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Land Commissioner

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.

Is there no way to fully close the flood bond funding gap?

Not looking great right now.

For three years, Harris County Commissioners Court members have bickered, haggled and negotiated over the $2.5 billion flood bond program voters passed after Hurricane Harvey.

Throughout all the discord over how projects should be prioritized and the order in which they should start, the group has stuck to one promise: All projects on the original list presented to voters would be completed, one way or another.

That guarantee may no longer be true, court members conceded Tuesday after Democratic Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia proposed taking funding for seven planned projects in the Cedar Bayou watershed and reallocating it elsewhere.

While Garcia postponed seeking approval of the idea after County Judge Lina Hidalgo warned it effectively would kill the Cedar Bayou projects, the Democratic majority on the court said the county should consider re-vetting planned projects to see if better alternatives are available.

Court members are in a conundrum. The list contains about $5 billion worth of flood protection projects. The bond, however, provides only half that sum. The county planned for the rest to be covered through matching federal dollars that have failed to materialize, largely due to a distribution formula used by the state General Land Office that discriminated against populous areas.

“We only have $2.5 billion, so decisions have to be made,” Garcia said.

Through June, however, the county had received $1.2 billion in matching federal funds and diverted an additional $230 million in toll road revenue for the program, bringing the total available to $4 billion. The county budget office estimates the roughly decade-long program, currently 16 percent complete, is fully funded for the next five years.

Nonetheless, while no projects have been delayed or canceled to date, that day could soon arrive. Garcia’s proposal would shift $191 million planned for detention basins and channel improvements along Cedar Bayou, in northeast Harris County, to 17 projects in the Carpenters, Vince, Jackson, Greens, Armand, San Jacinto and Galveston Bay watersheds.

See here, here, and here for more on the attempts to fill the gap, and here and here for the reminder that the mess we are in is George P. Bush’s fault. According to Commissioner Garcia, his proposal to prioritize one project over another would protect more houses, score better on the county’s rubric for the projects, and get finished faster. I’m not sure why the order hadn’t been flipped before now, but that sure sounds like a worthy idea even without the funding issues. If nothing else, it may buy some time. But in the end, assuming we continue to be screwed by the GLO, it’s as Commissioner Ellis said: The Commissioners can find a way to come up with the rest of the money, or they can admit that not all of the projects will get done and explain their actions to the public. Those are the choices.

GLO still screwing Houston on Harvey aid

This shit has got to stop.

Harris County and the city of Houston this week blasted the Texas General Land Office’s revised plan for distributing billions in federal Hurricane Harvey aid, saying that while it is an improvement over the $0 the state originally awarded the local governments, it still is woefully inadequate.

Mayor Sylvester Turner and Steve Costello, Houston’s chief recovery officer, said in a letter Wednesday that GLO’s proposal to send $750 million to Harris County and still nothing to Houston ignores what Congress wanted when lawmakers approved the aid package for Texas in 2018 — to help communities devastated by Harvey.

“It is unconscionable that the State would expect that this amount in any way represents an amount that is sufficient to address the extensive mitigation needs in Houston and elsewhere in Harris County,” the pair wrote the land office.

The city and county want at least $1 billion each, which they say is fair since that sum would be roughly half of the $4.3 billion in federal aid that GLO manages and Harris County has about half of all the residents in the 49 counties eligible for the funds.

They suggested the state could abandon its proposal to send more aid to regional government entities, including the Houston-Galveston Area Council, to free up more money for Houston and Harris County.

[…]

The dispute with GLO has enormous consequences: Harris County is counting on federal aid to help complete projects in its $2.5 billion flood bond program and Houston desperately wants to improve urban drainage so neighborhoods no longer flood before stormwater can flow into bayous.

The GLO in May announced the results of a $1 billion funding competition for the disaster mitigation aid, which completely shut out the city and county governments, despite the fact that Harris County sustained the most fatalities and property damage from the 2017 storm.

Houston Chronicle investigation found the scoring criteria GLO used discriminated against populous areas and the state disproportionately steered aid to inland counties with a lower risk of disasters than coastal ones most vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding. Land Commissioner George P. Bush claimed falsely that federal rules were to blame for the result.

After criticism from Houston-area Democrats and Republicans alike, the GLO said it would revise its plan for spending more than $1 billion in additional federal aid it has yet to distribute. Instead of holding a second scoring competition as originally planned, GLO intends to award $750 million directly to Harris County, which it can share with Houston and other cities at its discretion.

