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Fred Vernon

Who are these people on our ballot?

The filing deadline is long past, and campaigning for the primary and general election is well underway. Democrats in Harris County have a fairly full complement of legislative candidates this fall, some of whom are better known than others. I thought I’d take a moment to look over the primary ballot list and see what I can find about the candidates who are challenging incumbents of either party. In particular, I’m looking to see if I can find a campaign webpage and/or Facebook page, plus whatever Google can tell me. I’m limiting this to Harris County and to legislative races not counting the US Senate. I may do more of these later if I have the time and the inclination. For now, let’s get started.

Congress

CD02 – Niko Letsos: No webpage or Facebook page that I can find so far. Google tells me nothing.

CD07 – James Cargas and Lissa Squiers – Both ran for this office in 2012. Their links from that year still work.

CD10 – Tawana Cadien: Another repeat candidate from 2012. Her old website and Facebook page are still available. Interviews for all three of these candidates can be found on my 2012 Primary Election – Harris County page.

CD22 – Frank Briscoe and Mark Gibson: Neither appears to have a webpage or a Facebook page yet. Briscoe is a candidate with some pedigree. He ran for CD22 in 2002, losing by a hair in the primary to Tim Riley. He’s the son of the late District Attorney and two-time Houston Mayoral candidate Frank Briscoe, Senior, and apparently a relative in some fashion of former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe. Here’s an interesting Q&A with him in Architectural Record, which isn’t dated but based on context appears to be from not too long after his unsuccessful run in 2002. As for Mark Gibson, Google tells me there’s a Mark Gibson that was an independent candidate for Congress in Virginia in 2012. I rather doubt this is the same Mark Gibson – it’s not that unusual a name – but that’s what I could find in Google.

CD36 – Michael Cole. Cole was the Libertarian candidate for CD36 in 2012 before announcing in August that he would run again as a Democrat. Here’s an interview he did with a Daily Kos member shortly thereafter, which includes links to all his relevant web and social media pages.

State Senate

SD07 – Jim Davis: Google tells me nothing.

SD15 – Sen. John Whitmire and Damian LaCroix: Sen. Whitmire has served in the Senate for many years, but is new to the internets; his Facebook page was created on November 19. I’ve written about LaCroix before and will have an interview with him, and one with Sen. Whitmire, soon.

SD17 – Rita Lucido: Lucido is a longtime activist and volunteer, and is the highest-profile challenger to a Republican incumbent among the legislative candidates. Her campaign Facebook page is quite active.

State House

HD129 – John Gay: No webpage or Facebook presence yet, but Google tells me that John Gay ran for CD14 as a Republican in 2012; he finished seventh in the field of nine. His campaign webpage domain (johngay.org) has expired, but via here I found his personal Facebook page, and while I consider myself to be open and welcoming to party-switchers, it’s safe to say that this guy is a problem. Here’s a screenshot from his Facebook page, so you can see what I mean. Barring a major and convincing change of heart from this guy, my advice is to not waste any time or effort on him. There’s plenty of other good candidates to support.

UPDATE: Upon further investigation, it appears there are two John Gays, the one who ran as an R in 2012 in CD14, and the one who is running in HD129 as a Dem. The latter one does not have any web presence that I found at a cursory search, hence the confusion. I’ve got a business phone number for the HD129 John Gay and will try to reach him tomorrow to discuss. My apologies for the confusion.

HD131 – Rep. Alma Allen and Azuwuike Okorafor: Rep. Allen has a primary challenge for the second straight cycle. Okorafor is a newcomer on the scene but looks like a good candidate. I intend to interview them both for the primary.

HD132 – Luis Lopez: No web presence yet, and the name is too common for Google to be reliable. This may be his personal Facebook page.

HD133 – Laura Nicol: No campaign webpage yet, but her campaign Facebook page is active. She and I have been Facebook friends for awhile, and I met her in person at an HCDP event a couple of weeks ago.

HD134 – Alison Ruff: No web presence as yet. I’ve mentioned her on my blog a couple of times, and met her at HCDP headquarters a couple of weeks back. This is her personal Facebook page.

HD135 – Moiz Abbas: I got nothing.

HD138 – Fred Vernon: Another blank, though this may be him.

HD145 – Rep. Carol Alvarado and Susan Delgado: Rep. Alvarado is my State Rep, and I consider her a friend. Delgado is a realtor, a multiple-time candidate, and the former mistress of the late Sen. Mario Gallegos. Based on comments she has left here and on her personal Facebook page, I think it’s fair to say mud will be flung in this race. For the record, I’ll be voting for Rep. Alvarado.

HD150 – Amy Perez: The full complement – webpage, Facebook page, and Twitter account. Well done.

That’s it for now. I may do a similar exercise for judicial candidates if I find myself with a few spare hours. You can also check out my new 2014 Election page, where I’ll be tracking contested primaries mostly but not exclusively in Harris County. If you think I’ve misrepresented anyone here, or if I’ve missed anything relevant, please let me know. Thanks.

Filing deadline today

Before I get into the details of who has or hasn’t filed for what, I have a bone to pick with this AP story.

Perhaps what the candidate filings reveal most is the relative strength and depth of the political parties in Texas. Four top Republicans are in a fierce battle for lieutenant governor, three for attorney general and five for agriculture commissioner.

Three Republicans are in the race for the Railroad Commission, an entry-level statewide office that gives the winner routine access to the state’s biggest campaign donors as well as the governor and attorney general. The only competition in the judicial races is for open seats vacated by Republican incumbents.

