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Houston

Lining up for the runoff

Runoffs always provide focus.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner is rallying the support of state and national Democrats as he seeks to fend off Tony Buzbee in the December runoff to win a second term at the helm of Houston government.

One week into the runoff, Turner has gathered the endorsements of Harris County’s four Democratic Congress members — Lizzie Fletcher, Sylvia Garcia, Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee — the Texas Democratic Party, 15 Democratic state legislators and the three Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court.

Also backing Turner is the Harris County AFL-CIO, which declined to endorse any mayoral candidate in the first leg of the race.

[…]

At a news conference Monday, some of Turner’s elected allies sought to tie Buzbee to President Donald Trump, for whom Buzbee once hosted a fundraiser at his River Oaks home. In response to attacks from Turner over his Trump ties, Buzbee has noted his past support for members of both parties, including Turner, and accused the mayor of trying to distract from his record by making the election a referendum on Trump.

Green, a Houston Democrat and perhaps the most vocal congressional proponent of impeaching Trump, on Monday urged Houstonians not to follow what he said is a growing trend of electing millionaires who lack political experience.

“We cannot allow this paradigm to persist,” said Green, D-Houston.

[…]

The endorsements could represent a minor boost to Turner but have little practical effect because voters already perceived him as a Democrat, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. It was only a matter of when, not if, Turner’s Democratic allies would get behind him, he added.

“To the extent that there was a tiny crack open for Tony Buzbee to claim he’s a Democrat, this probably shuts the door on that,” Jones said, noting that Buzbee has framed himself as an independent and sought to appeal to voters from both parties in the nonpartisan mayoral race.

Even before the endorsements, Jones said, Buzbee likely would have had trouble catching on with Democratic voters because he has yet to effectively counter the Trump attacks.

“Some of his actions, in terms of extravagant behavior and his outsider approach, just reinforce the idea that he’s the Houston version of Donald Trump, even though on a policy level that’s not the case,” Jones said. “But most voters aren’t looking that deep.”

I mostly agree with Mark Jones here, but I would add that these endorsements also provide some incentive to vote. Mayor Turner just needs his voters to show up. One intent of these endorsements is just to remind people that they still need to do that, because the race isn’t over yet. Job One in any election is to make sure your supporters know that there is an election and they need to vote in it.

Meanwhile, the firefighters have decided to go ahead and endorse Buzbee, which, I dunno, just seems kind of sad. I mean, they essentially recruited Dwight Boykins for the race rather than support Buzbee early on, and now after Boykins’s six percent showing they’re trudging over to Buzbee because I guess they feel like they have to do something. Good luck with that, I suppose.

Cynthia Bailey remains on District B runoff ballot

For now, at least.

Cynthia Bailey

A felon may remain on the runoff ballot in the Houston City Council District B race, a Harris County judge ruled on Friday, despite state law that may bar residents with felony convictions from seeking public office.

On Election Day, Cynthia Bailey qualified for the second and final runoff spot in District B, edging third-place finisher Renee Jefferson-Smith by 168 votes. Jefferson-Smith last week sued to remove Bailey from the ballot, arguing her 2007 conviction for theft of more than $200,000 made her ineligible to run.

Harris County 270th District Court Judge Dedra Davis on Friday denied Jefferson-Smith’s request to remove Bailey from the ballot, which would allow her a place in the runoff, said Oliver Brown, Bailey’s attorney.

The Texas Election Code is unclear on whether a felon may run for office. It bars candidates who have been “finally convicted” of a felony or who have not been “pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” though the law does not define these disabilities.

Brown said Bailey’s conviction is well known to voters, who can make an informed decision about whether this disqualifies her. He said District B residents can open the door to other felons to run for office if they elect Bailey.

“They can send a message to the city and state, that regardless of a candidate’s past, they believe in the redemption of citizens after they’ve been released by the Department of Corrections.”

See here for the background. Renee Jefferson Smith did not comment in the story, so we don’t know if she intends to appeal or let this be. Neither her campaign nor personal Facebook pages say anything about it, and her campaign hasn’t tweeted since May. We’re less than two weeks out from the start of early voting, and I presume mail ballots are being sent out as well, so it’s not clear to me that she could get a change now regardless. What happens after the election should Cynthia Bailey win is a matter we’ll address if and when it happens. In the meantime, the lesson I take from this is file the lawsuit after the August deadline and hope the issue gets decided then. And for Pete’s sake, let’s lobby the Lege to clean this up. I say that felons who complete their sentences should be free to vote and run for office as they see fit, but that notion will take a lot of work to pass. Better to start on that sooner than later.

Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that the Astros stole signs electronically at Minute Maid Park during their World Series-winning 2017 season, adding another inglorious instance to the franchise’s recent run of cheating accusations.

The Astros have begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball, the club said in a statement on Tuesday. It’s unclear if this investigation is independent of the ongoing one involving the firing of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

Citing three anonymous sources along with an on-record interview and confirmation from Fiers, The Athletic reported the Astros had a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park fixated on the opposing catcher. A television located below the dugout showed the feed. Players watched the catcher and soon were able to detect what was coming, sometimes banging trash cans to alert hitters.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

[…]

Using technology to steal signs is against major league rules. The Red Sox were fined in 2017 after the Yankees filed a complaint against them. Major League Baseball discovered they were “sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.”

In his ruling that year, commissioner Rob Manfred said “all 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Whether the Astros will be punished remains to be seen. Major League Baseball still has an open investigation against the franchise as a result of Taubman’s tirade against female reporters following the American League Championship Series.

Here’s the Athletic story. It’s a pay site, but you can sign up for a free seven-day trial if you want to read the whole thing. This NJ.com story has a couple of excerpts, including this one that explains how the scheme allegedly worked:

The Astros’ set-up in 2017 was not overly complicated. A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway. When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming. Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A’s, what the Astros were doing.

Twitter user and video genius Jomboy illustrated this with a live example. The pitcher in that clip, Danny Farquhar, noticed the banging noises and is quoted about it in the Athletic story. Jomboy has subsequent examples here, here, and here.

The key to all this is the allegation that cameras were used, as it is the use of technology to steal signs that is illegal. If the MLB investigation bears that out, expect the Astros to suffer stronger punishment than what was meted out to the Red Sox in 2017, since Commissioner Rob Manfred has emphasized that this is illegal. As the Athletic story notes, while the Astros are under investigation, using tech to steal signs is a league-wide problem, with other teams also under suspicion. Expect to hear a lot more about this over the next few weeks. Jerome Solomon, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Press have more.

The LBB report on HISD

There’s less here than you might think.

Houston ISD’s inefficient, poorly organized and unwieldy bureaucracy is shortchanging the district’s 209,000 students and city taxpayers, requiring structural changes across virtually all corners of the district, the Texas Legislative Budget Board said in a blistering report issued Friday.

A 325-page performance review of HISD by the LBB, a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature, identified extensive operational shortcomings and issued 94 recommendations aimed at improving operations in the state’s largest public school district.

The report took particular aim at the HISD’s prized decentralized power structure, finding the model delivers inconsistent resources to students and poor monitoring of spending, while also piling on the much-maligned school board for eroding public trust and district morale.

The board also proposed several potentially controversial measures, including the formation of a “campus closure and boundary advisory committee” and suggested the district could save $26 million by shuttering as many as 40 underutilized schools. The report also called for various consolidations that could cost hundreds of jobs.

LBB officials said their recommendations could save the district $237 million over the next five years and streamline the delivery of academic services. HISD leaders are not legally required to follow any of the board’s recommendations.

In a statement Friday, the HISD administration said it is evaluating the report.

“We will seek to implement new practices and continue proven methods that maximize student achievement and promote productive and efficient operations,” the statement read.

[…]

The LBB issued several politically palatable recommendations that some community leaders, educators and board members long have sought. They include reducing administrative positions, staffing more campuses with counselors and crafting stronger budget practices.

Most recommendations involve anodyne changes to oversight and structure of the district’s many behind-the-scenes departments, including technology, contract management and transportation.

Other recommendations likely would face immediate backlash, including the suggestion that the district consider shuttering underutilized campuses. School closures have proven particularly fraught in Houston, as lower-enrollment campuses typically serve lower-income children of color.

One of the bigger shifts recommended by the LBB involves centralizing more district operations to ensure consistent, uniform practices. Currently, HISD delegates extensive autonomy over campus-level finances, staffing and programming to principals, a rarity among the nation’s largest public school districts.

Supporters of the decentralized system argue campus leaders are best positioned to know their students’ needs and craft innovative plans for raising student achievement. Opponents claim the setup leads to inconsistent student outcomes, particularly for children in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The LBB largely sided with critics of the structure.

“Independent campus decisions result in a student experience that differs across the district, and students may not be served consistently,” the report’s authors wrote.

Jodi Moon, who studied HISD’s decentralized model as a researcher with Rice University’s Houston Education Research Consortium, said the district’s system creates “a greater continuum of successes and failures” between schools. She questioned, though, whether a district as large as HISD would see significantly different results under a centralized setup, noting that principal experience, school choice participation and myriad other factors contribute to campus-level outcomes.

“I just find it hard to believe that you’re going to find any of the larger, urban districts where there’s a lot of uniformity,” Moon said.

Please note first of all that this was a report the HISD board asked for. The LBB doesn’t do this sort of thing on their own, they have to be invited in. This report is the result of the Board seeking ways to improve.

Anyone who has paid any attention to HISD in recent years knows that there have been multiple efforts to close “underutilized” schools, and they have all foundered in the face of fierce pushback from parents, alumni, and other stakeholders. Closing smaller schools can look good on paper, but it has real effects on people’s lives and on the neighborhoods where those schools are. The Board has consistently responded to the voice of the people they were elected to represent. Whether the appointed board of managers that the TEA is about to install will take a crack at this, since they don’t have any voters to answer to, is a big and looming question as we enter the takeover era.

