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Houston

No free fares

For the best, I’d say.

Free fares appear to be a hard sell for Houston area transit officials, who said while they are open to exploring discounts, people boarding buses and trains will need to fork over $1.25 for the foreseeable future.

After a comprehensive analysis by Metropolitan Transit Authority staff, transit board members said removing fares from the system actually would increase agency costs by creating a need for more buses and operators, potentially to the tune of $170.6 million annually.

“It is just not feasible to do free fares,” Metro board member Jim Robinson said, echoing others on the board and in the transit agency.

[…]

Metro’s analysis concluded that ridership would jump from 86 million trips a year to an estimated 117 million if fares were eliminated altogether. Even offering free rides only during peak hours could boost ridership to around 100 million, the study found.

Those new riders, however, would come at a big cost, said Julie Fernandez, the transit agency’s lead management analyst. To handle the demand, Metro would need nearly 500 more vehicles, mostly buses, and 415 new operators. Such a sizable jump in vehicles and employees would require the agency to build a new bus operating facility to complement the existing six bus depots.

Even preparing the transit system for free rides would take four years, Fernandez said, adding, “it takes time to order new buses.”

The cost of going free prompted many Metro board officials to conclude it was not likely.

“It is easy to look at it and say ‘OK, it is such a small part of our budget’ but it is really more complicated than that,” Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said.

See here and here for the background. Metro says it will consider some other options like free fares for schoolchildren (they get discounted fares now), and Metro Chair Carrin Patman said this was a useful exercise while free-fare-advocate Tory Gattis said he was satisfied with the study Metro did. I agree this was worth considering, but in the end this was clearly the right call. Maybe a smaller version of this makes sense, maybe sometime in the future it makes sense, but for now Metro should focus on other things.

Despite the benefits of increased ridership, many of those urging Metro to expand service oppose the elimination of fares.

“When people don’t pay for something, there’s no value to it,” Oni Blair, executive director of LINK Houston, told Metro board members in December.

LINK works with low-income and minority communities to increase transit offerings, something Blair said could be stunted if Metro were to give up the roughly $70 million in annual fare revenues. Such a move also could delay efforts to expand service or add routes long-sought by some voters that overwhelmingly supported Metro’s $3.5 billion transit plan in November.

“Metro will risk the overwhelming support you have earned,” Blair said.

I agree completely.

Meet your Board of Managers wannabes

Lots of people want that gig.

[Frank] North is one of nearly 250 people who applied for positions on the prospective replacement board, which Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath plans to install in the coming months. Morath announced in November 2019 his intention to temporarily oust the elected school board, citing Wheatley High School’s seventh consecutive failing grade and multiple findings of misconduct involving current trustees, though a preliminary injunction issued last week and ongoing litigation could threaten those plans.

The applicants, according to a list provided by the TEA, represent a broad cross-section of the district, home to about 210,000 students from wide-ranging economic, ethnic, racial and social backgrounds. They include Houston ISD employees, former political candidates, business professionals, higher education staffers and advocates with children attending district schools.

Several candidates are well-known in civic and education circles, but most come with little to no public profile. Higher-visibility applicants include former HISD trustee Cathy Mincberg, former Houston Police Department interim chief Martha Montalvo, League of United Latin American Citizens leader Hugo Mojica and former HISD police chief Robert Mock.

[…]

State leaders will spend the next several weeks winnowing the list down to nine potential board members, conducting at least three rounds of interviews. Agency officials have said they want an ethnically, racially, geographically and socioeconomically diverse board of Houston residents with multiple skill sets. State law grants Morath the final authority on board selections.

The list released by state officials only includes first and last names of those who applied. The candidates’ work histories, educational backgrounds and personally identifiable information were not disclosed. TEA officials did not respond to questions about what information will be released as the screening process continues.

TEA officials wanted to install the board as early as this spring, but last week’s preliminary injunction blocks Morath from installing a replacement board while a lawsuit filed by HISD trustees seeking to stop their ouster is ongoing. Lawyers for the TEA immediately appealed the injunction ruling. A trial is set for late June.

As noted, the timetable here depends on the outcome of the litigation. The article contains more information about and quotes from a number of the applicants, presumably ones the Chron could identify either from their names or public statements they’ve made. I can understand limiting the data available about them for now, but we deserve full transparency going forward.

Back to the no-fares question

I remain skeptical, but we’ll see.

As it stands right now, most of METRO’s operating funds don’t come from the fares. The transit agency gets most of its money from a one-cent sales tax, which caught the attention of Harris County Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack.

Radack recently spoke before the METRO board on why the agency should consider free or reduced fares. He said that people are already paying for the transit service through the sales tax and a financial incentive for riding could get more people on board.

“And so if we just keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to build more freeways, we’re going to continue to do other forms of transportation, but at the end, it makes no sense to have buses only partially full running around,” said Radack.

[…]

METRO Chairman Carrin Patman said while fares aren’t a huge part of their budget, they’d have to figure out a way to make up that money if they stopped charging riders.

“I think what people don’t realize is there are unanticipated consequences of a free fare policy that we just need to fully consider before we went to it,” Patman told News 88.7.

And those consequences are what concern Oni Blair. She heads the transportation advocacy group LINK Houston. Blair said to get more riders, METRO needs to put its focus on other issues.

“It’s the little things we take for granted,” said Blair. “Does the bus come on time? Because if I’m trying to schedule my day I need to get there on time and know what to predict. Does the bus come frequently, so people don’t have to wait half an hour to an hour for the bus to come? Can I wait in dignity at a shelter that is accessible and safe for me?”

And Blair said that all those things cost money.

“The loss of revenue from the fares METRO currently has would undermine their other access to improving operations, improving customer service, improving all of those things,” said Blair. “If they don’t have that revenue they can’t address the things that people want.”

See here for my previously-stated concerns. Metro may not get much money from fares, but it does get some money from them, and that would have to be made up elsewhere, which is where I fear that political pressure, or interference from the state, could undermine this whole rationale. I’m of a similar mind as Oni Blair – the top priority needs to be making transit more accessible to more people. We also need to recognize that there’s a limit to how much we can grow transit ridership in this region as long as driving cars is the vastly-catered-to default. That’s a much bigger question, one that will take more than Metro to work out. For now, let’s try to make Metro the best it can be. Maybe that involves reducing or eliminating fares, but I think there are other options to work on first.

Luhnnow and Hinch suspended by MLB, then fired by Astros

Wow.

Did not age well

Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday shortly after Major League Baseball announced the pair would be suspended for a year as part of the penalties for the investigation into alleged electronic-sign stealing.

“Today is a very difficult day for the Houston Astros,” Astros owner Jim Crane said in a press conference Monday. “MLB did a very thorough investigation and the Astros fully cooperated and we accept their decisions and findings and penalties.”

The franchise also was stripped of its first- and second-round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined $5 million.

MLB’s report detailed the Astros’ efforts to steal signs in 2017 and laid out the punishment handed down to the Astros. Crane opted to go a step further.

“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise,” Crane said.

Well, at least the Astros found a way to make everyone forget about the Texans’ playoff disaster. The full report is embedded in the story, and it’s not long, so go read the whole thing. (Or just read the highlights here, but really, read the whole thing.) I’d say this was on the high end of what I thought might happen, but it’s not out of line with my expectations. The key is that the activity continued to occur after the 2017 Red Sox Apple Watch incident, in which Commissioner Manfred (the author of the report) explicitly promised strong punishment if anyone was caught doing stuff like that again. If I’m Alex Cora, who was directly named as a mastermind behind the scheme and is now the manager of another team under investigation I’m probably not sleeping well right now. We can debate at length whether this was fitting or not, or if any punishment is worth winning a World Series, or just put on some oven mitts and read Twitter about it. Let’s just say 2020 is off to a rough start for Houston sports fans.

This also wrapped up the Brandon Taubman investigation – he too was suspended for a year, and will have to apply to the Commissioner’s office for reinstatement. He was also singled out in the report for some sharp rebukes. I’ll be thinking about all this for some time. The Press has more.

UPDATE: This did not age well.

Allegations of electronic sign-stealing “surprised” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who acknowledged Saturday he has participated in and cooperated with Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into his team.

Appearing at an autograph show alongside Alex Bregman and George Springer, Correa offered the most elaborate comments of any Houston player since the scandal broke last November.

Correa expressed little worry about the organization’s reputation and no thought the 2017 World Series title is in any way tainted. He revealed subtle antipathy toward former teammate Mike Fiers, whose on-the-record allegations about the 2017 team’s actions spurred the investigation.

“He’s a grown man, and he can do whatever he wants to do. It’s a free country,” Correa said. “Knowing Fiers, it was surprising, because we were a team. We were a team. We were all together, and we had a bond, and we won a World Series championship. But this is America, the land of the free. You can say what you want to say.”

I’d say at least a little worry about the team’s reputation is in order at this time. There’s no evidence to suggest that the sign stealing actually benefited the Astros, but that doesn’t matter. Fair or not, this scandal will forever be associated with that title.

Abbott opts out of accepting refugees

Sadly, not a surprise.

Gov. Greg Abbott informed the U.S. State Department that Texas will not participate in the refugee resettlement program this fiscal year.

The decision comes after more than 40 other governors, including several Republicans, said they would opt in to the federal refugee resettlement program. Resettlement agencies need written consent from states and local governments by Jan. 21. The Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order that requires written consent from states and local entities before they resettle refugees within their boundaries.

The news was first reported by The Daily Wire and later confirmed by the governor’s office. The AP reported that Texas is the first state to opt out of the program.

Abbott said the state and nonprofit organizations should concentrate resources on those already here, according to a letter the governor sent to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“At this time, the state and nonprofit organizations have a responsibility to dedicate available resources to those who are already here, including refugees, migrants, and the homeless—indeed, all Texans,” he wrote.

