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Endorsement watch: For the Metro bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day One 2019 EV totals: Let’s get this started

It’s that time again, time to track daily early vote totals. Let’s get right to it, shall we?


Year    Early    Mail   Total   Mailed
======================================
2019    7,973   5,407  13,380   20,148
2015    8,889  14,240  23,129   40,626
2013    5,028   8,560  13,588   28,620

EarlyVoting

The 2019 Day One file is here, the final 2015 file is here, and the final 2013 file is here.

The most striking thing here is the drop in mail ballots that have been sent out this year compared to the two previous election years. A small percentage of mail ballots have been returned so far as well (26.5% this year, 30.5% in 2015, 29.9% in 2013). Without knowing more about who has and has not been sent mail ballots, I can’t say who this might benefit. Turner had a plurality of the mail votes in 2015, with King in second place, for what that’s worth. Early in person voting is down modestly, but as I would expect overall participation to be down from 2015, which was an open Mayor’s race and had a much hotter ballot proposition to go along with it, that’s not a surprise. Honestly, my opinion now is what it was before – this has been a relative snoozer of an election, with mostly negative campaigning. Doesn’t sound like the making of a big number.

All that said, this may be a year where there’s more turnout at the back end than at the front end. Maybe more people are undecided about more races and are thus taking their time. Maybe the percentage of votes cast early will be slightly lower than it was in 2015. It’s too early to say. This is what we have. We’ll know more every subsequent day.

UH poll: Turner 43, Buzbee 23, King 8

Another encouraging poll for Mayor Turner as early voting starts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner retains a wide lead over his opponents, most of whom have failed to gain traction with weeks left until Election Day, according to a University of Houston poll released Sunday.

The poll, published on the eve of early voting, shows Turner with 43.5 percent support among likely voters, followed by lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee at 23.4 percent. Bill King, Turner’s 2015 runoff opponent, trails with 7.8 percent, while 6.8 percent of voters said they support Councilman Dwight Boykins.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell was backed by 1.2 percent of respondents, while 0.2 percent of voters said they support one of the other seven candidates. Another 17.2 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.

For the poll, 501 likely voters were surveyed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Released weeks after a prior survey found Turner leading with 37 percent support, the new survey shows the mayor inching closer to the 50 percent-plus-one vote he would need to win the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the election will head to a December runoff between the top two finishers.

A significant share of undecided voters said they are considering Turner or view him favorably, results that indicate he has a narrow but unlikely path to outright victory on Nov. 5.

“Anything’s possible,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs and co-director of the poll. “Prior to this poll, I would have put my money on a runoff. But if you look at the undecided voters, there’s a possibility he could squeak it out in the general.”

See here for more on that previous poll, which was done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, and here for the details of this poll with the usual caveats about how tricky it is to poll municipal elections applying. I would not read this as evidence of Turner increasing his lead – it’s just two polls, two individual data points, there’s not nearly enough data to make claims about a trend – but it is corroborating evidence that Turner has a solid lead, that Buzbee hasn’t gotten much traction despite his millions in ads, and that Bill King is basically an afterthought. As with the other poll, Turner has a healthy, majority-support lead in runoffs with both Buzbee and King. This poll also found that a lot of undecideds lean Turner, and he’s pick up most of Boykins’ voters in overtime. Finally, Donald Trump has a 63-32 unfavorable rating in Houston, so the runoff campaign ads write themselves. All told, a whole lot of good and not much bad for Turner. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he could win in November – I think the path for that is too narrow – but he’s clearly in good shape.

Endorsement watch: Turner and Brown

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

Mayor Sylvester Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Chris Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early voting for the November 2019 election starts today

From the inbox.

Early Voting Starts Today

Monday, October 21 to Friday, November 1

Voting is so much more convenient this year, and you can experience that starting at 7AM on October 21, when Early Voting starts. To find a location near you, all you have to do is check out our Poll Finder Map at HarrisVotes.com, text VOTE to 1-833-937-0700 or message us on our Facebook page.

Better than a Google search, these easy-to-use tools give you a more accurate set of options and directions than you would by searching online on the day that you vote.

Before you go to the polls, don’t forget to do your homework— go to our Your Vote Counts dashboard to find out more about how this election impacts your community. You can also print your sample ballot and bring it with you to the polls.

You can also get help if you have accessibility or translation needs. By law, you’ll need to ask your election clerks for help first, and then we’ll get you started!

Start planning now to #VoteYOURWay, whenever and with whoever you want!

The early voting map is here, with all locations open from 7 AM to 7 PM except for Sunday the 27th, when they are open from 1 to 6 PM. There are six new locations, including the long-awaited ones on the UH and TSU campuses, and a couple of new addresses for previous locations, so check out the map and know where you want to go. Metro will offer free rides to the polls on Saturday the 26th and Election Day, November 5th.

I will of course track the early voting numbers as they come in. This year will be different because of the new locations, and perhaps because of the extended hours during the first week, but it’s always a worthwhile exercise to monitor the progress. For comparison purposes, here are the final daily EV totals from 2015, 2013, and 2009. For a bit of extra reading, here’s a thing I wrote in 2015 about who exactly votes in these elections. Happy voting, y’all.

