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And the nominees are…

Teneshia Hudspeth

Yesterday was the Harris County Democratic Party CEC meeting, at which the nominees for the two positions that needed them were filled. The easy one was the second one, where Teneshia Hudspeth was unanimously selected. The way this process works is that any potential candidates have to be nominated by one of the precinct chairs. (You could nominate yourself, if you are a precinct chair yourself – Nat West did this in 2016 for the Commissioners Court Precinct 1 nomination – but that did not apply here.) Gayle Mitchell had previously announced her intent to seek this nomination, but as far as I could tell, she was not on the Zoom call, and no one spoke to nominate her. I was one of three people to speak in favor of Hudspeth’s nomination – as I said on the call, I’ve known Teneshia Hudspeth for years via correspondence with the County Clerk’s office, and I have a high degree of confidence in her abilities. She now gets to beat Stan Stanart in November, and who doesn’t look forward to voting against Stan Stanart again? She will have a unique set of challenges, which look to include oversight of the new Elections Administrator’s office. We talked about that and more in this interview I did with her. Congratulations to Teneshia Hudspeth, I look forward to voting for you again in November.

David Brown

The other position to fill was the nominee for HCDE Position 7, At Large. Andrea Duhon won the primary for that spot in March, but she had been appointed to fill the Position 4, Precinct 3 position in January following the resignation of Josh Flynn, who unsuccessfully sought the nomination in HD138. Three candidates were nominated for this position: David Brown, Obes Nwabara, and Jose Rivera, as was expected. Brown led the voting with 38%, followed by Nwabara with 35% and Rivera with 27%. The rules say that a majority is needed, so we went to a runoff, and there Brown prevailed with a 53-47 vote. The closeness of the vote was appropriate for a tough choice, as all three candidates were excellent and well-qualified. Brown, whose Q&A with me is here, now has the important job of knocking the ridiculous and execrable Don Sumners off the Board. Erica Davis is the nominee for Position 5, At Large, which is an open seat after fellow unqualified yahoo/all-around embarrassment Michael Wolfe decided to tun again for Justice of the Peace. Dems already have a majority on the HCDE Board now thanks to the appointment of Duhon, but this is a chance to take full control, and just make two huge upgrades in quality. Congratulations to David Brown, and I look forward to voting for you in November as well.

The county races in which the precinct chairs get to pick the nominees

There are two Harris County races on the ballot this year – one that was always going to be there, and one that was unexpected – in which Democratic precinct chairs will have the task of picking the nominees. As you know, that group includes me, and we’ll be doing it on August 15, shortly before the deadline to finalize the ballot. Let me tell you what I now know about the people who have expressed interest in these races.

Teneshia Hudspeth

First up is Harris County Clerk, the race we didn’t expect to have on our ballot this year. As you know, Diane Trautman resigned in May for health reasons, and Chris Hollins was sworn in as an interim Clerk after being appointed by Commissioners Court. Trautman’s term ends in 2022, however, so someone will have to run in November to complete her term, and Hollins will not be running for the job. Two people so far have emerged for the position. One is Gayle Mitchell, who lost in the 2014 primary to Ann Harris Bennett for the County Clerk nomination. I saw her post about this on Facebook, but can’t find that post any more. She’s a nice lady – you can listen to the interview I did with her here – but I don’t have much more to say about her. I’ve not seen or heard anything from her since the 2014 primary.

On Monday this week, Jasper Scherer wrote on Twitter that Teneshia Hudspeth, the current chief deputy clerk, has announced her intention to run for the position; Marc Campos had previously noted that she had filed a designation of Treasurer. You can see her press release, sent on Tuesday, here. Hudspeth immediately drew support from Sen. Borris Miles, Council Member Tiffany Thomas, and apparently former Clerk Trautman, if I’m reading her press release correctly. I can imagine one or two people who could jump into this race that I’d have to seriously consider, but barring that possibility I fully expect to support Teneshia’s nomination. She’ll do a great job.

(UPDATE: Trautman has since sent out an email, which I received, endorsing Teneshia Hudpseth’s candidacy.)

The other race is for HCDE Trustee At Large, Position 7, the one where Andrea Duhon, who was appointed to fill out Josh Flynn’s term in Position 4 but was already on the ballot there, won outright in March. Despite my belief that she could not withdraw from the November race, apparently she could because here we are picking a replacement nominee. (See, this is why I always remind you that I Am Not A Lawyer.) I am aware of four people competing for this slot:

David Brown and Obes Nwabara, who also ran in the March primary and finished behind Duhon.

Sonja Marrett, whose candidacy was noted to me by Andrea Duhon, who has endorsed her.

Jose Rivera, husband of former Justice of the Peace candidate Tanya Makany-Rivera, about whom Stace wrote on Monday.

I had a chance to talk to Rivera over the weekend. I’m pretty sure I had a brief conversation with David Brown during the primary campaign, but that was eight million years ago, so who can remember. I do not believe I have spoken to Nwabara yet, and I do know that I have not spoken to Marrett. I do not at this time have a preferred candidate for this position. Honestly, they all look well-qualified.

I will probably do an interview with Teneshia Hudspeth after the runoff. I don’t know that I’ll have time to talk to the four HCDE candidates, but I may write up a Q&A for them. If you have any insight as to these folks, I’ll be glad to hear it. And now you know everything I know about these two races.

On picking a new County Clerk

Stace has some thoughts.

Diane Trautman

I’m of the opinion that the Democratic majority on the Commissioner’s Court should make a strong appointment of someone who will be the incumbent, making it clear that there is no need for a possible free-for-all at the precinct chair level.

We elected our County Judge and our Commissioners, while most of us cannot even find a link on the Party website to find our own precinct chair so that we can lobby for whom we want them to vote. Either process is hardly democratic as the voters are left out of the process. I’d rather go with whom our top leaders choose and have the precinct chairs basically ratify it so we can move forward. Wishful thinking? Maybe.

Some may opine that appointing as interim one of the professionals already in the County Clerk’s office to run the 2020 election and be a placeholder while allowing a candidate chosen by the precinct chairs to run full-time is the solution. And that’s a good argument. But I think we should have a candidate who can show that they can do the professional and the political work, simultaneously. I think it’s more of a confidence builder for us voters when we see that our candidates can walk and chew gum at the same time.

Either way, we’ll see what happens. I already see suggestions on my Facebook feeds about who should run and about diversity on the ballot. There’s nothing wrong with healthy debate, but these things can take a turn for the ugly real quick. And that’s another reason why I’d like to see the Judge and Commissioners lead on this one.

See here for the background. As a precinct chair who will be among those lucky duckies that gets to put a nominee on the ballot for 2020, let me say that I agree with Stace’s position that we should want a candidate who “can do the professional and the political work, simultaneously”. I hope to have a better feel for this once people start throwing their hats into the ring, but I agree that a Clerk who can plan for and run an election well and who is also able to tell Ken Paxton to get stuffed while giving clear direction on these matters to the Court, the County Attorney, and the government relations crew at the county, is someone I want to see in that job.

How we get there is of less importance. If Commissioners Court – specifically, Judge Hidalgo, Commissioner Ellis, and Commissioner Garcia; I don’t expect either of the other two to provide any productive input but will hear it out if they do – says that they just want someone who can carry out the necessary electoral duties for 2020 and leave the politics up to the political people, that’s fine by me. If instead they make a strong statement about wanting the same kind of qualities as discussed here in the next Clerk and appoint someone they believe embodies those qualities, I will be more than happy to endorse that selection for the November ballot, if I agree that they got it right. I’m happy to be led by them on this matter, as long as they do lead us in the right direction. I reserve the right as part of the body that makes this selection to maintain my own counsel.

To be sure, this kind of process can get ugly in a hurry. This may be the best chance any Democrat has to win one of these offices now that there are no more Republicans to oust and we have to fight among ourselves to win. Having the Democratic members of Commissioners Court come out in unison behind a well-qualified candidate that they would like to continue working with after this November would make this a lot easier. We’ll see what they decide to do.

Meanwhile, Campos has one piece of advice:

The Commissioners Court will pick an interim County Clerk and sometime this summer the Harris County Democratic Party Executive Committee will select a nominee to place on the November ballot. The Commissioners aren’t going to listen to Commentary, but I hope they pick a female. If they pick a male and the male ends up getting the Executive Committee’s nod, he will win this November but get knocked off in the 2022 Democratic Party Primary by a female sure enough. Dudes need not apply.

For sure, that can happen. I will just say, 2022 will be its own election, with a different context and likely smaller turnout due to the lack of a Presidential race. It’s certainly possible that the robust candidate we hope to pick this year will get knocked off in 2022 by someone no one has heard of today. I will just say that we are not completely powerless to prevent such an outcome – I’ve been talking about the need to do a better job of promoting quality candidates at the statewide level for a couple of cycles now, following recent debacles in various downballot low-profile primaries. The same prescription holds true here, with a combination of financial support to allow a visible campaign and visible support from the elected leaders who have as much of a vested interest in having the best person possible to run elections as the rest of us do. Pick the best possible person, then support that person going forward. It’s not that complicated.

Those are my thoughts at this time. Feel free to tell me whose name you are hearing for the job and how you think I should approach this when the precinct chairs get together (virtually, I assume) to formalize it.

Dutton’s colleagues ask for investigation of Natasha Ruiz

Hey, look, it’s actual election news!

Rep. Harold Dutton

Nearly the entire Harris County Democratic legislative delegation has asked the county attorney and district attorney to open a criminal investigation into the candidacy of a Texas House candidate whose existence was called into question after this year’s March election.

The candidate, one of four in the primary race for state Rep. Harold Dutton’s seat, received enough votes to help force Dutton, a longtime Houston Democrat, into a runoff this year.

“We are concerned that more than 2500 Harris County voters may have been duped into voting for a non-existent candidate, a serious theft of those voters’ most important right, and three legitimate candidates were harmed by the crimes committed,” reads the March 18 letter, which was signed by every delegation member except Dutton and released to a Tribune reporter on Thursday. “We request that your offices coordinate an immediate investigation into the events documented in the attached memo and take appropriate prosecutorial action at the earliest possible time.”

Dutton was the only Democrat from Houston not to sign the letter.

[…]

Dutton, who had previously said he had hired a private investigator to look into the matter, told the Tribune on Thursday that he was not involved with the delegation’s letter to Ogg and Ryan and was focused on winning the runoff election, which is now slated for mid-July instead of May.

“I hope someone takes a look at the system that allows this to happen and cleans it up so that it can’t happen again,” he said. “If there are people who have engaged in a conspiracy, I hope that law enforcement will deal with them in the proper context.”

The delegation’s letter also included an attached “Indices of Election Fraud,” which detailed the background of the long-winding drama and “known facts indicating election fraud.”

See here and here for the background. The letter sent by the delegation is here, and the “Indices of Fraud” attachment is here. The latter is the more interesting, and contains the most new information. It suggests strongly that the person originally identified as “Natasha Demming” is not the person who filed for a spot on the ballot, but was perhaps a victim of identity theft. What I had considered to be the wilder option, that someone impersonated this person when they filed for this seat, appears to be the more likely explanation based on what the delegation claims.

So yeah, this should be investigated. Start by talking to the private eye that Dutton hired, and talk to all the political insiders to see what crazy things they might have heard about this. The big question here isn’t who did this (if it really was a deliberate attempt to put a sham candidate on the ballot) but why they did it. If the intent was to hurt Dutton’s re-election chances, it seems to me that there are more straightforward ways to do that than putting an impostor on the ballot in the hope of forcing Dutton into a runoff that maybe he’d lose. (What do you think might have happened if Dutton’s runoff opponent had been Natasha Ruiz, for example?) For sure, if there is someone behind this, maybe that person isn’t the most clear-headed thinker you’ve ever known. Whatever the case, getting a handle on the motivation might at least point you in the direction of a suspect. There doesn’t appear to be much physical evidence (unless maybe someone managed to take a picture of “Natasha Ruiz”), so if this gets cracked it’ll be because someone talked. Find out who that might be, and the rest may follow.

UPDATE: And indeed, there will be an investigation.

The Harris County Attorney’s office told the Houston Chronicle on Thursday that it was looking into the matter.

The county’s District Attorney Kim Ogg responded to the delegation in late March by saying that she had forwarded the case to the public corruption division but could not confirm or deny whether it was under investigation.

“Please be assured that the protection of our democratic election process, along with enforcement of all related laws, is a top priority for my administration and that your complaint will be addressed by this office,” Ogg wrote.

Not exactly sure why it’s the County Attorney jumping in on this, but whatever. I very much look forward to seeing the results.

HCDP statement on Natasha Ruiz

From the inbox:

The Harris County Democratic Party has learned of an allegation that a candidate on the Harris County Democratic Party Primary ballot for Texas House District 142 may not have been a genuine candidate. HCDP has not been presented with evidence to corroborate this allegation, but we have recently become aware of its existence.

The facts we have are that on December 9th, during the 30 day filing period to be placed on the Democratic Party primary ballot, a person claiming to be Natasha Ruiz came to the party office with the required elements to file: an application, identification, and filing fee. This Application was subsequently approved, and the name of this candidate appeared on the March 3rd Democratic Party primary ballot.

Since the day the person filing the application came to the Party office, no one from our staff has had any further contact with her.

The party followed all steps required by the Texas Election Code to approve this Application for a place on the ballot. At no time prior to the primary election did we receive any information that there may be any questions or concerns about the genuineness of this Application or the eligibility of the person who submitted it to be a candidate for the office sought.

See here for the background. There are basically two possible explanations here:

1. Someone, for reasons unknown, provided a fake ID for a person who then claimed to be “Natasha Ruiz” and filed for the HD142 primary.

2. The Natasha Ruiz that ABC13 identified and contacted yesterday is the person who filed for the primary and was not telling the truth when she denied any knowledge of this.

Maybe I’m missing some other possibility, so let me know if you come up with another scenario that can fit the known facts. Option 1 is the most spectacular, and as such seems to be the least likely. As for option 2, maybe Harold Dutton’s private investigator can shed some light on that. Fascinating as this all is, until and unless we find out more there’s not much to be done about it, and there’s insufficient evidence to conclude that the absence of “Natasha Ruiz” on the ballot would have enabled Dutton to avoid a runoff. Let’s move on to May, and if something comes up to suggest that dirty tricks were at play we can reassess. Stace has more.

