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Land Commissioner

Chron story on the anti-Open Beaches bill

Glad to see it.

A bill that would reshape future legal battles over Texas’ public beach boundaries is stirring backlash from advocates and former state leaders, who claim the proposal would give beachfront property owners the green light to vacuum up pieces of the state’s public beaches.

Senate Bill 434, filed last month by state Sen. Mayes Middleton of Galveston, would give private property owners the upper hand in legal disputes over public beach access between their residences and the Gulf of Mexico.

Such disputes are governed by Texas’ Open Beaches Act, which has long established the public’s right to use privately owned beach area extending from the vegetation line — the beach’s inland boundary, where sand gives way to foliage — to what’s known as the “mean high tide line” along the water.

Under current law, property owners can only scrap a public easement in front of their property — thus blocking the public from passing through it — if they offer legal proof that the area shouldn’t be covered by the easement.

Middleton’s bill would upend the law, shifting the legal “burden of proof” to the state or anyone looking to establish that a public easement exists on someone’s beachfront property. Critics say the change would embolden property owners to fence off beach area long accessed by the public — access that could only be regained through legal action.

Middleton did not respond to a request for comment. He defended his legislation in a statement to the Galveston County Daily News last month, arguing it would “not in any way take away our open beaches or limit them.”

“Right now, all over the state of Texas, if the state claims your land as theirs — then they have to prove it. But, sadly, on beachfront property, if Texas claims the property as theirs, it’s presumed to be the state’s — unless the landowner is able to refute the rebuttable presumption,” Middleton said. “My bill is a beachfront private property rights bill that makes beachfront land treated like land in the rest of the state and changes the presumption so that the state must prove it is state lands and the landowner no longer has the burden of proof.”

See here for the argument against, as presented by former Land Commissioners Dewhurst, Patterson, and Mauro. I have no reason to trust Sen. Middleton on this, and that’s even without me already being a steadfast Open Beaches Act supporter. I don’t know what the odds are of this bill passing, but I would take it seriously, as it’s the kind of thing that may get by because no one gives it all that much thought. To that end, the sunshine may help. Reform Austin has more.

Former Land Commissioners oppose anti-Open Beaches bill

From the inbox:

Among coastal states Texas is unique. The 1959 Texas Open Beaches Act (TOBA), as well as time-honored common law and tradition in existence since long before 1959, provides that Texas beaches are open to the public. In 2009, Texans voted by a 77% to 23% margin to enshrine TOBA into the Texas Constitution.

Unfortunately, public access to Texas beaches may soon end if legislation filed in Austin passes into law.

Senate Bill 434, by Senator Mayes Middleton of Galveston, would strip the authority of the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to define the boundaries of the public beach and would allow the upland beachfront property owner to make that determination. The property owner could then deny access to the public beach easement that existed between the line of vegetation (LOV) and the mean high tide mark. That would then limit Texas beachgoer’s access to only what is known as the “wet beach” – the area between the low tide and the high tide lines. When that area is washed by waves during periods of high tide, SB 434 would result in there being no beach at all for Texans to use.

If SB 434 passes, don’t be surprised if you show up at your favorite beach spot and you’re confronted with a fenced off beach or no trespassing signs. The only remedy available to you then would be a suit against the adjacent upland landowner. Yes, on your next trip to the beach you should consider bringing along your lawyer. You should also be prepared to drag your kids, your cooler, and your beach gear through the shallow tidal waters in order to enjoy the beach.

Beachfront property owners can’t claim ignorance of the public beach easement. Since 1986 they have received notice of the public beach easement in the documents they signed at closing.

Ironically, SB 434 doesn’t just hurt Texas beachgoers, it hurts beachfront property owners as well. Public money must be spent for a public purpose. The GLO and local governments will be unable to spend money on improving property with no public access. There will be no beach renourishment projects, no beach cleanup, and no beach maintenance in areas where property owners claim the beach has no public access easement. There is currently an expansive beach renourishment project ready to go at Jamaica Beach on Galveston Island that will be cancelled. In addition, developers of coastal property will be handicapped if the GLO is no longer able to determine survey data needed to designate set back lines for coastal construction.

Please join us in opposing SB 434. Contact your State Senators and State Representatives. You can find their contact information at Texas Legislature Online at www.capitol.texas.gov.

God Bless Texas,
David Dewhurst, Garry Mauro and Jerry Patterson, Former Texas Land Commissioners

I get a lot of unsolicited requests to run op-eds here, the vast majority of which come from bots and SEO-addled PR flaks who wouldn’t know me from a Buzzfeed listicle. This one came from someone I do know, former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who I spoke to several times during his tenure. We absolutely disagree on a lot of policy matters, but I always respected him as Land Commissioner, and he ran an open and transparent office. On the matter of the Texas Open Beaches Act, we are in firm agreement. I’ve blogged about it before, most recently after a couple of lousy SCOTx opinions that weakened the Open Beaches Act. I’m happy to cosign this.

Here’s SB434. I have not seen any public statements from the current Commissioner, Dawn Buckingham, about this bill, but all indications are that she opposes it and supports public beach access along with these three and unlike her immediate predecessor, George P. Bush. Hopefully that will carry some weight. In the meantime, it can’t hurt to tell your legislators that you also oppose this bill and hope that they will stand for keeping Texas’ beaches open, as they should be.

UPDATE: The op-ed is in the Chron as well. But you saw it here first.

Here come the new floodplain maps

Coming soon to tell you if you are now in the floodplain.

When Harris County debuts a massive overhaul of its floodplain maps later this year, the Houston area will be the first in the country to rely on a more accurate assessment of homes and businesses at risk. The update is a direct response to Hurricane Harvey, a storm so ferocious it forced the region to change its understanding of how much rainfall to plan for and which neighborhoods could flood.

Harvey — the third 500-year storm in three years — overwhelmed Harris County with up to 47 inches of rain, exposing serious flaws in communicating flood risk. A county analysis found half of the 204,000 homes and apartments that flooded were outside the boundaries of the official flood risk zones mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

More than half of the damaged homes in the Tax Day storm in 2016 were outside the mapped floodplains, as were more than one-third of those during the Memorial Day flood in 2015.

On the new maps, most of Harris County’s floodplains will expand, reflecting a major effort to capture a more comprehensive understanding of flood risk.

FEMA’s existing floodplain maps show communities their risk of fluvial, or river flooding, when a bayou, creek or lake overflows its banks and floods nearby structures. What they do not show is the risk of urban flooding, when intense rainfall overwhelms stormwater systems regardless of proximity to a bayou or other channel.

The new floodplain maps for Harris County — originally set to be released in late 2022, but now expected in late this summer at the earliest — will be FEMA’s first maps to depict urban flooding. They also will reflect updated rainfall estimates from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that better reflect the reality that storms have intensified in recent decades, data that had not been updated since the 1960s.

“This update is really a transformational way of thinking about floodplains,” said Tina Petersen, executive director at the Harris County Flood Control District. “This is the first program that FEMA has done with a partner like Harris County Flood Control District that’s really looking at innovative mapping tools trying to develop what is a much more comprehensive understanding of flood risk, beyond what has been done in the past.”

Communities across the United States are going through the process of updating their floodplain maps to align with NOAA’s higher rainfall estimates.

Harris County’s effort to map urban flood risk is its own innovation in response to Harvey, which demonstrated the limitations of the existing models, said Ataul Hannan, planning division director at the Harris County Flood Control District.

“That is a new approach,” Hannan said. “They have never done it anywhere in the United States.”

There’s a lot more to the story so go read the rest, or read the companion story that summarizes the main points. Lots of things change – the amount of rainfall needed to be called a 100-year or 500-year flood, changes to individual watersheds, future updates to include new flood mitigation projects – with a big one being that inclusion of urban flooding risk. Some number of people who are not now in a defined floodplain will be in the new maps, and some of them will not be happy about it. There will be a lot of discussion to be had afterwards.

On a related note.

Harris County Commissioners Court is expected next week to consider a plan for spending $750 million in flood mitigation funds, all or part of which could be earmarked for closing a funding gap in the county’s flood bond program.

A year after a calamitous 2017 storm inundated more than 200,000 homes and businesses, voters approved a $2.5 billion bond proposal to tackle more than 180 flood control projects across the county.

County officials expected to receive additional billions of dollars from state and federal governments to undertake those projects, but the money failed to materialize. The county two years ago said that had resulted in a $1.4 billion shortfall in the flood bond program.

The Harris County Flood Control District said it has been able to keep the flood bond projects on schedule thanks to the Flood Resilience Trust the county created in June 2021 to address the funding gap. The county budget office estimated that if no other federal or state aid comes through, the trust would be able to make up bond project shortfalls until about 2026.

The trust is funded by Harris County Toll Road Authority revenues.

Now, county officials could spend part of the $750 million allotment to close what remains of that funding gap.

That’s from last week, I was waiting to see what the post-approval story looked like but then decided to add this in to this post. You know the background here, if I start thinking about it too much my head will explode, so I’ll just leave this here. The county is allowed to do this as long as the projects in question are HUD-compliant since this is HUD money, and there seems to be unanimous support for it.

Precinct analysis: The not-as-good statewide races

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races

The difference between these statewide races and the ones we have already looked at, including the Governor’s race, is very simple: These Republican candidates did better than the ones we have seen, and the Democrats did less well. The Dems in the first four races we analyzed all topped 53% of the vote in Harris County. The high score with these three is Jay Kleberg’s 51.11%. Luke Warford, who had a Green opponent as well as a Libertarian opponent, fell short of a majority in Harris County, getting 49.95% for a plurality. Let’s see how this breaks down.

Comptroller


Dist    Hegar  Dudding     Lib
==============================
HD126  36,931   21,555   1,269
HD127  40,053   24,746   1,441
HD128  32,350   12,795   1,014
HD129  38,119   24,936   1,559
HD130  46,320   18,701   1,229
HD131   6,114   24,275     906
HD132  36,340   23,387   1,259
HD133  35,123   24,187   1,043
HD134  32,915   46,611   1,330
HD135  17,107   22,475   1,135
HD137   8,263   12,428     646
HD138  32,580   23,012   1,269
HD139  12,325   30,301   1,174
HD140   5,761   12,183   1,066
HD141   4,586   20,094     815
HD142   8,957   24,548     997
HD143   8,538   14,611   1,218
HD144  11,734   13,368   1,167
HD145  13,855   29,642   1,839
HD146   9,031   32,118     953
HD147   9,676   35,412   1,338
HD148  16,203   19,567   1,251
HD149  12,278   18,681     882
HD150  34,841   21,318   1,294
							
CC1    72,584  195,779   6,893
CC2    97,146   99,729   7,605
CC3   225,304  134,394   7,641
CC4   114,966  121,049   5,955
							
JP1    65,832  117,292   5,140
JP2    22,125   28,127   2,055
JP3    35,715   40,576   2,117
JP4   173,366  120,182   6,806
JP5   146,733  136,478   6,730
JP6     5,130   16,223   1,342
JP7    12,325   64,437   1,904
JP8    48,774   27,636   2,000

Dist   Hegar% Dudding%    Lib%
==============================
HD126  61.80%   36.07%   2.12%
HD127  60.47%   37.36%   2.18%
HD128  70.08%   27.72%   2.20%
HD129  58.99%   38.59%   2.41%
HD130  69.92%   28.23%   1.86%
HD131  19.54%   77.57%   2.90%
HD132  59.59%   38.35%   2.06%
HD133  58.20%   40.08%   1.73%
HD134  40.71%   57.65%   1.64%
HD135  42.01%   55.20%   2.79%
HD137  38.73%   58.25%   3.03%
HD138  57.30%   40.47%   2.23%
HD139  28.14%   69.18%   2.68%
HD140  30.31%   64.09%   5.61%
HD141  17.99%   78.82%   3.20%
HD142  25.96%   71.15%   2.89%
HD143  35.04%   59.96%   5.00%
HD144  44.67%   50.89%   4.44%
HD145  30.56%   65.38%   4.06%
HD146  21.45%   76.29%   2.26%
HD147  20.84%   76.28%   2.88%
HD148  43.77%   52.85%   3.38%
HD149  38.56%   58.67%   2.77%
HD150  60.64%   37.11%   2.25%
			
CC1    26.37%   71.13%   2.50%
CC2    47.51%   48.77%   3.72%
CC3    61.33%   36.59%   2.08%
CC4    47.51%   50.03%   2.46%
			
JP1    34.97%   62.30%   2.73%
JP2    42.30%   53.77%   3.93%
JP3    45.55%   51.75%   2.70%
JP4    57.72%   40.01%   2.27%
JP5    50.61%   47.07%   2.32%
JP6    22.60%   71.48%   5.91%
JP7    15.67%   81.91%   2.42%
JP8    62.20%   35.25%   2.55%

Land Commissioner


Dist     Buck  Kleberg     Grn   W-I
====================================
HD126  36,849   21,629   1,070     1
HD127  40,131   24,789   1,092     0
HD128  32,446   12,873     706     9
HD129  38,169   25,015   1,149     3
HD130  46,145   18,886     963     5
HD131   6,081   24,219     829     1
HD132  36,155   23,542   1,053     2
HD133  34,565   24,654     915     2
HD134  31,902   47,475   1,190     6
HD135  17,116   22,492     963     1
HD137   8,141   12,532     562     2
HD138  32,324   23,310     968     2
HD139  12,258   30,317   1,025     1
HD140   5,859   12,433     613     3
HD141   4,635   20,039     691     3
HD142   8,984   24,532     839     4
HD143   8,646   14,845     732     5
HD144  11,869   13,567     682     4
HD145  13,820   30,044   1,276     3
HD146   8,914   32,076     990     0
HD147   9,684   35,282   1,243     1
HD148  16,142   19,762     959     2
HD149  12,314   18,717     714     0
HD150  34,884   21,411   1,016     3
								
CC1    71,640  196,243   6,241    17
CC2    97,762  100,816   4,930    24
CC3   224,673  135,288   6,151    14
CC4   113,958  122,094   4,918     8
								
JP1    64,874  118,648   3,973    11
JP2    22,268   28,432   1,306     7
JP3    35,847   40,620   1,612     8
JP4   173,174  120,696   5,428    13
JP5   145,487  137,664   5,652    10
JP6     5,253   16,428     881     4
JP7    12,214   64,137   2,011     2
JP8    48,916   27,816   1,377     8