30 day campaign finance reports: Open City Council seats, part 1

As before, my look at the July 2019 finance reports for these candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Peck          17,700     18,543    5,000      19,391
Coryat         8,585      3,899        0       3,303
AyersWilson    5,045      5,030        0          15
Cherkaoui      6,100      6,773    8,000       2,062
Zoes           3,025      4,717    4,000       4,401
Myers            951      1,192        0           0

J Smith       15,025     31,200        0       9,032
Byrd          11,095     13,774    2,500       5,063
Quintana      10,868      4,632        0       6,505
Jackson       10,105     18,378        0       8,025
K-Chernyshev  10,730     70,262   11,000           0
Bailey         2,925      1,032      200       5,705
Anderson       1,250          0        0           0
Bryant           373      1,331    1,011          53
Kirkmon
White
Butler
Gillam
Perkins
G Wilson

Kamin         89,742     37,377        0     177,882
Kennedy       35,031     32,928        0      12,056
Smith         26,138     33,001        0      30,175
Nowak         18,813     15,941    2,000       4,871
Cervantez     13,367      2,802        0      10,564
Marshall       9,350      6,922        0       2,527
Scarbrough     8,015      2,916        0      23,544
Meyers         5,003     15,181   35,000      36,729
Wolfe          2,373      1,154        0       1,238
Hill           2,604      2,604        0           0
Ganz             500        605        0          90
House            500        500        0           0
Walker (SPAC)  1,500        128      144         471

Brailey       28,406     19,090   11,853       9,550
Jordan        19,845     18,226        0      36,719
Moore         12,533        946    1,500      13,087
McGee          8,108      4,227        0       3,880
Hamilton       8,786      4,330        0       4,456
Christian      6,640      6,070        0         570
Provost        6,100      3,560        0       2,457
Cave           4,515      4,278    4,500         237
Grissom            0          0        0           0
E-Shabazz
Montgomery
Allen
Griffin
Thomas
Burks

This is what I meant when I expressed my surprise at the lack of money in the District A race. Peck has never been a big fundraiser, but she’s the only credible Republican in this race, unlike the 2009 and 2013 races. I’m honestly not sure what to make of this.

No one has raised that much in B either, but the cumulative total is more in line with what you’d expect. With such a large field, and multiple worthwhile candidates it’s credible that the donor class may wait to see who’s in the runoff and then pick a side.

The exact opposite situation exists in C, where Abbie Kamen continues to dominate fundraising, with Shelley Kennedy and Mary Jane Smith pulling in decent numbers. I expected more from Greg Meyers – it sure is nice to be able to write your own check – and Daphne Scarbrough has some cash on hand thanks to not spending much so far. If you’re Kamin, how much do you hold onto for the runoff, and how much do you feel you need to spend now to make sure you actually get into the runoff? It’s a big field, Kennedy is competing with her for the same voters, and there are plenty of Republicans in the district, so don’t overlook Smith or Meyers or Scarbrough. Runoffs are a sprint and it helps if you don’t have to hustle for dollars, but finishing third or fourth with $100K in the bank is like losing a walk-off with your closer still in the bullpen because you want to be prepared for extra innings.

District D is like B, with a wider distribution of money. Most of these candidates had no July report, as many of them entered close to or after July 1, following Dwight Boykins’ entry into the Mayor’s race. Brad “Scarface” Jordan was the only real fundraiser for that report. It’s not a huge surprise that he and Carla Brailey led the pack, but I could see the same “wait for the runoff” dynamic happen here. With a big field, you just never know what can happen.

I’ll wrap up the Houston reports next week, and move on to HISD and HCC as well as the Congressional quarterly. Let me know what you think.

Endorsement watch: Miscellania

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

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

Anna Eastman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abbie Kamin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Barnes

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: At Large 5 and District B

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

Sallie Alcorn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tarsha Jackson

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

30 Day campaign finance reports: Incumbents and challengers for Council

As before, my look at the July 2019 finance reports for these candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Martin         8,150     20,389        0     147,952
Cleveland      5,682      5,330        0         352

Travis         9,800     20,193   21,000     121,297
Pletka         4,167      3,289        0           4
Baker              0        582        0           0

Cisneros      20,281     38,605        0      93,941
Longoria      49,639     20,243        0      23,589
ReyesRevilla  10,356      5,809        0      16,187
Salcedo

Gallegos      16,510     47,728        0     115,718
Gonzales       5,190      4,159    4,310       5,190

Castex-Tatum  15,850     11,568        0      44,409
Vander-Lyn       625          0        0           0
Sauke            100      2,008        0         130

Knox          32,188     35,540        0      24,990
Salhotra      81,218     67,748        0     180,947
Provost        4,850      4,775        0         468
Nav Flores       259        259        0           0
Blackmon

Robinson      52,008     48,267        0     255,938
Davis         20,665     29,110    3,000       8,832
Griffin        1,350        700        0         650
Detoto            24      3,124      500         439
Honey

Kubosh        40,035     39,076  276,000     122,578
Carmouche      3,975      7,156        0         708
McClinton     14,787     18,577        0       4,895
Gonzalez

Not a whole lot of interest here. There are multiple candidates who entered the race too late to have a July report who are showing up this time, but outside of Isabel Longoria in H none of them made much of an impression. That race continues to be the most interesting non-Mayoral challenge to an incumbent on the ballot. Karla Cisneros has plenty of resources available to her, but she’s in a fight.

Beyond that, as I said, not much to say. I wish Janaeya Carmouche had raised more money. Willie Davis and Marcel McClinton did raise a few bucks, but not nearly enough to make a difference in a citywide race. There’s just nothing else to say. I’ll have more reports tomorrow.

UPDATE: Because I’m an idiot, I overlooked the At Large #1 race initially. Raj Salhotra continues his fundraising superiority, while Mike Knox at least raised a few bucks, and no one else did anything of note. I see a lot of Raj signs in my neighborhood, but I think I’d feel better if I saw a TV ad or two from his campaign. Old-fashioned, I know, but it’s still the best way to reach a lot of voters.

Endorsement watch: Mistakes were made

A swing and a miss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endorsement watch: One more HISD, two in HCC

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

Judith Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Monica Flores Richart

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Rhonda Skillern-Jones

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Chron overview of City Controller race

It’s rerun season.

