Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Jolanda Jones

Interview with Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

We move on to District 4, which is being vacated by incumbent Paula Harris. I trust that Jolanda Jones is a familiar name to everyone reading this. Attorney, activist, former Alief Elsik and UH track star, Olympic trials qualifier, Survivor contestant, and two-term At Large City Council member, Jones is a well-known figure in Houston. Jones also has a compelling personal story of overcoming poverty and tragedy to be a success, and she has always been a voice for the underdog. We had a lot to talk about, and you can listen to it here:

(Note: All HISD candidate interviews took place before Superintendent Terry Grier announced his resignation.)

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

vote-button

We are a bit more than a month out from the start of early voting, and as such we are getting close to the start of Chronicle endorsement season. I know from doing candidate interviews that the Chron has been holding screenings in recent days, so it shouldn’t be long now. So while we wait for that, why not take a crack at guessing what their endorsements will be?

I want to stress up front that these are not my endorsements. I’m not making any endorsements, here or elsewhere. Nor are these necessarily the candidates I think the Chronicle should endorse. I’m not making any value judgments. These are my best guesses at who the Chron will endorse, based on past history and my read on what they are looking for this year.

What are they looking for this year? I don’t think that’s any mystery. They’re looking for candidates who support HERO and who are sufficiently “serious” about pension reform. That doesn’t mean these are their only criteria, nor does it mean that they can’t or won’t endorse a candidate who doesn’t agree with them on one or both of them. I’m not there in the screenings, I don’t know what else might be on their minds. I’m just making what I hope are reasonable guesses. None of this should be taken seriously. Consider this the political nerd’s equivalent of Sean Pendergast predicting the Texans’ season, with fewer references to the WWE and Game of Thrones.

So with all of that said, let’s begin.

Mayor

At first glance, you’d think this would be a tough one to guess, but looking back at what I wrote above, it jumps right out at you: I believe the Chron will endorse Steve Costello. He checks all their boxes, and he has the most experience in city government to boot. King and Hall are both anti-HERO. McVey is an extreme longshot. I think they will be too critical of the recent issues with the jail to go with Garcia. Bell and Turner are possible, I guess, but I don’t think the Chron would consider them “serious” enough on pensions; the Chron did not care for the agreement that Turner helped broker with the firefighters earlier this year. The more I think about it, the clearer it seems. I’ll be surprised if it’s not Costello.

Controller

This one is murkier. Chris Brown is possible, but I think they will ding him for being Ronald Green’s second in command, and it’s not like they were ever big fans of his father. They endorsed Bill Frazer in 2013 and could endorse him again, but I think that was at least partly about Green’s baggage. I also think that if I’m right about Costello, they may be reluctant to endorse two Anglo Republicans for the top offices of a city that is not particularly Anglo nor Republican. I believe they will view Carroll Robinson’s tenure with the HCC Board as a negative. Honestly, I think the favorite at this point is Dwight Jefferson, who was part of the best Metro board in recent memory and who has no obvious negatives about him. I’ll say Jefferson 60%, Frazer 25%, Brown 15%.

At Large incumbents

With incumbents there’s an extra factor to consider, namely whether the incumbent in question has done anything to disqualify himself or herself. There are no Helena Browns this year, so the main question is how big a strike against someone is a vote against HERO? I’ll get to that in a minute. In At Large #2, I think David Robinson is an easy call. He checks the boxes, and none of his opponents are anyone I’d expect the Chron to consider seriously. Kubosh and Christie are the tougher ones to guess. How much will their opposition to HERO be held against them? My guess is “some”, but unless the screening goes badly for them or I’ve underestimated the commitment the Chron has to HERO, I figure they’re both favorites. I’ll make it 80% for Kubosh and 65% for Christie, with the difference being that Christie made some goofy statements about vaccines in his first term, and Philippe Nassif is compelling enough that the Chron might take a flyer on him as a “breath of fresh air” candidate.

At Large open seats

I’m going to go with Tom McCasland in AL1 and Amanda Edwards in AL4. Edwards feels like the safer choice. It would have been a harder call if Laurie Robinson hadn’t flipflopped on HERO, but if my conviction about this means anything, it means it in this race. In AL1, I could see the Chron supporting Lane Lewis or Jenifer Pool – as with Carroll Robinson, I think the Chron will not consider Chris Oliver’s time with HCC to be a positive – but I think McCasland’s resume will carry the day. Let’s say 60% McCasland, 30% Lewis, 10% Pool.

District seats

All district incumbents will be endorsed. This is easy, as there are no disqualifiers and outside of F and J no challengers that are likely to be considered. The cases worth examining are the open seats in G and H. G is a two-candidate race, and you can make an argument for or against either – both candidates are sufficiently qualified, and both are against HERO in a district where that would be expected. The main negative for Sandie Mullins Moger is being on the HCC board – yeah, there’s a theme here – and the main negative for Greg Travis is that he recently announced an endorsement by Helena Brown. I make it 55-45 for Travis. As for H, I can see any of Jason Cisneroz, Roland Chavez, and Karla Cisneros getting the nod. For no reason I can easily explain, I think Karla Cisneros is a slight favorite – let’s say 40-30-30. Have I mentioned that I’m guessing?

HISD and HCC

For HISD, they’ll stick with incumbents Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Juliet Stipeche, and they’ll reverse themselves from 2011 and go with Ramiro Fonseca over Manuel Rodriguez. In the open District 4 seat, I don’t seem the picking Jolanda Jones, so I’ll say they’ll endorse Ann McCoy. The only contested races in HCC involve the two incumbents running for re-election, Adriana Tamez and Eva Loredo. I’ll be surprised if they don’t endorse those two.

Referenda

Obviously, they’ll endorse HERO. I think they’ll be as “meh” on the term limits item as I am, and will either give it a lukewarm thumbs up or they’ll advocate a No. Same for the Harris County bond issue, with a slightly better chance of a Yes. I have no idea on the state constitutional amendments, if they bother with them. There were none that excited me one way or the other, though there are a few I’m likely to vote against.

So that’s how I see it. Go ahead and tell me where I’m wrong in the comments. I’ll check back in a few weeks and see how good a job I did trying to read their mind.

Endorsement watch: The score so far

We’ve had a slew of endorsements for municipal races this past week. I’ve been keeping track of them as best I can on my 2015 Election page. This isn’t always easy to do, because some groups are not very good at posting their endorsements anywhere. I gather, for example, that the HPFFA has made endorsements, based on these tweets, but so far no official list appears to be visible. Groups whose endorsements I have added to the page so far:

AFL-CIO
Houston GLBT Political Caucus
Houston Stonewall Young Democrats
Houston Area Stonewall Democrats
Democracy for Houston
Harris County Tejano Democrats

Log Cabin Republicans
Houston Police Officers Union
Houston Building Owners & Managers Association

I’ve separated the traditionally Democratic/progressive groups from the rest. There are still a lot of groups out there to endorse – HOPE (they have endorsed Sylvester Turner for Mayor but I’ve not seen anything else from them as yet), SEIU, Houston Black American Democrats, Houston Association of Realtors, Houston Contractors Association, the C Club, Texas Organizing Project, and the firefighters if they ever produce a list. Things may change as more endorsements come in, but here are my initial impressions on what we’ve seen so far.

Sylvester Turner has done very well so far. I had thought some endorsing organizations might want to keep their powder dry in this crowded field, but Turner has stood out with his ability to collect support from different groups. Given all the competition for the LGBT group endorsements, snagging two of them is an accomplishment. Stephen Costello nabbed the other two, with the nod from the Stonewall Young Dems being a bit contentious. Adrian Garcia got on the scoreboard with the Tejano Dems; I’m sure that won’t be his last endorsement. Chris Bell has impeccable credentials for some of these groups, but he’s come up empty so far. You have to wonder if they’re getting a little discouraged over there, and you have to wonder if their fundraising is taking a hit. Ben Hall is getting Hotze support; I’ll be interested to see if he buys Gary Polland’s endorsement in the Texas Conservative Review. Will also be interesting to see if a more mainstream group like the C Club throws in with Hall or goes with an establishment choice like Bill King.

My initial reaction to Chris Brown’s dominance in Controller endorsements so far was surprise, but on reflection it all makes sense. He’s really the only viable Democrat running – Carroll Robinson has Hotze taint on him, and Jew Don Boney doesn’t even have a campaign website. Frazer got the Log Cabin Republicans, and I expect him to sweep up the other R-based endorsements. Keep an eye on what the realtors and contractors do in this one, if they get involved at all rather than waiting for the runoff.

Lane Lewis has crushed it so far in At Large #1, not only sweeping the Dem/progressive endorsements over three quality opponents, but also picking up support from the police, firefighters, and BOMA, who didn’t endorse in any of the other three open citywide races. He won’t win any Republican endorsements, of course – I assume new entrant Mike Knox will, if he can get his campaign organized in time to do whatever screenings are needed – but at this point I’d make him a favorite for most of what’s left. Amanda Edwards has impressed in AL4, though Laurie Robinson has split a couple of endorsements with her and will be a threat to win others. Not clear to me who will take the Republican support that’s available.

I expected more of an even fight in the two At Large races with Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, but so far Doug Peterson and Philippe Nassif have taken them all. As I understand it, Durrel Douglas hasn’t been screening for endorsements – this can be a very time-consuming thing if you are doing a solo campaign – so Nassif has had a clear path and has taken it. As for AL3, I get the impression that Peterson is considered the more viable candidate against CM Kubosh. I though both he and John LaRue were good interview subjects, for what it’s worth. CMs Kubosh and Christie have gotten the “friendly incumbent” endorsements so far, and I expect that will continue. CM David Robinson has gotten those and the Dem/progressive nods. I’ll be interested to see if HBAD backs Andrew Burks; I expect Gary Polland to give Burks some love for being a HERO opponent, but I don’t know if groups like the C Club will join in with that. Burks is doing his usual thing campaign-wise (which is to say, not a whole lot), so anything that requires an organized response is probably beyond his grasp.

Not a whole lot of interest in the District Council and HISD/HCC races. I’m a little surprised that Karla Cisneros hasn’t picked up any endorsements in H, but there’s still time. Ramiro Fonseca has done well against Manuel Rodriguez, who is deservedly paying for the rotten things his campaign did in 2011. Jolanda Jones still has some game. Beyond that, not much to say.

So that’s where things stand now. As I said, they may look very different in a month’s time. And as with fundraising, a good showing in endorsements only means so much. Plenty of candidates who have dominated the endorsement process have fallen short at the ballot box. So consider all this as being for entertainment purposes only, and take it with a handful or two of salt.

UPDATE: Corrected to reflect the fact that HOPE and SEIU are no longer affiliated.

Endorsement watch: Houston GLBT Political Caucus 2015

Congrats to all the endorsees.

A raucous municipal endorsement meeting brought mayoral candidate Sylvester Turner the coveted backing of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus on Saturday, positioning the 26-year state representative to broaden his coalition to include the city’s progressive voting bloc.

Caucus members voted 142-85 to endorse Turner after more than an hour of insult-laden discussion in which they rejected the recommendation of the group’s screening committee to endorse former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

Turner also beat out former Congressman Chris Bell, a longtime ally of the gay community who had been considered a likely pick for the group’s endorsement.

Once-shunned, the caucus’ supprt is now highly sought-after by candidates aiming to win over left-wing voters, known for reliably showing up at the polls.

“This is a major step to the finish line,” said Turner, seen as a frontrunner in the crowded mayor’s race. “This is a race about the future of the city versus its past, and this group represents a vital component of Houston’s family.”

[…]

Of the five mayoral candidates angling for caucus support, Turner, Garcia and City Councilman Stephen Costello received the highest ratings from the group’s four-member screening committee.

Committee members said concerns about Bell’s viability landed him a lower rank.

Bell closed out the first half of the year with less money in the bank than any of the other top-tier candidates.

“He’s in a tough position, because absent resources, financial resources, he would need key endorsements like this one to bolster his candidacy,” [consultant Keir] Murray said. “It just makes what was already a tough road even tougher.”

Bell, for his part, remained optimistic after the endorsement vote.

“Obviously not everyone participates in the caucus endorsement process,” Bell said. “I still think I am going to have tremendous support in the progressive voting bloc.”

See here for some background. I followed the action on Facebook and Twitter – it was spirited and lengthy, but everyone got a chance to make their case and to be heard. Here’s the full list of endorsed candidates:

Mayor – Sylvester Turner

City Council
District B – Jerry Davis
District C – Ellen Cohen
District F – Richard A. Nguyen
District H – Roland Chavez
District I – Robert Gallegos
District J – Mike Laster
District K – Larry Green
At Large 1 – Lane Lewis
At Large 2 – David Robinson
At Large 3 – Doug Peterson
At Large 4 – Amanda K. Edwards
At Large 5 – Phillipe Nassif

Controller – Chris Brown

HISD District 2 – Rhonda Skillern Jones
HISD District 3 – Ramiro Fonseca
HISD District 4 – Jolanda Jones
HISD District 8 – Juliet Katherine Stipeche

HCCS District 3 – Adriana Tamez
HCCS District 8 – Eva Loredo

None of these come as a surprise. Several could have gone another way, thanks to the presence of multiple qualified and viable candidates. I look forward to seeing this slate – and the near-misses – do very well in November.

HISD and HCC finance reports

Here’s what we know, though it’s incomplete.

BagOfMoney

Fundraising among most HISD board members was slow during the first half of 2015.

Board president Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who plans to seek re-election to her District 2 seat this November, raised the most money this reporting period ($4,000) and has the most on hand ($8,195), according to the July campaign finance reports.

Three other board seats are on the ballot in November. Trustees Manuel Rodriguez Jr. (District 3) and Juliet Stipeche (District 8) have told me they plan to seek re-election. Trustee Paula Harris (District 4) has not returned messages, but she has raised no money and reports none on hand — a good sign she is not running again.