Dist    Buck% Kleberg%    Grn%  W-I%
====================================
HD126  61.88%   36.32%   1.80% 0.00%
HD127  60.79%   37.55%   1.65% 0.00%
HD128  70.48%   27.96%   1.53% 0.02%
HD129  59.33%   38.88%   1.79% 0.00%
HD130  69.92%   28.62%   1.46% 0.01%
HD131  19.53%   77.80%   2.66% 0.00%
HD132  59.51%   38.75%   1.73% 0.00%
HD133  57.48%   41.00%   1.52% 0.00%
HD134  39.59%   58.92%   1.48% 0.01%
HD135  42.19%   55.44%   2.37% 0.00%
HD137  38.33%   59.01%   2.65% 0.01%
HD138  57.11%   41.18%   1.71% 0.00%
HD139  28.11%   69.53%   2.35% 0.00%
HD140  30.99%   65.76%   3.24% 0.02%
HD141  18.27%   78.99%   2.72% 0.01%
HD142  26.15%   71.40%   2.44% 0.01%
HD143  35.69%   61.27%   3.02% 0.02%
HD144  45.44%   51.94%   2.61% 0.02%
HD145  30.61%   66.55%   2.83% 0.01%
HD146  21.23%   76.41%   2.36% 0.00%
HD147  20.96%   76.35%   2.69% 0.00%
HD148  43.79%   53.61%   2.60% 0.01%
HD149  38.79%   58.96%   2.25% 0.00%
HD150  60.86%   37.36%   1.77% 0.01%
				
CC1    26.13%   71.58%   2.28% 0.01%
CC2    48.03%   49.53%   2.42% 0.01%
CC3    61.36%   36.95%   1.68% 0.00%
CC4    47.29%   50.67%   2.04% 0.00%
				
JP1    34.60%   63.28%   2.12% 0.01%
JP2    42.81%   54.66%   2.51% 0.01%
JP3    45.91%   52.02%   2.06% 0.01%
JP4    57.86%   40.32%   1.81% 0.00%
JP5    50.37%   47.67%   1.96% 0.00%
JP6    23.28%   72.80%   3.90% 0.02%
JP7    15.59%   81.84%   2.57% 0.00%
JP8    62.62%   35.61%   1.76% 0.01%

Railroad Commissioner


Dist    Chris  Warford     Lib     Grn
======================================
HD126  36,287   21,192   1,384     648
HD127  39,533   24,297   1,535     651
HD128  32,057   12,551     995     399
HD129  37,473   24,455   1,607     766
HD130  45,640   18,396   1,369     597
HD131   5,986   23,853     942     400
HD132  35,684   22,981   1,395     627
HD133  34,391   23,900   1,215     616
HD134  31,677   46,420   1,533     844
HD135  16,804   21,988   1,227     559
HD137   8,017   12,261     612     350
HD138  31,928   22,708   1,350     641
HD139  12,044   29,784   1,169     555
HD140   5,685   11,976     991     277
HD141   4,527   19,765     784     332
HD142   8,851   24,073   1,025     411
HD143   8,457   14,290   1,159     373
HD144  11,679   13,015   1,125     328
HD145  13,535   29,065   1,855     677
HD146   8,716   31,720     927     581
HD147   9,406   34,678   1,363     730
HD148  15,938   19,168   1,217     514
HD149  12,101   18,269     925     429
HD150  34,404   20,882   1,366     623
								
CC1   70,449   192,875   7,107   3,563
CC2   95,951    97,604   7,402   2,627
CC3  221,887   132,181   8,202   3,726
CC4  112,533   119,027   6,359   3,012
								
JP1   63,938   115,819   5,264   2,359
JP2   21,846    27,531   2,021     648
JP3   35,348    39,739   2,132     865
JP4  170,806   118,025   7,219   3,145
JP5  143,838   134,221   7,231   3,484
JP6    5,019    15,850   1,277     447
JP7   11,907    63,400   1,926   1,109
JP8   48,118    27,102   2,000     871

Dist   Chris% Warford%    Lib%    Grn%
======================================
HD126  60.98%   35.61%   2.33%   1.09%
HD127  59.88%   36.80%   2.33%   0.99%
HD128  69.69%   27.28%   2.16%   0.87%
HD129  58.28%   38.03%   2.50%   1.19%
HD130  69.15%   27.87%   2.07%   0.90%
HD131  19.20%   76.50%   3.02%   1.28%
HD132  58.80%   37.87%   2.30%   1.03%
HD133  57.20%   39.75%   2.02%   1.02%
HD134  39.36%   57.68%   1.90%   1.05%
HD135  41.41%   54.19%   3.02%   1.38%
HD137  37.74%   57.73%   2.88%   1.65%
HD138  56.38%   40.10%   2.38%   1.13%
HD139  27.65%   68.39%   2.68%   1.27%
HD140  30.03%   63.27%   5.24%   1.46%
HD141  17.82%   77.79%   3.09%   1.31%
HD142  25.76%   70.06%   2.98%   1.20%
HD143  34.83%   58.86%   4.77%   1.54%
HD144  44.67%   49.78%   4.30%   1.25%
HD145  29.99%   64.40%   4.11%   1.50%
HD146  20.78%   75.62%   2.21%   1.39%
HD147  20.37%   75.10%   2.95%   1.58%
HD148  43.27%   52.03%   3.30%   1.40%
HD149  38.14%   57.59%   2.92%   1.35%
HD150  60.07%   36.46%   2.38%   1.09%
				
CC1    25.71%   70.39%   2.59%   1.30%
CC2    47.13%   47.94%   3.64%   1.29%
CC3    60.63%   36.12%   2.24%   1.02%
CC4    46.71%   49.40%   2.64%   1.25%
				
JP1    34.12%   61.81%   2.81%   1.26%
JP2    41.97%   52.90%   3.88%   1.25%
JP3    45.27%   50.89%   2.73%   1.11%
JP4    57.09%   39.45%   2.41%   1.05%
JP5    49.81%   46.48%   2.50%   1.21%
JP6    22.21%   70.15%   5.65%   1.98%
JP7    15.20%   80.93%   2.46%   1.42%
JP8    61.62%   34.71%   2.56%   1.12%

Not too surprisingly, what we see in all three of these races is…more votes for the Republican candidate and fewer votes for the Democrat across the precincts, with a couple of exceptions here and there. The effect was generally stronger in the Republican districts than in the Democratic ones, with HDs 133 and 134 being the most notable.

The total number of votes in these elections is comparable – the number declines gently as you go down the ballot, but more undervoting does not explain the shifts in percentages. In a few cases you can see a greater number of third-party votes, which can explain a part of a Democratic vote decline, but again the overall effect is too small to be generally explanatory. The only logical conclusion is that across the board, some number of people who votes for Beto and Collier and Garza and Hays also voted for Glenn Hegar and Dawn Buckingham and Wayne Christian.

The question then is why. To me, the most likely explanation is that the most visible Republicans, the ones most likely to loudly and visibly stake out unpopular and divisive positions – and yes, this means “unpopular”, or at least “less popular” with Republicans, with opposing marijuana reform and expanded gambling and rape/incest exceptions for abortion – are losing votes that their lower profile/less visibly extreme colleagues are not losing.

This makes sense to me, but as it agrees with my priors, I’d like to check it. I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed this sentiment before, but if I had the power and the funds I’d order a study, to try to identify these voters and ask them why they did what they did. Not out of disbelief or derision but curiosity, to get a better understanding. Maybe other Democratic candidates could get them with the right message, and if they were the right candidates. Maybe they just didn’t know enough about the Dems in these races to be in a position to consider them. Maybe a strategy that attempts to maximize Democratic turnout overall – we have already discussed how Dems fell short in this election on that front – would make them less likely to cross over, even for Republicans they don’t approve of. We can speculate all week, but there’s only one way to find out. I really wish I could make that happen.

One more thing to note is that despite the lesser Democratic performance, these candidates all still carried the three Commissioner Court precincts that are now Democratic. I’ll be paying closer attention to these precincts, because this isn’t always the case going forward. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

New Land Commissioner, same screw job for Houston and Harris County

I didn’t expect any different. I’m still mad about it.

(Probably) Not Dawn Buckingham

When akewayLakeway Republican Dawn Buckingham jumps from the Texas Senate to the helm of the state General Land Office next month, she will inherit control of the state’s Hurricane Harvey recovery, a slow-moving multibillion-dollar effort to help Southeast Texas recover from the 2017 storm and prepare for future ones.

With two weeks left in his term, outgoing Land Commissioner George P. Bush remains at odds with Houston and Harris County officials over two key issues: the state agency’s efforts to seize funds from the city’s beleaguered housing recovery programs, and the distribution of billions in federal aid meant to protect storm-vulnerable areas against future damage — none of which is going to Houston, thus far.

In an interview this week, Buckingham, who easily defeated Democrat Jay Kleberg in last month’s midterm election, made clear she will continue steering the Harvey recovery in much the same manner as Bush, with no plans to redistribute the mitigation aid so Houston and Harris County receive a bigger slice, as local officials had hoped.

Buckingham said the agency also would continue its ongoing efforts to recoup from the city nearly $141 million earmarked for housing recovery, small business grants and various nonprofit services, a move spurred by the city’s failure to meet key spending benchmarks over the summer. The GLO plans to put the money into its own program focused on rebuilding Harvey-damaged single-family homes in Houston, which previously was run by the city before it ceded control to the state agency last year.

“What we’re seeing is, they haven’t been able to meet their own metrics,” Buckingham said. “And so, I think with the limited amount of time that these resources are available, and the limited amount of recovery that’s happened at this point, we’re anticipating that there’s going to be a redirection of funds.”

The feud between the General Land Office and city of Houston erupted in April 2020, when Bush informed Mayor Sylvester Turner he planned to take over the city’s entire $1.3 billion recovery program, arguing his agency could pick up the pace. After a legal skirmish, the two sides struck a deal in early 2021, with Turner relinquishing control of Houston’s sluggish single-family housing program, leaving the city with some $835 million to continue its other initiatives, including a more successful effort to build affordable multifamily housing.

As part of the deal, the city and GLO agreed on spending benchmarks to measure the city’s progress on each of its remaining programs. This summer, the GLO notified the city it had missed the mark on seven of its nine programs, spending nearly $100 million less than it should have, according to a July letter from Deputy Land Commissioner Mark Havens. As a result, the agency in October laid out its plan to recover about $141 million from the city, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Houston officials long have accused the Land Office of providing opaque oversight that has obstructed their recovery progress, a charge the GLO denies. City leaders also say their programs prioritize low-income, disabled and senior residents, which they say is harder and slower but necessary to ensure the most vulnerable storm victims are not left behind.

In the latest $141 million dispute, the city’s housing director, Keith Bynam, has said the Land Office is painting a misleading picture by overlooking factors beyond the city’s control, such as adverse economic conditions and the city’s inability to spend money on three of its programs for about eight months while it was under a GLO audit.

[…]

A Chronicle investigation found the GLO’s initial $1 billion distribution went disproportionately to inland counties that, by the state’s own measure, are less vulnerable to natural disasters than coastal counties that received little or no funding.

HUD also found the Land Office discriminated against communities of color when it denied aid to Houston and Harris County, with scoring criteria that steered funds away from diverse urban centers and toward projects in whiter, more rural counties, according to the federal agency.

GLO officials have disputed the finding and rejected calls from federal housing officials to negotiate a settlement with Houston-area officials. The agency has also ignored an initial HUD deadline to come into compliance with civil rights protections, along with a subsequent letter over the summer from HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, who said she may refer the matter to the Department of Justice if Texas did not reach a voluntary agreement within 60 days.

Havens said the Land Office has not heard from HUD or the Justice Department since. Turner spokeswoman Mary Benton said the city also had yet to hear from the Biden administration, though the mayor on Thursday sent Fudge a follow-up letter urging her to step in.

“More than 9 months have passed since HUD issued the (discrimination finding) and yet GLO and the State of Texas, to our knowledge, have taken no steps to come into compliance,” Turner wrote. “…It is imperative, now, more than ever, that HUD immediately exercise its enforcement authority and compel GLO to come into compliance with” the findings.

I don’t have the energy to catalog the entire Story So Far, but the two most recent entries are here and here. While I can believe that the city may have performed poorly with the housing recovery program, the GLO has no credibility with me and doesn’t deserve anyone’s benefit of the doubt. I would be delighted to see HUD hand their files over to the Justice Department for a full on investigation of their discriminatory practices; indeed, I will be deeply annoyed if that doesn’t happen given their continued non-responsiveness to HUD’s demands. In the meantime, I continue to fantasize about a time when Harris County and the city of Houston are not targeted for harm by our state government. I hope to live long enough to see it.

Endorsement watch: You have to want it first, part 2

The Chron endorses Jay Kleberg for Land Commissioner over his no-show opponent.

Jay Kleberg

This year’s campaign for land commissioner is a battle over the job description for the state’s oldest public office. The Texas General Land Office manages disaster relief, helps with school funding, leads the Veterans Land Board and stewards the state’s 13 million acres of public land.

Between state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Republican, and Democrat Jay Kleberg, voters have a choice between starkly different visions. Buckingham, 54, has focused her campaign on border security, combating inflation and “fighting the Green New Deal.” Kleberg says the job ought to be focused on the basics of the office — “anything else is a distraction,” he has said on the campaign trail — and he believes Texas ought not run away from clean energy or from responding with urgency to climate change.

In an interview with the editorial board, Kleberg, 44, contended that his opponent’s focus areas are her way of angling for higher office. Buckingham declined to participate in the meeting.

“The message I deliver to people is that I actually want to do this job,” Kleberg told us. “It’s an expansive enterprise. It doesn’t have to be a political steppingstone. It doesn’t have to be mired in politics. Whether it be land management, education, veterans, coastal protection or energy, these are things that I think most Texans can rally around.”

We agree, and that is why we support Kleberg’s candidacy.

You can find my interview with Jay Kleberg (and also Janet Dudding) here. It’s easy to believe what he’s saying about what he wants to do as Land Commissioner. For what it’s worth, Dawn Buckingham is quoted in the piece saying something to suggest she would not try to screw Houston and Harris County out of future federal relief funds, which is better than what we have now – admittedly, a very low bar to clear. The Trib has a profile of the candidates and overview of the race, in which Buckingham also did not participate; she does appear to have deigned to respond in this Chron story on the race. I dunno, you want a job, you should be willing to talk about it. I’m just saying. Anyway, vote for Jay Kleberg.

Interviews with Janet Dudding and Jay Kleberg

We are at the point of the calendar where there are only a few interviews left for me to do, and everyone is super busy and has things come up at inconvenient times. The upshot is that I don’t have an interview in the queue to present today. Rest assured I’m still working on the ones I want to do. In the meantime, I wanted to repost some of the interviews I did in the primaries and runoffs, to catch you up if you haven’t had a chance to listen to them before. So today I present the interview I did in May with Comptroller candidate Janet Dudding, and the March interview I did with Land Commissioner candidate Jay Kleberg.

