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Michael Kubosh

Time to guess the Chronicle’s endorsements

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

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

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

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

Mayor

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

Controller

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

At Large incumbents

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

At Large open seats

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

District seats

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

HISD and HCC

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

Referenda

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

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

Endorsement watch: The score so far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finance reports come trickling in

As always, the Mayoral reports lead the story.

BagOfMoney

Former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia closed out the first half of the year with more than $1.3 million in the bank, eclipsing City Councilman Stephen Costello by a mere $7,423.

According to their campaign finance reports, Garcia raised $1.5 million and spent just over $122,000, while Costello raised about $30,000 less in contributions, was loaned $90,000 and spent $496,000.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner and former mayor of Kemah Bill King trailed in cash on hand, reporting $1.1 million and $544,000, respectively.

[…]

Costello’s campaign previously said his funds include a $250,000 personal contribution and a $262,000 transfer from his council account.

Among those with reports already in, King spent the most in the first half of the year, coughing up more than $680,000. He raised more than $755,000 and lent himself an additional $500,000.

Turner’s expenditures came in just under King’s, at $601,000, according to his report. However, his campaign noted that $125,000 of those expenditures were related to his state office, not his mayoral campaign.

After starting the race with about $900,000 in the bank from his legislative account, Turner raised an additional $763,000 in the nine days between when his state fundraising blackout period ended and the close of the reporting period.

See here for more. As previously noted, the reports are not in their usual place due to changes in state law and the reporting system. For now, you can see the reports that the city has posted here. I’ve linked to them on my Election 2015 page and will keep updating that as more of them appear. I’ll do a more in depth look at the reports once they’re all there, starting with the Mayorals, which were added to that page as of last night. Expect that for next week.

The Chron story has a spreadsheet embedded in it with totals for candidates who had turned in reports by publication time. Among the other Mayorals, Chris Bell had raised $381K and had $190K on hand; Ben Hall raised $94K and loaned himself $850K to have $812K on hand; and Mary McVey had raised $60K and loaned himself $1.075M to have $1.071M on hand. Forget the price of oil, this Mayoral campaign will be stimulating the local economy over the next few months.

So far, mayoral fundraising has far overshadowed that for Houston’s second-highest political post, city controller.

Deputy controller Chris Brown reported raising $270,000 and spending $22,000, leaving him with more than $222,000 in cash on hand.

Meanwhile, Bill Frazer, runner-up in the 2013 controller’s race, raised $129,000, received $32,000 in loans, spent $120,000 and closed out the first half of the year with more than $53,000 in the bank.

Former Metro board member Dwight Jefferson lagged behind with $11,000 raised $1,800 loaned and $9,000 spent. It was unclear how much cash he had on hand.

Carroll Robinson had raised $50K and had $5K on hand; Jew Don Boney did not have totals posted. Other hauls of note: Amanda Edwards dominated At Large #4 with $165K raised and $118K on hand. Laurie Robinson was the runnerup with $43K and $26K, respectively. In At Large #1, Tom McCasland ($141K raised, $98K on hand) and Lane Lewis ($104K raised, $62K on hand) were far out in front; Chris Oliver raised $37K and had $23K on hand, while Jenifer Pool had not yet reported. CM Michael Kubosh was the only one with any money in At Large #3, raising $63K and banking $44K. Philippe Nassif had a very respectable $73K raised in At Large #5, but only $12K of it remained, far less than CM Jack Christie’s $100K cash on $124K raised; Durrel Douglas had not yet reported.

For district races, CM Mike Laster had a big haul and an equally big financial lead in J, while CM Richard Nguyen had a decent total in F. His opponent, Steven Le, did not have a report up as of last night. There was surprisingly little money raised in the two-person District G race; Greg Travis led in cash on hand over Sandie Moger thanks to a $41K loan to himself. Roland Chavez had the most raised and the most on hand in H, with Karla Cisneros and Jason Cisneroz a notch back. Abel Davila raised a small amount but loaned himself $20K to be even in cash on hand with the other two.

That’s it for now. For the other races, HISD and HCC reports lag behind the city’s – HISD by a little, HCC by a lot – so I’ll keep an eye on those and update as needed. As always, fundraising is just one aspect of one’s candidacy, and is in no way predictive in many races. We only get a few chances a year to see who’s funding whom, and this is one of them. I’ll have more when I can.

Bail reform for Harris County?

This would be a big deal.

go_to_jail

In jails across the country, including Harris County, a majority of the people behind bars have not been convicted of a crime. In the jail complex on the north side of downtown Houston, more than 6,600 people, about three-quarters of the prisoners there, are waiting to go to trial. Each one costs taxpayers about $45 a day.

Those prisoners are there because they can’t afford to pay bail, the debt a judge imposes to make sure defendants return to court.

Advocates for bail reform have said the system can be burdensome for low-income defendants, saying it inhibits their ability to go back to work, support their families and aid in their own defense.

Leaders at both the local at state level are now looking at ways to change that, possibly allowing defendants charged with lower level crimes to remain free without bail, but with a pledge to return to court. They will use a screening process that can predict whether defendants will return to court or if they might commit more crimes if released.

Earlier this month, Nathan Hecht, the Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court, announced the creation of a committee to study the issue for the Texas Judicial Council, the policy-making body for the state judiciary. Depending on the results, they may throw their support behind changes in the next legislative session.

Hecht said a recent report by the National Conference of Chief Justices showed that bail for suspects of non-violent crime, like drug offenses, is an unnecessary expense.

“It doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help the criminal justice system and it doesn’t help society,” he said. “It just creates additional burdens. If it’s easy to avoid and you end up at the same place, why wouldn’t you do it?”

Hecht said he wants to be able to prove that point before advocating for a change.

“The District of Columbia is pretty far along in revamping their system so that bail is not required,” Hecht said. “We’ll have Texas look at this and see if we can’t make some improvements.”

[…]

Some of those who oppose changing the system are the bail bondsmen who stand to lose business.

“Who’s going to chase these people when they miss court?” said Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman and a city councilman. “You’re going to have to hire more government people to do it.”

When defendants use a bondsman to secure bail, they pay a fee-10 percent or more of the bail amount-and pledge collateral, usually property or automobiles, for the remaining amount.

If a defendant does not show up for court, the bondsman either has to pay the entire bail or go on a manhunt.

“If someone has a financial interest, then we can get ‘Billy Bob’ to show back up because someone will produce them,” Kubosh said. “Their mom will produce them before she’ll lose her house.”

He noted the cost of current system is paid by the people accused of crimes, not spread among taxpayers.

“If they miss court, a bondsman is financially obligated to the state to get these people back in custody,” he said. “We monitor every one of them every day, at no cost to the taxpayer.”

All due respect to CM Kubosh, but Harris County doesn’t owe bail bondsmen a living. The issue here isn’t with the people who make bail, it’s with the many people who can’t, and who as a result sit in jail – for which the taxpayers do foot the cost – even though they haven’t been convicted of anything and may never be convicted of anything, or – even worse – plead guilty to something they didn’t do in order to get out of jail. Basically, some number of people – more than is the case now – need to be released on their own recognizance, and more people need to be assessed a lower and more affordable bail amount. The goal here is to have fewer people in jail at any time, which is both more just and less expensive. If that means leaner times for the bail bonding business, well, that’s okay by me. The tradeoff is more than worth it.

At Large comings and goings

Meet Atlas Kerr, who will be running in At Large #3 against CM Michael Kubosh.

Atlas Kerr

I am an accounting and finance double major at the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business. I have in-depth knowledge over capital budgeting, debt/bond valuation, and capital asset price modeling. I am a registered volunteer instructor at the Women’s Resource of Greater Houston that teaches budgeting and financial literacy classes to women, high school teenagers, and men.

I am of African-American and Hispanic decent. I am a first generation American on my mother’s side and first generation college student on my father’s. As a proud Houstonian, Texan, and American, I believe in the American dream and have made vow to fight for equality for all inhabitants of our great city and tear down barriers of race, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Although we all come from different places and have grown up with different backgrounds, the law treats everyone as equals. This is the reason why I have so much respect for and strive to be a part of the legislative force of the municipal government.

For the entire duration of my campaign, I will be following in the footsteps of my greatest political hero Bob Lanier and run without identifying myself as either republican or democrat. Houston municipal elections are run non-partisan and I fully intend on running this way so that voters can be assured that my campaign platform are my own personal beliefs and no one else’s.

I have watched every single city council and committee meeting since 2012 and have met with many former and current city councilmembers to get the best possible picture of where the city is currently and where it has come from. I have such a great and profound respect for Houston. I want to thank my professors for being so accommodating, my friends and family for their outstanding support, and my contributors for believing in me. Without any of you, all of this would not be possible.

In prior communication with me, Kerr said that he had filed to run for Mayor in 2011 under the name Brian Carr, but he was not a resident of the city of Houston at that time, so he did not make it to the ballot. The name change was a personal decision he made.

Meanwhile, Jan Clark, who had previously announced her candidacy for At Large #5, has since announced that she will not run.

Friends,

Thank you all very much for the incredible show of support. I am humbled and overwhelmed and so very grateful. However now I must tell you I am terminating the campaign. I got in committing fully, but due to recent changes in my personal obligations I cannot devote the time and effort needed to run the campaign I can be proud of, and you can be proud to support. Unless things change dramatically, very dramatically, I will not run in the 2015 election.

Yes, I considered waiting a while to terminate in case my circumstances changed again soon, but I chose to make a final decision now in part because it is still early enough that the campaign has not yet “accepted” any contributions. Contributions received have been refused/returned. Investing other people’s money believing I would end up having to make the same decision later is not something I could do. When I run, be assured I will not waste your contribution.

Please stay tuned. There are issues to talk about and many ways to serve the people of our great city. Having every reason to believe my circumstances will be in different in a year, I fully intend to run for city council in the 2017 cycle. At which time I will again ask for your support. It will be here before we know it.

With my heartfelt gratitude,

Jan

P.S. For what it’s worth the website (www.janclark4houston.com) and FB (https://www.facebook.com/JanClarkforHouston?ref=hl) will stay up although obviously not for a specific office.

Sorry to see her have to drop out, but I believe that counts as the first candidate announcement for 2017. I look forward to seeing her on the ballot then.

Council’s pension meeting

It was about what you’d expect.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Many City Council members who attended a special meeting Friday to discuss Mayor Annise Parker’s controversial deal with the city’s firefighters pension called the gathering a success, despite two members walking out and breaking a quorum before a vote could be held to support or oppose the agreement.

The meeting’s unusual ending matched the unusual situation. Typically, the mayor alone calls City Council meetings and decides what items will appear on the agenda for a vote, a power that council members can subvert only by teaming up in a group of at least three to force a special meeting.

Council members C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig and Dave Martin did that last Monday, saying the council had been excluded as Parker negotiated the three-year agreement to lower the city’s costs and that the deal must be vetted publicly.

The unrealized vote would not have been binding because the council has no legal authority over the agreement, but organizers hoped the resolution would raise public awareness of the city’s pension situation and send a signal to the Legislature, which controls Houston’s three pension funds. State Sen. John Whitmire and mayoral candidate and state Rep. Sylvester Turner, both Houston Democrats, have agreed to carry the legislation in Austin.

“A vote would have sent a signal to the state Legislature, so I’m disappointed that we didn’t get the opportunity to express our opinion to the state,” said Martin, who opposes the deal, “but I thought the discussion was good, so I leave here pleased.”

[…]

Parker spokeswoman Janice Evans said the administration is moving forward on getting the deal passed in Austin, and stressed that the mayor has never claimed the agreement represents true pension reform.