We need to talk about those lines

I wish we could talk about something else, but we have to do this.

Hervis Rogers, the hero we don’t deserve

Dozens of Democratic voters were still waiting to cast ballots at midnight in Houston, turning Super Tuesday into a painful slog for some citizens amid questions about how the County Clerk’s office had allocated its voting machines across the county.

Janet Gonzalez left work early and at 5:30 p.m. checked a website the clerk’s office runs to show wait times at polling places. It seemed Texas Southern University had a short wait, but when she arrived she found a massive line. She waited an hour outside and three more inside before she finally cast her ballot.

Officials with the clerk’s office acknowledged the accuracy of the wait-times website is reliant on election workers manually updating the status of their polling places.

Some people in line gave up and walked away, Gonzalez said. Others briefly sought refuge on a scattering of chairs before giving them up to others as the line inched forward.

[…]

Democratic County Clerk Diane Trautman and her staff said each of the county’s 401 polling places started with between 16 and 48 machines, depending on anticipated turnout, but at each location the machines were divided equally between the Democrat and Republican primaries, regardless of whether the location heavily favored one party or the other.

“If we had given one five and one 10, and that other one had a line, they would say, ‘You slighted us,’” Trautman said late Tuesday. “So we wanted to be fair and equal and start at the same amount. Through the day, we have been sending out additional machines to the Democratic judges to the extent that we ran out.”

During Election Day the clerk’s office dispatched 68 extra voting machines to Democratic polls, including 14 to TSU, in response to election judges’ requests. Trautman added that some of the machines assigned to TSU to start the day had to be replaced after malfunctioning.

Trautman said a joint primary — which would have allowed both parties’ ballots to be loaded on each voting machine, rather than separating the equipment by party — would have reduced the lines, but the GOP rejected the idea.

[…]

County Democratic Party chair Lillie Schechter said her staff did not grasp until Tuesday that when Trautman spoke of allocating the machines “equitably” she meant dividing them equally at each polling site, rather than giving each party the same number of machines but concentrating most of them in areas known to be strongholds of each party.

“We’re thrilled that turnout has been so high today and that’s been super exciting, but I think the story with the voting machines goes a step farther back than just how the voting machines are allocated,” she said. “The machines are part of the problem but not the whole problem.”

In order to preserve citizens’ ability to vote at any polling place on Election Day – a new policy under Trautman, and one GOP officials have opposed – Schechter said the parties needed to agree on shared polling locations. That gave Republicans more power in the negotiation, she said, and resulted in more than 60 percent of Tuesday’s polling sites being located in Republican-held county commissioner precincts, with less than 40 percent in commissioner precincts held by Democrats.

It’s kind of amazing that more people didn’t just give up and walk away after hours of waiting on line. You think you’re committed to American ideals and democracy, tell that to Hervis Rogers and the other people who waited as long as they did to exercise their right to vote. Every last one of them deserves our thanks, and a hell of a lot better from the experience next time.

This story expands a bit on that last paragraph above.

The clerk’s office dispatched additional machines to some poll sites, located in heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods including Third Ward, Acres Homes and Gulfgate. They provided only partial relief.

At Texas Southern University, where just 48 Republicans voted early, the final Democratic voter cast his ballot after 1 a.m. after waiting in line for more than six hours.

Democratic election workers at a Sunnyside voting center reported functioning machines were broken in a successful ruse to get the clerk’s office to send more, a spokeswoman for Trautman said.

The sheer expanse of Harris County’s 1,777 square miles and most-in-Texas 2.3 million registered voters long has posed problems for county clerks in primary and general elections. When Democratic precincts in past elections had extremely long lines, some in the party blamed the Republican county clerk.

Problems persisted in Tuesday’s primary, however, even though Democrats have controlled every countywide post since last year.

Yes, and many people noticed, though a lot of blame still accrued to Republicans thanks to their long and dedicated record of vote suppression. But we don’t have Stan Stanart to kick around any more, and the spotlight is on us to fix this, not just for next time but on a more permanent basis.

I mean, I can accept that the Harris County GOP’s refusal to go along with a joint primary and the certainty that they’d pitch a fit if Dems got more voting machines than they did even though it was a virtual certainty that Dems would be the larger part of the Tuesday electorate was a problem. But we elected Diane Trautman to solve problems like that, and on Tuesday she didn’t. The onus is squarely on her to be completely transparent about what happened and why it happened, and to come up with a plan to ensure it never happens again. That doesn’t mean just brainstorming with her staff. That means concrete action involving all of the stakeholders – people from the community, election law experts, Commissioner Ellis and Garcia’s offices, County Attorney Vince Ryan and 2020 nominee Christian Menefee, grassroots organizations like TOP and the Texas Civil Rights Project and whoever else, and the HCDP since they have as big a stake in this as anyone. Convene a commission, get everyone’s input on what they saw and what they experienced and what they know and what they need, and come up with a plan for action.

Among other things, that means having much better communications, both before the election so people have a better idea of what polling places are open and what ones aren’t – yes, this is on the website, but clearly more than that needs to be done – and on Election Day, when rapid response may be needed to deal with unexpected problems. Why weren’t there more voting machines available on Tuesday, and why wasn’t there a way to get them to the places with the longest lines in a timely manner? Let the Republicans whine about that while it’s happening, at that point no one would care. Stuff happens, and anyone can guess wrong about what Election Day turnout might look like. But once that has happened, don’t just sit there, DO SOMETHING about it. It really shouldn’t have to take election clerks pretending that machines had malfunctioned to get some relief.

Also, as useful as the voting centers concept is, we need to recognize that for folks with mobility issues, having places they can walk to really makes a difference. Add Metro and transit advocacy folks like LINK Houston to that list of commission attendees, because the mobility of the people in a given neighborhood needs to be weighed into decisions about which Election Day sites are open and which are consolidated in the same way that relative turnout is. If a significant segment of a given population simply can’t drive to another neighborhood to vote, then all the voting centers in the world don’t matter.

I get that in November we’ll have all locations open, and there won’t be any squabble over who gets which voting machines. That will help. But in November, no matter how heavy early voting will be, we’re going to get a lot more people going to the polls on Election Day than the 260K or so that turned out this Tuesday. Voter registration is up, turnout is up, and we need to be much better prepared for it. Diane Trautman, please please please treat this like the emergency that it is. And Rodney Ellis, Adrian Garcia, and Lina Hidalgo, if that means throwing some money at the problem, then by God do that. We didn’t elect you all to have the same old problems with voting that we had before. The world is watching, and we’ve already made a lousy first impression. If that doesn’t hurt your pride and make you burn to fix it, I don’t know what would.

(My thanks to nonsequiteuse and Melissa Noriega for some of the ideas in this post. I only borrow from the best.)

UPDATE: Naturally, after I finished drafting this piece, out comes this deeper dive from the Trib. Let me just highlight a bit of it:

Months before, the Democratic and Republican county parties had been unable to agree to hold a joint primary, which would have allowed voters to share machines preloaded with ballots for both parties.

The Harris County Democratic Party had agreed to the setup, but the Harris County GOP refused, citing in part the long lines Republican voters would have to wait through amid increased turnout for the pitched Democratic presidential primary.

“We wanted them to do a joint primary where you would just have one line and voters could use all the machines, but they couldn’t agree on that,” said Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who was elected to her post in 2018.

Without a resolution, Trautman chose to allocate an equal number of machines for both primaries at each polling site “because we didn’t want to slight anyone,” particularly as Harris moved to countywide voting to free voters from precinct-specific voting. But the move essentially halved the number of voting machines available to Democratic voters on a busy election day. That meant Republican voting quickly wrapped up across the county while Democratic lines made for extra hours of voting at multiple polling places.

In a Wednesday press conference, Paul Simpson, the chair of the Harris County GOP, reiterated that the party was adamantly opposed to joint primaries and sought to preempt any blame for long Democratic lines. To Simpson, Trautman misfired by pursuing a 50/50 split of voting machines across the board instead of using past turnout data to adjust allocations, and he pointed to the party’s recommendation to give Republicans only four machines at Texas Southern University.

“The county clerk refused and failed to follow our suggestion to avoid the lines that we predicted last summer were going to happen,” Simpson said.

(Previous voting patterns weren’t available for Texas Southern University, which was only added as polling place under Trautman.)

But Lillie Schechter, the chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party, said the excessive wait times Democrats faced Tuesday were part of a broader electoral divide in a county that has turned reliably blue in recent years. That change in power has come with voting initiatives that local Republicans have not warmed up to, including a move to countywide voting that allows voters to cast ballots at any polling place in the county on election day.

To keep countywide voting for the primary election, the political parties needed to agree on the distribution of shared polling places. But the map the GOP pushed for on Super Tuesday established more voting centers in the two county commissioner precincts represented by Republicans, Schechter said.

“If you look at the story to say let’s blame the county clerk’s office, you’re missing the big picture here,” Schechter said.

In the aftermath of the wait time debacle, Trautman acknowledged that Democratic voting on Super Tuesday was bogged down by both technical and training issues. The county’s voting machines — the oldest in use among the state’s biggest counties — went down at different points in the night. Election workers weren’t always able to make the adjustments to bring them back into order. Both machines and election workers were “stretched to the max” during the late-night voting slog, she said.

At midnight — seven hours after polls closed — voting was again interrupted at the two polling places that were still running, including the Texas Southern University site, when the tablets used to check in voters automatically timed out and had to be rebooted.

Later on Wednesday, Trautman signaled she was assessing what the county needed to fix moving forward — a better method for rerouting voters to nearby voting sites with shorter lines, a wait time reporting system that’s not dependent on busy election workers, pushing for more early voting and, perhaps most notably, purchasing additional equipment for the November election.

“We will work to improve to make things better,” Trautman said.

It’s the right attitude and I’m glad to see it. The Clerk’s office is also in the process of scoping out new voting machines, which can’t come soon enough but which will introduce new challenges, in terms of adapting to the new technology and educating voters on how to use it. All this is a good start, and now I want to see a whole lot of follow-through.

2020 primary results: Harris County

Let’s start with this.

Long lines combined with a lack of voting machines turned into frustration for voters at several election sites in Harris County on Super Tuesday.

Margaret Hollie arrived at the Multi Service Center on Griggs Road at 11 a.m. She finished just after 2:45 p.m.

“It was horrible,” she said. “The worst since I’ve been voting. And I’ve been voting for 60 years.”

She decided to stick around and vote at the location in the city’s South Union area. Others did not, opting to find polling sites that were less busy. Under recent changes implemented by county leaders, voters can now cast their ballot at any precinct.

In Kashmere Gardens, at another Multi Service Center, the line of voters stretched from the entrance of the voting room to the exit of the facility.

Bettie Adami was one of about 100 people in the line about 4 p.m. Healthcare, higher paying jobs and raising the minimum wage top the list of her concerns this election season.

She isn’t letting the line prevent her from voting. “I’ll stand as long as I have to to cast my vote,” she said.

[…]

The county’s political parties are in charge of deciding which polling places will be open for primary elections, said [Rosio Torres, a spokesperson for the Harris County] Clerk’s office.

DJ Ybarra, Executive Director of the Harris County Democratic Party , said the decision was made to not include some polling locations in negotiations with Republicans to keep countywide voting in the primary. The parties agreed on the final map of polling locations in January, said Ybarra.

“In that negotiation, we had to come up with what locations we wanted,” said Ybarra. “We wish we could have had more locations, but we had to negotiate and we had to keep countywide voting.

“In the future, we’re going to try our best to get all our polling locations we want earlier in the process, so we’re not put in a position where we don’t have all the locations we want,” Ybarra said.

To sum that up in a couple of tweets:

In other words, there were about twice as many Dems voting yesterday as there were Republicans, but there were an equal number of Dem and Rep voting machines, which is the way it works for separate primaries. Had this been a joint primary as Trautman’s office originally proposed and which the HCDP accepted, each voting machine at each site could have been used for either primary. Oh well.

I had asked if the judicial races were basically random in a high-turnout election like this. The answer is No, because in every single judicial election where there was a male candidate and a female candidate, the female candidate won, often by a large margin. That means the end for several incumbents, including Larry Weiman, Darryl Moore, Randy Roll, Steven Kirkland, and George Powell, some of which I mourn more than others. Alex Smoots-Thomas, who had a male challenger and a female challenger, trails Cheryl Elliott Thornton going into a runoff. I saw a lot of mourning on Twitter last night of Elizabeth Warren’s underperformance and the seeming reluctance many people had to vote for a woman for President. Well, at least in Harris County, many many people were happy to vote for women for judge.

Three of the four countywide incumbents were headed to victory. In order of vote share, they are Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Tax Assessor Ann Harris Bennett, and DA Kim Ogg. In the County Attorney race, challenger Christian Menefee was just above fifty percent, and thus on his way to defeating three-term incumbent Vince Ryan without a runoff. I thought Menefee would do well, but that was a very strong performance. Even if I have to correct this today and say that he fell just short of a clear majority, it’s still quite impressive.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis easily won, with over 70%. Michael Moore and Diana Martinez Alexander were neck and neck in Precinct 3, with Kristi Thibaut a few points behind in third place.

Unfortunately, as I write this, Democrats were on their way towards an own goal in HCDE Position 7, At Large. Andrea Duhon, who is already on the Board now, was leading with just over 50%. If that holds, she’ll have to withdraw and the Republican – none other than Don Freaking Sumners – will be elected in November. If we’re lucky, by the time all the votes have been counted, she’ll drop below fifty percent and will be able to withdraw from the runoff, thus allowing David Brown, currently in second place, to be the nominee. If not, this was the single lousiest result of the day.

Got a lot of other ground to cover, so let’s move on. I’ll circle back to some other county stuff tomorrow.

Judge Powell back on the ballot

So be it.

Judge George Powell

A civil court judge Wednesday ordered that sitting criminal district Judge George Powell be included on the March primary ballot after the Harris County Democratic Party denied his application for candidacy last month.