The first day to file the formal paperwork to be on the ballot was Saturday. Only one candidate, Ramiro Fonseca, who’s seeking the District 3 seat, had filed as of Monday morning. The last day to file is Aug. 24.

Three others have filed reports naming a campaign treasurer, indicating they were interested in running: Jolanda “Jo” Jones (District 4), Ann McCoy (District 4) and Darlene “Koffey” Smith (District 2).

July reports for all of the HISD and HCC Trustee candidates that I know of are now up on the 2015 Election page. Note that only reports for HISD incumbents are available through the HISD website. HCC posts non-incumbent candidate reports as well, and good on them for doing so. HISD, you need to do something about this.

Candidate Raised Spent Loans On Hand ================================================ Skillern-Jones 4,000 5,150 0 8,195 Rodriguez 3.325 808 0 2,856 Stipeche 0 5,733 0 9,884 Tamez 16,750 248 0 15,820 Evans-Shabazz 0 0 0 0 Hansen 200 1,826 5,000 3,374 Loredo 4,147 779 0 4,805 Aguilar 0 4,827 10,000 5,172

Compared to some of the other races we’ve seen, these are Dollar General to their Niemann Marcus. In HISD IV, everyone I’ve spoken to has told me that Paula Harris is not running for re-election. It’s annoying that the non-incumbent reports are not online, but they do exist in paper form, and Ericka Mellon was kind enough to track them down.

Former City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones has raised more than $8,100 in her run for the HISD school board, nearly twice as much as competitor Ann McCoy.

Jones’ contributions for the District 4 race include more than $2,800 from her council campaign. She served on the council from 2008 through 2011.

Community activist Larry McKinzie also has filed a campaign treasurer report to run for District 4 but did not submit the fund-raising report due July 15, indicating he had not raised money at that point.

[…]

In District 3, incumbent Manuel Rodriguez Jr. faces a rematch with Ramiro Fonseca. Rodriguez has more than $2,800 on hand. Fonseca has filed a treasurer report but said he has not raised funds yet.

In District 2, incumbent Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the board president, raised $4,000 during the last six-month reporting period. Darlene “Koffey” Smith, also running for District 2, has not raised any money but reports spending $1,800 that she intends to reimburse with donations. Youlette McCullough, who lists her nickname as “Baby Jane,” has filed a treasurer report for the District 2 seat, indicating her plans to run.

No word yet on whether HISD trustee Juliet Stipeche will face an opponent in the District 8 race.

There’s more at the link, so go check it out.

As for HCC, the only contested race so far is in my district, District 8, where first-termer Eva Loredo faces Art “brother-in-law of Abel Davila” Aguilar. John Hansen is running for the seat being vacated by Sandie Mullins Moger, Carolyn Evans-Shabazz was appointed to replace Carroll Robinson after he stepped down to run for Controller, and Adriana Tamez is running for a full term after winning the remainder of Mary Ann Perez’s term in 2013. I have heard that Dave Wilson plans to back some candidates for the Board, including Aguilar, but there are no other candidates as yet. His own finance report shows no funds raised or spent and nothing but an outstanding loan on hand; if he does play in any races I’m sure he’ll do it via a PAC, however, so don’t read too much into that. If you hear anything about that, let me know. Otherwise, not too much of interest here to report.

What now for Terry Grier?

The HISD Superintendent is in the last year of his contract, and it’s not clear whether it will get extended or not.

Terry Grier

Terry Grier

Kashmere has made limited strides as one of the schools in Superintendent Terry Grier’s signature reform effort, called Apollo. Students passed their first AP exams and the graduation rate rose, yet the school still ranks among the district’s worst academically, and it will have its fourth principal in six years next fall.

The Apollo program exemplifies much of Grier’s six-year tenure leading the Houston Independent School District. He launched the project quickly, ousted staff and demanded a “no excuses” attitude, drawing praise and criticism from the community and the school board.

That hard-driving style and his relentless agitation for change have made Grier a polarizing figure to some as he fights to raise student achievement in the nation’s seventh-largest school system.

HISD has performed well compared to big-city peers, winning the prestigious Broad Prize for Urban Education in 2013. Dropout rates also have fallen under Grier, and voters approved the largest school building program in Texas history. Yet academic progress, particularly in reading, is stagnant.

Test scores released last week showed HISD mostly lost ground with the Texas average while the gap between Anglo students and their black and Hispanic classmates widened. The Apollo experiment likewise yielded mixed results, with bigger gains in math than in reading.

Grier defended the district’s results in a recent interview. HISD has held steady, he said, despite enrollment increasing to more than 215,000 students, including more deemed at risk of dropping out. (The major spike occurred in 2013, when HISD took over the low-performing North Forest district.)

“Having said that, we still need to be getting better, faster,” he said.

But the upcoming school year could be Grier’s last. The board has not extended his contract beyond June 30, 2016. For his part, Grier, 65, said his future in Houston, a city he and his wife have come to love, depends largely on his relationship with the board at the time. Four of nine trustees are up for re-election in November.

There’s a lot more to the story, which covers things Grier has done and the progress or lack of same that HISD has made in various areas. It’s worth your time to read. What it doesn’t cover that I think would have been worth including is what the potential changes on the Board of Trustees were and how they might affect Grier’s status. As noted, four Trustees are up for re-election: Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Manuel Rodriguez, Paula Harris, and Juliet Stipeche. Skillern-Jones and Stipeche, both of whom are often critical of Grier, seem likely to get by with at most token opposition. Rodriguez and Harris are both Grier allies, and both are rumored to not be running for re-election. I am not aware of a challenger for Rodriguez’s seat yet – his 2011 opponent, Ramiro Fonseca, who lost in a very close race, has not made any statement about this year that I have heard as yet – while former City Council member Jolanda Jones is running for Harris’ seat. I’m going to guess she will be more of a critic than Harris has been. Losing these two Board members would make things a lot less comfortable for Grier.

Don’t forget about Pasadena

There’s still a lawsuit in the works regarding their 2013 redistricting referendum that switched their Council from an eight-member all-district makeup to six districts and two At large seats, all at the behest of Mayor Johnny Isbell.

Pasadena City Council

Pasadena is preparing to change the makeup of its city council in a way that city fathers hope fosters new development, but that some Hispanics allege dilutes their influence. The case could become a test of the Supreme Court ruling last year that struck down most of the federal Voting Rights Act, giving cities in many Southern states new latitude to change election laws affecting minorities without first getting federal approval.

“Clearly it was racism,” said Pasadena Councilman Ornaldo Ybarra, one of two Hispanics on Pasadena’s eight-member council, about the town’s planned council changes. The campaign for a new voting system “was meant to scare Anglos, and it was effective,” he said.

In Pasadena, which is roughly 60 percent Hispanic, voters approved a referendum that replaces two city council seats representing districts with at-large seats, which Hispanic leaders say will negate their growing population numbers. The new format was proposed by the mayor, who is white, in July 2013, one month after the high court decision.

The mayor and supporters insist the new format will bring more participation by all Pasadena residents because they’ll have more to vote for. They note that other cities, including Houston, have at-large council members.

[…]

Some Hispanics fear that wealthier white candidates will have the upper hand in at-large races that demand costlier citywide campaigns.

Suing the city on behalf of five Hispanic residents is the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which also took Texas to court over the state’s new voter ID law.

Since the Supreme Court ruling last year, most attention has focused on statewide-voting changes made in some of the 15 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which was passed during the Civil Rights era. The Pasadena case is one of the first involving a city.

The plaintiffs face the burden of proving intentional discrimination. Civil rights attorneys say they worry that the money and effort of mounting a challenge will discourage action in many cities.

See here, here, here, here, and here. I don’t see any information about when the lawsuit that was filed will be heard, but I’m sure it’s on a docket somewhere. The bit I quoted above is what interests me here, as it contains a testable proposition. The city of Pasadena, which is to say Mayor Isbell and his enablers, claim that by switching to a hybrid at large/single member district system, turnout will increase in Pasadena. I’d love to review what turnout has been in Pasadena over the past few cycles, but for the life of me I can’t find past election results from Pasadena anywhere – they are not in the Harris County Clerk election results, much to my surprise. If anyone can point me to them, I’d be grateful. In any event, there’s another avenue for investigation, and that’s turnout in the Houston district Council races versus turnout in the At Large races, since the Houston model is cited as what Pasadena aspires to. What I’m going to look at is the undervote rate in district versus At Large races, on the theory that if no one casts a vote in a particular race, it’s hard to claim that that race affected overall turnout in a positive way. Here’s the data for Houston, for the last six elections:

2013 Undervote 2011 Undervote 2009 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 2.76% Mayor 4.18% Mayor 2.05% Dist A 10.36% Dist A 8.85% Dist A 18.24% Dist B 11.12% Dist B 9.78% Dist B 14.94% Dist D 12.53% Dist C 5.61% Dist C 13.30% Dist F 21.40% Dist D 8.91% Dist D 15.05% Dist G 22.47% Dist F 12.96% Dist E 14.98% Dist I 10.44% Dist G 14.32% Dist F 8.64% Dist I 11.73% Dist G 22.51% AL 1 27.49% Dist J 10.74% AL 2 29.76% Dist K 11.44% AL 1 28.48% AL 3 26.37% AL 2 30.65% AL 4 24.87% AL 1 22.50% AL 4 28.36% AL 5 28.03% AL 2 17.97% AL 5 25.89% AL 3 20.81% Controller 22.32% AL 4 20.05% Controller 15.39% AL 5 12.03% 2007 Undervote 2005 Undervote 2003 Undervote ============================================================= Mayor 6.73% Mayor 5.51% Mayor 1.38% Dist B 10.55% Dist A 19.01% Dist A 13.49% Dist C 11.40% Dist B 8.65% Dist B 11.97% Dist D 10.66% Dist C 12.82% Dist C 12.86% Dist E 10.29% Dist F 10.13% Dist E 12.90% Dist I 9.80% Dist H 12.10% Dist F 13.97% Dist I 9.33% Dist G 14.20% AL 1 31.53% Dist H 10.29% AL 2 24.94% AL 1 20.88% Dist I 13.13% AL 3 18.61% AL 2 26.37% AL 5 19.86% AL 3 24.62% AL 1 20.46% AL 5 22.92% AL 2 22.84% AL 3 18.05% AL 4 19.24% AL 5 17.29% Controller 14.04%

So over six cycles, covering the full tenures of two different Mayors and including high-turnout and low-turnout elections, the undervote rate in every single contested At Large race was higher, often significantly higher, than the undervote in every single district race, with the sole exception of At Large 5 and Districts F and G in 2011. That was the year Jolanda Jones was defeated in a runoff by Jack Christie, and it was the highest profile race that year, certainly the highest profile At Large race in any of these six years.

This to me is very strong evidence that At Large races don’t do anything to drive turnout. This should make intuitive sense – At Large races are as expensive to run as Mayoral races, but no one has anywhere near the funds to do that, while District races can be reasonably run with shoe leather and some mail. Candidates in At Large races are not as well known as candidates in district races, who have a far greater incentive to attend smaller neighborhood and civic club meetings. I’d bet we’ll see a similar pattern in Pasadena, with the district races having greater participation than the At Large races. I just hope I’ll be able to find their election results so I can check that.

This will be the first election in Pasadena under this new arrangement, assuming it isn’t thrown out before the election, which I would not expect to happen. I wish I could say that Mayor Isbell was on the ballot and that this was a chance to throw him out, but alas, he has a four year term and was re-elected in 2013. This is a chance to unseat a couple of his minions, however, and if there’s a good local opportunity for anyone upset with the 2014 elections to focus on, it’s here. The Texas Organizing Project did a lot of good work in trying to defeat the 2013 redistricting referendum, and with a little more help they might have succeeded. Whatever happens with the lawsuit, it would be nice to turn the tables in this election. You want to make a difference, get involved with TOP and help support some good candidates in Pasadena this year.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

One more set of finance reports to document, from city of Houston officeholders and candidates. I’m not going to link to the individual reports this time, since the city’s system automatically downloads the PDFs and I don’t feel like uploading these all to my Google drive. Here are the basic summaries, with my comments afterwards

Officeholder Office Raised Spent Loan Cash ========================================================== Parker Mayor 121,165 574,185 0 461,089 Green Controller 6,575 39,253 0 14,585 Costello AL1 81,200 62,410 15,000 144,753 Robinson AL2 26,246 33,265 0 32,918 Kubosh AL3 83,691 84,157 15,000 11,452 Bradford AL4 8,050 30,257 0 33,485 Christie AL5 15,275 11,606 0 10,548 Stardig A 5,250 30,393 0 24,238 Davis B 19,300 28,798 0 84,551 Cohen C 47,982 76,405 0 93,364 Boykins D 16,375 49,004 0 6,727 Martin E 45,650 27,968 0 43,423 Nguyen F 21,269 5,795 0 8,750 Pennington G 13,550 30,046 0 192,142 Gonzales H 40,375 33,623 0 90,782 Gallegos I 38,882 18,279 0 22,940 Laster J 3,500 8,081 0 77,408 Green K 10,150 15,455 0 77,366 Hale SD15 0 472 0 0 Noriega HCDE 0 8,690 1,000 9,335 Chavez AL3 3,150 6,652 160 15,716 Calvert AL3 1,600 65,031 10,000 2,654 Brown A 21,969 22,121 0 25,729 Peck A 0 2,811 0 0 Knox A 1,220 17,271 0 931 Richards D 2,000 16,043 0 2,727 Jones, J D 0 0 0 3,203 Provost D 7,960 9,033 0 15 Edwards D 3,745 4,415 0 0 Rodriguez I 0 3,581 0 6,731 Garces I 32,950 49,802 0 0 Ablaza I 380 10,288 0 673 Mendez I 2,050 19,120 0 0

Mayor Parker has a decent amount on hand, not as much as she had after some other elections, but then she won’t be on any ballot until 2018, so there’s no rush. I know she has at least one fundraiser happening, and I’m sure she’ll have a solid start on fundraising for whatever office she might have her eye on in four years’ time.