Chris Brown

It has attracted far less attention than the rowdy mayoral race, but the contest for the city’s second-highest office has intensified in recent weeks as Controller Chris Brown — the independently elected financial watchdog — finds himself battling to keep his seat against a familiar name on the ballot.

Orlando Sanchez, a former city councilman, mayoral candidate and Harris County treasurer, filed to challenge Brown in August with an hour to spare before the Aug. 19 deadline. He has pledged to conduct more audits and make the controller’s office more transparent. And, Sanchez alleges, Brown is too closely aligned with Mayor Sylvester Turner to serve as a check on his power.

“While it’s nice to have a cordial relationship with the mayor, I don’t think you need to act as an employee of the mayor,” said Sanchez, 61. “You are independently and in a sovereignly elected position that should answer all and any questions that the community has — the business community, the mayor’s office, the City Council.”

Brown, who served as deputy controller before his election in 2015, scoffed at Sanchez’s critiques. The controller’s office has conducted 39 audits during his tenure and prizes large-scale audits instead of smaller, more frequent ones, Brown said, adding that he has striven to distance himself from Turner on such issues as the mayor’s push to sidestep the voter-imposed revenue cap after Hurricane Harvey and his changing cost estimates for Proposition B, the voter-approved measure to link firefighters’ pay to that of similarly ranked police officers.

“I work for the taxpayer,” said Brown, 44. “If you look at my record over the last four years, whether that’s auditing, whether that’s going to the mat when the administration tried to raise taxes on taxpayers after Harvey, I went to the mat, I fought for the taxpayer and I won. From that standpoint, it’s vitally important for the controller to be independent.”

[…]

The race also has broken down along sharply partisan lines, despite both candidates’ insistence that the office should remain nonpartisan. Conservative support has coalesced behind Sanchez, a Republican who has raised about $45,000, with contributions from Republican congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall and state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston. Democratic officials — including former city controllers Sylvia Garcia and Annise Parker — are lining up behind Brown, who last month endorsed Julián Castro for president. He had $274,000 cash on hand at last count, compared to Sanchez’s $24,000 war chest.

The Controller’s race gets less attention than the Mayor’s race for the same reason why most Council races get less attention: The office has far less power, and there’s far less spending in those elections. For what it’s worth, in the clearly partisan 2015 runoff, Brown not only defeated Republican Bill Frazer, he did so by a considerably wider margin than Mayor Turner had over Bill King. Orlando Sanchez basically coasted for a dozen years on the county’s off-year partisan lean, before running out of luck last year. I’m not too worried about this one.

Endorsement watch: Our first two At Large races

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

CM David Robinson

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Nick Hellyar

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

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

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

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

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

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

30 day finance reports: Metro referendum

There may be some opposition to the Metro referendum, but so far no one’s putting their money where their mouths are on that.

Supporters of a $3.5 billion transit bond election less than four weeks away have a sizable — but not unexpected — advantage over critics, who plan a grass-roots campaign to counter what has been flurry of educational campaigns using taxpayer dollars and aggressive catering to the Houston area’s business community.

Moving to the Future, the political action committee backing the bond amassed more than $437,000 in money or in-kind contributions, according to its financial report field last week, which includes fundraising until Sept. 26. The group is campaigning to support Metropolitan Transit Authority’s long-range transportation plan, the first phase of which will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The fundraising by supporters gives them a roughly 73-to-one money advantage to the opposition Responsible Houston political committee, which has collected $6,000 from two donors, according to its Oct. 7 campaign report.

The disparity continues in terms of what each is spending money on. Responsible Houston, the PAC formed to oppose the bonds on the grounds it is wasted spending and unwise to give Metro a blank check for rail and bus projects without more specifics, spent most of its money, about $5,250, on website development to push a grass-roots online message.

See here for the background. Here are the relevant finance reports:

Moving To The Future (supports)
REsponsible Houston (opposes)


PAC     Raised   Spent   On Hand
================================
MttF   437,606  69,844   402,694
RH       6,000   5,795       204

As the story notes, Metro can use other funds to run ads that inform of the election and issues, without advocating a vote either way. That’s always controversial – the line between what’s acceptable and what’s not is fuzzy and often hinges on “magic words” like “support” or “oppose” – but it’s what we get. Either way, I’d expect to see a lot more Metro ads between now and November 5 – I’ve seen plenty of them already. Whether you see any anti-Metro ads remains on open question. It will be fine by me if that effort fizzles out, but we’ll take a look at the 8-day report when it comes out.

Interview with Sallie Alcorn

Sallie Alcorn

We come to the end of the interviews that I had originally planned. As is often the case, a late request came in and you will see that on Friday. For City Council until the runoffs we are at the end of the road. Sallie Alcorn is a former Chief of Staff to CM Stephen Costello who is running for At Large #5. Alcorn has worked for two other Council members, the city’s flood recovery officer, and in the Department of Housing and Community Development. She also works with offenders as a volunteer facilitator for Bridges to Life, and has served on boards at the San Jose Clinic, the Holocaust Museum Houston, and the Houston READ Commission. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #5 is here. I’ll do a post with all the city interviews to this point shortly.

Endorsement watch: A and H

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

CM Karla Cisneros

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Amy Peck

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Endorsement watch: Two in HISD

The Chron goes against the incumbent in District III.

Dani Hernandez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cris Moses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Ashton Woods

Ashton Woods

After that two-week hiatus into HD148, it’s time to circle back to the City Council races. I have one more to bring to you, featuring two candidates. At Large #5 is an open seat, with incumbent CM Jack Christie being term limited, and nine candidates have lined up to compete for the position. Ashton Woods is a civil rights activist and advocate for the LGBTQIA community. He is the co-founder and lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Houston and acts as Co-chair for the Black Humanist Alliance, and serves as speaker, presenter, and facilitator at schools, campuses, and conferences. He has also served on the City of Houston’s first LGBT advisory board. Here’s the interview:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes At Large #5 is here.