The centralization issue is one where I think you could very reasonably argue that any savings that might be achieved is more than offset by giving principals, who know their schools and students best, the autonomy to respond to their own individual needs. It’s far from clear to me that emulating this particular practice of HISD’s peer institutions – New York, LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc – is a desirable goal. Putting it another way, do you want to make the bureaucracy that much bigger? I get what the LBB is talking about, but this isn’t a simple matter, and it’s far from clear to me that the savings involved is real.

Anyway. There are good ideas in this report, and there will be opportunities to implement them. It all starts with that appointed board, which will be able to operate in a different manner than the elected board. How much of a good thing that is very much remains to be seen.

Who wants to host the 2030 World’s Expo?

The city of Houston, that’s who.

Congress is moving to free up funding for the U.S. to post a pavilion at the 2020 World’s Expo in Dubai — a move lawmakers say will put Houston “in play” to host the first World’s Expo in America since 1984.

The House of Representatives [last] week passed a bill that would allow the State Department to spend about $60 million to build a pavilion at the expo, also known as the World’s Fair, in Dubai next year.

It’s a move meant to demonstrate how serious America is about once again hosting the World’s Fair, an event that has left lasting marks on American cities, including Chicago and Seattle — but one that hasn’t been hosted on U.S. soil since a disappointing showing in New Orleans in 1984.

The pavilions are essentially a requirement for nations to host the expo, but the State Department is currently prohibited from spending money to build one, meaning the U.S. is the only country in the world that relies entirely on private donations to guarantee its presence at world expos. Funding has fallen short for seven of the last 10 proposed American pavilions.

Local leaders are vying for Houston to host the World’s Expo in 2030 as a show of the city’s international bona fides.

See here for more. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know this was still a thing. It’s cool, and now that I do know I’m rooting for Houston to win it for 2030. But seriously, who knew this was still a thing?

So when will the HD148 runoff be?

The TL;dr of this is “we may have two different runoff dates, one for the city of Houston and one for the special legislative elections”. If you’re confused, I understand. Let’s walk through it together.

First, there’s this:

I’ve said before that the last time we had a November legislative special election that required a runoff was in 2005, the special election in HD143. That runoff was held on the same date as the city of Houston runoff, as you can see from the election returns page. You would certainly think it makes sense to hold them at the same time – HD148 is entirely within the city of Houston, it costs less to have one election instead of two, people may be confused and turnout will certainly be affected by two runoff dates, etc etc etc. What’s the problem?

The problem is that the city of Houston runoff is on a Saturday, and as far as I can tell from scrolling through election returns on the SOS webpage, special election runoffs for legislative seats are almost always held on Tuesdays. I’ve looked at the date of each special legislative election runoff (House and Senate) going back to that 2005 runoff, and the only other example of a Saturday runoff date I could find was the SD06 special election runoff on March 2, 2013. Every single other one was on a Tuesday.

(I should note that some of these special elections were expedited due to the vacancy occurring near or during a legislative session. Special laws apply in those cases that govern the timing, including to limit the Governor’s discretion in setting the election dates. Not all of these were expedited, just some of them.)

One effect of that difference is in the number of early voting days. Here’s the relevant law:

Sec. 85.001. EARLY VOTING PERIOD. (a) The period for early voting by personal appearance begins on the 17th day before election day and continues through the fourth day before election day, except as otherwise provided by this section.

(b) For a special runoff election for the office of state senator or state representative or for a runoff primary election, the period begins on the 10th day before election day.

(c) If the date prescribed by Subsection (a) or (b) for beginning the period is a Saturday, Sunday, or legal state holiday, the early voting period begins on the next regular business day.

The 10th day before a Tuesday election is the previous Saturday, so by 85.001 (c), that moves the start of early voting to the Monday, and we get five days’s worth of it. That’s what we got in the recent HD145 special election runoff, for example. I’m not sure what the law is regarding city elections, but for our Saturday runoffs for our city elections, early voting starts the previous Wednesday and goes for seven says, as we got in 2015. The good news is that if the runoff is on a Saturday, then the tenth day before it is that same Wednesday.

Which is another way of saying that the runoff for HD148 – and really, for all three special legislative election runoffs, including HDs 28 and 100, which will surely be on the same day as HD148 but which do not intersect with other elections as far as I know – could be on Saturday the 14th, or could be on some other day, probably a Tuesday if recent patterns hold. Talking to some people at the HCDP Friendsgiving event on Saturday, the scuttlebutt seemed to be that the legislative runoffs would be in January, since once you get past the first two weeks of December it’s too close to Christmas. I’ve gone from being confident that the runoffs would all be on the same December 14 date to being convinced I was wrong about that to being convinced nobody knows anything and we’re all just waiting for a crumb of information to fall from Greg Abbott’s table. Abbott does have a deadline to set the date, which kicks in after the election results are officially canvassed. We will know for sure soon enough. I hope I have not confused you any more than necessary with this long-winded explanation.

About those Council runoffs

All of a sudden there’s many fewer candidates to keep track of.

Tiffany Thomas

Some candidates said they were happy simply to have made it to a runoff. Several races had more than a dozen people vying for the top two vote counts, resulting in razor-thin margins that decided who moved forward.

Brad “Scarface” Jordan said he was still in shock Wednesday. The former member of the Geto Boys hip hop group hadn’t expected to advance, but ultimately took second in a 16-candidate field for District D.

“This is unbelievable bro,” he said. “I’m just as shocked as you are.”

Others, like incumbent Michael Kubosh in At-Large 3 (47.8 percent), Amy Peck in District A (45.4 percent) and Tiffany Thomas in District F (38.9 percent), enter their runoffs with commanding leads.

“We could have won outright last night if those clowns weren’t on the ballot,” Thomas said of the candidates eliminated Tuesday, most of whom polled in the single digits. “They didn’t work at the polls, they weren’t at early voting.”

Peck said her level of support indicated that voters want a continuation of the service they have seen under incumbent Brenda Stardig. Peck is Stardig’s chief of staff, and she has pledged to work towards finishing drainage and infrastructure projects already underway.

“Being that far ahead, it’s a clear message of what the voters want,” Peck said.

[…]

Thomas, the top vote-getter in District F, raised questions that her opponent, Van Huynh, has faced about his residency. He is incumbent Steve Le’s chief of staff.

Three of the last four District F council members, including Le, have faced questions about whether they live in the southwestern district, as required by city charter and state law.

“I don’t run nasty races, but I do think it’s a valid point that I’m in a runoff with someone who doesn’t live here,” Thomas said.

Huynh, who did not return calls for comment Wednesday, listed his address in campaign filings as a house he rents just off Brays Bayou, but he and his wife claim a homestead exemption on a home they have owned for two decades that sits outside District F.

The council aide has said he stays in the rental he listed on his filing form two to three nights a week, and last month provided a copy of his lease that lists his “main address” at his home outside the district.

Huynh said he and his family are in the process of moving to a new home in the district, but they did not purchase that home until July of this year. City rules require candidates to live in the district they hope to represent for 12 months before election day, but experts say the dictate is hard to enforce.

I must say, I appreciate Tiffany Thomas bringing a little spice to the conversation. She’s also right – an awful lot of those 124 candidates never bothered filing a campaign finance report, which is a pretty minimal Serious Candidate Thing to do. Now that we’re down to two candidates per race, we can get some focus. As I said before, all of the At Large races involve one Democrat and one Republican, which allows for some clarity of choice. Some of the candidates still on the ballot have done interviews with me, either this cycle or a previous one, and others I will try to get to between now and the start of December. Everyone will have either six or seven city candidates on their runoff ballot, depending on what happened in their district, so everyone has plenty of reason to vote again. Figure out who you want to support and make sure you show up.

Lawsuit filed over District B candidate eligibility

All right then.

Cynthia Bailey

Renee Jefferson-Smith, who trailed Cynthia Bailey by 168 votes in unofficial returns, sued the city of Houston and Harris County Thursday, contending that Bailey’s 2007 conviction for forging a $14,500 check makes her ineligible to appear on the ballot.

The Texas Election Code says candidates are eligible to run for office if they have not been “finally convicted” of a felony from which they have “not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities,” though the law does not define “resulting disabilities.”

In the state district court lawsuit, which seeks an injunction and temporary restraining order to bar Bailey from appearing on the ballot, Jefferson-Smith also argued that Bailey may have committed perjury by affirming in her candidacy application that she had not been convicted of a felony.

Though the law appears to prohibit convicted felons from seeking office, candidates with felony records successfully have reached the ballot in HoustonAustin and San Antonio, and the law has yet to be thoroughly tested in court.

For now, Bailey is set to face Tarsha Jackson in the District B runoff. The district, which covers several north Houston neighborhoods including Fifth Ward and Acres Homes, currently is represented by term-limited Councilman Jerry Davis. Jackson finished atop the 14-candidate field with 20.8 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election.

[…]

In the petition filed Thursday, Jefferson-Smith also contended that Bailey’s criminal record “will guarantee a victory for the other runoff candidate and deny voters in District B a real choice.”

Replacing Bailey in the runoff, Jefferson-Smith argued, would give voters “the opportunity to choose between two eligible candidates for the position of Council member for District B, thus ensuring that District B voters are not disenfranchised.”

Jefferson-Smith declined to comment through a spokesperson, though she posted about the lawsuit on Facebook Thursday.

“I had a decision to make, and believe me it was extremely tough, so please understand; this lawsuit and fight is not about me, it’s about the people in District B,” she wrote.

Jackson said she was disappointed Jefferson-Smith filed the lawsuit, and argued that Bailey should not be kept off the ballot.

“I’ve spent my whole life fighting for criminal justice reform and fighting for people to have a second chance. All the candidates knew she had a criminal record when the story came out,” Jackson said, referring to a Chronicle story published last month. “She finished second despite the story, and I think she should be able to finish the race.”

As you well know, I Am Not A Lawyer, so I have no idea what the courts will make of this. I expect we will get a quick decision, likely followed by a quick appeal to the 1st or 14th Court of Appeals, which in turn will either rule or refuse to take up the matter in short order.