Party officials had to accept Powell’s application within 24 hours, and he needs to appear as a choice for voters during the election, Judge Lauren Reeder ordered. But the ruling is technically temporary and could be subject to appeal by the party or Powell’s primary opponent, who was a third-party “intervener” in Powell’s suit against the party.

“I’m very happy that the judge granted our request for an injunction and that he gets the chance to run again,” said Kent Schaffer, Powell’s attorney. “Ultimately, it’s the voters who should decide who the candidate’s going to be, and not a select few people who feel like it’s their right.”

During a Tuesday court hearing, the local chapter of the Democratic Party sought to justify its decision in leaving Powell off the ballot, urging him to take responsibility for his application’s failure. A statement party officials issued after Wednesday’s ruling made little mention of the outcome, however, and pointed to issues with the election code.

Party leaders weren’t able to approve Powell’s candidacy because state rules prevented it, they said. The judge paid an insufficient filing fee too close to the filing deadline, meaning his application was denied and the problem couldn’t be fixed without breaking state rules, party chair Lillie Schechter testified Tuesday.

“The Harris County Democratic Party regrets the situation Judge Powell found himself in,” party officials said in a statement. “Without question, we believe all eligible candidates should have access to the ballot.”

See here for the background, and here for a pre-hearing version of the story, which was also covered by Texas Lawyer. On the one hand, I agree with the HCDP: The rules are easy to understand. He could have filed earlier than the very last minute, when there was no time to fix this easily-corrected mistake. The party doesn’t have much discretion according to the law. On the other hand, I hate seeing people bumped from the ballot for nit-picky reasons. The law in question should be amended to allow a post-deadline grace period to correct technical errors like this (though again, if you know you’re going to run, file at least a day before the deadline and save yourself the trouble).

This is probably the end of the story. The HCDP does not plan to appeal, and intervenor/primary opponent Natalia Cornelio does not appear to be appealing, either. Fine by me, let’s get on to the campaign. One more thing first:

Powell’s lawyers hinted in Tuesday’s injunction hearing that the party might have an interest in keeping the judge from running for re-election, even though paying the incorrect amount might have been no more than a convenient mistake. Schaffer clarified afterward that he believes Ellis is pulling strings in the local Democratic Party, and wants his employee to run unopposed for the 351st state judicial district.

Ellis and Cornelio both helped draft a landmark settlement over Harris County’s misdemeanor bail system, which a federal judge said was unconstitutional and discriminated against poor defendants.

Powell was one of 11 current and former judges in the area who were admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2019 related to complaints that they instructed hearing officers to deny no-cost bail to indigent defendants. That admonishment has since been retracted for unknown reasons.

Randle called the claims “ludicrous,” and Cornelio’s attorney, Mynor E. Rodriguez, said he hadn’t heard those accusations.

Yeah, that admonishment, whatever happened to it. I wasn’t inclined to vote for Powell before any of this happened. I’m less inclined to vote for him now.

We have a filing failure

In typical fashion, it’s bizarre.

Judge George Powell

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

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

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

Full hearing in early January.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willie D will not be on the Democratic primary ballot

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

Willie Dennis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do we think final 2019 turnout will be?

Let’s take the numbers we have so far and try to hone in a bit more exactly on what to expect tomorrow, shall we? I’m going to go back a little farther into the past and establish some patterns.

2019
2015
2013
2011
2009
2007


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019  137,460  15,304  152,764   26,824
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572
2011   49,669   8,676   58,345   15,264
2009   71,368   9,148   80,516   20,987
2007   43,420   6,844   50,264   13,870

Year    Early    Final   Early%
===============================
2015  193,963  421,460    46.0%
2013  109,370  260,437    42.0%
2011   58,345  164,971    35.4%
2009   80,516  257,312    31.3%
2007   50,264  193,945    25.9%

Couple of points to note up front. One is that the early vote totals I report above are the totals as of the end of the early voting period. Mail ballots continue to arrive, however, so the mail ballot results you see on the election return pages on the County Clerk website are a bit higher. I’m basing the calculations here on those as-of-Friday results, for consistency’s sake.

Second, note that while early voting in even year races is now a large majority of the total vote – in 2018, for example, about 71% of all votes were cast before Election Day – in municipal elections, it remains the case that most voters take their time and do their business on Tuesday. The early vote share has steadily increased over time, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re at least at 50-50 now, but the bottom line is that there are very likely still a lot more votes to be cast.

Note also the increase in mail ballots over time, both in terms of mail ballots sent out and mail ballots returned. The HCDP has made a priority of this since Lane Lewis was elected Chair in 2012 and continuing under Lillie Schechter, and you can see that reflected in the totals beginning in 2013. I’m not exactly sure why the numbers took a dip this year, but they remain well above what they were prior to 2013.

All this is a long preamble to the main question, which is what to expect tomorrow. Here are three scenarios for you:

2019 at 45% early = 339,476 in Harris County, 231,862 in Houston.
2019 at 50% early = 305,428 in Harris County, 208,676 in Houston.
2019 at 55% early = 277,753 in Harris County, 189,705 in Houston.

The second number in each of those lines represents the fact that the numbers we have are for all of Harris County, while per Keir Murray about 68% of this year’s turnout is from the city of Houston. I used his figure in projecting the Houston numbers. Sixty-eight percent of Harris County votes coming from Houston is a bit higher than it was in 2015 and 2013, which were in the 64-65% range, but it’s well within historic norms, where the city vote percent has topped 70% in some years.

My best guess is that we’re headed for something like the middle scenario. I see no reason why the trend of an increasing early vote share wouldn’t continue, so I’d expect it to notch up a couple more points. For what it’s worth, in the 2017 election, when there were no city of Houston races, about 41.3% of the vote was cast early. That race doesn’t fit this pattern so I’m not taking it into consideration, but I figured someone reading this would be wondering about it, so there you have it.

Beyond that, I expect the Mayor’s race to go to a runoff, with Turner getting in the low to mid-forties and Buzbee getting in the mid to upper-twenties. There is a 100% certainty that I will keep the remote close at hand to avoid being subjected to any further Buzbee commercials when I’m just trying to watch a football game. I expect the Metro referendum to pass. I have no idea what else to expect. Feel free to leave your guesses in the comments.

The Harris County GOP thinks it can come back in 2020

They’re so adorable.

Never forget

Once a rock of Republican politics in Texas, Harris County has become nothing short of a nightmare for the GOP over the last four years as Hillary Clinton and Beto O’Rourke carried the county and Democrats dominated further down ballot in local races.

But as bad as it has been of late, party leaders say it’s foolish to consider Harris County blue, based on just two election cycles. They insist the party has learned key lessons over the last four years and made changes that will not just stop the Democratic trends, but lead to GOP victories in 2020 and beyond.

“We are still a strong force here,” Harris County Republican Party chairman Paul Simpson said.

He sees 2016 and 2018 as more of temporary Democratic run than a change of the guard. There have already been big changes that will affect 2020, he said, pointing to the end of straight-ticket voting, better minority community outreach and a renewed commitment to registering new voters as three things that will lift GOP candidates in Harris County.

That’s not to discount the pain of the last two election cycles. Shifting demographics and an emboldened Democratic Party that has registered new voters at record speed allowed Clinton in 2016 to win the biggest share of the vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in Harris since Texas icon Lyndon Johnson was on the ballot in 1964.

And in the governor’s race in 2018, Democrat Lupe Valdez — who ran a campaign that was mediocre at best — won Harris County over incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, becoming only the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to carry Harris County in 25 years.

“There was shell shock,” Republican media consultant Vlad Davidiuk said.

[…]

Months before the 2018 election, Abbott’s political team was warning allies about what was happening in Harris County. That summer at a training session in San Antonio, Abbott campaign advisers told workers that Democratic-leaning voter registration groups such as Battleground Texas were making big gains registering new voters in Harris County.

Davidiuk, who was working with the Harris County Republican Party then, said others saw it coming, too.

“We didn’t have a response to that,” he said. “If there was a response, it was too fractured.”

That voter registration push has only grown the Democratic advantage at the polls the last two years.

“Our historic voter base is shrinking in both real and absolute terms,” the 2016 post election analysis says. “As a consequence, we are at risk of becoming a minority party within Harris County.”

Later it makes clear that “Donald Trump’s loss in Harris County and its down-ballot impact in 2016 could foreshadow future elections if we do not broaden our voter base.”

I’ve already said most of what there is to say about this. The rationales they give – it was Beto! straight ticket voting! Trump! why don’t those minorities like us? – are as predictable as they are pathetic and self-unaware. The straight ticket thing I’ve beaten to death (but feel free to reread this for one of my responses to that trope), but I think what we need here is to throw some numbers at these claims.


Year    R Pres   D Pres   R Judges   D Judges
=============================================
2004   584,723  475,865    535,877    469,037
2008   571,883  590,982    541,938    559,048
2012   586,073  587,044    563,654    568,739
2016   545,955  707,914    605,112    661,404

Republicans have basically not done any better at the Presidential level in Harris County since George W. Bush in 2004. They have grown some at the judicial level (the numbers you see above are the average totals from the District Court races, my go-to for measuring partisan vote totals), which highlights Trump’s extreme underperformance, but their growth (plus 70K from 2004 to 2016) is dwarfed by Democratic vote growth (plus 192K) over the same period. This is my thesis, which I’ve repeated over and over again and which has clearly not sunk in. This is the problem Republicans need to solve.


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2004   535,877    469,037  370,455  325,097   69.1%   69.3%
2008   541,938    559,048  343,919  391,488   63.5%   70.1%
2012   563,654    568,739  404,165  406,991   71.7%   71.6%
2016   605,112    661,404  401,663  472,030   66.4%   71.4%

These are the countywide straight ticket voting totals, and the percentage of each side’s average judicial total that came from straight ticket votes. Looked at this way, Democratic straight ticket vote total growth is proportionate to their overall vote total growth. In other words, the increase in Democratic straight ticket voters wasn’t inflating their overall strength, it was merely reflecting it. Meanwhile, fewer people voted straight ticket Republican in 2016 than they did in 2012. Sure, some of that is a reaction to Trump, but that’s still a big problem for them, and it’s not something that the elimination of straight ticket voting will help them with in 2020. Note also that Republicans have been pretty heavily dependent on straight ticket voting as well. I do not understand the assumption that its removal will help them.


Year  Voter Reg   R Pres%  R Judge%  D Pres%  D Judge%
======================================================
2004  1,876,296     31.2%     28.6%    25.4%     25.0%
2008  1,892,656     30.2%     28.6%    31.2%     29.5%
2012  1,942,566     30.2%     29.0%    30.2%     29.3%
2016  2,182,980     25.0%     27.7%    32.4%     30.3%

The first column is the total number of registered voters in Harris County in the given year, and the percentages are the percentage of each of the total registered voter population. As a share of all registered voters, Donald Trump did worse than John Kerry, while Hillary Clinton did better than Dubya. The share of all voters choosing Democratic judicial candidates increased twenty percent from 2004 to 2016, while the share of all voters choosing Republican judicial candidates declined by three percent. This is what I mean when I say that the Republicans first and foremost have a “not enough voters” problem in Harris County. Their second problem is that they have no clue what to do about it.

For what it’s worth, here’s a similar comparison for the off years:


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2002   333,009    270,564  185,606  171,594   55.7%   63.4%
2014   359,842    297,812  254,006  210,018   70.6%   70.5%
2018   531,013    651,975  410,654  515,812   77.3%   79.1%

Year  Voter Reg  R Judge%  D Judge%
===================================
2002  1,875,777     17.8%     14.4%
2014  2,044,361     17.6%     14.6%
2018  2,307,654     23.0%     28.3%

Couple things to note here. One is that there wasn’t much in the way of growth for either party from 2002 to 2014, though as we know there were some ups and downs in between. The 2018 election was a lot like a Presidential election in terms of turnout – you’ve seen me use 2012 as a point of comparison for it before – but one in which the Dems did a much better job. No Republican, not even Ed Emmett, came close to getting 600,000 votes. Here, I’ll agree that having unpopular politicians at the top of the ballot, like Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, as well as having to fly under the Trump banner, helped propel Dems, in part because of former Republicans crossing over. But they were starting from a lower point to begin with.

Note, by the way, the jump in voter registrations from 2012 to 2014. Mike Sullivan deserves some credit for that, as he was the first Tax Assessor in a long time to not be hostile to voter registration, but this was also the point at which Dems started really focusing on registering voters. For sure, that has helped, and I’ve no doubt that Abbott’s people had reason to be alarmed going into 2018. I find it kind of amusing that Republicans are turning to voter registration themselves as a way forward. I have to wonder if that will lead to any bills getting advanced that would make voter reg easier and more convenient. My guess is still No, on the grounds that they probably figure they can throw money at the problem and would still rather have it be hard for Dems, but we’ll see.

I could go on, but you get the point. And as a reminder, the numbers themselves aren’t the whole story about why Republicans are struggling and will continue to do so in Harris County:

Simpson, for one, is glad to see the parade of Democratic presidential contenders coming to Harris County because it puts their ideas — particularly on climate change — front and center. Let them bring their calls for banning fossil fuels, he said.

“They don’t want us to eat beef, drill for oil or even use straws.”

Because it there’s one thing younger voters really hate, it’s trying to solve climate change. Way to be on top of the trends there, dude.

A preview of the joint primary

Diane Trautman

Like Campos and John Coby, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Harris County Clerk and get a preview of the proposed joint primary. Coby describes it in some detail, with pictures, so I won’t duplicate his effort. Basically, the process will be very much like what you are used to already. The main difference in terms of the experience is that instead of telling the poll worker what primary you want to vote in, you pick it from a touch-screen tablet. Otherwise, it’s exactly what you’ve done before – you show your ID and sign in, you get a code for one of the eSlate machines, and you go vote. That’s all there is to it. The practical effect is that now all of the machines are available to you. There aren’t machines designated for one primary or the other, so if you’re voting at a location that historically has a long line for one party with idle machines for the other, that will no longer happen. This should help the lines move more efficiently, which in a year where a very high turnout is expected on the Dem side is greatly appreciated.