30 Day finance reports: Mayor and Controller

All right, I’ve made some progress in the endless number of city candidate finance reports. We’re in crunch time, and the 30 day reports can tell us not just what kind of momentum candidates have had, but also whether the later entrants into the races have gained any traction. Let’s get down to it.

To set the table, the Erik Manning spreadsheet is here, the June reports from Mayoral candidates are here, and the reports from Controller candidates (which in this case was just Chris Brown) 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.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       733,324  2,235,523        0   1,618,015
Buzbee     2,500,000  3,475,058        0   4,167,503
King         281,829    550,022  410,000     263,448
Boykins      130,105    141,779        0      58,103
Lovell        28,493     10,929        0      17,564
Baker         20,000     16,340        0       3,919
Broze          3,620      3,782        0       1,027
Houjami        1,324      1,490        0         111

Brown        100,990     61,079   75,000     274,291
Sanchez       45,057     33,207        0      23,651

Some of this we’ve already covered. As a reminder, Buzbee hasn’t actually “raised” any money, he’s just written himself a check for whatever amount it is he’s reporting. Which we know will be even bigger for the 8 day report. Nobody else is in the same league as Buzbee or Mayor Turner. I have to wonder if Bill King will write himself a big check this month just so he can get some ads on the air. As for Dwight Boykins and Sue Lovell, I don’t know what they expected when they entered this race, but I’m guessing this wasn’t it. I don’t see any changes in their fortunes ahead.

Chris Brown was a strong fundraiser in 2015, and he’s a strong fundraiser this year. I’ve seen more of his ads on TV than I’ve seen for Bill King. Orlando Sanchez is Orlando Sanchez, which mostly means his campaign signs are littering the empty lots and freeway overpasses again. I don’t have anything more to say than that. More finance reports will be coming soon.

A brief discussion on residency requirements

I have three things to say about this.

Nelvin Adriatico

It was one of the more unusual videos made for a Houston city council race.

Throughout much of his campaign for the District J seat, Nelvin Adriatico had been dogged by one question: Why do you claim to live in a daycare?

Google searches for Adriatico’s address yield a photo of the Shining Stars Academy, not a home or residence. Some detractors quickly assumed he was listing the business to skirt the requirement that he actually live in District J.

It is the two-bedroom apartment above the daycare that Adriatico listed on his form. Amid the constant chatter last month, he posted a tour of the apartment on Facebook Live.

“We can just get this out of the way because I’m sick and tired of responding and answering to this,” he said in the video. “You’re more than welcome to come and visit me at my home.”

The debate over Adriatico’s residency has been the most public of this year’s election cycle, but at least five other candidates are directly flouting the city’s residency rule or capitalizing on its loose interpretation. The rule requires candidates to live in the district they hope to represent for 12 months before election day.

At least four others have felony convictions that would seem to bar them from running under a state law that prohibits convicted felons from seeking office.

All ten will appear on the November ballot.

That is because the residency and felony requirements rarely are enforced.

[…]

The city’s residency requirement, while more clear-cut, seems to qualify any candidate who can claim he or she has ties to a property in the district and “intends” to live there, according to attorneys familiar with the rule.

“Every election, someone calls me to ask about this particular issue,” said Doug Ray, special assistant attorney for Harris County. “It’s very hard to establish that somebody doesn’t have residency if they have some physical tie to the address and state that that’s their intent.”

1. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If Dave Wilson was not in violation of residency laws when he “moved” from one of his warehouses to another to run for HCC Trustee in District 2, all the while claiming a homestead exemption on a house not in the HCC zone, then nobody is in violation of residency laws, and we should just accept that. I have wavered back and forth in how I feel about this – my current opinion is that I care more about whether or not someone lives in a particular taxing entity (city, county, school district, etc) than whether or not they live in a specific part of that entity – but I have basically given up on the idea that there is any enforcement for this.

2. Which is not to say that this isn’t or can’t be a campaign issue. By all means, bring up a candidate’s residence if it matters, and base your vote on it if you want. Just keep your expectations realistic about the effect this is likely to have.

3. Outside of Nelvin Adriatico, none of the candidates named in the story are genuine contenders for the seat they are seeking. It hardly seems worth the effort to work up a froth about most of this. That said, if it makes me a bad person to feel a deep sense of schadenfreude as I read Wayne Dolcefino’s lame excuses about his son, then I don’t want to be good.

Endorsement watch: For the incumbents in G and K

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

CM Martha Castex Tatum

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

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

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

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

Voters should allow her to do so.

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

In District G, they go with Greg Travis.

CM Greg Travis

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state will be handling the Harvey relief funds

Don’t worry your pretty little heads about it.

Texas is likely another nine months from getting $4.3 billion in federal post-Hurricane Harvey recovery money aimed at better protecting the state from future flooding and disasters. But when it finally arrives, Gov. Greg Abbott made clear Friday the state will be handling the money directly and not turning it over to cities and counties to manage.

While some local officials expressed frustration over the decision, Abbott said he’s turning to Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush to lead the program aimed at large-scale, regional projects. Bush has already been tasked with dealing with housing recovery issues since Harvey hit Texas in August 2017.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she was hoping for more direct control over the funding.

“While we’re disappointed in Governor Abbott’s decision to run this program out of Austin instead of providing us local control, we’ll continue to work as a team to make sure we apply every single federal dollar available towards building a stronger, safer Harris County,” Hidalgo said.

Similarly Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city will continue to work closely with Bush’s agency, but made clear who will be to blame for delays in getting work completed.

“If there will be any delay in the distribution and use of flood mitigation aid, it will come from the federal and state government,” Turner said.