And speaking of being prepared for the next election, CM Costello is in pretty good shape, too. It’ll take a lot more money than that to mount a successful campaign for Mayor in 2015, and there are likely to be several strong candidates competing for the usual pots of cash, but every little bit helps.

The other At Large incumbents are in reasonable shape. Both Kubosh and Christie have done some degree of self-funding, so their totals aren’t worrisome. While I believe there will be some competitive At Large races in 2015, and not just in the two open seats, I don’t think anyone will be caught short in this department the way Andrew Burks was.

I continue to marvel at the totals in the district seats. Many of those incumbents have been helped by not having well-financed opponents. CMs Gonzales and Pennington are well placed if they have their eyes on another race. Personally, I think CM Gonzales ought to consider running for City Controller. If nothing else, that will likely be less crowded than the Mayor’s race in 2015.

CM Richard Nguyen, who was nicely profiled by Mustafa Tameez recently, received nearly half of his total – $9,500, to be exact – from various PACs after the election; this is called “late train” money. As far as the money he received from individuals, every one of them had a Vietnamese name. That’s some good networking there.

Of the others listed, two of them – Ron Hale and Melissa Noriega – are running for something in 2014. The rest, with one exception, was either an unsuccessful candidate in 2013 or a term-limited Council member. The exception is former CM Jolanda Jones, whose eligibility to run for something else remains disputed. The one notable thing in this bunch is the $25K that now-former CM Helena Brown had on hand. Given that CM Brenda Stardig left a lot of money unspent in 2011 when Brown knocked her off, there’s a certain irony to that. Beyond that, no one left themselves very much for a subsequent campaign if they have one in mind. I won’t be surprised if one or more people on this list runs for something again, perhaps in 2015, but if so they’ll be starting out as they did in 2013.

Why not three?

Greg suggests a couple of tweaks to term limits.

Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones

» Fix the JoJo exclusion. The statute, as written, is amazingly short and simple:

Section 6a. – Limitation of terms.
No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.

The statute is also amazingly unequal in how it applies a qualification for office. So much so, that I’m curious if this inequality provides an opening for a legal challenge. Basically, the law says that some folks get to serve three full terms and some only get to serve two full terms. If a candidate loses re-election to their second term (ala Brenda Stardig and Helena Brown), you have an entirely different qualification for office than someone who lost re-election to their third term (ala Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang).

There haven’t been many parties aggrieved by this statute, so it seems to me that there might be improved odds of that happening now that we have two such individuals. I would think that there might be ground to make this application more equal by substituting equally simple language that limits any officeholder to no more than three full terms … period.

That may not address any deeper concerns about the Clymer Wright-era limitations. But it does offer an incremental cleanup. And if it were to go through a charter amendment vote, it might be an easy enough one that it opens the door for public perception to see that elected officials aren’t trying to change the rules they have to abide by in the middle of the game. If you’re not sure about the public appetite for altering term limits, this modification would be a good test run.

» Why not three? – Many Texas towns have three year terms. Why is there such an immediate impetus for four-year terms when there is already a more common model already being utilized throughout Texas? You could leave the term-limit language as-is or make the tweak above. Doing so would create a nine-year window of service for people.

More importantly, it would also open Houston City Council to the whims of bigger electorates. If you really wanted to see a different City Council, the easiest place to start has always been to hold the election on even-numbered years. District A would be quite a bit more Dem-friendly, as would District F. My own District J, as it turns out, is as close to 50-50 in terms of partisanship among city year voters. That tilt would be eviscerated with an even-year electorate and the district would be reliably Dem-leaning. The rotating cycle of seats would lead to a seat being up for a vote in two odd-numbered election years for each six-year cycle. So there is some moderation to those swings that might be appealing.

It would seem practical, under this scenario, to stagger the elections so that each individual year would see one-third of city seats up for a votes. I’m not sure who that may appeal to or be unappealing to, frankly. One positive that I can see from this is that it might lead to an increase in competition for seats. If an elected thought to run for Mayor one year after being elected to a council seat, they could. In short, there would no longer be an incentive to sit out six years when terms are the same – as they currently are for the office of Mayor and Controller.

I completely agree with the first point, and also think it would have a decent shot of being passed. I think everyone already thinks of the term limits law as being “three terms max” and not “three terms unless you leave after your second term, in which case only two terms”. I’d add that there’s a third former Council member affected by the current interpretation – Peter Brown, who resigned a few days early in 2009 in an attempt to circumvent this; City Attorney David Feldman opined against it. In any event, I think this minor change is very doable. It’s straightforward enough that the plain wording of the amended ordinance would be easy enough for voters to understand and hard to argue against. Heck, I don’t even know what the case against it would be. If we want to go small, as a first step or as an end unto itself, this is a good way to do it.

The second suggestion would be much more contentious. I’m not sure if it’s meant as a switch from three two-year terms to two three-year terms, or if it’s also intended to increase the overall allowable length of service while also addressing the concern about two year election cycles being too short, as the two four-year terms proposal was intended. If we were to go this route, I’d prefer the latter, but that may be a bridge too far. Here are the pros and cons of three-year terms as I see them.

Pro:

  • Higher turnout in at least half of city elections. Presidential years would exceed 50%, gubernatorial years would likely exceed 35%. Both are much higher than even high-turnout city elections have been.
  • As Greg notes, this would almost surely make city government more representative of the city’s demographics. In particular, I’d expect this to be a boon for Latino candidates, at least in the even-numbered years.
  • If you believe that two-year terms force Council members back into campaign mode too quickly, then having three-year terms should help alleviate that.
  • You may consider this a pro or a con, but having three-year terms would likely force some ambitious Council members to rethink their strategy for seeking other office, since the Texas constitution would require them to resign if they run for office with more than one year remaining on their current term. That’s just not an issue now with two-year terms, but it would be an issue at least some of the time with three-year terms.

Con:

  • That higher turnout will come entirely from people who otherwise would never vote in city elections. To put it gently, that could have an unpredictable effect on lower-profile and multi-candidate races.
  • Having city elections in partisan election years will necessarily make city elections more partisan. Sure, there are partisan elements to city elections now, with some races being more overt than others, but the non-partisan nature of our races now basically ensures that the vast majority of candidates run as inclusive/consensus types. I expect you’d see much harder D and R lines being taken in even years. Again, one may consider that to be more pro than con, but it would be a change.
  • Perhaps of greater concern is the likelihood that city races could get drowned out in a high-profile even year election. Imagine what city elections might look like this year, where we’re sure to get wall-to-wall ads in the Governor’s race for at least the entire month of October.
  • Large disparities in turnout between even and odd years could make for more turnover on Council, as a candidate that got elected under one scenario might well get swept out under the other, in each case with candidate quality not being a major factor.

I’m doing a lot of speculating here, and I could easily be wrong about some of these points, but I think they’re worth considering. Three-year terms would be a big change, some likely good and some maybe not so good. I still think a better answer is to get rid of term limits (which Greg also suggests) and to at least consider some form of public financing for campaigns. At the very least, I’d like to see a real conversation about what we think we’re getting out of imposing these particular limits on this one type of office. It’s been long enough now that I’m confident that “we’ve always done it this way” is the prevailing sentiment. Surely we can come up with something better than that.

Is CM-elect Stardig term limited or not?

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

I brought this up yesterday in my wrapup of the city and HCC runoffs, and I’m asking it again here in the hope that someone who can provide a definitive answer will offer one. The question I have is whether or not CM Brenda Stardig is eligible to run for re-election in 2015. As I noted in that post, CM Stardig’s position is similar to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, who flirted with the idea of running in District D this year, thus igniting a stir over whether or not the term limits law allowed for her to run. The law says “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.” City Attorney David Feldman interpreted that to mean that Jones could not run again, since she has served two full terms. My initial reaction was that Stardig was in the same kind of boat, but thinking about it again now, she’s not. If Stardig were to run for a third term, she would file for that election prior to serving out her second term, thus meeting the requirements of the term limits ordinance. A Houston Politics post from 2012 that includes a copy of Feldman’s position supports that view. In practical terms, that means that if you’re an incumbent Council member and you must lose an election, better it to be after your first term than after your second. You can win one, lose one, then win two more, but if you win two and then lose one, you’re out of luck. In other words, Helena Brown and Andrew Burks could come back and wind up serving three terms on Council just as Stardig could, but Jolanda Jones and Al Hoang are finished as Council members, though they could still run for Controller or Mayor.

All that assumes you accept Feldman’s interpretation, which Jones at least said she didn’t. I have to say, while this may be technically correct, it feels wrong to me. The clear intent of the term limits law was to restrict Council members, Controllers, and Mayors to three terms. It’s possible there was some discussion at the time of whether or not those terms had to be consecutive or not – it’s been a long time, I sure don’t remember – but even if there were I’m willing to bet that the prevailing opinion among city voters would overwhelmingly favor the simple “three terms and you’re done” perspective”. I presume that sooner or later this is going to need to be settled by a judge, or by a fix to the ordinance being passed by the voters. Be that as it may, I feel confident that the subject will come up again, any time the subject turns to Stardig and her possible re-election effort in two years.

One reason why this may matter, beyond the simple effect on folks like Stardig and Jones, was vocalized by Texpatriate, who wondered “if Brenda 2.0 becomes super conservative just to placate some of her angry, right-wing constituents”. Maybe the odds of that are greater if she has the option to run for re-election – she might emulate some of CM Brown’s positions in order to protect herself against a third matchup with Brown, for example. No guarantee she’s behave this way – Stardig might well conclude that there are limits to the crazy in District A, and her successful comeback is proof of that. Regardless, it’s not unreasonable to think that a term-limited Stardig could be a different Council member than a Stardig who has one more campaign to go.

So that’s my question. Writing this has led me to what I think is the technically correct answer, but I’m not convinced that the matter is settled. What do you think?

Runoff results: Rough day for incumbents

I have no complaint about the results.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

With all precincts reporting, controversial first-term council incumbents Helena Brown, in northwest Houston’s District A, and Andrew C. Burks Jr., in At-Large Position 2, fell to their challengers, as did HCC trustees Yolanda Navarro Flores and Herlinda Garcia.

Brown lost her rematch with Brenda Stardig, the incumbent she defeated to gain the seat two years ago.

“We’re very proud of the work we’ve done on our campaign and we wanted to get back out there and support our community,” Stardig said. “We’ve had the support of police and fire and so many in our community.”

[…]

Burks fell to challenger David W. Robinson, a civic leader and former city planning commissioner. Robinson raised far more campaign cash than did Burks, who had run unsuccessfully numerous times before winning his seat two years ago. Both men were among the 10 candidates who sought the post when it was an open seat two years ago.

[…]

In the At-Large 3 runoff, bail bondsman and civic activist Michael Kubosh, best known for leading the charge against Houston’s red-light cameras, topped former Harris County Department of Education trustee and former mayoral candidate Roy Morales.

“I appreciate all the people who have supported me and all of my staff that’s worked so hard through the last few months,” Kubosh said. “I’m looking very forward to working on City Council and getting things done.”

[…]

In south Houston’s District D, lobbyist Dwight Boykins bested businesswoman Georgia D. Provost. Boykins had thumped the 11 other candidates in fundraising heading into November. Term-limited District D Councilwoman Wanda Adams was elected to the Houston ISD board.

In a very low-turnout race in the East End’s District I, Harris County jailer and civic activist Robert Gallegos beat Graci Garcés, who is chief of staff for the term-limited James Rodriguez.

So I was three for four in my prognostications. I can’t say I’m unhappy to have been wrong about District A. I am curious about one thing, however, and that’s whether or not Brenda Stardig is eligible under the term limits amendment to run for election again in 2015. If you consider her situation to be analogous to that of former CM Jolanda Jones, and you go by the interpretation given by City Attorney David Feldman, the answer would seem to be No. I made an inquiry about this with the City Attorney’s office several weeks ago, but they have never gotten back to me. Guess I need to try again. Anyway, congratulations to CMs-elect Stardig, Boykins, Gallegos, Robinson, and Kubosh.

The results I’m really happy about are these:

In the Houston Community College contests, District 1 incumbent Flores lost to challenger Zeph Capo, a vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers. In District 3, Adriana Tamez, an education consultant, beat incumbent Garcia, who was appointed to the post after the resignation of the prior trustee. In the runoff for the open District 5 seat, businessman Robert Glaser topped commercial real estate agent Phil Kunetka.

Capo over Flores is a huge step up, and Tamez is an upgrade as well. Both Flores and Herlinda Garcia were palling around with Dave Wilson, so having them both lose makes the HCC Board of Trustees a better place. Major congrats to Zeph Capo, Adriana Tamez, and Robert Glaser.

Here are the unofficial Harris County results. There were an additional 308 votes cast in Fort Bend, so the final turnout is right at 37,000. Here’s an update to that table I published Friday:

Year Absent Early E-Day Total Absent% Early% E-Day% ============================================================ 2005 5,350 8,722 24,215 38,287 13.97% 22.78% 62.25% 2007s 5,464 7,420 11,981 24,865 21.97% 29.84% 48.18% 2007 4,456 6,921 13,313 24,690 18.05% 28.03% 53.92% 2011 8,700 15,698 31,688 56,086 15.51% 27.99% 56.50% 2013 9,883 10,143 13,517 36,123 27.36% 28.08% 37.42%

See, that’s the kind of pattern I was expecting for the November election. I guess the turnout was too high for it. Gotta tip your hat to whichever candidate’s mail program generated all those votes. It’s good to be surprised sometimes.

Precinct analysis: At Large 2 and 3

Lots of action, and lots of candidates in the At Large races this year. Let’s look at the two races that are going to the runoffs, At Large #2 and 3. First is AL2, in which first term CM Andrew Burks trailed challenger David Robinson after Election Day.