Primaries are run by the parties, and the initial reaction to this was positive from the HCDP and negative from the Harris County Republican Party. We were told at this visit that both Dem Chair Lillie Schechter and GOP Chair Paul Simpson had been in to see the same setup, and it went well. Simpson is supposedly going to make a decision about this in the next two to three weeks. I asked about the experience other counties have had with joint primaries. Michael Winn, the elections administrator who came from Travis County, said they made the change in 2011 and haven’t looked back. We’ll see.

We also discussed how election night returns are reported, which was a concern in the May election after the switchover to voting centers. We’re used to seeing reports come in by precinct, but with anyone being able to vote anywhere now that’s going to be a different experience. They’re working on that now so as to provide a better picture of where the vote totals are coming from, and they promised a preview for interested parties (campaigns, media, etc) in October. I’ll report back then. In the meantime, I have a good feeling about how this is going. Let me know if you have any questions.

Joint primaries

Another potential change to how we vote is in the works.

Diane Trautman

Harris County primary voters could see a big change at the polls in 2020 if local party leaders agree on a new proposal.

Under the current system, voters go to the polls and they’re asked to say which party primary they want to participate in, Republican or Democratic. Voters line up separately. But Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman said Tuesday that combining the lines would be more cost-effective and give voters more privacy.

“You won’t see a Republican party here, Democratic party here. You’ll see one of each at each table, and you’ll have three lines that you could go in,” Trautman said.

Voters would check in at joint primary tables and select one party on an iPad.

“The other thing they’re going to notice is that there aren’t any lines outside the door,” Trautman said. “So that will be refreshing.”

She said the new plan addresses the biggest complaints she hears from voters.

Harris County officials hope to reach an agreement with party leaders by the end of the month. If approved, the new system would be in place for the next primary in March 2020.

The HCDP has agreed to this. The Republicans, not so much.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson said Texas law allows parties to run their own primary elections, and he is reluctant to cede that role to the county clerk.

“The Democrat county clerk’s proposed joint primary elections would empower the bureaucrats and, worse, let one party’s workers run the other party’s primary election that selects its candidates, running the risk of disenfranchising, inconveniencing, and confusing voters,” Simpson said in a statement.

I actually have some sympathy for Simpson’s position. I have no doubt that if Stan Stanart had proposed this, I’d be suspicious, even with the knowledge that Harris is the only major county in the state that doesn’t hold joint primaries. I’d need to be convinced as a Democratic primary voter, and I’m sure Paul Simpson believes his voters will need to be convinced, too. (He’s on the ballot in 2020 as well, you know.) That said, I hope he goes into the discussion with an open mind. This makes sense on a couple of levels. One, you don’t have to announce your preference in front of strangers, which is the privacy appeal. Sure, anyone with VAN access can look up your record, but how many people do that? It’s also a more efficient use of resources, which should help shorten lines. Again, if there are questions or concerns, then let’s ask the party chairs in the other counties that do it this way, and see what they have to say about it. I’m happy to let Paul Simpson voice his worries, but let’s not be ruled by fear.

Apparently, that pay parity debate did happen

I missed the last twist in this saga, but in the end it did happen.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

After months of trading barbs from a distance, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the head of Houston’s firefighters’ union met in a vigorous but civil debate Saturday, displaying their fundamental differences over just about everything related to the November ballot referendum that would grant firefighters pay “parity” with police officers of corresponding rank and seniority.

The dispute revolves around a divisive question: If the measure known as Proposition B passes, can the city afford it? If anything, the debate at St. John’s United Methodist Church between Turner and Houston Professional Fire Firefighters Association President Marty Lancton revealed how irreconcilable the opposing views on that question truly are.

From Turner’s perspective, Houston firefighters deserve to receive better pay, but not to the extent that their raises “bankrupt the city,” as he claimed Proposition B would do by mandating 29 percent raises for firefighters, at a cost of than $100 million a year.

What’s more, Turner said Saturday, the measure does not call for true “parity” because it mandates only equal pay, ignoring retirement benefits, training and education requirements — in practice granting firefighters better pay, Turner argued.

To Lancton, the city has balanced its budget on the backs of firefighters to the point that the department’s rank-and-file members are struggling to make ends meet, with salaries far lower than those of firefighters in other Texas cities.

“What Houston firefighters seek is fair, competitive pay. Because of low pay, many Houston-trained firefighters are leaving for other departments,” Lancton said. “Our pay is so low that starting firefighters, supporting families, can even qualify for government assistance. We’ve asked the city for competitive pay for nearly a decade. The city has repeatedly rejected our efforts to reach an acceptable contract agreement.”

It goes from there, and I don’t think there’s much that you haven’t seen if you’ve been following this. At last report, Lancton had pulled out of the debate because the firefighters didn’t want Lisa Falkenberg moderating (because they didn’t like the Chron’s editorial stance against Prop B) and had wanted to address the Democratic precinct chairs in an effort to get Prop B endorsed by the HCDP. Neither of these conditions changed – Falkenberg still moderated, and the HCDP precinct chairs are not getting together for an endorsement vote – so I don’t know what changed from the firefighters’ perspective. Be that as it may, I’m glad this happened – the voters deserved such an event. I wish I could have been there but I was out of town. If you attended or saw a stream of it, please leave a comment with your impressions.

The pay parity proposal debate that wasn’t

Let’s not get ready to rumble!

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston’s firefighters union has withdrawn from a Saturday debate with Mayor Sylvester Turner on their proposal to seek pay “parity” with police officers, saying the event’s host, the Harris County Democratic Party, had given the mayor too much control over the event.

The hour-long event would have marked the first time the mayor and the union addressed the contentious issue on the same stage.

“We looked forward to the debate,” Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton said in a Wednesday morning statement, “but we recognize that party insiders failed to stop the manipulation of the ground rules to advantage the mayor. We are disappointed in the HCDP’s acquiescence to the mayor, but are grateful for the support of HCDP precinct chairs and the many Houstonians they represent.”

Among the union’s complaints were that Houston Chronicle opinion editor Lisa Falkenberg was to serve as moderator (the editorial board expressed opposition to the parity proposal in July 2017), and that Democratic Party officials did not agree to let Lancton address precinct chairs or let them vote on whether to endorse the proposition.

Alas. Here’s the earlier story announcing the event that was the original basis of this post. I am not able to be there for this not-a-forum, but perhaps you can be.

County Democratic Party Chair Lillie Schechter said the party engaged in “extensive conversations” with both camps on the format of the discussion but respects the union’s decision to withdraw.

“The event details appeared in a Facebook announcement seen and approved by all parties last week. It is unfortunate the firefighter’s union has determined these details do not meet their needs,” she said. “We regret voters will not hear from the firefighter’s union at this time. Mayor Turner and Lisa are welcome to use the full hour we have allotted for this event.”

The party’s leadership committee, after hearing from the fire union at a recent meeting, Schechter said, voted to schedule the debate to hear from both sides. She said the gathering was never envisioned as ending in a vote, saying such votes only occur at quarterly gatherings of all precinct chairs, the last of which was held Sept. 13.

Yes, speaking as a precinct chair, that’s how our rules work. Precinct chairs vote to endorse or not endorse ballot measures like this at our quarterly meetings. We endorsed the flood bond referendum at the June meeting, for instance. There were members from the firefighters’ union at the September meeting, talking up their proposal, but no motion for an endorsement vote. Which I have to say would have been contentious, and because of that I’m glad it didn’t come up. I don’t know what may or may not have happened behind the scenes, but I do know they could have made a pretty big fuss about this at the meeting if they had wanted to.

Personally, I think an event like this, aimed at the general public, rather than an agenda item for a normally dry meeting of precinct chairs, would be a much better way to allow both sides to air their views (I’m assuming that if Lancton had been given time to address us, then Mayor Turner or a representative from his office would have been given time as well). But hey, whatever. Perhaps the Mayor and Lisa Falkenberg can discuss the cost of this referendum.

The cost of Houston firefighters’ push for pay parity with police of corresponding rank and seniority could be 14 percent cheaper than what Mayor Sylvester Turner’s administration has estimated, city Controller Chris Brown said Tuesday.

Brown’s office estimates that the proposal, which will appear as Proposition B on the Nov. 6 ballot, will cost $85.2 million a year, lower than the $98.6 million figure Turner has used. Neither estimate includes the 7 percent raise police would receive over the next two years if the city council approves a new proposed contract this week. That would increase the cost if voters decide to link fire and police salaries.

Brown acknowledged his analysis required a series of assumptions related to how the parity proposal would be implemented, and said the estimate shows the cost of the proposal would be “unsustainable.”

“The controller’s office believes that a sustainable solution exists but can only be achieved through negotiation in the collective bargaining process,” Brown said while presenting his estimate to the city council’s budget committee. “It’s through that process that the men and women of HFD should be able to negotiate a well-deserved raise, but also a well-deserved raise the city can actually afford over the long term.”

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association President Marty Lancton viewed Brown’s analysis as vindication of his view that Turner’s estimate is inflated.

“As the city controller proved today, the mayor’s Proposition B claims cannot be trusted. His math, like his judgment, is driven by an obsession with punishing Houston firefighters,” Lancton said.

[…]

Brown and Turner’s estimates are nearly identical on the projected increase to firefighters’ base salaries and the associated increase in retirement benefits: that roughly 20 percent increase would cost about $65 million per year.

The two estimates differ mostly on various incentives and allowances known as “special pays,” some of which firefighters receive now but which parity would increase, and some of which firefighters would receive for the first time if voters approve the measure.

Not sure how a reduction in the cost estimate from $98 million to $85 million is a vindication of the firefighters’ case, especially when $85 million is still a pretty damn big number and Controller Brown calls it “unsustainable”, but maybe that’s just me. I continue to believe this thing is going to pass so I sure hope the cost estimates we are seeing are overblown, but all things being equal I’d rather not have to find out. Be that as it may, if you don’t know what to make of all this, go attend the not-a-forum and see what you think.

If you can’t win, cheat

This is some bullshit.

Harris County residents keen to vote in the upcoming midterm elections should be very careful about checking their mail. Recently, some residents of Third Ward received letters informing them of an address change they had not actually filed and which, if not answered, would put their franchise into suspension. It looks to be the result of a Republican-led challenge to thousands of Houston voters.

Lynn Lane, the well-respected Houston photographer who does a lot of theater and dance photography, almost threw the envelope away, thinking it was junk mail. Instead, it was from Ann Harris-Bennett, Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector & Voter Registrar. Though Lane has lived at his address for the past five years, his letter said otherwise. Furthermore, lack of response would cost him the right to vote.

It reads:

“If you do not respond at all to this notice, your registration will be canceled if you have not confirmed your address either by completing the response form or confirming your address when voting before November 30 following the second general election for state and county officers that occurs after the date the confirmation notice is mailed.”

Lane subsequently checked his voter registration and found that his voting rights were indeed listed as suspended. He says that a neighbor and others he had spoken to – who declined to be named in this story – had received similar letters.

“Something is definitely fishy with them trying to cancel voters registration stating our addresses have changed and if we don’t return these forms completed they will remove us from the registration it we will not be able to vote in November,” says Lane.

Archie Rose in Harris-Bennett’s office said that he suspected voter registration challenges were to blame when contacted for comment. According to Section 16 of the Texas Election Code, “a registered voter may challenge the registration of another voter.” Alan Vera, Chairman of the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee, has delivered 4,000 such challenges to Harris-Bennett’s office.

[…]

Lane’s letter is indicative that Vera and the Harris County Republican Party’s Ballot Security Committee’s movement has resulted in some lawfully registered voters in minority neighborhoods seeing their right to vote jeopardized. As the current system allows any registered voter to initiate such challenges against anyone they suspect or wish to accuse of improper registration, it is open to coordinated mob misuse.

“This is voter suppression at its finest,” says Lane. “And it’s also a waste of taxpayer dollars to send out all of these forms and then have us send them back to make sure we’re okay when we were okay before.”

Voters are encouraged to check their mail carefully in case they have also been challenged, and to make regular checks of the Secretary of State website to confirm their voter registration status. Anyone who receives a letter like Lane’s should respond promptly as instructed.

So, three things here. One, check yourself (choose “VUID and date of birth” for the Selection Criteria; your VUID is right there on your voter registration card) and tell everyone you know to check themselves. Two, the law in question being used to challenge these voters’ registrations needs to be tightened up. The person making the challenge must “state a specific qualification for registration that the challenged voter has not met based on the personal knowledge of the voter desiring to challenge the registration”, which seems awfully broad. Let’s define a standard of evidence here, and let’s include a penalty for making false claims. And three, while there may not be a prescribed remedy for someone who has been fraudulently challenged, I’m thinking a lawsuit against the perpetrators is in order anyway. Maybe file four thousand of them in JP court, for a bit of cosmic balance.

Be that as it may, this story deserves to be more thoroughly reported and widely known. It’s been all over Facebook among local Democrats, and the HCDP took notice as well. From an email sent out by HCDP Chair Lillie Schechter:

We were alerted yesterday that the voter registrations of nearly 4,000 democratic voters had been challenged by Republicans. Taking advantage of a loophole that allows challenged voter registrations to be placed on a suspense list requiring them to either update their address information online or complete a Statement of Residence at their polling place.

Making it harder to vote is one of the oldest tactics in the playbook of Republicans who are right now shaking in their boots at the thought of the expanding electorate and the coming blue wave.

HCDP is working to identify every democratic voter affected and alert them to this change in their registration status. We plan to contact them by mail and phone to ensure they have all the information needed to exercise their right to vote in November and beyond.

Good, and exactly what they need to do. It sucks that they have to do this, but that’s the world we live in, where people who have lived at the same address for years can have their voter registrations challenged by random assholes. Know what’s going on, and don’t let anyone disenfranchise you or someone you know.

Two upcoming candidate forums

Mark your calendars, Part I, for the CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum.

CD2 Democratic Primary Candidate Forum
Hosted by Humble Area Democrats, Kingwood Area Democrats, Spring Democratic Club, and Democracy for Houston

Tuesday, January 23 at 6 PM – 9 PM
Teamsters Local Union No. 988
4303 N Sam Houston Pkwy E, Houston, Texas 77032 (Map)

The Democratic Primary candidates, running for U.S. House Representative District 2, will participate in this moderated Forum to express their stances on important issues affecting constituents in Texas’ Congressional District 2.