“The meeting turned out as we thought it would … a lot of talking, but no new solutions offered and no new information presented,” Evans said.

See here for the background. The Wednesday Council meeting at which Mayor Parker presented the plan to Council could be characterized similarly. Of interest is that not only will there be a bill to enact the negotiated deal, but also one to give the city the kind of control over the pension fund that Mayor Parker had been pushing for before. From the press release that CM Costello sent out on Friday evening:

City of Houston At-Large Council Member Steve Costello was extremely instrumental in crafting House Bill 2608 which was filed today by State Representative Jim Murphy of Houston. Local control of pensions is key to the citizens of Houston. H.B. 2608 will allow the mayor and city council to directly negotiate with its pension plans to create the most beneficial structure for both taxpayers and retirees.

Council Member Costello has also written and distributed a letter to the local Houston delegation encouraging them to support the bill, local control and vote against the Parker/Turner plan.

“There’s no way for the city to pay our pension benefits as currently structured without severely limiting the city’s ability to provide basic city services to its citizens. Without showing real leadership and tackling the pension benefits themselves, the amount the city owes does not change,” Costello said.

“This bill will provide for a more sustainable and responsible pension program that is good for our city, our brave firefighters and Houston taxpayers. Fortunately, Representative Jim Murphy has filed H. B. 2608, and I am pleased to have played a key role in crafting a bill that actually moves us toward a solution,” according to Costello.

Costello continued, “I’m going to continue to fight hard for local control. The City must be able to fulfill our promise to our public safety and municipal employees in a way that is also fair to Houston taxpayers.”

There was no mention of a bill like this at the beginning of the session, when everyone seemed to want the city and the firefighters to work this out among themselves. It’s interesting to hear people like Sen. Paul Bettencourt, who was at the meeting and who expressed his support of Rep. Murphy’s bill, talk favorably of local control when he’s busy helping Greg Abbott eviscerate it elsewhere. Be that as it may, I guess this answers my question about what Costello thinks he can do differently than Mayor Parker – if he’s able to help get HB2608 to Abbott’s desk, it would be quite an accomplishment. The politics of this are going to be fascinating to watch, that’s for sure. I just hope that the Mayoral candidates that lobby for one bill or the other in Austin get equally and visibly involved in beating back the many bad bills out there.

Council meeting called to discuss firefighter pension deal

Some Council members are determined to discuss the deal Mayor Parker made with the firefighters’ pension fund.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Four City Council members have taken advantage of a rarely used provision in city law to call a special meeting Friday to discuss Mayor Annise Parker’s controversial deal with the city’s firefighter pension board that was announced last week.

Typically, the mayor alone controls what items appear on the council agenda to be voted on, a power that can be subverted only when a trio of council members teams up to call a meeting.

Council members C.O. Bradford, Michael Kubosh, Brenda Stardig and Dave Martin did so Monday morning, with one more signer than was required. City officials said this appears to be the first time the legal maneuver has been used in Parker’s more than five-year tenure.

It’s not clear whether enough of the foursome’s colleagues will attend to muster a quorum, but the symbolism of the meeting is more significant than any action that could be taken, given that the group will simply consider registering support for or opposition to the pension deal.

Regardless, Parker’s liaison to council, William-Paul Thomas, said he will work against a quorum. Parker had said she would not put the deal to a council vote because it does not call for the expenditure of city funds.

The three-year agreement would see the city pay a projected $77 million less into the pension fund and see firefighters contribute an estimated $20 million more. Supporters call it a compromise that will free up city funds during a budget crunch, while critics call it a risky missed opportunity that will see $57 million less paid into the system without any changes to the cost of benefits.

Bradford said the aim of Friday’s meeting is for council to discuss the pension deal openly and to send a signal to Austin on the council’s view of the agreement. Firefighters’ pension benefits and the city’s contributions to the fund are controlled by the Legislature, and the mayor’s deal would need to pass in Austin to take effect.

[…]

Firefighters union president Alvin White – whose organization is a separate entity from the fire pension board – early Monday raised his own concerns, saying the union “is the only legally recognized entity authorized to negotiate Houston firefighters’ workplace rights, wages and benefits.” White said he was entering into talks with fire pension chairman Todd Clark to “protect our members’ rights” in the deal, which requires firefighters to contribute 12 percent of their pay toward their pensions, up from 9 percent today.

Those talks yielded progress Monday night, however, with White saying the resolution would allow the union the flexibility it needs to negotiate future contracts. Clark did not return a call for comment Monday; a pension spokeswoman said he was busy working to get the bill filed at the Legislature.

See here for the background. At least this gives me some idea what the fuss is about, since the net effect is that the fund will receive $57 million less in payments over the next three years. The fund is in good enough shape that these underpayments probably won’t cause any issues, but for obvious reasons this is not a sustainable approach. I don’t know what these members have in mind to discuss or what if anything they might be able to accomplish, but I see no reason not to let them have their meeting. Maybe they’ll come up with some good questions to ask, or maybe they’ll agree with the Mayor’s judgment. Let them meet and make up their own minds. Campos has more.

On Council and charters

Council continues considering charter changes. (Go ahead, say that five times fast.)

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The Charter Review Committee’s proposal would allow for six council members to add an item to the agenda for consideration by the full City Council. Under the current city charter, the mayor decides what gets to be discussed during the weekly council meetings.

At-large Council member Michael Kubosh said the only way for him and his colleagues to place an item on the agenda is if the mayor agrees.

“Yeah, we have to get the mayor to put it on the agenda,” Kubosh said. “We need to be able to do that even if the mayor is in opposition of it.”

He said that makes Houston unique among most governmental bodies.

“It doesn’t work that way in the state legislature and most other cities,” Kubosh said. “The council controls much of the agenda and brings forth the legislation and ordinances and laws.”

[…]

But Mayor Annise Parker said, at this point, she isn’t considering putting the proposed change up for a vote. That’s because she believes council members are not allowed to meet and discuss city business privately.

I continue to be agnostic on this question, though I wonder if the cities CM Kubosh has in mind are also strong Mayor cities like Houston; if they are city manager cities, like San Antonio, then I’d say he’s comparing basketballs and hockey pucks. Be that as it may, and at the risk of beating a dead horse before we’re even at the first post, perhaps this is something that interested parties should be working to get Mayoral candidates to weigh in on. Do they agree with the Mayor’s interpretation of our Open Meeting laws? Would they support or oppose this amendment? It would affect whoever comes after Mayor Parker much more than it would affect her, after all. I’m just saying.

January campaign finance reports – Council

CM Jerry Davis

CM Jerry Davis

Mayoral reports
Controller reports

Four Council members are term limited this year. Two, CMs Stephen Costello and Oliver Pennington, are running for Mayor. The other two, CMs CO Bradford and Ed Gonzales, do not have any announced plans at this time, though both were on the list of Mayoral possibilities at one time or another. While there are some known candidates for these offices, there are many more to come. No one who isn’t or wasn’t a candidate before this year has a finance report, and no one has any contributions to report, so the data we have is somewhat limited.

Brenda Stardig (SPAC)
Jerry Davis
Ellen Cohen
Dwight Boykins
Dave Martin
Richard Nguyen
Robert Gallegos
Mike Laster
Larry Green

David Robinson
Michael Kubosh

Name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ==================================================== Stardig 0 21,191 0 59,517 Davis 0 6,091 0 97,563 Cohen 0 23,304 0 63,769 Boykins 0 5,845 0 1,129 Martin 0 20,345 0 34,339 Nguyen 0 20,120 0 15,020 Gallegos 0 7,326 0 45,021 Laster 0 5,791 0 78,216 Green 0 45,671 0 55,983 Gonzales 0 35,987 0 29,603 Brown 0 3,858 0 34,900 Robinson 0 1,565 0 48,334 Kubosh 0 17,403 10,000 0 Bradford 0 12,282 0 20,088

I’ve included the totals for Helena Brown above, since rumor has it that she’s aiming for a rubber match against Brenda Stardig in A. Beyond that, the two numbers that stand out to me are Boykins’ and Nguyen’s. Boykins was the big dog in 2013, nearly winning a first round majority in a very crowded field. I presume he emptied his coffers in the runoff, I haven’t gone back to look at his last reports from 2013 and his January 2014 report to confirm that. He burned some bridges with his vote against the HERO last year, so it will be interesting to see how things develop from here. As for Nguyen, he came out of nowhere to knock off Al Hoang in F. He then made a courageous vote for the HERO and announced that he was a Democrat. All of these things would put a target on his back even if he had a big cash on hand balance. As for Kubosh, he did a lot of self-funding in 2013, and I’d expect at least some more of the same. It will be interesting to see how much of the usual suspect PAC money he gets. We’ll have to wait till July to find out.

First HERO repeal petition hearing today

Have I mentioned that this is a really busy month for big ticket courtroom action?

PetitionsInvalid

Conservative opponents suing the city over its equal rights ordinance are pushing, along with several City Council members, for the upcoming case to go before a jury, a move the administration said is unprecedented and would defy election law.

After a City Council meeting Wednesday, members Michael Kubosh, Oliver Pennington and C.O. Bradford, who voted in favor of the ordinance last spring, all argued the case should go to a jury trial rather than before a judge as originally scheduled. A state district judge will hold a hearing Friday on the request for a jury trial and the city’s response asking for a such a trial to be barred.

“The city may be deploying a demonstrative legal strategy,” Bradford said. “But I believe it will be a loser in the public opinion arena. We simply should not be trying to remove the people from the process.”

Just as a reminder, this is all about whether or not The People get to vote on the civil rights of some other people. We simply should not be conceding that point.

“There never has been a jury trial in an election contest in the state of Texas,” [former City Attorney David] Feldman said.

Plaintiff Jared Woodfill disputed that claim, saying the case is not an “election contest” because it does not pertain to the results of an election.

“What they’re really saying is they don’t think the people are smart enough to make that decision,” Woodfill said. “Whether it’s been having the voters vote or now allowing a jury to decide, (Parker) has been consistent on that.”

Election law attorney Doug Ray, who had not seen the court filings, said the case sounded like a “ballot access” issue – whether or not a candidate or a measure qualifies for a ballot. In those cases, granting a jury trial is rare, he said.

“It’s not clear-cut,” Ray said as to whether or not the plaintiffs are entitled to a jury trail. “As they say, the devil is always in the details.”

Feldman agreed that the case is a “ballot acccess” issue, saying that both “ballot access” and “election contest” cases fall under the state’s election code. Under the election code, only a district judge, not a jury, has the power to rule in those cases, he said.

Woodfill, Kubosh and Bradford all said the city would be wise to allow a jury trial in light of the recent controversy over the city’s subpoenaing of sermons and other materials belonging to certain pastors who helped organize the petition.

Funny how the “wise” thing to do at every stage of this process has been to give the haters exactly what they want. I’m not an attorney and I don’t know anything about the fine legal points at issue here. If Woodfill et al have a persuasive case, they’ll get what they’re asking for on the merits. What say we stick with that for now? The case is set to begin on January 19. I can’t wait.

UPDATE: I was not aware of this:

Attorneys for the city last month filed a motion requesting a bench trial, but the plaintiffs say they have a “constitutional right to a trial by jury.” That motion and others are scheduled to be heard today, but we’ll have to wait until the trial, scheduled for January 19, for the truly good stuff, which includes allegations of forged signatures.

So far, most of the City’s challenges to the petitions’ validity has centered around technical — and pretty boring — matters like whether a page included a blank space for a circulators’ signature. What’s really intriguing, though, is the City’s more recent contention that many names were forged, and that Woodfill “is no stranger” to fraudulent petitions.