Bailey’s status was reported by the Chron in October in a story that was primarily about residency requirements. You will note that three other candidates who were on the ballot were in the same boat, though none of them came close to advancing. You may also recall that former Geto Boy Willie D decided not to file in District B over concerns about his own status. I wonder what he’s thinking right now.

I don’t have a problem with the filing of the lawsuit, especially if one believes that Bailey would be prevented from taking office in the event she won because of her status. We don’t know that would happen, but it could and it seems likely that someone would take legal action to force the question. I would have preferred to adjudicate the question before the actual election, precisely to avoid issues like this, but the courts in their wisdom prefer to only get involved after elections. I’d also prefer for people like Bailey and Willie D to be able to run for office after they finish serving their sentences, but at the very least the law in Texas is unclear on that. I’ll keep an eye on this and we’ll see what the courts have to say.

Get ready for more Buzbee ads

Keep that remote handy.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the TEA takeover is going to work

The Chron answers your questions.

The complex process has raised several questions among community members. Here are answers some of the most common queries:

What is the process for identifying and selecting candidates?

TEA officials on Wednesday released their plan for crafting the new board, as well as criteria they will use for picking appointed managers. Those documents can be seen here, along with a link to the agency’s public application to become an appointed trustee.

TEA has opened the process to the public, offering residents a chance to apply. The process includes 12 steps, with no time frames established for when they will take place or how long they will last.

First, the agency plans to conduct community meetings and receive applications. TEA officials will screen the applications, conduct reference checks with community and elected leaders, and perform background checks. Next, governance training will be provided to applicants and phone interviews will be conducted. Finalists will be subjected to two rounds of in-person interviews and required to perform an unspecified task and additional governance training.

Morath ultimately has the power to select the appointed members. He is expected to choose nine people, equal to the number of elected HISD trustees.

State officials have not said when a new board would take power, but it likely would not happen until March 2020 at the earliest.

Who can apply?

At a minimum, the agency requires that potential board members must: be an eligible voter living within HISD boundaries, pass criminal background screenings, and commit 40 hours per month to the board in the first six months and 15 hours per month thereafter.

Individuals with business ties to the district, conflicts of interest, involvement with a closed charter school or intentions to seek other elected offices will be disqualified, state officials said.

See here for the background, and read the rest for more. A more concise version of this story is in this Twitter thread from author Jacob Carpenter. There will be four community meetings, two next week and two the week after, to discuss the impending board appointments. This is the critical first step, and everything follows from there, so if you have an interest in this, there’s your chance to get involved.

Initial thoughts on Election 2019

All bullet points, all the time…

– Here’s my opening statement on the election returns debacle. We have more information about this now, but we still need more before we can go anywhere else with it.

– All incumbents want to win without runoffs, but for an incumbent that was forced into a runoff, Mayor Turner did pretty darned well. Including Fort Bend, he got about 12K more votes than Buzbee and King combined, and missed by about 2K outscoring Buzbee plus King plus Boykins. Suffice to say, he’s in a strong position for the runoffs.

– We are going to have a cubic buttload of runoffs. In addition to the Mayor, there are seven district Council runoffs, all five At Large Council races, two HISD races, two HCC races, and HD148. We might have had pretty decent overall turnout without the Mayor’s race included, but with it at the top it will be a lot like a November election. I’ll put the initial over/under at about 175K, which is roughly the 2009 Mayoral election runoff total.

– Among those Council runoffs are districts B and D, which along with HISD II and IV and HCC 2 will favor Turner. There are no runoffs in E or G, which would have favored Buzbee, and the runoff in A is almost certain to be a serene, low-money affair. Districts C and J went for King in the 2015 runoffs, but the runoffs in those districts involve only Democratic candidates. Turner has a lot more wind at his back than Buzbee does.

– For a more visual representation of the above, see this Mike Morris tweet. Nearly all of those Buzbee areas are in districts A, E, and G.

– In a sense, the main event in November is the At Large runoffs, all five of which feature a Republican and a Democrat. A Council that includes Mike Knox, Willie Davis, Michael Kubosh, Anthony Dolcefino, and Eric Dick is a Council that (including the members in A, E, and G) is fully half Republican, and could thus throw a lot of sand into the gears of the second Turner administration (or really grease the wheels of a Buzbee administration, if you want to extend the metaphor). Yes, I know, Council doesn’t really work like that, but the difference between that Council and one that includes three or more of Raj Salhotra, David Robinson, Janaeya Carmouche, Letitia Plummer, and Sallie Alcorn, is likely to be quite large. You want to have an effect on the direction Houston takes over the next four years, there you have it.

– Council could have been even more Republican, but at the district level it looks to remain at least as Democratic and possibly a little more so than it is now. Districts C and J may have gone for King in 2015 as noted, but Democrats Abbie Kamin and Shelley Kennedy are the choices in C (Greg Meyers and Mary Jane Smith finished just behind Kennedy), while Ed Pollard and Sandra Rodriguez are the contenders in J. (Yes, Pollard is considerably more conservative than most Dems, especially on LGBT issues. He’ll be the next Dwight Boykins in that regard if he wins.) District F has been (with a two-year break from 2013 to 2015) Republican going back to the 90s, but Tiffany Thomas is in pole position. She will no doubt benefit from the Mayoral runoff.

– I should note that in District C, the four candidates who were on a Greater Heights Democratic Club candidate forum I moderated in September – Kamin, Kennedy, Candelario Cervantez, and Amanda Wolfe; Kendra Yarbrough Camarena was also in the forum but switched to the HD148 race – combined for 55% of the vote in C. That’s a nice chunk of your HD134, CD02 and CD07 turf, and another illustration of how Donald Trump has helped kill the Republican Party in Harris County.

– Speaking of HD148, 69% of the vote there went to the Democratic candidates. Jessica Farrar got 68% in 2018, and she was on the high end.

– Remember when I said this about HD148 candidate Adrian Garcia? “It’s certainly possible some people will think he’s the County Commissioner, but whether they’d be happy to vote for him or confused as to why he’d be running for another office is a question I can’t answer.” I would say now the answer is “happy to vote for him”, because with all due respect I cannot see how he finishes third in that field if he was differently named. Low profile special elections are just weird.

– To be fair, name recognition also surely helped Dolcefino and Dick, neither of whom had much money. One had a famous name, and one has been a candidate multiple times, while littering the streets with his yard signs, so there is that.

– I’m just about out of steam here, but let me say this again: We. Must. Defeat. Dave. Wilson. Tell everyone you know to make sure they vote for Monica Flores Richart in the HCC 1 runoff. We cannot screw that up.

– If you still need more, go read Stace, Nonsequiteuse, and Chris Hooks.

So what happened with the election returns?

The County Clerk puts the blame on the Secretary of State.

Diane Trautman

Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman said a last-minute directive from the secretary of state caused significant delays in reporting election results on Tuesday evening.

Trautman said an Oct. 23 election advisory, issued after early voting had begun, required the county to change its counting process. The clerk’s office had originally planned to tally results at 10 sites spread across Harris County, and report them to a central headquarters via a secure intranet connection.

The state advisory, Trautman said, forced the county to abandon that plan and instead count results from each of the 757 voting centers at the clerk’s downtown Houston office.

“Our office is as frustrated as everyone else because of the state’s decision,” Trautman said in an email late Tuesday evening.

[…]

This was the highest-turnout election to date in which Harris County used its new countywide voting system, where residents can visit any polling station on Election Day, instead of an assigned precinct.

Voting appeared to go smoothly across the county on Tuesday, with the exception of some voters receiving incorrect ballots at three polling stations. The clerk’s office said election workers were to blame for the errors.

I will engage this argument, but before I do let’s keep something in mind: The vast, overwhelming majority – like, 99% plus – of Harris County voters had no idea any of this was happening, and if they did know they wouldn’t have cared much. If they watched any election coverage Tuesday night, when they went to bed they knew Mayor Turner and Tony Buzbee were headed for a runoff, they knew the Metro referendum was going to pass, and they knew who was winning in their Council and HISD districts. Only a handful of people – reporters, candidates and campaign staffers, and some diehard nerds, a group that certainly includes me – cared that there wasn’t more than that. We’re talking a few dozen people on Twitter, max. Put the pain and suffering of this group of very special interests – again, a group that includes me; I was up till 2 AM on Election Night, obsessively hitting Refresh on harrisvotes.com like all those other chumps – up against the fact that no one in this higher-turnout-than-expected election complained about long lines or not being able to vote at all because they were at the wrong location, and tell me which matters more. Stan Stanart was bad at his job not just because he had a lousy track record of administering elections, but because he was an active impediment to engaging voters and encouraging participation. We’re way better off without him no matter what time he might have had returns up.

So that’s Diane Trautman’s explanation, and it may well be fully fair and accurate, but it’s all we got from that story. The Trib adds to what we know.

In past elections, results from individual precincts where taken to several drop-off locations around the county, which fed the tallies to the central office. This time, however, the electronic ballot cards with vote counts from individual precincts had to be driven from polling sites — some of them nearly 40 minutes away; some still running an hour after polls closed — into downtown Houston for tallying to begin. Just a quarter of returns had been reported right before midnight. A complete set didn’t come in until nearly 7 a.m. Wednesday.

“This was a painstakingly manual process that amounted to only one person processing [results] cards at a time where we could have had one person at each of the 10 drop off locations submitting electronically with our original plan,” Diane Trautman, the Harris County clerk, said in an email Wednesday morning. “The contingency plan we were forced to use was only meant to be used in case of natural disaster or power outage.”

The county switched to the more cumbersome process after an election advisory issued by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office days into the early voting period forced it to ditch its usual practice of sending returns to “rally stations” throughout the county to be downloaded.

Harris County had used a similar system for years, plugging memory cards, known as “mobile ballot boxes,” into specific readers at the rally stations and transmitting the vote tallies to a central office through a secure phone line, according to county officials. As it had in the May municipal election, the county was planning to use a secure encrypted internal network this time around.

But citing security worries, the secretary of state’s advisory required the county to make copies of those memory cards if it wanted to transmit the data over encrypted lines. The originals could be processed directly at the main office.