Candidates (as they will appear on the ballot) are:

H.P. Parvizian, Ali A. Khorasani, Silky Malik, J. Darnell Jones, Todd Litton

The event begins with a Meet & Greet (6:00 pm – 6:45 pm)
The Forum will begin at 7 pm.
(Attendees will be offered an opportunity to submit questions, which will be answered, as time allows, at the end of the program.)

Come meet your candidates and discover where they stand on issues of importance to you. Visit representatives from each of our partners in this event to learn how you can get more involved.

Co-Hosts of this Forum are:

Humble Area Democrats
Kingwood Area Democrats
Spring Democratic Club
Democracy for Houston

Joining us to put this event together:

The Harris County Democratic Party
Indivisible TX-02 – Northeast

I’m publishing interviews of CD02 candidates beginning today, so you can get to know them before you go see them for yourself. We’ve all got a lot of important decisions to make this season, so we all need to do our due diligence.

And Part II:

See here for event details, and here for a map to the location. I’m not interviewing in any of these races at this time, though I may get to CD22 for the runoff, so you’re on your own. Get out there and meet some candidates.

Davila lawsuit over ballot access rejected

So much for that.

Diana Davila

Amidst claims of illegal signature gathering and improper mailers in an East End justice of the peace race, a visiting senior judge ruled against a Houston Independent School Board trustee in her suit against the county Democratic Party for rejecting her application to be on the primary ballot.

HISD Trustee’s Diana Davila’s lawsuit, filed last week, stated that she had submitted a petition to the Harris County Democratic Party containing 310 signatures that would qualify her to be on the ballot, but had omitted printing the name of the person circulating the petitions in an affidavit on a single line at the bottom of each petition.

The Democratic Party chairwoman rejected many of the signatures on that count. She said that she could not decipher the names registered as those collecting the signatures and said Davila could not be on the ballot.

Judge J.D. Langley conceded in a Thursday court hearing that may be a technicality, but said he was hesitant to upend the election process or reverse the Democratic Party chairwoman.

“The court should stay away from it,” Langley said.

He also cited state statute that he interpreted as Davila having passed the deadline to amend her forms.

See here for the background. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, it’s better to let candidates be on the ballot rather than disqualify them on small technical deficiencies in their applications. On the other hand, the requirements they have to meet are not onerous and the vast majority of candidates had no trouble with them. As noted in the story, Davila is not a first time candidate, and she knew what was needed. This isn’t that hard, and I can’t say I have a great deal of sympathy. Better luck next time.

Diana Davila sues over ballot rejection

There’s one of these every cycle.

Diana Davila

Diana Davila said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in state district court that her application to run for justice of the peace Precinct 6, Place 2 in the March primary election was inappropriately rejected by the Democratic Party.

The lawsuit states that Davila had submitted a petition containing 310 signatures that would qualify her to be on the ballot, but had omitted printing the name of the person circulating the petition on one line in the petition.

The name appeared elsewhere on the page and the petition was signed and notarized.

“The only thing that’s important is that this person signed their name before a notary,” said Davila’s attorney Keith Gross.

The lawsuit states that despite that omission, Davila should be allowed to run in the primary. She would face one challenger in the primary election, Angela Rodriguez.

In a statement, the Harris County Democratic Party stated that Rodriguez filed a complaint with the party about Davila’s paperwork. The party then followed up on the complaint and rejected Davila’s application because “the challenge appeared to be well founded.”

I don’t have a dog in this fight. The reason for the rejection may seem persnickety, but ballot applications have been rejected for reasons like this before. That doesn’t mean Davila won’t prevail in her lawsuit, just that the HCDP – which consulted with the Secretary of State’s office before making their decision – had a valid reason for rejecting her filing. We’ll see what the court makes of it.

Lillie Schechter elected HCDP Chair

Lillie Schechter

Six candidates were nominated for HCDP Chair at Sunday’s County Executive Committee meeting: Dominique Davis, Johnathan Miller, Chris Spellmon, Keryl Douglass, Eartha Jean Johnson, and Lillie Schechter. Each candidate was given two minutes for a speech in a pre-determined order, and the most interesting thing to come out of those speeches was candidates Spellmon and Douglass urging their supporters to cast their votes for Johnson. I presume this was a strategic move, to not split the vote among the three of them and give one candidate – Johnson – the best possible odds of making to a runoff. You may ask, as I did, why they just didn’t decline the nomination. Assuming they could decline the nominations, which may or may not be the case under the rules, being nominated meant they got to deliver those speeches and thus advocate for Johnson.

Not a bad plan, but it wasn’t enough. There were 359 current precinct chairs in attendance – afterwards, in the regular meeting, a bunch of new precinct chairs were inaugurated, but they were not eligible to vote in this election – and via the “division of the room” method we are all familiar with by now, Schechter emerged victorious in the first round, collecting 190 votes to Johnson’s 118; Miller had 30 and Davis 21. She was then sworn in by TDP Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, who was present for the meeting.

In the end, I supported Schechter. It was a tough choice – I liked all four of the candidates who asked for our votes – but in the end I decided Schechter had the best combination of priorities, experience, and fundraising abilities. She got off to a good start, calling all of the Chair candidates up to the dais and thanking them for their dedication. There’s always the possibility of bitterness after an election like this, but I didn’t get the sense there was any after this one. I hope that remains the case.

One promise all of the candidates made was to ensure the Party is fully funded for its day-to-day and campaign efforts, and to fill the empty precinct chair positions. The 359 chairs who voted were about 75% of active chairs at the time. There were others sworn in following the election as noted, but the grand total is still only about half of the total number of precincts, or maybe 60% of the precincts that have any real population in them. There’s plenty of room to grow, and that’s without mentioning the fact that some precinct chairs are more active than others. We will definitely have some objective data by which to judge Schechter’s tenure as Chair.

All in all, it was a good experience. I hope it’s a long time before I’m called upon again as a precinct chair to select someone for office. I’ve exercised enough power to last a lifetime, thanks. My thanks to now-former Chair Lane Lewis, and congratulations to Lillie Schechter. I think I speak for many when I say we hope for big things from you. The Chron has more.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Lillie Schechter

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Lillie Schechter

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I grew up in the Democratic party, whether I was marching with my cousins, chanting, “vote for Annie, she’s our granny,” as part of my grandmother’s successful bid for Tax Assessor-Collector in Hood County; block walking, making signs and working polls when my mom was the State Representative of District 134; working at the HCDP office in High School; attending or working at fundraisers hosted by my family; or working on my dad’s campaign for HCC Trustee.

Since 2009, I have run my own consulting firm, working with non-profits, organizations and helping progressive candidates in all areas of campaigning, from candidate training to fundraising and campaign strategy. I have had the pleasure to work and volunteer on campaigns in Houston, Pasadena and Galena Park, including races for United States Senator, State Senators, County Commissioner, Sheriff, City Council, Constable, School Board, Judicial, State Representative & Mayoral. I have had the fortune of working closely with some of the superstars of Texas and national Democratic politics, including Cecile Richards and Planned Parenthood, Wendy Davis, Leticia Van De Putte, and Hillary Clinton.

Regardless of the pleasure I’ve had to work on these efforts, my real passion has always been a solid blue Harris County. Since 2012, I have worked on a team effort to organize a coalition of elected officials, grassroots organizations, local and national donors and labor in order to push the County’s largest get-out-the-vote efforts ever. In 2016, it really paid off. Harris County Democratic voters turned out, electing all county-wide Democrats and giving Hillary Clinton the largest victory in Harris County of any Democratic Presidential candidate since LBJ.

In addition to working with the local party and with Democratic candidates, I gauged the need for a leadership-training program focused on growing, recruiting and training progressive candidates in Texas. After researching organizations across the country, I worked to bring Texas’s first chapter of the New Leader’s Council (NLC) to Houston. I raised money for the program and helped assemble an advisory board that has become a who’s who of local politics. NLC has thrived ever since, with twenty new progressives entering the program each year and chapters forming in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

I am running for HCDP chair because keeping Harris County blue and flipping Texas starts with having a strong local party. We not only need to elect more democrats in Texas, we also need to drive up the Democratic vote share in our largest counties so we can flip Texas as a whole. I don’t want to live in a state that denies people the right to public education, health care, a living wage and who separates families. As a 7th generation Texan, I want to live in and raise kids in a state that respects all its residents and provides every citizen a fair shot, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation, or citizenship status. My experience will enable me to hit the ground running on Day One and position the Harris County Democratic Party for gains in 2017, 2018 and beyond.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

HCDP has a strong core of dedicated volunteers, clubs, precinct chairs, and activists. HCDP in recent years has been able to dedicate time and resources into running a mail ballot program and we have indeed increased our share of Democratic mail ballot voters. To move forward, though, the Party needs to grow. The size and infrastructure of the Party should reflect the fact that Harris County is the 3rd largest county in the country and larger than 24 states.

In addition to doing mail ballots, the Party needs to expand its infrastructure to support the vast number of strong clubs and dedicated volunteers. This means expanding resources including training materials, and more group and one-on-one VAN trainings, increased number of staff, and making office space available when needed.

The first step toward creating a Party that reflects the size of Harris County is raising money. We need to expand our base of financial supporters. I want to grow the number of small dollar donors and large dollar donors. We can grow our base of small donors by being more active locally by increasing the frequency of in-person events, expanding our social media reach in order to get new people in the doors, and expanding our engagement and appreciation of small dollar donors who sacrifice what they can to make the Party better. We will grow our large dollar donations by creating a strategic plan that investors believe in. Increasing the amount of money raised through the Party can only be done through creating professional, goal-oriented plans with deliverable results.

In addition to building the HCDP infrastructure and raising money, we need to create a Party that works with the larger constellation of organizations that work to make Harris County more progressive, like AFL-CIO. We have no shortage of potential voters to contact in election years and no shortage of voters to register here in Harris County. No one organization can do all the work, but HCDP can collaborate and assist with other organizations to get us to our shared collective goal, not just keeping the county blue, but creating a more progressive county for us to live in.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media to keep my friends, family and followers up to date on my activities and to amplify the work and beliefs of those I support. In this capacity, HCDP’s social media footprint has been fairly well done, but as an organization social media is more than just an outlet to amplify ideas and notify followers of events, social media is a tool.

While likes are not equal to votes, they are a good way to get someone’s foot in the door who then comes to an event and eventually becomes a volunteer, and later a sustaining member. Social media needs to be used as a tool that increases our base and helps us reach our goal of building a bigger Party.

In addition to using social media as a tool to build our volunteer and donor base, social media is an emerging tool in voter contact. When talking to voters we must use the best medium to get our message through. For some that is a knock at their door, a phone call, or a piece of mail. For others, particularly younger voters and first time voters, social media is their chosen line of communication. Targeting voters on social media has come a long way and we no longer use it to cast a wide geographic net, but can use it to target specific individual voters. As Chair I will make sure that we are using social media in the most current, strategic and effective way possible to grow our base of volunteers, donors and voters.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

If there are progressive candidates on the ballot, HCDP should be involved. Organizing doesn’t only happen the months leading up to a November election in even years. From our work in Harris County, we have learned that we need to talk to voters year-round and voters from previous elections are easier to turn out for the next elections. This includes people who turned out for the first time in a Mayoral or odd year election.

That means turning out Democrats to vote in non-partisan races when there is a clear D-R match-up should be an integral part of our overall strategy for keeping Harris county blue and contributing to turning Texas blue.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

Improving Democratic turnout in ’18 starts this year. That means organizing voters in upcoming May and November elections and doing voter registration.

The key to winning in 2018, and 2020, and 2022 is voter registration. HCDP has the most valuable and underused resource when it comes to registration, our volunteers. As chair, I will increase the number of trainings done at HCDP and increase our outreach to our volunteers to let them know about other trainings.

In addition to working to get more HCDP volunteers trained as deputy registrars, I plan to make a calendar available and send emails about all events in the county where VDR’s can go and register voters.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am honored to be a part of a good group of candidates running for chair and am sure that our party will be stronger and in better shape after the election on March 5th. My extensive professional and volunteer experience working on every level of campaigns sets me apart from any other candidate. I know what it takes to create, fundraise, and implement multi-tiered campaign plans focused on door knocks, phones calls, mail and media in Harris county and have been involved in executing these efforts during multiple cycles. I have spent the last ten years building coalitions to support different campaigns and build the local Democratic Party.

This experience will allow me to put HCDP in a better position to organize toward the future from Day 1 and I look forward to being able to work with all allies in the county. I ask for your support to help elect me Chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party so that we can continue working together to keep Harris County Blue and flip the state.

You can also find out more at www.lillieforchair.com.

Date set for HCDP Chair election

From the Inbox:

Lane Lewis

Two months ago, I announced my intention to resign in February 2017. This will result in a vacancy, therefore we must move forward with a special election. The Precinct Chairs of Harris County will elect a replacement Chair at the next County Executive Committee Meeting.

I am confident that our Precinct Chairs will select the best candidate to serve as Party Chair. Keep an eye out for further emails with meeting location information in the next coming days. The CEC Meeting will be open to the public.

February 26, 2017 from 4:00 PM-6:00 PM: Public Forum to meet the individuals interested in consideration for the Harris County Democratic Party Chair position. The Forum will be hosted by the HCDP (All are welcome and public comment will be encouraged).

March 05, 2017 from 3:00 PM-6:00 PM: CEC Meeting to select the replacement Chair of the Harris County Democratic Party (All are welcome, but only Precinct Chairs currently listed on the Texas Secretary of State’s website are eligible to vote).

I will definitely be there for both. In the meantime, Lillie Schechter made her formal announcement for Chair, while Tomaro Bell dropped out and endorsed Schechter. Assuming that Art Pronin is still either on the fence or not going to get in, we have: Robert Collier, Eartha Jean Johnson, Lillie Schechter, Chris Spellmon, Dominique Davis, Keryl Douglass, Johnathan Miller, and Rony Escobar. I hope to have Q&A responses from all of them before the 26th.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Eartha Jean Johnson

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Eartha Jean Johnson

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

My name is Eartha Jean Johnson and I am an attorney and President and CEO of Risk Mitigation Worldwide (formerly, LegalWATCH), an award-winning risk mitigation company that helps executives reduce and prevent compliance sanctions, lawsuits and negative press associated with company policies, processes and employee actions and communications. We also have a family business, LJ5 Real Estate Development Company LLP. I am married to Lonnie Johnson, a former lobbyist and attorney. We have 3 children who are also attorneys, practicing here in Houston.