Dist Robinson Rivera Burks Gordon =================================== A 3,644 1,475 3,533 883 B 3,419 840 6,239 332 C 12,038 2,808 5,024 1,127 D 4,294 1,228 9,250 729 E 4,647 3,339 3,761 932 F 2,263 981 1,649 438 G 8,313 1,826 6,072 1,592 H 2,484 2,593 1,836 333 I 2,111 2,655 1,963 396 J 1,813 725 1,269 283 K 4,520 1,285 4,818 575 Dist Robinson Rivera Burks Gordon ===================================== A 38.22% 15.47% 37.05% 9.26% B 31.57% 7.76% 57.61% 3.07% C 57.33% 13.37% 23.93% 5.37% D 27.70% 7.92% 59.67% 4.70% E 36.65% 26.33% 29.66% 7.35% F 42.45% 18.40% 30.93% 8.22% G 46.69% 10.26% 34.11% 8.94% H 34.28% 35.79% 25.34% 4.60% I 29.63% 37.26% 27.55% 5.56% J 44.33% 17.73% 31.03% 6.92% K 40.36% 11.48% 43.03% 5.13%

Though Robinson only led by a few points, he sure looks like he’s in good shape going into December. Robinson led in the Republican districts, dominated District C, and held his own in the African-American districts. In short, as Greg noted, he’s basically replicating Annise Parker’s coalition from 2009. His path to victory in the runoff is clear: more of the same, with maximal effort in C and a push for the Moe Rivera voters in H and I.

Andrew Burks also has a clear path to victory in the runoff: Maximize turnout in B and D, and hold his own in the Republican districts, which was his formula for victory in the 2011 runoff. Burks’ problem is that he’s never been good at maximizing turnout. The undervote in Burks’ At Large races is always higher than the undervote in the other At Large races. For example, this year the undervote in AL2 was 29.75%; in At Large #4, it was only 24.85%, and the next highest undervote after AL2 was in At Large #5, at 28.02%. In the 2011 runoff, the undervote rate was 8.63% in Burks’ race, 1.02% in the Jolanda Jones/Jack Christie race. In the 2009 runoff, the numbers were 19.47% and 12.63%. If Burks had approached Jolanda Jones’ numbers in B and D he would have won; in reality, he lost Harris County by nine points. If Burks can perform like Ronald Green or Brad Bradford in the runoff, he wins. If not, he loses. It’s as simple as that.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Batteau Chavez Calvert Kubosh Pool Morales ================================================= A 529 1,284 1,141 3,591 1,689 1,898 B 1,687 1,331 1,842 3,162 1,562 1,172 C 943 2,748 4,941 5,223 5,594 2,997 D 3,233 1,542 2,279 5,120 2,017 1,492 E 669 1,232 1,571 4,305 2,062 3,614 F 432 586 806 1,337 1,154 1,217 G 795 1,068 3,786 6,254 2,724 4,179 H 422 2,467 790 1,453 1,136 1,705 I 531 2,049 599 1,337 955 2,085 J 333 450 736 1,155 821 892 K 1,361 1,073 2,181 3,214 2,045 1,621 Dist Batteau Chavez Calvert Kubosh Pool Morales ==================================================== A 5.22% 12.67% 11.26% 35.44% 16.67% 18.73% B 15.68% 12.37% 17.13% 29.40% 14.52% 10.90% C 4.20% 12.24% 22.01% 23.27% 24.92% 13.35% D 20.61% 9.83% 14.53% 32.65% 12.86% 9.51% E 4.97% 9.16% 11.68% 32.00% 15.33% 26.86% F 7.81% 10.59% 14.57% 24.17% 20.86% 22.00% G 4.23% 5.68% 20.13% 33.26% 14.48% 22.22% H 5.29% 30.94% 9.91% 18.22% 14.25% 21.38% I 7.03% 27.12% 7.93% 17.69% 12.64% 27.59% J 7.59% 10.26% 16.78% 26.33% 18.71% 20.33% K 11.84% 9.33% 18.97% 27.96% 17.79% 14.10%

I’ve heard some grumbling from fellow Dems about how this race wound up as a runoff between two Republicans. I get the frustration, but I’m not sure what one would recommend doing about it. There were three good Democrats in this race, and they split the vote just evenly enough to keep themselves out of the top two slots. Short of going back in time and convincing one or more of them to not file or drop out, I don’t know what else there is to be done. Shrug it off as a fluke and put this one on the priority list for 2015.

I covered some of this ground yesterday, so let me just say again that I think Michael Kubosh has the advantage going into the runoff, and his path to victory is clear. Roy Morales needs help from the Annise Parker voters, which may or may not be there for him. It’s entirely possible we could see a sizable undervote in this race. It’ll be interesting to see whether more people skip this race or the one in At Large #2. I should add that while I’ve talked about Morales trying to convince the Parker voters to support him, there’s nothing stopping Kubosh from doing the same. He’s been cast as an adversary for the Mayor, but he can make a case that he was only opposing her on issues where he thought she was wrong and that on other things they’re reasonably in agreement. The field is open, and there’s plenty of room for either candidate to move to fill the space without having to move too far.

Anyway. This one can go a variety of directions. All I know for sure is that I have no idea yet how I will vote in that race. Houston Politics has more.

July finance reports for non-candidates

Not everyone who files a finance report with the city is running for something this November. Term-limited incumbents, and former candidates who still have money in their campaign treasuries are required to file reports as well. Here’s a look a those who did this July:

Dist Candidate Raised Spent On Hand Loan ------------------------------------------------------- AL3 Noriega 25,245 5,224 23,602 11,000 D Adams I Rodriguez 0 3,274 10,293 0 2011 Jones 0 0 3,203 0 2005 Lee 0 0 1,287 0 2009 Locke 0 427 4,065 0 2003 Berry 0 5,000 0 71,622

Here are all the reports. I did not find one for CM Wanda Adams. Doesn’t mean she didn’t file one – as noted CM Cohen filed one but it’s not visible on the city’s finance reports page – but one was not to be found.

Noriega report
Rodriguez report

Jones report
Lee report
Locke report
Berry report

CM Melissa Noriega has some debt, which is why she raised funds this year. I have no idea if she plans to run for something else in the future, but if she does I’ll be in the front row, cheering her on. I’m pretty sure she lives in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, not that I’m hinting or anything. CM James Rodriguez has been reportedly interested in taking on Commissioner Morman in 2014, but if so he hasn’t started fundraising for it.

As for the former candidates, I listed the year of their last election instead of an office, since only two of them held one. I presume at this point that Jolanda Jones is not going to push boundaries and run for District D. It wouldn’t surprise me if she does run for something else someday, but it doesn’t look like this will be the year for that. Mark Lee ran for Controller in 2003 and District C in 2005, narrowly missing the runoff in the latter race. Neither he nor Gene Locke nor Michael Berry seem likely to run for anything again, but one never knows. Unlike Congress and the Legislature, there’s just not that much leftover city campaign money lying around.

Mayor Parker kicks off her campaign

It’s the time of the season for Mayor Parker, who has a serious challenger this time, but also a stronger hand to play.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

In her tenure, Parker has given teeth to the city’s historic preservation rules, broken a deadlock with Harris County to help build the Dynamo stadium, gave scandal-ridden Metro new leaders and revised key city codes governing parking and development, the latter of which had languished for six years.

She gave priority in city contracting to local firms, moved to make the troubled city crime lab independent from Houston Police Department, opened a facility to divert drunks from city jails and saw passage of a plan to erase a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits.

Parker oversaw a successful $410 million bond election last fall, and in 2010 welcomed voters’ approval of Rebuild Houston, an ambitious infrastructure renewal program.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said all signs favor Parker, whose only fear should be a low turnout that could see a small group swing the results. Jones said Parker lately has been able to focus on her own plans instead of inherited ills, such as replacing the Metro regime, scrambling to defer pension costs and dealing with legal wrangling over an inflexible red-light camera contract after voters banned the cameras in 2010.

“Bill White left her with a lot of messes to clean up. That, combined with a very tight budget as a result of the recession, led to a difficult first two years,” Jones said. “The second term has been much smoother sailing. The voter mood is going to be much more positive as people go to the polls this fall, and there’s going to be less of a tendency to want to cast a protest vote against the mayor than there was in 2011.”

Perhaps easing the incumbent’s road is the mood of the 16-member City Council, which lately has been more amenable than in recent years. A new convention center hotel, in which the city will invest $138 million, a rewrite of the city’s affirmative action policy and a law allowing motorists to be cited for failing to give cyclists and joggers a wide enough berth all passed without even a “tag,” the one-week delay typical on complex, controversial or high-profile topics.

The difference between the Mayor’s first term and the second is night and day. The first term was all about defense, which is to say all about things she had to deal with rather than things she wanted to deal with. That’s what her second term has been all about, and while she got a lot done in each term it’s much easier to build a campaign around offense. I’ve thought all along that she’d be in better shape this time around, and I still think that. A stronger opponent in 2011 and she’d have been in a runoff. She could still have a tough race this year, but at least the wind isn’t in her face.

The bit about Council is worth noting as well. Part of this is good luck on her part. Two of her biggest antagonists, Jolanda Jones and Mike Sullivan, are no longer on Council. The third, CO Bradford, was appointed Vice Mayor Pro Tem and has largely been a team player ever since. Her main thorn in the side is Helena Brown, and it’s hard to say that’s been a bad development for her since it’s a lot easier to look reasonable and accomplished opposite the likes of CM Brown. Basically, not only has the Mayor had the money to restore or enhance city services, the ability to move her own agenda forward, and a Council that has worked with her a lot more than it has worked against her. If she doesn’t feel better about this campaign than the last one, she ought to.

She entered the 2011 election with an approval rating of 47 percent, the lowest of any mayor in decades, narrowly avoiding a runoff despite spending $2.3 million and facing five poorly-funded unknowns. Political observers had said Parker needed a decisive win to prevent a challenge this year, and 50.8 percent of the vote was not it.

Enter Ben Hall, a wealthy lawyer capable of financing his own campaign who served as City Attorney from 1992 to 1994. Hall says city taxes and fees are driving residents to the suburbs. He says Parker lacks vision and wastes time tinkering with smartphone apps and food trucks while Houston misses opportunities for international business growth.

“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” Hall has said. “We need more than just a manager, we need a leader.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said there may be some truth in Hall’s statements, but he said these are not significant enough to ignite anti-incumbent passions, adding that Hall’s message has lacked the specificity voters need to choose him over Parker.

“Motivations for mayoral elections are more about tremendous things that have gone wrong as opposed to more or less a tweak to what’s going right,” Rottinghaus said. “He’s got to make a really compelling case as to why things need to be changed, and as of yet, I’m not sure we’ve seen that.”

Hall has made criticism of Parker’s vision, or lack of it, a main point of his campaign. That’s certainly a valid line of attack, but as I’ve said before, Hall’s own vision isn’t apparent. Rottinghaus makes a good point as well, in that generally speaking when trying to knock off an incumbent, you have to give people a reason to fire that incumbent before you can convince them that you’re a viable alternative. The case to fire the Mayor is harder to make when times are good and things are getting done. Plus, I think people generally like the Mayor. She has her share of opponents to be sure, but it’s not like we’re inundated with anti-Parker chatter. Her biggest challenge is going to be making sure that the people who do like her get out to vote. If I were her, I’d want turnout to exceed 2011’s anemic levels. Complacency is her enemy. Work that ground game and don’t settle for a small voter universe. In the meantime, I’ll be very interested to see what the June campaign finance reports look like, not just for how much each candidate raises but also for who is giving to whom. Parker has always had a broad fundraising base, and she starts out with a fair amount of cash. Hall can write his own check, but having his own broad base and getting support from sources that have given to Parker before would be a strong statement on his part. We’ll see how that goes.

January finance reports for Houston offices

Previously, I gave the July campaign finance numbers for Houston elected officials who are eligible for the ballot this fall. Here now are the cash on hand figures from the January reports, with all incumbents and a few assorted extras thrown in:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,043,827 Ctrl R Green 35,753 AL 1 Costello 51,135 AL 2 Burks 2,378 AL3 Noriega 4,317 AL 4 Bradford AL 5 Christie A Brown 2,010 B Davis 57,983 C Cohen 29,881 D Adams E Martin 1,486 F Hoang 4,749 G Pennington 112,275 H Gonzalez 18,769 I Rodriguez 13,642 J Laster 27,254 K L Green 6,504 A Knox 0 A Stardig 23,605 D Jolanda Jones 3,203 D Boykins 0

CMs Adams, Bradford, and Christie did not have reports available as of Monday afternoon. There’s no fundraising allowed for city officials during this time, so everyone will have a smaller cash on hand total since all they could do was spend. Mayor Parker easily spent the most, a bit over $200K, with much of it going to her campaign operations but also sizable contributions to the Metro referendum campaign ($25K), the Harris County Democratic Party ($10K), and to help retire the debt of former Judge Steve Kirkland ($4,900). Ben Hall had not filed a report as of this deadline; I don’t think he had filed his designation of treasurer until after the 15th, so he wasn’t required to do so.

As I suspected before, the cash on hand figure Ronald Green reported in July was erroneous. This one makes much more sense.

Helena Brown spent down nearly all of her stash, with $5,753 going to Premier IMS for direct mail, $4,165 to Terry Yates and $850 to Kevin Colbert for legal services, $4,000 to Institute of Hispanic Culture for “community outreach” (event), $2,990 to the city as reimbursement for the magnets, and $1,050 to Media Masters for “media consulting”. So much for parity with Brenda Stardig. Like the magnets, she had tried to bill the attorney fees to the city but was denied the reimbursement by City Attorney David Feldman. William “Mike” Knox, who spent $500 on consultant Jessica Colon, is a declared candidate against her.

Dwight Boykins in District D spent $749 on flyers and magnets. I list Jolanda Jones as District D, but her finance report left the “office sought” field blank, so take that with a large grain of salt. No other non-officeholders who might be running for something filed a report.