Janet Dudding is a CPA who relocated to College Station with her family following Hurricane Katrina. She worked for the city of College Station and for Texas A&M before retiring and getting more involved in politics. She is running against incumbent Glenn Hegar, who went from a low profile mostly stick-to-the-facts guy to self-appointed arch-nemesis of Harris County in the blink of an eye. If you’re looking for someone who just wants to do the job of Comptroller without having an aspirations of supervillainy, Janet Dudding is your candidate:

If Jay Kleberg’s name sounds familiar, it’s because his family owns the King Ranch and is the namesake of Kleberg County in South Texas. In addition to ranching, Kleberg is a conservationist and former Associate Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and recently traversed the entire 1,200 miles of the Texas-Mexico border for the feature film The River and the Wall. Do you want someone who will actually work for the betterment of Texas’ environment and public lands, while not screwing hurricane victims out of federal relief funds? Jay Kleberg is your candidate.

PREVIOUSLY:

All interviews and Q&As through the primary runoffs
Susan Hays – Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford – Railroad Commissioner
Michelle Palmer – SBOE6
Chuck Crews – HD128
Cam Campbell – HD132
Stephanie Morales – HD138
Robin Fulford – CD02
Laura Jones – CD08
Teneshia Hudspeth – Harris County Clerk
Amy Hinojosa – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 2
Andrea Duhon – HCDE Trustee, Precinct 4

As always, everything you could want to know about the Democratic candidates can be found at the Erik Manning spreadsheet.

Hispanic Policy Foundation: Abbott 51, Beto 44

One more poll to look at.

There’s an old adage that says the more things change, the more they stay the same. And according to our new poll, that applies to politics in Texas as well, as support for Republicans remains strong across the board heading into the November elections.

“Texas Decides” is a joint effort between the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation (THPF) and TEGNA Texas stations WFAA, KHOU, KENS and KVUE. It draws on a survey of 1,172 likely Texas voters that was taken between September 6, 2022, and September 15, 2022. It has a confidence interval of +/- 2.9%. The report reviewed the vote intention for the November 2022 Texas elections.

The election will be held November 8. Early voting starts October 24.

Part 1 of this poll, released here, takes a look at the major statewide races across Texas in the coming election. Parts 2 and 3, which will be released later this week, will respectively focus on the Hispanic population’s opinions of the candidates and on culture war issues.

The poll found that Republican incumbent Greg Abbott leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke by seven points (51% to 44%) among likely voters. Among most likely (almost certain) voters, the lead grows to 10 points (53% to 43%). Just 1% of voters in both categories (likely/most likely) says they’ll vote for Libertarian Mark Tippetts and Green Party candidate Delilah Barrios.

“Gov. Abbott’s strength among rural and Anglo voters continues to bolster his intransigent structural support in the 2022 race for Texas Governor,” THPF CEO Jason Villalba says of the poll’s results. “While O’Rourke has shown himself to be a worthy and hard-working adversary, unless there is a marked shift in the composition of the November electorate, Governor Abbott will remain the political and thought leader of Texas politics. Only new voters will be able to shift the tide.”

Perhaps the poll’s most significant finding in the gubernatorial race is the fact that voters seem hardened in their choices, with little room for movement come November. In fact, 95% of all likely voters who say they’ll vote for Abbott tell us they are “certain” about their vote choice. On the other side, 94% of all likely voters who will back O’Rourke say they are “certain” about that choice.

And when you break down support among race, Abbott holds a nearly two-to-one advantage over O’Rourke among white voters, with the incumbent being a 63% choice to his challenger’s 33%. O’Rourke has a strong advantage with Black voters, however, up 79% to Abbott’s 16%. The support margin is closer among Hispanic voters, with 53% intending to vote for O’Rourke and 39% for Abbott.

Poll data is here. In April, this pollster had the race at 50-42 for Abbott. Since I made such a big deal about it the last time I blogged about a poll, this one has a partisan split of 43 GOP, 41 Dem, 14 Indie, 2 “other”. Other results from this poll:

Dan Patrick 48, Mike Collier 42
Ken Paxton 47, Rochelle Garza 42
Dawn Buckingham 46, Jay Kleberg 38
Sid Miller 48, Susan Hays 41
Wayne Christian 44, Luke Warford 37

No love for the Comptroller’s race, I guess. As I have said before, I don’t care for the distinction between “likely” voters and “super duper extra likely” voters, but you do you. This poll shows very little change between April and now, which is to say pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs, so either not much has changed in the Texas landscape since then, or something has changed but pollsters other than the UT/Texas Politics Project aren’t picking it up. I’m just going to leave it there.

All interviews and judicial Q&As with nominees so far

Back in February, right before the primary, I posted a list of all of the candidate interviews and judicial Q&As I had done. A couple more Q&A responses came in after that, and I did some further interviews for the primary runoffs, so that post is out of date and also now contains people who will not be on the November ballot. So with that in mind, here’s a full updated list as I prepare to bring you more of these for November. Enjoy!

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38

Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Janet Dudding, Comptroller

Staci Childs, SBOE4

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15

Jolanda Jones, HD147

Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)

Judicial Q&As

Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Gemayel Haynes, 183rd Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Beverly Armstrong, 208th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Dedra Davis, 270th Civil District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8

Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

As before, you can see a full list of my interviews and a whole lot more info about the Democratic candidates on the Erik Manning spreadsheet. Look for many more to come starting tomorrow.

Harris County officially gets its $750 million from the GLO

With hopefully more to come, as well as something for Houston.

Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved an agreement Wednesday with the Texas General Land Office to receive $750 million in federal flood mitigation funding, and called on the agency for an additional $250 million the county had expected to receive.

The funding from the Texas General Land Office — the state agency charged with distributing Hurricane Harvey relief from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — comes more than a year after the GLO awarded the county and the city of Houston zero dollars in its first round of grants even though the area accounted for half the damage from Hurricane Harvey.

The county last year revealed a $1.4 billion gap in funding to supplement the $2.5 billion flood bond approved by voters in 2018. County officials attributed the shortfall to expected funding from state and local partners that had not materialized.

The new funding from GLO will help narrow that gap, which now is down to $400 million, according to Harris County Budget Director Daniel Ramos. However, Ramos said the county’s plans were based on the assumption it would receive $1 billion from the GLO.

“We’re building billions of dollars worth of new infrastructure and it costs money to maintain it,” Ramos said.

County officials said they will continue negotiating with the GLO for the remainder of the money they expected.

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo called the $750 million allocation good news, but not enough.

“When the bond was passed, it didn’t account for increases in cost,” Hidalgo said. “It didn’t account for increases in maintenance costs. So, we need additional funds to make sure we can complete everything.”

See here for the previous update. As noted in the Tuesday preview story, this is the same $750 million that the GLO offered to Harris County after initially allocating zero to both Harris and Houston. Houston is still getting a goose egg – to their credit, all of the Commissioners spoke about the need for Houston to get what it’s due, about $1 billion – but there is still money to be disbursed, and there is still that HUD finding that the GLO used a discriminatory process to screw the city. I don’t know when the next appropriations are to be made, but if we’re very lucky Jay Kleberg will be in charge of the process by then.

Texas Two-Step (TM)

What a tale.

After two years experimenting with an old Persian family technique using grains and raisins, Ali Ansari finally nailed his new vodka recipe. He poured $4 million into building a distillery outside of Houston and branded his drink DASH, hoping it would evoke a slow-sipping spirit — “one dash at a time,” he explained.

But when it came time to name a new productline, it occurred to him that DASH, which he had thought of as sleek and modern, wasn’t exactly right. “It doesn’t really present Texas,” he said.

Ansari had started several businesses since immigrating nearly 30 years ago to attend school. One thing he’d learned was when it comes to brand loyalty, Texans love Texas. As a guiding spirit, Austin-based Tito’s Vodka built a multi-billion-dollar empire off its folksy Lone Star roots.

Brainstorming possible names with friends, he hit on a perfect fit. “I used to go dancing with my girlfriend at this old club, Wild West, on Gessner Street,” he said. “We would do the Texas Two Step.”

The words conjured pearl-snapped couples gliding across boot-smoothed dance floors on warm summer nights. People having Texas fun — and, between dances, perhaps enjoying a new and unique adult beverage. Ansari filed an application to trademark Texas Two Step Vodka.

But he was dismayed to learn that a rich and powerful entity already claimed to have locked up the legal right to the famous dance name. It demanded Ansari immediately drop his plans to use the words for his product. When it lost its Two Step case at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, it continued to pursue Ansari into federal court.

It was the State of Texas.

Specifically, it was the Texas Lottery Commission that sued him, having trademarked “Texas Two-Step” in 2001 for one of its games. I will admit that as a non-gambling person I had no idea about that, but I will say that if you google “Texas Two Step”, the first results are indeed the Texas Lottery Commission. If Google says it, it must be true.

The funny thing to me is that “Texas Two-Step” was also the name used to describe the primary election process used by Texas Democrats through the year 2008. That was my first year as a precinct chair, and for my troubles I got to lead the caucus part of that – after the vote, there was a caucus in each precinct, which through a process too convoluted to describe eventually led to the number of delegates each Presidential candidate wound up with. You may recall that Hillary Clinton wound up with more delegates than her share of the vote would have provided if it had been based solely on vote totals. Anyway, that was scrapped for something simpler and more sane in 2012, and it is little more than a bit of dusty history now.

Except that as far as I know, the TLC didn’t sue anyone over the use of that name. Maybe because the Dems had used that name prior to the TLC trademarking it, maybe because there wasn’t any money at stake, maybe for some other reason, I don’t know. I’m just saying, maybe the state of Texas could cool its jets here a little and give Mr. Ansari a break. As he said in the story, it’s not like an association with vodka is going to sully the good name of a scratch-off game. Go read the rest and see what you think.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: State races

I don’t often follow the campaign finance reports in state races, mostly because they’re usually not that interesting and there’s too many races to look at if I was interested. I didn’t review these in January for the contested primaries, but I decided there are enough races that are worth checking on to have a peek at some July reports. I’ve noted the big Beto numbers, so I’ll skip that here.

Mike Collier, Lt Gov
Rochelle Garza, Attorney General
Janet Dudding, Comptroller
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner
Susan Hays, Ag Commissioner
Luke Warford, Railroad Commissioner

Morgan LaMantia, SD27

Daniel Lee, HD26
Luis Echagaray, HD52
Sheena King, HD61
Brittney Verdell, HD65
Jesse Ringness, HD66
Kevin Morris, HD67
Mihaela Plesa, HD70
Suleiman Lalani, HD76
Salman Bhojani, HD92
Elizabeth Ginsberg, HD108
Elva Curl, HD112
Frank Ramirez, HD118
Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, HD121
Angela Aramburu, HD122
Stephanie Morales, HD138


Candidate     Raised      Spent       Loan     On Hand
======================================================
Collier      693,806    226,315    450,500     534,242
Garza        518,054    107,134          0     445,817
Dudding       37,956     52,378     45,884      16,908
Kleberg      586,296    433,030    100,000     439,854
Hays          96,085     94,777          0      53,310
Warford      296,516    271,506     23,561     110,066

LaMantia     183,859    427,090  2,980,000      58,024

Lee            2,580        904      1,000      11,345
Echegaray      9,343      9,123          0       9,081
King          20,999     14,635          0           0
Verdell       16,711      4,252          0      16,669
Ringness       2,635      3,212          0       2,635
Morris        20,124     11,589          0       9,266
Plesa         80,030     45,215     59,000      45,793
Lalani        10,742     26,925    145,000      10,617
Bhojani       84,346     77,688    100,000      24,682
Ginsberg     105,297     22,587          0      83,152
Curl          27,622      7,455     10,000      35,274
Ramirez       43,423     32,299          0       6,962
DeFelice      64,110     40,476      5,000      35,460
Aramburu      38,353      8,289          0       5,063
Morales        6,131      3,252          0       8,583

I’m looking at the non-Beto and non-judicial statewide races, the one open State Senate seat that could be interesting, and a handful of State House races based partly on 2020 election data and my own idiosyncrasies. There were a few State House races that might be intriguing on paper, I couldn’t find a finance report for the candidate in question. If there’s a race that I’ve skipped that offends you, let me know in the comments.

Remember that these reports may cover different time spans, depending on the candidate’s primary status. Candidates who had no primary opponent, such as Luis Echagaray in HD52, have reports that include all activity since January 1. Candidates who won their March primary, such as Daniel Lee in HD26, have reports that include all activity since February 21. And candidates who had to win a primary runoff, such as Suleimon Lalani in HD76, have reports that include all activity since May 16. Check the report itself if you’re not sure for a given candidate – the information is there on the first page.

Mike Collier is one of those who had to endure a runoff, so that $693K is since mid-May. That in itself is not too bad – it’s not particularly eye-catching, but it’s a decent pace and will add up over time. To that extent, here are the totals Collier has posted over other periods since last year:

Feb 20 – May 14 – $487,963
Jan 21 – Feb 19 – $124,329
Jan 01 – Jan 20 – $55,989
Jul 01 – Dec 31 – $826,861
Jan 01 – Jun 30 – $757,109

That’s nearly $3 million raised since the beginning of 2021. It’s not a huge amount – you may not be aware of this, but Texas is a big state with a lot of media markets and it costs a crapton of money to effectively advertise statewide as a result – but it’s not nothing. If Collier can continue at the pace from his last report, he’ll collect a couple million dollars by November. Maybe that’s another reason why Republicans are now attacking him.

Rochelle Garza and Jay Kleberg, who were also in the May runoffs, posted their own $500K-plus totals for the six weeks of their periods. I won’t do the same listing as I did for Collier, but I can tell you that Garza has raised about $1.1 million and Kleberg about $2 million since last November. The same caveats as with Collier apply, but I can’t think of any election since maybe 2002 where multiple statewide Dems posted similar numbers. As I’ve said elsewhere, whatever you’ve budgeted to give to Beto, leave a little room for Collier and Garza and Kleberg and the others.

SD27 is the Senate seat that Eddie Lucio is finally vacating. Morgan LaMantia won the nomination in the runoff, so her totals are from May 15. SD27 was moderately Democratic in 2020 after having been much more Democratic in 2016, so it’s one to watch for signs of either a rebound or further decay. There was a recent Trib story that I don’t feel like looking for with a headline that says Republicans are mulling whether to pour money into this one. I don’t know why they wouldn’t, but I guess even they don’t have infinite resources and have to choose their priorities.

I haven’t paid a lot of attention to most of these State House races, many of which were uncontested in March. I didn’t even recognize a few of the names before I went looking for their reports. HDs 70 (Collin County) and 92 (Tarrant) are new Democratic districts drawn to shore of neighboring Republican districts. HD76 had been a Democratic district in El Paso, and is now a Democratic district in Fort Bend. The rest for the most part are districts Trump won by less than ten points, with HD118 being a slight Biden seat that the Republicans won in a special election last year. Frank Ramirez is back for a second shot at it, and I’d certainly like to see a bigger cash on hand number in that one. Otherwise, not much here to grab your attention, with the possible exceptions of Elizabeth Ginsburg, who hopes to flip one of the last two red districts in Dallas County, and Rebecca Moyer DeFelice, running in HD121, the Bexar County equivalent of HD134 (and HD108, for that matter).