Refugee advocacy groups condemned the move.

“This is a deeply disappointing decision — although not surprising given Texas’ previous but unsuccessful opposition to refugee resettlement a few years ago,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “This is precisely why we filed a lawsuit against President Trump’s unlawful executive order, and we are confident that justice will be served.”

See here for the background. Abbott’s actions not only set him apart from multiple other Republican governors, but also contradicts what many cities and counties in Texas asked for. There are two things I want out of life right now. One is for these terrible, amoral cowards who now hold office to be voted out at the next opportunity. The other is for them all to never be described in terms that attribute positive values to the religious faith they claim to practice. You want to be known as a moral, upright person? Act like one, or get the hell out. The Chron has more.

TEA appeals takeover-delay injunction

This isn’t settled just yet.

Texas Education Agency officials said they filed an appeal Thursday to overturn an injunction by a Travis County judge blocking it from replacing Houston ISD’s trustees with a state-appointed board of managers.

The appeal was sent to the Austin-based Third Court of Appeals, and if a panel of judges sides with the agency, it could resume its work to strip Houston ISD’s board of power.

If the injunction is upheld, the TEA would not be able to move forward until a lawsuit by the Houston ISD board of trustees has been decided. Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy on Wednesday set a hearing date for June 22.

[…]

Shepherd ISD, a small school district just south of Lake Livingston also is targeted for a board takeover by the TEA. That district also sought a temporary injunction this year to stop the education agency takeover. On Thursday, Travis County District Judge Karin Crump denied that application for an injunction.

HB 1842 was not the TEA’s only potential option to replace Houston ISD’s board. It could sanction the district over the state investigation. State law also allows the TEA to take over the board if a district has had a TEA conservator for two or more years.

HISD attorneys argue that the TEA’s investigation was biased and that because the TEA conservator was assigned to one campus, and not the district as a whole, her presence would not trigger a takeover.

The injunction by Judge Mauzy also blocks the TEA from acting under either of those rules.

See here for the background. The conventional wisdom seems to be that while the Third Court of Appeals may uphold the injunction, the all-Republican Supreme Court may be more favorable to the TEA. Make of that what you will. Time could be a factor, depending on how long it takes each court to hear and rule on the appeals. Honestly, I hope this gets decided on the merits in a timely fashion. Whatever the outcome, having some extra clarity on the law would be a good thing.

Who might run for Mayor in 2023?

Mayor Sylvester Turner

So Election 2019 is (modulo District B) safely in the books, and Sylvester Turner is in office for his second and final term. In years past at this time I’d be taking a look ahead at the next city election – who’s termed out, who could be vulnerable, who might be priming for a run, etc – but with the next election not until 2023 that seems like a stretch. We can start thinking about who might throw their hat into the ring for Mayor, however. The field in 2015 was quite large, and I’d expect something similar in 2023. Houston Mayor is a prime gig, and it doesn’t come open very often.

I’m going to run down a list of names that seem like potential contenders. I want to stress that this list is entirely the product of my imagination. I have no inside knowledge of anyone’s intentions, and I make no warranty on any of these claims. I’m just thinking out loud. So with that in mind…

Chris Brown – He’s the current City Controller, he’s won twice citywide (which among other things means he’ll be term-limited and thus would need to run for something else, if he wants to stay in city elected office), he’s a strong fundraiser, he’s got a long history in city politics. Annise Parker and Kathy Whitmire were both Controllers before they were Mayors. He does have a bit of baggage, and his win over Orlando Sanchez was not by much, but if there’s one person on this list who would surprise me by not running, it would be Chris Brown.

State Sen. Carol Alvarado – Served three terms as Council member in District I and was Bill White’s Mayor Pro Tem before winning election to the Lege in 2008, and continues to be involved with city issues as a legislator. If she has statewide ambitions – and as a young Senator looking at a Democratic-trending state, she should – Mayor of Houston would enable her to run from a bigger base. Legislators have been elected Mayor in various cities recently, including Dee Margo (El Paso), Eric Johnson (Dallas), and of course Mayor Turner. As an incumbent, she’d be in a strong position to build up a campaign treasury in advance of running, as Turner did in 2015. The main negative here is the old story of Latinos having a hard time winning citywide elections, but someone is going to break through, and being a veteran establishment Democratic elected official is a good way to get there.

Amanda Edwards – OK, sure, she’s running for US Senate now, but so are multiple other viable candidates, only one of whom can survive the primary, never mind the uphill battle that would follow. While she would certainly prefer to be well into her first term in Washington, it’s hardly crazy or insulting to say she might be available for this race. She was an At Large Council member, one who I thought would have been in a decent position to run for Mayor this year anyway before she changed course, with a strong fundraising history. Running statewide, especially for a federal office, is a great way to vastly expand your donor base. She may well be done with city politics regardless of what happens this year, but I’d be remiss if I left her off this list.

State Rep. Sarah Davis and State Rep. Jim Murphy – Both are incumbent Republican State Reps, and I’m lumping them together here. Davis has a decent chance of losing this year, and while Murphy will be a favorite to win in 2020, he may find himself in the House minority, and decide it’s not to his liking. Houston is a Democratic city, but as establishment, business-friendly, moderate-by-modern-GOP-standards Republicans, you could imagine one of them at least making it to a runoff in the way Bill King did in 2015, and if things broke right, they could win. As with everyone else on this list they can raise plenty of money, and if Texas is still run by Republicans in 2023 they could argue that they’re better positioned to defend our local autonomy better than any Dem running.

Abbie Kamin – I know, she was just elected to District C, and incumbent Council members don’t have a strong track record in Mayoral races (Dwight Boykins, Steve Costello, Peter Brown, Orlando Sanchez, Chris Bell, Helen Huey, Gracie Saenz…you get the point), but in both the November and December races her performance was impressive, she was one of the best fundraisers of the cycle, and having District C as your base is a pretty good jumping off point, especially in a multi-candidate field where the goal is to make it to round 2. Like I said, this is just me thinking out loud.

Orlando Sanchez – Yeah, him again. You just know he’s going to keep running for things. He has name recognition, he did better than expected in losing to Chris Brown, and hey, the third time was the charm for Sylvester Turner. Why not Orlando?

The field – Not every Mayoral contender is visible from a distance. Every recent competitive race has featured at least one wealthy non-politician type, some more successful than others (Bob Lanier, Bill White, Rob Mosbacher, Gene Locke, Ben Hall, Bill King, that guy from 2019). I’ll be surprised if 2023 is an exception, but I have no idea who that person may be at this time. Similarly, every competitive race has had at least one strong black candidate, and if Amanda Edwards sits it out, someone else will step up. One or more people that no one is thinking of now will be on the radar in 2023. Ask me again in a couple of years and we’ll see who that might be.

That’s my list. Who would you add?

Oh God, I have to mention Tony Buzbee again

There goes one New Year’s resolution.

Straight outta The Hights

There is a plate of crawfish on the table in front of Tony Buzbee, who has substituted his jeans-and-jacket campaign garb for a baby blue sweatshirt and Texas A&M baseball cap.

The setting: Crawfish & Noodles on Bellaire Boulevard, where Buzbee — three weeks removed from an unsuccessful mayoral bid — is facing a camera held by his girlfriend, Frances Moody, and digging into the ample helping of crawfish.

“The reason we know these are fresh is because they’re small, because it’s the very beginning of the season. Beware of large crawfish at this time of year,” Buzbee says, poking a finger at the camera. “Beware of places that freeze their crawfish. You want ‘em fresh.”

The 54-second video was posted Sunday to Buzbee’s Facebook page, which until recently promoted his campaign for Houston mayor. It since has been converted to a page for his new show, Uninvited, which Buzbee says will feature deep-dives into Houston restaurants, their owners and the food they serve.

Each of the 13 episodes will spotlight a different restaurant and likely will be posted online mid-summer, once a week on Facebook and YouTube, Buzbee said.

Five restaurants already have signed on to participate, and a crew is filming a promo for the show Thursday. Buzbee also has launched the rough draft of a website, tonybuzbeeuninvited.com, which still includes some dummy text and a few typos. And he has posted three teaser videos on Facebook, including the crawfish one.

[…]

“I thought I was Trump. Now I’m Anthony Bourdain,” he said. “That’s one comparison I would damn well take.”

There are links in the story to that video and the website, but you can click over there to find them, I’ve already done too much. Just be aware that if you do go to his website, you will see pictures like this, so be prepared. Local Twitter is having a field day with this, with Nonsequiteuse having the most fun, so start there if you want to pile on.

One more thing:

Buzbee said the show will not impede on his law practice, to which he has returned full time since embarking on a post-election vacation he documented through a series of posts on Instagram. Buzbee also previously tried his hand at travel blogging, though his blog has remained dormant since he published a handful of posts in 2018.

Not just anyone has what it takes to be a blogger, let me tell you. Once a dilettante…

HISD gets another injunction

In state court this time.

A state judge Wednesday evening immediately blocked Texas from taking over the Houston Independent School District until she issues a final ruling on the case, complicating the state’s plan to oust the district’s school board by March.

In doing so, Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy preliminarily sided with Houston ISD, the state’s largest school district, in a legal battle that will ultimately determine whether Texas can indefinitely seize power from its elected school board. At a hearing Tuesday morning, lawyers for Houston ISD argued that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath exceeded his authority in nearly every step in the process of deciding on a takeover.

[…]

Mauzy also denied Morath the ability to strike down the injunction on appeal. The trial is set for the morning of June 22, months after the state intended to seat a board of managers.

In the ruling, she said Houston ISD proved it needed the injunction because once Morath takes action to remove power from the elected board, the district would then have no recourse.

