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January 2023 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

It’s late January, so you know what that means: It’s campaign finance report time again. The reports of the greatest interest will be for the city of Houston, but I’ll be checking in on HISD, HCC, and Harris County as well. The July 2022 reports are here, the January 2022 reports are here, and the July 2021 reports are here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Hollins      547,027    469,141        0   1,062,754
Edwards      567,005    195,257        0   1,044,338
Whitmire   1,148,015    249,142        0  10,100,086
Kaplan       465,180    177,578  200,000   1,164,527

Peck          10,750     13,940        0      20,729
Jackson        2,500     14,965        0      14,971
Kamin         52,080     12,255        0     238,337
 Scarbrough        0          0        0      14,810   
E-Shabazz     
L Dixon            0        254      100         254
Thomas        43,996     11,310        0      89,042
Huffman        5,850      3,624        0      35,012
Castillo      37,448      1,037   10,000      41,935
G Lindner      4,503          0        0       4,503
Martinez      78,605      6,130        0      52,187
Pollard       17,350     15,412   40,000     718,379
 Sanchez      30,140      4,201   20,000      25,938
C-Tatum       14,250     13,687        0     155,691

Hellyar       65,854      6,772        0      44,710
Coryat         5,626      4,063        0       1,562
Bess               0          0        0           0
Carter        85,926      9,456    4,000      78,768
Cooper        23,977     17,631        0       9,189
Plummer        4,125     10,309        0      24,741
 Morales      12,900        417    5,534      18,016
Alcorn       155,301     28,187        0     306,273

Martin         8,250     12,493        0     161,851
Kubosh        22,900      3,612  196,000      54,289

Wolfthal      43,812     16,683        0      24,953
Flickinger         0      1,933   50,000           0

Turner       228,862    186,942        0     842,484

Cisneros         250      7,215        0      31,128
Gallegos      21,787     13,500        0     133,471

Knox          16,175     20,914        0      14,231
Robinson      44,894     27,296        0     271,624

Brown              0      5,404   75,000      29,316

Laster             0      3,254        0     147,138

I have collected all of the reports for the people listed above, and you can find them in this Google Drive folder. I decided not to link to all of them individually just because it was more work than I felt like doing. Omitting that means I don’t have a complete listing, with full names and the office they are seeking, of all the candidates. I’ll be sure to at least mention everyone of interest later in the post.

I’ve grouped everyone in the table above as follows: First are the Mayoral candidates, then the candidates for district Council offices, listed in alphabetical order by office – Amy Peck is District A, Tarsha Jackson is District B, and so on. The open offices are Districts E, H, and I. There are so far two challengers to incumbent Council members, and I have indented their names to indicate them – Daphne Scarbrough (yeah, the same person who was a leading opponent of light rail on Richmond Avenue, here to scourge us again) is running against CM Abbie Kamin in C, and Ivan Sanchez, who was a Democratic candidate for CD07 in 2018, is running against CM Ed Pollard in District J. Martina Lemond Dixon is running in E, Mario Castillo and Janette Garza Lindner (2021 candidate for HISD district I) are running in H (my district), and Joaquin Martinez is running in I. The one person that did not have a report filed as of Friday was District D incumbent Carolyn Evans-Shabazz.

The next group is for the At Large seats, of which #s 1, 2, and 3 are open. Nick Hellyar, who ran for At Large #4 in 2019, is running for #2, as are Marina Coryat and Danielle Bess (former candidate for HD147 in 2022), and Twila Carter and Dannell Cooper are running for #3. No one has yet filed a finance report saying they plan to run for At Large #1. You can be sure that will change, and that all of these fields will be much larger by the time the filing deadline rolls around. Indeed, they may already be larger, as there are two candidates who didn’t specify an office in their reports; I’ll get to them in a minute. As above, a candidate opposing an incumbent is indented. Yes, that’s our old buddy Roy Morales running against CM Letitia Plummer in At Large #4.

Next we have the two term-limited Council members who are now running for City Controller, and following them are two candidates who did not specify an office on their report, Leah Wolfthal and Fred Flickinger. I met Leah Wolfthal at the January CEC meeting for HCDP precinct chairs, and I thought she told me she is running in At Large #2. Her website just says “for At Large City Council”, so better not to make any assumptions. I’ve put her in this group for that reason.

Everyone after that is not running for anything, from Mayor Turner to the four CMs to Controller Chris Brown. Former CM Mike Laster, who termed out in 2019, still has a decent amount of cash on hand. I assume the four people in this grouping who remain with over $100K on hand have some plan, perhaps vague and unformed but still existent, to do something with it. What that may be is not known to me, and possibly to them, at this time.

The Chron picks a few highlights from the Mayoral portion of the reports. The one thing I will add to that is that I must have missed Lee Kaplan’s July 2022 report, because I was surprised by his cash on hand total. Kaplan raised about $850K in the last period, which combined with a small amount of spending gives him the cash on hand total he has now. I have included Kaplan’s July 2022 finance report in that Google Drive folder as well.

There are candidates now who have not yet filed a finance report, and there are people who will be candidates that have not yet formally announced their candidacies. The July finance reports will tell us a much more complete story, though even then there will be room for more, as the filing deadline is not until August. This is what we know now. If you have anything to add, by all means please do so.

So how much money does Whitmire have available for his mayoral campaign?

It’s already a lot, and it could be a whole lot more.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire is kicking off his mayoral campaign with a $10 million war chest, most of it drawn from the money he has amassed over decades in the Legislature.

The campaign balance dwarfs the resources of his opponents, but it could renew debate about how much of that money the city’s campaign finance laws allow him to use.

Whitmire’s first mayoral campaign finance report, filed Tuesday, shows $1.1 million in new donations between his formal campaign launch in November and the end of the year. The report’s staggering number, though, is the amount of cash he reports having on hand: about $10.1 million.

The sum makes him the overwhelming financial heavyweight in the race — no other candidate had more than $1 million on hand as of last summer. Other candidates, including former county clerk Chris Hollins, former city councilmember Amanda Edwards, and attorney Lee Kaplan, are expected to share more current numbers Tuesday, as well.

It is not yet clear how much of that money Whitmire will seek to spend. Sue Davis, a consultant for Whitmire, said the report shows the full balance of his campaign account, filed with both the state and the city. The campaign started earmarking money raised for the mayor’s race at the end of last year — the $1.1 million — which “has more than enough to start this year,” Davis said.

The move, though, may test the enforcement of an ordinance that was intended to limit how much money raised for non-city accounts can be used for city campaigns. The council members who introduced and passed the law in 2005 said it was meant to cap that amount at $10,000. It was intended to treat non-city accounts like any other political entity that seeks to support a city campaign: subject to a $10,000 cap on donations.

Former councilmember Gordon Quan, who spearheaded the ordinance, confirmed the intent behind the law in an email to the Chronicle last week. The law says candidates can use money raised for a non-city public office “in an amount not to exceed the maximum contribution that the candidate may accept from a single donor,” which is $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for political groups.

In practice, though, the city has not enforced the ordinance that stringently. A decade later, in 2015, then-City Attorney Dave Feldman told candidates they could use the amount of money under the cap from each individual donor, rather than from the account as a whole.

That allowed then-State Rep. Sylvester Turner to use $900,000 from his legislative account to start his mayoral bid, which ultimately proved successful.

City Attorney Arturo Michel, who returned to City Hall in December 2020, was serving his first stint as the city’s top lawyer in 2005, when Council first passed the law. The legal department, under his leadership at the time, helped craft the ordinance.

Michel, though, suggested Tuesday that Feldman’s interpretation was sound in its reading of the law’s actual language.

Feldman’s “determination reflected the language used in the code when adopted and as exists now,” Michel said. That language is less supportive of the more stringent interpretation, he added.

“Texas law is clear that statements made by members of a legislative governing body are not evidence of collective intent of the body and do not override the language used in the law,” Michel said.

The law has not been thoroughly tested in court, and it is possible another candidate could seek a ruling limiting what Whitmire can spend from his Senate funds. No candidate publicly has suggested they will do so.

See here for the July finance reports; Whitmire had not yet filed a city report. There are as of Tuesday night a number of January reports available on the city’s campaign finance webpage – you know I’m looking for them – but none of the Mayoral candidates had them up there yet.

The story references a lawsuit filed by Chris Bell, who was a Mayoral candidate in 2015, to challenge the cash on hand total that Turner claimed. There was a separate federal lawsuit filed to challenge the city’s blackout period for fundraising – in those days, you couldn’t fundraise outside of an election year – and after the plaintiff won an injunction the city basically agreed with his position to strengthen their case against Bell, who eventually dropped his suit.

I think the city should enforce its laws, though I can’t say with complete confidence that they’d win in court if there is a challenge over this limitation. I don’t know if someone will file a complaint to stop Whitmire from using his entire treasury, but if I were advising Whitmire I’d suggest he go through the last five or ten years’ worth of reports, claim the money that would clearly be under the limit, and then dare anyone to sue him. He’d still end up with a ton of cash and a plausible claim to already be in compliance. We’ll see what happens.

The Lege does its housekeeping

In the Senate, they drew their lots to see who would have to run again in 2024.

Sen. John Whitmire

It was the luck of the draw for Texas senators on Wednesday as they drew lots to decide which half of them would get two-year terms and which would get four-year terms.

The practice is outlined in Article 3, Section 3, of the Texas Constitution, which calls for “Senators elected after each apportionment [redistricting]” to be divided into two classes: one that will serve a four-year term and the other to serve a two-year term. That keeps Senate district elections staggered every two years. After that, senators serve four-year terms for the rest of the decade.

On Wednesday, each of the chamber’s 31 lawmakers walked to the front of the chamber and drew lots by picking an envelope that held a pill-shaped capsule. Inside the capsules were numbers: Even numbers meant two-year terms, and odd were for four-year terms.

“I’m sure each and every one of you are happy with what you drew, right?” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick joked.

Sixteen senators had Lady Fortune on their side and drew four-year terms, and fifteen unlucky souls will have to run for reelection in two years.

[…]

All eyes were on Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Democrat who has announced plans to leave the chamber to run for Houston mayor after the session, and Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat who is second in seniority to Whitmire.

Whitmire drew a two-year term, and Zaffirni drew a four-year term.

Three freshmen senators drew two-year terms, including Democrat Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island, who was in the tightest race in the Senate last year. The two other freshmen, Republicans Kevin Sparks of Midland and Mayes Middleton of Galveston, both drew four-year terms.

After the 2012 election, the main question was whether then-Sen. Wendy Davis, who won a tough race in a district carried by Mitt Romney, would have to run again in 2014. She drew a short straw, and I think that contributed to her decision to run for Governor. Of course, we were in a time and of a political makeup in which Dems were getting creamed in non-Presidential years. That changed quite dramatically in 2018, when Dems won back Davis’ old seat and picked up another Senate seat as well. Sen. LaMantia had a tough race in 2022, and at this time I have no idea if it’s better for her to run in 2024 or not. We’ll just have to see.

As for Whitmire, what this means is that if he’s elected Mayor this year, things will be messy in SD15 the next year. There would be both a primary and a special election to replace and succeed him, much as there was in HD147 this past year. You could have the primary winner, who would get to serve a four-year term after winning in November of 2024, and the special election winner, who would serve out the remainder of 2024, be two different people. One person could face five elections total in 2024, if the primary and the special both go to runoffs; this would happen for someone who wins the primary in a runoff and makes it to the runoff (win or lose) in the special. Did I mention that the primary runoff and the special election would take both place in May, but on different dates, again as it was in HD147? Speaking as a resident of SD15, I’m already exhausted by this possibility, which may not even happen. May God have mercy on our souls.

Anyway. The Houston-area Senators who will be on the ballot in 2024 are Carol Alvarado (SD06), Paul Bettencourt (SD07), John Whitmire (SD15), and Joan Huffman (SD17). The ones who get to wait until 2026 are Brandon Creighton (SD04), Mayes Middleton (SD11), Borris Miles (SD13), and Lois Kolkhorst (SD18).

Meanwhile, over in the House

Texas House leadership on Wednesday shut down a long-building push to ban Democratic committee chairs, deploying procedural legislative maneuvers to defeat multiple proposals on the issue.

The chamber also approved new punishments for members who break quorum, like most House Democrats did two years ago in protest of GOP-backed voting restrictions. Those members left for Washington, D.C., for weeks to stop the House from being able to do business in an effort to prevent passage of the bill. Under the new rules, quorum-breakers can now be subject to daily fines and even expulsion from the chamber.

The chamber passed the overall rules package by a vote of 123-19, with Democrats making up most of the opposition.

Going into the rules debate, most attention was on the subject of committee chairs, who have the power to advance legislation or block it from being taken up by the full House. For months, a small but vocal minority of House Republicans have been calling for the end of the chamber’s longtime tradition of having committee chairs from both parties. But Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and his allies moved successfully Wednesday to prevent the matter from even getting to a vote on the floor.

They did it by passing a “housekeeping resolution” earlier in the day that included a new section codifying a constitutional ban on using House resources for political purposes. That resolution passed overwhelmingly with little debate or fanfare. Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, then cited the new provision to call points of order — procedural challenges — on two amendments proposed by Rep. Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, to restrict Democratic committee chairs. Phelan ruled in favor of Geren both times.

“The amendment would require the speaker to use public resources, including staff time and government facilities, on behalf of one political instrumentality,” Phelan said the first time. “This obviously would require the speaker to violate the Housekeeping Resolution.”

It was a relatively anticlimactic end to the fight over Democratic committee chairs, which were a major issue in House primaries earlier this year, a rallying cry for conservative activists and a recurring theme in speeches as the legislative session kicked off Tuesday. After the House reelected Phelan by a nearly unanimous vote, he cautioned freshmen to “please do not confuse this body with the one in Washington, D.C.”

“After watching Congress attempt to function last week, I cannot imagine why some want Texas to be like D.C,” Phelan said.

Committee appointments are expected to be made in the next couple of weeks. Phelan has said he will appoint roughly the same proportion of Democratic chairs as last session, but it remains to be seen whether they’ll be appointed to lead any powerful or coveted committees.

The amendment about sanctions for quorum-busting drew more No votes, almost entirely from Dems. Honestly, I have no problem with what was passed. It’s perfectly appropriate for the chamber to have sanctions for that kind of action, and it’s not that different, at least to my mind, than what was passed after the 2003 walkout. New rules get adopted each session, this can always be revisited in the future. TPR has more.

Mayor Turner’s final year

The big local political story, besides whatever violence the Legislature commits to Houston and/or Harris County, will be the 2023 Mayor’s race. The incumbent still has a full year to go, though, and he has his plans for what he wants to do with his remaining time in office.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner plans to focus his final year in office on moving existing projects across the finish line, with an emphasis on housing, crime, parks and community facilities.