This concludes my tour of the July finance reports. I expect to look at the 30-day reports for Harris County, and maybe the 8-day reports for it as well. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

GLO threatens to take away more Harvey relief funds from Houston

Oh, hell no.

The state General Land Office says it may have to take over more of the city’s Hurricane Harvey housing relief programs, citing what it says is consistently sluggish progress on a slew of the initiatives.

The land office said in a July 1 letter to city officials that it has “little confidence” Houston will be able to rectify its issues and complete the programs. The state agency said it will consider adjustments necessary to get those programs across the finish line, which could include removing funds from the city’s portfolio. The exact remedy, though, is not yet clear, and the GLO stressed that any money taken from the city’s portfolio would still go to victims in Houston.

City officials say the letter fails to account for progress they say they have made in recent months, and they are preparing a formal response to address the specific points outlined in the letter.

The warning marks the latest development in a years-long dispute between state and city officials involving billions of dollars in relief money, which was approved by Congress after Hurricane Harvey to replenish housing stock in the region. The city got about $1.3 billion of that money from the land office to rebuild and reconstruct single family homes damaged in the storm, construct new and affordable apartment complexes, and buy out flood-prone properties, among other programs.

You can read on for the details, and there’s a later story with more of them. Normally, I’d highlight those details and try to assess their validity, and weigh the various actions and counterproposals and so on and so forth, but not this time. That’s because the GLO, under soon-to-be-former Land Commissioner George P. Bush, has proven itself to be a completely unreliable and untrustworthy source, both of the truth and of the funds. I don’t believe a word they say, I don’t give them any benefit of the doubt, and I refuse to accept their authority. If a year from now the next Land Commissioner – hopefully Jay Kleberg, but I’ll give Dawn Buckingham a chance to prove she’s not a total shill – is still complaining about Houston’s capabilities, then we can talk. Until then, I call bullshit.

Runoff results: Around the state

After the primary, I rounded up the Democratic runoffs we’d have in May. I’m going to use that post to round up the results from last night, as best as I can tell as of when I gave up the ghost and went to bed. I started filling this in around 10 PM.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.
AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski.
Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.
Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Garza and Dudding were both up 61-39 as of 9:30 PM, with Garza being declared the winner. Collier (54.8 – 45.2) and Kleberg (52.2 – 47.8) were leading but it was too soon to say with them. Kleberg was up 62-38 in Harris County, and Collier was up 60-40, so that bodes well for them.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.
CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo.
CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.
CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay.
CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros.
CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

Jefferson (75%), Zapata (62%), and Crockett (75%) all had huge leads and were on their way to victory. Henry Cuellar (52.75 – 47.25) had a smaller lead but looked to be in pretty good shape. The other two races were ridiculously close – Ramirez was up by 78 votes, McDowell up by 20 votes. You’ll want to check them again today, and don’t be surprised if they wind up in recount territory.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez.
SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

Ortega (58%) and Perez (56%) looked to be in good shape.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera. LaMantia was at 57% and appeared to be in good shape.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.
HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal
HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa.
HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson.
HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.
HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant.

Lalani (64%), Jones (70%), and Bryant (62%) looked to be headed to victory. Lalani would be the first Muslim to serve in the Lege. Jones is openly gay and HIV positive and was the subject of a bizarre homophobic rant by his opponent, so his win is especially sweet. Bryant, who is 75 and served in Congress 30 years ago, wins one for the old white guys.

As of 10 PM, the other races were too close to call, with Hayes (50.86%), Villarreal (52.44%), and Plesa (52.91%) holding the advantage.

Republicans

Ken Paxton easily beat George P. Bush, which launched multiple (likely written in advance) eulogies to the “Bush dynasty” in Texas. Good riddance, if P is what that had fallen to. Dawn Buckingham (Land Commissioner) and Wayne Christian (RR Commissioner) were also cruising to victory.

UPDATE: All of the Dem statewide candidates that were leading when I signed off won. Michelle Vallejo (50.1%) edged ahead in CD15, while Jan McDowell (51.15%) increased her lead. It got super tight towards the end, but yes, Henry Cuellar (50.2%) once again came out ahead. All of the state office candidates that were leading last night were still ahead this morning.

Is there any chance the GLO won’t screw Houston this time around?

I mean, maybe. Things can happen. I just wouldn’t count on it.

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday commended the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for ordering Texas to fix a Hurricane Harvey recovery plan that the federal agency concluded “disproportionately harmed Black and Hispanic residents.”

HUD told the state’s General Land Office in the letter, dated Monday, it had 10 calendar days to become compliant by coming to a resolution. The federal department had found GLO discriminated against minority residents when it denied flood mitigation aid last May to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

To date, Houston has not received any funds, Turner said, “despite the city and the county incurring 50 percent of the damages from Harvey.”

“This is a step in the right direction. I appreciate HUD for ordering the GLO to bring its Hurricane Harvey Recovery Plan into compliance within ten days, or HUD will refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice,” Turner said in a statement. “This is about equity and fairness. It is time for the GLO to allocate a fair (or proportional) share of the federal funds to allow our communities to have adequate climate change mitigation and resilience resources. I urge the GLO to do the right thing for our most vulnerable communities.”

See here for the background. I use the embedded GIF in these posts as a reminder to everyone, including Chron editorial writers, that what the GLO has been doing isn’t “bungling”, it isn’t “a mistake”, it isn’t a matter of the GLO “getting its act together”. It’s all been a deliberate choice by the GLO, which knows what it’s doing and why it’s doing it. The solution to that isn’t trying to get them to see the error of their ways, it’s to take the job away from them because they don’t have any interest in doing it correctly.

Along those lines, this is the right attitude to adopt.

“We intended for the people who were suffering to get the money. But if you decide that you’re going to take it from the poor and the people of color and send it to areas where you don’t have a lot of people of color, then I think there’s reason for HUD to continue with this and I think HUD will,” said [US Rep. Al] Green. “That money was not sent to Texas so that it could be distributed to people who were not impacted by the hurricane.”

[…]

Green says he has talked to the General Land Office. And he’s held hearings where GLO representatives testified.

The Democrat says problems arise after the federal government sends money to the states, because once distributed, the states ultimately decide how it’s spent. And he says Texas has had problems in the past with diverting federal funds away from the intended purpose.

“And this is not just peculiar to this circumstance. It’s happened with money that was for education, not spent as we assumed it would be,” he said.

Green says lawmakers and HUD are waiting to see specific guidelines for the next round of funding distribution. He says it is possible for HUD to step in and take action against the state.

Meantime, the Houston Democrat says he’s looking into ways to “overhaul” the system. And he says lawmakers will consider adding a “clawback provision” to any future legislation.

“If a state declines to adhere to the intentionality of Congress, we can claw that back, claw the funds back and hold onto those funds. We should not allow states to receive funds and then disregard what Congress intended,” Green said.

That’s at least providing the proper incentives. We’ll see what happens next.

The editorial notes that bypassing the GLO and allocating the federal funds directly to the affected localities is an option and that the city is prepared for it, but that the city’s past track record with distributing Harvey funds isn’t good, either. That was the GLO’s rationale for stepping in as the middleman, though the city claims it was existing GLO bureaucracy that caused their problems in the first place. Be that as it may, I’d rather take my chances with the city than the GLO because at least I know the city will try to do right by Harvey victims. I can’t say that for the GLO, not as it is currently governed. Give me a different Land Commissioner and then we can talk, though really it would be nice to have made more progress by then. The bottom line is, George P. Bush cannot be trusted with this. Once that is accepted as the reality, we can figure out what the best way forward is.

GLO prepares to screw Houston again on Harvey recovery funds

Gird yourselves.

Of the more than 300,000 homes in Texas damaged by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, none were in Coryell County.

Located 220 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, this small agricultural county was not the place Congress had in mind when it sent Texas more than $4 billion in disaster preparedness money six months following the storm, said U.S. Rep. Al Green, D-Houston.

“We wanted to help people who were hurt by Harvey and had the potential to be hurt again, as opposed to people who were inland and not likely to have suffered great damage,” Green said.

Nevertheless, Coryell is slated to receive $3.4 million under the plan by the Texas General Land Office and its commissioner, George P. Bush.

After the land office awarded $1 billion of the aid last year, giving the city of Houston nothing, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development accused Bush’s office of discriminating against Black and Latino Texans. The land office had an opportunity to correct these inequities as it developed a new spending plan.

But an analysis by The Texas Tribune found that the land office is on track to follow a similar pattern as it prepares to allocate the next $1.2 billion of the federal aid. The agency’s revised plan will once again send a disproportionately high share of money to inland counties with lower risk of natural disasters.

Residents in the counties that will benefit most are also significantly whiter and more conservative than those receiving the least aid, an outcome some Democrats view with suspicion as Bush competes for the Republican nomination for attorney general this month.

[…]

John Henneberger, co-director of the low-income housing advocate Texas Housers, whose complaint set off the federal investigation, said the land office is failing to meet the most basic requirement for the money: to spend disaster aid in the areas at highest risk for disasters.

“Why does some community 200 miles from the coast get a new water system when you’ve got neighborhoods that have flooded four or five times in the last decade in a coastal community?” Henneberger said. “It’s a very cynical — and we think illegal — use of the funds.”

Numerous studies have shown poor people and people of color are most likely to be impacted by disasters, said Kevin Smiley, a professor of sociology at Louisiana State University. Planning for future calamities should address that disparity rather than make it worse, he added.

“It’s weird to think about disasters as one of the fundamental mechanisms widening social disparity in the United States, but they are,” said Smiley, whose research focuses on Harvey recovery efforts. “And it’s through nitty-gritty governmental processes that are disbursing mitigation funds that are partly doing it.”

See here for the previous update. The key thing to understand here is that this is not a mistake, it’s not an accident, it’s not the result of a good faith difference of opinion, and it’s not something that can be corrected by reasoned persuasion. It’s a deliberate choice, one that has now been made multiple times. Unfortunately, this time around they had a little help.

The land office’s new proposal for determining which counties would get funding, submitted in August, eliminated its old scoring metrics and instead opted to give $1.2 billion to nine regional councils of government, which would decide how to spend it within the HUD and state counties. These groups are political subdivisions of the state that help plan regional projects like infrastructure.

The land office argued the revisions would allow aid distribution to be tailored more closely to regions’ different mitigation needs. But although the strategy is different, a Tribune analysis of the plan found a fundamentally similar result: far lower spending per capita in the counties with the highest disaster risk.

The funding has not yet been allocated, but the state’s methodology all but guarantees the less disaster-prone counties selected by Bush would still end up with two to four times more funding per resident than the more coastal counties chosen by HUD.

This is because a sizable chunk of the councils of government’s $1.2 billion will flow inland. Even if the land office spent all of it in HUD counties — the plan only requires the councils to spend half their allotment there — it would still not close the per-person spending gap created by the initial funding competition.

Including the awards from the first funding competition, two councils composed of state-picked inland counties that rank no higher than 66th on the disaster index will end up with $752 per resident under the new plan.

The council which includes Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties — HUD-selected counties on or near the coast that rank in the top 8 for disaster risk — will receive $441 per resident.

When federal investigators reviewed the original plan, these kinds of outcomes were a problem. HUD’s fair housing office on March 4 concluded that the initial scoring competition discriminated against Texans on the basis of race and national origin, since the coastal areas it steered aid away from have high concentrations of nonwhite residents.

Of the nine states that received disaster mitigation funding from the same federal appropriation, only Texas has received such a sanction. HUD gave the state two options: Enter into a voluntary agreement to correct the disparity or face a civil rights lawsuit from the Department of Justice.

And then, two weeks later, HUD approved the Bush team’s new spending plan.

In a letter to the land office on March 18, HUD Office of Block Grant Assistance Director Jessie Handforth Kome said the agency was required to approve the new plan because it was “substantially complete.” She warned, however, that HUD would closely monitor how Texas spends the rest of the aid and could address new violations by requiring the state to give money back.

The advocacy groups who pushed HUD to investigate possible discriminiation were shocked. They felt the best strategy would have been to withhold approval of the plan until Texas had demonstrated future aid distribution would be fair to Black and Latino residents in communities most at risk for disasters.

“HUD is making this harder on themselves,” said Maddie Sloan, an attorney who works on disaster recovery issues for public interest nonprofit Texas Appleseed. “It would make much more sense to ensure the money gets where it’s needed in the first place instead of doing a retroactive look at where it went and whether that violates the law.”

The mixed messaging from HUD, however, creates the impression that Texas can simply ignore the agency’s discrimination claims and spend the aid as it sees fit.

The land office has since shown few signs it is open to compromise. In a blistering 12-page letter in April responding to the discrimination findings, attorneys for the agency called HUD’s objections “politically motivated” and “factually and legally baseless” and noted that HUD had approved the state’s plan for distributing the money.

How thoroughly HUD may vet the new land office plan is unclear. If investigators apply the same rigor they did to the original, said Texas Housers Research Director Ben Martin, they will likely conclude it also violates federal civil rights laws.

“The jurisdictions that were hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey remain the jurisdictions at the highest risk of future disaster,” Martin said. “They’re being severely underfunded by GLO.”

I don’t understand what HUD is doing either. At this point, it may be best to bring on the civil rights lawsuit. And vote in a Land Commissioner that won’t do this sort of thing again.

Where are the endorsements?

As you know, early voting has begun for the May 7 election, which includes two Constitutional amendments and the special election for HCC District 2. As of last night when I drafted this, I see no endorsements in any of these elections on the Chron’s opinion page. Are these elections not worth it to them, or have they just not gotten around to them yet? I sure hope it’s the latter, and that they will rectify that quickly. I don’t know what they’re waiting for.

Seventeen days after that election will be the primary runoffs. A quick check of the Erik Manning spreadsheet confirms for me that in all of the Democratic primary runoffs for which the Chron issued a March endorsement, their preferred candidate is still running. In ballot order:

CD38 – Duncan Klussman
Lt. Governor – Mike Collier
Attorney General – Joe Jaworski
Comptroller – Janet Dudding
Land Commissioner – Jay Kleberg
SBOE4 – Staci Childs
HD147 – Danielle Bess
185th Criminal Court – Judge Jason Luong
208th Criminal Court – Kim McTorry
Commissioners Court Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones

You may or may not agree with these, but those are who the Chron picked. They have no races to revisit among them. They do, however, have three more races to consider, which were among those they skipped in Round One:

312th Family Court – Judge Chip Wells vs Teresa Waldrop
County Civil Court at Law #4 – MK Singh vs Treasea Treviño
Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2 – Steve Duble vs Sonia Lopez

The links are to my judicial Q&As for those who submitted responses. You can find all the Q&A and interview links from the primary here. More recently I interviewed Staci Childs and Coretta Mallet-Fontenot in SBOE4; I will have an interview with Janet Dudding on Monday. There’s no need to rush if the Chron wants to circle back to these races they ignored originally – they can wait till after the May 7 election, but not too long since early voting there will begin on May 16. It’s only three runoff races (*), plus those two Constitutional amendments and that one HCC race. C’mon, Chron editorial board, you can do this.