At Tuesday’s court hearing, Houston ISD’s lawyers challenged Morath’s reasons for the planned takeover, accusing him of inaccurately interpreting state law and skipping procedural steps to get the results he wanted.

“They don’t get to ignore the law and take over the district just because they think [the Texas Education Agency] could do a better job,” said lawyer David Campbell.

See here for the previous update, when a federal judge denied HISD’s request to halt the takeover but said they could file in state court. I’m still not betting on HISD prevailing, but they haven’t lost yet. Now the TEA needs to figure out how this affects their plans. Check back in June, this is going to be interesting. The Chron has more.

DMN profile of Amanda Edwards

Second in the series, focusing on now-former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards.

Amanda Edwards

On the day of her last Houston City Council meeting, outgoing at-large member Amanda Edwards wasn’t in the mood for goodbyes.

“In my mind it’s not really closing a door,” Edwards said as she drove a reporter past homes damaged by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey. “It’s kind of remodeling and expanding. I’m completely ready to turn my next position on its head in terms of what people have grown accustomed to thinking it is.”

After just one term on the council, Edwards is running for Senate against incumbent Republican John Cornyn, a bodacious move that reflects her considerable confidence and the changing perceptions of what it takes to win a high-profile post.

[…]

Edwards, 37, was born in Houston to Isabella and Eugene Edwards.

Her parents were health care providers; Eugene was a pharmacist and Isabella is a retired physical therapist.

Eugene Edwards was diagnosed with cancer when Amanda was 10 years old, and he died when she was 17.

The questions Edwards had about his treatment helped shaped her views on health care.

From her father “skunking” her in table tennis and both parents stressing education, Edwards developed a competitive spirit.

She boasts about her skills in basketball, ping-pong and volleyball.

“Just ask the mayor,” she said, alluding to a basketball game between the council and staff and the mayor’s staff, in which she starred.

Edwards has degrees from Emory University and Harvard Law School. At Emory in Atlanta, she worked in six neighborhood community development corporations.

After college, she served as board president of Project Row Houses in Houston, where she helped redevelop homes as living art pieces.

She said she ran for council in 2015 to promote servant leadership. She won easily.

“I knew that a lot of things I felt strongly about were issues of leadership, like how to appropriately invest in under-resourced areas alongside the will of the community,” she said.

Edwards touts her work in bringing venture capital to Houston, as well as her push to develop neighborhoods without harmful gentrification.

She’s campaigned heavily on her work to help neighborhoods mend after Hurricane Harvey. Edwards and her community partners canvassed affected homes to determine what victims needed and how to improve the allocation of aid.

Here’s the interview I did with Amanda Edwards in 2015, when she first ran for Council. I included the bits from this story about her time on Council because I would not have known it off the top of my head. That’s partly because this was behind-the-scenes stuff, and partly because in our system here in Houston, Council members usually only make news if they’ve done something dumb or they’ve gotten into a fight with the Mayor. It’s good to be reminded that they do a lot of things we don’t easily see.

As for her candidacy, I guess I’ve been a skeptic. I doubted the reports that she was thinking about running, and I have my doubts she can break out in this field. I’ve long believed that she had a path to being Mayor in 2023, which may be affecting my perception. Edwards says in this story that people have underestimated her for her whole life, and I may be doing exactly that. I look forward to seeing her Q4 finance report, that’s for sure. Having said all this, I do think she’ll be a compelling candidate in November if she makes it through the primary, and whatever happens in March I fully expect we’ll be hearing plenty from Amanda Edwards.

(Previously: Chris Bell.)

How Nuro is mapping Houston

Really interesting story.

On the muggy streets of suburban Houston, amid McMansions, bright green lawns and stately oak trees, a futuristic race is quietly afoot.

The contestants are not people but late-model Toyota Priuses outfitted with an array of sophisticated sensors. Despite fierce competition and unending pressure to perform, the nearly silent electric vehicles do not speed. They move cautiously, rigorously following traffic laws and never topping 25 mph.

Their goal is not an easily discerned finish line but to map large swaths of the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, a sprawling patchwork of neighborhoods, mini-cities, strip malls, gridlocked superhighways and mazelike gated communities – an area so prodigious in size it easily could swallow Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island whole.

The vehicles are owned by Nuro, a Silicon Valley robotics company with an ambitious goal – to become the world’s preeminent autonomous delivery service, allowing millions of people to have groceries and other goods delivered by robots instead of making trips to the store, potentially reducing traffic and kicking off a new chapter in our relationship with machines. For months now, Nuro’s robotically piloted vehicles have been successfully, if quietly, delivering groceries to restaurants and homes around Houston, the vehicles’ sensors mapping the city as they go.

The faster Nuro’s vehicles map Houston’s notoriously chaotic roadways, the faster the company can refine its software and export its business model elsewhere. But time is in short supply.

Like Nuro, companies such as Amazon, Alphabet-owned Waymo, Robomart, General Motors’ Cruise division, Ford-affiliated Argo AI, Starship Technologies and many others are also rushing to deploy high-functioning autonomous vehicles for delivery and passenger transport, with some companies attracting major deals and billions in funding. Their goal is to earn public trust and offer real-life convenience, experts say, heightening their chances of securing a valuable foothold in a new era defined by autonomous transportation.

To get there, they will first have to run their autonomous vehicles, or AVs, through millions of miles of driving tests in cities such as Houston until they are glitch-free and unquestionably safe.

“The pressure is real,” said David Syverud, head of robot operations at Nuro. “And to be clear, it is a race in the AV space to deploy quickly and be the first to really get there.”

It goes from there, and it’s worth your time to read, even if it’s a few weeks old at this point. We’ve met Nuro before, and I see their cars around; I’ve seen a couple in and around my neighborhood. Like most stories written about Houston by people not in Texas, this one is both a window into how others view us, and how they can get confused about certain basic things we understand. Like, for example, how you have to distinguish between the city of Houston and the greater Houston area. This is what I mean:

Company officials say they were also drawn to Houston for the complexity of its metropolitan environment, a puzzle of independent communities, each with its own road conditions, zoning ordinances, parking rules and traffic laws. Some area neighborhoods offer wide lanes and little traffic, others are narrow and perpetually hectic – providing the company’s robotic software a massive variety of testing conditions.

As the country’s most ethnically diverse large city – and with a foreign-born population of 1.4 million – Houston also is a place where Nuro officials could probe fundamental questions about its business model.

“The big question for us is: Who is going to use this service, and how often will they do it?” said Sola Lawal, a Nuro product operations manager based in Houston who formerly worked for Uber. “Our robots don’t care who they’re delivering to, but we want to understand how different demographics interact with and feel about the robots. Houston allows for this broad swath of experience in one city.”

That’s all well and good, and it’s easy to see why Houston would be an attractive testing ground, but come on. The city of Houston has a population of about 2.3 million. I assure you, the population of the city of Houston is not three-fifths foreign-born. The greater Houston metropolitan area has a population of about seven million, and I daresay that’s what they meant when they dropped that statistic in the story. But please, let us be precise about these things.

Anyway, despite such glitches, the story is worth reading, so go check it out. We occasionally use grocery delivery, via Whole Foods and Amazon Prime. They leave the goods in a cooler we put out on the porch, and however successful this Nuro project is I don’t see that part of the task being robot-ified any time soon. There’s a lot of money being bet on this business expanding rapidly. I’m usually skeptical about this sort of thing, but what do I know?

Mayor Turner’s second term begins

He’s on the clock now.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Freshly sworn in Thursday morning, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner promised to make significant strides in street repairs and flood control while boosting services for the city’s homeless in his second term.

He also called on private businesses and nonprofits to be more generous in their giving, saying they are crucial to helping the cash-strapped city fund his signature initiatives, including the Complete Communities neighborhood program.

“We ask financial institutions, businesses, developers, nonprofits and endowments to leverage their resources with the city and with one another to share the risks and expedite the transformation,” Turner said his inaugural speech at the Wortham Center. “Though many have stepped forward to assist, we are still missing that level of support, the investments that will serve as game-changers for those under-served communities in our city.”

Turner easily prevailed in the Dec. 14 runoff election over second-place finisher Tony Buzbee. In a post-election interview with the Chronicle, Turner promised to make transformational changes in his final term, including restructuring the fire department, accelerating the city’s permitting process and repairing streets as top priorities.

See here for some background. Turner is the first Mayor to have a four-year lame-duck term, but being in one’s last term has not been a hindrance to getting big things done in the past. Mayor Parker shepherded HERO through in 2015 (yes, that subsequently went south, but it was still passed by Council) and Mayor Brown oversaw the completion of the Main Street light rail line and the passage of the 2003 referendum that led to more light rail being built in his last year. I don’t think anyone will perceive of Mayor Turner as being in his last term until the candidates for the next Mayoral race begin to make themselves known. So barring big external events that force themselves onto the priority list (you know, like another big flood) I’d expect him to have the opportunity to get more big things done. He should have a fairly amenable Council, and at least some of the items on his list will have broad support. We’ll see how he does.

Abbott and refugees

The moral choice is clear. It’s also clear for a variety of other reasons. I don’t expect Greg Abbott to make it, because he’s Greg Abbott.

For years, more refugees have resettled in Houston and Texas than any other city or state in the country.

Now that may end.

Under a new requirement imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration, state and local governments must consent in writing before refugees can arrive next year. At least 34 governors, including 13 Republicans, and 86 county and city executives have given their approval.

Mayors and county leaders of all Texas’ biggest cities —including Houston, San Antonio, Dallas and Austin — sent letters opting in.

But Gov. Greg Abbott, who has lead efforts to block Syrian refugees and withdrew from the federal resettlement program in a largely symbolic move in 2016, has not.