Turner said he wants to accomplish his administration’s goal of helping to build 10,000 new housing units in his second term, while also continuing the city’s progress since 2012 in reducing homelessness. His “One Safe Houston” plan to address violent crime has several elements that are funded through the rest of his tenure, including expanded crisis response teams. And there are renovations underway in 22 community parks that he wants to see through before his term ends in January 2024.

“It’s about finishing up many of the priorities and projects that are currently on the books,” said Turner, who revealed recently that he worked this summer while battling a cancer diagnosis. He now is cancer-free.

Next year, though, could force confrontations with structural issues at City Hall that Turner is satisfied to leave to his successor, such as a potential adjustment to the city’s revenue cap, and the resolution of a yearslong contract stalemate with firefighters that has spanned nearly his full tenure, and which now rests with the Supreme Court.

[…]

Turner has said a garbage fee — Houston is the only city in Texas without one — is necessary to sustain Solid Waste operations, though he is not likely to take that on in his final year. He likewise has argued an adjustment to the revenue cap is necessary. The most recent discussion of the cap came in October, after it forced the city’s eighth rate cut in nine years. At-Large Council Member Michael Kubosh wondered aloud how the city could afford its growing police and fire budgets with those restraints. Turner said he would present an adjustment to the cap if council desired it.

Turner said that adjustment proposal still is in the works but acknowledged he is not “100 percent on it.”

“Some of the these things need to be left for the next mayor,” he said, and the ruling in the firefighters dispute could affect his calculus, as well. “A modification of the revenue cap may not be adequate to address it. In that case, I won’t present it. I’ll leave it up to the next mayor to address how he or she, and the people in this city, should deal with it.”

Turner argues he has done his part tackling intractable problems facing the city. The 2017 pension reforms he ushered in have slashed the city’s daunting debt in that arena from a $8 billion liability to about $1.5 billion. The issue that once dominated city government and politics now is mostly an afterthought. The city’s liability for retirement benefits likewise was expected to grow to $9 billion over 30 years, but cuts Turner implemented are expected to reduce that at least in half.

“I can’t fix everything, but we’ve fixed a whole lot,” Turner said.

Turner and other elected leaders in the city long have said the cap strains the city’s finances and hinders its ability to provide adequate resources to residents. It has cost the city about $1.5 billion in revenue since it first hit the cap in 2015. In that time, it has saved the owner of the median Houston home about $946, or about $105 per year.

I’m not sure I have any hope left about raising the revenue cap. If there actually is some action on it, the most likely scenario is what we have done before, which is to carve out a limited exception for public safety spending. That’s more likely to pass a public vote, and less likely to get cracked down on by the Legislature. It’s at best a band-aid, if it even happens, but you know nothing significant will ever happen until we have a different state government, and we know that ain’t happening for at least another four years.

As for the firefighters, there are two issues that need to be resolved by the courts before anything gets left as a mess for the next Mayor, and those are the pay parity lawsuit and the HFD collective bargaining lawsuit, both of which just had hearings before SCOTx. I have no prediction for either – we may or may not get rulings on them before the November election, but if we do there will be a big new issue for the candidates to talk about. Modifying the revenue cap in some form would leave the next Mayor a bit of leeway in how they try to resolve whatever they need to resolve with these issues. I don’t need more reasons to support modifying the stupid revenue cap, but other people do, so there you have it.

As for the long-discussed trash fee, I support the idea as long as the funds are used to really improve solid waste collection in the city. There’s plenty of innovation out there, but just making sure everything gets picked up in a timely fashion, which is a labor and equipment issue at its core, is the first priority. I think this has a better chance of passing this year than in the future just because some number of people who won’t be facing re-election can vote for it, but we’ll see. Just have a productive last year in office, that’s all I ask.

Kirk Watson again elected Mayor of Austin

Party like it’s 1997, y’all.

Kirk Watson

In a tight race, Austin voters picked a familiar face Tuesday night to guide the capital city over the next two years as the region deals with skyrocketing housing costs and explosive growth.

In a contest between two Austin Democrats, former state Sen. Kirk Watson narrowly prevailed over state Rep. Celia Israel and retook the seat he last held more than two decades ago.

“I’m as grateful today as I was 25 years ago to be entrusted with this job,” Watson said at a watch party in Austin’s Rosedale neighborhood. “It means a lot to me to know that Austinites in every part of this city still want the kind of leadership that I’ve tried to deliver both as mayor and as your state senator.”

Miles away at a watch party in North Austin, Israel conceded to Watson — while ruefully acknowledging Austin’s growing unaffordability, the race’s defining issue.

“Our campaign was founded on a very simple idea: The people who built this city and who continue to build this city, who dress our wounds, who teach our kids, who drive our buses, who answer our 911 calls … they deserve the respect and the compassion that a progressive city can give them,” Israel said.

The race to lead Texas’ fourth-largest city was a squeaker. Israel beat Watson in Travis County, which contains almost all of Austin, by 17 votes. But Watson built a lead of 881 votes in Williamson County and 22 votes in Hays County, according to unofficial election night tallies — delivering him the mayor’s seat.

[…]

On top of the city’s housing crisis, Watson will have to deal with the state’s Republican leadership, which has grown increasingly hostile to Austin and Texas’ bluer urban areas.

Within the past two years, Austin cut the city’s police spending in the wake of George Floyd protests and rolled back a ban on homeless encampments in public areas — moves that Republican lawmakers in the Texas Legislature later rebuked by passing new laws reining in those measures and restricting other major Texas cities from following in Austin’s steps.

During the campaign, Watson pitched himself as a veteran of the Legislature who could build a working relationship with state GOP leaders — or at least avoid their unfriendly gaze.

“When we choose to work together, we will heal old divides and solve old problems,” Watson said Tuesday night. “When we choose to work together, Austin’s future will get brighter and brighter and brighter, I promise.”

Congratulations to Mayor-elect Watson, who at least should have a pretty good idea of what he’s getting into. I liked both candidates but might have had a preference for Celia Israel, as I tend to see the big city Mayors as potential future statewide candidates (we need to get them from somewhere), which was Watson himself in 2002. Maybe she’ll give that some thought for next go-round anyway. As for dealing with the Lege, I’m pretty sure not having to put up with Dan Patrick’s bullshit was a proximate cause of Watson’s departure for UH a couple of years ago in the first place. Speaking as a resident of a city with a former Legislator as its Mayor and another who hopes to succeed him, I hope that sentiment works for you, but I’d keep my expectations very, very modest. The Austin Chronicle has more.

LULAC files that lawsuit to end Houston City Council At Large districts

We’ve been waiting for this.

The League of United Latin American Citizens on Monday filed its long-anticipated lawsuit against the city of Houston, seeking to get rid of at-large City Council seats that it says leave Hispanic residents with insufficient representation at City Hall.

The group, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, first announced plans to take legal action against the city in January.

While 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic, Robert Gallegos of District I is the only Hispanic person holding a seat on the 16-member body, even though the city previously created two other Hispanic-opportunity districts, H and J.

The federal lawsuit aims to replace the city’s five at-large seats, which represent voters citywide, with single-member seats dedicated to certain geographic areas. Houston’s current election system has created barriers to Hispanic representation and deprived hundreds of thousands of minority Houstonians of their voting rights guaranteed by law, the complaint says.

“The Latino voters of Houston have waited for fair redistricting plans. They have waited for years for the city of Houston to end its long relationship with ‘at-large’ districts that dilute the electoral strength of Hispanics,” the lawsuit says. “The time has come to replace this old election system that functions solely to dilute the power of Houston’s Latino voters.”

Houston City Council was comprised of all at-large positions until 1980, when it switched to a mix of district seats and five at-large seats. The change led to more diverse council bodies and better representation of minority voters, according to the complaint. Still, only four with Spanish surnames have been elected to one of the five at-large districts since then because Latino-preferred candidates rarely do well in citywide races, it says.

While many local Latino candidates also face other challenges, such as a lack of resources, the council structure remains a major hurdle for them, according to Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor in political science at University of Houston.

“When you look into political science literature, you’ll find that at-large seats tend to decrease the likelihood for minority candidates to win an election,” he said.

It is, however, not sufficient to simply look at the absence of Latino city council members, Cortina said. To substantiate LULAC’s claim that Houston is in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the organization would have to prove that Latino Houstonians have been acting as a cohesive voting bloc but unable to elect a candidate of their choice.

“It would take a lot of time and a lot of data,” Cortina said. “But the fact is that Latinos have been running and Latinos are not winning these elections.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the lawsuit. I’ve said all I have to say in that first link. Whatever happens with this lawsuit happens, and I’ll be fine with it. Courts have ordered cities like Pasadena and Farmers Branch to incorporate City Council districts in recent years, but those places began with all-At Large systems, and they were much more clearly discriminatory in my opinion. They were also decided in a time before SCOTUS went all in on destroying the Voting Rights Act. This could go either way, and I’ll be surprised if there is a temporary restraining order in place to block the use of the current Council map for the 2023 election. After that, we’ll see. The Trib has more.

Whitmire launches his Mayoral campaign

And we’re off.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire formally launched his campaign for Houston mayor Tuesday evening with a fundraiser at the ritzy Post Oak Hotel, attended by dozens of the city’s political luminaries — including the hotel’s billionaire owner, Tilman Fertitta, and several other Republican mega-donors who are opening their checkbooks for Whitmire, a moderate Democrat.

With almost a year to go until next year’s Nov. 7 election, Whitmire outlined his platform and kickstarted his campaign at Tuesday’s fundraiser. The host committee is filled with prominent lobbyists, business groups, labor unions, former elected officials and a mix of donors to both political parties.

Whitmire said his campaign is motivated by his desire to solve a variety of problems that he has personally witnessed in Houston including homelessness, illegal dumping, rising crime and inefficient city services.

Among them, public safety is a driving issue for the candidate. Besides supporting law enforcement officers, he said he would also take a holistic approach to improving the criminal justice system including offering more resources to the court system and the crime lab.

“I’m not going to get into squabbles with other elected officials about what the numbers are, but the bottom line is we have a crime issue in Houston, Harris County,” he said at the fundraiser. “We are not New York or Chicago. We fix our problems.”

Whitmire said he is expecting resistance from people who do not want to see the changes that he is advocating for, including a more transparent government than how the city is currently operating.

“There are people who like the status quo. There’s people that like the city is operating because they are profiting real well. They know if I’m mayor, it’s going to be very transparent, honest and play no favors,” he said. “I want you to tell the firemen and the policemen that help is on the way. I want you to tell Houstonians that help is on the way.”

[…]

Whitmire, the longest-serving member of the Texas Senate, already has $9.5 million in his state campaign account, according to his most recent filing. He has built up his war chest over a decades-long career in the Legislature dating back to 1972, when he was elected to the state House while a senior at the University of Houston. He has served in the upper chamber since 1982.

It is not yet clear how much of the $9.5 million Whitmire can transfer to his mayoral campaign, though he is expected to start the race with a massive financial advantage over the rest of the field. Hollins reported a $1.1 million haul during the first five months of his campaign, while Edwards took in about $789,000 in a shorter span. Kaplan raised $800,000 and pitched in another $100,000 of his own money.

Nancy Sims, a longtime political consultant who now teaches political science at the University of Houston, said she had “never seen such hardcore fundraising this high and this early” in a Houston mayor’s race.

“This is going to be one very expensive mayoral campaign,” Sims said.

Boosting Whitmire’s mayoral bid are a number of donors who helped bankroll the recent campaign of Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer, who came within two percentage points of unseating Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo in this month’s midterm election.

Mealer donors serving on the host committee for Tuesday’s fundraiser include Fertitta, Gallery Furniture owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, real estate developer Richard Weekley, Fidelis Realty Partners CEO Alan Hassenflu and Houston beer distributor John Nau, among others.

Also on the host committee are several former Republican elected officials, including former state representative Dan Huberty, former city councilmember Greg Travis and two of Whitmire’s former Senate colleagues: Todd Staples, who also served as agriculture commissioner, and Kevin Eltife.

A number of Democrats, including former state representative and city councilmember Ellen Cohen and former Harris County Democratic Party chair Lane Lewis, also are on the host committee.

[…]

In the Senate, Whitmire is best known for his work on criminal justice issues, having long served as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee, even under Republican leadership.

Though his record generally aligns with those of his Democratic colleagues on other issues, Whitmire has broken with his party on a number of votes related to criminal justice. He is a longtime ally of Houston and Harris County’s police union groups, which also are on the host committee for his kickoff fundraiser.

Last year, Whitmire voted for a GOP-backed bail bill that limits the opportunity for defendants to be released on no-cost personal bonds and gives judges more information about a defendant’s criminal history when setting bail.

He also voted to amend the Texas Constitution to expand the charges under which judges could deny bail outright, extending the list to include certain violent and sexual crimes. The measure died after nearly every Democrat in the House voted against it, denying the two-thirds support needed to pass.

Whitmire’s criminal justice stances are expected to bolster his position among Republican voters and donors, including those who supported Mealer in a county judge race that focused heavily on violent crime rates in Harris County.

His views on criminal justice, and his support from GOP-aligned donors, have attracted some early backlash from Democrats, including Hollins, who noted last month on Twitter that Whitmire had not endorsed Hidalgo in the county judge’s race.

There’s a lot here and I don’t want to get too much into it right now because it’s going to be a long campaign and where candidates start out is not always indicative of where they end up. Going into a race like this, where more than one candidate is going to be broadly acceptable to me, I usually take a moment to see how I react to the campaign launches, as in what are the themes they chose to emphasize, who do I know that is or is not already on board with them, that sort of thing. See what the vibes are and how I feel about that. Let’s put a pin in that for now and come back to it after Hollins and Edwards have launched.

One thing I will make note of is this:

Fertitta, who also spoke at the event, praised Whitmire for his bipartisan perspective.

“When you look in this room tonight, you see Republicans and Democrats and you see the whole city of Houston,” he said. “John looks at things the right way and isn’t partisan when it comes to doing the right thing.”

The billionaire also faulted Mayor Sylvester Turner for not taking a stronger stance to represent the city’s interest.

“When you had a strong mayor form of government and when you are the mayor in this city, you run this city. Every single department here is yours. It is no different than running a huge company,” Fertitta said. “When Harvey happened and the state got billions and billions of dollars, Houston didn’t get any money for years. I can tell you this, if John Whitmire is our mayor, that wouldn’t have happened.”

Wait, what? Does the name “George P. Bush” mean anything to you, Tilman? This is so at odds with the facts of the matter that I’m surprised the story didn’t include a paragraph explaining the way the Land Commissioner went about distributing the federal funds and how they overtly favored smaller, more rural, definitely more Republican, areas over Houston and Harris County. Also, isn’t Mayor Turner a longtime friend and ally of Sen. Whitmire? It’s a little weird to see such a potshot being launched like that, especially at a campaign kickoff. I don’t even know what to make of it.