An additional $667 million would be divided amount regional government entities, including the Houston-Galveston Area Council. The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development must approve the revised plan.

In a letter of its own to GLO on Wednesday, Harris County walked a fine line between thanking the state for offering the $750 million and making a case for why it remains insufficient.

Given its own need to fund flood bond projects, the county is disinclined to share its allocation with cities within its boundaries. Instead, County Administrator Dave Berry said county leaders support Houston’s request for a $1 billion allocation.

“The majority of the amount the State of Texas (federal) allocation — by far — was due to Hurricane Harvey and the documented damage suffered in Harris County and the city of Houston,” Berry wrote. “Congress clearly intended for this money to go to communities most impacted and distressed by Harvey.”

See here for my previous update, and Zach Despart’s Twitter thread for color commentary. This is the same tired bullshit from the GLO, with more insults. We’re going to need the feds to step in and apply the hammer, and then we’re seriously going to need to vote a lot of people out of office. There’s no other way forward at this point.

GLO defends P Bush in Congressional hearing

Dude couldn’t be bothered to show up himself, so he had someone else there to defend him.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush did not play a role in the process that left Houston and Harris County without any federal aid for flood mitigation projects, according to a top disaster official with the General Land Office who defended the agency’s scoring criteria during testimony to a congressional committee Thursday.

Bush, who is challenging incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton in the upcoming Republican Party primary, has received bipartisan backlash over the GLO’s allocation of $1 billion in flood project funds tied to Hurricane Harvey, none of which went to the 14 projects sought by the city or county. Bush since has announced that he will ask the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to direct $750 million to the county.

“For the record, the Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush was by design recused from the scoring committee and the scoring process,” Heather Lagrone, the GLO’s deputy director of community development and revitalization, told members of a House Financial Services subcommittee. “The commissioner was informed of the competition result only after the projects had been through eligibility review and scored in accordance with the federally approved action plan.”

U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, accused the GLO of using a “rigged formula” to distribute the relief money, defining the process as “the hijacking of a federal mitigation appropriations process.”

“I think that the time has come for a course correction,” Green said.

See here for the background. Didn’t you hear the lady, Rep. Green? LEAVE GEORGE P. BUSH ALOOOOOOOOONE!

It was a chicken move for P Bush to not show up and explain himself, but that’s hardly surprising. And let’s face it, had he been there himself, we’d have gotten the same lies about the ridiculous GLO formula and the “red tape” that was actually in place under Trump, and we never would have gotten a rational explanation for why their formula made any sense.

While coastal communities bore the brunt of Harvey, the GLO disproportionately sent the $1 billion in aid to inland counties that suffered less damage and, by the state’s own measure, are at a lower risk of natural disasters, a Houston Chronicle investigation found last month.

Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock noted during the committee hearing that the GLO declined to award a penny in mitigation funds to Aransas and Nueces counties, where Harvey made landfall, nor to Jefferson County, which saw the heaviest rainfall during the storm, nor to Houston and Harris County, which saw the most damage from the storm.

“The Texas General Land Office’s process for allocating granted zero dollars to all of these localities, and it was only after bipartisan political pressure that the GLO retroactively requested $750 million for Harris County,” Haddock said.

The GLO process got the result it intended. Everything else is details, and a reminder of why you cannot put bad faith actors in positions of power.

P Bush files a Paxton-style lawsuit

What a wannabe.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, claiming the president is illegally preventing the construction of a wall on the Texas-Mexico border.

Bush announced the lawsuit Wednesday, saying his office is suing Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas “on grounds that (the Biden administration) is illegally preventing the border wall from being constructed.”

“The issue here is simple — no man is above the law. And that includes President Biden,” Bush said.

[…]

The complaint by Bush, filed in U.S. District Court in McAllen on Tuesday, argues that between 2018 and 2021, Congress approved $5 billion for the construction of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border and Biden had no legal right to halt construction on the project.

On Inauguration Day, Biden issued an executive order calling the border wall a “waste of money” and saying that it was “not a serious policy solution.”

The complaint asks federal judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa to rule Biden’s order illegal and to stop Mayorkas from diverting the funds earmarked for the wall to other uses.

“This lawsuit is not about whether border walls are effective. It is about whether a President may unilaterally override these duly enacted appropriations bills to fulfill a campaign promise,” the lawsuit says.