If he does not agree, no refugees could be placed in the state, despite what local authorities may want.

John Wittman, Abbott’s spokesman, did not return multiple calls, texts, and emails seeking comment.

“Our understanding is that he’s still weighing his options,” said Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, one of nine national resettlement agencies in the country. “Given its size and the welcome that refugees receive in Texas, and the faith community’s support, and businesses who rely on refugees for workers in agriculture, manufacturing, and meatpacking, it certainly would have a sizable impact if Texas were not to continue to resettle refugees.”

The Catholic Church, of which Greg Abbott claims to be a devout member, is strongly pro-refugee. The Bible, which people who claim to be Christian claim to believe in, is strongly pro-refugee. Greg Abbott is a Republican, and a Donald Trump minion. You do the math. I’ve said many times in this space that nothing will change until the government changes. Well, in this case this was a change brought about by a change in government, the election of Donald Trump. What has been done can still be undone. The rest is up to us.

Christmas tree recycling 2019

For your last act of Christmas 2019, here’s how to dispose of your tree.

Twenty-five recycling centers in the Houston area will take your Christmas trees.

All city recycling facilities will take trees through Jan. 25. All you have to do is haul the tree over to one of them and and city staff will take it to be ground into mulch and redistributed back to the earth.

Private composting service Living Earth will also take your trees for free. The facilities are closed New Year’s Eve and Day, but stay open one day later — Jan. 26 — for all you procrastinators.

“Living Earth has offered complimentary holiday tree recycling to the city of Houston and its residents since 1992 with the goal of diverting beneficial organic material from the landfill to extend landfill life, reduce methane created when green organic material is buried in a landfill and recycle those materials for beneficial use in the environment as mulch, compost or soil mixes,” said Lora Hinchcliff, a spokesperson for Living Earth.

Just make sure you take all the decorations off before handing it to recyclers. Grinders will not accept trees that have any bits of sparkly tinsel, tree skirts or those pesky wires that affix ornaments to branches.

[…]

There are a few recycling options here in Houston for electronics. In our Houston How To on recycling in Houston, we found that electronics could be dropped off at one of the neighborhood depositories up to four times a month. It’s a perfect option if you decide to embark on a little New Year’s decluttering.

Broken electronics can be taken to some Houston-area Goodwill stores, where the organization will send recyclable waste to Dell Technologies for repair and resale.

You could also donate working appliances and other new or gently used gifts to Catholic Charities of Greater Houston. Note that they do not accept TVs or used computers.

There’s more, for things like wrapping paper and TV boxes, so check it out, and also check out that Houston Solid Waste link. And please dispose of your Christmas leftovers responsibly.

More flood tunnel studies

Has some promise.

Japanese flood tunnel

With engineers working at a feverish pace to get more than 200 projects in its $2.5 billion bond program moving, much of the Flood Control District’s efforts are focused on nuts-and-bolts improvements — including widening bayous, digging detention basins and purchasing flood prone homes.

From his cramped office at district headquarters, however, engineer Scott Elmer is pursuing the most ambitious project the agency has ever conceived: massive tunnels that could funnel stormwater beneath the region’s bayou network to the Houston Ship Channel.

The tunnels could provide a crucial new tool to complement existing flood control methods, as new development in fast-growing Harris County and more intense storms wrought by climate change place additional pressure on infrastructure.

“When you look at events such as Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda, it’s time for that type of out-of-the-box thinking,” Elmer said.

The flood control district has considered tunnels since the 1990s, though plans have never advanced beyond paper. Since Harvey in 2017, which flooded more than 200,000 county residences and damaged many of the district’s defenses, the county has revisited the idea.

A study engineers completed in October reached two important conclusions — that tunnels feasibly could be constructed and they could move substantial amounts of stormwater that otherwise could pool in neighborhoods or push bayous over their banks. Encouraged by the results, the district has begun a second phase of research, which over the next year will map one to five possible routes. A third one-year phase would include a geotechnical analysis to evaluate construction challenges.

[…]

Experts also offer cautious approval. Jim Blackburn, co-director of the Severe Storm Prediction, Education, and Evacuation from Disasters Center at Rice University, long has urged Harris County to more aggressively approach flood control. Tunnels are a bold idea, he said, so long as they do not exacerbate flooding downstream.

“What I’m concerned about is that in an effort to keep the cost down, they may attempt to terminate it in an area that may already be congested, from a water standpoint,” Blackburn said.

See here and here for the background. I assume this is the result of the study funded by a federal grant that was approved in February. Cost is an issue, though we can try for federal funds and the tunnels can be built in stages. This would just be one piece of an overall strategy, not the entire approach. No other place that has flood tunnels sees the kind of rainfall Houston does, so it’s hard to model an approach after an existing system. There’s more to it than all this, so go read the rest. It seems like a good idea to pursue, but we’re a long way from starting to dig.

Precinct analysis: 2019 HD148 special election

I started this post while doing other precinct analysis stuff. Didn’t finish it with the others, but now that the legislative special election runoffs are next up on the calendar, I thought I’d finish it off. First, here’s how the main Mayoral candidates did in HD148:


Turner    9,631
Turner%  44.65%

Buzbee    6,280
Buzbee%  29.11%

King      2,947
King%    13.66%

Boykins   1,253
Boykins%  5.81%

Lovell      467
Lovell%   2.16%

Others      993
Others%   4.60%

Not actually all that different than how they did overall in Harris County. Mayor Turner was about 1.7 percentage points lower, while Sue Lovell gained 0.86 points. Oddly, it was the “Other” candidates who collectively gained the most, going from 3.72% overall to 4.60% in HD148, for a gain of 0.88 points. Keeping it weird, y’all.

Since I started this before the runoff, and even before the date for the HD148 runoff was set, I wondered what the effect might be of having Anna Eastman and Luis LaRotta slug it out at the same time as Mayor Turner and that other guy. I decided to zoom in on the best precincts for Eastman and LaRotta and see how the Mayorals did in them:


Eastman top 4

Eastman 1,557
LaRotta   557
Dem     1,508
GOP       547
Others  2,055

Turner  2,389
Buzbee    974
King      592
Others    370

LaRotta top 4

Eastman   242
LaRotta   600
Dem     1,006
GOP       515
Others  1,521

Turner    835
Buzbee  1,001
King      412
Others    245

Putting it another way, Anna Eastman’s best precincts were more Democratic, and more favorable to Turner, than LaRotta’s precincts were Republican and favorable to That Guy. Didn’t much matter in the end, but I was curious, and that’s what I learned.

Finally, there’s always the question of how much turnout efforts from one race can affect another. For sure, the Mayoral race was the big turnout driver in Houston in November, but as overall turnout was below thirty percent, there would still be plenty of people in HD148 who would normally vote in an even-year election, when this race is supposed to be on the ballot, but who may not vote in odd-year races. To try to get a handle on this, I looked at the undervote rate in the Mayor’s race in HD148, and compared it to the overall undervote rate for the Mayorals. In Harris County, 1.59% of the people who showed up to vote in November did not cast a ballot in the Mayor’s race. The undervote rate in the HD148 special was 5.87%, which is another way of saying it was the Mayor’s race that drove the majority of the action.

In the HD148 precincts, all of which are in the city of Houston, there were 22,001 total votes cast, according to the draft canvass sent to me by the County Clerk. That’s a smidge less than what you’ll see on the official election report, which is almost certainly a combination of cured provisional ballots (my canvass does not include provisional votes), split precincts (many voting precincts are partly in and partly not in the city of Houston, which makes all of the calculations I do that also involve non-city entities a little fuzzy), and whatever stupid errors I made with Excel. Be that as it may, of those 22,001 cast ballots, there were 387 non-votes in the Mayor’s race, for an undervote rate in the HD148 precincts of 1.76%, a hair higher than the overall undervote rate. If the voters in HD148 had skipped the Mayor’s race at the same rate as voters everywhere else in Harris County skipped it, there would have been only 350 Mayoral undervotes.

So, I’d say that the turnout effect of the HD148 special election was pretty small, since the voters in that race behaved very much like voters elsewhere. Perhaps if this had been a higher-profile race, with more money and a longer time on the ballot and a clearer partisan split – in other words, a race more like the HD28 special election – we might have seen more people who came out to vote for it and who had less interest in the other races, and thus a higher undervote rate in the Mayoral election. Sadly, we won’t know what that might look like at this time. I should note that I have no idea how many of the 1,288 non-voters in the HD148 special were also non-voters in the Mayoral race; there’s just no way to tell that from the data I have. Maybe some of those people were just there to vote for the Constitutional amendments, or the Metro referendum, or District H, or who knows what. I feel on reasonably firm ground saying that the turnout effect of the Mayor’s race was considerably higher than the turnout effect of the HD148 special election. Anything beyond that needs more study. You’re welcome.

City wins water rights lawsuit

A bit of pre-holiday good news.

A Travis County state district judge on Friday tossed a state law that would force the city of Houston to sell its water rights in a proposed reservoir west of Simonton.

The law, which breezed through the Legislature last session and was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott, requires the city to sell its rights in the proposed Allens Creek Reservoir by the end of the year for up to $23 million.

The city sued the state and the Brazos River Authority in July, claiming the law was unconstitutional in part because it violates prohibitions on retroactive laws and on forced sales of municipal property that have a public use.

In a ruling issued Friday evening, state district Judge Karin Crump of the 250th District Court agreed with the city’s interpretation, finding the law violates several provisions of the Texas Constitution and Local Government Code.

Crump ruled that the law constitutes a forced sale and “changes the legal consequences of acts completed before the bill’s effective date without sufficient findings to justify passage” of the bill.

See here for the background, and see here for a statement from Mayor Turner on the ruling. I don’t see any other coverage, so I have no idea if there will be an appeal, but I agreed with the lawsuit and I’m glad to see this outcome. Let’s hope it sticks.