Anyway. This is where the 2023 Mayor’s race starts out. It will be long and loud and expensive and we’ll all be ready for it to be over in a few months’ time. What are your vibes about this going in?

SCOTx hears firefighter pay parity arguments

Lots at stake here.

More than four years after Houston voters approved a measure that would grant firefighters equal pay with police officers, the legal battle to decide the referendum’s fate landed Tuesday in the hands of the Supreme Court of Texas.

The state’s highest justices heard oral arguments regarding Proposition B, the charter amendment pushed by the firefighters’ union and approved by voters in 2018. It would grant firefighters pay parity with police officers of a similar rank and seniority.

Justices also heard arguments in a similar case that stems from the city and union’s preceding contract stalemate.

It did not take long for the justices to probe the city’s divergent arguments in the two cases, which the fire union long has said conflict each other. One justice told attorneys representing the city they were operating on “a knife’s edge” between the two cases.

The court’s rulings, which likely will not be released for months, could have drastic consequences for the city’s roughly 3,900 firefighters, the annual City Hall budget and next year’s city elections. If it rules in favor of the union, it would give underpaid firefighters their biggest salary hikes in years, while introducing a hole in the city budget likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The long-running legal dispute has its roots in a contract stalemate dating back to 2017, when the latest pact between the city and firefighters expired. The two sides were unable to reach a new deal in negotiations and mediation, and they have been locked in contentious court battles since.

Voters approved Prop B, the pay parity measure, by a 59-to-41 margin in 2018, but the city and the police union have contested its legality. The city has not implemented the measure, although City Council has given firefighters 6 percent raises in each of the last two budgets, with a promise to do so again next year.

The Prop B case centers on whether equal pay with police would conflict with the existing framework to pay firefighters, enshrined in state law and adopted by Houston voters in 2003.

After voters approved Prop B, the city and police union argued its new standard, comparing pay to police officers, conflicts with the state standard that compares pay to the private sector. That would run afoul of the law’s preemption clause, they argued, and the Texas Constitution, which says cities cannot pass laws or charters that conflict with state law.

The city, however, has made an incompatible argument in the other case heard Tuesday, which was consolidated with the Prop B hearings before the Supreme Court. In that case, the city has argued there is no private comparison to firefighters. And it has contended that phrase of the state law is unconstitutional, along with the judicial mechanism to enforce it, which the firefighters have sought to use.

In the Prop B case, the city says the pay parity measure is blocked by the state law. In the other, it argues that state law is unconstitutional.

You can read on for the details. This is the consolidation of two different lawsuits. I suppose under other circumstances the city would have a bit more leeway to make these apparently divergent arguments. The law can be weird like that sometimes. If the firefighters win, it’s going to cost the city a lot of money, though the firefighters say it won’t be as much as the city claims. I hope we don’t have to find out. We’ll likely get a ruling sometime next year, and I’m sure all of the people now running for Mayor will be keeping a close eye on it.

A too-early look at who’s running for Houston city offices in 2023

Because it’s never not election season.

With the midterm elections behind us, city election season is now heating up. Next November, Houston will elect a new mayor, a new controller and 16 City Council members.

The campaigns actually got underway long before the midterm elections were over. State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, announced his plans to run for mayor way back in November 2021. Chris Hollins, the former Harris County clerk, announced in February, and former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards launched her campaign in March.

Those announcements, and the millions of dollars the mayoral candidates collectively have raised for their bids so far, have set Houston off on its earliest start to campaign season to date.

As the candidates start making more public appearances and vying for voters’ attention, here’s your early primer on city elections, and who is running so far:

[…]

Mayor Sylvester Turner is serving out his second and final term, which means Houston will elect a new mayor in 2023. Voters also will decide 16 spots on City Council — 11 members representing geographic districts, and five members elected citywide in at-large seats — to round out the City Hall horseshoe.

City Controller Chris Brown also is term-limited, meaning the city will have a new controller as well. The controller is the city’s independently elected financial watchdog.

Six council members face term limits, meaning their seats will be open. Ten council members are eligible for re-election and presumably running.

They have a list of the Council members who are not term-limited, as well as a list of people who claim they are running for something at this time. We’ll get some idea of who is serious and who is just a name when the January finance reports come out. From past experience, nothing is truly set in stone until the filing deadline, and we’re a long way away from that.

One more name that is out there as a potential Mayoral candidate is former Metro chair Gilbert Garcia. Don’t be surprised to hear of other names, though at this point it’s not very likely there will be any more high-profile names.

The incumbent Council members who are term limited include Dave Martin (District E), Karla Cisneros (H), Robert Gallegos (I), Mike Knox (At Large #1), David Robinson (AL #2), and Michael Kubosh (AL #3). I expect there to be a lot of At Large candidates, assuming At Large seats are still a thing next November.

There are also races for HISD and HCC boards of trustees. In HISD, Kathy Blueford-Daniels (District II), Dani Hernandez (III), Patricia Allen (IV), and Judith Cruz (VIII) are up for re-election. In HCC, the candidates whose terms are up are Reagan Flowers (Distrct 4), Robert Glaser (5), and Pretta VanDible Stallworth (9). Glaser is under accusation of sexual harassment, and as such I have to think there’s a decent chance he’ll choose not to run again. That is 100% fact-free speculation on my part, so take it for what it’s worth.

This is the situation as it stands now. As I said, we’ll know more when we see the January finance reports. If you know of someone not listed in the Chron story who’s running for something next year, please let us know in the comments.

Election 2022 miscellania: Marijuana, Austin Mayor, CRT

Three items of interest for you. First up, several local initiatives to decriminalize marijuana were successful on Tuesday.

By the end of Election Day, five Texas cities have voted to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession.

After Austin voters overwhelmingly approved the proposition to decriminalize carrying small amounts of marijuana in May, Ground Game Texas — the progressive group behind that effort — successfully worked with local organizations and pushed for similar measures to appear on the ballots of Denton, San Marcos, Killeen, Elgin and Harker Heights for the midterms cycle.

Voters in these cities have now shown strong support for the proposals at the polls.

The campaign saw the highest level of support in San Marcos — home to Texas State University — with nearly 82% of the votes. Denton, which has several university campuses, saw more than 70% of the votes backing the proposition.

In Killeen, known for its proximity to military base Fort Hood, close to 70% of voters approved the proposition. Elgin, just outside of Austin, saw almost 75% of votes in support of the reform. And on the low end, more than 60% of voters in Harker Heights in Bell County casted ballots in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

“These meaningful reforms will keep people out of jail and save scarce public resources for more important public safety needs,” said Mike Siegel, political director of Ground Game Texas and a former Democrat congressional candidate. “We’re extremely happy with our results.”

Like Austin’s ordinance, the successful propositions establish city ordinances that end low-level enforcement, including citations and arrests for possessing less than four ounces of marijuana and related drug paraphernalia, in most cases. They also largely ban using city funds and staff to test substances for THC, the cannabis plant’s chemical that gets users high.

[…]

Ultimately, Ground Game Texas hoped to use the campaign to boost turnout, especially among young voters.

“We wanted to use workers, wages and weed to engage new voters,” Siegel said.

Looking ahead, Ground Game Texas will continue working with on-the-ground groups to place progressive measures on local ballots. They aim to put the measure along with several other propositions, including abortion decriminalization, in front of San Antonio voters in May 2023. And similar efforts are likely to pop up in other big cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston in the 2024 elections, Siegel added.

“We’re hoping that we can prove not only that these issues are popular, but they also boosted turnout in the communities that are on the ballot,” he said. “And in the days following this election, we’re going to be having lots of conversations with folks about the next cycle.”

See here for some background. As noted there, I’m not sure what the practical effect of this will be, and I worry about legislative backlash just because that’s the world we live in now. I’ll be very interested to see if there is any evidence that this drove turnout, because Lord knows we could have used more of it if it did. And while I’m glad to see that there’s interest in bringing this to Houston, please remember that we already have several charter amendments on the ballot next year, which means either this would have to happen then or you’ll need to wait until at least 2025, since there’s a mandatory two-year wait after a successful charter amendment election. Hope y’all are already engaging with folks here about this, Ground Game Texas, so there are no unpleasant surprises for anyone.

Item two: There will be a runoff for Mayor of Austin between two familiar faces.

Austin’s next mayor was not decided Tuesday, as a tight race between Celia Israel and Kirk Watson will continue into a runoff in December.

To win the race outright, a candidate would have had to earn more than half of all votes as of Tuesday. Israel took 40% and Watson 35% of the vote, according to final but unofficial results. They were separated by more than 15,000 votes.

Jennifer Virden, the only other candidate who conducted a significant campaign, earned 18%.

Three other candidates received limited support. Phil Brual received 2%, and Gary Spellman and Anthony Bradshaw each received 1%.

In total, 304,000 votes were recorded.

Heading into the day, political insiders who analyzed the election said they expected the race to go to a runoff, as voters seemed split between Watson, the former Austin mayor and state senator, and Israel, a sitting state representative. Although Watson outraised Israel $1.3 million to $409,000, it was Israel who enjoyed momentum heading into Tuesday with recent endorsements from the American-Statesman and the Austin Chronicle.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I like both of them and wish the eventual winner all the best.

And finally, a small bit of good news on the school board hysteria front:

A very welcome reversal from last year, in a different political climate. Well done, Round Rock and Leander.

Mayor Turner’s cancer treatment

I’m very glad to hear he’s doing well.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner revealed Wednesday that he was diagnosed with cancer this summer, for which he had surgery and received six weeks of radiation treatment.

Turner said he went to the dentist for a root canal, and doctors ultimately found osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in his jaw. He had surgery for nine hours on July 30, the mayor said, followed by an eight-day hospital stay and weeks of radiation in August and September.

Turner discussed the illness publicly for the first time in a question-and-answer discussion with former ABC-13 anchor Tom Koch after his seventh annual “State of the City” address.

“I’ve also had my own personal medical situation. For all of my life, I’ve been the healthiest ever,” Turner said. “I go to the dentist to get a root canal, on my way to France with the trade mission. Doctors come and say, ‘Well, it’s a little bit more than a root canal.'”

The mayor said he got a biopsy, and just before departing for France doctors told him he would not be able to make the trip. During the operation, Turner said surgeons took part of his leg bone to restructure his jaw. He had radiation every weekday morning at 7:30 a.m. from Aug. 1 to Sept. 12.

“Back at City Council that day, I continued to do what I needed to do in the city of Houston. Let me tell you, I have been blessed,” Turner said to applause. “As I look at the seven federally declared disasters, and then I look at what I’ve had to endure myself, and then you bounce back. What I would say to you is this is an incredible, incredible city.”

[…]

Turner’s office did not elaborate on the mayor’s prognosis after the event.

“That’s the extent of what he plans to share at this time,” said Mary Benton, Turner’s communications director.

There’s a larger conversation we could have about how much our political leaders need to tell us about their health, but I’ll save that for another time. In retrospect, given that there was no noticeable change in how the city was operating, it’s hard for me to say that we needed to know this information any sooner than now. Reasonable people may see it differently. As I said, I’m very glad that Mayor Turner is doing well, and I wish him all the best.

On resign to run

The TL;dr version of this is “No one ever said the Elections Code was fair”.

John Whitmire’s plans have been clear since November: He is running for re-election to the state Senate, and he also is running for mayor.

If all goes according to his plan, Whitmire will serve out his final legislative session in the Senate in 2023, turn his attention to campaigning for City Hall in the summer and win a new job in November or December.

City officials in Houston, though, do not have the same luxury, and it is creating political hurdles this year for ambitious council members looking for new jobs — especially those that may want to take City Hall’s top office.

Texas has a resign-to-run law meant to discourage officials from holding one office while running for another. The law dates back to a 1958 constitutional amendment, purportedly aimed at ensuring elected officials concentrate their attention on the job they already have and do not run campaigns while on the taxpayers’ dime.

The state applies the rule only to certain county and city officials, though, and not to those who serve in Austin. That is why Whitmire can, essentially, run for two jobs at the same time. Legislators have run for just about every job in the state while keeping their posts.

Lawmakers have amended the constitutional provision underlying the rule several times over the last couple decades. None of those changes added state officials to the mix.

“They never applied the logic to themselves,” said Nancy Sims, a longtime political consultant who now teaches at the University of Houston.

The story notes that this has only been an issue for Houston City Council members since 2016, following the referendum that altered the term limits ordinance and changing Council terms from two years to four. It also notices the outlier fundraising of CM Ed Pollard, who if he is a Mayoral candidate would have to step down. I confess, I had forgotten about the new application of resign-to-run in discussing Pollard’s potential plans; it is certainly more complicated for him now. Maybe he’ll keep piling up the cash and then challenge whoever gets elected next year in 2027, when he’d only be giving up the last year or so of his second term. I’m just speculating wildly here. Anyway, the state constitution specifies who has to resign to run for something else and who doesn’t, it’s highly unlikely that will ever change to apply to legislators, and that’s just the way it is.

July 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

We’re still more than a year out from the 2023 election, but we are now up to three serious conteners for Mayor, plus two others in the wild, so the finance reports are beginning to generate some real interest. The January 2022 reports are here, the July 2021 reports are here.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       209,950    129,870        0     802,194

Peck          19,100     19,457    5,000      24,057
Jackson       17,400     11,330        0      33,436
Kamin         86,461     14,691        0     193,807
E-Shabazz      8,000      5,591        0      17,691
Martin         2,500     18,138        0     151,767
Thomas         5,750      2,887        0      51,761
Huffman       45,350     45,284        0      30,697
Cisneros      13,500      1,164        0      38,094
Gallegos      27,050     14,126        0     127,933
Pollard      286,341     11,800   40,000     716,441
C-Tatum       51,950     16,089        0     154,697

Knox          18,425     10,266        0      37,185
Robinson      67,675     17,595        0     247,700
Kubosh        14,000     31,141  196,000      59,273
Plummer                   6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn        38,305     17,321        0     178,429

Brown            500      4,849   75,000      34,861

Hollins    1,123,316    138,079        0     941,155
Edwards      789,227     96,378        0     712,066

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

All of the current officeholders submitted reports in a timely fashion this period. The only oddity was with the report for CM Letitia Plummer, which did not list an amount raised on either the summary or section totals pages. She clearly did raise some money, as a perusal of the rest of the report shows, but didn’t include a total for it anywhere. I didn’t feel like tallying it up myself, so I left the mystery in place. The only non-officeholders of interest to file reports are the two 2023 Mayoral candidates listed at the bottom, who made a decent splash with their unprecedented totals for this point in the cycle. While he did not file a city of Houston report yet, and while there is some uncertainty about how much he can move from his state account, Sen. John Whitmire had $9.7 million on hand as of July 15. Even if he can only transfer, say, 25% of that, it’s a lot of cash to start out with.