It’s about more than that, I think we can all agree. I have no idea what if any merits there are to this suit – I couldn’t find any legal analysis in the stories I found while googling around. I suspect that the political mission has been accomplished, and that’s what really matters. We’ll see about the rest.

Testify, George P!

I’m ready for this.

A congressional panel is set to review the Texas General Land Office’s denial of federal flood mitigation funding to Houston and Harris County, the latest in an ongoing spat over more than $1 billion in aid approved by Congress and doled out by the state.

The Democrat-led House Financial Services Committee wants Land Commissioner George P. Bush to testify about the decision during a hearing next week, said U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat who chairs the panel’s oversight and investigations subcommittee. It’s unclear yet if Bush will appear at the July 15 hearing.

[…]

Green said he wants Bush to explain the initial denial, as well as why it has taken so long to get the federal funding out. The funding is part of a relief package that Congress approved in 2018 after Hurricane Harvey.

“This is pretty serious, when you look at the time that has lapsed … then not to have the money spent on people who are still suffering and waiting to have the relief and the money is in the hands of GLO,” Green said. “I think GLO should explain.”

These are all good questions, and we deserve to hear answers to them. We should also recognize that in the tradition of the Trump administration, there’s a decent chance that Bush just blows this off. If that happens, then Congress needs to do the stand-up thing and subpoena him, and hold him in contempt if he continues to defy them. Do not wimp out on this. Either there’s accountability or there isn’t, and enforcement is a key part of that. If he’s not there willingly, make him be there, or else.

Let’s try again to fix that flood bond deficit

Hope this works.

Harris County on Tuesday [unveiled] a new plan to address a funding gap for its flood bond program, which will rely more heavily on diverted toll road revenue instead of federal aid that may never arrive.

The goal is to give the county greater control over its own flood control future instead of waiting on unreliable state and federal partners. To that end, the Commissioners Court also is expected to approve a new, permanent fund for flood control purposes and give priority to the most vulnerable areas to receive aid from it.

The plan still leaves approved projects $950 million short, however, raising the possibility that a new bond or flood control tax increases may be needed in the future to pay for all planned projects, according to budget office documents. Additional money would not be needed for about five years, according to the budget office.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey said the fund, called the Flood Resilience Trust, is a good idea because it allows the county to stockpile money for projects in advance.

“It allows the county to, in a very effective way, set aside money every year, and that money will be there when they make any federal or state applications,” Ramsey said. “With a trust, we can move forward with a project while anticipating those (matching) dollars will come in.”

[…]

Because the Harris County Flood Control District purposefully underfunded some bond projects in anticipation of receiving federal aid, the snub resulted in lopsided spending across the county’s 23 watersheds. In March, the county announced that some of the watersheds with the wealthiest communities, such as White Oak and Buffalo bayous, had their projects close to fully funded.

Watersheds with some of the county’s poorest neighborhoods, such as Halls and Greens bayous, had less than half the necessary dollars. That angered the commissioners who represent those areas, Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, because the court agreed in proposing the bond three summers ago that funds would be spent equitably.

The new plan aims to fix that. First, it would direct Harris County Toll Road Authority revenue — a lump sum of $230 million plus $40 million annually — to a new Flood Resilience Trust. This account would be used to plug funding holes in projects where federal aid failed to arrive.

Projects would be eligible based on their scores on the county’s prioritization framework, which considers factors such as how many structures would benefit from a project, how frequently a target area has flooded and the socioeconomic makeup of the residents there. This “worst first” framework, approved in 2019, initially dictated only the order in which projects were started.

The two Republican commissioners on the court, Jack Cagle and Steve Radack, voted against the equity language; Cagle said he saw no connection between social factors such as education or poverty and flood risk.

The county budget office estimates that if no other federal or state aid comes, the Flood Resilience Trust will be able to make up bond project shortfalls until about 2026. After that, the commissioners may need to issue a new bond to cover the remaining costs.

See here for the background. This was a preview story, published before the Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday. I presume this was passed, but the meeting ran late, and so as of Wednesday afternoon there wasn’t an updated version yet. I think this is a reasonable plan, and if it can buy them five years (and hopefully some real progress in getting projects done) before having to do another bond, then that’s a good outcome and the odds of having that bond passed will improve. It also allows for some time to un-screw the federal fund distribution, which would make all of this a lot simpler. For now, this will do.