Morath’s big talk

But can he back it up?

In his first public comments about plans to strip power from Houston ISD’s elected trustees, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said Tuesday that the district’s leaders have engaged in “chronic neglect” of children in long-struggling schools, requiring the appointment of a replacement governing board that will better direct resources to HISD’s neediest students.

In an hourlong interview with the Houston Chronicle’s editorial board, Morath said he wants the replacement governing board to close achievement gaps by improving the district’s pre-kindergarten offerings, placing more high-performing staff at low-rated campuses and re-establishing strong leadership practices during its temporary stay in power. He faulted the district’s elected trustees for failing to address achievement issues in HISD’s longest-struggling campuses, several of which have received multiple consecutive failing grades in the past decade.

“This is how you make real inroads on the achievement gap: you get very serious about resource allocation,” Morath said. “It’s about money and talent. This is, in fact, an underlying root cause as to why you have some of the highest-performing schools in the state and some chronically under-performing schools, all in the same district. It’s a tale of two cities.”

[…]

In his comments Tuesday, Morath made clear that he expects the appointed board to address a few key areas, including “a systemic investment in early childhood education” and “how we properly support teachers and incent them” to work at chronically low-performing campuses. However, Morath said he will allow appointed board members and the superintendent to craft plans for meeting those goals.

“I would expect the board to use its judgment and proceed in a strategic direction that they think, given the intel that’s coming to them, makes the most sense for the kids and taxpayers of Houston,” Morath said.

I mean, if Mike Morath thinks that his appointed trustees can make significant improvements without screwing anything up, blowing a hole in the budget, or taking action that significantly contravenes popular will, then more power to them. As the story notes, HISD already offers pre-K (even though the state has historically not paid for it) and also already offers bonuses for teachers who work at underperforming campuses. It’s not that no one has thought of this stuff before, it’s that doing it right costs money, and I don’t see any plans for the state to address that. But hey, if they really can move the ball forward and leave the district in better shape than they found it, then that would be great. I’ll need to see it happen first.

On a side note:

Morath added that the district’s four newly elected trustees, who will be seated in January, cannot join the appointed board. Three of the four election victors say they have applied or plan to apply, believing they were eligible.

I kind of figured this would be the case, since the word from the TEA all along has been that it will be two years or so before they start reinstating the elected trustees, but a whole lot is up in the air now, so who knows what could have been. I remain sympathetic to the argument that the newly-elected Board members have already solved part of the problem that the takeover is supposed to fix, but clearly Mike Morath is not. This is perhaps another aspect of the law in question that should be reviewed by the next Legislature.

District B runoff lawsuit hearing set

Let’s hope for a quick verdict.

Cynthia Bailey

The stalled runoff in Houston city council District B likely will have to wait until May, if not longer, leaving north Houston neighborhoods without a new representative for months after the council convenes in January.

The election has been mired in a lawsuit that county officials said forced them to pull the race from the Dec. 14 ballot, when the dozen other city runoffs were decided. It then also missed the deadline to make the Jan. 28 ballot, when the county was holding a special election for a vacant seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

While the lawsuit inched a bit closer to a resolution Friday, with set of a trial date on Jan. 24, county officials said the runoff could not be held on March 3, when a slew of primary contests will be decided. Texas law states that “no other election may be held on the date of a primary election.”

County officials said the next scheduled election would be May 2, when smaller cities and school districts typically hold municipal and board elections, though a judge could have discretion on whether to schedule a special election. Harris County Special Assistant Attorney Douglas Ray said the County Clerk’s office would need about seven weeks notice to conduct a special election.

[…]

Presiding Judge Susan Brown set the Jan. 24 trial date Friday and tapped former Harris County Judge Grant Dorfman to be the special judge on the case.

The appointment is required by state law, which calls for a special judge whose judicial district does not include any territory covered by the election and who does not live in the territory.

See here and here for the background. At this point, there are three possible outcomes:

1. A final ruling from a court. That doesn’t mean it has to go all the way to the Supreme Court, just that the higher courts refuse to hear an appeal. The ideal situation here is for this to happen in time for the May election. I don’t even want to think about how much longer this could get dragged out if there isn’t a final resolution by mid-March, which would be the legal deadline for this election to happen in May.

2. Renee Jefferson Smith quits pursuing the case. Maybe that happens after the district court rules, or maybe she just decides at some point it’s no longer worth it to her. The first possibility could happen, the second seems extremely unlikely.

3. Cynthia Bailey could choose to withdraw from the runoff and concede the election to Tarsha Jackson. In theory, if she did that today, Tarsha Jackson would be sworn in with the other Council members in January. I say “in theory” because Jefferson Smith could continue to litigate, with the claim that Bailey shouldn’t have been on the ballot at all, so either the whole election should be done over or there should be a Jackson-Jefferson Smith runoff for the seat. I don’t think that argument would get very far in a court, but she might be allowed to make it, in which case we’d still be on hold till that was resolved. I also think it’s highly unlikely that Bailey would throw in the towel – she’s come this far, she’s making a principled stand on a righteous position, she’s not the one holding everything up – but it’s a thing that could happen.

Add it up, and the the best case scenario is likely the May 2 election. Hope for the best, that’s all I can say.

Meanwhile, in other Council race news:

With that, the District H race is settled. Congratulations to Karla Cisneros for her victory, and my sincere thanks to Isabel Longoria for running a strong and engaging race.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

HISD attempt to stop TEA takeover denied

Possibly only a temporary setback, however.

A federal judge on Wednesday denied Houston ISD’s request for a preliminary injunction and dismissed its lawsuit aimed at stopping the Texas Education Agency from replacing the district’s elected board, delivering a temporary victory to state officials.

However, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that HISD could still argue parts of the lawsuit in state court and did not reject a Voting Rights Act violation claim brought by the district’s largest teachers union, keeping the possibility of legal intervention alive.

In a 13-page ruling issued late Wednesday, Yeakel found that HISD officials could not legally bring federal due process and voting rights claims against the Texas Education Agency, and that allegations of First Amendment rights violations by the agency did not warrant issuing a preliminary injunction.

[…]

Yeakel, based in Austin, said claims that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath exceeded his authority on multiple occasions prior to deciding to replace HISD trustees could be heard in a Travis County court, where he remanded the case.

See here for the previous update; as promised, this was a quick ruling from Judge Yeakel. HISD could now pursue this in a state court, where I don’t think they’re any more likely to get a favorable ruling, but in for a penny and all that. In addition, Judge Yeakel wrote that his initial approval of the Houston Federation of Teachers joining the lawsuit was in error, because they have separate claims from the ones HISD was bringing. He said they should file their own separate lawsuit, which centers on Voting Rights Act claims; as the story indicates, that is what they plan to do. Again, based on the North Forest experience, I don’t think this is going to win the day, but there’s no harm in trying. So, while this was a win for the state, it’s not over yet. The Trib has more.

Army Corps held liable for Harvey reservoir flooding

A big deal.

Thousands of Houston area residents and property owners landed a historic win against the U.S. government on Tuesday when a federal judge found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is liable for damage caused when it used homes and businesses to retain floodwater upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs during Hurricane Harvey.

The judge ruled the government’s actions led to a violation of civilians’ rights, finding that officials intentionally stored rising floodwaters on private property. He determined — based on complicated data, testimony, evidence and an in-person tour of test properties — that people whose homes and businesses flooded should be permitted to seek compensation for what happened. The residents and business owners successfully made the case that the government knew for decades that the reservoirs would likely not retain floodwaters in a deluge and they did nothing to prevent it.

“We are extraordinarily pleased for the upstream flood victims and honored that the court found that the government was liable for the damage they suffered,” said Daniel Charest, one of the lead lawyers for the group of flood victims. “While we have a lot of work to do for damages this is a massive step toward making these victims whole.”

[…]

Property owners may file suit for six years from the time of the flooding.

Charest said he encourages people in the upstream area who haven’t submitted a claim to do so.

“The window remains open for people the join the litigation and I encourage them to do so to bring justice to the flood victims,” he said.

According to the Trib, there’s a second lawsuit that is still in litigation; this may refer to it, I’m not 100% sure. Be that as it may, this could represent a lot of money to the affected homeowners, which would be a very big deal for them. There’s no indication at this time if this ruling will be appealed, but it’s hard to imagine otherwise.

The female face of City Council

Houston City Council is majority female for the first time in over a decade.

Starting next year, a record nine women will serve on Houston City Council amid a shift toward a younger and more progressive council for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s second term.

The new council will include no more than two Hispanic and no Asian members, however, with Anglo council members holding at least eight seats and the other six represented by African-American members.

It remains unclear whether District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos, the lone Latino on City Council, will be joined by Isabel Longoria, who finished 12 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Karla Cisneros in the District H runoff, according to unofficial returns.

[…]

The nine total women on council edges the previous record of eight who were elected in 2005.

The council’s African-American representation also will expand from four to six.

Fun fact: That Council class of 2005 included Addie Wiseman and Shelley Sekula Gibbs. I don’t really have a point to make here, I’m just noting that because I remember things like that.

In other Council news:

Regardless of who wins the District H runoff, Latino council members will hold no more than two seats out of 16, in a city where Latinos make up 44.5 percent of the population, according to 2018 census data.

Part of that disparity comes from Latinos making up a smaller share of the electorate: Houston’s registered voters are 23 percent Latino, according to data from Hector De Leon, a former communications director for the Harris County Clerk’s Office who studies Houston-area voting patterns.

“African Americans and Anglos are roughly 45 percent of the population combined, but they constitute 85 percent of the total vote. And elections are determined by people who turn out and vote,” [Jay] Aiyer said.