Texas has been waiting for the money since February 2018, when Congress first approved the disaster mitigation program. But it took until August for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to publish rules on how the money can be used.

Now, Bush and the Texas General Land Office are required to develop a “state action plan” that must later get yet another approval from HUD. According to a joint statement put out by Abbott and Bush on Friday, that could take another “nine months or more to complete.” That would mean July 2020 — just short of three years after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

Here’s Mayor Turner’s statement about this. If one wants to feel cynical about this, one might note that while control of the funds will be with the state, blame for any delays or deficiencies will be laid on local officials, who are much more likely to be Democrats. How many people are going to understand it when blame gets pointed at the Land Commissioner? That’s not an intuitive place for these funds to originate, at the very least. Maybe this will all go well – if George P. Bush continues to have aspirations to run for Governor, he’ll have incentive to not screw this up or play politics in too obvious a fashion – but the incentives are not in alignment. Keep that in mind if and when there is something to complain about.

Oh, and since this story was published, both Greg Abbott and George P. Bush have been yelling at Mayor Turner on Twitter, for not being sufficiently grateful to them for the federal funds, which by the way still have not been released. So yeah, there’s good reason for being cynical.

Big Bucks Buzbee

It is, by far, his best asset.

Mayoral candidate Tony Buzbee put another $2.5 million into his campaign last month, widening his financial edge over Mayor Sylvester Turner heading into the stretch run of the race for Houston’s top elected office.

Buzbee’s total, made public in a campaign finance report filed Monday, means he now has contributed $10 million to his mayoral campaign.

Seeking a second term, Turner raised about $733,000 from July 1 through Sept. 26, the period covered by the latest report, and spent more than $2.2 million. He has about $1.6 million cash on hand, compared to Buzbee’s $4.2 million war chest.

The campaign finance reports due Monday were the first in Houston’s city elections since July, when candidates for mayor, controller and city council reported their fundraising and spending totals for the first six months of the year. The latest reports paint a clearer picture of each candidate’s financial strength with two weeks to go until early voting begins. Election Day is Nov. 5.

Turner and Buzbee each reported larger fundraising hauls than the rest of the 12-candidate field, including Bill King, a businessman and attorney who raised $282,000 during the latest period.

King, who narrowly lost to Turner in a 2015 runoff, also lent his campaign $200,000 and spent $550,000 on a mix of ads, campaign consulting fees and other costs, according to his campaign report.

Turner spent nearly $2.24 million during the period and heads into the stretch until Election Day with $1.62 million cash on hand, compared to King’s $263,000.

The mayor now has raised about $3.7 million since July last year and spent $4.2 million, compared to Buzbee’s $5.8 million spending total. King has raised about $967,000 since January, when he began fundraising in earnest, and has spent about $1.1 million.

A spokesperson for King’s campaign said he had passed $1 million in fundraising since Sept. 26, the last date covered by campaign finance reports, from more than 1,500 donors.

Councilman and mayoral candidate Dwight Boykins reported raising $130,000 and spending about $142,000, leaving him with about $58,000 cash on hand.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell’s campaign finance report was not yet posted by the city secretary’s office as of 6 p.m. Monday.

I’m working my way through the finance reports now – the technical term for this is that there are “a metric crap-ton” of them. I’ll probably have summaries for you next week; I’ll aim to have the HD148 and HD28 reports later this week, once I start seeing them on the TEC website. In the meantime, I advise watching live sporting events on pause, or at least with your remote handy, to mute the onslaught of commercials that are coming our way. Practice some self-care, y’all.

Endorsement watch: E and F

The Chron endorses incumbent CM Dave Martin in District E.

CM Dave Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

In District F, the Chron recommends Tiffany Thomas.

Tiffany Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In which I agree with Ted Cruz: Shame on the NBA

When he’s right, he’s right.

Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has the support of some lawmakers in D.C., even as the Rockets and NBA have apologized for his comments supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Morey over the weekend tweeted and quickly deleted an image including the words “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” His comments were quickly rebuked by Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and an NBA spokesman who noted they “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China, which is regrettable.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz slammed the NBA, saying in a tweet “human rights shouldn’t be for sale & the NBA shouldn’t be assisting Chinese communist censorship.”

Cruz said he was proud to see Morey “call out the Chinese Communist Party’s repressive treatment of protestors in Hong Kong.”

“Now, in pursuit of big $$, the @nba is shamefully retreating,” Cruz tweeted.

[…]

Cruz is a well-known Rockets fan. But he wasn’t the only Texas politician voicing support for Morey. Democratic presidential hopefuls Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke also took to Twitter to back Morey.

“China is using its economic power to silence critics — even those in the U.S.” Castro tweeted.

“The only thing the NBA should be apologizing for is their blatant prioritization of profits over human rights,” O’Rourke tweeted. “What an embarrassment.”

Deadspin has been all over this, so start there and google around as needed. This is exactly the kind of craven behavior I usually expect from the NFL. For shame.

The Chron’s overview of the Mayor

It’s a fair picture.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner hugged his way through three dozen staff and supporters, reached the podium, and smiled.

It was May 2017, and Turner’s landmark pension reform bill had just passed the Legislature, validating his decision to devote the first 17 months of his term almost exclusively to the city’s top fiscal challenge.

The longtime legislator finally had won the job on his third try, fulfilling a dream more than two decades in the making. His tenure had not been perfect — there was the Tax Day Flood, the tanking recycling market, two huge budget deficits.

This day, though, things were good.

“Let me just tell you,” Turner said, “this is one of those moments where you want to just kind of take it in and not let it pass too quickly.”

The moment would prove to be one of the last Turner — the first Houston mayor elected to a four-year term — could relish, unburdened by crisis.

Within four months, the mayor found his agenda dominated by catastrophic flooding wrought by the worst rainstorm in continental United States history, as well as a man-made crisis — a bitter fight over firefighters’ pay that led to a lopsided loss at the polls and, later, a win at the courthouse.