Though the advisory was issued on Oct. 23, election officials in Harris and other counties said they weren’t made aware of it until several days later. By then, county officials said, it was too late for the county to purchase the equipment needed to make copies.

“We could’ve done that if there had been more than 13 days warning,” said Douglas Ray, a special assistant county attorney in Harris County. “It was just too short a period of time to get from point A to point B and pull this off in the way we intended to do it.”

Instead, the county turned to a contingency plan that included law enforcement escorts transporting ballot box memory cards from each polling site to the central counting station. The effort was further delayed when more than half of the county’s 757 polling places were still running at 8 p.m. as voters who were in line when polls closed finished casting their ballots.

In the aftermath of the Election Day mayhem, Harris County officials said they plan to get technology in place to resume using “rally stations” in the next election. They wonder why the secretary of state’s decided this year to object to a process long in place.

Ray says Keith Ingram, the state’s director of elections, told county attorneys during a conference call this week that Harris County’s procedures have actually been out of compliance with state law for a decade. Ray said state officials told him and other lawyers on the call that the secretary of state’s office was “compelled to issue” its advisory ahead of Tuesday’s election after facing external pressure from the Harris County GOP.

That tells us a lot, and the complaint from the Harris County GOP shows there was a political element to this. I mean, if this practice had been standard while Stan Stanart was Clerk, then what other reason is there for pushing a complaint now that he’s not except to make the new Clerk look bad? We still don’t have an official statement from the SOS, so there may well be more to this, but what we know now adds a whole other layer on top of this.

As to what the Clerk was doing, it sure sounds like they were planning to use a VPN connection to transmit the data. Encrypted VPNs are standard practice in enterprise security, and on its face should have been perfectly acceptable for use here. (It’s possible that the relevant state law that apparently forbade this is outdated, which may also explain why there had been a laissez-faire attitude towards it in the past.) From a practical perspective, this sounds fine, but the fact that it was not compliant means it was a risk, and we see what happened as a result.

Maybe they’re all still asleep, but I didn’t see any response to this story from the Twitter complainers about it when it came out on Wednesday afternoon. We still need to know more – what the SOS was thinking, why there was a delay in the Harris County Clerk getting this advisory, what the substance was of that GOP complaint, what other counties were in the same boat and how they handled it, etc etc etc – and so we need Commissioners Court to do a full and transparent interrogation of what happened, why it happened, and what we will do to make sure that the next elections – not just the December runoff but the massively larger 2020 primaries and general – don’t suffer from the same problems. Let the Commissioners and Judge Hidalgo ask Trautman and her staff all the questions, and don’t stop till everyone has the answers they’re seeking. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. The voting centers, as places to actually vote, worked great. The same bitchy Twitter conversation that moaned about the non-existent returns also credited them with maybe increasing turnout. Remember how many provisional ballots used to be cast in these elections, which was in part due to people voting at the wrong location? We won’t have any of that this time, and that’s a very big deal. But no one foresaw this possibility, and that failure led to the massive delays we experienced, which completely overwhelmed those positives. We need answers to all the remaining questions, and we need a more thorough plan for the next time, because a second performance like this one just cannot happen.

UPDATE: One more thing:

Accountability matters, and so far at least only party in this drama has been accountable.

UPDATE: The SOS finally speaks.

Keith Ingram, director of elections for the secretary of state, directed a reporter to an agency spokesman and hung up.

Ingram later shared an email he sent Wednesday evening to Houston Democratic State Sen. Carol Alvarado, in which he said Harris County ignored state law that prohibits counties from connecting voting systems to external networks such as an intranet. Alvarado on Monday asked for clarification of the election advisory.

“The clerk was planning to use this risky method of results reporting even though they were fully aware it was illegal to do so, and with apparent disregard to the fact that the intelligence community has repeatedly warned election officials since 2016 of the continuing desire of nation states to interfere with our election process,” Ingram wrote. He also told Alvarado he had explained the state’s rules about vote counting systems to a Harris County Clerk’s representative on Oct. 2.

I would question the “risky” assertion. The legality is a separate matter, though enforcement has seemingly been inconsistent. There are still a lot of questions to be answered here.

TEA announces its takeover intent

Here it comes.

In a move that is unprecedented in scope, Texas state officials announced Wednesday they plan on taking over the state’s largest school district, yanking power from Houston Independent School District’s elected school board members to “prevent imminent and substantial harm to the welfare of the district’s students.”

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath sent a letter to Houston ISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan and Board President Diana Davila giving two principal reasons for the decision: the school board’s “failure of governance” and the repeated low academic performance of Wheatley High School, which received its seventh failing rating this year. In addition to appointing a board of governance to replace the elected school board, Morath will also appoint a superintendent to lead the district. The timeline of the takeover action is unclear.

“Given the inability of the board of trustees to govern the district, these sanctions are necessary to protect the best interests of the district’s current and future students,” he wrote. The decision means the state will be taking over its largest public school district, which contains more than 270 schools and educates more than 200,000 students.

Houston ISD officials still have a slim chance at averting the takeover and have two weeks to request a formal review challenging it, according to a Texas Education Agency spokesperson.

[…]

During its temporary replacement of the elected board, a board of managers has all the same powers and duties to oversee the school district. Once the state determines it has fixed the specific problems it is charged with, Morath will gradually transfer power back to the elected board.

See here and here for the background. You can see Morath’s letter to HISD here. If for some reason you want to serve on that Board of Managers, the application is here. This decision came a day after the denial of the Wheatley appeal, which was not a surprise. There is the lawsuit filed by HISD to stop the TEA from taking over, which still feels like a longshot to me but which could slow things down. Be that as it may, you can see where this is going.

I’ll just say this much. Despite the problems the Board has had, HISD is overall a pretty good-performing school district. There are problems, of course, as there always are with large, diverse urban districts that serve a population that is mostly low-income and that has a large number of non-native English speakers. I won’t defend the current Board, though after Tuesday’s elections I’d argue it’s already improved, but I’m not at all convinced that the TEA can do a better job with academic performance at schools like Wheatley than the Board has done. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong about that – I hope all of the schools improve while the TEA is in charge – but if I’m right, I don’t know what there is to be done about it. The Chron has more.

Final results are in

Here they are. Refer to my previous post for the initial recap, I’m going to be very minimalist. Let’s do this PowerPoint-style, it’s already been a long day:

Mayor – Turner fell short of 50%, landing up a bit below 47%. He and Buzbee will be in a runoff. Which, if nothing else, means a much higher turnout for the runoff.

Controller: Chris Brown wins.

District A: Peck versus Zoes.
District B: Jackson versus Bailey.
District C: Kamin versus Kennedy. Gotta say, it’s a little surprising, but quite nice, for it to be an all-Dem runoff. Meyers came close to catching Kennedy, but she hung on to second place.
District D: Brad Jordan had a late surge, and will face Carolyn Evans-Shabazz in the runoff. If Evans-Shabazz wins, she’ll need to resign her spot on the HCC Board, so there would be another new Trustee if that happens.
District F: Thomas versus Huynh. Other than the two years we had of Richard Nguyen, this seat has pretty much always been held by a Republican. Tiffany Thomas has a chance to change that.
District H: Cisneros verusus Longoria.
District J: Pollard versus Rodriguez. Sandra Rodriguez had a late surge and nearly finished ahead of Pollard. Very evenly matched in Round One.

At Large #1: Knox versus Salhotra. Both candidates will benefit from the Mayoral runoff, though I think Raj may be helped more.
At Large #2: Robinson versus Davis, a rerun from 2015.
At Large #3: Kubosh slipped below 50% and will face Janaeya Carmouche in overtime.
At Large #4: Dolcefino versus Plummer. We will have somewhere between zero and four Republicans in At Large seats, in case anyone needs some non-Mayoral incentive for December.
At Large #5: Alcorn versus Eric Dick. Lord, please spare me Eric Dick. I don’t ask for much.

HISD: Dani Hernandez and Judith Cruz ousted incumbents Sergio Lira and Diana Davila. Maybe that will make the TEA look just a teeny bit more favorably on HISD. Kathy Blueford Daniels will face John Curtis Gibbs, and Matt Barnes had a late surge to make it into the runoff against Patricia Allen.

HCC: Monica Flores Richart inched up but did not make it to fifty percent, so we’re not quite rid of Dave Wilson yet. Rhonda Skillern-Jones will face Kathy Lynch-Gunter in that runoff.

HD148: A late surge by Anna Eastman gives her some distance between her and Luis La Rotta – Eastman got 20.34%, La Rotta 15.84%. The Republican share of the vote fell from 34% to 32%, right on what they got in this district in 2018.

Now you are up to date. Go get some sleep.

2019 election results: Houston and Metro

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

Results of Tuesday’s election could take until 2 a.m. Wednesday after the Texas Secretary of State issued a new regulation that upended plans by the Harris County Clerk’s Office to speed vote counting.

The first tubs containing electronic ballot cards from across Harris County arrived at central count just before 9:30 p.m., where election judges and poll watchers waited to see the vote count in action.

Dr. Diane Trautman said she had hoped to have votes come in from 10 countywide drop-off locations, fed in through a secured intranet site, leading to faster results on election night.

Instead, Secretary Ruth R. Hughs ordered on Oct. 23 that law enforcement officers would instead escort the ballot box memory cards from each of the 757 polling sites to the central counting station.

That change, made nearly two weeks before Election Day, led to a major delay that left voters wondering for hours how races up and down ballot would turn out.

Early election results trickled in shortly after 7 p.m., but remained virtually unchanged for hours Tuesday.

Here’s the County Clerk’s statement about that order. I don’t know what was behind it, but it sure did gum things up. In the end, final results were not available till quite late, with no more partial results after midnight because producing those was slowing down the input process. Here’s the later statement on when results would be expected. Suffice to say, this was a mess, and no one is happy about it all. Expect there to be an extended fight between the County Clerk and SOS offices.

Anyway. I’m still groggy from a late night, so I’m going to hit the highlights, and we’ll get final results later. Here we go.

Mayor: Turner leads, is close to a majority.

