud, which should automatically disqualify him in the minds of voters.

[…]

Paxton has been a model of the worst possible attorney general.

He’s the sort of politician who makes you wish Texas had a Lone Star version of “Saturday Night Live” to mock the fact that our state’s top lawman is facing two charges for felony investment fraud and another count of failing to register as an investment adviser. Paxton allegedly didn’t reveal he was being paid to solicit clients for a North Texas investment firm, which the law requires to help prevent fraud.

The former state representative and state senator successfully postponed his trial until after the election. It is worth noting, however, that Paxton has already admitted to soliciting investors without registering and paid a $1,000 fine to the state securities board. Or, to put it bluntly, he effectively confessed to a third-degree felony. No one should be above the law, but Paxton seems determined to try.

His ethical lapses don’t end there. Paxton once accepted a $1 million loanfrom the right-wing Empower Texans advocacy group — his largest political donor — and now refuses to defend the Texas Ethics Commission from the group’s attacks. It’s hard not to see a quid pro quo that puts campaign donors ahead of the public good.

He also was once caught stealing another lawyer’s $1,000 pen.

Paxton has been using his office to pursue a quixotic political agenda that even members of his own party question. For example, he’s leading a lawsuit that would eliminate the preexisting conditions protections of the Affordable Care Act. If Paxton succeeds, more than 4 million Texans could be denied coverage.

Beyond his own legal problems, Paxton is simply doing a bad job as attorney general. He doesn’t aggressively go after crooked payday lenders or exploitive nursing homes. His campaign website still touts how he’s going to sue the Obama administration — a policy agenda two years out of date.

You know the drill here. It’s the “should” in the third paragraph above that’s the sticking point. In a better world, or a less hegemonic state, everyone would consider Paxton to be a dead man walking. With the modern Republican Party that Paxton embodies, there is no such thing as accountability. Maybe we’ll get to see how big that party really is. Or maybe we’ll get to see what kind of Attorney General the governor will appoint when Paxton finally gets convicted. You tell me what the better outcome is. My interview with Justin Nelson is here if you haven’t listened to it yet.

They had a closer choice in CD02, but they made the right call.

Todd Litton

Voters have two thoroughly impressive major party candidates on the ballot, but Todd Litton would best serve Houston in Congress.

Litton, a Democrat, is a sixth-generation Texan with a law degree from the University of Texas and an MBA from Rice University. Deeply engaged in the world of nonprofits — with a specific focus on early childhood education and after-school programs — Litton, 48, has a career and service record that cuts across the major institutions of our city, including the the Center for Houston’s Future, the Houston Endowment and the Episcopal Health Foundation. His campaign slogan, “Common Sense and Common Decency,” embodies the business-minded sense of duty and obligation that historically defines our city’s leadership.

He references local experts Stan Marek and Charles Foster, both Republicans, when discussing immigration issues and vehemently opposes the idea of a border wall with Mexico. For Litton, immigration is a matter of heart — welcoming refugees expands the promise of liberty — and also a matter of economics. He notes that a global business hub like Houston needs national immigration policies that don’t scare away the best and brightest. He also recognizes that our city must address the long-term trends in oil and gas — especially in the context of climate change — if we don’t want to go the way of Detroit.

On health care, Litton wants to close gaps in the Affordable Care Act instead of beginning a single-payer program. In a position particularly appropriate for this meandering district, Litton calls for independent redistricting commissions to prevent gerrymandering.

I interviewed Litton for the primary. I like him a lot and think he’d do a great job. I’ve talked about how a couple of Democrats, most notably Gina Ortiz Jones and MJ Hegar, have star potential if they can get elected. Dan Crenshaw is by far the Republican with the highest ceiling. In a less Democratic year, I feel like he’d be getting a fair amount of national attention. He’ll probably get it later on if he wins.

Lastly, from a few days ago, a nod for Lorena Perez McGill in Montgomery County.

Lorena Perez McGill

Even if she doesn’t come close to winning, Lorena Perez McGill’s campaign will still make headlines. She’s the first Democrat to run for this seat in 12 years.

It’s not hard to understand the dearth of Democratic candidates. Not a single precinct in this Montgomery County district, which covers Shenandoah, Woodloch, Oak Ridge North and most of the Woodlands, went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Why run for the state House against insurmountable odds?

But for McGill, 48, watching the Texas Legislature hold a special session over bathroom bills, but refuse to hold one for Hurricane Harvey recovery, was just too much to bear. So the attorney and local volunteer decided to run a self-proclaimed “bipartisan campaign” that focuses on listening, conversation and compromise.