In motions filed last November, attorneys for the City cited a suit where Woodfill — then the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party — accepted “facially valid” election petitions that “turned out to involve ‘forgery, fraud, or other non-accidental defects discoverable only by independent investigation.”

No one has argued that Woodfill knew the signatures in that election were invalid at the time he accepted them, but attorneys for the City point out that the court didn’t buy Woodfill’s argument that “the truthfulness of a circulator’s affidavit is strictly a criminal matter.”

[…]

These allegations were enough for for plaintiff Steve “Birth Control Pills Make Women Less Attractive to Men” Hotze, to drop out of the suit — something the City’s attorneys say is evidence that “misconduct and non-accidental defects are so pervasive” throughout the petitions. Listen, it’s a bad sign when your co-plaintiff is Steve Hotze. But it’s a really bad sign when Hotze drops out from fear that he may not have a legally sound argument.

My, my, my. Now I really can’t wait to see what happens at trial.

Lane Lewis announces for At Large #1

Interesting.

Lane Lewis

Lane Lewis

Harris County Democratic Party chair Lane Lewis will run for an at-large city council position, he told Democratic activists Wednesday evening.

Lewis, who has led the county’s party operation since 2011, is running to succeed Stephen Costello in At-Large Position 1, one of two open-seat at-large races next year. Lewis will remain party chair during his campaign.

Several other candidates already have appointed campaign treasurers in advance of runs for at-large positions, though only Philippe Nassif, a local Democratic activist, has specified that he will run for Position 1.

As does Texpatriate, I like Chairman Lewis. Also like Texpatriate, I’m not sure why there’s so much more focus on At Large #1 right now than on any other position. Jenifer Pool may not have officially specified what position she’s running for, but she has been telling people it’s AL1, and her business cards identify her as a candidate for that office. At Large 4, currently held by CM Bradford, will also be open, though no one has yet indicated they will run for it. At Large 5 may be open as well if CM Christie runs for Mayor, and even if he doesn’t I believe he has a glass jaw. I will be more than a little surprised if no one files to run against CM Kubosh in At Large 3. It’s early days and we should expect a lot of activity to begin in a few weeks, but as things stand right now I don’t look forward to the choice I’ll have to make in At Large #1. Stace has more.

Three thoughts on the state of the Mayor’s race

Inspired by this story, which doesn’t name any potential additions to the ever-large field of Mayoral wannabes for 2015 but which does put some things in context.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Most observers consider Rep. Sylvester Turner, with his support base from the African-American population that could cast a third of next year’s vote, to be the man to beat in November. Yet his fortunes to win in a December runoff – all but guaranteed to be needed in a large field – depend heavily on whom he faces in a one-on-one comparison.

Councilmen Oliver Pennington and Stephen Costello have committed to the race, with Pennington going as far as to send mailers to potential supporters in July, 18 months before the first votes are to be cast. Ben Hall, who lost to Parker in 2013, launched radio advertisements last month, and former Kemah mayor and Chronicle columnist Bill King designated a campaign treasurer. Former Democratic congressman Chris Bell also is an all-but-filed entrant.

Six weeks before the campaign fundraising floodgates open, the field is settling save for a potential entrant who looms over much of the discussion in Houston power circles: Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who has not yet declared his intentions. Legally, Garcia cannot make an affirmative move toward running without being forced to resign his county post, though he has acknowledged the pressure he faces from others.

That pressure, though, is pushing him in both directions. Commissioners Court likely would replace Garcia with a Republican sheriff ahead of the next election cycle.

“You’re going to be giving them an early 2016 gift,” said Democratic Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who had the sheriff at her home this month and expressed concern about a run. “Nobody wants a Latino mayor more than I do, but it’s got to be the right time.”

[…]

If Garcia does not enter the race, Councilman Ed Gonzalez, a close friend of Garcia, could look to capture Latinos’ support. Other prominent Hispanic leaders look to pass on the race, including Metro chairman and Parker ally Gilbert Garcia and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce head Laura Murillo. Both expressed some signs of interest earlier, but do not appear to be joining the field.

Garcia’s exit also could create political lanes for other Democratic alternatives to Turner, like Bell. Though Bell has not formally committed to the race, he has filed a lawsuit challenging Turner’s fundraising strategy and plans to make an official announcement in January.

The other four candidates most seriously weighing bids are: Councilman Jack Christie, an at-large councilman uncertain whether he can raise the money needed to compete; County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, who like Garcia would have to resign to run for mayor; Sean Roberts, a local attorney; and businessman and political neophyte Marty McVey.

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and C.O. Bradford considered the race earlier this year, but both now say they are unlikely to launch campaigns. And despite floating the idea that he was open to a run, outgoing Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said this month he had no plans to do so.

Conservatives have not yet coalesced around any of the six non-liberal candidates: Pennington, Costello, Hall, King, Christie or Sanchez.

“Right now, there’s no clear conservative choice yet, but people are obviously angling for being it,” said Paul Bettencourt, the new Republican senator from northwest Harris County.

1. It may be useful to think of these candidates as falling into one of three groups: Candidates with an obvious base of support, coalition candidates, and gadflies. Turner and Pennington fall into the first group, and as such you can sort of guess about what they might expect to get in November if that’s the limit of their appeal. It’s a decent position from which to start, especially in a multi-candidate race, but it’s no guarantee, as Turner himself could attest from his 2003 experience. Coalition candidates don’t have an obvious base of support, but can reasonably hope to draw from a broad range of constituencies. Bill White is the poster boy for such candidates, and folks like Bell, Costello, King, and Christie will all be competing for the kind of voters that propelled White to victory in 2003. Coalition candidates have a higher ceiling, but with so many people fishing in the same pond, it will be harder to stand out. White also had the advantage of lots of money to spend and no activity from anyone else at the time he launched his campaign. No one has that this year. Another consideration is that Turner and Pennington could have their bases eroded by Hall and Sanchez. I’d consider Sanchez a much bigger threat to Pennington if he runs than Hall would be to Turner – and Sanchez would have some appeal to Latino voters as well, not that he did so well with them in 2003 – but in a race where the difference between first and fourth or fifth could be a few thousand votes, I’d still be worried about it if I were Turner.

As for gadflies, he’s not mentioned in this story but Eric Dick, who I feel confident will run again since the publicity is good for his law firm’s business, is the canonical example. From what I have heard, Sean Roberts may be following in those footsteps. One could argue that Hall is a gadfly at this point based on the ridiculousness of his ads so far, but anyone with that kind of money to spend is still a threat to do better than the three to five points a typical gadfly might get.

Yes, there’s one candidate I haven’t mentioned here, and no I don’t mean Marty McVey, about whom I know nothing. I’ll get to him in a bit.

2. Conservatives may be better off not falling in line behind a single candidate just yet. Getting someone into the runoff is nice and all, but any Republican candidate will likely be an underdog in that runoff. The dream scenario for conservatives is what happened in the 2013 At Large #3 race, where three well-qualified Democratic candidates split the vote so evenly that none of them were able to catch up to the two Republicans. Michael Kubosh and Roy Morales were splitting a smaller piece of the electorate, but their two shares of that smaller group were greater than each of the three shares of the larger group. I still think Sylvester Turner is the frontrunner right now, but it’s not insane to imagine a Pennington-Sanchez runoff, especially if Ben Hall can be serious enough to put a dent in his numbers.

3. And then there’s Adrian Garcia. Will he or won’t he? You already know how I feel, so I won’t belabor that here. Garcia is both a candidate with a base and a coalition candidate, which is why he was as strong as he was in 2008 and 2012. Running against flawed opponents those years didn’t hurt him, either, so a little tempering of expectations may be in order here. I’m sure Garcia is carefully measuring the support he might have if he ran. I wonder if he’s trying to gauge how many Democrats he’d piss off by resigning and handing his office to a Republican, and how long said Dems would nurse that grudge when they will have at least two viable options in Turner and Bell to go with instead. It would be one thing if this were December of 2008, and Democrats had just had a great election and were feeling good about themselves. After last month’s debacle, I don’t know how forgiving anyone will be about any Dem that yields a freebie like that to the Republicans. I may be overestimating the effect, especially given how much time Garcia would have to make up for it, and I personally think the Presidential race will have a much larger effect on Democratic fortunes in Harris County in 2016 than Garcia would. But I think it’s real and I think Garcia needs to be concerned about it. Whether it’s enough to affect his decision or not, I have no idea.

There will be charter referenda next year

Details are pending, but one way or another we’ll get to vote on some charter changes next November.

HoustonSeal

City Council members on Thursday agreed that any city charter reforms, including changes to term limits, should go to voters in November rather than May next year, but they kicked most substantive discussion of those issues to future meetings.

Thursday marked the second charter committee meeting on possible changes, most notably switching from three two-year terms to two four-year terms and repealing a voter-imposed revenue cap. The committee’s actions have no binding power, but the goal is to come up with recommendations for which changes should go to voters.

And though Thursday’s agenda called for discussion about the proposed reforms, the meeting largely turned on the logistics of future charter meetings: how many to schedule, whether they should be held during the day or at night and if they should be conducted outside of council chambers.

Council members agreed to hold six bi-weekly meetings starting next year, to alternate meeting times between day and night and to hold them in council chambers.

[…]

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who has been pushing the charter reform conversation for months, has laid out four basic reform proposals. Councilman Michael Kubosh on Thursday tacked on another voter issue, a possible vote on a failed feeding ordinance petition he helped organize.

Bradford’s reforms, in addition to the term limits, are as follows:

  • Any item advanced by at least six council members could be placed on City Council agenda.
  • City Council could meet in executive session.
  • The city would dedicate any funds above the revenue cap (if repealed) to paying down general fund debt.

See here, here, and here for the background. The first point that needs to be made is that I don’t see a specific proposal to repeal the revenue cap. What I do see is Bradford’s “revenue cap lite” proposal, which I object to for the same reason that I object to the existing revenue cap. If the Mayor and Council choose in a given year to dedicate funds to paying down the debt, that’s fine. I have a problem with requiring them to do so, in the same way that I have a problem with requiring them to pass pointless tax cuts instead. We elect Mayors and Council members to make these decisions. If we don’t like the decisions they make, we should vote them out. That’s how this is supposed to work.

As for the term limits proposal, Campos asks why the fixation on four year terms (he has some good thoughts on the subject as well that you should read). I think the simple answer is that switching from three two year terms to two four year terms is about the most minimal change to the term limits law you can make, and as such will be the easiest change to sell to a public that has accepted term limits as the de facto standard. You know how I feel about this. I can’t see me voting for this change. I recognize that rejecting this will be seen as an affirmation of the three two year term status quo, which I don’t like either. I don’t have a good answer for that. All I can do is continue to stump for something better, which to my mind would be a combination of no term limits and some form of public financing for campaigns. And while I’m at it, I’ll write a letter to Santa Claus asking him to bring me a pony this Christmas. I figure the odds of that happening are about as good.

I have no opinion on the other items at this time. What I do have an opinion on is that if we’re going to go through this exercise, why not also include a proposal to repeal the 2001 amendment that banned domestic partner benefits for city employees? Yes, I know Mayor Parker issued an executive order extending these benefits to all legally married couples, including same sex couples, and yes I know there is litigation over that. Repealing the 2001 amendment would put her order on firmer legal ground, it would enable more employees to take advantage of this benefit, and it would remove a stain from the charter. And yes, I know that we might have to vote on a repeal referendum for the equal rights ordinance. But maybe we won’t – we should know well in advance of the August deadline for ballot items – and even if we do, why not play offense as well? I’d at least like for us to talk about it. More from Campos here.

Red light cameras: The final insult

Awesome.

Gone

Gone

In settling the lawsuit with camera vendor American Traffic Solutions, whose contract was supposed to run through 2014, the city agreed to pay the Arizona-based company $4.8 million.