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a wide lead over Tony Buzbee in limited early returns late Tuesday and was within striking distance of an outright re-election win, though it was unclear at press time if he would secure enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer, jumped out to an early second-place lead that he appeared likely to retain over Bill King, an attorney and businessman who narrowly lost a 2015 runoff to Turner but struggled this time to compete financially with Buzbee, his main rival for conservative votes.

With a small share of Election Day precincts reporting, Turner remained a shade under the majority vote share he would need to avoid a December runoff against Buzbee.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, who competed with Turner for the support of Democratic and black voters, trailed in fourth place, while former councilwoman Sue Lovell was further behind in fifth. Seven other candidates combined for the remaining share of the vote.

Adding in the Fort Bend results, and we get the following:


Turner     63,359  47.28%
Buzbee     39,361  29.37%
King       17,878  13.34%
Boykins     7,848   5.86%
Lovell      1,433   1.07%
The Rest    4,121   3.08%

Three things to think about: One, Turner has at this point more votes than Buzbee and King combined, so if we do go to a runoff that’s not a bad position to start with. Two, the Election Day results reported so far came mostly from Districts A, C, E, and G, so they would be more favorable to Buzbee and King than the city as a whole. And three, the election polling was pretty accurate, especially at pegging the support levels for Boykins and Lovell.

Oh, and a fourth thing: Tony Buzbee’s drunken Election Night speech. Yowza.

Controller: Incumbent Chris Brown leads

It’s Brown 62,297 and Sanchez 54,864 adding in Fort Bend, and again with mostly Republican votes from yesterday (Sanchez led the Election Day tally by about 1,700 votes). Barring a big surprise, Brown has won.

City Council: Most incumbents have big leads, and there’s gonna be a lot of runoffs. To sum up:

District A: Amy Peck has 44.3%, George Zoes 16.8%
District B: Tarsha Jackson 21.0%, Renee Jefferson Smith 15.1%, Cynthia Bailey 13.7%, Alvin Byrd 10.7%
District C: Abbie Kamin 30.8%, Shelley Kennedy 15.8%, Greg Meyers 14.4%, Mary Jane Smith 14.0%
District D: Carolyn Evans-Shabazz 19.0%, Carla Brailey 12.3%, Brad Jordan 11.9%, Rashad Cave 11.4%, Jerome Provost 10.4%, Andrew Burks 10.3%
District E: Dave Martin easily wins
District F: Tiffany Thomas 39%, Van Huynh 24%, Richard Nguyen 18%
District G: Greg Travis easily wins
District H: Karla Cisneros 38.9%, Isabel Longoria 27.5%, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla 24.0%
District I: Robert Gallegos easily wins
District J: Edward Pollard 32.4%, Sandra Rodriguez 26.4%, Barry Curtis 19.7%
District K: MArtha Castex-Tatum easily wins

At Large #1: Mike Knox 38.1%, Raj Salhotra 21.1%, Yolanda Navarro Flores 16.3%, Georgia Provost 14.7%
At Large #2: Davis Robinson 38.9%, Willie Davis 28.8%, Emily DeToto 18.8%
At Large #3: Michael Kubosh 50.8%, Janaeya Carmouche 20.6%
At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino 22.9%, Letitia Plummer 16.4%, Nick Hellyar 12.8%, Ericka McCrutcheon 11.3%, Bill Baldwin 10.5%
At Large #5: Sallie Alcorn 23.2%, Eric Dick 22.0%, no one else above 10

Some of the runoff positions are still very much up in the air. Michael Kubosh may or may not win outright – he was only at 46% on Election Day. Name recognition worth a lot (Dolcefino, Dick) but not everything (both Provosts, Burks). Not much else to say but stay tuned.

HISD: Davila and Lira are going to lose

Dani Hernandez leads Sergio Lira 62-38, Judith Cruz leads Diana Davila 64-36. Kathy Blueford Daniels is close to fifty percent in II but will likely be in a runoff with John Curtis Gibbs. Patricia Allen, Reagan Flowers, and Matt Barnes in that order are in a tight battle in IV.

HCC: No story link on the Chron front page. Monica Flores Richart leads the execrable Dave Wilson 47-34 in HCC1, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads with 45% in HCC2 with Kathy Lynch-Gunter at 26%, and Cynthia Lenton-Gary won HCC7 unopposed.

Metro: Headed to easy passage, with about 68% so far.

That’s all I got for now. Come back later for more.

So what do we think final 2019 turnout will be?

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

2019
2015
2013
2011
2009
2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wrapup for early voting

Here’s the Chron story on the end of early voting.

Early voting ended Friday with a late surge in turnout among Harris County voters, surpassing voter participation in some prior mayoral election years but falling short of totals seen during the last city election in 2015.

Through 12 days of early voting, more than 152,000 voters cast ballots ahead of the Tuesday election, with about 137,000 voting in person and some 15,000 returning mail ballots. The total represents about 6.5 percent of Harris County’s more than 2.3 million registered voters, far less than the 9.4 percent early voting turnout in 2015 but slightly more than the 5.6 percent turnout in 2013.

Harris County was on track to fall slightly short of 2013 turnout before Friday’s influx of more than 34,000 voters. The final day turnout was roughly double this year’s prior single-day high and accounted for more than one-fifth of overall early voting turnout.

The overall standard turnout rate comes despite a Houston mayoral race that has seen a record $16 million spent between the 12 candidates, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, and several months of vigorous campaigning by Tony Buzbee and Bill King, the top two challengers to Mayor Sylvester Turner.

“For all the money spent, all the bluster, all the hype — that has done nothing to increase turnout,” said Houston Democratic strategist Keir Murray. “We’re seeing a very typical, low-interest municipal election with the great majority of voters being people who always vote.”

[…]

Harris County’s unremarkable turnout reflects the same relatively low voter participation seen in mayoral elections earlier this year in Dallas and San Antonio, Aiyer added. In Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, just 11.5 percent of registered voters turned out for the May election, which included a mayoral contest.

“I think there was a faulty assumption coming off of 2018 that we would have really high turnout,” Aiyer said. “And I think that’s just not borne out by the data at the municipal level statewide.”

The underlying early voting data also show that candidates are drawing few new voters to the polls. Through Thursday, 93 percent of Houston voters in Harris County had participated in at least two of the last three general elections, with 75 percent voting in all three, according to data from the Texas Democratic Party shared by Murray. Just 2 percent did not vote in any of the last three elections.

See here for the final data, and here for Keir’s Saturday Twitter thread on who did the voting. At this point, I think the odds are in favor of betting the under on my 200K to 220K projection for Houston. The 2009 Mayor’s race (178K in Harris County) and 2013 Mayor’s race (174K in Harris County) are looking like better comps. It’s possible that Election Day turnout will be higher than expected – the four-year cycle may be altering previous patterns, and the Astros’ playoff run may have distracted people – but probably not. I’ll run through some scenarios tomorrow and come up with concrete numbers to throw around.

In the meantime, the new college campus EV locations got positive reviews.

The University of Houston’s Student Center was bustling over the weekend with pre-Halloween festivities, at least one lively pep rally, sorority and fraternity events, and, for the first time, early voting.

“It’s been a fair turnout, and people who have voted are very appreciative that the voting is happening here,” Bruce Davis, an alternative election judge for Harris County, said Monday.

Numbers at UH’s polling station — like those at two other new early-voting locations in the county — were modest, and Davis said there were still kinks to be worked out.

This year, the Harris County Clerk’s Office introduced three new early polling locations — at UH, Texas Southern University and Houston Community College’s West Loop campus — in hopes of reaching at least 50,000 more voters, mostly students, according to Michael Winn, administrator of elections for the Harris County Clerk’s office, which oversees elections. The target includes 40,000 new voters at UH alone. The office is now led by Democrat Diane Trautman, who unseated Republican incumbent Stan Stanart last year and has backed countywide election centers to encourage higher turnout.

As of Wednesday evening, the early-voting totals were 750 at UH, 452 at TSU and 796 at HCC’s West Loop campus. But officials were not worried. According to Winn, it’s all a part of the process as people adjust to their new polling locations. In the meantime, officials are keeping a watchful eye ahead of next year’s primary and presidential elections.

“We just want to begin to lay the foundation for those locations to already be in place so people will be accustomed to going to those locations and utilizing the facilities,” Winn said.

In the end, the HCC location got 1,262 early votes, UH got 1,125, and TSU got 750. It’s a decent start for brand new locations. I agree that 2020 is both the priority and the bigger test.

Final 2019 EV totals: With a bit of bonus poll-analyzing

Early voting for the 2019 election is officially over. Let’s look at those numbers one last time:


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019  137,460  15,304  152,764   26,824
2015  164,104  29,859  193,963   43,280
2013   87,944  21,426  109,370   30,572

The 2019 Day Twelve file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

Keir Murray used those voter rosters to break down who has voted so far.

This led to a response from poli sci prof Mark Jones:

Here’s the poll in question. The Friday turnout was over 33K, more than twice what Thursday’s was and over twenty percent of the entire amount, so the roster figures may be a bit different now. Turner’s path to avoiding a runoff has always been narrow, but it’s there. I’ll have some more thoughts about where we stand on Monday, but for now, please enjoy these numbers.

City wins final judgment in revenue cap lawsuit

Wow, is this ever a blast from the past.

The city of Houston has prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the amount it can collect in property taxes, ending 14 years of litigation over a set of measures approved by voters in 2004.

At issue in the suit were two ballot measures from 2004, specifically Proposition 1, which limited the annual increases in property tax and utility revenues to the combined increases in population and inflation for Houston, or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower.

Prop 1 was approved by voters in 2004, as was was another measure, Proposition 2, that further limited the city’s ability to collect revenue. The city, under then-Mayor Bill White, abided by the first measure because of a directive in it that stated whichever cap received more votes would be the one adopted.

Individuals from a conservative group then filed suit, accusing the city of violating the caps by not also adopting Proposition 2.

After years of court battles, a state district judge has ruled that the city has “fully complied” with Proposition 1.