We must once again talk about the finance report for Ed Pollard, who I will say again must be planning something for his future because there is absolutely no need for this level of fundraising for his re-election campaign in District J. I had speculated that maybe he was aiming for a Mayoral campaign, but at this point that seems less likely – I can’t rule it out, but there’s already a big field of well-financed players, and Pollard would be the least known and tied for least-funded among them. Maybe next time, or maybe something in 2024? Or maybe he just really likes fundraising? Who knows.

Other than that, honestly kind of a boring set of reports. Things should start to get more interesting with the January 2023 reports – if nothing else, I’d expect to see a few new names. I’ll skip the HISD and HCC reports this cycle so look for those next January as well. I’ll round up a few state reports of interest for next time. Let me know what you think.

Hollins and Edwards report big Mayoral fundraising numbers

Yes, we’re going to need to start paying attention to this.

Chris Hollins

Houston’s next mayoral election is not for another 18 months, but the early contenders already are raising heaps of cash.

Former Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins has taken in more than $1.1 million in the first five months of his bid, according to data his campaign released Thursday. And former City Councilmember Amanda Edwards has raised about $780,000 since launching her candidacy on March 23, her campaign announced.

Both of those numbers far exceed what City Hall contenders historically have reported this far out from the election, as the November 2023 campaigns get off to an early start.

Five candidates already have announced their campaigns to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner when his second term ends in January 2024: Hollins, Edwards, state Sen. John Whitmire, attorney Lee Kaplan and police officer Robin Williams.

Despite the strong fundraising starts from Hollins and Edwards, Whitmire will be the financial heavyweight in the race. The state senator, who has served in the Texas Legislature since 1973, has a war chest of more than $9.7 million in his state account, according to his latest filing.

When Turner made the jump from the Legislature to a mayoral campaign, he was allowed to transfer $900,000 of his funds, even though an opponent argued it was forbidden by city ordinance. City attorneys said at the time that Turner could transfer the first $5,000 from each donation to comply with the city’s more stringent cap on contributions. It is not yet clear exactly how much Whitmire will be able to transfer when he launches his mayoral campaign officially, likely this fall.

Amanda Edwards

Finance reports for declared candidates are due Friday and cover the first six months of this year. Williams and Kaplan have not publicly disclosed fundraising numbers yet.

[…]

The numbers set a new bar for fundraising this early. At this stage in the 2015 race, then-state Rep. Sylvester Turner reported raising $166,600 in donations and had $366,351 in the bank, although he had yet to formally declare his mayoral candidacy. Hollins has raised more money so far this year than Turner reported in all of 2014: $824,000, according to the mayor’s state filings at the time. Turner later would begin his mayoral candidacy in 2015 with $900,000 that he transferred from his state account.

Among other candidates that year, former Kemah Mayor Bill King and then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia did not report any contributions in July 2014, and had not announced candidacies at that point. The black-out ordinance still was in place at that point, and Garcia was barred from transferring his county account. Then-City Councilmember Stephen Costello reported $215,600 in contributions, with about $308,325 on hand. Each of those candidates would break the million-dollar threshold in the actual election year.

Eighteen months before his re-election, Turner reported $585,000 in contributions, though he had a campaign account of $2.2 million at that point. He broke the million-dollar threshold in both January and July 2019, and raised $1.7 million in the month between the 2019 general and runoff elections.

I will of course have a post on the city of Houston finance reports for July, along with those for Congress and Harris County and probably some state races. It’s going to be a busy weekend. Also, Adrian Garcia could not have announced any fundraising numbers for Mayor in 2014 because he was still Sheriff, and had to resign as Sheriff as soon as he announced his candidacy. That happened in early 2015. I knew that Mayor Turner had transferred money from his state account to his city campaign, but I’d forgotten what constraints he had. I suspect that Sen. Whitmire will still be able to move a fair amount of his existing treasury, and will have no trouble raising more. How much, we may soon see.

Amanda Edwards to run for Mayor

The field is now at three.

Amanda Edwards

Amanda Edwards, a former at-large member of Houston City Council and candidate for U.S. Senate, announced Wednesday she is running for mayor of Houston in 2023.

Edwards’ return to politics comes two years after her fifth-place finish in the 2020 Democratic Senate primary. She previously had served a single term as one of Houston’s five citywide council members, before passing up a second term to run for Senate.

With Edwards’ announcement, there now are three major candidates vying next year to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner, who cannot run again due to term limits. Edwards, who would be the first Black woman to lead Houston city government, said her experience at City Hall sets her apart from the other two candidates, former Harris County clerk Chris Hollins and state Sen. John Whitmire, both of whom, like Edwards, are Democrats and attorneys.

“There are complicated issues that are facing the next mayor. The easy stuff, that was done many years ago,” Edwards said. “It’s the hard stuff that’s left, and you’ve got to have somebody at the helm on Day One that is ready to lead and knows how to navigate the city and all of its challenges and opportunities that may be in front of us.”

During her four-year tenure on Houston City Council, Edwards served as vice chair of the council’s Budget and Fiscal Affairs Committee and helped direct a task force focused on boosting the city’s tech and startup economy.

She proposed amendments to the annual city budget — one of the few levers of power for council members under Houston’s strong-mayor form of government — that sought to speed up the permitting process, expand internet access for low-income communities and improve conditions for women- and minority-owned businesses.

As mayor, Edwards said she would focus on “cultivating opportunity for everyone,” including businesses owned by women and minorities, who she said face “great disparities when they’re trying to access traditional forms of capital” to grow their businesses.

I thought Edwards would be an obvious contender for Mayor back when she was a Council member, for a variety of reasons – she was young and had a strong showing in her first election, did well raising money, would be term-limited at the same time as Mayor Turner, had plenty of opportunity to make things happen on Council, and so on. She chose a different path, declining to run for re-election before entering the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020, where she raised a respectable but not impressive amount of money and finished a disappointing fifth place in that large field. Even when she was a candidate for Senate I still thought she might wind up running for Mayor. And so here we are. (You can also see what a genius I was at predicting the future.)

Whatever route she took to get here, she’s here now. As I’ve said many times, we’ll have a better handle on how her candidacy, or anyone’s, is doing when we see the first batch of campaign finance reports. Money isn’t everything, but at least early on it’s a decent proxy for how much interest there is in a particular contender, and where that interest is coming from. Right now we have three candidates with varied backgrounds and experiences, and they’re out there introducing themselves to the wider audience that they’ll need to appeal to. It’s likely that field will grow, so making a good impression now while there’s less competition is of great value. There’s a lot happening right now, and we should all rank the 2022 election ahead of the 2023 one, but do keep an eye on these people, as one of them could be our next Mayor. Edwards’ intro video is here. I wish her luck. The Trib and the Texas Signal have more.

January 2022 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

January finance reports are always worth a look, if only as a ritual to start the new year. We’re a year out from election season truly beginning for Houston, but as we now have two brand name contenders for Mayor already, we should check in and see how our current electeds are doing in the fundraising department. I last looked at these reports in July of 2021. Let’s see what folks have been up to since then.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       311,976    156,329        0     723,455

Peck          25,620     13,989    5,000      27,442
Jackson        2,775      8,725        0      27,367
Kamin         14,620      7,824        0     124,434
E-Shabazz      8,440     13,625        0      15,282
Martin        56,350     32,011        0     162,311
Thomas        
Huffman       21,550     24,921        0      27,040
Cisneros       9,495      2,033        0      25,758
Gallegos      50,355     16,218        0     114,905
Pollard      151,275     12,946   40,000     441,900
C-Tatum       10,000      8,576        0     118,827

Knox          13,385      5,227        0      17,884
Robinson      50,595     11,758        0     189,134
Kubosh        33,200     31,914  196,000      73,174
Plummer       14,191     22,440        0      25,473
Alcorn       153,700     26,652        0     158,067

Brown          3,000      6,067   75,000      38,887

As a reminder, no links to individual reports here because the city’s system generates PDF downloads, and I don’t have the time to rename and upload and share them. Next year, when there are candidates, I’ll do that. Not this time.

Mayor Turner is the biggest recipient of campaign cash, which is usually how it is. He won’t be on the 2023 ballot, but we will have at least two charter referenda in our future, and I’m sure he’ll want to be able to have some influence over them. As was the case with Mayor Parker and term limits in 2015, he might want to add one or two more to that list, on policy matters that have been discussed but not yet addressed. I’m thinking of the stupid revenue cap, and a second try at an equal rights ordinance, this time for the charter. I have no special insight on these matters, just a long memory and a searchable archive, both of which I endeavor to use for good and not evil.

The fact that we have two high-profile Mayoral candidates in place (well, as much as one can be at this early hour) doesn’t mean that there aren’t other potential Mayorals out there. Last time I noted CM Ed Pollard’s prodigious fundraising, in which he amassed an amount that far outstripped his possible need for re-election in his district, and noted that he has been on some people’s lips as a possible candidate for Mayor. His January finance report does nothing to turn that speculation down, though also as noted before he may have his eye on some other prizes as well.

On the other end of that spectrum is the one person I had felt most confident about as a 2023 Mayoral candidate, and that’s City Controller Chris Brown, who seemed a natural fit for the Mayoral candidate role and who has demonstrated fundraising prowess in the past. Not these past six months, though, and his cash on hand total is looking awfully paltry. Does that mean anything? It’s too early to say. But now that John Whitmire and Chris Hollins are out there doing Mayoral candidate things, the time to decide whether or not one wants to join them in that is not far off. Michael Kubosh, who is currently doing Michael Kubosh things, falls in between the two of them in fundraising action. He’ll be facing the same decision as well.

A person who turned it up several notches after a sedate second half of 2021 is CM Sallie Alcorn, who was a top fundraiser for her initial election and now seems to be preparing for her second race. Note that in recent years, the old “blackout” period for fundraising was eliminated, so incumbents can get a head start on building up their treasuries. Fewer of them have need to do that now, as about half of them are term-limited. Some of those term-limited folks will be leaving with a decent amount of cash in their kitties – I’m thinking Dave Martin, Robert Gallegos, and David Robinson. It’s not clear to me what if any office they might use those funds for in the future – maybe one of them has an eye on Controller – but they have them if they want them.

Not much else of note. Greg Travis is now filing state reports, so he’s been swapped out for Mary Nan Huffman, who still has a few bucks in her account. I did not find a report for Tiffany Thomas. I’ll do HISD and HCC next to finish this off. Let me know what you think.

The hotly contested SD15 primary

This may be the most compelling primary race in the county.

Sen. John Whitmire

On the last day for candidates to file for the 2022 primary in Texas, things were looking good for state Sen. John Whitmire.

The longtime Democrat, sitting on an $11 million campaign war chest, had recently announced his plan to run for mayor of Houston in 2023. The more pressing matter — Whitmire’s re-election to the state Senate in 2022 — seemed a mere formality, with the filing deadline hours away and no other Democrat running in his deep-blue district.

Instead, Whitmire drew a last-minute challenge from Molly Cook, an emergency room nurse and progressive activist who appears to be the incumbent senator’s most formidable opponent in decades.

The longest-serving member of the Senate, Whitmire is heading into Tuesday’s election with clear-cut advantages over Cook, having outspent her roughly 3-to-1 and represented the district since nearly a decade before she was born. Still, Whitmire’s declared — and potential — mayoral opponents are keeping a close eye on the contest, which poses a fresh test of the senator’s electoral strength in a district that takes in a large chunk of the Houston electorate.

Whitmire said he takes “each and every opponent very seriously,” including Cook. He has shaped his re-election bid around his 39 years of experience in the Senate, arguing that his knowledge of the legislative process and presence on key committees — as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee and a member of the budget-shaping Finance and Business & Commerce committees — give him clout even in the Republican-dominated chamber.

“I think my chairmanship of Criminal Justice is reason alone for people to support me,” said Whitmire, 72. “Experience matters. … I don’t even think it’s a close call on who is prepared, from Day One, to represent Houston.”

Molly Cook

Though Cook, 30, is making her first run for elected office, she entered the race after spending more than a year as a lead organizer behind Stop TxDOT I-45, the group opposing the state transportation agency’s controversial $7 billion plan to remake Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston. She said her deep ties to grassroots organizing would shape her approach to serving in the Senate, vowing to seek input from community advocates through “bottom-up planning.”

At the same time, Cook argues that Whitmire — who was elected to the House in 1972, while a senior at the University of Houston, before moving to the Senate a decade later — has lost touch with the district through his nearly half-century in office. She has also accused Whitmire of “running for two offices at once” by way of his early mayoral announcement.

At a forum in late January, Cook said Whitmire’s “way of doing things is no longer serving our district or our state. She touted her own “fresh perspective and public health and policy expertise.”

“Sen. Whitmire has been in the Legislature since he was 23,” Cook said. “I have the experience of being a health care worker, making sacrifices to afford my health care, renting my home, and grassroots organizing. Sen. Whitmire is weighed down by experience, decades of campaign contributions, backroom deals and protecting personal political capital.”

Whitmire insists that he is completely focused on his current election, and dismissed charges from Cook that he would already have one foot out the door during the 2023 legislative session. He noted that Mayor Sylvester Turner also ran for re-election to the state House in 2014, even as he was gearing up for a mayoral run the following year.

“Nothing matters more to me right now than the Senate race. Any future race, we’ll take up after this race. I see no conflict,” Whitmire said. “So, that’s just a smokescreen. My opponent had to say something. She’s not going to say I’m a good guy. She should, but, you know, there’s no core Democratic issue to talk about. I voted nearly exactly like (state Sens.) Borris Miles and Carol Alvarado. We work very closely as a delegation.”

As a reminder, my interview with Sen. Whitmire is here, and my interview with Molly Cook is here. There are a lot of Molly Cook signs in my neighborhood. I wouldn’t claim we’re indicative of anything, but it’s interesting to me anyway. I know Cook has blockwalked here – she knocked on my door a few weeks ago – and as far as I know Whitmire has not. That can make a difference, especially in a neighborhood like mine that is often not visited by canvassers. It’s also the case that the I-45 expansion plan is very unpopular here – we have been dreading TxDOT’s plans for I-45 for at least the last 20 years – and I suspect that Cook has found more than a few supporters by talking about her involvement in the opposition to TxDOT.

I also think that Whitmire’s announcement of his Mayoral campaign last November didn’t do him any favors. Whitmire has noted correctly that Mayor Turner ran for re-election in 2014 and then served ably in the Legislature in 2015 before his successful Mayoral campaign. I don’t remember Turner announcing his Mayoral candidacy that early, though it was hardly a secret that he intended to run. It may just be that things are different now, and people feel differently about that. It also may be that the backlash to Whitmire’s dual candidacy announcement is totally overblown and nothing more than a tempest in the teapot-sized world of the very inside and very online local politics contingent. Ask me again after the election results come in.