I have worked in politics in some form or fashion for more than three decades. I have served as a Telephone and Block Walking Canvasser, Election Protection volunteer, Poll Watcher, Deputy Voter Registrar and have traveled out of state to campaign. In addition, I have donated to candidates and worked on numerous Presidential and Judicial campaigns. Most recently, I organized Houston’s Women of Color for Hillary Clinton, which resulted in one of the largest reception turnouts of Women of Color for Hillary across the country. I also started the Turn Texas Blue Movement; an idea that turned into a movement, where we utilized innovative ideas and approaches that significantly increased the number of registered voters, mail in ballots, and voter turnout for the November 2016 election.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

Harris County needs a leader who: 1) is selfless and has strong leadership skills, 2) is inclusive and can work across the aisles and with all personalities; 3) is an independent thinker and fighter; 4) can raise money; and 6) most importantly, has the passion and enthusiasm to motivate people to action and get results.

I am that person and have demonstrated performance to show it. As Chair, I pledge to bring innovative approaches, experience, fundraising skills and most importantly a detailed plan to move the party forward. Not only will we have a well-funded Harris County Democratic Party, we will be a more inclusive and collaborative Party, with an infrastructure that will position us to play more offense than defense. Like Martin had a dream for the world, I have a dream for the Democratic Party.

I offer my hands to work every day to unify our party, raise money and get Democrats elected; I offer my voice to make sure our concerns are heard; and I offer my heart to be a passionate, dedicated and relentless advocate as our Party Chair. Together we will make Harris County Democratic Party a model for our country.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Harris County has a strong Democratic base and awesome community and association leaders dedicated to doing everything in their power to keep Harris County blue. What HCDP needs to move forward is to capitalize on the strengths we have and unite and collaborate with Democratic Clubs, and with Community and Trade Associations across the county to devise a well thought out blueprint to build an inclusive, efficient, self-sustaining infrastructure that produces by far more successful than unsuccessful candidates. The days of uncontested Republican races are over. We will not only have individuals competing for every race on the ballot; we will have individuals who are competitive and understand what it takes to run a campaign and to win the race. We will put our money and support behind each candidate, from School Board to Congress.

In addition, it is essential we get our youth and young adults engaged and actively participating. We must begin by providing them with seats at the table and make every effort to fill vacant Precinct Chair positions with young adults; this way we will begin to build a pipeline of our Democratic leaders of tomorrow. We also need to form a Harris County Democratic Party Young Democrats Division, and allow our youth to set the young adult agenda, and develop programs and events to motivate and excite other youth to get involved and engaged.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

I use social media more as an informational tool to keep up with friends and on community issues and use social media as a conduit to voice my opinions on controversial issues in the press.

The use of social media and technology should be one of our organizations’ primary outreach platforms.

We must use social media and other technology to keep our constituents informed and engaged, i.e., solicit thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We should also use it as a vehicle to recruit and train candidates and as a conduit to notify our base of open position on the ballot. We can also use social media to poll our constituents on controversial issues and provide a chat room for open discussions on political issues, as well as to solicit thoughts and opinion on the future direction of our party. Additionally, we can use social media to provide monthly webinars to keep everyone informed and engaged. Finally, if elected, I plan to use social media to implement my 20.18 Plan fundraising initiative (see response to question 6).

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc.)?

We should support candidates who are independent thinkers and best align with our Party’s democratic ideas and values.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

If elected, we will continue the programs we initiated with the Turn Texas Blue Movement and implement the 20.18 Plan.

Turn Texas Blue Movement Internalized Voter Registration Initiative – Our goal was to get barber and beauty shop owners, church members, trade association employees, individuals living in senior living and assisted living facilities deputized so they could register voters on a continuous and ongoing basis. Our vision was get so many people deputized within businesses and organizations that a person couldn’t go within 5 miles of their homes without seeing a sign saying, “You can Register to Vote Here.”

Enhanced Voter Registration – By capturing email addresses, we notified voters when early voting began, provided a link to early voting locations and sent daily countdown reminders to increase the likelihood they would vote.

Mail in Ballot Initiatives

We will continue the Turn Texas Blue Movement, “Out of County College and University Initiative.” As part of this initiative, we reached out to colleges and universities, both in and out of state, with large populations of Texas residents and implemented a coordinated mail in ballot campaign, which resulted in over a 1000 mail in ballots.

We will also continue our Courthouse and Jail Voter Registration Campaigns – We registered voters as they entered and exited courthouses and notified past felons of their right to vote if they were off papers. We also had an initiative to register eligible individuals who were confined in jail.

Our Funding Source – The 2018 Plan

In 2016, Bernie Sanders raised a record $234,000,000 dollars, with an average contribution of $27.00. Bernie could raise the money because he was passionate about the things he fought for and got his base excited. Not only did Bernie’s constituents give, they became active and engaged. For the Harris County Democratic Party to improve our voter turnout, we need a Chair who can motivate our base AND get our young adults excited and involved, while holding onto those who have carried this party for decades. If we do this, we will have no problem raising money. Like Bernie, I have that fire and passion and a proven record of accomplishment starting a movement and getting people excited.

If elected, we will implement the 20.18 Plan to fund the total upgrade of the Harris County Democratic Party. The 20.18 Plan calls for getting 20% of Democrats who voted in the 2016 election to contribute a mere $20.18 per year, which will result in us raising over $5 million dollars by 2018. This will help us fund our mission to take back Democratic control of all local and state races in 2018. We will no longer just survive, but will thrive.

We will not only use the money to recruit and prepare candidates, we will use it to support Democratic candidates in every race, from school board to congress. No longer will we make it cost prohibited for judges to run for office. We will help them shoulder the financial burden and assist with their campaigns. Our goal is to make it easier for great candidates to run.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I have gotten to know most of my opponents and have come to respect and admire them. I believe, if successful, they will do a good job. What sets me apart from my opponents, however, are my innovative ideas and passion, which people tell me is infectious. It is my passion and God given ability to motivate people to act that will make all the difference. Like Bernie taught us, when you excite and motivate your constituents, not only will they get engaged, they will contribute. There is no other candidate in this race with my level of experience, fundraising abilities, leadership skills, and most importantly, passion to motivate others to act. It is the passion that makes the difference between good and great.

HCDP Chair Q&A: Robert Collier

(Note: I have sent out a brief Q&A to all of the announced HCDP Chair candidates for whom I could find contact information. I will run the responses I get in the order I receive them. While only precinct chairs will vote on the new Chair, I believe everyone should have some basic information about the candidates.)

Rob Collier

1. Who are you, and what is your background/experience in Democratic politics?

I am Robert Collier. I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi and I am one of three siblings of Donnell and Dorothy Ann Collier. I am a product of a long list of staunch Democrats, civil rights activist, and community organizations such as Upward Bound. As a child, I witnessed KKK rallies in Jackson and the oppression of those without the means to fight back. I wanted to fight back, and the Democratic Party became my hammer. Like so many others, I became active in the Democratic Party in college, where I eventually became President. As President, I organized and mobilized students around issues such as police brutality, elections, and protests. I even managed to convince Jane Goodall to come to campus to promote her Roots and Shoots program to highlight the significance of environmental issues. I also wanted to become an attorney to hone my skills as an advocate. After college, I enrolled in law school.

In 2005, while in law school, I founded the Thurgood Marshall Democratic Club. I clerked for U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson and the U.S. Homeland Security Committee. I had an opportunity to work there full-time, but declined because I realized D.C. politics was very different than local politics. After law school, I became a member of Meyerland Dems and eventually a Precinct Chair. I also served on the standing committee as Finance and Fundraising Chair for over 2 1⁄2 years. Moreover, in the last five years, I have hosted fundraisers and contributed to support candidates and advance the Democratic agenda. Most recently, I supported my wife, Rabeea Collier, in her campaign to become a judge in Harris County.

2. Why are you running to be HCDP Chair?

We are the last line of defense for so many working families. If we fail, it will have a direct impact on families. Further, I don’t want to see the Party used to narrowly further the agenda of an individual or group of individuals. I want to see the Party flourish and advance all of our mutual interests; and to serve as a reminder of why we do what we do. Moreover, we have to transform into more than a political party, we have to become a community-service oriented organization. We have to show the community that we not only care about their vote, but we care about them. That’s why I’m running and I need your support.

3. What is your assessment of the HCDP today, and what does it need to do going forward?

Operationally, the Party is almost in the same position it has been in for years. We are under-utilizing our supporters’ talents. I believe the membership of most clubs and associations are burnt-out; and the current problems with the Party are accelerating that frustration and fatigue. We have to use technology to assist with a coordinated effort and communication. The Party is understaffed and under-capitalized, and we have to develop a long-term business plan of our goals and how we plan to grow as an organization.

Fragmented Effort. Due to the lack of strategic leadership and communication of our vision, our supporters are involved in so many different groups and grassroots issues. We have to provide a clear focus and road map of how we become successful. Our members are constantly being pulled in several directions, therefore it is imperative we communicate to them in advance when and how the Party will rely on their support. Further, due to limited resources, time, and volunteers, we have to become focused. I believe we can solve that by providing tactical and strategic leadership to our members.

Campaign Strategy. In my opinion, we have relied on two main strategies that I will refer to as the “top-of-the-ticket” and “straight-ticket” strategies, and for good reason. I believe the mid-term elections are a really good gauge of the effectiveness of our campaign strategy. The victory margins for Republicans have been roughly between 2%-10%, with the last election being roughly 2%. We have focused on multi-cultural issues, and that has helped us build strong coalitions, but it has also divided the Party. How do we advance the interest of one demographic of the Party without alienating another? We reclaim our identity as the Party for working families and labor. If I am elected, we will focus our campaigning, branding and messaging around working families and the economic realities that we all face. We have to tackle pocketbook and kitchen table issues.

My grassroots target audience will be the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. My geographic focus will be Kingwood, Spring and Katy areas. If we can penetrate the suburban areas of Harris County with strong messaging regarding the Republicans’ attack on public education and working families, we can win.

Lastly, building on the momentum of the presidential campaigns, I want to heavily focus on the 18-35 generation. We’ve been talking about increasing the involvement of young people for some time, but our membership of this demographic hasn’t changed in a meaningful way. If there was ever a time to have a significant outreach effort to this demographic, it would be right now.

Throughout 2017, we will be planning, recruiting and training candidates and precinct chairs; fundraising; and expanding our community engagement. In 2018, we will begin to focus on our core base and implementing our GOTV strategy. We don’t have a lot of time, and there is a lot of work to do. I have the experience and skill set to hit the ground running.

Fundraising. As a former Finance and Fundraising HCDP Chair, I have coordinated and assisted in organizing small dollar events for the Party across Harris County. That experience has taught me that the strategy cannot be the cornerstone of growing the Party. Additionally, we are severely exhausting the resources of our members when we only target our candidates, elected officials and members to support our fundraising events and campaigns. We have to align our fundraising events with our community engagement; and target an expanded community for fundraising.

I recently served as the national Finance and Fundraising Chair for the National Bar Association, the association of black attorneys that advocates for civil rights. I coordinated and assisted the organization in raising roughly $2.5 million dollars. I highlight this experience because it involved developing a strategy, building a consensus among strong personalities, and effectively executing that strategy. For my efforts, I was awarded the NBA’s highest award, the President’s Award. If elected, I will explore similar fundamental strategies that will lead to our success.

4. How do you use social media? How should the HCDP be using social media?

My plan is to utilize our members and young supporters who are technologically inclined and to start a committee whose sole focus will be to expand our social media and online campaign efforts.

5. What kind of involvement should the HCDP have in non-partisan races (city council, school board, etc)?

Our Party is based on our values and ideas. They bind us together. We exists not just to get candidates elected, but to get Democratic candidates elected who will help us advance our values. There are a lot of non-partisan races that directly touch issues we care about such as public education and affordable property taxes. Furthermore, if I’m elected, we will get more involved in policy issues in a systematic and strategic way.

6. What is your plan to improve Democratic turnout in 2018?

We have 8-10 months in 2017 to develop a strategy, recruit candidates and precinct chairs, and educate supporters why mid-term elections matter. The branding and messaging that we implement in 2017 will be the branding and messaging for the 2018 elections. We will focus on an issue-oriented campaign and Trump’s policies that attack our core base. I want to focus on the issues that matter to the 18-40 age demographic, blue-collar workers, and women. In addition to the “top-of-the-ticket” strategy, I want us to dig deeper and develop a segmented campaign, both geographically and demographically, that will address the issues that matter most to our core base and Democratic leaning supporters. Further, I will work to develop and implement a coordination strategy among our progressive groups that will help us all to utilize our resources effectively. You can learn more at www.robcollier.com.

7. Why should precinct chairs support you to be the next HCDP Chair and not one of your opponents?

I am product of HCDP. In addition to serving in leadership positions within HCDP, I serve and have served in leadership positions in Houston and nationally. I’m ready to hit the ground running.

Based upon my experience in the HCDP office and working with the coordinated campaign political director, I have an appreciation for the Party dynamics and the Chair’s responsibilities including not only managing a campaign and outreach, but also managing state and federal regulatory compliance, balancing a budget, managing cash flow, fundraising, coordinating primary elections and etc. I think a lot of the candidates have passion, but I think my experience and clear vision sets me apart.

Further, there are candidates that have a skill set, but they have an agenda that I think will ultimately be corrosive to the Party. We are a Party that volunteers and makes change happen from the bottom up, and the election of our Chair should be no different. I think the Chair should be an idealist, skilled, and experienced Party volunteer.