(*) There may be some Republican runoffs for them to revisit as well. I didn’t check and am obviously not as interested. I doubt most Republican runoff voters are either, so whatever. The HD147 special election is between the same two candidates as in the primary runoff, so we can assume the endorsement for one carries over to the other.

Houston to get federal freeze recovery funds

Good.

Houston is slated to get about $30 million in disaster recovery money to help address lasting needs from the February 2021 winter storm — the largest such grant in Texas, federal officials announced Tuesday.

Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Biden administration, announced about $3 billion in new recovery allocations for disasters in 2020 and 2021 across the country at a virtual press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Included are Houston’s $30.3 million grant, $26.4 million for the state of Texas, $24.4 million for Dallas, and $16.6 million for Fort Worth, all relating to the February 2021 freeze that nearly brought down Texas’ electric grid. The storm left more than 240 people across the state dead, cities scrambling to deliver water to customers, and millions of dollars in damages from burst pipes and water mains.

“Today’s HUD announcement ensures that Houston and our vulnerable communities have not been forgotten following the historic 2021 winter freeze,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “After the devastating freeze, we estimated 50,000 homes and 400 apartment complexes had busted water pipes. Several people died from hypothermia or carbon monoxide poisoning. Local governments are on the frontlines of disaster response and recovery.”

[…]

In allocating the grants directly to the city, the feds are allowing Houston officials to bypass the approval of state leaders, with whom they often have clashed about recovery money. HUD has done direct allocations in the past with smaller disasters. Typically, the money flows through the state General Land Office.

“Houston is getting, out of this announcement today, the city itself is getting more than $30 million,” Fudge said.

Turner said the direct grant will “speed recovery” by avoiding state delays.

I’m sure you can guess how I feel about that last bit. This isn’t a huge amount of money, and the city still has to develop and get public comment on an action plan to submit to HUD before the funds arrive. But at least they won’t get reallocated to some tiny town in a rural area for no good reason.

HUD approves updated GLO proposal for Harris County

Interesting, but there are still a lot of moving pieces out there.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday said it would accept the Texas General Land Office’s proposal to give Harris County $750 million in federal flood mitigation money, 10 months after Houston and the county were shut out of a state competition for post-Harvey disaster funding approved by Congress.

The announcement does not amount to an approval of the GLO’s overall plan for distributing some $4.3 billion in federal flood mitigation funding, a HUD spokesman said in an emailed statement.

“Let’s be clear: all the amendment taking effect means is that Texas submitted all information required to avoid disapproval,” the statement said. “This does not constitute, and should not be seen as, approval of the state’s implementation of the activities in the plan.”

HUD earlier this month issued a ruling that the GLO violated civil rights law and discriminated against minority residents when it it awarded the $1 billion in Harvey funds following a competition that did not give Houston or Harris County a penny, even though the area suffered more deaths and damage than than any of the other 48 counties declared as disaster areas.

HUD urged Texas to voluntarily find a way to distribute funds in a way that resolves the alleged civil rights violations — a request that could redirect millions of flood relief dollars to Houston. “If a voluntary resolution cannot be obtained, HUD may initiate administrative proceedings or refer the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice for judicial enforcement,” the spokesperson said.

[…]

In an emailed statement, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo promised “to apply this substantial influx of dollars fairly, equitably, and quickly.”

She also called out the GLO for originally awarding none of the funds to Texas’s hardest-hit county. “As the third largest county in America, ground zero for Harvey damage and vulnerability to flooding, and home to the nation’s energy industry, there’s simply no excuse to have been shut out from these infrastructure funds in the first place.”

[…]

On Friday, as HUD approved the amendment sending $750 million to Harris County, its spokesperson said it would consider the current civil rights violation allegations in the future when Texas receives disaster grants, and may place conditions upon such grants to “mitigate risk.”

“HUD will closely monitor and pursue any and all enforcement actions against Texas as necessary to help the state provide equal access and opportunity through its mitigation funds,” the spokesperson said.

This is the followup to that story from January in which HUD halted the distribution of $1.95 billion in aid awarded to Texas essentially because of a paperwork error on the Land Commissioner’s part. All this story is saying is that that error has been fixed. It does not have anything to do with the civil rights complaint about how the GLO determined the way it would distribute funds. There’s no clear indication when that might either be resolved or taken to the next level of enforcement on HUD’s part. There’s still another half of the money to be awarded, so this story is far from over. (HUD also basically told H-GAC to go pound sand, which was the appropriate response from them.)

There was still a fair bit of complaining following this story.

Mayor Sylvester Turner criticized the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s approval of an amendment to the Texas General Land Office State Action Plan as a sanctioning of “discrimination.”

Turner expressed his disappointment in the Friday decision to accept GLO’s plan to send $750 million to Harris County in flood mitigation, just 10 months after both the city and county were barred from receiving any of the $4.3 billion post-Hurricane Harvey flood aid.

“Only a few weeks ago, HUD found that the GLO discriminated against Black and brown communities when it initially denied federal Hurricane Harvey funds to Houston and Harris County,” Turner stated, citing a March 4 HUD report that found discrimination in the GLO’s Hurricane Harvey State Mitigation Competition to distribute flood aid.

In a a joint press release, U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, Al Green and Sylvia Garcia on Saturday called for Justice Department intervention, citing discrimination against the Houston residents if any aid is spent under the current distribution system.

[…]

The issue is not with the other areas who received the funding, but rather, the fact that Houston received nothing, Jackson Lee said Friday night.

“I support all of the dollars that were given to our local jurisdictions. I don’t have a quarrel with any of that. What I have a quarrel with is that Houston got zero,” Jackson Lee said. “That’s a glaring, glaring, glaring act of malfeasance on the part of the General Land Office. The housing and urban development, through their decision that came out today, indicated that there are problems with how the GLO handled this.”

I basically agree with everything they’re saying here. It’s just not clear to me that HUD is finished here. It may very well be that they will need to hand this off to the Justice Department for a larger stick to use against the GLO. I don’t trust anything that office does right now. It’s just not clear to me yet that they have been unable to persuade the GLO to take any corrective action. I wouldn’t wait too long on this, but I’d like to hear HUD say unequivocally that option has failed first.

As for the Harris County reaction, we got this from County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday:

We’ll see what that means. The end goal is correct, we just have to find a way to get there.

Keep your hands off of the Harvey money, H-GAC

Seriously. You’ve done enough already.

First, a regional council of government officials left Harris County and most of its cities out of a plan to distribute $488 million in federal flood mitigation funds stemming from Hurricane Harvey.

As justification, the Houston-Galveston Area Council — a regional planning board covering 13 counties — cited a separate, $750 million allotment proposed for Harris County itself.

Now, H-GAC wants to control that $750 million, as well. The council’s board voted Tuesday to ask the Texas General Land Office, which manages the relief money, to route the $750 million to H-GAC instead, allowing it to divide the pie among the broader region.

The resolution has no practical effect, unless the GLO decides to grant the request. It would require the GLO to submit an amended plan for federal approval, a process that often takes months. The GLO has been waiting for approval of its latest amendment, including the $750 million allocation to Harris County, since November.

[…]

Houston At-Large Councilmember Sallie Alcorn, who represents the city on the board, was the lone vote against the resolution. She said the entire debate is moot until the GLO addresses the HUD decision, which likely would change the amount of funds headed to Houston and Harris County. She said the mitigation funding has shown that “the HUD-to-GLO pipeline is broken.”

“We’re not talking about the right pot of money. We need to wait until the GLO deals with the issues presented in the (HUD) letter,” Alcorn said. “The city and county were originally planning on both getting a billion…. We’re going to try everything to get the money we deserve. It’s too bad it’s taking so long.”

The city’s other representative, At-Large Councilmember Letitia Plummer, did not attend the meeting.

Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia, who represents the county, also was absent, but sent a scathing letter about the resolution. He said he was not sure “whether my attendance would be welcome, anyway.”

“The resolution considered today serves no practical purpose other than to send a message. And I am not sure it is the message H-GAC wants to send,” Garcia wrote. “The message HGAC will be sending, loud and clear, will be to (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development), and it will be that HGAC is a willing partner in the GLO’s scheme to deprive the most impacted, most racially diverse jurisdictions of funds that Congress intended.”

[…]

Last month, H-GAC, citing the $750 million allotment, scrapped Harris County and all of the cities it includes from its plans to distribute a separate $488 million allotment the GLO gave the regional council. City and county officials lambasted that move, as well. H-GAC’s decision was based on the assumption that Harris County would share the $750 million among cities within it.

The council now is saying it wants to add the $750 million to the $488 million it originally received, and then divide that $1.2 billion among the broader region with a formula that does include Harris County, Houston and other cities within county limits.

That formula would leave Harris County itself with $266 million, about a third of what it is set to receive in the direct allotment. Houston, currently slated to receive nothing from the GLO and about $9 million from H-GAC to address parts of the city outside Harris County, would get $445 million. Those two numbers together add up to $711 million, still short of the direct allotment.

Smaller allocations to other cities in Harris County — including about $25 million for Pasadena, $8 million for Bellaire — would bring the total sum within Harris County to about $790 million. H-GAC argues that means its formula would represent an increase of about $40 million for the entire county.

It would, however, take decisions about how to divide the money out of the county’s hands and put that power in H-GAC, instead.

See here for the background, and here for a reminder that the process that the GLO used to award that $750 million to Harris County and zero to Houston was found to have been discriminatory. H-GAC’s new math here is an illusion and an insult, and once again I question why Houston and Harris County remain a part of this unrepresentative organization. I’m sure it had a useful purpose in the past, and as a theoretical matter we certainly need regional coordination and cooperation. But that ain’t what we’re getting here. What we’re getting here is screwed, and we can and must do better.

HUD finds the GLO’s process to screw Houston out of Harvey funds “discriminatory”

Good. Now get us the funds we deserve.

In a decision that could redirect millions of dollars in flood relief to Houston, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found the Texas General Land Office discriminated against minority residents and ran afoul of federal civil rights protections when it denied flood mitigation aid last May to the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Harvey.

At issue is the process used by the state agency to dole out more than $2 billion in federal funds, awarded to Texas in early 2018, to pay for projects aimed at tempering the effect of future storms. Because there were not enough funds to cover every project sought in the 49 eligible Texas counties, the GLO held a competition and developed scoring criteria to find the best applicants.

Though Houston and Harris County expected to receive roughly half the funds, matching their share of the damage, the land office — led by Land Commissioner George P. Bush — initially awarded nothing to the city and county. Bush, facing bipartisan criticism from Houston-area officials, later asked federal officials to send Harris County $750 million in flood mitigation aid. The total still fell short of the funding sought by local officials, however, and it remains unclear when the money will arrive.

Prompted by a complaint filed last year by two local advocacy groups, the Biden administration investigated the GLO’s distribution of the Harvey funds, focusing on the complaint’s allegation that Bush’s agency “discriminated on the basis of race and national origin through the use of scoring criteria that substantially disadvantaged Black and Hispanic residents.”

In a 13-page finding, HUD said the exclusion of Houston and Harris County “caused there to be disproportionately less funding available to benefit minority residents than was available to benefit white residents.” The federal agency singled out a scoring metric that effectively penalized large jurisdictions, such as Houston, by measuring what percentage of an applicant’s residents would benefit from a project.

“The City of Iola applied for a project benefitting 379 people. This project received 10 points out of 10, because Iola has only 379 residents,” the finding raised as one example. “The City of Houston applied for a project benefitting 8,845 people in the Kashmere Gardens neighborhood. This project received 0.37 out of 10 points, because Houston has approximately 2.3 million residents.”

[…]

HUD also said the GLO unfairly divided the competition into two uneven categories: the most impacted and distressed areas as defined by HUD, an area that included Houston and Harris County; and more rural counties that also got a presidential disaster declaration.

Both categories fought for separate pots of essentially equal money. That meant about $500 million was available for residents in the most distressed areas, and $500 million available to counties added by the state.

The most distressed areas, though, had eight times as many residents as those identified by the state. They also had 90 percent of the minority residents in the entire eligible population.

“Specifically, approximately $458 per resident was made available to State MID applicants, while just $62 per resident was made available to HUD MID applicants,” HUD wrote. “Put differently, State MID areas were eligible for seven and a half times the funding per resident than HUD MID areas.”

See here for the background on the complaint. This has been a screw job from the beginning, and I really hope this finally brings some accountability to the GLO and the overall process. I mean, it’s been 4.5 years since Harvey, and there are people still waiting to be made whole. It’s beyond shameful that it has taken this long. It may take even longer from here, as P Bush’s attack poodle spokesperson is threatening that the office will file a lawsuit against HUD. Given that will just add further delays, it’s hard to see such action as anything but vindictive and retaliatory. But not unexpected, not even a little. Please pay attention to the Democratic primary runoff for Land Commissioner and support whoever wins, because that’s likely going to be the fastest path to actually getting this resolved. The Trib has more.

A roundup of runoffs

I was going to just do a basic recap of all the primary races that will require runoffs, and then this happened, and I had to do some redesign.

Rep. Van Taylor

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, has decided to end his reelection campaign after he was forced into a primary runoff amid 11th-hour allegations of infidelity.

Taylor made the stunning announcement Wednesday, hours after he finished his five-way primary with 49% of the vote, just missing the cutoff for winning the primary outright. The runner-up was former Collin County Judge Keith Self, who is now likely to become the next congressman for the 3rd District.

“About a year ago, I made a horrible mistake that has caused deep hurt and pain among those I love most in this world,” Taylor wrote in an email to supporters. “I had an affair, it was wrong, and it was the greatest failure of my life. I want to apologize for the pain I have caused with my indiscretion, most of all to my wife Anne and our three daughters.”

The day before the primary, the conservative outlet Breitbart News posted a story that Taylor had had a monthslong affair with a Plano woman, Tania Joya, who he had paid $5,000 to keep quiet. The publication reported that she provided it a phone screen shot purporting to be communications with Taylor and a bank record showing that she deposited $5,000 into her account. The Texas Tribune has not been able to independently verify the report.

[…]

Taylor has until March 16 to remove his name from the runoff ballot, which he plans to do, according to a spokesperson. After he does that, Self is automatically the Republican nominee for the district. There is a Democratic nominee for the seat, Sandeep Srivastava, but they face long odds after the district was redrawn last year to favor Republicans.