Those challenges, and Turner’s tendency to keep a tight grip on the reins of government and immerse himself in the details of decision-making, constrained what the mayor — and the allies who helped elect him to office — had hoped he would accomplish.

Most political observers expect Turner — who held a 17 percent lead over his nearest rival in a recent poll — to retain enough support to earn a second term. The mayor, however, has drawn plenty of detractors and underwhelmed some supporters, putting him in a less secure position than one might expect of an incumbent Democrat in a blue city.

You know I’m supporting Mayor Turner for re-election. I believe he’s generally done a good job, and I find his leading opponents to be somewhere between disingenuous, dishonest, and delusional in their alternate proposals. I wish he’d made more progress on some of the issues discussed in this story, but flooding and the firefighter saga have taken priority, and that’s just how it goes. The only one of his opponents that I’d trust to value those same priorities is Sue Lovell, and I have more faith in Turner to move them forward. Statements in the story about Turner’s control over the ordinance process have been made about every previous Mayor, and will continue to be made about future Mayors. We’re fine with Mayor Turner. I don’t feel fine about the alternatives. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.

(There was a Chron profile of Bill King a couple of says earlier. I fell asleep each time I tried to read it.)

The clown show is coming for Drag Queen Story Time

The words, they fail me.

The group that opposed and defeated Houston’s equal rights ordinance in 2015 announced Tuesday it is launching a petition drive aimed at prohibiting Drag Queen Storytime, the program shuttered earlier this year by city officials over reports that a participant was a registered sex offender.

Houston Public Library officials in March said they would seek to “improve upon policies” and “re-organize the program,” in which drag queens read books to children at the Freed-Montrose Library. A spokesperson for Mayor Sylvester Turner declined comment and did not respond to an inquiry about the status of the program.

The group Campaign for Houston seeks to amend the city charter to bar the program “or any variation thereof where a biological male dresses up in women’s clothing representing himself as a Drag Queen or a biological woman dresses up in male clothing representing herself as a Drag King.”

The proposed amendment also would prohibit “any content, programs or people related to adult sexually oriented business” from reading stories to children at Houston public libraries.

Jared Woodfill, a Campaign for Houston spokesperson, alleged the program is “targeting kids” and called it “out of step with the moral values” of Houston.

Just a reminder, Jared Woodfill also spends his time defending the honor of accused child molesters. But sure, it’s drag shows that are the problem. I have a hard time seeing this proposition as worded surviving a First Amendment challenge, and I’m also not sure if the intent is to put something on the May ballot or the next November ballot. A previous lawsuit alleging that Drag Queen Story Time had somehow violated people’s religious freedom was dismissed (in addition to a lack of standing) not having established any constitutional problems. I don’t doubt their ability to get the petition signatures, but how it proceeds from there is unclear. Deeply stupid, and unclear.

Endorsement watch: Let’s get this thing started

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

In District I, they endorsed incumbent Robert Gallegos.

Robert Gallegos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandra Rodriguez

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

And in District D, they went with Rashad Cave.

Rashad Cave

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

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

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

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

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

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

HISD’s appeal of the Wheatley rating

Not much there. You can read whatever you want into that.

If Houston ISD trustees expected the district’s administration to make an impassioned, detailed appeal to the state for an accountability reprieve at Wheatley High School — a last-ditch effort to avoid severe state sanctions tied to chronically low performance at the campus — they did not get it from Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Instead, Lathan submitted a two-page, bare-bones case for overturning Wheatley’s failing grade to the Texas Education Agency, infusing the request with none of the emotion that trustees displayed last month when they ordered her to file an appeal. Rather, Lathan briefly recounted the reasons trustees expressed for supporting an appeal — the lingering effects of Hurricane Harvey, some signs of progress at Wheatley, the impact of sanctions on a district — that her administration believes is doomed to fail.

“I think they could have stated a very strong position and documented evidence, for example, from renowned research on the long-term effects of an incident like Harvey,” said HISD Trustee Sergio Lira, who voted to order the appeal. “I think it could have been much stronger, and I’m disappointed.”

The disconnect over the depth of HISD’s Sept. 13th appeal, obtained through a public records request this week, illustrates yet another example of the frayed relationship between Lathan’s administration and a majority of the district’s school board, which have been engaged in a year-long standoff marked by distrust and differences of opinion.

[…]

In a statement Tuesday, HISD officials said the appeal “was submitted in good faith.”

“As such, the administration stands behind the submission and has no further comment,” the statement read.

TEA officials are expected to rule on HISD’s appeal by December.

See here for the background. On the one hand, as I understand it the data is pretty cut and dried, and there’s not much in there to be disputed. No one really thinks that this appeal has much chance of success, so no real point in doing valueless work. On the other hand, when your boss tells you to do something – and the Board is the boss of the Superintendent – you do it, and you do it in a way that meets your boss’ expectations. To do otherwise is somewhere between incompetence and insubordination.

I’m not in a position to say which is the more accurate description of the situation. But however you look at it, this isn’t how this is supposed to work.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher will be one of the first targets of a new nationwide anti-impeachment effort rolled out by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump Victory announced Wednesday it will hold a “Stop The Madness” campaign event early on Thursday morning, calling on Fletcher “to drop the impeachment inquiry against President Trump and get back to work for Texas.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an ardent Trump supporter, is scheduled to lead the event.

While other Houston Democrats including Al Green have been vocal advocates for impeaching Trump, Fletcher has been more cautious on the topic. Last week, she made her strongest comments yet, calling the president’s actions “a gross abuse of power” but stopping short of calling for his immediate impeachment, as many of her Democratic colleagues have.