It wasn’t just Houston and Harris County that got screwed by P Bush and the GLO

Every time I read something new about this, I get madder.

Disasters have not fallen evenly on Iola and Port Arthur. Hurricane Harvey flooded almost the entire coastal city on the Louisiana border, which was damaged by Ike and Rita before that. Iola, a tiny Grimes County community 100 miles inland, largely is insulated from tropical storms.

Both cities applied for federal Harvey disaster aid distributed by the state. Iola pitched a wastewater system that would serve 379 people. Port Arthur proposed the replacement of century-old storm water pipes to help 42,000.

The state funded Iola’s project. Port Arthur got nothing.

“With our susceptibility to being affected by hurricanes, if those places got money, you know it wasn’t fairly done,” said Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie.

A Houston Chronicle investigation found the $1 billion in aid distributed by the Texas General Land Office in May disproportionately flowed to inland counties with less damage from Harvey than coastal communities which bore the brunt of the storm.

The GLO also steered aid toward counties with a lower risk of natural disasters — by the state’s own measure — and sometimes to projects that help far fewer residents per dollar spent than unfunded projects in more vulnerable counties.

The lowest-risk counties that received awards, like Grimes, were only eligible because of the GLO’s decision to add them. And in some cases, the state funded projects in these places even though they scored worse than applicants in the highest-risk counties, according to criteria the land office set.

Aransas and Nueces counties, where Harvey made landfall, did not receive a dime. Neither did Jefferson County, which recorded the highest rain totals. Same for Houston and Harris County’s governments, even though the county suffered the most deaths and flooded homes from the storm.

“To get goose-egged is really disappointing,” said Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales. “The coast is going to get battered first. … How do you come out of $1 billion and Nueces isn’t even on your radar?”

It’s a great question, one for which Land Commissioner George P. Bush has no good answer. I’ll say this again, this does not happen by accident. Even if it were possible to accidentally create a system that prioritized low-risk, low-population areas over high-risk, high-population areas, there was plenty of time to catch and fix the error, especially since the GLO was explicitly warned about it. They knew which places got which awards well before the information was released, and either didn’t think anyone would have a problem with it or didn’t care who said what.

I don’t blame these low-risk places for applying for the federal funds. They were playing by the rules. The GLO and their deliberately jacked-up scoring system are the problem. As the story notes, the belated offer by P Bush to award $750 million to Harris County (by as yet unknown means), which came about in the face of intense bipartisan criticism, doesn’t do anything for the likes of Nueces or Aransas or Jefferson, or any of their cities. (It leaves Houston out in the cold as well.) At this point, the only sensible and equitable solution is to throw this entire pile of trash away and start over, this time with a scoring system that makes sense and ideally is overseen by someone other than P Bush. I don’t know how to make that happen, I don’t know if it’s possible to make that happen, but it’s the best way forward I can see. Maybe having Congress re-appropriate money directly to the screwed-over localities could work, if it’s possible to get that through Congress and the Senate. All I know is this is totally FUBARed, and there’s no good way forward. We have to go back, and we have to start over. And yes, we should be extremely pissed off about this.

State Rep. James White not running for re-election

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. James White

State Rep. James White, R-Hillister, has decided not to seek reelection, he told East Texas TV station KLTV in a roundtable with lawmakers. And he hinted to another news station that he’s considering a statewide run.

The Texas House doesn’t have term limits, but White suggested that his longevity in the lower chamber was a factor in his decision. He was first elected in 2010.

“I’m a term limit guy by nature,” White told KLTV on Thursday. “I wish we had term limits in Texas… I think we can continue being a great state even without me being in the Texas House.”

White is the chairman of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee, and is the only Black Republican in the Texas House. He represents solidly Republican House District 19 in East Texas.

On Friday, he suggested to KFDM/Fox 4 News in Beaumont that he is mulling a run for statewide office.

“Don’t be surprised if you see me on the Republican Primary ballot for statewide office,” the station reported him as saying.

1. Rep. White may be a “term limit guy by nature”. He will also have served 12 years in the House when his term ends, which means he is fully vested in the pension plan for state reps, worth $34,500 a year as of 2012 for a 12-year veteran over the age of 50 (White is 56, according to his bio). Everything else he says here may be true. It’s just that it’s also true that this is an optimal time for him to call it quits, financially speaking.