She’s a first-time candidate, but boasts an impressive resume that includes time at the Baker Botts law firm and as in-house counsel for the Organization of American States.

[…]

But for the self-proclaimed fiscally conservative, moderate Democrat, this campaign isn’t about any one specific policy. It is about bringing a sense of practicality and compromise to a legislative body overrun by ideology and cliques.

In that sense, she couldn’t be further from her Republican opponent, former state Rep. Steve Toth.

Yeah, Toth is a whackjob who knocked out former State Rep. Rob Eissler in a primary in 2012, then gave the seat up to run for State Senate. He’ll win because it’s The Woodlands, but at least Lorena Perez McGill will give the voters there a clear alternative.

Endorsement watch: Three for four

Four endorsements for the State House, and this time the Dems collect three recommendations from the Chron. All are challengers to incumbents, and all are in districts that have been trending blue.

HD132: Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni

Gina Calanni has written several novels, is a single mother with three boys and is making her first political run to represent this westside district. She has the backing of some major women’s organizations – Emily’s List, for example – and a number of local political groups. Add us to the list.

Calanni, 41, supports plenty of a reasonable plans we’ve heard from Democrats and Republicans alike running for House seats: She wants to bring soaring property taxes back to Earth by restoring the state’s full share of funding to public schools – it’s paying 37 percent of the school tab versus the usual 50 percent —and making corporations pay taxes on the full value of their properties. She has a dedicated focus on passing laws to help fight sex trafficking.

Calanni also told us that she wants the state to expand Medicaid, and is desperate for construction of the much-discussed third flood-control reservoir for Houston. It could be somewhere in or near her district, which runs north-south from Katy to Cypress, is bisected by the Grand Parkway, and was hit hard by Harvey.

“We don’t need any more studies; we need to build it right now,” Calanni said during her candidate interview.

They dinged Rep. Mike Schofield, whom they had previously endorsed, for meddling with the pension reform bill and redirecting clean air funds to “crisis pregnancy centers”.

HD135: Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

Rosenthal is a 55-year-old mechanical engineer who has worked mostly in the oil industry and is making his first run at political office. Like just about everybody, Rosenthal complains about rising property taxes, which he blames in part on state leaders giving big corporations tax breaks by allowing them to greatly undervalue their properties, while at the same time directing money that should be going to public schools to charter schools.

Charter schools were supposed to be centers of innovation that would boost educational achievement, Rosenthal said, but their students are not doing any better on standardized tests than those in public schools. Rosenthal also said he wants to look at other ways of raising money to help fund schools, including the legalization of marijuana.

“I’m down with making it legal and regulating and taxing it just like we do with tobacco,” he said. “I’m an ex-hippie.”

He does not agree with plans to raise sales taxes because he thinks it will hurt the poor and the elderly. We found Rosenthal to be congenial, bright, well informed and very committed to the idea of making Texas a better place.

They really went to town on Rep. Gary Elkins, giving him one star and ending with an all-caps plea to all to not vote for him. As you know, I couldn’t agree more.

HD138: Adam Milasincic

First-time candidate Adam Milasincic has the potential to become a top-notch member of the Texas House of Representatives and voters in this district shouldn’t pass on the opportunity to see what he can do in Austin. Milasincic, 34, is a super smart, well-spoken lawyer with lots of good ideas and probably the savvy to get some of them through a Republican-dominated Legislature.

Milasincic has already stepped up to help his fellow Houstonians by volunteering to represent hurricane victims cheated by landlords.

Like most Democratic candidates — and plenty of moderate Republicans in the Texas House — Milasincic wants to restore the state’s share of school funding and reduce thetax burden on homeowners. He opposes school vouchers and what he calls “other schemes to privatize or def-und our public schools.”

On flooding, Milasincic also told us that he wants a regional flood control district, stricter rules on development in flood prone areas and a third flood control dam northwest of the city.

Incumbent Rep. Dwayne Bohac is another one the Chron has endorsed before, and as with Schofield they knocked him for meddling with the pension bill. You had one job, guys!

The one Republican incumbent they went for (in this round; there are four more Democratic challengers, plus a few Republican contestants) was Rep. Dennis Paul in HD129, though they gave an equal star rating to Democrat Alex Karjeker and had good things to say about him. I don’t know if the Chron plans to go outside Harris County in these races – Lord knows, they have plenty right here to keep them busy – but they’re making progress. You can find my interview with Calanni here, my interview with Rosenthal here, my interview with Milasincic here, and my interview with Karjeker here.