See here for the city’s statement. The most recent update I can find in my own archives is from 2008 (!!), though it is likely there has been more action on the lawsuit that either wasn’t reported or went unremarked upon by me. However you look at it, this is some old, old business, and now it is done. Think of it as an alternate thing the city of Houston can celebrate now that the World Series didn’t work out the way we’d hoped.

Day Eleven 2019 EV totals: One day to go

Hope everyone had a good Halloween. How many of y’all spent it voting?


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019  103,945  14,280  118,225   26,820
2015  128,611  27,952  156,563   43,280
2013   68,803  20,491   89,294   30,572

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Eleven file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

The in person totals this week have been roughly 10K, 10K, 12K, and 15K. Today will be the high point as always, but the upward slope has already begun. In the Extremely Anecdotal Data Department, I had four people ask me yesterday for some guidance on this year’s ballot. I get these questions every odd numbered year, but usually earlier in the process. If you want to take that as a sign that people are waiting longer than usual to vote this year, I won’t stop you. Have you voted yet? Are you still figuring it out in some races? Leave a comment and let us know.

TEA recommends HISD takeover

Not finalized yet, but you can see the way it’s going to go.

The Texas Education Agency is recommending that the state take over Houston Independent School District — the state’s largest public school system — due to its elected school board’s “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern,” according to a 318-page final investigative report sent to lawmakers Wednesday.

TEA’s Special Investigations Unit Director Jason Hewitt found that school board members violated state open meetings law by discussing district business without notifying the public of their discussions, attempted to influence how contracts were awarded, and took action on district issues individually without consulting other board members. It substantiates most of the allegations made in a preliminary August report.

District officials and board members, whose responses are included in the final report, dispute many of the agency’s conclusions and argued the allegations were not investigated properly. The Texas Tribune obtained a copy of the report, which is public, late Wednesday. TEA officials confirmed that they had sent it to legislators.

Hewitt recommended Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appoint a board of managers to oversee the school district, replacing the elected school board.

[…]

Houston ISD received a B from the state this year, largely based on student test scores, but Wheatley High School failed in August for the seventh year in a row. The TEA is separately considering penalizing the district because of Wheatley’s repeated low performance.

The findings in the report are final and cannot be appealed. Morath will make the final determination on whether to replace Houston ISD’s board.

See here for the background. Remember that this is about the ethics investigation – this is the final version of the August report, which means this version was written after HISD had a chance to respond to the initial report, which also recommended a takeover. The accountability ratings issue is still pending, with the Wheatley rating being half-heartedly appealed, and that decision by Morath – a decision between replacing the Board and closing Wheatley, the latter of which everyone expects will not happen – is not due till early next year. I presume Morath has more discretion in this matter, but given that a takeover is basically inevitable at this point I’m not sure how much it matters. I suppose it may make a difference in terms of how long it may take HISD to get back in control of its own governance, and what it needs to do to get there, but in the short term it’s a distinction without much difference.

In the meantime, there’s this.

Lawyers for Houston ISD’s school board have asked a federal judge to preemptively stop the Texas Education Agency from stripping power from the district’s elected trustees and allow board members to select a permanent superintendent, the latest maneuver in a growing legal battle between the district and state.

In a motion filed Tuesday, the HISD board’s lawyers argued agency officials have discriminated against voters in predominantly black and Hispanic cities, overstepped their authority in suspending the district’s superintendent search and misinterpreted a new state law that requires dramatic intervention in districts with long-struggling schools.

[…]

In their motion for a preliminary injunction, HISD’s lawyers said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath is attempting to “unlawfully supplant the democratically-elected board of trustees” and replace it with a state-appointed governance team. The district’s lawyers noted that 10 districts subject to major state intervention in recent years all serve large majorities of black and Hispanic students, illustrating discrimination under the Voting Rights Act.

“You could argue that it’s a coincidence. I think it’s not,” Kevin O’Hanlon, a lawyer for HISD trustees, said Wednesday.

In addition to discrimination claims, HISD’s lawyers argued that a state-appointed conservator overseeing the district’s operations of long-struggling Kashmere High School overstepped her legal authority in suspending HISD’s superintendent search last March. HISD has been without a permanent superintendent since March 2018, when Richard Carranza abruptly left to lead New York City’s public schools.

HISD’s lawyers claim the conservator, former Aldine ISD administrator Doris Delaney, only had the power to dictate matters related to Kashmere.

“Delaney was appointed to be a campus-level conservator over the performance of one of (HISD’s) schools, and was to implement and ensure compliance with getting the resources necessary to extract it from its low-performing status,” O’Hanlon said.

However, state law grants broad authority to conservators, including the ability to “direct an action to be taken” by a district’s board of trustees.

I Am Not A Lawyer, but let’s just say I have my doubts about the likelihood of success here. It’s worth a shot, but I wouldn’t go betting the rent on it. We’ll see how this goes, and how long it takes – would anyone be surprised if this is still in the courts when the TEA is handing power back to HISD? I don’t think it’s likely to go anywhere, but that’s just my guess at this time.

Day Ten 2019 EV totals: Congrats to the Nats

Sorry, Astros fans. Try to remember that it was a good season regardless of what happened in the last seven games. And as they used to say in Brooklyn, wait till next year.


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019   88,822  13,015 101,837   26,792
2015  107,086  26,608 133,594   43,280
2013   61,391  19,350  80,741   30,572

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Ten file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

I mean, it’s not like 2019 has been slow. It’s up about 25% from 2013, which was a year with 174K ballots cast. If we just go by that metric, we’d get somewhere between 215K and 220K total turnout this year, which is about 15K more than I projected by other means. This method is subject to variance based on how many people vote early versus on Election Day, and this feels to me like a year where maybe a few more people than usual may be taking their time to vote. I don’t know that, I’m just supposing it based on things like people’s attention being elsewhere and the negative tone of the main campaigns. If you want to look at 2019 as a percentage of 2015, it’s down about 25% from 2015, which projects out to between 200K and 205K, or almost exactly what my original guess was. So who knows? Put them together and assume a range of 200K to 220K. Impress your friends by telling them that’s the spectrum for turnout you expect. Until we get more data, that’s as good a guess as anything.

8 Day finance reports: Mayor and Controller

The Erik Manning spreadsheet is here, the July reports from Mayoral candidates are here, the July reports from Controller candidates (which in this case was just Chris Brown) are here, and the 30 day reports for both Mayorals and Controllers are here. All of the reports that I have downloaded and inspected can be found in my Google folder, and any reports that were filed non-electronically can be found here. Finally, the Chron story about the 8 day reports is here.

I’m not going to run through the 8 day reports for all of the races and candidates, as I have done for July and 30 day reports. Too many candidates, not enough time, and honestly not that much of interest for most of these campaigns. Though I may check out a couple of the Council campaigns, just because I’m curious about them. Anyway, the first reports are mostly about raising money, but the 8 day is mostly about spending it – ads, canvassers, calls and texts (note to campaigns: I’ve already voted please stop texting me kthxbai), signs to post at EV locations, etc etc etc. Keep that in mind as we examine these reports.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       376,947  1,260,650        0     787,331
Buzbee             0  2,866,445        0   1,300,780
King          87,344    193,980  410,000     141,287
Boykins       20,250     38,308        0      29,969
Lovell        
Baker          1,500      2,000        0       3,419
Broze          4,472      1,560        0       2,955
Houjami        1,377        273        0          38


Brown         37,010    211,379   75,000     108,907
Sanchez      107,581     81,350        0      66,299

Sue Lovell did not have a report posted as of Tuesday. She was one of the last to post a 30 day report, so I’m guessing it will be there eventually. Some day, I hope a bright young political science student will embark on a study of why anyone would be donating to an obviously going-nowhere campaign like one of Baker/Broze/Houjami, in particular in the end days before the actual election, when there can be no doubt that to do so is to light that money on fire. Beyond the scope of this post, and this blog, but I’m putting it out there into the universe to see what I may get.

We’ve known all along that the Buzbee finance reports are weird since he’s not actually raising any money but just writing himself bigger and bigger checks, thus rendering the “Raised” and “On Hand” fields useless. The main thing we learn here is that he apparently hasn’t written any more checks since September 27. One reason why Mayor Turner may really really want to avoid a runoff with Buzbee is because he’s going to have to raise a bunch of money in a very short time frame to be able to compete with Buzbee on the air. The good news is that contribution limits are reset for runoffs, so any currently maxed-out donors can be tapped again, but it still takes time and effort. Or maybe it doesn’t matter that much – maybe it’s all about GOTV and running yet another attack ad will just turn everyone’s stomach and not actually affect anything.

On the Controller side, Orlando Sanchez raised quite a bit, no doubt making up for lost time due to his late entry into the race. Chris Brown has pressed his financial advantage, spending quite a bit in this period, but maintaining a financial edge afterwards. I was a bit surprised to see an attack ad by Brown on Sanchez during Monday Night Football, which was essentially a retelling of the financial dominatrix story, and oh yes I am very glad to have the opportunity to use the phrase “financial dominatrix” again. Brown had been running positive, accomplishments-and-biography ads before now. I don’t know if this is a sign that he’s worried, or just a pre-emptive strike, but either way it took me by surprise. I guess life doesn’t hand you that many chances to run that kind of ad, so you may as well go for the gusto when you can.

Day Nine 2019 EV totals: The “all everyone cares about is the World Series” edition

You know the drill, so let’s do the thing:


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019   76,613  11,356  87,969   26,740
2015   89,599  24,768 114,367   42,938
2013   54,071  17,987  72,058   30,549

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Nine file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

No one’s really paying any attention to this, right? Everyone’s just thinking about the Astros. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Trib overview of the Houston Mayor’s race

Not really anything here you don’t already know, but a good summary of the race so far.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

With early voting underway, the Houston mayoral race is not lacking for drama, but through it all, a fundamental question has persisted: Whatever the first-term stumbles of incumbent Sylvester Turner, is the solidly blue city willing to vote him out for a less-than-Democratic alternative? His closest competitor, swashbuckling attorney Tony Buzbee, is feverishly testing that hypothesis ahead of the Nov. 5 election, spending millions of his dollars to portray Turner as awash in corruption — and Buzbee as the City Hall outsider who can clean it all up.