2. White’s HD19 voted 81.77% for Trump in 2020, making it the fifth-most Republican district in the state. I think we can all picture what the primary to replace him will look like, even if the redrawn HD19 is slightly less red. I have no warmth for Rep. White, who is as crappy and complicit as everyone else in his rotten caucus, but he does have a record as a serious policymaker and has done some worthwhile work on criminal justice reform. The odds are great that his successor will be less of a policy person and more of a grievance-driven performance artist, as that is the norm in Republican primaries these days. And that has an effect, because one of the few restraints on the two legislative chambers in recent years has been the number of actual legislators in ridiculously Republican districts, especially as those members attain positions of influence.

To put this another way, both James White and Briscoe Cain were committee chairs last session. That’s what happens when the Briscoe Cains of the world replace the boring old establishment guys like Wayne Smith. This is one of the reasons the Senate sucks so bad – since 2012, we’ve swapped Kevin Eltife for Bryan Hughes, Bob Deuell for Bob Hall, and Robert Duncan for Charles Perry (who it must be noted has some criminal justice policy chops as well, but spent this session pretending to be a medical expert on trans youth, which he most emphatically is not). It’s not that Eltife and Deuell and Duncan were great, it’s that their replacements are Dan Patrick’s foot soldiers, and that’s before you take into account the special kind of crazy maliciousness that a Bob Hall brings. Every time you take out Dan Flynn for Bryan Slaton, Rob Eissler for Steve Toth, John Zerwas for Gary Gates, you make the House a little worse. I very much fear we’re about to have the same thing happen here.

3. What statewide office might White run for, if he does run for something statewide? Land Commissioner makes sense – it’s open, and there’s no reason White couldn’t make it a race against Dawn Buckingham. Ag Commissioner is a possibility, even if Sid Miller runs for re-election instead of jumping into the Governor’s race. And though it’s not a statewide office, I will note that State Sen. Robert Nichols, whose SD03 contains all of HD19, is 76 years old, and the post-redistricting election cycle is always a popular time to peace out. Just a thought.

UPDATE: I drafted this over the weekend, but the just-released Texas Monthly Best and Worst Legislators list for this session illustrates the point I made in item two damn near perfectly.

Harris County and Houston appeal to HUD for flood funds

Hope this helps.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Friday asked U.S. Housing Secretary Marcia Fudge to set a 30-day deadline for the Texas General Land Office to formally request $750 million in federal flood control aid that Land Commissioner George P. Bush recently said he would seek.

“Given this matter involves funds allocated in February of 2018, the rules were promulgated in August of 2019, and hurricane season has already begun for 2021, HUD (the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department) should require the GLO to submit this amendment within the next 30 days,” Hidalgo and Turner wrote.

Since late May, when the GLO announced its plan to distribute an initial round of about $1 billion in mitigation funds approved by Congress after Hurricane Harvey, Houston-area officials have hammered Bush for not directing a penny of the aid to the city or the county. In response, Bush said he would ask HUD, which oversees the federal relief money, to directly send $750 million to Harris County — essentially bypassing the GLO’s criteria for scoring flood project applications.

Hidalgo and Turner have said the $750 million falls well short of the $2 billion they believe the city and county should receive — $1 billion apiece — to fund projects aimed at mitigating the effects of future storms. In the letter to Fudge and at a congressional hearing Friday, they sought HUD’s help in securing roughly that amount from the $4.3 billion that Congress allotted for Texas after the 2017 storm.

“We’re asking that HUD approve this amendment (for $750 million) … as a down payment toward an equitable share for all governmental entities within Harris County,” Hidalgo said.

Turner noted that Houston still has not been promised any flood mitigation relief because Bush has said he plans to ask HUD to send the $750 million directly to Harris County. Bush said the county, which faces a $1.4 billion funding gap for its $2.5 billion flood bond approved by voters in 2018, could then decide how much to give the city.

The city and county collectively applied for $1.34 billion to cover 14 flood projects: five from the city and nine from the county.

See here for the background (there are more links to previous posts in that one). I don’t know what is likely to come of this, but the goal is to get more funding for the region, and for both the city and the county to have their own projects funded, rather than have the city depend on the county to give it a share of its allocation. We’ll keep an eye on this. The Texas Signal and the Press have more.

Flood Control District director to resign

Interesting.

Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russ Poppe submitted a letter of resignation to Commissioners Court on Friday, saying he plans to step down July 2.

Poppe, 45, said the demands of the job, which have grown significantly since Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the passage of the historic $2.5 billion flood bond program the following year, had grown too great.