The city had $2.3 million in red-light ticket revenue on hand at the time of the settlement, and officials said they expected to be able to pay the balance from fines collected from some of the tens of thousands of delinquent light-runners who had not yet paid up.

No such luck.

Depending on how much new red light ticket revenue is collected between now and Dec. 31, when the final settlement payment is due, city finance officials say more than $1.1 million of the settlement could wind up being pulled from the general fund, meaning taxpayers and not red light violators will be on the hook.

“My thoughts are the same now as they were then,” said Councilman Jack Christie, one of two current council members who opposed the settlement, concerned it would impact the general fund. “As a fiscal conservative, you never want to commit money that you don’t have. It’s not complicated.”

Councilman C.O. Bradford, who also opposed the settlement, agreed.

“(City Attorney) David Feldman and Mayor Parker assured council that general fund money would not be used,” he said. “Some of us said, ‘Let’s not put in that backup proviso then, let’s make sure the (processes) are there to collect those dollars.’ That didn’t happen.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I get what the city had in mind, but I have no desire to defend it at this point. Instead, here’s the trailer to “The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult”, since that was what came to my mind as I wrote the title to this post:

May we never hear of these accursed things again.

Re-revisiting red light cameras

This horse is dead. Please stop beating it.

Gone

Gone

Four years after Houston voters rejected red-light cameras, the divisive issue unexpectedly resurfaced Tuesday when police officials presented figures indicating that removing the cameras made 51 busy intersections more dangerous.

Auto crashes have more than doubled at those intersections since voters banned use of the cameras in a 2010 referendum, according to figures presented to a City Council committee by the Houston Police Department.

Executive Assistant Chief Tim Oettmeier acknowledged the analysis was imprecise, however, noting that the data did not split neatly into four years of collisions when the cameras were in place and four years when they were not. In addition, Oettmeier said police did not examine the traffic counts at those intersections to see if the increase in collisions might be related to the streets being busier.

Oettmeier did discuss citywide crash figures, which show steady increases over the last four years.

The red light camera statistics were only a slice of Oettmeier’s presentation, which focused on HPD’s proposal to increase the force by 590 officers over the next five years. The discussion follows a staffing study that showed the department is short-staffed in some areas and did not investigate 20,000 cases with workable leads last year.

Some council members questioned the methodology behind the red light crash data and the purpose of including it in the presentation. Among them was Councilman Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman who, with his brothers, led the 2010 referendum effort that got the cameras banned.

“I don’t know why it’s in this report,” he said. “There’s a charter amendment that says we’re not going to do this. There was a vote of the people; the people said no, and why you even waste your time to put this in the report to us today, I do not know. Maybe it’s that I’m sitting on council – that’s the only reason I can see.”

Oettmeier did not respond to Kubosh’s comments, but said later that he included the camera information to anticipate questions about whether HPD still needs as many police officers with its large recent investments in technology.

Red-light cameras are “a thing of the past,” Oettmeier said, adding he had no “hidden agenda” in mentioning them Tuesday. City Attorney David Feldman confirmed the city would not be able to deploy red light cameras without another public vote.

“The red light camera portion of the presentation was just an attempt to validate that that type of technology does, in fact, cause an effect, and it does help police officers out,” Oettmeier said.

That’s all very nice, and I get that Oettmeier was speaking in the context of HPD staffing levels and personnel needs. But seriously, just stop. We are not going anywhere near red light cameras any time soon, for good reason. Plus, no one who doesn’t already believe in red light cameras buys the crash data. Hell, I spent way too much of my life trying to make sense of the various crash studies done here in Houston, and I have a hard time accepting any of it. Just make your case for more traffic officers and leave it at that, OK? Thanks.

And we’re still talking about the 2015 Mayor’s race

Here we go again.

Mayor Annise Parker

Still the Mayor

The mayor’s race may be more than a year away, but nearly all candidates have launched shadow campaigns – and not all shadow campaigns are created equal.

[State Rep. Sylvester] Turner and Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, considered early frontrunners if both launch bids for City Hall, already have the name recognition from years of holding public office. That advantage may be multiplied by their ability to raise money through their existing campaign committees – an opportunity they have capitalized on over the last month.

City ordinances prevent candidates from raising money for a mayoral bid before Feb. 1, but because Turner and Garcia currently hold non-city offices, they can raise cash through their committees.

Come February, they are expected to transfer the lion’s share of that money to their mayoral bids, turning the well-liked frontrunners into well-funded frontrunners.

“It’s a little bit of a head start for sure, but the people who are talking about it are lining up their donors the same way they are,” said Lillie Schechter, a Democratic fundraiser. “One person will have to pick up checks, the other person will have to transfer checks.”

[…]

In what is expected to be the most crowded mayoral field since the last open race in 2009, a dozen potential candidates have effectively launched their bids, hiring consultants, meeting with labor and business groups, and telling the political class that a campaign is imminent. They must sit on their hands, however, when it comes to raising the money that determines their political viability, unable to collect a single check until the nine-month brawl for the mayor’s office begins in February.

As many as seven Republicans are looking into entering the race: Ben Hall, who squared off against Mayor Annise Parker in 2013, and councilmen Steven Costello and Oliver Pennington said they will announce bids, while councilmen Jack Christie and Michael Kubosh and former Kemah mayor Bill King are waiting to assess the field.

Republican Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez, METRO chairman Gilbert Garcia, [Chris] Bell, City Councilman C.O. “Brad” Bradford and private equity executive Marty McVey are said to be considering bids.

See here for the previous roundup of wannabes, could-bes, and never-will-bes. I have four things to say.

1. Most of what I think about this story I’ve already said in that previous post. I do consider Rep. Turner to be the frontrunner, for whatever that’s worth, but we’re a long, long way from being able to assess the field. Hell, there really isn’t a field to assess right now. As I said, there are only so many max-dollar donors, only so many endorsements that are worth chasing, and only so much grassroots/volunteer energy to go around. The market, if you will, just can’t support more than about four serious candidates. Most of the names you see and hear now will disappear long before we get to put-up-or-shut-up time.

2. Like Texpatriate, I remain skeptical that Sheriff Garcia will throw his hat into the ring. He must know that a fair number of Democrats will be unhappy with him if he leaves his post to a Republican appointee, which is what we’ll get from Commissioners Court. I do not speak for Sheriff Garcia, I do not advise Sheriff Garcia, and I have zero inside knowledge of what Sheriff Garcia has in mind for his future. If I were advising him, I would tell him to line up a strong successor for 2016, then set his sights on running for County Judge in 2018, when we know Ed Emmett will step down. We all know that Sheriff Garcia has ambitions for bigger things. I’ll be delighted to see him on a statewide ballot some day. Mayor of Houston would certainly be an excellent springboard to something statewide. So would County Judge. I think he’d have a clearer shot at that, and he’d risk angering fewer current allies with that choice. This is 100% my opinion, so take it for what it’s worth.

3. Listing Ben Hall as a Republican made me guffaw, followed by some giggles. Any article that can do that to me is all right in my book.

4. I still don’t think we should be talking about the Mayor’s race now, and we shouldn’t be talking about it until after the election this November. That’s far more important right now. That said, I am thinking about what I do and don’t want in my next Mayor. I’ll publish it when it’s done, which I guarantee you will be some time after November 4.

The limits of lobbying

They do exist, as Houston’s cab companies recently discovered.

Uber

More than a year of intense lobbying by established cab companies and tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations to City Council members were not enough to hold off a pair of upstart tech-taxi firms that now can operate legally in Houston.

In the end, city regulators made few changes to their original proposal revising Houston’s vehicle-for-hire rules. Of the two dozen amendments proposed by council members before they approved the item earlier this month, neither of the cab industry’s top priorities – capping the number of drivers who can sign up with the new companies and requiring them to carry round-the-clock commercial insurance – passed.

To the extent the proposal did evolve, the changes are unlikely to hamper new entrants, Uber and Lyft, or other firms that use smartphone applications to connect willing drivers with interested riders using the driver’s personal car.

Perhaps, said Councilman Michael Kubosh, a staunch opponent of the new rules, the vote simply reflected that the app firms have an idea whose time has come.

“I let the cab companies know right off when they came to talk to me, and I certainly told the cab drivers, ‘Guys, technology always trumps tradition. This is coming and you guys have to prepare yourselves for it,’ ” he said.

Lyft

[…]

Tina Paez, director of the city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department that drafted the new rules, credited Yellow Cab with pushing for disabled access. The final ordinance requires at least 3 percent of vehicles for hire to be wheelchair accessible, that no one company can meet that goal, and that a task force will make further recommendations to City Council.

Paez pushed back on the other victories [Yellow Cab lobbyist Cindy] Clifford claimed, however, saying her department’s original draft was based on research, not suggestions from the cab industry or the new app companies.

The city always planned to place the same public safety rules on all companies, Paez said, though she acknowledged taxi lobbying forced the new firms to submit to city background checks and vehicle inspections rather than let third parties conduct them. And, Paez said, the language clarifying the effect of new entrants’ insurance policies changed the wording but not the content of the law.

“There was very, very little that changed from what we originally proposed to council, except for the disabilities part,” Paez said.

I think CM Kubosh summed it up pretty well. There’s clearly a demand for the type of service being offered by Uber and Lyft, and the main argument against them largely boiled down to “we’ve always done it this way”. Yes, there were legitimate concerns raised about insurance, background checks, and access for disabled folks, but there was never any reason those couldn’t be addressed. I’ve said before that I’d like to see the changes reviewed in (say) twelve months’ time because we don’t have any history to guide us with these changes and we don’t know what the long term effects will be, but again that’s no reason not to try to deal with the evolution of the market. I still think that much of the demand for Uber and Lyft will come from people who weren’t cab riders to begin with and that the existing cab business will be affected much less than they fear, but we’ll see. It’s my hope that we’ll look back on this in a year or two and say that the market has grown and that people have benefited from the expansion of their choices.

Do we really have to talk about the 2015 Mayoral race right now?

sigh All right, all right, if you insist. But let’s make it quick.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The list of possible candidates thus far includes mainly those who have held or sought public office before, though analysts said the guessing game at this point is difficult.

“There are always people who get in the race who no one expected and people everyone expects to run who don’t,” said Houston political consultant Mustafa Tameez. “At this early stage, rumors are often floated about people as an insider game.”

The list of rumored or confirmed candidates includes:

  • Chris Bell, a lawyer who was elected to City Council in 1997, to one term in the U.S. Congress in 2002, was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006, and ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 2001;
  • City Councilman Jack Christie, a chiropractor in his second term;
  • City Councilman Stephen Costello, an engineer in his third term who chairs the council’s budget committee;
  • Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, who is in his second term, having served on City Council and, for 23 years, in the Houston Police Department;
  • City Councilman Ed Gonzalez, who spent 18 years with HPD before being elected to City Council in 2009;
  • Ben Hall, an attorney and ordained minister who was city attorney from 1992 to 1994 and who lost to Parker in last year’s mayoral race;
  • City Councilman Michael Kubosh, a bail bondsman in his first term who has helped lead several petition drives to overturn city policies;
  • Laura Murillo, the president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since 2007;
  • City Councilman Oliver Pennington, a retired attorney in his third term who chairs the council’s ethics committee.
  • State Rep. Sylvester Turner, a Democrat and a Harvard-educated lawyer who was first elected to the House in 1988 and who is vice chair of its appropriations committee; he ran unsuccessfully for Houston mayor in 1991 and 2003.

[…]

The bottom line, [UH poli sci professor Brandon] Rottinghaus said, is that speculation about next year’s politics are, perhaps, better left to next year.