But Turner has a Trump card — literally — and has spent the closing weeks of the race emphasizing Buzbee’s past support for the president, who is deeply unpopular in Texas’ biggest metropolis.

“This is a Democratic city,” said Keir Murray, a local Democratic consultant not working for any mayoral campaign. With Turner “pretty aggressively painting Buzbee with the Trump brush,” Murray added, “I think that that’s improving the mayor’s fortunes on a daily basis and given him some opportunity to win this race without a runoff.”

To be sure, Turner has his own vulnerabilities as he fights for a second four-year term in the mayor’s office, the potential culmination of a career in public service marked by 27 years in the Texas House and two unsuccessful mayoral bids before finally winning in 2015. And until the bitter end, Turner will have to contend with an unconventional, spotlight-grabbing challenger in Buzbee, who has already self-funded his campaign to the tune of $10 million while refusing donations from others. Beside Buzbee, Turner faces three other challengers seen as viable to varying degrees: Bill King, the businessman who narrowly lost to Turner in the 2015 mayoral contest; Dwight Boykins, a City Council member; and Sue Lovell, a former council member.

The race is non-partisan, though there is little mystery where the leading candidates are drawing their support. In the latest poll, Turner, a longtime Democrat, got majority support from that party’s voters, while Buzbee, who is eschewing party labels, had the backing of most Republicans.

There have been two public surveys in the race, both giving Turner a wide lead over Buzbee, but not enough to clear 50% and win outright on Nov. 5. Around one-fifth of voters were undecided in each survey.

[…]

Turner largely ignored his challengers until early September, when he launched an attack ad tying Buzbee to Trump, calling Buzbee a Trump “imitator” and “copycat.” Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump, then the presumptive Republican nominee for president, in June 2016, and while he later disavowed Trump after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, he ended up giving $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Buzbee has rebuffed Turner’s efforts to yoke him to Trump by arguing he has supported politicians from both parties who have let him down — none more than Turner. Buzbee held a fundraiser for his now-rival in the 2015 runoff.

At a Monday debate, Buzbee conceded some things Trump has done “make me cringe” but insisted he wanted to “divorce myself from all this national politics which is ruining our political system.”

“This mayor would love this to be an election about Trump, but I’m running as Tony Buzbee, my own man, captain, United States Marine, who’s gonna change this city,” Buzbee said.

Turner responded: “If you’re making the same noise, if you’re coming with no experience, if you’re embracing people like Steve Hotze” — a controversial anti-LGBT power broker in Houston politics — “if you’re not running away from President Trump and yet you’re accusing other people of being the worst person you have ever supported, then what does that say about the person making those claims? It’s very important.”

(Hotze himself has grown as an issue in the race after Buzbee repeatedly distanced himself from Hotze’s endorsement at the debate. A day later, the Houston Chronicle reported Buzbee had met multiple times with Hotze in pursuit of his support, and on Thursday, Hotze withdrew his endorsement, calling Buzbee “a liar and a charlatan.”)

There’s more, and they touch on a bunch of other items that have been a part of the campaign. I didn’t see anything that I didn’t already know, but if you have a friend who needs a primer on what has happened so far in this race, this would suffice. To me, the two big things that appear to be affecting the outcome are the Republican support for Buzbee, which has helped him at King’s expense, and the lack of Democratic support for either Boykins or Lovell, which could have significantly held Turner back. I feel like the BuzbeeHotze dustup has opened a path to Turner winning in November, as polls show that much of Buzbee’s support comes from the Trump crowd, which we all know is now mostly equivalent to the Hotze crowd. If those people don’t show up or skip the Mayor’s race, that reduces the total number of votes Turner needs to get to make it to fifty percent. It’s still not the most likely outcome, but it’s possible.

Day Eight 2019 EV totals: The uptick has begun

Week Two early voting turnout is always higher than Week One. In part, that has been because of extended hours beginning on the second Monday. This year the hours are the same, but we got a step up anyway.


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019   66,255   9,699  75,954   26,139
2015   73,905  23,650  97,555   42,938
2013   45,571  16,076  61,647   30,548

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Eight file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

For comparison, there were 10,318 in person votes on Monday, and 2,900 returned mail ballots. In 2015, those numbers were 12,897 and 2,509. Given the disparity in mail ballots sent out to voters, that’s an impressive amount for this year, though as you can see the total percentage of mail ballots returned is still far behind 2015. Usually, there’s a small increase with in person votes on the second Tuesday and Wednesday, and bigger steps up on Thursday and Friday. We’ll see about the mail ballots.

Firing Taubman wasn’t enough

Just putting down a marker.

Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Astros will stretch beyond the World Series as the league looks into “aspects that go beyond” Brandon Taubman’s clubhouse incident.

Taubman was fired on Thursday, five days after he unleashed a profanity-filled tirade toward three female reporters in the Astros’ clubhouse following the American League Championship Series.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday the Astros “reacted quickly and in an appropriate way” with their decision to terminate Taubman, the team’s 34-year-old assistant general manager. Manfred said results of the ongoing investigation “will be public.”

Manfred said his office began its current investigation because it was “concerned” about the Astros’ initial statement in response to the incident, one that falsely claimed Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein “attempted to fabricate” Taubman’s actions.

[…]

After the two exchanged unreturned voicemails earlier in the day, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and Apstien met for about 15 minutes at Nationals Park on Friday night. Apstein requested a written retraction of the team’s first statement. It is unclear if the Astros will oblige.

On Thursday, Luhnow repeatedly declined to reveal who wrote or approved the statement. The general manager acknowledged he saw the 76-word writeup before it was released. The Athletic reported on Friday that Anita Sehgal, the team’s senior vice president of marketing and communication, oversaw it.

See here and here for the background. Let me remind you, that first statement by the Astros accused reporter Stephanie Apstein of making the whole thing up. If even a little bit of that were true, her career would be over. It’s not just that the Astros were completely wrong about that, it’s that they didn’t care enough to be concerned about it before going ahead and smearing her. The Astros did finally formally retract that statement, five whole days later. To say the least, we are here now because that statement was issued in the first place, then left to fester for the entire work week.

Let’s be clear: This wasn’t a slip-up committed by some underpaid low-level employee. General Manager Jeff Luhnow saw that statement before it was released. The senior vice president of marketing and communication, Anita Sehgal, oversaw and thus presumably approved it. Brandon Taubman is deservedly unemployed now, but he’s far from the only sinner here. The Astros didn’t have a Brandon Taubman problem. They have a whole-organization problem. That remains true even with that apology and retraction from Jim Crane to Stephanie Apstein. That’s MLB’s problem now, and I hope they are considering that as they do their investigation.

After I started writing this post, I came across this story, which notes the Crane letter to Apstein and moves things along a little bit.

How Houston’s original statement was crafted remains vague. Who wrote it remains a mystery. Senior vice president of marketing and communications Anita Sehgal refused to “name names” in a six-minute interview with three reporters prior to Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday.

“This statement really is owned by the entire organization,” Sehgal said. “This team needs to wear this statement. We screwed up. And we’re going to own it as a team. We’re going to share responsibility for it and we’re not going to point fingers at any one person. We’re going to own it as a team. And that’s the right decision.”

The Athletic reported this week that Sehgal, an Astros employee since 2015, had oversight of the statement. Asked if that report was true, Sehgal said “I oversee all of (public relations) and communications. Lots of people were involved.”

“Listen, this statement was wrong and it was wrong on a number of fronts,” Sehgal said. “It’s disappointing. It’s embarrassing for the organization and we are very, very sorry that it happens. But the team owns it. The entire organization owns the decision that that statement went out. We’ve apologized. We’ve recognized it. And we feel really, really bad.”

That’s better, and it’s good that she recognizes this is owned by the whole organization, but it doesn’t address the question of how the whole organization should be held accountable. Again: Jeff Luhnow and Anita Sehgal have responsibility for the original statement. Likely other senior executives do as well, not to mention Jim Crane. Firing Brandon Taubman doesn’t get all of them off the hook as well. What, if anything, are we going to do about that? I’ll be honest and admit I don’t know what a just outcome to all this should be, but the Astros and MLB need to figure it out. This will remain a stain on the Astros organization until they do.

Day Seven 2019 EV totals: It’s been a week

And I’ve been too busy to post these on a daily basis, much less do anything with them. I apologize for that, but can’t make any promises that next week will be better. Stay strong.


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019   55,937   6,799  62,736   26,105
2015   61,008  21,141  82,149   42,938
2013   37,928  14,342  52,270   30,544

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Seven file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here.

With a full week of early voting in the books, I’m willing to do a little back-of-the-envelope guesswork on final turnout. In 2015, 421K people turned out in Harris County, while in 2013 the figure was 260K. In each case, that means roughly 20% of the final total vote had been cast as of Sunday. That’s Harris County overall – in 2015, the share of the total vote in the city of Houston was 64%, and in 2013 it was 65%. Projecting from there, we get a final Harris County total turnout of about 313K for this year, and about 203K for the city of Houston. That’s on the low end of what I would have suggested for Houston a couple of weeks ago, but not crazy given what we’ve been seeing. All of this is subject to change – maybe the next week of early voting will be busier, or maybe it will drop off – but for now put the over/under in the Mayor’s race at about 200K. Ask me again on Friday and I’ll let you know if I still feel that way.

Chron profile of Brad “Scarface” Jordan

Though he prefers now to just be Brad Jordan, original member of the Geto Boys, current candidate for Houston City Council, District D.

Brad Jordan


Brad Jordan looks through the windshield of his white Mercedes and sees something he doesn’t like. He stops the car and calls out to a guy named Joe, just one among a group that quickly gathers to say hello to the favorite son of South Acres.

“Why is Charlie’s mama’s door open right there?” Jordan says.

Joe assures him everything is fine.