Registration among young, Latino voters has increased “dramatically” in recent years, in part because of President Donald Trump and mobilization efforts by political groups, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at University of Houston.

Houston’s Latino voting blocs also have fewer options, he said, because of the city’s use of at-large positions, which are elected on citywide basis.

“The problem is that the minority votes are compacted in one part of the city so it makes it very hard for them to win an election,” Cortina said. “They get drowned, for lack of a better word, by the votes of the majority.”

To strengthen Latino representation on council and in other offices, [CM Robert] Gallegos said he intends to pitch the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the idea of starting a mentoring program to educate young Hispanics about pursuing careers in politics.

In the meantime, Gallegos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I represent the Hispanic community in the city of Houston, even though I’m a district council member.”

I take issue with what Professor Cortina says – I’m pretty sure a review of the Census tracts in Houston would prove his statement to be inaccurate. If nothing else, Sandra Rodriguez came close to winning District J, which is on the opposite end of the city from H and I. The situation isn’t great right now, but it’s not hopeless.

Be that as it may, let me put this out there for you: The three top Latinx vote-getters in At Large races were Yolanda Navarro Flores (At Large #1, 18.30% in Harris County), Emily Munoz deToto (At Large #2, 21.09%), and Jose Gonzalez (At Large #3, 19.24%). The three of them combined raised literally no money. There were five Latinx candidates in the two open seat At Large races (Cristel Bastida and Javier Gonzalez in #4, Ralph Garcia, Catherine Garcia Flowers, and Sonia Rivera in #5). None of them raised more than a trivial amount of money, though the three in At Large #5 combined for over 27% of the vote, enough to have led the field if they were one candidate.

My point here is that stronger Latinx candidates in the citywide races would also help. I don’t have much to say about Orlando Sanchez, but he came within six points of being elected Controller, and if there had been a third candidate in that race there likely would have been a runoff between him and incumbent Chris Brown, and who knows what might have happened in that race. The Latinx At Large candidates in 2019 didn’t amount to much, but at least they were running. In 2015, there was a grand total of two Latinx candidates in At Large races: Moe Rivera in #2, and Roy Morales in #4, who squeaked into the runoff where he got crushed by Amanda Edwards. I feel like I’ve been saying this since Joe Trevino lost in the At Large #5 runoff to Jolanda Jones in 2007, an election in which there were 25K total votes cast, but maybe focus a little on recruiting strong Latinx candidates to run in the At Large races, and then support them financially? Just a thought.

This is also a possibility.

This near-absence of Latinos undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government and leads to an inadequate representation of Latino preferences in city policymaking. Houston’s political, economic and societal leaders must take action immediately to insure that in the 2023 election we do not witness a repeat of the 2019 election.

There are two principal types of representation, descriptive and substantive. Descriptive representation reflects the extent to which the composition of a legislature mirrors the population it represents. With Latinos accounting for 6 percent of the council and for 45percent of the population, it’s clear Houston earns a failing grade in descriptive representation. This grade will sink even lower with the dearth of Asian Americans on the council; 7 percent of Houston residents are Asian American.

Substantive representation reflects the extent to which members of a legislature promote the preferences of their constituents. While not an ironclad rule, the American Politics literature suggests that, all other things being roughly equal, an individual’s policy preferences are better represented by a legislator from their own ethnic or racial group. With one Latino council member, the substantive policy interests of Latino residents are being sub-optimally represented in crucial policy areas ranging from public safety and social services to road construction and job creation.

Four initiatives can help boost the number of Latinos in the council horseshoe in four years time.

First, eliminate the city’s five at-large council seats and replace them with five single-member district seats in addition to the existing 11 single-member district seats. The last time a Latino was elected to one of the five at-large positions was in 1999, with nine consecutive elections (45 separate contests) in a row where no Latino has been victorious. This year, all five at-large races were decided in a runoff, yet among the 10 runoff candidates there were zero Latinos.

Once the 2020 US Census data are available, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council could easily abolish the five at-large districts and create 16 new, less populous, single-member districts for the 2023 election. Since the shift from at-large to single-member districts enhances minority voting rights, it should be bullet-proof from legal challenge. If the number of single-member districts were increased to 16, it would be possible to draw five or six districts where Latino registered voters constitute an absolute or near absolute majority as well as one district where Asian Americans account for the largest share of voters.

That’s an op-ed from oft-quoted poli sci prof Mark Jones. I personally see no reason why Latinx candidates can’t get elected to at large positions. It’s not like there have been a bunch of frustrating near misses from well-regarded and sufficiently-funded candidates. We did elect Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz to citywide positions in the past. Jones’ other points include things like more voter registration, a focused effort on Latino turnout in city elections, and more recruitment and support of Latinx candidates. I’m on board with all of that, and I would argue that those things can and will lead to Latinx candidates getting elected citywide. If I’m wrong about that, I’ll gladly concede the point about getting rid of At Large districts. In the meantime, I do think there’s some value in having At Large Council members, as a backup for the districts when there’s an unexpected vacancy, as there was in District H in 2009 following Adrian Garcia’s election as Sheriff, and in District K in 2018 following the death of Larry Green. I’m not opposed to Jones’ proposal, but I don’t think it’s necessary to solve the problem.

Next up for Mayor Turner

A preview of his second term agenda.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he would seek to enact “transformational” changes in his second term, previewing an agenda that will require city leaders to confront politically difficult issues and vastly expand the use of public-private partnerships — a critical step for some of the mayor’s otherwise unfunded signature programs.

Fresh off his re-election victory over Tony Buzbee, Turner also spoke in new detail Sunday about his plans to restructure the fire department, accelerate the city’s permitting process, build a new theme park and intensify efforts to repair damaged streets.

“I said when I came in, in 2015, I wasn’t going to ignore things because they were not politically convenient. That has not changed,” Turner said in an interview with the Chronicle. “If I have to expend political capital to get some things done, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Chief among Turner’s priorities, he said, is to improve Houston’s flood mitigation infrastructure and quicken the pace of recovery from Hurricane Harvey, which has lagged. The key flood control projects, Turner said, are the construction of new gates on the Lake Houston dam, detention basins in Inwood Forest, the North Canal Bypass channel and an underground detention basin south of the Memorial City area.

Three of the projects have received initial funding through a federal grant program that covers a large share of the cost, with only the underground basin awaiting approval.

More immediately, Turner faces a burgeoning flood control challenge in the General Land Office’s cap on how much Houston and other local governments may draw from a $4.3 billion federal mitigation aid package. Since Harvey, Turner has sparred over the recovery process with Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Gov. Greg Abbott, both of whom wield influence over how the resources are dealt.

Turner said he has no interest in “fighting somebody just to be fighting,” but stressed that he would push for Houston to receive a bigger chunk of the aid.

“I want to work with the governor and I want to work with the GLO, but when it comes to making sure that those dollars benefit people in Houston-Harris County that were impacted by Harvey and can be impacted by another storm, how do you justify a disproportionate amount of those dollars going to some other place?” Turner said. “I don’t think you can make that case.”

[…]

Next term, Turner also said he would look to restructure the fire department by switching from a four-shift to a three-shift work schedule, which is generally viewed as more arduous and is opposed by the firefighters union.

Turner affirmed that such a move would involve lobbying the Legislature to raise the baseline at which firefighters begin accruing overtime pay. Under state law, Houston firefighters begin collecting overtime pay when they work for more than an average of 46.7 weekly hours during a 72-day work cycle. Without the added overtime cost, firefighters in other cities often work 53- or 56-hour weeks, with many operating on a three-shift cycle.

Calling the department’s model “archaic” and “not reflective of the current needs,” the mayor contended that these changes would allow HFD to more efficiently handle calls classified as EMS. Those calls make up more than 80 percent of the incidents handled by the fire department, though the fire union has noted that a far lower share of the department’s “man-hours” are spent responding to EMS calls.

There’s a long list, and we didn’t discuss the plan for HERO 2.0, which will surely use some of that capital as well. If there was ever a time to make changes to how the Fire Department operates, it’s now – the firefighters went all in on beating Turner, and they lost. I foresee a rocky road with Harvey recovery money, because it’s more in Greg Abbott and George P. Bush’s political interests to clash with Turner over how the funds are doled out and managed than it is for them to play nice and get things done. For everything else, political capital has a shelf life. We’ll be talking about the next Mayor’s race before you know it. The more the Mayor can get done next year, the better.

Uptown BRT line update

It’s coming, it’s coming. Hold your horses.

The new year will come with a new sight in Houston: Big gray buses bounding along a dedicated lane on Post Oak through Uptown.

For the first few weeks, however, people will not hop aboard, as transit officials test the new buses and routes to ready it for a March 2020 opening.

Testing could start sooner, but Christmastime in Uptown means a slight wait for the debut of bus rapid transit in the region.

“Because of all the activity surrounding the Christmas decorations going up in that area, we can’t begin testing now,” said Tracy Jackson, spokeswoman for Metropolitan Transit Authority. Testing, she said, will start in January.

[…]

Getting full use out of the BRT service along Post Oak, however, requires a handful of other projects that will not be finished when buses start rolling. That will lead to detours on the north and south ends of the service for months.

Where the Post Oak lanes end near Loop 610, the Texas Department of Transportation will take over with an elevated busway that rises in the middle of the freeway and then swings over to the southbound side along its own overpass.

The busway, expected to cost $58.4 million, will give the large buses continuous dedicated lanes from Richmond to North Post Oak. It remains on track to open along with the Post Oak lanes because it has not faced the lengthy delays of the street-level work.

Meanwhile, Metro last month approved a $10.9 million project to connect the end of TxDOT’s busway with the Northwest Transit Center, which also is being rebuilt.