One more thing:

Even if Cook loses, a strong showing could establish her as a frontrunner in what would likely be a crowded race to replace Whitmire if he wins the November 2023 mayoral race, said University of Houston political science associate professor Jeronimo Cortina.

“Perhaps what she wants to do is get on the ballot early and claim that particular space that is going to be opened,” Cortina said. “I think it’s a smart move on her behalf.”

If she comes up short next week, Cook said she would likely run for the seat again if the opportunity arises in 2024.

“I don’t like to make promises or commitments looking forward, because anything could happen,” Cook said. “But I would say that there’s a high likelihood.”

I fully expect that Cook has an eye on 2024, because winning this race was always going to be tough, and because there is an opening for someone to get in front of the field for that potential special election. One step at a time, obviously. We can talk about this after the election as well.

Chris Hollins to run for Mayor

Wow.

Chris Hollins

Chris Hollins, the former Harris County elections chief who pushed measures aimed at expanding ballot access during the November 2020 election, announced Monday that he’s running for Houston mayor in 2023.

“The challenges that we’re facing as Houstonians are becoming more and more complex,” Hollins, 35, said in an interview with The Texas Tribune. “And to overcome those challenges, that job demands innovation, that job demands effective leadership. And so we need a mayor who has a vision for Houston, but who also has the skills and attributes necessary to achieve that vision.”

Hollins, a Texas Democratic Party official who temporarily served as Harris County clerk in 2020, rose to prominence two years ago by championing efforts intended to make it easier for people to vote during the pandemic, including 24-hour drive-thru voting and a bid to send applications for mail-in ballots to more than 2 million registered voters in Harris County.

Those efforts drew a legal battle and a decisive rebuke from state Republican lawmakers, who passed a sweeping voting restrictions bill last year that outlawed the measures Hollins put in place.

Now, Hollins is looking to use his brief seven-month tenure as county clerk to catapult him into the mayor’s office — where he would oversee a $5.1 billion budget and 23,000 municipal employees. He’s running to replace Mayor Sylvester Turner, who will step down next year after serving two four-year terms; the city has term limits that prevent him from running again.

Hollins is the second major candidate to announce for mayor, following state Sen. John Whitmire, a longtime Houston Democrat with deep ties to the city’s police and fire unions and an $11 million war chest.

Well, the 2023 Mayor’s race just got a lot more exciting. I interviewed Hollins after the 2020 election and asked him (among other things) about the Republican reaction to his innovations, which they very much did follow through on. I imagine all of that will come up again, so get ready for it. There are other potential candidates out there, and given the early announcements by these two potentially quite formidable contenders, we may either get more of the same in the coming weeks, as no one will want to fall behind in the fundraising race, or we may find that the well of hopefuls has dried up a bit.

I don’t normally like to get ahead of one election with another, but to some extent that can’t be helped. Whatever my personal preferences are, we’re going to be hearing a lot about this race going forward. It’s a pretty sharp move on Hollins’ part because it sort of puts Sen. Whitmire, who has pledged to give his full attention to his 2022 race and the 2023 legislative session before he begins campaigning in earnest for Mayor, in a box. Whitmire probably doesn’t want to ignore Hollins, but at least over the next few weeks he can’t do all that much either or he’ll provide evidence for one of the main criticisms that Molly Cook, his primary opponent, has made against him. Even beyond that, he’s made his pledge about his order of operations and his priorities. That’s harder for him to do now.

We’ll see how it goes. By the same token, Hollins likely doesn’t want to divert too much attention from the very important 2022 election, so perhaps this is a smaller problem for Whitmire than it may appear. Whatever the case, as I said above, this race is a lot more interesting now. The Chron has more.

Is it time to ditch At Large seats on Houston City Council?

Here’s one argument for it.

The lack of Latinos on the City Council undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government, experts say, and is something that a prominent Hispanic organization is pushing to change with a lawsuit and ballot proposition.

The League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the largest Hispanic civil rights organizations in the country, is tackling what they characterize as a gross underrepresentation of Latinos in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. by proposing that the five at-large positions on council elected citywide be replaced with four seats in heavily Hispanic districts.

Currently, just one Hispanic — Robert Gallegos — holds a seat on the 16-member body. By contrast, 45 percent of Houston residents are Hispanic.

“The most serious threat to the legitimacy of Houston city government is this idea that you can have half of the population of the city represented by 6 percent of the council,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “Imagine if we flipped things around and there’s only one African American on the Houston City Council, or there’s only one Anglo, or there’s only one woman … It would be seen as a national travesty of democracy; it would be the subject of constant outcry.”

The city is expected to look at redistricting prior to its 2023 election, and could redraw the 11 districts if they are deemed unbalanced at that point. But LULAC said replacing at-large seats with more single-district seats would reduce barriers that undercut Latino representation.

“If we had parity, half of this council would be Latino,” said local LULAC leader Sergio Lira, co-chair of a new Houston taskforce created under the direction of the organization’s national President, Domingo García, who launched the effort in a meeting with local leaders last week.

García, a lawyer with offices statewide, said the effort includes a push to bring a charter amendment with the proposition to citizens to vote on and to file a lawsuit against the city.

Houston has the worst Hispanic representation in city councils among all Texas cities with populations over 500,000, all of which have eliminated at-large positions in their governments, according to census and government data.

“Houston is the outlier in Texas when it comes to Latino representation and is the only large city with at-large seats,” García said.

Those cities — San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso — all have councils that look much more similar to their cities’ Hispanic populations. Dallas, which is 42 percent Hispanic, has the next-lowest Hispanic representation on council with 29 percent Hispanics.

It’s tough to get elected to Houston’s at-large seats, García said.

“They are very difficult for Latinos to win because of the amount of money, coalitions and logistics it takes to win,” he said. “It’s like running for mayor.”

There’s a lot to say here, and I’ll try to get to the main points, but let me start by saying it’s a little more complex than what Garcia and Lira are arguing. There are multiple districts that have are at least plurality Latino – H, J, F, and A. H, currently held by CM Karla Cisneros, had reliably elected Latinos before Cisneros and likely will again; none of the others have elected Latinos. There is of course a big difference between “population”, “voting-age population” and “citizen voting-age population”, and that’s before we take into account voter registration and who generally turns out to vote in our odd-year elections, where 20% turnout is on the higher end. We could elect more Latinos with the map we have now, at least in theory. It very much hasn’t worked out that way in practice, and I doubt you’d find anyone who would argue that the current map is conducive to having more than two Latinos get elected from the current districts.

It’s also true that Latinos have been shut out from the At Large seats since the days of Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz twenty years ago. We also haven’t had a lot of strong Latino contenders for At Large seats lately. In 2015, no Latinos ran for At Large #3 or #5, and the only one in At Large #1 was perennial candidate James Partsch-Galvan. There were Latinos in all the At Large races in 2019, but none of them raised any money. That’s what Garcia and Lira are saying, and others have said it before them, but it just doesn’t take as much money to run a credible At Large campaign as it does to run for Mayor. Mayoral candidates need well over a million bucks, but the big money candidates for At Large raise in the $200-400K range. Not nothing, but not a huge pile of money either. It’s a bit of a vicious circle – people who might want to run are discouraged because it’s hard for them to raise money and the recent record of citywide Latino candidates is brutal, which leads to a paucity of such candidates for anyone to support.

I can’t leave this point without bringing up, once again, the 2007 At Large #5 runoff, in which Jolanda Jones defeated Joe Trevino in a race where about 25K total votes were cast. Jones had run citywide before (in At Large #3) and was better known, and the other runoffs on the ballot were City Council District D and HISD District II, both of which favored Jones’ candidacy. Trevino was a longshot no matter how you looked at it, but still. This was the clearest shot to get a Latino elected citywide, and he got bupkus in terms of financial support, including from the folks who had been threatening to sue to force City Council redistricting prior to the 2010 Census. Public support of campaigns and candidates is a complicated and nuanced thing that is more often solicited than given, I get that. I’m just saying, none of the folks who were lamenting the lack of Latino representation on Houston City Council were moved to write Joe Trevino a $100 check. Make of that what you will.

(There was also the Michael Kubosh-Roy Morales runoff of 2013. The politics of that one are different, for obvious reasons. I went back and looked, and Roy Morales actually raised about $50K for that runoff, which isn’t too shabby. There were only a couple of Latino names among his donors, though. Again, make of that what you will.)

Moving on. I have generally been supportive of having the hybrid district/At Large Council that we have. At least if you have a sub-par Council person in your district, you still have five At Large members you can turn to for support if you need it, and I think there’s value in having people who need to have a broader perspective. That said, I’d bet that most of the At Large members we have had over the past 20 or so years have come from a limited geographical distribution – this was very much the problem with Austin’s at large system, where nearly everyone on their Council came from the same part of town – and let’s just say that some of our At Large members are better than others and leave it at that. All in all, I don’t think it would be a great loss to change to an all-district system, and I would be inclined to support it if and when it comes to a vote. I’d like to see the proposal first – there are, as we well know, good and not-so-good ways to draw maps – but as a concept, I support it.

Knowing it is a long shot, LULAC decided to initiate a drive to collect 20,000 signatures in February in favor of their proposition, as the early voting for the state primaries begins. The number is the minimum needed to force the inclusion of a charter amendment in the ballot, bypassing the approval of City Council, which would only decide when it should be put for a citizens’ vote.

LULAC is simultaneously preparing a lawsuit it plans to file in court by March to eliminate all at-large positions in favor of single districts.

We’ll see how that goes. Petition drives have been pretty successful in recent years, even if they don’t always get their referenda on the next available ballot. There are already two items scheduled for the ballot in 2023, and with an open seat Mayoral race that will make it a very busy cycle. An item like this could get a bit lost in the noise, or it could be a big issue, as surely the various Mayoral candidates will need to weigh in on it. I’ll be very interested to see how the petition drive and the litigation go.

Mayor Turner tests positive for COVID

Get well soon.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced Friday he has COVID 19, putting him among a rising number of infections as the omicron strain of the virus begins to sweep the country.

“I was not feeling well overnight and thought I was suffering from allergies or a sinus infection, so I decided to get tested before starting my daily schedule,” Turner said in a statement released by his office.

[…]

Turner said he received his confirmation of the infection Friday afternoon. The specific strain of the virus infecting the mayor was not released. As with other recent cases among people less at risk, Turner reported his symptoms were mild.

“I will spend the next several days isolating myself at home and getting some rest,” he said.

Turner is vaccinated, received a booster in late October or early November and has spoken repeatedly about the value of the vaccines and the need for Houston residents to get vaccinated.

“Mayor Turner has been a steadfast partner in our work to address COVID-19 and to educate our community about the urgency of getting vaccinated,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said in a statement. “I’m happy to hear his symptoms are mild and am looking forward to seeing him back out and about soon.”

Turner will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols for isolating after a positive test, city officials said. CDC recommends anyone who tests positive — even those who are vaccinated — should isolate for 10 days, using the first full day of symptoms as a starting point. For Turner, that means if his mild symptoms do not worsen or go away entirely, Dec. 27.

“The mayor is a living example of the way to manage this,” [city of Houston chief medical officer Dr. David] Persse said.

Maybe this is omicron and maybe it’s not, but the reality is that with omicron more people who have been vaccinated will still catch COVID. The difference is that they will be much more likely to have a mild case that won’t require anything more than rest at home. The one bit of good news so far from Europe and South Africa is that while the case rates are skyrocketing, the hospitalization and death rates are not. The vaccine, especially when coupled with a booster or a previous infection, really makes the difference. Get your booster if you haven’t yet, y’all.

Sen. Whitmire will run for Mayor in 2023

Big announcement.

Sen. John Whitmire

State Sen. John Whitmire, the longest serving member of the Texas Senate, told supporters at a campaign rally Wednesday that he intends to run for mayor of Houston in 2023.

“I’m no longer considering it, we’re not asking people, we’re running for mayor and we intend to win,” Whitmire told supporters in a video later posted to Twitter by journalist Jose de Jesus Ortiz. “We’re planning to win with your help.”

Whitmire long has been rumored to be interested in the seat, but the remarks make him the first candidate to publicly declare he is running for the office to succeed Mayor Sylvester Turner.

He intends to run for re-election to the Senate in 2022, serve in the 2023 legislative session, and then run for mayor in the November 2023 municipal election.

Whitmire told the Chronicle Thursday he is focused on the Senate for now.

“I shared with supporters my plans for future,” Whitmire said. “There will be official public announcement at future date… But it’s no secret I plan to run for mayor.”

[…]

Whitmire, a Democrat, has represented Houston in the Texas Legislature since 1973, first as a state representative and then in the Senate beginning in 1983.

He has an $11 million campaign war chest, which alone would make him a formidable candidate in a city election. No city official currently has more than Turner’s $522,058 in the bank.

I at least became aware of those rumors back in May. I will just say that Sen. Whitmire’s proposed schedule for 2022 and 2023 sounds awfully busy, and may or may not be practical depending on what other candidates do. There are a number of other potential candidates out there, and I will be interested to see how they react. Whitmire will be a formidable contender, but we’re a long way off from November of 2023. As I usually say in these instances, let’s get through the next elections first. Campos, who knew this was coming, and the ,Trib have more.

Chick-Fil-A and the “heartbeat” lawsuits

I’d forgotten all about this.

A case that’s before the Texas Supreme Court this fall could have strong implications for the future of the state’s newly adopted abortion ban, the most prohibitive in the nation.

The suit relates to a 2019 law that, like the abortion law, was authored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola.

Known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” law, it allows anyone to sue when they believe a governmental entity has taken “adverse actions” against a person or company based on its support for a religious organization, as Republican lawmakers believed the city of San Antonio did when excluding the fast-food restaurant from its airport.

Civilian enforcement is also the key to the new state law that effectively bans abortion, Senate Bill 8 — a provision that has so far allowed it to survive a legal challenge based on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case establishing women’s right to abortions. At issue in both cases: Can a state law grant private citizens standing to sue?

“The standing issue in the case is essentially the same,” said Jason Steed, a Dallas-based appellate lawyer and court watcher who is not involved in the case. “That’s what’s interesting about it is that the court could decide that standing issue and whatever they decide about that issue would have direct implications for SB 8.”

[…]

The city council’s decision to ban the restaurant had animated conservatives who saw it as discrimination against the company because its owner had given money to Christian groups that oppose same-sex marriage.

Gov. Greg Abbott, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, each with a Chick-fil-A styrofoam cup in hand, signed Hughes’ bill in July 2019, and celebrated it as a victory for religious freedom.

The suit before the Texas Supreme Court was brought on Sept. 5, 2019, by five Chick-fil-A supporters who said they were harmed because they would have been customers of the restaurant had it opened in the city-owned airport.

Still, they note in the suit that the law does not require them to prove damages and purports to give standing to anyone who alleges a violation. They are seeking a court order to stop the city from excluding the fast-foot chain from this project and potential ones with the city in the future.