“While I greatly appreciate your continued support for making Harris County more resilient with natural disaster, the growing expectations associated with these efforts have adversely affected the quality of my personal life to a point I can no longer sustain,” Poppe wrote.

His departure comes at a precarious time for the agency, which is attempting to close a $700 million funding gap in its flood bond program. Poppe is due to present a plan to Commissioners Court June 29 to ensure all planned projects can be completed.

Poppe, who has worked as an engineer for Harris County since 2005, became head of the flood control district five years ago.

The rest of the story recaps the history of those five years, from Harvey to the 2018 bond referendum that is now massively underfunded thanks to a miscalculation in how federal matching funds would be allocated, the relationship Poppe has had with the Democratic-majority Commissioners Court, and the current mishigoss with the General Land Office and George P. Bush. HCFCD may have been a sleepy place when Poppe got there, but it’s on everyone’s radar now.

We can speculate as to the reasons why he is leaving now, but none of that really matters. What does matter is who and what comes next. The next director will have a full plate and a lot of directions to be going at once, with a state government that is outright hostile to the county. I hope whoever that is enjoys a challenge, because they’re going to get one. Best of luck to Russ Poppe in whatever comes next, and let’s all light a candle for his successor.

Buckingham to run for Land Commissioner

That’s the sound of opportunity knocking.

Sen. Dawn Buckingham

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, is set to run for land commissioner, according to two sources familiar with the decision not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Buckingham has made calls to potential supporters sharing her decision, said the sources. A Buckingham spokesperson, Matt Langston, said she was “seriously considering” running and would make an announcement soon.

The news of her decision comes two days after the current land commissioner, George P. Bush, announced he was running for attorney general next year, challenging fellow Republican Ken Paxton.

Buckingham was first elected in 2016 to represent Senate District 24 in Central Texas. While she won a second term last year, all members of the Senate have to run for reelection in 2022 due to redistricting, so she would have to give up her seat if she runs for land commissioner.

That’s the way the dominoes fall. Buckingham’s SD24 is strongly Republicans and got slighty more so over the course of the decade. It’s a mostly-rural/exurban district that’s partly Hill Country, partly I-35 Corridor, and partly West Texas, plus a piece of Travis County. It borders two Republican districts that used to be deep red but have trended strongly Democratic in SDs 5 and 25, plus one of the deepest red districts in SD28 that is lagging in overall population; SD24 itself was below the ideal population level as of 2018 (it was right at 900K at that time, up from 811K when the districts were drawn in 2011), so maybe it takes some blue precincts from the more-populated SD5 and SD25 while shifting whatever it can to SD28. I’m just spitballing here, redistricting is a lot more complex than that, but you get the idea. It’s still going to be a red district when all is said and done, but maybe 62-63% instead of 66-67%, and maybe with the potential to drift towards blue over time. Add it to the list of places where there will be a lot of action next May.

Elsewhere in people people resigning one office to (probably) run for another:

Texas GOP Chair Allen West announced his resignation Friday morning and said he is considering running for another office, potentially one that is statewide.

During a news conference here, West said a statewide run is “one of the things that I have to go to the Lord in prayer.” He said it would be “very disingenuous with so many people that have asked me to consider something” to not explore a run.

“Many men from Georgia, many men from Tennessee, came here to serve the great state of Texas, and so we’re gonna consider it,” said West, who grew up in Georgia. He added that he was announcing his resignation, effective next month, so that there is no conflict of interest as he weighs his next political move.

West, who has been most frequently discussed as a potential challenger to Gov. Greg Abbott, declined to say whether he was eyeing any particular statewide office, though he told a radio host earlier Friday morning that the host was “safe” to assume West was mulling a gubernatorial run. At the news conference, West also did not say when he would announce a decision on his next step, telling a reporter with characteristic combativeness that his “timeline is in my head and not in yours yet.”

West also raised the prospect he could run for Congress, noting he is a resident of the 32nd Congressional District, “and there’s a guy in Texas 32 I really don’t care for being my congressional representative.” The incumbent is Democratic Rep. Colin Allred of Dallas.

As for a statewide campaign, West said he would not be deterred by an incumbent having the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. Trump has already backed Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for reelection.

“You know, I don’t serve President Trump. I serve God, country and Texas,” West said. “So that does not affect me whatsoever.”