Most other incumbents spent only modest amounts, since there wasn’t necessarily anything to spend it on. Besides Mayor Parker and CM Brown, Ed Gonzalez was an exception, dropping $40K from July. He made a lot of donations and contributions, including $5K to CrimeStoppers for a benefit dinner, $3,500 to the HCDP, $1,500 to Resurrection Catholic School, and $1,020 to Planned Parenthood.

There are no reports posted as yet for HISD and HCC candidates. I will check back later for them.

Not much else to see at this time. Fundraising season begins in a couple of weeks, and the trickle of candidate news should pick up then as well. As always, if you have any intel please leave a comment and clue us all in.

A first look at the 2013 elections

It is 2013, right? So while we have the SD06 special election and the new legislative session to worry about, it’s not too early to start talking about the 2013 elections. Let’s start with a peek at the campaign finance reports from last July of the Houston officeholders who will be on the ballot this November:

Dist Name Cash on hand ================================= Myr Parker 1,281,657 Ctrl R Green 9,983 AL 1 Costello 57,345 AL 2 Burks 3,160 AL 4 Bradford 20,590 AL 5 Christie 14,535 A Brown 22,641 B Davis 64,211 C Cohen 45,597 F Hoang 6,429 G Pennington 119,951 H Gonzalez 57,899 J Laster 31,816 K L Green 9,107

I omitted the three Council members who are term-limited out (Melissa Noriega, Wanda Adams, and James Rodriguez), as well as newly-elected Dave Martin, since his July report would not be relevant. Normally there would have been five open seats this year, but with Mike Sullivan stepping down due to his successful candidacy for Tax Assessor and Jolanda Jones losing in 2011, there are only three vacancies, and as such there will likely be a stampede for those seats. But we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take a closer look at where the non-term limited incumbents are.

Mayor

As we know, Mayor Parker will probably by challenged by former City Attorney Ben Hall, will possibly be challenged by her former Housing Director James Noteware, may possibly be challenged by some yet unknown candidate or candidates, and will certainly have a few fringe challengers as well. It could be quite the crowded race at the top of the ticket. While Hall would certainly be a more serious opponent in terms of money, resume, and presumed base of support than the 2011 hopefuls were, with Noteware and the others also possibly having more juice, I have believed for some time now that Parker starts out in a stronger position this year than she was in two years ago. The much-improved economy and real estate market mean that the city’s budget is far healthier than it was, which means the Mayor can do positive things rather than negative things like layoffs and service reductions. Distractions like red light cameras and Renew Houston are in the past, while the overwhelming passage of the city’s bond referenda gives the Mayor some wind at her back and a nice accomplishment with which to begin the year. Anything can happen, and we’ll see who if anyone else emerges to run against her, but I believe we will look back and say that 2011 was the better chance to beat her.

How would one go about defeating Mayor Parker if one were inclined to do so? The conventional wisdom is to aim to replicate the 1991 campaign, in which State Rep. Sylvester Turner and eventual winner Bob Lanier squeezed then-Mayor Kathy Whitmire into a third place finish. This is the vaunted “pincer strategy”, combining African-Americans and Republicans to shrink the remaining voter pool for the white Democratic lady Mayor. I’m skeptical of this. For one thing, Whitmire – who garnered an incredibly low 20% of the vote in that election – was running for her sixth term in those pre-term limits days, at a time when the term limits movement was gaining steam. There was a strong case for change, or at least there was a more restless electorate that was going through an economic downturn that year. Whitmire was also coming off a bruising defeat, as her $1.2 billion monorail proposal was killed by Metro’s board chairman, who was none other than Bob Lanier. Lanier promised to spend that money on roads, which was much more popular. There isn’t an issue right now that could be used as a cudgel against Parker, which makes the argument to fire her that much more challenging.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t issues to be used against Parker, but they’re not issues that I think are likely to be used effectively by an establishment insider like Hall, or any Republican who may file. Given that Hall is who he is, I think a more potent strategy would be to pair him with an outspoken liberal, who can compete with Parker’s base voters in District C by attacking her for things like the homeless feeding ordinance, the lack of any effort to advance equality in Houston, and the Metro referendum if one believes the University Line is mortally wounded. Quantifying the irony of Whitmire losing for promoting a rail plan, and Parker losing for being perceived as insufficiently supportive of rail, is left as an exercise for the reader.

And as long as I’m giving out advice, my suggestion to Team Annise is to work on building its ground game and seeking to increase turnout. There were 160K ballots cast in the 2009 runoff, but only 123K in 2011. Neither of these are particularly high totals for a city election – indeed, the 2011 total failed to reach the puny 125K ballots cast in the sleepy 2007 election. There are plenty of people who have voted in city elections, certainly as recently as 2003, but haven’t done so in the past few cycles. I rather doubt that Parker versus Hall et al is likely on its own to draw any more voters than Parker/Locke/Brown/Morales did in 2009 (181K, in case you’re curious), but there’s no reason Parker shouldn’t be working to identify and bring out voters who have a less consistent history of voting in city elections. I think that offers a better path to 50% plus one than another dreary exercise in talking to only the same old hardcore voters. You know, like me. She has plenty of money, she’ll have plenty more after the curtain comes up on fundraising season. Target a bigger universe, I say.

Controller

I’m wondering if Ronald Green has a typo in his finance report. He reported $46K on hand last January, then his July report showed that he raised $26K and spent $13K, so I have no idea he could have had only $9,983 on hand. I guess we’ll see what this January’s report says. Beyond that, not much to see here. He’s still not a big fundraiser, and he still has no credible announced opposition despite his recent negative press.

Council At Large

Is it just me, or are those some anemic cash on hand totals? Six out of eight district Council members have larger campaign treasuries than three of the four At Large members. Bradford often reports a lot of in kind contributions – he has listed some things we might normally think of as expenditures as in kind contributions – which tends to reduce his COH figure. Burks, who raised $35K but had $34K in expenses, paid off a number of debts, including the $10K loan from his wife and two items dating from the 2009 campaign that totaled $4650. Christie also spent nearly as much as he raised – $66K raised, $63K in expenditures. This included $45K for “printing”, which I presume was a deferred expense from his runoff campaign.

As was the case in 2011, there’s only one open At Large seat, At Large #3, so once again I expect a cattle call in that race. I know Jenifer Pool, who ran in At Large #2 in 2011, is in for AL3 this year, and other names will surely emerge in the next few weeks. I have to think that it would be worthwhile for a Council wannabe who might be concerned about getting lost in that shuffle to consider taking on one of the incumbents instead, specifically Burks or Christie. Burks’ winning campaign in 2011 after however many previous tries was, to put it gently, atypical. The only policy item I can recall that he originated last year was a proposal to revamp Houston’s term limits ordinance, which never made it out of committee. He also drew scorn for suggesting that the propane tanks used by food trucks might potentially be used as weapons by terrorists. He doesn’t have much money, doesn’t have a history of fundraising, has generally run do-it-yourself campaigns, and his main asset is the name recognition that a dozen or more previous campaigns has earned him. You can make a similar case for Christie, who made an interesting proposal relating to shelters for homeless people that as far as I know went nowhere and who also said silly things during the food truck debate. Unlike Burks, Christie has been and should continue to be a good fundraiser, but also unlike Burks he has no natural constituency – he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t beloved by county GOP insiders. His win in 2011 could also reasonably be described as out of the ordinary. I’m not saying either would be easy to beat this year, I’m not even saying someone should run against them. I’m just suggesting that a multi-candidate open seat race where getting to the runoff is more crapshoot than anything else doesn’t necessarily offer the best odds of being sworn in next January.

District Council

Just so you know, former Council Member Brenda Stardig reported $26,574 on hand in July. If she aims for a rematch with Helena Brown, she starts out at parity in the money department. I’m not sure what’s up with CMs Hoang and Green, but I don’t expect either of them to have much difficulty this year. Everyone will be watching District A, probably even more than the two open seats, but I’d keep an eye on Jerry Davis in District B as well. Davis has worked hard, but doesn’t appear to have won over the insiders in the district, being a new resident of B himself. It would not shock me if he gets a serious opponent. Beyond that, Dwight Boykins appears to be in for the open seat in District D, and while other names will soon emerge we may have to get a judge’s opinion about whether Jolanda Jones can be among them. There are already two candidates for District I; if history holds, there likely won’t be too many more.

HISD and HCC

It’s a bit confusing because the County Clerk webpage doesn’t track uncontested Trustee races, but I’m pretty sure that the following people are up for election:

For HISD Trustee: Mike Lunceford, Anna Eastman, Greg Meyers, Lawrence Marshall, and Harvin Moore. Lunceford and Eastman are finishing their first terms; Moore and Meyers were unopposed in 2009; Marshall won in a runoff. I have not heard anything so far to indicate that any of them are not running for re-election. If Anna Eastman runs for and wins re-election she will be the first Trustee in District I to do so since at least 1997 – I can’t check any farther back than that. Gabe Vasquez was elected that year, followed by Karla Cisneros in 2001, Natasha Kamrani in 2005, and Eastman in 2009.

For HCC Trustee: Mary Ann Perez’s election to the Lege in HD144 means there will be a vacancy in HCC Trustee District III. The Board has appointed former Trustee Herlinda Garcia to replace her. Garcia, about whom you can learn more here, will need to run in a special election to be able to serve the remainder of Perez’s term, which expires in 2015. The three Trustees whose terms are up this year are Bruce Austin, Neeta Sane, whose district includes a piece of Fort Bend County, and Yolanda Navarro Flores. It’s fair to say that Trustee Navarro Flores’ current term in office has been rather eventful. She won a close race last time, and if she runs again I would expect her to get a strong challenger. Sane is completing her first term, while Austin, the longest-serving Trustee, was first elected in 1989. I am pleased to note that this year the Trustee candidates’ campaign finance statements are now available online. Sometimes, a little bitching and moaning goes a long way.

That’s all I’ve got for now. January finance reports are due next week, and a few will probably trickle in early. I’ll keep an eye out and will post a report when they’re all up, or at least at some point after they’re all supposed to be when I’ve run out of patience waiting for them. I’ll throw in the reports for County officeholders who are up in 2014 as well, just because. Please add your own speculation and rumormongering about who is or isn’t running for what in the comments.

A third act for Jolanda?

Maybe.

CM Jolanda Jones

Jolanda Jones, who lost her at-large position 5 seat in last December’s runoff election, may run in next year’s elections to win a third term on Council — but this time it would be representing District D.

The seat will be open next year because Councilwoman Wanda Adams is termed out.

“I’m keeping my options open,” Jones said Friday when asked if she is running for District D, which extends south of downtown. She lives in the district and her family goes way back in the district, she said.

Jones would have one more obstacle than any other candidate who files for District D: The city attorney says she can’t do it.

Term limits call for a maximum of three two-year terms on Council. However, city law also states: “No person, who has already served two full terms, shall be eligible to file for that same office.”

City Attorney David Feldman opined last year that this precludes people from a non-consecutive third term. Peter Brown resigned in 2009 just days before the end of his second term in attempt to circumvent the prohibition and remain eligible for a third term. It didn’t pass muster with Feldman.

Nor would Jones moving from At-Large 5 to District D, Feldman said in an email Friday, “since a council member is a council member is a council member.”

Jones said simply, “Feldman’s been wrong before.”

I am, of course, Not A Lawyer. So, I’d like for someone who is a lawyer to explain to me the difference between Jolanda Jones and former Council Member Mark Ellis. Ellis was elected as Council Member in District F in 1999, re-elected in 2001, then after serving two full terms ran for and was elected to At Large #1 in 2003. The ordinance in question doesn’t have anything more to it than what was quoted, so I don’t know what else to say. Why Ellis and not Jones or Brown? I welcome your feedback on this.

State Bar clears Feldman

I believe this brings to a close the last unresolved issue involving former CM Jolanda Jones.

David Feldman

The State Bar of Texas has cleared City Attorney David Feldman of a grievance lodged by former Councilwoman Jolanda Jones that he mishandled an investigation of her.

Jones alleged last summer that Feldman violated the legal profession’s ethical standards by providing legal advice to her before an investigation into whether she used city resources to support her private law practice and later advised Mayor Annise Parker on the matter.

Feldman said he received formal notice from the State Bar on Friday that the grievance has been dismissed with no right of appeal.

See here and here for some background. Jones had been previously cleared by the District Attorney and the ethics panel, so as far as I know this puts a bow on the whole saga.

Runoff precinct analysis, At Large #5

Here are the numbers for the At Large #5 runoff between CM-elect Jack Christie and CM Jolanda Jones. As this was a rematch from 2009, I’m putting the 2011 numbers alongside the 2009 numbers, again with the caveat that they’re not really directly comparable. We work with what we’ve got, though, so here it is:

Dist Chris11 Jones11 Chris% Jones% Chris09 Jones09 Chris% Jones% ================================================================== A 4,080 1,309 75.7 24.3 10,541 5,300 66.5 33.5 B 523 5,733 8.4 91.6 1,658 10,673 13.4 86.6 C 6,501 2,820 69.7 30.3 10,675 9,215 53.7 46.3 D 1,190 6,384 15.7 84.3 3,681 17,653 17.2 82.8 E 3,998 1,269 75.9 24.1 10,894 4,771 69.5 30.5 F 1,101 487 69.3 30.7 4,404 2,964 59.8 40.2 G 7,554 1,347 84.9 15.1 18,001 6,039 74.9 25.1 H 1,117 1,644 40.5 59.5 5,011 6,531 43.4 56.6 I 1,006 880 53.3 46.7 3,025 4,119 42.3 57.7 J 1,166 491 70.4 29.6 K 1,989 2,741 42.1 57.9

At first glance, it’s more of the same from 2009, only more so. With the exception of District I, Jones did better in all the places she had done well before, and Christie did better in all the places he had done well before. The problem with this, at least from Jones’ perspective, is that she had a lot less room to grow than Christie did. In addition, and this is something we’ve discussed before, in this lower turnout environment, the bigger percentages in B and D meant a smaller total number of votes, meaning that Christie had less to make up everywhere else. With him building on his margins as well, and with the difference between the two so small, that was enough.