Holy shit. There’s a link to that article in the Trib story, which I refuse to include. It’s one of the less important aspects of this story, but the timing is curious. Why not publish this earlier, if that’s what you’re going to do, and not take the chance that he could win without a runoff? It gets a whole lot more complicated for the Republicans if he withdraws after winning the primary, and he came quite close to doing just that. I don’t understand any of this.

Anyway, this is where I was originally going to start this post. Here’s a list of the races that have gone into overtime. You can also read the Decision Desk wrapup for some more details.

Statewide Dem

Lite Guv – Mike Collier vs Michelle Beckley.

AG – Rochelle Garza vs Joe Jaworski. As of Wednesday afternoon Jaworski had less than a 2K vote lead over Lee Merritt. When I first looked at this, it was a 3K lead, with all of the remaining ballots in Harris County, where Jaworski started the day with a 6K vote lead over Merritt. That had shrunk to a bit less than 5K votes by the afternoon, which almost made my logic that Jaworski would easily hold his lead look idiotic, but the gap appears to have been too large for Merritt to overcome. But who knows, there may be a bunch of late-fixed mail ballots out there, so let’s put a pin in this one.

Comptroller – Janet Dudding vs Angel Vega.

Land Commissioner – Sandragrace Martinez vs Jay Kleberg.

Congressional Dem

CD01 – JJ Jefferson vs Victor Dunn.

CD15 – Ruben Ramirez vs Michelle Vallejo, who has a 300-vote lead over John Rigney.

CD21 – Claudia Zapata vs Ricardo Villarreal.

CD24 – Jan McDowell vs Derrik Gay, who rebounded after my initial bout of pessimism to finish in second place.

CD28 – Rep. Henry Cuellar vs Jessica Cisneros. Cisneros had a big early lead that was mostly a function of the order in which the counties reported their results. Cisneros crushed it in Bexar County, then watched as Starr, Webb, and Zapata erased her lead. In the end, if what I’m seeing is the actual final tally, it was Cuellar who missed winning outright by nine (!) votes. This one could change to a Cuellar win as the overseas and provisional votes are tallied, and then of course there may be a recount. Hold onto your hats.

CD30 – Jasmine Crockett vs Jane Hope Hamilton.

CD38 – Diana Martinez Alexander vs. Duncan Klussman. This is the only Congressional runoff in Harris County for Dems.

SBOE Dem

SBOE1 – Melissa Ortega vs Laura Marquez. The third-place finisher had big charter school backing, so this race can go back to being one you don’t need to know about.

SBOE2 – Victor Perez vs Pete Garcia.

SBOE4 – Coretta Mallet-Fontenot vs Staci Childs. This is in Harris County, it’s the seat Lawrence Allen vacated in his unsuccessful run for HD26. I’ll put this one on my to do list for runoff interviews.

SBOE11 – Luis Sifuentes vs James Whitfield. Double-timer DC Caldwell finished third, while also losing in the Republican primary for this same seat to incumbent Pat Hardy. Let us never speak of this again.

State Senate Dem

SD27 – Morgan LaMantia vs Sara Stapleton-Barrera.

State House Dems

HD22 – Joseph Trahan vs Christian Hayes.

HD37 – Ruben Cortez vs Luis Villarreal

HD70 – Cassandra Hernandez vs Mihaela Plesa. This one was an almost even split among three candidates, with third place finisher Lorenzo Sanchez 29 votes behind Plesa and 102 votes behind Hernandez. Another overseas/provisional vote count to watch and another recount possibility.

HD76 – Suleman Lalani vs Vanesia Johnson. This is the new Dem-likely seat in Fort Bend.

HD100 – Sandra Crenshaw vs Venton Jones.

HD114 – Alexandra Guio vs John Bryant. Bryant was a Dem Congressman in the 90’s, in the old CD05. After winning a squeaker against Pete Sessions in 1994, Bryant tried his luck in the primary for Senate in 1996, eventually losing in a runoff to Victor Morales. Bryant just turned 75 (why anyone would want to get back into the Lege at that age boggles my mind, but maybe that’s just me), while Guio is quite a bit younger. Should be an interesting matchup. This was a five-way race with everyone getting between 17 and 25 percent, so endorsements from the ousted candidates may make a difference.

HD147 – Jolanda Jones vs Danielle Bess.

Harris County Dems

185th Criminal District Court – Andrea Beall vs Judge Jason Luong.

208th Criminal District Court – Beverly Armstrong vs Kim McTorry. Judge Greg Glass finished third.

312th Family District Court – Teresa Waldrop vs Judge Chip Wells.

County Civil Court at Law #4 – Manpreet Monica Singh vs Treasea Treviño. David Patronella was in second place after early voting, but fell behind as the Tuesday votes came in.

Commissioners Court, Precinct 4 – Lesley Briones vs Ben Chou.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1, Place 2 – Sonia Lopez vs Steve Duble.

Republicans

Not really interested in a complete rundown, but it’s Paxton versus P Bush for AG, Dawn Buckingham versus Tim Westley for Land Commissioner, and Wayne Christian versus Sarah Stogner for Railroad Commissioner. At least that last one will be interesting.

As noted yesterday, it will be Alexandra Mealer versus Vidal Martinez for the nomination for County Judge. I have no feelings about this.

I will put some other primary news and notes in a separate post. Let me know if I missed a race.

2022 primary results: Statewide

That didn’t take long:

Literally one minute after polls would have closed in El Paso. You can’t report any earlier than that. With the first very early batch of results posted on the SOS website, Beto was at 92.82% of the vote, so even though maybe ten percent of the votes had been counted, this seems like a pretty safe call.

Greg Abbott was cruising as well, with just under 70% in very early returns. The Trib says his race was called at the same time; I didn’t see anything on Twitter, but you know how that can go. At least one of his opponents was preparing to concede right out of the gate. Both Huffines and West were in the 10-12% range early on, which makes their attention-to-performance ratio pretty much a “division by zero” error.

Susan Hays was headed for a decisive win for Ag Commissioner on the Dem side, starting out with about 85% of the vote. All of the other Dem statewides look like they’re headed for runoffs. Mike Collier, Rochelle Garza, and Janet Dudding were the clear early leaders for Lite Guv, AG, and Comptroller. The Land Commissioner race was more jumbled, with Sandragrace Martinez and Jay Kleberg the initial frontrunners.

On the Republican side, Dan Patrick and Glenn Hegar easily turned away nominal opposition, while the crook Sid Miller was close to 60% against more substantial opposition. Ken Paxton and Wayne Christian were leading for AG and Railroad Commissioner, but both were in the low-to-mid 40s early on. Dawn Buckingham was at about 45% with three opponents who might be the one to face her in a runoff in the 12-15 percent range. Two Supreme Court incumbents, Evan Young (appointed to replace Eva Guzman) and Scott Walker, were in the mid-to-upper 50s against single opponents.

I found the Trib‘s results page to be faster than the SOS, and it had both Dems and GOP on one page. The only other matter of interest here for now is total turnout. I’m not going to get a handle on that before I go to bed, so let’s put that in the to-be-followed-up file.

A handful of stories about statewide primaries

Let’s talk about Sarah.

Sarah Stogner

One November evening in far West Texas, Sarah Stogner decided to strip down to pasties and her underwear, plus boots and a cowboy hat, and climb onto an oil pumpjack while a small film crew watched.

The crew, in town to film a documentary about an unplugged oil well spewing contaminated fluids, was sharing beers with Stogner when one of the videographers said they always wanted to do an artistic photo shoot on a pumpjack, Stogner recalled.

“And I thought, oh my God, yes, what if I got naked or almost naked on top of it?” Stogner said. “This will be hilarious. Just for our own fun. I didn’t have any grand schemes with it. But fuck it, this will be fun.”

In February, the video turned into a now-viral campaign ad for the 37-year-old oil and gas attorney from Monahans, who is running for a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas, the regulatory agency in charge of the state’s massive oil and gas sector. Stogner released the five-second video on Super Bowl Sunday in a tweet with the caption: “They said I needed money. I have other assets.”

“I need to get people’s attention, right?” Stogner said in an interview, adding that she didn’t want to do that in a “pornographic” way.

“And here we are, it’s working,” she said, listing various news stories about her campaign since the video went public.

Stogner’s seminude stunt is only the latest twist in what has become the strangest Republican primary campaign for Railroad Commission in decades. The incumbent, Railroad Commission Chair Wayne Christian, is facing corruption allegations after he voted — against the recommendation of Railroad Commission staff — to approve a permit for an oil field waste dump facility, then days later accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from the company that received the permit.

Another candidate, Marvin “Sarge” Summers, died earlier this month on the campaign trail after crashing into a tanker truck in Midland.

Despite the agency’s power over Texas’ largest industry — including the natural gas system, a crucial element of the Texas power grid that failed last year during a powerful winter storm, leaving millions of people without power for days — elections for the three-member board that oversees it typically don’t generate much attention from voters.

“They might know about it now because of Sarah Stogner,” said Tom Slocum Jr., a 38-year-old engineering consultant from the Houston area who is one of the four surviving candidates in the Republican primary.

The Chron was all over Stogner’s attention-grabbing ad last week, which one must admit achieved its purpose. Stogner makes some good points, which is not something I’m accustomed to saying about Republican politicians in their primaries these days. It’s easy enough to look good in comparison to the extreme sleaze of incumbent Wayne Christian, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into coherent policymaking or campaigning; one of her opponents is running on “building the border wall and protecting gun ownership”, two things that the Railroad Commission does not do. That said, Stogner also voted for Allen West and Louie Gohmert, so don’t go holding her up as some kind of exemplar. Democrat Luke Warford, who is unopposed and therefore not mentioned in that Trib story, is still by far your best bet.

For Land Commissioner, you have some good choices, and then you have the Republicans.

Most Republicans seeking the GOP nomination list the Alamo project as a top priority, though one also wants to use the office to decrease immigration at the Texas-Mexico border. The top focuses of Democrats running include prioritizing public school funding, limiting how the agency contributes to climate change and improving natural disaster responses.

[…]

The Democratic nominating contest is also wide open. Sandragrace Martinez, a licensed professional mental health counselor from San Antonio, led her opponents in the Hobby School of Public Affairs poll, with 17% of primary voters saying they would support her.

She did not respond to a request for comment.

Other Democrats in the race are focusing on public education funding and how the agency can mitigate climate change.

The land commissioner also heads the School Land Board, which manages a portfolio that financially supports public schools. In 2018, the School Land Board declined to pass money to the State Board of Education and instead opted to give $600 million directly to schools.

Democratic candidate Jay Kleberg of Austin, director of the nonpartisan civic engagement group Texas Lyceum, disagrees with the School Land Board’s decision. And he wants to remove a cap on how much money the School Land Board can give the SBOE.

The General Land Office is authorized to undertake land leases to develop solar, wind or other renewable energy. Kleberg, the former associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, also wants to capture and store carbon emissions beneath acres of state lands. He said doing this will reduce the state’s carbon footprint.

“We can start to reverse again that No.1 ranking as a [carbon dioxide] emitter in the nation by burying that in the ground, by operating more responsibly on General Land Office lands and by diversifying our portfolio into lower emission, cleaner energy production,” Kleberg said.

Candidate Jinny Suh of Austin, founder of Immunize Texas, a statewide pro-vaccine advocacy group, similarly wants to adopt renewable energy sources and maximize protocols for oil and gas companies the General Land Office leases with.

“Things like capping their methane emissions, things like making sure that they take care of cleaning up whatever water that they use in their processes, so that they don’t damage the environment. These are all things that will help reduce our carbon footprint and also help prepare us for the future,” Suh said.

Michael Lange, an investment and operational risk director from Houston, said his background in corporate America will allow him to support students and teachers who need more assistance. Lange acknowledges climate change as a factor for natural disasters happening in Texas. The General Land Office has the authority to administer funds in the event of natural disasters like hurricanes. Lange said the office should also help with relief long after an event, since disasters can displace people for months.

“If you had after the event disaster plan that didn’t last just for six weeks, but it lasted until it was done and included things like working in partnerships along the coast, like to use an area women’s center and say, ‘Look, we have to have these facilities available to help people,’ so the planning is not just the preparatory for the hurricane, but after it finishes, that’s the responsibility of the Texas land commissioner,” Lange said.

You can still listen to my interviews with Jinny Suh and Jay Kleberg. The Meyerland Area Dems had a statewide candidate forum on Monday night, the video for which is here – scroll to the 47:00 mark to see the Land Commissioner part of it, which included Suh, Kleberg, and Lange. Martinez has been the least visible candidate so far, and I fear she’ll make it into the runoff anyway. These things happen in lower-profile races.

The Trib doesn’t have a recent story about the Ag Commissioner race, but the Chron does.

The three Republicans running for Texas agriculture commissioner sat next to each other behind a wooden table, all wearing white cowboy hats, none of them speaking.

In the middle, state Rep. James White stared straight ahead at the crowd that had gathered for the candidate forum at Sirloin Stockade, hosted by the Williamson County Republican Women. His arms were crossed.

For weeks, White has attacked Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller for his history of run-ins with the Texas Ethics Commission and the Texas Rangers, saying it is evidence of a lack of personal integrity and a culture of misconduct within his office. White also has attacked Miller’s political record, describing him as a “fake conservative” and accusing him of jacking up fees on farmers to fund his pet projects at the department.

The other challenger, rancher and economics professor Carey Counsil of Brenham, has blasted Miller as “just not an ethical person.” Counsil launched his candidacy after Miller’s top political adviser was arrested on theft and bribery charges last year.

“I told you it was going to get sporty,” one spectator near the back whispered as Counsil attacked Miller as dishonest.

Sid Miller could give Ken Paxton a run for his blood money in the “sleaziest person currently in Texas politics” race. Not that any of his primary opponents are good, mind you, they just have less baggage. If you go back to that Meyerland Dems candidate forum video and either scroll to the 56-minute mark, or just keep watching after the Land Commissioner candidates finish up, you can hear from Susan Hays and Ed Ireson, both of whom would be an infinite improvement.

Did I just mention Ken Paxton? Sigh…

Attorney General Ken Paxton and his three Republican primary challengers are firing in all directions in the final days before the closely watched election.

Paxton is airing TV ads attacking U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler over his attendance record in Congress, while Gohmert is countering with his own commercial accusing Paxton of desperation. Meanwhile, Land Commissioner George P. Bush is running TV ads targeting Eva Guzman, the former state Supreme Court justice, who says Bush’s claims are “ludicrous.”

It is all making for a hectic end to the hotly contested primary, which recent polls suggest could go to a runoff. The polls have been less clear, though, on who Paxton could face in an overtime round. The election is March 1.

Blah blah blah…look, there are three truly terrible candidates in that race, plus one candidate who would be a more polished and presentable version of terrible. Don’t be fooled.

Finally, there’s this story about Lee Merritt, one of the Dem candidates for AG.

Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who has made a name for himself nationally by representing the families of police brutality victims, is taking heat ahead of his race to be Texas’ top lawyer because he’s not licensed to practice in the state.

He has represented the families of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old man who was shot and killed in his apartment by a Dallas police officer; George Floyd, a 46-year-old man who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes; and Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old man who was chased through a Georgia neighborhood by three white men and then shot to death.

In his bid for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, Merritt has lined up an impressive list of endorsements including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Dallas state Sen. Royce West and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

But as Merritt’s star has risen, so have questions about his legal record in Texas.

The state constitution does not require the attorney general to be licensed to practice law. But that question isn’t the only shadow hanging over his practice. Merritt has also experienced notable blunders, like when he represented a woman in 2018 who falsely accused a Department of Public Safety trooper of sexually assaulting her. Merritt brought national attention to the incident, but police camera footage disproved it just days later, forcing him to apologize for the misstep.

During a Democratic primary debate hosted by the AFL-CIO labor union in January, candidate Joe Jaworski brought up Merritt’s lack of a Texas license and said his ability to practice law in the state was a “big difference” between the two candidates.

“I have a Texas law license and I’ve had it for 31 years,” said Jaworski, the former Galveston mayor, during the debate. “Lee, I have great respect for his civil rights practice — I think he is truly an awesome agent of social change — [but] that is a big difference between us. He needs to be able to show that he can go into Texas state court, like an attorney general should.”

Merritt, in an interview with The Texas Tribune, said he’s in the process of getting licensed. “I am working on it,” he said. “I’m doing that because it helps minimize confusion, but I don’t see it as a necessity of the office.”

Jaworski declined to comment for this story, as did Rochelle Garza, one of the other candidates in the race. The primary is March 1.

Mike Fields, another candidate in the race, said it could create a “weird situation” if the employees under the attorney general had met a requirement that the elected official had not, but he gave Merritt the benefit of the doubt.

“It shouldn’t impede his ability to do the job, but I understand the concern,” Fields said. “Based on what I’ve heard from him and looking at his history, certainly he’s up to the task, and I think he’s rectifying that situation. But that’s gonna be between him and the state bar.”

I don’t really have anything to add to that. Merritt is a highly accomplished attorney, I have no doubt he can easily be licensed, and I’m also sure his current status will be made an issue if he is the nominee. It is what it is. One more time, I will direct you to the Meyerland Dems candidate forum video, where at the 22-minute mark you can hear from Merritt, Jaworski, Garza, and Fields. You can also start from the beginning and hear from Mike Collier and Carla Brailey for Lite Guv, and in between the AGs and the Land Commishes there are Comptroller candidates Janet Dudding and Tim Mahoney. If you’re still figuring out who to vote for, that will help.

Final roundup of interviews and judicial Q&As

Here they all are. As noted, I may return to some races for the runoff. For now, this is what we have. As a reminder, much more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. Vote well.

Interviews

Duncan Klussman, CD38
Diana Martinez Alexander, CD38

Jinny Suh, Land Commissioner
Jay Kleberg, Land Commissioner

Sen. John Whitmire, SD15
Molly Cook, SD15

Aurelia Wagner, HD147
Danielle Bess, HD147
Jolanda Jones, HD147
Nam Subramanian, HD147
Reagan Flowers, HD147

Candis Houston, HD142
Chase West, HD132

Ben Chou, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Ann Williams, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Gina Calanni, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Lesley Briones, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4
Clarence Miller, Harris County Commissioners Court Precinct 4

Dylan Osborne, Harris County Treasurer (Incumbent)
Carla Wyatt, Harris County Treasurer
Marilyn Burgess, Harris County District Clerk (Incumbent)
Desiree Broadnax, Harris County District Clerk

Judicial Q&As

Kyle Carter, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2
Cheri Thomas, 14th Court of Appeals, Place 2

Judge Chuck Silverman, 183rd Criminal District Court
Judge Abigail Anastasio, 184th Criminal District Court
Katherine Thomas, 184th Criminal District Court
Judge Jason Luong, 184th Criminal District Court
Andrea Beall, 185th Criminal District Court
Lema Barazi, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Scott Dollinger, 189th Civil District Court
Judge Greg Glass, 208th Criminal District Court
Kim McTorry, 208th Criminal District Court
Samuel Milledge, 228th Criminal District Court
Judge Chris Morton, 230th Criminal District Court
Judge Tristan Longino, 245th Family District Court
Angela Lancelin, 245th Family District Court
Judge Hilary Unger, 248th Criminal District Court
Judge Amy Martin, 263rd Criminal District Court
Dianne Curvey, 280th Family District Court
Judge Barbara Stalder, 280th Family District Court
Judge Chip Wells, 312th Family District Court
Teresa Waldrop, 312th Family District Court
Paul Calzada, 312th Family District Court
Judge Natalia Oakes, 313th Family District Court
Glenda Duru, 313th Family District Court
Judge Leah Shapiro, 313th Family District Court
Ieshia Champs, 315th Family District Court
Alycia Harvey, 482nd Criminal District Court
Veronica Monique Nelson, 482nd Criminal District Court

David Patronella, County Civil Court At Law #4
Manpreet Monica Singh, County Civil Court At Law #4
Treasea Treviño, County Civil Court At Law #4
Porscha Natasha Brown, County Criminal Court At Law #3
Judge Kelley Andrews, County Criminal Court At Law #6
Judge Andrew Wright, County Criminal Court At Law #7
Erika Ramirez, County Criminal Court At Law #8
Judge David Singer, County Criminal Court At Law #14
Judge Michael Newman, County Probate Court #2

Chris Watson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Steve Duble, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Ron Campana, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1 Place 2
Blair McClure, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Dolores Lozano, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 2 Place 2
Judge Lucia Bates, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Herbert Alexander Sanchez, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2
Ashleigh Roberson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3 Place 2

UPDATE: Naturally, I woke up this morning to see another set of Q&A responses in my inbox. They will run tomorrow.

Et tu, H-GAC?

WTAF?

Houston is slated to get just 2 percent of the regional council’s $488 million tranche for storm mitigation, angering city leaders who say the city consistently has been shorted when it comes to the federal money.

The Houston-Galveston Area Council, a regional group made up of representatives from local governments, voted Tuesday to proceed with a funding plan that skirts Houston over the opposition of city officials. The plan still needs state and federal approval, along with a lengthy public comment period, before moving forward.

“This is not the end,” said At-Large Councilmember Sallie Alcorn, who represents the city on the regional body.

[…]

The dispute centers on federal funding distributed after Harvey and other storms to help state and local governments finance infrastructure to mitigate the risk of future disasters. Last year, the Texas General Land Office announced Houston and Harris County would get none of an initial $1 billion funding round for communities. The agency later reversed course and said it would give Harris County a direct allotment of $750 million. The city is not slated to get any of that money. The city and county had expected to receive about half of the $4.3 billion in total funds, or $1 billion each.

H-GAC then removed Houston and other Harris County cities from its plans to distribute $488 million to local governments. Commissioners said those cities stand to benefit from the separate, $750 million GLO tranche. It is not clear, however, whether any of the money will reach the city’s coffers. The county faces a $900 million funding deficit for its bond program alone and is unlikely to send some of its money to the city, although it may work on joint projects.

“We’re basically penalizing Houston and other cities in Harris County because we might get some benefit from the Harris County money,” Alcorn said. “And we don’t know that yet.”

Houston, which makes up about 30 percent of the regional council’s population base, would get about $9 million under the regional council’s plan, or 1.9 percent.

Chuck Wemple, H-GAC’s executive director, said the board felt Houston would see some of the $750 million headed for the county. He emphasized that there will be time for public comment, and the plan is not yet final.

“I would offer that the complication we have before us today is a result of that $750 million allocation to the county, without any definition of what the expectation is for that money,” Wemple said. “That makes all of our jobs more difficult.”

As the story notes, Galveston and Fort Bend counties will combine to receive about $170 million. Houston had asked for $148 million, in line with its share of the total population in the H-GAC region, and it was voted down. Which means that the other ten counties – Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Liberty, Matagorda, Montgomery, Walker, Waller, and Wharton – get to split up the remaining $300 million. Pretty damn sweet deal for them.

Let’s be clear, that explanation given by Chuck Wemple is absolute self-serving caca. Let me count the ways:

1. Whatever portion of that $750 million that Harris County was given as a consolation prize by the GLO is still a lot less than what Houston as well as Harris County had requested. It doesn’t come close to meeting the need the city has.

2. While I fully expect some of that $750 million that Harris County is getting to be spent inside Houston, the city has no control over where and when it will get spent, and if Harris County decides that a greater portion of its need is outside the city’s boundaries, well, that’s just tough.

3. But even if the city hadn’t been screwed by the GLO, and both it and Harris County were being given a proper share of the relief funds, that still doesn’t make this right. Houston is a part of H-GAC – it’s right there in the name! – and any process that doesn’t allocate these funds in a rational and equitable manner is just wrong. This is not difficult, and the proposal made by CMs Alcorn and Plummer were eminently reasonable.

This is another screw job, and it’s even more disheartening coming from an agency whose entire mission is to serve this region. Part of the problem, as I understand it, is that H-GAC’s governing structure is more like the US Senate than the House, which means that Houston and Harris County get as much representation as the small counties. It’s not hard to see how that math works against us. This is the right response:

Turner, Houston’s chief recovery officer Stephen Costello and other council members also urged a revision, and Turner last week went so far as to question the city’s involvement in the council.

“We got zeroed out by the GLO, and it seems as though we are getting almost zeroed out by the H-GAC,” Turner said last week, when Alcorn broached the issue at City Council. “If they’re going to operate at the exclusion of the city of Houston, then the city of Houston needs to reevaluate its relationship with H-GAC going forward.”

What’s even the point of being in H-GAC if H-GAC is not going to serve Houston’s interests? If they don’t make this right then yeah, let’s get the hell out.

Endorsement watch: Definitely in no rush

After a few days of only Republican endorsements, we get three Democratic ones. First up is the most obvious, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Even those who treated 27-year-old Lina Hidalgo like she was born yesterday when she was elected Harris County judge in 2018 must admit that she’s been baptized by fire.

First, quite literally, by a chemical fire. Then a steady stream of other disasters: a global pandemic, an epic winter storm and deadly power grid blackout, and a relentless crime surge.

Many who thought she had no business running against 11-year incumbent Ed Emmett think she has no business keeping the seat. Some — on the right and left — have lined up to oust her.

Three years ago, we admired Hidalgo’s tenacity but weren’t persuaded to endorse an untested newcomer to lead a county of more than 4.5 million people, a budget of $5 billion and a surface area bigger than Rhode Island.

Since then, Hidalgo, who will be 31 by the March 1 primary, has been as tested as any county judge can be.

And we believe she’s passed, from her gutsy urging to close the rodeo days before community spread of COVID-19 was detected, to her bold mask mandate that prompted Republican leaders to cry “tyranny” until they enacted their own mandates, to her prescient warnings for residents to prepare for Winter Storm Uri as they would “a category 5 hurricane.”

She seems to have handled these disasters, and also a daily barrage of personal attacks, insults and condescension, with the poise and steadfastness of a seasoned public official and yet, maintains a wonky earnestness we find refreshing.

They find Erica Davis’ case thin and unconvincing, and note that no one else in the primary is making an effort. You know how I feel about these things. As no-brainers go, this one was one of the no-brainer-est.

Also an easy call, though far lower on anyone’s visibility list, they endorsed Janet Dudding in the primary for Comptroller.

Janet Dudding

Democrats have a choice of a journalist-turned-lawyer, a long-time certified public accountant, and a writer and strategist in the March 1 primary for Texas comptroller of public accounts.

Call us crazy but we believe the best option by far is the accountant, Janet Dudding of Bryan.

Dudding, 62, makes a compelling case for why Democrats should nominate her to challenge two-term incumbent Glenn Hegar in November’s general election.

“I’ve spent my adult life auditing, accounting for, administering and even investigating state and local governments and their grants, taxes, procurement, spending and reporting,” she told us in a screening last month. “I understand how the system works and how we could better utilize it to our advantage.”

[…]

She seems capable of taking the fight to Hegar in the fall, promising to highlight what she describes as his failure to manage the energy efficiency and climate impacts of state-owned buildings, promote the use of alternative fuels in state vehicles and find ways to boost rural broadband access.

Dudding has the most relevant experience and the broadest platform in this race. We urge Democrats to nominate her for comptroller.

Far as I can see, she’s the only serious candidate. Some statewide primary races have very tough choices – Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and Land Commissioner, to be specific – but this one was clear to me from the beginning.

And speaking of that Land Commissioner race, the Chron made their choice and it’s Jay Kleberg.

Jay Kleberg

After a years-long tug-of-war between George P. Bush’s Texas General Land Office and Houston leaders over unallocated Harvey relief funding, we suspect more than a few southeast Texans are eager for a new GLO direction. Democratic voters have high-quality choices in the race for Texas Land Commissioner, all of whom want a land office focused on science and aid, not politics. We recommend Jay Kleberg, an Austin-based conservationist who began working cattle at age 5 on his family’s ranch — the 825,000 acre King Ranch in south Texas.

Kleberg has an MBA from the University of Texas and has done extensive environmental advocacy. In the 2019 film “The River and the Wall,” Kleberg and four others journeyed 1,200 miles along the Texas-Mexico border to explore a wall’s impact on people and wildlife. Tapping into his near-legendary family’s background, and resources, he’s worked to educate Texas children about ranching and expand access to the great outdoors. In recent years, Kleberg has served as the associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“Texas deserves representation that believes in combating climate change and bringing people together,” Kleberg, 44, told us. “If elected, I will refocus the office to protect our most vulnerable communities on the coast … and ensure that we are passing on a more healthy, accessible environment to the next generation.”

[…]

We also think highly of Jinny Suh, a 44-year-old Austin-based lawyer who founded and leads Immunize Texas, a grassroots network dedicated to supporting pro-vaccine legislation. She has also worked as a science teacher.

Suh argues that her history of advocacy in Austin, along with her science and legal background, make her the best choice for land commissioner. She’s racked up several key endorsements, notably the Texas AFL-CIO and some Democratic state house members, and raised money through many small donations.

Kleberg and Suh are the top choices in this race. My interview with Kleberg is here and with Suh is here. Both would be a billion times better than the pampered dilettante we have now.

Four days out from the start of early voting and there are still a lot of big races to weigh in on. Tick tock, y’all.