“It’s like trying to predict what the Texans’ record is going to be,” he said. “It’s shaping up – there’s no doubt there are some blocks that have been put in place here. But we still don’t know about so much of this.”

There are a few things we do know. One is that if Sheriff Garcia makes any official move towards running for Mayor, he’ll have to resign as Sheriff. Other people can talk about him all they want, but once he joins them he runs into the state electoral code. If he does resign to run, Commissioners Court gets to appoint a new Sheriff, who would almost certainly be a Republican. I know of a few Democrats that aren’t very happy with that scenario.

What else do we know? Well, after my post about Laura Murillo, I have been informed that she is registered to vote in Pearland. You know how I feel about that. I presume if there is anything to her inclusion on lists like this, the first indicator that there’s something to it will be an update to her voter registration information.

CMs Kubosh and Christie may have made themselves some friends with their anti-HERO votes, but they definitely made themselves some enemies with that vote. I figured that would translate to them getting strong challenges for re-election. I suppose running for something else instead is one way to deal with that.

Beyond that and more generally, this much I know: There’s only so much room available for Mayoral candidates. There are only so many donors, there are only so many endorsing organizations, there are only so many constituencies to court for votes and volunteer energy. Look at that list above and ask yourself who will be competing against whom for which slices of the electorate and a shot at a runoff. Sure, there are people on that list that have demonstrated various levels of ability to draw support from other parts of the political spectrum, but how well will they do when they’re up against someone for whom those parts of the spectrum are their base? This isn’t a buffet line – you can only choose one. Most of the people on this list, if they really are interested in perhaps running for Mayor and aren’t just a name some insider is floating around, will run into that reality. File this list away and take it out again next July when the first finance reports are in for 2015. That will tell you the story.

Vehicle for hire vote tagged

No surprise here. I had thought the ordinance was still in committee, but it went before the full Council yesterday. It was of course tagged – we weren’t going to have this vote only one week after the HERO vote, no way in hell on that. Most of the story recapitulates stuff we know, so let’s see what the Council members are saying about it.

“I’m not satisfied with what has been presented so far, and we need to make sure we have this covered properly with regard to people with disabilities,” said Councilman Robert Gallegos, who noted his brother is in a wheelchair.

Gallegos and Councilman Dave Martin both mentioned that the council last week passed an equal rights ordinance prohibiting discrimination against more than a dozen protected groups, including those with disabilities, and should be consistent.

Taxis must provide trips for disabled passengers, but the same demand is not placed on the so-called transportation networking companies, Yellow Cab lobbyist Cindy Clifford said.

Tina Paez, director of the city’s regulatory affairs department, told council members in a memo that the city plans its own tweaks to the ordinance, including one aimed at getting companies like Uber and Lyft to deploy wheelchair-accessible vehicles among 5 percent of their drivers.

Councilman Michael Kubosh was concerned that setting a goal to achieve accessibility would not produce access for the disabled.

“I have a goal to lose 100 pounds,” he said. “You can have a goal. No one is going to punish you if I don’t meet your goal.”

The council discussion also included mention of Uber and Lyft’s decisions to launch preemptively in February, despite city officials urging them to be patient.

Councilman Mike Laster said Wednesday that 160 citations have been issued to the companies for operating illegally, 142 to Uber and 18 to Lyft; none has gone to court, he said.

“That just goes to show you these operators are operating illegally,” Laster said. “Either we have ordinances that we enforce or we don’t, and I think that’s part of the discussion.”

Lyft is still making some noise about not liking the city’s background check criteria, saying theirs is more stringent. I expect that will get sorted out. The main thing I’m curious about at this point is what the headcount is for the ordinance. The only Council member that I am sure has taken a firm position is CM Costello, who announced his support for Uber and Lyft more than a month ago. Houston Mayors generally don’t bring ordinances to the table to get voted down, so my assumption is that this will pass, I just don’t have a good feel for who’s voting which way at this point. What are your thoughts?

One more point to make is that I got an email from Joshua Sanders on behalf of Lyft Wednesday night that disputed the claims made by Lauren Barrash, founder of The Wave, about Lyft. Specifically, they denied that Lyft drivers have no shift limits or rest requirements. A comment left by a self-identified Lyft driver also addressed this, saying “After each 12 hours of being in Driver Mode, the system boots you out for 8 hours to get some rest”. I offered to print a statement about this by Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson, but didn’t hear anything further from them.

HERO passes

Finally.

After nearly nine hours of chanting and tears from seas of opponents and supporters in color-coded T-shirts, Houston City Council passed an ordinance on Wednesday extending equal rights protections to gay and transgender residents.

Despite weeks of discussion and dissent over the measure, the final vote was 11-6, a count that matched guesses made months ago, when Mayor Annise Parker — the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city — said she planned to bring forward such a measure.

The approval was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience, largely full of supporters, and chants of “HERO,” for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

“While much of the debate has centered around the gay and transgender section of the ordinance, it is a comprehensive ordinance,” Parker said after the vote. “It is a good step forward for the city of Houston.”

That’s the early version of the story. I’ll update later from the full story when I can. While the vote was 11-6, it was a little different than I thought it might be – CM Richard Nguyen, who movingly said that his 6-year-old son told him to “just be brave”, was a Yes, while CMs Jack Christie and – very disappointingly – Dwight Boykins were Nos. The other four Nos, from CMs Stardig, Martin, Pennington, and Kubosh, were as expected. I don’t have much to add right now – despite the final passage, this story is far from over, so there will be much more to say later. I have no idea if those half-baked recall and repeal efforts will go anywhere – we’ll deal with them if we must – but I do know that a lot of folks will have some very long memories in 2015. I’m proud of my city, proud of the Council members who voted with Mayor Parker, proud of Mayor Parker for getting this done, and really really proud of all the supporters who packed City Hall to tell their stories and witness history being made. Well done, y’all. Think Progress, PDiddie, and Rep. Garnet Coleman have more.

UPDATE: Here’s the full Chron story, which includes a heaping dose of Dave Wilson and his many petition drive threats. I’ll deal with all that in a subsequent post.

Today really is the day for the NDO vote

And as we finally head for a vote, the hysteria and fearmongering have reached a fever pitch.

RedEquality

In just five words, Mayor Annise Parker handed her increasingly vocal opponents exactly what they wanted in the battle against her proposed equal rights ordinance: “The debate is about me.”

That comment, part of a longer utterance at Houston City Council’s last meeting, at which the body delayed a decision on the ordinance to this Wednesday, was just what political and religious conservatives have accused Parker – the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city – of doing for weeks: Pushing the ordinance to further her “gay agenda,” or to reward gay advocates for their political support.

In laying out the proposed ordinance last month, Parker acknowledged the debate would focus on gay and transgender issues because those groups are not protected under existing laws, but she stressed the proposal was comprehensive. It would ban discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Parker’s recent comments undercut that comprehensive message, however, as she sought to remind council members the issue is “intensely personal.”

“It’s not academic. It is my life that is being discussed,” said Parker, who faced death threats and had her tires slashed as a gay activist in the 1980s. “And while we can say around this council chamber that it applies to the range of protected groups – and it does and it is right and appropriate that the city of Houston finally acknowledges a local ordinance that respects African-Americans and Hispanics and those of different religions – the debate is about me. The debate is about two gay men at this table.”

Parker added to her comments after the meeting, saying she understands how “incredibly painful” it is for gay residents to hear opponents say, “I don’t hate gay people, I don’t hate transgender people, I just ought to have the right not to let them come into my business.”

[…]

Councilman Michael Kubosh – elected with a coalition of conservative and black voters last fall – drew scattered yells of support from the otherwise civil audience in rebutting Parker’s comments minutes later.

“I know you say it’s about you, but, mayor, this is really about all of us,” Kubosh said. “It’s not really about you; it’s about everybody here.”

Every successful politician in America has had personal reasons for running for office, and personal motivation for the causes they sought to advance through legislation. Most of them are very clear about this, as it’s a big part of the answer to the question of why they are running for that office. The personal connection they have to the cause they’re advancing – the hurt they’ve felt, or the help they’ve received – is a key component of who they are as a candidate and later (they hope) as an officeholder. It’s how they hope to win the support of the people they think should be voting for them. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. I can help. Would Michael Kubosh have established residency in the city of Houston to run for City Council if he had not been personally affected by red light cameras? I rather doubt it. Of course he will say that it wasn’t just about him but about all of the people that were affected by red light cameras and who felt they lacked a voice in the process. He wouldn’t have gotten himself into a position to be elected if it weren’t for that, and if he couldn’t make a connection to the people who felt the same way he did. How is that any different from Mayor Parker?

And I have to laugh at the “accusations” that Mayor Parker is pursuing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as some kind of sinister payback for her “core” (read: gay gay gay gay gay) supporters. Because of course only the gayest of her gay supporters support the HERO as something that is just and fair and right, obviously. And because of course no politician in America has ever been so crass as to pursue policies that their most ardent supporters wanted. I laugh because I can envision how the Dave Wilsons and Steve Riggles and apparently Michael Kuboshes imagine this must have played out in the backroom scented-candle-filled Secret Gay Power Broker Centers around Houston: “Our plan is foolproof! We will win multiple elections, then attempt to pass an ordinance via the public legislative process involving many opportunities for feedback and a majority vote of the democratically-elected City Council! That’ll show the bastards! Bwa ha ha ha ha!” I can sure see why that would be front page news.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s grant Dave Wilson and Steve Riggle and Ed Young and Michael Kubosh and Max Miller their fondest wish and stipulate that Mayor Parker is ramming this ordinance down their throats to appease her most ardent supporters The Gays, because as noted no politician in the history of America has ever done something like this before. Let’s remind ourselves what it is that she – and, you know, a majority of the members of City Council – are pushing: An ordinance that forbids the official discrimination against people because of who they are. Under this ordinance, you can’t be fired, or denied service at a bar or restaurant or retail establishment, or evicted, or any other thing that Wilson et al take for granted for themselves because you’re gay, or black, or Jewish, or a woman, or disabled, or whatever. It’s an ordinance that guarantees equal treatment for all people, with a mechanism to enforce it. I’m always…”amused” isn’t quite the right word, but it will have to do…when I hear a Dave Wilson or one of his intolerant brethren screech about LGBT folks demanding “special rights”, as if the right to hold a job or buy a house or not be arbitrarily tossed out of a restaurant is “special” in any meaningful sense. If you look up the word “projection” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of one of these clowns begging to be allowed to keep his special right to discriminate against people he doesn’t like while complaining that their demand to be treated as equals constitutes the real special treatment. It would be kind of funny if it weren’t so very, very pathetic.

And finally, to bring it back to those five little words Mayor Parker said, I have to agree with Campos: With all due respect to the Mayor, this debate really is about all of us. I want to live in a city that values all of its residents. I want to live in a city that embraces its diversity and makes no group of people feel second class. I’m one of an increasing majority of people that sees the so-called “morality” of people like Dave Wilson for the toxic injustice that it is. I see where the country is going, and I want to get there now. There’s more people like me in this town than there are people like Dave Wilson. If we’re forced to prove it again at the ballot box this November, we’ll be ready.

[Council Member Ellen] Cohen said she expects, however, to see the mayor’s comments become fodder for a push to overturn the ordinance by referendum, an effort for which opponents say they already are gathering signatures. Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

“People who are opposed to the ordinance will use any and all methods they possibly can to destroy the credibility of anyone who’s trying to vote for it,” Cohen said, pointing to threats of recall elections targeting council members who vote in favor. “It saddens me. Intimidation is a terrible way to conduct a democracy.”