Endorsement watch: One out of three will have to do

They endorsed Ed Emmett, which comes as a surprise to no one.

It is with a twinge of regret that we endorse Ed Emmett for re-election as county judge. We’d rather be endorsing the pragmatic Republican for governor.

A man who began his tenure with the admonishment to “hunker down” during Hurricane Ike has become a steadfast pillar in our state’s ongoing political gale. As county judge he serves as chief executive for the four million people in Harris County and oversees road construction, flood control, hospital services and a litany of other county responsibilities. At a time when Republican leaders in Austin seem to thrive on the chaos of partisan pandering at the expense of their basic duties, and Texas Democrats remain unable to mount a viable opposition, Emmett offers an alternative vision of government — one focused on fulfilling the essential responsibilities of his office and meeting the needs of his constituents.

[…]

We don’t agree with Emmett on everything — he and other GOP members of Commissioners Court are wrong to continue funding expensive outside lawyers to defend the county’s unconstitutional bail system. But there’s no one we’d rather have guiding our regional government.

As for his Democratic challenger, we were thoroughly impressed that Lina Hidalgo was able to hold her own when the two met side-by-side for their endorsement meeting. Hildalgo, 27, was born in Colombia, came to the United States as a teenager and has an impressive resume that includes elite institutions such as Stanford, Harvard and New York University. She has an academic background in criminal justice reform and has worked in Southeast Asia promoting government transparency. Closer to home, she spent time at the Texas Civil Rights Project and served as a Spanish-English medical interpreter at the Texas Medical Center.

Hidalgo offers a vision of a county government more actively involved in public policy debates, such as working to help migrant families at the border. She also resurrected the idea of a county-sponsored pre-K program. Overall, she is committed to caring about the most vulnerable among us.

The most interesting thing in the editorial was the revelation that Emmett plans to vote for Mike Collier over Dan Patrick. That in itself isn’t too surprising – Patrick loathes Republicans like Emmett, and he sure hasn’t done anything good for Harris County – but saying it for the record is something new. One hopes he feels the same way about Justin Nelson over Ken Paxton, and Kim Olson over Sid Miller as well. As for Lina Hidalgo, if you haven’t listened to my interview with her, I encourage you to do so. I like what Lina has been saying and doing, and I’m glad she jumped into this race.

They endorsed Chris Daniel for re-election as District Clerk.

[Daniel’s] office has responsibility for overseeing the behind-the-scenes work in our district courts, including the ongoing project of implementing e-filing in the criminal courthouse. Both the civil and family courts have already transitioned to this new system. Daniel, 36, is also one of the rare Republicans to earn an endorsement from the AFL-CIO, which he told the editorial board he attributes to his support for a $15 minimum wage for his employees.

In his meeting with the editorial board, Daniel made a convincing case that his office needs additional funds to help support the specialty diversion courts that have become an important part of our criminal justice system. He also proposed that the legislature provide a tax incentive to compensate businesses that provide paid leave for employees on jury duty — an idea we fully support.

His Democratic challenger, Marilyn Burgess, has managerial experience in the public and private sector, including service as executive director of Texas PTA and president of North Houston-Greenspoint Chamber of Commerce. While lawyers may be concerned that she doesn’t have a law degree, Burgess pointed out the situation is similar to hospital managers who aren’t doctors. Burgess, however, would bring the credentials of a certified public accountant.

The Chron was complimentary to Burgess, saying she would undoubtedly be excellent if she were elected. I did not do any interviews for District Clerk. I interviewed Loren Jackson twice, in 2008 and 2010, and I interviewed Judith Snively in 2014, and honestly there isn’t much to ask about, as District Clerk is a pretty straightforward job. I endorsed Burgess early on, as she was easily the best candidate in the primary and was one of the first candidates at any level out there campaigning.

Of greater interest, they endorsed Diane Trautman for County Clerk.

Diane Trautman

While we endorsed Stanart in 2014, we do not believe he is fit for a third term.

Instead, we encourage voters to support his challenger, Diane Trautman. A current at-large board member at the Harris County Department of Education, Trautman has managerial experience in the public and private sector and a doctorate from Sam Houston State University with a dissertation on women’s leadership styles. Meeting with the editorial board, she offered a litany of ideas for improving those frustratingly slow election night returns, including better training and a more transparent process. She also has a passion for creating countywide voting centers so that people don’t have to cast their ballots at specific — and often inconvenient — precincts on Election Day.