What really stands out to me is the change in District C. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was another Republican stronghold. I can think of two possible explanations for Christie’s strong performance in this district. The Bill White endorsement of Christie probably moved a few Anglo Dem voters to support the challenger. District C was also Mayor Parker’s cradle of support, and it’s not unreasonable to think that Parker supporters there expressed that support by voting against her most vocal and visible critic on Council. I’m sure there’s plenty of overlap among those groups, but if so then that’s double the motivation. Jones’ deficit overall was bigger than the gap in District C, so it’s not the case that this was the whole election for her, but presumably the same forces that affected this district were at work elsewhere as well.

As noted before, the undervote in this race was tiny, as it was the marquee matchup. In fact, the 1.02% undervote in At Large #5 was less than that of the 2009 Mayoral runoff undervote of 1.45%. This was the race that drew people out to vote, and that ultimately did not work in Jones’ favor. While it’s possible to imagine different outcomes under higher turnout scenarios in At Large #2, I don’t think that would have made any difference here. As CM Jones said the day after the election, the voters have spoken.

I hope you found this useful. I will have one more thing to say about the 2011 elections tomorrow. Greg has more.

Adjusting to the new Council

This is kind of a fluff story about the new Council – apparently, having two more seats at the table could cause some problems – but I couldn’t pass this up:

“This infusion, effectively of new blood – of a whole bunch of people at one time – is going to change the dynamics,” said Paul Bettencourt, the former county tax assessor who, along with other conservatives, had endorsed newly elected council members Helena Brown, Andrew Burks Jr, and Jack Christie. “Because it won’t just be Jolanda Jones saying ‘no’ anymore by herself.”

Before SCOTUS threw the 2012 election calendar in the air, there had been some talk that Bettencourt might run for the new CD34, which snakes up into northwest Harris County and thus ought to be amenable to someone like him. I wasn’t so sure about that, however. How could he possibly fit a Congressional campaign into his busy schedule of pontificating on city politics and not running for Mayor? There’s only so many hours in the day, people.

As for the “not just Jolanda Jones saying no” comment, I have this mental image of Mike Sullivan off in a corner by himself, pouting and muttering “What am I, chopped liver?” under his breath. Snark aside, it remains to be seen how much “no” saying there will be. Let’s not forget that the November election added a couple of people who are likely to be reasonably close to the Mayor. I don’t think she’s going to need to whip votes as a matter of routine just yet. Let’s figure out where everyone’s going to sit first, and we’ll go from there.

Don’t draw broad conclusions from muddled evidence

I have a number of issues with the analysis presented in this Chron story about what happened in the runoffs and What It All Means.

The results illustrate a continuation of a national trend of anger and frustration toward government during the worst economic stretch since the Great Depression, political observers said.

In short: Voters want change.

“A lot of people are angry at virtually all institutions and the government is high on their list,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “And these are the people in a low-turnout election that are most likely to show up because they are angry. They’re agitated.”

[…]

The results show clear opposition to the status quo, particularly following a general election in which Mayor Annise Parker and several council members narrowly avoided runoff elections, said Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

“It’s a strong repudiation of this administration – not just the mayor, but the council,” Stein said.

First of all, I believe that voters who are angry and agitated vote. I don’t see how that’s consistent with an election with six percent turnout. I refer you to the 2010 election, and the historically high Republican turnout, for a canonical example. Maybe it’s just me, but the words I use to describe an electorate that fails to show up like this are “disengaged” and “apathetic”. Your mileage may vary.

But maybe turnout was disproportionately high in District A, which is the one election out of the four where I will agree there were angry voters sending a message to someone. To see if that was the case, I checked the ratio of turnout in districts to the Harris County portion of the citywide turnout for runoffs in the past five elections. This is what I found:

Year Dist Turnout Overall Ratio =================================== 2011 A 8.28 6.08 1.36 2011 B 6.76 6.08 1.11 2009 A 18.82 16.48 1.14 2009 F 13.41 16.48 0.81 2007 D 6.29 2.70 2.33 2007 E 5.05 2.70 1.87 2005 B 4.92 4.02 1.22 2005 C 9.38 4.02 2.33 2003 F 18.98 22.71 0.84 2003 G 29.53 22.71 1.30 2003 H 20.57 22.71 0.91

I only went back as far as 2003 because that’s as far back as the County Clerk has runoff data. The ratio of District A turnout to overall is higher than average, but by no means historic. To be fair, the higher level of turnout overall compared to the 2007 and 2005 runoffs may be masking the effect. There’s just not enough data points for me to say, and we’re still talking about eight percent turnout in A. I have a hard time assigning any special meaning to that.

Further, I strongly disagree with taking the result in District A and extrapolating it to the rest of the city. With all due respect to Professor Stein, if the voters intended to repudiate the Mayor a month after re-electing her, Jolanda Jones is the last Council member they should be kicking to the curb. CM Jones was arguably the Mayor’s most vocal and visible critic on Council. I feel pretty confident that they’re not losing any sleep in the Mayor’s office over this result. We may not know exactly what we’ll get with CM-Elect Jack Christie, but we do know that he’s a supporter of Rebuild Houston and that he voted to keep the red light cameras.

Perhaps there was an anti-incumbent message in these results. For sure, CMs Jones and Stardig are the first sitting Council members to be unelected since Jean Kelly in 1999, and only the third and fourth incumbents of any kind to lose since term limits were established. I would argue that there are unique circumstances to each of their losses. To put it mildly, CM Jones had some baggage, and was very nearly ousted in 2009. I’ve been saying all along that a runoff would be a crapshoot for her, and indeed she rolled snake eyes. With the help of Gene Locke’s mayoral campaign she was able to win the turnout fight two years ago, but not this time. I suspect as well that her performance deteriorated in Anglo and Hispanic Democratic areas – I’m sure the Bill White endorsement of Christie had some effect on that – though that’s a question that will have to wait for the precinct data.

As for District A itself, those voters did mostly vote against incumbents last time around, so it’s probably not much of a surprise that they did it to their incumbent District member in the runoff. That said, CM Stardig clearly had her own set of baggage. If anyone can think of another situation offhand in which the three prior incumbents of a given Council district were supporting the opponent of the current incumbent, let me know about it, because I doubt it’s happened any time recently. Far as I can tell, she didn’t have much of a campaign going into the November election – her eight day report showed expenditures on signs, some ads in neighborhood newspapers, and a $6K ad in the Texas Conservative Review that I’m guessing wasn’t well-received; her 30 day report had practically nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but let this be Exhibit A for future incumbents: Unless you’re unopposed, run hard. You never know. Hell, run hard even if you are unopposed. Never hurts to get people into the habit of voting for you – your name ID probably isn’t as good as you think it is.

Putting this another way, Stardig was primaried, and she was not prepared for it. Redistricting did her no favors on that score, either. It will be interesting to see how CM-Elect Helena Brown reconciles her professed political beliefs with the sort of things that constituents tend to expect to get done. Maybe there is such a thing as a Republican pothole.

There’s still two other races to consider. The result in District B could be considered an anti-incumbent vote, but when you consider that the outgoing incumbent is CM Jarvis Johnson, is it really that surprising? As for Prof. Stein’s thesis, here’s what CM-Elect Jerry Davis had to say for himself:

Davis, 38, said he hoped to begin working with the administration as quickly as possible to cut down his learning curve as he gets set to start his first job as a public representative. He said his main goal as a council member would be to represent the priorities of District B constituents.

“My job is to represent the people and do what the people want me to do and that’s going to be the number one step,” Davis said.

I mentioned before that of the five candidates I interviewed, only Davis said he supported Renew Houston prior to the referendum passing. If you listen to the interview I did with him, you will also note that Davis supported the red light cameras, again being the only candidate in the district to do so. Way to repudiate the Parker Administration, District B voters!

As for Burks v Thibaut, good luck making sense out of that one. Again, I’ll wait till I see precinct data, but it seems to me that the vaunted “pincer strategy” of African-Americans plus Republicans finally worked. Why Republican voters fell into line behind an Obama delegate at the 2008 DNC convention who once ran for HCDP Chair is a bit puzzling to me, but I suppose stranger things have happened. It’s not like Burks is well-known for policy positions, so he’s a pretty blank slate onto which one can project whatever one wants, and then there is that Hotze embrace to whet the appetite. I don’t think this result would have happened in an election where the votes were distributed more proportionally. Perhaps someone will test that hypothesis in two years’ time. Like I said, we’ll see what the precinct data tells us. Oh, and for what it’s worth, the one elected official who endorsed CM-Elect Andrew Burks was CM Brad Bradford. If you want a guide for how Burks is likely to vote, I’d say to start there. Greg and Stace have more.

Christie, Burks, Davis, Brown

Those are your runoff winners.

Jack Christie’s victory was the most dramatic, coming in his fifth attempt to defeat Jolanda Jones, an opponent he had forced into multiple runoff elections.

Helena Brown was the other candidate who beat an incumbent, defeating Brenda Stardig by a 10 percent margin for the District A seat, according to unofficial county totals.

Both Christie, a 63-year-old chiropractor, and Brown, a 34-year-old political activist, are conservatives.

Brown, whose political history is colored by Tea Party activism, campaigned as an anti-tax, anti-fee candidate. She attacked Stardig for her support of policies backed by Mayor Annise Parker, including an increasingly unpopular drainage fee for $8 billion flood prevention projects.

In the race for At-Large Position 2, Andrew Burks Jr. beat Kristi Thibaut by less than 1 percent.

Jerry Davis, a 38-year-old restaurateur, defeated Alvin Byrd, a 58-year-old constituent services director for current Councilman Jarvis Johnson, by 98 votes to claim the District B seat.

First, congratulations to all the winners. I wish them good luck in office. The city needs everyone’s best, and I hope they all exceed everyone’s expectations.

I’ve made my feelings clear about Andrew Burks, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not disappointed in that result. He led in early voting, but a strong showing on Election Day put Thibaut ahead of him in Harris County. He had enough of a lead in Fort Bend to hang on for the win. For what it’s worth, the result in Fort Bend illustrates what I had said before about Burks’ strength as a candidate compared to Jolanda Jones’:

Candidate Votes Pct ========================= Thibaut 325 32.5 Burks 676 67.5 Christie 75 7.1 Jones 981 92.9

I’ll be very interested to see what the precinct data looks like in each of the At Large races. I hope, though I don’t expect, that I have underestimated Andrew Burks and that he will be a good Council member. But if I haven’t, I hope that candidates who are looking at the 2013 elections will consider that with Christie’s victory there will be only one open At Large seat in two years, that being At Large 3, just as there was only one open At Large seat this year. What do you think will offer better odds of victory, a cattle call open seat race or a challenge to a freshman incumbent like Burks?

The bit in the story about Helena Brown and Renew Houston needs some context. It’s true that Brown rode her opposition to that to victory in District A. However, she was not typical. Jack Christie, who supported Renew Houston, defeated Jolanda Jones, who opposed it. In District B, of the five candidates whom I interviewed, only Jerry Davis supported Renew Houston prior to its passage. Even Andrew Burks says he now supports Renew/Rebuild Houston. In addition to that, all three new Council members who were elected in November supported Renew Houston – Ellen Cohen in C, Mike Laster in J, and Larry Green in K. Point being, District A isn’t the whole city.

Oh, and just for the record, turnout has been unofficially pegged at 56,998 – 55,934 in Harris, 1,063 in Fort Bend, and 1 – yes, one – in Montgomery. That person voted early for Thibaut and Jones. Turnout for the city was a hair over six percent.

That’s all I have for now. On to the March primaries, once SCOTUS cleans up the mess they’ve made of that.

November was like 2007, December is more like 2005

Here’s the daily report for the first six days of Early Voting in the runoff. There have been 17,568 votes cast so far, with today still to go. That means there have been more early votes cast in Harris County than there were in the entire 2007 runoff, when 11,374 ballots were cast before Runoff Day. Indeed, we had already exceeded that total by the end of Friday’s early voting. So, even though turnout for the November, 2011 election in the City of Houston was nearly identical to turnout from 2007, the December election is looking more like the runoff from 2005. In 2007, there was a grand total of 25,382 votes cast. At the rate we’re going, Early Voting in this runoff may approach that number. A better model may be 2005, with 38,620 votes cast, though I daresay that may be a bit low. There were only 14,233 early votes cast in the 2005 runoff, but early voting was less popular back then.

Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d put the over/under now at about 50,000 votes. The main difference is that in 2007 the one At Large runoff, between now-CM Jolanda Jones and Joe Trevino, was a much more low-profile and low-dollar affair than what we’ve got this time. Jolanda wasn’t Jolanda yet in 2007, if you get what I mean, so that race was almost beneath the radar – the two district runoffs generated more attention. This year we have two At Large runoffs with three of the four candidates raising money and the fourth having a hundred elections’ worth of name recognition, with the two district runoffs generating some heat as well. The 2005 runoff had only one At Large race, between now-CM Sue Lovell and Jay Aiyer, but it had a fair amount of money as well as some controversy. This year we have some familiar names and enough money to raise the bar a bit. It’s still an extreme low turnout race – we’re talking five percent turnout instead of three or four – but clearly there are some gradations in there.

Eight day runoff finance reports

Seven of the eight campaign finance reports for the runoff have been posted; all but Jack Christie’s were available online as of last night. Let’s have a look at them. First up, District A:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Stardig 74,103 42,308 0 81,023 Brown 13,840 13,340 0 4,409

Helena Brown may have finished ahead of CM Brenda Stardig in November, but the establishment is still backing the incumbent. Brown got $1000 each from Paul Bettencourt’s campaign fund (what’s the deadline on using leftover campaign funds like his?) and the Texas Latino GOP PAC, $750 from Don Sumners, $500 from Norman Adams, and $100 from Bruce Tatro. Stardig got $2500 in kind from Mayor Parker’s campaign, $500 from CM Stephen Costello, and a boatload of PAC money, including $10K from the Council of Engineering Companies and $9500 from the Texas Association of Realtors PAC; they contributed in at least two of the other races as well. I still don’t know why Stardig had spent so little before now; if she manages to survive she’ll at least have a nice nest egg for 2013.