The 1.4 mile extension of the dedicated bus lane along North Post Oak is expected to be completed in about a year, around the same time as the new transit center, said Roberto Trevino, Metro’s executive vice president for planning, engineering and construction.

The new lanes will replace the existing median along North Post Oak on the bridge spanning Interstate 10, then continue south. To fit the lanes on the existing bridge, Metro would take up some of the space now used for a bike lane along the span.

“We are going to come back with a separate structure for that use,” Trevino said, noting TxDOT is still assessing plans for the new pedestrian bridge.

See here for the previous update, in which we were introduced to the term “MetroRapid”. Note that the expected opening date then was also March of 2020, so everything remains on track, as it were. I had a training class in the Galleria area a few weeks ago and got a good up-close look at the stations at Post Oak and Westheimer. I wish I’d taken a picture of it. If this had been in operation, I’d have had more lunch options readily available to me, I’ll say that much. Getting those extensions built will be nice, but I think the big deal will be when the BRT line that is the successor to the Universities light rail line gets built. That will be the connection of this line to the Main Street line, and will finally provide something like what the 2003 referendum once promised, before cost concerns and John Culberson got in the way. I don’t know what the time frame is for that yet – Metro Chair Carrin Patman is quoted saying this is a priority, but that’s all we know right now – but I can’t wait to see it happen. Not having to drive into the Galleria would be awesome.

District H status

The closest election we had on Saturday remains unsettled.

CM Karla Cisneros

Just a dozen votes separate Houston City Council District H contenders Karla Cisneros and Isabel Longoria, and it may come down to an undetermined number of provisional, overseas and military ballots to determine a winner in the race.

According to the Harris County Clerk’s office, incumbent Cisneros had edged out Longoria by just .12 percent of the vote in Saturday’s runoff election. Cisneros won 5,283 votes or 50.06 percent, and Longoria received 5,271 votes, or 49.94 percent of ballots counted.

Longoria could request a recount under Texas election law. When the difference in the number of votes received between the two candidates (12 in the District H race) is less than 10 percent of the number of total votes received by the race winner (528 votes, in Cisneros’ case), the losing candidate could petition for a recount, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Longoria has not yet committed to requesting a recount, nor has she conceded in the race. The deadline to file a recount request is 5 p.m. Dec. 22, two days after Harris County will canvass or officially tally the votes.

“I will wait for every vote to be counted before making any decisions about a recount or other process,” Longoria said in a press release Sunday morning.

[…]

Trautman’s office can receive overseas and military ballots up to six days after an election, said Teneshia Hudspeth, a Harris County Clerk’s Office spokesperson. They do not know how many provisional ballots were cast.

It has no way of identifying if any of those ballots cast a vote for District H until the election canvass, Hudspeth said.

You can see the election night returns here, and Longoria’s press release here. I expect two things to happen: One, for Longoria to ask for a recount. She has every right to do this, and there’s no good reason not to do it. This was a super close race, and everything should be double-checked according to the rules. And two, I expect the recount will make no difference. They almost never do. There just aren’t that many overseas and military ballots, and there were never that many provisional ballots that ultimately counted. By all means, go through the process, but keep your expectations about what will happen as a result modest.

Turner defeats Buzbee

Oh my God I’m so glad this is over.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner declared victory over Tony Buzbee as his lead over the millionaire businessman continued to grow with half of all voting centers in the city counted late Saturday.

Turner led from the moment early voting and absentee results were posted shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m., putting him in position to retain his seat for a second four-year term. Election day results, however, ensured he would see a wider margin than four years ago, when he bested businessman Bill King by 2 percentage points.

Early and absentee ballots are expected to make up roughly half the total votes cast in the runoff, meaning Buzbee likely would have had to win handily on Election Day to make up his initial deficit.

Turner took the stage at his election night party at 10 p.m. to declare victory in front of television news cameras.

“If there’s any lesson from this campaign, it’s that you don’t have to have as much money as someone else. You don’t have to live in a house that’s as big as someone else. You don’t have to drive a car that’s as fancy as someone else,” he said.

Buzbee spoke several minutes earlier. He did not concede the race, but acknowledged his chances were slim.

“I’m not an idiot,” he said. “I see the returns.”

I disagree with your premise, sir. And I am so, so glad I will never have to give any of my brain space to you again.

Election Day returns are here. (Fort Bend results, where Turner did as well as you’d expect, are here.) You may note that Turner built on his Harris County lead on Election Day, outperforming his Early Vote margin by several points. Keep that in mind when you read this:


The comments were…not kind. Symbolic or not, Sylvester Turner won re-election by a comfortable margin. And Tony Buzbee is over. Thank heavens.

Council results

With one race still up in the air as I draft this:

With early voting tallies and most of Saturday’s Election Day results posted, Houston’s three incumbent at-large council members facing runoffs had won, while District H incumbent Karla Cisneros held the slimmest of leads over challenger Isabel Longoria. Four other incumbents already have reclaimed their seats, having won outright on Nov. 5: Dave Martin (District E), Greg Travis (District G), Robert Gallegos (District I) and Martha Castex-Tatum (District K).

At least half of the 16-member council will be new — five current members are term-limited and three vacated their seats: Dwight Boykins (District D) made a failed bid for mayor, Amanda Edwards (At-Large 4) is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, and Steve Le (District F) decided not to seek re-election.

One council race will not be decided Saturday: The third-place finisher in District B has filed lawsuits contesting the election and challenging the second-place finisher’s eligibility, citing her 2007 felony theft conviction and a state law that appears to bar candidates with such convictions from running for office. No election date has been set.

The simplest way to summarize what happened is this tweet:

With 367 of 385 voting centers reporting, Karla Cisneros had a 25-vote lead over Isabel Longoria. It had been a 14-vote lead with 323 centers reporting. Longoria had chipped away at Cisneros’ lead all evening. I have to think this one is going to get recounted, so whatever the final numbers are, expect this to remain an unsettled question for a little longer.

The At Large results could have been better, but they were sufficiently close in #4 and #5 that they also could have been a lot worse. When Mayor Turner puts forward a new version of HERO, he should have ten of sixteen Council votes in his favor. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, congratulations to all the winners.

HISD and HCC results

From the HISD runoffs:

Early election results showed Houston ISD school board candidates Kathy Blueford-Daniels and Patricia Allen with comfortable leads in their runoff races Saturday, as they aim to fill the final two seats on the district’s closely watched governance team.

With absentee and early votes counted, as well as 38 percent of precincts reporting, Blueford-Daniels, a retired postal manager, led City Council aide John C. Gibbs by a wide margin, mirroring her strong showing in the November general election.

Allen, a retired HISD administrator, appeared poised to break away from management consultant Matt Barnes after the pair each earned about 30 percent of the general election.

The two victors Saturday will join two newcomers who defeated incumbents in November’s general election. Judith Cruz and Dani Hernandez easily topped Diana Dávila and Sergio Lira, respectively, each earning about 64 percent of the vote.

Blueford-Daniels was leading by about 25 points as most voting centers had reported. Allen was up by about nine points. Congratulations to them both, and all the best in what should be a very challenging next few years.

And some very good news from the HCC races.

Monica Flores Richart

Early results in two Houston Community College Board of Trustees runoff races show Rhonda Skillern-Jones with a commanding lead, while Monica Flores Richart and Dave Wilson are locked in a tight battle.

With absentee and early-voting results tallied, as well as 38 percent of precincts reporting, Skillern-Jones, who has served on the Houston ISD school board for the past eight years, comfortably led longtime educator Kathy Lynch-Gunter in the race for District II. Skillern-Jones entered as a clear favorite after taking 45 percent of the general election vote to Lynch-Gunter’s 25 percent.

In District I, Flores Richart, a lawyer, held a slight lead over Wilson, who resigned from his HCC trustee seat in August and switched districts ahead of the race. Flores Richart nearly emerged from the general election with an outright victory, earning 48 percent of the vote to Wilson’s 32 percent.

[…]

The two winners will join newcomer Cynthia Lenton-Gary, who ran unopposed, on the nine-member board. A fourth new trustee will join the board next year if current HCC Board chair Carolyn Evans-Shabazz were to maintain her strong early lead Saturday in her Houston City Council race. Evans-Shabazz will have to resign her seat to join the council.

Flores Richart built on her lead on Election Day. May we never be cursed with Dave Wilson again.

Carolyn Evans-Shabazz is on her way to winning in District D, so we’ll have a new Trustee in her place early next year. With Neeta Sane running for Fort Bend County tax Assessor, we could have two new HCC Trustees before the 2021 election.

A “most thorough” investigation

Here’s an Astros update for you.

The ongoing electronic sign-stealing investigation against the Astros is “probably the most thorough” ever conducted by the commissioner’s office, Rob Manfred said Wednesday.

Addressing reporters during the final full day of the winter meetings, Manfred said his office has interviewed more than 60 witnesses, has 76,000 emails through which to sift and “an additional trove of instant messages.”

“That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing,” Manfred said. “It is my hope to conclude the investigation just as promptly as possible, but it’s just really hard to predict how long something like that is going to take.”

[…]

Maintaining a stance he’s taken since the query began, Manfred declined to elaborate on possible punishments, calling such predictions “wholly inappropriate.” A timeline for the investigation’s conclusion remains a mystery, though follow-up interviews suggest it could drag longer into the winter.

“I’m going to get all the facts in front of me and make a decision as promptly as possible on discipline and, obviously, you all will know about it as soon as it happens.”

See here for the last update. As a reminder, this is two investigations in one, the sign-stealing allegations and the Brandon Taubman debacle. I have to assume MLB will wrap this up during the off-season, but beyond that we have no idea how long this will take. We’ll know when they’re ready to tell us something.