“Currently 52 counties [in Texas] are already using this method of voting successfully and increasing their voter turnout,” she said. “The question is: Why aren’t we?”

Overall, Trautman offers a more managerial sense of the role than Stanart’s current method of operating in the weeds. For example, the incumbent personally spearheaded a plan to create plastic stands to hold iPads to help run elections. The project made headlines for its $2.75 million price-tag, including $1 million worth of iPads that sat unused in a warehouse. It was one of many bizarre scandal to occur on his watch. The 2012 primary runoff results were delayed due to technical errors, and the original numbers had to be corrected. In the 2011 general election his office published an inaccurate manual for election judges.

Stanart’s use of George Soros-related fear-mongering on his campaign website also brings an unnecessary tinge of partisanship to his office and panders to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. His site says that the Jewish Hungarian billionaire “wants to control Harris County Elections” — a bizarre and inaccurate claim. Stanart told us it was based on a rumor that later turned out to be untrue but he never changed the website. Voters should want the person in charge of our elections to be above the usual political squabbles and avoid spreading unsubstantiated gossip.

There’s more Stanart-bashing in the piece, so go read and enjoy. My interview with Trautman is here, and you know I think she’s aces. You want to #FireStanStanart, this is your chance.

Endorsement watch: Criminal court judges

There’s a new slate of endorsements from the Chron up, all for Criminal District Court races. More Republicans, mostly incumbents, were endorsed than Dems, but in many cases it was close. Of interest to me was the first appearance of one-star candidates, reflecting the Chron’s new star rating system. One of the one star candidates is a Republican, and one is a Democratic, who was also the focus of a sidebar editorial about the perils of voting a straight ticket.

There are two ways to look at this. One is as that editorial says, that as long as we elect judges via a partisan political process, we ought to take the time to at least know who the standout candidates are and do our best to elect and retain the best of them, regardless of the party label. The other is that the only way to change the Republican Party as it now stands is to give it an epic, all-encompassing beatdown at the polls, and if a cost of that is the loss of a couple of good judges, well, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I’m not going to suggest a path for you – you’re all a bunch of intelligent and discerning individuals – but this is the real choice as I see it.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Lizzie

The Chron endorses Lizzie Fletcher over Rep. John Culberson, which may be the biggest non-surprise so far of the election season.

Lizzie Fletcher

More than longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Culberson, or even her opponents from the heated Democratic primary, Fletcher understands this diverse, changing district and has demonstrated a passion for putting its residents ahead of rank partisanship.

No doubt, Culberson did his job after Hurricane Harvey. He used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to help transform an insultingly sparse White House recovery bill into an adequate funding package. As we said at the time, we don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Harvey without Culberson in Congress. But Culberson’s tenure in Washington didn’t begin when the rain started to fall, nor did his responsibilities end after the floodwaters receded.

Culberson was first elected to public office in 1986 and has rarely faced a serious challenger outside a Republican primary. It shows. His career has been spent promoting his own pet projects rather than serving the local needs of his home district. That’s why it took the greatest natural disaster in Houston history to compel him to act with necessary passion.

[…]

On firearms, Culberson is unwilling to consider reasonable regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. During their meeting with the editorial board, Fletcher said she believed that federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should share information with the gun background check list to ensure that people deemed mentally incapable cannot purchase deadly weapons.

“Two times in the past three years I have woken up to hear there’s a gunman in our congressional district who had mental illness issues randomly shooting people,” Fletcher said.

Culberson grew visibly agitated at the idea and argued that the only circumstance when someone should be prohibited from buying a gun is by a judicial order.

When it comes to health care, only Fletcher has an articulable vision for bringing costs under control. She wants a public option to create a baseline safety net for all Americans and to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Culberson, on the other hand, still doesn’t have much beyond repealing Obamacare.

You get the idea. It’s not just that Fletcher is clearly superior to Culberson (four stars to three in the Chron’s new rating system), it’s also that the Chron has literally never endorsed Culberson in a November election, at least not since 2006. I look forward to their biennial not-Culberson editorial like some people look forward to sweater weather.

Also not a surprise, the Chron endorsed Sarah Davis for re-election in HD134. Someone pursuing a master’s in political science needs to write a paper comparing Sarah Davis to Susan Collins, just to see where they land up on it. That’s all I have to say on the topic of Sarah Davis.