It’s unclear whether the company wants into the airport. In September 2020, San Antonio was forced to offer Chick-Fil-A its spot back as part of an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Civil Rights under the Trump administration. The settlement helped the airport avoid penalties that could have jeopardized millions of dollars in funding from the agency.

But Chick-Fil-A declined, and the city has since given the spot to Whataburger, which is slated to open by next spring.

In August of 2020, the Fourth Court of Appeals in San Antonio sided with the city and reversed a lower court’s decision, ruling that the city had sovereign immunity, a legal principle that protects governments and their agencies from lawsuits.

See here, here, and here for some background. Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit in July of 2019, before the five busybodies filed theirs. The easy way out for SCOTx is to uphold the Fourth Court’s ruling, which would allow them to not address the question of standing, which as noted is at the center of SB8. The city of San Antonio argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing, and as of today there’s no adjudication on that matter. Sooner or later, one way or another, we’ll get some kind of answer to that.

The Housing and Community Development mess

A review of headlines from last week, which I did not have the brain space to do anything with:

Turner fires Houston housing director who accused him of ‘charade’ bid process to benefit developer

Turner names interim housing director in wake of corruption claims by former department head

Turner orders legal review of housing deal at center of ‘charade’ claims by fired housing director

Editorial: Tell the truth, Mayor Turner. Why the ‘charade’ over wasteful housing contract?

I still don’t quite have the brain capacity to make sense of all this. None of it looks good for Mayor Turner, but how things end don’t always reflect how they began. These would be terrible headlines not just for the Mayor but for everyone on City Council if we had elections this year, but we don’t. There may be some echoes of this when the 2023 campaigns roll around, but my guess is that unless there’s something epic inside all of this we will have moved onto many other things by then. At heart, that’s one of the reasons I voted against the proposal back in 2015 to change from two year terms and a limit of three for local elected officials to four year terms with a limit of two. I know a lot of Council members hated having to run every two years, but I believed then and still believe now that there’s value to it. Anyway, here we are. We’ll see how many people remember any of this a month from now, let alone in two years.

Four House members to step down

In order of announcement…

Rep. Scott Sanford.

Rep. Scott Sanford

State Rep. Scott Sanford, a Republican from McKinney, announced Sunday he is not running for reelection, citing his family, especially his grandchildren.

“As the legislature embarks on its third special session, I’m reminded of the seasonality of government. It ebbs and flows as it follows its constitutional guidelines, the needs of the citizens and the reality of political processes,” he said in a news release.

“Life also has its season, and Shelly and I are thrilled to now be in a new season as grandparents. Even more exciting, our second grandchild is expected to arrive soon. In the midst of changing life seasons and a personal evaluation of priorities, I have made the prayerful decision to not file for re-election,” he added.

Sanford represented the 70th District in the House since 2013. The 57-year-old also serves as a pastor at Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen.

I have no clear impression of Rep. Sanford, he’s basically a generic Republican to me. His HD70 in Collin County is on the far outer fringes of competitiveness after moving moderately left over the decade. It’ll be interesting to see if the Republicans try to shore up a district like that or leave it more or less as is while they triage higher priority areas of need.

Rep. Celia Israel.

Rep. Celia Israel

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, announced Wednesday she will not seek reelection and instead explore a run for Austin mayor next year.

“The heartbeat of a city is people from all walks of life working together and learning from each other,” Israel wrote on social media. “That’s why I’m proud that the founding core of my exploratory committee is diverse, with a broad array of lived experiences.”

Israel has represented House District 50 since 2014. The Austin-based district is safely Democratic, though its boundaries are likely to change before the 2022 election due to the redistricting process that is currently underway in the Legislature.

Israel has been an advocate for the LGBT community in the lower chamber, helping start the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus in 2019. She has also been outspoken about abortion rights, and she was one of the House Democrats who left the state in July to protest the Republican elections bill.

The Austin Chronicle had the news earlier. I’m a big fan of Rep. Israel, and if I lived in Austin she’d be high on my list for Mayoral candidates. If she wins I hope she sees that as a potential step towards a future statewide run, because we could definitely use someone like her in the executive wing of the Capitol.

Rep. Chris Paddie.

Rep. Chris Paddie

State Rep. Chris Paddie, a Marshall Republican who chairs the powerful House State Affairs Committee, said Wednesday he will not seek another term in the lower chamber.

The news comes less than a month after Paddie, who has represented House District 9 since 2013, announced he would run for reelection.

In a statement, Paddie said that as the Legislature undergoes the redistricting process, he had “decided that the timing is right to spend more time with my family and allow my East Texas colleagues to spend time fighting for our values instead of having to make some of the tough choices required.”

“Serving in the Legislature is not a career, but a way to serve your neighbors,” Paddie said. “I remain fully committed to advocating for good public policy and will continue do so in non-elected avenues of public service.”

Rep. Paddie, like Rep. Sanford, is one term away from being vested in the generous legislative pension system. He must really be done. I know that the local wingnuts have had it in for him, so maybe this was just enough. He was certainly conservative, but he had policy chops and took the job seriously, and I give him credit for that much. The default Republican these days is Briscoe Cain, and Paddie’s successor will very likely be a Cain clone, so in that sense his retirement is a loss to the Lege.

Rep. Jim Murphy.

Rep. Jim Murphy

State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, announced Thursday he will not seek another term to the Texas House.

Murphy, who represented House District 133 from 2007-09 and again since 2011, chairs the House GOP Caucus and the House Higher Education Committee.

He announced in June his intention to seek reelection, saying in a news release that while the Legislature “accomplished a lot” during the regular legislative session that ended in May, “unfinished business still remains.”

On Thursday, though, Murphy said he is “just looking forward to life’s next great opportunity” and that it had been “an honor and privilege” to serve the constituents of HD-133.

Maybe he reads my blog. Murphy is also in a fringe-competitive district, one that may be a bigger challenge to stay as red given the trends in Harris County and the need of Republicans to shore up some other districts. He was very helpful in getting pension reform passed a couple of years ago, and like Rep. Paddie more about doing things than posturing and complaining. We’ll see if his replacement, if Republicans hold the seat, is like that or not. I’d bet on “not”.

Finally, on a semi-related note, there are five candidates in the special election to replace former Rep. Leo Pacheco in HD118, three Dems and two Republicans. Early voting starts for it on Monday. It’s highly unlikely that anyone will get seated while the Lege is still in session, but for symbolic reasons if nothing else it would be nice for the Dems to not fumble this one.

July 2021 campaign finance reports: City of Houston

PREVIOUSLY: Congress, Harris County

As we know, this is not an election year for city of Houston offices. That usually makes for a pretty dull summary of finance reports, since it’s just incumbents and about half of them are term-limited and thus not really motivated to do much. But I had last checked on these in January 2020, which was the conclusion of the 2019 election cycle, and I didn’t want to wait till next year for a first look. And you never know what you might find.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Turner       185,055     76,357        0     522,058
Peck          14,915     10,892    5,000      18,072
Jackson       19,700     14,126        0      33,317
Kamin         79,860     10,697        0     115,828
E-Shabazz     36,000     19,879        0      20,468
Martin             0      3,473        0     130,577
Thomas        
Travis        34,950      5,886   21,000      76,500
Cisneros       1,000        456        0      18,296
Gallegos       2,075      8,620        0      77,372
Pollard      280,908     11,371   40,000     303,572
C-Tatum       58,718      6,847        0     117,013
Knox          11,685      4,571        0      16,510
Robinson      58,983     16,085        0     149,046
Kubosh        60,910     24,318  206,010      65,667
Plummer       30,770      6,417    8,175      33,010
Alcorn         3,200      5,251        0      31,013
Brown         24,550      3,892   75,000      19,281

Edwards            0      2,580        0      45,081

Sorry, no links to individual reports this time – the city of Houston’s reporting system spits out downloaded PDFs, which I have to rename and upload to Google Drive to be able to provide links for them, and it ain’t worth the effort at this point. I’ll do that in 2023, when things heat up.

One of these things is not like the others. I’ve been asking folks who they think will run for Mayor in 2023, partly to see how my own speculations have turned out. One name that has come up a lot is that of Ed Pollard, the first-term Council member in District J. Let’s just say his July report does nothing to temper that kind of talk. To put it mildly, one does not need $300K to run for re-election in a low-turnout district like J, and that’s more than two years out from the actual election. Pollard may have his eye on something else, of course – he ran for HD137 in 2016, and who knows what opportunities the next round of redistricting may present – but if one is being mentioned when the question of “who is thinking about running for Mayor” comes up, this is the kind of finance report that supports such talk.

Other names that come up when I bring up the question include Michael Kubosh, Chris Brown, and Amanda Edwards. Neither of the first two has raised all that much, though they both have the capability. Kubosh has knocked $60K off his loan total, which may have contributed to his lower cash-on-hand total. As for Edwards, she’s the opposite of Pollard at this point.

The one person who has been openly talked about as a candidate – by someone other than me, anyway – is Sen. John Whitmire, who has enough cash in his treasury to not sweat the small stuff. He recently announced his intent to run for re-election in 2022, which is completely unsurprising and not in conflict with any 2023 speculation. Mayor Turner ran for and won re-election in HD139 in 2014 before officially beginning his Mayoral campaign in 2015.

Beyond that, not a whole lot to report. Mayor Turner has some money on hand if he wants to influence a charter amendment or two. CM Tiffany Thomas did not have a report that I could find – sometimes, the system is a little wonky that way. The only other number of note was for term-limited CM David Robinson, who has added over $100K to his cash on hand since last January. Maybe that’s a sign that he has his eye on another race, and maybe that just means that some people are good at fundraising. I’ll leave that to you. Next up, HISD and HCC. Let me know what you think.

Appeals court overturns verdict in firefighter pay parity lawsuit

Wow.

An appeals court on Thursday reversed a ruling that declared Houston firefighters’ pay-parity measure unconstitutional, a major win for the fire union and one that could have far-reaching effects on city finances.

The fire union won approval of a charter amendment, known as Proposition B, in 2018 that would have granted them equal pay with police officers of similar rank and seniority. The city and the police officers’ union quickly sued, though, and in 2019 a trial court ruled the referendum unconstitutional because it contradicted state law that governs how cities engage with police officers and firefighters. The voter-approved charter amendment was never implemented.

In its ruling, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston said that was an error. Justice Meagan Hassan wrote in a 2-1 opinion that the Texas Legislature did not intend to stop cities from enacting such pay measures.

“Preemption is not a conclusion lightly reached — if the Legislature intended to preempt a subject matter normally within a home-rule city’s broad powers, that intent must be evidenced with ‘unmistakable clarity,’” Hassan wrote.

The justices sent the case back to the lower court. Both the city and the police union said they plan to appeal the ruling.

It was not immediately clear when the city would have to implement the pay parity measure.

[…]

Controller Chris Brown, the city’s independently elected fiscal watchdog, said the ruling was disappointing and concerning from a financial perspective. He said the administration and union need to iron out a collective bargaining agreement so the city knows how much it will have to pay if Prop B is upheld and back wages are owed. It could be in the ballpark of $250 million to $350 million, he said, adding the city and union could agree to pay that money over several years instead of all at once.

“We need to have certainty on the ultimate financial impact to the city,” he said. “I have a concern because ultimately, the taxpayers are going to foot this bill… If we do have a big, one-time payment, where’s that money going to come from?”

Good question. See here for the background here for the majority ruling, and here for the dissent. I would imagine this will be put on hold pending appeal to the Supreme Court, so we’re probably looking at another two years or so before this is resolved. It’s possible that the Mayor and the firefighters could hammer out a collective bargaining agreement that would moot this, or perhaps the next Mayor could, if the Supreme Court decides to wait till after the 2023 election to hand down a ruling. I wouldn’t bet on that, but it is theoretically possible.

We will have that charter election

For that thing I still don’t have a pithy name for. Someone form a PAC and throw me a bone here.

A petition filed in April by a group seeking to give City Council members the ability to place items on their weekly meeting agenda contained enough valid signatures to trigger a charter referendum in November, the city secretary reported Friday.

In a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner and council members, City Secretary Pat Daniel said her office verified that 20,482 petition signatures — above the threshold of 20,000 — contained the name, signature and other required information of registered voters who live in Houston. The city secretary’s office counted 31,448 of the nearly 40,000 signatures submitted by the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition, the group behind the petition drive, according to Daniel.

The referendum, if approved by voters, would amend Houston’s charter to allow any three council members to place an item on the council’s weekly agenda. For now, the mayor wields almost full control of the agenda, including the ability to block any measures, under the city’s strong-mayor form of government.

Three council members already are allowed to call a special meeting and set the agenda, but the maneuver rarely attracts a required quorum of council members.

The charter amendment coalition — a politically diverse mix of groups that includes the Houston fire union, the Harris County Republican Party, the conservative group Urban Reform, Indivisible Houston and the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — has said it intends to place the measure on this year’s November ballot. City Council has until Aug. 16 to approve the referendum ahead of the Nov. 2 election.

See here, here, and here for the background. City Council has until August 16 to put the item on the November ballot. I expect this to pass, but I don’t plan to vote for it, for reasons I have already explained. I hope I’m wrong about the sideshow effect of this.

More May election post-mortems

From the DMN: Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson bet the second half of his first term on these two council seats. Here’s how it looked after polls closed.

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson bet the second half of his first four-year term on flipping two City Council seats held by members with whom he has battled during the last year.

He appeared to have lost that gambit.

Neither candidate he endorsed — Yolanda Faye Williams in District 5 and Donald Parish Jr. in District 7 — dealt a fatal blow to incumbents Jaime Resendez and Adam Bazaldua, according to unofficial results.

Resendez staved off a runoff against Terry Perkins, a former pastor at Abundant Grace Church. And in District 7, Bazaldua will face former council member Kevin Felder, not Parish.

In a late-night statement, Johnson acknowledged several races were headed to run-offs next month.

“No matter what voters in those districts ultimately decide, I am eager to work with our new City Council on an ambitious agenda that focuses on the basics — such as public safety, infrastructure investment, economic growth, and property tax relief — and builds for the future of this great city,” he said.

While it was never clear why the mayor chose to break a long-standing tradition against endorsing candidates as he did with Williams and Parish, the outcome was coming into focus after polls closed. Johnson never discussed his picks with The Dallas Morning News.

Johnson likely will still have a sizeable bloc of adversaries on the 15-member body.

“In a weak mayor system, allies and a coalition are critical,” said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Endorsing a challenger is a gamble. If you fail, you have deeply alienated people who will continue to serve on the council. However, if you succeed, then you’ve pretty well created the beginning of the mayoral fraction.”

[…]

A list of catastrophes, especially the coronavirus pandemic, has sidelined the mayor and his nascent agenda that included increasing workforce readiness, ending division on the council and blurring the city’s historic racial divide.