District B:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Byrd 23,700 17,672 0 6,027 Davis 37,350 16,480 0 29,435

As noted before, Alvin Byrd received a fair amount of support from elected officials for the runoff. Jerry Davis didn’t get any donations from electeds that I saw, but he did collect $200 from former Congressional candidate Michael Skelley. Roland Garcia, who was Mayor Parker’s finance chair in 2009, and Kent Friedman of the Sports Authority were both in for $500, Rusty Hardin gave $2000, and Jeff Caynon of the Firefighter’s union went for $5000. Both received PAC money, but just eyeballing it I’d say Davis had more.

At Large #2:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Burks 13,750 15,698 0 10,455 Thibaut 68,818 53,115 10,000 29,083

Andrew Burks‘ report is just a mess. Each contribution is listed twice. The $9500 he got from the Realtors was credited to Constable May Walker, which would be illegal if it were true; in reality, either Walker was listed erroneously or the total he cited does match the individual dollar amounts listed. I don’t recall seeing that the $10K loan he made himself in the regular cycle was paid off; no balance for that loan is given here. As with Griff, you’d think a guy who runs for Council as a matter of habit every two years would have some idea what he’s doing by now, but you’d be wrong. As for Kristi Thibaut, there’s no question she’s the establishment candidate. She got a ton of PAC money. Her former colleagues State Reps. Borris Miles and Garnet Coleman gave her $1000 and $2500, respectively. Port Commissioner Janiece Longoria gave $1000, Kent Friedman another $500. Former Council Member Peter Brown chipped in $1000 (his Smart PAC kicked in another $1500) and Council Member-Elect Larry Green gave $200. Usually the big money bets correctly, but between this race and the Stardig-Brown runoff, there’s a better than usual chance that it will be wrong.

As for At Large #5, the only action to report is on CM Jolanda Jones, who had another stellar report. She took in $70,217, spent $68,576, and had $24,400 left on hand. She got $2500 from Rep. Garnet Coleman, $1000 each from Rep. Borris Miles, Sen. John Whitmire, Ben Hall, $500 from Roland Garcia and District Court Judge Kyle Carter, $250 from Sylvia Garcia and Chris Bell, $200 from the Rev. William Lawson, $150 from CM-Elect Larry Green, and $100 each from Constable Ruben Davis and JP Zinetta Burney. She had less PAC money than you might expect. No report yet from Jack Christie – I know he’s sent out at least three mail pieces, so I’d guess he’s spent upward of $50K. Whether he’s financing that himself as he did last time or he’s got it covered I couldn’t say. When I see the report, I’ll update this post and let you know.

UPDATE: There was indeed a Jack Christie finance report uploaded. It was from a day earlier than the others, and was amid some amended reports from candidates not in the runoff, so I just missed seeing it. The Christie campaign pointed this out to me, and I apologize to them for the error. Here’s the Jones/Christie comparison:

Candidate Raised Spent Loans Cash on Hand ==================================================== Jones 70,217 68,576 0 24,400 Christie 71,580 43,147 500 33,094

Nearly identical amount raised – inded, roughly $70K is more or less the standard for the At Large runoffs, with three of the four candidates in that vicinity. Christie received $10K from Anne Clutterbuck’s campaign, and $1000 each from Beverley Woolley’s campaign and Peter Brown, whose SmartPAC also chipped in $1500. As with CM Jones, not a whole lot of PAC money on his report.

Runoff overview: At Large #5

The fifth time is for all the marbles. Again.

For the fifth time since 2007, counting general elections and runoffs, Jolanda Jones and Jack Christie are running against each other for the At-Large Position 5 seat on Houston City Council.

Christie is a Republican, a resident of the Memorial City area and white. He makes the pitch that he plays better in the sandbox than Jones does, that he’s comfortable in the halls of power and friendly with those who rule there. Senators take his calls, he said.

“This isn’t about fighting,” Christie said, “This is about getting along with the mayor, getting along with the City Council” to get the city’s business done.

Jones, who won the previous four face-offs, is a Democrat, a resident of the Third Ward neighborhood where she grew up, black, and boasts that she’s fearless in those same halls and defiant of those who rule there when they get it wrong.

“I have the ball,” said Jones, a former high school All-American athlete fond of sports metaphors. “I expect they will try to tackle me.”

I doubt anyone reading this needs to make up their minds for this one. It’s all about who gets more of their supporters to the polls. Based on the first day early vote totals, this race may be a bigger draw on its own than I originally expected. Both candidates have been busy with mail – Christie sent out one piece a few days ago that attacked Jones up one side and down the other, and this week he has one out that touts the endorsement of famed criminal defense attorney Rusty Hardin; Jones has one out this week that highlights her accomplishments and the Chron endorsement of her. I can’t wait to see their eight day reports. Like I said, I doubt anyone has to decide whom to support in this one, it’s only a matter of whether they take that support to the polls or not.

Early voting for city runoffs begins today

You remember that we have runoff elections for four Houston City Council positions, right? Well, early voting starts today and runs through next Tuesday, December 6. Here are the early voting locations that will be open for the runoff. Early voting will run from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except Sunday the 4th, when it will be 1 to 6 PM. You can go any time you want, as I expect you will be the only person voting whenever it is you show up. The over/under for turnout in this runoff is 25,000, which is to say about what it was for the 2007 runoff. Districts A and B, and At Large #2 and #5 are up.

Eight day finance reports are due Friday, so I’ll be checking for those and posting them along with anything interesting I find in them. The one remaining question is who the Chron will endorse in the District B runoff. They had endorsed Kathy Daniels for the November election, but she finished third. In the other races, they went with CM Brenda Stardig in A, CM Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, and Kristi Thibaut in At Large #2. You can debate how much endorsements mean, but whatever it is it’s surely more so in a low-profile, low-turnout race.

And low turnout it will be. Look at it this way: your vote never counts more than it does when there aren’t that many votes cast. This is your last chance to vote in 2011, so go make it count.

Back and forth in At Large #5

Did you think this would be a slow holiday week? Not when there’s a runoff looming. So far this week, the Jack Christie campaign has released a letter from the former public policy director for CM Jolanda Jones that ripped her up one side and down the other. The next day, the city’s Office of the Inspector General cleared CM Jones of charges that she had cut that same letter writer’s salary in retaliation for his cooperation in the previous OIG investigation of her, thus refuting or at least dampening some of the allegations made in the campaign letter. Jones then released a letter of her own, from Kubosh brother #3, Randy, in support of her candidacy. (If Kuboshes were Baldwins, that would make Randy Billy, I suppose.) I presume this was done in part to counter the Bill White endorsement of Christie, but honestly in a toss-up race like this every little edge could be the difference. Having said that, I’m not sure how much any endorsement really matters in a low-turnout race that’s all about getting as many of your core supporters to realize that there is an election for them to vote in. But no stone unturned and all that.

Looking ahead to the runoffs

The runoff election for the city of Houston will be Saturday, December 10. It’s going to be an extremely low turnout affair – as was the case with the general election, I expect the runoff to have about the same level of turnout as the 2007 runoff, in which 25,382 ballots were cast. Look at it this way: If you bother to vote in the runoff, your vote really counts for a lot.

Some thoughts and questions about the runoff now that we’re two weeks out from the November election and all of the precinct analyses have been done:

– On paper, CM Brenda Stardig has all of the advantages in District A. She had $67K on hand as of the 8 Day reports, while Helena Brown had less than $1500. She swept all of the endorsements of which I’m aware except one, from the odious Steven Hotze. She’s the incumbent, and incumbents generally don’t lose. But the fact remains that she trailed Brown by six points and nearly 500 votes. How does she make that up? Does she try to woo Democratic voters by reminding them that she’s not nearly as bad as Brown, or does she try to out-wingnut her? How much help does she get from groups like the realtors, the police, the firefighters, and so on? Conversely, is Brown able to raise funds now that she’s demonstrated that she can win? Does she get any endorsements from elected officials? This one should be Stardig’s to lose, but then it should have been Stardig’s to win in regulation time. As I said before, I have a bad feeling about this one for her.

– As I said before, a lot of people waited on the sidelines to see who would make the runoff in B before committing to it. Now is the time to get off the fence. Jerry Davis previously announced the support of several former opponents, and Monday it was Alvin Byrd’s turn to make his new supporters known. He now lists former District B candidates Kathy Ballard Blueford-Daniels, Kenneth Perkins, and James Joseph; former Council members Jarvis Johnson, Carol Galloway, Michael Yarborough, and Jewell McGowen (on behalf of Ernest McGowen); and elected officials State Reps. Senfronia Thompson, Sylvester Turner, and Ron Reynolds, plus HISD Trustee-elect Rhonda Skillern-Jones. There are still numerous groups that have not made a choice in this race, including the realtors, the police, the firefighters, HOPE-SEIU, and Planned Parenthood (both Davis and Byrd scored 100% on the PP questionnaire). HBAD and the Chron went with Daniels in the first round, so they’re up for grabs as well. Neither candidate raised much money up till now – Davis has $9,274 on hand, while Byrd has $3,882. There will be another finance report due on December 2, and I’ll be looking to see if some big checks have been coming in. As of this writing, this one looks like a tossup.

– Not much to add to the At Large #2 runoff that I didn’t say before. Kristi Thibaut has the early momentum, and I expect she will collect most of the remaining endorsements in addition to the ones she has already received. I’ll be very curious to see if Andrew Burks reports any major endorsements – off the top of my head, I can’t remember any coming his way in 2009. That was when he was going against an incumbent, however, so this time may be different. Thibaut has $19K on hand, Burks has $12K, most of which is left over from his $20K loan, originally reported as a loan from his wife but later corrected to indicate it was a self-loan. Does anyone write Burks a check? Burks has the advantage of CM Jolanda Jones running, who will turn out voters that will be more inclined to support him than Thibaut, if they bother to vote in his race. What will Burks do to actually try to win? I see this one as being lean Thibaut, with the only thing holding me back from making a stronger statement the low turnout.

– As for At Large #5, what else is there to say? I’ll be curious to see if there’s another big show of support for Jack Christie from some of CM Jones’ colleagues. In retrospect, it’s not clear to me how much that actually helped Christie or hurt Jones, but it sure felt like a big deal at the time. Laurie Robinson picked up a few endorsements, including the police and the firefighters, who I think it’s safe to say will back Christie. If there’s going to be any real money thrown around in the runoff, it’s likely to be in this race. Jones starts out with $40K on hand, while Christie has $23K, but as we saw last time he’s willing and able to write his own check as needed. I feel like there’s another shoe or two to drop in this one, but I have no idea where they may come from or when they may fall. This one is a tossup. Nothing and everything will surprise me.

Early voting for city runoffs begins today

You remember that we have runoff elections for four Houston City Council positions, right? Well, early voting starts today and runs through next Tuesday, December 6. Here are the early voting locations that will be open for the runoff. Early voting will run from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except Sunday the 4th, when it will be 1 to 6 PM. You can go any time you want, as I expect you will be the only person voting whenever it is you show up. The over/under for turnout in this runoff is 25,000, which is to say about what it was for the 2007 runoff. Districts A and B, and At Large #2 and #5 are up.

Eight day finance reports are due Friday, so I’ll be checking for those and posting them along with anything interesting I find in them. One question that remains unanswered is who the Chron will endorse for the District B runoff. For the November election, the Chron endorsed CM Brenda Stardig in A, CM Jolanda Jones in At Large #5, and Kristi Thibaut in At Large #2, but their choice in B was Kathy Daniels, who finished third. As of this morning, they have not updated that recommendation.

Regardless, today begins your last chance to vote in 2011. Your vote never counts more than it does in an extreme low-turnout election, so go take advantage of that.

Precinct analysis: 2011 At Large #5

Last but certainly not least, the race everyone is wondering about, At Large #5:

Dist Robinson Jones Christie Ryan ======================================= A 17.10% 23.61% 48.91% 10.38% B 18.80% 73.00% 5.09% 3.11% C 25.07% 30.02% 35.57% 9.35% D 14.96% 73.56% 7.86% 3.62% E 19.97% 13.73% 54.51% 11.79% F 19.44% 30.45% 37.41% 12.70% G 14.99% 14.70% 61.81% 8.49% H 23.23% 45.26% 21.10% 10.41% I 26.13% 41.33% 21.39% 11.14% J 20.19% 31.78% 35.56% 12.47% K 20.85% 51.01% 21.54% 6.60%

For comparison purposes, here are my analyses of the 2009 runoff and regular election for At Large #5. I’m going to keep this simple, because I think Greg captures most of the important points. Superficially, the race this year resembles the one from 2009, in that you had CM Jolanda Jones versus Jack Christie, an African-American woman, and another Republican. Clearly, though, Laurie Robinson > Davetta Daniels, and Carlos Obando at least had second place finishes in the old Districts H and I to show for his effort. Jones remained strong in B and D – she scored 76% and 70% in the old versions, respectively. While Robinson did better than Daniels in those districts – Daniels had 8% and 14% – she didn’t take a noticeable amount of that vote away from Jones. But Jones starts out with a lower percentage than last time, suggesting there may be more people than before that are willing to vote her out.

Which is a problem, of course, because she won by a very slender margin last time. The main difference this time is that the 2009 runoff was a relatively high profile affair, with Gene Locke and Ronald Green also on the ballot, wooing African-American voters. Over 160,000 people voted in the ’09 runoff. Here, Jones’ race is the top of the ticket, and Andrew Burks will hope to ride her coattails because he has no momentum of his own. If the 2011 election was like the 2007 election, perhaps the 2011 runoff will be like the 2007 runoff, in which case we can expect maybe 25,000 to 30,000 voters. It all comes down to who comes out. Jones has no room for error. The scary thing for her is that when you shrink the voter pool that much, even if the basic shape of the electorate is the same as it was two years ago, a little random fluctuation here or there could be the difference. I’ll say it again, I would not bet against her, but I would hate to be in this position. It’s anyone’s ball game.