That’s presumably in addition to the recall effort, which who knows what will happen. In this case, we know from the red light camera experience that there’s a 30 day window after the ordinance passes to gather the signatures for a vote to repeal. We’ll cross that bridge when and if we get to it, too. The SEIU and Mustafa Tameez have more.

TransGriot on the current status of the NDO

Monica Roberts wants to set the record straight about Mayor Parker and the latest version of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance that will (eventually, we swear) be voted on by Council.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

The local trans community asked for Section 17-51 (b) to be pulled from the proposed ordinance. I’ve written and testified it needed to go. Lou, Dee Dee, and other Houston trans leaders have also been unanimous in our dislike of it.

What we’re pissed off about inside Beltway 8 is you peeps blasting Mayor Parker based on Frontiers LA writing a story and only posting a snippet of Section 17-51 (b) prior to their conclusion jump. Neither did any of you outside of Houston critics know at the time because you weren’t privy to it, we were working with council to get amendments done to clean up that problematic language in a way that would be satisfying to our community.

FYI, here’s the full text of Section 17-51 (b)

(b) It shall be unlawful for any place of public accommodation or any employee or agent thereof to deny any person entry to any restroom, shower room, or similar facility if that facility is consistent with and appropriate to that person’s expression of gender identity. It shall be a defense to prosecution for discrimination on the basis of gender identity under this article, however, if the defendant had a good faith belief that the gender or gender identity of the person discriminated against was not consistent with the gender designation of the facility. For purposes of this section, a defendant has a good faith belief if the manner in which the person represented or expressed gender to others (e.g. behavior, clothing, hairstyles, activities, voice or mannerisms) is not consistent with the gender designation of the facility the person attempted to access. Nothing in this section shall require construction of a new bathroom, shower room, or similar facility.

The problematic section I underlined and put in bold print is why the Houston transgender community and our allies after consulting with us asked to have it pulled. Leaving that as is would have allowed transphobes to engage in gender policing and we would have no recourse to it.

So did you stop to think before you knee-jerk conclusion jumped to ask me or any other transperson in Houston working to pass the HERO what was going on? Did you peeps outside Loop 610 honestly think after I wrote this post that I or any other Houston trans leaders would support ANY HERO that didn’t FIX the problems that ail the Houston trans community?

This is the post Roberts is referring to, and despite her post from Sunday and a couple of comments on the offending piece by the likes of Daniel Williams, there’s been no correction or followup from Frontiers LA that I can see. I consider this yet another example of a non-Texas-based writer getting the basic facts about a story here – usually a political story – all wrong, presumably from some combination of laziness, misunderstanding, and the long-outdated perception of the state as a monochromatic sea of red outside of Austin. Whatever the cause, it’s annoying as hell, and I share Roberts’ frustration and desire to get the facts out. If you see any misinformation out there about the status of the HERO, keep that link handy to point people back in the right direction.

And on an unfortunate related note, Texas Leftist has an update on how one Council member will apparently be voting.

When one visits the website for Grace Community Church, a mega-church in Southeast Houston, it’s easy to form an initial impression that it is a community which is welcoming and loving to all. They proudly proclaim the slogan “Everybody needs a little grace!”

But those impressions couldn’t be further from the truth, as there is lots of ugliness going on within the walls of this congregation. Local political activist Kris Banks decided to attend a rally at Grace for those against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and what he found there was pretty awful. Banks says many in the crowd openly laughed when transgender people were mentioned, and some even called the community an “abomination”.

Even after his 2 hour town hall with members of the LGBT community and supposed friendship with Jenifer Rene Pool, Council Member Michael Kubosh was at this rally clapping right along to the hate speech against the transgender community. Kubosh even says to the crowd that “God put him on Council to fight this ordinance.”

Well clearly after statements like the one above, there’s no further mystery about how Kubosh plans to vote. On a personal note, I never voted for Kubosh or supported his campaign, but was willing to attend the town hall and hope that he would be open-minded on these issues. I was dead wrong.

(Emphasis in the original.) Me too, I’m afraid. CM Kubosh’s vote isn’t needed to pass the NDO, but it’s unfortunate to see him line up against it, and against many residents of the city he was elected to represent. You can be sure people will remember this in 2015.

NDO vote will be next week

The proposed non-discrimination ordinance was on Council’s agenda yesterday, but it did not come to a vote as it was tagged, which means it’ll be voted on next week. The Chron’s preview story gave some insight into what we should expect from the ordinance based on the experience of other cities that already have protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in their local codes.

RedEquality

Houston handles discrimination complaints from city employees and sends a hundred housing complaints to federal authorities each year, [city attorney David] Feldman said. The work added by protecting sexual orientation and gender identity and covering places of public accommodation may be modest.

Less than half of 1 percent of the housing complaints Fort Worth received last year were based on sexual orientation, and the city received no employment claims based on sexual orientation, according to an annual report

Fort Worth has received five complaints against places of public accommodation in the last two years; Austin typically sees three or fewer per year.

“The fact that it creates a scheme that is almost entirely voluntary compliance doesn’t reduce the value or the effect of it,” said Jonathan Babiak of Austin’s Equal Employment/Fair Housing Office. “Many, many people are going to comply just because it’s the law.”

Since passing its nondiscrimination ordinance last fall, San Antonio has learned of three incidents of alleged discrimination in areas other than housing, all against transgender or gay residents. The events, one involving a city contractor and two involving businesses that serve the public, have not yet resulted in formal complaints, said deputy city attorney Veronica Zertuche. One city employee also has filed a complaint based on sexual orientation, she said.

In El Paso, deputy city attorney Laura Gordon said she is aware of two incidents of alleged discrimination in places of public accommodation, both from gay couples, and neither of which resulted in a complaint. El Paso does not cover private employment.

Feldman said a Dallas official reported that city has received 12 complaints not related to housing in the decade that its ordinance has been in effect.

Feldman said he foresees Houston fielding more employment and public accommodation complaints than other cities, due, in part, to its size.

“We’ve never had it before, and now people will say, ‘Ah, there’s a remedy here,’ ” Feldman said. “But I also think it will dissipate in time.”

Houston’s added workload also would be limited by its exemption for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Fort Worth and Austin exempt businesses of 15 or fewer employees, matching federal and state laws. Texas Workforce Commission data show 29 percent of the state’s private workforce is employed by firms with fewer than 50 workers.

Houston GLBT Political Caucus president Maverick Welsh and others want the 50-worker exemption dropped to 15. “I’m very optimistic,” Welsh told the council Tuesday. “I believe you’ll do the right thing.”

See here and here for the background. An amendment proposed by CM Robert Gallegos would lower the threshold to 15 employees; we’ll see how that one goes. As there will be another public session of Council on Tuesday the 13th, with the vote scheduled for the 14th, there will be another opportunity to address Council and show your support for the ordinance and CM Gallegos’ amendment. Email [email protected] to get on the list of speakers for that.

The late Wednesday story has more on the amendments.

Councilman Oliver Pennington proposed the most substantial changes to the measure, seeking to exempt all private employers and to permit discrimination in the sale or rental of a single-family home if the seller or landlord owns eight or fewer homes; the current drafts exempts the owners of three or fewer houses.

Pennington also seeks to allow a first-offense conviction to be dismissed if the person is not convicted of discrimination again within a year, and wants to let someone accused of denying a transgender person access to the public restroom of his or her choice to have the complaint dismissed by submitting an affidavit explaining the decision to deny access.

“The thrust of my amendments today was to promote voluntary compliance, and I know reconciliation is provided for now, but for first offenses there’s still a possibility for criminal prosecution,” Pennington said. “Whatever we can do, in the long run, to promote interaction with the affected parties on a voluntary basis will be a worthwhile thing to do and I hope we can reach that.”

[…]

Other council members sought to strengthen the ordinance.

Councilman Robert Gallegos wants the measure to cover more private employees by dropping the proposed exemption for businesses that employ fewer than 50 workers to those with 25, and then to 15 over two years.

That change had been advocated by the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, which said the stated exemption left too many workers unprotected.

“The transition from 50 to 15, which is the more common standard across the United States, was thoughtful,” Parker said. “That may be doable … .”

CM Pennington’s amendment is a non-starter. CM Gallegos’ amendment is the one to watch. Most of the rest were technical in nature.

Back to the Tuesday story:

[Mayor Annise] Parker and 11 of the 16 City Council members agreed last fall to support a nondiscrimination ordinance. Some members have expressed concerns about the item, however.

The 11 Council members that stated their support for an NDO in their screening questionnaire for the Houston GLBT Political Caucus are listed here. Of those 11, CM Christie has waffled a bit, but I think in the end he’ll be a Yes. In addition, based on his willingness to engage on the issue and the feedback I’ve heard, I have hope that CM Kubosh will vote in favor as well, though he expressed some doubts in Wednesday’s story. CM Nguyen is hard to read, CM Martin is a firm No, CM Pennington is a likely No, and as of Tuesday CM Stardig is a No. I recommend you read Brad Pritchett’s response to CM Stardig, as he says what needs to be said. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in 2015. Be that as it may, I expect this to pass with a healthy majority next week, and about damn time for it. Texpatriate has more.

Mayor Parker releases draft of non-discrimination ordinance

From the inbox:

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker today released a draft of her proposed Equal Rights Ordinance. The document is the result of more than two months of collaborative discussions with various stakeholders.

“As I stated in my State of the City Address earlier this month, the Houston I know does not discriminate, treats everyone equally and allows full participation by everyone in civic and business life,” said Mayor Parker. “We don’t care where you come from, the color of your skin, your age, gender, what physical limitations you may have or who you choose to love. It’s time the laws on our books reflect this.”

Houston is currently the only major city in the country without civil rights protections for its residents. The draft ordinance will prohibit discrimination in city employment, city contracting, housing, public accommodations and private employment at businesses with at least 50 employees. To avoid First Amendment issues, religious organizations are exempt from the definition of an employer.

Complaints about violations of the ordinance and decisions regarding prosecution are to be handled by the City’s Office of Inspector General and the City Attorney. If the subject of a complaint refuses to cooperate with an investigation, the City Attorney may ask City Council to approve the issuance of a subpoena to compel cooperation.

In addition, the mayor has the discretion to create an advisory task force to study and report on matters related to the ordinance.

“Equal protection under law is a cornerstone of our democracy and the Equal Rights Ordinance will help to ensure that all Houstonians are protected from discrimination,” said District C City Council Member Ellen Cohen, who has been involved in the drafting of the ordinance. “As the most diverse city in the nation, I’m pleased that we will offer these protections in public accommodations and employment to all our citizens.”

“This ordinance gives us another tool to demonstrate that Houston is a world class city that is open for business,” said District J City Council Member Mike Laster, who has also played an integral role in the drafting of the ordinance. “If you are willing to work hard, and treat your neighbors with respect and fairness, you will be welcome in Houston, and you will succeed in Houston!”

Mayor Parker intends to present the draft ordinance to City Council’s Quality of Life Committee on April 30. Consideration by the full City Council is scheduled for May 7. The ordinance may be viewed by clicking the Ordinance Feedback icon under the mayor’s photo on the homepage of the city’s website at www.houstontx.gov.

See here and here for the background. A direct link to the ordinance is here, and if you’re wondering why we need such a thing in Houston, I recommend you read this Equal Rights Ordinance Guide helpfully put together by the Houston Stonewall Young Democrats. As we know there had been some concern about private employers not being included in the ordinance, but as you can see that has been addressed. Nothing like a little public engagement on an important issue.

The Chron story gives us a feel for the lay of the land.

Parker initially had talked of creating a human rights commission to hear complaints, but that idea was left out of the proposal announced Monday.

[…]

Greater Houston Partnership President and CEO Bob Harvey said his group’s key concern with the idea had been the commission.