If a party can be judged by the number of people who want to lead it, Republicans certainly remain popular and thriving. Most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections.

Democrats have yet to field a complete slate of statewide candidates and have just one candidate each for lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller and land commissioner. The only potentially competitive race pits failed gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman against Jim Hogan for agriculture commissioner.

San Antonio Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, the only Democrat running for lieutenant governor, was first elected to the Texas House in 1990 and to the Senate in 1999. She has the most campaign experience among Democratic candidates followed by Davis, who won her Senate seat in 2008. Freidman and attorney general candidate Sam Houston have run statewide offices before, but have never won.

That lack of experience and the shortage of candidates reveal the shallowness of the Democratic bench after 20 years out of power. There are young Democrats who have statewide potential, such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, but they’ve decided like some others to sit out the 2014 race, likely to let others test the waters before they take the plunge themselves.

I’ll stipulate that the Republican side of the ballot has more overall experience. For obvious reasons, it’s the only primary that features statewide officeholders. But to say “most of their statewide candidates have decades of experience winning elections” overstates things considerably. Outside of the Lt Governor’s race, most of their candidates are current or former legislators, and I submit that decades of winning a gerrymandered legislative district is hardly indicative of statewide potential.

To break it down a bit more scientifically, the GOP field for the non-Governor and Lt. Governor races are made up of the following:

Railroad Commissioner: One former State Rep and three people you’ve never heard of.
Land Commissioner: One scion of a political dynasty making his first run for office, and some other dude.
Ag Commissioner: Two former State Reps, the Mayor of a small town, and a state party functionary who lost a State Rep race in 2004.
Attorney General: A State Senator, a State Rep, and an appointed Railroad Commissioner that defeated a Libertarian in 2012 in the only election he’s run to date.
Comptroller: A State Senator, a State Rep, and a failed gubernatorial candidate.

Not exactly Murderer’s Row, is it? What they have first and foremost is the advantage of their party. That’s no small thing, of course, but it has nothing to do with anything any of them has done.

That said, most current statewide officeholders made the initial leap from legislative offices – Rick Perry and Susan Combs were State Reps before winning their first statewide elections, with Combs spending two years in Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office in between; Todd Staples and Jerry Patterson were State Senators. Dems have plenty of legislators that would make fine candidates for state office – two of them are currently running – but it’s a lot harder to convince someone to give up a safe seat for what we would all acknowledge is an underdog bid for higher office. How much that changes in 2018, if at all, depends entirely on how well things go this year. If we have one or more breakthroughs, or even if we come reasonably close, you can bet there will be plenty of candidates with “decades of experience winning elections” next time.

Anyway. As we head into the last day of candidate filing, the local Democratic ballot is filling in nicely. Dems have at least one candidate for nineteen of the 24 State House seats in Harris County. Four are GOP-held seats – HDs 126, 127, 128, and 130 – and one is HD142, which is currently held by Rep. Harold Dutton. Either Rep. Dutton is just dithering until the last day, or he’s planning to retire and his preferred successor will file sometime late today. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. The two additions to the Democratic challenger ledger are Luis Lopez in HD132, who appears to be this person, and Fred Vernon in HD138, about whom I know nothing. Dems also now have two Congressional challengers, James Cargas in CD07 as expected, and Niko Letsos in CD02, about whom I know nothing.

By the way, for comparison purposes, the Harris County GOP is only contesting 14 of 24 State Rep seats. The three lucky Dems that have drawn challengers so far are Rep. Gene Wu in HD137, Rep. Hubert Vo in HD149 – we already knew about that one – and Rep. Jessica Farrar in HD148, who draws 2011 At Large #3 Council candidate Chris Carmona. I have to say, if they leave freshman Rep. Mary Ann Perez in HD144 unopposed, I would consider that an abject failure of recruitment if I were a Republican. Beyond that, the thing that piqued my interest was seeing the two worst recent officeholders – Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners – back on the ballot, as each is running for the two At Large HCDE Trustee offices. Putting aside their myriad and deep incompetencies while in office, the only possible reason these two clowns would be running for the HCDE is that they want to screw it up for the purpose of killing it off. As we know, Dems have Traci Jensen and Lily Leal running for one of those seats. Debra Kerner is the incumbent for the other seat and I believe she has filed but with petitions, so her status hasn’t been finalized yet. All I know is that we have enough chuckleheads in office already. We don’t need to put these two retreads back into positions of power.

Statewide, Texpatriate noted on Saturday that Dale Henry has filed to run for Railroad Commissioner, which will pit him against Steve Brown. Henry ran for this office as a Dem in 2006, 2008 (he lost in the primary to Mark Thompson), and 2010. Henry is a qualified candidate, but he’s a dinosaur in terms of campaign techniques and technologies. That might have been charming in 2006 or 2008, but it’s way out of place in 2014. All due respect to Dale Henry, but I’ll be voting for Steve Brown. We are still waiting to see how many statewide judicial candidates we’ll get. Word is we’ll have them, but who and how many remain unknown. Finally, between the Harris County primary filings email and the TDP filings page, I see that Dems have at least two candidates for the 14th Circuit Court of Appeals – Gordon Goodman for Place 7, and Kyle Carter, who was re-elected to the 125th Civil District Court in 2012, for Chief Justice. There are still slots on that court and on the 1st Court of Appeals, so I hope there are more of these to come. As always, if you are aware of other filings or rumors of filings, leave a comment and let us know.