This happened yesterday, at the Houston Marriott Westchase, in case anyone was around to see it. I just want to point out that Donald Trump got 46.8% in CD07 in 2016 (to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), and Sid Miller got 46.9% in CD07 in 2018, to Kim Olson’s 51.4%. Donald Trump is the reason CD07 went Democratic in 2018, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more un-representative of the district than Sid Miller. Keep up the good work, y’all.

Here now comes my favorite lawsuit of the year

OMG.

The “lawsuit” was filed on Monday, and the forum in question was last night. The document, which is an ALL CAPS, no punctuation marvel, may or may not have involved an actual attorney; only the first four pages are shown in the tweet, so we don’t know who signed it, or if any supporting items were submitted along with it. Why HPD Chief Art Acevedo, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, and Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen were included as defendants is a question that I at least cannot attempt to answer. I leave it to you to read and admire, for we may never see its like again.

A brief look at the Council incumbents who face contested races

I think two, and hopefully three, of these races are truly competitive. The others, not so much.

Raj Salhotra

Asked how she would operate differently from City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros, the District H incumbent she is trying to unseat in November, Isabel Longoria did not mince words.

“What I would do different is … not be afraid to stand up to folks and say, here are the decisions we have to make — and not hide until the last minute because I’m scared to upset people,” Longoria, a former city planning commissioner and legislative policy aide, told the Chronicle editorial board last week.

Cisneros, a former HISD board president and first-term council member, shot back, “I’ve experienced this my whole life. I have a very feminine look about me, my voice is soft, and I can tell you that I am often underestimated. I’ve been called an iron fist in a velvet glove, for good reason.”

The exchange displayed the heightening intensity evident in many of the 16 Houston city council races, including eight involving incumbents defending their seats this fall. If any one of their challengers wins, the result would add to what already is guaranteed to be a seismic turnover on council, as half the current body is term-limited or not seeking re-election.

[…]

Aside from the District H race, which also includes real estate agent and neighborhood advocate Cynthia Reyes-Revilla and scientific researcher Gaby Salcedo, multiple challengers are hoping to force At-Large Councilmen Mike Knox (Position 1), David Robinson (Position 2) and Michael Kubosh (Position 3) into runoffs. Two district council members — Greg Travis of District G and Martha Castex-Tatum of District K — also face multiple opponents, while District E Councilman Dave Martin and District I Councilman Robert Gallegos each have drawn one challenger.

Knox, an Air Force veteran and former Houston police officer, generally is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents, thanks in part to a sluggish fundraising start compared to Raj Salhotra, one of his opponents. Salhotra raised $220,000 during the first six months of the year, compared to Knox’s $40,000 haul.

Still, Knox’s opponents — Larry Blackmon, Yolanda Navarro Flores, Georgia Provost and Salhotra — may have a tough time unseating him, depending on how many people turn out to vote. Knox would have the edge “if the electorate is the way it typically is in a municipal year — older and conservative,” [UH poli saci prof Brandon] Rottinghaus said.

Salhotra’s fundraising, and Provost’s strength among black voters — especially with competitive races in District B and D drawing voters — will counter Knox’s strengths, said Jay Aiyer, a public policy consultant and former chief of staff to Mayor Lee Brown. However, Aiyer added, Knox’s opponent in a potential runoff would need to draw at least some non-traditional voters.

“That’s one of the dangers when assessing the vulnerability of someone like Knox,” Aiyer said. “A lot of the younger candidates running social media-driven campaigns, geared toward energizing new or young voters — that’s a real uphill battle in a municipal election.”

Rottinghaus said the partisan nature of the race — with Democrats generally coalescing behind Salhotra and Republicans backing Knox — means the result will say a lot about the state of Houston’s electorate.

“This is really a story about the changing nature of the city. In a microcosm, this will be the most telling election — in addition to the mayor’s race — of how Houston and the region has changed,” he said.

Beating Kubosh, meanwhile, will require a mix of grass-roots support and a large war chest, Aiyer said. One of Kubosh’s opponents, Janaeya Carmouche, has built connections in progressive circles as a city council staffer and, more recently, deputy director of engagement for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Carmouche also will have to report a significant fundraising amount in her next campaign finance report to be competitive, Aiyer said.

“I’m undaunted by the idea of incumbency, because I don’t believe in ownership of a position,” Carmouche said. “I believe that we have to earn that right every time.”

Also challenging Kubosh is Marcel McClinton, a recent high school graduate who has gained renown for his gun control advocacy after surviving a 2016 church shooting. He said he would push council to consider recommendations from the mayor’s commission against gun violence and prioritize climate change initiatives and flood control.

At Large #1 and District H, where I am, are definitely the ones to watch. Raj Salhotra has run a strong campaign and raised a lot of money, which he’s going to need to get his name out there to enough voters. I remain puzzled by Knox’s anemic fundraising totals. He’s a conservative Republican in a Democratic city, he’s not been very high profile on Council, and he has nowhere near enough money to run a robust citywide campaign. Maybe he figured he was playing with house money to begin with, maybe he just isn’t much for doing the dirty work, I don’t know. What I do know is that if Raj can get him into a runoff – he has to finish ahead of Georgia Provost, which is not a slam dunk – he can win.

As for District H, I don’t underestimate CM Cisneros, but I will note that in my neighborhood, which is also her neighborhood, I see a lot of Longoria and Reyes-Revilla signs. That doesn’t strike me as a great omen for her. I do see Cisneros signs, too, it just seems like her base has eroded. Looking back at the four-person race in November of 2015, she got 269 of 510 votes (52.7%) in Precinct 3 and 361 of 578 votes (62.5%) in Precinct 4, which combine to cover much of the Woodland Heights. I’m not feeling that for her this time. I could be wrong, and she can at least easily make it to a runoff even with a lesser performance in those two boxes. Outside of Knox, though, she appears to be the incumbent with the strongest opposition.