I believe Precinct Chairs should support me because I have the passion, leadership and experience, both professionally and within the Democratic Party, to lead the Party. I have served HCDP as a Precinct Chair, a Fundraising Chair, Recount Committee Chair, pro-bono attorney, donor, senate district delegate and convention organizer, among other capacities. I recently supported my wife in running for judge from beginning to end, so I know how the Party can better serve our candidates. In all my years of being involved with the Party, I have never asked a candidate nor the Party to pay for my professional services or time provided to the Party. Moreover, I have raised thousands of dollars for candidates and I have never asked a single candidate for something in return, other than to serve well. I don’t have an agenda, other than to serve the Party faithfully. If you are looking for such a candidate, I ask for your support. Let’s move forward, not backwards.

Still more HCDP Chair hopefuls

From the inbox, from precinct chair Sterling Camp:

Lane Lewis

10 Possible County Chair Candidates

I’ve been emailed that Keryl Douglas, former executive director of Houston NAACP, will be running for County Chair. The list grows to 10.

Tomaro Bell
Robert Collier
Dominique Davis
Keryl Douglas
Rony Escobar
Eartha Jean Johnson
Johnathan F. Miller
Art Pronin (considering)
Lillie Schechter
Chris Spellmon

SD17 Forum Moved to Feb. 9

The SD17 County Chair Forum has been changed to Thursday, Feb. 9. All are welcome to attend. Further details to be provided.

Special Election Meeting

I called the office, identified myself, and asked for when the meeting to elect the new County Chair is. The staff who answered the phone said that it has not been decided yet, and Precinct Chairs will be emailed when it is scheduled. So we still do not know when the meeting is.

Here’s Camp’s previous email, which contains information about the qualifications one needs to have to be a county party chair. I will make plans to attend that forum, which is being organized by SD17 Chair Tom Gederberg. I would note at this time that this race, like the ones last year for nominations to be County Commissioner and all that other stuff, will be decided by precinct chairs. What that means is that as was the case with those “races” last year, the only candidates will be those who are nominated during the selection process by a precinct chair, and what that means is that some number of people who say they are running will wind up on the sidelines when the actual vote takes place. That’s how it went with County Commissioner and SD13, where several of the announced candidates, some of whom participated in candidate forums, were never officially put up for consideration.

Which is why I’m a little puzzled that there hasn’t been more outreach from the candidates yet. I have received a couple of emails from Eartha Johnson, and both she and Rony Escobar were at a meeting of the Spring Branch Dems on Wednesday, where I had been invited to speak. I’ve now also received an email from Robert Collier, but so far that’s it. There are multiple people on that list above who have good resumes, but no clear frontrunners. Most if not all of them will need to introduce themselves and make a case for themselves to the precinct chairs. I hope we get more of that soon.

What I’m looking for in the next HCDP Chair

Lane Lewis

Following up on yesterday’s post, here are a few issues I’ve been thinking about regarding the position of HCDP Chair.

1. Focus on voter registration

My main takeaway from this past election is that Harris County is now fundamentally blue, with the majority of new voters coming into the county being more likely to be Democrats. By “new voters”, I mean people who move here, people who turn 18, and people who become citizens, so they are eligible to vote but have to actually register to do so. It needs to be our priority to make sure that they do. There are also a lot of people who move within the county every year and need to update their registrations, and there are still people who could be registered but aren’t. It should be the party’s goal, especially now that we have a friendly person overseeing the registration process, to maximize the voter rolls.

2. Expand the vote-by-mail outreach project (maybe)

There has been a focus under Chair Lewis to get more eligible Democrats to vote by mail. It has been successful by any measure, though I don’t know the details behind it. Specifically, I don’t know how many of these mail voters are people who had reliably voted in person before, and how many are new or lower-propensity voters. I’d like to hear how the Chair candidates evaluate this effort and what they would do to improve and expand it, if they think that is a good idea.

3. Continue the focus on “other” elections

Under Chair Lewis, the party has provided basic information about candidates in Houston municipal races – what their voting history is, who is or is not a sustaining member of the HCDP, etc. It has also done some advocacy for candidates in races where there is a clear choice between a lone Democratic candidate and one or more non-Democrats. This should definitely continue, and it should also be expanded, to include the various school board races, HCC and Lone Star College, and municipal races in other Harris County cities. The May elections in Pasadena should be a particular point of interest for the HCDP.

4. Think more regionally

Democrats did about as well as they could have in Harris County in 2016. I feel pretty good about making gains in 2018, though of course there are a lot of things that can and will affect how that election will go that have yet to play out. At some point, to continue the momentum, we are going to need to be more involved in races that go beyond our borders. Examples include the First and 14th Courts of Appeals, and multi-county districts like SD17 and CD22. Fort Bend and to a lesser extent Brazoria County are becoming more Democratic in part because they are more like Harris County in nature – more urban, and more attractive to the kind of person who tends to vote our way. We should seek to work more closely with our counterparts in neighboring counties to help maximize Democratic performance not just in Harris County but in the greater Houston region.

This is all high-level bullet point stuff, and there are more things that need to be in the discussion, but this is what I’ve been thinking about. I do intend to send out a Q&A to Chair hopefuls, to get a better idea of where they stand on things. If nothing else, I’ll need to make up my own mind about whom to support. What do you want the next Chair to focus on?

So who is running to succeed Lane Lewis as HCDP Chair?

Lane Lewis

It has been over a month since Lane Lewis announced his impemding departure as HCDP Chair. Since then, I have been asked by multiple people if I have heard from any potential candidates to replace him. My answer has been, and as of this morning continues to be, no I have not. I presume that with the holidays and the preparations for the Legislative session and the resistance to the Trump regime, this has been somewhat of a back burner item for people. That said, there will be a County Executive Committee meeting for the HCDP in February (date and time not yet scheduled, but we know it’s coming), at which precinct chairs will vote to name a successor. I have to assume that some time between now and then, the interested parties will make themselves known to the chairs and will ask them for their support.

In the meantime, I have now heard a few names mentioned as possibilities. The following are the names I have heard mentioned by more than one person:

Rony Escobar
Dominique Davis
Chris Spellmon
Lillie Schechter
Art Pronin

Lillie Schechter is a political consultant who has worked with Sen. Sylvia Garcia, CM Jerry Davis, former Council candidate Tom McCasland, and others. Her mother Sue Schechter was HCDP Chair in the late 90s-early 2000s, right before Gerry Birnberg. Art Pronin is the President of the Meyerland Democrats club, which is one of the more active clubs in the area. He’s the only person on this list that I have talked to so far, and isn’t committed to running but is thinking about it. He and Schechter are the two potential candidates that I know best. Davis is the Chief of Staff/Director of Operations of the HCDP, so she would clearly have plenty of experience going in. I’m sure I’ve met her but don’t know her beyond that. I don’t know Escobar or Spellmon at all. This email from the Meyerland Dems mentions the names Rob Collier and Tomaro Bell, whom I also don’t know. (The email actually says “Robin Collier”, but I have since received clarification that it is Rob Collier, whose wife Rabea was a candidate for judge in 2016.)

So that’s what I know at this time. I don’t have a preferred candidate yet, as I would like to hear from everyone and get an idea of what they have in mind to do as HCDP Chair. Tomorrow I will post about the sort of things I’d like to see our next HCDP Chair do.

UPDATE: One more name to add, Eartha Jean Johnson, who wins the distinction of being the first HCDP Chair hopeful to send me an official email of her candidacy.

Lane Lewis to step down as HCDP Chair

From the Inbox:

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

It has been 5 years to the month since you first elected me to be your Party Chair.

Over the last 5 years, our social media presence grew and enabled us to deliver our message to thousands more people; our fundraising increased and allowed us to have multiple full time staff all year every year; our mail ballot program went from non-existent to the most recognized in the state; we rebuilt strong relationships with our Union friends and engaged the resources of our Democratic Clubs especially in the suburbs; and we built an approach that the base is paramount and all Democrats need to be engaged regardless of where they live.

All of this came together this year and Democrats swept Harris County.

One of my campaign promises back in 2011 was to see us through the Presidential election of 2016 and I am immensely proud of all we have accomplished together. It is time for someone else to lead the Party and build on the successes we have had together.

Yesterday, I announced to the County Executive Committee of my intention to resign in February 2017.

I will call for a special election sometime in February (date to be announced soon). On that date, I will officially resign and the Precinct Chairs of Harris County will elect a replacement.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve, but we are not slowing down. We have coming up…

  • Early Voting: Dec 5th & 6th, and 10th Anne Sung, HISD Trustee District 7 Runoff (support a great Democrat and clearly the most qualified for the position) and Baytown Councilmember, District No. 3
  • Toast to A Blue Year: Thursday, December 8, 2016; 7:00 PM at Sterling House, Free admission for Precinct Chairs (come say thanks to all your 2016 candidates)
  • Harris Democrats University: mid-January 2016 (tentative) – (several of our students from the previous HDU won their elections in 2016 and/or worked on successful campaigns)

Thank you all for your support and service these many years!

Here’s the Chron story, which at this time doesn’t have any new information. This was announced at the Sunday CEC meeting, which I missed because I’m lame and had too many other things going on. I think Lewis has done a good job as HCDP Chair. Most people I talk to have a positive opinion of him, and the electoral results have been pretty good. The mail ballot program he instituted has been a success. Most importantly, there has been fairly little infighting, which is always a concern. There are still various fiefdoms within the county (and the state) that do their own thing and make it hard to tell who’s responsible for what – to be fair, I doubt any Chair could change this – and Lewis’ run for City Council in 2013 while still serving as Chair ruffled some feathers and opened questions about conflicts of interest that were never really addressed. I’d like to see the next Chair, whom I will get to help select, deal with that, and I’d like to see a more focused approach to stating and achieving our goals for 2018 and beyond. I will give some thoughts to what I want to see in the next HCDP Chair and write them up in the next few days. In the meantime, I’m sure I’ll be hearing from those who want to be that Chair shortly. My thanks to Lane Lewis for all his hard work at this often thankless job. Enjoy your retirement and best of luck at whatever comes next.

UPDATE: Here’s a later version of the Chron story, which does contain one mention of a potential candidate:

Names of potential successors swirled in Democratic circles Monday, but as of early evening, no one had confirmed an intent to run for what many see as a vital but often thankless post.

Personal injury lawyer Donna Roth, 58, and a thrice-unsuccessful state district judge candidate, said in an email that she is “interested in the position and will be giving it further consideration.”

As I said, I’m sure that interested parties will begin to make themselves known, especially to precinct chairs, in short order.

Sustaining the Harris County Democrats’ success

All things considered, I feel reasonably optimistic about Democratic prospects in Harris County going forward, but I felt that way in 2008 as well, so I certainly understand the inclination to be cautious.

Democrats swept Harris County last Tuesday in nothing short of a rout, claiming every countywide position on the ballot as Hillary Clinton toppled Donald Trump by more than 12 points – a larger margin of victory than George W. Bush enjoyed here in either of his presidential bids.

That edge – and the domino effect it had on local races – exceeded many Democrats’ most optimistic projections. It also fueled speculation that the nation’s largest swing county soon could be reliably blue.

Yet some on the left still worry that, absent Trump, the party’s decentralized coalition could make that transformation a tall order near-term, despite favorable demographic shifts.

“It’s not something that’s going to be sustained with the party infrastructure we have right now,” local Democratic direct mail vendor Ryan Slattery said, recalling the party’s trouncing in 2010, two years after President Barack Obama won the county. “You’ll always have this ebb and flow.”

Former Mayor Annise Parker agreed the party “has underperformed in the past” but was more hopeful.

“In this election cycle, both the Harris County Democratic Party in its official leadership and committed Democrats came together and we all played nicely,” Parker said. “The way we swept Harris County down here and knowing the way midterm elections generally go, it might be a pretty good place to be a Democrat in two years and even four years.”

[…]

Concurrently, the share of county residents who identified as Democrats rose steeply, to 48 percent from 35 percent, according to the Kinder Institute’s Houston Area Survey. The percentage of Republicans fell to 30 percent from 37 percent.

Democrats have harnessed that momentum in presidential election years but floundered in the interim, when Republicans capitalized on national political discontent and lower turnout.

After earning nearly 48,000 more straight-ticket votes than Republicans did in 2008, Democrats lost the straight-ticket vote by nearly 50,000 votes in 2010 and 44,000 votes in 2014. They earned nearly 3,000 more straight-ticket votes in 2012 and 70,000 this year.

I’ll repeat my mantra here: Conditions in 2018 are going to be different than they were in 2010 and 2014. I don’t know what they will be like, and it’s certainly possible they could be worse, but they pretty much have to be different by definition. I’ll also say again that after this election, it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are more Democrats in the county than there are Republicans. Doesn’t mean there will be more Democratic voters in a given election, and things can always change, but as they stand today we have a bigger pool than they do. Put aside the Hillary/Trump numbers, and consider that in this election, the average Republican judicial candidate received about 606,000 votes, and the average Democratic judicial candidate received about 661,000. There are more Ds than Rs.

One corollary of this is that Dems don’t necessarily need a boost in turnout, at least on a percentage basis, to have a bright outlook for 2018. Remember, the turnout rate this year was lower than it had been in 2012, but the sheer increase in voter registrations led to the higher turnout total. It’s my contention, based on the average judicial race numbers from 2012 to 2016, that the bulk of those new registrants were Dems. Base turnout is an issue in off year elections until the results show that it isn’t, but I believe we are starting out in a more favorable position than we have done before.

So with this in mind, here are the things I would recommend Democrats in Harris County do to get the kind of outcome we want in 2018:

– Don’t be discouraged by what happened nationally. That’s going to be hard, because there’s going to be a lot of bad things happening, and not a whole lot that can be done to stop it. What we need to do here is remember that old adage about acting locally, and channel the frustration and anger we will feel into local organizing and action. Harris County Democrats had a really good 2016. We can have a good 2018 as well. Let’s keep our focus on that.

– It all starts with the candidates. There are three important county offices that will need candidates – County Judge, which has now been complicated by Judge Ed Emmett’s announcement that he plans to run for re-election instead of retiring as had been thought, County Clerk, and Commissioner in Precinct 2. (Yes, District Clerk and County Treasurer are also on the ballot, but with all due respect they don’t have the ability to affect policy that these offices do. Also, HCDE At Large Trustee Diane Trautman will be up for re-election, but unless she decides to step down that candidacy will be accounted for.) I’m not going to get into the candidate speculation business right now – there will be plenty of time for that later – but we need good candidates, and we need to ensure that they fully engage in the primary process. The last thing we need is a Lloyd Oliver-style failure.