Yeah, I don’t like giving Allen West any space for his depravity, but you need to know what he might be up to. And yes, I know Sen. Buckingham isn’t resigning, she just would be giving up her seat to run for Land Commissioner. Anyway, that’s all the time we need to spend on this.

The Chron debunks P Bush

You love to see it.

In recent days, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush has said his office is not to blame for failing to award Houston or Harris County a single penny of $1 billion in flood mitigation funding last week.

Bush and his spokeswoman alternately blamed the snub on criteria Texas was forced to use by President Donald Trump’s housing department, complex regulations by the Biden administration and the failure of the city and county to submit better applications.

A Houston Chronicle analysis of the Department of Housing and Urban Development flood mitigation program revealed a different reality: Not only does the federal government grant states significant discretion to decide how to spend their funds, but the criteria Bush’s General Land Office developed discriminated against populous areas.

The state agency ignored advice from the city of Houston, which warned in a January 2020 letter that its rules effectively would penalize urban areas for having large populations. And several scoring metrics the GLO designed drew criticism from engineers, who said they do a poor job evaluating the merits of a particular flood protection project.

“To miss it in the development of the criteria is one thing,” said Melvin Spinks, a past president of Houston’s American Council of Engineering Companies. “But then to receive the applications and not let it dawn on you how flawed they are is the other part that we go on scratching our heads. Who could be that senseless?”

After heavy criticism from local Republican and Democratic elected officials, whose constituents rank flood protection as among their top issues, Bush on Wednesday said he had “heard the overwhelming concerns” and would ask HUD to allocate $750 million directly to Harris County. He provided no clarity, however, on how long that would take nor where that money would come from. HUD officials in Washington said they could not comment on a proposal Texas had yet to formally make.

For now, the funding landscape remains the same: Despite Harris County having a greater population than the other 48 eligible recipient counties combined, GLO last week awarded just 9 percent of its $1 billion here, for projects in the municipalities of Pasadena, Galena Park, Jacinto City and Baytown.

“Right now, the city is under the assumption we have no money for any of our projects,” said Steve Costello, Houston’s chief recovery officer.

See here, here, here, here, and here for the background. At a high level, there’s nothing here we didn’t already know. The metrics were designed to screw Houston and Harris County, the GLO was warned about it, they failed to take any opportunity to correct course even though they would have seen the results before releasing them, and their excuses are a steaming pile of crap. This story goes into the details, and for that it’s worth your time. It also gave us this lovely tweet thread from reporter Zach Despart:

That thread is a good summary of this story if you don’t want to read the whole story. But you should, it’s good and you will feel a burning desire to vote against George P. Bush at your next opportunity. Check it out.

What are P Bush’s pledges worth?

Something less than $750 million would be my guess.

When Republican Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush announced Wednesday evening that he would ask federal officials to send Harris County $750 million in flood mitigation aid, he told Houstonians the move was a response to their “overwhelming concerns” over his agency’s decision to deny the city and county any relief days earlier.

Bush’s announcement, however, raised new questions about where the money would come from and how it would affect future rounds of funding. Local leaders, who are not guaranteed any money until federal housing officials sign off on Bush’s plan, said the amount remained well short of the $1.3 billion they had sought from the Texas General Land Office for a range of projects intended to mitigate future floods.

County officials are particularly worried that in accepting the $750 million, they would be disqualified from future funding competitions. And Mayor Sylvester Turner questioned why Bush would ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to make the payment, effectively ensuring the money will not arrive for months, instead of allocating it himself.

Houston, meanwhile, remains shut out. A GLO spokeswoman said the county could consider sharing its allotment, if it arrives. But Harris County may be reluctant to do so because it is trying to close a $700 million gap in its flood bond program without raising taxes.

“I see this as a failed attempt on (Bush’s) part to try to pit the city and county against each other,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

Turner called it “foolishness” for Bush to not request any mitigation aid for the city. The mayor’s appointed chief recovery officer, Steve Costello, said city officials would continue to seek funding for the city that aligns with their share of the damage from Hurricane Harvey.

“Right now the city is under the assumption we have no money for any of our projects,” Costello said.

See here for the previous entry. If this is taken seriously and pursued, it would take up to 90 days for the money to come through. It’s hard to see why Harris County and especially Houston would take this seriously, with there being so many unanswered questions. This has the feel to me of Bush just scrambling to find something that will take the heat off. It doesn’t look like Houston or Harris will take the bait, so either Bush figures out a way to undo the colossal mess he created or it remains awfully awkward for the foreseeable future.