The pandemic and demand to reform policing and reinvestment in Black and Hispanic communities could have served as a launching pad for those issues — and that may still be the case. However, the mayor was often eclipsed by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on both fronts.

“This past year has been the year of Clay Jenkins, not the year of Eric Johnson,” Wilson said, adding that the mayor’s window of exercising any additional authority in an emergency situation is closing.

But as we emerge from the pandemic and move beyond the election, the mayor will have a chance to reboot.

“This is a time for enterprising mayors to put their cities ahead,” Wilson said.

I don’t follow Dallas municipal politics and I don’t know the players here, but this interested me for a couple of reasons. One is that as noted it’s pretty rare for a Mayor to directly oppose an incumbent Council member. Houston Mayors will support friendly incumbents and preferred candidates in open seat races, but otherwise usually stay in their own lane. For one thing, they’re always on the ballot as well, so there’s always that fish to be fried. Even in our strong Mayor system, the risk of picking a losing fight against someone who will then have incentive to oppose you is a risk that Mayors usually avoid (or at least do it very much on the down low). As a theoretical matter, I have no issue with this – I can think of more than a few Council incumbents I would have liked past Mayors to oppose – but the risk/reward calculation has to make sense, and there’s no better way to look like a bully that’s just been run off than backing a losing challenger.

Two, in the same way that I have an interest in San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, I see Mayor Johnson as a potential future statewide candidate. He was a legislator, he won his seat by ousting an incumbent in a primary, and he got some things done as a member of the minority party. He’s also young and clearly ambitious, which is in relatively short supply among the big city Mayors. The better the record of accomplishment he can build in the current job, the better his chances statewide down the line. The line about this being the year of Clay Jenkins and not Eric Johnson will leave a mark, but then Clay Jenkins is also someone I have my eye on for a statewide run at some point. Make the most of the next two years, Mayor Johnson.

Moving a bit north, opponents of anti-racism education won big in Southlake.

Nine months after officials in the affluent Carroll Independent School District introduced a proposal to combat racial and cultural intolerance in schools, voters delivered a resounding victory Saturday to a slate of school board and City Council candidates who opposed the plan.

In an unusually bitter campaign that echoed a growing national divide over how to address issues of race, gender and sexuality in schools, candidates in the city of Southlake were split between two camps: those who supported new diversity and inclusion training requirements for Carroll students and teachers and those backed by a political action committee that was formed last year to defeat the plan.

On one side, progressives argued that curriculum and disciplinary changes were needed to make all children feel safe and welcome in Carroll, a mostly white but quickly diversifying school district. On the other, conservatives in Southlake rejected the school diversity plan as an effort to indoctrinate students with a far-left ideology that, according to some, would institutionalize discrimination against white children and those with conservative Christian values.

Candidates and voters on both sides described the election as a “fork in the road” for Southlake, a wealthy suburb 30 miles northwest of Dallas. “So goes Southlake,” a local conservative commentator warned in the weeks leading up to the election, “so goes the rest of America.”

In the end, the contest was not close. Candidates backed by the conservative Southlake Families PAC, which has raised more than $200,000 since last summer, won every race by about 70 percent to 30 percent, including those for two school board positions, two City Council seats and mayor. More than 9,000 voters cast ballots, three times as many as in similar contests in the past.

[…]

Hernandez and other candidates running in support of new diversity and inclusion programs said they were not particularly surprised by the outcome in a historically conservative city where about two-thirds of voters backed President Donald Trump last year, but they were dismayed by the margin of their defeat.

Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico, said he worries about the signal the outcome sends to dozens of Carroll high school students and recent graduates who came forward with stories about racist and anti-gay bullying over the past two years. To demonstrate the need for change, members of the student-led Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition collected more than 300 accounts from current and former Carroll students last year who said they had been mistreated because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

“I don’t want to think about all these kids that shared their stories, their testimonies,” Hernandez said, growing emotional Saturday moments after having learned the election results. “I don’t want to think about that right now, because it’s really, really hard for me. I feel really bad for all those kids, every single one of them that shared a story. I don’t have any words for them.”

As the story notes, the origin of all this was a viral video of white Carrolton high school students chanting the N word in 2018. The town, which has become less white as its population has boomed in recent years, attempted to address that through listening sessions and the school curriculum, and not too surprisingly some people that it was All Just Too Much, because we can’t go about hurting their feelings. I do believe that the trends in Southlake are pointing in the right direction, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some backsliding.

And finally, Collin College candidates address concerns of free speech, retaliation:

Ongoing controversies at Collin College could impact Saturday’s election where longtime trustees are aiming to keep their seats on the board.

The growing college system has made national headlines over allegations of retaliation and its response to the pandemic. Protestors have attended board meetings after administrators let go three women who criticized the school’s COVID-19 response.

Trustees seeking another six-year term include Jim Orr, Andy Hardin and Bob Collins, who has been on the board since the founding of the Collin College in 1985.

But their opponents say the board needs people who will push for transparency across the school and can bring in diversity and fresh ideas.

Last week, nearly 90 people gathered to protest the way school officials have handled free speech, including professors Audra Heaslip and Suzanne Jones — who were told by college leadership that their contracts would not be renewed at the end of the semester.

The two women had previously criticized the school’s handling of the pandemic and were leaders of the college’s chapter of the Texas Faculty Association.

Volunteers then went to nearby Collin County neighborhoods to speak to voters and discuss issues leading up to Saturday’s election.

Misty Irby, a risk manager, said it shocked her to learn that Collin College is on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list for top 10 worst colleges for free speech.

“That’s very disheartening to me,” Irby said. “You have something that’s rotten at the core of the college that needs to be fixed.”

Irby, who is challenging Collins, said she wants to promote transparency within the college, repair its reputation and foster freedom of speech for students, faculty and staff.

That article was from before the election – in the end, the three challengers all lost, though two of them lost by single digits. The Dallas Observer has been following this story closely, and you can find all of their relevant articles here. For a rapidly blue-trending county, Collin has some truly awful local officials. The day of reckoning for them can’t come quickly enough. In the meantime, if you want to talk “cancel culture”, please be sure to address the cases of Audra Heaslip and Suzanne Jones in your monologue.

Other May election results

Roundup style, mostly.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg easily wins a fourth term.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg

Mayor Ron Nirenberg vanquished the ghost of repeat challenger Greg Brockhouse in Saturday’s City election and secured his third term in office with a win of historic proportion.

Nirenberg is now on course to become the city’s first four-term mayor since his mentor, former Mayor Phil Hardberger, led a successful campaign in 2009 to relax term limits from two, two-year terms to four, two-year terms.

That longevity in office should give Nirenberg the time and space to forge the kind of legacy established by Hardberger and Julián Castro before him.

Hardberger can point to completion of the San Antonio River’s Museum Reach, acquisition of Hardberger Park, redevelopment of Main Plaza, and jump starting the transformation of Hemisfair Park after it lay idle for 50 years. He recruited Sheryl Sculley to become city manager. Her long tenure led to the modernization of the city’s financial practices, ambitious five-year bond cycles to address critical infrastructure needs, and a new level of professional standards for city staff.

Castro, then the youngest mayor of a Top 50 city, led efforts to bring early childhood education to the forefront, well in advance of national trends, with successful passage of Pre-K 4 SA. He launched SA2020 and with it, the Decade of Downtown. Castro joined forces with Sculley to take on the powerful police union and address runaway health care costs. His growing national profile earned him a cabinet seat as Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration.

Nirenberg is poised to establish his own legacy. Voters chose him by a 31-point margin, 62% to 31%, over Brockhouse, with the remainder going to a dozen other names on the ballot, a definitive verdict on Nirenberg’s second-term record. A Bexar Facts poll conducted with the San Antonio Report and KSAT-TV in late March accurately predicted as much. The reason: Nirenberg’s strong leadership through the pandemic.

Nirenberg won by a much wider margin against Brockhouse this time. When I look around at current Mayors for future statewide potential, Nirenberg certainly belongs on the list, but for whatever the reason I haven’t heard his name bandied about. Maybe that will change now.

San Antonio had a high-profile ballot proposition, which would have stripped the city’s police union of it collective bargaining power. It was narrowly defeated, but its proponents are encouraged they did as well as they did, and expect to continue that fight.

Austin had its own slew of ballot propositions, with a particularly contentious one that would outlaw the public camps that homeless people are now using. That one passed, and we’ll see what happens next.

The folks behind Proposition B, the citizen initiative to re-criminalize public camping in Downtown Austin and near the UT Campus, got the victory they sought for the more than $1 million they spent. With all votes counted Saturday night, the measure backed by Save Austin Now prevailed by 14 points, 57.1%-42.9%.

That’s a slightly weaker showing than was predicted before polls closed by SAN co-founder Matt Mackowiak, also chair of the Travis County Republican Party, but a win’s a win:

Those who have been paying attention will note that Mayor Steve Adler and much of Council have already decided that the June 2019 vote that Prop B reverses was a failed experiment, and have moved on to other strategies to house Austin’s unsheltered poor. Perhaps SAN will catch up soon. Whatever its merits as policy, the campaign for Prop B did almost certainly boost turnout, which all told was 22.55% countywide (just under 90% of that was city voters). That’s the highest Austin’s seen in a May election since 1994.

Even CM Greg Casar, the politician most directly rebuked by tonight’s results, is looking ahead: “I do not believe Austin is as divided as this election makes it seem. The overwhelming majority of Austinites share a common goal, no matter how folks voted on Prop B. We all want to get people out of tents and into homes,” Casar said in a statement. “Our community must come together after this election & house 3,000 more people.”

I’ll leave it to the Austin folks to figure this out from here, but from my vantage point one obvious issue here is the ridiculously high housing prices in Austin, which is fueled in part by way more demand for housing than supply. I hope the city can find a way forward on that.

Fort Worth will have a new Mayor, after a June runoff.

Fort Worth voters will chose a new mayor for the first time in a decade in June with Mattie Parker and Deborah Peoples apparently headed to the runoff.

Mayor Betsy Price’s decision not to seek an unprecedented sixth term sparked 10 candidates to run, including two council members, the Tarrant County Democratic Party chairwoman and a slew of political newcomers.

According unofficial results in Tarrant County, Peoples, a former AT&T vice president, led with 33.60% of the vote Saturday night while Parker, a former Price chief of staff, had 30.82%, with all 176 vote centers reporting. Council member Brian Byrd was in third place with 14.75%.

Parker and Peoples maintained the upper hand with results for Denton County. There, Parker took 35.17% of the vote compared to 16% for Peoples. In Parker County, Parker had 42% of the vote followed by Byrd’s 23.3%. Peoples had 12.5%.

The runoff will be June 5.

Here are the Tarrant County results – scroll down to page 21 to see the Fort Worth Mayor’s race. There were 1,106 votes cast in total in this race in Denton County, and 176 total votes cast in Parker County, so Tarrant is really all you need to know. In 2019, Peoples lost to Mayor Betsy Price by a 56-42 margin. Adding up the votes this time, counting Ann Zadeh as progressive and Brian Byrn and Steve Penate as conservative, the vote was roughly a 55-42 margin for the Republican-aligned candidates. We’ll see how it goes in the runoff.

And then there was Lubbock.

Lubbock voters on Saturday backed a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance that tries to outlaw abortions in the city’s limits, likely prompting a lawsuit over what opponents say is an unconstitutional ban on the procedure.

The unofficial vote, 62% for and 38% against the measure, comes less than a year after Planned Parenthood opened a clinic in Lubbock and months after the City Council rejected the ordinance on legal grounds and warned it could tee up a costly court fight.

The passage of the ordinance makes Lubbock one of some two dozen cities that have declared themselves a “sanctuary … for the unborn” and tried to prohibit abortions from being performed locally. But none of the cities in the movement — which started in the East Texas town of Waskom in 2019 — has been as big as Lubbock and none of them have been home to an abortion provider.

It’s unclear when the ordinance will go into effect, and if it will be challenged in court.

The push to declare Lubbock a “sanctuary city for the unborn” began in the last two years and was galvanized by the arrival of a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2020. Anti-abortion activists gathered enough signatures to bring the ordinance to the City Council — where it was voted down for conflicting with state law and Supreme Court rulings — and to then put it to a citywide vote.

Ardent supporters of the measure, who liken abortion to murder, say it reflects the views held by many in conservative Lubbock. They believe the ordinance would stand up in court and say they have an attorney who will defend the city free of charge if it is challenged.

But the strategy of bringing the abortion fight to the local level has divided even staunch anti-abortion activists, and Texas towns like Omaha and Mineral Wells have voted down similar ordinances or walked them back under advice from city attorneys.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, which previously sued seven East Texas towns that passed similar ordinances, has said they were watching the vote closely and hinted at a lawsuit in a statement Saturday.

Drucilla Tigner, a policy and advocacy strategist with the organization, said the “ACLU has a long history of challenging unconstitutional abortion bans and will continue to fight to protect the fundamental rights of the people of Lubbock.”

[…]

The Lubbock ordinance outlaws abortions within the city, and allows family members of a person who has an abortion to sue the provider and anyone who assists someone getting an abortion, like by driving them to a clinic.

There isn’t an exception for women pregnant as a result of rape or incest.

The ordinance would not be enforced by the government unless the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, or made other changes to abortion laws.

It instead relies on private citizens filing lawsuits.

Richard D. Rosen, a constitutional law professor at Texas Tech University, expects someone would sue Planned Parenthood and the legal fight would go from there.

“As long as Roe is good law I think these suits will ultimately fail, but it [could make] abortion providers … expend money for attorneys fees and it takes time,” he said.

See here and here for the background. The lawsuit that was filed against those seven towns was later dropped after the ordinances to remove language that declared the Lilith Fund and the Texas Equal Access Fund “criminal entities”. The language banning abortions in those towns remains, however. Lubbock is in a much different position than those tiny little towns, and I have no idea what happens from here. It can’t be long before someone files a lawsuit for something.

Finally, I’m sorry to report that Virginia Elizondo lost her race for Spring Branch ISD. I wish her all the best in the future.

Charter amendment petitions are in

I need a simpler name for this thing, so that Future Me will have an easier time searching for relevant posts.

Houston voters likely will get to decide in November whether City Council members should have the power to place items on the weekly City Hall agenda, a power currently reserved for the mayor.

A group called the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition on Monday delivered a measure with nearly 40,000 signatures to the city secretary, who now has 30 days to verify them. It takes 20,000 to get the issue onto the ballot.

If the city secretary approves the signatures, the issue likely would go to voters in November. It would allow any three of the City Council’s 16 members to join forces to place an item on the weekly agenda, when the council votes on actions. The mayor now has nearly full control of the schedule in Houston’s strong mayor form of government.

[…]

Two of the council’s 16 members, Amy Peck and Michael Kubosh, showed their support at the press conference Monday when the coalition delivered its signatures.