– I’ve talked about this several times over the years, but one thing that stands out in the 2016 data that I’ve seen so far is that the rising tide of Democratic voters didn’t just come from the traditional Democratic places, but from all over the county. The end result of that was that a lot of districts that had been previously seen as Republican were less so this year. That in turn means two things: One, there are more opportunities to make serious challenges in State Rep districts, in particular HDs 135, 138, 132, and 126. Lining up good candidates for these districts is a must. Two, we need to recognize that there are lots of Democrats in these and other Republican-held State Rep districts, and that we have to do at least as good a job connecting with them as we do with Dems in the places we know and are used to dealing with if we want to sustain and build on our gains from this year.

– That bit I said before about Dems not necessarily needing a big boost in turnout level to be in a winning position? The key to that was that even with turnout percentage being down a bit, the overall turnout total was higher, and the reason for that was the large increase in voter registration. We absolutely need to keep doing that. This may have been the secret to our success this year. Let’s not let up on it.

I can’t say Harris County Dems will be successful in 2018. Hell, at this point no one can say anything about the future with any degree of certainty. I’ve highlighted the things that I believe are important. There will be a lot to talk about and a lot to do before we get to any of that.

Appeals Court judge Terry Jennings switches parties

Cool.

Justice Terry Jennings

Justice Terry Jennings

It was just after presiding over a same-sex wedding, in January, that the formerly Republican Justice Terry Jennings, of the Texas First Court of Appeals, started thinking more seriously about changing his party affiliation.

Jennings had been considering becoming a Democrat for years as he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the way the Republican Party had trended toward the fringes, turning “moderate” into a dirty word, he said. And as his children, two daughters in college and a son in high school, continued to ask their dad why he still identified as a Republican, Jennings said the question continued to grow harder to answer.

Then came the wedding.

When others commented to him that deciding to preside over a same-sex wedding was a decision many other Republican judges may not have made, “that’s when I started thinking, Well maybe I’m not in the right party then,” Jennings told the Houston Press in an interview Monday.

The change-over makes him the only Democrat among the nine justices on the First Court of Appeals. Democrats make up just 12 of 73 jurists on the state’s 14 courts of appeal.

Jennings made the formal announcement at the Harris County Democratic Party’s Johnson, Rayburn and Richards fundraising dinner on Saturday evening, saying “today’s Republican Party has chosen a dark path I cannot take.” Elected in 2000 to the First Court of Appeals (which hears Harris County civil cases), Jennings said he was once proud to call himself a member of the Republican Party, and had always considered himself a conservative judge who applied the law just as it was written. Now, however, Jennings says his principles no longer align with those of the GOP.

“It’s just a party I didn’t feel comfortable being a member of anymore,” he told the Press. “You’ve heard the common expression a thousand times: I didn’t leave my party; my party left me. And it’s true.”

I got a blast email from HCDP Chair Lane Lewis about this on Monday. As you know, I’m hoping he’ll have some company on the 1st Court after this election. Whether that happens or not, his term is up in 2018, and as the story notes, he’s not sure if he wants to run for another term. Solving the turnout problem so that this is a question with more than one viable answer would be nice. In the meantime, welcome aboard, Justice Jennings. The Chron has more.

Once more on HD146

Christopher Hooks from the Observer was at Saturday’s festivities, and he files his report.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

And on Saturday, 24 precinct chairs met in a small room full of folding chairs at the Sunnyside Multi-Service Center in south Houston to pick Miles’ replacement. They adjudicated a fierce contest between [Shawn] Thierry and Erica Lee Carter, member of the Harris County Board of Education and, more importantly, daughter of longtime Houston congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Most years see no races resolved this way in Houston, but this year, there have been five such elections, including two minor judicial races. The campaigns to win them are very unusual. With the public completely out of the picture, candidates focus herculean efforts on pleasing the personal whims of precinct chairs, minor party functionaries who ordinarily have very little say in anything. And because Democratic nominees are essentially guaranteed a win in November in the five races so far resolved, and because incumbents can last a long time, this summer’s votes may be the last contested election Ellis, Miles and Thierry ever face.

[…]

Finally, the vote. In the first round of ballots, Blackmon took one chair, leaving Thierry with 12 and Lee Carter with 11. The lone Blackmon supporter, Craig Holtzclaw, would have to re-vote in the second round and act as a potential tiebreaker.

Bizarrely, committees like this are so rarely formed that party laws don’t really have any guidance about what to do in the event of a tied vote, apart from running the vote over and over again. If Holtzclaw had voted for Lee Carter in the second round, things could have gotten messy.

But he picked Thierry, who will now be heading to Austin soon with a sweeping mandate of two votes. Lee Carter’s dejected supporters left the room, and Thierry’s gathered to pray together, thanking God for the guidance he had shown members of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Afterwards, I talked to Holtzclaw, the tiebreaker, who said he had taken his responsibility seriously, talking to all three candidates for more than an hour apiece. “This is a unique opportunity to practice republican deliberation — as in, a real republic,” he said. During the interrogations, he had asked them to recount their personal stories, their accomplishments, dreams and hopes, “and then I gave them a long sermon on what I believe,” and measured their beliefs to his.

Holtzclaw made a decent case for what seems on the surface like a foolish system. He held, it turned out, the fate of House District 146 in his hands, and might have just selected its representation in Austin for many years. And he had done his homework.

But what is it Holtzclaw believes, exactly? “I am a LaRouche Democrat,” he said, as in yet another acolyte of the infamous semi-cult leader who thinks Obama is Hitler, has argued that the Queen of England controls the global drug trade, and who wants to colonize space. Ah.

Holtzclaw said he had voted for the candidates who communicated to him that they were willing to take elements of the LaRouche platform to Austin, namely, telling all those tea-party Texas Republicans that we need “big government investment in infrastructure.” That’s what LaRouche calls “the science of physical economy.”

Blackmon and Thierry, he said, had seemed to embrace that line more than Lee Carter. And that’s why she lost, in part.

See here for my writeup from Sunday. Let me start by noting that the same provision of electoral law cited by Gerry Birnberg to settle the tie for convention chair would have applied in the event of a tie between Thierry and Carter as well, which is to say that the winner would have been determined by a coin toss. Roll your eyes if you want, but it’s there in the law, and if you can think of a fairer way of resolving an electoral tie than that, I’m all ears.

Hooks’ article got shared around quite a bit yesterday, with no small amount of snarky commentary from people whom I did not see at any of these precinct chair meetings, all with something pithy to say about “turnout” and “process”. Let me point out that 24 out of 26 precinct chairs in attendance represents 92% turnout, which I’m pretty sure would beat any other election in recent memory you’d care to find. It beats the pants off of the usual turnout levels for special elections and their runoffs, which often struggle to break into double digits, and which draw the same kind of disdainful remarks about apathy and disengagement and so on and so forth. We get it already. At least the precinct chairs bothered to show up.

And though I used similar language in my own report, I don’t care for the framing that this one chair picked the next Representative. He put Shawn Thierry over the top, but she’d gotten to the top without him. Everybody else’s vote meant as much to her election, his just happened to be the last one counted.

Finally, as far as who will or won’t face competitive races going forward, I tend to agree that Rodney Ellis won’t see too many as Commissioner. Which is to say, he won’t face any more than El Franco Lee did, or that Ellis himself did as Senator. Borris Miles won’t face the voters again till 2020, and I feel confident saying that people will be watching him, to see if he can harness his considerable talents and keep his demons under control. The answers to those questions will determine whether he can coast next time or not. As for Thierry, I’ll say again that I fully expect her to be challenged in 2018. There’s no shortage of politicos in that district, and the obscure path she took to win the seat this time means that she hasn’t faced a true test there yet. I will be surprised if she gets to skate in two years.

Thierry wins HD146 nomination

Our long strange trip is finally over.

Shawn Thierry

Shawn Thierry

Democratic party precinct chairs chose their replacement Saturday morning for a vacant spot on the party’s November ballot. Attorney Shawn Thierry secured the nomination for House District 146, a seat left empty after a series of changes following the death of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee.

After Sen. Rodney Ellis was chosen to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, Rep. Boris Miles was tapped to fill Ellis’ legislative seat. This took Miles off the ballot for the District 146 seat, opening up the nomination.

Thierry, 47, edged out candidates Erica Lee Carter, a Harris County Board of Education trustee and daughter of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, and Larry Blackmon, a former educator and City Council candidate.

After one round of voting by raising hands, Thierry had 12 votes, Carter had 11 and Blackmon 1. This led to an immediate runoff between Thierry and Carter, with a request for a change of voting procedure. Instead of raising hands, precinct chairs stood in line next to their candidate of choice. This time, Thierry beat Carter by two votes.

I was there for this as promised, and there were sizable contingents for Thierry and Carter, the latter of which included her mother, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. Blackmon was the only other candidate present, at least as far as I know. If Valencia Williams was present, no one pointed her out to me, and as for James Donatto, I am told he had not lived in the district long enough to be eligible.

A sense for how things would be came during the vote to select a presiding chair for the convention. There were two nominees for Chair, Jill Moffitt and Priscilla Bloomquist. The vote to decide who would serve as Chair ended in a dead tie, 12 to 12. Gerry Birnberg, serving as Parliamentarian, then informed the room that per state election law, in the event of a tie the winner would be determined by the candidates “casting lots”. Which is to say, HCDP Chair Lane Lewis flipped a coin. Moffitt, as the first person nominated, called “Heads”. It came up Tails, so Bloomquist took over as Chair.

After getting the positions of Secretary, Parliamentarian, and Timekeeper settled, the three candidates were nominated – Thierry, Carter, and Blackmon, in that order. Each was given three minutes to speak (which they had agreed to beforehand), going in alphabetical order. Blackmon spoke of his service on various City committees, and of the need for a “medical corridor” in the district. Carter, who currently serves as HCDE Trustee from Precinct 1, emphasized that she already had experience fighting for the district and against the Tea Party; she specifically called out Sen. Paul Bettencourt and Rep. Debbie Riddle for trying to kill the HCDE and the services it provides. She also mentioned other priorities for the district, including health care and improving neighborhoods. Thierry touched on most of the same points as Carter while stressing her ties to the district, citing the schools in HD146 that she had attended. The Chron story says that among other things she said she plans to “focus on school vouchers”, which has to be in error; for one, I don’t remember her saying that word, and for two, she’d have been booed out of the room if she had. She did exceed her three minuts allotment by quite a bit, and more or less had the microphone taken from her by Chair Bloomquist.

The vote went as noted in the story, with Birnberg informing us that for these purposes, having exactly half the votes does not constitute a majority. What that meant in practice was that the deciding vote in the runoff was cast by the one precinct chair who had nominated and in the first round voted for Larry Blackmon. Had he gone over to Carter’s side, we’d have had another coin flip. But he didn’t, so Thierry got her majority. For what it’s worth, according to some of the people I spoke to, at least two of the three precinct chairs who were not in attendance (one was reportedly in the hospital, and the other at the hospital with her husband) had been in Carter’s camp. If just those two had shown up, it would have been 13-12-1 in the first round, with that same chair then forcing the coin toss he’d helped us avoid in these circumstances. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up.

So the summer of the precinct chair comes to a close. My congratulations to Shawn Thierry for the victory – I wish you all the best in Austin. As I said about HD139 after the lackluster turnout in the runoff for now-Rep. Jarvis Johnson, I will not be surprised if there is a lively primary in HD146 in two years. Heck, there have been lively primaries in HD146 nearly every cycle since 2006, so why should 2018 be an exception? But this November is between now and then, and that’s what really matters. The Trib and BOR have more.

HD146 nomination process is today

You know the drill.

Borris Miles

Borris Miles

Twenty-seven southwest Houston precinct chairs are set to tap a replacement for Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles on Saturday, the third time in less than two months many of them have convened to fill a hole on the party’s November ballot for non-judicial seats.

The vacancy is the latest result of former Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee’s death in January, which set off a chain of openings. Precinct chairs in June selected state Sen. Rodney Ellis to replace Lee as the Democratic nominee for Precinct 1 commissioner, and they later chose Miles to fill Ellis’ legislative seat.

At least four candidates are running to represent Miles’ district of more than 175,000, which stretches from Sharpstown to Sunnyside.

Harris County Board of Education Trustee Erica Lee Carter and attorney Shawn Theirry are seen as frontrunners, with former City Council candidate Larry Blackmon and activist Valencia Williams also seeking the Democratic nod for District 146.

[…]

Precinct chair Tiffany Hogue, of Brays Oaks, discussed the challenge of trying to represent the views of her constituents, as well as the opinions of those in surrounding areas who do not have a precinct chair.

“A process that people never expected to use has been used three times in the course of a month and a half,” referring to the Democratic Party meetings to replace Lee, Ellis and Miles.

“We’ve definitely seen some of the pros and cons of filling vacancies on ballots this way.”

See here for the background. As this is now the second sequel to the process to replace El Franco Lee on the ballot, there have been plenty of complaints about how we go about doing it. I don’t have a whole lot of patience for the complaints – everyone is welcome to address them to their legislators, along with their proposed alternative method – but it has been strange, and it has consumed a whole lot of time and energy.

The good news is that this was a particularly singular set of circumstances, whose like we will probably never see again. For that matter, I couldn’t tell you when this process was last used to fill a vacancy for something other than a newly-created office. The Republicans almost went through it back in 2006 when Tom DeLay tried to declare himself “ineligible” to run for re-election. He was later ruled to have withdrawn and could not be replaced, but until a final ruling came in there was candidate activity by various interested parties (then-State Rep. Bob Talton was considered the frontrunner) prior to what would have been the selection. Before that, I have no idea when this was last done. Anyone out there recall a previous instance?

Anyway. As before, you’re only actually running for this if someone nominates you, and for a 27-voter universe the old saw about every vote counting has never been more accurate. Erica Lee Carter, whom the Chron endorsed on Wednesday, would seem to be the favorite, but we won’t know till it’s over. I’ll have a report tomorrow.