P Bush tries to make amends

What a joker.

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said Wednesday he would ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to directly send Harris County $750 million in flood mitigation aid related to Hurricane Harvey, days after his agency declined to award the county any money for their proposed projects.

The snub sparked an intense and immediate backlash from Houston-area Democrats and Republicans, who demanded that Bush revise the General Land Office’s metrics for doling out $2.1 billion in federal relief for flood projects. The officials noted that Houston bore the brunt of the historic hurricane, yet had failed to secure one cent from the initial $1 billion round of funding.

In a statement, Bush blamed the situation on federal “red tape requirements and complex regulations” that he described as a “hallmark” of the Biden administration. He said the Land Office, which administers Texas’ federal disaster relief, had been delayed in distributing the Harvey funds by the U.S. Housing Department, which did not publish rules regulating the use of the money until two years after Harvey. That happened under the administration of former president Donald Trump.

Bush said he had directed GLO officials to “work around the federal government’s regulations” by seeking the direct allocation, though he did not say which regulations had prevented the agency from awarding the money to Harris County itself.

A GLO spokeswoman said the $750 million, if approved by HUD, would go directly to Harris County. The county could then decide to send some of the money to the city for its own mitigation projects.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Bush’s plan would still leave the city with only a fraction of the $4.3 billion approved by Congress in 2018 to help Texas prevent future flooding. Turner and other local officials have long insisted Houston and Harris County should receive roughly half of that amount, which they say would align with their initial share of Texas’ housing recovery aid and the proportion of damage taken on by the Houston area during Hurricane Harvey.

“Harris County should receive $1 billion and the City of Houston should receive $1 billion,” Turner said. “All Commissioner Bush has to do is amend his state plan to provide that direct allocation to the city of Houston and to Harris County.”

[…]

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development disputed the Land Office’s account, saying state officials have “full responsibility and jurisdiction over who gets the money.” While HUD must sign off on the GLO’s plan for distributing the funds, there did not appear to be any HUD guidance that required the state to use the criteria opposed by the city and county.

See here, here, and here for the background. A succinct summary of this saga:

Also, too, the $750 million is a bit more than half of the $1.34 billion Houston and Harris County had asked for, and the GLO did not say if this would be the total amount Houston and Harris would get or if this would somehow be carved out of the initial $2.1 billion allocation, and if so what would happen to the grants that had been made. But other than that, great job, Bushie! The Trib and Campos, who knows what the “P” in “P Bush” stands for, have more.

State Reps to P Bush: Reconsider

Nearly all of the Harris County State Reps have written a letter to Land Commissioner George P Bush asking him to reconsider the ridiculous process that completely shut Houston and Harris County out of federal flooding funds.

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Tuesday asked Land Commissioner George P. Bush to reconsider his agency’s move to deny Houston and Harris County any funds out of a $1 billion federal pot of flood mitigation aid stemming from Hurricane Harvey.

In a letter to Bush, 22 state representatives — the entire Harris County delegation, aside from state Reps. Briscoe Cain and Mike Schofield — wrote that they found the decision “disappointing” and asked that the General Land Office “work to rectify this situation.”

The GLO, which Bush oversees, is responsible for disbursing more than $4 billion in federal aid to fund flood mitigation projects across southeast Texas. In the first round of aid payout last week, four smaller municipalities in east Harris County were awarded $90 million, but the city and county received nothing for the more than $1.3 billion in applications they submitted for various projects.

“We recognize there have been disagreements between local and state leaders on how to allocate various sets of federal funds around mitigation and recovery since Hurricane Harvey,” the lawmakers wrote. “(H)owever, no reasonable person could believe that the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development intended or … envisioned a scenario where a county of 4.7 million people and the fourth largest city in the United States, after experiencing three consecutive years of flood disasters, would not receive any of this $1 billion allotment.”

See here and here for the background, and here for a copy of the letter. As noted, the two Republican County Commissioners have also complained to P Bush about this. I’m not surprised that Briscoe Cain didn’t sign on to this – he’s a complete waste of space – but Mike Schofield’s omission is intriguing. I know things will change with redistricting to strengthen his position, but I thank him for providing the campaign fodder nonetheless. Whether this will make any difference or not I have no idea, but it was the right thing to do regardless. Kudos to Jon Rosenthal, the county delegation chair, for organizing this and to all of the members who did sign it.