Runoff Day is today

Hang in there, it’s almost over.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A nearly year-long mayoral election that culminated in a subdued runoff between Tony Buzbee and incumbent Sylvester Turner comes to an end Saturday when voters decide who wins control over City Hall for the next four years.

Buzbee, a millionaire businessman and trial lawyer, has sought out voters of all political stripes by citing his ties to both parties. For months, he has painted Turner as a corrupt career politician who had run the city into the ground, regularly reminding voters he self-funded his own campaign to avoid the appearance that he is beholden to campaign donors.

Turner, a longtime Democratic state legislator who is finishing his first four-year term, has painted a rosy picture of conditions in Houston, arguing that he has overseen an uptick in the police force and laid the groundwork to diversify the city’s economy through tech and start-up businesses. He also has pitched himself as an astute steward of the city’s finances, pointing to his signature feat: a major overhaul of the city’s costly pension systems.

During the runoff, the two candidates have focused on presenting their plans for the next four years, a marked difference from the general election, when they spent millions of dollars attacking each other. Since Nov. 5, when Turner finished about 19 percentage points ahead of Buzbee, the two have not faced off in a debate, with Turner almost ignoring his foe entirely.

“I think the realization was that Mayor Turner got 47 percent of the vote, and so, if he just didn’t make an embarrassing gaffe or make a wrong move, the election was his to win,” said Michael Adams, chairman of Texas Southern University’s political science department.

See here for the background. I’ve gotten multiple robocalls urging me to vote for Turner (and a few to vote for other candidates, like Raj Salhotra), culminating with one I got on Friday from rightwing radio host Sam Malone on behalf of Tony Buzbee. I finally saw a Buzbee ad on TV a couple days ago – it almost made me nostalgic, it had been so long since I had last seen one. In the meantime, Buzbee has been busy flip flopping on HERO again – what are the odds he could tell you right now what his most recent position on it is? All I know is that as of about 7 PM this evening, I can officially no longer give a shit about anything Tony Buzbee says or does.

Polling locations are here. As a reminder, you can vote at any location. My guess is that more than half of the final vote tally has already happened. I’ll have a report in the morning.

We continue to wait on the District B runoff

Ugh.

Cynthia Bailey

Any hope for a speedy resolution to a lawsuit that is holding up the runoff for Houston’s District B city council seat evaporated Wednesday when the presiding judge for the Houston region said she would not assign a special judge to take over the lawsuit until the state Supreme Court weighs in on a related case.

“Once that happens, she will make an assignment if necessary,” said Rebecca Brite, assistant for Presiding Judge Susan Brown. “We do not know when that will be.”

Brown is the presiding judge for the 11th Administrative Judicial Region of Texas, which includes Harris, Galveston, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Wharton and Matagorda counties.

Attorneys on both sides of the dispute had expected Brown to make an assignment in the contentious case by Wednesday.

[…]

Two days after the election, Jefferson-Smith asked a judge for an emergency order declaring Bailey ineligible. Judge Dedra Davis denied that request, as did the First Court of Appeals. The attorneys now are submitting arguments to the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Jefferson-Smith filed a separate lawsuit on Nov. 15, formally contesting the election results and renewing the argument about Bailey’s eligibility.

[…]

“We are waiting for the complete appellate process to conclude,” Brite said.

Nicole Bates, who represents Jefferson-Smith, had said earlier this week she expected an assignment by Wednesday “at the latest.”

“I think (the appeal) clears the path to address those issues concerning eligibility, that the election contest will not,” Bates said after Brown’s announcement.

Bailey’s lawyer, Oliver Brown — no relation to the presiding judge — said the appeal would not resolve the election contest that county officials say is holding up the runoff.

“It should’ve happened already,” Brown said of the judicial assignment.

See here for the previous update. I assume that Jefferson Smith had filed a writ of mandamus, which is now with the Supreme Court, to request that Bailey be removed from the ballot. That was the mechanism that the HERO haters used to get their referendum on the ballot in 2015. The Supreme Court moves on its own timeline, though perhaps the exigent circumstances in this case will motivate them to shake a leg. But whatever the case, we’re waiting on them for the second lawsuit to be assigned and heard. I wasn’t optimistic before, and I’m less so now. I truly have no idea how long this will take.

KHOU/HPM runoff poll: Turner 56, Buzbee 34

Feels about right.

Mayor Sylvester Turner leads Tony Buzbee among likely voters in the December 14 runoff election for Mayor by 56 percent to 34 percent, with 6 percent of voters undecided. Another 5 percent of respondents refused to reveal for whom they would vote.

Support for the Mayoral runoff candidates does not vary significantly among voters who are certain to vote in the runoff election and those who are very likely to vote in the runoff election.

“There’s really nowhere for Tony Buzbee to go and I think proof of that is he’s not buying a lot of TV ads, he’s not spending the kind of money he spent in the general election,” said Bob Stein, KHOU political analyst.

Among voters who supported Bill King in the November general election, 53 percent now support Tony Buzbee and 37 percent support Mayor Turner.

Among voters who identify as Democrat, Republican or Independent, the majority of Democratic voters support Turner and the majority of Republican voters support Buzbee. Votes for either candidate are roughly the same among Independent voters.

“This is a partisan vote, the mayor is winning well over 90% of democratic voters, but he’s picking up almost 20% of Republican voters,” Stein said.

See here and here for the November polls done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, both of which showed Turner leading Buzbee by about 20 points. I said after Election Day that all of Buzbee’s voters plus all of King’s voters were still less than all of Turner’s voters, so if Buzbee is only getting a big more than half of King’s voters, he’s in very deep doodoo. And as we know from the Keir Murray analysis, the electorate is much more Democratic than Republican, as is the city as a whole. It all makes sense, is what I’m saying. Note that the sample for this poll is “234 of the 516 registered voters who were previously interviewed in September and October 2019”, which is both a little weird and makes the margin of error higher than usual, but since the vast majority of runoff voters are people who voted in November, it’s quite reasonable. HPM has more.

Chron overview of the HISD runoffs

We had overviews of all the Council runoffs, but there are other races to consider.

Kathy Blueford Daniels

Voters in parts of Houston ISD return to the polls next Saturday to complete an overhaul of the district’s much-maligned school board, which will have four new members seated in January.

Runoff elections in District II, which covers large swaths of northern Houston, and District IV, home to parts of downtown and south-central Houston, pit four newcomers promising to refocus attention on students following months of acrimony on the board. None of the candidates earned the necessary 50 percent of the vote in November’s general election to win outright.

In District II, retired postal manager Kathy Blueford-Daniels, who earned 43 percent of the vote in the Nov. 5 general election, looks to hold off city council aide John C. Gibbs, who trailed with 22 percent.

In District IV, the race between retired HISD principal Patricia Allen and management consultant Matt Barnes figures to be close after Allen received 31 percent of the general election vote and Barnes snagged 30 percent.

[…]

After narrowly missing an outright victory in her five-candidate general election, Blueford-Daniels enters the runoff as the favorite to replace incumbent Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who is seeking a seat on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees. Blueford-Daniels and Gibbs both graduated from District II high schools in the mid-1970s — Wheatley and Booker T. Washington, respectively — and serve as community activists primarily on the city’s northeast side.

Blueford-Daniels said her managerial experience and dedication to reforming a dysfunctional school board should propel her to victory.

“I want to be that conduit between the administration and HISD, to find out what people in the community want for their children,” Blueford-Daniels said. “I know we won’t be directly engaged with administration and the schools, but I think I can relate to them.”

Gibbs said his deep ties to the district, burnished as a community outreach liaison for Houston City Councilmember Michael Kubosh for the past six years, give him the edge over Blueford-Daniels.

“You need to know personalities and people and issues that are indigenous to those particular schools and communities,” Gibbs said. “I know what the issues have been, and nobody is looking at the systemic problems that have to be solved.”

Blueford-Daniels and Gibbs both advocate for returning more vocational programs to high schools in District II, many of which have ranked among the lowest-performing in the state in recent years, and fostering more stable leadership in the principal ranks.

The candidates differed on applying for the potential state-appointed board, an option open to all candidates and elected trustees. Blueford-Daniels said she does not plan to apply, preferring to use her time without power to build trust among the elected trustees. Gibbs, who declared in October that he supported state intervention, said he plans to apply for the position amid concerns that an appointed board could close campuses.

Both Blueford-Daniels and Gibbs have run for Council before. I’ve interviewed her before, but have not met Gibbs and don’t know anything about him beyond what I know from stories about this race. I do know that I disagree with his cheerleading for the TEA takeover, and on those grounds I’d vote for Blueford-Daniels.

In the other race, I interviewed Barnes in September, and I didn’t realize until reading this story that Patricia Allen is the daughter of State Rep. Alma Allen. Both have applied or will apply to be on the Board of Managers. I feel like both would be good Board members.

2019 runoff early voting wrapup

Here are your final totals:


Date     Mail   Early   Total
=============================
Nov19  13,015  88,822 101,837
Dec19  18,935  96,269 115,204

The Day Ten EV Runoff file is here, and the final file from November is here. Keir’s thread is here, with a bit of bonus content about the runoff voters who didn’t vote in November – yes, they exist. In the end, there were 152,764 total November early votes cast – there were two more days of early voting, and as usual they were the busiest.

Projecting final turnout is a little tricky, because don’t have many comparable data points. Only 2015 and 2009 had Mayoral runoffs in the modern early voting era. In 2015, 44.58% of votes cast on Election Day, while in 2009 that figure was 56.28%. I strongly suspect that 2015 is the more accurate model, and I’d bet the under on that. I’m guessing we’re headed for final turnout in the 175-200K range. Just my guess, but with a mostly hardcore voter crowd and no romantic attachment to Election Day itself, I fully expect most of the voting to be over. Have you voted yet?