The coalition includes a broad group of political groups, including the Houston firefighters’ union, the Harris County Republican Party, and the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

But the opposition is similarly wide-ranging. In addition to Turner, a Democrat, conservative Councilmember Greg Travis also thinks it would be harmful. He would be open to other reforms, but three members is too low a bar, Travis said, and would result in “all kinds of irrational, wacky, inefficient” items reaching the council.

“You don’t sit there and open a Pandora’s box,” Travis said. “It’s not the correct solution to the problem.”

See here and here for the background. “Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition” it is, I guess, but that’s still pretty damn generic. I must admit, I’m a little surprised to see CM Travis speak against this, since I had him pegged as a chief contributor to the forthcoming irrational wackiness. Good to know that our local politics can still surprise me.

If nothing else, this will be an interesting test of the ability for a (potentially high-profile) charter referendum to generate turnout, since this is a non-Mayoral election year. Turnout in 2017, the previous (and only so far) non-city election year was 101K, with the various pension obligation bonds that were a (forced) part of the pension reform deal as the main driver of interest. By comparison, the 2007 and 2011 elections, with their sleepy Mayoral races, each had about 125K voters, and that’s at a time with fewer registered voters (about 920K in Harris County in 2011, and 1.052 million in 2017). I’m not going to make any wild-ass guesses about turnout now, when we have yet to see what either a pro- or con- campaign might look like, but for sure 100K is a dead minimum given the data we have. At a similar turnout level for 2007/2011, and accounting for the increase in RVs since then (probably about 1.1 million now; it was 1.085 million in 2019), we’re talking 140-150K. Those are your hardcore, there’s-an-election-so-I’m-voting voters. We’ll see if we can beat that.

Here come the petitions for the latest charter amendment effort

I’m still skeptical of this, but we’ll see how it goes.

A coalition pushing to give Houston City Council members more input at City Hall says it has gathered the required 20,000 signatures to place a charter amendment on the ballot.

The measure, if approved by voters, would allow any three City Council members to place an item on the council’s weekly agenda. Right now, the mayor has near-full control of the agenda. That allows the mayor to block measures he or she does not support.

Houston has a strong-mayor form of government that gives the chief executive far-reaching powers over the city’s day-to-day business. The city charter currently allows three council members to call a special meeting and set its agenda. That power is rarely used, however, and typically occurs as a rebuke of the mayor, failing to attract the majority of council needed to conduct business.

The coalition said it will deliver the signatures, which it began collecting in October, to City Hall on Monday and is eyeing a referendum on the November ballot this year. The coalition is a widely divergent group of organizations, including the Houston firefighters’ union, the Harris County Republican Party, Urban Reform, Indivisible Houston, the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and Houston Justice.

The city secretary will have 30 days to validate the signatures, and then council will have to put the measure on the ballot for the next election date. The organizers likely missed the deadline to get on the May 1 ballot, which was Feb. 12, according to the Secretary of State’s website. The next election date is Nov. 2. The last day to order an election for that date is Aug. 16.

Charles Blain, an organizer with the coalition and president of the conservative Urban Reform, declined to say how many signatures the coalition gathered. That will be revealed at a Monday news conference, he said.

Blain argued the measure is needed to “finally get some resolution” to critical policy issues that have not reached the agenda.

“It’s important because the community deserves representation,” Blain said. “I know we all have district council members, but it’s incredibly frustrating that our district council members can’t team up with a few of their colleagues and get something on the agenda.”

See here for the background, and for how I feel about this, which remains true today. Maybe on Monday when they have that Monday news conference they can tell us what ideas that 1) have majority support on Council but are opposed by Mayor Turner and 2) would not be blocked by the state via lawsuit or new legislation they have in mind. I believe that setting the threshold to three means the most frequent use of this power would be for the troublemaker factions to bring forth items that can’t and won’t be passed but can waste time and cause division. But maybe I’m wrong, and maybe there will be some currently-blocked agenda items that meet my criteria that would finally get a Council vote that will be revealed on Monday. I’m open to persuasion if the argument is there, but I need to hear the argument first. Perhaps I’ll get to hear it on Monday.

(FYI, I was approached by a petition collector for this effort at our neighborhood Kroger about a week ago. I declined to sign, but assumed at the time that they must still be in need of signatures to meet their goal. I’m a little surprised at the timing here, but maybe this guy was an outlier.)

Mayor Whitmire 2.0?

Buried in this story about the recent departure of HPD Chief Art Acevedo for Miami is the following tidbit:

Sen. John Whitmire

Houston insiders knew that the 56-year-old Acevedo had been considering a mayoral run once Sylvester Turner reached his term limit in 2024. But as Acevedo started prospecting for supporters, the response wasn’t good. Despite public grandstanding after George Floyd’s death—posing for photo ops with local protesters, changing his Twitter profile image to one of Floyd, granting countless TV interviews—his support in the Black community was thin, owing at least partly to ongoing animosity toward the HPD’s record on policing minority communities. Houston politicos also told me that the Mexican American community was lukewarm at best on the Cuban American police chief.

Even stranger, Acevedo’s support among non-Hispanic white Houstonians risked fracture. The police chief had made a gentleman’s agreement with John Whitmire, dean of the Texas Senate, not to run against him, should the Houston lawmaker seek the mayor’s office, as has been speculated. “Art and I are the best of friends, and he and I agreed months ago that we both wouldn’t be in the race,” said Whitmire, who conceded that, while he will run for reelection to the state Senate in 2022, he has been exploring a mayoral run.

I had neither Chief Acevedo nor Sen. Whitmire on my speculative list of 2023 Mayoral candidates. I’m actually a little more surprised to see Whitmire’s name in that story than I am to see Acevedo’s, if only because it’s hard to imagine the Texas Senate without Whitmire. On the other hand, it can’t be any fun to serve as a Democrat with Dan Patrick holding the gavel – there’s a reason why Rodney Ellis took the first chance to bail out for the seat on Commissioners Court – and the prospect of being the big fish who can actually get stuff done has to have a lot of appeal. As Campos notes, Whitmire already has a crap-ton of money, and the list of establishment politicians and civic leaders who would put their name on a list of his supporters is already multiple pages long. Whitmire would (largely) clear the field in a way that no one else could. If he wants to do this, he’d start out as the favorite.

Whether he would, and whether he should, are different questions. If Dems can finally break through at the statewide level in 2022, especially if they can beat Patrick, that might make staying in the Senate a lot more appealing, even as a member of the minority. Houston has a number of tough long-term challenges, and if the Senate continues to be an inhospitable place those challenges will be greater since the Legislature is much more interested in sticking it to the big cities than in helping them in any way. Whitmire may prevent some other potential candidates from entering the race against him, but he hasn’t had a real electoral challenge in a long time, and city politics are a lot different than state politics. Mayor of Houston is a powerful and prestigious job, but I guarantee it’s a lot harder and a much bigger time commitment than any state political gig. This is not a decision to be made lightly, that’s all I’m saying.

For what it’s worth, from my privileged position of armchair quarterback, I would like to see someone who sees themselves as a future statewide candidate be the next Mayor of Houston (*). Mayor of Houston would be a pretty good springboard to a statewide candidacy, and we’re going to need as deep a bench as we can get as statewide races become truly competitive. I specifically mentioned Sen. Carol Alvarado in this context when I came up with my theoretical candidates list last year, and I stand by that. Other people on my list – Amanda Edwards, Abbie Kamin, Chris Brown – also fit that bill, and one name suggested to me afterward who also would fit it is Michael Skelly. Nobody who is thinking about running for Mayor now has any reason to care about that, but I’m a blogger so it falls to me.

Anyway. We knew Mayor Turner was seriously running in 2015 well in advance, and I suspect we’ll know what Sen. Whitmire is thinking early on as well. In case you were wondering, by the way, Sen. Whitmire is the former brother-in-law of Mayor Kathy Whitmire; she is the widow of his brother. John Whitmire would make a very strong Mayoral candidate if he chooses to run. We’ll see what he decides.

(*) If you really want to think long-term, the next person elected Mayor will most likely serve through 2031. John Cornyn’s Senate seat will be on the ballot in 2032, and the next Governor’s race would be in 2034. One could mount a statewide campaign while halfway through one’s first term in the 2026 election, though I would not advise it, or one could run either as a one-term Mayor or midway through one’s second term in 2030. Sen. Whitmire is currently 71 years old.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price not running for re-election

Here now is the most interesting election for May 2021.

Betsy Price

Betsy Price, the longest serving mayor in Fort Worth’s history, will not seek another term after a decade in office.

Price made the announcement that she wouldn’t run for an unprecedented sixth term Tuesday at City Hall, ending speculation about whether her time leading the city would continue and creating the most contested race for mayor since she ran in 2011. Campaign filing opens Jan. 13.

“You know, serving as mayor has been one of the greatest joys of my life, next to having my children and my grandchildren. It’s been amazing,” Price, slightly choked up, said as she announced she would step aside.

Price, 71, did not immediately say what her future political aspirations might hold, but noted she still has “that Energizer Bunny energy and passion.” She said in the short term she’ll focus on spending time with her family. She also declined to make an endorsement in the May election.

[…]

She served as Tarrant County tax assessor for 10 years before running in 2011 and faced little opposition in following elections. In 2019 she bested Democratic Party Chairwoman Deborah Peoples by 14 points in an election that saw all nine council members reelected. Turnout in Tarrant County was about 9%.

Councilman Jungus Jordan, who has been on the council the longest, watched Price’s speech from the back of the council chamber. Councilmen Dennis Shingleton, Carlos Flores and Cary Moon were also seen at the event.

“I hate to see Betsy go,” Jordan said. “She’s been a great face for our city, even nationally.”

There are a number of potential mayoral candidates.

Tarrant County Democratic Chairwoman Deborah Peoples, 68, was Price’s strongest opponent in 2019. She has said for months she’ll make another bid, but hedged her commitment in a message to the Star-Telegram last week, saying she wanted to meet with her family and campaign team.

Following Price’s announcement Tuesday, Peoples said she would run.

There are other names out there, and you can read the rest for more of that and more on Mayor Price’s career. I don’t know a whole lot about here and have no opinion to offer of her tenure, but I wish her all the best in her next phase.

I am of course interested in this election, for all the obvious reasons. Daily Kos does a lot of the leg work here.

Republican Mayor Betsy Price announced Tuesday that she would not seek a sixth two-year term in the May 1 nonpartisan primary. Price, who is Fort Worth’s longest-serving chief executive, is also one of just two Republicans to lead any of the nation’s 20 largest cities. (The other is Lenny Curry, the mayor of Jacksonville, Florida.) The candidate filing deadline is Feb. 12, so Price’s potential successors will only have a little time to decide what they’ll do. All the contenders will face off on one nonpartisan ballot in May, and a runoff would take place later if no one took a majority of the vote.

Price was decisively elected in 2011 to succeed retiring Democratic Mayor Mike Moncrief, and she won her next three campaigns without any trouble. Politics in Fort Worth’s Tarrant County has been changing over the last few years, though, and Team Blue was encouraged by 2018 victories up and down the ballot. Price faced a serious challenge the following year from Tarrant County Democratic Party Chair Deborah Peoples, and while the incumbent won 56-42, the margin was considerably closer than any of Price’s other re-election campaigns.

The 2020 presidential results give Democrats some reasons for optimism about the race to succeed Price: Joe Biden won Tarrant County by a narrow 49.3-49.1, a showing that made him the first Democrat to carry the county since Texan Lyndon Johnson took it in his 1964 landslide.

Peoples has been preparing for a second campaign for a while, and she confirmed on Tuesday that she was inRepublican City Councilman Brian Byrd also said just before the Price’s announcement that he’d be running if the incumbent didn’t, while his Democratic colleague Ann Zadeh also expressed interest. Attorney Dee Kelly, who called himself a friend of Price’s, also said he’d consider an open seat race, while Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero also didn’t dismiss the idea on Tuesday. Romero, whose parents emigrated from Mexico, said, “I believe it would be irresponsible for any leader of a community of color across the city to prematurely rule out a run.”

We’ll see who else gets in. Rep. Romero would be an interesting candidate, but he’d almost certainly have to resign to make a serious run at it, and I don’t know that he’ll want to do that. But he might, so stay tuned. An odd year election, especially in May, is a very different dynamic than a Presidential year election, so Tarrant County’s shift doesn’t tell us anything about how Fort Worth, which among other things has less than half the population of Tarrant County. I’d love to see an analysis of how Fort Worth proper voted in 2020 and 2018, but even knowing that, we have to acknowledge the vast differences in turnout conditions. If you’re from Fort Worth and have any thoughts on this, please let us know.

Assistance for renters coming

Good, but of course much more is needed.

Houston officials expect to get up to $70 million in federal stimulus funds to help renters in the city make their monthly payments and use toward other housing expenses.

The $900 billion federal stimulus package Congress approved late last year did not include more assistance for cities and states, but it did allot $25 billion in emergency relief for renters. Those funds will pass through states and local governments that represent more than 200,000 residents.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said Wednesday he expects Houston’s share of those funds will arrive soon. Bill Kelly, the city’s director of intergovernmental relations, said he estimates the city will get an allocation of $65 million to $70 million. The money will go through the Treasury Department, and the law calls for making the payments within 30 days of its passage, which would be Jan. 26.

“My personal goal is to make sure we have this thing done by February 1,” Kelly said of developing the city’s program.

[…]

To be eligible under the law, households must be renters and have at least one individual that qualifies for unemployment or has experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19; demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability; and have a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income. For a family of four in Houston, that would be $63,050.

The law prioritizes applicants who have been unemployed for 90 days and households below 50 percent of the median income, around $39,000 in Houston for a family of four. The city could adopt additional requirements and priorities.

The city previously used about $30 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act funds to direct toward renters. It also used roughly $20 million for direct assistance, in which recipients can use the money as they see fit. BakerRipley, a community nonprofit, administered those funds.

The first round of $15 million was distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, but the city pivoted in the second round to distribute the money based on need.

I’m sure this will help a lot of people, and I’m sure the city will do everything it can to get the program up and running quickly. More is obviously needed, but I expect another, bigger relief package coming as soon as possible after January 20, so at least part of the problem should addressed. But look at all the qualifiers in the two paragraphs above, and ask yourself how many people might not know they’re eligible, or might not know how to apply for the funds, or who just need them faster than that to avoid eviction or other hardship. In normal times, it makes sense to make sure all the funds are used super-efficiently, and not wastefully. The cost of making it harder and take longer to get the funds is worth the tradeoff. We’re as far from normal times as we can get. Maybe we just need to make it easier to get as much money as is needed into the hands of everyone who might need it, and not worry too much if some of it goes to the “wrong” people. There’s got to be a better way to alleviate suffering in crisis times.