“They’re just letting a little air out,” he says. “Nobody would mess with her. Too many good neighbors. It’s the same as your grandma, B. If somebody messed with her the whole neighborhood would rise up.”

Satisfied, Jordan keeps slowly cruising around Holloway Street and some offshoots in a different manner than he did as a young kid with music on his mind. Jordan came out of South Acres to become an internationally renowned rapper known as Scarface. Now when he looks around his old neighborhood referenced with a list of street names — Holloway, Bellfort, Scott, Reed Road, Phlox — in his song “My Block,” he’s not looking for material for songs, but rather problems he would like to correct, which is why he’s running for City Council.

He points out the home he bought and is renovating, as well as his grandmother’s house, where he grew up. He hands a $10 bill to a sweat-soaked man he calls Gat, who is pushing a lawn mower down the street. Jordan pays him to cut the grass around abandoned houses. His face twists into a grimace when he sees garbage piles.

“There’s a reason we have a dump,” Jordan says. “If I’m elected, there’ll be an astronomical fine for dumping garbage in a yard like that.”

[…]

Jordan’s issues punch list is formidable. Jordan wants to create reentry programs for young adults coming out of prison. He has ideas for activities he’d like to push offering youth alternatives to joining gangs. He wants to push trade school, and talks about the scholarships available to train as longshoremen, which comes without the burden of student debt. He’d like to know where his neighborhood stands with Hurricane Harvey relief two years after the storm. He’s big on beautification, to the point that he keeps cleaning up real estate lots out of his own pocket.

He’d like to see teachers better compensated, and rattles off words of thanks for “Ms. Robb, my English teacher, and my reading teacher Ms. Smith. And my music teacher, Ms. Taylor. I’m a product of their teaching.”

And he has hopes for programs to help the elderly, including providing transportation to the grocery store or doctor’s appointments.

That one hits close to home, as his grandmother, 91, still resides in South Acres.

It’s a good profile, and a bit different than the ones you normally read, in part because it was written by a music writer (Andrew Dansby) and not a political writer. Jordan’s a compelling character, and in a cycle where he got to have as much time as he wanted to do a campaign, or where there were fewer candidates, I’d feel pretty confident counting him as a frontrunner. Here, with the compressed schedule thanks to Dwight Boykins’ mid-year departure and the enormous field, it’s really hard to say what might happen. I actually say more or less exactly that in the story – Dansby contacted me for my thoughts, and he quoted me. But you should read the story anyway. I hope to interview the candidates who make it to Round 2 in this race, which I have to say would be pretty cool if they included Jordan.

Metro Wi-Fi

Cool.

Metro riders now can access free Wi-Fi on select buses and trains through a pilot program funded by Microsoft, the transit agency announced Monday.

Buses on Route 54, which passes by the University of Houston and Texas Southern University along Scott, and the Route 204 park-and-ride from downtown Houston to Spring will offer the service, as well as the Green and Purple lines.

The routes were chosen because of their proximity to universities and other schools, Metro officials said. The service eventually may expand to all Metro routes, Metro Chairwoman Carrin Patman said Monday.

“Connecting our riders means we can make our services more visible and more accessible to them, and it’s also more efficient and sustainable,” Patman said.

Here’s the Metro press release, which notes that the pilot will run through mid-January. It’ll be somewhat like a hotel Wi-Fi offering – choose the “ridemetro-wifi” network, enter your email address, accept terms and conditions, and you’re in. I figure this will be more useful to folks with longer rides, like on the commuter lines, but everyone likes Wi-Fi, so even for a short ride it’ll get used. Hopefully, a system-wide expansion will follow.

30 Day finance reports: HISD

The Chron notes that where there are elections there are contributions, even for our diminished HISD Trustees.

The threat of state officials stripping power from Houston ISD trustees has not scared off donors interested in the district’s school board elections, with 13 candidates combining to raise about $210,000 through early October.

With about a month before the Nov. 5 general election, candidates running for four school board seats were collecting money at a similar pace as the 2017 election cycle, campaign finance records show. That year, 19 candidates took in about $300,000 with a month remaining before the general election, which featured five regular races and one special election in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

[…]

The bulk of donations to date have been collected by five non-incumbent candidates.

In District IV, which covers parts of southern and downtown Houston, Matt Barnes and Reagan Flowers outpaced the two other candidates running to replace Trustee Jolanda Jones, who is not seeking re-election. Barnes, the founder of Barnes Strategies Consulting, took in about $61,000, more than any other candidate had raised at this time in 2017. Flowers, the CEO of nonprofit C-STEM Teacher and Student Support Services, netted about $31,000.

To HISD’s east, District VIII challenger Judith Cruz collected about $60,000 in donations as of early October, far more than the single $2,500 contribution reported by incumbent Board President Diana Dávila, who traditionally does not raise campaign funds.

Armed with a fundraising advantage and several endorsements — Houstonians For Great Public Schools, Harris County Young Democrats and Latino Texas PAC, among others — Cruz is campaigning as a voice of change and transparency. The race comes as Dávila faces accusations from TEA investigators that she misled state officials during an inquiry into potential violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act and improperly interfered in district vendor contracts. Dávila has denied the allegations.

The story also mentions District III challenger Dani Hernandez ($26K) and District II candidate Kathy Blueford-Daniels ($17K, though most of that was in kind donations). Naturally, I have the details:

Kathy Blueford-Daniels – HISD II
Jevon German – HISD II
Cris Moses – HISD II

Sergio Lira – HISD III
Dani Hernandez – HISD III

Reagan Flowers – HISD IV
Patricia Allen – HISD IV
Matt Barnes – HISD IV

Diana Davila – HISD VIII
Judith Cruz – HISD VIII


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
B-Daniels     17,660        780    2,500           0
German           250        627        0         250
Moses            790        658        0         131

Lira           6,585      5,709        0       6,883
Hernandez     26,627      5,994        0      16,478

Flowers       31,120      8,979    3,058      22,140
Allen          3,845        318        0           0
Barnes        42,736     34,640    2,491      23,375

Davila         2,500      2,605   19,073           0
Cruz          45,235      7,191        0      48,833

Here are the July reports. Many of the candidates running now were not in the race at that time. The totals mentioned in that Chron story are cumulative – Barnes had raised about $19K as of the July report, and Cruz had raised about $15K – but each individual report only reflects the amount raised and spent during that time period (July 1 through September 26 for these purposes), so what you see above is just that part of it. Nobody has raised any money in District II – as noted above, nearly all of Kathy Blueford-Daniels’ total is in kind donations – which for an open seat race is a situation that always intrigues me. District IV looks to be pretty competitive – Reagan Flowers entered after the July reports were filed, so everything she has raised is there in the 30 day. Hernandez and Cruz have raised their money, now they have to spend it. We could have a very different Board in less than two weeks.

Another ReBuild Houston lawsuit

Gotta say, this puzzles me.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

A pair of Houston residents filed a lawsuit against Mayor Sylvester Turner and city council Monday, accusing them of failing to follow the will of voters who approved a charter amendment last year for funding drainage and street repairs.

The lawsuit accuses city leaders of shortchanging the dedicated drainage fund by failing to transfer the full amount required by last year’s ballot proposition.

The proposition, which essentially was a “do-over” vote on the city’s 2010 street and drainage repair program known as Rebuild Houston, requires the city to dedicate 11.8 cents of its property tax rate to the street and drainage fund. The city, under former mayor Annise Parker and Turner, has transferred less than the full amount generated by the 11.8 cents for the last five years.

The plaintiffs allege a roughly $44 million discrepancy in what the city currently has budgeted compared to the amount generated by 11.8 cents of property tax rate. Over 10 years, the funding shortfall could exceed $500 million, the plaintiffs say.

Turner’s office issued a statement disagreeing with the premise of the lawsuit, saying that transferring the full amount generated by 11.8 cents of tax rate would require moving some $50 million more annually and would “cripple” city services.

“That would mean cuts to essential services like police, fire, solid waste, and other services,” the statement said. “Mayor Turner doesn’t support that.”

The plaintiffs, Allen Watson and Bob Jones, are engineers who were part of the campaign that put the program, then known as ReNew Houston, on the 2010 ballot. It later was renamed Rebuild Houston.

They said they were suing because the city had failed to meet the expectations outlined in Proposition A, which 74 percent of voters approved last year. They are seeking a court order to force the city to direct more money and “to fund the things they said they were going to fund,” Jones said.

“Houstonians spoke loud and clear just one year ago when they voted to create a fund to fix our streets and drainage,” Jones said in a later statement. “…We are undertaking this suit to ensure that the law is upheld, that the promised funding is protected so that our street and drainage infrastructure receives the investment necessary to repair, replace and upgrade our street and drainage systems throughout the city over the next 20-30 years.”

Here’s what I wrote in 2018 about the ReBuild re-vote. You can click the links to the Chron stories, but there’s nothing in either of them that mentioned a percentage of property taxes. The story mentions this was a part of the original mix of funding for ReBuild Houston, and here I have to confess I don’t remember that. There was so much noise and drama about the drainage fee that anything and everything else got overpowered. If this is what’s supposed to happen, then the consequences will be unpleasant. On the plus side, maybe it’ll take another decade to get settled via the courts.

Day Five 2019 EV totals: Steady as she goes

There are two Monday through Friday periods in Early Voting, and we just finished the first of them. Let’s check in on the numbers.


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019   44,244   6,790  51,043   26,105
2015   48,027  21,141  69,168   42,938
2013   28,303  14,342  42,645   30,544

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day Three file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here. The daily voter rosters are here, and I will try to do something with that over the weekend.

Friday was a relatively slow day – in order of business, it went Tuesday, Thursday, Wednesday, Friday, Monday this week. By contrast, in 2015 the first Friday was the busiest day of that week by a lot, a step up from the rest. Possibly the inclement weather discouraged a few people – the weekend is supposed to be glorious, so we’ll see about that. Or maybe people were too occupied with the Astros to think about anything else. Who knows? All we can say is that 2015 is ahead of 2019, and the lead is growing. Saturday is usually a busy day. I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Hotze and Buzbee

But wait, there’s more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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