“At this juncture, admittedly upon a very quick review, I would say there is plenty in this proposal that we can support,” Harvey said, noting that a majority of GHP members already have anti-discrimination policies. “We now must take the time to review the proposal in detail, and we plan to take it before our board for discussion in the next several days.”

The Houston GLBT Caucus, during last fall’s elections, asked the mayor whether she would introduce, and council members whether they would support, a nondiscrimination ordinance; Parker and 11 council members said yes. Caucus President Maverick Welsh said he is pleased private employers were included.

“She kept her commitment to the GLBT community and I’m hoping the council members that made a commitment will keep theirs, too,” Welsh said. “Houston is competing with other cities for the best and brightest talent out there and if Houston has these protections in place we’re more competitive and welcoming.”

Councilman Michael Kubosh said he is concerned Parker is stressing the ordinance’s sweep when her goal is adding protections for gay and transgender residents. If accurate, he said, that is where discussions should focus.

“The mayor needs to come out and just say what it’s really about. Let’s start from there and go on,” Kubosh said. “The most important thing is transparency.”

Councilman Jack Christie said the draft’s dropping of a commission makes it an improvement over earlier discussions.

“Just have direct access to the city attorney, if the state and federal hasn’t helped you,” Christie said. “I just don’t hear that much discrimination, but if there is, if there’s less than 1 percent, we need to stop that.”

There was a quote in there from one of the usual suspects that can be summed up as “haters gonna hate”, but beyond that I find these reactions to be encouraging, and boding well for passage. Still, I am sure there will be more opposition now that this is out, and I’m sure some members of Council will need a bit of pushing, so don’t quit engaging just yet. Just remember, when the predictions of doom and employers fleeing and whatever else begin to crop up, plenty of other cities in Texas and elsewhere have passed ordinances like this one, and last I checked the earth was still rotating on its axis. Nothing bad will happen, but a lot of good will. Texas Leftist, Lone Star Q, Texpatriate, TransGriot, and PDiddie have more.

January campaign finance reports for Houston officeholders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runoff precinct analysis: At Large races

I finally got a draft canvass report from the Harris County Clerk for the December runoff elections. Let’s take a look at the two At Large runoffs and see what we can learn about them. Here’s At Large #2:

Dist Burks Robinson Burks % Rob % ===================================== A 2,145 2,331 47.92% 52.08% B 1,798 451 79.95% 20.05% C 1,464 4,286 25.46% 74.54% D 4,244 1,229 77.54% 22.46% E 1,086 1,347 44.64% 55.36% F 278 418 39.94% 60.06% G 1,280 2,980 30.05% 69.95% H 791 820 49.10% 50.90% I 1,425 1,459 49.41% 50.59% J 300 471 38.91% 61.09% K 1,292 1,006 56.22% 43.78%

Andrew Burks did pretty well where he needed to, in Districts B, D, and K – better than he did in the 2011 runoff, at least on a percentage basis. It seems likely to me that the lesser turnout this year hurt him. He had about a 5,000 vote lead in B and D in 2011, but only a 4,400 vote lead this year, a drop of 600 votes in a race he lost by 500 votes. I don’t mean to pile on Burks, but I have to think that a better candidate could have pulled this one out. Robinson did just enough in C and G to edge him. It’ll be interesting to see if he draws a serious challenger in 2015.

On to At Large #3:

Dist Morales Kubosh Mor % Kub % ===================================== A 2,108 2,755 43.35% 56.65% B 862 1,359 38.81% 61.19% C 2,784 2,821 49.67% 50.33% D 1,800 3,601 33.33% 66.67% E 1,347 1,271 51.45% 48.55% F 404 332 54.89% 45.11% G 2,155 2,280 48.59% 51.41% H 944 739 56.09% 43.91% I 1,962 1,156 62.92% 37.08% J 437 376 53.75% 46.25% K 954 1,345 41.50% 58.50%

Despite Michael Kubosh’s relatively substantial win, it looks to me like the conditions were there for Roy Morales to pull it out. He held his own in the Republican districts, and got a boost from the elevated turnout in the District I runoff. He lost in B, D, and K, where you would expect Kubosh to do well, but he didn’t get creamed. If he had had David Robinson’s numbers in District C, he would have won. Obviously, Mayor Parker did not get involved, and Kubosh did a decent job of presenting himself to Parker supporters, which enabled him to not only be competitive in C but to carry it. You have to tip your hat to that. Further, despite my speculation that there could be a significant undervote in this race, the undervote rate was less in AL3 than it was in AL2. As with Robinson, I look forward to seeing who, if anyone, decides to challenge Kubosh in two years. Both of them, but especially Kubosh, can affect that with their performance in office. I can’t wait to see how it goes when Mayor Parker gets on with the rest of her third term agenda.

I’ll have a look at the other races in a later entry. In the meantime, let me know what you think about these numbers.

Yes, Council is short on women

It is what it is.

CM Ellen Cohen

CM Ellen Cohen

The Houston City Council will have its fewest women in 15 years this January, which political observers called a troublesome regression for one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.

Just two women will remain on the 16-member council. And for the first time in about 25 years, a minority woman will not hold a seat.

“It’s more a step back rather than a step forward for the city of Houston,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “Women represent slightly over 50 percent of population but will account for less than a fifth of the City Council.”

There are currently four women on the council. Except for 1999, when there were also just two, the council has had at least three females in each of the last 25 years. It peaked at eight in 2005, according to data compiled by Rice University political scientist Bob Stein. Also, from 1989 until 1999, there were at least three women on council.

Political analysts say the makeup, likely a result of chance, is not an optimal mix.

[…]

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

Stein said a persistent finding in social science research shows that a higher proportion of women on governing bodies means less gridlock and more efficiency. He said some believe this is a genetic trait in women and also because women have different experiences than men.

Stein said this election season saw a diverse group of candidates in the mix, including women, but the turnout was extremely low. He predicted it would be a challenging year for Mayor Annise Parker, who is heading into her final term with her sights on statewide office. In part, this will be because women may be more sympathetic to some of her issues, such as discrimination.

Rice University’s Jones said because Parker will be at the helm of city government, the policy impact will not be dramatic, but that the new council makeup could draw attention to the under-representation of women in governing bodies.

He said these election results were due to bad luck and he does not believe there is any broader anti-woman trends in Houston, noting several races where women were contenders. He also pointed out this low representation of women could persist because incumbents have such an advantage in future elections.

I noted this last week. Took about as long as I figured it might for the Chron to write a story about it. As I said at the time, I think it’s a temporary aberration and not indicative of any trends. If the ball bounced a little differently in the first round of At Large #3, we might not be having this conversation at all. Or maybe we’d be talking about another missed opportunity, who knows. Be that as it may, I don’t quite understand the comment about turnout. Turnout this year was roughly the same as it was in 2009, and it was much higher than it was in 2011 or 2007. It’s not clear to me what effect turnout is supposed to have had on the outcomes. It’s not clear to me that a higher level of turnout would have benefited Graci Garces in the runoff – given the margin of victory in District D, I don’t think any level of turnout could have helped Georgia Provost – or one of Jenifer Pool and Rogene Gee Calvert in November. As for the effect on Mayor Parker and her agenda, I look at it this way: Mayor Parker swapped out two troublemakers in CMs Brown and Burks, and got back only one potential troublemaker in CM-elect Kubosh in return. I’m thinking she’ll take that deal.

While I do think the results of this year’s elections are not predictive of future elections, that doesn’t mean that the current makeup of Council should be accepted without any need to do things differently next time.

Cindy Clifford, who runs a Houston-based public relations company, said she plans to start a group to empower promising women in Houston to consider public office and donate to female candidates. She said women have a harder time raising money and asking for things for themselves. She said she hopes to inspire confidence in promising female leaders.

“It’s important for women to have a seat at the table,” she said. “Women see things differently; there will be a different dialogue and discussion.”

Having good candidates run and ensuring they get the support they need is always a fine idea. If you find the lack of women on the new Council troublesome, now is an excellent time to start working on a solution for 2015.

Runoff results: Rough day for incumbents

I have no complaint about the results.

Brenda Stardig

Brenda Stardig

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

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

The results I’m really happy about are these:

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

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

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

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

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

Runoff 8 Day Finance Reports

I did not get to looking at the 8 day finance reports for the November election – too many candidates, not enough time. But there was no reason I couldn’t take a gander at the 8 day reports for the runoff. Here’s the summary:

Candidate Office Raised Spent Loan On Hand ===================================================== Burks AL2 27,150 14,933 0 21,563 Robinson AL2 93,720 71,771 0 73,536 Kubosh AL3 60,045 59,221 15,000 13,192 Morales AL3 50,030 31,540 3,300 22,274 Brown Dist A 38,928 29,875 0 30,272 Stardig Dist A 35,909 15,102 0 45,321 Boykins Dist D 81,175 65,667 0 25,974 Provost Dist D 24,600 19,047 18,535 2,258 Garces Dist I 53,355 42,056 0 20,071 Gallegos Dist I 35,196 12,348 1,252 18,518

My comments, with links to the reports, is below.

BagOfMoney

Andrew Burks – Received $8,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $3,500 from Across The Track PAC, $1,000 from HAA Better Government Fund. He also got $375 from CM Bradford’s campaign, $250 from Justice of the Peace Zinetta Burney, and $250 from Jeri Brooks, who was the manager of Mayor Parker’s 2009 campaign and who is now working on behalf of the payday lenders. Burks’ wife Lillie contributed $1,500.

David Robinson – As has been the case all along, Robinson’s finance report reads as if he is the incumbent. He got $8,500 from TREPAC, $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies, $2,500 from HOME PAC, $2,500 from Houston Associated General Contractors PAC, $2,000 from HOME PAC, $1,500 from Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLC, $1,000 from LAN PAC, $1,000 from Pipefitters’ Local Union No. 211 COPE Account, $500 from Bracewell & Giuliani Committee, $500 from Cobb Fendley PAC, $500 from HOUCON PAC, $500 from Houstonians For Responsible Growth-PAC, $500 from Amegy Bank of Texas PAC, and $250 each from Associated Builders & Contractors PAC, CDM Smith Inc. PAC Account, Houston Westside PAC, and Huitt Zollars Inc. Texas PAC. He also got $5,000 from Peter Brown, $1,000 from Locke Lord, which is Robert Miller’s firm, and $500 from Marcie Zlotnick, who I believe is CM Ellen Cohen’s daughter.

Michael Kubosh – $47,000 of the amount raised was his own contributions. He got $2,500 from the HPOU PAC, $1,000 from the IEC TX Gulf Coast PAC, $500 from the BOMA PAC, $1,000 from the Baker Botts Amicus Fund, and $1,000 from lobbyist/attorney/blogger Robert Miller, who is also currently working on behalf of the payday lenders.

Roy Morales – $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies Inc PAC, $1,000 from HVJ PAC, $2,300 from HOME PAC, $250 from Associated Builders & Contractors PAC, and $1,000 from himself. I did not see any contributions from Democratic-aligned PACs or prominent progressives on either his report or Kubosh’s. I’ll be very interested to see what the undervote rate is like in this race.

Helena Brown – $1,000 from IEC Texas Gulf Coast PAC, $500 from BAC-PAC, $250 from Seafarers PAC, $500 from Greater Houston Mobility PAC, $1,000 from Group 1 Automotive, Inc. PAC, $500 each from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP and Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP (Robert Miller’s firm), and $1,000 from TREPAC, which remember is the realtors. She also got $500 from Toni Lawrence’s campaign and $100 from Bruce Tatro, meaning that her predecessors that backed her in 2011 are backing her again after sitting out the regular election cycle. Finally, she too received $250 from Jeri Brooks. I think it’s fair to say the payday lenders are choosing sides in these races.