I’d like to add At Large #3 to this list, but I’m going to need to see a stronger finance report from Janaeya Carmouche first, and I’m going to need to see some evidence of actual campaigning from Marcel McClinton. (This isn’t quite what I had in mind, but it is impressive and laudable nonetheless.) Michael Kubosh hasn’t raised much money, either, but he has some self-funding capability, and unlike Knox has a fair amount of name recognition. He’s the favorite until and unless something changes.

The open seat races are more competitive, and much more chaotic overall. I have no idea what might happen in most of them. I presume we’ll get some overview stories on those contests in the next week or two.

Sorry, Willie D

I think you need better lawyers, dude.

Willie Dennis

William Dennis, the former Geto Boys rapper known as “Willie D,” is planning to a host a campaign fundraiser Friday for his City Council bid, but election officials say voters won’t be able to cast ballots for him Nov. 5.

Dennis’ campaign for Houston City Council’s District B seat ostensibly ended about a month ago, when he missed a late-August deadline to file as a write-in candidate. He did not file an earlier campaign form that would have secured him a spot on the ballot.

Dennis was surprised Thursday when a reporter told him voters would not be able to support him on the Nov. 5 ballot. He said he interpreted the law differently and was planning to run as an “open write-in candidate, which means that I don’t have to be on the ballot.”

County election officials, however, said there will not be a write-in choice for District B because no candidate submitted the required declaration form.

“District B does not have a write-in option, so, therefore, no one would be able to vote for him,” said Teneshia Hudspeth, a spokeswoman for Harris County Clerk Diane Trautman, who administers elections in Harris County.

Dennis said he and his attorney would seek clarification from election officials Friday.

“We’re going to talk to the city attorney first thing in the morning,” Dennis said.

[…]

Below the “Willie D For District B” invite is an important reminder: “Remember to click the Write-In button on the ballot and write-in Willie ‘Willie D’ Dennis.”

That button will not exist, per the county officials.

Even if voters could write his name in, the Texas Election Code stipulates that those ballots would not count.

“In an election for city officers, a write-in vote may not be counted unless the name written in appears on the list of write-in candidates,” the law says.

Dennis said he and his lawyer were looking at a preceding portion of the same chapter that says: “Except as otherwise provided by law, if the name of the person for whom a voter desires to vote does not appear on the ballot, the voter may write in the name of that person.”

See here and here for the background. That second link, among other things, notes that there is a write-in candidate certified for District D. You can find the chapter of the Elections Code that covers write-in candidates here. It’s true that in the introduction to this chapter, it says what Dennis’ lawyers cite. But – and I know that I Am Not A Lawyer, but this is really super simple – that bit about “except as otherwise provided by law” means “unless there is a specific law addressing the subject in question”. And following that are entire subchapters about write-in candidates for state and county offices, and write-in candidates for city offices, both of which specify that you have to file a declaration that is then certified by the local elections administrator, by a certain deadline. Willie D didn’t do that, so therefore his write-in candidacy doesn’t count. You really don’t have to be a lawyer to understand that.

So when can one be a write-in candidate and not have to worry about filing paperwork? Elections not covered by this chapter would include school boards, MUDs, and whatever other local government entities there may be that aren’t state, county, or city. I’m sure there are plenty of other lawyers in Houston that could have explained this to Willie D.

UPDATE: Willie D has conceded.

Willie D’s campaign for city council ended before it could even begin.

The former Geto Boys rapper, whose full name is William Dennis, said Friday he was effectively dropping out of the District B race after acknowledging that voters wouldn’t be able to support him in the Nov. 5 election. Dennis had declined to file paperwork with the city that would have put him on the ballot or qualified him as a write-in candidate.

He was set to officially kick off his campaign with a fundraiser Friday night until a reporter called Thursday asking about the ballot woes. Dennis said Saturday he didn’t know yet how much money they raised at the event, but he planned to redirect the funds toward flood victims and a local church.

He made the announcement he would end his campaign Friday in an Instagram video.

Willie D had chosen not to file because of questions about a past felony conviction. I agree with him that the law in question should be amended and that people like Willie D who have served out their sentence should be allowed to vote and to run for office. I hope Willie D will turn his attention to lobbying for this change in the Legislature.

Ronald Haskell convicted

Good, but nothing can undo the damage he did.

Cassidy Stay, the lone survivor of a 2014 shooting that killed her mother, father and four younger siblings, folded her hands in prayer inside a courtroom while awaiting a verdict.

The killer, Ronald Haskell, claimed insanity when he fatally shot six relatives of his ex-wife at their Spring home. But a Harris County jury determined on Thursday that Haskell knew what he was doing when he massacred the family, convicting him of capital murder and moving him closer to a possible death sentence.

Upon hearing the decision, Stay breathed a deep sigh of relief, closed her eyes and pressed her hands over her heart, while Haskell just stared straight ahead.

The decision came after a month of testimony from dozens of witnesses, who described the gruesome scene and attempted to capture Haskell’s mental state at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors said Haskell planned the murders in an effort to enact vengeance on anyone who had helped his ex-wife, who left him in 2013.

Jurors took more than eight hours to deliberate their verdict.

“We are grateful for the jurors’ rapt attention over the last many weeks to every piece of evidence in the case,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “There was never a reasonable doubt that Haskell meticulously planned and carried out the slaughter of the Stay family.”

The jury panel will return Monday for the punishment phase of the trial to decide whether to sentence him to either life without parole or death.

See here for the background. Ronald Haskell is as much an emblem of mass gun violence as any of the more notorious murderers. His kind of crime, aimed at those closest to him and driven by misogyny and a history of domestic violence, is so common we almost don’t even notice it. He’s the problem we need to solve if we want to reduce gun violence in our country.