Interview with Jay Kleberg

Jay Kleberg

As noted yesterday, this will be my last interview for the March primary. I may do some for the runoffs – the Attorney General race will surely go into overtime, and perhaps the Lt. Governor’s race will as well – and of course I’ll have more for November. The judicial Q&As will continue at least into next week, until I run out of responses to publish. For today, I have Land Commissioner candidate Jay Kleberg. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because his family owns the King Ranch and is the namesake of Kleberg County in South Texas. In addition to ranching, Kleberg is a conservationist and former Associate Director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, and recently traversed the entire 1,200 miles of the Texas-Mexico border for the feature film The River and the Wall. Here’s what we talked about:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Interview with Jinny Suh

Jinny Suh

This week I will run my last two interviews for the March primary. It’s always a challenge doing primary interviews, as there’s an increasing number of candidates (hooray!) and very little time. There are some great candidates running statewide and I would have loved to talk to a bunch of them, but I couldn’t make it work. I do have two conversations with candidates for Land Commissioner, an office that has been quite a bit more visible to us here in Houston and Harris County of late. Jinny Suh was the first candidate in the race. Suh is the daughter of immigrants and has been a science teacher, lawyer, and small business owner. She is the founder and leader of Immunize Texas, a grassroots statewide pro-vaccine advocacy group. As you might imagine, I asked her about that (and other things) in the interview:

As with the judicial Q&A’s, more information about Democratic primary candidates, including links to the interviews and judicial Q&As, can be found on Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I will periodically round up the links to these posts as well.

Bypass the GLO

Heck yeah.

All five members of Harris County Commissioners Court signed onto a letter Friday asking the local congressional delegation to ensure that future disaster relief bypasses the state government and goes directly to large counties.

The letter is the latest round of bipartisan outrage in Houston triggered by the Texas General Land Office’s decision last May to initially shut out the city and the county — the epicenter of flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey — from $1 billion in flood control dollars later awarded to Texas after the 2017 storm.

The letter suggests that Congress or a federal agency require future disaster relief go directly to counties with at least 500,000 residents, instead of being administered by state agencies.

The court’s two Republicans, Commissioners Jack Cagle and Tom Ramsey, joined the court’s Democratic majority — County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia — in signing the letter. Cagle and Ramsey had been sharply critical of fellow Republican George P. Bush, who runs the GLO, after the agency declined to award any money to the city or county.

In the letter, the five court members wrote that a direct allocation of federal aid would “bypass potential bureaucratic delay caused by various Texas agencies and by other entities that will harm our ability to have quick and efficient implementation.”

They did not mention the GLO by name, though the letter was sent to Harris County’s nine-member congressional delegation one week after federal officials halted the distribution of nearly $2 billion in flood control funds to Texas because, they said, the GLO had failed to send in required paperwork detailing its plans to spend the money.

I mean, based on past experience, why would we want to do it any other way? The GLO isn’t just not adding value here, they’re actively reducing it. It’s not a surprise that even the Republican commissioners signed on to this.

On a more philosophical note, a lot of federal relief funds that are targeted at cities and counties and school districts and whatnot have had to go through the state first. For the most part, with COVID funds, the Lege mostly rubber stamped it without much fuss. I know there had been concerns with the pace at which Harvey recovery funds had been spent and homes were being repaired – indeed, there are still a lot of unrepaired homes after all this time – but it seems that a big part of that problem has been having multiple layers of government involved, which led to conflicts and delays and issues getting funds to the people who needed them the most. Indeed, that story also cites issues with the way the GLO interacted with the city of Houston. With COVID relief there were issues with unemployment funds having to go through rickety state systems, no direct way to get other relief funds to people who didn’t have bank accounts, and so forth. There are bigger issues, having to do with underlying infrastructure, that are a big part of this. But even factoring that out, putting states in charge of distributing federal relief funds to localities has been a problem. More so in some states than in others. I don’t know what we can do about that, given everything else going on right now. But we really should do something.

Feds halt Harvey relief funds over GLO error

The continuing saga.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday halted the distribution of $1.95 billion in aid awarded to Texas after Hurricane Harvey because it said the state has failed to send the federal agency required paperwork detailing its plans to spend it.

The delay is the latest in a series of hold-ups; almost four years after Congress approved $4.3 billion in HUD aid for Texas, about half of it remains unallocated.

HUD said in a statement its formal action gives the Texas General Land Office 45 days to submit the missing document, which the agency said is an analysis explaining how the state’s proposed list of disaster mitigation projects helps the most vulnerable residents.

“We look forward to receiving and reviewing Texas’s submission of the additional information needed for approval,” the HUD statement said. “We are hopeful that Texas will take the steps needed to begin much-needed, forward-looking mitigation projects in the state.”

The decision prevents Texas from distributing $1.2 billion in flood mitigation grants to local governments it had selected through a funding competition, as well as $750 million to Harris County, which was awarded nothing from that contest.

HUD in 2020 signed off on the GLO’s plan for the funding competition, which selected 81 projects, and said it welcomed the subsequent proposal for Harris County. The agency on Friday, however, said moving forward with those plans depends on whether GLO provides the missing report.

[…]

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said she looked forward to GLO completing the paperwork. She said county staff are prepared to answer any questions from HUD about how its planned projects will help vulnerable residents. Hidalgo still is hoping for additional aid.

“This $750 million is a start, but more is needed since Harris County and the city of Houston took over 50 percent of the damage from Hurricane Harvey, and because millions of residents remain vulnerable to natural disasters,” Hidalgo said.

Mayor Sylvester Turner raised the same point about the unequal distribution of aid. He said he was pleased with HUD’s action Friday, and awaits the response from the Land Office.

We’ve been down this road before. The reason this is a problem for the GLO, and why they reacted so bitterly to HUD’s letter, is that they don’t have a good explanation for why they did the funding formula that they did. It was designed to screw the big Democratic cities and counties in favor of the rural Republican counties. That’s not the explanation HUD is looking for, so here we are. Tune in later in February to see how they try to wriggle out of it.

We are making progress on the flood bond projects

Let’s not lose sight of that.

Three years into Harris County’s historic $2.5 billion flood bond program, progress can feel maddeningly slow. After decades of underinvestment in flood protection, however, any completed project is a welcome improvement for nearby residents.

Through October, 16 percent of the planned projects for detention basins, channel widening and other infrastructure was complete. All 181 projects are underway in some capacity, from design to construction, and each is on schedule.

“Our project life cycle is three to five years, and in some cases that cycle has just started,” Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Alan Black said. “But at least they’ve all been started. And on top of that, no project has been delayed due to lack of funding.”

Several completed works already are providing better flood protection for hundreds of thousands of homes, Black said.

Those include major maintenance along Cypress Creek and Spring Branch Creek, as well as the first phase of the Aldine Westfield detention basin project

In Kashmere, local officials heralded the progress of a $100 million Hunting Bayou channel improvement project that will remove more than 4,000 homes from the floodplain.

[…]

Whether the bond program is completed as originally planned remains an open question. Commissioners Court sold the bond to voters — who approved it overwhelmingly in 2018 — as, essentially, a buy-one-get-one-free deal. If voters agreed to pay $2.5 billion, the county predicted it could secure another $2.5 billion in federal matching dollars, bringing the total pot to around $5 billion.

So far, that plan has had mixed success.

You can say that again. I’m not going to rehash all of that – the article does so, you can keep on reading. The fact that we’re getting stuff done for flood mitigation is good. The fact that there’s so much more to do, well, that’s the reality.

[County Judge Lina] Hidalgo blamed some of the funding woes on the previous Commissioners Court, which she said was far too conservative in proposing a $2.5 billion bond. Flood control experts peg the total cost to protect Harris County against 100-year storms at more than $30 billion.

“Everybody will tell you, it should have been a much bigger number,” Hidalgo said. The leaders at the time thought it was a politically expedient number to select $2.5 billion.”

I think, if we had to do it all again and we knew that P Bush and the GLO were going to screw us on the federal funds, the Court at that time probably would have proposed a larger bond issue. I also think that the top number was going to be strictly limited by whether or not it would require a tax increase, even a small one. Maybe $30 billion is an overestimate of how much we need to spend to truly mitigate our flood risk. For sure, it’s more than $5 billion, and at some point we’re going to have to come to terms with the fact that we’re going to need to pay up for that.

The growing field for Land Commissioner

We have some interesting candidates on our side.

Jay Kleberg

A member of a South Texas family that owns one of the largest ranches in the country is seeking the Democratic nomination for Texas land commissioner, the statewide office overseeing the Alamo’s operations and the state’s natural disaster recovery efforts.

The seat will be open during the 2022 election as Republican incumbent George P. Bush runs for attorney general.

Jay Kleberg, an Austin-based conservationist whose family owns the sprawling King Ranch in Kingsville, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune on Wednesday that his campaign will focus on fighting climate change, managing the state’s disaster recovery and improving benefits for veterans.

“It’s the responsibility of the land commissioner to combat climate change and it seems like a bold statement in Texas politics right now, but we’ve gotta follow the science,” Kleberg said.

The Texas General Land Office manages 13 million acres of public lands and mineral rights across the state. As a result, Kleberg said the office has the “ability to diversify its portfolio of renewables” and “lead the state toward a low-emission future.”

Kleberg formerly served as associate director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the nonprofit partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

[…]

Kleberg said he is optimistic, pointing to his experience with the responsibilities of the office and saying conservation brings a “lot of people together.” And he suggested his bid would be well-funded, noting he has been able to raise over $100 million for conservation efforts.

This will not be Kleberg’s first bid for public office. In 2010, Kleberg ran as a Republican for the El Paso-area Texas House District 78, which is currently represented by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. But Kleberg fell short in the three-way GOP primary that year to Dee Margo, who unseated Moody in the November general election.

Kleberg, asked Wednesday about his party switch, said that while he considers himself “a Texan first” he feels “strong about running as a Democrat” and is looking forward to the race.

“Texas deserves a representation that believes in combating climate change and bringing people together — not dividing them,” he said.

That’s Jay Kleberg of Kleberg County, where the King Ranch is. Fair to say, he’s a bit atypical for a Texas Democrat. You can see his announcement video here. He joins a field that according to the Patrick Svitek spreadsheet has four Republicans and four Democrats so far. The latter group includes Jinny Suh and two dudes I’ve not heard of.

The fact that Kleberg once ran for office as a Republican doesn’t bother me. It should be clear by now that there are a significant number of former Republicans out there, and anyone who is going to put fighting climate change at the top of their agenda is going to get a full hearing from Democratic voters. The fact that he’d be another white guy on the Democratic ballot is not a problem of his making, but as he’d have to defeat a woman of color to get there, it’s a question he’ll have to address. I think we know by now that anything can happen in these lower-profile downballot statewide primaries – for all we know, one of those other guys may win the nomination and have to answer those questions.

Of interest to me is that Kleberg County is one of the places that moved towards Trump in 2020. Obama won it 53.4% to 45.6% in 2012, Hillary won it 49.6% to 45.9% in 2016, and Beto took it 51.8% to 47.5% in 2018, but Trump carried it 50.3% to 48.6% in 2020. I should note that Kleberg split tickets in every year I looked – Republican State Rep. JM Lozano won it every year, Greg Abbott beat Wendy Davis in 2014 by a hair and Lupe Valdez by double digits in 2018, while Leticia van de Putte and Mike Collier won it in those years. Eva Guzman won it in 2016, while Chrysta Castaneda and several of the statewide Democratic judicial candidates took it in 2020. Maybe Kleberg can move the needle a bit in his home county – which by itself doesn’t mean much, as there were just under 11K votes cast there last year – and more importantly in other counties like it. I have no idea if this may be the case, or if he’d do better than Jinny Suh or one of the other dudes. It’s just the sort of thing I think about when doing posts like this. The main takeaway for you should be to pay attention to this race, the choice you make matters.

Joy Diaz

A bit of “potential candidate” news is tucked into this story about the current state of the Democratic statewide slate.

Joy Diaz

If Democrats had a mantra, it would probably be something like “diversity and inclusion.”

So it’s kind of strange that since jockeying in Texas began for positions on the party’s 2022 statewide ballot, nearly all of the focus has been on white men. You might argue that there’s some diversity within that group: One of the white guys is in his late 40s, one is in his late 50s, and two recently crossed into their 60s.

For the record, we’re talking about Beto O’Rourke, who’s 49 and expected to someday officially announce he’s running for governor; 59-year-old Joe Jaworski, a former mayor of Galveston who’s running for attorney general; and the two 60-year-olds, Mike Collier, who wants a rematch with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Matthew Dowd, the Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat who also wants to take on Patrick.

[…]

But a more diverse statewide field appears to be shaping up on the Democratic side. On Monday, Brownsville lawyer Rochelle Garza dropped plans to seek an open South Texas congressional seat that was redrawn to give Republicans an edge and announced she was joining the race for attorney general. Dallas civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is Black, has been running a low-key race for AG since July. Merritt has not been chasing headlines, but he has assembled a somewhat impressive list of small donors to his campaign.

And on Wednesday, a newcomer teased out vague plans about entering the political arena. Broadcast journalist Joy Diaz, who since 2005 has covered politics and public policy for Austin’s public radio station, said she could no longer mask her biases while “covering the issues of race and inequality.”

In a story posted on her station’s website, Diaz said she plans to run for office. She didn’t say which office, but a handful of Democratic operatives said she’s been putting out feelers for a possible run for governor.

If that holds, it would pit her against O’Rourke — assuming he runs — and certainly test his strength both among Hispanic Democrats and across the party’s base. In the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, before he transformed into the money-raising machine he would become in the general election contest against Ted Cruz, O’Rourke vastly underperformed in several heavily Hispanic border counties against little-known opponent Sema Hernandez.

Statewide, O’Rourke’s margin of victory in the primary was a bit better than 60-40, which might be considered modest for someone who at the time was a three-term congressman running against a political novice.

Here’s the story. Hard to say much more until such time as she gets more specific, but if she does run for something then I welcome her presence. I will also welcome Beto’s presence when he finally makes it official.

I’d like to address the last two paragraphs as well, since Beto’s performance in the 2018 primary has been a regular talking point even though he did just fine in all those counties in the general election when it really counted. Did you know that in the 2018 Republican primary, George P. Bush and Sid Miller, both incumbents running for re-election, did worse than Beto in their own primaries? Miller got 55.65% against two no-name candidates (well, okay, one was Internet legend Jim Hogan, the 2014 Democratic nominee for Ag Commissioner), while Bush got 58.22% against three candidates, two no-names and former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Beto got 61.81% in a three-way race that included Sema Hernandez. That was his first statewide run, while again those guys were incumbents. Somehow, that never gets mentioned, possibly because the “Anglo Dem underperformed against a no-name Hispanic in South Texas” angle is always sexy.

Also, since this story also mentions a couple of non-Anglo Republicans running for Attorney General (P Bush and Eva Guzman) and Ag Commissioner (James White), I’ll note that if you go farther down the Dem ticket there’s more diversity as well. Austin attorney and community organizer Jinny Suh announced her candidacy for Land Commissioner back in September. We’re still a few days out from the start of filing season, and I fully expect there will be plenty more candidates that we’re not currently talking about to make themselves known.