Brenda Stardig – $10,000 from HPOU PAC, $5,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $2,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies PAC, $500 from Houston Westside PAC, $500 from Amegy Bank of Texas PAC, $250 from Arcadis G&M, Inc. Texas PAC, $500 from Associated Builders & Contractors of Greater Houston PAC, $250 from CDM Smith, Inc PAC, and $250 from Huitt-Zollars, Inc. Texas PAC. She has about $2,800 listed as expenses for postcards plus $200 from radio ads, but I don’t see much else that looks like voter outreach. Once again I wonder why she’s sitting on so much cash.

Dwight Boykins – Another report that looks like it belongs to an incumbent. Boykins raked in (deep breath) $5,000 from Houston Council of Engineering Companies Inc. – PAC, $5,000 from TREPAC, $2,750 from HOME PAC, $2,000 from BEPC LLC, $1,500 from HOUCONPAC, $2,000 from HAA Better Government Fund, $500 from Fulbright & Jaworski LLP Texas Committee, $500 from Andrews & Kurth Texas PAC, $1,000 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $250 from Houston Westside PAC, $1,000 from Pipefitters’ Local Union No. 211, $500 from Greenberg Taurig LLP Texas PAC, $250 from Cobb Fendley PAC, $500 from Bracewell & Giuliani Committee, $250 from CDM Smith Inc. PAC Account, $500 from LAN-PAC, $1,000 from Plumbers Local Union No. 68, $500 from Arcadis G & M, Inc. Texas PAC, $500 from Locke Lord (Robert Miller’s firm), $1,500 from Allen Boone Humphries Robinson, $1,000 from I.L.A. Local 26 P.A.C. Fund, $1,000 from Baker Botts Amicus Fund, $250 from Huitt-Zollars, Inc Texas PAC, $1,000 from HVJ Political Action Committee, $1,000 from Southwest Laborers District Council PAC, and $2,500 from HPCP Investments LLC. Whew! He also received $1,000 from CM Stephen Costello, and $500 from Anthony Robinson, who I guess did ultimately endorse in the runoff.

Georgia Provost – $1,000 from Woodpest Inc PAC was her only PAC contribution. She got $4,000 each from Alan and Renee Helfman; Alan Helfman is her campaign treasurer. She also received $1,500 from Peter Brown, and $250 from Anthony Robinson. Maybe Robinson didn’t pick a side in the runoff after all.

Graci Garces – $8,000 from TREPAC, $2,000 from Texas Taxi PAC, $500 from Seafarers PAC, $1,000 from Wolpert Inc PAC, $500 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $5,000 from Houston Fire Fighters Political Action Fund, $2,000 from HAA Better Government Fund, $2,500 from HPOU PAC, $2,000 from Across The Track PAC, and $2,500 from HOME PAC. She also got $500 from the James Rodriguez campaign – no surprise there – and $250 from One World Strategy, which is Jeri Brooks’ firm. In other business-pending-before-Council news, in addition to the Texas Taxi PAC money, Garces got $2,000 from Roman Martinez, the President of Texas Taxis, $1,000 from his wife Diana Davila Martinez (also Garces’ treasurer), and $1,000 each from Rick Barrett (VP of Texas Taxis), Duane Kamins (owner of Yellow Cab), and Ricky Kamins (owner of Liberty Cab). I’m thinking she might be a No vote on Uber.

Robert Gallegos – $4,539.72 in kind from TOP PAC, $1,500 from Teamsters Local $988, $1,000 from Plumbers Local Union No 68, $500 from LAN-PAC, $500 from Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, $1,000 from Pipefitters Local 211, $2,500 from HPCP Investments LLC, and $1,500 from Houston Dock and Marine Council PAC Fund. He also received $4,400 from Peter Brown, and $225 in kind from Sen. Sylvia Garcia.

You may be wondering why I highlighted donations from people associated with the payday lenders. Isn’t that supposed to come up for a vote with this Council? Well, maybe and maybe not. And maybe the votes on Council will be according to the contributions, and maybe not. But at least now you know.

At Large #3 runoff overview

The Chron moves on to At Large #3, and unlike the other two previews there are new things to learn about the candidates involved.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh

Mayor Annise Parker could be the biggest loser in the runoff race for the At Large 3 seat on City Council even though she is not on Saturday’s ballot.

The citywide position will be vacated by term-limited Melissa Noriega, generally seen as an ally of the mayor. The two conservative candidates in the runoff to replace her, bail bondsman Michael Kubosh and former Harris County Department of Education board member Roy Morales, have battled Parker in the past. Kubosh fought Parker to block the city’s use of red-light cameras, and Morales ran against her in the 2009 mayoral race.

“It’ll be tough for the mayor either way,” said Richard Murray, political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

Perhaps hoping to build ties on council, Kubosh has shifted the tone of his campaign away from questioning whether the mayor is willing to work with him.

“I thought about it a lot and I need a do over,” he said. “I will not use the position to ever disrespect anyone on council, including the mayor.”

He does not, however, back down on policy goals that could set up a confrontation, such as repealing an ordinance laying out rules for providing food to the homeless.

Throughout his campaign, Kubosh admitted he has few specific policy ideas because he has much to learn about city operations. Nonetheless, he speculated his years as a bail bondsman could qualify him to tackle problems in the municipal courts.

Generally, he said he hopes to increase transparency by dragging more of the city’s decision-making out from closed offices and into the public’s view.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said Morales may be a better fit for maintaining the status quo of council dynamics.

“He would be very happy simply to be elected,” Jones said. “And he would structure his behavior to ensure re-election. He would occasionally vote in a conservative way to keep his conservative credentials, but for the most part, work with the mayor and majority to pass things along.”

I wrote about the potential dynamic with Mayor Parker shortly after the November election. She chose not to get involved in the runoff, which is certainly understandable. Since the November election, Kubosh has indeed changed his rhetoric and reached out to supporters of the Mayor. My observation is that while both Kubosh and Morales have a case to make to the voters who did not support them the first time around, neither one has clearly won that battle. Morales has picked up some support, such as from Noel Freeman, and so has Kubosh, who just received the endorsement of Peter Brown’s PAC. If the big Democratic groups have made runoff endorsements in At Large #3, I have not seen any announcement of them. I don’t think the dynamic of the race has changed much – based on November returns, I’d still call Kubosh the favorite. I’d also expect whoever does win to face a strong challenger in 2015, though that may change depending in part on how he performs on Council. By the way, I never did get a response from Kubosh to my runoff Q&A; Morales’ answers to my questions are here.

Among the things we have learned since we last voted:

Kubosh also has faced criticism for the long list of lawsuits tied to his name, including an ongoing civil suit in Jefferson County Court alleging barratry, the practice of illegally soliciting clients. He dismissed the frequency of lawsuits as normal for a bondsman and denied the barratry claim, calling the close ties between his brother’s law office and his bail bonding operation a family business.

Last month, Kubosh won a court battle started by Morales.

Using county homestead exemption records, Morales tried to get Kubosh removed from the ballot, arguing his opponent is not a Houston resident. The case was dismissed.

The disposition of Morales’ lawsuit against Kubosh was posted in the Houston Politics blog, but if it was in the print edition of the paper I didn’t see it. I don’t know anything more about the barratry claims than what is written above. I don’t know that any of this is likely to have an effect on voting at this point. Let’s do a totally unscientific survey here: Who are you supporting in the runoff? Leave a comment and let us know.

Runoff voting is underway

So early voting is underway for the City of Houston and HCC runoffs. Day One totals are here, and Campos ponders their locations. I’ll take a crack at projecting turnout once the EV totals are in, but if you don’t want to wait that long, here’s a quick and dirty shortcut. In three of the last four runoffs that didn’t involve a Mayoral race – the 2005, 2007 AL3 special, and 2007 runoffs – turnout was between 25,000 and 40,000 votes. In the 2011 runoff, which was boosted by the Jolanda Jones/Jack Christie race, turnout was about 57,000. I don’t think any race in this year’s runoff will be as high interest as that one, so my seat of the pants guess is “between 25,000 and 40,000”. I reserve the right to revise that once I see the EV numbers.

Here’s the Chron story on the runoffs, in case you missed it. They also reiterated their endorsements if you care about that sort of thing, as did the Houston Association of Realtors.

If you want more information, I collected all my first round interviews here, and you saw my Q&A with Roy Morales yesterday. I’m still hoping to receive Michael Kubosh’s responses. Other recommendations come from Rey Guerra, PDiddie, Stace, John Coby, and Texpatriate.

Early voting begins today for Council and HCC runoffs

EarlyVoting

Here’s the map. Note that only City of Houston locations are open, since the only runoffs are for City Council and HCC Trustee. Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 10, from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except for Sunday the 8th, when it is from 1 to 6 PM. Odds are pretty good you won’t encounter any lines whenever you go to vote. Remember that precinct locations are likely to be heavily consolidated on Runoff Day itself, December 14, so voting early will avoid confusion for you.

All City of Houston voters will have at least two races on their ballot, the two At Large runoffs. There are also runoffs in Districts A, D, and I, plus the three HCC Trustee runoffs, in HCC 1, 3, and 5. I will say again, if you live in HCC 1 I strongly urge you to vote for Zeph Capo. Let’s limit the number of friends Dave Wilson has on the board.

Here are the interviews I conducted with the various runoff candidates:

At Large #2
CM Andrew Burks
David Robinson

At Large #3
Michael Kubosh
Roy Morales

District A
CM Helena Brown
Brenda Stardig

District D
Dwight Boykins
Georgia Provost

District I
Robert Gallegos
Graci Garces

HCC 1
Zeph Capo

Get out there and vote, y’all. A press release from the Harris County Clerk is beneath the fold, and Hair Balls has more.

(more…)

Runoff endorsement watch: For Kubosh

The Chron makes the last of its runoff endorsements by choosing Michael Kubosh in At Large #3.

Michael Kubosh

Michael Kubosh

Looking at the candidates for the runoff, it feels a bit like the whole City Council At-large 3 race was a competition of name recognition. For the Saturday, Dec. 14, election, former mayoral candidate Roy Morales will be facing off against Michael Kubosh, who led the 2010 city-wide referendum campaign against red light cameras. Voters should back Kubosh. We don’t always agree with the bail bondsman’s agenda, but he has an undeniable passion for city issues and a striking compassion for the poor.

Kubosh’s history of referenda-driven politics and hyperbolic comments hinted that he was not yet ready for prime time – or Wednesday mornings around the City Hall horseshoe. But over the campaign, he has smoothed over rough patches, reached out to opponents and strived to educate himself on the issues.

“I’m not going to be someone who is going to showboat,” Kubosh told the Houston Chronicle editorial board, saying that he intended to find common ground with Mayor Annise Parker to get things done. “I’m not just a ‘no’ vote.”

It was a shift in attitude from the beginning of his campaign, one that we hope sticks. Kubosh has some admirable goals, such as improving the municipal courts, working to fix problems with water bills and all-around sticking up for the little guy. In our strong-mayor city government, council members have the option to lead, follow or get out of the way, and we hope he’ll choose wisely.

I’m one of the people Kubosh has reached out to. I’m not fully convinced, but I appreciate that he made the effort, and I appreciate the shift in rhetoric. As with any candidate there’s a trust factor, and a concern about how much tacit approval one would be giving to the issues on which we disagree. This is the only race on my ballot, and I hate the idea of not voting at all, so one way or another I need to make a choice. I’m still thinking about it.

Precinct analysis: At Large 2 and 3

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

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

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

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

On to At Large #3:

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

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

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

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