Precinct analysis: 2011 At Large races, part 1

Here’s a look at the election returns in each Council district for the three “normal” At Large races, in At Large #1, #3, and #4. First up is #1, where first term incumbent CM Stephen Costello won a narrow majority for a second term.

Dist Costello Galvan Boates Cook ====================================== A 46.25% 7.44% 28.98% 17.34% B 42.41% 9.19% 18.17% 30.24% C 63.58% 5.07% 19.66% 11.68% D 46.48% 8.23% 20.82% 24.47% E 42.68% 6.21% 33.25% 17.86% F 45.46% 9.03% 22.44% 23.07% G 53.55% 3.44% 30.58% 12.43% H 53.68% 18.22% 12.30% 15.80% I 48.36% 22.10% 12.91% 16.62% J 50.64% 9.05% 21.56% 18.74% K 52.14% 7.15% 19.85% 20.87%

Costello’s numbers roughly match those of Mayor Parker – he did a little better in some districts, a little worse in others, and finished about a percentage point higher than the Mayor. A couple of things stand out to me. One, for all of the anti-Renew Houston backlash in District A, Costello didn’t do too badly there; he received as many votes as Brenda Stardig but had a higher percentage of the vote, as there was a greater undervote in his race. The total among his three opponents was about the same as Helena Brown’s total, so who knows, maybe all of the Bob Schoellkopf voters skipped this race. Two, the fact that James Partsch-Galvan was able to score in double digits in Districts H and I is a clear indicator to me that little to no voter outreach was done in those districts, at least for this race. No rational voter, given even minimal information about the candidates, would ever choose Partsch-Galvan. Greg suggests that CM Costello needs to work on increasing his name recognition, and I’m inclined to agree. When people don’t know anything about the candidates they’re voting for beyond the names they see in front of them, strange things happen.

Moving on to At Large #3:

Dist Noriega Carmona Batteau ============================== A 48.35% 34.81% 16.84% B 53.76% 15.36% 30.88% C 66.58% 23.62% 9.80% D 51.89% 14.82% 33.28% E 43.06% 41.43% 15.51% F 49.26% 32.34% 18.39% G 46.92% 40.23% 12.85% H 68.16% 19.62% 12.23% I 70.08% 18.12% 11.80% J 55.64% 26.48% 17.88% K 56.49% 20.80% 22.71%

CM Noriega had over 55% of the vote, which is right in line with her performance in the 2007 special election runoff. She won majorities outside of the Republican districts, though her totals in B, D, and K were likely diminished by the presence of Brad Batteau, even if some people thought he was in another race. Carmona did decently in E and G but was mostly background noise in the rest of the districts. He had less money than Scott Boates did, but as Carmona did not try to have it both ways with his party ID, it probably worked better for him. One more thing to note is how well Noriega did in Districts H and I. Having a Latino name surely didn’t hurt, but let’s not forget that Noriega lives in District I and is pretty well known in and around there. She did better in I than its district Council Member, James Rodriguez: Noriega received 4,282 votes to Rodriguez’s 4,045. Point being, once again, that being known to the voters is a necessary condition for performing to expectations.

Finally, At Large #4:

Dist Bradford Molnar Price ============================== A 59.66% 14.08% 26.26% B 84.79% 4.63% 10.58% C 65.64% 10.81% 23.55% D 83.70% 4.51% 11.79% E 60.52% 12.40% 27.08% F 55.85% 15.19% 28.96% G 67.61% 10.75% 21.64% H 57.52% 17.58% 24.90% I 52.43% 21.77% 25.81% J 57.19% 14.69% 28.12% K 73.82% 7.76% 18.42%

CM Bradford had easily the best showing among contested citywide candidates, and one of the best showings overall. He also did not have something that Costello, Noriega, and Jolanda Jones had: A Republican opponent. My guess is that if you’d thrown a token R into his race – imagine Jack O’Connor moving into At Large #4 instead of the Mayor’s race after leaving At Large #5 – you’d likely move Bradford’s numbers down into the Costello-Noriega range. It’s impossible to say with any certainty, of course. There are so many factors to consider. Unlike Costello and Noriega, Bradford did get the CCLUB endorsement, which surely helped him in the Republican areas, but who knows if he’d have gotten it over a real Republican. I don’t want to understate Bradford’s strength as a candidate – he’s now won two multi-candidate races in a row with large majorities, which is no small feat – but I don’t want to overstate it, either. He was in a different race than his colleagues, and that makes it hard to compare them.

I’m working on analyses of the At Large #2 cattle call, and of course the At Large #5 race as well. Look for them shortly. Let me know what you think of this.

More thoughts on the Council elections

One district at a time…

– I confess that I did not see the District A result coming. Helena Brown did raise a decent amount of money since entering the race at the filing deadline, about $22K through the end of October, which makes me wonder how she might have fared if she had gotten in the race sooner. For what it’s worth, she’s at a big financial disadvantage in the runoff, as CM Brenda Stardig reported over $67K on hand in her 8 Day report, while Brown listed only $1378 on hers. Maybe Stardig needed to spend more during regulation time. Brown has received donations from the two previous District A members, Bruce Tatro and Toni Lawrence, the latter of whom apparently had a falling out with Stardig a few months back. If Brown wins she will be a big success story for the anti-Renew Houston forces. She would probably like for the runoff to be a low turnout affair in which she can campaign like it’s a Republican primary. Stardig will likely need to persuade some Democrats that she’s worth voting for; I would also expect the Houston Association of Realtors to try to come to her rescue. I have a bad feeling about this one for the incumbent.

– A lot of endorsing organizations avoided choosing a candidate in District B for November. I presume that part of the reason for that was that it was a crowded race with no obvious frontrunner and multiple contenders who might have a shot at making it to the runoff. Now that it’s narrowed down to Alvin Byrd and Jerry Davis, who received the bulk of the endorsements that were made, it’ll be interesting to see who lines up behind whom. Davis had an email out yesterday touting the fact that former competitors Kenneth Perkins, Phillip Paul Bryant, Bryan Smart, and Charles Ingram were all now supporting him. Also up for grabs now are the HBAD and Chronicle endorsements, both of which had gone to third place finisher (and currently unaligned, as far as I know) Kathy Daniels.

– Moving to the non-runoff districts, I’m still not sure if I’m surprised or not that Ellen Cohen won in C without a runoff. I had no doubt that it was possible, but I had no good feel for what the likelihood of it was. I do have a feeling that Cohen’s next two elections will be much easier to prognosticate.

– Given how a few other first-termers did, CM Al Hoang’s 56% win in District F has to be seen as a pretty strong performance, but much like Helena Brown in A, I wonder how Peter Lyn René might have fared if he had entered the race earlier. He missed out on the opportunity to screen for an awful lot of Democrat-friendly endorsements. I’m not saying he would have won, but a swing of less than 300 votes away from Hoang would have put him into a runoff. Surely that was achievable with a few months’ extra time to organize and fundraise.

– I’m just going to point you to what Greg says about District J, because there really isn’t anything I can add to it. I hope CM-elect Mike Laster makes an offer to Criselda Romero to be on his staff so that she can be in a good position to succeed him in 2017.

– Regarding the At Large runoffs, it’s easy to see the AL2 and AL5 races in racial terms, with the fates of the candidates entwined. Here’s Greg again:

As an aside in looking at the At Large runoffs together, I have a hard time seeing the needle threading such that both JoJo and Kristi win, though that’s obviously the outcome I’d most love to see. The more JoJo voters there are, then theoretically, the better the odds are for Andrew Burks. And the better things look for Kristi, the harder they look for JoJo. I really hope I’m wrong on this.

I think it’s a little more complex than that, for the simple reason that Burks isn’t a particularly good candidate. To put it another way, while I would agree that there will be a correlation between the vote totals of Burks and CM Jones, there will also be a lag between their totals. I believe a fair number of people who show up to vote for Jones will not bother to vote for Burks. As evidence, I cite the district returns from the 2009 runoffs, which featured both Burks and Jones as well as Ronald Green and Gene Locke. Take a look at these numbers, which I compiled from these earlier posts:

Candidate B votes D votes ============================ Locke 11,395 15,223 Green 10,017 16,935 Burks 7,773 11,974 Jones 10,673 17,653

Burks received less that 75% of Jones’ vote total in the African-American districts in the 2009 runoff, and he was running against someone who is not nearly as well-liked as Kristi Thibaut. He isn’t anywhere near Jones’ league. Maybe this time it will be different, but I see a lot of room for Jones to win and Burks to lose. And like District B, there are now a bunch of endorsements up for grabs. Thibaut, who had more endorsements by my count than other candidates going into the November election, counted HBAD among her supporters. She has since picked up the support of former candidates Bo Fraga, Jenifer Pool, and David Robinson; a whole host of Democratic elected officials, including numerous African-Americans (Rodney Ellis, Alma Allen, Garnet Coleman, Harold Dutton, Ron Reynolds, and Senfronia Thompson); and the Oak Forest Dems and Democracy for Houston endorsements; both of those groups reaffirmed their support of CM Jones as well. I think that says something, and about Burks’ ability to keep up with Jones.

As far as CM Jones goes, the playbook is the same for her as was two years ago: Run up the score in the friendly precincts, and hope it’s enough. Without a Gene Locke at the top of the ticket to drive turnout, that could be harder to achieve. She does have the benefit of the runoff in B to help her, but that may be canceled out by the action in A. It’s a crapshoot. I wouldn’t bet against her, but boy this is a tough way to go about it.

2011 Houston results

Let’s go through the races…

– Mayor Parker won with a shade under 51%, with none of her opponents cracking 15% on their own. Obviously, this is not a position a Mayor with no serious opposition wants to be in, and it won’t surprise anyone if one or more potential opponents for 2013 are on the phone already calling potential financial backers. It’s certainly possible, perhaps likely, that she will face a much tougher challenge in two years. It’s also possible, given a better economy, a less dire budget, and fewer externally-driven issues like a red light camera referendum, that she could be in a stronger position for re-election in two years and that the time to have beaten her was now. Many people thought Rick Perry looked vulnerable after winning with 39% of the vote in 2006, but things don’t always go as you think they will. Often uncertain the future is, that’s all I’m saying.

– Brenda Stardig trailed Helena Brown in District A by 479 votes. She and Jolanda Jones, who led Jack Christie by about 6700 votes, will be headed to a runoff. All other incumbents won majorities, with CM Stephen Costello having the closest race but winning with 51.2%. So much for the anti-Renew Houston slate.

– Only two of the five open seats will feature runoffs. Ellen Cohen in C (53.62%), Mike Laster in J (67.27%), and Larry Green in District K (67.23%) all won. Alvin Byrd (25.11%) and Jerry Davis (24.38%) head to overtime in District B, while the perennially perennial Andrew Burks led the field in At Large #2, garnering 17.33%. Kristi Thibaut came in second, with 15.65%, followed by Elizabeth Perez and David Robinson. This is at least the third time Burks has made it to a city election runoff – he lost to Sue Lovell in overtime in 2009 – and I wonder if he will get any official support. Being in a runoff with Jolanda Jones and a District B race also on the ballot will help him, but beyond that it’s hard to see him doing much of anything. You have to wonder what Michael P. Williams is thinking this morning. Oh, and Eric Dick finished seventh out of ten. Apparently, it takes more than spreading campaign signs like grass seed and putting out puerile press releases to win public office. Good to know.

– Paula Harris and Juliet Stipeche easily won re-election in HISD, as did Chris Oliver in HCC. Carroll Robinson defeated Jew Don Boney by a 55-45 margin to succeed Williams as the District IV Trustee. The closest race of the election, one that will have people gnashing their teeth all winter, was in HISD III, where Manuel Rodriguez barely held on. I’m a staunch advocate of early voting, but you have to wonder how many early-goers to the ballot box may have regretted pushing the button for Rodriguez before his shameful gay-baiting mailer came out.

– There were 123,047 city of Houston votes cast in Harris and Fort Bend Counties, making this election a near exact duplicate of 2007 turnout-wise. There were 164,283 votes cast in Harris County, of which 120,931 were Houston votes, for a Houston share of 73.6%. The final early vote total for Harris County was 60,122, almost exactly what I hypothesized it would be, and the early vote total was 36.6% of the overall tally in Harris. There were 920,172 registered voters in Houston, about 15,000 fewer than in 2009 but 7000 more than in 2007. City turnout was 13.14% in Harris County.

I have my second tour of jury duty today, this time in the municipal courts, so that’s all from me for now. I may have some deeper thoughts later. What do you think of how the election went? PDiddie has more.

UPDATE: Robert Miller offers his perspective.

UPDATE: Nancy Sims weighs in.

Your annual reminder that every vote matters

HISD Trustee, District III results, with 38 of 38 precincts reporting:

Manuel Rodriguez 2,401 50.25% Ramiro Fonseca 2,377 49.75%

There were 653 undervotes in this race, and turnout in the district was 11.61%. Fonseca carried Election Day by 78 votes, but had trailed by 102. At one point during the count, the Clerk had Fonseca up by one vote. What more do you need to know?

I will have recaps of the elections tomorrow morning. As of publication, about 95% of Harris County precincts are in. Mayor Parker appears to be headed to a just-over-50% victory, which beats the alternatives but is sure to get the chattering classes all fired up. The big surprise of the night to me is District A incumbent Brenda Stardig trailing her teabagger opponent, with the two of them headed for a runoff. We’ll see how that plays out. Other incumbents are all above 50% with the exception of Jolanda Jones, who will go into overtime again against Jack Christie. More tomorrow, see you then.